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Posts tagged ‘Protestant Reformation’

Is a New Grace Reformation Taking Place Today?.


Michael Brown
Michael Brown

Is there a new reformation sweeping the Church today, a reformation as radical and important as the Protestant Reformation that rocked the world 500 years ago? According to a growing number of Christian leaders, the answer is emphatically yes.

Pastor Clark Whitten, author of Pure Grace: The Life Changing Power of Uncontaminated  Grace, claims that, “Little has changed in the Protestant church in more than 500 years” – until now, that is. He believes that Luther and Calvin “got it right concerning justification, or how one is saved. . . . But they missed it on sanctification, or how one is perfected into the likeness of Christ.”

Whitten states that Luther and Calvin, followed by the Protestant Church ever since, taught a doctrine of “saved by grace but perfected by human effort,” an approach that has produced “a Church that is judgmental, angry, hopeless, helpless, dependent, fearful, uninspired, ineffective, and perpetually spiritually immature.”

Because of this, Whitten claims, we have failed to impact our culture and have become a laughingstock to most “casual observers.” And Pastor Whitten contends that this doctrine has also brought, “personal devastation” to countless believers who have consequently checked out on Church (or on God Himself).

John Crowder, in his book Mystical Union, claims that, “Just as there is a new mysticism on the rise, I believe it is coupled with a new reformation. The good news will be preached with such clarity that, even the days of Luther will seem utterly primitive in its concepts of grace and faith.”

Indeed, Crowder writes that “a clarity is coming to the preaching of the gospel like has not been heard since the days of the Apostle Paul.”

Other modern grace teachers share similar sentiments. In his book GRACE, the Forbidden Gospel, Andre van der Merwe writes, “Once again in the church there is a struggle for a theological reformation that will liberate believers to break free from the yoke of bondage that has been put on the children of God by people who may have had good intentions, but that have only taught the religious doctrines and traditions that they themselves have been taught.”

His prayer is that his book will “destroy the religious arguments and doctrines of demons forever,” referring to whatever teaching contradicts this allegedly new revelation of grace. That’s why the full title of his book is GRACE, the Forbidden Gospel: Jesus Tore the Veil. Religion Sewed it Back Up, and that’s why Pastor Joseph Prince, perhaps the best known modern grace preacher, calls this a “Gospel Revolution.”

Could it be, then, that there really is a grace reformation sweeping the Body today? Could it be that the Church has been so stuck in legalistic religion for the last 500 years that nothing less than a radical reformation can get us out of the rut?

It seems clear that many believers have been caught up in externally imposed religion (which is the essence of legalism), seeking to please God by following an endless list of “do’s” and “don’t’s,” never being certain of the Father’s love and looking first to their own efforts rather than looking first to the cross. Consequently, they are always falling short and never walking in the abundant life that Jesus has for them.

Within a two-day span, I heard from two women, both friends of our family and former students in our ministry school, both married with children and active in God’s service. One wrote this: “I am one of many who have been changed drastically and fantastically by the ‘grace message.’  Judging by the amazing fruit of it in my life and my family’s life as we have gone through some very hard times, it is the fruit of the true grace message.”

Speaking of one well-known, modern grace teacher, she explained that while she only agreed with about 80% of what he taught, she said that “I feel like I have taken a bath and glimpsed the beauty of Jesus and what he did for me almost every time I hear him.” This is wonderful to hear, and I do not want to tamper with something so sacred and liberating.

The other ministry school grad wrote this: “I can say for me, I sure tried, and worked, and failed. Finally, almost three years ago, I finally had a ‘Grace encounter’ that changed my life. Can honestly say I’m more free, more confident, and more ‘sin-LESS’ than I’ve ever been. If that makes sense.”

This is from the Lord!

Sadly, I have met many believers who have struggled with legalism and performance-based religion, and when I hear today that, through a revelation of God’s grace, they are now living in intimacy with the Lord and overflowing with joy at His great love for them, I am thrilled.

That is truly wonderful news, and it indicates that, for many, there is a need for a fresh infusion of anointed teaching on the beauty and glory and wonder of God’s amazing grace.

At the same time, I constantly hear stories from believers and leaders concerned about the modern grace message, like this one: “I have seen the effects of this message on my own loved ones. It has ruined our family and caused many of them who loved the Lord to stray.”

And this, “We have seen this up close and personal with some of our family members. Very destructive things are going on.”

And this, from a pastor, who spoke of “the three close male friends I have had in the past, all three from the grace side; two were unfaithful and then left their wives and the third just left. I have had no one close in the grace group (forgive my terms) displaying good lasting fruit.”

One young man, who had served together with a well-known hyper-grace leader wrote to me at length, wanting me to understand just how bad things were: “I heard more ‘F’ and ‘S’ words in that movement than anywhere else in my entire life.  After all, you’re ‘legalistic’ if you EVER tell someone to ‘not’ do something.”

Is this simply a matter of the modern grace message being abused?

Honestly, I wish that was the case, since I love the message of grace and it would be a shame if pastors and leaders drew back from preaching grace because it was abused.

But the truth is that the modern grace message is quite mixed, combining life-changing, Jesus-exalting revelation with serious misinterpretation of Scripture, bad theology, divisive and destructive rhetoric, and even fleshly reaction. And, in all too many cases, it is being embraced by believers who are not just looking for freedom from legalism but also freedom from God’s standards.

There is no doubt in my mind, then, that the notion of a “grace reformation” (or “grace revolution”) is highly exaggerated, that some of this new grace teaching is unbalanced, overstated, at times unbiblical, and sometimes downright dangerous – and I mean dangerous to the well-being of the Body of Christ.

In short, I do not believe that we are witnessing a new grace reformation. I believe we are witnessing the rise of a hyper-grace movement, filled with its own brand of legalistic judgmentalism, mixing some life-giving truth from the Word with some destructive error.

And that’s why I wrote Hyper-Grace: Exposing the Dangers of the Modern Grace Message, a book for grace lovers, not grace haters, a book for those who embrace both grace and truth (John 1:14, 17). Does that describe you?

(Excerpted and adapted from Hyper-Grace: Exposing the Dangers of the Modern Grace Message.)

Source: CHARISMA NEWS.

Michael Brown is author of Hyper-Grace: Exposing the Dangers of the Modern Grace Message and host of the nationally syndicated talk radio show The Line of Fire on the Salem Radio Network. He is also president of FIRE School of Ministry and director of the Coalition of Conscience. Follow him at AskDrBrown on Facebook or at @drmichaellbrown on Twitter.

Keeping the Lights on Monday through Saturday.


Tom Ehrich

The scenario is common and vexing.

A church building erected generations ago to serve a different era sits idle six days a week and still consumes 50 percent or more of the church budget. Maintenance gets deferred, comforts are reduced, staff that is needed when the church is open are laid off, and nothing gets better.

Frustrated church leaders wonder if they should jettison the beloved structure and join newer congregations in strip malls and schools. They don’t raise the idea, of course, because their primary donors are older parishioners for whom the building is a treasure.

Some leaders dig in their heels, put the building first, and say “No” to any new expenses that would endanger the facilities budget, thus preventing initiatives that might build membership and justify bricks-and-mortar.

A prominent English vicar offers another solution, grounded in church architecture itself.

In the Middle Ages, says the Rev. Desmond Tillyer, formerly of St. Peter‘s Eaton Square, in the Belgravia section of London, churches had two parts: a chancel reserved for sacred uses, and a nave used for worship but even more for secular purposes.

“In the nave,” says Tillyer, “the people gathered for Mass, but it was also a parish hall, a place for community rites of passage, e.g.celebrations of wedding feasts and funeral wakes, also sometimes the local market or the local court house, and ultimately the final place of refuge into which the people brought their families and livestock if the village were attacked.”

Many New York City churches served exactly that last function during the 9/11 attacks. They set up feeding stations for first-responders, posted photos of the missing, provided space for grief counseling, distributed water to ash-covered citizens fleeing Wall Street, and formed pastoral partnerships with firehouses that had lost comrades.

English churches got stiff during the Protestant Reformation, says Tillyer, when Puritans banned secular activities in churches and Roman Catholic counter-reformers followed suit.

But churches are becoming community centers once again, Tillyer says. “Naves have become shops, Post Offices, welcoming facilities, including cafes and information centers, places for lunch clubs to meet … art galleries opened, medical centers, meeting places for youth clubs, study groups.”

Some alterations of facilities needed to be made, but grateful government agencies shared the expense.

At St. Peter’s, they removed pews and communion rails to provide concert and meeting space. They adapted the crypt for a nursery school and non-church tenants. The parish hall was converted for sharing with government agencies, social events and commercial rentals.

“The result,” says Tillyer, “was not only an immediate intermeshing of church and community, but also income for the church so that the mission and ministry of the church could be further enhanced.”

Churches in America have a different relationship with government and would need to work around tax-exemption issues. But I have seen that done. The larger obstacles are resistance among members unaccustomed to sharing their space, and worry about outsiders causing damage, clutter and odors.

Even so, many congregations have taken steps toward becoming community centers. In my neighborhood, a United Methodist church building is in use seven days a week: as home for three separate congregations (Methodist, Presbyterian and Jewish), a seniors program, a feeding ministry, a community orchestra and chorus, a community theater, programs for children, and English-as-a-second-language classes for immigrants.

Yes, the facilities look worn. But worn is better than empty.

Tom Ehrich is a writer, church consultant and Episcopal priest based in New York. He is the author of Just Wondering, Jesus, and the founder of the Church Wellness Project,www.churchwellness.com. His Web site is http://www.morningwalkmedia.com.

c. 2009 Religion News Service. Used with permission.

Original publication date: September 16, 2009

The Connection between Halloween & Reformation Day.


 

Justin Holcomb

The Connection between Halloween & Reformation DayThere’s a curious connection between Halloween and Reformation Day, and it’s more than just proximity on the calendar. Why did Martin Luther nail his famous 95 Theses to the Wittenberg church door on October 31, 1517? He was confronting two religious observances that promoted false saintliness and exploited people’s fear of judgment and purgatory.

Halloween

Halloween (October 31) is celebrated by millions each year with costumes and candy. Halloween’s deepest roots are decidedly pagan, despite its Christianized name. Its origin is Celtic and has to do with summer sacrifices to appease Samhain, the lord of death, and evil spirits. Those doing the pagan rituals believed that Samhain sent evil spirits abroad to attack humans, who could escape only by assuming disguises and looking like evil spirits themselves. Christians tried to confront these pagan rites by offering a Christian alternative (All Hallows’ Day) that celebrated the lives of faithful Christian saints on November 1. In medieval England the festival was known as All Hallows, hence the name Halloween (All Hallows’ eve) for the preceding evening.

All Saints’ Day

All Hallows’ Dayor All Saints’ Day (November 1) was first celebrated on May 13, 609, when Pope Boniface IV dedicated the Pantheon in Rome to the Virgin Mary. The date was later changed to November 1 by Pope Gregory III, who dedicated a chapel in honor of all saints in the Vatican Basilica. In 837, Pope Gregory IV (827-844) ordered its church-wide observance. Its origin lies earlier in the common commemorations of Christian martyrs. Over time these celebrations came to include not only the martyrs, but all saints. During the Reformation the Protestant churches came to understand “saints” in its New Testament usage as including all believers and reinterpreted the feast of All Saints as a celebration of the unity of the entire Church.

All Souls’ Day

All Souls’ Dayor the Day of the Dead is normally celebrated, primarily by Roman Catholics, on November 2. This is a day dedicated to prayer and almsgiving in memory of ancestors who have died. People pray for the souls of the dead, in an effort to hasten their transition from purgatory to heaven by being purged and cleansed from their sins.

Reformation Day

Reformation Day (October 31) commemorates Luther’s posting of his 95 Theses on the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg, Germany on October 31, 1517. This act triggered the Reformation, as they were immediately translated and distributed across Germany in a matter of weeks. The Protestant Reformation was the rediscovery of the doctrine of justification—that is, salvation by grace alone (Gal. 2:21) through faith alone in Christ alone. It was also the protest against the corruption within the Roman Catholic Church. The century before the Reformation was marked by widespread dismay with the corruption of the leaders in the Roman Catholic Church and with its false doctrines, biblical illiteracy, and superstition. Monks, priests, bishops, and popes in Rome taught unbiblical doctrines like the selling of indulgences, the treasury of merit, purgatory, and salvation through good works.

Treasury of Merit

Spiritually earnest people were told to justify themselves by charitable works, pilgrimages, and all kinds of religious performances and devotions. They were encouraged to acquire this “merit,” which was at the disposal of the church, by purchasing certificates of indulgence. This left them wondering if they had done or paid enough to appease God’s righteous anger and escape his judgment. This was the context that prompted Luther’s desire to refocus the church on salvation by grace through faith on account of Christ by imputation of Christ’s righteousness to us. To those spiritually oppressed by indulgences and not given assurance of God’s grace, Luther proclaimed free grace to God’s true saints:

God receives none but those who are forsaken, restores health to none but those who are sick, gives sight to none but the blind, and life to none but the dead. He does not give saintliness to any but sinners, nor wisdom to any but fools. In short: He has mercy on none but the wretched and gives grace to none but those who are in disgrace. Therefore no arrogant saint, or just or wise man can be material for God, neither can he do the work of God, but he remains confined within his own work and makes of himself a fictitious, ostensible, false, and deceitful saint, that is, a hypocrite (Luther W.A. 1.183ff).

Instead of the treasury of merit that was for sale, Luther protested, “The true treasure of the Church is the Most Holy Gospel of the glory and the grace of God” (Thesis 62).
Justin Holcomb is an Episcopal priest and teaches theology at Reformed Theological Seminary and Knox Theological Seminary. Justin wrote On the Grace of God and co-authored with his wife Lindsey Rid of My Disgrace and Save Me from Violence. He is also the editor of Christian Theologies of Scripture. You can find him on FacebookTwitter, and at JustinHolcomb.com.

Courtyard Fence of the Tabernacle.


Tabernacle Compound

Tabernacle Illustration fromRose Guide to the Tabernacle

Image Courtesy of Rose Publishing.

Learn the Significance of the Outer Court Fence.

The courtyard fence was a protective border for the tabernacle, or tent of meeting, which God told Moses to build after the Hebrew people escaped from Egypt.Jehovah gave specific instructions on how this courtyard fence was to be built:

“Make a courtyard for the tabernacle. The south side shall be a hundred cubits long and is to have curtains of finely twisted linen, with twenty posts and twenty bronze bases and with silver hooks and bands on the posts. The north side shall also be a hundred cubits long and is to have curtains, with twenty posts and twenty bronze bases and with silver hooks and bands on the posts.“The west end of the courtyard shall be fifty cubits wide and have curtains, with ten posts and ten bases. On the east end, toward the sunrise, the courtyard shall also be fifty cubits wide. Curtains fifteen cubits long are to be on one side of the entrance, with three posts and three bases, and curtains fifteen cubits long are to be on the other side, with three posts and three bases.”(Exodus 27:9-15, NIV)

This translates to an area 75 feet wide by 150 feet long. The tabernacle, including the courtyard fence and all the other elements, could be packed and moved when the Jews traveled from place to place.The fence served a number of purposes. First, it set the holy ground of the tabernacle apart from the rest of the camp. No one could casually approach the holy place or wander into the courtyard. Second, it screened the activity inside, so a crowd would not gather to watch. Third, because the gate was guarded, the fence restricted the area to only males offering animal sacrifices.

Many Bible scholars believe the Hebrews received the linen fabric used in the curtains from the Egyptians, as a sort of pay-off to leave that country, following the ten plagues.

Linen was a valuable cloth made from the flax plant, widely cultivated in Egypt. Workers stripped long, thin fibers from inside the stems of the plant, spun them into thread, then wove the thread into fabric on looms. Because of the intense labor involved, linen was mostly worn by rich people. This fabric was so delicate it could be pulled through a man’s signet ring. Egyptians bleached linen or dyed it bright colors. Linen was also used in narrow strips to wrap mummies.

Significance of the Courtyard Fence

An important point of this tabernacle is that God showed his people he was not a regional god, like the idols worshiped by the Egyptians or the false gods of the other tribes in Canaan. Jehovah dwells with his people and his power extends everywhere because he is the only True God.

The design of the tabernacle with its three parts: outer court, holy place, and inner holy of holies, evolved into the first temple in Jerusalem, built byKing Solomon. It was copied in Jewish synagogues and later in Roman Catholic cathedrals and churches, where the tabernacle contains communion hosts.

Following the Protestant Reformation, the tabernacle was eliminated in Protestant churches, meaning that God can be accessed by anyone in the “priesthood of believers.” (1 Peter 2:5)

The linen of the courtyard fence was white. Various commentaries note the contrast between the dust of the wilderness and the striking white linen wall wrapping the grounds of the tabernacle, the meeting place with God. This fence foreshadowed a much later event in Israel, when a linen shroud was wrapped around the crucified corpse of Jesus Christ, who is sometimes called the “perfect tabernacle.”

So, the fine white linen of the courtyard fence represents the righteousness that encircles God. The fence separated those outside the court from the holy presence of God, just as sin separates us from God if we have not been cleansed by the righteous sacrifice of Jesus Christ our Savior.

Bible References:

Exodus 27:9-15, 35:17-18, 38:9-20.

Example:

The courtyard fence of the tabernacle bordered a place of worship.

Jack Zavada, a career writer and contributor for About.com, is host to a Christian website for singles. Never married, Jack feels that the hard-won lessons he has learned may help other Christian singles make sense of their lives. His articles and ebooks offer great hope and encouragement. To contact him or for more information, visit Jack’s Bio Page.

Expository Preaching: The Antidote to Anemic Worship.


Expository Preaching: The Antidote to Anemic Worship

Evangelical Christians have been especially attentive to worship in recent years, sparking a renaissance of thought and conversation on what worship really is and how it should be done. Even if this renewed interest has unfortunately resulted in what some have called the “worship wars” in some churches, it seems that what A.W. Tozer once called the “missing jewel” of evangelical worship is being recovered.

Nevertheless, if most evangelicals would quickly agree that worship is central to the life of the church, there would be no consensus to an unavoidable question: What is central to Christian worship? Historically, the more liturgical churches have argued that the sacraments form the heart of Christian worship. These churches argue that the elements of the Lord’s Supper and the water of baptism most powerfully present the gospel. Among evangelicals, some call for evangelism as the heart of worship, planning every facet of the service — songs, prayers, the sermon — with the evangelistic invitation in mind.

Though most evangelicals mention the preaching of the word as a necessary or customary part of worship, the prevailing model of worship in evangelical churches is increasingly defined by music, along with innovations such as drama and video presentations. When preaching the word retreats, a host of entertaining innovations will take its place.

Traditional norms of worship are now subordinated to a demand for relevance and creativity. A media-driven culture of images has replaced the word-centered culture that gave birth to the Reformation churches. In some sense, the image-driven culture of modern evangelicalism is an embrace of the very practices rejected by the Reformers in their quest for true biblical worship.

Music fills the space of most evangelical worship, and much of this music comes in the form of contemporary choruses marked by precious little theological content. Beyond the popularity of the chorus as a musical form, many evangelical churches seem intensely concerned to replicate studio-quality musical presentations.

In terms of musical style, the more traditional churches feature large choirs — often with orchestras — and may even sing the established hymns of the faith. Choral contributions are often massive in scale and professional in quality. In any event, music fills the space and drives the energy of the worship service. Intense planning, financial investment, and priority of preparation are focused on the musical dimensions of worship. Professional staff and an army of volunteers spend much of the week in rehearsals and practice sessions.

All this is not lost on the congregation. Some Christians shop for churches that offer the worship style and experience that fits their expectation. In most communities, churches are known for their worship styles and musical programs. Those dissatisfied with what they find at one church can quickly move to another, sometimes using the language of self-expression to explain that the new church “meets our needs” or “allows us to worship.”

A concern for true biblical worship was at the very heart of the Reformation. But even Martin Luther, who wrote hymns and required his preachers to be trained in song, would not recognize this modern preoccupation with music as legitimate or healthy. Why? Because the Reformers were convinced that the heart of true biblical worship was the preaching of the word of God.

Thanks be to God, evangelism does take place in Christian worship. Confronted by the presentation of the gospel and the preaching of the word, sinners are drawn to faith in Jesus Christ and the offer of salvation is presented to all. Likewise, the Lord’s Supper and baptism are honored as ordinances by the Lord’s own command, and each finds its place in true worship.

Furthermore, music is one of God’s most precious gifts to his people, and it is a language by which we may worship God in spirit and in truth. The hymns of the faith convey rich confessional and theological content, and many modern choruses recover a sense of doxology formerly lost in many evangelical churches. But music is not the central act of Christian worship, and neither is evangelism nor even the ordinances. The heart of Christian worship is the authentic preaching of the word of God.

Expository preaching is central, irreducible, and nonnegotiable to the Bible’s mission of authentic worship that pleases God. John Stott’s simple declaration states the issue boldly: “Preaching is indispensable to Christianity.” More specifically, preaching is indispensable to Christian worship — and not only indispensable, but central.

The centrality of preaching is the theme of both testaments of Scripture. In Nehemiah 8 we find the people demanding that Ezra the scribe bring the book of the law to the assembly. Ezra and his colleagues stand on a raised platform and read from the book. When he opens the book to read, the assembly rises to its feet in honor of the word of God and respond, “Amen, Amen!”

Interestingly, the text explains that Ezra and those assisting him “read from the book, from the law of God, translating to give the sense so that they understood the reading” (Neh 8:8). This remarkable text presents a portrait of expository preaching. Once the text was read, it was carefully explained to the congregation. Ezra did not stage an event or orchestrate a spectacle — he simply and carefully proclaimed the word of God.

This text is a sobering indictment of much contemporary Christianity. According to the text, a demand for biblical preaching erupted within the hearts of the people. They gathered as a congregation and summoned the preacher. This reflects an intense hunger and thirst for the preaching of the word of God. Where is this desire evident among today’s evangelicals?

In far too many churches, the Bible is nearly silent. The public reading of Scripture has been dropped from many services, and the sermon has been sidelined, reduced to a brief devotional appended to the music. Many preachers accept this as a necessary concession to the age of entertainment. Some hope to put in a brief message of encouragement or exhortation before the conclusion of the service.

As Michael Green so pointedly put it: “This is the age of the sermonette, and sermonettes make Christianettes.”

The anemia of evangelical worship — all the music and energy aside — is directly attributable to the absence of genuine expository preaching. Such preaching would confront the congregation with nothing less than the living and active word of God. That confrontation will shape the congregation as the Holy Spirit accompanies the word, opens eyes, and applies that word to human hearts.

I am always glad to hear from readers. Write me at mail@albertmohler.com. Follow regular updates on Twitter at www.twitter.com/albertmohler.

Publication date: August 20, 2013

Albert Mohler, President, Southern Baptist Theological Seminary

Catholics, Lutherans Jointly to Mark Reformation Anniversary.


 

Martin Luther
The 500th anniversary of Martin Luther’s 95 Theses will be the first centenary celebration in the age of ecumenism, globalization and the secularization of Western societies.

Senior Roman Catholic and Lutheran officials announced on Monday they would mark the 500th anniversary of the Reformation in 2017 as a shared event rather than highlight the clash that split Western Christianity.

The Vatican and the Lutheran World Federation (LWF) presented a report in Geneva admitting both were guilty of harming Christian unity in the past and describing a growing consensus between the two churches in recent decades.

The 500th anniversary of Martin Luther‘s 95 Theses, the doctrinal challenge that launched theProtestant Reformation, will be the first centenary celebration in the age of ecumenism, globalization and the secularization of Western societies.

“The awareness is dawning on Lutherans and Catholics that the struggle of the 16th century is over,” the report said. “The reasons for mutually condemning each other’s faith have fallen by the wayside.”

They now agree belief in Jesus unites them despite lingering differences, it said, and inspires them to cooperate more closely to proclaim the gospel in increasingly pluralistic societies.

“This is a very important step in a healing process which we all need and we are all praying for,” LWF General Secretary Martin Junge said at the report’s presentation in Geneva.

“The division of the church is something we cannot celebrate but we can see what is positive and try to find ways towards the future together,” said Cardinal Kurt Koch, head of the Vatican’s department to promote Christian unity.

Seeking Common Ground
Roman Catholicism, the world’s largest church, has about 1.2 billion members or just over half of all Christians. There are about 75 million Lutherans in LWF member churches and other Lutheran groups around the world.

Catholics and Lutherans began seeking theological common ground after the 1962-1965 Second Vatican Council, which opened the Roman church to better relations with other churches, and have ironed out many of their differences over the decades.

They took a major step forward in 1999 by agreeing a common view on justification, the doctrine at the core of their 16th century dispute. At issue was whether Christians attained eternal salvation by faith alone or also by doing good works.

Both sides admitted in the 93-page report that they had often ridiculed each other’s teachings in the past, sinning against the eighth commandment which bars giving false witness.

The Lutheran side confessed its shame and regret over “the vicious and degrading statements that Martin Luther made against the Jews” and rejected other “dark sides of Luther” including his support for the persecution of Anabaptists.

The report said Christians in developing countries, now an important region for both churches, could not identify with 500-year-old European rows. Secularization in Western societies in recent decades meant many old feuds were now forgotten there.

The rise of Pentecostal and charismatic movements over the past century “have put forward new emphases that have made many of the old confessional controversies seem obsolete,” it added.

Still Apart on Some Issues
The report said Luther’s 95 Theses were meant to begin a debate about practices such as selling indulgences and were not intended to found a new church. Both sides mishandled the crisis that followed, leading to the final split.

Disputes over the authority of the Bible, which Lutherans stress more than Catholics, have narrowed so much that lingering differences would no longer justify maintaining their split, the report said. It spoke of the two churches sharing “unity in reconciled diversity” over these issues.

But while ecumenical dialogue has developed new common understandings on some divisive points, other doctrines—such as the office of the Catholic pope or the nature of the ordained clergy—still remain significantly far apart.

The LWF said it wants to talk with Anglican, Mennonite, Reformed, Orthodox and Pentecostal churches about how they might also participate in the 2017 commemoration.

TOM HENEGHAN AND TOM MILES/REUTERS


Editing by Michael Roddy

© 2013 Thomson Reuters. All rights reserved.

Why is Christianity Losing in America?.


This is the question with which all serious Christians must wrestle. To think that Christianity is thriving in America simply ignores the obvious and overwhelming facts of our times. Much like the century preceding the Protestant Reformation and subsequently the Catholic Counter-Reformation, the church was in a dark and desperate period. In its general understanding and representation, Christianity had drifted from its mission and biblical foundations—and the results were devastating.

Similarly, the church in America today has also drifted from its biblical mission and the result has been a church largely divorced from its kingdom purposes and therefore increasingly irrelevant to people living in the real world. At the heart of our present dilemma is our diminished understanding of the gospel, namely the gospel of the kingdom. In reforming the church, the Reformers taught that Jesus—being the Son of God—was born, crucified, and rose again, and because of these facts, your sins can be forgiven. This was and no doubt remains “good news.” However, this summation could be drawn from Paul’s letters without ever reading the four books commonly known as the Gospels.

The Pauline epistles, particularly Romans and Galatians, consist of precise statements of what Jesus achieved in his saving death and how that achievement could be appropriated by the individual. We often refer to this as the “plan of salvation” and it is, of course, true and essential to Christian understanding. Unfortunately, if this is all we believe, we only have part of the gospel leaving us with very little in terms of truly knowing Jesus’s mission and, subsequently, that of his church. This reductionist understanding was never the intent of those working to reform the church, but the Reformation would set the stage for the bifurcation of the gospel. Eventually we came to think of personal salvation as the “good news” apart from its crucial modifying phrase: “of the kingdom,” leaving us with a nebulous religious term (i.e., the kingdom) that fewer and fewer Christians would even understand.

However, when we marry the teachings of Paul with the story told by Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, we clearly see a broader description of the gospel. The synoptic gospels describe and give meaning to the teaching and activities of Jesus in between his birth and crucifixion. This is where we encounter the gospel or good news of the kingdom—the fulfillment of the messianic promises given to Israel, which the gospel writers clearly sought to establish. To Israel, the gospel writers announce boldly, “The time is fulfilled, Israel’s king has come!” Coupled with the fulfillment of Abrahamic covenant, this announcement is extended to the whole world, including both Jew and gentile. God has become king of the world and he, through Christ’s death and the establishment of his kingdom, is gathering a people for himself through whom he is bringing redemption to every aspect and corner of his creation. Jesus invites us to repent (be born again) and enter the kingdom so we may join him in setting life and the world right!

It is in Jesus’s proclamation of the kingdom—the in-breaking reign of God—that the mission of Christ gains its full meaning. The crucifixion achieved victory over sin and death, making Jesus King; the resurrection is the result of his victory and the first fruit of the age to come, and the ascension declares, “He reigns!”

Jesus’s life and teachings confirm the real and active presence of his kingdom rule and the way in which we who have been given new life are to live and bear witness to this new reality. Simply put, the character and call of God’s kingdom does not fit comfortably alongside the kingdoms of this world but instead offers a radical challenge to our lives and everything about this world. One may wish it were so, but we do not “accept Christ” and easily join with his kingdom purposes. Jesus says, “the kingdom is within your grasp” (Luke 17:21), meaning we are confronted with a decision, a decision to believe, trust, and follow Jesus in his work and purpose. There is no easy belief as some would prefer—saving faith compels us to act, and the direction in which we are to act is clarified in Jesus’s command to “seek first the kingdom” (Matt. 6:33 ESV).

In my next commentary, we will examine the upside-down nature of these demands and some practical examples of how we seek first the kingdom.

© 2013 by S. Michael Craven

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Michael Craven

Center for Christ & Culture

S. Michael Craven is the president of Battle for Truth and the author of Uncompromised Faith: Overcoming Our Culturalized Christianity (Navpress, 2009). Michael’s ministry is dedicated to equipping the church to engage the culture with the redemptive mission of Christ. For more information on Battle for Truth and the teaching ministry of S. Michael Craven, visit www.battlefortruth.org.

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