The Reformation – Part 1
2 Timothy 3:16-4:4
Having finished the first part of our study in the book of Revelation –it seemed good to me take a short detour for 2 reasons.
First, we’ve been very concentrated in our study and a little shift can bring some refreshment.
2nd, this year marks the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation. The Reformation achieved its momentum on the occasion of then Catholic Monk Martin Luther – nailing his famous 95 theses on the door of All Saints Church in Wittenberg Germany on Oct. 31 1517.
The act itself was unremarkable. In Luther’s day, this was a standard way of sparking academic debate.
Someone would publicly post their ideas, and this would open the door for others to respond. No big deal.
But in this case, Luther’s stated concerns struck at the heart of the corruption that had crept into the then Church.
I want to be clear that there were many in what we would call the Catholic Church at that time, who were severely grieved by the state of the church morally and corruption. They were seeking to see the Church repent and reform – the way Jesus was calling upon 5 of the 7 churches we’ve just studied in the book of Revelation.
But instead of repenting and seeking reform, the Church hierarchy doubled down.
Church historian Phillip Schaff makes an important and helpful distinction in his writing on the Reformation when he separates Catholicism from Romanism. Without getting too complex,
Catholicism was at that point the most visible form of Christianity globally – however defective.
But Romanism is the result of the resistance of Catholicism to reform, and codified itself in the Council of Trent in 1545-1563.
Phillip Schaff writes about the situation when Luther posted his theses: “Theology was a maze of scholastic subtleties, Aristotelian dialectics and idle speculations, but ignored the great doctrines of the gospel. Carlstadt, the older colleague of Luther, confessed that he had been doctor of divinity before he had seen a complete copy of the Bible. Education was confined to priests and nobles. The mass of the laity could neither read nor write, and had no access to the word of God except the Scripture lessons from the pulpit.
The priest’s chief duty was to perform, by his magic words, the miracle of transubstantiation, and to offer the sacrifice of the mass for the living and the dead in a foreign tongue. Many did it mechanically, or with a skeptical reservation, especially in Italy. Preaching was neglected, and had reference, mostly, to indulgences, alms, pilgrimages and processions. The churches were overloaded with good and bad pictures, with real and fictitious relics. Saint-worship and image-worship, superstitious rites and ceremonies obstructed the direct worship of God in spirit and in truth.
Piety which should proceed from a living union of the soul with Christ and a consecration of character, was turned outward and reduced to a round of mechanical performances such as the recital of Paternosters and Ave marias, fasting, alms-giving, confession to the priest, and pilgrimage to a holy shrine. Good works were measured by the quantity rather than the quality, and vitiated by the principle of meritoriousness which appealed to the selfish motive of reward. Remission of sin could be bought with money; a shameful traffic in indulgences was carried on under the Pope’s sanction for filthy lucre as well as for the building of St. Peter’s Dome, and caused that outburst of moral indignation which was the beginning of the Reformation and of the fearful judgment on the Church of Rome.”
While for many the Reformation is at best a dim concept today, the reality is the reason why you and I sit here today praying directly to God the Father in Jesus’ name instead of Mary or the Saints; the reason why we enjoy the assurance of our salvation based upon the finished work of Christ on the cross rather than our own merit or good works; the reason why our consciences are not bound by anything other than Scripture itself; and the reason why we do not go through an endless set of rites and rituals to somehow be right with God – is because Evangelicals – theologically, not politically – are heirs of the Protestant Reformation.
At the very bottom of the need for and the meaning of the Reformation was the Gospel itself. And I hope to be unpacking that more in the next few weeks to come.
Amazingly the Reformation broke out virtually simultaneously in Germany and Switzerland – then quickly blazing through France, Scandinavia, Holland, Hungary, Bohemia and eventually Scotland and England.
As the Reformation progressed, those identifying themselves with this movement took up 5 watchwords or slogans that framed their ground and purpose.
Due to the day in which this took place, the slogans were all in Latin – and I’d like to take a week to look at each one separately.
The slogans are: Sola Scriptura; Sola Fide; Sola Gratia; Solus Christus; Soli Deo Gloria
And the first of these – Sola Scriptura, is what came to be known as the “formal” cause of the Reformation.
What is meant by using the term “formal” here is that this 1st idea is the one from which the rest are formed. Once this concept is in place, the “material” cause of the Reformation – justification by faith alone – the material which is woven from the “form” – then helps define the rest. We’ll unpack that more as we go.
The bottom consideration for us at this point is this: All that comes out of the Reformation has as its starting point – this idea: That the ultimate and final authority in all of life and practice for both the Church and the individual Believer, is the Scripture.
Contrary to the Romanist view, and that of every other religion and cult as well, is this – the Bible: No man, no organization, no council – even in Church history, no other writing or institution, influence or source has the right to bind the conscience of any human being in how one understands and serves God – above the Bible. NONE!
The Bible as our ultimate authority for faith and practice.
Put another way: The Bible alone can determine what can or cannot be required of people in order for them to be Christians, to be right with God.
Nothing less than the Bible.
Nothing more than the Bible.
Nothing other than the Bible.
Now this does NOT mean we reject all other things as utterly useless or that we read nothing else.
Church history has a great role for us in seeing how generations of Christians past understood the Scriptures. The Reformers were keen observers of Church history and the great preachers and commentators who came before them.
Those who have studied and been taught in the original languages, ancient cultures and sound principles of interpretation can also be of use. In fact, the Bible itself tells us that God has by His Spirit given the gifts of teachers and preachers to us, to help us in this regard. And to ignore His gifts is to reject Him and His wisdom and His provision for us.
So we read in Ephesians 4:11–14 “And he [JESUS] gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes.”
But we are all then responsible to study the Word for ourselves, and to test what is taught to us. To hold fast to that which is good, and to reject what is not.
The Apostle Paul noted this reality when he commended the people in the city of Berea for how they responded to his bringing the Gospel to them. Acts 17:10–11 “The brothers immediately sent Paul and Silas away by night to Berea, and when they arrived they went into the Jewish synagogue. Now these Jews were more noble than those in Thessalonica; they received the word with all eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so.”
Hence we have our key text before us this morning.
2 Timothy 3:16–17
- “All Scripture is breathed out by God”: It is from this word that we get our idea of the Bible being INSPIRED. In fact, the word here more literally means EX-PIRED. You IN-spire when you in-hale. You EX-pire when you breathe out. God BREATHED OUT His Word to us. We didn’t conjure it up in brilliance or cleverness, we had it given to us by Him Himself.
We do not hold that the Bible is inspired in the sense that it is brilliant or admirable or exceptional – but in that it is God’s own mind breathed out for us to take in. It is Divinely given.
But given for what? Why did God speak to us at all?
- “and profitable for teaching”: To instruct us in what He appointed as most necessary for us to know.
To know about Him.
About why the world is the way it is.
How it came to be.
The purpose of all things – of life itself.
How to live with God in proper relationship in His universe.
It is not given to tell us how to fix our motorcycles, marriages, psyches, finances or society.
All that He reveals can and will impact all of those, but first and foremost, it is meant to teach us those things are most essential to know as being made His image-bearers and to carry out His plans and purposes in the world.
- “for reproof,”: In the OT, this word had the idea of testing things. But in the NT it is narrowed and boils down to showing us what is WRONG. For if we accept humanity, this life and this world as normative, and not as fundamentally flawed, we’ll approach life in a totally different way than what reality from God’s point of view looks like.
If humanity is just fine and natural the way we are, then there is no need of a Savior. No need of salvation. But the Word of God comes crashing into our world announcing to us that we are hopelessly and fatally in a fallen, sinful and rebellious condition against our God. It opens our eyes first to our need – so that we will seek the remedy.
So Romans 5:20a starts: “Now the law came in to increase the trespass”
Because it is our natural tendency to think well of ourselves, and because one of the by-products of The Fall is to make us insensible of our sinfulness, God’s Word brings that knowledge of that sinfulness into the full bright light so that we see it and ourselves as God sees us.
But then, as the Law can only expose sin, can only reveal to us what is wrong – can only reprove, God continues to breathe out to us His Gospel and so the Scripture is also given –
- “for correction”: How to fix our sin problem. How to be reconciled to the God of all the earth who is absolutely holy and must judge sin. In other words, the Word of God is the sole place where can know with absolute divine authority how to be reconciled to God.
The one offended must be the One who appoints the means of satisfaction and reconciliation.
And so it is we hear that Jesus, the eternal Son of God, became incarnate, lived under the Law of God perfectly fulfilling it in every way – and then died a substitutionary death in our place, taking the wrath due us upon Himself, so that all who Believe God’s Word and trust in the life, death, burial, resurrection and return of Jesus might have all of their sins forgiven, granted eternal life and be indwelt by God’s own Spirit.
We could not know one iota of this Gospel apart from the Bible.
We must be saved by HIS Gospel, according to His appointed means – and not by means and methods invented by us!
Every bit of man-made religion appeals to some other source.
We could never know – as we will see in the weeks to come – that this salvation is all of grace as opposed to human merit, and completely by faith as opposed to ma’s works.
If God had not breathed it out for us, we would be forever blind to it. And lost forever in our trespasses and sins.
And once again, our good and gracious God does not stop there – for God breathed out His word that we might also know how to LIVE for Him once we have been born again.
- “and for training in righteousness.”: It is on the Bible alone that we learn what things God hates, and what he loves. What He dislikes and what He approves. And above all, how He has provided for us in both His recorded wisdom and the bestowal of His Spirit – how to live our lives as unto Him in an acceptable way.
Or, as the text says: “that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.”
No, the Scripture does not speak to every situation we may encounter individually or specifically.
And once again, it is not given to make us better employees, or better husbands, wives, children or parents. It is given to make us GODLY employees, GODLY husbands and wives and children and parents. And in pursuing GODLINESS, to bless others and serve God acceptably.
And in its genius, it does this in 3 primary ways:
- In Prescriptions – Specific commands and prohibitions.
- In Precedents – As we examine the narrative and see how it is God worked in our forbearers’ lives and circumstances. Example: Ananias and Saphira.
- In Principles – As larger wisdom and guiding principles the spell out God’s likes, dislikes, etc. Example: If drunkenness from wine is condemned, it is not a stretch at all to apply that to other intoxicants – smoked, snorted, shot, inhaled or ingested.
So when we take the passage we read earlier in Isa. 8:19–20 “And when they say to you, “Inquire of the mediums and the necromancers who chirp and mutter,” should not a people inquire of their God? Should they inquire of the dead on behalf of the living? To the teaching and to the testimony! If they will not speak according to this word, it is because they have no dawn.”
And couple it with Jesus’ own words in John 5:39 “You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me,” the utter importance of the Scripture becomes crystal clear – along with the revelation of the good of the God who stooped to our level to have them delivered to us.
But we need to consider one last thing before we close today.
It should abundantly clear given what we’ve looked thus far, how this unfolded in the time of the Reformation and the struggle for Protestantism to rise out of Catholicism and then in direct opposition to Romanism on this critical point.
But it is certainly no less important in our day.
While we may not be facing such systematized religion in addition to or contrary to the Scripture – we face a more subtle and perhaps more pernicious challenge to Sola Scriptura in our day:
For up against the absolute authority of Scripture for what we are to believe and how we are to live have risen two twin threats: Personal Opinion, and Feelings.
The Gospel remains the Gospel, only as God has communicated it to us – and it is not subject to amendment by our likes, dislikes, desires or feelings.
And a righteous life is defined by God’s revelation, not the ever changing morals of a fallen society.
Now, more than ever we need to lift the banner of Sola Scriptura on high in opposition to way our generation has lauded in its place – personal choice and opinion.
Repentance from sin – from what GOD calls sin.
Trust in the substitutionary atoning sacrifice of Jesus on the Cross.
Belief in His bodily incarnation, penal death, resurrection and return.
And as Scripture itself declares about salvation in Paul’s letter to the Thessalonians: 1 Thessalonians 1:9–10 “For they themselves report concerning us the kind of reception we had among you, and how you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God, 10 and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead, Jesus who delivers us from the wrath to come.”
Nothing less and noting other than turning from all the idols of self, self-righteousness, greed, personal advancement and pleasure,
To serve instead the Living and True God according to His own revelation
And to wait for His Son from Heaven, whom He raised from the dead, Jesus who delivers us from the wrath to come
Is the Gospel.
And glory to God for His love, mercy, faithfulness and grace in seeing to it we have it preserved for us even to this very day.