Rev. Steven D. Spencer - Pastor
Jesus therefore was saying to those Jews who had believed Him, "If you abide in My word, then you are truly disciples of Mine; and you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free." They answered Him, "We are Abraham's offspring, and have never yet been enslaved to anyone; how is it that You say, 'You shall become free '?" Jesus answered them, "Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who commits sin is the slave of sin. "And the slave does not remain in the house forever; the son does remain forever. "If therefore the Son shall make you free, you shall be free indeed.
Grace, peace and mercy from God the Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus the Christ, amen!
The battle cries of the Reformation were the Solas. Sola Gratia: by grace alone, Sola Fide: by faith alone, Sola Scriptura: by Scripture alone. Over the past three weeks we have discussed these themes of the Reformation. But none of it makes any sense without the fourth Sola, which is Solus Christus, by Christ alone.
Before we get into that I want to share this little story with you. I’ve shared it before. There was a newly ordained pastor, straight out of the seminary who received his first call. He was so excited about the call. The church he would be serving was a very well established church which existed before the signing of The Declaration of Independence. One Sunday after church the pastor stood in the Narthex looking at a wall. This was not just an ordinary wall; it was covered in black walnut. And on that wall were inscribed the names of soldiers who had died in the service of our nation. He saw names on that wall that he read about in history books. Names that went all the way back to the War of Independence and every war and conflict since. As he looked at the wall he noticed that on the right side was a narrow single list. It was the name of the pastors that had faithfully served that congregation, very notable names with great significance. Someday his name would be there too. The young pastor became rather proud to be associated with such a long standing church, maybe even a little too proud. Yes, someday he would be on that list. As he stood there silently staring at the wall a young boy walked up and stood next to him. There in the Narthex stood a man and a child staring at a wall. Finally the boy said, “Pastor whatcha looking at?” The pastor without breaking his focus simply replied, “The names of all those people who died in the service.” The boy looked all the more attentively at the wall and then with a rather perplexed look upon his face said, “Pastor which service did they die in, the 8 o’clock or the 10:30 service?
The pastor and the child were both looking at service but with different perspectives. One was viewing service in the sense of the military the other in the sense of the church. When we look at the Reformation we tend to look at it through 21st Century lenses. We have a western 21st Century perspective. We’ve heard so many sermons, attended so many services over the years all with some preconceived notion of the Reformation. We need to apply context, context and context to understand the Reformation. Let share some of the misconceptions we might have about the Reformation. For years I thought the great moment of the Reformation was Luther standing at the Castle Church doors nailing the 95 Thesis. This was not the beginning of the Reformation. I watched the Luther Movie. You know the one that was shown in every church basement since 1953 the black and white version, “The real Luther movie!” I’ve seen the Stacy Keach version, from 1973, not nearly as good as the 1953 version. And I’ve seen the newest Luther movie 2003 with Joseph Fiennes, not bad! All of them show the pinnacle of the Reformation with Luther at the Diet of Worms. But again this wasn’t the pinnacle of the Reformation.
Luther never wanted to create a new denomination. Luther didn’t want to dismantle the Roman church. He didn’t want to create a new religion. As a matter of fact Luther would have never chosen the word Reformation. The word reform as defined by Webster’s is: First explanation: the improvement or amendment of what is wrong, corrupt, unsatisfactory, etc. Second explanation: to change to a better state, form, etc.; improve by alteration, substitution, abolition, etc. Luther never wanted to improve the church, or to alter the church, or to substitute the church, or to abolish the church. The Reformation wasn’t born out of Luther’s desire to reform the church. This is important so please listen. The Reformation was the result of Luther dealing with his relationship with God.
Luther had focused on the Sovereignty of God. This is “the attribute by which God rules all His creation.” It’s the application of His other attributes of being all-knowing and all-powerful. It makes Him absolutely free to do what He knows to be best. God is in control of everything that happens. Luther saw God as being just and requiring perfect obedience to the Law. But Luther was a sinner. He knew his sin, and believed God was willing and ready to bring forth judgment. Luther ranted about his sin the privacy of his room. “God hates me, I’m terrible, I’m damned, get away from me devil.” Luther beat himself, time and time again, believing that by destroying the flesh he might enable him to keep the Law. But it failed. Luther only saw God as a judge. Luther knew he was condemned by his sin. By the way, Luther was right!
Luther’s desire was to share this understanding with all that had come under the heavy hand of the Law. His desire was to return the church to time when he believed it had the proper doctrine. Luther didn’t call it reformation he called it ursprünglich in English, repristination. To be made new again, to be pristine. This last summer when I was up in Alaska there was a beautiful clear lake and sitting at the dock was a fully restored wooden Chris Craft boat. I remember some young men looking at that beautifully restored boat. One of them said, “Boy, Clem that boat is so pristine.” Definition of pristine is: To be made new again, to be restore its original condition or having its original purity; uncorrupted or unsullied. That was Luther’s desire for the church. So he went back to Sola Fide, Sola Gratia, Sola Scriptura. Luther repeated the words spoken some 1,000 years before by St. Augustine. But now Luther understood them properly by applying Solus Christus, by Christ alone. For Christ is grace personified. Christ is faith personified. Christ is the Word personified. And Christ alone can grant salvation. All the other Solas are made flesh in the person of Jesus Christ.
That’s why this new movement in the church wasn’t a protest, we’re not protest –ants, “Protestants”, and it wasn’t really reformation as the world thinks of it, for we are not reformed. It was repristination. The new church was called the Evangelical Kirche, “The church of the Gospel.” We have returned to early church where Christ is the hope and stay. For Christ did it all. He died the death we deserved and rose again victoriously as proof that His death was payment in full for our sin. That’s Sola Gratia! And how can we know this for sure, by faith a free gift from God (Ephesians 2:8-9). For by grace you are saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, but a gift from God; not of works, lest any man should boast. That’s Sola Fide! And how can we verify this? By reading God’s Word! That’s Sola Scriptura! That’s why the people of Luther’s day wore the emblem VDMA with cross on there sleeves. Verbum Domini Manet in Aeternum, which means: “The Word of the Lord endures forever” (1 Peter 1:25). And all of this has been made know to us by the God made flesh, who came, who suffered, who died and rose again, yes Jesus the Christ. That Solus Christus! For by Christ alone all your sins are forgiven. And that’s salvation, a free gift from God!
Sola Fide: by faith alone, Sola Gratia: by grace alone, Sola Scriptura: by Scripture alone and Solus Christus: by Christ alone all this has been done for you and your salvation. And because of this we most heartily give God all the Glory, Soli Deo Gloria, in Jesus name, Amen and Amen!
The peace of God which surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. AMEN