Sunday, November 19, 2017

The First Thanksgiving



Over the last few weeks I have been writing about Martin Luther and the Protestant Reformation. If you are wondering why I care so much, it is not just because I am a history nerd (which I am), but because our understanding of salvation is directly traced back to it; indeed, the greatness of this country is traced back to it.

Luther’s reformation spread throughout Europe, giving rise to many smaller groups striving to reform their respective homes. One group in particular, the Puritans, left England and ultimately settled in the New World, believing it to be a place where they could worship God the way the Reformers taught, free from the corrupted influence of the papists and the state-run churches. Their leader, John Winthrop, referred to their Massachusetts colony as a “city on a hill,” invoking biblical terminology; he warned, “If we shall deal falsely with our God in this work…we shall be made a story and a by-word through the world.” They are much more than that today.

But didn’t they come here and kill the Native Americans and steal their land? No, not the Puritans. The Puritans developed relationships and partnerships with the locals, including Squanto and Samoset. The Puritan plan was to evangelize the Natives, whom they recognized as “the rightful owners of the country.” It was the traders sent from their respective monarchies that brought harm to the “savages,” a position widely condemned by the Protestants at that time.

The Puritans, and later the Pilgrims (more Protestants) wrote that “the propagation of the gospel to the Indians” was what they “profess above all.” They desired to teach them “the knowledge of the true God.” This led to the first Thanksgiving (a holiday not so titled until the days of Lincoln), as the Native Americans and Christian settlers worked together to bring forth a great harvest.


As we celebrate Thanksgiving this week, I am thankful for the brave Protestants who came to this new land with the desire to spread the gospel; that mission statement that was “above all” is what paved the way for our enduring religious liberty in this great country.  

Sunday, November 12, 2017

Luther’s Five Solas



After Martin Luther nailed his Ninety-Five Theses to the Castle Church door he became a marked man in all but his hometown of Wittenberg. The dangers he faced afforded him the time to devote himself to the study of Scripture and the writing of his books and commentaries. As the Reformer continued to grow in his understanding he ultimately developed his “five solas (sola means only or alone in Latin).”

Sola Scriptura. Luther concluded that everything a person needs to know in order to be saved is be found in Scripture alone. As Paul noted in Romans 1:16, the gospel “is the power of God unto salvation to everyone that believes.” As the English Reformers would later declare in their Thirty-Nine Articles, if something is not written in Scripture, it “is not to be required…or necessary for salvation.”

Sola Gratis. Martin Luther realized that salvation is by grace alone, as clearly stated in Ephesians 2:8, “For by grace you are saved…” Were it not for the grace of God no human could ever have the opportunity to be saved. No saved person can boast of their salvation unless they are boasting in God’s grace.

Sola Fide. Ephesians 2:8 continues, “you are saved through faith…” Luther learned that grace is God’s part, but we must respond in faith alone. Buying indulgences, confession before a priest, making pilgrimages, and observing the mass cannot save a person; it is only by grace through faith.

Solus Christus. Neither grace nor faith would be possible were it not for the finished work of Jesus on the cross. Acts 4:12 says, “There is salvation in no other, for there is no other name [than Jesus] under heaven by which we must be saved.”

Soli Deo Gloria. Everything must be done for the glory of God alone (1 Corinthians 10:31). Even our salvation brings God glory, but the warped actions of the priesthood glorified man in place of God. Luther fought to put the focus on God alone.

If Martin Luther could speak to you today, he would want you to make sure your salvation is founded on Scripture alone, because of grace alone, with you responding in faith alone, based on the work of Christ alone, to the glory of God alone.

    

Sunday, November 5, 2017

95 Theses



When Martin Luther nailed his 95 Theses to the door of the Castle Church he started a reformation that has changed the world. Five centuries later we still reap the benefits of the writings of the discontented monk of Wittenberg. What was so important in these writings? Why did they anger the entire priesthood, including the pope himself?

Luther began by hammering the selling of indulgences. The idea being presented by the priests was that purchasing indulgences brought forgiveness of sin on earth and could speed up the release of a soul from purgatory (purgatory is not mentioned in the Bible, but the common person did not have access to a Bible in his own language at the time). The selling of indulgences became the first pyramid scheme; a man would get a personal loan, purchase his way into becoming a priest, then sell indulgences to pay off his loan. The victims in this were the people scrounging up money in belief that they were getting grandma out of purgatory, or worse, thinking they were securing salvation for themselves. Here are some of Luther’s theses on this matter:

“The pope neither desires, nor is able to remit any penalties except those imposed by his own authority…Thus those indulgence preachers are in error who say that a man is absolved from every penalty and saved by papal indulgences…They preach only human doctrines who say that as soon as the money clinks into the money chest, the soul flies out of purgatory. It is certain that when money clinks into the money chest, greed and avarice can be increased…Those who believe that they can be certain of their salvation because they have indulgence letters will be eternally damned, together with their teachers.”

Luther continued with more biting language and stinging rebukes. It is no wonder he was excommunicated by the pope (another non-biblical invention that the commoner was duped into believing). His point was clear: man is forgiven of sin without buying indulgence letters, which was good news for the poor who could not afford them. Salvation is a free gift. If you think you can earn it by being a good person, you are just as deceived as those who thought they could buy it. The only way to have your sins forgiven is to accept the free gift of Jesus Christ. Ask Him to forgive you and save you, and you can rest assured that He will.

“For by grace you are saved through faith, and not of yourselves. It is a free gift of God.”

Ephesians 2:8-9

Monday, October 30, 2017

Protestant Reformation



500 years ago Martin Luther changed the world forever. On October 31st, 1517, the Augustinian monk nailed his now-famous Ninety-Five Theses to the front door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg, Germany, which sparked the Protestant Reformation. His theses were a collection of questions, instructions, and criticisms for the Catholic Church.

To appreciate Luther’s work one must understand the world in which Luther lived. He ministered in a day where priests were padding their pockets on the sale of indulgences, taking advantage of people by selling worthless certificates. They taught that it was of more value to purchase indulgences than to help the poor; the money collected from indulgences was used for the priests to buy promotions for themselves and their friends. 

Luther also pointed out that God alone has the power to forgive sin, yet the church was selling forgiveness. The church was teaching that through seven sacraments the priests could give salvation to the laity, independent of faith or repentance. When they administered the Lord’s Supper, the priests taught that they were sacrificing Jesus all over again, and each sacrifice would guarantee salvation to the one who received it. Because the Bible was written in Latin, the common person could not read it for himself and had to take the priest at his word. Luther learned Latin and Greek, and slowly realized how the church had mishandled God’s Word. 

Martin Luther found himself faced with a choice: he could go along with the system and profit from it, or he could expose it and try to correct it. The former promised him a good life, while the latter promised excommunication and shame. He had earned the right to live by the system; he paid his dues as a monk, secured his Phd, and lectured at the university, but Luther decided to throw that away and do what he knew was right. When he nailed his document to the church door he forever severed himself from his old life; he was soon excommunicated and forced to spend time disguised and in hiding; he even staged a fake arrest and lived in prison for a time. While he escaped martyrdom, Luther led a lonely, dangerous life. 

Luther is proof that God can accomplish great things through one obedient person.

Monday, October 23, 2017

Writing on the Wall



Monday, October 16, 2017

You will be my Martyrs



In Acts 1:8 Jesus gave the disciples instructions to follow after the coming of the Holy Spirit: “You will be witnesses for me in Jerusalem, and in Judea, and in Samaria, and to the uttermost parts of the earth.” Those words are familiar to most churchgoers, but what might not be as familiar is the history of the word witnesses. 

The word that Jesus used has become our English word for martyr. Although martyrs have become synonymous with those who die for their faith, the word originally just meant witness; but when so many of those witnesses began to die for their faith in Jesus, the word took on new meaning. As Alec Ryrie puts it in his book Protestants, martyrs are “believers who bear witness to their faith in the most vivid and unanswerable way, by choosing to die rather than to renounce it (p.85).”  

Martyrdom became such a badge of honor throughout the Medieval Period that Martin Luther once wondered if God was displeased with him because he had not been executed for his faith. Being put to death for their Christianity meant that they were worthy to die in a manner similar to their Lord.  It was during this time that John Foxe wrote his book that would later become known as Foxe’s Book of Martyrs.

Unfortunately Christian persecution and martyrdom still occur in many countries. I don’t want to minimize that, but the majority of Christians around the world and throughout history will not be killed for their faith; in America Christian martyrdom is virtually unheard of. I certainly hope I will never die as a martyr, but I have been called to be one. The Greek word martyr, translated witness, means, “one who bears witness of the truth.” It is a legal term for those who have been compelled to state what they saw.


In other words, we have been served a subpoena by Jesus, called to bear witness of the truth. Let’s be His martyrs and tell the unsaved world the truth about Jesus.   

Sunday, October 8, 2017

Smile



Have you ever seen a chimpanzee smile? Let me answer that for you: you haven't. You may have seen them make silly faces, but you have not seen them smile because they do not posses the ability to smile. They lack the necessary muscles and nerves required to smile and laugh. 

While humans have about 50 facial muscles, apes have fewer than 30. Among the 20 fewer muscles are the ones at the corners of the lips needed to lift upwards into a smile. Even if they had those muscles they still would not have the nerves that work in conjunction with the muscles. 

Have you ever seen a baby smile? Let me answer that for you: you have. Babies are born with the ability to smile, even if it is several months before they smile out of happiness. Smiling is something humans have hard wired into our DNA from birth. 

Why can humans smile but not chimps? According to Darwinian evolution, anything humans have that lesser creatures do not have has evolved out of necessity. In other words, those extra facial muscles are only present because humans cannot survive without them. But how do primates survive just fine without the ability to smile? Why would humans have evolved the extra muscles and nerves? What does that have to do with survival of the fittest? 

The evolutionary answer would be that animals simply don't need to smile in order to survive, but the natural question arises: why do humans need to smile? Humans were created in the image of God, and we are the pinnacle of His creation. He made us last and set us apart, and we are the only redeemable part of Creation because we are the only ones He died for. He made us emotional beings and gave us the ability to communicate non verbally. Whenever we smile we are testifying to God’s magnificent creation, and even on our worst day, we have a lot to smile about. 

If you find yourself having a bad day, say with Job, “I will forget my complaining; I will put off my sad face and smile (9:27).” Smile, if for no other reason, because you can.