Tag Archives: luther @ 500

Are you using the Bible in ways God never intended it to be used?

19 Oct

Image result for bible as doorstopHave you ever tried building a complicated Lego set without using the instruction guide?

Even using a the guide can be complex enough.  All it takes is to put one brick one spot off, and within a few steps you realize that your model doesn’t look like the one in the picture.  So you turn the model around in your hand, seeking to figure out where you went wrong.  Then you start pulling bricks off one by one, comparing the model to the instruction guide, still turning it around.  It can be maddening when you are unable to find out where you went wrong.  But sure enough, in time, pulling off bricks, looking at every angle, holding it up to the instructions, you find your mistake.

But what you would never do is use an instruction manual for bicycle to try to build your Lego set.  You wouldn’t even use a manual from another Lego set.  There is only one purpose for each of those manuals.  The purpose is build the set, or the bike, they were designed for.

The same goes for the Bible.  And yet we might not realize it.  Is it possible that we have ever expected the Bible to do more than it was intended to do?

What should we do with these Bibles of ours?

It goes back to what we have been looking at all week.  Sola Scriptura. Scripture Alone.  What does it mean?  I’ve taken a long time to say what it doesn’t mean in my previous posts this week.  Today I want to start looking at what Sola Scriptura means.

What did the reformers mean when they started using the words Sola Scriptura? They meant that the Bible, not tradition or a church, is our final authority.

To explain this further, they talked about Scripture as having clarity and sufficiency.  Let’s look at each.

First how does Scripture have clarity?

A church council that met in 1529, the Diet of Speyer, said that Scripture “shines clearly in its own light.”  Scholars tells us that the reformers meant four things about this:

  1. The Spirit illumines our minds to understand Scripture.
  2. Clearer portions of Scripture illumine passages that are less clear.
  3. If there is a part of Scripture that is hard to understand, it is because of our lack of knowledge of the original languages and original context.
  4. If we have been enlightened, it is impossible to miss the meaning of Scripture.

There is much we could discuss about each one of these principles, and many others have done so in book after book.  If you want to learn more about any of these four points, I’d be glad to point you in the direction of some resources.

For today, I’d like to comment a bit on the first and fourth ones, enlightenment by the Spirit.  It should sound familiar.  If you’re thinking, isn’t that what got Anne Hutchinson in trouble?  The answer is yes, she thought she had clarity and the Puritan leaders did not!  But there is something critical that Anne and Puritan leaders were each missing.  Humility.  We need the ability to be teachable.  Whenever we arrive at an interpretation of Scripture, at a moment of clarity, we need to be able to say “I think this interpretation is correct, but I may be wrong.”  The principle of Scriptural clarity must always take into account our human propensity to err.

So how do we know if we are enlightened?  In Ephesians 1:18, Paul says he is praying for the Christians in that city of Ephesus “that God the Father of the Lord Jesus may give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation so that you may know him better.  I pray also that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened, in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you.”

Are you praying for that enlightenment? Are you praying for a clear understanding of Scripture?

We should pray for that clarity as we study Scripture, but along with it, may we always stay humble and teachable.

Second, after clarity the reformers used the words Sola Scriptura to refer to the sufficiency of Scripture. 

Scripture is sufficient for everything.  But like a Lego set instruction manual doesn’t work for building a new bike, does Scriptural sufficiency mean the Bible will help us figure out how to fix the cracks in our church parking lot?  Can Scripture tell us what to do if we fall off that bike and skin our knee?

We need to be careful that we don’t expect Scripture to do what God did not intend it to do.  The Bible can become an idol.  If we expect too much of Bible, and start revering it beyond what God intended, they we are guilty of creating a idol out of the Bible.  People call that the idol of Biblicism.

Instead we need to answer the question: “What did God intend for his Word to do?”

Isaiah 55:11 says “…my word that goes out from my mouth…will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.”

What is that purpose?

2 Timothy 3:16 tells us that “All Scripture is God-breathed and useful to teaching, rebuking, training and correcting in righteousness.”

The Bible is not sufficient to be used for every reason we think it should be used for.  But the Bible is sufficient for every reason that God intended it for.  What is the Bible sufficient for?  One scholar I read said that the Bible is enough to learn about Christ and the Christian life. 

That means Scripture is extremely important.  God, in the Bible, has given us an amazing gift of being able to learn about him, and principles for how to live out his Kingdom in our world.

Tomorrow we conclude this week’s examination of Sola Scripture, looking at how to apply these principles to our interaction with the Bible.

The time our church was accused with the words: “That’s not worship!”

18 Oct

“That’s not worship.”

The person speaking the words was really frustrated at our church.

They were talking about a change we made to our worship service.  In that person’s view, the change had turned our worship service into something that was not worship.

What change could we make that would take a worship service and no longer make it worship?  How did this person know what worship is?  Were they right?

As I look back on that situation, I see evidence of the tendrils of tradition, sneaking their way into the hearts and minds of people unawares.

This October 2017 at Faith Church we are looking at the Five Solas of the Reformation, because it was 500 years ago this month that a German Catholic monk name Martin Luther sparked the Protestant Reformation leading to sweeping changes in Christianity.  The Five Solas are summaries of the teachings of Luther and his fellow reformers.  After Sola Gratia (Grace Alone) and Sola Fide (Faith Alone), we have begun to look at Sola Scripture (Scripture Alone).  I started by asking questions about the Bible and Sola Scriptura here and here.

To begin to answer those questions, I said yesterday, we need to attempt to understand the religious culture Luther lived in.  I am no church historian, so this summary is basic at best.

Luther was trained in the Medieval age of the church, during which time the church placed a high value on tradition alongside of or even above the teaching of Scripture.  In Rome, which was the headquarters of the Roman Catholic Church, there is something called the Magisterium, the group of leaders of the church including the Pope.  What the Magisterium said in Luther’s era was given equal or greater weight than what Scripture said.

The problem is that so often the line between Scripture and tradition starts to blur.  We can assume that a certain tradition is taught in the Bible.  Luther confronted his Medieval church about these blurred lines.  He said that if a doctrine or practice is not taught by scripture, it must be seen as just an opinion.  He held the writings of the church fathers, and the creeds, church councils, in high esteem, but said they too must be judged by Scripture.  Luther taught that Scripture birthed the church, not the other way around.  Therefore Scripture should be more foundational than the church.

To demonstrate this, Luther translated the Bible into German, and some believe that was his greatest contribution.  He wanted German farm boys, for example, to feel the words of the Bible in their hearts, and that was only possible in their own language.

Prior to Luther, the Bible was in Latin.  You had to be a priest trained in Latin to read and teach the Bible.  Of course the rare Latin scholar could read it as well.  But most people didn’t know Latin.  They were Germans who knew German.  They were French who knew French.  English who knew English.  They would go to church, however, and the church service, including the Bible reading would be in Latin!  Copies of the Bible were too expensive to own, so in the Medieval age, most people did not have a copy of the Bible, and thus they couldn’t be like the Bereans in Acts 17:10-15 and test out what the priests and church magisterium said.  They just followed along.

That meant the church had tons of power.  Luther felt they abused their power.  One way they abused their power, and this really got under Luther’s skin, was the practice of indulgences.  Indulgences were pieces of paper that the church sold to people.  The paper was a certificate saying that a person had purchased forgiveness of sins.

The church leaders in Rome were trying to build a big new cathedral.  They were strapped for cash to build this monstrosity, so they sent representatives around Europe to sell indulgences.  These reps told people that paying money can get your sins forgiven.  Would it surprise you to learn that the church made a lot of money?  It reminds me of this In Living Color skit (starting at the 9:00 minute mark):

Luther seethed at this.  As he should.  The church was seriously abusing its power.  They were creating a tradition that was not supported by Scripture.

This is very reminiscent of Jesus’ concern with the Pharisees.  Jesus would say to the Pharisees “haven’t you read the Scripture?”  “Don’t you know what the Scripture says?”  Imagine that scene.  Jesus telling the Bible experts that they need to go back and read their Bibles!  (Matthew 12:3 and 19:4 are a couple examples.) How did this happen?  How could Bible teachers miss out on the true teaching of the Bible?  It happened because the Pharisees were so concerned about their traditions that they allowed the tradition to be more important than the heart of the Scripture.

But thank goodness we don’t do this anymore, right?  We don’t lay any traditions on top of Scripture.  We have the Bible in our own language.  Like the invention of the printing press made it very possible for Luther and other reformers to get the Bible in the language of the people, we have the internet making it even easier yet!  So that means we don’t have any problems with tradition and false teaching, right?  We have this Sola Scriptura thing are cared for, right?

Wrong.

That takes me back to the situation I mentioned at the beginning of this post where someone at my church said, in response to worship changes, “That’s not worship.”  Here’s what happened.

In 2006-7 we participated in a church health survey sponsored by our denomination, the EC Church.

We took the survey in 2006.  Results came back saying that we needed to work on our worship service.  So we started making little changes here and there.  One of the changes was that we opened the accordion dividers separating our fellowship hall and sanctuary.  The dividers are there in case our sanctuary is so full we need overflow space.  Normally they are closed.  As a result of the survey, we opened the dividers and invited people to sit in the fellowship hall during worship if they wanted.  Our thought was that maybe some people wanted a less formal setting.

The accordion dividers were open for one month, and then closed again.  Why?  Because some people reacted negatively against them being open.

That’s not worship?

It was in a worship committee meeting, as we were reviewing the changes and negative response that the person said, “That’s not worship.” They were adamant about it.

But think about that.  “That’s not worship?”

What did that person mean?  They meant that a worship service, in their understanding, should only take place in a sanctuary with all the trappings of a sanctuary.  And they wanted the accordion dividers closed.

Where did they get their idea of what worship is, that it can’t be in room that has pews on one side and tables and chairs on another side?  I can tell you they did not get it from the Bible.

You read how the early worshiped in the New Testament, in the book of Acts and the Epistles.  They met in homes.  They worshiped on riversides.  There were no church buildings and sanctuaries in the Christian church for a couple hundred years.  Worship is not about a building, we read in the Bible, but worship is about worshipers, people, who are worshiping the Lord.  Not a location.

So what did this person mean when they said, “That’s not worship”?

That person was talking about tradition!  They had grown up in and become comfortable with and appreciated a certain kind of worship.  There is nothing wrong with worship services in buildings that have rooms with pews and pulpits and pianos or organs or praise bands, or movable chairs, or any of the many variations that sanctuaries in church buildings have.  There is nothing wrong with it, but we cannot say that the Bible tells us to worship like that.

That person had elevated tradition over the Bible.

Years ago we did a summer reading club and read Frank Viola’s book Pagan Christianity.  It is eye-opening about how much tradition we have placed over the Bible.

Sunday School is another example.  You won’t find that in the Bible.  But I once had someone tell me Sunday School is the backbone of the church, insinuating that we better not mess with it.  That person was elevating tradition over the Bible.

I could go on and on, but instead I encourage you to read Pagan Christianity.  Perhaps we are just as guilty of elevating tradition over the Bible, though 500 years Luther warned us of this very thing.

So what do we do with these Bibles of ours?  What is Sola Scriptura?  By Scripture Alone.  What does it mean?  I’ve taken a long time to say what it doesn’t mean.  Now that we have asked the questions, showed Scripture’s primacy over tradition, we can examine Sola Scriptura, and that is where we’re headed tomorrow.

How to have faith that pleases God

10 Oct

Image result for what is faith

Do you know what faith is?  Do you know if your faith is pleasing to God?

Yesterday I mentioned a definition of faith in Hebrews 11:1.  After teaching that description of faith, the writer of Hebrews begins to describe some of the heroes of the Bible and how they demonstrated faith in God. First he mentions Abel and Enoch.

Then in verse 6 he says this: “Without faith it is impossible to please God…” 

That’s pretty serious.  If we want to please God, we have to have faith.  What kind of faith? How much faith? What will it look like or feel like?  Will we know if we have true faith that pleases God?

The writer goes on, still in verse 6: “…because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him.”

It seems to me that the writer is mostly talking about the intellectual side of faith.  The New Testament often refers to it as “belief”.  It is saying, “I believe God exists.”  That alone is quite an astounding thing to say and believe in this day and age.  Statistics point to a rise in those who do not believe in God.  Belief in God can be construed as crazy.  “You believe in God?  How quaint.”  In our scientific world, belief in God can be ridiculed, or said to be a crutch for the weak minded.  So when we believe in the existence of God, we are stepping out in faith.

Faith, then, is a matter of my mind, what I believe.  But that’s not all the writer of Hebrews says about faith. Look at the last part of the verse.  He talks about “those who earnestly seek” God.

He describes an active faith, how we live our live. God rewards those who earnestly seek him.

As we continue along in Hebrews 11, this concept of an earnestly lived out faith is what the writer of Hebrews wants to illustrate for us through more heroes from Bible stories.  He has already mentioned Abel and Enoch.  Now he mentions Noah.

I want us to think about Noah’s faith.  Was it just a belief in his mind?

Not at all.  Noah did something totally bizarre.  He built a giant boat in preparation for a great flood.  And the only reason was because God told him a flood was coming, and he better build a boat.  For those of you that are woodworkers, carpenters and builders, what would you do if God came to you and said, “I want you to build the Titanic out of wood, because I’m sending a giant flood?”

If I heard God say that, my first thought would be, “Uh…what did you say? I don’t think I heard you right.”

But Noah?  He started building a giant boat.  It takes much more than just intellectual belief to choose to do what Noah did.

Next comes Abraham.  Abraham, an old man, gets a wild promise from God: “You and your old wife Sarah are going to be the parents of a great nation.”  In other words, “You are going to have a baby.”  Those of you who are in your 50s, 60s, 70s, what would you do if you had a dream, a vivid dream, and in it God says to you, “You are going to have a baby?”  Many of us would laugh, just like Sarah did.

But in the end, Abraham and Sarah believed and followed through, and God gave the a son.  It takes much more than just intellectual belief to choose to do what Abraham did.

Interestingly the Old Testament Hebrew does not have a strictly intellectual concept faith or belief. Instead the Hebrew is the word “faithfulness”, which is active.  Noah’s faith was pretty active wasn’t it?  And Abraham’s faith was too.

Our picture of faith is starting to fill out.  Faith is intellectual beliefs, and it is physical action.  How does your belief and life match up to this picture of faith?

A 1517-era “social media post” that lit the world on fire

2 Oct

Image result for a facebook post that changed the world

Imagine this: what if you could write a post on Facebook that would change the world?  Would you do it?  What if you knew ahead of time that your one little Facebook post would start wars, that people would get killed, and that you yourself would become a fugitive on the run, afraid for your life.  Now would you do it?

That’s what happened to Martin Luther.

It was October 1517, 500 years ago this month, when Luther, a German Catholic priest, got out a pen and paper, wrote down some thoughts he had been wrestling with for a long time, and then with a hammer and nails, tacked his 1517-era social media post (more commonly known as his 95 Theses) to the door of his church in Wittenberg, Germany.

Image result for martin luther's 95 thesesDoesn’t sound momentous, does it?  Who cares if a guy 500 years ago fixed an open letter to his church door?  We care because Luther changed the world.

How? Luther was protesting.  He believed his Roman Catholic Church had gotten some things wrong.  He wasn’t the only protester who felt that way.  But he was the one that led a movement to break away from the Roman Catholic Church.  Other protesters tried to change the church from within.  And some joined Luther in creating a new church.

And then more people started protesting and reforming, thus Luther’s little open letter, we say, led to the Protestant Reformation.  Luther and those who came after him in the Protestant Reformation broke away from the Catholic Church, in time starting thousands upon thousands of new churches and denominations along the way.  Tragically, war broke out over these factious protestants.  Actual military war with soldiers who gave their lives.  Luther was a fugitive for a time.

Of course, unlike my question at the beginning of my post, Luther didn’t know the future, that the consequences of his actions would be so dramatic.  So why did he do it?  What was he concerned about?  What was the content of that open letter he nailed to the door of his church?  Was it worth it?

To commemorate the 500th anniversary of Luther’s Protest, this month we’re going to look not at what Luther did, but why he did it.  Scholars who study the “Why?” of the Reformation sum it up in the Five Solas.  The word sola means “Alone”.  What Luther believed the Catholic Church had gotten wrong can be addressed by these five.  They all have Latin names because Latin was the language of the church for so long:

Image result for 5 solasSola Gratia is Grace alone.

Sola Fide is Faith alone.

Sola Scriptura is Scripture alone.

Solus Christus is Christ alone.

Soli Deo Gloria is to the Glory of God alone.

Each week in the month of October we will look at the significance of one of these Solas.  The Solas can also be tied together in a single sentence like this:  We are saved by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone, as taught in Scripture alone, to the glory of God alone.

Tomorrow we start by looking at Sola Gratia.