Why Ask Why
It is important to know what we believe, but it is just as important to know why.
In the dark days of church history during the Middle Ages, virtually everyone throughout the entire continent of Europe identified as “Christian”. Many were only nominally Christian, because that is what society and state demanded, but many more were deeply sincere, devoutly religious, and—too often—tragically lost.
The lay people of the time received their teaching from their priests and their upbringing, but had neither access to the Bible nor the ability to read it. They were susceptible to the errors and heresies of human teachings because they were unable to question the doctrines they received. Queries about why they should hold to various doctrines or practices tended to have only one answer: these are the teachings of the church, which you must accept without question.
The beginning of the Great Reformation is marked by Martin Luther raising 95 questions about spurious doctrines and practices for debate when he nailed his 95 Theses to the door of the Wittenburg church on October 31, 1517. Throughout the Protestant world, this is now called Reformation Day.
Some of the historical details may have become obscured over time, and Luther was by no means the first “reformer” to raise such questions, but his daring to ask “why” lit a fuse that would not be snuffed out.
In the end, the questioning led to what are generally referred to as “The Five ‘Solas’ of the Reformation”. One of these stands as the foundation of all the others: sola scriptura (Scripture alone).
Luther, and all the Reformers who would join him or follow later, began to realize that the Church of Rome had become corrupted in its faith and practice by relying on the teachings and authority of men and councils over the clear teaching of the Bible itself. It had become accepted teaching that the traditions of the church were equal in authority to the Scripture; furthermore, the popes and councils had variously contradicted one another or changed their practices and teachings over time. These Reformers reasoned that such changing human perspectives could certainly not be trusted over the unchanging authority of God’s written Word. As they began to wrestle with reasons, motivations, and the teachings of the Scriptures, they also began to see all of their previous experiences and beliefs through the lens of that wrestling. The world was turned upside down by that simple question: “Why?”
Now as then, it is easier to accept the teachings of others than it is to dig and discover for ourselves. When we do so without questioning the reasons for the teachings—when we believe without wrestling with why we believe—it is difficult to truly “own” what we believe. On the contrary, to question our beliefs is to sift through the chaff to the true kernel of our convictions. When we understand not only what we believe but why we believe it, our faith can scarcely be shaken, for the wrestling develops in us roots that hold firm against opposing forces.
While the Bible does not overtly tell us to “question everything” (though you may have seen that slogan on a bumper sticker), the idea of wrestling with truth is woven throughout God’s revealed Word. From Jacob wrestling with the Angel of the Lord (Genesis 32:22-32) to God calling Israel to rationally work through His covenant love and wrath (Isaiah 1:16-20), from Peter’s Pentecost sermon in Jerusalem (Acts 2:14-39) to Paul’s logical presentation of the Gospel in Athens (Acts 17:16-34), the call to those who trust God is never to a blind faith, but to a reasonable one. In such a reasonable faith, our belief is not a blind leap, but one with which we struggle, through which we reason, and for which examine the evidence, drawing conclusions that grow out of that struggle under the conviction of the Holy Spirit.
Like the Reformers of the 16th century, we must know why we believe what we believe, building our true faith on sola scriptura. When we do, our foundation will stand through any storm.