Tuesday, July 5, 2011

New Blog

Zeke is tired of blogging so I moved the blog here > http://revse28.wordpress.com/

Monday, July 4, 2011


Sermon # 1047
July 3, 2011
Psalm 119:105-112
2 Timothy 3.10-4.5 (3.16)
Dr. Ed Pettus

“Sola Scriptura”

In the reformed faith there are five teachings that emerged from the sixteenth century Reformation…what are called solas, that is, five “alone” principles: In Latin - Sola scriptura, scripture alone. This doctrine emphasizes that the scriptures of the Old and New Testaments are our sole authority for faith and life. Faith alone teaches that we come to Jesus Christ only by faith. We accept the justification of God by faith. Grace alone, our salvation only comes by the grace of God, the unmerited favor of God. Solus Christus – through Christ alone, that Jesus Christ is the only mediator between God and us. Glory to God alone, all glory, honor and praise is due to God alone. I hope to preach on all these “alones” as time allows, and today we will start with scripture alone.
These teachings come from the period of the Reformation. This is where the Protestant church emerged after a long protest against the one Roman Catholic Church. Prior to the Reformation, the only church in town was the Catholic Church. But the problem was that the one church was becoming more and more corrupted. In the sixteenth century certain leaders in the church began calling for reform. There was not necessarily one unified movement, but several movements throughout Europe, as Brett Baker writes: “The cry for reform for some was at times not uniform; some felt the most important thing to reform was the incumbents holding office in the church; others felt that the officer’s agenda should shift from secular matters to spiritual; others felt that it was the vitality that needed polishing to attract those who had left; and still other felt the heart of reform began with theology. Given our [lofty] consideration of the Reformation, we will say that there were four primary movements during the Reformation. Most historians would say that the starting gun of the Reformation was Martin Luther nailing his 95 theses to the church door at Wittenburg, Germany. The second large body of commotion started in Switzerland by John Calvin in Geneva. The later large movement in Reformation centered not on an individual, but rather a group called the Anabaptists. Lastly, a fourth major movement in the Reformation was the counter attack (called the counter Reformation) mounted by the Catholic church in response to the success of the Reformers. These events encompass a period of roughly two and a half centuries during the sixteenth through eighteenth centuries. The term Protestant frequently is used to refer to anyone who favored the Reformation. [Although the earliest] proponents of the Reformation were referred to as Evangelicals.” (http://www.trinitykirk.org/sermons/series/30)

That is a bit of the history, now let us look at Sola Scriptura. Scripture alone is not to say that truth cannot be found anywhere other than scripture, nor that the scriptures are equally clear to all people, nor that teachings on the scriptures from the Church are not also helpful. What scripture alone does mean is that scripture is our final authority and rule for faith and life, for belief and practice. This does not mean that we take up the Bible with the attitude of bumper sticker theology that says, “The Bible says it, I believe it, and that settles it!” But we are saying that the scriptures are our final authority and that they are infallible (that is, it is completely reliable). All other authorities, as valid as they may be, are subordinate to the Scriptures. We read in 2 Timothy:
“But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it 15 and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. 16 All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, 17 that the [person] of God may be competent, equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:14-17 ESV).

The reformers believed that the scriptures were sufficient for all we need to live in righteousness, faith, and salvation. Nothing lacking. The content is there and with it all authority.

Why does this matter? In my opinion, the authority of scripture has come into question in the church. This is not everyone’s view, certainly, but if not in question, there are surely diverse views of the authority of scripture. With all the debate and commotion over amendments and topics in the PCUSA, I believe it all boils down to scripture and its authority and interpretation. One of the sad results of our current crisis is the realization of how little we know our scripture. We have known for many years that the church has been woefully illiterate in the scriptures, but in some ways that truth is becoming more evident. We might expect that a faith community that holds up a sacred text as its very authority would better know that text. For some, the battle that was once thought of as a battle against cultural influences has become the same battle within the church.
I remember an article written about eight years ago by Cal Thomas. The main point of the article was that the Church, rather than being attentive to the godly things, has become content with worldliness. Thomas quoted Alan Wolfe who writes, “Far from living in a world elsewhere, the faithful in the United States are remarkably like everyone else.” He goes on to say that American culture has triumphed! Some will look at that statement and say, “So? What’s wrong with American culture?” Well, nothing is wrong with American culture if we close our eyes and plug our ears and smile. Certainly there are many things great about the United States, and we will be celebrating those things this weekend, but the greatness of our country does not hide the problems we have. The greatness of this country does not overshadow the downward spiral of moral standards.

One critique is that the Church has become less and less shaped by its own Scripture and more and more shaped by the surrounding culture. If the Church has become content with worldliness, it may be because we have lost something of our story. Some would say that we have lost a sense of the transcendent - that is, we have lost a sense of other worldliness, a sense of mystery and power beyond ourselves. The Bible becomes for us an antiquated, out of date document without power. So the Bible is used and understood as a document just like any other. As one author states, "people have little sense that Scripture is bigger than ourselves." We have lost our own story, falling for the culture’s line that we do not have anything of value to say or contribute.
Cal Thomas concluded his article with these words, “If Christians really want to see culture transformed…they need to begin with their own transformation.” He is not very far from the apostle Paul in Romans 12, “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect” (v. 2, ESV). The church, each one of us, is called to transformation. That transformation is helped by our learning and knowing and living the inspired or “God-breathed” word.

Wilfred Smith asks the question, "What is Scripture?" He says that Scripture is a religious phenomenon, not just a text. It is an encounter between community and text in such a way that the community understands itself to be in touch with God. Each time we open the Bible it is a happening, an event of significant importance. Of course that is not to say that every time we open the Bible we will be inspired or blessed with some miracle, but the Bible is not to be ignored as simple document to be studied like a textbook. The Scripture is like an open window to truth and goodness, it enables us to live in relationship with God and with one another; it brings us closer to our true selves.
A wonderful metaphor for scripture is a work of art. Scripture is much like music or poetry or a painting. When we listen to a great piece of music, it is not always the same with each hearing. Really good music brings different sensations to us each time we hear it. In classical music we even have favorite hearing by different conductors as they interpret Bach or Mozart with their own style and hearing. Or when we go to an art museum and look at a great piece of art we wonder what the lines mean in the painting but then someone says, "come look from over hear, they look totally different from this angle."
Scripture is a work of art. Each time we go to it we see something different, something new. It has density that is reflective of the density of life. In that sense, it is just like a great work of art. We sometimes hear the phrase, "a picture is worth a thousand words," but with the Scriptures – “a word is worth a thousand pictures!”

God’s Word does have compelling power, not just in its inexhaustible nature, but because we believe that God speaks through these words. We trust that the Holy Spirit is at work in the books we use as our rule of faith and life. And yet we tend to treat the Bible as if it were not an encounter with God. The NIV translates 2 Timothy this way, "All scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the person of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work."

The Scripture is God-breathed. This is the same theme as when God created Adam out of the dust and God breathed into his nostrils and gave him life. The Bible would be just another historical document, but it is more than that because God breathes life into and through it. Now I cannot explain how that happens and I do not pretend to understand it any more than I can explain how a work of art can move one person to tears and another to applaud, but through the Holy Spirit I trust the Bible to be truth, and in so doing, we can trust the Scripture to be a compelling power for life because it is God-breathed! It is a word with depth for life, with density for transformation and to ignore it is to rob it of that depth and power for life.
I remembered two times when I was most fascinated(?) by the lack of scripture knowledge in places where I would have expected tremendous knowledge. This is not to toot my own horn or say that I know any more than anyone else, but the first memory was from my conversion to the faith. I, immediately after accepting Christ’s into my life, began a diligent study of the Bible and not long after was asked to lead a Bible study for a small group of about fifteen college students. The problem was that most of those students had grown up in the church! They were supposed to know this stuff. I was nineteen years behind them as far as exposure to the Bible and yet they wanted to know what I had taken a few months to learn.
The second experience was more recent while I was attending classes on spiritual direction in Charleston with a group consisting of various faith traditions, but predominately Catholic. We would spend many hours reading and discussing the history and development of spirituality and I just kept saying, “Yes, that is Isaiah 54” or “this is from Galatians 2” and the other participants were amazed that all this stuff about spirituality could be in the Bible! So I became the resident Bible scholar among a group who had a lifetime of experience in the church but very little Bible knowledge.
This is my personal crisis with the discussion over ordination and abortion and other such topics within the PCUSA. I fully understand that there are lots of ways and views associated with the interpretation of scripture. But deep in my heart, or as one friend used to say, in the marrow of my bones I read and interpret the Bible in such a way that leads me to conflict with my denomination.

All I really want to say this morning is we have a resource unlike any other that helps us to live as God intended. We have a God-breathed word that can set things right for us, that can teach us all things, and that can correct us when needed and train us in righteousness. Maybe the best way to transform our culture and church is to first be transformed ourselves, and a good place to start (or restart) is with our holy book. Amen.