Wednesday, September 20, 2017

The Five Solas

Over the last two weeks, I have painted a picture about the connection between darkness and light. On September 3, I shared that post tenebras lux (after darkness, light) is more than a motto of The Reformation – it is a truth found in the Old and New Testaments. Last week, I shared a few specific reasons why the institution of the church had become dark over a period of 1200 years, with much of that happening within a 400-year period. Without this general understanding, we cannot fathom why the church needed to be reformed. Certainly, we all see things within the Church, even this church, that might need adjusting. But most of those items are preference, not the result of an abandonment of the principle of truth – that is, the truth of God’s Word.

Now, before we move forward to the five principles of The Reformation, let me say once again, that this need did not develop overnight. It developed over a millennium, with much of it coming over a 400-year period. Consider that America is only 241 years old and how far we have come from (many would say fallen from) the originating ideals for this country. How much further might the general understanding of “self-evident truths” and adherence to the original governing documents change over the next 160 years? Over the next 960 years? Given that perspective, you now begin to have an idea of the challenge that the reformers faced in restoring light to the Church – even though God was obviously on their side.

With that in mind, over the next several weeks, our services will focus on a couple of ideas. First, we will be covering the five enduring principles from The Reformation. I mentioned these at the conclusion of last week’s message, and I will quickly introduce each of the five today – beginning in a few minutes. Secondly, our Teaching Moments will focus on introducing key figures related to The Reformation. You will hear several references from me about Martin Luther, but we will hear about others such as John Knox, Ulrich Zwingli, and others beginning with John Calvin in just a moment. But make no mistake, The Reformation was not about these individuals, it was about Jesus.

As we begin to look at these five core principles of The Reformation, let me clarify again that we must remember that the more formal name of this series of events is The Protestant Reformation (Protest-ant) Reformation. But to understand this idea, we need to know what the word “reformation” means.

Reformation (Re – Form – Ation)
  • RE – from a Latin word; has an element of “again” or “again and again”; a backward motion (like retrace or revert); return
  • FORM – to construct or frame; to arrange or organize
  • ATION – an act of process

Thus, the protestors want to initiate a process to construct, frame, or organize something as it had been in the past. What was that something? The Church. The Church as Jesus said He would build it – not what it had become over the centuries. It was a call to reform the Church based upon five key thoughts often referred to as The Five Solas. They are:
  • Sola Fide
  • Sola Christus
  • Solus Scriptura
  • Sola Gratia
  • Soli Deo Gloria

Over the next five weeks, we will cover them in more detail (in this order), but for today, let me introduce each one. After a short introduction, Roger will read a verse of two that characterizes the principle and then we will sing a song that references the idea in some way.

Sola Fide – By Faith Alone
Key Verse: Romans 1.17

The cornerstone of The Reformation was the idea that we are saved by faith, not works. The Catholic system had added various works to faith as a matter of salvation. Salvation is about our faith in what Jesus accomplished, not what we can add to it. Granted we are to work (we might better say serve) because we are saved (after all, faith without works is dead), but it is not our work that saves us or adds to our salvation, it is our response in thanksgiving to what God has already done.

Romans 1.17 was a verse that literally shook the foundations of the church in the 16th Century. If we, indeed, are saved by our faith because of God’s righteousness  (and faith in the righteousness of God), not any effort on our part to become righteous, then much of what the Church was teaching at that time needed to be amended – and Luther was being prepared for the task.

Sola Christus – By Christ Alone
Key Verse: Acts 4.12

Faith is necessary, but faith which is misplaced means nothing. Thus, the second Sola I will mention is the one that stands at the center of The Reformation. Solus Christus – Christ alone.

How important is Christ. Jesus said without me you can do nothing (John 15.5). Paul said through Him we can do all things (Phil 4.12). If in no other matter, these two thoughts merge regarding the most important of matters – our salvation.

Acts 4.12 must be clear that it is only through the name of Jesus that we can be saved. Given the issues of the early 16th Century, this means that it is not your money, it is not the pope, and it is not the church that saves us – it is Jesus, and Jesus alone!

Solus Scriptura – By Scripture Alone
Key Verse: 2 Timothy 3.16-17

The idea of truth has been debated for eons. Pilate asked Jesus, “What is truth?” ( John 18.38). This question occurred just hours after Jesus had proclaimed to His disciples that He is the truth (John 14.6). And if Jesus is the truth, then the Bible must be filled with it. Why do I make such a claim? Because Jesus is the living Word (John 1.1) and the Bible is the written Word.

2 Timothy 3.16-17 speaks of the veracity of the entirety of Scripture – all of it is true. It is all fully truth, although Scripture is not the full truth (e.g. nowhere in Scripture do we find recent events (such as two hurricanes striking the US) or even truths such as a2 + b2 = c2. That said, Scripture provides every bit of detail we need to know regarding how to live and what to believe that we might glorify God. When Luther was demanded to recant his writings and teachings regarding the infallible nature of the Bible, and the imperfect nature of the pope, it is said, he proclaimed, arguably his most famous sentence, “Here I stand, I can do no other.” May we be as bold to defend Scripture.

Sola Gratia – By Grace Alone
Key Verses: Ephesians 2.8-9

An important point of note with regards to this doctrine is that the Catholic Church DOES BELIEVE you are saved by the grace of God. The difference is the word alone. Nothing you or I do can make God look at us and think, “that person is worthy of my grace and should be saved.” No, we are all equals – we all sin. We all fall short of the glory of God. But it is through His grace, the great gift of grace of which Paul wrote that you and I can be saved. As Luther said, “God doesn’t love us because of our worth, we are of worth because God loves us.”

We will unpack these verses in their context in the coming weeks, but if you recall from our study of Ephesians a few years ago, it is Ephesians 2.4 that expresses, “But God.” We cannot earn anything of our salvation. Why? Because the Bible says we were dead – and dead people can’t do anything good (or bad for that matter). But God. Luther commented that anyone who tries to add even the least bit of works to grace, doesn’t understand the idea of grace at all.

Soli Deo Gloria – For God’s Glory Alone 
Key Verse: 1 Corinthians 10.31

This particular doctrine is one which causes a great deal of trouble for most people – and Christians aren’t exempt. The idea here is that we do everything for God’s glory. Most people have a dualistic mindset. When I go to church, I give God glory. When I am at work, I am doing my work. When I am on vacation, I am doing what I want. The idea is we break down what we do into “my and I” statements versus “God” statements. And, of course, the world does this when they say, “Keep your religion to yourself.”

1 Corinthians 10.31 says that even the most mundane tasks – things we don’t normally even think about – like eating and drinking, should be done for God’s glory. (We should not overlook the fact that this verse is just before Paul speaks of how the Corinthians Church was abusing the Lord’s Supper.) Luther was not a perfect man, far from it, but his aim was to please God, not the pope, not the church, and not even himself. May we find ourselves, in all aspects of our lives, seeking God’s glory, not our own.

CONCLUSION

This post is simply a short introduction to the Five Solas – or Five Onlys. Some people mock this idea because only means singular, but the idea here is that the “only” is set against the teachings that were present in the day. Only God’s glory, not our own. Only Scripture, not the church. Only grace, not our works. Etc. We will explore these more fully in the coming weeks.

It is quite possible that these thoughts do not sound foreign to you at all. If so, that is good and the way it should be. But 500 years ago, these five ideas were barely a flicker of thought to any man, let alone a congregation, or denomination, or to Christianity in general. And it was these teachings which would get you excommunicated from the church if you were fortunate, and killed if you weren’t.

As we go through each of the solas in the coming weeks, I will get more specific about their continued applicability to us. But for today, let me just give our JOURNEY letter as:

JOURNEY: J – Jesus

Again, all five solas point to Him. Our faith is in Jesus. The Scriptures point to Jesus. God’s grace was made known through Jesus. And it was Jesus who brought God perfect glory and enables us to as well. It was, and is, and ever shall be, about Jesus!

NEXT STEP(S): LEARN You may be familiar with these five principles, or maybe this post is the first you have heard of them by these names. I encourage you to learn more about them – not because of The Reformation, but because of the truths they represent. We will cover them more in the coming weeks, but I can only scratch the surface, and bringing God glory demands more.

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

“John Calvin”, A Closer Look by Ann Martin

I’m sure when I mention the name John Calvin, you think of the many things you’ve heard about him and his ideas on theology. But let me tell you about the man himself and his place in the Reformation.

He called himself a “timid scholar” who was more comfortable with his books than with people.  He was known as the “great faster” as he often starved himself eating just one small meal a day in order to clear his mind as well benefit his body which suffered from ill health. He often suffered from throbbing headaches, too. He usually kept his emotions in control and was polite although he did have a temper that could flare up from time to time. He wrote many books but spent much time perfecting them so they would be just the way he wanted them. Some of his contemporaries such as Martin Luther wrote much more quickly.

Even though his body seemed weak and he was naturally shy – never seeking the limelight, the author of the book I used for much of my information The Unquenchable Flame*, said of him  “a lamb he was born, a lion he became for the Lord who saved him.”

Calvin was born July 10, 1509 in an agricultural market town in France. This was the same year Martin Luther was becoming a priest. He therefore would have known the world before the Reformation. His family was very involved in the local church and his father planned for him to become a priest. At the age of 12 he was sent to Paris to study theology at the University of Paris.

After completing 5 years of study there, his father sent him to Orleans to study law. Why the change in his father’s attitude? We aren’t clear but it could have been a falling out with the church.

At Orleans he studied Renaissance humanism and loved it. The humanist call was to return to the original sources of writings as well as the classical beauty of Greece and Rome to return to the Golden Age. For many in the Reformation this included returning to the original Hebrew and Greek language of the Bible. We must understand that the church which used Latin would see this as a danger to their authority if the people could read and understand the original Biblical language merely by reading the text. This might also involve critiquing the church but in a gentle manner not to do away with it.

The use of the word “rebirth” that was used in his studies about the recovery of this classical age began to mean something more personal to Calvin. He later wrote and I quote, “God by a sudden conversion subdued and brought my mind to a teachable frame.” We don’t know any more than that about his conversion except that now he said he “became a lover of Christ.”

By this time Martin Luther had posted his 95 theses – his protest against Rome – and the Reformation had begun. In France, the young king, Francis I, was somewhat tolerant of those who were reforming the church until 1528. At that time someone took a knife to a statue of the Madonna and Child in Paris. Steps were taken to crack down on the “Lutheran heresy” and other groups infecting this kingdom. Some proponents of these ideas were blacklisted and began to flee persecution to Switzerland. Calvin’s name was on the list and he was now on the run and in hiding.

In October of 1534 placards were posted in cities across France that attacked the Mass itself. “Reformation” now became a word for a dangerous sedition and some that were believed to have been involved were killed. Calvin was trying to keep out of sight even though he agreed with the theology of the placards.

He began to write targeting Anabaptists as he “hated those who by perverting the Reformation or by their unbridled behavior, gave the Reformation a bad name.” This was a group that was more rebellious and acted more militarily than the Lutherans. After this, Calvin became an exile, slipping across the border himself. In Switzerland, he wrote the first edition of his life’s work: The Institutes of the Christian Religion. He wrote it to show that Lutherans being persecuted were not heretics but following true Christian religion.  He also wanted religion to be shaped by godliness. It was a simple introduction to the evangelical faith, a guide of protestant beliefs to help readers understand the sum of what God meant to teach in His Word.  It was published as a small book of six chapters that could be hidden in a coat pocket. It was a way to spread the gospel covertly. Calvin would go on to write a commentary on almost every book in the Bible.

He made his way to Geneva, Switzerland that was becoming almost totally independent by driving out its last bishop. This officially allied Geneva to the Reformation. The city’s motto became “Post tenebras lux” (After darkness, light).

In this city he helped draft a new confession of faith and all who wished to stay in the city were ordered to accept it. Calvin’s other proposals included observing communion monthly not quarterly and notorious offenders were to be denied communion and publicly humiliated.  This was to be done at the hands of a French immigrant. This was too much and no one was refused communion. The city wanted reformation but not at this cost and Calvin was eventually banned from preaching which he didn’t stop and so in 1538 he was exiled again.

From there Calvin went to Strasbourg to settle down quietly with his books. Instead he was encouraged to become the pastor of Strasbourg’s French refugee church. He also taught at the Reformed College established there. Here he wrote his first commentary on Romans with the chief point being justified by faith alone.

Calvin was not a romantic but he did want to express his Protestant approval of marriage.  He married a widow with two sons that he had converted from Anabaptism: a conversion that was necessary for happiness in the Calvin household. They had a son who died at two weeks of age and his wife never fully recovered her health. She died a few years later upon which he said,  “I struggle as best I can to overcome my grief...I have lost the best companion of my life.”

During these years the political climate changed in Geneva and he was called back to pastor the church there. He went though he never trusted the Genevans again – keeping his suitcase packed for quick exile again.

The church braced itself for attack from the man they had ousted but it never came. Instead Calvin merely picked up with scripture he had last used 3½  years before. He returned as a preacher of God not with a personal agenda.

Calvin knew he had to do something about the control the city council exercised over the church while he was still welcome in the city. He made a list of proposals that made it clear that Reformation was not simply breaking from Rome but meant a dedication to ongoing reform by the Word. He proposed 1) pastoral visits each year to each household, 2) Everyone should learn catechism that explained evangelical faith, and  3) Only those that did could be allowed to the Lord’s Table. Others were added like staying out of taverns and acceptable names for children. As a result too many Genevans did not like being told how to live the holy life.

The population in Geneva began to shift as more and more Frenchmen left France to come and live openly as evangelicals and hear the Scriptures taught. Genevans wanted to put them back on a boat and banish them back to France. Calvin’s name was once again on the list.  But he was not expelled from the country.

In 1555 things changed. Those favoring Calvin won city council elections giving him freedom to do things he had never ventured before. He established a top-secret program for the evangelization of his native France. A secret network was set up with safe houses and hiding places arranged so agents of the gospel could slip back and forth across the border into France to plant underground churches. Many Frenchmen became reformed including many among the nobility which gave the movement political clout. Even so there was still persecution and Calvin wrote letters to encourage the Christians to stay strong.

He turned Geneva into an international center for the spread of the gospel, advised rulers from Scotland to Italy, trained refugees who then returned to their native countries, and dispatched missionaries.

As he pushed Reformation, his own health declined. He stated, “The affliction of my body has almost stupefied my mind.” He was in horrendous pain which ended with his death on May 27, 1564. Sensing his death he made his will confessing “I have no other defense or refuge for salvation than God’s gratuitous adoption on which alone my salvation depends.”  He had no desire to become a relic or idol so he was buried in the common cemetery in an unmarked grave. This was typical Calvin.

John Calvin never intended to found something called Calvinism and he hated the word. He spent his life fighting for what he believed was mere orthodoxy of the early post-apostolic church.  Calvinism suggests a new school of thought that came into being and many would be led to misunderstand the man himself. Many of the ideas behind Calvinism were added by others beginning some twenty years after his death.

*Most of the information for this entry came from Michael Reeves book, The Unquenchable Flame: Discovering the Heart of the Reformation. Published in Nashville, TN by B&H Academic in 2009.

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

A “New” Priesthood

Do you remember the game Simon Says? It is a game I do not think about often, but at VBS this year, the timing of rotations got messed up (I think it was my fault) and the kids had a lot of time to kill. So one of the leaders engaged those who were waiting with a few games of Simon Says. Again, I don’t think about the game much now, but I remember back in the 1970s, the game was so popular people were willing to “play it by themselves,” which is kind of difficult. So, Milton Bradley developed Simon in the late 1970s.

Whether the game was Simon Says or Simon, the idea was that a command was given and you do it. If you do it successfully enough, and better than others, then you win. That’s what a lot of people think of religion. And with defiled religion, that may be true, but true religion as James says in James 1, or true Christianity as we would call it, represents a completely different idea.

But it hasn’t always been that way, and frankly, it isn’t that way today in a lot of places. Christianity is a difficult concept to fully comprehend. Living out our faith in Christ is quite a difficult task. At least for me it is. I think I get one truth figured out, and then I realize that the depths of my understanding are stretched further. Maybe it would be easier just to have someone to tell us what to do.

But that’s the problem. Many people will tell you what to do without a clue of whether it is right or wrong, or how to do it. They may even want to tell you what to do for the right reasons, but ultimately, the motives of mankind will turn selfish without a constant focus on God. Therefore, every leader will likely mislead you at some point because no one keeps a perfect focus on God at all times. But a God-honoring leader will repent, ask forgiveness, and seek to make things right. Unfortunately, it is often easier to be led astray than it is to return. And, at some point, many do not return at all, and that leads to a dark place – which is how we arrived at a need for a reformation of the Church.

A Need for Reformation

Before I share some reasons for why The Reformation was needed, let me clarify what the word means. First, we must remember that the more formal name of this series of events is The Protestant Reformation (Protest-ant) Reformation. But to understand the aim of this protest, we need to know what the word “reformation” means.

Reformation (Re – Form – Ation)
  • RE – from a Latin word; has an element of “again” or “again and again”; a backward motion (like retrace or revert); return
  • FORM – to construct or frame; to arrange or organize
  • ATION – an act of process

Thus, the protestors want to initiate a process to construct, frame, or organize something as it had been in the past. What was that something? The Church. The Church as Jesus said He would build it – not what it had become over the centuries. As I mentioned last week, the manner in which the Church evolved is why a rallying cry for this time period was “post tenebras lux” (After darkness, light), which is the theme of this current series.

So, what caused the darkness? And more importantly, why was a new priesthood needed? Before I answer that question, let me encourage you to read Exodus 19.5-6. God is speaking here to the nation of Israel and says the full nation will be to God a kingdom of priests. The Levites would become the priestly tribe, but before God gives the Law (including the 10 Commandments), He says the full nation will serve Him as priests – IF, if they obey God and keep the covenant. Hold that in mind for a few minutes as I now share a few issues from church history. Without a bit of knowledge of church history, the need for The Reformation cannot be understood. Even with this brief overview of the history of the church, we cannot fully grasp how problematic it was for many people to escape the darkness.

As with many aspects of life, some of the traditions of the early church were not bad at all. However, over time, many elements became requirements even taking precedence over the Bible.
  • By 215 AD, many routines began to be established for aspects such as baptism – but routines became requirements
  • By 250, Rome had 1 bishop (the pope) – done primarily to control doctrine and prevent heresy. Ultimately, the pope would not only control all doctrine for the church, but establish the meaning and interpretation of any doctrine.
  • By 4th century some traditions (again, nothing wrong with any of these, per se)
    • Prayers written down
    • Candles and ornaments used
    • Ministers begin to wear robes

One issue that aroused some concern for the early church was the decision to celebrate the birth of Jesus on Dec 25. (Yes, this date was not formalized until 325 AD.) The issue was the choice of date. Constantine (the emperor) had earlier worshipped Mithras, the Persian god of light – otherwise known as the Sun God. The feast for this god was held each year on Dec 25. So, Constantine decided to celebrate a feast for the Son of God on the same day that everyone usually celebrated the feast to the Sun God. Like with the traditions above, the idea of establishing a date to celebrate the birth of Jesus is not wrong per se, but hopefully you see that his choice of December 25 as the date could create a lot of confusion. Or we celebrating the Sun God or the Son of God?

5 Key Reasons People Began to Question the Church

Within the first few centuries of the Church, the items mentioned above were largely accepted without challenge because, again, nothing is truly wrong with any of them. However, over time the abuse from the pope, holy wars, certain requirements for salvation, and misconceptions of grace led to a need for change. Let me briefly mention these issues (in chronological order) as they were the real impetus leading to the Reformation.

1. The Crusades
The Crusades began in 11th Century. There were, literally, hundreds of them, but seven were considered major. Ultimately, the Crusades were about taking control of the Holy Land with a promise from the pope that any loot could be kept. One particular troubling aspect of the Crusades is that the pope announced that the killing non-Christians was permitted. Interestingly, the Crusades were not only led by adults. One children’s crusade was led by a twelve-year-old boy. Some 30,000 children left and were not heard from for several years. It was later determined most were sold as slaves.

2. Papal Abuse
Not all popes were evil, but some like Pope Innocent III (1198-1216) did not live up to the honor of their title (or in his case, his name). Pope Innocent III claimed his job was to rule the world because the pope was above man (though below God). This pope ordered an inquisition which continued through the famed Spanish Inquisition which began some 250 years later and lasted for 400 years.

However, perhaps the most influential teaching was the idea of the Works of Supererogation. The idea is that Jesus did more than what was necessary (again, this was promoted by this pope, it is not true – what Jesus did was fully necessary and only what was necessary). Furthermore, according to this false doctrine, those who have become saints have added their works over time building up the treasury of God. Therefore, according to the Catholic faith, money can be added to this treasury to help free people from purgatory. (These indulgences as they are called, are not for forgiveness, but rather to reduce the punishment for sins already forgiven. See https://www.catholic.com/tract/myths-about-indulgences for some clarification on indulgences.) Time does not allow me to fully share the problems with this doctrine, but let me state that the idea of purgatory is not mentioned anywhere in the Bible.

3. The Plague (1347)
The Plague that ravaged Europe in the 14th Century led many people then to do what we often do now when some sort of tragedy strikes. They questioned the goodness of God. Could God have really caused this? What authority does the church really have?

This last question was made worse because Christians got sick, but the Jews did not. Why? Because Jews had cats. The cats ate the rats that carried the plague and thus the plague did not spread in places where the rats did not live. (One reason that most non-Jews did not have cats is that in 14th Century Europe was that cats were equated with witchcraft. It was said that witches could take the form of a cat, and that cats themselves could be a home for Satan – in part because a cat could not be trained!)

4. Split Papacy (1378)
More probably should be said about this fact, but the papacy split in 1378. The real issue with this is that the pope is consider the Vicar of Christ, or the representative of Christ. Of course, all Christians should be representing Christ, and we will get to this point soon, but within the Catholic Church, the pope holds this distinction in a special way. What it truly means is that the pope possesses the same authority and power over the church as Jesus. While that should be troubling to you, imagine if there were two popes. Which one really has authority? When the papacy split late in the 14th Century, this question was not hypothetical – it was real! This particular issue really began to open people’s eyes to some misapplied powers. However, because the common people did not have a Bible to read, they could not know for sure.

5. Lack of Biblical Understanding of Ministers
Let me start with a statement about the statistics I am about to share. These stats are from 1551 or, about 34 years after the beginning of The Reformation (source is a professor). If these statistics are true then, it is no doubt true of the period leading up to The Reformation. The following is from a survey of 331 ministers. Regarding the:
  • 10 Commandments – 33 couldn’t find in the Bible; 9 ministers couldn’t count to 10
  • Lord’s Prayer – 10 couldn’t say it, 39 couldn’t find if, 34 didn’t know who said it!
  • Articles of Faith – only 10 couldn’t say, but 2/3 could not find references

Given these five issues, the people were becoming more skeptical of the Church. With the advent of the printing press in the 15th Century, people were becoming exposed to books, and many began to read. When Bible translations became available over the next 150 years, culminating with the Bible being translated in the king’s English – the King James Version, people were truly able to know the Bible for themselves. The King James Version was finished being translated over 90 years after The Reformation began, but it certainly helped keep the momentum moving.

The Priests of God

I finally arrive at the primary Scripture for this week. Peter wrote words in his first letter which echo the ideas God expressed in Exodus 19 which I mentioned above. In Exodus, God called for a group of obedient people to be a nation of priests proclaiming God’s name everywhere. Peter says the same thing only not to the people of Israel, but to the people of God for all time. In 1 Peter 2.9-10, Peter calls us chosen, a royal priesthood, and the people of God for the purpose of proclaiming His excellent message. A few verses prior, in verse 5, Peter says we are a holy priesthood which offer sacrifices through Jesus Christ. These verses are where the idea of a priesthood of believers originates. We, as believers – as priests of God! Therefore, we are to take responsibility for our faith!

We are not to abdicate our responsibilities or our privileges to someone else.

We are not to look to someone else for our direction or even communication with God.

We are not to confess our sins to another so they might seek forgiveness for us (though the Bible does say we should confess our sins to one another for the sake of reconciliation and peace).

Prior to The Reformation the church had all the power. What was worse was that many (most) people could not read and the Bible was written in Latin so only a few could read it. Thus, you had to take the word of the priests that what they said was true. But according to 1 Peter 2, we are the priests, and particularly, if you can read, then you do not have that excuse. People may read from different translations, but the essence remains the same (in most translations). Therefore everyone has a chance to understand. Why? Because everyone who believes in Christ is to be a priest. And as priests we are to serve and tell others about the goodness and greatness of God and His message.

CONCLUSION

The history of the church is flawed, which should not be a surprise because the church is made of humans. However, a church fully dependent on Christ will be far less flawed. This is the reason that we should all be involved in serving. When one or two people are in charge, bad decisions can be made which negatively impact the entire group (or during the Middle Ages – the entire world). However, when a group of believers band together to seek what God says and then try to follow it, one person’s agenda (like Pope Innocent III, from above) could have less of an impact, if any impact at all.

As Christians we will still make mistakes. As a leader, I will still make mistakes. But if we seek God rather than our own agendas, we can minimize our mistakes, and maximize His glory. To do that requires us to have a focus like the reformers did. Their focus was not on tradition, and not even on their fear of the pope and the Church trying to stop them – though that certainly happened. Rather, the reformers focused on five aspects which re-form-ation-ed the church, and is still doing so today. Those five aspects are known as The Five Solas. They are:
  • Solua Scriptura, Scripture Alone
  • Sola Christus, Christ Alone
  • Sola Fide, Faith Alone
  • Sola Gratia, Grace Alone
  • Soli Deo Gloria, For God’s Glory Alone

Next week, I will briefly discuss each of these five solas. Then, over the following five weeks, I will cover each one separately. Also, next week should include the return of our teaching moments blogs on this site as well. Those posts will include a focus on the some of the great names of The Reformation.

How does this message apply to our JOURNEY? Well, if we are to be priests, then the answer must be about:

JOURNEY: Y – You

Jesus has done His part. Jesus has called you to do yours. How will you respond? Will you be His priest? Will you serve Him as He desires to be served by you?

NEXT STEP(S):
Live: A priest is someone who serves God. We are all called to be priests of God. This week, look for areas where you can serve God as He has made you – with your talents, your skills, your gifts, etc. – not how you think others might have you serve.

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

After Darkness, Light

One stereotype about men is that we will not ask for directions. This stereotype persists regarding putting items together as well as when driving. I want to focus on the driving for a minute. What is the danger of not asking directions? We get lost and sometimes we don’t even know how to get back to being “unlost” – let alone being in the right place. Of course, we lose time, we certainly lose patience, but perhaps most importantly, we lose the trust of those with us. Sometimes the story, or recurring stories, become a laughing point for all involved, but in the moment, it is not funny, and can even be threatening depending upon the circumstances.

Perhaps the worst part of being lost is to not know you are lost. Maybe you are travelling along with someone who thinks they know where they are going. Maybe you are following someone else. Everything seems fine until you realize something is drastically wrong. By then, the question is, “Is it too late?”

A story which captures this idea is that of a frog in a pot. If a frog is put in a pot of water it will not jump out. The pot is then put on the stove and the temperature is turned up very gradually over time. Eventually the frog is boiling because it did not recognize the subtle change in temperature until it was too late.

Such is the case with being lost for some of us. More importantly, such was the case with the church over a period of nearly 1200 years from the fourth to sixteenth centuries. At the end of October, we will be celebrating the 500th anniversary of the official date where the church was challenged to find its way back from being lost. Reformation Day takes place on October 31st each year, but this year is particularly special because it is the 500th anniversary of the date that Martin Luther nailed 95 theses (or challenges) against the Roman Catholic Church. His goal was not to change religious understanding, but to reshape the Church. But God had grander designs as we will see over these next several weeks.


The Re-form-ation

As we begin to discuss the idea of The Reformation, we need to clarify a few ideas. First, although the term The Reformation is most common, the idea was considered a protest of sorts, so it is also known as The Protestant Reformation (Protest-ant) Reformation. But to understand this idea, we need to know what reformation means.

Reformation (Re – Form – Ation)
  • RE – from a Latin word; has an element of “again” or “again and again” or a backward motion (like retrace or revert, e.g. return)
  • FORM – to construct or frame; to arrange or organize
  • ATION – an act of process

Thus, the protestors want to initiate a process to construct, frame, or organize something as it had been in the past. What was that something? The Church. The Church as Jesus said He would build it – not what it had become over the centuries. We will get into more of the specifics of that next week. For this week, I want to focus on the overall idea of darkness and light.

The series title reflects this idea. Post tenebras lux is Latin for “After darkness, light.” The people of the 16th Century were looking for, and promoting an idea of, light in the midst of the perceived darkness around them. With the idea of light following darkness, I present the following reminders about the contrast of darkness and light in the Bible.



After Darkness, Jesus Created the Light

Genesis 1 begins with God creating the heavens and the earth. In verse 3, He commands light to come forth. And verse 4 say that God saw the light was good. Darkness was already present (see v.2), but once light was created the word “good” was used.

For untold centuries after that, darkness and light alternated each day. This is true in what God called Day and Night, but it came to be true of the state of the world too. Humans can do good, but the Bible says that we are not good – not one of us (Romans 3.10). Jesus makes the same claim in Mark 10.18 stating only God is good. Of course, Jesus is God, so He was good, but no other human can claim that on their own standing. Ultimately, our idea of good and bad are primarily based upon human emotions, human decisions, human actions, etc. God bases His on perfect righteousness.

Over the centuries leading up to Jesus, the idea of God’s goodness had been lost to most people. Not only that, but the understanding was that strict obedience to a set of rules is what would appease God and maybe, maybe put you in good standing with Him.

The truth is that we cannot truly appreciate light until we have an idea of what darkness is. But we cannot realize how dark our surroundings are until we see what the truth of the light is. The world’s system had been corrupt for a long time and thus it was time for Jesus to make His appearance.


After Darkness, Jesus Showed His Light

The theme of darkness and light is a large part of John’s account of the Gospel. The first instance of this theme is in John 1.4-5. He then uses the idea of light four more times in the next four verses as well. 1 John 1.5-9 have the same focus on light and darkness. But the idea of Jesus being the light was not just something John considered, it was an explicit statement of Jesus – as recorded by John.

In John 8, Jesus stated that He is the light of the world. He made this statement during the Feast of Tabernacles. The day prior, He had announced that He was the living water as the water was carried by the priests from outside Jerusalem up to the temple. Afterwards, luminaries would have been lit to keep the temple complex aglow all night. It was in this setting that Jesus announced that He is the true light.

Of course, the Pharisees challenged Jesus – and why not? They had just been humiliated by Jesus regarding the incident with the woman who was caught in adultery. They were ready to stone her for her sin, but Jesus said that only those who were without sin should cast stones (see John 8.1-11). During the ensuing dialogue, Jesus claimed to be the light, the Pharisees claim Jesus is a liar, and then the question about Jesus' Father arises. Frankly, it is not difficult to see why the Pharisees thought Jesus to be dangerous. God was certainly the Father of Israel, but to claim God as an individual Father was strong language. Frankly, how can it be proven?

Yet, looking back on the story, knowing what we know about Jesus now, the idea fits perfectly. Thus, Jesus was the light of the world. Furthermore, as His light was shone, the darkness abated. At least for a time.


After Jesus Left, Darkness Returned

Just as when God created the light and all was good, the early church flourished initially – despite intense persecution. However, just as darkness crept into mankind after Creation causing people to fall away from God for centuries, so too, the Church would fall away for centuries causing people to have a distorted view of God. Certainly, God still had a remnant, but overall darkness was so characteristic that we call the time period the Dark Ages (and not because they didn’t have electricity). By the fourth century, the persecution stopped as the government and church united in a sense. Over the next 1200 years, this led to many challenges. Next week, I will break down some of the challenges during this time-period which will help explain a) why the Reformation was so needed, and b) why it was so difficult for many to embrace.

The church abandoned certain principles and, worse, placed man-made traditions above biblical teachings. But the fact is that Jesus told His disciples that He would be with them to the end of the age, so although He left, the light still shone where He was allowed to shine. In many ways, however, the darkness returned because people did not know how to seek or where to find the light. And, thus, darkness persisted for a long time.

In the previous section, I mentioned Jesus statement in John 8.12 about being the light of the world. But notice the rest of that verse. “Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” Again, the Church, for the most part, was not teaching people to find the light, but rather to fund the treasuries. Again, I will expand on this later in the series, but that issue was one of the biggest concerns of Luther and a definite mark of a need for reformation. We recently spent one full year looking at the life of Jesus and what it meant and means to walk in the footsteps of Jesus – that is to heed His call to “Follow Me.” For as He said, those who follow will not walk in darkness. And that leads us back to the title of today’s message – post tenebras lux (after darkness, light).


After Darkness, the Light Regained Focus

The Reformers realized that the people were in the dark spiritually. They realized that the teachings were not biblical. And the idea was to return the focus to the way the church had originally been formed – re-form-ation. As this happened, the darkness would be turned to light – so after darkness, light or post tenebras lux.

Jesus said, “I am the light of the world” (John 8.12). But He also said that we, His followers then, and you and I today, are the light of the world (Matthew 5.14), commanding us to shine forth. For 1200 years, humanity largely forgot how to shine our light for Jesus. Humanity forgot that we are a city on a hill and cannot be hidden – at least not when we are shining our lights. And as our light shines, Jesus says God is glorified by others (Matthew 5.16). The Reformers wanted God to be glorified. I want God to be glorified. I hope you want God to be glorified too!

The problem is not just that the early church failed in being the light, the problem was that the church forgot what being the light meant. In this series, I am likely to get in some trouble who may listen online or read the church blog, but many do not believe the Catholic Church did wrong. But yes, they did. And I intend to expose some of that wrongdoing over the next several weeks. BUT. And this is a huge but...what Catholics did then, many churches, of all denominations, do now.

If you recall when I first arrived in Fairfax, and even when I came in view of a call, I said, one question I would continually ask was, “Why?” We must all ask that question. Why do we do what we do? Do we labor for our glory or God’s? Do we do what we do because it feels good to us or because God’s Word says it is right to do? If we want God’s light to shine, then what we do must be done for God.


CONCLUSION

I began this message about drivers being lost. We might laugh about it because the reality is that the inconvenience is real, but it is only temporary. However, if the church gets lost, the consequences are horrible because people go to hell thinking they are right with God. As a church, we should certainly help people to know who they are, know what to do, and help others live better lives, but we must always maintain our focus on Christ. Jesus came that we might never again be lost. Jesus said, “I will build my Church.” Jesus said, “I am the light of the world.” And even when the world thought they had silenced Him – when for three days He was in the earth and all seemed dark – the world experienced post tenebras lux in a way that could never be duplicated when He rose from the dead. Truly it was for all who loved Jesus then, and who love Him now, the truest form of After Darkness, Light.


JOURNEY: RRevere

Our life should always be about Jesus. When we fail (and we will), we must remember His light will always shine. The sun that gives light by day might set each evening, but Jesus light will never fade because He rose from the dead. So we must revere Him. We must put Him first. We must not allow ourselves to get off the path where it is dark. We must seek to follow Him and have the light of life He has promised.


NEXT STEP(S)Learn. Examine your heart. What do you want more than you want Jesus? If your answer is, “nothing,” then make sure with this question: what keeps you from spending the amount of time you wish to spend with Jesus? Examine your heart and make sure that you are truly walking in the light.

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Change Up? No, A Curve

Anyone who knows me, soon realizes I have a passion for baseball. My first real memories of baseball coincide with the rise of the Royals in the mid-1970s. I was six when Chris Chambliss homered off Mark Littell in Game 5 of the ALCS and I cried for hours afterward. I soon started playing competitive baseball, and played at very high levels during my teenage years.

A good baseball player must develop different skills. Primarily, one must learn to hit and to play defense. I was ok on defense, but I did not usually hit very well (only a couple of seasons was I truly any good). So, I trained myself to be good in the other area – pitching. I had one major advantage at a very early age. I was, and am, left-handed. Then, as I grew older, I developed a very good curveball. And finally, in my later teens, I developed a high-velocity fastball. But the curveball was my out-pitch for most of my years as pitcher.

What is not well-understood about the curveball, is that the curving is not what is most important. The fact that the pitch comes in much slower – often 10-20 miles per hour slower is what makes the pitch effective. But, it does curve. Dizzy Dean was once challenged by someone who said the curveball was an optical illusion. Dean’s response was to have the guy go stand on the other side of a tree. I will throw a curveball and “whomp him.”

Some of the best fastball pitchers of all time actually have been voted as the top curveball pitcher in their team’s history. Bob Feller, Sandy Koufax, Nolan Ryan, Steve Carlton, Dwight Gooden and others all had tremendous fastballs, but their curveballs made them truly great.

Why am I talking about curveballs? Well, our church has been thrown somewhat of a curveball. Most of you know that we were scheduled to vote on, and begin, our renovations this past week. But the air conditioner started having problems in late July and now has completely quit. Do we press on and commit to renovating the sanctuary and paying for a new heating and cooling system? Or do we press pause on the renovations to take care of what seems to be a pressing need? We will soon meet to discuss these very options once we have the proper bids, but for now, we simply must recognize the curveball and consider how we will adapt.

The question is: Was this curveball from God? God does sometimes throw curveballs. Paul was ready to go to Asia and other areas until God sent a vision for him to go to Macedonia. Sometimes God helps us overcome a curveball. For instance, Daniel regularly went about his regularly duties of praying to God only to be arrested and thrown to the lions. But God saw to it that the lions’ feast would come a few hours later after Daniel was released unharmed. And finally, we can say with certainty that God wants to keep us from striking out against the curveball of sin, and thus, He sent Jesus to pinch hit for us, so to speak, to cover our sin. But our sin does still have consequences, and that is the story we are going to review today.

Our story is about King David near the very end of his life. The Bible says that David was a “man after God’s own heart” (Acts 13.22), but that does not mean he was sinless. In fact, a few weeks ago, the Sunday School lesson was about David and his mating with Bathsheba and the subsequent killing of her husband Uriah. But what separates David from so many others was His true repentance. He did not just confess a wrong to God, He truly turned from that sin even though the consequences haunted him for the rest of his life.

Today’s story is another sin in the life of David. It was a sin of pride which impacted the nation. The story is found in 2 Samuel 24.

Our Pride vs God’s Desire (vv. 1-9)

2 Samuel chapter 24 is concerned with the effects of David calling for census. In your notes, you will see that the principle issue here is not the census, it is the placement of David’s trust. A couple of notes are important here.

First, noticed that verse 1 says God incited David to take the census. Is God to blame for David’s sin? No. James 1.13 clearly states that God does not tempt us. So, what are we to think in this situation? Well, God does allow us to be tempted. We can find part of the answer in 1 Chronicles 21 which says, “Then Satan stood against Israel and incited David to number Israel.”

That sentence makes more sense to us, but now we have an apparent contradiction. Many people will use passages like this to say that the Bible has errors because it contradicts itself. Such statements are why theology is important. Our understanding of God comes from Scripture, but our understanding of Scripture depends upon our view of God. While the two versus seem to contradict one another, we can look at a third passage like Job 1 and 2 that reveals that Satan can only do what God allows. Thus, a most reasonable explanation for this apparent contradiction is that God allows Satan to incite David to take the census. Why did the author of 2 Samuel state it differently? I don’t know. Maybe just to show that God is in control.

What we must see here is that after David was incited, Joab warned him against it. But David’s pride was set to take the census, and so he did. David had listened to the council of Nathan earlier when David desired to build God a house (temple), but God said no (2 Sam 7). Here, however, pride entered the equation. David desired to know how powerful he was. A census would show him and others just how powerful he had become. And what became known is that 1.3 million men were available for war.

Principle: The issue isn’t the census, it is where David’s trust is placed.

Is it ok to take a census (count)? Sure.
  • The Bible records how many Jesus fed on two different occasions.
  • The Bible records how many were saved on the day of Pentecost for instance. 
  • The Bible speaks of 144,000 souls in Revelation.

But here is the issue. In each of those situations, what matters is not how many people are involved; the key is Who is involved. That is, the focus is on who God is and what He is doing. David wanted to count the people so he knew how many were “valiant men who drew the sword” (2 Samuel 24.9). In other words, David was placing his trust in the military might of Israel rather than in the power of an Almighty God. Thus, David sinned, and he is given a choice of consequences.

Our Sin Brings God’s Judgment (vv. 10-17)

This story is unique because David is given His choice of judgment. Notice, David realizes His sin AND confesses it in verse 10, but that does not erase a need for punishment. God uses a man named Gad to lay out the alternatives. Three are provided:
  • Three years of famine (on all of Israel)
  • Three months on the run (David, not Israel)
  • Three days of pestilence (on all of Israel)

David’s choice is not the one that would only impact him. He chooses pestilence which causes 70,000 people to die. Three days, 70,000! But David knows one thing – God’s mercy will prevail. God intervened before Jerusalem could be destroyed. Before he realized his sin, David must have felt good knowing the size of his army. Now, undoubtedly, some of those men had died, but more importantly, David realized that no matter the army, God is in control.

David knew of God’s control when he fought against Goliath.
David knew of God’s control when he fled from Saul for several years.
But David forget about God when he mated with Bathsheba and then had Uriah killed.

However, just as he repented when confronted about Bathsheba, he repented here as well. But the cost to Israel was great.

Principle 2: The sin of one person can impact many.

Reggie mentioned Achan last week (Joshua 7). Achan’s greed at Jericho cost Israel in battle at Ai. For David, the result was worse. Far more people died, in part, because it was a leader who was responsible for the sin. But it was also David’s pleas for the people (v17) that kept the situation from being any worse. (See 1 Chronicles 21.14-17 for a parallel to this story.)

What we must realize is that when we sin, punishment may come, but God is a merciful God. We should repent as soon as we realize our error and pray for God’s mercy to extend to us and to all who might be impacted.

Our Worship as Response to God’s Grace (vv. 18-25)

Gad came to David the same day that the Lord withdrew the pestilence. Gad told David what to do and David did not hesitate at all. This immediate action shows that David trusts Gad. What was David to do? Worship. He was to praise God – not just for what God did, but for who God is.

When David went to the place where he was instructed to build the altar, the man who owned the property offered the site and even the oxen and other items needed for the sacrifice. But David would not receive the items as a gift. He was determined to pay for them. Why? Because the payment of sin requires sacrifice.

David built the altar. He made the sacrifices, and the Lord received them. And this place that David purchased, this place that David sacrificed would become the site where the temple was built after Solomon became king (1 Chronicles 22.1).

Principle 3: Worship comes at a price.

David realized his mistake, pleaded for God’s mercy, and then was instructed to make sacrifice. David knew that sin needs a payment and he could not cover his sin otherwise. He had received so much from God, he needed to pay for what he would sacrifice to God. Of course, God knew our sin needed payment as well. It was God who chose the place and the Person to be our sacrifice, but do we offer nothing in return for payment? Do we ignore the sacrifice of God in our worship and instead complain when we are asked to give of ourselves in some way?

God deserves worship for who He is, let alone what He has done. But God gave up His Son so that we might worship. Will our worship cost us nothing in return?

CONCLUSION

Originally, this week’s message was to focus on the launch of a capital campaign to renovate the sanctuary. But, we have been thrown a curveball. Yet God doesn’t want us to fail! The timing could have been horrible – but God! I want to be careful here because the situation we have studied today does not perfectly resonate with ours, but I do think we can find some parallels. At a minimum, I believe our current situation requires us to ask some questions.

1.   Are the proposed renovations the right thing to do at this time or were we incited to do them? Please understand, I am not saying they were wrong or are wrong. I am simply asking a question. The carpet needs to be replaced which means the pews will need to be removed. So, in a practical sense the plans were fine. But are they right?

Prior to two weeks ago, our goal was to focus on the aesthetics of the church, and from Scripture, we have examples of how much God cared about the design and ornateness of the tabernacle and temple. But we must ask ourselves, how necessary are the aesthetics in light of our new situation with the heating and cooling devices?

2.   God’s mercy may have prevented us from a sin, but at a minimum it has given us an opportunity to reevaluate our overall situation. Whatever we choose from here will be with a timely reminder that money is finite and we need to be wise so we do not put the church into a financial pitfall.

God says, I will have mercy on whom I have mercy (Exodus 33.19), but I believe one reason we have been spared financially is because of our generosity toward others. Next week, we start collecting for the Missouri Missions Offering. We give to North American Missions (Annie Armstrong) and International Missions (Lottie Moon). We pack shoeboxes for Operation Christmas Child, and support the BSU at Northwest. We provide Christmas for a local family and help with school supplies. And over the last eleven months we have provided over $2,000 in money to help pastors in Kenya – first buying a motorbike, and now supplying their gas. In other words, we are a church that has already given much, and thus I truly believe God spared us that we might be able to give more even as we will soon vote on some major expenditures.

3.   Because we have been spared, we must praise God. But to praise him, as we have seen, requires sacrifice. Frankly, to praise him as we have come to expect to do so on a typical Sunday will require a sacrifice on our part.

The reality is that we have some work to do. The truth is that we have had had comfort in our day because of the expense of others in the past. We need to consider how the future of the church will benefit others at our expense. Comfort always has a price to be paid by someone. In fact, the Bible says that we, you and I, were bought at a price (1 Corinthians 6.19-20) – our eternal comfort is only possible because of the expense of Jesus’ life.

JOURNEY: R – Revere

That’s why this message must have the JOURNEY letter of R for REVERE. David was offered the area for sacrifice for free. He was offered the necessary items to sacrifice for free. But David knew something we should not forget – worship requires sacrifice. Maybe it is a sacrifice of pride, or money, or time, or all three, but we cannot truly worship – that is, we cannot truly appreciate God, unless we are willing to sacrifice.

NEXT STEP(S):

Learn: I am going to ask you to give. Not today, but soon. In April, I preached a sermon from 2 Corinthians 8 to help us prepare our hearts for this day. This day has now arrived and we do not yet know how we will proceed, in part, because we do not know the cost. But in order to come and worship in this place, we need to be like David and be ready to pay a fair portion for us to worship in relative comfort.

So, I am asking you to focus this week and next (or, at least, until our meeting) on asking God:

1. What He would have us as a church do regarding these projects?

2. What He would have you do regarding an extra financial contribution to allow the church to do what He wants us to do?