Archive for October, 2008

A World Without Luther

Philosophers talk about possible worlds… a way the real world could have been. So let’s imagine, for a moment, that Luther had never been born. Or perhaps that he had never converted to the Augustinian order. Or that he had never had the courage to pound the 95 theses to the Church at Wittenberg. What would have become of the Reformation?

We know that there were other elements in the Catholic Church that likely would have pressed for Reformation, so Luther wasn’t the only motivating force. But imagine with me… no Luther. How many would still be under the spell of the Catholic Church? Would you believe that one of the main reasons Paul wrote Romans was to declare the saving power of baptism? Or that Christ purchased for you the opportunity to obtain increasing justification via sacraments?

Perhaps you’ve never been a part of the Catholic Church. Growing up as a young Catholic boy, I never understood salvation apart from the Church. To my understanding, salvation involved the sacraments. Being justified meant more then proving faith via works… it meant coming back to mass every weekend. It meant being baptized in a Catholic Church. It meant partaking of the Eucharist. That an alien righteousness could be imparted to me… that was nowhere near my young mind. This was a righteousness enabled by Christ, yes… but for me to complete with my works.

Enter Luther:

In… 1519, I had begun interpreting the Psalms once again. I felt confident that I was now more experienced, since I had dealt in university courses with St. Paul’s Letters to the Romans, to the Galatians, and the Letter to the Hebrews. I had conceived a burning desire to understand what Paul meant in his Letter to the Romans, but thus far there had stood in my way, not the cold blood around my heart, but that one word which is in chapter one: “The justice of God is revealed in it.” I hated that word, “justice of God,” which, by the use and custom of all my teachers, I had been taught to understand philosophically as referring to formal or active justice, as they call it, i.e., that justice by which God is just and by which he punishes sinners and the unjust.

But I… felt that before God I was a sinner with an extremely troubled conscience. I couldn’t be sure that God was appeased by my satisfaction. I did not love, no, rather I hated the just God who punishes sinners. In silence, if I did not blaspheme, then certainly I grumbled vehemently and got angry at God. I said, “Isn’t it enough that we miserable sinners, lost for all eternity because of original sin, are oppressed by every kind of calamity through the Ten Commandments? Why does God heap sorrow upon sorrow through the Gospel and through the Gospel threaten us with his justice and his wrath?” This was how I was raging with wild and disturbed conscience. I constantly badgered St. Paul about that spot in Romans 1 and anxiously wanted to know what he meant.

I meditated night and day on those words until at last, by the mercy of God, I paid attention to their context: “The justice of God is revealed in it, as it is written: ‘The just person lives by faith.'” I began to understand that in this verse the justice of God is that by which the just person lives by a gift of God, that is by faith. I began to understand that this verse means that the justice of God is revealed through the Gospel, but it is a passive justice, i.e. that by which the merciful God justifies us by faith, as it is written: “The just person lives by faith.” All at once I felt that I had been born again and entered into paradise itself through open gates. Immediately I saw the whole of Scripture in a different light. I ran through the Scriptures from memory and found that other terms had analogous meanings, e.g., the work of God, that is, what God works in us; the power of God, by which he makes us powerful; the wisdom of God, by which he makes us wise; the strength of God, the salvation of God, the glory of God.

 

 

 

From 1519 until 1998 is a long time, but the message that God unleashed in Luther’s pen reached my ears through the preaching of an Australian pastor. That alien righteousness became mine through faith, and there was a temporal security that was already mine from eternity. What joy swells up inside me… tearful joy… as I write this. No words can properly express it.

So tonight, when my friends and I gather in my living room to read Romans, sing A Mighty Fortress is Our God, and reflect on the life of Martin Luther, we’ll be doing so not chiefly out of a heart of revelry or camaraderie. Rather, it will be out of gratitude to God for Luther and the other Reformers… who pointed us all towards Christ.

 

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The Reformation Polka

by Robert Gebel

[Sung to the tune of “Supercalifragilistic-expialidocious”]

When I was just ein junger Mann I studied canon law;
While Erfurt was a challenge, it was just to please my Pa.
Then came the storm, the lightning struck, I called upon Saint Anne,
I shaved my head, I took my vows, an Augustinian! Oh…

Chorus:
Papal bulls, indulgences, and transubstantiation
Speak your mind against them and face excommunication!
Nail your theses to the door, let’s start a Reformation!
Papal bulls, indulgences, and transubstantiation!

When Tetzel came near Wittenberg, St. Peter’s profits soared,
I wrote a little notice for the All Saints’ Bull’tin board:
“You cannot purchase merits, for we’re justified by grace!
Here’s 95 more reasons, Brother Tetzel, in your face!” Oh…

Chorus:
Papal bulls, indulgences, and transubstantiation
Speak your mind against them and face excommunication!
Nail your theses to the door, let’s start a Reformation!
Papal bulls, indulgences, and transubstantiation!

They loved my tracts, adored my wit, all were exempleror;
The Pope, however, hauled me up before the Emperor.
“Are these your books? Do you recant?” King Charles did demand,
“I will not change my Diet, Sir, God help me here I stand!” Oh…

Chorus:
Papal bulls, indulgences, and transubstantiation –
Speak your mind against them and face excommunication!
Nail your theses to the door, let’s start a Reformation!
Papal bulls, indulgences, and transubstantiation!

Duke Frederick took the Wise approach, responding to my words,
By knighting “George” as hostage in the Kingdom of the Birds.
Use Brother Martin’s model if the languages you seek,
Stay locked inside a castle with your Hebrew and your Greek! Oh…

Chorus:
Papal bulls, indulgences, and transubstantiation –
Speak your mind against them and face excommunication!
Nail your theses to the door, let’s start a Reformation!
Papal bulls, indulgences, and transubstantiation!

Let’s raise our steins and Concord Books while gathered in this place,
And spread the word that ‘catholic’ is spelled with lower case;
The Word remains unfettered when the Spirit gets his chance,
So come on, Katy, drop your lute, and join us in our dance! Oh…

Chorus:
Papal bulls, indulgences, and transubstantiation –
Speak your mind against them and face excommunication!
Nail your theses to the door, let’s start a Reformation!
Papal bulls, indulgences, and transubstantiation!

More to come tomorrow in honor of 491 years of chucking ink at Satan.

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Worshipping Our Peers

Observation: men seek other men to identify with. The Gospel puts a twist on this: we are commanded to identify with Christ, both directly and indirectly. By directly, I mean that we’re to present our lives as living sacrifices, being transformed into Christlikeness (Romans 12:1-2). By indirectly, I mean that we’re to mark those who are conforming themselves to Christ, and follow them (Philippians 3:17). But instead, we young men seem far too impressed with those who should only be pointers to Christ.

Think about this idea: if there wasn’t a future for many of us in our given movement (fundamentalism or evangelicalism)… would we still want to pursue the ministry? If we knew that our lot was similar to Jeremiah’s, who knew that Israel would not repent… would we still want to pursue the ministry? If we knew that our peers weren’t going to respect us… would we still want to pursue the ministry?

This desire for respect leads many young men to seek degrees at more prestigious colleges or seminaries… even equating holiness with a degree. It leads young men to look at and seek out the leaders of evangelicalism… instead of looking at and seeking Christ. It leads young men to drop names and speak about who or what they know… instead of looking to learn from Him through others. It leads young men to hypocrisy, knowing that they must appear holy and humble for their peers… instead of God, Who knows how selfish they really are.

It burdens me. It is me. It is you. Are we impressed with Christ in other people… or are we impressed with other people?

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CNN Visits My Home Church

Some might find this interesting.

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Question & Comment Guide

Even though this is extreme, I still wish I had this in Romans last year…

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Postmodern Journalism & God’s Sovereignty

Orson Scott Card was always one of my favorite science fiction authors. He wrote good, hard sci-fi… stuff for the brain to be excited about and also to digest. He also is a political writer, an old-school Democrat, and a keen mind. This article is well worth your time. The liberal element within society wants to put a postmodern president in charge no matter the cost. It’s funny… comical even how some Christians react against this. Yes, it’s unjust. Yes, the absurdity of it is just surreal. But… do we serve a Sovereign God Who’s Word is still supreme above all of man’s schemings?

I want to get antsy in times like these, but then I remember what was spoken to another ruler so long ago:

While the words were still in the king’s mouth,  there fell a voice from heaven,  “O King Nebuchadnezzar,  to you it is spoken:  The kingdom has departed from you, and you shall be driven from among men,  and your dwelling shall be with the beasts of the field.  And you shall be made to eat grass like an ox,  and seven periods of time shall pass over you,  until you know that the Most High rules the kingdom of men and gives it to whom he will.”

To whom He will.

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Affectional Theology

A man must have a stout digestion to feed upon some men’s theology; no sap, no sweetness, no life, but all stern accuracy, and fleshless definition. Proclaimed without tenderness, and argued without affection, the gospel from such men rather resembles a missile from a catapult than bread from a Father’s hand.

– Charles Spurgeon

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