Ever wonder why we are not all Catholics? Why can’t we all just get along? Traditionally there are five doctrines which the Reformers rallied around in opposition to the Catholic Church. All of these slogans were in Latin: sola scriptura (scripture alone), sola gratia (grace alone), sola fide (faith alone), solo Christo (Christ alone), and soli deo Gloria (glory to God alone). I want to cover these five distinctions over the coming weeks (on my blog). We will begin by looking at sola scriptura- Scripture alone is our final authority as Christians. There are essentially three differences between how Protestants and Catholics view Scripture: source, interpretation, and sufficiency.
The first issue is “Where is the source of Scripture’s authority found?” Both sides affirm that Scripture comes from God. For Catholics, they add the caveat that Scripture has authority because it is recognized by the Catholic Church as having authority. In a very real way Catholicism believes and teaches that Scripture derives at least some of its authority from the Catholic Church. This is why Catholics have more books in their Bible. At the Council of Trent the Catholic Church added books to their Old Testament in an attempt to oppose Protestant teaching. They essentially declared they have the authority to decide what is Scripture and what isn’t. The reformers rightly believed the church is not the source of Scripture’s authority. Scripture has authority because it is from God. Instead of Scripture receiving authority from the Catholic Church, Protestants believe the church receives its authority from God via the Scripture.
The second difference is interpretation. The Catholic Church holds that only the teaching office of the Catholic Church can give the official and authoritative interpretation of Scripture. They get to decide what Scripture really means. This is why for centuries Catholicism stood against Bibles being published in the common tongue and in turn they persecuted any who attempted to publish the Bible in any language other than Latin. Thankfully, the Catholic Church has changed its stance on this and since 1965 it encourages its adherents to read the Bible in their own language and it even now allows Mass to be done in the local language—a very Protestant idea! Protestants believe that any and all who have the Holy Spirit and who study the Bible carefully can come to know the truth about salvation. Protestants appeal to Scripture, not to the church or the Pope, when seeking truth.
The third difference is one of sufficiency. Protestants have long held that the Bible alone, as it is the very word of God, possesses sufficient knowledge to provide salvation and growth in holiness. Catholics add to the Biblical revelation the necessity of the revelation of the Church teaching office (Bishops & Pope) and church history. Again Scripture comes underneath the authority of the Church instead of the Church being under the authority of God’s Word. According to the Catholic Church, In order for someone to be saved you need the revelation of Church teaching and not just God’s Word.
Because Catholics look for ultimate truth outside of Scripture and because they place their authority and trust in institutions of men besides in Scripture alone they are prone to many errors. We place our trust ultimately in the very words of God alone and not in man. We cry sola scriptura- God’s Word alone!