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  • Andy Grice

Scripture Alone


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[So] 500 years ago on the 31st of October, Martin Luther nailed 95 theses to the door of the Wittenburg Castle church and the course of European history was changed ... in a way that means the effects are still being felt today ...

...

And last week ... at our parade service I introduced some of the key ideas and themes of the reformation ... and I mentioned the Five Sola statements that made up the battle cry of the reformation

... Sola being the latin for alone ... and so in English the five solas would be ...

in Scripture Alone, by faith alone, in Christ alone, by grace alone, to the glory of God alone.

And I have to say that I’ve been surprised by a few things ... firstly ... how many people hadn’t heard of the five solas before ...

and then reading for last week I was also surprised by how little I really know about the reformation ... I’m no historian ... I’m no expert in these things ... and so let me be up front in saying that a lot of what I’m sharing comes from a little book written by Michael Reeves and Tim Chester called Why the Reformation Still Matters ...

which leads to the second thing that struck me as I read about the reformation ... which is just how much the thinking of 500 years ago has impacted and is still impacting the protestant church today ... and so it seemed appropriate to me ... since we are due to start a new series today ... that we spend a bit of time, between now and advent, looking at each of the five solas ...

So this morning we will spend a bit of time looking at Scripture Alone ... next week will be Faith alone ... and so on ... but before we go any further ... let’s pray ...

[Pray]

Make the book live to me, O Lord. Show me yourself within your Word. Show me myself and show me my Savior, and make the book live to me, for Jesus’ sake. Amen.

[Pray]

So, as we saw in the playmobile video last week ... Luther was caught in a violent storm and cried out to the saints to save him and he would become a monk ...

Surviving the storm he did indeed become a monk ... which in many ways suited Luther ... since one of his deepest fears was of dying and standing before God as his judge ...

And he thought that living his life as a monk would somehow make him more attractive to God on the day that he would stand before God ...

The teaching of the church at the time was that sin was a problem that needed healing ... and the medicine to cure the disease were the sacraments ...

Luther’s problem was that only actual sins confessed were forgiven ... and he became obsessed with not overlooking sin, and so would spend hours in confessing ... at one point he annoyed his superior so much that he scolded Luther,

“If you're going to confess so much, why don't you go do something worth confessing? Kill your mother or father! Commit adultery! Quit coming in here with such flummery and fake sins."

But the truth is, Luther was frightened ...

frightened of judgment day ... frightened of God ... I guess ... frightened of being “found out” ... being judged, being weighed measured and found wanting …

and here’s the thing ... 500 years later ... I wonder how many of us ... perhaps not monks ... but faithful committed Christians ... are actually scared that someone might find out that we are only just about holding it together ... and we are wondering what we can do to make ourselves more attractive to God ... so that we won’t “fail” on judgment day ...

The thing is ... the picture of sin as a disease that needs healing ... whether by sacraments ... or by doing “good” ...

how ever “good” may be defined ...

the picture of sin as a disease that needs process of healing ... isn’t that helpful ... in fact ... it’s downright unhelpful ... and more than that … it isn’t true …

Something that Luther discovered ... by ... shock horror ... reading the Bible and meditating on what it says ...

And in the famous ... so-called ... tower-experience everything fell into place for Luther ...

Luther was working in his study ... trying to get to grips with Romans 1:17:

For in the gospel the righteousness of God is revealed

Church teaching at the time meant that Luther could only see the righteousness of God as a quality of God … the justice of God by which sinners are punished ... God is righteous since he punishes the unjust ... and Luther ... as you can understand ... struggled to see how this was Gospel ... how the threat of judgment for all un-confessed sins was good news.

However, as Luther spent time on this, he looked at the wider context & he read:

For in the gospel the righteousness of God is revealed—a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: “The righteous will live by faith.”

a righteousness that is by faith

and then it clicked for Luther ... the righteousness revealed by the gospel ... is not a quality of GOD ... rather it is a gift from God ... which means that the believer … the faithful … may be declared righteous!!

Now, I hope ... I really hope that if you are a Salem regular ... that this is not a surprise to you ...

… doctrine of imputation ... EXPAND ...

for Luther this ideas was revolutionary and for him … this … rather than the 95 theses on the door was the start of the Reformation ... this was dynamite ... even though dynamite hadn’t been invented yet ...

It was dynamite because the BIBLE is dynamite!!

Luther’s troubled conscience ... created by faulty medieval theology ... was calmed by seeing sin not as a disease that needed a course of treatment ... but as a relational problem ... as a rebellion against God ...

… and that being declared righteous before God is not a process of healing ... like a course of chemotherapy ... we are not made righteous ... we are reckoned righteous ... declared righteous ... because of Jesus … in other words by looking at Scripture ... Luther realized that the Gospel means that justification is about my status before God rather then something that God is doing within me ...

… grace is not a thing at work in us ... that will eventually heal us of this disease we call sin so that one day I might become justified in the sight of God ... NO ...

Grace is ... if you want to sound clever ... God’s unmerited favour towards us ... or ... more simply ... G.R.A.C.E …God’s Riches at Christ’s Expense!

Luther had been taught ... and this kind of thinking is still around today … that Christians are a bit sinful and a bit righteous ... and the aim of the game is to make the righteous bit bigger ...

and the sinful bit smaller ...

… until we reach some kind of “pass mark” ... when we can be declared ... OK ... now we are OK ... now we are justified ...

[Surgery and Chemo ... remission ... picture]

But in the famous tower experience ... Luther came to see that this is simply wrong …

Christians are ... as he put it ... Semper iustus et peccator ...

... that is ...

always … at the same time righteous and a sinner ...

Please ... if you’ve zoned out ... come back to me ...

By studying the scriptures Luther came to the conclusion that we are always at the same time righteous and a sinner

... or to put it another way ...

Luther realized that although we are more scared of being found out ... more broken ... hurting and sinful than we dare admit ... even to ourselves ... because of the Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ we are more accepted ... loved ... healed and whole ... AT THE SAME TIME ...

and it is this ... at the same time ... bit ... that I think is so confusing about our faith ...

...

I’m broken and fixed ... at the same time ...

Sorrowful yet rejoicing ... at the same time ...

...

Easy to focus on the broken ... on the failures … but the Gospel invites us to focus on the success of Christ … imputed to us …

… trivial eg. think about diet plans ...

... EXPAND ...

[you see] the truth is ... we are not working our way to our goal weight ... we are sick and healthy ... at the same time ...

Now don’t get me or Luther wrong ...

... faith should lead to fruit ...

the Gospel ... leads us to change ... to grow ... to behave differently ...

But these “works” follow faith ... they are not what justifies us in the sight of God ...

... they do not make us more attractive to God ... do not help us pass ...

We’ll come back to some of these things ... when we think about Grace and Faith ... but the key for this week ... is that Luther arrived at these conclusions ... conclusions that turned Europe upside down ...

From looking at the Bible!

This whole thing started with the Bible ... which as we sang last week ... is a light, hammer, fire and sword ...

...

Hold the power of the universe in your hand Hold the words that shaped the sky and sea and land The King has given words to us, to tell us what he's like

I don’t know if you think of the Bible like that ... but the truth is ... the Bible is powerful ...

The general culture of Luther’s day was to try to get back to the sources ... and this lead to the publication of a new Greek New Testament ... and the culture of the time ... as well as access to a more accurate translation of the Bible ... led to the question of where the church got her authority ...

...

In one of Luther’s most famous quotes ... when challenged to recant his writings ... he declares ...

“Unless I am convinced by the testimony of the Scriptures or by clear reason (for I do not trust either in the pope or in councils alone, since it is well known that they have often erred and contradicted themselves), I am bound by the Scriptures I have quoted and my conscience is captive to the Word of God. I cannot and I will not recant anything, since it is neither safe nor right to go against conscience. On this I take my stand. May God help me. Amen."

As with all good quotes there is some question over whether Luther spoke these exact words … but the idea was all over Luther’s writing … on Scripture alone would he stand …

Sola Scriptura .. the Bible alone …

Now this does not mean that our doctrine or theology cannot be informed by other things ... rather ... it means that the Bible alone ... is our authority ...

This was at the heart of the method of the reformation ... the battles were waged over justification, indulgences, sacraments and even sausages ... but at the heart of the debate was how scripture was being handled ...

Sausage-gate is one of my favourite reformation stories ... Zurich 1522 ... Zwingli and 11 friends gathered ... for ... get this ... a sausage themed party ...

No biggy ... you think ...

Except this was lent ... and the church had decreed ... that you can’t eat meat in lent ...

And so ... the council fined the host ...

... but a week after the party a pamphlet was produced arguing that the Bible doesn’t actually forbid the eating of sausages in Lent ...

Now there is actually some debate ... like whether Clinton inhaled ... about whether Zwingli actually ate the sausage ... but of course, the issue wasn’t really about Sausages it was about the authority of scripture ...

What the bible says ... and what tradition tells us ...

Sola Scripture ... became the battle cry ... in scripture alone ...

Zwingli won the argument ...

After all ... in his own words ...

... the Word of God is certain and can never fail. It is clear, and will never leave us in darkness. It teaches its own truth. It arises and irradiates the soul with full salvation and grace. It gives the soul sure comfort in God. It humbles it, so that it loses and indeed condemns itself and lays hold of God.

God’s Word of power spoken in creation, God’s Word the Lord Jesus Christ, God’s Word the Bible ... that points us to Jesus ... and God’s Word preached ...

Apparently when Zwingli turned up to his first church he didn’t preach from the short passages set by the lectionary ... but just preached through books of the Bible ... He began in the gospel of Matthew, working his way through every verse until the end. And then he started with another New Testament because he was convinced of the necessity of Scripture in the life of God’s people.

As Salem regulars will know ... I think systematic preaching through the Bible should be our regular diet ...

Conscious that I’m not currently doing this … my daughter observed last night that this was the first normal service in ages … but in the New Year it is my current plan for us to start a new series where we will return to look at the Bible on it’s own terms … current plan is to have a look at entire books of the Bible in single sermons ... we’ll see if I can pull it off ...

I take preaching seriously ... I do believe that ... in the language of the reformers ... that preaching is the word of God which he himself speaks ...

Now lest you think I making more of myself than I should ... let me just say that although I take preaching seriously ... this doesn’t mean that we need to take preachers seriously ...

Let me just remind you as I remind myself of one of Luther’s favourite passages in Numbers 22 ... where God opens the mouth of a donkey so that it can speak to Balaam ... Luther argued that is that if God can use an ass to speak to Balaam, he can use an a ...ndy to speak to you!!

So as I draw things to a close this morning … let me ask you ...

What has authority today?

What has authority in your life?

What has authority in this church??

You see I think the danger is that authority today is found in personal experience ... rather than objective truth … in how I feel about things ... last week the brownies and guide promised to be true to themselves ...

This is the highest goal of culture today … see this in programmes like Big Brother … where people are downright rude … but at least they are being true to themselves!

I saw a great cartoon this week ... with a young man speaking ... presumably to his dad ... saying ... you can find me irritating ... I self-identify as “not irritating”

It seems to me that Authority today is found located in individuals ... how they feel ... and how they perceive truth ...

Vox Pops on the news ... EXPAND ...

But that’s all “out there” ... in culture … and we can debate the rights and wrongs of that until the cows come home … so let’s bring things closer to home … what about you ... What has authority in your life ... what has authority in my life??

...

Now you know the answer is supposed to be scripture ... but is it really?

...

And the thing is ... what does it mean to have the bible at authoritative in your life??

You see when I hear something like that ... it makes me think about keeping rules ...

But I don’t think that is how we are supposed to handle the bible ...

...

If that were true ... would that not mean we could at some point “know” the Bible ...

EXPAND => kids and “we know that one”

The reformation wasn’t kicked off because someone rediscovered a new rule that people weren’t keeping ... rather ... it was launched because someone looked at the Bible and thought about what it meant ...

that’s why I wanted that passage from 1 Peter to be read earlier ... the one that ends ... even angels long to look into these things ... the word used for look there has a sense of gaze ... look deeply into ...

...

You can’t ever ... “know that one” ... because the Bible is constantly shaping and forming and changing us ... it is meant to be gazed at ...

do you gaze into the meaning of scripture??

I think allowing the scriptures to be the authority in our lives means allowing our lives to be shaped by the story ... the narrative ... by the way that they all point to Jesus ... and ultimately to the Gospel ...

and this is true for individuals and for our church community ...

Now this can involve some work ... the Navigators talk about the hand ...

... [Explain] ...

But the truth is ... if the surveys are to be believed ... that at least half of us don’t read our Bibles ... and so for some of us ... allowing the scriptures to have authority simply begins by reading them ...

Now I know that anxiety levels :-) found out ...

three ways to make Christians feel guilty ... Prayer, Bible and Evangelism ...

Isn’t my intention to make anyone feel guilty ... but I do want to issue a challenge ...

... 5x5x5 challenge ...

More to say ... interested in how to read scripture ...speak to me ...

Out of time ...

Close in prayer ...

Make the book live to us, O Lord. Show us yourself within your Word. Show us ourselves and show me our Savior, and make the book live to us, for Jesus’ sake. Amen.


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