Sola Scriptura: What It Isn’t (Muller)

Product Details The Reformation teaching of sola Scriptura (Scripture alone) does not mean that the Christian alone reads the Bible alone and interprets it alone.  Sola Scriptura does not at all mean we should be lone rangers when studying, interpreting, and applying God’s Word.  According to sola Scriptura private devotions aren’t bad, but private interpretation is.

And historically speaking we probably shouldn’t use Luther on trial at Worms as an illustration of what sola Scriptura means unless we give it a fuller contextual explanation.  The Diet of Worms wasn’t at all “Luther alone and his Bible alone against the Roman Catholic Church.”

Here’s how Richard Muller describes it.

“…It is…entirely anachronistic to view the sola scriptura of Luther and his contemporaries as a declaration that all of theology ought to be constructed anew, without reference to the church’s tradition of interpretation, by the lonely exegete confronting the naked text.”

“It is equally anachronistic to assume that Scripture functioned for the Reformers like a set of numbered facts or propositions suitable for use as ready-made solutions to any and all questions capable of arising in the course of human history.  Both the language of sola scriptura and the actual use of the text of Scripture by the Reformers can be explained only in terms of the questions of authority and interpretation posed by the developments of the late fifteenth and early sixteenth centuries.  Even so, close study of the actual exegetical results of the Reformers manifests strong interpretive and doctrinal continuities with the exegetical results of the [early church] fathers and the medieval doctors.”

Richard Muller, Post Reformation Reformed Dogmatics vol. 2 p. 63-64.

(This is a repost from July 2013)

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

Advertisements

Righteous in Christ, Not Ourselves (Calvin)

Tracts and Treatises of John Calvin (8 vols.) In volume 3 of Tracts and Treatises you can find Calvin’s 1547 critical commentary on the canons and decrees of the Council of Trent.  It’s an excellent resource that not only sheds theological light on the central aspects of the Reformation, it’s also a wonderful and edifying defense of the solas and the doctrines of grace.  Here are some of Calvin’s helpful comments on the distinction between justification and sanctification:

It is not to be denied, however, that the two things, Justification and Sanctification, are constantly conjoined and cohere; but from this it is erroneously inferred that they are one and the same. For example: The light of the sun, though never unaccompanied with heat, is not to be considered heat. Where is the man so undiscerning as not to distinguish the one from the other? We acknowledge, then, that as soon as any one is justified, renewal also necessarily follows: and there is no dispute as to whether or not Christ sanctifies all whom he justifies. It were to rend the gospel, and divide Christ himself, to attempt to separate the righteousness which we obtain by faith from repentance.

The whole dispute is as to The Cause of Justification. The Fathers of Trent pretend that it is twofold, as if we were justified partly by forgiveness of sins and partly by spiritual regeneration; or, to express their view in other words, as if our righteousness were composed partly of imputation, partly of quality.

I maintain that it is one, and simple, and is wholly included in the gratuitous acceptance of God. I besides hold that it is without us [outside of us], because we are righteous in Christ only. Let them produce evidence from Scripture, if they have any, to convince us of their doctrine. I, while I have the whole Scripture supporting me, will now be satisfied with this one reason, viz., that when mention is made of the righteousness of works, the law and the gospel place it [righteousness of works] in the perfect obedience of the law; and as that nowhere appears, they leave us no alternative but to flee to Christ alone, that we may be regarded as righteous in him, not being so in ourselves. Will they produce to us one passage which declares that begun newness of life is approved by God as righteousness either in whole or in part? But if they are devoid of authority, why may we not be permitted to repudiate the figment of partial justification which they here obtrude [impose]?

…I, on the contrary, while I admit that we are never received into the favour of God without being at the same time regenerated to holiness of life, contend that it is false to say that any part of righteousness (justification) consists in quality, or in the habit which resides in us, and that we are righteous (justified) only by gratuitous acceptance. For when the Apostle teaches that “by the obedience of one many were made righteous,” (Rom. 6:19,) he sufficiently shews, if I mistake not, that the righteousness wanting in ourselves is borrowed elsewhere. …For however small the portion attributed to our work, to that extent faith will waver, and our whole salvation be endangered.

 John Calvin and Hendry Beveridge, Tracts Relating to the Reformation, vol. 3 (Edinburgh: Calvin Translation Society, 1851), 115–116.

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

Rome and Reading Scripture (Muller)

Post-Reformation Reformed Dogmatics (4 vols.) It’s very hard for most  Christians in the West to imagine what it would be like if they didn’t have a Bible at home to read.  It’s even harder to imagine the church telling us not to read the Bible and not wanting it to be translated into common languages.  This was the very situation before the Reformation.  The Roman Catholic church neither wanted common people to read Scriptures nor did Rome want the Scriptures to be translated into the common language of the people.  Thankfully the Reformation happened!  Here’s a paragraph about this topic from Richard Muller’s PRRD volume on Scripture (volume two):

Against the Roman objections that lay reading of the vernacular Scriptures is detrimental to the life and teaching of the church and that such reading is hardly necessary to salvation, the Reformed respond that the problem of abuse in no way undermines the command of God to read and study the Scriptures.  …The reading of Scripture is enjoined on those who are able, for the sake of strengthening them in their faith and shielding them against the enemies of God. What is more, the Roman claim that the reading of the Scripture by laity breeds heresy falls short of the mark inasmuch as heresy is founded not on reading per se, but on mistaken reading—and the careful, informed, and reverent reading of Scripture will preserve the faithful from the errors of the heretics. As for the argument that “holy things are not given to dogs,” it is quite clear from the text (Matt. 7:6) that Christ does not here refer to the reading of Scripture and does not intend to designate the children of God as dogs—rather he means that the symbols of divine grace are not to be given to the unfaithful.

Richard A. Muller, Post-Reformation Reformed Dogmatics: The Rise and Development of Reformed Orthodoxy; Volume 2: The Cognitive Foundation of Theology, 2nd ed. (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2003), 467–468.

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI

Luther on the Term “Free Will”

If you know a few things about Martin Luther, you probably know that he wrote Bondage of the Will in response to Erasmus’ book about the freedom of the will (Discussion Concerning Free Will).  Luther argued from Scripture that man, since Adam’s fall, is born in sin, dead in sin, and in bondage to sin.  This means because his nature is corrupt and his will is sinful, an unregenerate person cannot obey and please God.  A bad tree brings forth bad fruit.  Luther did not like the term “free will” since it implies that fallen man is free to choose what is good and pleasing to God:

“This false idea of ‘free-will’ is a real threat to salvation, and a delusion fraught with the most perilous consequences.”

In other words, if man’s will even plays a little part in salvation, it robs God of glory and exalts man in a very unbiblical way.  Luther did make a minor concession, however.  He did say if we want to keep the term “free will,” we should use it differently than the semi-Pelagians or Pelagians use it:

“If we do not want to drop this term altogether – which would really be the safest and most Christian thing to do – we may still in good faith teach people to use it to credit man with ‘free-will’ in respect, not of what is above him, but of what is below him.  That is to say, man should realize that in regard to his money and possessions he has a right to use them, to do or to leave undone, according to his own ‘free-will’ – though that very ‘free-will’ is overruled by the free-will of God alone, according to his own pleasure.  However, with regard to God, and in all that bears on salvation or damnation, he has no ‘free-will’, but is a captive, prisoner and bondslave, either to the will of God, or to the will of Satan.”

Martin Luther, Bondage of the Will, p. 106-7.

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI

Women of the Reformation (VanDoodewaard)

The Protestant Reformation wasn’t simply a male movement.  Many Christian women were also heavily involved in the Reformation.  In fact, a new book called Reformation Women gives readers a glimpse into the lives of 12 various women God used to help bring the church back to a clearer understanding of the gospel.  In just over 120 pages this book is a great introduction to the lives of some very solid Christian women who were a blessing to many people in 16th century Europe.

I have to admit that at first I thought this book would be quite repetitive.  I was guessing that each woman’s life would sound similar: they were married to a Reformed husband and they did a few things to help out.  However, this book isn’t repetitive at all.  These women had lives that were quite different.  For example, Anna Adlischweiler spent much of her youth in a convent since her family was very poor.  After Anna heard Ulrich Zwingli preach, she was converted and later married Henry Bullinger.  Marguerite de Navarre’s story is not at all the same.  She was part of a noble family.  Her brother Francois was the king of France.  Marguerite used her position to help the cause of the Reformation in France.  These are just two examples of two very different accounts of Reformation women.  And it is true: these women were quite brave, bold, and full of faith!

I appreciated this book because it was well-written, easy to follow, and very interesting.  The introduction and conclusion are very helpful in that they give reasons why it’s important to learn about women of the Reformation and lists several things we can learn from them.  I’ll be recommending this book when people ask if I have any ideas for a women’s book club at church.  But this book isn’t just for women!  It’s for anyone who wants to learn about Reformation history and be edified and encouraged in the faith at the same time.

Rebecca VanDoodewaard, Reformation Women (Grand Rapids: Reformation Heritage Books, 2017).

(This book was provided to me for review by “Cross Focused Reviews”; I was not compelled to write a positive review.)

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI

Contribute to Our Salvation? (Luther)

Product DetailsThe following quote by Martin Luther, from The Bondage of the Will, is one of the main points of the Reformation, the biblical truth that the salvation of sinners belongs completely and wholly to the Lord:

“A man cannot be thoroughly humbled till he realizes that his salvation is utterly beyond his own powers, counsels, efforts, will and works, and depends absolutely on the will, counsel, pleasure and work of Another – God alone.  As long as he is persuaded that he can make even the smallest contribution to his salvation, he remains self-confident and does not utterly despair of himself, and so is not humbled before God; but plans out for himself (or at least hopes and longs for) a position, an occasion, a work, which shall bring him final salvation.  But he who is out of doubt that his destiny depends entirely on the will of God despairs of himself entirely, chooses nothing for himself, but waits for God to work in him; and such a man is very near to grace for his salvation.”

“…So these truths are published for the sake of the elect, that they may be humbled and brought down to nothing, and so saved.  The rest of men resist this humiliation; indeed, they condemn the teaching of self-despair; they want a little something left they can do for themselves.  Secretly they continue proud, and enemies of the grace of God.  This, I repeat, is one reason – that those who fear God might in humility comprehend, claim and receive his gracious promise.” Martin Luther, Bondage of the Will, II.vii.

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI

A Truth Worth Dividing The Church (Sproul)

Are We Together?: A Protestant Analyzes Roman Catholicism (Hardcover) At the heart of historic, confessional Reformed teaching and preaching is the biblical doctrine of justification by faith alone.  An essential part of justification sola fide is the truth of imputation.  R. C. Sproul’s words on this doctrine are outstanding and edifying.

“If any word was at the center of the firestorm of the Reformation controversy and remains central to the debate even in our day, it is imputation.  …We cannot really understand what the Reformation was about without understanding the central importance of this concept.”

“…If any statement summarizes and capture the essence of the Reformation view, it is Luther’s famous Latin formula ‘simul justus et peccator.’  ‘Simil’ is the word from which we get the English ‘simultaneous;’ it means ‘at the same time.’  ‘Justus’ is the Latin word for ‘just’ or ‘righteous.’  ‘Et’ simply means ‘and.’  ‘Peccator’ means ‘sinner.’  So, with this formula, – ‘at the same time just and sinner’ – Luther was saying that in our justification, we are at the same time righteous and sinful.  …He was saying that, in one sense, we are just.  In another sense, we are sinners.  In and of ourselves, under God’s scrutiny, we still have sin.  But by God’s imputation of the righteousness of Jesus Christ to our accounts, we are considered just.”

“This is the very heart of the gospel.  In order to get into heaven, will I be judged by my righteousness or by the righteousness of Christ?  If I have to trust in my righteousness to get into heaven, I must completely and utterly despair of any possibility of ever being redeemed.  But when we see that the righteousness that is ours by faith is the perfect righteousness of Christ, we see how glorious is the good news of the gospel.  The good news is simply this: I can be reconciled to God.  I can be justified, not on the basis of what I do, but on the basis of what has been accomplished for me by Christ.”

“Of course, Protestantism really teaches a double imputation.  Our sin is imputed to Jesus and his righteousness is imputed to us.  In this twofold transaction, we see that God does not compromise his integrity in providing salvation for his people.  Rather, he punishes sin fully after it has been imputed to Jesus.  This is why he is able to be both ‘just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus’ as Paul writes in Romans 3:26. So my sin goes to Jesus and his righteousness comes to me.”

“This is a truth worth dividing the church.”

“This is the article on which the church stands or falls, because it is the article on which we all stand or fall.”

When you hear this glorious truth preached on Sunday rejoice and be thankful for the gospel of grace!  If you don’t hear it preached, lovingly talk to your pastor and elders and discuss it.  It’s not a side issue, nor is it a dry doctrine that is impractical for our daily living.  The doctrine of justification sola fide gives us firm comfort, peace, and a grateful heart of obedience to the Lord.

The above Sproul quote is found in Are We Together? A Protestant Analyzes Roman Catholicism (Sanford: Reformation Trust, 2012), 43-4.

(This is a reblog from April 2013)

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI