October 31, 1517, Martin Luther nailed a document on the door of the church in Wittenberg to protest the excesses of the church. His immediate concern at that time was the selling of indulgences to finance St. Peter’s Basilica and the Sistine Chapel in Rome. Michelangelo’s genius didn’t come cheap.
He simply wanted a theological discussion; what he got was the rocking of the political and ecclesiastical structures of Europe, the splitting of the church, and history’s epic moving forward from medieval times to modern times.
The story of the Reformation shows us the power of God’s providence in the history of the world. While we go about our everyday lives doing business as usual, making decisions for the day, God could be swinging the hinges of history forward. Who would have thought that posting church-related concerns on a church door would go on to shake the seats of power in Europe? Who would have thought that the agenda intended for discussion among priests would propel the world out of the Dark Ages?
Our ordinary days matter. In the hands of the Almighty God, our seemingly boring jobs could be world-changing.
Bryan M. Liftin, Early Christian Martyr Stories:
The persecution of the early church made absolute legal sense– not because the Christians were proven to have committed specific crimes, but because the church’s intrinsic worldview aimed a sharper dagger at the throbbing religious heart of the Roman Empire.
Over at Canon Fodder, Michael J. Kruger reminds us of church history to help us navigate the sexual culture of this generation:
[One of the traits] that separated Christians from the pagan culture [was] their sexual ethic. While it was not unusual for Roman citizens to have multiple sexual partners, homosexual encounters, and engagement with temple prostitutes, Christians stood out precisely because of their refusal to engage in these practices…
Needless to say, this has tremendous implications for Christians in the modern day. We are reminded again that what we are experiencing in the present is not new–Christians battled an over-sexed culture as early as the first and second century!
But, it is also a reminder why Christians must not go along with the ever-changing sexual norms of our world. To do so would not only be a violation of the clear teachings of Scripture, but it would rob us of one of our greatest witnessing opportunities.
Cassius Dio on the hypocrisy of Seneca, the tutor of Nero:
[This was not] the only instance in which his conduct was seen to be diametrically opposed to the teachings of his philosophy. For while denouncing tyranny, he was making himself the teacher of a tyrant; while inveighing against the associates of the powerful, he did not hold aloof from the palace itself; and though he had nothing good to say of flatterers, he himself had constantly fawned upon Messalina and the freedmen of Claudius, to such an extent, in fact, as actually to send them from the island of his exile a book containing their praises — a book that he afterwards suppressed out of shame. Though finding fault with the rich, he himself acquired a fortune of 300,000,000 sesterces; and though he censured the extravagances of others, he had five hundred tables of citrus wood with legs of ivory, all identically alike, and he served banquets on them. In stating thus much I have also made clear what naturally went with it — the licentiousness in which he indulged at the very time that he contracted a most brilliant marriage, and the delight that he took in boys past their prime, a practice which he also taught Nero to follow.
To remind the modern church that God also moved in previous generations. The church today is so addicted with everything new that it could not even remember the songs and the theological landmarks a decade ago. In its quest for relevance and fresh approach, the church seems to have forgotten that it has a long history behind it and it doesn’t exist on its own.
Many Christians today suffer a myopic view of Christianity. They confess that Jesus reigns over all but when they say that, they really just mean that God reigns over their present circumstances in terms of finance, relationships, jobs and families. History doesn’t come to mind. Sovereignty and providence are distant ideas.
Mark Rogers, Tim Challies and Chris Armstrong wrote compelling reasons why reading church history is important.
The Heidelberg Catechism Introduction:
What is thy only comfort in life and death?
That I with body and soul, both in life and death, am not my own, but belong unto my faithful Saviour Jesus Christ; who, with his precious blood, has fully satisfied for all my sins, and delivered me from all the power of the devil; and so preserves me that without the will of my heavenly Father, not a hair can fall from my head; yea, that all things must be subservient to my salvation, and therefore, by his Holy Spirit, He also assures me of eternal life, and makes me sincerely willing and ready, henceforth, to live unto him.
Article 28 of the Heidelberg Catechism:
What advantage is it to us to know that God has created, and by his providence does still uphold all things?
“That we may be patient in adversity; thankful in prosperity; and that in all things, which may hereafter befall us, we place our firm trust in our faithful God and Father, that nothing shall separate us from his love; since all creatures are so in his hand, that without his will they cannot so much as move.”
Let me look up to your light, even from afar, even from the depths. Teach me to seek you and I ask that you reveal yourself to me when I seek you because I cannot seek you unless you teach me and I cannot find you unless you reveal yourself to me.
Lord I acknowledge and thank you that you have created me in your image. You did it so that you will always be in my mind and so that I will love you. But your image in me has been consumed and wasted by my vices. It is obscured by the smoke of wrong-doing. Now I cannot fulfill the purpose for which you created me unless you renew my entire life.
I do not presume, O Lord, that I could have a full grasp of your greatness. I know I could never reach that level of knowing. But I do desire to understand a certain degree of your truth which my heart believes and loves.
I do not try to understand so that I may believe. Instead, I seek to believe so that I may understand because unless I believe, I know that I will never understand.
–Adapted from St. Anselm’s Proslogium and Monologium. Continue reading Faith Seeking to Understand
A quarter of a century ago, a twenty-six year old pastor-theologian gave a radio address at the Potsdamerstrasse radio station in Germany. His speech was innocently titled “The Younger Generation’s Altered Concept of Leadership.” The talk was about the fundamental problems of leadership as understood by the young Germans at that time. Before the talk was over, the speaker was cut off from the air waves.
The name of the speaker was Dietrich Bonhoeffer. The speech was made in February 1, 1933, exactly two days after the national elections where Adolf Hitler was democratically elected as chancellor of Germany. We all know how the story turned out. Hitler became a ruthless dictator and Bonhoeffer was executed 23 days before Germany was liberated in 1945.
One thing I came to understand: in oppressive regimes, the first freedom they take away from the people is the freedom of speech. From there, everything could spiral downhill.
“There were surface reasons and deeper reasons why the church opposed an English Bible. The surface reasons were that the English language is rude and unworthy of the exalted language of God’s word; and when one translates, errors can creep in, so it is safer not to translate; moreover, if the Bible is in English, then each man will become his own interpreter, and many will go astray into heresy and be condemned; and it was church tradition that only priests are given the divine grace to understand the Scriptures; and what’s more, there is a special sacramental value to the Latin service in which people cannot understand, but grace is given. Such were the kinds of things being said on the surface.
“But there were deeper reasons why the church opposed the English Bible: one doctrinal and one ecclesiastical. The church realized that they would not be able to sustain certain doctrines biblically because the people would see that they are not in the Bible. And the church realized that their power and control over the people, and even over the state, would be lost if certain doctrines were exposed as unbiblical—especially the priesthood and purgatory and penance.
“Thomas More’s criticism of Tyndale boils down mainly to the way Tyndale translated five words. He translated ‘presbuteros‘ as ‘elder’ instead of ‘priest.’ He translated ‘ekklesia‘ as ‘congregation’ instead of ‘church.’ He translated ‘metanoeo’ as ‘repent’ instead of ‘do penance.’ He translated ‘exomologeo’ as ‘acknowledge’ or ‘admit’ instead of ‘confess.’ And he translated ‘agape‘ as ‘love’ rather than ‘charity.’
“Daniell comments, ‘He cannot possibly have been unaware that those words in particular undercut the entire sacramental structure of the thousand year church throughout Europe, Asia and North Africa. It was the Greek New Testament that was doing the undercutting.’ And with the doctrinal undermining of these ecclesiastical pillars of priesthood and penance and confession, the pervasive power and control of the church collapsed. England would not be a Catholic nation. The reformed faith would flourish there in due time.”
In his book Church History: A Crash Course for the Curious, Christopher Catherwood made a very interesting observation.
He mentioned that people have no trouble accepting the historicity of Julius Caesar’s accounts in Gallic Wars, a book that he purportedly wrote about his conquests in what we now know as France. The problem is that according to archaeology, Gallic Wars was actually written 900 years after the death of Julius Caesar!
The Bible, on the other hand, has thousands of proofs that are archaeologically precise. It is referenced in many other writings in that period, both in Christian literature and in secular writings. Interestingly, despite the overwhelming body of evidence that favor the authenticity of the Bible, people still consider it as scientifically unproven. Continue reading Why People Reject the Historicity of the Bible