I’ve shared in this blog before that a friend of mine once dismissed my interest in church history by insisting that she cared more about the current mess in evangelical churches than about church history. The articles I wrote each Tuesday between November 1, 2016 and October 31, 2017 about the Protestant Reformation struck her as boring and irrelevant. She preferred, perhaps, to have me call out false teachers and erroneous trends.
Lately her remarks have come back to me in an unexpected way. Recently, John gave me a subscription to AGTV, an online streaming service that offers high quality Christian teaching and commentary. My favorite series so far is Steve andPaulette’sPlace, hosted by Steve Kozar of The Messed Up Church and his wife Paulette. In this series, the Kozars examine eras of Church History as those eras influence present evangelical trends.
The Kozars encourage me to keep studying and writing about Church History, even though few people care for such articles. Many bloggers (including me) feel hesitant to write about Church History after the 500th anniversary of the Reformation. 2017 taught us the discouraging lesson that our readers don’t care about church history. About any type of history. Like my friend, they are more concerned about how to fix the problems in today’s messed up church.
Christians generally accept the premise that the book of Revelation was the final work of Scripture, and consequently that the Canon is closed. Therefore, Jesus’ warning in the last chapter applies to all of the Bible:
18 I testify to everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: if anyone adds to them, God will add to him the plagues which are written in this book; 19 and if anyone takes away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God will take away his part from the tree of life and from the holy city, which are written in this book. ~~Revelation 22:18-19 (NASB95)
Most evangelicals today would verbally affirm this passage, but their claims that God speaks to them through thoughts, impressions, signs and/or visions calls their affirmations into question. We have to wonder why, if God revealed Himself in His Word and forbade any additions to it, professing Christians would entertain the notion that they need further communication from Him.
On one level, I sympathize with them. Spending my first 31 years as a Christian in Charismatic fellowships taught me that I needed to have at least a few experiences of hearing from God to gain credibility with my friends. I believed that hearing directly from the Lord established me as a mature believer. So I subconsciously conjured up a few experiences, which I embellished over the years. Sadly, I sincerely believed my own fabrications. Even after I began turning away from Charismatic theology, I retained some degree of openness to the idea of God speaking to my heart.
Most people know about King David’s sinful actions with Bathsheba, as well as his murder of her husband (2 Samuel 11:1-12:25). In the past few years, people from the #MeToo and #ChurchToo crowd on Twitter have been posting their belief that David didn’t merely commit adultery with Bathsheba. They contend that he used his position of power (as king of Israel) to force himself on her. This allegation resurfaced again recently fueling several heated discussions. Some conservatives countered that, by bathing in sight of David’s palace, Bathsheba intentionally seduced the king. People on both sides of the debate have been arguing passionately, largely from what Scripture doesn’t say.
Early last week, temptation got the better of me, and I threw myself into the melee. Of course, I received an attack on my education — or lack thereof — by someone who subsequently admitted to not accepting Christian scholarship on the matter. The idiocy of that attack only encouraged me to keep arguing. So I continued making my case, determined to prove that, as despicable as David’s actions were, he did not rape Bathsheba.
As I plotted strategies to further my case, however, a verse from 2 Timothy came to mind.
But refuse foolish and ignorant speculations, knowing that they produce quarrels. ~~2 Timothy 2:23 (NASB95)
The arguments on Twitter, you see, depend on speculation rather than on actual Scripture. Although both sides made intelligent arguments based on what the Bible account seems to suggest, in the end all of us relied on our speculations instead of allowing the Bible to speak for itself.
I sat in the restaurant, munching my fish and chips. Almost out of nowhere, my friend complained, “Our church doesn’t teach enough doctrine.”
His remark startled me. I wasn’t so much startled because he said it for no apparent reason (we had been talking about the Welsh castle we’d visited earlier that day) as I was that he considered doctrine to have any serious significance. Looking back, I find it rather pathetic that I thought such a thing only a few weeks before graduating from a three-month Bible College (which incidentally didn’t teach much doctrine either), but in 1985 I believed that spiritual experiences were more important than dry theology. Being in a Charismatic school only reinforced my attitude.
The Lord has obviously corrected my erroneous thinking since that lunch in Wales. He’s brought me to a place of valuing sound doctrine as the very basis of a vibrant relationship with Christ. If we take another look at Titus 2:2-6, we’ll see that sound doctrine (or being sound in faith) is an important element of Christian maturity.
But as for you, speak the things which are fitting for sound doctrine. 2 Older men are to be temperate, dignified, sensible, sound in faith, in love, in perseverance.
3 Older women likewise are to be reverent in their behavior, not malicious gossips nor enslaved to much wine, teaching what is good, 4 so that they may encourage the young women to love their husbands, to love their children, 5 to be sensible, pure, workers at home, kind, being subject to their own husbands, so the word of God will not be dishonored.
6 Likewise urge the young men to be sensible; 7 in all things show yourself to be an example of good deeds, with purity in doctrine, dignified, 8 sound in speech which is beyond reproach, so that the opponent will be put to shame, having nothing bad to say about us. ~~Titus 2:1-8 (NASB95)
Friday stunned me at first. I was still creating graphics for that day’s and Saturday’s blog posts, so I hadn’t yet gone online. John, however, was online, and suddenly exclaimed, “They overturned Roe!” I mumbled the obligatory “Praise God,” but kept working on my drawing, It took almost five minutes for me to realize that prayers I’d been praying for 42 years had finally been answered!
I’ve actually lived to see one of the most vile Supreme Court rulings in history declared unconstitutional!
My mumbled response turned to exuberant joy as I started thinking about His grace in giving us Supreme Court Justices with the courage to stand against culture in order to support the original intent of the Constitution. I’d prayed for this wonderful day, having been involved in pro-life ministry back in the 1980s. Like most pro-life people, weariness had discouraged me to the point that I didn’t seriously expect to see Roe overturned in my lifetime. What an amazing day! What a day to celebrate and rejoice in the Lord!
Saturday morning, John turned on our local news station. Living near Boston, I expected a little rain on the parade, so I braced myself a bit. Evidently, I didn’t brace well enough, because the first story announced (almost with a tone of reassurance) that Governor Charlie Baker had immediately issued an Executive Order “protecting reproductive rights.”
Some months back, a reader left a comment asking me to write some posts demonstrating that the 16th Century Reformers like Luther and Calvin weren’t models of perfection. At the time, I felt that she’d made a reasonable request. We often look back on those Reformers as if they could do no wrong, thus cultivating a very dishonest approach to history. For that reason, I agree that we mustn’t ignore negative facts about these heroes of the faith.
When I agreed to write a few articles on the character deficiencies of these men, however,I failed to consider the changes in my condition and the impact said changes would have on my schedule. Sadly, I have at least seven hours a week less time at my computer, which restricts my ability to research topics. I have some idea of Luther’s antisemitism, and I sort of know that Calvin had issues with the Anabaptists because they wouldn’t baptize their infants, but I don’t believe I’m educated enough on these problems to write intelligently about them. So I need to back out of my agreement to write on the flaws of 16th Century Reformers.
As I thought about this matter these past few days, a couple things occurred to me that I want to discuss. In acknowledging the truth that the Reformers sinned in certain areas, we must examine our motives for wanting to look at their sins. And we must consider the probability (not merely the possibility) that history will look back on us and see our blind spots.
Four years ago, Reformed Christians celebrated the 500th anniversary of the event held to be the beginning of the Protestant Reformation. Martin Luther, then an Augustinian monk, simply posted his Ninety Five Theses asking for a scholarly debate on the Roman Catholic practice of selling Indulgences. At the time, he had absolutely no intention of breaking from the Roman Catholic Church; he only wanted to encourage an examination of its teachings in light of Scripture. Sadly, Rome hadn’t the slightest interest in having “adrunken German monk” question Papal authority, and eventually Luther was excommunicated as a heretic.
At around that time, God awakened John Calvin, Huldrych Zwingli and John Knox (among others) to the necessity of getting back to God’s Word. Through their faithful unwillingness to compromise with the errors of Roman Catholicism, these men laid the foundation for the Reformation. Their willingness to suffer and risk their lives so that you and I could read the Bible and worship the Lord according to its teachings should be celebrated! Therefore, on October 31, 2017, I commemorated the 500th anniversary of the official start of the Reformation by writing the following blog post.
Few people these days know much history, mostly because they assume it has nothing to do with them. It’s boring and dusty, full of dates to memorize and bloody battlefields where too many young men surrender their lives. And we’ve all suffered through history classes in school with teachers who drone on in monotone voices that make our eyelids heavy. Once we walk across a graduation stage and firmly grip that diploma, we assure ourselves that we’ll never have to think about history again!
Between November 1, 2016 and October 31, 2017, I blogged every Tuesday about various aspects of the Reformation in anticipation of the 500th anniversary of Martin Luther nailing his Ninety Five Theses to the door of the Castle Church in Whittenburg, Germany. Sadly, those articles attracted very few readers, probably because people prefer reading about current controversies. Critiques of Beth Moore always get more clicks than essays about Luther, Calvin or Tyndale, And I admit to understanding that boring history teachers in everyone’s past have taught us that watching paint dry is more interesting than 16th Century religious squabbles. But I believe the blog posts about the Reformation were important four years ago, and I believe blog posts about the Reformation are just as important now.
This October 31, we need to remember the Reformation, even though it’s not the major anniversary that it was four years ago. As evangelicals, we still must be mindful of our spiritual heritage. Furthermore, we owe honor to the men and women of the 16th Century who suffered immense persecution to restore Biblical worship to the church. Neglecting church history sets us up to repeat the errors of past generations.
I’d had quite an emotional weekend in early September, 2001. On Saturday, September 8, I came home from a friend’s birthday party to find my mom, my sister and my then 11-year-old niece all hurting from sudden losses (my mom’s friend died unexpectedly and close friends of my sister forbade their daughters to have contact with my niece). In their grief, they found reasons to treat each other with anger. I kept a low profile, finding sanctuary Sunday and Monday chatting online with John about our upcoming wedding.
By Monday evening, tensions in the household had begun to ease, leading me to think I could resume enjoying my last few months in California. But I woke up Tuesday morning to the unusual sound of my sister sobbing wildly in the living room. I sighed, wondering what could have triggered another argument between her and Mom.
As muted sounds from the television wafted into my bedroom, Mom ran in yelling, “Two planes just hit the Twin Towers in New York! We’re at war!”
Let’s be honest: we look at all the insanity in the world, as well as the various trials in our personal lives, and try to figure out what the Lord is doing. As a matter of fact, Christians feel a sense of responsibility to understand His purposes in everything that happens. I suppose we think having a firm grip on perplexing circumstances will help us weather them.
A few days ago I read a psalm that gave me a perspective on facing difficulties that I’d never considered before.
O Lord, my heart is not proud, nor my eyes haughty; Nor do I involve myself in great matters, Or in things too difficult for me. 2 Surely I have composed and quieted my soul; Like a weaned child rests against his mother, My soul is like a weaned child within me. 3 O Israel, hope in the Lord From this time forth and forever. ~~Psalm 131 (NASB)
In the past, I’d isolated the verses from each other, so none of them really made much sense to me. Occasionally verse 1 reminded me to maintain a semblance of humility, and verse 2 encouraged me to trust the Lord, but I failed to see how those verses fit together. And I completely ignored verse 3.
When I read Psalm 131 a few days ago, however, I disciplined myself to think about their context. Suddenly the psalm took on a clarity that surprised me. In this psalm, David teaches that Israel can hope in the Lord by resting in Him instead of trying to figure out what He’s doing through the various situations in the world.