Martin Luther. As the 500th anniversary of the reformation this name will be on the lips of many people. Yet, most people will know of him little more than the fact that he “started” the Reformation – or better yet he caused the split between Catholics and Protestants. Some won’t even know that! They will just know that he is the guy that started Lutheran churches….. *sigh*
Yet Luther is so much more than just those things! Luther helped to rediscover the doctrine of justification by faith, “the doctrine by which the church stands or falls!” He was also a firm defender of the 5 sola’s: sola Scriptura, sola fide, sola gratia, sola Christus, sola Deo Gloria.
This new book, Martin Luther in His Own Words, edited by Jack Kilcrease and Erwin Lutzer attempts to give readers an introduction to the essential writers of this German Reformer. Organized around the 5 Sola’s, the editors have included excerpts from some of Luther’s most important works including:
Commentary on Galatians
Preface to St. Paul’s Letter to the Romans
The Bondage of the Will
Commentary on the Lord’s Prayer
If you don’t have time to sift through all of Luther’s works but want a good introduction you don’t need to look further than this book. If you are intimidated about picking up theological literature that was written 500 years ago, again look no further! The editors have included concise but extremely helpful introductions to each of the sections.
If you are a pastor who is looking for one place where you can get the best of Luther’s works – look here. If you are a Bible college student who has always been interested in Luther but doesn’t know where to start. Look here! Finally, if you would like to do some sort of small group discussion on the Reformation, this would be a great place to start. So look here!
If any of these categories apply to you, and you would like a free copy of this book, you are in luck! In a few days I will be giving away one copy of this book. So keep your eyes on my blog, I will be explaining the giveaway soon!
In the 1550’s Geneva witnessed an influx of French refugees into the city. William Naphy has argued that this influx, and the growing influence of these French religious refugees was the single most common complaint in Geneva during this period. (Naphy, 121) Prior to the influx of politically powerful French refugees, there was an influx of poor refugees. For example, in October 1538-1539 Geneva’s city hospital assisted 10,657 poor strangers as they passed through the city. Naphy notes that this number does not even include Genevans who would have been attended to by the hospital. (Naphy, 122)
Regularly the hospital would have been charged with the city’s poor. The hospital would be expected to take care of the sick in the hospital, deal with outpatients as well as people who were housed in the hospital, including orphans. In addition to these ministrations , the hospital had a bread baking ministry in which bread cooked in the hospital ovens was weekly distributed to the poor at their homes. (Olson, 164)
Naphy also notes that by the close of 1543 a clear pattern began to emerge between the city and these refugees. Geneva was willing to help strangers when able to do so, but when resources were strained the city itself pulled back on giving direct help. It seems as though this lack of resources, which were provided by the city hospital, were filled by several Bourses or funds specifically created by the foreign residents of Geneva in order to take care of the poorer refugees entering the city. These funds were formed by French, Italian, and German ethnic groups and — as Olson writes with respect to the French Fund — it seems as though Calvin “had a direct hand in its formation (the French Bourse)….[being] regularly involved through his contributions and recommendations to poor people to seek out the fund for help.” (Olson 165)
Calvin’s work with the French Bourse reveals something about the role that the church ought to play in social concerns. It has been said that for Calvin, care for the poor was practically the fourth mark of the church. This claim especially comes to light when Calvin and the company of pastors make the administrators of the French Bourse deacons. The fact that these administrators were made deacons is important because it reveals Calvin’s dissatisfaction with the current diaconate. According to Calvin, deacons are those whom the church has appointed to distribute alms and take care of the poor, and serve as stewards of the common chest of the poor. (Tuininga, 239) Prior to the growth of the Bourse system the term deacon primarily applied to the procureurs and hospitalliers of the city hospital, however applying the term deacon to these roles was fairly complicated because the hospital was responsible to the city council. In the 1543 edition of the Institutes Calvin argues that the work of deacons is not to be understood as a part of civil government: ‘it was not secular management that they were undertaking but a spiritual function dedicated to God’” (Tuininga, 242). The Hospital, in the 1540’s, was run by “deacons” but reported to the city councils, and leadership was designated by the councils. This arrangement was not in line with Calvin’s vision of the diaconate. On the other hand, the Bourses were operated solely by the deacons under the oversight of the church without any involvement from the civil magistrates, and were considered ministers of the church. (Tuininga, 243)
How exactly did these deacons address social concerns? They provided hospitality to travelers, medical care for the sick, temporary support for the unemployed, long term support for widows, and job training for orphans. The work of the Bourse “presents a clear example of the type of work that Calvin believed the church was called to do for the needy, without any cooperation with civil government.” (Tuininga, 244)
What exactly does Calvin’s preference for working alongside of the Bourse as opposed to the procureurs and hospitalliers reveal about his understanding of “care for the poor as a fourth mark of the church?” It shows that Calvin believed that the ministry of the diaconate, which was to care for the poor, properly belonged to the church as opposed to being “outsourced” to some other entity. Care for the poor was a responsibility that the church itself had, and could not and should not simply and over to some other body. Although other entities ought to be commended for taking care of the poor, the church has failed if it does not do something to relieve the plight of the poor. This is why Calvin says “we must begin at the end, that is to say, there must be ministers to preach the doctrine of salvation purely, there must be deacons to have care for the poor.” Does this mean that Calvin saw care for the poor as a fourth mark of the church? Probably not, however what it does mean is that the church is somehow deficient (as opposed to not the church at all) if it lacks a means for taking care of the poor.
Calvin’s understanding of how the poor ought to be cared for extends beyond discussion of the city hospital or even the distribution of the Bourse funds in Geneva. Calvin was under the impression that care for the poor is actually a requirement of natural law. Tuininga argues that Calvin interprets relief for the poor as a requirement of nature’s law of equity in other words, this law of equity is not grounded in the gospel but in the order of creation. (Tuininga, 227-8) Thus Calvin can say “this is the dictate of common sense, that the hungry are deprived of their just right, if their hunger is not relieved.” How does Calvin believe that this law of equity is enforced? It is enforced by rulers and authorities. Thus he argues that “a just and well regulated government will be distinguished for maintaining the rights of the poor and afflicted.” (Tuininga, 230) Governments are charged with taking care of the poor and needy. They ought to build poorhouses, hospitals, and schools, they ought to prohibit laws that harm the poor and hinder them from making their way out of their condition. If a government fails to perform their obligations to the poor they are liable to God’s judgement. Not only this, but they are worthy of criticism from the church, in fact Calvin was known for harshly criticizing specific governments for failing to perform their obligations to the poor.
The fact that Calvin was willing to criticize not only local magistrates but also kings and foreign governments illustrates Heiko Oberman’s thesis in Europa Afflicta. There Oberman shows that Calvin’s reformation moves beyond merely city reformation, aiming at a larger reformation that takes all of Europe into account. According to Oberman Calvin did not serve a parish, a territory, or a country. (Oberman, 103) He saw himself as being called to minister by God, and not by any city council or King. Thus he had the authority and responsibility to seek the welfare of all Christians even if that brought him into conflict with those in power. This international awareness is why Calvin can warn against the territorial hunger of the German emperor and the expansionism of the French King. (Oberman, 105) Calvin explicitly warned that as kings become more powerful, the poor would suffer more. However, kings are not above the law, “If a king wants to be regarded as legitimate and as a servant of God he has to show that he is a true father for his people.” (Oberman quoting Calvin, 107) Calvin was concerned for the welfare of the poor, especially poor Christians, not only in Geneva, but in Europe as a whole.
From what we have seen above — namely, Calvin’s concern that the church fulfills its role in taking care of the poor and that civil governments fulfill natural law in taking care of the poor — we see that for Calvin social concern is a topic that the church not only involves itself in but also speaks up about. Contemporary evangelicals, especially in the United States, ought to take notice that John Calvin himself (not a mainline liberal) believes that the church is not fully the church when it is not taking care of the poor. It ought to take notice that Calvin himself believed that the church had the responsibility of speaking truth to power, because the church lives as refugees in this world. Thus if evangelical churches are going to be true to their reformation heritage they would do well to reexamine how Calvin approached social concerns.
 Tuininga notes that in the earlier years Calvin was the most generous single contributor the the French Bourse.
It seems like a simple question, which doesn’t have a very simple answer:
Can Christians and churches be catholic and Reformed? Can they commit themselves not only to the ultimate authority of apostolic Scripture but also to receiving this Bible within the context of the apostolic Church?
Allen and Swain believe that the answer to that question is a simple “yes!” In fact they say that “to be Reformed means to go deeper into true catholicity, not to move away from catholicity.” (4) Allen and Swain take the next 160 or so pages to unpack the complexity of this seemingly simple answer.
Joining the rather popular, and encouraging trend, of theological retrieval (which we see in Radical Orthodoxy, Evangelical Ressourcement, and Resourcement Thomism) Allen and Swain provide us with a Sola Scriptura based logic for pursuing a Reformed retrieval program. They argue that one can take the distinctive features of Reformation theology and ecclesiology in order develop a truly catholic theology – that is a theology which embraces the Great Tradition of the Church.
They begin their argument, or manifesto, for Reformed Catholicity, by sketching the logic behind the claim that the catholic church is the context for doing theology. They base their argument upon the notion that the church is the “School of Christ.” This first chapter dips into ecclesiology and pneumatology and shows that the Spirit, who is the teacher, abides in the church and ensures that its apostolic teaching is guarded through the reading of Scripture. This establishes the basis for saying that “the church is the school of Christ, taught by the Spirit of Christ; the church is the seedbed of theology that flourishes by the anointing of Christ.” (46)
Their argument then turns the doctrine of Sola Scriptura. In chapter two they seek to defend this doctrine from recent criticisms. Most of these criticisms are based upon seeing this doctrine from a modernist perspective rather than seeing the doctrine as it truly is meant to be understood – in a reformed catholic context. In chapter three they argue that the more one is committed to the authority of scripture the more one is compelled to honor and respect the teachings of those in the church that came before us. They show that Scripture and tradition are not mutually exclusive. Scripture generates tradition, and tradition serves scripture by helping us read it.
Chapter four attempts to provide an argument for a “ruled reading” of Scripture on the basis of Reformed theological and ecclesiological principles. (96) This chapter provides a solid foundation for reading scripture in light of one’s doctrinal commitments. To most theologians this seems quite obvious – we always bring our theological baggage (I wish there were a more positive word for this) to our reading of Scripture. And this is Okay! However, many biblical scholars argue that we should try not to do this – we should try to read scripture solely based upon historical criteria. Those scholars need to read this chapter.
Their last chapter is a defense of the practice of proof texting in theology. They show that “a proof text signals a symbolic relationship between commentarial specificity and dogmatic synthesis as well as exegetical precision and cognizance.” Thus most critiques against proof-texting (done well) actually misunderstand the practice.
This last chapter is followed up by an afterword written by J. Todd Billings. He sums up the vision of Reformed Catholicity by applying it to the life of congregations on the ground. Pastor theologians will find this chapter incredibly interesting since it compares and contrasts the catholic reformed vision of the church and ministry with a consumeristic – moralistic therapeutic deism so prevalent in the church.
I really appreciated this book; probably because I was already on board with the overall project of reformed catholicity. So instead of focusing on critiquing Allen and Swain’s work I want to highlight several further lines of research that come out of this book.
The Goal of the Spirit’s Pedagogical Role & Papal Infalibility – There is an interesting footnote in chapter 3 which waves this topic. Given the Spirit’s role abiding within the church and teaching the church, the fact that the church’s understanding of its apostolic foundation and and must grow, and the fact that the Spirit’s goal is to lead the church into the eschatological future of fully knowing God we might want to rethink Papal infallibility as not completely wrongheaded – we might want to consider it to be more akin to an over-realized eschatology.
The Role of the Pastor-Theologian – Allen and Swain argue that theology and exegesis work hand in hand. They says that more theologians should commit to an ongoing practice of doing exegetical work in lectures, conferences addresses, and their personal writing plans. I want to make a suggestion that they overlook – theologians should preach more in their churches. Some of the greatest theologians were pastors at one point or another in their life: Calvin, Barth, Bonhoeffer. The discipline of theology would be better served if theologians had to regularly preach in their home churches.
Christian Education – In order to become better readers of scripture – and thus hopefully better “doers of the word” – we need to learn how to read scripture well. We learn to read scripture well when we have a strong theological foundation – In other words we need to learn how to read scripture with the great catholic tradition in mind. This will involve “pre-loading” Christians with doctrine before they approach the text. What is the best way to do this? Is it catechetical classes? Sunday School? More doctrinal preaching? Really I don’t know. But it’s a vital question for the health of our churches.
In my opinion Reformed Catholicity paints a picture of being a catholic protestant that is far bigger than simply including Reformed believers. Most of what Allen and Swain say could be appropriated by anybody within the Reformation tradition. As somebody who doesn’t subscribe to a Reformed ecclesiology (I’m “Baptistic” & Reformed), I appreciated the fact that their “Reformed theological and eccelsiological principles” where broad enough that someone with Reformed sensibilities but a free-church ecclesiology could embrace.
Reformed Catholicity is a fantastic book. If you are a pastor or theologian who cares about the fact that the church is one, holy, catholic, and apostolic then you need to read Allen and Swain’s manifesto for being Reformed (protestant) and catholic.
It has been said that justification by faith alone is the doctrine on which the church stands or falls; on reformation day we discover the “rediscovery” (in a Christopher Columbus sense) of this doctrine. So on this Reformation I give you an awesome quote from the reformer Zacharias Ursinus:
“The righteousness with which we are here justified before God, is not our conformity with the law, not our good works, nor our faith; but it is the satisfaction which Christ rendered to the law in our stead; or the punishment which he endured on our behalf; and therefore the entire humiliation of Christ…whatever he did…is all included in the satisfaction which he made for us, and in the righteousness which God graciously imputes to us, and all believers.”
“How can man, being a sinner, be just before God?…Man as a sinner can be regarded as righteous only on the ground of the imputation of Christ’s merits; and this is the question of which we speak when treating the subject of justification.”
A few days ago I posted some thoughts on what I think Paul meant by “the righteousness of God” in Romans 3:21-26
21 But now, apart from law, the righteousness of God has been disclosed, and is attested by the law and the prophets, 22 the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction, 23 since all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God; 24 they are now justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, 25 whom God put forward as a sacrifice of atonement by his blood, effective through faith. He did this to show his righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over the sins previously committed; 26 it was to prove at the present time that he himself is righteous and that he justifies the one who has faith in Jesus.
When I asked my EBC students – what does Paul mean by “righteousness of God” it seemed like they kept getting tripped up by this phrase. So I tried to provide some clarification as to what Paul really meant. What I noticed was that their answers were mainly based on some historical views of what God’s righteousness is. These are more-so “theological” views rather than “exegetical views.” They might be right and true, but they aren’t what this passage is talking about…
Here are a couple of historical views as to what Paul meant by “the righteousness of God” in Romans 3:21-26
1) God’s Justice – This view, popular prior to the Reformation, tended to refer to the righteousness of God as his justice particularly in the context of his role as a judge over sinful humanity.
While this certainly is a part of God’s righteousness, we should not think of God’s righteousness as simply his judgment upon guilt. God certainly is the righteous judge but he is so much more than that!
2) The Righteousness Imputed to Believers – Martin Luther really popularized the idea that the righteousness of God is God’s gracious gift of righteousness that is given to all those who believe in Jesus Christ. This is the sort of righteousness that emerges from God’s own righteousness, it is imparted to those who have faith, and God recons those who possess this alien righteousness as justified. Note what Luther himself says:
For God does not want to save us by our own righteousness but by an extraneous righteousness which does not originate in ourselves but comes to us from beyond ourselves, which does not arise on our earth but comes from heaven. Therefore we must come to know this righteousness which is utterly external and foreign to us. That is why our personal righteousness must be uprooted.
-Martin Luther’s Lectures on Romans
This conception of “the righteousness of God” is definitely the most common among evangelicals. However, despite that this concept certainly exists within scripture, Romans 3:21 doesn’t not refer to this sort of righteousness.
3) God’s Saving Activity – Ernst Kasemman popularize the notion that the phrase “the righteousness of God” connotes God’s active sovereignty over the whole cosmos, especially God’s power rescue and restore creation. As Bruce Longenecker says, “The righteousness of God is shorthand for talking about God’s act of cosmic rectification, in which God is exercising his victory over the forces of chaos that roam through his creation and set it in disrepair” (Thinking Through Paul). This reading fits well with how the term is used in the OT, during 2nd temple Judaism, and Paul’s narrative theology.
It is my opinion that this third option is the one that best fits what Paul is talking about in Romans 3….
Which of these three interpretations do you lean towards?
Pope Francis is a Universalist! At least that is what some people are going to want to say once they read the statements on atheism that he made during his homily at Wednesday Mass on 5/22/13.
It has been reported that Francis made some incendiary comments on Wednesday that has infuriated many Catholics and has reminded protestants of why they left the Catholic church hundreds of years ago. Francis was preaching from the Gospel of Mark, a pericope where some of Jesus’ disciples were angry that someone who was outside of their group was doing God. Here is what Francis says
“They complain… if he is not one of us, he cannot do good. And Jesus corrects them: “Do not hinder him, let him do good.”
Francis explains that the disciples were “a little intolerant…convinced that those who do not have the truth, cannot do good…this was wrong…Jesus broadens the horizon. The root possibility of doing good — that we all have — is in creation.”
He goes on to say that:
“The Lord created us in His image and likeness, and we are the image of the Lord, and He does good and all of us have this commandment at heart: do good and do not do evil. All of us. ‘But, Father, this is not Catholic! He cannot do good.’ Yes, he can… “The Lord has redeemed all of us, all of us, with the Blood of Christ: all of us, not just Catholics. Everyone! ‘Father, the atheists?’ Even the atheists. Everyone!”.. We must meet one another doing good. ‘But I don’t believe, Father, I am an atheist!’ But do good: we will meet one another there.”
The media was quick to respond to these comments by saying that “Atheists should be seen as good people if they do good.” And that “Francis reaching out to atheists and people who belong to no religion is a marked contrast to the attitude of former Pope Benedict.” Some media outlets have even said that Francis says “Atheists who do good are saved” and “Atheists who do good go to heaven.”
Let me put my cards out on the table. I am a Francis Fan. Even though I am protestant, evangelical, charismatic, and reformed. And I also believe in the principle of Christian and Academic Charity. Also, in these statements seem to represent a huge break in Francis’ former attitudes towards atheists. So lets stop and think about these statements for a second.
Question: Does Francis believe that Atheists are inherently good? Answer: No
Nowhere does Francis say that Atheists are good. Notice carefully what he does say. “The root possibility of doing good – that we all have is in creation.” He does not say “the possibility of being good. He says “the possibility of doing good.” This is completely uncontroversial. Many within the Reformed tradition, including Kuyper (and others who follow the Dutch Calivinst tradition) have affirmed the doctrine of common grace. We are not utterly depraved. We are totally depraved. This means that sin infects (or affects) all that we do, even the “good” things. So nowhere is Francis denying the doctrine of original sin.
Question: Does Francis believe that Atheists can be saved by their good works? Answer: No
As a Catholic Francis does believe that humans are saved by works. But with one HUGE caveat. Humans are saved through meritorious works. Works are only meritorious if they are performed in Christ, by means of grace. As a protestant I disagree with this. I believe that we are saved through the work of Christ alone and that our works are evidence of the fact that we are in Christ. Nevertheless the Catholic stands firm in asserting that salvation is not earned by our own efforts. God’s grace empowers us to do the works that are salvific. By definition atheists are not in Christ, yes they can do good works, but no these works are not meritorious, therefore they are not salvific. Atheists will not be saved. Atheists won’t be in heaven… that is unless they repent and put their faith in Christ. This is not an issue over grace versus redemption through works. This is not per-reformation Catholicism creeping in.
Question: Does Francis believe that Atheists are redeemed by the blood of Christ? Answer: Yes
Francis does believe that atheists are redeemed by the blood of Christ. He probably believes that murders, Buddhists, Muslims, adulterers, gluttons, financial crooks, and liars are redeemed by the blood of Christ. What else would these people be redeemed by? I understand that this is probably the most controversial part of his statement. But note… he is not saying he believes in universal salvation! He simply asserts that he believes in universal redemption. Even more specifically it seems as though he is asserting the doctrine of unlimited atonement. He highlights the fact that Christ died for all… not just the elect. Some Reformed people will balk at this (5 Pointers) others will see it as not being an issue (4 Pointers). Regardless, Francis surely is not a Catholic universalist.
Question: So what is Francis Saying? Answer: Work together for the common good.
Its important to remember that this homily was given in light of what happened in Oklahoma, the terrible tornadoes. He is simply saying that as Christians we must not be afraid to work together with non-Christians (even atheists) for the sake of the common good. In light of the tornadoes in Oklahoma this means that Christian relief organizations can come alongside of non-Christian organizations in order to serve the community through good works. This means that Christians can even serve in non-Christian organizations to do good for the community. This is no different than what certain strands of Reformed theology have always asserted, namely that people must work together for the common good because that is a part of how God’s common grace is manifested.