The Importance of “Christ Alone” (Luther)

Martin Luther’s Commentary on the Sermon on the Mount (recently reprinted by Lexham Press) is an excellent resource to have when studying Matthew 5-7.  The language/translation is a bit dated, but it is outstanding and well worth the effort.  Today I read the following, which I marked up quite a bit:

For if I cling to this, that Christ alone is my righteousness and holiness, no monk will ever persuade or mislead me by his hood, rosary, this or that work and childish human notion. For through faith I am a judge of all imaginable conditions and ways of living, so that I can condemn everything that offers to show me anything else that is to avail before God.

In other words, Luther said that if we understand that we are justified by faith alone in Christ alone, we’ll rightly reject and condemn any other way to be right with God.  Luther continued:

But if I neglect this, and let the treasure go, and am instructed to seek elsewhere and otherwise to be pious, to conciliate God and atone for sin, then I am already prepared for all sorts of snares and nets of the devil, and to let myself be led as he pleases; then presently comes someone who preaches to me: ‘If you want to be pious and serve God, then put on a hood, pray daily so many rosaries, burn so many little candles to St. Anna.’  Then I fall in with this like a blind man and everybody’s fool and prisoner, and do everything I am told, so completely that I cannot defend myself from even the most trifling mistake.

If you take away the teaching of justification by faith alone in Christ alone, people will believe and do anything they are told to be accepted by God.  This is a rejection of the gospel.  Therefore we should, following the Apostle Paul’s insistence, clearly preach and firmly believe that we are not justified by works, but through faith alone in Christ alone (Rom 3:28, Gal. 2:16, etc.).

Luther, Commentary on the Sermon on the Mount, p. 68.

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI, 54015

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“Roman” and “Catholic” – Mutually Contradictory (Bavinck)

Reformed Dogmatics, vol. 4: Holy Spirit, Church, and New Creation The phrase “catholic church” in the Apostles’ Creed is a reference to God’s people throughout history from all different tribes, tongues, and nations.  Of course this phrase, “catholic church” is also used by the papacy, which calls its church “The Roman Catholic Church.”  But how can a church be tied so closely to a geographical place (Rome) and single person (the Pope) and still be truly catholic?

Herman Bavinck pointed out this inconsistency in volume four of his Reformed Dogmatics.  He noted that the terms “Roman” and “catholic” are “mutually contradictory.”  He said,

The Roman Catholic Church makes the faith and salvation of humans dependent on a specific place and on a specific person and thereby fails to do justice to the catholicity of Christianity. The name “Roman” or “papal church” therefore expresses its nature much more accurately than “Catholic.”

Bavinck then went on to explain what catholicity truly means:

As a rule, people understand it (“catholic church”) to mean the universal church, which embraces all true believers and is manifest in varying degrees of purity in various churches, or the New Testament church, which… is meant for all peoples and places on earth.

The word “catholic” does not occur in Scripture. But the texts to which the church fathers appeal for the catholicity of the church (such as Gen. 12:3; Ps. 2:8; Isa. 2:2; Jer. 3:17; Mal. 1:11; Matt. 8:11; 28:19; John 10:16; Rom. 1:8; 10:18; Eph. 2:14; Col. 1:6; Rev. 7:9; and so forth) prove that its meaning consists especially in the fact that Christianity is a world religion suited and intended for every people and age, for every class and rank, for every time and place. That church is most catholic that most clearly expresses in its confession and applies in its practice this international and cosmopolitan character of the Christian religion. The Reformed had an eye for it when in various countries and churches they confessed the truth in an indigenous, free, and independent manner and at the Synod of Dort invited delegates from all over Reformed Christianity.

I agree; a truly catholic church will not be dependent upon a certain place or person.  An I appreciate Bavinck’s notes that the Christian religion is a “world” religion suited for all kinds of people in all kinds of places.  Or, as it says in Scripture, the church Christ died for is an innumerable multitude from all tribes, peoples, and languages (Rev. 7:9).

The above quotes can be found in Herman Bavinck, ed John Bolt, and John Vriend, Reformed Dogmatics: Holy Spirit, Church, and New Creation, vol. 4 (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2008), 323.

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI, 54015

Protesting Papal Snares

https://i0.wp.com/covers3.booksamillion.com/covers/bam/0/14/043/477/0140434771.jpgSometimes we Protestants forget our protest.  The Reformation came about because certain Christian men boldly protested the heinous abuses of the Roman Catholic Church.  These weren’t minor abuses; it wasn’t like the Reformers were simply upset about a few songs, candle arrangements, and the writings of one or two priests.  The Reformers protested against Rome because her official teaching contradicted the heart of Scriptural truth: salvation from sin by grace alone (not grace + merit) through faith alone (not faith + works) in Christ alone (not Mary’s or anyone else’s merits), which we are taught from Scripture alone (not ecclesiastical tradition) for God’s glory alone (not for the glory of the Pope or any man).

It’s important to keep this in mind when reading Reformed works that criticize the theology and practice of Rome.  Protestants have often used harsh language when writing against Rome.  Although these Protestant writers were not without sin, by in large Rome’s corruption and abuses deserve harsh language because Rome distorts the gospel, binds consciences, and takes the spotlight off of Christ, his promises, and his love.  Here’s an example from William Tyndale, one of the early English Reformers.

“Woe be to you lawyers! For ye lade [load] men with burdens which they are not able to bear, and ye yourselves touch not the packs with one of your fingers,” saith Christ, Luke 11, Our [spiritual] lawyers, verily, have laden us a thousand times more. What spiritual kindred have they made in baptism to let [hinder] matrimony!  Besides that they have added certain degrees unto the law natural for the same purpose. What an unbearable burden of chastity do they violently thrust on other men’s backs, and how easily bear they it themselves! How sore a burden, how cruel a hangman, how grievous a torment, yea, and how painful an hell, is this ear-confession unto men’s consciences! For the people are brought in belief, that without that they cannot be saved; insomuch that some fast certain days in the year, and pray certain superstitious prayers all their lives long, that they may not die without confession. In peril of death, if the priest be not [near]by, the shipmen shrive themselves [make confession] unto the mast [of the ship]. If any [person] be present, they run then every man into his ear [to confess]: but to God’s promises fly they not, for they know them not. If any man have a death’s wound, he crieth immediately for a priest. If a man die without shrift [confession], many take it for a sign of damnation. Many, by reason of that false belief, die in desperation. Many, for shame, keep back of their confession twenty, thirty years, and think all the while that they be damned.

I knew a poor woman with child, which longed, and, being overcome of her passion [hunger], ate flesh [meat] on a Friday; which thing she durst [dared] not confess in the space of eighteen years, and thought all that while that she had been damned, and yet sinned she not at all. Is not this a sore burden, that so weigheth down the soul unto the bottom of hell? What should I say? A great book were not sufficient to rehearse the snares which they have laid to rob men both of their goods, and also of the trust which they should have in God’s word.

This is why men like Tyndale protested against the heavy burdens of the papacy.  Rome was binding consciences far beyond the Word, propagating religious superstitions, messing with God’s law, removing free grace from the gospel, not pointing to God’s unfailing promises for solace, and driving people to spiritual despair.  These things were – and are! – certainly worth protesting with vigor!

The above quote is found on pages 101-102 of Tyndale’s The Obedience of a Christian Man, first published in 1528.

shane lems
covenant presbyterian church (OPC)
hammond, wi

Persecution in France Following the Reformation

  Following the Reformation, the Papacy made frequent and bloody attacks on Reformed churches and Christians throughout Europe.  John Foxe (d. 1587) wrote an account of this (and other) persecution Reformed churches faced.  Here’s one such story of Peter Serre.

“Peter Serre was originally a priest, but reflecting on the errors of popery, he at length embraced the reformed religion, and learned the trade of a shoemaker.  Having a brother at Toulouse, a bigoted Roman Catholic, Serre, out of fraternal love, made a journey to that city, in the hope of dissuading him from his superstitions: the brother’s wife not approving of his design, lodged a complaint against him, on which he was apprehended, and made a full declaration of his faith.”

“The judge asked him concerning his occupation, to which he replied, ‘I have of late practised the trade of a shoemaker.’  ‘Of late!’ said the judge; ‘and what did you practice formerly?’  ‘That I am almost ashamed to tell you,’ exclaimed Serre, ‘because it was the vilest and most wicked occupation imaginable.’  All who were present supposed, from these words, that he had been a murderer or a thief, and that what he spoke was through contrition.  The judge, however, ordered him to explain precisely what he meant, when Serre, with tears in his eyes, exclaimed, ‘Oh, I was formerly a popish priest.’  This reply so much exasperated the judge, that he condemned Serre first to be degraded, then to have his tongue cut, and afterwards to be publicly burnt.”

This brings many thoughts to one’s mind.  It is tempting to chuckle at Serre’s answer; however, judging from other similar accounts, Serre’s tears were from a truly sorry heart.  He was sorry that he had been one who had clouded the gospel and the Word along with the papacy.  Yet he was strong in the Christian faith and his profession to the point of death.

If you haven’t read Foxe’s Book of Martyrs, I strongly recommend purchasing a copy soon.  And two more historical facts to pique your interest: 1) Foxe himself came out of the darkness of the papacy to protestantism, and 2) the late 16th century Catholic church hated Foxe’s book so much they did everything they could to destroy it.

shane lems