Monthly Archives: October 2013

Revisionist History

wittenberg_doorToday is the 496th anniversary of what is widely considered the beginning of the Protestant Reformation. On this day in 1517, Martin Luther nailed his 95 theses to the church door at Wittenberg. This document highlighted Luther’s concerns about various false teachings of the Roman Catholic church such as indulgences. For this work and other writings that followed, Luther was excommunicated by the church by Pope Leo X on January 3, 1521 in the official document Decet Romanum Pontificem. 

Now, in Luther’s day, it was well understood that a person who died outside of the Roman Catholic church could not be saved. To be very clear, the excommunication alone did not condemn Luther to hell in the eyes of Rome. However, unless Luther repented and returned to the church, it was the clear teaching of the Roman Catholic church that Luther was destined for eternal punishment in hell.  This stance of the Roman Catholic church is given in the following official, dogmatic proclamation of Pope Boniface VII:

We declare, say, define, and pronounce that it is absolutely necessary for the salvation of every human creature to be subject to the Roman Pontiff (Unam Sanctam, 1302).

That statement seems pretty clear. If you are not subject to the Roman Pontiff, then you are outside of salvation. Now, in recent years, the Roman Catholic church has continued its revisionist history tap dance to redefine words, add lots of loopholes, and basically conform wherever possible to our politically correct, morally relativistic society. So, today I can say that I believe everything that Luther wrote, reject the Roman Catholic churches teachings, declare myself outside of the subjection of the Pope, and yet be considered a brother in Christ by my Roman Catholic friends. What changed? Ironically, it is the Roman Catholic church that has changed despite its desire to try to claim to have never changed, but be the unbroken, unchanging faith of the past 2000 years.

circus tentToday, Roman Catholicism is just a big tent where lots of beliefs are tolerated and even embraced. Thus you have Roman Catholic politicians that openly proclaim their support for abortion, birth control, and homosexual marriage who are never scolded, let alone excommunicated.  But do not be fooled by big tent Roman Catholicism and the idea that the issues of the Reformation were just a minor misunderstanding. The issues of the Protestant Reformation then and today are vitally important as they are issues regarding eternal salvation. What was true at the time of the Reformation is just as true today. We are saved by grace alone, through faith alone, in Jesus Christ alone, to the glory of God alone, as revealed in the Scriptures alone. The dividing line between the true Christian faith and the official teachings of the Roman Catholic church continues to mark the division between eternal life and eternal death.

So Happy Reformation Day as we celebrate that the working of the Holy Spirit through Martin Luther and the other great Reformers to return true Christianity to the faith of the New Testament church. Praise be to God for that great work!

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There is Fear and There is FEAR – Mark 4:41

capsizeTwo Sundays ago, my pastor was continuing his sermon series working through the Gospel of Mark. The text for his sermon was from the end of Mark chapter 4:

On that day, when evening had come, he said to them, “Let us go across to the other side.” And leaving the crowd, they took him with them in the boat, just as he was. And other boats were with him. And a great windstorm arose, and the waves were breaking into the boat, so that the boat was already filling. But he was in the stern, asleep on the cushion. And they woke him and said to him, “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” And he awoke and rebuked the wind and said to the sea, “Peace! Be still!” And the wind ceased, and there was a great calm.  He said to them, “Why are you so afraid? Have you still no faith?”  And they were filled with great fear and said to one another, “Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?” (Mark 4:35-41).

It is easy to understand the great fear of the disciples as their little boat takes on water amid this great storm. I would be terrified too! All are saved, of course, when Jesus is awoken and miraculously calms the storm with just a word. Hurrah!

What I had never noticed before in this passage was the disciples’ response after Jesus calmed the storm—”they were filled with great fear.” They were filled with more fear after Jesus calmed the storm than they were in the midst of the great storm when they thought they would perish at the bottom of the sea. We might naturally expect these men to collapse in relief at the passing of the storm. Instead they are filled with great fear? Why? Because they recognized that the real power was not in the storm, but in the man standing before them. They were standing in a little boat, face-to-face, with God Himself. In the Old Testament, the prophet Isaiah also came face-to-face with God in a vision. Isaiah’s response was the same as those disciples in that little fishing boat; FEAR. Capital F, capital E, capital A, capital R:

“Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts!”(Isaiah 6:5).

So, what do you FEAR?

 

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A Prayer of Philipp Melanchthon

MelanchthonYesterday, in honor of Reformation Sunday, I began our Bible study with the following prayer from Philipp Melanchthon, a close associate of Martin Luther. Melanchthon was the primary author of the Augsburg Confession which is one of the foundational confessional documents of Lutheran Churches to this day. Here is Melanchthon’s prayer:

Almighty, eternal God, Father of our Lord Jesus Christ,
Creator of heaven and earth, and man,
together with your Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, your word and image,
and with your Holy Spirit, have mercy upon us,
and forgive us our sins for your Son’s sake,
whom you have made our Mediator according to your wonderful counsels,
and guide and sanctify us by your Holy Spirit,
which was poured out upon the Apostles.
Grant that we may truly know and praise you throughout all eternity! Amen.

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True Subjection – Hebrews 2:7-8

You made him for a little while lower than the angels; you have crowned him with glory and honor, putting everything in subjection under his feet.” Now in putting everything in subjection to him, he left nothing outside his control. At present, we do not yet see everything in subjection to him (Hebrews 2:7-8).

On December 17th, 2007, the Native American Lakotah tribe declared independence from the USA, even going as far as to travel to Washington, DC and deliver their message of independence to the U.S. State Department. The Lakotah claimed that areas covering thousands of square miles in the current states of North Dakota, South Dakota, Nebraska, Wyoming and Montana encompass lands that are rightfully theirs. Now claiming independence from the ruling government is not the same as truly being independent. Just because they claim to be free from the US and maybe even believe it, it does not make it true. Almost six years after their declaration, all that land still appears to be subject to the US government.

Stop signLikewise, most people today do not claim to be subjects of Christ the King, but that does not make it true. They may even openly reject Jesus’ claim to be their sovereign king. That still does not make it true. And, as the writer to the Hebrews notes, when we look around it often seems that most of this world is not subject to the rule of Christ.

This is one of those many places where our senses, our intellect and our feelings can lead us to believe one thing, while God’s word clearly says something else. The world does not seem to be subject to Christ, but the Bible clearly says it is.Either I am wrong or the Bible is wrong. If I decide that the Bible is wrong, I need to stop, go back to the beginning, and start my investigation all over again because I have come to the wrong conclusion. We, as fallen humanity, are not the final authority. It is God and His holy word the Bible which must be our final authority.

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Goatheads Near Our Path – Proverbs 22:5

Thorns and snares are in the way of the crooked; whoever guards his soul will keep far from them (Proverbs 22:5).

goatheadsOn a recent stroll with my wife and our two youngest children, I was pushing the stroller and at one point moved too close to the edge of the sidewalk. Instantly the stroller tire closest to the edge of the sidewalk was punctured by about 20 goathead thorns from a vine that had grown over onto the sidewalk. If you do not have goatheads in the area you live, consider yourself very lucky. It is no surprise that these evil weeds are also known as devil’s thorn.

Proverbs 22:5 warns us to protect our souls by keeping far away from the thorns of the crooked and perverse. Like those dastardly goatheads, it only takes one small slip to have our souls punctured when we cross the line into the evil of this world. Unfortunately, so many professing Christians want to wander up as close to that line as possible. Whether it is spending too much time with a member of the opposite sex who is not your spouse, becoming too intimate outside of marriage, or spending too much time with people who revel in their sin and lies. If we stay far away from these types of things, our soul is less likely to be harmed by a minor lapse in judgment. If we mingle near these sins, all it takes is a momentary lapse for our souls to be punctured by these spiritual thorns. And, if we are choosing to mingle near the crooked and perverse, perhaps we are already sinning in our desires and actions.

Our path through this world is rife with opportunities to be led astray—by our sinful desires, by our sin-filled world, and by the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. So we must guard our souls by keeping as far from them as possible and by keeping our eyes focused on Jesus Christ. And when we fail, we must again turn to him in repentance and faith for there is salvation in no one else.

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A Prayer of John Chrysostom

John Chrysostom lived from 347-407 and was known for his great preaching. Chrysostom was not actually his name, but was a title applied to him after his death meaning “golden mouthed” because of his great preaching skills. This is a prayer of his to be used before reading or hearing the Word of God. I used it yesterday as the opening prayer of our Bible study.

O Lord Jesus Christ, open the eyes of my heart,
that I may hear Your word and understand and do Your will,
for I am a sojourner upon the earth.
Hide not Your commandments from me,
but open my eyes, that I may perceive the wonders of Your law.
Speak unto me the hidden and secret things of Your wisdom.

On You do I set my hope, O my God,
that You shall enlighten my mind and understanding
with the light of Your knowledge,
not only to cherish those things which are written, but to do them;
that in reading the lives and sayings of the saints I may not sin,
but that such may serve for my restoration, enlightenment and sanctification,
for the salvation of my soul,and the inheritance of life everlasting.

For You are the enlightenment of those who lie in darkness,
and from You comes every good deed and every gift. Amen.

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The Ministry of Just Showing Up

Older men are to be sober-minded, dignified, self-controlled, sound in faith, in love, and in steadfastness (Titus 2:2).

pig_wrestlingFor many people, just making it to church on a Sunday morning is a challenge. Parents with infants often arrive looking like zombies with dark circles under their eyes. They often leave  exasperated after spending the whole morning wrestling the greased, squealing pigs cavorting about their ankles rather than being fed by the word of God (I have been there and done that numerous times). At least we parents can look to the future when our kids will be older and, hopefully, better behaved and this will be easier again.

What about the elderly? Their aching bodies make it a challenge just to walk in the church door. Sitting in the hard pews for hours can add to the pains. Their eyesight makes it impossible to see the projections on the wall, and their hearing has gone so far that following the sermon or a Bible study is hit-and-miss. Forgetting the names of all the faces that they used to remember make every personal encounter a possible source of embarrassment. Unlike those parents, these problems are not going to get better with time.

This past Sunday two of our dear, faithful senior church members commented to me about these very challenges. One then said to me, “I don’t know if it is worth coming anymore.” But, I think these dear saints are being the example of dignity, self-control, faith, love and steadfastness that Paul described in Titus 2:2. They are setting examples for me and for my children. I told one of these people how their just being there was a blessing and an encouragement to me. So, if you are one of those people for whom just showing up at church every Sunday is a painful journey, please be encouraged that there are others who see your faith and your steadfastness in action. You provide a valuable ministry just by showing up!

Now, most of the people reading this blog or Facebook post are probably not elderly. So I would encourage you to look around your pews this Sunday and recognize the examples of faith and steadfastness. Then tell one of those saints that you are blessed and encouraged by their faithful church attendance. You might hear what I heard in reply, “Oh, thank you. No one has ever told me that before… Can you please tell me that again someday?”

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