Equip: The tension of Pentecostal Theology and Sola Scriptura    

Within the last century there has been an increase amongst professing Christians of experiencing the “sign gifts” attributed to the Holy Spirit.  In conjunction with these experiences many questions have arisen concerning the nature of revelation.  For many, the personal edification that takes place by speaking in tongues is a cherished gift.  For others, the edification of a group of believers that takes place in the interpretation of the tongue is an unmistakable sign of God’s present care for his body.  Yet for some who cite Sola Scriptura, a belief or practice in either of these gifts is a rejection of the sufficiency and relevance of Scripture.  It can be difficult for sincere Christians as they feel torn between a practice of specific gifts and fidelity to the Word of God.

What if there is another way? What if our understanding of the purpose of the gifts of the Spirit doesn’t betray our understanding of Sola Scriptura? What if the Spirit working in an individual’s body works similarly in the corporate body of Christ?

First, we must define Sola Scriptura.  We look to the historical definition cited in 1646, drawn up by Westminster Assembly as part of the Westminster Standards to be a confession of the Church of England, it became and remains the standard of doctrine for many in the Reformed traditions.  It states, “The whole counsel of God, concerning all things necessary for his own glory, man’s salvation, faith, and life, is either expressly set down in scripture, or by good and necessary consequence may be deduced from scripture: unto which nothing at any time is to be added, whether by new revelations of the Spirit, or traditions of men.”

If we disregard context of this writing it would be easy to see the application to Pentecostal practice today.  This application is made by leading voices in evangelicalism today.  After all, is prophecy and the interpretation of tongues a work contributed to the Spirit?  And is God not revealing information to his people through these means?

If the focus of Sola Scriptura is simply the last line “nothing at any time is to be added, whether by new revelations of the Spirit, or traditions of men”, it is easy to understand why the sign gifts would be rejected in our modern context.  But if we take into account the time at which it was developed and the statement as a whole, we will see that it has nothing to do with what Pentecostals consider a working of the Spirit.

If the Solas are the fruit of the Reformation era, and Luther’s Ninety-Five Theses were the seed, then the abuses of Papal authority proved to be fertile ground for their development.  While not yet completely opposed to the doctrine of indulgences at the time he developed his theses, Luther was beginning to see the direct contradiction to the gospel that theologies attributed to papal authority presented.  As Justin Holcomb notes,

“Luther’s Ninety-five Theses hit a nerve in the depths of the authority structure of the medieval church. Luther was calling the pope and those in power to repent—on no authority but the convictions he’d gained from Scripture—and urged the leaders of the indulgences movement to direct their gaze to Christ, the only one able to pay the penalty due for sin.”

It is my opinion that the Reformation was a response to 3 issues within the Roman Catholic Church at that time.  Those issues were: An abuse of power, A necessitating denial of Scriptural authority to maintain that power, and the false gospel they produced.

If we are to apply Sola Scriptura against the use of tongues and interpretation we must ask three questions.  They are:

  1. Do we believe that those practicing tongues and interpretation in a corporate setting are establishing themselves as the supreme authority above scripture and the church?
  2. Do we believe that those practicing tongues and interpretation in a corporate setting are equating the edification with new revelation that it should be considered on par with cannon?  If your answer is yes, do you believe that 1st century believers did the same?  If so, where are the manuscripts of their services to be added to canon?
  3. Do we believe that those practicing tongues and interpretation in a corporate setting are establishing a false doctrine and diminishing Christ?

It is my belief that Pentecostals would answer a resounding “No” to the questions posed.  I am sure there are examples of abuses in Pentecostal gatherings that can be pointed to that would allow us to answer yes to these questions.  However, within most pentecostal denominations this is not the case.  In my opinion as the Spirit instructs, convicts and comforts individuals in their daily circumstances, he also does so for his corporate body.  Individually and corporately the Spirit edifies His people.  Whatever is interpreted is measured against scripture for its validation.  Scripture is always the ultimate authority that all our experience is subjected to.

Pentecostal experience and 16th century Papal authority are not connected.  To apply Sola Scriptura against those practicing the gifts in a corporate setting is a category error.  We should take joy in the whole counsel of God.  We should also take joy in the edification the Spirit brings to his people.  Just as two friends do not need to be reconciled; Sola Scriptura and corporate edification by the Spirit do not need reconciliation, but celebration.