Justification: By Faith or By Works?

stormsDr. Sam Storms has written a series of articles which be reconciled to God and made acceptable in his sight?”

There simply is no more eternally important question that any man or woman can ask and then answer than this: “How might I, a hell-deserving sinner, be reconciled to God and made acceptable in his sight?” Or we might pose the question in yet another way: “How might I, a man/woman who is undeniably unrighteous and thus deserving of eternal judgment, be made righteous in the sight of God?” Other questions might feel more pressing or more practical, but rest assured that nothing else in all of life matters much in comparison with the issue of how we can be made right with God and thus assured of eternal life in his presence.

To put it another way, what is it that commends us to God? On what grounds or for what reason does God receive us as his children and look on us with a smile of approval and joy?

You and I will make numerous colossally stupid decisions during our years on earth. But we will, in the end, survive them all. None of them is quite as devastating as we think. Whether it’s choosing the wrong job or purchasing the wrong car or making bad friends, as painful as such choices can be, we will survive them. But the issue that we encounter in James 2:14-26 is of an eternally different order. The conclusion you draw concerning the meaning of this passage and how you live your life as a result will bear consequences into eternity. Not just for the next few weeks, or even years, but for eternity. Continue reading

Luther and the Tower

Romans 1:16 For I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes: first to the Jew, then to the Gentile. 17 For in the gospel the righteousness of God is revealed—a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: “The righteous will live by faith.” (NIV)

Martin Luther was a man plagued in conscience because of his sin, knowing God had to be just in punishing him. Light broke through the dark, foreboding clouds when he came to understand Romans 1:17.

The Bible and the Church

Bible18In an article entitled, “Is the Church over the Bible or is the Bible over the Church?” Michael J Kruger if one were to respond to each and every erroneous claim on the internet there would be time for little else. But every now and then, an article combines so many misconceptions about the canon is a single place, that a response is warranted. This is the case with the recent article, “There is No ‘Bible’ in the Bible,” by Fr. Stephen Freeman.

Freeman, part of the Orthodox Church in America, has made what is essentially a Roman Catholic argument for the canon (but missing some key portions, as we shall see). His basic claim is that the Bible–as something that is an authority over the church–is a modern, post-Reformation invention. In reality, he claims, the church is the highest authority and the Bible is merely one of many tools used by the church.

Perhaps the best way to respond to Freeman’s article is just to quote it line by line (in italics below), offering a response to each statement as we go. For space reasons, we will not be able to cover every one of his claims, but we will cover the major ones.

1. The word “Bible” simply means “book.” Thus, it is a name that means “the Book.” It is a particularly late notion if for no other reason than that books are a rather late invention.

Freeman makes the claim here that the “Bible” must be late, because books are a late invention. This is stunning to say the least given that Israel had been using books as Scripture for more than a thousand years before Christ was even born. Moreover, early Christianity was a very “bookish” culture right from the start, with a keen interest in reading, producing, and copying books. For more on this point see my article here. Thus, books were not at all a foreign idea to the early Christian faith.

2. There are examples of bound folios of the New Testament dating to around the 4th century, but they may very well have been some of the earliest examples of such productions.

By the term “bound folios” I assume Freeman is referring to early Christian codices that contained multiple books in the same volume. If so, then the “earliest examples” do not derive from the fourth century, but much earlier. At the end of the second century/early third century we have all four gospels in a single volume (P4-64-67, P45), and most, if not all, of Paul’s epistles in a single volume (P46). These codices demonstrate a book consciousness very early in the life of the church.

But, perhaps Freeman mentions the fourth century because he is referring to codices that contain all 27 NT books. He is correct that the fourth century is the first instance of all 27 books bound together (e.g. Codex Sinaiticus; see photo above) But, one does not need all 27 books in a single volume in order to establish that the early church had a canon of Scripture. Books don’t need to be physically bound together in order to viewed as part of a scriptural collection. Indeed, this was precisely the case with the OT books. Individual OT books were often kept in separate rolls, even though they were clearly viewed as part of a larger biblical corpus.

3. The “Bible,” a single book with the whole of the Scriptures included, is indeed modern. It is a by-product of the printing press, fostered by the doctrines of Protestantism.

The discussion above has already refuted the notion that a complete NT canon does not come around until the printing press. In addition, Freeman does not mention the fact that we can determine the extent of the church’s canon in other ways besides the physical book. Early Christians drew up lists of their books from quite an early time. For instance, Origen lists all 27 books in a single list in the third century (see article here). Would Freeman suggest that Origen’s NT canon is simply the “by-product of the printing press fostered by the doctrines of Protestantism”? Continue reading

Sola Scriptura (Rightly Understood)

Patrick Schreiner writes:

Sola scriptura is a Reformation principle of the sufficiency of Scripture as our supreme authority in spiritual matters. Unfortunately, it is a doctrine commonly misunderstood.

Often when described by contemporary supporters and contemporary opponents the view of sola scriptura differs from what one finds in the writings of the Reformers. In other words, what is set up to sink as a misguided principle or to hoist as a banner is not sola scriptura but solo scriptura.

The major issue underlying sola scriptura is relationship between Scripture and tradition. But some who propound sola scriptura do so in the sense that Scripture clashes with tradition.

Nevertheless as Timothy Ward notes “the early fathers of the church would simply not have understood the notion of Scripture clashing with tradition” (143).

Ward then introduces three different views of tradition found in the writing of Heiko Oberman.

Tradition I:
Tradition I is the view that tradition is a tool to aid in the faithful interpretation of Scripture, expounding the primary teachings of Scripture.

Tradition II:
Tradition II asserts there are two distinct sources of divine revelation, Scripture and church tradition, with the latter being handed down either orally or through customary church practices.

Tradition o:
Tradition o exalts the the individual’s interpretation of Scripture over that of the corporate interpretation of past generations of Christians.

The Reformers saw themselves as propounding Tradition I in response to both Tradition II (Roman Catholic Church) and Tradition o (Anabaptists). They did not see themselves as introducing some new teaching about the relationship between Scripture and tradition, but rather a principle most of the church fathers had taught all along.

But sometimes being so far removed from the situation or simply hearing soundbites of what sola scriptura is causes one to slide into Tradition o. Keith Mathison argues that since the eighteenth century American evangelicalism, especially in its popular forms, has largely adopted something close to Tradition o or solo scriptura, while wrongly imagining they are remaining faithful to Luther and Calvin.

The Reformers’ conviction of sola scriptura is the conviction that Scripture is the only infallible authority, the only supreme authority. Yet it is not the only authority, for the creeds and the church’s teaching function as important subordinate authorities, under the authority of Scripture (147).

Or in the famously used phrase, “our final authority is Scripture alone, but not a Scripture that is alone.”

Seven Hours of Dividing Lines

Throughout 2014, while Dr. James White has been away on various ministry trips, I have had the distinct honor and privilege of guest-hosting his “Dividing Line” broadcasts. This allowed me the opportunity of teaching on some major doctrines at the heart of the Christian faith. Here are the youtube videos (all in one place):

Hour 1. “Law and Gospel.”

Hour 2. “The Five Solas of the Reformation.”

Hour 3. The “T” in the TULIP, “Total Depravity.”:

Hour 4. The “U” in the TULIP, “Unconditional Election.”

Hour 5. The “L” in the TULIP, “Limited Atonement.”

Hour 6. July, 2014: Continuing on from Dividing Line broadcasts earlier in the year, here is teaching on the “I” in the TULIP, “Irresistible Grace.”

Hour 7. July, 2014: The conclusion of the TULIP series – the Perseverance (or Preservation) of the Saints:

The Five Questions the Five Solas Answer

Jesse Johnson is the Teaching Pastor at Immanuel Bible Church in Springfield, VA. In an article entitled, “5 questions and the 5 solas” he meaning that the priests and laity lived in practically two separate worlds. There was no concept of church membership, corporate worship, preaching, or Bible reading in the churches. And as far as doctrine was concerned, there was no debate—the creeds and declarations from Rome (and soon to be Avignon) were the law.

Things had been this way for six hundred years. In a world where life expectancy was in the 30’s, that is essentially the same as saying that the church had been in the dark forever.

But if you fast-forward to the end of the 1500’s, all of that had been turned on its head. The absolute nature of the Pope’s rule and vanished—in large part owing to the Babylonian Captivity of the church (the 40 year period were two rival popes both ruled, and both excommunicated each other—finally to both be deposed by a church council). Church councils themselves had contradicted themselves so many times that their own authority was openly ridiculed. The Holy Roman Empire was no longer relevant, and the political world had simply passed the Pope by.

Protestants found themselves in the wake of this upheaval, and there was one major question to be answered: what, exactly, was this new kind of Christian? What did a Protestant believe? The reformation had followed similar and simultaneous tracks in multiple countries, yet at the end of it all the content of Protestantism was pretty much the same. On the essentials, German, English, Swiss, and Dutch Protestants all stood for the same theology. But what was it?

It was easy to understand the beliefs of Catholicism—all one had to do was look at their creeds and the declarations from their councils. But Protestants were so named precisely because they were opposed to all that. So what council would give them their beliefs then?

This is where the five solas came from. These were five statements about the content of the Protestant gospel, and by the end of the 1500’s, these were the terms which identified Protestantism. These five phrases are not an extensive statement on theology, but instead served simply as a way to explain what the content of the gospel was to which Protestants held.

Sola Fide—Faith alone

Solus Christus—Christ alone

Sola Scriptura—Scripture alone

Sola Gratia—Grace alone

Soli Deo Gloria—God’s glory alone

These five solas still live on to this very day. They define what the gospel is for evangelicals worldwide, and also provide a helpful summary—a cheat sheet even—of what marks the true gospel from a religion of works. But historically, these five solas make the most sense when viewed from the perspective of answering the question: what do Protestants believe? In fact, each one of these five is an answer to a particular question:

What must I do to be saved? Sola Fide

The gospel is not a religion of works, but a religions of faith. You can’t do anything to be saved—rather, God saves you on the basis of your faith, which is itself on the basis of the work of Christ on your behalf. Protestants believe that you don’t work for your salvation, and that nobody is good enough to deserve salvation. But thankfully salvation does not come on the basis of works but instead on the basis of faith.

Sola fide declares that In addition to faith, you can do absolutely nothing in order to be saved.

What must I trust? Solus Christus

In a world with deposed Popes in the unemployment line, this question has profound importance. Keep in mind that for six hundred years, nearly every European would have answered that question by pointing at the sacraments. You trust them for your salvation. Perhaps some would point you to the church, the priest, of even to Jesus himself. But only a Protestant would say “trust Jesus alone.”

Solus Christus is a simple declaration that salvation is not dispensed through Rome, priests, or sacraments. There is no sense in putting hope in extreme unction, purgatory, or an indulgence. Instead it comes through Jesus alone.

What must I obey? Sola Scriptura

When the Council of Constance deposed both Popes, this question took on a sense of urgency. If a council is greater than a Pope, then does one have to obey the Pope at all, or is it better to simply submit yourself to the church as a whole? Are believers compelled to obey priests in matters of faith?

Sola Scriptura says “no.” In matters of faith, believers are compelled by no other authority than that of Scripture. There is no room for a mixture of history and tradition—those cannot restrain the flesh and they cannot bind the conscience. Instead, believers’ only ultimate authority is the Bible.

What must I earn? Sola Gratia

Is there any sense in which a person must earn salvation? For the Protestant, the answer is obvious: NO! Salvation is of grace…ALONE. It is not by work or merit. God didn’t look down the tunnel of time and see how you were going to responded to the gospel, then rewind the tape and choose you. He does not save you in light of what you did, are doing, or will do in the future. Instead, his salvation is based entirely upon his grace.

What is the point? Soli Deo Gloria

What is the point of the Reformation? Why are these doctrinal differences worth dividing over? Because people were made for one reason, and one reason alone: to glorify God. God is glorified in his creation, in his children, in the gospel, and most particularly in his son. The highest calling on a persons’ life (indeed, the only real calling in a person’s life) is that he would glorify God in all he does. Nevertheless, we always fail to do that. Yet God saves us anyway through the gospel.

Soli Deo Gloria is a reminder that by twisting the gospel or by adding works to the gospel, a person is actually missing the glory that comes through a gospel of grace and faith, through Jesus, and described by Scripture. The first four questions really function like tributaries, and they all flow to this body—God’s glory.