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Archive for October, 2009

This is part three in a series that looks to investigate why this Saturday, Oct. 31, is so important in history: It is the anniversary of the Protestant Reformation, one of the most important days in history.

The Protestant Reformation was begun by Martin Luther, but an Englishman named John Wycliffe really paved the way for Luther — well over 100 years before Luther was born.

Wycliffe has been referred to in Church history as the “Morningstar of the Reformation” because this Roman Catholic priest and professor of theology also tried to reform the doctrine and morality of the Roman Catholic Church. 

Wycliffe (1320-1384) wasn’t the only Roman Catholic minister who led the way for reform before Luther: John Hus (c. 1373-1415), and Girolamo Savonarola (1452-98) were also very prominent in the movement.

Wycliffe was a professor of theology at Oxford who persistently called for the RCC to champion the needs of the poor in England. He opposed Transubstantiation, claiming that Jesus was present spiritually in the Eucharist — not physically present.

He also wrote and preached on the priesthood of all believers: that God’s people needed no priest to mediate with God for them. He argued chiefly that the Bible was to be the supreme authority over the RCC and its teachings.

The pope had him kicked out of Oxford for all the above, but Wycliffe moved to Lutterworth, England, where he undertook to translate the Latin Bible (called the Vulgate) into the common tongue of English (the people had no Bible available to themselves: it was reserved only for the clergy and academics).

Wycliffe’s supporters enthusiastically – and at the risk of their lives – copied his translation and gave the translation out to as many people as they could. Like their leader, they also preached what would later come to be known as Protestant doctrines. Their enemies derisively called them Lollards.

After his death, Wycliffe’s bones were dug up by papal command in 1428, burned and scattered throughout the rivers of England, washing eventually into the ocean.

Indeed, Wycliffe’s life and ministry paved the way for our own English Bible and for religious freedom throughout the world.

John Hus (1369-1415), a priest and professor at the University of Prague (in modern day Czechoslovakia), got hold of Wycliffe’s teachings and also began to expose the corrupt popes and church, arguing that Jesus, not Peter, was the founder and head of His Church.

He also preached that the pope was not infallible when he spoke on matters of doctrine and faith (ex cathedra) and he argued that the sale of indulgences were grossly unbiblical (100 years before Luther!).

The RCC burned him at the stake, but while he was dying, he sang hymns and quoted our Lord’s last words: “Into Thy hands I commit my spirit.”

These men both took a bold and courageous stand for truth; can we do anything less?

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This morning I read Proverbs 2 and vv.7-8 stood out to me:

7 He stores up sound wisdom for the upright; He is a shield to those who walk in integrity, 8 Guarding the paths of justice, And He preserves the way of His godly ones.

Later, I came across this quote from my Spiritual Leadership book, by J. Oswald Sanders:

“Let it once be fixed that a man’s ambition is to fit into God’s plan for him, and he has a North Star ever in sight to guide him steadily over any sea, however shoreless it seems,” wrote S. D. Gordon in one of his well-known devotional books.

“He has a compass that points true in the thickest fog and fiercest storm, and regardless of magnetic rocks.”

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This is part two in a week-long series on the Protestant Reformation, which began on Oct. 31, 1517 and ought to be celebrated every Oct. 31 (this Saturday).

The purpose of today’s blog is to highlight one of the major, world-changing events in humanity’s history, but one that many are ignorant of.

Sadly, this anniversary has been lost in America to a silly pagan holiday — Halloween.

I realize that Halloween is an evening of fun for a lot of people and I don’t begrude them for that.

At the same time, most people don’t realize that for people in the Occult, this is their “high-holy” day.

If we think about what the “holiday” is all about (“holiday” is in quotes because the origin of the word is “holy day”) — death, darkness and horror — we can appreciate all the more what the Reformation was all about: freedom in Christ.

One of the heroes of the Protestant Reformation was William Tyndale. Here is a part of his story:

Perhaps the most prominent name of the English Reformation – or better – the man who preceded it and was responsible for laying its groundwork (other than John Wycliffe) was William Tyndale (1494-1536).

After being ordained as a priest, he became astonished at the scriptural ignorance of the clergy, let alone the commoner of his day.

Because of this plight in England, his determination grew to get the Bible translated into English so that “a boy behind the plow” (in his words) would know more Scripture than the most learned priest.

At the time, the Roman Catholic Church ruled religion in England and refused to allow commoners to read the Bible at all — let alone in their own English language.

Because it was illegal to translate the Bible from Latin into English and the authorities discovered Tyndale’s plans to do just that, he unfortunately had to flee for his life to the continent (he had just finished his studies at Oxford and Cambridge), where he finished his translation of the New Testament (under constant threat of execution by the RCC if he were caught) and he began smuggling it into England (1526).

It should be added that Tyndale’s work in translating the Bible into English was also inspired by what he had seen Martin Luther do with his translation into German.

Tyndale’s translation was significant for three reasons: First, the English Bible had been banned since 1408 (John Colet, then the Dean of St. Paul’s Cathedral, was suspended from his position for translating the Lord’s Prayer into English, as late as 1513) and Tyndale knew the English people were desperate to read the Bible in their common language (only the educated could speak Latin).

Second, that Bible had been translated under Wycliffe’s supervision from the Latin Vulgate. Tyndale’s translation would be much more accurate, being translated from the Hebrew OT and the Greek NT.

Third, his smuggling of the Bible back into England proved to be a great success: The Bible was so wildly popular that it forced the English church and State to soon undertake an officially sanctioned Bible (the King James Version, since ecclesiastical and political figures would never really acknowledge Tyndale’s work).

This “Father of the English Bible” was so important to history because nearly every translation since has largely been a revision of his work. About 90 percent of his translation remained in the King James Bible, nearly one century later.

Approximately 75 percent of his translation later remained in the Revised Standard Version.

Sadly, Tyndale never was able to complete his translation of the OT: he was betrayed and arrested near Brussels, Belgium in 1535 (after fleeing England, he was never able to return) and in 1536, after 17 months in prison, he was strangled and burned at the stake, publicly.

His last words before dying: “Lord, open the king of England’s eyes.” Indeed, that prayer would soon be answered when Henry VIII removed England from Roman Catholic domination to the Anglican Church.

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The following is an excerpt from my notes on the Protestant Reformation for classes I taught on Church History  at Bethany University (please see below).

Halloween is a bogus “holiday” that is celebrated this Oct. 31st — but a real history-making event (one of the top ten in human history) also took place on Oct. 31, 1517 — that obliterates the no longer amusing joke of Halloween.

Here is the story (in the next few days, I’ll write about other men not as famous as Luther who paved the way for the Protestant Reformation):

1) Martin Luther (1483-1546) was a Roman Catholic Priest, monk and professor of Theology. He entered the Augustinian Cloister (monastery) in Erfurt in 1505 as a result of a promise He made to St. Anna that if she saved him from a terrible thunderstorm, he would become a monk.

2) He was a worshiper of Mary and highly punctilious over every matter of RCC doctrine and tradition — extremely loyal to the RCC. He also was extremely zealous to be an outstanding monk. Years later he would write that he was “without reproach” as a monk.

3) However, he agonized over his sin and came to despise God, according to his own words (his view of God was that of a fierce judge).

4) It was his supervisor – Johann von Staupitz — who recognized Luther’s many struggles and encouraged him to study the Scriptures to point him to God’s grace.

Von Staupitz also encouraged Luther to become a professor of theology as a practical means to keep him gainfully busy and thus help with Luther’s deep bouts with depression.

5) Speaking of his depression, one remedy for Luther was in his music, which he saw as a gift from God to help him overcome it, to overcome the evil thoughts he battled and as a weapon against the assaults of the devil.

This, in part, was the reason behind Luther writing “A Mighty Fortress is our God.”

6) After becoming a professor, Luther was sent to Rome in 1510.  While there, he was appalled at the corruption he saw in the RCC and this began to change his heart against the religious system he saw badly in need of reform.

7) After another five years of anguish about his sin and growing weariness of trying to appease a wrathful God through his own works (and the resulting personal despair), Luther was born-again in 1515 while teaching through Romans – especially 1:16-17.

8) However, Luther, who considered Staupitz to be his spiritual father, also wrote a letter to him in 1518 in which he told him that Staupitz “first caused the light of the gospel to shine in the darkness of his heart.”

9) The next year, he preached against the abuse of the sale of indulgences. The Latin word, indulgentia is a term for amnesty or remission of punishment.

10) It was the RCC that first came up with this damnable heresy to offer the remission of temporal punishment of sin on condition of penitence and payment of money to the Church.

11) Originating with pagans, the RCC adopted it to its religion, beginning with Archbishop Theodore of Canterbury (d. 690) and then it spread rapidly in its usage by popes to increase their power. Thomas Aquinas gave it the theological justification the RCC needed and it was the means by which St. Peter’s Basilica was built.

12) In 1517, Albert of Brandenburg, a German aristocrat, appointed Johann Tetzel, a Dominican Friar, to sell indulgences to the German people.  One-half of the proceeds went to Albert, who purchased one of the leading church offices in Rome.

13) The other half of the money went to Pope Leo X to build St. Peter’s Basilica. Tetzel’s marketing phrase to sell the indulgences (translated from German): “As soon as the coin in the coffer rings, a soul from purgatory springs!”

14) On Oct. 31st, 1517 – the day before All Saints Day – when indulgences were to be sold in Wittenberg, Luther nailed 95 theses to the door of the church there to protest these and many other abuses of the Pope and the RCC, seeking reform within the RCC.

15) Luther desired a sincere dialogue with Church officials over these 95 theses, but no one responded.

16) Most Church historians mark this date as the official beginning of the Protestant Reformation, especially because the theses were written in German – not Latin – and swiftly began to circulate throughout Germany, which had already had enough of the RCC.

17) The 95 theses were all the more successful due to the invention of the printing press by Gutenberg (another German) in 1456. Up until that time, only a few thousand books were in circulation in Europe, but by 1500, nine million books were in circulation!

18) Luther never argued against indulgences per se, nor did he even refute the heresy of purgatory. Looking back on his life, he wrote in 1545, “I was a monk and mad papist, and so submersed in the dogmas of the Pope that I would have readily murdered any person who denied obedience to the Pope.”

19) Leo charged him with heresy and contempt of church authority in 1518 and commanded him to recant his beliefs and to go to Rome, where Luther knew he would be imprisoned for life or executed.

20) Instead, he appealed to Frederick the Wise, prince of Luther’s part of Germany. Frederick decided Luther should have a hearing on German soil in connection with the diet, or assembly of princes and high-church officials of the Holy Roman Empire.

21) This was the Diet of Augsburg, which was at odds with Rome due to its taking of much German money to finance its own projects, off of German lands.

22) The Pope’s representative, Cardinal Cajetan, tried to get Luther to retract some of his statements, but Luther refused and then told the cardinal that the Pope was in error!

23) In Luther’s debate with Johann Eck at the University of Leipzig in 1519, Luther declared neither popes nor church councils to be infallible, that the RCC had no authority over other churches and that the Bible was (and is) the supreme authority for believers.

24) Thus, from Luther, Sola Fide (“by faith alone”), Sola Scriptura (“Scripture alone”), Solus Christos (the priesthood of the believer) became the three hallmarks of the Reformation.

25) And by the priesthood of the believer, Luther meant more than that man needed no human mediator to God, but that all people could read and interpret Scripture for themselves: They did not need the RCC to do that for them.

26) He also rejected transubstantiation (the RCC belief that upon the invocation or blessing of the priest, the elements become the real body and blood of Jesus) but did believe that the bread and wine contain the real body and real blood of Jesus (called consubstantiation).

27) God in His wonderful providence provided great help for Luther through Philip Melanchthon (b. 1497), a professor of philosophy and Greek literature at Wittenberg, who would later become the second leader of the Lutheran Reformation in Germany.

28) Opposite in personality to Luther, Melanchthon was a quiet man and one of the most outstanding scholars of his day, well beyond even Luther’s capability: It could be said that Luther was the reformer and Melanchthon the scholar of the Reformation.

29) In debate with Eck, Melanchthon laid down once and for all that the Scriptures are the supreme rule of faith and that any explanation of doctrine and theology must come from them: Thus, the traditions of the Church must be held up in light of what the Bible taught, not the other way around.

30) Melanchthon knew that he was called by God to support Luther in his reforming efforts and he grew to love Luther so greatly that he wrote that he would rather die than to be separated from him and that “Martin’s welfare is dearer to me than my own life.”

31) In just one year (1520) Luther wrote five major books! In his Treatise on Good Works, Luther argued for justification by faith (the Protestant phrase in Latin known as Sola Fide); he wrote on the priesthood of all believers versus the superiority of the clergy, that the Pope did not have the sole right to interpret Scripture, that he distorted sound doctrine (in a tract he called “The Babylonian Captivity of the Church”), and that Scripture had two – not seven sacraments.

32) In The Papacy of Rome, he accused the pope of being the Antichrist because he prevented the people from understanding the gospel of grace.

33) In his Address to the Christian Nobility of the German Nation, he called for the leaders north of the Alps to reject Rome’s authority over them in every way: spiritually, politically and economically.

34) The Pope excommunicated Luther in 1521 (in effect telling Luther and everyone else he would spend eternity in hell), and then moved upon Charles V, the Holy Roman Emperor, to punish him at the Diet of Worms, where he came under enormous pressure to recant his writings (by this time, he had such an enormous following that to execute him would have made him a martyr, something the RCC didn’t believe it could risk).

35) It would help us further to understand the pressure Luther was under when we realize that Charles V (only 21 years old) controlled more of Europe than any emperor since Charlemagne.

36) Under the kind of pressure that we cannot imagine from people and the demonic oppression Luther wrote about, he refused to recant, with a speech that has gone down in history as the greatest ever given in modern times (the two others being The Gettysburg Address by Lincoln and Patrick Henry’s “Give me liberty or give me death” speech that brought Virginia into the Revolutionary War with Great Britain).

37) His famous words: “Unless I am convinced by the testimony of the Scriptures or by clear reason (for I do not trust either in the pope or in councils alone, since it is well known that they have often erred and contradicted themselves), I am bound by the Scriptures I have quoted and my conscience is captive to the Word of God. I cannot and I will not retract anything, since it is neither safe nor right to go against conscience. Here I stand; I can do no other. God help me. Amen.”

38) Rumors abounded that Luther would be assassinated; Frederick the Wise hid him in a castle in Wartburg, where Luther then translated the entire NT into German in 11 weeks!

39) By 1534 he had translated the OT into German as well (and thus the entire Bible, a 10 year work, with Melanchthon’s help), reformed education in Germany so that all could be educated (heretofore never done), and strongly pushed for public libraries.

40) His reforms led to breakaway churches from the RCC, with services no longer held in Latin, and with congregational singing (instead of a choir alone).

41) In 1543, three years before his death, Luther made a major mistake in calling for the rulers of Germany to expel Jews and confiscate their wealth.

42) Mark Noll contends that Luther did so because he had heard that Jewish teachers were trying to entice Protestants and Catholics away from Christian faith, yet Noll adds: “the sinfully violent way in which he published his arguments cast one of the seeds into the ground that has been bearing much bitter fruit ever since.”

43) Though correct in his assessment, what Noll (a professor at Notre Dame) failed to mention was that in 1523, Luther protested against the cruel treatment of Jews and counseled kindness and charity as the best means of converting them.

44) Luther’s critics often use his sin against the Jews at the end of his life to attempt to discredit his entire ministry.

45) Should the same standard be applied to Martin Luther King’s womanizing and plagiarism of his doctoral thesis? Should these things undermine the good he did for an entire nation?

46) Similarly, critics attempt to undermine George Washington and all he stood for because he owned slaves (forgetting that he was the only Founding Father to inherit slaves and to provide financially for their provision after his death).

47) Should this also dismiss what he did for an entire nation, not to mention the precedent set for the abolishment of slavery in America?

48) In addition, it should also be kept in mind – as we saw earlier – that Luther was always a devout Roman Catholic and the RCC had long been greatly anti-semitic, as its chief theologian – Aquinas — advocated a policy of non-toleration of the practice of Judaism and may have even implied the death penalty for Jews (he certainly did for heretics).

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We believers, through prayer, have more power than the president, the Congress, the Courts and the media combined to see our nation transformed by God.

But most of us don’t really believe that; if we did, we would act accordingly and really, really pray for a nation that is in deep trouble. Instead, we complain about the sky falling in upon us (and it surely is practically falling upon us, in a manner of speaking).

But I recall Dr. Charles Stanley once saying that the more we talk with man about a problem the less we talk to God about it.

Let us challenge ourselves – and accept the challenge from God – to spend more time praying with power and urgency for our nation (see my prayer below) and less time in things we know we need to spend less time with.

And may the reason we do this be because we want our nation to be able to say along with the psalmist, “Blessed is the nation whose God is the LORD” (Ps. 33:12).

I believe God will turn the curses that abound around us into blessings once again if His people will humble themselves and pray and turn from their sins (2 Chr. 7:14).

Prophetically, we’re obviously at the most critical hour in our nation’s history; heaven is waiting to see what Christians are going to do: curse the darkness or lay hold of God on behalf of the nation, beseeching Him for mercy, forgiveness of our sins and massive awakening?

Let us hear with our hearts and apply Is. 62:1, 6-7:

1 For Zion’s sake I will not keep silent,
for Jerusalem’s sake I will not remain quiet,
till her righteousness shines out like the dawn,
her salvation like a blazing torch.
6 I have posted watchmen on your walls, O Jerusalem;
they will never be silent day or night.
You who call on the LORD,
give yourselves no rest,
7 and give him no rest till he establishes Jerusalem
and makes her the praise of the earth.

Father, we repent of our own sins and we repent on behalf of the Church; forgive us for all of our disobedience in Your sight and cleanse us from our unrighteousness. Turn our hearts to love obedience and to hate disobedience and not tolerate it any longer.

We ask You to forgive our nation for its sins of pride, ingratitude, murder, greed, violence, selfishness, perversion and all manner of corruption and for outright rebellion and rejection of You.

Incline our hearts to do what is right in Your sight. We ask You to arrest in the spiritual realm all corruption at the highest levels of power; we bind every demonic spirit of deception over our leaders, in the name of Jesus.

We pray for our leaders in government, in education, in business, for those who have influence over us through the media and in every realm that affects and influences us that You would bring humility to them; that You would deliver them from selfishness, pride, greed, bribery, perversion, and outright rebellion against You.

We ask You to send Your angels throughout our nation to root out evil and evil plans; we ask You to send a massive awakening throughout our land: break people of their sin; reveal to them the eternal consequences of rejecting You.

Make us, Your Church, bold in our witness and unrelenting. Give us divine appointments to win the lost and give us Your genuine love and compassion for them — just as You had for us in saving us from ourselves.

Have mercy, O Lord, upon our economy and deliver us from being a service-oriented economy to a manufacturing-based economy once again, for we know that in our current state, we cannot last much longer.

Open up heaven to bring forth new inventions that the devil and the world cannot co-opt for evil purposes. Cause righteous, selfless men and women to make these inventions, discoveries, innovations.

Deliver our nation from stupid and destructive economic and public policies and give us wise and godly leaders that will honor You, seek to bless the people they serve and cause You to therefore bless our land.

We thank You for protecting us from further terrorist attack; please continue to do everything necessary to continue our protection. And remember, Lord, the demonic attacks against our nation and destroy every demon that is assigned from hell to ruin us.

Rend the heavens and come down and deliver us from evil; do the same throughout the earth, in Jesus’ name we ask, amen!

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One of the most remarkable thoughts in Scripture is that God would call His own His “friends.”

In the Old Testament, we find that Abraham was the “friend of God” (2 Chr. 20:7; Is. 41:8), and so James repeats this as well in his epistle (2:23).

In the New Testament, Jesus called His disciples His friends (significantly, shortly before His crucifixion, resurrection and ascension, in John 15:15):

“I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you.”

Moreover, we find in the NT that He loves us both with His agape (unconditional love; this word describing His love toward us appears far more often) and His phileo (defined below):

Here is an instructive and fascinating window into phileo: It is the Greek word for friendship love, based on common interests and having warm feelings and affection, but which can also be alienated due to an ungrateful response from one to another.

John tells us that Jesus loved His friend Lazarus this way (John 11:36) and that He also loved John – the disciple that was probably the closest of all to Jesus – with a phileo love (20:2).

In addition, John tells us the disciples loved Jesus with a phileo love (16:27; cf. 21:21:15-17).

This means that our Triune God likes us; that the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit enjoy us, delight in us and genuinely engage us in relationship through conversation.

Therefore, our response can and should be one of eagerness and delight to be with God in the wide variety of ways that He calls us to be with Him and know Him.

But it is both encouraging and sobering that Jesus uses this same word of the sadly backslidden church of Laodicea (Rev. 3:19): “Those whom I phileo, I discipline.”

That means that while we’re friends with God, we also reverence Him as God and do the things that please Him — for that is the true test of our love for Him (John 14:21).

Do you know that Jesus loves you with a phileo love, in addition to His agape love (unconditional love)?

Isn’t that a moving and powerful thought? Do you love Him in the same way? And is not also a sobering thought that with this friendship love between us and our Friend that we can alienate Him?

Lord, please help us never to alienate You!

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How To Trust God

For many, trusting God consistently is a challenge: it can be perplexing, frustrating and confusing.

But when done on a consistent basis, it is by far one of the most rewarding things in life, because it carries with it great reward and blessing from Him:

“And without faith, it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him” (Heb. 11:6).

I cannot say that I have arrived at trusting God (though I wish I could), but I can say that year-by-year, I’m growing in my consistency in trusting Him.

How have I done that? By meditating upon His Word. There is such a thing as biblical meditation — seen frequently in the Psalms.

For example, the Hebrew word translated “meditate” in Ps. 1:3 means to speak, talk, utter, study, ponder, imagine or murmur (in pleasure or in anger).

Let’s take one of the most important and well-known verses in Scripture concerning trust in God: Prov. 3:5-6:

“Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge (literally, “know”) Him and He will make your paths straight.”

The way I learn to apply those two verses more consistently and deeply is to declare them out loud — to the LORD, to myself and to the demonic realm — to counter the doubt that arises from my own fallen nature and from the demonic realm, which works constantly to get me to doubt God’s goodness and His faithfulness.

So, I boldly declare those verses again and again and again until they get down deeply into my spirit and I can say with sincerity, “ok, Lord, I do trust You!”

Here is how I personalize those verses to Him and to myself: “Father, I choose to trust You with all of my heart; I’m not going to lean on my own understanding; I don’t have to have it all figured out.

“But in all my ways — in everything I do — I choose to lean on and know You and Your ways.

“And as I do this, You promise to go before me and make my paths straight. Thank You, Father!”

I’m certainly not saying this is easy: it takes perseverance!  But perseverance always pays off and it builds great character in us — and ultimately, greater trust in God.

And afterall, believers have a relationship with Him — and the best relationships in life are always built on trust. 

I pray that you will be undeterred in your quest to trust God through meditating upon His Word, day and night!

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