However, this is not the only threat to Sola Scriptura facing Pentecostals at the moment. As Keith Warrington has recently pointed out (relying on research carried out by William Kay) 'in a survey of UK Pentecostal leaders, reported in 2004 ... nearly 40% disagreed with inerrancy, accepting that there were errors in the Bible.' (Warrington, Pentecostal Theology, 184). Now it must be admitted that nearly all of these leaders believed that the Bible was 'infallible'. Thus they weren't saying that the Bible was completely unreliable, they were just limiting the areas in which they considered it to be completely true.
Yet, if we take the Bible to contain errors, that necessarily damages the Bible's supreme position of authority. Why? Because either we know where the errors are or we don't. If we do, then there is an authority higher than the Bible which has been used to reveal the errors (probably 'scholarship' or 'reason'). If we don't, then we don't know which bits of the Bible aren't true and therefore not authoritative, leaving us in a somewhat dubious position with the whole.
So inerrancy and Sola Scriptura go hand in hand. Any other position than inerrancy weakens trust in Sola Scriptura.
So here we go. Stephen J. Nichols certainly knows how to make history interesting. His book The Reformation: How a Monk and a Mallet Changed the World serves as a fun introduction to the Reformation and it's key personalities which is easily read whether or not you like history. I have to admit, I love history, so for me it is a book which has left me wanting to find out more about the lives of people like Ulrich Zwingli and Jeanne of Navarre.
However, if you don't normally like reading about history, don't be put off: the chapters are short enough that they won't lose your attention and the writing style is much more engaging than the average history book. As Nichols himself writes: 'This book is built upon two ideas. First, the Reformation matters. Second, history can be fun.' (page 13) Nichols does an excellent job in showing the truth of both these ideas throughout the book.
So, if you'd like to know about the role of sausages in church history (yes, there is a subheading that reads 'What the Bible has to say about sausage' - page 45) or why Calvin locked the church doors at the end of the meeting, then this is the book for you. Of course, at the same time you'll be reminded (or perhaps learn for the first time) what the Reformation was all about and why it is so important even today.
Now, I think everyone will accept that Pentecostals believe in Sola Fide (by faith alone), Sola Gratia (by grace alone), Solus Christus (Christ alone) and Soli Deo Gloria (to the glory of God alone. The question is when we come to Sola Scriptura (Scripture alone).
First off, let me make clear, I hold firmly to all 5 Solas. In fact, for me Sola Scriptura is of the essence of Pentecostalism, or at least of the form of Pentecostalism which I grew up in. If you had asked me in my youth what the distinctive feature of my church was, I wouldn't have given you an answer about the Baptism in the Holy Spirit or Spiritual Gifts; I would have told you that our distinctive was in doing things the Bible way. So for me the authority of Scripture, and hence the Reformation of Sola Scriptura was of the utmost importance.
Sadly, my colleague had a point in asking his question. Routinely non-Pentecostals question our loyalty to Sola Scriptura citing our belief in present-day prophecy. This, however, should be a mistaken critique; prophecy should always be evaluated by Scripture and thus Scripture is the ultimate authority. Unfortunately, however, this is not always the case. The summer's events in Florida and how they have been handled are a case in point. To say that discernment was discouraged is an understatement. Apparently it was said on 'Christian' television that 'any criticism of Todd Bentley [was] demonic'.
Such statements undermine the principle of Sola Scriptura. In effect such claims place the person, his utterances, or claimed miracles on a higher level of authority than the Bible. I'm sure that no one involved would dismiss the idea of the authority of Scripture, yet by such statements the fact that Scripture is our ultimate authority, above all else, is denied. Remember, when the Reformers argued for Sola Scriptura, their opponents didn't deny the Scriptura part, just the Sola.
Of course such statements are the extreme. Yet I fear that the same thing is carried out on as less extreme scale more often than we care to admit. More than once I have heard people give the excuse of not feeling the Spirit's leading as a reason to ignore a clear Scriptural instruction. Occasionally in discussions of ecumenism the fact the someone speaks in tongues has been considered of the utmost importance, rather than the person's understanding of the Gospel. Experience in these cases trumps Scripture as the highest authority.
If, as Pentecostals, we are to be people who do things the Bible way, we need to hold to the ultimate authority of Scripture - Sola Scriptura. Our question must always be 'what does the Bible say?' rather than looking to experience. We must always ask if teachings/prophecies agree with Scripture, rather than blindly following along.
Not all the blood of beasts
On Jewish altars slain
Could give the guilty conscience peace
Or wash away the stain.
But Christ, the heav’nly Lamb,
Takes all our sins away;
A sacrifice of nobler name
And richer blood than they.
My faith would lay her hand
On that dear head of Thine,
While, like a penitent, I stand,
And there confess my sin.
My soul looks back to see
The burdens Thou didst bear
When hanging on the cursèd tree,
And knows her guilt was there.
Believing, we rejoice
To see the curse remove;
We bless the Lamb with cheerful voice,
And sing His bleeding love.
First up is Graeme Goldsworthy, Gospel and Kingdom: A Christian Interpretation of the Old Testament (Paternoster,1981), which I recommend to all my Old Testament students. It's a short book and not at all difficult to read, but incredibly helpful for seeing what it really means to interpret the Old Testament as a Christian. Goldsworthy doesn't want to see us exchange a Christ centred interpretation for the simple moralisms that we can come up with if we neglect to look for Christ in all of Scripture. It's also a great introduction to 'Biblical theology'.
I also highly recommend another Goldsworthy book, Preaching the Whole Bible as Christian Scripture: The Application of Biblical Theology to Expository Preaching (Leicester: IVP, 2000). This book, while obviously useful for preachers, is very helpful at looking at Christ-centred interpretation of the various sections of the Old Testament. However, I recommend you read Gospel and Kingdom first!
Peter Leithart, A House for My Name: A Survey of the Old Testament (Moscow, Idaho: Canon Press, 2000). Is a great overview of the whole of the old testament, showing how it all fits together and points to Christ. Leithart says that he has written the book particularly for families to read together, but this does not mean that it's too simple for seminary students and pastors. On the contrary I believe that Leithart's book will provoke much serious thought in its readers, and hopefully much serious interest in the Old Testament.
Anyway, I hope some of you find these three recommendations useful. The Old Testament makes up a considerable proportion of our Bible, and so it's important that we understand it. When I'm teaching Old Testament classes, one of the things I really want to try and do is show my students how important and interesting the Old Testament really is. I think these three books go a long way towards that goal. Jesus on the road to Emmaus, 'beginning at Moses and all the Prophets ... expounded to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning Himself' (Luke 24:27). The Scriptures they had a that time consisted only of the Old Testament. If Jesus taught that the Old Testament was about Him, should we not endeavour to learn about Him there too?
What foolish creatures we are! Many of us are not interested in doctrine at all; we are lazy Christians who do not read, do not think, and do not try to delve into the mysteries. We have had a certain experience and we desire no more. Others of us, deploring such an attitude, say that, because the Bible is full of doctrine, we must study it and grapple with it and possess it. So we become absorbed in our interest in doctrine and stop at that. The result is that, as regards this question of the love of Christ, we are no further on than the others because we have made doctrine an end and a terminus. In this way the devil trips and traps us and robs us of our heritage. If your knowledge of the Scriptures and of the doctrines of the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ has not brought you to this knowledge of the love of Christ, you should be profoundly dissatisfied and disturbed. All biblical doctrine is about this blessed Person; and there is no greater snare in the Christian life than to forget the Person Himself and to live simply on truths concerning Him.
David Martyn Lloyd-Jones, The Unsearchable Riches of Christ—Studies in Ephesians, Chapter 3 (Grand Rapids MI: Baker Book House, 1972), 208
Doctrine and life need to be integrated. Doctrinal facts are not ends in themselves. True biblical doctrine leads to worship.
This can be the reality in any number of ways; e.g. when we know the truth of justification by grace thanks to Christ's death for our sins on the Cross, yet allow ourselves to wallow in feelings of guilt and unworthiness - of course we're guilty and unworthy, but as believers we should be living on the basis of God's forgiveness and Christ's righteousness imputed to us. We can never be worthy in ourselves, but we are righteous in Him! As the chorus goes:
When we beat ourselves up about our unworthiness, we are really looking to our own works for justification, rather than to Christ's finished work. This is a common way we sometimes fail to integrate our theology with our lives.
He is all my righteousness
I stand complete in Him
And Worship Him
As a Bible college lecturer, this issue makes me think of my students, particularly the new students. Suddenly they're being confronted with massive tomes of scholarly reading, theories galore, Greek paradigms and debates among theologians. Some might be tempted to make a separation between their academic theological studies and their personal piety; but I hope they don't. Theological studies necessarily involve scholarship and academia, but these are supposed to be aids to the students in their theological development. The details of ancient heresies are not simply taught for the sake of bolstering general knowledge, but to help us learn from the mistakes of the past and teach us the huge importance of the issues in question. The theology taught in class should, hopefully, penetrate the heart. As we learnt from the disciples on the road to Emmaus, it is proper understanding of God's Word that leads to a burning heart.
'If the Church is to advance and conquor it is by the living
Word of the living God. There is a sad lack among God's people of a
knowledge of His Word. The prophet of old said: 'My people is destroyed for lack of knowledge.' We are afraid that it is true of God's people today; they are defeated because they know not the Word of God. Today the land is flooded with false doctrines, and errors mixed with truth are readily accepted because they do not know the Word of God. Comparatively few attend our Bible Classes; they enjoy sitting down and singing some light jazzy choruses much better. They prefer a testimony meeting to a meeting where the Word of God, with its wonderful doctrines, is expounded. They would rather have their emotions stirred than to have their understanding enlightened.
Blessed be His name! Jesus stirs our emotions; for they on the Emmaus Road said: 'Did not our hearts burn within us!' But that is not all. Thank God for a burning heart. We read further on, 'Then opened He their understanding, that they might understand the Scriptures.' We need both, the burning heart and the opened understanding. We need fuel as well as fire. If we seek a burning heart only, we may become fanciful, imaginative, sentimental, and perhaps fanatical. On the other hand, if we seek truth alone, we will become formal, critical, legal and dogmatic. Both are essential, the Word and the Spirit in the Christian's conflict.' (Thomas Rees, The Divine Masterpiece, p.41)
These words were written in the early part of the twentieth century, and yet still seem so relevant today. Still today it is only by the Word of God that the Church may advance. This means that the members of the Church must know the Word. It is only through the Word of God, the Bible, that we learn of our true state as sinners before a holy God. It is only in the Scriptures that we learn that God sent His Son to die as our substitute, bearing the wrath of God for our sins. It is only through the Scriptures that we learn of the forgiveness of sins which God offers through faith in Christ, our atoning sacrifice. It is only through a knowledge of God's Word that we can know the truth of justification by grace through faith. If the saved are to live as the saved, they must know the truth of the finished work of Christ at the Cross and of their position in Him. Thus doctrine, theology, is of vital importance to our lives. Burning hearts then come through knowledge of His Word.
Pastor Rees almost seems to separate 'burning hearts' from 'opened understanding' or 'truth'. He almost sets them up as two things which should go together, but which we mistakenly can separate. Yet, let me argue, that this seeming separation is not possible in reality. True 'burning hearts' are produced by 'opened understanding'. The disciples on the road to Emmaus recognized this, saying 'Did not our heart burn within us while He talked with us on the road, and while He opened the Scriptures to us?' It was Jesus' opening of the Scriptures that produced their burning hearts. True Christian emotion is brought about through understanding true Christian doctrine, and particularly by the Cross.