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Monday, 24 April 2017

Discover & explore: Grace not works

Discover & explore services at St Stephen Walbrook feature music and liturgy with the Choral Scholars of St Martin-in-the-Fields. These services explore their themes through a thoughtful mix of music, prayers, readings and reflections:
  • “A perfect service of peace in our busy lives.”
  • “Spiritual food in the middle of the day.”
  • “Beautifully and intelligently done.”
The current series of these services of musical discovery is exploring Reformation 500 themes beginning with the theme of 'Grace not works'.. The service featured the Choral Scholars singing: 'This joyful Eastertide' arranged by Charles Wood, 'Ave Maria' by Robert Parsons, 'Amazing Grace' arranged by Will Todd, and 'Magnificat' from The Short Service by Thomas Tallis.

All Discover & explore services begin at 1.10pm:
  • Mon 1st May - Bank Holiday – Church closed 
  • Mon 8 May - God's written Word 
  • Mon 15 May - Through Christ alone 
  • Mon 22 May - God loves you 
  • Mon 29 May Bank Holiday – Church closed 
  • Mon 5 June - Baptism saves 
  • Mon 12 Jun - The Lord's Supper 
  • Mon 19 Jun - The Cross alone 
  • Mon 26 Jun - Forgiveness is free 
  • Mon 3 Jul - Life of repentance
In today's service I shared the following reflection:

The Protestant Reformation of the 16th century changed Christianity forever. Roused to action by the corruption and abuses they saw in the Roman Catholic Church of the time, leaders like Martin Luther and John Calvin spearheaded a movement that transformed Christianity and eventually led to the emergence of the Protestant denominations that exist today. The Reformers were guided by the conviction that the church of their day had drifted away from the essential, original teachings of Christianity, especially in regard to what it was teaching about salvation—how people can be forgiven of sin through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ and receive eternal life with God.

Luther's study and research led him to question the contemporary usage of terms such as penance and righteousness in the Roman Catholic Church. He became convinced that the church had lost sight of what he saw as several of the central truths of Christianity — the most important being the doctrine of justification by faith alone. He began to teach that salvation is a gift of God's grace through Christ received by faith alone. As a result of his lectures on the Psalms and Paul's letter to the Romans, from 1513–1516, Luther "achieved an exegetical breakthrough, an insight into the all-encompassing grace of God and all-sufficient merit of Christ."[ Lewis W. Spitz, The Renaissance and Reformation Movements, Revised Ed. (St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1987), 332]

So, the Reformation sought to re-orient Christianity on what they thought to be the original message of Jesus and the early church. The Reformers’ theological convictions about the essentials of Christianity were later summarised in five Latin phrases (or slogans) that emerged during the Reformation known as The Five Solas. These are:
  • Sola Scriptura (“Scripture alone”): The Bible alone is our highest authority. 
  • Sola Fide (“faith alone”): We are saved through faith alone in Jesus Christ. 
  • Sola Gratia (“grace alone”): We are saved by the grace of God alone. 
  • Solus Christus (“Christ alone”): Jesus Christ alone is our Lord, Savior, and King. 
  • Soli Deo Gloria (“to the glory of God alone”): We live for the glory of God alone. 
Sola Fide and Sola Gratia stand alongside one another and are our primary concern today. They summarise the belief that we are saved solely through faith in Jesus Christ because of God’s grace and Christ’s merit alone. We are not saved by our merits or declared righteous by our good works. God grants salvation not because of the good things we do, and despite our sin.
The Reformers believed that, as humans, we inherited (from our ancestor Adam) a nature that is enslaved to sin. Because of our nature, we are naturally enemies of God and lovers of evil. We need to be made alive (regenerated) so that we can even have faith in Christ. God graciously chooses to give us new hearts so that we trust in Christ and are saved through faith alone. God graciously preserves us and keeps us. When we are faithless toward him, he is still faithful. We can only stand before God by his grace as he mercifully attributes to us the righteousness of Jesus Christ and attributes to him the consequences of our sins. Jesus’ life of perfect righteousness is counted as ours, and our records of sin and failure were counted to Jesus when he died on the cross.

Sola fide and sola gratia express the teaching of Ephesians 2:8: “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.”

Luther insisted that "This one and firm rock, which we call the doctrine of justification is the chief article of the whole Christian doctrine, which comprehends the understanding of all godliness." This, however, led to further debate about the extent to which our works are a factor in salvation; a debate which also occurred in the early Church. There is an apparent conflict between the letters of Paul and the letter of James on this point which has caused confusion on the part of many Christians as James states that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone (2:24). Luther once called the book of James "an epistle of straw" because of this difficult passage, although he later retracted the remark.

It is arguable, however, that James was not contradicting Paul but instead teaching something compatible with Paul's teaching while also correcting a misuse of Paul's teaching. What James was trying to get across to his churches was that loveless faith is absolutely useless; and anybody that comes along and says "We are justified by faith alone, and so you don't have to be a loving person to go to heaven" is not telling the truth. That is the understanding which informs the reading we heard earlier from the Lutheran Church’s Missouri Synod: ‘Your good works are done in response to salvation. Justification by grace through faith does not mean good works are bad, but puts them in their proper role. We live according to God’s will out of thankfulness to His love.’


Help us, O God, because, like all your children, we need your daily grace. Yesterday’s blessings can encourage but will not take care of the burdens of today. May we know you as the Shepherd of our lives and eternal souls. May our fears be dissolved by faith in you and through the power of your love. Help us to love and manifest the spirit of love under all circumstances to all people. May our lives be a glory to you, a help to our fellow human beings and rewarding to ourselves. Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayer.

O God, you know our weakness and failings, and that without Your help we can accomplish nothing for the good of souls, our own and others’. Grant us, therefore, the help of Your grace. Grant it according to our particular needs this day. Enable us to see the tasks You will set before us in the daily routine of our lives, and help us work hard at our appointed tasks. Teach us to bear patiently all the trials of suffering or failure that may come to us today. Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayer.

O Lord God almighty, who has brought to us to the beginning of this day, defend us in the same by Your power; that we may not this day fall into any sin, but that all our thoughts, words, and works may be directed to the fulfillment of Your will. Merciful Lord, you are never weary of speaking to our poor hearts. Grant us grace that, if today we hear your voice, our hearts may not be hardened. Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayer.

The Blessing

God grant to the living, grace; to the departed, rest; to the Church, the Queen, the Commonwealth, and all humankind, peace and concord; and to us and all his servants, life everlasting; and the blessing of God almighty, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, be among you and remain with you always. Amen.


Will Todd - Amazing Grace.

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