“No creed but Christ.” “No creed but the Bible.” “I don’t need all that fancy doctrine. I just read my Bible.” Though there may be good intentions behind these statements, and I’m sure that’s certainly the case with most Christians who say these things, I actually think these ideas can be potentially be harmful and stunt our spiritual growth and knowledge of God if we are not careful.
This is where I want to differentiate between solo Scriptura and sola Scriptura. These are Latin terms, and as you can probably guess, Scriptura means “Scripture,” but what do the prefixes solo and sola mean? At their core, they both mean only, but this is also where we get into a little bit of church history.
In the 1500s, the Protestant Reformation happened. To summarize as briefly as I can, starting in Europe, many people began seeing lots of serious issues with the Catholic church at that time, and decided to break away from it. Some of the more well-known figures of the Reformation are Martin Luther (Germany), John Calvin (France), and John Knox (Scotland).
After the Reformation, five main tenets emerged of what the Reformers believed to be the truth about Scripture and what the Catholic church had missed; these became known as the Five Solas. Or, as you could say in English, the Five “Only’s” of how someone is saved. For sake of the topic of this article, we will only focus on Sola Scriptura, but here are all five of them.
- Sola gratia (by grace alone)
- Sola fide (through faith alone)
- Solus Christus (in Christ alone
- Sola Scriptura (according to Scripture alone)
- Soli Deo gloria (to glory to God alone)
What sola and solo Scriptura hold in common is that they both hold the Bible as the highest authority in one’s life and that all other truth that we know should line up with what it says. That is the common ground; a high view of Scripture. Where the two camps differ though, is that sola, the view of the Reformers, leans on the tradition of the Church in interpreting the Bible, which include the use of historic creeds and confessions for systematically detailing specific doctrines that the Bible contains (such as the Apostles’ Creed, Nicene Creed, or the London Baptist Confession).
Of course, none of these aids are inerrant or divinely inspired like the Bible is or reign supreme above it, and they certainly do not undermine the sufficiency of Scripture for walking in faith and holiness because they are only useful insofar as they agree with the Bible. They simply serve as guardrails to protect the Church against false teachings because let’s face it: something is more likely to be true if it has been historically accepted by the Church. This doesn’t mean that something is true just because the Church at large has said so, but it simply means that we should be much more wary of “doctrines” that seemingly come out of nowhere and are out of orthodoxy. As R. C. Sproul says,
“Although tradition does not rule our interpretation, it does guide it. If upon reading a particular passage you have come up with an interpretation that has escaped the notice of every other Christian for two thousand years, or has been championed by universally recognized heretics, chances are pretty good that you had better abandon your interpretation.”
The Agony of Deceit, 34–35
Solo, on the other hand, rejects the use of Church tradition, creeds, and confessions, saying that such things are not from God, but from man. Again, just as I said in the beginning, these thoughts may have good intentions behind them, but I think that holding to solo can leave individuals as well as churches susceptible false teachings if they care nothing of what the Church has historically held to on certain doctrinal matters.
Additionally, holding to solo can cause us to miss out on so many of the rich doctrines that the Bible contains. What a shame it would be to pass over these because we are not willing to hear from God-fearing men who have labored in the mine-shaft of Scripture and brought up for us the riches that lay there! If there is truth about God to be known—truth that is life-giving and stirs up our affections for God—why should we not want to know it? Claiming that these thoughts are too lofty or beyond our understanding should not suffice as an excuse.
Though it is true that we can never fully comprehend God, even when we get to Heaven, it does not follow that we should stay stagnant in our fellowship with him. Why should we not seek to think about and know him in whose “presence there is fullness of joy,” and at whose “right hand are pleasures forevermore”? (Psalm 16:11).
About two and a half years ago, I underwent the most significant spiritual transformation of my life outside of my conversion. I used to be one who did not care for the doctrine and theology I so love now; I simply read my Bible and believed what I believed, and that was enough for me. But something happened to start of the year of 2019 that so shook me to my core, my entire world and almost everything I had believed for around 20 years was turned upside down. But it was a good turning upside down, and I have never been the same since.
I realized the importance of doctrine and theology, and it was literally like a switch had been flipped and a light turned on in my mind and heart and I grew to love and embrace so many of the doctrines I had previously either opposed, or didn’t think mattered. I am incredibly grateful to God that he showed me mercy and grace in giving me new eyes to see and ears to hear what is in his Word.
So I encourage you, reader, don’t shy away from diving deep into the knowledge and understanding of your Creator. Yes, read your Bibles and hold it as the ultimate authority in your life. Yes, let “Scripture alone” be your creed. But do not forsake the importance of the guard rails of doctrine—sound doctrine—and be willing to immerse yourself in the teachings of those who have come before you, so long as they agree with Scripture.