Dealing with Serious Threats to Our Peace


I blew through the application section of this morning’s message. You can listen to the audio here.

I promised to post this portion of my manuscript on the blog for the convenience of anyone who wanted to pay closer attention.

I promise, I fulfill.

Warding off serious threats to peace in the church requires a decisive plan for their defeat – watching out for them, staying clear of them, being smart about them, and expecting the God of peace and the Lord of grace to help us fight them. Takeaways are plain. One, relish being part of a confessional church with Reformation roots. Your best friend to guard against error is an orthodox, articulation of sound doctrine. Two, embrace the stewardship of guarding the go0d deposit of the gospel. Three, expect error to hunt us to destroy our unity. Don’t be caught by surprise. Leaders and followers alike stay on the alert. This is why you don’t teach any class at OGC unless you are a member and have been appropriately vetted in terms of sound doctrine. Four, be decisive in dealing with error in the majors. We can’t afford to pussyfoot around with heresy in any form given the costs to our unity. Five, be careful what you read, watch on Christian TV, and to whom you listen to on the web. Be smart – wise in the good, innocent in the evil. Spend more time learning the truth than you do at all in dabbling in the deceptions. Six, rely on the God of peace and the Lord of grace to fight the battle against the arch deceiver. Pray, pray, pray. And, seven, preserve peace knowing you’ve been saved by the God of peace and are helped by the Lord of grace.

I look forward, Lord willing, to continuing the peacemaking theme next Sunday with Psalm 133 – Unity’s Song. 


Why Observe Reformation Sunday?


Fresh from two weeks in the wilds of Idaho, it feels good to get back in the blog posting saddle again. The church calendar constrains me. October 27 is Reformation Sunday. Every last Sunday of the month of October we at Orlando Grace, along with most churches in the Reformed tradition, mark the anniversary of the official start of the Protestant Reformation. On October 31, 1517, Martin Luther nailed his church-shaking Ninety-Five Theses on the the door of the Wittenburg church, catalyzing a tectonic shift in Western Christianity.

I’m not sure I can improve on last year’s post to this end by a fellow officer of mine. However, I do feel certain things need to be said, if only by repetition. The question to observe or not to observe Reformation Sunday for this pastor is a no brainer. Yes, a thousand times yes. Although I must admit for years as a pastor, I failed to do so. I credit a former associate of mine, now turned jeweler, for opening my eyes on that score. Thank you, young squire. I miss you.

Orthodox Christians of the 21st century stand on the shoulders of giants who have gone before us. None matter more than the Reformers in one respect for what they recovered for the church laboring under the legalism and apostasy of Roman Christianity. As captured in the first of the solas, sola Scriptura, the Reformation saw a return to the ultimate source of authority over the church – the inspired, inerrant word of God (2 Tim. 3:16). Thanks to Luther, Calvin, Zwingly and the rest, no longer do we look to creeds, confessions or tradition for the source of truth guiding God’s people. Scripture sets the standard. Creeds and confession have enormous value, even as OGC subscribes to the 1689 London Baptist Confession of Faith, but only as they accurately reflects the Word of God.

As captured in the additional solas – sola gracia, sola fide, sola Christus, and sola deo gloria, the reformation accomplished a recovery of the gospel that is rightly grasped and proclaimed only as salvation by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone to the glory of God alone. Hence my sermon text for this Sunday – Ephesians 2:7-10 and title – Eternity’s Glorious Display. God will forever put on display the wonders of His grace precisely because the nature of the redeemed’s salvation is by grace alone, not a result of works, lest anyone should boast.

One final thought why we ought to observe Reformation Sunday. Because we need a modern day Reformation. I first became convinced of this by reading David Wells provocative book No Place for Truth: Whatever Happened to Evangelical Theology. Lately I have been reinforced in my determination that the same need exists more than ever by reading Ross Douthat’s 9781439178331_p0_v3_s260x420helpful assessment of the American religious landscape Bad Religion: How We Became a Nation of Heretics. Douthat chronicles the demise of orthodox Christianity over several decades into a panoply of false teachings and heresies that make one’s hair stand on end. In his concluding thoughts, he notes historical evidence including within America’s journey when it looked like all was lost for true religion when the opposite actually occurred. He offers this hope with the help of G. K. Chesterton:

In each of these cases , an age of crisis was swiftly followed by an era of renewal, in which forces threatening the faith either receded or were discredited and Christianity itself revived. Time and again, Chesterton noted, “the faith has to all appearance gone to the dogs.” But each time, “it was the dog that died.”

Yes, we should observe Reformation Sunday. May we celebrate what the Reformers recovered and hope the heterodox dogs of the day die once again.

Is the Reformation Over?

Intriguing question.

Some have raised it in recent past.

More recently, Dr. R. C. Sproul has revisited the question and offered a resounding “No” in reply in his book Are We Together?: A Protestant Analyzes Roman Catholicism. I finished reading this relatively brief synopsis (129 pages) of the subject during my time in Idaho.

The author explains his purpose this way:

In this book, I have a simple goal. I want to look at Roman Catholic teaching in several significant areas and compare it with Protestant teaching. I hope to show, often using her own words, that the Roman Catholic Church has not changed from what it believed and taught at the time of the Reformation. That means that the Reformation is not over and we must continue to stand firm in proclaiming the biblical gospel (p. 9).

And look he does into six key areas:

  1. Scripture
    In what he calls the fundamental issue of the Reformation, Sproul explains that the basis of authority was the formal cause behind the protests of Martin Luther and company. They raised the rally cry Sola Scriptura, Scripture alone, in contrast to Rome’s appeal to Scripture PLUS tradition.
  2. Justification
    Commonly known as the chief article or the formal cause of the Reformation, regarding justification (how God declares the sinner righteous) Sproul masterfully explains the difference between the Reformer’s view of double imputation (that our sin was put on Christ and His righteousness was reckoned to us by faith alone – Sola Fide)  and Rome’s idea of justification as a matter of faith PLUS  works, namely participation in the sacraments (baptism and penance in particular). Especially sobering was the insight Sproul brings out from the Council of Trent (1545-1563), Rome’s response to the Reformation, declaring justification by faith alone as a view of salvation to be anathema (accursed)! He further notes that this is a position yet to be reversed by Vatican I (1869-70), Vatican II (1962-65), or the revisions to the Catholic Catechism as recent as 1995.
  3. The Church
    Sproul takes care as he writes to give credit where it is due throughout the book. He demolishes ill-advised caricatures of Roman Catholicism when necessary. He is no Catholic basher, to his credit. He shows in this chapter a more irenic tone from Rome in the move from labeling Protestants as “schismatics” and “heretics” in Vatican I to “separated brethren” in Vatican II. Still the question lingers as to whether someone can genuinely be saved outside the Catholic communion. Salvation for Rome must involve the sacraments which only an ordained priest may rightfully perform. Protestants appeal to justification by faith in Christ alone. They cannot both be the gospel at the same time.
  4. The Sacraments
    Sproul reviews how Protestants observe two ordinances of Christ – baptism and the Lord’s Supper. Catholics on the other hand have seven: baptism, confirmation, matrimony, extreme unction (prayer for the sick and dying), holy orders (for officers of the church), penance (for the restoration of justification when mortal sin kills it), and the Lord’s Supper. He zeroes in on the first and the last noting in the Roman system how baptism allegedly conveys the grace of justification (baptismal regeneration) and that in the Supper with the so-called miracle of the mass, the body of Christ is broken anew. He frankly concludes: Rome is proclaiming things that are repugnant to those who believe and trust the Word of God (p. 84).
  5. The Papacy
    A very interesting aspect of this study involves the development of the doctrine of papal infallibility. Dr. Sproul explains how this came about over time, well after the Protestant Reformation. Still it represents a significant departure from Protestantism, and more importantly the Bible, that declares only One man ever spoke entirely without error in dispensing divine revelation, the Lord Jesus Christ.
  6. Mary
    Like the doctrine of papal infallibility, the ideas related to Mary as “the second Eve” with her immaculate conception, bodily assumption, and coronation in heaven, came about long after the Reformation. And while considerable disagreement exists even within the Catholic communion about some of these things, Mary still takes on significance in their doctrine well beyond Scriptural warrant.

So why belabor all this? Well, for a couple of reasons. Recent movements in evangelicalism in the name of ecumenicism have sought to unite Catholics and Protestants. I would agree with Sproul that while they have their merit in calling the various traditions to stand together on social issues like abortion among others, the terminology contained within these various documents blurs the distinction between who is genuinely a Christian and who is not. Dr. Sproul does a great job in this book of demonstrating that we are decidedly not together and that what is at stake is nothing less than the gospel in the stand we take related to such broad-sweeping initiatives.

Another reason for this lengthy post lies with OGC’s unique location directly across the street from a Roman Catholic church. In all our endeavors to be good neighbors, like last week’s parking give-away, we must never lose sight that our core doctrines do not align and nothing less than the eternal salvation of souls hangs in the balance.

Finally, tomorrow is Reformation Sunday. We will gather to worship and praise our great God and Savior for the recovery of the gospel in the Protestant Reformation, the gospel in which we stand and about which I intend to preach from 1 Cor. 15:1-11. May we give thanks to God for our rich heritage and never fail to keep this precious gospel the main thing. As long the tendency to drift into error exists, the church must remain given to the rally cry semper reformanda (always reforming).

The Reformation is not over. Not by a long shot. It better not be in a church of our tradition.

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.

More Fuel on the Carson Prayer Book Fire


I really do hope that as many of our adults as possible take advantage of our church-wide  9:30 hour equipping emphasis on prayer starting January 3, 2010.

To throw more fuel on the fire of your motivation I offer an online review by Chris Bruce. Here is how he begins:

Take yourself back almost 2000 years and imagine that you are Luke, Barnabas, or another of Paul’s companions. Imagine spending days and nights in lent homes or on the road, sharing Paul’s concern for the churches, and his joy in hearing of new life and growth among his spiritual children. Now imagine again that you were there when Paul took all of these things to God in prayer. How much would you know about how Paul prayed, and how would that knowledge affect your prayer life?

You might know more than Don Carson, Professor of New Testament at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, and you might even be able to communicate it more effectively. But that would be some feat. Carson’s A Call to Spiritual Reformation,a study of Paul’s prayers, is a book worthy of reading and re-reading on an annual basis. Carson’s goal is “to work through several of Paul’s prayers in such a way that we hear God speak to us today, and to find strength and direction to improve our praying, both for God’s glory and for our good.” The need is dire, he says, noting “the sheer prayerlessness that characterizes so much of the Western church.”

You can read the entire article here.

Copies of Dr. Carson’s book are available at our resource table on Sundays for $13 or whatever you can afford. Pick up your copy soon and begin reading.

What a way to start the new year! Let us set our sights high for spiritual reformation in our personal lives and in the life our church.