Slogans have great power. They capture truths and captivate lives. There are five slogans that encapsulate the great principles of the Protestant faith. Faithful Protestants are bound by, and bind themselves to, these five pillars.
It is vital to revisit and remember them every now and again, and to be rekindled by them: sola Scriptura, sola fide, sola gratia, Solus Christus, and soli Deo Gloria.
For Protestants, “Scripture alone” is the highest authority when it comes to life and living. The Bible self-identifies itself thus: “All scripture is breathed out by God” (2 Tim. 3:16).
The authority of the Bible is premised upon the authorship of the Bible – God Himself. Because God is the ultimate author of the Bible, the Bible is the final authority.
There are, no doubt, Christians who claim that the Church and its traditions are as authoritative, if not more authoritative, than the Bible. The story of the early church does not, however, bear this out.
When we read the Epistles in the New Testament, we find that, again and again, the early Apostles corrected the misinterpretations and rebuked the malpractices of the church through their writings, which now are a part of the Bible.
The Church, in other words, sat under and stood corrected by the Scriptures, not the other way around.
There are also Christians who say that the Scriptures themselves do not claim to be the final authority. Rather, the Bible only points to Christ to whom “all authority in heaven and on earth” has been given.
For them, it is Christ, not the Bible, which is the ultimate and final authority. But such a view is mistaken.
To choose between the authority of Christ and the authority of Scripture is a false dilemma. The choice is not an either/or.
According to J. I. Packer, “Holy Scripture . . . is Christ’s instrument of government: it comes to us, so to speak, from His hand and with His seal upon it, for He Himself commended the Old Testament to us as having His Father’s authority, and He Himself authorised and empowered the apostles to speak in His name, by His Spirit and with His own authority.
So the way to bow to the authority of Jesus Christ is precisely by bowing to the authority of the inspired Scriptures.”
In claiming the final authority of the Bible, we are, however, not saying that any and every truth is deducible – i.e., logically concluded – from Scripture.
There are many other truths – scientific, philosophical, mathematical, geographical, psychological, medical, and so on – which cannot be found or deduced directly from the Bible.
But what we do insist upon is that any truth must ultimately be reconcilable with the Bible. This requires great effort and care in interpreting the various truths of the work and world of God, on the one hand, and the great truths of the word of God, on the other.
The Bible, read and interpreted literally (which is not always literally), trumps every other truth claim that contradicts it. This is the principle of sola Scriptura.