Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Soli Deo Gloria

Today we come to the last of the five solas. Of the five, this sola is the one that I believe still needs to become more mainline in our understanding. Many people, including Christians get tripped up living life by doing works to gain God’s attention (thus the need for sola gratia) and to be justified in their faith (thus, the need for sola fide). And while some people take the word of their pastor or another prominent teacher as the full truth (thus the need for solus Scriptura), this is less prominent overall. Fortunately, most evangelicals fully agree that it is the work of Christ that procured our salvation (solus Christus). But of the five, soli deo Gloria is perhaps the one we still need to adopt the most. To do that, I want to tell you a story about a man named Eric Liddell.

Some of you may be familiar with the movie Chariots of Fire. The movie follows four individuals from Great Britain who train to compete in the 1924 Olympics in Paris. The movie was really made as a tribute to Eric Liddell, one of the runners who was originally from Scotland. Liddell was always fast, and, in fact, from the time he began competing, only lost one race on Scottish soil despite his very irregular running style – head back and arms flailing in front of him (which is captured well in the movie). Liddell may be best known for taking a stand from competing on a Sunday even though it cost him a chance at a gold medal and the respect of many people in Great Britain who had placed their hopes on him. (It should be noted that Liddell was given another option to race, and although he was not favored by any means, he did win a gold medal in the 400m race.)

Eric was born in China to parents who served as missionaries. Eventually both he and his older brother returned to China to serve as missionaries – Eric as a teacher (primarily), and his brother as a doctor. After he married, Eric, his wife, and two daughters lived in China, although usually apart due to escalating fears of war with Japan. Eventually, Eric sent his wife and children (including a third daughter he never met) to Canada for their safety while he stayed behind. Eventually, he, along with all of the Brits, Americans, and many others were placed in an internment camp for two years. Liddell died from a brain tumor about six months before those who were interned were set free.

Of course, this story is abbreviated, but it is entirely true. But a problem exists for most who hear this, and many other stories which are similar. You hear that Eric Liddell was a missionary in China and you place him on a pedestal. But Eric Liddell, and others like him do not deserve to be placed on a pedestal for serving in a certain place. They deserve honor because they served God in all aspects of their lives.

See, Eric Liddell lived by the notion of 1 Samuel 2.30, in which God says, in part, “He who honors me, I will honor.” Liddell believed that to his core. In fact, once while he was in Scotland, his sister, Jenny, encouraged him to go to China, and Eric responded that while that was important, God made him fast. He is quoted as saying, “God made me fast. And when I run, I feel His pleasure.”

The point here is that whatever we do can be for God’s glory, even running races. In fact, it was because God made Liddell fast that he had a chance to minister to so many. He was a shy boy who did not like to speak around others, but when he began to win races, he was given the opportunity to speak before thousands. But while people came to hear about his running, Eric Liddell told them about God. Eric Liddell did not run for himself, He ran for God. Eric Liddell did not live for himself, he lived for God. And that was true as a schoolboy, and it was true when he organized and served others in an internment camp until days before he died. His life was an expression of soli deo Gloria – for the glory of God alone.

For this last sola in our series, I want to do something a little different. I want to share why soli deo Gloria was an important concept to recover, read some Scriptures that pertain to God and to glory, and then briefly comment on Matthew 5.13-16. Before I begin that, let us remind ourselves of what the Reformation was.

The Reformation
As we begin to discuss the idea of The Reformation, we need to clarify a few ideas. Again, 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”; a backward motion (like retrace or revert); return
  • FORM – to construct or frame; to arrange or organize
  • ATION – an act of process

The Importance of Soli Deo Gloria

It is important to remember that when Martin Luther nailed the theses to the door of the church in Wittenberg, he was a Catholic priest and an Augustinian monk. The Catholic Church promoted the idea that to be truly holy one had to be separate from the world. Actually, this idea goes back to 400 AD or so when certain men would go into the desert, build a platform some 35 feet in the air and live on top of the platform for months, and even years at a time using ropes for people to give them food and water. But does that make someone holy? I would say it would make one sunburned, but not holy.

The Reformation brought about the idea that God should be sovereign over all areas of life. Of course, this includes when we are worshipping God and studying the Bible. But it also includes when we are doing the dishes, folding the laundry, plowing the fields, coaching a team, etc. In fact, the idea of soli deo Gloria is captured perfectly in the first question of the Western Shorter Confession of Faith (Catechism), which asks: “What is the chief end of man?” The response: “Man’s chief end is to glorify God and to enjoy Him forever.”

Essentially, the idea is that if Jesus is Lord, then He is Lord. Regarding a separation of parts of our lives, some have said, “If Jesus isn’t Lord of all, He is not Lord at all.” But the reality is that Jesus is Lord. Period. Exclamation point. While some may not agree, the Bible is clear that this is true. Jesus is Lord whether we want Him to be or not. As such, all that we do should be for Him and for His glory.

But most people, at some level, continue to separate the idea of the sacred and the secular. Certain jobs are sacred, but not all. Certain places are sacred, but not all. But those ideas are not found in the Bible. Moses thought he was just standing on the side of the mountain, but God commanded Moses to remove his sandals because the ground was holy. According to Matthew 5.13, a Christian is the salt of the earth. And Matthew 5.14 says a follower of Christ is the light of the world. We are salt. We are light. Not just at certain times and at certain places, but wherever we are. Every activity we do can, and should, be sanctified to God and for His glory.

Scripture Demands We Give God Glory

Let me read a few references from the New Testament that mention about the glory of God. I begin with the verse that was central to recovering the idea of soli deo Gloria. (All verses are from the English Standard Version).

Each individual should give God glory. 1 Corinthians 10.31
“So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.”

The church should give God glory. Ephesians 3.21
“To him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus, throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen.”

Our service should give God glory. 1 Peter 4.10
“As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another as good stewards of God’s grace.”

Our knowledge should give God glory. 2 Peter 3.18
“But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To Him be the glory both now and to the day of eternity. Amen.”

Our eternity will be about giving God glory. Revelation 7.12
“Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might be to our God forever and ever! Amen!”

Ultimately, we give God glory because of who He is. Romans 11.36
“For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things. To Him be glory forever. Amen.”

Being a Source for God’s Glory

Returning to Matthew 5, take a moment to read the verses which stand at the heart of our church’s vision statement. Read Matthew 5.13-16.

I mentioned a few moments ago that Jesus calls His followers both the salt of the earth and the light of the world. As He makes these statements, He does not qualify either with where we are or by what we are doing. The implications are that wherever we are and whatever we do should reflect our being salt and light. If we are on the job we are to be salt and light. If we are at home we are to be salt and light. If we are at a game, we are to be salt and light. If we are hanging out with friends we are to be salt and light. And, of course, if we are at church, or doing mission work, or something similar, we are to be salt and light. Wherever we go and whatever we do, we are to be salt and light.

Why? Well, Jesus leaves no ambiguity. Notice Matthew 5.16 includes the words, “so that.” We are to be salty and let our light shine SO THAT other people may see what we are doing as we go about our business and give glory to God. In other words, as we give glory to God simply by living our lives the way He wants us to live, the Father in heaven will receive glory. But if we separate our lives and maintain an attitude that it is ok to be one person in one place or with a certain kind of people, and be someone else in a different setting then God receives no glory. Why? Because both sides are too busy calling us a hypocrite to be able to focus any attention on God.

Of course, we will not be perfect in our desire to give God glory. And we are all hypocrites to some degree. I know I am. All pastors are at some level. It is impossible for me to live a life that perfectly does all that I stand here and teach. But my goal is not to try harder; rather, it is to become more like Jesus. And Jesus was perfect in doing all that He did for the God’s glory, and hopefully, as I continue to learn and grow in my faith, I pray I am doing a better job of glorifying God now than I did in the past. Because the promise of Jesus, according to Matthew 5.16, is that if I concern myself with glorifying God, then others will give Him glory as well!


As I begin to conclude this message, let me return to Eric Liddell. I mentioned earlier that we tend to consider certain individuals like Liddell and other missionaries, or even pastors to be greater Christians because of their vocation. But, again, that mindset is to separate the secular and the sacred. The truth is that a nurse, a teacher, a firefighter, a farmer, or any other type of job can be just as instrumental in helping others to glorify God as can a pastor or missionary or the like. Why? Because Jesus said so. Again, Liddell commented that He sensed God’s pleasure while running, and because Liddell could run fast, he was given opportunities to speak to people he would not have had the chance to otherwise. But it was more than Liddell’s running, it was his character and desire to glorify God that made the ultimate difference. As Liddell once said, “We are all missionaries. Wherever we go, we either bring people nearer to Christ or we repel them from Christ.”

And that is why soli deo Gloria is important. Because we do not want to repel others from Christ. If we live our lives for Him, and for His glory, then we are truly fulfilling God’s purpose for our lives, regardless of what we may do or where we may go.


Once again, our JOURNEY letter this week is J for Jesus. Jesus set the perfect example of what soli deo Gloria truly means. On our JOURNEY, let us follow His example and do the same.

NEXT STEP(S): Live: How has God crafted you? Eric Liddell glorified God by serving as a missionary, but also through his running (racing and rugby, in particular). He once said, “I believe God made me for a purpose, but he also made me fast.” You may not be as fast as Eric Liddell, but God gave you certain abilities – talents and gifts – that can be used to serve God and bring Him glory. Don’t just take time to give God glory by what you do, begin to give Him glory in all things so that He is glorified by who you are!

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

“Music and the Reformation and Johann Sebastian Bach”, A Closer Look by Susan Braams

“Music I have always loved. He who knows music has a good nature. Necessity demands that music be kept in the schools. A schoolmaster must be able to sing; otherwise I will not look at him. And before a young man is ordained into the ministry, he should practise music in school.” (1)
– Martin Luther

Martin Luther (1483-1546) held music in exceptionally high esteem.  His experience of music at home, as a boy in school, in the Augustinian monastery at Erfurt, and as a priest had a profound and lasting effect on him. He became a passionate music lover and, as a singer and lute player, a fine amateur musician. (2)

Luther’s writings on music are few, mostly ad hoc, and scattered widely throughout his works. Nowhere did he attempt anything akin to a systematic theology of music. What he does say about music comes in the context of very practical, pragmatic interests. (3)

Luther was resolute in working out his convictions about music in corporate worship. Church music as he first knew it was largely limited to vocal polyphony (in the Renaissance tradition), Gregorian chant, and hymnody in Latin and the vernacular. As is well known, Luther was determined that the Word of God was to be engrained in congregations and – against much medieval tradition – that the whole congregation should sing (though not to the exclusion of a choir) and, ideally, sing in their own language so that all could participate with understanding (though not to the exclusion of Latin in the choral liturgy). He saw congregational hymn-singing in the vernacular as an especially valuable tool for fixing God’s Word in people’s hearts. (4) One of the timeless hymns of the Christian faith, “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God,” was written by Luther.

Luther believed the most sophisticated form of music of his day should be taught to the young and sung in churches along with plainer and more straightforward songs (including sacred folk songs). (5)

Carl Schalk goes to the heart of the matter: “The Lutheran Reformation, proceeding from Luther’s basic understanding of music as a creation and a gift of God, successfully encouraged the reciprocal interaction of art music of the most highly developed kind together with simple congregational song.” (6)

This both-and approach to music (not the same as “anything goes”), along with the variety of music it generated, is undoubtedly one of Luther’s greatest legacies. Luther and the tradition he initiated drew on a huge range of material – including Gregorian chant, polyphony, sacred folk songs, and simple unison line singing – and led to an immense wealth of choral and instrumental music, including Johann Sebastian Bach, to whom we will now turn our focus. (7)

Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750) spent all his adult life as a professional, practicing musician. (8)

He served as organist at Arnstadt and Muhlhausen, court organist and concertmaster in the chapel of the Duke of Weimar, music director at the court of the prince of Cothen, and then finally, from 1723, as cantor at the St. Thomas School and director of music in Leipzig. (9)

What makes his music so intriguing are its theological resonances – the witness it provides to the Christian gospel and to the created world as perceived through the lens of that gospel. (10)

Bach was a Lutheran. His schooling was in Lutheran settings. He attended the same Eisenach school as Luther himself. Much of his music was written for the Lutheran liturgies of the day and takes account of the principles of worship commended by Luther. As a church musician, [Bach] gave formal and written assent to the doctrines enshrined in the Book of Concord (1850) – an anthology of documents embracing fundamental Lutheran teaching. An inventory of [Bach’s] library at his death reveals that he owned two sets of Luther’s complete works as well as numerous volumes by Lutheran theologians. (11)

[The five solas were] basic to the Lutheran outlook of Bach’s day and these themes recur across the full range of Bach’s works, [as evidenced in the initials “S.D.G” (Soli Deo Gloria) that are found in his church compositions and some of his secular pieces]. (12)

The cross is the culmination and focal point of the Mass in B Minor. The frequent calls to Christ-centered faith [is present] in all the mature vocal works. The contrast between law and gospel is basic to the structure of many of the cantatas. (13)

The characteristic Lutheran stress on proclamation of the gospel pervades Bach’s music; indeed, Michael Marissen sums up Bach’s Leipzig ministry in this way: “It was Bach’s job as Cantor of the St. Thomas School of Leipzig to be a musical preacher for the city’s main churches.” (14)

Bach’s music still exemplifies a theological engagement with music that has probably never been surpassed. It was the result not only of a technical prowess rarely equaled in Western music but also of an extraordinarily sensitive Christian intelligence, rooted in Scripture, indebted to the Lutheran tradition, and nourished by regular worship. He may not have left us with a theological tome. He was not a professional theologian, and his primary skills were not in words but in tones – melodies and cadences, fugues, trios, arias, and chaconnes. But the fact remains that he was well-informed Biblically and theologically, and his musical output shows he could penetrate the most demanding theological issues with a remarkable acuity. (15)

(1) Martin Luther, D. Martin Luthers Werke: Kritische Gesamtausgabe, vol. 30.2 (Weimer: H. Bohlau, 1909, 557, no. 6248.
(2) Jeremy Begbie, Resounding Truth: Christian Wisdom in the World of Music (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2007), 98.
(3) Begbie, 98.
(4) Begbie, 104.
(5) Begbie, 105.
(6) Carl Schalk, Luther on Music, 35. Cf. Herl, Worship Wars in Early Lutheranism, chap. 1.
(7) Begbie, 105.
(8) Begbie, 120-121.
(9) Malcolm Boyd, Bach (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000); Christoph Wolff, Johann Sebastian Bach: The Learned Musician (New York: Norton, 2000); Peter F. Williams, The Life of Bach (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004).
(10) Begbie, 121.
(11) Begbie, 122-123.
(12) Begbie, 123, 122.
(13) Begbie, 123.
(14) Michael Marissen, Lutheranism, Anti-Judaism, and Bach’s St. John Passion: With an Annotated Literal Translation of the Libretto (New York: Oxford University Press, 1998), 7.
(15) Michael Marissen, Lutheranism, Anti-Judaism, and Bach’s St. John Passion: With an Annotated Literal Translation of the Libretto (New York: Oxford University Press, 1998), 5.

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Sola Gratia (by Grace Alone)

The Price is Right. Last month, the game show turned 45 years old. It has been watched by young and old alike for many years. Of course, people like to watch the games (playing along when possible, e.g. Hi-Lo), watching the wheel being spun, and, seeing who will win what prizes. But for some the highlight of the show happens as the camera scans the crowd as the announcer calls for a particular name to “Come on down!”

At that moment, what you never see is someone pull on the sports jacket, straighten their hair, or work to keep their composure. No, for that person, the less composure you have, the better. In fact, enthusiasm is the primary factor for getting your name called. Of course, being outlandish in your dress may help some people too, but ultimately dressing like that is a part of the enthusiasm. See, while waiting in line to get into the show, the show’s crew looks for those who are enthusiastic, asks them a few questions, and then puts their name in as possible contestants.

The Price Is Right, like so many other aspects of our lives, tells us that if we do enough we can get the attention of others. Maybe the enough is standing out from the crowd. Maybe it is doing enough work. Maybe it is helping others. Maybe it is being the best. And the list goes on. Maybe the purpose is to get on a game show, to get a promotion or a raise, to be liked by a certain person or group, or to earn an award or a scholarship. But the key for most of our lives is to do enough so that we get the attention of someone and get our reward.

This mindset is the issue with today’s topic – sola gratia, by grace alone. This sola is similar to sola fide (by faith alone), but it has a different purpose. As I shared when a few weeks ago, sola fide stands against the teaching that we attempt to justify our faith by our works. That is, our faith may save us, but we need to prove it by what we do. The Bible teaches that our works have no part of our justification, therefore it is not faith+works that saves us, but faith alone – sola fide.

Sola gratia, on the other hand, stands in contrast to working to get the attention of God. That is, if we do enough, God will notice, and give us an award. That award, in this case is grace. Again, that idea is not found in the Bible, which is why last week’s topic, solus Scriptura is so important. We may read and hear many things, but what does Scripture say? That is the benchmark for a true believer! And regarding grace, Scripture is clear that nothing we do can earn favor with God in order for Him to give us grace. That is, we are not given grace by works, grace stands alone.

Of course, we should serve God because we are saved, but out of thanksgiving, not obligation.

As I have done each week in this series on 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”; a backward motion (like retrace or revert); return
  • FORM – to construct or frame; to arrange or organize
  • ATION – an act of process

Let us now dive deeper into understanding grace, and specifically grace alone. I encourage you to take a moment to read the focal passage for this week – Ephesians 2.1-10.

Grace Is an Amazing Concept (Ephesians 2.1-5)

Of course, it is, you say, we sing Amazing Grace all time. But let’s take a moment to truly appreciate how amazing grace really is. Let’s begin by comparing grace to mercy.

Mercy is really a precursor to grace. See mercy is not giving someone a punishment they deserve. That is, someone deserves something negative, but mercy spares them. Because I led off this message with a game, perhaps some of you remember the game Mercy where two individuals lock hands and by squeezing and twisting both try to compromise the other. Once near a state of utter defeat, the compromised person asks for mercy.

Grace, on the other hand, is receiving something positive you do not deserve. In the game I just mentioned, grace would be that the loser received a prize for losing. The victor may or may not receive a prize, that is not the point. But the loser would not deserve a prize, and yet receives one.

This is truly an amazing concept. Mercy we can understand. But who would think up the idea of grace? Nobody – but God. But God! Most people have a hard time accepting something for nothing. But grace is not receiving something for nothing. It is far more than that. It is receiving something when nothing is so many steps higher than nothing that it is inconceivable.

And that is where this passage begins. We were children of wrath. That is, God had every right to destroy us. But God – God showed His mercy to us (by the cross). Notice verse 5 – He took dead people (you and I) and didn’t just forgive our sins – He made us alive. That is why the empty tomb is so important. Yes, we must believe Jesus died for our sins. We must appreciate His work upon the cross, but if He didn’t rise from the dead, how would we know? Would it truly matter? Verse 4 is about God’s mercy – overcoming our sin, but God didn’t stop there. No, He added grace and offered us life – eternal life, and that begins the moment you receive Jesus.

Grace Provides an Unbelievable Result (Ephesians 2.6-7)

So, now maybe you are beginning to see how amazing the concept of grace is. But as amazing as grace is, consider what the result of God’s grace is.

As I have mentioned many times before, most people ask the wrong question: “Will I go to heaven?” In the coming months, we are going to consider the problem of the question in a couple of different ways. But the essence of the problem is the focus is on a place (idolatry) not a person (Jesus).

Yet, verses 6 and 7 do talk about our present and future home. First, Paul wrote that by the grace of God we have been:
  • Raised up with Christ. We know longer have to consider ourselves in a lowly position. We are fellow heirs with Christ. He has raised us figuratively, and one day will do so literally.
  • Seated with Christ. I just mentioned that one day we will be raised literally. But notice these first two items are in the past tense. Not just past tense because Paul wrote the words nearly 2000 years ago, but Paul wrote them in past tense then. In some manner, when we die to self and begin following Christ, our address changes. Yes, Christians and non-Christians walk around this earth until their bodies stop. Yet, Christians talk about going home which is only possible if your home is elsewhere. And according to these words, our home is where we are seated with Christ.

Furthermore, Paul continues with one more result. In fact, Paul mentioned this as the very reason for God grace (notice the “so that”). What is the reason? That, in the coming ages (that is, eternity), God might show His immeasurable riches of His grace in kindness towards us. Now, some people say that they don’t want to be with God for eternity because the place called heaven is boring. OK, that is their loss. Let me share why.

Think of the greatest sight you have ever seen. Now, try to capture the details of that scene. What made it so special? Could you describe what made it special in just a few words or might you need more? If you could describe it at all, then the sight was measurable. But God wants to pour out on your grace that is immeasurable. That means whatever awaits is better than anything we can imagine now. There is more to come – are you kidding me? We haven’t even scratched the surface of what God has in store for us. You and I, those people who were dead, who were children of wrath, but because of mercy, and now grace, have a God who has more in store for us – far better than this present world can contain. What awaits cannot currently be understood. We receive an unspoiled eternity with God. Boring. Hardly. Unbelievable. Absolutely!

Grace Is God’s Ongoing Gift (Ephesians 2.8-10)

These verses are at the core of understanding sola gratia – by grace alone. Clearly, verse 8 says we are saved by grace due to a gift from God. As we have already established, the concept of grace could only originate from God. But then verse 9 adds, our works have nothing to do with our salvation. Why? Because we know how we are – when we do something good, we want others to know about it. And God is one of the others in that statement. We want God to know when we think we have done something good. And this was the understanding that the reformers such as Luther were arguing against. The idea at the time was that grace did save people, but a person could get God’s attention by doing good and thus God would show that person favor. But grace is not earning favor, it is unmerited favor. When we work we expect to be paid. Grace, on the other hand, is a gift. We cannot demand payment from God; we can only cry out for mercy and pray He extends grace.

Verse 10 makes this even more clear. It says that we are His workmanship – that is, God created us – that we might do good works. OK. But He created those works that we should do them. This is critical. What this means is two-fold:
  1. God created people who would do good works for Him once they were saved (in Christ)
  2. God knew the works before they are done by those who are in Christ.

Why is this important? Because we cannot earn favor for what should be done. Think of it this way. Suppose you go to work every day for a week. Suppose you do all of your necessary tasks for the week – tasks which are a part of your job description. At the end of the week, you go to your boss and say, “Aren’t you going to thank me for doing my job this week?” What do you think your boss will say? It will probably be something like, “Well, all you did was what is expected!”

Verse 8 says that nothing we do can earn God’s favor to be saved – it is a gift. Verse 10 says that all we do once we are saved is what He intended for us to do from before time began. But let me go a little deeper because we have bypassed one very important word in verse 8.

Our grace comes through faith. The word we cannot miss is faith, but the word through is important as well. Grace is the reward for those who have faith. Again, let me paint a picture. Let’s say you are at an amusement park. You have walked from the parking lot right to the gate. You can see and hear the excitement on the other side of the gate, but unless you go through the gate, you cannot experience the fun for yourself. (pic of people standing to get into amusement park)

The same is true with grace. Grace is God’s gift and is available to all, but it can only be received through faith. But, it is important to note that grace is not a one-time gift; rather it is an ongoing gift, like a lifetime pass to the amusement park. Titus 2 says that God’s grace is given as a means for us to “renounce ungodliness and wordly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age.” I can’t speak for you but I still have a few worldly passions, and I am not always as self-controlled or as godly as I would like to be. Thus, God’s grace needs to be continually apart of my life. Grace is not just a one-time vaccination against sin or for salvation, it provides a boost for the ongoing training we need.

And that is where our works do enter the scene. Our works are not to earn grace, but because of grace. God created us good, to do good works, for a good Christ – all of which was done before we were created. So, how can our works help us to be saved if God created us for these works in the first place?

Grace is, indeed, an amazing concept, provides an unbelievable result, and in between is continually given so that we might become more godly and be better prepared for the age to come. And the best part about it is that grace is a gift, so, the price is right.

I began by discussing the game show The Price is Right. But our life is not a game. And the price of sin came with the ultimate cost – death. Not our death, but the death of God’s own Son. But because Jesus death covers all our sin, the price is right for us if we will just place our faith in Him. Why is the price right? Because GRACE makes it so. As has been said many times by many people, GRACE can be thought of as: God’s Riches At Christ’s Expense. Christ paid the ultimate price so that we could gain the ultimate gift. I can guarantee you will never get a better offer than that. The price is indeed right.

JOURNEY: J – Jesus

Once again, our JOURNEY letter this week is J for Jesus. It is God that gives grace, but He does so because of the work of Jesus. It is not what we can do, it is what He has done. It is not by grace plus works by which we are saved, it is by grace alone.

NEXT STEP(S): Live. Serve God. Our work is in thanksgiving to what He has done for us. He created us for work, and He has many tasks outlined for each one of us. The tasks He has assigned me will be different than what He has assigned you, but if we all do our part, just like players on a team all must do their part, then He will do great work through us. All for His glory, and all because of His grace.

“The Diet of Worms”, A Closer Look by Rick Sons

Today we are going to talk about the Diet of Worms. No this is not some sort of fad diet, nor is this a biblical reference like John the Baptist eating grasshoppers and wild honey. I will on a side note say I have eaten earthworms and they are not that bad.

In politics, a diet is a formal assembly. The term is mainly used historically for the Imperial Diet, the general assembly of the Imperial Estates of the Holy Roman Empire, and for the legislative bodies of certain countries. The word came to be associated with Latin dies, “day”. The word came to be used in the sense of “an assembly” because of its use for the work of an assembly meeting on a daily basis, and hence for the assembly itself. (1)

Over the past few weeks we have been hearing about the different players in the reformation. And while many agreed with the idea there were those who did not agree with Luther and his agenda.

Luther posted his list of propositions (95 theses) in 1517 and burned the papal bull in 1520. A year later he was condemned by the Diet of Worms. His “95 Theses,” which propounded two central beliefs—that the Bible is the central religious authority and that people may reach salvation only by their faith and not by their deeds. (2)

The Diet of Worms 1521 was an imperial diet (assembly) of the Holy Roman Empire held at the Heylshof Garden in Worms Germany, then an Imperial Free City of the Empire. This one is most memorable for the Edict of Worms, which addressed Martin Luther and the effects of the Protestant Reformation. It was conducted from 28 January to 26 May 1521, with the Emperor Charles V presiding. (3)

The main events of the Diet of Worms relating to Luther took place from April 16th to the 18th 1521.

On 16 April, Luther arrived in Worms. Luther was told to appear the following day before the Diet at 4 p.m. Dr. Jeromee Schurff, Wittenberg professor in Canon Law, was to act as Luther’s lawyer before the Diet. (4)

The imperial marshal, Ulrich von Pappenheim, and the herald, Caspar Sturm came for Luther. Pappenheim reminded Luther that he should speak only in answer to direct questions from the presiding officer, Johann Eck.

The main concern was a series of books and their content to which the diet wanted Luther to admit that they were his to call them heresy. Luther, stating he’d prayed for long hours, consulted with friends and mediators. Luther first apologized that he lacked the etiquette of the court. Then he answered, “They are all mine, but as for the second question, they are not all of one sort.” Luther went on to place the writings into three categories: (5)
  1. Works which were well received by even his enemies: those he would not reject.
  2. Books which attacked the abuses, lies and desolation of the Christian world and the papacy: those, Luther believed, could not safely be rejected without encouraging abuses to continue. To retract them would be to open the door to further oppression. “If I now recant these, then, I would be doing nothing but strengthening tyranny.”
  3. Attacks on individuals: he apologized for the harsh tone of these writings but did not reject the substance of what he taught in them; if he could be shown from the Scriptures that he was in error, Luther continued, he would reject them. 

Luther is said to have declared, “Here I stand, I can do no other,” before concluding with “God help me. Amen.” Private conferences were held to determine Luther’s fate. Before a decision was reached, Luther fled.

Charles V signed an edict against Luther, ordering his writings to be burned. Luther hid in the town of Eisenach for the next year, where he began work on one of his major life projects, the translation of the New Testament into German, which took him 10 years to complete. (6)

The Edict of Worms
The Edict of Worms was a decree issued on 26 May 1521 by Emperor Charles V, declaring:
“For this reason we forbid anyone from this time forward to dare, either by words or by deeds, to receive, defend, sustain, or favor Martin Luther. On the contrary, we want him to be apprehended and punished as a notorious heretic, as he deserves, to be brought personally before us, or to be securely guarded until those who have captured him inform us, whereupon we will order the appropriate manner of proceeding against Luther. Those who will help in his capture will be rewarded generously for their good work.” (7)

(3-7) Wikipedia

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Solus Scriptura (Scripture Alone)

April 19, 1993. 51 days after first attempting to raid property of the Branch Davidians, the ATF initiated a final initiative against the compound. The primary aim was to seize illegal weapons, but the result was a deadly exchange resulting in the deaths of more than 80 people killed. One of the people killed was the cult leader, David Koresh.

Koresh had become the group’s leading prophet just a few years earlier. As their leader, he imposed many rules and took many wives including girls as young as age 11. He also built quite an arsenal of weapons, but at the expense of not having running water and plumbing. The environment was described by survivors as a “‘misguided paramilitary community’ in which sex, violence, fear, love, and religion were all intertwined.” (1)

Children who were tested were found to be at a normal reading level, so they were taught to read the Bible (the only known resource available). But the interpretation was skewed as Koresh claimed that he was the Lamb of God referenced in Revelation 5.12. Thus, it was not just the Bible that was important, it was Koresh’s understanding, his thoughts, and his decrees that dictated how everything should be run.

David Koresh and the Branch Davidians are not the only examples of this sort. From a pastor/church combination, man may remember Jim Jones and the Peoples Temple in Jonestown, Guyana. Of course, cult followings do not have to be fully religious in nature as Hitler and the Nazi Party reveal, but the power of religion and a leader who is both charismatic and power-hungry, will often lead to devastating results.

How do Koresh, Jones, and other cult leaders and cults relate to our study on the Reformation? First, let me say that I am not equating the pope and the Catholic Church to these other situations. The parallel, however, is found in the importance placed upon tradition and/or one man’s interpretation against the Bible. The Catholic Church had complete control over the people for over 1000 years because most people could not read Latin, which was the language of the Bible. So, only those educated, and primarily educated by the church and for the Church had any understanding of what the Bible said.

But when the Bible began to be translated, and the invention of the printing press made mass production possible, the people were able to get a Bible in their own language. The people began to have the ability to check the teachings of their leaders against the truth of God’s Word. The ability to check is why I place Scripture references with an encouragement to read them within my posts. I always encourage others to read these passages for yourselves rather than taking my word for it. Yes, I have formal training, and I try to pass on what I know and glean from Scripture, but none of us are perfect, nor can we be, on this side of eternity.

So, today, we discuss the third sola – solus Scriptura – by Scripture alone. The point of this sola is to place our emphasis on Scripture, not on any man’s interpretation of it, and not on traditions. By keeping our focus on Scripture instead of Scripture-plus, we remain true to God and are less likely to be swayed by man. (Incidentally, that is why I have asked Susan to place page numbers on the screen for our Scripture reading rather than the actual words – holding the Bible (or even your phone) and reading it for yourself, rather than something that could have been mistyped, is one way to ensure accuracy of what is being read.)

As I have each week, let me remind us what The Reformation was. Again, The Reformation is the same as The Protestant Reformation. The word reformation was developed as follows.

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

So, if The Reformation was to return the Church to the idea of solus Scriptura, what was the benefit? Why was the idea of Scripture alone important? Let me give four reasons which come, appropriately, directly from Scripture – specifically from 2 Timothy 3.16-17.

Before I break down verse 16 let me share what Paul writes in the larger passage. Paul mentions all of the godlessness in the final days. In 2 Tim 3.2-5, he wrote that people would seek pleasure at all costs, be excessively arrogant, lack self-control, and give an appearance of being godly while only paying lip service to God (among other vile attributes). He then encourages Timothy to stay true to the path he has started – a path based upon the principles of Scripture and charges Timothy to preach these principles to others even though people will not want to hear it (4.1-4). In the midst of this passage, come the verses I will read – verses which share both that how and the why we must remain focused on Scripture.

All Scripture is:
All Christians have favorite verses and passages from Scripture. The problem is that we often ONLY gravitate to these passages and miss out on the fullness of Scripture. Perhaps it is because we find some parts boring. Perhaps, we find certain parts difficult to understand. Might it make you feel better to know that Peter thought Paul was difficult to understand (see 2 Peter 3.16)? But that is why God has provided us with teachers to help!

Breathed out by God
The word for “breathed out” has been translated in some Bibles as inspired. Certainly, God did inspire the writers of both the Old and New Testaments to write the words of the Bible. But the English Standard Version (ESV) uses God breathed, which adds so much. Just as God breathed into man, He has made Scripture living and active. The words may be ink on a page, but they come alive due to the Spirit of God piercing us to the core of our being (Hebrews 4.12).

Not one letter is unimportant – not even the least stroke of a pen (Matt 5.18). The old adage is that Leviticus is where all Bible reading plans go to die, but that is our fault, not God’s. We may get bored with reading all of the family lineages, but these lineages show God’s faithfulness from generation to generation. All of Scripture is profitable if we just let God speak to us through His Word.

So if all of Scripture is profitable, what profit might we gain? Scripture is profitable for:

What do you know about God or Jesus that hasn’t come from the Bible? Actually, plenty, but what of that is true. For instance, we can see the majesty of God in Creation – the stars, the mountains, etc. but those specifics are mentioned in the Bible as well. But we do take some traditions as truth from a variety of sources including traditions and hymns.

Traditions – What type of fruit was eaten in the Garden of Eden? An apple? Well, in Genesis 1.29 God says that they can eat from any fruit-bearing tree if the fruit has a seed. Apples have a seed, so it was not an apple. But you have likely believed that the fruit was an apple for so long, it will be hard to change your mind.

Hymns – I have mentioned this idea before but we firmly believe that Jesus did not cry in the manger because “no crying he makes” is a part of Away in a Manger. Likewise, we believe three kings visited Jesus. The truth is that the Bible does not mention whether or not Jesus cried, nor how many kings – although it does mention three gifts were brought.

My point is that the Bible should be our source for information about Jesus. Many tend to know more about Him from the songs they sing than from the autobiography He wrote. But the teaching here is not just about information, it is about transformation. The Bible teaches us more than just what we can know, it teaches how we should live.

We are given positive examples such as Abraham, Moses, David, Peter, and Paul. And we are given negative examples such as Abraham, Moses, David, Peter, and Paul. Yes, just like us – each had positive and negative aspects to their lives. And that is why we have the perfect example of Jesus as well. And because we have His Word and example, the next item is a must.

To reproof is to rebuke. Specifically, this relates to false teaching, but let me generalize this thought for a moment. One of the current debates is on whether it is ok to kneel during the national anthem. The answer, per the 1st Amendment of the Constitution is “Yes.” Does that mean everyone must like it? No. Does it mean that people who giving death threats are right? Absolutely not. Do I wish people would stand? I do, but I wish more people read their Bible or were part of the church too.

My point is this: people often get very angry over certain issues. But the expressed anger is often on preferences rather than truth. The first amendment guarantees freedom of speech and body language is a language, so the term speech is relevant here. The same is true with the Bible. We all have certain sins that frustrate us more than others, and therefore we rebuke others for the sins that bother us most and are lenient towards those with which we often struggle. Worse, we often let society dictate what is or is not biblically important including whether we should reproof anyone.

“Do not judge” is often shouted at Christians. But the Bible tells us we are to judge those in the church. If the person is a part of the church, then they have submitted themselves to Jesus so really, as this verse states, all we need to do is mention Scripture and let the Holy Spirit convict the person. Thus, we aren’t really judging, we are letting the person judge themselves by the words of Scripture. But reproof is not enough, that is why Paul mentions the need to correct.

Why does Paul include the need to correct? Because the statement, “You are worthless” is a form of rebuke. However, such a statement means little (although it may hurt a lot) because it provides no measure of why someone is worthless or what they can do about it. If we look at this idea from a biblical perspective, it would be equivalent to saying, “You sinner! All you do is sin.” to someone, especially a non-Christian without telling them what the sin is or how to stop.

Correcting, then, is taking the idea of rebuking and then being positive to help the person grow. For example, let’s say a Christian has an argument with someone and the relationship turns ugly. The word “hate” is used. The rebuke might be to remind the person of the Great Commandment – to love God and love others (Mark 12.38-41). The correction could then include Scripture to show how this could be done. For instance, Jesus command to pray for (not at or against) those who persecute you (Luke 6.27-31) and His example of praying for those who crucified Him (Luke 23.34) could serve as a means of correction. Such examples also then provide training in what it means to be a Christian. Although my example may be true for anyone, the correction should be welcome by a Christian – whose goal is to be like Christ.

Training in Righteousness
The final item mentioned in this passage is “training in righteousness.”  Paul uses a similar phrase in 1 Timothy 4.7-8 when he wrote of being trained in godliness. Likewise, in Titus 2.11-12, Paul wrote of God’s grace training us to not be ungodly or worldly. The idea is that once we have been rebuked, and then having our thinking and actions corrected, we should pursue more than the minimum, we should want the best.

Consider it this way. Perhaps someone introduces you to a certain type of pie.

The pie is store bought, but it is good. Then, you meet someone who knows how to make that pie and it is delicious. They offer to teach you to make it and after a couple of tries your efforts taste as good as theirs. But you decide that the store-bought pie is satisfactory enough, so you never make the pie again.

This example typifies how many Christians live. They know the bare basics of Christianity. They know what not to do, but they do not seek to know the fullness of God’s riches and grace. It is one idea, for instance, to know “Thou shalt not murder” but it is another to learn to love. Furthermore, it is still another level of understanding that allows one to appreciate WHY the two commands are important. So, “Thou shalt not murder” is rebuking, learning to love is correcting, but knowing why love trumps murder is to be trained in righteousness.

As we move toward the end of this message, I have given reasons, directly from Scripture, for why Scripture is important. But the issue 500 years ago was, and the issue today is, not just Scripture, but the idea of Scripture alone, solus Scriptura. The issue at hand is “What do I obey?” We can obey Scripture or we can obey what we want to obey. We can observe the commands of Scripture or we can bow to the various traditions that hold us hostage.

In Jesus prayer found in John 17, He says to His Father, “Your word is truth” (v. 17). God’s Word is truth, not man’s. Man’s understanding will lead to people like David Koresh and Jim Jones to manipulate others for their benefit. Man’s opinion and understanding change frequently. More specifically, man’s opinion, even on religious matters will not reflect God’s Word. For instance, according to the Vatican website, Catholics fourteen years and older, are not to eat meat on Fridays (or perhaps some other food determined by bishops) as a part of being united in the acts of penance. The Bible speaks of fasting, but never demands such a practice, although in the Catholic Canon just mentioned, updated in 1983, it is a part of the “divine law.” (2)

Again, Jesus prayed, “Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth.” Not your word. Not my word. Not man’s word. Not the pope’s word. The only truth is God’s Word. Therefore, on issues of morality and religion, we must adhere to the principle of Solus Scriptura – Scripture alone.

One could argue that our JOURNEY letter this week could be O – Observe. But because the Bible is God’s written Word, and Jesus is the living Word, I still choose Jesus. The Reformation was about returning to the Church to the roots of the Christian faith, and it was Jesus who promised to build His Church – so, the rebuilding must take place through Jesus as well.

NEXT STEP(S): Learn: If we are to teach, reproof, correct, and train others in righteousness, it must be through God’s Word. Thus, we must first know the truths of God’s Word. Many people throughout the world gather for one or maybe two hours per week to hear, and perhaps, study God’s Word. But if we are to be the people He wants us to be, we must invest ourselves, our very lives, into knowing His Word intimately. Because as we do, we will come to know God more intimately, and that should be the goal for everyone who claims to know Christ.

(1), Accessed Oct 5, 2017)

(2), Canon 1251 (1983), Accessed Oct 5, 2017).

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

“John Knox,” A Closer Look by Reggie Koop

Knox’s Early Years In Scotland
  • 1514 – born in Haddington
  • 1536 – graduates from St. Andrew’s University; ordained as a priest
  • 1540 – becomes a notary (a legal official) and a tutor
  • 1543 – converted to Christ and embraces the Reformed faith
  • 1545 – becomes follower of and bodyguard to George Wishart
  • 1546 – Wishart martyred in St. Andrew’s; Cardinal Beaton murdered; Protestants besieged in St. Andrew’s Castle
  • 1547 – takes refuge in the castle; preaches first sermon; castle falls; Knox becomes galley slave in France for 19 months

Knox Ministers In England
  • 1549 – Berwick, England; preaches with much power and success
  • 1550 – meets Mrs. Elizabeth Bowes and her Daughter Marjory
  • 1552 – London; disputes practice of kneeling at Communion; refuses Bishopric of Rochester
  • 1553 – forced into hiding when Catholic Mary Tudor is crowned

Knox Flees Persecution and Ministers in Europe
  • 1554 – flees France, then Zurich and Calvin’s Geneva; pastors an English congregation in Frankfurt
  • 1555 – liturgical dispute forces him out; goes back to Geneva and pastors an English congregation there; returns to Scotland secretly; marries Marjory Bowes and preaches idely
  • 1556 – condemned for heresy in Scotland; returns to Geneva with wife and mother-in-law
  • 1558 – writes The First Blast of The Trumpet Against the Monstrous Regiment of Women (advocates rebellion against ungodly rulers)

Knox’s Last Years In Scotland
  • 1559 – returns to Scotland; preaches sermon condemning idolatry; leads rebellion
  • 1560 – Reformation Parliament adopts Protestant Scots Confession; Marjory Dies
  • 1561 – Knox helps write First Book Of Discipline; Catholic Mary, Queen of Scots returns; Knox preaches at St. Gile’s in Edinburgh; first interview with Mary, Queen of Scots
  • 1564 – marries Margaret Stewart
  • 1566 – writes much of his History of the Reformation of Religion in Scotland
  • 1572 – dies in Edinburgh; buried at St. Gile’s Church

John Knox is regarded as the “Father of the Scottish Reformation” and the “Founder of the Scottish Protestant Church.” It has been said if Martin Luther was the “Hammer” of the Reformation and John Calvin the “Pen,” John Knox was the “Trumpet.”

At the beginning of the sixteenth century, spiritual darkness covered Scotland. The religious superstitions of Rome gripped the nation. The Bible was essentially a closed book and the belief was that righteousness come by works, not by grace. The religious leaders did nothing to spur spiritual growth but were ignorant of it. There was a great loss of hearing the Word of God which left the nation impoverished and very, very weak. This is the condition of Scotland that John Knox entered.

John Knox was born in Haddington, Scotland (15 miles East of Edinburgh) to Roman Catholic parents. He enrolled in the University of St. Andrew’s at age fifteen and graduated with an M.A. degree at age nineteen. Later that same year, he was ordained to the priesthood in the Roman Catholic Church. Unable to find a parish to serve in, he became a papal notary who authenticated documents. He also served as a tutor for well-to-do families that held Protestant beliefs. This is where he was exposed to Protestant doctrine.

Then in 1543, Knox converted to the Christian faith under a Dominican friar and chaplain who went deep into Reformation doctrine with him. Seeing how corrupt and contaminated the Catholic system was, Knox spent the next two years devoted to in-depth study of Scripture. Knox was given even more intense exposure to Reformation doctrine by becoming a bodyguard to George Wishart, a very powerful Reformed preacher. Knox learned boldness courage, and faithfulness in ministry.

In 1545, religious persecution reached a fever pitch and Wishart was arrested and taken to St. Andrew’s Castle where he was burned at the stake in 1546. This is when and where the torch was passed on to Knox. Previously a Catholic stronghold, the St. Andrew’s Castle became a rallying point for those who embraced Reformation teaching.

From Knox’s inital preaching in 1547, he daringly upheld the truth of Sola Fide – justification by faith in Christ alone. He was a staunch defender of salvation by grace alone. Here Knox denounced Rome’s teaching on purchased indulgences, holy pilgrimages, forced fasts, and clerical celibacy. He declared them to be blasphemous and openly pronounced the Pope to be an antichrist. He went on to assert that the Catholic ceremonies went beyond the commands and instructions of Scripture, insisted that mass was idolatrous, and decried the church’s teaching on Purgatory.

In June of 1547, St. Andrew’s Castle came under siege. Knox and 120 defenders were captured and made to row in the hull of a Frnech battleship for nineteen months. They were released but could not return to Scotland at this time because of severe persecution. Knox went to London for the next five years and established reform in the Church of England. Knox traveled throughout England preaching at various churches and spreading the Reformation doctrine.

This Protestant cause came to an abrupt halt in 1553 when Queen Mary I (known as “Bloody Mary”) was crowned. 288 reformers, including women, children, and other prominent spiritual leaders, would be burned at the stake. This caused Knox to flee and go to Europe for the next five years for safety. Knox traveled to England, France, and Switzerland, preaching and upholding Reformation doctrine and denouncing the Catholic Church. In Switzerland, Knox traveled to Geneva where he sat under the teaching of Calvin. Then he traveled to Frankfurt, Germany establishing an English-speaking congregation in 1554.

One achievement that stands out is in 1558. Knox worked on an English version of the Bible known as the Geneva Bible. This translation would be the Bible of choice for the Reformers and Puritans. It would be the Bible the Pilgrims took to the New World in 1620.

John Knox finally returns to Scotland in 1559 after twelve tumultuous years in England and Eurpoe. By now his goal was to uproot Roman Catholicism and plant biblical Christianity in its place.

Another achievement came in 1560. The Parliament passed legislation that abolished Catholic religion in Scotland and adopted a document, the “Scots Confession.” It states the infallible Word of God is to be the exclusive authority of the Church – Solus Scriptura.

After his return to Scotland, Knox continued his preaching until his death in 1572. He continued to denounce the Roman Catholic Church’s practices and even went before the Queen many times to argue about Catholic practices and explain Reformation doctrine. Knox died in 1572, having been anchored to Jesus Christ by faith alone.