What True Presbyterians Believe: Sola Fide
For four generations now, members of my family have served in the ministry of the Presbyterian Church. For nearly forty years now, I have given my life to the service of Christ through the Presbyterian Church. I love the Presbyterian Church. However, over the last 15 years particularly, many within the Presbyterian Church have begun to devalue and diminish the great beliefs upon which the Presbyterian Church was built. I am not one of them. Therefore, over these next several weeks, I wish to focus upon the core beliefs, the essential tenets of our great Presbyterian/Reformed faith in the hope that you will join me in standing firm for “What True Presbyterians Believe. ” Today I focus upon Sola Fide—faith alone.
Look with me at what happened on the Monday before the crucifixion of Jesus …
Jesus went to the Temple in Jerusalem, and what He saw there caused Him to explode in anger. He was angered by the whole business of the money changing. You see, every Jew had to pay a Temple Tax at the time of the Passover. But that tax could not be paid with the currency normally in use because those coins had on them engravings of the Roman Caesar. Therefore the money changers were there to exchange this unsuitable currency for coins which bore engravings of the Temple. The problem was that they charged an exorbitant fee to make the exchange and thus were exploiting the people who had come to the Temple to worship God. Furthermore, according to the Temple rules, any animal offered, as an atoning sacrifice for sin, had to be without blemish, and the Temple authorities made it clear that only animals purchased through the Temple itself were acceptable. Needless to say, the Temple merchants charged a king’s ransom for the purchase of their animals—more abuse, more exploitation. As a result, and this angered Jesus all the more, the Temple had become a place of such bickering and dickering, such bargaining and arguing, such immorality and unrighteousness that the people who genuinely wanted to meet God found it impossible to do so. When Jesus saw that, His passion for purity exploded within Him. And then armed with nothing more than a cracking whip and a blazing tongue, Jesus proceeded to turn over the money tables, set the animals free, and send the Temple hucksters scattering like a flushed covey of quail. He cleansed the Temple in order to restore it to its original purpose. It was a costly thing to do. It cost Him first His popularity and then His life. But He was so committed to God’s Word, God’s will, and God’s way that when He saw what was wrong, He could not stand idly by. He had to hit it and hit it hard. Yes, he did.
I suggest that we must do the same. The greatest danger we face in our church today is not that we shall become fanatical but that we shall become lukewarm, insipid, indifferent. The danger is that we shall allow the size of the problems facing us to simply overwhelm us and render us useless in the face of them. The danger is that we shall be spectators rather than participants in the fight against sin and evil, both in the church and in the world. The danger is that we shall be silent when we ought to speak up. [I am reminded here of words spoken by Dr. Billy Graham. He said, “Our motto as Christians too often seems to be: ‘Stay aloof. Don’t get involved. Let somebody else stick his neck out.’ In the face of all kinds of conditions, screaming to be rectified, too many of us find ourselves afflicted with moral laryngitis.” Dr. Graham is right and I would suggest that, in a time like this, moral laryngitis is a sin. Quite clearly, I think, the story of the cleansing of the Temple is a direct warning of that fact.] This story calls us, like Jesus, to possess a passion for purity, and by the power of Jesus, we must strive for all we are worth for holiness and righteous not only in our own lives but in the church of which we are a part. I ask you to follow with me the logic of that theme for a few minutes now . . .
When we. through our faith in Jesus Christ, strive to live lives of holiness, purity, and righteousness then we are commending the Christian faith to the world.
You see, by the lives we live and by the church of which we are a part, we are continually either commending or condemning the Christian faith to other people. To be sure, there are many today who would accuse the church of being filled with hypocrites. Of course, that’s true. We admit it. We are under no illusion about ourselves. We make no false claims as to who and what we are. We know that we are imperfect. But we believe that imperfect people ought not to be encouraged to be more imperfect. Instead, we who are imperfect ought to be challenged to constantly strive toward attaining the ideals of Jesus Christ, for it is in the striving that we are made better and stronger people. All too often these days even in the church we hear people say, “I can’t change. I was born this way, and because I was born this way you have to accept whatever I do.” How absurd! The fact is, dear friends, all of us were “born this way.” All of us were born with the propensity to do things which God regards as wrong. That is precisely why Jesus came into the world in the first place. No human being, no human thought, no human belief, no human behavior is beyond the reach of the transforming power of Jesus Christ. Jesus accepts us just as we are. Yes, but Jesus does not leave us just as we are. Jesus changes us, and Jesus enables us to strive to live with purity, holiness, and righteousness.
That is what true Presbyterians believe. Throughout our history as Presbyterians, our great confessions of faith have made that belief crystal clear. Let me give you a sampling just to make the point: The Scots Confession (1560): “For as soon as the spirit of the Lord Jesus, whom God’s chosen children receive by true faith, takes possession of the heart of any man so soon does he regenerate and renew him so that he begins to hate what before he loved and to love what he hated before. The sons of God fight against sin, sob and mourn when they find themselves tempted to do evil, and if they fall, rise again with earnest and unfeigned repentance. They do these things not by their own power but by the power of the Lord Jesus apart from whom they can do nothing.” The Heidelberg Catechism (1562): “What does the Seventh Commandment teach us? That all unchastity is condemned by God and that, we should therefore detest it from the heart, and live chaste and disciplined lives, whether in holy wedlock or in single life. Since both our body and soul are a temple of the Holy Spirit, it is His will that we keep both and pure and holy.” The Westminster Confession of Faith (1647): “They, who are effectually called and regenerated, having a new heart and a new spirit created in them, are further sanctified really and personally through the virtue of Christ’s death and resurrection. By His Word and Spirit dwelling in them, the dominion of the whole body of sin is destroyed, and the several lusts thereof are made more and more weakened and mortified, and they are more and more quickened and strengthened in all saving graces to the practice of true holiness without which no man shall see the Lord.” The Confession of 1967: “The relationship between man and woman exemplifies in a basic way God’s ordering of the interpersonal life for which He created mankind. Anarchy in sexual relationships is a symptom of man’s alienation from God, his neighbor, and himself. The church as the household of God is called to lead men out of this alienation into the responsible freedom of the new life in Christ.”
Dear friends, that is what we, as Presbyterians, have always believed and taught. Therefore in a world and in a church gripped by moral confusion, we who claim to live for Christ must strive to live like Christ. In our lives the authority of Christ must be absolute or it will become obsolete. We cannot commend the Christian faith to others unless we are striving constantly to make our behavior consistent with our identity as children of the Heavenly Father, unless we are striving constantly to make our church a beacon of purity, holiness, and righteousness through the power of Jesus Christ.
Also, when through our faith in Jesus Christ, we strive to live lives of holiness, purity, and righteousness then we are defending our Christian faith from the world.
The burning passion of Jesus was to defend God’s house against the intrusion of the sinful and secular world. He was determined to keep the Temple for God’s intended purpose: a place of purity and righteousness, a place where people could encounter the reality of God. I think it is no accident that the only time Jesus ever used force in His ministry was not to drive sinful people into the Temple, but to drive profane people out of it. Therefore, we must ever give ourselves to defending the Christian faith and the Presbyterian Church from the creeping intrusion of the secular culture and world around us. We must strive to keep the church and the faith pure and holy. The dustbin of history is littered with denominations which have ceased to call people to holy, noble and righteous living. The same, I fear, may be happening to us.
Let me speak straight from my heart. There are those within the Presbyterian Church today who seem bent on denying our heritage and destroying our beliefs. For example, there is right now in our denomination a strong move to work around or defy what our Presbyterian Constitution dictates: that eligibility for ordination as pastor, elder or deacon requires fidelity in marriage or chastity in singleness. In other words, unrepentant sexual sin, be it heterosexual or homosexual, would no longer be a bar to ordination to the leadership offices of the church. We are being pushed to adapt to the realities which exist in the society around us rather than calling that society to adjust to the realities which come from God. If that pattern of logic prevails, then the Presbyterian branch of the body of Christ will cease to exist. But I declare to you that the powerful and faithful witness of the Presbyterian Church so clear in history is worth preserving now. [You see, I love the Presbyterian Church. I was born, not in a hospital, but in a Presbyterian manse. I was brought up by Presbyterian parents. I was taught the stories of Scripture and the songs of faith in a Presbyterian Sunday School. I was educated in a Presbyterian college. I was trained in a Presbyterian seminary. The Presbyterian Church introduced me to my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. I have given my entire adult life to the service of Christ through the ministry of the Presbyterian Church. God willing, it will be from a Presbyterian Church that my body shall be taken when the last trump shall sound, and I am called to my Heavenly home.] To those on the other side in our denomination, let me say: I dare you to question my Presbyterian heritage, my Presbyterian commitment, my Presbyterian belief. However, I cannot stand idly by. I cannot remain silent when the purity of the Presbyterian Church is being diminished, and when Christ’s call to holy and righteous living is being devalued. As long as God gives me breath, I will continue to proclaim what we as Presbyterians have always cherished, upheld, and believed. In the name of Jesus Christ then, I plead with you now to join me in defending this church which we so dearly love.
We can do it. Yes, we can.
I’ll be through in just a few minutes now. But may I please summon several witnesses who will confirm what I’m trying to share? Let’s call Samson. “Samson, where are you going”? . . . “I’m on my way to fight 1,000 Philistines.” . . . “Samson, what kind of weapon do you have”? … “I have just this bone—the jawbone of a donkey.” . . . “Well, Samson, you can’t fight anyone with that.” . . . And what did Samson say? Samson said, “Yes, I can!”—and with the power of God and the jawbone of a donkey, Samson overcame a thousand.
Let’s call Moses. “Moses, what are you going to do”? . . . “The Lord called me to deliver His people from slavery.” . . . “Well, Moses, what do you have”? . . . “Just this rod.” . . . “Moses, what are you going to do with that rod”? . . . “I’m going to stretch it out over the Red Sea and part the water to make the land dry, and I’m going to touch the rock and make the water flow out of that rock so the people won’t die of thirst.” . . . “Moses, you can’t do that with a rod.” … And what did Moses say? Moses said, “Yes, I can!”—and with the rod and God together, Moses delivered God’s people from slavery.
Let’s call Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. “What’s going to happen to the three of you now”? . . . “Oh, we’re going into the fiery furnace, but the Lord is going to deliver us.” . . . “But you can’t be delivered out of a fiery furnace.” . . . And what did the three of them say? They said, “Yes, we can!”—and when the king looked into the furnace, he saw Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego walking around in the flames unhurt, and there was a fourth figure in the fire and He looked like a Son of God.
Let’s call Jesus. The disciples said, “Lord, Lazarus is sick.” . . . He’s not sick enough. . . . “Lord, he’s dead now.” .. . He’s not dead enough… . “Lord, he’s been dead for four days. By now he’s stinking.” . . . Ah, just right. . . . “Lord, you can’t do anything about a dead man.” And what did Jesus say? Jesus said, “Yes, I can!” and Jesus called out, “Lazarus, come forth,” and the dead man came out. Let those 5 words forever dispel your doubt.
Yes, let’s do call Jesus. “Jesus, what are you going to do”? . . . “I’m going to be crucified. I’m going to die for the sins of the world, and on the third day, I’m going to rise again.” . . . “Jesus, you can’t do that.” And what did Jesus say? Jesus said, “Yes, I can!”—and on the third morning He grabbed death by the collar and shook death until death turned Him loose, and then He cried, “All power in Heaven and on Earth has been given to me. I am He that was dead, but now I am alive, alive forevermore.”
To us today, Jesus Christ says, “I will build my Church.” He can. He does. And He calls us to join Him in that great venture. Because He can, we can. Yes, we can. Yes, by the power of Christ, we can. So I am here today enlisting recruits for the Presbyterian Can-Do Army of the Lord. Our motto is: “Yes, we can.” We can do all things through Christ who strengthens us. I am asking you to sign on today for the Presbyterian Can-Do Army of the Lord. I am asking all of you who are able right now to stand up, right where you are. This is the Presbyterian Can-Do Army of the Lord. What’s our motto? “Yes, we can.” What’s our motto? “Yes, we can.” Other people may tell us that we can’t do this or we can’t do that, but we will answer, “By the power of Christ, yes, we can!”
Too many denominational officials today have become paralyzed by the structure and transfixed by their positions so that they seem to have lost sight of the dynamic, life-changing, death-defeating mission of Christ to the world. There are many who say that you can’t change that. But we are true Presbyterians, and what do we say? We say, “Yes, we can.”
Too many churches today have cast aside the sound and powerful belief system found in the Book of Confessions, the center piece of our Constitution, and instead have adopted the secular values and political agendas of the world around us. They say, “You can’t stop that.” But you and I are true Presbyterians, and what do we say? We say, “Yes, we can.”
There are many people in the Presbyterian family today saying that the damage is too extensive; the wound in the Body of Christ is too deep; the differences are too wide; the Biblical witness is too stifled; the unbelief is too wide spread; the constitutional ideals and principles are too diminished—and it’s too late to overcome that. But we are true Presbyterians, and what do we say? We say, “Yes, we can.”
Yes, we can. We can do all things through Christ. What’s our motto? “Yes, we can.” Following the word, the will, and the way of our Lord Jesus Christ, we can change things. Yes, we can. Yes, we can. Yes, we can! And by the power of our Lord Jesus Christ, yes we shall!
Soli Deo Gloria.
To God Alone Be the Glory
Amen and Amen