Reformation Day 2006

Last year I presented a six-part series on the key doctrines of the Reformation. It is not always easy to measure the effectiveness of a sermon or sermon series (and you hate people telling you, "That was such a nice sermon!"), but as near as I could tell, it was both edifying and educational, which was what I hoped for.

I have spent my life in non-denominational churches, and one of the flaws of being an independent church or coming from an independent church background is that it can create a sense of independence on a variety of levels, one of which is a sense of independence from Christian history. I suspect that most Christians have an awareness of the early church that comes from the study of Acts and the NT epistles. But any sense of history ends there. As a result, "our" way of doing things is the only way of doing things right. "Our" kind of music is representative of how music ought to be done in Church.

My teaching through the five Solas of the Reformation last year made me realize several things afresh, and these have continued to motivate my ministry this year.

  1. The doctrinal issues that the Reformers fought for remain the main issues theologically and are at the root of a lot of practical issues that the church continues to face nearly 500 years later.
  2. Our people need to understand the significance of the things we believe. What does it mean, for example, to not believe in justification by faith alone? What are the implications of rejecting Sola Scriptura? I think it is easy for a layperson to assume that these things are often trivialities that have no bearing on "real life" but that theologians and scholars bandy about. Not so!
  3. Our people, especially those who were raised in an "salvation by grace through faith shown by a raised hand and then coming forward" environment need to hear these doctrines taught and taught and re-taught. And we don't need to go outside of the realm of regular systematic exposition of Scripture to cover them. They fill the pages of the New Testament letters.
  4. That teaching doctrine does in fact relate to life. The division between "doctrinal" and "practical" is artificial, misleading, thoughtless and . . . irrelevant.

I have deliberately exposed our people to more church history in the last year and plan to do so as an ongoing part of pastoral ministry. Who can listen to John Piper's sermon/lecture on William Tyndale and not be moved? Who can hear that believers were put to death for teaching their children to pray the Lord's Prayer in English - and not come to the conclusion that holy things have become too common for us and that we take for granted the rich privileges we have, even for things so simple as owning our own copy (in reality copies) of the Bible?

The Reformers were not perfect people, but that is not the point. We owe much to them, and much of what they worked for has been so watered down in our day that it needs to be regularly reviewed and taught afresh.

It is the clarity of the Gospel and its implications that will secure the church, not methods, visuals, skits, or attempts to be culturally relevant (while lacking clear biblical conviction). So to Martin, John, and the rest of you faithful men, here is one 21st century pastor's thanks. And thank you, Lord, for your grace which was shown to them, and through them to us.

Unnecessary Creativity

Maybe I'm just grumpy . . .

I received an email promotional (which means advertising) for a series of about a dozen video clips that can be played 2 minutes before the worship service starts to let people know that the service is, in fact, about to begin. They feature biblically focused, Christ-exalting, heart preparing activities such as ninja fighting, hamburger eating, etc. I wonder if after they get shown the Pastor of Comedy comes out to warm up the crowd a bit more.

I'm teaching on Romans 12:6-8 this week, and as I am considering spiritual gifts, someone sent me a copy of a church bulletin advertising someone who has a Gospel Trick Pool Shot ministry. I'm glad that I was able to learn about that before I confined myself to the somewhat drab list of gifts in the New Testament. I know, I know: all things to all men. Got it.

Tim Challies asked the other week for a definition of discernment. I don't have one to contribute, but I can pretty safely say that the exercise of such a quality might preclude using these kinds of things that get pushed at us.

But then I am thankful . . .

Sovereign Grace recently put out a CD of songs based on the Valley of Vision book of Puritan prayers and meditations. We have no record of the puritans having partaken of trick pool shots or comedy warm-ups, but they nevertheless appear to have been deeply spiritual and pretty effective. I would highly recommend the CD, available via Sovereign Grace or downloadable via iTunes. This is not so much news as a recommendation. It is both God-honoring and pleasant to listen to.

Influential Books

Christianity Today has a list of the 50 most influential books in the last 50 years on their website. Several bloggers have commented pro and con on the selection of titles.

During the early 1970's I worked in a large Christian bookstore that my church ran. What made it unusual then (and I think the standard holds true today) is that while they serviced the entire area, they carried only those books that fit the doctrinal beliefs of the church. They would order anything that was published by an evangelical publisher, but would only stock those books that fit the church doctrinal statement.

Based on that time and seeing what people were reading, I'd suggest a few other titles for the list as well. I'm not necessarily recommending any of them, but as I recall they shaped Evangelicalism in the 1970's in particular.

Harold Lindsell's The Battle for the Bible was a defense of biblical inerrancy.

Ray Stedman's Body Life was the book that unleashed a new understanding of how Christians should view their role in the local church, and created an interest in discovering and using spiritual gifts.

Jay Adams' Competent to Counsel was an effort to restore biblical counseling and exhortation to pastors and church leaders. Adams was wrongly chided for being simplistic and harsh, blaming everything on sin. But there is a whole movement that followed in his steps and refined his ideas.

Merlin Carothers' book Prison to Praise was a huge influence on the Charismatic Movement in the early 1970's. We (the bookstore I worked in) did not carry it, but we did tons of special orders for people who wanted it. I'm not charismatic, nor did I appreciate the way people who were charismatic felt the need to try to infiltrate non-charismatic churches at that time, but the book was nevertheless highly influential.

The Living Bible made CT's list, and it certainly made its mark. But surely any list that includes translations should include the New International Version. The NIV became almost THE standard text to preach from and was the foundation for numerous reference sources, both academic and popular in nature. The New American Standard Bible, while not enjoying the popularity of the NIV, was released at somewhat the same time and provided people with a choice other than the KJV and the RSV (which did not enjoy favor with American evangelicals).

Growing up in an independent church culture, I would have to suggest 1967's New Scofield Reference Bible as one of those books that shaped my part of the evangelical world. The New Scofield included updated notes, plus some changes in the wording of the KJV text. Most dispenationalists loved it, some KJV-only types saw it as a perversion of the truth. Regardless of your theological slant, the NSRB was THE study Bible until they began putting one out for every segment of society.

What books are influential depends on a lot of factors. These were books that shaped the evangelical world during a time of great change.

Luther and Preaching

I was listening to John Piper's talk on Martin Luther last night as I was going to bed. I was deeply impressed by Luther's prayer, and felt that it often reflects the need I feel as I prepare to preach:

Piper writes about Luther that: He was driven by a passion for the exaltation of God in the Word. In one of his prayers he says, "Dear Lord God, I want to preach so that you are glorified. I want to speak of you, praise you, praise your name. Although I probably cannot make it turn out well, won't you make it turn out well?"

This lecture is available at as in both print and as an mp3 download. I have several of Piper's biographical talks on que for the next week or so.