Luther: Bold Reformer – Reforming Our View of God

bold-reformer-steeleIn the sixteenth century, Luther identified the areas where the church needed to be reformed. The word reformation comes from the Latin verb, reformo, which means ‘to form again, mold anew, or revive.’ In our day, there is an ongoing need for the church to be remolded and revived. There is urgent need for reformation in the church of Jesus Christ.

…Three specific areas need reformation.

First, our view of God must be reformed. We live in a culture where the doctrine of God is constantly under fire. Open theists attack God’s comprehensive foreknowledge. Modalists deny the distinctions in the Trinity and denounce the Trinity. Inclusivists reject the exclusivity of Jesus Christ. And many evangelicals embrace a vision of God that is captivated by his love but casts aside any notion of wrath or eternal judgment.

…Four strategic initiatives will help ensure our view of God is always reforming:

  1. Recover Our Vision of God’s Greatness.
  2. Recover Our Thirst for God’s holiness.
  3. Recover Our Passion for God’s Glory.
  4. Recover Our Holy Fear of God

…One way we can recover our holy fear of God is by preaching and teaching about the wrath of God. Once again, Trueman casts light on this important subject. He highlights the reluctance of our culture to acknowledge that God is holy and deserves to be feared. He adds, “‘Luther’s doctrine of justification depends upon two things: the constant preaching of the wrath of God in the face of sin; and the realization that every Christian is at once righteous and a sinner, thus needing the hammer of the law to terrify and break the sinful conscience.’ [Quoted from Luther on the Christian Life by Carl R. Trueman]. Sadly, some Christians shy away from this God-centered counsel and minimize God’s wrath or even discard it all together. The net result is a devastating blow to the cause of Christ. To remove God’s wrath is tantamount to theological treason.

Our view of God must be reformed by recovering our vision of God’s greatness, recovering our thirst for God’s holiness, recovering our passion for God’s glory, and recovering our holy fear of God. A key aspect of this commitment is to warn sinners that God is angry with sin and will unleash his wrath on the unrepentant.

Read today in part of Chapter Two, “Bold Reformers Recognize the Need for Reform,” in Bold Reformer: Celebrating the Gospel-Centered Convictions of Martin Luther by David S. Steele (Kindle ed.).

Martin Luther Documentary Official Trailer – Plus a J. Wycliffe Notice

This newly released (April 2017) special documentary film commemorating the 500th anniversary of the Reformation focuses on the life and work of Martin Luther.

It is produced by Stephen McCaskell and makes use of prominent Reformed and Evangelical theologians and historians such as R. C. Sproul, Steven Lawson, Robert Godfrey, and Carl Trueman. The beautiful photography features the places and sites surrounding the life of Luther in Germany.

You may order a copy for viewing individually or with a group at http://www.lutherdocumentary.com or at FaithLife TV (part of Logos.com). This may be something our schools or Bible study groups would want to make use of. It is a recommended resource in this year in which we too celebrate God’s work in the great Reformation.

To view the trailer, click on the video below.

JWycliffe-BibleAnd in pre-Reformation church history news for this date, you should know that John Wycliffe, the “morning-star of the Reformation,” was condemned for his “heretical” views by the Council of Constance on May 4, 1415.

History Today carries the brief story, a part of which email notice I quote:

Meanwhile, in 1415, the Council had considered, and condemned as heretical, the teachings of the Prague priest Jan Hus and he was burned at the stake in Constance. It also condemned an Englishman whose writings had influenced Hus.

Fortunately for the Englishman, he was dead. Thought to have been born in the mid-1320s, John Wycliffe or Wyclif (there are several other spellings) was a Yorkshireman, who studied at Oxford University, became a fellow of Merton College and went on to win a brilliant reputation as an expert on theology. Ordained priest in 1351, he was vicar of Fylingham, a Lincolnshire village, from the 1360s, but spent most of his time at Oxford. In 1374 he was made rector of Lutterworth in Leicestershire.

By that time Wycliffe had developed startlingly unorthodox opinions, which were condemned by Pope Gregory VII in 1377. He had come to regard the scriptures as the only reliable guide to the truth about God and maintained that all Christians should rely on the Bible rather than the unreliable and frequently self-serving teachings of popes and clerics. He said that there was no scriptural justification for the papacy’s existence and attacked the riches and power that popes and the Church as a whole had acquired. He disapproved of clerical celibacy, pilgrimages, the selling of indulgences and praying to saints. He thought the monasteries were corrupt and the immorality with which many clerics often behaved invalidated the sacraments they conducted. If clerics were accused of crime, they should be tried in the ordinary lay courts, not in their special ecclesiastical tribunals.

For the rest of this story, visit the History Today link above.

Prayers of the Reformers (20) – Easter Praise and Petitions

prayersofreformers-manschreckFor this final Lord’s Day of April 2017 we post two more prayers from the book Prayers of the Reformers, compiled by Clyde Manschreck and published by Muhlenberg Press (1958).

Since we are still in the season of remembering our Lord’s resurrection from the dead in a special way, and since every Lord’s Day is a celebration of our risen Lord, we give you two Easter prayers today.

The first is an Easter prayer or hymn of Martin Luther (dated 1524) and is taken from the section “A Calendar of Prayer” (p.148). The German title is “Jesus Christus, unser Heiland, der den Tod” (Jesus Christ, our Savior, out from the Dead”).

Jesus Christ, who came to save,
And overcame the grave,
Is now arisen,
And sin hath bound in prison.
Have mercy, Lord.

Who withouten sin was found,
Bore our transgression’s wound.
He is our Saviour,
And brings us to God’s favor.
Have mercy, Lord.

Life and mercy, sin and death,
All in his hands he hath;
Them he’ll deliver,
Who trust in him forever.
Have mercy, Lord.

The second is an Easter prayer of Miles Coverdale, simply titled “Easter” (pp.148-49, slightly edited).

O God, strengthen Thou our weak faith in the resurrection of Thy beloved Son:

Illuminate our minds, and expel out of us all darkness, through the light and brightness of the glorious resurrection: O strengthen our weakness through the power of Thy Spirit. Raise us from the death of sin, in the same Spirit and power wherein Thou hast raised up Thy Son from the dead.

Comfort and strengthen us in adversity, and make us constant therein; that we may press through the same in steadfast hope to the joyful and blessed resurrection.

Kindle in us the fire of Thy godly love, that with earnest and fervent desire we may seek and find Thee through Christ…

Set up the spiritual kingdom of Christ Jesus in our hearts, that in us Thy name may be sanctified, and Thy will performed; that we may become Thy virtuous children, and never displease Thee, our gracious Father; that we, continuing still in Thy merciful covenant, do never fall away from the company and fellowship of Thee and Thy Son.

And whereas Thou hast given us such knowledge, grace, and understanding, grant that we may make the same known unto many, being always ready through charitable love to serve our brethren.

Amen.

 

The Presbyterian Philosopher: Gordon H. Clark (3)

presby-philosoper-clark-douma-2017Today we take another look at the new biography by Douglas J. Douma on Gordon H. Clark, titled The Presbyterian Philosopher: The Authorized Biography of Gordon H. Clark (Wipf & Stock, 2017. 292 pp.).

Last time we considered some of the material in chapter 1 (“The Presbyterian Heritage of Gordon Clark”); today let’s consider part of chapter 2 – “Gordon Clark’s Intellectual Influences.”

Here Douma addresses first of all Clark’s philosophical influences, showing that as both a student and a professor (at the University of Pennsylvania) Clark read the classic Greek philosophers, and was influenced especially by Plato and Plotinus. Concerning that latter, Douma writes that Clark rejected Plotinus’ view of God and taught a proper biblical view of “divine simplicity.”

But then Douma asserts that Clark’s largest influence came from the classic Christian and Reformed thinkers – Augustine, Calvin, and the Westminster standards. This is part of what he says in that connection:

Far above Plato or Plotinus, it was thinkers in the tradition of Reformed Christianity that influenced Clark’s life and thought. Like many theologians of the Reformation, Clark was in large part an Augustinian – a follower of St. Augustine (AD 354-430) – and as such, took many of his ideas directly from the ancient church father. Clark was reading Augustine in depth soon after he graduated from the University of Pennsylvania. In 1932, he sought the advice of Ned Stonehouse, professor of New Testament at Westminster Theological Seminary, on a question regarding Augustine, and in 1934, he wrote again to Stonehouse, mentioning that he was ‘slowly ploughing through 511 pages of double columns’ of Augustine’s City of God. According to Clark’s former student Dr. Kenneth Talbot, ‘Dr. Clark always spoke to me about his earliest influences of St. Augustine. He believed any theological or philosophical student needed to read Augustine’s writings.’ [pp.19-20]

Later in the chapter, Douma points to Calvin as a major influence on the thought of Clark:

…Yet among Reformation thinkers, it was not Martin Luther but John Calvin (1509-1564) who most influenced Clark. Clark praised Calvin as ‘Paul’s’ best interpreter.’ In Calvin, as exemplified in The Institutes, Clark found a thoroughly systematic and consistent Christianity which he embraced. Furthermore, Clark saw Calvin’s epistemology as akin to his own in that Calvin looked to Scripture as the sole source of knowledge [p.21].

Next time we will explore Clark’s association with J. Gresham Machen and his involvement in the Presbyterian conflict that led to the formation of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church (OPC).

Reformed Piety and Practice – R. Scott Clark

Today I read the third and final featured article on this month’s Tabletalk theme, which covers the 17th century of church history. This third article is “Reformed Piety and Practice,” written by Dr. R. Scott Clark, professor of church history and historical theology at Westminster Seminary (west).

In the article, Clark contrasts the prevailing view of the Christian life as taught by and found in the Roman Catholic Church during the Middle Ages (the monastic life) with the view that Martin Luther and the other Reformers rediscovered and taught during the Reformation period – true, biblical piety and practice.

Below I quote a few paragraphs from his profitable description of this proper view of the Christian life, significant too as we begin a new work week on the morrow. For the full article, visit the Ligonier link at the end.

As we celebrate the five-hundredth anniversary of the Reformation, much is rightly made about the recovery of the biblical doctrines of salvation sola gratia, sola fide. The recovery of a biblical piety and practice is less well known but no less essential to the Reformation. When Luther left the monastery, he left behind Antony’s assumptions about the world, grace, and the Christian life. He recovered the biblical and ancient (anti-Gnostic) Christian doctrine of the essential goodness of creation. He recovered the biblical and Christian doctrine that every Christian, not just the priest and the monk, has a vocation from God. According to Luther, we are not called to flee the material world. We are called to flee sin but to serve Christ in God’s world as sinners freely forgiven for Christ’s sake alone.

In that connection, he points to a number of specific “reformations” the Reformers brought to the Christian life, especially in the area of worship. That included the place of God’s written Word in the lives of God’s people.

Following Luther’s translation of the Greek New Testament into German, the Reformed theologian William Tyndale (c. 1494–1536), a martyr for the gospel, translated the New Testament into English in 1525. Ten years later, Robert Olivetan (1506–38) produced a French translation of Scripture. The Reformed devoted themselves to this work so that God’s people could have Scripture in their own language that they might read it, pray over it, and teach it to their children at home. These translations also enabled families to hold devotions during the week, and the metrical Psalters gave them God’s Word for singing at home.

And Clark closes with these pertinent thoughts:

When, in 1517, Luther complained about the abuse of indulgences, he began a movement back to Scripture and toward a biblical understanding of piety in which Christ’s grace received in public worship overflows into private prayer and family devotions. He repudiated the error that there are two classes of Christians, and he repudiated their spiritual exercises. The Reformed followed him back to Scripture. But history tells us that there is a monk within each of us, continually looking for new ways to corrupt Christian piety, seeking to draw our eyes away from Christ, His grace, and His piety.

Source: Reformed Piety and Practice by R. Scott Clark

Protestant Creeds and Confessions – Dr. Ryan Reeves

The April 2017 issue of Tabletalk covers the 17th century of church history, as noted at the beginning of this month. The second featured article, which I read yesterday, focuses on the many Protestant creeds and confessions that were composed during this period. Dr. Ryan Reeves (cf. information below) writes about the various creeds written within Lutheranism, the Reformed camp (including Dordt), and Presbyterianism (especially the Westminster Confessions).

There is plenty of edifying material here for you to read, if you wish to “brush up” on your confessional church history. I give you a portion of the section treating the Reformed creeds. Find the complete article at the link below.

REFORMED CONFESSIONS PROLIFERATE

The Reformed tradition was equally committed to the cause of confessionalization. Depending on how wide a net we cast, there were roughly forty to fifty Reformed (or Reformed-influenced) confessions written between 1520 and 1650—by far the most of any Protestant tradition. In 1523, almost immediately as the Reformed tradition began, Huldrych Zwingli drew up the Sixty-Seven Articles in order to provide an articulation of the points at stake in Zurich. This was followed by the Ten Theses of Berne (1528), the First Confession of Basel (1534), and several others as cities began to adopt the Reformed perspective. Others would follow in other countries, with the French Confession of Faith (1559) and the Scots Confession (1560).

The reason for so many Reformed confessions comes as a result of their context. The Reformed faith was always led by a band of brothers (despite the modern impression that John Calvin alone created Reformed orthodoxy). But the Reformed tradition was born in several cities and countries almost at once. From 1520 onward, city after city embraced the Reformation, often piecemeal, and quite a few even before reform came to Geneva. Therefore, there was no singular voice like Luther’s to shape the foundational documents of Reformed confessions.

As a result, church after church, community after community spent a sizable portion of their energy codifying a confession for their local churches. This is why most Reformed confessions identify with the city of their origin: this was the confession for this city, this church, not for all Reformed churches to embrace as one.

Still, as historians and theologians point out, there is a harmonization of these Reformed confessions that unites their diverse voices into a singular Reformed voice. Their differences are not so great that we cannot see their unity on issues of salvation, worship, and practice. Today, many churches recognize a basic harmony of what is called the Three Forms of Unity—the Belgic Confession, the Canons of Dort, and the Heidelberg Catechism—a unity not of authorship but of witness to Reformed principles.

This is not to say that all Reformed confessions are identical. As the Reformed faith spread from the Swiss cantons to Germany, France, the Netherlands, and then to England and Scotland, there were noticeable differences of emphasis or application. These confessional identities formed the initial steps that would give rise to the diversity of Reformed denominations and communities as we know it today.

Dr. Ryan Reeves is assistant professor of historical theology and assistant dean of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary in Jacksonville, Fla.

Source: Protestant Creeds and Confessions by Ryan Reeves

Let Hardship Grow Us – Martin Luther | Christian History Insititute

We have referenced these “Refo Thursday” posts from the Christian History Institute before here, and this is another one (dated March 16, 2017)as we consider the life and work of Martin Luther during this year of marking the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation.

 

This post focuses on a more personal and practical side to Luther’s life – and that of every believer: suffering and affliction. Below are some thoughts on this from Andrew Garnett and from Luther himself. Find the full post at the link below.

On November 3, 1515, Martin Luther began to lecture on Romans at the University of Wittenberg. Luther had been a professor at the university for just over three years, but the posting of his famous Ninety-five Theses was still two years in the future. After several weeks of lecturing, he reached Romans 5:3-4: “…we also boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope…” (NRSV).

As he prepared his lecture notes, Luther could see the positive impact of hardship which Paul had described; Luther saw how suffering could develop virtues in an individual’s life. However, Luther realized that the converse was also true: hardship could also have a corrupting effect on an individual. Perhaps he was thinking of his own life as an Augustinian friar. Luther was very unhappy while living the cloistered life of a friar, but his hardship did not lead to spiritual growth; on the contrary, Luther found that the more he fasted and prayed, the more miserable he became.

Source: Blog: Let Hardship Grow Us | Christian History Insititute

In connection with this post, the CHI also featured a video providing a tour of the Wartburg Castle where Luther was hid following the Diet of Worms in 1521.

And, on this PRC archives day, we may also add this cover image of Luther on an early issue of the Beacon Lights. Unfortunately, there were no articles on him or the Reformation in that issue, other than the words to his famous hymn (see cover below). But they made up for this in future issues. 🙂

BL--RWH-Luther_0001

M. Luther on Christ’s Sufferings

Luther-Christ-crucified

4. Fourthly, they meditate on the Passion of Christ aright, who so view Christ that they become terror-stricken in heart at the sight, and their conscience at once sinks in despair. This terror-stricken feeling should spring forth, so that you see the severe wrath and the unchangeable earnestness of God in regard to sin and sinners, in that he was unwilling that his only and dearly beloved Son should set sinners free unless he paid the costly ransom for them as is mentioned in Is 53:8: “For the transgression of my people was he stricken.” What happens to the sinner, when the dear child is thus stricken? An earnestness must be present that is inexpressible and unbearable, which a person so immeasurably great goes to meet, and suffers and dies for it; and if you reflect upon it real deeply, that God’s Son, the eternal wisdom of the Father, himself suffers, you will indeed be terror-stricken; and the more you reflect the deeper will be the impression.

5. Fifthly, that you deeply believe and never doubt the least, that you are the one who thus martyred Christ. For your sins most surely did it. Thus St. Peter struck and terrified the Jews as with a thunderbolt in Acts 2:36-37, when he spoke to them all in common: “Him have ye crucified,” so that three thousand were terror-stricken the same day and tremblingly cried to the apostles: “O beloved brethren what shall we do?” Therefore, when you view the nails piercing through his hands, firmly believe it is your work. Do you behold his crown of thorns, believe the thorns are your wicked thoughts, etc.

8. Eighthly, one must skilfully exercise himself in this point, for the benefit of Christ’s sufferings depends almost entirely upon man coming to a true knowledge of himself, and becoming terror-stricken and slain before himself. And where man does not come to this point, the sufferings of Christ have become of no true benefit to him. For the characteristic, natural work of Christ’s sufferings is that they make all men equal and alike, so that as Christ was horribly martyred as to body and soul in our sins, we must also like him be martyred in our consciences by our sins. This does not take place by means of many words, but by means of deep thoughts and a profound realization of our sins. Take an illustration: If an evil-doer were judged because he had slain the child of a prince or king, and you were in safety, and sang and played, as if you were entirely innocent, until one seized you in a horrible manner and convinced you that you had enabled the wicked person to do the act; behold, then you would be in the greatest straits, especially if your conscience also revolted against you. Thus much more anxious you should be, when you consider Christ’s sufferings. For the evil doers, the Jews, although they have now judged and banished God, they have still been the servants of your sins, and you are truly the one who strangled and crucified the Son of God through your sins, as has been said.

9. Ninthly, whoever perceives himself to be so hard and sterile that he is not terror-stricken by Christ’s sufferings and led to a knowledge of him, he should fear and tremble. For it cannot be otherwise; you must become like the picture and sufferings of Christ, be it realized in life or in hell; you must at the time of death, if not sooner, fall into terror, tremble, quake and experience all Christ suffered on the cross. It is truly terrible to attend to this on your deathbed; therefore you should pray God to soften your heart and permit you fruitfully to meditate upon Christ’s Passion. For it is impossible for us profoundly to meditate upon the sufferings of Christ of ourselves, unless God sink them into our hearts. Further, neither this meditation nor any other doctrine is given to you to the end that you should fall fresh upon it of yourself, to accomplish the same; but you are first to seek and long for the grace of God, that you may accomplish it through God’s grace and not through your own power. For in this way it happens that those referred to above never treat the sufferings of Christ aright; for they never call upon God to that end, but devise out of their own ability their own way, and treat those sufferings entirely in a human and an unfruitful manner.

Taken from Martin Luther’s sermon “Christ’s Holy Sufferings,” as found on the Christian Classics Ethereal Library, where you find the following bibliographic material:

The following sermon is taken from volume II of The Sermons of Martin Luther, published by Baker Book House (Grand Rapids, MI). It was originally published in 1906 in English by Lutherans In All Lands (Minneapolis, MN), in a series titled The Precious and Sacred Writings of Martin Luther, vol. 11. The original title of this sermon appears below (preached by Luther approx. 1519-1521). This e-text was scanned and edited by Shane Rosenthal; it is in the public domain and it may be copied and distributed without restriction. Original pagination from the Baker edition has been kept intact for purposes of reference.

April Tabletalk: The Church in the Seventeenth Century

With the start of a new month, we take time to introduce you to the April 2017 issue of Tabletalk, Ligonier Ministries’ monthly devotional magazine.

The April issue continues Tabletalk’s series on church history, focusing this time on the seventeenth century. Editor Burk Parsons introduces us to this theme with his editorial “Every Thought Captive.” In part, these are his comments on this significant period of church history:

We rightly celebrate the lives and ministries of Martin Luther, John Calvin, and other Reformers whom the Lord used to help bring the church back to the faith once for all delivered to the saints. Yet the Reformation did not end with the passing of the sixteenth century. The gospel seed planted by the fifteenth-century forerunners of the Reformation was watered and tended by the Reformers in the sixteenth century. However, it is in the seventeenth century that we begin to see the full flowering of Reformed doctrine, piety, and practice. During the seventeenth century, so much of what it means to be Protestant and Reformed was codified in the creeds and confessions that we affirm and confess today.

Rome was not built in a day, and neither was the confessional, Reformed, Protestant church. The faithful men and women of the seventeenth century continued the work of the sixteenth-century Reformers by bringing every doctrine, every practice, and every thought captive to the Word of God. May they serve as a model to us as we stand on their shoulders, holding firmly to the divinely revealed truths they faithfully proclaimed for the sake of Christ’s church, kingdom, and glory.

Dr. Nick Needham has the opening article, which is an overview of the entire period and an important one to read to get the “big picture” of what God was doing in His church during this age.

We link the complete article below but give you a section of it here – that on the confessionalism of this century. Here is what Needham has to say about this aspect of the history of the 17th century:

CONFESSIONALISM

For the English-speaking world, the seventeenth century bequeathed another legacy: the documents of the Westminster Assembly, which met intermittently from 1643 to 1653. Among its products are the Westminster Confession of Faith and the Larger and Shorter Catechisms. These were the finest fruits of British Reformed theology at that time, and they have molded the thinking and piety of Reformed English speakers ever since.

Nor has their influence been confined to Presbyterians. When English Congregationalists adopted their own confession of faith (the Savoy Declaration) in 1658, it was a slightly modified version of the Westminster Confession. Again, when English Reformed Baptists in 1689 set forth their confession it was likewise Westminster slightly modified. The Baptists even went so far as to attach a preface stating they had deliberately embraced Westminster as an act of Reformed ecumenism. To this day, these confessions live on.

What he does not mention but which others do in this issue is the work of the Synod of Dordt against the Arminians and the adopting of the Canons of Dordt, another significant confession of this period.

Also, it is worth mentioning that the daily devotions continue with the Reformation doctrines theme, this month on the doctrine of salvation by grace alone – sola gratia!

Source: Overview of the Seventeenth Century by Nicholas Needham

Why the Reformation Still Matters – Because of Grace

In Roman Catholicism grace was seen as a ‘thing,’ a force or fuel like Red Bull. Catholics would pray, ‘Hail, Mary, full of grace,’ as if Mary were wired with spiritual caffeine.

…That is nothing how Luther and his fellow Reformers saw grace. For them, grace was not a ‘thing’ at all; it is the personal kindness of God by which he does not merely enable us but actually rescues and… freely gives us himself. Or, to be more precise: there is no such ‘thing’ as grace; there is only Christ, who is the blessing of God freely given to us. That being the case, Luther tended not to talk much about grace in the abstract, preferring to speak of Christ. For example:

  • Therefore faith justifies because it takes hold of and possesses this treasure, the present Christ… the Christ who is grasped by faith and who lives in the heart is the true Christian righteousness, on account of which God counts us righteous and grants us eternal life.

In other words, the grace and righteousness we receive in the gospel are not something other than Christ himself: ‘Christ… is the divine Power, Righteousness, Blessing, Grace, and Life.’

why-reformation-matters-reeves-2016Taken from Why the Reformation Still Matters, co-authored by Michael Reeves and Tim Chester (Crossway, 2016), Chapter 4, “Grace”, pp.88-89.