Soli Deo Gloria
16 Oct 2017
On 31st October 2017, Churches across the world will be celebrating the 500th anniversary of the Reformation.
The Reformation began in earnest, in Germany in 1517 when a man called Martin Luther pinned on the door of a church in Wittenberg 95 statements of what needed to be changed in the church, for debate. The Reformation brought accurate teaching of the Bible, for the first time for hundreds of years. Churches had moved very far away from what Jesus taught his disciples. Martin Luther read and preached the Bible in its original languages and he saw that things in the church needed to change urgently. Luther showed that the Bible said that Jesus did everything for our salvation, and we cannot do anything to earn God’s love.
To celebrate this at Church by the Bay, we have a new series: Soli Deo Gloria
Sunday 22 October: Faith Alone
Wednesday 25 October: Scripture Alone
Friday 27 October: Reformation Party
Sunday 29 October: Grace Alone
Sunday 5 November: Christ Alone
Wednesday 8 November: Glory to God Alone
But why are we doing this…
A series on Church history?! I thought you were all about the Bible at Church by the Bay?
Yes, we love God’s Word here. And God’s Word we find says…
- You need apostles and prophets – they wrote down the Word (Ephesians 4:11).
- You need pastors and teachers and evangelists: Christ has given them to the Church (Ephesians 4:11).
- And you need Church. We need each other to teach us in our local Church (Colossians 3:16) And Church includes ‘the assembly of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven’ (Hebrews 12:23). God is not the God of the dead, He is the God of the living (Mark 12:27). We are together in the Church with all the saints, all the believers, all the teachers – alive and dead. And we can learn loads from them.
Of course, we will be teaching the Bible - we wouldn’t be doing our job otherwise. But as we do that we can learn loads from our dead brothers and sisters.
Well for me, ‘All I need is my Bible’.
Well, that’s actually against what the Bible says. You need the apostles and prophets who wrote it down, you need pastors, teachers, evangelists, and you need Church. In fact, we need to realise that this attitude is really proud. To someone who says that, I would say: What makes you think you are wiser than previous generations of Christians?
I’m sure we are not. For one thing we know our Bibles a lot less than them. The questions we have almost certainly have been asked before. Many great theologians were not only big brains and God’s gift to the Church, but they believed, read and taught in the face of persecution. In other words, they really believed.
We’ve got lots to learn from God’s gift of Church.
But what’s the point? Church history is dusty, boring and irrelevant!
The first thing to say to that is: have you ever heard any Church history?
For sure sometimes it’s hard to understand, but it is thrilling and heart-warming to see God’s work.
History is Jesus’ history, since Jesus is in charge of history: ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.’ (Matthew 28:18). God is bringing everything together under Christ, and everything happens to that end (Ephesians 1:10-11). Jesus is Lord of history and everything that happens is for His glory, therefore it is relevant to his people - so that we can give Him glory.
Secondly, it is directly relevant to us. People don’t change and God doesn’t change, so we can learn about us and about our God as we look at history. There is nothing new under the sun, and often the problems we face as Christians today are nothing new. We can learn from Church in the past.
Thirdly, it also keeps us humble and thankful as we see how awful people have been, and how kind and God has been to keep his Church.
Church history is for Jesus’ glory, it is wonderful to see His work, and it is very relevant to us.
But didn’t the Reformation split the Church? In this day and age, shouldn’t we be focusing on unity and what we share? Why celebrate something that split the Church?
Well that depends on what kind of unity you want. We want unity around the truth (e.g. Ephesians 4:13), not unity at the expense of truth! We want unity around gospel truths, the Bible truths that were rediscovered in the Reformation.
When the Reformation began, there was no intent or desire to split the Church. What happened was part of the Church resisted the key truths of the gospel!
It is really important that we don’t unite with people who resist the gospel. Instead we should pray for ongoing reformation – for the Holy Spirit to open eyes to see the gospel of Jesus Christ, so that there might be more people united around the gospel.
OK, but why have the series title in Latin?
What’s wrong with Latin?
People don’t speak Latin any more!
Again, what’s wrong with Latin? In any case, the translation is just underneath: Soli Deo Gloria means glory to God alone.
But let’s consider the wider point this raises…
Some people will be worried about not being able to understand. To those people I want to say that thousands upon thousands of non-academic, ordinary believers have benefitted from hearing about Church history. As Jesus’ people, we want to be humble and willing to learn. It’s the teachers of the Church’s job to help people understand. Indeed, people ought not to worry if they know nothing about the Reformation or Church history: this is the perfect opportunity to learn.
For sure, people can use academic words and ideas in a proud and boastful way and that is sinful. But we mustn’t turn against learning, because sometimes people are proud about it. Indeed, we ought to be careful of a different sort of pride - an anti-intellectual kind of pride. Sometimes people can be snobbish about their lack of knowledge and take pride in not being academic. That is also sinful.
Let’s be humble and willing to learn from our brothers and sisters.
Soli Deo Gloria (Glory to God Alone)!