Tag Archives: scripture alone

How to hear God speak through the Bible

20 Oct

 

Image result for how to hear god speak

Many people say they do not hear God.  Many others say they do hear God speak.  I believe them.  God speaks through dreams, visions, audible voices, etc.  I’m sometimes jealous of that because I do not believe I have ever heard God speak to me in an audible voice, or in a whisper in my mind, or in an inner impression.  But I have heard God speak extremely clearly through the Bible.  God speaks in many ways, and one is not better than the other.  They are unique and different.  A person who hears God speak one way should not say they are more close to God than a person who hears God speak a different way.  The point is that God does still speak!

All week long we have been talking about Sola Scriptura, trying to understand why it was so important to the Protestant Reformers.

One important misconception about Sola Scriptura is when people say that God speaks only through Scripture.  Is that what Sola Scriptura means?  The Bible’s take on Sola Scriptura is not SOLO Scriptura.  Solo Scriptura means Scripture ONLY, that God would not speak any other way.  Those who hold to Solo Scriptura are reacting quite strongly about the possibility that God might speak through other means, usually because they have seen abuses of power.  The Reformers spoke out strongly against those abuses of power in the Catholic Church during the Medival age.  But is it right to go so far as Solo Scriptura?  Well, let’s take a look ate what Scripture itself says about how God speaks.

God speaks though his creation.

In Isaiah 6:3 we read that the earth of full of his glory.

In Psalm 19:1, we read that the heavens declare the glory of God.

And in Romans 1:19-20 we read this:

Since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse.

Scripture says that God speaks through Creation.  Of course God speaks a lot more through Scripture, but in Romans 1:19-20 Paul tells us that what God speaks through creation is enough that men are without excuse.  When people stand before God one day, and God says to them, “Why did you not choose to believe and follow me?” those people can’t say, “Well, we never had the Bible in our language.”  There is enough in Creation, in nature, in the universe to point to God so that men are without excuse.

Scripture is not Scripture ONLY, because God also speaks through creation.

God also speaks through his Spirit. 

I’ve already mentioned 1 Corinthians 2:12 where Paul taught that the Spirit of God helps understand the things of God.  I also encourage you to read John chapters 15-17, where Jesus talks a lot about the role of the Holy Spirit in our lives.  There Jesus teaches that the Spirit speaks in many ways.  In fact, Jesus said to his disciples that at some point in the future, government officials would take them into custody, and when questioned, the Spirit would help them know what to say.  Throughout the Bible, God speaks by his Spirit in dreams and visions.

Scripture is not Scripture ONLY, because God also speaks through his Spirit.

God also speaks through his people.

The Bible is loaded with instances where God spoke through prophets and teachers.  Ephesians 4:11-13 is possibly the most important verse that talks about this.  There Paul essentially gives the job description of pastors and teachers.  But it is not just the fivefold gifts listed in Ephesians 4 through whom God speaks.  We all have the opportunity, Paul goes on to teach in Ephesians 4, to speak the truth in love to one another.

Scripture is not Scripture ONLY, because God also speaks through his people.

Look above at the three points.  We see that God speaks through Creation, through his Spirit, through his Church.  That means Scripture is not ONLY.

So if God speaks in ways other than his word, why is Sola Scriptura so important?

Sola Scriptura is important because it reminds us that Scripture is the foundational way we hear God speak.  In scripture alone do we learn the truths of Jesus.  Through Scripture, alone, we learn what the church is to be like.  Not the other way around.  Everything we think or hear must be in line with Scripture.

In other words, “Sola Scriptura,” one scholar says, “is the statement that the church can err.”

Here is another summary of Sola Scriptura that if found so helpful: “Scripture comes into its own when read by God’s people in God’s way for God’s purposes.”

And what are God’s purposes for when we read Scripture?

James 1:22 says “Do not merely listen to the Word, and so deceive yourselves.  Do what it says.”

Jesus himself said in Luke 6:46-49 that the difference between a wise and foolish person is all about whether or not we do what he says.

We are so, so blessed in our day with access to the Bible, and with access to the many, many tools to understand it.  We can read it, dig deep into its meaning, review what scholars have studied about it.

But our approach to the Bible should not just be academic, not just reading it to learn trivia facts about the Bible. Instead, God wants us to read the Bible to know him, to know his purposes.  We read prayerfully asking God to speak to us through his word.  And then we actually make choices to live his way as taught in his word.  When we read Scripture we should determine ahead of time, humbly, teachably, to do what it says.

This requires a couple important tasks:

First, we actually need to read Scripture.  

How about you?  How often do you read the Bible?  I’m not talking about the Verse of the Day from a Bible app.  That is good and can be very encouraging.  I’m talking about something more.  We need to read more and longer sections of the Bible.  My wife and I love watching Netflix, as do many of you.  Discovering new and great TV and film on Netflix has become a cultural fascination. How many of you have participated in conversations online or in person around the topic “What should I watch next on Netflix?”  I love those conversations!  Discovering hidden gems on Netflix’s vast catalog is so fun.  In other words, many of us sit in front of a screen watching hours and hours of media content.  Is it possible that would could increase the amount of time we give to reading the Bible?

I was listening to a podcast recently where the interviewee noted that those who say the Bible is boring or irrelevant probably haven’t really given themselves to truly read and study it.  Will you?  If so, you will find it to speak powerfully, creatively and decisively to our situation in 2017.  I’ve been reading the account of Saul and David in 1st Samuel, and I feel like I am watching the 11 o’clock news.  It is amazingly relevant.

Second, we need to learn how to read Scripture.  

Let me provide a disclaimer.  You can open up any contemporary English translation of the Bible, and you’ll be able to understand it.  I use the New International Version.  But we also need to remember that the Bible is book written by 40+ authors, 2000+ years ago, in different languages, in a very different cultural setting.  As I said, we can be so thankful that scholars through the ages have studied those languages, that historical/cultural setting, as well as the genre and structure of the many books of the Bible.  What I’m saying is that there are wonderful works by people who love Jesus that can help us read between the lines and understand the Bible much more as God intended it.

Do you want to learn how to read and study it better?  I would be glad to point you to some resources that can help you.

Finally, and most importantly, whenever we read the Bible, let us determine beforehand to do what it says God wants us to do.

As we conclude this week of looking at Sola Scriptura, be encouraged by the words of Psalm 1:

Blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked or stand in the way of sinners or sit in the seat of mockers. But his delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law he meditates day and night. He is like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither. Whatever he does prospers.

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.