Scripture Alone

“Out of love and zeal for truth and the desire to bring it to light…” Martin Luther

Martin Luther’s problem with the Roman Catholic Church was not merely with its leadership’s moral laxity, which he saw firsthand during his pilgrimage to Rome. Rather, Luther’s primary problem was with the church’s doctrine. He saw the church’s traditions as the source of its corruption.

What was, therefore, the solution to this dilemma? Luther believed it was a commitment solely to the Scriptures as the ultimate authority to which the church must submit. Luther believed that the Scriptures alone, Sola Scriptura, was the only infallible guide in matters of faith and practice.

Great importance is placed on Luther’s posting of his Ninety-Five Theses, as it should be. But the years following this historical act would also prove significant for the movement known as the Protestant Reformation.

Catholic theologians invited Luther to two debates in order to ultimately indict him for heresy against the church. The first was in Heidelberg. The second was in Augsburg. A third debate would follow in 1519 in the town of Leipzig. In all three, Luther not only defended the doctrine of Sola Scriptura, but also defended the doctrine of justification by faith alone, Sola Fide, in Jesus Christ alone, Solus Christus, as the only way sinners could be forgiven of their sins and be saved by God through His sovereign grace alone, Sola Gratia.

The Catholic theologians, as expected, accused Luther of being a heretic, as they did his predecessors John Wycliffe and Jon Hus. Luther’s response was as follows: “I am a Christian theologian; and I am bound, not only to assert, but to defend the truth with my blood and death. I want to believe freely and be a slave to the authority of no one, whether council, university, or pope.”

The breach between Luther and the Catholic Church was set. Even though many of Luther’s friends abandoned him, he refused to back down from his conviction that the Scripture was the supreme authority. Luther remained strong and courageous (Joshua 1:1-9). May we have the same commitment to truth as Martin did.

Soli deo Gloria!

Peace, Purity & Unity

“Out of love and zeal for truth and the desire to bring it to light…” Martin Luther

Burk Parsons, co-pastor of St. Andrews Chapel in Sanford, Fla., has some great insights regarding Martin Luther’s act on October 31, 1517.

“On October 31, 1517, Martin Luther nailed his Ninety-Five Theses to the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg, Germany. He did so for the sake of the peace, purity and unity of the church. His first thesis called the church to genuine and continual repentance, and among his last theses he called the church to true peace through Jesus Christ.”

“Luther wasn’t a rebellious schismatic who sought to lead a revolt against Rome; he was an ardent herald and defender of the gospel who, due to his obstinate and unwavering faithfulness, drew Rome’s ire in the midst of its revolt against the truth of the gospel, the gospel and the true church. Luther wasn’t a divider, he was a peacemaker. For there to be true peace and true unity, there must first be truth, and truth divides before it can unite. Truth must conquer before it can liberate.”

Parsons continues by explaining that, “Luther did not divide the church—Rome divided the church by infusing the church with the false doctrines of men. The Reformer’s didn’t leave Rome – Rome left them by leaving the truth, the gospel and the church. The Reformers sought reform in Rome, and in return, Rome sought their heads. Rome divided the true church from the false church, and kicked out the true church.”

The Apostle Paul expressed similar concerns to the elders of the Ephesian church shortly before he set sail for Jerusalem. He said, 28 Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood. 29 I know that after my departure fierce wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; 30 and from among your own selves will arise men speaking twisted things, to draw away the disciples after them. 31 Therefore be alert, remembering that for three years I did not cease night or day to admonish every one with tears. 32 And now I commend you to God and to the word of his grace, which is able to build you up and to give you the inheritance among all those who are sanctified” (Acts 20:28-32).

The true church of Jesus Christ must not only be on guard against its enemies from without or in the world, but also on guard against its enemies from within the church. The battle for truth continues in our day, as it did in the days of Paul and Martin Luther. Therefore, let us be like the Bereans, who received the Word of god with all eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see what was true. (Acts 17:10-11). Be on your guard, beloved.

Soli deo Gloria!

A Love & Zeal for Truth.

“Out of love and zeal for truth and the desire to bring it to light…” Martin Luther

As the church as a whole, and in Wittenberg in particular, anticipated the observance of All Saints Day on November 1, 1517, indulgence vendors were in full force.

So on All-Hallows Eve, October 31, 1517, Martin Luther posed his Ninety-Five Thesis to the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg. Martin had no intention of breaking from the church by his actions. Rather, he was hoping to inspire debate within the church and in the community. Posting such a notice on the church door was a common practice. He did not realize that he would unwittingly tap into a growing resentment among the people that the church cared more about money than it did them.

The preamble to the Ninety-Five Thesis says, “Out of love and zeal for truth and the desire to bring it to light, the following theses will be publically discussed at Wittenberg under the chairmanship of the reverend Martin Luther.”

Thesis 1 stressed the importance of repentance and that it was God’s will the believers life be one of repentance. Thesis 32 declared that those who believed that they were saved because of the payment of an indulgence would be eternally damned to hell along with those who taught such heresy. Thesis 79 declared that it was blasphemous to compare the papal coat of arms or a human cross as equal in worth to the cross of Christ. Thesis 82 questioned why the pope did not open all of purgatory and allow the people to enter heaven? The answer was that the pope wanted people to continue to contribute money to the St. Peter’s Basilica’s building program, and selling indulgences was a way to do it.

Luther originally wrote the Ninety-Five Thesis in Latin. However, university students copied the theses and had them translated into German. Copies were then made, thanks to Gutenberg’s printing press, and distributed throughout Germany. Within months, Luther’s objections were the talk, not only of one town, but in many towns.

The church’s leadership were not happy. Pope Leo X said, “Luther is a drunken German. He will feel different when he is sober.” Rather than address Luther’s concerns, the pope dismissed them and this German monk. The fires of the Reformation began to blaze even higher.

Luther found himself in the middle of an ecclesiastical firestorm. It soon blazed beyond anything Martin could have imagined. The controversy Luther created eventually addressed not only the particular subject of indulgences, but ultimately how sinners were justified before God and what by authoritative, objective standard of truth ruled the individual believer along with the church?

While justification by faith may have been the instrumental cause of the Reformation, the foundational issue was the Bible being the sole and ultimate authority binding both Christian and church. The battle continues to this day.

More to come.

Soli deo Gloria!

Christ Alone!

The church as a whole, and in Wittenberg in particular, anticipated the observance of All Saints Day on November 1, 1517. Therefore, indulgence vendors were in full force. The most notorious of these peddlers was Johann Tetzel.

When entering a town, Tetzel proceeded with a great deal of pomp and circumstance. A cross bearing the pope’s official declaration was held high on a gold-embroidered cushion. The cross, or crucifix, was then planted in the town square, and then Tetzel would begin his sermon. An excerpt follows:

“Consider the salvation of your souls and those of your departed loved ones. Visit the holy cross erected before you. Listen to the voices of your dear dead relatives and friends beseeching you and saying, ‘Pity us, pity us. We are in dire torment from which you can redeem us for a pittance.’ Do you not wish to? Open you ears. Hear the father saying to his son, the mother to her daughter, ‘We bore you, nourished you, brought you up, left you our fortunes, and you are so cruel and hard that now you are not willing for so little to set us free. Will you let us lie here in flames? Will you delay our promised glory’?”

There was a little song which was composed in light of Tetzel’s motivational speaking. It went like this: “As soon as the coin in the coffer rings, another soul from purgatory springs.”

Talk about a guilt trip! What was a person to do in such an atmosphere but to comply and by so doing alleviate the suffering of their departed dead, as well as their guilt. The tragedy is that this does not, and cannot, happen. There is no such thing as purgatory, but only the promise of heaven for the believer, and the promise of hell for the unbeliever.

How many candles have been lit, and prayers said and monies given for the deliverance of the dead? Tetzel even had people believing that the cross he brought to a town square was of equal value to the cross Jesus Christ bore to Calvary.

As far as Martin Luther was concerned, he had had enough.

I encourage you to rest in the knowledge that in Christ alone, we have peace with God (Romans 5:1) by grace alone, through faith alone. Reject any notion that forgiveness can be purchased by anything other than the precious blood of Christ (I Peter 1:17-18).

Soli deo Gloria!

Indulgences

The growing controversy between Martin Luther and the Roman Catholic Church in 1517 centered on the abuse of the church’s sale of indulgences. What exactly are indulgences? What did the indulgence buyer receive? Are indulgences still sold by the Catholic Church today?

Indulgences were then, and are now, part of the sacrament of penance within the Roman Catholic Church. While there were many unbiblical practices observed by the church in the 16th century, the practice and abuse of indulgences were the focal point of Martin Luther’s ire.

Indulgences are the payment of a gift to the church in order for the payer to avoid the temporal consequences of their sin. By paying an amount of money, the church leader or priest would remove the temporal consequence the individual could face because of a sinful act on their part. Consequently, the more that was paid the more effects of sin could be avoided.

The indulgence could be applied not only to the living and also to the dead in purgatory. One pastor explains, “Notice that the definition says that it (the indulgence) can also be applied to the dead because, after all, purgatory itself is seen as temporal penalty for sin. Although most people at death are too good to go to hell, they nonetheless are not good enough to go to heaven. Therefore, in the fires of purgatory, their sins are purged and they are made ready for heaven.”

Indulgences remain a most important sacrament in the Catholic Church today. While only God can forgive sin according to Catholic theology, the church continues to teach that an indulgence can cancel the temporal penalty the sinner may incur.

Nowhere in the Scriptures do we find a teaching of, or a validation for, indulgences. Rather, the Bible teaches the avoidance of sin altogether, even its appearance (I Thessalonians 5:22). Believers are to confess their sins to God (I John 1:9) in order to have intimate fellowship with God restored. However, even though sin can be forgiven, its consequences may remain. Avoidance of sinful behavior on the part of the believer is the key, not the purchase of an indulgence.

The increasing sale of indulgences were to become the focal point of Ninety-Five Thesis or criticisms Martin Luther would write and post about the 16th century Romans Catholic Church. His thoughts would ignite the fires of Reformation.

The passionate pursuit for biblical truth spurring Martin Luther should also spur ourselves to ever remain committed to the Scriptures alone as our final and supreme authority.

Soli deo Gloria!

Obsessed With Biblical Truth

Martin Luther was a man who was all in. That is to say that when he was committed to something, whether it was becoming a monk or striving to make himself acceptable to God by good works, he gave his all. Therefore, it should not be surprising that when young Martin was converted by the pure, biblical gospel of grace alone, through faith alone in Jesus Christ alone, he became a man obsessed with biblical truth like never before.

God brought Luther to the realization that God’s saving grace was mediated to the believing sinner by faith in the finished work of Jesus Christ. The medieval Roman Catholic Church’s answer was that grace came only through the church’s sacraments which included the sale of indulgences.

In his continuing quest for a greater understanding of God’s Word, and the communication of such as a professor of theology and a lecturer, it was only a matter of time before Luther’s passion for the biblical gospel, and the traditions of the Catholic Church, would clash. This growing tension between the two came to a head during the summer of 1517.

The Catholic Church was dominated by religious relics, centuries of traditions and unbiblical superstitions in 1517. It remains so today, five hundred years later.

In 1513, Leo X became pope following the death of his predecessor Julius II. Leo wanted to make Rome the artistic and creative center of the Western world. In hiring such artists as Michelangelo, Raphael, Leonardo da Vinci and others, Leo consequently plunged the church into even deeper debt than what he inherited from Pope Julius.

Pope Leo needed money specifically to pay for the new St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome. Albert, archbishop of Magdeburg, wanted to also become bishop of Mainz. However, since holding two or more bishoprics was unlawful according to the church’s laws, Albert needed a papal dispensation or exemption, from the pope. Pope Leo was willing to grant such an exemption for a price.

Therefore, Albert took out a loan and agreed to give half the money to Pope Leo. This gave the papacy much needed cash flow. In return, Pope Leo granted that indulgences could be sold in Albert’s territories, whereupon Leo and Albert would split the proceeds. Therefore, Pope Leo would continue to receive the money he needed to pay for St. Peter’s, while Albert would have a steady income of cash to repay the bank. If you think this was rather unethical, imagine what Martin Luther thought.

This growing controversy became centered on the abuse of the church’s sale of indulgences. What exactly are indulgences? What did the buyer receive? Are indulgences still sold by the Catholic Church today? More to come.

I Peter 1:17-19 says, “17 And if you call on him as Father who judges impartially according to each one’s deeds, conduct yourselves with fear throughout the time of your exile, 18 knowing that you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your forefathers, not with perishable things such as silver or gold, 19 but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot.”

The purchase price of our salvation is not by our silver and gold, but by the precious blood of Jesus Christ.

Soli deo Gloria!

To Be Reborn

16 For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. 17 For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, “The righteous shall live by faith.”(Romans 1:16-17).

“Thereupon I felt myself to be reborn and to have gone through open doors into paradise.” Martin Luther

When Martin Luther returned from his three month pilgrimage to Rome he became a professor of philosophy at the University in Wittenberg. In 1511, he began teaching philosophy. Observing Luther’s continuing struggle regarding salvation, his mentor, Staupitz, counseled the young professor to begin teaching the Bible. This would become the final key God would use to unlock and free the deadened soul of the German monk.

In 1513, Martin began teaching from the Psalms. Shortly thereafter, he began teaching from the Apostle Paul’s magnum opus: the Epistle of Paul to the Romans. How ironic that God would use Paul’s letter to the church at Rome to convert Martin Luther and to repudiate the abuses and traditions of the Roman Catholic Church.

Martin trembled when he came across Romans 1:17 and the phrase “the righteousness of God.” Pastor Erwin Lutzer explains, “The righteousness of God struck fear into his heart because he knew that it was because of God’s unbendable righteousness that sinners were cast away from His most holy presence.” It was then the Holy Spirit unlocked the meaning of the phrase.

When Martin came across the words “the just shall live by faith” the Holy Spirit brought to his understanding through regeneration what the apostle truly meant. Luther wrote, “Then I grasped that the justice of God is that righteousness by which through grace and sheer mercy God justifies us through faith. Thereupon I felt myself to be reborn and to have gone through open doors into paradise.”

Martin grasped that not only is the righteousness of God one of His attributes, but it is also a free gift from God to sinners. Luther came to the understanding that sinners are saved by the sheer grace and mercy of God through faith in the person and work of Jesus Christ. God declares sinners righteous through the imputed righteousness of Jesus Christ, as our sins were imputed to Christ while He suffered the wrath of God while on the cross. Luther was miraculously converted by grace alone, through faith alone, in Jesus Christ alone, on the basis of Scripture alone to the glory of God alone.

Luther concluded it this way: “Thou Lord Jesus, art my righteousness, but I am thy sin. Thou hast taken upon thyself what is mine and hast given to me what is thine. Thou hast taken upon thyself what thou wast not and hast given to me what I was not.”

This great exchange (2 Corinthians 5:21) is at the core of the gospel. May we praise God daily for this wonderful truth.

Soli deo Gloria!

The Only Way

16 For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. 17 For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, “The righteous shall live by faith.” (Romans 1:16-17).

Why is the good news, or the gospel, of Jesus Christ the only way a sinner such as Martin Luther, as well as you and me, can be reconciled to God? The answer is given in Romans 1:17.

The phrase “for in it” refers us back to the subject at hand: the gospel. The Apostle Paul says that it is in the gospel alone that the righteousness of God is revealed. Righteousness (δικαιοσύνη; dikaiosyne) means to put right with, to cause to be in a right relationship and to be declared righteous. This righteousness belongs to and originates from God alone. It is not earned by man, but graciously given by God through God-given faith (Ephesians 2:8-9; Philippians 1:29; Acts 13:48; 2 Peter 1:1-2).

As one pastor explains, “God is inherently righteous (Deut. 32:4; Pss. 11:7; 116:5; John 17:25; I John 2:1; Rev. 16:5) and man falls woefully short of the divine standard of moral perfection (Rom. 3:10-20; Job 9:2; Matt. 5:48). But the gospel reveals that through the instrument of faith – and faith alone – God will impute or credit His righteousness to ungodly sinners (Romans 3:21-24; 4:1-5; 2 Corinthians 5:21; Philippians 3:8-9).

When the Apostle Paul quotes from Habakkuk 2:4 that the just, or those God declares righteous, will live by faith he intends to prove that justification by faith alone has always been God’s way of saving sinners. Abraham is a pattern of justification by faith alone (Romans 4:22-25; Galatians 3:1-7). Additionally, true saving faith will be demonstrated by the believer’s actions (Philippians 2:12-13; James 2:14-26).

This good news is always through faith and faith alone. As we shall soon see, the Protestant Reformation in general, and the work of Martin Luther in particular, was a reclaiming of this essential truth of the gospel message from centuries of religious tradition and error. However, before Martin Luther would preach and defend the gospel, God had to bring him to an understanding of the gospel for the purpose of saving Martin’s soul from sin’s penalty and power.

Have you received Jesus Christ as your Savior and Lord by faith and faith alone?

Not Ashamed

16 For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. 17 For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, “The righteous shall live by faith.” (Romans 1:16-17).

The Apostle Paul stated that he was not ashamed of the gospel. To be ashamed (ἐπαισχύνομαι; epaischynomai) means to personally and presently feel embarrassment or disgrace because of something. It may also mean awkwardness, humiliation and discomfort. Paul said he was not ashamed of the gospel (εὐαγγέλιον; euangelion) or the good news of salvation through the person and work of Jesus Christ. Why was this the case?

Paul understood that the gospel, and the gospel alone, was the power of God for salvation. The word power (δύναμις; duynamis), from which we derive our English word dynamite, means supernatural ability. This ability contained in the gospel belongs to and originates from God alone. It is not a manmade power or strength.

This power from God alone contained in the gospel results in salvation. The gospel is the good news that (1) God exists; (2) sin exists; (3) One Savior exists: Jesus Christ; and (4) salvation or deliverance exists from sin’s penalty, power and eventual presence.

This good news is for everyone who believes, or comes to God by faith. Believing (πιστεύω; pisteuo) is the God-given ability to trust in, commit to, depend upon and worship Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord. This salvation is available for both the Jew and the Gentile. But this salvation is only available by grace alone, through faith alone in the person and work of Jesus Christ alone.

Many attempt, as I and Martin Luther did, to come to God through our own self-righteous efforts. However, the Prophet Isaiah said our righteousness is as a filthy rag before the holy God of heaven and earth (Isaiah 64:6). God also says that we are by nature objects of His wrath (Ephesians 2:1-3).

We must believe in the person of the gospel, Jesus Christ, who embodies the message and content of the gospel. God brought me to this understanding. He also brought Martin. What about you?

Have you trusted in Jesus Christ as your personal Savior and Lord? If not, I encourage you to turn from your sin and believe in Jesus Christ. Your life, much like my own and Martin’s, will never be the same. It will become a life dedicated to glorify God.

Soli deo Gloria!

From Faith For Faith

16 For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. 17 For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, “The righteous shall live by faith.” (Romans 1:16-17).

It is ironic that the portion of Scripture which God used to bring Martin Luther to saving faith, and to deliver him from the apostasy of the Roman Catholic Church, was Paul’s magnum opus epistle to the church at Rome. Romans 1:16-17 were the two verses which broke through the darkness of Luther’s attempts at salvation by works righteousness, unto a salvation by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone, based upon the Scriptures alone and ultimately to the glory of God alone.

Following his pilgrimage to Rome, Martin continued in his pursuit of becoming right with God based upon the monk’s most sincere efforts to attain that righteousness by his good works. The Apostle Paul knew well the arduous spiritual road upon which Luther traveled because Paul had traveled upon it himself. He says as much in Philippians 3:1-9.

The apostle trusted in all his works righteous accomplishments in Judaism as Luther pursued the same works righteousness system in Roman Catholicism. As God shown the light of the gospel on the Damascus Road for Saul of Tarsus (Acts 9), so too would the sovereign Savior accomplish the same gracious work for a monk in Wittenberg, Germany.

God’s method of saving sinners has not changed. The people, names, faces and circumstances may differ from person to person, but the gracious work of God in saving a soul from hell is through the proclamation of the gospel of Jesus Christ. This heralding brings about the regenerating work by the Holy Spirit unto salvation within the soul of the sinner. It is this sovereign work of God which brings glory and praise to God from the life and lips of the sinner saved by the grace of God.

May we continue to hold this pearl of great price ever dear, while at the same time always willing to share its wealth with others.

Soli deo Gloria!