Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Looking to change the world?

In this month of New Year Resolutions, we often want better! We want to better ourselves, our health, and our world around us. One way that Village Presbyterian is committed to making our community better, i.e. "continuing Christ's mission in the world", is through the Guardian ad Litem Program (Guardian). Through the Guardian program, you get to be the voice, and advocate for, and special mentor to a child who has been abused, abandoned or neglected. Hillsborough county has the most kids in care in any county in Florida (and maybe even greater). These kids have experienced more trauma in their young lives than most adults do throughout their life.... and you can help! GALs visit with their kids, speak up for them in Court, and advocate for services needed through the Department of Children and Families. As we start this new year, consider committing to making the life of a child BETTER!!  Please contact Rev. Michelle (michelleb.vpc@gmail.com) for more information on how you can get involved, and check out -- http://www.galtampa.org/

"Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world." James 1:27

Rev. Michelle

Sunday, January 15, 2017

Sole Gratia

We Reformed believers speak often of the Five Solas of the Reformation.  In this month’s blog I am thinking about Grace. The Greek word translated grace has as its root idea the concept of bringing joy and gladness through gifts.  The Apostle Paul uses this word to refer to the unmerited and freely given favor and mercy which God bestows upon the sinner in salvation.  It is through this grace that the sinner is delivered from sin and judgment.  This grace, though freely given, is precious and costly, for its basis is the atoning death Jesus Christ.  It is granted by the will of God alone upon his elect.  Bonhoeffer in his work The Cost Of Discipleship, warns us against “cheap grace.”

A salvation that is received by grace is quite simply the opposite of a salvation that is earned by working or by obeying the law of God.  A person who is saved by grace has no basis for boasting in his salvation for he has done nothing to earn or merit it.  Those who teach a salvation that is earned or merited through obedience of any sort, have to some degree, fallen from the teachings of grace and have moved into legalism.

This is an ongoing dispute among Christian believers. There are three basic opinions.  A small number argue that there is no grace in salvation.  Others maintain that salvation is mostly of grace.  And still others such as I maintain that salvation is of grace alone, unsullied by works.

That first minority position argues that salvation is nothing but a human achievement. It is based on personal goodness and moral self-effort. This is really characteristic of pagan religions and philosophy.  An early British monk named Pelagius tried to teach pagan moralism as Christian doctrine.  He was condemned as a heretic, and his heresy was labeled Pelagianism. In this heresy the saving work of Christ is not necessary. Pelagius taught that person can save him/herself by leading a good and moral life.

The second position is that salvation is mostly – but NOT all --of grace.  The most common of these schools is Arminianism.  This is probably the most popular position held in Christianity at this time in our history.  It is a core doctrine in Methodism, Catholicism and The Anglican Communion.  Arminianism holds that the work of Christ has made salvation a possibility for all but not a finished reality for any.  In Other Words, God has done His part, and now those who are willing to do their part will be saved.

In the Arminian view, while God has the “major” role in salvation, it is the human contribution to salvation that is the final necessity and makes the difference between heaven and hell.  Under this view, the saving work of Christ is necessary for salvation but NOT sufficient.

Finally, we come to the Reformed (also called Augustinian or Calvinist) view. We hold, on the basis of Scripture Alone, that salvation is ALL and ONLY of grace.  The saving work of Christ is both necessary and sufficient to save sinners. Our view is that the cross of Christ that makes the difference between heaven and hell. Therefore we have no basis for any boasting.  
Even our ability to come to Christ in saving faith is a gift based upon the cross of Calvary. On the cross, Christ purchased -- for His elect, complete salvation.  When a sinner is converted in response to the preaching of the gospel, it is only because Christ has poured out His Holy Spirit upon that sinner to apply to his or her heart the saving power of Christ's death and resurrection.

This view of grace is very humbling, and perhaps that is why not all Christians accept Grace Alone in spite of its strong and clear Biblical basis.  William Temple (Archbishop of Canterbury during WWII) put it best when he said, “The only thing of my very own which I contribute to redemption is the sin from which I need to be redeemed.”

Pastor Jim