Family Values: Scripture
2 Timothy 3:10-17
Rev. Dr. Donna Giver-Johnston
October 15, 2017
This month of October, we are celebrating the 500th Anniversary of the Protestant Reformation. It all started on Oct. 31, 1517, when Martin Luther, seeking to reform the Church from within, nailed 95 Theses on the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg, Germany. In so doing, he ignited a movement, which started the Protestant churches, including Presbyterian. Luther’s 95 Theses contain the seeds of the most important beliefs of the Protestant Reformers. Five Latin phrases, beginning with “Sola” or “only,” emerged during the Reformation to summarize the Reformers’ convictions and became the slogan of the Reformation:
1. Sola Gratia (“grace alone”): We are saved by the grace of God alone.
2. Sola Fide (“faith alone”): We are saved by the grace of God received by faith alone.
3. Sola Scriptura (“Scripture alone”): The Bible alone is our highest authority.
4. Solus Christus (“Christ alone”): Jesus Christ alone is our Lord and Savior.
5. Soli Deo Gloria (“to the glory of God alone”): We live for the glory of God alone.
You will see the 5 Solas pictured on the front of your bulletin cover, which illustrates our church which is Reformed and always Reforming. The 5 Solas are in black and white—they are the pillars of the church and are not changing. But, we are also reforming, that is we are open to how God’s Spirit can move us to new ways of thinking and doing. We can add our own interpretations. So, there are crayons in the pews, if you want to color during worship or take it home to color in the week.
I will preach on each of these topics throughout this month, in a sermon series called “Family Values,” to explore the things that our church family values the most about our Reformed faith.
Today we will focus on Scripture. What is Scripture?
Scripture refers to writings considered sacred or authoritative, contained in the books of the Bible.
What is the Bible? For you? A book of history, a book of rules? A book of prayers? A book of mystery? A book of truth?
For me, growing up, the Bible was a big book that contained the family tree and sat on a shelf and gathered dust. It was not a book that we opened and read from—not at home, and not at church either. In our Roman Catholic Church, there were no Bibles in the pews. Only the priest opened up the big Bible and only he read from it. I grew up thinking that it was so sacred that it was not to be touched by the hands of ordinary people like me.
When I went to Westminster College, a Presbyterian liberal arts college, we had to take core classes, and religion was one of them. Understanding the Bible, taught by Dr. Peter Macky, was a fascinating class. It was as if Dr. Macky opened up the Bible for the first time for me and invited me to come in and have a look around. When I did, I was overwhelmed with the treasures I found there.
Throughout my college years, I kept my Bible close to me, searching it for answers about how to live my life. Sometimes I found guidance and other times I was confused or disappointed. But, the Bible had become a sacred book that had authority and was accessible.
For that, I have Martin Luther to thank. When the Emperor demanded that he recant his teachings, he responded: “Unless I am convinced by Scripture and plain reason—I do not accept the authority of popes and councils, for they have contradicted each other—my conscience is captive to the Word of God.” Martin Luther claimed that Scripture alone is our highest authority. Well, not Scripture alone, but Scripture and plain reason. In other words, Luther wanted us to receive the Word of God, with our hearts and our minds. And Luther did not want us to rely on the authority of the church to interpret the Word for us. It was important that the Word was authoritative, and also accessible to everyone.
So, Luther translated the Bible into German, the language of the people where he lived. He wanted people to have their own relationship with God through God’s word, and not have to go through the priest or pope. Providentially, the printing press had been invented in 1440, so Luther’s Bible and other writings could be disseminated to the people. Luther helped make the Bible authoritative and accessible.
And so, thanks to Luther and the Reformers, we have Bibles in our pews today. We can open up the Bible and read it in our own language. We can study it in Bible studies. We can read it at home for devotions. We can hear it read in worship every Sunday. Today’s New Testament reading talks about the Bible. Paul writes to his student Timothy these words: “All scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, so that everyone who belongs to God may be proficient, equipped for every good work.”
All scripture is inspired by God and useful for teaching and training for righteousness so that everyone may be equipped for good work. The Bible has the authority to teach and train people to do good work.
Someone asked me this week, “So, why is it important that we learn about the Reformation, 500 years after the fact? What does it mean for us today, if anything?”
In the 16th century, the Roman church had all of the authority. The church interpreted God’s Word and told people what to believe. The priests and pope held the truth.
But the Reformers said, the Bible alone has the authority to say what is true and what to do.
But the problem is—whose Bible?
There are about 900 English translations, including King James, New Revised Standard Version, Good News Bible, the Quaker Bible, just to name a few. I wonder if Luther and the Reformers had any idea that the slogan “Sola Scriptura” would turn into “Multiple Messages.” How do we know the truth?
In this post-modern world, monolithic authorities do not exist. People have challenged and overthrown authorities that claim to have the Truth and people have claimed the right to think for themselves.
And yet, today, with a plethora of people and institutions claiming authority, it is hard to know who to trust.
In a world of fake news, alternative facts, and tweets and facebook and 24-hour news alerts, all on our phone, it is hard to know what to believe. Where do we find the truth?
Perhaps now more than ever, we need to allow the witness of the Holy Scripture to speak to us today, to challenge those who claim to speak truth. But, as our reading for today says: Scripture is the inspired word of God. It is not literal or infallible. The Bible is not always consistent or accurate but it still contains the truth and is authoritative.
But how do we access the truth? We do it together and with the help of the Holy Spirit. Notice, before we read Scripture each Sunday, we pray that the Holy Spirit will illumine our reading and help us hear God’s truth. We gather together for Bible study and small groups, so we can together discuss and discern what is the truth.
“What does it mean for us today?” Perhaps a modern day parable will illustrate the value of the Bible.
A young man was getting ready to graduate from college. For many months he had admired a beautiful sports car in a dealer’s showroom, and knowing his father could well afford it, he told him that was all he wanted.
As Graduation Day approached, the young man awaited signs that his father had purchased the car. Finally, on the morning of his graduation, his father called him into his private study.
His father told him how proud he was to have such a fine son, and told him how much he loved him. He handed his son a beautiful wrapped gift box.
Curious, but somewhat disappointed, the young man opened the box and found a lovely, leather-bound Bible, with the young man’s name embossed in gold.
Angrily, he raised his voice to his father and said, With all your money you give me a Bible? And stormed out of the house, leaving the Bible.
Many years passed without seeing his father. He realized his father was very old, and thought perhaps he should go visit him. Before he could make arrangements, he received a telegram telling him his father had passed away, and willed all of his possessions to his son.
When he arrived at his father’s house, sudden sadness and regret filled his heart. He began to search through his father’s important papers and saw the still new Bible, just as he had left it years ago. With tears, he opened the Bible and began to turn the pages. His father had carefully underlined a verse, “And if ye, being evil, know how to give good gift to your children, how much more shall your Heavenly Father which is in Heaven, give to those who ask Him?
As he read those words, a car key dropped from the back of the Bible. It had a tag with the dealer’s name, the same dealer who had the sports car he had desired. On the tag was the date of his graduation, and the words…
PAID IN FULL
The Bible is God’s gift to us, to teach us, train us, transform us into people of God, so that we can do the good work God calls us to do. But, we have to open it first. And when we open it, we find treasures there we cannot find anywhere else. We find the keys to living and loving.
In a country suspicious of difference and fearful of diversity, the Bible says, “Love your neighbor as yourself.”
In a society that built on “Me First,” and “Get Rich,” the Bible says, “Care for the poor.”
In a world of violence and war, the Bible says, “Peace I give to you, my peace I leave with you.”
In a time of increased anxiety and depression, the Bible says, “Come to me, all who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.”
In a culture that rejects God and fears death, the Bible says, “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that whoever believes in him shall have eternal life.”
When the Bible is read in worship, the reader says, “The word of God for the people of God.
It is the authoritative word of God, accessible for all of us, the people of God.
So, with gratitude for this precious gift, in response, we say, “Thanks be to God.”