No Sixth Sola Banner Period

I nearly drove off the road with excitement the other night as I headed home from the office and saw the steel begin to go up on the property. We really might get to do this building!

The closer we get the more decisions we need to make. Recently someone from the interior design team sat me down over lunch and asked me what I as pastor-teacher envision this place looking like. Honestly, I hadn’t thought much about it. But one thing I imagined came to mind quite quickly. I would love for us to hang banners from the sanctuary ceiling naming the five solas of the Reformation – scriptura, Christus, fide, gratia, and deo gloria – Scripture alone, Christ alone, faith alone, grace alone, and to the glory of God alone. These things put the grace in the “G” of OGC.

But I can assure you that a sixth additional banner must never fly from our rafters – sola bootstrapsa. I ran across that term not long ago in reading Bryan Chapell’s excellent book Christ-Centered Preaching – Redeeming the Expository Sermon. He explains:

Messages that are not Christ-centered (i.e., not redemptively focused [pointing listeners to the gospel and the finished work of Christ on the cross as the ground of their sanctification]) inevitably become human-centered, even though the drift most frequently occurs unintentionally among evangelical preachers [tell me about it]. These preachers do not deliberately exclude Christ’s ministry from their own, but by consistently preaching messages on the order of “Five Steps to a Better Marriage,” “How to Make God Answer Your Prayer,” and “Achieving Holiness through the Power of Resolve,” they present godliness as a product of human endeavor. Although such preaching is intended for good, its exclusive focus on actuating or accessing divine blessing through human works carries the message, “It is the doing of these things that will get you right with God and/or your neighbor.” No message is more damaging to the true faith. By making human efforts alone the measure and the cause of godliness, evangelicals fall victim to the twin assaults of theological legalism and liberalism-which despite their perceived opposition are actually identical in making one’s relationship with God dependent on human goodness.

He goes on to answer a critical objection:

Preachers may protest, “But I assume my people understand they must base their efforts on faith and repentance.” Why should we assume listeners will understand what we rarely say, what the structure of our communication contradicts, and what their own nature denies? Can we not as preachers confess that ever we feel holier when our devotions last longer, when we parent well, when we pastor wisely, or when tears fall during our repentance? While there is certainly nothing wrong with any of these actions, we deny the basis of our faith when we begin to believe or act as though our actions, by their own merit, win God’s favor. Were this true, then instruction to “take hold of those bootstraps and pick yourself up so that God will love you more” would not be wrong. But sola bootstrapsa messages are wrong, and faithful preachers must not only avoid this error but also war against it (p. 288-89).

Let it be known and never questioned that OGC stands for the doctrines of grace and will always champion the solas of the Protestant Reformation. For that reason we will never hang a sixth sola banner, especially bootstrapsa, period, end of discussion.

That of course is the easy part. The hard part comes with keeping this preacher from avoiding the error, given his nature, and even warring against that error by a relentless proclaiming of the gospel of Jesus within every text of Scripture that serves as the basis of his sermons. You don’t have to hang a literal banner from the ceiling to communicate the same deadly message. It just takes a lethal case of gospel amnesia coming from the pulpit.

God forbid.

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