That was a movie clip from a classic, Martin Luther, the 1953 version starring Niall MacGinnis as Luther, here discussing Romans 1:17, the famous Reformation text.
Pastor John, as you well know, Reformation Day is Monday—the 499th anniversary of Luther writing out his Ninety-Five Theses and sending them to the Archbishop. So let’s tackle two questions on what divides Rome and Geneva. The first one, for today, comes from Dan: “Dear Pastor John, several of my Evangelical friends have converted to Roman Catholicism in recent years. One key issue has been over whether the Bible is our sole rule of faith. After reviewing some of the Catholic arguments, I’ve come to appreciate their persuasive force. As I’ve engaged Protestants, however, I have not yet found an equally persuasive defense of the Reformation doctrine of Sola Scriptura. Pastor John, I was wondering if you could please help persuade me.”
I don’t know if I can persuade you. There are good books, and so maybe we will make some of those known in the podcast, but here is what I want to say. Here is what carries me, and if it helps, it helps. I have three kinds of responses, all of which, Dan, will, I hope, help you resist the temptation to move toward the Roman Catholic Church.
1) Here is my first response. If the Bible is God’s word, by definition no human authority or human institution can serve alongside the Bible with equal authority. Neither the pope nor any human counsel or any scholar or priest or pastor or human tradition has the authority of the Bible if it is God’s word. And it is.
Not only that, but the Bible itself nowhere grants to any person or ecclesiastical office an authority equal to its own. There are pastors and teachers which Christ gives to the church (Ephesians 4:11 that the authority of those in the church must always give an account to the Scriptures, not themselves. That is the first response.
2) My second response is that it is neither biblical nor wise—that is kind of a paraphrase of Martin Luther’s famous statement—it is neither biblical nor wise to surrender one’s conscience to any human authority outside the Bible. Indeed, it is impossible—try to get me here—it is impossible to have biblical faith in a truth one does not believe is in the Bible. It is not the nature of biblical faith. It is not the nature of biblical faith or biblical submission or biblical allegiance to God in his word that it would bow to any man who teaches anything contrary to the Scriptures.