Archive | Reformation

The Great Reformation in a Nutshell

There used to be a time when your loyalty to the Protestant cause was judged by how much you hated Catholics. But today, with all the ecumenical dialogue, the Manhattan Declarations, the ECT council, and the postmodern virtue of tolerance, people are much more willing to let bygones be bygones. “Maybe we overreacted” is the thought of many.

To the Catholics, Protestants are no longer anathema (which is pretty bad), but are “separated brethren” (which is not so bad).

Attitudes are changing, we could argue, for the better. But have the issues changed?

Four hundred years ago we had a “situation” in the church. We call it the “Great Reformation.” Catholics understand it as yet another rebellious schism. The first major division in the Christian church happened in 1054 when the Eastern church got fed up with the Pope and thumbed its nose at him (or something like that). The Great Reformation was the second. For Protestants, this was not only a reforming of the church, but a reclaiming of the Gospel, which had been obscured and overshadowed by the institutionalized church of the day.

While there were and are a lot of issues that divide Roman Catholics and Protestants, there are two which overshadow the rest: authority and justification. The issue of authority has been called the “formal” cause of the Reformation, while the issue of justification was the “material” cause. In this brief post I would like to focus on these two issues.

1. Authority: Where do we go for truth?

To the institutionalized church of the day (now known as the Roman Catholic Church), both Scripture (written tradition) and Tradition (unwritten tradition – notice the capital “T”) represented the one ”deposit of faith” that was handed down from the Apostles. The church, as represented by the Pope and the congregation of bishops, protected and guided by the Holy Spirit, could interpret both infallibly. Think of a three-legged stool. These three entities (Scripture, Tradition, and the Church) support the stool of ultimate authority for the church.

To the Protestants, this represented an abuse of authority. While the institutionalized church had authority, it did not have ultimate authority. While tradition (notice the lower case “t”) was very important and to be respected, it did not share equal authority with Scripture; rather, it served Scripture. Everything, including unwritten tradition, the councils, and the Pope, had to be tested by and submit to Scripture. Protestants repositioned both the church and tradition underneath Scripture. Continue Reading →

Why Do I Reject the Apocrypha?

It may surprise you to know that I don’t have much of a problem with the Apocrypha. I enjoy reading them. As well, as a Protestant, accepting or rejecting them does not really affect my standing in my tradition (nor should it). Granted, I don’t know of any magisterial Protestant churches which have ever accepted them as canonical; if there is one, accepting the Apocrypha would not make them non-Protestant, and it certainly would not make them Roman Catholic or Eastern Orthodox. My point is that I have never felt pressure to fall in line with the Protestant tradition of rejecting them outright. I have often been intrigued by their acceptance among other Christ-fearing traditions. However, while I don’t have much of a problem with the Apocrypha, I do agree with my Protestant tradition and reject them as being a part of the Scripture.

It is hard to define the Apocrypha. Sometimes they are termed “Deuterocanonical” books. This is a more politically correct or theologically neutral way to refer to them coined by Sixtus of Siena, the Jewish convert to Catholicism, in 1566. This semantic distinction has a history and rationale behind it that I will not have time to get into. I will just use the terms Apocrypha and Deuterocanonical books interchangeably.
It is interesting to note, too, that different Christian traditions have different Apocrypha. We can be safe for the moment and say that we are discussing the books accepted into the Bible by Roman Catholics but rejected by Protestants. In the Catholic Bible, the Apocrypha comprise seven unique books (or six, if Baruch is combined with Jeremiah), plus additions to two other books:

Tobit
Judith
Additions to Esther
Wisdom (or Wisdom of Solomon)
Sirach or Ecclesiasticus (or Wisdom of Jesus ben Sira)
Baruch
Additions to Daniel
1 Maccabees
2 Maccabees

These works are generally believed to have been originally written in Greek (sometimes called the “Greek Canon”) and to have been composed between the writing of the Old Testament and the New Testament.

Protestants wrongly assume that these works are only accepted due to the institutionalized church’s reaction to the Protestant Reformers, just as Roman Catholics wrongly assume that they were only rejected due to the Reformation. The issues are more complex than any of the usual sound-bite explanations would lead us to assume. There are very good reasons to accept the Deuterocanonical books and there are very good reasons to reject them. Let me start with a brief defense of their acceptance.

Arguments for their inclusion: Continue Reading →

Seven Historical Events that Prepared the Way for the Reformation

It is impossible to be certain about why the Reformation happened when it did. God’s providence is filled with mysterious movements. One cannot just “map” God. However, the Great Reformation of the 16th century was ripe for bringing about extraordinary reform and rediscovery of the fullness of the Gospel. Here are seven historical events which we believe facilitated the change.

1. The Christian Crusades:

From the eleventh through the thirteenth centuries, the campaigns to free Jerusalem and halt Muslim expansion into the West exhausted Westerners of their hope and reliance on the Papacy to wield the sword of justice. While the first crusade carried much of the hope that Leo I brought to the West when he held off Attila the Hun, the crusades that followed gave people second thoughts about God’s hand behind the Papacy. During the crusades, the plenary indulgence was introduced by Pope Urban II as a full remission of temporary punishment for sins, if one became a crusader. This “replaced” the Gospel and the sacrifice of Christ with a definitive work that man could do.

Free Video – Session 1 from the Church History Boot Camp

Continue Reading →

Preaching Morality vs. Preaching Christ

I want you to do something strange. Something we usually don’t do in 21st century American Christianity. Are you ready for it? Here it goes, try to remember all the details of the last sermon you heard! I know, Sunday is over, it’s time for the real world. But give yourself a few moments to get back to your last sermon.

Do you remember how the pastor got started? If you’re the pastor, do you remember how you got started? (I’ve been there too if you’re struggling) Many times an introduction will include a personal story, a connection to the topic, a “hook” to get everyone to realize this sermon is worth listening to and it’s for me.

Most preachers will then enter into the body of their sermon. This can be an exposition of a passage of Scripture, or an exposition of a certain biblical topic. Most sermons in the “body” section will usually have a few main points. Can you remember all of them? Can you remember at least one of the points? The last sermon I heard was focused on finances, certainly a topic discussed frequently by Jesus. Have you recalled the last sermon? It’s cheating if you say, “The sermon was on the book of Mark.” Come on, you gotta try harder.

I’m going somewhere with this, hang with me, your memory of the last sermon could make a drastic impact on your life and the life of your church for generations. I know, a big promise, let’s see if I deliver.

Now, how did the sermon end? In preaching lingo this is referred to as “bringing it home” and/or “landing the plane”. Many times this will be a time when people are most challenged to live out the main points of the sermon. The pastor may provide a creative way for you to remember and live out the sermon. In many churches, also, the glorious Gospel will be proclaimed. People will be told of their need for Jesus and be given an opportunity to put their trust in Jesus as their Savior. Do you remember how the last sermon ended?

Ok, here is how your memory of the last sermon could make a drastic impact on your life and the life of your church for generations. One more question, take a step back from the trees and look at the forest. Was the main focus of the sermon morality or the person of Jesus? Think it through, was the pastor focusing on: getting you out of debt; making you more generous, improving your marriage; reducing your anxiety; increasing your joy; getting you to be more involved? Or was the sermon about Jesus?

Here’s a getting-out-of-debt sermon outline Preaching Morality:

I’ve been in debt and it stinks. So many of us are in debt, listen to these statistics about debt. Here is what we have learned about the stress debt places on our lives. Do you want that stress? Let’s look what the Bible says about debt. God doesn’t like debt so we need to get out of it. Let me help you with some time-tested principles. Here are 3 main points about getting out of debt. Dave Ramsey has some great ways to help us get out of debt. Let’s pray for Jesus to help us get out of debt. If you don’t know Jesus as your Savior, please trust Him today.

In contrast, here’s a getting-out-of-debt sermon outline Preaching Christ:
Continue Reading →

The Rise of the Roman Catholic Church in a Nutshell

Here is what I taught last Tuesday at the Credo House.

In order to be a good Protestant, you must be a good anti-Catholic. I am not Catholic. I am Protestant. There are many doctrines of the Roman Catholic church that I am against, but there are many things that I appreciate about them.

Both Protestants and Roman Catholics have our lineage in the catholic church. Yes, I just said that. I am catholic, but not Roman Catholic. I’ve got some info for you: If you are a Christian, you are catholic too. This differentiation between catholic and Roman Catholic is part of a solid Protestant polemic against Roman Catholicism. It normally drives Roman Catholic apologists crazy, since it undermines their belief that they are the one true church. But it is true; Protestants are catholic Christians, but not Roman Catholic Christians. The word “catholic” was used very early to describe the church. It simply meant “universal,” describing the church’s universality. The church is not exclusive to Gentiles, Jews, Greeks, Romans, those in the East, or those in the West. The church that Christ built is universal, or “catholic.”

However, there was an institutional arm of the catholic church that eventually became known as the Roman Catholic church, complete with its own hierarchy, doctrines, and liturgical distinctives. The type of institutionalization that eventually characterized the Roman Catholic church is one of the major issues the Protestants battled against, believing that it had corrupted the catholic church to the core, even obscuring the Gospel itself. We now call it the Roman Catholic church due to its identification with the “seat of Rome.” This seat, according to the Roman Catholics, is the perpetual seat of ultimate authority that Peter passed on. It is known today as the papacy, which is the office of the Pope. The Pope sits in the seat of Rome, having the infallible authority to guide and direct the church in matters of faith and practice. He, along with the magisterium, form the institution and can, through “ordinary” or “extraordinary” means, intervene in church life and doctrine in a binding way. If a heresy arises in the church, the institution can condemn it, thus securing the faith of the church. Intervention rarely takes place (though this is debated), but this infallible safeguard  can theoretically step in at any time and protect the church from corruption.

How did this come into being? Protestants are right to point out that this institution is not biblical. If this is the truth, and this system is not biblical, how did such an institution come into being?

The answer is very complex, but let me attempt to give you a bird’s eye view by means of some charts!

Apostolic Succession

First, let’s get introduced to a concept called “apostolic succession.” This is not simply a Roman Catholic concept. As we will see, in its uncorrupted and ideal state, apostolic succession is very important for the church, Roman Catholic or not. Notice the chart. It starts with Jesus. Jesus handed his teaching over to twelve Apostles. The Apostles were authorities in the early church. When they spoke, people listened. Why? Because they were trained by Christ. They were witnesses of his death, burial, and resurrection. They carried unique authority in the establishment of the church. Continue Reading →

Top Ten Theologians: #2 – Martin Luther

To have an understanding of Martin Luther it’s important to have a working knowledge of his multi-faceted world.

Luther’s World

Gutenberg Printing Press

It’s hard for us to imagine life without mass produced books.  Throughout most of humankind, however, every single book was hand copied.  I’ll say it again just in case it didn’t stick: before 1440, every book on the planet was hand produced.

In 1440, Johannes Gutenberg invented the printing press.  The invention was so earth shaking it led Time Magazine to rank it as the most important invention of the last 1,000 years.  Four hundred years before Gutenberg, a man from China named Bi Sheng came up with the concept of moveable type.  Bi Sheng’s clay letters were fragile and not able to handle widespread use.

Gutenberg came up with many improvements to make mass-produced books a reality. First, he came up with a process for making durable metallic moveable type.  Second, he used an ink easy enough to come by and economical enough for widespread usage. Third, he used a wooden printing press similar to agricultural screw presses of the day. Gutenberg engineered these elements together into a practical system for the mass production of printed books that were economically viable for printers and readers alike.1

The Gutenberg press allowed ideas to spread at a pace and a breadth previously unknown to humankind.  Living through the development of the Internet can help us appreciate the invention of Gutenberg’s Printing Press. What the Internet did to open up the spread of information in our day, the printing press did for the 15th century and beyond.

Without the printing press we may have never known Martin Luther.

St. Peters Basilica

In 1506, construction began on St. Peters Basilica. Construction of the immense church in Rome would end up costing the equivalent of more than $2 billion dollars.  The Basilica has the largest interior of any Christian church in the world.  Construction would be tricky. Why?

It was believed to be a desecration for a church to not continually stand in Rome. How can you build a new church on the exact same location without first tearing down the old building?  The solution was creative.

St. Peters is so colossal it was built surrounding the previous church.  The entire old church, still standing, fit inside the main sanctuary of the new St. Peters. Once St. Peters was finished the older church was dismantled and carried out the front door!

How does the church of the day afford such opulent spending?  The creative solution came from the selling of indulgences.  An indulgence was a certificate providing someone a speedy trip through Purgatory.  The sale of Indulgences would come from a conversation like this:

“Do you want your grandma to suffer less and make it to heaven?  The Pope can help you out if you pay up.  Haven’t you heard it said, “When a coin in the coffer rings, a soul from Purgatory springs”?  Giving us $100 will help your grandmother a little bit: $1,000 will more quickly ease her suffering.  Do you love your church?  Do you love your grandmother?  Help us help you. You are one Indulgence away from the Pope easing the burden of your loved one.”

The Pope sent priests like Johann Tetzel throughout the western world selling indulgences.  Was this a good way to finance the church of the day?  Martin Luther had a few things to say (95 to be precise) about the sale of Indulgences.

Continue Reading →

Top Ten Theologians: #3 – John Calvin

Wow, we’ve now arrived to the top three in our Top Ten Theologians series.  Whether you consider yourself a 5-point Calvinist, 4-point Calvinist, Arminian or something else; John Calvin should be a hero in your life.  In order to appreciate Calvin we need to have a working knowledge of his world.

Calvin’s World

A Post-Reformation World

The world was forever changed on October 31st, 1517AD.  While John Calvin was only 8 years old, a 33 year old German priest posted 95 grievances he had with his church. No human being could have anticipated the actions stemming from one monk, Martin Luther, who wanted to reform his church.

All people will agree the 15th century church needed reformation.  The church of the day started to contradict itself in many areas.  A crack had been developing for quite some time.

Martin Luther was a brilliant troubled man.  He excelled scholastically but found no relief for his soul.  Much like Bunyan’s character “Christian” in Pilgrim’s Progress, Luther had a burden of sin he couldn’t unload.  Getting rid of his burden became the occupying passion of his life.

Luther tried over and over to attain righteousness.  There were many religious ways in the 15th century to supposedly attain righteousness from sin.  Luther tried them all to no avail.  He eventually discovered how to be righteous.  Only one way could remove his burden of sin.  Righteousness was not attained.  It could not be attained.  It only came as a gift through faith in Christ.  Luther was now a free man.

The institutionalized church made a drastic error one day when they sent a guy to raise money from Luther’s congregation.  They were told money given would quicken the time their dead relatives would spend in the pain of Purgatory.  Do you want your grandma in heaven?  Give me $1,000.  If you give me just $100 it will help, but if you want your grandma in heaven faster give me $1,000.  The sale of these indulgences absolutely infuriated Luther.  His congregation couldn’t afford what they gave.  Their hearts were in the right place, but they were simply led astray.  Luther knew their money made no difference.  Luther’s 95 theses on the door of the Wittenberg castle were 95 reasons why the sale of indulgences was an idiotic scheme from a church in dire need of reform.

The twenty years following October 31st, 1517 were unexpected by all.  It was as if Luther’s 95 theses was a spark which set the world on fire. 

Luther’s fear of God and of unwarranted innovation were such that he had hesitated to take the concrete steps that would follow from his doctrine.1  With Luther hidden in a castle to prevent his death by the church, Luther’s thoughts were quickly taken to an extreme by others.  In 1524, a peasant rebellion broke out in Germany under the name of Luther and the Reformation.   The peasants wanted religious reform, but they equally sought economic reform.  The motives and actions of everyone involved cannot be known.  The aftermath is known.  More than 100,000 peasants were killed in Germany.

In 1527, right after these events, troops from Spain and Germany sacked the city of Rome.  Since many of these troops were part of the reformation the sack of Rome took on a heavily religious tone.  How would the church survive?  All over Europe reforms were taking place.  Some reforms took place inside of the church, many outside of the traditional church.  The Protestant church was being born.  What would the church look like?

Continue Reading →

Reformation in a Nutshell

There used to be a time when your loyalty to the Protestant cause was judged by how much you hated Catholics. But today, with all the ecumenical dialogue, the Manhattan Declaration, the ECT council, and the postmodern virtue of tolerance, people are much more willing to ignore the water under the bridge. “Maybe we overreacted” is the thought of many.

To Catholics, since Vatican II, Protestants are no longer anathema (which is a pretty bad thing to be), but are “separated brethren” (which is not so bad).

Attitudes are changing. One could could argue that attitudes are changing for the better. But have the issues changed? As we are on the eve of Reformation Day, let us remind ourselves what was at stake nearly 500 years ago, on October 31, 1517, when a young Augustinian monk named Martin Luther nailed a bold list of ninety-five complaints against the institutionalized church of the day that started what we know as the Great Reformation.

Here is the scoop: Five hundred years ago we had a “situation” in the church. We now call it the “Great Reformation,” but who knew at the time it would be a reformation of any kind, much less a “great” one? Catholics see it as yet another rebellious schism. The first major division in the Christian church happened in 1054, when the Eastern church got fed up with the Pope and thumbed its nose at him (or something like that). The Great Reformation was the second. For Protestants, this was not only a reforming of the church, but a reclaiming of the Gospel which had been obscured and overshadowed by the institutionalized church of the day.

While there were and are a lot of issues that divide Roman Catholics and Protestants, there are two which overshadow the rest and define the essence of the Great Refomation: authority and justification. The issue of authority has been called the “formal” cause of the Reformation while the issue of justification was the “material” cause. In this brief post I would like to focus on these two issues.

1. Authority: Where do we go for truth?

To the institutionalized church of the day (now known as the Roman Catholic Church), both Scripture and Tradition (notice the capital “T”) represented the one “deposit of faith” that was handed down from the Apostles (i.e. written and unwritten tradition). The church, as represented by the Pope and the congregation of bishops, could interpret both infallibly, being protected by the Holy Spirit. Think of a three-legged stool. All three (Scripture, Tradition, and the Church) serve as “legs” supporting the “stool” – the church’s ultimate authority. Continue Reading →