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Friday, November 5, 2021

Scripture Alone: Words Of Power.



Introduction: 

    When I was a boy, I recall touring a cave with classmates. The guide turned off the lights to show us the darkness underground. I was struck at how “dark”, dark could be. I was relieved when the guide called for the lights. That tour guide's "calling for the lights" relieved me, because I had a dreadful fear of the dark as a child. As I reflect on that memory, I come to grasp the phrase which captured the 16th century Protestant Reformation: "After Darkness, Light" (post tenebras lux). 

    The Reformation was all about recovering not only the moral life of the church, but moreso the doctrine of the church taught by Christ and the Apostles. In the last few posts, I've commented on what those key doctrines were, as summarized by the Reformers and historians:

1. Christ alone (solus christus) = that is, Christ is the only source of salvation, in contrast to the addition  of Mary, the saints, or treasury of merits (as still taught by Roman Catholicism today). The post for this truth is found here: http://www.growingchristianresources.com/2021/10/solus-christus-in-christ-alone-biblical.html

2. Grace alone (sola gratia) = that is, God's unmerited favor to the bringing about of salvation to sinners is of His own mercy mercy, and Sovereign intention (see John 1:12-13; Romans 9:15-16). Man does not already have some measure of his own grace, due to merit, to combine with God. Instead, God's saving grace is conveyed, by the Holy Spirit, through Scripture alone (Romans 10:17). Such grace reaches the sinner in the proclamation of the Gospel, whereupon they respond in faith as a result of the Spirit's work in their hearts (see Acts 16:14; Romans 10:8-10, 17; 2 Thessalonians 2:12-13; James 1:18; 1 Peter 1:23). Jonah 2:9 tells us plainly, "salvation is of the LORD". The post for this truth is found here: http://www.growingchristianresources.com/2021/10/grace-alone-why-grace-is-so-amazing.html

3. Faith alone (sola fide) = that is, faith is necessary and enough, on its own, to receive salvation by grace alone through faith alone. Roman Catholicism would agree that faith is necessary, however, it denies that faith by itself is sufficient. 

    Rome adds baptism and the remaining sacramental system of confession, penance, Mass, and its traditional teaching of purgatory to its view on how God declares a sinner "just". The act of God in declaring someone "just" is called "justification". New Testament passages such as Romans 3:28, Galatians 3:24, and Ephesians 2:8-9 teach that sinners are justified by faith, apart from works. The Biblical view of justification teaches that Christ's merit, work, life is "credit" or "imputed" to the sinner upon their confession of faith in Jesus (see 2 Corinthians 5:21). To read more about this truth, click on the link for my last post here: http://www.growingchristianresources.com/2021/10/faith-alone-necessary-enough-for.html

Today's post: Defining and Explaining the doctrine of Scripture Alone (sola scriptura)   

     In today's post, we will consider Jesus' miracle of bringing to life the daughter of Jarius (Mark 5:21-24 and Mark 5:34-43). We will discover that Christ's words alone, not ritual, not man's efforts, resulted in the young girl becoming alive once again. We will also briefly note what happens whenever the doctrine of "Scripture alone" (sola scriptura") is denied by observing the Roman Catholic Church's view of the Mass. 

    Readers may had noticed that the truths recovered by the Reformation have peculiar Latin phrases attached to them. Latin was the language in which theologians wrote for hundreds of years. Thus, whenever we speak of the doctrine of "Scripture alone", the little phrase sola scriptura is used. Why emphasize "alone" or "sola" when talking about grace, faith or Christ (respectively: sola gratia, sola fide, solus christus)? Human beings tend to add to God's perfect plan of salvation and revelation. 

    Not only does Roman Catholic theology "add" to Christ, grace, faith and Scripture their system of tradition and sacraments, but the American Evangelical church frequently can do this through attaching worldly methods or pragmatic (whatever works must be true) efforts to these truths. Whenever we speak of the doctrine of "scripture alone", we mean:   Scripture is the only perfect standard that God uses to work salvation in the soul, unfailingly guide the soul, and regulate any other imperfect authority."

    Now let us turn to a desperate situation involving a father and his dying daughter, and why the words of Jesus alone could remedy the situation.  

Desperate men and women need God's Word. Mark 5:21-24

    What follows is an explanation of Mark 5:21-24. The first part of this account has over it "the shadow of death". The father's insistence upon Jesus getting to his daughter before she "reaches her end" is the tone of the these verses. We want to understand why God's Word alone is needed in today's world. Mark 5:21-24 reads as follows:

"When Jesus had crossed over again in the boat to the other side, a large crowd gathered around Him; and so He stayed by the seashore. 22 One of the synagogue officials named Jairus came up, and on seeing Him, fell at His feet 23 and implored Him earnestly, saying, “My little daughter is at the point of death; please come and lay Your hands on her, so that she will get well and live.” 24 And He went off with him; and a large crowd was following Him and pressing in on Him."

*Jesus miracle-working power pointed to the need for the Scriptures.        

    Notice, Jarius was not looking for ritual (though there was plenty of that in his day). It is striking to note that Jarius was not looking to men. Not his position. He fell on His knees before Jesus. He needed what he thought was his ultimate need - a miracle. No doubt, he needed a miracle, yet, he had a greater need, a need which Jesus alone could bring - a word from God. Miracles pointed to Jesus’ words. John 10:38 states: "but if I do them, though you do not believe Me, believe the works, so that you may know and understand that the Father is in Me, and I in the Father."

*Jesus’ majesty in our world clarified the need for the Scriptures.

     We are living in a dark world, in which what is precious to us, or who is precious to us, has reached its end. Feel the weight of this desperate father, crying out to the Lord on behalf of his little girl. This was a most desperate hour. Jesus came to bring, as the radiance of God’s glory, fulfillment of the Scripture and the preaching of it as the mark of His ministry to a desperate people. Matthew writes of Jesus, quoting Isaiah 9:2, in Matthew 4:16-17, “The people who were sitting in darkness saw a great Light, And those who were sitting in the land and shadow of death, Upon them a Light dawned.” 17 'From that time Jesus began to preach and say', “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.''”

*Jesus ministry in difficult times modeled why we need the Scriptures. 

The "last days" of this present time began when Jesus came into this world, and especially, upon His ascension in Heaven, He poured out His Spirit to begin the church at Pentecost (see Acts 2:17). We could say that the clock for God's prophetic purposes before Christ's return has been at "11:59:59" since the days of His ministry, death, resurrection and ascension - thus we are in the last days. More to the point, as one reads further into the New Testament, it becomes apparent that "the last-of-the-last-days" come to bear as we go further along into history. 

    The need for faithful preaching and teaching of the Scriptures is more needed than ever. Paul writes of these last days in 2 Timothy 3:1-5,

"But understand this, that in the last days there will come times of difficulty. 2 For people will be lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, 3 heartless, unappeasable, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not loving good, 4 treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, 5 having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power. Avoid such people.” 

    Paul then drives home how increasingly difficult times will need the preaching of God’s Word, 2 Timothy 3:12-17,

"Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted. Paul then later writes in the same chapter: 13 while evil people and impostors will go on from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived. 14 But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it 15 and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. 16 All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, 17 that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work." 

    Peter too reinforces this need for the Scripture in these last days in 2 Peter 1:19, 

"And we have the prophetic word more fully confirmed, to which you will do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts."

    Whenever we read of accounts like Jesus'raising of Jarius' daughter, it was to show His audience and us that otherwise impossible situations can only have their resolution in the life giving power of God's words.  

Dead hearts and hope need life from Scripture alone. Mark 5:35-43

    When I say dead hearts, in the spiritual sense, I'm talking of those who are not yet converted. When I say dead in hope, I speak of those who are saved but are struggling. This father believed, but he was, understandably struggling. What Jesus said would make more ultimate impact than even the miracle. The girl here, like Lazarus, pictures for us in the physical realm those whose state of death is terminal. Unless the voice of the Son of God comes through the words of God, no spiritual life will come. Hebrews 4:12 reminds us, 

"For the word of God is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword, and piercing as far as the division of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart."

    Beautifully and magnificently does Mark 5:35-43 contrast with the "shadow of death" which hung over the scene in Mark 5:21-24. As I remarked at the beginning of this post, the Protestant Reformation was a cultural experience of "after darkness, light" (post tenebras lux). Quite literally, Jesus' words alone spoke life back into this girl. A father's darkened world was given the open heaven of hope in Christ through His words - alone. The word of God alone prevailed to cut through the otherwise impending gloom. Note what God's Word does and can do for you:

*God’s words alone connects you to Christ to become a Christian. 

You will notice that Mark in particular preserves the original Aramaic words of Jesus to this sweet child: “Talitha Cum”. I count around 15 total Aramaic words preserved in the New Testament, most of which highlight words spoken by Jesus. When he uttered, “Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?”  (my God, my God, why have you forsaken me) in Mark 15:34, we are quickened to focus on Christ as our sin-bearer. That is, He as man experienced the utter forsakenness of the Father. 

    Understand, Jesus as God upheld His work of bearing Divine wrath for sinners. The words of the Savior are the Words of God. R.C. Sproul comments on this miracle of Jesus as to the power of God’s words:

“God brought the whole world into creation by the sound of his voice by Fiat by imperative. Christ brought Lazarus out of the tomb by his oral command. In the same way he spoke Aramaic to this little girl in her state of death and commanded her to rise and again his almighty word was effective immediately the girl arose and walked. All of her strength returned immediately she was returned not only to life but the full health.”

    It is tempting to take the Scripture for granted. What happens whenever well-meaning people attempt to "add-to" or virtual displace Scripture from its sole place of authority? 

*Scripture alone, not rituals, saves and feeds the Christian.  

We know that no other ritual of the Jews, no traditions of the Pharisees, could had combined with Jesus'words. Sadly, whenever human beings think of adding something to God's already perfect work (whether saving grace or scripture), God's work become eclipsed. 

    When Roman Catholicism began to take the Lord's Supper and turn it into its version called "Mass", it would not take long before the sole authority of Scripture in being the sole avenue through which the Holy Spirit conveys saving and sustaining grace would be diminished. 

    The term "mass" derives from the Latin "missio", indicating that the faithful, in partaking the Mass, are to go forth in a mission to declare the mystery of Christ crucified for them, as claimed to have occured in the Mass itself. When Rome performs a mass, they believe that the bread and wine, though outwardly remaining bread and wine, become in substance the literal body and blood of Christ (what Roman Catholicism itself calls "transubstantitation"). The faithful are told that it is the mass, not Scripture alone, that feeds them. In paragraph 1393 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, we read: 

“for this reason the Eucharist cannot unite us to Christ without at the same time cleansing us from past sins and preserving us from future sins”. 

    The Protestant Reformation rightly opposed the Mass, since it presupposed the repeating of Christ's once-and-for-all sacrifice (contrary to what Roman Catholic Theology may say, this is, in practical effect, what occurs in every Mass). John Knox, the great Scottish Reformer, opposed this teaching by raising the question: “Of what spirit is it invented that the Mass shall signify a sacrifice for the sins of the quick and the dead?” 

    If someone were to watch a Roman Catholic service or attend one, they would note how attention is given to the reading of an Old Testament passage and a New Testament text, followed by what is called a “homily”, a series of short comments and moral applications. On average, barely a tenth of the whole service features the Bible, while well over half the service is devoted to the Mass.  

    When I watched Pope Francis perform his first Mass in 2013, I noted how he focused on the Scripture for 10 minutes. The Mass, on the other hand, comprised over half the nearly 80-minute service. When he prayed, he did what was called an ”epiclesis”, a “calling forth” of the Holy Spirit to transform the elements of the bread and wine into the body and blood of Jesus. Whenever a priest does this, and raises the “host” or bread, you will hear a tiny bell ring, signifying the alleged transformation of bread to Christ’s flesh and the wine to His blood. 

     The Mass is a central representation of the entirety of Roman Catholic teaching, doing away with the central teachings of the New Testament and what was recovered by the Reformation. The celebration of Mass is a continuation of Christ’s sacrifice, hence, this takes away from the truth of “Christ alone”. The Apostle Peter reminds us in 1 Peter 3:18, "For Christ also died for sins once for all, the just for the unjust, so that He might bring us to God, having been put to death in the flesh, but made alive in the spirit." The Mass also claims to convey ongoing grace, which washes away sins, and feeds the faithful, which takes away the truth of “Scripture alone”. Jesus reminds us in Matthew 4:4, 

"But He answered and said, ''It is written, ‘Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that proceeds out of the mouth of God.’”

The Roman Catholic is told that they must continue observing the Mass at least once a year. Through observance of the sacraments, such saving grace is infused and poured into the soul. After death, the Roman Catholic Church teaches that Purgatory is required to purge away remaining sin.1 It is hard to imagine, but nonetheless true, that this teaching of the Mass would not come into being until almost 1,000 years after the days of Christ and the Apostles.2

     As to His institution of the Lord’s Supper which we find at the end of all four Gospels, whenever Jesus said: “This is my body”, He said so before He was crucified. He never meant for the bread and fruit of the vine to become literally, somehow, His body and blood. If you notice the extended version of Jesus’ instituting of the Lord’s Supper in John 13-17, we find four and one-half chapters of the five focused on Jesus’ teaching, giving explanation of not only the supper but also preparing the disciples for what laid ahead, including the promise of what would be the New Testament. 

Scripture alone is what saves and feeds the Christian

    So why take the time to belabor the contrast between the Biblical teaching of the uniqueness of the Bible's authority over against the Mass? If readers choose to consult the endnotes of this post, they will see that the Reformers had to oppose
the Mass if efforts of Reform were to succeed. To alter what Christ taught on the communion service was to assault the authority of Scripture itself. The principle of "scripture alone"", which we saw in our explanation of Mark 5, would be undermined if we were to follow the lead of Roman Catholic Theology. Let me cite some additional Scriptures which carry forward what the Apostles themselves taught about "sola scriptura ".

    Paul writes in 1 Thessalonians  2:13, "And we also thank God constantly for this, that when you received the word of God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men but as what it really is, the word of God, which is at work in you believers." (See also Hebrews 4:12; James 1:21; 1 Peter 1:23).
       
    There is no question that the Bible has the power to lift you from despair to hope in Jesus, The Apostle John wrote in John 20:31, "but these have been written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing you may have life in His name." Similarly, John also wrote in 1 John 1:4, "These things we write, so that our joy may be made complete." 

    There is no question, it is by Scripture alone that Christ spiritually nourishes his church, as we saw in Matthew 4:4. Paul writes about how God's Word alone nourishes the church in matters of final salvation, ongoin sanctification, and perseverance into eternity, in Ephesians 5:26 - "so that He might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word."

    I close today's post on "Scripture Alone: "Words of Power", by citing a wonderful hymn I sang as a boy, "Wonderful Words of Life":

"Sing them over again to me, wonderful words of life,

Let me more of their beauty see, wonderful words of life;

Words of life and beauty teach me faith and duty.

Beautiful words, wonderful words, wonderful words of life,

Beautiful words, wonderful words, wonderful words of life.

Christ, the bless├Ęd One, gives to all wonderful words of life;

Sinner, list to the loving call, wonderful words of life;

All so freely given, wooing us to heaven.

Beautiful words, wonderful words, wonderful words of life,

Beautiful words, wonderful words, wonderful words of life.

"Sweetly echo the Gospel call, wonderful words of life;

Offer pardon and peace to all, wonderful words of life;

Jesus, only Savior, sanctify us forever."

Beautiful words, wonderful words, wonderful words of life,

Beautiful words, wonderful words, wonderful words of life."

Endnotes:

1. The beliefs about the Mass were not given formal expression until the 9th century by a monk named Paschasius Radbertus. Through the ensuing centuries following, Roman Catholicism would come to make the Mass central to its worship. The Reformer Martin Luther wrote in his book "Babylonian Captivity of the Church", 2:37 wrote: “the mass is a good work and a sacrifice.”  Another Reformer, John Calvin in his "Institutes of the Christian Religion", Book 4, ch 17, sec. 1, comments on how the enemy of our souls: “blinded almost the whole world into the belief that the Mass was a sacrifice and oblation for obtaining the remission of sins.”

The Jews in Jesus day had done a similar thing Roman Catholicism has done – equating their tradition with Scripture. He stated in Matthew 4:4 about “man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds out of the mouth of God.” In Matthew 15:8-9, he denounces this misuse of tradition: ‘This people honors Me with their lips, But their heart is far away from Me. 9 ‘But in vain do they worship Me, Teaching as doctrines the precepts of men.’” 

2. In (1371) of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, the Mass is performed during Roman Catholic funerals, with the idea that it aids in further cleansing away the sins of dead loved ones in purgatory so that they can go to heaven. 

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