Another Special Friday Lunch

Yesterday the PRC Seminary enjoyed another special lunch hour. As you may remember, we have the custom of grilling brats or burgers and, when we can, enjoying a “cultural” experience.

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Yesterday during lunch Mr. Peter Adams gave the second part of his presentation on the Renaissance, the Reformation and art – another profitable “Powerpoint” talk. We thank him for taking the time to share his knowledge of and Reformed perspective on this subject with us.

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Another benefit of our Friday lunches is the fellowship we enjoy together. Often we have guests (word spreads fast about the good food!), as well as Seminarian wives and children who join us. And when there is a new baby, well, the crowd gathers!

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The newest addition to our Seminary family is Abigail Tan, daughter of Josiah (first-year student from CERC in Singapore) and his wife “HQ” (Hui Qi). She is a beautiful girl, precious to her parents and to us.

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And since this is supposed to be my “Friday Fun” post, I will include these two images, also from yesterday. While closing things up at the end of the day yesterday, I came eye to eye with a deer who was grazing just outside the assembly room window. I was able to sneak up and capture her as she looked up and spotted me.

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And, finally, we are having Spring-like weather in West Michigan, which means some of the early bulb flowers are already poking up. In a protected corner of the front of the building are these daffodils up 4 inches already, unaware that Winter is still officially a month away. That’s ok, it’s a happy sight anyway. 🙂

Published in: on February 18, 2017 at 9:19 PM  Leave a Comment  

Reading the Reformation in 2017 – Suggestions and Thoughts

As we have already noted here, 2017 is going to be flooded with books on the Reformation, since it is the 500th anniversary of that great event this year. Already I have added several new titles to the Seminary library and have received notice of several others soon to come, including one from the RFPA.

Let me call attention to a couple of new ones that have come in and others that are soon to be released. That will give you some ideas for book purchasing and for gift giving in the early part of this year.

Does your knowledge of Martin Luther’s writings start and end with the hymn “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God”?

As we celebrate the 500th anniversary of the Reformation he put into motion, we discover a Martin Luther who was one of history’s most colorful and influential figures. His story is well known, but his powerful writing is often unfamiliar to us.

This illustrated introductory guide to Luther’s life, theology, and works introduces and summarizes his major writings, such as The Bondage of the Will and On the Councils and the Church, and includes, with annotations, the complete Ninety-Five Theses. Stephen Nichols also gives encouragement and guidance for studying Luther’s ethical writings, “table talk,” hymns, and sermons. Includes a select guide for further reading.

“Whether it is described as recovering treasures of gold, removing the clouds to reveal the clearest and bluest of skies, replacing fast food with delectable and healthy cuisine, or coming out of the valley to behold the most amazing Alpine splendor, rediscovering the glorious biblical truths which were recovered during the Reformation is extraordinarily liberating and invigorating.”

The biblical teachings of the Protestant Reformation five hundred years ago freed Christians from many of the same forms of bondage that, ironically, have now reappeared in much of contemporary evangelical Christianity. Many evangelicals now find themselves trapped on performance-based treadmills, enslaved by neurotic introspection, and often just burning out and walking away from the church. Whether it’s being fixated on “my performance” (legalism) or “my inner experience” (mysticism) or some other exhausting entanglement, there is, thankfully, a way out.

Protestant evangelical churches need to rediscover the liberating treasures of biblical Christianity that were recovered in the Protestant Reformation. This book encourages burned-out evangelicals to take another look–from a Reformation perspective–and begin basking in the good news and all of its vast riches. Through a series of thought-provoking essays, this book also introduces other skeptics to an undiluted and robust Christianity

  • justification-dje-2017Gospel Truth of Justification: Proclaimed, Defended, Developed by David J. Engelsma (RFPA, 2017). Concerning this soon-to-be-released title, the publisher states:

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 the 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.

  • pmvermigli-carr-2017Finally, we call attention to a new title in the Christian Biographies for Young Children series by author Simonetta Carr – Peter Martyr Vermigli (Reformation Heritage Books, 2017). This is its description from the publisher:

Born in Florence, Italy, in 1499, Peter Martyr Vermigli decided that he wanted to teach God’s Word when he grew up. After many years of study, he became a well-respected leader in the Roman Catholic Church, yet he questioned the church’s teachings because he believed they were contrary to the Bible. Eventually forced to flee Italy and the Roman Church, Vermigli joined the Reformers north of the Alps and devoted the rest of his life to teaching, preaching, and writing about the great truths of the Protestant Reformation. He lived in many parts of Europe, and he influenced many of the most important figures of his times.

This volume in the Christian Biographies for Young Readers series retells the story of a servant of Christ who left behind a postion of prominence in the Roman Church to courageously join the cause of the Protestant Reformation. Enhanced by illustrious, photographs, and additional information about the Reformation era, this account shows young readers how God can use the piety and talents of one man to advance the cause of His truth.

In connection with this, Christianity Today posted a profitable article on Reformation reading in 2017 on its website in late December 2016. I reference it here, quoting the first part, encouraging you to read the rest to gain further perspective and ideas for your reading about the great Reformation this year.

There are so many events planned to mark the Protestant Reformation’s 500th anniversary that sometimes it’s hard to keep track. Fresh conversations have been sparked in churches, the press, and seminar rooms. Wittenberg and other Reformation sites in Germany have been beautifully restored, even Disneyfied. Exhibitions, conferences, and lectures abound, as do articles in newspapers and magazines.

Meanwhile, we find ourselves in the midst of an avalanche of publishing, both popular and scholarly, as biographies of Luther appear with head-spinning regularity, accompanied by general accounts of the Reformation and studies of other key figures and their writings.

Source: Reading the Reformation in 2017 | Christianity Today

Luther and the Reformation (2) – The Small Catechism, 1529

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This year being the 500th anniversary of the great Reformation (1517-2017) – its origin notably marked by Martin Luther’s posting of his Ninety-Five Theses on the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg, Germany on October 31, 1517 – we have begun a series of posts to run throughout the year on some of the major works of Luther.

Today we take a preliminary look at Luther’s Small Catechism, sometimes called “Enchiridion,” a Latin word meaning small handbook or manual.

One of the earliest fruits of the Reformation was the development of a catechism curricula of Protestant (and later Reformed) truth and practice for the instruction of the youth and the adults of the church. Just as Rome recognized the importance of teaching the children of the church in her doctrines, so did the Reformers. Only they were intent on teaching the youth the truth and godliness of the Word of God, not the false teaching and ungodliness of the apostate Roman Catholic Church.

luther-small-catechism-1529And so, early on Luther wrote his small catechism (1529), to instruct and guide the members of the recently formed Protestant churches in the newly rediscovered doctrines of the Bible. The content was simple and clear, as this paragraph from a Lutheran website states:

The Small Catechism explores the Six Chief Parts of Christian Doctrine: the Ten Commandments, the Apostles’ Creed, the Lord’s Prayer, the Sacrament of Holy Baptism, Confession, and the Sacrament of the Altar. It also includes daily prayers, a table of duties for Christians, and a guide for Christians to use as they prepare to receive Holy Communion.

For this post, we refer you to the preface of this catechism of Luther, where he deplored the spiritual condition of the church and implored the pastors and preachers to get about instructing their members in the basic truths and practices of the Christian faith.

Here are his opening lines of that Preface:

Martin Luther, to all faithful and godly pastors and preachers: grace, mercy, and peace be yours in Jesus Christ, our Lord.

The deplorable, miserable conditions which I recently observed when visiting the parishes have constrained and pressed me to put this catechism of Christian doctrine into this brief, plain, and simple form. How pitiable, so help me God, were the things I saw: the common man, especially in the villages, knows practically nothing of Christian doctrine, and many of the pastors are almost entirely incompetent and unable to teach. Yet all the people are supposed to be Christians, have been baptized, and receive the Holy Sacrament even though they do not know the Lord’s Prayer, the Creed, or the Ten Commandments and live like poor animals of the barnyard and pigpen. What these people have mastered, however, is the fine art of tearing all Christian liberty to shreds.

Oh, you bishops! How will you ever answer to Christ for letting the people carry on so disgracefully and not attending to the duties of your office even for a moment? One can only hope judgment does not strike you! You command the Sacrament in one kind only, insist on the observance of your human ways, and yet are unconcerned whether the people know the Lord’s Prayer, the Creed, the Ten Commandments, or indeed any of God’s Word. Woe, woe to you forever!

Therefore dear brothers, for God’s sake I beg all of you who are pastors and preachers to devote yourselves sincerely to the duties of your office, that you feel compassion for the people entrusted to your care, and that you help us accordingly to inculcate this catechism in the people, especially the young. If you cannot do more, at least take the tables and charts for catechism instruction and drill the people in them word for word….

To read the rest of this powerful introduction to Luther’s catechism, go here. And when you are tempted to criticize or complain about the catechism lessons your children have to learn and you as parents have to help them learn, go back and read this preface.

February “Tabletalk”: Christian Joy

tt-feb-2017With the beginning of a new month we need to introduce you to the February 2017 issue of Tabletalk, Ligonier Ministries’ monthly devotional magazine.

This month the theme is simply “Joy,” with various articles dealing with “Joy in Our Work,” “Joy in Community,” “Future Joy,” and “Our Groaning Joy,” to name a few.

Editor Burk Parsons sets the tone for this issue with his introductory article “Joy in Christ Alone.” Here are a few of his thoughts on this vital subject:

Christianity is a religion of joy. Real joy comes from God, who has invaded us, conquered us, and liberated us from eternal death and sadness—who has given us hope and joy because He has poured out His love within our hearts by the Holy Spirit whom He has given us (Rom. 5:5). Joy comes from God, not from within. When we look within, we just get sad. We have joy only when we look outside ourselves to Christ. Without Christ, joy is not only hard to find, it’s impossible to find. The world desperately seeks joy, but in all the wrong places. However, our joy comes because Christ sought us, found us, and keeps us. We cannot have joy apart from Christ, because it doesn’t exist. Joy is not something we can conjure up.

The first featured article is by Dr. Sinclair Ferguson and titled “To Enjoy Him Forever,” which you may recognize as coming from the first Q&A of the Westminster Shorter Catechism. As Ferguson goes on to show, this Catechism also directs the child of God to the means God has appointed for finding joy in Him.

For this Lord’s day night I would direct you to his first two – joy in salvation and joy in revelation. Here are Ferguson’s explanations of how these lead to enjoying God:

Joy in Salvation

Enjoying God means relishing the salvation He gives us in Jesus Christ. “I will take joy in the God of my salvation” (Hab. 3:18). God takes joy in our salvation (Luke 15:6–7, 9–10, 32). So should we. Here, Ephesians 1:3–14 provides a masterly delineation of this salvation in Christ. It is a gospel bath in which we should often luxuriate, rungs on a ladder we should frequently climb, in order to experience the joy of the Lord as our strength (Neh. 8:10). While we are commanded to have joy, the resources to do so are outside of ourselves, known only through union with Christ.

Joy in Revelation

Joy issues from devouring inscripturated revelation. Psalm 119 bears repeated witness to this. The psalmist “delights” in God’s testimonies “as much as in all riches” (Ps. 119:14; see also vv. 35, 47, 70, 77, 103, 162, 174). Think of Jesus’ words, “These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full” (John 15:11). Does He mean He will find His joy in us, so that our joy may be full, or that His joy will be in us so that our joy may be full? Both, surely, are true. We find full joy in the Lord only when we know He finds His joy in us. The pathway to joy, then, is to give ourselves maximum exposure to His Word and to let it dwell in us richly (Col. 3:16). It is joy-food for the joy-hungry soul.

Once again it is evident that there is much profitable reading for the mind and soul in the latest Tabletalk. Would you like to learn more about Christian joy – the only joy there is? Then dig in to these articles! Follow the Ligonier link below the get started.

I might also add that the daily devotions this year are on Reformation themes, in connection with the 500th anniversary of the great Reformation. January’s devotions were on the doctrine of God, while February’s cover the doctrine of sola Scriptura.

Source: Tabletalk: The Devotional Magazine of Ligonier Ministries

The Reformation Still Matters – Because of Scripture

why-reformation-matters-reeves-2016A few months ago I first pointed you to a new title published in connection with the 500th anniversary of the great Reformation (one of many coming out) – Why the Reformation Still Matters, co-authored by Michael Reeves and Tim Chester (Crossway, 2016; 219 pp.).

Last time we considered the first chapter, which gets at one of the key doctrines restored during the great Reformation of the church –the gospel of  justification. The second chapter gets at another key truth, that of the sole authority of Scripture, what we sometimes refer to as the formal principle of the Reformation – sola Scriptura.

Here is part of what the authors have to say on that subject:

This is the meaning of sola Scriptura, ‘Scripture alone’ – one of the key slogans of the Reformation. It does not mean that other things cannot inform our theology. The Reformers quoted past theologians freely as authoritative guides. They reflected on experience and used their reason. What sola Scriptura does mean is that when we have to choose, there is only one choice we can make: Scripture alone is our ultimate authority. And in particular it is in the supreme authority, in contrast to the authority of the church and its traditions. The Catholic Church claimed the right to interpret the Scriptures. It was the Scriptures together with the interpretation of the church that carried authority [p.41].

To which they add this paragraph later in that chapter:

We often go forward  by going back. And this is what happened at the Reformation. The Reformers were not trying to forge something new. They were not setting out to change the world. All they wanted to do was go back to the Bible. But going back to the Bible changed the world [p.42].

In that connection Reeves and Chester also quote Luther and Calvin on the place and power of the Word in what they were doing as Reformers. We end with these quotes.

I opposed indulgences and all the papists, but never with force. I simply taught, preached, and wrote God’s word; otherwise I did nothing. And while I slept, or drank Wittenberg beer with Philip and Amsdorf [Luther’s friends], the word so greatly weakened the papacy that no prince or emperor ever inflicted such losses upon it. I did nothing; the word did everything (Luther’s Works, 51:76-77).

Let this be a firm principle: No other word is to be held as the Word of God, and given place as such in the church, than what is contained first in the Law and the Prophets, then in the writings of the apostles: and the only authorized way of teaching in the church is by prescription and standard of his Word (Calvin, Institutes, 4.8.8).

Prayers of the Reformers (19)

prayersofreformers-manschreckFor this fourth Sunday of the new year we post another prayer from the book Prayers of the Reformers, compiled by Clyde Manschreck and published by Muhlenberg Press (1958).

This is a prayer or hymn of Martin Luther and is taken from the section “A Calendar of Prayer.” The German title is “Es Wollt uns Gott genaedig sein,” taken from the first line.

You will find these words to be fitting for our worship today as well as for our life and labors in the week ahead.

May God unto us gracious be,
And grant to us His blessing;
Lord, show Thy face to us, through Thee
Eternal life possessing:
That all Thy work and will, O God,
To us may be revealed,
And Christ’s salvation spread abroad
To heathen lands unsealed,
And unto God convert them.

Thine over all shall be the praise
And thanks of every nation,
And all the world with joy shall raise
The voice of exultation.
For Thou the sceptre, Lord, dost wield
Sin to Thyself subjecting;
Thy Word, Thy people’s pasture-field,
And fence their feet protecting,Them in the way preserveth.

Thy fold, O God, shall bring to Thee
The praise of holy living;
Thy Word shall richly fruitful be,
And earth shall yield thanksgiving.
Bless us, O Father! bless, O Son!
Grant, Holy Ghost, Thy blessing!
Thee earth shall honor – Thee alone,
Thy fear all souls possessing.
Now let our hearts say, Amen.

Luther, 1524

This hymn has also been set to music by J.S. Bach, which you may find here along with a different English translation. For one version available on YouTube, see below.

Luther and the Reformation (1) – The Ninety-Five Theses

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This year being the 500th anniversary of the great Reformation (1517-2017) – its origin notably marked by Martin Luther’s posting of his Ninety-Five Theses on the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg, Germany on October 31, 1517 – we intend to do a series of posts throughout the year on some of the major works of Luther.

luther-theses-1And what better place to start than the Ninety-Five Theses themselves. For today, we simply refer you, first of all, to a few of them as found at the link above (and in many other places), prefaced by Luther’s purpose in posting them.

Out of love for the truth and from desire to elucidate it, the Reverend Father Martin Luther, Master of Arts and Sacred Theology, and ordinary lecturer therein at Wittenberg, intends to defend the following statements and to dispute on them in that place. Therefore he asks that those who cannot be present and dispute with him orally shall do so in their absence by letter. In the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, Amen.

I have selected these points of debate (theses) in particular:

 1. When our Lord and Master Jesus Christ said, “Repent” (Mt 4:17), he willed the entire life of believers to be one of repentance.

2. This word cannot be understood as referring to the sacrament of penance, that is, confession and satisfaction, as administered by the clergy.

3. Yet it does not mean solely inner repentance; such inner repentance is worthless unless it produces various outward mortification of the flesh.

4. The penalty of sin remains as long as the hatred of self (that is, true inner repentance), namely till our entrance into the kingdom of heaven.

27. They preach only human doctrines who say that as soon as the money clinks into the money chest, the soul flies out of purgatory.

28. It is certain that when money clinks in the money chest, greed and avarice can be increased; but when the church intercedes, the result is in the hands of God alone.

32. Those who believe that they can be certain of their salvation because they have indulgence letters will be eternally damned, together with their teachers.

33. Men must especially be on guard against those who say that the pope’s pardons are that inestimable gift of God by which man is reconciled to him.

34. For the graces of indulgences are concerned only with the penalties of sacramental satisfaction established by man.

35. They who teach that contrition is not necessary on the part of those who intend to buy souls out of purgatory or to buy confessional privileges preach unchristian doctrine.

36. Any truly repentant Christian has a right to full remission of penalty and guilt, even without indulgence letters.

37. Any true Christian, whether living or dead, participates in all the blessings of Christ and the church; and this is granted him by God, even without indulgence letters.

 

Secondly, we may point you to B.B. Warfield’s fine essay, “The Ninety-Five Theses in Their Theological Significance” (found in free digital form at Monergism.com). Below is a paragraph found in the early part of that work describing the significance of Luther’s theses:

The significance of the Theses as a Reformation act emerges thus in this: that they are a bold, an astonishingly bold, and a powerful, an astonishingly powerful, assertion of the evangelical doctrine of salvation, embodied in a searching, well-compacted, and thoroughly wrought-out refutation of the sacerdotal conception, as the underlying foundation on which the edifice of the indulgence traffic was raised. This is what Walther Köhler means when he declares that we must recognize this as the fundamental idea of Luther’s Theses: “the emancipation of the believer from the tutelage of the ecclesiastical institute”; and adds, “Thus God advances for him into the foreground; He alone is Lord of death and life; and to the Church falls the modest role of agent of God on earth – only there and nowhere else.” “The most far-reaching consequences flowed from this,” he continues; “Luther smote the Pope on his crown and simply obliterated his high pretensions with reference to the salvation of souls in this world and the next, and in their place set God and the soul in a personal communion which in its whole intercourse bears the stamp of interiorness and spirituality.” Julius Köstlin puts the whole matter with his accustomed clearness and balance – though with a little wider reference than the Theses themselves – when he describes the advance in Luther’s testimony marked by the indulgence controversy thus: “As he had up to this time proclaimed salvation in Christ through faith, in opposition to all human merit, so he now proclaims it also in opposition to an external human ecclesiasticism and priesthood, whose acts are represented as conditioning the imparting of salvation itself, and as in and of themselves, even without faith, effecting salvation for those in whose interests they are performed.

“Refo Thursday”: Pope calls Luther a “wild boar”

120-calvin-ch-magThe 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.

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Today’s post looks at Luther’s hymn writing as well as the papal bull that excommunicated him from the Roman Catholic Church for the statements Luther made in his 95 theses. I post the image they allow you to share and the video.

You may also sign up for the “Refo Thursday” at the link provided here. And, I might add, there you will also find plenty of other videos you may watch from these past Thursday posts.

Reformation Day 2016: Luther’s Conversion and “Ein Feste Burg”

MLutherThe following is a reblog from my Oct.27, 2010 post on Martin Luther’s conversion, in his own words and in connection with his personal study of Romans 1:17. To that post I have added a video of some good Reformation music. Soli De Gloria!

From the website “Reformation Theology” comes this quote (also found in Roland Bainton’s classic biography of M.Luther, Here I Stand) in which Luther himself describes how he came to see the true gospel of sovereign grace, particularly the truth of justification by faith alone. As we reflect on the wonder of salvation that God works by His grace alone in Christ alone through faith alone, may we glory in the God who showed this truth to this humble servant and who restored it to the church in the 16th century. CJT

 

In the last 1,000 years, what came to be known as “the Tower Experience” of Martin Luther might well be the most significant event in the western world for all the ramifications which ensued. Here are Luther’s own words as he describes what happened as he was studying Romans 1:17 (and reading the insights of Augustine on this verse from a fairly obscure article he had written centuries before)- “For in it (the gospel) the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, “The righteous shall live by faith.” – Rom 1:17

“I greatly longed to understand Paul’s epistle to the Romans and nothing stood in the way but that one expression “the righteousness of God,” because I took it to mean that righteousness whereby God is just and deals justly in punishing the unjust.

My situation was that, although an impeccable monk, I stood before God as a sinner troubled in conscience, and I had no confidence that my merit would assuage Him. Therefore I did not love a just angry God, but rather hated and murmured against Him. Yet I clung to the dear Paul and had a great yearning to know what he meant.

Night and day I pondered until I saw the connection between the righteousness of God and the statement that “the just shall live by faith.” Then I grasped that the righteousness of God is that righteousness by which through grace and sheer mercy God justifies us through faith. Thereupon I felt myself to be reborn and to have gone through open doors into paradise. The whole of Scripture took on a new meaning, and whereas before “the righteousness of God” had filled me with hate, now it became to me inexpressibly sweet in greater love. This passage of Paul became to me a gate to heaven…” – Martin Luther

Our second Luther element today is a version of his classic “A Mighty Fortress”, sometimes also called “The Battle Hymn of the Reformation.” This arrangement is sung by the Choir of King’s College, Cambridge.

“On God our salvation must depend.” Peter M. Vermigli

ref-comm-scripture-romans-2016In the recently published Romans 9-16 commentary (New Testament VIII) in the series “Reformation Commentary on Scripture” (IVP Academic, 2016), the Italian Reformer Peter Martyr Vermigli is quoted (from his own commentary on Romans) in connection with Romans 11:1-4.

In a section headed with “God Causes, Enables and Completes Our Salvation,” this is what Vermigli states (slightly edited):

This should not be understood as simple knowledge, for even those who are damned are not hidden from God. Instead this knowledge has a connection with approval. And they are said to have been foreknown who have been received by God and whom he has separated from the rest as his people whom he will save. For this reason Augustine in his book On the Gift of Perseverance alters this verb ‘he has foreknown’ to ‘he has predestined.’

Those who want election to be dependent on foreseen works say that those whom God foreknew would believe and live godly lives are picked out. But these ideas have been refuted at length above, so instead let us hold the opposite understanding. We believe therefore that we accept God’s truth and live godly lives because we have been chosen, and not that we have been chosen because we will believe.

On God our salvation must depend; it does not even have its beginning from us. Christ said (as it is written in John): ‘Those you have given to me I have not lost.’ That is, if they do not hear me, if they perish, they are not those whom you have given me.