Truth, No Tricks

October 31, 2015.

Do you know what today is? If you answered “Halloween,” you wouldn’t be wrong, but that’s not exactly the response I was looking for.

Today is also Reformation Day, which commemorates that time in 1517 when Martin Luther nailed his 95 Theses to the Castle Church door at Wittenberg in Germany. Although this action was a customary way to initiate public debate, the content of Luther’s document was far from ordinary—his actions brought about great changes to Christianity, which had strayed from “the faith once delivered to the saints.” – Jude 1:3

Luther’s indignation began (but did not end) with the “sale of indulgences” by John Tetzel, a monk selling indulgence papers to lay folks who feared the fate of their dead loved ones and who were promised that “as soon as the coin in the coffer rings, the soul from purgatory springs.”

The sale of indulgences was a means of raising money for the Church. Luther not only disputed this abuse of people (many of whom could hardly afford such an expense), he disputed what was, in effect, the “teaching for shameful gain what they ought not to teach.” (Titus 1:11)

Luther contested man-made traditions and church authority, both of which compromised the authority of God and the Bible, citing instead that:

the true treasure of the church is the most holy gospel of the glory and the grace of God.” — Thesis 62 of 93

The results of the Reformation can be summed up in what are referred to as the Five Solas. The first one is this: sola Scriptura (by Scripture alone). From the authoritative nature of Scripture, the rest of the solas flow: sola fide (by faith alone); sola gratia (by grace alone); solus Christus (through Christ alone); soli Deo gloria (to the glory of God alone).

Great reformers, such as Luther, are not the only ones who can and ought to contend for the faith. Nor was the need for reforming Christian thought and practice a problem of the 1500s alone. Perhaps as you read the paragraphs above concerning indulgences, you were reminded of the pyramid schemes and prosperity preaching of today—or perhaps of more subtle “prone to wander, Lord I feel it” type of thinking that hits closer to home.

My hope is that Reformation Day is not only a day to be thankful to God for men like Luther, but that it also fans into flame a desire for us, as Christians, to think more biblically, be more discerning, and to boldly contend for the Gospel.

What is the Gospel? It can be summed up in this passage from I Corinthians 15:1-4:

Now, brothers and sisters, I want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you, which you received and on which you have taken your stand. By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you. Otherwise, you have believed in vain. For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures.


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Hammer Heard Round the World

At noon on October 31, 1517, a hammer struck the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg, Germany. It was the start of the Reformation.

The Ninety-Five Theses, composed originally in Latin, were posted by Martin Luther on the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg, Germany, on October 31, 1517. The Castle Church was used by the university as its “campus church” and as such the door served as a sort of public bulletin board for the academic community. The theses were a proposal for a discussion about the practice of indulgences. October 31, 1517, the day before All Saints Day, was chosen because the Castle Church was also home to one of the largest collection of relics in all of Western Christendom, owned by the Saxon Elector Frederick the Wise. Indulgences were granted to the faithful for viewing the many relics that were put on display on All Saints Day. [1]

wittenberg_castle_smhoughton

A sketch of the Castle Church in Wittenberg, Germany, as it might have appeared in 1517. — Taken from the book Sketches from Church History by S. M. Houghton.

When Dr. Martin Luther, a law student turned Augustinian monk turned great Reformer, nailed his 95 Theses to the church door, little did he know that it would be copied, translated, and distributed throughout all of Europe. Little did he know that his name would be recorded as one of the most significant figures in church history.

The fact that Martin Luther is an identifiable character in the story of human existence is secondary to what was divinely accomplished through his scrutiny of unbiblical religious practices. As an instrument in God’s Hands, he would spend the remainder of his life reintroducing the largely forgotten truths of the Christian faith.

Luther’s diligent study and subsequent teaching of the Bible has led to many reforms we might otherwise take for granted today. He refuted the sale of indulgences as a means of salvation, turning instead to the New Testament teaching of salvation by grace alone, through faith alone—and justified through Christ and His righteousness alone. [2]

Luther’s translation of the Bible into German vernacular put the Word of God in the hands of the common people. He further translated the liturgy (i.e. the worship service, which was traditionally in Latin) into the common language so that all could understand it.

Luther also challenged the marriage ban placed on clergy. He showed it to be unbiblical and, by his own example of marriage, dramatically reformed the vocation. Not only that, he reintroduced the biblical view that all Christians—not just the clergy—serve their Creator and their neighbors through their honest and faithful work, whatever it may be.

Today, Luther’s contributions to the Christian faith are seen in the creeds and confessions of Protestant congregations around the world. But make no mistake. Luther did not reinvent the Christian faith. Nor did he reinterpret it. Luther simply rediscovered the one true faith that was once delivered to the Saints.

~ * ~

Lord, keep us steadfast in Thy Word;
Curb those who fain by craft and sword
Would wrest the kingdom from Thy Son
And set at naught all He hath done.

Lord Jesus Christ, Thy pow’r make known,
For Thou art Lord of lords alone;
Defend Thy Christendom that we
May evermore sing praise to Thee.

O Comforter of priceless worth,
Send peace and unity on earth.
Support us in our final strife
And lead us out of death to life.

— A hymn by Martin Luther, 1541


[1] http://bookofconcord.org/95theses.php
[2] Ephesians 2:8-10; 2 Corinthians 5:21

Every Day is Mother’s Day

I had the joy of spending this Mother’s Day weekend with my whole family, celebrating the contributions of both my Mom as well as my younger sister, who is now a mother herself.

As an appreciative onlooker, I view motherhood as a vocation—a glorious and natural calling of a woman that is both a lifelong privilege and a great responsibility. I admire mothers, and I salute them in their work and acts of love.

momandme_burnsidebridge

Here I am with my Mom a few years ago at one of my favorite places–Burnside Bridge on the Antietam National Battlefield in Sharpsburg, MD. (My Dad took my mother here when they were dating.)

Martin Luther, the great 16th century theologian, had a lot to say about motherhood and family. Here’s just a sampling of what he said:

…the greatest good in married life, that which makes all suffering and labor worthwhile, is that God grants offspring and commands that they be brought up to worship and serve him. In all the world this is the noblest and most precious work, because to God there can be nothing dearer than the salvation of souls. …Most certainly father and mother are apostles, bishops, and priests to their children, for it is they who make them acquainted with the gospel. In short, there is no greater or nobler authority on earth than that of parents over their children, for this authority is both spiritual and temporal. Whoever teaches the gospel to another is truly his apostle and bishop.  …See therefore how good and great is God’s work and ordinance!  [Luther, LW:45-48]

As another Mother’s Day comes to a close, I honor mothers everywhere. For them, their labor never ends—every day is Mother’s Day.

mothersdaycollage

I thank God for the mother that He so wisely gave me. She places trust in the LORD, knowing that from generation to generation His mercy is upon those who lean upon Him. She has taught this truth to my two sisters and to me; and now my younger sister is teaching it to her son. [In this photo collage: My Mom, my sister Lisa, and her son.] — 2014

Not Your Typical New Year’s Eve Post

dr_john_millheimI wasn’t surprised to see every pew occupied. There must have been several hundred people packed into that sanctuary. I found a vacant spot smack-dab in the middle of the very back row and settled in for the funeral service of my Historical Theology professor, Dr. John Edward Millheim, earlier today.

As I waited for the service to begin, I read the program. It was brief. On the right-hand side: the day he was born (November 9, 1934), the day he died (December 29, 2013), as well as the location of the funeral service and the burial.

The contents of the left-hand side caused me to rummage in my purse for a tissue. It was a poem entitled Oh Praise His Name, which Dr. Millheim himself had written. It spoke of God’s transcending love, of God in human flesh entering into a sinful world to save sinners, and the quickening of his own heart as God the Spirit drew Him to God the Son.

The service began with a solo that again had me dabbing my eyes, as most Getty hymns will do. Jesus, Draw Me Ever Nearer. The song is about laboring though the storms of life on wings of faith. Surely it was sung for those of us left behind, but I couldn’t help thinking that Dr. Millheim was as near as one could get to Jesus, for to be absent from the body is to be at home with the Lord.

Our voices joined in singing It Is Well With My Soul, and then the memorializing began. John Millheim was husband, father, Gramps, professor, and so much more. The common thread throughout was his lovingkindness, his heart for teaching, and his encouraging spirit. I knew him “simply” as my professor for one semester and a part (shortened by his failing health even then), yet he demonstrated those qualities toward me as a new seminary student.

I remember the first day of Historical Theology class. It was a late August evening in 2009. Our classroom consisted of a small conference table with about 8 chairs around it. Dr. Millheim sat at the head, a large and imposing figure. I was the only girl, (a Biblical Counseling major), surrounded by pastors-in-training. A non-traditional student—approaching my 40s and female—I was so nervous, but he treated me both like a lady and like one of the boys.

Dr. Millheim had this amazing ability to make the Bible look like something you could really get your arms around and understand. (Because you can!) He made the history of the church come alive. I was at his right elbow—literally—when I first learned in any meaningful depth about Martin Luther and John Calvin, his favorites in all of church history.

Dr. Millheim had this way of looking over his glasses at me, not in a condescending way, but with a twinkle that seemed to say, “I know what you are thinking, and I will help you to think more biblically.”

exam_feedback

Ever the encourager, Dr. Millheim wrote this upon grading my first Historical Theology 101 exam at Shepherds Theological Seminary (Cary, NC). — 2009

Sometimes in death, we make people larger than life. I’ll try not to do that with Dr. Millheim–he was, after all, the professor who stopped the class at the sound of my hungry stomach and quipped, “Someone needs Beano!”–but excuse me if I consider him one of the finest teachers and theologians I have ever had the privilege to know.