After Darkness, Light

Post Tenebras Lux

Even among Christians who genuinely love God’s Word and have a passion for Him, I feel like a certifiable nerd these days. Hardly anyone outside on my blogging and Twitter associates seems aware that today marks the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation. And the few who actually do know don’t show a great deal of concern (let alone excitement) over the matter. That was 500 years ago, they reason. They remind me that not everyone enjoys history as much as I do.

A few longtime friends have (if I correctly understand their Facebook comments) expressed hope that I’m not idolizing theology instead of loving Jesus. Certainly, dead orthodoxy poses a danger to any Christian, and therefore self-examination has a place for those of us who write zealously about the issues involved in the Reformation. I don’t want to exalt anything above the Lord Jesus Christ.

I wonder, however, if people accused Luther, Calvin, Zwingli and the other 16th Century Reformers of idolizing theology.

Actually, they accused them of heresy, even though it was the false teachings of Roman Catholicism that caused the Reformers to go back to Scripture and question the Church’s teachings in the first place. Those men and women stood against the errors in the Roman Catholic Church because they loved Jesus and had a passion for His Word.

In order to appreciate their passion for Biblical theology, it helps to understand the development of the Roman Catholic Church. Outlining that history goes well beyond the scope of today’s essay, but I strongly encourage you to read What is the origin of the Roman Catholic Church? from GotQuestions.org. Suffice it to say that Roman Catholicism kept most people in spiritual darkness for approximately 600 years, withholding Scripture from all but the elite so that Rome could maintain political power.

The Reformers began reading Scripture translated from the original Greek and Hebrew, and consequently saw huge discrepancies between what the Word taught and the teachings of Rome. As I’ve said repeatedly throughout this Tuesday series, they risked their very lives (and many died as martyrs) over the theological differences between them and the Roman Catholic Church.

They rightly took the motto, Post Tenebras Lux (after darkness, light), to describe God’s wonderful work of restoring sound doctrine to His people.  The light of God’s Word had at last dispelled the darkness of Roman Catholicism, and the Reformers preferred persecution and death to compromising their theology. Does that mean they idolized theology over the Lord?

I would argue that the Reformers’ love and passion for Christ emanated from their return to Biblical theology. As they rediscovered the doctrines of grace in the pages of Scripture, the light shone brightly, leading them to know and love the Lord, Who had been in the shadows of Catholic tradition for almost six centuries.  To those Reformers, the theology that shed light on the Lord and His will caused them to rejoice in His remarkable grace. They gave Him all the glory. Indeed,  the appearance of light after darkness fueled their passionate love for Him.

Oh dear 21st Century believers, don’t let people discourage you from loving the theology that leads you to a clear understanding of Who Jesus is and what He teaches. As John said to me yesterday, we can’t really love the Lord apart from right theology. Praise God for the courageous Reformers whom He used to bring His people from darkness into light.

But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. ~~1 Peter 2:9 (ESV)

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Perspectives In Titus: Faithful Words On Profitable Teachings

Titus 3 8

Once again, we’ll only get through a single verse in our study of Titus today, but in this verse Paul reaches the zenith of his letter to Titus. Given the climactic nature of Titus 3:8, I believe we need to take our time looking at it, remembering that Titus pastors several churches in Crete with two major problems.

First of all, false teachers known as Judaizers have infiltrated the churches, teaching that Gentile Christians must observe Jewish law. Second, the Cretan culture outside the church is marked by self-indulgence. Paul left Titus the task of putting that region’s churches in order so that they could resist the corrosion of false teaching and thus live in contrast to the unbelievers who surrounded them.

With that refresher on the reason for Paul’s letter to Titus, let’s look at today’s verse within its immediate context.

But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life. The saying is trustworthy, and I want you to insist on these things, so that those who have believed in God may be careful to devote themselves to good works. These things are excellent and profitable for people. But avoid foolish controversies, genealogies, dissensions, and quarrels about the law, for they are unprofitable and worthless. 10 As for a person who stirs up division, after warning him once and then twice, have nothing more to do with him, 11 knowing that such a person is warped and sinful; he is self-condemned. ~~Titus 3:4-11 (ESV)

Verse 8 begins by telling us “The saying is trustworthy.” The saying Paul refers to is, of course, Titus 3:4-7 in its assertion that God’s justifying grace leads Christians to live in ways that reflect His holiness. Paul reminds Titus that this understanding of grace is trustworthy. Thayer’s Dictionary brings up the idea that the Greek word carries the sense that we can rely on this saying. In other words, we can rely on the declaration that grace will produce works according to God’s nature.

As an aside, Psalm 19:7 assures us that the testimony of the Lord is sure, again underscoring that Scripture is trustworthy. So we can completely trust Paul’s saying in Titus 3:4-7, confident because the Holy Spirit included the passage in His Word.

Paul wanted Titus to insist on the truths of Titus 3:4-7. Pay attention to the word “insist” here, as it’s pivotal to Paul’s point. The King James Version translates it as “affirm constantly,” leading Barnes to comment that Paul’s intent was that Titus make these doctrines of grace “the constant subject” of his preaching. Indeed, our pastors should repeatedly preach on God’s sovereignty in bringing us to salvation.

The reason for insisting on the doctrines of grace is to encourage believers to good works. Barnes says that the good works here are not “merely to acts of benevolence and charity, but to all that is upright and good – to an honest and holy life.” His interpretation best fits the context of this letter. These good works, remember, don’t merit salvation.  Rather, they verify that the Holy Spirit has truly regenerated us.

Furthermore, these doctrines, being excellent because they accentuate God’s sovereignty, are profitable, in contrast to the unprofitable types of conversations outlined in the next verse. Vincent’s Word Studies cross-references 1 Timothy 4:8 as evidence that godliness is of greater value than even physical fitness because godliness holds both temporal and eternal value. As we exercise the doctrines of grace by keeping them constantly on our minds, we profit immensely.

It seems fitting that last Monday and today we’ve talked about grace, justification and the trustworthiness of God’s Word. Tomorrow marks the 500th anniversary of the Reformation, a work of God that restored these crucial doctrines to the church. What a blessing to see that these doctrines benefit Christians even now.

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Looking Towards Reformation Day — The Real Focus

I praise the Lord for the Reformation. The courageous men and women who stood for God’s Word against the Roman Catholic Church certainly deserve to be celebrated for restoring the doctrines of grace to us. Anyone who reads this blog regularly knows how much I admire the Reformers.

But this weekend I discovered a modern hymn that reminded me to keep my focus on Christ. Ultimately, the Reformers sought to bring attention back to Him. Therefore, as we rejoice in this 500th anniversary, let’s rejoice even more in the Lord Jesus Christ Who deserves all glory and praise. Soli Deo gloria!

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Saturday Sampler: October 22 — October 28

Five Easter Babies

Ligonier posts R.C. Sproul’s article, What Does the Roman Catholic Church Believe About Justification? This helpful piece brings us to the core issue of the Protestant Reformation and encourages Christians to continue declaring the Gospel.

Firmly but gently, Jennifer at One Hired Late In The Day answers the question, But what if my husband isn’t a believer? by opening the Bible and examining what the Holy Spirit says through the apostle Peter on this subject. I appreciate her approach to this important topic.

With Halloween coming quickly, Michelle Lesley reprises Should Christians Participate in Halloween? 7 Scriptures to Consider (which she originally published in 2014). I really like her application of Biblical principles to this controversial question.

Writing for The Gospel Coalition Blog, Rebecca VanDoodewaard outlines 5 Lessons from Reformation Women as an encouragement to us. Women don’t have to be in pulpit ministry in order to serve the Lord mightily.

In his moving blog post for The Cripplegate, Jordan Standridge writes about The American Priest who Proved the Reformation is Not Over. Please, if you’re tempted to minimize the differences between Catholics and Protestants, make time to read this eye-opening piece.

If you like impassioned writing, don’t miss Elizabeth Prata’s The Reformation shows us why we need expository preaching in The End Time. Thankfully, Elizabeth hasn’t bought into the pervasive attitude that church history is boring and irrelevant. In fact, she applies lessons from the Reformation to current evangelical trends.

Biblical counselor Lara d’Entremont of Renewed in Truth Discipleship helps us see that Letting Go of Self-Suffiency is a necessary act of repentance. It also alleviates some pretty big burdens.

For a slightly different take on the Reformation, read David Qaoud’s piece, 5 Common Misconceptions of Reformation Day in Gospel Relevance. I learned a few things. So might you.

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What We Don’t Know Will Definitely Hurt Us

Wood Church Bas Relief

I’ve been asking questions on Twitter and Facebook in an effort to understand what most evangelicals think about the Reformation. Having spent most of my Christian life in Charismatic and Armimian churches, many of my friends (though genuinely saved) don’t subscribe to Reformed Theology. Curiously, some of them quote  Spurgeon’s Morning and Evening Devotions, but they also quote Oswald Chambers, Rick Warren and Charles Finney, leaving me to wonder if Spurgeon makes that much of an impression on them.

Sometimes things make you scratch your head in bewilderment.

Anyway, few of my friends have responded to my questions. Perhaps their silence speaks volumes about their indifference to the Reformation. And I get that. I need to confess my own indifference to the Reformation before the Lord brought me into Reformed Theology.

I did receive one response that disturbed me. The person declared that the Reformation was indeed very important to her, citing several changes in the Roman Catholic Church. Those changes, however, resulted from Vatican II, which happened about 450 years after the Reformation, and only made surface level changes within Catholicism.

Perhaps I misunderstood my friend’s comment. If so, I hope she’ll publicly correct me and better help me understand the point she wanted to make. But the fact that nobody else questioned her apparent confusion of the Reformation and Vatican II causes me to wonder if people really make a distinction between the two events. I realize that not everyone enjoys history, but these two major events really have little to do with one another.

Perhaps my friend isn’t representative of most 21st Century evangelicals. Sadly, I suspect she just may be. If so, I fear that modern-day evangelicals are headed into new Dark Ages, every bit as apostate as the centuries leading up to 1517.

Ignorance about the Protestant Reformation explains much of the compromise among present-day evangelicals. If we don’t know at least how the issues of justification by faith alone and the authority of Scripture caused the Reformers to stand against the papacy (often losing their lives in the process), we will quite probably compromise our own doctrine and seek fellowship with people who embrace a different gospel. I pray that my friends, as well as evangelicals in general, will look at the Reformation and see the critical importance of doctrine. May they then glorify the Lord Jesus Christ for restoring His Word to His beloved Church.

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Going Outside The Lines: A Musing On Legalism

Outside the Lines

We live in an age that encourages us to think outside the box. To color outside the lines. Within evangelical circles, those of us who insist on sticking to Scripture (whether in relation to hearing God’s voice, the content of worship services or women as pastors, just to name a few examples) invariably receive accusations of legalism. More liberal evangelicals eagerly label us as modern-day Pharisees, gleefully reminding us that the Lord reserved His harshest criticism for the Pharisees of the First Century.

Occasionally, we deserve such rebukes, I’ll admit.  Sometimes our zeal to remain within the boundaries of God’s Word can indeed lapse over into legalism,  such as rejecting all contemporary praise songs rather than evaluating individual songs on the basis of doctrinal content.  We must be humble enough to recognize instances when we elevate our preferences and traditions to the level of Scripture.

Think about my last sentence for a moment. Didn’t it get to the heart of Christ’s conflict with the Pharisees? Despite the popular idea that they rigidly adhered to the letter of the law, the Lord called them out for making their traditions equal to God’s Law.

Let’s look at just one instance of their legalism:

And he said to them, “You have a fine way of rejecting the commandment of God in order to establish your tradition! 10 For Moses said, ‘Honor your father and your mother’; and, ‘Whoever reviles father or mother must surely die.’ 11 But you say, ‘If a man tells his father or his mother, “Whatever you would have gained from me is Corban”’ (that is, given to God)— 12 then you no longer permit him to do anything for his father or mother, 13 thus making void the word of God by your tradition that you have handed down. And many such things you do.” ~~Mark 7:9-13 (ESV)

The Pharisees had cleverly devised a system to avoid caring for aging parents by claiming that their resources were devoted to God. Undoubtedly they worded things very carefully, convincing their parents (or at least themselves) that their tradition superseded the commandment to honor their parents. Essentially, they colored outside the lines of Scripture in order to accommodate their own selfish goals.

Both theological conservatives and theological liberals color outside the lines when we replace God’s Word with our own traditions and preferences. The real modern-day Pharisees aren’t the ones who go back to Biblical principles, but rather the ones who want to think outside the box. After all, the Lord made the lines and the box, not us.

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500 Years Later, And Why We Dare Not Forget

ancient-church-01

So it’s the week before the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation’s official start, and I’ve been blogging almost every Tuesday since November 1, 2016 about it. I’d hoped, when I first started this series,  to get well past Luther in order to show the Reformers who actually surrendered their lives for the sake of God’s Word.

I didn’t meet that goal.

Daily blogging left me little time to research the men and women of the Reformation.  I had good intentions, mind you, but I just couldn’t budget my time appropriately. For that reason, a few months ago I shifted my focus to merely trying to keep the Reformation before you. In recent months,  I tried to demonstrate that the Reformation impacts Christian thought today, and that ignoring its emphasis on faith alone and Scripture alone places us in grave danger of repeating the apostasy that the Reformers protested in the first place.

As I’ve written countless times throughout this series, the Reformers each stood against the distorted teachings and practices of Roman Catholicism as a result of reading the Word of God. Once they saw how far Rome had deviated from the Bible, they sought to make Scripture available to everyone both through preaching and through translating it into common languages.

Of course,  I’ve oversimplified matters. The Reformation was far more complex,  and years passed before Reformed Theology reached its full development. As a Reformed Baptist (admittedly something that would have made Calvin’s skin crawl), I appreciate the move away from infant baptism, for example. Most 16th Century Reformers actually persecuted the Anabaptists for refusing to baptize their babies, and they probably would be quite perplexed that some 21st Century Baptists claim the Reformed tradition.

I hope any Presbyterian women reading that last paragraph won’t write me off!

Anyway, my point is that,  although I realize how varied the issues involved in the Reformation are, the two primary issues of justification by faith alone and the exclusive authority of Scripture remain the watershed issues that divide Protestants from Catholics. And evangelicals dare not compromise on either.

Sadly,  we indeed have compromised. For the most part, professing Christians regard the Roman Catholic Church as simply another Christian denomination. That perspective, while it certainly seems charitable, forgets the Reformers who risked (and sometimes gave) their lives in order to stand against the erroneous teachings and practices of Roman Catholicism. The dividing lines that they once drew in reverence for the Gospel,  we now blur for the sake of a unity with those who follow a different gospel.

The Reformation, 500 years ago, brought Christians back to the Bible, which in turn lead people to the Gospel of justification by faith alone. If I continually plead with you to remember the Reformation, I do so because the purity of the Gospel depends on it. Well after next Tuesday (a glorious day of celebration), I will continue periodically blogging about the Reformation. I pray you’ll continue thinking about it and that you’ll stand firmly for the Gospel that motivated the Reformers.

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