The times of the reformation were much like today. It was the beginning of the 16th century (1517 when Luther posted his thesis to be exact). This event, the posting of the thesis, was in many ways the "shot heard round the world" of human dignity. Luther, quite heroically and I imagine quite innocently, was history's great truthsayer. Luther simply began the discussion about the "pink elephant" sitting in the room that was Western Civilization..
Luther's thesis proclaimed, "This practice of indulgences is contrary to true repentance and undermines all true and authentic religion". It is as if Luther is innocently asking people, just for a minute, to think for themselves. In fact, this is exactly what Luther was asking people to do.
Luther, by calling people to seek the truth for themselves, using only their minds, the Holy Spirit, and THE BIBLE, was the first great proponent of individual human dignity.
Luther, it must be noted, preceeded Galileo by over 100 years. Galileo, a personal hero of mine, did not face the inquisition until 1624 and was not put under house arrest until 1632. Luther posted his thesis in 1517 and died in 1546.
The thesis of this post is that Sola Scriptura, if properly understood, promotes the dignity and freedom of the individual. I am trying to play Keirkegaard here and help all of us, especially us pastors, see the existential risk in truly preaching sola scriptura and encouraging people to seek truth for themselves. This is a risk Luther took and it is a risk all of us must take if people are to grow into truly moral people.
Sola Scriptura is the doctrine which states that our authority for faith and practice is scripture alone. Now let's look at a radical sola scriptura verse:
1 John 2:27
1 John 227 As for you, the anointing which you received from Him abides in you, and you have no need for anyone to teach you; but as His anointing teaches you about all things, and is true and is not a lie, and just as it has taught you, you abide in Him.
The apostle is saying, "you, believer in the bodily resurrection of Jesus, have the Holy Spirit in you. Search the truth out for yourself. You do not need a teacher. Wrestle with God, just you and the Lord, to discover truth".
BUT wait a minute!! The people are uneducated. This is 21st Century America!! We are scripturally illiterate. Well, think back to 16th century Germany. Luther translated the New Testament into German in 1522. His was the first German translation based on the original languages. Prior to Luther's translation all the former translations were based on the Latin Vulgate. So Luther was writing in 1517 to a people without any real access to the bible at all, and yet Luther was asking people to think for themselves!!!
So we ask our congregations, and this is key to any true renewal, seek the truth of scripture for yourselves. You do not need me, the pastor, to teach you. All true scholarship and all true intelligent inquiry goes straight to the source.
This morning, I preached to our congregation that each of us is personally responsible for knowing the scriptures ourselves. Wisdom has no grandchildren. If we are to be wise, we must not take as "gospel" what people tell us. We must ourselves, in the power of the Holy Spirit, seek out the truth in Scripture and know the scripture in our own heart and through our own convictions.
The individual's personal responsibility to know truth was the heart of the protestant revolution. If we are to support the principles of our faith, we must trust and dignify every individual's pursuit of truth. The transfer of responsibility for knowing truth through the scriptures from the educated clergy to the individual is what not only reformed the church but reformed our western civilization. The natural cousin of this transfer of responsibility to the individual is the granting of dignity to the individual. They are two sides of the same coin. Not long after this triumph of the individual came scientific and the republican revolutions.
The story of Luther became the legend, the heroic tale, of the individual standing firm on his convictions and his understanding of scripture against the false and artificial authority of formal education and formal titles. The western world as we know it was born.
So here we stand.
We believe and preach that the individual Christian has equal access to God and has Spiritual union with God. This uniquely protestant affirmation is the heart of human dignity and freedom. This affirmation of every regenerated individual's access to truth is also the foundation of human responsibility. Sola scriptura both dignifies every individual and holds every individual to account before God. Sola Scriptura launched the western world as we know it, a world where each individual is filled with dignity and also filled with the responsibility to know truth and the God of truth through scripture alone.