Martin Bucer

When a football team wins a game, usually the credit goes to the quarterback. He is the one who is generally considered the one who wins or loses the game. People so quickly forget that there are actually eleven men on the field during a football game. The offensive line blocks the defense which allows the quarterback time to throw. The receivers run and gets open so the quarterback has someone to throw to. The running back’s success brings more attention from the defense also allowing the quarterback more time to throw the ball. Many people are involved in the victory of a football game, not just the quarterback.

Each month this year we have been looking at a short biography of the more famous Reformers. We all know the main men who receive all the attention: Luther, Calvin, Zwingli (the quarterbacks per se). But there are actually many other Reformers who played a significant role in the Reformation who simply aren’t given the attention they deserve. For the remaining few months of this year, we will look at some of these lesser known Reformers and analyze their contribution. This month, our subject is a man named Martin Bucer.

Martin Bucer was born in 1491, in France, and at 16 years old decided to choose the life of a monk. If you had any interest in religion at that time it was the only thing you could do. He took his vow of poverty and celibacy and began his studies in religion. Interestingly, the Dominican monks where he belonged, studied Aristotle before they studied the Bible. Theology and Scripture came second to the study of philosophy. Bucer was ordained a priest and went to Heidelberg, Germany to further his theological studies. It was there that a turn of God’s providence would set the course for the remainder of his life.

A man named Martin Luther was coming to Heidelberg for a theological debate and Bucer was in the audience listening. Bucer’s interest was drawn to Martin Luther’s words about man’s incapacity to do good, how keeping the law of God cannot advance you towards righteousness, and how salvation was in Christ alone. Bucer agreed with everything that Luther said, but Bucer went further with his understanding of the Law. Bucer thought that after salvation, through the assistance of the Holy Spirit, a Christian desires, and can actually carry out, the keeping of God’s Law. His path towards being a Reformer had begun.
He knew his theology was not in agreement with the Catholic Church, so he renounced his vows and was no longer a priest. Bucer was also, by all accounts, the first Reformer to ever get married; a definitive break from the priesthood for sure. He began to preach the doctrines of the Reformation which did not sit well with the city authorities of the time. He was excommunicated and asked to leave the city of Wissembourg, Germany. Penniless and excommunicated, Bucer went to Strasbourg, France where he would stay and lead the Reformation there for the next 25 years.

When John Calvin was exiled from his church in Geneva, he actually went to Strasbourg as well and lived in a house right behind Bucer’s. Another stroke of the providence and sovereignty of God was at work. It was here that Bucer had a profound impact upon John Calvin and the two became great friends. Calvin said of Bucer, “profound scholarship, his bounteous knowledge about a wide range of subjects, his keen mind, his wide reading, and many other different virtues, remains unsurpassed today by anyone, can be compared with only a few, and excels the vast majority.” That is high praise from the likes of John Calvin.

Martin Bucer remains a great example of what it means to take the Scripture literally. Of course church leaders can, and should, get married because how can a man manage the church of God if he cannot manage his own household (1 Tim 3:5)? Bucer also shows us a man committed to unity in the church of God. As Luther and Zwingli hotly debated the theology of the Lord’s Supper, Bucer was the mediator trying to bring the two together. Bucer also shows us what it is like to minister in the background. Some people in the church get all the recognition, just like some people of the Reformation get all the recognition. But Martin Bucer shows us that there were many other Reformers working behind the scenes, who don’t get as much credit as the main Reformers. The situation is similar to the church. Usually, the pastor gets the most credit for how the church is doing, but there are many people behind the scenes who have shaped that pastor into who he is today and many people ministering behind the scenes to make his life easier. May we not be afraid or ashamed of ministering without receiving the applause or recognition of men.
-Pastor Mark Scialabba
 

Thomas Cranmer

The Reformation in England did not really come about through theological reasons but for political ones. The key figure of this movement was Henry VIII. Most of us know the story of how he broke with the Roman Catholic Church. He was married to Queen Catherine of Aragon, but she couldn’t give him a son to be the heir to the throne. So, Henry sought an annulment from the Pope so that he could marry another. When the Pope refused, Henry looked for a new way out of his marriage: a break with Rome. With the help of his advisor, Thomas Cromwell, Henry succeeded in breaking from the Roman Catholic Church and starting his own religion where he was the head of the church (the Church of England). It’s much easier to allow annulments when you are the head of the church!

    The Pope pronounced an official excommunication on Henry, so Henry passed a law called the Treason Act which labeled any Pope loyalists to be guilty of heresy and punished by death. Originally, Henry VIII was not a supporter of the Reformation at all, but ended up being a partial Protestant when this split from Rome happened. He had his main adviser named Thomas Cronwell, but he had another named Thomas Cranmer. This man was a learned scholar who sided with many of Luther’s teachings. 

    Cranmer was the main person pushing Protestant ideas and theology in Henry VIII’s reign. He published a book called the Book of Common Prayer, which was a manual for church services that included many prayers and congregational responses. Cranmer also wrote the introduction to the Great Bible (the first authorized edition of the Bible in English) that Henry VIII had placed in every church in England. While Cranmer wanted to continue to push Protestant theology, Henry VIII passed something called the Six Articles Act in 1539. These articles affirmed the Catholic doctrines of transubstantiation, withholding the cup of communion from the common people (if necessary), celibacy of priests, monastic vows of chastity, private Mass, and the need for official confession.

    Henry VIII died in 1547 and was succeeded by Edward VI. He didn’t reign long as he died in 1553, only 6 years later. That was the year that Cranmer wrote a document called the Forty-two Articles. It was a mainly Protestant document reflecting the views of Luther and Calvin. In these articles, Cranmer outlined such Protestant doctrines as justification by faith alone, the sole authority of Scripture, a denial of transubstantiation, and the naming of only two sacraments. This push towards Protestantism was short-lived however.

    After Edward VI died, Mary Tudor became queen. She was a zealous Catholic and was furious at how Henry VIII had treated her mother (Catherine of Aragon). She sought to return England to the Pope, and she would kill anyone who didn’t align with her. She was rightfully nicknamed ‘Bloody Mary’ because of her ruthless attack against Protestants. In 1555 she began her assault and martyred 300 Protestants with another 800 fleeing for their lives. Some of the notable names that were martyred under her reign were John Rogers, Hugh Latimer, Nicholas Ridley, and Thomas Cranmer.

    Cranmer endured a lengthy trial where the foregone conclusion of guilty was reached. He was publicly humiliated by having his church authority and robes removed in a careful ceremony where he was handed over as a common criminal. But Bloody Mary was not done with him yet. While in prison, fake promises of mercy were used on him to sign numerous denials, where he rejected all Protestant ideas and Mary hoped to publish these signed documents to squash the Reformation in England once and for all. On the day of his death, at the stake where he would be burned, Cranmer shocked everyone when he publicly rejected his signed denials, denied the Pope’s power, and called transubstantiation false. As the fire was lit, he famously placed his right hand in the flames first, the hand that had signed the denials. His bravery and boldness made a mark on English Protestantism forever.

    It is hard to criticize Cranmer for signing his denials. We can probably admit, we would have done the same thing. But as he had days in prison to think about it, he came to the conclusion that he was going to die anyway…and heaven was awaiting him. That restored his trust and while his signing of the denials is one of his low points, his martyrdom is a great story of faith and boldness for Christ. May we be so strong in our faith as well.

-Pastor Mark Scialabba
 

JOHN KNOX

As the Reformation literature spread throughout Europe, so did the Reformation itself, arriving in the country of Scotland through the Reformer named John Knox.

John Knox was born in 1514 in a small town south of Edinburgh. When he was old enough, he entered the school of St. Andrews to study theology, as most students did. He was actually ordained as a minister, but did not serve as a pastor or minister until years later. 

During Knox’s younger years, the country of Scotland was becoming increasingly disenchanted with the Catholic Church. The same problems that existed in Germany, England, and Switzerland existed in Scotland too. Priests and bishops were not placed in their positions because of their holiness or call to ministry, but for political appointments. This led to all kinds of immoral sins of the priests being open and well-known. The priests in Scotland were openly consorting with concubines and fathering illegitimate children. The Catholic Church, as an entity, owned more than half the real estate in the country! The ‘church’ was, in essence, a corporation not a religious entity.

Also at this time, the literature of Martin Luther was being smuggled into Scotland with many agreeing with his positions. The Reformation was spreading. But the Catholic Church would not allow this ‘heresy’ to continue and wanted to suppress it. They burned a man named Patrick Hamilton at the stake for being a protestant. This move ironically did not suppress anything, but actually ignited the passions of the Protestants and Reformers in Scotland. Knox began studying and learning from Scottish reformers and even became a bodyguard under a preacher named George Wishart. But, Wishart too, was arrested and burned at the stake.

During a Protestant church service one Sunday after this event, the preacher named John Rough publicly asked John Knox to take over as the preacher. Knox was so overwhelmed and so shaken at this tremendous responsibility that he actually broke down into tears at the thought of him preaching God’s Word. He actually declined the offer, but then later accepted, feeling the tug of God that this was what he must do.

Knox actually traveled to Geneva and met John Calvin, having high praise for his ministry there. When he returned to Scotland, he published a number of tracts and treatises. These tracts were not quite politically correct as he essentially lobbied for the right of the people to overthrow an unrepentant monarch, like Mary Tudor the queen of England who was called the name ‘Bloody Mary’ for her persecution of Protestants. Knox also co-wrote the Scots Confession which basically abolished the authority of the Pope and the Catholic mass. While his writings spread his fame, Knox became more infamous for his amazing preaching.

In his sermons, Knox would calmly exegete a passage of Scripture for about a half hour. Then, he would turn on the afterburners and become loud and raucous, pounding the pulpit, and even inciting a riot after one of his sermons. One of his note takers commented that he could barely hold the pen because Knox was making him tremble so much. 

I have 3 main lessons we can learn from John Knox. First, would be the seriousness of preaching. I wonder if there are many men who would break down into tears if you asked them to preach. It was such a serious matter to Knox that he felt totally unqualified to do it, except for the fact he felt it was the calling of God for him to preach. The second lesson would be to follow his example and not have a fear of man. He was courageous and passionate and desired to please God above all. One man said that John Knox neither “flattered nor feared any flesh.” May that be true of us as well. The last lesson is one I have not discussed yet: the prayer life of John Knox. He famously prayed to God, “give me Scotland or I die.” That was not an arrogant demand but a passionate plea for God to save people in Scotland. He wanted to be used by God as an instrument of salvation. ‘Bloody Mary’ once commented on his prayer life, “I fear the prayers of John Knox more than all the armies of Europe.” Let us too be people of aspiring, lofty, passionate prayers.

Pastor Mark Scialabba
 

John Calvin

    In all of church history there is probably no one more polarizing than John Calvin. A significant group of Christians hate him and a significant group of Christians adore him. We would all admit that no Reformer deserves undo veneration or inappropriate idolization, but whatever your personal view of Calvin may be, we cannot deny his tremendous impact upon the Reformation and Christian history. His theology is still hotly debated now, almost 500 years after his writings.

    Calvin was born in 1509 and showed himself to be a brilliant scholar and student. He studied at the University of Paris in order to be a priest; because that’s what you did back then when you had an interest in religion. We are not totally sure where his conversion to Christ happened, but he ended up writing his first protestant book at the age of 23. His most famous work, the Institutes of the Christian Religion, he wrote when he was 26. Over the years, it went through numerous versions and additions, but for a theology book of that stature to come from a 26 year old was truly remarkable. 

    He had no desire to be a pastor or a well-known Reformer. He actually wanted to retire and simply be a private and obscure scholar. His dream would be to sit quietly and read and write theology on his own. However, through the Lord’s providence, as he was traveling to his desired location, a war was being fought and he had to detour through the town of Geneva. The pastor there, William Farell, heard Calvin was passing through and tried to convince Calvin to stay on as the pastor and help him with the Reformation. When Calvin refused, Farell actually pronounced a curse on Calvin and his private studies! Out of sheer fear, Calvin agreed to stay on and be the pastor of the church in Geneva.

    Calvin pastored the church for only 3 years and it was nothing but trouble for him. The congregation treated him horribly, even to the extent of naming their dogs ‘Calvin’ as a derision against him. He was run out of the church after 3 years, then he spent 3 years reading and writing in Strasburg (his original destination), but after his 3 year hiatus the influence of the Catholic Church came back mightily in the city of Geneva and the church went and begged him to come back. Calvin came back after being gone for 3 years, and in his first sermon back, he preached on the next verse he was going to preach on 3 years before.

    This is really who John Calvin was: a student of the Scripture and an expositor of God’s Word. He usually preached five sermons a week, each sermon at one hour long, with no notes, and they were all expositions of passages of the Bible. He also wrote 45 volumes of commentaries on the Greek and Hebrew Bible. Most of these commentaries were taken from his preaching. He was a pastor first and he went through extraordinary suffering in his life (his wife died and he suffered from various physical ailments).

    John Calvin was really a second generation Reformer. When he became a Christian, almost 20 years had passed since the beginning of the Reformation. He stood on the shoulders of giants like Martin Luther in his theological work. Calvinism is a term you might have heard of. It is primarily a reference to Calvin’s theology of salvation and it is described in the acronym TULIP (Total depravity, Unconditional election, Limited Atonement, Irresistible Grace, and Perseverance of the Saints). However, this theology did not come solely from Calvin. This was taught by the early Reformers, by the early church fathers, by the apostles, and by the Lord Himself. Sometimes theological labels are helpful because they can quickly define your convictions (I am a Calvinist). However, sometimes theological labels are not helpful because it sounds like you have chosen to follow the man rather than the Bible. I prefer not to use theological labels to describe me, but if you would ask me, I would agree with what is commonly referred to as ‘Calvinism’ as being the teaching of the Bible, not just the teaching of Calvin.

    While Calvin had his faults and was by no means perfect, one cannot deny the positive affect he had on the Reformation and Christianity in general.

Pastor Mark Scialabba
 

ULRICH ZWINGLI

    While Martin Luther was leading the Reformation in Germany, others were following his lead and reforming their own countries as well. Ulrich Zwingli was the man who began the Reformation in Switzerland. This country had the same problems as Germany: corrupt Catholic leadership with the leaders of the church pursuing power, corruption, and adding to their number of mistresses for themselves! 

    Zwingli was born in Switzerland in 1484 just weeks after Martin Luther was born in Germany. He was highly educated and he was interested in the classics and music. Zwingli played 6 musical instruments! It was during this time that he was exposed to some teaching on Biblical theology and his interest in the Catholic Church began there. He became a priest when he was 22 years old and it was his desire to reform the abuses in the Swiss Catholic Church. He continued this post for 10 years.

    Somewhere near the end of this time as a priest, Zwingli was converted. His conversion was more of a gradual process, rather than a sudden moment. As he continued to study the Scripture and see more of the Catholic Church abuses, he was more and more convinced that the Scripture must be his guide and not the traditions of Rome.

    For his calling out of abuses in the Swiss church, he was forced to leave and become a priest in another town. However, he continued his attack on the Pope’s abuses and began to preach verse by verse through the New Testament. This consecutive exposition of Scripture led him to the conclusion that there was a significant difference between the New Testament and the Catholic Church’s traditions and ceremonies. He eventually resigned as a priest, renounced his papal pension, and was hired on as a general preacher for the city of Zurich. 

    The Reformation in Zurich was not just a theological one, but a practical one as well. Zwingli led the city in the removal of statues, crucifixes, and candles. Decorated walls were whitewashed, alters were replaced with simple tables, gold and silver were melted from crucifixes and crosses, and monasteries were transformed into places of care for the homeless and youth. What was left were simple churches with nothing to detract from the clear and simple preaching of the Bible. He also produced a New Testament in his native Swiss language. 

    The final straw for Zwingli came on April 16, 1525 when he officially abolished the mass in Zurich and celebrated the first Lord’s Supper there. He sat at a simple table, with a linen cloth, and wooden plates for the elements in the middle of the congregation. Then the elements were distributed to the people as a memorial of Christ’s life and death. This simple view of the Lord’s Supper confirmed his odds with the Catholic Church, and even with Martin Luther, who still held that the Lord’s Supper was a means of dispensing grace.

    As with every Christian, Zwingli was not without sin. He famously held very significant disputes with a group called the Anabaptists (people who believe in baptizing believers only and not infants) because Zwingli was a serious believer in infant baptism. Zwingli went after the Anabaptists through persecution; having them imprisoned and even executed for their beliefs on baptism. Zwingli also formed a militia called the Christian Civic Alliance in preparation for a literal battle with the Catholics. The battle eventually came and his ‘army’ was easily defeated in the battle of Kappel in 1531. Zwingli was found wounded, was then killed, and burned at the age of 47. The Catholic forces even mixed his ashes with dung as a final insult to their enemy.

    We owe a lot to the Reformer Ulrich Zwingli, specifically, his radical view on the Lord’s Supper which we now hold as well. Human ceremonies and rituals have no power in and of themselves to dispense God’s grace. The Lord’s Supper is a memorial, which is all that it is. However, we can learn a lot from Zwingli about what not to do. It is noble to hold firmly to one’s spiritual convictions, but we should never bring the sword against our enemies or those we disagree with. The Bible says that is God’s job, not our job (Rom 12:19).

-Pastor Mark Scialabba
 

Martin Luther

We continue our series on the main people of the Protestant Reformation by looking this month at Martin Luther. Back in January, the article was about his 95 Theses, which in essence, started the Reformation. But this month I would like to look at the man and ministry of Martin Luther.

Martin Luther was born in 1483 in Germany to a Catholic family. At that time, the Catholic Church, was really the only church there was. There was no such thing as an evangelical church or an independent church. He was baptized as an infant and received a typical Catholic education and upbringing. His father wanted him to be a lawyer so he sent Martin to the most prestigious university to receive his education.

On July 2nd 1505, in a rather remarkable story, Luther was thrown to the ground by a blast of lightning during a strong summer storm. Fearing for his life, Luther called out to St. Anne to help him, and if she did, he would promise to enter a monastery and become a monk. Luther was saved from the storm and kept his vow becoming a monk two weeks later. His father was furious.

    While in the monastery he was being educated and prepared to become a priest. He was learning the typical Catholic theology of salvation through the work of God plus the good deeds of man. It was this study of salvation that greatly troubled Luther’s soul. He knew he was a sinner and unable to satisfy the demands of God. Even when he officially became a priest, he received no piece in his soul in regards to his personal sin. He knew he sometimes did good works, but he couldn’t get past the idea of his sin. It wasn’t one particular sin that troubled him, but the reality of his nature. He was a sinner and none of his good deeds could change that. 

At the suggestion of a friend, Luther set aside theological books and turned to a rigorous study of the Bible. It was his study of the book of Galatians and Romans that opened his eyes to the way a person is made right with God. It was the phrase “the righteousness of God” in Romans 1:17 that led him to salvation. He realized it was not his righteousness that made him right with God, it was God’s righteousness given to him that made him right with God. A once for all pronouncement by God was the way to be saved: justification. This was contrary to the Catholic view of salvation, which said, man is made right with God by a gradual process throughout life, not a once for all pronouncement by God. Luther described this revelation as ‘being led out of a dark prison of penance and into the daylight of the gates of heaven.’ He was born again.

Luther had no idea how much this view of salvation would put him at odds with the Catholic Church. He knew his findings in the Scripture were contrary to the Roman teaching he had received in the monastery, so he went to Rome to try and quiet his reservations. He was hoping to receive spiritual answers and a new commitment to the Church by meeting with various priests and leaders. Instead, Luther found much corruption, money and luxurious living, concubines, illegitimate children, irreverent behavior, and a complete ignorance of the Scriptures. These were the leaders of God’s church? Luther said, “I took onions to Rome and brought back garlic.” It was just a few years later that Luther would post his 95 Theses to the door of the Catholic Church in Wittenberg and the Protestant Reformation was begun.

It should come as no surprise that Luther was not hailed by the Catholic Church as a Reformer, but a heretic and someone worthy of excommunication. After many debates and papal decrees, he was branded as such. Luther ended up writing over 50 volumes of works and translated the Bible into German so the average person could read it. But, he didn’t see himself as a writer, but a preacher. He preached over 7,000 sermons before his death in 1546. He called the church not a ‘pen house, but a mouth house’ where the Word of God must be proclaimed and not church tradition and ceremony. It was this commitment to the Word of God, and not church authority, which sets Martin Luther apart in Christian history.

-Pastor Mark Scialabba
 

William Tyndale

Of all the crimes you could imagine a believer could commit against the Christian church, what would be at the top of the list? Murdering another Christian? Burning down the church building? Forcing other believers to sin? How about translating the Bible into the language the people understand so that they could read it? Does that sound like something that would be considered a crime? Well, William Tyndale was a man guilty of the ‘crime’ of translating the Bible into English so people could read it. Tyndale is the first in our monthly look at key Reformation figures. 

When William Tyndale came on the scene in England, the country was completely engulfed in spiritual darkness. While there were thousands of churches and priests, the spiritual ignorance of the people and the priests was probably at an all-time high. The Bibles they had were all in Latin, and the average person could not read Latin. In fact, even the priests themselves could not translate something as simple as the Lord’s Prayer into English. Church ceremony, religious ritual, and superstition had taken the place of Bible study and Tyndale sought to change that.

The Church of England had decreed it to be illegal to translate the Bible into English. One can understand the motive behind this decree: they didn’t want the message of the Bible to get changed. But, since the average person couldn’t read Latin, what good was a Bible anyway? The Church went so far as to even make it illegal to teach the Bible in English! In 1519, seven men were burned at the stake for teaching their children the Lord’s Prayer in English. This shows how dangerous Tyndale’s mission would be.

William Tyndale was the perfect man for God to use to bring His Word to the average people of England. Tyndale was proficient in eight languages and he was committed to the truthfulness of the Bible. He had heard of the Reformation starting in places like Germany, but for any change to come to England, the people would have to be able to read the Bible. But, his desire to bring the Word of God to people in their own language was a crime and Tyndale was forced to leave his home of England and do his work while on the run throughout Europe. The Church even hired spies to try to track him down and catch him for his translating work. Tyndale would spend the last 12 years of his life as a condemned heretic and a hunted fugitive. 

His work was entirely unique because he translated directly from the Hebrew Old Testament and the Greek New Testament into English. His desire would be that “a plowman would sing a text of Scripture at his plow and the weaver would hum them to the tune of his shuttle.” Early in his work he was confronted by a Catholic priest who told him it was better to have the Pope’s law than God’s law. This revealed to Tyndale how ignorant the Church was in the Scripture and set a fire under Tyndale to pursue and finish his work. Tyndale said if God gave him the years to do this work, then, “a boy that drives the plow would know more of the Scripture than the Pope does.”

In 1535, the Church paid a large sum of money to a man named Henry Phillips to find and capture William Tyndale. Phillips went to Belgium where Tyndale was supposedly working, asked around, made the necessary contacts, and found William Tyndale. He pretended to be his friend until he lured Tyndale into an alley where Tyndale was arrested and brought back to England. 

On October 6, 1536, Tyndale was strangled to death and his body then burned at the stake, by the Church, for his ‘crime’ of translating the Bible into English. It is said that his last words were, “Lord, open the King of England’s eyes.” It would seem that his prayer was answered because less than a year after his death, Christians convinced Henry VIII to approve this English Bible to be printed. The King agreed and an English and Latin Bible would be placed in every church in England. 

You sit at your desk or table with the Bible in your own language thanks to William Tyndale. It is amazing to think of the things we take for granted in this life. Today, there are still people in the world with no Bible in their own language, yet there are Christians who do have one but never read it. Open your Bible, read it, and know God more and more each day.

-Pastor Mark Scialabba  

Protestant Reformation

Protestant Reformation

The year 2017 is a big one in the history of the Christian church. It is the 500th anniversary of the beginning of the Protestant Reformation. On October 31st, 1517, a German monk named Martin Luther nailed a document to the doors of the Catholic church in Wittenburg, Germany. The document was called the 95 Theses and it was a list of Luther’s complaints and disputations regarding his views of the Catholic Church as a whole, not the local church in Wittenburg. The act of nailing a document was nothing unusual or shocking; this was the normal procedure for initiating a debate. Luther thought he would have the church’s support in exposing the evils in the corrupt system, but it did not bring about the scholarly debate he was hoping for. Instead, the Protestant Reformation was begun.
    
When we say the word ‘protestant’ what does that mean? And what is a reformation? Let’s define some terms as we discuss the Reformation. A reformation is the act of amending or improving by removing or correcting faults and abuses. A protestant is a person who protests; a dissenting opinion from within a group. Therefore, when we use the phrase Protestant Reformation, we are referring to the religious movement that began in the 1500’s that was marked by a rejection or debate of formal Catholic doctrine and the establishment of independent, protestant churches. The entire movement lasted about 150 years. You are at Congregational Bible Church today thanks to the Protestant Reformation. 
    
What exactly were Martin Luther and the other Protestants protesting? Well, let’s go back to the early church that we read about in the New Testament. Those churches were independent (they followed no formal hierarchy), they had two offices of deacon and elder, and they celebrated the two ordinances the Lord prescribed (baptism and the Lord’s Supper). As the years went by and the purity of the New Testament church downgraded, so did the doctrine as well. Emperor Constantine ruled in 313 AD but he was also the head of Christianity as well, which resulted in Christianity being a national requirement instead of personal faith in Jesus Christ. This notion of one leader over Christianity continued and fostered the rise of the Pope. Church doctrine continued to downgrade and by 325 the following doctrines were disputed and/or flat out rejected: the Bible as sole authority, the two ordinances, independent local churches, saved church members, separation of church and state, and Biblical preaching. As the secular power of church leadership grew, so did corruption and immorality. This is where Luther found most of his grievances. 
    
The control of the Pope was elaborate and one of complete domination. The Pope could decree universal church law, he could excommunicate, and he had an elaborate taxation plan lobbied against the people. One of these money making ventures by the Catholic Church was the selling of indulgences. An indulgence was an official pardon, formally granted by the Catholic Church, given to sinners for a certain price. Basically, if you gave the church enough money, you could be forgiven of any and all sin. The church financed the building of St. Peter’s Basilica on the selling of indulgences and this practice horrified Martin Luther. 
The vast majority of his 95 Theses argues against these indulgences. Luther was basically attacking the Pope, and he did it in a sarcastic and angry tone. Of course, Luther’s protest did not bring about honest discussion or self-reflection from the Catholic Church, but instead, a declaration of Luther being a heretic. To attack the church or its abuses was an attack on the entire system. The Protestant Reformation was born. 

As I said before, you are in an independent Christian church because of Reformers like Martin Luther. I have decided to dedicate this entire year of Voice articles to the Protestant Reformation to commemorate the 500th anniversary. Each month we will hear about one Reformer and his contribution to the Reformation and Christianity in general.

Pastor Mark Scialabba

Cut Off Your Hand

CUT OFF YOUR HAND

In college I majored in Speech Communication so I had to study lots of famous speeches given throughout history. I was always fascinated with the people who had an amazing way with words, like Winston Churchill. Jesus, though, is still the best when it comes to having a way with words. One of the statements Jesus made that really sticks out is found in Matthew 5:30. It says, “If your right hand makes you stumble, cut it off and throw it from you; for it is better for you to lose one of the parts of your body, than for your whole body to go into hell.” Jesus is speaking about the process of holiness, or more specifically, how to stay away from sin. Now, we have all heard this passage explained by what it does not mean. “Surely, Jesus does not want us to actually go around cutting off our limbs,” is what we hear. But it does mean something. Jesus said it for a reason. If it doesn’t mean to actually cut off our limbs, then what does it mean?

First, it means that staying away from sin is serious business. I would think that Jesus did not say this with a twinkle in His eye or with a wink. He’s not making a joke. He’s not trying to generate a laugh. He’s trying to impress in our minds the seriousness of holiness. The Bible never jokes around about holiness. The Bible tells us to ‘make no provision for the flesh and to ‘flee from sin.’ Never should we take sin or holiness lightly.

Second, it means that staying away from sin is urgent. He sure didn’t say to ‘think about it for a while,’ or ‘get to it when you can.’ He said the things that lead us into sin must be ‘cut off.’ There is no waiting period. There is no time for consideration. This is not something we can put on the shelf for later.

Third, it means that staying away from sin is difficult. The imagery of cutting off your own hand is definitely a graphic one, but one that makes the point that it will not be easy. People should be thinking, ‘that is going to be hard,’ when they hear these words from Jesus. Holiness is hard. It is difficult. It is not easy. If you are just coasting along in your walk with the Lord with no real struggle with sin at all then you are not doing it right. Now, getting rid of sin is so difficult because of our remaining sin nature that continually leans us toward sin, as well as the thousands of temptations we face every single day. Our habits and patterns of sin are very difficult to break but we must break them.

Fourth, it means that staying away from sin is sacrificial. To lose a hand would place you at a serious disadvantage. It would make life very difficult. But that is the point, isn’t it? To decide to do things the Lord’s way inherently means that we can’t do things our way. We have to die to self, we have to give up our will, we have to submit to the Lord. It takes sacrifice to truly be holy. Too many times we think of holiness as a matter of convenience. If living holy will help me out, I’ll do it. If living holy causes me some disruption in the way I like things, then I won’t do it. But, holiness must be sacrificial. It has happened before that people have asked for pastoral advice on how to live for God and when I tell them what they must do, and they realize the personal changes that must take place, they choose to leave things as they are. ‘Cut off your hand’ means you have to sacrifice for holiness.

I hope as you read this that you do not look at holiness in a lighthearted manner. Being holy and staying away from sin is serious, urgent, difficult, and sacrificial. If you truly want to live for God then you must engage in the battle. Start cutting off some hands.

-Pastor Mark Scialabba

Committment

COMMITMENT

I have a great time coaching my two daughters in soccer. They are in the Under-8 league and we have a total of 16 players on our team. It gets a little difficult trying to play all 16 children in a game that only allows 9 at a time, but seeing their little faces light up when they score a goal makes it all worthwhile. As I was talking to a parent on another team, I was surprised to hear how their team is going. She said they can never get more than 7 of their players to come to practice, and they also have 16. The issue is that the people just don’t show up, but they have also had a few children quit the team.

The main issue with that soccer team is commitment. When I played soccer, I was taught you owe it to the team to show up at practice to learn how to play so that you can be a better teammate. Sure enough, that soccer team has children that have no idea how to play because they don’t come to practice. So, what happens during those games? The children that don’t show up to practice are a hindrance to the rest of the team because they haven’t been learning like everybody else.

The character attribute of commitment is becoming more and more scarce. If you sign up to be on a team then you are committing to that team for the season. I also serve on our girls’ School Site Council. I remember last year someone was on the council who did not show up to 1 meeting the whole year! Do things come up? Sure. Do life interruptions happen? Of course. But why sign up to be on a committee if you are not going to make one meeting? Why sign up to play on a soccer team to quit halfway through? I’m sure you’ve seen it in your life as well. People who have said they would be somewhere, and then don’t show up or cancel at the last minute. What happened to keeping your word? To commitment?

We have seen this trickle into the church as well. There are people who really struggle with being committed to their attendance or their ministry. I would bet that most of us have trouble committing to our spiritual disciplines of prayer and Bible reading. Some have told us that this is their church, only to not come back for months. We have even had people join the church as members only to simply stop coming. It makes me wonder, where is the commitment? Again, we need to be gracious and understanding because we all have life interruptions and situations that come up last minute. But those should be the exception, not the norm.

In the book of Hosea, God shows His anger with Israel because of their lack of loyalty, their lack of commitment. In chapter 6 verse 4, God calls Israel’s loyalty like a ‘morning cloud’ or like the ‘dew which goes away early.’ Basically, God is saying that their loyalty is quick to fade away. Sure they probably make grand statements about how loyal they will be, but their actions do not back up those words. Verse 6 says that God ‘delights in loyalty rather than sacrifice.’ God wants you committed to Him and His cause rather than a big gift every now and then. That should really shake us up. Can I put it another way? God wants us, not the things we can give Him. He wants our whole heart committed to Him, our whole life devoted to Him. The word for loyalty back in v 4 is a word for ‘love.’ Their love for God was like a morning cloud or the dew that fades away. That makes their lack of commitment even more heartbreaking.

In our life, in general, we need to hold to our commitments. If you sign up for something, or promise you will do something, then come through with it; even if it will inconvenience you. Because your word is your bond. And, when it comes to God, make your commitment to Him like the blazing sun not the morning clouds. Put Him first, devote yourself to Him, and He will not let you down.

Pastor Mark Scialabba

 

Passion for God

PASSION FOR GOD

If you own a Bible that is in the English language, then you owe some measure of debt to a man named William Tyndale. You see, William Tyndale was the first man to fully translate the New Testament from the original Greek language into English and put it into the hands of the common people. We hold our Bible in English today mostly because of William Tyndale.

He was born in 1494 in a country that was shrouded in spiritual darkness, although many churches existed and most people went to church. The reason England was in such darkness was because the common people spoke English, but all their Bibles were in Latin. Even the church services were all conducted in Latin leaving people completely in the dark about what was going on and what God was saying. This completely baffled Tyndale. If we wanted people to get saved, and to know God more, and grow in holiness, how could we do this if we don’t know or understand what God says?

The reason no one had brought the Bible into English before was because it was a crime in England. Even teaching the Bible unauthorized was a crime, a capital crime at that. Seven Reformers were burned at the stake just for teaching their children the Lord’s Prayer in English! This shows the spiritual darkness that hovered over England at the time.

Tyndale was consumed with one singular passion: to get the Word of God into the hands of the people of England. He said he wanted a plowboy in the field to know more of the Word of God than the pope. This decision to translate the Bible into English was not easy for Tyndale because he was putting his life on the line. Tyndale spent 12 years translating, and most of it was on the run, as the church authorities conspired and attempted to catch him to kill him. He could not even do his translating work in England, for fear of safety, so he spent most of his time translating moving around through Europe. As his location was compromised, he would grab his parchments and move on to another location.

He finished the New Testament and had begun the Old Testament when he was betrayed by a friend and arrested. Tyndale was sentenced to death for the heinous crime of translating God’s Word into English so people could read it. On October 6, 1536 Tyndale was brought to the place of execution. He was strangled with an iron chain and then his body was burned at the stake. His final words were, “Lord, open the king of England’s eyes.”

What makes a person so focused and so determined to go to these great lengths? I think it really has to do with passion. Tyndale was a gifted linguist, but it was his one desire in life to get the Word of God into the hands of the common people. He had a passion for the Word of God and that passion led him to a life on the run and eventual martyrdom. 

As I look around Christianity, I see anything but passion. I see apathy, indifference, an overall attitude of ‘good enough.’ This Voice article is not just a history lesson but a call to action, a call to passion. What are you passionate about? It could be all kinds of things, but is there any passion at all for God and His kingdom? Too often we spend our time seeking after the things of this world in order to ‘make it’ when Jesus said to seek His kingdom first and all those things shall be added unto you.

Some may look at the life of William Tyndale and think of him as a fool. He spent all his time on that translating work and look where it left him. I see a servant of God, with a passion for God, who God used mightily and influenced the entire world. Find something about the Lord that you are passionate about and go after it with 100% and God will honor that. As another Reformer once said, “I’d rather wear out than rust out.”

-Pastor Mark Scialabba

Who Will Replace You?

Who Will Replace You?

For a while now I have been putting off changing the batteries in my TV remote control. I know the batteries are getting low because sometimes pressing a button does nothing. They will eventually run out, but I don’t know when. The same is true when it comes to our place of ministry in the local church. We are like God’s batteries. He has us in a particular ministry or area of service for an amount of time that He designates. We don’t know the day or year when that time will come but we know it will eventually come. Maybe we will have to move, or maybe our age will make it too difficult to continue, or maybe it will just be our time to pass away. We have seen examples of all three in our local church here. Whatever the reason, we know that we won’t be serving or ministering where we are at forever.

So what do we need to do? We need to come to the realization that we are replaceable in God’s eyes and that we need someone else to step in our place when our time of ministry is over. We have to be engaged in the process of passing the baton to someone else. Paul outlined this process in 2 Timothy 2:2. He said, “The things which you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses, entrust these to faithful men who will be able to teach others also.” Paul knew he wouldn’t be ministering forever and so he brought along a young protégé named Timothy to follow him around, learn from him, and gain experience. Now, Paul tells Timothy to do the same thing to other men. The task is to duplicate yourself. Find someone who is capable and interested in taking over for you when the time comes for the Lord to move you on to something else.

Think about it. Is there an area of ministry that you are in charge of? Who will take over if the Lord moves you to something else? Is there something you do for the church better than anybody else? What will happen when the Lord switches you to something else? In most cases that area of ministry or service will simply come to an end if there is no one ready to step in and take the baton from the previous person. We don’t want to see that happen. We want ministry to continue for generations.

Of course we all know that we should be involved in some ministry in the local church, but one of the ways you can truly serve your church in the long-term is to invest in the next generation. Prepare someone else to take over for you when your area of ministry comes to an end. Find that person who is capable and interested, show them what to do, teach them, so that the ministry can eventually be turned over and it can continue. That’s surely better than just seeing the ministry come to an end. Pass the baton. 

This will take a lot of humility and the swallowing of pride because if you commit to passing the baton to someone else you are entrusting them to run the way they run, not the way you run. By turning over your ministry to someone else you are acknowledging that they may do it a little bit differently, and you’re ok with that, because the ministry continues. We have to come to grips with the realization that we are not the only ones who can do x, y, or z. Other people can do it too, but they will do it their way. However, without someone to pass the baton to, the ministry will simply die out.

This is not going to be a quick fix either. We are not talking about a few minutes of instruction one day. We are talking about life discipleship with another person. Bring somebody alongside of you in your ministry and show them how to do what you do. We are not irreplaceable to God. In fact, like a battery, we don’t know when our time of ministry in our current location is going to run out. Let’s pass the baton to the next generation and see them do the same.

-Pastor Mark Scialabba

Good Deeds

Good Deeds

In our day and age, when someone says, “I’m a Christian,” many thoughts come to the mind of those who hear. Some may think that means “I’m anti-gay,” or “I’m anti-abortion,” or “I’m a Republican.” When we tell someone we are a Christian, what should come to mind? What should those people be thinking? Is it some political stance or some ancient way of life taken from some old book? What should Christians be known for? I’ll tell you what Christians should be known for: good deeds. A Christian should be someone whose life is full of good deeds that benefit others. That is what should come to mind when people hear us say we follow Christ. People should think, “Oh, you’re a Christian, then you are one of those people always doing good deeds for others.” That is what they should think.

Paul mentions the need for Christians to engage in good deeds over and over again in his instructions to Titus. He tells Titus to teach young men to be “an example of good deeds” (2:7). He says Jesus is purifying a people (us) who are “zealous for good deeds (2:14). He says we should be “ready for every good deed (3:1). He says “be careful to engage in good deeds” (3:8) and that the people must also learn to “engage in good deeds” (3:14). Lastly, it is a false Christian who professes to know God but really deny Him by his/her “deeds” (1:16). Christians should be known for their good deeds.

To sum up Paul’s instructions to Titus about this issue we could say the following: Christians should set the example of those who do good deeds, we should be excited and passionate about doing good deeds, we should be ready at any time to do good deeds, we should be careful and compassionate in how we do good deeds, and lastly we need to actually get out there and do the good deeds.

Now, what exactly are the “good deeds?” Can it be something like baking a cake for a friend? Or does it have to be something more ‘spiritual’ like sharing the gospel or inviting someone to church. I think it can really be all of the above. Jesus talked about giving food to the hungry, drink to the thirsty, inviting in strangers, clothing the naked, visiting the sick, and going to see those in prison (Matt 25:35-36). What do all of those have in common? They all reveal an overall attitude of help and service to those who cannot repay you. It is really about doing something for others without expecting anything in return. If you bake a cake for a friend, not expecting one in return, then that would be a good deed. If you share the gospel with a co-worker because you love them and want to see them saved, then that would be a good deed. 

Paul’s instructions to Titus clarify what a good deed is when he says, “These things are good and profitable for all men” (3:8). The key word there is “profitable.” Do your deeds bring profit to the other individual? Of course we are not talking about financial profit, but simply the actions that would better them in some way. Giving them a cake to brighten their day could profit them. Seeing someone saved is definitely a profit to them. Are the deeds we are performing bringing profit to others? That is the definition of a good deed.

It seems today that the word ‘Christian’ has a negative connotation to it. People look upon Christians in a bad light. Now, some of that is because the world is in opposition to God. Jesus was the greatest man who ever lived and they crucified Him! Just because we behave like Jesus doesn’t mean the world will love us. But, if you look at the behavior and actions of Jesus, they were filled with good deeds. He was always bringing profit to others in a gracious way, not expecting anything in return. Let us take up that model and engage in good deeds.

-Pastor Mark

It's a Boy...Or a Girl

IT'S A BOY...OR A GIRL

PART II

    This month’s article is a continuation of last month’s article dealing with the issue transgenderism in our culture. Last time, we discussed what a transgender person is and two reasons why it cannot be accepted. First, it screams of subjectivity, even rejecting the scientific biological evidence. Second, God makes it very clear that He assigns gender, and it is not up for discussion (Gen 1:27; Deut 22:5). 
    Let us take a moment to discuss a third reason why transgenderism cannot be condoned or accepted. I would call the third reason one large jump down the slippery slope. Where does the subjectivity of the human spirit end? Today, it is people rejecting their biological gender. Tomorrow, its people rejecting that they are even people! And it’s happening. I recently read a story about men who dress up in dog costumes and like to act like dogs, because they ‘identify’ with that way of life. Is that wrong? How can you say either ‘yes’ or ‘no’ if subjectivity reigns? There was also a news story of a woman who worked for the NAACP who was white, but said she identified as an African American because she is transracial. At the height of hypocrisy, the national public went nuts. This woman was ridiculed and insulted for how she dared to claim to be something biologically she wasn’t. But why is transgender ok and transracial isn’t? What’s next? Transfinancial (a rich person trapped in a poor person’s body), transmoral (any or no morals), transethnic (Italian but identify as Mexican), etc. The leap down the slippery slope has already happened.
    So, where does something like transgenderism come from? There is one simple word that explains the entire idea and movement. The word is sin. The root of sin is simply not following a list of things that God said to do or not do. The root of sin is rebellion. It is revolt and mutiny against God. Sin is willful defiance against God as the Sovereign one who has the ultimate authority to tell us what to do, what not to do, and what gender we are. Man, in his sin, hates the idea that God is in control, and that He has all authority to command us and punish disobedience. The rebellion against God can be seen in atheism, which is the refusal to acknowledge the Sovereign One even exists. The rebellion against God can be seen in homosexuality, where man refuses to allow God to tell him what he can/cannot do with his body. The rebellion against God can be seen in our redefining of morality and right/wrong. Now, there are no clear black and whites concerning morality at all. If you have to lie, then lie. And, the rebellion against God can also be seen in refusing to acknowledge that God can even determine your gender. What a shocking evidence of pride to tell the Creator, “I am not what you made me. I know what I truly am, you don’t.” Sin is lawlessness (1 John 3:4) and you can see that sin evidenced in the blatant refusal of acknowledging God’s sovereignty. Who is ultimately in charge of our lives, our bodies? Is it us, or is it God?
    But what is the big deal? Why do Christians care? Isn’t it a personal issue? Christians are not trying to pick a fight with a select group of sinners. Transgendered people are not worse sinners than others, but transgenderism is still sin. When the culture demands that a Christian redefine what is right/wrong, or refuse to accept God’s opinion on a matter, then Christians must disagree. A wrong does not become a right because the culture says so. An abomination does not become a beautiful thing because the majority says so. God has spoken clearly on such matters, and that stands as the Christian’s authority, nothing else. The culture is not asking us if we will accept transgenderism as a reality, the culture is demanding we endorse transgenderism as righteous. Our conscience, informed from the Word of God, cannot do so.

-Pastor Mark Scialabba

 

June 2016

IT'S A BOY......OR A GIRL

PART I

Imagine this scenario with me for a minute. A married couple is about to have their first child and they have decided to keep the gender of the baby a secret because they want to be surprised. At the time of delivery the baby comes out and they ask the doctor if it is a boy or a girl. Then the doctor tells them, “We’ll have to wait a few years for the child to decide which gender he/she chooses to be.” Seems a bit ridiculous doesn’t it? The biology of the baby decides its gender, not anything else. Although, this is not what we hear in our society today. Gender is now a personal decision regardless of the physical biology of the person. These people call themselves ‘transgender.’ 

This issue has come to the forefront of the American dialogue most notably because of Target corporation’s decision to let their shoppers choose any bathroom they more ‘identify’ with. It has become a hot talking point and a big social issue, but in reality, transgender people are only .3% of the population. Now of course some people might be too embarrassed to admit they are transgender, but even so, does that take the percentage up to 1%? And this issue is not as simple as we may think. The reality of gender and gender identification has now become so obfuscated that there are 50 different gender choices on Facebook! How do we as Christians think about this issue Biblically? 

First things first, for a culture who demands scientific evidence and empirical research to prove anything, the issue of transgenderism is very bizarre, simply because there is no science behind it whatsoever. I used to think that a transgender person was someone not born with specified male/female genitalia. However, after investigating the issue, the definition of a transgender person is simply a person who was assigned a gender at birth that they do not feel is accurate. It screams of subjectivity. It defies biology. What other biology or empirical evidence can we reject or affirm in the future, simply because we don’t feel it is accurate. Can I claim to identify as an alien or a canine, regardless of my biology, simply because I feel like it?

Second, the Bible makes it very clear that there are not 50 different gender choices. There are only 2. Genesis 1:27 says, “God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them.” Man is a created being by the Sovereign being. Man doesn’t get to create a third or fiftieth type of gender. Men and women are fashioned in the womb by God and they are designated either a male or a female by the Creator. Is the Bible in error in this teaching? Does God make mistakes when He assigns a person their gender as seen in their biology? Of course not.

What about people who simply want to dress or act like the opposite sex? Men who want to dress like women and women who want to dress like men? Well, God calls it an ‘abomination’ for men to dress like women and women to dress like men (Deut 22:5). In the famous passage about head coverings in I Corinthians 11:2-12, the real issue isn’t about a covering for the head. The real issue is about men who are refusing to look like men, and women who are trying to look like men. It is sinful for a person to try and alter or confuse the gender they were given by God. 

I’m running out of space and much more needs to be said so I am going to finish this article next month. This is Part I. Because I still want to answer the nagging question: why do Christians care? What’s the big deal? And, what is the underlying issue behind transgenderism? Is it really as simple as choosing a gender to identify with? You’ll have to check back next month to find out!

Pastor Mark Scialabba

 

May 2016

Strength in weakness

There is an old saying that gives the key to evaluating a real estate property: Location, location, location. Well, the key to understanding Bible verses is: Context, context, context. The context is the surrounding circumstances and words that lead to a particular statement or idea. The Bible is not a series of loosely connected phrases and ‘religious’ statements (like the Koran) to be plucked out and quoted when the timing seems right. Instead, the Bible is mostly narrative, or epistles, that were written with specific aims and purposes in mind; and have a consistent flow of thought throughout. To pull a verse out of it’s context and apply it in a way that the author did not intend, is the cardinal sin of Biblical interpretation.

One of the most misused verses in all the Bible is Philippians 4:13. It says, “I can do all things through Him (Christ) who strengthens me.” This verse has become the mantra of personal goal setting, individual achievement, and self-confidence. People quote this verse as they try and lift a new record at the gym, or make their monthly sales goals, or try to improve their own self-esteem by believing that they can do anything (with  God’s help of course). However, when you analyze the surrounding context, this verse actually teaches the opposite of self-achievement.

In verse 11 Paul says he has learned to be content in whatever circumstances he is in. The flow of his argument is about contentment regarding his situations. What situations? Verse 12 says he has learned how to get along with humble means and prosperity, being filled and going hungry, and having an abundance and suffering need. Sometimes things were great for Paul and sometimes things were really bad for Paul; to the extent of not having food! But in all those circumstances he was learning to be content in them. Then comes v 13, “I can do all things through Him who strengthens me.”

The message of this passage of Scripture is that God will give you all types of circumstances, and we must learn to be content in whatever those circumstances are, but He will always help us through those difficult circumstances. I’m amazed that the Apostle Paul, arguably the greatest Christian ever to live, had times when he literally didn’t have food. But he was learning to be content in those times because God was strengthening him through those periods of hardship. That is a far cry from being a statement of personal achievement and goal setting. In fact, it is really the opposite of such conclusions.

Other passages of Scripture help us to see this as well. In 2 Corinthians 12:10, Paul says he is content in his weaknesses because God helps him when he is at his weakest. He says in v 7 that God gave him a thorn in the flesh to prevent him from exalting himself! Even when Paul asked for it to be removed, God said ‘no,’ because His power is perfected in weakness (v 9). Paul is then glad to boast about his weaknesses so that the power of God will come upon him (v 9).

What do these verses all have in common? They teach the exact opposite of self-exaltation, self-congratulation, and self-achievement. The lesson is to not depend on yourself, but depend on God. When have you ever heard of someone boasting of their weaknesses? Or being content in times of need? Paul did, because that was when God showed up the most. It was God, all God, who aided Paul in all his circumstances. Paul was not afraid to be honest with his weaknesses because that is where God puts on display His own strength.

Let us remember to see the meaning of verses in context, because if they are used outside of their immediate context, the meaning changes drastically… sometimes even into the exact opposite of what the author is trying to say.

                                                                                                                       Pastor Mark Scialabba

April 2016

When I moved to Southern California from Northern California to attend college, I wanted to attend a Bible teaching church (even though I wasn’t saved). I asked some well-respected churches if they could recommend a church near me. Out of the few recommendations the church I decided to try was called Westside Bible Church in Inglewood, CA. Not being from L.A. I had no idea where Inglewood was or what the ‘Westside’ in Westside Bible Church was about. I called the church, the pastor told me when the service was at, and I went to visit the next Sunday morning.

When I first walked in I immediately stopped in my tracks. Westside Bible Church was a ‘black church.’ That means, it was a predominantly African American congregation. Now, I don’t have anything wrong with going to church with African Americans, but I knew right away I stuck out. It was very awkward. However, immediately people came up to me and greeted me, hugged me even, and made me feel like a part of the family. Although my skin color was different, I never felt different being there. It was my home.

Churches almost instinctively gravitate toward a particular demographic. It’s just the way we are wired; we want to go to a place where we feel we will belong. We want to be at a place with others who share our same look and values. We don’t want to be the one person sticking out. That’s why we see ‘black churches’ and Hispanic churches, and even white churches. Some churches even specify their demographic by the church’s name (ex: Chinese Christian Church). Whether it is on purpose or not, I think we miss out when our church is so demographically narrow, and let me give you a few reasons why.

First, the gospel is for everyone, not simply a specific demographic. The good news of Jesus Christ is not for a certain people group, but for all people. It doesn’t matter if a person is old or young, male or female, black or white, poor or rich, the gospel message is for them! They can be saved and have their sins forgiven and that is why it is good news! We need to make sure churches reflect this, and conversely, do not reflect the idea that this specific church is for the salvation of only one certain group and if you are not a part of that group, find your salvation elsewhere.

Second, God has always been a multiethnic God. Let me explain. Even in the Old Testament, in the time of Israel God brought people from outside the people of Israel to live with the people of Israel. Think of people like Rahab and Ruth for example. They were not Israel but God brought them in. Then look at the New Testament and its churches. Christian churches were formed all over the Roman Empire, in all types of cities, and they frequently had a consistency of both Jew and Gentile together. You never saw the First Jewish Church of Corinth or others like that.

Third, the gathering of the saints to worship is supposed to give us a taste of what heaven is going to be like and heaven is going to be a place of unbelievable diversity! In fact, Revelation 5:9 says there are people from “every tribe and tongue and people and nation.” I definitely do not believe we are going to be segregated and split up based on our demographics. Like we get to heaven, fill out a form, check the appropriate boxes, and then are dispersed to our respective demographic area. No, you will be worshiping in heaven right next to someone from another people group, another nation, and probably another tongue. And we will all be worshiping the same God together! Shouldn’t our churches reflect that same diversity here on earth?

I was amazed at how obviously different I was, and yet how lovingly and joyously I was welcomed into the flock of Westside Bible Church. I challenge us to do the same when someone of different background, different race, or different status comes to our church. Let’s embrace a diverse congregation andnot fear one.

                                                                                                                       Pastor Mark Scialabba

March 2016

We would all admit that our prayer life could use some work. Even for those who pray regularly, sometimes the prayer time can feel stale and boring. It seems that we are saying the same things over and over again. Well, this month I’d like to offer some suggestions to give that prayer life a little shot in the arm. I call it: praying ‘dangerous prayers.’ I’m not saying to change your physical posture during prayer so that you are dangling over a cliff or something like that. When I say ‘dangerous prayers’ I mean prayers that we are sure God will hear and answer, but may cause life to get a little rough for us and get us out of our comfort zone.

The first dangerous prayer you can pray is to pray for humility. We all would admit that humility is a necessary Christian virtue and we should be working on being more humble. 1 Peter 5:5 ends with the statement, “God is opposed to the proud, but gives grace to the humble.” So, He is inclined to those who are humble. Also, in order to be humble, we must admit that we are not humble. As soon as one says, “I’m humble,” they aren’t anymore. But why is this a dangerous prayer? The answer is: for God to teach you humility, He will humble you. God will send you to a situation where you might feel embarrassed, or ashamed, or guilty of something. Sometimes pastors can feel a little puffed up because we think we are preaching God’s Word so the church needs us and we are important. And then God humbles us by some dear saint in the church reminding us we didn’t call them back as we said we would, or we forgot that appointment we had scheduled. Being taught humility is a humbling experience.

The second dangerous prayer we can pray is to ask for opportunities to share the gospel. Most people are terrified to share their faith, let alone approach a stranger about it. But Paul continually prayed for opportunities to share the gospel (Col 4:3). And we know that it is God’s desire to save everybody (1 Tim 2:3-4), so if you pray for God to give you opportunities, He will answer. But this is a dangerous prayer for us because that means someone will probably engage us in conversation, ask us about our church, or tell us of the hardships of their life; which gives us the opportunity to share our faith, and that is the one thing we are most scared of. God is good to shake us up a little bit and get us out of our comfort zone. If we won’t approach a stranger, God will bring someone to us. Pray this prayer if you want to see yourself share the gospel more.

The third dangerous prayer you can pray is for God to give you a trial. Some of you reading this may think I’m crazy and that we should never ask for a trial. In fact, we probably do everything in our power to get out of a trial and avoid trials, not ask for one! But the Bible says that we will encounter trials and we should not be surprised when we encounter trials. Jesus said we would have tribulation in this life. So, if we are not in a trial right now, what’s going on? Is God’s Word just not true for me? While I do not think the Lord wants us in a trial every moment of every day, it is important to remember the words of James 1:2-4. “Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.” Trials produce the endurance necessary for our faith, which makes us complete. Like a rubber band our faith is stretched out during a trial. We all want greater faith right? Well, that comes through trials. Pray for God to give you a trial to strengthen your faith and God will provide you with an answer to that prayer.

Of course I use the phrase ‘dangerous prayers’ tongue in cheek. Those are actually good prayers to pray. They are only ‘dangerous’ in the sense that they will stir us in our walk with the Lord. If you are feeling unsatisfied in your walk with the Lord, pray these prayers to challenge you a little bit. After all, there is nothing dangerous about that.

Pastor Mark Scialabba

February 2016

In the summer of 2008, Angela and I were blessed to be able to go on a short term missions trip to England. We visited a missionary located in central England who was trying to find men to come pastor churches in the same region. England was going through a very bizarre situation in regards to Christianity. The country had churches, not a lot, but some. However, these churches did not have pastors leading them. In fact, over 200 churches at that time, regularly met and carried on as a normal church, just without any pastor. A bizarre situation indeed. The problem only compounded as many traveling ‘preachers’ went from church to church teaching for one week and then moving on to do the same somewhere else the next week. These speakers were booked months in advance, and none of them interested in staying at one of these churches and pastoring it.

What were the causes of this lack of pastoral leadership? Some think it was due to the embracing of liberal Christianity as a whole, in England. Many cardinal doctrines of the faith are rejected or just not taught anymore. Some think it is the heavy immigration and influence of Muslims into the country. While we can guess at what the causes are, we do not have to guess on what the Bible says to do to prevent this situation since it is covered clearly in the book of 2 Timothy.

In 2 Timothy 2:2, the apostle Paul says this, “The things which you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses, entrust these to faithful men who will be able to teach others also.” This is the antidote for the problem of pastorless churches and it was written before the problem even existed! Paul is instructing Timothy, who was taught along with many others, to pass on what he learned to other men who would be able to teach.

The first thing Timothy needs to do is find ‘faithful men.’ He is not talking about faithfulness to their wives (but that is still required). He is speaking of men who are trustworthy, men who are already serving, men who seem to be headed on the path toward spiritual leadership anyway. Men who will take what they are taught and use it appropriately by teaching others.

The second thing Timothy is supposed to do when he finds these faithful men is to entrust these men with the things he has learned. Clearly, Paul is talking about theology, the character of God, the Word of God, etc. It is probably assumed that this would take a long time, but once Timothy has found the faithful men, he must begin teaching them.

Paul even lays out the purpose and the goal of this instruction: so they “will be able to teach others also.” There is a domino effect and a multi-generational effect here. Timothy teaches men, who teach men, who then teach other men, and down the line it goes. There really is no excuse for a church or churches to be left without any pastor. Part of the pastor’s job is to be committed to this responsibility. It’s not just about preaching and leading, it’s about passing on what he has learned to other men who can pass it along to other men too. This is how we accomplish real leadership development in the church.     

Pastor Mark Scialabba

January 2016

As many of you know, the new Star Wars movie came out at the end of December. Of course, for me, I was super excited to see it and actually saw it twice on opening day! But I was not alone. Millions of fans had been anxiously awaiting the release ever since they announced it was going to be made over two years ago. The internet went crazy when the planning of the film was announced. The internet went crazy again when the producers published a photo of the entire cast doing a read through. Then the internet went crazy again when the first preview came out. And, when presale tickets finally went on sale, fans crashed the ticket website because there was such high demand. Clearly, many people were overly excited to see Star Wars when it finally came out.

I think back to how excited I was for the movie to come out and it caused me to reflect on one spiritual issue. The Bible tells us to be really excited for another big event: the 2nd coming of Christ. 1 Corinthians 1:7 says, “so that you are not lacking in any gift, awaiting eagerly the revelation of our Lord Jesus Christ.” Now when I think about how I felt leading up to Star Wars, I was definitely ‘awaiting eagerly.’ But when I think about Jesus coming back, am I waiting with that type of eagerness?

Of course we admit that we are excited for Jesus to come back. But do we look for it eagerly? Are we awaiting His return, or does it not really cross our mind? Probably the reason we do not eagerly await the coming of our Lord is that we are a bit too attached to this world here. There are many things that bring us joy and pleasure here in this world, and a lot of them are good gifts from our Heavenly Father to enjoy. But many entertainments and pleasures really have no eternal value, really don’t help us grow spiritually, and really offer no redeeming purpose whatsoever. And those are the hardest things for us to let go of. If Jesus gave Christians a spoiler and told us the day He was coming back and it was the day before the Super Bowl, or the day before our birthday, or right before we were going on a big family vacation, would we be ‘eagerly awaiting?’ How we answer that question reveals where our heart is.

One way that we can work on ‘awaiting eagerly’ the return of our Lord is to go back to that verse found in 1 Corinthians. It calls the coming of Christ His ‘revelation.’ That means when Jesus comes back He will be fully revealed. There will be no more hidden Christ. No more Jesus as a helpless baby. No more Jesus as the man being tortured and murdered. He will be revealed as God Almighty. (For a sneak peek read Revelation 19). Right now Jesus is mocked, laughed at, ridiculed, and scorned. When He comes back, all of that ends. The curtain is revealed and Jesus will receive the glory and worship He so rightly deserves. Now that is a reason to ‘await eagerly’ the coming of Christ. It’s not about us having to leave all of our stuff behind. It’s about Jesus getting the full recognition that He deserves.

Pastor Mark Scialabba