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Claims about the Reformation

LutherPosting95Theses

It is held by some that “The doctrine of Sola Scriptura originated with Martin Luther, the 16th-century German monk who broke away from the Roman Catholic Church and started the Protestant ‘Reformation.’[1]  Part of this is true.  Dr. Luther was a 16th-century German monk (of the Augustinian order).  However, the Roman Catholic Church excommunicated Luther for his teachings.

Claims about the Reformation

Peters claims that “The Protestant Reformation was not a reform in the true sense of the word, but rather that it was a revolution—an upheaval of the legitimate, established religious and civil order of the day.”[2]  The Protestant reformation did much to change the religious and civil orders of the day.  And its impact can still be readily recognized today, not only concerning Christendom in general, but also concerning the educational system, too (and various other areas of life).

In a sense, the Reformation could be said to be a revolution, yet such claims can only be rightly understood by those who were instrumental in its fruition.  Martin Luther is immediately attributed as the one who “started” the Protestant (Lutheran) Reformation, yet he was not the first clergyman of the Roman Catholic Church who sought change.  There were others before him, but like John Huss, who questioned the authority of the pope and the teachings of the Roman Catholic Church, they were silenced in one way or another.[3]

Martin Luther, however, sought reform, not revolution.  His concern, as a Doctor of Theology (received from the church), was that of teaching the Bible aright.  He writes, for example, “First, I am prepared in all humility to honor the Roman Church and to prefer nothing to her, either in heaven or on earth, except God alone and His Word.  For this reason I shall gladly recant any article in which I am proved to be in error.”[4]

The challenge for Luther, however, was that the Catholic Church was not willing to hear him.  They did not want to prove him wrong according to Scripture.  They only wanted him to recant his teaching, and because he did not (and would not) recant, they excommunicated him.  The Catholic Church considered him as a wayward son, and disciplined him accordingly.

For further reflection, consider these words from Luther about his teachings and corresponding practices…

“This message (gospel) is not a novel invention of ours but the vey ancient, approved teaching of the apostles brought to light again.  Neither have we invented a new Baptism, Sacrament of the Altar, Lord’s Prayer, and Creed; nor do we desire to know or to have anything new in Christendom.  We only contend for, and hold to, the ancient: that which Christ and the apostles have left behind them and have given to us.  But this we did do.  Since we found all of this obscured by the pope with human doctrine, aye, decked out in dust and spider webs, and all sorts of vermin, and flung and trodden into mud besides, we have by God’s grace brought it out again, have cleansed it of this mess, wiped off the dust, brushed it, and brought it to the light of day.  Accordingly, it shines again in purity, and everybody may see what Gospel, Baptism, Sacrament of the Altar, keys, prayer, and everything that Christ has given us really is and how it should be used for our salvation.”[5]

Such words from Luther himself do not at all indicate the desire for a revolution.  Perhaps the desire to apply this term of revolution to Luther only demonstrates the waywardness from Scripture that the Catholic Church has maintained.  The fact that others misused and added to Luther’s teaching to bring about revolution and to revolt against Church and State (i.e. the Peasants War, Fanatics, Anabaptists, etc.) should not detract from the message of the reformer himself.  Rather, it should be cause for maintaining careful distinctions, and not to lump all together in one proverbial basket.

The fact of the matter is that Luther did not want to form a new church his own way.  He wanted the church to return to its roots, and to its center, which is Christ, and founded on God’s Word alone (i.e. Ephesians 2:20).


[1] Peters, 2.

[2] Peters, 65.

[3] John Huss, for example, was burned at the stake in 1415 by order of the church.

[4] Ewald M. Plass, What Luther Says: A Practical In-Home Anthology for the Active

Christian, (St. Louis, MO: Concordia Publishing House, 1959), 839.

[5] Ibid., 1180-1181.

 

 

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What is Sola Scriptura?

Bible&CrucifixSola Scriptura is the Latin for “Scripture alone.”  Scripture alone means that the Bible, excluding the Apocrypha, is considered the “Only norm and rule for faith and life”[1].

Writing to St. Timothy, St. Paul the Apostle writes that the Holy Scriptures, “are able to make you wise for salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus.  All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work.” (2 Timothy 3:15-17).

Note that St. Paul references the purpose of the Holy Scriptures (the Old Testament, and then also, the New Testament writings) to be that of salvation.  Thus, does Jesus say to the people of His day, “You search the Scriptures, for in them you think you have eternal life; and these are they which testify of Me” (John 5:39).  Here, Jesus plainly says that the Scriptures (here, the Old Testament Scriptures, composed of the Law, the Writings (Psalms), and the Prophets bear witness to Him.

According to St. Luke, Jesus says to the two disciples on the road to Emmaus, “‘O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe in all that the prophets have spoken!  Ought not the Christ to have suffered these things and to enter into His glory?’ And beginning at Moses and all the Prophets, He expounded to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning Himself” (Luke 24:25-27).  Here again, Jesus draws attention to the truth that the Old Testament writings are of Him.

Also in this same chapter of St. Luke, Jesus speaks in a similar way to his other disciples concerning His death and resurrection as recorded in the First Testament, “‘These are the words which I spoke to you while I was still with you, that all things must be fulfilled which were written in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms concerning Me.’  And He opened their understanding, that they might comprehend the Scriptures. Then He said to them, ‘Thus it is written, and thus it was necessary for the Christ to suffer and to rise from the dead the third day, and that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in His name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem’” (Luke 24:44-47).

Such references clearly show that the Old Testament testifies of Christ Jesus, by Jesus’ own admonition.  Jesus Himself bears witness to the centrality of the Christian faith—Himself, who “suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried” and “On the third day He rose again from the dead” (2nd Article of the Apostles’ Creed).

Throughout the Gospels, the Acts of the Apostles, and the Epistles of the New Testament, this truth is clearly shown, that the Old Testament testifies of Christ.  Thus, the New Testament, too, bears witness to Christ and clearly shows that the entire Bible is about Him and salvation.

St. Paul writes in Ephesians 2:20 of having been, “built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ Himself being the chief cornerstone.”  Here, Paul is writing to the “saints in Ephesus” (Ephesians 1:1), which included especially Gentiles.  The Gentile faith is no different from the faith of the Jews who also had believed in Christ, for the following words apply to both, “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast (Ephesians 2:8-9).

It is by God’s grace, apart from works, through faith, that anyone is saved.  This faith is founded on Christ Jesus, and is pure gift (see also Romans 5:1).  This, the Holy Scriptures teach.

The foundation of the apostles and prophets referenced above is nothing less than their preaching and teaching transmitted to us through their writings of both Old and New Testaments, with Christ at the center.

Add to, or subtract anything, from these writings, and the center is moved from Christ to something else.  Moving the center to something else leads to, and is “preaching another Gospel” (see Galatians 1:6-10) and carries with it the anathema of St. Paul, the Church, and Christ Himself (John 8:31-32; 14:21, 23-24.  This is why Sola Scriptura is necessary to retain and believe.

The writer to Proverbs writes that, “Every word of God is pure; He is a shield to those who put their trust in Him.  Do not add to His words, Lest He rebuke you, and you be found a liar” (30:5-6).

Adding to God’s Word does not lead to salvation, and only removes Christ from the centrality of the Christian faith.  Doing this is not according to God’s will and is not in accord with Christ and His Church, nor of Christian preaching.

Again, St. Paul writes, “We preach Christ crucified” (1 Corinthians 1:23).  Similarly, he repeats these words in his second letter to the Corinthians, “For we do not preach ourselves, but Christ Jesus the Lord, and ourselves your bondservants for Jesus’ sake” (2 Corinthians 4:5).

The Christian church keeps, retains, confesses, and rejoices in “Christ at the center,” in her preaching and in her teaching.  Adding to or subtracting from the Holy Scriptures, Christ’s church becomes something else, losing Christ its center.  What then follows is not the Gospel, but the Law and legalism, confession without Christian absolution, ritual without freedom, and the desire for salvation, but no certainty of God’s grace and favor.  Salvation then hangs on you and not alone on the risen Christ.  Such are the consequences of denying Sola Scriptura.

Generally speaking, Protestant churches retain Sola Scriptura, though not all faithfully adhere to it.  A growing phenomena today is that of referencing the Bible, but divorcing the reference from its context, and using the text to support one’s own position rather than deriving the meaning from the text itself.  We all are to be diligent here not to make the text say what we want it to say, but rather, “hearing” what the text actually does say and declaring the “amen,” regardless of like or dislike.

The problem here is that the Bible does say things “hard to understand” (2 Peter 3:16).  However, rather than trying to make the text make sense and placing ourselves over the Word as interpreters, we are to be servants of Scripture.  We are not lord over the text.  It is “Lord” over us.  The servant of the Lord does not seek to usurp God and His Word, but bears with it and seeks only to know Christ the Savior.  Keeping Sola Scriptura in tact and not adding to or subtracting from the text of Holy Scripture will ensure that Christ remains the center, as Christ remains the center of the Christian faith.[2]  Where Sola Scriptura is not held, there, other teachings will usurp Biblical doctrine, and another authority (or authorities) will insert his own teachings and doctrine as that to be believed.

This happens, for example, where reason is given higher authority than the Bible.  This occurs when human reason denies the Biblical text and “interprets” it in another way.  St. Peter, for example, writing about baptism, says, “There is also an antitype which now saves us — baptism (not the removal of the filth of the flesh, but the answer of a good conscience toward God), through the resurrection of Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 3:21, NKJ).  To deny that baptism can save or does save is to place human reason above the text of Holy Scripture.

According to Joel Peters, the author of Scripture Alone, “The Catholic holds that the immediate or direct rule of faith is the teaching of the Church; the Church in turn takes her teaching from divine Revelation—both the written Word, called sacred Scripture, and the oral of unwritten Word, known as ‘Tradition.’  The teaching authority or ‘Magisterium’ of the Catholic Church (headed by the Pope), although not itself a source of divine revelation, nevertheless has a God-given mission to interpret and teach both Scripture and Tradition.  Scripture and Tradition are the sources of Christian doctrine, the Christian’s remote or indirect rule of faith.”[3]

In summary, the rule of faith for protestants (generally, though variously defined, and sometimes along side of reason) is Holy (Sacred) Scripture, the Bible, Sola Scriptura.  For the Roman Catholic Church, the rule of faith is not Scripture alone, but Scripture and Tradition.  In practice, though, the latter cancels out the former.  As we shall see, Holy Scripture and the (oral?) Tradition of the Roman Catholic Church (or of the Orthodox Church) are not compatible as authorities, for the latter will assume authority over the latter.

The differing rules of faith between (historic)[4] Protestantism and Roman Catholicism are not at all complementary or compatible.[5]  They are at odds with each other.  Recognizing this distinction reveals much about the differences and practices between Protestantism and Roman Catholicism, not least of which is the centrality of the Christian faith—Jesus Christ, and the means of salvation—faith in Christ alone.


[1] Theodore G. Tappert, The Book of Concord : The Confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 2000, c1959).  Formula of Concord, Solid Declaration: “We pledge ourselves to the prophetic and apostolic writings of the Old and New Testaments as the pure and clear fountain of Israel, which is the only true norm according to which all teachers and teachings are to be judged and evaluated.” (The Summary Formulation (Basis, Rule, and Norm, Indicating How All Doctrines Should Be Judged in Conformity with the Word of God and Errors Are to Be Explained and Decided in a Christian Way).

 

[2] In a later section, I will address the clear disunity among protestant churches, and also the disunity within the Roman Catholic church.

[3] Joel Peters, Scripture Alone: 21 Reasons to Reject Sola Scriptura, (Rockford, IL: Tan Books and Publishers, Inc.), p1-2.

[4] By historic Protestantism, I mean the first protestants, Lutherans, who “protested” against the Catholics regarding certain freedoms at the Diet of Speyer (1529).

[5] And neither is any rule of faith including Scripture and human reason.

 

 

Holy Scripture and Church Authority

A great deal of discussion is going on in a current study.  For some background history of the Bible, go here, under “Canon, Bible” (see also the Apocrypha).

For a more thorough reading of the history of the Apocrypha [esp. concerning Jerome (his translation of the Bible is the basis for the Roman Catholic Bible) and the non-uniform recognition of them], see the New Schaff-Herzog Encyclopedia. For background to the Canon of Scripture

Lutherans (and protestants) do not accept the Apocryphal books as part of the Canon (Holy Scriptures), whereas Roman Catholics (RC) do.  Catholics claim that the Catholic church is infallible, and therefore, since the church has declared that the Apocrypha, the Old Testament, and the New Testament are of the canon, such is their belief.  Lutherans (and most protestants) confess that the Bible alone is authoritative and normative for faith and life.

These distinctions are incredibly important, for if only the Old and New Testaments are normative, then anything contrary to them and not according to them is not authoritative or binding.  On the other hand, if the Apocryphal writings (and Church tradition as defined by the Catholic church), in addition to the Old & New Testaments, are authoritative as they are interpreted by the church, then only what the Catholic church actually declares (and not the Bible) “rules the day.”

Lutheran, Catholic, Protestant: A Cursory Study

A Comparative Study, Lutheran, RC, Protestant.pdf

The Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod – Commentary: Flunking the religious knowledge test

Gene Edward Veith–

“…It is regrettable when people are ignorant about other people’s religion.  But it is even worse when they are ignorant about their own religion.  Roman Catholics believe that the bread and wine of Communion become the Body and Blood of Christ.  Only 40 percent of Americans realize that.  But only 55 percent of Roman Catholics are aware that this is what their church teaches, meaning that 45 percent do not!

But the most disturbing news from the Religious Knowledge Survey is how few Christians are aware that Protestants believe that salvation is through faith alone.  Only 16 percent of the general public is aware of that teaching, which is the same percentage (16 percent) of Christians who are aware of that teaching!  Only 9 percent of Catholics realize that Protestants believe that.

It gets worse.  Among Protestants, only 19 percent were aware that Protestants believe that salvation is through faith alone.  That includes 14 percent of the mainliners and 9 percent of black Protestants.  Among Evangelicals, whose name suggests an emphasis on the Gospel, only 28 percent know that Protestants believe in salvation through faith alone, which means that 72 percent do not…”

The Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod – Commentary: Flunking the religious knowledge test.

“The Word of God and the Work of the Pastor”

In a recent survey, entitled, “US Religious Knowledge Survey” from the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life, several revealing findings surfaced. Although the findings might not be surprising in the current zeitgeist (spirit) of the times, they do give a jarring dose of reality to any who would consider Christendom, and Christians in general, to be as healthy and strong as they might think themselves to be.

The sampling of the survey was only over 3400. It’s findings, of course, are limited. But at the same time, these can be helpful for us, not only for indicating where Christendom as a whole might be. They can also impress upon us the need for self-reflection and self-evaluation of where we stand, and why.

One editor in the Wisconsin State Journal began his column about the survey with these words, “Say this about American Christians: We hold our beliefs dear and will defend them to the death. Now, if only someone would tell us what they are”(Wed, Oct 6, 2010).

The same editor had also written that, “Pew research has found about 60 percent of American adults say religion is “very important” in their lives.” Then he comments, “But not important enough to learn much about, apparently.” In addition, he also wrote, “If only American Christians would spend as much time researching religion as they do spouting off their opinions about it.”

Generally speaking, I think this editor is quite correct in at least these comments. Americans, as a whole, talk a lot about religion (and an increasing amount about spirituality), but they talk a lot about what they seem to know little about.

For the most part, it seems, quite a few are just plain ignorant (they just don’t know, or care) about the teachings of the Bible, let alone the teachings of the particular Christian denomination they claim to be a member of…

2Tim3.14-4.5, Pentecost 21, 2010C.pdf

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