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National Day of Prayer–Some thoughts

“The LORD is far from the wicked, but he hears the prayer of the righteous.”

Proverbs 15:29

 

In the Holy Name of the risen Christ. Amen.

NationalDayOfPrayer2According to the National Day of Prayer task force, “The National Day of Prayer is an annual observance held on the first Thursday of May, inviting people of all faiths to pray for the nation. It was created in 1952 by a joint resolution of the United States Congress, and signed into law by President Harry S. Truman.”

This encouragement to pray is a good thing. In fact, God commands prayer (the Second Commandment).   Not praying, therefore, is a sin. Praying for the nation in which we live is also a good thing (1 Timothy 2:1-4).

Prayer for ourselves and for others, as well as for our nation, is indeed “good” and “pleasing in the sight of God our Savior.” God promises to hear prayer, as revealed through the Psalmist, “Call upon me in the day of trouble; I will deliver you, and you shall glorify me (Psalm 50:15).

Thus, not only does God command prayer. He also promises to hear prayer (Read the Introduction to the Lord’s Prayer in Luther’s Large Catechism). The command and the promise of prayer move the Christian to pray, and so His people do pray, even “without ceasing” (1 Thessalonians 5:17).

Yet, the National Day of Prayer task force and the annual observance do not make the distinctions that God does. They lump people of all faiths together, as if all prayer of all people are acceptable to God, and therefore, heard by Ps1bHim.

Nevertheless, God does not hear the prayers of all people, as recorded in the Proverb text above. The Psalmist, too, exalts this truth by saying, “The LORD knows the way of the righteous, but the way of the wicked will perish” (Psalm 1:6).

The righteous are they who look to God for mercy in Christ, who repent of their sin, who seek salvation from Christ alone, recognizing their dependency on the Lord for help and deliverance from sin and death. These are they who have faith, and only these have the certainty of God’s hearing and help (Hebrews 11:6; Luke 17:5-10; 1 John 5:14-15).

The wicked, however, are they who reject God’s salvation in Christ and have a different confession of faith than the faith revealed in Holy Scripture (John 8:31-32, 47; 14:23-24; 1 John 5:9-13; 2 John 1:9) . God does not hear the prayers of the unbeliever because they do not pray in faith (Romans 14:3; James 1:6).

We make such distinctions because God Himself makes such distinctions. Thus, instead of lumping all people together as having the same God, and praying to Him, we believe God’s Word and therefore, seek to speak the truth of that Word which alone converts souls from death to life.  We also humbly pray that the Lord would keep us from arrogance and pride, even as we pray for all people, our nation and ourselves, even concerning the more significant and eternal matters of God’s mercy and forgiveness through His Son, in whose Name God’s people with confidence pray.

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Who is this, that even the wind and the sea obey Him?

On the same day, when evening had come, He said to them, “Let us cross over to the other side.” 36 Now when they had left the multitude, they took Him along in the boat as He was. And other little boats were also with Him. 37 And a great windstorm arose, and the waves beat into the boat, so that it was already filling. 38 But He was in the stern, asleep on a pillow. And they awoke Him and said to Him, “Teacher, do You not care that we are perishing?” 39 Then He arose and rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, “Peace, be still!” And the wind ceased and there was a great calm. 40 But He said to them, “Why are you so fearful? How is it that you have no faith?” 41 And they feared exceedingly, and said to one another, “Who can this be, that even the wind and the sea obey Him!” (Mark 4:35-41, NKJ)

 

In the Name of Jesus. Amen.

Who is this Jesus? The disciples did not yet fully believe who this Jesus was, He who was able to calm wind and sea. Yet, they had seen Him exorcise demons, heal the sick, and forgive sinners. They knew Him personally, as they were with Him, but they did not fully know Him. Though He had already done before their eyes the works of His heavenly Father, they had not grasped, according to His Word, who He was, who Jesus is.

Apart from Jesus’ Word, Jesus cannot be fully known. Appearances deceive. God’s Word does not. Consider that before the disciples was a flesh and blood man, even One who slept on a boat during the storm. Yet, this Man also commanded wind and sea, and they obeyed.

This Jesus is none other than God in the flesh. Consider the Psalmist, who writes,

Those who go down to the sea in ships, Who do business on great waters, They see the works of the LORD, And His wonders in the deep. For He commands and raises the stormy wind, Which lifts up the waves of the sea. They mount up to the heavens, They go down again to the depths; Their soul melts because of trouble. They reel to and fro, and stagger like a drunken man, And are at their wits’ end. Then they cry out to the LORD in their trouble, And He brings them out of their distresses. He calms the storm, So that its waves are still. Then they are glad because they are quiet; So He guides them to their desired haven. Oh, that men would give thanks to the LORD for His goodness, And for His wonderful works to the children of men! Let them exalt Him also in the assembly of the people, And praise Him in the company of the elders. (Psalm 107:23-32)

As much as the Psalmist is writing here about the Lord God, so is He writing about the Lord Jesus. Jesus is the One who brings out of distresses. Jesus is the One who calms the storm and stills the waves. He is the One who guides.

With a Word, Jesus does these things. However, Jesus doesn’t promise that we will not have distress and trouble in this life (John 16:33). Storms will certainly come. Nevertheless, as St. Mark reveals, this Jesus is He who delivers, when and where He wills, for not even wind or sea resist His authority. They cannot, because Jesus created them (John 1:1; Genesis 1:1ff).

More than delivering you from earthly troubles, according to His good and gracious will, Jesus delivers you from eternal troubles. The kingdom of God is near in Jesus (Mark 1:15), then, and now. His healing of the sick, exorcising demons, and calming the storms all demonstrate this. These works of God also reveal who Jesus is, in the flesh, for you and me.

The kingdom of God, Paul tells us, is not “eating and drinking” (Romans 14:17), nor is it “of this world,” as Jesus Himself says (John 18:36). Distresses, trouble, and tribulation will come, as will the storms and wind and water, yet He who has authority over these is also He who has authority over death itself, and who alone gives life, abundant life, eternal life.

“Truly, truly I say to you, he who hears My word and believes in Him who sent Me has everlasting life, and shall not come into judgment, but has passed from death into life. (John 5:24)

Prayer: Dearest Jesus, do not forsake us in our troubles, but deliver us from the evil one, that we remain steadfast in the true faith and not despair of our peace with You, who lived, died, and rose again for our salvation. Amen.

The Holy Trinity

 

Article I. God

Augsburg Confession

 

Trinity1 We unanimously hold and teach, in accordance with the decree of the Council of Nicaea, 2 that there is one divine essence, which is called and which is truly God, and that there are three persons in this one divine essence, equal in power and alike eternal: God the Father, God the Son, God the Holy Spirit. 3 All three are one divine essence, eternal, without division, without end, of infinite power, wisdom, and goodness, one creator and preserver of all things visible and invisible. 4 The word “person” is to be understood as the Fathers employed the term in this connection, not as a part or a property of another but as that which exists of itself. (Tappert, 1-4)

In the Name of Jesus. Amen.

The above words accord with the faith of God’s people because they accord with the Word of God (see below). God’s people confess what Holy Scripture reveals of God. Thus, the words above accord with the words of Scripture. They do so because they agree with what God has made known about Himself in holy Writ.

Not all, of course, believe in God as Christians do. Many do believe in a god, yet the Bible makes quite clear that any other belief in God that is apart from the Holy Bible is belief in a false god.

The Bible teaches that One, and only One God exists (Deuteronomy 6:4). Scripture also teaches that the FaOne true Godther is God, the Son is God, and that the Holy Spirit is God. Three persons, yet one God. This is the Christian faith. Any other teaching about God is not according to the Holy Bible and is therefore, not true.

Only the God of the Bible is the God who saves. And He does so through the work of Christ, even through His death on the cross (Galatians 3:13-14). Having become a curse for us, Jesus redeemed us from the curse of the Law. Thus, in Him, no curse of the Law remains.

Because we believe in the Triune God, we also, as His people, make distinctions between the true, biblical teaching of God, and false teachings about God. As did the Lutheran reformers, so do we. Therefore, do we also confess that,

5 Therefore all the heresies which are contrary to this article are rejected. Among these are the heresy of the Manichaeans, who assert that there are two gods, one good and one evil; also that of the Valentinians, Arians, Eunomians, Mohammedans, and others like them; also that of the Samosatenes, old and new, who hold that there is only one person and sophistically assert that the other two, the Word and the Holy Spirit, are not necessarily distinct persons but that the Word signifies a physical word or voice and that the Holy Spirit is a movement induced in creatures (Tappert, 1st Article of the Augsburg Confession, 5).

Prayer: Heavenly Father, we confess Your holy Name, and pray that You would keep us in the true faith, through Jesus Christ our Lord, who reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

trinity.references rtf

God heals…the brokenhearted

He heals the brokenhearted And binds up their wounds.
Psalm 147:3, NKJ

 

In the Name of Jesus. Amen.

God helps those who help themselvesGod doesn’t leave the brokenhearted to self-mend. God doesn’t leave the wounded to self-heal. Rather, the Lord God does the healing and the mending. He binds the wounds of the brokenhearted and heals them.

Note, though, that it is the brokenhearted and the wounded that the Lord heals and binds. Those not wounded and those not brokenhearted are whole and well. It is as Jesus had said, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners, to repentance” (Luke 5:31-32).

Thus, if you are neither brokenhearted or wounded, you have no need of healing and binding. If you have no sin, you have no need of forgiveness and salvation. If you aren’t sick, you don’t need a doctor or medication. If you don’t need salvation, you don’t need Jesus.

But don’t go by what you perceive or by what you think. Don’t follow your own advice or your own self-diagnosis. If you do, you will be woefully wrong.

Jesus says, “Judge with righteous judgment (John 7:24). Determine how things are with you according to the Word of our Lord, who teaches that, “Whatever the law says, it says to those who are under the law, that every mouth may be stopped, and all the world may become guilty before God. Therefore by the deeds of the law no flesh will be justified in His sight, for by the law is the knowledge of sin” (Romans 3:19-20).

TwoTablets
According to the Law of God (The Ten Commandments), you are not as God would have you be (i.e. Matthew 5:21-42; Romans 7; etc.). You are not as God commands you to be. And this is not because you don’t try. It is because you offend the Holy God by your transgressions. Though you may minimize your shortcomings before God, He certainly does not.

It is for this very reason that God the Father sent His only begotten Son (John 3:16), to save you from your sin, which is not little at all, for if it is, then Jesus is only a little Savior.

Thus does St. Paul write, “God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from wrath through Him. For if when we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life” (Romans 5:8-10).

Even while we were sinners, Paul says, Christ died for us. He also states that even while we were enemies of God, we were reconciled to Him through the death of Jesus. This means that your justification before and your reconciliation with God is in no way dependent upon you (nor your decision or choice, for such you cannot make, Ephesians 2:1-2, 5). Rather, these are founded alone in Christ. Faith simply takes hold of what God has already declared and says, “Amen,” to what God has made known.

3CrossesYou don’t make yourself acceptable to God. So also, you don’t make yourself healthy and you don’t bind your own wounds. God does these, through His Son. He speaks to you His Word, and you stand forgiven. He absolves you of your sins, and you are absolved. He declares you righteous before Him, and so you are. He declares you whole and well, and so you are. All in Christ.

Take hold of Christ, therefore, and believe the Word of the Lord to you. As He calls you a sinner, don’t deny, but confess the Lord to know more than you (Psalm 19:12). As He says, “Believe,” don’t deny or reject as the godless and unbelievers do, but believe, according to His Word, that it is just as He says. As God speaks forgiveness to you in Christ, and justification, and reconciliation through Him who shed His holy blood, entrust yourself to these blessed words and our Lord who, in His mercy, raises you from the dead and gives you everlasting life. Doubt yourself, yes, but not God, who alone is faithful and true!

If you are brokenhearted because of your sin, and fear that the Lord’s kindness is not to you, cast away such thoughts, for it is to you that God speaks and heals with His kind and compassionate words. If you are wounded because of your own transgressions or those of others, and doubt the Lord’s care and keeping, forsake such thoughts and cling to Christ, who through His wounds not only cleanses you, but heals the scars and ensures you everlasting peace with God.

If you neither feel your sin, be brokenhearted, or recognize the extent of your troubles before God, trust what the Lord says. “There is a time for everything under the sun” (Ecclesiastes 3:1). Times of overcast and clouds, as well as rain and troubles, even if they be minor, will come, as also, by God’s grace, times of sunshine and warmth. Circumstances vary in life, as you know, but God does not change, nor do His promises in Christ. Amen.

Prayer: Heavenly Father, help me to believe your Word and promises, even if I don’t feel my sin and my need for you. Take care of me and keep me from doubting what you say. Give me firm faith in You that in any and all circumstances, I repent of my sin and entrust myself to You, my Great Physician and healer of body and soul. Amen.

Words out of place for today’s church?

False Prophets“Behold, I am against the prophets,” says the LORD, “who use their tongues and say, ‘He says.’ “Behold, I am against those who prophesy false dreams,” says the LORD, “and tell them, and cause My people to err by their lies and by their recklessness. Yet I did not send them or command them; therefore they shall not profit this people at all,” says the LORD.”

Jeremiah 23:31-32

In the Name of Jesus.  Amen.  To many, even in the church today, these words from Jeremiah the prophet seem out of place.  “They are too rigid, too condemnatory, too judgmental.  They are words from an historical narrative, an unenlightened past, and don’t deserve our hearing.”

Though many in the church in today’s Christendom would immediately dismiss these words of our Lord through the prophet as irrelevant, irrelevant these words certainly are not!  To say that they are irrelevant to our day is essentially to declare that God’s Word for God’s people is only applicable for a certain time, place, and locale.  But a closer look at what God says reveals the truth far differently than that of today’s “enlightened” and “advanced” “Christianity.”

A closer look at Holy Scripture reveals that God’s people today face the similar temptations of those who have come before us in the faith, to deny the truth and to go after their own gods, even while claiming faith in the true God.  Today’s church faces the same struggles as the people of God in the Old and New Testaments and throughout the history of the Church, to compromise the faith, to follow the popular and “acceptable” way, and to live by sight (and experience) and not by faith in what the Lord says.

In Jeremiah’s day, prophets preached, not according to the Word that God had given them to preach, but according to the content of their own heart and that which the people wanted to hear. This was the easier way to go.  Just look at Jeremiah!  Look what his preaching got him—thrown into a pit, ridiculed, despised, rejected by the people.  Who wants that?  I know that I don’t.

Jeremiah didn’t have an easy time with the people, for they didn’t listen.  Yet his calling was not to please people or to say what they wanted to hear (Ephesians 6:6).  His calling was to speak the truth, the very words that God gave him to speak:  “Then the word of the LORD came to me, saying: ‘Before I formed you in the womb I knew you; Before you were born I sanctified you; I ordained you a prophet to the nations.’ Then said I: ‘Ah, Lord GOD! Behold, I cannot speak, for I am a youth.’ But the LORD said to me: ‘Do not say, ‘I am a youth,’ For you shall go to all to whom I send you, And whatever I command you, you shall speak. Do not be afraid of their faces, For I am with you to deliver you,’ says the LORD. Then the LORD put forth His hand and touched my mouth, and the LORD said to me: ‘Behold, I have put My words in your mouth. See, I have this day set you over the nations and over the kingdoms, To root out and to pull down, To destroy and to throw down, To build and to plant’” (Jeremiah 1:4-10).

Jeremiah’s words were not to be his own, but God’s.  The same applies to those who preach with the name clergy today.  However, as in JerNo Compromiseemiah’s day, so today, there are those who say that the Lord says where the Lord has not said.  Today, there are those who say what people want to hear, who compromise the truth for acceptance by the world, and who condemn those who speak the truth as unloving, intolerant, and hate-mongers, even though they are simply making the same distinctions that God Himself makes in Holy Scripture.

Most certainly, there are those who do say what they say in spite or in anger.  There are those, too, who speak uncharitably and not out of love for neighbor.  Yet how something is said should not take precedence over what is said.

The litmus test for the truth is not how we sinners view or respond to the message.  Just because we get excited about the preaching because of the dynamism of the preacher, or “get into the service” because of the beat of the music, these don’t immediately translate into “God at work.”  In contrast, just because the preaching is unappealing and the service slow or dull doesn’t mean that God is not at work.

The true litmus test for cross1true preaching and the faithful worship service is not how you feel during or afterwards or what you get out of the sermon, how moving the message was, or how people react.  The true litmus test is simply this, the Gospel rightly preached and the Sacraments administered according to the Lord’s institution.  The music, hymns, responses, etc. should all point to Christ and what God has done in Him.  Where they do not, be on guard, and closely examine Scripture.  Yet, even where the preaching is right, and the congregation seeks to be faithful, and the worship is Christ-centered, continue to examine Scripture, for those who are of God hear His voice and follow Him (John 10:27).  They continue in His Word (John 8:31-32), and they know Him and His ways, not according to what they see, feel, or experience, but according to Christ (1 Corinthians 1:18-31).

Also to remember is this, as St. Peter reminds us, “Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil walks about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour” (1 Peter 5:8).  We remain sober and vigilant as we look to the Lord and His Word (See also Ephesians 6:10ff).

We most certainly have the devil to contend with throughout our earthly lives, as well as the world and our sinful flesh.  Therefore, does our Lord give us His Word, that we remain in the faith.  He gives us prayer, that we call upon Him in every trouble (Psalm 50:15).  He joins us together with others that we encourage one another in the faith (Colossians 3:16; Hebrews 10:23-25).  In effect, God doesn’t leave us alone, but gives us what He would to keep us in the faith.

The reality is, in Jeremiah’s day, as in ours, not all preachers preach the truth.  False preachers and false preaching continue.  Falsehood, however, is not of the truth.  And false gospels, though appealing and man-centered, do not confess the truth, nor do they lead to heaven.  False gospels, essentially, teach salvation apart from faith in Christ alone.  They teach another way to heaven than the way God has already given (John 14:6; Acts 4:12).

It is necessary, therefore, to make distinctions, to clarify, and to avoid that which is false, according to the Word of our Lord.  Not doinWalther's-L&Gg so leads away from Christ and His Word.  It also leads to self-security or despair.  Either direction does not lead to heaven, but to eternal death.

God’s people do make such distinctions between truth and falsehood, and they long to abide where Christ is.  Indeed, where Christ is, there also are they (John 12:26).  They forsake the false, even denying themselves, and follow Christ, carrying their crosses and burdens, and rest only in Christ, where true rest and genuine peace are found (Matthew 11:28; Romans 5:1-5)

Luther

Now when Paul speaks of “the truth of the Gospel,” he shows that there are two uses of the Gospel, a true one and a false one, or a true and a false gospel. It is as though he were saying: “The false apostles proclaim a faith and a gospel too, but their gospel is a false gospel. Hence my stubbornness and refusal to yield. I did this in order that the truth of the Gospel might be preserved among you.” Thus in our day the pope and the sectarians brag that they proclaim the Gospel and faith in Christ. Yes, they do, but with the same results that the false apostles once had, those whom Paul (Gal. 1:7) calls troublers of the churches and perverters of the Gospel of Christ. By contrast he says that he is teaching “the truth of the Gospel,” the pure and true Gospel, as though he were saying: “Everything else is a lie masquerading as the Gospel.” For all the heretics lay claim to the names of God, of Christ, of the church, etc.; and they pretend that they want to teach, not errors but the most certain truth and the purest Gospel.

The truth of the Gospel is this, that our righteousness comes by faith alone, without the works of the Law. The falsification or corruption of the Gospel is this, that we are justified by faith but not without the works of the Law. The false apostles preached the Gospel, but they did so with this condition attached to it. The scholastics do the same thing in our day. They say that we must believe in Christ and that faith is the foundation of salvation, but they say that this faith does not justify unless it is “formed by love.”7 This is not the truth of the Gospel; it is falsehood and pretense. The true Gospel, however, is this: Works or love are not the ornament or perfection of faith; but faith itself is a gift of God, a work of God in our hearts, which justifies us because it takes hold of Christ as the Savior. Human reason has the Law as its object. It says to itself: “This I have done; this I have not done.” But faith in its proper function has no other object than Jesus Christ, the Son of God, who was put to death for the sins of the world. It does not look at its love and say: “What have I done? Where have I sinned? What have I deserved?” But it says: “What has Christ done? What has He deserved?” And here the truth of the Gospel gives you the answer: “He has redeemed you from sin, from the devil, and from eternal death.” Therefore faith acknowledges that in this one Person, Jesus Christ, it has the forgiveness of sins and eternal life. Whoever diverts his gaze from this object does not have true faith; he has a fantasy and a vain opinion. He looks away from the promise and at the Law, which terrifies him and drives him to despair. (Luther’s Lectures on Galatians, LW 26, p87-88)

Prayer: Gracious Father, forgive us for turning from you to our own way.  Continue to have mercy on us, through Your only Son, Jesus Christ, that we remain steadfast in the true faith, and denying all others, boldly confess Your Holy Name.  In Your Name we pray, Amen.

The Great Exchange

 

LutherPreachingThrough faith in Christ, therefore, Christ’s righteousness becomes our righteousness and all that he has becomes ours; rather, he himself becomes ours. Therefore the Apostle calls it “the righteousness of God” in Rom. 1[:17]: For in the gospel “the righteousness of God is revealed …; as it is written, ‘The righteous shall live by his faith.’” Finally, in the same epistle, chapter 3[:28], such a faith is called ”the righteousness of God”: “We hold that a man is justified by faith.” This is an infinite righteousness, and one that swallows up all sins in a moment, for it is impossible that sin should exist in Christ. On the contrary, he who trusts in Christ exists in Christ; he is one with Christ, having the same righteousness as he. It is therefore impossible that sin should remain in him. This righteousness is primary; it is the basis, the cause, the source of all our own actual righteousness. For this is the righteousness given in place of the original righteousness lost in Adam. It accomplishes the same as that original righteousness would have accomplished; rather, it accomplishes more. (LW 31, Two Kinds of Righteousness, 1519)

Two Kinds of Righteousness

Augsburg Confession, I. God

Tappert1 We unanimously hold and teach, in accordance with the decree of the Council of Nicaea,3 2 that there is one divine essence, which is called and which is truly God, and that there are three persons in this one divine essence, equal in power and alike eternal: God the Father, God the Son, God the Holy Spirit. 3 All three are one divine essence, eternal, without division, without end, of infinite power, wisdom, and goodness, one creator and preserver of all things visible and invisible. 4 The word “person” is to be understood as the Fathers employed the term in this connection, not as a part or a property of another but as that which exists of itself4

5 Therefore all the heresies which are contrary to this article are rejected. Among these are the heresy of the Manichaeans,5 who assert that there are two gods, one good and one evil; also that of the Valentinians,6  Arians,7 Eunomians,8 Mohammedans,9 and others like them; 6 also that of the Samosatenes,10 old and new, who hold that there is only one person and sophistically assert that the other two, the Word and the Holy Spirit, are not necessarily distinct persons but that the Word signifies a physical word or voice and that the Holy Spirit is a movement induced in creatures.11

[Notes are from Tappert, Theodore G. The Book of Concord : The Confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church. Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 2000, c1959, electronic edition, Concordia Publishing House]


3 The Nicene Creed

4 The term hypostasis in Greek or persona in Latin were used in the ancient church to repudiate Modalism, which regarded the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit as three modes or manifestations of the one God.

5 A religion based on Persian dualism combined with Christian and other elements, founded in the third century by Mani and named after him. The Albigensians of the late Middle Ages held similar notions.

6 Gnostics of the second century who took their name from Valentinus.

7 Followers of Arius who were condemned at the Council of Niceas in 325 and who held that the Son was created and of different “substance” from the Father.

8 Followers of Eunomius, an extreme Arian of the late fourth century.

9 The Reformers frequently referred to Mohammedianism and an anti-Trinitarian heresy.

10 Followers of Paul of Samosata, who taught in the third century that Jesus was a man specially endowed by the Spirit. The “new Samosatenes” were anti-Trinitarian spiritualists of the sixteenth century like John Campanus and Hans Denck.

11 Followers of Paul of Samosata, who taught in the third century that Jesus was a man specially endowed by the Spirit. The “new Samosatenes” were anti-Trinitarian spiritualists of the sixteenth century like John Campanus and Hans Denck.

 

 

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