About the Protestant Reformation

stormsArticle: Dr. Sam Storms – Ten Things You Should Know About the Protestant Reformation (original source October 31st, is the 499th anniversary of the launch of the Protestant Reformation. It was on this day that Martin Luther nailed his 95 theses to the church door in Wittenberg as a protest against the abuse of the sale of indulgences. So today we look at ten things that everyone should know about the Protestant Reformation.

(1) According to church historian Philip Schaff, “The Reformation of the sixteenth century is, next to the introduction of Christianity, the greatest event in history. It marks the end of the Middle Ages and the beginning of modern times. Starting from religion, it gave, directly or indirectly, a mighty impulse to every forward movement, and made Protestantism the chief propelling force in the history of modern civilization” (VII:1).

(2) There were many indirect causes of the Reformation, some of which include the following. The Renaissance (lit., “rebirth”) of the 14th and 15th centuries cannot be underestimated in terms of its impact on the reformation. The beginning of the Renaissance is generally dated @ 1300 a.d. and is most often associated with developments in Italy (and then by extension to other European countries). Some see it lasting well into the later years of the sixteenth century. Renaissance Humanism was characterized by several factors. There was the spirit of individualism as over against the emphasis on corporate identity in the medieval period. In the middle ages people often yielded their identity to institutions such as the church, the state, the feudal society, the guild, the university, and the monastic order. With the Renaissance came an increased sense of individuality and a focus on personal uniqueness and self-determination.

There was also a growing anthropocentrism (man-centeredness) as over against the ecclesiocentrism (church-centeredness) of the medieval period. Not God and the heavenly world but man and this world became the focus of intellectual and cultural efforts.

We should also note the cultural achievements which nurtured a sense of self-worth, dignity, etc., not tied to or dependent on the church. This period experienced a surge of activity in painting, music, poetry, other forms of literary production, sculpture, architecture, philosophy, law, ethics, etc. The “rebirth” in view with the use of the term Renaissance was specifically rebirth of classicism, i.e., the cultural archetypes of classical antiquity. There was in the Renaissance a virtual reverence for classical culture and a concerted effort to reproduce it in every way possible.

The Renaissance also witnessed an emphasis on a return to the sources of classical antiquity which yielded more accurate texts of the ancient writings, several of which undermined the church’s authority, such as the exposure of the Donation of Constantine (by Lorenzo Valla, 1405-57) and the Isidorian Decretals as forgeries. This combined with an emphasis on the original text of Scripture available to all, which served to expose the discontinuities between the NT church and the medieval RCC.

(3) One cannot understand the Reformation apart from an acknowledgment of the world-changing impact of the German, Johann Gutenberg (1390-1468) and his development of printing with movable type. Says Stephen Ozment,

“as Luther also recognized, the printing press made it possible for a little mouse like Wittenberg to roar like a lion across the length and breadth of Europe. By the end of the fifteenth century printing presses existed in over two hundred cities and towns. An estimated six million books had been printed and half of the thirty thousand titles were on religious subjects. More books were printed in the forty years between 1460 and 1500 than had been produced by scribes and monks throughout the entire Middle Ages. . . . Between 1518 and 1524, the crucial years of the Reformation’s development, the publication of books in Germany alone increased seven-fold. . . . Between 1517 and 1520, Luther wrote approximately thirty tracts, which were distributed in 300,000 printed copies” (199).

It is little wonder, then, that Luther described the new art of printing as “God’s highest and extremest act of grace, whereby the business of the Gospel is driven forward.” Continue reading

Love, Truth and Sexuality

rosaria-butterfieldRosaria Butterfield is a former tenured professor of English at Syracuse University and author of The Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert (Crown & Covenant, 2012) and Openness Unhindered: Further Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert on Sexual Identity and Union with Christ (Crown & Covenant, 2015).

Article: Love Your Neighbor Enough to Speak Truth – by Rosaria Butterfield – A Response to Jen Hatmaker (original source here)

If this were 1999—the year that I was converted and walked away from the woman and lesbian community I loved—instead of 2016, Jen Hatmaker’s words about the holiness of LGBT relationships would have flooded into my world like a balm of Gilead. How amazing it would have been to have someone as radiant, knowledgeable, humble, kind, and funny as Jen saying out loud what my heart was shouting: Yes, I can have Jesus and my girlfriend. Yes, I can flourish both in my tenured academic discipline (queer theory and English literature and culture) and in my church. My emotional vertigo could find normal once again.

Maybe I wouldn’t need to lose everything to have Jesus. Maybe the gospel wouldn’t ruin me while I waited, waited, waited for the Lord to build me back up after he convicted me of my sin, and I suffered the consequences. Maybe it would go differently for me than it did for Paul, Daniel, David, and Jeremiah. Maybe Jesus could save me without afflicting me. Maybe the Lord would give to me respectable crosses (Matt. 16:24). Manageable thorns (2 Cor. 12:7).

Today, I hear Jen’s words—words meant to encourage, not discourage, to build up, not tear down, to defend the marginalized, not broker unearned power—and a thin trickle of sweat creeps down my back. If I were still in the thick of the battle over the indwelling sin of lesbian desire, Jen’s words would have put a millstone around my neck.

Died to a Life I Loved

To be clear, I was not converted out of homosexuality. I was converted out of unbelief. I didn’t swap out a lifestyle. I died to a life I loved. Conversion to Christ made me face the question squarely: did my lesbianism reflect who I am (which is what I believed in 1999), or did my lesbianism distort who I am through the fall of Adam? I learned through conversion that when something feels right and good and real and necessary—but stands against God’s Word—this reveals the particular way Adam’s sin marks my life. Our sin natures deceive us. Sin’s deception isn’t just “out there”; it’s also deep in the caverns of our hearts.

How I feel does not tell me who I am. Only God can tell me who I am, because he made me and takes care of me. He tells me that we are all born as male and female image bearers with souls that will last forever and gendered bodies that will either suffer eternally in hell or be glorified in the New Jerusalem. Genesis 1:27 tells me that there are ethical consequences and boundaries to being born male and female. When I say this previous sentence on college campuses—even ones that claim to be Christian—the student protestors come out in the dozens. I’m told that declaring the ethical responsibilities of being born male and female is now hate speech.

Calling God’s sexual ethic hate speech does Satan’s bidding. This is Orwellian nonsense or worse. I only know who I really am when the Bible becomes my lens for self-reflection, and when the blood of Christ so powerfully pumps my heart whole that I can deny myself, take up the cross, and follow him.

Calling God’s sexual ethic hate speech does Satan’s bidding. This is Orwellian nonsense or worse.

There is no good will between the cross and the unconverted person. The cross is ruthless. To take up your cross means that you are going to die. As A. W. Tozer has said, to carry a cross means you are walking away, and you are never coming back. The cross symbolizes what it means to die to self. We die so that we can be born again in and through Jesus, by repenting of our sin (even the unchosen ones) and putting our faith in Jesus, the author and finisher of our salvation. The supernatural power that comes with being born again means that where I once had a single desire—one that says if it feels good, it must be who I really am—I now have twin desires that war within me: “For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do” (Gal. 5:17). And this war doesn’t end until Glory. Continue reading

Grace: What Does God Give Us?

graceArticle” Grace: What Does God Give us? by Dr. Michael Reeves (original source by Michael Reeves and Tim Chester, Inter-Varsity Press London, England, 2016 (available here)

Years before the Reformation, in his days as a monk, Martin Luther had begun lecturing on the Bible at the university in Wittenberg. There he taught his students that salvation is by grace. ‘Not because of our merits,’ he explained; salvation is ‘given out of the pure mercy of the promising God’.[1] No alarms went off; not a single eyebrow was raised among all the inquisitors in Rome. And why not? Because Martin Luther the monk was still then upholding Rome’s own theology. He was loyally teaching standard medieval Roman Catholicism, that salvation is by grace.

Eyebrows might not have arched in Rome, but perhaps yours did just then. For was not the whole point of the Reformation that medieval Roman Catholicism falsely taught salvation by works? That, certainly, is how many see it. Yet that idea actually fails to grasp quite how things really were. More importantly, it fails to grasp the true wonder and acuteness of the Reformers’ message.

Grace in medieval Roman Catholicism

What, then, did Luther the monk (before the Reformation) mean when he taught salvation by grace? He could state that salvation ‘is not on the basis of our merits but on the pure promise of a merciful God’. Which sounds all very Reformational – until he goes on to explain:

Hence the teachers correctly say that to a man who does what is in him God gives grace without fail . . . [God] bestows everything gratis and only on the basis of the promise of his mercy, although he wants us to be prepared for this as much as lies in us. [2]

So, according to this, God does save by grace, but that grace is given to those who are ‘prepared’ for it, who do ‘what is in them’ to be fit for grace. Or as others (‘the teachers’) of the day liked to put it, ‘God will not deny grace to those who do their best.’

Romans 5:5 is perhaps the single most helpful verse for under- standing this view of salvation by grace. ‘God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us,’ writes the apostle Paul. Instead of being read as a verse about the transformative work of the Spirit in those who ‘have been justified by faith’ (Romans 5:1), as the context proves, Romans 5:5 was taken as an account of salvation, meaning that God pours his love and grace into our hearts, transforming us and making us holy – holy enough, ultimately, for heaven. Continue reading

Concerning the Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification

Article/Interview: The Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification: A Curtain on the Reformation? (original source Italy, and Director of the Reformanda Initiative, which aims to equip evangelical leaders to better understand and engage with Roman Catholicism.

Michael Reeves is President of Union and Professor of Theology. He is the author of The Good God: Enjoying Father, Son and Holy Spirit (Paternoster, 2012).

Leonardo De Chirico of the Reformanda Initiative interviews Prof. Michael Reeves, President and Professor of Theology at Union School of Theology, UK. Author of books such as The Unquenchable Flame: Discovering the Heart of the Reformation (2010) and (with Tim Chester), Why The Reformation Still Matters (2016).

On October 31, 1999, the Roman Catholic Church and the Lutheran World Federation signed ‘The Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification’ (JDDJ), claiming that they were ‘now able to articulate a common understanding of our justification by God’s grace through faith in Christ.’[1] This has led many since to think that the fundamental theological differences of the Reformation have now been resolved, and that there remains little or nothing of real theological substance to prevent evangelical-Catholic unity. Professor Mark Noll, for instance, boldly declared,

If it is true, as once was repeated frequently by Protestants conscious of their anchorage in Martin Luther or John Calvin that iustificatio articulus stantis vel cadentis ecclesiae (justification is the article on which the church stands or falls), then the Reformation is over.[2]

Let’s start here: what should we make of the JDDJ?

The JDDJ itself was rather less sanguine about what had been achieved, and stated explicitly that it ‘does not cover all that either church teaches about justification.’[3] Nevertheless, it did claim to be a ‘decisive step forward on the way to overcoming the division of the church’ in that it managed to express ‘a consensus on basic truths of the doctrine of justification and shows that the remaining differences in its explication are no longer the occasion for doctrinal condemnations.’[4] This itself, though, was a considerable claim. Those ‘doctrinal condemnations’ it professed to avoid include the binding anathemas of the Council of Trent (1545-63), such as:

CANON IX.-If any one saith, that by faith alone the impious is justified; in such wise as to mean, that nothing else is required to co-operate in order to the obtaining the grace of Justification, and that it is not in any way necessary, that he be prepared and disposed by the movement of his own will; let him be anathema.

CANON XI.-If any one saith, that men are justified, either by the sole imputation of the justice of Christ, or by the sole remission of sins, to the exclusion of the grace and the charity which is poured forth in their hearts by the Holy Ghost, and is inherent in them; or even that the grace, whereby we are justified, is only the favour of God; let him be anathema.

CANON XII.-If any one saith, that justifying faith is nothing else but confidence in the divine mercy which remits sins for Christ’s sake; or, that this confidence alone is that whereby we are justified; let him be anathema.

CANON XXIV.-If any one saith, that the justice received is not preserved and also increased before God through good works; but that the said works are merely the fruits and signs of Justification obtained, but not a cause of the increase thereof; let him be anathema.[5]

Is this a failure of the JDDJ?

Since the JDDJ expressly sought to avoid those condemnations, its understanding of justification cannot be that sinners are saved by faith alone without works by the sole remission of sins and the sole imputation of the righteousness of Christ.[6] It cannot then amount to the evangelical understanding of justification that the Council of Trent sought so carefully to define and oppose. And since it does not encompass the evangelical understanding of justification, it cannot be a decisive step forward to overcoming the theological differences between evangelicals and the Roman Catholic Church.

How does the JDDJ define justification then?

When it first sets out to define the biblical message of justification, various aspects of salvation are listed alongside each other.

In the New Testament diverse treatments of “righteousness” and “justification” are found in the writings of Matthew (5:10; 6:33; 21:32), John (16:8-11), Hebrews (5:3; 10:37f), and James (2:14-26).[10] In Paul’s letters also, the gift of salvation is described in various ways, among others: “for freedom Christ has set us free” (Gal 5:1-13; cf. Rom 6:7), “reconciled to God” (2 Cor 5:18-21; cf. Rom 5:11), “peace with God” (Rom 5:1), “new creation” (2 Cor 5:17), “alive to God in Christ Jesus” (Rom 6:11,23), or “sanctified in Christ Jesus” (cf. 1 Cor 1:2; 1:30; 2 Cor 1:1). Chief among these is the “justification” of sinful human beings by God’s grace through faith (Rom 3:23-25), which came into particular prominence in the Reformation period.[7]

In evangelical theology, all these diverse aspects of salvation are important. But they are not to be confused. Particularly, the believer’s progressive transformation into the likeness of Christ is not to be confused with – or taken to be the cause of – his or her justification. Yet in that paragraph, it is not at all clear whether different aspects of salvation are being listed alongside and including justification (the traditional evangelical view), or whether they are being seen as facets of justification (the traditional Roman Catholic view). And the possibility of two substantially – even radically – different interpretations of that paragraph is never mentioned. Continue reading

How Celebrity Christianity Can Destroy Lives

Steven Langella writes, “I want to share with you the situation I am dealing with regarding my sister Roberta Langella who passed away on October 4, 2016. I ask for your prayers and support. Please share on Facebook and with as many as you like. Here is a great example of how Celebrity Christianity destroys lives. Thanks!”

Jim Cymbala and the Ghost of Testimonies Past

The Story Behind the Story of Jim Cymbala and Roberta Langella – Part 1

In Roberta’s Own Words – The Story Behind the Story of Jim Cymbala and Roberta Langella – Part 2

The Two Ages in Full Focus

In this, the third in a teaching series on eschatology, we start with the clear words of Jesus regarding the two ages, and conclude that under scrutiny, of the three main views prevalent in our day, only one seems to remain intact. That is quite a claim, but here is why.

Text: Various New Testament References

Halloween or Reformation Day?

luther-nailing-theses-560x538Dr. Sam Storms writes: (original source but not for the same reason given by most in our society. Although the last day of October is most frequently referred to as Halloween, our focus as Christians should be on the momentous event that occurred in Wittenberg, Germany, in the year 1517.

Let’s return to the first few years of the 16th century in order to set the stage for what happened. In order to finance the rebuilding of St. Peter’s church in Rome, Popes Julius II and Leo X sanctioned the indiscriminate sale of indulgences. In the language of Rome, indulgentia is a term for amnesty or remission of punishment, in particular, the remission of the temporal (not eternal) punishment for sin on the condition that one perform specified good works and make generous financial contributions to Rome. Only God can forgive the eternal punishment of sin, but the sinner must still endure the temporal punishment for sin, either in this life or in purgatory. This latter penalty was under the control of the papacy and priesthood. Thus, for a price, the church can reduce both the degree and duration of punishment in purgatory, both for you and your deceased loved ones who are already there.

Leading the sale of indulgences in Germany was a Dominican monk, well-known for his immorality and drunkenness, by the name of Johann Tetzel. He began his trade on the border of Saxony, at Juterbog, just a few hours from Wittenberg. Tetzel was particularly crude and mercenary in his tactics. He used poetic phrases to highlight the benefit of indulgences. For example,

“When the coin in the coffer doth ring,
The soul out of purgatory doth spring.”

Here is one excerpt from a sermon he preached:

“Indulgences are the most precious and the most noble of God’s gifts. . . . Come and I will give you letters, all properly sealed, by which even the sins that you intend to commit may be pardoned. . . . But more than this, indulgences avail not only for the living but for the dead. . . . Priest! Noble! Merchant! Wife! Youth! Maiden! Do you not hear your parents and your other friends who are dead, and who cry from the bottom of the abyss: We are suffering horrible torments! A trifling alms would deliver us; you can give it, and you will not!”

It was difficult for the people to resist Tetzel’s ingenious appeals to both selfishness and love for one’s parents. The story is told that after Tetzel made a large sum of money from the sale of indulgences in Leipzig a man approached him and asked if he could buy an indulgence for a future sin he planned on committing. Tetzel said yes, and they agreed on a price. Later the man attacked and robbed Tetzel, explaining that this was the future sin he had in mind!

Tetzel had a “fee schedule” for the forgiveness of sins:

Witchcraft – 2 ducats
Polygamy – 6 ducats
Murder – 8 ducats
Sacrilege – 9 ducats
Perjury – 9 ducats

Martin Luther lost his patience when a stumbling drunkard handed him a certificate of indulgence as warrant for his inebriated condition.

Indulgences could also be obtained by viewing or venerating certain religious relics. Luther’s prince, Frederick the Wise, owned one of the largest relic collections in the area, over 19,000 pieces, worth more than 1,900,000 days’ indulgence. Frederick’s collection included a piece of the burning bush, soot from the fiery furnace, milk from Mary’s breast, and a piece of Jesus’ crib, just to name a few. Cardinal Albrecht’s collection of relics was worth 39,245,120 days’ indulgence!

Infuriated by this blasphemous turn of events, at noon on October 31, 1517, Luther posted to the door of the castle-church at Wittenberg, 95 theses or propositions on the subject of indulgences and invited a public discussion on the topic. There was little initial response, but rapid circulation of the theses (entitled “Disputation to explain the Virtue of Indulgences”) was certain to stir things up. Philip Schaff writes this of the theses:

“They are no protest against the Pope and the Roman Church, or any of her doctrines, not even against indulgences, but only against their abuse. They expressly condemn those who speak against indulgences (Th. 71), and assume that the Pope himself would rather see St. Peter’s Church in ashes than have it built with the flesh and blood of his sheep (Th. 50). They imply belief in purgatory. They nowhere mention Tetzel. They are silent about faith and justification, which already formed the marrow of Luther’s theology and piety. He wished to be moderate, and had not the most distant idea of a separation from the mother church. When the Theses were republished in his collected works (1545), he wrote in the preface: I allow them to stand, that by them it may appear how weak I was, and in what a fluctuating state of mind, when I began this business. I was then a monk and a mad papist, and so submerged in the dogmas of the Pope that I would have readily murdered any person who denied obedience to the Pope.”

And the rest, so they say, is history. The Protestant Reformation had been launched, and the recovery of the true gospel of the saving grace of God through faith alone in Christ alone was underway. So make this the reason for your celebration on the 31st and the focus of your gratitude to God.