Students who have taken my Christian Home class are familiar with a diagram I draw on the board each semester. In this diagram, I visually depict the difference between polygamy and polyamory—two marriage arrangements that contrast monogamy. I then tell my students that such arrangements will most likely be legal in the United States in just a matter of years and that the church will need to be prepared to address them.
The time frame for normalization of these alternative marriages may have accelerated in recent months, as a series of articles have been published touting the advantages of various forms of multiple marriage. It is important for us to understand what these are and to critique them from a biblical perspective.
The Marriage Alternatives
Until the last couple of years, laws in the United States only recognized marriage to be between one man and one woman. The 2015 Supreme Court decision in Obergefell v. Hodges opened the door to same-sex marriage. Now we see a push for different types of marriage that infringe upon monogamy.
Polygamy is a marriage arrangement where one individual is married to multiple partners. Historically, this is primarily a man married to multiple women. This form of marriage is the one most clearly set up for legalization through the Obergefell decision.
Polyamory literally means “many loves” and describes “consensually non-monogamous relationships [where] there is an open agreement that one, both, or all individuals involved in a romantic relationship may also have other sexual and/or romantic partners.” Polyamory differs from polygamy because all partners can be in multiple marriage-like relationships. While a recent Christian blogger has stated that polyamory is not about sex, the basic premise of this type of relationship is that the various partners are in multiple intimate, romantic, sexual relationships.
Open marriage is the third alternative in the marriage battleground. This arrangement involves couples in the marriage being open to romantic, sexual relationships outside the context of their own marriage. In some respects, this is similar to polyamory, although the outside relationships may not be formalized as marriage. Proponents of open marriage argue that as long as both spouses are in agreement with the arrangement then it does not break the fidelity of the marriage bond.
The Battle Ahead
Are these marriage alternatives really going to become mainstream? Numerous articles have appeared over the last year promoting these different marriage arrangements. New York published an article promoting consensual nonmonogamy. The Chronicle of Higher Education interviewed philosopher Carrie Jenkins about her new book What Love Is and What It Could Be in which she promotes polyamory. NPR even ran a story about the cultural moment for polyamory stating, “Lately, I’m seeing ‘polyamory’ everywhere. It’s not a new word or concept of course, but it seems to be having a cultural moment.” Polygamy is popularized on the television shows Sister Wives and Polygamy USA.
From a Christian perspective, progressive Christian blogger Chuck McKnight is currently publishing a series of blog posts promoting polyamory and open marriage based on a “love-based ethic” in which our ethical actions are judged by only the question of whether they are loving. McKnight believes that polyamory can be loving and therefore not biblically prohibited.
The Christian Response
In response to the cultural push for acceptance of these marriage alternatives, Scripture gives us a couple of clear ideas about marriage.
Scripture communicates a consistent message about the monogamous nature of marriage. Beginning in Genesis, we see that God’s design for marriage is a comprehensive, covenantal relationship between one man and one woman. Genesis 2:24 provides this divine commentary on the nature of marriage:
For this reason a man shall leave his father and his mother, and be joined to his wife; and they shall become one flesh.
God designed that the man (singular) would be joined to his wife (singular) in marriage. All subsequent descriptions of marriage relate the ideal of monogamy. While there are examples of polygamists in the Old Testament (for example, Lamech, Abraham, Jacob, David, and Solomon), their polygamy is not depicted as ideal. In fact, their polygamy is the source of great strife and conflict in their homes. Despite the presence of such polygamy, the overwhelming testimony of Scripture points to monogamy as the standard. Both Jesus and Paul affirm the monogamous standard. In Matthew 19 and Mark 10, Jesus quotes Genesis 2:24 and then describes two becoming one flesh. He never inserts a third or fourth individual into the marriage. In 1 Corinthians 7, Paul states, “But because of immoralities, each man is to have his own wife, and each woman is to have her own husband” (1 Corinthians 7:2). Paul clearly communicates the idea of monogamous marriage here. The message is consistent throughout Scripture.
Any departure from monogamous marriage is a form of sexual immorality. Scripture consistently condemns adultery, but two specific passages come to mind in response to the current challenges to marriage. In Romans 7:3 we read, “So then, if while her husband is living she is joined to another man, she shall be called an adulteress….” Paul describes a standard monogamous marriage (a wife with one husband) and equates any union with another man as adultery. In addition, the author of Hebrews tells us, “Marriage is to be held in honor among all, and the marriage bed is to be undefiled; for fornicators and adulterers God will judge” (Hebrews 13:4).
If Scripture depicts God’s design for marriage to be monogamous, and if any departure from monogamous marriage is equated with adultery, then the various alternative marriage arrangements—polygamy, polyamory, and open marriage—are all forms of adultery that are subject to the judgment of God. Therefore, Christians should not endorse these forms of “marriage,” nor should they tolerate them within their midst. Just as Paul rebuked the church at Corinth for tolerating the man who had married his father’s wife, we too should rebuke those who promote and tolerate such distortions of God’s design for marriage.
Rhonda N. Balzarini, et al., “Perceptions of primary and secondary relationships in polyamory,” PLoS ONE 12 (2017).
Chuck McKnight, “What Polyamory Is Not,” Hippie Heretic (September 11, 2017).
Drake Baer, “Maybe Monogamy Isn’t the Only Way to Love,” New York (March 6, 2017).
Moira Weigel, “‘I Have Multiple Loves’: Carrie Jenkins makes the philosophical case for polyamory,” The Chronicle of Higher Education (February 3, 2017). Carrie Jenkins, What Love Is and What It Could Be (New York: Basic Books, 2017).
Barbara J. King, “A Cultural Moment for Polyamory,” NPR (March 23, 2017).
I will never forget the time as a teenager when I first told my parents that I felt called to missions. Their response was both encouraging and measured. They expressed initial happiness but also cautioned with the words, “Let’s wait and see.”
Years later, now as a former missionary, people will occasionally share with me their own desire to serve overseas. They sense that God is calling them into ministry and wonder what they should do next. In many ways, I want to respond like my parents, affirming such a wonderful calling while also tempering their excitement. I also want to give some practical advice.
What follows is my general counsel for prospective missionaries. More could be said, to be sure, with specificity depending on the situation. But these suggested first steps represent a broad perspective, with a clarity that comes from both mistakes made and lessons learned.1. Take your time
Missionaries are passionate people. They are often Type-A go-getters who don’t like delay. From the moment they’re called they are ready to storm the gates of hell. But, in such cases, perhaps the greatest need for them is to tap the brakes. Take your time. Slow down. Breathe. There is incredible urgency in the world, but you must also sense the urgency which is within. You must realize the need to clarify ahead of time theological convictions and ministry priorities. You must be aware of your potential to do incredible harm to yourself, your hearers, and even the gospel if you are not well-prepared. Many a missionary has made shipwreck of his family or his ministry in the name of haste. So, please, take your time. Jesus and the Apostle Paul didn’t start right away. Chances are, neither should you.2. Master the Scriptures
A large component of your preparation should be theological. Again, those in a hurry to reach the lost may want to bypass traditional theological education. They think it takes too much time. But if you are to be a minister of the gospel you need to master the scriptures. There is no shortcut here. The mission field is strewn with shallow missionaries and, almost by default, shallow churches. False teaching and a lack of theological clarity are the blight of the global church. How are you going to address that need with a thimble full of a Bible knowledge? And what will be your ballast when swirling around you are the winds of methodological innovation? What we need now more than ever are missionaries who are grounded in the word of God and who can rightly handle it in any context.3. Become more relational
It would be easy to say that is enough. But acquiring a body of knowledge never qualified anyone for ministry. Knowledge without love is nothing. What that means for most Westerners is that we will need to learn how to love. More specifically, we need to learn how to communicate love in other cultures. Typically, Eastern and Southern cultures around the world are far more relational. They expect impromptu visits. They enjoy chatting with neighbors and strangers. They want to talk about everything and about nothing. Meanwhile, we in the West are often task-oriented and time-conscious. We have lost the art of conversation in our tech-driven society. But if you are going to serve people, you need to have certain relational and conversational acumen. You should, beginning now, seek experience meeting with people for extended periods of time, even people very different than you. You need to learn how to ask questions, how to draw out their desires or their pains. You need the kind of demeanor that turns a preacher into a pastor. In short, you need the compassion of Christ.4. Learn a marketable skill
What skills and experience do you have? I cannot count the number of times I was asked that question as a missionary candidate. And I rarely had a good answer. But such ignorance and ambivalence will get you almost nowhere. If you want to serve as a missionary, secular expertise is critical. More and more countries in the world (even traditionally-open countries) are closing their borders or tightening immigration. Fears of global terrorism and the swell of nationalism are combining to squeeze out opportunities for religious worker visas. Which means, if your heart is to go to the unreached nations of the world, a Bible college degree will not likely suffice. In fact, it may be more of a scarlet letter. So I would encourage anyone considering overseas missions to pursue or enhance their current marketability. Learn a trade. Earn a degree. At the very least, become certified as an English teacher. Do anything. But whatever you do, do something to enhance your access to the nations.5. Serve where you are
Professional development, however, is not enough. You should be taking advantage of this time to gain vocational experience as well. By that I mean you need ministry experience. You need to be serving right where you are, finding opportunities to meet needs in your current context. You should be evangelizing the lost, now. You should be pursuing relationships with internationals, now. You should be volunteering in your church, now. Don’t wait until you reach the field. Train yourself in the art of witnessing. Grow in your ability to serve others with hospitality. Gain experience teaching the Bible—even if that’s to Kindergarteners. So often I’ve seen prospective missionaries living for what’s next and missing what is now. But flourishing where God has you in the present is key to future fruitfulness.6. Depend on your local church
Missionaries are also notorious for going it alone. But they, perhaps more than anyone else, need the local church—and not just for financial support. Early on in the process they need guidance from the elders and confirmation in their calling. They will likely need help selecting a sending agency or a field of service. While on the field they will benefit from regular encouragement and prayer from the body. Times may come when they need specific direction or even correction. But it’s almost impossible to create those relationships and paths for communication after landing on the field. Far better for you to develop meaningful and deep connections before departure. You’ll be glad you did.
For the past three years I have been helping my father update his classic book Evidence that Demands a Verdict. There is no doubt that the evidence for Christianity has grown substantially since the book first released in 1972 ...
The post Greenway discusses appointment to the SBC’s Evangelism Task Force appeared first on Southern Equip.
he Protestant Reformation was a time of great discovery, and rediscovery, of essential biblical truths lost or muted for centuries. Intense and passionate people like Martin Luther (1483-1546) rediscovered the biblical gospel, which freed them from the anxiety they had about whether or not they had done enough good works to merit their salvation. The justification of a sinner before the holy God sola fide (“by faith alone”) was the great pastoral insight of the Protestants of the 16th century. As a result, ordinary Christians as well as vocational ministers could know in their heart of hearts they were in a right relationship with God. They could have assurance that in the final judgment they would be received into God’s presence because of Christ’s completed work on their behalf.
Luther spoke movingly of the reality of justification in this way:
Faith unites the soul with Christ as a bride is united with her bridegroom. As Paul teaches us, Christ and the soul become one flesh by this mystery (Eph. 5.31-32). And if they are one flesh, and if the marriage is for real—indeed, it is the most perfect of all marriages, and human marriages are poor examples of this one true marriage—then it follows that everything that they have is held in common, whether good or evil. So the believer can boast of and glory of whatever Christ possesses, as though it were his or her own; and whatever the believer has, Christ claims as his own. Let us see how this works out, and see how it benefits us. Christ is full of grace, life, and salvation. The human soul is full of sin, death, and damnation. Now let faith come between them. Sin, death, and damnation will be Christ’s. And grace, life, and salvation will be the believer’s.1
All of Christ’s benefits were given to a believer by faith alone.
It is for these reasons that historians often call justification sola fide the “material principle” of the Reformation. It is the central facet of the theology of the Reformation, the teaching which secures how one is made right with God. It secures our salvation. Indeed, without it there is no Christian faith.
But below and behind justification sola fide stands a second facet of the Reformation, sola Scriptur (“Scripture alone”), which gives shape and form to the doctrine of justification. To answer the question, How can I be made right with God?, first I have to determine by what authority I will come to my conclusion. Is it my experience, what seems to work for me? Is it the tradition of the church, or maybe its teachers, who tell me how to be in a saving relationship with the Lord? Or is it the Bible? Luther believed that Scripture—which alone was the breathed-out inerrant Word of God—was the only infallible source to answer weary souls’ questions about their salvation. Sola Scriptura is thus the “formal principle” of the Reformation, guarding the conviction that the Bible alone was able to give shape to our doctrine, especially our theology of the justification of a sinner before the holy Judge. Matthew Barrett defines it as the belief that “only Scripture, because it is God’s inspired Word, is our inerrant, sufficient, and final authority for the church.”2
Martin Luther believed this. This German monk is significant for us since “The Reformation is Luther and Luther is the Reformation.”3 In his quest to find solace before the holy God, Luther became an Augustinian monk. Then he proceeded to exhaust himself and his confessor with the number of hours he would spend every day (as a monk) recounting his sins of commission and omission, what he thought about as well as what he feared he might have thought while asleep. It was decided that Luther needed something else to do to take his mind off himself. So, against his will, Luther was made to get a doctoral degree in theology and was appointed lecturer of the Bible, one whose teaching career was spent working through biblical books with his students at the University of Wittenberg.
The church didn’t know what a lion they had let loose when they told Luther to study and teach the Bible. Luther was not easily satisfied with others’ answers to his deepest questions, so he studied, and meditated, and studied more, until finally he was able to see that the Bible taught that one is made righteous not by doing good works or by submitting to the teaching of the Church. No, one is made righteous through faith in Jesus. He studied and taught these books: Psalms (1513-1515); Romans (1515-1516); Galatians (1516-1517); Hebrews (1517-1518); Psalms again (1518-1519). It’s remarkable that Luther (who decided what books of the Bible he would study and teach) chose these particular books to study in depth. You couldn’t arrive at a better I-want-to-become-a-Protestant curriculum of study. And through studying these books, and in his subsequent ministry, Luther became committed to the idea of sola Scriptura.
Sola Scriptura never meant that human reasoning was irrelevant or that the church’s tradition of doctrinal understanding shouldn’t be taken into account. In other words, Luther never promoted nuda Scriptura. Instead, humility should lead us to consider the church’s historical understanding of Scripture as we seek to come to our own conclusions. But sola Scriptura did mean that the Bible was the sole authority in the ultimate determination of our doctrine and our practice. It was the norma normans non normata (the “norm of norms that cannot be normed”), the alone guide to truth. Other avenues of truth were useful, but they all had to sit below the one authoritative source of truth, the Bible. Sola Scriptura is indeed the “formal principle” of the Protestant Reformation.
Luther came to an understanding of sola Scriptura in the midst of his disagreements with the Catholic Church. When he began his debate with Rome over indulgences with his 95 Theses on October 31, 1517, what did he begin with? The Bible. The first thesis says,
1. When our Lord and Master Jesus Christ said, “Repent,” he willed the entire life of believers to be one of repentance.
Aided by Desiderius Erasmus’s 1516 publication of the Greek New Testament, Luther understood that the Catholic doctrine of penance was built on an unbiblical foundation because of a mistranslation of Jesus’ words into a Latin rendition reading “do penance” instead of “repent.” No, said Luther, the Bible—not even church tradition spanning over a millennium—must determine our doctrine and practice.
The Roman Church did not take kindly to Luther’s implicit attack on their source of authority. In fact, they said so plainly, pointing out that “He who does not accept the doctrine of the Church of Rome and pontiff of Rome as an infallible rule of faith, from which the Holy Scriptures, too, draw their strength and authority, is a heretic.”4 Things soon came to a head when Luther debated the Catholic theologian, Cardinal Cajetan, in 1518 at Augsburg. Cajetan stressed that the pope was the final arbiter of the meaning of Scripture, to which Luther responded, “His Holiness [i.e., the pope] abuses Scripture. I deny that he is above Scripture.”5
The next year (1519) Luther debated Johann Eck, another Catholic theologian, at Leipzig. Eck kept pressing Luther to submit to the tradition of the Church in its conciliar decisions and canon law, much of which he quoted from memory. Luther responded by quoting from memory what he knew best—the Bible! Eck concluded that Luther erred by his unwillingness to submit to the pope’s infallible interpretation of Scripture and said the German monk was no different than the heretic Jan Hus (1369-1415), who had put his own interpretation of the Bible above the papacy’s. After considering this accusation that evening, Luther shocked the assembly the next day by declaring, “Ja, Ich bin ein Hussite” (“Yes, I am a Hussite”), thus showing his allegiance at the point of scriptural authority with a man who’d been burned as a heretic by the church. The church’s response was swift and decisive. In January 1521 Luther was excommunicated from the Catholic Church, condemned as a heretic.
A few months later at the Diet of Worms (April 1521) Luther was charged with being a heretic by the Holy Roman Empire. Asked to recant of the numerous errors in his several books, Luther defiantly took his stand on the authority of the Bible, memorably declaring,
Unless I am convinced by the testimony of the Scriptures, or by evident reason (for I put my faith neither in popes nor councils alone, since it is established that they have erred again and again and contradicted one another), I am bound by the scriptural evidence adduced by me, and my conscience is captive to the Word of God. I cannot, I will not recant anything, for it is neither safe nor right to act against one’s conscience. God help me. Amen.6
The “evident reason” Luther appealed to referred to the conclusions a biblical interpreter would draw from the text of Scripture, not to autonomous human logic.7 Emperor Charles V responded by declaring Luther an outlaw in the empire. Declared an outlaw, Luther was now under the ban of both the church and the empire because of his stand for sola Scriptura.
Luther never recanted because he was deeply convinced that God’s Word alone was true and authoritative. His response to the church and the empire proves this. He preached tirelessly from the Bible. He wrote commentaries on several books of the Bible (his 1535 commentary on Galatians is a wonderful example of the mature Luther’s thought). He translated the New Testament from Greek to German (in 11 weeks) so that laypeople could read, hear, and understand the Bible for themselves. He himself was convinced that God used him simply as an instrument to make the Bible known. All he did was preach the Bible and God performed his work through the Scripture:
I simply taught, preached, wrote God’s Word; otherwise I did nothing. And then, while I slept, or drank Wittenberg beer with my Philip and my Amsdorf, the Word so greatly weakened the papacy that never a prince or emperor did such damage to it. I did nothing. The Word did it all.8
From Luther himself, then, we see that the Protestant Reformation was fueled by both believing and putting into practice the biblical doctrine of sola Scriptura.
Shawn Wright is professor of church history at Southern Seminary.
1 The Freedom of a Christian; cf. McGrath, “Justification,” 363.
2 Matthew Barrett, God’s Word Alone: The Authority of Scripture (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2016), 23.
3 James Atkinson, The Great Light: Luther and Reformation (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1968), 11.
4 Sylvester Prierias, Dialogue concerning the Power of the Pope, in Barrett, God’s Word Alone, 36.
5 Roland Bainton, Here I Stand, 80; in Barrett, God’s Word Alone, 38.
6 Quoted in Rudolph W. Heinze, Reform and Conflict, 96.
7 Barrett, God’s Word Alone, 50.
8 Quoted in Timothy George, Theology of the Reformers (Nashville: Broadman, 1988), 53.
n this eve of the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation, diverse voices sound out in response to the question, “Is the Reformation over?” For example, Peter Kreeft, professor of philosophy at Boston University and an apologist for Roman Catholicism, maintains, “What happened in our day that never happened before was that both sides [Protestants and Catholics] listened with new openness and passion and honesty, and the result was a miracle: the central issue of the Reformation, which was the single most serious schism in Christian history, was resolved to the satisfaction of both sides without compromise.”1
To what resolution does Kreeft refer? The Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification, signed by the World Lutheran Federation and the Roman Catholic Church in 1999.2 The Joint Declaration weds together statements about justification on which Catholics and Protestants agree, other statements that represent the unique Roman Catholic understanding of justification, and still other statements that represent the unique Lutheran understanding of the doctrine.
Accordingly, the Joint Declaration claims that the two traditions have found vast agreement on this doctrine. Given that justification was the material principle (the core doctrinal content) of Protestantism and a key reason for the division between Protestant churches and the Roman Catholic Church, the Joint Declaration, according to Kreeft, is “the greatest ecumenical achievement in the five hundred years since the Reformation” and signals that “the single greatest obstacle to reunion … has essentially been overcome.”3 In reality, the Protestants who have signed the Joint Declaration represent more liberal churches and denominations, who appear to be far more committed to ecumenism than to the theology of the Reformers.
This voice affirming the end of the Reformation contrasts with other voices denying it is finished. For example, Chris Castaldo and I, in our co-authored book, The Unfinished Reformation,4 applaud the many steps taken by Protestants and Catholics to better understand one another. We no longer kill one another over points of doctrinal disagreement, for example. Furthermore, we rejoice over our commonalities, doctrines such as the Trinity, the deity and humanity of Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit. Moreover, Catholics and Protestants protest against the culture of death whose shadow falls steadily over the United States, and together we champion religious freedom and other human rights.
At the same time, we do not believe the Reformation is over – not at all. “We say this because of the many basic doctrinal differences that still exist between the Catholic and Protestant traditions. These include views on Scripture and Tradition, justification, the nature and role of the church/Church, the sacraments, the presence of Christ in the Eucharist, Mary and the saints, merits, indulgences, and purgatory.”5
No, the Reformation is not over. The theological chasm between the Catholic Church and Protestants remains. Here’s why:Justification
The two traditions operate with widely different definitions of justification. According to Catholic theology, justification “is not only the remission [forgiveness] of sins, but also the sanctification and renewal of the inner man.” This definition contrasts with the Protestant view that justification is “a mighty act of God by which he declares sinful people not guilty but righteous instead. He does so by imputing, or crediting, the perfect righteousness of Christ to them. Thus, while they are not actually righteous, God views them as being so because of Christ’s righteousness.”6The Reformation Is Not Over
Our understanding of justification makes all the difference in the world as to how we achieve right standing before God. If, according to the Roman Catholic view, justification is forgiveness and sanctification and regeneration, then salvation is a lifelong process. It begins with the new birth (and, as we will see, this takes place through the Catholic sacrament of baptism), includes the removal of original sin, and continues through progress in holiness, specifically, cooperation with the grace of God (through the other Church sacraments) so as to merit eternal life. Excluded from this lifelong process of justification is the assurance of one’s salvation. Perseverance in Christ is not guaranteed, because at any point in the process one may commit mortal sin, lose the grace of justification, and forfeit salvation. Accordingly, Roman Catholic theology denies that the Catholic faithful may be assured of their salvation.
If, however, according to the Protestant view, justification is the divine declaration that (1) we are no longer guilty because of the atoning sacrifice of Jesus Christ, and that (2) we are righteous before God because of the righteousness of Jesus Christ being accredited to our account, our standing before God is sealed. “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1). The sentence of “not guilty” but “righteous instead” has already been rendered on our behalf, so we can be assured of our salvation.Scripture and Tradition
Catholics and Protestants disagree as to what constitutes divine revelation. To the question, “How does God speak to the world today, Roman Catholic theology answers, through Scripture, Tradition, and the Magisterium?” Scripture is the written Word of God and, while it corresponds closely to the Protestant notion, there is a major difference: The canon of the Catholic Bible (the list of divinely inspired, authoritative books that constitute Scripture) is longer than that of the Protestant Bible. It includes seven additional writings—Tobit, Judith, Wisdom of Solomon, Ecclesiasticus (notice the ending; it is also called Wisdom of Sirach), Baruch, and First and Second Maccabees—as well as additional sections to Esther and Daniel. Called the apocryphal writings, or the Apocrypha for short, these extra books and sections affirm “purgatory and prayers for the dead (2 Macc. 12:46), the merit of works (Tobit 4:10; 12:9; 14:10-11), . . . and almsgiving atoning for sin (Sirach 3:30).”7
When believers search the Bible to understand the gospel, find God’s will, receive comfort and guidance, resolve doctrinal disputes, and lead their churches, they have the sufficient, truthful, clear, necessary, authoritative, and divinely inspired revelation—everything they need to please God fully.
Catholics hold that tradition includes the teaching of Jesus that he orally communicated to his apostles, who in turn orally communicated it to their successors, the bishops of the Catholic Church, who guard, nurture, and occasionally proclaim it to be official dogma that the Catholic faithful are obligated to believe and practice. Tradition includes the immaculate conception of Mary (she was conceived without sin), her bodily assumption (upon her death, Mary’s body was immediately taken up into heaven), transubstantiation (the bread and wine of the Eucharist are changed into the body and blood of Jesus Christ when the sacrament is celebrated), and more. Importantly, then, the Catholic Church “does not derive her certainly about all revealed truths from the holy Scriptures alone. According to Catholic doctrine, both Scripture and Tradition must be accepted and honored with equal sentiment of devotion and reverence.”8
The responsibility for the proper interpretation of Scripture and the establishment of Tradition, in Roman Catholic mind, falls to the Magisterium, or the teaching office of the Catholic Church. Consisting of the pope and the bishops, this office is not, most Catholics insist, a third source of divine revelation; rather, according the Roman Catholicism, the pope and the bishops constitute the authoritative structure for the determination and understanding of divine revelation. Indeed, we can argue that because the Catholic Church determined the canon of the New Testament (a claim that does not bear up under historical investigation) and proclaims Tradition, it stands above both Scripture and Tradition. Accordingly, Catholics believe through Scripture, Tradition, and the Magisterium, God speaks to the world today.
But Protestants answer the same question with reference to Scripture only. Indeed, the formal principle (the authoritative structure of the faith) of Protestantism is sola Scriptura (Scripture alone). This stance means that when believers search the Bible to understand the gospel, find God’s will, receive comfort and guidance, resolve doctrinal disputes, and lead their churches, they have the sufficient, truthful, clear, necessary, authoritative, and divinely inspired revelation—everything they need to please God fully. The Catholic Church officially denies that the final authority in the church is Scripture alone.The Church, sacraments, and the presence of Christ at the table
According to Roman Catholic theology, “the sole Church of Christ … subsists in the Catholic Church, which is governed by the successor of Peter and by the bishops in communion with him.”9 This stance rests on the Christ-Church interconnection, that is, the Roman Catholic Church self-identifies as the continuation of the incarnation of Christ. Thus, the whole Christ—divinity, humanity, and body—exists in the Church, and given the fact that there is only one Christ, they argue there is only one Church: the Roman Catholic Church.
The implication of this position is that the gatherings of Protestants are not churches; rather, they are “ecclesial communities.”10 “Furthermore, Catholic theology insists that the salvation offered to people through evangelical ecclesial communities actually flows from the ‘fullness of grace and truth that Christ has entrusted to the Catholic Church.’ What is more, if unity is ever to be recovered among evangelical ecclesial communities and other churches, those evangelical assemblies must join the Catholic Church.”11 It goes without saying, such a perspective is unacceptable to Protestants.
At the heart of the Catholic Church is its sacraments, and this sacramental orientation rises and falls on the nature-grace interdependence: The elements of nature—created things like mountains, forests, angels, human beings, water, oil, bread, and wine—are capable of receiving and transmitting the grace of God. Moreover, divine grace must be concretely transmitted through elements of nature. Accordingly, they teach the sacraments of the Catholic Church transmit God’s grace to the Catholic faithful. When Catholics participate in the Mass, they believe divine grace is infused into them through the consecrated bread and wine; thus, they experience a more intimate union with Christ, separation from sin, and more.
Focusing briefly on this last point, the sacrament of the Eucharist, which is “the source and summit of the Christian life” because it contains the “whole spiritual good of the Church, namely Christ himself,”12 involves transubstantiation: The natural elements of bread and wine are consecrated such that “by the power of the Holy Spirit and by the words of Christ, [they] become the body and blood of Christ. Christ is thus really and mysteriously made present.”13
According to Protestant theology, two marks establish a true church and distinguish it from a false church: “The church is the congregation of the saints in which the gospel is rightly taught and the sacraments rightly administered.”14 Thus, a true church is marked by preaching the Word and the two rites Christ ordained for his church to celebrate: baptism (Matt 28:18-20) and the Lord’s Supper (Matt 26:26-29). This view contrasts with the seven sacraments of the Catholic Church: baptism, confirmation, the Eucharist, penance, anointing of the sick, holy orders, and matrimony. And Protestant theology disagrees that grace is infused through the sacraments. As we saw with justification, God imputes the righteousness of Christ to his people, but he does not infuse grace to enable them to cooperate with grace in doing good works in order to merit eternal life. Moreover, whereas Protestants disagree among themselves as to the nature of the presence of Christ in the Lord’s Supper, they all reject transubstantiation because it is grounded on a misunderstanding of Scripture (“This is my body;” Matt 26:26), it developed late in time (the 13th century), and it appeals to divine power without any biblical warrant. Thus, Catholics and Protestants, in the sixteenth century and now, profoundly disagree about the identity of the church. Historic Protestants have insisted that the Roman Catholic Church, abandoning the Gospel and the preaching of the Word of God, is a false church.Mary and the saints, merits, indulgences, and purgatory.
Based on Scripture and tradition, and with a faulty notion of justification, Roman Catholic theology claims that salvation involves both divine grace and human effort: God’s grace initiates the lifelong process, and the Catholic faithful cooperate with that grace by doing good works, thereby meriting eternal life. Accordingly, four categories of people exist:
(1) “All who die in God’s grace and friendship and are perfectly purified” go immediately into the presence of the Lord in heaven.15 Mary is the forerunner of these Catholic faithful, who have fully cooperated with divine grace, engaged in good works (even to the point of doing more than their duty), and thus merited eternal life. These people are the “saints,” and they provide examples of holiness and engage in prayer for the Catholic faithful on earth.
(2) “All who die in God’s grace and friendship, but still imperfectly purified, are indeed assured of their eternal salvation; but after death they undergo purification, so as to achieve the holiness necessary to enter the joy of heaven.”16 These people are in purgatory, experiencing passive suffering, being purified so that one day (with certainty) they will enter the presence of the Lord in heaven.
(3) All who “die in mortal sin without repenting and accepting God’s merciful love” go immediately to hell, “where they suffer the punishments of hell, ‘eternal fire.’ The chief punishment of hell is eternal separation from God.”17 Accordingly, there are two eternal destinies—heaven and hell—and one temporal destiny—purgatory.
(4) As for the Catholic faithful on earth, they participate in the sacraments, receiving infused grace so as to engage in good works and merit eternal life. They make progress in the lifelong process of justification. Part of their responsibilities is to pursue indulgences: “An indulgence is a remission before God of the temporal punishment due to sin whose guilt has already been forgiven.”18 These releases from punishment, which are of two kinds—plenary, or full remission, and partial remission—may be obtained for themselves (thus, avoiding purgatory) as well as for others (thus, helping those suffering in purgatory to be released more quickly, or even completely).
Protestant theology rejects these Catholic doctrines because they have no place in light of the gospel and no foundation in the Bible. Not on the basis of good works, but by faith alone, sinful people embrace God’s provision of the atoning sacrifice of Jesus Christ. Accordingly, God declares them “not guilty” but “righteous instead,” signifying they have a completely righteous standing before him. Out of thankfulness to God for his saving work, and because they have been born again (regeneration is another mighty act of God in salvation), they engage in good works, not to merit eternal life, but as the fruit of their salvation. There is no need for indulgences, no need for purgatory, no possibility of merit, and no special classification for people who faithfully walk with God. All are “sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints together with all those who in every place call upon the name of our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Cor 1:2).
The Reformation is not over, and it was not a mistake. And why does that matter? Because nothing less than our right standing before God, his way of speaking to us today, our belonging to a true church, and the hope of the gospel are at stake. They are always at stake.
Gregg R. Allison is professor of Christian theology at Southern Seminary.
1 Peter Kreeft, Catholics and Protestants: What Can We Learn from Each Other? (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2017), 21.
2 Following the original signing of the JDDJ in 1999, the World Methodist Council signed the statement in 2006, the Anglican Consultative Council agreed in principle to the statement in 2016, and the World Communion of Reformed Churches is set to sign it this year (2017).
3 Kreeft, Catholics and Protestants, 17.
4 Gregg Allison and Chris Castaldo, The Unfinished Reformation: What Unites and Divides Catholics andProtestants after 500 Years (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2016).
5 Ibid., 150.
6 Gregg R. Allison, The Baker Compact Dictionary of Theological Terms (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2016), s.v. “justification.”
7 Owen Chadwick, “Significance of the Deuterocanonical Writings,” in The Apocrypha in Ecumenical Perspective, ed. Siegfried Meurer (New York: United Bible Societies, 1991), 128.
8 Catechism of the Catholic Church, section 82.
9 Catechism of the Catholic Church, section 816.
10 This point was underscored and clarified in the motu proprio of Pope Benedict XVI, “Responses to Some Questions Regarding Certain Aspects of the Doctrine of the Church” (July 10:2007); accessible at www.vatican.va
11 Gregg R. Allison, Roman Catholic Theology and Practice: An Evangelical Assessment (Wheaton: Crossway, 2015), 171. The citation is from the Catechism of the Catholic Church, section 819.
12 Catechism of the Catholic Church, section 1324.
13 Catechism of the Catholic Church, section 1357.
14 Augsburg Confession, 7. See also John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, 4.1.8.
15 Catechism of the Catholic Church, section 1023.
16 Catechism of the Catholic Church, section 1030.
17 Catechism of the Catholic Church, sections 1033 and 1035.
18 Catechism of the Catholic Church, section 1471.
Hundreds gathered in the Alumni Memorial Chapel on Wednesday, June 28, to remember and honor Charles W. Draper, a professor of Boyce College and chair of the school’s department of biblical studies, who died from a heart attack during the early hours of Sunday, June 25. He was 70.
Draper was a highly accomplished scholar and teacher, particularly in the realm of biblical studies and textual criticism. But those who knew him best say he was in his element in private conversations with students, encouraging and challenging them to grow both inside and outside the classroom.
“Professor Charlie Draper was a cherished member of the Boyce College and Southern Seminary faculty, and he will be greatly missed,” said R. Albert Mohler Jr., president of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and Boyce College.
For more than 50 years, Draper taught the Bible in numerous contexts — pastoring churches from Florida to Hawaii for more than 20 years, speaking in five different countries, and teaching at the college level. He was also the general editor of the bestselling Bible reference book, Holman Illustrated Bible Dictionary.
Draper was a founding professor of Boyce College in 1998, when the school relaunched as the fully accredited James P. Boyce College of the Bible, replacing the non degree-granting Boyce Bible School. From that time, Draper served as associate professor of biblical studies before becoming chair of the department of biblical studies in 2013.
Draper was born in Jacksonville, Texas, on May 25, 1947.
His older brother, Jimmy, was a major figure in the conservative resurgence of the Southern Baptist Convention in the 1980s and 1990s, serving as SBC president from 1982 to 1983 and then as president of LifeWay Christian Resources from 1991 to 2006. Draper was ordained as a minister in Warren, Arkansas, in 1964, and took his first pastorate at age 17.
Draper left behind his wife of 48 years, Retta, who is also a long-time employee of Southern Seminary; his children, Shelly Hardin and David Draper; and his six grandchildren. He was a member of the East campus of Highview Baptist Church in Louisville, Kentucky.
— SBTS Communications
Three professors elected to the faculty during the spring trustee meeting signed the Abstract of Principles, during convocation ceremonies, August 29. The Abstract is the seminary’s confession of faith.
Signing the historic document were R. Scott Connell, associate professor of music and worship leadership at Boyce College; Charles T. Lewis Jr., associate professor of church music and worship at Southern Seminary; and Brian K. Payne, associate professor of Christian theology and expository preaching at Boyce, became signees No. 258, 259, and 260 of the Abstract.
— SBTS Communications
John David WilseyA renowned church historian with expertise in foundational American ideas and a medieval theology scholar will be joining the faculty at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. John David Wilsey and Tyler R. Wittman will begin their professorships in the fall semester.
Wilsey, who has worked as an educator and pastor since 1992, will serve as associate professor of church history. Princeton University recently announced Wilsey as the William E. Simon Visiting Fellow in Religion and Public Life for 2017-18, during which he will conduct research for a new biography of John Foster Dulles for Eerdmans’ Library of Religious Biography series.
“John Wilsey is a wonderful scholar of American Christianity,” said R. Albert Mohler Jr. “John Wilsey’s expertise, especially in issues of church and state and religious liberty in the United States, and his concern for accuracy and appreciation in terms of history, all of these are great gifts that he brings to this new position at Southern Seminary.”
Tyler R. WittmanWittman is returning to Southern as assistant professor of Christian theology, having recently completed his Ph.D. in Divinity at the University of St. Andrews in Scotland. He previously earned his M.Div. and Th.M. degrees from SBTS.
“Tyler Wittman is an outstanding young theologian,” Mohler said. “He served in times pasts as one of my interns. I’m now old enough to be able to hire professors that I knew as college students, and we really look forward to Tyler Wittman joining Southern Seminary’s theology faculty.”
— Zachary Ball
Trustees of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary unanimously approved all recommendations in the board’s April 10 meeting, including the installation of Southern Baptist Convention President Steve Gaines to a visiting professorship honoring former SBC President Herschel H. Hobbs.
The board also approved an expanded budget for the 2017-2018 academic year and elected three faculty members.
The trustees established the Herschel H. Hobbs Visiting Professor of Christian Preaching to honor the life and legacy of Hobbs, a two-time graduate of Southern Seminary. Hobbs was the president of the Southern Baptist Convention from 1961-1963, served as chairman of the committee that revised the Baptist Faith and Message in 1963, and pastored several SBC churches.
“One of my encouragers all along the way was Dr. Herschel Hobbs — he was so committed to this institution, so committed to Southern Baptists,” said Southern Seminary President R. Albert Mohler Jr. to trustees during the meeting.
Gaines, installed as the inaugural Herschel H. Hobbs Visiting Professor of Christian Preaching, has served as the senior pastor of Bellevue Baptist Church in Memphis, Tennessee, since 2005.
The board approved the Financial Board’s recommendation to increase the budget from $48.04 million the previous academic year to $51.6 million in 2017-2018, an increase of 7.5 percent.
The board also elected to the faculty R. Scott Connell, assistant professor of music and worship leadership at Boyce College; Brian K. Payne, associate professor of Christian theology and church ministry and expository preaching at Boyce; and Charles T. Lewis, assistant professor of church music and worship at Southern Seminary. These elections will go into effect Aug. 1.
— Andrew J.W. Smith
R. Albert Mohler Jr. preaches from Romans 3:21-26 at All Saints’ Church (Schlosskirche) in Wittenberg, Germany.
R. Albert Mohler Jr. has preached through the Book of Romans before. But not like this.
“One of the most moving and humbling experiences of my life as a preacher was to preach from the high pulpit of the Schlosskirche in the high church in Wittenberg,” Mohler said. “Knowing all that this church and this town have meant to the Protestant faith, to the gospel, for the preaching of Scripture—and, to say the least, to preach with Martin Luther buried at my feet.”
Mohler, who is president of Southern Seminary, was in the middle of leading a group from Southern Seminary and Ligonier on a tour of notable sites from the Reformation, when he preached Romans 3:21-26 in the city that, as the saying goes, started it all.
Here’s a look at highlights from the recent Elbe River and Land of Luther tours:from prague
Castle church door with Luther’s 95 Theses replicated in bronze; Knights Hall at the Wartburg Castle — the castle is where Luther was held in protective custody in the castle. He translated the entire New Testament into the German while in prison; Church of St. Mary of the Snow, Prague;
Pulpit in Meissen Cathedral in Meissen, Germany, featuring 2 Timothy 4:2—a text central to the Reformers’ emphasis on preaching the Bible; and a cell in the Augustinian Monastery in Erfurt the Augustinian Monastery in Erfurt, Germany, where Martin Luther became a monk.
Memorial to Jan Hus and the Reformation;
Augustinian Monastery in Erfurt
Left: Dresden Cathedral, famous statue of Luther in Fraukerke
Middle: Bethlehem Chapel in Prague, Czech Republic, connected to Czech reformer, Jan Hus.
Right: St. Peter and Paul Church in Eisleben, Germany, where Luther was baptized in 1483.
The Charles Bridge in Prague, was built around the 1300s, and connects the Old Town to the castle.
This year, the world celebrates the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation, a time that began when a previously unknown monk nailed 95 Theses to the door of the church in Wittenberg. This simple act effectively altered the course of history and unloosed the gospel message for the masses.
At the time Martin Luther penned his theses, Johanne Gutenberg’s printing press had existed, used primarily to print volumes for the elite, for nearly 70 years. However, within two years, the printing press set the stage for the Christian publishing movement that would flourish beyond any expectation and genuinely change the world—all at the leading of that unknown monk.
Luther’s method to disseminate the gospel was to write in the language of the common people, German, when at the time most literature in Germany was in Latin. His idea was for the common man or woman to be able to pick up a copy of one of his works, typically a 1,500 word pamphlet, and read truth that was largely hidden at the time because of inaccessibility. What followed was faithful theological literature becoming accessible on a large scale and even Scripture itself being available for the first time to people who had only heard bits and pieces that priests and church leaders read.
“God graciously used Gutenberg to get gospel-centered resources into the hands of anyone who could read. In a sense, this set the course for Christian publishing done the right away,” said Justin Taylor, a doctor of philosophy (Ph.D., 2015) graduate of Southern Seminary and executive vice president of book publishing at Crossway Publishing, in a recent interview.
Taylor noted that the publishing effort of the day was “collaborative.”
He explained, “If there was no author or publisher, there would be no publishing. If there was no typesetter, there would be no publishing. If there were no salesmen to make the sales transaction, there would be no publishing. And finally, if there was no one to buy it—and then to read it and recommend it to others—there would be no successful publishing. That same basic paradigm basically exists today.”The Reformation’s greatest tool
Eric Geiger (M.A., 2002; D.Ed., 2005), Southern Seminary alumnus and president of LifeWay’s B&H Publishing and Trevin Wax (M.Div., 2009), LifeWay’s Bible and reference publisher who is also a Southern alumnus, both noted how they consider publishing perhaps the “greatest tool of
Similarly, Taylor called publishing a “providential means to an end” in the Reformation. And one of the founders of Southern Seminary Magazine and founding publisher and editor of Preaching Magazine, Michael Duduit (M.Div., 1979), added: “I think the re-emergence of biblical truth is the primary achievement of the Reformation, but in terms of methodology, publishing would stand out,” said Duduit, who is also a Southern alumnus. “It’s no accident that the Reformers were pointing people back to Scripture at the same time that a new technology emerged to aid in distributing their teaching. Publishing enabled the Reformers to have a much wider impact on their age.”Truth unchained
Another one of Reformation era publishing’s greatest effects on publishing, says Wax, was the “unchaining” of Scripture.
“Printing and the Reformation go hand in hand because this is how these ideas were able to be disseminated and how the sort of chain that the leadership in the Catholic church had on scriptural teaching was able to be broken,” Wax said. “The chains around Scripture were broken because of publishing and because people were able to see the Bible for themselves, translate the Bible and then disseminate the truths that they found in the Bible throughout Europe.”
Geiger added: “The Bible became accessible to the common man and common woman, and the Lord used that to awaken people to his race, to cause people to feel confident that they could understand the Scripture, that they could understand theology which then emboldened them to share the gospel with other people.
“So unchaining the key doctrines of the faith from only being held by the priest or the clergy and that being spread—it’s beautiful to think that the Lord used Gutenberg and the press for that to happen.”
Not only was the Scripture itself made readily available to anyone who could read, in their own language, but now books and pamphlets abounded in a way they never had before. In fact, more than 300,000 copies of Luther’s 95 Theses were distributed to people hungry for the truth. In this sense, Gutenberg’s press was one “tool” used to spread the Reformation.Lasting effects
The effects of this Reformation era thinking that each individual should be able to assess God’s Word and theologically strong writing in their own language and in a way that appeals and speaks to them is still influencing evangelical publishing today.
“Printing and the Reformation go hand in hand because this is how these ideas were able to be disseminated and how the sort of chain that the leadership in the Catholic church had on scriptural teaching was able to be broken.”
In the same vein, Southern Seminary alumnus, Matthew Barrett (M.Div., 2008; Ph.D., 2011), sees Credo Magazine, which he founded and for which he serves as executive editor, as a means to “bridge the gap between the academy and the church.”
He started the magazine after noticing a disconnect between those in the local church and those in the academic world. However, like Luther, realizing that the deep truths of Scripture weren’t simply for the educated minority, he strives to provide a mixture of pastoral and theological articles each issue.
In addition, during the time Barrett spent in the pastorate before joining the faculty at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary as associate professor of Christian theology, he said he took the “one foot in the academy and one foot in the church” approach he saw modeled at Southern by professors such as Bruce A. Ware and Thomas R. Schreiner and tried to emphasize the importance of reading good books to
Essentially, Cristopher Garrido (M.A., 2015), director of Spanish publishing at LifeWay, has taken a similar approach, striving to make not just well-known bestsellers available to the Latino community, but by also making perhaps lesser known titles that he sees filling a need available. He also focuses on finding key voices who already have a following in the Hispanic community and providing them with a larger platform.
Garrido, a graduate of Southern Seminary, sees the work he does as “God opening a door to meet a need in a more scalable way, not just me dedicating my life to writing a few books, but instead being the channel through which many more voices could be published and have a greater enduring impact in the Spanish speaking church.”Evangelical publishing and the future
In the 500 years since the Protestant Reformation started, publishing has shifted formats, grown platforms and changed drastically. That’s a reality not lost on those in the middle of the industry.
“We have information at out fingertips. Just open your tablet or your laptop or your phone and you can just go on to a million websites and find the information you want. But in the 16th century, that wasn’t the case,” Barrett noted.
With the invention of the printing press, information began to spread. “Suddenly it wasn’t just the scholars, but the mother taking care of children in her home was reading through a short pamphlet that Luther had written on the doctrine of justification or the church, and Luther’s ideas started to revolutionize not just the church but even the family and all of life and society.” This impact is still seen today.
However, with the flow of information that has characterized the last 500 years, and even today the rise of the e-book and the popularity of articles and blogs, Christian publishing faces many challenges. Geiger sees one of these challenges as the decline in the “experiential, transformational impact” of deep reading.
He explained: “The opportunity today is that we can get words out there in a ton of different ways. We want to embrace that just like Gutenberg embraced the new technology. The opportunity, I sometimes worry, creates people just reading a bunch of surface things and not having the deep reading experiences that really forms them. … There’s just something special about a book.”
This availability of information has helped culture shift in a direction away from reading in general. Citing Pew Research statistics that even significant numbers of college graduates never read another book after graduation, Wax sees a challenge for evangelical publishers to fight against the pull to produce only “inspirational, feel good books with a bit of Scripture thrown in here and there.”
“As people who believe in the power of God’s Word, we need to be considering the need for a renewed emphasis on the life of the mind in the next generation,” Wax said. “That may be one way that we as Christians stand out, that we will be engaged as readers, as thoughtful, as empathetic, as really understanding the world around us, not simply reacting to the world around us.”
“With the flow of information that has characterized the last 500 years, and even today the rise of the e-book and the popularity of articles and blogs, Christian publishing faces many challenges..”
He added: “I’m hoping that Christian publishing will rise above the circumstances of just what the market demands and will look at how we can best serve the church to be strongest in the next generation.”
Likewise, Barrett is concerned for the “ethic” of the Christian publishing world. He sees a “divide” in Christian publishing with some companies producing material that is both helpful to the church and simultaneously harmful. Recognizing this ethic is a place these companies must start, Barrett argues.
Along those same lines, Taylor added, “I am confident that good publishing, grounded in the gospel, will continue to exist until Christ returns. But along with it will be Christian publishing that is not grounded in sound doctrine.”
Taylor continued, “In many ways, Christian publishing is now in a state where we can say ‘it is the best of times; it is the worst of times.’ There is more helpful material published than ever before, and also more compromised material. For those of us in publishing, I think we need to apply the words of Jesus: What is that to you? You follow me.”
On October 2017, Protestant churches around the world will commemorate the 500th anniversary of the Reformation. In doing so, these churches are not celebrating any particular individual, but God’s work in reawakening the church to the central truths of the gospel. We remember God’s work in the past and rejoice in the church’s recovery of the doctrines of justification and the ultimate authority of Scripture.
At the same time, we recognize that it is not enough merely to celebrate the doctrines recovered during the Reformation—we must also continue to defend them, teach them, and herald them from our pulpits. As this magazine reflects on the 500th anniversary of the Reformation, we do so with immeasurable gratitude to God but also with a sense that the Reformation is where we find our own theological identity. We are, without apology, Protestants.
The errors that Luther countered in 1517 and throughout the Reformation have persisted even into our own day. That is why the church must continually be reformed by the Word of God.
The five solas that became formulated as a summary of the reformation in the 20th century—Scripture alone, grace alone, faith alone, Christ alone, to the glory of God alone—must still be defended and taught in our churches.
“The errors that Luther countered in 1517 and throughout the Reformation have persisted even into our own day. That is why the church must continually be reformed by the Word of God.”
The modern age needs these truths just as urgently as the church did in 1517.
As we look to the year 1517, we are looking at a turning point in human history. We are standing upon the rock of Jesus’ own sovereignty over human history. We are standing on a rock that will prevail, even against the gates of Hell.
This issue of Southern Seminary Magazine commemorates the work of God in the 16th century through men like Martin Luther, Ulrich Zwingli, and John Calvin—a work that includes Magisterial Reformers, an army of preachers, and Anabaptist martyrs. But more than that, this issue of Southern Seminary Magazine calls its readers to continue the work of Reformation and press into the same theological convictions championed by the Reformers. These are not secondary or tertiary issues. These are the doctrines by which the church stands or falls. May we be found faithful in defending these truths by the generations that follow us. Thankfully, we can see that young army of gospel preachers and convictional believers continuing to build right now on the campus of Southern Seminary and Boyce College.
The post The centrality of Scripture yesterday, today and forever appeared first on Southern Equip.
... Your question, Austin, is about (1), which I call “a modest version of the Principle of Sufficient Reason” which “circumvents the typical objections to strong versions of that principle.” Leibniz’s own formulation of the Principle of Sufficient Reason in his treatise The Monadology was very strong: "no fact can be real or existent, no statement true, unless there be a sufficient reason why it is so and not otherwise." Notice that for Leibniz every fact, every true statement, must have an explanation. That entails that there are no brute facts, that is, facts without explanation. By contrast, as I explain in Reasonable Faith, my more modest formulation of the Principle “merely requires any existing thing to have an explanation of its existence. This premiss is compatible with there being brute facts about the world” (p. 107). My version of the Principle denies that there are beings which exist without any explanation. That’s all I need for the argument to go through ...
Harvey and Irma. These are the names given to the two hurricanes that have consumed our news media, prayer time and conversations. Since Aug. 25, we have witnessed the devastation and destruction of homes, land and human life.
Some meteorologists report that as a result of Harvey, somewhere between 25 to 30 trillion gallons of water were dumped on Southeast Texas and Southern Louisiana. It is difficult to imagine that amount of water falling in such a relatively short period of time. Additionally, when experts showed the image of Irma overlaying the Sunshine State, it blew me away. This dynamic duo, namely, Harvey and Irma, will be spoken about for years and decades to come.
My hope, however, is that the primary conversation that rises above the rhetoric of the storms will focus on something that was more powerful than Harvey and mightier than Irma. I am referring to the help people gave each other regardless of race or skin color.
Let me quickly acknowledge that I am intentionally treading very lightly when writing about “silver linings” with Harvey and Irma. I do not want to be perceived as being insensitive or as totally spiritualizing these two hurricanes that ravaged property and resulted in the loss of lives. In addition, however, we must not overlook how people treated others with dignity and respect and helped each other regardless of race.
If you were an African-American and you saw Asians who needed help, race and ethnicity didn’t matter—you just helped them. If you were White and you saw Hispanics or Latinos who needed help, race and ethnicity didn’t matter—you just helped them. Everyone, including those who were not in the direct path of the storms, was in rescue mode.
Though these storms were destructive, I hope some (if not all) can find comfort in knowing that Harvey and Irma did not sneak up on God. Even before these hurricanes were way less than a category 0.1, God knew they were coming. God is omniscient, and nothing sneaks up on Him or takes Him by surprise. The psalmist says, “Great is our Lord and abundant in strength; His understanding is infinite” (Psalm 147:5), and Matthew reminds us that God has numbered “the very hairs” of our heads (Matthew 10:30). He is all-knowing.
God knew that the storms were coming, and He also knew that race wouldn’t matter when people needed rescuing. Just as the winds from the storms caused abnormal surges that rose some 6-12 feet above sea level, we saw humanity rise above racial divisions.
I’m not a pessimist when it comes to believing that race relations can and will get better. However, my best guess is that before the flood waters completely dry up, and before the nails are driven into the wood for roof and home repairs, conflict along racial lines will surge again.
How can we continue to be light that shines in the storms of racial division?
- Communicate about race without becoming angry. This is easier said than done. Nevertheless, it must be done if we are going to grow in our understanding of one another. We have to be willing to intentionally listen without being defensive. James is correct, “everyone must be quick to hear, slow to speak and slow to anger; for the anger of man does not achieve the righteousness of God” (James 1:19-20). Next time you are in a conversation about race, racism or anything in that vein that can potentially be “stormy,” intentionally listen even if you disagree. This will help move the conversation forward, as mutual respect will obviously be present.
- Develop cross-racial or cross-cultural relationships. If you do not have such a relationship, ask the Lord to bring someone from another race into your life who will become a good friend. For 30 years, I have had the privilege of providing pastoral and ministerial care not only to African-Americans (which is the racial majority at the current church where I serve) but also to other races and people from other cultures. One thing I have learned is that we have more in common than we may realize. “For He Himself is our peace, who made both groups into one and broke down the barrier of the dividing wall” (Ephesians 2:14). If any group of people should be an example of racial unity, it should be the Body of Christ.
- “Carefront” people publicly and privately. One need not be afraid of speaking directly to those who oppose racial unity. You do not have to be mean-spirited; just be filled with the Spirit and the love of God. Avoid embarrassing and humiliating people, but never compromise your convictions by just “going along to get along.” At times, you may have to do what Paul did. He writes, “But when Cephas came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he stood condemned. For prior to the coming of certain men from James, he used to eat with the Gentiles; but when they came, he began to withdraw and hold himself aloof, fearing the party of the circumcision” (Galatians 2:11-12). Use your influence to steer people in the right direction.
- Forgive people. Forgiveness is like a category 5 hurricane that does great damage to those who oppose racial unity. When someone asks for forgiveness, forgive him. Give that person a new start as if the offense never occurred. Remember to “be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you” (Ephesians 4:32).
- Share the Gospel in both word and deed. 1 John 4:10-11 says, “In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.” In other words, because of the Gospel, because of what God did for us in sending His Son to die for our sins, we should love one another. The Gospel is the cure for racial tensions; the Gospel unites us. So let us declare the Gospel with our mouths, but let us also declare it with our hands—“Little children, let us not love with word or with tongue, but in deed and truth” (1 John 3:18).
Just as sustained hurricane winds are put into categories that can cause damage ranging from “some damage” to “catastrophic damage,” let us sustain our effort to build unity across racial lines. By doing so, we will cause catastrophic damage to the kingdom of darkness.
“So when the devil throws your sins in your face and declares that you deserve death and hell, tell him this: ‘I admit that I deserve death and hell, what of it? For I know One who suffered and made satisfaction on my behalf. His name is Jesus Christ, Son of God, and where he is there I shall be also!’” — Martin LutherRelics, relics everywhere
There they sat. Relics. Lots of them. There was a cut of fabric from the swaddling cloth of baby Jesus, 13 pieces from his crib, a strand of straw from the manger, a piece of gold from a Wise Man, three pieces of myrrh, a morsel of bread from the Last Supper, a thorn from the crown Jesus wore when crucified, and, to top it all off, a genuine piece of stone that Jesus stood on to ascend to the Father’s right hand. And in good Catholic fashion, the blessed Mary was not left out. There sat three pieces of cloth from her cloak, four from her girdle, four hairs from her head, and better yet, seven pieces from the veil that was sprinkled with the blood of Christ.
These relics and countless others (19,000 bones from the saints!) stood ready to be viewed by pious pilgrims. These relics were the proud collection of Frederick the Wise, elector of Saxony, Martin Luther’s prince. And they sat in the Castle Church at Wittenberg, prepared and ready for showing on All Saints Day, November 1, 1517. But in the midst of this fanfare was the essential ingredient, namely, the procurement of indulgences.
Veneration of these relics would be accompanied by indulgences reducing time in purgatory by 1,902,202 years and 270 days. An indulgence, the full or partial remission of punishment for sins, was drawn from the Treasury of Merit, which was accumulated not only by the meritorious work of Christ but also by the superabundant merit of the saints.Medieval prosperity gospel
Needing funds to build St. Peter’s basilica, Pope Leo X began selling indulgences. But not any indulgence would do. He needed an indulgence for the full remission of sins, one that would return the sinner to the state of innocence first received at baptism. Even the horrors of years in purgatory would be removed. Not even a sin against the Divine Majesty would outweigh the efficacy of these indulgences. In short, if you had enough money, repentance was for sale!
There was no one so experienced as the Dominican Johann Tetzel to market such a once in a lifetime opportunity. Going from town to town with all the pomp of Rome, Tetzel laid the guilt trip on heavy: “Listen to the voices of your dear dead relatives and friends, beseeching you and saying, ‘Pity us, pity us. We are in dire torment from which you can redeem us for a pittance. . . . Will you let us lie here in flames? Will you delay our promised glory?’” And then came Tetzel’s famous jingle, “As soon as the coin in the coffer rings, the soul from purgatory springs.” With just a quarter of a florin you could liberate your loved one from the flames of purgatory and into the “fatherland of paradise.”95 Reasons for reform
Martin Luther had enough. One year earlier, Luther preached against indulgences. This time, however, he would put his objections in writing. In 95 theses Luther exposed the abuse of indulgences. When finished, the theses were posted to the Castle Church door. Luther biographer Roland Bainton summarizes the 95 theses: “There were three main points: an objection to the avowed object of the expenditure, a denial of the powers of the pope over purgatory, and a consideration of the welfare of the sinner.”
Despite his protest, Luther was simply trying to be a good Catholic, reforming the Church from abuse. In fact, at this point, no mention is made of justification by faith alone, sola Scriptura, and other Reformation doctrines that would eventually evolve. Nevertheless, the seed had already been planted.Synagogue of Satan
But evolve they would. While Luther’s theses were written in Latin for academic debate, others translated them into the vernacular and spread them throughout Germany. Suddenly, Luther’s protest was the talk of the town. Tetzel was the first to erupt, calling for Luther to be burned at the stake as a heretic. Next was Cardinal Cajetan in October 1518 at the imperial Diet at Augsburg. Luther was interrogated for three days and commanded to recant, which Luther would not do. Luther wrote, the cardinal “produced not one syllable of Scripture” but rather depended on scholastic church fathers.
Declared a heretic by Cajetan, Luther returned home fearful for his life. But Luther’s greatest challenge would come in June 1519 with the Catholic debater Johann Eck, whom Luther called “that little glory-hungry beast.” Eck brought the real issue to the table: who had final authority, God’s Word or the pope? For Eck, Scripture received its authority from the pope. Luther strongly disagreed and in doing so was quickly classified with the forerunning heretics John Wycliffe and Jan Hus. At first Luther denied such an association, but during a break in his debate Luther realized that Hus had taught exactly what he believed.
Eck returned to Rome reporting his findings to the pope, and Luther left the debate only to become further convinced that Scripture, not the pope, was the sole and final authority. Additionally, Luther realized that if the pope was always to have authority over Scripture, then reform from within was impossible. As Michael Reeves explains, “The pope’s word would always trump God’s. In that case, the reign of the antichrist there was sealed, and it was no longer the church of God but the synagogue of Satan.”Faith Alone
But it was not only Luther’s understanding of the authority of the pope that would change. His view of salvation would undergo a revolution as well. Luther once again returned to the book of Romans, specifically Romans 1:17, where Paul speaks of the righteousness of God. After understanding it, Luther famously said, “Here I felt that I was altogether born again and had entered paradise itself through open gates.”
Suddenly, the gospel became good news. Previously Luther understood the righteousness of God as God punishing sinners in his justice and avenging anger. God’s righteousness was bad news, condemning Luther no matter how many good works he did. Luther, therefore, hated God. However, Luther came to realize that the righteousness of God referred to in Romans 1:17 is revealed in the gospel, for the righteous will live by faith. God’s righteousness was no longer to be feared but a gift to be received by faith in Christ, that sinners, even the worst of sinners, might be counted righteous before God.
Moreover, the righteousness that God demands is not something we can earn; rather, it has been earned for us in Christ. We need not a righteousness of our own but an alien righteousness, imputed or credited to us by God. Here lay what Luther understood as the “joyous exchange.” Christ has taken our sin while we have received his righteousness. As Paul writes, “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Cor. 5:21). And again Paul states in Philippians 3:9, my hope is to “be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith.” Therefore, Luther now knew that we are justified not by our works and merits but rather by grace alone (sola gratia) through faith alone (sola fide).
With this breakthrough, Luther would write like a madman in 1520. First, he published To the Christian Nobility of the German Nation, calling into question the authority of the pope, as well as the pope’s exclusive right to interpret Scripture and call a council. Second, Luther published The Babylonian Captivity of the Church where he argued that God’s gift of righteousness is received by faith and therefore Rome is in error to claim that divine grace only comes through the priest’s distribution of the sacraments (which Luther argued were limited to two rather than seven). Third, Luther published The Freedom of a Christian, dedicated to Pope Leo X, whereby he positively put forth the sweet exchange, namely, that our sin is given to Christ while Christ’s righteousness is credited to us.Here I Stand
In 1520 the pope issued a bull (decree), calling Luther’s teaching a “poisonous virus,” demanding that Luther recant in 60 days or be excommunicated. After 60 days Luther publicly burned the pope’s bull, exclaiming, “Because you have confounded the truth of God, today the Lord confounds you. Into the fire with you!” Luther had declared war. The pope responded with a second bull, excommunicating Luther and his followers. Typically, at this point, Luther should have been handed over for execution. But Friedrich the Wise demanded a hearing before a German court. In 1521 Luther was summoned to Worms for an imperial council before Charles V, ruler of the Holy Roman Empire. At Worms, on April 17, 1521, Luther was told he must recant. After thinking it through for a day, Luther returned and declared:
Since then your serene majesty and your lordships seek a simple answer, I will give it in this manner, plain and unvarnished: Unless I am convinced by the testimony of the Scriptures or by clear reason, for I do not trust either in the pope or in councils alone, since it is well known that they often err and contradict themselves, I am bound to 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.
The next day the verdict was out; the emperor determined that Luther was indeed “an obstinate schismatic and manifest heretic.” On his voyage home, Luther was suddenly kidnapped by men with swords and bows. Was Luther murdered? The German painter, Albrecht Dürer grieved in his diary, “O God, if Luther be dead who will proclaim the holy gospel so clearly to us?” But Luther had been kidnapped by friends, not enemies. Friedrich the Wise had orchestrated Luther’s safe escape to the Wartburg Castle. Nevertheless, Dürer’s words demonstrate that nothing less than the gospel itself was at stake in Luther’s stand before the emperor, and this same gospel would now change Christianity forever.Does the Reformation still matter?
Does Reformation theology matter today? Absolutely. It is tempting to think of the Reformation as a mere political or social movement. In reality, however, the Reformation was a fight over the gospel itself. The reformers argued that God’s free and gracious acceptance of guilty sinners on the basis of the work of Christ alone is at the heart of the gospel. While the political and social context has changed since the 16th century, nevertheless, this issue remains at the forefront. Much could be said as to why, but here are two reasons as to why the Reformation matters today.
First, for Luther justification by faith alone is the article by which the church stands or falls. Today, however, many question and outright reject the centrality of justification. Take the late Clark Pinnock, for example, who attributes Luther and subsequent Protestants’ hangup with justification to fear of a wrathful God. Consequently, Pinnock says, “the legal dimension has dominated our thinking about salvation” (Flame of Love, 155). While the legal dimension is important, it is “not necessarily the central motif.”
Justification is just one step on the way to transformation. Therefore, it “is not the principal article of all Christian doctrine, as Luther claimed.” What is Pinnock’s alternative proposal then? “Being saved is more like falling in love with God.” In fact, Pinnock says, “legal thinking and the doctrine of justification are not as prominent in the Bible as we have made them.” And here is the kicker: “Luther’s rediscovery of justification was important for himself and for 16th-century reforms, but it is not as central for us, and not even for an astute interpretation of Paul’s theology.” But God’s justification of the ungodly is at the very center of Paul theology (Rom. 4:5). This is why the gospel is such good news!
The news is so good because not only has Christ died and risen again (Acts 2:22-36), but now we have the forgiveness of sins (Acts 2:38). No wonder Paul can say that the gospel is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek, for “in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, ‘The righteous shall live by faith.’” Therefore, Luther’s awakening after reading Romans 1:17 was essentially a gospel awakening. To divorce justification from the gospel is to ignore our basic human predicament: how are we, as guilty sinners, to find favor before a holy God? Clearly this was the question in Paul’s mind when he concluded, “Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ” (Rom. 5:1).
Second, there is a strong push in our present day either to return or join with Rome. The most notable example of returning in our present day is Francis J. Beckwith, former president of the Evangelical Theological Society, who resigned from his presidency in 2007. While stating that he hopes his Catholic brothers will resist triumphalism, he unequivocally stated, “I, of course, believe that Catholicism is in fact true in all its dogmatic theology, including its views of scripture, ethics, church authority, ecumenical councils, etc.” (Return to Rome, 12). Others argue that evangelicals and Catholics, while remaining distinct, can now join together in light of Evangelicals and Catholics Together, the Lutheran World Federation, the World Communion of Reformed Churches, and the Joint Declaration on Justification.
Many believe the rift between Protestants and Catholics has been at least substantially resolved. Hence Mark Noll and Carolyn Nystrom’s book, Is the Reformation Over?. (See Scott M. Mantesch, “Is the Reformation Over? John Calvin, Roman Catholicism, and Contemporary Ecumenical Conversations,” Themelios, August 2011.)
But as Michael Horton has recently argued (and R. C. Sproul before him), the Reformation is far from over. “There has been no material change in the Roman Catholic position on the issues that led to the excommunication of the Reformers. Even the Joint Declaration overcame the central doctrine of controversy only by embracing a Roman Catholic definition of justification as forgiveness and actual transformation (i.e., sanctification).” Rome continues to reject the evangelical affirmation of justification by grace alone through faith alone.
I agree with Horton when he states that it is not about Luther; it is about the gospel. While many other challenges to Reformation theology could be identified, these two examples sufficiently demonstrate that Reformation theology continues to be at the center of discussion. Many younger evangelicals are embracing Reformation theology today. But the challenge we will face lies in how to defend Reformation theology to light of new ideologies that seek to undermine its credibility. I believe that the linchpin in the effort to defend and apply Reformation theology today can be found in the simple truth made so clear by Luther himself—namely, that the gospel itself is at stake, just as it was in the 16th century. To abandon Reformation theology is to abandon the gospel.
This post was originally published on the Gospel Coalition.