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The End of Many Books

The Imaginative World of the Reformation

by Peter Matheson

I finished this book a couple years ago but it’s been in my “currently reading” list since then. No longer! I read it in preparation for the 500th anniversary of the Reformation in 2017, and I figured I’d post a review today in preparation for Reformation Day tomorrow.

Matheson argues:

“The Reformation…was more a song or a symphony than a system, more lyric than lecture, more a leap of the imagination than one of those social restructurings we are so heartily sick of today. It certainly produced systems, lectures and structures as well, but they were secondary.” (loc. 215)

This is not a disparaging word against the solas, it’s just that justification by faith alone belonged with abundant life not only clarified doctrines, let alone liberation from self-serving religious authorities. The Reformation gave Protestants freedom to read God’s Word, freedom to share communion, freedom from traditionalism and from dualism. It was a freedom to imagine (not outside reality but new concepts of reality) that daily work and survival meant something to God and was a good given by God.

“the Reformation can be seen as an infinitely varied, but coherent and extended, metaphor for the bountifulness of God’s grace.” (loc. 99)

Should you read this? You should put it in your queue if you’ve already read a lot of Luther and Calvin first, and if you’re interested to see how preaching was (actually only) a part of how nations were turned upside down.

4 of 5 stars

Categories
Lord's Day Liturgy

Faithful Sons

When we were starting a church almost nine years ago, we considered naming it Trinity Reformed Evangelical Church. God’s triune nature is the origin of love and fellowship, which He made us to experience and to have with Him. Evangelical got shortened to Evangel, because “evangelical” is like word-soup, usually too hot or too cold, and “evangel” makes people’s tongues trip enough to wonder why (it’s the original word for gospel). As for Reformed, that didn’t make the final cut in the name, but it is still a crucial part that we care about.

“Reformed and still reforming” tags us as conscious of our history and conscious of the lessons of our history. We stand on the shoulders of many 16th Century Reformers who loved the gospel too well to see it trampled on. We give thanks to God for men such as Martin Luther, William Tyndale, John Knox, and John Calvin. We consider the outcome of their way of life and we imitate their faith (Hebrews 13:7).

The outcome of their lives was the glory of God in the light of the gospel of free grace received by faith alone. They turned their respective nations upside down in Christ’s name, and may we be faithful sons.

We will do that as we imitate their faith, which, of course, is not faith in them. Imitating their faith means relying wholeheartedly and completely and directly on God through Christ. We read the Reformers’ teachings on and interpretations of Scripture because they teach us to read and obey the Bible. It’s why all of them worked hard to translate God’s Word into the vernacular of their people. As we prepare for another Reformation Day on October 31, there is no better way to do so than to read, listen, meditate, and submit to God’s Word. #KeepTheFeast

Categories
Lord's Day Liturgy

The Vocabulary of Repentance

We owe some of our most cherished vocabulary to the Reformers. This is Reformation Sunday, the Sunday closest to October 31st when Martin Luther posted his 95 Theses against the sale of indulgences. It is good for us to be thankful for God’s use of faithful men.

William Tyndale was the first man to translate the New Testament into English from Greek. John Wycliffe hand-wrote copies from Latin into English, but Tyndale had access to the Greek New Testament thanks to Erasmus, and his printed English copies created a firestorm.

One of his most important word choices came in Acts 2:38. After Peter preached on Pentecost, the men asked what they could do to be saved. The Catholic Church taught that Peter replied, “Do penance.” It’s based on the Latin word, Pœnitentiam. Tyndale translated Peter’s reply, “Repent” (based on Μετανοήσατε).

There’s no need to remember Tyndale every time we repent. However, it is good for our humility and our gratitude to remember that we’ve been delivered from numerous gross errors and heavy religious burdens because of men who loved God and His Word more than their own lives.

Never once have you come to this part of our liturgy on Sunday morning and heard that you must confess your sins to a priest who takes your confession for you to God. You are exhorted to confess, and the heart may resist, but when you confess, it is directly to God through Christ. No man is in the middle, Christ alone is the mediator. And on no occasion have you heard that, due to your sin, you must punish yourself, or pay God money, or travel to see a religious site, or work off your penalty.

When you realize your sin, what should you do? Confess your sin, repent from it, trust in Christ, and your forgiveness is by grace alone.

Categories
Lord's Day Liturgy

A Spirit of Fermentation

One of the most most cutting conflicts among the Reformers concerned the nature of the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper. 500 years later it seems strange that they had such contention over communion. Didn’t they have an obvious and shared and bigger enemy in the Catholic Church—which taught that Jesus was being re-crucified every time the priest prayed over the elements? The Reformers all knew that was blasphemy. How come they had such a difficult time coming together at the Table of fellowship?

Some of it was ego. We can see that and say it now, at least because it’s always easier to criticize someone who can’t fight back. But it’s true. They had their own ministries and desires to be The Man, some men more than others.

Some of it was conviction. Maybe we should have more trouble to work through than we do. They cared about truth in Scripture. There were and definitely are dumb doctrinal disagreements and divisions, but disagreements do demonstrate the desire to do what God says.

We have the historical benefit of knowing their positions and watching them fight it out, and kill each other, without fearing the same. And while we still stay clear of the idea that the bread and wine turn into Jesus’ actual and physical body and blood, we also think that more is happening than just symbolism. We are not merely going through the motions on behalf of mental images, as if the mental part was the part that mattered. The Spirit works in the preaching of the Word and the partaking of the Word.

Through faith in Christ our faith is fed. By grace we are being knit together in Christ. In Christ we have wisdom to appraise how yeast causes the loaf to rise and grapes to ferment. And in Christ we have wisdom to praise the Spirit who causes our hope to rise and our joy to ferment. The Spirit reforms our lives, individually and corporately, and that is something we all celebrate in common.

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A Shot of Encouragement

The Reformers’ Days

Charles Spurgeon, “Holding Fast the Faith”:

Everybody admires Luther! Yes, yes; but you do not want anyone else to do the same today. When you go to the…gardens you all admire the bear; but how would you like a bear at home, or a bear wandering about loose in the street? You tell me that would be unbearable, and no doubt you are right.

So, we admire a man who was firm in the faith, say four hundred years ago; the past ages are sort of a bear-pit or iron cage for him, but such a man today is a nuisance, and must be put down. Call him a narrow-minded bigot, or give him a worse name if can think of one. Yet imagine that in those ages past, Luther, Zwingli, Calvin and their (friends) had said, “The world is out of order; but if we try to set it right we shall only make a great (racket), and get ourselves in disgrace. Let us go to our chambers, put on our night caps, and sleep over the bad times, and perhaps when we wake things will have grown better.”

Such conduct on their part would have entailed upon us a heritage of error. Age after age would have gone down into the infernal deeps, and the pestiferous bogs of error would have swallowed all. These men loved the faith and the name of Jesus too well to see them trampled on. Note what we owe them, and let us pay to our sons the debt we owe our fathers.

It is today as it was in the Reformer’s days. Decision is needed. Here is the day for the man, where is the man for the day? We who have had the gospel passed to us by martyr hands dare not trifle with it, nor sit by and hear it denied by traitors, who pretend to love it, but inwardly abhor every line of it.

Look you sirs, there are ages yet to come. If the Lord does not speedily appear, there will come another generation, and another, and all these generations will be tainted and injured if we are not faithful to God and to His truth today.

… Stand fast, my beloved, in the name of God! I, your brother in Christ, entreat you to abide in the truth. Quit yourselves like men, be strong. The Lord sustain you for Jesus’ sake. Amen.

Happy Reformation Day!

Categories
Enjoying the Process

Polka, Pirates, and Pontification

I know I have not posted anything substantial for over two weeks. This post won’t change that. But a number of things around the internet stood out to me here on Reformation Day/Halloween that are worth posting to the Void if for no other reason than so I can find them later myself.

Paul Lamey shares the must-see Reformation Polka as well providing some links and ideas to get your Reformation day party started.

Albert Mohler explains the deal with Halloween.

Tim Challies made a good case last year for leaving the light on. This year he’s collected a passel of Reformation Day posts.

A couple years ago I wrote a few Reasons for Remembering the Reformation and then preached through the five Solas and five Reformers. The notes for those messages are not available but the audio is. And here is my list of Recommended Reformation Resources.

Changing tunes, my wife pointed this out as well, but if you happen to have a knitted turtle in need of a costume, look no further than Captain Knack Sparrow. Quite an elaborate creation and entertaining story by my sister.

Finally, though it is significantly less important than Luther’s 95 Thesis, if I were to nail something on a door today it would be the following rant: How can my local “Christian” radio justify playing Christmas songs already? On my drive home this afternoon I was almost asphyxiated when I heard “It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas.” Are you kidding me? I thought Christmas music on Thanksgiving was early, but this is senseless. I don’t even think Johann Tetzel would approve.

Categories
Enjoying the Process

Recommended Reformation Resources

I finished preaching through the Reformation solas again and wanted to put together a list of recommended resources for further study, similar to the online Edwards resources list I posted after this past Snow Retreat. Unlike that list, however, I’ve also included some books that are not available to read online.

See more about the Reformation Wall

Books

Reformation general:

Sola specific:

Biography:

Websites

  • Five Solas | This is the place to start for Reformation resources on the internet.

Audio

I also preached on the Pillars and Preachers of the Protestant Reformation at the 05SR.

  1. Post Tenebras Lux: After Darkness, Light
  2. Sola Scriptura: The Ultimate Authority and William Tyndale
  3. Sola Fide: The Ultimate Issue and Martin Luther
  4. Sola Gratia: The Ultimate Cause and Ulrich Zwingli
  5. Solus Christus: The Ultimate Advocate and John Knox
  6. Soli Deo Gloria: The Ultimate End and John Calvin