498 years ago this week, Martin Luther nailed his 95 theses on Wittenberg Church in Germany. What started out as a reform turned into a full-fledged reformation. In the annals of human history, the sixteenth century will remain a turning point that ushered in a new era of biblical literacy and spirituality.
The clarion call of the Reformation was the Bible and the Bible alone (sola scriptura). This is evidenced by Luther in 1521, who said while standing in the council famously known as the Diet of Worms: “Unless I am convicted by Scripture and plain reason—I do not accept the authority of popes and councils, for they have contradicted each other—my conscience is captive to the Word of God.”
While some may argue that the Reformation is over, it’s not over. As the Bible says, “The path of the righteous is like the morning sun, shining ever brighter till the full light of day” (Prov. 4:18, NIV). The rise and progress of the Protestant movement/churches (the Lutherans, Anabaptists, Methodists, etc.) testify of this continued Reformation, since it is a growth in the Word of God. The Bible has always been the necessary and sufficient condition of revival, reformation, and church growth (Ezek. 37:4).
Since its inception, the Seventh-day Adventist Church has enjoyed enormous growth, from church membership to educational and healthcare institutions. Given its short span of existence, there is no doubt that this success can only be attributed to faithfulness to the Bible.
The high view of Scripture espoused by the Adventist Church continues to distinguish it from mainstream Protestantism. As the norm of biblical interpretation, “the Bible and the Bible alone” has enabled the church to retain the spirit of the Reformers and the Adventist pioneers who through persevering studies systematically laid the doctrinal foundation of the church. Sola scriptura has always been the flagship interpretive principle of the church.
Challenges to Sola Scriptura
Today, a landscape survey of the Adventist Church indicates various biblical and theological divisions. Perceptive observers will see that these rifts arise from different views and attitudes toward the Bible. These varying views can be traced from a spectrum of approaches to interpreting the Bible. May I submit to you today that the root cause of confusion within the Adventist Church is confusion over the principle of sola scriptura? Some advocate a plain reading, a literal reading, a redemptive-movement hermeneutic, etc. These different approaches lead to widely different conclusions.
With so many issues threatening to divide the Seventh-day Adventist Church, the time has come for those who believe in the remnant movement of God to sit down to define and decide how to apply the principle of sola scriptura. How shall we interpret? How shall we read?
[Photo: Statue of Martin Luther in Berlin, from Wikimedia Commons]