Friday, 31 October 2008

Happy Reformation Day!

On this day, 491 years ago, a monk called Martin Luther pinned up, on the church notice board (which happened to be the door) of the Church in Wittenburg, 95 Theses.

These Theses were all about the problem of indulgences, the selling of bits of paper, signed by the Pope, granting time off purgatory for you or a dead relative. As Tetzel (the indulgence commissioner for Germany) said "As soon as a coin in the coffer rings / the soul from purgatory springs." - Tetzel even had a price list for different sins, and allowed indugences to be brought in advance of a sin. The Pope used this money to build St Peter's Basilica in Rome. Indulgences 'removed' the need for repentance.

Luther, in his Theses challenges the right of the Pope to forgive sin, the whole Catholic Doctrine of Penance - that you could do certain things (give money, look at some relic, attend a Mass, go to confession and do some rosary prayers) and have your sins forgiven. Luther realised that those things did nothing, and gave false hope. He was still very Catholic at that point, but he was disgusted at the practises of the Roman Catholic church at that time - the defrauding of the pious in return for false assurance.

Here's Baldrick giving the Archbishop of Canterbury (Edmund the Black Adder) the run down of what the market is (sadly cut a bit short)...

Yes there were 2 Popes for quite a while, and both declared the other to be the Antichrist!
Luther joined in the fun - he circulated a pamphlet inviting people to come and look at some 'relics' he had - Theology Network has a list.

The main reason the 95 Theses were important is that, in order to defend his case, Luther had to read the Bible - the Pope took 3 years to respond, and by that time Luther's Theology had massively improved. He was a completely changed person by 1520, understanding Justification and not being rather scared (and bugging of his priest by confessing every tiny sin) - actually being a Christian. In 1520, Luther wrote "On the Freedom of a Christian" which opens:
A Christian is a free lord, subject to none.
A Christian is a perfectly dutiful servant, subject to all.
The 95 Theses aren't great in and of themselves, but what they started in Luther (searching the Scriptures) changed him, and then what Luther had learnt changed Europe, added to greatly by other's work (it certainly wasn't just him). Political things (like the Pope and Henry VIII not getting along due to Henry's wanting to annul his marriage as illegal), technological advances (the printing press), scholarly works (Erasmus' Greek New Testiment) and many other things all worked together to overthrow the captivity of people by the Church - stuck in Latin that many priests could even understand, or pronounce properly, stuck in false hope and also false fear. Tons of things worked together to return Biblical Christianity to the world (after a short absence - only in 1514 had there been a report to the Pope saying that there were no more Bible-believers, that they had finally been defeated), and it returned in a big way.

Wednesday, 29 October 2008


Theology Network has today put up this "Table Talk" with John Piper about Justification. Listen to it!

Here's a quote from Luther on this glorious truth reflecting on his conversion (and Romans 1:17):
"In it the righteousness of God is revealed," that had stood in my way. For I hated that word "righteousness of God," which, according to the use and custom of all the teachers, I had been taught to understand philosophically regarding the formal or active righteousness, as they call it, with which God is righteous and punishes the unrighteous sinner.
At last, by the mercy of God, meditating day and night, I gave heed to the context of the words, namely, "In it the righteousness of God is revealed, as it is written, 'He who through faith is righteous shall live.'" There I began to understand that the righteousness of God is that by which the righteous lives by a gift of God, namely by faith. And this is the meaning: the righteousness of God is revealed by the gospel, namely, the passive righteousness with which merciful God justifies us by faith, as it is written, "He who through faith is righteous shall live." Here I felt that I was altogether born again and had entered paradise itself through open gates.

The bit (in the Table Talk) about if teaching about the atonement was just about forgiveness of sins (in the last 5 minutes), then it's like we're forgiven as a past event and now got to be good to make it, got to justify ourselves was especially helpful. It helped me understand where the Mormon missionaries were coming from yesterday when I questioned a passage of the Book of Mormon that they gave me, where it talks about Christ's death removing the curse of the fall and making us free to choose good or bad, and us being on probation because of it. Yes - probation, basically they believe that God is going to see if we are good enough to make it! But you expect Mormons' to have a false gospel - how many 'protestants' have that heretical view? Rather a lot: that we have to be a 'Christ-follower' obeying Christ to be saved is very common, thanks to the neo-pietists and semi-pelagians that infest the English and American churches today.

Yes faith without works is dead - but the works are fruit - because we are saved we will do them. We don't have to prove our faith to God - he gave us it, he united us with Christ, clothed us in Christ's righteousness, he hid our shameful lives in Christ. We have to prove it to ourselves, of course, to give assurance - that we have the down payment of the Spirit, that we have been worked in by the one who will finish what he started, due to his faithfulness. Our good works assure ourselves that God is working in us, rather than assuring God that we are worthy of him. It's getting things the wrong way round - the wrong view of 'because we want to be saved, we will obey our Lord', rather than 'because we are saved, we will want to obey our Lord'.

Without Justification, we can have no assurance - thank God for this gift of his grace, that we get what we don't deserve: the righteousness of God. God looks at Christians and sees obedience "to the point of death, even death on a cross." - he sees Jesus' obedience, not our disobedience.