How to lead your worship service this Reformation Day – Sola Fide (Matthew Barrett)
In my last two posts (go here and here) I have been seeking to give pastors and worship leaders an example of what it might look like to structure their church services around the solas of the Reformation for five Sundays leading up to October 31. The aim in all of this is to take an opportunity to introduce your congregation to these core, foundational doctrines of the faith. So far I have found my congregation to be very receptive, even excited as many of them are discovering these doctrines for the first time.
Today we turn to sola fide and what better hymn to start with than Luther’s “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God”? Luther draws our eyes to Christ and his work on our behalf as the basis of our justification and the assurance of our salvation.
Next is a reading from Calvin’s 1537 Catechisms on “What True Faith Is.” In my opinion, this is one of the most beautiful and robust definitions on Christian faith. Here it is:
One must not imagine that the Christian faith is a bare and mere knowledge of God or an understanding of the Scripture which flutters in the brain without touching the heart, as it is usually the case with the opinion about things which are confirmed by some probably reason. But faith is a firm and solid confidence of the heart, by means of which we rest surely in the mercy of God which is promised to us through the Gospel. For thus the definition of faith must be taken from the substance of the promise. Faith rests so much on this foundation that, if the latter be taken away, faith would collapse at once, or, rather, vanish away. Hence, when the Lord presents to us his mercy through the promise of the Gospel, if we certainly and without hesitation trust him who made the promise, we are said to apprehend his word through faith. And this definition is not different from that of the apostle (Heb. 11:1) in which he teaches that faith is the certainty of the things to be hoped for and the demonstration of the things not apparent; for he means a sure and secure possession of the things that God promises, and an evidence of the things that are not apparent, that is to say, the life eternal. And this we conceive through confidence in the divine goodness which is offered to us through the Gospel. Now, since all the promises of God are gathered together and confirmed in Christ and are, so to speak, kept and accomplished in him, it appears without doubt that Christ is the perpetual object of faith. And in that object, faith contemplates all the riches of the divine mercy.
This reading is followed by a prayer on behalf of the congregation, expressing our faith in Christ as our Savior and Lord. By the way, as a side note, those individuals who read and pray are members from the congregation that I schedule ahead of time. Some of them are elders and deacons, but some of them are church members. I have found that this practice eliminates the tendency prevalent in so many churches to view the service as a show and as the job of those on stage. As a Baptist church in particular, it is a great way to practice congregationalism. The entire church is being engaged in worship, calling one another to trust in Jesus. But enough on that, what’s next?
Next comes two more songs of worship, each of which focuses on the importance of faith in God’s promises. For this Sunday we have chosen two Gettys songs: “Every Promise” and “O Church Arise.” For example, consider the striking words in the former:
After these hymns one of our elders will pray over the offering and the congregation will sing “Tis So Sweet to Trust in Jesus.” Again, notice how this song centers on faith in Christ. Here is a stanza, for example:
O how sweet to trust in Jesus,
Just to trust His cleansing blood;
And in simple faith to plunge me
’Neath the healing, cleansing flood!
Following this hymn is the sermon Scripture reading from Galatians 3:10-14, a passage which gets at the core of sola fide:
For all who rely on works of the law are under a curse; for it is written, “Cursed be everyone who does not abide by all things written in the Book of the Law, and do them.” Now it is evident that no one is justified before God by the law, for “The righteous shall live by faith.” But the law is not of faith, rather “The one who does them shall live by them.” Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us—for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree”—so that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that we might receive the promised Spirit through faith.
This Scripture reading, which we have the people stand for in order to show our reverence for God and his Word, is followed by a passionate sermon explaining and proclaiming that sinners are justified through faith alone. In this sermon I will also take the opportunity to introduce the church to a reformer. I typically have done this by picking a story of a Reformer or of the Reformation at large that will zero in on the sola in focus. Since I already discussed Luther in previous sermons, in this sermon I will turn to Calvin and his interaction with Sadoleto who tried to convince the church in Geneva to return to Rome and abandon doctrines like sola fide.
The sermon is followed by a song of worship, “By Faith,” again from the Gettys. It is hard to think of a better song than this after a sermon on sola fide. Listen to the words:
Finally, the service ends with a benediction from Jude 24-25:
Now to him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you blameless before the presence of his glory with great joy, to the only God, our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion, and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen.
Matthew Barrett (PhD, The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary) is Assistant Professor of Christian Studies at California Baptist University, as well as the founder and executive editor of Credo Magazine. Barrett is also Senior Pastor of Fellowship Baptist Church. He is the author and editor of several books, including Salvation by Grace: The Case for Effectual Calling and Regeneration. You can read about Barrett’s other publications at matthewmbarrett.com.