Why the Past Matters
Earlier this week, in what is called a "Google hangout," Ligonier’s newest Teaching Fellow and church historian, Dr. Stephen J. Nichols, talked about why the past matters today and tomorrow. From the early church, to the Reformation, and recent centuries, these are necessary discussions to avoid what C.S. Lewis called, “chronological snobbery.”
Bart Ehrman's New Essay Lacks Historic Substance
Bart Ehrman's new essay in the soon to be out-of-business Newsweek magazine is simply crazy talk. The idea that some kind of spiritual knowledge can be acquired from something that is not historical is gnosticism. If Christianity and Judaism are not a religion grounded in history ABOVE ALL, such as the actual events of the incarnation, crucifixion and physical resurrection, then it has lost all value and Christianity is not true. These are not moral stories like Aesop's Fables that give us lessons to live. Anyone reading the OT and NT will easily see this... Rather, these are writings from witnesses to historic events. If they are not true, then we have been duped and are to be pitied more than any people. (1 Corinthians 15:14-19). There is no possibility that so many people in the first century could have conspired to make up these events and then be willing to die for them, unwilling to recant. If it were not true they would have known it. Further, anyone at the time could have easily verified or denied the truthfulness of the written history. Many people who saw the events were still alive when the letters of the apostles were being passed around. It is frankly, IMHO, much more difficult to believe Ehrman's version of the story.
Happy Reformation Day
Post Tenebras Lux - After Darkness, Light
The entrance of His word gives light.
Dr. John Piper evaluates John Calvin's life, ministry and legacy in Geneva, Switzerland.
Scripture and the Church Fathers
Here are excellent resources concerning the view of the early Church regarding Scripture.
Formal Sufficiency of Scripture
Stated and Examined from Scripture and the Fathers, with scholarly confirmation regarding the Fathers' views.
In an introduction section, we discussed the nature of formal sufficiency that we, the Reformed, affirm. In the next section, we saw Scripture's own testimony to its own sufficiency. If we were simply establishing the Reformed position, that would be completely sufficient. It would not be necessary to add anything to that.
Nevertheless, our challenger from the Roman side has requested some patristic confirmation. Frankly, we are not sanguine about the possibility that he'll actually carefully read and consider the evidence that we present, yet perhaps these evidences will be sufficient to help establish that our insight into Scripture is not a novel insight.
We all wear glasses
When outlining the central truths of the Reformation (the five solas and the doctrines of grace), I sometimes hear a response that some of the Reformers seemed downright mean in their rhetoric and even nasty to people. Its important to respond to this because this can be something of a roadblock to people, preventing them from even looking into the Scriptures on such vital matters.
I wrote the following as a response to someone articulating this issue earlier today:
Nothing is “shrugged off” or excused but we also must at least try to understand the historical times rather than simply looking back at them through anachronistic glasses (through a 21st century lens). That is not always easy to do, but to understand the people and events of history, we must also seek to understand the thinking that governed hearts and minds at the time.
We don’t have heresy trials in our day for the simple reason that today’s society does not view doctrinal heresy as a problem at all. Cults and false religion can exist without any fear of persecution. While I for one very much appreciate the freedom of religion in our day, the down side is the thinking that often goes with that, namely that it does not matter what a person believes, as long as they are “sincere.” However, this concept was not in anyone’s thinking in the 16th century. All society actually believed in heaven and hell and that individuals actually go to one of those two places, and that heresy was a terrible blight on society. People on both sides (Protestant and Roman Catholic) believed that heresy was a high crime against both God and the people, equivalent to treason. If we understand that, and also look at the facts rather than the hyped up inaccurate vitriol that is so often pervasive, while not in any way excusing the excesses, we can at least begin to have an understanding of the times in which these things occured and have some measure of sympathy. If we do not, then we will come to the false and sad conclusion that no one in the 16th century has anything worthwhile to teach us.
John Calvin's Letter to Cardinal Sadoleto
On September 1, 1539, John Calvin countered the Roman Catholic apologetics of his day with his letter to Cardinal Sadoleto. Concerning the doctrine of justification by faith alone Calvin writes:
You, in the first place, touch upon justification by faith, the first and keenest subject of controversy between us. Is this a knotty and useless question? Wherever the knowledge of it is taken away, the glory of Christ is extinguished, religion abolished, the Church destroyed, and the hope of salvation utterly overthrown. That doctrine, then, though of the highest moment, we maintain that you have nefariously effaced from the memory of men. Our books are filled with convincing proofs of this fact, and the gross ignorance of this doctrine, which even still continues in all your churches, declares that our complaint is by no means ill founded. But you very maliciously stir up prejudice against us, alleging that, by attributing every thing to faith, we leave no room for works.
I will not now enter upon a full discussion, which would require a large volume; but if you would look into the Catechism which I myself drew up for the Genevans, when I held the office of Pastor among them, three words would silence you. Here, however, I will briefly explain to you how we speak on this subject.
First, We bid a man begin by examining himself, and this not in a superficial and perfunctory manner, but to sift his conscience before the tribunal of God, and when sufficiently convinced of his iniquity, to reflect on the strictness of the sentence pronounced upon all sinners. Thus confounded and amazed at his misery, he is prostrated and humbled before God; and, casting away all self-confidence, groans as if given up to final perdition. Then we show that the only haven of safety is in the mercy of God, as manifested in Christ, in whom every part of our salvation is complete. As all mankind are, in the sight of God, lost sinners, we hold that Christ is their only righteousness, since, by his obedience, he has wiped off our transgressions; by his sacrifice, appeased the divine anger; by his blood, washed away our stains; by his cross, borne our curse; and by his death, made satisfaction for us. We maintain that in this way man is reconciled in Christ to God the Father, by no merit of his own, by no value of works, but by gratuitous mercy. When we embrace Christ by faith, and come, as it were, into communion with him, this we term, after the manner of Scripture, the righteousness of faith.
The Gospel According to the Church Fathers
by Nathan Busenitz (from a blogpost here). Nathan serves on the pastoral staff of Grace Church and teaches theology at The Master's Seminary in Los Angeles, California.
After the apostles died, was the gospel hopelessly lost until the Reformation?
That certainly seems to be a common assumption in some Protestant circles today. Thankfully, it is a false assumption.
Iâ€™m not entirely sure where that misconception started. But one thing I do know: it did not come from the Protestant Reformers.
The Reformers themselves (including Luther, Zwingli, Calvin, and others) were convinced that their position was not only biblical, but also historical. In other words, they contended that both the apostles and the church fathers would have agreed with them on the heart of the gospel.
For example, the second-generation Lutheran reformer, Martin Chemnitz (1522-1586), wrote a treatise on justification in which he defended the Protestant position by extensively using the church fathers. And John Calvin (1509-1564), in his Institutes, similarly claimed that he could easily debunk his Roman Catholic opponents using nothing but patristic sources. Hereâ€™s what he wrote:
If the contest were to be determined by patristic authority, the tide of victory â€” to put it very modestly â€”would turn to our side. Now, these fathers have written many wise and excellent things. . . . [Yet] the good things that these fathers have written they [the Roman Catholics] either do not notice, or misrepresent or pervert. . . . But we do not despise them [the church fathers]; in fact, if it were to our present purpose, I could with no trouble at all prove that the greater part of what we are saying today meets their approval.
Source: John Calvin, â€œPrefatory Address to King Francis I of France,â€ The Institutes of the Christian Religion, Section 4.
How could the Reformers be so confident that their understanding of the gospel was consistent with the teachings of the ancient church? Or perhaps more to the point: What did the early church fathers have to say about the gospel of grace?
Here is an admittedly brief collection of 30 patristic quotes, centering on the reality that justification is by grace alone through faith alone. Many more could be provided. But I think youâ€™ll be encouraged by this survey look at the gospel according to the church fathers.
(Even if you donâ€™t read every quote, just take a moment to consider the fact that, long before Luther, the leaders of the ancient church were clearly proclaiming the gospel of grace through faith in Christ.)
1. Clement of Rome (30-100): â€œAnd we, too, being called by His will in Christ Jesus, are not justified by ourselves, nor by our own wisdom, or understanding, or godliness, or works which we have wrought in holiness of heart; but by that faith through which, from the beginning, Almighty God has justified all men; to whom be glory forever and ever. Amen.â€
Source: Clement, First Epistle to the Corinthians, 32.4.
2. Epistle to Diognetus (second century): â€œHe gave His own Son as a ransom for us, the holy One for transgressors, the blameless One for the wicked, the righteous One for the unrighteous, the incorruptible One for the corruptible, the immortal One for them that are mortal. For what other thing was capable of covering our sins than His righteousness? By what other one was it possible that we, the wicked and ungodly, could be justified, than by the only Son of God? O sweet exchange! O unsearchable operation! O benefits surpassing all expectation! That the wickedness of many should be hid in a single righteous One, and that the righteousness of One should justify many transgressors!â€
Source: The Epistle to Diognetus, 9.2-5.
3. Justin Martyr (100-165) speaks of â€œthose who repented, and who no longer were purified by the blood of goats and of sheep, or by the ashes of an heifer, or by the offerings of fine flour, but by faith through the blood of Christ, and through His death.â€
Source: Justin, Dialogue with Trypho, 13.
AUGUSTIN CONFESSES THAT HE HAD FORMERLY BEEN IN ERROR CONCERNING THE GRACE OF GOD.
Augustin explains that he changed his view from synergism to divine monergism in salvation. He argues that due to our fallen state, we are not only partly dependent upon Christ for our conversion but totally dependent upon Christ.
"It was not thus that pious and humble teacher thought--I speak of the most blessed Cyprian--when he said "that we must boast in nothing, since nothing is our own." And in order to show the, he appealed to the apostle as a witness, where he said, "For what hast thou that thou hast not received ? And if thou hast received it, why boastest thou as if thou hadst not received it?" And it was chiefly by this testimony that I myself also was convinced when I was in a similar error, thinking that faith whereby we believe on God is not God's gift, but that it is in us from ourselves, and that by it we obtain the gifts of God, whereby we may live temperately and righteously and piously in this world. For I did not think that faith was preceded by God's grace, so that by its means would be given to us what we might profitably ask, except that we could not believe if the proclamation of the truth did not precede; but that we should consent when the gospel was preached to us I thought was our own doing, and came to us from ourselves. And this my error is sufficiently indicated in some small works of mine written before my episcopate. Among these is that which you have mentioned in your letters wherein is an exposition of certain propositions from the Epistle to the Romans. Eventually, when I was retracting all my small works, and was committing that retractation to writing, of which task I had already completed two books before I had taken up your more lengthy letters,--when in the first volume I had reached the retractation of this book, I then spoke thus:--"Also discussing, I say, 'what God could have chosen in him who was as yet unborn, whom He said that the elder should serve; and what in the same elder, equally as yet unborn, He could have rejected; concerning whom, on this account, the prophetic testimony is recorded, although declared long subsequently, "Jacob have I loved, and Esau have I hated,"' I carried out my reasoning to the point of saying: ' God did not therefore choose the works of any one in foreknowledge of what He Himself would give them, but he chose the faith, in the foreknowledge that He would choose that very person whom He foreknew would believe on Him,--to whom He would give the Holy Spirit, so that by doing good works he might obtain eternal life also.' I had not yet very carefully sought, nor had I as yet found, what is the nature of the election of grace, of which the apostle says, ' A remnant are saved according to the election of grace.' Which assuredly is not grace if any merits precede it; lest what is now given, not according to grace, but according to debt, be rather paid to merits than freely given. And what I next subjoined: ' For the same apostle says, "The same God which worketh all in all;" but it was never said, God believeth all in all ;' and then added, ' Therefore what we believe is our own, but what good thing we do is of Him who giveth the Holy Spirit to them that believe: ' I certainly could not have said, had I already known that faith itself also is found among those gifts of God which are given by the same Spirit. Both, therefore, are ours on account of the choice of the will, and yet both are given by the spirit of faith and love, For faith is not alone but as it is written, ' Love with faith, from God the Father, and our Lord Jesus Christ.' And what I said a little after, ' For it is ours to believe and to will, but it is His to give to those who believe and will, the power of doing good works through the Holy Spirit, by whom love is shed abroad in our hearts,'--is true indeed; but by the same rule both are also God's, because God prepares the will; and both are ours too, because they are only brought about with our good wills. And thus what I subsequently said also: ' Because we are not able to Will unless we are called; and when, after our calling, we would will, our willing is not sufficiently nor our running, unless God gives strength to us that run, and leads us whither He calls us;' and thereupon added: ' It is plain, therefore, that it is not of him that willeth, nor of him that runneth, but of God that showeth mercy, that we do good works'--this is absolutely most true. But I discovered little concerning the calling itself, which is according to God's purpose; for not such is the calling of all that are called, but only of the elect. Therefore what I said a little afterwards: ' For as in those whom God elects it is not works but faith that begins the merit so as to do good works by the gift of God, so in those whom He condemns, unbelief and impiety begin the merit of punishment, so that even by way of punishment itself they do evil works'--I spoke most truly. But that even the merit itself of faith was God's gift, I neither thought of inquiring into, nor did I say. And in another place I say: 'For whom He has mercy upon, He makes to do good works, and whom He hardeneth He leaves to do evil works; but that mercy is bestowed upon the preceding merit of faith, and that hardening is applied to preceding iniquity.' And this indeed is true; but it should further have been asked, whether even the merit of faith does not come from God's mercy,--that is, whether that mercy is manifested in man only because he is a believer, or whether it is also manifested that he may be a believer? For we read in the apostles words: ' I obtained mercy to be a believer.' He does not say, ' Because I was a believer.' Therefore although it is given to the believer, yet it has been given also that he may be a believer. Therefore also, in another place in the same book I most truly said: ' Because, if it is of God's mercy, and not of works, that we are even called that we may believe and it is granted to us who believe to do good works, that mercy must not be grudged to the heathen;'--although I there discoursed less carefully about that calling which is given according to God's purpose."
- Augustine, A TREATISE ON THE PREDESTINATION OF THE SAINTS chapter 7 [III.]
The Earliest Manuscript Evidence of the New Testament
The earliest manuscript fragment we have of the New Testament comes from John chapter 18 and can be dated as early 2nd century AD. It is known as P52. I wrote a short article on it here which is followed by a very helpful video by Dr Dirk Jongkind, a Research Fellow at Tyndale House. - JS
The History of the Kirk of Scotland by David Calderwood
The following files are in .pdf format.
The History of the Kirk of Scotland, Volume 1 (1842)
The History 1514-1560
The History of the Kirk of Scotland, Volume 2 (1843)
The History 1560-1570
The History of the Kirk of Scotland, Volume 3 (1843)
The History 1570-1583
The History of the Kirk of Scotland, Volume 4 (1843)
The History 1584-1588
The History of the Kirk of Scotland, Volume 5 (1844)
The History 1589-1599
The History of the Kirk of Scotland, Volume 6 (1845)
The History 1600-1608
The History of the Kirk of Scotland, Volume 7 (1845)
The History 1609-1625
The History of the Kirk of Scotland, Volume 8 (1849)
Appendix and General Index
Ignatius of Antioch in Context
Back in the year 2004, to facilitate my on-going education, I attended a seminary class taught by Dr. James White on the Early Church Fathers (also known as Patristics). It was fascinating to read the writings of precious men of God from the first few centuries who hold to the same faith as I do. Yet it has to be said, the Early Church Fathers were indeed a mixed bag.
Just as if you or I would go to a Christian bookstore today, we would find good books, scholarly books, and books that propagate shoddy scholarship and even false doctrine; so it was in the Early Church. Yet in studying their writings we learn a great deal about how the early Christians worshipped, what was important to them, what the issues were that were causing controversy and of course, what they believed about a whole host of issues.
I have a Roman Catholic friend named Steve. He told me some years back that he was considering quitting his full time job to seek training so that he might one day enter the Roman Catholic priesthood. As you might imagine, he and I have often had lively debate with each other, centering mostly on the subject of justification by faith alone, but on other issues too.
Just today Steve wrote to me challenging me to deal with the subject of Ignatius, an Early Church Father, who was discipled by the Apostle John. Because of his direct link to John, Ignatius is one of the most important Church Fathers.
The apologists of Rome often make the claim that Ignatius taught the Roman Catholic doctrine of the Eucharist (the term â€œeucharist" simply means â€œthe giving of thanksâ€) and of transubstantiation (that when the priest consecrates the bread and wine, it becomes the literal blood, body and divinity of Jesus Christ). But is this true? Did Ignatius actually teach this? Or have Ignatiusâ€™ words been taken out of context?
Because the issue of Ignatius is an oft repeated claim of Rome, Dr. White put some of his class (dealing with Ignatius specifically) onto youtube videos. Because of time restraints (each video lasts only a few minutes) there are five videos. They are well worth the effort to watch them. I recommend them very highly (found here). - JS
Questions on the Abrahamic Covenant
A good friend of mine emailed these questions here for posting.
Is the Abrahamic Covenant for Jews only?
[ ] YES
[ ] NO
Is God still obligated today, to the Covenant He made with Abraham?
[ ] YES
[ ] NO
Were children part of the Abrahamic Covenant up to year 30 AD?
[ ] YES
[ ] NO
Did the male Jewish children receive the mark of the Abrahamic Covenant up to year 30AD?
[ ] YES
[ ] NO
Are Gentile children part of the Abrahamic Covenant today?
[ ] YES
[ ] NO
Has God withdrew the mark of the Abrahamic Covenant for children today?
[ ] YES
[ ] NO
Has God replaced the Sacrament of Passover with Sacrament of the Lordâ€™s Supper?
[ ] YES
[ ] NO
Has God replaced the Sacrament of Circumcision with the Sacrament of Baptism?
[ ] YES
[ ] NO
The King James Only Controversy
This year (2011) marks the 400th anniversary of the King James Version of the Bible. It is by far the most widely read book in the English speaking world and has been hugely influential - the greatest single source in English and American literature. It remains an excellent translation and there is no doubt that God has used the KJV greatly through the centuries.
In this video, Justin Taylor conducts a very informative interview with Dr. Leland Ryken regarding the history of the King James Bible. Professor Ryken is the author of the recently released book "The Legacy of the King James Bible: Celebrating 400 Years of the Most Influential English Translation."
So the King James Bible is a wonderful thing. Yet King James Onlyism is the belief that the King James Bible of 1611 is the only one we should ever use. The advocates of this view form a very fringe group who often make a loud noise and cause a lot of damage to the Church. They believe anyone who uses a different version to the KJV is in league with the devil.
There is a difference between the King James Only group and King James Preferred, the latter being those who simply prefer to use the King James Version while still respecting other more recent translations.
Earlier this week, my friend, Dr. James White was involved in a television debate (on Revelation TV) in the United Kingdom with a King James Only advocate, Pastor Jack Moorman. It included a live studio audience. Someone recorded the debate off the web, and has already posted it on YouTube. The video is at a very low frame rate and is a little difficult to watch. In any case, here's the program:
For further information on this subject, I recommend Dr. James White's book, "The King James Only Controversy," available from monergism books here. - JS
Dan Brown - I'd like you to meet Bishop Melito
Bishop Melito of Sardis speaks from the grave to Dan Brown here.
The Reformation - The Broad Picture
I am always aware that we have new readers who might be unfamilar with the history and doctrines of the Reformation. With this in mind, I have just written a short article, which I hope will provide an extremely brief overview of the events and issues here. - JS
An Explosion of Common Grace
When it comes to worldviews, everyone wears glasses. It is the lens through which we look at the world. What about you? How do you view the events of history? What kind of glasses do you use to look at the world around you - secular or biblical?
The statistics (shown in this video below) are quite mind blowing and impactful, no matter what your world view might be.
Secularists will view them in purely humanistic terms, seeing them as man advancing in knowledge, status and power.
Christians will see them as a combination of man taking the Genesis 1 call for dominion seriously and conquering his environment, along with a huge outpouring of God's grace and blessing. I think that is how the angels would view them too. They reveal the huge escalation and outpouring of common grace over the last 200 years. - JS
Truth is sometimes more exciting than any fiction. Read and enjoy this article by Chris Castaldo here:
The Westminster Confession of Faith
The Westminster Confession of Faith (.pdf) EPUB - Kindle
The Westminster Confession of Faith is a Reformed confession of faith, in the Calvinist theological tradition. Although drawn up by the 1646 Westminster Assembly, largely of the Church of England, it became and remains the 'subordinate standard' of doctrine in the Church of Scotland, and has been influential within Presbyterian churches worldwide. In 1643, the English Parliament called upon "learned, godly and judicious Divines", to meet at Westminster Abbey in order to provide advice on issues of worship, doctrine, government and discipline of the Church of England. Their meetings, over a period of five years, produced the confession of faith, as well as a Larger Catechism and a Shorter Catechism. For more than three centuries, various churches around the world have adopted the confession and the catechisms as their standards of doctrine, subordinate to the Bible.
Calvin, the Bible, and the Western World
One of the sessions at today's Desiring God 2009 Conference, here is Doug Wilson speaking on "The Sacred Script in the Theater of God: Calvin, the Bible, and the Western World."
The Puritans: Can They Teach Us Anything Today?
I recently read the notes of a lecture by Dr. Sinclair Ferguson on the Puritans and what they can teach us today. The short answer to the question is.. a whole lot! Puritans were individuals who wanted to see the church purified according to the teaching of Scripture, and also wanted to see their lives, in great detail, purified by the Word of God.
Here, Dr. Ferguson presents the big picture overview concerning why the Puritans and their writings can be so useful to us in our own day. I was particularly struck by how the Puritans sought to practically apply the Bible in the home life of each family in the local church and how all the doctrine expoused was so very Trinitarian. It is excellent material. I hope it will stir in us a desire to read more of their writings. You will find part one of his talk here, part two here. The audio recording of this lecture can be found here: Enjoy! - JS
John Calvin - born 500 years ago today
John Calvin was born on July 10, 1509, exactly 500 years ago today. In Europe, especially in Geneva Switzerland, there are many celebrations taking place. I am not sure how much attention will be given to the significance of this date in the USA. He remains a very misunderstood man.
I recently read an article suggesting (with some merit) that Calvin's influence on the founding of America was so great that he needs to be mentioned in the same breath as the founding fathers. It was the Geneva Study Bible with study notes penned by Calvin (and his fellow Reformers) that was the Bible brought over on the Mayflower and his religious ideas had much to do with how our country was forged and shaped in its early decades.
Calvin, even today has widespread influence. His commentaries and certainly his Institutes of the Christian Religion, where he laid out a comprehensive theology for the doctrines of Protestant Reformation (when many of those who believed these things were dying martyrs deaths under persecution from Rome) are still being read.
Its actually unfortunate that a man's name is associated with the doctrines that came out of the Protestant Reformation. It is not something he would have wanted. He spoke and wrote very little about himself. He wanted his readers to be pointed to Christ, not to himself. In character, he specifically asked that he would be buried in an unmarked grave, such was his aversion to public interest. He did not wish for attention to be given to him - but to his Lord and Master.
No Time for Seminary?
Beginning Theology Curriculum for laypersons wanting to learn theology but don't have time for Seminary. This Theology at home bundle is a great place to start
1) Westminster Confession of Faith
2) A Body of Divinity by Thomas Watson
3) The Ten Commandments by Thomas Watson
4) The Lord's Prayer (paperback) by Thomas Watson
5) Outlines of Theology by A. A. Hodge
6) An Old Testament Theology by Bruce K. Waltke
Read the books listed above in the following order: 1) Westminster Confession of Faith: a) the Shorter Catechism; b) the Larger Catechism; c) the Confession; 2) A Body of Divinity by Thomas Watson; 3) The Ten Commandments by Thomas Watson; 4) The Lord's Prayer by Thomas Watson; 5) Outlines of Theology by A. A. Hodge; & 6) An Old Testament Theology by Bruce K. Waltke.
For supplemental historical studies we also recommend 2000 YEARS OF CHRIST'S POWER 3 Volume set by N.R. Needham
The Puritan Library
The Puritan Library
Take some time to check out this vast online downloadable puritan resource library (links hosted at Monergism.com). Includes books by authors such as Thomas Watson | Thomas Brooks | Thomas Boston | John Bunyan | Stephen Charnock | Richard Sibbes | Thomas Goodwin | Thomas Shepherd | John Robinson | Thomas Case | John Owen | William Bridge | John Flavel | John Howe | Richard Baxter | Hugh Binning | Thomas Gouge | Joseph Alleine | Richard Alleine | William Bates | David Clarkson | Richard Steele | Jerremiah Burroughs | William Gurnall | Thomas Adams | Philip Doddridge | Benjamin Brook | William Guthrie | William Perkins
Series on the Ancient Church by Rev Charles Biggs
Monergism.com has just posted a great series on the ancient church by Rev. Biggs
Ancient Church History by Rev. Charles Biggs
The Story of Martin Luther: the Restoration of Biblical Christianity and Apostolic Catholicism
THE STORY OF MARTIN LUTHER- Pastor Charles R. Biggs
Happy 490th anniversary of the Reformation of the Christian Church!
On October 31st 2007, the Church will celebrate the 490th anniversary of the Reformation of the Sixteenth Century.
This reformation began in Godâ€™s providence through a peasant minerâ€™s son who became a monk and then a great teacher of Biblical truth. It is important to remember how the Reformation of the Sixteenth Century was arguably the greatest revival of Christianity since the Apostolic Age. The Reformation was a return to Biblical Christianity and Apostolic Catholicism because the Church had degenerated into unbiblical Roman Catholicism.
This paper is submitted to remind you of Godâ€™s grace and goodness, and to encourage us all to continue to stand on Scripture Alone as our guide for faith and life, knowing that we are justified before God by grace alone, and to know that we all can boldly access Godâ€™s mercy and fatherly goodness through One Mediator, the Man Christ Jesus!
Calvin Cracked Open
I'm teaching a five-week Adult Sunday School class on John Calvin and his Institutes of the Christian Religion at our church. The first class is this Sunday, and it will be primarily a biographical sketch. You can download the PDF of the handout for this class here, which is a time line of Calvin's life, including a few contemporary, Reformation-associated dates.
Pelagianism in the Formation and Reformation of the Church- C. R. Biggs
Pelagianism in the Formation and Reformation of the Church
By the middle of the second century, the Christian Church had developed the Apostle's Creed which contained the foundational doctrines, or essential beliefs of the Church.
In the 4th century, the doctrines of the Trinity and the two natures of Christ had been established at the Councils of Nicea in 325 AD, Ephesus in 431 AD, and Chalcedon in 451 AD. The doctrine of soteriology however, or the doctrine of salvation and grace had not been clearly and systematically established until the Augustine and the Pelagian controversy in the 5th century in the West.
Joseph Smith, founder of Mormonism exposed? You decide...
This award-winning documentary film investigates the story behind a volume of Mormon scripture called the Book of Abraham. The story is that Mormon founder Joseph Smith translated it from an ancient Egyptian papyrus scroll he purchased from an antiquities dealer in 1835. The Lost Book of Abraham visits prominent Egyptologists and other scholars â€“ both Mormon and non-Mormon â€“ to learn the truth behind this fascinating episode in Mormon history. The full video is now on YouTube, here . Given the current discussions of Mormonism, this is very useful. Here's the info on how to obtain it in DVD format.
Synod of Dordrecht Poster
Newly printed poster now available!!!. At an impressive 24"X36", it is printed on 100 pound cover stock paper and treated with an aqueous protective coating. It is a truly beautiful poster. In addition to the engraving of the Synod of Dordrecht, which took place in the Netherlands from 1618-1619, the sides of the poster are lined with the names of all the commissioners, including what district they represented. The title and registry are in Dutch, giving it a further historical richness
The Synod of Dordrecht is important because of its strategic importance in the Reformed tradition. It was at this synod in 1618-1619 where the Dutch Reformed Church issued its response to Jacob Arminius and his followers, the Remonstrants. A common summary of this response has since been given the nick-name "The Five Points of Calvinism." The Canons of Dordt continue to be one of the three forms of unity used by Dutch Reformed Churches today..
Click Here for Enlarged View
John Knox the Preacher
This is an extract from a new book by Iain Murray, A Scottish Christian Heritage (416 pp., clothbound, ISBN 085151930X, available from Banner of Truth at www.banneroftruth.org)
If it were to be asked what is the recurring theme in Knox's words and writings the answer is perhaps a surprising one. Sometimes he could be severe, and sometimes extreme. Given the days and the harshness of the persecution he witnessed, it would be understandable if these elements had preponderated in his ministry. But his keynote was of another kind altogether. From the first years that we have anything from his pen, we find him engaged in a ministry of encouragement. It forms the substance of his many letters to his mother-in-law. He handles the doctrines of election and justification as causes for bright joy in believers, 'Your imperfection shall have no power to damn you,' he writes to Mrs Bowes, 'for Christ's perfection is reputed to be yours by faith, which you have in his blood.' 'God has received already at the hands of his only Son all that is due for our sins, and so cannot his justice require or crave any more of us, other satisfaction or recompence for our sins.' He writes to the believers facing suffering and possible death in the reign of Mary Tudor and likens their situation to that of the disciples in the tempest on the lake of Galilee and says, 'Be not moved from the sure foundation of your faith. For albeit Christ Jesus be absent from you (as he was from his disciples in that great storm) by his bodily presence, yet he is present by his mighty power and grace - and yet he is full of pity and compassion.' Or again he writes: 'Stand with Christ Jesus in this day of his battle, which shall be short and the victory everlasting! For the Lord himself shall come in our defence with his mighty power; He shall give us the victory when the battle is most strong; and He shall turn our tears into everlasting joy.'
One thing stands out above all else in the life of John Knox. At many different points in his life we have the comment of individuals who saw him, and the testimony most frequently repeated has to do with one point, namely, the power of his preaching.
John Piper on How We Might Respond to Muslim Anger over the Pope's Comments
John Piper suggesting How Christians Might Respond to Muslim Outrage at the Pope's Regensburg Message About Violence and Reason.
Here is an outline of his ten points:
1. Admit that the Christian church has often been too entangled with civil governments, with the result that violence has been endorsed by the church as a way of accomplishing religious, and not just civil, goals.
2. Make clear that the use of God-sanctioned violence between Israel and the nations in the Old Testament is no longer Godâ€™s will for his people.
3. Admit that there are many Muslims today who do not approve of violence in the spread of Islam.
4. Point out how Islam, in its most sacred writings and authoritative teachings, belittles Jesus Christ, not just occasionally in the news, but constantly by its dominant claims.
5. Point out that, in response to this constant defamation of Jesus Christ, there are no public threats or demands for apologies.
The Puritan Understanding of Christianity
by J.I. Packer
"...a connected view of God, of the Bible, of the world, of ourselves, of salvation, of the church, of history, and of the future. Few, it seems, even in Biblie-believing churches [today], grasp this whole picture, and in liberal churches, where attention to scholars' fads and fancies replaces the teaching of the Bible, there is virtually no grasp of it at all. Once, churches taught it to all their children, using catechisms, but not anymore. I state it [the Puritan View] here, therefore, in summary form:
God, who within the unity of his being is intrinsically a society, the Father, the Son, and the Holy SPirit together, and who is infinite, unchanging, and almighty in his wisdom, goodness, and justice, created the universe, and ourselves within it, so that he might love and bless us, and we might love and praise him. But things have gone wrong.
Original sin is the radical distortion of every human being's mortal nature, making love and honor to God from our hearts impossible and self-centredness at deepest level inevitable. We sin because we are sinners, and human history, from one standpoint, is original sin writ large.
Jesus Christ the Saviour, the Jew who died, rose, reigns, and will return for retribution to everyone, past, present and future, is God the Son incarnate, whose death atoned for our sins, whom we trust for forgiveness and acceptance and serve as our living Lord, and who unites us to himself for the renewal of his image in us, dethroning original sin and giving us resources against its down-drag in the process. This is present salvation.
David Wells on "Churchless Christianity"
"...This attitude which diminishes the significance of being in church and which will not tolerate any inconvenience has had a strange incarnation overseas, if I can use that word. American missiologists like Ralph Winter have been strenuously advocating â€œchurchless Christianityâ€ as a new and exciting strategy. Their thought is that believers in other religious contexts need not separate themselves from those contexts but can remain in them as private believers, thereby preserving themselves from any kind of harm. This, of course, is easier to do in a Hindu context in which one is allowed to choose oneâ€™s own god from among the many that are worshipped. Christians, quietly and privately, are simply choosing to worship Jesus and ignoring the other gods and goddesses in the temple. They are never baptized, never make a public declaration of their faith, and never become part of a church. This arrangement is, of course, much harder to carry off in Islam. Nevertheless, Winter and others now estimate that there are millions of these â€œchurchlessâ€ believers concealed in other religions. And is this not where American evangelicalism is headed? In fact, there are already millions of believers concealed in their own living rooms whose only â€œchurchâ€ experience is what is had from one of the television preachers. Is it really a coincidence, then, that it is American evangelicals who are energetically arguing for the wisdom of a comparable strategy in the mission field in respect to their religious contexts? I think not!
Here we have an unholy alliance between raw pragmatism, a Christianity without doctrinal shape, one that in fact separates between having Christ as savior and Christ as Lord (an option that the N.T. never holds out to us!), and a lost understanding of the necessary role which the local church should have.
The Conversion and Preaching of (St) Patrick in Ireland
An extract from the â€œHistory of the Reformation of the Sixteenth Centuryâ€ by J. H. Merle dâ€™AubignÃ© (1794-1872)
On the picturesque banks of the Clyde, not far from Glasgow, in the Christian village of Bonavern, now Kilpatrick, a little boy, of tender heart, lively temperament, and indefatigable activity, passed the earlier days of his life. He was born about the year 372 A. D., of a British family, and was named Succat.1 His father, Calpurnius, deacon of the church of Bonavern, a simple-hearted pious man, and his mother, Conchessa, sister to the celebrated Martin, archbishop of Tours,2 and a woman superior to the majority of her sex, had endeavoured to instil into his heart the doctrines of Christianity; but Succat did not understand them. He was fond of pleasure, and delighted to be the leader of his youthful companions. In the midst of his frivolities, he committed a serious fault.
Some few years later, his parents having quitted Scotland and settled in Armorica (Bretagne), a terrible calamity befell them. One day as Succat was playing near the seashore with two of his sisters, some Irish pirates, commanded by Oâ€™ Neal, carried them all three off to their boats, and sold them in Ireland to the petty chieftain of some pagan clan. Succat was sent into the fields to keep swine.3 It was while alone in these solitary pastures, without priest and without temple, that the young slave called to mind the divine lessons which his pious mother had so often read to him. The fault which he had committed pressed heavily night and day upon his soul: he groaned in heart, and wept. He turned repenting towards that meek Saviour of whom Conchessa had so often spoken; he fell at His knees in that heathen land, and imagined he felt the arms of a father uplifting the prodigal son. Succat was then born from on high, but by an agent so spiritual, so internal, that he knew not â€œwhence it cometh or whither it goeth.â€ The gospel was written with the finger of God on the tablets of his heart. â€œI was sixteen years old,â€ said he, â€œand knew not the true God; but in that strange land the Lord opened my unbelieving eyes, and, although late, I called my sins to mind, and was converted with my whole heart to the Lord my God, who regarded my low estate, had pity on my youth and ignorance, and consoled me as a father consoles his children.â€4
Lectures on "The History and Theology of Calvinism" (MP3s) by Dr. Curt Daniel
Dr. Curt Daniel of Faith Bible Church is a knowledgeable student and teacher of Reformed theology and history. His approach is to "leave no stone unturned" in pursuing the truth of Scripture. His breadth of knowledge enables him to easily glean from the theological giants that have gone before. Dr. Daniel attended Central Bible College (B.A.), Fuller Theological Seminary (M.Div.), and the University of Edinburgh (Ph.D.). Dr. Daniel teaches, preaches and publishes theological works consistent with Scripture and Reformed Theology.
Daniel's series on the History and Theology of Calvinism can be heard here where he covers the following topics: What is Calvinism? ; Augustine and Pre-Calvinism ; The Reformation ; John Calvin ; The Spread of Calvinism ; The Synod of Dort ; The Puritans ; The Westminster Assembly ; Covenant Theology ; High Calvinism ; Amyraldism ; Calvinistic Antinomianism; Hyper-Calvinism ; Eighteenth Century Calvinism ; Jonathan Edwards and New England Calvinism ; The Princeton Theology ; 19th Century Calvinism - North-South & In the Confederacy ; Calvinistic Baptists ; Dutch Calvinism; Calvinistic Philosophy ; The Theonomy Movement ; Neo-Orthodoxy ; 20th Century British Calvinism
20th Century American Calvinism
Thanks to Radio Apologia and Faith Bible Church
The Grace of Faith
"The grace of faith, whereby the elect are enabled to believe to the saving of their souls, is the work of the Spirit of Christ in their hearts; and is ordinarily wrought by the ministry of the Word: by which also, and by the administration of the sacraments, and prayer, it is increased and strengthened."
- Westminster Confession of Faith CHAP XIV
Under the terms of the covenant of grace, God "freely offereth unto sinners life and salvation by Jesus Christ; requiring of them faith in him, that they may be saved, and promising to give unto all those that are ordained unto eternal life his Holy Spirit, to make them willing, and able to believe."
- Westminster Confession of Faith CHAP. VII. - Of God's Covenant with Man III
Augustine on the New Life in Christ
In his book The Triumph of Grace: Augustine's Writings on Salvation, Dr. N.R. Needham has done a great service to the Church in bringing together Augustine's quotes on topics related to salvation. Dr. Needham has given us his generous permission to post chapter five entitled "The New Life in Christ" in which he gives a short introductory essay on the new birth followed by a great number of helpful quotes from Augustine regarding this issue. Please take time to read the short essay and this excellent compilation of quotations. It shows a clear contrast between man-centered false views and the biblical view of grace.
THE NEW LIFE IN CHRIST
â€˜Can we possibly, without utter absurdity, maintain that there first existed in anyone the good virtue of a good will, to entitle him to the removal of his heart of stone? How can we say this, when all the time this heart of stone itself signifies precisely a will of the hardest kind, a will that is absolutely inflexible against God? For if a good will comes first, there is obviously no longer a heart of stone.â€™
Augustine, On Grace and Free Will, 29
â€˜For we are now speaking of the desire for goodness. If they want to say that this begins from ourselves and is then perfected by God, let them see how they can answer the apostle when he says, â€œNot that we are sufficient of ourselves to claim anything as coming from us, but our sufficiency is from Godâ€ (2 Cor. 3:5)â€™
Augustine, Against Two Letters of the Pelagians, 2:18
Think you've got stress?
An article by H. C. Ross
Think you've got stress? Be thankful you're not an Elizabethan Puritan.
Imagine youâ€™re a zealous Protestant minister, beginning your career around the time of the accession of Elizabeth I. Here are some of the controversies, crises and calamities you can look forward to experiencing before you hit â€˜retirement ageâ€™ at the close of the century:
If youâ€™re one of the handful of Protestants who has been in exile during Mary Tudorâ€™s brief reign, youâ€™ll need to journey back home â€“ not knowing exactly what youâ€™ll find there.
Youâ€™ll be thankful to see your new Queen secure the Protestant faith with her Acts of Uniformity and Supremacy, but you wonâ€™t be satisfied with her Councilâ€™s vision of an official liturgy. Youâ€™ll settle into conformity with a half-reformed national church and begin campaigning for a more thoroughly â€˜biblicalâ€™ one.
Martin Luther: Certainty in the Truth by Iain H. Murray
It was a day of grace for Europe when Martin Luther was born at Eisleben, in Germany, in 1483. Entering first the University of Erfurt in 1501, then an Augustinian monastery, Luther was ordained in the Church of Rome in 1507. But the death of a friend in a thunderstorm, a visit to Rome-revealing its corruption-and an increasing sense of his sinfulness, arrested Luther's promising career. Made aware of the emptiness of all human wisdom, its inability to give peace to the soul, he was drawn to study the Word of God.
So great was his anguish of soul that sometimes he would lay "three days and three nights upon his bed without meat, drink, or any sleep, like a dead man." In this condition, he learnt to read each verse in the Bible like a drowning man would clutch at any piece of wood to save his life, and thus sometime between the years 1513-1517 he found that man can be justified by faith in Christ alone, and that in salvation God takes no account of man's works, merit, or will. "This doctrine," Luther writes, "is not learned or gotten by any study, diligence, or wisdom of man, but it is revealed by God Himself." Henceforth he stood upon the Word of God alone, it was his storehouse from whence he drew those truths which, in his writings, flashed like thunderbolts through Europe.
In 1519 Erasmus writes to Luther that "his books had raised such an uproar at Louvain, as it was not possible for him to describe." God had begun a conflict for His Truth, and it was bitterly opposed. "I had" Luther says, "hanging on my neck the pope, the universities, all the deep learned, and the devil; these hunted me into the Bible, wherein I sedulously read . . ." An "illiterate monk" thus became, in the hands of God, too much-as Margaret the Emperor's sister confessed-for all the academics in Paris to answer. By 1520 there was an irreconcilable break with the Church of Rome; the pope was determined that Luther and his gospel should perish together.
If the foundations are destroyed... by Pastor John Samson
England was once a center for Reformation. That is no longer the case. Thank God, there are glorious exceptions. I pray that there would be many more of these exceptions in our day. But by and large, the church in England, at least the one visible to the people, is unrecognizable from days gone by. Before World War II, about 40â€“50% of the population in England attended church. Today, estimates suggest the percentage attending church is down to 7.5%. It was said in the past that Britain â€˜ruled the wavesâ€™. Now it is more likely to be said that Britain â€˜waives the rules.' The majority of people have rejected the God of the Bible and there is a famine of the word of God in the land.
I was born and raised in Chester in the North West of England (25 miles south east of Liverpool). I love England, and its people. I therefore inwardly weep over the current state of the Church there. When Bishops can publicly and without apology deny the basic tenets of the Christian faith, from the Deity of Christ, to His virgin birth, His sinless life, His substitutionary atoning death on the cross and physical resurrection - and they can still hold on to their office as Bishops in the Church of England - something is sadly amiss.
So where did the down slide start? Where did the conscious march towards unbelief begin?
Facts and Fictions in The Da Vinci Code
by William Wilder
Download the audio lecture Facts and Fictions in the Da Vinci Code by Bill Wilder, delivered April 21, 2006, at the Center for Christian Study. In this lecture Bill Wilder discusses such "Da Vinci codes" as Leonardo's Vitruvian Man, Mona Lisa, and Last Supper. Evidence for the Priory of Sion is also considered, with special attention to the role of Les Dossiers Secrets and the historical Knights Templar. Finally, the relationship of Mary Magdalene and Jesus is evaluated on the basis of such documents as the Gospel of Philip, the Gospel of Mary Magdalene, and the Synoptic Gospels, with a concluding assessment of the very different understandings of the significance of Jesus in Dan Brown and the canonical Gospels.
A PDF of the PowerPoint slides is also available. Download .pdf File of PowerPoint Presentation - 2.23 mb
Calvinism, Evangelism & Revivals in History
"The greatest evangelists and missionaries of Protestant era have been Calvinistic or Reformed. That is, they have embraced and preached the doctrines of grace. Whether it is Bunyan or Spurgeon, Carey or Nettleton or Whitefield or Duff or Stott that you are talking about â€“ the Baptist tradition, the Congregational tradition, the Anglican tradition, the Presbyterian tradition and so on â€“ find the hall of fame evangelists and missionaries and youâ€™ll find folks who live, breathe, teach and preach the doctrines of grace."
(Dr. Ligon Duncan, T4G blog, Feb 28, 2006)
"And then further, that I may clear up these points and leave the less rubbish for my brethren to wheel away, we have sometimes heard it said, but those who say it ought to go to school to read the first book of history, that we who hold Calvinistic views are the enemies of revivals.
Why, sirs, in the history of the Church, with but few exceptions, you could not find a revival at all that was not produced by the orthodox faith. What was that great work which was done by Augustine, when the Church suddenly woke up from the pestiferous and deadly sleep into which Pelagian doctrine had cast it? What was the Reformation itself but the waking up of menâ€™s minds to those old truths?
Speaking of answered prayer...
Speaking of answered prayer, we should all pause in awe of our most wise and holy God for the great works He has done in China. Cumulative prayers of millions of intercessors in the last 150 years has broken through the rock hard wall of a country which, just 60 years ago, was almost totally closed to the gospel. It gives us great hope about what God is about to do with those in Muslim countries as well. In fact it is clear that God's sovereign work of grace in the hearts of millions of Chinese was one the most decisive spiritual events of the 20th century. Since the Chinese Communist Party has taken over, there are no known revival events in church history to be larger in scale. About 1 million Christians in China in 1949 has now blossomed to at least 50 million, with some estimates up to 90 million. Although Mao basically suppressed Christianity wherever it reared its head, He became the unwitting instrument in the hands of our sovereign God and somehow, in spite of kicking against the goads, "oversaw" the greatest religious revival known to man. So we could even say, what Mao meant for evil, God meant for good.
The purpose of writing this piece here is simply to remind us all to continue praying for this great nation of China. God has just begun there and I expect we will be seeing a lot more action from the Chinese church. Hudson Taylor and the China Inland Mission planted the seeds of new churches there. Prayers followed. The church mushroomed and now do not be surprised if God raises up Chinese believers who will finish the task of the great commission by sending them out to proclaim the Gospel to set free those still caught in the bondage of Islam. I rejoiced when I heard that many among the new generation of Chinese Christians are now seriously considering this. Let us pray for them that the Lord would use them as a mighty instrument for missions as the church in the west wanes. But also pray that believers will not be led astray by the temptations of materialism. Let us pray God also raise up leaders in the church there, for there are way too few, and heresies are common. Also I would encourage you to pray specifically for the Chinese Communist Party and its leadership:
Evangelical: A Brief Definition
Visitor: I am after a brief biblical definition of the "Evangelical Christian" that would not be confusing to the average born again person.
Response: That is a great question and of late has been somewhat controversial. How do we define "Evangelical Christian" -- I will assume you are after the meaning of this in a traditional, rather than contemporary sense. Also the terms meaning in a positive rather than negative light. If so, then it has historically meant someone who believes and heralds the Gospel of Jesus Christ as He is revealed in the Scripture and that there is no hope for them in the world save in being united to HIm in his life, death and resurrection. In the past this was the unifying factor for persons from a vast array of church traditions, but now the word has, unfortunately, come to mean many things.
The contemporary use of the word "Evangelical" often refers to an amorphous mass of people with different convictions, confessions and beliefs about the Gospel. Sometimes this even includes persons who do not believe in the authority of the Bible and, like liberal theology of old, believe in a theology based on consensus, modern psychology or worldly politics.
A Brief Definition:
To the reformers it was related to gospel recovery, that is, one who adhered to the Reformation's tenets, which means that historically, Evangelicals confessed a belief in the truth of the five solas:
Sola gratia, Sola fide, Solus Christus, Sola Scriptura, Soli Deo Gloria. In short, they confessed that salvation is by grace alone, through faith alone, in the Person and work of Christ alone as revealed in the Scripture alone, to the glory of God alone. For further exploration of this subject I highly recommend that everyone study the short online document called The Cambridge Declaration. It is really quite helpful. But let's now move into some particulars:
Another Common Objection to Augustinian Soteriology
[It seems to be a current fad among Arminian laymen and scholars to attempt to refute Calvinism by claiming that since most of the early church did not believe in irresistible Grace, limited atonement, and unconditional election (before the time of Augustine at least) then it cannot be true. An Arminian yesterday wrote me an email appealing to this very line of reasoning. He said that since we cannot prove that the historic church before Augustine held this view, our appeal can only be to the early church of the Apostles which, they say, we exegete through an Augustinian or Calvinistic grid.
Three things we might say in response to this argument:
1) The early Church was rightly more concerned and focused on matters of the Trinity and Christology. There were more basic anti-Trinitarian, Christological heresies to contend with. Among believers at the time there was a simple faith in Jesus and further matters of soteriology had not been worked out. Soteriological heresies would later force the church to deal with the issues of grace and faith head on. At the time, the Holy Spirit, no doubt, moved in individuals to understand salvation by grace alone through faith alone as well as ideas of divine election on some rudimentary levels, but this was not yet hammered out church doctrine.
The Historicity of the Resurrection
"All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth." (Matthew 28:18)
As mentioned previously, as Easter approaches I hope to take a closer look at the historical and theological significance of the Resurrection of Jesus Christ.
Often as we consider the Gospel, many of us rightly focus in on the importance of Christ's substitutionary atonement. But as I re-read through the Gospels and Epistles of Paul I am struck by the fact that at the center of the gospel is the message of the resurrection. Both the atonement and the resurrection are inseparable and, by God's grace, I hope to shed some more light, beyond a mere apologetic, as to why the resurrection itself is significant to our salvation. Considering how infrequently we hear sermons on this, perhaps many of us have missed the fact that the message of the resurrection is the power of the Gospel to us. We may have also overlooked its historical significance ... but the early church heralded the resurrection as the central historical redemptive act in the Gospel. Next time I hope to begin talking about the theologial significance of the resurrection to our faith, but today, the historical factor is where we will start.
Prior to the time the Lord opened my heart to the gospel, some of you may know that I was deeply involved in a new age hodgepodge of religions that included the tenents of various aspects of most world religions. Some religions are based on nature, some on mythology, some on mysticism. As I reflect back on what I believed, I recognize that my most cherished presuppositions were utterly devoid of any historical grounding. In fact, at the time, I did not even think to ask how we knew what we believed was true. Instead I simply experienced it through meditation, mystical visions and what I thought to be higher consciousness. Mine was an Oceanic religion, meaning I was was the drop of water merging into the ocean, so to speak.
Bottom Up Vs. Top Down Theology
"In Christ God was reconciling the world to himself" (2 Cor 5:19).
Does not that one text of Scripture pretty much sum up the central truth of our faith? This is the heartbeat of the Christian religion for it speaks of the Divine act that takes place at the decisive climax in the unfolding drama of redemptive history. Good theology is about what God has done for us in Christ. We can only do theology at all because God, out of sheer grace, has chosen to unveil Himself (to make Himself known) through His acts and speech on the stage of the world. He does this through a series of acts and verbal communications, which He freely initiates, specifically in the events of the history of Israel and ultimately in the Person of Jesus Christ. The acts of God are all redemptive and they all ultimately point to Christ. After the series of redemptive events recorded in the Hebrew Scriptures, Jesus Himself enters the drama as one of us in the culminating and decisive act of the Play so to speak. This covenantal focus of the Bible helps us to rightly understand that true religion consists in what God has done for us in Christ.
The Gospel is about God acting on and speaking to us onto the stage of world history. A truly orthodox evangelical theology affirms the priority of the Word and Acts of God in Christ (ultimate) over our response of faith, obedience and spiritual experiences (penultimate). The Divine Word revealed in Christ is supreme over all man-made religions which would speculatively formulate a 'bottom-up' theology of fallen human actions over Divine actions. What is most distressing is, although the most urgent task and function of the church is to make known the gospel to men and women in the world, there is still utter confusion in the world as to what the Gospel is. I am not someone who likes controversy and I have a burden for souls. But unfortunately the confusion about the gospel is not confined to people outside the church, but rather, has itself been produced by those within its walls. This means that the Word of the Gospel must be proclaimed as clearly to those in and outside the church. The re-evangelization of the church is, therefore, itself one of our greatest tasks, if not the greatest. Many Christians evangelize with a four-point presentation gospel, thinking the job is done when someone prays a prayer, but fail in the arena of continued discipleship to those who believe. It is little wonder why this has been so ineffective for creating long-term zealous Christians who are used of God to themselves reproduce.
Martin Luther Page Update
"If any man doth ascribe of salvation, even the very least, to the free will of man, he knoweth nothing of grace, and he hath not learnt Jesus Christ aright." -Martin Luther
For all you Luther fans out there Monergism.com has just done a major update to its Martin Luther page. It is still under construction but at least there is a large improvement.
Martin Luther was born in 1483 into a strict German Catholic family. His parents intended him for a law career, but he became a monk and a theology professor instead. A sensitive soul, he struggled mightily with a guilty conscience and an intense fear of God and hell until he realized the doctrine of "justification by faith" while studying the book of Romans. This doctrine, his Augustinian understanding of the bondage of the will along with his conviction that the Bible should be the basis of religious life and available to all, became the theological foundation of Protestantism.
Why Were the Israelites Ordered to Kill the Inhabitants of Canaan?
Question: Do you know why the Israelites were ordered to kill all the people in the promised land, right off the top of your head, the short answer? I was wondering [about this] after we had the study on Samson. How do you reconcile that with "Thou Shalt Not Kill."?
Response: That is a good question. Considering that God takes lives every day, since all human beings die, the command obviously does not apply to God Himself. Death, we must remember, is God's just judgment against sin and the penalty exacted for Adam's disobedience in the garden. We all must undergo death sooner or later, so whether the inhabitants of Canaan died "naturally" then or a few years later is one and the same and really makes little difference. Specifically God was judging the Canaanites at that time, the Scripture says, for their gross idolatry, divination, witchcraft, sorcery, and mediums, i.e. those who call up the dead. In fact God says these "detestable practices" are the very reason they were driven out, as the following text in Deuteronomy affirms:
"When you enter the land the LORD your God is giving you, do not learn to imitate the detestable ways of the nations there. 10 Let no one be found among you who sacrifices his son or daughter in [a] the fire, who practices divination or sorcery, interprets omens, engages in witchcraft, 11 or casts spells, or who is a medium or spiritist or who consults the dead. 12 Anyone who does these things is detestable to the LORD, and because of these detestable practices the LORD your God will drive out those nations before you . 13 You must be blameless before the LORD your God." (Deut 18:9-13)
But it is critical that we always remind ourselves that God did not select Israel (or us for that matter) because they were better or more numerous then these other peoples (Deut 7:7). He simply set them apart to redeem them because of the covenant he made with their forefathers out of his sheer grace as the Bible confirms:
John Cassian, Church Father (Unfortunately)
This is a [longer] paper I wrote for seminary that got filed away somewhere a long time ago over at monergism.com... hope it's helpful!
John Cassian's Response to Augustinianism
John Cassian was a zealous monk whose theology (unfortunately, one might say) has been massively influential on the churchâ€™s understanding of the whole of the gospel since the fifth century. His particular theology (commonly known as semi-Pelagianism), which was developed largely in response to Augustineâ€™s doctrines of predestination, grace, and free will, has been adopted by many Christiansâ€”academics, clergy and lay people alikeâ€”throughout the centuries. Two major influences were at work in Cassianâ€™s life and teachings. First, Greek neo-platonic philosophical theology shaped his understanding of anthropology in a way that prevented him from being able to engage Augustine on the level that he should have. And second, his intense devotion to the ascetic chastity of the monastery created a platform upon which his theology could develop, yet in a way that was almost entirely sub-biblical. The result of Cassianâ€™s theological contributions to the church has been the obscuring of the God of the Bible in the vision of His people.
Excerpts from "Disputation against Scholastic Theology" by Martin Luther
The following are important affirmations From Luther's 97 Theses, Disputation against Scholastic Theology
5. It is false to say that the human will, left to itself, is free to choose between opposites; for it is not free, but in bondage.
6. It is false to say that the will is able by nature to obey a righteous command. I state this in opposition to scotus and Gabriel [neo-pelagians].
7. In fact, without God's grace with will produces a perverse and evil act.
29. The best and infallible preparation for grace, and the only thing that disposes a person towards grace, is the eternal election and predestination of God.
34. In short, human nature possesses neither a pure reason nor a good will.
39. From beginning to end, we are not masters of our own actions, but their slaves. I state this in opposition to the philosophers.
40. We do not become righteous by doing good deeds. Rather, having been made righteous, we then do good deeds. I state this in opposition to the philosophers.
43. It is false to say that no one can become a theologian without Aristotle. I state this in opposition to common opinion.
71. The law of God and the human will are two enemies, which can never be reconciled apart from the grace of God.
74. The law makes sin abound, because it exasperates and repels the will.
75. But the grace of God makes righteousness abound though Jesus Christ, who causes us to love the law.
78. The will, when it turns toward the law apart from the grace of God, does so purely out of its own interest alone.
88. From this is it clear that everyone's will is by nature wicked and bad.
89. Grace is necessary as a mediator to reconcile the law with the will.
The Subject of All Theology
Jesus Christ is the focus and subject of all theology. He is not only the author and perfector of our faith and salvation (Heb 12:2), but is the the author and perfector of all things excellent, for in Him all things are consummated (Col 1:16-20). All theology is, therefore, Christology, for what we can, and do, know about God is summed up in the person of Jesus Christ. All light concerning God is refracted only through the Christ who has worked and revealed HImself through redemptive history. This means that all attempts to try to understand God redemptively in any sense that is different than Christ is futile, for apart from Jesus Christ, He is unknowable. While reason and creation may give us an idea of God and His greatness, only in the revelation of Christ can we come to know Him. While in Romans 1:18, 21 it says that the unregenerate "know" God as well, but the text makes clear that they only know Him as an enemy. Only through Christ do we know Him as a friend.
Calvin once said, "...it is obvious, that in seeking God, the most direct path and the fittest method is, not to attempt with presumptuous curiosity to pry into his essence, which is rather to be adored than minutely discussed, but to contemplate him in his works, by which he draws near, becomes familiar, and in a manner communicates himself to us."(Institutes Book 1, Chapter 5, section 9) In other words, we should only attempt to know God as He has revealed Himself to us. Other attempts are vain speculation.
So why study theology? Because theology is an interpretation of God as He revealed Himself, a revelation which was fulfilled in the gospel-event of Christ which took place in space-time history. The gospel is a narrative of the story of Jesus as Godâ€™s historical act to which all revelation pointed. It narrates the history of Jesus as the history of redemption that culminates in Christ's physical death and resurrection. The gospel defines the God who has revealed Himself in Christ Jesus, the eternal Son of God. Incarnate to redeem His covenant people, He was executed on a cross, and was raised to life: this is the Christian definition of God which was fulfilled in His decisive act. "All the wisdom of believers", said Calvin, "is comprehended in the cross of Christ."
So it is an extremely urgent task in our era of religious chaos, that we use the word â€œGodâ€ only as describing the event that culminated in the history of Jesus Christ, God made flesh for His glory and our redemption. When we speak of the benefits of truths such as the doctrines of grace, they should never be spoken of as divorced from the Benefactor. And when we speak of God's various perfections, we do not simply speak in abstractions, but of a historic person who walked among us. God's love, glory, wrath, holiness are all seen to perfectly unite in the person of Jesus.
Martin Luther on the Bondage of the Will
Many of the following quotes I found to be really delightful. They come from, what Luther saw as his most important work,"The Bondage of the Will".
For context, Luther, is responding to some of Erasmus' assertions in support of our natural moral ability to obey the gospel. Erasmus presupposed that all of God's commands to obey proved that we had the "free-will" to do so. Luther, with great wit and irony exposes why free will is an erroneous, unscriptural doctrine which, ultimately, undermines the gospel itself.
These quotes hit the crux of the issue: whether grace alone saves or whether salvation is a mixture of nature with little sprinkling of grace. This is still extremely relevant for today's Christian, for many of us carry the that unbiblical assumption that Erasmus held, which concludes any command from God to believe or obey the gospel, must somewhow imply the moral ability to to do so. Large numbers of evangelicals today make this same jump in logic and build a whole theology on it ...assuming God's commands somehow automatically implies moral ability (this belief includes, ironically, many Lutherans), but as Dr. Luther said to Erasmus, "when you are finished with all your commands and exhortations ... Iâ€™ll write Ro.3:20 over the top of it all" ("...through the law comes knowledge of sin."). In other words, the commands exist to show what we cannot do rather than what we can do and our inability to repay our debt to God does not take away our accountablity to do so.
This includes God's command of all men everywhere to repent and believe the gospel, an impossible act of will apart from a supernatural work of the Holy Spirit uniting us to Christ. Only the quicking grace of Jesus Christ applied by the Spirit can illumine The Text in such a way (to open blind eyes and deaf ears) wherein we and able to see Christ's beauty and excellency. Those who are unregenerate cannot see Christ's excellency and thus have no capacity to love what is spiritual and so are not partly but wholly dependent on God to translate them from darkness to light. The following are some quotes from Dr. Luther to this end:
"For if man has lost his freedom, and is forced to serve sin, and cannot will good, what conclusion can more justly be drawn concerning him, than that he sins and wills evil necessarily?" Martin Luther BW pg. 149
"...'if thou art willing' is a verb in the subjunctive mood, which asserts nothing...a conditional statement asserts nothing indicatively." "if thou art willing", "if thou hear", "if thou do" declare, not man's ability, but his duty. pg 157
"the commandments are not given inappropriately or pointlessly; but in order that through them the proud, blind man may learn the plague of his impotence, should he try to do as he is commanded." pg. 160
"Where Is He Who Has Been Born King of the Jews?": Christmas Day Worship of Christ!
Where is he who has been born King of the Jews? For we have seen his star in the East and have come to worship him. â€”Matthew 2:2
The Magi trekked a long distance on Christmas to worship the newborn king. Imagine celebrating Christmas Day this year without worshipping and thanking God for HIS indescribable gift in Jesus Christ to us? Well, you may think this is strange to celebrate Christmas Day without the formal worship of Christ, but some are considering it! In fact, there are many congregations who are planning on closing their doors on Christmas Day. I guess if Jesus had been born in our consumeristic American culture of the present, the magi would not have found an open church to worship the newborn king (I guess again, they would have had to take him to a cave or manger!). These planned church closings on Christmas were even deemed newsworthy and made a report in the Associated Press:
IVP PLANS 27-VOLUME REFORMATION SERIES
Just found out from Ligon Duncan and Justin Taylor over at Reformation 21 that Intervarsity Press has something many of us will be interested in. If you are already familiar with IVP's Ancient Christian Commentary Series (ACCS) there is something simlilar in the works with regard to the writings of the Reformation...
According to the post, InterVarsity Press is developing a 27-volume â€œReformation Commentary on Scriptureâ€ series, to begin releasing in 2009. Beeson Divinity School Dean and author Timothy George will serve as general editor. The series will include never-before-translated works by key figures from the Protestant Reformation. I assume this means the excellent works of persons such as Peter Martyr Vermigli and others will be included.
Reformed Righteousness by Rev. Charles R. Biggs
ReformationTheology.com Special Edition- Reformation Day Celebration
"Get over it!" "The Reformation is an historical event that took place years ago; it is irrelevant to me and to modern people." "Just give me Jesus and I will be happy. What good could come from visiting the teaching of the Reformation in today's church?"
These are some of the initial comments one is likely to get from other well-meaning Christians unfamiliar, uninformed, or disinterested in the Reformation of the 16th century. Yet, what God did in His goodness during the Reformation was nothing less than the reestablishment of the gospel, the good news of salvation in Jesus Christ, that had been eclipsed by the supposed good works of men.
The Reformation was a time when God allowed light to shine in the darkness of the failed attempts of feeble and sinful men trying to earn righteousness from good works, and only ending in despair before a holy God. In the Reformation, God allowed his grace to come again into glorious sight, so that one could truly know how to be made right or at peace with the living God.
REFORMATION SUNDAY by Pastor John Samson
The last Sunday in October is traditionally known as â€œReformation Sunday,â€ in Protestant Churches, drawing from the date of October 31, 1517 when Martin Luther nailed his â€œ95 Thesesâ€ to the door of the Wittenberg Church in Germany, sparking the Protestant Reformation.
Martin Luther in Germany heralded the Biblical doctrine of justification through faith alone; salvation is by Godâ€™s grace alone, received through faith in Christ alone. Good works play no part in a personâ€™s salvation (Rom. 3:21 - 4:5; 5:1; Gal. 2:16; Eph. 2:8, 9; Phil. 3:9) but are merely the by-product, or fruit, of a relationship with God, established by Godâ€™s grace alone.
Following on from Luther, God raised up a Frenchman by the name of John Calvin to lead the growing Protestant movement. Both Martin Luther and John Calvin opposed the errors of the Roman Catholic Church concerning salvation, directing people to the truth of the Bible. Though definitely in agreement with the doctrine of justification by faith alone; John Calvin (based in Geneva, Switzerland) through both his preaching and his writings, systematically applied the message of the Bible to every aspect of life. Calvin's Institutes became the handbook of all the Reformers. Like Luther before him, Calvin believed in the Sovereignty of God, (in the doctrine of election and predestination, all that Calvin said was first said by Luther) and wanted society (as well as the church) to view the world through the lens of the Bible. He wanted the laws of the land to be conformed to and founded on biblical principles.