July 16, 2007
The Masters Program
The Point of View - A Weekly Commentary by Bob Shank

Dear Marketplace Friend,

    You've got to know how I'm wired to take this in the right way. Personally, I'm into folks getting along. I'm not into "splinter groups," when the distinctions that define their positions are an ideological exercise in microcosmic hair splitting. I've watched marriages disrupted by minutia; there's more to gain in accepting differences of opinion on nonessentials than in dissolution by division.
    Proof? I spent four years of personal prime-time as the senior pastor of a church that had been founded on a difference of opinion, rather than on a doctrinal distinctive. During my tenure, I became a student of our origins... and concluded that those differences were between people who were no longer involved, on either side of the split. My last "official act" in my pastoral administration was to set in motion the reunification of the two churches that shared spiritual DNA... but had been living apart for 15 years.
    Okay, that said, it was a big week in the "news," on the Christian front. How big? Really big. How likely are you to know that? Pretty unlikely. The only mention I've heard - beyond the buried-in-the-first-section report - was in Jay Leno's monolog, three days later. Okay, Shank... whassup?
    Here it is. Direct quote, headline: "Pope restates the primacy of his church." The article that follows gave the details of the divisive declaration: "Christ established here on earth only one church. The other communities cannot be called 'churches' in the proper sense because they do not have apostolic succession and therefore their priestly ordinations are not valid." The bottom line? "...other Christian communities (ie., non-Catholic churches) are either defective or not true churches and that Catholicism provides the only true path to salvation..."  Oops. That church you attend is defective; not a "true church," unless it's Catholic.
    Sincere men and women of faith gave their lives 500 years ago in what came to be known as the Protestant Reformation. These were people who had come out of the Catholic religion believing that there were essential differences that were rooted in two irreconcilable positions regarding the nature of the faith founded by the Lord Jesus Christ, and entrusted to the human leaders who followed him.
    Martin Luther, Ulrich Zwingli, John Calvin, John Knox and other serious followers of Jesus - who were the Reformation's leaders - raised a flag over their camp that bore five bullet points:
    1) "Sola Scriptura," or, Scripture Alone. The Bible alone - and not fallible men - is the sole authority for all matters of faith and practice. Enjoy your English Bible? Thank the Reformers...
    2) "Sola Gratia," or, Salvation by Grace Alone. The Catholic offer of salvation was tainted by the demand for works; the Reformers held Ephesians 2:8-9 - "by grace, not by works" - as valid.
    3) "Sola Fide," or, Salvation by Faith Alone. How does one obtain the grace, to save? It's by faith, not by virtue of your works, but even faith is given as a sovereign gift, from God alone.
    4) "Solus Christus," or, In Christ Alone. The contemporary actions of the church - with the focus on the Mass - are not the basis for salvation. Jesus finished the work on the Cross...
    5) "Soli Deo Gloria," or, For the Glory of God Alone. Why did God do the marvelous work of salvation, benefiting all who would believe? Salvation has been offered as it is, by God, for His Glory alone... and all that we are, say and do subsequent to our redemption should be for His deserving honor and praise.
    Martin Luther nailed the memo with his concerns to the church door in Wittenberg, Germany on October 31, 1517... but Pope Leo X responded on June 15, 1520 with his condemnation of Luther's views as incompatible with those of the Catholic construct. Today, Pope Benedict XVI has voted with Leo X...
    When Americans lose touch with the Founding Fathers, continued freedom becomes vulnerable. When Protestant Christians lose touch with the Reformers, continued freedom in Christ becomes vulnerable. We didn't bring it up - he did - but, now that it's on the table... where do you stand??
    I'm still holding my ground under the flag of the Reformation; how about you?

Bob Shank


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