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Thursday, November 29, 2007

Blog Spot

Since he is apparently helping people refinance now, I'm giving Jason a little more time to write his article on Sola Fide. (How's that for applying the screws?) So I thought I'd take the chance to point out some other things out there on the internet:

A great study tool for work in koine. Has a great concordance. NASB. ESV. KJV. It will even help with parsing!

Another great study search tool. Also lays out greek text and will parse!

Keith Shearer has returned to the blogosphere. It should be required reading for all pastors. There is an excellent post up now regarding the Distinctions between Israel and the Church.

WOW!--Awesome Video available here.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Preaching Soli Deo Gloria

Whether Calvinist or Arminian, Cessationist or Pentecostal, Paedobaptist or Credobaptist, Dispensational or Covenantal, you have felt the effects from the Reformation. Even the Roman Catholic church has been forced to respond, though they remain in signficant error.

No matter what protestant background you come from, one of the greatest areas of influence is in the preaching. This can be seen even by the arrangement of the furniture in the auditorium. The table for the "sacraments" has been moved, and the "pulpit" became the centerpiece. While the furniture is insignificant (our church does not have a literal pulpit) that attitude is. We gather around the Word of God, to hear the Word of God and apply the Word of God. We have the Reformation to thank (at least in part) for helping remind us that the Word of God is central to our corporate worship. However, much of contemporary preaching ignores the heart of the Reformation (the "five solas") as they deliver their homily.

As time permits me, I hope to tackle each of the solas, as they regard to preaching.

Soli Deo Gloria

If a preacher were simply a coach, a motivational speaker or a drill sergeant, the call would not be too intimidating. Work up some emotion, appeal to logic, and convince people they can get it done. Behavior modification becomes the name of the game.

But we've been called to preach to the glory of God. When we understand that calling, we take our own calling more serious. Consider Paul's commissioning:
Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I do my share on behalf of His body, which is the church, in filling up what is lacking in Christ's afflictions. Of this church I was made a minister according to the stewardship from God bestowed on me for your benefit, so that I might fully carry out the preaching of the word of God, that is, the mystery which has been hidden from the past ages and generations, but has now been manifested to His saints, to whom God willed to make known what is the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory. We proclaim Him, admonishing every man and teaching every man with all wisdom, so that we may present every man complete in Christ. For this purpose also I labor, striving according to His power, which mightily works within me.--Colossians 1:24-29
We can learn a lot from Paul's example...

1. Paul embraced suffering. (24)

We all gravitate toward comfort. It is easy for us to arrange our lives in a pattern of least resistance. Then, when we've found a comfortable position, we tell ourselves it is God's favor for our "sacrifices" of ministry. We can often embrace to old McDonalds' slogan, You deserve a break today!

But Paul did not share a similar attitude. He did not consider himself deserving a peaceful life. There was no guarantee of health and happiness. In fact, the guarantee was quite the opposite. In fact, he entered the ministry knowing the suffering that would come. Yet, Paul did not merely learn to accept the suffering, he learned to rejoice in it! He undestood that his suffering was for the glory of God and would result in the growth of His church.

If a pastor is to preach to the glory of God, he must learn to rejoice, not merely accept suffering. Our congregation learns lessons of God's sovereignty when we celebrate adversity, rather than whining about it, calling for revenge, or stating to our people, "Yeah, but you don't realize how hard we have it."

2. The ministry is not Paul's. (25)

The business card has your name. The yellow pages ad lists your name along with ministry times and dates. The sign out front may even have your name. Other pastors ask how things are going at "your church." If left to our sinful tendencies, we can actually start to believe the church is ours.

But we didn't buy it, so we certainly don't own it. Paul says we are stewards, not owners. A steward was simply a manager. The assets of the owner are entrusted to another. That is why elders will give an account. The sheep belong to the Chief Shepherd. Paul's managerial status did not place himself as the benefactor of the services of the church. Instead, he understood that the stewardship was for their benefit.

A pastor should enter the pulpit with a fear of the task. It is not his to use as a laboratory or his hobby. The pastor must preach to the congregation, not as a club or gathering, but as the people of Christ.

3. Paul embraced the Word of God. (25)

We live in a world of pundits. Our era allows specific experts in all kinds of criteria. Each of us can sucessfully find a unique niche that allows us to claim ourselves as an "expert" in some field. In a world where most want to ignore spiritual issues (or merely muse about them), a pastor can be tempted to present himself as an expert on spiritual issues.

But the preacher is not standing before people simply as a religious guy. He is not to use his degree or years experience as his resume. His stewardship is not found in his philosophy or deeper thoughts. The benefit for the Body is not from his sound advice or practical behavior modification. He call is directly tied to the Word of God. Paul understood it was his call to carry on the Word of God, through preaching.

What are we thinking if we come into His pulpit, before His people, in a ministry He established with our thoughts and advice? Instead, our people need to see the glory of the Living and Active Sword...applicable to their everyday life.

4. Paul loved his era. [dispensation, anyone?] (28)

Too much focus on modern media outlets can cause us to lament the day we live in. Yes, there is much to have us discouraged and disappointed. Like the Scriptures say, things will go from bad to worse. Yet, is there any other time we'd want to live?

Imagine being a prophet who longed to look into the things of Christ, yet was left with incomplete answers (1 Peter 1:10-12). Imagine not getting to experience the joy and privilege of the Holy Spirit's indwelling (John 16:7). Imagine not having the completed Canon, let alone that it is available in our language and in stores nation-wide. Imagine not having the technology that allows us to disseminate the gospel world-wide. Paul understood there was a great cloud of witnesses, who understand the gospel to be glorious, especially now that it has been revealed.

It is also important to note the mystery is revealed. In an era which now proclaims certainty overrated, the church has the opportunity to step forward, declaring the revelation of the great mystery. We stand in awe of God's redemptive plan, but we do not stand in uncertainty. In fact, the glory of the message, for Paul, was that this mystery has been made known.

We should never preach the gospel or our commissioning as stale information. It is amazing that God has reconciled us, and has called us to be minister's of reconcilation. We should remind our people that this is the faith which was once for all handed down to the saints. That the ministry of the Old Testament saints was left incomplete, apart from us (Hebrews 11:39-40). We are part of God's timestretching redemptive history...and that should also stretch our minds.

5. Paul loved to proclaim Christ.

Paul's call was for people to see the glory of Christ. To quote from Keith's excellent article, Even the application of the ultimate "sola" - soli Deo gloria - is accomplished through Jesus Christ alone. Put quite simply, if we do not preach Christ, we are not preaching to God's glory. (Shortest point, not because it is least important...hardly. Short point because my other brothers have well evidenced this throughout the series.)

6. Paul understood progressive sanctification.

If we leave the carrot of a better marriage, well behaved kids, or more joy in our job before our people...they will be disappointed. If we call people to simply change their behavior, they will fail. If we call people to follow our advice, they will see us, not God's glory.

But when we present Christ, and we call people to submit to Christ, they see the glory of Christ working in them. Paul understood that his ministry was to proclaim Christ, through instruction and exhortation, so that men would be found complete in Christ. This is not the facade of "life change," this is the glory of regeneration. Through Christ, we receive a new heart, which then causes us to begin living more like the Savior we worship. But Paul understood this is not merely Christ motivated self-will, it was actually Christ working and moving within us. Paul knew this, for he understood Christ was the One working mightily in him.

A preacher must not preach for people to dig deep and look within themselves. He must call people to submit to the glorious Christ, allowing Him to do the work in us.

All this did not cause Paul to shrink back. He understood the stakes and he understood his responsibility. He also understood that left alone, he'd be inadequate for the task. But God has ordained for His glory to be known through preaching, therefore, even the foolishness of preaching (when done Biblically) reveals God's glorious ability to take that which is foolish and make it wise.

We should both preach of the glory of God and preach to the glory of God.

Awake, my Soul, and with the Sun

Awake, my soul, and with the sun
Thy daily stage of duty run;
Shake off dull sloth, and joyful rise,
To pay thy morning sacrifice.

Thy precious time misspent, redeem,
Each present day thy last esteem,
Improve thy talent with due care;
For the great day thyself prepare.

By influence of the Light divine
Let thy own light to others shine.
Reflect all Heaven’s propitious ways
In ardent love, and cheerful praise.

In conversation be sincere;
Keep conscience as the noontide clear;
Think how all seeing God thy ways
And all thy secret thoughts surveys.

Wake, and lift up thyself, my heart,
And with the angels bear thy part,
Who all night long unwearied sing
High praise to the eternal King.

All praise to Thee, who safe has kept
And hast refreshed me while I slept
Grant, Lord, when I from death shall wake
I may of endless light partake.

Heav’n is, dear Lord, where’er Thou art,
O never then from me depart;
For to my soul ’tis hell to be
But for one moment void of Thee.

Lord, I my vows to Thee renew;
Disperse my sins as morning dew.
Guard my first springs of thought and will,
And with Thyself my spirit fill.

Direct, control, suggest, this day,
All I design, or do, or say,
That all my powers, with all their might,
In Thy sole glory may unite.

I would not wake nor rise again
And Heaven itself I would disdain,
Wert Thou not there to be enjoyed,
And I in hymns to be employed.

Praise God, from Whom all blessings flow;
Praise Him, all creatures here below;
Praise Him above, ye heavenly host;
Praise Father, Son, and Holy Ghost.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Soli Deo Gloria

by Brad Peppo

To the Glory of God Alone

Usually listed last, but arguably the most foundational of the five solas, the Latin phrase Soli Deo Gloria stands for the idea that all glory ought to go to God and to God alone. In this post I aim to provide an examination of the meaning and the biblical basis of this doctrine.


I begin by considering the end of the Latin phrase—the word translated glory. Clearly, an adequate understanding of this fifth sola will be difficult without a firm grasp of the concept underlying this final term. Like so many other words, however, that permeate our Christian vocabulary, the word glory is often thrown about without much thought as to its meaning. Therefore, it should be worth while to start with some definitions.

The Hebrew and Greek words translated glory are used in the Scriptures in a number of different but closely related senses. The first sense is illustrated in Exodus 33 where Moses asks to be shown God’s glory. To this God answers, “I will make all my goodness pass before you…and you shall see My back, but My face shall not be seen.” In this passage, God uses glory as a synonym for His goodness—but here, His goodness translated into visible form. We see the word used in this same sense in Exodus 24:16-17, which describes the devouring fire that descended upon Sinai; in 2 Chronicles 5:14, which presents the overwhelming cloud that filled the temple; and in Luke 9:32, which refers to the dazzling brilliance that shone forth in the transfiguration of Christ. In its first sense, then, glory refers to the goodness and greatness of God visibly manifested.

In another sense, the Scriptures use the word glory to refer to the goodness of God as it is revealed, not visibly, but rather logically; not by His immediate presence, but rather in His wonderful works. It is what appears in the overthrowing of His enemies (Ex. 14); it is what is revealed in the miracles performed by Christ (Jn 2:11); it is what is evidenced in God’s saving, delivering and atoning work on behalf of His people (Ps. 79:9). In this sense, glory is synonymous with God’s greatness, His power, His majesty and His excellence (1 Chr. 29:11; 2 Peter 1:3). It is closely associated with God’s name (Ps 102:15) and with His fame (1 Chr. 22:5). Glory in this second sense, then, denotes the sum total of God’s awesome attributes as they are made known in His mighty deeds.

In its third sense, glory refers to the response that God’s self-revelations call forth from His creatures. It is in this sense that the Scriptures repeatedly command men and angels to “give” God glory, (Ps. 22:23; 29:1-2) to declare it (Ps. 96) and to sing it (Ps 66:2) It is in this sense that glory is “due” to His name (Ps 19:2; 96:8). To give God glory in this way is to acknowledge His worth and to give Him the credit He is due. This, men do by talking of His wondrous works, by singing His praises, and by giving Him thanks (1 Chr. 16).

Thus, when the scriptures refer to the glory of God, they are speaking sometimes of the visible manifestation of God’s presence, sometimes of the revelation of His attributes through His mighty works, and sometimes of the praise and thanks that men owe Him in response thereto. As it is used in the doctrine of Soli Deo Gloria, the word is to be understood primarily in connection with the latter two of these senses.


What, then, is meant by Deo, the second word of our Latin phrase? What do we mean when we say that glory is “to God?” This second word stands for the notion that glory belongs to God (Rv 19:1), that it is due His name (Ps 19:2), and that He is worthy to receive it (Rv 4:11). In other words, it is good and proper that God make His greatness known, and it is right that men should worship Him in response.

We can first see the propriety of giving God glory by first looking at how fervently God seeks it for Himself. It would appear that glory is the primary end He seeks in all of his works. He created the heavens to bring Himself glory (Ps. 19:1). He hardened and overthrew the Egyptians to bring Himself glory (Ex. 14:4-17). He created His people Israel to bring Himself glory (Is 43:7) He alternately punished and blessed Israel throughout their history to bring Himself glory (Nu 14:20-22; Is 26:15). Even in glorifying Christ, the Father’s object was to glorify Himself (Jn 17:1). Finally, we see that glory is the end God seeks throughout the entire process of our salvation in Christ (Eph. 1:3-14). How do we know that glory properly belongs to God? He seeks it for Himself.

Secondly, we have the direct commands of the Scriptures that we are to give God glory (Ps 22:23; 29:1-2). His people are instructed to declare His glory among the nations (1 Chr. 16:8-36; Ps 96). The nations themselves are commanded to give Him glory (Is. 24:15-16; 42:12). We are told to do good works so that He might receive glory (Mt 5:16). We are called to glorify Him in our bodies (1 Cor. 6:20), in what we eat and drink, and in whatever it is we do (1 Cor. 10:31). Finally, we have the example of Christ who obeyed this command and considered glorifying God to be the primary purpose of His earthly ministry. “I glorified You on earth, having accomplished the work that You gave Me to do” (Jn 17:4). Why ought we to glorify God? He commands us to do so.


Finally then, we come to the first word of the phrase: soli. For we say not only that glory ought to go to God, but that it ought to go to Him “alone;” that is, to Him and to no other. For this notion, we have the clearest statements of Scripture, as God Himself declares, “I am the LORD; that is My name; My glory I give to no other” (Is 42:8). And “For My own sake, for My own sake I do it, for how should My name be profaned? My glory I will not give to another” (Is 48:11). We see God’s jealousy for His glory graphically represented in the example of Herod who, when he accepted the praise of men and did not rather give glory to God, was struck down by God and eaten by worms (Acts 12:23). When it comes to receiving glory from men, God alone is worthy, and He will accept no rival.

We further see this principle operating in the way God has saved us. It was said before that God saved us in Christ to bring Himself glory. We see also in Ephesians that He saved us in such a way as to prevent glory from going to any other.
For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. (Eph 2:8-9).
God does not just want some of the glory in our salvation, He wants all the glory. He accomplishes this goal by saving those who have no hope of saving themselves and no cause for bringing any attention to their own works.

Certainly though, nowhere is the principle of Soli Deo Gloria expressed more clearly than in the incarnation of Christ. Christ, who was Himself the radiance of God’s glory (Heb 1:3) who was equal to God, and had every right to seek His own glory, nevertheless set aside that glory and took upon Himself the form of a servant (Philip 2:4-8). In His earthly ministry, He refused to seek His own glory and instead, sought only to bring glory to His Father (Jn 8:50). If not even Christ, the glorious Son of the glorious God, sought His own glory, how could we, as mere men, possibly ever justify doing so ourselves? Glory is due to God and to God alone.

In sum, then, the phrase Soli Deo Gloria stands for the biblical doctrine that God alone is good, that He seeks to make His goodness known, and that men are duty bound to praise Him for His goodness, taking no credit for themselves. It was this understanding, no doubt, that led the psalmist to proclaim:
Not to us, O LORD, not to us, but to your name give glory, for the sake of your steadfast love and your faithfulness!” (Ps 115:1)
May our prayer be the same.

With law studies, a teaching career, church participation and a young family, Brad Peppo is a very busy man. It is a joy to see a brother I have known since adolescence walk with the Lord, and that walk has caused us to have greater fellowship in recent years.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Preaching Sola Scriptura

Whether Calvinist or Arminian, Cessationist or Pentecostal, Paedobaptist or Credobaptist, Dispensational or Covenantal, you have felt the effects from the Reformation. Even the Roman Catholic church has been forced to respond, though they remain in signficant error.

No matter what protestant background you come from, one of the greatest areas of influence is in the preaching. This can be seen even by the arrangement of the furniture in the auditorium. The table for the "sacraments" has been moved, and the "pulpit" became the centerpiece. While the furniture is insignificant (our church does not have a literal pulpit) that attitude is. We gather around the Word of God, to hear the Word of God and apply the Word of God. We have the Reformation to thank (at least in part) for helping remind us that the Word of God is central to our corporate worship. However, much of contemporary preaching ignores the heart of the Reformation (the "five solas") as they deliver their homily.

As time permits me, I hope to tackle each of the solas, as they regard to preaching.

Sola Scriptura

The Bible, the whole Bible and nothing but the Bible. The first time I remember seeing this phrase was leaving the auditorium (which has since become the gym) of my grandmother's church. At the time, I remember a rush of courage flowing through me. It seemed like such a bold, right, strong statement to make. Yet, I must admit that later on I started to find the statement embarrassing. Assuming it was borrowed from our judiciary process (Swear to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth...an odd connection it seemed for a non-swearing tradition), it just seemed like another example of Christians borrowing something from the world, slightly adapting it, and calling it creativity. I have since come full circle in my view, cherishing the motto.

Like all things theological, a banner, sign or poster will not fix the problem...especially if we are not preaching Sola Scriptura.
Now I make known to you, brethren, the gospel which I preached to you, which also you received, in which also you stand, by which also you are saved, if you hold fast the word which I preached to you, unless you believed in vain. For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that He appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. After that He appeared to more than five hundred brethren at one time, most of whom remain until now, but some have fallen asleep;...1 Corinthians 15:1-6
About four months ago, I was sitting with a group of pastors and preaching came up. Since this has become a great love of mine, I enthusiastically began to plead with my brothers to preach Christ exalted. In shock, one brother stated, Well, I think you can preach Christ, but it doesn't have to come from a particular passage. To my shame, I offered no rebuttal, for by the time I recovered from such a statement, the conversation had moved on.

It's interesting to see Paul's appeal to the church in Corinth. Near the end of his letter, he reminds them of that which is most important. His message is gospel-centric (the gospel which I preached to you--v1). His message is Christocentric (notice, he does not say the death of Christ, placing the authority on the event or action, but instead says Christ died, keeping our attention on Him). Yet, we cannot ignore, his message is also Bibliocentric.

According to the Scriptures--Paul is not asking the Corinthians to believe the gospel due to Paul's persuasive abilities. He is not calling on them to even research the facts or recollect the events as they witnessed them. He drives them back to the Word of God to develop their confidence. How do we know Christ's death was for our sin? We are told so. How do we know He would be raised three days later? Again, we are told (and Jesus grounds His claim in Old Testament authority).

In fact, it is worth noting Paul's pattern.
    1. He states the fact.
    2. He draws the authority from Scripture.
    3. Then, he appeals to exterior evidence.
In our culture, we could expect one to make the claim, but then be driven straight to the evidence to prove the point. We would run to achaeology. We would appeal to logic. We would quote contemporary authors. All of these things we would do to try to convince a person of their need for Christ. But a person does not need to be convinced of the facts, they must be called to submission to them. And quite frankly, you and I do not have the authority to call any person to submission. It must generate from the Word of God alone.

Christ is the Word of God and every preacher is solemnly charged to present Him as such. We can claim to preach the Word. We can enter the pulpit with Bible in hand. We can even read from it during the message. Yet, our message may not be stemming from the authority the Word of God alone can provide. The following are some principles to preaching with sola scriptura in view:

Expositional preaching--It is impossible to establish the Scriptures as the authority when we place it in submission to our own thoughts. It is not enough to dance from text to text, proving our opinions. Our messages must be born out of the text itself. This means the bulk of our preaching should be lectio continua. And in the moment we determine a topical message is necessary (which, contrary to what some believe, I do allow for, though do not regularly recommend), we should only speak from what a particular Scripture says about the topic. (This does not mean we avoid cross references, or avoid an approach based on the "whole counsel of God," but it does mean that their should be a primary text that is determining our points, subpoints and even application.) To do anything else is to claim that Scripture is the authority...and that you should see it as such because I said so.

Christ centered preaching--Just as it is improper to present Christ without Scripture, it is equally improper to present Scripture without Christ. To say Christ is not central to a text is to ignore a critical text (John 5:39 among others). It is also to ignore the authority of Christ, who gave us our hermeneutic. If we claim to preach the Word, but deny preaching the Word who became flesh, we deny the true meaning (and thus the authority) of the text.

Incorporate Biblical Language--In our era, contextualization has become the buzz word. Certainly, we all contextualize to some extent, for we not only preach in the language, but often in the dialect of our audience as well. However, our call is not to conform the Scriptures to the audience, but for the hearer to be transformed by renewing our mind. Part of this process means our people must develop a biblical vocabulary. This does not mean etherial language which our people cannot comprehend. But it does mean using biblical language, and defining it for our people. Part of thinking biblicallly is seeing the beauty of the language the Bible employs.

Search the Original Language--Often used as the "great intimidator" by pastors, the languages should be used to make the Bible more accessible to men, not less. In our preaching and teaching class, we were reminded this week that John Calvin preached in French from the original Hebrew (Old Testament) or Greek (New Testament) text. Yet, rarely did Calvin ever utter "the greek here says..." or even pronounce the word in greek. We should not use it it intimidate our people (making it seem we are the only ones able to "decipher" the Bible), but should share it in a practical way. But to show the Scriptures as authoritative, we should handle them with the respect demanded by searching out the original language.

Encourage Bereans--Similarly, our preaching should never isolate us from questions. Our people should be encourage to come to us and question our meaning or interpretation. (Just not during the message, thus creating confusion.) We must preach in such a way that reminds people that the Word (not the preacher) is the authority, and that if we are not accurate to the Word, we (like our congregants) need to repent and celebrate the grace of God. Yet, we often preach in such a way, or parade around our credentials, scaring the body from ever investigating what we say. Yet, those who are more noble-minded search out the Scriptures. We encourage our people to see the authority of the Word of God when we call them to hold us accountable to it.

Equip Bereans--Therefore, it should be our intention that our body becomes more and more skilled in their understanding of the Word. We should seek to not only provide the ministry of the Word, but teach them how to engage the Word. As languages are important in preaching, we should also teach their importance in personal study. This does not have to be intimidating, for we can introduce them to things like a Strong's Concordance or websites like biblestudytools.net or studylight.org (each allows you to explore the original languages). We should seek to be the training ground for workers unto the harvest field, which we should be praying for. We remind them that we are not the authority due to our degree, title or "special annointing." We simply serve as ministers of the Word, the Word which is equally available to them.

When we see the glory that God would be willing to condescend to present Himself to us in written and living form, we then realize the question is not "Can I preach Christ without using a text?" but the question becomes:

Why would I want to? Then we realize it is not enough to say The Bible, the whole Bible and nothing but the Bible. We also realize it is critical that we preach the Bible, the whole Bible, and nothing but the Bible.

Jesus Loves Me

Jesus loves me this I know
For the Bible tells me so
Little ones to Him belong
They are weak but He is strong

Yes, Jesus loves me
Yes, Jesus loves me
Yes, Jesus loves me
The Bible tells me so

Jesus loves me
He who died
Heaven's gate to open wide
He will wash away my sin
Let His little child come in

Yes, Jesus loves me
Yes, Jesus loves me
Yes, Jesus loves me
The Bible tells me so

Jesus loves me
He will stay
Close beside me all the way
He's prepared a home for me
And some day His face I'll see

Yes, Jesus loves me
Yes, Jesus loves me
Yes, Jesus loves me
The Bible tells me so

Sola Scriptura

by David Mohler

By Scripture Alone

“Where there is no vision, the people are unrestrained, but happy is he who keeps the law.” (Proverbs 29:18 NASB)
The verse above seems apropos this Reformation Day because of four words: “vision”, “unrestrained”, “happy” and “law”.


My, how the centuries have produced an unending supply of self-professing visionaries. I don't mean inventors who apply God's laws of physics to developing insightful and futuristic apparatus, but rather the so-called visionaries who spoon-feed their contrived dung to the church. We have pithy books which turn scripture (e.g., 1 Chronicles 4:9-10) into a selfish mantra (did not Satan do the same thing when he tempted Jesus in the wilderness?); or books about a mythical neo-Orthodoxy that is supposed to help the Church be more relevant tot he world; or Joel Osteen's self-centered "A Better You". Christians have learned how to replace Scripture alone with things like referent worship (using pagan images to refer to Christ, in violation of the principle illustrated through Israel in Deut. 12:30-32); or use statistics to "plant churches" and Jung typology testing to choose "church planters". In the Church, Scripture alone is being abandoned so that we can learn the deep things of Satan (Rev. 2:18-29), and the mere suggestion that we are failing in this regard seems to raise Pharisees from the dead.

When the revelation (the literal meaning of the Hebrew word translated "vision") is set aside for any reason, the people are in grave danger. It is vogue today for pastors to arrogantly congratulate themselves, from the pulpit, for preaching the gospel (so they say) without referring to the Bible. Even many evangelistic methodologies based on "relationship" suggest that the Bible should not be the first thing a Christian brings up. You were an anomaly, Mr. Eunuch (Acts 8:27-40.)

Not only is the revealed Word of God the first thing we should bring up, it is the only thing we need to bring up. Without it, people perish.


The Hebrew for this word literally means “let go”. Without vision, people are left to themselves, unmoored, and utterly blind. It is no coincidence that this is the characteristic of the church in Laodicea, the final one where Christ is seen shut outside the door knocking for entrance. Christ said to that church, "you do not know that you are wretched and miserable and poor and blind and naked." Why were they so blinded, and why were they repugnant to Christ (v. 16)? Because their testimony had become ineffective, irrelevant, and of no value - even though they claimed otherwise.

Notice very carefully: they claimed to be effective (v. 17: "Because you say"), basing that claim on the "vital statistics" of their budget and material abundance. They claimed to be rich and in need of nothing - espousing their own self-worth, claiming a relevance that Christ indicates was so utterly irrelevant that He would spit them out of His mouth. It takes a great deal of effort not to see that same, vapid characteristic in today's Church. The riches of today are the programs, resources, methods, budgets, and plans of man all designed to make himself feel like he is doing something effective and relevant.

But those plans are so utterly irrelevant that they go out of style in a matter of months. As a result, the sheep in the church are driven in circles from one lukewarm purpose to the next, unrestrained by the security and accompanying peace of the Gospel itself.


I am not a linguist, so I cannot speak to a reason why translators have replaced the word “blessed” with “happy”, when the literal rendering in lexicons seems to prefer “blessed”. I am reminded of the simple, authoritative, and theological instruction given to the Church regarding feetwashing. Scripture alone defines what we do in terms of picturesque practice. In the case of illustrating the work of sanctification by grace, Jesus instituted the washing of feet, and he told Peter that he would not understand this until sometime later. But the promise of knowing was absolute, as indicated by Jesus in John 13:17: "If you know these things, you are blessed if you do them.”

And what is it, ultimately, that we know which results in blessing? It is, in fact, the Law of the Lord, which delights the soul.

We are unhappy today unless we see quantifiable results now. We measure our results against George Barna's statistics; we ascend the hill to meet with church planting gurus who themselves are failures in matters of ecclesiology, forgetting that unless the Lord builds the house, they labor in vain who build it. We are cursed by these clouds without rain (Jude 12) wandering across the ecclesiological sky claiming to bring a new moisture to the soil. Where's the rain? Indeed, where even is the seed in the soil, which is the Word of God?

We have wandered into the desert chasing after a vision that is a mirage, and missing the blessing of the supernatural work of Jesus Christ building His true Church. In this desert, the people are bathing in sand, drinking whatever drop of arid vapor they can with a thirst that is never quenched. Give us the Word! Give us only Word that He might sanctify and cleanse us! (Ephesians 5:26)


Of course, the Hebrew word for law is torah. The Torah is a measuring rod; a rule; an instructive plumb line which defines the benchmark for holiness and blamelessness. That standard, contrary to much shallow, evangelical thought, has not been canceled or stowed away because of the New Covenant. Blessedness in life, indeed utter happiness, hinges on the preservation of the Law in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. It behooves us to know the un-changing character and standard of Almighty God if we want to be relevant and effective in our churches and culture today.
The law of the LORD is perfect, restoring the soul; The testimony of the LORD is sure, making wise the simple. The precepts of the LORD are right, rejoicing the heart; The commandment of the LORD is pure, enlightening the eyes. The fear of the LORD is clean, enduring forever; The judgments of the LORD are true; they are righteous altogether. They are more desirable than gold, yes, than much fine gold; Sweeter also than honey and the drippings of the honeycomb. Moreover, by them Thy servant is warned; In keeping them there is great reward." (Psalm 19:7-11)


The ebb and flow of erosive tides against Sola Scriptura have raged for centuries, washing ashore an ideology that desperately wants extra-biblical sources to have a place, a usefulness and, ultimately, an authority in the presentment of the Gospel. This idolatry persists in varying forms, whether prayer beads, rituals, minute books, Jabez coins... In the lifetime of my father and myself - just two generations - the fomentation of ancient and ethereal rubbish of mystical meditation (e.g., Yoga) are now actually taught in the Church. Unwary minds embrace movies insomuch that the claim is made, by pastors, that movies can preach. The sacred desk is being eaten away by termites.

And such is the depressing result of unrestraint in the life of the Church when the vision has vaporized.

Dr. Herb Samworth, the curator of the Scriptorium Center for Biblical Antiquities, has written:
    In one sense it is impossible for the Gospel to be lost. The Gospel is God’s good news and He has promised that none of His words will be lost. The message of redemption is His message and He has promised that He will carry it out to a successful conclusion.
    However, there is a sense in which the Gospel can be lost. History does not always advance directly, it can be cyclical in nature. For example, a study of the Book of Judges reveals a cycle of sin, chastening, the raising up of a judge, deliverance from the oppressor, and then a return to sin. This could be depressing reading but we can glean important lessons for our own day.
    It was apparent that the Gospel was nearly lost during the times of the Middle Ages. There are a number of reasons for this: ignorance of the clergy, papal corruption, the Church becoming the mediator between God and man, and the teaching of non-biblical doctrines.

When it comes to men who would have us peer into the garbage can for soul-food, we do not need George Santayana to remind us that "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it." Jesus told us that very clearly 2,000 years ago: "See, I have told you ahead of time." What did He tell us? He told us that "false Christs and false prophets will arise and will show great signs and wonders, so as to mislead, if possible, even the elect." We are virtually there, folks. Christians are being guided by their shepherds to abandon Sola Scriptura for a more pragmatic approach to life. That's what happens when people want their "best life now", and preachers acquiesce to scratching that itch instead of preaching the Word (2 Timothy 4:1-4.)

This is why every Christian needs to embrace for dear life the truth of Sola Scriptura. In the fellowship I was raised in, the motto used to be, "The Bible, the Whole Bible and Nothing but the Bible." That motto was embraced and proclaimed de facto three generations ago. But over time until today, it is not only not the advertised motto, it is avoided by a third and fourth generation of men who seem cowardly and embarrassed to defend it. Jesus cried to the Father, "Sanctify them in the truth; Thy word is truth." (John 17:17) It is the Word, the Whole Word, and Nothing but the Word!

As Dr. Samworth pointed out, the middle ages were a period of time where the Church did not have the Word at their disposal and were left in the dark. But, today, we are confronted with a progressive replacement of the Gospel with everything but the Gospel. Salvation without repentance is virtually assumed for every person, an assumption that is reinforced by men like Joel Osteen; the return of Christ has been fictionalized into a book series that adds to the Revelation, in violation of Revelation 22:18-19 itself - and pastors don't even blink an eye as their people base their theology on such fiction; Prayer has been reduced into a formula like a magic Jabez-wand, while Christians still cannot actually answer the question, "What is the gospel of Jesus Christ?"

The Gospel of Jesus Christ begins and ends with Scripture Alone.
David Mohler is a shepherd at Brethren Reformed Church while also running ClearLogic, a company God provided to allow him the freedom to pursue ministry.

Friday, November 09, 2007

Preaching Sola Gratia

Whether Calvinist or Arminian, Cessationist or Pentecostal, Paedobaptist or Credobaptist, Dispensational or Covenantal, you have felt the effects from the Reformation. Even the Roman Catholic church has been forced to respond, though they remain in signficant error.

No matter what protestant background you come from, one of the greatest areas of influence is in the preaching. This can be seen even by the arrangement of the furniture in the auditorium. The table for the "sacraments" has been moved, and the "pulpit" became the centerpiece. While the furniture is insignificant (our church does not have a literal pulpit) that attitude is. We gather around the Word of God, to hear the Word of God and apply the Word of God. We have the Reformation to thank (at least in part) for helping remind us that the Word of God is central to our corporate worship. However, much of contemporary preaching ignores the heart of the Reformation (the "five solas") as they deliver their homily.

As time permits me, I hope to tackle each of the solas, as they regard to preaching.

Sola Gratia

Most churches would assert they proclaim "grace." Just a casual search of the yellowpages yeilded 5282 entries when "Grace" and "Church" were searched together. (When searching, "Grace Brethren Church" 199 entries came up.) Another quick search will tell you the churches are all over the map, denominationally. So how do we preserve the message of grace in our preaching?

Certainly, as Chris Cobb laid out, there are groups whose doctrine completely misrepresent grace. (The Mormon "Church," for example, has been pestering evangelicals to see them as a group who proclaim "salvation by grace alone" for several years now, despite their doctrine to the contrary.) Certainly, our church must be aligned not just with those who preach grace (of some form) but of grace alone.

But does this mean every church from a "reformation tradition" is preaching grace alone?

Hardly. In fact, though a Statement of Faith, Articles of Confession or Core Beliefs may boldly proclaim "grace alone," our pulpits can cry out something far from it. Even the preacher who affirms "grace alone" may find himself stating something seemingly different. The culprit can often come from two avenues; Psychology and Motivation.
For who regards you as superior? What do you have that you did not receive? And if you did receive it, why do you boast as if you had not received it?--1 Corinthians 4:7
Psychology--If Paul were to ask that question in a church today, the congregants would have a plethora of answers...TV pop psychologists, secular books, my parents, my teachers, and even "Christian" literature. From Barney to Veggie Tales to Osteen, the name of the game seems to be building up a person's "self esteem." But is there room for man to be exalted and God at the same time? Consider John's observation: He must increase, but I must decrease.

John is not making two separate casual observations. He understood that for Christ to truly be exalted, he would need to diminish. In our attempt to boost other's self worth, we leave them feeling as if they have earned part of their salvation. After all, if I'm not that bad, He didn't have to do that much, right?

I cannot see His grace as great when I think I am.

Motivation--when we fail to see our sin nature, we then overestimate what we are capable of. We read a passage about sanctified living, and assume we can obtain it. Therefore, we preach to our congregation about what they should do, and shouldn't do...all the while, leaving them the impression they are capable of change on their own.

But what have we earned? Everything we have we have received. No merit. No earning it. No justification on our own. We were helpless, dead and blind. We only see Christ as precious because God revealed Him as such to us. We only desire to conform to His image, because He places that desire into us. We can only strive if He is working within. Consider: For this purpose also I labor, striving according to His power, which mightily works within me.

So often we emphasize grace on "the front side of salvation," yet we often neglect it when speaking to the believer. We lay out application and then simply tell our people: "Now get to it." We present practical elements as if sheer will power or self generated holiness is enough to produce God-honoring results. However, we can't stand before God with any boast, but in Him alone. Proper preaching means we remind our people that nothing they have (whether before or after regeneration) which is good has been earned by their own merit. We truly have been given more than we deserve.

Our sign may say "Grace." Our Scriptures are saturated with verses about grace. Our sermons may even extol congregants to be gracious. But when we must first stroke the ego before calling upon the troops to muster up enough energy to obey...we deny the very grace we claim.

We've got to preach Sola Gratia!

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Grace Greater than Our Sin

Marvelous grace of our loving Lord,
Grace that exceeds our sin and our guilt!
Yonder on Calvary’s mount outpoured,
There where the blood of the Lamb was spilled.

Grace, grace, God’s grace,
Grace that will pardon and cleanse within;
Grace, grace, God’s grace,
Grace that is greater than all our sin.

Sin and despair, like the sea waves cold,
Threaten the soul with infinite loss;
Grace that is greater, yes, grace untold,
Points to the refuge, the mighty cross.

Grace, grace, God’s grace,
Grace that will pardon and cleanse within;
Grace, grace, God’s grace,
Grace that is greater than all our sin.

Dark is the stain that we cannot hide.
What can avail to wash it away?
Look! There is flowing a crimson tide,
Brighter than snow you may be today.

Grace, grace, God’s grace,
Grace that will pardon and cleanse within;
Grace, grace, God’s grace,
Grace that is greater than all our sin.

Marvelous, infinite, matchless grace,
Freely bestowed on all who believe!
You that are longing to see His face,
Will you this moment His grace receive?

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Sola Gratia

by Chris Cobb

You have won a free gift!

"Yeah, right," I thought to myself as I continued to read the letter. My cynical skepticism was justified when I discovered that in order to enjoy my free gift, I would have to pay inflated shipping and handling fees. No thanks. Free means free - otherwise it is not free at all.

Whether or not we have to attach a "shipping and handling" payment to the free gift of salvation through the work of Christ has been a point of contention in the church since at least the fifth century, when a fellow named Pelagius was teaching that man has the ability to keep God's Law if he so desires. According to Pelagius, God's grace was not actually necessary if one wanted to go to heaven; man was capable of being sufficiently moral to enter God's holy presence on his own merits. Pelagius denied that the guilt of Adam's sin and its ensuing moral corruption was imputed to all mankind. Augustine, the Bishop of Hippo, decisively refuted Pelagius and his teachings at the Synod of Carthage (418). Augustine made the biblical point that mankind was incapable of rising out of sin, that the death of Christ was necessary to vanquish sin, and that God's grace alone is the beginning, middle, and end of salvation. Grace alone - Sola gratia - was required if man was to be saved.

Within a hundred years, the corruption of grace had returned to the church in a form known as "Semi-Pelagianism." According to this teaching, God's free grace is absolutely required for salvation. But so are man's own efforts. God's grace does the heavy lifting through the atoning sacrifice of Jesus Christ (the free gift). But I must cooperate with what God is doing (shipping and handling charges) in attaining salvation by responding by my own free will to the gospel, and by doing good works to complete my salvation. Semi-Pelagianism was condemned in the Council of Orange in 529. But it eventually returned to trouble the church again.

One of the main points of contention in the Protestant Reformation had to do with whether or not we are saved by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone, or whether we must add something to the work of Christ. The Roman Catholic church had been teaching (and still does) that the works done after initial justification by cooperating with God's grace actually merit final justification. This is seen especially in the sacrament of penance, which involves in some degree a satisfaction and atonement for sins committed after being initially justified. This is salvation with an asterisk, or a footnote, or fine-print. This is a "free gift" that comes with shipping and handling charges.

Sola gratia is the biblical doctrine that teaches that we are saved by God's grace alone, apart from any effort, any initiation, or any congruous work of our own. The scriptural support for the argument is actually quite simple. The Bible teaches that unredeemed man is dead in trespasses and sins (Eph 2:1), we are "children of wrath" (Eph 2:3), we do not understand or seek God (Ro 3:10), we do not do good (Ro 3:11), even our righteous deeds are filthy in God's sight (Is 64:6), we are hostile against God and unable to subject ourselves to the law of God (Ro 8:7), and that we cannot please God (Ro 8:8). Now that's a pretty comprehensive list, and is actually just a tiny portion of the overwhelming Biblical data regarding man's inability to come to God. Jesus plainly declares that no one can come to Him for salvation apart from the Father drawing him (Jn 6:44). The bottom line of this is that while man is truly responsible for obeying God, he is completely and totally unable to do so because of his sinful nature. Condemnation is assured and cannot be avoided. Being by nature hostile against God and dead in trespasses and sins, man can not even cooperate in saving himself. He is at war with God; the last thing he wants to do is draw near to an infinitely holy and righteous God.

Into this tragic impossibility, God comes, bringing salvation (Matt 19:26). Paul puts it this way in Ephesians 2:4-7 (NASB):
But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up with Him, and seated us with Him in the heavenly places, in Christ Jesus, in order that in the ages to come He might show the surpassing riches of His grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. (emphasis added)
It is made clear in Romans 8:29-30 that God sovereignly causes salvation by His foreknowledge. God's foreknowledge is not the same as human foreknowledge. If I talk about my own foreknowledge of something, it is nothing more than "prior awareness". God's foreknowledge is different. It is actually the driving force that causes the object of His foreknowledge to be actualized in reality. This can be seen by simply examining Matt 7:23. That text is not saying God had no knowledge of those condemned; it is saying that He never foreknew them in the sense of electing them to salvation. In 1 Peter 1:3, Peter tells us that God, by His mercy begot us, or caused us to be born again. It was an act of God, not of man. The same truth appears in Jn 1:13.

To summarize then, Sola gratia is the biblical teaching that we are saved on the basis of God's grace alone. At every step of the way salvation is of the Lord (Jonah 2:9). Not only did we need God to favor us by providing an atoning sacrifice, we needed God to favor us by bringing to life our spiritually dead hearts, opening our spiritually blind eyes, and causing us to trust in His dear Son.

We are saved by grace alone!
Chris Cobb is the Senior Pastor of Bible Fellowship Church. He not only faithfully shepherds his flock, but he's been a source of Biblical counsel and warm friendship for me.

Friday, November 02, 2007

Preaching Solus Christus

Whether Calvinist or Arminian, Cessationist or Pentecostal, Paedobaptist or Credobaptist, Dispensational or Covenantal, you have felt the effects from the Reformation. Even the Roman Catholic church has been forced to respond, though they remain in signficant error.

No matter what protestant background you come from, one of the greatest areas of influence is in the preaching. This can be seen even by the arrangement of the furniture in the auditorium. The table for the "sacraments" has been moved, and the "pulpit" became the centerpiece. While the furniture is insignificant (our church does not have a literal pulpit) that attitude is. We gather around the Word of God, to hear the Word of God and apply the Word of God. We have the Reformation to thank (at least in part) for helping remind us that the Word of God is central to our corporate worship. However, much of contemporary preaching ignores the heart of the Reformation (the "five solas") as they deliver their homily.

As time permits me, I hope to tackle each of the solas, as they regard to preaching.

Solus Christus

As Keith so wonderfully presented, all of our attention should be directed to Christ. There are just too many verses in Scripture to ignore this point. Many pastors will affirm Colossians 1:16 when speaking of creation, salvation and even world politics, yet often neglect this principle in their own messages. I believe this error stems from two mistakes, in hermeneutics and presentations.

Hermeneutics--If the meaning of the text is the text (as many affirm), it is critical that we understand the point of the text. If we distort the meaning of the text in our presentation, we cannot claim claim "thus sayeth the Lord." And regarding Christ-centered preaching, Jesus Himself gave us the hermeneutic:
You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; it is these that testify about Me;--John 5:39
Jesus affirms here that the Scriptures are written about Him. He is the focus and the fulfillment of their message. This is not an isolated proof-text, for Jesus confirms this hermeneutic in Luke 4:14-21 (for example) and countless other places.

Yet, some today boast a "higher wisdom." Claiming to be faithful to authorial intent, they determine that passages in the Old and New Testament alike are not Christ centered. It sounds impressive as they quote first century rabbis and Jewish texts. However, as Mark Driscoll reminded a group recently, if the rabbinical interpretation caused the leaders of that time to reject Jesus Christ, then we should not be interested in their hermeneutic. To the person who claims to hold to authorial intent (in their denial of Christ in a passage), Jesus would simply remind them that "All Scripture is God-breathed" and therefore, The Author intended it to speak of Him.

Recently, I've been told by more than a few pastors that I draw my circles too small. By this, they mean that my expectation for other pastors is too rigid and does not allow enough grace and diversity. I know this can possibly be my tendency, so I only want to speak where Scripture speaks. Therefore, I can allow a man to simply be a "4-point Calvinist" and still hold a pulpit. Despite my attitude toward altar calls (as recently posted), I'm not going to claim a man disqualified if he uses this approach. However, I told the fellow pastors who were present, "I am not interested in a fellowship of pastors who do not agree that the Scriptures speak of Christ and we should preach in such a way. (The district comment was made in reaction to some discussions recently about what tolerence we should give alternative views to ministry.) To see any other conclusion from the Scriptures is simply dead wrong.

Presentation--Ultimately, I hope most pastors (who have not been sucked into high-academics) would affirm such a hermeneutic. After all, it is probably their great affection for Christ that drew them into the ministry, therefore, it is their great delight to speak of Him. However, our studies may be faithful to this principle, but again, our presentation can betray it.

If the assessment of a sermon is based upon the reaction of the unregenerate, we are going to be pressured to avoid Christo-centric preaching. After all, Jesus stated: If the world hates you, you know that it has hated Me before it hated you.--John 15:18. Should we be surprised if the world does not want to hear about Him? Therefore, to attract the lost, we are encouraged to preach bullet-point sermons laying out "5 ways to get along with coworkers" or "3 ways to have a better marriage." Eventually, the world tires of this too, and prosperity preachers arise...itching ears with the message that God wants them to pursue their lusts. Even an "orthodox" pastor who recognizes the deadly poison of properity gospel, may think the answer is to get more edgy. Perhaps a sermon series on better sex will attract?

Many people hear the term "man-centered" and assume that means "lawless." But that is not always the case. Many preachers see the dwindling numbers, apathy for the lost and lack of moral foundation in congregants, and respond accordingly. Often, the bullet points are kept, but the application is changed. "5 Steps to Growing this Church." "Eight Ways to Reach Your Neighbor for Christ." "How to Kick the Porn Habit." (Undertstand that I am not opposed to steps or points, Scripture itself will lay out application principles, but more reacting to the self-help style of exhortation prevalent today.) Such preaching seems sanctified, for who could argue with a robust church full of soul winning pure people?

But such preaching is "pure" legalism. When we call people to action, or even a standard, but neglect the foundation in Christ, we fail to bring them the biblical message. It remains man-centered, for it calls men to recognize and avoid sin completely on their own. Using church growth, evangelism and pornography as examples, consider the following questions:
    Who's church is it?
    Who is the One who said, 'I will build My church?"
    Who does evangelism seek to win the person to?
    Who do we depend on to do the work of regeneration?
    Who of us is truly pure?
    Who is our standard of perfection, having lived yet never lusted?
    What has He done for my lack of moral perfection?
It is critical that our preaching blaze light on the fact that He is the only perfect fulfillment of God's standards, that He propitiates our violation of God's standards and that He empowers the reborn to now live according to those standards. Any preaching that neglects Christ becomes theistic moralism...at best.

Every true believer should celebrate the work of the Reformation. The Reformers did not discover "new truth," but rather brought truths only held by a small remnant out to the fore. I am thankful that the church is no longer held hostage to the false expectation of priests to mediate on our behalf through the sacraments. However, we do still need a High Priest.

Today, the sacraments have been moved out of the spotlight. In many churches, the pulpit still is what draws the eye. We've abandoned the mediatorial system of sacraments, however, in the name of scholarship, church growth or self-esteem we've also neglected to mention our Great Mediator.

I for one, do not want to step into a pulpit without Him!

Thursday, November 01, 2007

In Christ Alone

In Christ alone my hope is found;
He is my light, my strength, my song;
This cornerstone, this solid ground,
Firm through the fiercest drought and storm.
What heights of love, what depths of peace,
When fears are stilled, when strivings cease!
My comforter, my all in all—
Here in the love of Christ I stand.

In Christ alone, Who took on flesh,
Fullness of God in helpless babe!
This gift of love and righteousness,
Scorned by the ones He came to save.
Till on that cross as Jesus died,
The wrath of God was satisfied;
For ev'ry sin on Him was laid—
Here in the death of Christ I live.

There in the ground His body lay,
Light of the world by darkness slain;
Then bursting forth in glorious day,
Up from the grave He rose again!
And as He stands in victory,
Sin's curse has lost its grip on me;
For I am His and He is mine—
Bought with the precious blood of Christ.

No guilt in life, no fear in death—
This is the pow'r of Christ in me;
From life's first cry to final breath,
Jesus commands my destiny.
No pow'r of hell, no scheme of man,
Can ever pluck me from His hand;
Till He returns or calls me home—
Here in the pow'r of Christ I'll stand.

Words and Music by Keith Getty & Stuart Townend
Copyright © 2001 Kingsway Thankyou Music