Reformation Sunday

Happy Reformation Day. #488 if you are counting.

My sermon yesterday morning was a quick overview of the Reformation, identification of the five "solas" that I plan to study with our church, and some reasons why the issues of the Reformation lead to pastoral concern today. If you want to listen to it, it should be up on our website sometime today.

I took the train in to Philadelphia on Friday afternoon to pick up 100 copies of the Cambridge Declaration from the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals. I also found that the book A Reformation Reader by Denis R. Janz was very helpful. What was especially cool was the fact that the book came with the complete text in Logos/Libronix format.

Anyway, while not a typical expository sermon, I felt it was worth taking the Sunday to raise awareness of the issues involved. Our people seemed to find it helpful, so that was good.

This week I am going to be reading some materials on the sufficiency of Scripture. On top of the pile is RC Sproul's book Scripture Alone.

Eric Svendsen has a good quote about the Reformation from Philip Schaaf on his blog. OldTruth has an interesting note on why we need the Puritans, as well as a good one on preaching. Jollyblogger talks about why we need to appreciate the Reformation. A reminder as to why all three need to be heeded.

Reformation Sunday and the Independent Church, Part 2

I had intended to add more to this several days ago, but did not.  My apologies to those of you who stopped by looking for something new.  

Over the last week-plus I have had my intent to preach through the five “solas” of the Reformation affirmed several times.  In preparing to preach this week, I am reminded at how both believing in and following Jesus Christ are based on objective revelation.  There are numerous calls in Scripture to stand solidly on the foundation that was heard at conversion.  

I try to walk two miles two or three times a week at a local park.  My iPod was playing a sermon on pastoral ministry by Alistair Begg.  He was talking about how some feel that no one listens to preaching anymore and arguing the case for why people do listen to preaching.  I was thinking that if we could get people to concede that preaching still has a valid role in the church today (something that I wholeheartedly affirm), certainly that preaching has to be focused at the day-to-day experiences of the listener.  Doctrinal preaching then, has to be set aside.  Maybe a Sunday School class on doctrine can be offered for the super-interested, the more intellectual listener.  But not in the pulpit!

Yet by the grace of God doctrinal preaching changed the course of history.  These five basic affirmations of biblical Christianity have enormous impact on real life.  Part of good doctrinal preaching has to be to show that to be true.  

Because I prefer teaching a passage rather than doing a topical study in a sermon, I’m planning to focus on one particular text each week.  But I’ve assembled some fairly new resources on the truths of the reformation that I would like to commend to you.

The late James Boice wrote Whatever Happened to the Gospel of Grace?  It spends a chapter on each of the five major doctrines.  I recommend it highly.  Gary Johnson and R. Fowler White have edited a book entitled Whatever Happened to the Reformation.  The forwards are written by R.C. Sproul and David Wells, and Michael Horton contributes the afterward.  In Here We Stand, one of the best books I read this year, Michael Horton’s chapter on the Solas is superb.  R.C. Sproul has a fine book called Scripture Alone that goes beyond the scope of one sermon on the Bible, but I will recommend it as a resource for those interested in more than we can cover on one Sunday morning.  Ditto for his book on Justification entitled Faith Alone.  Terry Johnson wrote The Case for Traditional Protestantism which deals with these five doctrines, and finally After Darkness, Light: Essays in honor of R.C. Sproul is a fine exposure to the Reformation truth.

The next entry on this blog will probably deal with what I hope to accomplish in this series.  

* * * *

As an aside, I have had the opportunity to attend Mark Dever’s lectures on preaching at Westminster Seminary over the last two days.  They have been excellent.


Reformation Sunday and the Independent Church

Our church was birthed 69 years ago by a group of 99 people, including the pastor, who left a denominational church because of a growing liberalism in that denomination. Moving a few blocks down the street to the local fire hall, Faith Community Church began its ministry in 1936. In what was certainly somewhat of a reaction to the problems inherent in denominations gone bad, the constitution specifies that the church may not join any ecclesiastical group, denomination or fellowship. In other words, we're independent.

All of the churches that I have been involved in since my family trusted Christ in the mid 1960's have been independent churches. One was a member of the Independent Fundamental Churches of America, the other was an independent Baptist church (not of the fightin' variety) and Faith, which came from Presbyterian roots, has morphed over the years into what I have sometimes described as a "closet Baptist" church.

One could argue the pros and cons of denominations. I am not one who feels that the existence of different denominations and fellowships necessarily implies a fundamental disunity in the Church. Oh it can be that, but it does not have to be. There are positives and negatives of being on your own. I'd like to share some thoughts for a few moments on one of the things that I feel is a negative, and what I am doing this year to try to correct that.

In any church - especially independent congregations - it is possible (likely?) that people have little or no sense of heritage. And in a culture that seems to regard history as being somewhat irrelevant, most of our people have little interest and certainly little knowledge in pre-Billy Graham evangelicalism. And that concerns me.

Most of the readers of this blog will be familiar with the five "Solas" of the Reformation. This list of five key doctrinal beliefs that the Reformation emphasized. And as several have said (and as I have blogged before) we need Reformation Version 2 in our day. And unfortunately it needs to be pretty much about the same issues that were addressed in Version 1.

I was thinking about the five doctrinal affirmations referred to in the Solas statements. Do you notice that every one of them is under attack today - and not (just) from outside the Church, but from inside. There are people inside evangelicalism with a low view of Scripture's trustworthiness and authority. There are those who fudge on the issue of salvation by Christ alone. With the way the Gospel is presented today, grace and faith have taken a back seat to praying a prayer and coming to learn how special we are. The Glory of God? Fuggedaboudit.

We're not dealing with superfluous doctrines here - these are the core of Christian belief. Take them away and we no longer have Christianity. And that's why I want to talk to our folks about these key Reformation doctrines.

So beginning on Sunday, October 30, which is Reformation Sunday, we're going to spend 5 or 6 weeks talking about these key beliefs. I've postponed getting back into Romans until after the holidays because I feel it is important that we be grounded in these basic areas of biblical truth.

I'm not interested in creating another church holiday, but I am interested in increasing our awareness of what is essential to our faith, and it seems that this presents a good opportunity. What about you? Does your church provide any resource or teaching specific to these core beliefs at this time of year? I'd be interested in hearing about them.

In my next blog entry, probably in a day or two, I'd like to share a couple of resources that I picked up to help in this process.

On Sowing and Reaping

John Piper writes:

The absence of manifest conversions does not mean that a person has been faithless in labor. Only God knows how long a minister must sow before the reaping comes - or if the faithful minister himself will have the privilege of doing the reaping. But if he sows and another reaps, still the sower has not sowed in vain.

But should I be content to say, "I am a sower, another will reap?" No, not until my life is over. Then, if the reaping has not come, I will rest my life on this: One sows, another reaps."

From Taste and See, page 132.

Random Observations and Links

In my first pastorate in NJ, there was a church near us whose sign was the talk of the Christian community. A lot of people couldn't wait to drive by each week to see what new corny slogan was posted. Wish I had kept a list of the "best" of the "worst." The other week I spotted this one in our area: "Laughter is God's hand on the shoulder of a hurting world." Wow. If there was a prize for trite, I think we evangelicals might have a good shot at winning.

Speaking of winning, two bloggers, Phil Johnson and Scott McKnight, are Chicago Cubs fans. Thanks to the inability of the Cubs to beat the Houston Astros on Sunday, my Phillies go home for the winter and Houston goes on into the playoffs. I have my personalized Phillies jersey (a gift from three of our men upon my installation as Senior Pastor here two years ago) hanging in my office this week to commemorate a fine finish to their season. In case any Phillies read my blog (ha ha ha ha ha), thanks, guys!

Jim Martin has a great post on making a difference. A good opportunity to check the correlation between our beliefs and our behavior.

Fred Butler blogs about a pastor's dream - inheriting someone's library. He talks about some books that he especially appreciates.

Thanks to Tim Challies for a solid book review on a topic that is becoming the next big thing for evangelicals. Why can't we be satisfied with what God has revealed in his Word? Steve Camp blogs about Every Christian's Duty. How can our people defend what they don't know?

Here's a fine article on preaching from 1999, perhaps even more appropriate today.

I appreciated this interesting article by Fred Butler (two quotes in one post, Fred!!) on leaving King James onlyism.

Mark Dever, Phil Ryken and a few other contemporary preachers will be speaking at Westminster Seminary near Philadelphia in two weeks. The conference theme: Preaching that Builds a Healthy Church. Looking forward to going.

Westminster has a collection of lectures and chapel messages on their website. Many if not most of them are in Real Audio format, but they state that they are moving toward MP3. Thankfully!
If you don't want your system clogged up by the Real Player software, there is a program called Real Alternative.

That's it for this morning. Would like to post more original stuff but am in day two of a migraine. Thankfully not as bad as yesterday!