Saturday, October 31, 2009

Happy Reformationstag!

Hey at least they still care in Deutschland. Unfortunately, I am willing to bet that most American protestants either don't even know or care that October 31st is the day marking the nailing of the 95 theses to the Castle Kirche in Wittenberg in the year of our Lord 1517 by a Augustinian monk named Martin Luther, thus unwittingly sparking the protestant reformation. Rather than giving the usual finger wagging screed as to the pagan nature of Halloween and why Christians should be non-participants in the worldly "holliday", (If you don't already have this conviction no writing of mine will help no doubt) I shall go into a description of a day worthy of commemoration by believers.

In 1517 Martin Luther took particular umbrige with the sale of indulgences by the Roman Church, seeing the sale of indulgences as giving false assurance to the purchasers while satisfying the avarice of the gluttons in the hierarchy of the Catholic Church. Indulgences were basically get out of purgatory for a price certificates. Disgusted with such a patently repugnant appeal to the most superstitious vices in man, Luther penned the 95 theses, which in modern parlance could be seen as 95 sentences/reasons why the sale of indulgences is wrong.

Some of the most stinging theses' read as follow:

"32. They will be condemned eternally, together with their teachers, who believe themselves sure of their salvation because they have letters of pardon."

"36. Every truly repentant Christian has a right to full remission of penalty and guilt, even without letters of pardon."

"52. The assurance of salvation by letters of pardon is vain, even though the commissary, nay, even though the pope himself, were to stake his soul upon it."

"62. The true treasure of the Church is the Most Holy Gospel of the glory and the grace of God.

63. But this treasure is naturally most odious, for it makes the first to be last.

64. On the other hand, the treasure of indulgences is naturally most acceptable, for it makes the last to be first."

"75. To think the papal pardons so great that they could absolve a man even if he had committed an impossible sin and violated the Mother of God -- this is madness."

(Note on 75, it was reported that Tetzel the indulgence seller went this far in attempting to display the efficacious nature of indulgences, also note Luther is still rather Catholic in his view of Mary)

"76. We say, on the contrary, that the papal pardons are not able to remove the very least of venial sins, so far as its guilt is concerned.

77. It is said that even St. Peter, if he were now Pope, could not bestow greater graces; this is blasphemy against St. Peter and against the pope."

"79. To say that the cross, emblazoned with the papal arms, which is set up [by the preachers of indulgences], is of equal worth with the Cross of Christ, is blasphemy."

"82. To wit: -- "Why does not the pope empty purgatory, for the sake of holy love and of the dire need of the souls that are there, if he redeems an infinite number of souls for the sake of miserable money with which to build a Church? The former reasons would be most just; the
latter is most trivial."

"86. Again: -- "Why does not the pope, whose wealth is to-day greater than the riches of the richest, build just this one church of St. Peter with his own money, rather than with the money of poor believers?"

"88. Again: -- "What greater blessing could come to the Church than if the pope were to do a hundred times a day what he now does once, and bestow on every believer these remissions and participations?"

We can see from these statements the seed of protestantism. Modern protestant readers may be surprised at how Catholic this document still is considering it is the spark that flamed into the protestant reformation. However, Luther is not far from stabbing right into the heart of that beast of Romanism. Forgiveness of sin lay not in some sort of incantation from the bowels of Rome in the form of an indulgence certificate, rather, it lay in the posture of the individual before Christ, namely faith laden repentance.

This is indeed the heart of the Roman antichrist system, the Church, priests, and Pope have replaced Christ. Rome has claimed powers to herself that reside in Christ and His gospel alone, and the benefits of these blessing are delivered to the individual by faith alone in Christ alone. That last sentence is the deathblow to Romanism, there is no need of priest or Pope as these offices usurp Christ.

It must also be noted that Luther was not the first to take issue with the blasphemous Roman hegemony on salvation, others like John Wycliffe, and Jon Huss also in studying the scripture saw the unbiblical nature of the Roman system. The latter, Jon Huss, went to the stake for this truth, that man only needs Jesus Christ. Luther simply was by providence the right man at the right time of history, the advent of the printing press spread Luther's writings throughout Germany, winning him and the christian gospel many a friend as well as enemies.

Luther spent much of his life under the threat of execution from Rome. The famous climax that has been often been similarly repeated by saints throughout history was Luther's stance before the Diet of Worms. Many a man of God has faced a similar ultimatum, and like Luther many have stood unwavering before devils. This Diet Luther faced was intended to be a kangaroo trial in which a conviction would be found and Luther executed. Luther wrote of his going to Worms:

"The papists do not desire my coming to Worms, but my condemnation and my death. It matters not. Pray not for me, but for the word of God. . . . Christ will give me His Spirit to overcome these ministers of error. I despise them during my life; I shall triumph over them by my death. They are busy at Worms about compelling me to retract; and this shall be my retraction: I said formerly that the pope was Christ's vicar; now I assert that he is our Lord's adversary, and the devil's apostle."

Luther was ready to die for what he knew to be the truth and fully expected such to be his end at Worms. Well might modern Christians follow such examples, rather than conceding to the cries of "Intolerance!" or "Narrow Minded", as narrow is the way that leads to life and oh how few are there that find it and oh how many trod the well worn way toward destruction bidding us join them. Luther at Worms put his life into the hands of the enemies of the gospel as he refused to recant and rather stated in contra mundum fashion:

""Since your Imperial Majesty and Lordships demand a simple answer I will do so without horns or teeth as follows[140]: Unless I am convicted by the testimony of Scripture (Jh. 8:9) or by evident reason - for I trust neither in popes nor in councils alone, since it is obvious that they have often erred (Num.15:22; Ps. 119:110; Isa.28:7; 1Tim.6: 20,21) and contradicted themselves -

I am convicted by the Scripture which I have mentioned and my conscience is captive by the Word of God (2.Cor. 4:2). Therefore I cannot and will not recant, since it is difficult, unprofitable and dangerous indeed to do anything against one's conscience, (Mt. 25:30). God help me. Amen." (Isa. 50:9)"

It is by no means my intention to elevate a man named Martin Luther to a level of undue respect as Luther was a man, he had his faults, many of them great. What I wish to highlight is a man of conviction, Luther was no Mr. Looks Both Ways as Bunyan described, he was a man captivated by the saving gospel of Jesus Christ, it was the blessings conveyed upon him from this Galilean that made him so rich as to look upon the pope as a poor man indeed.

Oh that we would do as the writer of Hebrews exhorts us "Remember your leaders, those who spoke to you the word of God. Consider the outcome of their way of life, and imitate their faith." (Heb 13:7) What is it worth imitating in Luther? I would say a being so overjoyed with the blessings of Christ and the age to come that we count this age as vanity in comparison. I believe that to be the essence of one whose life is no longer his own.

What then are we today to make of the reformation, is it just some trinket of antiquity from 500 years ago that we dust off and say "Boy that was a neat time, that Luther sure was something! Oh to live in such times!"? No, that in reality is to be captivated by our own age and fail to see the continuity between the reformation and today.
(Pictured is Lucas Cranach's "Saxon Princess" many believe this to be a portrait of Luther's daughter Magdalena, after whom we named our 2nd daughter)
What then is the inheritance which we have reaped from the reformation? Here are but a few:

I. Freedom of Worship

The reformation paved the way for the freedom of the individual to worship as dictates his conscience. This in most cases came at the cost of the blood of many men of whom the world was not worthy, whether it was the French Calvinists butchered in France, the Anabaptists, the Scottish Covenanters, or the Puritan non-conformists, this gave rise to the search for a land where individuals could worship freely without a state church. Thus, America became the bastion of religious freedom, imperfect as it was.

Prior to this time the Roman Church had the imperial hegemony on worship, their inquisitors would, like the East German Stasi, seek out violators to persecute mercilessly. The Pope had kings march to Rome barefoot in the snow to plead for their kingdoms back after the Pope had imposed the interdict on said kings. All were required to bow before Rome.

II. Individual Freedom

From the reformation the individual regained importance, as Christ died for individuals, and individuals came to Christ by faith. This developed into the social contract theories of government as no individual had any more inherent value than another, which resulted in the Lex Rex concept or law as king.

America's declaration of independence traces its foundation directly back to these principals, and the checks and balances system we once enjoyed was based upon the Calvinistic principal of total depravity, as no man or men should be trusted with unbridled power as all men are corrupt. See America's bill of rights as an example of how government is to be restrained.

III. Truths To Treasure

Lastly, I want to highlight that the protestant reformation has blessed the church of Christ with an inheritance of truth. Paul urged Timothy to "guard the deposit" not once but twice in separate epistles (1 Tim 6:20, 2 Tim 1:14). Well might we take heed to the importance of doctrine in an age where the mere word "doctrine" provokes sneers and disapproval not only in the world but much of the visible church.

By in large evangelicalism has fallen prey to a sort of anti-intellectualism, as though our inward feelings, intuitions, and impulses were to be given credence. We have fallen prey to the worldly messages of "Have your best life now" or a crass Jesus in a bottle theology where Jesus just wants to give us all our hearts desire. We have lost sight of what Paul saw as important, namely right doctrine.

By bathing ourselves in the lives and writings of those who have gone before us we surround ourselves with a "great cloud of witnesses" (Heb 12:1) and afford ourselves with they eyes of foreigners to our age allowing us to see a bit clearer. We need to gaze upon the redwood trees of Luther, Calvin, Bunyan, and Edwards, as frankly, in comparison we live in an age surrounded by cattails and superficiality.

The deposit the reformation has left us with can by summed up in the 5 Solas which are as follows:

Sola Gratia-

By grace alone are we saved, man can do nothing to make himself right with God, God must first act to awaken those at enmity with God (Rom 8:7) who are dead in sin (Eph 2:1-8).

Sola Fide-

By faith alone in Christ, which is the result of grace working in the heart of the sinner, is a sinner saved. No works to commend the sinner to God. (Rom 3:28)

Sola Christus-

By Christ alone, the work and person of Christ alone is what can save the sinner. (John 3:36)

Sola Scriptura-

Scripture alone, the inspired word of God in the scripture is the sole and final authority in all matters of doctrine and life. (2 Tim 3:16-17)

Sola Deo Gloria-

To the glory of God alone, the goal of all of history and creation is to glorify God. (Isa 24:15) Therefore we also so ought to conduct our lives with this singular aim in mind(1 Cor 10:31).

Rome has no problem with these 5 principals, it is the sola aspect that destroys Rome's superstitious hegemony, as it strips her of the stolen attributes she has self attributed and puts them back where they belong.

May we guard and treasure these truths as we treasure the Truth Giver (we are commanded to do so), and may we apply them to our lives, with the end of the glory of God as our chief aim.

Happy reformation day!

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