Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Reformation and Missions



The ruins of columns of an ancient Byzantine church in the ancient city of Philadelphia, now called Alashehir, Turkey. The Turks did not live in the modern land what is called "Turkey" today; in the NT days it was Asia Minor, Anatolia, Galatia, Cappodocia, Bythinia, Pontus, Phrygia, and Armenia. The Seljuks Turks first came to Turkey in the east in 1071 and defeated the Byzantines at the battle of Manzikert near Van. Then the Ottoman Turks defeated the Byzantines in Contstantinople in 1453 after the many wars and battles of the Crusades period of 1095-1299 and beyond. Notice the Islamic minaret in between the ancient church ruins. Like the church at Ephesus, the church in Philadelphia eventurally left its first love also. ( Revelation 2:4-5) Every generation is responsible for the great commission in their own time. Just because a land had the gospel before in history, does not mean that it should not have the gospel preached again to that same land, because the people are different; different ethnicities, and different generations.

The early church had "quickly deserted Him who called you by His grace" (Galatians 1:6) and eventually, the churches in Revelation chapters 2-3 did the same thing.

Discussion at "Called to Communion":
http://www.calledtocommunion.com/2009/09/hermeneutics-and-the-authority-of-scripture/

The Called to Communion web-site is a Roman Catholic web-site of (mostly, if not all) former Evangelicals. I had a long discussion/informal debate with them at this article on "Hermeneutics and the Authority of Scripture". It has a whopping 391 comments and is now closed. I entered into the discussion at comment 168. I would appreciate feedback from my fellow Reformed brothers and sisters on my approach.

As we celebrate the Reformation on October 31 this year, we are reminded of several things:

1. Individual churches have later failed in history; and that does not contradict the promise of Matthew 16:18. That even in the Scriptures, at that time in history, individual churches were very quickly drifting away from the truth of the gospel. Galatians 1:6-9

This shows that they can drift and cease to be true churches. God warned all the churches by His warning to the first church there in Revelation 2, Ephesus: "If you don't repent, I am coming in judgment and I will remove your lamp stand, unless you repent." (see Rev. 2:4-5) All the churches in Revelation 2-3 were eventually conquered, first by the Goths, then by Islam. There are a few Eastern Orthodox people left in Izmir ( Smyrna) today, but that is all from those that claim the ancient physical succession. They have a physical building and a claim that goes back to Polycarp; but it is a dead, ritualistic faith. There are others, alive, biblical churches, underground, evangelical, Protestant, in other parts of Turkey; those that have gone to reach out to the Turkish and Kurdish Muslims. Indeed, a claim to faith without the good works of evangelism and missions is a dead faith.

- "I am amazed that you are so quickly deserting Him who called you by the grace of Christ, for a different gospel; which is really not another; only there are some who are disturbing you and want to distort the gospel of Christ. But even if we, or an angel from heaven, should preach to you a gospel contrary to what we have preached to you, he is to be accursed! As we have said before, so I say again now, if any man is preaching to you a gospel contrary to what you have received, he is to be accursed!" Galatians 1:6-9

2. Sola Scriptura is taught in principle here in Galatians chapter 1. The fact that the apostle Paul considered his letter, by him writing it, and using these words, " . . . so I say to you now . . . " (v. 9) shows that he is communicating in the same way that Jesus did when Jesus said, "have you not read what God said to you?" ( see Matthew 22:31). The Scriptures are "God speaking". Paul considered his letters, as "God speaking", as "God-breathed". (see also I Corinthians 2:13; 4:6; 7:40; and 14:37) That, and along with the fact that this gospel and his apostleship was not from men or humans or by the agency of man" (verse 1), shows that he knew His letters were authoritative and had the God-breathed quality of Scripture. This demonstrates, in principle, that the canon existed before being called "canon", that is, the historical ontological existence of the books of Scripture was at the time of writing (48-70 AD or 48-96 AD) "canon" (which was a measuring rod that eventually meant, "standard", "rule", "principle", "criterion", "law", before it meant "list". See Galatians 6:16; and a textual variant at Philippians 3:16 for this meaning of the Greek word, "kanon".); and was before the human process of the early church of discerning, sifting, and putting all the 27 books "under one cover", so to speak.

Luther says on this text: "Here then is a plain text like a thunderbolt, wherein Paul subjects both himself and an angel from heaven, and all others, doctors, teachers, and masters, to be under the authority of the Scriptures." (Martin Luther, Commentary on Galatians, quoted in Tabletalk Magazine, January, 2009, p. 29.)

"In spite of this emphatic denunciation so many accept the pope as the supreme judge of the Scriptures. “The Church,” they say, “chose only four gospels. The Church might have chosen more. Ergo the Church is above the Gospel.” With equal force one might argue: “I approve the Scriptures. Ergo I am above the Scriptures. John the Baptist confessed Christ. Hence he is above Christ.” Paul subordinates himself, all preachers, all the angels of heaven, everybody to the Sacred Scriptures. We are not the masters, judges, or arbiters, but witnesses, disciples, and confessors of the Scriptures, whether we be pope, Luther, Augustine, Paul, or an angel from heaven." Luther, Galatians, at 1:9, see, http://www.ccel.org/ccel/luther/galatians.iv.html

3. Remember Sola Fide, the heart of the gospel. "Alone" (Sola) in the phrase, is the same as "apart from the merit and condition of works". We should celebrate Luther's insight by reminding ourselves of it - this is dramatically illustrated here at Lane's blog with a short clip from the old black and white movie about Luther.

(the short clip is no longer available, but I recommend the entire Black and white movie of Luther from 1953.)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9Jj-BM5BiXE

The Roman Catholic Church had drifted from the Scriptures and the truth of the gospel and replaced it with ceremonies, relics, indulgences, prayers to saints and Mary, exalting Mary too much; the treasury of merit, purgatory, baptismal regeneration as the ex opere operato work that causes regeneration and initial justification, mortal vs. venial sin categories of being able to loose real justification; and good works as conditions for regaining and keeping justification, and other "sacramental treadmill" works such as transubstantiation and confession to a priest. The result being that no one could ever be sure they were even justified or saved.

20 comments:

Pilgrimsarbour said...

In an online conversation a couple of years ago, the popular Roman Catholic understanding of Matthew 16:18 in regards to this term "the gates of hell" was our topic. A Catholic acquaintance was astonished that I would think that Jesus did not leave behind a perfect Church which could never falter or fail. This, of course, is a totally unbiblical and unrealistic evaluation of any body of believers.

Reformed theologians and believers have never presupposed that Christ left a perfect instrument on earth after His ascension, one that would never suffer problems and setbacks, even severe ones, such as apostasy. The New Testament bears this out profoundly, especially in Galatians 1 as Ken mentioned above. In fact, it's foolish to think otherwise, given the fallen human condition.

This turning away from Christ for another gospel was not something that took generations or centuries to develop, but merely a few years, if not only months. And this is a church (Galatia) under the direct care of an apostle and his apprentice! The idea that Christ's Church could "go off the rails" is consistent with what the Scriptures teach on the "on again/off again" relationship God had with His people Israel all throughout their history. Although being sanctified in Christ and conformed to His image, sinful humans nonetheless continue to serve Christ in sin-tainted and otherwise flawed ways throughout their lives. This Roman Catholic idea that Christ's Church could not possibly have lost its way for even centuries at a clip has no biblical foundation, and is not warranted by the facts of history. Again, just look at the Old Testament and see what was constantly happening to Israel.

1 I ask, then, has God rejected his people? By no means! For I myself am an Israelite, a descendant of Abraham, a member of the tribe of Benjamin. 2 God has not rejected his people whom he foreknew. Do you not know what the Scripture says of Elijah, how he appeals to God against Israel? 3 "Lord, they have killed your prophets, they have demolished your altars, and I alone am left, and they seek my life." 4 But what is God’s reply to him? "I have kept for myself seven thousand men who have not bowed the knee to Baal." 5 So too at the present time there is a remnant, chosen by grace. 6 But if it is by grace, it is no longer on the basis of works; otherwise grace would no longer be grace (Romans 11:1-6).

Also history, both sacred and secular, is replete with examples of disciples abandoning the teaching of their mentors at any stage of the development of their own thought. Hence, the necessity for keeping on our toes regarding what is passed down in traditions, as well as what is claimed to be taught in the Scriptures.

Kepha said...

The Called to Communion web-site is a Roman Catholic web-site of (mostly, if not all) former Evangelicals.

Just to be a bit more specific: The Called to Communion group consists of former Reformed Protestants who are now Roman Catholic apologists and evangelists. It is a requirement that one have been a former Reformed Protestant in order to join this Internet clique.

Pilgrimsarbour said...

I'm always a little wary of people who call themselves formerly "Reformed" Protestants. The truth is, I have never met one who truly believed in sola Scriptura before converting to Roman Catholicism. In every case the doctrines just came with the territory, and they never really spent much serious thought on that to which they were subscribing; Reformed Protestantism was never really their own.

In what sense, then, were they ever really Reformed Protestants? I suspect that's what they grew up with in their home or was their first church experience going from unbelief to belief.

They have also shared with me other doctrines that they never really held before "converting," so what kind of conversion is it, really? It is a conversion from confusion to Rome, as far as I can tell, for there usually is a long history of moving from one tradition to another before finally settling on Rome.

I'm not crazy about exalting those who cross over the Tiber in either direction, especially for the purpose of using them to clobber other theological systems.

Jordan Cooper said...

It certainly is hard to believe a Protestant who is truly Reformed would so easily leave for the Roman Church. From most testimonies I have read, they never had their heart in the Solas of the reformation. For example, In "Rome Sweet Home", Scott Hahn talks about how committed he was to the Reformed faith and then how he easily gave up the doctrine of Sola Fide after listening to Norman Shephard. Clearly, he was not very dedicated if the central principle of the Protestant reformation was lost so easily.

Ken said...

Thanks Kepha - you are correct and made it more specific.

Thanks Pilgrimsarbour - what you said is exactly why I wrote what I wrote; to counter the typical Roman Catholic Apologetic method of their understanding of Matthew 16:18.

David Waltz said...

Hello Pilgrimsarbour,

You posted:

>>I'm always a little wary of people who call themselves formerly "Reformed" Protestants. The truth is, I have never met one who truly believed in sola Scriptura before converting to Roman Catholicism. In every case the doctrines just came with the territory, and they never really spent much serious thought on that to which they were subscribing; Reformed Protestantism was never really their own.>>

Me: Though you and I have never “met” face-to-face, we have conversed online. I am a former member of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church who entered the Catholic Church in 2002. I seriously doubt that there exists a church/denomination more “Reformed” than the OPC—and to this very day, the teaching/background of my OPC days forms my view that many who claim to be “Reformed” (e.g. Baptists) are really semi-Reformed.

>>In what sense, then, were they ever really Reformed Protestants? I suspect that's what they grew up with in their home or was their first church experience going from unbelief to belief.>>

Me: I “grew up” as a 4th generation Jehovah’s Witness. My “first church experience” (actually churches) after leaving the JWs was dispensationalism.

>>They have also shared with me other doctrines that they never really held before "converting," so what kind of conversion is it, really? It is a conversion from confusion to Rome, as far as I can tell, for there usually is a long history of moving from one tradition to another before finally settling on Rome.>>

Me: Not my own experience at all.

>>I'm not crazy about exalting those who cross over the Tiber in either direction, especially for the purpose of using them to clobber other theological systems.>>

Me: I do not use my personal sojourn for polemical purposes.

Grace and peace,

David

Pilgrimsarbour said...

David,

Thanks for adding your thoughts. However, it doesn't change my thinking in this regard. Without hearing more detail about your stint in the OPC (how long and why), I can't make any judgements as to your doctrinal understanding and motivations for being there.

The truth is, anyone can be a member of any denomination and still not have his heart in it. I have been in the OPC since 1994 when I became Reformed. I am there because I belong there. I'm a true believer in the Reformation distinctives, and I find doctrinal satisfaction in the OPC.

I'm not saying this is necessarily true for you, but for me my time in the OPC is not merely a stepping stone to the next leg of my spiritual journey.

Blessings in Christ,

Pilgrimsarbour

Pilgrimsarbour said...

David,

Additionally, going from JW to Dispensationalist to Reformed to Catholic, in your view, does not constitute "a long history of moving from one tradition to another before finally settling on Rome?"

Perhaps you just never looked at it that way, or perhaps the amount of time in between moves is short enough to not represent a "long history."

Best in Christ,

Pilgrimsarbour

David Waltz said...

Hello again Pilgrimsarbour,

Thanks much for responding; you wrote:

>>I'm not saying this is necessarily true for you, but for me my time in the OPC is not merely a stepping stone to the next leg of my spiritual journey.>>

I for sure, did not view my baptism by an ordained elder/pastor of the OPC, and subsequent recognition as a congregant member of the OPC, as a “stepping stone”. My actual thoughts at that time pretty much echoed those of B.B. Warfield’s who stated:

“We should begin, I think, by recalling precisely what Calvinism is. It may be fairly summed up in these three propositions. Calvinism is (i) Theism come to its rights. Calvinism is (ii) Religion at the height of its conception. Calvinism is (iii) Evangelicalism in its purest and most stable expression.” (B.B. Warfield, “The Present Day Attitude Toward Calvinism”, Calvin and Augustine, 1956, p. 497.)

Since my departure from the JWs, I have sincerely tried to be as objective as humanly possible with my increasing knowledge of the Scriptures, theology, and history. As such, this means that I do not want to be found guilty of twisting the growing data that I have taken in to ‘fit’ my ‘tradition’. (FTR, I see this being done all the time by so many apologists from varying ‘traditions’; and yes, this includes some Catholic apologists.)

>>Additionally, going from JW to Dispensationalist to Reformed to Catholic, in your view, does not constitute "a long history of moving from one tradition to another before finally settling on Rome?"

Perhaps you just never looked at it that way, or perhaps the amount of time in between moves is short enough to not represent a "long history.">>

I think it would be better to look at the actual amount of time I spent in study and prayer before each major move, rather than a strict chronological length.

Grace and peace,

David

Viisaus said...

Victorian Anglican apologist (and mathematician) George Salmon brought up a clever, logical point against the infallibility of the church - modern post-Vatican II RCs are actually showing their lack of faith in ecclesial infallibility when they want people to study the Bible at all!


p. 117

"If, in fact, the Church be infallible, it is impossible to understand why the Bible was given. It cannot be of much use in making men wise unto salvation, for that the Church is supposed to do already. But it may be used by the ignorant and unstable to pervert it to their own destruction. If a Christian, reading the Bible for himself, puts upon it the interpretation which the Church puts upon it, he is still no better off than if he had never looked at it, and had contented himself with the same lessons as taught by the Church; but if he puts upon it a different interpretation from that of the Church (and if the Church be infallible, her interpretation is right and every other wrong), then he is deeply injured by having been allowed to examine for himself. Thus, if the Church be infallible, Bible reading is all risk and no gain.

And so, in modern times the Church of Rome has always discouraged the reading of the Scripture by her people; and if her theory be right, she has done so consistently and wisely. And therefore I say it is a proof that this theory was not held in ancient times, when we find that the early Fathers had no such scruples, but incessantly urged on their congregations the duty of searching the Scriptures for themselves."

http://www.archive.org/details/infallibilitych00salmgoog


Indeed - what possible use could the Scriptures be IF the church would truly be infallible in the full sense of the word?


I personally take the "gates of hell" passage to mean that the church will never be COMPLETELY defeated or fooled. There will always remain a righteous remnant (an important theme in Isaiah), a invisible seed for better future like the 7,000 faithful in the days of Elijah.

But the church can be PARTIALLY or even MOSTLY defeated or fooled at any given time. It's not that devil and his minions won't sometimes have the upper hand against us (like he did over apostle Peter himself more than once, from Pilate's courtyard to the Judaizer heresy case), he just won't be able to completely stamp us out.

It's much like how God allowed Satan to torment Job, take away his loved ones - but not to kill him. And Job lived on to have new children in the end.

Ken said...
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Ken said...

About Matthew 16:18
The gates of Hades = death. True believers have eternal life; and are members of the body of Christ.

So, the "gates of Hades" not overcoming the church means that death will not overtake true believers, true members of the invisible church. Unbelievers and tares who are in the visible church, can corrupt the local church and God will judge it, as He did.

That is why at the end of every exhortation to the churches in Revelation chapters 2-3, it says, "to him who overcomes" = "him" = individuals - individuals overcome and persevered by true faith, which is the sole (alone) means/agency in justification; faith in Christ alone to save from sin and the wrath of God; and that true faith is evidenced by good works and perseverance, love, increase in repentance and holiness, and fruit in sanctification.

"Let him who has ears to hear, hear what the Spirit says to the churches." (end of each exhortation to the churches in Rev. 2-3)

"For everyone who has been born of God overcomes the world. And this is the victory that has overcome the world our faith. Who is it that overcomes the world except the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God?"
I John 5:4-5

There it is again, faith alone, in Christ alone. But true faith does not stay alone.

Ben M said...
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Pilgrimsarbour said...

"If you don't repent, I am coming in judgment and I will remove your lamp stand, unless you repent."

Of course, Jesus is speaking here of individual congregations, which have come and gone throughout history for a variety of reasons, including apostasy.

There is no cause to think that Jesus abandons His elect believers, His Church. That has not been stated by me or anyone here. He does not abandon His elect when we sin, though our sins would grieve Him and we may feel distant from Him for a period of time because of them.

Ben M. and I have a different understanding of "Church." I adhere to the Scriptural definition of God's elect throughout all time wherever they may be found. Ben sees the Church as a physical, quasi-political/religious authoritative, hierarchical structure which demands unconditional allegiance to one human person. The Church is, rather, myriads of individual congregations spread all over the world and throughout time. This is the way it was from the beginning and the way it will be until our Lord Christ returns.

As Hebrews 13:5 says, "I will never leave you or forsake you." This is Jesus' promise from His book of promises to the true believer, elect in Him from before the foundation of the world. He makes no promises to religio/political organisations which nonetheless use His name to advance their cause, no matter how much they may assert otherwise with myriads of exclamation points.

Ben M said...
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Pilgrimsarbour said...

It's not for me to say who is elect and who is not, neither am I afforded that information from any source.

We don't know who are God's elect. We can only see the fruits of changed lives being conformed to the image of Christ and surmise a degree of relative certainty from that who are the true disciples of Christ. We are sinners and imperfect, but if we made no judgements regarding an individual's status before God, Church discipline would be impossible. In addition, this is why Reformed Christians preach the gospel to everyone without exception; God is completely in charge of who is of the fertile ground and who is of the other places in which the gospel seed can find no purchase.

Likewise, judgements of theological systems as they compare with the Scriptures are essential to fellowship with individuals and groups. However, I do believe that true disciples may be be found anywhere Christ is named--even among groups that display grave error. Hopefully, God will bring them out of those bad systems eventually. But if not, as I said, they may still be saved. Praise God that He is in control of the whole matter from start to finish.

Those who claim unbelief at present are to be considered just that--unbelievers. However, this is not to say that they are locked into unbelief forever--God may yet give them a heart of flesh. If they do at some point become saved, then they were elect all along, but we can only know absolutely on the Great Day.

Ken said...

Pilgrimsarbour,
Thanks for your posts here - I agree with you that the elect persevere.

See my earlier post on Matthew 16:18, which touches on it a little bit.

That is why I think Jesus speaks to churches as being able to fall away and be taken away. (Galatians 1:6-9 and Revelation 2-3) but in each of the warnings in Rev. 2-3, he says that individuals who persevere are the ones who overcome. "To him who overcomes". They are the true believers, justified by faith alone; but that faith did not stay alone, but resulted in good works and perseverance. I John 5:4-5

Ben M said...
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Pilgrimsarbour said...

Ben,

I have told you repeatedly that I will not analyse and make judgements on the behaviour of individuals in this forum. That is not my place.

If I am an ordained individual and have the duty, as authority granted to me by that office, to make judgements regarding the spiritual states of individuals within my own congregation, then that is a different matter.

As it is, I have no interest in Luther. I do not follow men, only God. I don't know how many times I need to say this.

A lot, apparently.

Ben M said...
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