What do we mean by authority? We mean that Scripture has claim to our life and that we submit ourselves to Scripture’s authority. Three aspects of authority – we can see that Scripture is authoritative over personal experience. We don’t allow our human experience to determine what we believe or the behaviors we practice, we submit to Scripture’s commands, Scripture’s authoritative statements.
Not just authoritative over our experience, Scripture is also authoritative over reason. What do I mean by that? It does not mean that we leave our brains at the door when we read Scripture. We mean by that, that it’s authoritative over rationalism or over naturalism. We assume the supernatural, we assume the existence of God and the fact that God engages in human history and God intervenes in human history. Another thing we mean by the authority of Scripture over reason is that unresolved issues or apparent contradictions that we find in Scripture do not negate Scripture’s authority, instead we accept a wait and see attitude if we cannot resolve a particular issue in Scripture. I believe that God is a God of reason and that his Scripture will stand up under historical and scientific scrutiny.
So, authoritative over experience, authoritative over reason, and third, authoritative over tradition or dogma. Church traditions are good. The ancient creeds of the church are good. They help us to understand who God is and what his word means but ultimately all church tradition must be subordinated to the authority of Scripture. So, Scripture is authoritative over all church tradition or dogma. The rallying cry of the Protestant reformation was Sola Scriptura, that is that ultimately Scripture has the final authority. Now sometimes we think of certain groups as placing tradition over Scripture. Maybe we think of the Roman Catholic Church, for example, as placing tradition over Scripture, but, in fact, we all have a tendency to do that, because all of us, whether Baptist, whether Methodist, whether Presbyterians, have church traditions that in many ways govern the way we think and the way we believe and so ultimately we are to submit those traditions to the authority of Scripture.