Glory to God Alone

“And when you heard the word of truth (the gospel of your salvation)—when you believed in Christ—you were marked with the seal of the promised Holy Spirit, who is the down payment of our inheritance, until the redemption of God’s own possession, to the praise of his glory” (Ephesians 1:13–14).

Glory and honor and praise is God’s due. I don’t know of any Christian who thinks otherwise. And yet, neglecting to give glory and honor and praise to God is the core human insubordination. Even Christians, with renewed hearts, often have some difficulty giving glory to God alone.

Scripture tells us that the human condition is dire, precisely because we naturally exchange God’s glory for a lesser object of praise among created things (Rom. 1:22-23). The most painful reality is, humans always glorify and praise something or someone. Often, however, we give our praise to undeserving created things; and this leaves us feeling unsatisfied and disappointed.

God alone is supremely glorious, and we are most full of delight and joy when we are glorifying Him. Because God is glorious beyond measure, He can satisfy our eager attention. Considering more of God’s works, knowing more of God’s attributes, and more intensely pondering God’s nature will always stir greater amazement and affection.

All glory to God alone. SDG

Christ Alone

“Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us” (Romans 8:34).

Christ alone is the savior of sinners. This exclusive claim is repugnant to our culture of trivial tolerance, and it has always been obnoxious to sinful humans everywhere. And yet, this intolerant declaration is actually quite expansive. Just consider how wide the invitation really is.

While the Gospel of Christ does indeed prohibit the notion of any other savior besides Jesus, this exclusive Gospel also opens the way for any guilty sinner to approach God with confidence and joy. Regardless of pedigree, intellect, geography, wealth, or a host of other demographic descriptors, anyone may find gracious compassion and newness of life in the one-and-only Savior.

God has provided an incomparable gift in the person and work of Jesus Christ. The priceless Redeemer has satisfied God’s wrath for sinners like us; the perfect Justifier has earned righteousness on our behalf; the tireless Intercessor pleads our case even now; and the conquering King of glory welcomes us into His good kingdom forevermore.

Oh, yes… Christ alone is the sufficient savior of sinners!

John Calvin

On May 27, 1564, John Calvin died as a sickly old man in his bed. A sui generis Protestant Reformer, Calvin was a Frenchman who pastored in Geneva and in Strasbourg. Like Martin Luther before him, Calvin had initially set out to study law, but he gave himself to the study of theology after he was converted to Christ.

Calvin was arguably the greatest mind of Christendom since Augustine, and many Reformers, scholars, and civil leaders of his own day even acknowledged him as an intellectual giant.

John Calvin is simultaneously the most loved and hated theologian of the Protestant Reformation (maybe in all of Church history). There are few Christian leaders who have drawn such admiration and such disdain at the same time.

During his time pastoring in Geneva, some of his church members named their dog ‘Calvin,’ so as to insult their pastor-theologian. And yet others gave such sparkling endorsements of him.

Jacobus Arminius (the often-cited counter theologian to Calvin) said,

“Next to the study of the Scriptures… I exhort my students to read Calvin’s Commentaries carefully and thoroughly… for I affirm that he excels beyond comparison in the interpretation of Scripture.”

The fact is that the Protestant Reformation would simply not have been what it was without John Calvin. Many Protestants today believe what they do because Calvin first thought and wrote about it.

Calvin wrote the first systematic theology, and all those written since have followed his pattern and built on his foundation. Calvin masterfully preached expositional sermons, which were a novelty at the time since the Bible had only recently become available in the common language. Calvin destroyed the wall between the ‘sacred’ and the ‘secular,’ arguing instead that all things (especially one’s work) could and should be done to the glory of God.

While some assert that Calvin’s theology should suppress evangelism and missions, history and practice have demonstrated the opposite. William Carey is known as the ‘father of modern missions,’ but Calvin organized missionary efforts that preceded him by 200 years and spanned across the globe.

Calvin reminds us of the incredible wealth Christians today have inherited. Our theological debates have all been discussed before. Calvin and many others have thought, argued, and written about things we are just now noticing, and our innovations usually erode faithful theology rather than provide an insightful breakthrough.

We would certainly be foolish to think that Spirit-illumined Christians of the past have nothing to teach us today. Whatever one thinks of Calvin, to neglect his writings is to miss a grand portion of Christian heritage.

May God help us to be Christians who rely preeminently on the Holy Spirit for illumination. And may God also help us to remember that we are not the first generation of Christians to receive brilliant light from God’s Spirit.

Should Protestants Still Protest?

This year marks the 500th anniversary since that fateful day when Martin Luther nailed a document, intended to initiate a collegiate theological discussion, to the chapel door in Wittenburg, Germany. Unintentionally (it seems), Luther struck the match that ignited a powder keg.

Germany, Switzerland, England, Scottland, and several other lands experienced an upheaval of the established religious system of the day (Roman Catholicism); and there were many and various contributors. Martin Luther, Ulrich Zwingli, Thomas Cranmer, John Knox, and many others played their respective and overlapping parts in the Protestant Reformation of the sixteenth century.

Today, many are asking if the Protestant Reformation is over, and others seem to think it was a vastly overblown misunderstanding to begin with. Should Protestants still protest? Are Protestants who do still protest revealing themselves as merely irreconcilable curmudgeons?

I think it is quite helpful to answer questions like these by first understanding the disagreement. One can hardly seek to reconcile two parties without knowing what has divided them thus far. So, let’s go back to the place where the disagreement was codified.

In the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, many people believed that some reformation within Christendom was necessary. When the Reformation became undeniable, both Roman Catholics and Protestants still agreed that change was needed, but each side differed considerably on what that reform should look like. The Roman Catholic Church officially responded to their protesting brethren through the forum of a Church Council.

The Council of Trent gathered in Trento and Bologna, Italy, over 18 years (1545-1563). Sometimes infrequent and sometimes intensive, these meetings included discussion and debate on many topics of Roman Catholic theology. Bishops and theologians considered dogma, doctrine, and tradition regarding authority, sacraments, purgatory, indulgences, and much more. Finally, the Council of Trent published its decrees (statements of affirmation) and canons (statements of judgment) in 1564, and these were confirmed by Pope Pius IV.

Specifically addressing some Protestant theological assertions, the Council of Trent clearly presented an opposing position. While there are certainly still many things about which Roman Catholics and Protestants agree (God as Trinity, Jesus as Savior, and grace as necessary), there is a stark contrast on vital matters.

Few questions are as important as, “How is a sinner justified before God?” Rome answered the question by saying (among other things) that the sinner must participate in his/her justification by sacraments and other good works.

The Council of Trent states that baptism is the ‘instrumental cause,’ or the means by which justification is obtained.

“The instrumental cause [of justification] is the sacrament of baptism, which is the sacrament of faith, without which justification never befell any man…”

The Council of Trent states that justification can and should be increased through the efforts of obedience on the part of the sinner.

“Having, therefore, been thus justified… they [those who are justified], through the observance of the commandments of God and of the Church, faith co-operating with good works, increase in the justice received through the grace of Christ, and are still more justified…”

The Council of Trent states that faith alone cannot and will not justify any sinner.

“No one ought to flatter himself upon faith alone, deeming that by faith alone he is made an heir, and will obtain the inheritance [the inheritance of salvation or eternal life in Christ Jesus].”

The Council of Trent not only clarified the Roman Catholic teaching on important matters, it also unequivocally named what is at stake. The strong denials below include the phrase, “let him be anathema,” which is a superlative condemnation of anyone who disagrees with the statement. With intentional language, the Roman Catholic Church condemned all protesters.

The following are some of the Roman Catholic canons on the subject of justification.

Canon 11: If any one shall say, that men are justified by the sole imputation of the righteousness of Christ… or even that the grace, by which we are justified, is only the favor of God; let him be anathema.

Canon 12: If any one shall say, that justifying faith is naught else but confidence in the divine mercy which remits sins for Christ’s sake; or that it is this confidence alone by which we are justified; let him be anathema.

Canon 24: If any one shall say, that the justice received is not preserved, and also increased in the sight of God through good works; but that the said works are merely the fruits and signs of justification received, but not a cause of the increase thereof; let him be anathema.

The message could not be clearer: believing that justification comes by way of Christ’s righteousness and not by any work or effort on the part of the sinner is a justification condemned by the Roman Catholic Church. Anyone who believes in justification by faith alone in Christ alone is thus condemned or “anathematized.”

In two major Protestant catechisms, the question of justification is asked and answered. The Westminster Shorter catechism (following the Westminster Confession of 1647) and the Baptist catechism (following the Second London Confession of 1689) both provide an identicle answer (dependent upon translation).

“What is justification?”

“Justification is an act of God’s free grace, wherein He pardons all our sins, and accepts us as righteous in His sight, only for the righteousness of Christ imputed to us, and received by faith alone.”

With the same precision and clarity as the Roman Catholics, Protestants articulated their own understanding of justification, and one cannot miss the antithesis. What Rome said was condemnable, Protestants wholeheartedly affirm. What Rome stated as doctrine, Protestants denied outright.

The only question we are left with now is, Should Protestants still protest?

Well, does Rome still affirm the decrees and canons published from the Council of Trent?

Yes, the current edition of the Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches, affirms, and cites the Council of Trent throughout (including the section on Justification, pg. 535-537). Furthermore, reversing the official condemnation of “justification by faith alone in Christ alone” would require a new and clear council statement (Vatican I and Vatican II (subsequent councils) reaffirmed the Council of Trent).

Do Evangelical Protestants still affirm the doctrine of justification as articulated in the two catechisms cited above?

Yes, the Westminster Confession is still the authoritative doctrinal body of teaching (under the authority of Scripture) for Presbyterians. Yes, though Baptists are generally a less creedal bunch, this denomination is marked by a fierce affirmation of justification by personal faith alone – apart from any good work – in Christ alone.

So, Should Protestants still protest?

What else can any thinking person expect from a Protestant? The Roman Catholic who seeks to reconcile with Protestants either denies or betrays his/her own ignorance of Rome’s doctrine and dogma. The Protestant who seeks to reconcile with Rome is by definition no longer a Protestant – since he/she has stopped protesting.

Protestants must not only protest, but Protestants must know what and why we are protesting. The very Gospel of Jesus Christ is at stake, and this is no time to capitulate.

 

*If you enjoyed this article, then you will probably also like others in this category, “Reformation Heroes.”

 

The Augsburg Confession

The Holy Roman Emperor, Charles V, came to realize that there were too many Protestants in Germany for him to kill all of them. In 1521, Charles V had issued the Edict of Worms, which condemned Martin Luther to die at the hands of anyone who could do the job. Now, nearly ten years later, there were many more Germans who followed and protected Luther rather than trying to kill him.

While the Emperor would have been glad to be rid of the problem, those Protestants simply would not go away or realign with the Roman Catholic Church. They were peasants and nobleman, farmers and princes, but they were united by a desire to read and know the Bible – God’s Word – for themselves.

Many people noticed deep-rooted corruption in the religious leaders of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, but the Protestant Reformers offered a new hope for a purer faith. Rather than approaching God by way of an aloof clerical substitute, the Reformers read and spoke the words of God Himself from the pages of Scripture. This attracted many, but they needed something around which to unite those who separated from the Roman Catholic Church.

Statements of faith were common in Christianity from the very beginning. These statements (or confessions) are brief and precise declarations of the substance of Christian belief. In the Bible, we find the earliest known statement of faith,

For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures…” (1 Corinthians 15:3–4).

Some statements of faith were as short as one sentence (Jesus Christ is the Son of God and the Savior) symbolized by the well-known Christian fish.[1]

In April of 1530, Charles V summoned Protestant leaders to a meeting in Augsburg, Germany. This was the hearing the Reformers had been waiting for, but they quickly realized that much of their agreement thus far had been on matters of divergence from the Roman Catholic Church. Protestants knew what they were protesting, but they had not spent nearly as much time codifying what united them as a group.

Martin Luther’s student and friend, Philip Melanchthon, drafted what came to be known as the Augsburg Confession.[2] In this statement of faith, many Protestants found unity among themselves. While there were still matters of some disagreement, this confession was a declaration of belief regarding the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Here is an excerpt from the Augsburg Confession regarding the justification of sinners by faith alone in Christ:

“Men cannot be justified before God by their own strength, merits, or works, but are freely justified for Christ’s sake, through faith, when they believe that they are received into favor, and that their sins are forgiven for Christ’s sake, who, by His death, has made satisfaction for our sins. This faith God imputes for righteousness in His sight.”

This confession of faith reminds us that Protestants (more importantly, Christians) must always unite around the essential truths of the Gospel of Christ. There, of course, will inevitably be many other doctrines related to these core truths, and there are good reasons to believe all that you do with deep conviction. However, there is room in the shadow of Christ’s cross for disagreement about how we shall arrange ourselves under it.

It has been said many times, but we would do well to remember: In the essentials, unity; in the non-essentials, liberty; in all things, charity.

May God unite His people afresh upon the bedrock foundation of His Gospel.

 

[1] ICTHUS (ιχθύος) is the Greek word for “fish,” and the word is an acronym for the Greek words, “Ιησου Χριστου Θεος υιος σωτηρ,” which are translated: “Jesus Christ God’s Son Savior.” Therefore, to display the ‘Christian fish’ was to make a public declaration that one believed Jesus to be the Christ (or Messiah) and the Son of God and the Savior through whom God reconciled sinners to Himself. A fish, no matter how big, was never such a mouthful as this.

[2] The Augsburg Confession is a thoroughly Protestant confession of faith, but it is primarily the heritage of the Lutheran denomination. Since Philip Melanchthon authored much of it, and Martin Luther endorsed it, the doctrines within are Lutheran. All Protestants agree regarding the “Five Solas,” but baptism, Lord’s Supper, and ecclesiology are matters of disagreement among Protestants (then and now). See the Augsburg Confession, including the preface to the Emperor, HERE.

Martin Luther’s Stand

On April 17, 1521, at the Diet of Worms (an imperial meeting in Worms, Germany) Martin Luther stood before the emperor of the Holy Roman Empire, Charles V, and many high representatives of the Roman Catholic Church. The hall was full of churchmen and civil leaders, governors and nobles, some who supported Luther as a heroic theologian and others who wanted him to burn as a heretic.

Luther must have felt the weight of the whole world upon his shoulders. In fact, he had stood right where he was on the day before and asked for some time to consider how he would answer the lethal question he was being asked, “Will you recant these things you have written and said?” Luther’s life was a stake because he had written and said things that impugned the doctrines and dogmas of the Roman Catholic Church. He would have to withdraw his words or face serious consequences.

Four years earlier, Professor Martin Luther published an academic work on the university bulletin board. He wrote his now famous 95 Theses in Latin, which amounted to a professor’s invitation for scholarly dialogue on the practice of indulgences. Nailing this document to the chapel door in Wittenberg was the pivotal moment that set Luther’s trajectory towards the Diet of Worms.

Now, there Luther stood, surrounded by such an illustrious crowd. If he refused to recant, he would be charged as a heretic and burned alive. If he recanted, he feared the wrath of God would come upon him for not standing for divine truth amidst such tyrannical error. However, it does not seem that fear compelled him most. He was convinced by Scripture, and he simply could not knowingly deny what had gripped him so.

In a clear and distinct voice, Martin Luther answered,

“I am bound by the Scriptures I have quoted and my conscience is captive to the Word of God. I cannot and I will not retract anything, since it is neither safe nor right to go against conscience. I cannot do otherwise, here I stand, may God help me, Amen.”[1]

In God’s providence, Luther did not die that day, nor was he ever burned as a heretic. He was certainly condemned as an enemy of the Roman Catholic Church. In the Edict of Worms (a decree issued soon after the Diet), Charles V offered a reward for Luther’s capture (dead or alive), but Luther remained a champion of biblical Christianity until he died from various ailments and fatigue at 62 years old.

Like Athanasius before him, Martin Luther lived contra mundum (against the world), but he reminds us that the word of God is true even if the whole world is against it. May God raise up many convinced men and women in our own day, and may we be gripped – above all else – by His word.

[1] Reeves, Michael. The Unquenchable Flame: Discovering the Heart of the Reformation (p. 15). B&H Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

If you enjoyed this post, see by article Martin Luther’s 95 Theses and my essay Luther & the “Five Solas” of the Reformation.

Diet & Protestation at Speyer

Martin Luther had been condemned by the Roman Catholic Church in 1521, but his legend and writings continued to spread. Luther, undaunted by the full fury of Rome, also wrote more pamphlets and books in opposition to Roman Catholic doctrines. Furthermore, he attempted to clarify the Bible’s core teachings on justification through Christ alone, apart from any sacramental necessity. Luther was no political genius, but his voice and pen were certainly fueling reform in the civil realm as much as in the religious.

The Roman Emperor, Charles V, called the Diet of Speyer in order to do something about all the political and religious instability Luther and his followers were causing. A “Diet” is a legislative assembly, a meeting of political and/or religious leaders for the purpose of passing judgments and/or laws. Speyer was the German town in which the Diet was to be held.

On March 15, 1529, Charles V sent his younger brother King Ferdinand to oversee the Diet of Speyer. The Roman Catholic leaders were outraged by the doctrines of the Reformation, and there was no room for agreement. Philip Melanchthon (Luther’s partner and pupil) spoke for the Protestants, asking that there at least be the liberty to believe and practice religion according to one’s own conscience.

Ferdinand wanted no more of this unproductive discussion, so he ruled that Roman Catholicism would be the religion of the land. After demanding a full submission on the part of the Protestants, Ferdinand left without giving a moment of time to any objections. It was ordered that the Protestants of Germany live as Catholics whether they wanted to or not.

Some civil and religious leaders among the Protestants refused to give up on their petition to believe and practice true Christianity as they understood the Bible to teach it. They organized and requested an official opportunity to protest.

One month later, another Diet was arranged at Speyer, this one was called the Protestation at Speyer. It was there that civil leaders and reformers objected to the previous ruling of King Ferdinand. John the Steadfast, Elector or Governor of Saxony, read the protest aloud.

“We are resolved, with the grace of God, to maintain the pure preaching of God’s holy Word, such as is contained in the biblical books of the Old and New Testaments, without adding anything to it that may be contrary to it. This word is the only truth; it is the sure rule of all doctrine and of all life, and can never fail or deceive us. He who builds on this foundation shall stand against all the powers of hell…

For these reasons, most dear lords and friends, we earnestly entreat you to weigh carefully our grievances and our motives. …we protest before God, our only Creator, Preserver, and Redeemer and Savior… we, for us and our people, neither consent nor adhere in any manner whatsoever to the proposed decree in anything that is contrary to God, to His holy Word, to our right conscience, and to the salvation of souls.

There is no true preaching or doctrine but that which conforms to the Word of God. The Lord forbids the teaching of any other faith… This Holy Book is in all things necessary for the Christian and easy to be understood. It shines clearly in its own light, and is found to enlighten the darkness… We therefore reject the yoke that is imposed upon us.”[1]

This protest is the foundation of the label which all Protestants wear today. The Protestation at Speyer remains the protestation among all true Protestants since. We reject any yoke imposed upon us but the yoke of the Lord Jesus Christ. His Word and His Word alone shall rule and govern what we believe and how we live.

May God, our Creator, Preserver, and Redeemer, help us to build on the sure foundation of His Word in order that – come whatever will – we may stand.

[1] Kleyn, Diane. Reformation Heroes (Kindle Locations 1010-1026). Reformation Heritage Books. Kindle Edition.