The Danger of Abandoning Sola Scriptura

This past week an interesting global controversy broke out involving Florida pastor Terry Jones and his decision to burn at least 200 Korans to mark the anniversary of 9/11.  Recent reports indicate he has suspended the plans, for now, pending discussions on a separate controversial issue, the moving of the mosque in New York.  I haven’t really followed the Koran burning issue too much, because quite frequently radical church pastors make some outlandish claims in the name of God.  But this one got me thinking.  I wasn’t able to find any quotes other than one from Politics Daily that stated Jones’ plan was following out what God had told him to do, but a lot of times in instances like these that’s typically the case.  Here’s the quote, ““’If God told us to do it’ — burn the Korans – ‘then I guess he could tell us to do something different.’”  If that’s accurate, then it seems an assertion could be made that he indeed was following what he felt he was told.  Yesterday, the announcement to suspend the burnings was due to an alleged agreement to move the mosque in New York, which Jones took as a “sign from God.”  The pastor’s entire logic and therefore his theology is wrong and dangerous.  This is precisely what happens when you abandoned the doctrine of Sola Scriptura

During the Protestant Reformation, the Reformers established what was known as the “5 Pillars of the Reformation” that included Sola Scriptura (Only Scripture: Our Only Foundation), Solus Christus (Only Christ: Our Only Mediator), Sola Gratia (Only Grace: Our Only Method), Sola Fide (Only Faith: Our Only Means), Sola Dei Gloria (To God Alone Be Glory: Our Only Ambition).  These 5 Latin phrases were central to the protestant debate, as the Roman Catholic Church had begun to exert their own “infallibility” and diverge away from each of these Biblical areas.  Such is the case within mainstream evangelical churches today.  Many have no idea what these phrases are, let alone what they mean in the Biblical sense.   An excellent introduction to them is Dr. Michael Horton’s article found here:

Sola Scriptura was so integral to the heart of the Reformation because on the one hand, the Roman Catholics believed their teachings were infallible and asserted that their traditions were likewise the form of an infallible revelation.  They simply needed “one infallible Bible and one infallible interpreter” of it.  Obviously no man can be infallible and only the Lord Jesus Christ ever has been perfect, but in Catholicism, even to this day, the pope is consider as such.  On the other side of the Reformation debate were the Anabaptists who believed that their leaders were in direct communication with the Holy Spirit.  Instead of one infallible messenger, like the Catholics, the Anabaptists had multiple flawless messengers who staked a claim to hear the voice of God.  In the middle of these two sides stood the Reformers and their assertion that the Bible was the only infallible form of communication of God with man and was therefore the final authority in all matters, such as doctrine and life.

Which brings us back to Pastor Jones and likewise all preachers/teachers who make claims that “God told them” to do or say various things, that they’ve had a divine revelation, or that they’ve heard God speak to them.  These claims are “extra-biblical”, meaning it is not something that God has spoken through His Holy Word.  As Michael Horton states in the article referenced above, “There can be no communication with God apart from the written and living Word. Everything in the Christian faith depends on the spoken and written Word delivered by God to us through the prophets and apostles.”   Jones isn’t alone in this regard, the recently deceased Oral Roberts made numerous claims that God had told him various things to do or “prophesy”.  Likewise, Pat Robertson has made multiple claims over the last 30 years that were “revelations from God”.  The list of these men goes on and on and when the general public hears of these “revelations” the usual response is to scoff and mock God.  It might be easy for even us Christians to look at televangelists and mock them for their claims, but what about when this idea of hearing or listening for God outside of his Word invades the local church?    

Pastor John MacArthur offers the following helpful commentary on a study that teaches that very thing:

“a book….It’s called Experiencing God. There’s much in it that’s good. There really is. There’s much in it that’s very good. It gives honor to Christ. It gives honor Scripture. It gives honor to the Holy Spirit, but there’s an insidious flaw in the middle of it. The material is designed to teach a person how to listen for the voice of God and to somehow be able to hear the voice of God.

Now, this is very dangerous. If you want to hear the voice of God, read the Bible. I’ll never forget reading some years ago a book written by somebody who was into hearing the voice of God and into prophecies and all of the manifestation of that in the Church. It was a pastor of a church in the Midwest, and he said, “When somebody stands up in our church service and says, ‘Thus sayeth the Lord,’ and then rattles off something from God, we know that it’s either from God or it’s not.” And frankly, that is not helpful. That is not helpful.

God doesn’t speak in such unclear fashion. If God wants to say something, there won’t be any question about whether He said it or didn’t say it. The problem with that is you’ve got people being engulfed in this mystical thing, listening for the voice of God, and then whatever pops into their head, becomes divine as to its source. “Well, the Lord told me to do this, and the Lord told me to do that.” I have to tell you honestly folks, the Lord has never said a word to me in my entire life that didn’t come out of the Bible. They say, “Well, don’t you think he impresses things on your heart?” Yeah, but I don’t know if it’s Him. I have a strong impression. I don’t have a red light on my head that turns on and goes around and around when it’s Him. I don’t know that. There’s no way I can know that.

Sure I feel things, and so forth. You say, “Well, don’t you believe God leads you?” Of course, I look back in retrospect, and I see it. But at the time, I don’t have any sense, feeling that is clearly defined as the voice of God. And so what you’re setting people up for is serious problems, because they’re gonna follow their impressions. They’re gonna follow, who know where those impressions may be coming from, as if that’s the voice of God. And with good intentions, it takes people off the word and onto their own intuition, which is pretty dangerous. And I have a problem with that entire movement because of that.

And again, I go back and say you can read some of those books, which I have read through the years and critiqued and all, and you’re gonna find many, many things in there that are very good. They honor the word. They honor God. They honor Christ. They honor the Holy Spirit, but having done all of that, then you tell people, “Learn to listen for the voice of God, and God will tell you what to do.” You set them up for disaster, because there’s no indication in Scripture that they can ever know the voice of God, especially if it’s not audible. If it’s some kind of impression, you don’t know where that impression came from.”

 This is why the Reformers were so adamant for Sola Scriptura because when the Bible is not the final authority in matters it leads to confusion, false assertions, and most importantly false presumptions placed in the mouth of God.  When a person follows this internal prompting, who’s to say it’s from God or the flesh?  The Apostle Paul states in Romans 7:18, “For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh.  For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out.”  How then can we look inward and expect to hear God’s voice, let alone discern whether it is His or an outworking of our own sinful flesh?

The danger in listening and following these internal voices and promptings instead of the Word of God is that it can lead one down a maddening trail of twists and turns.  It’s a trap that we can so easily fall into or a path that we can be so easily persuaded to follow, such as in the book Experiencing God, that MacArthur referenced above.  Maybe some of these promptings we get right and things work out for good.  But what about the ones we get wrong, like ordering the burning of the Koran?  Are we so presumptuous as to place those words in the mouth of our Lord?  The question becomes if we abandon Sola Scriptura in favor of “hearing from God” how do we know who is actually hearing God’s voice and who is like Terry Jones or other preachers?     

2 Timothy 3:16-17 “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work.”

Proverbs 28:26 “Whoever trusts in his own mind is a fool, but he who walks in wisdom will be delivered.”

About the author

Christian saved by grace through faith.


  1. WHERE in the bible is it *written* (not ‘assumed’ or ‘presumed’ or interpreted) that the bible is to be or is the ‘only [sole] authority?’ Chapter verse please. B/c if it’s NOT there, (it is *not*) then you rightly must debunk your own belief system. 2 Tim. 3:16-17 verse isn’t the one btw…b/c when that was being written, the only ‘scripture’ referred to was in the OLD Testament, b/c the NT was not written yet. Are you aware that you contradict yourself in this post? I know ‘bible believing’ Christians who constantly do that, and can’t agree even on basic tenets of Christian faith. THAT is scary, but that is the fruit of “sola scriptura.” Even Luther saw that come to pass and cringed to see it!

    The CHURCH had to put the canon of books, old and new, together to be ‘make up the bible.’ Therefore:

    Please see 1 Timothy 3:15 –

    “But if I should be delayed, you should know how to behave in the household of God, which is the church of the living God, the *pillar and foundation* of truth. ”

    The CHURCH is the pillar/bulwark of truth. Not the ‘bible alone.’ Jesus built His Church on Peter and she still stands to this very day. This is precisely why Jesus gave us ‘The Church.’ No apostolic succession and buffoons like Jones and David Koresh and a host of other will sprout up, interpreting the bible ‘for themselves.’ There are even ‘start your own church kits’ available on line. Google it. It’s very sad! One Church. One Body. One Baptism. One Faith. One Heart. One Mind. Where will your own ‘church’ be in 2000 years?

    God bless.

  2. Susie, thank you for the comment. This question is one that I’m sure has led to much confusion, particularly in the Catholic tradition, which I presume you hold to as denoted by “Pax Christi” signature. Since the primary thesis of your argument seems to be with the Apostle Paul’s statement “ALL SCRIPTURE” and that it cannot refer to New Testament canon, because it had not been written yet, and must by default be referring to the Old Testament only, this is there where we will begin. 2 Peter 3:15-16 says, “15And count the patience of our Lord as salvation, just as our beloved brother Paul also wrote to you according to the wisdom given him, 16as he does in all his letters when he speaks in them of these matters. There are some things in them that are hard to understand, which the ignorant and unstable twist to their own destruction, as they do the other Scriptures.” Two things to note in this passage, first is that Paul’s inspiration or “wisdom” has been given to him and his letters include this “given wisdom”, the source we’ll identify later. Secondly, Peter uses the phrase “as they do in other Scriptures” signifying that Paul’s letters are inclusive in Scripture. So when we read what Paul writes in 2 Timothy 3:16-17 that all Scripture is God breathed, we know he is referring to the Old Testament, but because his letters are also Scripture, they too are included in this statement. It really does mean “ALL SCRIPTURE”. In 1 Corinthians 14:37 Paul writes, “If anyone thinks that he is a prophet, or spiritual, he should acknowledge that the things I am writing to you are a command of the Lord.” Paul is upfront in stating that the words he writes are from the Lord. Additionally, we can look at 1 Thessalonians 2:13 which affirms that the words which Paul wrote was indeed the Word of God, “And we also thank God constantly for this, that when you received the word of God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men but as what it really is, the word of God, which is at work in you believers.” Again, Paul’s words that he writes and speaks are the word of God, meaning Holy Spirit inspired. Finally, 2 Peter 1:20-21 states, “20knowing this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture comes from someone’s own interpretation. 21For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit” likewise affirming that the Bible was written by men, inspired by the Holy Spirit. Since the Bible is the Word of God it is in fact holy, the only truth, “Sanctify them with truth, your word is truth.” John 17:17 Since this is the case and all else is subject to error and falsehood, the Bible is the supreme, sole authority, not man.

    See also: 2 Peter 3:2, Romans 2:16, Galatians 1:8-9

    If this is where you claim that I have contradicted myself lies, then it is blatantly untrue, because the Bible confirms that not only are the Old Testament Scriptures the Word of God, but also the New Testament Scriptures. Your statement that “bible believing Christians” do not agree on basic tenets of faith is an over-generalization and assumes 1)That I know who it is you are referring to 2) That I know what tenets it is that this group disagrees on. Having said that, are there disagreements on Scripture interpretation? Of course, but this is not the Bible’s fault. It’s the fault of fallen, sinful men that view the Bible through the lenses of their own preferences, ideologies, and beliefs. The Bible is the pure, holy and true Word of God and as such it should be used to interpret itself. The “true” bible-believing Christians do not disagree on basic tenets of faith, as long as these tenets are defined as Jesus Christ the Son of God, being born of the virgin Mary (Matthew 1:22-23), living on earth as the incarnate Son of God (John 1:14-18), dying on the cross as prophesied by the Scriptures (Isaiah 53), raising Himself again on the third day and now seated at the right hand of the Father (Hebrews 12:2). That salvation is by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone, apart from any works (Ephesians 2:8-9). That Christ is the only mediator with God the Father (1 Timothy 2:5). That He has sent His Holy Spirit to be our Helper and to guide us in all truth until He returns (John 16:5-15) and this subsequently affirms the Trinity, God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. These “tenets” cannot be disagreed on. There are secondary or tertiary beliefs that are disagreed upon and this is one reason why there are multiple denominations within the Protestant faith again due to their own shortcomings and not that of the Bible.

    The Church did establish the canon of Scripture, but to assume that the Sovereign Lord was not providential in guiding which books would be included is a fundamental mistake. This is where apologetics in itself fails, because the logic or systems of men are in no way a replacement for faith in the Sovereign Lord. If this were the case, then logic would save instead of faith. As such, you either rely on the faithfulness of God that He has worked through men to assemble precisely the books that He wants to include or He has been unfaithful and left His sheep to flounder on their own for the last 1900 years. However, Jesus’ own words in Revelation 22:18-20 warns of the dangers of changing the words spoken within (in the context Revelation) the Bible, “18I warn everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: if anyone adds to them, God will add to him the plagues described in this book, 19and if anyone takes away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God will take away his share in the tree of life and in the holy city, which are described in this book.” It may be time better spent reviewing the history of the Apocrypha and why Jesus and the New Testament writers quoted the Old Testament 295 times, but never quoted the Apocrypha once rather than questioning the canonicity of the Bible. It is not mere coincidence that this statement concludes the final book of the Bible. So I believe it is safe to presume that God is in fact faithful in delivering His Word and He takes it very seriously. The assembly of God’s Word is not a part of “church history subsequent to God’s great central acts of redemption for His people, but as an integral part of the history of redemption itself.” Meaning God is sovereignly in charge of His plan, not the church. The assembly of the Bible was purposefully done in order to point generations of fallen sinful people to Jesus Christ. Finally, John 16:13 gives testimony to the fact that the Holy Spirit will guide believers in all truth and He subsequently self-testifies to us that God’s Word is in fact true and precisely in the order and content that He intended “When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come.” To presume that the Holy Spirit would guide believers in something other than God’s Word is blatantly blasphemous.

    The Church in which you quote 1 Timothy 3:15, is not holy in and of itself and insofar as it is not yet fully sanctified, despite Catholic dogma asserting otherwise. It is fallible. We are made up of sinful, fallen creatures of God that if left to ourselves at a moment’s notice would seek to pervert and twist the Scriptures. However it is holy by definition, “set apart” for the Gospel and from ordinary purposes. Where will my “own church” be in 2000 years? It doesn’t really matter, but if the Lord does not tarry I can promise you 100% that God’s Word will stand. I fear that in an attempt to proclaim the Roman Catholic Church as the only “true church” you are mixing the terms church in a local sense with THE CHURCH, the Bride of Christ and there is a major difference. See local churches (i.e. the “visible church”) come and go, they apostatize, they abandon truth, they replace the Word of God with all other worldly means. Take for example Paul’s letter to the church at Galatia, ”6I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel— 7 not that there is another one, but there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ. 8But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed. 9As we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed.” Galatians 1:6-9 This is why churches cannot be the ultimate authority, including yes, the Catholic Church, but instead they must hold up the Word of God, i.e. be the “pillar and foundation of truth” to use the passage you quoted in its proper context. Note that this passage uses an architectural analogy in which the church is the pillar resting under the authority of Scripture, not the other way around. The “invisible Church”, i.e. the Bride of Christ will truly stand from generation to generation and their foundation is on the Word of God itself and they are not “self-reliant” and they will be made holy and pure upon glorification with Christ.

    By Grace Alone, through Faith Alone, in Christ Alone, according to Scripture alone, for God’s Glory alone.

    1 Corinthians 2:14

    Please see the following article as it addresses additional issues which I suspect are at the root of your comment, namely that the Roman Catholic Church assertion that it is the only “true church”:

  3. Suzie I also appreciate your comment, but I concur with John. I think your view seems to be impaled upon its own logic. In speaking of people like Jones and Koresh as examples of the problems with the doctrine of Sola Scriptura you fail to acknowledge similar individuals within the Roman Catholic Church (see Pope Alexander VI for the most prominent example). Even with the so called apostolic succession you have had “buffoons such as Jones and David Koresh.” This is why it is so important to fault humanity as opposed to the Scriptures. The problem as John said does not lie in the Bible but with sinful man. Romans 3:10-18 states there is no man who seeks after God, that no one does good. We are totally depraved or have a total inability to do anything good. The fruit of these lives show forth a lack of Christ in their lives Galatians 5:16-25. We are by nature children of wrath who are dead in our trespasses and sins before Christ Ephesians 2:1-9. These men were not followers of Christ no matter title they possessed or with whatever name they called themselves.

    Next we should again take a look at the claim that Peter was the rock Jesus referred to in Matthew 16:15-18:

    He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” Simon Peter replied, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” And Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven. And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. (Mat 16:15-18)

    Now is Jesus talking about Peter in this passage being the rock upon which the Church is built or is He talking about Himself. It would be odd for Christ to refer to Peter in this way since so many other places in Scripture he is spoken of or speaks of Himself as the rock. Peter himself in his second letter calls Christ not himself the Chief cornerstone. The following passages are a few where Christ is referred to as the rock/cornerstone.

    “Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on the rock.
    (Mat 7:24-25)

    and all drank the same spiritual drink. For they drank from the spiritual Rock that followed them, and the Rock was Christ.
    (1Co 10:4)

    For it stands in Scripture: “Behold, I am laying in Zion a stone, a cornerstone chosen and precious, and whoever believes in him will not be put to shame.” So the honor is for you who believe, but for those who do not believe, “The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone,” and “A stone of stumbling, and a rock of offense.” They stumble because they disobey the word, as they were destined to do.
    (1Pe 2:6-8)

    See also: Deu 32:4, Deu 32:18, 2Sa 22:2-3, 2Sa 22:32, Psa 19:4, Psa 31:3, Isa 17:10, Isa 26:4… and the list goes on. I encourage you to do a word search on the word rock and see how many times it refers to God.

    I hope that you can see in these verses show a consistent pattern in the Bible of God being the Rock, and the truth of the Gospel of Jesus being the Rock upon which Christ established His church. There could be no other way. The Church which is the Bride of Christ could stand on no other truth. No institution founded upon placing a man as an intermediary between Christ and His sheep will outlast the Word of God.

    In Christ,

  4. Here is an interesting verse. Read Acts 20:35. “In all things I have shown you that by so toiling you ought to help the weak and REMEMBER the word of the Lord Jesus, that He Himself said, ‘IT IS MORE BLESSED TO GIVE THAN TO RECEIVE’.”

    The word ‘REMEMBER’, doesn’t it mean ‘KEEP THE TRADITION’? And if that isn’t enough, try to find where the Lord said, ‘IT IS MORE BLESSED TO GIVE THAN TO RECEIVE’, in the Gospels. You can’t because it isn’t there. Paul passed this phrase to the people by none other than ‘TRADITION’.

  5. Michael, if your intent is to refute the sufficiency of Scripture alone by quoting this verse, then I’m afraid it doesn’t hold much weight. Luke is recording the words of Paul as he quotes Jesus. Is your assumption based on the thought that this quote doesn’t appear elsewhere in the Gospels? You may want to also read where Paul is quoting Jesus see 2 Corinthians 12:9 “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Is this too a tradition? No, again it is the recorded words of Jesus, but that doesn’t make it tradition. Tradition holds no weight over the infallible, inerrant, Holy Spirit inspired Word of God. The word “remember” is the Greek word mnemoneuo which actually means to be mindful or call to mind, i.e. remember.

    In Christ,

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