Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Sola Fide (Faith Alone)

Keep the faith is a saying is as old as the Bible. Paul said as much in 2 Timothy 4.8 that he kept the faith, encouraging Timothy, in this context, to do the same. But the phrase has come to mean far more (or perhaps, I should say, far less) than it originally did.

“Keep the faith” is a rallying cry for various athletes and teams and their fans. For instance, if I were to say “ya gotta keep the faith” in a certain tone, some of my college friends would think of one specific moment after a Kansas City Chiefs loss in 1990.

Some here might be fans of Billy Joel. In 1983, Joel released a song entitled, “Keeping the Faith.” It was moderately popular reaching #18 on Billboard’s chart. But the song epitomizes a lack of emphasis on where our faith should lie – and I am not talking about Jesus, although that is where I am heading soon. In Joels’ song, he does mention being lost (but in the idea of reminiscing) and being saved (by music), and even revival (mentioning drinking beer while listening to rock and roll). But much of the song is about how he dressed and what he did and learned as he grew up in the 1960s, and apart from the three words I just mentioned, and the phrase “Keeping the Faith”, the song contains nothing related to the faith I will speak of today.

Why do I mention athletes and Billy Joel in a message related to faith? Because many people talk of keeping the faith, or having faith, or having a strong faith without considering what the idea really means. For instance, let me pose this question, “Would you rather have a little faith in something strong or a strong faith in something weak?” Consider it this way, would you rather step out on a frozen lake with a lot of faith but with very thin ice, or with very thick ice but only a little faith?

To have faith is important, but it is not what is most important. The object of our faith is what is important. You can have a lot of a faith in yourself or a little faith in Jesus. You are the thin ice; Jesus is the thick ice. So, how does this all of this talk of faith relate to our series on The Reformation? Well, the first of the five solas is sola fide, by faith alone.


Before I get into the idea of sola fide, let me remind us of what the term reformation means. Last week, on my personal blog, I discussed the difference between a revolution and The Reformation. The action and the intent is quite different. So, what does re-formation mean?

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

If The Reformation is about returning to a previous understanding, we must establish (at least) two points of reference. We need to understand the correct line of thinking (what faith originally meant) and the faulty line of thinking (what faith meant in the 16th Century). Once we see this picture, then we can compare our understanding of faith today. Because we are talking about a need to reform, I want to cover these beginning with the 16th Century, then backing up to the early church before moving into the present.

The theological issue really comes down to a difference in an understanding of justification. Earlier this year, in an interview format, I talked about salvation. One part of the discussion related to a multi-step process for what we commonly refer to as being saved. In basic form, salvation includes being justified, being sanctified, and eventually when we are on the other side of eternity, being glorified. But the issue at hand for today is justification.

16th Century Justification
The basic argument of the Catholic Church is that faith in Christ does save us, but to be truly justified, we must add works. A key verse for this concept is James 2.24, “You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone.” Thus, according to the Catholic’s viewpoint, our salvation may begin by faith, but our works make us justified. This has been the official Catholic position on justification since it was confirmed at the end of the Council of Trent in 1547 and was the position prior, just not in written form. In essence, Catholics believe that faith in Christ saves us, but works (especially those like baptism, the Eucharist (Lord’s Supper) and penance (confession to a priest) fully justify us. Martin Luther, as a priest being trained by the Church would have been taught this very idea.

However, while reflecting on Romans 1.17, his mind began to question the Catholic understanding of justification. Romans 1.17 says, “For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, “‘The righteous will live by faith.’ This verse served as the catalyst to The Reformation. If that is true, what did it mean – not to the 16th Century Church, but to Paul and the ancient Church – to those whose faith in the early centuries were distanced only by a generation or two from the time of Jesus?

Quickly, let me break down this verse. (Romans 1.17)

For in it – What is the it? In verse 16, three possibilities exist – the gospel, the power of God, and salvation.

So which is it? I firmly believe the “it” refers to the gospel – the hope in Jesus which leads to salvation, all of which stems from God being mighty and powerful. The gospel is what makes salvation known to us and available for us.

The righteousness of God is revealed – God’s goodness is known because of the gospel. God certainly loved His people in the Old Testament. But that love was made manifest in Jesus – showing God has never been some sort of aloof God, but a personal and caring God.

From faith for faith – Many varied explanations exist for this phrase. The Greek phrase is difficult, in itself, causing interpretation differences as well. One common interpretation is “faith from first to last” – meaning our righteousness begins and ends with the gospel and allows us to understand what has been revealed by God.

As it is written, “The righteous shall live by faith.” – Again, some debate exists on how this should be translated. Consider a reordering of the words: “The righteous by faith shall live.” In this rearrangement, the point seems clear that Paul is not writing about how a person will live, but THAT a person will live eternally. How is this done? By having faith in the gospel which brings about salvation to all who believe. (Although the KJV uses the same order as the ESV, the word just is used in place of righteous which makes the idea of justification – a central theme in Romans 1-4 – all the more clear.)

1st Century Justification
For Paul and the early church, let me provide an important piece of evidence relating to the judicial process. The Roman Emperor would sit on the “bema seat” (judgment seat) to hear cases and render a verdict. Once the Emperor passed a verdict, no appeal was left; the decision was final.

The same is true for justification. Once faith in Christ is realized, it is final. The gavel has fallen, the decision is made. The Bible speaks of this moment as the dead coming to life, and those at odds with God becoming His children. This is the meaning of justification in the first century. But even then, some would challenge what that justification meant. Paul facetiously asks the question in Romans 6, for example, if we should abuse the grace of God because the verdict has already been declared. His answer is that such a question does not denote an accurate understanding of God’s grace.

Perhaps, this abuse regarding the idea of faith is why the Catholic Church has tied sanctification to justification over the years. According to Catholic doctrine, by combining the need for works to what God has already provided, a person can show themselves to be justified. However, Luther and others began to see the Bible as saying, we are made righteous by God, and therefore our works should be for God, not for ourselves. In other words, we work because we are saved as an expression of giving thanks, rather than trying to add to something that has already been provided for us.

This truth is made clear in John 3.16. God loved us so He gave to us and if we believe we are with Him. Now, the word believe requires a little more explanation. In our time, to believe in something primarily means to know, or at least presume, something to be true. Belief, understood in this way, is about a mental understanding of something, or in the case of Christian faith – Someone. However, the Greek word used for belief in John 3.16 is a form of the Greek word pisteo which is the word for faith. So, the original verse would have read like this: For God so loved the word that He gave His only Son that whoever faiths in Him will not perish but have eternal life.

Here faith is a verb, not a noun. So faith must be more than simply thinking something is true, it is to act on that truth. Again, this should cause us to serve. We “work” not to be saved, but because He has saved us.

21st Century Concerns
So faith is important, but does faith alone justify? Honestly, that is what most people are concerned about: “If I die today, will I go to heaven?” Well, that is the wrong question, but let me address it first anyway?

Romans 3.28 says, “For we hold that one is justified by faith apart from works of the law.” So yes, you are justified by faith, not by trying to keep God’s law. I realize the fullness of the phrase “apart from works of the law” might lead some to believe that other types of works can be beneficial, but verses such as Philippians 2.12 clearly state to “work out” your salvation, not work for it. In other words, do work, but because you are saved, not as something to put towards it. So yes, if you truly believe – if your faith is real, then you will go to heaven.

And the idea of faith is the first sola – sola fide – by faith alone. By faith, yes. Catholics and Protestants both affirm that statement. But adding the word alone brings us to the first dividing point of this study. It was the first reason reform was needed. It was the first burst of light breaking through the darkness. The light would continue to burst through as people captured the truth of the Bible above the teachings of the Church and the cries rang out all the more, “post tenebras lux!”

Before I go on, I mentioned a moment ago that most people ask the wrong question, “If I die today, will I go to heaven?” Many reasons might be given for why this question is not the right one. (I will post a few thoughts on my personal blog later this week.) The one I will focus on for this message relates specifically to faith. If you have placed your faith in Jesus, why are you wanting to wait to experience Him until you get to heaven? That is, if you believe that a “personal relationship with Jesus” is important, then why are you shoving that relationship aside until you reach eternity? Matthew records the final words of Jesus to be: “I will be with you always,” (Matthew 28.20) but too often, Christians act as if that means once we die. No, it is true now – or, at least it can be, if you have faith?

So, faith is important, and means we don’t have to wait to experience Jesus until later. Furthermore, I have established per Romans 1.17 and 3.28 that faith alone is sufficient. But what does it mean to truly have faith? The two verses below can help us to begin to understand.

Hebrews 11.1 – “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things to come.”

2 Corinthians 4.18 – “We look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.”

To answer the question about what it means to have faith, based upon these two verses, ask yourself this: Are you more focused on your day to day experiences, or knowing that something far better exists and you haven’t fully realized it yet?

Now, someone reading this may have just connected a few dots to what I just wrote about waiting for heaven. I said don’t wait for heaven, and then just asked you if you know that something far better exists and you haven’t fully realized it yet. But that something better is not heaven – it is the Kingdom of God – the one we pray about when we say, “Thy Kingdom come”, not “to heaven I wish to go.”

Let me remind you of a song lyric many of you will know well.

“And Lord haste the day, when the faith shall be sight,
The clouds be rolled back as a scroll;
The trump shall resound, and the Lord shall descend,
Even so, it is well with my soul.”

Whomever is here on earth on that day, it will only be well with your soul if you soul is right with God. And you are only right with God if your faith is truly placed in Jesus. How can you know? Because you want the words of that song to be more true than anything else. I have goals and dreams in my life, but none of them mean anything in comparison to seeing Jesus face to face.

When that happens, when faith becomes sight, it is no longer sola fide, it is sola optica – by sight alone. Until then, I must, we must, keep the faith and realize it is by faith alone that we are saved.


I began this sermon with a mention of Billy Joel’s song entitled “Keeping the Faith.” I grew up in the 80s and love the style of music. As a teenager, I could sing along with most any song, but as I have aged and better listened to the lyrics, and find it hard to support so many of the songs I previously enjoyed.

And that is my point about faith. Just as I sang songs without really considering what I sang, we can talk about faith without really having any meaning behind our thoughts. Billy Joel is a talented musician, and I like a good amount of his music from the 1970s and 1980s. But, he has no place in his life for Jesus, and has stated publicly that he is an atheist. (See  Like many, Billy Joel has commandeered a religious phrase for personal use. I do not blame Joel, nor do I condemn him in any way. I will still listen to much of his music, but we must take a warning from his example, especially, as I see it regarding this song’s lyrics. We can say we have faith, or that we are keeping the faith, but unless that faith is properly placed, and its implications properly understood, it will mean nothing. Let us never forget that our faith only matters if it is in Jesus. Therefore, our JOURNEY letter today is:

JOURNEY: J – Jesus


Learn. Consider your understanding of faith. Do you believe you must add something (e.g. works) to your faith in order to “be saved” or is faith alone enough? If you are not certain, truly examine this issue in the Bible to become convinced in order that you may truly know God’s truth on the matter for yourself.


Live. If you are convinced that your faith is real, what will you do today because of it? What can you do this week? Faith without works is dead and Jesus wants us to be alive. Live out your faith this week!

Monday, September 25, 2017

“Ulrich Zwingli”, A Closer Look by Rick Sons

Ulrich Zwingli, like Martin Luther and John Calvin, was a key player in the Reformation (also referred to as the Protestant Reformation). Unlike Luther and Calvin, Zwingli never had a following that led to the formal theology based upon his name. The theology of Zwingli was based on the Bible, taking Scripture as the inspired Word of God and placing its authority higher than what he saw as human sources such as the church fathers.

Ulrich Zwingli was born in 1484, to a successful farmer in the Toggaburg Valley of the eastern lower Alps. Zwingli was the most important reformer in the Swiss Protestant Reformation and the only major reformer of the 16th century whose movement, as I stated before, did not evolve into a church. He attended universities at Basle and Vienna and served as a parish priest in Glarus, Switzerland. Zwingli is not as famous as the likes as Martin Luther or John Calvin but he did play his part in the break with the Roman Catholic Church. Zwingli and Luther met at Marburg in 1529 in an attempt to unite the Protestant faiths. This meeting failed to do this because both men could not reach an agreement on what Christ said at the Last Supper.

Like Martin Luther, Zwingli believed in the necessity of reform. Martin Luther and Zwingli stand at the heads of two of the most influential streams of Protestant theology—the Lutheran and Reformed traditions, respectively. While the two men were united in their opposition to Roman Catholic doctrines and agreed on many doctrinal issues, they also differed so substantially in a few points of their theology that they were unable to unite their movements in a single front against Roman Catholicism.

Luther and Zwingli both emphasized justification by faith alone and the imputation of Christ’s righteousness to the believers. Both rejected the Catholic doctrines of papal authority, purgatory, priestly celibacy, veneration of saints, Marian devotion, and transubstantiation. Both affirmed sola Scriptura and the necessity and centrality of preaching in the life of the congregation. They affirmed similar views of the atonement and embraced an Augustinian understanding of salvation and regeneration. They both wrestled with the question of infant baptism but ultimately affirmed it for political reasons. In the political sphere, both embraced the idea of the Territorial Church, in which the religious views embraced by the magistrates of a given region were to be enforced upon the citizens of that region.

These wide-ranging points of agreement notwithstanding, the two not only could not unite their movements but considered each other heretics. To begin, they embraced substantially different views of the New Testament’s teaching on worship services. 

  • Luther took the view that the New Testament’s explanation of the practice of the early church is descriptive, not prescriptive (the so-called “normative principle of worship”).
  • Zwingli understood the New Testament descriptions of the early church’s worship to be prescriptive and binding on the church: anything not explicitly described or enjoined of believers in the New Testament was verboten.
  • Luther retained much of the language and many of the trappings of the traditional Catholic service, including calling it the Mass, and left decorations and instrumental music in place.
  • Zwingli excluded instrumental music, white-washed the walls of his church, destroyed all icons, and referred to the Eucharist not as the Mass but by its biblical name, the Lord’s Supper.
  • Luther continued to embrace much Tradition as genuinely good and valuable, even if not binding at the same level as Scripture.
  • Zwingli rejected almost all Tradition, moving beyond sola Scriptura (the church has authority with scripture) almost to the point of solo Scriptura (the Bible is the only authority).

As it turned out, it was the Lord’s Supper that prevented the uniting of the German and Swiss reform movements. At a 1529 meeting at Marburg, called to unite the two movements, Luther and Zwingli met. Though they agreed on 14 points of doctrine, they stumbled on the fifteenth: the Lord’s Supper. Most significant of the differences between Zwingli and Luther was their opinion on the body of Christ in the Lord’s Supper. They differed not only on what to call the Eucharist, but also (and much more importantly) on what was happening when the elements were offered to the congregation. While both rejected the Catholic doctrine of transubstantiation, Luther continued to embrace the doctrine of Real Presence, arguing that Jesus is especially present in the elements. Zwingli, on the other hand, rejected Real Presence and embraced a memorial view, arguing that Christ is seated at the right hand of God the Father. Insofar as Christ might be especially present in Communion, Zwingli said, it was only by the presence of his Spirit with the church—not physically, as Luther asserted. Zwingli believed there was no trace of God in the consecrated sacraments. The service of Communion was simply an act of commemoration. The belief that there was a presence was mere superstition. In this, Zwingli differed from Martin Luther. Luther believed that “This is My body” meant just that whereas Zwingli believed that ‘My’ meant “signifies.”

The beliefs of Zwingli can be found in his ‘67 Articles’, published in 1523. They include:

  • Faith demanded an active commitment to God.
  • The practices of the Roman Catholic Church took one’s mind away from what Christ taught. There was no justification for these practices in the Bible.
  • Whatever could not be justified by the Bible was to be abolished.
  • Religion was a personal experience which did not require sacraments or ceremonies to sustain it. 
  • The Bible is the law of God. 
  • A truly Christian community must follow the Bible as closely as possible. 

Where did Zwingli fall in history? In a timeline we find the following:

  • 1453 Constantinople falls; end of Eastern Roman Empire
  • 1456 Gutenberg produces first printed Bible
  • 1478 the start of the Spanish Inquisition
  • 1483-1546 Martin Luther lives
  • 1484-1531 Ulrich Zwingli lives
  • 1509-1564 John Calvin lives
  • 1536 John Calvin publishes first edition of Institutes

As with Martin Luther and John Calvin, the problem Zwingli faced was that some people were concerned that he had gone too far too soon while others, especially the Anabaptists, felt that he had not gone far enough. The Anabaptists were dealt with when Zwingli fell in with the city’s magistrates and supported the move to exile the Anabaptists. If they refused to leave the city, they dealt with them in another way – drowning. The Protestants under Zwingli were the first to persecute the Anabaptists. King Ferdinand declared drowning (called the third baptism) “the best antidote to Anabaptism.”

Zurich, Switzerland became a stronghold of Protestantism and the areas surrounding the city remained wary of a resurgent Catholic Church. They also feared that Zurich might become too powerful and assert its city powers within these regions. Also, the area around Zurich was famed for the mercenaries it provided and such a ‘profession’ was frowned on by Zwingli. In 1529, these areas around Zurich formed the Christian Union and joined with the Catholic Austrian Monarchy. Zwingli preached a religious war against them and two campaigns were launched in 1529 and 1531. Zwingli was killed at the Second Battle of Keppel in October 1531.

In the battle, approximately 7,000 soldiers from the five Catholic cantons met an army of only 2,000 men from Zurich. Zurich’s army was unsupported by the other Protestant cantons and was led by Zwingli, while the combined Catholic army was led by Hans Jauch of Uri. The main Zurich force arrived at the battlefield in scattered groups, exhausted from a forced march. The Catholic forces attacked and after a brief resistance, the Protestant army broke around 4:00 in the afternoon. About 500 Protestants were killed in the battle and while they were fleeing. Among the dead were Zwingli and twenty-four other pastors. Zwingli’s body was taken by the Catholic army and burned as a heretic.

Zwingli died before his dreams were fulfilled. It was left to Zwingli’s successor as Bishop of Zurich to establish Zurich as a center of international Protestantism. Heinrich Bullinger, Zwingli’s son-in-law, served as bishop over four decades between 1531 and 1575. Zwingli’s followers, especially Bullinger, spread his Reformed influence throughout Europe, to England, and eventually to America. Bullinger’s Decades of Sermons, which began to appear in 1549, were more widely read in some parts of Europe than were Calvin’s Institutes. Bullinger’s conception of covenant theology undoubtedly played its role in the development of normative Reformed covenant theology, the federal theology during the early part of the seventeenth century. This theology was brought to North America by the Puritans in 1630.

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.


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 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.


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:


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?

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.