This was part of a less formal, interactive service. It might not make complete sense. I will add the results of people’s voting later in case it is of interest.
Five or six years ago I was in a discussion group at a conference and an elder in the church related this conversation she had had. Someone said to her, “I am not a Christian.” Her reply was “Yes you are. You do good things”!
You should be on your feet. There should be howls of protest. You should be in tears!
Here’s why you should be in tears. Last week we looked at the five solas of the Reformation – the five big themes
- Sola scriptura – the Bible alone is our authority. Is that the teaching of the Bible? No, it is exactly the opposite of what the Bible teaches. How come a leader in the church is that ignorant? Because the Bible is not studied and the Bible is not taught and the Bible is not known.
- Sola fide – we are saved by faith alone. And yet, here is an elder teaching that we are saved by good works. There is no mention of faith.
- Sola gratia – we are saved by the grace of God alone. Salvation is a free gift from God. And yet, God wasn’t mentioned. His grace was not mentioned. On the contrary, this elder taught that salvation is not a free gift but something we earn.
- Solus Christus – salvation is found in Jesus Christ alone. Was this person pointed to Jesus? No, if salvation is earnt by doing good works, Jesus is not even required.
- Soli Deo Gloria – glory to God alone. Who was glorified in this exchange? The person. You are a good person. Nothing about the goodness of God. You are a good person. Go you!
You should also be in tears because this person was being led away from salvation. She will never find salvation in Jesus if she has been told that she doesn’t need it because she’s OK. And you should be in tears when you see that this is the state of the church.
But is that an extreme example or is that typical of the church in our country? Obviously there are some very fine churches and lots of amazing Christians who relate closely to God, who know the Bible and obey it, who give God glory daily, etc. But, in my opinion, there are also many churches around our country where there is little understanding of the Bible and little spiritual maturity and little commitment to mission. In fact, they probably don’t even know what the mission of the church is. There are many churches that are little more than social clubs – in my opinion.
I think there is a conventional understanding of what it means to be a Christian and a church, but it is miles away from a biblical understanding. By “conventional” I mean a generally held understanding – an assumed understanding because it is just what everybody thinks – but it is not what God thinks.
I think that is true of whole denominations, but I think it is also true of local churches, and I think it is true of vast numbers of church members. Many Christians cannot tell you what the gospel is. Many Christian leaders cannot tell you what the gospel is
If I am right, then there is a need for another reformation. There is a need for the church to look again at the Bible, see how far it has drifted and be willing to turn back and obey God. Another Latin phrase associated with the Reformation is “semper reformanda” – always reforming; the church is always in need of reform. The church is not yet perfect. We can drift away from the Word of God and become corrupt or simply weak. We have blind spots and we don’t even realise it. There is always the need to read the scriptures again and to be willing to repent.
But what do you think? Let’s do a little exercise to explore this a bit. I have put up the following 15 statements.
Sola scriptura (The Bible only)
- The Bible is the Word of God. I read it regularly to hear God speak.
- The Bible is of little relevance to the practical needs of today. I don’t read it much.
Sola Fide (Faith only)
- I know I deserve judgement but I believe Jesus died so that I can be forgiven.
- If I am a good person, I will go to heaven.
- If I have prayed, inviting Jesus into my life, I am a Christian. I don’t have to do anything else.
Sola Gratia (Grace only)
- Salvation is a free gift from a good God.
- Because God is so loving, everyone will be saved.
Solus Christus (Jesus Christ only)
- Jesus is the only way to God.
- There are many roads to God besides Jesus
Soli Deo Gloria (to the glory of God only)
- Every day and in every way I seek to show people that God is good.
- I must look after my own reputation so I never mention God.
- Because of our sin, without faith in Jesus, all people are in danger of God’s judgement.
- Concepts such as sin, judgement and wrath are old fashioned and unhelpful.
Mission (Why does the church exists?)
- The church exists primarily to look after its members.
- The church’s primary task is to share the gospel and to train Christians.
Can you please take your black dots – black dots only – and choose the four statements that you think are most typical of the church today in New Zealand. What do people in our churches believe? If you feel you don’t have a sense of where the church is at, think about the people you know – whether church members or not. What do you think are the things they believe most strongly?
Now, please take your red, orange and green dots. Green means “yes”. Find the five statements that you most strongly agree with. Orange means “I am not sure” or “I have questions”. Find the five statements you have the most doubts about. Red means “Stop! This is wrong. This upsets me.”
How are we going to decide whether a statement is true or not?
The five solas give us a grid to measure them against. But more importantly, what does the Bible say?
I have had some experience of the wider church. There are many churches that I have huge admiration for but, by-and-large, the church is not in a good state. IMHO, many churches have no idea why they exist and the members have little understanding of the Bible.
In broad terms, I think the conventional thinking about the church favours comfort
- God won’t judge
- Salvation is easy. All you have to do is pray this prayer.
- I don’t need to make any changes to my life.
Clearly the Bible teaches about comfort as well but also there is a much bigger component of commitment and cost. God is looking for people who will pay the cost.
Read Luke 9:57-62
57 As they were walking along the road, a man said to him, ‘I will follow you wherever you go.’
58 Jesus replied, ‘Foxes have dens and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.’
59 He said to another man, ‘Follow me.’
But he replied, ‘Lord, first let me go and bury my father.’
60 Jesus said to him, ‘Let the dead bury their own dead, but you go and proclaim the kingdom of God.’
61 Still another said, ‘I will follow you, Lord; but first let me go back and say goodbye to my family.’
62 Jesus replied, ‘No one who puts a hand to the plough and looks back is fit for service in the kingdom of God.’
- Am I willing to be transformed by the word of God and the Spirit of God?
- God change me
- Am I committed?
- God use me
It always needs further reformation; it always needs to return to the scriptures. That is true of the church as an institution. But equally, who is the church? We are. We are always in need of being transformed and being called back to the scriptures. In my view, the church of today needs another reformation. Let’s explore that using the five solas.
Sola scriptura. Does the church believe that the Bible is the Word of God and the only authority? If we need a question answered or an issue resolved, do we search the scriptures to find out what God has said about it?
No, surveys have shown that the levels of Bible reading, and Bible knowledge, amongst Christians are abysmally low. At a higher level, in the politics and decision-making of the church, the Bible is hardly ever referred to. Much preaching is not a revealing of the message of the Bible but pop psychology or self-help teaching or the latest political fad with an occasional quote from the Bible if it supports the view of the preacher. Is the Bible front-and-centre? Is the Bible honoured?
In today’s church, the Bible needs to be rediscovered and re-honoured.
Sola fide. If you go to a funeral, often the message is “Tom will be in heaven (if there is any belief in heaven) because he was a good man.” The general impression in our society is that God loves good people and basically we are all good (except, perhaps for the very worst offenders). But that is a million miles away from what the Bible teaches. Who will be in heaven? Those who have recognised that they are not good people and who therefore repent and put their faith in Jesus. When the church fails to teach the good news of salvation through faith in Jesus, it leads people straight into hell.
But there is also an opposite problem. Sometimes the church goes too far with the message of faith alone, teaching that all you have to do to be saved is pray a particular prayer. Say this prayer and your eternity is assured.
Rubbish! Where does the Bible teach that? Again, that leads people straight into hell. It is a terrible thing when Christians are leading people into hell.
The Bible teaches that true faith will always lead to good works. Do you want to know if a person has faith in Jesus? Look at that person’s life. Jesus said, “By their fruit you will know them.” Is this person trusting Jesus daily? Is this person obedient to Jesus? Is this person serving Jesus?
Remember the passage we read last week, from Ephesians 2.
Ephesians 2:8-10 8For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith – and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God – 9 not by works, so that no one can boast. 10 For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.
Matthew 7:21 Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the Kingdom of Heaven, but only those who do the will of my Father who is in heaven.
That is a very scary scripture because many people are sitting in our churches thinking, “I have faith in Jesus. I said the prayer once” but they are not daily obedient to God. According to Jesus, they will not be saved. It is not about saying, ‘Lord, Lord’; it is not about singing worship songs. It is about doing the good works that God has prepared in advance for us to do.
The Reformers taught that we are saved by faith alone but faith is never alone. All we need to do is trust in Jesus’ death in our place. But if we do, that will always lead to a life of daily obedience to God. If is no obedience (no good works), then it shows that there is no faith and there is no salvation.
We need to rediscover faith. But we also need to rediscover obedience.
Sola gratia. We have already said that many people believe that we are saved by our good works not by the grace of God. That is a problem but again there is an opposite problem. Some churches stress the grace of God to the point of teaching that everybody will be saved. God is so loving and gracious He would never judge anyone. Forgiveness is automatic. Everyone is forgiven. Everyone will go to heaven.
Rubbish! There is no way the Bible teaches that. Francis Chan says, “If you don’t believe in judgement, you haven’t read the Bible.”
Again, people are being told that they are saved when they are not. And because they think they are, they have no incentive to turn to Jesus in faith and repentance.
We need to rediscover grace. But we also need to rediscover some of the more challenging teachings of scripture such as sin, judgement, holiness, repentance.
Solus Christus. Well, that is an unpopular teaching today, isn’t it? How can Christians be so arrogant to claim that Jesus is the only way? Every religion teaches good things. There are lots of good people. God will save every person of good will.
That completely contradicts the Bible.
John 14:6 Jesus answered, ‘I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.
Acts 4:12 Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name given under heaven by which we must be saved.
I know that that raises questions. What about those who have never heard of Jesus? Nevertheless, it is what the Bible teaches and I trust God to do the right thing. I am sure God knows about what is just and fair. I know that God is good and merciful. We do not need to advise Him on these matters.
If there is salvation apart from Jesus, then Jesus is not required. Jesus’ death was unnecessary and pointless. Really? Was the cross pointless or was the cross what made salvation possible?
I seldom read the sPanz magazine that the Presbyterian Church publishes but sometimes I scan it just to see how many times Jesus is mentioned. Not many! So much for “Jesus only”. We say we are followers of Jesus. Shouldn’t He then be very prominent in our teaching and our conversations?
We need to rediscover Jesus.
Soli Deo Gloria. This, it seems to me, is a forgotten doctrine