Bedrock - part 1
I preached the following sermon at the Cornerstone Church on Sunday, October 22, 2017.
Part 1 of BEDROCK.
Peter Foxwell. The Cornerstone Church. October 15, 2017.
Today, we begin a 2 part teaching called Bedrock: Ancient Christianity for Today's Christians. We're looking at the doctrines that came out of the Reformation. Next Sunday, Christians around the world will mark the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation. Theologian R. C. Sproul writes about the Reformation: (see video - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Qd97uoZIqXI&t=11s)
"500 years ago, a German monk named Martin Luther started a protest that exploded into a worldwide movement. At that time, Europe lived in the shadow of the Roman Catholic Church. It was more like an empire than a church. It crowned and cast down kings, and used its dominance to keep people in the darkness of superstition.
That sounds pretty unfamiliar. But in some ways, Luther’s day was very much like our own. Just like today, everyone had an opinion about the Bible even though almost no one had actually read it. Like so many of us, they were trusting the thought-leaders and taste-makers of their day to tell them what was in the Bible and whether or not to believe it. Luther was one of the very few people actually reading the Bible, and what he found was earth-shattering.
Even though he was a monk, Luther hated the God of the Bible. But when he studied it, the world around him began to make sense. God made sense. The significance of Jesus became clear to him. He discovered the answer to his deepest question: how could evil be overcome? Specifically, how could his own evil — his own sin — be dealt with? Luther discovered that he couldn’t do anything to fix this problem himself. He had to rely on the finished work of Christ alone. Luther had discovered a central truth. It changed his life. It changed the world.
The Protestant Reformation was about two things. It was about who can say what’s true and it was about how to reconcile who we are with who God is. It recognized that God’s Word is the ultimate authority in this world, and that the perfect life and sacrificial death of Jesus Christ are the only answer for evil and the only basis on which sinners can stand before a holy God.
The Protestant Reformation is a story of transformation—a transformation from hate to love, from slavery to freedom, and from blind faith to a glorious discovery of the truth in Jesus Christ."
A. WHAT'S THE BIG DEAL ABOUT THE REFORMATION?
During the Reformation, five biblical pillars of the Christian faith were re-discovered. They are sometimes called the Five Solas of the Reformation. Sola is Latin for alone. They are a big deal because taken together, they recover the true Gospel that had been lost in the Medieval Church. The Reformed preachers affirmed that we are made right with God:
By grace alone.
Through faith alone.
In Christ alone.
According to Scripture alone.
To the glory of God alone.
The key word is alone. It's not grace plus the merits of the saints. It's not faith plus our works. It's not Scripture plus creeds and councils. It's not Christ plus the sacraments. The solas reflect Bible passages such as Ephesians 2:8-10:
It is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— 9 not by works, so that no one can boast. 10 For we are God's handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.
James Montgomery Boice wrote, "Without these five confessional statements ... we do not have a true church." Why not? Because without these, we do not have the Gospel - we have a false gospel that cannot save us - and without the Gospel, we do not have a church.
The history of the Reformation is very interesting. Right now, however, we need to move from history to preaching. This week and next we'll focus on what the Bible teaches us about two of the Reformation solas: This week - Scripture alone. Next week - Christ alone.
B. WHAT DOES SCRIPTURE ALONE MEAN?
The churches in the 1500s were not Bible-based. All sorts of superstitions, rules, and religious practices had replaced the Gospel. This happened because the authority of the Roman Church and its Pope were placed above the authority of the Bible.
For example: The story of John Tetzel and the sale of indulgences (www.christian-history.org/john-tetzel.html) was a clear case of tradition trumping Scripture.
This was also the situation in Jesus's day: Human traditions replaced the Bible:
Mark 7:5-8 So the Pharisees and teachers of the law asked Jesus, “Why don't your disciples live according to the tradition of the elders instead of eating their food with defiled hands?” 6 He replied ... 8 You have let go of the commands of God and are holding on to human traditions.”
In the 1500s, very few people had ever read the Bible. It was read to them in Latin. People just knew what they heard and saw from their priest. The Reformation changed all that and re-asserted the primacy of Scripture in the church. For example:
When the Emperor Charles V told Martin Luther to renounce his books about the true Gospel message, Luther responded, "Unless I am convinced by the testimony of the Holy Scriptures or by evident reason-for I can believe neither pope nor councils alone, as it is clear that they have erred repeatedly and contradicted themselves-I consider myself convicted by the testimony of Holy Scripture, which is my basis; my conscience is captive to the Word of God.” (Luther at the Diet of Worms, 1521)
In a 1519 debate in Leipzig, Luther said, "Not only is Scripture our only infallible authority, but a schoolboy with Scripture in his hand is better fortified than the Pope."
Luther and the other Reformed leaders believed that the Bible is the Word of God, without error, and therefore, the Bible alone has the highest authority in the church. The believed this because of passages such as:
As for God, his way is perfect: The Lord's word is flawless. - Psalm 18:30
The law of the Lord is perfect ... The statutes of the Lord are trustworthy. - Psalm 19:7
All Scripture is God breathed - 2 Timothy 3:16.
For prophecy never had its origin in the human will, but prophets, though human, spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit. - 2 Peter 1:21
The Reformation pillar of Scripture Alone tells us that the Scriptures alone are the supreme authority in the church. They contain all things necessary for salvation and the life of faith. The Bible is our only inerrant, sufficient, and final authority.
C. OK. SCRIPTURE ALONE. SO WHAT?
The principle of Scripture Alone is just as relevant today as it was in 1517. Why?
1. The biblical Gospel is under attack. This is so serious that Paul warned the church:
Galatians 1:6-9 I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you to live in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel— 7 which is really no gospel at all. Evidently some people are throwing you into confusion and are trying to pervert the gospel of Christ. 8 But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let them be under God's curse! 9 As we have already said, so now I say again: If anybody is preaching to you a gospel other than what you accepted, let them be under God's curse!
We have to know the Biblical Gospel and reject every teaching that doesn't fit. It doesn't matter who wrote the book or preached the sermon, we must always ask: does this square with the Bible? Without a biblical gospel, the church ceases to be the church and the world goes to hell.
2. Gospel preaching is being neglected or rejected as the way to lead people to faith. Timothy had lost confidence in the power of the Word, so Paul reminded him:
2 Timothy 3:15 ... from infancy you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.
Our strategy for reaching unbelievers is the same as Paul's in the first century and the Reformers in the 16th: teach, preach, share the Bible. Many churches have replaced Bible-preaching about Jesus with self-help sermons and spectacular shows. Other churches have replaced Gospel preaching with political messages. And still others focus all their attention on cultural issues or community action. Paul had to warn the church in Corinth to stay focused on Christ and his cross:
1 Corinthians 1:17-18 Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel—not with wisdom and eloquence (a show to attract the crowd), lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power. 18 For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.
3. The Bible is being ignored as God's textbook for living. But Paul reminded Timothy of how useful the Bible is to guide our lives:
2 Timothy 3:16. All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness.
Warren Wiersbe wrote: the Bible tells us what is right, what is not right, how to get right, and how to stay right. In other words, we're not supposed to take our lead from the fashion, the trends in the unbelieving culture. The Bible is given by God to teach us how to live. It's a guide to the lifestyle that pleases and glorifies God; a way of living that makes us a distinct people, full of good works, and the light of the world.
4. The Bible is no longer the textbook for leadership in many churches. But Paul reminded Timothy that the purpose of Scripture is to equip leaders to serve:
2 Timothy 3:17 ... so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.
The Bible equips the people of God to do God's work in God's way. I have shelves of books on church leadership and organization. Frankly, it's shocking how may of them never reference the Bible in a serious way. But the Bible is full of insight into what the church should be and do and how it should be organized and led. Just one example:
Mark 10:42-45 (Jesus called them together and said, “You know that those who are regarded as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. 43 Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, 44 and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all. 45 For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”
The Bible isn't the only book we read. But the Bible is the supreme or final authority by which everything else must be evaluated.
5. The Bible is the only sure way to hear God speak. Probably all of us have wished God would turn up and have a personal one-on-one conversation with us. You know, tell us who to marry, where to go to college, what job to take, who left the empty milk jug in the fridge. I hear people all the time talking about getting a fresh "word" from God.
The Reformation doctrine of Sola Scriptura teaches us that the Bible is God's personal word to us. When you read it in the power of the Holy Spirit, that word is alive and active (Hebrews 4:12; 1 Corinthians 2:12). Everything God wants to say to you is in that book on your lap. The Bible is God speaking personally to each one of us:
Psalms 119:102-103 I have not departed from your laws, for you yourself have taught me. 103 How sweet are your words to my taste, sweeter than honey to my mouth!
The problem is NOT that the Bible is irrelevant; the problem is the Bible isn't read. I'm urging you to get back to the Bible. Read, study it, learn it, teach it, live it. Charles H. Spurgeon said, “A Bible that’s falling apart usually belongs to someone who isn’t.”
When God appointed General Joshua to lead the people of Israel into Canaan, he didn't give him a military manual. He gave him the Bible and told him,
Joshua 1:7-8 “Be strong and very courageous. Be careful to obey all the law my servant Moses gave you; do not turn from it to the right or to the left, that you may be successful wherever you go. 8 Keep this Book of the Law always on your lips; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it. Then you will be prosperous and successful."
Let the Bible inform you until it transforms you.
The Bible fanned the flames of spiritual revival in the Reformation. And it will put a fire in your soul too. "Isn't my word like fire?" Jeremiah 23:29 We can all experience a personal reformation as we bring our minds and hearts and lives under its teachings. Amen!
Theologian John Frame has written about the sufficiency of the Bible; that is, God has spoken all he will ever speak to us in the Bible. We should not expect fresh verbal revelation:
"There is an additional principle that should lead us not to expect any more divine words until the return of Christ. That is the finality of Christ’s redemption, which implies what I call the particular sufficiency of Scripture. When redemption is final, revelation is also final. Hebrews 1:1–4 draws this parallel: Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world. He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power. After making purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high, having become as much superior to angels as the name he has inherited is more excellent than theirs. Verse 3 speaks of Jesus’ purification for sins as final, for when finished he sits down at God’s right hand. Verse 2 speaks of God’s speech through his Son as final, in comparison with the “many times and many ways” of the prophetic revelation (v. 1). Note the past tense “has spoken.” The revelation of the OT is continuous, that of the Son once for all. Nothing can be added to his redemptive work, and nothing can be added to the revelation of that redemptive work."
Frame, John M.. Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Christian Belief (pp. 623-624). P&R Publishing. Kindle Edition.
For a helpful overview of the Reformation, check out this timeline infographic:
For short biographical sketches of Reformation characters, check out Desiring God's Here We Stand series at: www.desiringgod.org
For more information about the Five Solas, check out the resources here:
For a helpful book on the Five Solas and their place in today's church, read James Montgomery Boice's, Whatever Happened to the Doctrines of Grace?
For a helpful book on Scripture Alone, read Kevin DeYoung's, Taking God at His Word.