Reformation 500: Sola Scriptura

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Reformation begins with the rediscovery of God's Word:

And Hilkiah the high priest said to Shaphan the secretary, "I have found the Book of the Law in the house of the Lord." And Hilkiah gave the book to Shaphan, and he read it.... Then Shaphan the secretary told the king, "Hilkiah the priest has given me a book." And Shaphan read it before the king.

When the king heard the words of the Book of the Law, he tore his clothes. And the king commanded Hilkiah the priest, and Ahikam the son of Shaphan, and Achbor the son of Micaiah, and Shaphan the secretary, and Asaiah the king's servant, saying, "Go, inquire of the Lord for me, and for the people, and for all Judah, concerning the words of this book that has been found. For great is the wrath of the Lord that is kindled against us, because our fathers have not obeyed the words of this book, to do according to all that is written concerning us."...

Then the king sent, and all the elders of Judah and Jerusalem were gathered to him. And the king went up to the house of the Lord, and with him all the men of Judah and all the inhabitants of Jerusalem and the priests and the prophets, all the people, both small and great. And he read in their hearing all the words of the Book of the Covenant that had been found in the house of the Lord. And the king stood by the pillar and made a covenant before the Lord, to walk after the Lord and to keep his commandments and his testimonies and his statutes with all his heart and all his soul, to perform the words of this covenant that were written in this book. And all the people joined in the covenant.

And the king commanded Hilkiah the high priest and the priests of the second order and the keepers of the threshold to bring out of the temple of the Lord all the vessels made for Baal, for Asherah, and for all the host of heaven. He burned them outside Jerusalem in the fields of the Kidron and carried their ashes to Bethel. And he deposed the priests whom the kings of Judah had ordained to make offerings in the high places at the cities of Judah and around Jerusalem; those also who burned incense to Baal, to the sun and the moon and the constellations and all the host of the heavens. And he brought out the Asherah from the house of the Lord, outside Jerusalem, to the brook Kidron, and burned it at the brook Kidron and beat it to dust and cast the dust of it upon the graves of the common people. And he broke down the houses of the male cult prostitutes who were in the house of the Lord, where the women wove hangings for the Asherah. And he brought all the priests out of the cities of Judah, and defiled the high places where the priests had made offerings, from Geba to Beersheba. And he broke down the high places of the gates that were at the entrance of the gate of Joshua the governor of the city, which were on one's left at the gate of the city. However, the priests of the high places did not come up to the altar of the Lord in Jerusalem, but they ate unleavened bread among their brothers. And he defiled Topheth, which is in the Valley of the Son of Hinnom, that no one might burn his son or his daughter as an offering to Molech. And he removed the horses that the kings of Judah had dedicated to the sun, at the entrance to the house of the Lord, by the chamber of Nathan-melech the chamberlain, which was in the precincts. And he burned the chariots of the sun with fire. And the altars on the roof of the upper chamber of Ahaz, which the kings of Judah had made, and the altars that Manasseh had made in the two courts of the house of the Lord, he pulled down and broke in pieces and cast the dust of them into the brook Kidron. And the king defiled the high places that were east of Jerusalem, to the south of the mount of corruption, which Solomon the king of Israel had built for Ashtoreth the abomination of the Sidonians, and for Chemosh the abomination of Moab, and for Milcom the abomination of the Ammonites. And he broke in pieces the pillars and cut down the Asherim and filled their places with the bones of men.

Moreover, the altar at Bethel, the high place erected by Jeroboam the son of Nebat, who made Israel to sin, that altar with the high place he pulled down and burned, reducing it to dust. He also burned the Asherah....

And the king commanded all the people, "Keep the Passover to the Lord your God, as it is written in this Book of the Covenant." For no such Passover had been kept since the days of the judges who judged Israel, or during all the days of the kings of Israel or of the kings of Judah. But in the eighteenth year of King Josiah this Passover was kept to the Lord in Jerusalem.

Moreover, Josiah put away the mediums and the necromancers and the household gods and the idols and all the abominations that were seen in the land of Judah and in Jerusalem, that he might establish the words of the law that were written in the book that Hilkiah the priest found in the house of the Lord. Before him there was no king like him, who turned to the Lord with all his heart and with all his soul and with all his might, according to all the Law of Moses, nor did any like him arise after him.

-- from II Kings 22 and 23 (ESV)

Solomon's Temple still stood, filled with glorious riches. The priestly line of Aaron was unbroken, and priests and Levites continued to make sacrifices and offerings in the traditions that had been handed down to them from their predecessors, going back centuries.

But when King Josiah ordered a renovation of the temple in 623 BC, the Book of the Law was rediscovered. It was read to him, and he responded with grief and repentance, realizing how far his nation had strayed from God's commandments. He made a covenant in the sight of the Lord "to walk after the Lord and to keep his commandments and his testimonies and his statutes with all his heart and all his soul, to perform the words of this covenant that were written in this book." The king purged pagan worship. Under Josiah's leadership the Passover, which God had commanded to be observed annually to remember His mighty deliverance of Israel from Egypt, was observed for the first time since the prophet Samuel's day -- over 400 years earlier.

The restoration of the true worship of God was not accomplished by means of priestly tradition. It was priestly tradition that had led the nation away from God's commandments. The true worship of God was restored when God's written Word was rediscovered.

As in the 7th century B. C., so in the 16th century A. D. Centuries of syncretism and simony had obscured the teachings of Christ and His apostles. The Christians of western Europe were burdened with a mechanistic penitential system that effectively promised salvation for money. The Book, God's Word, was mumbled in Latin if spoken at all, unavailable to the common people in a language they could understand.

But then the Book was rediscovered. Manuscripts of the Scriptures in the original Hebrew and Greek were compiled and published using the new technology of movable type. God's Word was newly translated into Latin, the language of scholarship, and into the vernacular languages of Europe. As clergy, secular rulers, and the laity read God's Word for the first time in centuries, they rent their garments as they realized how far the Church of Rome had strayed from the Scriptures. As in the days of King Josiah, God's Word was the plumb line by which the straightness of doctrine (orthodoxy) and worship (orthopraxy) was measured, and the church was found in need of rectification.

In control systems -- e.g., your car's cruise control, a thermostat, an aircraft autopilot system -- attaining the desired speed, temperature, or position requires constant comparison of the actual condition to the desired, ideal condition. The error between the ideal and the actual is calculated, and a new command is issued to correct for that error, bringing the actual in line with the ideal by means of a negative feedback loop. If no effort is made to compare the actual state to the standard, feedback is impossible, making correction impossible, and causing the actual to drift further and further from the ideal.

The grass withers, the flower fades, but the Word of the Lord remains forever. May those who lead the people of God be ever vigilant to correct teaching and practice by God's Word alone.

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This page contains a single entry by Michael Bates published on October 31, 2017 11:24 PM.

Reformation 500: George Weigel: Reform is re-form was the previous entry in this blog.

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