Sweet Little Babies Threaten No One, Do They?

Someone recently commented that manger scenes and songs about the Baby Jesus don’t pose the same sort of threat as other Christian topics do. After all, what could be more appealing than a cuddly infant full of childlike innocence? The story Luke narrates lends itself to sentimental Christmas cards and adorable Sunday School pageants that often cause the most secular eye to moisten just a bit. It seems like these days there’s always “room at the inn” for Baby Jesus.

The Jesus Who calls out sin and commands repentance isn’t quite as lovable to the world. Good Friday and Easter Sunday don’t receive anywhere near the attention that we give Christmas, even though those two holidays celebrate the heart of the Gospel message. Unlike Christmas, Good Friday and Easter Sunday confront us with our sin as well as with Christ’s authority as the risen Savior and Lord. Therefore, Christmas feels much safer, focusing on “the little Lord Jesus asleep on the hay.”

The sentimentality of the Christmas story, however, gets upset by Matthew, as he writes about the Magi who journey from the East searching for the newly born king of the Jews (please read Matthew 2:1-18). Obviously, I can’t quote the entire passage here. And even if I could, I prefer not to bog myself down in a discussion of the Magi themselves. Rather, I want to concentrate on King Herod and his terror at the announcement that a king of the Jews had been born near Jerusalem.

Read More »

Throwback Thursday: One Little German Monk

I originally published this article on October 23, 2015 — two years before the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation. A few minor points are therefore outdated, and would distract from the overall message unless I acknowledged their presence. That said, I pray this throwback will aid your understanding of why I celebrate Reformation Day.

The world may celebrate on October 31st for unholy reasons, but I see it as a day of rejoicing. On that day, 498 years ago, a little German monk changed world history simply because he believed the Bible.

As a young law student, Martin Luther abruptly changed course and entered a monastery, believing that St. Anne had protected him from a near-fatal lightening strike. Once he’d become an Augustinian priest, however, he  found  himself continually struggling to find assurance of  salvation.  He flung himself into fasting, penitence, and ritual, agonizing in his efforts to appease God. One of his mentors encouraged him to look to Christ alone. That,  Luther could not do. He’d been taught, by the Church of Rome, that God’s favor must be earned (just as he had earned St. Anne’s protection in the storm  by vowing to become a monk).

Seeing Luther’s bright intellect, his superiors sent him to Rome, where he began noticing that the vibrant faith of early Christians had been replaced by the dead rituals of Catholicism. Disturbed by this observation, he felt further alienation from God, though he continued his priestly duties.

Upon arriving at the monastery in Whittenberg, Germany, Luther earned his doctorate in theology. This degree brought him into a teaching position at the University of Whittenberg. His preparations for his course on Paul’s Epistle to the Romans revolutionized his relationship with the Lord by convincing him that faith was the only criterion for salvation. He wrote:

My situation was that, although an impeccable monk, I stood before God as a sinner troubled in conscience, and I had no confidence that my merit would assuage him. Night and day I pondered until I saw the connection between the justice of God and the statement ‘the just shall live by faith.’ Then I grasped that the justice of God is that righteousness by which through grace and sheer mercy God justifies us through faith. Thereupon I felt myself to be reborn and to have gone through open doors into paradise. The whole of Scripture took on a new meaning…This passage of Paul became to me a gate to heaven.

Once Luther experienced the regeneration of the Holy Spirit, he grew even more troubled by the Roman church’s practices–particularly the practice of selling indulgences.

Read More »

Why Should We Care About Something That Happened 505 Years Ago?

Here in the United States of America, our collective attention centers on the midterm elections. Inflation and abortion dominate as the two major issues, causing this election cycle to be a referendum on (respectively) the Biden administration and the Supreme Court. It’s quite appropriate that Christians, in our desire to be salt and light to a culture that thumbs its nose at God’s laws, would be deeply concerned about what happens on November 8.

As critical as the midterm elections are, it troubles me that very few Christians have any concern about what happened in Germany on October 31, 1517. Actually, most Christians think of October 31 as a reason to debate whether or not to participate in Halloween. When you mention the Protestant Reformation, they give you a quizzical look and hasten to change the subject.

I admit to once being indifferent to the topic, even as for a Christian. During my Freshman year of college, my Political Science professor covered it briefly, pretty much attributing it to Martin Luther’s chronic bouts of constipation. For decades, I knew little about Luther beyond his digestive problems. Furthermore, I didn’t really think the Protestant Reformation had much to do with me. I believe most Christians share that indifference.

Read More »

How Did The Church Get So Messed Up?

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 and Paulette’s Place, 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.

Read More »

What’s The Big Deal About Hearing Personal Words From God?

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.

Read More »

Should Christians Argue Over Whether Or Not David Raped Bathsheba?

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.

Read More »

Castle Ruins And Doctrine

Conway Castle in North Wales, 1985

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. Older men are to be temperate, dignified, sensible, sound in faith, in love, in perseverance.

Older women likewise are to be reverent in their behavior, not malicious gossips nor enslaved to much wine, teaching what is good, so that they may encourage the young women to love their husbands, to love their children, to be sensible, pure, workers at home, kind, being subject to their own husbands, so the word of God will not be dishonored.

Likewise urge the young men to be sensible; in all things show yourself to be an example of good deeds, with purity in doctrine, dignified, 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)

Read More »

Joy, Grief And Two Governors

Massachusetts State House

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!

PRAISE GOD!!!

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.”

Read More »

The Reformers Were Cracked Pots, Not Crackpots

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.

Read More »

Flashback Friday: After Darkness, Light (With An Updated Introduction)

Post Tenebras Lux

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 “a drunken 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.

Read More »