Wednesday, October 18, 2017

500th Anniversary of The Reformation

Every so often a day arrives that represents an event in history that literally changed the world. And such is the case on Tuesday, October 31st. Yes, 2017 brings the anniversary of a day that is not only historically important but also eternally significant. This year, that comes in the form of the 500th anniversary of what is called the Protestant Reformation. Many know exactly what that is and what it meant. But perhaps others have only heard the term or maybe not even that. Either way, it was an event that changed the landscape of the religious world at the time, and its impact continues on some five centuries later. defines the movement like this. “The Protestant Reformation was the 16th-century religious, political, intellectual and cultural upheaval that splintered Catholic Europe, setting in place the structures and beliefs that would define the continent in the modern era. In northern and central Europe, reformers like Martin Luther, and John Calvin challenged papal authority and questioned the Catholic Church’s ability to define Christian practice.”

The key focus of the Reformers was to purify the church and especially to promote the belief that the Bible, and not church tradition, should be the sole source of spiritual authority.

As far as the key players involved, there were several leading up to what Martin Luther eventually kicked into high gear. There was
John Wycliffe who attacked what he saw as corruptions within the church, including the sale of indulgences, pilgrimages, the excessive veneration of saints, and the low moral and intellectual standards of ordained priests and also the doctrine of  transubstantiation. Also involved was John Huss, who was Bohemian priest. John Calvin was a French theologian who fled religious persecution in France and settled in Geneva in 1536. He instituted a form of Church government in Geneva which has become known as the Presbyterian church. There was John Knox who was a faithful disciple of Calvin. Knox established Calvinistic Protestantism as the national religion of Scotland. And Zwingli was a Swiss theologian and leader of early Reformation movements in Switzerland.

But none were more important than Martin Luther. Luther became a monk at age 21. But despite that strict and  pious lifestyle, he could not seem to find God’s love or forgiveness and became increasingly terrified of the wrath of God. But then, while teaching as a professor at Wittenberg University, he began to see through Scripture a way through his dilemma. He said, "At last meditating day and night, by the mercy of God, I began to understand that the righteousness of God is that through which the righteous live by a gift of God, namely by faith."

After this, he set officially off The Reformation on All Saints' Eve in 1517 when he publicly objected to the way a preacher was selling indulgences to raise money. These were documents prepared by the church and bought by individuals, either for themselves or on behalf of the dead, for the promise that the Pope would release the deceased from  purgatory.

So Luther wrote out his list grievances and concerns, known as his 95 Theses, and nailed them to a church door in Wittenberg Germany. He hoped this would begin a debate on these issues. Before long, they spread across Germany by use of the newly invented printing press and  became a call for large scale reform.

But a public debate did not come until 1519 after Luther made a statement that shocked the organized church of his day. He declared,  “A simple layman armed with the Scriptures is superior to both Pope and councils without them.”  For such beliefs, he was threatened  and eventually  excommunicated.

When asked to recant of his beliefs in 1521 he said, “Unless I can be instructed and convinced with evidence from the Holy Scriptures or with open, clear, and distinct grounds of reasoning ... then I cannot and will not recant, because it is neither safe nor wise to act against conscience.” Then he added these now famous words, “Here I stand. I can do no other. God help me! Amen.” Luther was obviously not intimidated and instead he publicly burned the papal bull that excommunicated him.

He would go on to publish other great works including his German translation of the Bible. After a string of various illnesses, Martin Luther died in 1546 at age 62 being confident that he was heaven bound because he had been saved by grace through faith alone in Christ.

In addition to the sale of indulgences and other objectionable practices, there were three primary areas of theological beliefs that were the foundation for what occurred 500 years ago in Europe.

First, there was Sola Scriptura, which meant simply "by Scripture alone". It taught that Scripture was the primary and absolute source for all doctrine, belief and practice. It declared that the Bible alone is the direct revelation from God and core of the faith. Sola Scriptura speaks to the absolute sufficiency, clarity and infallibility of the Bible alone.

Secondly there was Sola Fide. This meant "by faith alone". This doctrine maintains that we are justified before God, or saved, only through trusting in Jesus Christ as Savior. Redemption comes not by anything we do or don’t do, or by anything the church does for us or we do for it.. Salvation does not come by faith plus anything else, as is taught in Ephesians 2:8-9. “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast".

Then also, the Reformers promoted the doctrine known as the priesthood of the believer. This is seen in 1 Peter 2:5 where believers are called "a holy priesthood". It teaches that all true Christians are themselves priests before God and that comes through their relationship with their great high priest Jesus Christ. It is based on verses like 1 Timothy 2:5. “There is one God and one mediator between God and man, the man Christ Jesus’” This passage reveals that all believers have direct access to God and that there is no need for any earthly go-between.

In summary, the Reformers rejected the authority of the Pope, the merit of good works, indulgences, the mediation of Mary and the Saints, all but the two sacraments (baptism and the Lord's Supper), the doctrine of transubstantiation, prayers for the dead, confessions to a priest, and the use of Latin in the services.

The result of the Reformation was the eventual birth of  Lutheran churches in Germany, Scandinavia and some eastern European countries, the Reformed churches in Switzerland and the Netherlands, Presbyterian churches in Scotland, and the Anglican church in England.

So what does this all mean? And was it all a really a big deal? Although what happened had far reaching consequences in numerous areas of life and culture, it was in the spiritual realm that the greatest impact has made – by far!

The Bible speaks of its own great authority and matchless ability in numerous passages. But perhaps none is clearer than 2 Timothy 3:16-17. Paul wrote, “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work.” In other words, the pages of the Bible come directly from the mind of God and they contain everything we need for life and eternity.

And what does this God-breathed book say about salvation? Romans 10:13 makes it as simple and clear as possible. "For whoever calls on the name of the LORD shall be saved." No special church or denomination is mentioned there. No special good works are mentioned there. No elaborate procedures or programs are mentioned there. And why not? It is because people are redeemed and forgiven today just as they were long before any organized church – Catholic or Protestant – ever existed.

And how do we know that? We know that by asking one simple question: How has anyone, at any time in human history, ever been saved and made right before a holy God? The answer to that most important of all questions is revealed in Romans 4:2. It refers back to Abraham long before even the coming of Christ. “For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God. For what does the Scripture say? Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness."  It has always been about believing God through faith. Had Noah not believed and had faith in what God told him about building the Ark, all of mankind would have perished in the flood.

I have no idea where you stand spiritually today, what kind of church you attend, or if you never attend other than for an occasional wedding. But what I do know, with no reservation or doubt, is that God authored a very special supernatural book. In Hebrews 4:12, we read this of that revelation. “For the word of God is living and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit, and of joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.“ No other book ever can do that – nor can any church for that matter.

And I know that this book is inspired, living and powerful especially because of its unique ability to deal with sin by changing the human heart from the inside out just as it did mine many years ago. And again, what does the God's Word say on this matter of salvation through faith? It basically echoes both of the main points of the Reformation in one short verse. “So then faith (saving faith) comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.“ (Romans 10:17)

Bill Breckenridge

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Ready to Die? And Ready to Share?

“Do not boast about tomorrow, For you do not know what a day may bring forth.” (Proverbs 27:1)

These are solid words of wisdom for anyone at any time. But the recent string of natural disasters, including hurricanes, floods, earthquakes, and fires, and the mass shooting in Las Vegas certainly brings this great truth to the surface in the most dramatic manner. The final toll in lives and damage may not be known be for some time. But one thing is certain: those who have lost their lives had no idea they would be in eternity so suddenly. And, sadly, there will be more disasters to come with more lives lost.

In the light of that stark reality, those who are in Jesus Christ, and therefore spiritually ready to face tragedy, should reassess their true efforts to share their saving faith with those who are not. The same loving God who offered His own Son for the salvation of all is also the Judge of all who never turn to Him for redemption and forgiveness. The writer of Hebrews summed it up quite candidly: “It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.” (Hebrews 10:31)

The destiny of those who lost their lives in the ravages of nature and by a madman's bullets is now eternally set. But those who survived have been given a sacred second chance. They still have the priceless opportunity to act on God’s free offer of forgiveness and the security found only in Jesus Christ. But more often than not, that requires Christians to be involved in the process. Romans 10:17 states the expected and effective method. “So then faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.”

Pray for those who are part of God’s family of faith in Texas, Florida, the Caribbean, Puerto Rico, Mexico, California and Las Vegas. Pray for their own spirits to be lifted and comforted by God’s indwelling Holy Spirit. And pray that, in the midst of unimaginable chaos and loss, they can muster the spiritual strength and motivation to boldly share His supernatural peace and miraculous saving power!

“But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts, and always be ready to give a defense to everyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you, with meekness and fear.” (1 Peter 3:15)

Bill Breckenridge

(This post was updated from a NEWSpoint blog written in 2013. It is a testimony to the truth that God's Word is always relevant.)