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Series Introduction: Martin Luther and The Reformation
ASK: Have you ever had a special anniversary or a birthday coming up, where you really looked forward to it with anticipation?
That’s how I feel this morning. October is “kind of a big deal” for North Country Fellowship Church.
- This October marks one full year of the church being part of the Southern Baptist Convention, the Baptist Convention of NY, and the Thousand Islands Baptist Association. I’m thrilled to be a part of this family of churches, which is committed to the Great Commission work we’ve been called to!
- This month also marks 30 years of NCFC as a church family. We have so much to be thankful for as a church, not the least of which has been the faithfulness of God over the years, and the many ways in which he has seen fit to work in and through NCFC to reach people for Christ.
- October also marks another significant milestone for God’s people. On October 31st, we’ll celebrate one of my favorite holidays. No, not Halloween (as much as I like candy…), but rather the 500th Anniversary of the beginning of the Protestant Reformation.
Let me set the stage a little bit before we dive into God’s Word.
Put simply, the Reformation focused on a central question: “How does a person get right with God?”
For generations, the Roman Catholic church had taught that salvation comes by works. They taught the living must pay penance for their sins (which involved contrition/sorrow, confession to a priest, and satisfaction/works to complete). They also taught that the dead would enter a place called purgatory, an intermediate state between heaven and hell. The purpose of this place was for the deceased to continue to pay for their sins and be purified in fire, hoping for salvation.
This doctrine led to another practice called indulgences. Indulgences were an official document issued by the Pope which substituted the practice of penance with the payment of money. They also were granted retroactively for family members believed to be in purgatory. In essence, the Roman Catholic church was claiming they had the authority to allow people to buy their way into heaven.
As you can imagine, they made a lot of money doing this... There was only one problem: none of the concepts contained in those teachings are true.
That was the conclusion of a Catholic Monk named Martin Luther. Luther had been trained in both law and in theology. After obtaining his doctorate in 1512, he spent five years at the University in Wittenberg, Germany, teaching Bible, including the book of Romans which impacted him in a huge way.
He became convinced that the Roman Catholic church was promoting false teachings, and in an effort to help fix the problems and heal the church, he authored a list of 95 statements (the 95 Theses) correcting the errors. It was common in his day to post discussion topics publicly, so he nailed his 95 Theses to the door of the church in Wittenberg. That act, on October 31st, 1517, was the beginning of the Reformation.
It may seem odd to make a big deal out of something that happened 500 years ago. After all, the Reformation began before the United States was even a country. In fact, it got started roughly 25 years after Columbus landed in the Bahamas and Cuba (which incidentally, also happened in October, of 1492). We didn’t even have chartered colonies here yet!
However, just because something happened a long time ago doesn’t mean it has no bearing on things today. In fact, I can say with confidence that North Country Fellowship Church – and so many other faithful Christian ministries – would not exist as they do today without the Reformation. There is a rich heritage in the history of the Reformation, and it impacts us even today.
The Five Solas
Now, there’s a lot more we could discuss about Luther, or the other events of the Reformation. However, I want to narrow our focus to the primary concept that will guide our time in God’s word.
Remember, the core question behind the Reformation was “How are we justified”, or “How does a person get right with God?”
The Reformation led to five credos or statements that were developed in an effort to answer that question. Each is in Latin, and we call them The Five Solas:
- Sola Scriptura – Scripture Alone
- Sola Gratia – Grace Alone
- Sola Fide – Faith Alone
- Solus Christus – Christ Alone
- Soli Deo Gloria – Glory to God alone
Woven together, the Reformation understanding of Justification is that “In accordance with the Scriptures, we are saved by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone, with all Glory to God alone.”
Lord willing, we’ll have the chance to unpack each of these Five Solas in greater detail as we gather in worship throughout the month of October.
Alright. That’s more than enough introductory material. Let’s begin today, by taking a brief look at the concept of Sola Scriptura, or Scripture Alone.
If you have your Bibles, turn with me to 2 Timothy 3:14. In this chapter the Apostle Paul is writing to a young pastor named Timothy. He served the church in Ephesus, and was a close friend of Paul’s. In fact, Paul considered him a son in the faith, as he had mentored him in ministry. He writes with close knowledge of Timothy’s background, as we pick up in 2 Timothy 3:14:
2 Timothy 3:14–17 (ESV) - 14 But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it 15 and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. 16 All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, 17 that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.
Paul encourages Timothy to be steadfast in his commitment to faith in Jesus Christ, as well as commitment to ministry. In fact, he points Timothy (and us) to the centrality of the Word of God in the life of God’s people. In short, The Scriptures are a treasure.
Now, I would not be surprised if verses 16 and 17 are familiar to many of you. This is perhaps the single most important passage on the nature and use of God’s Word. In fact, David Steltz and I just wrapped up another series that opened with this same passage as a foundation.
In our series, “Coram Deo – Living in the Presence of God”, the first message was on the concept of truth, and how we find genuine truth in scripture. (By the way, you can blame David if you don’t like all the Latin we’ve included in the sermons recently. It’s totally his fault.)
The Reformers agreed on the importance of the Bible. In fact, there is a quote we include in our church membership class which was penned by Martin Luther himself: “The entire life and being of the Church lie in the Word of God.”
However, the Reformers didn’t MERELY see the Bible as important. They went further than that, RECOVERING and REMINDING the church about a number of important concepts that are needed for us to have a correct view of God’s word.
Let’s talk about some of these concepts quickly:
The first one I’ll mention is “Biblical inspiration.”
When we use the term inspiration, we’re not saying that the Bible is “inspirational” in the same way as a poem, or a painting, or a Chicken Soup for the Soul book would be called inspirational. The Bible may well be inspirational to you, but we’re not using the term as a marketing designation.
Rather, inspiration is a statement about the SOURCE of Scripture: 2 Timothy 3:16 says that “All scripture is breathed out by God”.
That breathing out is the process of Inspiration. We see this explained in 2 Peter 1:21:
2 Peter 1:21 (ESV) - 21 For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.
As you listen to me this morning, I am currently breathing out, forcing air across my vocal chords and verbalizing the words I choose to share with you. In a similar way, it is as if the Lord took in a deep breath, and then exhaled Holy Scripture, vocalized not by physical chords, but by the Spirit of God in the lives of His people.
The words of Scripture are truly God’s Word.
Now, because Scripture is truly God’s Word, we’re led to another important concept, inerrancy.
The very nature and character of God is that He DEFINES truth. He’s a God of truth, and that will be reflected in His word. Scripture is trustworthy and infallible because God is trustworthy and infallible.
Jesus testifies to this in John 17:17:
John 17:17 (ESV) - 17 Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth.
His prayer is that we would grow in grace and knowledge, and to do so through the Scriptures because they are TRUE; the scriptures are without error in the original manuscripts.
Now, don’t think this means that every translation is great. Or, even that good translations are perfect. I like the ESV because I believe it does the best job of any modern translation at translating the Hebrew and Greek of the Bible into English. But it’s not perfect. Nor is the NLT. Nor is the KJV, despite many people being KJV-Only.
No translation is perfect, because inerrancy applies only to the original manuscripts.
Some would balk at that, arguing that the modern Bible is essentially a translation of a translation, and that it has been so changed over the centuries that it doesn’t resemble the original.
But that’s simply not true.
Modern Bible translations are based on the earliest available manuscripts in the original languages. Most differences between these manuscripts are a letter here or a word there but the overwhelming majority of the manuscripts are in agreement with one another. However, even when there is are more substantial differences (such as the earliest manuscripts not including the woman at the well in John 7), NONE of these variants change the essential nature and message of God’s redemptive plan for mankind, worked out through the person and work of Jesus.
I’ve always found it interesting that the Bible has often been called inaccurate. However, the earliest copies we have of Homer’s Illiad date to 500 years after it was written, and there are only 643 copies.
The earliest copies of Aristotle’s writings date to 1400 years after he wrote, and there are only 49 copies.
For the New Testament, there are over 24,000 manuscripts, over 5,000 of which are complete copies of the entire New Testament, not just a single book. And the earliest copies date to roughly 25 years after being written.
We have plenty of reason, both by statistics, and more importantly by faith, to trust in the TRUTH of God’s Word.
Of course, if God’s Word is true, that means it has the authority to speak into our lives.
God made us. God sustains us. And that means when He speaks, we ought to listen. It’s a sign of being a true follower of Christ, that we listen to His word.
Jesus says as much in John 8:31-32:
John 8:31–32 (ESV) - 31 So Jesus said to the Jews who had believed him, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, 32 and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”
Though Jesus was talking to Jewish believers, this applies equally to those of us who are of Gentile descent. To ABIDE in the Word of God means to know it, and to live it out. To see it as the truth, and to act upon what it teaches is the nature of authority.
The authority of God’s word is essential. As a pastor, it is not my role to stand here for a half-hour or forty-five minutes and give you a pep talk. It’s not my role to give you a feel-good self-help message, or even to take the time to tell you my favorite fishing story.
Though such things may be useful as an illustration or a private conversation, they have no authority in your life. After all, it’s just one guy’s thoughts.
However, my true role – and the role of anyone who preaches, whether they be an Elder of a church or not – is to share the Bible. To read the scriptures and say “Thus Sayeth the Lord”. To unpack the truths of God’s Word.
All because God’s Word is authoritative to our lives.
And that leads us to the final concept we’ll hit on today: Sufficiency.
Sola Scriptura communicates the idea that SCRIPTURE ALONE is the perfect standard and guide for our faith and practice.
As we see in 1 Peter 1:3:
2 Peter 1:3 (ESV) - 3 His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence,
Through faith in Christ, we’re granted all the tools in the toolbox that are essential to the Christian life. One of these, of course, is Scripture.
As we saw way back in 2 Timothy 3, scripture is profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, 17 that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.
Scripture is sufficient. God has given us all we need to live a life pleasing to Him. And, to answer the question “How does a person get right with God?”
As we touched on over the past month, life is meant to be lived Coram Deo – In the Presence of God. That means that Scripture alone is our authority and standard as we engage in the world around us.
And engage we must. The concept is Sola Scriptura, not SOLO Scriptura. We aren’t meant to ignore the other aspects of life, or even things that the Bible doesn’t speak about directly (such as cars, computers, or human DNA).
Instead, we let the principles of scripture speak into each of these things, guiding and directing our steps as we live submitted to the authority of God, in accordance with the word of God, led by the Spirit of God.
Sola Scriptura Applied
It almost goes without saying, but the greatest application to the truth of Sola Scriptura would be that we need to take the Bible seriously. There was a time when the average person didn’t have access to God’s word. The Roman Catholic church was so concerned with what would happen to the system they had built up, that they persecuted and killed Reformers who sought to translate the Bible into the language of the everyday man and woman.
Now, however, the pendulum has swung much the other direction. We have more accessibility to the Bible than ever before in history. Inexpensive editions are released in a variety of translations (in fact, if you want a Bible, we’d be happy to give you one, as our gift to you). Expensive, custom ordered editions are available in calfskin and goatskin. And there are apps available on almost every digital device out there with multiple translations.
We have abundant access to the Word of God, And yet, Bible literacy is at the lowest it’s been in generations.
So, from a practical perspective, what do we do with all of this? Psalm 119:11 gives us a clue:
Psalm 119:11 (ESV) - 11 I have stored up your word in my heart, that I might not sin against you.
We need to read the Word. Not just as an exercise at getting through a list. But that we would understand it. That we would abide in it. That we would begin to truly let it take root in our hearts, so that it’s ever at hand.
We have to read it. We have to trust what it says. And we have to do what it says.
Of course, for those of us who are parents, we have an additional responsibility. It isn’t just that WE need to read scripture. But we also need to model that for our kids. We need to read it to them, and teach them to read it themselves.
Going back to our initial passage, when Paul wrote to Timothy in 2 Timothy 3, he mentioned Timothy’s childhood. He told Timothy:
2 Timothy 3:14-15 (ESV) - 14 But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it 15 and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.
Timothy was raised with the Word of God in his life. He had a mother and a grandmother who invested in Him, and taught him about Jesus, and led him in reading the “sacred writings” of Scripture.
Sunday School is a wonderful ministry of the church. But it’s one day a week, for less than an hour. To be blunt, it’s awesome, but it’s not enough. If we take seriously the importance of God’s Word, Sunday School will only be a supplement to a regular practice of worship at home, through time spent in the Scriptures.
As we close our time focused on Sola Scriptura – Scripture Alone – this morning, I want to leave you with a quote from noted theologian R.C. Sproul:
“Ask yourself, if you UNDERSTAND, and then STAND UNDER, the authority of Scripture.”
Those two pieces are key. Do you read scripture for UNDERSTANDING? And, then, do you STAND UNDER the truth that you’ve learned? My sincere hope and prayer for each of you is that the answer would be a resounding “Yes!”.
However, if it’s not, let me encourage you to take steps to remedy that situation.
If you don’t understand the Bible you have, PLEASE talk to me today, or leave a communication card with the word “HELP!” in our church box so that we can come alongside to assist. If you struggle to make time to read the Bible you have, let us know that too, so we can encourage you, and maybe even share some lifehacks that will motivate you and keep you engaged.
May we all seek to increase in our love for Christ and His word.