Saturday, July 31, 2010

God the Rule and Measure

Five Major Teachings of the Protestant Reformation

As Delivered at St John's UCC Boonville Indiana

A Sermon by Keith Kiper

During a British conference on the World’s religions, experts from around the world were discussing the Christian faith. They wanted to know if there was one particular belief that belonged only to the Christian faith. One by one they began to eliminate the possibilities. Incarnation they said? Other religions had different versions of gods appearing in human form. Resurrection? Again, other religions had accounts of someone returning from the dead. They debated for some time until the great Christian author C.S. Lewis wandered into the room. “What’s the rumpus about? He asked. The other experts in the room told him they were discussing what made Christianity different from all the other religions. In his usual forthright manner C.S. Lewis responded, Oh that is easy. It’s grace.

Throughout history, humanity has changed opinions on what they believe to be the “truth.” The Reformation was an event in history that was sparked by Martin Luther in his search for the truth. Luther realized that much of that which was being taught in the Roman church wasn’t true.
The church teachings in Luther’s day had departed from the truth. Real truth can be found only on the inerrant Word of God, the Bible. Truth never changes, regardless of what we believe truth to be. God’s Word is truth, and His Word states in Psalm 119:89, “Forever, O Lord, Your Word is settled in heaven.

All Protestants may not agree with everything Luther wrote. Luther did, however, bring the focus back from man’s opinions to the truth found only in God’s
unchanging Word. Luther and the early reformers agreed on five major teachings which distinguished them from the Roman church of that time. We can find that these five Central teachings still set us apart as Protestant Christians today. Our goal today is not to criticize our Catholic friends nor demean theirs or any other group that call themselves Christian. We want to focus on what it means to be a Protestant. Some of the early reformers died for these beliefs and our church fathers thought they reflected what the Bible teaches us. Recently Christian author Randy Alcorn (Heaven) mentioned on his blog five characteristic points that he believed shaped the Protestant Reformation. (His words are in italics following each point with my comments following.) I would like to expand on these five points and offer my own input as to their great importance in Christian worship today. . There were other ideas brought forth in the Protestant Reformation concerning the Holy Sacraments and the Priesthood of Believers.I would like to focus on the five points previously mentioned, as I agree with Randy Alcorn that these should still set us apart today from the myriad of pick and choose religions out there today. Let’s take a look at these together.

(1.) Sola Scriptura: This simply means -The Bible alone. -"Scripture alone speaks authoritatively and it speaks to all believers. The Bible speaks to the individual. As Protestants we believe that we do not need an interpreter or so-called modern day prophet. The Bible speaks to us independently of church leaders and organizations." I realize that different denominations may have differing ideas as to what certain passages mean. There are different types of worship services in our world today. I do believe that as Christians, especially Protestant ones, that we will agree on the central teachings of the Bible. Someone once asked the late Dr. Bill Bright what he thought about some of the things in the Bible that we sometimes wish had a better explanation. He replied, “Well, The plain things are the main things and the main things are the plain things. If it isn’t a plain thing, then it probably isn’t a main thing.” Ignoring the main things can have disastrous consequences. When we don’t accept the Bible as literal and whole it affects our respect for human life and how we view others. When we don’t accept the Bible from Genesis to Revelation, then it becomes easy to accept certain evolutionary ideas. When society ignores the truth in God’s Word they will set their own standards. No society in the history of the world has survived long after making that disastrous choice. One of the most fascinating, yet sad chapters in American history is the story of Ota Benga. Ota Benga was a Pygmy who was put on display in an American Zoo along side a Chimpanzee in the early 1900’s. Darwins theory had so gripped the minds of some scientists that they believed Ota Benga was some form of inferior race. Pygmies were hunted down and killed as portrayed in the movie “Quigley Down Under.“ The word “race’ itself is a result of evolutionary ideas. Even more horrifying examples of this type of thinking can be seen in the concentration camps of WW2. This is what happens when society picks and chooses from the truth found in God’s Word and distort what it says. In his letter to the Colossians, we see that Paul is helping a newly established church know that its foundation is the inerrancy of Scripture. He tells them that Scripture living richly within them will keep them united in the faith and strong and focused on the task. Paul writes in Colossians 3:16: “The word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom, teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord.” Listen to the keys words as Paul proclaims in our key verse from Romans 1:16,”I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile.” We are all equal at the foot of the cross. Jesus sees all of us through the same eyes.

(2) Sola Gratia: The second major teaching of the Protestant Church is Sola Gratia or Grace alone. -"This means that only by the unmerited favor of God that Christ went to the cross and paid for our sins. Salvation comes through faith in Christ alone. Man is depraved by nature and alienated from God his Creator. It is through God’s grace alone through the Holy Spirit that we can be drawn to God through Christ." The only mediator between God and man is Jesus. We can go directly to God in prayer. As we mentioned earlier, Salvation is “God’s riches at Christ’s expense.” Jesus paid the price at Calvary for our sin. It has been paid for. We cannot pay or bargain for our Salvation through any human being. We can just simply confess and accept this free gift. Grace means that the cruelest, most vile and evil person can find favor with his Creator. All are equal at the foot of the Cross. The Human mind can no more grasp that concept than it can understand the Holy Trinity. We can know its true. How? True because of the experience in our heart and the changed lives and testimony of others.

(3) Sola Fide: The third major teaching of the early reformers is Sola Fide. This means by faith alone. "The Bible teaches us that only total righteousness is acceptable to God. This righteousness is found in Christ only, not in man. Man is justified by faith alone in the finished work of Christ.-" That very familiar verse in Hebrews 11:1 tells us, ”Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, and the conviction of things not seen.” Verse six goes on to tell us that, “without faith it is impossible to please God.” At first glance, these statements made by Paul would seem to contradict each other. The Bible tells us that faith must begin in the heart. Yet, God above is the one who puts that measure of faith there in the first place. This kind of faith, or trust in God, springs from the Christian’s innermost being. This kind of faith allowed early Christians and Reformers to endure torture and persecution. They were sawn in half and burned at the stake. Some died a slow, painful death, so that everyone could have the very Bible we read from today. Our words seem inadequate to describe this kind of faith. The Bible describes many individuals whom God worked through to do great things. Why? Not because they were somehow superhuman. They accomplished great things because they took that leap of faith and took God at His Word.

(4) Sola Christus-“Christ alone.
"This is the fourth major teaching of the Protestant Reformation. All other teachings of Christianity hinge on this statement. Salvation is accomplished by Christ alone. Jesus plainly told us that He alone is the way, the truth, and the life. We have direct access to Him through prayer. Angels, saints, sacraments, priests, churches, and teachers may direct
us to Jesus."- But Christ alone was the perfect Saviour, and we have direct access to our heavenly Father only through him.

(5) Soli Deo Gloria-Which means to God be the glory! "God told Moses at Mt Sinai,”I am the Lord your God who brought you out of Egypt, out of the house of slavery. You shall have no other gods before me.” (Duet. 20:1,2) Religion and theology should be God-centered, not man-centered."- It doesn’t matter what the other religions tell us, or what we believe personally. Dag Hammarskjold said, “God does not die on the day when we cease to believe in a personal deity, but we die on the day when our lives cease to be illuminated by the steady radiance, renewed daily, of a Wonder, the Source of which is beyond all reason. We should glorify God in everything that we do. In Old Testament times, the Hebrews would take their portable tabernacles with them as they traveled. In the New testament Paul tells us we are the tabernacle in which Christ through the Holy Spirit dwells. Several years ago there was a popular chorus named “Sanctuary.” You may have heard it or even sang it. As we close today, think about the words as I read them to you.

Lord, prepare me to be a sanctuary
Pure and holy, tried and true
With thanksgiving, I'll be a living
Sanctuary for You
It is you, Lord Who came to save The heart and soul Of every man
It is you Lord who knows my weakness Who gives me strength,
With thine own hand.
Lord prepare me to be a sanctuary Pure and Holy,
tried and true

With thanksgiving I'll be a living Sanctuary for you
Lead Me on Lord From temptation
Purify me
From within
Fill my heart with You holy spirit
Take away all my sin
Lord prepare me to a sanctuary Pure and holy,
tried and true
With thanksgiving,
I'll be a living
Sanctuary for You

Let us pray: We thank you and praise you today for sending us Your Son. We thank you for your Holy Word you have given us to guide us in truth. We pray that in yur light, we might see light. Cleanse us each day that we might be the sanctuary and the light that would draw others to you. And the people said,” Amen.”