Why the Reformation Still Matters

The October 2017 issue of Tabletalk (Ligonier Ministries’ monthly magazine), without surprise or embarrassment, features a tribute to the 500th anniversary of the great Protestant Reformation (1517-2017). And we are glad they did.

The issue is packed with informative and inspiring articles on this indispensable movement, and you are encouraged to read them for your personal benefit this month and beyond. Here is a sampling of the main articles:

  1. The Power of the Gospel – Editor Burk Parsons
  2. Luther and His Significance – Stephen J. Nichols
  3.  Sola Scriptura and Sola Fide – Guy P. Waters
  4. The Geography of the Reformation – Ryan Reeves
  5. The Women of the Reformation – Rececca VanDoodewaard
  6. Continuing the Reformation – W. Robert Godfrey
  7. The Ninety-Five Theses (the final article has all 95 as set down by Luther himself)

For today, I reference the first main article, “Why the Reformation Still Matters” by Michael Reeves. I post a few sections from the beginning and the end of his article, for these give answer to his own implied question. Find the rest at the link below, where you will also find the other articles.

Last year, on October 31, Pope Francis announced that after five hundred years, Protestants and Catholics now “have the opportunity to mend a critical moment of our history by moving beyond the controversies and disagreements that have often prevented us from understanding one another.” From that, it sounds as if the Reformation was an unfortunate and unnecessary squabble over trifles, a childish outburst that we can all put behind us now that we have grown up.

But tell that to Martin Luther, who felt such liberation and joy at his rediscovery of justification by faith alone that he wrote, “I felt that I was altogether born again and had entered paradise itself through open gates.” Tell that to William Tyndale, who found it such “merry, glad and joyful tidings” that it made him “sing, dance, and leap for joy.” Tell it to Thomas Bilney, who found it gave him “a marvellous comfort and quietness, insomuch that my bruised bones leaped for joy.” Clearly, those first Reformers didn’t think they were picking a juvenile fight; as they saw it, they had discovered glad tidings of great joy.

And this is the end of Reeves’ thoughts:

Now is not a time to be shy about justification or the supreme authority of the Scriptures that proclaim it. Justification by faith alone is no relic of the history books; it remains today as the only message of ultimate liberation, the message with the deepest power to make humans unfurl and flourish. It gives assurance before our holy God and turns sinners who attempt to buy God off into saints who love and fear Him.

And oh what opportunities we have today for spreading this good news! Five hundred years ago, Gutenberg’s recent invention of the printing press meant that the light of the gospel could spread at a speed never before witnessed. Tyndale’s Bibles and Luther’s tracts could go out by the thousands. Today, digital technology has given us another Gutenberg moment, and the same message can now be spread at speeds Luther could never have imagined.

Both the needs and the opportunities are as great as they were five hundred years ago—in fact, they are greater. Let us then take courage from the faithfulness of the Reformers and hold the same wonderful gospel high, for it has lost none of its glory or its power to dispel our darkness.

Source: Why the Reformation Still Matters

Was the Reformation a Mistake? – M. Levering; the Reformation Wasn’t a Mistake – S. Nichols

In the most recent book review section of the Gospel Coalition, Stephen Nichols (President of Reformation Bible College) reviews a new book written by prominent Roman Catholic theologian Matthew Levering (Mundelein Seminary, University of St. Mary of the Lake, IL). That book’s title is  Was the Reformation a Mistake? Why Catholic Doctrine Is Not Unbiblical (Zondervan, 2017), a copy of which I recently obtained for the PRC Seminary library.

The publisher gives this summary and purpose of the book:

Was the Reformation a mistake?

In its actual historical context, it hardly seems fair to call the Reformation a “mistake.” In 1517, the Church was in need of a spiritual and theological reform. The issues raised by Renaissance humanism – and by the profound corruption of the Church’s leaders, the Avignon papacy, and the Great Schism in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries – lingered unresolved. What were key theological problems that led to the Reformation?

Theologian Matthew Levering helps readers see these questions from a Catholic perspective. Surveying nine key themes – Scripture, Mary, the Eucharist, the Seven Sacraments, monasticism, justification and merit, purgatory, saints, and papacy – he examines the positions of Martin Luther and makes a case that the Catholic position is biblically defensible once one allows for the variety of biblically warranted modes of interpreting Scripture. At the same time, Levering makes clear that he cannot “prove” the Catholic case.

The book concludes with a spirited response by “mere Protestant” theologian Kevin J. Vanhoozer.

Nichols presents a thorough and proper Protestant response to Levering’s Catholic arguments concerning God’s mighty movement of reform in the 16th century. I appreciated his careful and critical review. As he demonstrates, the core issues were not puny or peripheral.

Under the heading “Necessary Reformation,” this is how Nichols closes his defense of the necessity of true reformation at the time of Luther:

Was the Reformation a mistake? No, it wasn’t, for there are clear and crucial differences between Rome and the reformers on Scripture and the gospel, not to mention the other seven doctrines in this book. The reformers’ efforts centered around a formal principle and a material principle. The formal principle concerns the question of authority. The difference between the reformers and Rome on authority was crystalized at the Council of Trent. There Rome affirmed Scripture as authoritative as it is interpreted through Rome. Hence, we see the value of the sola in the Reformation view of sola scriptura.

The material principle concerns justification and how a person is redeemed by Christ and reconciled to God. The Council of Trent affirmed that we “cooperate with and assent to” grace for our salvation. Here again we see the value of sola in the Reformation planks of sola fide (faith alone) and sola gratia (grace alone). (By the way, Trent’s anathemas against the doctrine of justification by faith alone have never been retracted.)

Levering’s book does succeed in showing these real and clear differences between Rome and those who follow in the Reformation traditions—which is to say, his book succeeds in showing that the Reformation is still necessary.

For the full review, visit the TGC link below.

Source: The Reformation Wasn’t a Mistake

Reshaping Marriage, Reformation Style – “Refo Thursday”

On this Thursday, the last day of August, we bring to mind again the 500th anniversary of the Reformation. And we do so through another video clip from the Church History Institute, which they are sending out each Thursday this year – what they refer to as their “Refo Thursday,” “your weekly throwback to the Reformation.”

This particular video, sent out on August 10, celebrates the Reformation’s reform of marriage, including Martin Luther’s wonderful union with Katherine von Bora. On this day of my own thirty-ninth wedding anniversary to my lovely bride (August 31, 1978!), this post seems appropriate. Verna and I are personally grateful to the Reformers for restoring this aspect of the Christian life to its biblical foundation!

The article that goes with it – “The Reformation of Marriage” – includes these paragraphs at the beginning:

It is a remarkable fact that none of the leading Protestant reformers ended up a bachelor—Luther, Zwingli and Calvin all married in the course of the Reformation. It is remarkable because the prevailing late medieval ideal was that one should not marry in order to devote full attention to serving God. The same ideal prevailed for women. St. Jerome, writing in the fourth century, even offered a kind of algorithm for measuring one’s devotion to God. He assigned a spiritual value of 100 to virginity, but to marriage he assigned a paltry spiritual value of 30. The message was clear: if you really loved God, you would remain a bachelor or bachelorette.

The Reformation is most often identified with theological debates, whether over  justification by faith alone, predestination, or the presence of Christ in the Eucharist. However, it can be argued that the most enduring consequence of the Reformation was not theological developments, but the transformation of the institution of marriage. By 1520, just three years after the 95 Theses, Luther publically renounced clerical celibacy in his famous pamphlet, To the Christian Nobility of the German Nation.

Read the rest of the article at the link provided, and be sure to watch this video and many others that make up this informative and interesting series. You can sign up to receive the “Refo Thursday” posts each week at the CHI website.

Why the Reformation Still Matters – Because of the Holy Spirit

why-reformation-matters-reeves-2016One of the books we are making our way through this year of remembering the Reformation (500th anniversary!) is Why the Reformation Still Matters, co-authored by Michael Reeves and Tim Chester (Crossway, 2016).

Each chapter touches on a significant doctrine rediscovered by the Reformers, showing why the return to that particular truth was important for that time and why it is still important for the church today. I have been pleased with and profited by each chapter so far.

The next chapter I read last night is Chapter 7, which treats the Reformation’s rediscovered doctrine of the Holy Spirit under the title, “The Spirit: Can We Truly Know God?” With ample quotes from the magisterial Reformers, the authors show just how significant the truth concerning the Third Person of the Holy Trinity was for that time – and still is.

Here is just a sample of what they say:

Deep heart metamorphosis instead of superficial behavioral change, personal communion with God instead of abstract blessing, and joy-inducing assurance: these were some of the vital benefits of the Reformers’ theology of the Holy Spirit.

But in fact the Reformers’ view of the Spirit really permeated everything they fought for. If he is the giver of life, then salvation must be by grace alone. If he, the Spirit of adoption, freely unites to Christ, salvation is by faith alone in Christ alone – and must be about knowing God with the security of the Son. In fact Calvin showed that the Spirit even keeps us from placing any other authority over that of Scripture, so protecting the principle of Scripture alone. We believe Scripture, he argued, not finally because the church tells us to or because intelligent men persuade us that we can, but because the Spirit opens our eyes and witnesses to us that Scripture is indeed God’s own Word.

Then after quoting Calvin on that point, the authors state this:

The fact that the Spirit is found in every doctrine the Reformers fought for should not be surprising. All the life-giving truths of the Reformation are life-giving because they are to do with him, the giver of life. [pp.140-41]

One more quotation I must share is this little gem from William Tyndale about the Spirit and the fruit He produces in believers – appropriate for the summer season:

Where the Spirit is, there it is always summer, and there are always good fruits, that is to say, good works.

*Nota bene: This book is still available for review if there are interested parties.

Worship of God Alone through Christ Alone

The August 2017 issue of the Standard Bearer is now available, and in it Prof. R. Cammenga (PRC Seminary) continues his exposition of the Second Helvetic Confession (written by Reformer Heinrich Bullinger) with treatment of chapter 5a, where the creed sets forth the Protestant Christian truth concerning worship through Christ alone as the saints’ only Mediator.

SB-Aug-2017

On this August 13 Lord’s Day we quote a portion of this confession and Prof. Cammenga’s exposition, as relevant for us today as when it was composed (1562/64).

Christ Alone

God alone is to be invoked through the mediation of Christ alone. In all crises and trials of our life we call upon him alone, and that by the mediation of our only mediator and intercessor, Jesus Christ. For we have been explicitly commanded, “Call upon me in the day of trouble: I will deliver thee, and thou shalt glorify me” (Ps. 50:15). Moreover, we have a most generous promise from the Lord Who said, “Whatsoever ye shall ask of the Father in my name, he will give it you” (John 16:23), and, “Come unto me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest” (Matt. 11:28). And since it is written, “How then shall they call on him in whom they have not believed?” (Rom. 10:4), and since we do believe in God alone, we assuredly call upon him alone, and we do so through Christ. For as the apostle says, “For there is one God, and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus” (I Tim. 2:5), “And if any man sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous” (I John 2:1).

God alone is to be worshipped. But God is to be worshipped through the only Mediator, the Lord Jesus Christ. Christ alone is the Mediator: solus Christus. Only in the name of and through the Lord Jesus Christ may men approach God in worship. All worship of God apart from Jesus Christ, all worship of God while invoking other mediators, be they saints, angels, or the virgin Mary, is damnable worship.

God alone through Christ alone—that was the gospel of the Reformation. And that is the gospel for all time and in every age and among all peoples. This is the distinctiveness of the Christian faith. This is the reason on account of which Christianity that is true to Christ cannot accommodate the false religions. The gospel is never Christ and, but is always Christ alone. Christ is the Way to the Father, and there is no other way to the Father. Christ is the way to the Father because He alone is the Truth and the Life (John 14:6). Jesus Christ is “our only mediator and intercessor” with the triune God. He alone is our “advocate with the Father.”

May our worship of the heavenly Father this day reflect this part of confession as Protestant Christians. May we seek the one true God through His only Mediator, our Lord Jesus Christ.

You may find the Second Helvetic Confession in ebook form on Monergism’s website here.

John Calvin and his Institutes – “Refo Thursday”

On this Thursday night, it is time for another “Refo Thursday” feature.

As we have mentioned several times here already this year, the Christian History Institute (which also publishes the magazine Christian History – issue #120 is about Calvin and the Reformation – cf. image here) has a special post each week featuring various aspects of the Reformation.

It is called “Refo Thursday” (“your weekly throwback to the Reformation” [in their words] – connected to the 500th anniversary of the Reformation in 2017), and usually features a quote from one of the major Reformers and a brief video on an aspect of Reformation history.

Today’s short video, featuring Karin Maag from the Calvin Meeter Center and Michael Horton from Westminster Seminary (West-CA), focuses on John Calvin’s attempts to bring reformation to Catholic France, his home country, by writing his first edition of the Institutes of the Christian Religion – from Basel, Switzerland.

Listen in and learn about how Calvin viewed himself and the other Reformers as more “catholic” than the Roman Catholic Church.

Key Quotes From Luther’s “Bondage of the Will” | Monergism

As the heading above indicates, the referenced article from the website Monergism.com provides “key quotes” from Martin Luther’s classic work The Bondage of the Will.

That work is a response to the Dutch humanist and Roman Catholic priest Desiderius Erasmus, who, while critical of Roman Catholic teaching in some areas, strongly defended her views on salvation, free will, and grace.

Luther obliterated Erasmus’ arguments and posited in their place the truths of salvation by grace alone due to the total sovereignty of God and the utter inability of the sinner.

Monergism gives a short introduction before providing some of Luther’s powerful answers to the man from Rotterdam. Here is part of that introduction:

The following quotes hit the crux of the issue: whether Christ alone saves or whether salvation is synergistic cooperation of man and God. This is still extremely relevant for today’s Christian, for many of us carry the unbiblical assumption that Erasmus held, which wrongly concludes any command from God to believe or obey the gospel, must somewhow imply the moral ability to to do so. Large numbers of evangelicals today make this same jump in unaided logic and build a whole theology on it but as Dr. Luther said to Erasmus, “when you are finished with all your commands and exhortations … I’ll write Ro.3:20 over the top of it all” (“…through the law comes knowledge of sin.”). In other words, the commands exist to reveal not our ability but rather our inability, and this moral impotency does not take away our responsibility to obey.

And here are a few of the “key quotes”; to find more visit the link below.

And, let me add, in this year of commemorating the 500th anniversary of the great Reformation of the 16th century, it would be good for us to read (or re-read) this mighty classic of Protestantism.

“For if man has lost his freedom, and is forced to serve sin, and cannot will good, what conclusion can more justly be drawn concerning him, than that he sins and wills evil necessarily?” Martin Luther BW pg. 149

“…’if thou art willing’ is a verb in the subjunctive mood, which asserts nothing…a conditional statement asserts nothing indicatively.” “if thou art willing”, “if thou hear”, “if thou do” declare, not man’s ability, but his duty. pg 157

“the commandments are not given inappropriately or pointlessly; but in order that through them the proud, blind man may learn the plague of his impotence, should he try to do as he is commanded.” pg. 160

Speaking to Erasmus, “Throughout your treatment you forget that you said that ‘free-will’ can do nothing without grace, and you prove that ‘free-will’ can do all things without grace! Your inferences and analogies “For if man has lost his freedom, and is forced to serve sin, and cannot will good, what conclusion can more justly be drawn concerning him, than that he sins and wills evil necessarily?” Martin Luther BW pg. 149

“Even grammarians and schoolboys on street corners know that nothing more is signified by verbs in the imperative mood than what ought to be done, and that what is done or can be done should be expressed by words in the indicative. How is it that you theologians are twice as stupid as schoolboys, in that as soon as you get hold of a single imperative verb you infer an indicative meaning, as though the moment a thing is commanded it is done, or can be done? pg 159

“The passages of Scripture you cite are imperative; and they prove and establish nothing about the ability of man, but only lay down what is and what not to be done.” pg 161

Source: Key Quotes From Luther’s Bondage of the Will | Monergism

The Value of the Reformed Confessions on Justification by Faith Alone

In his most recent book, Gospel Truth of Justification: Proclaimed, Defended, Developed, David J. Engelsma makes appeal at the outset to the distinctive Reformed confessions on the doctrine of justification – and with good reason, as he himself explains in chapter five.

In defense of the historic biblical doctrine over against the heresies of Rome, Arminianism, the New Perspective on Paul, and the Federal Vision, the Reformed creeds have great value. Here is one reason, as the author explains:

One reason is that for some two thousand years the Spirit of truth has guided the Christian church into a clear understanding of most of the cardinal doctrines of scripture. The ecumenical and Reformation confessions are the outstanding products of that divine guidance. The Reformed confessions, which address the truth of justification specifically and at length, have been a blessing on Reformed churches and Christians for nearly half a millennium. Especially in circumstances of controversy over justification, the Reformed churches must avail themselves of the Spirit’s work in the churches in the past [p.66].

And there is more. Engelsma gives another reason why he begins with the confessions:

Yet another reason for beginning an examination of the doctrine of justification with a study of the Reformed confessions, especially in controversy, is that the confessions enable the members of the congregations to judge the teachings of their officebearers. Every false teacher claims, loudly, even indignantly, to be teaching the truth. Invariably, he couches his false doctrine in careful, clever, deceptive, and biblical language. Like the serpent in the garden of Eden, he is subtle. As the Dutch proverb puts it, in the heretic Satan does not come noisily in wooden shoes, but stealthily in slippers. As scripture puts it, Satan’s ministers transform themselves as ‘ministers of righteousness,’ just as ‘Satan himself is transformed into an angel of light’ (2 Cor.11:14-15). Usually, the heretic manifests himself as a jovial, friendly, loving, sweet Christian besides.

Without the confessions, the members of the Reformed churches are virtually at the mercy of the false teachers and their spiritual master. With the confessions, the Reformed laity are able to discern and withstand heretical teachings [p.71].

To this the author adds yet one more reason for the value of creeds in this battle for the gospel truth of justification:

There is still another reason that a defense of justification by faith alone against its contemporary assailants within the Reformed churches does well to begin with a consideration of the Reformed confessions. This reason concerns a benefit of the confessions that is often overlooked. The confessions contain succinct but thorough and penetrating analysis of many of the false doctrines that trouble the Reformed church throughout the ages. As the fruit of the profound study of specially gifted and godly Reformed theologians, in the case of the Canons of Dordt and the Westminster standards the fruit of the deliberations of large bodies of extraordinary servants of Jesus Christ, and the fruit of the special guidance of the church by the Spirit of Christ, the confessions lay bare the essential errors of perennial heresies.

This exposure of false doctrines is of great help to Reformed churches and Christians. Heretics are always deceptive, as Jesus warned in Matthew 24:11….

The confessions cut through all the deception, ambiguity, and verbiage of the heresies, as well as through the heretics’ claims of fidelity and piety, to the fundamental errors. The confessions make the errors plain not only to learned theologians, but also to every member of the church – man, woman, and child [pp74-75].

Here, then, are further reasons for us to know and study our Reformed creedal heritage. Do you know what the Reformed confessions say on justification, the heart of the gospel of our salvation in Jesus Christ?

Why the Reformation Still Matters: Because of the Theology of the Cross

So God can be  known only by those to whom he gives faith. Salvation is by grace alone. We are used to that idea. But it is the same with our knowledge of God. It is not just our salvation that is by faith alone and grace alone. We do not contribute to our knowledge of God. It is all God’s doing. Our knowledge of God is by grace alone. You do not know God because you were cleverer than other people or have greater spiritual insight or spend more time in contemplation. You know God because he has graciously revealed himself to you in the message of the cross. It is an act of grace. God reveals himself in a hidden way in order to safeguard the graciousness of revelation.

So the cross subverts all human notions of glory. The message we proclaim – the message of Christ crucified – is foolishness and weakness in the sight of the world. This is Paul’s point in 1 Corinthians. Indeed, in many ways Luther’s theology of the cross feels like an extended meditation of 1 Corinthians 1.

why-reformation-matters-reeves-2016Taken from Chapter 5, “The Theology of the Cross” in Why the Reformation Still Matters, co-authored by Michael Reeves and Tim Chester (Crossway, 2016), p.104.

*Nota bene: This book is still available for review if there are interested parties.

A Very Special Reformation 500th Book: Gospel Truth of Justification

The Reformed Free Publishing Association has just released its latest publication – a title timed for this year’s 500th anniversary of the great Reformation of the sixteenth century – and a very special title it is.

gospel-truth-justification-DJE-2017Gospel Truth of Justification: Proclaimed, Defended, Developed by David J. Engelsma brings to the foreground the central truth of the gospel of Jesus Christ and the core doctrine rediscovered by the Protestant Reformers beginning with Martin Luther – justification by faith alone in Christ alone, wholly apart from the works of the sinner or the merits of any saint.

The publisher has this description on its website of the new title:

AD 2017 marks the five-hundredth anniversary of the Reformation of the church of Jesus Christ. In 1517 the Reformer Martin Luther affixed the ninety-five theses to the door of the church in Wittenberg, Germany, the act by which Jesus Christ began his reformation of his church. Essential to this Reformation was the gospel-truth of justification by faith alone. This book on justification is intended by the Reformed Free Publishing Association and the author to celebrate that glorious work of Christ.

But the purpose is more than a celebration of the beginning of the Reformation. It is to maintain, defend, and promote the Reformation in the perilous times for the church at present. The doctrine of justification by faith alone is so fundamental to the gospel of grace that an exposition and defense of this truth are in order always. The true church of Christ in the world simply cannot keep silent about this doctrine. To keep silent about justification by faith alone would be to silence the gospel.

In a recent email announcing the book, the publisher included these pertinent words, part of the author’s “Preface”:

Many churches today proclaim the false gospel, that is no gospel, of righteousness and salvation by the works and will of the sinner (Rom. 9:16). Today the churches with the most exalted reputation for Reformation orthodoxy are helpless, apparently, before the onslaught of the federal vision.

At such a time as this, a work that echoes Luther’s “here I stand” with specific regard to the fundamental doctrine of the Reformation is not only appropriate, but necessary. Clearly, unequivocally, creedally, biblically, the gospel truth of justification by faith alone, without works—any works, all works! Only the alien, perfect work of the Son of God in our flesh, Jesus the justifying Christ of God! Received by faith alone!

Protestantism, Protestantism in North America, Protestantism worldwide, especially Reformed and Presbyterian Protestantism, again hear this gospel, believe it, confess it, and defend it!

We will be referencing this work again this year, but we make this initial notice of it for your benefit.

Add it to your “must read” Reformation books this year. Be prepared to dig deep into the heart of the gospel, the need for which now more than ever the church and true Protestants need to proclaim, defend, and develop. Here is a great place to begin.

P.S. And yes, the PRC Seminary library does have it – two copies, in fact.