The Forgotten Moment We Remembered Three Years Ago

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Often, effective blogging depends on keeping up with current conversations in social media. Readers crave hot topics — the more controversial, the better! As a result, very few people right now have even the slightest interest in reading about the Protestant Reformation.

Between November 1, 2016 and October 31, 2017, I devoted almost every Tuesday to blogging about the Protestant Reformation. Since October 31 of that year, I’ve said little about the matter, largely because the 500th anniversary had passed and everyone else has moved on to other topics. After all, the anniversary was over; other matters had begun to capture everyone’s  attention.

Including Read More »

Luther’s Greatest Work Came About Because Of A Theological Disagreement

Dead Church SteepleReading Martin Luther’s The Bondage of the Will requires determination. I regret to say that I gave up after reading 60% of it. Yes, my degree in English Literature involved reading things from centuries past, so the book shouldn’t have been so daunting to me. I’ve gotten lazy in my 43 years since graduation.

That said, I did actually read over half of it, and learned a lot from his argument against the concept of free will. Luther wrote this treatise in response to On Free Will by Desiderius  Erasmus,  a Catholic humanist who was the first to translate the New Testament directly from the Greek. I appreciated Luther’s ability to reason from God’s Word consistently in making his case. I stopped reading partly because he successfully convinced me that Scripture supports his position.

So why am I writing about a book that I haven’t opened in four years and didn’t Read More »

Overlooked Posts From 2019: The Relevance Of Dry, Dusty History

This time of year, many bloggers share their most popular posts from the past 12 months. Ever the nonconformist, I’ve decided to celebrate the year’s end by featuring favorite articles of mine that my readers seem to have overlooked. Today I’m posting one I wrote back in October.

Medieval MonastaryEveryone raved about Dr. Dill. My friends who majored in history adored him as much as we English Literature majors adored Sister Nicholas — at least as much. So in my Senior year at Dominican University of California,  I signed up for his Medieval History class. After all, history classes with Mr. Squires in high school delighted me so much that I took one just for fun.

Dr. Dill taught by straight lecture. I’d grown used to the more discussion oriented style of my English professors, so I struggled to pay attention to Dill’s  monotone voice. Having a straight lecture class immediately after lunch in an upstairs classroom that stayed warm even in January didn’t help either.

The class bored me. Mr. Squires made me care about the Supreme Court rulings of Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr., but poor Dr. Dill simply couldn’t get me excited about the Great Schism or the Ottoman Empire. It wasn’t until nine years later, when I visited a 14th Century gravestone in Wales, that I regretted not paying attention to Dill’s lecturers.

So, contrary to popular opinion, I really do understand why most people feel an aversion to history. Most high school history teachers are more like Dr. Dill than Mr. Squires. Consequently, my blog posts on the Protestant Reformation generally leave my readers cold. I get it!

But I also get the fact that the Protestant Reformation was the greatest revival in church history. And it troubles me that most evangelicals simply couldn’t care less about it.

I’m troubled because I see an indifference to God’s Word (if not an illiteracy of Scripture) among professing evangelicals. Because evangelicals won’t look at church history, they don’t appreciate the restoration of God’s Word that the Protestant Reformation made possible.  Therefore we take Scripture so much for granted that we manipulate, supplement and/or ignore it according to whatever evangelical trend strikes our fancy.

The Reformation happened because men gained access to the original Greek manuscripts of the New Testament. They saw how the Latin Vulgate translation misrepresented Paul’s teaching on justification. They saw how keeping Scripture exclusively in the hands of the clergy gave Rome too much power over people.

Of course, it’s easy to simplify the Reformation. Since I only understand history on a small scale, I admit that I don’t write some about the Reformation with much depth. But even a surface level understanding of the Reformation helps me cherish God’s Word as I never have before.

I am sure that most of you see history as dry and dusty. Sadly, my experience with Dr. Dill is more typical than not in regards to history, making people shy away from any discussion of the Reformation.

Please don’t let any high school or college experience with a boring history teacher turn you off to learning a little about the greatest revival in church history. I hope that my next two blog posts might help you consider the impact of the Protestant Reformation and its subsequent exaltation of God’s Word. Perhaps knowing the price the Reformers paid to ensure that laity could read the Bible for ourselves might deepen your appreciation for this Book that God has given us.

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Throwback Thursday: After Darkness, Light

I had wanted to write an original article in celebration of Reformation Day, but I have a cold that robbed me of sleep the past two nights. As a result, blogging is the last thing I want to do today. So please enjoy this reprise of my blog post from the October 31, 2017, written in honor of the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation.

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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The Value Of Scripture Now And Then

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Maybe I never said it out loud,  and I certainly wouldn’t have let any of my friends hear me say it, but I wanted more than the Bible seemed to offer. Thus I loved hearing supposed prophecies in   church, devoured books on “Christian” psychology and hungered  for God to speak to me personally.

Truthfully, I don’t believe my unspoken dissatisfaction with the Bible was atypical.

Whether evangelicals admit it or not, many of them want something beyond Scripture to guide their decision making or to help them better experience God. Having spent most of my Christian life in that camp, I very much understand that perspective. People who long for something that feels more personal than Scripture often genuinely love the Lord and want to be close to Him.

I believe, however, that Christians in the 16th Century would struggle to understand Read More »

The Relevance Of Dry, Dusty History

Medieval MonastaryEveryone raved about Dr. Dill. My friends who majored in history adored him as much as we English Literature majors adored Sister Nicholas — at least as much. So in my Senior year at Dominican University of California,  I signed up for his Medieval History class. After all, history classes with Mr. Squires in high school delighted me so much that I took one just for fun.

Dr. Dill taught by straight lecture. I’d grown used to the more discussion oriented style of my English professors, so I struggled to pay attention to Dill’s  monotone voice. Having a straight lecture class immediately after lunch in an upstairs classroom that stayed warm even in January didn’t help either.

The class bored me. Mr. Squires made me care about the Supreme Court rulings of Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr., but poor Dr. Dill simply couldn’t get me excited about Read More »

Hurt Feelings Can Cripple Our Testimony For The Lord

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Measured by today’s sensibilities, people would probably consider me a victim of childhood bullying. Neighborhood kids constantly called me names like “cripple,” “spaz” and “retard.” Mom intervened on the one occasion when the abuse became physical, but she did her best to teach me that verbal abuse could strengthen my character.

Her strategy probably wouldn’t fly nowadays.

Which explains the hypersensitive atmosphere pervading our culture presently. Just this past weekend, a gentleman on Twitter that I consider to be refreshingly chivalrous lamented the loss of the “women and children first” mentality. Almost immediately, a woman accused him of Read More »

Five Solas In One Hymn

This coming Thursday marks 502 years since Martin Luther posted his 95 Theses challenging certain practices of the Roman Catholic Church. His simple act officially launched the Protestant Reformation, which restored God’s Word and basic Gospel principles to Christianity.

Five Latin phrases summarize the core values of Reformation theology:

  • Sola Fide, by faith alone.
  • Sola Scriptura, by Scripture alone.
  • Solus Christus, through Christ alone.
  • Sola Gratia, by grace alone.
  • Soli Deo Gloria, glory to God alone.

As evangelicals, we celebrate these precious Five Solas as the foundational principles of Biblical Christianity. So, looking forward to Reformation Day on Thursday, let’s listen to a beautiful modern hymn praising the Lord through these Five Solas.

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Flashback Friday: The Reformation And Galatians

Originally posted June 27, 2017:

Whittenberg DoorThe Lord used the apostle Paul to bring the Gospel to the gentiles in Galatia. Sadly, after he left that region, representatives of a group known as the Judaizers descended on that fledgling church, teaching that they needed to augment their faith in Christ by following Jewish law. They especially insisted that gentile converts undergo the rite of circumcision.

Paul was infuriated that the church he had founded had so quickly abandoned the Gospel of faith in the finished work of Jesus Christ on the cross in favor of a counterfeit gospel that required human effort to assure salvation. He wrote a scathing letter, scolding them for adulterating the Gospel with doctrines of men. We see the reasons for his frustration most clearly articulated in Chapter 5 of his epistle to the Galatians.

For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.

Look: I, Paul, say to you that if you accept circumcision, Christ will be of no advantage to you. I testify again to every man who accepts circumcision that he is obligated to keep the whole law. You are severed from Christ, you who would be justified by the law; you have fallen away from grace. For through the Spirit, by faith, we ourselves eagerly wait for the hope of righteousness. For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything, but only faith working through love.

You were running well. Who hindered you from obeying the truth? This persuasion is not from him who calls you. A little leaven leavens the whole lump. 10 I have confidence in the Lord that you will take no other view, and the one who is troubling you will bear the penalty, whoever he is. 11 But if I, brothers, still preach circumcision, why am I still being persecuted? In that case the offense of the cross has been removed. 12 I wish those who unsettle you would emasculate themselves! ~~Galatians 5:1-12 (ESV)

I imagine Martin Luther found this passage helpful as he broke free from the demands of the Roman Catholic Church. Luther rightly saw that  Rome’s elaborate system of sacraments, Purgatory, Indulgences and Papal authority produced a gospel quite different from the Good News that Jesus Christ fully paid for the sin of whoever believes in Him by His death on the cross. Like Paul, Luther sought to turn Christians back to focusing on Christ’s work instead of imagining that they could supplement it through their cooperation.

Notice specifically Paul’s firm assertion that a Christian who supplements his faith in the Lord by depending on legalistic rituals actually nullifies the effects of faith in salvation through Christ’s work on the cross. At that point, a person essentially declares that salvation ultimately lies in our power, not in what Christ accomplished on our behalf.

The sacramental system of the Roman Catholic Church, despite their denials, easily parallels the false teaching of the Judaizers. As a matter of fact, the Judaizers claimed to follow Christ, just as the Roman Catholic Church does. In many respects, the Judaizers presented themselves as genuine Christians, thereby convincing the Galatians to accept their doctrinal error. Not surprisingly, then, the Catholic Church managed to convince Christians of similar errors.

But Paul’s firm refutation against the system of righteousness by works enabled Luther and the other Reformers to stand against Rome’s numerous conditions for salvation. Just as Paul proclaimed that circumcision had no bearing on anyone’s standing before God, so the Reformers proclaimed that sacraments couldn’t add to what Christ had already done. The Reformers returned to the Biblical teaching that Christ Jesus fully satisfied the Law by dying as our substitute.

Roman Catholicism gets some doctrines right, such as the Trinity, but it adds conditions for salvation in much the same way that the Judaizers did. These conditions made humans responsible for sustaining their salvation.

Human centered salvation, however, takes the glory away from the Lord Jesus Christ. It demands that He share His glory with us. Paul recognized that danger among the Christians in Galatia, and he refused to tolerate such a corruption of the Gospel! He therefore set a pattern for the Reformers to follow once they could read God’s Word and understand that Rome had corrupted the Gospel. His passion for Jesus Christ to receive all the glory inspired the Reformers to also develop that passion.
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