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Tuesday, 31 October 2017

Reformation.

Having commented, in the previous post, on the 50th anniversary of the passing of the Abortion Act in the UK Parliament, and the almost nine million deaths that have resulted from it, I want to comment, in this post, on a 500th anniversary - that of the nailing, by the German monk Martin Luther, of his "99 Theses" to the door of the church building at Wittenberg. It was that event that started what is known to historians as the Reformation (although there were a number of folk who had raised serious doubts about some of the teaching of the Church of Rome, prior to Luther. By the way, I deliberately use that term as "Roman Catholic" is, in fact, an oxymoron!).

Many are the books that have been written about the Reformation - both its history and its theology - so all that I wish to do is to look, briefly, at what are known as the "Five Solas". These are five basic doctrines/principles that sum up the difference between the Church of Rome and what the Reformers saw as the truth of the written Word of God. Undergirding these five solas is the phrase: ecclesia semper reformanda est, which means”the church is always to be reformed. The very authority of the written Word of God is the subject of the first Sola:

1. Sola Scriptura (Scripture alone).

Rome did not deny the authority of the Scriptures but, like others, they added to them! In their case, they taught the authority of the church (of Rome); its traditions; its councils; its pope. The Reformers disagreed! They claimed, and taught, that all Christian practice and doctrine should be based on the clear teaching of the Bible.
Of course, God Himself has established certain authorities: the state (Rom.13:1ff); elders in the church (I Tim.5:17; I Pet.5:5); parents (Eph.6:1); but Scripture alone is truly ultimate. If any of these other authorities depart from Biblical teaching, they are to be rejected.

The Scriptures are the inspired, inerrant, authoritative, and sufficient Word of God. When the Bible speaks, God’s people should hear, heed, and obey the Word by His grace. Not only this - the Bible proclaims the Truth of the other solas, namely that salvation is by grace alone through faith in Christ. Man has not been saved for his own purposes but for God’s purpose and glory. Also, from beginning to end, the Biblical record points towards the Lord Jesus. So, the second of the Solas concerned 


2. Solus Christus (Christ alone).

The issue that started Luther on his journey of discovery concerned the sale of "indulgences". Put simply, this practice stated that one could obtain forgiveness of sin by making a cash donation to the church, for which one received a piece of paper stating that the donor's soul was ready to be admitted to heaven! The practice was started by Leo X in order to raise funds to rebuild St Peter's Basilica in Rome. Failure to purchase indulgences meant that one had to pay for one's sins in purgatory - the unBiblical Roman concept of a "limbo" in which the dead may finish atoning for their sins.

Luther was passionately opposed to this practice, and he and the Reformers taught the Biblical truth that salvation is through the atoning work of the Lord Jesus, on the cross - and that alone! As far as I know, the sale of "indulgences" within the Roman church no longer takes place. However, there is still great store put on the intercessions of Mary, the mother of Jesus, and of the so-called 'saints' (every true believer is, in New Testament terms, a "saint" - just read the NT letters!). However Mary, though honoured among women, cannot help in the area of salvation. In fact, she herself had to be saved by the finished work of Christ in His perfect life and vicarious death. This is why she could say that she rejoiced in “God my Saviour” (Luke 1:47). What is true of Mary is also true of all the so-called 'saints' of the Church of Rome. There is no treasure chest of merit in heaven out of which the church can draw saving merit. Nor do we need a priest to intercede for us. Indeed, through Peter, God the Holy Spirit states clearly that all disciples of Jesus "... are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people, ..." (I Peter 2:9; emphasis added). Salvation is through Christ alone Who is Himself “... the way, the truth, and the life.” (John 14:6; note the definite article as emphasised).  Charles Spurgeon said, “I have a great need for Christ; I have a great Christ for my need.”

The third of the Sola principles is


3. Sola Gratia (Grace alone).


Sinful man can never - absolutely never - be reconciled to Almighty God by his own efforts. I cannot earn His fellowship; I cannot buy His fellowship; I do not deserve His fellowship. All that I - and you! - deserve is His judgement and wrath. The only reason that I may be the recipient of His great salvation (Heb.2:3) is by His grace - His unmerited favour and blessing. This is often defined using the word as an acronym: God's Riches At Christ's Expense. In Jesus, Almighty God paid the penalty for my sin and so satisfied both His justice and His love. As Paul states, in his letter to the believers in Ephesus: "... by grace you have been saved through faith; and this is not your own doing, it is the gift of God - not because of works, lest any man should boast." (3:8-9). What a wonderful gift it is - and it is yours if only you will open yourself to Him (Who already knows you through and through!) and, in repentance and faith, accept it. And that faith is the subject of a fourth Sola:


4. Sola Fide (Faith alone).


The Reformers rightly taught that all of our Christian life is by grace from beginning to end. Not only is the gift of Christ a gift from God, but the very faith required to lay hold of that gift is itself a gift. One of the great themes of Reformation theology was "justification by faith", and not by any declaration of the church (of Rome), or through penance, indulgences, or any other means. Justification is the declaration, by Father God, that we are treated as sinless in His sight because of the atoning sacrifice of the Son, at Calvary. In the English language, it is sometimes explained as God treating me "just as if I'd" never sinned - even although I have sinned; do sin; and will continue to sin while in this mortal body that I inhabit.. Of course, filled out correctly, the doctrine should be: "Justification is the act of God by which He declares sinners to be righteous because of Christ alone, by grace alone, through faith alone." The final Sola is


5. Soli Deo Gloria (Glory to God alone).


The bottom line is that the Triune God receives the glory and honour for my salvation. Paul wrote to the early disciples in Rome: "O the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and how inscrutable His ways! 'For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who has been His counselor?' 'Or who has given a gift to Him that he might be repaid?' For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things. To Him be glory for ever. Amen." (11:33-36; emphasis added). The Psalmist had the same aim in mind when he wrote: "Not to us, O Lord, not to us, but to Thy name give gloryfor the sake of Thy steadfast love and Thy faithfulness!" (Ps.115:1; emphasis added). This Sola emphasises the the glory of God - Father, Son, and Holy Spirit - as the goal of true life. As the compilers of the Shorter Catechism were later to put it, in the Q & A form of the catechism: "What is the chief end (i.e. prime purpose) of man?" "Man's chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy Him forever." (emphasis added).


These five teachings were at the heart of the Reformation. Would that they were at the heart of the church, worldwide, today! As I look around, I see so much of the church that, rather than being a prophetic voice to the nations, is no more than a subservient reflection of the social norms that, sadly, are so much at odds with the Gospel of our Lord Jesus, the Christ! T.F.Torrance wrote: “The world likes a complacent, reasonable religion, and so is always ready to revere some pale Galilean image of Jesus, some meagre anaemic Messiah, and to give Him a moderate rational homage. . . . The truth is that we have often committed adultery with alien ideologies, confounded the Gospel with the religions of nature, and imbibed the wine of pagan doctrines and false principles and deceitful practices. We have sought to bend the will of God to serve the ends of man, to alter the Gospel and shape the Church to conform to the fashions of the times. We have yielded to pride and to the lust for power. We have been intimidated by the might of the beast through society, or the crowd, or the state, and betrayed, again and again, the cause of our Saviour.” (The Apocalypse Today; James Clarke & Co Ltd; 1961; p.155). His words show, sadly, how far the church has departed from those early Reformation principles.

Let those of us who seek to see the Name of Jesus honoured and exalted pray that, in these last days, the Lord will move, by the Spirit, in cleansing and purifying power throughout the church in the UK, and elsewhere, removing all that would seek to dilute, denigrate, diminish, deny, and even destroy, the true Gospel message, and revive His true people that there might be, in these end times, a mighty ingathering of precious souls to the Kingdom of God - and all to His glory.

Footnote! To the best of my knowledge, there is no "set in stone" order to the Five Solas. However, the order in which I have given them above is not, I realise, the most common. I use it because I find it to be more "consecutively accurate"! By this I mean that it is the Scriptures that tell me of the Christ, and the grace of God that I may receive by faith, and all to His glory.

Some of the words and concepts used here are dealt with, more fully, in my first two books (vol.3 currently being proofread - available, DV, early in the New Year). Please see the links at the top of the page.

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