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

Luther’s Personal Reformation

It was just over 500 years ago, in the fall of 1510, that a desperate Roman Catholic monk made what he thought would be the spiritual pilgrimage of a lifetime.

He had become a monk five years earlier, much to the surprise and dismay of his father, who wanted him to become a lawyer. In fact, it was on his way home from law school, that this young man—then 21 years old—found himself in the midst of a severe thunderstorm. The lightning was so intense he thought for sure he was going to die. Fearing for his life, and relying on his Roman Catholic upbringing, he called out for help. “Saint Anne,” he cried, “Spare me and I will become a monk!” Fifteen days later, he left law school behind and entered an Augustinian monastery in Erfurt, Germany.

The fear of death prompted him to become a monk. And it was the fear of God’s wrath that consumed him for the next five years—so much so, in fact, that he did everything within his power to placate his guilty conscience and earn God’s favor.

He became the most fastidious of all of the monks in the monastery. He dedicated himself to the sacraments, fasting, and penance. He even performed acts of self-punishment like going without sleep, enduring cold winter nights without a blanket, and whipping himself in an attempt to atone for his sins. Reflecting on this time of his life, he would later say, “If anyone could have earned heaven by the life of a monk, it was I.” Even his supervisor, the head of the monastery, became concerned that this young man was too introspective and too consumed with questions about his own salvation.

Martin_Luther

Image: Public Domain

But the haunting questions would not go away.

This young monk became particularly fixated on the apostle Paul’s teaching about the “righteousness of God” in the book of Romans, and especially Romans 1:17. In that verse, Paul says of the Gospel, “In it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, ‘But the righteous man shall live by faith.’”

But this young man’s understanding of that verse was clouded. Reading it through the lens of Roman Catholic tradition, he twisted its meaning, thinking that he had to somehow become righteous through his own efforts in order to live a life of faith. But therein was the problem. He knew he was not righteous. Despite everything he did to earn God’s favor, he knew he fell short of God’s perfect standard.

And so, as he would later recount, he came to hate the phrase “the righteousness of God” because he saw in it his own condemnation. He realized that if the perfect righteousness of God is the standard (which of course it is), and if he as a sinful man could not meet that standard (which of course he couldn’t), then he stood utterly condemned. So, out of frustration and despair, he plunged himself all the more fervently into the strict practices of monastic life, trying his hardest to work his way to salvation. And he grew more and more discouraged and desperate.

So it was, five years after he became a monk, in the year 1510, that this desperate man made what he thought would be the spiritual pilgrimage of a lifetime. He and a fellow monk travelled to the center of Catholic thought and power—the city of Rome. If anyone could help him calm the storm that waged in his soul, surely it would be the pope, the cardinals, and the priests of Rome. Moreover, he thought that if he paid homage to the shrines of the apostles and made confession there, in that holy city, he would secure the greatest absolution possible. Surely this would be a way to earn God’s favor. The young man was so excited that when he came within sight of the city, he fell down, raised up his hands and exclaimed “Hail to thee, holy, Rome! Thrice holy for the blood of martyrs shed here.”

But he would soon be severely disappointed.

He tried to immerse himself in the religious fervor of Rome (visiting the graves of the saints, performing ritualistic acts of penance, and so on). But he soon noticed a glaring inconsistency. As he looked around him at the pope, the cardinals, and the priests, he did not see righteousness at all. Instead, he was startled by the corruption, greed, and immorality.

As the famous church historian Philip Schaff explained, the young man was

shocked by the unbelief, levity and immorality of the clergy. Money and luxurious living seemed to have replaced apostolic poverty and self-denial. He saw nothing but worldly splendor at the court of [the] Pope . . . , [and] he heard of the fearful crimes of [previous popes], which were hardly known and believed in Germany, but freely spoken of as undoubted facts in the fresh remembrance of all Romans.  . . . He was told that “if there was a hell, Rome was built on it,” and that this state of things must soon end in a collapse. (Schaff, History of the Christian Church, VI:129)

A desperate man on a desperate journey, having devoted his life to the pursuit of self-righteous legalism and finding it empty, went to Rome looking for answers. But all he found was spiritual bankruptcy.

Needless to say, Martin Luther left Rome disillusioned and disappointed. He reported that, in his opinion, “Rome, once the holiest city was now the worst.”  Not long afterward, he would openly defy the pope, calling him the antichrist; he would condemn the cardinals as charlatans; and he would expose the apostate tradition of Roman Catholicism for what it had become: a destructive system of works righteousness.

Luther’s journey to Rome was a disaster. Yet, it played a critical part in his journey to true, saving faith. A short time later, the fastidious monk discovered the answer to his spiritual dilemma: If he was unrighteous, in spite of his best efforts, how could he be made right before a holy and just God?

In 1513 and 1514, while lecturing through the Psalms and studying the book of Romans, Luther came to realize the glorious truth that had escaped him all those years before: The righteousness of God revealed in the gospel is not merely the righteous requirement of God—of which all men fall short (Rom. 3:23)—but also the righteous provision of God whereby, in Christ, God imputes Christ’s righteousness to those who believe (Rom. 5:1-2, 18).

Luther’s own remarks sum up the glorious transformation that discovery had on his heart:

At last meditating day and night, by the mercy of God, I gave heed to the context of the words, “In it the righteousness of God is revealed, as it is written, ‘He who through faith is righteous shall live.’” Then I began to understand that the righteousness of God is that through which the righteous live by a gift of God, namely by faith. . . . Here I felt as if I were entirely born again and had entered paradise itself through the gates that had been flung open. An entirely new side of the Scriptures opened itself to me . . . and I extolled my sweetest word with a love as great as the loathing with which before I had hated the term “the righteousness of God.”

After a lifetime of guilt, after years of struggling to make himself righteous, after trying to please God on his own, and after a disappointing trip to Rome, Martin Luther finally came to understand the heart of the gospel message. He discovered justification by grace through faith in Christ; and in that moment, he was transformed.

The post Luther’s Personal Reformation appeared first on The Master’s Seminary.

10 Things You Should Know about the Reformation

This is a guest post by Tim Chester, coauthor of Why the Reformation Still Matters. This post is part of our 10 Things You Should Know blog series.


1. The Pope started the Reformation.

The fourteenth century was a bad time for the papacy. For a period, there were two rival popes and the papacy was under pressure from the French monarchy. It wasn’t a good time for the city of Rome either—seven successive popes abandoned Rome in favor of Avignon in France. Rome was sidelined and Saint Peter’s Basilica fell into disrepair. The popes returned to Rome in 1377 and then sorted out their divisions in 1417.

A hundred years on, things were looking up: in 1505, Pope Julius II had decided to knock down the old St Peter’s and start again. He had big plans for his own tomb and wanted a basilica to match. It was time to make Rome magnificent once again. But that didn’t come cheap, so the church embarked on a fundraising campaign. It was this campaign that brought Johann Tetzel to Germany to sell indulgences, promises of time off purgatory in exchange for cash. And so it was that on October 31, 1517, Martin Luther nailed his protest against indulgences to the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg.

2. The Reformation was about sausages.

During Lent 1522, a group of students in Zurich held a sausage-themed party. Traditionally only vegetables and fish were eaten during Lent. But they wanted change and that meant hot dogs. The city council fined the host of the party, albeit only a nominal amount. A few days later, Huldrych Zwingli, the leader of the city’s church, produced a pamphlet in support of the students. The Bible, he argued, didn’t have much to say about sausages—there was certainly nothing about eating sausages during Lent.

The Council convened a debate to decide whether Zwingli’s views matched what was taught in the Bible. Zwingli won the day. But really, he’d won before it started because the terms of the discussion assumed the authority of Scripture. And that, rather than sausages, was the real issue – though it’s reassuring to know that bacon sandwiches get the thumbs up.

3. Luther’s marriage was a bit fishy.

Catholicism’s focus was on becoming right with God through the sacraments or monastic life, but the Reformers preached that being right with God is a gift. There’s no need to do works for God’s benefit. It’s already a done deal—achieved by Christ and received by faith. And that frees you up to serve your neighbour in love.

In 1523, a group of nuns contacted Luther. Convent life made no sense, so the nuns wanted Luther to help them escape their cloistered life. Luther enlisted a merchant who regularly delivered herring to the convent. On April 5, the nuns escaped by hiding among the empty fish barrels. Their families refused to take them back, perhaps because what had just happened was still a crime under Church law. So Luther set about marrying them off—no easy matter, perhaps, since they smelled of fish!

Gradually, he found husbands for them all—all except one. No husband could be found for the ringleader, Katharina von Bora. So, somewhat against his wishes, Luther himself married her. He was forty-one and she twenty-six. It turned out to be a good match.

4. There were 97 theses before there were 95 theses.

Luther’s famous ninety-five theses were not his first stab at provoking a debate. A few weeks before, he’d posted ninety-seven theses. They included an attack on the Greek philosopher Aristotle, who’d made something of a comeback in the Medieval period. As it happens, no one took much notice of Luther’s ninety-seven theses. Yet they were much more central to the thought of the Reformation.

So, when Luther was summoned to account for his actions before his Augustinian order, it was to the themes in the ninety-seven theses that he returned. Aristotle said we become righteous by doing right acts—your identity is the result of your actions. It’s something you achieve. Luther said this gets things the wrong way around. In the gospel, our identity is a gift from God. It’s something you receive. And then our actions flow from our new identity. Unbelievers can be constrained by laws and peer pressure, but a life of wholehearted righteous living is only possible if God makes us new people.

5. The Reformation involved a rediscovery of the work of the Spirit.

In 1524, Desiderius Erasmus published an attack on Luther. Erasmus was Europe’s leading celebrity academic. Erasmus thought people already had enough power in themselves to do good. He defined free choice as “a power of the human will by which a man can apply himself to the things which lead to eternal salvation, or turn away from them.” Luther replied, “You do not realize how much you attribute to it by this pronoun ‘itself’—its very own self!—when you say it can ‘apply itself’; for this means that you completely exclude the Holy Spirit with all his power, as superfluous and unnecessary.”

As far as Erasmus was concerned, we just need to try harder. But Luther realized our problem was much more fundamental than that. Our problem is not that we’re lazy or ignorant, but that we’re sinners deep down to the very core of our being. So, if we’re ever going to please God, we need a radical inner transformation. And that’s what the Holy Spirit does.

6. The Reformation wasn’t about salvation by works—at least not quite.

There’s a version of the Reformation which says Catholics believed in salvation by works and the Reformers believed in salvation by faith, but it’s more subtle than that. In fact, Catholics talked a lot about faith and grace. They would happily say we’re saved by grace. They would happily say that righteousness comes by faith.

But grace for the Catholic Church is like a shot of adrenaline that boosts your spiritual performance. And righteousness is a God-given ability to live a righteous life—if you work at it at. Baptism gives you a kick start and the mass gives you a boost along the way, but it’s up to you to live a righteous life that will win God’s approval. So the net result is grace plus works and faith plus works.

Just to be clear, the Council of Trent says, “If anyone says, that by faith alone the ungodly are justified in such a way as to mean that nothing else is required to co-operate in order to receive the grace of Justification and that it is not necessary for a man to be prepared and disposed by the movement of his own will; let him be anathema.” (Canon IX)

The Council of Trent was the Catholic Church’s response to the Reformation, a response it has never repudiated. The reason this subtlety matters is that it brings the issues closer to home. Evangelicals all know we begin the Christian life by faith. But we all too easily slip into thinking we need to win God’s approval through our activities. We become more Roman Catholic than we realize.

7. The Reformation wasn’t about the authority of Scripture—at least not quite.

In his attack on Luther, Erasmus begins by talking about Scripture. “I confess it is right,” he says, “that the sole authority of Holy Scripture should outweigh all the votes of all mortal men.” So far so good. But he continues, “The authority of the Scripture is not here in dispute. . . . Our battle is about the meaning of Scripture.” He goes on to say we need the authority of the Church to determine the true meaning of Scripture.

In other words, everyone agreed with the authority of Scripture. But the Catholic Church placed Church tradition alongside Scripture and claimed the exclusive right to interpret the Bible. The Reformers, however, rejected the notion that the church establishes the authenticity of the gospel. It’s the other way round: the gospel establishes the authenticity of the church. They were happy to learn from church tradition, but when push came to shove, Scripture alone is our ultimate authority.

Again, this brings the issues closer to home. Today no evangelical rejects the authority of Scripture. But all too often we place our experience alongside Scripture or use experience to interpret Scripture—rather than the other way round.

8. The Reformation is not over.

Earlier this year I stood in Piazza Martin Lutero in Rome. Yes, they’ve named a square after Luther. In Rome. With the Pope’s blessing. Proof surely that the Reformation is over? Sadly not. It’s true that the rise of secularism means Protestants and Catholics often find themselves standing together on issues of morality and religious freedom. It’s also true that many Catholics and Protestants hold similar theological views.

But that’s because many Catholics no longer follow the official Catholic teaching and many Protestants have lost touch with their Reformation roots. But the fault lines of the Reformation have not gone away. “The Pope’s a Catholic” is the epitome of a non-news story. But, despite the PR coming out of the Vatican, in a 1985 lecture, Pope Francis claimed the Reformation underlies all the problems of Western civilization, from secularism to totalitarianism. He labeled Luther and Calvin “heretics.” Lutheranism is “a good idea gone foolish” while the “schismatic” Calvin tore apart humanity, society and the church.

9. The Reformation still matters and not just when we’re talking to Catholics.

The Reformation was always intended to be an ongoing project. One of its slogans was semper reformanda. It’s usually translated as “always reforming,” but a better translation is “always being reformed.” The church is always being reformed by God’s Word. It doesn’t describe a movement forward to some uncharted horizon, but a continual movement back to God’s Word. On justification, Scripture, preaching, grace, the Holy Spirit, the sacraments, and everyday life, evangelicals have important lessons to learn from the Reformation.

10. The Reformation makes us small and Christ big.

Why was the Reformation controversial in the sixteenth century? Why does it remain controversial today? The answer, I believe, is that the Reformation (or rather the biblical gospel it rediscovered) makes us small and Christ big. At the heart of the Reformation was the realization that:

  • We are more helpless than we realize.
  • Christ is more sufficient than we realize.
  • God is more gracious than we realize.

This is what’s meant by soli Deo gloria, “to the glory of God alone.” There’s no room in Reformation theology for human boasting. No one can claim their salvation or their knowledge of God is down to their intellect, morality, or religion. It’s all of God from start and finish. That’s our great hope and confidence. Our salvation is founded on the certain promises of God and the finished work of Christ. And if it’s all of God from start to finish, then the glory goes to him alone.


Tim Chester (PhD, University of Wales) is a pastor of Grace Church, Boroughbridge, and curriculum director of the Acts 29-Oak Hill Academy, which provides integrated theological and missional training for church leaders. He is the coauthor of Total Church and is the author of over thirty books, including You Can Change, A Meal with Jesus, and Good News to the Poor.

Source:  10 Things You Should Know about the Reformation

Reformation Fire

“Is not My word like fire?” declares the Lord, “and like a hammer which shatters a rock? (Jer. 23:29)

What caused the Reformation?

Many people might answer that question by pointing to Martin Luther and his 95 Theses.

But if you were to ask Luther himself, he would not point to himself or his own writings. Instead, he would give all the credit to God and His Word.

Near the end of his life, Luther declared: “All I have done is put forth, preach and write the Word of God, and apart from this I have done nothing. . . . It is the Word that has done great things. . . . I have done nothing; the Word has done and achieved everything.”

Elsewhere, he exclaimed: “By the Word the earth has been subdued; by the Word the Church has been saved; and by the Word also it shall be reestablished.”

Noting Scripture’s foundational place in his own heart, Luther wrote: “No matter what happens, you should say: There is God’s Word. This is my rock and anchor. On it I rely, and it remains. Where it remains, I, too, remain; where it goes, I, too, go.”

Luther understood what caused the Reformation. He recognized that it was the Word of God empowered by the Spirit of God preached by men of God in a language that the common people of Europe could understand and when their ears were exposed to the truth of God’s Word it pierced their hearts and they were radically changed.

It was that very power that had transformed Luther’s own heart, a power that is summarized in the familiar words of Hebrews 4:12: “The Word of God is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword.”

During the late middle ages, the Roman Catholic Church had imprisoned God’s Word in the Latin language, a language the common people of Europe did not speak. The Reformers unlocked the Scriptures by translating them. And once the people had the Word of God, the Reformation became inevitable.

We see this commitment to the Scriptures even in the centuries prior to Martin Luther, beginning with the Forerunners to the Reformation:

In the 12th century, the Waldensians translated the New Testament from the Latin Vulgate into their regional French dialects. According to tradition, they were so committed to the Scriptures that different Waldensian families would memorize large sections of the Bible. That way, if Roman Catholic authorities found them and confiscated their printed copies of Scripture, they would later be able to reproduce the entire Bible from memory.

In the 14th century, John Wycliffe and his associates at Oxford translated the Bible from Latin into English. Wycliffe’s followers, known as the Lollards, went throughout the countryside preaching and singing passages of Scripture in English.

In the 15th century, Jan Huss preached in the language of the people, and not in Latin, making him the most popular preacher in Prague at the time. Yet, because Huss insisted that Christ alone was the head of the church, not the pope, the Catholic Council of Constance condemned him for heresy and burned him at the stake (in 1415).

In the 16th century, as the study of Greek and Hebrew were recovered, Martin Luther translated the Bible into German, with the New Testament being completed in 1522.

In 1526, William Tyndale completed a translation of the Greek New Testament into English. A few years later he also translated the Pentateuch from Hebrew. Shortly thereafter he was arrested and executed as a heretic—being strangled and then burned at the stake. According to Fox’s Book of Martyrs, Tyndale’s last words were “Lord, Open the King of England’s Eyes.” And it was just a couple years after his death that King Henry VIII authorized the Great Bible in England—a Bible that was largely based on Tyndale’s translation work. The Great Bible laid the foundation for the later King James version (which was completed in 1611).

The common thread, from Reformer to Reformer, was an undying commitment to the authority and sufficiency of Scripture, such that they were willing to sacrifice everything, including their own lives, to get the Word of God into the hands of the people.

They did this because they understood that the power for spiritual reformation and revival was not in them, but in the gospel (cf. Rom. 1:16–17). And they used the Latin phrase sola Scriptura (“Scripture alone”) to emphasize the truth that God’s Word was the true power and ultimate authority behind all they said and did.

It was ignorance of Scripture that made the Reformation necessary. It was the recovery of the Scripture that made the Reformation possible. And it was the power of the Scripture that gave the Reformation its enduring impact, as the Holy Spirit brought the truth of His Word to bear on the hearts and minds of individual sinners, transforming them, regenerating them, and giving them eternal life.

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Church History: The Racist Heresy In Southern Baptist History

Manly declared that, when it came to his right to buy and to sell African Americans, “I had no more doubt or compunction than in pocketing the price of a horse or anything else that belonged to me.”

The founders of the Southern Baptist Convention and of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary were zealous defenders of biblical orthodoxy.

They were also heretics.

Their heresy was racism, and this heresy ran deep within them.

James Petigru Boyce and John A. Broadus were founding faculty members of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary; they were also slaveowners who served as chaplains in the Confederate army. Basil Manly, Sr., served as the founding chair of the board of trustees at Southern Seminary. This same man owned forty slaves and flogged at least one of them as punishment. Manly declared that, when it came to his right to buy and to sell African Americans, “I had no more doubt or compunction than in pocketing the price of a horse or anything else that belonged to me.” Manly’s son and namesake drafted the Abstract of Principles that every professor still signs when elected to the faculty of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.

The Southern Baptist Convention was founded in 1845

by men who held to an ideology of racial superiority and who bathed that ideology in scandalous theological argument. At times, white superiority was defended by a putrid exegesis of the Bible that claimed a “curse of Ham” as the explanation of dark skin—an argument that reflects such ignorance of Scripture and such shameful exegesis that it could only be believed by those who were looking for an argument to satisfy their prejudices.

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George Whitefield: Calvinist Evangelist – The Master’s Seminary

George Whitefield, the famed 18th century evangelist known for crossing the Atlantic Ocean thirteen times, was an instrumental figure in the Great Awakening period of American Church History. Also known as the “Grand Itinerant”, Whitefield was unique in comparison to the contemporaries of his day with his open-air preaching methods to crowds upwards of 20,000 people.

He was a passionate proclaimer of the gospel of Jesus Christ, urging lost souls to be born again. Yet he remained fully committed to the doctrine of God’s sovereignty in salvation throughout the entirety of his ministry.

The purpose of this article is to demonstrate that for Whitefield, there was no contradiction between believing the doctrine of God’s divine sovereignty in salvation and diligently proclaiming the gospel to the lost as a bold evangelist.

Two key facets can be highlighted: (1) the source of his doctrine and (2) the example of his ministry.

The Source of His Doctrine

First, consider the source of his doctrine. This grand preacher was born on 1714 in Gloucester, England. In 1732 he began attending Oxford and it was there that he met Charles and John Wesley. After cultivating a relationship with the Wesley brothers, Charles gave George a copy of The Life of God in the Soul of a Man, written by a Puritan named Henry Scougal. It was through Whitefield’s reading of this book that he was stirred to consider what it means to truly be born again.

In 1735, God granted Whitefield new birth in his soul and he began diligently reading the Scriptures, along with Matthew Henry’s commentary on the Bible. It was through the reading of Scripture that Whitefield came to affirm what is known as the doctrines of grace or Calvinism. This was not a system that he was taught to adhere to but something he learned from the Bible. “I embrace the Calvinistic scheme,” he wrote, “not because Calvin, but Jesus Christ has taught it to me” (cited from Arnold Dallimore, George Whitefield, 69).

The source of his doctrine was not solely from the Reformers and Puritans but from his own careful reading of Scripture. With his own pen he explained, “I believe God, His Spirit has convinced me of our eternal election by the Father through the Son, of our free justification through faith in His blood, of our sanctification as the consequence of that, and of our final perseverance and glorification as the result of all” (Letters of George Whitefield, 129).

From that statement alone it is clear that he was taught from the Scriptures that God elects individuals unto salvation and preserves them in the faith.

In another letter, Whitefield penned these words:

This, however, is my comfort, “Jesus Christ the same yesterday today, and forever.” He saw me from all eternity; He gave me being; He called me in time; He freely justified me through faith in His blood; He has in part sanctified me by His spirit; He will preserve me underneath His everlasting arms, til time shall be no more. Oh the blessedness of these evangelical truths! These are indeed gospel; they are glad tidings of great joy to all that have ears to hear.” (Letters of George Whitefield, 98)

These doctrines of grace were a great comfort to Whitefield. He did not attempt to change his conviction on these doctrines because they would be a hindrance to his evangelistic efforts. Whitefield was a man of the Bible and allowed the Bible to speak for itself on matters of the sinfulness of man and the sovereignty of God.

Whitefield knew that God had graciously saved him and that he had the personal responsibility to proclaim this message of Christ crucified to others wherever he went. Steve Lawson helpfully states “It was the doctrines of grace that ignited his soul with holy compulsion to reach the world with the message of Christ” (Steven Lawson, The Evangelist Zeal of George Whitefield, 49).

The Example of His Ministry

Whitefield crossed the Atlantic Ocean 13 times to preach the good news of Christ crucified for sinners. He was thoroughly motivated to proclaim the gospel to everyone who would listen.

During this period in American Church history, there was great dullness among Christians of the day. Edward Nindie recounts “To be sure, many of the clergy and of the laity led lives that were morally correct, and were everywhere regarded as exemplary Christians, but they were held in the grip of the chill formalism which was abroad in the land” (Edward Nindie, George Whitefield, Prophet-preacher, 90).

Whitefield’s preaching, along with that of men like Jonathan Edwards, was used by God to bring about the Great Awakening. At this time the current pattern of formalism was confronted and many souls were saved in the American colonies. True revival began to take place throughout New England.

Whitefield spent nearly 35 years preaching both in England and in the American colonies. This prolonged example of the faithful ministry of Whitefield serves as a testimony to his passion for Christ and commitment to biblical doctrine. He never saw the doctrines of grace as a deterrent to preaching the gospel to as many people as he could.

The reality of God’s sovereignty in salvation does not negate the Christian’s personal responsibility to proclaim the gospel. This is clearly seen in Whitefield’s faithful example. From his study of Scripture, he believed both that God was sovereign and that he was commanded to go and make disciples by proclaiming Christ crucified.

What relevance does this bear for ministry in the church today? A belief in the doctrines of man’s total depravity and God’s sovereign election need not hinder personal evangelism. Whitefield’s example serves as a motivation for Christians today.

Scripture clearly teach that God is sovereign over all things including the salvation of sinners. Additionally, Christians are commanded to speak the gospel message to others. These two principles are not incompatible. The biblical teaching on God’s sovereign grace ought to fuel and motivate believers to evangelize with confidence, placing their unwavering trust in His power over the salvation of souls.

Believers are called to be faithful, like Whitefield, to sow the seed of the gospel and trust the Lord with the harvest. There need not be a contradiction between having an exalted view of God and diligently laboring to reach lost souls. Christians must be faithful to sow the seed but trust in the Lord who gives the growth. This is the great pattern displayed through the life and ministry of the Calvinistic evangelist, George Whitefield.

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