Doctrine and Theology

Why the Reformation Matters (1): Because God Matters…

This entry is part 1 of 5 in the series Why Does the Reformation Matter?

This post is the first of five posts thinking through crucial themes of central importance to the Reformation.

It was pastor and author A.W. Tozer who said, “What comes into our minds when we think about God is the most important thing about us.”

Unfortunately, in many religious circles (even those professing to be Christian), there is not a lot of thinking going on and definitely not a lot of God-centred thinking. Whether it is theological liberalism on one end or more emotionally driven, sensual approaches to Christianity, what we think about God is often not treated as the most important thing about us. 

More often than not, what we think about ourselves is treated as central to us.

One of the most powerful realities that came out of the revival that was the Protestant Reformation was the centrality of right thinking about God. In the opening chapter of his Institutes, John Calvin wrote:

Our wisdom, in so far as it ought to be deemed true and solid Wisdom, consists almost entirely of two parts: the knowledge of God and of ourselves.1.

Calvin goes on to say:

On the other hand, it is evident that man never attains to a true self-knowledge until he has previously contemplated the face of God, and come down after such contemplation to look into himself. For (such is our innate pride) we always seem to ourselves just, and upright, and wise, and holy, until we are convinced, by clear evidence, of our injustice, vileness, folly, and impurity. Convinced, however, we are not, if we look to ourselves only, and not to the Lord also —He being the only standard by the application of which this conviction can be produced. For, since we are all naturally prone to hypocrisy, any empty semblance of righteousness is quite enough to satisfy us instead of righteousness itself. And since nothing appears within us or around us that is not tainted with very great impurity, so long as we keep our mind within the confines of human pollution, anything which is in some small degree less defiled delights us as if it were most pure just as an eye, to which nothing but black had been previously presented, deems an object of a whitish, or even of a brownish hue, to be perfectly white.2

In an age where self-identity is considered the most important thing, perhaps one of the greatest legacies the Reformation leaves for us is the reality that before we can know ourselves for who we truly are, we must understand God for who He truly is.

But we cannot be content just knowing facts about God. We must move from knowing about God and who He is to also knowing who He is for us.

The Heidelberg Catechism, in its inimitably pastoral style, preaches the wonderful truth of God, not just out there, but also for us:

That the eternal Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who out of nothing created heaven and earth and all that is in them, and who still upholds and governs them by His eternal counsel and providence, is, for the sake of Christ His Son, my God and my Father. In Him I trust so completely as to have no doubt that He will provide me with all things necessary for body and soul, and will also turn to my good whatever adversity He sends me in this life of sorrow. He is able to do so as almighty God, and willing also as a faithful Father. ((Heidelberg Catechism, Q26))

God is not a God out there for the benefit of others – God is our God! He is for us as His children because He is first and foremost for His Son and that reality truly changes everything!

Why does the Reformation matter? Because God matters!

  1. John Calvin, John T McNeill and Ford Lewis Battles, Institutes Of The Christian Religion, 1st ed. (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1960), 35 []
  2. Ibid., 43 []
Doctrine and Theology

Why the Reformation Matters (2a): Because The Bible Matters Part 1

This entry is part 2 of 5 in the series Why Does the Reformation Matter?

This is part two of a series of reflections on the five Solas of the Protestant Reformation. Use the series link above to read the first part of the series. The Reformation was a

The Reformation was a Bible movement. The pre-Reformation trailblazers had their eyes opened through Scripture. The Reformers believed in the Bible as the Word of God around which all life was oriented. Think on how this galvanised faithful service from those who went before us. William Tyndale, a pioneer of English Bible translation, had this to say in relation to Scripture:

I defy the Pope and all his laws. If God spare my life ere many years, I will cause the boy that drives the plow to know more of the scriptures than you!

Tyndale died for his devotion to the Bible. But his death wasn’t in vain: you could indeed argue that a kid today could indeed more about the Bible – thanks in large part to Tyndale But that raises a big question:

Why did the Scripture fuel such radical devotion to it on the part of those who came out of the Reformation?

The Puritan pastor and teacher Thomas Watson wrote about the Scriptures:

“All Scripture is given by inspiration of God.” By Scripture is understood the sacred Book of God. It is given by divine inspiration; that is, the Scripture is not the contrivance of man’s brain—but is divine in its origin. The image of Diana was had in veneration by the Ephesians, because they supposed it fell from Jupiter. The holy Scripture is to be reverenced and esteemed, because we are sure it came from heaven. The two Testaments are the two lips by which God has spoken to us.1

The Scripture is the library of the Holy Ghost; it is a pandect of divine knowledge, an exact model and platform of religion. The Scripture contains in it the ‘credenda’ (the things which we are to believe) and the ‘agenda’ (the things which we are to practice).2

Anyone with an observant eye in our day can tell that many have a lower view of the Bible than previous generations. Want to see how? Look at our sermons.

Take, for instance, Andy Stanley of North Point Community Church in the Atlanta, GA area. He turned heads with his sermon The Bible Tells Me So – a sermon in which he argued that the inerrancy of the Bible is not as important as the Resurrection when it comes to assessing the truth claims of Christianity.

It was not surprising he would say this for many reasons if you are familiar with Stanley. It was surprising that he was vigorously defended by many who would still claim the Bible to be the Word of God.

Why does the Bible matter? Is it that big of a deal what we think about when it comes to the Bible? Is Stanley right to say that it’s not so big a deal what one thinks about the Scripture?

I want to argue that it does matter for four crucial reasons3:

I. The Bible matters because it is sufficient:

A great definition of the sufficiency of the Bible comes to us from the 1689 London Baptist Confession:

The whole revelation of God concerning all things essential for his own glory, human salvation, faith and life, is either explicitly set down or implicitly contained in the Holy Scriptures. Nothing is ever to be added, whether by a new revelation of the Spirit, or by human traditions.

Let’s break that down:

The Bible is not sufficient for everything:

Before we run away with the fairies, it is important to understand that the Bible is not given by God to deal with every issue imaginable. You won’t find how to change the oil in your car, independent business advice or how to install a wireless printer (believe me on that last one, I know!)

The Bible is sufficient for the important things:

That said, the Bible is enough to teach us all we do need to know! Everything God knows you need to know is contained in the Word of God. Whether it is stated plainly or by way of some principle, if the Scriptures say it, it’s enough to meet your need.

The Bible is final in its sufficiency:

The sufficiency of Scripture also means that you cannot add or take away from it. Whether we add some new revelation, some scientific ‘advancement’ or taking away that which seems ‘unreasonable’ – there is nothing that could be said in addition to what God has already said.

The Bible will never need an update, revision or emendation – God has spoken and spoken with finality.

To be continued…

  1. Thomas Watson, A Body Of Divinity, 1st ed. Edinburgh: Banner of Truth Trust, 2000, 26 []
  2. Thomas, Isaac David Ellis. The Golden Treasury Of Puritan Quotations. 1st ed. Edinburgh: Banner of Truth Trust, 2000, 32 []
  3. I’m indebted to Kevin DeYoung’s fantastic primer on the subject of the Bible, Taking God at His Word []
Doctrine and Theology

Why the Reformation Matters (2b): Because the Bible Matters Part 2

This entry is part 3 of 5 in the series Why Does the Reformation Matter?

This is the third installment in a Reformation-themed series, looking at the practical application of the five Solas for believers today. For the previous part, dealing with the truth of Scripture, use the series link above to catch up.

There is no heresy to postmodern society except to believe that there is such a thing as absolute truth.

Nothing quite illustrates this like the word truthiness. Coined by comic and late-night TV host Stephen Colbert in 2005, the word has the definition of:

The quality of seeming to be true according to one’s intuition, opinion, or perception without regard to logic, factual evidence, or the like.1

We’ve stopped asking whether we can know what the truth is and succumbed to being content with whether something feels true. After all, no one tells the truth anymore – one need only follow an election cycle to empathize with that concern. If the truth doesn’t exist, then we can only deal in the realm of the truthy, not the truth, right?

As we continue in our mini-series on the Bible, we come to two more characteristics of God’s Word that answer that issue of whether truth exists or not: we can know that truth exists because God’s Word is clear about the truth and it speaks with authority to those issues.

II. The Bible matters because it is clear:

The technical term for the clarity of Scripture is its perspicuity. When we talk about Scripture being perspicuous, the 1689 London Baptist Confession says the following:

Some things in Scripture are clearer than others, and some people understand the teachings more clearly than others. However, the things that must be known, believed, and obeyed for salvation are so clearly set forth and explained in one part of Scripture or another that both the educated and uneducated may achieve a sufficient understanding of them by properly using ordinary measures.2

Yes, some parts of the Bible are hard to grapple with – the Bible says as much!

Also, regard the patience of our Lord as [an opportunity for] salvation, just as our dear brother Paul, according to the wisdom given to him, has written to you. He speaks about these things in all his letters, in which there are some matters that are hard to understand. The untaught and unstable twist them to their own destruction, as they also do with the rest of the Scriptures.3

But the core of the Bible’s message is not a mystery – when it comes to those things we need to know for salvation, for life and godliness in the knowledge of God4, the Bible is clear.

In an age where we despair about whether we can even know what the truth is, the principle of Scripture’s clarity cuts through that despair with the assurance that we can know what is true and what is not and know it with certainty!

III. The Bible matters because it carries God’s authority:

Related to the fact that God has spoken clearly is the fact that when God speaks, what He says bears His authority.

Dr. Richard Mayhue, the longtime dean at The Master’s Seminary, summarizes God’s authority as follows:

“…with a biblical worldview, original authority and ultimate authority reside with God and God alone. God did not inherit His authority—there was no one to bequeath it to Him. God did not receive His authority—there was no one to bestow it on Him. God’s authority did not come by way of an election—there was no one to vote for Him. God did not seize His authority—there was no one to steal it from. God did not earn His authority—it was already His. God inherently embodies authority because He is the great “I AM” (Exod 3:14; John 8:58).”5

Few people who claim to believe in God would outwardly disagree with much of that sentiment – but the heart of the issue has to do with whether this authority extends to God’s Word and not just God Himself.

Dr. Mayhue, in another article, gives a helpful syllogism for dealing with this issue:

1. Scripture is the Word of God.
2. The words of God are authoritative.
Conclusion: Scripture is authoritative.6

If the Bible is the Word of God – which it is7 – and any word God says carries divine authority – which it does – then Scripture must be authoritative.

Scripture then is more than just a record of human experiences in search of the divine or highly suggestible moral advice – it is God Himself speaking to His people in terms that cannot be ignored or defied.

Calvin nailed this in his commentary on 2 Timothy 3:

We owe to the Scriptures the same reverence as we owe to God, since it has its only source in Him and has nothing of human origin mixed with it.8

God has spoken – and we can neither argue with nor downplay His Word!

While these are glorious truths in themselves, let’s not lose sight of what we discussed in part one about who God is – God is a God who is for us! He is a Father and when Father God speaks, it is for our ultimate good. When God speaks to us clearly and authoritatively, He does not do so in a violent thundering designed to scare us off.

That God has spoken with clear authority ought to comfort us!

Far from being the joyless edict of a pan-galactic killjoy, Scripture is ultimately the loving communication of a Father to His children. Even in its communication to the wicked and the lost, the Bible is still God the Father mercifully communicating to us, warning us of the impending doom of the wicked and calling us to repentance and faith in Christ.

Its promises are the joy of the believer, its teachings and instruction our guidance along life’s weary way, its warnings given that we might not veer off the right path, its central focus the Lord Jesus Christ: our Saviour, Sanctifier, Advocate with the Father and soon-coming King.

What a great and glorious treasure is left for us in the Word of God – the revealed mind and heart of God the Father to His covenant people.

I close with the wise words of John Calvin once again:

For who even of slight intelligence does not understand that, as nurses commonly do with infants, God is wont in measure to ‘lisp’ in speaking to us? Thus such forms of speaking do not so much express clearly what God is like as accommodate the knowledge of him to our slight capacity. To do this he must descend far beneath his loftiness.9

  1. “The Definition Of Truthiness”. 2017. Dictionary.Com. http://www.dictionary.com/browse/truthiness. []
  2. “Chapter 1 – The Holy Scriptures”. 2017. Founders Ministries. http://founders.org/1689-confession/chapter-1-the-holy-scriptures/. []
  3. 2 Peter 3:15-16 CSB []
  4. His divine power has given us everything required for life and godliness through the knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness. – 2 Peter 1:3 CSB []
  5. MacArthur, John, and Richard Mayhue. Biblical Doctrine: A Systematic Summary Of Bible Truth. 1st ed. Wheaton, Illinois: Crossway, 101 []
  6. Mayhue, Richard. 2004. “The Authority Of Scripture”. The Masters’ Seminary Journal 15 (2): 232. https://www.tms.edu/m/tmsj15j.pdf. []
  7. 2 Peter 1:16-21 []
  8. Calvin, John. 1996. The Second Epistle Of Paul The Apostle To The Corinthians And The Epistles To Timothy, Titus And Philemon. 1st ed. Grand Rapids, Mi.: Eerdmans. []
  9. Calvin, John. 1961. Institutes Of The Christian Religion. 1st ed. London: SCM, 1:121 []
Doctrine and Theology

Why the Reformation Matters (2c): Because the Bible Matters Part 3

This entry is part 4 of 5 in the series Why Does the Reformation Matter?

Why do we need our Bibles?

 

That may sound like an unusual question, given that we are Christians, but stop and think about the last time you gave that question some serious thought.

Why do we need our Bibles?

As we conclude this miniseries on Scripture, I want to direct our attention to a portion of God’s Word which directly answers the question of the necessity of Scripture – the fourth key characteristic of Scripture (read parts one and two for the previous three).

That passage is 2 Timothy 3:16-17:

All Scripture is inspired by God and is profitable for teaching, for rebuking, for correcting, for training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.

In the passage, Paul lays out four reasons why we need our Bibles – so let us walk through his argument carefully and see what we can learn together.

A. We need the Bible for its teaching:

We can define the idea of Scripture’s teaching as what it has to say about the right way to believe and behave.

Pastor and Bible teacher Dr. John MacArthur gives the following definition:

“The divine instruction or doctrinal content of both the OT and the NT…the comprehensive and complete body of divine truth necessary for godliness.”

Scripture is necessary because it is God’s curriculum for faith and practice. In its pages we have the inside scoop on what God would have us know and do. As we noted in the first part of our series on Scripture, Scripture isn’t designed to answer every question on every issue. However, when it comes to what we must believe and how we must behave, God’s Word alone gives what we need.

B. We need the Bible for its rebuke:

If teaching is the right way to believe and behave, then rebuking can be understood as pointing out wrong belief and behaviour.

As the saying goes, “To err is human”, and that is no more true than when it comes to spiritual matters. If Scripture is true truth, to recall the idea coined by Francis Schaeffer, then it must correct us when our views of God, man, sin, salvation and reality itself are wrong.

C. We need the Bible for its correction:

At first glance, it would appear rebuke and correction are the same thing – however, there is a distinction to be made between the two.

The Greek word rendered ‘correction’ in most English translations is epanorthosis. As Vine’s Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words points out, this word carries the idea of making straight once again.1

While rebuke points to wrong belief and behaviour, correction has to do with restoration to right belief and behavior.

As we would say in more colloquial terms, Scripture is what God uses to set us straight. It would be a bad parent who only pointed out what a child did wrong without pointing out the right way. In the same way, God’s Word doesn’t just point out where we get it wrong. It has the power, as the Spirit teaches us through its pages, to set us back on the right track in terms of what we believe and how we behave.

D. We need Scripture for training in righteousness:

Finally, we need our Bibles for training in righteousness – ongoing instruction in right belief and behaviour.

As believers, we are called to live as pilgrims on the way to glory while serving the Lord where He has placed us. Correspondingly, we will need ongoing direction – and Scripture provides us that instruction. As Cornelius Van Til so wisely expressed in his watershed work The Defense of the Faith:

The Bible is thought of as authoritative on everything of which it speaks. Moreover, it speaks of everything.

As Van Til himself goes on to note:

We do not mean that it speaks of football games, of atoms, etc., directly, but we do mean that it speaks of everything either directly or by implication.

This is a crucial point that cannot afford to be missed – sometimes Scripture’s instruction is pointed and direct (i.e. what it teaches about sexual ethics, about the sanctity of life or what it says about how the believer should conduct themselves in the workplace) and at times its instruction takes the form of principles which may differ in application depending on the situation.

Whatever the form that instruction takes, we are not left in the dark as to what God desires us to believe and to do.

And so I ask that question with which we began: why do we need our Bibles?

We need our Bibles for life – true, fulfilling, satisfying life!

That should make us confident the next time we pick up our Bibles. God has equipped us for the journey!

  1. http://studybible.info/vines/Correct,%20Correction,%20Corrector,%20Correcting []
Uncategorized

Why the Reformation Matters (3): Because the Glory of God Matters

This entry is part 5 of 5 in the series Why Does the Reformation Matter?

If you’re a believer reading this, I want to ask you a question: Why are you a believer and why isn’t your unsaved friend?

For me, that question is a little more personal: why am I a believer but my brother, whom I grew up with, isn’t?

I’m sure we can all think of that close person in our lives whom we love dearly and yet they do not believe in Jesus.

Is it because you or I were smarter, more gifted, paid more attention or were more humble?

Allow me to ask this question much more pointedly: who gets the final credit for your salvation?

One of the issues that flowed out of the Reformation was the question of who gets the glory in salvation. In football terms, does God get the goal or the assist when it comes to our redemption?

As I read my NT, I see a consistent theme – salvation is from God and by God for God’s own glory.

Nowhere is that theme more powerfully set forth than in the opening verses of Paul’s letter to the Ephesians:

Blessed is the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavens in Christ. For he chose us in him, before the foundation of the world, to be holy and blameless in love before him. He predestined us to be adopted as sons through Jesus Christ for himself, according to the good pleasure of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace that he lavished on us in the Beloved One.

In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace that he richly poured out on us with all wisdom and understanding. He made known to us the mystery of his will, according to his good pleasure that he purposed in Christ as a plan for the right time—to bring everything together in Christ, both things in heaven and things on earth in him.

In him we have also received an inheritance, because we were predestined according to the plan of the one who works out everything in agreement with the purpose of his will, so that we who had already put our hope in Christ might bring praise to his glory.

In him you also were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and when you believed. he Holy Spirit is the down payment of our inheritance, until the redemption of the possession, to the praise of his glory. 1

I want to consider three movements in this glorious text which expound on the glory our triune God receives in our salvation:

Glory! The Father loved, chose and predestined us…

Ephesians 1:6 notes that God the Father chose us for salvation and predestined us – planned before the dawn of time to adopt us into His family – and that for this, He is worthy of glory.

Election is often painted as a cold, austere doctrine – the divine equivalent of duck, duck, goose – but the Bible knows nothing of such an idea. According to the Bible, God predestines us in love. Predestination rides on the track of divine love every bit as much as it does on the justice, sovereignty and power of God.

As the old Gospel song says:

Oh, the love that drew salvation’s plan!
Oh, the grace that brought it down to man!
Oh, the mighty gulf that God did span
At Calvary! 2

We were outside of the family of God, headed towards His wrath and without hope in the world – and then the eternal God chose to make us His own. He stepped in to alter the very course of our lives – and not for anything good in us. God does all this for His own glory.

 

Glory! The Son has redeemed us and given us an inheritance…

Not only does God the Father receive all the glory in our salvation but God the Son also receives glory for our salvation in Ephesians 1:11-12.

If the Father is the Architect of salvation, the Son is the One who has purchased the salvation desired by the Father. Beyond that, He has also invited us to share in the inheritance He has been given from the Father. 3

God the Father has invited us into His family and the Son has seen to it that He has paid the price and included us in the family will. We were slaves to sin until Christ bought us out of our bondage to the world, the flesh and the Devil 4. We started with nothing but will one day inherit the earth itself 5

Glory! The Holy Spirit will see us home to glory…

The Father receives glory in our salvation for His loving predestination and the Son receives glory for redeeming us and granting us His full inheritance. The Spirit also receives glory as well in our salvation in verses 13-14.

The Father has planned salvation out of His divine love, the Son purchases our salvation and the Spirit applies that salvation to the believer and ensures that we will enter the presence of the Father on that final day. The Spirit is the “proof of purchase” – the pledge that we have been the beneficiary of the work of the Father and the Son.

The Spirit guarantees our hope
Until redemption’s done
Until we join in endless praise
To God, the Three in One 6

A great many Christians labour under the impression that salvation is a work that God might plan and the Son might pay for but we have to keep up or maintain it. The text couldn’t be clearer though – the Spirit is the one who is the down payment of our salvation. It is the Spirit who is charged with testifying to our spirit that we are sons of God 7, who unites us to Christ 8 and acts as our guarantee. 9

You can’t be more assured than having God Himself as your guarantee – God who cannot lie 10 and cannot swear by anything greater than Himself! 11

And why does the Spirit do this? To the praise of His glory.

So we return to the question with which we began: who gets the credit for our salvation?

If we believe the Bible to be true in all it says, we have to conclude: to God alone be all the glory…or as the Reformers and those in their wake would say, “Soli deo Gloria!”

Glory, glory to the Father

Glory, glory to the Son

Glory, glory to the Spirit

Ever three and ever one!