“Calvinists Who Love Wesley”

by Fred Sanders on June 21, 2011

Online Source

Calvinists sometimes behave as if their Reformed credentials give them a free pass to forget there ever was a John Wesley, or that he is to be reckoned one of the good guys, or that he, being dead, yet speaks. They keep their distance as if Wesley were the carrier of a theological disease, to be given a wide berth. It’s one thing to say (as any good Calvinist must) that Wesley was wrong about a few important doctrines. But it’s another thing, a little tragic, to consign him to oblivion and imagine there is nothing to learn from him. Here are some Calvinists who know better. Their essentially pro-Wesley tone is striking, possibly because it’s becoming rarer than it once was.

John Newton (1725-1807) was as young, restless, and Reformed as anybody, but he could testify of John Wesley, “I know of no one to whom I owe more as an instrument of divine grace.” This line is quoted in Iain H. Murray’s book, Wesley and Men Who Followed (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth Trust, 2003), p. 71. Murray himself (b. 1931) is a great example of a Calvinist who unflinchingly opposes Arminianism, but is fully aware of how much spiritual blessing he has received through Wesley and the Methodists. Murray knows what the main things are, and knows that Wesley was sound on them, even though he was off the ranch on the beloved “doctrines of grace” as the Reformed see them: “the foundation of Wesley’s theology was sound. On the objective facts of the salvation revealed in Scripture –Paul’s ‘first of all’ of 1 Corinthians 15:3—Wesley was clear.”

Never to be outdone by anybody, Charles Spurgeon (1834-1892) ventured that “if there were wanted two apostles to be added to the number of the twelve, I do not believe that there could be found two men more fit to be so added than George Whitefield and John Wesley.” (C. H. Spurgeon’s Autobiography, Vol. 1, p. 173.) Spurgeon may have been indulging in a characteristic dramatic flourish, but I don’t recall hearing that he surrendered his Calvinist card either before or after thus lumping together Whitefield and Wesley, respectively the great Calvinist and the great Arminian promoters of the eighteenth-century awakening. Witnesses like Newton and Spurgeon seem to prove that even Calvinists can learn from Wesley; in fact some of these Reformed witnesses seem to think that it is especially Calvinists who, while remaining as Reformed as they want to be, should labor to hear what this evangelical brother has to say to them.

Reformed people who read widely in Wesley (as opposed to reading a selected string of his anti-Calvinist zingers –like the time in 1765 when he said the revival was going great until “Satan threw Calvinism in our way.” Zing!) are always surprised, and usually delighted, to find that they find in him the same things they love in their favorite Reformed authors: A Scripture-saturated defense of original sin, justification by faith alone, a clear presentation of the gospel, a humble submission to God’s sovereignty, and a radical dependence on God’s grace.

Scottish pastor John Duncan (1796-1870), a decided Calvinist, read the Methodist hymnal and remarked, “I wonder how Charles Wesley could write that, and be an Arminian.” (Cited in John Brown, Life of the Late John Duncan (Edinburgh: Edmonston and Douglas, 1872), p. 428) Somewhat more snarkily, Duncan remarked (p. 401), “I have a great liking for many of Wesley’s Hymns; but when I read some of them, I ask, ‘What’s become of your Free-will now, friend?”

Any Reformed readers who take up and reads John Wesley will find themselves asking on most pages, “How could John Wesley write that, and be an Arminian?” There are many reasons for how satisfying Wesley is doctrinally, but one of them is that he was trying hard to be a good Protestant. Whatever the word “Arminian” meant to most people before Wesley, there is at least the chance after John Wesley that it could refer to a Christian who is doctrinally conservative and committed to the gospel.

Another reason is that Wesley did a great deal of good. “Mr. Wesley, and others, with whom we do not agree in all things, will shine bright in glory,” said George Whitefield (Murray, p. 71). More on what Whitefield thought about Wesley and glory in a moment.

The great (but mostly forgotten) Henry Venn wrote to Wesley for encouragement in 1754 in this touching letter:

Dear Sir,

As I have often experienced your words to be as thunder to my drowsy soul, I presume, though a stranger, to become a petitioner, begging you would send me a personal charge to take heed to feed the flock committed unto me. If you consider the various snares to which a curate is exposed, either to palliate the doctrines of the gospel or to make treacherous allowances to the rich and great, or at least to sit down, satisfied with doing the least more than the best, among the idle shepherds, you will not, I hope, condemn this letter as impertinently interrupting you in your noble employment, or think one hour lost in complying with its request.

It is the request of one who, though he differs from you, and possibly ever may, in some points, yet must ever acknowledge the benefit and light he has received from your works and preaching, and therefore is bound to thank the Lord of the harvest for sending a labourer among us so much endued with the spirit and power of Elias, and to pray for your long continuance among us, to encourage me and my brethren by your example, while you edify us by your writings.

I am sir your feeble brother in Christ. Henry Venn.

C. H. Spurgeon turned his pro-Wesley reflections into a warning to Calvinists, or to ultra-Calvinists, not to be such bigots:

To ultra-Calvinists his name is as abhorrent as the name of the Pope to a Protestant: you have only to speak of Wesley, and every imaginable evil is conjured up before their eyes, and no doom is thought to be sufficiently horrible for such an arch-heretic as he was. I verily believe that there are some who would be glad to rake up his bones from the tomb and burn them, as they did the bones of Wycliffe of old—men who go so high in doctrine, and withal add so much bitterness and uncharitableness to it, that they cannot imagine that a man can fear God at all unless he believes precisely as they do.

This is from a lecture entitled ‘The Two Wesleys,’ delivered on Spurgeon’s home turf, the Metropolitan Tabernacle, Dec 6, 1861. Spurgeon went on to say that on the other hand, Wesley fans can get pretty annnoying: “Unless you can give him constant adulation, unless you are prepared to affirm that he had no faults, and that he had every virtue, even impossible virtues, you cannot possibly satisfy his admirers.”

Bishop J.C. Ryle, in his book on Evangelical leaders of the eighteenth century, gets the warnings out of the way right up front: “He was an Arminian in doctrine. I fully admit the seriousness of the objection. I do not pretend either to explain the charge away, or to defend his objectionable opinions.” But he goes on to his main point, saying, “we must beware that we do not condemn men too strongly for not seeing all things in our point of view, or excommunicate and anathematize them because they do not pronounce our shibboleth.”

What is to be found in Wesley, according to Ryle? For all Wesley’s deviations from the Calvinist line, Ryle says

But if the same man strongly and boldly exposes and denounces sin, clearly and fully lifts up Christ, distinctly and openly invites men to believe and repent, shall we dare to say that the man does not preach the gospel at all? Shall we dare to say that he will do no good? I, for one, cannot say so, at any rate. If I am asked whether I prefer Whitefield’s gospel or Wesley’s, I answer at once that I prefer Whitefield’s: I am a Calvinist, and not an Arminian. That Wesley would have done better if he could have thrown off his Arminianism, I have not the least doubt; but that he preached the gospel, honored Christ, and did extensive good, I no more doubt than I doubt my own existence.

And like so many other Calvinistic Wesley-fans, Ryle goes on to caution against bigotry:

Finally, has any one been accustomed to regard Wesley with dislike on account of his Arminian opinions? Is any one in the habit of turning away from his name with prejudice, and refusing to believe that such an imperfect preacher of the gospel could do any good? I ask such a one to remould his opinion, to take a more kindly view of the old soldier of the cross, and to give him the honour he deserves. …Whether we like it or not, John Wesley was a mighty instrument in God’s hand for good; and, next to George Whitefield, was the first and foremost evangelist of England a hundred years ago.

There is a famous story about one of Whitefield’s followers, after a discussion about just how not Calvinist Wesley was, asking Whitefield what he took to be a hard question: Will we see John Wesley in heaven? Whitefield’s answer was that the Calvinists of his generation were unlikely to see John Wesley in heaven.

“I fear not;” said Whitefield. And then the punchline: “He will be so near the throne, and we shall be at such a distance, that we shall hardly get a sight of him.”

Spurgeon tells this Whitefield story, and comments, “In studying the life of Wesley, I believe Whitefield’s opinion is abundantly confirmed –that Wesley is near the eternal throne, having served his Master, albeit with many mistakes and errors, yet from a pure heart, fervently desiring to glorify God upon the earth.”

An earlier generation of Reformed thinkers and ministers were revived and awakened by Wesley’s teaching. Spurgeon knew that an awakener was not something to take lightly, that God didn’t often send people with that ability to revive and stir up the church. We always have to keep an eye on the main danger, and Spurgeon was quite sure that Wesleyanism wasn’t the main danger of his, or any, age. The main danger is Christians failing to be wide awake, failing to be fully Christian. Wesley was a strong stimulant, and Spurgeon wanted more, not less, of that from Wesley:

I am afraid that most of us are half asleep, and those that are a little awake have not begun to feel. It will be time for us to find fault with John and Charles Wesley, not when we discover their mistakes, but when we have cured our own. When we shall have more piety than they, more fire, more grace, more burning love, more intense unselfishness, then, and not till then, may we begin to find fault and criticize.

Taking a moment to compare his own ministry to that of Wesley’s, he thought the comparison was like a little candle held up in the sun: “For my part, I am as one who can see the spots in the sun, but know it to be the sun still, and only weep for my farthing candle by the side of such a luminary.” If you think your own ministry is like a little candle held up against the light of Spurgeon’s accomplishment, take a moment to imagine an even greater light of conservative, evangelical, Protestant witness in the English language. And then go read something, anything, by or about Wesley.

Boys Made Girls (and the Christians Who Go Along With It) • Pastor Gabe

We are told in 2 Timothy 3:1-5, “Know this, that in the last days difficult times will come. For men will be lovers of self… lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, holding to a form of godliness, but having denied its power. Keep away from such men as these.” On Wednesday, Pre …
— Read on themajestysmen.com/pastorgabe/boys-made-girls-and-the-christians-who-go-along-with-it/

What ABOUT The Book of Revelation?

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It was only a few months ago that a small Sunday morning adult Bible study at Provider Chapel, Ft. Carson, Colorado began a study of the book of Revelation. Little did we know, or even suspect, that we could soon be on the brink of another major global conflict. We had been studying books of the New Testament for several years and it seemed to be an appropriate time to leave the writings of the Apostle Paul and explore an overview of the Revelation of Jesus Christ to the Apostle John.

To date (March 2022) we have learned quite a lot, although we have just begun to study the lesson discussing chapters 14—16, with much more yet to explore.

Did you know that the book of Revelation might be the only book of the Bible that actually provides its own outline? Speaking to John in the first chapter, Jesus told him:

“Therefore write the things which you have seen, and the things which are, and the things which will take place after these things.” (Rev 1:19)

What follows is John’s vision of the risen Christ, letters to seven churches that existed during John’s lifetime (2:1—3:22), followed by a series of events that were yet to take place (4:1—22:21).

Did you know that there are several approaches to studying the “things yet to take place?”

The Futurist Approach

The futurist approach to the book of Revelation regards the visions of chapters 4–22 as referring to events that lie in the future, events that will occur immediately prior to Christ’s second coming and the end of history. This is the most popular approach, yet there are differing opinions of certain future events.

A strength of futurism is its recognition that the book of Revelation teaches continued, and even increased, suffering for the people of God before the end of history. Futurism also properly emphasizes that the ultimate triumph of Christ and His people will occur only at the second coming of Christ.

The Preterist Approach

Preterism, as its name implies (deriving from a Latin root for “past”), takes the opposite tack of futurism. In this approach, the book of Revelation primarily refers to events that occurred in the past, either in the period prior to the destruction of the Jerusalem temple in 70 AD or in the early Christian centuries leading up to the destruction of the Roman Empire in the fifth century AD.

The Historicist Approach

The historicist approach reads the book of Revelation as a visionary symbolization of the sequence of events that will occur throughout the course of the history of the church, from Christ’s first coming until His second coming. Historicist interpreters of the book typically read its visions as a presentation in chronological order of the most significant developments in the history of redemption.

The Idealist Approach

The idealist approach differs from the first three approaches in its reluctance to identify any particular historical events, institutions, or people with the visions of the book of Revelation. This approach views the visions of Revelation as a portrayal of the church’s struggle throughout the entire period between the first and second comings of Christ.

We’ve also learned that there seem to be quite a few Bible scholars, from beginners to renowned theologians, who seem to have figured out all of the details of most of the events recorded in Revelation. As for our small Sunday morning class, we’ve decided to remain thoughtful concerning the details, but to focus on the major themes of Revelation, with which most commentators seem be in complete agreement!

God’s sovereignty— God is sovereign. He is greater than any power in the universe. God is not to be compared with any leader, government, or religion. He controls history for the purpose of uniting true believers in loving fellowship with Him. Though Satan’s power may temporarily increase, we are not to be led astray. God is all-powerful. He is in control. He will bring His true family safely into eternal life. Because He cares for us, we can trust Him with our very lives.

Christ’s return— Christ came to earth as a “Lamb,” the symbol of His perfect sacrifice for our sin. He will return as the triumphant “Lion,” the rightful ruler and conqueror. He will defeat Satan, settle accounts with all those who reject Him, and bring His faithful people into eternity. Assurance of Christ’s return gives suffering Christians the strength to endure. We can look forward to His return as King and Judge.

God’s faithful people— John wrote to encourage the church to resist the demands to worship the Roman emperor. He warns all God’s faithful people to be devoted only to Christ. Revelation identifies who the faithful people are and what they should be doing until Christ returns. You can take your place in the ranks of God’s faithful people by believing in Christ. Victory is sure for those who resist temptation and make loyalty to Christ their top priority.

Judgment— One day God’s anger toward sin will be fully and completely unleashed. Satan will be defeated with all of his agents. False religion will be destroyed. God will reward the faithful with eternal life, but all who refuse to believe in Him will face eternal punishment. Evil and injustice will not prevail forever. God’s final judgment will put an end to these. We need to be certain of our commitment to Jesus if we want to escape this great final judgment. No one who rejects Christ will escape God’s punishment.

Hope— One day God will create a new heaven and a new earth. All believers will live with Him forever in perfect peace and security. Those who have already died will be raised to life. These promises for the future bring hope. Our great hope is that what Christ promises will come true. When we have confidence in our final destination, we can follow Christ with unwavering dedication no matter what we must face. We can be encouraged by hoping in Christ’s return.

Online Source: Theopedia.com

How Should We Then Live?

In 1976 Francis Schaeffer, an American evangelical theologian, released his book How Should We Then Live. The book focused on what our lives as followers of Christ should look like given the intellectual and moral decline of Western culture throughout the preceding centuries.

That question is as relevant today as it was in 1976. One contemporary pastor and teacher, John MacArthur, addressed the question in a sermon called, “How to Live in a Crooked and Perverse Generation” offering some keen insight into today’s moral and cultural decline, as well as sound biblical advice for how we, as Christians, ought live in the midst of the turmoil.

The remainder of this article summarizes the highlights of Dr. MacArthur’s sermon, with portions of Philippians, Chapter 2 as the main source.

Paul’s letter to the church of Philippi presents three basic realities to navigate the times in which we live; 1) Where we are; 2) Who we are; and 3) How we are to live.

Where are we?

In verse 15, the Apostle Paul said to the small church in Philippi: “…we are in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation.” Dr. MacArthur descried Philippi as “The only church in Europe in the midst of paganism – poor, persecuted, attacked by false teachers, marked by internal discord and disunity.”

Jesus himself used the phrase “crooked and perverse generation”. In Matthew 17, and again in Luke 9 Jesus said to the Jews of His day, “You are an unbelieving and perverted generation.” There are also other biblical references to consider.

Proverbs 2 tells us:

“Discretion will guard you, understanding will watch over you, to deliver you from the way of evil, from the man who speaks perverse things; from those who leave the paths of uprightness to walk in the ways of darkness; who delight in doing evil and rejoice in the perversity of evil; whose paths are crooked, and who are devious in their ways.” (Prov 2:11)

The prophet Isaiah described rebellious and disobedient people pf his day:

“Their feet run to evil, they hasten to shed innocent blood; their thoughts are thoughts of iniquity, devastation and destruction are in their highways. They do not know the way of peace, there’s no justice in their tracks; they have made their paths crooked, whoever treads on them does not know peace.” (Isa 59:7-8)

We also have examples in Apostolic preaching. When he preached at Pentecost, Peter told his audience “Be saved from this crooked and perverse generation!” (Acts 2:4)

Fast forward to now. Our own country, our nation, and today’s world seems to be bent on systematically eliminating morality and religion while promoting and even celebrating that which God calls “abomination”. Evil is called good and good evil.

Where are we? We are right where God wants us to be; living in a world that’s exactly what it has always been.

Who are we?

Our Philippians text answers that, as well, in verse 15:

”. . .you will prove yourselves to be blameless and innocent, children of God above reproach in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom you appear lights in the world”,

First, we are children of God.

“But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, to those who believe in His name: who were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God. “ (John 1:12-13)

We are not only His children, we are also “heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ” (Rom 8:17).

The world has no idea what that means, but we have an inner certainty that our status as God’s children is true, The Spirit testifies with our spirit that we are the children of God.” (Rom 8:16).

So here we are, children of God living in a corrupt and perverse generation, exactly where we are supposed to be!

Secondly, we are lights in the world. The Greek word for ‘lights’ in the text is used to describe the sun, moon and stars. Just as the sun, moon, and stars the luminaries that light the darkness in creation, we shine as luminaries in the darkness of Satan’s kingdom.

How are we to live?

Consider the fact that, as children of God and citizens of His kingdom, we live in a parallel universe. John 18 explains it. When before Jesus’ crucifixion, Pilate asked him “Are you the King of the Jews?” Jesus answered him, “My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world, my servants would have been fighting, that I might not be delivered over to the Jews. But my kingdom is not from the world.”

The kingdom is God; the kingdom of Christ is a spiritual reality separate from every earthly kingdom. So how do we live in this parallel universe? Let’s turn back to our passage in Philippian’s, Chapter 2 and look at the imperatives we are given.

The first imperative for our lives is given in verses 5 and 8 . ”Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus”. . . “Humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death: death on a cross.” Our lives should be marked by an attitude of humility in every aspect.

A humble attitude enables us to fulfill our calling to:

“Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility consider one another as more important than yourselves; do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others. (Phil 2:3-4)

So, the first imperative is to have the same attitude of humility that Christ had. The second imperative is found in verses 12 & 13:

“So then, my beloved, just as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence ,work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who is at work in you, both to desire and to work for His good pleasure.”

We are to “work out” our salvation, not work “for” our salvation, but we are to get out of God’s way and let HIM work, with an attitude of worship, an attitude of “fear and trembling”. How do we do that – work out our salvation? We are called to live lives of obedience to God and pursue blameless, innocent, and virtuous lives.

God Bless Your Journey!

With a Soul Blood Bought

With a soul blood-bought and a heart aglow,
Redeemed of the Lord and free;
I ask as I pass down the busy street,
“Is it only a crowd I see?
Do I lift my eyes with a careless gaze
That perceives no deep-down woe?
Have I naught to give to the teeming throng
Of the wealth of the love I know?”

Chorus
Let me look at the crowd as my Saviour did,
Till my eyes with tears grow dim;
Let me look till I pity the wandering sheep
And love them for love of Him.

As I read in the gospel story oft
Of the Christ who this earth once trod,
I fancy I see His look on the crowd,
That look of the Son of God.
He saw not a number in might and strength,
But a shepherdless flock distressed;
And the sight of those weary fainting sheep,
Brought grief to His loving breast.

Dear Lord, I ask for the eyes that see
Deep down to the world’s sore need;
I ask for the love that holds not back,
But pours out itself indeed.
I want that passionate power of prayer,
That yearns for the great crowd’s soul;
I want to go ‘mong the fainting sheep,
And tell them my Lord makes whole.
-Mrs. R.A. Jarvie-
Online Source:  Today’s Hymn: With a Soul Blood-bought and a Heart Aglow | Salem Chapel, Martin Top

The REST of the Story

“– in a minute, you’re going to hear the rest of the story.” – Paul Harvey

Paul Harvey was an American radio broadcaster from 1951 – 2008. Beginning in 1951, he broadcast News and Comment for ABC Radio News. In 1976 his famous The Rest of the Story program premiered, in which he provided backstories behind famous people and events.  The program was broadcast for 33 years, until his death in 2009. The programs would conclude with another famous quote:

“And now you know — the REST of the story.”

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The month of December marks, for many, the end of their favorite time of the year – the period between Thanksgiving and New Years Day. There are Christmas lights everywhere, Christmas music all the time on radio and stations and Christmas movies on every channel. People flock to stores and shopping malls to find gifts for friends and loved ones. And of course, there is all of the wonderful family time!

Christians celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ, which honors the incarnation of the Son of God. Setting aside any discussions/arguments about Jesus’ actual date of birth, as well as all the other ways we engage in debating the virtues of celebrating Christmas as a special day, let us honor the birth of our Savior and Messiah!

LET US REJOICE WITH THE PROPHET!

“Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.” Isaiah 7:14

“For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end, on the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish it and to uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time forth and forevermore.” Isaiah 9:6-7

LET US MARVEL WITH THE SHEPHERDS!

“And in the same region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with great fear. And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.” And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying,

“Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!”” Luke 2:8-14

LET US BOW DOWN IN HUMILITY WITH JOSEPH!

“Now the birth of Jesus Christ took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. And her husband Joseph, being a just man and unwilling to put her to shame, resolved to divorce her quietly. But as he considered these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.

All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet: “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel” (which means, God with us). – Matthew 1:18-23

It’s in the words of the angel of the Lord that we find the central purpose for which Jesus came to earth.

“She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.”- Mattthew 1:21

While we would all agree that Jesus was the greatest gift given to men in the history of the universe, let us remember and reflect upon

the fact that it’s Christ’s death for OUR sin that made it the greatest gift ever given to us by an all-loving God. As the Apostle John so simply and eloquently tells us:

“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” John 3:16

Should we not daily carry in our hearts the sentiment of the Apostle Paul, as he counseled a young preacher?

“The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost.”  – 1 Timothy 1:15

While we celebrate Christ’s birth, let us remember that His incarnation was but the beginning of a journey – a journey that lead to the Cross at Calvary where Jesus paid the price for OUR sin, and that by God’s design. Listen to the Apostle Peter preaching in Jerusalem at Pentecost:

“Men of Israel, hear these words: Jesus of Nazareth, a man attested to you by God with mighty works and wonders and signs that God did through him in your midst, as you yourselves know—this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men.” – Acts 2:22-23

But there’s MORE! The journey didn’t end at Calvary!

The singular event, without which our faith in the Christ Child would be in vain, was yet to come! Peter continued:

“God raised him up, loosing the pangs of death, because it was not possible for him to be held by it.”  – Acts 2:24

Let us envision, with the Apostle John, that great scene in heaven:

“Then I saw in the right hand of him who was seated on the throne a scroll written within and on the back, sealed with seven seals. And I saw a mighty angel proclaiming with a loud voice, “Who is worthy to open the scroll and break its seals?” And no one in heaven or on earth or under the earth was able to open the scroll or to look into it, and I began to weep loudly because no one was found worthy to open the scroll or to look into it. And one of the elders said to me, “Weep no more; behold, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has conquered, so that he can open the scroll and its seven seals.”

And between the throne and the four living creatures and among the elders I saw a Lamb standing, as though it had been slain, with seven horns and with seven eyes, which are the seven spirits of God sent out into all the earth. And he went and took the scroll from the right hand of him who was seated on the throne. And when he had taken the scroll, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb, each holding a harp, and golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints. And they sang a new song, saying,

“Worthy are you to take the scroll and to open its seals, for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation, and you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God, and they shall reign on the earth.” – Revelation 5:1-9

Enjoy this wonderful Season with friends, family, schoolmates, co-workers, and maybe even the strangers you meet standing in line at your local pharmacy, or waiting for the downtown bus, or your flight home for the holidays

Above all, Dear friends, as we celebrate the birth of the baby Jesus this year, let us also hold close to our hearts His journey to the Cross and beyond, and while doing so, let us pray for and look for opportunities to share, with great love and compassion, the REST of the story!

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5 Common Misconceptions of Reformation Day

by David Qaoud | Filed under: Theology Church History, Martin Luther,

For many people the date October 31 is significant not only for being the Eve of All Saints (All Hallows Eve, Halloween) but as the day in 1517 when Martin Luther nailed his 95 theses to the door of the Castle Church in Wittenburg. These theses were a list of arguments against the abuses of the papacy as it was in the early 16th century, largely centering on the sale of indulgences by the Roman Church. The 95 theses were quickly copied and distributed with the emerging printing press, and soon became a manifesto of sorts for the reform of the church in Europe.

Reformation Day

The 500th anniversary of this event is quickly approaching.

Because of this many people are talking about the Reformation and interest in Reformation events and theologies is swelling. Along with this interest and discussion comes several of the myths or misconceptions about the Reformation that have been perpetuated over the years.

As a historical theologian I am not only interested in these misconceptions for accuracy’s sake (though I do care about accuracy) but also because I believe that holding to faulty conceptions about the Reformation does harm to the actual intentions and aims of the Protestant Reformers.

For this reason, I am going to briefly address 5 of these misconceptions and discuss why correcting them is important.

1. Nailing the 95 Theses to the Church Door Was an Act of Protest

We have likely seen the images.

Reformation Day

The defiant young Luther in his billowing monastic robes, brandishing his hammer, brazenly nailing his protest to the door of the institution that he was fed up with. But this isn’t what happened.

By late 1517 Luther certainly had issues with the Church, and especially with the sale of indulgences that was being preached in German lands by Tetzel, but his theology of justification was not yet fully formed and he had no intention yet of starting off a firestorm of reformation. What he did want to do was start a local theological reform emanating from the university he taught at along the lines of what he was reading in the writings of Augustine.

So when he nailed his theses to the door, he was instigating a formal academic theological discussion, or disputatio (disputation). He nailed it to the door of the church because that’s where you put notices. It was like a bulletin board. He was calling for an academic exercise, not necessarily trying to kick off a widespread church reform, even if God eventually used it for that end.

Why does this matter?

For one it helps us to see just how hungry the entire continent was for reform. Luther’s theses happened to hit a nerve. They went viral. But often, just like today, things go viral that we wouldn’t expect or could foresee. Who would think that a syllabus posted on an academic bulletin board would be what God would use to start the reform?

But that’s what happened. It wasn’t the first university that God used to reform the church, and it wouldn’t be the last.

2. That the Reformation Commenced Immediately After the Nailing

First of all, the Reformation was already underway!

Zwingli had already been preaching the gospel and reforming the church for several years before he heard of Luther. And for Luther, it would take 3 or 4 years before his ideas were fully formed and he started calling for widespread reform in his writings and subsequently began receiving condemnation for them by papal opponents. No one woke up on All Saints Day in 1517 thinking that the Reformation had started. One could argue that a more significant date for the beginning of the Reformation would be the Diet of Worms in 1521 and Luther’s subsequent exile. Before that, things were largely academic. After the Diet, things got real. But whatever moment we choose, the nailing of the theses has been invested with meaning well beyond warrant.

Why does this matter?

It matters for a number of reasons.

First of all, it leads us to discount the reforming movements that were started by earlier leaders like John Wycliffe (14th c.) and Jan Hus (15th c.). It also leads us to neglect the fact that the Reformation was a widespread grassroots movement that would have likely happened independent of Luther.

Furthermore, Luther’s ideas were not even fully formed in 1517, as you can see for yourself by reading his early treatises on the sacraments. The real call for reform by Luther begins in 1520 and takes off in 1521 after his exile.

Before this, not much reform had really taken place. Liturgical reforms didn’t take place until 1523. Luther was still living as a monk in 1524, and didn’t marry until 1525. Zwingli had already beaten him to that by a year.

3. That Luther Was the First Reformer

I’ve kind of already busted this myth. Luther was not the first or only reformer of the church.

“Luther was not the first or only reformer of the church.”

Reform has always been a key element of church life going well back to the first millennium. Ambrose (4th c.) and Augustine (5th c.) were reformers. Benedict (6th c.) and Gregory the Great (7th c.) were reformers. The Carolingians (8th-9th c.) were reformers. Bernard of Clairvaux (12th c.) was a reformer. Gregory VII (11th c.) , Innocent III (13th c.) and St. Francis of Assisi (13th c.) were all reformers. They all faced significant issues in the Church that need to change and they addressed them through a combination of moral, missional, theological, and ecclesiological reforms.

But even closer to the time of Luther, he wasn’t the first or only. John Wycliffe had been writing about similar issues in England from the 14th century. Jan Huss had a very similiar program of reform in Prague in the 15th century. Ulrich Zwingli was already at work in the Swiss Churches and Martin Bucer in the Western German churches.

Luther stands in as one of these great reformers, and while the most influential and important, he was by no means the first or the only.

Why does this matter?

Again, we do ourselves a disservice in our appreciation and study of the Reformation if we do not also heed the events and theologies of the other reformers. Luther was building on Augustine. Hus was building on Wycliffe. Bucer had heard Luther speak, but was already well on his way. Zwingli was spurred on through study of Augustine and of the Bible. We need to both give credit to all these reformers and study their ways and means. It will help us in our modern day need to continue reforming the church and to address the issues of our day.

4. That Luther Did it All on His Own

Luther was a towering personality. And he was a great theologian and leader. But he needed lots of help along the way.

We might tend to think that it was the merit of his message that caused his success and the success of the Reformation, but that would again be a misconception.

There’s little separating the teachings and reforming actions of Hus and Luther. Yet the reason why Luther succeeded when Hus didn’t was that Luther had strong military and political support from his local rulers. Frederick of Saxony was interested in humanism and church reform from the 1480s. He founded the University of Wittenberg to that end and invited Luther and Melancthon to come teach there. When Luther was under threat from his excommunication, Frederick hid Luther and protected his life during his exile. He funded Luther’s translation of the New Testament into German. He and other German princes continued to support his reforms and caused them to be able to take place. The German Reformation probably doesn’t take place, at least as we know it, without Frederick of Saxony.

The same can be said of Zwingli in Zurich, Cranmer in England, Knox in Scotland, and Calvin in Geneva. Without the support of their local rulers, none of it ever happens.

Hus was burned at the stake and his reform was quashed because of a lack of political support. By God’s providence Luther got what Hus didn’t. But we shouldn’t think that Luther was a better man because he succeeded. He got by with a lot of help from his friends.

Why does this matter?

This helps us see the grassroots nature of the Reformation. It was a groundswell, bottom up movement. The papacy was incapable at the time of reforming even though there had been calls to reform for over 100 years. The leadership was corrupt. Luther in many ways served as a mascot and leader for the Reform, but it would not have happened without the enthusiastic support of so many.

When the leadership is against you and threatening you with death, it shifts the movement underground. But underground movements can be the most powerful. As soon as you forbid something, everyone wants to have it. That’s what happened during the Reformation.

This is also why Calvin addressed King Francis of France with his prefatory address in his Institutes. It may not make much sense to us now because of our strict separation between church and state, but Calvin knew if he could gain the King of France as a convert, the church in France could be reformed.

In fact, the only places where the Reformation flourished were places where local rulers supported it in some way. Governments can have a major effect on the flourishing or suppressing of the faith.

5. That the Reformers Intended to Split From the Catholic Church

This is the most important and often most misunderstood aspect of the Reformation.

The Protestant Reformers, Luther included, wanted to reform the Church, not split from the church.

That means that they wanted to remain Catholic and reform the Catholic Church. This was their goal at the outset and remained the goal well into the 16th century. Even Calvin holds out hope for a general council that would meet to reform and reunify the church. There were many who hoped that Trent would be that council, but alas, it was not able to be that. Its hardline approach drove a wedge between them and the Protesting churches, and still functions as a dividing wall to this day.

Furthermore, we should not see it as the Protestants splitting from the Catholic Church and forming a new church, with the old church remaining being the Catholic Church.

Rather, we should see both the Protestant and the Roman Catholic traditions as heirs of the Western Catholic church, both having formerly been a part of it and split from it by dividing from each other. The Reformers argued this extensively, and they did not shy away from calling themselves “Catholic.”

The Reformation was very local. In local areas (cities, regions, countries) it wasn’t as if the local churches split and some of them were now protestant. No, in local areas, all the churches continued on as they had for 1,000 years. Some were reformed according to the tenets of the Protestant Reformation. Others were reformed according to the program that Trent laid down. Regardless, both church traditions, Protestant and Roman Catholic, are properly heirs of the Catholic Church.

Why does this matter?

It matters because Protestant churches need to see themselves as the heirs of the Ancient and Medieval Church.

When we look back in history, we need to understand that it is “us” that we are reading about, not somebody else. Augustine belongs to “us” as much as he belongs to Roman Catholics. Francis belongs to “us”. Anselm, Bonaventure, and Thomas belong to us. That’s our family and our tradition. We need to realize that and reacquaint ourselves with the riches of the theological tradition that is ours. The Protestant Reformers did not reject the past. Luther engaged to reform the German church according to the Bible and the teachings of Augustine. Calvin loved Augustine and greatly appreciated Bernard, Anselm, and Chrysostom. The Reformation was not a rejection of the past, but actually a return to the truth of the early traditions of the Church. Ad fontes (to the sources), meant not only to go back to the Bible, but to return to the Church Fathers.

As Protestants, we need to hear this. We need to embrace our rich family story. We need to sit at the feet of our Fathers and Mothers.

We are the Catholic Church.


About David Qaoud

David Qaoud (MDiv, Covenant Theological Seminary) is associate pastor of Bethesda Evangelical Church in St. Louis, Missouri, and founder of gospelrelevance.com. His work has appeared on The Gospel Coalition, For the Church, and Banner of Truth. He lives in St. Louis with his wife and two children. Learn more.

Th article was a guest contribution for Gospel Relevance  byTim LeCroy who blogs at   https://pastortimlecroy.com/