“The idea behind the conference was to provide San Diego with an opportunity to be introduced to the Reformation and Reformed theology,” explains Rev. Michael Brown, pastor of Christ URC. “We want others to come into contact with biblical Christianity, so this was a vehicle for doing that.”
The conference introduced basic Reformational truth by focusing on the five solas. Dr. R. Scott Clark spoke on three: Sola Gratia, Sola Fide, and Solus Christus. Dr. Michael Horton covered the concept of Sola Scriptura, and Dr. W. Robert Godfrey addressed Soli Deo Gloria. Christ URC’s pastor, Rev. Michael G. Brown, introduced the speakers and monitored a final question and answer session.
All speakers evidenced their thorough theological expertise and engaged the audience. The men know each other well, and their camaraderie was especially evident during the Q & A session.
In his presentation, Dr. Clark noted that the Reformation wasn’t about a lack of grace—the Medieval church was “soaked in grace”—but it was about the meaning of grace. He explained how the church considered grace as “a kind of medicine or stuff” with which you were injected in the seven sacraments, and that this “stuff” enabled you to do your part. He used the analogy of meat thermometer, saying that Luther was constantly sticking this thermometer into himself to see if his acceptance measured up. What Luther finally learned was the truth that justification was not a recognition of what has been accomplished by an infusion of medicine or by pulling ourselves up by our own bootstraps, but a declaration of what has been accomplished once for all by someone outside ourselves.
Going on to Sola Fide and Solus Christus, he said, “We only benefit from this by faith. Faith is the sole instrument that looks away from us and looks to Christ.” Although the Roman church replaced Jesus with other mediators (chief among them, Mary), Luther learned to rest, trust, and lean on the finished work of Christ alone.
Dr. Horton began his talk by correcting a misconception about the Reformation. “It was not a problem of the authority of Scripture, but the view of Scripture and tradition.” He pointed out that Rome viewed the two as different forms of the Word of God, written and unwritten. He referred to the “dogma of implicit faith,” noting that it requires the acceptance of all dogmas taught by the church rather that an act of real faith on the part of the Christian.
“Scripture is authoritative because it comes from the Father, the content is the Son, inspired by the Holy Spirit,” he said. “Candlesticks can be removed.”
As an example of how tradition changes, he cited the 1870 decree making it necessary now to believe that Mary was bodily assumed into heaven. “No basis for bodily assumption is found anywhere in Scripture,” he said.
He quoted extensively from early church fathers regarding the authority of Scripture alone. He concluded, “If any church agrees with the scriptures, that is a Christian church.”
Dr. Godfrey tackled the large topic of Soli Deo Gloria by focusing on the aspect of worship. He began by expounding on the meeting between Jesus and the Samaritan woman, recorded in John 4. He noted that Jesus took her question seriously and responded to her theological awareness in a way that indicated “worship issues are central” and “foundational to the experience and life of God’s people.” The day of the old debate between Jews and Samaritans came to an end in Christ. We no longer worship at the mountain in Jerusalem, but in spirit and truth.
“This doesn’t mean we worship really emotionally,” he said, “but in the Spirit, which he gives to his people without measure so they can enter into worship. In truth, God is seeking worshipers. True worshipers, who worship in truth. No matter how sincere the worship, if it’s not according to God’s word, God is not pleased with it.”
“We must not be wiser than God,” he said, reminding hearers of the Heidelberg Catechism’s discussion on the second commandment. Idolatry is “always the besetting temptation of our hearts. We want more than the Lord has given us because we’re not content.” He compared the attraction of Eastern Orthodox and Roman Catholic worship over Reformed worship to the appeal of a buffet over ham and cheese buns. “But someone has sprayed the whole buffet with salmonella,” he said. “Ham buns are sufficient and safe.”
“We should insist that we’re not going to be led into…idolatries,” he concluded. “This is the heart of the matter of how we give glory to God alone. We treasure his Word. We honor his Word.”
Presenters answered questions regarding the practice of indulgences, the relationship between faith and works in the book of James, and the state of American evangelicalism.
Dr. Horton said, “We’re born Pelagian and we go in that direction, unless we’re taught constantly in the other direction.”
Dr. Godfrey spoke about how revivals replaced the Reformation, with an emphasis on the question of deciding for Christ rather than finding your rest in him.
Organizers were pleased with the turnout, likely a result of effective promotion. Pastor Brown shares, “We spread the word about the conference three ways: 1) Internet and social media. 2) Professional-looking fliers distributed throughout the community. 3) An advertisement on the Abounding Grace radio program that I do every Friday with Rev. Chris Gordon (pastor of the Escondido URC).”
Audio files of opening remarks and conference lectures are available online at the Christ URC website: http://www.christurc.org/conference-lectures.
The above article by Glenda Mathes appeared on pages 10-11 of the November 26, 2014, issue of Christian Renewal.