Why Should Baptists Celebrate A German Monk’s Reformation?

Luther-BlodMartin Luther accidentally drove a nail into heart of the Roman Catholic Church on October 31, 1517. The Augustine Monk, preacher, and theology professor posted his 95, seeking to restore the seldom heard gospel to her rightful position of prominence within the church.

What Did Luther Oppose?

The Catholic Church has replaced the gospel with the sacramental system. Rome’s theologians taught that God saved those who nobly sought after grace. God wiped away the stain of original sin at baptism. God then justified everyone who sought to please God by doing good works. After conversion, God required his children to pay for their sins through the sacraments of Mass and penance. The bread inoculated believers from the allure of sin. And penance proscribed by the priest would absolve believers from the punishment of their sins.

Recognizing that many Christians could not pay off their sin debt before death, the Catholic Church created the doctrine of purgatory, a place between heaven and hell where believers payed off their remaining sins through holy suffering.

By 1517, the church had launched an aggressive campaign to sell indulgences, little pieces of paper that absolved Christians from their sins and that sprung them from purgatory. Instead of saying a hundred prayers or kissing some bone that supposedly belonged to the apostle Peter, or wondering around purgatory singing hymns for a thousands years, the Christian could pony up a little money and buy righteousness from the church. With the Pope’s blessing, believers could go past go and collect their $200 of religious merit by donating money toward the construction of St. Peter’s Cathedral.

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Martin Luther posted his 95 Theses on the door of the Wittenberg because he knew that the church’s slow drift away from the gospel of grace was destroying the very souls the church was seeking to save. Luther had tried the sacramental system and found it powerless to forgive sins.

Luther’s Story of Salvation

After entering monastic life because he made a rash promise in the middle of thunderstorm, Luther spent years attempting to earn the grace needed for salvation. He prayed, fasted, slept on cold floors, and confessed sins for hours at a time. Reflecting on his time in the monastery Luther noted, “if ever a monk got into heaven through monasticism, I should have been that man.” Yet, Luther never experienced God’s grace.

As Luther studied the Psalms and Romans, he came to realize that no one could be good enough to earn salvation. As Psalm 51:2-3 said,

God looks down from heaven on the children of man to see  if there are any who understand, who seek after God. They have all fallen away; together they have become corrupt; there is none who does good, not even one.

God demand perfect obedience, yet people could not be perfect. The knowledge of God’s commands and the knowledge of his inability to meet those demand drove Luther to anger. Luther said, “I hated the righteousness of God who punishes sinners.”

Then, Luther read Romans 1:17 “For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, “The righteous shall live by faith.” The light bulb went off. Salvation was not based upon earning grace. God did not save those who were good. God saved those who believed. Commenting on the moment of his salvation, Luther wrote,

“There I began to understand that the righteousness of God is…a gift of God, namely by faith…the righteousness of God is revealed by the gospel…God justifies us by faith…Here I felt that I was altogether born again and had entered paradise itself through open gates.”

Christ had paid for Luther’s sins on the cross. As Kevin J. Vanhoozer noted, “[Luther] suddenly realized that God’s righteousness was not a demand but a donation: a divine gift.” Having recovered the gospel of the Bible, Luther believed upon Jesus, clung to the cross for justification, and experienced the joy of heaven that he had been longing for.

Why The 95 Theses?

With the nailing of the 95 Theses, Luther attempted the engage the church in a gospel centered debate that would help the church recover the gospel that had liberated his soul. He wanted to work with the Pope and the leaders of the Catholic Church in an attempted to reform the church. Before things turned nasty, Luther described Pope Leo X as being a “very good pope…whose integrity and learning are a delight to all upright persons.” Luther believed he and the Pope could spread the glorious news that “The law says, “do this,” and it is never done. Grace says, “Believe in this,” and everything is already done.”

Why The Split?

But the Pope and the Cardinals were not interested in becoming “theologians of the cross” with Luther. Despite Luther’s initial impression, the theologians of Rome were not uniformed men driven by the chaotic winds of human opinion. The leaders of the Catholic Church willfully taught salvation by grace and works. They understood the gospel of the cross and rejected it. When the Catholic Church officially responded to the Reformation in 1547 at the Council of Trent, the Catholic Church plainly stated:

If anyone says that the sinner is justified by faith alone, meaning that nothing else is required to cooperate in order to obtain grace of justification, and that it is not in any way necessary that he be prepared and disposed by the action of his own will, let him be anathema. – Cannon 9. 

Though the Catholic Church recognized some of the abuses listed in Luther’s 95 Theses, she did not accept the doctrines of grace and of scriptural authority that drove Luther’s conclusions. Consequently, the Pope’s representatives ordered Luther to repent of his gospel teaching.

After taking a day to compose his thoughts, Luther famously responded to Catholic Church’s demands with these Words in 1521 at the Diet of Worms:

If, then, I am not convinced by proof from Holy Scripture, or by cogent reasons, if I am not satisfied by the very text I have cited, and if my judgment is not in this way brought into subjection to God’s word, I neither can nor will retract anything; for it cannot be either safe or honest for a Christian to speak against his conscience. Here I stand; I cannot do otherwise; God help me! Amen.

Hearing of Luther’s statement, Pope Leo X had no choice but to declare Luther to be a “heretic” who was to be “everywhere denounced.” With that declaration, Luther’s fate and the fate of the gospel believing church had been sealed.

The gospel which had been pushed to the dark edges of Catholicism during the middle ages was now publicly expelled from the every part of church. Luther’s attempt to return the church to the gospel had resulted in the last vestiges of the true church being jettisoned from Catholicism. The true church did not leave Rome; Rome left the true Church.

And when Luther left the Catholic Church revival broke out. That which had been pushed to the edges of Christendom once again resumed its seat of primacy in the new protestant churches. Luther defined the church as, “the assembly of all believers among whom the gospel is purely preached and the holy sacraments are administered according to the gospel.” As gospel preaching echoed off the walls of Europe’s churches, men and women began to repent and believe in record numbers. The exiled gospel of Jesus continued to march on! As Martin Lloyd-Jones noted, the right doctrines of the Luther’s reformation produced a remarkable revival.

And so today, we celebrate the German monk of yester-year because he rediscovered gospel. The revival begun in 1517 continues on today as protestant churches proclaim salvation by grace alone through faith alone according to the Bible alone. Because Luther was willing to risk death for the gospel, churches all over the world have the gospel of Jesus Christ today.

Come to Amissville Baptist Church’s Reformation Party on October 31 at 5:30PM, if you and your family would like to learn more about Luther and the reformation he started! Adults can participate in our study about Martin Luther and your kids can come dressed up as a princess or knight for night of candy and games designed to teach them more about Luther and the reformation!

God Doesn’t Have An Affinity For Affinity Groups

Affinity-GroupAll Christians want to be a part of growing, dynamic and thriving church. We all want to be part of a movement where the 150 seat sanctuary is replaced with a 2,000 seat sanctuary. We want to part of a movement that plants hundreds of churches. We want to drop our Pastor’s name and the water cooler and know that our coworkers will know who we are talking about.

Sadly a majority of Baptist Churches are trending the opposite way. They are remodeling their large 2,000 seat auditorium to seat 500. Most SBC churches lack members.  The members that do attend suffer from a severe case of biblical illiteracy and lack passion and gospel fervor.

To remedy the situation, some Baptists leaders have tossed forth the idea of Affinity Groups. This new spin on the old church growth game teaches churches to form small groups around their communities’ interest.  The deer hunters would meet in room A; the single moms would meet in the old social hall, and the Hispanics would meet in the Mrs. Sammy’s old Sunday school class. People are grouped into Bible study groups based upon hobbies, societal designations, and racial norms. These smalls groups should facilitate communication and relationship because all the members have a least one noteworthy similarity. Those who bound over their shared experiences are more likely to feel a connection to their group and by that connection that should feel more connected to the church. The end result being more church growth, more people, and more money..

Though basic elements of the Affinity Group idea resonate with the common sense notion that birds of a feather flocking together, Affinity Groups do not belong in the local church because they stand opposed to the witness of the gospel.

The gospel seeks to unify a diverse and holy people. The people of the church are not bound together by mutual sports interest, commonality of social standing, or by their race. The church has never been composed of just college football fans, or upper-middle class white folks who drive GMCs, or black deer hunters. Rather the church is made up of all of these people and more. The church should be filled with all kinds of sports fans, all kinds of social classes, and all kinds of races. Colossians 3:11 proclaims,

Here there is no Greek and Jew circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian , Scythian, slave, free: but Christ is all and in all.

The church does not exists to place people into groups based upon their earthly interest or genetic markers. The church exists to abolish those boundaries. The church exists to encourage both the old and the young to worship together. The church exists to bring about racial and social reconciliation at the foot of the cross. What binds the church together, what draws people into our church and keeps them in church is Christ. He is all and in all.

We should not come to church because everyone looks, thinks, and acts like us. We should come to church because everyone loves, depends upon, and looks like Jesus.  The unity of the church is the unity of the cross. If glories of Jesus do not compel people to church, why we would think that people would come to church to hang out who look and sound like us?

And if people do come simply because we have a divorce, single mom’s tea-room for women 60 and over or because they share our love for Cubs baseball, have we done our church a service? Have we done anything more than fill our churches with people who love the world more than Christ?

Now I do not believe all small groups are evil. Paul instructs women to train women. Paul also personally mentored many people including Titus and Timothy. Jesus worked with the twelve disciples. Churches have to freedom to create small groups within the church to facilitate discipleship and spiritual growth. The church should be about such intense training.  But such groups should never be the draw or the focus of the church. And such groups should be driven by the gospel and not the trends of our secular culture.

The church assembles not to divide people from one another but to unify around the gospel. What brings people from all age ranges, cultures, nationalities and skin color to church is Christ. What keeps people in Church is Christ. God is more than glorious enough to be a draw people to himself. He does not need our help to build his church.

At the end of the day, we can safely conclude from Scripture that God does not have an affinity for Affinity Groups. He has an affinity for his Glory whichAffinity-Group transcends all earthly measures and interests. How about us?

School Shootings, Tragedy, and The Gospel

school-blog-School shootings are horrific. But they are not beyond the realm of the Gospel. School shootings fit within the Gospel narrative.

When Adam and Eve turned from God and embraced sin, they truly knocked the lid off of Pandora’s Box, welcoming untold evil into the world. Their son Cain committed the first murder. Five generations later, Lamech boasted of senselessly killing those who offended him (Gen. 4:23). Pharaoh tossed new born, baby boys into the Nile. Herod murder thousands of infant whose only crime was living in the wrong city at the wrong time. And, the descendants of Adam and Eve flogged the perfect, loving, and holy Son of God, indented a crown of thrones into his head, and pounded nails into his flesh. The children of Adam and Even have carried out all kinds of unspeakable evil throughout the ages.  God declared that:

The heart is deceitful above all things,
    and desperately sick;
    who can understand it?

Thankful God does. And God knew about this school shooting would come. He knew that his once perfect creation would be overcome by evil. He knew that students would listen to bullets zip by their heads into the head of their beloved classmates. He knew that law enforcement agents would have to lovingly destroy a mother’s last irrational hope, by telling her that her child had died. He knew that the world would look on in despair as the News anchors swarmed the highs school. He knew the depths of human depravity.

And so, he took action because he loves us. He took action before the world began, ordaining his son to die on the cross (Rev. 13:8).  He sent his son to die for sinners. He sent his son to save us because we have all been overcome by evil even if only in the smallest of ways. “As it is written: None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. (Rm 10:10-11). By dying on the cross, Jesus paid for all of our evil acts. He took all of our eternal punishments and gave us his righteousness.

He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed (1 Pt. 2:21).

Because Christ came and died, He can and does address the evil that transpired at Parkland.

He can deeply empathize with the parents who lost their children. He buried His only Son who was ruthlessly tortured to death. He knows the grief that is filling Parkland. And he is the perfect counselor and comforter.  And He teaches his people, the church to care for those who are suffering by mourning with them, praying for them, and serving them.

But God is more than a god of empathy, God is the victor. He has conquered evil. Though men killed Jesus, Jesus came back to life. He rose from the grave revealing that the evil actions of men and women are not the sum total of the story. Cruz does not get the final say. Jesus’s resurrection is the grantee that all will be made right. He will return. He will usher in a world where there is no gun violence, flu epidemics, or seasons of political corruption. Jesus will make all things right. The story does not end today. There will be a divine reckoning when the justice of God turns the world upside right again.God will restore justice and shows all how to implement justice in this world.

Though the events at Parkland stand seemingly outside the realm of human comprehension, they do not stand outside the flow of the Gospel. When we see the depths of depravity as we did today, the glory of the Gospel becomes ever clearer and ever more needed. The Gospel message is for today of all days!

May God bless and have mercy upon all those who have been murdered, hurt, and left behind to grieve.