Monday, August 14, 2006

Five Pillars (Solas) of the Reformation

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I have been thinking about the Five Pillars of the Reformation. In the previous issue, (No. 18), I mentioned the Five Pillars of Islam. They are: Faith or belief in the Oneness of God and the finality of the prophethood of Muhammad, daily prayers, alms-giving, fasting, and pilgrimage.

Whereas the Islamic pillars deal primarily with religious duties, the Five Pillars of the Reformation, also known as the Five Solas, each deal with our core, Christian beliefs. They establish a root system, or a matrix (No. 5) out of which our faith grows and is nurtured. Before we look at them though, let’s look first at the Latin word sola, and its significance in this fivefold distillation of core, Protestant beliefs.

The Latin word sola means “alone,” and is utilized in this application to distinguish Protestant beliefs from Catholic beliefs. The Reformers, seeking to reclaim what they concluded to be the essential truths of Christianity, sought to make clear that these five, named, central, cohesive elements of the Christian faith were not encumbered with man-made religious trappings. Thus they prefaced each cardinal component with this Latin word.

1. Sola Scriptura (by Scripture alone): The Reformers believed the church had been weakened by the doctrine that only the Pope and church bishops were qualified to interpret Holy Scripture. They also rejected the Catholic teaching that “Both Scripture and Tradition must be accepted and honoured with equal sentiments of devotion and reverence.”(1) The Reformers renounced both of these doctrines, declaring Scripture alone as the sole source and inerrant rule for deciding issues of faith.

2. Solus Christus (by Christ alone): The Catholic church taught that Mary, the saints, and priests can act as mediators in bringing salvation to the sinner. The Reformers flatly rejected this doctrine, insisting that only Jesus Christ, the Son of God, could mediate a reconciliation between a Holy God and sinful humankind. They declared that only the sacrifice, shed blood, and death of the sinless Christ is sufficient to breach the gap between estranged God and man.

3. Sola Gratia (by Grace alone): The word “grace” means unmerited favor. The Reformers believed that salvation comes by grace alone, that it is an absolute, undeserved, unearned, gift of God. The Catholic church from which the Reformers broke, taught otherwise, stressing baptism, penance, and the Eucharist as ways of meriting or earning salvation.

4. Sola Fide (by Faith alone): In 1517, Martin Luther posted his famed 95 theses in protest against the selling of indulgencences by the Catholic church, and unexpectedly launched the Protestant Reformation. In contrast to the teachings of the Catholic church, Luther believed that only the faith of the believer in the pure grace of God (see above), can bring salvation. Through faith, the Christian appropriates the obedience of Christ, making him/her acceptable in the eyes of a Holy God.

5. Sola Deo Gloria (for God’s Glory alone): The Reformers challenged the Catholic church regarding her glorification of idols and images. They also claimed that the office of the Pope glorified men instead of God. Likewise, they objected to the glorification of Mary, who was elevated to equality with Christ. Sola Deo Gloria became the preeminent doctrine of the Reformation.

(1). Catechism of the Catholic Church, Logia 82
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Monday, August 07, 2006

No. 18: Orthodoxy vs. Orthopraxy

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I have been thinking about the contrast between orthodoxy and orthopraxy. In issue no. 10, I introduced the term “orthodoxy,” and attempted to explore its significance in the Christian world. But the word orthopraxy is used far less frequently in Christian circles. What does it mean and what are its implications?

Several weeks ago I wrote: “the word orthodoxy is built from two Greek words: ortho, which means right or correct, and doxa, which means thought or teaching.” I went on to explain that the word orthodoxy means “right thinking” or “correct teaching.”

In defining orthopraxy, the same Greek root ortho means right or correct, but “praxy” is drawn from the Greek praxis, which means doing. Our English word “practice” comes from the Greek word praxis which literally means doing or action. Thus orthopraxy means “right action” or “correct practice.”

It is interesting to look at these two words and how they contrast, when comparing Christianity and Judaism. The gulf becomes even clearer when comparing Christianity with Islam.

Among these three faiths, Christianity is the only one in which theology plays a major role. I examined theology in issue no. 12, explaining that theology is really a science. It is literally “the science (or study) of God.”

As a general rule, Jews and Muslims are not as concerned with theology or knowing God as they are with the rules and practices proscribed in their religious texts. But in Christianity, we explore the Scriptures not only to learn of how God wants us to act, but also to understand who God is. We are interested in His nature, His character, and His ways. Thus, Judaism and Islam are primarily religions, Christianity is primarily relationship.

He made known his ways to Moses, his deeds to the people of Israel: (Psalm 103:7 NIV)

Moses knew God. He knew God because He spent time in His presence. He spoke to God and listened to God speak. The prophets of Israel also knew God. They listened to Him and bore His burdens.

The books of the psalms and the prophets are laden with the prayers of men and women seeking for intimacy with God. The prophets particularly carry the weight of God’s sorrow for His wayward people. The prophets and the psalmists knew God.

Judaism, while certainly making room for a personal God, attempts to find that relationship primarily through ritual and practice. The Jewish calendar marks seven distinct feasts or celebrations, each having significant meaning in the life of the Jew.

The Five Pillars of Islam are the foundation of the Muslim faith. Only the first pillar—Faith or belief in the Oneness of God and the finality of the prophethood of Muhammad—deals with a theological theme. The other four pillars address only the practices of Islam: daily prayers, alms-giving, fasting, and pilgrimage.

Christianity also involves orthopraxy. The New Testament instructs us in how to behave. But unlike Judaism and Islam, our behavior is an outworking of our internal orthodoxy, the fruit of our changed lives.

Orthodoxy speaks of our ability to know and understand. Orthopraxy speaks only of what we must do.

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Monday, July 31, 2006

No. 17: Worship

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I have been thinking about worship. What is worship and what relationship does it have with culture?

In its simplest form, worship is the love, affection, adoration, and reverence that we show to a deity. Our worship can be appropriately directed toward the One True God, the only real Deity, or it can be directed toward one or many false gods, little deities of our own making or imagination.

We are all created with a need to worship. From birth to death, we live with an intuitive yearning for our Creator, the One who made us. And this yearning exists whether we acknowledge Him for who He is or not. We humans are made first and foremost to be worshipping beings.

God desires for us to worship Him and Him alone. We are constructed to have God at the center of our lives. But God has granted us the freedom to set our love and affection upon whomever or whatever we choose—to center our existence upon something other than our Creator. However, regardless of who or what we worship, we are all worshippers.

We all long and yearn. We each possess a “God-created void.” This “void,” or intuitive yearning, reveals our createdness. We are not complete. But God does not share these same longings and yearnings. For although we are created and have an innate need to worship, God is not created. He is complete.

Transcendence. As Creator and creature, we coexist. And we share many of the same attributes. After all, we human creatures are made in the image of our Creator. But that is where the similarities end. For God is separate and distinct from His creation. He is other than us. He has sometimes been called the “Holy Other.” In the Creator/creature distinction, The Creator transcends His creation.

Transcendence, though not a commonplace word or concept in our post-modern world, is yet a critical building block in our understanding of culture. Without transcendence, lesser ideas such as political freedom and civil rights exist without an identifiable source. It is easy to take our freedom and civil rights for granted. But from whence do they come? If there is no God, to whom or what do we appeal when the civil authorities abuse our liberties and rights? We could attempt to appeal to the objects of our worship—the gods of our own making, the idols of our hands. But do they possess the power to deliver us?

Worship Shapes Culture. Cultures are shaped by what they worship. A culture's view of God determines a culture's view of man. A culture's view of both God and man determines a culture’s nature, flavor, and attributes. In a monarchy, a king possesses all power and authority. But where does the king’s power come from? In a republic, power is invested in the representatives of the people who in turn are subject to the laws of the land. But where do the laws come from?

Whether we worship God, or gods of our own making, we cannot avoid transcendence. Politicians who promote abortion rights do so at the altar of a “woman’s right to choose.” Where does that right come from? Some sort of transcendence, though never mentioned, is assumed. The radical environmentalist seeking to restrict growth and development elevates his or her ideas and ideals to a position of transcendence. Where do these ideas come from?

Every culture worships something or someone.

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Monday, July 24, 2006

No. 16: Infrastructure

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I have been thinking about infrastructure. Infrastructure is a common enough word. We hear it from time to time referencing our nation's roads and bridges, our rail systems, our communication and power-lines, our underground water and sewer systems, and our public institutions such as schools, post offices, libraries, hospitals, and even prisons.

Technically, the word “infrastructure” refers to an underlying base, foundation, or even a framework. Many types of infrastructures exist. Among them are military infrastructures, financial infrastructures, and political infrastructures. Individual churches, along with para-church ministries like Focus on the Family are, in practical terms, the infrastructure of the larger body of Christ. A building’s framework can also be referred to as an infrastructure. Essentially, an infrastructure is that which lends support to something larger than itself.

Since the early 1970's, I have worked in the "infrastructure" industry. Plans for water and sewer lines, drainage systems, roads, bridges, and even underground electrical systems have graced my desk for many years. I am very familiar with infrastructure, and I understand that without it our world would be grossly underdeveloped and likely dysfunctional.

But the word "infrastructure" somehow seems out of place when we discuss the themes found in this kind of newsletter—a publication devoted to Biblical matters such as theology, creeds, kingdoms, and doctrine.

Because I work in the infrastructure industry, I think about infrastructure almost every day. And I can’t help but make a connection between the infrastructure in our physical world, and the “infrastructure” of our thought-processes.

Let us step back just a moment and consider if the word "infrastructure" might have a place in our conversation about developing sound, Biblical thinking and a clear-headed Judeo-Christian Worldview. Those things are, after all, the mission of this weekly newsletter.

In the upper right hand corner above, in the heading of this newsletter, are the words “As a man thinketh in his heart, so is he.” Our thought life is critical. The way we think determines who we are—at least to a very large degree. And if our thoughts about important things are out of sync with reality, then we ourselves too, will be out of sync.

Our theology, our doctrine, and the creeds to which we hold, are very much like an internal infrastructure, providing support and stability to our lives. Even as our cities and towns require underground utilities and public institutions for support, so we humans require Truth to be rooted internally within our minds and our consciences for us to live out our lives in a sound and God-pleasing way.

With a right-minded, internal, Truth-rooted, Biblical infrastructure, we can expect to possess good mental and spiritual health and a well-rounded vitality. This is the life God intended us to live.

Monday, July 17, 2006

No. 15: Patterns in Creation

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I have been thinking about the Trinitarian patterns found in creation—marveling actually at God’s imprint upon this planet we call earth, and all of its contents and surroundings.

The Trinity in Creation. All three members of the Trinity were active in the creation. The Holy Spirit hovered over the waters of creation making the earth habitable for man (Gen 1:2). The Father breathed life into creation (Ps 33:6). All things were made through the Son, the Word made flesh (John 1:3). All things were created by Him and for Him (Col 1:16) and he upholds all things by His Word (Heb 1:3).

The Trinity of Creation. History began when God spoke time, space and matter into existence. (Gen. 1:1; Heb 11:3). What did God create first? Did He bring all three of these primary components together simultaneously? We do not know.

What we do know is that a simple observation reveals a multitude of trinities in creation. W. A. Pratney, in his book titled The Nature and Character of God, lists thirty separate categories of the triune expression within God's creative order. Perhaps the first noticeable expression of the Trinity in creation is creation itself, consisting of time, space and matter. Within this trinity there are additional trinities:
  1. The trinity of time—past, present and future
  2. The trinity of space—height, length and breadth
  3. The trinity of matter—solid, liquid and gas
The Scriptures also reveal multitudes of other trinities throughout God's created order. A serious student of the Word will find great joy in uncovering the magnificently artistic handiwork in God's design.

Three Types of Angels. Angels are messengers of God. They were spoken into being by the word of God's mouth (Ps 33:6). There are multitudes of them in creation (Dan 7:10; Matt 26:53; Rev 5:11). Their dwelling place is heaven (Matt 18:10). They serve many functions. God again reveals his Trinitarian nature by establishing a trinity of authority within the angelic structure. He created the archangels, the cherubim and the seraphim. There are also three named archangels—Michael, Gabriel and Lucifer, the fallen angel.

Three Heavens. There is more than one heaven. The apostle Paul professes to have been caught up to the third heaven (2 Cor 12:2). Paul, like several others in Scripture (Isaiah and the apostle John among others) was somehow transported into heavenly realms, into the dwelling place of God. Again we discover another trinity. The heavens just above the earth's surface which the clouds and birds occupy are the first heaven. The realm of the stars, the planets and all the rest of the physical universe are the second heaven. The place where God dwells with the angels is the third heaven.

Many other examples can be found in creation and in Scripture which speak of God’s Trinitarian nature. For example, man is a trinity of spirit, soul, and body (I Thess 5:23). Red, blue and yellow are the three primary colors. And mathematics is clearly an area where threes are abundant (eg: 1+1=2, A2+B2=C2). Seeing these threefold patterns in creation boosts our faith and confidence, that the God we worship is indeed who He claims to be!

Monday, July 10, 2006

No. 14: Kingdoms

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I have been thinking about about what Jesus had to say about His kingdom. He said,

"Seek ye first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added unto you." (Matthew 6:33 KJV)

The world is filled with kingdoms. Authority is inescapable. From the moment we take our first breath, we are subjects under rule and jurisdiction. But take heart. God reigns supreme over each and every one of them.

Did you know that there are 117 mentions of the word "Kingdom" in the gospels, yet a scant 7 mentions of the word "salvation" in the gospels? In fact, careful study reveals that Jesus came to preach, not a gospel of salvation, but rather the gospel of the Kingdom.

Prior to Jesus' entry into public ministry, His cousin John the Baptist, the one spoken of in Isaiah 40 sent to prepare the way for the Lord, prefaced his introduction of Christ with these words: "The Kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe the good news!" (Mark 1:15 NIV).

Jesus arrived shortly thereafter.

Jesus Himself, chastising the Pharisees for falsely associating His ministry with the work of the devil, said this: "... if I drive out demons by the Spirit of God, then the Kingdom of God has come upon you." (Matthew 12:28 NIV)

Jesus' disciples, like all Jews of their day, suffered under the unjust governing authority of Rome. Not yet understanding the essence of Christ's ministry, they looked for an earthly resolution to their dilemma, hoping that Jesus might somehow lead a revolution, and remove Rome's grip on their land. But Jesus redirected their thinking. He explained that "The Kingdom of God does not come with your careful observation, nor will people say, 'Here it is,' or 'There it is,' because the Kingdom of God is within you." (Luke 17: 20b-21 NIV)

Recently, a friend of mine thoughtfully characterized the kingdom of God as having properties similar to DNA. What he meant I believe, is that by God's grace, the Kingdom of God gets inside of us and slowly changes us to look more and more like Jesus.

How can we tell if the kingdom of God is within us? Because we find ourselves wanting to do the will of God. Teaching us to pray, Jesus uttered these words: "your Kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” (Matthew 6:10 NIV)

Jesus' mother, Mary, when first visited by the angel announcing that she was pregnant with the Son of God, responded, "Let it be to me according to your word." (Luke 1:38b NKJV) Mary's response demonstrates a spirit truly humble and submissive to God's authority. At that moment, she embraced the Kingdom of God.

Jesus, in the Garden of Gethsemane on the night He was arrested, prayed this prayer: "My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you ill." (Matthew 26:39b NIV) Preparing His heart for His destiny on the cross, Jesus too, embraced the Kingdom of God.

May we do so as well.

Monday, June 26, 2006

No. 13: Creeds

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I have been thinking about the Christian creeds. The two primary Christian creeds are the Apostles’ Creed and the Nicene Creed.

A creed is a confession of faith. It is the proclamation of a core set of beliefs that we are seeking to live by. While theology addresses the large scope of the knowledge of God—and that in great detail—the Christian creeds have reduced the many truths of Scripture into essential, foundational statements of faith. The English word "creed" comes from the Latin, credo, which simply means "I believe."

When Jesus asked Peter, "Who do you say that I am?" Peter gave a short, yet profound response: "Thou art the Christ, the Son of the Living God." (Matt. 16:15-16 NASB). At this moment in Peter’s life and understanding, these words reflected his core belief about the person and nature of Jesus Christ. This statement was Peter’s creed.

The Apostles’ Creed: The earliest trace of the Apostles’ Creed is found in the writings of Ignatius, bishop of Antioch, who was martyred in Rome sometime in the late 1st or early 2nd century AD. Among the many words found in his writings is the statement that Christ was born "of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified and died and was raised from the dead."

The Nicene Creed: Formulated at the First Ecumenical Council held in Nicea in 325 AD, the Nicene Creed is the most widely used of all the Christian Creeds. It is the only creed created by an ecumenical council. The Nicene Creed preceded the canonization of the New Testament.

The creeds emerged early in Church history as a defense against false teachers and their apostate teachings. And they capture in concise but profound terms, the essence of our faith.

Not long ago I attended a baseball game at RFK Stadium between the Nationals and the Phillies. Before the game began, all stood, removed their hats, and turned reverently toward the flag above the centerfield bleachers. We listened as a chorale from North Dakota sang our National Anthem. I got to thinking about our nation's unifying songs and our pledge: "Oh say, can you see ..."; "Oh beautiful, for spacious skies ..."; "God bless America, land that I love ..."; "I pledge allegiance, to the flag ..."

Even as Americans are united in our common citizenship through public songs and declarations, so the Christian creeds unite believers in our common Christian faith. I was raised in a traditional, liturgical church. Our Sunday services included public responsive liturgical readings, public collective confessions of sin, recitation of the creeds, and praying the Lord's prayer in unison.

In most of our evangelical churches today, we no longer practice these traditional forms of worship. Beginning in the early 19th century, as Americans headed west to pursue freedom and individuality, churches also began to diverge into multiple forms of expression. We lost some of the rich traditions that have bound us together for many centuries.

The Christian creeds unify us, binding us together in a common confession of our faith. “I believe …”


The Apostles' Creed

I believe in God the Father Almighty
Maker of heaven and earth.
And in Jesus Christ His only Son our Lord,
Who was conceived by the Holy Spirit,
Born of the Virgin Mary,
Suffered under Pontius Pilate,
Was crucified, dead and buried;
He descended into hell;
The third day he rose again from the dead;
He ascended into heaven,
And sits on the right hand of God the Father Almighty;
From thence he shall come to judge the living and the dead.
I believe in The Holy Spirit;
The Holy Catholic Church;
The Communion of Saints;
The forgiveness of sins;
The resurrection of the body;
And the life everlasting.

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