Tag Archives: reformation

Will God send people to hell who never had a chance to hear about Jesus?

23 Oct

I want to tell you about a tragedy in the Amazon jungle earlier this year.

Multiple news agencies circulated reports about a massacre in an uncontacted tribe in Brazil. Illegal gold miners were overheard bragging at a bar about how they had killed ten of the tribesmen, and they were waving around tribal artifacts to prove it.  They said the tribe attacked them first, and they killed only in self-defense.

Brazilian inspectors have begun to investigate these rumors, but thus far no final determination has been made.

That tribe is called the Yanomami, and here is a picture of their typical communal dwellings.

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The photo was taken by helicopter in 2016.  Fascinating, isn’t it?

A group called Survival International which advocates for tribal peoples describes in this report what you see in the picture. “The village, which is close to the Venezuelan border, has a typical Yanomami ‘yano’ – a large communal house for several families. Each of the yano’s square sections is home to a different family, where they hang their hammocks, maintain fires and keep food stores.”

Sadly, it was less than a year after this photo was taken that the miners were overheard bragging about the killings.  If the miners’ story is true, it is a tragedy.  Ten people murdered.

But there is a much larger potential tragedy in this story.  Those tribal people are born, live and die, just like us.  When they die, do those tribal people go to hell?

While the murder of ten people is horrible, what if every single Yanomami who ever lived has gone to hell?  Why would I say this, you ask?  Because the Yanomami are an uncontacted tribal group. Survival International estimates that there are about 100 uncontacted tribes worldwide, most in the Brazilian jungle.

What does it mean when we call these tribes “uncontacted”?  In a press release, Survival International said, “They’re not savages but complex and contemporary societies whose rights must be respected. They are perfectly capable of living successfully without the need for outside notions of “progress” and “development.”  In Brazil, at least, the Brazilian government has set up protected zones in the Amazon basin to preserve the uncontacted status of the tribes.

Further, Survival International says that uncontacted Yanomami have made clear their desire to be left alone by fleeing from outsiders and avoiding contacted members of the tribe. How do we know if they are uncontacted and they want to stay that way?  Because when outsiders fly nearby in helicopters, the Yanomami shoot at them with bow and arrows.  When the photo above was taken, the people in the helicopter counted around 200 arrow shots.  You know what those bow and arrow attacks are saying? “Go away.  Leave us alone.”

Around 22,000 Yanomami live on the Brazilian side of the border with Venezuela, and at least three of the groups have never had any contact with outsiders.

So back to the question: What happens to uncontacted tribal people when they die?

The next Sola has something to say about that.  During these five Sundays of October we have been celebrating the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation by looking at the Five Solas of the Reformation.  The word sola means “alone”.  The protesters, the reformers, who broke away from the Catholic Church summarized their main concerns and teachings in the five Solas.  The five Alones.  So far we have looked at how we are saved by grace alone, through faith alone, as taught in Scripture alone.

Today we add the next one, Solus Christus, which means Christ Alone.  So let’s add that to the summary of the Solas so far:  We are saved by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone, as taught in Scripture alone.

Last week we learned that Scripture is foundational.  It doesn’t matter if the Reformers taught Solus Christus, if it cannot be sustained by the teaching in the Bible we should not hold to it. So does the Bible teach Solus Christus?  Perhaps the clearest passages are these two:

John 14:6 where Jesus himself says, “I am the way, truth and life.  No one comes to the father except through me.”

Or Acts 4:12 when the Apostles say, “There is no other name by which we can be saved.”

Do you see where the Reformers got this idea of salvation in Christ Alone? Furthermore, Christ alone means that Jesus did all the “work” of salvation.  When Jesus was born, lived, and died on the cross, he died for us, the Bible teaches. When his dead body miraculously came back to life on Easter morning, he rose victorious over sin, death and the devil.  For us!  He alone did something that we could never do.  Salvation is in Christ alone.

This is why he himself taught that he is the only way to saved from sin and death.  Christ alone is what the Apostles taught, and this is why the Protestant Reformers taught the Five Solas, that we are saved by God’s gift of grace, which we receive by placing our faith in Jesus.

One of Jesus’ earliest followers, Paul, said this in Romans 10:9-10 “If you confess with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.”

Paul is describing an act of turning away from the sin in our lives, from trusting in ourselves, and turning to Jesus, trusting in him and what he did to save us. That is called repentance. It is saying, “Jesus, I believe in you, and I choose to make you Lord of my life.  I will follow you.”

When we do that, Paul says, we are saved.  God confers on us the righteousness of Jesus, places his Spirit in our lives, and begins to transform us right here and now, which is itself a major act of salvation, but in addition to that, he gives us the hope of eternal life with him.  Salvation is an amazing gift.  And as Paul says in Romans 10:9,10, we are saved when we believe in him and confess him as Lord, which means that we choose to follow him with our lives.  If you are thinking, “I don’t know that I have done that,” I would love to talk with you.  Please write a comment below and let’s talk.

But here’s where it gets troublesome: the Yanomami tribes people can’t do what Paul teaches in Romans 10:9,10, can they?  They have no idea about Jesus.  Are they, therefore, unsaved?

What about sincere believers in other religions who never hear about Jesus?  There are plenty of countries around the world where there are high percentages of adherents of other religions.  Take for example the country of Turkey.  Guess what percentage of Turkey is Muslim?  99.8% is one stat I found this week.

That means there are plenty of Turks who will be born, live and die, never having heard the Gospel of Jesus.  Will God send them to hell?  Someone could say, “How could God do that when they never even had a chance to confess Jesus is Lord? When they couldn’t believe in their heart that God raised him from the dead?”  If you look at it that way, it seems like God is not fair.

What about those with diminished mental capacity to understand the Gospel?  What about babies?  These are groups of people for whom it is intellectually impossible to understand the Gospel.  They don’t have the brain development necessary to confess Jesus as Lord and believe in their hearts that God raised him from the dead.  Does Solus Christus, salvation by Christ alone, mean that God will send them to hell?  Does Solus Christus mean that God is unfair?

Check in tomorrow as we try to answer this difficult question.

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.

The one word that will help you step off the hamster wheel of not feeling good enough

4 Oct

Image result for ever felt like you are on a hamster wheel

Have you ever felt like you are not good enough?  Maybe you’ve wondered if God is disappointed with you?  Are you tired of your failures?  Do you feel like you are on a hamster wheel, struggling to make progress in life, stop a bad habit, become more whole and healthy, be more consistent, stop a sin, think more purely?  But you watch yourself mess up again and again.  Ever been there?

I’d like to ask you to continue reading this post, to learn how to get off the hamster wheel.  One word is needed: grace.

This week here and here I’ve mentioned that the concept of grace was so foundational for Martin Luther’s decision in 1517, and the years that followed, to make a break from the Catholic church.  But what is grace? “Unmerited favor” is a very common definition. As I researched grace, I found so many wonderful definitions that expanded this definition. Maybe one of these will really be meaningful to you.

Grace is:

“God giving what is not owed.”

“God extending himself toward others.”

“God sharing his Fatherly love for creation in the Son through the Spirit.”

“God sharing his own perfect life with those who are not perfect.”

“God remaining fully himself, yet freely taking the initiative to share or communicate himself with those who have turned their backs on him.”

“The way in which God extends himself to the world so that creatures can come to know and love him.”

I think my favorite is from John Stott, who said that grace is, “love that cares and stoops and rescues.”

As you read those conceptions of grace, maybe you’re thinking, “Those are nice, but I was already pretty familiar with the concept of grace.  What is the big deal?”

If you think something like that, I wouldn’t fault you. We Protestants have been exposed to it for 500 years. But for Luther, this was a major eye-opener.  One of Luther’s main concerns was how to understand a concept the early Christian writer Paul talked about in the Romans, the concept of “the righteousness of God.”

In Luther’s era, which was the late Medieval period, it was common to understand righteousness as what a person did to make themselves acceptable in God’s sight.  In other words, if you follow God’s Law, they thought, you will be OK. But all his attempts to be a good Christian, to follow God’s Law, left Luther with a nagging fear that he wasn’t doing enough to truly make himself acceptable in God’s eyes. Luther’s response: try even harder. So Luther practiced spiritual disciplines like you would not believe. If prayer and fasting were Olympic events, Luther would get a gold medal. But still it never felt to him like he was righteous enough.

Martin Luther himself once noted, “The Law says, ‘you must do this,’ and it is never done.”

But something amazing happened as Luther was studying Romans.  Right in the middle of his fear that he was not righteous enough, Romans suddenly took on a new meaning to Luther.  In Romans 4, through Paul’s teaching of the story of Abraham, “righteousness” is described as credited to those who have faith.  Righteousness, therefore, is not something we can earn.

Remember the verse I mentioned yesterday, Ephesians 2:8-9? “For it is by grace you have been save through faith, not by works, it is the gift of God.” Paul’s teaching in Romans 4 and Ephesians 2 transformed Martin Luther’s perception of Law, righteousness, and grace.  That meant his relationship with God was changed.  God’s grace wasn’t something that Luther could manufacture.  God’s grace is a gift to be received.

Earlier in this post I said that Martin Luther himself once said that “The Law says, ‘you must do this,’ and it is never done.”  That was only half the quote.  Luther adds, “Grace says, ‘believe in this’ and everything is already done.”

Maybe you have found yourself on the same hamster wheel as Luther, trying so hard to be good, but never feeling like you make progress.  You can get off the wheel by accepting the gift of God’s grace. Think about that.  God wants to give you his grace!

Want to talk further?  Just post in the comments below.  Tomorrow we’ll keep looking at God’s grace and how he wants to save us.

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.