Reformation Day

As we celebrate Reformation Day (the day that commemorates when Luther nailed his 95 Thesis to the church door at Wittenburg) today, I believe it appropriate to address an attitude that has appeared in the church. The attitude I speak of that relates to the Reformation is that of disdain for the 16th Century. There exists a complete lack of regard for the Reformation and what it accomplished or produced (Reformed Theology, ‘Calvinism’, etc.) within modern Evangelicalism, yet they are want to remember that without the Reformation, they most likely would not be where they are since they would probably be Roman Catholics.

Perhaps this has only been accentuated to me recently and the attitude has existed for a long time. I say accentuated because at the current institution I am studying at, I sit in an 1 hour and 15 minute class two times a week where the professor, as he walks us through the book of Matthew, continually lambasted the 16th Century and the study of Scripture that emerged from that era. Sometimes I get the distinct impression from him that if he could have his druthers, he would completely erase the 16th Century (at least in regards to the church) from history. Which ironically enough would throw him into the Roman Catholic church since this professor’s denomination came straight out of the Reformation.

Unfortunately he is not alone in his opinion, especially within his denomination. For example, the president of a sister seminary endorsed a book called “A Cultish Side of Calvinism” saying, “…I am grateful for this warning”. Further, a professor that I had in my undergrad stood before his class of freshman one day and stated that he ‘hates reformed theology’ adding to that a clarification that he knew that ‘hate’ was a strong word but that he was using it correctly.

What idea has taken hold in the minds of the men that the church no longer approves or appreciates her heritage? It is as though the church believes that the Holy Spirit has not worked in the church since the Day of Pentecost nearly 2,000 years ago. In some cases of church history, scholarship is thrown straight out the window and a direct path to John the Baptist is sought in order claim that the denomination remained unbroken from John the Baptist. (postulated in the book ‘The Trail of Blood‘) The belief that Baptists remained an unbroken line of  pure believers right from John the Baptist still holds water in many Baptist churches unfortunately. (Never mind that it is technically John the Baptizer, not John the Particular/General/Southern/Free-Will/etc. Baptist)

It is a great tragedy to me that the evangelical church has sought to separate itself from its roots and as a result, views the Reformation as a scourge rather than a great blessing. (Have we gone Roman Catholic all of a sudden in our view?) The Reformation, and all that came out of it, not only changed the landscape of the church bringing the true church to the forefront, but through it God ensured that the gates of hell did not prevail against His church. It is not as though the Reformation invented doctrine or that its intense study of Scripture was a new art; hence the name ‘Reformation’ and not ‘Revolution’. The true Gospel of Christ was re-discovered in the very place that the Roman Catholic church had sought to hide it from the people: Scripture.

This is why the Reformation is so vitally important to understand why evangelicals treasure Scripture. Prior to the Reformation, ‘church’ was a Latin Mass and you as the attendee, not knowing Latin, were reliant solely upon your priest and whatever he said was ‘gospel’. When men such as Luther, Calvin, Zwingli, Knox and others set out to study Scripture, they discovered a gospel quite different from the Roman Catholic church’s sanctioned message: a Gospel of Scripture, Faith, Christ, Grace and the Glory of God – not popes, mass, liturgies, works, or prayers to saints. Suddenly it was realized and proclaimed that Salvation was not based upon the pope, the mass, indulgence or special prayers, rather it was reliant upon Christ and His historic/redemptive work alone.

Then came the advent of the printed Scriptures made available to the common man. No longer were you required to be a monk, priest, or official in the church to read and understand the word of God. When this occurred, the quickly eroding foundation of the Roman Catholic church began to crumble from underneath them. The common man was now offered a true feast that would satisfy their famished soul.

That is the legacy of the Reformation. The common man given the Scriptures no longer bound and guarded by Romanism. Without the Reformation…where would we be? Let us praise the Lord for his intervention throughout human history: first, through Christ, then through the Reformation.

Why Catechism: An Introduction

1563's edition.

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What do Zion’s children know these days? How steeped are they in the solid joys and lasting treasure that rightfully belong to them as heirs of the kingdom? We may be saving up for their college or material inheritance, but are we passing on the inheritance of the faith? Do we greet the Lord’s Day as a gift of communion with the Triune God as we taste the powers of the age to come and soak up the water of life together with the saints? Do we use it as a day to be swept into the new creation, or as just another day on the calendar of this passing age? At a time when we’ve put so much emphasis on new programs, strategies, and techniques for spiritual and numerical growth, we need desperately to recover the neglected practice of catechesis in Christian homes and churches. – Michael Horton, “Trees or Tumbleweeds”, Modern Reformation Magazine, pg 12.

If you are like me and grew up in the church, you probably remember your Sunday School classes growing up. Further, upon recollection, you may notice that there was a tendency to paint the accounts of Scripture in a more ‘fairytale’ sort of fashion. Hence, when you grew up and entered your teen years and encountered life’s problems, the stories probably did little for you in the way of solidifying your faith at those times.

Today, the church in America faces a tremendous problem among its young people. Hordes of young people are leaving the church when they hit high school or college. The root of the issue is that they have not been properly brought up in the faith. Essentially, the church has failed to “Hold on to the pattern of sound teaching”, “commit to faithful men who will be able to teach others also”, and “contend for the faith that was delivered to the saints once for all.” (2 Timothy 1:13, 2:2; Jude 3)

Further, it appears that a minimalist approach has been taken towards the education of both new believers and children in the church. Rarely is the question asked “how much should I teach”, but rather “how little do I need to teach” is often the preferred question. All too often the retention of the happiness of members is emphasized to the detriment of diligent theological teaching. Not only do clergy give into this, but those in the pew as well. Quite often the attitude toward disciplined theological learning is one of disinterest or reluctance. They either believe it benefits them nothing in their everyday life (though nothing could be farther from the truth) or they believe that diligent theological education is out of their reach and only for ministers. Unfortunately this is not a new problem for the church. During his pastorate at Kidderminster in 17th Century England, Richard Baxter charged his congregation with this:

Were you but as willing to get the knowledge of God and heavenly things as you are to know how to work in your trade, you would have set yourself to it before this day, and you would have spared no cost or pains till you had got it. But you account seven years little enough to learn your trade, and will not bestow one day in seven in diligent learning the matters of your salvation.

It may be argued that it is natural to place so much time into learning a trade for by that trade you earn your living, while theological learning is beneficial to those who seek to make a living out it. Yet, theology is not a matter of making a living, it is a matter of God making dead men live. J.I. Packer pointed out the extreme importance of this when he wrote,

If we do not preach about sin and God’s judgment on it, we cannot present Christ as Saviour from sin and the wrath of God. And if we are silent about these things, and preach a Christ who saves only from self and the sorrows of this world, we are not preaching the Christ of the Bible. We are in effect bearing false witness and preaching a false Christ. Our message is ‘another gospel, which is not another’. Such preaching may soothe some, but it will help nobody; for a Christ who is not seen and sought as a Saviour from sin will not be found to save from self or from anything else. (pg 164, A Quest for Godliness by J.I. Packer)

It is of utmost importance that the Church begin passing on the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints. (Jude 1:3) We must not waste another moment to begin this great work. This is where the catechism comes into play. In conjunction with Scripture, a catechism sets to teaching doctrine in a Question and Answer format equipping the believer with not only the theological knowledge, but its Scriptural basis. These catechisms start with the condition of Man and move through Scripture to topics such as: God, Sin, Christ, Christ’s Atonement and the Church. Through repetition and diligent instruction catechism are often memorized and become a common basis of fellowship among believers.

I believe that the route of Catechesis is the surest route of succesful teaching of the Scriptures and Doctrine to children and new and old believers alike. With the catechism, there is no big production or heavy emphasis on entertainment which can be hindrances more than aids to teaching; it is the believer and their Bible communing with God and learning the particulars of their Salvation. I know that this word ‘catechism’ immediately brings the Roman Catholic Church to mind, but in the coming weeks I shall dispel that notion from your thinking. I am afraid that the church, having stepped away from a formal instruction in faith, has subjected generations of believers to a view of God and Scripture that is man centered and self-promoting because after all, it is all about ‘what Scripture says to you’.

For the next four weeks I will write a series of posts regarding this very topic and why it is vital to church stability and maturity. First we will cover the current theological laziness of the church. Second, I will write on the importance of doctrinal knowledge. Third, I will cover the language of the faith and its necessity to the Christian outside of pastoral ministry. Finally, I will cover samples of the Heidelberg catechism to demonstrate its depth and ease of use in the church.

Below you will find the three most common catechisms of the reformed faith. Take some time, read them over, and dwell on the simplicity of their structure yet the complexity which they teach. These will come of great use in the coming weeks.

The Heidelberg Catechism

The Westminster Larger Catechism

The Westminster Shorter Catechism

Summer Reading

Every summer I try to read a couple of books that are not directly related to school. However, since I am not a college graduate, I am not necessarily tied to that guideline; at least before I start seminary. Last summer I started reading Eric Metaxas biography of Dietrich Bonhoeffer and only in the past few weeks did I finish it. (500 pages in conjunction with school reading tends to slow you down) Further, a group of us read portions of John Calvin’s Institutes of the Christian Religion and would meet occasionally to discuss it. Unfortunately the group did not decide what to read this summer, so I am on my own.

The categories I usually try to read from are Biography, Classic, History, and Theology. Perhaps the list below will spur you on to some summer reading as well. Happy Reading! Here are this summers selections:

1) Dual Citizens: Worship and Life between the Already and Not Yet by Jason Stellman (Theology)

Synopsis: “Stellman wrestles with the implications of the Christian’s dual citizenship in the kingdom of God and the kingdom of man, showing that the great challenge for believers today is maintaining their distinctiveness as redeemed people. Believers are free to participate in culture (though the Bible guides the way they participate), but they must not so immerse themselves in it that they obscure their true identities.”

2) The Unquenchable Flame: Discovering the Heart of the Reformation by Michael Reeves (History)

Synopsis: “The Unquenchable Flame, a remarkably accessible introduction to the historic era, brings to life the movement’s most colorful characters – Luther, Ulrich Zwingli, John Calvin, the Puritans – and examines their ideas, showing the profound and personal relevance of Reformation thinking for Christians today.”

3) The Idiot by Fyodor Dostoyevsky (Classic Literature)

Synopsis: “The still, radiant center of an ambitious and remarkable novel, Prince Myshkin – the idiot – stands above and apart from characters who vividly and violently embody the passions and conflicts of nineteenth-century Russia. An almost comically innocent Christ figure, Myshkin is a ‘wholly beautiful man’ in a land of sinners, a man whose faith in the power of beauty contrasts sharply with the materialistic mores of his society.”

4) Tortured for Christ by Richard Wurmbrand (Biography)

Synopsis: “Months of solitary confinement, years of periodic physical torture, constant suffering from hunger and cold, the anguish of brain-washing and mental cruelty – these are the experiences of a Romanian pastor during his fourteen years in Communist prisons. His crime, like that of thousands of others, was his fervent belief in Jesus Christ and his public witness concerning that faith. Meeting in Homes, in basements, and in woods – sometimes daring to preach in public on street corners – these faithful souls persisted in their Christian witness knowing full well the ultimate cost of their actions. This is their story – a classic account of courage, tenacious faith and unbelievable endurance. This history of the Underground Church reflects the continuing struggle in many parts of the world today.”

Investigating the Institutes: A One Year Journey with John Calvin

I am privileged to be taking part in a great journey of reading through John Calvin’s Institutes of the Christian Religion over the next year with a group of men that I greatly respect.

This is shaping up to be one exciting journey. I have never embarked upon anything like this: a year long study of a classicl work of theology with men that I greatly respect. I hope that I will not only glean from John Calvin but also those whom I am to study with.

I believe I will learn much from this study. It is important to note though, that going into this study I bring a different opinion than is common in the group. I already hold to a certain level of disagreement with John Calvin. I pray though that pre-conveived beliefs will not get in the way of a true study and that I will not be afraid to change a belief if convinced and convicted that it needs changed. I also pray that my disagreement will not be a constant source of stife by that we can carry on a civil discourse and not lose respect or love for one another. I am confident that I am studying with a group of men in which this will not be an issue, but I pray that it continues that way.

I have compiled a list of 5 things I hope will result in this study:

  1. Finalize if I agree or disagree with Calvinism based upon the Bible, not Calvin – but also understand why.
  2. Deeper Critical Thinking Skills
  3. Deeper friendship with my brothers in this journey
  4. A greater understanding of some difficult theology
  5. Be able to apply what I learn and read – not just head knowledge

May you bless us on this journey Lord.  Titus 2:6-8

May this be a time to “prepare and train…for the study of the sacred volume” as Calvin put it and be a time for us to freshly study the Word of God. No longer can I remain in ignorance in my studies. This the time to really dedicate to study theology and grow in knowledge. This is a time for me to allow God to teach and train in order that I may serve Him more effectively.

Thank you Lord for this opportunity,

Jacob