Pastor John Samson
Does your Bible Study offend God?
Did I get your attention?
What!!? God can be offended when we study the Bible?
Yes, if we’re talking about the average Bible Study that takes place today. Let me explain:
Jesus, in the preamble to quoting a verse from the Old Testament said, “…have you not read what was spoken to you by God…” (Matt. 22:31). The testimony of Jesus and of the Bible is that “All Scripture is God breathed” (2 Tim. 3:16). Therefore, when we open up a page in our Bibles, we are treading upon holy ground. The Bible, although a book, is also unlike any other book. It is not simply a book giving facts about God. The Bible is a book written by God. Certainly, human writers were involved, but the text of Scripture is inspired or breathed out by God Himself.
Just having this concept in place would greatly help us in our Bible studies. What do I mean by that? Well, many people view the interpretation of God’s Word as “no big deal” really. To them its nothing more important than the reading of any other book, at least in their methodology.
The Jews would wash their hands before touching the sacred scrolls, because these scrolls were seen as Divinely inspired. Though we do not need to become superstitious about the physical book called the Bible, so as to wash our hands before picking up or opening the book, the text of the Scripture is the very word of God Himself. We should approach the Word of God humbly, and with the utmost reverence and respect.
And that leads us to talk about how we interpret the Bible. When we recognize that we are handling the very truth of God, we should not be quick to come to conclusions about what it means. What do I mean by that?
Well, if the Bible is God’s holy word, we should seek to gain the correct interpretation of what it means before we attempt to speak for God.
I can’t think of a more holy assignment that to be called to preach or teach the Word of God to the souls of men. Therefore, before someone stands in a pulpit to preach or teach the Word of God, he needs to make sure he has interpreted the text correctly. The preacher’s job is not to merely entertain the crowd or to tell a few stories that will connect with people. Don’t misunderstand me, God gives no prizes to boring preachers who can’t connect with people! But we must always remember that the goal of preaching is the honor and glory of God in accurately proclaiming the word of truth. It is a serious and holy thing to be responsible to proclaim God’s truth and it should never be done lightly, whether heard by thousands, or simply by one precious human soul.
But what is true for the preacher is also true for all of us as Christians. When we sit down and start reading the Bible for ourselves we need to remember that though there may be a thousand applications of Scripture, there is only one correct interpretation – the one the Holy Spirit meant when He inspired the sacred words of the Bible. We should be prepared to do some serious study to seek to understand what the Holy Spirit was and is communicating to us.
I agree wholeheartedly with Dr. James White when he writes, “Remember when you were in school and you had to take a test on a book you were assigned to read? You studied and invested time in learning the background of the author, the context in which he lived and wrote, his purposes in writing, his audience, and the specifics of the text. You did not simply come to class, pop open the book, read a few sentences, and say, ‘Well, I feel the author here means this.’ Yet, for some odd reason, this attitude is prevalent in Christian circles. Whether that feeling results in an interpretation that has anything at all to do with what the original author intended to convey is really not considered an important aspect. Everyone, seemingly, has the right to express their ‘feelings’ about what they ‘think’ the Bible is saying, as if those thoughts actually reflect what God inspired in His Word. While we would never let anyone get away with treating our writings like this, we seem to think God is not bothered, and what is worse, that our conclusions are somehow authoritative in their representation of His Word.”
To some people it would seem to be “un-spiritual” to invest time in studying the historical backgrounds, the context of a text or passage in Scripture, or the original language… no, many today want to “feel” something about a passage… or better still, just want the Holy Spirit to whisper His interpretation in their ears supernaturally. This tends to become highly subjective… and the hard labor of study of the Scriptures is thrown out of the window. Every impression, vision, prophecy, needs to be subject to Scripture, and we are not permitted to subject the Word of God to our impressions or feelings about it.
Its fine to play marbles with marbles, but not with diamonds. Handling the word of God is a priceless duty and delight, not a trivial passion or pursuit.
We would never consider someone qualified to practice as a medical physician after reading just one paper containing a dozen rules on being a good doctor. Though knowing these rules would be helpful, I’m sure we would agree that there’s far more that is needed. Certainly, before a medical board would certify a person as competent to practice medicine they would need to know far more than a few rules for good health. In the same way, there’s so much more that could and should be said about how to study the Bible. Yet, with this qualifier, here are a some simple rules of interpretation (hermeneutics) which should at least get us started. May God use these brief words to encourage you as you search out the truths of God’s word, for His glory:
1. Consider the Author – who wrote the book? (what was his background, language, culture, vocation, concerns, education, circumstance, what stage of life?)
2. Consider the Audience (why was the book written? who was the audience? what would these words have meant to its original recipients?)
3. The Meaning of Words (this has become a lot easier in our day with all the information and technology at our disposal. The computer program Bibleworks 8 is especially recommended).
4. Historical Setting (avoid anachronism – trying to understand the past while viewing it wearing 21st century glasses – will not help toward understanding the original meaning of the author).
5. Grammar – (how things are being expressed – imperative is a command, a subjunctive would be “would you like to do this?” – two quite different meanings result)
6. Textual Issues – (are there any questions about the earliest or most authoritative manuscripts in comparison with others of a later date – and how does this influence our understanding of what was originally written)
7. Syntax – this refers to words and their relationship with one another. For example, Romans 5:1 says “Having been justified (a past tense action) by faith, we have peace with God.” It would be incorrect to think that we have to gain peace with God before justification takes place. The syntax is clear that it is a result of first being justified that peace ensues. Correct syntax is a vital component of sound interpretation.
8. Form of Literature (we should interpret the Bible literally, but that doesn’t mean we don’t recognize that parables are parables, and that to interpret them correctly, we interpret them as literal parables! Historical narrative is historical narrative, nouns are nouns, verbs are verbs, analogies are analogies)
9. Immediate Context (a text out of context becomes a pretext. It can be made to say something not intended by the author). Always check the immediate context of a verse or passage to determine the correct interpretation.
10. Document Context (in Romans, there is a certain argument Paul is pursuing, and this helps us to determine what is meant in isolated verses when we know the purpose for what is being written. Always keep the author’s broad purpose in mind when looking in detail at the meaning of texts). This, like the others, is a very helpful rule.
11. Author’s Context (this refers to looking at all of a person’s writings – John’s writings, Paul’s writings, Luke’s writings, etc.).
12. Biblical Context (the broadest context possible, the entire Bible; allowing us to ask if our interpretation is consistent with the whole of Scripture. Scripture is never contradictory to itself.
13. Understand the difference between prescriptive and descriptive statements in the Bible. Is the verse telling us to do something, or does it describe an action someone does?
Matthew 24:13 “But the one who endures to the end, he will be saved.”
Question: Is this verse prescriptive or descriptive?
If prescriptive, (if it telling us something to do) then no one can be sure of their salvation, for the simple reason that no one presently reading or hearing the statement has, as yet, endured until the very end. If prescriptive, it would negate the wonderful assurance of salvation that the Holy Spirit wishes us to know (1 John 5:13).
Certainly, this is a descriptive statement – as it describes the actions of a truly saved person – such a one will endure, for the nature of the kind of faith God gives to His people is one that endures to the end. A saved person is one who endures to the end – a principle made clear in other passages such as 1 John 2:19 – “They went out from us, but they were not really of us; for if they had been of us, they would have remained with us; but they went out, so that it would be shown that they all are not of us.”
14. Build all doctrine on necessary rather than possible inferences. A necessary inference is something that is definitely taught by the text. The conclusion is unavoidable. It is necessary. A possible inference is something that could or might be true, but not something actually stated by the text.
This is often a lot harder than it might first appear because it means we have to take a step back and analyze exactly why we think a verse teaches something. In other words, it means testing our traditions and doing a lot of thinking. Yet this is something we should do constantly. Paul exhorted Timothy to “Think over what I say, for the Lord will give you understanding in everything.” (2 Tim. 2:7)
All of us should be prepared to hold up our preconceived notions to the light of Scripture to see if these assumptions are valid or not. The result of this process often involves the killing of some sacred cows, but that’s a good thing, if what we have held to be true cannot actually be supported by the biblical text. We all have our blind spots and traditions but we are not always aware of them. Therefore, the serious Bible student asks questions of himself and of the text constantly in order to determine what the sacred text actually says and then he builds his thinking on that.
Here’s one text as an example: John 20:19 says, “On the evening of that day, the first day of the week, the doors being locked where the disciples were for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.”
Many people read this text and conclude that Jesus walked through the locked door in order to present Himself to His disciples. But does the text actually say that? No, it does not. The text might be teaching that. It is certainly a possible inference drawn from the text, but by no means a necessary one. There are other possible explanations.
Concerning this verse the ESV Study Bible says, “Some interpreters understand the doors being locked to imply that Jesus miraculously passed through the door or the walls of the room, though the text does not explicitly say this. Since Jesus clearly had a real physical body with flesh and bones after he rose from the dead”¦ one possibility is that the door was miraculously opened so that the physical body of Jesus could enter, which is consistent with the passage about Peter going through a locked door some time later (see Acts 12:10).”
To state the principle again: we should build all doctrine on necessary rather than possible inferences. All else is speculation.
15. Interpret the unclear passages in Scripture in light of the clear. Though all Scripture is God breathed, every passage is not equally clear (easy to understand). Even the Apostle Peter struggled with Paul’s writings at times, as he found some of it “hard to understand, which the untaught and unstable distort, as they do also the rest of the Scriptures, to their own destruction.” (2 Peter 3:16)
When determining what the Bible teaches on a particular topic, find the passages which CLEARLY address the issue at hand and make this the starting point of your doctrine, rather than an obscure (or less than clear) passage. Once that which is clear is firmly grasped and understood, then proceed to study the passages which at first seem to be unclear, using the above rules.
16. Think for yourself but not by yourself. We are not at all wise when we isolate ourselves. God has gifted others with tremendous insights, not only in our own day, but throughout the history of the Church. These teachers are Christ’s gifts to His people (Ephesians 4:8-12). Use their help.
Here are four helpful quotes in this regard:
“The best way to guard a true interpretation of Scripture, the Reformers insisted, was neither to naively embrace the infallibility of tradition, or the infallibility of the individual, but to recognize the communal interpretation of Scripture. The best way to ensure faithfulness to the text is to read it together, not only with the churches of our own time and place, but with the wider ‘communion of saints’ down through the age.” – Michael Horton, “What Still Keeps Us Apart?”
“It seems odd, that certain men who talk so much of what the Holy Spirit reveals to themselves, should think so little of what he has revealed to others.” – C. H. Spurgeon, Commenting and Commentaries
“Tradition is the fruit of the Spirit’s teaching activity from the ages as God’s people have sought understanding of Scripture. It is not infallible, but neither is it negligible, and we impoverish ourselves if we disregard it.” – J.I. Packer, Upholding the Unity of Scripture Today
“Although tradition does not rule our interpretation, it does guide it. If upon reading a particular passage you have come up with an interpretation that has escaped the notice of every other Christian for two-thousand years, or has been championed by universally recognized heretics, chances are pretty good that you had better abandon your interpretation.” – R. C. Sproul
“Exegesis (correct interpretation) involves much more than the bare analysis of words. It involves context, train of thought, historical considerations, situational considerations, cultural considerations, etc. The analysis of words is merely the starting point.” Eric Svendsen
Pastor John Samson
We can make a distinction between the body and the head of a man and he suffers no loss, but if there is a separation, the man will be dead. The head and the body must stay together for life to continue. Similarly, though we can make a distinction between justification and sanctification, we must never separate the two.
Justification is a legal court room term defined as the act of God when He declares a person just or righteous in His sight. This takes place the moment a sinner places their trust in the Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ. For the sinner who has faith in Jesus, God pronounces the sentence “I find you not guilty! I reckon (I count, I declare) you righteous in My sight, and you and I are forever at peace with each other. All of your sins were transferred to your sin bearing Substitute, the Lord Jesus Christ, who took the full brunt of My holy wrath for them, and what has been transferred to your account is the righteousness of My Son, who lived not only a sinless life, but a life fully pleasing to Me. This very real righteousness is yours now and forever.”
Romans 5:1 says, “Therefore having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.” The Christian is a justified person. God has declared him right in His sight because of Christ.
What is amazing to us (and what is at the heart of the gospel message) is that God does not wait until we are inherently righteous before He declares us righteous. He justifies “the ungodly.” Romans 4:5 says, “And to the one who does not work but believes in him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness.”
How can God do this without compromising His holiness and justice? He does this because the very real righteousness of Christ has been given as a gift to the one who believes in Him. Christ’s righteousness is a real righteousness and “God made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might be made the righteousness of God in Him” (2 Cor 5:21). Christ is our righteousness (1 Cor. 1:30).
What about sanctification then? Justification happens in an instant – the moment a sinner places faith in the Savior. Sanctification is the process of becoming more and more holy and separated to God in daily life.
In the Old Testament, vessels used for the house of God (the Tabernacle or the Temple) were “sanctified” and set apart for that purpose, never to be used for more mundane purposes. In one sense, the Christian is already sanctified in that he is set apart to God (1 Cor 6:11). Yet there is another dimension of sanctification for although set apart to God, there is still much work to do because in all actuality, no Christian on earth is entirely sanctified. The battle between the flesh and spirit is a life long battle. The flesh still wants its independence, and in contrast, the spirit wishes to live in absolute dependence upon God. Sanctification is an ongoing work of the Holy Spirit in the life of the Christian.
Having made the distinction between justification and sanctification, let me affirm straight away that these two cannot be separated. That is because the truly justified person will be involved in this process of sanctification. If someone claims to be justified, but there is no desire to be sanctified, the claim to justification is proven to be fraudulent. The justified man possesses the Holy Spirit and He sets about the task of sanctification the moment He comes in to the human heart. He desires holiness, and He stirs up that desire in the heart of the true Christian. The Christian still sins, but there is now a struggle against sin, whereas before there was no struggle at all. The fact that you wish to be free from sin is an indication that the Holy Spirit is at work in the heart. When a person is happy to stay in a lifestyle that knowingly displeases the Master, it raises huge red warning flags to indicate that we need to analyze any claim to true justification.
Martin Luther gave the following analogy: When we are justified, it is as though a doctor has just administered a sure and certain remedy for a fatal disease. Though the patient may still endure a temporary struggle with the residual effects of his illness, the outcome is no longer in doubt. The physician pronounces the patient cured even though a rehabilitation process must still be carried out.
So it is with our justification. In Christ, God pronounces us just by the imputation of the merits of His Son. Along with that declaration, God administers something to us; He gives us the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit begins immediately to work within us to bring us to holy living.
One theologian put it this way, “Justification by grace alone through faith alone because of Christ alone does not lead to more sinning. On the contrary, it is the only sure and hopeful base of operations from which the fight against sin can be launched. All the bombers that go out to drop bombs on the strongholds of sin remaining in our lives take off from the runway of justification by faith alone. The missiles that we shoot against the incoming attack of temptation are launched from the base of justification by faith alone. The whole lifelong triumphant offensive called “operation sanctification” – by which we wage war against all the remaining corruption in our lives – is sustained by the supply line of the Spirit that comes from the secure, unassailable home-base of justification by faith alone. And it will be a successful operation – but only because of the unassailable home base.”
Pastor John Samson
Jude: 24 Now to him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you blameless before the presence of his glory with great joy, 25 to the only God, our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion, and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen. (ESV)
This small but powerful letter is Jude’s only contribution to the New Testament. He was the brother of James (head of the Jerusalem church), and half-brother of Jesus. His full name was Jude Thaddeus.
As He concludes his letter, Jude expresses his total confidence in God’s ability in keeping the believer in Christ secure in his salvation. It is certainly interesting to note that Jude both begins and ends his short letter with this same theme about God’s keeping power. In verse 1 he describes believers as “kept for Jesus Christ” and here in verse 24, he describes God as the One “who is able to keep you from stumbling…” In starting and finishing his short letter with this theme, it is clear he did not wish for this point to be missed. Obviously the fact that God keeps His children safe in salvation is something frequently highlighted in the Scripture. Jesus expressed it clearly in many places, perhaps most clearly in John 6:39 where He described the will of the Father for Him as that of losing nothing of all His Father had given to Him. In John 10: 27, 28, Jesus said, “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand.” Then in John 17: 11, Christ prayed for this same group (those that the Father had given to Him), “Holy Father, keep them in your name, which you have given me, that they may be one, even as we are one” (John 17:11), and again “I do not ask that you take them out of the world, but that you keep them from the evil one.” (John 17:15)
The ESV Study Bible notes shed light on this by stating, “Just as the false teachers are ‘kept’ by God for judgment” (see 2 Pet. 2:9; cf. 2 Pet. 2:4; 3:7; Jude 6), so also he has infinite power to keep from stumbling those who have put their faith in him. By ‘stumbling’ Jude means falling into sin or error (Gk. aptaistos, ‘without stumbling’; ‘stumble,’ in Rom. 11:11; James 2:10; 3:2; 2 Pet. 1:10). If such stumbling is left unchecked it will eventually lead to falling away from the faith. Yet Jude says God will never let his own fall away but will ‘keep’ them by his grace…”
God is the instrumental cause of our standing in His presence. It is something He does. He places us in a position or location described as “in the presence of His glory.” This could very well awaken all kinds of legitimate fear in us, because there were men like Isaiah who saw this glory and came apart at the seams, so to speak. I am sure you remember him declaring, “woe is me for I am undone” (Isaiah 6), and until God stepped in with the remedy for him, he was in total disarray. Yet in contrast to Isaiah’s experience, this standing in God’s presence puts us forever in a blameless condition.
The consequence of this is an immense and overflowing joy in us which results in great glory being given to God. “The only possible response to the work of God on behalf of believers is great joy (Gk. agalliasis, ‘great joy, exultation’), which suggests an exclamation of joy and praise.” (1)
The fact that God is “able to keep” us in this way would not be a source of joy if He was merely able to do this but not willing to do so. Though the text does not say this explicitly the obvious implication of these words is that God is not only able to do this, but that He is willing and that He actually does this. Imagine the opposite. Imagine God was only able to do this but chose not to. Would this be the source of our great rejoicing (which is what Jude is seeking us to understand and appreciate)? I hardly think so. No, the text is a thundering statement about the keeping and sustaining power of God. He keeps us from stumbling and presents us before Him blameless for all eternity, and this is what causes us to have such great joy. God is to be greatly praised for this salvation for it is entirely His work from start to finish. Salvation is of the Lord!
(1) ESV Study Bible notes
Rev. John Samson
What “science” once thought of as the “simple cell” is now understood to be far more complex than all the goings on in a large city! ALL the mechanisms would need to be in place and functioning perfectly at the very start, or else the cell would die. This is called “irreducible complexity”, and forever destroys secular atheistic evolution as an intellectually viable option.
From the article found here: concerning the 5 part mouse trap… “an irreducibly complex system cannot come about in a gradual manner. One cannot begin with a wooden platform and catch a few mice, then add a spring, catching a few more mice than before, etc. No, all the components must be in place before it functions at all. A step-by-step approach to constructing such a system will result in a useless system until all the components have been added. The system requires all the components to be added at the same time, in the right configuration, before it works at all…. the complicated biological structures in a cell exhibit the exact same irreducible complexity that we saw in the mousetrap example. In other words, they are all-or-nothing: either everything is there and it works, or something is missing and it doesn’t work.”
.. and remember that in the cell, we are talking about a system FAR more complicated and complex than that of an entire city!!!
“Darwinism has no mechanism for adding all the components at once. Remember, Darwin’s mechanism is one of gradual mutations leading to improved fitness and survival. A less-than-complete system of this nature simply will not function, and it certainly won’t help the organism to survive. Indeed, having a half-formed and hence non-functional system would actually hinder survival and would be selected against. ”
The bacterial flagellum is a cellular outboard motor that bears the marks of intelligent design. See http://www.arn.org/docs/mm/motor.htm.
“Evolution simply cannot produce complex structures in a single generation as would be required for the formation of irreducibly complex systems. To imagine that a chance set of mutations would produce all 200 proteins required for cilia function in a single generation stretches the imagination beyond the breaking point. And yet, producing one or a few of these proteins at a time, in standard Darwinian fashion, would convey no survival advantage because those few proteins would have no function – indeed, they would constitute a waste of energy for the cell to even produce. Darwin recognized this as a potent threat to his theory of evolution – the issue that could completely disprove his idea. So the question must be raised: Has Darwin’s theory of evolution “absolutely broken down?””
The answer seems to be a resounding “yes.”
Evolution is a theory in absolute crisis, yet for many, the alternative (Creation by God) is so utterly distasteful, it is dismissed out of hand.. but even as they do so, their conscience screams “there is a God.”
All of this is significant because according to the Bible, this is not a morally neutral issue without consequence. God is angry when the truth He has made manifest (of His existence) is suppressed.
Romans 1:18 – For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. 19 For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. 20 For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. 21 For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. 22 Claiming to be wise, they became fools…
Dr. James White remarked, “The progress in our knowledge of the irreducible complexity of life has rendered us truly ‘without excuse’ when it comes to our attributing to the natural order that which God reserves for himself. Any person who can look at the mechanics of the cell, realize the order, the information, the complexity that makes any computer you are using to read this post look like a stick and a rock in comparison, and yet continue in the suppression of the God-instilled knowledge of His own existence is a person remaining in utter rebellion.”
The more we learn of science, the more we are “without excuse.” God does not believe in atheists.
Pastor John Samson
England was once a center for Reformation. That is no longer the case. Thank God, there are glorious exceptions. I pray that there would be many more of these exceptions in our day. But by and large, the church in England, at least the one visible to the people, is unrecognizable from days gone by. Before World War II, about 40-50% of the population in England attended church. Today, estimates suggest the percentage attending church is down to 7.5%. It was said in the past that Britain “˜ruled the waves’. Now it is more likely to be said that Britain “˜waives the rules.’ The majority of people have rejected the God of the Bible and there is a famine of the word of God in the land.
I was born and raised in Chester in the North West of England (25 miles south east of Liverpool). I love England, and its people. I therefore inwardly weep over the current state of the Church there. When Bishops can publicly and without apology deny the basic tenets of the Christian faith, from the Deity of Christ, to His virgin birth, His sinless life, His substitutionary atoning death on the cross and physical resurrection – and they can still hold on to their office as Bishops in the Church of England – something is sadly amiss.
So where did the down slide start? Where did the conscious march towards unbelief begin?
That’s a difficult question to answer, and I am sure there are many factors involved. It is rare for only one thing to be the issue… I know that, and I believe that. Yet if I had to mention just one thing that had an adverse effect, I would say it was the Church’s continued confusion over the subject of evolution. Just as a stone thrown into a pond has ripple effects, when the stone of evolution was embraced by the church, the ripple effects were very far reaching. Once the door of unbelief was opened… once Genesis 1-11 (Creation, the story of Adam and Eve, the Fall of man, Noah’s Flood, the Tower of Babel) was abandoned as being intellectually and scientifically unsustainable… it was only a matter of time before the whole Bible was viewed with suspicion and skepticism.
Charles Darwin, the popular proponent of evolution was born February 12, 1809, in Shrewsbury, England and died April 19, 1882, in the village of Downe, England. But he wasn’t buried there. You will actually find his grave in Westminster Abbey in London. He is buried close to two other famous scientists, Sir John Herschel and Sir Isaac Newton. To do this is to bestow the greatest honor that the Church of England can bestow upon a person, burying them alongside Kings and Queens and other national dignitaries in the foundations of the most prestigious Church in the land, opposite the Houses of Parliament in the nation’s capital.
Darwin’s grave is not easy to find. I remember hearing of one man who was trying to find it in Westminster Abbey, so he asked an attendant and found that he had been walking over it. Darwin is buried in the floor (the foundation) of the church. By honoring Darwin’s remains in this way, a very loud and clear message was given to the world; the Church believes evolution is true; the Bible cannot be trusted, or else, at the very least, it is perfectly acceptable to mix evolution with the Bible. But Darwinian evolution, with its teaching of death and bloodshed millions of years before man evolved, is a direct attack on the foundations of Christianity and its teaching that death and bloodshed are a direct result of the sin of Adam (Gen. 2:17; Rom. 5:12; 8:20; 1 Cor. 15; Rev. 21:4).
The theory of evolution in science led to an evolutionary worldview that has brought mass destruction over the last century. There’s no doubt that it led to Hitler’s view of a master Aryan race, and the suppression and mass butchery of the Jews because they were “genetically inferior.” (I think it would be true to say that Hitler feared the Jews and so promoted the idea of a superior Aryan race in order to eliminate them – but this idea could not have gained popularity in Germany without society’s acceptance of evolution).
Evolution has also led to the mass killing of the unborn in our own day. Evolution is a religion and worldview that says that man makes the rules and we answer to no one. Man now defines when life starts, when it ends, the definition of marriage, the definition of the family.. and on and on we could go. Yet, increasingly, many scientists are now calling Darwin’s theories unscientific – the evidence for macro evolution remains “missing.” But if life is just the survival of the fittest, and all we are as human beings are grown up germs, then, well, we can simply get rid of unwanted cats and dogs and babies and seniors without it affecting our conscience. If we are just grown up germs, then who cares if a few germs get flushed down the sink, whether they be white germs, black germs, brown germs, yellow germs or red germs? It doesn’t really matter. Isn’t that the logical conclusion of evolutionary theory?
Yet, unbelief is honored and valued in the very foundations of the Church of England. When we give unbelief an inch, it will always take a mile. And now, well over a century after Darwin, the ramifications are still being felt, both in the Church and in our world – and none of these are good.
What has happened in England acts as a warning to every nation, including the United States. The same can happen here, and I would say, is already happening. Psalm 11:3 declares, “If the foundations are destroyed, what can the righteous do?” As we pray for England, as well as the rest of our world, lets pray that the Church will return to the proper foundation that God is the Creator and all His words are true.
Pastor John Samson
I was recently involved in a friendly discussion with a fellow Christian minister. I was talking about the teachings that sparked the Protestant Reformation, when out of nowhere, it seemed, my minister friend said, “The Holy Spirit is not stuck in the 16th Century. He has moved on. Why don’t you?”
I was a little taken aback to hear this, especially from a minister, but I then realized that he is perhaps speaking for many when he wonders why people like myself are enamored with the Reformation almost five centuries on. Many wonder about the relevance of the Reformation, and see no obvious relationship between that time and our own.
So, is it the case that I am seeking to go back in time and live in the 16th Century? Was that an era that simply thrills my soul?
Hardly! I can assure you that I have no desire to re-establish the dress, fashion, music or mindset of the 16th century. Those days are long gone and I am actually very thankful for that. However, there is a big difference between the time of the Reformation and the central truths of the Bible which the Protestant Reformation brought back to the Church. Here I would have to admit that I strongly desire that the Church comes back to these Bible truths. In this, I hold up my hands, and admit that I am guilty as charged. Modern day believers are largely ignorant of the issues and in this regard, I earnestly pray that the Holy Spirit will bring a new reformation back to the forefront of the Church in our day.
So, if I haven’t moved on, the question is, has the Holy Spirit? Many would say that He has. Yet, it is because I believe it is the Holy Spirit who inspired the Scripture and led His Church back to the truth of the Gospel during that Reformation era that I say, “No, I don’t believe He has in any way moved on.” Here’s why: I believe that the central truths of the Reformation are the central truths of the Bible.
The Holy Spirit is certainly leading His Church into other secondary truths in our day (secondary only in relationship to that which is primary – the truth about God and His Gospel) but He is NOT leading His people away from the Bible or the truths of the Gospel.
One of the slogans of the Reformation was “Semper Reformanda” or “Always Reforming” and we should always seek to follow the Holy Spirit’s lead as He reveals to us what Scripture says, and shows each of us our man-made traditions. We all have our traditions. Some of them are good (when the tradition agrees with the Scripture), some of them are bad, because Scripture clearly denies them. In this regard, let God be true and every man a liar.
Jesus was very clear about this when addressing the Pharisees and scribes saying: “Neglecting the commandment of God, you hold to the tradition of men.” He was also saying to them, “You are experts at setting aside the commandment of God in order to keep your tradition…. thus invalidating the word of God by your tradition which you have handed down; and you do many things such as that.” Mark 7:8, 9, 13
In that we are always to be reforming to His Word, the Holy Spirit’s work goes on in our time, but it is NEVER, EVER, EVER at the expense of the Gospel itself. We are never to abandon the truth of the Gospel for the sake of ecclesiastical unity. To do so would be to deny the Lord who brings us unity in the first place. Agreement on minor issues are not important for the unity we enjoy as Christians, but we should never compromise the Gospel. The Gospel is not something that can be altered, modified or adjusted without severe consequences. The book of Galatians affirms this (Gal 1:6-10). Preaching a different Gospel may seem “relevant” to people, and might make them happy, but Scripture declares that it brings the anathema of God (Gal. 1:8, 9). I want to try to avoid that if at all possible!
In some ways, it has to be said that the Holy Spirit has moved on. He continues to lead His people into all truth. Yet, as regards to the Gospel, I don’t believe the Holy Spirit has moved on, nor will He ever.
In five simple slogans known as the Five Solas, I believe the Reformers brought us back to the heart of the Gospel. The Bible has not changed one iota since the 16th Century, and neither has the Gospel that the Bible proclaims. When we move beyond the Bible, we move away from the Holy Spirit who inspired it. Some people would say that the Holy Spirit has moved on. With all that is in me, I must humbly but strongly disagree. It is indeed sad that most Christians think these things to be irrelevant, when in all reality there could be nothing more relevant to the Church and our world.
Briefly then, let me enumerate these five solas of the Reformation. Luther and his reformers had 5 main slogans, all using the word “SOLA,” which is the Latin word for “ALONE.” It was this word “ALONE” that designated the true biblical Gospel and set it apart from all other pretenders. The cry of these Reformers was not simply FAITH!, GRACE!, CHRIST!, THE SCRIPTURE!, or THE GLORY OF GOD! (All embracing a false Gospel could do that.)
Instead, the cry was FAITH ALONE!, GRACE ALONE!, CHRIST ALONE!, SCRIPTURE ALONE!, THE GLORY OF GOD ALONE! With Scripture alone as the sure foundation, the Reformers affirmed that justification is by grace alone, received through faith alone because of Christ alone for the glory of God alone.
The central or material issue was Justification by faith alone (Latin: Sola Fide). Yet often overlooked is another controversy which was equally as serious for the life of the Church. The formal issue (the structure in which the whole debate ensued) was the issue of final authority – who or what speaks for God? It was here that Luther and the Reformers believed that Holy Scripture alone is the infallible rule of faith for the Church.
SOLA SCRIPTURA – SCRIPTURE ALONE
Sola Scriptura, means Scripture alone. This does not refer to simply “me and my Bible in the woods” so to speak, or interpreting the Bible in any way we choose to do so. This doctrine does not seek to negate the authority of the Church and of biblical eldership. Scripture teaches us to submit to godly leaders who have the rule over us (Heb. 13:17). Nor does it refer to Scripture in isolation. What sola Scriptura refers to is the idea that Scripture is the sole infallible rule of faith for the Church.
Though God has set teachers and other offices in the Church, they are not to exercise dominion over the Bible, but to submit themselves to it. Only the Scripture is theopneustos or God breathed (2 Tim. 3:16), and every idea, thought and doctrine needs to have its foundation in Scripture to carry the weight of Divine authority and bind the human conscience.
Regarding false prophets and false teachers, Isaiah 8:19, 20 says, “When they say to you, “Consult the mediums and the spiritists who whisper and mutter,” should not a people consult their God? Should they consult the dead on behalf of the living? To the law and to the testimony! If they do not speak according to this word, it is because they have no dawn.”
The law and the testimony is a reference to the Scripture. If a false teacher says something that cannot be substantiated by sacred Scripture, he/she may claim to be bringing new light, but actually there is no light present there at all. It is the entrance of His Word that brings light.
SOLA FIDE – FAITH ALONE
The material principle of the Reformation was Sola Fide, meaning “by Faith alone.” This was the material or substance of the preaching of the Reformers. The formal principle “Scripture alone” was the principle that Scripture alone (and not Church tradition) is the sole infallible rule of faith for the Church. This was the principle by which “Faith Alone” is affirmed, as well as the other solas. That is because these doctrines are the doctrines of the Bible.
Against the background of a Europe filled with the traditions of men, including priestly absolution, penances, indulgences, pilgrimages, prayer to the saints, etc., Luther and the Reformers made the bold cry of “Faith alone.” This did not mean faith in isolation, or a dead faith that produced no works. This referred to a vibrant, living faith, for only a living and not a dead faith would result in justification. Faith without works is dead, and a dead faith will not save anyone (James 2:17).
Sola fide then was the belief that faith alone is the instrument of justification without any meritorious works of man added to it.
Rome believed (then as it does now) that justification is by grace, through faith and because of Christ. What Rome does not believe is that justification is by faith alone, or by grace alone, or by Christ alone. For Rome, justification is by grace plus merit, through faith plus works; by Christ plus the sinner’s contribution of inherent righteousness. In contrast, the Reformers called the Church back to the one true Biblical Gospel: Salvation is by God’s grace alone, received through faith alone, because of Christ alone, based on the Scriptures alone, to the Glory of God alone.
In Romans 3:28 the Apostle Paul declared, “For we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from works of the Law.”
Romans 4:4-5 says, “Now to the one who works, his wage is not credited as a favor, but as what is due. But to the one who does not work, but believes in Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is credited as righteousness.”
Many other scriptures would affirm this as the heart of the Gospel (Rom. 3:21 – 4:5; 5:1; Gal. 2:16; Eph. 2:8, 9; Phil. 3:9). Martin Luther called the doctrine of justification “the article of the standing or falling Church.” That is, in his estimation, a church preaching the doctrine was “standing,” and one not preaching it was, or had already, fallen.
SOLA GRATIA – GRACE ALONE
Sola Gratia means Grace alone. Surely everyone who had a Bible would affirm this truth at the time of the Reformation. Well firstly, not everyone had access to a Bible, and secondly, no, that is not the case at all.
A pure Pelagian (a follower of the British monk Pelagius) would argue against grace as a necessity, believing that man, apart from God’s grace, had the inherent power within himself to raise himself up by his bootstraps to become pleasing to God. But surely Rome would agree with Grace alone, wouldn’t it? No, not at all.
The religions of man are usually comfortable with the idea of God’s grace being necessary. Rome has always believed that, as do the Mormon Church in our day (2 Nephi 25:23), but as my friend Dr. James White states so well, “The issue has never been the necessity of grace. It has always been the sufficiency of grace!”
The question is this: Is grace able to save or is it merely a help to save, with man’s will being the final deciding factor?
The Reformers affirmed that grace actually saves. Grace alone meant grace at the start, grace to the end, grace in the middle, grace without fail, grace without mixture, grace without addition, grace that allows no boasting, grace that precludes all glorying but in the Lord.
It is here that we get into the arena of monergism (one working) v. synergism (more than one party working) regarding salvation. All the Reformers were monergists, believing that God’s grace is the essential deciding factor that enables a person to believe. As Augustine, who without doubt was the greatest theologian of the first millennia of the Church said, “God chooses us, not because we believe, but that we may believe…”
“But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.” John 1:12, 13
“For to you it has been granted for Christ’s sake, not only to believe in Him, but also to suffer for His sake” Phil 1:29
Apollos “greatly helped those who had believed through grace.” Acts 18:27
“So then it does not depend on the man who wills or the man who runs, but on God who has mercy.” Romans 9:16
“But it is by His doing you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, and righteousness and sanctification, and redemption, so that, just as it is written, “LET HIM WHO BOASTS, BOAST IN THE LORD.” 1 Corinthians 1:30-31
Grace alone is affirmed by these and other scriptures, including:
“For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast.” Eph. 2:8, 9
“But if it is by grace, it is no longer on the basis of works, otherwise grace is no longer grace.” Rom. 11:6
SOLUS CHRISTUS – CHRIST ALONE
The next sola was Solus Christus, the affirmation that it is Christ alone who saves. It is not Christ plus someone or something else.
Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me.” John 14:6
“by the name of Jesus Christ the Nazarene, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead – by this name this man stands here before you in good health. And there is salvation in no one else; for there is no other name under heaven that has been given among men by which we must be saved.” Acts 4:10, 12
In all reality the doctrine of justification by faith alone is really theological short-hand for justification by the work of Christ alone. There was a double function at work in this regard. Christ not only died an atoning death for our sins, but we need to remember that He also lived a sinless life. If all that was necessary for our justification was the death on the cross, Christ could have come to earth on Good Friday, died on the cross for us, and three days later, risen again. However, for more than 33 years, Christ was tempted in every way like us, yet He was without sin (Heb. 4:15). Christ is the only One who can say that He loved His Father perfectly in life, with all His heart, soul, mind and strength and fulfilled the entire demands of God’s law.
At the cross then, all our sins were laid on Him (though of course, He remained the holy and spotless Lamb of God, in and of Himself) and as our sin bearer, He was punished in our place. As the angel declared to Joseph in Matthew 1:21, “you shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins.” “He Himself bore our sins in His body on the tree” (1 Pet. 2:24).
Isa 53:5, 6 says, “But He was pierced through for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities; the chastening for our well-being fell upon Him, and by His scourging we are healed. All of us like sheep have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; but the LORD has caused the iniquity of us all to fall on Him.”
But that is far from all that took place. There was a double imputation. Not only were our sins imputed to Christ and He bore their punishment for us, but positively, the righteousness of Christ was imputed to us. The punishment due to us came upon Him, and the pleasure of God due to Jesus’ obedience to every jot and tittle of the law came upon us. That is because the righteousness of Jesus Christ is one that has fulfilled the entire law of God. 2 Cor 5:21 declares, “He (God) made Him (Jesus) who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him (Christ).”
The righteous demands of the law (the requirement of total obedience) was met by Christ alone who becomes the righteousness of the believer (1 Cor. 1:30). The work of Christ is perfect in every respect, and perfect in every aspect. The righteousness now enjoyed by the believer is an alien one (one that comes from outside of himself) for it is the righteousness of Christ Himself. It is a gift, not something earned (Rom. 5:17), and is the cause of our rejoicing in the direct presence of the Lord. As believers in Christ, we’ve been made righteous with a righteousness that has never known sin. Hallelujah!
“But by His doing you are in Christ Jesus, who became for us wisdom from God, and righteousness and sanctification, and redemption, so that, just as it is written, “Let him who boasts, boast in the Lord.” (1 Cor 1:30, 31) We are justified by grace alone, through faith alone, because of Christ alone.
SOLI DEO GLORIA – TO GOD ALONE BE THE GLORY
The final sola was Soli Deo Gloria, which means “to God alone be the glory!”
Again, wouldn’t everyone agree with this?
Well, no, because at the time of the Reformation there was much attention given to Mary, to the saints, to the lighting of candles, etc.. In Medieval Catholicism there was massive confusion due to the plethora of idols, who for all practical purposes, became almost minor deities.
Even the young Luther, in 1505, in the midst of the thunderstorm that threatened his life, prayed to Saint Anne. As a lightning bolt struck just feet away from him, in fear of his life, he shouted, “Save me Saint Anne and I will become a monk.” Saint Anne was the patron saint of miners, and seeing that Luther was from a mining family, it seemed natural to him to pray to Saint Anne to save him from impending death. Luther, in surviving the storm, kept his vow to Saint Anne, gave up his studies to become a lawyer (much to the anguish and consternation of his father, Hans) and joined the monastery. The young Luther’s devotion to the saints (before his conversion to Christ) was typical of that era.
God will not share His glory with another (Isa. 48:11). Salvation was designed to give God’s glory the maximum amount of exposure. It resounds to the praise of the glory of His grace (Eph 1:6), according to the riches of His grace (v. 7), to the end that we who were the first to hope in Christ would be to the praise of His glory (v. 12), with a view to the redemption of God’s own possession, to the praise of His glory, (v. 14).
Only God gets glory for our salvation. Human merit (or works) plays no part in a person’s salvation but are merely the by-product, or fruit, of a relationship with God, established by God’s grace alone (Eph. 2:8 -10).
The five solas are relevant in all ages, because they are truths that can be clearly demonstrated from sacred Scripture. To many, these doctrines are mere historical novelties – interesting milestones and beliefs of a former era. Yet, as far as I can see, it is very much apparent that we need these same biblical, Holy Spirit inspired correctives in our own day.
The 16th Century is one very different to our own. We may strongly disagree with the burning of heretics at that time, and perhaps even be shocked by the very hostile rhetoric that flowed freely between those who disagreed on these issues. Yet at the same time, we must try to understand a culture so removed from ours where people believed the Bible was the Word of God; that heaven and hell were real places; and that doctrine actually mattered.
Today, many want to hear a positive or affirming message when they come to a Church. They certainly don’t want to hear about the majestic holiness of God, or the wrath of God against sin. I am not sure how popular the Apostle Paul would be if he was enabled to preach on Christian television in our day and taught from Romans Chapters 1 – 3. What do you think?
In 2 Timothy 4:1-5, Paul gave Timothy this charge: “I solemnly charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by His appearing and His kingdom: preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort, with great patience and instruction. For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but wanting to have their ears tickled, they will accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance to their own desires, and will turn away their ears from the truth and will turn aside to myths. But you, be sober in all things, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry.”
Perhaps the greatest sign that all is not well in our day is the fact that God may well be giving the people what they want – preachers who will tell them what their itching ears want to hear (verses 3, 4 above). Could it be that this, by itself, is God’s judgement? I’ll let you, the reader decide.
I don’t believe the Holy Spirit has moved on from the central truths of the Reformation. In fact, I believe He is calling His Church back to the proclamation of these doctrines that once shook the world.