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Archive for the ‘Fighting for Peace’ Category

On October 31, many celebrate Halloween by dressing up in the dark as undead, but did you know a less well-known holiday occurs on the same day which celebrates light? In five German states and in other countries in Europe, they celebrate Reformation Day as a national holiday. What is Reformation Day? It is a holiday to celebrate a historical event that does not find its origin in bloody revolution but in peaceful protest of religious corruption. Isn’t it just different sects arguing about an insignificant matter? If that were the case, it should seem strange that even the side effects of the Reformation could bring as much positive social reform as it did, not just in Europe but worldwide. Even countries as far away as Korea have benefited from the “Protestant work ethic,” the explosion of public education and literacy rates, the separation of church and government (see “How the Reformation Changed Everything,” podcast with Dr. John Warwick Montgomery), and the freedom to make Bible translations into local languages without being threatened with a public execution. Even today, the vast number of Korean churches are Protestant (Mostly Presbyterian, then Methodist or Baptist) and hold to Sola Scriptura.

All of this was sparked 500 years ago on Oct. 31, 1517 because of one issue: the issue of how souls are made right before God. A German Augustinian monk named Martin Luther protested church-approved marketing phrases (Theses numbers 27 and 28) used by donation collectors like Johann Tetzel who said, “When the coin in the coffer rings, the soul from Purgatory springs.” This soul-purchasing money built St. Peter’s Basilica and funded the beautification of Rome by famous artists like Michael Angelo (“What is Reformation Day?” Stephen J. Nichols). Actually, many had called for reform before Luther, because the corruption in the Roman Catholic Church was obvious. There had even been forty years (1378-1417) when the church had three popes! According to church historian W. Robert Godfrey, this degree of corruption had caused an ongoing debate on whether councils or popes held the most authority in the church. So when Martin Luther received his chance to debate lead theologians like Johann Eck, he shouldn’t have been surprised that they refused to reason from Scripture but rather proved that Luther, in fact, disagreed with popes and councils. Whether those popes and councils had erred according to God’s Word was conveniently ignored.

Why is Reformation Day important? With our human propensity to corruption and error, the constant reminder for Reformation to fundamentals in a variety of subjects could not be more relevant today. But the crucial matter discussed by Luther and the Reformers was and is the question, “What must I do to have eternal life?” Are we right before God by submitting to church authorities or is it rather faith in God’s good-news promises of Amazing Grace? Is Jesus a sufficient savior for the sinful wretch, or does God only help those who help themselves? The differences couldn’t be more pronounced and these differences remain protested today.

Summarizing five major points made by the Reformers are slogans called Solas, which means “alone” in latin.

Sola Scriptura – The ultimate authority for all to know God’s mind is through God’s Word alone. By Scripture we test all ideas and urges which we might wish that God had given us (1 Cor 4:6).
Sola Fide – We are saved by “Faith alone” (Gal 2:16). It is a faith in Jesus and his work that saves, but it is not a faith that is alone, for works bloom from faith.
Sola Gratia – Our salvation is a work of grace as a gift from God, so it is “grace alone” that initiates salvation, not our own will, so that none may boast (Eph 2:8-9).
Solus Christus – Salvation is through “Jesus Christ alone” and that by faith in him. (Acts 4:2)
Soli Deo Gloria – “Glory to God alone” (Isa 48:11). Jesus’ death on the cross is meaningless if all we needed were better guidelines for niceness (Gal 2:21), but a hero who does it all ought to get all the credit (Rev 7:10).

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Jesus has the reputation in this age for being super nice to everyone at all times and never impolite by our cultural standards. While it is true that he always cared for people and he was generally always polite by his culture’s standards, society has Jesus all wrong. If we believe Jesus shares all of today’s Politically Correct standards, we will find ourselves shocked, perhaps even have our faith rocked, by reading the actual, recorded statements of Jesus. We may wonder why he calls his mother simply “woman,” or why he apparently calls a Canaanite woman and her daughter “dogs,” or how he spoke to his friends as being “dull” when they didn’t understand him. This isn’t the Buddy-Jesus many learn about through pop culture and Sunday School, but this is the Jesus we read about in his own words. Maybe the one-sided Jesus in the popular mind is a symptom of just how out of proportion our sensibilities are.

What if I were studying for a crucial exam in a university library when suddenly you burst in, pointed at me authoritatively, and shouted harshly, “Get out! Get out now!” That would be incredibly rude and in some cultures, like Korea, the words alone at such a time would even be considered an unforgivable insult. But what if you had a very good reason to offend our sensibilities in that quiet room? What if, having no time to be specific, you were warning us that an airplane was about to crash into the library? You were trying to save our lives. Shouldn’t that change how I should view your harsh words?

Now no analogy is perfect, but allow it as a suggestion that much of our offense at the God of the Bible is a result of this sort of misjudgment of our predicament. Perhaps Jesus’s harshest words are found in Matthew 23. His tone can hardly be missed with expressions like, “You blind fools!” peppered through-out his pronouncement of “seven woes”. “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you shut the kingdom of heaven in people’s faces. For you neither enter yourselves nor allow those who would enter to go in (Matt 23:13 ESV).” He goes on and on without restraint, publicly denouncing specific practices of which they are indeed guilty. “You serpents, you brood of vipers, how are you to escape being sentenced to hell? Therefore, I send you prophets and wise men and scribes, some of whom you will kill and crucify . . .” (23:33-34). Yet, even in this angry tirade of pronouncing damnation like an old Jewish prophet, his rage is obviously motivated by love. He finishes with a pining plea, “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing! (23:37)”

If harsh words in a library are needed to provoke an emergency evacuation that saves life, how much more Jesus’s harsh words to a people in danger of the punishment of eternal hell? Perhaps our estimation of Jesus is so mild, because our appraisal of our predicament is also too bland.

the blind receive their sight,
the lame walk, lepers are cleansed,
and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up,
the poor have good news preached to them.
And blessed is the one who is not offended by me.

(Luke 7:22-23 ESV)

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credit Daniel Eisenstein and SDSS-III

A map of galaxies from the Sloan Digital Sky Survey and its Baryon Oscillation Spectroscopic Survey.

Many use the phrase “the Abrahamic religions” to describe Judaism, Islam, and Christianity. But what does this mean? Do we mean that each religion is a legitimate descendant of the faith Abraham shared or that these three religions merely claim it? If we care about truth, we must accept the second definition, because the three expressions radically contradict. Therefore they cannot all express Abraham’s faith. So what was the faith of Abraham? We must look to Genesis (the earliest account of Abraham’s life) and compare it to Jesus’ own teachings as passed on through his apostles. Doing so, the Christian faith is found to follow Abraham’s faith.

And [God] brought [Abraham] outside and said, “Look toward heaven, and number the stars, if you are able to number them.” Then he said to him, “So shall your offspring be.” And he believed the LORD, and he counted it to him as righteousness. (Genesis 15:5-6 ESV)

For the promise to Abraham and his offspring that he would be heir of the world did not come through the law but through the righteousness of faith. For if it is the adherents of the law who are to be the heirs, faith is null and the promise is void . . . That is why it depends on faith, in order that the promise may rest on grace and be guaranteed to all his offspring—not only to the adherent of the law but also to the one who shares the faith of Abraham, who is the father of us all, as it is written, “I have made you the father of many nations”—in the presence of the God in whom he believed, who gives life to the dead and calls into existence the things that do not exist. In hope he believed against hope, that he should become the father of many nations, as he had been told, “So shall your offspring be.” . . . No unbelief made him waver concerning the promise of God, but he grew strong in his faith as he gave glory to God, fully convinced that God was able to do what he had promised. That is why his faith was “counted to him as righteousness.” But the words “it was counted to him” were not written for his sake alone, but for ours also. It will be counted to us who believe in him who raised from the dead Jesus our Lord, who was delivered up for our trespasses and raised for our justification.
(Romans 4:13-25)

Know then that it is those of faith who are the sons of Abraham. And the Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying, “In you shall all the nations be blessed.” So then, those who are of faith are blessed along with Abraham, the man of faith. (Galatians 3:7-9)

For more, read Galatians and Romans 4-5, and of course the rest of Genesis. Discover that Abraham’s saving faith was a faith in God’s grace and promises rather than an obedience to laws. We must conclude that the only truly Abrahamic faith is one that trusts that God saves by faith in his promises and good news.

Image credit: Daniel Eisenstein and SDSS-III (http://www.eurekalert.org/multimedia/pub/119797.php)

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Luther door
Oct 31, 1517 Reformation Day
The Protest for Reformation in the church in the early 1500s may have been triggered by the question of how money for indulgences was garnered and spent, but the root issues on both sides of the Roman Catholic and Protestant divide delve deep to the heart of the Christian faith, that of the authority of Scripture, getting it into the hands of the people in their own languages, and clarifying the Good News of the Gospels (i.e. what one puts their faith in and how one attained salvation of their souls). Thus the Reformers discussed “the Solas” (or “the alones”) which ought to characterize Christian faith.

Sola Scriptura – The ultimate authority for Man to know God’s mind is through God’s Word alone. By Scripture we test all other ideas and urges which we might wish that God had given us (1 Cor 4:6).
Sola Fide – We are saved by “Faith alone” (Gal 2:16) and not by trying harder to do good things while we continue to have a past (or even present) full of guilt. It is a faith in Jesus and his work that saves, but it is not a faith that is alone, for works bloom from faith.
Sola Gratia – Our salvation is a work of grace as a gift from God, so it is “grace alone” that initiates salvation, not our own will, so that none may boast (Eph 2:8).
Solus Christus – Salvation is through Jesus Christ alone and that by faith in him. “There is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.” -Peter (Acts 4:2)
Soli Deo Gloria – Glory to God alone (Isa 48:11).

These were ideas from Scripture and had been noticed throughout church history, and here’s just one example a couple decades before it was declared by the Reformers.

When I confine myself to explaining holy Scripture my hearers receive much more light, and my preaching bore much more fruit in the conversion of men to Christ. For the holy Scripture contains that marvelous doctrine which more surely than a two-edged sword pierces men’s hearts with love which has adorned the world with virtue and has overthrown idolatry, superstition, and numberless errors.”
—Dominican monk Girolamo Savonarola,
The Triumph of the Cross, Florence, Italy, A.D. 1498

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You might have heard a Christian complain that other Christians share a “gospel” of bad news rather than good news, but that criticism (though well intended) could be like telling an ambassador not to talk about the war but only of terms for its resolution. It is not an either-or issue, but an issue of overall emphasis. It is also a moral issue of whether we are true to sharing with rebels God’s terms of peace.

Throughout history many nations have thought that the moral high ground was to kill those labeled morally inferior. Today we think the high ground is not to kill anyone at all for any immorality, and even the concept of moral high ground is sometimes offensive. We have hit the opposite extreme, so that talk of judging this or that person for this or that action can be considered “hate speech” or “harmful talk.” But what does God’s Word say about how we should think of immorality and his judgements? Is God a pacifist? Or, on the other extreme, does he always seek justice by punishing sins with plagues? Isn’t the answer somewhere in between? When discussing sin and God’s judgements (the bad news), we have to remember one thing: it is the Creator’s prerogative to kill or not to kill. Only God gets to play God. Scripture says God judges and puts people to death, but it also says that often the judgement a person might receive for sin is that God might just hand us over to the wicked desires which we crave. In the end, that judgement is far more frightening than a disaster, because there may be no opportunity for turning back to God. At least, that ought to frighten us.

Sin earns us death (Rom 6:23), but the Way to eternal life is forgiveness through his Son, Jesus Christ, the coming king and judge (Acts 14:38-43; 17:30-31). While Jesus did not approve of followers who would do violence for his sake, Jesus also never asserted pacifism as the only way to live. He wasn’t against judgement (John 7:24). He was against judging hypocritically. Jesus asserted that having faith in him, and in his death on the cross for sin, was the only way to live. God the Father killed his willing Son as a substitute for the judgement on our sin (Isa 53:10-12). Jesus taught that the wages of sin—death and hell—would be paid in full to the disobedient, and that by his hands (Luke 19:27). Then he rose again on the third day.

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Yes and No. Not the answer you expected? Jesus frequently surprised his hearers by his view of reality, but it was always a better view than what his hearers had in mind. Jesus knew that the world did not originate as a place of suffering and death and meant to fix it. Some spoke to Jesus about a tragic news event, that the Roman governor had brutally murdered a group of people. The popular view among the crowd was that perhaps the victims had been judged by God for hidden sins. Jesus defended the victims with the same words which condemned the hidden sins of those speaking to him.

And he answered them, “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans, because they suffered in this way? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish. Or those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them: do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others who lived in Jerusalem? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.” (Luke 13:2-5 ESV)

Jesus knew that all humanity had fallen into sin. He alone was without sin because he was God incarnate, and he was warning them that the only reasonable way to deal with their sins was to ask him for forgiveness. However, Jesus did not only use suffering as a warning. He said suffering can be good for us and glorify God. When speaking about the suffering of a man born blind he gave suffering objective meaning. “It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him.” (John 9:3)

Christians can actually rejoice in sufferings (Rom 5:3) because we know that it is only temporary and not as meaningless as it seems. God promises that suffering is somehow shaping us to be more like Jesus (Rom 8:28-29).

And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers.

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I heard everyone’s ticked off at Phil Robertson again. He apparently told a shocking story about an atheist family being tortured and killed and asserted that the atheist family would have no moral leg to stand on by which to protest. The reaction (rather than engaged response) of one atheist group was simply “it is unlikely that Robertson actually knows any atheists.”

As much as you may dislike Robertson’s delivery, perhaps he knows at least this atheist:
“In a universe of electrons and selfish genes, blind physical forces and genetic replication, some people are going to get hurt, other people are going to get lucky, and you won’t find any rhyme or reason in it, nor any justice. The universe that we observe has precisely the properties we should expect if there is, at bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil, no good, nothing but pitiless indifference.”
—Richard Dawkins

I didn’t see anyone morally outraged at Dawkins’ remarks.

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