On every hand we hear the clamor for changing the church and its ministry. Nobody denies that the church needs to change, but the question is, “How?”
Many counsel change by appealing to essentially “horizontal” considerations. “Look to your left, look to your right, look all around us. See what they are doing? See what the polls say? See what works in the churches that are growing larger?” We may fairly dub this perspective sola Cultura. Culture is “the distinctive customs, achievements, products, outlook, etc., of a society or group; the way of life of a society or group.” To look at the merely human and cultural for direction in changing the church is essentially a horizontal gaze. When sheep look to other sheep for guidance, the whole flock gets lost. It is even worse if they follow the wolves. None of our local churches are perfect, and so none are the reliable standard for all the others. And who can adequately express the profound insanity of polling the unchurched, as Barna and others have done, for direction in church ministry? They turn Romans 12:2 on its head, twisting it into this: “And be conformed to this world, remaining as you are in your thoughts, so that you may prove what is the godless, accepted, and pragmatic will of the people.”
The battle cry of the Reformation that turned the world upside down was sola Scriptura. This was the faith-filled, steadfast, vertical gaze of wise believers for direction in everything, including the church’s doctrine and ministry. Without repudiating what was true and good and right in the church’s ancient tradition, this spiritual posture and practice constantly looked upward to the sole Head of the church, Jesus Christ, the Chief Shepherd, with implicit faith listening obediently to His voice. A principled commitment to follow His Word in Scripture led the Reformers, with God’s blessing, to recover the true gospel and restore the church’s worship and ministry to a level of purity and power rarely seen before or since.
Opponents of sola Scriptura insisted they were still taking Scripture into account. They claimed to argue only that Tradition has a place alongside Scripture as an equal consideration. The Reformers saw through this. They realized that as a matter of fact, Tradition was usurping Scripture’s unique authority over the church, and she had drifted afar from God’s true and righteous standard.
The same old excuses are heard today from advocates of sola Cultura. They insist they are not denying Scripture its place and that we who only regard Scripture’s determinative authority lack compassion for reaching people. But we know that no counsel is more compassionate than God’s. Besides, an equal place alongside Scripture for cultural considerations is quite impossible anyway. No church can serve two masters. Their counsel is tantamount to rebellion against Christ the Lord.
Truth is not determined by a poll. Policy by the people is perilous. The rabble around the cross cried “Crucify Him!”, and they had their way without resistance from protesters standing on Scripture alone. A horizontal awareness of the great need in our world today is a good thing, to be sure. But when it comes to the way forward for Christ’s church, we must keep looking to the Lord, and listening to His Word alone.
–D. Scott Meadows, Pastor
Calvary Baptist Church (Reformed)
Exeter, New Hampshire USA
 Shorter Oxford English Dictionary (sixth edition), in loc.
 “sola Scriptura: Scripture alone; the watchword of the Reformation in its establishment of the basis for a renewed and reformed statement of Christian doctrine. We find the concept of sola Scriptura, Scripture alone as the primary and absolute norm of doctrine, at the foundation of the early Protestant attempts at theological system. . . . Scripture was identified as the principium cognoscendi, the principle of knowing or cognitive foundation of theology, and described doctrinally in terms of its authority, clarity, and sufficiency in all matters of faith and morals. Finally, it ought to be noted that sola Scriptura was never meant as a denial of the usefulness of the Christian tradition as a subordinate norm in theology. The views of the Reformers developed out of a debate in the late medieval theology over the relation of Scripture and tradition, one party viewing the two as coequal norms, the other party viewing Scripture as the absolute and therefore prior norm, but allowing tradition a derivative but important secondary role in doctrinal statement. The Reformers and the Protestant orthodox held the latter view” (Muller, R. A. (1985). Dictionary of Latin and Greek theological terms : drawn principally from Protestant scholastic theology. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Book House).