Luther’s “Three Walls”

by Obbie T. Todd

The Protestant Reformation was, in many ways, the product of manifold political, social, and religious forces crashing together at a God-ordained moment in history. Still, in other ways, it began with a man. In his 16th century German Reformation, Martin Luther stood defiantly against an institution that had pontificated for over a millennium. Yet, in his theological and moral challenge to the Catholic Church, he did not stand alone. In 1520, while lecturing on the Psalms, Luther wrote an Address to the Christian Nobility of the German Nation in order to gather support for his reform.

In his new biography entitled Martin Luther: Visionary Reformer (2015), Scott H. Hendrix explains Luther’s aim for the address: “The goal was not to foment a German uprising against Rome but to reform the practice of religion in Christendom. Because the clergy were shirking their duty, the only recourse was an appeal to laypeople in authority who could twist arms and force change.” (90)

Luther begins his open letter by identifying the “three walls” of the Romanists: (1) their decrees erroneously stating that no temporal power has authority over them, (2) their claim that interpretation of Scripture belongs to no one except the pope, (3) and their assertion that no one is able to call a council except the pope himself. The first section of Luther’s Address to the Christian Nobility of the German Nation is a an invective against these three walls.

1. Concerning the first “paper-wall,” Luther begins by eschewing the notion of spiritual elitism. For him, there is no “spiritual estate” for bishops, priests, and monks. According to Luther, “there is among them no difference at all but that of office, as Paul says in 1 Corinthians 12:12.” Through baptism we are all consecrated to the royal priesthood of 1 Peter 2:9. In cases of baptism, Luther reminds us, anyone could baptize. (or give absolution, as Luther held penance to be the third sacrament) After all, we share one faith, and we believe in the same Gospel: “For whoever comes out the water of baptism can boast that he is already consecrated priest, bishop, and pope, though it is not seemly that everyone should exercise the office.” This office is granted by the will and command of the community, not by one’s arbitrary whim. Therefore a priest, like any other temporal authority, is an office-holder. Just as spiritual authorities are charged with the administration of the Word and sacraments, the temporal authorities are to “bear sword and rod with which to punish the evil and to protect die good.” In Luther’s scheme, the temporal authority is not “above” that of the spiritual and may not punish it. However, it should be left to perform its role “without hindrance.” According to Luther, such tasks should be performed objectively and without discrimination, “regardless whether it be pope, bishop or priest whom it affects; whoever is guilty, let him suffer.” The freedom, life, and property of the clergy are no more important than the laity.

2. As to the second wall, Luther takes aim at those who deem themselves “Masters” of the Holy Scriptures: “For since they think that the Holy Spirit never leaves them, be they never so unlearned and wicked, they make bold to decree whatever they will.” To this Luther questions why there is even the need for a Bible! The Pope has “usurped” the power of the Holy Spirit. Luther further opines that the Romanists have misinterpreted Matthew 18 when they contend that the pope alone holds the “keys” to the kingdom. In reality, these keys are given to the “community” of the church. According to Luther, “the keys were not ordained for doctrine or government, but only for the binding and loosing.” When the pope claims supreme hermeneutical authority for himself and codifies his own man-made religion, he singlehandedly constrains the “Spirit of liberty” in the church. For this reason Luther calls together the church in this letter: to accuse the pope before the church.

3. Thirdly, concerning the authority to call together councils, Luther reminds his readers that it was in fact not Peter who convened the Apostolic Council in Acts 15:6, but rather the Apostles and elders! Luther thus contends that it is incumbent upon the temporal authorities to bring about a “truly free council” in order to restore Scriptural faithfulness and order. Luther likens the situation to a fire breaking out; the citizens have a duty to tell others. Citing 2 Corinthians 10:8, Luther heralds the edifying purpose of the Church. He then concludes that those who pursue destruction do so by “the power of the devil and of Antichrist.” Luther sees the Roman pope as the fulfillment of eschatological texts such as Matthew 24:24 and 2 Thessalonians 2:9. In the end, Luther’s only hope is Scripture: “Therefore we must cling with firm faith to the words of God, and then the devil will cease from wonders.” Luther contends that the Romanists have made the consciences of the people “timid and stupid,” and for this reason it is time to enact the power of the temporal authority in order to aid that of the spiritual.

In his Address to the Christian Nobility of the German Nation, Luther ripped down these three walls in order to shed further light upon the abuses of the Catholic Church and to rally the support of the educated laity in the Reformation.

Luther’s “Three Walls”

Elect Exile: John Calvin the Refugee

Obbie T. Todd

In recent years, the idea that John Calvin ruled 16th century Geneva with an iron fist has become increasingly popular in Calvinist and non-Calvinist circles. After all, who else could order the burning of an anti-Trinitarian heretic? Standing at a distance, it’s easy for the 21st century Christian to simply conclude that Calvin was the “mayor of Geneva,” a magisterial Reformer who turned his Swiss chateau into a Christian autocracy of sorts. Such a picture of John Calvin, however, could not be further from the truth. For example, it was actually the Genevan City Council that officially ordered the burning of Servetus, whose effigy had already been burned by the Catholic Church for his heretical views. As Alister McGrath rightly observes, “The relation between reformer and city council was thus delicate, easily prone to disruption, with real power permanently in the hands of the latter.” (Reformation Thought, 19)

Furthermore, Calvin himself was a Frenchman living in Switzerland. He was an outsider, and this created significant political tension for someone attempting to supervise the morality of Geneva’s bourgeois class. In addition, Calvin wasn’t the only refugee in Geneva. Theodore Beza, Calvin’s successor at the Academy, had also fled his native France. In fact, between the 1540s and 1560s, the influx of refugees into Geneva steadily rose from roughly 12,000 to 20,000. Persecution of Protestants by the Catholic Church in France and Italy brought thousands to seek asylum within the safe, mountainous confines of Geneva. Remarkably, Calvin eventually received his citizenship in Geneva only four years before his death! Until that time he remained in some ways a social outsider in the very city he was called to shepherd. A picture of Calvin the sojourner is never more vivid than in his ignominious burial in an unmarked Genevan grave, something he had requested himself.

“We are always on the road,” Calvin said. The circumstances surrounding Calvin’s introduction to Geneva were a constant reminder to him of the benevolent providence of God to a wandering people. Having left his French homeland, the road to Basel and Strasbourg was blocked by troop movements in Lorraine as the war between Francis I and Charles V dragged on. This forced Calvin to take an unexpected detour to the south through Geneva. There, a man by the name of Farel trapped the young Calvin and convinced him to stay. According to Farel, Calvin would be playing the part of cowardly Jonah should he refuse his calling to Geneva. It’s here that Calvin the Refugee would become Calvin the Reformer.

According to Calvin scholar Herman Selderhuis, Calvin’s “theology of the experience of being a stranger, of having heaven as one’s true home country, reduced the need for strong ties to one’s earthly home country, increased mobility and produced a pioneer mentality.” (John Calvin: A Pilgrim’s Life, 215) Calvin called life a “churning river.” For him, life took place “in an ominous labyrinth,” an image he was fond of using in order to illustrate the uncertainty and frustration of the human experience. One could only escape this labyrinth and find purpose through the direction of Jesus Christ.

Calvin, after all, was eventually exiled from Geneva. The French refugee had also become a Swiss refugee. At issue was the city’s level of dependence with Bern, another Swiss city-state. For the faction of people who wanted strong relations with Bern, Calvin stood in their way. Hence, in 1538, the Reformer hit the road once again. On his way from Geneva to Basel, Calvin stopped in Strasbourg where a man by the name of Martin Bucer was waiting for him. This would spell the beginning of Calvin’s comfortable, proficient three-year exile from Geneva. It also served as yet another testament that Calvin’s life was never his own. Knowing himself to be the bookish type, Calvin once complained, “I would most like to withdraw.” Ironically, the years at Strasbourg were perhaps the only years in which he was able to do exactly that. Three years later, Geneva called upon Calvin once again – this time to refute Jacopo Sadoleto, bishop of Carpentras, who saw an opportunity to reclaim vulnerable Geneva for Rome. Calvin’s reply to Sadoleto on behalf of Geneva is a brilliant distillation of Reformation thought. In it, Calvin asserts,

“For though I am for the present relieved of the charge of the Church of Geneva, that circumstance ought not to prevent me from embracing it with paternal affection – God, when He gave it to me in charge, having bound me to be faithful to it forever.”

Calvin’s calling and perseverance were unwavering even in exile. As a refugee and sojourner, he understood his journey in light of Christ’s faithfulness and not his own. For this reason, Calvin often paralleled his own experiences – and that of Geneva – with the nation of Israel in the Old Testament. Discussing the development of Calvin’s liturgy, Selderhuis avers, “Calvin saw a lot of himself in David, and together with his congregation – almost all French refugees – he could identify with the nation Israel that wandered in the desert, experienced so many setbacks and yet was in God’s care. The Psalms became existential pilgrim songs but also rhymed battle cries.” (91)

For most Christians today, the name John Calvin is synonymous with one word: predestination. However, in order to avoid the cold, distant, tyrannical stereotype so common in evangelical circles today, it’s necessary to contextualize John Calvin the person. More importantly, it’s incumbent upon modern readers to understand John Calvin the refugee alongside John Calvin the scholar. In a world of warring kingdoms, plagues, exiles, and social revolutions, Calvin’s doctrine of divine sovereignty was inextricable with his view of human suffering. For the sojourning Christian destined to bear the sufferings of Christ (Rom. 8:17), divine providence wasn’t an abstract theory; it was a precious comfort. It went hand-in-hand with the Gospel itself. According to Roland Bainton, “Both Calvin and Luther had an overwhelming sense of the majesty of God, but whereas for Luther this served to point up the miracle of forgiveness, for Calvin it gave rather the assurance of the impregnability of God’s purpose. (The Reformation of the Sixteenth Century, 114) From the vantage point of human suffering and sojourning, a sovereign God was a welcome friend and Savior. Consequently, for 21st century Christians who wish to explore the John Calvin the Reformer, it’s important we not neglect John Calvin the refugee.

Elect Exile: John Calvin the Refugee

No Moody Deity: Why the Wrath of God is Unlike the Wrath of Man

By Mathew Gilbert

If you’ve ever seen the movie The Lion King, then you’ll surely remember the scene where Mufasa, king of the lion tribe, gazes out at his entire kingdom with his young son, Simba. Mufasa is trying to help Simba see that one day he will be gone and the kingdom will belong to him. The royal lions are gazing out into their dominion of the African safari, which is marked by a glorious and booming sun shining down. Mufasa’s words are, “Look, Simba. Everything the light touches is our kingdom.” Then, little Simba notices another part of the kingdom that is untouched by the sun. He curiously asks his father, “But what about the shadowy place?” Mufasa responds, “That’s beyond our borders. You must never go there, Simba.”

Romans 1 is much like this scene from The Lion King. The first 17 verses shine with the glorious light of the gospel. However, picking up in verse 18 until the end of the chapter, Paul goes to a very dark place. The first half of Romans 1 is the domain of light we not only want to walk in, but all we want to talk about. The second half of Romans 1 is the domain of darkness we would rather ignore. Indeed, we stay away from this shadowy place in thought and action. But as New Testament scholar Douglas Moo has said, “Only when we have really come to grips with the extent of the human dilemma will we be able to respond as we should to the answer to that dilemma found in the good news about Jesus.”

Romans 1:18-32 really is a shadowy place filled with the wrath of God, the power and curse of sin, idolatry, depravity, and judgment. Paul seems to move from the light of the gospel to the darkness of sin and judgment to answer one question: “Why do we need the gospel, which is the power of God for salvation?”

There are few topics or truths in the Bible that ruffle feathers quite like the wrath of God. Even saying, the wrath of God, sounds scary. It’s not something we like to talk about much. In fact, I’ve heard non-Christians say they could easily believe in a God of love, but they could never believe in a God of wrath. In other words, they can believe in a John 3:16 God, but not a Romans 1:18 God.

The problem with this concern is that the John 3:16 God is also the Romans 1:18 God. There aren’t multiple gods revealed in Scripture. There is only one true and living God revealed in Scripture, and he is both loving and holy. Actually, because he is loving and holy, he pours out his wrath against unrighteousness and the unrighteous. But an important question for us to ask is, “What is the wrath of God?”

Wrath is just an intense word that basically means anger. God is angry at unrighteousness and ungodliness. But it is important to remember that God’s anger is not like our anger. It is possible for us to be angry in a righteous or holy way. For example, it is good to be angry at murder, injustice, and evil of all kinds. But most of the time we are angry in sinful ways. Our motivations and actions fueled by anger are usually sinful.

God is never angry in an unrighteous or sinful way. His anger is pure, holy, and right. It is also wrong to think about God’s wrath as the attitude and action of a moody deity. God doesn’t have mood swings or a temper. Instead, in the words of John Stott, “God’s wrath is his holy hostility to evil, his refusal to condone it or come to terms with it, his just judgment upon it.”

God’s righteousness is the origin of his wrath. If he did not hate and destroy that which is unrighteous, he would rob himself of glory and his people of joy. It is amazing news that God opposes unrighteousness and sin because he also absorbs the very wrath the unrighteous deserve. God’s wrath and God’s love are not enemies. The enemy of God’s wrath is neutrality. If God just ignored our sin, he could not save us from our sin. Instead, God’s wrath is against sin and sinners. And in God’s love he sent Jesus to fully bear his wrath in our place. In the finished work of Christ, God saves us from himself, to himself, and for himself.


Mathew Gilbert (B.A. Boyce College) is Associate Pastor for Children and Preschool at The Church at Trace Crossing in Tupelo, MS. He is the author of Come to the Well: 50 Meditations to Fuel Your Joy in God (Westbow Press, 2016). He is an M.Div student at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. Mathew is married to his high school sweetheart, Erica. Mathew and Erica live in Tupelo with their son, Jude. You can follow him on Twitter @mat_gilbert.

No Moody Deity: Why the Wrath of God is Unlike the Wrath of Man

Book Briefs: The Doctrine of Justification by James Buchanan

buchanan_justification_front-650x1024-203x320By Evan Knies

James Buchanan was born in Paisley in the west of Scotland, and later studied at the University of Glasgow. In 1840 he was appointed to be minister of the High Church (St. Giles) in Edinburgh, where he became colleague to Dr. Robert Gordon, another evangelical preacher. After Thomas Chalmers’ death in 1847, Buchanan took up the Chair of Systematic Theology, which he held until 1868. In 1866, Buchanan was invited to deliver the Cunningham Lectures, and it was these addresses that became, in printed form, The Doctrine of Justification. 

In this classic work, Buchanan addresses a variety of different issues under the umbrella of the important Doctrine of Justification. In the introductory essay, JI Packer uses an analogy of Atlas with the weight of the world on his shoulders and compares this to the Doctrine of Justification. The Doctrine of Justification is vital for the Christian faith. Packer also writes about authority/submission to the Bible, understanding of God’s wrath against sin, and the substitutionary satisfaction of Christ. img_2244

In the Introduction, Buchanan addresses the basic overviews of Justification and lays out what will come up in the rest of the work. In Chapters 1-5, they discuss the history of justification in the Old Testament, in the Apostolic Age, during the Early Church Fathers, during the Era of the Reformation, and in the Romish Church after the Reformation.

In Chapters 6-7, Buchanan discusses the History of Doctrine as a Subject of Controversy Among Protestants and Doctrine in the Church of England. In these chapters, Buchanan reflects upon the different views of Justification among protestants, they implications in their day, but the reader can also learn how they are still impacting views in the current day. In Chapters 8-15, Buchanan simply breaks down the doctrine of Justification, meaning in scripture, nature of blessing, relation to the Law and Justice of God, relation to the Work of Christ as Mediator, Imputed Righteousness of Christ, relation to Grace and Works, relation with Faith, and the relation to the work of the Holy Spirit.

img_2242The Doctrine of Justification like many other Banner books is beneficial for the Christian to own, read, and read again. This work helps readers understand a primary doctrine of the Christian faith, has a rich scriptural foundation, and shows how Justification provides assurance for the Christian. Those who believe in Christ, are assured in Christ, and are able to rest in Christ. The Doctrine of Justification is not only a dense theological work for a professor or pastor, it is available for the church member who struggles in his faith week to week.

 

You can purchase The Doctrine of Justification here

Check out their website at banneroftruth.org.

 

 

 

Book Briefs: The Doctrine of Justification by James Buchanan

A House Divided: Protestants and The Lord’s Supper

By Obbie Todd

Wherever we see the Word of God purely preached and heard, and the sacraments administered according to Christ’s institution, there, it is not to be doubted, a church of God exists. –John Calvin (Institutes, IV.1.9)

I’m a Baptist. But the first church I ever pastored wasn’t a Baptist church. It was a ‘Restorationist’ church. You’ll understand the irony in a moment. The ‘Restoration Movement’ was born from the mind of Alexander Campbell, a former Baptist who reacted against organized denominations following the Second Great Awakening. (Restorationist Christianity had its roots even further back in the small Glasite/Sandemanian movement of 18th century Scotland.) After the American Revolution, Restorationists believed in returning the church back to the people, to a simpler religion free of creeds and academics. And that included returning the Lord’s Supper to the center of the church service. This Sunday if you walk into a Christian Church, Disciples of Christ, or Church of Christ congregation, you’ll be offered the Lord’s Supper. It’s a weekly practice that Restorationists support with texts like Acts 2:42, 46 and 20:7, 11. It represents a renewed desire among modern churches to return to the early church. The primitive church. The ‘true’ church. And for many that includes more bread and more juice.

After a year it was clear that a Baptist didn’t belong in a Restorationist church. However, I’m thankful for the time I spent with the good people of Chaplin Christian. And during my time there I was posed an important question, one I believe every church should consider: how often should we partake of the Lord’s Supper? And more importantly, why? For many Protestant churches, the primacy of the pulpit coupled with a strong anti-Catholic spirit begins to dissolve the significance of the bread and the juice. And it can appear in our infrequent observance of the Lord’s Supper. Christ calls us to declare His Gospel with our mouths: both with our voices and our taste buds. And any attempt to separate the two can prove spiritually deadly, especially when we neglect an institution that Christ delivered personally to His church. So, for just a moment, let’s examine how the Lord’s Supper defines what it means to be Protestant.

Oddly enough, the origin of the Protestant church began with a strong view on the Lord’s Supper, also known as the Eucharist. (ευχαριστω – ‘to give thanks’) In the sixteenth century, the most significant doctrine in the eyes of the laity was that of the Eucharist. More was written about the Eucharist at that time than the doctrine of justification! All of the 1st-generation Reformers (‘Magisterial Reformers’) soundly rejected the Catholic Eucharistic method of ex opere operato. This is the practice still held by Roman Catholics today – that grace is conferred to the sinner merely by the taking of the sacrament, faith or not. This was of course repulsive to Protestants who championed the sola fide principle in all facets of the church. Equally disturbing was the Catholic sense of Eucharistic sacrifice, offered to God each time the bread and wine were taken. To Protestants this violated Christ’s objective, once-for-all work on the cross accomplished for sinners, not by them. (Heb. 10:10) Most of all, Protestants rejected the doctrine of transubstantiation, a Thomistic doctrine established at the 4th Lateran Council in 1215. This is the Roman Catholic belief that, upon the words of institution (hoc est corpus meum, ‘this is my body’) the bread and wine undergo a metamorphosis into the material, tangible body and blood of Jesus. While Luther, Zwingli, and Calvin wholly rejected this ‘hocus pocus’, it’s precisely here that they also differed. In fact, it could be said that the Eucharistic controversy is what birthed the Protestant Reformation…and what fractured it.

Today, when Protestant churches disagree over the Lord’s Supper, they’re merely perpetuating a seminal conflict that began with the Reformation itself. Speaking of the famous debate between Martin Luther and Huldrych Zwingli regarding the Lord’s Supper, Carl Trueman observes, “The breach at Marburg was the point at which Protestantism divided into Lutheran and Reformed, a breach that continues to this day.” The disagreement between Luther and Zwingli was so strong that Luther himself believed that Zwingli wasn’t even saved! Convinced the Zurich Reformer was “of a different spirit,” the former Wittenberg monk believed that Zwingli’s memorialism effectively removed Christ from the Eucharist. Thus when Zwingli evacuated Christ from the Lord’s Supper, he removed the Gospel and hence his own salvation! (Admittedly, it’s often hard to reconcile Luther’s doctrine of the Eucharist with his doctrine of justification) While Luther rejected the doctrine of transubstantiation, his belief in the omnipresence/ubiquity of God demanded that he see the Lord’s Supper as a real divine presence. (this doctrine has been called consubstantiation, although this term is an invention of the Lutheran Church, not Luther himself) For Luther, the Eucharist was a gift, the conclusion of God’s promises to the church. The Supper is not our work. It’s God’s work for us in Christ. For Luther, it also delivered an overwhelming sense of assurance to the Christian who doubted in his fight against sin, something Luther knew well. And while we as Protestants may not agree with Luther’s doctrine of the Eucharist, we can certainly benefit from Luther’s view of faith. This assurance is a benefit of the Lord’s Supper many churches remove from their liturgy when they fail to explain the meaning of the Supper or even deliver the Gospel while doing it! The sermon and the bread are two expressions of the same Gospel and should never be divorced. For Luther, solus christus meant the Word eaten and the Word spoken, received in sola fide. Thus the Gospel must be delivered with the bread and juice or else we’ve emptied it of its spiritual blessing.

Still, to Zwingli, Luther’s doctrine sounded like mysticism. How could the Eucharist be Christ’s real body when Christ had ascended to the right hand of the father? The Council of Chalcedon had affirmed that Christ would remain there forever. Zwingli mocked Luther, asking him if Christ was hiding underneath the bread! For the Swiss Reformer, the Catholic and Lutheran doctrines smelled of idolatry. The Lord’s Supper wasn’t an object to be worshipped. It was a memorial, a re-commitment to Christ. The words of institution, contrary to Luther, weren’t to be taken literally but figuratively. Therefore the Supper was more of a symbolic, public profession than an actual feast. And it’s precisely this view that serves as the foundation for the ‘Zwinglian shift’ we are currently witnessing in American Protestant churches: an emphasis upon the symbol of the Supper rather than the sign. (the marker distinguishing the baptized from the unbelieving) For this reason, in many churches today, the Lord’s Supper has become an act of remembrance devoid of any ecclesiological significance. For this same reason Carl Trueman postulates, “Luther, the great Protestant hero, would probably not recognize most Protestants today as Christian.”

Unlike the Glas/Sandemanian/Campbell movements, the expectation in both Reformation Europe and post-Reformation England was that each believer would participate in the Lord’s Supper between four and twelve times per year. (e.g. John Knox and the Genevan service book) In his Dissertation on Frequent Communicating, Scottish Presbyterian John Erskine (1721-1803) investigates why the frequency of the Lord’s Supper as seen in the patristic church had disappeared. And his conclusion has as much to do with persecution as it does with church policy:

The most probable cause I can assign for this, is, that till then the religion of Christ being persecuted, few professed it who had not felt the power of it on their hearts. But soon after, Christianity became the established religion of the Roman Empire, a greater number of hypocrites, from views of worldly interest, intermingled themselves with the true disciples of Christ. And in a century or two more, this little leaven leavened the whole lump…Such nominal Christians could have no just sense of the use and benefits of the Lord’s Supper and the obligation to frequent it…Their example would soon be followed by lukewarm Christians who had fallen from their first love. (267)

In summary, when the purity of the church suffers, so does the Lord’s Supper. As persecution decreased, so did the need for assurance in Christ. When unbelievers partake of an institution that has no personal meaning, it deteriorates the corporate meaning for the entire church. It was actually Erskine’s estimation that Calvin had personally preferred the early church practice of weekly communion but had settled for a monthly administration along with the pastor of the English congregation at Geneva, John Knox. (Calvin’s theology of the Eucharist sits somewhere between Zwingli and Luther, although his exact position between them is debatable) In Scotland, Erskine located the origin of the quarterly Supper in the First Book of Discipline. (1560) In his research, Erskine presents an important truth to modern Protestants today. While the Scottish theologian fought for weekly observance of the Eucharist, he was also a Presbyterian – so his ecclesiological commitments prevented him from supporting the sheer memorialism of Huldrych Zwingli. And it’s important to remember why.

To exclusively ‘memorialize’ the Lord’s Supper in a ‘Zwinglian’ commemoration gradually diminishes the meaning of the event because it ignores the inseparable bond between theology and ecclesiology. Even Baptists like John Bunyan and Charles Spurgeon who practiced ‘open communion’ still upheld ecclesial purity by reserving the Supper for believers only. Their belief was that the bread and the juice should be rightly reserved for those who not only understand its meaning, but treasure the assurance of the eternal meal in which we set our hope. This is the true church. It’s the reason men like Jonathan Edwards fought so hard for a credible profession of faith. (And lost his pastorate at Northampton fighting for it!) The Lord’s Supper should be protected so that its blessings can be unadulterated and meaningful for those who desperately need it as the promise it should be. When church membership becomes so porous that baptized unbelievers partake of the same Supper intended only for those who can appreciate its promises, then the ordinance is drained of its value. This is why baptism and the Lord’s Supper are so inextricably connected. As baptism loses its integrity, so does the Lord’s Supper. And that appears to be the case in many of our churches today.

As John Erskine warned, when the baptized church becomes a large conglomerate of believers and unbelievers, church purity is extinguished and a cheapened Lord’s Supper loses its nature as a valuable gift. The Lord’s Supper is not only a symbol of the flesh and blood of Christ given for our eternal life; it’s also a sign to distinguish those who believe in what it represents. It’s both theological and ecclesiological. When unbelievers are baptized en masse, then the sign becomes diluted and ambiguous. And when the sign loses its meaning, so does the significance of the symbol. Over time, baptism can become a V.I.P. card to live like the world instead of a declaration that the old man has died and the new man walks in newness of life. The Lord’s Supper signifies a life sustained by the flesh and blood of Christ, and unregenerate sinners have no basis to understand such a thing. Thus pastors have an obligation to protect it for believers and unbelievers alike, keeping in mind that the individual value of the Lord’s Table is inextricable from its corporate value. For many churches today, the Lord’s Supper is a quarterly or monthly event precisely because they wish to uphold its value in the church. For others, the mandate for weekly observance is clear and Scriptural. However, whether celebrated weekly or quarterly, the Lord’s Supper is to be treasured as a gift to the church. An honor. A privilege. Not just another thing we do at church. And that begins with the way we protect it as a genuine marker for sincere believers. The saving Word that we hear proclaimed each Sunday should never be severed from the bread and juice that symbolizes that same salvation. One Gospel. One mouth. Two ways to express the same glorious hope in the heavenly banquet to come.

Now as they were eating, Jesus took bread, and after blessing it broke it and gave it to the disciples, and said, “Take, eat; this is my body.” And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he gave it to them, saying, “Drink of it, all of you, for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. I tell you I will not drink again of this fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father’s kingdom. –Matthew 26:26-29

A House Divided: Protestants and The Lord’s Supper

A Lifetime of Thanksgiving

By David Brown

We give thanks to God Father of our Lord Jesus Christ praying for you always (Col. 1: 3)

Have you ever done something special for someone and that good work was not even acknowledged by that particular individual? What if there was not even a thank you, no pat on the back, nothing. None of us go through life looking for constant gratification by our friends and loved ones, but what if the work you had done was so monumental that not only was every human being called to recognize it, but they were encouraged to stop what they were doing each day and give a heartfelt thanks for that good work? What if that monumental work wasn’t even acknowledge by the vast majority of people?

These questions need to be considered when we study the book of Colossians because Paul repeatedly reminds us to give thanks to God.(1) Giving thanks to God calls us to remember His mighty works. So, what is the significance of this repetition and what exactly does Paul mean when he emphasized giving thanks to God? Thanksgiving is far more than just personal gratitude for receiving God’s blessings. For Paul, thanksgiving was tied to the mighty works of God as recorded in both Old and New Testaments.(2)

The premiere event in the Old Testament that reflected God’s mighty work took place through the exodus. In this glorious event God delivered Israel from Egyptian bondage and this event was so significant that He called Israel repeatedly to remember and celebrate this event annually through the Passover. This was a way for Israel to never forget the greatness of what God had done for them.

In the New Testament the premiere event is found in Jesus’ pilgrimage to Jerusalem and His crucifixion and so it is not a coincidence that in the Greek text Luke describes His departure on the Mount of Transfiguration as an exodus (Luke 9:31). Following in the typological pattern begun by Moses, Jesus delivers humanity (not just Israel) from an even greater bondage than Egyptian slavery. He delivers all who believe in Him from the bondage of sin. In addition, just as the Old Testament called Israel to never forget Luke reminds believers in the same way to never forget the greatness of what God has done for us through the cross. In Luke 22:19 he wrote: “Do this in remembrance of Me.” One final note we should recognize is the Greek verb for “do” is a present tense verb that denotes an on-going type of action. We, like Israel, are called to never forget the greatness of what God has done for us through Jesus.

A couple of years ago I accepted a call from a church in another state to become their pastor. I have been serving as a pastor for fifteen years but I have never seen a church embroiled in such strife and turmoil. After only eighteen months the deacon body demanded my resignation and so last December I resigned unceremoniously. All of my hard work had come to an abrupt end with no thank you; nobody saying we are sorry to see you go; nothing. In fact, the following weekend the church celebrated their annual Christmas banquet. Hurt does not adequately describe the immeasurable pain of how I felt. I wanted to die.

In the months that followed my wife and I repeatedly asked God two questions. First, where do we go from here? This was a plea for His direction. Second, we asked what are You trying to teach us? During this time God patiently answered our prayers in two profound ways.

First, He reminded us that He had delivered us from a truly dysfunctional church. Through this dreadful experience God showed us how dysfunctional church life can be. More importantly this type of dysfunction was not just going to be identified simply on an intellectual basis. This type of dysfunction had to be experienced first hand so that we completely understood this was NOT how a church should operate.

Second, God revealed His desire for us to plant a church. Since this time we have been doing the groundwork and our church plant has begun meeting at a weekly a Bible study. As a result, I have come to be deeply grateful to our Lord and, like Paul, I find myself repeatedly thanking Him in my daily prayers.

So what are we to make of this thanksgiving to God? In the book of Colossians thanksgiving means recalling the mighty works of God and thanking Him each day for these truly miraculous acts of deliverance that were recorded in Scripture. But as we make our own pilgrimage through life God allows us to experience some of life’s most difficult sorrows. Like my last church God allowed me to recognize and experience human dysfunction in an up close and personal way so that I might never forget the mighty acts of how He has once again delivered me.

In Him we give our all.


1 In Colossians, a book of only four chapters, Paul mentions giving thanks to God in 1:3, 1:12, 2:7, 3:17, and 4:2.

2 David W. Pao, Thanksgiving: An Investigation of a Pauline Theme, (Downers Grove, Intervarsity Press, 2002), 39-58.

A Lifetime of Thanksgiving

Am I Saved? A Brief History of Assurance

By Obbie Todd

There’s hardly a more relevant question in the Christian life than that of assurance. Peter affirms that the telos (the end) of our faith is salvation. (1 Pet. 1:9) So the stakes are pretty high. Yet for a question of such ultimate importance, it’s hardly ever asked. In the church today, there are often more assumptions than answers. And that can be dangerous. In reality, the simple question “How do I know I’m saved?” seems to be one of the best indications that someone takes their faith, and thus their salvation, seriously. So let’s be serious for a moment. How do we know? Can we know? Let’s go back to the first Protestant. To a man plagued with the question of assurance.

It could be said that the entire Protestant Reformation was an issue over assurance. Much of the Reformers’ critique of the old church was leveled precisely against those features of the Roman Catholic system that left people doubtful and anxious about their salvation. This is why Martin Luther deemed the doctrine of justification by faith “the central article of our teaching.” It helped him to reconcile the obvious tension between God’s holiness and persistent human sinfulness. For Luther, theology wasn’t an exercise in scholasticism. It was a life-and-death matter. His extremely tender conscience couldn’t bear the weight of God’s impending judgment, nor could it find sufficient assurance in the Catholic system of penance and priestly absolution. The system of indulgences not only failed to engender the necessary repentance that came with sincere faith, it also left the sinner without any real spiritual security. Was God up there? Was he pleased? Was he angry? The troubled young Luther was plagued with such a sense of panic under God’s wrath that eventually his supervising monk, Johann von Staupitz, ordered him to stop concocting sins in his head! Luther had too many transgressions to confess! This sense of foreboding dread and despair was what Luther called Anfechtung, a sense of doom before God’s watchful eye: “I did not learn my theology all at once, but I had to search deeper for it, where my temptations (Anfechtungen) took me…Not understanding, reading, or speculation, but living, nay, rather dying and being damned make a theologian.” Here in his anxiety-ridden state, Luther found the mercy of a God who was both “just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.” (Rom. 3:26) What abbots and bishops could not furnish for Martin Luther, Christ could. Because of assurance, young Luther became disillusioned with the fabricated religion of Rome: “No man can be assured of his salvation by any episcopal function…because the Apostle (Paul) orders us to work out our salvation constantly in fear and trembling.” Luther continued, “the first and only duty of the bishops, however, is to see that people learn the gospel and the love of Christ.” Therefore to be Protestant, to some degree, is to be certain of one’s salvation. But as we’ll see, that hard-fought assurance became more difficult to define.

Luther’s discovery of assurance and subsequent break with Rome coincided with his new understanding of the ‘justice of God’ in Romans 1:17. For years, the word δικαιοσυνη had struck fear into the heart of the sinful Augustinian monk. The ‘righteousness’ of God was a divine attribute that Luther dreaded, as he knew himself to be wholly unrighteous, and worthy of a righteous punishment. Luther’s conversion, however, came with his eventual re-interpretation of Romans 1:17: the ‘righteousness of God’ was in fact an “alien righteousness” given to sinners. “For He Himself is our sole righteousness until we are conformed to His likeness.” Christ had satisfied the righteousness of God by supplying His own to sinners. Where Augustine had interpreted the verb δικαιοω as “make righteous”, the former University of Erfurt law student interpreted it as “declare righteous.” Justification was a legal action performed by Christ on behalf of the sinner, not worked from within, but declared from without. This is how sinners could remain sinful and have certainty that they were indeed saved. Christians were “simul justus et peccator”: simultaneously just and sinner. Thus the Protestant doctrine of assurance was born. To have faith in Christ is not to achieve salvation personally, but to personally accept Christ’s salvific work done on our behalf. To Luther and to all of his spiritual offspring, Christ Himself is the assurance of sinners. Unlike Roman Catholicism that teaches that grace must be conferred and infused via physical sacraments, Protestants boast in the finished work of Christ via faith. And the result isn’t infused righteousness, but imputed righteousness! We receive the credit for the perfect life of Christ. This of course is modeled for us in the ‘man of faith’ Abraham. (Gen. 15:6, Rom. 4:3, Gal. 3:9)

After the formative years of the Reformation, the pastoral application of the doctrine of assurance became a growing issue. How did classroom teaching translate into pulpit preaching? How exactly did sola fide fit inside of a church? How could Christians balance the assurance of their salvation with Gospel perseverance? Luther had placed Law and Gospel in distant theological corners. But not everyone saw it that way. To answer these questions, many post-Reformation Protestants engineered a system of Christian practice known as covenant theology (traditionally attributed to Heinrich Bullinger, successor to Huldrych Zwingi). After the rise of Protestant thought, the threat of Antinomianism became an ever-increasing reality in Reformed communities. Antinomianism teaches that the believer is completely free from all obligation to the law, and that any concession to legal duty was an infringement upon free grace. In short, once the Reformation principle of sola fide took shape, Protestant churches faced the new temptation to dispense with all works whatsoever and indulge in licentious, worldly behavior. As a result, pastors were forced to balance the comfort of assurance with the divine mandate to finish the spiritual race set before the church. Endemic to covenant Puritan orthopraxy is what many scholars have called the “third use of the Law.” The first use of the law was civil, guiding magistrates and leaders in rewarding good and punishing evil. (Rom. 13:3-4, 1 Tim. 2:1-2) According to Luther, “The first understanding and use of the Law is to restrain the wicked…This civil restraint is extremely necessary and was instituted by God.” The second use is evangelical, driving sinners away from their own righteousness to trust in Christ alone. (Gal. 3:10, 24) John Calvin wrote, “The law is like a mirror. In it we contemplate our weakness, then the iniquity arising from this, and finally the curse coming from both – just as the mirrors shows us the spots on our face.” Finally, Puritans exercised a third use of the law: directive or normative. In this light, Christians looked to the Law as a “rule of life” to guide them in ways pleasing to God. While Luther never explicitly developed such a use, Calvin did reference the Law as a “rule of life”, though not with the same drawn-out, conditional requirements of Puritan covenant theology. (Calvin, for example, was not a strict Sabbatarian)

From Geneva, John Calvin aided the Elizabethan Puritan movement by serving as a refuge for Protestant exiles during the reign of ‘bloody Mary.’ He also wrote important letters to critical leaders during the incipient years of Puritanism. However, Calvin differed from traditional Puritanism in one significant way: assurance. While Calvin defined assurance into the essence of faith, many Puritans (including the Westminster Assembly) did not necessarily equate the two. For this reason, many scholars through the years have posited that Puritans fundamentally departed from classical Reformed theology, compromising the sola fide principle that Protestantism was built upon. (R.T. Kendall, Calvin and English Calvinism to 1649) Christopher Hill even suggested that English covenant theology was a means of “smuggling works into Calvinism,” due to its seeming conditions upon God’s grace. (Hill, Puritanism and Revolution)

Such false assertions reflect the tension that exists in biblical soteriology. One way or another, all theology must be wrapped in ecclesiology. Pastors are called to balance the beautiful assurance that believers possess in Christ with the call to persevere to the end of the Christian life with holiness and love. The Holy Spirit that comforts the church with the words “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus,” also exhorts that “the one who endures to the end will be saved.” (Rom. 8:1, Matt. 24:13) Christians carry promise and perseverance hand-in-hand. The spiritual imbalance of these two crucial principles has become the avenue for some of the church’s most dangerous heresies. Antinomianism itself is the certainty of God’s promises without the observance of His commands. This is in essence the sin of Hyper-Calvinism. Antinomians will correctly affirm Romans 8:16 as cause for godly assurance: “The Spirit Himself bears witness without our spirit that we are children of God.” However, without a proper Christian ethic, it’s not difficult to see how Antinomian assurance easily translates into direct divine revelation, the likes of which America witnessed in its first major heretic: Anne Hutchinson. Sydney Ahlstrom has called the Antinomian Controversy “the opening chapter in American intellectual history.” Today we see the spiritual offspring of such extra-biblical revelationists in the Pentecostal movement. On the other hand, to carry perseverance without God’s sovereign promise is the foundation for legalism, the sin of Arminianism. Arminians correctly affirm John 14:15: “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” However, without a correct understanding of God’s sovereign grace, Christianity tends toward moralism, the likes of which America witnessed in Deism and Unitarian virtue. Puritans, in their obsessive quest for conversion, cultivated a means to confirm salvation called “practical syllogism,” a mode of observing one’s holiness as practiced in everyday life. However, without a proper sense of the Spirit’s witness and the inherent human temptation for self-trust, this ‘syllogism’ could often lead to legalism masked as Reformed covenant theology. (Theodore D. Bozeman explores the connection between Puritan covenant theology and the Antinomian controversy in his The Precisianist Strain)

The question of assurance is perhaps the most necessary question in the Christian life. And in an age when many evangelicals tout “once saved, always saved” only to live a life identical to the world, a biblical view of assurance should be restored. An unbeliever who was baptized when he or she was eight years old needs a biblical model of perseverance as badly as the thief on the cross needed the sweet words of assurance. Pastors are called to balance both. And when sinners are baptized and then told that they “can’t lose their salvation,” something else is missing. By the same token, no Christian should ever walk through this life thinking they must add something to the finished work of Christ. If there is no assurance, there is no Christ. And if there is no race, there is no faith.

Am I Saved? A Brief History of Assurance