“Is Jesus really the ONLY way to God?” “What about the person who has never heard of him?” “Which parts of the Bible do we still believe today?” “I know that is how they used to lead churches, but how about these days?” “Do the Ten Commandments still matter?”
Maybe you have asked these questions yourself. Maybe you were in a group where the questions were asked. Maybe when you heard someone else asking them, in the quietness of your own thought life, you began to ask them too.
Before I ever had any theological training, or had even heard the words Sola Scriptura, I was involved in a small group where these kinds of questions came up regularly. I didn’t have many answers, but what seemed to make sense in my mind was that if you started to pick and choose what you believed in the Bible, what you were left with was a man-made religion. Again, even without theological training, I was pretty sure I wanted something more than that.
As I began to think more about the questions I had heard, and maybe had even wrestled with myself, I began to realize that at its core, these questions were, and are, about authority. If God is God (and He is), and He has written His word in the Bible (and He has), then I don’t have the authority, as a created being, to pick and choose what I want to believe or listen to from the Creator. His Word must have authority over me. I don’t sit in authority over it.
Those ideas made sense to me, even if it took more time for my heart to come to embrace them. Then, I received some theological training. I did some reading. And what I found was that this idea of authority was one of the key ideas that led to the Protestant Reformation. Back then, a monk named Martin Luther rediscovered the Gospel of Grace, by going back to the source of authority, the Holy Scriptures. It was not a new idea. In fact, it was a very old idea, contained in the Bible. Without going into the details of the Reformation at this time (though it is fascinating and I’d love to visit with you individually to talk about it), the drumbeat that kept Luther and his contemporaries going was the drumbeat of justification by faith (Sola Fide or Faith Alone). However, the ground the battle was fought over was the authority of Scripture (Sola Scriptura or Scripture Alone).
That was then, and this is now. And in different ways, this battle is still being fought. Today, there is a general rejection of authority, which in an ironic way, lifts the individual up as the ultimate authority. This elevation of self leads to the types of questions I mentioned at the beginning...questions where we try to force the Word of God to submit to OUR authority. Sadly, in sometimes subtle ways, our churches can contribute to this problem. The result is often times self-centered preaching...a series of “how-to” lectures arising out of a moralistic view of Scripture....leading to the idea that it is all about ME. But that is not the message of Scripture. Scripture is God’s self revelation to His creation, and from it, we are called to Christ-centered preaching.
Maybe in the New Year, you find yourself wondering, “Is it time to think about church?” If so, I would caution you that more than thinking about finding a church, it is time to seek Jesus. In the coming weeks, we will write about the Gospel that we receive by Grace Alone, through Faith Alone, in Christ Alone, to the Glory of God Alone. For now though, I remind you that the Gospel is found in the Scriptures Alone. So, as you think about a church in the New Year, know that you will encounter all different styles and accents. Today, churches will do a lot of things to seem relevant to your life. Be careful to make sure you keep a devotion to the Scriptures as your non-negotiable. More than finding a church with the right flavor of coffee, find a church that acknowledges the Bible to be the inerrant and infallible Word of God. The Bible is an ancient story that is more relevant to your story than anything new concocted to make your life better. It is the story of Creation-Fall-Redemption. This is the story of Scripture, and it is your story. Anything else is just a man-made religion.