What do we mean when we say we are a "Reformed" Church? Part 4 of 10 - Scripture Alone

[Editor's Note: Read part 1, part 2, and part 3 of this series.]

We believe that Scripture alone may bind the consciences of men because it is the ultimate authority from which we know of God and his salvation!

How do we know Jesus Christ and his good news?

Reformed Christians believe that salvation is in Christ alone by grace alone through faith alone. We know this to be true because it is the clear message of Holy Scripture. Man’s wisdom did not and cannot conceive of the foolishness of the cross apart from God’s revelation in Christ recorded in the words of Scripture. Therefore, Reformed Christians are fundamentally committed to submitting to whatever is taught in the Scriptures. Whatever is affirmed and taught, we must affirm and believe. Whatever is commanded, we must obey. The Scriptures must narrate our lives and provide the lens through which we interpret our experience. No Christian or church should create commands, rules, or laws for others unless Scripture requires such things, because, in matters where Scripture does not lay down a command or teaching, Christians have liberty to exercise wisdom and love in their various contexts.

There are several important implications of this doctrine: the sufficiency  of Scripture, the authority of Scripture, and the clarity of Scripture.

The Sufficiency of Scripture

Reformed Christians believe that the Scriptures contain all that is needed for salvation and godly living. In other words, we do not need God to give us further revelations in order to know how to be saved or to live wisely and righteously. We have everything we need from God set down in writing in the 66 books of the Old and New Testaments. We need not pursue direct speech to us from God. We don’t have to wonder if there is some word of God out there yet to be discovered. The Scriptures are sufficient for us to know God in Christ, to be saved from sin, and to walk in the power of the Holy Spirit.

The Authority of Scripture and The Role of Tradition

This does not mean, however, that we ought to only read the Bible and nothing else. It is a huge mistake to think that, because the Scriptures are sufficient for salvation and godliness, the writings of Christians throughout the history of the Church are not needed or are dangerous. Reformed Christians are not “Bible only” people or “no creed but the Bible” people. The creeds, theology books, and Scripture commentaries collected over the centuries are hugely important for the Church, not because Scripture isn’t enough, but precisely because we should seek every aid in properly understanding and applying the Scriptures. Scripture alone carries with it God’s authority. Because only the Bible is God’s word, no church council, creed, theologian, or pastor may command others to believe and obey unless they rightly apply Scripture itself.

So tradition is important, not because it can command us, but because it can help us to see the Scriptures rightly. When it is clear that traditions of the church do not faithfully reflect biblical teaching, Scripture trumps tradition. But we must be careful not to assume that our reading of Scripture, uninformed by what Christians have said for ages, is automatically the right one. Many things in Scripture are not immediately clear.

The Clarity of Scripture

While the meaning of many parts of Scripture may not be immediately obvious to us, Reformed Christians believe that the basic message of Scripture, the good news of Jesus Christ, is clear. We are not so dependent upon the tradition that we cannot know what God’s Word teaches unless we first hear it from those before us. We would be foolish to ignore them, but salvation in Christ alone by grace alone through faith alone is so clear that we should encourage Christians to read the Scriptures and not limit their exposure to the Bible to times when others explain it to them or read it for them. There are many complicated and difficult passages in the Bible, but this should not distract us from the clear message of the Bible, that God sent His Son into the world to die for sin, that he was buried, and that he was raised into new life to bring forgiveness and new creation.

Reformed Christians believe that God has given us all we need in the Holy Scriptures to be saved and to live faithfully before him. Man’s wisdom must never be imposed upon the consciences of others because our invented laws, practices, or principles of “wisdom” always fail and serve to burden people and hinder them from the grace of the gospel. The church’s tradition is important and a helpful guide, but it too stands under the authority of Scripture. This is why Reformed Christians often describe themselves as “Reformed and always reforming.” 

[Editor's Note: Read part 5part 6part 7part 8part 9, and part 10 of this series.]