The Reformation Means Resurrection

By Evan Knies

On the morning of October 31st 2016, my cousin’s body was laid in the grave. It has been a tough year since his passing. He was like my older brother and he impacted those he came in contact with. My cousin had his own struggles and faults, but he had his hope rested in the gospel! The temptations he faced were great, but Christ died for his past, present, and future sins. As our family has grieved losing him in this life, we have often been reminded of the hope the gospel offers. Those who repent, turning from their sin, and trusting in Christ by faith alone will be saved. Since Christ was raised from the grave, He will raise His people from the grave!

2 Corinthians 4:14 – For we know that the one who raised the Lord Jesus will also raise us with Jesus and present us with you. 
Continue reading “The Reformation Means Resurrection”

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

Luther on the Perspicuity of Scripture

By Obbie Todd

The Imperial Diet of Worms (1521) may be the most unfortunately named council in the history of the church. However, it’s also where a monk named Martin Luther challenged the Catholic Church in a way no other sinner had before. Following the meeting, Luther’s friend and governor Frederick the Wise kindly “kidnapped” him on the road home to Wittenberg, whisking him away to Wartburg Castle for protection from Catholic authorities. It’s here, during his hiding, that Luther began translating the Greek New Testament into the language of his people. For many, Luther stands as a controversial figure remembered for his theological brilliance and even sharper whit. Still, it’s important to remember that he was also a dedicated student of Scripture. Before he began teaching Romans as a teacher of theology, Luther’s very first lectures were on the Psalms. He was a man well versed in God’s Word. Consequently, his time at Wartburg wasn’t wasted in cowardice. While his teaching of the Bible is proof of his belief in the authority of Scripture, his translation of the Greek New Testament into German is proof of Luther’s belief in the perspicuity of Scripture. The word “perspicuity” is a funny word derived from the Latin word perspicuitas meaning “transparency” or “clearness.” Therefore perspicuity is the property of God’s Word denoting its clarity and readability. Luther believed that if delivered the Scripture in their native tongue, Germans could and would read these eternal truths for themselves – truths obscured by the Latin mass of the Catholic Church.

Unfortunately, despite the abundance of English versions of Scripture available today in countless bookstores and the exponential growth in literacy from the 16th century to the 21st, numerous Christians continue to impugn the perspicuity of the Scriptures by their negligence in seeking after God’s Word. What thousands of Christians in Luther’s day desperately desired but could not attain, millions of modern Christians have at their fingertips only to give excuses for not reading their Bible. Statements like “I don’t know how to read the Bible,” or “the Bible is hard to understand,” or the all-too-common “we’re not supposed to understand everything in the Bible anyway” all collectively point to an apathetic church still struggling to simply open the cover to God’s precious, saving revelation to His people.

For Luther’s doctrine of the perspicuity of Scripture, one might not think to look inside his magnum opus Bondage of the Will (1525). However, B.B. Warfield’s assertion that De Servo Arbitrio is “in a true sense the manifesto of the Reformation” is a strong indication that this magisterial work contained so much more than an examination of the will. From sola gratia springs sola Scriptura.

One of Luther’s assertions in his discussion of the Bible’s clarity is that we learn to interpret obscure passages of Scripture by examining the clearer ones: “Thus is it unintelligent, and ungodly too, when you know that the contents of Scripture are as clear as can be, to pronounce them obscure on account of these few obscure words. If words are obscure in one place, they are clear in another.” (71)

Someone who struggles exegeting Romans shouldn’t be made to feel stupid. After all, even the Apostle Peter found Paul’s epistles difficult at times. (2 Peter 3:16) Rather, the answer for the frustrated reader of Scripture is found in simply continuing to read the Word – allowing the Bible to help interpret the Bible. This is why consistent reading of God’s Word is essential for its understanding. Perspicuity doesn’t mean that the oracles of God are simple, nor does it negate the value of studying the whole counsel of God. This is what Luther called “external” perspicuity: “nothing whatsoever is left obscure or ambiguous, but all that is in the Scripture is through the Word brought forth into the clearest light and proclaimed to the whole world.” (74)

Luther also contended for an “internal” perspicuity by defying the interpreting authority of the Pope and emphasizing the office of the Spirit – who lifts the veil from the hearts and minds of unbelievers. (2 Cor. 3:15, 4:3-4) The doctrine of the perspicuity of Scripture never implies a strictly natural, unaided interpretation. Our sin prevents us from perceiving these deep truths on our own. Therefore we must have our eyes opened so that we can read Scripture the way its Author intended. (Luke 24:27,31) The Spirit is our primary hermeneutical lens. In the words of the Paul, “no one comprehends the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God.” (1 Cor. 2:11) According to Luther, “The Holy Spirit is no Sceptic, and the things He has written in our hearts are not doubts or opinions, but assertions – surer and more certain than sense and life itself.” (70)

The Bondage of the Will (1525) is a polemic against Desiderius Erasmus, a man of satirical genius. In his Diatribe (1524), Erasmus dismisses the discussion of the will as “irreligious, idle, and superfluous,” calling attention to the hopeless obscurity of certain passages and even questioning whether the true meaning could be found! Erasmus’ claims sound very much like those of the modern Christian who uses the obscurity of certain passages of Scripture as license to dismiss the reading of the whole. But for Luther, the so-called “obscurity” of certain passages isn’t inherent, but is due to the sinfulness of the reader: “I know that to many people a great deal remains obscure; but that is due, not to any lack of clarity in Scripture, but to their own blindness and dullness, in that they make no effort to see truth which, in itself, could not be plainer.” (72) When we grow in sanctification, we grow in interpretation! Our piety affects the way we approach the Scriptures.

Erasmus takes the road of countless Christians today when he argues that texts like the conclusion of Romans 11 point to the hopeless complexity of the divine Scriptures. But Luther turns this exegesis on its head. When Paul writes, “How unsearchable are his judgments,” the pronoun “his” isn’t referring to Scripture but to God Himself! As Luther contends, “God and His Scripture are two things.” (71) He goes on to admonish those who would deduce God’s merciful self-disclosure to His church to a hopeless, undecipherable code: “So let wretched men abjure that blasphemous perversity which would blame the darkness of their own hearts on to the plain Scriptures of God!” (72)

Luther’s harsh words serve as a warning to the well of American pulpits today that hesitate to preach the whole counsel of God. Preachers must come to embrace the fact that a church will suffer in its understanding of the whole Bible if they don’t receive the whole Bible. We learn to interpret the difficult passages of Scripture by learning from the less difficult. Still, many churches fall victim to the myth that the meaning of many difficult passages in the Bible are never meant to be discovered. But if our churches believe that God’s Scripture is mysterious rather than difficult, sinners confuse the precious, grace-filled message of the Bible with the ramblings of a distant God who doesn’t desire us to know Him! The Bible isn’t mysterious. It’s God’s merciful self-revelation to His church for their salvation, preservation, and enjoyment! Churches must not only be saturated with God’s Word; they must consistently be fed the good news that God is not silent. He desires us to know Him. That relationship begins with the Scriptures. The next time someone from your church quotes Isaiah 55:8-9 (“my thoughts are not your thoughts”) to contend for biblical obscurity rather than holy majesty, teach them the perspicuity of Scripture. God’s Word is a gift to be read and understood so that His church may be “wise unto salvation.” (2 Tim. 3:15)

Obbie is married to Kelly. He attended the University of Kentucky (B.A.) and SBTS (M.Div and Th.M). Obbie is Associate Pastor of Students at Zoar Baptist Church in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. Obbie is currently a doctoral candidate in Theology at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary.

Week In Review: Friday, October 30th, 2015

By Evan Knies

Happy Reformation Day Weekend!

Banner of Truth Reformation Day Sale

Ligonier $5 Friday

The Reformation Gave us a Seat at the Table

Is the Reformation Over?

A Theology of Eldership

Ten Reasons to Revel in Being Chosen

Scott Corbin (CBMW) interviews Rosaria Butterfield

Early Registration for T4G ends Saturday!

When our Lord and Master Jesus Christ said, “Repent” (Matthew 4:17), he willed the entire life of believers to be one of repentance. – Martin Luther, 95 Theses