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By Scripture Alone (with the church, experience and common sense)

lutherbibel

One of the big things we celebrate today – 31 October 2017 – Reformation Day – is the rediscovery of the Word of God as the supreme rule of life and doctrine.

Scripture Alone

The Reformation was a question of authority but it was also a question of freedom and life. To exist with anything else as your ultimate guide is to be enslaved to a harsh and unstable master who cannot give you life. Only the Truth sets you free. Only from the mouth of God are the words of eternal life. Only the Word is the powerful seed that brings a hundred-fold harvest.

  • As Martin Luther came to see, the church of God had been enduring a long captivity to itself – a bondage to the rules of men which was nullifying the Word of God and obscuring the grace of God in Christ (Mark 7:1-13). He saw himself as cutting through an overgrown thorny thicket of tradition to get back to clear pure Word of God.
  • As for our hearts, passions, emotions, Luther saw clearly that they were utterly wicked and deceitful, a source in themselves only of filth (Mark 7:14-23). He certainly wouldn’t have had a lot of time for the modern obsession with ‘following your heart’ or judging everything by our experience of ‘what works’ or waiting for an ‘inner voice’ before we do anything – that is slavery to ourselves. The Bible is where we hear God speak.
  • Also reason, which Luther saw as the highest of human faculties, is deeply corrupted (Rom. 1:21). Luther personified human thinking as ‘Madam Reason’ a prostitute who leads humanity staggering astray, intoxicated by thoughts of our own brilliance. Only in Scripture did Luther find light piercing the darkness of the human condition, “assertions more sure and certain than life itself and all experience” (Bondage of the Will).

Praise God then that five centuries years ago, like King Josiah 2000 year before them (2 Kings 22), many men and women in Europe (you can read the stories of 31 of them here) rediscovered the Word of God – life-giving liberating saving divine truth. As these neglected ancient pages were read and translated into the vernacular and unfolded in pulpits across Europe, the face of God was seen (2 Cor. 3:15-4:6) and the voice of God was heard (1 Thess. 2:13).

That’s why the Bible is central to all we do at iServe Africa and to the apprenticeship experience. We want to be reading and feasting on the Bible. We want to be praying Bible prayers. We want to be preaching through the Scriptures and helping each other do that as faithfully and winsomely as possible. We want our training programme to be guided by and full to bursting with the Scriptures. We want the Bible to be getting into our hearts, flowing through our veins, changing our priorities and vision of God, ourselves and the world.

Scripture Alone is never alone

We need to be careful of a misunderstanding here. When the reformers 500 years ago declared ‘Sola Scriptura’ they were not saying that the Bible was the only source of all that can be known (a non-Christian scientist can discover something true about the universe). They were talking specifically about salvation through Christ alone by grace alone. This gospel cannot be discovered by human wisdom (1 Cor. 1:21). Salvation is revealed by Scripture alone, top down.

Also, they were not saying that Scripture is the only authority. They were saying that it is the ultimate authority. This is very important. ‘Sola Scriptura’ meant that all other legitimate authority (particularly church authority) is a delegated authority exercised under and in conformity with and through the Word of God. Scripture is to be the ‘norming norm’ (the rule by which all other creeds and claims are tested and corrected); the transformer and undergirding of all power relationships; and the sanctifier of all areas of life and sources of truth.

This is very important because it means that there is still a place – an important place – for the church, our experience and for common sense.

  • The Bible itself lifts up the church as the centre of God’s plan and the apple of his eye (Eph. 1-3; Zech. 2:8). The church is God’s mission agency. The church is where we are to grow together in Christlikeness (Eph. 3:18; 4:12-16). The letters of the New Testament are almost all written to churches with the ‘you’ being a plural (nyinyi) not to individual Christians. That’s why iServe Africa loves to partner with local churches and serve the local church and connect apprentices to local churches where they can be nurtured and grow and experience mutual blessing.
  • The Bible itself points us to experience as key to Christian growth. Timothy was tested and proven through practical service on the field with Paul (Phil. 2:22). Paul himself talks about the intense trials he endured forcing him ‘not to rely on ourselves but on God who raises the dead’ (2 Cor. 1:9). Then he talks of how he was given a painful lingering trial ‘to keep me from becoming conceited’ (2 Cor. 12:7). These are things that you cannot learn in a classroom. Paul knew his Bible extremely well but he needed physical experiences to push his heart into a deeper practical experience of his own weakness and God’s great grace. He needed to be humbled. This is why the practical service component of iServe Africa is so crucial. You can do Bible studies on servant leadership but it’s all theory until you actually get on the ground and have to serve under less-than-perfect leadership and experience the rising indignation in your heart and have to wrestle with pride and submission. There, in the rough and tumble of human relationships, that is the crucible where the Lord will work on you to make you more like the Son. Certainly the Bible-work is essential. Without that we won’t be able to interpret our experiences and will just react to suffering in a natural human way. But the experience is also vital. Together – word and experience – is a powerful change greenhouse.
  • And finally the Bible also leaves room for sanctified common sense. God has given us a mind and he wants us to use it. Certainly human wisdom and rational thought can never reach out to God but there is such a thing as common sense and sometimes the children of the world have more of it than the children of light. Proverbs is full of it. For example, it is not faith to continue in a business venture that is clearly failing, imagining that tomorrow God will bring a breakthrough – that is foolishness (Prov. 22:3; 28:19). Luther, despite his mocking of Madam Wisdom, was perfectly happy to use common sense logic arguments throughout his writings and would often give his friends very earthy practical wisdom. At iServe Africa, we try to clear away some of the mystical and super-spiritual nonsense that clouds our thinking and to give apprentices some useful wisdom and practical ministry skills.

So at iServe Africa we want to be people of one book – the Word of God – and that very book sends us to the church, out into the world to serve and grow, and to common sense.

If you’re a fresh graduate and want to be part of the iServe Africa apprenticeship programme then why not apply for our December/January intake.

About andyharker

Andy is a sinner saved by grace.

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