Sola Scriptura

The first of the five solas of the Protestant Reformation is Sola Scriptura (Scripture Alone). Although, when we study the history of the Reformation, we rightly pay tribute to the men who were particularly used by God in bringing about that monumental shift in the church that has cascaded down the last 500 years changing the world we must never lose sight of the fact that the actual cause of the Reformation was the Bible.

It was through the study of the Scriptures, particularly Romans 1:17, that Martin Luther came to understand the doctrine of justification by faith. He wrestled and wrestled with that text until at last the breakthrough came and, through the work of the Holy Spirit, he understood that righteousness was God’s gift received by faith. This became known as Luther’s ‘tower experience’ where he encountered God through the text of Scripture and was changed from the inside out. He later wrote, “Here I felt I was altogether born again and had entered paradise itself through open gates . . . That place in Paul (Romans 1:17) was for me the very gate to paradise.”

Later, while hidden away in the castle in Wartburg, Luther translated the New Testament into German in just eleven weeks. It took a further twelve years (with the help of others) to complete the Old Testament. Having the Scriptures in the language of the people transformed the church in Germany. People who lived in darkness and superstition were brought into the light of salvation as the Word of God was read and preached in their own language.

The same thing happened in England through the life and ministry of William Tyndale. The Catholic Church in England would not allow the production of the English Bible, so Tyndale worked in secret in Germany. In 1526, he completed translating the first English New Testament. Despite strenuous efforts by Catholic bishops and other church officials (including the burning of Bibles and people), thousands of copies of Tyndale’s New Testament were printed and smuggled into England.

In 1535, while working on translating the Old Testament from Hebrew into English, Tyndale was arrested and imprisoned. After over a year in jail, he was sentenced to death by strangulation and burning. As he died, his final cry encapsulated his unwavering mission to bring the Word of God to the people: “Lord, open the king of England’s eyes!” Several years after his death, God answered that prayer. The political tide turned in England and Tyndale’s Bible was published.

The work and sacrifice of both Martin Luther and William Tyndale to provide the Word of God in the language of the people was driven by their belief that the Bible is the means God uses to save people from sin and grow them in holiness.

Thank God for his precious Word! But how do we say ‘thank-you’? Firstly, we do so by regularly reading and studying the Bible. How tragic it is to neglect the Book the Reformers paid such a high price to give us. How are you doing in this area? Do you regularly read the Bible?

A second way to say ‘thank-you’ for God’s Word is to give sacrificially so that people who do not yet have the Bible in their own language can get it. Our November Thank-offering at RUC provides you with the opportunity to do this. Most of this offering will go to provide Bible’s for people in the least reached areas of the world. I urge you, as a sign of your thankfulness for the Bible, to give generously. You may do so electronically or by placing your money in an envelope marked ‘Thank-offering’ and placing it in the collection bag on Sunday.

Mandela Month

Every year Mandela Day means lots of attention is given to our projects from corporates for one day only, which can do more harm than good. This year it was decided that we would encourage companies to engage with the projects over a longer period, or contribute to a more sustainable difference… and it worked!

26 companies engaged with us this year, most of whom were new engagements . We engaged with companies like Eskom, Sanlam, Hatch and Old Mutual, Hollard Insurance, Michaelangelo Hotel, Deloitte and Altech Netstar.

Activities varied from a week-long engagement with a child care centre, to renovations and big blanket and clothing drives. We were about to connect companies with  other community organisations, which we partner with in Alex.

Below are some of the Mandela-inspired examples:

Medtronic Africa visited a day care centre for 5 days, taking soup and rolls and reading to the children.

YFM did an extensive blanket driver and live broadcast from Altrek during the Rose-Act holiday club.  The blankets were shared amongst our projects, as well as being given to the Old Age Home, Hospice, Phuthadichaba, Christ Church Christian Care Centre, Ratang-bana and Bathusheng.

American Tower Corporation spent a day cleaning, painting and doing maintenance at House 1.  They purchased a new hob top so that homework club cooking can happen in House 1.

Torre Group invested in Takalani Day Care, doing a complete make-over with painting and repairs.

Public Investment Corporation invested in Ndivoyo with repairs, painting and resources, as well as treating the children to a party with a jumping castle, face-painter, Mandela Cake, party packs and balloons.

Gogo’s of Hope were treated to a movie by Mall of Africa and were given sandwiches, fruit and toiletry hampers prepared by Red Pepper Studios.

Goldfields spent the morning cleaning our offices in Marlboro at House 2.  Capital Group went to the foster family and cooked a dinner, whilst Thirst and Meridian Wine did collections and spent time playing with the kids at House 5.  Bureau Veritas Sandton team collected clothing for the children.

There were several other shorter initiatives too.

We are so grateful for the great interest and love shown to the community during this time . However we are keen to engage with more companies next year, particularly those with an eye to more sustainable longer-term solutions. In most cases, the once-off sugar high from a day of cup-cakes and fizzy drinks is not what Mandela would have hoped for.

‘ In everything I did, I showed you that by this kind of hard work we must help the weak, remembering the words the Lord Jesus himself said: ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’ –Acts 20:35

“There can be no greater gift than that of giving one’s time and energy to help others without expecting anything in return.’

– Nelson Mandela

To understand Martin Luther we need to understand something of the world into which he was born in November 1483. The period of history known as the Middle Ages (approximately 700-1300AD) was characterised by hardship, war and little scholarship. Gradually during the 14th century AD Europe started to experience more peace and stability and there was a renewed focus on learning, literature and art, later known as the Renaissance. People started to question and think for themselves.

The invention of the printing press in 1440 encouraged the spread of new ideas. Prior to this literacy was limited to the upper classes and the clergy, but now books and pamphlets became more readily available and more people learnt to read. Portions of the Latin Bible were printed and ordinary people were able, for the first time, to read God’s Word for themselves. It’s hard for us to imagine a time when only the clergy had direct access to the Bible, but this is how it was until late in the 15th century AD.

TIMELINE:

  • 11 November 1483 – Martin Luther was born in Eisleben, Saxony.
  • 1501 – He enrolled to study law at the University of Erfurt.
  • 1505 – The story goes that he was caught in a thunderstorm and in his fear he called out to God and promised to enter a monastery if he survived.
  • 1507 – He was ordained as a priest.
  • 1510 – He was sent to Rome as part of a delegation from the university and was shocked by what he saw there.
  • 1511 – He became professor of theology at the university in Wittenberg.
  • Luther tried for many years to earn salvation by good works – he fasted, prayed and chastised himself, but he continued to be oppressed by a sense of his utter sinfulness.
  • 1512 – He began to study the book of Romans and when he read Romans 1:17 God spoke to him and he realised that people are saved not by works but by faith – the righteous shall live by faith!
  • 31 October 1517 – Luther nailed 95 theses (propositions for debate concerned with the question of indulgences) to the door of the Castle Church in Wittenburg – in these theses Luther criticised some church practices, especially the sale of Indulgences. This is seen as the start of the Reformation.

An indulgence was a payment to the Catholic Church that purchased an exemption from punishment (penance) for some types of sins. Some of those selling indulgences even claimed that the souls of people who had passed away could be freed from purgatory by the purchase of an indulgence. A large portion of the Catholic Church’s revenue came from the sale of indulgences.

At this time the church believed that only a priest could administer the sacraments and without the sacraments there was no salvation so the church had a very strong hold on the people. Luther’s ideas would loosen the hold of the priests on the people.

  • July 1518 Luther was summoned to Rome to meet with the Pope – Elector Frederick of Saxony got the summons cancelled.
  • October 1518 – Luther had three interviews with Cardinal Cajetan in Augsburg. A papal bull declared some of Luther’s statements heretical without mentioning his name.

papal bull is a specific kind of public decree, or charter issued by a pope of the Roman Catholic Church. It is named after the leaden seal (bulla) that was traditionally appended to the end in order to authenticate it.

He met with Von Miltitz and they seemed to come to an agreement – the pope invited Luther to Rome to make his confession. (Emperor Maximilian died and the pope was involved in the selection of his successor and so left Luther’s fate alone for 18 months).

  • Leipzig debate July 1519. Eck managed to get Luther to say that he did not think Huss was altogether wrong – this meant he was siding with a condemned heretic. From this time reconciliation between Luther and the Roman Catholic church became impossible.
  • 15 June 1520 Pope Leo excommunicated Luther. All his writings were to be burned and he was to be imprisoned.
  • 10 Dec 1520 Luther publicly burnt a copy of the papal bull in Wittenburg.
  • Charles V had been elected emperor – he was a devout Catholic, King of Spain – he summoned Luther to the Diet at Worms in April 1521.

The Diet of Worms in 1521 was an imperial diet of the Holy Roman Empire held at the Heylshof Garden in Worms, then an Imperial Free City of the Empire. An imperial diet was a formal deliberative assembly of the whole Empire.

Luther was allowed to address the Diet and when the emperor demanded whether he would recant or not he is reported to have said: “If the emperor desires a plain answer I will give it to him. It is impossible for me to recant unless I am proved to be wrong by the testimony of Scripture. My conscience is bound to the Word of God. It is neither safe nor honest to act against one’s conscience. Here I stand. God help me. I cannot do otherwise.”

Frederick the Wise organised for Luther to be taken secretly to his castle at Wartburg where he remained in safety for about 10 months. During this time he translated the New Testament into German.

Luther was informed that some of his ‘followers’ were turning to violence and destroying statues, art works, etc in churches in Wittenburg so he returned there to teach them that such behaviour was not in line with Scripture.

  • In 1525 he married former nun, Catherine von Bora.

He wrote the official statement of faith of the Lutheran church in what has become known as the Augsburg Confession.

  • He wrote many books and encouraged the establishment of schools everywhere. He completed the translation of the whole Bible into German in 1542. He also wrote songs and hymns – ‘Away in a Manger’ and ‘A Mighty fortress is Our God’ are two of them.
  • He died on 18 February 1546 at the age of 63.

Luther did not set out to establish a new church or to break away from the Roman Catholic Church. He would have preferred to reform it from within, but when that was not possible he broke away. Many built on his work and went in diverse directions – Zwingli, Calvin, Anabaptists, Mennonites, Amish, etc.

We have the privilege of benefitting from these men of faith and their dedication to serving God according to the Bible.

– by Shelley Seiler

Reformation

On 31 October 1517 a 33-year old university professor by the name of Martin Luther nailed a series of theological propositions and arguments (that came to be called The Ninety-Five Theses) to the doors of the church in the small city of Wittenberg in Saxony, eastern Germany where he lived. “In doing so, he was imagining he would spark a debate in academic and ecclesiastical circles. In actual fact he changed Europe and ultimately the world. Today there are over 800 million people across the globe who could be described as ‘Protestant’ in one way or another. The stranglehold on Christian faith excercised by the Roman Catholic Church through the ministry of the priesthood was broken forever and the Bible became a book that was open to all to read and explore” (Andy Johnston in Convinced by Scripture).

“As the Reformers (Luther and others) looked at the European church, they saw an institution that had wandered from the heart of the gospel. And when the heart of the gospel is lost, the Christian faith is lost. Therefore these men and women were moved to put their livelihoods, homes, fortunes, and lives on the line to restore to the church the essential teachings of the gospel. These have come down to us by five Latin phrases: Sola Scriptura, Solus Christus, Sola Gratia, Sola Fide, and Soli Deo Gloria. Translated into English, they assert that salvation is according to Scripture alone, in Christ alone, by grace alone, through faith alone, for the glory of God alone. Each of these Solas proves to be essential to the gospel. We neglect them to our harm. When the church loses its understanding of these rallying cries of the Reformation, it loses the gospel” (Jason Helopoulos in These Truths Alone).

Rosebank Union Church is an evangelical Protestant church . . . the fruit of the Reformation. We thank God for our heritage and, together with Protestants around the world, celebrate the 500th Anniversary of the Protestant Reformation by remembering the Reformers and, above all, returning to the Scriptures to refresh our understanding of the Five Solas.

It is my deep prayer that the Holy Spirit will use this sermon series to strengthen our faith, sanctify our lives, and spur us on to be faithful witness of this amazing, life-changing gospel.

We live in a beautiful country! My Christian orientation tells me that God, in his sovereign will, orchestrated the birth of our democratic dispensation. Out of a divisive past and disjointed history, we emerged in 1994 as a people bound by the common vision of building a non-racial, non-sexist, democratic country that is prosperous in character, benevolent in spirit, and united in diversity. The hopes of many, particularly those from disadvantaged backgrounds, were raised high as a promise for ‘a better life for all’ became the mantra of the day.

So, I woke up in a new South Africa that had the potential to be great among the nations; led by imperfect, and yet determined leaders, seemingly willing to put the people first (Batho-Pele), and above their personal interests. As Church communities, we pray for righteousness that exalts the nation, for shared moral values that shape a people, and integrity that defines servant-leadership. We believe hard work and honesty, along with faith in God and commitment to serving the people, are essential traits in those who represent us in public service.

Today, however, our country is at the crossroads. Never did I dream that I would, so soon in our democratic order (23 years to be exact), find myself among concerned citizens and leaders of civil society, gathered in a conference to reflect on the future of South Africa. Weeks later I joined a #no-confidence-march to parliament in Cape Town. Somewhere along the journey, erosion crept in and we lost the plot. Values we purported to uphold no longer seem to apply.

Ubuntu, the sheer principle of recognising the worth and the dignity of fellow human beings, is sacrificed at the altar of “me first.” The pervasiveness of corruption both in the private and public spheres, is not only shocking, but evil and an affront in God’s eyes. Lack of a high code of ethics and morality required for public servants is a serious indictment.
The Church is again required to stand up for what is right. We cannot afford to be silent and complacent in the face of the scourge that ravages our nation and steals our future. Yes, we must fast and pray! And at the same time – be ready to speak truth to power!

Nkos’ sikelel’ izwe lethu (God bless our nation).

After nearly six years of “weeping”, there was “joy in the morning” at Rosebank Union Church on Sunday 20 August when Stephen McGown and his wife Catherine stepped to the front of the church.

Stephen was kidnapped by Al Queda in Mali on 25 November 2011 and was held by them in the remote Sahara North until his miraculous release and return to his family a few weeks ago.

Immediately following Stephen’s capture, hundreds of members of RUC began praying for him. Inspired by the American wartime song about tying a yellow ribbon around the old oak tree, one of our members, Frances Cowen, made hundreds of yellow ribbons available at the church. We tied them around trees and shrubs in our gardens and on our gates and doorposts to remind us to pray for Stephen and his family. These faithful yellow ribbons were blown by the wind, bleached by the sun, chilled by the cold, and soaked by the rain. As trees grew over nearly six years, the ribbons bit into their trunks and branches leaving permanent scars as reminders. As we saw our ribbons day by day, we would shoot up arrow prayers for Stephen and his family as well as pray on our knees, in our homes and in our church services. Sometimes there would be more than a year between a proof-of-life video or any news of Stephen and our faith would flag. We wondered whether he would ever be free again. I have to confess that there were times when I began to prepare his funeral sermon in my mind as I despaired of him ever been released.

Then came that glorious day when the news broke: STEPHEN IS HOME! Our private rejoicing found corporate expression at the 10 am service last Sunday when I invited Stephen and Catherine and their family to the front of the church. As one person the congregation stood, and applauded and cheered for a solid three minutes. Weeping had stayed for the long night of nearly six years, but joy came that morning. It was a great Sunday!

When the applause died down I handed the microphone to Stephen who shared is joy at being home and humbly thanked the Rosebank family for our prayers.

Stephen removed the yellow ribbon from the “old oak tree” at the McGown home (see picture) as have many of us, but their need for our prayers remains as they move into the future facing many adjustments.
Stephen’s story is an encouragement to all of us to persevere in prayer for people and situations where we need a miracle. Remember . . .

“Weeping may stay overnight, but there is joy in the morning” Psalm30:5 CSB

The 30th July was our annual “Rays of Hope” Sunday where we have a specific focus on the work of our non-profit organisation working to bring lasting change to the people of Alexandra Township.  Thanks to all the staff and volunteers of Rays of Hope for all the effort they put in to give us a glimpse into the Alex Stories.

The video above is a brief overview of a few of the projects of Rays of Hope.

Thanks to AG2G Entertainment for putting the video together.

One of the disciples (Thomas) asked Jesus a fascinating question. A question that many of us can Identify with. A question that John the author picked up on and dedicated three whole chapters (Ch. 14,15 & 16) to answering. “Lord, we don’t know where you are going, so how can we know the way?” (Jn 14:5). In other words, Lord where are you going? We’ve been with you for three years, we’ve laughed, we’ve cried, we’ve whined and we’ve dined. Our horizons have been broadened and our hearts have been opened. Lord we’ve done life together and now out of nowhere you are just going to leave us! Just imagine the scene amongst the twelve disciples.

“Gents,” Peter says, “the person we’ve given everything up for, is going awol. Caesar Tiberius and the whole political climate is rotten to the core. Religious institutions profit margins are at an all-time low. Frankly, synagogue leaders, sacred priests, scribes and the various legal regulatory boards have had enough of plummeting religious stocks and now they want blood. Lord I’m not saying it’s bad timing but Lord where are you going?”

Over the past few months I’ve sensed the pastors, elders, leaders and my own heart ask a similar question to Thomas. “Lord where are you?” Our nation seems to be in turmoil; our church is thankful for the trickle of authentic conversions but Lord we are desperate for a torrent because so many are perishing apart from you. Lord so many are broken, so many are isolated and lonely, so many are going through the motions. “Lord where are you?”

It was at our mid-year core leadership gathering on Saturday (22 July) where I sensed the Lord say two life altering things to the heart of Thomas. Like the disciples and especially those entrusted with the gift of leadership we can feel “troubled” (14:1), “orphaned” (14:18), “withering” (15:6), “fruitless” (15:2), “hated for no reason” (15:25) and tempted to “fall away”. We constantly seem to project that everything is ok but if we are truly honest, inside we’re either mad, sad, bad or scared. It is this that Jesus wants to transform and it is to this that Jesus says “…I will ask the father, and he will give you another advocate to help you and be with you forever – the Spirit of truth” (14:16-17b). Jesus is saying I may be exalted in heaven and seem far away but you will still have the fullness of my presence with you to help you (14:16), to enable you (15:26), to convict you (16:8), to guide you (16:13), to assure you (Rom 8:15) and to grow you (Gal 5:22-23).

More than this, right in the centre of this deep meaningful conversation Jesus sobers his followers by saying “I am the vine, you are the branches… apart from me you can do nothing.” (15:3). This is the nerve that I believe the Lord touched at this gathering. It was as though God was saying to the leaders, in the midst of what you feel and see it is the Lord’s presence and power you crave.

God may be mobilising the leaders and his people at RUC to take more seriously their time alone with him. To prepare a highway in our hearts. To remove any obstacles of sin and make smooth rough paths through which he can travel more freely. He may be moving us to a season of focused corporate prayer. In the words of Jonathan Edwards I think in hindsight the core leaders gathering was “A humble attempt to promote explicate agreement and visible union of all God’s people in extraordinary prayer for the revival of religion and the advancement of Christ’s kingdom” because we have come to the end of ourselves and realise afresh that “apart from him we can do nothing”, absolutely nothing.

Lord bend me to pray, Lord bend us.

We held our second successful Holiday Club in the July holidays, with over 140 students attending over five days at Altrek, the sports and recreation centre in Alexandra.

As background to these Holiday programmes… a few years ago we decided to concentrate the Saturday academic teaching to just two subjects, English and Mathematics. We identified these as the core subjects that children in Alex need to concentrate on to improve their academic skills and their ability to progress beyond school. But this left a gap in terms of non-academic subjects such as Lifeskills. For this reason, we added extra-curricular activities on Saturdays after classes as well as two Holiday Clubs and the annual camp each year. These are our best opportunities for Christian teaching and instilling Christian values and they have proved to be so influential in shaping our student’ mind-sets and actions.

The theme for THIS Holiday Club was “Who am I? Who are we? Who is Jesus?” We chose this to fit into the national “What’s Your Story” campaign initiated and driven by the Heartlines Media Company and adopted by the Rosebank Union church. Children examined their own stories in the light of the stories of other children…What are the differences between us? How do I feel about these differences? How can I be more accepting of other people who are different from me? What expectations do others have of me and I have of myself? Then they looked at Jesus’ ‘story’…Who was He? What did He say about Himself? What did others say about Him? What do YOU say about Him? What does HE say about YOU?

The Holiday programme was packed full of art and craft activities as well as games and sports. Each team competed against itself to improve its sporting performance over the week, which further built on knowing each other’s strengths and weaknesses and working together as a team.

The Holiday club leaders – key players in the success of the event – are usually compiled of ex-Rose-Act students and volunteers at other Rays of Hope projects. We made a significant change at this Holiday Club by inviting some Grade 9 learners to be group leaders. Putting a Grade 9 child into a leadership position was an important move in developing these young students’ leadership skills and developing their own maturity. To assist these young leaders, we used four supervisors who were experienced in leading groups. Each supervisor managed four groups. All in all, it went well and the young leaders rose to the occasion. Everyone learnt a lot from this experience.

An out of the normal highlight came on the Thursday, when YFM 99.2 FM radio station set up a three-hour live outside broadcast from the Holiday Club. This was part of its Mandela Day partnership with Rays of Hope. 2 000 blankets donated by listeners and corporate supporters of YFM and were given to Rays of Hope projects, including Rose-Act. They played music and in-between interviewed some of our leaders as well as other senior staff members of Rays of Hope, including our director Sihle Mooi. Then all the students gathered around and sang their newly-learned Holiday Club song, ‘You’re a V-I-P to G-O-D.’ It was amazing and the YFM DJ’s were bowled over.