Transcription of Sunday, September 17, 2017 sermon.
October 31, 1517 Martin Luther posted 95 theses against indulgences in Wittenberg, at All Saints Church. That day is thought of as the beginning of the Reformation. As we get ready to celebrate the 500th anniversary of the Reformation in just a few weeks, we’re going to look at some of the phrases that grew out of that moment, which started a movement. All of those phrases include the word alone, or the Latin word sola. Like scripture alone, faith alone, grace alone, Christ alone, to God alone be the glory. Sola scriptura, sola fide, sola gratia, solus Christus, soli Deo gloria. We’re going to start with scripture alone, or sola scriptura.
As we’re talking about the Reformation, I know you’re going to have a lot of questions. It’s impossible to go as deep as we need in this short time we have on a Sunday morning. There’s a lot of history involved, a lot of politics involved, it happened a long time ago so the world was much different than today. It involved theology as well as economics. It can be a challenge to understand. But there’s good news. We’re going to start a new class on October 1, on Sunday mornings. An adult bible class where we’re going to unpack, unwrap these things so you ask questions. So sign up for my class. I already signed up. I was the first one on the list. I have to get ready anyway because I’m the teacher. But you’re all invited to come to my class about a Man Named Martin.
A good place to begin is why Luther posted these things to be debated in the first place. the answer is: he was very concerned about poor pastoral care going on in the parishes and churches in Germany. By poor pastoral care I mean that parish pastors or priests were not only encouraging but were profiting from the sale of indulgences. This is a simplified definition of indulgences. Basically an indulgence was a certificate of forgiveness you could receive for a donation to your church. It evolved into something you could receive for yourself or a loved one or even for a loved one who had already died, to make it possible for God’s grace to be applied to them. Basically, what was happening was that the pastors were selling forgiveness for contributions. This was approved and encouraged by the church. From Luther’s point of view, he just couldn’t make that line up with what he found in the bible.
In hindsight, as we look back we understand exactly what issues Luther had. In Hebrews chapter 10 the writers quotes the Old Testament prophet Jeremiah and talks about the covenant God makes with his people, “I will remember their sins and their lawless deeds no more.” God’s promises to his people that he won’t consider their sins, they’re off the table, they aren’t an issue any more.
John 19, Jesus is hanging from the cross, suffering and dying, and its dark, everyone has abandoned him. Jesus says, “It is finished.” Sin has been paid for. The work of salvation is complete. It’s done.
The apostle Paul wrote to the Philippians about a righteousness that didn’t come from the law but came through faith in Christ, a righteousness from God that depends on faith (Philippians 3:19).
So all of these things in scripture make those indulgences unnecessary. But to say anything about that is to go up against the authority and hierarchy of the church which had tremendous power over people’s lives. The church had political, economic, and social power. To go up against that would take a lot of courage.
Eventually, Martin Luther finds himself standing before the emperor at the Diet of Worms in 1521, saying that his conscience was bound by scripture. What was in God’s Word had to be taken seriously and that every authority in the church was subject to what the scripture said. This would be the only rule faith and practice. Not traditions. Everything had to be measured against the scriptures. That’s where the phrase comes from. Scripture alone. Sola scriprura.
This is no shock for us, especially for those of you who grew up Lutheran or have been around the Lutheran church for a while. We’re familiar with the words of the epistle today where we read that “all scripture is inspired by God and is profitable for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness, that the person of God may be complete, complete, equipped for every good work. Everything you need to know about God and to be God’s people can be found in the scriptures.
You can find out who God is and what he is like and how this world came to be. You can find out who Jesus is and where he was born and how he lived and how he is uniquely the son of a human mother and a divine father. You can find out what Christ did, what he suffered, why he did it. You find out how much God loves you and the future he’s prepared for you and what it means to believe. You faith can be complete just with the bible.
The important thing to remember is that at the time of Luther they didn’t have bibles. They weren’t walking around with bibles. The printing press had just been invented. Some churches didn’t even have a copy of the bible. All of their spiritual information came from their priests, who told them what they wanted them to know. No one could ask any questions, because no one knew any different. That’s why this is so revolutionary to actually have the scriptures and be able to measure everything against them.
From that idea we can ask ourselves the question: what’s your source of spiritual information? Where do you get the teachings that inform your faith?
The answer is amazing. You get spiritual information from me, your pastor, from other pastors you’ve know. From devotional books, bible study guides you use small groups. Maybe you’ve read commentaries, or used study bible, or listened to other preachers on the radio. You’ve watched them on TV. When you have a question you Google it. There are any number of religious information out there. All of this contributes to your faith.
Some have gotten spiritual truths from dreams or visions, or friends, or your family taught you things growing up. Some have consulted the occult, spiritualists or fortune tellers. All of this shapes our faith.
If that’s true, what does the idea of sola scriptura or scripture alone mean to us?
The best way to think about this is to picture all of the sources of information, all of those books, stacked one on top of another, with the bible on top. Everything must come under the authority of the scriptures. Everything is measured against what God’s word says. Scripture alone becomes the rule for our faith and practice. When I’m studying and preparing to preach or teach, I consult commentaries and what others have written. I had other teachers. I’ve had lot of sources of information, too. But they are all filtered through the word of God. Which we know is true. God doesn’t lie. He is faithful. His word informs our faith; it is the final authority.
As you measure everything against the scriptures, keep this in mind. First of all, the bible’s main message is to reveal to you God’s plan of salvation. To reveal to you who Jesus is, why he came, and what he did for you. it’s not just a book about how to live better, have a better life or prosper financially. The purpose is what John said, that you may know that Jesus is the Christ, and that by believing in him, you will have eternal life.
As we read that sometimes we read Law, and sometimes we read Gospel. Sometimes God’s Word shows us very clearly we’re not on the right track. Then it shows us God’s grace and forgiveness to get us back on the right track. That’s the Law and the Gospel.
And as we read these words, remember that we don’t take them out of context. We don’t use them for an agenda. If there is something in scripture you don’t understand, you hold it up against something in the bible that does make sense. We let scripture interpret scripture. We don’t force our own meaning on it. It’s not for private interpretation. The Holy Spirit moved people who wrote the scriptures for us, so that we would know it was coming from God.
What would you do if the bible was all you had? You have no internet, no commentaries, you’re phone’s not working so you can’t call the pastor, you have no bible study guides, nothing else but the bible. What would you do? You would still have everything you need. Here’s what I would do. I certainly wouldn’t go to the parts of the bible I don’t understand. And there are parts of the bible I don’t understand. I would always go back to the places where I hear God speaking words of peace and calm and reassurance and strength. I would always go back to the passage where Jesus says to the storm, “Be still.” I would always go back to the place where Jesus says, “Let the little children come to me,” because I know I’m one of his kids. I would always go back to the place where Jesus teaches me how to pray, so if I don’t know what to say, at least I would have something to say. Where do you go, if this is all you have?
Trust him. He will always have something to say to you. God has revealed everything we need to be his people in the scriptures. Sola scriptura. Scripture alone.