Last Sunday we kicked off our ten-week series on the Nicene Creed entitled “We Believe” with an introduction to the Nicene Creed. This Sunday, February 11, 2018, we will look at the doctrine of the Holy Trinity.

Someone once said with regards the Holy Trinity, “Try to understand it and you’ll lose your mind. Deny it and you’ll lose your soul.” Some attribute this to Augustine, but probably not. Still, it sounds like something he might have said. Regardless, there’s much truth in that statement. On the one hand, the doctrine of the Holy Trinity is incomprehensible. But on the other hand, to deny it is to deny the Christian gospel.

In short, the doctrine of the Holy Trinity states that we believe in one God who exists in three Persons—Father, Son and Holy Spirit. The Father is God, but He is neither the Son nor the Holy Spirit. The Son is God, but He is neither the Father not the Holy Spirit. And the Holy Spirit is God, but He is neither the Father nor the Son.

But there’s more… All three Persons of the Holy Trinity are of the same essence—Divine. Furthermore, the Son is eternally begotten of the Father, and the Holy Spirit eternally proceeds from the Father and the Son. And yet, the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit are co-equal and with all the same attributes of holiness, omnipotence, omniscience, sovereignty, and so on. None of the Three has more nor less of these.

Got it? Good. Now please explain it to me so I’ll get it, too!

Math—I’m a math man—is of no help to me here, for how can 1 + 1 + 1 = 1, or for that matter, how can 1 = 3? Nor is physics of any help, either, for theology, by definition, is a metaphysical (i.e., “beyond physics”) discipline as it deals with that which is supernatural. But just because we do not understand something does not mean it isn’t real or doesn’t exist. Take gravity, for instance. It exists, right? If you don’t believe it exists jump off the roof of your house and you will immediately become a believer on your way to the ER! And yet, even the most gifted minds do not fully comprehend it.

Now this I find helpful—somewhat. The doctrine of the Holy Trinity is somewhat like our concept of unity in diversity. Consider the inscription on the back side of most US currency, “E PLURIBUS UNUM,” Latin for, “OUT OF MANY, ONE.” It means that our country is made up of millions of individuals who represent many different cultures, races, beliefs, and so on. But we are one people—Americans.

And no, this analogy is not perfect—no analogy is—to explain the nature of the Godhead (another word for the divinity or substance of the Christian God). But I find that it comes closer than most other explanations I’ve run across.

One last thing. If you don’t care to pick up a good book on systematic theology (sigh!) then I would like to recommend some worthwhile videos to watch. Of all the videos I’ve peruse on the Holy Trinity I find the following series of “3 Minute Theology” with regards the Holy Trinity to be interesting, informative—and concise.

 

 

 

 

1.1: What is the Trinity?

1.2: How could God be Three-in-One?

1.3: What is the relationship between the Persons of the Trinity

1.4: Why does the Trinity matter?

OK, so they’re about 3½ minutes each. Still it’s worth the 14-15 minutes it will take you to watch all four. And you’ll be all the more informed, inspired and enthused for it.

Join us this coming Sunday as Pastor Dan and I teach on the doctrine of the Trinity. I will do the “head” part—theology—and he will do the heart and hands part—why it is important to us and how it shapes who we are and what we do.

Beginning this coming Sunday, February 4, and ending on Easter Sunday, April 1 (no, the Resurrection is no joke!), we will do a ten-week series (includes Good Friday on March 30) entitled “We Believe,” based on the Nicene Creed (325 & 381).  Our aim in this series is to teach the essential doctrines of the Christian faith with emphasis on how these doctrines shape who we are in Christ.  Or as the subtitle of my message this Sunday reads, “We become what we believe.”

So, what does any of this have to do with Rich Mullins?  Much, actually.

 Rich Mullins (October 21, 1955 – September 19, 1997), as many of you probably already know, was a contemporary Christian music artist.  He produced eleven albums from 1981 to 1998 (the last one posthumously).  Among his many hits were “Step by Step,” “Awesome God,” and “Creed,” which was released in 1993 as part of the “A Liturgy, a Legacy & a Ragamuffin Band” album.

You can see a video of “Creed” below, performed by Rich Mullins and Mitch McVicker on April 11, 1997

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The video shown above was recorded five months before Rich was killed in an automobile accident on I-39 in Illinois.  Rich and Mitch on their way to a benefit concert at Wichita State University in Kansas.  Mitch was seriously injured but Rich died at the scene.

“Creed” is based on the Apostles’ Creed, an ancient creed of Christianity describing twelve articles of the Christian faith.  Some believe it was written by the Twelve Apostles shortly after Pentecost (~33 AD).  According to tradition, each of the Twelve contributed an article to it.  And although we don’t have any solid evidence that it was written by the Apostles themselves, it was well known at least as far back as the second century.  Mostly, it is considered to be orthodox, that is to say, it accurately describes the most fundamental Christian beliefs.  Today it is accepted as a reflection of orthodox Christianity by Roman Catholics and Protestants alike.

“Creed,” as composed by Rich Mullins, is a fairly literal rendition of the Apostles’ Creed.  By the way, you can read the words to “Creed” here: http://www.lyricsfreak.com/r/rich+mullins/creed_20175274.html, and the words to the Apostles’ Creed (also the Athanasian Creed and the Nicene Creed) here: https://www.crcna.org/welcome/beliefs/creeds/apostles-creed

But it’s the chorus in “Creed” which I want to focus on.  It goes like this,

And I believe that what I believe,
Is what makes me what I am;
I did not make it, no it is making me,
It is the very truth of God
And not the invention of any man.

Rich Mullins’ faith in God was what made him what he was, namely, a man who exercised his faith both by telling others about it and by giving away the larger portion of his wealth to those in need.  As an interesting aside, he volunteered his time teaching music to poor Navajo children right here in New Mexico.  In every way, then, His faith was his life and his life was his faith.

I would describe his faith as I would describe my own faith or that of any other Christian reading this, which is to say, the Christian faith as described in the Apostles’ Creed and the Nicene Creed.  I paraphrase the Apostles’ Creed here as follows:  Faith in the Father as our Creator, faith in the Son as our Redeemer, faith in the Holy Spirit as our Comforter and the Seal of our redemption, faith in the body of Christ—the Christian Church and the communion of the saints—faith in the forgiveness of our sins by the atoning work of Christ on the cross, His shed blood, His death, and His resurrection, faith in His return to judge the living and the dead, and faith in the resurrection of all Christians onto everlasting life.

Please join us this Sunday to learn more about what we Christians believe and how it makes us what we are.

This coming Sunday we come to the second installment of “Our DNA – God’s vision for our hearts” series by looking at the “Salt & Light” passage in Matthew 5.13-16.  The message will be given by me, Pastor Reinaldo (aka, “CalvinCuban”) and Ryan Prieb, our AnchorYouth Director.  I will focus on the story, the lessons derived from the story, and why/how the story and the lessons from the story should move our hearts to praise God and to love God and neighbor.  Ryan will focus on life applications from the story, the lessons, and the praise.

So here’s the background to the story.  In Matthew 1-4 we read about the birth of Jesus (didn’t we just celebrate that one?), the visit of the Magi (aka, the Wise Men, aka, the Wise Kings), celebrated on January 6, which is when we Cuban kids like me got their toys—personally delivered by Melchior, Gaspar and Balthazar.  But I digress…  Then John the Baptist introduces Jesus to Israel and baptizes Him, followed by His forty-day fast, temptation in the wilderness, the start of His ministry in Galilee, His first sermon, His first miracles of healing, and the selection of His four first disciples: Peter, Andrew, James & John.

And that brings us to the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5, delivered to the masses which followed Him.  Jesus begins with the Beatitudes, a list of nine “Blessed are…” blessings (“happy wishes,” you could say) to the “poor in spirit,” the “meek,” the “peacemakers,” the “persecuted,” and so on.  And then he tells these people, despised by the world but loved by God, that they are—should be—“the salt of the earth” and “the light of the world” and encourages them—us—to be all the “saltier” and “brighter.”  What a blessing, indeed, to be thought of so highly by Jesus, God in the flesh, who was Himself hated by the world He came to save!  If that doesn’t make us “happy,” if it doesn’t motivate us to love and serve the Savior, what will?

And the punch line comes at the end in v. 16, “In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.”  If I read this right it means two things.  First, being “the light of the world” is to be carried out by the Church—you & me—in public, not for self-glorification, but as a glory to God.  In other words, God grants the Church the honor to bring Him glory through our good works, which are the end product of our “saltiness.”

Well, this is a blog, not a sermon, so I’ll save my words until Sunday.  Please join us then as Ryan and I teach on being “salt & light” and how AnchorPoint Church can be the “city on a hill” Jesus spoke of.

Last week I blogged about the Five Solas of the Reformation; think of them as the five "big ideas" of the Reformation (please read my previous blog, "REFORMATION 201 – What Are the Five Solas of the Reformation?). This week I want to write about the aftermath of the Reformation. 

I would love to say, "…and they lived happily ever after!" But the Reformation was not a fairy tale; it was a historical fact. And as with any subject in the field of humanities (the study of human society and culture), history is about people, and when it comes to people there is the good, the bad, and the ugly. 

Speaking of which, here’s my favorite scene from the 1966 spaghetti western, "The Good, the Bad and the Ugly": 

 

More like "The Cool, the Paranoid, and the Idiot," if you ask me! OK, OK…enough with silliness. Mostly. I will give a brief explanation of the aftermath of the Reformation using these three themes—or memes, whichever. 

First, the "bad" (let’s save the "good" for last, like dessert): The worst of it was that for the next 100+ years Protestants were persecuted, many experiencing the worst tortures imaginable and deaths by fire. But in some instances Protestants did some persecuting themselves, even of other Protestants, especially of the Anabaptists (modern day Amish and Mennonites), who were the most persecuted group. And unlike the Anabaptists, the bulk of the Protestants did not exactly turn the other cheek. Instead, they fought back, the worst of it being the Thirty Years War, 1618-1648, a Catholic vs. Protestant conflict, which took place mostly in Germany, and which involved virtually every nation in Western Europe. Estimates of deaths ranged from 3,000,000 to 11,500,000! 

Second, the "ugly" ("ugly" here is like bad but not quite as bad as the "bad" mentioned above). The ugliest thing to come out of the Reformation was that Protestants, almost from the start, could not agree on every doctrinal detail, especially when it came to the two sacraments which all Protestants agreed to: baptism and communion, especially the latter. It was bad enough that at the start of the 16th century the Church was split into three major factions: Roman Catholicism, Protestantism, and Eastern Orthodoxy (the latter split from the Western or Roman Church centuries earlier in 1054). But by the middle of the 16th century and even before Luther died in 1546, the Protestant Church was split into four major divisions: Anglican (England), Lutheran (Germany and Scandinavia), Reformed (Switzerland, and parts of Holland, France and England and, at first, North America), and Anabaptist (mostly in Germany).  

Time and space do not permit providing further details of all this, but suffice it to say that splits turned to splits, which created even more splits so that, according to the World Christian Encyclopedia of Gordon Cornwell University, there are an estimated 40,000 "denominations" today, expected to rise to 55,000 by the year 2025 (please note that 2/3 of these are independent churches which share many common doctrines and practices with each other and with more established denominations, but since they have particular distinctives and are independent of each other they are nonetheless considered separate "denominations"). But even when you factor out independents—AnchorPoint is in this group—we still have about 13,000 distinct denominations today. Even Roman Catholicism breaks down into 242 separate denominations. 

OK, now for the "good" stuff… The best thing that came out of the Reformation was that the gospel was rediscovered and once again preached in the Church. And with the rediscovery of the gospel came the salvation of souls, first in Europe, then America, and later with the advent of missions, in Africa, China, India, and elsewhere around the globe. Indeed, there is hardly a corner of the world today which has not been reached with the gospel (although I would agree that much work remains to be done). 

And the rediscovery of the gospel came with benefits to all humanity, even for those who rejected it. This is what Reformed theologians, in particular, refer to as "common grace," based on Jesus’ rationale for His command to love our enemies, "For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust." (Matthew 5.45) Again, I am constricted by time and space to expand on this, but suffice it to say that many historians credit the Reformation with the rise of democracy, capitalism (including the rise of the middle class and overall economic prosperity), human rights (including religious freedom and the end of slavery), and many, many more "good" things. 

And what about Martin Luther, the Augustinian monk turned Reformer who started it all? Was the Great Reformer himself reformed? Was he "good," "bad," or "ugly"? I believe that if he were here he would admit to being all three. Maybe. I’ll ask him when I see him. I’ll have more to say about him this Sunday, much of which will surprise you! 

So please join us this Sunday for Reformation Sunday and the potluck afterwards. And on this coming Tuesday, October 31, let’s celebrate "Reformation Day." I recommend that when kiddos drop by for "trick or treat," instead of saying "Happy Halloween," try saying, "Happy Reformation Day." Who knows, it might lead to a good discussion on the gospel with your neighbors.

 

 

 Last week I blogged about Martin Luther and how he went from law school student, to monk to reformer (please read my previous blog, "REFORMATION 102 – Why Is Reformation Day Celebrated on October 31?") This week I want to write about the Five Solas of the Reformation. 

But first a primer on Latin… Latin was the language of the Romans. Over time Latin evolved into what today we call the Romance languages: Italian, French, Spanish, Portuguese, Romanian, and a few other regional dialects (English is mostly Germanic in nature but a significant portion of it is derived from Latin). And although Latin died out over time it remained the universal academic language for several centuries. In other words, academics read and responded to each other’s works in Latin. Today English fills that role although the remnants of Latin persist to this day, primarily in the fields of law, medicine, mathematics, theology, and so on (e.g., habeas corpus, gluteus maximus, quod erat demonstrandum, Scripturam ex Scriptura explicandam esse—can you guess what these words mean in English?). 

And for what it’s worth, I learned a little Latin back in 1961-1962 when I was an altar boy in Tampa, FLA (this was before Vatican II changed the mass to the contemporary language of a country). Later I studied Latin in 1964-1966 during my freshman and sophomore years at Jesuit High School in Shreveport, LA. I still remember translating Caesar’s account of the Gallic Wars for a test, Gallia est omnis divisa in partes tres; "All Gaul is divided into three parts." Don’t you wish you could be more like me? 

And for what it’s worth, the right word is solae (plural of sola), not solas, which is the Englishized (another wrong word) version of the plural or sola. Geez, do I have to tell you everything? OK, here’s something else. Sola means "alone" or "only." There! 

But I digress… 

Luther wrote his Ninety-Five Theses in Latin, same as he did with his other major works. Likewise, the Five Solas of the Reformation where written and spoken in Latin. They are:

Sola Scriptura, "Scripture Alone" – 2 Timothy 3.18-17. Scripture alone is the final authority over all matters in the Church, for Scripture alone is "God-breathed." Creeds, writings of the Church Fathers, Ecumenical Councils, and other traditions are well and good just as long as they are in agreement with Scripture.

Sola Gratia, "Grace Alone" – Ephesians 2.8-9. We are justified—declared righteous, forgiven of our sins, adopted as children of God, granted eternal life, …—on the basis of God’s gift of grace alone and not through any merit on our part.

Sola Fide, "Faith Alone" – Ephesians 2.8-9. We are justified—ibid—through faith in Christ’s atoning work alone and not though any other means. Jesus said, "repent and believe the gospel" (John 1.15). Repentance and believing are the fundamental core of faith in the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Solus Christus, "Christ Alone" – 1 Timothy 2.5. Christ alone is our First Love, our Savior, our Redeemer, and our mediator with the Father. Apart from Christ we are destined to die in our sins and suffer for all eternity in Hell as a consequence.

Soli Deo Gloria, "For the Glory of God Alone" – Psalm 57.5. God—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—alone deserves all the glory in the Church. Jesus glorified the Father (John 12.28) with His work of redemption, and we glorify the Father when we bear good fruit for Him (John 14.13), i.e., when God’s grace and our faith yield good works (Ephesians 2.10). 

The Five Solas are not explicitly mentioned together in any document stemming from the Reformation. The first three amounted to the essence or core of what Luther and other Reformers (e.g., Melanchthon, Zwingli, Calvin) taught. The last two were alluded to in their writings and sermons but are equally important.

Speaking of the importance of the Five Solas of the Reformation… These five statements are as important today as they were in the 16th century. Watering down any one of the five, either personally or in the Church, is to water down all five, and to water down the gospel, and to inhibit ongoing reformation. For the Reformers well knew that as long as the Church is made up of people who are, in Luther’s own words, simul justus et peccator ("simultaneously justified and sinner")—and it will be so until Jesus returns—then the saying, ecclesia reformata, semper reformanda ("the church reformed, always reforming") is also valid. In other words, the Reformation of the Church is still going on!  

Next week: REFORMATION 202 – What Was the Aftermath of the Reformation?