Monday, November 8, 2010

OFFENSIVE PARTICULARITY

Last week at the Kendall house, we hosted our fourth (or fifth?) annual Reformation Party. Folks from Grace Community Church in Troy, from First Presbyterian in Dyersburg, and from the general neighborhood gathered for food, fellowship, and celebration. Bill Randolph fired up his monster smoker and cooked a mountain of hotdogs and juicy, inch-thick hamburgers. Party-ers loaded the tables with baked beans, potato salad, chocolate cake, and home-baked cookies. In addition to sweet tea, lemonade, and soda, we consumed gallons of hot chocolate, spiced cider, and steaming coffee.

The boys lit off and monitored a hillbilly-sized bonfire. One fellow in attendance asked my Benjamin just what exactly was in that pile of wood to make it produce the enormous flame whipping skyward. "Wood," Ben answered. The man studied the conflagration a second, then asked, "So, what are you spraying on it out of that hose?" "Water," Ben replied. Hard to believe such a torch could be lit with only trash wood and a match!

As the evening progressed and a cool fog descended, we crammed inside the house for singing, a little silliness, and some sober reflection. Sober reflection on what? A what is a Reformation Party, anyway?

Early Christians were persecuted by those both inside and outside of the church. Some Jewish converts felt that preaching salvation by Christ alone made this faith too simple, that it somehow robbed it of the rich heritage and traditions of the Jewish faith. Yes, they believed faith in Christ was important - but they also wanted new converts to be circumcised and to observe Jewish religious laws and traditions.

Polytheistic neighbors also persecuted early Christians. The pantheon of Rome had plenty of room for another god - even this god-man called Jesus. What they couldn't tolerate, however, was the exclusivity of this new faith. Christians claimed that there was only one true God, and only one way of salvation, Christ. How dare these religious upstarts dismiss and even discredit the host of dieties embraced by so many others!

Christianity is distinct among world religions precisely because of the only's. It is these same only's and alone's that make this faith so offensive to the unbelieving heart. It is precisely at the point of the only's that our adversary seduces us and tempts us to compromise. And it is at this very point that we must be watchful over our own hearts and vigilant in proclaiming and defending the truth of the Gospel of Christ, Christ alone, to ourselves and to the world around us.

In the face of these persecutions, the Apostles preached and wrote and exhorted believers to hold fast to the truth: There is only one true and living God, and, by His sovereign grace, He saves sinners through the atoning work of Christ alone. The apostles unapologetically defended Christianity's offensive particularity, because in it was the power of the Gospel.

Throughout history, the church has been tempted to yield to the seduction of these two great errors - 1)that we must add something to the work of Christ to secure our salvation and 2)that other faiths are equally viable and should be embraced in some distorted, twisted expression of brotherly love. Of course, if the first truth - the complete, absolute, eternal efficacy of Christ's atonement - is abandoned for any kind of works-based salvation, there seems little point in fighting for the second truth. Give up "Christ alone" for the gospel-plus, and you open the door for Rome's pantheon (or our own modern-day versions) to dance right in. On the other hand, if there are more gods than one, then there must also be many ways of salvation, right?

So, back to the Reformation Party. Just over 500 years ago, God raised up a group of men to challenge the church anew to re-align its teaching and practice with the Word of God. The church had abandoned the doctrine of salvation by grace alone, through faith in Christ alone, for a salvation based on faith plus works. These Reformers exhorted the church to look to Scripture, the written word of God - and not to the traditions of men - as the absolute authority for matters of faith. Just like the Apostles fifteen-hundred years earlier, these men preached the Gospel...and set the world on fire.

Men are sinners. All of us. And we are perverse in our thinking. As Steve said during Wednesday night's festivities, we can believe the Gospel - and then forget it's true in just five minutes. The church, Christ's Beloved, is comprised of just such sinful folk, and even corporately we tend to forget and compromise the Gospel. Aren't you glad we have Scripture to expose our wayward tendencies, to call us back - again and again - to the truth, to the Gospel?! This objective, unchanging standard challenges us to confront error, to repent of wrong thinking, to be vigilant in reforming our thinking to the truth of God.

So what is a Reformation Party? It is a remembrance and celebration of those 16th-century Reformers who rediscovered and proclaimed the Gospel, turning the world upside down. Men who valued the Word of God so highly that they risked their lives to get it into the hands of as many men as possible. Men who sought to be reformed to the truth of the Word of God...instead of seeking a reformation of the truth.

It is a pause in the busy-ness of life to remember those great truths that define and unite and comfort and empower us as Christians. To unapologetically proclaim the offensive ONLY's - Sola gratia. Sola Christo. Sola fide. Soli Deo gloria. Sola scriptura. It is a moment to consider that, as Christians, we must resist the subtle pull to reform the truth, but must instead always strive to be reformed to the truth, the unchanging truth of God's Word.

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, who gave himself for our sins to deliver us from the present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father, to whom be the glory forever and ever.....but there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ. But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed. - Galatians 1:3-5,7-8

5 comments:

Michael Gormley said...

Some Protestants have the notion that Catholics do not “believe” in the Bible, so they bring up Second Timothy 3:15-16 to support their belief of Sola Scriptura:"... from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings which are able to instruct you for salvation through faith in Jesus Christ. All scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness."

Certainly Catholics believe in the Bible (Catholics put together the Bible!) but this verse does not really support the belief of Sola Scriptura; it does not say that scripture alone is an adequate guide to the faith For that matter, the whole Bible does not say that we should believe in the Bible alone, nor does it say which books are inspired by God. This is only one hole in the belief of Sola Scriptura; there are many more.

Michael Gormley said...

Is Half of The Story Sufficient For Salvation?

How many sides are there to a story? If you say two, then you are wrong. If you had one side and I had one side that would make two sides. However, there is a third side, the side of truth.

Rule # 1... One half of truth does not a truth make. Neither does one half of a story make the full story. No intelligent person can hear one side of a story and decide which side has the truth.

Both sides have to be heard, then analysed, and then a decision has to be made as to which side (if either) has a valid story, and after that, the right side(s), or truth side, can be determined.

This thinking holds true for discerning what Holy Scripture tells us.

Throughout the Bible there are double standards, yet the fundamentalist thinking shows only one standard, or one side of the story, or only one half of the truth.

Their thinking is in violation of rule # 1. With only one half of truth, you do not have truth. Anything less than the whole truth is error.

In the following example, side 'A' is the first side, side 'B' is the second, and side 'C' is the right, or truth side.

Example ... Sola Scriptura...? Only the Bible. Fundamentalist thinking is that the Bible is sufficient and nothing else is needed for salvation.

First of all, in order to believe in the 'Bible Only' philosophy, you have to show that Scripture says it. Is that not true? The doctrine of 'Sola Scriptura' is not to be found in Scripture.

A. Tradition is condemned in many places in Scripture, such as Job 22:15, Matthew 15:6, Mark 7:3-13, Galatians 1:14, Colossians 2:8, 1Timothy 1:4, Titus 1:14, and 1Peter 1:18. Look at these verses and grasp their meaning.

They all address 'vain' human traditions and are rightly condemned. This is one half of the truth.

B. Tradition is supported in more places in Scripture than it is condemned. Study Isaiah 59:21, Luke 1:2, 2:19,51, Luke 10:16, 2Thessalonians 2:14-15 - "Stand firm and hold the traditions you have learned..", 2Timothy 1:13,2:2, 1Peter 1:25, 1Jn 1:1,2:24, 2Jn 1:12, Revelation 12:17,19:10.

These are different traditions than mentioned in 'A'. These are the Traditions of GOD, or 'Apostolic' Tradition.' Again, this is only half of the truth.

C. The truth is, yes, we do condemn the vain tradition of men, as shown in 'A', and we must keep the Tradition of GOD, as shown in 'B'.

Thus we have half the truth in 'A', and the other half in 'B', and combined we have the full truth.

The false doctrine of Sola Scriptura adds A and B together and puts the total in A, rejecting all of tradition. A+B=C.

Suzanne said...

Well put, Michael Gormley. The One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church remains the Church that Christ founded. The countless cults that have been spawned by the political revolt against the power of the papacy and the emperor committed to protecting that power has come to be glorified in Protestant history texts as a glorious reformation of the Church. The father of lies is the gloating father of the distortion of history. Half truths sadly pave the way to his domain. There are many wonderful snippets of truth being espoused in the cults to convince followers that their salvation depends upon clinging to the cults' doctrines, as opposed to seeking Christ, Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity, really present and yearning for their adoration. Sad to the point of damnation. Christ, have mercy.

Camille said...

Michael,
You make some good points, others that are confusing. Among my Christian friends, I can't think of a single one who would assert that Roman Catholics do not believe the Bible. Nor can I think of a single Christian friend, Protestant or Catholic, who denies the value of tradition. I think the point of "Sola Scriptura" is that all traditions must be subjected to the scrutiny of Scripture. As fallen men, it is very possible that our traditions wander from what is true and good.

In my particular church, we sing hymns, many of which we composed hundreds of years ago (some as early as the 7th century). These are a precious part of our faith, and are rich with doctrine. But, should a favorite old hymn be revealed to proclaim something contrary to Scripture, it must be abandoned.

Likewise, we value extra-Biblical documents, such as the writings of Augustine, etc. But again, these must be studied in light of the truths of Scripture.

Sola Scriptura states that Scripture alone, as the infallible, inerrant word of God, is the standard by which every other document/tradition/etc. must be measured. Scripture is the objective standard of truth. Judging our traditions by our traditions is rather like supporting our opinions with our opinions.

Regarding you three-sides-of-truth illustration...First, I really don't think you meant to claim that Scripture contains double standards, at least not in the sense that truth is relative - eg, what is true here in Scripture is not true there in Scripture. Also, this illustration sounds like a rather democratic approach to ascertaining truth. "Let me consider all the options, all the voices/sides, and then I'll decide what, in my best judgement, is the truth." It is very possible to have two, or more, completely WRONG sides to a story, and two wrongs don't make a right. I think this very clearly exposes the danger of basing our understanding of truth on anything BUT Scripture. Truth may have many sides; we may perceive and understand different facets of truth; but in the end, it is God's truth that stands, regardless of our preferences or opinions.

"...the Bible is sufficient and nothing else is needed for salvation." I disagree. The Bible doesn't save anyone. Rather, Christ saves sinners. However, in God's good providence, He speaks to the heart of sinners through Scripture - Scripture read, prayed, sung, or preached.

I think your comments expose what is perhaps the most fundamental difference between Protestants and Catholics. Is it the church (and its teachings) which gives authority to Scripture, or is it Scripture which gives authority to the church? I had a young Catholic friend tell me once that the Catholic church wrote the Bible. Yet it had always been my understanding that the Bible was written by holy men (a bunch of Hebrews/Jews, no less) who were inspired by the Spirit of God...that God Himself wrote the Bible. I think therein lies the heart of many of our differences. Ultimately, do we put our faith in men and institutions, or do we put our faith in God? Maybe you would say BOTH. But, knowing the sinful nature of our kind, I'd rather stick with God.

Camille said...

Suzanne,
Amen!