10/29/2017 = John 3:14-18 = Always Being Reformed: “Solus Christus”

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Mark Wheeler

John 3:14-18

Always Being Reformed: “Solus Christus”

10/29/2017 – Reformation Sunday

Lidgerwood Presbyterian Church

 

Grant, Almighty God, that as [You see] us to be so prone to corrupt superstitions, and that we are with so much difficulty restrained by [Your] Word, O grant that we, being confirmed by this Spirit, may never turn aside either to the right hand or to the left, but be ever more attentive to [You] alone, and not worship [You] presumptuously, nor pollute [Your] worship with our outward pomp, but call on [You] with a sincere heart and, relying on [Your] aid, flee to [You] with all our necessities and never abuse [Your] holy name, which [You have] designed to be engraven [sic] on us, but be conformed to the image of [Your] Son, that [You may] be to us truly a Father, and that we may be [Your] children, in the name of the same Christ our Lord. Amen. (John Calvin, prayer for faith from his Commentary on Amos 5:21-27)

 

How many of you here are like me? On the side of my Google Calendar, used to be on my weekly Day-Timer, it doesn’t matter where you put this, but on the side of my Google Calendar is a “To-Do-List”. Every week there are a number of the same things, and there are a few things that happen monthly, or quarterly, and occasionally a once-in-a-lifetime thing comes up.

And every day, I take great joy in checking things off my list! (On Google Calendar, not only does it put a check-mark next to the item, it also crosses it off – that is so awesome!)

I have found that when I don’t have a to-do-list, my day wanders. I may know what I need to do, but I don’t go after it with the same passion as when I have a list that I get to check-off!

8 years ago, when Brianna was starting her college days, Andrew and I drove her across the country to western PA. That meant we drove through South Dakota – which I had never done before. But seeing Mt. Rushmore was on my “someday-to-do-list”, so we spent a night in Keystone, SD, and I got to check Mt. Rushmore off my list. What I didn’t know was how full of wonder the I-90 corridor through SD is! Belle Fourche (John Wayne’s cattle drive destination in his movie The Cowboys), Wall Drug Store, Corn Palace, the list goes on and on! None of those were ever on my list – but when we saw them we had to do them, and then I had to add them to my list so I could cross them off!

 

I start today with all of that simply to indicate how much better we usually are when we know what we’re about! McDonald’s is at its best when it they hear people say, “I’m lovin’ it!”; “Eat Fresh” refers to what fast food company? [Subway]; “Just do it!” [Nike] states a goal of achievement; “Let your fingers do the walking,” (this is an age test) states the goal of giving people a resource for finding what they’re looking for. Knowing where the center focus of your business is gives a driving force behind reaching your goals!

 

This Fall, marking the 500th anniversary of what kindled the already ignited Protestant Reformation, finds that at the center of the Christian faith is the person and work of Jesus Christ. Making known His identity and what He came to do formed the core of Jesus’ public ministry.

 

The easiest and most common Bible verse stating the goal of God in sending Jesus is – what? We still see people proclaiming this verse in World Series games, football games, all sorts of public gatherings – and most of us here can quote it from memory – John 3:16.

Let’s turn there, and hear the Word of GodJohn 3:14-18 …. —-

14 Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, 15 that everyone who believes may have eternal life in him.” (together…)

16 For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. 17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. 18 Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son.

 

This is what the Apostles preached. And until Christ returns the Church has been entrusted with the mission of making disciples, proclaiming this Good News of Jesus’ work to all nations.

The Protestant Reformers structured their ministries around this calling, proclaiming Christ for the sake of the salvation of their flocks, and their communities.

In proclaiming justification/salvation by grace alone (sola gratia) through faith alone (sola fide), the Reformers were ultimately advancing the doctrinal truth that Christ alone saves (solus Christus)!

To deny, reject, or alter this doctrine in any way is to deny and reject the free gift of the grace of God through His Son Jesus Christ – and to have lost the name of Christian. This is what that means!

 

Why is this a topic for a Sunday sermon in a Christian church? Isn’t this like preaching to the choir?

Martin Luther once said something about why he preached salvation by grace alone every Sunday, was that he would forget that truth by every Monday! And choir, nothing against you as a choral ensemble, but, yeah, of course I’m preaching to the choir – the choir needs this truth nearly as much as the preacher needs it!

 

And, can I take a moment and just confess a personal discomfort I have? Every year, the last Sunday of October is officially Reformation Sunday – an annual commemoration of Martin Luther’s work to fan the flame of spiritual truth in a global church that seemed to have lost its spiritual footing in the 16th Century. And every year I walk this line of truth-telling about what the Bible teaches and fear-of-offending some in our own congregation that have deep Roman Catholic roots.

And this year, we invested two whole months, not just one Sunday, tightrope walking that line!

The honest truth is that the Roman Catholic Church had fallen into some bad theology and false teaching and power-motivated-money-grabbing practices – and people like Peter Waldo and John Wycliffe and Martin Luther and Ulrich Zwingli and Jane Grey and William Tyndale were desperately needed in the Church! These were all Roman Catholics! They were all insiders – who saw some things that desperately needed fixing!

And while through the centuries this had turned into a very bloody battle between the churches – and that shames us, in the sight of God and of the world! – it was never meant to be such a thing.

The point was not that it was wrong to be Roman Catholic – but it was that we are saved by Christ Alone!

 

There certainly are theological, doctrinal, differences between the multitude of Christian denominations, traditions, and understandings – some of which we may continue to debate until Christ does return.

These are not reasons to hate, however, but to listen, and to study, and to pray, together.

 

To that end, while we read John 3:14-17 and see that God so loved whom? [The world!] that He gave His one and only Son, that who might believe? [Whoever!] would not perish but have everlasting life!

The caveat is that we must receive and believe that Good News!

In Volume 1 of his 8-Volume tome called Tracts and Treatises (that was well over 2,000 pages of theological faith statements), John Calvin wrote these words:

Let it therefore be a fixed point, that a holy unity exists among us when, consenting in pure doctrine, we are united in Christ alone…. For Christ is the only bond of holy unity. Anyone who departs from Him disturbs and violates unity, while out of him there is nothing but sacrilegious conspiracy….   If it be true that wherever the pure truth of Christ, together with an entire consent in mind and doctrine with all the godly in Christ, exists, there too the real unity of the Church exists, Protestants assuredly [and Papists, by implication] are not [necessarily] aliens from the Church.” (Calvin, John; Tracts and Treatises, Vol. 1, Pp. 215, 259, 264.)

 

Now I want to offer a little feedback time – so if you have comments you’d like to add, insights to share, or questions you might want to ask, now’s your chance.

And, if they’re a little more private or personal, I’ll be downstairs during the Fellowship Time where we can talk even more ….

Any thoughts, questions, criticisms, concerns?

 

Grant, O God, that we may learn to surmount all obstacles and to raise our eyes of faith above the world, so that we may acknowledge that governed by [Your] wonderful counsel is everything that seems to us to happen by chance, in order that we may seek [You] and know that help will be ready for us through [Your] mercy whenever we humbly seek the pardon of our sins, through Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.

 

Resources:

Into the Word, Christ Alone”; TableTalk; May 2017; P. 31.

Keesecker, William F. (ed.); A Calvin Reader: Reflections on Living; Westminster Press; Philadelphia, PA; 1985; Pp. 21, 43.

Nichols, Stephen J.; “The Ninety-Five Theses of Martin Luther, October 31, 1517”; TableTalk; October 2017; P. 71.

 

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10/22/2017 = Romans 3:21-26 = Always Being Reformed: “Reformation Resolve”

Clicking HERE will bring you to an AUDIO link of this message.

Mark Wheeler

Romans 3:21-26

Always Being Reformed: “Reformation Resolve”

10/22/2017

Lidgerwood Presbyterian Church

 

Grant, Almighty God, that as we are at this day tossed here and there by so many troubles, and almost all things in the world are in confusion, so that wherever we turn our eyes nothing but thick darkness meets us, O grant that we may learn to surmount all obstacles and to raise our eyes of faith above the world, so that we may acknowledge that governed by [Your] wonderful counsel is everything that seems to us to happen by chance, in order that we may seek [You] and know that help will be ready for us through [Your] mercy whenever we humbly seek the pardon of our sins, through Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen. (John Calvin, prayer for faith from his Commentary on Lamentations 3:39)

 

A young pastor was sitting in a restaurant eating lunch. He opened a letter he’d just received that morning from his mom. As he opened it a twenty-dollar bill fell out. He thought to himself, Thanks, Mom, I sure needed that right now.

As he finished his meal, he noticed a beggar outside on the sidewalk leaning against the light post. Thinking that the poor man could probably use the twenty dollars more than he, he crossed out the names on the envelope and wrote across the top in large letters, PERSEVERE!

So as not to make a scene, he put the envelope under his arm and dropped it as he walked past the man. The man picked it up and read the message and smiled.

The next day, as the pastor enjoyed his meal, the same man tapped him on the shoulder and handed him a big wad of bills.

Surprised, the young pastor asked him what that was for.

The man replied, “This is your half of the winnings. Persevere came in first in the fourth race at the track yesterday and paid thirty to one.”

 

Today, as we come near the conclusion of our sermon series themes that drove the Reformation Movement, we’re going to talk about the required faithful perseverance of the saints, the spiritual drive to live in a manner that glorifies God rightly, the need to continue Reformation Practices.

 

This Fall marks the 500th anniversary of what kindled the already ignited Protestant Reformation.  This movement was the hope of the Church. There had been 300 years of flickers of Reformation already in place, and when Martin Luther’s October 31, 1517, 95 theological debate topics finally got their posting, the Reformation fire got to roaring.

 

This event created an intense chaos within the Church, and it corrected some insanely wrong doctrines, practices, and power-plays (of Luther’s 95 Theses, which will continue for a few more weeks on the Sermon Notes page, they seem to center around the purchasing of indulgences to gain the Church’s pardon for our sins and the pope’s stated authority over the Word of God).

 

So, on the quincentennial of this flame fanning affair, we need to be reminded that the struggle against our own self-centered sinful desires must be sustained. This is what I’m calling Reformation Resolve!

This is an accepted truth from the days of Martin Luther and John Calvin. In fact, the phrase that has been noted as the Reformation Motto: “ecclesia reformata, semper reformanda” = “the Church Reformed, and always being Reformedwasn’t actually stated for another 150 years (Jodocus van Lodenstein, a Reformed Pastor in the European Low Lands, what we now call The Netherlands, wrote this phrase in a devotional in 1674).

But we should never forget that the whole phrase includes the line, “secundum verbi Dei”. That is, “the Church Reformed, and always being Reformed, according to the Word of God”!

 

Before we go too far with that historical footing of our faith, let’s make sure we follow that rule about the Word of God. I invite you to turn to Romans 3:21-26, and hear from that Word of God. Paul’s letter from Corinth to the Christians in Rome, chapter 3, verses 21-26 …. —-

21 But now apart from the law the righteousness of God has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. 22 This righteousness is given through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference between Jew and Gentile, 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. 25 God presented Christ as a sacrifice of atonement, through the shedding of his blood—to be received by faith. He did this to demonstrate his righteousness, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished—26 he did it to demonstrate his righteousness at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus.

 

This well-known 6-verse passage from this Reformation-inducing epistle holds within its words the five Sola-statements we have seen over the last several weeks, and the five marks of grace which John Calvin outlined.

Listen again, and I’ll highlight those ten overlapping doctrinal truths:

21 But now apart from the law the righteousness of God has been made known (Soli Deo Gloria), to which the Law and the Prophets testify (Sola Scriptura). 22 This righteousness is given through faith in Jesus Christ (Sola Fide) to all who believe. There is no difference between Jew and Gentile, 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 and all are justified freely by his grace (Sola Gratia) through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus (Solus Christus). 25 God presented Christ as a sacrifice of atonement, through the shedding of his blood—to be received by faith. He did this to demonstrate his righteousness, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished—26 he did it to demonstrate his righteousness at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus.

21 But now apart from the law the righteousness of God has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. 22 This righteousness is given through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe (Limited Atonement). There is no difference between Jew and Gentile, 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God (Total Depravity), 24 and all are justified freely (Unmerited Favor) by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. 25 God presented Christ as a sacrifice of atonement, through the shedding of his blood—to be received by faith. He did this to demonstrate his righteousness, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished—26 he did it to demonstrate his righteousness at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus (Irresistible  Grace and Perseverance of the Saints).

 

But, because all of those doctrines are real and true, including our inherent proneness to sin, Luther and Calvin and Zwingli and Knox obeyed God’s call to Reform the Church (Ecclesia Reformata), and to declare that we need to always and continuously Be Reformed (Semper Reformanda), and only as according to the Word of God (Secundum Verbi Dei).

 

Notice three things about that saying.

First, it begins by addressing the Church that is Reformed. Given van Lodenstein’s context in the Netherlands, we are right to capitalize Reformed. The saying was not generally about churches of the Reformation (though it has application for those churches too). Rather, van Lodenstein was addressing the Dutch church that had identified as confessionally Reformed. In other words, far from encouraging doctrinal innovation, the original phrase presumes doctrinal stability. Whatever semper reformanda means, it cannot mean figure out your theological standards on the fly.

Second, the Latin verb reformanda is passive, which means the church is notalways reforming” (as many of us have incorrectly learned this phrase) but is “always being reformed.” The difference is consequential. The former sounds like change for the sake of change, while the latter suggests adhering to the proper standard. The difference between those two interpretations also divides over who does the reforming. Are we in charge of our own Reformation? Or is there an outside force who directs these changes? The passive construction suggests that there is an external agent operating upon the church to bring about the necessary reform. Who is that agent? Is it the culture and societal changes around us? Or is it Someone else?

Which leads to the third and most important point: the church is always being reformed according to the Word of God. May we never forget this as our identity.

 

Yesterday, a handful of us gathered with folks from a dozen other churches, talk about how we might faithfully adapt in the midst of rapid change. The question is one of how we communicate the Gospel, how we love our neighbors, how we follow Jesus and proclaim His Good News in a world where everything is changing around us, from the languages people speak to the ethics by which people decide to live. And, by the way, we need YOUR input. If you’d like to answer a four question “survey” to begin uncovering what new adventures God might have in store for our congregation. If you would like to participate in this process, please let me or Jacob know and we’ll arrange a way for that to happen.

How do we adapt in the midst of these changes? Some things must hold to their solid foundational truths, or we fail to be the Church; other things can change every day, to meet the needs of the listening world in ways to offer them God’s irresistible grace.

 

I began this sermon with a story about perseverance as a way to open the topic of our faith persevering with continual reformation, according to the Word of God, and now I will close after watching you persevere through this sermon.

But I want to offer a little feedback time – so if you have comments you’d like to add, insights to share, or questions you might want to ask, now’s your chance.

And, if they’re a little more private or personal, I’ll be downstairs during the Fellowship Time where we can talk even more. And for anyone who is able, we have a class on the Reformation, lunch provided, today at noon – that’s another place to go deeper….

Any thoughts, questions, criticisms, concerns?

 

Grant, O God, that we may learn to surmount all obstacles and to raise our eyes of faith above the world, so that we may acknowledge that governed by [Your] wonderful counsel is everything that seems to us to happen by chance, in order that we may seek [You] and know that help will be ready for us through [Your] mercy whenever we humbly seek the pardon of our sins, through Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.

 

Resources:

DeYoung, Kevin; “Semper-Reformanda”; The Gospel Coalition; October 27, 2016.

Godfrey, W. Robert; “Continuing the Reformation”; TableTalk; October 2017; Pp. 33-24.

Nichols, Stephen J.; “The Ninety-Five Theses of Martin Luther, October 31, 1517”; TableTalk; October 2017; P. 71.

Parsons, Burk; “The Courage to Be Reformed”; TableTalk; May 2017; Pp. 26-28.

 

10/15/2017 = Genesis 6:18 = Always Being Reformed: “People of God”

Click right HERE if you wanna HEAR this message.

Mark Wheeler
Genesis 6:18
Always Being Reformed: “People of God”
10/15/2017
Lidgerwood Presbyterian Church

Grant, Almighty God, that as we are at this day tossed here and there by so many troubles, and almost all things in the world are in confusion, so that wherever we turn our eyes nothing but thick darkness meets us, O grant that we may learn to surmount all obstacles and to raise our eyes of faith above the world, so that we may acknowledge that governed by [Your] wonderful counsel is everything that seems to us to happen by chance, in order that we may seek [You] and know that help will be ready for us through [Your] mercy whenever we humbly seek the pardon of our sins, through Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen. (John Calvin, prayer for faith from his Commentary on Lamentations 3:39)

Several years ago we re-roofed our house, with the help of neighbors who know what they’re doing we did the work ourselves – with a lifetime warrantee! At the end of the project we had most of a square of roofing left over – for repairs and whatnot. But I, with yet unseen quantity of wisdom, decided to use some of it to build a roof over our back basement entry stairwell. And we did this without the help of neighbors who know what they’re doing!!
So, with no building permit, or blue prints, or expertise of any kind, I went to Home Depot and bought some 4X4s, some plywood, some 2X4s, four concrete footings, and miscellaneous hardware.
The final product looks … just fine!
But if we ever put the house on the market that roof will have to come down before the house will pass inspection! It keeps rain and snow out of the stairwell, but when I stand on it to wash the kitchen window above, everything wobbles a little. The foundation is not strong enough and the structure has no real integrity.

This Fall marks the 500th anniversary of what kindled the already ignited Protestant Reformation. This movement was the hope of the Church. The truth is, the Reformation got its start nearly 300 years earlier with the work and the words of people like Peter Waldo (1218) and John Wycliffe (1340s). But it was Martin Luther’s October 31, 1517, act of posting his 95 theological debate topics that really got the fire roaring.

This event created an intense chaos within the Church, and it corrected some insanely wrong doctrines, practices, and power-plays (take a look at the sampling of Martin Luther’s 95 Theses that are on the Sermon Notes page today).
So, what ultimately gives strength to the foundation of the Church? What creates integrity in the Church to hold it together?
Look at your Pastor, at your Deacons and Elders, at yourselves – it ain’t the People of God who do that.

Read with me, from the NIV (although if you read a different translation you won’t find much that differs here), Genesis 6:18. The setting of this verse is that just a few chapters after Adam and Eve the world is so filled sin and sadness that, with broken heart, God calls Noah into a covenant relationship and God will start again.
On your Sermon Notes page is today’s single-verse passage. Let’s turn to that and read together, Genesis 6:18 ….—- God is speaking, and He says, (together)
18 But I will establish my covenant with you, and you will enter the ark—you and your sons and your wife and your sons’ wives with you.

I will establish my covenant with you, and you will enter the ark …. Sinclair Ferguson, a professor of systematic theology at Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia, PA, and a Scottsman by birth, has said that “God’s covenant commitment to His people, made in successive promise-bonds, forms the scaffolding within which He builds His Church; its shape and growth are determined by it.”
Today’s reading contains the first of ten times the word “covenant” is used between God and Noah. The word is then used another 285 times in the Old Testament and 37 more times in the New Testament.
What is a “covenant”? Can anyone here answer that?
[It has to do with two parties being bound together through thick and thin. It implies something more than a mere contract which binds people together. An example I use at weddings is that when I go to the store and buy a gallon of milk, there’s a contract between us that says the milk will be good; if it’s gone bad I am expected to return it for a new bottle. Covenant, often between two parties of very unequal status (king and subject, master and servant, God and God’s people), says that the lesser party (us) has responsibility in the relationship but the greater party (God) will be there for us regardless of our response.]
I will establish my covenant with you (that’s God’s promise), and you will enter the ark (that’s Noah’s response).
This covenant is implied, although the word is not used, from the very beginning, in Genesis 1 and 3, between God and His first created people. But, as we know Adam and Eve failed to keep their end, so God kept His end through Noah and his family. In Babel we broke our side of the deal again, and God kept His side through Abraham and Sarah. Then came Egypt and our forfeiting our responsibilities, and God kept His side through Moses. And then the Judges and King Saul, and God’s work through David; and then we abandoned our responsibilities again and ended up in Babylon and Medes and Persia, and God kept His side through the prophets…. And then the Old Testament closes with 400 years of silence.
Luke 22:20 tells us that “Jesus is the Deliverer-Seed who forges ‘the new covenant in my blood’”. Thus, Luke confirms that from Adam to Christ, this unified series of divine covenants created a single family tree. And when we are “in Christ”, we are the next branch in that tree.
Matthew tells us that from Adam through Noah, from Abraham through Moses, from David through Jesus Christ, God’s people have been defined, united, and shaped through an ever-renewed and developed covenant bond; from the Fall of Adam and Eve, always sinners who “found favor in the eyes of the LORD” (Genesis 6:8); always justified by faith alone, not by works, always trusting in the promise of God, and always conscious that we are one family!
Two weeks ago, on World Communion Sunday, we heard from people in Africa, Asia, Europe, and North America, from Lutheran, Baptist, Presbyterian, Eastern Orthodox and Roman Catholic distinctives. If we are “in Christ” we are included!

At our Elder Council Meeting last Tuesday, Scott, our Clerk of Session, opened our time together with a devotional extolling the differences between having an alliance and having allegiance. “As citizens of this great country we live in, we might have an alliance with our home town, or our high school alma mater, or our favorite professional sports team, but we pledge allegiance to the flag of these United States of America!”
As Lidgerwood Presbyterians we might have an alliance to our home church or our affiliated denomination, but if we have not pledged allegiance to Christ alone (solus Christus), revealed to us through the Bible alone (sola Scriptura), that we are saved by God’s grace alone (sola gratia) through faith alone (sola fide), then our alliance does nothing to secure any kind of relationship to God!

Dr. R.C. Sproul has written a hymn called “Saints of Zion” which has for its final verse these wise words of assurance: “
The Church of God triumphant shall in that final day
Have all her sons and daughters home from the well-fought fray.

Look at the words of our second song this morning, “Come to Jesus”. “Come to Jesus” is our response like “enter the ark” was Noah’s. God establishes the covenant with His people – we respond…. Will we?

The strength and integrity of the Church is not us, it is Christ Himself:
The Church’s one foundation is Jesus Christ Her Lord; …
Elect from every nation, yet one o’er all the earth; …
Though with a scornful wonder we see Her sore oppressed, …
Mid toil and tribulation, and tumult of Her war, …
Yet she on earth hath union with God the Three in One, ….

In my effort to be shorter for these sermons I’ll stop talking here, and offer a little feedback time – so if you have comments you’d like to add, or questions you might want to ask, now’s your chance.
And, if they’re a little more private or personal, I’ll be downstairs during the Fellowship Time where we can talk even more. And for anyone who is able, we have a class on the Reformation, lunch provided, starting today at noon – that’s another place to go deeper….
Any thoughts, questions, criticisms, concerns?

Grant, O God, that we may learn to surmount all obstacles and to raise our eyes of faith above the world, so that we may acknowledge that governed by [Your] wonderful counsel is everything that seems to us to happen by chance, in order that we may seek [You] and know that help will be ready for us through [Your] mercy whenever we humbly seek the pardon of our sins, through Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.

Resources:
Ferguson, Sinclair B.; “God’s Covenant People”; TableTalk; May 2017; Pp. 22-24.
Nichols, Stephen J.; “The Ninety-Five Theses of Martin Luther, October 31, 1517”; TableTalk; October 2017; P. 71.
Vandoodewaard, Rebecca; “The Women of the Reformation”; TableTalk; October 2017; Pp. 28-32.

10-08-2017 = Romans 11:33-36 = Always Being Reformed: “Soli Deo Gloria”

CLICK HERE for the AUDIO of this MESSAGE.
Mark Wheeler
Romans 11:33-36
Always Being Reformed: “Soli Deo Gloria”
10/08/2017
Lidgerwood Presbyterian Church

Grant, Almighty God, that as we are at this day tossed here and there by so many troubles, and almost all things in the world are in confusion, so that wherever we turn our eyes nothing but thick darkness meets us, O grant that we may learn to surmount all obstacles and to raise our eyes of faith above the world, so that we may acknowledge that governed by [Your] wonderful counsel is everything that seems to us to happen by chance, in order that we may seek [You] and know that help will be ready for us through [Your] mercy whenever we humbly seek the pardon of our sins, through Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen. (John Calvin, prayer for faith from his Commentary on Lamentations 3:39)

Friday night I went to see the new Blade Runner movie – this tells the story of a futuristic world where both humans and “replicants” (androids, “fake humans”) co-exist. As I left the theater I was forced to ask myself what true artificial intelligence really is, what it means to have real humanity, to have a soul, and, while we don’t live in a world filled with androids yet – or do we? – the question the movie itself asks, can androids be more human than humans? Their answer has something to do with sacrificing themselves for something/someone else….

I start with this today, because while I do not recommend this movie as a religious experience, or as a story which will encourage your Christian faith, it did force me to wonder about truth, and about existence, and about who is responsible for life. And I came back to our Christian faith!
This Fall marks the 500th anniversary of the beginning of the Protestant Reformation. This movement was the hope of the Church. A few hundred years later the British Lord Acton wrote a letter to Church of England Bishop Mandell Creighton in 1887, “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Great men are almost always bad men.” The Church of the early 16th Century had all the power – religious and political – over most of the known world, and history tells us how corrupt it had gotten.
The truth is, the Reformation got its start nearly 300 years earlier with the work and the words of people like Peter Waldo (1218) and then 150 years after that with John Wycliffe (late 1300s). But it was Martin Luther’s October 31, 1517, act of posting his 95 theological debate topics that really got the ball rolling.

For every one of the men and women involved in this movement among the people of God, the central truth of their message was to insist that “salvation is of the Lord!” Ultimately, we cannot earn it or buy it, and the Church is not the gateway by which we enter eternity – the Church IS, as the Body of Christ, as the Temple of the Holy Spirit, God’s chosen means of Gospel communication and transmission, but we are not the Final Judge…
Someone has said that “the only contribution we make is the sin that was laid upon Jesus Christ at the cross.”
• Not the sins we commit, the problem is that we are sinners! Not that we sin (not what we do), but that we are sinners (who we are).
• “Salvation is of the Lord” concerns the work of Christ: Christ takes our sin upon Himself when He dies on the cross, and Christ gives us His righteousness, through faith.
For Luther it is Sola Scriptura, the Bible alone, which teaches us God’s truths; it is Solus Christus, Christ alone, by which we find salvation; it is Sola Gratia, grace alone which saves us; and it is Sola Fide, faith alone, that opens us to receive this gift from God! Therefore, it is Soli Deo Gloria, to the glory of God alone, that our lives should always give tribute!

Today we read from Luther’s study in the New Testament Epistle from Paul to the Church in Rome, chapter 11, verses 33-36 where-in he quotes from the Old Testament story of Job and the Old Testament prophet Isaiah ….—-

33 Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God!
How unsearchable his judgments, and his paths beyond tracing out!
34 “Who has known the mind of the Lord? Or who has been his counselor?”
35 “Who has ever given to God, that God should repay them?”
36 For from him and through him and for him are all things. To him be the glory forever! Amen.

This passage, all three of them actually, tell us that salvation is God determined, God purchased, God applied, and God secured. From start to finish, salvation is of the Lord alone!
This truth is best summarized in John Calvin’s doctrines of God’s amazing grace!
There are five points of this doctrine – each of them points to God’s ultimate rule wherein we sing songs like Our God Reigns, How Great Is Our God, A Mighty Fortress Is Our God, Amazing Grace, The Earth Is the Lord’s, Rock of Ages, O for a Thousand Tongues to Sing.
Those five points are these:
• Total depravity – the first man, Adam sinned and by his sin death entered the world. His corruption was then transmitted to his natural offspring, and has then become an undeniable part of every human. The rest of the Bible tells the story of how God has been pursuing us ever since – the stories of Noah and Abraham and Moses and David, the stories of the flood, the Ten Commandments, famines and exiles. They all point us to Jesus who is finally revealed in the New Testament.
• Unconditional election – before Adam and Eve even sinned God had already decreed and determined salvation for sinners. He chose a people through whom He would deliver this salvation (check out Genesis 3 and 6 and 9 and 12). Our monthly Adult Sunday School class is discovering how the entire Old Testament leads us to God’s Son, our Savior – and we are told over and over again that this salvation is offered simply as a gift from God that we are able to attain through faith.
• Definite atonement – in the fullness of time God sent forth His Son to enter this fallen world on a mission to redeem His people. We deserved the death that God foretold Adam about, but Jesus took our sin on Himself making all mankind potentially savable! “God so loved the whole world and everyone in it that He sent His only begotten Son – so that who ever believes in Him, who ever received Him, might not suffer that eternal death of actually receive the gift of eternal life!” (John 3:16) But notice, while He would wish that all would believe, only some actually do. Atonement, salvation, is limited to those whom He has called as his own, who have believed in Him! God is in charge!
• Effectual calling – with oneness and purpose, the Father and the Son sent the Holy Spirit into the world to apply this salvation to those chosen and redeemed. The Holy Spirit comes alongside, fills us from within, covers us as protection, so that we have the faith and strength to persevere. And God’s grace is perfectly effectual, meaning it is irresistible. As Isaiah 55 tells us, God’s Word is never wasted, every time it is read it has power, so is His grace!
• And, Preserving grace – once we come to know God’s amazing grace, once we have been adopted into the family of God, John 10 tells us, we are secure in His grasp!

From beginning to end, salvation is of the Lord. Jesus met two disciples on the road to Emmaus, in Luke 24, and starting from Moses (that means Genesis) and going through the prophets (that means Malachi) He told them how they all pointed to Himself – God’s amazing grace!

When it is rightly understood that God alone – Father, Son and Holy Spirit – saves us sinners, then all glory goes to Him – Soli Deo Gloria!

In my effort to be shorter for these sermons I’ll stop talking here, and offer a little feedback time – so if you have comments you’d like to add, or questions you might want to ask, now’s your chance.
And, if they’re a little more private or personal, I’ll be downstairs during the Fellowship Time where we can talk even more. And for anyone who is able, we have a class on the Reformation, lunch provided, starting today at noon – that’s another place to go deeper….
Any thoughts, questions, criticisms, concerns?

Grant, O God, that we may learn to surmount all obstacles and to raise our eyes of faith above the world, so that we may acknowledge that governed by [Your] wonderful counsel is everything that seems to us to happen by chance, in order that we may seek [You] and know that help will be ready for us through [Your] mercy whenever we humbly seek the pardon of our sins, through Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.

Resources:
Lawson, Steven J.; “Salvation is of the Lord”; TableTalk; May 2017; Pp. 17-19.
Nichols, Stephen J.; “The Ninety-Five Theses of Martin Luther, October 31, 1517”; TableTalk; October 2017; P. 71.
Thomas, Derek W. H.; “God’s Sovereignty and Glory”; TableTalk; May 2017; Pp. 6-8.

10/01/2017 = Psalm 46 = Always Being Reformed: “Soli Deo Gloria”

Click HERE to listen to this message.
Mark Wheeler
Psalm 46
10/01/2017
Always Being Reformed: “Soli Deo Gloria”
Lidgerwood Presbyterian Church

Grant, Almighty God, that as we are at this day tossed here and there by so many troubles, and almost all things in the world are in confusion, so that wherever we turn our eyes nothing but thick darkness meets us, O grant that we may learn to surmount all obstacles and to raise our eyes of faith above the world, so that we may acknowledge that governed by [Your] wonderful counsel is everything that seems to us to happen by chance, in order that we may seek [You] and know that help will be ready for us through [Your] mercy whenever we humbly seek the pardon of our sins, through Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen. (John Calvin, prayer for faith from his Commentary on Lamentations 3:39)

This week, in 1544, Martin Luther preached at the dedication of the Castle Church in Targau, Germany. This church building was the very first Protestant Church built as a Protestant Church – up to this point there had been several Protestant churches, but they were all Roman Catholic Churches that had converted to Lutheranism.
At this dedication Luther declared: “It is the intention of this building that nothing else shall happen inside it except that our Lord shall speak to us through His Holy Word, and we in turn to Him through prayer and praise.”
This was Luther’s singular focus for his ministry: “the pure worship of the true God by the true people of God.” And he taught that this pure worship can happen only when God’s Word is at the center of church life.

This Fall marks the 500th anniversary of the beginning of the Protestant Reformation. This movement was the hope of the Church. A few hundred years later the British Lord Acton wrote a letter to Church of England Bishop Mandell Creighton in 1887, “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Great men are almost always bad men.” The Church of the early 16th Century had all the power – religious and political – over most of the known world, and history tells us how corrupt it had gotten.
After surviving a violent thunderstorm during which the young Luther promised God that he would enter the monastery if God pulled him through, he found himself struggling in the ministry. Later he would say, “If ever a monk could get to heaven by monkery, I would be that monk!”
In 1510 Luther was sent on a pilgrimage to the Church’s headquarters in Rome, and he was revolted by the debauchery he discovered. He found his ecclesiastic supervisors preaching that one could earn heaven by doing more good than bad, or by paying for one’s sins with their money, buying their forgiveness. (How many times have we said, or heard someone else say, “She’s such a good person, certainly she’ll be in heaven”? That’s this same old church-lie!)
The next part of this church-falsehood was the non-biblical teaching of “purgatory” – that is, if one’s sins outweighed their good deeds at death, their sins could be “purged” after death, making them ready for heaven. And, in order to help a loved one through purgatory, we could pay an extra indulgence to the church on their behalf. (Look at today’s list from the 95 Theses Luther posted in 1517. #29, which mentions Sts. Severinus and Paschal, is about two men who did not want anyone to speed their purgatory time by paying for their sins because, they thought, if they spent extra time in Purgatory they would earn a better place in heaven!)

Martin Luther, in reading the Old Testament prophet Habakkuk 2:4 saw that “the righteous shall live by faith” (not by good deeds), and throughout New Testament books like Romans and Galatians and Ephesians, that we are saved by faith not by works. He rediscovered two truths:
• The first concerns sin: The problem is not the sins I commit, the problem is that I am a sinner! Not that I sin (not what I do), but that I am a sinner (who I am).
• The second concerns the work of Christ: Christ takes my sin upon Himself when He dies on the cross, and Christ gives me His righteousness, through faith.
For Luther it is Sola Scriptura, the Bible alone, which teaches us God’s truths; it is Solus Christus, Christ alone, by which we find salvation; and it is Sola Fide, faith alone, that opens us to receive this gift from God! Therefore, it is Soli Deo Gloria, to the glory of God alone, that our lives should always give tribute! (Side note: Johann Sebastian Bach, when he was satisfied that a composition was finished, would write “SDG” at the bottom of the sheet music – Soli Deo Gloria, to God be the glory!)

To that end, today’s Scripture reading is from Psalm 46. On this World Communion Sunday, in this Reformation remembrance month, let us hear the Word of God – listen for themes of all the world, of God’s glory, of Reformation ….—-
Psalm 46 (NIV)
For the director of music. Of the Sons of Korah. According to alamoth. A song.
1 God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble.
2 Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea,
3 though its waters roar and foam and the mountains quake with their surging.
4 There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God, the holy place where the Most High dwells.
5 God is within her, she will not fall; God will help her at break of day.
6 Nations are in uproar, kingdoms fall; he lifts his voice, the earth melts.
7 The LORD Almighty is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress.
8 Come and see what the LORD has done, the desolations he has brought on the earth.
9 He makes wars cease to the ends of the earth.
He breaks the bow and shatters the spear; he burns the shields with fire.
10 He says, “Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations,
I will be exalted in the earth.”
11 The LORD Almighty is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress.

Martin Luther’s most well known hymn (he wrote more than 35 hymns, on top of everything else he did), which we sang today as we prepared ourselves for hearing God’s Word, is based directly on the words of this Psalm. God is our refuge and strength – a mighty Fortress is our God!
And the Reformed theology of everything being done to/for the glory of God – There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God … he lifts His voice and the earth melts … Come and see what the LORD has done … He will be exalted among the nations, exalted in the earth.
And on this World Communion Sunday, when we sit together at the Lord’s Table, together with brothers and sisters in Christ across every aisle – Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, Protestant of every stripe, non-denominational, too; Democrat, Republican, Independent, something else; Conservative, Progressive; Red, yellow, black, brown and white. The Lord’s Table is meant to call us all together, to hold us all together. And Psalm 46 is sung by and for the whole Church of Christ! The Lord Almighty is with us, people from every nation – the God of Jacob is all of our Fortress! He brings His peace to the very ends of the earth, where God alone will be exalted. Every knee will bow, every tongue will confess that Jesus is Lord!
On this World Communion Sunday, let is not allow our “enemy” to pull us apart – so long as our faith is in Christ alone – Soli Deo Gloria – to God be the glory, forever!

In my effort to be shorter for these sermons I’ll stop talking here, and offer a little feedback time – so if you have comments you’d like to add, or questions you might want to ask, now’s your chance.
And, if they’re a little more private or personal, I’ll be downstairs during the Fellowship Time where we can talk even more.
Any thoughts, questions, criticisms, concerns?

Grant, O God, that we may learn to surmount all obstacles and to raise our eyes of faith above the world, so that we may acknowledge that governed by [Your] wonderful counsel is everything that seems to us to happen by chance, in order that we may seek [You] and know that help will be ready for us through [Your] mercy whenever we humbly seek the pardon of our sins, through Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.

Resources:
Lawson, Steven J.; “Salvation is of the Lord”; TableTalk; May 2017; Pp. 17-19.
Nichols, Stephen J.; “Luther and His Significance”; TableTalk; October 2017; Pp. 12-15.
Nichols, Stephen J.; “The Ninety-Five Theses of Martin Luther, October 31, 1517”; TableTalk; October 2017; P. 71.
Thomas, Derek W. H.; “God’s Sovereignty and Glory”; TableTalk; May 2017; Pp. 6-8.

09/24/2017 = Proverbs 16 = Always Being Reformed: “Sovereignty of God: Who’s in Charge Here?”

Click HEREfor an AUDIO version of this message.

Mark Wheeler

Proverbs 3:5; 16:9, 33; 19:21 8

Always Being Reformed: “Sovereignty of God – Who’s in Charge Here?”

09/24/2017

Lidgerwood Presbyterian Church

 

Grant, Almighty God, that as we are at this day tossed here and there by so many troubles, and almost all things in the world are in confusion, so that wherever we turn our eyes nothing but thick darkness meets us, O grant that we may learn to surmount all obstacles and to raise our eyes of faith above the world, so that we may acknowledge that governed by [Your] wonderful counsel is everything that seems to us to happen by chance, in order that we may seek [You] and know that help will be ready for us through [Your] mercy whenever we humbly seek the pardon of our sins, through Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen. (John Calvin, prayer for faith from his Commentary on Lamentations 3:39)

 

A Senator is in a restaurant and the waiter brings over the rolls, but no butter. “May I have some butter, please?” The waiter gives a slight nod and wanders off. Ten minutes later, still no butter. The senator catches his eye.

“May I have some butter, Please?”

Still the vaguest of responses, and after ten more minutes, still no butter. 

“Maybe you don’t know who I am,” says the senator. “I’m a Princeton graduate, a Rhodes scholar, an All-American NBA player, and I’m currently a United States senator, chairman of the International Debt Subcommittee of the Senate Finance Committee, chairman of the Water and Power Subcommittee of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, and a member of the Senate Select Intelligence Committee.” 

“Maybe you don’t know who I am,” said the waiter. “I’m the guy who’s in charge of the butter.”

 

Today’s sermon is on the Sovereignty of God. Asking the question, “Who’s really in charge around here?” That’s not just a question about which parties get or give the butter, but we ask that question in all sorts of political situations, legal circumstances, medical conditions, family decisions,,,, and certainly in religious or ecclesiastic contextsWho’s really in charge here?

This Fall marks the 500th anniversary of the beginning of the Protestant Reformation. Among the earliest Reformers in the Church was a German Priest named Martin Luther, and a French Professor of Law named John Calvin. As one of their challenges to their Church’s hierarchy they posted opportunities to debate the subject of Sovereigntywho’s ultimately in charge? (Our own POTUS recently posted that same challenge before the UN.)

Luther’s, and especially Calvin’s, proposition was that God is Sovereign over life and faith, and no one else.

 

The Bible, remember that Sola Scriptura thing we talked about last week, is replete with examples of this truth spelled out in story form, poetry, and exemplified in parables and doctrine.

In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. (Gen 1:1)” The opening lines of Genesis, and the whole of scripture. The One who creates is ultimately the One who owns, and thus the One who gets to decide. It is true that very early in Scripture this same God puts His human creations in charge over the rest of creation, but only as stewards, as caregivers, not as owners. (The MLB team owners trade and decide on which players are on the team, the managers steward those players [makes the lineup, decides which pitcher pitches against which opponent, etc… btw, last week I said that the Mariners still had a shot at the wildcard spot in the playoffs – no longer true at all….]).

Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise. (Luke 23:43)” Those are Jesus’ words to the man being crucified for his criminal activities next to Him. Who has the authority to say that? Who’s in charge here? Only God!

Trust in the Lord with all your heart    and lean not on your own understanding;
in all your ways submit to him,    and he will make your paths straight
. (Proverbs 3:5)” To whom does one submit? To the One with sovereign authority. Now keep listening to King Solomon in this book of Proverbs:

In their hearts humans plan their course,    but the Lord establishes their steps. (16:9)” We may think we’ve decided, but, King Sol says, it is the Lord who establishes our ultimate steps. …

The lot is cast into the lap,    but its every decision is from the Lord. (16:33)” Was it a coincidence? Happenstance? Wait. Is this true of the good and of the bad? Auto accidents? Hurricanes? Earthquakes? Genocides? School shootings? How is this an acceptable Christian doctrine?

Many are the plans in a person’s heart,    but it is the Lord’s purpose that prevails. (19:21)” If this is true, does it not make us ask some difficult questions?

 

In fact, since the Scriptures have now been read, I’m going to come down these stairs and be on the same level as the rest of us. We are all on this journey, seeking answers, together, and while I might have more time to delve into the Bible, and have studied the languages in which it was written, and the contexts of its compositions, I struggle through life just like everyone else.

Let’s approach our faith questions together and discover, together, how our faith impacts our lives.

 

Some aspects of God’s Sovereignty are easier than others, and others become progressively more complicated:

God’s Sovereignty over creation: We may argue about 6 days vs. several billion years, or about Creator vs. accidental collision of non-created atoms; and we may never agree, but if we believe inGod the Father Almighty, maker of heaven and earth”, we can believe this with little difficulty.

God’s Sovereignty over redemption: John 3:16 tells us that this God who created everything loves us so much that He invites all to receive Him, to believe in Him, and find our life blessed by His presence and power, forever! We might have questions about those who have never heard the name of Jesus, or about those who acknowledge some truths about Jesus, but not all of the Bible’s teachings, but believing that He is the way, the truth and the life does not jar most of us out of our faith.

God’s Sovereignty over judgment: this might rub some of us more harshly, but ultimately, it makes sense to believe that the God who is sovereign over creation and redemption, the One who made us and saves us, also has ultimate authority to decide ultimate outcomes. Today’s Children’s Message used the parable of the landowner who hires workers at 6:00am promising to pay them a fair day’s wage, and then he hires more at 9:00am, 12noon, 3:00pm, and even more at 5:00pm; and at the end of the day he pays them all the same “fair day’s wage”; and what do the first one’s hired do? They complain that they didn’t get more than they had agreed on because these others were counted as equal to them! Moral of the story: God is Sovereign over judgment (Luke 20:1-16); and maybe we’d best be glad we don’t get what we deserve!

God’s Sovereignty over providence: In His omnipotence, omniscience, omnipresence it’s not difficult to believe in His ability to provide for our needs. But what about whenneeds are not provided for”… or if God is a good God, why does He allow evil, or why is there not a way to escape evil…?

What are some current news items that brings these questions to the fore? [hurricanes, earthquakes, Freeman HS shooting, life threatening (and life taking) health conditions, etc.]

How do we answer these questions? How does our faith persevere? What do we believe?

 

A Summary of how John Calvin answered these kinds of question uses the acronym TULIP. Here’s a super brief description of this doctrine.

  • TTotal depravity. As demonstrated by Adam and Eve, and every Bible character since, and by you and me, left to our own devices we will all choose to sin (maybe not every time, but ultimately we will sin). This means that we deserve ultimate abandonment (see Genesis 2:17). But,
  • UUn-merited, un-earned, un-deserved grace or favor is offered. We are saved by grace alone (Sola Gratia) through faith alone (Sola Fide). Christ died for us, and all we have to do is receive and believe that truth. Nothing more. God’s grace is completely un-merited.
  • LLimited atonement. But just because it is un-deserved does not mean that everyone is saved. In God’s perfect sovereign omniscience, He knows who will and who does believe. Sovereign over judgment.
  • IIrresistible grace. God’s Word does not come back void (Isaiah 55:11), God’s sovereignty over judgment means His calling is always effectual. When heard correctly, His grace is irresistible!
  • PPersevering grace. Once we believe, every believer is kept eternally secure in their salvation (John 10:29). When it is rightly understood that God Alone saves sinners, then all glory goes to Him (Soli Gloria Deo).

 

Out of all the questions that believers and skeptics alike have about our faith, I think it is this one: where does evil come from and why does it still exist? I mean, if God is all-powerful and all-good, how do we understand the origin of, the creation of, the beginning of evil; and why has this almighty benevolent God not finished it off?

Here are some ways some non-Christian religions/philosophies answer this problem:

  • Evil is only imaginaryChristian Science
  • Evil is simply an illusionHinduism
  • Evil is just the absence of good in a universe where either there is no God, or where God and the Devil are of equal authority and power– Dualism

None of that comes from the Bible which teaches that God is the Creator of everything good (James 1:17). He is the “first causeof all things, but evil is a product of “second cause”. John Calvin wrote: “First, it must be observed that he will of God is the cause of all things that happen in the world: and yet God is not the author of evil … for the proximate cause is one thing, and the remote cause another.” In other words, God created the universe, and the people who inhabit this universe, and then He gave those people free will, choice authority, we get to decide whom we will obey and honor and love, and whom we won’t. The secondary cause, the remote cause, therefore, comes from the brokenness of the fallen world we now live in.

God allows this, because He gives us freedom. Occasionally He steps in with a miracle to prevent, protect, provide, or present Himself. It’s occasional, and that’s why when it happens we call it a miracle.

 

So, “Who’s in Charge around Here?We choose to look to God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, to lead our lives and give direction – to make our paths straight, to establish our steps, to prevail in pushing our plans into His purpose.
In my effort to be shorter for these sermons I’ll stop talking here, and offer a little feedback time – so if you have comments you’d like to add, or questions you might want to ask, now’s your chance.

And, if they’re a little more private or personal, I’ll be downstairs during the Fellowship Time where we can talk even more.

Any thoughts, questions, criticisms, concerns?

 

Grant, O God, that we may learn to surmount all obstacles and to raise our eyes of faith above the world, so that we may acknowledge that governed by [Your] wonderful counsel is everything that seems to us to happen by chance, in order that we may seek [You] and know that help will be ready for us through [Your] mercy whenever we humbly seek the pardon of our sins, through Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.

 

Resources:

Lawson, Steven J.; “Salvation is of the Lord”; TableTalk; May 2017; Pp. 17-19.

Nichols, Stephen J.; “The Ninety-Five Theses of Martin Luther, October 31, 1517”; TableTalk; October 2017; P. 71.

Thomas, Derek W. H.; “God’s Sovereignty and Glory”; TableTalk; May 2017; Pp. 6-8.

09/17/2017 = Nehemiah 8 = Always Being Reformed: “Sola Scriptura”

Clicking HERE will allow you to HEAR this message.

Mark Wheeler

Nehemiah 8

Always Being Reformed: “Sola Scriptura (Scripture Alone)”

09/17/2017

Lidgerwood Presbyterian Church

 

Grant, Almighty God, that as we are at this day tossed here and there by so many troubles, and almost all things in the world are in confusion, so that wherever we turn our eyes nothing but thick darkness meets us, O grant that we may learn to surmount all obstacles and to raise our eyes of faith above the world, so that we may acknowledge that governed by [Your] wonderful counsel is everything that seems to us to happen by chance, in order that we may seek [You] and know that help will be ready for us through [Your] mercy whenever we humbly seek the pardon of our sins, through Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen. (John Calvin, prayer for faith from his Commentary on Lamentations 3:39)

 

Suppose the Mariners win enough September games to put them in the post-season (it is still feasibly possible). And in the first division playoff game Nelson Cruz slams a line-drive that hits the top of the fence and ricochets over centerfield into the stands. The Mariners fans cheer, Cruz pumps his fist as he rounds third base, and the umpire calls it a Ground Rule Double!  What?!

Cruz comes screaming to Homeplate, the coach comes running out of the dugout, and the ump stands his ground. Who’s right? Does anyone know? Who’s got the ultimate authority?

Well – there’s a MLB Rule Book that the umpire is supposed to know; and every baseball field also has their own rule books. Are you ready? The local homefield rules must always comply with the MLB rules, but in the case of “Ground RuleDoubles, the MLB bows to the particular home field rules.

 

Today’s sermon is called Sola Scriptura! The Bible Alone is the authority over what is righteous and what is not!

 

Last Sunday we started our Fall sermon series recognizing both the chasm created by, and the theological correction offered by, the 16th Century Protestant Reformation. I confess that this series will be a little less “preachy” and a little more “teachy” but the history that leads to today’s context and the theological discussions that inform that history, I believe, are vitally important.

This Fall marks the 500th anniversary of the beginning of the Protestant Reformation. So, like I did last week, let me set the background (those who don’t know their history are doomed to repeat it – well, we’re going to repeat it so that we’re doomed to know it!):

500 years ago, 1517, was a world in which the printing press had only very recently been invented and put to use. Prior to 1440 literature in the western world had to be hand copied, page by page, word by word, letter by letter. You can imagine how time-consuming it would be to make a copy of a book. And what book was copied most? The Bible. (Sidebar note: the Chinese had invented a wood-block printing press some 600 years earlier, but it was so cumbersome it was still only rarely used.)

Because of how laborious it was to copy a book, very few people owned their own Bible. It would just be way too expensive. (Remember what Gothic style Cathedrals look like? What do their windows dispolay? Stained glass windows was the Church’s way of providing Bibles for the masses!) But after 1440, Gutenberg’s invention made printing books much more affordable! And, of course, his most famous book is “the Gutenberg Bible” – worth well more than $2 million today.

 

It was just a generation after Gutenberg’s invention that a German Roman Catholic was born who grew up into his divine vocation as a RC priest. Father Martin Luther was priest at Castle Church in Wittenberg, Germany. And history was changing right before his very eyes.

 

In the pre-Reformation Church, the Bible was widely recognized as authoritative for faith and obedience, as the rule for faith and life. In 21st Century America (and Europe) the Bible is more questioned and ridiculed than it is read and obeyed, but that was not the way it was in Europe in the 16th Century. But the Christian world of Europe did offer another challenge to the Bible as our main authority – that was the Church itself.

One of the main teachings of the Church of that time was that it was impossible to be saved outside the Churchnot outside the Christian faith, but salvation was understood to be impossible without the sacraments of baptism, eucharist, penance, etc.

So, in 1517, when Father Martin Luther read the New Testament book of Romans (and other Bible passages) not only could he not defend that view, he found no evidence for it at all. Here is what Romans alone says about FAITH ALONE being the means of salvation:

  1. 3:28-30, “For we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from worksof the Law. 29Or is God the God of Jews only? Is He not the God of Gentiles also? Yes, of Gentiles also, 30since indeed God who will justify the circumcised by faith and the uncircumcised through faith is one.”
  2. 4:5, “But to the one who does not work, but believes in Himwho justifies the ungodly, his faith is reckoned as righteousness,
  3. 5:1, “therefore having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ;
  4. 9:30, “What shall we say then? That Gentiles, who did not pursue righteousness, attained righteousness, even the righteousness which is by faith;
  5. 10:4, “For Christ is the end of the lawfor righteousness to everyone who believes.”
  6. 11:6, “But if it is by grace, it is no longer on the basis of works, otherwise grace is no longer grace.

 

Admittedly, before Bibles were available to the public to own and read, the priests were the carriers of God’s Word. The Bible was of utmost importance, but only as read and taught by those called by God into the priesthood. “We cannot be saved outside THE Church”, they said; and since it was the Church who owned the Bible, the Church’s authority of over faith and life was at least equal to that of the Bible, and maybe more.

 

One of Father Martin Luther’s insights in 1517 was that, especially post-Gutenberg, the Bible should regain its role as sole authority over body and soulthis is what we look at today.

 

Last week as we started this teaching series we were introduced to the 5 “Sola”-statements of the Protestant Reformers: Sola Fide (salvation is through “Faith Alone” – last week), Sola Scriptura (the sole authority over faith and life is the written Word of God, the “Bible Alone”), Sola Gratia (that the Scriptures teach that it is by God’s “Grace Alone” that effectualizes our faith), Solus Christus (that God’s grace is demonstrated and offered through “Christ Alone”), and Soli Gloria Deo (that all of life is to be lived to the “Glory of God Alone”).

 

Listen to this keynote passage from the Old Testament history book of Nehemiah, chapter 8: So on the first day of the seventh month Ezra the priest brought the Law before the assembly, which was made up of men and women and all who were able to understand. He read it aloud from daybreak till noon as he faced the square before the Water Gate in the presence of the men, women and others who could understand. And all the people listened attentively to the Book of the Law….

They read from the Book of the Law of God, making it clear and giving the meaning so that the people understood what was being read. (NIV)

 

The context of this story is that the Jewish people had been taken captive by the world dominant power of Babylon (remember the Daniel in the Lion’s Den story and the Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego in the fiery furnace story – that’s the situation, about 150 years before Nehemiah steps on the scene), only now it is Persia who is the World Power, and Nehemiah, a Jew who served in the King’s palace, was given permission to go back to Jerusalem and rebuild the Temple.

What did you notice about what was happening here? At what time did “churchstart for them? How long was the sermon? How comfortable was the seating area? How many people complained?

The Jewish people were, for the first time in generations, allowed to gather in the public square and hear God’s Word – and they loved it!

Again, this was at a time when people did not have their own copies of the Bible, but part of what they read instructed them to “meditate on God’s Word day and night” (Joshua 1:8, Psalm 1) anyway, to “keep it on their heart”, to “long for God’s Word”, to “delight in God’s decrees” (Psalm 119).

 

What we believe the Bible teaches is that it is God alone who has the right and the ability to declare us righteous in His sight.

So, if it is “Sola Scriptura”, why should we bother to listen to Wheeler preach at us every week? Or Billy Graham, or Andy Stanley, or Kathy Sandusky, or any human with the guts to stand in the pulpit?

Why indeed? What do you think?

And, if what we say is not grounded in God’s Word, or if it is against what God’s Word teaches, it certainly may be time to stop listening. But, only then. Not just because we don’t like what the Bible says….

 

I’m going to try to be shorter for these sermons, and offer a little feedback time – so if you have comments you’d like to add, or questions you might want to ask, you’ll have a chance in just a minute.

And, if they’re a little more private or personal, I’ll be downstairs during the Fellowship Time (and today’s extended Prayer time [Lord’s prayer Corps]) where we can talk even more.

 

This series is called “Always Being Reformed” which is part of a Reformation-based phrase that fully says, “We are the Church Reformed, and always being Reformed, according to the Word of God”. May we never be swayed merely by societal influence or pressure to be liked; may we always be swayed by God’s Word!

So I’ll close today by simply asking how important God’s Word is to you? If this is the means by which God reveals Himself to us, and if we say we are followers of Jesus, how much time do we devote to listening to His Word, alone, and together?

 

Grant, O God, that we may learn to surmount all obstacles and to raise our eyes of faith above the world, so that we may acknowledge that governed by [Your] wonderful counsel is everything that seems to us to happen by chance, in order that we may seek [You] and know that help will be ready for us through [Your] mercy whenever we humbly seek the pardon of our sins, through Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.

 

Resources:

Godfrey, W. Robert.; “Continuing the Reformation”; TableTalk; October 2017; Pp. 33-36.

 

Nichols, Stephen J.; “The Ninety-Five Theses of Martin Luther, October 31, 1517”; TableTalk; October 2017; Pp. 70-71.

 

Reeves, Ryan; “The Geography of the Reformation”; TableTalk; October 2017; Pp. 22-25.

 

Sproul, R.C.; Into the Word; TableTalk; June 2017; P. 33.

 

Sproul, R.C.; Sola Fide; www.ligonier.org/blog/faith-and-works/; October 21, 2015

 

Waters, Guy Prentiss; “Sola Scriptura and Sola Fide”; TableTalk; October 2017; Pp. 18-22.