Back to the Standard
by Bob Burridge ©2018
My grandfather on my mother’s side was known by everybody as “Kenneth Henderson”. To me he was just “Grampa Henderson”. When he was young, he was taken in by a family in New York State as a orphaned child. He was one of the riders on the Orphan Train. That was a welfare program in operation from 1854 to 1929. Children who needed families were transported on a train across the country to find homes for them.
Long after he had married and his children were grown up someone came across his birth certificate. It probably had been stored away in the home of his adoptive parents. The written document had a different first name. He was born “Kennedy”, not “Kenneth”. He had grown up with a wrong name.
That old truth had been forgotten and replaced by a simple mistake he grew up with. In this case it wasn’t a serious error, but finally he knew the name he had been given at birth. Thanks to finding the original document the wrong information could be corrected.
There was a time when the written truths of God’s Word had been confused too. These truths had been replaced by doctrines thought up by human writers and church councils. In this case it was a very serious error. In God’s providence men moved by the Holy Spirit were able to gather up copies of the Books of the Bible. They studied them to see if what the church was teaching was really true. They found that not all that was believed by the teachers of the church was what God had said. These men were the “Reformers”. They studied hard to “re-form” what they believed by going back to the written documents God himself had given us.
One of the significant leaders of that movement was Martin Luther. He was a church scholar who struggled with a sense of his own moral guilt. He knew that it was impossible for a perfectly Holy God to simply ignore the times when he failed to be obedient. This awareness led him to deep fears, self-beatings, and tears of shame and agony. His knowledge of God’s truth was limited. The Bible had been hidden from the people by the church in the 16th Century. It was virtually unknown to most of the ministers of the church.
Luther was overwhelmed when he saw a complete copy of the Bible for the first time. It was chained to a podium at the University of Erfurt. For ten years he poured over the Scriptures in search of what God had actually said. He couldn’t find support for many of the teachings presented by his church. Instead, he rediscovered in that Book the truth that we are justified by God’s grace through faith, based upon the work of Jesus Christ and nothing else. That grace enables a person to truly learn to live for God’s glory. That’s what sparked the Great Protestant Reformation.
It was clear to him that there was only one way to set the people of the church free from the bondage of their grieving souls, from the grip of sin, false teachings, and manipulative leaders. They had to learn and to trust in the infallible promises and grace of God actually revealed in Scripture.
He wanted the church to test its teaching by the Bible alone, and to submit to what they find there. The church needed to be re-formed back to it’s original form.
Luther drew up 95 Theses, statements for scholarly debate. On October 31st, 1517 he had them posted on the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg. It was the eve of All Saints Day (November 1st) when people from all over Europe came to that cathedral. They believed they would receive special blessings by looking on the relics, attending Mass, and by doing various kinds of penance. Luther saw that these religious exercises were absent from God’s word. His Theses were circulated and drew attention to a message that had been confused.
By God’s grace, we stand in the tradition of that great “Reformation”. We live in a time when God’s word is more available than ever before in history. Printed copies are available everywhere, digital copies are on our computers, tablets, and cell-phones. We also live in a time when the teachings of most churches are not based on an honest reading of that word of God.
The infallible word of God must be the test of all we believe as true, and of all we accept as morally right.
Moses wrote in Deuteronomy 29:29, “The secret things belong to the LORD our God, but the things that are revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may do all the words of this law.”
We can’t know all the intricacies in the infinite mind of God. His reasons for how his plan unfolds in time can’t be fully known to us finite creatures. God hasn’t told us everything behind what he commands and explains.
Our duty is to obey what God has said and recorded in his revealed word. The term “law” in this verse isn’t limited to the ceremonial practices given to Israel at Mt. Sinai. The word there is “Torah” (תורה). It means all the instructions God gives us including the moral principles. We should be cautious of what people tell us God says in his word, until we check it out.
The believers in Berea were commended for their efforts to check out what they heard being taught by Paul and Silas when they visited there. They compared the teachings with the written word of God. Acts 17:11, “Now these Jews were more noble than those in Thessalonica; they received the word with all eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so.”
God’s words are our guide. They define the path we’re to take in our lives, both our thoughts and our actions. The principles God teaches us in the Bible are there to shape our desires, choices, and attitudes. What we look at to guide us needs to be tested by that written word, and some things will have to be re-formed back to the original form God gave us.
Paul reminded Timothy of this important fact in 2 Timothy 3:14-17, “But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. 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 competent, equipped for every good work.”
In chapter 4 he continued with a warning that applies all too well to our situation today. 2 Timothy 4:3-4, “For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths.”
Many are still taken in by unbiblical ideas. They are taught in our churches, websites, podcasts, TV and Radio programs, rallies, seminars, books, and magazines. We are inundate by a flood of information which needs to be checked out, not just accepted as God’s truth. We need to be like those Bereans.
More than half a millennium after the Protestant Reformation:
– there are still some that offer ceremonies and rituals as the way of salvation.
– many are still promoting a salvation from the penalties of sin by things we do, rather than by just what Christ did.
– some teach that God is waiting for our permission to restore our fallen hearts.
– some add the reasonings of church councils and visions to the words of the Bible as sources of truth.
– some play to our emotions to get people to submit to their teachings rather than presenting God’s word accurately to them.
These churches, writers, preachers, and teachers aren’t necessarily trying to deceive. Some are probably very sincere, but were poorly taught what the documents of Scripture actually teach.
There is a serious need for re-forming things back to the original documents God gave us in his written word
First, we need to be willing to reform our own beliefs and practices.
– We go to the Bible alone as the test for what’s true and right, and to set our priorities.
– We recognize that it’s our faith in Christ’s redemption, not our deeds, that makes us right with God.
– We humbly thank God for his unearned grace as the foundation for our standing with him.
– We trust in Jesus Christ alone for our righteousness, and for his intercession to God the Father on our behalf.
– We order all our thoughts and entire lives to be centered on promoting God’s glory, not our own.
But we don’t only need to reform our doctrines about God and Salvation – as vital as those are. We also need to re-form our homes, our personal lives; our thoughts, and how we manage our time and possessions. We have grown up in and live in a society with beliefs and practices about how things should be in our personal lives. These include our views of marriage, education, church, occupations, money management, child raising, and so on. There are also challenges where those who hold differing views of these argue that they have the only right way and that all others are wrong.
It’s crucial that we submit what we have heard and accepted to the test of Scripture. What does God say about it?
– Husbands, do you self-sacraficially lay down your own preferences for the good of your wife? We’re told to love our wives and Christ loved the church and gave himself for her. (Ephesians 5:25)
– Do you wives advise your husbands, and help them in their responsibilities as Genesis 2:18 tells us? The submitting to husbands in Ephesians 5:22 is not about inferiority. It’s about respecting his God-given responsibilities as we should respect all the duties God assigns to others.
– Do we manage what we have for the promotion of God’s glory and kingdom? or just for our own pleasures and interests? All we earn and possess is an entrustment of God to be used responsibly for his glory.
– Do we see each of our tasks as something to be done as part of God’s plan, not as just disconnected chores.
– Do we come to worship services with an attitude of specially honoring God, or is our focus on our friends and keeping up with the scheduled activities of the church.
It’s one thing to reform our beliefs and doctrines, but very challenging to restructure our personal attitudes and lives to re-shape them back to the form given to us in the Bible.
We should also encourage others to re-evaluate their lives by submitting to a careful study of the Bible. This should be done because we care about them, and we should deal with their misunderstandings with love. God’s truth and honor should be the focus, not just winning an argument or debate.
Luther was concerned about the deceived people of the church, not just about arguing with deceived teachers. He translated the Bible into the German language of the people. He wanted them to be able to see what God said, not just what Priests told them he said. He hoped that even the teachers of the church would re-examine their beliefs in light of God’s written word.
As reformers today, we need to be good examples and encouragers of others to re-form their beliefs and practices.
The Apostles were an example of submission to God’s truth. The people of the churches in Thessalonica also became examples of how we should receive God’s word. 1Thessalonians 1:5-7, “because our gospel came to you not only in word, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction. You know what kind of men we proved to be among you for your sake. And you became imitators of us and of the Lord, for you received the word in much affliction, with the joy of the Holy Spirit, so that you became an example to all the believers in Macedonia and in Achaia.”
Just as my Grandfather found his real given name when the original document was checked, we need to get back to the God’s original teachings in the written Scriptures. What we grew up with and have been told isn’t always what’s true. God’s word is true. Our duty is to re-form our beliefs and practices back to the form given in those original documents: God’s Holy Word.
(Bible quotations are from the English Standard Version unless otherwise noted.)