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Posts Tagged ‘Truth’

In this third installation of the 5 solae, we come to what another brother had to say about grace alone:

I want to begin with a personal testimony from January of this year…

After a brief explanation from the Lutheran pastor, I followed the funeral procession into the church—deeply moved. Why? For sure I was going to miss my wife’s aunt, who had been a dear family member to us.

But more importantly, what impacted me was the symbol on her casket that illustrated a truth most dear to me. You see, the casket was covered in a white cloth, symbolizing righteousness, which would be the only thing God would accept from her as she would be presented to Him for judgment. But…whose righteousness?

The symbolism goes further—on the cover was the shape of a cross, and the Greek symbols for Christ. Whose righteous works is God accepting?   Would He see ANY of my aunt’s works?

No, for He would not accept them!

She was being presented to God, covered by the righteousness of our blessed Christ! And THIS was our family’s comfort in our loss.

Eph 2:8-10: “For by grace are you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God; not of works, lest anyone may boast. For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.”

In this short statement is the sum of the Biblical teaching of the work of grace. It begins with God-working in us faith which justifies us (giving us Christ’s righteousness), which results in good works which please Him—according to His working in us.

Over time, as the Church of the Middle Ages abandoned the supreme authority of Scripture—“Sola Scriptura” in favor of traditions, other doctrines began to emerge—not only those absent from the Bible, but also changes to the understanding of grace itself.

The Medieval Church’s teaching gradually drifted to the assertion that God’s grace would help us produce the works that He would accept for justification, rather than the grace of Christ’s finished work of cross and resurrection for us.

It is in this world that Martin Luther sought to be right with a Holy God.

In keeping with church traditions, he followed the rules of the monastery, and did penance–all to a radical extreme (and even the annoyance of his fellow clergy)—all the time being under condemnation in his heart because of the majesty of God’s holiness and perfection overwhelming him.

At this point, as he studied the Bible, he discovered that it is not his righteousness that God will accept, but Christ’s, and that he should by faith abide in Him! Luther received God’s gracious gift of eternal life.

Luther and the other reformers returned to the Biblical, apostolic understanding that good works and a changed life flow from Christ’s righteousness given to us, instead of leading to it. God will not have his glorious gospel assisted by human works.

Our Christ, as God in human flesh, takes on Himself ALL of our sin and sinfulness on the cross, and gives us ALL of the righteous obedience of His perfect life.   We call this teaching Sola Gratia, or “grace alone.”

In short, God’s grace justifies us completely in Christ’s work, and gives us a heart of repentance, rather than demanding we “do penance.”

Church Historian Stephen Nichols tells us that Ulrich Zwingli, the Swiss reformer, is portrayed in a portrait with an open Bible.

In an illustration of this grace to us, the Bible was opened to Matt 11:27-30:

“All things have been handed over to Me by My Father; and no one knows the Son except the Father; nor does anyone know the Father except the Son, and anyone to whom the Son wills to reveal Him.

Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.”

This is Christ’s gracious invitation to us—then, and now.

On this 500th anniversary of the Reformation, we celebrate our salvation in Christ, Sola Gratia, by grace alone—in the words of the Apostle Paul: “…to the praise of the glory of His grace, which He freely bestowed on us in the Beloved…”

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Several weeks ago my brother in Christ shared this about the sufficiency of Scripture:

“Sola Scriptura is a reminder that God has always worked and will always work on this side of eternity through His word the Bible. Sola Scriptura deals primarily with the issue of authority. It is not a base claim that says that nothing except Scripture is helpful. It is not a claim to Scripture only in all cases. That would not be Biblical. Recognizing this is to distinguish between Sola Scriptura and Scriptura Nuda. Sola Scriptura does not argue that there is no value in anything except for Scripture standing on its own. It is an argument that Scripture is the only basis of authority.

I think a couple of verses would help us frame this discussion. Psalm 138:2 captures the sentiment of Sola Scriptura in a poetic way, but it also stresses a note of praise and worship which seems very appropriate when we are remembering God’s faithfulness over the 500 years since the Reformation. The psalmist here says:

“I bow down toward your holy temple and give thanks to your name for your                       steadfast love and your faithfulness, for you have exalted above all things your                   name and your word.”

Several translations say this slightly differently, but the idea is clear: God exalts his Word. And God exalts those who exalted his word, and God will be exalted when his word is exalted.

The Reformation, which was a great turning from the time when doctrinal error was pervasive in the church, to a time when the church was based much more on the truth of Scripture follows clearly a line or trajectory of a return to Scripture. Every individual who had a hand in the Reformation of the church was a person who had first learned to see the Scriptures as their sole authority. You can back up to 200 years earlier and look at the life of John Wycliffe in England, who was persecuted for his position on the authority and importance of Scripture. You can look in the 1400s at John Huss, who was also persecuted for a similar stand. He was martyred for his belief in Scripture. But he is the one who famously said, “you may cook this goose.” His name Huss meaning goose, “but in its stead God will raise the Swan who will sing his praises.” That Swan came 100 years later, just a few miles away, in the person of Martin Luther. Martin Luther, was ironically induced into the priesthood in the same church that the bishop who condemned Huss was buried in. And so we see consistently through history, God superintending to bring about his own glory and the reform of his church through the honoring of Scripture. Each of those men engaged in the great task of putting the Scriptures into the language of the common man of their day. Each one of them understood that one of the great tasks of their life was to put Scripture into the language of the common man, so that the English plough boy could read Scripture in English, and the German peasant could read Scripture in German.

Simply put, Sola Scriptura is the cause of the Reformation. The other principles, or rally cries of the Reformation; the other solas, whether it is Sola Gratia, Solus Christus, Sola Fide, or Soli Deo Gloria. We could not and would not have any of these were it not for return to Scripture only. Scripture is the foundation; it is the foundation upon which God’s work will always be built.

Peter reminds us in II Peter 1:16. In this passage Peter reminds us of a pivotal time during the life of Christ. A time where Peter and two other disciples are alone with Christ on a mountaintop, and there in that Transfiguration moment they see the Lord in His glory. But Peter tells us in verse 19:

“And we have the prophetic word more fully confirmed, to which you will do well to          pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the                    morning star rises in your hearts.”

The King James translation express this as “we have a more sure word of prophecy”. One of the things Peter is reminding us of here, is the fact that even if God were to reveal himself physically to us, as Christ was revealed to the disciples on that mountain Transfiguration, that appearance would not and should not be as authoritative or as significant to us as the physical pages of the word of God that we have in our hands. Peter says that what we have is a more sure word; it is a word more fully confirmed, which we do well to pay attention to. Sola Scriptura thus speaks to the authority and sufficiency of the word of God.

The threat to Scripture in the time leading up to the Reformation, came from an approach to Scripture which claimed that we could not know for sure what Scripture was saying. The scholars and some church authorities the time said that we could look to tradition and Scripture, we could look to reason and Scripture, we could look to the great leading voices of the church and Scripture, and we can look to experience and use that to temper our understanding of Scripture. And out of that mixture of endless qualifications and piles of meaningless footnotes maybe we can come up with something that in some way we could call true. Martin Luther said that that approach to truth, and approach to truth that is merely tentative, an approach to truth that denies the absolute authority of God’s word, an approach that says truth is only possible, is an approach to truth that paves the road to hell. Martin Luther said we do not need possible truth. We need therefore truths; truths that are absolute and unequivocal. We need truths that come to us with the thunderous certainty of Romans 5, “therefore there is now no condemnation for those that are in Christ Jesus.” We need truths that are absolute! And our only hope, our only source for that kind of truth comes in the revealed Word of God, Sola Scriptura.

Sola Scriptura is thus the basis of our confident joy. Every commemoration, every anniversary, every celebration, should ultimately be characterized by gratitude. A gratitude that shows that we are thankful to God. God is the only reason why good things live long. On the 500th anniversary of the Reformation our heart should be hearts that are filled with gratitude that God has kept his word. We can say with the hymn writer:

         “How firm a foundation the Saints of the Lord

          Is laid for your faith in His excellent Word

         What more can He say than to you He has said

         To you who to Jesus for refuge have fled.”

Let us be thankful for Sola Scriptura.”

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My son and his wife hosted a Reformation 500th Anniversary Conference back in April. The website for the conference has history of the various states in Europe that were effected by the Reformation. They wrote and edited summaries of these histories. The website also has links to all of the conference speakers’ talks. Soon the site will have legible pictures of the 40 story boards (trifold boards) he and his wife made for the conference. All of these resources may be accessed at www.reformation500pa.com

Happy 500th and happy researching!

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Some anniversaries are celebrated with much pomp. Perhaps in limited or hidden circles or isolated from one another, the 500th anniversary of the Reformation is being celebrated. But from my limited view, I am not seeing it. Perhaps this history changing event is obscured by the willful ignoring of the main purveyors of information. It is my hope that the quiet remembrance and thanksgiving of the saints for this God directed change in direction of the church and at that time will result in godly resolution to renew repentance and reformation in our time.

My church is committing some small focus to this great event and how it effects the church today. For 5 weeks leading up to the 500th anniversary, we are presenting a 5-10 minute “Reformation Moment” on the 5 solae of the Reformation. Then this coming Sunday night we have a speaker who will give us an overview of Reformation history. One of the solae for which I have a transcript is “Solus Christus”:

In these 5 weeks we are giving consideration to the 5 solae that summarize the Reformation ideas about God bringing salvation to man. As has been said, the Latin word sola means “alone” or “only”: only Scripture, only grace, only faith, only Christ, only God’s glory. There is, however, one sense in which they are not alone. The solae must be taken together to give a full picture of what God has done and evermore will do to secure our salvation. All of these solae grew out of the reformers’ realizations that the Roman Catholic Church had strayed from the true Gospel message by adding requirements and layers to what God had done, much as the Pharisees had done by the time Jesus was on Earth.

Today we focus on Solus Christus, Christ alone. That this idea is Scriptural is abundantly clear from numerous references. Jesus, Himself, proclaimed His exclusive role in salvation when He said in John 14, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me.” (v. 6) Peter amplifies the idea when he and John are brought before the rulers and elders of the people in Acts 4:  And there is salvation in no one else; for there is no other name under heaven that has been given among men by which we must be saved”. (v. 12) No priest, no deacon, no pastor, no pope, no mentor or prophet or holy man or saint or angel can in any way help us in salvation other than to point us to Christ because, as I Timothy 2:5-6 says, “there is one God, and one mediator also between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave Himself as a ransom for all, the testimony given at the proper time.”

Furthermore, Christ is only and once sacrificed. For the celebration of the mass is said to be the true body and blood of Christ sacrificed for sins. Scripture says: “And inasmuch as it is appointed for men to die once and after this comes judgment, so Christ also, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time for salvation without reference to sin, to those who eagerly await Him.” (Hebrews 9:27-28)” Salvation comes through trusting in Christ alone for his once and final sacrifice on the cross. We do not need the priest as mediator or the mass as a means of applying saving grace.

Luther understood our tendencies all too well when he said, “we humans are weak and stubbornly perverse and are more likely to become attached to saints than to Christ…that it is easier for us humans to believe and trust in everything else than in the name of Christ, who alone is all in all, and more difficult for us to rely on him in whom and through whom we possess all things.”

As Huldrych [Ulrich] Zwingli proclaimed, “Christ is the only way of salvation of all who were, are now, or shall be.” In Article 54 of his Sixty-Seven Articles (1523), Zwingli explicitly contrasts the Roman sacramentalist view with solus Christus: “Christ has borne all our pain and travail. Hence, whoever attributes to works of penance what is Christ’s alone, errs and blasphemes God.”1

Joel Beeke in writing about the Solus Christus says, “The centrality of Christ is the foundation of the Protestant faith. Martin Luther said that Jesus Christ is the “center and circumference of the Bible”—meaning that who He is and what He did in His death and resurrection is the fundamental content of Scripture. Salvation is only in Jesus Christ because there are two conditions that, no matter how hard we try, we can never meet. Yet, they must be done if we are to be saved. The first is to satisfy the justice of God through obedience to the law. The second is to pay the price of our sins. We cannot do either, but Christ did both perfectly”2

In his “Institutes of the Christian Religion”, John Calvin wrote, “Christ stepped in, took the punishment upon himself and bore the judgment due to sinners. With his own blood he expiated the sins which made them enemies of God and thereby satisfied him…we look to Christ alone for divine favour and fatherly love!…Hence Christ is called “King of peace” (Is. 9:6) and “our peace” (Eph 2:14) because he quiets all agitations of conscience. If we ask the means, we must come to the sacrifice by which God has been appeased. For anyone unconvinced that God is appeased by that one atonement, in which Christ endured his wrath, will never cease to tremble. In short, we must seek peace for ourselves solely in the anguish of Christ our Redeemer.”3

Solus Christus, Christ alone. As one blogger said, “Since Rome has not changed, and since our own hearts constantly look elsewhere for salvation, the issue is still before us today.  So it is still the duty of the church to clear away all helpers and assistants in salvation and preach Christ and him alone. He is all we have for salvation, but he is all that we’ll ever need.”4 Martin Luther gives us a simple summary, quote, “I must listen to the gospel. It tells me not what I must do, but what Jesus Christ the Son of God has done for me.”

  1. http://www.ligonier.org/blog/top-five-books-five-solas-solus-christus/
  2. http://www.ligonier.org/learn/articles/christ-alone/
  3. John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion 2.16.2
  4. https://reformedreader.wordpress.com/2012/03/24/martin-luther-on-solus-christus/

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   A worldview must be able to withstand the rigors of reality. It must match up with truth. If there is no absolute truth, then there is no basis for purpose, moral code, love, or rational thought.

         I believe literally what the Bible says about our origin- created in six literal days approximately 6000 years ago, as separate and fully formed kinds of plants, animals, and humans. This view, which simply takes God at His word, leaves no room for evolution between kinds of organisms, so called macro-evolution. How should a Bible believing individual respond to the claims of evolution? Does evidence overturn the plain reading of Scripture?

         In an online video, “The Making of the Fittest: Natural Selection and Adaptation”, the presenters describe what they believe to be an airtight example of modern evolution: “Thanks to Nachman [the researcher],” says the narrator, “Science has an example of evolution clear in every detail.” Michael Nachman has studied pocket mice on the lava beds of Southeast New Mexico. Based on his population field studies and laboratory DNA studies, Nachman believes that a combination of mutation and natural selection has resulted in the pocket mouse being “evolved to be dark like the rock.” He says, “When a black mouse appears in a white population of mice, that is usually going to be due to a new mutation, and those are random and rare events.” He concludes that studies of the mice at other lavabeds show that “the genetic changes that made the mice black were different in each case. What’s amazing to me is how similar the black mice are…completely different genes. The narrator concludes, “The rock pocket mice show us that evolution can and does repeat itself and why evolutionary change is never ending.”

         But not so fast! First of all, before and after this event they are still pocket mice. Secondly, Nachman assumes that the genes for black fur arose by random mutation. But as Carl Wieland points out in an article about the peppered moths of England:

“Actually, even as it stands, the textbook story demonstrates nothing more than gene frequencies shifting back and forth, by natural selection, within one created kind. It offers nothing which, even given millions of years, could add the sort of complex design information needed for ameba-to-man evolution. Even L. Harrison Matthews, a biologist so distinguished he was asked to write the foreword for the 1971 edition of Darwin’s Origin of Species, said therein that the peppered moth example showed natural selection, but not ‘evolution in action.’”

         Thirdly, a very simplistic understanding of genetics results in only one possible conclusion for how multiple gene variations result in black fur. Given the relatively recent understanding of epigenetics, the better explanation lies in shifts within the expression of genes already resident within the mice. As Marc Ambler says about a different mice study,

“Scientists conducting experiments on agouti mice found that by manipulating nutrition they could switch off a certain gene. When the gene is active (‘on’) the mice are normally obese and a yellowish colour; by switching the gene off the mice are of a normal, slim appearance, and brown. By feeding a combination of nutrients including vitamin B12 to the mother before mating, the gene was able to be turned off in the babies.”

         Bible believer, do not give in to the wiles of evolutionary thought. We know God from His Word and our personal experience of His saving grace, and science supports rather than contradicts that knowledge. Only conclusions based on a naturalist worldview that excludes the need or possibility of God deny His plain communication about who He is and how He created all that we see. Those of you holding to a naturalist view, I challenge you to consider the possibility that God is real and evidence of nature rightly understood points toward Him.

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Inspired and Profitable

It is such a joy to teach young people about the Word of God. God’s Word is our foundation for truth and life. Trying to increase the students’ understanding and memory of what was being taught, I came up with a diagram. Perhaps it will help you, too.

2 Tim 3-16

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Having taught for 25 years, I have indeed seen many changes in public school. Some represent major cultural shifts while others reflect minor cycles of fad and fashion. One very curious change I have witnessed is a loss of faith in Science. Students used to almost universally confess that science and technology would eventually solve all of man’s problems. Disease will be defeated, genetic difficulties overcome, hunger eradicated, environmental problems will be historical artifacts of developing technologies, mysteries solved, a perpetual motion machine created that would solve all energy problemss, the galaxy traversed. Older minds may have written this off as so much blissful, youthful optimism and ignorance. Instead, I think that it was a product of a worldview that viewed science as the source and conduit of all truth. There were, of course, the rare skeptic that did not trust science or its message.

I see the opposite trend to be generally true today. It is the rare student that has an unflinching faith in Science, or anything for that matter, other than himself. Science and Technology have not solved all of our problems. Epidemics continue, hunger persists, climate change threatens, nuclear proliferation has rebooted, natural disasters terrorize, and people still don’t get along with each other. Unfulfilled expectations and personal discontent are on the rise. Science and technology are frequently viewed as the cause of environmental problems and stressed out living styles.

There could well be many sociological, cultural, and economic reasons for this shift, but I think that in a narrower sense of views about science as a human endeavor, both the blind faith in science and the skepticism of its merits arise from a basic misunderstanding of what the limits of science are. Science is neither the source and conduit of all truth nor the cause of the world’s most pressing problems. Science is a tool. As such it has limits. When I use my large ratchet as a hammer, I damage the tool and very poorly drive the pin I am trying to remove. In a similar way Science used in the wrong way brings harm to its prestige and to the understanding and application it is meant to drive. Science has at least 4 related limits.

Science may only be applied to things which are observable. This observation includes our 5 senses and any other remote sensing we may devise: camera, thermometer, radiation detector, ultrasound, etc. If only time, space, material, and energy exist as many insist, then this observability is not a limit. There is, however, evidence of more than the physical world (the source of beauty, information, purpose, emotions and will) and observability does not automatically exclude the spiritual realm. Scientists use inference (drawing conclusions) as a powerful tool, but it must be based on observation (quantitative data or measurement enable the observation to be unambiguous).

Science is also limited by the requirement of being testable. Scientists test hypotheses with controlled experiments to acquire a deeper understanding of the physical world. There are things that an experiment cannot test which nonetheless exist and effect our lives.

Scientific experiments must be repeatable. Other scientists must be able to use clearly set forth procedures and obtain the same results. If the results are different, some variable has not been controlled for or the experimenters were not careful enough in their observations. Therefore, scientists ask for procedures, data, and analyses from colleagues in order to determine if the conclusions are valid. The best way to do this is to repeat the experiment.

Finally, conclusions resulting from observations must be falsifiable. This does not mean that all evidence or conclusions will be falsified, but rather there must be the possibility of demonstrating that a conclusion is wrong. The essential function of Science is not to reveal truth but to eliminate falsehood. Based upon observation alone, one may never know for sure if something is true. But the ability to falsify wrong ideas narrows down what science accepts as true sufficiently to act upon it. This does not mean that there is no truth. It means that science does not have the ability to state truth in any absolute way. That must be done from other pursuits.

Many ideas are parading around, claiming to be scientific theories when they do not rise to the level of even a hypothesis, let alone a well substantiated hypothesis, that is, a theory. As an example, consider the issue of origins. How did we get here and how did it all begin? Can anyone who is living or has lived observe the beginning of the world? Since they cannot, can they possibly do an experiment on beginning a world? Is that experiment repeatable? If no experiment or observation by scientists may be done directly on the beginning of the world, then it is not a falsifiable idea. Therefore, though evidence may be given from subsequent events as to which version of origins is most likely, presuppositions are inevitably required in any discussion of origins. Another name for presuppositions, those assumptions made in order to begin a discussion or make inquiry, is beliefs. Any discussion of origins by definition is based on a worldview or belief system. It may be labeled religion or science, it does not matter, but it is essentially based on belief.

What this means for any discussion of origins is matching present evidence to the best presuppositional explanation. Does your belief about origins fit the evidence?

What this means about faith in or loss of faith in Science is a need to reconsider its value. Science is a valuable tool wielded by mechanics of varying training and skill, operating from differing worldviews. Retain a healthy skepticism that desires to understand what has been discovered and understood. Don’t throw the baby out with the bathe water. That is, don’t throw out the valuable tool of Science or the useful evidence it provides when you have to wade through false claims, poorly substantiated ‘theories’, intentionally falsified conclusions, or presuppositions that don’t match up with what you know to be true. Science is a useful tool.

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