In October of 1518, one year after the nailing of the 95-Theses, Cardinal Cajetan at the Diet of Augsburg challenged Martin Luther on the issue of truth. The Cardinal accused Luther of teaching contrary to the Roman Catholic Church. Luther responded, “The truth of Scripture comes first. After that is accepted one may determine whether the words of men can be accepted as true.” Luther didn’t deny that “human words” meant something, but rather they only meant something once they had been brought under the authority of God’s word.
500 years later, we take a moment to examine the Reformer’s view of the Bible and what it means for youth ministry. One of the central pillars of the Protestant Reformation was the recovery of the Scriptures, which was captured in the Latin phrase, “Sola Scriptura.” This phrase literally means, “Scripture alone.”
As opposed to any other book, or decree from the Roman Pontiff, or the Emperor himself, the Bible was the sole authority during the Reformation. This is seen in men like Martin Luther and William Tyndale, who translated the Bible into common German and English. It is evident in the expository preaching of John Calvin. And in the risk-taking of Ulrych Zwingli and Thomas Cranmer.
Why is any of this important for youth ministry?
(1) The Bible is still Authoritative even in a Post-Modern Culture.
Most youth workers are familiar with the spirit of Postmodernism: there is no such thing as absolute truth, no one has the right to tell me what is authoritative, and no one has the right to tell me what to do.
Postmodernism is clearly reflected in our youth today.
Not only are our students told that truth does not exist, but that they should never be so arrogant to say there is such a thing as absolute truth. Much like the Reformers, our youth must boldly stand confident in the fact that the Bible is still authoritative in our Postmodern culture.
The Reformers, taking their cues from the apostle Paul, read passages such as, “Our gospel came to you not only in word, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction” (1 Thess. 1:5), and, “When you received the word of God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men but as what it really is, the word of God” (2:13). They believed in the sole authority of the Bible.
Both the Thessalonians and the Reformers had a deep-seated conviction that the word of God was truly the word of God. This gave rise to an immense pouring out of the Holy Spirit.
Our youth today need to be convinced that God himself has spoken in the pages of the Bible. They must also stand firm with confidence in the authority of the Bible, despite a culture that so desperately wants to get rid of it.
(2) Christianity falls or stands upon the teaching of the Bible.
Another incredible pillar of the Reformers was the belief that the Bible is sufficient for sanctification. In other words, the Bible is perfectly capable of helping believers grow in Christlikeness. John Calvin said it this way: The Word is the instrument by which the Lord dispenses the illumination of his Spirit to believers. This echoes Ephesians 1, where Paul says the Holy Spirit was given so that the “eyes of your hearts may be enlightened.”
Even Jesus made the connection between the Word of God and growing in Christlikeness in John 17:17, “Sanctify them (the disciples) in the truth; your word is truth.”
A somewhat radical concept today among many youth workers is the belief that the Bible is boring and insufficient. As a result, our youth grow not in Christlikeness, but in the fruits of the world. Speaking to parents, Paul Washer once said, “Your children will go to public school and they will be trained for somewhere around 15,000 hours in ungodly secular thought. And then they’ll go to Sunday School and they’ll color a picture of Noah’s ark. And you think that’s going to stand against the lies that they are being told?” What a punch!
When our youth face a trial, have success, or even wrestle with the culture around them, where do they turn first? 500 years later, my prayer is that it would be in Sola Scriptura, because their youth pastor taught them so. The other major tenets of the Reformation stand or fall on Scripture alone. If it is not Scripture alone, then it is not by grace alone, through faith alone, on the basis of Christ alone, for the glory of God alone that we can stand in righteousness before a holy God. The doorway to every other theological and life-giving truth is found only in the Bible.
(3) In the Bible there is everlasting joy in a God who saves.
The last reason why Sola Scriptura is important for youth ministry is that in the Bible alone there is everlasting joy in a God who saves. The famous English reformer Thomas Cranmer once said, “The words of Holy Scripture are called the words of everlasting life… because they have power to convert through God’s promise.” I have tremendous joy because I cannot only trust the word of God, but I have seen its power.
The apostle Paul hinted at this when he wrote to Timothy, “All of Scripture is God-Breathed” (2 Tim. 3:16). Or the Psalmist in Psalm 1:2, “His delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law he meditates day and night.” God saves sinners by grace only through the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Therefore, anyone who believes this message will delight in the word of God, because God breathed out the gospel message.
Sola Scriptura is important in youth ministry because the Bible is authoritative despite our culture today, it must be taught because it is the foundation by which everything else is built, and it brings everlasting joy in the grace of God.
I often ask my students this question: How do you know the gospel is true?
There are various responses. Some say, “Because so-and-so told me!” I usually respond, “That is true, but how did you know that it was true?” The greatest joy I could ever have as a youth pastor is when I have a student answer, “I know that the gospel is true because it came from the Bible.”