The Protestant Reformation began 500 years ago when Martin Luther nailed his long list of grievances (protests) against the Roman Catholic Church to a chapel door in Wittenberg, Germany. He began the Reformation on the basis of “Sola Fide” (faith alone) and expanded to the 5 solas: Sola Fide, Sola Scriptura (scripture alone), Sola Gratia (grace alone), Solus Christus (Christ alone), and Soli Deo Gloria (to the glory of God alone). The protestant church has been reforming ever since Oct 31, 1517, but not always in a direction Luther or the other reformers, such as John Calvin, would have upheld. For instance, Sola Scriptura has been altered in some protestant circles to include scripture + personal experience, or scripture + other books that talk about Jesus, or scripture + unorthodox church doctrine.
The thing is, I think there are many protestants who are moving in a different direction in their faith – moving in the direction away from the reformers who showed us so clearly the Jesus of the Bible and moving toward their own definition of who God is, based on personal experience or outside resources. And they don’t even know it. Moreover, they don’t really want to go there. They don’t intend to go there. They have a sincere faith and want to honor the Lord, but they are slowly creeping down that path and I think it’s because – at least in part – they don’t hold their faith in Christ alone, faith alone, grace alone, scripture alone, and to the glory of God alone. And if we don’t hold our faith there, we can travel down paths we do not intend.
If we want to know God, we have to look to his Word. There is simply no other way to know him truthfully and completely. He has been revealed to us in scripture and that revelation has ceased. It’s called the canon and it is a closed canon, which means we cannot add to it, nor can we take away from it. But, people add to scripture all the time. They don’t mean to, of course, but they do, and I think they do it because they want more of God than they are getting. They want more out of life than they are getting. They want to feel better than they’re feeling. They want to know things they do not know. They’re hurting and they want peace.
So, they read books where people are getting more from God than they are. Books about Jesus talking to us in our prayer life and books about going to heaven and returning to earth. They ask God to give them a special prayer language, so they can feel more of the Holy Spirit’s presence when they pray. They look for signs in nature and believe they hear God’s voice telling them that every time they see a certain thing, it is actually a sign from him that he loves them. They journal their dreams, seeking to interpret what God is saying to them in their unconscious sleep, to get special messages from their creator. They practice automatic writing in prayer journals, waiting to hear from God directly and writing his thoughts down when they’re given. They look for more than what God has revealed in his Word, negating the truth that what he has already given them is sufficient for everything they are and ever will experience, think or feel.
Most people I’ve had conversations with about this topic say that they fully believe the Holy Spirit speaks to them and they are just trying to be faithful to his voice in their lives. And I would say, “Yes”! Yes, God speaks to us and reveals things to us through the Holy Spirit. Yes, we need to be obedient to him. And, yes, I believe God speaks to me too. He speaks to me every single time I open up my Bible and read it. He speaks to me in prayer, when he calls to mind what I know to be true from the words that I have read. He speaks to me when I am just going about my day, calling to mind his goodness and his faithfulness. And every single time God speaks to me, it is from what he has already revealed. In scripture. I believe we have to be very careful about saying that God has given us anything over and above that, in an audible voice or a silent voice or a vision or our writing. We have to be careful because in essence, that is adding to scripture.
In short, we either believe in Sola Scriptura or we don’t. And if we don’t, we need to examine the basis for our faith. There really is no middle ground here. We cannot say “Yes, I believe that the Bible is the only authoritative voice in my life, but I also believe God speaks to me directly apart from his Word” or what has already been revealed in his word. We may not even intend that to be what we’re saying, but if we think it through to it’s logical conclusion, that is exactly what we are saying, intending to or not. So, we need to be careful about what we are lured into as believers and what we seek out when we are hurting or confused or fearful and simply want more of God than we feel we are getting. We need to be content with where he has us, in a big place or a little place. We need to remember that he is God and we are not, in every way that thought entails.