What Caused the Reformation?

by Nathan Busenitz

What caused the Reformation?

Many people might answer that question by pointing to Martin Luther and his 95 Theses.

But if you were to ask Luther himself, he would not point to himself or his own writings. Instead, he would give all the credit to God and His Word.

Near the end of his life, Luther declared: “All I have done is put forth, preach and write the Word of God, and apart from this I have done nothing. . . . It is the Word that has done great things. . . . I have done nothing; the Word has done and achieved everything.”

Elsewhere, he exclaimed: “By the Word the earth has been subdued; by the Word the Church has been saved; and by the Word also it shall be reestablished.”

Noting Scripture’s foundational place in his own heart, Luther wrote: “No matter what happens, you should say: There is God’s Word. This is my rock and anchor. On it I rely, and it remains. Where it remains, I, too, remain; where it goes, I, too, go.”

Luther understood what caused the Reformation. He recognized that it was the Word of God empowered by the Spirit of God preached by men of God in a language that the common people of Europe could understand and when their ears were exposed to the truth of God’s Word it pierced their hearts and they were radically changed.

It was that very power that had transformed Luther’s own heart, a power that is summarized in the familiar words of Hebrews 4:12: “The Word of God is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword.”

During the late middle ages, the Roman Catholic Church had imprisoned God’s Word in the Latin language, a language the common people of Europe did not speak. The Reformers unlocked the Scriptures by translating them. And once the people had the Word of God, the Reformation became inevitable.

We see this commitment to the Scriptures even in the centuries prior to Martin Luther, beginning with the Forerunners to the Reformation:

In the 12th century, the Waldensians translated the New Testament from the Latin Vulgate into their regional French dialects. According to tradition, they were so committed to the Scriptures that different Waldensian families would memorize large sections of the Bible. That way, if Roman Catholic authorities found them and confiscated their printed copies of Scripture, they would later be able to reproduce the entire Bible from memory.

In the 14th century, John Wycliffe and his associates at Oxford translated the Bible from Latin into English. Wycliffe’s followers, known as the Lollards, went throughout the countryside preaching and singing passages of Scripture in English.

In the 15th century, Jan Huss preached in the language of the people, and not in Latin, making him the most popular preacher in Prague at the time. Yet, because Huss insisted that Christ alone was the head of the church, not the pope, the Catholic Council of Constance condemned him for heresy and burned him at the stake (in 1415).

In the 16th century, as the study of Greek and Hebrew were recovered, Martin Luther translated the Bible into German, with the New Testament being completed in 1522.

In 1526, William Tyndale completed a translation of the Greek New Testament into English. A few years later he also translated the Pentateuch from Hebrew. Shortly thereafter he was arrested and executed as a heretic—being strangled and then burned at the stake. According to Fox’s Book of Martyrs, Tyndale’s last words were “Lord, Open the King of England’s Eyes.” And it was just a couple years after his death that King Henry VIII authorized the Great Bible in England—a Bible that was largely based on Tyndale’s translation work. The Great Bible laid the foundation for the later King James version (which was completed in 1611).

The common thread, from Reformer to Reformer, was an undying commitment to the authority and sufficiency of Scripture, such that they were willing to sacrifice everything, including their own lives, to get the Word of God into the hands of the people.

They did this because they understood that the power for spiritual reformation and revival was not in them, but in the gospel (cf. Rom. 1:16–17). And they used the Latin phrase Sola Scriptura (“Scripture alone”) to emphasize the truth that God’s Word was the true power and ultimate authority behind all they said and did.

It was ignorance of Scripture that made the Reformation necessary. It was the recovery of the Scripture that made the Reformation possible. And it was the power of the Scripture that gave the Reformation its enduring impact, as the Holy Spirit brought the truth of His Word to bear on the hearts and minds of individual sinners, transforming them, regenerating them, and giving them eternal life.

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Source: The Cripplegate

When Self-Exaltation is Love

October 17, 2014

When Self-Exaltation is Love

by Mike Riccardi

Edwards PortraitJonathan Edwards’ life, thought, and theology was dominated by the glory of God. Edwards argued extensively that God is chiefly concerned with His glory—manifesting the beauty of His perfections—and therefore all His creatures should be concerned with His glory as well. This commitment would shape Edwards’ entire theology, even as it related to theodicy and theology proper, the Calvinist-Arminian debate, the Christian’s pursuit of holiness, and the centrality of the affections in the Christian life. Indeed, it is no overstatement to say, along with one church historian, “No theologian in the history of Christianity held a higher or stronger view of God’s majesty, sovereignty, glory and power than Jonathan Edwards.”[1]

During his years ministering to the Indians in Stockbridge, Massachusetts, Edwards wrote his Dissertation Concerning the End for Which God Created the World, where he masterfully develops the truth that God’s chief end in creating the world was to bring glory to Himself. He wrote:

All that is ever spoken of in the Scripture as an ultimate end of God’s works is included in that one phrase, the glory of God. … The refulgence shines upon and into the creature, and is reflected back to the luminary. The beams of glory come from God, and are something of God and are refunded back again to their original. So that the whole is of God, and in God, and to God, and God is the beginning, middle and end in this affair.[2]

Edwards argued that if God did not aim at His own glory in creation, He would be unrighteous. He must regard Himself above all things because only a Being as perfect and lovely as He is worthy of such regard. In other words, for God to be holy, He must value what is supremely valuable; and He is supremely valuable.[3] To do anything else would be for God to commit idolatry.

After tracing the Hebrew and Greek words for glory throughout the Scriptures, as well as employing typical Edwardsian air-tight reasoning, Edwards extends that God’s ultimate aim in creating the world is not—indeed cannot be—different from His ultimate aim in all of His acts in the world. J. I. Packer precisely summarizes Edwards’ conclusion:

“God’s internal and intrinsic glory consists of his knowledge (omniscience with wisdom) plus holiness (spontaneous virtuous love, linked with hatred of sin) plus his joy (supreme endless happiness); and that his glory (wise, holy, happy love) flows out from him, like water from a fountain, in loving spontaneity (grace), first in creation and then in redemption, both of which are so set forth to us so as to prompt praise; and that in our responsive, Spirit-led glorifying of God, God glorifies and satisfies himself, achieving that which was his purpose from the start.”[4]

The question that is raised, then, is if God’s chief regard is always to Himself, how can it be said that He is loving, or benevolent, towards human beings? Does not this doctrine of God’s own God-centeredness make Him a self-centered narcissist? The answer, of course, is an emphatic, “No!” because God has created us such that our fullest satisfaction comes from perceiving His glory.

Because [God] infinitely values his own glory, consisting in the knowledge of himself, love to himself, and complacence and joy in himself; he therefore valued the image, communication or participation of these, in the creature. And it is because he values himself, that he delights in the knowledge, and love, and joy of the creature; as being himself the object of this knowledge, love and complacence. Thus it is easy to conceive, how God should seek the good of the creature, consisting in the creature’s knowledge and holiness, and even his happiness, from a supreme regard to himself; as his happiness arises from that which is an image and participation of God’s own beauty. … [Thus] God’s respect to the creature’s good, and his respect to himself, is not a divided respect; but both are united in one, as the happiness of the creature aimed at, is happiness in union with himself.[5]

Packer summarizes that thought as follows:

“God made us that in praising, thanking, loving, and serving Him, we find our own supreme happiness and enjoyment of God in a way that otherwise we would not and could not do. We reach our highest enjoyment of God in and by glorifying Him, and we glorify Him supremely in and by enjoying Him. In fact, we enjoy Him most when we glorify Him most, and vice versa. And God’s single-yet-complex end, now in redemption as it was in creation, is His own happiness and joy in and through ours.”[6]

Edwards himself succinctly put it, “The enjoyment of Him is our highest happiness, and is the only happiness with which our souls can be satisfied.”[7] In other words, God’s glory and our happiness (or our good) are not different things. Our greatest happiness is to see God’s glory manifested and expressed for us to enjoy, because the beauty of that vision is that in which we were created to find our greatest satisfaction.

And so God’s self-exaltation is not narcissism, but love. As Piper has said, “God is the one being in the universe for whom self-exaltation is the most loving act,” because, “unlike our self-exaltation, God’s self-exaltation draws attention to what gives greatest and longest joy, namely, himself.”

May we behold the beauty of this God who has revealed Himself for our everlasting joy.

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[1] Olson, The Story of Christian Theology, 506.

[2] “A Dissertation Concerning the End for Which God Created the World,” in The Works of Jonathan Edwards (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 2005), 1:119-120.

[3] Ibid., 1:98.

[4] Packer, “The Glory of God and the Reviving of Religion,” in A God Entranced Vision of All Things, eds. John Piper and Justin Taylor (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 2004), 92.

[5] Edwards, “The End for Which God Created the World,” in Works, 1:120.

[6] Packer, “The Glory of God,” 92.

[7] As quoted in Donald Whitney, “Pursuing a Passion for God Through Spiritual Disciplines,” in A God Entranced Vision of All Things, eds. John Piper and Justin Taylor (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 2004), 126.

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Online Source: The Cripplegate

Alistair Begg on The Beatles

Below is an article from Christianity Today from 2003 that I found really interesting. It’s actually part of a longer interview with radio host Dick Staub. You can listen to the entire interview at Sermon Audio. Here’s the CT article:

Alistair Begg on The Beatles

from Christianity today

The author and pastor talks about the Fab Four’s cry for Help and why no one answered it.

April 1, 2003

Alistair Begg on The Beatles

The author and pastor talks about the Fab Four’s cry for Help and why no one answered it.

April 1, 2003

In the last several years, writers and academics have begun to seriously analyze what pop culture icons say through their worldviews. Books have explored the philosophy of The Matrix, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and Seinfeld and the gospel according to Tony Soprano and The Simpsons.

Alistair Begg, pastor of Ohio’s Parkside Church and the author of Made For His Pleasure (Moody), has been a longtime fan of The Beatles. He doesn’t suggest the band had a solid theology or an admirable worldview. Instead, he feels the band is important to look at now because it asked a lot of pertinent question in its music—and too many of those questions went unanswered.

Why is it important to understand what The Beatles were saying during their era?

They were on the forefront of a generation’s thinking. At the same time, they were able to articulate things and were given a voice. Without fully understanding it themselves, originally, they found themselves the mouthpiece of a generation. They were actually interpreting some of the angst, the hopes, and the fears of teenagers with mothers and fathers who didn’t understand.

Did The Beatles simply reflect culture or did they shape it?

For good or for ill, they were shaping culture. That’s true if you take the development of the music alone. Everything that they did pushed the frontiers out. This wasn’t only true in terms of the way in which they were recording material or the way in which they were writing melody lines, but it was actually in the lyrical content as well. Think about what Elvis Presley was singing about, or about what Chuck Berry was doing. It was all about love and different things like that. The Beatles got into a whole new business the further they went.

The Beatles first said money was everything (in the song “Money“), then they said that love could give you anything you want on “From Me to You“, and then they record “Can’t Buy Me Love“. What do you see in this progression?

An American journalist asked Paul in 1966 if “Can’t Buy Me Love” was actually about prostitution. There is this morbid fascination with the idea that these guys were coming from the bottom level of everything. It is a shame. It carried over into fundamentalist/evangelical response to their music at that time.

I’m not suggesting that The Beatles had a wonderful theology, or that their worldview was perfect. It clearly wasn’t. It left them high and dry on just about every front, eventually. But they weren’t simply writing cute little tunes. They were beginning to take seriously the platform that they’d been given. That’s why so many people found them offensive; it was because of the things that they were prepared to tackle.

What do you see when looking closely at what The Beatles were saying or looking for in their songs?

If you take Lennon’s “In My Life,” you have the tender side of John Lennon coming out, a side that many people missed completely.

When they went in and got Lennon’s belongings after his untimely death, one of the closest family friends found a huge notebook, which contained virtually all of Lennon’s handwritten lyrics for everything he’d done, including this song. It was clear that what had happened to Lennon is that as the fame thing had come, a sense of nostalgia crept into his life. He started to remember the places in the past.

It was always sad to me that people couldn’t see that he was crying out for something. I just always felt that in Lennon you had this guy who every so often would open the door to himself ever so slightly. Every time he opened up, it never seemed to be a Christian response to say, “Hey, we’ve got an angle on that. We’d love to talk to you about that.” It was always, “Hey, get out of here, you long-haired nuisance. You’re destroying the youth of Great Britain and corrupting the life of America.” We did this in the ’60s and, frankly, we’re doing it again now.

Speaking of the religious community’s reaction to Lennon, there was a huge fervor after his comment that The Beatles were bigger than Jesus. But in an interview after that event, he said, “I wasn’t saying The Beatles are better than Jesus or God or Christianity, I was using the name Beatles … as an example. But I could have said TV or cinema or anything else that’s popular. Or motor cars are bigger than Jesus.”

It’s a shame that it served the agenda of certain people to misunderstand the quote. What Lennon was saying is what people might justifiably say today about all kinds of idols and icons in relationship to young people in particular. He was in some ways bemoaning the fact. He was honest enough to say what has happened here is a phenomenon that is way beyond anything that we could ever have conceived. The response, of course, was not particularly attractive—such as when the band hit Dallas and all those youth pastors came out to welcome them with bonfires.

While there were things that needed to be addressed in pop culture—and there always will be—I think we missed an opportunity. Later on, we see them involved with a maharishi yogi. You see Harrison’s interest in mysticism. While we can’t lay the charge at the feet of the Christians, nevertheless it is a sad thing that there was nobody there who had gained a platform to them at a time when they were willing to listen. The interviewer asked about the song “Help.” He said, “I wrote “Help” in ’65, and people hailed it as another advance in rock & roll. It was the cry of my heart and nobody came to answer.”

This is just a picture of what we’re dealing with every day in all of our lives. Lennon, the drummer in Smashing Pumpkins, and Kurt Cobain are only big, dramatic examples of the interaction that all of us have with kids. I want to encourage Christians to get serious about being real about Jesus Christ. Listen to music so that you can talk to people about it rather than sloganeering and banging the drum for the same old stuff.

Again, the entire interview can be listened to at Sermon Audio.

Sermons Are “Fair Game” in Houston — The Real Warning in the Subpoena Scandal

Friday • October 17, 2014 , Al Mohler

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The scandal over the subpoenas issued to several Houston-area Christian pastors continues, even after the city refiled legal documents, removing the word “sermons” from the demand. They have clearly not removed the scandal from their city, and from the administration of Mayor Annise Parker. As the mayor’s own comments make abundantly clear, she stands at the center of the scandal.

When news broke earlier this week that the attorneys working for the City of Houston had issued subpoenas to pastors for sermons, I was fairly certain that some mistake had been made. When the actual text of the subpoena came to me, I could hardly believe my eyes. Here was a legal demand, sent to Christian pastors in the name of one of America’s largest cities, to surrender “all speeches, presentations, or sermons related to HERO (an anti-discrimination ordinance), the Petition, Mayor Annise Parker, homosexuality, or gender identity prepared by, delivered by, revised by, or approved by you or in your possession.”

That subpoena is nothing less than ruthless thuggery, exercised by an elected public servant and her city attorney. And that thuggery has been done in the name of the people of Houston, Texas.

The controversy started when Mayor Parker, often described as the first openly gay mayor of a major American city, led the effort to adopt an anti-discrimination law that, among other things, allows transgender persons to file a complaint and bring charges if they are denied access to a bathroom. Several Houston-area pastors were involved in an effort to rescind the ordinance. They participated in a petition drive that would have put the question before voters, mobilizing their congregations on the issue. They were able to get more than the required number of signatures on the petition, but the city attorney ruled many of the signatures invalid due to technicalities. The city attorney intervened after the appropriate city official had already certified the petitions as adequate. This set the stage for the lawsuit, and the lawsuit set the stage for the subpoenas.

The subpoenas set the stage for the current controversy. The very fact that the subpoenas were issued at all is scandal enough — none of the pastors is even party to the lawsuit. But the actual wording of the subpoenas is draconian — almost unbelievable. The attorneys working for the city demanded all sermons “prepared by, delivered by, revised by, or approved by you or in your possession” on matters that included, not only the mayor and the ordinance, but homosexuality and gender identity.

This is a breathtaking violation of religious liberty — and it is political thuggery at its worst. Make no mistake: A major American city has subpoenaed the sermons of Christian pastors. And those sermons were to include anything that touched on homosexuality or gender identity.

The scandal that erupted brought, as expected, efforts on the part of the mayor and the city attorney to dismiss and to distance themselves from the subpoenas. First, the mayor declared that the subpoenas had actually been prepared, not by the city attorney’s office, but by outside lawyers working pro bono for the city. That is a meaningless distinction, since the fact remains that the subpoenas were issued on behalf of the city. Next, the mayor acknowledged that the language of the subpoena was “overly broad.”

“There’s no question the wording was overly broad,” Mayor Parker said, “But I also think there was some deliberate misinterpretation on the other side.”

This led New York magazine reporter Katie Zavadaski to describe criticisms of the mayor as “hysterical allegations.” But it is the mayor and the city attorney who are confusing the facts here, and it is the same two leaders who cannot get their stories straight.

At 12:21 a.m. on October 15, Mayor Parker posted the following on Twitter: “Always amazed at how little fact checking is done by folks who like to hit the retweet button.”

But, less than an hour later, Mayor Parker posted this: “If the 5 pastors used pulpits for politics, their sermons are fair game.” Fair game? Do the residents of Houston, Texas have any idea what their mayor is doing in their name? Do chills not run down the spines of Houstonians when they are told that sermons deemed by their own mayor to be political are “fair game” and when the subpoenaed sermons included anything that touched on homosexuality and gender identity?

This is one of those situations that looks worse the more you look into it.

The city attorney, David Feldman, also sent very ominous signals. He seemed to agree that the language of the subpoenas had constituted an over-reach, but he had also defended the subpoenas as legitimate. On Tuesday he told reporters: “If someone is speaking from the pulpit and it’s political speech, then it’s not going to be protected.”

Thus speaketh the city attorney of Houston Texas. You have been warned.

Houston’s mayor and city attorney stalwartly defend their right to demand that pastors surrender their pulpit messages.

On Friday, city officials announced that papers had been refiled to avoid use of the word “sermon.” But the change in no way removes the offense, nor does it even exempt sermons from the subpoena. As Mike Morris of the Houston Chronicle reported earlier today: “Though the subpoena’s new wording removes any mention of ‘sermons’ — a reference that created a firestorm among Christian conservative groups and politicians, including Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott and U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, who accused Parker of trying ‘to silence the church’ — the mayor acknowledged the new subpoenas do not explicitly preclude sermons from being produced.”

Once again, you have been warned.

The debacle in Houston can indeed be a catalyst for “hysterical allegations.” No ministers are yet in jail. No pulpit has been silenced. No church doors have been bolted shut.

But the reality is hysterical enough. This is the kind of intimidation that would be expected somewhere in secular Europe or perhaps in the former Soviet Bloc. But we are talking here about Houston, Texas.

This is the kind of scandal that would lead most elected officials to backtrack like crazy, but Mayor Annise Parker is standing her ground, even as she tries to escape the heat by a mere change in the coercive language. What she is doing amounts to raw political intimidation.

At this point, it is five Houston pastors who are feeling the heat. But these subpoenas stand as a direct warning to every pastor, rabbi, minister, priest, and imam in America. You or I could be next.

This is how religious liberty dies. Liberties die by a thousand cuts.  An intimidating letter here, a subpoena there, a warning in yet another place. The message is simple and easily understood. Be quiet or risk trouble.

But the subpoenas in Houston now alert us all to the fact that trouble is now inescapable.

Will the people of Houston stand idly by as this thuggery is done in their own name? When the mayor of their city refers to sermons as “fair game?”

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I am always glad to hear from readers. Just write me at mail@albertmohler.com. You can follow me on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/albertmohler

For more information on Southern Seminary, visit SBTS.edu and for more information on Boyce College, visit BoyceCollege.com.

Katherine Driessen, “City Officials Try to Distance Themselves from Sermon Subpoenas,” Houston Chronicle, Wednesday, October 15, 2014. http://www.chron.com/news/politics/houston/article/City-officials-try-to-distance-themselves-from-5825439.php

Sarah Pulliam Bailey, “Houston Subpoenas Pastors’ Sermons in Gay Rights Ordinance Case,” Religion News Service, Tuesday, October 14, 2014. http://www.religionnews.com/2014/10/14/houston-subpoenas-pastors-sermons-equal-rights-ordinance-case-prompting-outcry/

Mike Morris, “Mayor Parker Revises, Narrows, Sermon Subpoena Request,” Houston Chronicle, Friday, October 17, 2014. http://www.chron.com/news/houston-texas/article/Mayor-Parker-to-revise-narrow-subpoena-request-5829455.php