Authority of Scripture
The Reformation addressed many different theological issues, and as an entire movement, affected a reformation for the whole church. There were at least two issues—two doctrines —that were at the center of the Reformation.
First, there was what’s called the “formal principle” of the Reformation or what’s also referred to as sola scriptura. This simply means that God’s word alone, because it’s inspired by God himself, is the inerrant, sufficient, and the final authority in the church.
As Martin Luther begins to wrestle over issues of salvation, another issue comes up of who has the authority to decide on these matters. Here Luther comes into some heated conflict with the Church of Rome because Rome claimed ownership of church tradition. Some even said the pope himself had an equal authority to Scripture—even one that was infallible. As the reformers returned to the Bible as the final authority, they found the gospel again.
And Luther said that as much as he respected the tradition of the church and even the Pope himself, only Scripture is God’s written revelation. Therefore only Scripture is without error. Therefore only Scripture is our final and sufficient authority for the church.
This became a defining mark of the Reformation, but there’s also a second major tenet of the Reformation: the “material principle” or what sometimes has been referred to as sola fide or faith alone.
As the reformers returned to the Bible as the final authority, they found the gospel again. And as they rediscovered the gospel of Jesus Christ, they came to the realization that one isn’t right with God by grace plus works of merit. Actually it’s by God’s grace alone, on the basis of what Christ has done alone, through faith alone: sola fide.
And so they began to preach the Bible to their congregations and the message that if you are to be right with God, you cannot trust in your good works. Works have no value before a perfectly holy God. Instead, place your faith in Jesus alone.
So sola fide and sola scriptura became two of the five solas of the Reformation and these two solas were absolutely essential to the Reformation cause.