Category Archives: Church History

We Are All Beggars

By Charles Fry /

WE ARE ALL BEGGARS

Shortly before Martin Luther died, a piece of paper containing his handwriting was found in his pocket. Among other words on the paper were these: “This is true. We are all beggars.”[i]

During his lifetime, Luther had come to see the holiness and justice of God. He realized he had no righteousness whatsoever to declare him acceptable to God. Luther only had Christ. Yet, in having Christ, he had everything: assurance of heaven, peace with God, and a calm heart before the Law of God. Simply clinging to Christ alone, Martin Luther inadvertently turned 1500s Europe upside down.

In the fall of 1984, I came to see in a deeper way the truth of Luther’s words, “We are all beggars.” My pastor preached one day on Matthew 5:3 (NASB), “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” Through this sermon, I was brought face to face with the holiness of God. I was subsequently led to see that I had no righteousness or godliness to give to God in light of his majesty. Yet, in the same sermon, I heard the gospel, the announcement of good news that comes from God himself.

Christ the Lord was freely and sweetly offered as a perfect Savior. His once-and-for-all death on the cross was shown to be truly sufficient to pay the penalty for all my sin—past, present, and future. I was reminded that I had been justified by faith alone, resting from my own works. As the leaves fell that day in my hometown in Appalachia, heaven once again seemed to come to earth, as the old saying goes. I knew without a doubt that God was my Father in heaven and that I was surrounded by his lovingkindness. I experienced genuine joy.

Read all the posts published to date in this extended series on the life and theology of Martin Luther, as we celebrate the 500th Anniversary of the birth of the Reformation.

Almost thirty years later, I taught a class on Martin Luther in the same church where I had heard this sermon. In preparing each lecture, I realized how much I personally needed to regularly hear the Law and the gospel clearly proclaimed, as well as the doctrine of justification by faith alone. It is easy to forget, doubt, or trivialize the majesty of God’s Law, the grace of God, and the freeness of the gospel announcement. I was struck by the centrality, simplicity, and sufficiency of the gospel for the Church. I also noticed that the gospel is the only message in the world that gives all glory to God and humbles the pride of man. This fact was not missed by Luther. In reading his works, I was struck by his zeal for the glory of God and its connection to the gospel.

In keeping with these observations, I have two goals for this series of blog posts.

Reformation Roots

First, I hope to share concisely with the reader our Reformation roots that have largely been lost. The greatest need of our time is to return to the “first principles” of the Reformation and once again draw straight and simple lines of theology. Studying Martin Luther is a wonderful way to understand what the Bible teaches concerning God himself, the nature of man, and the gospel. Simply put, I want to share with the reader the wonderful news of the gospel that we may be filled with true joy and peace in believing (Romans 15:13 NASB).

Martin Luther’s need is our need—whether our background is Roman Catholic, Presbyterian, Methodist, Baptist, Lutheran, Anglican, Jewish, atheist, Muslim, Buddhist, Hindu, or anything else. God has clearly spoken in the Bible, telling us that every person in the world is accountable to him and that we are all bankrupt sinners in light of his majesty, holiness, and righteousness (Romans 3:9 – 20 NASB). All of us need the cross of Christ. All of us need a righteousness outside of ourselves that only Jesus can provide. This is our only hope.


Simply by clinging to Christ alone, Martin Luther inadvertently turned 1500’s Europe upside down.
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Luther’s Gospel Focus

The second goal in this project is to show from Luther’s work that while the gospel is the only true source of peace and joy, it is also the only message that gives complete glory to God. Certainly, Luther desired for man to receive comfort and hope from the good news of Christ. Yet he was concerned that the Church be faithful to the gospel message so that God would receive all honor. He despised the ways in which man robbed God of his glory; he longed for the medieval church to be humbled before God and to exalt Christ alone.

Next week, we will present an overview of the posts to follow, introducing the topic areas and setting the stage for an exciting, illuminating ride through the early years of one of the most pivotal eras in church history: the Protestant Reformation. 

Part 1 of a 22-part series drawn from A World Upside Down: The Life and Theology of Martin Luther, by Charles E. Fry.

Chuck Fry holds degrees from Marshall University, Moody Bible Institute, and Christ College. He has been in discipleship ministry since 1989 and is on staff with The Navigators in Huntington, West Virginia. He and his wife, Lisa, organize and host the annual Majesty of God conference, held each April.

[i] James M. Kittelson, Luther the Reformer: The Story of the Man and His Career (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1986, 2003), 297.

The post We Are All Beggars appeared first on Cruciform Press.

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John MacArthur on The Reformation: A Lesson About Heresy & The Power of Truth

This is THE year.   2017.  So many have been awaiting its arrival with anticipation, with hope, with a desire to see history repeat itself.  And NO. It isn’t about some eternally unimportant temporal American election.

It’s about the explosion of truth … God’s Truth … across the planet. It’s about when Truth was unshackled from a millennium of virtual bondage in a blasphemous prison built by the apostate hands of man.   It’s about not a mere celebration of a historical event – the Reformation – it’s about praising God for giving bold, historic evidence of his claim in Psalm 138:2:

You have exalted above all things
your name and your word. Psalm 138:2

The Reformation serves as providential, temporal, historic evidence that His Name and His Word will always remain unfettered by the prideful whims of man and unshadowed by the efforts of a God-hating enemy. Utterances from the truthful lips of God (Proverbs 12:19) remain forever.

The Reformation was a providential movement of God, protecting His Truth and thereby extending grace to the undeserving world. Its’ fruit has, as of this year, continued to bless the world for five hundred years.

But, though we know the many warnings of end-time diversions off the narrow path and how the church will increasingly be plagued with false teachers and false gospels, the true church – not the superficial one – prays for another reformation.

We want another reformation that brings to the modern church what the Reformation brought to the 16th-century one – the restoration of God’s Name and God’s Word to their rightful, exalted place. We want that preached in our pulpits and taught in our Sunday school rooms. We want THAT Truth to be the visible image of the church to an onlooking world. And we want that Truth to be proclaimed, defended and contended, so that the elect hearts of men may be saved by it. We want that Truth blasted across an increasingly depraved world because THAT Truth gives glory to Jesus, the Lord and the Savior.

But the modern superficial church – the one most unbelievers think of when they think about “church” – is light years away from the authentic light of God’s Word, though that Word is so often merely a fingertip away. False teaching is rampant because the Word goes unheeded. Error is hurled, tolerated, and endorsed with ever greater ferocity because sound doctrine is ignored. Deception continues WITHIN the church as “the god of this world” (2 Corinthians 4:4, 1 John 5:19) appealingly deludes with unsound doctrine (2 Timothy 4:3) imprisoning men’s minds in strongholds of darkness. (2 Corinthians 10:4)

On his daily Grace To You Radio broadcast today, John MacArthur prefaced his message with a quick look at two particular lessons from the Reformation. These studio comments come ahead of the rebroadcast of his message, Is Jesus The Only Way?

Here’s what Dr. MacArthur had to say:

“I think there are a couple of things that come out of the Reformation that are just really profound, far-reaching lessons.”

“The first one is that error, heresy, false Christianity can survive for a very long time. It can not only survive, it can actually be a dominant force in society. That is exactly what happened for a thousand years in the development of Roman Catholicism.”

“If you think that there’s not a powerful, massive, embedded force for heresy, for a corrupted Gospel and a corrupted church, alive and well in the world, you don’t know history.”

“Error is always seeking to be permanently embedded and given a kind of dignity, a kind of acceptability, a kind of prominence in the world. And that’s what happened for a thousand years in the development of the Roman Catholic Church.”

“The other thing that comes out of the Reformation is this … that as profoundly embedded as evil is for such a long time and through tens of thousands of people, God can use one person as He did Martin Luther – or two or three – to literally bring the Truth.”

“That’s something we ought to pray for even today.”

There’s really only one thing that can be said to this … AMEN.

Source: John MacArthur on The Reformation: A Lesson About Heresy & The Power of Truth

The History of Advent

Unlike modern Advent ceremonies, most celebrations of Advent in history had a twin focus. The Latin word adventus was the translation of the Greek parousia—a word used for both the coming of Christ in human flesh and his Second Coming. Advent, then, always tended to focus on both.

Many churches lit the first of their Advent candles today (hopefully without needing the fire department!). Even churches averse to liturgical practices find a way to mark the Advent season, if only by marking the days remaining until Christmas.

This is some of the story behind Advent.

UNKNOWN START

The earliest dating of Advent is impossible to determine. The start of Easter in Christian history is far more obviously tied to Passover (albeit with different methods for dating), and Christmas came to be associated with the birth of Christ as a result of it falling during the December Solstice, the darkest day of the year in the northern hemisphere. The coming of the Light of the World made a lot of sense in so much darkness. Within a few centuries of church history, both Easter and Christmas took on special meaning due to their use in commemorating the life of Jesus.

In the early centuries of the church, Advent almost certainly arose as a result of the fixed dating of Christmas. Once December 25 became Christmas, it was the center of gravity for the later half of the year—a perfect balance to Easter in the first half. In this way, Advent took on significance the same way Lent did: both were preparation for the more significant season on the horizon.

By the fourth century, the first written evidence of Advent is found in modern Spain and Europe (Hispania and Gaul). Probably the earliest official mention of Advent practices comes as the Council of Sargossa (AD 380) met to answer a gnostic-inspired movement called Priscillianism.

The heresy essentially held to a harsh form of dualism—light vs. dark, body vs. soul—so perhaps the celebration of the incarnation made theological sense as a counterbalance to this heresy. The council was not committed to any specific dating of Advent, though, and only suggested people attend church daily between December 17 and 29.

By the fifth and sixth centuries, more firm dating of the Advent season can be found in historical records—as well as Advent sermon series.

I made a short video of this same comment on my YouTube channel for those interested

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Luther’s 95 Theses

On this day 499 years ago, a monk named Martin Luther (1483–1546) approached a church door in Wittenberg, Germany and posted a list of topics for academic debate at the local university. With this relatively innocuous act Luther started a movement that developed into the Protestant Reformation. That list of topics which Luther posted on…

Reformation Day — Luther the Movie

Reformation Day — Luther the Movie – “In this day, 499 years ago, Martin Luther nailed his ninety-five theses to the castle door in Wittenberg.  It was designed to spark conversation and debate.  It would do much more than Luther ever imagined.  It was the early spark of the Protestant Reformation. The full movie about Martin Luther (2003) can be watched here…”

Luther (Full Movie)

The Big Five Doctrines of the Reformation

reformation-wall-in-genevaHave you ever wondered why people call themselves “Reformed”? The word “reformed” generally means “improved”—as in, desperate parents may send an incorrigible adolescent to a reformatory school to get them back in line; politicians promise economic reforms to undo the damage of their predecessors. In theological circles, the word is written with a capital, and acts as a self-designation for those who consider themselves to be direct doctrinal descendants of the progenitors of the Reformation, namely Martin Luther, Jean Calvin, et al.

For example, plain vanilla Baptists get upgraded to “Reformed Baptists” if they embrace not only the tenets of Baptists, but also the doctrines for which the Reformers risked life and limb.

Exactly 499 years to the day (October 31, 1517) the Catholic priest, Martin Luther, nailed, to the door of the Wittenburg Castle Church, his list of 95 things the Catholic Church needed to reform/improve in order to be faithful to what the Bible teaches.

Reformed folk today come in various subspecies: some don’t hold to all five tenets of the Calvinist TULIP* scheme, others have shed the Reformers’ eschatology and ecclesiology, such as infant baptism. But all who brandish the prefix “Reformed” will share a profound commitment to the five slogans of the Reformation that functioned as the five-fold battle cry of essentials around which all Reformers united.

Ironically, these five mottos are commonly referred to by their Latin monikers. I say it’s ironic because the Reformers were committed to translating the Scriptures and theological writings out of the elitist Latin language and into any and every vernacular tongue imaginable. But the description of this commitment has come to us in Latin: Post tenebras lux,(after darkness light).

post-tenebras-lux

Any visitor to South Africa’s Kruger National Park wants to see the Big Five: lion, leopard, elephant, rhino, and buffalo. Though there are countless species to keep career game wardens busy for a lifetime, nothing trumps the satisfaction of spotting the Big Five.

Here is a quick primer on the doctrinal biggies of the Reformation, the so-called “Five Solas.”

  1. Scripture Alone (Sola Scriptura)

While the Catholic church taught that authority lies in two main sources: the Scriptures (Old & New Testaments) and the magisterium (the official dogma of the Pope and his councils), the reform Luther wanted was that the church should recognize only one source of revelation: Scripture alone.

See 2 Pet 1:21; 2 Tim 3:16; Mark 7:7; 1 Cor 4:6.

The 1689 Baptist Confession of Faith articulates it this way:

Those things which are necessary to be known, believed and observed for salvation, are so clearly propounded and opened in some place of Scripture or other, that not only the learned, but the unlearned, in a due use of ordinary means, may attain to a sufficient understanding of them.” (1689 BCOF, Ch 1, Par 7).

 

  1. By Grace Alone (Sola Gratia)

Where the Catholic church taught that salvation came to an individual by means of Christ’s work on the cross and man’s work in response (including necessary sacraments such as baptism into the Catholic church and communion administered by an authorized Catholic), the Reformers insisted that salvation came by one means: God’s free, unmerited favor initiated by him, or simply put, by grace alone.5solas

Ephesians 2:8-9 For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.

See also, Titus 3:5; Romans 3:24

 

  1. Through Faith Alone (Sola Fide)

Similar to the previous one, this doctrine emphasizes that the instrument by which grace is administered is not faith in combination with the practice of certain sacraments, but faith alone. Good works follow salvation from sin, but those works are not accounted as the means of saving grace.

Faith thus receiving and resting on Christ and his righteousness, is the alone instrument of justification; yet it is not alone in the person justified, but is ever accompanied with all other saving graces, and is no dead faith, but worketh by love.” (1689 BCOF ch 11, par 1,2)

 

  1. Through Christ Alone (Solus Christus)

Integral to the Catholic system of salvation is the role of priests. These are men who mediate between sinners and the Savior. The Reformers emphasized that anyone can go directly to the Savior, and that he is the only needed mediator…

1 Timothy 2:5 For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus.

Although priests did have a mediatorial role in the Old Testament, once Christ came he fulfilled that role once for all and is the only needed mediator (Heb 7:23-25). Especially relevant today is that this doctrine is the opposite of the Catholic assertion that Mary occupies an office of “co-redemptrix” alongside Christ.

 

  1. To God’s Glory Alone (Soli Deo Gloria)

Johan Sebastian Bach famously signed the written score of his compositions with this Latin dedication. The Reformers were ardent about reserving all glory for God (á la Jude 25) and not sharing it with deceased saints, Mary, the Pope, or anyone who occupied an elevated position in the Catholic system. See Isaiah 46:5-11.

Conclusion 

Please remember I called this post a primer. This is not meant to satiate your hunger for Reformation knowledge; it is meant to whet your appetite. But you do well for now if all you know about Reformed theology is that the Bible is the sole authority, grace is all that saves you, by nothing but faith, through Christ’s work alone, and exclusively for God’s glory.

Happy Reformation Day.

 

 

* Total Depravity, Unconditional Election, Limited Atonement, Irresistible Grace, and Perseverance of the Saints.

Source: The Big Five Doctrines of the Reformation