Prior to his conversion, Martin Luther wrestled with the reality of sin in his life. Luther devoted himself to the Roman Catholic system of good works in order to appease his sinful conscience, but none of those works ever satisfied his guilty conscience. Only when he discovered Paul’s teaching of justification by faith, did he discover “the gate of heaven” and receive the grace of God that is found in Jesus Christ. He would devote the rest of his life to proclaiming this good news that justification is to be received by faith alone.
But Luther’s message was not limited simply to preaching about God’s free grace in Christ. Luther understood that before justification by faith made sense, one also had to embrace Scripture’s teaching regarding sin. While Luther experienced deep conviction of his own sin, he knew that not everyone shared his experience or sensitive conscience. Therefore, the acknowledgment of sin could not ultimately be rooted in subjective experience. Rather, like justification, our sinfulness also has to be received by faith based on God’s Word. Read More
Though I shared in this mental concept of Calvin, one line from a biography changed it forever. T.H.L Parker said that Calvin’s numerous writings, counted among the most important in Christian history, were “not written in an ivory tower, but against the background of teething troubles.” Read More
For Zwingli, the Christian can have assurance that Jesus offers rest for weary souls because of “the clarity and certainty of the Word of God.” Without this sure foundation, the faithful are subject to a life of uncertainty and toil, constantly re-plowing the ground that God has already prepared in their own lives. Read More
If our search for God is unsettled, there is a cure. As we watch biblical figures faithfully await the premiere advent, we learn how to better find our own peace in our faithful anticipation of the sequel. As Matthew 25:6 says: “at midnight there was a cry,” someone will shout ‘Here is the bridegroom! Come out to meet him.’” Read More
“So how can we know what the Bible really says?” my classmate timidly asked at the end of a long lecture about interpretation. She was not playing the devil’s advocate, but was clearly discouraged by the fact that there seem to be many different and discordant ways of interpreting the Bible. Sometimes reading intense scholarly debates that dissect every tiny part of a passage, listening to sermons that use methods we don’t know how to use, or overhearing a friend joke about misapplying passages like Jeremiah 29:11 make us shrink back from Scripture. Read More
On Easter 1555, the zealous English evangelical[I] William Flower burst into a rage in St. Margaret’s Church, Westminster, when he noticed a priest administering the Mass – a rite that Flower saw as the epitome of Roman Catholic idolatry. Immediately, he struck the offending priest with his woodknife, cutting him on the head, arm and hand. Blood from the priest’s wounds, according to the martyrologist John Foxe,[ii] sprinkled onto the consecrated host of the sacrament, which the priest was carrying in a chalice. Immediately, Flower was arrested and, after his trial, was burned at the stake as a heretic. Read More
The human experience is one of loss but let us not forget those who have gone before us to lay their own pavers into the road of grief that we all must travel. Take their hand and lean on their tired shoulders for a few miles. Read More
To this day, I remember a well-meaning college student teaching on this passage at an event when I was part of a youth group. With all the wisdom of a church father, they read the passage and then waded into interpretation by saying: “Christians are here to give flavor to the world” as they attempted to explain the meaning of “you are the salt of the earth.” I remember how strange and unhelpful that was for years to come. However, for all the weird and uninformed hermeneutics available, there are some great historical examples of references to this passage that will be sure to add flavor to any sermon or Bible study. Read More
“If there is a single thread running through the whole story of the Reformation, it is the explosive and renovating and often disintegrating effect of the Bible.”
It’s this idea that Timothy George unpacks in Reading Scripture with the Reformers. So often, when it comes to our retelling of the events of the Reformation, we focus on the preaching ministry of pastors like Luther, Calvin, Zwingli, and others. And rightly so! After all, the recovery of God’s Word went hand-in-hand with a recovery of the preaching of God’s Word. In large part, this is how God’s Word was opened up for people.
However, we must not forget that once people received the Word, they themselves now were equipped to speak and defend and live out that Word. In Reading Scripture with the Reformers, George provides several vignettes of the transformational effect of the Word, even among some unexpected individuals: Read More
No longer serving as the human gateways to God, these men and their office became reborn as shepherds of the flock of Christ. In this era, we see the rise of the pastor as we know them today. By the end of Hudson’s “Puritan Age,” it was firmly established in title, practice, and clothing that “there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus,” and the congregation looked to their “minister” to point them towards Him. Read More
“Tolle lege. Tolle lege.” Augustine heard a voice, perhaps of a child nearby, saying, “Take up and read. Take up and read.” He took this as a command from God, and therefore opened his Bible to Romans 13. From that day forward, Augustine would profoundly shape how believers read and understand the Bible. While the turn-to-a-random-passage and read approach is not encouraged, in this case it had incredible ramifications down to the present day. Read More
John Knox, champion of the Scottish Reformation, fearless preacher, uncompromising prophet… defeated by a church business meeting?
Knox’s legend began early. Converted under the preaching of the early Scottish reformer George Wishart, he became his sword-bearer, carrying a claymore to Wishart’s preaching engagements (29). After Wishart’s martyrdom, Knox became a preacher himself and his plain, fiery preaching with “ruide boldness… unto your faces” (59) won the hearts of both English and Scottish alike. Standing up to the Queen and royal authorities, he constantly called Protestant leaders to resist any compromise, not even when faced with persecution or exile (both which he himself experienced).
Soon after becoming a preacher, Knox was captured by French Catholic forces and enslaved in French galleys for 19 months. One story captures Knox’s spirit: Read More
The relationship between Word and Spirit is foundational for understanding Calvin’s theology. He maintained an inherent and necessary relationship between the Word of God and the work of the Holy Spirit to teach, illumine, and reveal the Word. Never in Calvin’s theology are the two pitted against one another, but rather Calvin consistently maintained a mutual dependence. Read More
The story is familiar: A bright young theologian agrees to pastor a church torn by factions and needing reform. Before long, he is plunged into controversy and conflict as he seeks to implement change. The congregation appreciates his preaching at times, but his call to discipleship seems too zealous, even extreme. His attempts to re-organize the church for better pastoral care are met with opposition. Theological controversy arises as he responds to false teaching harshly, raising concern from the other leaders. In the second year, the young pastor pushes for the right to practice church discipline and this proves to be too much for the church. The young pastor is fired, and the church is left worse off than before.
Is this the story of some young, restless, and reformed pastor? Perhaps a fresh seminary graduate who came across some 9Marks materials and sought to implement them in his church?
Actually, this is the story of John Calvin. Read More
When we talk about church history we often focus on the good parts, and when we talk about key historical figures in the faith we often paint them as hero-like. And rightfully so. As we hope to show you on this site, there are countless heroic stories of Christians overcoming great obstacles of physical persecution, public opposition, and personal demons. But because we celebrate the good and don’t often consider the bad, we can set ourselves up to be unpleasantly surprised when someone brings the skeletons out of the church history closet. Read More
“How I dread preaching on the estate of marriage! . . . but timidity is no help in an emergency; I must proceed. I must try to instruct poor bewildered consciences, and take up the matter boldly.”
Martin Luther’s 1522 The Estate of Marriage begins with an honest reflection regarding the difficulty of addressing such a topic. Nonetheless, he saw a dire situation in 16th-century Germany. He knew his words and counsel were needed, and so he boldly took up the pen. In doing so, he dismantled the medieval system of marriage and family and replaced it with a vision of the Christian home that flowed directly from his discovery of justification by faith. Read More
Great history is often the tale of great men and their deeds of valor and vice. Silent are the chants of hungry peasants, of expelled minorities, and far too often the voices of women. The story of the Protestant Reformation shares equally in this gender gap with other periods, yet for a few individuals, their voices can be given new life through a return to the primary sources. In a strange turn of events, some of the forgotten cries of the downtrodden can be heard again through the words of their oppressors in the form of Inquisition procesos– the abbreviated trial records of the legal arm of the Holy Roman Church containing the often verbatim quotations of the participants. Read More