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Thursday, November 15, 2007

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”.

VISION

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.

UNRESTRAINED

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.

HAPPY

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)

LAW

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)

SOLA SCRIPTURA TODAY

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.

5 Comments:

  • At 3:53 PM, Blogger Darby Livingston said…

    David,

    Good food for thought. I have a couple of thoughts/ questions:

    "That standard, contrary to much shallow, evangelical thought, has not been canceled or stowed away because of the New Covenant."

    John Bunyan, Don Carson, Douglas Moo, John Piper, Graeme Goldsworthy, Geerhardus Vos, Merideth Kline, John Reisinger, Fred Zaspel, Scott Hafemann, Thomas Schreiner, Carl Hoch, are among the shallow evangelical thinkers who have questioned to one extent or another the continuing validity of the Mosaic Law as the unchanging standard of righteousness for the Christian - particularly concerning the perpetuity of the Sabbath.

    While I appreciate your desire to see the centrality of the Gospel in the church, I wonder if we shouldn't have more hope in the condition of the church because of the Gospel's triumphant march across this present, evil age. It seems to me that God's word will not return to him void, but will accomplish his purposes. While I see signs of syncretism, I also see a revolution of biblical faithfulness taking root among young evangelicals. And I am hopeful. Are you hopeful as well?

     
  • At 6:04 PM, Blogger BReformed said…

    In my usual warm and fuzzy way, I respond thus:

    First, your list of preachers left me out. :)

    Second, I happen to be one of those young evangelicals, albeit a bit older than you, who has been participting in the revolution of biblical faithfulness for a long time.

    Third, however, signs of dirt in my food do not a sumptuous meal make. Signs of syncretism do not bemuse me; I think that Laodicea is the very picture of a syncretistic church, where a motley doctrinal mix results in something that Christ will spit out of His mouth. Nonetheless, I am every bit as hopeful as Christ, in whom rests my faith, who made the statement: "when the Son of Man comes, will He find faith on the earth?" (Luke 18:8)

    That statement by Jesus does not indicate a lack of hopefulness or assurance in the fact that the Church will be built, and that it will persevere until His coming. Of course faith will be found; of course I am hopeful. But Jesus' own words, all the way though the letters to the seven churches, bear out the notion that the faith He desires will be relatively scarce when He returns.

    Fourth, you make this comment:

    While I appreciate your desire to see the centrality of the Gospel in the church, I wonder if we shouldn't have more hope in the condition of the church because of the Gospel's triumphant march across this present, evil age.

    I'm not sure that what you typed is what you meant to say, or if I simply don't get your point. If the Gospel is central in the Church, then the church's condition should not be lamentable. My hope is in the working power of the gospel because of the Gospel, not in spite of it. Are you suggesting that if the Church did not retain the centrality of the Gospel, the Gospel would be triumphant in the world? That would be akin to what the third man in the parable of the talents suggested: that the Master would reap where He did not sow (Matt. 25:24-26.) The Gospel is triumphant because Christ is building His Church to preach the Gospel. The Gospel marches because of Christ's True Church who are the footmen doing the marching (Rom. 10:14-15.)

    Lastly, I guess I fail to understand why the concept of the Law as communicated by Christ (partly) in Matthew 5 is so difficult to accept. In spite of my opening statement about the Law, you seem to assert in your comment that I am suggesting that "the Law" is the "Mosaic" law. That is exactly the hang-up the Pharisees had. They could not get beyond the "Mosaic" law when Christ referenced the Law in terms of Himself (Gal. 3:24, 6:2.) It is beyond that: it is the Law of Christ, the Law of Liberty that we speak. The point is, and Christ made it, that not one element of the Law will pass away until heaven and earth pass away. Jesus Christ fulfilled the Law, making it possible for me to live in my corruptible state in confidence that He can keep me from stumbling that I should fall. I really can, in Him, be holy as He is holy because it is He who works in me both to will and to do His good pleasure (Phil. 2:13; 1 John 3:22.) The standard of holiness which the Law teaches us continues to persist until we are changed from corruptible to incorruptible. The Church bears the responsibility (because it has been purchased with a price, and it is not its own) of measuring up to the standard of the Law of Christ - which is holiness and blamelessness - through the power of the Holy Spirit. Sanctification by grace is the name of the process by which we are maturing to that standard. In the end, Christ will present to Himself a bride that is spotless and without blemish.

    He will not present to Himself an syncretistic bride. One does not participate in sanctification by remaining the least bit syncrestistic without engaging the discipline of the Father. Having experienced God's heavy hand of discipline, I have learned that sola scriptura is the most fundamental and reliable element in the task of mortifying my sin. I hide THE WORD - the Law of God, which delights my soul - in my heart that I might not sin against God. And I pray that the Holy SPirit will empower me to hide ONLY the Word, and NOTHING BUT the Word.

     
  • At 6:48 PM, Blogger Darby Livingston said…

    David,

    Thanks for your quick response. I am thankful that you are a part of the revolution. I apologize for the confusing nature of the sentence you quoted. What I meant was simply this: I believe you are Gospel-centered, and I'm glad of it. I was wondering if you were encouraged or discouraged in the Gospel's progress in the American church. Your article struck me as leaning toward the pessimistic side, (even slightly angry) but your quote of Luke 18:8 answered my question. I'm taking you to think we're seeing the fulfillment of that verse as you look across the church landscape today. Is that right? Please forgive me if I've misread your tone.

    "He will not present to Himself an syncretistic bride."

    My view of depravity won't allow me to assume anything other than the Parousia will remove syncretism completely from the church. In the meantime, we can strive for purity. That's obviously where the Bible is our only guide. But for whatever reason, God has left us "seeing men as trees walking" (Mark 8:22-26), so we are never beyond absolute reliance on grace.

    Thanks, also, for the clarification on the law. Based on that, I'm guessing you wouldn't disagree with the authors I cited, and our views seem very similar on the issue. Thanks for your interaction.

     
  • At 11:13 AM, Blogger BReformed said…

    As I said following the reference to Luke 18:8, of course faith will be found; of course I am hopeful. So, yes, I am encouraged where the Gospel is central in any Church. But if you were to tell me that the "American Church" is getting healthier, I would simply be a "realist" and assert that it is not. (To which I add, I do not see the "American Church" keeping the gospel as its center. I define the "American Church" with names and denominations like Joel Osteen, Bill Hybels, Rick Warren, United Methodist, WilloW Creek Community, etc. This has crept, and continues to influence the beloved fellowship of which I left.)

    You interpret that realism as a pessimistic tone. I think to suggest that I am pessimistic or slightly angry from this essay is a unwarranted judgment. Rather, the tone is simply sober and serious. There is a erosion of the Truth around the world; my uncle, who has lived for nearly 4 decades in Europe as a missionary with Campus Crusade, likewise laments the eroded landscape of the Church both there and here. But he is not "pessimistic" about it.

    Similarly, two decades of working in various para-church organizations, including the broad field of Christian broadcasting, has exposed me to a "landscape" in the American Church that is erosive to "good" churches and true believers. Participation in that "landscape" has made me a realist with a keen awareness of the truth of 2 Timothy 3 & 4 and Revelation 2 & 3. The American Church landscape is production-driven, generally unrooted in the Word of God. Yet I am confident that those who are Christ's will come to Him, and that the true Church will not fall away. But prior to the parousia, Paul makes it clear that there will be a notable "falling away" (2 Thess. 2:1-3.) I think that falling away is happening right now, and is yet parallel to a revolution (I would prefer the word "reformation") as you mentioned. And I think refinement by thlipsis is yet in store for the True Bride prior to the parousia. This makes our work all the more serious and sober because we must snatch some from the fire, lest they capitulate to the erosive influence of imposters in the church. There is a real jeopardy, or Jesus and Paul would not have warned about it so emphatically.

    Like you, my view of depravity won't allow me to assume anything other than the parousia will remove syncretism completely from the Church. But in while I remain in this world, I am reminded that Paul stated that evil men and imposters in the church will go from a bad to worse (2 Tim 3:13.) Jesus said that the love of most will grow cold becuase lawlessness will increase. That is precisley where we are.

    Where the Word of God is not centric the Gospel is not going to be taught, and men will subsequently fall away from the Truth and make shipwrecks of their faith. To admit that fact is not pessimism: it is a realistic view of where we are, and is a call to reform our teaching around Scripture Alone.

     
  • At 12:20 PM, Blogger Darby Livingston said…

    "Rather, the tone is simply sober and serious."

    Rock on. I agree that we must move away from the constant frivolity and happy-go-lucky attitude we have grown accustomed to, as though nothing serious was taking place within the church.

    "There is a real jeopardy, or Jesus and Paul would not have warned about it so emphatically."

    I agree with you 100%. May our optimistic realism spread.

     

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