Pastor Jeremy M. Thomas
Fredericksburg Bible Church
107 East Austin
Fredericksburg, Texas 78624 830-997-8834 email@example.com
A0823 – June 8, 2008 – Dick Roesch – Battle Cry Of The Reformation - Part 1 Grace alone! Faith alone! Christ alone! Scripture alone!
Today and next Sunday I would like for us to review and better understand the battle cry of the Reformation and some it’s ramifications. I will be giving a little background to get some of the flavor leading up to the Reformation. This is not an extensive study of the history of doctrine, but just enough to show you how far off the mark things had gotten.
Let’s look at the various divisions of the history of the Church, so we’ll know where we are as we go along.
The foundation of all that has been given for us to know about God, Creation, the Fall, the Flood, the purpose of Israel, salvation, who Jesus Christ is, what He has done, his resurrection and ascension, and all the wonderful doctrines we derive from God’s Word (His revelation to man), is a gift of grace from God. How you view these basics of theology will determine how you live your life and deal with the world around you. You may not think of it as basic theology. You may call it “a philosophy of life”. But as we progress through this study, we’re going to learn the difference between philosophical theology and exegetical theology.
In Christian circles, how you define the terms: Bible, God, man, sin, and grace, will in essence, define the Person of Jesus, the Work of Jesus, and your view of salvation.
If these terms are not properly defined, you will have either a blurred or no vision of what salvation is all about. Where you go for the truth you seek is all important.
As you will recall, we studied “origins” in our Framework Series a while back, and we saw that the carnal man wants to “make the world a safe place to sin.” There really is no place for a God to whom we must be responsible. We want to do what we want to do and we don’t need an outside opinion telling us that we’re doing wrong things or sinning!
We also learned that there are only two basic presuppositions. Either, from the Bible, you presuppose that God is the ultimate authority- making man responsible; or, as a pagan, you presuppose that man is the ultimate authority.
There is no middle ground between these two viewpoints, yet we see men twist and misinterpret the Bible through allegorical or private interpretation, to compromise it in such a way as to try to find a middle ground – to neutralize the Word of God, just as Satan did to Eve in the Garden.
Man after the Fall, has the basic desire to be the one who decides what is right or wrong and who to believe - in keeping his desire to be autonomous - and his pride will keep him from confessing his own wrong choice as he builds his “system for living”.
It should be no surprise, then, to find this autonomy and pride even in the area of theology, where we find the mind of man trumping the Word of God with human philosophy - as men build their “system for living”.
As I was trying to come up with structure for presenting this topic I thought it would be good to show you some of the ideas and questions that the early Fathers had to grapple with.
Dr John Hannah has written a book called Our Legacy: The History of Christian Doctrine, in which he takes seven great themes of systematic theology and follows their development through Church history. We will only touch on a few and for overview purposes only.
While we, in the 21st century have the luxury of talking about doctrines like
Trinity, Hypostatic Union, Kenosis, Salvation, with a certain confidence, you can see it took many years of struggle to find the right words, placed in the correct order, to explain and define early doctrine.
To show you how long it took to formulate various doctrines we take for granted, here is a partial list from Dr Hannah’s book:
150-400AD: The Doctrine of the Scriptures, or Authority (250 yrs).
200-381AD: The Doctrine of God or the Trinity (181 yrs).
300-451AD: The Doctrine of the Person of Christ (151 yrs).
Notice that these are not back-to-back processes, that is; start and finish one; start and finish the next; start and finish the next. They are overlapping and interdependent.
In trying to answer objections and false ideas stated, these men had to take into account that what they said about one doctrine didn’t contradict the truth of another doctrine!
The first question is (and will be throughout church history): What is the final authority for truth? Is it Rationalism, Empiricism, Mysticism, Tradition, Revelation – or a combination of two or more?
From what little I’ve read about the Early Fathers, it is truly Christ building His Church by the Holy Spirit’s superintendent ministry. The early Fathers simply were not technical and, given the absence of threatening issues, were not forced to systematize their thought. They weren’t putting things together. The relation of Paul to the O.T. was simply not considered. Paul was elevated, but not to the degree of the O.T.
The Fathers were not thinking analytically or critically. They simply accepted, without question, and therefore there are few answers. When challenged by questions, they simply repeated Scripture. Then people began asking questions they couldn’t answer and that forced these men into a deeper study of the Bible to come up with answers – very much like we do.
I have a personal observation here: Why anyone in our age of biblically progressive knowledge and understanding thinks that it is advantageous to return to the early Fathers for the model of what the Church should be - is beyond me. This is still the Church in infancy and there was a great deal of vagueness among these men. I remember something that Paul Enns told a class he was giving on Christology. I forget how the subject came up, but he was asked his opinion of the writings of the early Church Fathers. His reply was, “I’ve read them, and I wouldn’t give you a nickel for them.”
Regarding Scripture or Authority:
You will notice that the doctrine of Scripture covers the whole period, indicating how challenging this doctrine was, especially in the areas of inspiration and inerrancy.
Interestingly, the Canon of Scripture was brought about by the general consensus of the body of the church. When different “gospels” or “letters” came forth, the general sense of the church (Holy Spirit’s overseeing ministry) was that they didn’t add anything new or were deemed contrary to what they already had accepted as true.
Then Jerome finished translating the Bible into Latin by 405 (the Vulgate), and with it came its own inherent translation problems. However, regarding the canon question; in a letter to Paulinus, bishop of Nola, in 394, Jerome specifically and only lists 39 O.T. books and 27 N.T. (the same as we do).
He is aware of other books, but does not place them in the canon. However, he translates them as “interesting or for historical background reading only”. Ignoring that division, the “whole” Latin Vulgate was adopted by the Roman Catholic Church as the “official” translation of the Western Church, with
45 books in the OT and 27 in the NT.
As the early church struggled with explanations and definitions of these doctrines, questions that had to be asked in the defense of the Trinity were:
Is there one God or are there three Gods? Are they each eternal or was there a succession in birth? Is one stronger than another? How are they different?
In the defense of the Person of Christ, two questions had to be asked:
a) What was Jesus before He came?
Was He pre-incarnate? Was He God? Was He Eternal? Was He the Son of the Father? Were there other sons?
b) What was Jesus when He came?
Was He man, not God? Was God just “hovering” over Jesus?
Was He half man – half God? Did He have one nature or two natures?
Was He one person or two persons?
Men were already teaching heresy, and these questions were the impetus that drove men to the Scriptures for answers, and clarification from much discussion. Here’s a chart of how the Person of Christ doctrine played out.
Christ is fully divine Council of Nicea 325
Christ is fully human Council of Constantinople 382
Christ is a unified person Council of Ephesus 431
Christ is human and divine in one person Council of Chalcedon 451
In the early stages of trying to define these doctrines, along came a young man named Origen (185-254) to the School of Alexandria who became the most influential and widely traveled scholar in the early church. Origen, with a passion for Greek philosophy, developed an allegorical methodology for interpreting the Bible, wrote numerous commentaries, and became an influence in the intellectual communities of that time and his methodology was soon spreading. Here we begin to see the literal, normal understanding of the Bible being traded for a “deeper” meaning from the mind of man.
It is at this point we see that Scripture – the Word of God - the Standard of Truth - is beginning to be set aside.
Then we come to Augustine (354–430) in the Age of the Theologians: 300-600AD.
He and Pelagius have a serious dispute. They couldn’t have been farther apart.
Pelagius sees Adam dying whether he sinned or not.
He believes Adam’s sin injured only himself.
Those born after him are born sinless, like Adam was before his fall.
The Law and the gospel both lead to heaven, and so on.
Augustine, on the other hand, holds to the orthodox views of Sin, the Fall, depravity of man, etc.
The views of Pelagius were finally condemned at the Third Ecumenical Council at Ephesus in 431. But some of Pelagius’ teachings, in modified terms, will live on and influence others down the line in history.
Augustine is influenced by the allegorical hermeneutic. He also shifted from a premillennial to an amillennial position, which is seen in the change of his interpretation of Matthew 24:13 “But the one who endures to the end, he will be saved.” In his early years, he interpreted this as “saved” from physical destruction, the context for him was the destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans.
However, following his shift to amillennialism, Augustine consistently interprets “saved” in Matt 24:13 to be salvation to eternal life. For Augustine Matt 24:13 becomes the sine qua non of eternal salvation. He believed that one can be regenerated (through Baptism), but not be elect – believing that some are regenerated, but not elect, since they do not persevere. The only way to validate one’s election was to persevere until the end of his physical life on earth. Does that sound familiar?
Augustine believed in the inspiration and canonicity of the apocrypha, and the inspiration of the Septuagint (Greek Old Testament). He quoted from Baruch, Bel and the Dragon, Susana, and the Song of the Three Children as authoritative.
Augustine had no knowledge of Hebrew and with a poor grasp of Greek he translated dikaioo (dik·ah·yo·o) as “to make righteous” rather than “to declarerighteous”. Thus, for Augustine and his followers in the Roman Catholic Church a person gradually becomes righteous. The intended and true meaning of this doctrine was not recovered until the Reformation.
Augustine also believed the devil is currently bound, and equated the Church with the kingdom. He ended up with a sort of amillennial and postmillennial synthesis view. He believed in limbo for those who died in infancy and finalized the form of purgatory. One commentator said: “The Augustinian system sounds the depths of knowledge and experience, and renders reverential homage to mystery.”
J. A. Neander (1789-1850) concluded that Augustine’s theology “contains the germ of the whole system of spiritual despotism, intolerance, and persecution, even to the court of the Inquisition.”
As we look at the Church in the Middle Ages (600-1500), we find a gradual spiritual decline as the Church leaders gradually smother the last flames of Scriptural truth. Exegetical theology has given over to philosophical theology.
As the various empires grew so the Church grew. With Rome as its center, the church eventually became the dominating religious power and proclaimed herself “Holy Mother Church”. The only way of a sinner’s salvation was through this “the only true church established by Christ Himself”, confirmed by the “succession of popes”. With the College of Cardinals established in 927, the hierarchical authority was in place.
As time went on, this unchecked authority claimed, because of her high spiritual position, that the Church had power beyond earthly domains and therefore should be the one to crown kings and princes while dethroning others. Most leaders capitulated. Excommunication from this Church meant eternal damnation! Aligned with power and wealth, a more human than spiritual organization was emerging – self perpetuating and self sustaining - that would replace Scripture as the true authority - with church traditions, Mariology, an Old Testament-like priesthood, sacraments, and absolute authority – all supported from well chosen Scriptural words and taken-out-of-context phrases that presumably supported these traditions and doctrines that finally made the Catholic Church at Rome - the Roman Catholic Church.
Then we come to the man called Thomas Aquinas (1224/25–74). He is well known for his Summa Theologica, which summarizes the reasonings for almost all points of Christian theology in the West.
Here we have an extraordinarily intelligent man, a man seen by the Roman church as an “Angelic Doctor”; philosopher, theologian, and soon to be patron of Catholicuniversities, colleges, and schools. This man was a student of and great admirer of Aristotle. The following on-line description may give us an insight to the mind of this man….
“Thomistic Philosophy is inspired by the philosophical methods and principles used by Thomas Aquinas (1224/5-1274), a Dominican Friar and Theologian, in his explanation of the Catholic faith. Aquinas, who is most renowned for his Five Ways of Proving the Existence of God, believed that both faith and reason discover truth, a conflict between them being impossible since they both originate in God. Believing that reason can, in principle, lead the mind to God, Aquinas defended reason's legitimacy, especially in the works of Aristotle.....” (www.aquinasonline.com)
(My interpretation of these statements is that Scripture will take a back seat to man’s logical thinking, reasoning, and free will.)
Aquinas defined sin not only as something negative—the loss of original righteousness—but also something positive—the lust of the flesh. This sinful nature is propagated by the parents to their offspring. Aquinas taught that Adam’s sin was transferred to all humanity because of the unity of the human race. He declared, “All who are born of Adam may be considered as one man; thus men derived from Adam are members of one body.”
He says the results of original sin are:
Alienation of the human will from God,
disorder of the powers of the soul,
and liability to punishment.
In his Systematic Theology, Charles Hodge says’
“Thomas agreed with Augustine on most points about Adam’s
condition after original sin and what is passed down to mankind -
that men, in consequence of the fall, are utterly unable to save themselves,
or to do anything really good in the sight of God without the aid of
divine grace. But they still have the power to cooperate with that grace.”
(This is the idea of free will.)
Aquinas said that “Man is justified by faith,
not in the sense that he merits justification by believing,
but in the sense that he believes while he is being justified”
(This fits well with Augustine’s mistranslation of dikaioo as “to make righteous” – to become righteous.)
Aquinas seeks God’s grace through sacramental forms. Not that the forms are mechanical means of grace, but that God supplies grace through participating in the forms. He wrote (SummaTheologica. Q. 61.3): “I answer that, Sacraments are necessary for man’s salvation, in so far as they are sensible signs of invisible things whereby man is made holy.”
There are seven sacraments: Baptism, Confirmation, Holy Eucharist, Penance, Extreme Unction, Orders, and Matrimony. These are the means of grace provided for the sinner. The ones most used will be Holy Eucharist and Penance.
With regard to the atonement, Shedd states, “….Aquinas represents the expiatory value of the atonement (the making amends or reparation for) as dependent upon the believer’s conformity to law. In order that the satisfaction of Christ may be an adequate one for the sinner, he must be ‘configured’ to Christ. The atonement isnot sufficient alone and by itself. It must be supplemented by personal character and good works, and in some cases by penances….In case of sin after baptism, the believer must be ‘configured’ to Christ by a personal suffering in the form of penance, as well as by the acceptance of the sufferings of the Redeemer.”
(What effect does this have on the “sufficiency” of the Cross-work of Christ?)
The Roman Catholic Church looks upon Thomas Aquinas not only as a great
philosophical and theological thinker - the “Angelic Doctor of the Church”, but the one who could and would systematize, legitimatize, and defend the “whole package”.
During the Council of Trent (1545-1563), the name and work of Aquinas will be referred to many times, in most reverential terms, as a defense or as a reference for the subject being discussed.
Romanism is becoming merely the religion of human nature, and the Roman Catholic Church – a human institution.
As you can see, this gradually took place over a period of 900-1000 years and the stage is now set for God to send a “wake up” call to repent and re-discover the truths of Scripture. He brought forth godly, courageous men who would take up Word of God once again; understanding it as it was written and discover great and wonderful truths that changed their lives forever. God saw to it that the printing press was available for these men so that, eventually, the Bible could be placed in the hands of the common man in the language he understood. Commentaries would be written and published to help the people in their own discovery of Scriptural truth, which, up to this point was in Latin and required an explanation from the priestly ranks.
These men would shake the very foundations of this organization, challenge and infuriate the church dignitaries, suffer physical attacks, indignities, imprisonment, and, in a number of cases, death. Nevertheless, they would gradually bring back Biblical truth and the Work of Christ. Keep in mind that these men were a part of this church organization and were simply, at the beginning, trying to “reform” it.
There were men in the 14th and 15th centuries who also tried to get reforms. John Wycliffe (c. 1324-1384), of England was probably the most famous of these. He attacked the Papacy as an office, saying that “the pope is neither necessary to the Church nor is he infallible. If both popes and cardinals were cast into hell, believers could be saved as well without them. They were created not by Christ but by the devil.”
He attacked the sale of indulgences.
He attacked the medieval dogma of transubstantiation; that the bread and wine at communion actually became the Body and Blood of Christ.
He attacked the church for not allowing the common man to read the bible for himself and so translated the Bible into English from the Latin and published versions in 1382 and 1388. John Wycliffe died December 31, 1384.
In 1428, 56 years later, his bones were torn from the grave in the Lutterworth churchyard by the English bishop at the command of the Pope, burned to ashes, and thrown into the river Swift.
John Huss (1369-1415) of Bohemia, was another early reformer. One of Wycliffe’s followers, John Huss actively promoted Wycliffe’s ideas: that people should be permitted to read the Bible in their own language, and they should oppose the tyranny of the Roman church that threatened anyone possessing a non-Latin Bible with execution. Huss was burned at the stake in 1415, with Wycliffe’s manuscript Bibles used as kindling for the fire. His ashes were thrown into the river Rhine.
Jerome Savonarola (1452-1498) of Florence was a Dominican monk who boldly denounced the prevalent corruptions and immorality in the churches. He was burned at the stake.
The Sixteenth Century reform attempts.
Enter Martin Luther (1483-1546).
From 1510 to 1520, Luther lectured on the Psalms, the books of Hebrews, Romans, and Galatians. As he studied these portions of the Bible, he came to view the use of terms such as penance and righteousness by the Roman Catholic Church in new ways. In reading and studying the Book of Romans, he was captivated by the passage of Romans 1:16-17 until, he gave attention to the words at the end of v 17, "But he who is righteous through faith shall live.” He realized that the verse was not talking about the active righteousness that we must work to attain for God to accept us, but the passive righteousness that He freely gives to those who believe the Gospel, but at this time his perception was that, as we believe the gospel, God’s righteousness is “infused” into us. This, of course, fit the Church’s teaching. While he was still wrestling with this, Luther had reached his boiling point with the corruption and abuses that he saw in the Church and so it was on October 31, 1517 – that Luther posted his 95 Theses on the door of the Church at Wittenberg (church doors acted as the bulletin boards of his time), challenging the practice of indulgences (document from a pope or bishop, granting entrance to heaven or release of souls from purgatory) – [for more info, go online; search for “indulgences”; and choose Catholic Encyclopedia for a 10 page explanation]. That was the normal and orderly way of having a learned, academic disputation. The debate never took place, but Luther wasted no time in writing documents and pamphlets regarding the abuses he saw in the Church, and the printing presses were busy and printers were selling translations of his bold challenges to the papacy throughout Europe. It was clear to the powers that be, that this was an attack on their authority and the entire established structure and must be stopped.
The reigning pope at the time was Leo X. Leo responded to thses challenges over the next three years, "with great care as is proper," by deploying a series of papal theologians and envoys against Luther. Perhaps he hoped the matter would die down of its own accord, because in 1518 he dismissed Luther as "a drunken German" who "when sober will change his mind".
In 1520 – Pope Leo X warned Luther with the papal bull (edict) Exsurge Domine (Arise, O Lord) that he risked excommunication unless he recanted 41 sentences drawn from his writings, including the 95 Theses, within 60 days. Luther publicly burned that Papal bull. (Papal bulls were only issued, during this time, for the most formal or solemn of occasions. The most distinctive characteristic of a bull was the metal seal, which was usually made of lead, It depicted the founders of the Church of Rome, the apostlesPeter and Paul, identified by the letters Sanctus PAulus and Sanctus PEtrus. The name of the issuing pope is on the reverse side. Bulla is the name of this seal, which to ancient observers looked like a bubble floating on water: Latin bullire, "to boil".)
Then we have Philipp Melanchthon (1497–1560).
He was a German professor and theologian, a future key leader of the Lutheran Reformation, and a friend and associate of Martin Luther. In 1509, not yet thirteen years old, Phillipp entered the University of Heidelberg where he studied philosophy, rhetoric, and astronomy/astrology, and was known as a good Greek scholar. After completing his philosophical course, he took his master’s degree in 1516, and began to study theology. He published a Greek grammar in 1518. Under the influence of men like Reuchlin and Erasmus he became convinced that true Christianity was something quite different from scholastic theology as it was taught at the university and willingly followed a call to the University of Wittenberg as professor of Greek, where Luther’s influence brought him to the study of Scripture, especially of Paul. His knowledge of Greek served Luther well as they discussed various passages of Scripture, in particular the passage that Luther was wrestling with in Romans 1:16-17, where Melanchthon, showed him that the “righteousness” is to be translated “imputed” not “infused”.
We do not become righteous, but God “declares” the sinner righteous, so that at the same time we are sinners, we are declared to be righteous and this occurs through faith in Jesus Christ who died on the cross for our sins and rose from the dead.
Once Luther realized that it was not by Law keeping that we become righteous before God but through faith in Christ that the alien righteousness of Christ is imputed to us as a gift, he felt that he “was altogether born again and had entered paradise itself through open gates…that place in Paul was for me truly the gate to paradise.”
Whereas, before there had been only unrest and uncertainty, now his conscience was at rest, now he was certain of his salvation. Now Luther understood the ‘Good News”. Now Luther had assurance. (And to that I say Amen!)
He continued his writings and began to preach against the many deceptions perpetrated on the people by this authoritarian church. Pope, sacraments, Mass, Eucharistic practices, priesthood, all were fair game for this man whose eyes had been opened to a truth of Scripture that allowed him to see the church for what is was – a human organization with religious trappings.
Luther was excommunicated by Leo X on January 3, 1521, in the bull Decet Romanum Pontificem (“[It] befits [the] Roman Pontiff”). And although I did not find reference to it, I feel sure that Martin burned this bull too.
When called to Worms, a small town on the Rhine, in April 18, 1521 –
by the Emperor Charles V to either renounce or reaffirm his writings, Luther stood firm before the Emperor, 6 Princes, 24 dukes, 30 archbishops and bishops and 7 ambassadors. His speech displayed his deep commitment.
"Unless I am convinced by Scripture or clear reasoning that I am in error – for popes and councils have often erred and contradicted themselves – I cannot recant, for I am subject to the Scriptures I have quoted; my conscience is captive to the Word of God. It is unsafe and dangerous to do anything against one’s conscience. Here I stand. I cannot do otherwise. God help me. Amen."
(The last portion: “Here I stand. I cannot do otherwise.” is in dispute as to whether Luther actually said these words.)
When Luther and the princes who supported him left Worms, the emperor imposed an Imperial Act (Wormser Edikt): Luther is declared an outlaw, which meant that he may be killed by anyone without threat of punishment. This was the time that Luther went into exile for a year at the Wartburg Castle, and the Reformation had time to stabilize and strengthen itself.
By the end of his life, Martin Luther had written over 60,000 pages of published works. Yet he said that he would rather "all my books would disappear and the Holy Scriptures alone be read!"
For Luther, reason could be used to question men and institutions, but not God. He believed that human beings could learn about God only through divine revelation and Scripture therefore became increasingly important to him. He became convinced that the church was corrupt in many ways and had lost sight of the central truths of Christianity, the most important of which, for Luther, was the doctrine of justification — God's act of declaring a sinner righteous — by faith alone through God's grace.
The words of Rom 1:17 are as precious today as they were 500 years ago for Martin Luther, “But he who is righteous through faith shall live.” It is not through law keeping that we become righteous and acceptable before God but through faith, without any works.
The same was true of Abraham, as Paul says later in Rom 4:5, “…to the one who does not work but believes in him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness,…”.
Isn’t that what Ephesians 2:8-9 is all about?
“For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast.”
It’s God’s work in Christ for us. It’s not our doing!
Luther explained his concept of "justification" in the Smalcald (Schmalkald) Articles written in 1537:
The first and chief article is this: Jesus Christ, our God and Lord, died for our sins and was raised again for our justification (Romans 3:24-25). He alone is the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world (John 1:29), and God has laid on Him the iniquity of us all (Isaiah 53:6). All have sinned and are justified freely, without their own works and merits, by His grace, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, in His blood (Romans 3:23-25). This is necessary to believe. This cannot be otherwise acquired or grasped by any work, law or merit. Therefore, it is clear and certain that this faith alone justifies us ... Nothing of this article can be yielded or surrendered, even though heaven and earth and everything else falls (Mark 13:31).
So now we have the battle cry of the Reformation:
Grace alone! Faith alone! Christ alone! Scripture alone! If you don’t remember anything else about what is said today, remember this: The Reformation brought back the objectivity of the Gospel through the doctrine of Justification by Faith; how you are “declared” righteous by faith in the Cross-work of Christ.
Salvation is an objective, historical eventoutside of you that God has caused
to happen through His Son’s work on the cross.
There isn’t anything you can do about it other than accept it or reject it.
That is why you find the “Good News” on the back of our Church bulletin.
I hope that you have gotten a flavor of why the Reformation took place and the necessity of the return to Scripture as the only authority.
Next week we’ll try to understand the meaning of Faith, Imputation, Justification, and Scriptural Authority. And, perhaps we’ll have time to look at where the Reformation is now.
Back To The Top