Lutherans have officially apologized for persecution of anabaptists

In the past, even shortly after the Reformation was kick-started by Luther, the Reformation period wasn’t all that rosy.  Followers of Luther’s doctrinal beliefs began to persecute the Anabaptists because they had other ideas of how far the Reformation should go.  This persecution in Lutheran lands lasted for many decades, if not centuries.  The Lutheran World Federation (LWF) has made a courageous moved that required some humility.  The LWF has offered an official apology of the wrongs on behalf of Lutherans around the world.  Here’s the LWI Council Press Release:

GENEVA, 26 October 2009 (LWI) – The Council of The Lutheran World Federation (LWF) has approved a statement that prepares for a significant action of reconciliation with churches of the Anabaptist family.

With this endorsement, the statement “Action on the Legacy of Lutheran Persecution of ‘Anabaptists'” is recommended for adoption at the July 2010 LWF Eleventh Assembly in Stuttgart, Germany. The statement expresses “deep regret and sorrow” for the legacy of violent persecution of Anabaptists, and especially for the ways in which Lutheran reformers supported this persecution with theological arguments. It asks forgiveness, “from God and from our Mennonite sisters and brothers,” for these past wrongs and also for the ways in which later Lutherans have forgotten or ignored this persecution and have continued to describe Anabaptists in misleading and damaging ways.  Read on…

While reading church history, I remember feeling how Anabaptists must have felt during the time of the Reformation. It was not necessarily a time of wonderful change but also a time of hurt and pain felt by many Anabaptists.  An apology is a bold move.  Way to go!

Martin Luther’s Here I Stand – free download

FYI, there a free download of Martin Luther’s Here I Stand, a 24-minute recording by Max McLean. Download it by November 1.HT: TC

We just celebrated Reformation Sunday this morning, and showed our youth a clip from the Luther movie Joseph Fiennes (2003) during confirmation class.

Calvin (Abingdon Pillars of Theology)

Abingdon Pillars of Theology

Author: George W. Stroup
Publisher: Abingdon Press (August 2009)
ISBN: 9780687659135

Here’s another book written in honor of Calvin’s 500th anniversary.  The focus of this book is the theology of John Calvin.  Author, George Stroup, covers how Calvin views the knowledge of God, scripture, God’s good and sovereign will, justification and sanctification, freedom and law, election, Christ as mediator and the offices of Christ, the sacraments and the marks of the church.  It covers Calvin’s main points of theology in just seventy pages.  It’s not an in-depth discussion but it does briefly introduce the main issues of his theology.

Personally, my favourite chapters were four and six on: “God’s Good Will” and “The Efficacious Spirit.”   Stroup says that many of Calvin’s readers inaccurately understand his view of God as “an arbitrary tyrant who rules the world sternly, coldly, and capriciously—a God of sovereign will but not a God of sovereign love.”  Stroup expresses it well stating:

“Christian faith, he writes, begins with God’s good will, rests in it, and ends in it, but some readers have interpreted him as affirming not God’s good will but God’s sovereign will, neglecting the critical point that God’s sovereignty is an expression of God’s goodness and love.  When read in this manner—that God’s sovereign will is harsh and capricious—Calvin’s interpretation of God’s providence becomes fatalism and God’s election becomes divine determinism.” (p. 29).

It is good he addresses this aspect of Calvin’s thought on God’s sovereign will because the common academic thought on God’s sovereignty tends to be cold and objective.  This is why Calvinism is sometimes viewed as being austere, and even, arrogant. Understanding Calvin’s theology on the sovereignty of God can almost be seen as a “perfect theology”.  However, this “perfect theology” has an inherent weakness.  Calvinist theology is built upon logically ordered theological propositions; and when one comes to an understanding of this so-called perfectly ordered theology, it can cause one to take pride in one’s theology.  This is a common temptation in theologians.

I also like Stroup’s understanding of the relationship between justification and sanctification.  He states:

“If Calvin’s description of sanctification is separated from what he says about Christ’s justifying grace, sanctification might seem to be a duty, an obligation, something that must be done in order to receive God’s grace, mercy, and forgiveness.  The two—justification and sanctification—are distinct, but they also must not be separated, neither conceptually nor in daily Christian life.  Separated from justification, sanctification may become a form of legalism or “works righteousness,” and justification, separated from sanctification, may risk becoming a form of “cheap grace.”” (p. 48).

Christians of all denominations and churches have their own emphasis on either justification or sanctification.  They bring on their own stereotypes when they overemphasize either justification or sanctification.  Some Lutherans may emphasize justification and get labelled as taking advantage of God’s “cheap grace.”  Some e evangelicals who may tend to emphasize sanctification may be accused of displays of legalism.  I have seen both.

Stroup boldly addresses the Calvin’s three uses of the law, which are similar to that of Luther’s.  One, the law exposes human sinfulness; two, restrains evil in civil order; and three, shows forgiven sinners how they should live before God and with one another.  Some Lutherans neglect the third use of the law, and some boldly emphasize the lack of emphasis in the third use of the law.  We can learn from Calvin’s unashamed teaching of the third use of the law.  If we, in our Christian freedom, are free from the law and also free for the law, as Stroup describes, then there should be no fear of the third use of the law because it is a good guide on how forgiven sinners ought to live.  Personally, I’m not afraid to admit that, from time to time, I need to be reminded how I should live my life. Many people, especially those who are fully cognizant of their tendency to break the law, know they need a law to guide them.

I also find Stroup’s discussion on church discipline enlightening. Most Lutherans and many of today’s evangelicals do not know anything of the reasons for church discipline.  There is much ignorance when it comes to a fuller understanding of what the church is.  I admire the respect and honor that most Catholics give to the Church.  Calvin’s respect and honor for the church is high, but his view of the nature of the church differs significantly from that of the Roman Catholic institutionally-centered understanding.  Calvin’s view of the church is much more fluid and leans toward one that is invisible than visible.  I like Stroup’s description of what the church is when juxtaposed with what it isn’t:

“The church is not an end in itself, but an instrument, a means, for the glorification of God….The church is not an end in itself, but an instrument, a means, for the glorification of God…The church is not itself a sacrament.  It does not dispense, confer, or mediate grace…The church does not confer forgiveness and is not the object of faith.  It is Christ alone who forgives sins and Christ alone in whom Christians should trust….It is more appropriate, therefore, not to say “I believe in the church,” but to say “in the church I believe.” (p.56).”

This is the basis upon which Christians are called to be in the church.  This gives followers of Christ reasons why we should be the church.  God has chosen to use the church for the nurturing of our faith in Christ.  This function of the church gives us enough reason why we should not turn away from the church, but it should motivate us to be attracted to live in community, as a church, so that all of God’s children may develop faith and live in Christian community. This is true communion of saints.  Stroup says: “Therefore, when Calvin writes, ‘it is always disastrous to leave the church,’ he does so not because life in the church is a good luck charm or an insurance policy against personal tragedy, but because the church is where Christians are in the process of being united to Christ, where faith is being born and nurtured.” (p. 57).  This blows away the false concept that one can have a “private Christian faith” or a “private spirituality”.  When there is no Christian community, there is no accountability and authority to bring discipline, one’s faith will easily become corrupted, wither and die.

George W. Stroup has written a good overview of the important points in Calvin’s theology that are most popularly discussed.  It’s a good book that is brief and yet very informative.  I recommend this to any students and willing learners of Calvin’s theology. This can be purchased from Amazon.

Reformation Day – October 31

Thanks to Stan McCullers who informed us about the offer of a genuine leather ESV Reformation Study Bible for a donation of any amount to Ligonier Ministries. Offer good till Nov.2.

Ligonier Ministries – Renewing Your Mind has some good audio programs:
Making of the Protestant Reformation (Pt. 1)
Making of the Protestant Reformation (Pt. 2)

Below, the first video is also about the history of the Reformation.
The second video is about why the Reformation matters (Calvinist perspective)

October 31 is Reformation Day–not just Halloween

October 31 reminds most of Halloween and of ghosts, goblins and kids dressed in costumes wandering through the streets on Halloween “trick or treating,” but most people know little about what October 31 means to the church. It means much more. For Protestants, October 31 is a very special date because it marks the beginning of the Protestant Reformation. On October 31, 1517 Martin Luther nailed his famous ninety-five theses on the door of Castle Church in Wittenberg, Germany (pictured here).

When the Reformation began in Germany, Dr. Rev. Martin Luther was a Catholic priest and theologian who only wanted to see the beloved church reform some of the ways it looked and practiced theology. The Church has gone astray because it began to attach a price to the salvation of souls. It taught people that paying for indulgences would earn them and their family a shorter stay in purgatory. The Pope encouraged the sales of indulgences and would even issue a certificate by the church. Behind this was the goal of raising of funds to help pay for the building of St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome.

At the core, for Luther, was the issue of trusting in God’s righteousness rather than doing good works to earn God’s righteousness. Luther saw this doctrine of justification by grace alone through faith alone as central to the gospel. This most important theological truth was being freshly revealed to generations of Christians in the 16th century. Luther identified this truth as the head and cornerstone of our church’s doctrine, and even of the Church’s very existence. He was convinced of this truth and was determined to defend it, preach it, and teach it so that the world may know the truth and be set free from the enslavement and guilt of their sins.

This theological issue justification by grace through faith became a big controversy that eventually grew into a huge movement that went even beyond Lutheranism. It brought about a great reformation and birthed the Lutheran Church and other protestant churches around the world. As the church on earth today, we must continue to defend, to teach and preach this doctrine for the glory of God and for the salvation of all God’s people. (pic1: door of Castle Church; pic2: sale of indulgences in a church)

Origin of the word “Protestant”

On church history:

Back in Luther’s time, Germany was ruled by princes, both Lutheran and Roman Catholic. If Charles V, the Roman Emperor, had his way, he would have forced all of Germany, including all of Europe, to remain Roman Catholic. Six of the princes who ruled Germany had already converted to Luther’s view, including its 14 Free Imperial cities. They considered themselves Evangelicals or Lutherans (or followers of Luther).

Charles V gave to order (Edict of Worms) to enforce all the German lands to remain Roman Catholic But thank God those six Lutheran princes courageously stood together, united and strong, and refused to accept this rule. They protested, made their case to demand that Lutheran lands should be free to remain Lutheran, and where the prince was Roman Catholic, that state may remain Catholic.

Then, on April 29, 1529, the six princes declared to Charles V:

“We protest before God and before men that we and our people will not agree to anything in this decree that is contrary to God, to His Holy Word, to our right conscience, and to the salvation of our souls.”

Charles V could do nothing because the princes stood up in unity for religious freedom. From then on, they were known as the Protestors or the Protestants.

Luther’s German translation of the New Testament

I wish continue to blog about the history of the New Testament and continue with Luther’s German translation. Luther was a radical for his own time. His views of the bible and of theology was reason enough for the Roman Catholic Church’s high authorities to want to take his life. In 1415, the Church burned John Huss alive at the stake for his heresy. Thank God this is not the case today. Luther began translating parts of the scriptures in 1517. In 1521, Luther was kidnapped by five armed riders while returning to Wittenberg from the Diet of Worms. They kidnapped him and brought him to Wartburg Castle to keep him safe from harm. For 10 months, from May 4, 1521 to March 1, 1522, Luther’s hideout was Wartburg Castle. (You have to see the movie or if you prefer, read the book). This was the place where he would translate the New Testament into German. No one knew where he was in hiding and when he did leave the castle, he grew a beard, dressed up as a knight and called himself “Knight George” (Junker Jorge).

Luther wanted to make the Word of God available to all of the German people so he translated the New Testament from the original Greek into easy‑to‑understand German. He completed the translation from Erasmus’ text which was a special new edition of the New Testament in Greek with a Latin translation. It was said that he completed the New Testament in three months. Three months is not much time to translate an entire New Testament. He must have had to work extremely hard.

There were only 5,000 copies of the first edition of the New Testament (printed in Wittenberg by Melchior Lotter). Each copy costs no less than 1 ½ gulden (I am not sure what this would be equivalent to in today’s dollars). Luther did not make a financial profit from the translation. To make a profit would have been unthinkable for Luther.

This bible became the people’s bible and it helped shape the common German language. This bible translated into the contemporary language of the common people did a great thing for the German language because it unified the various German dialects into one. It was used as the norm for the next four hundred years (much like the King James Version was in the English-speaking world). I think it would be safe to assume that today’s translations in modern languages around the world will also unify hundreds of dialects around the world.

After completing the New Testament, he continued translating the Old Testament. His colleagues at the University assisted him in this endeavor. By 1534 he completed the translationf the entire German Bible.

Martin Luther on bible translation: in the common language of the people

The importance of bibles being translated into the language of the common people (or the vernacular) cannot be better expressed than through the words of Dr. Rev. Martin Luther, the Reformer. The Latin Vulgate (translated by Jerome in 405 CE) was the Bible used in the Western Church. For 1,000 years after the Vulgate, bible translation was not an important activity in the Church. Luther felt that Latin kept the people distant from the truth, so the language of the bible should be simplified for all people to understand. He said:

“One may not ask the Latin language how to speak German…one must ask mothers in the home, children on the street, the common man at the market, and watch carefully how they speak. After that one may translate. Then those who read will understand you and know that you are speaking German with them” (WA30, II, 637).

Do we have this today in our English translations? I think so. We have our functional equivalent translations, even children’s bibles. I think Luther would be pleased with the T/NIV, NLT, God’s Word, New Century Version, and Good News Translation. Luther felt that the common people should be able to read the scriptures for themselves in the most contemporary language of the day.

“Your reader must be able to read God’s Word “as though it were written yesterday” (WA12, 444).

Though sometimes, I wonder about the Message bible. Okay, so we know that the King James Version is outdated. But how do we tell this to the King James-only crowd? I think we can just quote Luther. Luther wanted to communicate God’s word clearly. Therefore, it was necessary for Luther to translated Hebrew, Greek, and Latin language into the German language, the language of the people. But today, the KJV-only readers have to translate Elizabethan English into modern day English. I don’t think Luther would have approved of the KJV for today’s contemporary readers.

“In translation you cannot speak German with a Greek or Hebrew tongue” (Open Letter Concerning Translation).

He wanted the scriptures in easy to understand German and in terms of an accurate rendering of the original meaning.

“I endeavored to make Moses so German that no one would suspect he was a Jew” (Open Letter Concerning Translation).

Would some of our formal equivalent translations qualify? I wonder if the RSV or NASB (1977) would meet Luther’s standard? Our functional equivalent translations certainly do.

Cochlaeus, one of Luther’s bitterest opponents, said:

“Even shoemakers and women become so absorbed in the study of Luther’s German New Testament that they are able to carry on discussions with doctors of theology” (Four Hundred Years, Dau, p. 115).

Moreover, he felt that the Confessions and scripture should be the source and norm of all religious thought and doctrine. The bible was the natural vehicle for inculcating piety into the hearts and lives of the people. Moreover, bible translation should not be taken lightly but should be done in all godly reverence.

“Translation is not an art that everyone can practice. It requires a right, pious, faithful, diligent, God fearing, experienced practical heart” (WA30, II, 640).

Luther had a high view of Scripture and sola scriptura was the sole rule and norm of faith. Justification by grace through faith in Christ Jesus influenced how Luther translated the German bible. Jesus Christ took our place under the law, and became all things for us so that God might fully redeem us. Luther felt that scripture needed to reveal “all things for us” just as Christ became fully incarnated in order to serve and to save humankind.

Erasmus’ influence on evangelicalism

Erasmus of Rotterdam was the first great religious humanist. He translated the Textus Receptus and was hugely influential in the philosophy of the 16th century reformers. His ideas of the “freedom of the will” introduced new liberating ideas into the center of the Reformation in Geneva, Switzerland and Wittenberg, Germany. You could say that his ideas even shaped many of the ideals of today’s evangelical theology. Due to Erasmus’ huge influence on Zwingli, religion is now understood as something spiritual and internal (i.e., faith is personal in each individual). Moral and ethical reform now becomes an important part of the believer’s life (i.e., being born again; regeneration by the Holy Spirit). Jesus is now someone we imitate (WWJD—What Would Jesus Do?). The early church fathers are valued (e.g., Origin, Jerome, etc.). Religion’s purpose is to inculcate piety within the believer. The philosophy of Christ becomes a philosophy from which we live by (i.e., Christians do good works). The life, morals, and doctrines of the church needed to be reformed. Religious education becomes an important component in the life of the believer and the church (i.e., biblical knowledge, Sunday school). These are all vital parts of the Reformation and have influenced evangelical theology. His belief in returning back to the original sources (ad fontes) lent itself to the humanist ideals of having access to the original Greek texts and also being competent in understanding the original Greek. Out of passion and conviction, Erasmus translated the New Testament into Latin (1505, 1516, and 1520 CE). If it wasn’t for Erasmus, we might not have the bible, as we know it today. We might not have had Luther and Calvin either, which means we wouldn’t have Ulrich Zwingli and Philip Melanchthon, which means we also wouldn’t have evangelical Christianity. We owe a lot to Erasmus.

On political theology: nations, prosperity and moral values – Part 1

Nations and cultures in North American and western Europe have been on a moral decline since the enlightenment period, even though there have been periods of ups and downs. Nevertheless, there has been a gradual secularization of the Christian civilization, especially in the late 20th century. Today, a secularized North America and Western Europe lacks strong moral values. As a results, this has weakened the moral authority of Christian America and British Commonwealth countries like the U.K., Canada, and Australia. The western world no longer hold the respect of nations in the southern hemisphere like they once did. Western nations once recognized and classified themselves as Christian nations.

Today, liberal secular humanism is behaving as if our Christian roots had no bearing on its past, and will have no bearing on its future.
Some people will deny that moral values is interdependently related to political stability, economic prosperity, and social advancement; but to do so is like denying that fruits have grown from its own branches. They may deny the true merits of moral values and reject society’s need for religious instruction. This attitude can lead to a corrosion and decline of an entire society and a nation. Any strong culture, society, and nations that rose to prominence throughout history, had some sort of basis in strong moral values. A great example of this is the rise, and eventual, decline and fall of the Roman Empire (Edward Gibbon’s work).

In our western democracies, we have applied political and theological principles that are biblically-based; and a lot of it actually stems from John Calvin’s theology. However, we have forgotten about this because it is a neglected part of our secular public education system. Out of the Reformation’s theological reforms flowed a sense of morality and law-abiding citizenry. As a result Calvin’s political theology, much of Geneva was politically reformed. The city of Geneva became a biblically-centered state under Calvin’s spiritual leadership. Hundreds of years later, this political and theological reform provided a basis for the development of representative democracy in England, and later, a democratic republic in America, which became a model that spread throughout the world. Our free and democratic society has its roots in a biblically-centered political theologynamely Hebrew-Jewish political theology. It is not rooted in Greek or Roman culture as some would like to believe and teach in university.

When a strong sense of morality is able to permeate an entire culture, it will have the potential to effect positive changes within an entire nation. What was permeated within a culture, and even an entire nation, was actually a sense of strong moral values in its people and its leaders. Morality and religion are critical determinants of a culture’s and nation’s significant worth. If there is a lack of good strong values, a culture is weakened by them rather than helped. These values, whatever they may be, usually have roots in religious faith.

We can follow a logical path that moves from moral values to economic prosperity and social advancement. In the western world, the Christian faith and heritage, which was formed by the people’s spiritual-religious experience, has greatly shaped traditional western culture. It has led to many blessings including political stability of democracy, great economic prosperity, and countless social advancements. It is only out of this sense of morality, that people make covenantal laws with God their creator. As society decides to make covenantal laws with God as individuals and as a nation, the people will eventually establish civil laws to provide the public with instructions from which to live by (Deut. 16:18-29:1; 33:1-5). This gives protection to the people. These public laws are, and should, always be for the common good of all peoplegreat and small, rich and poor, male and female. The great benefit of civil laws is that it brings political stability to a nation. As political stability of a nation is established, a natural outflow will be economic prosperity (Deut. 30:15-20). Economic prosperity can only arise if there is political stability; this is a pre-condition. In countries where there is continuous political unrest, there can only be poverty. Without political stability, economic prosperity will never come about. This is the reason western civilizations like America and Great Britain have been able to prosper economically in the recent modern history. Economic prosperity is a fruit that results from strong moral values. Finally, when a society or nation is economically prosperous, its people will be self-empowered to advance socially. Examples of social advancement might be higher education for children, solid health care for the young and elderly, a cultivation of greater skills in the fine arts, and opportunities to greater enjoyment of recreational sports, and enjoyment of gracious living.

Without a sense of strong moral values, a society loses its moral integrity and authority to direct public policy domestically and abroad. When this happens, a nation’s immorally corrupt leaders can no longer lead; and a nation’s immorally corrupt people can no longer follow their corrupt leaders. The United States, Europe and Commonwealth nations must once again return to their Christian roots and learn to live by moral values.

On political theology: nations, prosperity and moral values–Part 2

(photo: John Calvin; Neighborhood Clinics. Health Dept. East Side Baby Health Station, New York, NY)