Before the Reformation, the church recognized two sources of authority: the Bible and the traditions of the church. These traditions included ecumenical councils, the writings of church fathers, and the infallibility of the Pope. As a result many heresies crept into the church. One was that the church was the only source of forgiveness for sins. Another was that you could use money to buy forgiveness for sins past & future. Church leaders would control both kings and the people with the threat of hell.
Martin Luther and other reformers believed that the Bible was the final authority and superior to church tradition. Luther challenged the church on 95 wrong teachings and appealed to the Bible for his arguments. The Reformation led many churches across Europe to declare their independence from the Pope.
Baptists follow this teaching from the Reformation. We believe in the Bible as the sole authority for faith and practice. The Baptist Faith & Message (1963) states:
The Holy Bible was written by men divinely inspired and is the record of Gods revelation of Himself to man. It is a perfect treasure of divine instruction. It has God for its author, salvation for its end, and truth, without any mixture of error, for its matter. It reveals the principles by which God judges us; and therefore is, and will remain to the end of the world, the true center of Christian union, and the supreme standard by which all human conduct, creeds, and religious opinions should be tried. The criterion by which the Bible is to be interpreted is Jesus Christ.
Many people today believe that tradition is equal to the Bible. One Baptist was winning an argument regarding a controversial teaching. His opponent said, “I don't care what the Bible says, it ain’t Baptist!”
There are many regional beliefs that Baptists have that are not grounded in the Bible. These often begin, “Baptists don't...”
You can fill in the blank with many cultural prejudices about dancing, movies, women wearing pants and more. One infamous belief was the defense of slavery by some Baptist churches. Baptists repented of this upon a closer examination of scriptures.
One principle of the Reformation is called ecclesia semper reformanda est, which is Latin for “the church is always to be reformed.” The Baptist movement was born as a result of examination of the scriptures. For more than 400 years Baptists have examined the scriptures and adapted their doctrine accordingly. This principle has helped Baptists to continue to grow as other denominations began to decline.
Baptist leaders must know the Bible well and dedicate themselves to lifelong study of the scriptures if we are to continue to keep our churches free from doctrinal error.
“Thy word is a lamp unto my feet and a light unto my path.” Psalm 119:105 (KJV)