Entrusting Our Cares to Mary!?

Many of us have heard or even used the phrase “hail Mary.” It often refers to a long and risky throw in football, when the quarterback unleashes a monster toss hoping the receiver will catch it. This term, “hail Mary,” is how the “Ave Maria” prayer in the Roman Catholic traiditon starts: “Hail, Mary, full of grace…” In fact, the Catechism of the Catholic Church has a short commentary on the Ave Maria. Here are some parts of that commentary:

Full of grace, the Lord is with thee. …Mary, in whom the Lord himself has just made his dwelling, is the daughter of Zion in person, the ark of the covenant, the place where the glory of the Lord dwells. She is “the dwelling of God … with men.” Full of grace, Mary is wholly given over to him who has come to dwell in her and whom she is about to give to the world.

Holy Mary, Mother of God. …Because she gives us Jesus, her son, Mary is Mother of God and our mother; we can entrust all our cares and petitions to her: she prays for us as she prayed for herself: “Let it be to me according to your word.” By entrusting ourselves to her prayer, we abandon ourselves to the will of God together with her: “Thy will be done.”

Pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death: By asking Mary to pray for us, we acknowledge ourselves to be poor sinners and we address ourselves to the “Mother of Mercy,” the All-Holy One. We give ourselves over to her now, in the Today of our lives. And our trust broadens further, already at the present moment, to surrender “the hour of our death” wholly to her care. May she be there as she was at her son’s death on the cross. May she welcome us as our mother at the hour of our passing to lead us to her son, Jesus, in paradise.

 Catholic Church, Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2nd Ed. (Washington, DC: United States Catholic Conference, 2000), 644.

To Protestant and and Reformed Christians today, this sounds terribly unbiblical (to put it mildly!). This view of Mary is not only unbiblical, it also detracts from the person and work of Christ, our one and only mediator and Savior. This is why we Reformed Christians say, confess, and believe the truth of the phrase “Solus Christus!” Here’s how Martin Luther responded to such Roman Catholic teaching mentioned above:

They [the Pope and his teachers] declared also to the people, in their sermons, that the only Mediator between God and man, our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, was a severe and an angry Judge; that he neither could nor would be reconciled with us, except we had other advocates and intercessors besides him.

By this doctrine people were seduced, and carried away to Heathenish idolatry; and they took their refuge in dead Saints that should help and deliver them, and made them to be their gods: in whom they put more trust and confidence than in our blessed Saviour Christ Jesus; and especially, they placed the Virgin Mary (instead of her son Christ) for a Mediatrix on the throne of grace.

 Martin Luther and Antonius Lauterbach, The Familiar Discourses of Dr. Martin Luther, ed. Joseph Kerby, trans. Henry Bell, New Edition. (Lewes; London: Sussex Press; John Baxter; Baldwin, Cradock, and Joy; H. Mozley, 1818), 462.

Similarly, the Westminster Confession of Faith echoes the biblical teaching that we have only one mediator, Jesus Christ:

Religious worship is to be given to God, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit; and to Him alone; (Matt. 4:10, John 5:23, 2 Cor. 13:14) not to angels, saints, or any other creature: (Col. 2:18, Rev. 19:10, Rom. 1:25) and, since the fall, not without a Mediator; nor in the mediation of any other but of Christ alone. (WCF XXI.2)

Yes, the Reformation still matters! We can be thankful that the reformers had the courage and conviction to stick with and teach the truths of Scripture. This glorifies our one and only Savior, Jesus Christ, who ever lives to make intercession for us as our one and only mediator.

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI, 54015

The Popes of Evangelicalism (Lints)

(This is a re-post from December, 2015)

I always think it’s ironic and comical when a Christian mocks or discredits creeds and confessions then turns around to favorably quote popular evangelical leaders on social media. While social media is new, this anti-confessional and pro-popular leader mindset is not new. It was a central characteristic of 19th century American revivalist religion. For example, Charles Finney talked said it was “highly ridiculous” for a church to recognize and utilize the Westminster Confession of Faith. Finney called the Westminster Confession a “dead Pope;” he said “It is better to have a living than a dead Pope.” Richard Lints explained this well in 1993:

“The revivalist located the ‘living Pope’ not in Rome but in the human heart. The experience of the Holy Spirit became the lens through which the works and words of God were interpreted. The work of the Spirit was severed from the confessions and creeds of the church in such a manner that an individual led by the Spirit was considered to be directly and immediately in touch with the meaning of Scripture. The work of the Spirit was not mediated by the community of past believers….”

“A curious effect of this emphasis on the subjective leading of the Spirit was the growth in power of the ‘popular popes’ of evangelicalism. Though highly individualistic in their approach to salvation and populist in their biblical interpretation, populist Bible teachers and preachers served to draw people together in a mass movement largely through the strength of their personal popularity. As Mark Noll puts it, ‘Evangelical interpretation assigned first place to popular approval.’”

“The right of private interpretation that they promoted can be understood as a desire for freedom from opposing viewpoints. It would seem that the early evangelicals were not so much interested in removing all human authority as they were in choosing human authorities with whom they agreed. And once they found these individuals, they were willing to invest them with a great deal of de facto authority.”

There’s another downside to this trend/movement:

“A striking result of the rise of the popular leader was the displacement of the theologian from the place of preeminence in the evangelical movement. The new leaders of the movement were popularizers of the gospel message, revivalists, and Bible conference preachers. This tradition persists today; the theological leadership of the movement is provided by preachers who travel the circuit of popular conservative Bible conferences” (p. 34-35).

This is not a great picture of evangelicalism: it doesn’t have a Pope like Rome, but it does typically have a pope within (the heart) and a pope without (a celebrity pastor).  Remember this next time someone criticizes the confessions and gushes over some quote of a popular preacher!

The above quotes are from Richard Lints, The Fabric of Theology (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1993).

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI

My Conscience is Captive to the Word of God (Luther)

(This is a repost from September, 2011.)

Heiko Oberman’s Luther: Man Between God and the Devil is one of those books that I’ll never forget reading.  I first read it around 10 years ago; I could not set this book down.  In fact, it led me to enjoy and appreciate church history in general, and Reformation history more specifically.  In my opinion, it is even better than Roland Bainton’s Here I Stand (although that may be an apples/oranges comparison, and I do really like Here I Stand).

Here’s a little snippet from Oberman’s book.  It has to do with Luther’s famous answer while he was on trial for his writings: “…My conscience is captive to the Word of God.  Thus I cannot and will not recant, for going against my conscience is neither safe nor salutary….”

“Luther’s appeal to conscience as the highest authority made an extraordinary impression on later generations.  Out of the understandable desire to declare Luther as the forerunner of the Enlightenment, the statement ‘Here I stand, I can do no other’ was reinterpreted as the principle of freedom of conscience.”

“But that is missing the whole point.  Appealing to conscience was common medieval practice; appealing to a ‘free’ conscience that had liberated itself from all bonds would never have occurred to Luther.  Nor did he regard ‘conscience’ as identical with the inescapable voice of God in man.  Conscience is neither neutral nor autonomous: hotly contested by God and the Devil, it is not the autonomous center of man’s personality, it is always guided and is free only once God has freed and ‘captured’ it.  What is new in Luther is the notion of absolute obedience to the Scriptures against any authorities; be they popes or councils….”

“Luther liberated the Christian conscience, liberated it from papal decree and canon law.  But he also took it captive through the Word of God and imposed on it the responsibility to render service to the world.”

Well said.  In Reformation terms, we say that “God alone is Lord of the conscience” (WCF 20.2).  The Lutheran Confessions (I’m thinking primarily of the Augsburg Confession and the Apology of the Augsburg Confession) also explain clearly and frequently that humans or human traditions cannot bind the conscience – only God can by his Word.  Commenting on Acts 15:10 and Galatians 5:1, the Apology says,

“Just as Alexander solved the Gordian knot once for all by cutting it with his sword when he could not disentangle it, so the apostles free consciences from traditions once for all, especially if they are taught to merit justification” (Apology XV).

The above Oberman quote is found on pages 203-204 of Luther: Man Between God and the Devil.

rev shane lems

sunnyside wa

The Pope’s Second Hand Junk

 The following are words from the last few minutes of an address R. C. Sproul gave to the 2008 graduating class of Westminster Seminary California

“[In a sermon late in his life, Luther] wondered, why is it that [despite gospel preaching] people are still spending their money on indulgences and on what Luther called the Pope’s second-hand junk [i.e. relics].  He said, the Pope is like a decoy duck, sitting on a pond with a great bag of tricks, seducing people with this nonsense.  He wondered why it is that people ignore the Word of God and exchange it for Joseph’s pants.”

“…What relevance does that have for us today?  We don’t see the evangelical church of our day rushing to depositories of sacred relics.  Nobody’s looking for Joseph’s pants.  Rather we have invested our time, our energy, and our money in more contemporary ways to improve the gospel.  We look to programs, to Madison Avenue methodologies, to entertainment, to pop psychology, even to the establishment of Starbucks in the church to improve the gospel.”

“Why do we do this?  I think people in the church today are looking for exactly what they were looking for in sixteenth-century Germany.  They went to Trier, they went to Aachen, they went to these relics because they believed the relics had power.  Every pastor wants to have a powerful ministry.  And so we look to the latest program, to the latest method to give us a powerful ministry, forgetting where the Lord God omnipotent has put the power the in the first place.”

“In the first chapter of Romans, Paul introduces himself as a slave of God, one who’s called to be an apostle, and for what mission is he set apart?  For the gospel of God.  IF we look at that text carefully, we will see that what Paul says is that he has not been consecrated to preach a gospel about God, but rather the text means that it is the gospel that belongs to God.  It’s God’s gospel.”

“We will inevitably be tempted by decoy ducks on the pond to seduce us into thinking that we can improve upon the power that is in the gospel.  It is, however, our task to diligently and faithfully preach the Word of God, which Word he has empowered and has promised will never return unto him void.  We don’t need anything more.  We can’t improve on that in any manner.”

This excellent address can be found on pages 188-191 of Always Reformed.

shane lems

A Reformation Parody

According to Roland Bainton (Here I Stand), before Luther went to Worms for the famous trial (April 1521), one tract was floating around as a parody of the Apostle’s Creed.  It gives us a flavor of the “air” surrounding Luther in the early years of the Reformation.  Here is the text of it.  Imagine thousands of these floating around Germany as Luther made his way to the Diet!

I believe in the pope, binder and looser in heaven, earth, and hell, and in Simony, his only son our lord, who was conceived by the canon law and born of the Romish church. Under his power truth suffered, was crucified, dead and buried, and through the ban descended to hell, rose again through the gospel and Paul and was brought to Charles, sitting at his right hand, who in future is to rule over spiritual and worldly things. I believe in the canon law, in the Romish church, in the destruction of faith and of the communion of saints, in indulgences both for the remission of guilt and penalty in purgatory, in the resurrection of the flesh in an Epicurean life, because given to us by the Holy Father, the pope. Amen.”

shane lems

sunnyside wa