Church History

Irish Lessons for Church Planters

Tucked away in the religious history of Ireland is a profound lesson for church planters. I recently wrote a biography of Thomas Patient who planted for the first Irish Baptist churches (HERE). Guys who plant churches breathe the Great Commission, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:19-20). The history of the Irish Baptists teaches us the virtue of planting churches committed to regenerate church membership. The original Irish Baptist churches were started because of the doctrine of believers’ baptism and thus regenerate church membership. Those churches were planted in the 1650’s and remain faithful gospel witnesses today.

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The Story of Thomas Patient’s Irish Ministry

The lesson is only understood as part of the story of Thomas Patient. He was a British Particular Baptist who served with William Kiffin in London. Kiffin was one of the most significant figures in the establishment of Reformed Baptist Churches in England. In addition to pastoring the church, Kiffin was a successful businessman. He was part of a rising merchant class gaining considerable wealth in his day. Together, Kiffin and Patient represented their church by both signing the First London Confession in 1644.

Patient’s ministry was primarily during the period of the English Civil War, which was driven by both political and religious concerns. The Civil War period gave greater freedoms to Protestants who rejected the episcopal view of church government. During this period saw the rise of the Presbyterians, Congregationalists, and Baptists. These denominations came about over different interpretations of how churches should be organized and how churches should relate to the government.

During this period Oliver Cromwell rose to lead the Parliamentary forces against the Royal forces. Eventually the war expanded from England and into Ireland. John Owen joined Cromwell in Ireland then came back to England in order to call more ministers to spread the gospel to Ireland. Thomas Patient answered that call and went to Ireland as an army chaplain.  While in Ireland he joined other preachers teaching at a prominent cathedral in Dublin.

The Founding of the First Irish Baptist Church

However, in addition to preaching in Dublin and ministering to soldiers, he also travelled throughout eastern and southern Ireland sharing the gospel message to the Irish. In 1650 he effectively gathered a group of converts in Waterford into a church. This church became the first Baptist church in Ireland. It was established on baptistic convictions as evidenced by a letter they wrote to the congregation in Dublin in 1651. In this letter Patient’s congregation rebuked those in the Dublin congregation who held to believer’s baptism yet “joined in fellowship with such as do fundamentally differ in judgement and practice.”[1] They admonished the Dublin believers that if they joined in church fellowship with those who did not practice the ordinance of “dipping Beleevers”[2] then they would be “guilty of their sin of disobedience.”[3] Patient’s congregation believed the doctrine was significant enough to leave one congregation for another. They also, therefore, believed it was significant enough to organize around. A group heeded the admonition and formed a congregation in Dublin.

As a result of the division, Patient went to great lengths to defend the doctrine. He ended up publishing one of the first full-length books advocating believer’s baptism. In his book he thoroughly examined scriptures that Baptists still use to advocate our doctrine. Patient expounded the ministry of the Apostles in Acts and linked it to Jesus’ Great Commission call by concluding “Faith and Repentance go before baptism.”[4]   He also made a distinction between baptism and circumcision explaining the latter as a “Covenant in the flesh.”[5] Patient was striving to make the point, “That there was never a Covenant of eternal life, made with any but with such as did and do believe, all along till Christ, not since.”[6] He made the point that baptism serves to “confirm our Regeneration”[7] therefore should be reserved for those profession faith in Christ. His goal was to see Christians “obey the word of God’s command.”[8]

The first Irish Baptist churches were founded around the doctrine of believer’s baptism by immersion.  As a result, those churches were officially made up of regenerate members.  The visible Baptist churches were born-again believers in Christ.

Lessons for Contemporary Church Planters

Church planters should never seek to divide congregations. However, church planters do have a unique opportunity to establish their congregations on a faithful ecclesiology. One lesson from Patient’s Irish ministry is for church planters to do the work of firmly establishing their doctrine of the church. Church planters should know the key passages, hold ecclesiological positions, advocate for how they inform their practical ministry, then organize their churches accordingly.

Another lesson is  church planters should utilize the pastoral tool of believer’s baptism and regenerate church membership. Like Patient, I have found the doctrine incredibly useful in planting church. In addition to clarifying someone’s conversion and beliefs about the gospel, it enables a pastor to use the gospel to inform all aspects of church life. Conversion is based upon the gospel, but so is the obedient step to be baptized. Further, baptism helps someone draw a line in the sand and commit themselves to the congregation. Baptism can set expectations for a young believer.

As I studied the Irish ministry of Thomas Patient I could not help but think he would have registered his church on the Nine Marks website! I was particularly pleased to learn that those congregations are still in existence today…over 350 later! If the goal is to plant a church that lasts, follow Thomas Patient’s lead and plant a church committed to regenerate church membership.



[1] John Rogers, Ohel: A Tabernacle for the Sun: or Irenicum Evangelicum, An Idea of Church-Discipline. (London, 1653), 302.

[2] Rogers, Ohel, 302.

[3] Rogers, Ohel, 302.

[4] Thomas Patient, On the Doctrine of Baptism, And the Distinction of the Covenants. (Henry Hills: London, 1654), 17.

[5] Patient, On Baptism, 39.

[6] Patient, On Baptism, 93.

[7] Patient, On Baptism, 168.

[8] Patient, On Baptism, 179.

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Church History

The Virtue of Reading Ordinary Christians

Reading about the lives of ordinary Christians gives hope for how to have an impact on our generation.  Many read about the luminaries, but there is a virtue to reading about ordinary Christians in the past.  Reflecting on the history of ordinary Christians helps preserve our faith, deepen our theology, deeper our understanding of contemporary culture, and is fun.  Yes, fun can be a virtue.  Yes, history can be fun.

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Reading History Preserves Our Faith

I have recently published a book on Thomas Patient (HERE).  Prior to my research I had never heard of Patient.  In many ways, he was an ordinary Christian rather than one of the luminaries of his generation.  In my research I had difficulty determining his family of origin.  It was also difficult to determine his date of birth.  He was a common man.  Little has been written about his life, even within Baptist studies.  However, his story built my faith.  His journey was inspiring.  Patient left his native England for a difficult journey to the American colonies.  He embraced the New England faith only to have his convictions change on the issue of believers’ baptism.  As a result, a warrant was issued for his arrest causing him to flee back to England.  He was a man whose biblical convictions led to greater hardships in his life.  As I first learned of his trials I was also dealing with some hardships due to my biblical convictions.  I saw this man “fight the good fight of faith” (1 Timothy 6:12), which in turn inspired me to greater faithfulness.

Reading History Deepens Our Theology

When Patient returned to England he eventually connected with William Kiffin.  While pastoring with Kiffen he helped shape the First London Confession of 1644.  This confession was the initial Particular Baptist statement of faith.  It was modeled after the separatist confession (A True Confession) of 1596.  Most of the articles in the 1644 confession mirror the 1596 confession.  However, the Baptists expanded their treatment of the triplex munus Christi.  They also add articles on the nature of faith and the gospel.  Further, they also clearly defined their doctrine of believers’ baptism by immersion.  Taking the time to compare those confessions deepened my theology on each issue.

After traveling to Ireland, John Owen returned to England and preached a sermon titled “Steadfastness of Promises, and the Sinfulness of Staggering” to Parliament on February 28, 1650.  Owen proclaimed in his sermon that in Ireland there was only “one gospel preacher for every walled town in the English possession in Ireland.”[1]  He then explained the Ireland “mourneth and the people perish for want of knowledge.”[2]  As a result, Parliament designated funds to send ministers to Ireland.  Thomas Patient answered the call to carry the gospel to the Irish.  As an ordinary Christian, I was inspired by Owen’s and Patient’s evangelistic fervor.  As I read Owen’s sermon and saw how Patient took the difficult road of being both an army chaplain and a church planter my zeal was stoked.  I was in the middle of planting a church and was encouraged that I was doing what Christians have always done.  I was getting to participate in the same mission that Owen and Patient did so many generations ago.

While in Ireland, Patient wrote one of the earliest full-length books on the doctrine of believers’ baptism.  He faced controversy over the doctrine and wanted to explain his position.  He worked to simply provide “clear Scripture evidence”[3] to make his case.  In addition to explaining and apply Bible passage after Bible passage, Patient addressed the theology of the covenants.  In many ways, the Puritans were still in a season of solidifying their views of the covenants.  As I studied Patient’s views I found many unconvincing.  Even though I hold to believers’ baptism, I rejected many of the ways he sought to distinguish covenants in the Old and New Testaments.  However, instead of hindering my theological development while wrestling with Patient’s views, I found reading this history only deepened my theology.

Reading History Deepens Our Insights About Our Contemporary Culture

As the Protectorate fell apart, Patient returned to England.  He then experienced the persecutions of the Clarendon Code resulting in a time in jail.  Patient refused to submit to the Book of Common Prayer and continued to lead outlawed congregations.  These laws gave me a perspective that we are not persecuted in America and Canada.  We might be vilified, but pastors are not thrown in jail for organizing their churches according to their biblical convictions.  However, it also gave me historical warnings that persecution can come to America and Canada.  Watching closely the religious liberty laws being debated and handed down is an imperative for all ordinary Christians.

Reading History is Fun

The enjoyment of history is in my blood.  My father used to take us to Civil War battlefields for our vacation.  In case you are wondering, I actually loved it!  I also loved every second of traveling to another country to find primary sources on Thomas Patient and then spending hours and hours writing this new volume.  However, I am not foolish enough to believe that everyone will find researching history to be fun.  But, we all love good stories.  Good history is about telling good stories.  Even young children have fun learning about the lives of past Christians.  The historical Christian luminaries are inspiring.  But, the common Christians can be just as edifying.  Reading the history of Thomas Patient is an encouraging journey for today’s ordinary Christians.



[1] Thomas Russell (ed.), The Works of John Owen, D.D. vol 1 (Richard Baynes: London, 1826), 91.

[2] Ibid, 91.

[3] Thomas Patient, On the Doctrine of Baptism, And the Distinction of the Covenants (Henry Hills: London, 1654), ii.

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Bible, Church, Gospel Spirituality, Preaching

Thankful for R.C. Sproul

Yesterday an evangelical giant went to be with the Lord. Like many in my generation who have sought faithfulness to the Scriptures, yet also needed substantive answers to genuine questions, as well as longed for a passionate spirituality I found refreshing water in the teaching of R.C. Sproul.

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My first experience with Dr. Sproul was through the book “Holiness of God.” As a young man struggling with youthful sins his book was a needed weight that buckled my sinful flesh under the gravity and majesty of God’s holiness (Exodus 33:19-23). I not only heard God’s call to righteousness (Leviticus 11:44) but also saw its beauty (Isaiah 6:1). Last year our small group leaders used to classic book to apply God’s holiness to our church’s spirituality.

From that book I have spent years digging through Ligonier’s exhaustive catalogue on topics ranging from the Bible to theology to apologetics to church history and to the spiritual life. There were times when I was struggling to find answers to questions in my church, but found them in the ministry of R.C. Sproul. Many in my generation were marked by the cynicism of grunge music, but then found hope in substantive ministries like Ligonier.

Now that I am teaching every week I find my research leads me over and over again to articles and sermons founds at Ligonier.org. The content is always faithful to the text, accessible, and and insightful. The videos, sermons, articles, and lectures on that site are a lasting gift to the church.

When my soul was weak I found strength in R.C. Sproul’s teaching. When my mind was troubled I found truth in R.C. Sproul’s exposition of the Bible. When much of the teaching in our churches was shallow and running from doctrine, we found the beauty of a sovereign gracious God through the ministry of R.C. Sproul.  Today he is experiencing his reward of dwelling with God while singing with the saints, “Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord God Almighty, who was and is and is to come!” (Revelation 4:8). Well done good and faithful servant.

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Bible, Devotional Reading, Gospel Spirituality, Missional Living

Bring Hope to Your Hopeless City

You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. (Matthew 5:14)

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Ronald Reagan described America as a city on a hill because it is the hope of immigrants from for a better life. Do you remember the second Godfather film? There is a great scene after young Vito Corleone flees Italy. He comes through Ellis Island yet must be quarantined due to an illness. His little hospital room faces the Statue of Liberty. The sick little boy sits in his room looking at Lady Liberty and begins to sing a hopeful little Italian tune. Even in his sickness he was hopeful that America would provide him a better life. Lady Liberty was lighting the way!

 

A city on a hill is distinct from those below it. Further, its height communicates superiority in some way. The city above is better than the city below. But, how does the city above relate to the city below? The city above is a hopeful symbol to those below by beckoning them to something superior. Jesus is saying the city on a hill is a symbol of hope. The Statue of Liberty is about hope. Likewise, the church is to be a symbol of hope to the hopeless around us.

 

Our marriages don’t have to be perfect, but they should provide hope for the marriages around us. Our parenting doesn’t have to be perfect, but we should be able to give hopeful advice about how to do it according to the Bible. As employees we should provide a hopeful way forward by being more ethical and Christ-like than others in our office. Christians and the Church are to be symbols of hope for a hopeless world.

 

The gospel is the key to this hope. The gospel is how marriages parents and employees become symbols of hope. Couples dads and middle-managers should strive toward clean righteous living. They should carry out their duties with excellence and transparency and grace. Living according to the Law is a blessing and gives others hope. However, husbands mommies and clerks are all going to blow it. Yet, the good news of the gospel is that God forgives and restores bad husbands lazy parents and dishonest salesmen. As we transparently confess our sins to God we are also able to openly acknowledge our failings to others. We can walk in this freedom because God is “faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9). Living according to the gospel, especially when we fail, gives hope to those around us. Living according to the gospel enables us to be a city set on a hill! Neither unattainable perfection nor phony religion is going to bring hope to our city. Rather, walking in the light when we blow it highlights our hope on the gospel. Walking in the gospel is how we bring hope to our city.

 

Is there a part of your life you are keeping in the dark? Is there a failing that you are refusing to confess to the Lord or others? Have you blown it and now want to quit due to the condemnation you feel? Believe the gospel to the degree of bringing sin to the light. Bring hope to those around you by radically believing the gospel…especially when you fail!

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Jesus is Deeper Still

Hebrews 4:14-16 says, “Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.

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Jesus is a lot of things. He is a King who sees into the future gives us direction on the way we should go. Jesus gives us order. He is also a Prophet who knows what is best and gives us teachings on how we should live. Jesus gives us the truth. But, he is also a Priest comforting us when we are in pain, giving us the right emotions and feelings when we need them.

 

 

The first glorious implication of God being with us is that when we are suffering through pain…we have a Jesus that will comfort us. We don’t just have a King who will bark orders at us, or a Prophet who will scream sermons at us, but a Priest who will sympathize with us and comfort our hurting souls.

 

When we are hurting, Jesus loves us to the degree that he will feel our pain with us. Jesus will identify with your situation when you are struggling. Please hear me, when you are in pain, Jesus feels compassion for you. Immanuel-Jesus is a co-sufferer with you.

 

 

But we don’t naturally believe this when we are in the middle of a painful moment. We don’t instinctively believe God is with us and for us and will comfort us when we suffer pain. This is the great act of faith through pain. Believing he is with us is the first step of surviving pain. Believing he will comfort us is how you not only survive but also mature through pain. At our weakest moments if we look up to him for aid he receives the glory. When we confess our need of him, he becomes the hero. We need him to survive pain.

 

 

Betsie ten Boom suffered through many painful moments in her life. She lost her mother while she was a child and lived with her father and siblings in Amsterdam. Many of you might have read of her family in her sister’s book titled “The Hiding Place.” The ten Booms’ were devout Christians and had a history of serving those in need in their community. When the Nazi’s invaded they converted a portion of one of their bedrooms into a hiding place for Jews fleeing for their lives. Eventually they were discovered and send to prison. Ten days after arriving in prison Betsie’s father died. Betsie and her sister Corrie were later sent to a concentration camp. Sadly Betsie’s struggles continued and she died in the Nazi concentration camp. Before Betsie passed her sister reports that she taught her, “there is no pit so deep that god is not deeper still.”

 

 

Do you believe that? Do you believe that in your deepest pains? Do you believe in your darkest moments, God will be right there pouring out compassion on top of your soul and thus seeing you through those sorrows?

 

 

But how? How does Priest Jesus comfort us in pain? Hebrews 4:16 teaches us to “draw near” to him in order to receive his gracious and merciful comfort. Drawing near is the opposite of pushing away. What Hebrews is saying is that when we are in pain we are to go towards Jesus not away from him. We shouldn’t push him away, but draw closer to him.

 

 

If you want to survive and even thrive through pain, you will only be able to do it if you believe he will comfort you…believe to the point that you draw closer to him rather than push him away. Do you believe that he will comfort you? If so, believe to the point of drawing near to him.

 

 

Jesus is our Immanuel, God with us (Matthew 1:23). He is with us and for us. He is our comforting priest during seasons of pain. He will comfort you so draw closer to him rather than push him away.

 

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Bible, Devotional Reading, Gospel Spirituality, Jesus

The Spirit Empowers, Approves, and Anoints….Jesus

Acts 10:38 says, “God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power. He went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with him.”

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We tend to forget the role the Holy Spirit played in the life of Christ. Jesus “went about doing good” but it was attributed to the power of the Holy Spirit in his life. Therefore, the Holy Spirit empowered Jesus! The Bible clearly teaches that Jesus was God, but it also explains that the Spirit was empowering him during his life and ministry.

The Spirit also had a sealing or approving role. Remember how Ephesians 1:13 teaches us that we are “sealed with the promised Holy Spirit”? In Acts 10:38, the Holy Spirit was similarly putting his stamp of approval on Christ. Darrell Bock says that the Holy Spirit was revealing his choice, much like a “political party puts its stamp on a presidential candidate, so here God has shown who will accomplish his plan” (Bock, 345).

This also leads to Jesus’ commentary about his relationship with the Holy Spirit. When he was at the beginning of his ministry he went into a synagogue and read from Isaiah 61 saying, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor” (Luke 4:18). The Holy Spirit is the one who was upon Jesus. The Holy Spirit was the one blessing and anointing him for the task at hand. He was validating his office and role, his person and his ministry.

The Holy Spirit related to Jesus by empowering anointing and approving Christ! In short, the Holy Spirit exalts Christ. The Holy Spirit empowered all his gospel works, put his stamp of approval on Jesus’ atoning work, and anointed and blessed Jesus as our Savior!

We tend to forgot about how active the Holy Spirit was in the life of Jesus. But here is the really good news for you and me…that same Holy Spirit is promised you at your conversion. That same Holy Spirit is working in you today to also exalt Christ. The Holy Spirit is our “helper” (John 14:16), but he was also Jesus’ helper.

We have seen the result of his work in the life of Jesus, which gives us hope that we can also walk in faithfulness. We have the same power tool that Jesus possessed!

Do some heart work today. What area of our life is not aligned to the desires of the Holy Spirit? In what ways are you seeking to do things in your own moral strength rather than in the power of the Holy Spirit? Following Jesus’ example, yield to the Holy Spirit’s leading in your life today.

 

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Bible, Devotional Reading, Gospel Spirituality, Jesus

Sola Christus: Our Source for Life

Existentialism is a failure! It is absurd to believe that life has no meaning except what we give it. If we chase the belief that everything is meaningless then we are left with our own futility. The great test of this truth is when we assume something will lead us to joy, yet it leaves us lacking. The gospel teaches us that salvation is not found through looking within, but looking outside of ourselves. We need something outside of ourselves to guide us to joy. We need a Word from God. We need Sola Scriptura.

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If Scripture is our guide, where does Scripture lead us? Christ is the unifying theme of the Bible! The Old Testament looks forward predicting Him, while the New Testament looks back prescribing Him. The Reformers rightly understood Jesus as the solution to our primary problem, Jesus Christ is our Savior from sin.

 

This claim is not initially the Reformers or the Early Church Fathers or even the Apostles, Jesus Himself claims to be our Savior from sin. If the brokenness of this world has broken you, Jesus invites you to come to Him and He will give you rest (Matthew 11:28). If your soul is weary and dry, He invites you to come to Him and find “rivers of living water” (John 7:38).

 

Those of us who have functioned as existentialists know that all the things we sought in order to find rest and life all proved futile. It is a lie to believe sex and money and esteem and good health and knowledge and toys and popularity will bring you lasting rest and life. We don’t need make-overs and more stuff, we need forgiveness and transformation. We need a Savior!

 

The reason Jesus is our rest and life is because He is our Savior from sin. When the angel appeared to Joseph he summarized the purpose of Jesus’ incarnation as to “save his people from their sins” (Matthew 1:21). Jesus did not come primarily as an example, but a Savior from sin. Jesus taught us in Mark 10:45, “For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” Jesus views Himself as more than a good teacher, but as the payment for sin. Further, this isn’t horrific child abuse but the height of loving service. Paul also taught this truth in 2 Corinthians 5:21, “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” Jesus was sinless, but took on sin in order to defeat sin, which moves believers from the category of guilty to justified. Peter also emphasized Jesus as our Savior in 1 Peter 3:18, “For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God.” Jesus saves us from our sins in order to make us right with God!

 

Further, the Bible is clear that Jesus is our only Savior. Jesus is explicitly exclusive! He said in John 14:6, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” One can argue that all religious roads lead to the same place, but to make that argument, they are concluding that Jesus is a liar. Jesus is our Savior from sin, and Jesus is the only Savior.

 

These truths about Jesus are the primary message of the Bible, but the Reformers purified the church of false teaching. Protestants understand that our salvation is through Christ alone, but the mechanics of this salvation is that Jesus imputes righteousness to us rather than infuses righteousness within us. Jesus saving us from our sins doesn’t mean we never sin again, rather it means we have moved from a guilty category to a justified category. For example, God says that He reckoned Abraham righteous (Genesis 15:6). However, after this credit of righteousness, Abraham still committed some pretty scandalous sins. Thus, we can conclude that God did not, like a surgeon, make his inner man perfectly righteous. Rather, like a judge, God declares believers righteous through Christ alone.

 

There is no other way to find salvation and thus rest and life than through Christ alone! What a glorious truth! What a wonderful thing to celebrate! What should we do with this truth?

 

First, referring to Jesus, Paul wrote “him we proclaim” (Colossians 1:28). If we find salvation through Christ alone, then we should shout this news to anyone who will listen! Martin Luther said the church is to be a “mouth house.” We are to use objectively understandable words to communicate that salvation is only found in Jesus. This charge is foundational to what it means to be a Christian. If you have been saved through Christ alone, you have the privilege and responsibility to announce Jesus to others.  Proclaim Jesus!

 

Second, the ancient Psalmist sang, “Oh, taste and see that the Lord is good!  Blessed is the man who takes refuge in him!” (Psalm 34:8). Salvation from your sins comes through Christ alone. Lasting rest comes through Christ alone. Abundant life comes through Christ alone. Thus, take refuge in Him and then experience His goodness. Taste that Jesus is good! Our Reformer fathers taught us that the world is futile, but everlasting abundant life is found in Christ alone!

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Bible, Gospel Spirituality, Preaching

Sola Scriptura: Our Needed Guide

Next year marks the 500th Anniversary of Martin Luther nailing his “Ninety-Five Theses” to the Castle Church in Wittenberg. I am a Protestant rather than a Catholic for very convictional reasons, thus we celebrate this moment in our history. Our church is not hostile to Catholicism, but we chose to be Protestant due to essential doctrines of the Christian faith. The early Protestants rallied around what became known as the “5 Solas.” “Sola” is Latin for “alone” and these doctrines outline the exclusivity of 5 essential beliefs. This article is the second in a series of articles on the “Solas” of the Protestant Reformation.

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2 Timothy 3:16-17 reads, “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.” This passage describes the quality of Scripture as “profitable.” It also explains the purpose of Scripture: teaching, rebuke, correction, training in righteousness/godliness, in order for people to carry out the good works they were created to do. What a tool! However, this passage also explains the source of Scripture. The Bible is not ultimately from humans, but rather from God Himself. God breathed out the Bible from within the core of his being. Protestants believe that God spoke through human authors to give us the Bible. This passage has enormous implications for the Protestant view of Scripture.

 

Protestants view the Bible as inspired by the God. This means we believe the Words of Scripture are the Words of God. Further, we also believe the Scriptures are infallible. The infallibility of Scripture means that in all matters of Christian faith and practice, the Bible is wholly true and useful. We have a distinction between our Catholic friends who believe Popes and even the Catholic Church are infallible. Protestants cannot find verses in the Bible to support the Catholic claims. Further, we believe the Bible is also inerrant. If the Bible comes from a holy God, then it would be a contradiction to claim there are errors in the Bible. God is holy and righteous and thus truthful, thus His Word always tells the truth and is never in contradiction with fact. If one pushes beyond superficiality, we discover that theologians understand this doctrine to apply to the original autographs. This doctrine also leaves room for relative things like grammatical constructions. The key takeaway for Protestants is that we view the Scriptures as the Word of God. God does not lie in little things and thus we can trust Him for all things.

 

You might be thinking, “ok, thanks for the theology lesson, but what does this mean for my life?” Glad you asked! Sola Scriptura means the Bible trumps all other authorities in our life. Sola Scriptura does not claim the Bible as the only authority but the rather the ultimate authority. For example, tradition and reason are authoritative. Wisdom says we ought to listen to those who have gone before us. I should humbly learn from Aristotle and Jefferson. I should cherish the Second London Confession and ancient liturgy. Additionally reason and science are good and helpful determiners of truth. If science says that smoking cigarettes causes lung cancer, I shouldn’t smoke them and should seek to limit their use.

 

However, we also know tradition and reason have their shortcomings. Slavery was an institution handed down from the ancients. Racism is not a uniquely American problem. It is a historical fact that racism and slavery are human problems. Both are wicked traditions. Further, the historical record shows reasonable and even scientific arguments were developed to justify racism and slavery. Eugenics was viewed by many as an acceptable science and its arguments were used by southerners in the 1860’s, abortionists in the 1920’s, and Nazi’s in the 1930’s! Clearly humans need something outside of us to referee our developed traditions and our attempts to discover truth through science and reason. The Word is our ultimate authority and thus a truly gracious gift from God!

 

The Word is a central biblical theme. In Genesis 1 God creates all that is by speaking it into existence. We read in Ezekiel 37 that the Word of God generates life. We learn that the man after God’s heart is to delight in this Word (Psalm 119:16). Leaders guide the spiritual lives of the people by explaining and applying the Word (2 Timothy 4:2).

 

We celebrate the biblical Protestant doctrine of Sola Scriptura because we need an authority outside of ourselves. Sola Scriptura gives us a needed guide. Sola Scriptura is a sweet grace of God that leads to our conversion. Sola Scriptura also leads to a joyful spirituality.

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Bible, Church, Devotional Reading, Gospel Spirituality

Luther’s Purifying Flame

500 years ago a glorious spark was fanned into a flame. On October 31, 1517, Martin Luther nailed his now famous “Ninety-Five Theses” onto the Castle Church in Wittenberg. Some, even now, view this flame as destructive. However, the houses it burned down needed to be destroyed. This was a purifying fire, a return to the biblical gospel.

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I love Martin Luther. Even his imperfections are endearing because they teach me that God uses imperfect people. Luther was brilliant and brave and certainly bombastic.  He wrote masterpieces like “On the Bondage of the Will,” translated the Bible into German, and brought the church home to the gospel. The Reformer also boldly stood up to the church when they threatened his life. He refused to recant but rather stood on the truth of the Bible and declared, “Here I stand. I can do no other.”  Luther said things like, “Be a sinner and sin strongly, but more strongly have faith and rejoice in Christ.” More than anything, Martin Luther was faithful. In fact, his faithfulness to the Word of God was used by God to purify the church’s understanding of the gospel.

 

The church is to guard the gospel, yet had corrupted the gospel! The Bible progressively moves forward a redemption story which climaxes in Jesus. Bread crumbs were dropped throughout the Old Testament pointing the reader to Jesus. The Law taught us we are sinners, blood was always shed for these sins, but the blood never seemed to cover all the sins. Jesus then came and lived a perfect life in order to be that perfect blood sacrifice for us. The gospel says we no longer try to earn our place in Heaven through our many good works, rather we trust in Jesus’ one good work. This gospel is not looking within for righteousness, but looking to Jesus to make us righteous.

 

But, in Luther’s day, these truths were corrupted. Famously, the church was selling indulgences and telling people that they could pay money in order to get themselves (and their loved ones) out of a made up place called Purgatory! These were wicked lies. People were desperately turning to the church to learn how to enter Heaven, but were being manipulated for worldly gain. Luther’s “Ninety-Five Theses” set out to debate these teachings.

 

Earlier in life he was a zealous monk marked by much confusion and even terror. Yet, Luther came to understand the gospel clearly through faithful study of the Bible. Romans 1:16-17 says, “(16) For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. (17) For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith, as it is written, ‘The righteous shall live by faith.’” Initially Luther hated this passage because he thought the gospel meant God revealing his righteousness by punishing sinners and rewarding the righteous. He struggled because he knew he was not righteous but a sinner. Luther’s glorious discovery was that those who trust on Jesus passively receive God’s righteousness as a gift even though they didn’t earn it! The gospel is about believing in Jesus’ good work and thus receiving God’s righteousness!

 

This Fall we will celebrate the 500th Anniversary of Luther’s posting of the “Ninety-Five Theses” with a series of articles on the Five Solas of the Reformation. These Word-saturated gospel-grounded truths are why we are proud Protestants. These doctrines are the answers to the most important questions. As you read these articles, I pray the fire of your own heart is enflamed by the pure gospel.

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Book Review, Children, Gospel Spirituality, Redeemer Church

BOOK REVIEW: The Ology

Periodically I do a little book review in order to equip readers for the practical works of service the Lord provides each of us (Ephesians 4:12). Parents, particularly fathers, we are called to pastor the hearts of their children. Long before there were church buildings and paid pastoral staff and organized Sunday School programmes, children had parents who taught them the truths of God’s Word and how to faithfully live according to those truths (Deuteronomy 6:4-9). Today I want to share with you a resource that has blessed my family as well as how we use the book.

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“The Ology” is written by Marty Machowski and is beautifully illustrated by Andy McGuire. If you are familiar with Systematic Theologies then you will recognize that the book is organized along traditional Systematic Theology categories. It is divided into 11 sections spanning 71 chapters. The chapters are only a couple of pages long. The sections include “The Ology” of: God, People, Sin, Promise and the Law, Christ, Holy Spirit, Adoption into God’s Family, Change, Church, End Times, and God’s Word.

 

I love its intentionality to grab the larger redemptive message of the Bible. It is helpful that each chapter is only one to two pages in length, thus can be read in just a couple of minutes. The Adoption section is a strength because it helps children understand what the gospel accomplishes in our lives. My favorite section is the seven chapters on Change. This book explains spiritual growth and sanctification from a distinctively biblical approach as well as a gospel-grounded approach. Children, like adults, need to know how to live faithfully as well as what to do when they mess up.

 

After our two children bathe, brush teeth, and get into PJs we give 15 to 20 minutes to praying, talking, reading, and singing. We vary our reading, but lately it has been to read a biblical type reading (like “The Ology”) then something fun. Our readings stir up good conversation, but we also take time to simply take about their days. I then pray for the kids, and my wife sings with them. Most nights I spend time with the children separately but some evenings I gather both of them together. It can feel chaotic at times and some nights we skip, but I have to admit that it is my favorite part of my day.

 

Last Spring I began reading “The Ology” with my 7-year-old daughter during our bedtime routine. She reports that she loves the pictures. McGuire provides truly beautiful illustrations. Apparently my daughter is concentrating as I read because she said that she loves the “detail” of his pictures. The way Machowski explains complex ideas is also a highlight for her. My daughter told me that she gets into each little explanation and really understands what he is saying. Finally, my 7-year-old also said she loves the verses he provides in each chapter.

Even as I write these words I am blown away by the impact this little book has had on my little girl. I cherish these biblical truths and I cherish time discussing them with my daughter. Dads, especially if you have a preschooler or a young elementary student, I commend to you “The Ology.”

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