There are four sources of authority that are normally appealed to by professing Christians. These are: tradition, experience, reason, and Scripture. These four competing sources of authority are each important if kept in their proper place. Tradition is important, experience is important, reason is important, and of course, Scripture is important. All of these sources of authority are legitimate, as long as we understand that Scripture is the ultimate authority that rules all the other authorities. However, many Christians/Churches have misplaced the ordering of these authorities over the centuries. Let me illustrate what happens when each of these authorities are allowed to rule:
- Tradition Rules – Roman Catholic Church
- Experience Rules – Pentecostalism
- Reason Rules – Theological Liberalism
- Scripture Rules – Biblical Christianity
This is what was at the heart of the Reformation; the right of Scripture to rule over all other authorities. The 16th century Reformers said, “Tradition is fine, experience is fine, reason is fine, as long as it does not contradict Scripture. But Scripture is the final and ultimate authority for all that we believe and do as individual Christians and as churches.” The Reformation is still important to us as Baptists today, because of our descent. Historically, Baptists have descending out of the 16th century Protestant Reformation through the 17th century English Separatist movement. Another reason why the Reformation emphasis on the authority of the Scriptures is important is because this is a battle that we must continue to fight. This is necessary because the same authorities still battle for supremacy, even among Baptists today. For example:
- Tradition Rules – “We’ve always done it this way.” or its ugly step-sister “We’ve never done it that way.”
- Experience Rules – “God told me . . .” or “I feel . . .”
- Reason Rules – “I think . . .”
- Scripture Rules – “God said in His Word.”
This is where the apostle Peter’s words in 2 Peter 1:16-21 can help us. For the apostle Peter had the experience to end all experiences. We read about this experience to which Peter refers in this evening’s text in Matthew 17:1-8. There Peter, along with James and John, saw Jesus Christ transfigured before their eyes. Matthew 17:2 says that Jesus “was transfigured before them. His face shone like the sun, and His clothes became as white as the light.” But Peter did not trust in that experience. Instead his confidence was in something far more certain: the revealed Word of God.
Let’s read beginning in verse 13.
Yea, I think it meet, as long as I am in this tabernacle, to stir you up by putting you in remembrance; 14 Knowing that shortly I must put off this my tabernacle, even as our Lord Jesus Christ hath showed me. 15 Moreover I will endeavor that ye may be able after my decease to have these things always in remembrance.
16 For we have not followed cunningly devised fables, when we made known unto you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but were eyewitnesses of his majesty. 17 For he received from God the Father honor and glory, when there came such a voice to him from the excellent glory, This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased. 18 And this voice which came from heaven we heard, when we were with him in the holy mount. 19 We have also a more sure word of prophecy; whereunto ye do well that ye take heed, as unto a light that shineth in a dark place, until the day dawn, and the day star arise in your hearts: 20 Knowing this first, that no prophecy of the Scripture is of any private interpretation. 21 For the prophecy came not in old time by the will of man: but holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost.
The Scriptures are the Old Testament, but also include Paul’s writings (cf. 3:15-16). Peter understood the apostle’s writings to be on par with the writings of the Old Testament prophets (cf. 1 Peter 1:10-12).
Scripture is a light shining a dark place. “Thy word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path.” (Psalm 119:105).
It is temporary, “until the day dawn” i.e., the return of the Lord when faith will be replaced with sight. “For now,” the apostle Paul said, “we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known.” (1 Cor. 13:12).
If we have the Bible, we have a more sure word than tradition, we have a more sure word than experience, we have a more sure word than reason. This is the heart of the Protestant Reformation. The doctrine of the Scriptures Alone as the authority which guides our doctrine and practice.
Early in 1521, the new emperor, Charles V, summoned Luther to appear before the imperial diet of Worms in the spring of 1521. It was on April 18, 1521 that Luther was asked at Worms to recant his books which were contrary to the teaching of the church to which Luther gave this heroic response:
Since then your serene majesty and your lordships seek a simple answer, I will give it in this manner, not embellished: Unless I am convinced by the testimony of the Scriptures or by clear reason, for I do not trust either in the pope or in councils alone, since it is well known that they have often erred and contradict themselves, I am bound to the Scriptures I have quoted and my conscience is captive to the Word of God. I cannot and I will not retract anything, since it is neither safe nor right to go against conscience. I cannot do otherwise, here I stand. May God help me, Amen.
This confession is the foundation of the Reformation and the foundation of Reformational Christianity of which Baptists are a part. “Unless we are convinced by Scripture, we will not be swayed by experience, tradition, or reason alone, our consciences are held captive to the Word of God. We cannot do otherwise. Here we stand. May God help us. Amen.”