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Author:Rev. George van Popta
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Congregation:Jubilee Canadian Reformed Church
 Ottawa, Ontario
Preached At:Ancaster Canadian Reformed Church
 Ancaster, Ontario
Text:2 Thessalonians 2:15 (View)
Occasion:Reformation Day
Topic:Maintaining the Antithesis

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Reading: 2 Thess. 2

Text: 2 Thess. 2:15

Singing: Ps. 124; Ps. 25:5; Ps. 66:4,5,7; Ps. 78:1,2,3; Hy. 41

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. George van Popta, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.

Beloved in the Lord Jesus Christ:

Do we, as a Reformed Church, do well to remain separate from
other churches? Do we do well to maintain the lines of division
that divided Christendom in the 16th century? Today is the last
"Reformation Day" of the millennium. Do we at the dawn of the
third millennium need to hold on to the teachings, the
traditions, that led our forefathers to break with the Medieval
Church -- the RCC?

I ask these questions in the context of today's powerful tide of
ecumenism. Two examples: You who know what is going on in the
Netherlands will know about the "Together-on-the-way" movement
which is bringing together the Reformed Church, the Synodical
Reformed Churches, and the Lutheran Church.

Then there is the very important meeting taking place today in
Augsburg, Germany. Today, on Reformation Day, in Augsburg, the
RCC and the Lutheran World Federation will sign the "Joint
Declaration of Justification." Today, October 31st, marks the
day that Martin Luther in 1517 launched the Reformation that
restored the Church to its NT roots, but divided Christendom
into its RC and Protestant groupings. At the very centre of the
conflict was the doctrine of justification. How is one made
righteous before God? How does justification take place? Martin
Luther, by a careful study of scripture, and through the
illumination of the Holy Spirit, came to the understanding that
we are justified -- made righteous before God -- by faith alone.
We are righteous before God only by a true faith in Jesus Christ
who died on the cross. And so on October 31st, 1517, he posted
his 95 Theses against the sale of indulgences The church taught
that God justifies the sinner, but it rejected that God does so
by faith alone. That the way to righteousness is by faith alone.

The RCC taught that one is made righteous by faith and works.
And so developed the teaching and practice of earning
indulgence, pardon, remission of sin. You could even buy an
indulgence -- pay money in order to have sins forgiven -- to be
made righteous. Justification by faith and works together.

This is what Martin Luther wrote and preached against. This
unbiblical teaching. And now many of the heirs of Luther -- the
Lutheran churches (from many countries in the world) who are
federated in the Lutheran World Federation -- are signing a
Joint Declaration on Justification together with the RCC.

How can this be, one would ask? It is because one little word is
left out of the declaration. And that little word is the word
"alone." All of Christendom believes that we are justified by
faith. But the question that divides is whether we are justified
by faith alone, or by faith plus something else. We also note
that the pope recently ordered that the manual on indulgences be
translated into modern languages for the benefit of the church
at the dawn of the new millennium. We must give the RCC credit
that for them nothing has changed. It's many protestants who
have changed.

What do we do? Where do we fit in? Must we jump on the
ecumenical band wagon and unfurl the flags that call for unity
at all costs? Unity, even at the expense of the cardinal
doctrines of the Christian faith? Let us listen to what the
inspired Apostle Paul on holding to the traditions. To what has
been handed down to us. The word of God forbids us from letting
go of the apostolic teachings for any reason. I proclaim:


We must:

1. Stand firm in the midst of confusion; 2. Hold to the
apostolic traditions.

1. Paul urged the congregation to stand firm. The congregation
had been shaken. We can read about that in the first verses of
ch. 2. It seems that some of the members were saying that the
day of the Lord had already come. That the Lord Jesus had
returned and that they had to assemble together to meet him.
This led to problems. If you read ch. 3 you will see that some
of the members had quit working. They were living off the
congregation. They had quit working because -- according to them
-- Jesus Christ had already come back. So what was the sense in
working. Not only were some of the members saying that the Lord
had already come. But there was even a letter floating around --
a letter which was supposedly from the apostle Paul -- which
said that the day of the Lord had come. Someone had really tried
to deceive the church at Thessalonika. V. 3 -- "Let no one
deceive you..." Don't let anyone shake you in your faith. Don't
get overly excited -- v. 2. "I didn't write that letter. Someone
is pulling the wool over your eyes -- for whatever reason."

In the ff. vv. Paul reminds them of what he had taught them when
he was with them. He had spoken to them about the coming of the
Lord. He had said that the man of lawlessness (the antichrist)
would first come. He would oppose every authority and set
himself up as God. The Lord Jesus Christ would not come until
this had happened. But when the man of sin has asserted himself,
then the Lord will come and slay him with the breath of his
mouth and destroy him by his glorious appearance.

Don't you remember -- asked Paul in v. 5 -- "Don't you remember
that when I was with you I used to tell you these things?" Why
are you letting anyone shake you in your faith? I told you
these things. Stand firm.

As the Thessalonians were to stand firm, so we too must stand
firm in the truth. And not let anyone shake us.

In the vv 10 ff Paul spoke about truth and falsehood. Those who
refuse to love the truth will end up believing what is false. A
person has got to believe something. If he rejects the truth,
he'll accept that which is false. You cannot believe nothing.

Let us stand firm. In the truth. In the true faith. We have the
word of God. We have the truth of God. Let us stand firm in it.

Let's stand firm like the Reformers did. Like Martin Luther did.
There was much confusion, falsehood and deceit in his days. The
pope was deceiving the people. The reason the pope sent men
throughout Europe selling indulgences was in order to raise
money to finish building St. Peter's cathedral in Rome. Pope Leo
X had run out of money. However, he was only part way through a
massive building project -- St Peter's. In order to raise some
money, he sent men through Europe selling indulgences. Selling
the forgiveness of sins.

But Luther stood firm. The people were confused. But he stood
firm. Firmly rooted in the scriptures. Firmly rooted in the
gospel of free grace through the obedience and sacrifice of
Jesus Christ. In the gospel of justification by faith alone. Let
us as well stand firm in the word of God. Don't be misled by the
confusion of others. Don't be bewildered by the turmoil of those
who are letting go of the truth and exchanging it for that which
is false.

Stand firm in the Christian faith.

2. In addition to standing firm, Paul also tells us to "hold to
the traditions" (NIV: "teachings"). In fact, this is how we will
be able to stand firm. We can only stand firm in the truth and
not be swept away by that which is false if we hold to the
traditions -- the traditions we were taught.

The word "tradition" is often considered a bit of a dirty word.
Sometimes you hear people say that we shouldn't be so
traditionalistic. We're stuck on our traditions. We shouldn't
be so traditional.

But is the word "tradition" a dirty word? I should say not!
It's found in the Word of God. Paul commands us to hold to the

Others will say: Well, we have a strange thing in the Bible. We
have the Lord Jesus condemning traditions while Paul tells us to
hold to traditions. Whom are we going to follow? Jesus or Paul?

To make a contrast between Jesus and Paul is, of course, utter
foolishness. It is deceitful. For which traditions was the Lord
Jesus condemning? He was condemning the traditions of men.
Matthew 15:1 ff -- The Lord Jesus pointed out to the Pharisees
that in many ways they were transgressing the commandments of
God in order to keep their own traditions. They had received a
whole body of traditions from the men of old. But in many ways,
keeping these human traditions kept them from obeying God's
commandments. Especially those commandments which direct us to
love our neighbour as ourselves. Matt. 15:6 -- Christ says: "For
the sake of your tradition, you have made void the word of God."

Traditions can be a curse. Laws and commandments and "ways of
doing things" added to the law, the commandments of God, can be
a curse. If we bind the consciences of God's people to
traditions above the word of God, then we lead people away from
the truth into falsehood.

But that's exactly Paul's point. We must hold to the tradition,
to what we have received, to the pure word of God, which has
come down to us. That's what "tradition" means -- that which has
come down to us. That which we have received.

Paul as well, just as the Lord did, rejected human traditions.
In Col. 2:8 he warned us: "See to it that no one takes you
captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends
upon human tradition ... rather than on Christ." Paul realized
that any tradition begun by himself or by another has no
validity. He was just as opposed to human traditions as was the
Lord. But Paul did not invent a tradition. He did not adopt
someone else's. His tradition came to him from the Lord Jesus.
(Gal 1:11-12) I want you to know, brothers, that the gospel I
preached is not something that man made up. {12} I did not
receive it from any man, nor was I taught it; rather, I received
it by revelation from Jesus Christ.

Whatever Paul taught he had received from the Lord. He was
conscious that his teaching was inspired by the Holy Spirit. As
he said in 1 Thess. 2:13 -- he realized that he spoke not the
words of men but the word of God.

He urged the Thessalonian Christians to hold to the traditions.
Paul had taught them. He had spoken the word of God to them. He
had written them an earlier letter. "Don't let go of that" he
said. Hang on to it.

We too must hold to the traditions. The biblical traditions.

What does it mean to be a Reformed church? It means to hold to
the pure and simple biblical tradition. We have received the
word of God. It has come down to us. We have it. We must hold to
it. We must not let go.

During the middle ages, the church let go of the true
traditions. It exchanged the tradition which Christ delivered to
his church through his apostles -- for the traditions of men.
Traditions of popes and bishops which made void the word of God.
The human traditions of the church said that you and God had to
work together when it came to salvation. Grace was no longer
free. You could even buy it through indulgences.

But then God, through the actions of men such as Martin Luther
which we remember today -- then God reformed his church. God cut
through the human traditions and brought his people back to the
pure and simple biblical tradition of free grace. Through the
leadership of men such as Luther, Zwingli, Knox and Calvin, God
re-formed the church. He reshaped it so that it was, once again,
in the form of the church as we read about it in the book of

Especially John Calvin made that point repeatedly. He said that
the church of every age must be modeled after the "ancient
church". Whenever Calvin talked about "the ancient church",
then he meant the church as we find it in the book of Acts.

And what was the church like, then? We read about that in Acts
2:42. The congregation devoted itself to the apostles' teaching
and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. The
apostles' taught. The people received their teaching, the
tradition, as the word of God. The communion of saints was alive
and well. They celebrated the Lord's Supper. And they prayed.

These are the things we must hold to. We must hold to the
teaching of the apostles of Jesus Christ. They have come to us
by letter. We have the traditions, the letters of the apostles.
We must hold to the proclamation of the free forgiveness of sins
through the blood of Christ. That we are justified by faith

Someone might say: If we've got to hold on only to the biblical
traditions / teachings -- what are we going to do with the
confessions? "Aren't the Reformed confessions human traditions?
Baggage that we would be better off without?"

Sometimes people talk that way. But it shows a lack of
understanding of what the confessions are about. And it shows
ignorance of what the Protestant Reformation was about. The
reformers of the 16th century did not write new confessions to
introduce new theologies into the church. They were not trying
to bring the church up-to-date. Rather, they were calling the
church back to the historic faith which it had forsaken. Every
one of the Reformation creeds is a restatement of that faith
founded upon the everlasting Word of God.

Each of them is a summary of the teachings of scripture written
when the church was in a critical situation. Guido de Bres wrote
the BC (1561) as a statement of what the reformed people
believed. A that time, church and king were savagely persecuting
the reformed believers of the Netherlands. The story was that
the reformed people were rebels -- rebelling against the
authorities. Guido wrote the BC to show that the reformed
believers were not rebels. They were law-abiding people who just
wanted to worship God according to the biblical tradition. And
it is the confession itself (art. 5) which says: "We receive all
these books, and these only, as holy and canonical, for the
regulation, foundation, and confirmation of our faith." Art. 7:
"We believe that this Holy Scripture fully contains the will of
God and that all that man must believe in order to be saved is
sufficiently taught therein.... We may not consider any writings
of men, however holy these men may have been, of equal value
with the divine Scriptures."

Our confession itself is the first to say: "Go to the word.
Sola Scriptura -- The word only." The confession says: This is
what the Bible says: - about God; - about the Bible; - about
creation; - about man's fall into sin; - about salvation; -
about the church, etc.

Today, as well, the BC functions as the church's banner, the
church's flag. This, in a few pages, is what we believe to be
the main teachings of the scriptures.

In 1563 the HC was published. It did not arise in a vacuum
either. Neither is it a book of human traditions. Frederick III,
the ruler of the Palatinate in Germany, a convert to the
Reformed faith, wanted a booklet to teach his subjects the true,
biblical faith. In just a few dozen pages, the HC summarizes the
main teaching of the scriptures regarding sin, salvation and our
response of thankfulness. And every sentence, almost every word
is cross-indexed to the scriptures. Today, as well, the HC
functions as the best teaching tool available for teaching the
youth of the church, indeed, all of God's people, the biblical

Finally, our third doctrinal standard, the Canons of Dort. We
have it because of a heresy in the church. The Arminian heresy
of the 1600's. Arminius attacked the biblical teaching of the
sovereignty of God in our salvation. The Great synod of Dort,
1618-19, formulated 93 articles to refute this dangerous
teaching and to uphold the true tradition -- that God is
sovereign in our salvation. That he does it -- all. In today's
N. American context where the Arminian doctrine is taught in
most churches, it is important that we hold on to the Canons of
Dort so that we, as Reformed believers, can confess with a
united voice that God is sovereign in our salvation.

So, don't let anyone confuse you by saying that we should do
away with the confessions. That in order to remain faithful to
the traditions which have come to us from Christ, through the
apostles, we should put them in the dust bin -- or perhaps in a
museum as quaint relics of the past. The confessions help us to
remain faithful to the scriptural traditions. They are always
and ever pointing us to the word of God and only the word of
God. By means of them we can say to the rest of the world: "This
is what we believe!"

Let us hold to the traditions to which the confessions point us.
Let us hold to the plain and simple teaching of the free grace
of God who saves us only by the blood of Christ. That we are
justified by faith alone in Him. Let us hold to the biblical
proclamation of God who has done and continues to do great
things for us, his people.

Let us stand firm. In the midst of confusion, let us stand firm
in the true Christian faith. Let us seize it when we are young.
Let us hold on to it throughout our lives. Let us allow it to
comfort us when were are old. Let us pass the true traditions on
to the next generation.

Let us unite with all other believers and churches who hold to
this same Apostolic and Reformed tradition. We will not go the
way of false ecumenism and lowest common denominator
Christianity. But neither will we go the way of exclusivism --
being separate for the sake of being separate. Let us stand
together and unite with all who hold to the true teachings of
Holy Scripture.

Then we will be a relevant church. How does the church remain
relevant? How will it by relevant for a new millennium? Not by
trying to bring it up-to-date in line with prevailing winds of
false doctrine. Not by adjusting its creeds to suit the mind of
man. Not by making it acceptable to a secular world, revising
and refashioning its faith to fit the findings of skeptical and
sophisticated scholars who could no longer embrace the
supernatural facts of divine revelation. Not by false ecumenism.
Rather, by holding uncompromisingly to the inspired and
infallible Bible, to the ancient truth of God's Word, to the
historic gospel of divine grace in Jesus Christ. By being a
church that defends the faith once and for all delivered unto
the saints.

The day of the Lord is coming. Let us be found by him standing
firm in the faith and holding to the traditions we received from
him through his servants. AMEN.

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. George van Popta, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
The source for this sermon was:

(c) Copyright 1999, Rev. George van Popta

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