As we approach the 500 year anniversary of the start of the Protestant Reformation, it's an opportune time to think through the doctrines that brought the Reformation to begin with, eternal truths that we still protect today. They can be summarized in the 5 Solas: Latin terms for the 5 most definitive Christian defenses leading to this momentous event in church history.
Today we tackle Sola Scriptura. This is the doctrine that claims that God's Word alone is sufficient in giving us the truth necessary for salvation. The Bible takes itself this seriously within the Bible itself. "All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work." (2 Tim. 3:16-17) Jesus considered sacred the revealed word of God to the prophets and the revealed law of God to Moses. Peter, in his letters, considers already the letters of Paul to be Scripture, the Word of God to be revered and protected (2 Peter 3:14-16). When the Incarnate Lord came down, it is fitting that he is described as The Word come down, dwelling amongst us. The second person of the Trinity brings with him the message of God's truth in his words, life, and actions, and he gives that same authority to the revealed Word as it had unfolded through redemptive history.
It is right then for us to defend the sufficiency of Scripture for salvation. It is not a tool that we use to guide people to truth, it is the guide itself. We point to it, not the other way around. No other institution, tradition, pastor, or ritual can teach you about salvation through Jesus Christ like the Word of God. It is true that at points in church history the church itself is elevated to a status of authority that befits it not, where its word coming down into the lives of people carries equal weight with the Word of God. It is never right for the church to take on this kind of authority. Instead the church is to take its authority from the Word of God, leading in spiritual guidance, Scriptural teaching, administering sacraments, and exercising discipline only as governed by God's Word.
There is a strong theme of the conscience that runs throughout the New Testament. Our thoughts and instincts are to be tested against God's Word, but in matters where the decision is not just clear from the Bible, the conscience is to guide - a conscience governed by study of The Word. But the church is not to be a substitute where God's Word is silent - the church is not to bind one's conscience by deciding on behalf of the whole.
I used to describe Scriptural authority this way to children: if you were lost in a forest and met three people, who would you follow: the first man says he's as lost as you are, no idea how he got there; the second person said he's been there before, has some familiarity with these trails, so he thinks he can get you home; the third person says, "I invented these trails. I made this forest - follow me." You would follow person #3. And the Lord of the universe has given us a guidebook, and in it is the gift of life. Devour it for all that it is and rest in its completeness.