Gospel Roots (1892-2017)
May 7, 2017 :: Acts 17:11
Today’s message is the next message in our Gospel Roots sermon series which looks back over the foundational values and practices and principles that undergird and nourish who we are today. The root system that our church has grown up out of.
This is the fifth message. It looks like we’re going to do one each month this year. In The first and most foundational was the gospel itself: Jesus Christ and Him Crucified. The gospel of Jesus Christ is the reason we are here.
The second was about singing the gospel together. Worship.
The third was about sharing the gospel with lost people. Evangelism.
The fourth message was about being a praying church. Devoting ourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful.
And today’s message is about building our church on the Word of God, the Bible.
Here’s the title for today’s message:
“Var står det skrivet?”
Wait a second. Maybe you can’t read that.
Let’s use Google Translate and see what that Swedish phrase means in English:
“Where Stands It Written?”
Has anybody ever heard that phrase?
That was one of the watchwords of the founding of the Free Church movement in Europe and in the United States.
“Where Stands It Written?”
What do the Scriptures say?
That’s what it means.
Do you know very much about the history of the Free Church even before Lanse Free Church?
Our forebears in the faith came from Scandinavia, the countries which had followed Martin Luther in the Reformation, especially for us here, Sweden.
This year marks the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation when Martin Luther nailed up his 95 Theses to the church door at Wittenburg.
He was called to account for his teachings which were a rediscovery of the gospel of grace. We’ll talk about that more in the coming months as we dive into the book of Galatians.
When Luther was called before the leaders at Worms, he was asked to recant his teaching, but he had come to believe that he was teaching the gospel in accordance with the Scriptures.
And even though everybody in authority at that time disagreed with him and it was dangerous to preach what he was preaching he said this in what has become known as his “Here I Stand” speech:
Unless I am convinced by the testimony of the Holy Scriptures or by evident reason–for I can believe neither pope nor councils alone, as it is clear that they have erred repeatedly and contradicted themselves–I consider myself convicted by the testimony of Holy Scripture, which is my basis; my conscience is captive to the Word of God. Thus I cannot and will not recant, because acting against one's conscience is neither safe nor sound. God help me. Amen.He took his stand on the Scriptures.
And the Protestant Reformation exploded all over Europe. And one of their rallying cries was, “Sola Scriptura.”
Scripture alone is the supreme authority for Christians.
And the Scandinavian countries adopted Lutheranism.
However, they did not let everybody read the Bible for themselves. I know; it’s hard to imagine. But they didn’t want everybody to make their own choices about the Bible. They wanted to maintain state control of the churches and have the pastors teach an authorized version of the Bible and keep everybody together on the same page.
But some of the believers started to read the Bible for themselves and gather to read the Bible for themselves together. A network of small Bible studies sprang up in Norway, Denmark, and Sweden. They were the Lay Bible Readers Movement. And they experienced revival and they grew.
And this was their watchword: “Var står det skrivet?”
Where stands it written? Where did you get that? Show me that in the Bible.
And then those Swedes immigrated to America. Our church was founded by immigrants. And they didn’t speak English.
They spoke Swedish, at least at first.
And some of those old Swedes settled in Lanse, Pennsylvania to work in the coal mines.
And a few of them gathered together and formed a church.
The history that Bea Johnson wrote for us says, “Most of the services were conducted in the homes of A.J. Palmquist. There was no permanent pastor, but the various members of the fellowship conducted the services. The records tell us that Alexander Gustafson was a gifted speaker, and he did a great deal of the ‘preaching.’”
Preaching the Word of God.
Here’s our artifact for today. It’s probably the oldest thing in the room.
One of the oldest things in the building.
It’s a Bible owned by the church in Swedish dated January, 1911. It’s 106 years old.
It’s a really cool thing to hold it.
And our forefathers in this church put their finger on the pages of this book, and said to one another, “Var står det skrivet?” “Show me where it’s written.”
And for the first 60 years of our church, the preaching was in the Swedish.
Some people get mad that immigrants take their time to learn the central language of their new country. Well, I’m sure that many of our forefathers learned some English to communicate with their neighbors, but when they went to church for the first 60 years, the preaching was in Swedish, the language of their hearts.
The Bible down there on the Communion Table was given to the church in 1952, that’s the year that the preaching switched consistently to English, 65 years ago.
It was given in memory of Mrs. Jennie Swanson, and it is a King James Version in the Old English, 1611. How many here cut your teeth on the King James Version of the Bible? Amen!
Many of you have copious amounts of Scripture memorized in the King James Version.“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” Right?
And there are a lot more Bibles here in this room. The Pew Bibles were bought about 18 years ago. They are in the version that I cut my teeth on, the New International Version, copyright 1984.
And there’s a lot of those in this room. That’s what I tend to preach from every week.
But there are a lot of versions in this room.
What other versions do we have.
NASB? I think that was the favorite of Pastor Curry, my predecessor. We learned at district conference that a lot of the pastors in our district use that one every week.
ESV. That’s my wife’s favorite. It’s really good. I like the ESV Study Bible.
The updated NIV 2011 version. That’s another good one. We tend to give that one away to our high school graduates.
I remember Marie Wertz used to carry the NEB.
There’s a new one out called the CSB. The Christian Standard Bible. And they have a new Study Bible. I want to get it. It looks really good, too.
And some of you have your Bible on your phones, right?
It’s not just turn in your Bible. Turn on your Bible. And there are so many versions that you can access through your phone, now.
The point is not to get everyone to use the same translation.
The point is to get everyone looking at the Scriptures.
And saying, “Where Stands It Written?”
Because that question doesn’t come first from Lanse, and it doesn’t come first from Sweden, and it doesn’t come first from Martin Luther.
It’s a Bible question. It’s a question they were asking in Bible times, and rightly so.
It was the question that the Bereans were asking in our passage for today.
Acts chapter 17. The apostle Paul and his team had just been to Thessalonica where they had founded a church to whom Paul would later write the letters of 1 and 2 Thessalonians.
But their preaching was stirring up trouble, so Paul had to leave town. Let’s start in verse 10.
“As soon as it was night, the brothers sent Paul and Silas away to Berea. On arriving there, they went to the Jewish synagogue. Now the Bereans were of more noble character than the Thessalonians, for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true.”
You see where I’m going with this, right?
The Bereans were of more noble character than the Thessalonians. Not because they were better people or more holy, but they were excited and careful about receiving the word.
They asked the question, “Where Stands It Written?”
These folks were Bible people through and through.
I’ve only got two points this morning, and they are very simple, but they are for all of us:
#1. RECEIVE THE MESSAGE WITH GREAT EAGERNESS.
Receive the message (literally, the Word) with great eagerness.
That’s what the Bereans did. They were so happy to hear God’s word.
They were hungry for it.
Are you hungry for the Word?
One of my favorite Bible verses is Jeremiah 15:16. It says, “When your words came, I ate them; they were my joy and my heart's delight, for I bear your name, O LORD God Almighty.”
Is that how we take in God’s Word?
I had the hardest time writing this message because I care so deeply about this. This is my life. This is what I’ve staked my life on and is my life’s work–studying and preaching and teaching and counseling out of God’s Word.
For 19 years now, I’ve been studying this book during the week to share it with you on Sundays.
And I believe every single word of it.
Top to bottom.
I don’t understand every single word of it. But I believe it. Every jot and tittle.
I believe that “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that [we] may be thoroughly equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:16-17).
I’ve preached all the way through Genesis, Exodus, Numbers, Joshua, Judges, Ruth, 1 Samuel, 2 Samuel, The Books of Kings, Hosea, Mark, Luke, John, Acts, Romans, Ephesians, Philippians (twice! That was the first one I preached through in 1998 and then did it again in 2004), Colossians, 1 Timothy, Titus, James, 1 Peter, 1 John.
And I’ve preached messages from many of the rest of them.
I hope to preach every single verse of the Bible in my pastoral ministry here at some point, if the Lord gives me the opportunity.
Because this is a church that is eager for the Word.
That is our history and our heritage and I hope it’s our heart today.
How many of you started coming here in large part because of the preaching ministry and the dedication to God’s Word? Whether it was Jack Kelly or me or whomever?
I remember after I preached my candidating message in April of 1998, we had a church family meal back that hallway.
Anybody remember what my sermon was on that candidating weekend? Extra points if you do.
It was the book of Habbakuk in the Old Testament.
I picked that one because it was probably my best one at the time, but I also wanted to know if you guys really wanted the Bible or just jokes and inspirational stories.
I figured I’d give you a Minor Prophet and see what happens.
And I remember sitting with a young family at a table back there in the Fellowship Hall and the dad said to me, “You’ve got to come here and teach us that. The rest of that. What happened next? That’s what we need.”
He was receiving the message with great eagerness.
And I just wanted to come and give this church the Word of God.
This is a church that is dedicated to the Bible.
We have Family Bible Week.
We have Family Bible Night.
We have Link Group Bible studies.
We have Bible at our Prayer Meeting.
We have Sunday School Classes that study the Bible.
Our current classes are going through the whole story of the Bible from Genesis to Revelation in 3 years. And then we’ll probably start over again!
Our children’s church teaches the little ones the Bible.
We give away “Our Daily Bread”–Bible.
We have Bibles out there on the table. We buy them and sell them at cost so that everybody has one.
We do the “Hide the Word” Bible memory verses as a church.
The B-I-B-L-E is the book for us!
And the point is not to have a Bible and have it just sit there or even to memorize it.
The Muslims memorize their Qurans and they revere them, but they don’t have them translated into heart languages and they don’t try that hard to understand them. At least the normal everyday Muslims. They leave that to the professionals. The imans, the scholars.
But not in Christianity. In Christianity, the point is not the physical book but the words and the truth that they convey.
The Bible is for everybody. The Christians Scriptures are for everybody to receive with eagerness and to teach each other.
Colossians 3:16, “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom.”
Not just the professional leaders. Not just the pastors. One another.
Are we receiving the Word with great eagerness?
One of the highlights of my year is teaching the Adult Bible Class at Family Bible Week.
Because what I like to teach is not just the Bible but how to study the Bible for yourself.
And the students come so eager to learn.
So we’ve learned that the Bible is a library, not just a book, with different kinds of books inside of it. We’ve learned about Proverbs, and Psalms, and Narratives, and Gospels, and Epistles, and Law, and this last year even Apocalyptic Literature!
There is so much to learn in these pages.
This is where the power is.
Wally Kephart likes to say, “God didn’t promise to bless our words. He promised to bless His word.”
That’s right. And there is so much blessing here!
“Like newborn babies, crave pure spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow up in your salvation, now that you have tasted that the Lord is good” (1 Peter 2:2-3).
Receive the message with great eagerness.
Verse 12 tells us that many of them became believers at that point.
“Many of the Jews believed, as did also a number of prominent Greek women and many Greek men.”
Praise the Lord! They received the message of the gospel and it changed their lives forever.
Do you need to receive the message for the very first time?
The most basic and central message of the Bible is that “God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.”
Have you received that message with great eagerness?
Because those that receive Him, those that believe in His name, He gives the right to become children of God (John 1:12)!
I invite you to receive Him right now.
Are we hungry for the Word of God?
Are we reading our Bibles?
Remember the sermon on King Josiah back in February, when they found the Book of Law that had been lost?
We said, Read Your Bible, Heed Your Bible, Bleed Your Bible.
Are you doing that?
When was the last time you did something because your Bible told you to?
I wonder how many sermons have been preached from the Bible here at Lanse Free Church?
I’m sure it’s over 7,000 when you add up Sunday mornings and Sunday nights and special occasions.
I have preached a least 800 sermons here myself over the last 19 years. (I have posted almost 600 just since 2005 on my blog!)
What difference is it making?
Are we in our Bibles and are our Bibles in us?
Here’s number two and last.
#2. EXAMINE THE SCRIPTURES EVERY DAY.
To see for yourself.
To double check.
Look at verse 11 again.
“Now the Bereans were of more noble character than the Thessalonians, for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true.”
I love that.
If they had to do that with Paul, how much more should you be checking up on me?
“Where Stands It Written, Pastor Matt?”
That’s why I preach the way I do.
Did you ever notice how I’m always trying to get you to open your Bibles and I’m always trying to tell you what to look at in them?
What are some of my favorite sounds at church?
The sounds of babies crying.
And the sounds of the whole church singing, especially voices only.
And the sound of pages turning in your Bibles.
“Turn in your Bibles with me please to the book of Acts chapter 17. Pew Bible page #1097. Look at verse 11. Look at verse 11.”
I don’t want you to believe things just because Pastor Matt says to.
I want you to examine the Scriptures every day to see if what Pastor Matt said was true.
“Where stands it written?”
“Show me in the Bible, and I’ll change my mind.”
I almost didn’t preach this message today because Daniel Stanley did it last week.
“Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a workman who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth” (2 Timothy 2:15).
The first initials of that is where they got the word AWANA"Approved Workmen Are Not Ashamed.” And our church had an AWANA program, too.
We’ve all got to study the Bible for ourselves and continually ask the question, “Where stands it written?”
And that means that sometimes we’re going to disagree.
We’re going to come to different conclusions.
Because we’re fallen and limited and come from different starting places.
And that’s frustrating when that happens.
But the Free Church has had a good approach to that problem, too.
One of key leaders in the middle of the 20th century was called Arnold Theodore Olson. The chapel at Trinity is named after him. I never got to meet him, but I saw him there before he died.
Dr. Olson coined a phrase called, “The Significance of Silence,” and the point of that is that there will be times when we disagree with each other on secondary matters.
As long as we agree on the essentials of the gospel, then we speak together with one voice. But on a number of secondary matters, we have silence. Not that we don’t talk about those things together and even argue about them and debate them and sharpen one another. But we are silent on the matter as a whole association of churches. We don’t speak with one voice about those secondary things.
The best way I’ve heard it described is that in the Free Church we “Major on the Majors and Minor on the Minors” instead of “Majoring on the Minors.”
And Dr. Olson in his book talked about differences among Free Church people in the areas like baptism, the Lord’s Supper, Calvinism vs. Arminianism, and the finer points of eschatology.
We have our views and we keep talking about them and we keep comparing them from Scripture to Scripture asking, “Where Stands It Written,” but we don’t fight over them or divide over them. We stick together standing on the gospel.
I love THAT about our family of churches, as well.
We have a sense of biblical priorities and proportions.
We don’t just keep examining the Scriptures and receiving them with great eagerness, we also glean from them what is most important and what is secondary or even tertiary or even fairly insignificant.
If I preach something up here that you disagree with, I’m good with that if you are getting your disagreement from the Bible itself.
I don’t want a cult of little Matt Mitchell clones running around town, parroting what I say whether they know where it comes from or not.
I want a church family of men and women and boys and girls that know their Bibles.
They examine them every single day!
And they think for themselves about what they see there.
What is the most recent thing that you have discovered from your own reading of the Bible?
What is the thing that you have learned most recently from the Word of God that has made a difference in your heart and life?
You won’t be changed if you don’t read it or memorize it or listen to it.
Examine the Scriptures every day.
And you’ll be a Berean.
And you'll be a Lanse Free Church person.
And you’ll see more and more of Jesus and Him Crucified.
Because Jesus said when he was fighting with the Pharisees:
“You diligently study the Scriptures because you think that by them you possess eternal life. These are the Scriptures that testify about me.”
Jesus is the whole point of the Bible.
He is where the Old Testament is going and what the New Testament is proclaiming.
And He is what we celebrate at this Table together. Jesus Christ and Him Crucified.
Previous Messages in This Series:
01. Jesus Christ and Him Crucified
03. Lost and Found
04. The Church That Prays Together