We noted last month that 2017 marks the 500th anniversary of the beginning of the Reformation in Europe â€“ on 31st October Martin Luther posted his Ninety-five Theses on the door of the castle church in Wittenberg and sparked such a revolution as he could never have envisaged. God was mightily at work.
But what is the heart of the Reformation? What were the great truths rediscovered during those momentous years? The fact is that the Reformation touched on every significant area of Christian doctrine. A great deal of attention was given, for example, to the biblical doctrine of the sacraments, especially the Lordâ€™s Supper. The latter, sadly, was a cause of division among the Reformers themselves. The Reformation cannot be reduced to one issue, such as â€˜justification by faith aloneâ€™, although that was a crucial doctrine much debated at the time. A useful way of approaching the core of the Reformation is through what have come to be known as the â€˜Five Solasâ€™ â€“ â€˜solaâ€™ being the Latin word for â€˜aloneâ€™. They are Scripture Alone, Christ Alone, Grace Alone, Faith Alone and Godâ€™s Glory Alone. These five truths do bring us close to the heart of the Reformation theologically and for the next few months Another Voice will be considering them briefly.
The foundation of the Reformation was â€˜Scripture Aloneâ€™. What is the source of Christian theology? Rome relied on a combination of written Scripture and unwritten tradition, interpreted by the â€˜magisteriumâ€™ of the Church. The Reformers realised that this positon was in fact profoundly unbiblical and in response asserted that we must base all theology on â€˜Scripture Aloneâ€™. Without denying the value of centuries of study by scholars and preachers, the Reformers recognised that Scripture is the Churchâ€™s only infallible rule of faith and practice.
The Reformers understood that in the Bible we have a unique revelation. In the context of the Europe of their day the fact that the Bible was to be regarded as the Word of God was a largely unchallenged view. Theologians might differ as to how to interpret the Bible and as to what the text meant, but they generally agreed that what they were handling was Godâ€™s Word.
We face a rather different challenge today with regard to the place of the Bible. We live in a pluralist culture where other religions are on our doorstep, not in the far-flung regions of the world as they usually were in Reformation days. They too make claims to have divine revelations, sometimes in addition to the Bible. We also face the challenge of philosophers and theologians who assert that the very idea of â€˜words from Godâ€™ is incoherent and incredible. In response we cannot allow ourselves to be moved from the position of 2 Timothy 3:16 â€“ â€˜All Scripture is God-breathedâ€™. All Scripture â€“ the Old Testament and also the New Testament then in process of production. In the Bible alone we have the Word of God written, given by the miraculous work of the Holy Spirit.
In the Bible we also have a unique authority. This follows from the God-breathed nature of the book. If God speaks uniquely in these pages, then they have absolute authority in all they teach. Submission to Godâ€™s Word is evidence of submission to God himself. As Christ said, â€˜If you love me, you will keep my commandmentsâ€™ (John 14:15).
Many of the great Reformation debates came back to the issue of the authority of the Bible. In response to Romeâ€™s appeal to unwritten apostolic tradition and the Anabaptistsâ€™ appeal to the â€˜inner lightâ€™, the Reformers were convinced that the Bible did not need to be supplemented and could not be replaced by any other source of authority.
We too need to keep asserting the unique authority of the Bible. Rome still appeals to tradition and to papal authority. Charismatics appeal to new revelations of the Spirit and â€˜words from the Lordâ€™. Many Christians in practice depend on their feelings as their authoritative guide. In the wider world all kinds of authorities are cited, often centred on human reason, science and â€˜expertsâ€™. One major danger posed by our digital culture is the ease with which anyone can set himself up as an â€˜authorityâ€™, subject to no checks of any kind. The very idea of authority crumbles in a Wikipedia world and the response we often have to contend with is â€˜Who says so?â€™ with the implication that my view is as good as anyone elseâ€™s.
We must heartily defend â€˜Scripture Aloneâ€™. In this book God has given us all we need to know (although not all we would like to know). No other source of authority must be allowed to usurp its place in theory or practice. Our love for the Lord must be demonstrated in obedience to his authoritative Word.
Anniversaries can be very important â€“ ask any husband who has forgotten his wedding anniversary! They usually mark significant events, sometimes life-changing events, that ought to be remembered. The annual return of anniversaries such as...[ abbreviated | read entire ]
I received an e-mail the other day. No â€“ itâ€™s not really that unusual. I do occasionally slink out of digital purdah to check on how the twenty-first century is getting on. I do read e-mails now and again. Just donâ€™t get me started about...[ abbreviated | read entire ]
â€˜The whole worldâ€™s in a terrible state of chassis,â€™ says Captain Jack Boyle in Sean Oâ€™Caseyâ€™s play Juno and the Paycock (1925). Of course he meant â€˜chaosâ€™ â€“ despite solemn expositions on the internet explaining that he meant that the world was...[ abbreviated | read entire ]
Where did last week go? Last month? Last year? Do you find yourself asking questions like that? Doesnâ€™t life seem to fly past, almost in a blur sometimes? No. it isnâ€™t a sign of getting older â€“ I refuse to believe that. Of course time is not...[ abbreviated | read entire ]
It is not unspiritual in gospel work to make plans, to look ahead and give careful thought to how and where witness should be carried on. The apostle Paul was a missionary who thought carefully about the next steps in his work and who had in mind...[ abbreviated | read entire ]
It doesnâ€™t get much better for a preacher. To sit down at the beginning of the week to start preparation for the coming Lordâ€™s Day, to open the Scriptures at the passage due to be expounded and to read, â€˜There is therefore now no condemnation for...[ abbreviated | read entire ]
Yes, I know â€“ you can prove anything with statistics â€“ yet sometimes they can highlight important trends, indicate patterns we should be aware of, flag up issues that need to be addressed. A good example is a recent survey of the views of young...[ abbreviated | read entire ]
It must be true! It was on the front of The Times â€“ JUDGMENT DAY. How could we have missed it? Where were the cataclysms, the fire, the floods, the earthquakes, the turmoil? It all seemed strangely quiet. How could the Day of Judgment have...[ abbreviated | read entire ]
The Bible has had a profound effect on the English language, as it has had on many other languages. Words, phrases, characters and incidents have found their way into common usage, even when their biblical origins have been forgotten. Hence we...[ abbreviated | read entire ]