A Right Proclamation Of The Gospel

93a68-wordjudgesheartYesterday I watched a YouTube video featuring people I personally know from my Charismatic days.  I managed to get past their “God told me” claims by remembering how often I used to phrase my own experiences in those words. In listening to Charismatics, I want to keep in mind that   many of them, though deceived, are genuinely my brothers and sisters in Christ. After all, I walked in those same deceptions for most of my Christian life.

Toward the end of the video, however, they invited unsaved members of their audience to begin their “adventure” with Christ. They assured people that Jesus Christ offers freedom from sin (which He does) and personal fulfillment. According to them, Jesus waited, hoping people would reach out to Him and receive all that He had for them. They read a prayer that made vague reference to being a sinner and committing their lives to Christ. Those who said that prayer were instructed to sign a copy, write the date and keep it in their Bibles in case Satan questioned their salvation.

They never mentioned Christ’s death on the cross.

Not once.

Hopefully they’ve given more complete Gospel presentations at other times. Certainly, I must guard against judging the entirety of their ministry based on one isolated video. But it made me think that perhaps I should periodically present the Gospel in this blog, making sure that any new readers (particularly those who don’t know Jesus as their Lord and Savior) really understand it Biblically.

Paul proclaimed the Gospel in its most basic form in 1 Corinthians 15:3-4.

For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, (ESV)

To Paul, nothing was more important to preach than Christ’s death as a substitute for our sin, His burial and His bodily resurrection. The Gospel revolves around His atoning work to pay for our sin, and His resurrection that proves the Father’s acceptance of His sacrifice.  Paul elaborates in Ephesians 2:1-10.

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. 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. 10 For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them. (ESV)

Our sins violated God’s holy standards, making us deserving only of His wrath. But in His mercy, Christ expressed His love by dying for our sin (Romans 5:6-9 and 1 John 2:1-2). Then He raised us from our spiritual death, graciously allowing us to  believe in Him and providing us with opportunities to serve Him.

The Gospel focuses on Christ’s glory first.  Indeed, He gives us tremendous joy in serving Him, as well as in knowing that we will spend eternity with Him. In those ways, the Gospel most definitely offers fulfillment. But we must never proclaim a gospel that focuses on self and neglects Christ’s death, burial and resurrection.

I do not question the salvation of my friends in that video. But it broke my heart to watch them mishandle an opportunity to present the Gospel in a Biblical manner. Rather than criticize their techniques, however, let me learn to faithfully declare it when God gives me opportunities to do so. The Gospel is too precious, and too important to handle in any other way.

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The Personal Side Of An Ex-Gay Pioneer

frank-worthenFrank Worthen was well-known in Charismatic, ex-gay circles, and probably would have be a bit puzzled at being eulogized in a blog that stands for Reformed Theology. Or maybe amused, now that I think about it. Inconsistencies often amused him. Actually, many things amused him, which was a big part of his charm, if you ask me.

Frank, an associate pastor at Church of the Open Door in San Rafael, California, was my pastor. As founding director of Love In Action (the ex-gay ministry I worked for), he was also my  employer. In the past 20 years, he was simply my friend. I say “was” because things changed this past Saturday.

Frank went Home to Jesus Saturday morning, February 11, 2017 after a fairly brief battle with cancer. He would have turned 88 on February 24.

Other bloggers, who knew Frank better than I, have already written about his courageous founding of the ex-gay ministry model, and this tribute by Joe Dallas is arguably the most definitive. He characterized Frank as a hero for offering hope to men and women trapped in homosexual sin. Frank himself had escaped the homosexual lifestyle after 25 years of it, and dedicated the rest of his life to ministering to others with that struggle.

Joe’s essay does a wonderful job of celebrating Frank’s accomplishments in ex-gay ministry,  and I’d be wrongfully intruding if I tried to add to his words on that topic. I instead want to make a couple comments on Frank’s marriage to Anita and on his sense of humor. Those two very human aspects about him, as prevalent as they were, haven’t been mentioned much this week, as people have focused on his ministry, yet those two things epitomized him as a man.

Frank enjoyed life well enough as a bachelor, investing himself in Love In Action. But when the Lord brought Anita into his life, he absolutely blossomed! Since their wedding in late 1984, his smile rarely left his  face.

He immediately put Anita to work in the Love In Action office. I know he did so partly because he liked being with her 24/7, but he did it mostly because she fell in love with the ministry. Sometimes he’d joke that she loved the ministry more than she loved him. He adored her, obviously doing anything in his power to please her.

He happily accepted the new entity of “Frank and Anita” as leaders of Love In Action, though she clearly submitted to his leadership. Once,  with a characteristic twinkle in his eye and chuckle in his voice, he told me, “Whatever Anita wants, Anita gets.” Yet I knew these weren’t the words of a henpecked husband. He gave willingly to his wife out of joy. He saw her as the asset to his ministry that she truly was.

In short, he deeply loved and treasured his wife. Without her, he still would have had a powerful testimony, reaching thousands with his message of freedom from homosexuality. But she added a dimension of joy to his life that enhanced his work. I love Anita for many reasons, but I’m especially grateful that  the Lord brought Frank such delight through their marriage.

Frank, being mild-mannered, had a dry, subtle wit.  Curiously, he could also be a little outrageous. I remember, for example, the 1985 Exodus Conference in San Francisco. A group of gay activists had threatened a protest on Wednesday night, making several of us apprehensive. Some of us gathered at the site where they’d scheduled the protest, waiting for them. After 30 minutes, it became evident that they’d changed their minds. While most of us sighed with relief, Frank was visibly disappointed. “I wanted to see the show,” he explained (again with that characteristic chuckle). He was serious!

My theological differences with Frank in no way diminish my respect for him. He loved the Lord, and he spent most of his life proclaiming the truth that Jesus Christ offers freedom from all sin, including the sin of homosexuality. Quite properly, everybody is remembering him for that message right now. But I hope they’ll also remember his joyous marriage and his wonderful sense of humor. Those two things are what endeared him to me.

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Wycliffe’s Source Of Discernment

sola-scriptura-02A few weeks ago, we saw that John Wycliffe stood against the Roman Catholic teaching on Transubstantiation, and that he violated church policy by translating the Latin Vulgate Bible into English (thus diminishing papal authority). Wycliffe didn’t effect the powerful changes that the 16th Century Reformers would bring slightly more than 100 years after his death, but he certainly signaled a beginning to the movement that would eventually restore Biblical Christianity to the world.

Amid our thankfulness for John Wycliffe and those who came after him, we need to recognize the role of discernment in their refutation of Catholic dogmas. These men weren’t purely malcontents. Admittedly, Wycliffe had been denied a post that he wanted, and this disappointment undoubtedly colored his attitude toward church leadership (a proper rendering of history demands that we report facts that we would prefer to sweep under the rug), but I believe any bitterness he might have initially felt gave way to genuine conviction that the Church violated Scripture in both doctrine and practice.

Wycliffe had the educational advantage of being able to read Latin, which in turn enabled him to read the Bible for himself. In doing so, he saw discrepancies between what Scripture taught and what Rome said and did. In other words, as he read God’s Word, the Holy Spirit gave him discernment to see that the Roman system deviated from the Bible’s teachings. As Wycliffe grew in his knowledge and understanding of God’s Word, he questioned transubstantiation, Indulgences, church involvement in town government and the opulent lifestyles of popes, cardinals and bishops. He also came to believe that salvation comes through faith alone rather than through the sacraments.

As you’d probably expect, Wycliffe’s discernment came, not from mystical hunches like present-day Charismatics claim to have nor from a desire to appear superior to Rome, but from a conviction that the Bible held greater authority than Roman Catholic tradition. And there you have my point.

Scripture brings real discernment.

In studying the Reformation, then, we can witness discernment in action. The Reformers, even with all their imperfections and sins (such as Luther’s anti-semeticism), model a commitment to judge things through the lens of Scripture instead of unquestioning reliance on tradition and papal proclamations. 21st Century believers can, should and absolutely must imitate Wycliffe in trusting Scripture to inform our theology.

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Perspectives In Titus: Paul’s Mission And God’s Plan

Bible And WorshipLadies, today we begin our weekly Bible Studies, this time exploring the letter that the apostle Paul wrote to his protege Titus. If you haven’t read Titus yet, please go to this link and read the epistle (it’s only three chapters) to get some context. Or, if you prefer, read it in your own Bible or Bible app. But please take time to read it before continuing in today’s lesson.

Rather than introducing Titus today, which would arguably give us good background in studying the book, I’m going to tell you about him when we get to verse 4. Instead, let’s spend time discussing Paul’s salutation,  which will orient us to the apostle’s mission as it fits into God’s eternal plan. These three verses will in turn lay a foundation for Titus in his ministry to the churches in Crete.

Paul, a servant of God and an apostle of Jesus Christ, for the sake of the faith of God’s elect and their knowledge of the truth, which accords with godliness, in hope of eternal life, which God, who never lies, promised before the ages began and at the proper time manifested in his word through the preaching with which I have been entrusted by the command of God our Savior; ~~Titus 1:11-3 (ESV)

Paul wastes no time in describing himself as God’s servant. Do not miss this very important point! As we will see when we meet Titus, Paul is writing to a young pastor, instructing him on godly ways to conduct ministry. By establishing himself as God’s servant, Paul indicates the fundamental attitude Titus needs to adopt. The authority God gives them must be regarded as a vehicle for serving Him.

Furthermore, Paul demonstrates his servant’s attitude as he states his position as an apostle, or ambassador, of Jesus Christ. The term “apostle” denotes being sent out as someone else’s representative. Therefore, Paul serves God by representing the interests of Jesus Christ.

But Paul represents Jesus Christ for the sake of God’s chosen people. That’s an added layer. So he serves the Lord essentially by serving others. Yet he serves those others by exercising his authority to teach them. He ministers to develop their knowledge of the truth, as he will explain momentarily.

Before Paul tells us how he delivers the knowledge of the truth to the elect, however, he explains that this knowledge accords with godliness. The Greek word translated in the ESV as “accords with” has, in this context, the meaning of having an end result. Thus, Paul regards doctrine as a gateway to holy living. He elaborates on this point in Chapters 2 and 3, especially in Titus 2:11-14.  God calls His elect to understand right doctrine so that we can live in holiness.

This godliness, he says in verse 2, leads to hope of eternal life. Here, the word for hope, in contrast to the anemic wishful thinking that we commonly call hope in our culture, actually means assurance. Paul wants his ministry to assure Christians of eternal life. He emphasizes this assurance with an appeal to God’s promise.

Notice that God’s promise is predicated on two points, neither of which we can discuss in detail right now. First, Paul asserts that God doesn’t lie. We can expect eternal life because God has promised it. Second, God made this promise before time began. He didn’t make it on the spur of the moment, in other words. This promise has always been firmly established in God’s will.

Verse 3 continues Paul’s thought by adding that God brought His promise about at the time He decreed. Apparently, Paul just can’t pass up an opportunity to celebrate God’s sovereignty!

Finally, Paul returns to his point that he serves God by bringing the knowledge of the truth to the elect. He accomplishes this task by preaching God’s Word. Those of you who read The Outspoken TULIP  often know that I’d love to write an entire blog post on this one clause! So tune in  next Monday, and we’ll talk about just that.

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Amazing Love–That Thou My God Shouldst Die For Me

With Valentine’s Day coming up, it just seems appropriate to feature a hymn celebrating God’s love. Of course,  His love most powerfully manifests itself in His grace to save us from the wrath that our sins deserve.

Therefore, what better hymn than Charles Wesley’s “Amazing Love,” which so vividly describes the salvation process? Each time I hear or sing this hymn, the Lord reminds me of his wonderful love in liberating me from my prison of sin. Why would a holy God do that for a wretch like me? Indeed, His love can only be described as amazing!

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Saturday Sampler: February 5 — February 11

valentines-sampler

Writing a guest post for Pulpit and Pen, Dr. Jeff Hagan explains How NOT To Follow the Holy Spirit. Isn’t it sad that, in a time when technology has made the Bible more accessible than ever, we still need articles like this?

Please don’t miss The Five Tests of False Doctrine by Tim Challies. His blog post provides an excellent grid for practicing Biblical discernment.

Leslie A. at Growing 4 Life writes Learn to Discern: Introduction to inaugurate her new series on discernment. I appreciate her balanced, Biblical approach to this topic, and look forward to reading her insights. I’ll be interested to see how her series complements the one Tim Challies is writing.

I regret my neglect of Pastor Gabe’s Blog last week. Gabe Hughes writes Examining the Worship Song “Above All” with such theological accuracy that I just have to include it in this week’s Sampler.

Although I have problems with the “live the Gospel” mentality, I also understand that, as Christians, our behavior must line up with our professed beliefs. So John Ellis’ article, Why Are  Christians Bad Tippers? in PJ Media, made me both sad and angry. As Christians, we’ve got to do better for the sake of the Gospel.

For those of you who mingle psychology with Christianity, please prayerfully consider Rebekah Womble’s blog post, Guilt and Forgiveness: Why We Need Both in Wise In His Eyes. She well demonstrates the corrupting influence that psychology has on evangelicals, as well as the Biblical response to guilt.

The Cripplegate includes Battalogeo & Heavenly Prayer Language, in which Eric Davis thoughtfully discusses the Charismatic practice of speaking in tongues as a private prayer language.  This article may trouble Charismatics. Hopefully, they’ll be troubled enough to seriously study the Scriptures on this matter.

Inadequate Understanding of God #1: Why did He make things? launches Jennifer’s new series on One Hired Late In The Day. In this initial installment, Jen looks at God’s real purpose in creating the heavens and the earth.

Do you belong to a good church? Over on Parking Space 23, Greg Patterson gives us Marks of a Good Church to help us evaluate our home church by Biblical standards. The church John and I belong to more than passes the test!

 

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The Old Opens The New

Shadow BibleShe’d attended church for decades, yet she seemed like a new Christian. Whether or not her spiritual immaturity reflected the quality of teaching in that church is inappropriate to speculate on today (though you can probably guess my  opinion), but one remark she repeatedly made in Bible Study has troubled me for several years. Basically, this lady felt that Christians don’t need the Old Testament.

It amuses me that she gave me and John an anniversary gift containing an Old Testament quote. But I digress.

I understand some of her aversion to the Old Testament. Back in the 1970s, when I used  my infantile theology as a rationalization for opposing the war in Vietnam, the genocide in Numbers, Deuteronomy and Joshua didn’t fit with my hippie image of Jesus. In the 1980s, teachers pacified my discomfort by emphasizing the supposed allegorical nature of the genocide passages (not a recommended hermeneutic, by the way). Additionally, the history of the kings was either boring or too full of war.  And, though portions of Isaiah contained beautiful poetry, the prophets confused me.

The New Testament was much easier to deal with, despite books like Galatians and Hebrews, which directly addressed Jewish customs and theological practices. Although I’d dutifully read the Old Testament almost every year, I found the New Testament much more palatable.

As the Lord has matured me, however, He’s teaching me that fully understanding the New Testament depends on a working knowledge of the Old Testament. As we watch His dealings with both Israel and the idolatrous nations surrounding them, we begin to see His sovereignty, His holiness and His compassionate grace. For instance, as Joshua leads Israel to conquer the Promised Land (the part I’m reading now), we learn that the genocide is actually God’s judgment on the heathen nations (I can’t find the Scripture reference to substantiate this point right this moment, but maybe I’ll blog at length about it soon).

Today, I simply want you to start considering the idea that Christians need the Old Testament in order to more fully appreciate the new. As I think about it, I feel a little sorry for the poor lady in that Bible Study. She’s really missing out.

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The Grace Of Condemnation

At The CrossDeuteronomy narrates Moses’ final instructions to Israel before Joshua led them across the Jordan and into the Promised Land. The generation that had followed him out of Egypt all died in the wilderness (except for Joshua and Caleb) because of their unbelief and rebellion, making it necessary for Moses to administer God’s Law a second time. Moses would die on Mount Horeb, but not before equipping Israel to live lives of holiness in the land God gave them.

I say all that to give you context for a passage I read the other day.

24 When Moses had finished writing the words of this law in a book to the very end, 25 Moses commanded the Levites who carried the ark of the covenant of the Lord, 26 “Take this Book of the Law and put it by the side of the ark of the covenant of the Lord your God, that it may be there for a witness against you. 27 For I know how rebellious and stubborn you are. Behold, even today while I am yet alive with you, you have been rebellious against the Lord. How much more after my death! 28 Assemble to me all the elders of your tribes and your officers, that I may speak these words in their ears and call heaven and earth to witness against them. 29 For I know that after my death you will surely act corruptly and turn aside from the way that I have commanded you. And in the days to come evil will befall you, because you will do what is evil in the sight of the Lord, provoking him to anger through the work of your hands.” ~~Deuteronomy 31:24-29 (ESV)

As we said yesterday, God’s Word often brings us discomfort, if not outright pain, by testifying to our innate sinfulness. Verse 26 especially makes this point. The Lord had just shown Moses that Israel would ultimately rebel so badly that heathen nations would take them into captivity (see Deuteronomy 29:22-28), giving Moses a desire to warn then that God’s Law would convict them when they rebelled.

Perhaps I’m strange, but I see God’s grace in verse 26. Yes, God’s Law bears witness to our sinfulness,  but in so doing it also enables us to understand our need for Christ. As the apostle Paul explains in his letter to the Galatians, the Law functioned as a tutor, or manager, guarding until the grace of God would appear.

I mean that the heir, as long as he is a child, is no different from a slave, though he is the owner of everything, but he is under guardians and managers until the date set by his father. In the same way we also, when we were children, were enslaved to the elementary principles of the world. But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons. And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!” So you are no longer a slave, but a son, and if a son, then an heir through God. ~~Galatians 4:1-7 (ESV)

The harsh conviction of the Law causes us to welcome the amazing grace of the Lord Jesus Christ. Although it indeed stands as a condemning witness against us, it allows us to rejoice that He generously redeemed us from its curse.

Reading Deuteronomy 31:26 earlier this week reminded me that, despite how greatly God’s Law witnesses to my sinfulness, the Lord declares me righteous because Jesus died as my substitute, bearing the penalty for my sin. For that reason  I love the very Law that would, left by itself, damn me to hell, knowing that God used it to bring me to Himself.

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Praise Jesus For Brutal Words

pure-in-heartIn May of 2012, a gastrointestinal surgeon at Massachusetts General Hospital told us that, unless he performed surgery to remove cancer from John’s colon, my husband would die in a matter of weeks. Two months earlier, the same doctor told him he had the cancer.

I obviously didn’t like his diagnosis, and feared that (because of John’s Post-Polio) the operation would actually hasten John’s death. But thankfully, John trusted the many people who assured us that he had one of the best surgeons in the country, and based on their testimonials he trusted the surgeon.

John is alive today because he believed the bad news that he would die without surgery. The bad news caused anguish that I can’t begin to describe, and I wanted more than anything to deny its truth and behave as if nothing had happened. Yet, accepting the bad news eventually led to the inexpressibly wonderful news that I’d have more time with my marvelous husband. Looking back, I’m very grateful for the surgeon’s brutal words.

I’m even more grateful that Jesus spoke brutal words about human depravity, declaring that I could only escape eternal damnation by repenting of my sin and trusting that He alone would secure my entrance into His Father’s holy presence. I didn’t enjoy opening the Bible only to have it expose my selfish heart. But I needed to be confronted with the truth of my spiritual cancer.

Hungering for a way to have God’s blessing on my life, I scoured the Bible for wisdom. I didn’t understand much of what I read, particularly when it quoted Jesus.  But one small sentence from His Sermon on the Mount spoke to me with unmistakable clarity that cut me to the core!

Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God. ~~Matthew 5:8 (ESV)

I knew how dreadfully impure my heart was, so I knew how damning the Lord’s words were. They brutally condemned me to an eternity separated from the God I longed to know. They condemned me to an eternity in hell.

I’d heard about Jesus’ love all my life, but these 11 words seemed savage and unyielding. Would He really judge my sin that harshly?

On January 20, 1971, the Holy Spirit used a high school classmate to tell me that Jesus died to pay for my sins. I’d wanted, mind you, her to add that He therefore provided salvation for all people, whether or not they followed Him…but she insisted on telling me the truth that salvation comes exclusively to those who believe in Jesus.

For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. ~~John 3:16

The “bad news” of such a narrow way of salvation came as gloriously good news to me! It offered me the eternal life that my inherent sin nature would have denied me. The Gospel came as good news precisely because the Holy Spirit had first graciously spoken the bad news of my spiritual cancer and my need for the Great Physician to take radical measures. I’m eternally grateful for the Savior’s grace to speak brutal words.

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The Reformation As A Model Of Discernment

sola-scripturaWhen I started blogging about discernment Friday, I had no idea how many of my fellow bloggers would also write on the topic this week (wait till you see the upcoming Saturday Sampler). I find the resurgence of interest in discernment fascinating, particularly as we’ve reached the 500th anniversary of the Reformation.

You need to understand that I’ve felt a little frustrated writing these Tuesday posts on the Reformation. Early in the series (as I mentioned before), a friend approached me on Facebook complaining that the 21st Century church has too many problems for her to bother with Church History. I suspect many other people feel the same way.

Indeed, most people I know treat history with apathy. It shocks me that so many natives of the Greater Boston Area exhibit such indifference to the rich history of New England (one even asked me, in all seriousness, whether or not John Adams was still living). Obviously, neither secular nor church history captures the interest of most people, making my task of blogging about the Reformation rather discouraging.

Really, I beat my head against this brick wall because it feels so wonderful when I stop. Or something to that effect.

Anyway…

I’ve been racking my brain trying to figure out how to make the Reformation as interesting to my readers as it is to me. Although I enjoyed telling you about John Wycliffe as a precursor to Martin Luther, I don’t really think my articles on him generated much enthusiasm. So I contemplated my upcoming essays about John Huss wondering how I could make his story compelling. My readers, it seems, want to read about discernment, not European history.

Then yesterday I had my Aha Moment. The Reformers, dear readers, reformed Christianity precisely because the Word of God gave them the discernment to recognize how far the Roman Catholic Church had strayed from the clear teachings of Scripture. If anything, the Protestant Reformation is probably the greatest example of Biblical discernment of all time.

21st Century Christians can learn an enormous amount about discernment by looking at the Protestant Reformation. So, next Tuesday let’s revisit John Wycliffe and examine his use of Biblical discernment in arguing against Transubstantiation and in translating the Latin Vulgate Bible into English. Let’s see whether or not his convictions on those two matters can teach us anything about discernment in our own time.

The 21st Century church is definitely in a mess. But the Roman Catholic Church of the 16th Century was a greater mess because no other churches existed. Unable to read Latin, all but the clergy were barred from knowing Scripture, and most monks and priests didn’t even bother reading it. Consequently, people were trapped in  its false teaching and superstitions. The discernment of Reformers who read the Bible brought the true Church out of its mess, thanks to God’s faithfulness and sovereignty. I pray that, 500 years later, He will grant us the same discernment to stand for His Word.

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