Reformation Essentials

On October 31, 1517 a young college professor, heavy of heart, wanted to discuss some of the things he was thinking.  Posting his thoughts on the front doors of the church in the center of town – the 16th Century version of Facebook or blogging – a flame ignited that  still burns today.  In fact, with the recent resurgence of the Reformed tradition that flame is burning bright.

On this 494th anniversary of Martin Luther’s simple act, I thought I would post a piece that reminds us of the essence of the movement that rocked the world.


by Michael Horton

In May, 1989, a conference jointly sponsored by the National Association of Evangelicals and Trinity Evangelical Divinity School was held at the Trinity campus in Illinois. Dubbed a consultation on Evangelical Affirmations, the meeting revealed more than it settled. In the published addresses (Zondervan, 1990), Carl F. H. Henry, the dean of American evangelicalism, sets the tone for book with his opening line: “The term ‘evangelical’ has taken on conflicting nuances in the twentieth century. Wittingly or unwittingly, evangelical constituencies no less than their critics have contributed to this confusion and misunderstanding.” He warned that “evangelical” was being understood, not according to Scriptural teaching and “the theological ‘ought,'” but according to the sociological and empirical “is.” In other words, Henry was disturbed that evangelicalism is increasingly being defined by its most recent trends rather than by its normative theological identity. Author after author (presumably, speaker after speaker) echoed the same fears that before long “evangelical” will be useless as any meaningful identification.

The term itself derives from the Greek word euangelion, translated “Gospel,” and it became a noun when the Protestant reformers began their work of bringing the “one holy, catholic and apostolic church” back to that message by which and for which it was created. People still used other labels, too, like “Lutheran,” “Reformed,” and later, “Puritans,” “Pietists,” and “Wesleyans.” Nevertheless, the belief was that the same Gospel that had united the “evangelicals” against Rome’s errors could also unite them against the creeping naturalism and secularism of the Enlightenment in the eighteenth century. The so-called “Evangelical Awakening” in Britain coincided with America’s own “Great Awakening,” as Wesley, Whitefield, Edwards, Tennant, and so many others centered their preaching on the atonement. Later, of course, Wesley’s zeal for Arminian emphases divided the work in Britain, but the Reformation emphases were clearly and unambiguously articulated in the Great Awakening.

Out of this heritage, those today who call themselves “evangelicals” (or who are in these churches, but might not know that they are in this tradition) are heirs also to the Second Great Awakening. Radically altering the “evangel” from a concern with the object of faith, the Second Great Awakening and the revivalism that emerged from it focused on the act and experience of faith, in dependence on the proper “excitements”, as Finney and others expressed it, to trigger the right response. In our estimation, this Second Great Awakening was the most important seismic shift in American religious history. Although the Reformation emphases of sin and grace continued to exercise some influence, they were being constantly revised to make the “Gospel” more acceptable to those who thought they could pull themselves up by their own bootstraps.

Only in the last decade of this century have many of the movement’s mainstream leaders considered the loss of an evangelical substance. No longer is the evangel the focus of the movement’s identity, but it is now known more by a sub-culture, a collection of political, moral and social causes, and an acute interest in rather exotic notions about the end-times. At a loss for words, one friend answered a man’s question, “Who are the evangelicals?” with the reply, “They’re people who like Billy Graham.”

It is at this point that those of us who are heirs to the Reformation–which bequeathed to evangelicalism a distinct theological identity that has been since lost–call attention once more to the solas (only or alone) that framed the entire sixteenth-century debate: “Only Scripture,” “Only Christ,” “Only Grace,” “Only Faith,” and “To God Alone Be Glory.”

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Here I Stand

Today being Reformation Sunday, the day on the ecclesiastical calender commemorating the anniversary of Martin Luther posting his 95 Theses on the doors of the church at Wittenburg, which inadvertantly set into motion a radical transformation of both the church and Western Culture, I thought it might be appropriate to review the roots of what we celebrate.

The standard for Luther biography is set by historian Roland Bainton in his seminal work, Here I Stand.  Taking his cue from Bainton’s work, acclaimed narrator Max McLean introduces the events leading up to the Diet of Worms:

  • Martin Luther’s prayer the night before he delivered his speech
  • Luther’s stirring defense
  • the Catholic church’s rebuttal
  • Luther’s final heartfelt response

The entire audio is available below:

Total run time is 24 minutes.

McLeans cd and mp3 can be purchased by clicking: Here I Stand

Gospel Centrality & Insanity

If you think about it, Paul makes a rather peculiar declaration when he asserts: “I am  not ashamed of the gospel…”.  (Romans 1.16)  Usually I don’t give these words much thought. But with a little reflection I find myself asking questions like:

  • Who suggested Paul was ashamed?
  • What Christians are ashamed of the gospel?
  • What does it look like for someone be ashamed of the gospel?

As one who is committed to gospel-centrality for both my ministry and my life, I want to be able to share Paul’s steadfastness.  And I do.  But I also understand the temptations to waver.  There are times I ask myself what I am doing? I wonder if we should add something more to the arsenal.  Is gospel fidelity enough?

What are we doing when we commit to gospel-centered preaching and teaching in the face of non-apparent results? Every chance we get we hold up Jesus Christ as preeminent and precious, we exult in his glorious excellencies, and we present the gospel boldly, clearly, and with unction. Still nary a crack in the surface of reception. It is like preaching, as they say, to a brick wall.

Should we switch things up? Try another tack? Testable non-results is one of the reasons so many churches tuck the gospel behind fog and lasers or adjust their teaching to the 7 Steps busywork of moralistic therapeutic deism. I mean, isn’t the definition of insanity doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results?

Jared Wilson asks, wrestles with, and ultimately answers these vital questions in an excellent short post titled: Gospel Centrality and Insanity.

I appreciate Jared’s candor.  And I commend his thoughts to anyone who may sometimes struggle with temptations to look for something other than or in addtion to the gospel to procalim – to others, or to ourselves.  Let’s remind ourselves, and one another, that it is the Gospel that is the “power of God for salvation to everyone who believes…” (Romans 1.16)

4 Thoughts About True Spiritual Worship

John Piper has astutely asserted:

Missions is not the ultimate goal of the Church. Worship is. Missions exists because worship doesn’t. Worship is ultimate, not missions, because God is ultimate, not man. When this age is over, and the countless millions of the redeemed fall on their faces before the throne of God, missions will be no more. It is a temporary necessity. But worship abides forever.

So why do so few Christians seem to value or even understand worship?  I do not recall the actual statistics, but I remember hearing George Barna say that his polling showed only a small percentage of Christians actually worship even when they gather together on Sunday mornings (or whenever their fellowship assembles).  According to Barna, shockingly few say they have ever experienced the presence of God in the midst of a worship service.

So with such widespread tepidness where worship is concerned, I think these 4 sage thoughts from J.C. Ryle about True Spiritual Worship are worth some contemplation:

1) True spiritual worship affects a person’s heart and conscience.

True spiritual worship will make a person feel more of the sinfulness of sin, and their own unworthiness. This will lead to a deeper humility and inner life. It will strengthen a person spiritually, thus enabling them to grow in the Christian life; whereas false worship can only weaken a person spiritually.

2) True spiritual worship will draw a person into close communion with Jesus Christ.

True worship lifts a person above the need for material adjuncts to the King Himself. The more they worship the more they will be satisfied with Christ alone. In the time of need they will turn instinctively to Christ and not to some external helps.

3) True spiritual worship will extend spiritual knowledge.

True worship leads to a more full knowledge of self, God, heaven, duty, doctrine, practice and experience. A religion with these points is very much alive. On the other hand, false worship is dead, and although it involves much hard work, it never leads to any increase at all.

4) True spiritual worship leads to an increase in holiness.

True worship causes a person to be more watchful about their daily life and habits. They begin to use their time and abilities in a Christlike way, and their conscience guides them more decidedly.

► Summary: Such true worship will stand the test of Christ’s great principle, “By their fruits you shall know them”. It sanctifies the Christian’s life, and makes them walk with God, lifting them above fear and love of the world. It enables a Christian to show God to other people. Such worship comes from heaven, and has the mark of God upon it.

NOTE: Taken from Ryle’s book Worship: It’s Priority, Principles, and Practice


Sojourn Thru This World

“We are not citizens of this world trying to make our way to heaven; we are citizens of heaven trying to make our way through this world.”

That radical Christian insight can be life-changing. We are not to live so as to earn God’s love, inherit heaven, and purchase our salvation. All those are given to us as gifts; gifts bought by Jesus on the cross and handed over to us.

  • We are to live as God’s redeemed, as heirs of heaven, and as citizens of another land: the Kingdom of God.
  • We live a those who are on a journey home: a home we know will have the lights on and the door open and our Father waiting for us when we arrive.

That means in all adversity:

  • Our worship of God is joyful.
  • Our life is hopeful.
  • Our future is secure.

There is nothing we can lose on earth that can rob you of the treasures God has given and will give us.

~ Adapted from The Landisfarne

Appropriating the Justifying Work of Christ

Only a fraction of the present body of professing Christians are solidly appropriating the justifying work of Christ in their lives.

Many have so light an apprehension of God’s holiness and of the extent and guilt of their sin, that consciously they see little need for justification. Below the surface, however, they are deeply guilt-ridden and insecure. Many others have a theoretical commitment to this doctrine, but in their day-to-day existence they rely on their sanctification for justification….drawing their assurance of acceptance with God from their sincerity…their recent religious performance or the relative infrequency of their conscious, willful disobedience.

Few start each day with a thoroughgoing stand upon Luther’s platform: you are accepted, looking outward in faith and claiming the wholly alien righteousness of Christ as the only ground for acceptance, relaxing in that quality of trust which will produce increasing sanctification as faith is active in love and gratitude.

~ Richard Lovelace, Dynamics of Spiritual Life

Poem of Your Life

The Bible tells us that each of our lives tell a story.  We are like masterpieces of God’s artistry.  The greek word is poiema, from which we get our English word “poem”. 

In this video Phil Keaggy joins Michael Card to play Poem of Your Life, a Celtic-ish piece from Card’ album Poiema.

Life is a song we must sing with our days/A poem with meaning more than words can say/A painting with colors no rainbow can tell/A lyric that rhymes either heaven or hell

We are living letters that doubt desecrates/We’re the notes of the song of the chorus of faith/God shapes every second of our little lives/And minds every minute as the universe waits by

CHORUS:  The pain and the longing/The joy and the moments of light/Are the rhythm and rhyme/The free verse of the poem of life

So look in the mirror and pray for the grace/To tear off the mask, see the art of your face/Open your ear lids to hear the sweet song/Of each moment that passes and pray to prolong

Your time in the ball of the dance of your days/Your canvas of colors of moments ablaze/With all that is holy/With the joy and the strife/With the rhythm and rhyme of the poem of your life/With the rhythm and rhyme of the poem of your life

Is John MacArthur Getting Crotchety?

Is John MacArthur getting crotchety in his old age?  I will leave that for you to decide.   My guess is opinions will vary. Some may even muse about the verb  “getting”.  But after watching a couple of brief videos he has me wondering.

Before commenting on the videos let me say that I think John MacArthur has earned respect.  He has labored to faithfully proclaim the Word of God, in depth, for decades.  He is a living example of someone who sees the message as sovereign and not the audience.  For that he should be applauded.  He will never be open to the accusation of “tickling the ears” of a fickle generation.  That said, I will confess that while I respect MacArthur I have long found him a bit polemic for my tastes.

In a relatively recent interview with MacArthur demonstrates why I both respect and am perplexed by him.  Below are two videos related to the discussion of the near future of the American Church. In particular is his prediction that the current Reformed Resurgence will reverse.

Beneath each video I will comment on what MacArthur says.

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Mormonism vs. Christianity

With the hubbub surrounding Baptist pastor Robert Jeffress’ endorsement of Gov. Rick Perry with a denouncement of Mitt Romney and his Mormanism, the bigger, more important point may be easily overlooked.

It is easy to get caught up with the politically related issues. I for one wonder what the opponents of California’s Proposition 8 think about Jeffress’ statement.  They vilified the Mormons after that referendum in defense of marriage was passed, accusing LDS activist of mobilizing a force that distorted the views of the population. (Click: here and here).  Those who protested this proposition will certainly not find Jeffress’ Consevative Southern Baptist ideals a viable alternative. Jeffiress’ morality views will be nearly identical (as are mine).  But as much  entertainment and intrigue as this political dilemma may offer, there is a question far more important to me:  Are Mormons Christians?

Despite the commendable moral values of the LDS, the answer is unequivocally “No”.  Morality is a by-product of Christianity, a demonstration of it, not the substance of it.  It is what one believes about Jesus Christ that makes one a Christian. And the Mormons have a dramatically different view of Jesus than do Christians.

Two respected Evangelical leaders recently expressed their own thoughts:

I think what Mohler &  Stetzer have to say should be considered.  It is far more foundational than the simplistic pragmatic question whether an Evangelical should vote for a Mormon.  The question of whether Mormons are a form of Christian will likely linger,  lasting long beyond the outcomes of the Republican Primaries next year.