Luther and the Church – Rev. M. McGeown

sb-oct-2016-lutherWe return today to the annual special Reformation issue of the Standard Bearer (October 15, 2016).  This year’s special issue is entirely devoted to “Martin Luther, Reformer Convicted by Scripture.”


One of the articles focuses on Luther’s doctrine of the church. In “Luther and the Church” Rev. Martyn McGeown (missionary-pastor laboring in Limerick, Ireland) summarizes Luther’s ecclesiology, while recognizing that he was not a systematizer like Calvin.

For example, McGeown says this about Luther’s view of the unity of the church:

Luther did not deny, or even attack (as his opponents alleged) the unity of the church. Luther never intended to create a second church to rival the Roman church. Luther denied that the Roman church was the church. It was, and had become, a wicked, degenerate counterfeit of the true church. What Luther did (and what Calvin and the other Reformers did after him) in establishing congregations on the basis of the Word of God was to continue the one church of Jesus Christ. Luther’s close friend and ally, Philip Melanchthon, wrote in the Augsburg Confession, “It is sufficient for the true unity of the Christian church that the Gospel be preached in conformity with a pure understanding of it and that the sacraments be administered in accordance with the divine Word. It is not necessary for the true unity of the Christian church that ceremonies, instituted by men, should be observed uniformly in all places” (Article VII).

And when he ends his article, McGeown brings up Luther’s love for the church:

Finally, Luther loved the church. His great grief was to see what he called the Babylonian Captivity of the church, and his great desire was to see the church restored to her biblical foundations. Above all, Luther saw himself not as a mighty Reformer, or even as a great spiritual leader, but as a humble, yett thankful, member of the church:

I want to be and remain in the church and little flock of the faint-hearted, the feeble, and the ailing, who feel and recognize the wretchedness of their sins, who believe in the forgiveness of sins, and who suffer persecution for the sake of the Word which they confess and teach purely and without adulteration.”1

That, too, is our thankful confession. We love the church, for in the church we find Christ.

1 Cited by Eugene F. Klug in “Luther on the Church” (Concordia Theological Quarterly [St Louis, Missouri, volume 47, Number 3, July 1983]).

The Reformation’s Impact on Education – Peter Lillback

reformation-educationThe tenth and final featured article in this month’s Tabletalk on the church in the 16th century (the period of the great Reformation) is on “The Reformation and Education.” Penned by Dr. Peter Lillback (Westminster Seminary in Philadelphia), the article briefly summarizes the major impact the Reformers and their biblical principles had on the field of education.

As children of the Reformation, we experience and benefit from that impact in our own homes, churches, Christian schools, and Seminaries to this day. As we do so, – and as we need to remain in that heritage – we need to be grounded in those same biblical principles of education. Reading this brief article will help.

I post a few paragraphs from Lillback’s article tonight, encouraging you to read the rest at the Ligonier link below.

The Reformation has been an extraordinary force for global education. The Middle Ages gave birth to the first European universities that trained a select cadre of scholars. But in the Protestant Reformation, the quest for universal education was unleashed. Martin Luther, a professor at the University of Wittenberg, early on called for the magistrates to establish schools so that children could learn to read the newly translated Scriptures and benefit from the learning of the ages. Later, John Calvin, in the French context, established the Academy of Geneva that became the center of Reformed theology.

The educational methods of the Reformers reflected their theology. The goal of general literacy manifested the Reformation principle of the priesthood of all believers—all Christians have the spiritual privilege to read and to study the Scriptures for themselves. Sola Scriptura—the Scriptures as the only infallible source of saving knowledge and true wisdom—was buttressed by pedagogy consistent with Scripture. For the laity, this was accomplished by biblical literacy and catechisms. For adults and church leaders, confessions of faith served as summaries and standards of biblical doctrine and practice.

…The Reformation’s educational reforms also affected university studies. Speculative medieval scholasticism was replaced by a biblically grounded systematic theology. A worldview shaped by a belief in a sovereign Creator who rules an orderly cosmos encouraged the investigation of the empirical sciences. Linguistic studies accelerated. Latin was dethroned as the only scholarly language, since the common tongues of Europe had become capable of scholarly discussion due to the elevation of these languages by the translation of the Bible. Nevertheless, the study of the languages of biblical scholarship—Latin, Greek, and Hebrew—increased as a trained clergy became a reality. The Reformation’s educational impact spurred the printing industry, spawning libraries and advanced study in various disciplines. Some of the renowned academic centers greatly shaped by the Reformation are the universities in Wittenberg, Geneva, Zurich, Heidelberg, Oxford, Cambridge, and Edinburgh.

Source: The Reformation and Education by Peter Lillback

Special Book/Resource Offers for Reformation Week 2016

Reformation-GeneralLooking to build your personal or family library with some good Reformation resources this time of year? This is a good time to do so, and especially this week.

First, Ligonier Ministries is having a special on Reformation resources each day this week, starting today. Here is the little blurb that goes with the week’s specials:

October 31, 2016, will mark the 499th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation. To celebrate, during “Reformation Week” we will be sharing various resource offers. Stay tuned to the blog each day this week for the latest Reformation Week links to redeem these offers.

Now follow this link to get at these deals – and be sure to check back each day. Resource Offers: Reformation Week 2016

reformation-nichols-2007Second, Tim Challies called attention to some good Kindle deals on Reformation titles this morning. You will want to watch his site this week as well. Here are a few from his list along with a link to his site.

luther-scarr-2016Third, in children’s books, Reformation Heritage Books has just released the latest title in their “Christian Biographies for Young Readers” series, and it is another fine one from the pen of Simonetta Carr, this time on Martin Luther. Here is the publisher’s description and table of contents ($14 for hardcover, illustrated):

Five hundred years ago, a monk named Martin Luther wrote ninety-five questions, hoping to start a discussion about sin and repentance at the University of Wittenberg in Germany. In a few months those questions had stirred the nation; a few years later, the continent. Today we know that those questions changed the course of both the Western church and world history. In this volume for children, Simonetta Carr tells the compelling story of this father of the Protestant Reformation, tracing his quest for peace with God, his lifelong heroic stand for God’s truth, and his family life and numerous accomplishments. The Reformer’s greatest accomplishment, she writes, “has been his uncompromising emphasis on the free promise of the gospel.”

Table of Contents:


1. From Law Student to Monk

2. Looking for Peace with God

3. A Powerful List

4. A Reluctant Rebel

5. Starting a Reformation

6. Raising a Family

7. Ready to Die in the Lord

Time Line

Did You Know?

If you don’t have Carr’s title on John Calvin from this series, now would be a good time to add that one too (also $14).

I might also add that has a large Reformation section with a wide variety of resources – articles, mp3s, even pictures. It is worth your time to browse there and find something of interest. And, if I haven’t mentioned this lately, be sure to check out their free ebook section, in alphabetical order by author (all 365 of them!).


Out of the Depths I Cry to Thee – Martin Luther

quote-i-have-no-use-for-cranks-who-despise-music-because-it-is-a-gift-of-god-music-drives-martin-luther-95-6-0681Martin Luther brought reformation to the church not only through his translation of the Bible into German and by his preaching of the gospel, but also by his composition of music for the people of God to sing. He is the author of numerous hymns, some of which are based directly on the Psalms.

One such is this one written on the basis of Psalm 130, for which he wrote both the lyrics and the melody (1523-24). The website from which this is taken includes this interesting background to the hymn.

[This] is a ver­sion of Psalm cxxx, which Lu­ther called a Paul­ine Psalm, and great­ly loved. He took spe­cial pains with his ver­sion. It was sung on May 9, 1525, at the fun­er­al of Fried­rich the Wise, in the Court Church at Wit­ten­berg. The people of Halle sang it with tears in their eyes as the great Re­form­er’s cof­fin passed through their ci­ty on the way to the grave at Wit­ten­berg. It is wov­en into the re­li­gious life of Ger­ma­ny.

In 1530, dur­ing the Di­et of Aug­sburg, Lu­ther’s heart was oft­en sore trou­bled, but he would say, ‘Come, let us de­fy the de­vil and praise God by sing­ing a hymn.’ Then he would be­gin, ‘Out of the depths I cry to Thee.’ It was sung at his fun­er­al.

Below is the hymn itself. At the link below you will find the tune to play with it.

Out of the Depths I Cry to Thee

Out of the depths I cry to Thee;
Lord, hear me, I implore Thee!
Bend down Thy gracious ear to me;
I lay my sins before Thee.
If Thou rememberest each misdeed,
If each should have its rightful meed,
Who may abide Thy presence?

Thou grantest pardon through Thy love;
Thy grace alone availeth;
Our works could ne’er our guilt remove;
Yea, e’en the best life faileth.
For none may boast himself of aught,
But must confess Thy grace hath wrought
Whate’er in him is worthy.

And thus my hope is in the Lord,
And not in my own merit;
I rest upon His faithful Word
To them of contrite spirit.
That He is merciful and just,
Here is my comfort and my trust;
His help I wait with patience.

Source: Out of the Depths I Cry to Thee

J. Calvin’s Doctrine of Scripture – D.Kuiper

sola_scriptura_small01One of the featured articles on the PRC website this month focuses on John Calvin’s doctrine of the holy Scripture. It was originally written for the special Reformation issue of the Oct.15, 1993 Standard Bearer and was penned by Rev. Dale Kuiper (1935-2014), then pastor of SE PRC in Grand Rapids, MI.

For this Saturday night we quote a part of this important and profitable article, encouraging you to read all of it at the link provided above. Or you may find the link to its original source here (and while there, you will see the other articles related to the theme of the Reformation’s doctrine of Scripture in that special issue).

In chapter seven [of his Institutes] Calvin teaches that unless the authority of Scripture is firmly established, doubts will flourish in them in the mind and there will be a lack of reverence for the Word. “But since we are not favoured with daily oracles from heaven, and since it is only in the Scriptures that the Lord hath been pleased to preserve his truth in perpetual remembrance, it obtains the same complete credit and authority with believers, when they are satisfied of its divine origin, as if they heard the very words pronounced by God himself” (p. 85) He calls it a pernicious error that the Scriptures derive their authority and weight by the suffrages of the church, or that the church decides what reverence is due the Scriptures, and what books comprise the canon.

Calvin destroys the argument that the Scriptures depend on the church’s decisions by quoting Ephesians 2:20, where we read that the church is built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets. If the foundation of the church is Scripture, Scripture precedes the existence of the church, and the church cannot exist without Scripture. How, then, can she be the judge of them? “Wherefore, when the church receives it, and seals it with her suffrage, she does not authenticate a thing otherwise dubious or controvertible; but knowing it to be the truth of her God, performs a duty of piety, by treating it with immediate veneration” (p. 87).

…Calvin insists that the principal proof for the authority of the Bible is derived from the character of the Divine Speaker. “The prophets and apostles boast not of their own genius, or any of those talents which conciliate the faith of the hearers; nor do they insist on arguments from reason; but bring forward the sacred name of God, to compel the submission of the whole world” (p. 89). He immediately adds that “the testimony of the Spirit is superior to all reason. For as God alone is a sufficient witness of himself in his own word, so also the word will never gain credit in the hearts of men, till it be confirmed by the internal testimony of the Spirit” (p. 90). What must we think of Calvinists who wonder at the nature and extent of biblical authority in the twentieth century? Why appoint committees to study such a question? It is faithless conniving against the fundamental principle of the Reformation.

“This diamond Jesus Christ.” – Martin Luther

reformation-in-lit-smellie-1925Another interesting book that is part of the T. Letis collection (and that was also part of the library of Prof. D. Engelsma) is The Reformation in Its Literature by Alexander Smellie (Andrew Melrose, London/New York, 1925 – also author of The Men of the Covenant).

The book is a wonderful study of the Reformation from the viewpoint of the major works of literature that it produced – from Luther’s Ninety-five Theses to Calvin’s Institutes to Knox’s History of the Reformation in Scotland.

Last evening I read chapter three, “The Deep Heart of Martin Luther,” a study of Luther’s commentary on Galatians. Part of that chapter focused on the Reformer’s view of Jesus Christ – a gem of a section. This is part of what Smellie had to say:

But Luther has a still vaster and sweeter word for us to set over against the battalions of our adversaries – the word ‘Christ.’ ‘This diamond Jesus Christ,’ ‘this precious pearl Christ’; no jewel can be compared with Him. Those of us who wish to see what endless resources the Reformer finds in Our Saviour and Lord must return to Hermann’s wonderful book, The Communion of the Christian with God, and must read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest the chapter which is headed ‘Luther and Christ.’  How he retained the Christological dogma of the Mediaeval Church in which he had been nurtured, but breathed into it a vital and ardent and magnificent content. How he was sure of the Deity of Christ, and believed that ‘the man who seeks salvation will stop trying to help himself only when he knows that God has helped him.’ How he was just as rejoicingly certain of Our Lord’s humanity, and rose from the humanity step by step to the vision and conviction of the Deity. ‘For the Scriptures begin very gently, and lead us on to Christ as to a Man, then afterwards to a Lord over all creatures, and after that to a God. So do I enter delightfully and learn to know God. But the philosophers and the all-wise men have wanted to begin from above; and so they have become fools. We must begin from below, and after that come upwards.’ How, in short, confidence in Christ is all that poor sinners need; for He is the true and faithful Lover of those who are in trouble and anguish. He is the merciful High Priest of the wretched and the fearful (pp.65-66).


The Reformation and the Centrality of Worship – Jeffrey Jue

tt-oct-2016This past Sunday I read two more of the featured articles on the church in the 16th century, the theme of this month’s Tabletalk.

The first is “The Centrality of Worship” (linked below) by Dr. Jeffrey K. Jue (Westminster Seminary, Philadelphia), while the second is “Divinely Instituted Sacraments” by Dr. R. Scott Clark (Westminster Seminary, Escondido). Both are profitable explanations of how the Reformers led the 16th-century church back to the teaching of Scripture in the areas of worship and the sacraments. Not perfectly, for there were differences among the Reformers on these points, but, nevertheless, they returned the church to the basic teachings of the Word of God.

For today’s Reformation focus we quote the opening paragraph and a later paragraph in Dr. Jue’s article (follow the Ligonier link at the end for the complete article) We hope it reminds you of how important the matter of worship was to the Reformers, and, therefore, ought to be to us.

Martin Luther’s recovery of the doctrine of justification by faith alone served as the theological foundation for the Protestant Reformation. He arrived at this orthodox position after a careful study of Scripture along with the conviction that Scripture alone is ultimately authoritative, not the Roman Catholic Church. Orthodoxy (right doctrine) led to orthopraxy (right practice), including the proper biblical understanding of worship. The sixteenth-century Protestant Reformation can be rightly described as a reformation of worship in the church. The Reformers, including Luther, Huldrych Zwingli, and later John Calvin, insisted that worship in the church was vital for the Christian, yet they were troubled by a number of practices in the Roman Catholic Church. This motivated them to look to Scripture, the ultimate authority, to instruct the church on how biblical worship should be practiced.

…What are the specific prescriptions for worship found in Scripture? There are five key elements. First, the Bible is to be read (1 Tim. 4:13). Second, and very significantly for the Reformers, worship must include the preaching of the Word (2 Tim. 4:2; Rom. 10:14–15). In the medieval Roman Catholic Church, preaching was diminished as the Mass was elevated in priority in worship. The Reformers insisted that preaching is central and a means of grace to strengthen believers in their sanctification. Third, prayers are to be offered in worship (Matt. 21:13; Acts 4:24–30). Fourth, the sacraments are to be rightly administered (Matt. 28:19; 1 Cor. 11: 23–26). Remember, the Reformers determined that the Bible teaches only two sacraments: baptism and the Lord’s Supper. Finally, singing is also included as an element of worship (Eph. 5:19).

Source: The Centrality of Worship by Jeffrey Jue

Why the Reformation Still Matters – Because of Justification

why-reformation-matters-reeves-2016A week or so ago we pointed to some new Reformation books that have been published, one of them being Why the Reformation Still Matters, co-authored by Michael Reeves and Tim Chester (Crossway, 2016; 219 pp.).

The first chapter gets at one of the key doctrines restored during the great Reformation of the church – justification, or as the book has it in the subtitle, “How Can We Be Saved?” After giving an account of how Luther was led by the Lord to rediscover this truth of salvation, the authors summarize “Luther’s theology of justification” this way:

  1. Justification is a forensic act by which a believer is declared righteous. Justification is not a process by which a person is made righteous. ‘Forensic’ means legal – it invokes the image of a law court. It involves a change of status – not a change of nature.
  2. The cause of justification is the alien righteousness of Christ. It is not inherent within a person or in any sense said to belong to us. It is ‘imputed’ or reckoned to us. It is not ‘imparted’ or poured into us.
  3. Justification is by faith alone. We contribute nothing. Christ has achieved everything for us already.
  4. Because justification is an act of God and because it is based on the finished work of Christ, we can have assurance (p.32).

A few paragraphs later the authors raise the question,

So, does justification still matter? The answer must be a resounding yes. Nothing maters more than justification by Christ alone through faith alone. If justification by faith seems obvious to you, then it is because of Luther. But we must not presume on his legacy.

Many attempts have been made to move the center ground of Christianity elsewhere. But the fact remains that the biggest problem facing humanity is God’s justice. God is committed to judging sin. And that means he is committed to judging my sin. This is our biggest problem because that means an eternity excluded from the glory of God (p.34).

To which they add,

This is why Luther described justification as ‘the summary of Christian doctrine’ and ‘the article by which the church stands or falls.’

But it is not just at a doctrinal or ecclesial level that it matters. It is a deeply personal doctrine. Every time I sin, I create a reason to doubt my acceptance by God, and I question my future with God. But day after day the doctrine of justification speaks peace to my soul (p.35).

Good things to think about as we remember the Reformation and give thanks for the gospel of grace restored to the church in the sixteenth century.


Special Reformation Issue on M.Luther – Oct.15, 2016 Standard Bearer

The annual special Reformation issue of the Standard Bearer is now out, and it truly is a special issue – entirely devoted to “Martin Luther, Reformer Convicted by Scripture.”


As you will see from the above cover and table of contents, the issue contains a variety of articles on Martin Luther and the beginning of the great Reformation of the sixteenth century – from Luther’s Ninety-five Theses to his struggle for assurance to his views on Scripture and the church.

There is much edifying reading here, and you are encouraged to make this reading a priority this month as we remember God’s work in His church in the past. To obtain your issue or to subscribe to this Reformed magazine, visit the SB link above.

For today, let’s hear Luther himself, as found in his commentary on Galatians 2:19 (Kregel, 1979), quoted in the “Meditation” for this issue.

Christ, with most sweet names, is called my law, my sin, my death, against the law, sin and death: whereas, in very deed He is nothing else but mere liberty, righteousness, life, and everlasting salvation. And for this cause He is made the law of the law, the sin of sin, the death of death, that He might redeem from the curse of the law, justify me, and quicken me. So then, while Christ is the law, He is also liberty: while He is sin (for ‘He was made sin for us’), He is righteousness; and while He is death, He is life. For in that He suffered the law to accuse Him, sin to condemn Him, and death to devour Him, He abolished the law, He condemned sin, He destroyed death, He justified and saved me. So Christ is the poison of the law, sin, and death, and the remedy for the obtaining  of liberty, righteousness, and everlasting life.

Thus Paul goeth about to draw us wholly from the beholding of the law, sin, death, and all other evils, and to bring us unto Christ, that there we might behold this joyful conflict: to wit the law fighting against the law, that it may be to me liberty: sin against sin, that it may be to me righteousness: death against death, that I may obtain life: Christ fighting against the devil, that I may be the child of God: and destroying hell that I may enjoy the Kingdom of heaven (p.87)

The Prayers of J. Calvin (29)

JCalvin1On this third Sunday of Reformation month 2016 we return to our series of posts on the prayers of John Calvin (see my previous Sunday posts in Nov./Dec., 2014, throughout 2015, and now in 2016), which follow his lectures on the OT prophecy of Jeremiah (Baker reprint, 1979).

Today we post a brief section from his twenty-eighth lecture and the prayer that concludes it (slightly edited). This lecture covers Jeremiah 7:12-19, which includes Calvin’s comments on 7:15, “And I will cast you out of my sight, as I have cast out all your brethren, even the whole seed of Ephraim”:

But we may hence learn this important truth, – that God had never bound Himself to any people or place, that He was not at liberty to inflict punishment on the impiety of those who had despised His favours, or profaned them by their ingratitude and their sins.

And this ought to be carefully noticed; for we see that it is an evil as it were innate in us, that we become elated and proud whenever God deals bountifully with us; for we so abuse His favours as to think that more liberty is given us, because God has bestowed on us more than on others. But there is nothing more groundless than this presumption; and yet we become thus insolent whenever God honours us with peculiar favours.

Let us therefore bear in mind what is taught here by the Prophet, – that God is ever at liberty to take vengeance on the ungodly and the ungrateful.

With that general comment, Calvin turns his attention to the Romish church:

Hence it also appears how foolish is the boasting of the Papists; for whenever they bring against us the name of the apostolic throne, they think that God’s mouth is closed; they think that all authority is to be taken away from His Word. In short, they harden themselves against God, as though they had a legitimate possession, because the gospel had been once preached at Rome, and because that place was the first seat of the Church in Italy as well as in Europe. But God never favoured Rome with such a privilege, nor has He said that His habitation was to be there.

…Now, since Shiloh and Jerusalem, and so many celebrated cities, where the gospel formerly flourished, have been taken away from us, it is not to be doubted but that a dreadful vengeance and destruction await all those who reject the doctrine of salvation and despise the treasure of the gospel.

Since then God has shewn by so many proofs and examples that He is not bound to any places, how stupid is their madness who seek, through the mere name of an apostolic seat, to subvert all truth and all fear of God, and whatever belongs to true religion (pp.382-383).

And so Calvin concludes this lecture with this prayer:

Grant, Almighty God, that as we are inclined not only to superstitions, but also to many vices, we may be restrained by Thy Word, and as Thou art pleased daily to remind us of Thy benefits, that Thou mayest keep us in the practice of true religion, –

O grant, that we may not be led astray by the delusions of Satan and by our own vanity, but continue firm and steady in our obedience to Thee, and constantly proceed in the course of true piety, so that we may at length partake of its fruit in Thy celestial kingdom, which has been obtained for us by the blood of Thine only-begotten Son. Amen