Sola Scriptura

Sola Scriptura

This morning we’re going to begin a 5-week series on what are known as the “5 Solas” of the Reformation: Sola Scriptura—or Scripture alone; Sola Fide—or faith alone; Sola Gratia—or grace alone; Solus Christus—or Christ alone; and Soli Deo Gloria—or to the glory of God alone. The timing for this is intentional. Next Sunday many Protestant churches will celebrate, or at least make note of, the fact that it will be Reformation Sunday which is essentially the birth of the Protestant branch of Christianity in the 16th century.

As suggested by the word “reformation,” the Protestant Reformation was never intended to be a divisive movement but rather was for the purpose of reforming widespread abuses that existed then. It was a time during which there was great poverty. Despite this poverty, the church at that time was increasing in wealth, seemingly oblivious to the many needs of the day. There was also the ongoing practice of the sale of indulgences or grants sold by the pope for the remission of temporal punishment in purgatory. However, the need for reform wasn’t only in the Church’s practice but also in its doctrine, especially its teachings concerning the authority of Scripture and of salvation by grace through faith. On October 31st of 1517, Martin Luther, an Augustinian monk, who was one of the most prominent, if not the most prominent Reformer, protested the sale of indulgences as a means of selling salvation and nailed 95 theses to the door of Castle Church in Wittenburg in Germany and he also took on the church in its view of Scriptural authority and the righteousness of believers before God.

The Church at this time believed that God’s revelation wasn’t limited exclusively to the Scriptures but that it was also contained in the traditions of the Church as these were handed down by the apostles. This is what Luther was reacting against. So what is meant by Sola Scriptura is that Scripture alone is to be the primary and absolute source for all doctrine—i.e., orthodoxy and practice i.e., orthopraxy. The reason for this is because Scripture alone is a direct revelation or communication from God and therefore Scripture alone has divine authority.

To affirm Sola Scriptura is to affirm a number of things. It’s to afirm the sufficiency of Scripture—that Scripture contains all we need to live our lives faithfully before God because in Scripture we are told who God is, who we are, and how we can know him. So nothing needs to be added to the Scriptures—in and of themselves they are sufficient to lead us to God and preserve us;

To affirm Sola Scriptura is also to affirm the authority of Scripture. Because its source is God, the Old and New Testament are the final courts of appeal on all matters of doctrine and morals;

To affirm Sola Scriptura is to also affirm the clarity—or what theologians refer to as the perspicuity or perspicacity—of Scripture. This doesn’t mean that Scripture is clear on every matter about which we may have a question, but it does mean that Scripture is clear on what we need to know in order to love, follow, and live for the God who has made us in his image, redeemed us by his Son, and indwells us by his Holy Spirit.

Finally, given Scripture’s sufficiency, authority, and clarity, to affirm Sola Scriptura is also to affirm the propriety of using Scripture to interpret and understand other Scripture. Since God is the divine author working within the human authors of the 66 books of the Old and New Testaments, we can be confident in turning to Scriptures that are more clear to help us to understand those that may be less clear.

In our passage this morning, we see an extraordinary example of the practice of these principles of Sola Scriptura from the time of King Josiah. The book of 2 Chronicles[1] contains accounts of kings, both good (though mostly bad), who ruled in Judah to the time of its fall in 586 BC. The Northern kingdom of Israel had already fallen around 722 BC due to its ceasing to follow God’s ways though a remnant had been preserved. As for Josiah, he ruled from 640–609 BC and was one of the few good kings, sandwiched between the bad kings of Manasseh and Amon who preceded him and Jehoiakim who followed him. Yet of Josiah, we read in verse 2 prior to our passage that “He did what was right in the eyes of the Lord and followed the ways of his father David, not turning aside to the right or to the left.” To be likened to David, the best king Israel ever had, is the highest praise that could be made of any king.

In the opening verses of this chapter, it quickly becomes evident why Josiah was considered to be a good king. In verse 3 we read that “in the eighth year of his reign, while he was still young, he began to seek the God of his father David” and that “In his twelfth year he began to purge Judah and Jerusalem of high places, Asherah poles and idols.” If we’re able to take verse 1 at face value—that Josiah was eight years old when he became king and no doubt ruling under the tutelage of older advisors—then this means that he began seeking God when he was 16 and began bringing about reform in Judah when he was but 20 years old, getting rid of any and all remnants of pagan worship at the time, namely the female goddess Asherah, the male god Baal, and the “high places” or places dedicated to idol worship.

In the eighteenth year of his reign (verse 8)—or when he was 26— Josiah arranges to have the temple repaired and money is collected from the people and handed over to the high priest, Hilkiah, to carry out this task (vv. 9ff). This brings us up to our passage where we learn, in verse 14, that “While they were bringing out the money that had been taken into the temple of the Lord, Hilkiah the priest found the Book of the Law of the Lord that had been given through Moses.” Now though we can’t be sure, what was probably found by Hilkiah is the scroll of Deuteronomy, the fifth book of the Pentateuch, or a portion of it, since Josiah acts in accord with many of its instructions. Moses, the author of the Pentateuch, lived around 1500 BC, so a span of over 800 years had passed. During that time, the nation of Israel had, time and again, strayed from its roots, turning aside from following the one true God as they neglected to follow the shema or the proclamation of their identity found in Deuteronomy 6:4–5: “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength.”

Now when Shaphan, the secretary, reads from this book to Josiah, his immediate response is repentance—he tore his robes (verse 19). He recognizes how far the remaining remnant of Israel and Judah has strayed, acknowledging that “Great is the Lord’s anger that is poured out on us because those who have gone before us have not kept the word of the Lord; they have not acted in accordance with all that is written in this book.” Josiah’s concern is so great that he orders his servants to “Go and inquire of the Lord for me and for the remnant in Israel and Judah about what is written in this book that has been found” (verse 21). Hilkiah the priest and the others sent by Josiah do just that. They go and “speak to the prophet Huldah” (verse 22).

Huldah’s word from the Lord, the God of Israel, is a mixed bag. On the one hand, she prophecies disaster and “all the curses written in the book that has been read in the presence” of Josiah (verse 24). She also confirms what Josiah already knew and what caused him to rent his robe: “Because they have forsaken me and burned incense to other gods and aroused my anger by all that their hands have made, my anger will be poured out on this place and will not be quenched” in verse 25. And the tragic component here is that the purpose of prophecy is that people might see their need for God, turn from their ways, and repent. And what Huldah is confirming by proclaiming this Word from the LORD is that rather than repent and receive God’s blessings, they will ultimately remain in their current ways and thus receive God’s curses.

In terms of Josiah himself, however, there’s an oasis of grace recorded for us in verse 27 and the beginning of verse 28. Huldah states that “27 Because your heart was responsive and you humbled yourself before God when you heard what he spoke against this place and its people, and because you humbled yourself before me and tore your robes and wept in my presence, I have heard you, declares the Lord. 28 Now I will gather you to your ancestors, and you will be buried in peace.”

This oasis of grace ends up having a ripple effect for Josiah goes up the temple with “all the people from the least to the greatest” (verse 29) and reads “in their hearing all the words of the Book of the Covenant, which had been found in the temple of the Lord” (verse 31). But King Josiah isn’t content with being merely a hearer of God’s Word but he takes action and renews the covenant in the Lord’s presence “to follow the Lord and keep his commands, statutes and decrees with all his heart and all his soul, and to obey the words of the covenant written in this book” (verse 21). This is akin to when couples who have been married a number of years choose to renew their vows, reminding one another of the promises they made when they first married. So Josiah has “everyone in Jerusalem…pledge themselves to [the covenant]” and “the people of Jerusalem did this in accordance with the covenant of God, the God of their ancestors.”

Our passage ends with the fruit of this action in verse 33: “Josiah removed all the detestable idols from all the territory belonging to the Israelites, and he had all who were present in Israel serve the Lord their God. As long as he lived, they did not fail to follow the Lord, the God of their ancestors.”

What I’d like to suggest this morning is that although Josiah lived over 2000 years before the Protestant Reformation, he embodied all of the principles of Sola Scriptura—of Scripture alone—embraced by the Reformers.

Josiah understood the importance of the sufficiency of Scripture. As king over the people of Judah, even before the Book of the Law was found, when he was only sixteen years old, he sought the Lord. And he knew enough of God’s ways that at the age of 20—still prior to the finding of the Book of the Law—he began putting what he knew of God’s Word into practice for he knew that God was a jealous God. As we’re told in Exodus 20:3–5, “You shall have no other gods before me. You shall not make for yourself an image in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God.” And so Josiah, even before finding the Book of the Law, acted on what he knew, tearing down any and all expressions of worship to other gods—Asherah, Baal—or idols—the high places. Josiah knew and acted upon God’s revelation that he alone is the one true God. No other god is needed. The God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob who is also the God of David who is also the God of Josiah is sufficient.

Josiah also understood the authority of God’s communication. When the Book of the Law was found by Hilkiah and read to Josiah by Shaphan his secretary, after tearing his robes, the words of Deuteronomy making acutely clear how far Israel had strayed from the ways of God, Josiah seeks a further revelation from God about what they should do. Josiah doesn’t seek the prophets or seers from other nations but is concerned only about the one true LORD’s instructions for the remnant in Israel and Judah. He knows they haven’t followed him as they ought and seeks the only authority they need, that of the God of Israel.

Third, Josiah understood the clarity of Scripture. When the men report back to him the words of Huldah, the prophetess, Josiah acts immediately, calling together all the elders as well as all of the inhabitants of Jerusalem—from the least to the greatest (verse 30). And Josiah reads to them all the words of the Book of the Covenant. He calls them to renew the covenant in the LORD’s presence to follow and obey him with all their heart and soul—and so the people do. They return to their first and true love, the one God who made them a people for himself and no other.

Lastly, in seeking further clarity from Huldah, Josiah, in a way, demonstrates how Scripture can function to interpret Scripture. Since Scripture is a revelation or communication from God, despite having found the Book of the Law, this scroll of Deuteronomy or portions of it, Josiah seeks further instruction from God and receives from Huldah, the Lord’s mouthpiece, the further clarification he needs.

Brothers and sisters, we live in a time that though very different from that in which Josiah lived, nonetheless has some interesting connections with it. For although societies come go, human nature doesn’t change. Though we don’t live under a theocracy, we live in a society whose core values were once shaped by Christianity. Yet even during the lifetime of some of us here this morning, there has been a sea change in the values that are prized by a society that seems ever to be drifting further and further away from the teaching of God and his ways. As Pope John Paul II mentioned in his 1993 encyclical (Evangelium Vitae) in advocating the importance of Christians being pro-life, we live in a climate of the culture of death. In a span of less than 50 years, our society has gone from the majority being pro-life, to the law of the land favoring the obtaining of an abortion, no questions asked;

By means of the advocacy of people like Jack Kevorkian, many believe that not only should we be free to determine whether or not to end life at its inception but also at its end—again, no questions asked;

What is more, news of killings and shootings and wars are now so common that a newscaster may make mention of death in one sentence and in the very next tell us what the weather is forecast to be over the next five days;

As a society we no longer give primacy to the sanctity of marriage between a man and a woman but are coming to embrace a laissez-faire view of sexuality wherein sexual intercourse between people married or unmarried, opposite or same sex, are equally advocated and upheld;

In the religious realm, too, we are becoming the picture of tolerance, encouraging people to follow their hearts and whatever understanding and belief—or lack of belief—in God they have. So long as people are happy, what’s the harm?

So what are we to do? How can we convince others of the truth of who God is, of Christ being who he said he was, the only way to the Father? How can we convince others of the truth of Scripture—of it being sufficient for us finding meaning in life and living life as God intended? Of Scripture being the only authority we need, for it is a word to us from the God who made us in his image and who seeks to redeem us by his Son and preserve us by his Holy Spirit? How can we save others we love and care for?

In short, we cannot save others for salvation is a work only God is able to do. But we can recover the Book of the Law, even as King Josiah did. Do you realize what a gift we have in owning our very own copy of the Bible? And for many of us, we own not only one copy but have various copies lying around our homes.

I want to suggest this morning that the beginning of change is to begin with us. If it is the case that Scripture contains all that we need to know, love, and serve God and each other, then we need to be intentional about reading and studying it.

But we need to do more than read and study it. We need to obey its teaching for God has called us not to be adequate but to be holy. And holiness is hard work. It’s such hard work that we cannot do it alone. To live the lives God has called and intended us to live, we need God’s Word. We need God’s Spirit. We need one another. By God’s design, we are created to need each other. When we’re told in Genesis that “it is not good for man to be alone,” this is a statement of the establishment of marriage but it’s more than that—it’s a statement that you and I, young and old, single and married, are created for each other. As we have said time and again, because of the sacrifice of our Savior and Lord, Jesus Christ, all who have accepted his sacrifice are now children of our heavenly Father and brother and sister to one another. And so in our quest to be holy—to stand against injustice, to stand for compassion, to care for those who can’t help themselves—from the unborn to those who find themselves nearing the end of their earthly lives—we need each other because holiness is part of our new nature in Christ but we are ever tempted to return to our old nature and ways.

And though we may feel overwhelmed at the onslaught of need we hear about each day in the news, though it is well and good to think globally, as the saying goes, we can also seek ways to act locally, reaching out to our communities in Ipswich and Beverly and Haverhill and Hamilton.

Brothers and sisters, as we seek to live lives that are in accord with what God sets out in his Word, we can become salt and light to those around us. God in Christ by his Spirit can use our imperfect words and deeds to stir the hearts of those around us, drawing others to himself despite our testimony occurring in these broken vessels of ours. To this end, I want to close this morning with an admonition from the Apostle Paul from 2 Corinthians 4:1–11 that beautifully summarizes and ties together the posture we’re to have as we seek to live for God in Christ in a society whose values differ so greatly his: “1Therefore, since through God’s mercy we have this ministry, we do not lose heart. Rather, we have renounced secret and shameful ways; we do not use deception, nor do we distort the word of God. On the contrary, by setting forth the truth plainly we commend ourselves to everyone’s conscience in the sight of God. And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing. The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel that displays the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. For what we preach is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, and ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake. For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of God’s glory displayed in the face of Christ. But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. 10 We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body. 11 For we who are alive are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that his life may also be revealed in our mortal body.”

Let us pray….

[1] 2 Kings 22–23 is a parallel passage.

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