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White Horse Inn: The Radical Reformation

On this program, the hosts continue their discussion which began last week on the influence of the Radical Reformation. How did the theology of the Anabaptist and Pietist movements end up influencing so many forms of Protestantism, both here in America and around the world? And more specifically, how did these views shape the founders of the Enlightenment and help create what we know today as Protestant Liberalism? Join us on this edition of White Horse Inn.

Christianity & LiberalismHost Quote:

“We are continuing our discussion of the impact of the other reformation we hardly ever talk about, the Radical Reformation, on liberal Protestantism. Radicalism didn’t come from the Reformation. It’s often called the ‘leftwing reformation’ but it actually came from the late Middle Ages. A movement that came to be known as radical Anabaptism was millennial and utopian, expecting a radical age of the Spirit that would wash away all history and tradition and all external authority.

“This radical impulse has been part of Protestantism down to the present day. And if you look at Protestant Liberalism today, it looks very similar to this radical Anabaptist movement, as do many evangelical movements. And so, in a really profound way, even though evangelicals and liberals are at each other’s throats, they are more engaged in a sibling rivalry than they are successors of Luther and Calvin. In this program, we want to look at the ongoing influence of this radical element in Protestantism that is totally different from the 16th century Reformation led by Martin Luther and other reformers.” – Michael Horton

Term to Learn:

“Liberalism”

In the sphere of religion, in particular, the present time is a time of conflict; the great redemptive religion which has always been known as Christianity is battling against a totally diverse type of religious belief, which is only the more destructive of the Christian faith because it makes use of traditional Christian terminology. This modern non-redemptive religion is called “liberalism.”

This movement is so various in its manifestations that one may almost despair of finding any common name which will apply to all its forms. But manifold as are the forms in which the movement appears, the root of the movement is one; the many varieties of modern liberal religion are rooted in naturalism—that is, in the denial of any entrance of the creative power of God (as distinguished from the ordinary course of nature) in connection with the origin of Christianity. (Adapted from J. Gresham Machen, Christianity & Liberalism)

(This podcast is by White Horse Inn. Discovered by Christian Podcast Central and our community — copyright is owned by the publisher, not Christian Podcast Central, and audio is streamed directly from their servers.)

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On today’s episode, Dr. Stephen Nichols discusses the mysterious origin and the doctrinal content of the Baptist Confession of 1693.

There’s a delightful set of texts called the Reformed Confessions of the 16th and 17th Centuries in English Translation. It is in four volumes, and the very last document it includes is the Baptist Catechism of 1693. This was a few generations after Luther; the Reformation at this point was firmly established. We have the Lutherans, we have the Reformed church, we have the Presbyterians, and, as this catechism attests, we have the Baptists.

In this edition of the Baptist Catechism, there is a brief introduction, the first line of which is this: “Mystery surrounds the origin of this catechism.” That’s a great line. The mystery is this: there is no first edition. It does not exist. There is a general scholarly consensus that the catechism was first published in 1693, but the oldest copy comes to us from 1695. Second, there is mystery surrounding the author. This catechism was called, at one point, Keach’s Catechism. That title refers to a man named Benjamin Keach, who lived from 1640 to 1704. But another writer is believed to have participated in drafting this catechism, and, perhaps, he was the main author of it. His name was William Collins; he died in 1702. So, it’s a little tricky to figure out exactly where this catechism came from and exactly who wrote it.

This catechism starts off with doctrine questions. It has about forty-three questions that get right at the heads of doctrine, and then it turns to our duty and walks through the Ten Commandments. That raises the question, “Who can keep the law?,” which causes the catechism to discuss some more doctrine, including the doctrine of salvation. It ends, as many catechisms do, by looking at the Lord’s Prayer and the spiritual discipline of prayer.

Let’s take a look at the first few questions and answers from the Baptist Catechism. The first question is, “Who is the first and chiefest being?” and the answer is, “God is the first and chiefest being.” It’s interesting to see where the great catechisms of the church begin. The Heidelberg Catechism begins, “What is your only comfort in life and in death?” So, it looks at salvation and what it means for us and how it fills our hearts with gratitude. The Westminster Shorter Catechism’s famous first question and answer are, “What is the chief end of man?” and “The chief end of man is to glorify God, and enjoy him forever.” And the Baptist Catechism of 1693 starts with God, asking, “Who is the first and chiefest being?”

The second question is, “Ought everyone to believe that there is a God?” And the answer is this: “Everyone ought to believe there is a God and it is their great sin and folly who do not.” So, there’s our obligation: this great, chief being is God and our obligation is to believe that He is.

So, this raises a question, and that’s question three: “How may we know there is a God?” This is the answer: “The light of nature in man, and the works of God, plainly declare there is a God; but His Word and Spirit only, do it fully and effectually for the salvation of sinners.” So, that God exists is known through the light of nature, through the world that God made; it’s a testimony to His presence, a testimony to His existence. But He is known fully and effectually through the Word and through His ministry of the Spirit, and that is the knowledge that leads to salvation.

Stay connected with 5 Minutes in Church History by getting the weekly podcast on iTunesSoundCloud, or via RSS. You can also subscribe to the blog via RSS and follow us on Twitter and Facebook.

 (This podcast is by Ligonier Ministries. Discovered by Christian Podcast Central and our community — copyright is owned by the publisher, not Christian Podcast Central, and audio is streamed directly from their servers.)

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The Radical Reformation

According to a recent Pew study, 53% of American Protestants couldn’t identify Martin Luther as the one who started the Reformation, and fewer than 30% of white Evangelicals were unable to identify Protestantism as the faith which embraces the doctrine of justification by faith alone.

On this program, the hosts will attempt to show that contemporary Christians, whether liberal or conservative, have more in common with the theology of the Anabaptist reformers than they do with the views of Luther and Calvin expressed in the great Reformation solas. Join us as we continue to think about the Reformation on this edition of White Horse Inn.

Host Quote:

“Much of the hoopla surrounding the 500th anniversary of the Reformation this year has been, well, let’s just say, blather.  At a joint service in Lund, Sweden, on October 31st, 2016, Pope Francis and the president of the World Lutheran Federation exchanged warm feelings. Reverend Martin Junge, general secretary of the mainline Lutheran body said in a press release from the joint service, ‘I’m carried by the profound conviction that by working towards reconciliation between Lutherans and Catholics, we’re working towards justice, peace and reconciliation in a world torn by conflict and violence.’  Clearly, the focus wasn’t on truth.

“Acknowledging Luther’s positive contributions, the Pope spoke of how important Christian unity is to bring healing and reconciliation to a world divided by violence.  But he added, ‘We have no intention of correcting what took place, but to tell that history differently.’ Perhaps the most evident example of missing the point is the statement by Swiss Pastor and President of an ecumenical church convention in Berlin last year, Christina Aus der Au.  She said, ‘Reformation means courageously seeking what is new and turning away from old familiar customs.’ That’s what the reformation was all about, why average lay people and archbishops gave their bodies to be burned and the western church was divided – a lot people just got really tired of the same old thing.

“The Wall Street Journal reports a Pew study showing that 53 percent of U.S. Protestants couldn’t identify Martin Luther as the one who started the Reformation.  Oddly, Jews, atheists and Mormons were more familiar with Luther than Protestants. In fact, fewer than three in ten white evangelicals correctly identify Protestantism as the faith that believes in the doctrine of justification by faith alone. Three in ten. Many today who claim the Reformation as their heritage are more likely heirs of the radical Anabaptists.  It might sound crazy, but here is my thesis. The Reformation isn’t over because it hasn’t begun in America. Protestantism is definitely over and the radicals won.” – Michael Horton

Term to Learn:

“Inner Light”

The “Inner Light,” also called “Inward Light,” is often thought to be a distinctive theme of the Society of Friends (Quakers). This Inner Light is understood to be a direct awareness of God that allows a person to know God’s will for him or her. This expression is often attributed to the teachings of George Fox in the 17th century, founder of the Society of Friends, who had failed to find spiritual truth in the English churches. He experienced an inner light and voice within, “that of God in every man.” The Inner Light should not simply be a mystical experience, but should also result in a person’s working for the good of others.

The practice of Inner Light is believed to be the direct path of ascension towards the divine nature within man. The theme of Inner Light appears in various spiritual traditions as well as in the main religions of the world. Buddhism believes that the one experiences the highest nature of the mind, reaches enlightenment and liberation from the Wheel of Samsara (i.e. bodily existence).

The Society of Friends was influenced by a pivotal figure, Jakob Böhme (1575-1624), a German mystic who was raised in Lutheranism. Böhme had considerable influence on Pietism and various mystical sects including Rosicrucianism and theosophy. Böhme sought a melding of various alchemical and Kabbalistic traditions that focused on the inner path to God, which finds parallels with the ancient heresy known as Gnosticism.  Böhme was also an important source for German Romantic philosophy, influencing F.W. Schelling. Böhme is also an important influence on the ideas of the English Romantic poet, artist, and mystic William Blake. The German philosopher Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel was profoundly influenced by him as well. The tradition of the Inner Light reaches back into ancient mystical philosophies which have come to profoundly shape modern thinking. (Adapted from Encyclopedia Britannica, s.v. “Inner Light;” “Jakob Böhme”)

(This podcast is by White Horse Inn. Discovered by Christian Podcast Central and our community — copyright is owned by the publisher, not Christian Podcast Central, and audio is streamed directly from their servers.)

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Is the Protestant Reformation Over?

In 1999, the Roman Catholic Church and the Lutheran World Federation, in an effort to resolve 500 years of conflict since the Protestant Reformation, signed a joint declaration on the Doctrine of Justification.

(I’m really not trying to spit rhymes here.)

The statement claimed that the two bodies are now able to articulate a common understanding of our justification, by God’s grace through faith in Christ.

“The present Joint Declaration has this intention: namely, to show that on the basis of their dialogue, the subscribing Lutheran churches and the Roman Catholic Church are now able to articulate a common understanding of our justification by god’s grace through faith in Christ.” (Preamble, Paragraph 5)

A Methodist council later adopted the declaration in 2006; and a communion of Reformed churches adopted it in 2017.

Many have pointed to this and other ecumenical partnerships and said, “See… the Protestant Reformation is over!”

But is it, really?

Do those churches now submit to the primacy of the Pope?

No. We’re still supposed to be protesting.

The Catholic Church has not changed its position on justification, or “how a person is declared innocent or made guiltless before a holy and righteous God”. They’ve said that if a person believes in justification by faith alone, they are cursed to hell. If a person rejects the Pope’s teaching, they’re cursed. If they’ve not been baptized or attend a Catholic Church, they’re cursed.

  • “If any one shall say, that by faith alone the impious is justified… let him be anathema.” (Council of Trent, Session 6, Chapter 16, Canon 9)

  • “Should anyone, which God forbid, have the temerity to reject this definition of [the Pope’s infallibility], let him be anathema.” (First Vatican Council, Session 4, Chapter 4)

  • “Basing itself on Scripture and Tradition, the Council teaches that the Church, a pilgrim now on earth, is necessary for salvation.” (Catholic Catechism 846)

  • “Baptism is necessary for salvation.” (Catholic Catechism 1257)

The Catholic Church says a person is saved by a combination of faith and works. But, the Bible says that a person is saved by grace through faith, and not of works.

God saved you by his grace when you believed. And you can’t take credit for this; it is a gift from God. Salvation is not a reward for the good things we have done, so none of us can boast about it. (Ephesians 2:8-9)

Roman Catholicism is a different gospel. The Bible says if anyone teaches a different gospel, they are cursed.

But, even if we, or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed. As we have said before, so I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed. (Galatians 1:8-9)

We are not fellow workers on the mission field. They are the mission field.

Now, being Protestant doesn’t just mean we protest the Pope. We protest any teaching contrary to the wisdom of God in the Bible.

2 Corinthians 10:4-5 assures us:

For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh, but have divine power to destroy strongholds. We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God…

…when we understand the text.

(This video is by WWUTT. Discovered by Christian Podcast Central and our community — copyright is owned by the publisher, not Christian Podcast Central.)

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On today’s episode, Dr. Stephen Nichols takes time to reflect on the legacy of the Reformation and how it shapes the task of the church today.

The Next Day

The year 2017, of course, was the five-hundredth anniversary of the beginning of the Protestant Reformation, and October 31 was marked by commemorations of that movement and of Martin Luther’s nailing the Ninety-Five Theses to the Castle Church door in Wittenberg. But after October 31 is November 1—the day after. It is worth asking what comes next. It is a good time to pause and reflect on what we can learn from the legacy of the Reformation and also to think about our legacy. Church history is a book that is still being written, and chapters are still being added to it.

We have a lot to be thankful for as we look back to the Reformers. We think not only of Luther; it wasn’t just his Reformation in Wittenberg. It was across the German lands. But we can go down to the Swiss city-states and see the Reformation there. And what a great legacy those places have left for us. We could go over to England and the legacy of the British Reformation under Henry VIII and we could also go a generation ahead of that and see the Puritans and what a great legacy they’ve left us. We have the Scottish Reformation and John Knox. And as all of these different branches of the Reformation made their way to the New World and settled into America, the landscape of American Christianity took shape. Ultimately, we can trace our roots back to the Lutheran church in Germany.

Scripture talks about how we drink from wells that we did not dig and we eat from vineyards that we did not plant (Deut. 6:11). We have to think of that when we think of the Reformers: they dug the wells, they planted the vineyards, they’ve helped us think through theology, they’ve helped us think through how to function as a church, and above all they’ve helped us think biblically about what we do and how we live. We drink from their wells and we eat from their vineyards.

But if Christ does not come back, there will be centuries still to come and many will come after us. What kind of wells are we digging for them? What kind of vineyards are we planting for them? Are they going to enjoy the same wells and the same vineyards that we’re enjoying from the Reformers? As we think through these questions, there is a monument to Luther at Eisenach that is worth contemplating. On the back of the statue are the words from his hymn “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God.” Above all, the Reformers reminded us of the importance and the primacy of knowing who God is. From there, we understand who we are. From there, we understand who Christ is and our relationship to God. It all flows from this knowledge of God.

Another thing about this monument that we need to note is that Luther is holding a Bible. This captures the essence of the Reformation. The Reformation was a movement that had tremendous reach and staying power; it impacted not just the church but also the culture. It was not simply a church history event; it was a world history event. And it happened because the Reformers knew they had to stand on the timeless, eternal, abiding truth of the Word of God. And if we want to leave a legacy for those who come after us, we need to realize that we too must stand upon the solid and sure foundation of God’s Word. That’s our task in our moment of church history: to be timeless by appealing to the eternal and living and the abiding Word of God.

Stay connected with 5 Minutes in Church History by getting the weekly podcast on iTunesSoundCloud, or via RSS. You can also subscribe to the blog via RSS and follow us on Twitter and Facebook.

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If someone bangs on your door tonight, they probably want candy. Five hundred years ago, someone banged on a door for a very different reason.

The Reformation Turns 500: How Luther Shaped Our World

On this day in 1517—at least according to tradition—a German monk-turned-Bible-professor nailed a list of debate topics to a church door, altering the course of history.

The Reformation Turns 500 - How Luther Shaped Our WorldNow, we don’t know the exact date when Martin Luther posted his Ninety-Five Theses, although he did submit them to his archbishop on October 31. What we do know is that Luther never intended to defy the church or split Western Christendom. When he challenged all comers to a debate on the sale of indulgences—which were essentially a way to buy into Heaven—he wanted to call God’s ministers back to Scripture.

But those ministers resisted. Luther wouldn’t budge, and the result was what we now know as the Protestant Reformation.

Historian Philip Schaff writes that next to the beginning of Christianity, the Reformation was “the greatest event in history.” That may be hyperbole, but not by much. If you worship in a Baptist, Methodist, Presbyterian, non-denominational, or—of course—Lutheran congregation, you’re directly affected by Martin Luther. Anglicans have been affected too, and even Roman Catholics saw reforms within that communion that came about because of Martin Luther.

And the Reformation’s influence goes far beyond the church doors. Luther’s appearance before the Diet of Worms—that famous moment when he reportedly said, “Here I stand, I can do no other,” has been called “the trial that led to the birth of the modern world.”

Our ideas about free inquiry, democracy, education, and capitalism can all ultimately be traced back to the Reformation.

And the Reformation also reemphasized ideas like the sacredness of all callings, and spheres of authority in human society. In Luther’s mind, individuals and civil magistrates, as well as the clergy, were responsible to read, understand, and obey the Bible.

As Eric Metaxas and I discuss on this week’s BreakPoint podcast, Luther came to personify the power of Scripture. In his outstanding new biography on Luther, Eric tells how this bold reformer stood at the intersection of the Middle Ages and the modern world, insisting that there is “daylight between truth and power.”

And it was this idea—that God’s written word is the highest authority in the Christian faith, available to everyone—that birthed a still more revolutionary idea: that God Himself admits us into His kingdom by grace alone.

“The Reformation,” wrote the late Episcopal priest Robert Capon, “was a time when men went blind, staggering drunk because they had discovered, in the dusty basement of late medievalism, a whole cellar of fifteen-hundred-year-old, two-hundred proof Grace—bottle after bottle of pure distillate of Scripture, one sip of which would convince anyone that God saves us singlehandedly.”

Now the fallout of the Reformation wasn’t all good, and even today Christianity is plagued with divisions, disagreements, and distortions of Luther’s project. Luther, himself, was far from perfect.

But I’m a mentee of Chuck Colson, who together with Father Richard John Neuhaus brought evangelicals and Catholics together over common cause. I pray and believe that the divisions of the 1500s—which remain real and significant to this day—can be addressed without sacrificing truth, and yet in the meantime, we can treat each other with love and grace, and should work together whenever and wherever we can.

As we mark 500 years since Luther’s initial protest, it’s clear there’s more reforming to be done on both sides of the Wittenberg door. But that’s why Reformation is not just a moment in history. It’s a posture. During the next 500 years, the sound of Luther’s hammer should call us as the people of God to conform ourselves to the Word of God, and ultimately to the Person of God in Jesus Christ.

The Reformation Turns 500: How Luther Shaped Our World

Delve further into the history of the Protestant Reformation by checking out the resources at the Colson Center online bookstore. One great suggestion is Eric Metaxas’s latest book “Martin Luther: The Man Who Rediscovered God and Changed the World.” Get your copy now. And listen to the podcast of John talking with Eric about Martin Luther, the Reformation, and the modern world by clicking here.

Resources

Eric Metaxas and John Stonestreet on Martin Luther, the Reformation, and the Birth of the Modern World

  • Breakpoint.org | October 30, 2017

Top 10 Trials That Shook The World: Martin Luther at the Diet of Worms

  • Kayla Webley| Time.com | April 8, 2011 

Visit Breakpoint.org to get further information about the many great books and other resources available there and you can link up to our social media sites like Facebook and Twitter.

By Colson Center for Christian Worldview. Discovered by Christian Podcast Central and our community — copyright is owned by the publisher, not Christian Podcast Central, and audio is streamed directly from their servers.

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Papal Infallibility? (Ex Cathedra)

Papal infallibility is the belief that the Pope is incapable of error, when speaking from his position of supreme apostolic authority, in defining doctrine concerning faith or morals.

“The Roman pontiff when he teaches ex cathedra ‘enjoys, by reason of the Divine assistance promised to him in blessed Peter, that infallibility with which the Divine Redeemer wished His Church to be endowed in defining doctrine regarding faith and morals.’” (P.J. Toner on “Infallibility” from the Catholic Encyclopedia, Volume VII)

This doesn’t mean the Pope is sinless, although there are plenty of Catholics who believe that. Rather, it means that his teaching is perfect whenever he speaks Ex Cathedra, or from the Chair of St.. Peter.

The doctrine was defined by the First Vatican Council, presided over by Pope Pius IX.

“The Roman Pontiff when he speaks ex cathedra, that is when he, in the exercise of the office of supreme apostolic authority, decides that a doctrine concerning faith or morals is to be held by the entire Church, he possesses, in consequence of the divine aid promised him in St. Peter, that infallibility which the Divine Savior wished to have His Church furnished for the definition of doctrines concerning faith or morals; and that definitions of the Roman pontiff are of themselves, and not in consequences of the Church’s consent, irreformable.” (Pope Pius IX, First Vatican Council Session 4 [July 18, 1870], Chapter 4, Section 9)

Pius decreed the Immaculate Conception of Mary – the belief that Mary was without sin. (Even though Jesus said, “No one is good but God alone.”)

No one is good except God alone. (Mark 10:18, Luke 18:19)

For all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. (Romans 3:23)

Now, Catholic apologists maintain that the Pope has spoken Ex Cathedra only one other time: when Pope Pius XII decreed the Assumption of Mary – that she was bodily taken up into heaven.

“While the Pope has always held the power to exercise the Extraordinary Magisterium by speaking ex cathedra, the actual occurrence of an ex cathedra statement is quite rare. It is generally understood to have only occurred twice: Pope Pius IX definition of the dogma of Mary’s Immaculate Conception in 1854, and Pope Pius XII’s definition of the dogma of Mary’s Assumption in 1950. (Catholic Exchange, The Pope and Infallibility, May 31, 2005)

But, these are not the only occasions papal infallibility has been exercised.

The Second Vatican declared that, even when the Pope is not speaking from the chair, “…his supreme Magisterium is acknowledged with reverence, and his judgments are sincerely adhered to, according to his manifest mind and will.” (Second Vatican, Lumen Gentium [November 21, 1964] Chapter 1, Paragraph 25)

The Roman Catholic Church believes the Pope’s word is as good as God’s Word.

It was such teaching that spurred Protestant reformer William Tyndale to declare:

“I defy the Pope and all his laws. If God should spare my life ere many years, I will cause the boy that drives the plow to know more of the Scriptures than you!”

Tyndale translated the Bible into English so that all could read God’s Word. The Roman Catholic Church had him burned at the stake.

Tyndale understood what the Pope doesn’t: that our only infallible authority is the Bible.

All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness… (2 Timothy 3:16)

This God, His way is perfect; the word of the Lord proves true; He is a shield for all those who take refuge in Him. (Psalm 18:30)

All Scripture is breathed out by God.

As the Psalm says, God’s Way is perfect and the word of the Lord is without error.

…when we understand the text.

(This video is by WWUTT. Discovered by Christian Podcast Central and our community — copyright is owned by the publisher, not Christian Podcast Central.)

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Solus Christus – Christ Alone

Many Christians in our day, whether liberal or evangelical, declare that there is hope of eternal life apart from explicit faith in Jesus Christ. In fact, according to one survey by George Barna, 35% of America’s evangelical seminary students agreed with the statement, “God will save all good people when they die, regardless of whether they’ve trusted in Christ.”

On this program the hosts will discuss our need to recover the clear theology of a text such as John 14:6 in which Jesus says, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father but through me.” Join us on this edition of White Horse Inn, as we continue our new series on “The Solas of the Reformation.”

Host Quote:

“Why do we need a divine savior to rescue us if our situation is only that we kind of are losing our way? A lot of people think of it as, we need good directions and there are really good plans out there. There’s Oprah. There is yoga. There’s the Bible. There’s Christian Science. You have all these kinds of things out there and whatever you find that’s helpful for you is great. That assumes — first of all, you have absolutely no problem before God. Your problem is only with yourself. Not that God has a problem with you, but that you have issues that you need to work on. So, you don’t really need God to save you, first of all, from himself, from his own justice by being just and the justifier of the wicked. All you need is kind of a life coach. You need somebody who kind of has some good ideas. And that is where we are today as the church. But what we really need is Christ’s atoning work, his substitutionary, vicarious sacrifice.” – Michael Horton

Term to Learn:

“Therapeutic Spirituality”

Today’s spirituality is novel in the sense that it is based upon a person’s felt needs, as opposed to an authoritative person or text. Self-expression has become the new form of worship in both traditional and innovative religious practices, rather than a practice of self-denial. This spirituality adopts preference as a means of self-actualization (i.e. a way of becoming the fullest expression of yourself as a human being). The commitments to these preferences are deeply personal and subjective, which results in the expression, “Your own personal Jesus” who neither confronts with his transcendent ‘Otherness’ nor deals in categories of sin, hell, or judgment. Therapy as a model of spirituality has replaced traditional norms due to the secularization of culture (i.e., the cultural shift that has resulted in religious beliefs becoming wholly individualized and disassociated from the social sphere).  Divine Providence over mankind has been replaced by the invisible hand of economic forces. Whereas the Almighty beneficent being was previously seen as integral to daily life and well-being, today, he is seen as a cosmic bellhop who comes at our beck and call.

With the loss of life’s ‘center’ by these competing visions of reality, faith has been left only with an interior and subjective expression which allows ‘believers’ to cope with the ‘real world’ science and technology have given them. In the face of this modern nihilism (i.e., the belief that there is no true reality beyond that which is apprehended through the senses), religion has often attempted to fill the vacuum through such therapeutic modes of expression. Even in traditional, conservative contexts orthodox worship and practice may succumb to this mode of spirituality, ultimately leaving little effect upon the practice of the worshipper or in the public square at large. Concrete, external liturgical practices (such as the reading of the law, corporate confession, a declaration of pardon, and corporate supplication) are often displaced by personalized small groups that help believers in their life journey. This is deemed as more ‘relevant’ to the therapeutic man, and an improvement upon the ‘dead rituals’ that don’t speak to the hearts of worshippers. Worship thus becomes a therapy ‘session’ something akin to Alcoholics Anonymous, a place where kindred spirits can hear one another’s stories and help one another cope with their weaknesses and failures, rather than a place of divine judgment and salvation where sinful people meet with a holy God, and through faith in their Savior, by the power of the Holy Spirit, are forgiven for their rebellion, and comforted by the assurance of their salvation. (Timothy W. Massaro, “Therapeutic Spirituality,” WHI [blog], August 10, 2014)

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Why the Reformation Remains Relevant After 500 Years

Welcome back to the Ask Pastor John podcast. We have an amazing episode this week related to the Reformation from a listener named David. “Hello, Pastor John! The ‘big’ anniversary of the Reformation is coming up at the end of this month, so this question is pressing to me. Which of the five solas is the heart of the Reformation? Which one is most important? Sola Scriptura (Scripture alone), sola fide (faith alone), sola gratia (grace alone), solus Christus (Christ alone), or soli Deo gloria (to the glory of God alone)?”

Why the Reformation Remains Relevant After 500 YearsI can’t answer this question any more than I can answer, Which wing of an airplane is most important? Or, What’s most important, the wings or the jet engines? If a wing goes, the plane crashes. If one of the solas goes, salvation crashes.

This is, I think, why the Reformation was and remains such a huge issue. It’s not as though a person can cherry-pick parts of God’s plan to save sinners while neglecting the others or distorting the others and still hope to see sinners saved. I think the most helpful thing to do would be to explain why these solas are needed, what they are, and why they are so connected that if one goes, the rest can’t save.

The Problem

The reason they’re so needed is the issue of salvation. All human beings are sinners (Romans 3:23). That means two things about each of us that we can’t fix by our own initiative.

First, we are spiritually dead in our trespasses (Ephesians 2:1–3). We have to have spiritual life, and we can’t make that life happen. We’re dead. We have to be born again.

Second, we’re under God’s wrath (John 3:36). God is just and hates sin, and in his justice, he aims to deal justly with sinners and punish us. So one, we need life, which we can’t create, and two, we need God’s wrath to be turned away. We need him to be one hundred percent for us and not against us, and in our guilt, we can’t make that happen.

That’s the double problem that God himself has solved through the gospel. The Reformation was reclaiming how God solves those two problems. The five solas explain how we get saved. The answer of the Protestant Reformation is this: our being made alive in Christ, and God’s being one hundred percent for us forever, is by God’s grace alone; on the basis of Christ alone; received through faith alone; so that all things lead ultimately to the glory of God alone; with Scripture alone as the only final, decisive authority for discerning, teaching, and defending those truths. That’s the way the alones go together.

The Solution

The word grace implies free gift — not earned, not merited, not deserved — which means that our new birth, our being given life, was God’s doing freely, as a gift. We did not make it happen. We were dead. Our new life, our desire, our ability to believe and love, is all of grace, which is exactly what Paul says in Ephesians 2:5 — namely, that he made us alive by grace. You have been saved.

It’s the same with God’s removal of his own wrath. He says in Romans 3:24, “[We] are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation” (Romans 3:24–25). That happens by a removal of wrath by his blood, so God himself, without any of our doing or acting, completely canceled our debt on the cross.

He bought that deliverance for us. He propitiated his own wrath by his grace as a gift. We added nothing to this transaction on the cross. It was grace alone. Not grace plus some of our merit, or some of the saints’ merits, or some of Mary’s merits. It was Christ and grace alone.

So there’s the key. What I could not do (I could not contribute anything at all) God did, paying for my sins, propitiating his wrath at the cross, and then raising me from the dead. All by grace alone, meaning the free gift cannot be added to by my merit or effort, or anybody else’s merit or effort.

Stand or Fall Together

Now here’s why they all stand and fall together. It’s amazing how the Bible gives us explicit answers to this, so let me go through it quickly.

First, grace alone and Christ alone. Galatians 2:21 says, “I do not nullify the grace of God, for if righteousness were through the law, then Christ died for no purpose.” Therefore, as Galatians 5:2 says, “If you accept circumcision, Christ will be of no advantage to you.” In other words, Christ alone is the ground of God’s being one hundred percent for us, not Christ plus circumcision, or any other human act or merit. If you add to Christ as the ground of God’s being one hundred percent for you, Paul says grace is nullified. So in Paul’s mind, Christ alone and grace alone stand and fall together.

Second, grace alone and faith alone. Romans 4:14 states, “If it is the adherents of the law who are to be the heirs, faith is null” — nullified, just like grace was — “and the promise is void.” Here’s the key: “It depends on faith, in order that the promise may rest on grace” (Romans 4:16). In other words, if God’s blessings of new life and no wrath are free gifts of grace, the only way a human may enjoy them is by receiving the gift, not doing. Faith, not law keeping, is key. If you add to faith as a means of receiving new birth and justification, you nullify grace. Paul says in Romans 4:16 that faith alone and grace alone stand and fall together.

Third, grace alone and the glory of God alone. Ephesians 1:5–6 says that the entire design of salvation by grace, from before the foundation of the world, was that the “glory of grace” would be praised: “He predestined us for adoption to himself as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace.” In other words, if adding to Christ as the ground of God’s being one hundred percent for us nullifies grace, and if adding to faith as the means of enjoying the gift of God being one hundred percent for us nullifies grace, then the great aim of it all — the praise of the glory of that grace — will be nullified as well.

The reason God gives life and justifies this way — by grace alone on the ground of Christ alone, through faith alone — is because he aims for the final and ultimate glory for it all to go to himself alone. That’s what Paul says in Romans 11:36: “For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen.” And all of this can only be known and believed and enjoyed and taught, with final and decisive authority, from the Scripture alone.

So here’s my conclusion. Therefore, for the sake of the gospel of new life and justification — by God’s grace alone, on the basis of Christ alone, received by faith alone, so that all things lead ultimately to the glory of God alone — we take our stand with confidence and joy on the final, decisive authority of Scripture alone. All the solas stand or fall together.

Find other recent and popular Ask Pastor John episodes here.

John Piper (@JohnPiper) is founder and teacher of desiringGod.org and chancellor of Bethlehem College & Seminary. For 33 years, he served as pastor of Bethlehem Baptist Church, Minneapolis, Minnesota. He is author of more than 50 books, including A Peculiar Glory.

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When it comes to the Reformation, one of the most important topics to discuss is Martin Luther on Scripture. Recorded on location in Germany, Dr. Stephen Nichols looks at Luther’s teaching on Scripture and his three steps for reading and studying the Bible.

Martin Luther and the Bible

When it comes to the Reformation, one of the most important topics to discuss is Martin Luther on Scripture. There are a number of things that we could say about this topic, but let’s look at just a few.

The first is the authority of Scripture. We see this in Luther at the Leipzig Debate in 1519. One of the monuments to Luther, in Eisleben, has an etching on the side of a very angry-looking Roman Catholic official. That angry-looking official is Johann Eck. On the other side of Eck is Luther, and Eck is holding in his hand some bound-up documents, while Luther is holding a book—the Bible—and that tells it all. Eck at Leipzig appealed to the teachings of the councils, the teachings of the church, and those rolled-up documents represent that. He came at Luther and the Wittenberg Reformers from the context of the church and the church’s authority. And Luther said to Eck, “I have an authority that is older than yours,” and, of course, this astounded Eck and he said, “Name them.” Luther said, “Paul and Peter and John.” He appealed directly to the authority of Scripture at Leipzig and, of course, he did the same thing at Worms. So, at Worms he said, “My conscience is captive to the Word of God.” When he said, “Here I stand,” he was standing on Scripture and standing firm on the foundation of Scripture. And because Scripture is authoritative, we should read it and we should study it.

Among the many things Luther said about the Bible, he offered a lot of counsel about how to read it and study it. One text in particular that helps us is a preface to a collection of his writings in German. He gives three steps for reading and studying the Bible. The first step is oratio, or “prayer.” The Psalms are especially helpful here. Luther was very familiar with the Psalms. As a monk, he would have been in the Psalms seven times a day. They took Psalm 119:164 very literally: “Seven times in the day I will praise Thee,” that text says. So Luther and his fellow monks would take seven periods out of their day to spend in the Psalms. Luther loved the Psalms. Some contend that Luther had the Psalter memorized, and he often had the Hebrew Psalter with him, and after that he would also have the Latin Psalter with him as a monk. This was a book he lived in, and it was a book that taught him not only that he should learn Scripture but that he should pray Scripture. So, the Psalms can be very helpful for us as we think about Scripture and as we seek to approach it prayerfully.

The second step is meditatio. Luther says the temptation is to push on, to rush on, to just simply read the text. Luther cautions us, he counsels us, he encourages us to simply pause, to meditate on God’s Word. And again, the Psalms are helpful here because the psalmists often call on us to meditate on God’s Word.

The third step in studying the Bible is tentatio, or “struggle.” Just as Jacob wrestled with the angel, we wrestle and struggle with Scripture. The struggle, Luther says, comes from our unbelief, our doubt, our stubbornness; ultimately, it comes from our sin, and the Word of God confronts it all.

That’s Luther on Scripture, the authority of Scripture, and how to read and study and learn and labor in and even love this Word that God has given us.

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