Monday, October 31, 2005

reformation day - part 2

Response of the Papacy

After disregarding Luther as "a drunken German who wrote the Theses" who "when sober will change his mind," Pope Leo X ordered the Dominican professor of theology, Sylvester Mazzolini, called from his birthplace Priero, Prierias (also Prieras), in 1518, to inquire into the matter. Prierias recognized Luther's implicit opposition to the authority of the pope by being at variance with a papal bull, declared him a heretic, and wrote a scholastic refutation of his theses. It asserted papal authority over the Church and denounced every departure from it as a heresy. Luther replied in kind, and a controversy developed.
Meanwhile Luther took part in an Augustinian convention at Heidelberg, where he presented theses on the slavery of man to sin and on divine grace. In the course of the controversy on indulgences the question arose of the absolute power and authority of the pope, since the doctrine of the "Treasury of the Church," the "Treasury of Merits," which undergirded the doctrine and practice of indulgences, was based on the Bull Unigenitus (1343) of Pope Clement VI. Because of his opposition to that doctrine, Luther was branded a heretic, and the pope, who had determined to supress his views, summoned him to Rome.

Yielding, however, to the Elector Frederick, whom the pope hoped would become the next Holy Roman Emperor and who was unwilling to part with his theologian, the pope did not press the matter, and the cardinal legate Cajetan was deputed to receive Luther's submission at Augsburg (Oct., 1518).

Luther, while professing his implicit obedience to the Church, now boldly denied papal authority, and appealed first "from the pope not well informed to the pope who should be better informed" and then (Nov. 28) to a general council. Luther now declared that the papacy formed no part of the original and immutable essence of the Church, and he even began to think that Antichrist ruled the Curia. He had already asserted at least the potential fallibility of a council representing the Church, and, repudiating what he held to be the abuse of the practice of excommunication on the part of the pope, he was led by his concept of the way of salvation to hold that the Church in essence is the congregation of the faithful, a view foreshadowed in the thought and writings of John Wycliffe, Pierre d'Ailly, and Jan Hus.

Desiring to remain on friendly terms with Luther, the pope made a final attempt to reach a peaceful resolution of the conflict with him. A conference with the papal chamberlain Karl von Miltitz at Altenburg in Jan., 1519, led Luther to agree to remain silent as long as his opponents would, to write a humble letter to the pope, and to compose a treatise demonstrating his reverence for the Catholic Church. The letter was written but never sent, since it contained no retraction. In the German treatise he composed later, Luther, while recognizing purgatory, indulgences, and the invocation of the saints, denied all effect of indulgences on purgatory.

When Johann Eck challenged Luther's colleague Carlstadt to a disputation at Leipzig, Luther joined in the debate (27 June-18 July 1519). In the course of this debate he denied the divine right of the papal office and authority, holding that the "power of the keys" had been given to the Church (i.e., to the congregation of the faithful). He denied that membership in the western Catholic Church under the pope was necessary to salvation, maintaining the validity of the eastern Greek (Orthodox) Church. After the debate, Johann Eck claimed that he had forced Luther to admit the similarity of his own doctrine to that of Jan Hus, who had been burned at the stake. Eck viewed this as corroborating his own claim that Luther was "the Saxon Hus" and an arch heretic.

Luther's thought develops

There was no longer hope of peace. Luther's writings were now circulated widely, reaching France, England, and Italy as early as 1519, and students thronged to Wittenberg to hear Luther, who had been joined by Melanchthon in 1518, and now published his shorter commentary on Galatians and his Operationes in Psalmos [Work on the Psalms], while at the same time he received deputations from Italy and from the Utraquists of Bohemia.

These controversies necessarily led Luther to develop his doctrines further, and in his Eyn Sermon von dem Hochwirdigen Sacrament, des heyligen waren Leychnams Christi. Und von den Bruderschafften [Sermon on the Blessed Sacrament of the Holy and True Body of Christ, and the Brotherhoods] (1519) he set forth the significance of the Eucharist, interpreting the transubstantiation of the bread as the transformation of the faithful into the spiritual body of Christ, i.e., into fellowship with Christ and the Saints through the reception of the True Body and Blood of Christ Jesus Himself. The Eucharist is, moreover, for the forgiveness of sins. Christ is known to be found in the elements of bread and wine in this meal because he has promised to be there; the words "This is my body" are spoken by the Lord, and what God says, happens, just as light came to be when God pronounced his fiat in Genesis. Due to this understanding of the Eucharist, that it is for the forgiveness of sins and the strengthening of faith for those who receive it, he advocated that a council be called to restore communion in both kinds for the laity.

The Lutheran concept of the Church, wholly based on immediate relation to the Christ who gives himself in preaching and the sacraments, was already developed in his Von dem Papsttum zu Rom [On the Papacy in Rome], a reply to the attack of the Franciscan Augustin von Alveld at Leipzig (June, 1520); while in his Sermon von guten Werken [Sermon on Good Works], delivered in the spring of 1520, he controverted the Catholic doctrine of good works and works of supererogation, holding that the works of the believer are truly good in any secular calling (vocation) ordered of God.

The treatises of 1520
To the German Nobility

The disputation at Leipzig (1519) brought Luther into contact with the humanists, particularly Melanchthon, Reuchlin, Erasmus, and associates of the knight Ulrich von Hutten, who, in turn, influenced the knight Franz von Sickingen. Von Sickingen and Silvester of Schauenburg wanted to place Luther under their protection in the event that it would not be safe for him to remain in Saxony due to the threatened papal ban by inviting him to their fortresses.

Under these circumstances, complicated by the crisis then confronting the German nobles, Luther issued his To the Christian Nobility of the German Nation (Aug., 1520), committing to the laity, as spiritual priests, the reformation required by God but neglected by the pope and the clergy. The reforms Luther proposed concerned not only points of doctrine but also ecclesiastical abuses: the diminution of the number of cardinals and demands of the papal court; the abolition of annates; the recognition of secular government; the renunciation of papal claims to temporal power; the abolition of the interdict and abuses connected with the ban; the abolition of harmful pilgrimages; the reform of mendicant orders to eliminate wrong doing; the elimination of the excessive number of holy days; the suppression of nunneries, beggary, and luxury; the reform of the universities; the abrogation of the clerical celibacy; reunion with the Bohemians; and a general reform of public morality.

The Babylonian Captivity

Luther employed doctrinal polemics in his Prelude on the Babylonian Captivity of the Church, especially with regard to the sacraments.

With regard to the Eucharist, he advocated restoring the cup to the laity, called into question the dogma of Transubstantiation while affirming the real presence of the body and blood of Christ in the Eucharist, and rejected the teaching that the Eucharist was a sacrifice or good deed to be offered to God.

With regard to Baptism, he taught that it brings justification only if conjoined with saving faith in the recipient; however, it remained the foundation of salvation even for those who might later fall and be reclaimed.

As for penance, its essence consists in the words of promise (absolution) received by faith. Only these three can be regarded as sacraments due to their divine institution and the divine promises of salvation connected with them; but, strictly speaking, only Baptism and the Eucharist are sacraments, since only they have "divinely instituted visible sign[s]": water in Baptism and bread and wine in the Eucharist. Luther denied in this document that Confirmation, Matrimony, Holy Orders, and Extreme Unction were sacraments.

Freedom of a Christian

In like manner, the acme of Luther's doctrine of salvation and the Christian life was attained in his About the Freedom of a Christian. Here he required complete union with Christ by means of the Word through faith, entire freedom of the Christian as a priest and king set above all outward things, and perfect love of one's neighbor. The three works may be considered among the chief writings of Luther on the Reformation.

The excommunication of Luther

On June 15, 1520, the Pope warned Martin Luther with the papal bull Exsurge Domine that he risked excommunication unless he recanted 41 points of doctrine culled from his writings within 60 days. In October 1520, at the instance of Miltitz, Luther sent his On the Freedom of a Christian to the pope, adding the significant phrase: "I submit to no laws of interpreting the word of God." Meanwhile it had been rumored in August that Eck had arrived at Meissen with a papal ban, which was actually pronounced there on September 21. This last effort of Luther's for peace was followed on December 12 by his burning of the bull, which was to take effect on the expiration of 120 days, and the papal decretals at Wittenberg, a proceeding defended in his Warum des Papstes und seiner Jünger Bücher verbrannt sind and his Assertio omnium articulorum. Pope Pope Leo X excommunicated Luther on January 3, 1521 in the bull Decet Romanum Pontificem.

The execution of the ban, however, was prevented by the pope's relations with Frederick III, Elector of Saxony and by the new emperor Charles V, who, in view of the papal attitude toward him and the feeling of the Diet, found it inadvisable to lend his aid to measures against Luther.

Diet of Worms

Emperor Charles V opened the imperial Diet of Worms on January 22, 1521. Luther was summoned to renounce or reaffirm his views and was given an imperial guarantee of safe conduct to ensure his safe passage.

On April 16, Luther appeared before the Diet. Johann Eck, an assistant of Archbishop of Trier, presented Luther with a table filled with copies of his writings. Eck asked Luther if the books were his and if he still believed what these works taught. Luther requested time to think about his answer. It was granted. Luther prayed, consulted with friends and mediators and presented himself before the Diet the next day. When the matter came before the Diet the next day, Counsellor Eck, asked Luther to plainly answer the question: "Would Luther reject his books and the errors they contain?" Luther replied: "Unless I am convicted by Scripture and plain reason—I do not accept the authority of popes and councils, for they have contradicted each other—my conscience is captive to the Word of God. I cannot and will not recant anything, for to go against conscience is neither right nor safe." According to tradition, Luther is then said to have spoken these words: "Here I stand. I can do no other. God help me. Amen." [Bainton, pp. 142-144].

Over the next few days, private conferences were held to determine Luther's fate. Before a decision was reached, Luther left Worms. During his return to Wittenberg, he disappeared.

The Emperor issued the Edict of Worms on May 25, 1521, declaring Martin Luther an outlaw and a heretic and banning his literature.

Exile at the Wartburg Castle

Luther's disappearance during his return trip was planned. Frederick the Wise arranged for Luther to be seized on his way from the Diet by a company of masked horsemen, who carried him to Wartburg Castle at Eisenach, where he stayed for about a year. He grew a wide flaring beard, took on the garb of a knight, and assumed the pseudonym Junker Jörg (Knight George). During this period of forced sojourn in the world, Luther was still hard at work upon his celebrated translation of the New Testament, though he couldn't rely on the isolation of a monastery.

With Luther's residence in the Wartburg began a constructive period of his career as a reformer; while at the same time the struggle was inaugurated against those who, claiming to proceed from the same Evangelical basis, were deemed by him to swing to the opposite extreme and to hinder, if not prevent, all constructive measures. In his "desert" or "Patmos" (as he called it in his letters) of the Wartburg, moreover, he began his translation of the Bible, of which the New Testament was printed in Sept., 1522. Here, too, besides other pamphlets, he prepared the first portion of his German postilla and his Von der Beichte [Concerning Confession], in which he denied compulsory confession, although he admitted the wholesomeness of voluntary private confessions. He also wrote a polemic against Archbishop Albrecht, which forced him to desist from reopening the sale of indulgences; while in his attack on Jacobus Latomus he set forth his views on the relation of grace and the law, as well as on the nature of the grace communicated by Christ. Here he distinguished the objective grace of God to the sinner, who, believing, is justified by God because of the justice of Christ, from the saving grace dwelling within sinful man; while at the same time he emphasized the insufficiency of this "beginning of justification," as well as the persistence of sin after baptism and the sin still inherent in every good work.

Although his stay at Wartburg kept Luther hidden from public view, Luther often received letters from his friends and allies, asking for his views and advice. For example, Philipp Melanchthon wrote to him and asked how to answer the charge that the reformers neglected pilgrimages, fasts and other traditional forms of piety. Luther replied: "If you are a preacher of mercy, do not preach an imaginary but the true mercy. If the mercy is true, you must therefore bear the true, not an imaginary sin. God does not save those who are only imaginary sinners. Be a sinner, and let your sins be strong, but let your trust in Christ be stronger, and rejoice in Christ who is the victor over sin, death, and the world. We will commit sins while we are here, for this life is not a place where justice resides. We, however, says Peter (2. Peter 3:13) are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth where justice will reign." (Letter 99.13, To Philipp Melanchthon, 1 August 1521 [2])

Meanwhile some of the Saxon clergy, notably Bartholomäus Bernhardi of Feldkirchen, had renounced the vow of celibacy, while others, including Melanchthon, had assailed the validity of monastic vows. Luther in his De votis monasticis [Concerning Monastic Vows], though more cautious, concurred, on the ground that the vows were generally taken "with the intention of salvation or seeking justification." With the approval of Luther in his De abroganda missa privata [Concerning the Abrogation of the Private Mass], but against the firm opposition of the prior, the Wittenberg Augustinians began changes in worship and did away with the mass. Their violence and intolerance, however, were displeasing to Luther, and early in December he spent a few days among them. Returning to the Wartburg, he wrote his Eine treue Vermahnung . . . vor Aufruhr und Empörung [A Sincere Admonition by Martin Luther to All Christians to Guard Against Insurrection and Rebellion]; but in Wittenberg Carlstadt and the ex-Augustinian Gabriel Zwilling demanded the abolition of the private mass, communion in both kinds, the removal of pictures from churches, and the abrogation of the magistracy .

Return to Wittenberg and the Invocavit Sermons

Around Christmas 1521, Anabaptists from Zwickau added to the anarchy. Thoroughly opposed to such radical views and fearful of their results, Luther secretly returned to Wittenberg March 6, 1522, and the Zwickau prophets left the city. For eight days beginning on March 9, Invocavit Sunday, and concluding on the following Sunday, Luther preached eight sermons that would become known as the Invocavit Sermons. In these sermons Luther counseled careful reform that took into consideration the consciences of those who were not yet persuaded to embrace reform. Communion in one kind (the consecrated bread) was restored for a time, the consecrated cup given only to those of the laity who desired it. He was thought by his hearers John Agricola and Jerome Schurf to have accomplished his goal of quelling unrest. The canon of the mass, giving it its sacrificial character, was now omitted. Since the former practice of penance had been abolished, communicants were now required to declare their intention to commune and to seek consolation in Christian confession and absolution. This new form of service was set forth by Luther in his Formula missæ et communionis [Form of the Mass and Communion] (1523), and in 1524 the first Wittenberg hymnal appeared with four of his own hymns. Since, however, his writings were forbidden in that part of Saxon ruled by Duke George, Luther declared, in his Ueber die weltliche Gewalt, wie weit man ihr Gehorsam schuldig sei [Temporal Authority: to What Extent It Should Be Obeyed], that the civil authority could enact no laws for the soul, herein denying to a Catholic what he permitted an Evangelical.

Luther's German Bible

Luther translated the New Testament into German to make it more accessible to the commoners and to erode the influence of priests. He used the recent critical Greek edition of Erasmus, a text which was later called Textus Receptus. During his translation, he would make forays into the nearby towns and markets to hear people speak, so that he could write his translation in the language of the people. It was published in 1522.

Luther had a low view of the books of Esther, Hebrews, James, Jude, and Revelation. He called the epistle of James "an epistle of straw", finding little in it that pointed to Christ and His saving work. He also had harsh words for the book of Revelation, saying that he could "in no way detect that the Holy Spirit produced it." He had reason to question the apostolicity of these books since the early church categorized these books as antilegomena, meaning that they weren't accepted without reservation as canonical. Luther did not, however, remove them from his edition of the scriptures.

His first full Bible translation into German, including the Old Testament, was published in a six-part edition in 1534. As mentioned earlier, Luther's translation work helped standardize German and are considered landmarks in German literature.
Luther chose to omit the portions of the Old Testament found in the Greek Septuagint, but not in the Hebrew Masoretic texts then available. These were included in his earliest translation, but were later set aside as 'good to read', but not as the inspired Word of God. The setting-aside (or simple exclusion) of these texts in/from Bibles was eventually adopted by nearly all Protestants. See Biblical canon.

The Small and Large Catechisms

In 1528, Frederick asked Luther to tour the local churches to determine the quality of the peasants' Christian education. Luther wrote in the preface to the Small Catechism, "Mercy! Good God! what manifold misery I beheld! The common people, especially in the villages, have no knowledge whatever of Christian doctrine, and, alas! many pastors are altogether incapable and incompetent to teach." In response, Luther prepared the Small and Large Catechisms. They are instructional and devotional material on what Luther considered the fundamentals of the Christian faith, namely the Ten Commandments; the Apostles' Creed; the Lord's Prayer; Baptism; Confession and Absolution; and the Eucharist. The Small Catechism was supposed to be read by the people themselves, the Large Catechism by the pastors. The two catechisms are still popular instructional materials among Lutherans.

His legacy

Martin Luther, more than the reformers that preceded him, shaped the Protestant Reformation. Thanks to the printing press, his pamphlets were well-read throughout Germany, influencing many subsequent Protestant Reformers and thinkers and giving rise to diversifying Protestant traditions in Europe and elsewhere. Protestant countries, no longer subject to the papacy, exercised their expanded freedom of thought, facilitating Protestant Europe's rapid intellectual advancement in the 17th and 18th centuries, giving rise to the Age of Reason. In reaction to the Protestant Reformation the Catholic Reformation too was a part of this intellectual advancement, e.g. through its scholastic Jesuit order. It would also be accurate to consider Martin Luther one of the founders of the German language.

On the darker side, the absolute power of princes over their subjects increased considerably in the Lutheran territories, and Roman Catholics and Protestants waged bitter and ferocious wars of religion against each other. A century after Luther's protests, a revolt in Bohemia ignited the Thirty Years' War, a Roman Catholics-vs.-Protestants war which ravaged much of Germany and killed about a third of the population. - From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.

Friday, October 28, 2005

is God inconsistent?

A friend asked the question, "If God asks us to love our enemies, yet God hates sinners, isn't that inconsistent?"

Here are a few thoughts on that:

• If we are called to emulate God, and God tells us to love our enemies, then I assume He does too.

• Where do we see God loving His enemies? Let's look at the Old testament: God could have killed Adam and Eve after they sinned. That would have been perfectly just. He didn't, He covered their shame and cared for them (our first gospel lesson), yet He had to banish them. God could have destroyed the Israelites many times. He didn't. He showed them lovingkindness many times, even though they were for all intents and purposes His enemies - distrusting Him and sinning repeatedly.

• Let's look at the New Testament and God incarnate - Jesus. Jesus healed the sick. He fed thousands. He delivered people from demonic posession. Were they all believers or potential believers? Probably not. Did God show love to them? Yes.

• What about believers? Were we His enemies? Yes! The bible says, we were at emnity with Him, were children of wrath, etc. therefore His enemies. God loved us enough to show us the ultimate act of love, the cross.

• God hates sin - which is breaking His law - and He must punish it, for He is a Just God. However, He also loves the unloveable, he shows mercy and grace to His enemies. That's good news.

• What about God's common grace? Nobody deserves to live the kind of earthly lives they do. Sinners and saints alike reap the benefits of full lives, shelter, food, family, riches. I think this could be called love in a general sense to all mankind.

• God knows who will trust Him and who won't. We can't see into man's heart, we aren't God, we don't have that kind of vision. But we are to love regardless. Who knows? Maybe our most hardened enemy will become a Christian. Wouldn't that be just like God.

Thursday, October 27, 2005

reformation day - part 1

Reformation Day is almost upon us (October 31st). At it's core, the protestant reformation was a recovery of the biblical teaching of "faith alone" for justification, or "sola fide."

Martin Luther (1483–1546) was a German theologian, an Augustinian monk, and an ecclesiastical reformer whose teachings inspired the Reformation and deeply influenced the doctrines and culture of the Lutheran and Protestant traditions. Luther's call to the Church to return to the teachings of the Bible led to the formation of new traditions within Christianity and to the Counter-Reformation, the Roman Catholic reaction to these movements. Luther's contributions to Western civilization went beyond the life of the Christian Church. Luther's translations of the Bible helped to develop a standard version of the German language and added several principles to the art of translation. Luther's hymns inspired the development of congregational singing in Christianity. His marriage on June 13, 1525, to Katharina von Bora began a movement of clerical marriage within many Christian traditions.

Young Brother Martin fully dedicated himself to monastic life, the effort to do good works to please God and to serve others through prayer for their souls. Yet peace with God escaped him. He devoted himself to fasts, flagellations, long hours in prayer and pilgrimage, and constant confession. The more he tried to do for God, it seemed, the more aware he became of his sinfulness.

The demanding discipline of earning academic degrees and preparing lectures drove Martin Luther to study the Scriptures in depth. Influenced by the call of humanism ad fontes—"to the sources"—he immersed himself in the study of the Bible and the early Church. Soon terms like penance and righteousness took on new meaning for Luther, and he became convinced that the Church had lost sight of several of the central truths of Christianity taught in Scripture—the most important of which being the doctrine of justification by faith alone. Luther began to teach that salvation is completely a gift of God's grace through Christ received by faith.

In addition to his duties as a professor, Martin Luther served as a preacher and confessor at the Castle Church, a foundation of Frederick the Wise, Elector of Saxony. This church was named "All Saints" because it was the repository of his collection of holy relics. This parish served both the Augustinian monastary and the university. It was in the performance of these duties that the young priest was confronted with the effects of obtaining indulgences on the lives of everyday people. An indulgence is a certificate that absolved individuals of the temporal penalties of the sins they had confessed. A buyer could purchase one, either for himself or for one of his deceased relatives in purgatory. The Dominican friar Johann Tetzel was enlisted to travel throughout Archbishop Albert of Mainz's episcopal territories promoting and selling indulgences for the rennovation of St. Peter's Basilica in Rome. Tetzel was very successful at it. He urged: "as soon as the coin in the coffer rings, the soul from purgatory springs" [Brecht, vol. 1, p. 182].

As a priest concerned about the spiritual welfare of his parishioners, Luther saw this traffic in indulgences as an abuse that could mislead them into relying simply on the indulgences themselves to the neglect of the confession, true repentance, and satisfactions. Luther preached three sermons against indulgences in 1516 and 1517. On October 31, 1517, according to traditional accounts, Luther's 95 Theses were nailed to the door of the Castle Church as an open invitation to debate them [Brecht, vol. 1, p. 200].

The Theses condemned greed and worldliness in the Church as an abuse and asked for a theological disputation on what indulgences could grant. Luther did not challenge the authority of the pope to grant indulgences in these theses. The 95 Theses were quickly translated into German, widely copied and printed. Within two weeks they had spread throughout Germany, and within two months throughout Europe. This was one of the first events in history that was profoundly affected by the printing press, which made the distribution of documents easier and more wide-spread. - From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.

More to come...

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

everlasting god-shopper

"Every time I buy something, I come as close to making myself god as I can. I take a piece of intrinsically worthless plastic and use it to generate a pulse down a fibre-optic cable that turns into a book, a car, a house. I transubstantiate a piece of paper into silver or gold. I wave a $100 bill in a restaurant, and others come running to do my every bidding. In each case, for a brief moment, I fool myself into thinking that I am at the very least a priest who can use divine power as he wills; at best a god, master of the universe, the one who proposes, disposes, creates and sustains at his own will."

Read more: The Wages of Spin by Carl Trueman

horrifying theology

I like horror movies. Not the mindless slasher flicks, but the ones that make you think. "Horror movies don't make you think?!", "They're just gross!" some may say. True, there may be some gross scenes in horror films, but if it's a good one, that will be a secondary element to help convey the story, not drive it. One such movie is Carrie. I watched it last night for the first time. I've always wanted to see it, and when I did, I wasn't dissapointed.

There have been other movies I've waited years to see, only to realize I'd wasted my time, but this one delivered. At first, I supposed this movie to be about an evil girl who wreaks havoc on helpless teenagers. Nothing could be further from the truth (although there is that big climactic scene in the school gymnasium - however, after seeing it, that's not THE climactic scene.)

It's ultimately about human depravity and the violence each one of us is capable of inflicting on others, no matter how "holy" we feel. There's a repeating element in this movie of physical violence: boyfriend to girlfriend, teacher to student, mother to daughter, and ultimately telekinetic girl to classmates. The movie focuses on the character of Carrie, but it's a statement about us all. It deals with abuse, guilt, love and treachery, all successfully executed.

Sure, there are disturbing scenes, and it's definitely not for children, but what's really disturbing is the way in which it exposes how cruel we are and how desperately we need to be saved from judgement.

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

batman & grace

Batman Begins is a great film. There's one line that got me to thinking. It goes something like, "it's not who you are on the inside, but what you do that matters." In the context of the movie, that's a great line because Bruce Wayne deals with his fear and also his desire to do something to bring justice to the city of Gotham.

In terms of being justified (declared not guilty) by God, it's the exact opposite, however. It's not what you do that determines your justification, but the faith INSIDE that God grants to you:

"What then shall we say was gained by Abraham, our forefather according to the flesh? For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God. For what does the Scripture say? "Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness." Now to the one who works, his wages are not counted as a gift but as his due. And to the one who does not work but trusts him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness, just as David also speaks of the blessing of the one to whom God counts righteousness apart from works:

'Blessed are those whose lawless deeds are forgiven, and whose sins are covered; blessed is the man against whom the Lord will not count his sin.' " - Romans 4:1-7 esv

Monday, October 24, 2005

how about a nice slice of the word?

"Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth." - 2 Tim 2:15

"Dividing aright the word of truth. This is a beautiful metaphor, and one that skillfully expresses the chief design of teaching. Since we ought to be satisfied with the word of God alone, what purpose is served by having sermons every day, or even the office of pastors? Has not every person an opportunity of reading the Bible? But Paul assigns to teachers the duty of dividing or cutting, as if a father, in giving food to his children, were dividing the bread, by cutting it into small pieces.

He advises Timothy to "cut aright," lest, when he is employed in cutting the surface, as unskillful people are wont to do, he leave the pith and marrow untouched. Yet by this term I understand, generally, an allotment of the word which is judicious, and which is well suited to the profit of the hearers. Some mutilate it, others tear it, others torture it, others break it in pieces, others, keeping by the outside, (as we have said,) never come to the soul of doctrine. To all these faults he contrasts time "dividing aright," that is, the manner of explaining which is adapted to edification; for that is the rule by which we must try all interpretation of Scripture." - excerpt from Calvin's Commentary

Friday, October 21, 2005

my favorite book of the bible

Romans is my favorite book of the Bible. Why? I'll let Luther answer for me...

"This letter is truly the most important piece in the New Testament. It is purest Gospel. It is well worth a Christian's while not only to memorize it word for word but also to occupy himself with it daily, as though it were the daily bread of the soul. It is impossible to read or to meditate on this letter too much or too well. The more one deals with it, the more precious it becomes and the better it tastes." - Luther in his preface to Romans

"But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it-- the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God's righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus." - Rom 3:21-26

Thursday, October 20, 2005

death is preaching to us

This morning, I saw a dead pigeon. I think it must have flown into a window. It was lying there on the concrete, looking almost as if it were asleep. Nope. It was dead.

We don't usually think just how short our lives are - let alone if we die by sickness or accident - but as a Christian, there's so much to look forward to, and so much to live for now.

"Each fading leaf admonishes you. You will most surely have to die; why not think upon the inevitable? It is said that the ostrich buries its head in the sand, and fancies itself secure when it can no longer see the hunter. I can hardly fancy that even a bird can be quite so foolish, and I beseech you do not enact such madness.

If I do not think of death, yet death will think of me. If I will not go to death by meditation and consideration, death will come to me. Let me, then, meet it like a man, and to that end let me look it in the face. Death comes into our houses, and steals away our beloved ones.

Seldom do I enter this pulpit without missing some accustomed face from its place. Never a week passes over this church without some of our happy fellowship being caught away to the still happier fellowship above. This week a youthful member has melted away, and her mourning parents are in our midst. We as a congregation are continually being summoned to remember our mortality; and so, whether we will hear him or not, death is preaching to us each time we assemble in this house." - C.H. Spurgeon

taken from Concerning Death by C.H. Spurgon

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

wet or dry kids?

A Paedobaptist aswers some good Baptist questions:

• Do you believe that infant baptism saves the child?
No. Neither does adult baptism save the adult. The relationship of baptism and salvation is that of a ring to a marriage. The ring is part of the reality of the marriage. But no one treats a ring, in and of itself, as the marriage.

• Why baptize children if they do not understand the meaning of baptism?
Baptism is like circumcision. For adults it is entered with understanding, for infants it is “remembered” with understanding. In principle, one cannot object that a sign of an inward reality be given to an infant, because it is so clear in the case of circumcision. Is it meaningful that my little children are citizens of the United States? Though they do not comprehend it now, they have all the rights and protections of a citizen, though under age. As they grow, they will learn their duties, along with all the rights and privileges that their citizenship afforded them, while they were yet unaware of it. So it is with baptism.

• What about baptized children who grow up and forsake the faith?
Apostasy is a reality for children baptized as infants, for believers’-baptized children, and even for adult converts who were baptized with the most ardent professions of their faith. It is the Biblical function of church discipline (Mat 18:15-20), not baptism, which purifies church membership of those who willfully and unrepentantly deny the faith.

• What if a baptized child has a dramatic conversion later, are they to be baptized again?
A Christian (child or adult) should only be baptized once, since baptism signifies a reality that only takes place once, regeneration. We do not always know when regeneration takes place, especially in the case of children growing up in the discipline and admonition of the Lord (Eph 6:4). The reason many re-baptisms take place is (wrongly, I believe) because baptism is viewed as meaningful only if the one baptized has a certain prior experience (i.e., baptism is a testimony to my conversion experience). In fact, according to official statistics, one prominent baptist denomination reported that over 40% of its baptisms one year were for “rededication.” This is a misunderstanding of baptism.

• Shouldn’t baptism be done by immersion?
If we compare baptism with the Lord’s Supper, whether the Lord’s Supper is actually a “supper” (deipnon, an evening meal), is not essential to its purpose, meaning, or sacramental quality. In the same way, the mode of baptism, whether by immersion, pouring, or sprinkling, is surely less important than its meaning and recipients. Reformed Christians do not usually require a particular mode to be necessary for baptism. However, Biblical baptisms or “washings” in the Tabernacle were performed by sprinkling (baptismois in Heb 9:11, see verses 9:13, 19, 22). And, the baptism of the Spirit is spoken of as the Holy Spirit “poured out upon the Gentiles” (Acts 10:45-47).

• If you believe in infant baptism, by the same principles aren’t you bound to believe in infant communion?
Not necessarily. After all, the Passover meal was simply not edible to infants any way. The question of paedocommunion involves (a) whether infants or toddlers, in fact, partook of the Passover meal, (b) if not, were there spiritual qualifications, such as asking and understanding, “What does this mean?” (Exo 12:26), and (c) thus, whether the recipients of Christ’s passover in the new covenant are qualified differently. The Princeton Theologian B. B. Warfield said, “The ordinances of the Church belong to the members of it; but each in its own appointed time. The initiatory ordinance belongs to the members on becoming members, other ordinances become their right as the appointed seasons for enjoying them roll around.”

- taken from: "Infant Baptism: Does the Bible Teach It?" by Dr. Gregg Strawbridge

covenant mercies

"You have as much right to the precious things of the covenant as the most advanced believers, for your right to covenant mercies lies not in your growth, but in the covenant itself; and your faith in Jesus is not the measure, but the token of your inheritance in Him." - C.H. Spurgeon

God's Covenants

The Bible teaches that God deals with man by means of a covenant relationship. All the leading covenants in the Bible between God and believing man are aspects of a single covenant relationship.... the Abrahamic covenant, the Mosaic covenant, the Davidic covenant, the New Covenant, and so forth (all which are conditional). The Old Covenant and the New Covenant are not descriptions of certain "dispensations" or time periods. Rather, they are subjective states of man's relation to God in both the Old and New Testaments - and today. Since subsequent administrations assume and build on the terms of preceding administrations in a historical redemptive sense, the conditions of the earlier covenants also apply to the latter covenants. The culmination of all the covenant administrations is the administration under Christ who alone fulfilled these conditions. Christ himself had to die to fulfill the terms of the covenant from our side, making a new covenant with those he came to save (also a conditional administration since it applies only to those who exercise faith in Christ). This in no terms means we are able to earn salvation on our own; no matter which covenant administration we fall under, we fail to keep its terms. The human requirements stipulated in the covenant are never met perfectly ( even the requirement of faith itself), except in Christ. Thus, we always rely on God's grace and forgiveness alone in order to receive his covenant blessings to us. -

The Covenant of Grace: A Key to Understanding the Bible by Calvin Knox Cummings

The Covenant of Grace by Charles Hodge

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

peaceful rest

"If one saint should fall away and perish, God would not only break his word, but his oath, for he hath sworn by himself, because he could swear by no greater, "that by two immutable things, in which it was impossible for God to lie, we might have a strong consolation, who have fled for refuge to lay hold upon the hope set before us." No, an oath-breaking God, a promise-despising Jehovah, were an impossibility; and therefore a perished child of God is alike impossible. But we need not fear, beloved, that we shall ever perish, if we love the Savior for the last reason is all potent. Will Christ lose that which he has bought with his own blood? Yes, there are men with judgments so perverted, that they believe Christ died for those that are damned, and bought with his own blood men that perish. Well, if they choose to believe that, I do not envy them the elasticity of their intellects; but this I conceive to be but an axiom, that what Christ has paid for so dearly with his own heart's blood he will have. If he loved us well enough to bear the excruciating agonies of the cross, I know he loves "well enough to keep us to the end." If when we were enemies, we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more being reconciled we shall be saved by his life." For I am persuaded that he that spared not his own life, but delivered it up for his people, will not withhold aught that Omnipotence can sire." - C.H. Spurgeon

Monday, October 17, 2005

slice of heaven

Our family went to heaven yesterday and it was great. Ok, that's a little exaggerated. We went to church, which is a foretaste of it. We gathered together with His saints. We praised Him. We listened to Him (speaking through the pastor). We partook of His body and blood.

We experienced a slice of heaven.

Imperfect? Yes. But until our glorification, there will always be that little fly in the ointment. But I wouldn't trade it for anything.

The Word in Reformed Worship by - Wilbert M. Van Dyk

Here's some excerpts:

..."Preaching, then, is in a class by itself. It is not simply a speech about God. It is rather God himself speaking through the mouth of the preacher. It may seem like foolishness to a world that is skilled inthe art of communication, but as Paul wrote in I Corinthians l:21, "God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe." In Reformed worship, preaching the Word is so centrally important because it is a prominent way, perhaps the most prominent way, in which God has chosen to speak to people throughout the ages in order to accomplish his purposes in them."...

..."What, then, are sermons and what do they do? In Reformed worship they occupy the place of prominence. Sometimes they may be inadequately prepared and ineffectively preached. Shame on the preacher. Sometimes they may be received without appreciation. Shame on the congregation. Sometimes, in fact, they likely disappoint the God who calls us to our task. May he forgive us. But sermons today are what they have always been, and they do what they have always done. They are the treasure of God committed to an earthen vessel which is poured out by the Holy Spirit for the worshiping congregation gathered around the Word of God with the expectation of faith that the Lord will produce the results that he has designed."

Friday, October 14, 2005

strong delusion

Here's a passage to ponder:

"The coming of the lawless one is by the activity of Satan with all power and false signs and wonders, and with all wicked deception for those who are perishing, because they refused to love the truth and so be saved. Therefore God sends them a strong delusion, so that they may believe what is false, in order that all may be condemned who did not believe the truth but had pleasure in unrighteousness." 2 Thess 2:9-12

Let's break this down:

1. people (who are perishing already) are deceived by Satan

2. they are deceived because they refuse the truth (of the gospel)

3. Therefore, God sends them a strong delusion to believe that deception more stongly

4. in order to condemn them.

If you find this passage disturbing and at this moment are trying to think of ways to explain how God doesn't violate man's "free will", then deep down are you not taking man's depravity seriously?

"None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God."

Non-Calvinists say they believe man is a sinner, but have a hard time admitting the fact that we are guilty because of Adam's sin - NOT because we've rejected Jesus - and are in a state of condemnation from the point of conception. "I was sinful from my mother's womb". The assumption that our guiltiness has something to do with the decision to trust Jesus or not is simply unbiblical. If that were the case, churches should NEVER send out missionaries for fear of someone rejecting Christ and thereby condeming themselves. You see how strange this is?

We don't go to hell because we reject Jesus, we go to hell because we are born "in Adam" and we need God to put us "in Christ". People's rejection of Jesus is the RESULT not the cause of our state of depravity, the "curse" as the bible calls it. All because of Adam. Non-Calvinists make their starting point with us. We must make the starting point Adam.

Adam's Fall and Mine by R.C. Sproul

Thursday, October 13, 2005

grace > sin

Grace Greater Than Our Sin

Marvelous grace of our loving Lord,
Grace that exceeds our sin and our guilt!
Yonder on Calvary’s mount outpoured,
There where the blood of the Lamb was spilled.

Grace, grace, God’s grace,
Grace that will pardon and cleanse within;
Grace, grace, God’s grace,
Grace that is greater than all our sin.

Sin and despair, like the sea waves cold,
Threaten the soul with infinite loss;
Grace that is greater, yes, grace untold,
Points to the refuge, the mighty cross.

Dark is the stain that we cannot hide.
What can we do to wash it away?
Look! There is flowing a crimson tide,
Brighter than snow you may be today.

Marvelous, infinite, matchless grace,
Freely bestowed on all who believe!
You that are longing to see His face,
Will you this moment His grace receive?

words by Julia H. Johnston, 1911

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

our rendezvous with Jesus

God directs us to encourage other believers. Here's a specific bit of future encouragement that I'm passing on:

"For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep. or this we declare to you by a word from the Lord, that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will not precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord. Therefore encourage one another with these words." - 1 Thes 4:14-18 ESV

I was struck with the phrase, "and so we will always be with the Lord." How glorious will that be to always be in His presence! Chew on that today.

Read more: The Hope of Exiles on Earth - John Piper

Tuesday, October 11, 2005


"...Jesus who delivers us from the wrath to come." - 1 Thess 1:10b ESV

I read this today and had a thought:

1. There is wrath to come - judgement day at the end of the age, and
2. There has already been a day of wrath - the Father's wrath for the sins of the elect poured out on Jesus on the cross.

God will never leave any sin undealt with! Either He has poured it out on Christ or will pour it out on individual people at judgement day. In this universe, no sin will ever go unpunished. What an awesome thought.

Hell by Thomas Boston

"Therefore let us be grateful for receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, and thus let us offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe, for our God is a consuming fire." - Hebrews 12:28,29 ESV

Monday, October 10, 2005

assurance, the "p" in tulip

"I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand." - John 10:28

If our religion be of our own getting or making, it will perish; and the sooner it goes, the better; but if our religion is a matter of God's giving, we know that He shall never take back what He gives, and that, if He has commenced to work in us by His grace, He will never leave it unfinished.
- C.H. Spurgeon

For non-reformed theologies..."at the end of the day, the security of the believer finally rests with the believer. For those in the opposite camp [Reformed], the security of the believer finally rests with God -- and that, I suggest, rightly taught, draws the believer back to God himself, to trust in God, to a renewed faith that is of a piece with trusting him in the first place."
- D.A. Carson

Can a Christian Lose His or Her Salvation? by Greg Johnson

Thursday, October 06, 2005

fairy tales

"He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins." - Colossians 1:13,14

My kids love fairy tales. They love the story of the helpless princess being rescued from the evil queen/king/witch by the handsom prince. And then? They are married of course, and live happily ever after. It's a simple story, but one my kids never get tired of. Me either.

That's Christianity. Jesus has rescued His church - His bride - from the evil clutches of Satan and brought her into a new kingdom, the kingdom of His father, to live (you guessed it) happily ever after.

Let that sink in. Next time you read a fairy tale to children - or yourself - look for those wonderful similiarities.

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

the church is Israel?

The popular system of biblical interpretation in the church today is Dispensationalism, specifically Premillenial Pre-Tribulation theology. Popularized by Hal Lindsey in his 1970 book, Late Great Planet Earth (15 million copies sold), and recently with the Left Behind series by Tim F. LaHaye and Jerry B. Jenkins (also 15 million sold). I grew up with Dispensationalism and was never aware of any other view... until I discovered Reformed theology (trumpet sounds). Here's a brief summary of both systems:

Dispensationalism is a system of biblical interpretation formalized in the nineteenth century by John Nelson Darby and later popularized by the publishing of the study Bible of C. I. Scofield and the establishment of Dallas Theological Seminary by Lewis Sperry Chafer. It is the foundation of what is known in eschatological studies as "pre-tribulational premillenialism" and involves the division of history into (usually) seven distinct periods of time known as "dispensations". Twentieth century writers such as John Walvoord, Dwight Pentecost, and Charles Ryrie brought the doctrines of Dispensationalism into mainstream scholarship, which are often summarized by Ryrie's famous "sine qua non", i.e., his statement of the three primary tenets of the system. These are: 1) a clear distinction between Israel and the Church, 2) literal interpretation of Scripture, and 3) the glory of God as the primary goal of history.

Unlike Dispensationalism, Reformed (Covenant) Theology considers the seed of Abraham, the Israelites, to be part of the body of Christ. The Church did not replace Israel but organically springs out of the same root. God, from eternity, had merely planned, in the fullness of time, to expand His purpose, through Christ, to include other nations as well. All the spiritual seed of Abraham, Jew or Gentile are now one in Christ. Gentiles are a wild olive, grafted in among the Jews, the natural branches. Jesus "has made the two one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility." Eph 2:12-14.

"This mystery is that through the gospel the Gentiles are heirs together with Israel, members together of one body, and sharers together in the promise in Christ Jesus. - Eph 3:6

Want to read more on this?'s section about Dispensationalism

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

our advocate

C.H. Spurgeon is one of my favorites. Here's today's morning devo:

"If any man sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous."
— 1 John 2:1

"If any man sin, we have an advocate." Yes, though we sin, we have Him still. John does not say, "If any man sin he has forfeited his advocate," but "we have an advocate," sinners though we are. All the sin that a believer ever did, or can be allowed to commit, cannot destroy his interest in the Lord Jesus Christ, as his advocate. The name here given to our Lord is suggestive. "Jesus." Ah! then He is an advocate such as we need, for Jesus is the name of one whose business and delight it is to save. "They shall call His name Jesus, for He shall save His people from their sins." His sweetest name implies His success. Next, it is "Jesus Christ"--Christos, the anointed. This shows His authority to plead. The Christ has a right to plead, for He is the Father's own appointed advocate and elected priest. If He were of our choosing He might fail, but if God hath laid help upon one that is mighty, we may safely lay our trouble where God has laid His help. He is Christ, and therefore authorized; He is Christ, and therefore qualified, for the anointing has fully fitted Him for His work. He can plead so as to move the heart of God and prevail. What words of tenderness, what sentences of persuasion will the anointed use when He stands up to plead for me! One more letter of His name remains, "Jesus Christ the righteous." This is not only His character BUT His plea. It is His character, and if the Righteous One be my advocate, then my cause is good, or He would not have espoused it. It is His plea, for He meets the charge of unrighteousness against me by the plea that He is righteous. He declares Himself my substitute and puts His obedience to my account. My soul, thou hast a friend well fitted to be thine advocate, He cannot but succeed; leave thyself entirely in His hands.

Monday, October 03, 2005

more on law & gospel

Most of what I want to say others can say better. Read this great excerpt from Modern Reformation:

When God gives orders and tells us what will happen if we fail to obey those orders perfectly, that is in the category of what the reformers, following the biblical text, called law. When God promises freely, providing for us because of Christ's righteousness the status he demands of us, this is in the category of gospel. It is good news from start to finish. The Bible includes both, and the reformers were agreed that the Scriptures taught clearly that the law, whether Old or New Testament commands, was not eliminated for the believer (those from a Dispensational background may notice a difference here). Nevertheless, they insisted that nothing in this category of law could be a means of justification or acceptance before a holy God ... The law comes, not to reform the sinner nor to show him or her the "narrow way" to life, but to crush the sinner's hopes of escaping God's wrath through personal effort or even cooperation. All of our righteousness must come from someone else-someone who has fulfilled the law's demands. Only after we have been stripped of our "filthy rags" of righteousness (Isa. 64:6)- our fig leaves through which we try in vain to hide our guilt and shame-can we be clothed with Christ's righteousness. First comes the law to proclaim judgment and death, then the gospel to proclaim justification and life. One of the clearest presentations of this motif is found in Paul's Epistle to the Galatians. In the sixteenth century, the issue of law and grace was more clearly dealt with than at almost any other time since the apostles.
- Modern Reformation (May/June 2003: "Good News: The Gospel for Christians")