Saturday Sampler: December 25– December 31

Five Easter BabiesTim Challies reminds us that Christ’s birth ultimately points forward to His death. His powerful essay, For They Know Not What They Do, showcases the Lord’s compassion towards those who really deserve His vengeance.

Expanding on the theme that Christmas shouldn’t stop at the manger, Erin Benziger Do Not Be Surprised writes a worshipful piece, punctuated by Scripture, tracing the Lord’s entire ministry. I love the way that she exalts the Lord in all her writing, but From First to Second Advent is particularly beautiful.

This, traditionally, is the time of year when people think about Bible reading plans. I’ve lost count of the blog posts I’ve read on the topic over the past couple months, but Josh Buice of Delivered By Grace provides a different perspective in his article, Three Reasons Why You Should Read the Whole Bible in 2017. Those of you who follow my Tuesday series on the Reformation will especially enjoy his article.

And while we’re on the topic of Bible Study, Leslie A. of Growing 4 Life shares Conditions for Profitable Bible Study to help us approach God’s Word with proper attitudes. Leslie derives her conditions from How to Study the Bible by R.A. Torrey.

As we pull out of 2016, what attitude do we convey (particularly on Facebook and Twitter)? John Ellis, writing in A Day In His Court, challenges us with his article, In Praise of 2016. His points might make you uncomfortable momentarily, but he quickly reminds us how to find comfort and encouragement from the Lord.

In her review of Jen Wilkin’s book, Women of the Word, Rebekah Womble’s article, also titled Women of the Word, thoroughly examines both the pros and cons of the book. I haven’t yet read Jen Wilkin’s book, but Rebekah’s examination of it has convinced me to put it on my Amazon Wish List. But even without reading the book, this review gives me plenty to think about. Rebekah blogs at Wise in His Eyes.

In Tired of Controversy? An Encouragement for 2017, Mike Leake of Borrowed Light questions the wisdom of basing blogs on controversial issues instead of unleashing Scripture to do its own work.

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My Alternative To New Years Resolutions

2017-resolutionsDo you make New Years Resolutions? I don’t. For one thing, I’m like most people, breaking them well before the page of the calendar turns to February. Like the Mosaic Law, New Years Resolutions basically function as painful reminders of my total depravity. They confront me with the truth that I can’t even live up to my own standards, let alone God’s!

But also, I believe that Christians should make resolutions every time the Lord convicts us of sin. We call such resolutions “repentance.”

I practically hear you moaning, “Oh DebbieLynne, please don’t bring up repentance on a holiday weekend!” And I agree that the idea of New Years Resolutions is much more palatable than the thought of actual repentance.

New Years Resolutions, to be honest, generally deal with surface behaviors like smoking, overeating or not exercising enough. These are, of course, serious issues that have tremendous health implications, but even so, they usually only address outward symptoms.  Okay, resolving to read the Bible daily or pray regularly for a loved one’s salvation is getting a little more spiritual, but those practices still can degenerate into legalism. In short, New  Years Resolutions point to our achievements rather than than our obedience to the Lord.

Repentance, on the other hand, insists on aligning our hearts with God’s Word. We confess thoughts, attitudes and behaviors we have as violations of His righteous standards, accepting full responsibility for those violations. Further, we now regard those violations as ugly things that break the heart of God. Thus, we change our direction, running away from sin in order to pursue holiness.

Do we repent perfectly? Only in our dreams! But our repeated repentance continues melting our hearts into conformity with His heart, so that we honestly desire for Him to change us. In other words, Biblical repentance transforms our hearts instead of merely reforming our outward behaviors. To our frustration, the outward behaviors may die slowly, but our hatred of those behaviors shows the beginning of true repentance.

So then, repentance differs from New Years Resolutions because it goes beyond surface behaviors to change our hearts. Rather than pointing to our supposed good works, repentance draws attention back to the Lord as the One Who both motivates and facilitates our transformation as a work of His grace.

Some of you may enjoy the fun of making New Years Resolutions, and I celebrate your Christian liberty to do so. But I prefer daily repentance, trusting that the Lord uses it toward my sanctification. Whether you make New Years Resolutions or not, I encourage you to repent promptly and joyfully throughout the New Year for the glory of the Lord Jesus Christ.

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No Reading Plans Or Top Ten…And Why

cropped-tulip-header1.jpgWatching the blogs this week, I’ve noticed two pronounced trends. The first trend focuses on Bible reading plans for 2017. In addition, bloggers have been writing about reasons Christians should get serious about reading the Bible this coming year.

Given the overall thrust of The Outspoken TULIP, it would probably make sense for me to jump on that bandwagon. But my personal Bible reading schedule didn’t exactly follow the calendar this year. I ended up starting Genesis 1:1 some time in November, after I spent over ten months studying 1 John through cross-references. I’m well into Exodus now, reading it like a novel and finding it hard to put down. On Saturdays I read whatever passage from Luke my pastor will preach on the next day, and I spend Sundays and Mondays studying Jude.

After nearly 46 years, I’ve come to believe that systematic Bible reading is essential, but that tying it to a calendar leads me into legalism. Both Bible reading and Bible study should be done with the singular purpose of hearing from the Lord. And no, not by taking a phrase, verse or passage out of context and personalizing it. Rather, as we go through Scripture systematically, we understand Who God is and what His priorities are. Racing a calendar is less important than learning what God’s Word says.

So I don’t want to offer 2017 reading plans in this blog. I do, however, want to encourage you to read and study the Word of God systematically. Whether you choose one of the many plans that other bloggers have been making available all week (for instance, Elizabeth Prata  and Michelle Lesley list a variety of plans), what really matters is that you’re in the Word!

This week’s other popular trend focuses on listing a blogger’s Top Ten posts of 2016. Interesting way to boost views, I suppose, and heaven knows my poor little blog could certainly use more traffic. But my Top Ten posts discourage me because they’re almost exclusively about Beth Moore.

Not that I mind getting out the word that Beth Moore mishandles Scripture and promotes narcissism with a veneer of “Christianity.” Indeed, I think about her every time I write a Bible Study on Jude. I may write about her in future blog posts if circumstances call me to do so! She’s led many women astray, and her errors continually crop up.

That said, I always feel like a sleazy tabloid journalist when I blog about her. I know that plopping her name in a title is click-bait. Over the past several months, I’ve been convicted that click-bait prostitutes my blog. The thought troubles me. For that reason, I desperately hope I’ll find no need to blog about her, Rick Warren, Sarah Young or any other false teachers in 2017.

So I believe doing a Top Ten post would only attract people to essays that I least want to highlight. If you really want a retrospective of my 2016 posts, please read my studies of Ephesians 2:1-10 and Jude. I’d much prefer that you focus on God’s Word than linger on posts that could degenerate into fodder for evangelical gossip.

Thank you for reading The Outspoken TULIP  throughout 2016, ladies. Please tell your family and friends to check out the articles that encourage you.  Also, drop by The Outspoken TULIP  Facebook page and start a conversation. I look forward to 2017 as a year of ministering to each other through God’s Word.

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The Doctrines Luther Despised

papal-tombs

Michelangelo’s plans for papal tombs at San Lorenzo

I  didn’t get to write about the Reformation yesterday, which may actually have been an act of God’s providence. John and I had business to attend to, which kept me away from my computer until mid-afternoon. Definitely not enough time to write about the history of Purgatory and Indulgences.

To be truthful, I’m still trying to research where the doctrines of Purgatory and Indulgences originated. And I haven’t really found any answers that seem substantive. I read a few conjectures that probably represent the truth, but I would prefer to be responsible in telling you about such matters. It does no good to propagate rumors and innuendo, even when those rumors may support my point of view.

Blogging, by nature, carries the danger of disseminating falsehood. Unlike writers for print media  (with the exception of self-published authors), bloggers don’t have editors and publishers to fact check our work. Consequently, I could make any allegations I want regarding the Roman Catholic Church and its development of Purgatory and Indulgences, and as long as my allegations appeared plausible, I could probably get away with it.

But I don’t want to get away with it. I want to understand the Reformation accurately, and I want my readers to understand it accurately. Furthermore, I want to understand the Roman Catholic Church and its teachings so that we know why the Reformation was necessary.

I do know what Purgatory is, of course. At its basic level, Catholics believe they go  there after death to finish atoning for venial (or forgivable) sins before their souls can proceed to heaven. The amount of time spent in Purgatory, if I understand the doctrine correctly, depends on how much penance they perform before death.

Indulgences can release a loved one from Purgatory by drawing on the “Treasury of Merit” accrued by Jesus, Mary and the saints, according to Catholic doctrine. These Indulgences generally require a monetary purchase. For example, the prayer cards distributed at Catholic funerals are purchased by whoever places the order with the assumption that their recipients will pray for the departed to have reduced time in Purgatory. The fees, as you might expect, go to the Roman Catholic Church.

Where do they get this stuff? It’s certainly not in the Bible! Folks, you’ve just hit on my main point.

The Bible teaches nothing about Purgatory, treasuries of merit or Indulgences. Martin Luther, in his 95 Theses, called these unbiblical practices into question, alarmed by the way they exploited the poor in order to finance Rome’s war debts and the expense of building St. Peter’s Basilica. Luther’s questioning of these teachings erupted into the Protestant Reformation, ultimately restoring the true Church to Biblical Christianity.

Maybe we don’t really need to know how the popes concocted Purgatory and its attendant doctrines, but I believe it would help. Having said that, I can’t let my difficulty in finding the answers paralyze this series on the Reformation. So, until I locate reputable explanations for the development of these teachings, let’s look back at John Wycliffe and John Huss, who arguably set the stage for Luther’s reforms. I want only to demonstrate that the Reformation came from somewhere.

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Hey Jude — Final Words About False Teachers

463ca-ladies2bstudy2b01Ladies, are you tired of slogging through Jude’s rather vitriolic description of  false teachers? Are you starting to wonder how to apply everything he’s written so that you can contend for the faith as  Jude enjoins us to do in verse 3? The three verses we’ll study today offer a final description of false teachers, in order that we can begin to apply everything we’ve learned about false teachers. We’ll round the corner by introducing Jude’s closing paragraph.

Please prepare for this study by reading the entire 25 verses of Jude’s epistle (click this link to make it easier). I’ll quote today’s verses in the context of the closing paragraphs they introduce.

17 But you must remember, beloved, the predictions of the apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ. 18 They said to you, “In the last time there will be scoffers, following their own ungodly passions.” 19 It is these who cause divisions, worldly people, devoid of the Spirit. 20 But you, beloved, building yourselves up in your most holy faith and praying in the Holy Spirit, 21 keep yourselves in the love of God, waiting for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ that leads to eternal life. 22 And have mercy on those who doubt; 23 save others by snatching them out of the fire; to others show mercy with fear, hating even the garment stained by the flesh.

24 Now to him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you blameless before the presence of his glory with great joy, 25 to the only God, our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion, and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen. ~~Jude 17-25 (ESV)

As you can see, in verse 17 Jude pivots his attention from false teachers to his readers, urging that we remember the predictions that the apostles made. Obviously, Jude’s immediate readers had known the apostles personally, as verse 18 suggests. But those of us living in the 21st Century have access to those same predictions through Scriptures such as 1 Timothy 4:1-4. Jude quite firmly reminds both groups that, indeed, we have been put on notice.

Precisely for that reason, we shouldn’t be surprised by the false teachers and false teaching that permeates the visible church today. The apostles, speaking through Scripture, have prepared us to expect people  (even within our own ranks) to distort God’s Word.

Moving to verse 18, Jude specifically reiterates the apostles’ warnings, as if to solidify them in our minds. Right away, he quotes their assertion that the apostasy would occur in “the last times,” which Biblical scholars take to mean the period between Christ’s First and Second Coming.

Jude further reminds us that the apostles said that the false teachers (in many cases) would be scoffers. 2 Peter 3:4 expands on this idea by explaining that some of them would mock us for believing in the Second Corning. This idea fits Jude’s teaching earlier in this epistle regarding the sensuality of these teachers.

The scoffers mock the Second Corning, according to the apostles Jude quotes, because of their sensuality and worldly lusts. The quotation here doesn’t elaborate on this idea, so Jude interjects his own clarification in verse 19 by making two brief observations.

First he states that apostate teachers cause divisions within the church. We can easily name several present-day evangelical celebrity teachers and speakers/authors who have this effect. They divide the Church by tweaking God’s Word ever so subtlety so that the distortions appeal to our flesh. They then garner the loyalties of their followers, who in turn react violently to Scriptural evidence of their pet teachers’ error.

Second Jude says once more that false teachers are “worldly people, devoid of the Spirit.” This remark perhaps summarizes everything he’s written in this epistle about apostate teachers. Their worldliness, which Jamieson, Fausset and Brown understand as “animal-souled,” underscores the thought that their rejection of the Holy Spirit reduces them, as he’s written in verse 10, to unreasoning animals.

Next week we’ll finally start looking at ways to deal with the victims of false teachers, remembering that apostate teachers have already incurred judgment  (Jude 4-7). As the epistle turns its attention away from false teachers, we will discover practical ways to contend for the faith.

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Holy Infant And Returning Ruler

Although I’ve only recently learned that Isaac Watts based Joy To The World on Psalm 98, and meant it to be a celebration of Christ’s Second Coming, it belongs to Christmas. Obviously, Christ couldn’t come a second time without coming the first time. So we can sing this hymn at Christmas to praise Him for His Incarnation, rejoicing that it marks the beginning of redemption.

But the hymn also pulls us beyond the benign image of a “holy Infant so tender and mild” to remind us that He rules the world and makes the nations bow to the glories of His righteousness. In such bowing, as we see Him execute judgment with equity, we’ll be overwhelmed with the wonder of His love towards those who believe in Him.

John and I wish you a Merry Christmas filled with wonder at this Infant King Who Came, and will come again.

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Charismatics Aren’t Like Joseph

bethlehem-dazzle-frameDuring my years as a Charismatic, I remember using all sorts of Scriptures as proof-texts to validate whatever spiritual experience I happened to be practicing at the time. Most of the Charismatics I knew did the same thing to greater or lesser degrees.

At Christmas time, Matthew’s nativity narrative gave me and my Charismatic friends excellent proof-texts to substantiate our claims that the Lord spoke to us personally. Three times in Matthew 1 and 2, the Lord sent Joseph dreams, in which He spoke very clearly to instruct Joseph. For example, look at God’s intervention when Joseph learned that his fiancee, Mary, was carrying a Child that he hadn’t fathered.

18 Now the birth of Jesus Christ took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. 19 And her husband Joseph, being a just man and unwilling to put her to shame, resolved to divorce her quietly. 20 But as he considered these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. 21 She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” 22 All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet:

23 “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son,
    and they shall call his name Immanuel”

(which means, God with us). 24 When Joseph woke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him: he took his wife, 25 but knew her not until she had given birth to a son. And he called his name Jesus. ~~Matthew 1:18-25 (ESV)

Naturally, we concluded that, since the Lord spoke to Joseph, we had good reason to expect Him to speak to us in dreams, visions, still small voices or what have you. Our conclusion certainly seemed reasonable at the time, granted, but let’s think through a few points regarding who the Lord generally spoke to in Scripture and why He spoke to them.

In the Old Testament, God spoke to prophets, or to people who would further the development of Israel (and the Messianic line). He didn’t speak to everyone in Israel, nor did He speak about inconsequential matters. He was building His nation, teaching them how to worship Him and separate themselves from those who worshiped false gods and committed abominable sins.

Likewise, in the New Testament He spoke to apostles and prophets until His Word was written down by some of those same apostles and prophets. Those apostles and prophets, according to Ephesians 4:11-16,  built the foundation of the Church by the revelations that the Holy Spirit gave them. That revelation (at least the revelation that we needed) has been preserved in the Bible’s canon.

The Lord spoke to Joseph because Joseph would serve as the legal father of Jesus, thus legitimizing His claim to David’s throne. In turn, this claim validated Jesus as the Messiah. Had Joseph divorced Mary, Jesus would not have had this legal claim. Therefore, God had to intervene by speaking directly to Joseph. Notice that His instruction that Joseph name the Child Jesus fulfilled prophecy.

God spoke two more times to Joseph  (Matthew 2:13-15 and Matthew 2:19-23), both times to protect Jesus from an early death and, again, to fulfill prophecy. The Lord spoke to Joseph for specific purposes that resulted in Jesus growing to Manhood, demonstrating Himself to be God, dying on the cross to atone for the sin of those who would believe in Him and rising from the grave to break the power of sin. God’s words to Joseph held eternal consequences.

God’s words to Joseph were vastly different from the things that present-day evangelicals (particularly Charismatics) claim to receive. Joseph, like other key figures in Scripture, played a critical role in God’s plan of redemption. That being the case, 21st Century Christians need only the Bible in order to hear everything the Lord wants us to know.

Hebrews 1:1-2 says that, in these last days, God has spoken through His Son. Praise God He spoke to Joseph back then, so that we would have His Son’s Word for all eternity!

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Deviant Christians

No true Christian would deny the crucial importance of putting God’s Word into practice. Practical application demonstrates trust in His authority, and a willingness to act on that trust. The entire epistle of James focuses on the necessity of proving our faith by acting on the commands of the Lord.

22 But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. 23 For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks intently at his natural face in a mirror. 24 For he looks at himself and goes away and at once forgets what he was like. 25 But the one who looks into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and perseveres, being no hearer who forgets but a doer who acts, he will be blessed in his doing. ~~James 1:22-25 (ESV)


In emphasizing practical application, however, Christians dare not ignore the foundational place of sound doctrine. If someone misunderstands the Bible’s teachings, or adulterates those teachings with other philosophies and spiritual disciplines, his deviation from Biblical doctrine will ultimately result in a life that draws him away from obedience to the Lord.

A popular teaching may very well seem consistent with Scripture, particularly if it’s supported by Bible verses that are wrenched from their context and manipulated into mere proof texts. But, as the following graph illustrates, an idea that begins as only a  small deviation from God’s Word will, if followed, take a person extremely far away from truth.

Christians, because we are still encumbered with fallen sin natures, can allow false teachers to lure us into all sorts of deceptions. Most of these deceptions start as innocent misapplications of Scripture (barely perceptible), only to lead us miles away from Biblical Christianity.  To protect us from such departures from truth, the Holy Spirit prompted Paul to counsel Timothy:

Keep a close watch on yourself and on the teaching. Persist in this, for by so doing you will save both yourself and your hearers. ~~1 Timothy 4:16 (ESV)

Many translations render this verse, “Watch your conduct and your doctrine.” Indeed, Christian conduct flows out of Biblical doctrine. Until we learn to properly interpret God’s Word, mastering its great doctrines, how can we hope to apply it correctly. By all means, the Lord wants His people to put our faith into action, proving that our faith is authentic. But let’s make sure to apply those principles that Scripture actually teaches.

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Why Did He Do That?

Spotlight on God

Every now and again, evangelicals get so caught in the details of Christian living that we lose sight of the actual Gospel itself. Quite possibly, this shift of emphasis happens because, from start to finish, the central Gospel message directly assaults self-esteem. We want to believe that God sees something in us worth saving and that we contribute to the salvation process. The Gospel frustrates us by refuting both propositions.

Today, I want to address the Gospel’s position on human worth. Certainly, I adamantly embrace  the pro-life position that, from conception to final breath, every human life has value. We must, as we talk about human worth, maintain a clear distinction between conversation on abortion (and euthanasia) and conversation on our inability to merit salvation. Please remember that these are entirely separate issues!

Some months back, in my blog post, Why Pick On Psychology, I noted that popular evangelical writer Max Lucado once wrote:

“If God had a refrigerator, your picture would be on it. If He had a wallet, your photo would be in it. He sends you flowers every spring and a sunrise every morning… Face it, friend. He is crazy about you!”

As wonderful as Lucado’s words sound, however, they leave non-Christians (especially false converts) with the impression that God practically worships us. He joins other post-modern evangelicals who promote the false notion that Christ redeemed us because we were somehow worthy of His love. We’re special, they say, and His sacrificial death merely proves our intrinsic value.

What a perverted view of His gracious love! Scripture teaches that He loves  us because of His grace, not because we possess any attractive qualities. In fact, Romans 5:8 bluntly says that He died for us when we were still entrenched in our sin. We can’t bring a single thing to the table!

Instead of viewing ourselves as the centers of God’s universe and thinking that He waits breathlessly for us to “make Him Lord and Savior,” let’s consider Scripture’s assessment of the situation.

 And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience— among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. ~~Ephesians 2:1-7 (ESV)

Not the  most flattering portrait of us, is it? I don’t enjoy knowing that, apart from God’s grace, I would be dead in my sin, and a child of wrath. I’d much prefer to believe that He saw some little spark of goodness in me that made me worthy of His love and His death on the cross. But God’s Word simply doesn’t permit such fantasy.

Ironically, Jesus shed His precious blood on my behalf precisely because I couldn’t do anything to merit His favor. Therefore, my salvation necessarily throws the spotlight back on Him. Despite the stench of my sinful inclinations, the Lord chose to save me from the eternity in hell that I so richly deserve. Understanding the depths of my depravity enables me to rejoice in Christ’s unexplainable and wonderful love for me.

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Indulgences, Prayer Cloths, Purgatory And Evangelicals

Light In DarknessSadly, I don’t have enough time to write the planned article on the Catholic practice of selling Indulgences today. Life, I was reminded, has a sneaky way of overturning even the best laid plans.

So today allow me to offer just a few cursory thoughts on the matter, just to keep you thinking about Martin Luther’s 95 Theses and the importance of the Protestant Reformation. His challenges to Roman Catholicism (contrary to accusations that his chronic constipation turned him into a malcontent) arose from a genuine concern that the system of Indulgences capitalized on the fears of illiterate laity for the purpose of filling Rome’s coffers.

It’s not unlike Pentecostal/Charismatic preachers on TBN sending “anointed prayer cloths” to little old ladies in exchange for “sacrificial offerings.” Alas, because most people highly respect the Roman Catholic Church, few recognize the similarities between the two systems.

But the sale of Indulgences depends on the doctrine of Purgatory, a superstition that Scripture never teaches (we’ll address the supposed proof-texts for Purgatory at a later time). The desire to reduce time in Purgatory motivated fearful parishioners to purchase Indulgences as a type of clemency for either themselves or departed loved ones, financing Rome’s various expenditures.

Both Purgatory and Indulgences deny the sufficiency of Christ’s atoning work on the cross. While giving lip-service to the doctrine of atonement, these dogmas insist that we bear responsibility in cooperating with the Lord in achieving our salvation. This synergistic approach to  salvation, of course, completely contradicts everything the apostle Paul taught in Galatians. As we look more closely at Purgatory and Indulgences, we’ll see how they shift the focus from the Lord Jesus Christ to us.

I’m delving back into Church History, wanting to understand how the doctrine of Purgatory and its attendant practice of selling Indulgences originated. Sure, we can understand the Reformation without that background. But having more historical context will help us see how those Reformers separated Biblical teaching from man-made tradition.

21st Century evangelicals once again embrace man-made traditions in place of Scripture. Furthermore, we look to human effort to augment Christ’s work on the cross. We may utilize other doctrines and practices, but essentially we repeat the same  basic error. Studying the Reformation can help us guard against that sort of mistake.

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