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

The Simplicity of Reformed Worship

Historic Reformed churches worship the Lord in simplicity.  That is, Reformed churches do not include ceremonies, festivals, crucifixes, processions, incense, relics, images, vestments, altars, and so forth in their worship services.  Reformed worship simply consists of the Word (read, preached, sung, confessed, prayed) and the sacraments (the Lord’s supper and baptism).

The main reason for the simplicity of Reformed worship is the teaching of Scripture.  The Bible doesn’t command God’s New Covenant people to worship him with all the images and vestments and ceremonies.  The Reformers believed that the external ceremonies and images didn’t elevate the mind to God, but domesticated God and therefore were idolatrous.  Furthermore, they said that all these non-biblical extras in worship throw a fog over the gospel.  Simple worship, therefore, means the gospel will not be obscured.  In 1560 the Reformer Guillaume Farel explained it like this:

The Church should be decorated and adorned with Jesus Christ and the Word of his gospel and his holy sacraments.  This great Sun of Righteousness, Jesus Christ, and the light of his gospel, have nothing to do with our burning torches and our candles and candelabras.  God has instead ordained that by true preaching and by the holy sacraments practiced in their simplicity this light might be manifested and illumine us with all glory.

Similarly, Theodore Beza preached the following in 1585:

[God’s house is not a place] that we enter to see the beautiful shapes of vaults and pillars, or to admire the splendor of gold and silver and precious stones.  Nor is it a place that we visit in order to fill our ears with the signing of choirs and the music of organs.  Rather it is a place where the pure Word of God is clearly preached in the presence of each person, with words of exhortation, consolation, warning, and censure necessary for salvation.

In other words, the Reformers wanted worship to be ordered according to the Word and centered on the gospel.  They wanted to keep it simple so God’s word and his gospel would clearly be front and center.  In that way, he alone would receive all the glory, honor, and praise.  ‘Soli Dei Gloria’ goes hand in hand with Reformed worship!

The above discussion and quotes are found on pages 31-37 of Scott Manetsch’s book, Calvin’s Company of Pastors.

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI

Justification and Double Imputation

Justification: Understanding the Classic Reformed Doctrine Romans 5:19 and 2 Corinthians 5:19-21 are two places in Scripture that teach the twin truths of justification and double imputation: “For as through the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, even so through the obedience of the One the many will be made righteous.” “…He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him” (NASB).  After discussing these passages in some detail, John Fesko writes this in summary:

“In these two passages we see the inextricable link between justification and double imputation.  God does not simply write off sin when he forgives the believer. Rather, God imputes the sin and guilt of the believer to Christ, who has borne the penalty for that sin and guilt upon the cross.  At the same time God imputes the righteousness and perfect obedience of Christ to the believer.  Sever either the remission of sins or the imputation of Christ’s righteousness, and the sinner stands inextricably in a quandary, as the sinner requires not only the forgiveness of sins but also the righteousness and obedience of Christ. If the believer receives only the remission of sins, then justification would not be possible, as God would have to postpone his judgment to await the outcome, to wait and see whether the void of sin would be filled by obedience.”

This, however is not the nature of our justification because when God eliminates our sin he fills the void with the perfect obedience of Jesus Christ, and right then and there the believer, like Abraham, is counted righteous, and indefectibly so because God has imputed the righteousness of Christ to the believer.  This means that the historic Reformed expressions of justification by faith alone are correct.”

John Fesko, Justification: Understanding the Classic Reformed Doctrine (Phillipsburg; P&R, 2008), p 204-205.

shane lems
hammond, wi

Witsius on Law, Gospel, and Antinomianism

Conciliatory or Irenical Animadversions on the Controversies Agitated in Britain  In 1696 at Utrecht, Herman Witsius’ book against antinomianism and neonomianism was first published.  The long title is Conciliatory or Irenical Animadversions on the Controversies Agitated in Britain.  I’m still working through it, and will comment more later.  For now, I want to mention a section I thought helpful – a section on the law and the gospel.

Finally, it is required, in what manner and order the preaching of the law should accompany that of the gospel. To the determination of which question, we must first know, 1) what is understood by the law, and 2) what by the gospel.

1) The law here signifies that part of the Divine word which consists in precepts and prohibitions, with the promise of conferring a reward upon them who obey, and a threatening of punishment to the disobedient.  …Every prescription of duty belongs to the law, as the venerable Voetius, after others, hath inculcated to excellent purpose.

2) The gospel signifies the doctrine of grace, and of the fullest salvation in Christ Jesus, to be received of elect sinners by faith. …If we take the word gospel in a strict sense, as it is the form of the testament of grace, which consists of mere promises, or the absolute exhibition of salvation in Christ, then it properly prescribes nothing as duty, it requires nothing, it commands nothing, no not so much as to believe, trust, hope in the Lord, and the like. But it relates, declares, and signifies to us, what God in Christ promises, what he willeth, and is about to do.

Therefore every prescription of virtues and duties, all exhortations and dissuasions, all reproofs and threatenings also all the promises of a reward in recompense of perfect obedience, belong to the law. But to the gospel appertains whatever can give a sinner the hope of salvation, namely, the doctrine concerning the person, offices, states, and benefits of Jesus Christ, and all the promises wherein is included the pardon of sins, and the annexed possession of grace and glory, to be obtained by faith in him. This is the strictest notion of both words, to which we must attend, in the whole of this disputation.

Witsius later talks about the general or broad definitions of law and gospel and what it means to properly preach the law and the gospel.  Here’s a great note on preaching the gospel:

“I do not conceal, however, that in my judgment, the beginning of the new life is not from the preaching of the law, but of the gospel.”

There’s more to Witsius’ argument – and it is a helpful one!  You can find this book on Logos (click here for a Reformed Reader discount) or via xerox-type copy on Amazon (here).  I’m sure it’s also on the internet somewhere but haven’t checked.  If you’re interested in the topics of law, gospel, justification, sanctification, good works, and so forth from a historic Reformed perspective, Witsius’ book is a good resource:

Herman Witsius, Conciliatory or Irenical Animadversions on the Controversies Agitated in Britain, trans. Thomas Bell (Glasgow: W. Lang, 1807), chapter XVII.

shane lems

Mary, Rome, and the Gospel

In the mid-19th century Charles Chiniquy was a priest in the French Canadian Roman Catholic Church.  To make a very long story short, Chiniquy constantly wrestled with the teachings of Rome since they didn’t mesh with the teachings of Scripture.  After a long and intense spiritual struggle, Chiniquy left Rome for the Reformation.  The unabridged edition of this book is quite long and detailed, but it is worth the effort.  (FYI, you can find it on Kindle for less than $2.00.)  I’m reading through the unabridged edition, and though I don’t agree with it all, it has been a fascinating read; it’s not one I’ll set down and forget about.

One section that stands out for me is where Chiniquy recounted a sermon about Mary that he preached when he was a Catholic priest.  (Speaking of Mary and Rome, here’s a summary of Rome’s teaching on prayer to Mary.)  Chiniquy’s sermon went like this (edited/abridged):

“I was sincerely devoted to the Virgin Mary.  Nothing seemed to me more natural than to pray to her, and rely on her protection.  The object of my sermon was to show that Jesus Christ cannot refuse any of the petitions presented to him by his mother; that she has always obtained favors she asked he Son, Jesus, to grant to her devotees. Of course, my address was more sentimental than Scripture, as it is the style among the priests of Rome.  But I was honest; and I sincerely believed what I said.”

“The Gospel says, in reference to his parents, …’he was subject unto them (Lk. 2:51).  What a grand and shining revelation we have in these few short words: Jesus was subject unto Mary!  Is it not written, that Jesus is the same today, as he was yesterday, and will be forever (Heb. 13:8)?  He has not changed.  He is still the Son of Mary… in his divine humanity, he is still subject unto Mary.  This is why our holy Church, which is the pillar and fountain of Truth, invites you and me, today, to put an unbounded confidence in her intercession.  Remembering that Jesus has always granted the petitions presented to him by his divine mother, let us put our petitions in her hands, if we want to receive the favours we are in need of.”

Chiniquy says quite a bit more about devotion and prayers to Mary in this sermon.  At one point, he says that because Jesus is so holy and we are so sinful, we cannot go directly to Christ.  Therefore, he preached, we should go to Mary – because she is the mediator and intercessor between sinners and Christ.  Chiniquy even quoted Pope Gregory XVI: “Mary is the only hope of sinners.”

Soon after he preached this sermon, Chiniquy was reading through the Gospels where he found accounts of Jesus rebuking Mary and the stories where Jesus says his mother and brothers are those who do the will of God (e.g. John 2:4, Mark 3:34-35, etc.).  These texts pierced his conscience like a sword, and he felt incredibly guilty (to the point of tears) for preaching lies:

“A voice, the voice of my conscience, whose thunders were like the voice of a thousand Niagaras was telling me: “Do you not see that you have preached a sacrilegious lie this morning, when, from the pulpit, you said to your ignorant and deluded people, that Jesus always granted the petitions of His mother, Mary? Are you not ashamed to deceive yourself, and deceive your poor countrymen with such silly falsehoods?  …Do you not see you have presented a blasphemous lie, every time you said that Jesus always granted the petitions of His mother?”

Chiniquy took his concerns to a bishop who could not answer his questions, but simply directed him to the early Church fathers.  Chiniquy then looked deep into the fathers, but did not find them advocating the worship of or prayers to Mary.  He continued to wrestle, thinking that he was able to put up with Rome’s several errors more than Protestantism’s many errors.  Later he came to the conclusion that there were more errors in Rome than in Protestantism.  Therefore he left Rome and her unbiblical superstitions, unchristian traditions, and distortions of the gospel.  By the way, Rome hasn’t changed her position on Mary.  The Reformation happened for a reason!

The above quotes can be found in chapter 46 of Charles Chiniquy, Fifty Years in the Church of Rome.

shane lems
hammond, wi