Last week, my wife and daughter accompanied me to the Ocean City Bible Conference. Our message this week will be based on some of the teachings we learned at the conference.
This past week I was at the Ocean City Bible Conference. I left shortly after church last Sunday, the first session started Sunday night. Ocean City has quickly become my favorite conference of the year, I go to a few different things, but the teaching here is the best I’ve heard at any of them, and the setting is a pretty good benefit, too.
It’s in Ocean City, NJ, at the Ocean City Baptist Church, which happens to be just two blocks off the beach. The hotel they house us in is just a block from beach, you walk one block west, you’re at the church, one block east you’re at the beach. The day starts at the church at 8:00 am with a continental breakfast, then the first session at 9:00. There are two morning sessions, then you’re on your own for the afternoon. There is an evening session from 7:00-9:00, so you’re getting five hours of sermons and messages each day, but you still have the afternoon free to relax and enjoy Ocean City. And the boardwalk doesn’t close until 10, so at the end of the day, we’d go get an ice cream on the boardwalk.
So between the structure of the conference, the location of the conference, and the solid bible teaching at the conference, it’s probably pretty easy to see why it’s my favorite conference.
The theme this year was the 5 Solas, which is a reference to the reformation. They were five statements that became sort of the rally cry. This year is the 500th anniversary of the reformation, most will agree it officially started on October 31, 1517, when Martin Luther, a priest and professor at Wittenberg University, nailed his 95 theses to the door of the chapel in Wittenberg.
Now when we think of a thesis today, we might think of a long research paper, but these were short statements, just 2 or 3 lines long each, a list of issues where Luther was convinced that the church got it wrong, and actually keeping people from a relationship with God.
We often think Luther started this on his own, but there were at least 12-15 fellow priests and professors who Luther spoke to on a regular basis, they all talked about these things over coffee in the morning, they talked at night, and they were all in complete agreement. Luther was the one who took action, but most of the staff at Wittenberg were in agreement with him. In fact, a more and more people were thinking this way, they were just too afraid of the church to come out against it. And there were others in other countries who were thinking about them, too, and when Luther took action, soon they followed.
As a priest, Luther was a real student of Scripture, he was a professor of the bible, and an excellent linguist, so he studied the original languages. But in his heart, Luther was filled with thoughts of inadequacy, he had no assurance, no confidence of his salvation. He would go to confession and spend hours in the confessional, knowing that even the littlest sin will keep you from God, he confessed everything. There were times his confessor actually asked him to leave and come back when he had something serious to confess.
But Luther was serious about getting everything out and confessed so it could be forgiven, so he could feel some level of confidence in his faith. But the feelings of inadequacy continued until one day in 1515, he was reading Paul’s letter to the Romans, and 1:16-17 jumped out at him. Let’s read this now... “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes: first to the Jew, then to the Gentile. For in the gospel the righteousness of God is revealed—a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: ‘The righteous will live by faith.’”
This verse, when it’s meaning sank in, brought Luther the confidence he had been longing for. He claims that was the day, even though he had been a priest for eight years already, he had taught in a seminary for most of that time, even had a Doctorate in Theology for at least the last three years, this was day he said he was “born again.” He described it by saying, “Here I felt that I was altogether born again and had entered paradise itself through open gates.”
We might ask ourselves “Was the reformation really necessary?” It really split the church, surely there was a better way? I want to talk a little about that by giving three reasons why the reformation was necessary, then I’ll get to a quick summary of the 5 Solas.
Dr. Michael Haykin, a church history professor at Southern Baptist Seminary, gave three quick reasons why the reformation was necessary. By quick reasons, I mean he gave an 1 ½ hour message on it, I’ll try to summarize it in just a couple minutes. Basically, the reformation was necessary, and we need to remember the reformation, for three reasons.
1. We need to remember How Are We Saved. In the early 1500’s there were three views on how a person could receive salvation:
In the Bible, Paul tells us in Ephesians 2:8-9, “For it is by grace that you have been saved, though faith – and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God – not by works, so that no one can boast.” But people didn’t have access to bibles, and the church primarily taught the third option, you got in when you did enough good things. A lot of people believe that today, don’t they. They’ll get in because they’re a good person. But it’s not about what you do. When you come to Christ by faith, God gives you salvation, it’s a free gift, it’s grace. All grace.
2. We need to remember Who Saves Us. A funny story, Luther never wanted to be a priest. He wasn’t really that devout growing up. He was studying to be a lawyer. One day when he was 22, studying the law, he was walking along a country road and was caught in a thunderstorm. He was in a valley with high mountains on either side, and storms can seem to come up quick there, because you can’t see them coming over the mountains. Luther was caught in a pretty big one, lighting all around, one bolt of lightning struck very close to where he was hiding. In a panic, he made a vow to St. Anne.
Anybody know who St. Anne is? She’s the patron Saint of Minors, but she was Mary’s mother. How Mary’s mother became the patron Saint of Minors I don’t know, and why Luther would pray to the Patron Saint of Miners in a thunderstorm, I don’t know that either, but he did. And he prayed, “St. Anne, if you get me out of this alive, I promise to become a monk.” He survived the storm, and made good on his vow, abandoning the study of law, and becoming an Augustinian monk. Two years later, he was ordained a priest.
Anyway, in the Middle Ages, people prayed to Saints, that was common practice. It’s still practiced in the Catholic church today. It’s not unusual to find St. Christopher medals on necklaces, or statues on lawns, or pictures on walls, of devout Catholics. But it’s idolatry. Worshipping anyone or anything other than God is idolatry. It doesn’t matter how common it is, or how innocent it may seem – it’s wrong!
When Luther had his conviction on Romans 1, he seemed to have stopped that practice. While he engaged in praying to the saints frequently before, we don’t see it mentioned again. In 1 Timothy 2:5, it says, “For there is one God and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all men.” The saints are not mediators on our behalf – Jesus Christ is our one mediator. Jesus Christ is the one who gave Himself for our sins. Luke wrote in Acts 4:12, “Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved.”
But people in the 1500’s didn’t believe that. That was only one way. We hear that a lot today, don’t we? But remember, Scripture is clear, “Salvation is found in no one else…” Buddha can’t save you. Mohammed can’t save you. Salvation is found in no one but Jesus.
3. We need to remember How We Know the Truth. In the Catholic Church, even today, truth is passed on to us in two forms, through the bible and through tradition. When I say tradition, I don’t mean the things they do every week, I mean the teachings of those who came before. The beliefs of those who went before us add to the body of knowledge, and their writings are invaluable to us. They are regarded as truth. The problem is, sometimes they weren’t all that true. Popes in the middle ages were very powerful, more powerful than kings. And they were sometimes motivated by that power, and by greed, rather than by faith.
And their writings were regarded as if from God, their decisions thought to be holy, whether they agreed with scripture or not. In fact, if a decision disagreed with the bible, which one do you think they followed? The Pope. They would disregard the bible, thinking it was written in ancient days and didn’t apply any more. The people were biblically illiterate, but they had a good excuse. Bibles weren’t available. It was only available in Latin, and people didn’t speak Latin. We’re biblically illiterate today, too. Most people don’t know their bibles. Only today we are more or less without excuse. We live in a society where bibles are readily available, we just don’t read them. There is a believe that the bible might have been good back then, but it’s old. Times have changed.
But the reformers came to realize that truth is found in scripture alone. That salvation is found in Scripture alone. That even though the bible is an old book, it’s truths have stood the test of time, and that they are as relevant today as they were 2,000 years ago. Paul wrote in 2 Timothy 3:16, “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.” They had lost that.
As I’ve already said, the bible was only available in Latin, and only the priests spoke Latin. So the contents of the bible had became like a hidden jewel, not available to the people. Luther discovered the power of Scripture, the beauty of this jewel, and fought to make it available to everyone. Other reformers followed, and within a fairly short period of time, had made amazing progress. While Luther started things going in 1517, by 1522, he had translated a New Testament in German. By 1526, William Tyndale had translated a New Testament in English. The bible was becoming available to the people again, perhaps for the first time in a thousand years. The Church fought it harshly. Luther, Tyndale, and hosts of others were killed to try to stop it. Reform, it turned out, wasn’t possible. But a new reformed church was born.
So the reformation was necessary to recover the light of scripture from the darkness. And it’s important for us to remember the reformation so we will remember how we are saved, who saves us, and so we’ll know the truth found only in the Scriptures.
Now quickly, the 5 Solas. In Latin, Sola means “Alone.” The five Sola statements are…
These five Sola statements sum up our faith. They are not the good news, at least not the gospel in its entirety, but they seek to recover some important teachings about the gospel. We are saved by God’s Grace, through faith, in Christ, according to the scriptures, for the glory of God. That sounds so basic, it’s amazing it could have been lost to the church for so long. And perhaps more amazing, we seem to be repeating history.
We are forgetting where we came from. Some think we aren’t saved by grace, but by being good people, if we’re good enough, we can get in. Some think Jesus is only one of several ways to get saved. Some think the bible is good story, but it’s not really applicable anymore. Perhaps it’s getting to be time for another reformation. If so, I hope we can use the same battle cry…
We are saved by God’s Grace, through faith, in Christ, according to the scriptures,
for the glory of God.