Wednesday, August 21, 2019

Five Solas (or Solae)

The five solas (or solae in Latin) are a set of principles held by theologians and clergy to be central to the doctrine of salvation as taught by the Reformers and are considered important truths of the Protestant Reformation.  These principles are:
  • Sola scriptura (by Scripture alone)
  • Sola gratia (by grace alone)
  • Sola fide (by faith alone)
  • Solus Christus or Solo Christo (Christ alone or through Christ alone)
  • Soli Deo gloria (glory to God alone)

However, although the five solae were recovered and proclaimed during the Reformation period of the 1500's, they were not systematically articulated together until the 20th century.  Sola gratia and sola fide were used in conjunction by the Reformers themselves.  For example, in 1554 Melanchthon wrote, "sola gratia justificamus et sola fide justificamur" ("only by grace do we justify and only by faith are we justified").  All of the solas show up in various writings by the Protestant Reformers, but they are not catalogued together by any.

In 1916, Lutheran scholar Theodore Engelder published an article titled, "The Three Principles of the Reformation: Sola Scriptura, Sola Gratia, Sola Fides" ("only scripture, only grace, only faith").  In 1934, theologian Emil Brunner substituted Soli Deo gloriam for Sola Scriptura.  In 1958, historian Geoffrey Elton, summarizing the work of John Calvin, wrote that Calvin had "joined together" the "great watchwords.  Elton listed sola fide with sola gratia as one term, followed by sola scriptura and soli Deo gloria.  Later, in commenting on Karl Barth's theological system, Brunner added Christus solus to the litany of solas while leaving out sola scriptura.  The first time all of the solas are mentioned together is in Johann Baptiste Metz's 1965 book, The Church and the World.

Although these solas are seen as distinctive to Protestant Christianity, I believe they can and should be affirmed by all Christians.  And, here, as an Anglican, I appeal to my Anglican brothers and sisters—those all across the Catholic and Reformed spectrum of Anglicanism—to affirm these solas:

Sola scriptura (by Scripture alone).  How is it that we know of the Person and Work of God other than through the Holy Scriptures that have been handed down to us?  We can speak of the value of the Church's tradition, but where is there any agreed canon of the tradition?  Roman Catholics can look to the Magisterium.  But would any part of the Magisterium declare that it affirms anything as essential for belief apart from that which can be confirmed by Holy Scripture?  If so, it has ceased to be truly catholic, as in the famous, fifth-century definition of St. Vincent of Lerins, what is truly catholic is that which has been believed ubique, semper et ab omnibus, everywhere throughout the Chrtistian world, always (from the beginning), and by all (that which is generally held among all the faithful).  The Eastern Orthodox (and, indeed, all knowledgeable Christians) can look to the traditions and writings handed down by the early Church Fathers.  But would any dare assert that any article of faith not agreeable to the Scriptures can be truly Orthodox?  As the Apostle Paul would say, μὴ γένοιτο (me genoito)—may it never be!

Sola gratia (by grace alone).  So how is it that we come to a knowledge of all that God has done for us and an understanding of what is said in Scriptures and become partakers of the life offered to us in the Gospel's life-giving, life-transforming message?  Is it in any other way than by God's grace?  If we are at all drawn to these things and moved to respond, it is because God, by his grace, has spoken and we have heard.

It is by God's grace that he created the world.  It is by God's grace that he created us humans.  It is by grace his that he reached out time and time again calling his people, who had disobeyed and wandered far away from his will, into a covenant relationship with him.  And it is by God's grace that he gave his one and only, eternal Son to become incarnate and to redeem the world from sin.  So can we ever say that any aspect of our knowing God is by any means other than his grace?   No, how could it ever be?

Sola fide (by faith alone).  And how is it that we respond and become partakers of all that God has done for us?  By faith.  Hebrews 11 gives us that marvelous definition of faith:
1Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.  2For by it the people of old received their commendation.  3By faith we understand that the universe was created by the word of God, so that what is seen was not made out of things that are visible.
And the chapter goes on to tell us how every one of the believers under the old covenant, to which Jews and Christians have always looked, accomplished what they did as the result of faith.

And the Apostle Paul reminds us in Ephesians 2 of this important truth:
8For by grace you have been saved through faith.  And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, 9not a result of works, so that no one may boast.

So the grace that comes to us and even the faith by which we respond are not of our own doing but the gift of God.  Paul then goes on to speak of the place of good works:
10For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.
The good deeds we do are the outgrowth and result of our being saved by grace through faith.  They are the demonstration of God's activity in our lives, not the cause of it.  To suggest that they are in any way the cause of our salvation or add anything of merit to it is to suggest that there is another way to reach God; who if we truly understand the depth and greatness of his love and mercy, are compelled to admit in humility, that he reached out to us as the only means by which all this happens.

Solus Christus or Solo Christo (Christ alone or through Christ alone).  And how has God spoken and revealed himself to humankind? — through the Holy Scriptures but chiefly through his Son, Jesus Christ.  It is by the eternal Son that the world was created (John 1:1-3).  It is through the atonement of the eternal Son that God's grace is effective in saving us.  God is only our Father on the basis of adoption through faith in Jesus Christ (John 1:12-13).  And, the Apostle Peter tells us in Acts 4 that, "there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.”  What else could anyone add to Christ's own Person or his work on our behalf that could save us.  Nothing; we are saved through Christ alone.

Soli Deo gloria (glory to God alone).  And, having said all this, is there any possibility that the glory should be given to anyone but God alone?  For he alone, through the Person of his Son, is the author and perfecter of our faith; to him be glory, honor, and praise for ever! 

Saturday, April 27, 2019

Legendary investor Warren Buffett says this life decision is most important

Warren Buffett is no saint. He apparently has no Christian faith and he donates to causes like Planned Parenthood. In many ways he reflects the values of his generation: a little religion may be a good thing for some people, but don't get too hung up on it; and of course, we need planned parenthood to get rid of all those unwanted children.

But, in many ways, reflecting the values of his generation and his birthplace is a good thing. He lives in the same house he bought in 1958, drives (sometimes hail-damaged and restored) cars that he buys at a discount, doesn't upgrade to the newest cell phone (he still uses a Nokia flip phone); he has used the same billfold for over 20 years, because he uses things like billfolds and cell phones (and lots of other things) until they wear out. And he clips and uses coupons--most notably including a time when he took Bill Gates to McDonalds and pulled coupons out of his pocket to help pay for the meal.

Buffett is known for saying: “You're looking for three things, generally, in a person: intelligence, energy, and integrity. And if they don't have the last one, don't even bother with the first two.”

The "most important decision Buffet says you can make in this life is this: “If you want to emulate somebody, you’d better pick very carefully who you want to emulate,” he says. “The most important for most people, in terms of that decision, is their spouse.”

It would be hard to argue that Warren Buffett has been anything less than a total success at navigating this life. He has been a very generous donor to many causes and has already established plans for giving away his entire fortune (currently over $82 billion).

But, there is an even more important decision we have to make in this life; and if I could presume to give Warren Buffett one piece of advice it would be this: Invest in eternity, not in this life. That means getting to know your Creator through a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. This life is but the twinkling of an eye when compared with the scope of eternity. And as Buffett himself might say, "Don't be deterred by momentary setbacks, and don't let temporary circumstances take your focus off the goal--your aim must be to win in the long run."

The slides in this article provide an interesting glimpse into the life of this remarkable man:

Friday, January 25, 2019

A Holocaust by Any Other Name

Sunday, January 27, is Holocaust Memorial Day, when the world remembers more than six million people, mostly Jews, who were systematically exterminated under the Nazi regime of Adolf Hitler in Germany.

It is stunning to the mind of any civilized human being that a national government could systematically, through its official channels, murder anyone—much less millions—of its own citizens, though the world has become more conscious in recent years of genocides in other countries (such as the millions allowed to starve to death or killed by other means in Russia, China, Cambodia, Rwanda, and other countries).

As one who has a number of Jewish friends, I know it is very touchy to compare any other genocide with the one Jews experienced in Nazi Germany. But one week ago, we commemorated another--for lack of a better word--holocaust that has been going on in the United States for the past 46 years, when our Supreme Court ruled that, due to a right to privacy, a woman could legally abort the baby in her womb, and the remaining laws in almost every state against it were unconstitutional.

This holocaust has claimed roughly 60 millions lives. In 2018, abortion was responsible for 25% of all deaths in the US ; and, globally, "Abortion Named Leading Cause of Death in 2018 With 42 Million Killed."

But, even as committed as I am to the pro-life position, having founded or served on the boards of alternative Crisis Pregnancy centers in three major cities, it is still tempting to see a difference.

Seeing videos of adults being ushered into "showers" that turned out to be gas chambers and seeing the piles of bodies waiting to be put in the incinerators somehow seems more vile, more heinous than merely seeing the figures on those whose lives were silently extinguished in utero by surgical means.

But both are vile; both are heinous. And both are the result of allowing an ideology to determine the value of a life—to decide who is a person and who is not.

Saturday, January 12, 2019

Popular Megachurch Pastor Says the Ten Commandments Don’t Apply to Christians

Faithwire is reporting the story this week, but Andy Stanley preached the sermon in which he is reported to have said that the Ten Commandments don’t apply to Christians anymore" in May 2018, and much of the Christian community took him to task for it, and rightly so.  Wesley Hill, of Trinity School for Ministry, wrote an excellent critique in First Things.  The Christian Post jumped on the story too:   But then they published an opposing opinion two weeks later.

My take on this when it first arose (and still is) that we are witnessing a dangerous trend among some popular evangelical preachers to jettison "unpopular" parts of Christianity.  They think that by doing it they are appealing to seekers and preserving their ability to evangelize them.  But in reality they are preaching poor theology, misconceptions, and half truths about the nature of the Bible and the Gospel, and no one can make genuine Christ-followers by doing that.

"All Scripture is breathed out by God and is profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correcting, for training in righteousness..." (2 Tim. 3:16)  The Apostle Paul who wrote those words obviously had the Old Testament in mind when he said, "All Scripture..."  Paul also had plenty to say in the rest of his New Testament writings about the law as it pertains to justification by faith.  He is clear that we are not saved by keeping the law:

"Therefore no one will be declared righteous in God's sight by the works of the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of our sin" (Romans 3:20).  "Yet we know that a person is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ, so we also have believed in Christ Jesus, in order to be justified by faith in Christ and not by works of the law, because by works of the law no one will be justified" (Galatians 2:16).  "Clearly no one who relies on the law is justified before God, because 'the righteous will live by faith'" (Galatians 3:11).

But notice the line Paul quotes in Gal. 3:11, "the righteous will live by faith."  It is a quotation from Habakkuk 2:4.  Ah, so the Old Testament teaches salvation by faith also!  But is the Law—specifically the Ten Commandments, which Andy Stanley mentions in his sermon—is the Law abrogated or abolished in the New Testament?

The Law frequently appears in the teaching of Jesus.  In the Sermon on the Mount he refers very specifically to it:  "Think not that I came to destroy the law or the prophets" (Matthew 5:17).  Here the term would seem to mean the whole of the Pentateuch: "I came not to destroy, but to fulfill.  For truly I say to you, till heaven and earth pass away, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass away from the law, till all things be accomplished" (Matthew 5:17,18).

What Jesus really does is to bring out the fullness of meaning that is in the Law, and he declares that the righteousness of his disciples must exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees (Matthew 5:20).  The righteousness of the Pharisees consisted largely in a punctilious observance of the external requirements of the Law; but Jesus' disciples must yield their hearts and their obedience to the inner spirit of the Law.

Jesus goes on to cite the Ten Commandments precept by precept and to show the inner meaning that the disciples must obey:

Matthew 5:21-22, “You have heard that it was said 'You shall not murder..."  But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire."

Matthew 5:27-28, “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’  But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart."

Matthew 5:31-32, “It was also said, ‘Whoever divorces his wife, let him give her a certificate of divorce.’  But I say to you that everyone who divorces his wife, except on the ground of sexual immorality, makes her commit adultery, and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery."

Matthew 5:33-34, “Again you have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not swear falsely, but shall perform to the Lord what you have sworn.’  But I say to you, Do not take an oath at all..."

Matthew 5:38-39, “You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’  But I say to you, Do not resist the one who is evil.  But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also."

Matthew 5:43-44 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’  But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you..."

Does any of this sound like Jesus is abolishing the Law?  No. Jesus said, "Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them" (Matthew 5:17).  So how did Jesus fulfill the Law?

Jesus fulfilled the Law and the prophets in his birth, ministry, death and resurrection.  He fulfilled the moral law by obeying it and by bringing out its true spiritual significance.  And he established it on a surer basis than ever as the eternal law of righteousness.  Jesus fulfilled the ceremonial law, not only by conforming to its requirements, but by fulfilling it with his offering of himself as the once-for-all sacrifice for sin, so that it is no longer necessary for us to observe the Passover or repeat the daily Temple sacrifices.  But the moral law, epitomized in the Ten Commandments, remains as a reminder of the righteousness that God requires; and, thanks to the teaching of Jesus, we know that it is binding, not only on our outward actions, but on the attitudes of our hearts.

It is only by grace that we are saved (Ephesians 2:8-9); but when we are saved, we come to know that "we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them" (Ephesians 2:10).  And by the power of the Holy Spirit working in us we manifest the "fruit of the Spirit... against which there is no law," in contrast with "the works of the flesh," which are against the law! (Galatians 5)

Now all of what I have just said, Andy Stanley could have learned if he paid attention in seminary, or read the right books, or even read a good article in a theological dictionary.  But this points to the real danger I am seeing in a lot of contemporary Christianity: the emphasis is more on salesmanship than it is on faithfully and accurately representing the product.

But the seriousness of this becomes clear when we realize that the Gospel is a message of words; it consists of teaching.  So when we fail to faithfully and accurately represent the product, we actually change the product.  And, to use an analogy from Chemistry, if instead of our words being sodium chloride (salt) which the Bible tells us they are supposed to be, they become potassium chloride which, in sufficient amounts, is the substance that stops the heart in a lethal injection!  And the theological shallowness of the entertainment culture that is influencing the contemporary Church is spiritually just as lethal.

Tuesday, January 01, 2019

Some thoughts on Bible Translation and the Textus Receptus

At the end of the 3rd century, St. Lucian of Antioch, known as Lucian the Martyr, compiled a Greek text of the New Testament that became the dominant text throughout Christendom.  It was produced prior to the Diocletian persecution (about 300 AD), during which many copies of the New Testament were confiscated and destroyed.  After the Emperor Constantine came to power early in the fourth century, the Lucian text was propagated by missionaries and bishops from the Antiochan school throughout the eastern Empire, and it soon became the standard text of the Eastern Church, and formed the basis of texts produced in Byzantium (later Constantinople).

From the 6th to the 14th century, the great majority of Greek New Testament manuscripts were produced in Byzantium.  In 1525 Erasmus, using five or six Byzantine manuscripts from the 10th to the 13th centuries, compiled the first Greek text to be produced on a printing press, and this has subsequently been known as the Textus Receptus (or Received Text).  The translators of the King James Version had around 5,000 manuscripts available to them, and most of these were based on the Byzantine manuscripts and Erasmus’ compilation (Textus Receptus).

By the 1800’s archaeological discoveries were turning up manuscripts that were substantially older than the ones used by the King James translators, in particular the Codex Alexandrinus (Alexandrian manuscript), the Codex Vaticanus (so named because it is housed in the Vatican Library) which has been dated to the 4th century AD), and the Codex Sinaiticus (the Sinai manuscript) which is mostly identical to the Codex Vaticanus.  All three of the critical texts include at least part of the Septuagint (LXX) for the Old Testament.

B.F. Westcott and F.J.A. Hort began work in 1853 that resulted in a Greek New Testament based on these older manuscripts.  Their work, published in 1881, has been a major influence in most modern translations such as the ASV, RSV, NRSV, NASB, ESV, and the NIV.  The Textus Receptus is available to us today through the 1550 Stephanus New Testament and the 1894 Scrivener New Testament.  These two texts as well as Wescott and Hort’s 1881 critical text can be seen among the Greek (Koine) translations at www.

When one looks at the care with which the Textus Receptus manuscripts have been preserved and especially the consistency among them, I believe the Textus Receptus is worthy of greater consideration than scholars have tended to give it.  So how should we view the differences between the Textus Receptus and the critical text?  I notice that the differences between the two consist almost entirely of additional words or phrases in the TR that do not appear in the critical text.  So, we can choose to believe either that words from the TR were inadvertently or intentionally left out at an early point in the history of the manuscripts so that what we know as the older or critical manuscripts do not contain them.  Or we can choose to believe that the extra words in the TR were the accidental or intentional additions of later scribes.

Let me illustrate with three examples:

(1) Colossians 1:14 in the TR says “in whom we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins.”  The oldest manuscripts do not contain the three words, “through his blood.”  So did a careless scribe leave them out, or did a pious scribe, perhaps thinking of the identical words in Ephesians 1:7, add them?  In any event, the fact that we are saved through the death (by the blood) of Jesus is the clear teaching of the New Testament, so the doctrine is not dependent on this one verse.

(2) Acts 8:37 does not appear in critical texts.  But in the TR, when Philip explains the passage from Isaiah that the Ethiopian eunuch is reading and the eunuch asks to be baptized, the TR says: “And Philip said, ‘If you believe with all your heart, you may.’  And he replied, ‘I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God.’”  So which is it?  Did a careless scribe leave these words out, or did a pious scribe add them?  In this case, I think it is more likely that the words were added to the TR than that they were left out of the critical manuscripts.  But it is important to note that being saved by believing that Jesus Christ is the Son of God is taught many places in the New Testament, so no point of doctrine hinges on the presence or absence of this particular verse.

(3) Mark 16:9-20 does not appear in the oldest manuscripts.  Is it more likely they were left out of these oldest manuscripts or added to later ones by a pious scribe perhaps reflecting on some of the miracles in the Book of Acts?  Unless one wishes to advocate snake handling as a standard church practice, as they do in a few parts of Appalachia, it really doesn’t change any doctrines taught elsewhere in the New Testament.

It is important to note that advocates of biblical inerrancy always say the Bible is inerrant “in the original manuscripts,” which, of course, we do not have.  While some skeptics see this as a convenient dodge, I believe it is the only realistic and practical way to look at the question of inerrancy.  We can accept as an article of faith that God inspired the Scriptures in the beginning to teach us inerrantly all that he wishes us to know.  So while there may be small differences in manuscripts, they do not affect any point of doctrine.  Therefore we can be thankful that the Holy Spirit not only superintended the writing of the biblical manuscripts when they were written, he has overseen their preservation and transmission so that the Scriptures in any of the faithful translations that we have today are entirely reliable and trustworthy in all that they teach.

Addendum: In 2014, the Gideons International were looking for a new modern-language English translation to distribute alongside the venerable King James Version, which they continue to distribute.  They had been distributing the New King James Version, but Thomas Nelson publishers, which owned the NKJV was purchased by Harper Collins, and the Gideons were not able to reach an agreement to continue to use that version.  Crossway, publishers of the English Standard Version (ESV) offered to provide the Gideons with rights to use the ESV, which is a respected translation among evangelicals, but which is based on the critical text, not the Textus Receptus, which is the text underlying the King James Version.  The Gideons agreed to this arrangement, provided that they could work with Crossway to create a special edition of the ESV that included passages from the Textus Receptus that are omitted in the commercially published versions of the ESV and other translations based on the critical text.

Comparing the changes made for the Gideons to the ESV is a good way to see the differences between the Textus Receptus and the critical text.  If you are interested, you can see a table comparing the changes in this article: Gideon changes to the English Standard Version New Testament.