Reformation Day

The need for Reformation in our culture is seen at every turn. The Church has turned into a version of mental and emotional burlesque performance where any appeal that is made is made upon the basis of emotions or experience or the fear that the secret rapture might happen tomorrow. With the emasculation of the Church the rest of the culture has followed into eclipse. The family, when it is successful, has become merely a place for bed and boarding as opposed to a place for education and training. The schools continue to churn out slaves. The State keeps tending towards tyranny. The law is built upon relativistic sand. The arts produce ugliness that communicates that there is no such thing as beauty. In our economy we continue to punish those who save and reward those who build debt. The need for Reformation in our culture is seen at every turn.

The need will not be answered by attempt at renewal that is only moral at its base. What is wrong with our culture is theological and will not be altered by merely treating the immoral symptoms that pronounce the presence of theological disease. No, if we desire to heal the immoral symptoms we must destroy the theological disease from which all moral and cultural sickness emanates. The cure must be theological.

The need will not be answered by attempts at renewal that seek to alter people’s emotional responses. Pentecostal and Charismatic Christianity — the 800 pound guerrilla in today’s Christian expression — will not answer our need for Reformation. Pentecostal and Charismatic Christianity is more problem then it is solution. Indeed, one way we will know that Reformation is taking hold when we see the influence of Pentecostalism abate. With its theology of emotion and excitement Pentecostal and Charismatic Christianity combined with its anti-intellectualism hasn’t what it takes to withstand the tidal wave of paganism that has drenched all of us, nor does it have the ability to provide the lasting answers to the larger questions that all cultures demand. Without Reformation we will die in our emotion.

The need will not be answered by appealing to people’s experiences. All the rage these days is “narrative theology,” which if handled rightly could be effective. However, “narrative theology” as it is handled by most of the Church is merely a celebration of everybody’s different life-stories. It is nothing more then Schleiermacher on mescaline. This can not and will not bring Reformation. Without Reformation we will die in our experience.

The need will only be answered by thinking rightly about God – or we could say by a Holy Spirit driven restoration of right Theology. That which the Church and culture is dying of is the disease of thinking wrongly about God. This wrong thinking about the God of the Bible is the disease that produces all of our foul immoral symptoms. The first place that our wrong thinking about God reveals itself is in our worship and doxology. Thinking wrongly about God we worship wrongly. Worshiping God wrongly we reinforce wrong thinking about God. Reformation in the Church, in the family, in the schools, in the law, in the economy, in the political order, and in the arts — Reformation that will heal wherever it flows — will first be seen in the repair of our theology and doxology.

The battle that we face today in our times and in our culture hence is not primarily between Republicans and Democrats. It is not primarily between Islam and Secular Humanism. It is not primarily between Liberals and Conservatives. The battle that we face today in our times and in our culture is the Battle of Theology. The question that confronts us is, “How Then Shall We Think About God.” Here is where the battle lies and should we answer this question wrongly, or allow people who have answered it wrongly to be our ecclesiastical and cultural gurus we shall die.

As a people then, we will suffer increasingly or decreasingly to the degree that we get our Theology wrong. The more a people think wrongly about God the more they will inflict themselves with all kinds of neuroses, psychopathic and sociopath behavior, and just plain strangeness. To the contrary, only Reformation can cure the ecclesiastical and cultural malaise that is characterized by these kinds of maladies.

As we turn to II Kings 22-23 we see Reformation as the remedy for what ails people who have embraced a culture of death.

I.) Sola Scriptura – Formal Principle Of Reformation (vs. 22:11)

Josiah realized that God’s people had disregarded the authoritative source of God’s rule over His people and such a realization led to deep anguish. The Reformation that washed over ancient Israel occurred because the Scripture was restored, and with the Scripture restored people began to think rightly about God.

In the Reformation in the 16th century this idea of Scripture alone was thought of as the “Formal Principle” of the Reformation. It was referred to as the “Formal Principle” because in returning to the Scripture alone as the authoritative source of theology much that was sloppy and inferior in thinking about God was challenged and removed.

This idea of Sola Scriptura is part of what we confess as a Reformed Protestant body of believers,

“We believe that [the] holy Scriptures fully contain the will of God, and that whatsoever man ought to believe unto salvation is sufficiently taught therein…Neither may we consider any writings of men, however holy these men may have been, of equal value with those divine Scriptures nor ought we to consider custom or the great multitude, or antiquity, or succession of times and persons, or councils, decrees or statutes, as of equal value with the truth of God… Therefore, we reject with all our hearts whatsoever does not agree with this infallible rule” (Belgic Confession VII).

Before the Law was rediscovered in the II Kings account and before the Scriptures were rediscovered in the Reformation it was no longer the case in most quarters of the Church that the Scriptures were the authoritative source of theology. What had happened is that autonomous reason and tradition had been lifted above the Scriptures.

The Reformation was the Reformation because it made a serious effort to allow the Scripture to have pride of place in and over the Church and thus in and over the lives of God’s people.

Now if we are to have another Reformation again something like this has to occur again. It needs to occur again for in much if not most of Christianity in the world what has happened is that the Formal principle of Scripture is no longer Sola Scriptura. In Pentecostal quarters for example the formal principle is Scripture and direct revelation from the Holy Spirit. In Roman Catholic quarters for example the formal principle remains Scripture and tradition and autonomous reason. In Anglican or Episcopalian quarters for example the formal principle remains Scripture, Church Authority, and autonomous reason. In Emergent Church quarters for example the formal principle remains experience plus culture.

Unless God is gracious to give us a return to Sola Scriptura our Churches will continue to ape our pagan culture. Unless God is gracious to give us a return to Sola Scriptura we will continue to think wrongly about God.

Now, here we must have a word about what Sola Scriptura isn’t.

If there was a temptation once upon a time to over privatize Scripture in the hands of the corporate magesterium, there is in our time a temptation to over privatize Scripture in the hands of the individual, so that Sola Scriptura becomes Solo Scriptura. We must say that just as no group of people can stand over the Bible dictating to it what it says, so no single individual is allowed to stand over the Bible dictating to it what it says. If it was wrong for the Church to wrest Scripture away from God’s people, it is equally wrong for individuals to wrest Scripture away from the Church.

This is simply a plea to realize that as individuals we must read the Scriptures with the Church.

II.) Sola Fide — Material Principle Of Reformation (22:13)

“Our Fathers have not obeyed the Words of this book.”

Here the implicit idea is that God’s people, through their disobedience had defamed and defrauded God of that which was rightfully His – that is Glory.

We could say that by and in their disobedience they had attempted to de-glorify God.

Now this brings us to what was referred to as the Material Principle of the Reformation.

Material Principle = The central doctrine in a theology taught by that theology.

In the Reformation there was subtle disagreement on the Material principle.

Lutherans – Justification by grace alone

Reformed – The Glory Of God

The teleology or the end or goal of the Material principle for Reformed people has always been the exaltation of God. As Reformed people we look at the Material principle of Lutherans and what we tend to see is a theology that finds its final destination in man. We prefer instead to see justification by grace alone as serving the higher principle of God’s glory all the while insisting that justification by grace alone isn’t the end but rather is the means to the end of living to glorify God in all that we do. Reformed people insist that when God saves us through faith alone in Christ alone it is always for the end of God’s glory alone. God does all that he does, including saving His people, for His glory.

As we turn to the II Kings account we see that God’s people had failed to give God glory (22:17).

III.) No God But God – The Consequential Principle Of The Reformation (23:5f)

One way we will know that Reformation has come to us is when we begin to tear down the false gods that give meaning to our times, our cultures, our churches and our lives.

Here in II Kings we see how the gods are toppled. The account is straightforward but I think we little appreciate the cultural upheaval that is communicated in this text.

In order to get a sense of that we must realize that cultures find their meanings and definition from the religions and gods that define them. When Josiah attacks these gods and religions he is, as we would say, attacking their way of life – their mode of existence. Josiah is not merely assaulting the gods, he is assaulting the web of life in which the Israeli’s lived. He was attacking their cultural paradigm.

The same kind of destruction to false religions and gods happened in the Reformation. You can hardly read a history of the Reformation without coming across statues and religious art being destroyed because of the idolatrous nature that it was associated with in the minds of the people. Historical accounts record how people thronged into churches to bring out the Holy art and destroy it.

Indeed so great was the horror of the Reformers for the idolatry that many believe they over-reacted in becoming icon-phobes. But given the superstitious era in which they lived one can understand their reaction.

We, in our times, have lived through the kind of “way of life” assault on a culture that Josiah brought against the “way of life” of his people.

The nearest thing to this that has happened in our lifetimes is what happened in the iron curtain countries after the fall of the iron curtain. The people were rejecting the faith that had been foisted upon them and what Lenin and Stalin had pursued was visited upon their own heads as their statues and images were ripped town from city squares.

Anyway … you’ll know if in your lifetime you see Reformation because when Reformation comes the old gods are going to fall in such an obvious way you won’t be able to miss it. You’ll know if Reformation comes in your lifetime because your way of life will drastically change just as it drastically changed for the Israelites in II Kings. 23 and just as it drastically changed during the Reformation.

Nuggets From Daniel 2

In Nebuchadnezzar’s court there was a old order whose influence was predominant (sorcerers, astrologers, magicians Chaldeans). This old order is being eclipsed by a new order bringing a new influence. (Daniel, Hananiah, Azariah, Mishael)

The difference in these two orders is significant

Whereas under the old order the attempt was to gain insight into the future by manipulating the unseen world, insight into the future in the new order would be a matter of God’s gracious revelation.

Whereas the old order was signified by death (Nebuchadnezzar’s threat to kill em all) the new order is signified by the presence of protection of life for all (24).

Whereas in the old order it is thought that the King is sovereign, in the new order God is clearly sovereign over the King.

God brought His people into Babylonian captivity but it begins to become a question as to whom has actually captured whom.

Here, in Daniel 2, Daniel is a picture of Christ the high Prophet. Just as Daniel made known God’s mind to Nebuchadnezzar so Christ made and makes the mind of God known to His people. Just as Daniel’s wisdom was a means of deliverance for God’s people so the wisdom of Jesus is the means of deliverance for God’s people (cmp. I Cor. 1:30). Just as Daniel was the revelation of God to Nebuchadnezzar so Jesus is the revelation of God to His Kingly people today. And just as there was safety from the King’s wrath only in the revelation of Daniel so there remains safety from the King’s wrath only in the revelation of Jesus.

Genesis 1:1

“In the beginning God created the Heavens and the earth.”

1.) Note that at the beginning of God’s revealed word that God is presupposed. There are no elaborate arguments given for the existence of God. No ontological, cosmological, teleological, moral or Historical arguments for the existence of God. God cannot be proven unless He is first presupposed and when He is first presupposed then everything proves and demonstrates the reality of God. Indeed nothing can be proven unless God is presupposed. Genesis 1:1 reveals that the reality of God is a necessary precondition for intelligibility.

2.) God is a creator God. The fact that God has created the heavens and earth reveals that pantheism is false. Since God is a creator we know that He is distinct from His creation and any teaching that runs God and His creation together without recognizing the proper distinction between Creator and creation is heresy. Genesis 1:1 is thus the death knell for all forms of process Theology that hold that God along with His creation is becoming. Likewise all Hegelian notions of God being universal spirit are out of bounds because of how it tends to put God in constant process. Further the idea that God is a creator God distinct from His creation implies the creator creature distinction that is often forgotten by modern Christians. God is the thrice awesome Creator. Worship that contained a little awe and respect would be a welcome relief in most American worship services.

3.) Likewise Genesis 1:1 teaches that the creation is not totally separate from God. Creation is totally dependent upon the Creator. If God did not uphold His Creation it would cease to be. Therefore Genesis 1:1 reveals that all forms of Deism are heresy. God remains intimately involved with His creation. All that happens (all historical events, all natural happenings) remains personal because God remains not only the creator but also the sustainer and governor of His creation.

4.) Christian Theology must continue to take into account God’s work in creation as well as God’s work in redemption. In some sense Redemption serves the work of God’s creation by restoring creation to its original intent. God’s work of Redemption returns God’s work of Creation to the status of ‘very good.’ Creation provides the context where Redemption happens and Redemption in return brings Creation to all that it was intended to be and Creation groans for the fullness of Redemption that is yet to be. Creation and Redemption while distinct can never be divorced. They have an incipient relationship.

5.) On the question of origins we see the Christian Worldview demands a supernatural answer. The Cosmos was created by a personal Creator. This stands in sharp contrast to the Humanist Worldview where all happens by time + chance + circumstance and where all starts by impersonal materialistic process. According to the Christian the Heavens hold a listening and watching God and all life has meaning because this personal God has placed His fingerprint on it all. According to the Humanist the Heavens are brass and all of life is meaningless — a mere chasing of the wind. Which Universe would you prefer to inhabit?

6.) If God is the creator and man is the creature then man is responsible to God. Man is not an end in Himself. He is now accountable to the Creator God and will one day give an account for his actions to the creator God.

7.) Genesis 1:1 is the beginning of Revelation where God reaches down to make Himself known to fallen man. All other religions stand in contrast to Christianity on this point. All other religions are mythologies where man seeks to ascend to God. The god or gods of all other religions are ‘man’ said loudly. Only in the Christian religion does God descend to man in order to make Himself known. We come to know God because He has made Himself objectively known. Orthodox theology thus distances itself from all forms of existentialism where that which is subjective precedes and destroys all notions of that and He which is objective.

8.) Genesis 1:1 implies God’s aseity. The doctrine of divine aseity holds that God is not dependent on anything outside himself for his being and nature. The Creator is not dependent upon the creation for His existence but rather the creation is dependent upon the Creator. If a tree fell in the woods it would still make a sound even if nobody heard it (if only because God would hear it) and If there was no creation to hear God, God would still be God. God did not create because there was some kind of lack in God. God did not create because He was lonely for fellowship. God did not create because He had some kind of unfelt need going un-met that was met by us (lucky for God He made us — blech!). God has eternally been the eternally happy God. God’s creation was the spill over of His eternal satisfaction in His triune self.

“In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.”

It’s God’s Story

Different texts have different concerns. While the stories of Aesop Fables may help us navigate this present evil age, the narrative of God’s story that we find in Holy Writ is intended to get us into the age to come or alternately teaches us how the age to come overcomes this present evil age. Aesop fables tells us how to live in this world. Scripture teaches what God has done to make us fit to live in the next World AND how His work of making us fit for the next world re-creates this World so that the Kingdoms of this earth become the Kingdoms of our God.

We must be careful not to read Scripture as if it is a story about us. The purpose of Scripture is to give God’s story of Redemption and what it is He has done to put us in His Story. There is a perpetual danger on our part of taking God’s story and stuffing it in our own personal narratives with the result that God is the kind of co-star whose role is to approve of our story line while making sure that we, in our lead roles, look good. When we read Scripture like this Scripture goes from being a Story about the glory of God as seen in providing redemption for sinners to being a Story about our glory as seen in how we have spent our lives with God as our co-star who gladly conforms His actions according to our script.

The danger of reading scripture like this is that conceivably someone could quote Scripture backwards and forwards rattling off Scriptures from memory like a Brooklyn Bookie rattles off odds for the latest sporting events and yet we wouldn’t have any idea what Scripture means or teaches. To ‘know’ Scripture like this would leave us as ignorant of the Gospel as the Bat People Tribe who have never heard of Jesus who live in the deepest jungle of Borneo.

We need to keep this in mind when we come to passages like the Benedictus which is before us this morning. If we were to follow an all too typical type of sermon we might say something like,

“Zechariah serves for us as an example of faith, all be it tardy, that we ought to follow. Zechariah eventually obeyed God and we should also. Zechariah teaches us that God never gives up on people, even if he has to discipline them for a season and so if we have failed God we can still be faithful and He will give us another chance.”

But is it really the purpose of this pericope to teach us to emulate Zechariah’s example, or is there something about God’s story that we are to draw out from this?

Quite clearly we would be abusing this Scripture if we turned Zechariah into some kind of moral exemplar while all the time missing that what is happening here is that God’s Story of Redemption is reaching its climax. Zechariah’s prophecy isn’t even about Zechariah let alone about us. Zechariah’s prophecy is about God’s novel reaching its climatic moment. All the anticipations and adumbrations are being fulfilled. All the disappointments of the Novel in past characters and epochs that failed are going to be set right. The Hero who will kill the tyrant dragon who has so long unjustly oppressed the King’s people, as so many Damsels in distress, is being introduced into the novel. This is the Hero that has been promised by the King’s spokesmen (1:70) throughout the ages and it is the literary relief that God’s novel needs in order to go forward.

Zechariah’s son will be the last great royal Herald going forth with trumpet fanfare to announce the coming Hero (Luke 1:76f). But this novel has its own twist. Both the Herald and the Hero are rejected by those they came to rescue (“His own received Him not”). Worse still some of the royal people are traitors (Not all of Israel is of Israel) and are in league with the Dragon oppressor, aiding and abetting in the attempt to destroy the Herald and the Hero.

Yet that gets us ahead of where Zechariah is at in Luke 1. Zechariah is one of the Characters of the novel who the author is using to announce that the great King is true to His promise to provide a deliverer to redeem His people (Luke 1:68, 74).

First we should note that the story is linear and has teleology. That is to say that the part that Zechariah has to play in the story is consistent with earlier portions of the novel and is indicative that the Novel has a destination. This Hero comes from the promised house of Heroes (Luke 1:69) – a house that had been reduced to a withering stump (Isaiah 6:13). Further the coming of the Hero is consistent with promises that were given by God way early in the novel (Luke 1:70 cmp. w/ Genesis 3:15) that He would provide a dragon tyrant slaying Hero who would deliver and redeem His people from the clutches of His enemies (Luke 1:71). Indeed, Zechariah being filled with the Spirit of the Author of the Novel (Luke 1:67) can say that this Hero was part of a storyline that includes in it earlier Heroes such as David (Luke 1:69) and Abraham (Luke 1:73) who were literary anti-types of the great Hero in God’s novel.

Second, as we read this part of the story we realize that this story is framed by covenant (Luke 1:72). This is the literary tool used to unite the whole story. Covenant is how God, as a Novelist, brings unity and diversity into His story. The literary tool of covenant allows the novel to keep building while at the same time providing a sense of wholeness to the story as it unfolds. When Dr. Luke wanted to show early Christians that the Heroes’ life and ministry were the fulfillment of God’s ancient purposes for His chosen people, he pointed to the covenants and quoted Zechariah’s prophecy which reveals that believers such as Zechariah in the very earliest days of ‘the new and better covenant’ understood Jesus and His messianic work as a fulfillment (not a ‘Plan B’) of God’s covenant with Abraham (Luke 1:72-73). God didn’t shelf the previous story of the Old Covenant with the arrival of Jesus and start a new story with the intent of getting back to the previous story once he had finished the new story. No, Zechariah’s appeal to the covenant reveals that the characters in God’s novel understood that this was one incredible narrative.

The Novel doesn’t change plot lines with the coming of Jesus. The author of the Novel doesn’t suddenly switch to an alternate plan of rescue for His people all because His royal people reject the Hero. Quite to the contrary this was part of the Author’s intention from when He began writing His novel.

Another thing we want to see about this novel is that it is interactive, which is to say that God’s story is not a story that leaves us unaffected. While it is certainly not the case that we are to turn God’s story into our story, it is the case that God takes us up into His story so that we become participants in his story. Zechariah notes that the salvation (deliverance, redemption) that is being provided by the Messiah is to have the effect that God’s people might ‘serve Him without fear.’ The idea is that having been delivered we might be loyal servants (hence royal priesthood) to God. The redemption provided by God in His story doesn’t end with a people who deaf dumb and mute to the extension of God’s Kingdom. No, in God’s story we are delivered in order to serve. God does not become a participant in our story but we do become participants in His story, and we do so by rendering Him the service a delivered people delight in rendering.