Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Reforming Everything But

The Reformation of Luther and Calvin began in a culture brimming with social reformers. They wanted a less corrupt church, stronger families and upright governments. Church leaders (laymen and priest alike) did want reformation, with a small 'r': fix the politics (kickbacks) or fix the culture (families). Professor Chadwick summarized it thusly:

"When churchmen spoke of reformation, they were almost always thinking of administrative, legal, or moral reformation; hardly ever of doctrinal reformation. They did not suppose the Pope's doctrine to be erroneous." (The Reformation, 13)

If history is a guide, I fear that we are coming full circle: too many wish to fix society, politics, families and even churches without fixing what people believe. I fear that too many American Christians do not suppose their own doctrine to be erroneous.

They want to reform everything...but their own doctrines.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Out of the mouth of babes...

A small 2-year old was asked "What did God make?"

Sitting between two brothers, she pointed to the boy on her left, "Andrew."

"Good. What else did God make?"

She looked to her right, thought a minute, and pointed at the other boy, "that."

Monday, April 20, 2009

Salvation is Impossible for Man

But he said, "What is impossible with men is possible with God." Luke 18:27 RSV

The earth-shattering Reformation of the 1500s started on this premise: what is impossible with men is possible with God.

If we want that Reformation today in America, then we need to take to heart that lesson. If we want the Spirit to be shed abroad in our churches, then this verse must become real in our heads and in our hands.

The previous verses report that the disciples were amazed with Christ's doctrine of salvation: that is was harder for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God than to enter into the eye of a needle. And it was not just any rich man that Christ was talking about, but that very rich ruler who claimed to have obeyed the Ten Commandments his entire life (v.20, 21). Christ immediately went for the spiritual jugular: "you think you've obeyed the Commandments? How about giving up on your self-righteousness and obey me? Give up on your lust for wealth and repent and believe in me (follow me)" (v. 22).

What does this have to do with possibilities and impossibilities? you may astutely ask.


Dear reader, Christ is telling you and me that salvation is impossible outside of God. In that Jewish day and age, this impossibility is concretely displayed through the impossibility of the rich man to enter into heaven. The listeners got the point: "WHO THEN CAN BE SAVED?" (v.26).

And Christ's answer was not: "those who desire it enough," "anyone who wants to," or even "just those who repent and believe" (which is certainly true!). No, He held his ground to bring his listeners to the point of needing a savior. He perceived that to tell his audience at that time to repent and believe was to tell them something they would think was within the reach of everyman. Instead, He walled them up within themselves to see how truly hopeless their sinful situation was.

Salvation is impossible if only man is involved. It is not simply that God calls and man in and of himself says "yes"--no, such a situation is impossible! For man is dead in trespasses and sins (Eph.1:1-3). That is the Bad News. Christ said it was impossible for man to be saved without the possibility-changing, almighty, effectual work of God the Sovereign.That is the Good News!

John summarizes this possibility-changing God as the one who births His own: man cannot birth himself--that is impossible (John 3:4,8), only God can do that.

But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, [even] to them that believe on his name: Which were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God. John 1:12-13 KJV


Sunday, April 12, 2009

A True Reformation

There is much talk about reforming the church. Rick Warren of A Purpose Driven Life asserted: “It [this Second Reformation] is not going to be about what does the church believe, but about what is the church doing.” Others follow a similar path of doing: wanting fathers to do more. Others want the church to do more.

Yet in the context of massive and extensive Biblical ignorance, should deeds be stressed at the expense of creeds? 57% of polled “evangelicals” believe there are other ways to heaven. Three to six percent, according to ten years of Barna polling, have a Christian worldview. Creeds and deeds must both exist, but every Reformation, from the OT to the 1500s and the Great Awakenings of early America all began with a return to truth. True beliefs are the foundations for true actions. Actions with false beliefs are no different than Jews offering technically-correct sacrifices to Moloch—or unbelieving Americans helping the poor in the name of their own version of God.

This periodic column will present a clarion call back to the principles and practices of yesteryear. Now is the time for repentance; now is the time for fasting; now is the time for prayer for God’s mighty Spirit to bring us to our knees. Pray the Lord of the Harvest to gather a Second Reformation.

Thursday, April 02, 2009

Year of Calvinism: Calvin's Life & Work

Born in Noyon, France, July 10, 1509, John Calvin (Jean Cauvin) was the son of Gerard Cauvin, a notary, and Jeanne Lefranc. He was early sent to tutors, then to a boy’s school in town. His mother passed away when he was but a child. His father wanted him trained in the university. By 1523, at age fourteen, he was ready to enter the College de la Marche in the University of Paris.

He was a precocious child, a quick learner at the school. Even though he devoured books he still had friends. Modern Americans tend to read into Calvin an austere personality, but many of the friends he made were friends for life. In fact, his seal—an open hand with a flaming heart on it—reads, "Cor meum tibi offero, Domine, prompte et sincere"—“My heart I offer to you, O Lord, promptly and sincerely." During this time, his father told him to change studies from the clerical to the legal. Shortly thereafter his father died. But he still finished his legal studies.

It was at the university that he encountered some leading edge thinkers that were influenced by Luther. Of his conversion we know little beyond a comment in his commentary on the Psalms (1557): “Since I was more stubbornly addicted to the superstitions of the Papacy than to be easily drawn out of that so deep mire, by a sudden conversion. He subdued my heart (too hardened for my age) to docility.” He was probably converted around 1531.

Written in 1536, Calvin’s magnum opus, the Institutes of the Christian Religion, was a profound book with a profound impact upon Western Civilization. It was one of the first of the Reformed books to systematize much of the Reformational theology. This introduction to the faith was revised and expanded six times. It was popular, helping cement the Reformed branch of the Reformation.

A detour changed Calvin’s life forever. While passing through Geneva, seeking a life of quite research, the local reformer, William Farel, implored Calvin to stay and help. Calvin was reluctant. Farel thundered in reply: “If you refuse to devote yourself with us to the work…God will condemn you.” Shaken and terrified, Calvin acquiesced.

Calvin’s work in Geneva was not a bed of roses. He was not even a citizen of Geneva until late in life. Early on there was resistance between the pastors in Geneva and the council. In fact, Calvin and Farel were kicked out of Geneva after refusing to serve Communion, believing it could not be served during the political in-fighting between the church and city government.

Calvin stayed in Strasbourg after leaving Geneva. There, in 1540, he married Idelette de Bure, a widow with two children, a teen-age boy and a girl. Shortly thereafter they returned to Geneva at the bequest of the city council. Their only natural-born child died in infancy, then seven years later Idelette went home to the Lord (1549). Both events deeply grieved him.

The Servetus incident is a sticking point for most Americans. Servetus was a wanted fugitive in Western Europe because he publicly denied the Trinity, trying to propagate his heresy. Burning at the stake was common for heretics. Knowing this, Servetus purposefully came to Geneva, and the local magistrates arrested him. Calvin did not start, run or finish the trial; he was only used as a theological witness. In fact, he pleaded for a merciful execution with the sword instead of by fire. Other heretics (less celebrated and more inquisitive than antagonistic) dialogued with Calvin, but he never handed them over to the magistrates.

Calvin was a leader in Geneva, but he did not rule the city. Many times the city councils had their way over the protest of the ministers. It was only through tireless preaching, teaching and counseling that Calvin and his fellow ministers influenced the city to reform her beliefs and manners. Just as eloquent and deep thinkers today can persuade political leaders so Calvin influenced Geneva.

He was a tireless leader: writing commentaries on most the Bible, preaching sermons methodically through many books, lecturing almost daily in town, erecting the Geneva Academy for young boys, corresponding extensively throughout Europe, uniting the Reformed churches and counseling his sheep.

Racked with various sicknesses near the end of his life, he last preached in February of 1564. April 20th was his last attendance to public worship. Humbled by God’s grace even to the end of his life, he confessed at his deathbed, “My sins have always displeased me and the fear of God has been in my heart.” At his behest he was buried in an unmarked grave.

The Lord called home His prodigious and faithful servant on May 27th, 1564.