Saturday, May 23, 2009

5/23 Scripture Alone

(Genevan Bible)

All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that all God’s people may be thoroughly equipped for every good work. (II Timothy 3:16,17)
The law of God is perfect, reviving the soul. More to be desired is it than gold, yes more than very fine gold. Ps. 19:10

Calvin: In short, the sense is, that we do not esteem the law as it deserves, if we do not prefer it to all the riches of the world. If we are once brought thus highly to prize the law, it will serve effectually to deliver our hearts from an immoderate desire of gold and silver. To this esteem of the law there must be added love to it, and delight in it, so that it may not only subdue us to obedience by constraint, but also allure us by its sweetness; a thing which is impossible, unless, at the same time, we have mortified in us the love of carnal pleasures, with which it is not
wonderful to see us enticed and ensnared, so long as we reject, through a vitiated taste, the righteousness of God. From this we may again deduce another evidence, that David’s discourse is not to be understood simply of the commandments, and of the dead letter, but that he comprehends, at the same time, the promises by which the grace of God is offered to us. If the law did nothing else but command us, how could it be loved, since in commanding it terrifies us, because we all fail in keeping it? fa426 Certainly, if we separate the law from the hope of pardon, and from the Spirit of Christ, so far from tasting it to be sweet as honey, we will rather find in it a bitterness which kills our wretched souls. (Commentary on Psalm 19:10)

This past week I have spoken of the three principles of the Reformation: grace alone, faith alone, and scripture alone. A fourth principle (that we will see soon) is the “priesthood of all believers.” I have earlier touched on this idea (3/8-14 blog). But wanted to go over it in this context.
Calvin’s context was writing in a time in which Luther was challenging the church to not believe in things (like indulgences, salvation by faith and works) because the pope or others have said it. For Luther (Bucer and the Anglicans), if scripture did not forbid it, it was possible to use in church. Zwingli in Zurich (and the Anabaptists) were saying if scripture did not say to do it, then it should not be done. Calvin tended to agree with Zwingli. The affects are still seen today. Anglican and Lutheran worship use many of the same liturgical elements found in Roman Catholic worship- in terms of robes, candles, altar. Reformed worship until most recently has been generally simpler. There usually is less stained glass in Reformed worship, simpler architecture, a bit less ostentation, show and liturgy. Calvin said in his tracts on baptism, “Whatever is not commanded, we are not free to choose.” Yet Calvin did recognize there were cultural elements (like the way people dressed that we did not have to follow).
The Reformed folk also threw away the lectionary for a lectionary continua. Some say the Reformation in Switzerland began when Zwingli threw away the lectionary (which told him which scriptures to preach from, which prayers to pray), and began preaching directly from Matthew verse by verse in the language of the people (not reading it in Latin or Greek). Sermons are always to be tested by scripture (by the congregation and pastor) and biblically based.
All the Reformers, however, agreed that the basic authority for the church is scripture alone. Not the scripture with the tradition of the church (the church fathers), or the Pope sitting in a certain place. The early church fathers were a secondary source. But it is very evident that the early fathers did not agree on some things. Calvin was very knowledgeable of the early fathers and had a great respect for their writings as a renaissance scholar himself (especially Augustine). He quotes from them extensively in his work, but always as a secondary, commenting source. Scripture alone is inspired by God and is supernatural in character. The Pope at the time had clearly made mistakes, and needed to be held accountable. It was a bit like Nixon and Watergate in America. Rutherford, a third generation Calvinist, would write Lex Rex (law is king) referring mainly to scriptural law as authoritative over both pope and priest, king and noble. In the providence of God, this idea came about after one era of writers (Tyndale, Wycliffe, Hus) had advocated putting scripture in the language of the people. This was why Zwingli’s reading Matthew in German was such a shock- they had never heard it in their own language before verse by verse. The printing press had been developed too, so it was easier to get the message out.
In our day, we have been giving up scriptural principles in the name of reason and listening an attending ear to hyper-criticism. At the same time our liturgies have become fancier, more ostentatious. One professor said, the more we move away from scripture, the more colorful our robes become. We have more ways to get scripture into our lives- CD, DVD, podcast, blog, internet, software, hundreds of vernacular versions and choices. We know more about scripture through archaeology, and literary criticism. But we are in a headlong disobedience (think Sabbath, adultery, greed). I believe we need a new reformation.

Prayer: How I love thy law O Lord, greater truths I can’t afford. Sweeter are your words to me than all other good can be. Safe I walk thy truth my light, hating falsehood loving right. (old Presbyterian hymn)

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