By Tin-chee Lo (盧天赐)；November 17，2017
When I first became a Christian, I attended a church deeply influenced by what I then knew as the “Little Flock (小群)”. I was tremendously benefited by those God-fearing brothers and sisters. I grew into an ardent love for the Bible and for Jesus. But later on, a few of them presented me a very radical idea by saying “Christian should read ONLY the Bible; any other books of men concerning spiritual matters are worldly even those books are written by Christians.” I was confused. Someone even went so far as to say that reading any books and periodicals outside the Bible, such as TIME magazine, is not spiritual—this was utterly incomprehensible and unpractical. It was at this point that I began to protest. One day, I heard from Rev. Stephen Tong’s (唐崇榮牧師) sermon in which he argued, “If these brothers are so spiritual and they possess so much subjective spiritual enlightenment to be able to say reading anything outside the Bible is wrong, they should write down their findings to benefit others.” Tong continued, “however, the trouble is that when they actually write down their thoughts, it becomes men’ writing. Should you read their works?” Pastor Tong’s argument rescued me from spiritual entanglement. I came to realize that this radical assertion was self-defeating. I could borrow courage from Rev. Tong and became more vocal against this unorthodoxy idea in church. The church gradually moved toward Biblical evangelicalism by inviting (we didn’t have full time pastor at that time) preachers of sound doctrines to correct the error.
This year of 2017, we are commemorating the 500th year after the Reformation. The legacy left with us by Martin Luther was the “Five Solas” (Ref. 1)
Scripture Alone (Sola Scriptura)
Faith Alone (Sola Fide)
Grace Alone (Sola Gratia)
Christ Alone (Sola Christus)
God’s Glory Alone (Sola Deo Gloria)
Among them, the “Sola Scriptura”—Scripture Alone (唯獨聖經)—may still today be misconstrued by few as “Read Only the Bible and Nothing Else (只讀聖經)”. The proponents of this idea consider studying all other literatures outside the Bible as “unnecessary” or “unspiritual”. In truth, the belief of “sola Scriptura” means to maintain that the Bible and the Bible alone has supreme authority over our faith, our salvation and our lives. It does not mean that we should consider all theological references and commentaries outside the Bible are unnecessary. The principle of “Sola Scriptura” also recognizes and accepts other important theological resources such as traditions, reasoning and experiences found in Christian books and literatures. This kind of resources are not to “supplant (取代)” the content of the Bible but to “complement (補助)” our understanding of the content of the Bible. In other words, believers, especially seminarians, should study not just the Bible but acquire a broader reading such as good commentaries and systematic theologies in order to comprehensively understand the Bible text.
Accompanying with this wrong concept of “Exclusive Reading” of the Bible, is another wrong concept of “Read Scripture only Individually (自讀聖經)” which is an emphasis on personal spiritual illumination upon an individual’s self-reading of the Bible while ignoring or even rejecting other Christians’ comprehension or views of the Bible text. Some leaders of the Bible study groups go so far as to believe that illumination from the Bible is the ONLY thing they need; this may stem from their worries that other people’s thought gained from reading commentaries and theological books during the course of teaching preparation may negatively “precondition” their minds and hence “pollute” and influence of their acceptance of their subjective illumination directly from their own reading of the Scripture (Ref. 2). This again is self-defeating. Because the very act of teaching is not a self-study but an attempt to transfer your understanding into other people’s mind which is exactly what you don’t want them to do. What is more, the various opinions on certain Bible difficulties may lead people to be at a loss. Such a “worry” or “helplessness” (or maybe “pride”) leads to the emphasis of this isolating Bible study attitude. This mindset overestimates one’s “subjective spiritual insight and illumination (從聖靈來的心得和光照)” and underestimates other people’s earnest and thoughtful pondering of their quest for the understanding of the Bible. Although individual study and seeking comprehension of the Bible firsthand are crucially important，when we correctly understand the meaning of “Sola Scriptura”, it should encourage collective corporate Bible study (與信徒共同學習明白聖經) under the premise of doing it within the community of faith (churches or cell-groups).
「Sola Scriptura」does not teach “Read Nothing but the Scripture” nor encourage “Reading of Scripture in Isolation”. it is a principle which also demands us in the community of faith to diligently read, investigate, teach and preach the Bible using biblical and theological resources under the Spirit-given ability and discernment and illumination so as to achieve the unity of faith and maturity in the knowledge of God (Eph.3:16-19; 4:1-3).
Another assertion is worthy of mentioning: “The Bible is the ONLY book which contains Truth”. The problem with this statement is in the word ONLY. This statement is clearly a partial truth. Indeed, the Bible is indisputably 100 % true; but this is not to say that outside the Bible there is no truth. It does mean that when the truth outside the Bible conflicts with the truth in the Bible, then the Bible is true and the extra-biblical “truth” is no truth —this is what we refer to as the “Authority of the Bible”. Francis A. Schaeffer was right when he said, “All Truth is God’s Truth” (Ref. 3). God is the supreme Author of Truth. All that is true not only flows from Him, but it also reflects His character. The ancient theologians understood that all truth is God’s truth and that all truth “meets at the top.”
(1) Link: http://www.hocl.org/blogs/tincheelo/?p=1641
(2) Comments from 池峪鋒教授 on Reformation
(3) A phrase “All Truth is God’s Truth” was coined by Francis A. Schaeffer. Also, “Truth is God and God is truth” by Mohanas Karamchand Gandhi.