I don’t know if you know this today is “National Cat Day.” Did anybody know that? Chrissy knew it, and Linda knew it. I knew there would be a couple. It is also “National Oatmeal Day.” Did anybody have oatmeal for breakfast? Okay, all right, I see you. I see that hand. I think that means this morning that everyone should’ve posted on Instagram a picture on of their cat eating oatmeal #nationalcatday #nationaloatmealday. It seems like nowadays there’s a “national day” of everything, just about. Doesn’t it? National Grilled Cheese Day, National Purple Socks Day, National Coffee Day (who are we kidding, that’s every day for some of us). Some of these days just seem so forgettable, until you see it on Facebook that day, you didn’t know what was coming. But there are other days, there are other days in the history of the world, that will never be forgotten. There are days that are so important that they actually change the course of history. Obviously paramount among those days was that Sunday 2,000 years ago where Jesus walked out of that tomb alive. Not only did that change history that in fact, is the meaning of all history. We celebrate that day every Sunday, as we are this Lord’s Day. But as you know, this day we are also celebrating another day, another important day. This Tuesday is one of those days. My kids would tell you that it’s because of Halloween, but that’s not what I’m talking about.
October 31, 1517, 500 years to the day, this coming, Tuesday, is when a theology professor in a small German town changed the world. On that providential day a man named Martin Luther went to the church door in Wittenberg with a hammer, a nail, and a parchment of paper, he nailed his 95 theses to the castle door. That simple, unassuming and almost mundane, act was used by God to ignite a spark, that spark was enflamed by the Holy Spirit, which would become a gospel fire that would cover the globe. Like I said, the interesting thing is that Luther wasn’t even necessarily trying to start a revolution, if you know the history. Professors posted theses all the time. They would invite students and parishioners to come discuss and debate. Martin Luther saw problems inside the RCC and his plan was to try and change it from within. He wasn’t set out to start the Lutheran Church or the protestant movement, he just wanted to fix the church; such a mundane academic act. But this time was different; this time God was doing something unique, something historic. God would use Luther’s debate club invites to bring about the greatest gospel revival in the 2,000-year history of the church: we call that revival the Protestant Reformation.
This morning we’re going to pause, and we have been pausing, as a church to reflect on our roots. We are here today because of what happened in part 500 years ago. This is our tribe, you could say, of religion or Christianity. We are reformed Protestants. We aren’t RCC, we aren’t Eastern Orthodox. We believe that the most biblical historical reflection of Christianity is found in the reformed Protestant tradition. Because that’s true and because this Tuesday marks the 500th anniversary of this historic, world-shaking event, what we’re going to do this morning, reflecting upon the word of God, is look at the 5 pillars of the Protestant Reformation this morning, they have been called the 5 Solas. The word Sola is the Latin word that means “alone.” Scripture alone, grace alone, faith alone, Christ alone, and to the glory of God alone. We as a church, even now 500 years later are in protest of Rome because they do not believe these five things and we do and we believe that is worth protesting. The Reformation was built on these five truths so what we are going to do is to look at them together as a church and reflect on them, and digest them, praise Christ for them, and see what it means to fall in line with such great a cloud of witnesses historically.
The first truth and the foundational truth of this whole thing is Scripture alone. The Latin phrase is sola Scriptura. Scripture alone. The reformers were addressing the issue of authority. You see, the RCC believes in 3 streams of church authority, that there are three voices of authority in the church. Three legs: Scripture, tradition, and the Magisterium. The Magisterium means like the Popes and the Bishops and the offices of the church. That is the authority of the church. In saying scripture alone, we are not saying, “Hey Roman Catholics don’t believe the Bible” they do believe the Bible. They do have scripture, remember their Old Testament includes the Apocrypha, so it is even different from ours, but they wouldn’t say they don’t believe in scriptures, the problem is they don’t believe in Scripture Alone. They don’t believe that Scripture is the sole authority in the church. Scripture is one leg of authority, so it is kind of like, you envision in your mind, a stool with three legs. Roman Catholics would say that is the church, that your authority. One leg is the Bible, one leg is tradition, and one leg is the Pope and the Bishops. That is how we have we know what is the rule for practice in life and godliness. That would be their understanding. They would hold to the bible, again to the Apocrypha so it was different to our bible.
They also hold to tradition, that tradition is authoritative. Tradition in the RCC, they would say, is the teachings of Jesus that aren’t in the Bible. So Jesus had all these teachings that he gave to the apostles that they did not write down. They’ve passed that stuff on and now the Pope and the bishops can interpret that for the church and it has the same authority as scripture. They would lead in tradition. It is equal to the Scripture, their dogmatic declarations. For example, in 1854 the Roman Catholic Church declared the doctrine of the immaculate conception of the Virgin Mary. That is not in the Bible, we would all agree with that, but the RCC says that Jesus said this to his apostles and it wasn’t written down and they have carried it down and now they can declare it to the church and it stands on equal legs with the bible, authoritatively. That is tradition. The final leg of authority then is the Magisterium, the Pope and the bishops. They are all three equal voices of authority in the church. So Roman Catholics would argue that the Apostle Peter was the 1st bishop of Rome, he was the first Pope, and that the Popes fall in line through Peter. So you would say, “Why would the bishop of Rome have all this authority?” Because Jesus gave it to Peter and Peter passed it down to us. Do you guys understand? So for them that is their authority.
This is what Martin Luther was fighting against. He is coming against this and saying, “I take issue.” This where we, as Protestants, take issue. We believe in the authority of Scripture alone. The Scripture is the sole authority for the church. The Bible is the only authority. All other authority in the church, and there are lesser authorities: creeds, confessions, elders at the local church (our elder board makes decisions, leads the church.). Those are authorities, but those things only bear authority when they fall in line with the Scriptures. The elder board of Christ Community Church can only speak authoritatively in this body, if what we are saying falls in line with the bible. If not, then don’t listen to us, because we are not the magisterium. We are not equal with the bible. We are under the bible. So think of this, for the Roman Catholics it is a 3-legged stool, your authority sits on scripture, tradition, and pope, magisterium, leaders. For us, as Protestants, it is more like a flagpole, so the flagpole is the Bible. Any flag of authority that you want to raise on the flagpole, a decision by the elders, a creed, a sermon, or anything, if it cannot be supported by the flagpole, it does not wave. The scripture is the flagpole for us. We don’t have a three-legged stool of authority, we have a flagpole and our authoritative declarations, decisions, whatever, if they can’t stand on that flagpole they don’t fly. Scripture alone, we believe in Scripture alone. If it can’t be help up by the Bible, we don’t believe it. If you can’t be convinced by the Bible, if your mind can’t be changed by the Bible, you are not believing in the Bible. You are believing in your own tradition, in your own authority.
Now, again let’s pull back a little, today in this sermon and even our tradition of falling in line with the reformers isn’t an opportunity to bash Roman Catholics, because Roman Catholics are not the only ones who don’t believe in Scripture alone. There are others as well, who misunderstand biblical authority. There were, even within the reformation and within the Protestants, there were some radical Anabaptist that believed that they didn’t need the Bible because the Holy Spirit spoke directly to them. That is just as dangerous as that three-legged Roman Catholic stool. Why? Because you are not believing the Bible. I don’t care if you say it is the Roman Catholic Church or the Holy Spirit is talking to you or whatever it is, if it is not the Bible it is not Scripture alone. We believe in Scripture alone. We are Protestant because we believe in Scripture alone. The Bible is our only authority in our hearts, in our homes, and in this church.
The 2nd pillar of the Protestant reformation is grace alone, we sang that this morning didn’t we? We are saved by grace alone. The Latin phrase is sola gratia. Grace alone. Ephesians 2.8 says for by grace you have been saved…this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works. We believe that salvation is the work of God’s grace alone. Now this is kind of hard for us in our culture, isn’t it? This grades against that rugged American individualism that we’re all trained to believe in for all of our lives. For me to say that you can’t do it, you can’t save yourself, the American way is, “Pull yourself up by your bootstraps.” The gospel says you can’t. You are saved by grace alone. “God helps those who help themselves” is not a verse in the Bible. Michael Horton tells a great illustration of this that challenges our rugged individualism, in other parts of the world this isn’t an issue. If you go somewhere where someone is poor and under a dictatorship and you tell them, “God saves you, you can’t earn it, it is by grace alone” they aren’t going to have trouble with that because they can’t do anything on their own. Right? They are under someone’s thumb. You say it to an American and they are like, “Whoa! That is offensive to tell me I can’t do it.” Listen to this illustration by Michael Horton. He tells a story of a man who fell off a cliff, on his way down, falling down the cliff, he managed to reach out and grab a branch. Now the branch broke his fall and saved his life, but before long he realized that he did not have the strength pull himself back up. All he could do in his strength is to hang onto this branch. Finally, he calls out to the top of the ledge, "Is there anyone up there who can help me?" To his surprise, a voice boomed back to him and says to him, "I am here. I can help you, but first you're going to have to let go of that branch." Thinking for a moment about his options, the man looked back up and shouts, "Is there anyone else up there who can help me?" That is American, right? You can help me as long as I get to do it too. The Bible teaches that we are saved by grace alone. It is a gift of God, it is not a result of works. You can’t boast about it.
We like to think and operate like God helps us help ourselves. He does not. The gospel tells us that we were dead in our sins and that Jesus made us alive. It is the grace of God that saved us; we can’t earn it. There is a helpful acronym that someone taught me one time; I can’t remember who it was but I am going to give the credit to Debbie Broach. I feel like she was the one who told it to me, but if not Debbie just take the credit. She said this is what grace is, it is an acronym, grace is “God’s Riches At Christ’s Expense.” That’ll preach. That should have gotten some more amen. Swell me up a little. “God’s Riches At Christ’s Expense.” That’s a great way to remember what the word grace means. You receive, listen you are not doing anything active in that statement, God’s riches and it’s at Christ’s expense. There is nothing you do. There is nothing about what you do. It is what God does, it is grace alone. We are Protestant because we believe in grace alone.
The third pillar Faith alone – the Latin phrase is sola fide – Faith alone. For by grace you have been saved through faith (Eph 2.8). And as we said earlier, justification (being made right with God) by faith alone is indeed the cornerstone of the reformation. This was the chief issue. The RCC teaches that you are justified through faith and works. It is not that they don’t believe in faith, they do, they just believe you have to have your works alongside it. We say no. We protest. Faith alone. This was Luther’s biggest fight. The text we read from in Romans 1.16-17 where the Holy Spirit opened his eyes to the gospel. The just (the righteous, those who have been made right) shall live by faith. Rome teaches that one is saved through faith and good works. Justification comes through belief and good deeds, is what they teach. Protestants, us, we believe we are made right before God through faith in the finished work of Jesus Christ. Jesus’ righteousness, his law-abiding, sinless life is imputed to us, given freely to us. Jesus lived the perfect life that we didn’t and Jesus died the penal death we’re owed. When we have faith in Christ, his verdict becomes our verdict.
So, we ask ourselves: what is faith? We throw that phrase around a lot and if you ask ten people in ten churches they are probably going to give you ten different answers about what faith is. The reformed tradition has always taught that there are 3 aspects to faith – knowledge, ascent, and trust. So think about a chair for a moment. You are all sitting in a chair. Think about a chair. Before you sat down, you had the knowledge that this is a chair. You saw it, you analyzed it. Maybe you touched it. You took in the data and you came to the conclusion that this is a chair. Knowledge. The next step it to ascent that the chair will hold you. I am looking at the chair– “I believe that if I sit in this chair, the chair will hold me.” But you haven’t moved yet. You have knowledge, you know what it is, you ascent that it works, but until you trust, until you sit your bottom in that seat, you do not have faith in that chair. Three elements of faith. So we say to have faith alone in Jesus is to have knowledge of who Jesus is, there is no one who is trusting in Jesus who doesn’t know who Jesus is. The gospel must be knowledge, the gospel must be told to them, they must hear about this man who was born of a virgin, lived a perfect life, died a sinless death, resurrected on the third day. They have to know that. Without the information they cannot trust. Then have to ascent that it is true. You can’t just know that Jesus died on the cross for your sins and resurrected on the third day, you have to believe that it happened and that it will make you right with God. You have to ascent to it. You have to ascent that that is reality. But even then, the demons know that Jesus did that. They believe it actually happened. But they are not sitting in the chair. You need to have faith; you need to trust that Jesus’ righteousness will be given to you. That when you stand before God and he asked you why he should let you live forever and you say, “Because Jesus died for my sins and rose again on the third day.” That he will say, “Amen.” I am not guilty. You have to know, you have to ascent it, and you have to trust it. You have to sit in it. You have to rest in it. That is what faith is. Faith alone, not faith plus works, not faith plus anything, faith along. Do you trust that Jesus died and resurrected for you? Are you living like that’s true? Are you sitting in the chair? Are you resting in Jesus’ arms this morning? Do you have faith? We are Protestant because we believe in faith alone.
The 4th pillar of the reformation is what we just said, Christ, Christ alone. In Christ alone my hope is found, my hope is built on nothing less than Jesus’ blood and righteousness. Solus Christus – Christ alone. We believe that there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all, which is the testimony given at the proper time (1 Tim 2.5-6). We believe that we don’t need a pope, or a bishop, or a priest, or a pastor to mediate between us and God. Jesus alone is our high priest, Jesus alone is our mediator. We have just moved through the book of Hebrews that screams at us, Jesus alone. Jesus is better. Don’t fall away from Jesus. Jesus is the great high priest. Not the magisterium, not the confession booth, not yourself, Jesus. You know it is not just tradition that we come here and end every prayer, “In Jesus’ name.” That is not just a protestant buzz phase. We genuinely believe that God is only hearing us because we are speaking, we are coming, in Jesus’ name because of what Jesus did and because Jesus is standing right next to him interceding on our behalf. That is the only reason. So we pray, “In the name of Jesus.” We believe in Christ alone. Colossians 1.13 says [God] has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins. Jesus alone can forgive your sins. There is no man that can forgive your sins. Jesus’ mother who has been dead for two millennium, can’t forgive your sins. There is no saint, there is no pastor, there is no small group, there is no TV preacher, there is one High Priest. There is one mediator between God and man. Christ alone. This is the battle cry of the protestant church. This is the source and substance of Christianity.
Soli Deo Gloria
The final pillar of the protestant reformation is the phrase to the glory of God alone! We just sang that together, glory to God, glory to God forever. The Latin phrase is soli deo Gloria. This is final point of these five pillars. This is really a summation of all the others. Isn’t it? Why scripture alone? Why faith alone? Why grace alone? Why Christ alone? Because the glory of God alone is the reason why everything is. As reformed Protestants we believe that all things in the church and in our lives are done for God’s glory. 1 Cor 10.31 – So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God. The first question in the Westminster Shorter Catechism asks, “What is the chief end of man?” And the answer is this, “Man's chief end is to glorify God and to enjoy him forever." Romans 11.36 says about Jesus, from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen.
I think to fully understand this pillar, this doctrine, this truth, we need to ask 2 questions and not just make it a catchphrase: what is God’s glory? And how do we glorify him? What is God’s glory and how do we glorify him? First, God’s glory is everything that’s true about him. Everything that is true about God makes up his glory. It’s his weightiness, his otherness. He is not anything else. There is not anything anywhere in creation that is God. There is one God. He is creator, he is holy, he is love, he is pure, he is just, etc. I could go on all day with that, couldn’t I? Of what God is and who he is. All of these attributes in their totality make up the glory of God, who he is. So in order for us to properly glorify God we have to rightly acknowledge everything that is true about him and then rightly respond to those things. Rightly acknowledge his glory, everything that is true about him, and then respond to his glory.
Think about it this way, to give you flesh and bones illustration. I believe that my wife is glorious. There are a lot of things about her that make her beautiful to me: her long brown hair, her blue eyes, her vampire-like florescent skin. But there are other attributes, about her, besides her physical beauty that make her glorious to: her mind, she’s the smartest person I know, her work ethic, her love for her children, her administration of our home, her service to our church. All of these things, to me, make up the glory of Bethany. Now, how do I glorify my wife? By rightly acknowledging and responding to all of the things that are true about her. I praise her beauty, I care for her, (I am just saying these hypothetically. I am not saying I do these things well all the time. I should.) I should praise her beauty, I should care for her, I should try and create a home and church in which she can thrive, one that isn’t holding her back, but one that is causing her to thrive. I provide for her and protect our family, etc. So think about that applied to God. We glorify God when we acknowledge all that is true about him, and we rightly respond to that truth. If we are not doing those two things, we are not glorifying God. If we are saying or thinking things that are untrue about God, which is what the reformers contended that the RCC is doing that they are speaking untruth about God. Not only that, but they are responding incorrectly to who God is. We acknowledge the truths about God, about the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, and then we rightly respond to those truths. Those are the only ways that we glorify God. We are Protestant so we believe we do all things Soli Deo Gloria, to the glory of God alone.
Now, we believe, again don’t just hear this and think, “Now I know how Alex feels about my Catholic cousin.” Don’t hear that. I believe, you believe or at least you should, that there are many people who attend Roman Catholic Churches who are trusting in Jesus for their salvation. You know those people. I am telling you, there is a lady I know she is Roman Catholic and she complains about them, isn’t that what they do? They are all Catholic and then they complain about the Catholic Church. She is Catholic and she talks about Jesus more than anybody I know in protestant churches. I think she knows Christ. So don’t hear me say that just because someone attends a Catholic church that they don’t know Christ, in the same way where, listen, there may be some of you here attending this protestant church who don’t know Jesus this morning. Just because you are sitting in a building doesn’t mean you have faith in Jesus. So don’t hear me say that. I am not universally sending all Catholics to hell without a conversation, but the flip side of that coin is that I have no choice but to acknowledge that their church as an entity gets too many important thing wrong. They have trampled the gospel of Jesus with their understanding of justification. They are spitting on the cross of Christ. The book of Hebrews says they are crucifying him again, every week at their Mass. These are important issues. Let’s be balanced. It is not just be angry protestant dude, but let’s not also be a bunch of Universalists who thinks truth doesn’t matter. These are important things. Men and women died over this stuff. Bloody Mary, the queen of England, murdered protestants because they said faith alone. This is serious. Church, we are protesting. We are celebrating the fact that we have protested Rome for 500 years. Any church that denies Scripture alone, grace alone, faith alone, Christ alone, to the glory of God alone, has abandoned the gospel. They have. For the last 500 years, you should be encouraged this morning; God has, in many ways, resurrected the gospel among common people like me and you. We should be thankful that God saw fit to use a theology professor and his debate club to change the religious status of global Christianity. Let us be thankful this morning for men like Martin Luther, John Calvin, John Knox, and others who lived, wrote, and preached during that time period and who have left us a wealth of gospel treasure.
So before you go trick-or-treating with your kids or grandkids this Tuesday, or while you’re knocking on doors asking for candy, thank Jesus that that German monk went and knocked on that church door in Wittenberg. While you’re eating that substance-less candy, thank Jesus for the recovery of the substance of the gospel through the Protestant reformation. Because, church, this day will be remembered forever. I promise you that in the New Creation, 10,000 years from now, we are not going to remember “National Oatmeal Day,” but we are going to remember October 31st, 1517. Let’s celebrate that.