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 “Old Mire” of Works-Righteousness (Luther)

  Although I appreciate almost any sermon by Martin Luther, there are some that brilliantly stand out to me. One of those is a sermon called “Concerning the Sum of the Christian Life.”  It’s a sermon on 1 Timothy 1:5-7:  “But the goal of our instruction is love from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith. For some men, straying from these things, have turned aside to fruitless discussion, wanting to be teachers of the Law, even though they do not understand either what they are saying or the matters about which they make confident assertions” (NASB).

At one point in the sermon when Luther was discussing “sincere faith” he contrasted faith in Christ to works of the law.  The law, he wrote, drags us to the judgment seat of God, shows all the ways we’ve disobeyed, and calls down the sentence of the Judge.  The gospel, however, is the fact that Christ is our mercy seat, and through faith alone in him alone, we find forgiveness and the favor of God.  Luther said that even though we might understand this reality, it’s very difficult to let go of the law and our works in order to hold only to Christ for acceptance and peace with God.  Here’s how he explained it:

Let him that will, try and enter upon the beginning of this matter, and he shall soon see and experience, how hard and difficult a matter it is for a man who has passed all his life in works of great holiness, to leave the whole and cleave with his whole heart through faith unto this Mediator only.

I myself have now preached the Gospel for nearly twenty years, and have assiduously devoted myself to reading and writing upon faith, and may justly seem to have emerged from this false opinion. Yet even now, at times, I feel that old mire sticking to my heart; under the influence of which, I would willingly so act towards God, as to take a something with me in my hand to him, for the sake of which he should give me grace according to my righteousness. And scarcely can I be brought to commit myself with all confidence to mere grace only. And yet it must be so, and cannot be otherwise. The mercy-seat must stand and prevail alone (seeing that he has set himself before us as the only refuge) or no one shall ever be saved.

…And I have no other consolation, no other help or hope of salvation, than that Christ my mercy-seat, who never sinned, who never was defiled with iniquity, who died for me and rose again, now sits at the right hand of the Father, covers me with the overshadowing wings of his protection; so that I doubt not, that through his benefits and intercession, I am safe before God, and delivered from all wrath and terror of judgment. Thus, faith sets nothing before itself to trust in rashly, but remains pure in all things by resting in Christ alone.

 Martin Luther, “Sermon VIII: Concerning the Sum of the Christian Life,” in Select Works of Martin Luther: An Offering to the Church of God in “The Last Days,” trans. Henry Cole, vol. I (London: T. Bensley, 1826), 542.

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

Rome, the Radical Reformation, and Exegesis (Muller)

 Among other things, the Protestant Reformation was brought about by a return to Scripture and it’s teachings.  Obviously, this is a huge discussion and it’s even hard to know where to begin when discussing this topic.  What got me thinking of this today is a paragraph I read in Richard Muller’s volume on “Holy Scripture” from his four-volume Post-Reformation Reformed Dogmatics set.  I’ll put the quote below (I broke it up to make it easier to read).  Notice Muller’s excellent comments on the radical Reformation.

The Reformers, operating at least initially in the context of traditional Catholicism, were able to adjust and revise certain key doctrinal points—like the doctrines of justification and the sacraments—by recourse to exegesis, while at the same time assuming the churchly stability of the larger body of doctrine.

(It was one of the functions of the radical Reformation, perhaps most forcefully in its antitrinitarian moments, to test this assumption and to demonstrate the impossibility of holding on to the larger body of traditional dogmatic formulations when the tradition as a whole was set aside.)

The Protestant orthodox, however, were left with the task of reconstructing a churchly and confessionally governed dogmatics in the context of a hermeneutical revolution. Doctrines like the Trinity, the Person of Christ, the fall and original sin, which had developed over centuries and with the assistance of an easy mingling of theological and exegetical traditions and of an exegetical method designed to find more in a text than what was given directly by a grammatical reading, would now have to be exposited and exegetically justified—all in the face of a Roman Catholic polemic against the sole authority of Scripture as defined by the Reformers over against the tradition and the churchly magisterium, a polemic made all the more telling by the presence of the teachings of the Radicals.

 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), 443–444.

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI, 54002

Paul or the Papists? (Latimer)

The Reformation and the Irrepressible Word of God: Interpretation, Theology, and Practice

Hugh Latimer was a 16th-century English preacher who came out of the Roman Catholic church to join the Reformation because of its biblical foundation and emphases. The following is a selection from a 1552 sermon by Hugh Latimer which contrasts the Roman Catholic view of salvation with the Reformation view.   You can read more about it in chapter three of The Reformation and the Irrepressible Word of God.

The papists, which are the very enemies of Christ, make him to be a Savior after their own fantasy, and not after the word of God; wherein he declares himself, and set out and opened his mind unto us. They follow, I say, not the Scripture, which is the very leader to God, but regard more their own inventions; and therefore they make him a Savior after this fashion. They consider how there shall be, after the general resurrection, a general judgment, where all mankind shall be gathered together to receive their judgment: then shall Christ, say the papists, sit as a judge, having power over heaven and earth: and all those that have done well in this world, and have steadfastly prayed upon their beads, and have gone a pilgrimage, etc., and so with their good works have deserved heaven and everlasting life,—those, say they, that have merited with their own good works, shall be received of Christ, and admitted to everlasting salvation.

As for the other, that have not merited everlasting life, [they] shall be cast into everlasting darkness: for Christ will not suffer wicked sinners to be taken into heaven, but rather receive those which deserve. And so it appeareth, that they esteem our Savior not to be a Redeemer, but only a judge; which shall give sentence over the wicked to go into everlasting fire, and the good he will call to everlasting felicity.

And this is the opinion of the papists, as concerning our Savior; which opinion is most detestable, abominable, and filthy in the sight of God. For it diminishes the passion of Christ; it taketh away the power and strength of the same passion; it defileth the honor and glory of Christ; it forsakes and denies Christ and all his benefits. For if we shall be judged after our own deservings, we shall be damned everlastingly.

Therefore, learn here, every good Christian, to abhor this most detestable and dangerous poison of the papists, which go about to thrust Christ out of his seat: learn here, I say, to leave all papistry, and to stick only to the word of God, which teaches thee that Christ is not only a judge, but a justifier; a giver of salvation, and a taker away of sin; for he purchased our salvation through his painful death, and we receive the same through believing in him; as St Paul teaches us, saying, Gratis estis justificati per fidem, “Freely ye are justified through faith.” In these words of St. Paul, all merits and estimation of works are excluded and clean taken away. For if it were for our works’ sake, then it were not freely: but St. Paul saith, “freely.”

Whether will you now believe St. Paul, or the papists? …

-Hugh Latimer (see p. 80-81 of The Irrepressible Word of God).

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

Crespin, the Reformation, Martyrs, and Scripture (Manetsch)

The Reformation and the Irrepressible Word of God: Interpretation, Theology, and Practice In his contribution to The Reformation and the Irrepressible Word of God, Scott Manetsch spends some time discussing a book by Jean Crespin.  Crespin was a French Protestant who found refuge in Geneva where he set up a printing press around 1550.  He printed all sorts of Reformation material, including commentaries, Bibles, catechisms, and so on.  One of his more popular publications was something he penned himself: The Book of Martyrs.  It was updated and published thirteen times until its final edition in 1570.  As the title suggests, The Book of Martyrs is a compendium of stories about Protestants being killed for their faith during the Reformation.

We can learn a lot from Crespin’s book.  One of the major things we can learn from The Book of Martyrs is, as Manetsch notes, that “for sixteenth-century Protestants, the Bible was the people’s book.”  Manetsch gives several examples from Crespin’s book that highlight the centrality of Scripture in the Reformation.   One specific example that stuck out for me was the story of Jean Rabec’s trial and martyrdom:

The trial of Jean Rabec provides a good example of how Protestant martyrs appealed to Scripture’s authority against their Catholic opponents.  Rabec had once been a Franciscan monk who, having tasted evangelical teaching, renounced his monastic vows and relocated to Lausanne to study theology at the city’s Reformed academy.  After completing his studies, he returned to the city of Angers as a missionary to share with his fellow countrymen ‘the inestimable treasure of the Lord’s grace’ and, if possible, to ‘rescue from the abyss of hell those who were perishing.’

In August of 1555, Rabec was arrested and imprisoned when he was caught reading aloud the first edition of Crespin’s martyrology to a group of onlookers.  During the long trial that followed, Rabec was rigorously questioned by episcopal judges as to his views regarding the intercession of the saints, the Virgin Mary, purgatory, the pope, auricular confession, the Mass, transubstantiation, baptism, Catholic traditions, and monastic vows.

From his prison cell, Rabec wrote a precious letter describing his responses to his interrogation.  When asked about praying to the saints, he responded that the practice was ‘not acceptable, inasmuch as it cannot be proven from Scripture.’  When asked about papal authority, he answered: ‘I do not believe that there is any other head of the Church than Jesus Christ, inasmuch as Scripture proposes no other.’  Regarding the doctrine of Mary’s immaculate conception, Rabec was even more direct: ‘You have as the foundation of your [belief] an explanation based in the human brain; as for me, I have the Word of God.  Judge who is the most wise, God or you; and what is most certain, his judgment or yours?’  At one point in the trial, Rabec paraphrased the famous statement by Luther: ‘I would place more value in the words of a child who has the Word of God than the rest of the whole world who does not have it.’

After months of intense interrogations and cruel treatment, Rabec was finally excommunicated as a heretic, defrocked, and sentenced to death by burning….

Scott Manetsch, “I Have the Word of God” in The Reformation and the Irrepresible Word of God, p. 28, 30, 32.

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI, 54002