Posted on Monday, August 06, 2007 by Todd Pruitt on 1517

“My conscience is captive to the Word of God. Thus I cannot and will not recant, for going against my conscience is neither safe nor salutary. I can do no other, here I stand, God help me.” With those words, Martin Luther sealed his fate as a heretic condemned by no less than Pope Leo himself. If not for the protection of his prince, Frederick the Wise, and the immense popularity he enjoyed among the people, Luther would surely have been arrested, quickly tried, and burned to a crisp.

The doctrine of the supreme authority of the Scriptures came to be known as Sola Scripture or “Scripture Alone.” It is often referred to as “the formal principle” of the Reformation. It is a reminder that the Protestant Reformation was essentially a movement based upon the careful study of God’s Word.

The Roman Catholic Church has long held that the Bible is the product of the church. That is, the church gives birth, as it were, to the Scriptures. There is an implicit subordination implied in this formula. This is why, when discussing doctrine with a Roman Catholic it does no good to say something like, “But purgatory is found nowhere in the Bible,” or “But the Bible says none of those things about Mary,” or even, “But the Bible tells us that there is only one mediator between God and man.” The reason this line of argument is so fruitless with a Roman Catholic is because the Bible is not their ultimate source of authority because they believe the Bible is the product of the church and not the other way around.

In contrast, the Protestant Reformation rightly understood that the church is the creatura verbi: the creation of the word. God creates with the power of His word. This is seen in creation and the new creation. His word is powerful to bring substance out of nothing and life from death. His creative word brought worlds to be and His redemptive word brought to be a people for his own possession. The church is no more the creator of the Bible as is man the creator of his own salvation. This was a revolutionary assertion in the 16th century. If the church was a product of the Word then the Bible must hold sway over church councils, over popes, and over tradition. Such a formula would put at risk the power of the Roman magesterium, the teaching office of the church.

By the time Luther came along, Church tradition had come to include a number of different doctrines and practices handed down to the church over the centuries by Popes and councils. Thus, “Holy writ” and “Holy tradition” were both looked to as authoritative sources of revelation. In command of both was the church’s magisterium which claimed ultimate authority in the interpretation of Scripture and tradition.

The Roman Catholic Church has long made a caricature of Sola Scriptura saying that it would lead to chaos and an “every man for himself” approach to interpreting the Bible. Sadly, while this was never the doctrine of Sola Scriptura as articulated by the Reformers it has become the practice of many Protestant Christians. I have been told, “No one is going to tell me how to interpret the Bible.” This is a dangerous perspective. While holding that God’s Word is infallible, Sola Scriptura rejects the idea that the Bible can be read and properly interpreted without any accountability. It is the wise Christian who looks to those godly scholars who have labored long in the languages and doctrines of the Bible for help to rightly interpret God’s Word. But this is a hard thing to convince a contemporary church given more to the reading of Sports Illustrated and Good Housekeeping than sound biblical commentaries.

The fact is, tradition can and should play an important part in the life of God’s people. It matters what the long line of faithful witnesses that have gone before us have believed and practiced. They were certainly not infallible. However, it is destructive arrogance to ignore or otherwise reject the wise counsel of our predecessors in the faith. The crucial difference is that Protestants reject the idea that tradition can be considered authoritative in the way that Scripture is authoritative. Authority is perhaps the central issue of Sola Scriptura. Certainly, there are implications with inspiration, infallibility, and sufficiency. But authority is at the heart of Sola Scriptura.

Heiko Oberman, a scholar and author of my favorite biography on Martin Luther, offers some very helpful categories for understanding the differences between Protestants and Roman Catholics on the relation between Scripture and tradition:

Tradition I
Tradition I is referred to by Oberman as the “one-source” theory of revelation. This theory sees Scripture as the only source of infallible divine revelation and is to be interpreted in the watchful care of the church. In other words, while Scripture is affirmed as the only infallible source of revelation it must still be interpreted within the context of Christian community in order to guard against error. This is the view historically held by Protestants.

Tradition II
Tradition II is the “two-source” theory of revelation. Tradition II holds that Scripture and tradition are separate and equal in authority. It holds that the Bible and church tradition are both sources of divine revelation.

Tradition III
Tradition III holds that the magisterium of the church is the ultimate source of revelation for the church.

While certain aspects of Tradition II can be seen in some of the writings of the early church fathers it is not until the 12th century that a full fledged two source tradition is developed and accepted in the Roman Church. This development of Tradition II came about in order to support the many doctrines and practices that had appeared in the church in previous centuries. It was the Council of Trent that made the two-source view of revelation official Catholic doctrine. For the next three hundred years this woulud be the teaching of the Roman Church. But over the last century and a half a new tradition has emerged within Catholicism. Oberman writes:
“A Tradition III concept is in the process of being developed by those who tend to find in the teaching office of the Church the one and only source for revelation. Scripture and tradition are then not much more than historical monuments of the past.”

Doctrines such as the immaculate conception of the Virgin Mary (1854), papal infallibility (1870), and the bodily ascension of Mary to heaven have all come as a result of the power of the magisterium. Keith Mathison writes, “Rome is gradually moving toward a one-source concept of revelation, but the one source of revelation is the Roman magesterium. In practice, what this means is that whatever Rome now teaches, is, by definition, the tradition of the church. This is, of course, the logical implication of the doctrine of papal infallibility.”

In a way, there is nothing new here. It was not unusual for Jesus to rebuke the religious leaders of Israel for preferring their own traditions to the clear revelation of Scripture: “Neglecting the commandment of God, you hold to the tradition of men (Matt 15:2).” “You nicely set aside the commandment of God in order to keep your tradition” (Mark 7:8-9). Terry Johnson rightly observes, “The ‘commandment’ of God must always sit in judgment on our traditions. Scripture must reign supreme over all ecclesiastical traditions.”

Sola Scriptura is under attack. It always has been. Rome seeks to supplant Scripture through the teaching office of the Church. But many so-called evangelicals have supplanted Scripture with the autonomous individual. “What does this verse mean to you?” The idea that Scripture as a single meaning and that man must bow his knee to what God means offends modern individualism. We cannot control the Roman Catholic Church. But we can and must seek reformation and renewal within the Protestant church.

Sola Scriptura!

Posted on Thursday, August 02, 2007 by Todd Pruitt on 1517

The prosperity "gospel" of Creflo Dollar, Kenneth Copeland, Joyce Meyer, etc has decieved millions. This Christianity Today article (Gospel Riches Christianity Today A Magazine of Evangelical Conviction) addresses the rise of this demonic doctrine in Africa. Pray for our brothers and sisters in Africa that God will raise up for them preachers and teachers who rightly divide the Word of Truth and worship the Creator rather than the created.

Posted on Wednesday, August 01, 2007 by Todd Pruitt on 1517

More good words from the good reverend Spurgeon (Feeding Sheep or Amusing Goats? -- C. H. Spurgeon). It's amazing. There is nothing new under the sun.

Posted on Wednesday, August 01, 2007 by Todd Pruitt on 1517

Jim at Old Truth has posted this passage from John MacArthur's book Ashamed of the Gospel (Paying Homage To The Great god Entertainment). The lines between entertainment and worship are becoming hopelessly blurred.

Posted on Wednesday, August 01, 2007 by Todd Pruitt on 1517

As I studied for last Sunday’s sermon on Luke 8:1-3 I was both convicted and challenged. I was convicted because of my own lack of impact when it comes to advancing the Gospel deeper into Wichita. Luke’s words are so simple. Jesus went to the cities and villages preaching the good news of the kingdom. The twelve followed Jesus in this vocation. As Luke continues his gospel narrative on into the book of Acts he traces the apostle’s work of bringing the Gospel of Jesus to bear upon the various communities to which they traveled. It is not a complicated model. Cultures, on the other hand, can be and often are complicated. But what Jesus has called us to do is not. We are to make the Gospel known. We are called to go where the people are.

Luke’s words challenge me to think intentionally about how Metro East can better introduce the Gospel into our surrounding culture. As a pastor I receive a lot of advice from “experts” who tell me if I will just jazz up the worship and tone down the preaching then we will reach “seekers.” This perspective flows from the faulty premise that theater lighting, expensive stage props, and slick videos will somehow be the key to reaching our culture: “Sing songs about human longing and preach to felt needs. Quit boring people with the Bible. That’s the key!” The problem is, the more our worship and preaching mirrors the culture the more we disguise the radical alternative that the Gospel represents. It becomes a kind of bait and switch: “See how cool we are? Being a Christian is fun and impressive! Come to our church, sit back and relax. Oh, by the way, Jesus demands and deserves total allegiance.”

The gospel is not advanced by removing the other-worldly nature of our worship and preaching so that lost people can comprehend every aspect. Indeed, when the church is fortunate enough to host lost persons in their services, they ought to observe the worship of a God who is awesome and holy and they ought to be confronted with preaching that clearly declares the Gospel and the radically counter-cultural claims of Christ. The Gospel does not move into the culture by “worshiptainment.” The Gospel is advanced into the culture when, through transcendent worship, Christian’s hearts and minds have been captivated by a grand vision of a great God and, through careful instruction in the Scriptures, have been equipped for ministry.

So I am asking myself a lot of questions these days. Are our current programs and schedule advancing that end or hindering it? Are our times of worship and instruction in God’s Word making us ready to effectively engage the culture with the Gospel? Is our fellowship charged with a level of encouragement and accountability that helps make each of us grateful ministers of Christ’s Gospel in the city where God has planted us? Will Metro East be a Christian ghetto offering a trivial sub-culture or a true church (a community of called out ones) calling people to God’s transformative counter-culture?

Timothy Keller, pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in Manhattan knows a thing or two about the gospel and about how it advances into the culture. Redeemer Presbyterian has planted over 75 churches with a plan to start 200 in the next 20 years. Resources from Dr. Keller and Redeemer are available through this blog site. I would encourage you to check them out.

In one article entitled “Preaching in a Post-Modern City” Keller contrasts the Gospel and ‘Religion.’ I found his words very helpful as I considered the reality that one of the reasons we are not very effective at advancing the Gospel is because we don’t much believe it ourselves. Keller writes:

“The gospel is ‘I am accepted through Christ, therefore I obey’ while every other religion operates on the principle of ‘I obey, therefore I am accepted.’ Martin Luther’s fundamental insight was that this latter principle, the principle of ‘religion’ is the deep default mode of the human heart. The heart continues to work in that way even after conversion to Christ. Though we recognize and embrace the principle of the gospel, our hearts will always be trying to return to the mode of self-salvation, which leads to spiritual deadness, pride and strife and ministry ineffectiveness.
“For example, ministers derive more of their joy and a sense of personal significance from the success of their ministries than from the fact they are loved by God in Christ. Why? Their hearts are still operating on the principle – ‘If I do and accomplish all these things – then I will be accepted.’ In other words, on one level, we believe the Gospel but on another we don’t believe.
“So why do we over-work in ministry and burn out? Yes, we are not practicing the Sabbath principle, but the deeper cause is unbelief in the Gospel! Why are we so devastated by criticism? The person whose self-worth is mainly in his or her ministry performance will be devastated by criticism of the ministry record because that record is our very self and identity. The fundamental problem is unbelief in the Gospel.
“At the root then, of all Christian failures to live right – i.e. not give their money generously, not tell the truth, not care for the poor, not handle worry anxiety – is the sin under all sins, the sin of unbelief, of not rejoicing deeply in God’s grace in Christ, not living out of our new identity in Christ. This means that every week in a different way the minister must apply the Gospel of salvation by grace through faith through Christ’s work. Thus every week the non-Christians get exposed to the Gospel, and in its most practical and varied forms not just in a repetitious ‘Four Spiritual Law’ way. That’s what pragmatic post-moderns need.”

Posted on Tuesday, July 31, 2007 by Todd Pruitt on 1517

The folks at Fide-O have posted a great reminder (FIDE-O) that the church is awash with false teachers. We must call them what they are. Jeremiah did. The apostle Paul did. Jesus certainly did. These men lead untold thousands into tragic error and harden the hearts of many others who are harmed by their antics. May God purge his church of these charlatans.

Posted on Tuesday, July 31, 2007 by Todd Pruitt on 1517
Protestants preach because God uses His Word as the means by which He calls together His people under the saving work of Christ. Preaching is the means by which God’s unfolding plan of redemption is declared to all those who have ears to hear. Preaching is a community conditioned activity. That is, it helps avoid the chaos of private interpretation. Preaching helps us remember that Scripture is interpreted in the context of the gathered people of God. There are no lone rangers when it comes to a right interpretation of God’s Word. Faithful preachers will spend hours each week reading good commentaries and researching what the church has historically affirmed about a given text of Scripture. This helps both preacher and hearers to have confidence that what is being preached is not the latest fad or the result of a “newly enlightened” interpretation.

In an article in the March/April issue of Modern Reformation magazine Michael Horton writes:

“The Word of God is not only a canon that regulates our beliefs and practices, but…it is actually alive, accomplishing everything God intends. While upholding the reliability and authority of Scripture, conservative Evangelicalism has tended to reduce God’s Word to a sourcebook for timeless doctrinal and ethical laws, missing the crucial point that the Bible itself underscores from Genesis to Revelation: namely, that God’s speaking is acting, and this acting is not only descriptive but creative. God’s Word is authoritative not only because of what it is (God’s utterance), but because of what it does (God’s utterance).
“The Word of God written and preached is not simply legally authoritative and binding, but is the primary means of grace, through which the Spirit ordinarily creates communion with Christ and therefore the communion of saints: ekklesia. In other words, in this conception, the Word is not merely something that stands over us us. It is also “the implanted word” (James 1:21) that “abides in you” (I John 2:14), and is to “dwell in you richly” (Col. 3:16). “So then faith comes by hearing and hearing by the Word of Christ” (Romans 10:16).”

Protestants preach because we still believe I Peter 1:23-25:
“You have been born anew, not of perishable but of imperishable see, through the living and enduring Word of God. For ‘All flesh is like grass and all its glory like the flower of grass. The grass withers, and the flower fails, but the Word of the Lord endures forever.’ That word is the good news that was announced to you.”

That Word above all earthly pow’rs, no thanks to them, abideth;
The Spirit and the gifts are ours through him who with us sideth.
Let goods and kindred go,
This mortal life also;
The body they may kill:
God’s truth abideth still;
His kingdom is forever.

Posted on Monday, July 30, 2007 by Todd Pruitt on 1517

Baptist Press recently reported on an important messgae delivered by Dr. Tom Ascol at the Southern Baptist Founders Conference in late June (Baptist Press - Gospel is focus of SBC unity, Ascol says - News with a Christian Perspective). I would hope all Southern Baptists, indeed all those who call themselves evangelicals would take Dr. Ascol's words to heart.

Posted on Monday, July 30, 2007 by Todd Pruitt on 1517

Thank God for the good reverend Spurgeon. Check this out (Pyromaniacs: Encouragement for the "Narrow-Minded Bigot").