Pastor’s Viewpoints, “The Protestant Reformation… Still Reforming”

“The Protestant Reformation… Still Reforming”
The Rev. Lou Tiscione, Pastor, Weatherford Presbyterian Church (PCA)
The faithfulness of an Augustinian monk changed the church. Martin Luther nailed 95 theses on the Castle Church in Wittenberg, Germany on October 31, 1517. The Pope sent a cleric to Germany to raise money for building St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome. The cleric was Johann Tetzel. He summarized his message by the saying, “As soon as a coin in the coffer rings a soul from Purgatory springs.”

Luther was outraged by connecting salvation to giving money. As Luther studied the Bible to teach it, the doctrine of justification by faith alone became clear to him.

God caused Luther to see that the gospel revealed the perfect righteousness of God which He imputes to a sinner. He does so only by faith alone, Romans 1:17; 3:28 and 4:4-5. The Latin term is Sola Fides. Luther said that when he understood the doctrine of imputed righteousness it was as if the gates of Paradise opened and he walked through.

In addition to Sola Fides, four additional biblical doctrines were recovered from the Scriptures. They are: Sola Gratia, by Grace Alone; Solus Christus, by Christ Alone; Sola Scriptura, by Scripture Alone and Soli Deo Gloria, to God Alone be Glory. The Five Solas reflect God’s plan of redemption. They had been taught by the church until the Middle Ages. The Reformers recovered these doctrines and faithfully taught them as the “faith that was once for all delivered to the saints”, Jude 3

The second Sola, Sola Gratia, means by grace alone. The Bible teaches that salvation is by God’s grace alone. All men are sinners, born dead in sin. We have inherited the sin nature of Adam. Genesis 6:5 and Romans 3:10-18 are two passages that teach man’s total bondage to sin. Paul’s letter to the church in Ephesus makes this fact clear. Salvation is by grace through faith, Ephesians 2:8. Even the faith that Christians profess is a gift of God’s grace. Salvation from start to finish is solely by God’s grace.

The Protestant Reformers did not originate new doctrines. They did not offer an alternative perspective on salvation. They declared and taught the plain truth of God’s word. The Reformation was a providential blessing from God through which the truth was recovered. The magisterial church in Rome had perverted the truth of the gospel. Today, the truth of God’s salvation is taught in every true Church and it can be said that the Church is in an ongoing state of reformation in accordance with the word of God.

Yet there was a main issue that concerned the great Reformers. It was authority. The Latin phrases Solus Christus and Sola Scriptura which mean respectively, by Christ Alone and by Scripture Alone, emphasize the rightful source of authority. The Reformers asked the Scriptures, “Who has supreme authority the Church or God?” Of course, we would all say that God has supreme authority. The Bible reveals that God is absolutely sovereign. The Bible also reveals that Jesus Christ has all authority in heaven and on earth, Matthew 28:18. The Reformers saw that the Roman Church usurped God’s authority and held God’s people in bondage.

To state the issue of authority clearly, Christ is the King and Head of His Church. He exercises His Kingship and Lordship through His word, the Bible. The Bible is the ultimate authority of all life and salvation. All men live under the word of God.

Of course, there are many authorities over us. God established the church, civil government and the family. All derive their authority from God’s word. His word, the Bible is the ultimate Authority and Christ is the Supreme King and Ruler. Men possess a granted authority. When men usurp God’s authority, it is invalid.

The four Solas described above reveal God’s means of redemption. Men are saved by grace alone, through faith alone in Christ alone as God has revealed it by Scripture alone. The fifth Sola describes God’s purpose for redemption. Soli Deo Gloria, to God alone be glory. God’s own glory is His purpose. Everything is ordained by God for His glory. Isaiah 42:8, “I am the LORD; that is my name; my glory I give to no other, nor my praise to carved idols.” And, Romans 11:36, “For from Him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen.” Life is not about us; it is all for God. Soli Deo Gloria!

Pastor’s Viewpoints, “The Sovereignty of God”

The Sovereignty of God”
The Rev. Lou Tiscione, Pastor, Weatherford Presbyterian Church (PCA)
Have you ever asked yourself, “Who’s in charge of _______ (you fill in the blank)?” When the evil of men is observed, this question of authority rises to a higher degree of relevance.

Rather than answer the question, we would often rather fix the blame. We blame everyone from society to God. We blame everyone except the actual perpetrators. Concerning fixing the blame, there are still some who blame America for 9-11. The fact is, evil men flew planes into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, murdering thousands.

It is reasonable, even necessary to investigate fully what happened. It is prudent to seek ways for the prevention of such evil in the future. But, placing the blame in the right place or studying prevention still does not answer the question, “Who’s in charge?” Since, I believe the question is so important, I’d like to offer the answer and then explain my basis for it.

God is in charge! By the plain meaning of the word, “God”, He must be in charge or He’s not God. God has absolute authority over all His Creation, even the evil one, Satan, is under God’s authority, CF Job 1,2.

God has revealed His Character, Name, in the Bible. The Bible is God’s self-revelation. He has revealed His character by way of declaring His attributes. One of God’s attributes is His sovereignty.

Years ago, a man in a church that I served was concerned about using the word “sovereignty”. He said no one understood that word anymore. My response to him was that we shouldn’t stop using words because people may not understand them. Rather, it would be more edifying if we explained the meaning of important words such as sovereignty. (The organized church has been tasked with building up the body not reducing it to the lowest common denominator, CF Ephesians 4:11-16.) It is this word, sovereignty, which provides the answer to our question. We know God is in charge because He is sovereign. Jesus said “All authority in heaven and earth” had been given to Him, Matthew 28:18. Jesus’ declaration to His disciples is a statement of absolute authority!

God not only revealed His sovereignty by declarative statements such as Matthew 28:18, but He also revealed it through the historic narratives. One such historical narrative is recorded in Daniel 4:34-37. The human author, Daniel, a faithful worshiper of God, recorded an incident that involved a king who thought he was the be-all and the end-all. The king’s name was Nebuchadnezzar. He was a ruthless man, king of the ancient Babylonian Empire. This king had a very confusing dream about a huge tree that “a holy one from heaven” ordered to be chopped down. God empowered Daniel to interpret the dream. Daniel’s interpretation predicted that the king would be humbled until he acknowledged the one true God. The tree in the king’s dream was him.

After a time, because of the king’s pride, God drove him mad. He made him act and appear like a wild beast. At the time appointed by God, the king’s senses returned to him. Daniel recorded what the king said. Nebuchadnezzar said this about God, “His dominion is an everlasting dominion, and His kingdom endures from generation to generation; all the inhabitants of the earth are accounted as nothing, and He does according to His will among the host of heaven and among the inhabitants of the earth; and none can stay His hand or say to Him, “What have You done?”’

This radical statement was spoken by a pagan king. The king was humbled by God and caused by Him to see the truth. He declared that all creatures are under the sovereign authority of God. He rules over every man’s actions and He holds him responsible. This great and mighty ruler who thought he was a god was used by God to declare His absolute authority.

Unfortunately, many churches erroneously teach that God’s sovereignty is somehow qualified by man’s “free” will. Yet, the Bible says God will make even the mighty submit to Him either now or when Jesus returns. God is sovereign whether or not man submits to Him. God’s rule is absolute. God is in charge regardless of whether we think He is or not! Jesus is Lord of lords and King of kings, whether we believe it or not. This is our comfort in the face of evil. S.D.G. (Soli Deo Gloria)

Pastor’s Viewpoints “False Prophets”

“False Prophets”
The Rev. Lou Tiscione, Pastor, Weatherford Presbyterian Church (PCA)
In our declining western culture, some have been manipulated to think that character doesn’t matter. One of the symptoms of cultural decline concerns the importance of character. We are told it’s not appropriate to look into someone’s past to determine how he or she might act in the future. As opposed to this, the Christian Faith is a step into the light not a leap into the darkness. We who are Christians don’t possess a blind faith. We trust in what we have “learned, firmly believed and been convinced of” 2Timothy 3:14. Christians trust in the Person and Work of Christ revealed in the Scriptures.

Jesus had much to say concerning character. He provided direction concerning determining character. He taught His disciples how to live as citizens of the Kingdom. The Church under King Jesus is to live by His teaching in His Sermon on the Mount.

You will find this greatest sermon ever preached recorded in Matthew’s Gospel, Chapters 5 through 7. The entire sermon was a teaching that Jesus gave to His disciples. Matthew set the context on a mountainside. Jesus saw the crowds that were following Him, and He went up on the mountain and then sat down. Matthew 5:2, “And he opened his mouth and taught them (his disciples) …”

This sermon was given by Jesus not as another Law but to describe His ethic or practice. In other words, Jesus laid out the standard of life in His Kingdom. He lived what He preached. The purpose of His Sermon is to drive those who have been born again to their knees. We who profess the name of Christ do so by the sovereign grace of God who has raised us from death to life. We read the sermon and realize that it presents an impossible life-style. We are compelled to rely upon the power of the Holy Spirit of God in order to live the Christian Life. Jesus was the only one who actually lived in accordance with His sermon. Nevertheless, the ethic of Jesus’ sermon is not for some future time or supposed age. It is the economy of life for every citizen of the Kingdom now!

The verse concerning a person’s “fruits” is near the close of Jesus’ sermon. He declared that there will be false prophets. He said that these false prophets will look and dress like sheep but will actually be wolves. These wolves will seek to devour the sheep. The sheep represent the people of God. The wolves naturally, are those who are opposed to God and seek to destroy God’s people. Note that this condition is within the visible church.

The Bible is God’s word to His children. But, it is absolutely and universally true for all men. What the Bible says, God says. What God has said is binding on all people regardless of whether or not it is believed. Jesus declared a universal truth concerning the recognition of character and genuineness within the visible church or wherever character must be assessed. An individual’s character is not found in eloquence or erudition, real or imagined. It is not found in appearance, popularity, or charisma. Character can be assessed by looking at past behavior. In order to discern a man or woman’s character it is necessary to study his or her past behavior. A man’s past actions are his “fruits” in accordance with Jesus’ words.

False people have “rotten fruit” produced by their past actions. Sometimes these false people actually say things that might be true. They may be lifted up by those who have ulterior motives. Jesus said look at what they have produced before determining their genuineness.

The Church needs leaders who are genuine. A man of character will necessarily understand his need to live penitently before the Holy God. He will regularly confess his sins to God and trust in His forgiveness in Christ Jesus. It is critical that the church choose men of character to be Elders for the spiritual growth and well-being of her members. What is taught ought to be matched by what is lived.

So then, we have the words of our Savior to direct us in recognizing the sheep and more importantly recognizing the wolves who come to us dressed as sheep. “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. You will recognize them by their fruits.” Matthew 7:15-16a

Pastor’s Viewpoints, “The Purpose of the Law”

“The Purpose of the Law”
The Rev. Lou Tiscione, Pastor, Weatherford Presbyterian Church (PCA)
The law, “was added because of transgressions, until the offspring should come to whom the promise had been made, and it was put in place through angels by an intermediary,” Galatians 3:19. Paul was referring to the Ten Commandments. He said the law was added because of sin.

The Apostle John wrote that sin is lawlessness, 1John 3:4. The Westminster Shorter Catechism defines sin as “any want of conformity unto, or transgression of, the law of God, “question and answer no. 14.

The Ten Commandments are recorded in Exodus 20 and Deuteronomy 5. The first part concerns man’s relationship to God. The second provides the basis for men to co-exist.

Even in society, the importance of law is reflected. All cultures depend upon what is called the rule of law. Removing law condemns a society to destruction. Therefore, we expect our leaders to submit to the rule of law as a guard to our freedom. A good example of the rule of law is the Constitution of the United States of America. It is the basis for our rule of law. No one is above the law nor is the principle of due process ever suspended.

God’s Law and Civil Law carry blessings and curses, blessings for obedience and curses for disobedience. As God created man and woman in His image, we have a moral code in our hearts. All men have a knowledge of right and wrong. The Ten Commandments specify what is right and wrong because they reflect the character of God. At its root, the Law of God expresses His grace and is part of what is called, the Covenant of Grace.

Why do we need the grace of God in the Law? As Paul said, it was given by God because of sin. The sinfulness of man leads to law breaking. No man can keep the Law perfectly. Fundamentally, God gave the Law to demonstrate man’s need for a Savior, who would keep the Law perfectly. The Bible reveals God’s grace through the Law. “But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons,” Galatians 4:4.

Law provides additional benefits for all mankind. God’s common grace toward all is experienced by the rule of law in providing for relationships, contracts, economic prosperity and in summary the pursuit of life, liberty and happiness.

The Christian Church since the Reformation has taught that God’s Law has three uses. They are: first, to bound sin, second, to point to Christ and third to provide the guide for the Christian Life.

The Old Testament also reveals two principles regarding the Law. God said blessing results from obedience and curse is the result of disobedience, Deuteronomy 11:26-28. God declared that His way was the better way.

The importance of the Law will also be seen in the end of this world. The sign of the end will be apostasy. “Let no one deceive you in any way. For that day will not come, unless the rebellion comes first…” 2Thessalonians 2:3. Paul was straightening out false teaching concerning the end of this world. Rebellion against God will be the first sign of the end. The visible sign of rejecting God is rejecting His Law.

History also records man’s awareness of his need for law. One example is the Code of Hammurabi, the ancient law code of the first Babylonian Dynasty ruled by Hammurabi circa 1728-1686 B.C. Much of his code parallels that of the Pentateuch, the first five books of the Bible. Egyptian, Greek and Roman civilizations likewise depended on the rule of law. As law broke down, those civilizations ceased to exist. They became unable to fight against invaders. Western civilization and especially our United States will also stand or fall as a result of adherence to the rule of law.

In summary, without law we will perish. Because of God’s Law we are shown our desperate need for a divine Savior. May we commit to stand for the blessing of God’s Law and all law proceeding from it. May submission to the rule of law reflect the desire to do justice, love kindness and walk humbly with our God, Micah 6:8. Jesus said, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” John 14:15