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Church history

The necessity of creeds and confessions

Many years ago, ten Christian men got together and decided to start a church. For several weeks they met together every evening to discuss what they believed to be the essentials of the Christian faith. As they charitably reflected and discussed these matters, they discovered that everyone had a slightly different view on what constituted the essentials. They began to despair as they realized that their deliberations were not yielding any fruit. Out of frustration, Mr. Unity asked a simple yet profound question, “Brethren, on what basis will we come together as a church? What exactly is it that we believe concerning God and the Gospel of Christ Jesus, our Lord?” Mr. Calvin, the leading thinker of the group, pondered the question for some time as he gently tugged at his beard with his eyes closed. Suddenly, Mr. Calvin responded, “Yes. That’s it! We must put in writing what we believe the Scriptures teach concerning God and the Gospel of Christ Jesus, our Lord! What is it that we can all agree upon? What is it that we all believe the Holy Scriptures teach? What is it that we together confess with heart and mouth? Of course, there will be more work to be done. We will need to write a few procedures on how we will deal with conflict, choose leaders, worship, but for now, let us put in writing exactly what, as a church, we believe. Let us put in writing our official position on those issues that will form the basis of our life together as a Christian church.” Mr. Luther, the man who struggled with his salvation – “How can God love a wretched sinner like me?” – immediately responded to Mr. Calvin’s suggestion. “Mr. Calvin,” said he, “Your proposal is great. Is it acceptable to you and to you, my dear friends, if we begin with the existential question, What is your only comfort in life and in death?” Mr. Luther continued, “As you know, I often struggle with comfort and I need to be reminded daily of the greatness of my Savior.” Mr. Calvin and the others agreed, and so the hard work of writing a confession began. Mr. Ursinus was the first to speak. He opened his Bible and turned to Romans 8:35-39 and said, “Brothers, I believe that our greatest comfort is that we belong to Jesus Christ. Therefore, I propose the following answer, My only comfort in life and in death is that I am not my own but belong to my faithful Saviour Jesus Christ.” Everyone agreed. Mr. Olevianus spoke next. He said, “My dear brother, what you say is true, but more can be said.” With his already opened Bible he turned to 1 Peter 1:18-19, which he read aloud and then said, “We need to add the following, ‘He has fully paid for all my sins with his precious blood.’” Before he could finish, Mr. Unity interjected, saying, “I like the sound of it. ‘My only comfort in life and death is that I am not my own but belong to my faithful Saviour Jesus Christ. He has fully paid for all my sins with this precious blood.’ I really like the sound of that. Deep. Rich. Biblical.” Several others in the group nodded their heads approvingly and said, “Yes,” or “Amen.” Then Mr. Trent spoke up. “Hmmm… I like where we are going with this statement, but we need some more precision. We all agree that the devil is in the details and I’m worried that we might be giving the wrong impression. I fear that some of the weaker brethren might conclude that since Jesus has done everything for us, they might not be concerned about living a faithful life. Why don’t we make a slight change, an ever-so-slight change? How about this? ‘My only comfort in life and death is that I am not my own but belong to my faithful Saviour Jesus Christ. He has paid for my sins with this precious blood.’ By eliminating the words ‘fully’ and ‘all’ we can affirm the necessity of works and merit. To have comfort in this life, we must not only trust in Jesus: we also need to have confidence in our works and the work of the saints.” Much discussion ensued, but Mr. Trent was unable to convince anyone of the merits of his position. The group was almost ready to vote on the final wording: What is your only comfort in life and in death? My only comfort in life and in death is that I am not my own but belong to my faithful Saviour Jesus Christ. He has fully paid for all my sins with his precious blood. However, Mr. Arius, the gentle, kind, and soft-spoken grey-haired man, stood up and pleaded with the brethren. He said, “Dear brothers, I am concerned that we are giving too much weight to our interpretation of Scripture and not enough consideration to Scripture itself. The Bible says that Jesus is the son of God. Hence, he is not God himself, but the son of God. Therefore, we must say, with the Apostle Paul that our only comfort is in God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ (2 Cor. 1:3). Please, brothers, let us not divide over man’s words. Let us be content with Scripture itself, which clearly teaches us that Jesus is not God and not our greatest comfort.” Though Mr. Arius spoke with sincerity, compassion and pastoral sensitivity, the group could not adopt Mr. Arius’ interpretation of Scripture. Not even Mr. Trent could agree with him. When the time came for the ten brothers to vote, they voted on the following motion:

Whereas the following question and answer reflects our interpretation of Holy Scripture, which is our highest and only infallible rule for faith and life:

What is your only comfort in life and in death? My only comfort in life and in death is that I am not my own but belong to my faithful Saviour Jesus Christ. He has fully paid for all my sins with his precious blood.

Resolved:

This question and answer is our official understanding of Scripture. It is our confession of faith; it is our position paper on comfort; it is our doctrine; it is part of the “pattern of sound words” that Paul calls us to follow; All pastors, elders and deacons in our church must sincerely receive and adopt this confession as containing the system of doctrine taught in the Holy Scriptures. The motion passed 8-2, with Mr. Trent and Mr. Arius voting in the negative. Mr. Trent decided to join a church that regarded Scripture and Tradition as co-equal authorities, denying Sola Scriptura and Mr. Arius joined a local cult that denied the deity of Christ.

Rev. Garry Vanderveen blogs at Show, Don’t Tell where a version of this first appeared. It is reprinted here with permission.

FAQ Do confessions undermine the authority of Scripture? No. Confessions are a common/shared interpretation of Scripture, which is the highest and only infallible rule for faith and life. Can confessions undermine the authority of Scripture and create dead orthodoxy? Yes. The ungodly suppress the truth in all kinds of ways, so it is entirely possible that one masters the Confessions and the Scriptures, yet hates Christ. Can confessions create lazy Christians, Christians who love God but do not study his Word? Yes. I have experienced the following exchange several times.

Me: Why must we obey the commands of God? Other: Because God has saved us we must obey his commands as an expression of gratitude. Me: Are there any other reasons? Other: No. This is the reason the Heidelberg Catechism gives.

Although the Heidelberg Catechism provides a biblical answer it is not the only biblical answer. The Bible says that since we are united to Christ, we must live his life (Rom 6:10-11; Gal. 2:20). Since Christ obeys the commands of God, we who are united to Christ must obey them because this is who we are. Can one have a saving relationship with Christ and reject confessions? Perhaps. However, as soon as someone summarizes the Bible on any given matter, he is offering a “confession” of sorts. Unless someone recites the whole Bible from Genesis to Revelation in response to a question about the Bible, one is involved in confessional activity. Should the church embrace old confessions? Yes. Absolutely. Without a doubt. The truth of God’s Word is not new, nor is the Spirit’s work of opening our eyes to the truth of his Word a recent occurrence. God’s Word endures throughout all of history – it never changes (Isaiah 40:8); and, the Holy Spirit continues to sanctify his church into that unchanging truth (John 17). Should the church write new confessions? Yes. Every age has its particular challenges and questions, and the church must address them. How should a church write a new confession? Since a confession is an official interpretation of Scripture by the church, confessional writing should involve many churches. What happens when a church doesn’t subscribe to a written confession? In such cases, the church usually succumbs to the tyranny of the loudest, most powerful, and persuasive member(s). When there is no objective confession that the church embraces, someone will rise to the top and impose his or her confession upon everyone else.

Church history, Theology

Original Sin: Luther’s other life-changing doctrine

Every Reformation Day we remember how God used Luther to teach the Church that we are justified by faith alone, not by what we do. But often overlooked is how God used Luther to revive another forgotten, life-changing, doctrine.  **** Martin Luther is more than another dusty historical figure – he has become a symbol of the Reformation itself. His legend is vivid enough to obscure the details of the actual man and the world in which he lived. The legend tells us the story of the tight way his life mirrored his theology, in his journey from the bondage of doubt to freedom in Christ. Yet this is not the only legend told – a man as famous as Luther collects negative portrayals as well as positive ones. Not all Roman Catholics would see Luther as a man to celebrate.1 In fact, Martin Luther has been characterized as a coarse man, a divisive man – worse than that, a man who allowed his own personal struggles with his faith to split the church. He was offered every comfort in the church he was raised in. His priest confessor grew tired of listening to the litany of sins he had committed, sins so minor they were hardly worth the breath it took to confess them.2 Why couldn’t Luther find comfort in his faith? It is said of him, that surely he must have been of a depressive temperament, or mentally unstable.3 Surely he was a peculiar man, an unusual man, and not a man others should've followed. Of course, it shouldn’t come as a great shock to anyone that a Roman Catholic might disparage Martin Luther as being unhealthily obsessed with sin, even as a Protestant might respect him as a great mind. Yet what we are after in this article is an honest evaluation of the life and thinking of this pivotal figure who has had such an enormous impact on Christianity. So this is the necessary question:was Luther unhealthily obsessed with his defects, or was this an important piece in the formulation of his theology? Awareness of the full horror of our sinful inclinations Luther’s theology is well-known: justification by faith alone. But to focus on justification by faith alone is to miss the rest of the story. It misses Luther's awful awareness of sin, and his dawning realization that sin was not limited to his conscious actions but was linked to the very nature of who he was. In fact, Luther suffered because he was aware not only of his actualsin, but also his sinful nature. And the comfort his church offered him all the years he struggled as a monk was rooted in a very different view of humanity's original sin, a view that did not provide him with the strategies to address his own sinful nature as the fountain of his sinful impulses. This is not a mere scholastic discussion. Not only does one’s opinion of Martin Luther as a human being affect the way one views the Reformation, but it also affects the way one approaches anyone who experiences distress, as Luther did, over their sinful inclinations. Luther’s understanding of his sinful nature, can give comfort to those who are also rightly realizing the full horror of the sinful inclinations running through their every action. This is an important point. Understanding the sinfulness of our nature is necessary if we’re going to give true comfort to believers who produce sin continually. To neglect to define human nature as actively inclined to sin, even after conversion, leads to spiritual distress. Luther’s life illustrates this, and Reformed theology further confirms this. Consequently, it is necessary to first look at the doctrine of original sin as the Roman Catholic Church understood it, and then how Luther differed and how it affected his life. A sinful nature or an ungoverned one? Did Roman Catholics in Luther’s time, then, not think humans had a sinful nature? It is perhaps better to say they did not talk in terms of a sinful nature at all. Theologians defined original sin as a lackof a special gift God had granted at creation. This special gift, which is often called “original justice” in their writings, enabled man to conform his will to God. And as a result of original justice, man’s will could be rightly directed towards God. Then, when man fell, this special gift was removed, and therefore man in his nature was wounded and no longer directed to God.4 Man’spassions became unleashed as a result of losing original justice in the Fall, and these passions were no longer rightly directed by man’s will and reason. This ungoverned desire or passion was not in itself regarded as sinful unless it resulted in an actual sinful action. Therefore there did remain in man the “tinder of sin” or “concupiscence,” from which actual sins sprung, but which was not sin itself.5 Concupiscenceis not a replacement for the Reformed understanding of man’s sinful nature, but rather a separate concept, separated from man’s will and reason, and not something active in every part of a man. This illustrates that medieval theology had quite a different formulation of the nature of man, and used these divisions to explain original sin in a very different way than later Protestant theology. This doctrine had developed throughout the Middle Ages, with theologians such as Anselm and Thomas Aquinas increasingly defining original sin as a lack of something, rather than an active inclination against God, as Augustine had.6 In one sense their move in this direction makes sense, because to define original sin as a lack and a removal of a special gift appears to preserve the justice of God. If God only took back what had never been essential to man’s nature, God is not unjust because he may grant or not grant gifts as he wishes. A division of the nature of man was one way to address this, and medieval theology was further influenced by philosophical traditions of the time.7 This conception of original sin was carried over by the Nominalist theologians that Luther reacted most strongly against. In this school of thought, God adapted his righteous requirements to mercifully accept the very best acts man could do, and that God would, in return, give grace to man if man did his very best.8 This has obvious implications for justification, but it affects original sin as well, as it teaches that man, after the fall, is still able to detest sin and seek God.9 It was asserted that man in his natural powers could achieve selfless love out of his own will, and God would graciously respond to this.10 This theology can only result from a conception of original sin as a lackof something, rather than an activeinclination to rebel against God. Luther’s struggle When expressed this way, the division between the usual Protestant and Roman Catholic view of Luther becomes clearer. Our opinion of Luther might hinge on the nature of the sinful inclinations Luther detected in himself. If God did nothold Luther guilty for his concupiscence, all of Luther’s fellow priests were right to be exasperated by his continual struggle with his worry over it, and Roman Catholics today are right to dismiss Luther’s obsession as anxious mental instability. But if he truly stood condemned before the face of God, as he felt he was, then he was justified in his terror and his struggle to find a source of comfort. As a result, the Reformation that resulted from his shift in theology was justified, and more than justified– it was necessary! Luther suffered deeply as he grew more and more aware of the sea of sinful inclinations inside him. He would confess his sins daily – for as long as six hours – searching his memory and analyzing his every motive to be sure he had not missed a single one. While his priest grew exasperated with listening, Luther grew more and more frightened that he could go on thinking of new sins even after six hours. Roland H. Bainton underscores this in his biography of Luther, Here I Stand: “There is, according to Luther, something much more drastically wrong with man than any particular list of offenses which can be enumerated, confessed and forgiven. The very nature of man is corrupt. The penitential system fails because it is directed to particular lapses. Luther had come to perceive that the entire man is in need of forgiveness.”11 This realization plunged Luther into terror. Philip Watson describes Luther’s state like this: “The scholastic theologians, it is true, taught that concupiscentiawas not in itself to be regarded as sin… But this again occasioned questionings and apprehension in Luther’s mind. Had his will not consented? … Was he really in a state of grace – for he could perceive no evidence of its effective working in him?”12 The comfort offered by his priests – that God was a merciful God – did little to alleviate this burden. To Luther, this kind of mercy diminished God’s righteousness, and he refused to conceive of God’s justice in such human terms.13 But was Luther’s problem his own sinful inability to accept mercy, or was there a flaw in his theology that needed to be rectified? Luther came to believe there was a flaw in his theology, namely, that every action a person takes, even those which outwardly appear to be good ones, are shot through with sin. One could easily conclude Luther’s conscience was overly sensitive, and that he suffered for nothing.14 It might even be comforting to conclude Luther could not have been in his right mind to have been so bothered by how he fell short of God’s standards. Everyone falls short, after all, and it is comforting to assume God will overlook small shortcomings. And Luther was a monk – he’d devoted everything to being a good one. But it is better to conclude that Luther had the valuable ability not to take his sins lightly. Perhaps his sensitive conscience was necessary to correctly depict a God who doesn’t make compromises with sin. Luther himself mused in this way later in his life.15 Luther experienced intense distress, and part of his distress was a direct result of the way theology was framed at the time. Defining original sin as a loss rather than an active inclination did not give him a conception that equipped him to understand the sinful inclinations he could see in himself. When he felt the desire to curse God, the only way he could fit it into the theology he knew at the time was in a way that damned him. If he truly was a believer he should be moving towards a deeper understanding of God, but despite all his spiritual acts he never felt his sinful impulses lessen. He knew what was inside him was an active inclination. The sins he confessed constantly were active rebellion, an active rebellion against God. And he needed a theology that could incorporate this rebellious inclination that he could not deny was in himself, and yet still grant him the comfort of being saved. Luther’s freedom began when he, finally, not only faced the reality of his depravity, but also grasped that Christ’s sacrifice had the power to atone for not only his actual sins but also his sinful nature. “Thereupon I felt myself to be reborn and to have gone through open doors into Paradise.”16 It was only after this realization that he was freed from his constant inner reflection to be able to go out into the world and actually, by the grace of God, to change it. Luther’s concept of original sin When it comes to original sin it is clear that Luther objected to the church’s doctrine of original sin on two points: first, that natural man can take even a step towards loving God, or make any motion that God could condescend to respond to with grace; second, that even after conversion man still possesses sinful desires that are present even in outwardly good works. Luther never systematically pulls all of his theological ideas together in one work, but he discusses original sin throughout his writings. In particular, his early lectures on Romans are crucial in the development of his ideas on original sin because in connection with Romans he spends a lengthy amount of time considering this doctrine.17 Luther argues on the basis of Romans that original sin was not just a lack of a quality in the will or a lack of light in the mind, but a total lack of uprightness and power of everything in body and soul – a complete inclination to evil.18 The scholastic trend Luther discerned was an attempt to replace divine grace with light of human reason.19 Luther argues, in response, that using human reason to discern what is good will only define the best things according to humans, not God. “e should call ‘natural’ the fact that we are in sin and death and that we desire, understand, and long for things that are corrupt and evil,” Luther states in another one of his works.  He then insists, “Who does not see the contradiction between the statement that the natural powers are perfect, and the statement that nature is corrupted by sin?”20 Human nature will result in doing “good things in an evilway.” Good things performed by natural capacity are good in an evil way, performed not for service of God but in service of the creature.21 In this work on Romans, Luther also works out the sinfulness of believers. One of the reasons Luther was so radical is related to his second assertion, that an active sinful nature still operates in a believer, and that therefore a person can be simultaneously saved and a sinner. Yet his lectures on Romans should utterly destroy any notion that Luther preached righteousness through faith alone in order to dispense with good works: Luther argues that a sinner has the beginning of righteousness and continues to seek more and more of it. In other words, while a man knows he is a sinner and knows every moment that he is entirely incapable of doing anything good, he continues to follow the will of God in his life. He continues to walk the path God has set out, because God’s grace has shown him the first step. Every intentional step a sinner takes is an intentional movement from sin to righteousness.22 Luther was convinced that defining original sin in terms of privation (or lack) alone was a reductionist approach and did not express the real severity of the Adam’s sin. He argued sin is not a localized part but in the whole person, as well as a positive reality and not privation.23 This doctrine needs to be intimately connected with salvation – Christ is the second Adam, and just as the penalty in Adam leads to condemnation, believers receive the gift of grace through Christ to avoid condemnation.24  Roman Catholic response It is clear Luther’s view of original sin was one of part of his theology that Rome objected to. In 1545 the Roman Catholic Church convened the Council of Trent specifically to deal with the theology of Luther and other Reformers. The Council’s decrees state: “This concupiscence, which the Apostle sometimes calls sin, the holy council declares the Catholic Church has never understood to be called sin in the sense that it is truly and properly sin in those born again, but in the sense that it is of sin and inclines to sin. But if anyone is of the contrary opinion, let him be anathema.”25 Here the Council declares that even when Paul laments that he is inclined to actively commit sin, he is not talking about something that is sin in and of itself. Due to conflicting streams of Roman Catholic thought on original sin at the time, the definition of original sin by this council is perhaps more vague than it could have been, and yet it still rejects any formulation of original sin that could fall in line with Luther.26 It is defined as a loss (of justice and holiness), and underscores that the origin and possible effect of concupiscence is sin, while concupiscence itself does not incur guilt – under this definition it is then possible for believers to do good works free of sinful inclinations. More clarity on the decrees of the Council of Trent is provided in TheCouncil of Trent: Catechism for Parish Priests, written soon after the Council of Trent ended. This catechism continues to define concupiscence as the “fuel of sin” and not sin itself.27 It confirms that when concupiscence is used to refer to the remains of sin after baptism, it is not conceiving of concupiscence as identical to the Reformed conception of the sinful nature. It is interesting to note is how concupiscence is defined as the remains of sin after baptism (the “fuel of sin” or the “tinder of sin”), and yet in this Catechism it is also defined as merely a desire for something one doesn’t have. Certainly a desire for warmth when one is cold should not be considered a sin, but can this desire be thought of as a remainder after original sin is removed? It seems more likely that the term concupiscence can be used in two ways, first as a more benign term which refers to desire, and then as a more negative term referring to the unbridled desires that man loses control over as a result of his wounded nature. The Reformed definition of sinful nature would not be a loss of control over human desires, but rather the active sinful bend in every human desire. And this parish priest catechism goes on to highlight the issues with understanding concupiscence in this way, when it goes on to define sinful concupiscence as concupiscence that conflicts with spirit and reason. The Reformed interpretation would emphasize that spirit and reason are bent away from God as well, and so a conflict between desire, spirit and reason would be meaningless as a barometer of sinfulness before God. The medieval Roman Catholic interpretations of original sin flow out of understandable concerns – concerns to preserve the voluntary nature of original sin, and to prevent an overly deterministic understanding of sin. There is an impulse to encourage believers to do good works, and fight against their actual sin. However, the solution runs up against obvious problems. If the radical nature of sin is diminished, and man’s nature is affected by the fall only by the loss of something, any active rebellious tendencies are left without an explanation. Our Comfort How, then, should original sin be defined? As with any doctrine, there are many different ideas about it. But a definition of original sin needs to be practical, and speak directly to the individual believer who sees in themselves a sin-streaked nature. This is why the Reformers formulated confessions to be used in the church, and these define sin clearly. First, the Heidelberg Catechism emphasizes man is unable to do good because he is by nature inclined to hate God and his neighbour. This active turning away from God is at the heart of both our sinful nature and every actual sin.28 The Belgic Confession also devotes an article to the doctrine of original sin, and emphasizes in the same way that man is a slave to sin.29 Original sin, according to the Belgic Confession, corrupts the entire nature of man: “As a root it produces in man all sorts of sin. It is, therefore, so vile and abominable in the sight of God that it is sufficient to condemn the human race. It is not abolished nor eradicated even by baptism, for sin continually streams forth like water welling up from this woeful source.”30 This formulation does a few things. It insists original sin corrupts the entire nature of man, not just one part of it. And it does not diminish the radical nature of human nature’s corruption. The Belgic Confession uses as scriptural evidence not just Paul’s well-known passage about doing the sin he does not want to do, but also Romans 5:12, which declares through Adam all were made sinners. Adam’s sin resulted in more than just a potential from which true sin could spring, rather it produced real sinners. This is necessary to grasp, and the various explanations of original sin must hold onto this central concept. Therefore in the Belgic Confession humans did not just merely lose something because of original sin, just as Luther insisted man did not just merely lose some quality in the will or light in the mind. “For whatever light is in us has changed into darkness,” the Belgic Confession agrees. Scripture supports this by showing the corruption of the will and of every part of man: the heart of man is polluted, the mind of man is set on sin, and the desire of man is contrary to God.31 Humans of themselves are by nature rebellious and always turned away from God – “None is righteous, no, not one” (Rom. 3:10). The Belgic Confession insists the effects of sin are so radical and so widespread, especially in man prior to conversion, that it is impossible to imagine how man can take even a step towards a right relationship with God again. And it underscores Luther’s understanding that even in a believer this sinful nature will continue to produce sin, as it states: “the awareness of this corruption may make groan as they eagerly wait to be delivered from this body of death.” Therefore our confessions present to us a necessary formulation of the biblical passages on original sin – and, in addition, it provide unspeakable comfort. See, for example, the declaration in the Belgic Confession: “We believe that, when He saw that man had thus plunged himself into physical and spiritual death and made himself completely miserable, our gracious God in His marvellous wisdom and goodness set out to seek man when he trembling fled from Him.”32 This is utterly realistic about humanity. It does not shy away from the worst of our nature. Yet it magnifies God. God does not meet us halfway – God goes farther and actually saves those who are actively running away. In conclusion, this confession – and this entire doctrine of original sin – directly reassures those who are distressed because they are real sinners with active rebellious inclinations against God. Just as Luther looked at himself and despaired at his progress toward loving God, unable to leave behind sin and unable to make progress in ridding himself of his sinful nature, so too many believers may look at themselves in discouragement. In order to move on from despair, Luther needed to both acknowledge the bend of his own nature away from God – radically affecting every ounce of him – and to accept this inclination as true sin. Then he could fully grasp the even greater length God reaches, and find the assurance of astonishing forgiveness in Christ. Christ’s blood covers the guilt of our sinful nature just as much as it covers actual sins. Just as in Adam man fell so fully, so man was so united with Christ as to be absolutely saved. And believers today can follow in this comfort. They no longer need to be paralyzed by an inward focus on the depth of their sin, but they can move on from the depth of their sin to look outward to Christ. And this truly frees a believer to live and act. End notes 1 This is not to deny many Roman Catholics do, in fact, view Luther positively despite his excommunication by the Roman Catholic Church. 2 “Look here,” said , “if you expected Christ to forgive you, come in with something to forgive—parricide, blasphemy, adultery—instead of all these peccadilloes.” Roland Bainton, Here I Stand, (New York, Abingdon Press, 1950), 54. 3 For examples of modern speculations on Luther’s mental state, including diagnoses of scrupulosity, see http://catholicexchange.com/from-scrupulosity-to-lutherosity-part-1, and http://www.catholicstand.com/scrupulosity-a-little-bit-of-hell/, for two examples. Accessed November 6, 2017. This Roman Catholic view of Luther stems from writings such as the above, as well as personal interaction with individual Roman Catholics. It is important to note no one view of Luther is unanimous. 4 George Vandervelde,Original Sin: Two Major Trends in Contemporary Roman Catholic Reinterpretation, (Amsterdam: Rodopi, 1975), 30. 5 In medieval theology, the Fall did result in original sin; however, the guilt and condemnation of original sin is removed by God in his grace in baptism. The doctrine of original sin is intimately connected with the doctrine of baptism, however to explore the meaning of the sacrament of baptism in depth is beyond the scope of this paper. According to Roman Catholic theology, baptism remits original sin. 6 There were various theological strains on the doctrine of original sin within the Roman Catholic Church in the Middle Ages, with different scholars following Augustinian, Anselmian and Thomistic formulations of the doctrine. There was not one defined, dominant view. Vandervelde, Original Sin, 27, 28. 7 Jairzinho Lopes Pereira attributes Augustine’s lack of influence among the Scholastics (those Luther opposed) to Aristotelian philosophical influence. Jairzinho Lopes Pereira, Augustine of Hippo and Martin Luther on Original Sin and Justification of the Sinner(Bristol: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2013), 267. 8 Ibid., 269-270. Gabriel Biel, who spoke of a ‘pactum’ between God and humans, where God promises to reward with grace those who do their best, not because humans deserve grace, but because God is merciful. Luther wrote against this, and others in the Nominalist school of thought. 9 Ibid., 275. 10 Another theologian Luther was likely reacting against was Duns Scotus: see Philip Watson’s description of Luther’s interaction with Scotus’ theology. Philip Watson, Let God be God:  An Interpretation of the Theology of Martin Luther(Philadelphia: Muhlenberg Press, 1948), 50. 11 Bainton, Here I stand, 55. In Luther’s work on Psalm 51 he also describes his struggle to understand the doctrine of original sin, and his conviction that natural man could not will the good. He lectured on the Psalms early in his career, prior to lecturing on Romans. From this passage, it is not clear whether he finds much comfort in this conception of man’s sinful inclinations. He does not move on to justification in his explanation, but rather asserts an explanation of original sin is a mystery. A correct understanding of original sin needs to be tied to salvation in Christ to bring comfort. See “Psalm 51,” in Selected Psalms 1(ed. Jaroslav Pelikan; trans. Jaroslav Pelikan; vol. 12 of Luther’s Works; Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1955), 351. 12 Watson, Let God be God, 16. 13 Pereira, Augustine of Hippo and Martin Luther, 322n.3. 14 Bainton goes on to address the question of Luther’s mental state, admitting many aspects of Luther’s state at the time do compare with mental disturbances. However, he maintains, Luther’s mental struggle never affected his tremendous work output. In addition, the issues Luther struggled with were real issues that existed in the religion he lived and worked with, and more than that, he did make progress through his struggles to clarify what religious solutions actually addressed his struggles and which were unhelpful. Later, Bainton shows Luther’s mentor, Staupitz, must have considered Luther fundamentally sound despite his exasperation with Luther’s inability to find comfort, because Staupitz told Luther he should assume the chair of the Bible at the university. Despite all Luther’s struggles, he was entrusted with teaching others, and Staupitz appeared to have confidence that by teaching the source of their religion, Luther would learn about what help the Bible offered him in his struggles. Bainton, Here I Stand, 56, 60. 15 Ibid., 361. Throughout his life Luther eventually worked out a technique for dealing with his spiritual depression. One important part was that he came to believe that sensitive believers could, by going through such struggles, understand their beliefs in a deeper way. Sensitive believers could then share these beliefs with less sensitive believers in a way that leads them to agree with the truth of it. 16 Bainton, Here I Stand,65. 17 Pereira, Augustine of Hippo and Martin Luther, 28, 31. 18 Martin Luther, Lectures on Romans: Glosses and Scholia(ed. Hilton C. Oswald; trans. Jacob A. O. Preus; vol. 25 of Luther’s Works; Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1972), 299. 19 In Luther’s work on Psalm 51, he also describes being taught that man had only lost grace and that if man followed the light of his nature he would be given grace. Luther rejects this formulation. See Luther, “Psalm 51,” 351. 20 Ibid., 351. 21 Pereira, Augustine of Hippo and Martin Luther, 338-339. 22 Luther, Lectures on Romans,260. 23 Pereira, Augustine of Hippo and Martin Luther, 331-332. 24 Pereira, Augustine of Hippo and Martin Luther, 335. 25 Council of Trent, Session 5, June 17, 1546, Decree concerning original sin, in The Canons and Decrees of the Council of Trent, trans. Rev. H. J. Schroeder (Rockford: Tan Books and Publishers, 1978), 27-28. 26 See Louis Berkhof, Systematic Theology(Grand Rapids: 1949), 258, http://downloads.biblicaltraining.org/Systematic%20Theology%20by%20Louis%20Berkhof.pdf Vandervelde argues that the reason the Council of Trent was somewhat vague in its definition was that there were participants from Augustinian, Anselmian and Thomistic traditions. They agreed on which errors to combat, but less so on what ideas to defend (p 33).  It is interesting to note one of the participants at the Council of Trent, Seripando (who was an Augustinian), opposed defining concupiscence as “a morally neutral human drive” instead of a “morally qualified inclination to evil.” However, he was not successful. Vandervelde, Original Sin, 40. 27 Catechism of the Council of Trent, trans. John a. McHugh and Charles J.Callan (Rockford: Tan Books and Publishers, 1982) 183-184, 469-470. 28 “The Heidelberg Catechism,” in Creeds of Christendom: with a History and Critical Notes, ed. Philip Schaff (New York: Harper & Brothers, 1919), 309. 29 “Belgic Confession,” in Creeds of Christendom: with a History and Critical Notes, ed. Philip Schaff (New York: Harper & Brothers, 1919), 3:398-400. Hereafter I will cite the Belgic Confession in the form BC Article 14 with the volume and page number of Schaff following in brackets, e.g., BC Article 14 (3:398-400). 30 BC Article 15 (3:400-401). 31 See Louis Berkhof, Systematic Theology, 258, as well as Jer 17: 9, Rom 8: 7, Gal 5: 24. 32 BC Article 17 (3:402). Bibliography Bainton, Roland. Here I Stand. New York, Abingdon Press, 1950. Beattie, Trent. http://catholicexchange.com/from-scrupulosity-to-lutherosity-part-1. Accessed November 6, 2017. “Belgic Confession.” In Creeds of Christendom: with a History and Critical Notes, edited by Philip Schaff, 3:383-436. New York: Harper & Brothers, 1919. Berkhof, Louis. Systematic Theology. Grand Rapids: 1949. PDF. http://downloads.biblicaltraining.org/Systematic%20Theology%20by%20Louis%20Berkhof.pdf. Catechism of the Council of Trent. Translated by John a. McHugh and Charles J.Callan. Rockford: Tan Books and Publishers, 1982. “Heidelberg Catechism.” In Creeds of Christendom: with a History and Critical Notes, edited by Philip Schaff, 3:307-355. New York: Harper & Brothers, 1919. Luther, Martin. Lectures on Romans: Glosses and Scholia. Edited by Hilton C. Oswald. Translated by Jacob A. O. Preus. Vol. 25 of Luther’s Works. Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1972. Luther, Martin. “Psalm 51.” Pages 301-410 in Selected Psalms 1. Edited by Jaroslav Pelikan. Translated by Jaroslav Pelikan. Vol. 12 of Luther’s Works. Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1955. Miller, Leila. http://www.catholicstand.com/scrupulosity-a-little-bit-of-hell/. Accessed November 6, 2017. Pereira, Jairzinho Lopes.  Augustine of Hippo and Martin Luther on Original Sin and Justification of the Sinner. Bristol: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2013. Trent, Council of. Decree concerning original sin. Session 4, June 15, 1546. In The Canons and Decrees of the Council of Trent, translated by Rev. H. J. Schroeder, 21-28. Rockford: Tan Books and Publishers, 1978. Vandervelde, George.  Original Sin: Two Major Trends in Contemporary Roman Catholic Reinterpretation. Amsterdam : Rodopi, 1975. Watson, Philip.  Let God be God:  An Interpretation of the Theology of Martin Luther. Philadelphia : Muhlenberg Press, 1948. The painting is Ferdinand Pauwels' (1830–1904) "Luther discovers the bible."...

Church history, Pro-life - Abortion

A 2,000 year history of Christian pro-life activity

The pro-life movement began in the early 1970s as a result of the legalization of abortion in Britain (1967), Canada (1969), the USA (1973) and elsewhere at this time. Or rather, that’s when the modern pro-life movement began, because ours is not the first generation to fight against abortion and infanticide. Those evils have been present at various points in history and Christian pro-life movements, of one sort or another, have been active at various points as well. American author George Grant (not to be confused with the pro-life Canadian philosopher of the same name) has written a book on the history of the pro-life movement called Third Time Around: A History of the Pro-Life Movement from the First Century to the Present. He gives a brief overview that divides pro-life history into three main periods: The early church and medieval period; The Renaissance/Reformation and mission movement period leading into the nineteenth century; Our own era of the pro-life movement beginning around the 1960s. First time: Roman times During the time of the Roman Empire, unwanted babies were commonly abandoned outside of cities to die from exposure. Abortion was also practiced in a primitive way. But the fourth-century bishop Basil wanted to stop these kinds of things and thus initiated a campaign against abandonment, abortion and infanticide. This campaign influenced Emperor Valentinian to take steps against those practices. Grant writes: “For the first time in human history, abortion, infanticide, exposure, and abandonment were made illegitimate.” Of course, other leaders in the early church also contributed to the struggle against child-killing. Grant sums up the situation: “The early church was pro-life. They issued pro-life pronouncements. They launched pro-life activities. And they lived pro-life lifestyles.” As years passed the church continued its efforts to defend and promote the sanctity of life. Despite the increasing number of corruptions that were creeping into the church during this period, it maintained a consistent pro-life stand and its influence had positive political repercussions: “As early as the reign of the Byzantine Emperor Justinian in the sixth century, pro-life legislation was universally and comprehensively enforced.” The first centuries of growth for the church in Europe had a major effect on changing people’s views about the value of infants’ lives. “Before the explosive and penetrating growth of medieval Christian influence, the primordial evils of abortion, infanticide, abandonment, and exposure were a normal part of everyday life in Europe. Afterward, they were regarded as the grotesque perversions that they actually are.” Second round: the Renaissance and Reformation Unfortunately, those evils made a comeback during the Renaissance and Enlightenment period in Europe, roughly the sixteenth to eighteenth centuries. Ancient Greek and Roman thought was revived during that period, along with its corresponding views supporting baby killing. As Grant writes, European “culture soon reverted to the morals of pagan antiquity, including the desecration of life.” In a number of Western European cities, anywhere from 10 percent to over 30 percent of newborn infants were killed or abandoned during this period. However, with the emergence of the Reformation in the early sixteenth century, and the subsequent Counter-Reformation of the Roman Catholic Church, major figures in both the Protestant churches and Papal Church condemned and fought against anti-life forces. Leading reformer John Calvin was firmly opposed to abortion. Grant quotes Calvin as arguing, “If it seems more horrible to kill a man in his own house than in a field, because a man’s house is his place of most secure refuge, it ought surely to be deemed more atrocious to destroy an unborn child in the womb before it has come to light.” During the nineteenth century, there was a surge in Protestant missionary work, with large numbers of missionaries from Europe and North America going all over the world with the Gospel of Jesus Christ. The effect of the Gospel was, of course, the salvation of multitudes of people. But the Gospel also has benefits for earthly life and, “chief among those benefits, of course, was a new respect for innocent human life – a respect that was entirely unknown anywhere in the world until the advent of the gospel.” In areas of the world affected by the missionaries, the practices of abandonment, infanticide, and abortion were severely curtailed. In sum: “The great pro-life legacy – that had been handed down from the Patristic church to the Medieval church to the Renaissance church – was honored, upheld, and even extended by the missionaries that circled the planet during the nineteenth century.” Yet a third time Strangely, abortion was a relatively widespread practice in the United States during the first part of the nineteenth century. Grant states: “Abortion was big business. And abortionists were men and women of great power and influence.” After the Civil War of the early 1860s, however, various American churches took strong stands in opposition to abortion, and a vigorous pro-life movement developed. Within a few years it had been completely successful in eradicating abortion in the United States: “By the end of the century the procedure had been criminalized across the board. Most of the legal changes came during a short twenty-year period from 1860 to 1880.” Human nature being what it is, abortion began to find prominent supporters again by the early twentieth century among people who were concerned about “overpopulation.” Margaret Sanger, the founder of Planned Parenthood, was a central leader in the effort to promote birth control and abortion. Grant seems to suggest that support for birth control opened the door for supporting abortion among the Protestant churches. In embracing birth control in 1930, the liberal American Protestant ecumenical group, the Federal Council of Churches (precursor to the current National Council of Churches), “became the first major organization in the history of Christendom to affirm the language and philosophy of ‘choice,'” First the liberal Protestants, and then many evangelical Protestants, embraced birth control and subsequently abortion. Yes, by the late 1960s many evangelical leaders were in favor of abortion (i.e., “pro-choice”)! This began to change rapidly during the 1970s as certain evangelical leaders spoke out against abortion. Francis Schaeffer is most notable in this regard, alerting evangelicals to the Biblical position, which is very different from the liberal position, of course. The effect was substantial: “By 1985, twenty-eight Protestant denominations, associations, and missions had recanted their earlier pro-abortion positions.” Basically, the bulk of the evangelical churches swung back to the historic Christian position of opposition to abortion by the late 1980s. Lord, please bless our efforts today! It can be depressing to see the current widespread support for abortion in Western countries, especially the support from the media, and academic and political elites. But in their struggle against abortion, modern Christians are following in the footsteps of believers through the centuries. As Grant writes, “Pro-life efforts have been an integral aspect of the work and ministry of faithful believers since the dawning of the faith in the first century.” Looking back at those efforts, we can see that God has blessed Christian pro-lifers at various points through history. Laws were passed and cultural attitudes about infants and unborn children were changed for the better. This should be an encouragement to every Christian, reminding us of 1 Corinthians 15:58, "Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain" (ESV)....

Assorted, Church history

Henry VIII’s reformation, Big Bird, and the end coming to us all

Komm, süßer Tod, komm selge Ruh or "Come, sweet death, come, blessed rest" is a melody Johann Sebastian Bach composed in the 1700s. Through this wonderfully harmonious composition, Bach evokes in Christians the desire for death, heaven and the Lord Jesus. The words, by an anonymous author, are these: Come lead me to peace Because I am weary of the world, O come! I wait for you, Come soon and lead me, Close my eyes. Come, blessed rest! Just recently we heard some neighbor children express the desire to see and speak with their grandparents, both of whom died this last year within weeks of one another. The children were four and six years old. "Can't I just send them an e-mail," the four-year-old piped up, as his mother smilingly shook her head. The other one stated, as he raced a toy car along the floor, that he preferred to get in an airplane and soar up into the sky to say “hi” to Nana and Grandpa. Such anecdotes make us smile, but they should also make us aware that most children, as well as many adults, have no idea about what death actually is; that they have no inkling that it is a stepping-stone to an eternity that never ends. Big Bird’s lament Many of us who had or were children during the 1970s, were acquainted with Mr. Hooper on the children's program Sesame Street. (This is a program, by the way, which children should not watch any longer.) Friendly Mr. Hooper, who ran the grocery store on the program, was well liked. When he died during the 1982 season the dilemma for the producers of Sesame Street was what to tell their audience, composed of children, about Mr. Hooper's demise. They came to the conclusion that the show’s adult actors should tearfully and emotionally explain to one of the favorite characters, Big Bird, that Mr. Hooper had passed away and would never come back to Sesame Street. Big Bird reacted tearfully and became very upset. He was both confused and sad. The adults continued to reassure him that they were still there and loved him and that they would take care of him. Death itself was not explained, although Big Bird pointedly did ask his adult friends, "Why does it have to be this way? Give me one good reason!" One of the adults answered him in a vague sort of way: "Big Bird, it has to be this way ... just because." It was a very unsatisfactory explanation of death leaving the viewers with a void – ignoring both the promise of heaven and the reality of hell. Another Mr. Hooper To offer contrast, there is the story of the death of another Mr. Hooper, a Mr. John Hooper who lived and died in England during the 1500s. And intertwined with his passing there is the story of a child who accepted and believed that John Hooper's death was triumphant and not at all the end of his life. Although not much is known about this English John Hooper's childhood, it is a fact that he was the only son and heir to a well-to-do English family and was brought up as a staunch Catholic. To tell his story, or what we know of it, we must focus on Gloucester, the city where he died. By our standards, Gloucester, England, was not, at the time of John Hooper, a big city. Four thousand citizens lived and worked in the small metropolis. They had various occupations; the sun rose and set on them daily; and they lived and died within its boundaries without traveling elsewhere. There were the coopers, friars, bakers, carpenters, and there were the rich, poor, blind and maimed people. The streets were lined with inns, several monasteries, and between them were hidden both wooden and stone houses. Four main roads led in and out of Gloucester, all meeting at a main intersection where the town's high cross stood. They were named from the gates by which they entered the town. Thus there were the Eastgate, Northgate, Southgate and Westgate streets. Northgate led to London; Southgate to Bristol; Eastgate to Oxford; and Westgate to Wales. People walked, rode in carts, and journeyed by horse on these unpaved roads. Gloucester was a little world within the world. The Roman Catholic Church held sway in Gloucester. Henry VIII had ascended to the throne of England in 1491 and was a loyal servant of the Catholic Church. That is to say, he was a loyal servant of the church until he wanted something the church would not give him – an annulment to his marriage. His disagreement with the Pope on this matter led him to establish the Church of England. God uses all things for His glory, both good and bad. The Church of England was thus born partly out of lust, and it was a church that, although free of papal authority, had a man as its head. In Gloucester, pamphlets had been distributed and copies of the Bible were sold by tinkers and booksellers prior to Henry's divorce. People read comforting words by candlelight and many were convinced by the Holy Spirit of the truth of the Gospel. In 1538 Henry issued a royal license that the Bible might be openly sold to and read by all English people without any danger of recrimination. He then issued another decree appointing a copy of the Bible to be placed in every parish church. It was to be raised upon a desk so that anyone might come and read it. Henry VIII died, as all men must die, and was buried with great pomp and ceremony. His son Edward, who was only nine years old, became king after him. Young Edward had been fed the Solas of the Reformation by Protestant teachers and his youthful heart had been convinced of their truth by the Holy Spirit. It was during his brief reign that Gloucester was blessed with a Bishop who diligently and openly began to feed its citizens God's Word. His name was John Hooper, and he was no longer Roman Catholic. Another Paul John Hooper was a Paul. He was a faithful pastor. At times preaching four or five times a week, both on the streets of Gloucester and inside the Cathedral, he truly loved and felt compassion for the people. He fed the poor, explained the Gospel and was diligent in visiting his flock. Consequently, John Hooper was much loved by the people of the city. A boy by the name of Thomas Drourie also lived in Gloucester at this time. He was a local lad and was blind. Whether he had become blind as the result of an accident or an illness, or whether he was born blind, is not known. It is not recorded that he was a beggar, so very likely he had a supportive family. Perhaps he had been educated in the school which Henry VIII had established in Gloucester, or perhaps he'd had a tutor. In any case, Thomas Drourie was well acquainted with the Bible. During those blessed years of young Edward VI, Protestant teachers and pastors were safe from the charge of heresy. But these were only a few years – the years of 1547 to 1553. The very youthful monarch, providentially placed by God on the throne of England at this time, died of tuberculosis when only a teenager. His half-sister, Mary, succeeded him. Mary was a dyed-in-the-wool Roman Catholic, and she had no regard for the John Hoopers and the Thomas Drouries of her realm. After Mary's ascent to the throne, John Hooper was immediately arrested, tried for heresy and found guilty. Because he had been pastor in Gloucester, he was eventually brought back to that town in February of 1555, to die there at the stake. As preparations were being made for the burning of this faithful pastor, the boy Thomas Drourie found his way to the place where he was held prisoner. Thomas knocked loudly at the door and a guard opened it to see who was making all the noise. Thomas, after a long conversation with the guard, who took a liking to the boy, was taken to see the Bishop. Upon entering the Bishop's cell, Thomas was overcome with love. He himself had been imprisoned just a few weeks prior for his faith but had been released with a warning. After all, he was only a child. Bishop John Hooper asked the boy why he had been imprisoned. Thomas candidly confessed his faith in Jesus and in His atonement. Upon hearing the child's earnest words, the bishop began to weep. "Ah, Thomas!" he said, "Ah, poor boy! God has taken from you your outward sight, for what consideration He best knows; but He has given you another sight much more precious, for He has induced your soul with the eye of knowledge and faith. God give you grace continually to pray unto Him that you lose not that sight, for then you should be blind both in body and soul." Thomas hid the bishop's words in his heart and begged the guard who led him out of the prison cell to be permitted to hear the bishop speak prior to his being burned at the stake. The guard took the boy to the cathedral sanctuary where the Chancellor of Gloucester, Dr. Williams, was working together with his registrar. Now Dr. Williams had the distinction of having had two “conversions.” Originally Roman Catholic, he had 'converted' to the Protestant religion during Henry VIII's later years. And now, under Mary, he had “converted” back to Roman Catholicism. When the boy was brought before him, Dr. Williams examined him on some minor matters, but then he questioned Thomas on transubstantiation. "Do you believe that after the words of the priest's consecration, the very body of Christ is in the bread?" Thomas responded strongly with a child's assurance: "No, that I do not." Dr. Williams peered at the boy in front of him. "Then you are a heretic, Thomas Drourie, and shall be burned. Who taught you this heresy?" Thomas, the eyes of his heart bright even though his outward vision was dull, answered: "You, Mr. Chancellor." Dr. Williams sat upright. "Where, pray, did I teach you this?" Thomas replied, pointing with his hand to where he supposed the pulpit was, "In yonder place." Dr. Williams was aghast. "When did I teach you this?" Thomas, looking straight at the place from where the Chancellor's voice came, answered clearly: "When you preached there a sermon to all men, as well as to me, upon the sacrament. You said the sacrament was to be received spiritually by faith, and not carnally and really as the papists have heretofore taught." Dr. Williams felt a certain shame in his heart. Nevertheless, his voice boomed out through the church. "Then do as I have done and you shall live as I do and escape burning." Thomas did not hesitate. "Though you can so easily dispense with your own self, and mock God, the world and your conscience, I will not do so." Dr. Williams, unable to threaten or cajole or convince the boy to recant back to Roman Catholicism, as he himself had done, finally said: "Then God have mercy upon you, for I will read your condemnatory sentence." Thomas, showing no fear, responded: "God's will be fulfilled." The registrar stood up and walked over to the Chancellor. "For shame, man! Will you read the sentence and condemn yourself? Away! Away! Substitute someone else to give sentence and judgment." But Chancellor Williams would not change his mind. "Mr. Registrar," he barked out, "I will obey the law and give sentence myself according to my office." After this he read the sentence, albeit with a shamed tongue and an even more shamed conscience. Knowing that death was but a stepping stone to life, the blind boy, Thomas Drourie was burned at the stake on May 5, 1556, almost three months after Bishop John Hooper was burned. The end that comes to all Chancellor Williams came to a sad end, or rather, a horrible end, about three years later. Having dined with a William Jennings, a representative of the newly crowned Queen Elizabeth I, a queen who had much sympathy for the Protestant cause, he was asked by Jennings to meet with some royal commissioners. Whether he was worried about his colorful “conversion experiences” is not known, but it is a fact that he did not want to go to this meeting. Consequently, Mr. Jennings rode off alone. Later Jennings was overtaken in his journey by a servant who informed him that the Chancellor had become ill. It was afterwards conjectured that the Chancellor had poisoned himself, so worried was he that he would be ill-treated by the Queen's commissioner. However, upon receiving a courteous and friendly message from the commissioner shortly after he had downed the poison, the Chancellor tried to recover from his lethal dose by taking some antidote. It was too late. The poison took its course. Heaven is real. Hell is real. And children die as well as adults. But those who die with the eyes of their hearts opened, confessing the Lord Jesus, can sing with a hope that shines eternally: Come lead me to peace Because I am weary of the world, O come! I wait for you, Come soon and lead me, Close my eyes. Come, blessed rest! For the rich man, there was eternal torment. For Bishop John Hooper, there was the bosom of Abraham. For Chancellor Williams - what shall we say? For Thomas Drowrie there was the light of God's countenance....

Church history, People we should know

Rahab the whore...mother of Christ

"...the LORD your God is He who is God in heaven above and on earth beneath..." - Joshua 2:11 ***** In the house where one pays for love there arrived two young customers who had a different kind of business on their minds. They were engaged in espionage, nothing less: covert activities which required circumspect movements; activities that disguised their real intent, that even lead to the pretense of tourism, accentuated by a trip to the establishment of the local prostitute. They had been sent out by the master of strategy, Joshua the son of Nun, one of the two survivors of an earlier spy mission some forty years ago. At that time the economic intelligence gathering yielded interesting results, but the military intelligence had been devastating for an unbelieving generation. It took forty years to purge the nation of that element of destructive disbelief: they were all buried in the sands of the desert. Forty years of grave digging, forty years of sighing about "the wind passing over it, and it is gone, and its place knows it no more," (Ps. 103:16) as one of their offspring, David, would later sing. Then, at last, even Moses died; the LORD Himself took care of the funeral arrangements. Some safe house! Rahab hiding the spies in the flax. But now a next generation had come forth, the covenant had been renewed, and with it came a new willingness to serve, as these young men demonstrated, arrayed in their disguises. They were in the business of gathering information, and for information, they searched. This woman they met was ready to give answers to questions that had not even been raised. And so, notwithstanding the surroundings of ill repute, they had come to the right address; this too was of the Lord. Maybe they did not realize it, but they ended up in what the spy industry calls a "safe house." "Some safe house," one might mutter; hardly had they bedded down then that the local constabulary arrived for their arrest! Had the woman ratted on them? They were instructed, "to view the land, especially Jericho" (Josh. 2:1). Had they been too obvious in their observations of the land, even in their disguises? Were their questions reported? Thinking fast What do you do when soldiers come with their raucous order: "Open up in the name of the law!"? How do you respond to the gruff demand: "Hand them over, those enemy agents that we know came to your house!"? What do you do? Do you panic? Do you deny the obvious? In times of war and threats of war, house searches are not always conducted under the sanction of a warrant, the validity of which one could politely argue so as to gain some time to contemplate one's next move. But here was a woman who did not panic, who did not need to stall for time. Had her trade made her skillful in leading men astray? She surely knew how to forestall a house search! She was, likely, more than a little coy when she assured them that, indeed, these men had come to her, you know these things happen in an establishment like mine, and they left not so long after they arrived, and that is not unusual in my profession either. And you tell me they were spies? Wow!  Then, in a conspiring manner, she might have whispered, "They can't have gone far; they went that-a-way. Run after them and you'll be sure to catch up with them." The path she pointed out to the soldiers seemed to be clear route towards promotion in rank, and maybe even a decoration. The gates were opened for them and the gates were shut again after them, and the pursuers of Israel's heroes chased after wind. The “white lie” Through the years much has been theorized and debated about the possibility of "white lies." It seems that up until World War II most commentators agreed that a deception like the one performed by Rahab was still, in itself, a sinful act. But during the war many persons of great integrity suddenly faced Nazi soldiers and their loud demand: Aufmachen, Polizei!! "Open up, it's the police!" Since then the condemnation has not been so outspoken any more. Those who managed to lead the authorities down the garden path showed no remorse when later they admitted to have given their deceptive testimony. In fact, they were rather gleeful to report how several Jews were saved, the consequence of a gullible interrogator. There are some amusing anecdotes about those days. The scene in the book of Joshua is not without humor either, enhanced by this preposterous elaboration: "so the men pursued after them on the way to the Jordan, as far as the crossing points..." (Josh 2:7). You could almost hear the eager conversations between then: how pleased the captain would be when they brought the spies in, and how proud their wives would be when their men would have their medals pinned on them. And then, gradually, the conversation slowed until finally they muttered: Where on earth are those fellows? But the readers of Joshua know where those fellows were all along: right there, hidden under the flax on the roof! Yet, "the men pursued them," Joshua said seriously. What a joke! Prostitute and now traitor? All this may seem somewhat goofy, worthy of an occasional chuck, but yet... couldn't we say that Rahab the whore had now added to the abominable character of her profession the sordid crime of high treason? She had joined in with the enemy camp! If we think back to World War II again, who would have anything to do with someone who stooped that low? However, is that verdict fair? Should she be displayed in the marketplace, shaven, shorn, and tarred, to have all the passersby spit on her? "The love of country is inborn in every citizen," it is said. We know all about that. During wars opposing armies claim: "We have God on our side." How convincing are the speeches of the leaders! How strong the conviction of their followers! "With honor and valor we fight for our cause, with God on our side." It has been repeated over and over at wreath-laying ceremonies. But inside this woman something had changed. Was she aware of Noah's curse over Canaan? Who were those gods that were supposedly on their side? Wasn’t it to demons that they offered their sons and daughters? The cruelty of those evil forces! Then, in total contrast, there were the stories of this large nation trekking through the desert, the children of Abraham. There was a cloud to guide them by day and a fire by night, she was told. Those were the manifestations of an entirely different God – One who loved His people, who was like fire around them to protect them, who rained bread from heaven to feed them, and who let them drink from the rock. True, He punished them for their evil doings, but He still upheld them and destroyed their enemies before them. Who knows, but that some wandering minstrel might have come by with fragments of the song of Moses "...the Lord will vindicate His people and have compassion on His servants..." (Deut. 32:36). This God was not like the demons who belong to the netherworld. He was the God in heaven above and on the earth beneath. But in His holy nation, would there be a place for her, daughter of the accursed Canaan, a woman who had availed herself of the profits of fornication? From rebel to child of God Rahab helps the spies climb out over Jericho's wall. But then this wonder took place, as miraculous as creation itself: according to His decree, God softened her heart and inclined her to believe. At the same time the crisis of possible detection having been forestalled, she ran up the stairs and blurted out her confession: "I know that the LORD your God is He who is God in heaven and on earth beneath." Would a critical onlooker find that confession a bit meager? It is probably fair to say that she wouldn’t have passed an exam in systematic theology. All we know is that in that confessed faith she bargained with the two representatives of God's holy nation: their safety for her and her family. They made a deal and it was confirmed by oath. The last words reportedly from her mouth were: "Amen, so be it" (Josh 2:21). Of these actions, undoubtedly recited through the ages, James, the leader of the church at Jerusalem, would later make honorable mention, listing them in one breath with the great works of faith by father Abraham (James 2:23-25). So it was that the first major strategic undertaking of Joshua, the son of Nun, seemed to have been upset by the tardiness of the spies. What kind of secret agent accomplishment was that, to bed down in a house of ill repute, to sneak through a window, to hide three days in the caves? Not a very good start, was it? Yes, true, it did not seem like much, but out ways are not God's ways. Just look at the valuable intelligence they received out of the hands of a woman chosen by God: "Truly the Lord has given all the land into our hands; and moreover, all the inhabitants of the land are fainthearted because of us" (Josh 2:24). God’s ways are not man’s ways ...and the walls came tumbling down. The preparations for the battle of Jericho, seen from a military point of view, seemed to be directed towards a total disaster. When the first encounter with a fortified city is to take place, what military exercises come up front? Stamina-building drills? A mock attack? Special wall-climbing exercises? None of that happened. Instead, the sign of the covenant was administered (Josh. 5:2-9). All the army was circumcised. The effect of adult circumcision was that the army was sapped of its military strength for days. If the enemies were to find out... But thus it pleased the LORD to fulfill all righteousness. And stranger yet, a patch of ground within view of Jericho was declared holy territory, where the military leader of Israel met the commander of the mighty host of the LORD (Josh. 5:13-15). Joshua, the son of Nun, was in this very peculiar way made ready for battle: he had to take off his shoes. Now Jericho, known for its mighty men of valor, was sealed up tight ready to defend itself behind its fortified walls with whatever strength still remained within its armed forces. So, we would say: "Time for action. Get on with it! Let the battle start...” But then again the events took a weird turn. Instead of an attack, there was a solemn procession around the city: seven priests blowing horns, followed by the Ark of the Covenant, and after that, the army detachments. No shouting, no banging of drums, no belligerent songs. Only the mournful sound of the seven rams’horns. The army followed silently; it was an uncanny show. Once this was accomplished, everybody headed back to their own camp and the deathly silence returned. The following days it happened again, and the next day again, and again. And every time the procession came by the house of Rahab the whore the people saw the scarlet cord hanging out of the window. And every time Rahab the whore looked out of the window and saw this strange procession going by, her heart beat wildly in anticipation. The battle of the Lord was taking shape and she had taken His side, or rather, He had taken her on His side. Now it was going to happen: the Hour Zero approached rapidly. The tension was building to an unbearable level. Finally, on the last day the procession around the city was repeated several times over, till the final trip was made and the horn blowing ended. There was a short moment of utter silence. Then the trumpets sounded their dramatic long blast, and the whole scene erupted into turmoil. The entire army gave off a loud shout, a howl of derision for the enemies of God. After that a rumbling came up, as bricks and mortar split apart, as boulders cracked and rolled away, and in their course felling and crushing the hapless defenders. Then the walls of the city fell upon them, and the ruins of the structures covered them. And through the clouds of dust, over the rubble, clambered the victorious armies of God, in endless waves, to fulfill the command of total destruction. Total destruction? Yes, the city was devoted to the LORD for destruction. Nothing was to be spared. Nothing except... The war correspondent in Joshua 6 first passes on the direct order as it was given: destroy everything. Everything, except the house of Rahab the whore. Reason for the exception? She hid the spies. Then follows the narrative: as instructed by General Joshua, the young spies went into the one remaining structure of the ring-wall. It was marked with the crimson cord. Spitting out the gritty dust of the ground granite that made film on their lips, they egged on the occupants: "hurry, hurry, quick this way to safety!" Finally comes the recap, the summing up of the total victory: the city was burned with fire. The vessels of bronze and iron were put into the treasury of the house of the LORD. End of report? No! Again it is stated, and now with greater emphasis yet, that Rahab the whore and her father's household, and all who belong to her were saved alive. "And," concludes the report, "she dwelt in Israel to this day." Why? "Because she hid the messengers, whom Joshua sent to spy out Jericho," that's why. In the Hall of Fame In the hall of fame of the heroes of faith, there is a long wall lined with portraits. Hebrews 11 leads us through it. There is Abel, all scarred up, but still speaking through his faith. And look, there is Noah, that ridiculous shipbuilder on dry ground, but therefore heir of the righteousness that comes by faith. See Sarah there, laughing, because at age ninety she still conceived, and God had made laughter for her... And then...yes, indeed there she is. Rahab the whore. Even now the title of her terrible profession is still etched on the copper plate that carries her name. But her features seem familiar. Haven't we seen her somewhere before? Yes, of course, the evangelist Matthew listed her in the genealogy as a not-so-immaculate mother of Christ! The company some people keep! Look at the strange smile on her face. After all those centuries, does she still think that sending those poor soldiers on a wild good chase was rather funny? Frankly speaking, it really was funny, but it seems that the smile is not about that. No, this is a fond smile, a smile caused by amazement and expressing great love. How could she, daughter of the cursed Canaan, and practicing prostitute, how could she possibly have ended up here, among these great ones in the kingdom of Christ? Indeed, there is every reason for amazement. Here was one woman who came in last, totally unworthy, not even qualifying for the crumbs of the dogs, and yet she was given a seat of honor up front by her Great Son, the Christ, through the eternal love with which He loved her before the foundation of the world. If that does not make you smile, what else would? In this reflection the author wants to direct us back to the text to look at it with new eyes – an oh-so-familiar story startles us once again when viewed under this different light. But like any commentary on Scripture, it shouldn’t be read instead of the text itself. Read on its own, it could become confusing as to what are the author’s thoughts, and what the text actually says. So an important follow-up then is to read Joshua 2-6. This is a slightly edited version of an article that first appeared in the December 1993 issue. John de Vos was the very first editor of Reformed Perspective....

Church history

Report of a meeting which was never held

What I am going to tell you is pure fantasy, but it might be useful to pause a moment because it can teach us something. It was some years after our Lord and Savior had risen from the dead, and the congregation of Jerusalem had already become quite large. One evening there was a meeting, held with the elders of the congregation, and as was usual, also the apostles who were resident in Jerusalem. Even though it was a dangerous time, and the enemies were keeping a sharp lookout, the brothers had gathered from all parts of the city. No one was absent when the chairman, James, the brother of the Lord, opened the meeting. The matter to be discussed that evening was of vital importance, hence the full attendance. In those days none of the four gospels, as we know them, had yet been written, but various accounts of events that had occurred during the Master's time on earth had been recorded. These included accounts of miracles He had performed, accounts of discussions He had held with the young men and accounts also of some of His speeches both at Jerusalem as well as in Galilee. At that time, they were still short, loose notes; they had not yet been put together into one book. It stands to reason that these written accounts were extremely valuable to the congregation. They were eagerly read by the members in the city and they were even beginning to be distributed outside Jerusalem. They were also starting to be used during the worship service, here and there. Well, the issue, the question that was before the meeting of the elders and apostles this evening, concerned these loose notes. The question was, should these bundles of loose notes be accepted as trustworthy reports of what had taken place and could they be recommended for use in the worship services. All present appreciated the importance of the decision that had to be made. If these accounts were officially accepted and openly used then they would spread far and wide, and give direction to the life of the congregations. After the chairman opened the meeting with prayer, he outlined the great importance of the decision that had to be made and then asked if any of the elders or apostles had any objection to the written accounts in circulation. They were all amazed that it was Philip who requested the floor first of all. "If you ask me if I have objections," he said, "then I can only say that the notes before us are totally trustworthy. I have not found anything in them that has not really happened. “Another question to ask, though, is whether it is desirable to use them in this form. Is it really necessary, brothers, that in these writings there is such extensive attention paid to how Peter, more than once, did deeply grieve the Master? I think of the occurrence, also related in these writings, when they were going to Caesarea Philippi. The Master turned round and said to Peter, ‘Get behind me, Satan!’ “I know that is what happened. I was there myself and I heard what was said, but I have to ask, is it really wise to air this happening for all and sundry? I think of that terrible night when Jesus was condemned and how Peter denied Him three times. It is true, it did happen, but again I ask myself is it really necessary to air these things openly? We here in Jerusalem, we know Peter and have a high regard for him, but if these papers spread to other countries where they have never seen Peter, wouldn’t this give an entirely wrong impression of Peter? Aren’t these really matters of an intimate nature, which concern only Peter in his relationship with the Savior? Considering how well everything has turned out, shouldn't we just forget what happened in the past?" When Phillip finished speaking those present couldn't help but look in the direction of Peter. They expected Peter to jump to his feet and say something. But that didn’t happen. Peter sat silent, frowning and looking at the table, and not saying a word. The sides of his mouth trembled, and from the way he held his hands, with his white knuckles showing, it was clear that he was extremely moved and was involved in a severe internal struggle. For some moments everyone in the meeting was absolutely silent. Not one of the apostles spoke. In the end it was one of the elders of the congregation who broke the silence. "I am entirely in agreement," he said, "with the previous speaker. I would like to go even further. I have noticed in all the writings the apostles really play a rather sad role. It repeatedly says that they did not understand the Master. It is told once, when they came back from the north to Capernaum, that they had a serious tiff between themselves about who was the greatest among them. It is written that, even in the Passover room, when the Master instituted the Holy Supper, the apostles were at loggerheads about who should take the place of honor. The story is also told of how three of the apostles, our beloved Peter, James and John, were asleep in that terrible moment when our Savior fought His most bitter struggle in Gethsemane. "Is all this necessary, do we really want to broadcast this throughout the world? “Won’t this cause a lack of respect, which we all owe, to our office bearers? Can we really expect that the people who will read this, who will see how the first disciples often didn’t acted as faithful servants of the Master, can we really expect that they will have great reverence for the founders of the Church? Is it not rather to be feared that such stories will lead to damage in the congregations? I ask myself would it not be wiser if we kept all such stories to ourselves and didn’t to pass them on to others." Again it was one of the apostles who now began to speak. He also judged that there was a dangerous aspect to such stories. He reminded his listeners that one of the accounts related that the brothers of Jesus did not believe in Him and that they were even at enmity with Him. "Is it right," he asked, "to broadcast this story? We all know that the chairman of this meeting, James, the brother of the Lord, also belonged to them, but that after the resurrection he repented. Does his dark past have to be revealed to all eyes? Might that not lead, in time, to a deterioration of the relationships within the congregation?" When this third speaker had finished there was a painful silence in the meeting. One could feel that most of those present labored under a great strain. The chairman who otherwise was quick to encourage the members to deal speedily with the matters at hand now sat silent. It was obvious that he also had a struggle within himself. The silence lasted for some minutes. It came as a great relief when finally Peter stood up and started speaking. It was clear he was extremely moved; while he spoke he time and again had to hold the table, as if he needed its support. The words that he spoke came as if pushed from the deepest part of his heart. "Brothers," he spoke, "humanly speaking I am thankful for all that has been said this evening, but I also realize, that these words are at the same time a dangerous temptation for me. It is true that years ago the Master once said to me, 'Get behind me, Satan.' I, therefore, feel that tonight I must say it myself, 'Get behind me, Satan.' How could I ever make my Master great if I am not prepared to make myself thoroughly small? How could we apostles ever proclaim the glory of Jesus Christ throughout the world, if we did not at the same time tell of all our foolishness and cowardice and all our egotistical and self-seeking deeds and thoughts with which we made the suffering of the Master so much heavier? Only in that way can our message become the Gospel, the happy tiding for the people of all nations and of all ages. Then they will see that we, the young men of the Master, are just as weak, dumb and self-seeking as they are themselves, and that we are only what we are today because He with His love surrounded us. “You ask me, if by these stories the respect for the office will not suffer? That could well be so, if the respect for the office depended on our status as great men. But the glory of the office does not lie therein that we are great, but that the Master, who had mercy over us, is so great. "When I remember how the Savior told us that this Gospel should be preached to all people, then I know that gospel should also include how I with my self-conceit often deeply hurt my Lord. It should include how we, young men, often argued among ourselves as little children about the place of honor, that we slept when He struggled His fight to the death, and that I, in a terrible way, three times denied Him. That should all be included, but this one thing more should also be included that the Master said: ‘On this petra I will build My church, tend my sheep.’ “Though there is nothing nice to say about us, nevertheless we may do something, we may serve in God's Church, and that is only because He never for a moment abandoned us and prayed for us right to the end. Brothers, let us not hesitate for a moment, but let this Gospel, as it lies before us be distributed throughout the ages to all the people in this world. Then we diminish, but He is made all the greater". When Peter had finished speaking a deep holy peace descended on the whole meeting. The chairman, who for the whole time had just stared straight ahead, looked up. "Brothers," he asked, "shall we act as proposed?" And although not one of those present answered aloud, it was more than clear that this word was agreeable to all. And so these loose papers were distributed, later they became the Gospels as we have them today. Dr. J.H. Bavinck (1895-1964) was a Dutch minister, missionary, and theologian. This article first appeared in the October 1999 issue of Reformed Perspective under the title"The birth of the Gospel." It has been translated by Rene Vermeulen and is reprinted with permission from 15 Paasverhalen, no 18 Zaklantaarnserie, published by Voorhoeve/Kok, Kampen, The Netherlands. ...

Church history

Kuyper's legacy: for better and for worse

Abraham Kuyper left behind a lasting legacy. There is, most notably, his indispensable role in the Doleantie of 1886, in which he led an exodus of conservative churches from the official, very liberal, Dutch state church. However, there is more church historical significance to Kuyper, especially for later church history. Moreover, unfortunately, not everything in his legacy is endearing. Kuyper was an influential man. He was a prolific writer and people looked to him for leadership. Oftentimes, if Kuyper wrote or said something, many Reformed people took that as being the final word on the subject. There was some critical analysis of his thinking during his lifetime, but what little there was went mostly unheeded. “Father Abraham” was for many people the epitome of what it means to be Reformed. For better There was much that was solidly Reformed about him. He had some good emphases. For instance, he emphasized the autonomy of the local church. Kuyper was opposed to ecclesiastical hierarchy. Another good emphasis was his eye for church history. He had a solid appreciation for Calvin, Laski, and other great Reformed theologians of the past. He taught the churches to value their history. God's sovereignty and the antithesis Another emphasis worth mentioning is the sovereignty of God over all of life. One of Kuyper most famous sayings was: “There is not a square inch in the whole domain of our human existence over which Christ, who is Sovereign over all, does not cry: 'Mine!'” Closely related to that was his emphasis on the antithesis. Human beings are either for or against Christ. No one is neutral. The antithesis is the great divide between belief and unbelief. In his politics, Kuyper was sometimes accused of creating the antithesis, of dividing the Netherlands into two hostile camps. In response to that, Kuyper claimed that he simply recognized the antithesis. The recovery of this emphasis is one of his great contributions to our Reformed church history. Worldview Another one is his conception of the Reformed worldview. In 1898, Kuyper travelled to the United States and gave a series of six lectures – the "Stone Lectures" – at Princeton Seminary. In these lectures he laid out how Christianity is not simply theology or religion. It is a conception of the world, a philosophy of life. The Christian faith is something that has a bearing on the way we look at everything, and the way we think about everything. Our contemporary concept of a Christian worldview comes to us directly from Abraham Kuyper. Before Kuyper, no one really thought or spoke in those terms. One could say that it was implied or assumed, but it wasn’t explicit. "Train up your child..." (Prov. 22:6) Kuyper’s impact on Reformed education is especially worth noting. Kuyper had a passion for distinctively Reformed education at every level, from elementary to university. He was also a key figure in getting the Netherlands to financially support independent Christian education. In the Netherlands, Christian elementary and high school education is fully funded by the state. This is directly because of Kuyper. Kuyper argued that Christian education should be on the same footing as public education and, as a politician, he made it happen. Now we can debate the rightness or wrongness of Christian education receiving public funds, but there is no getting away from the fact that Christian education mattered to him and he wanted to make it available for everyone who wanted it. This has a bearing on North America as well. Calvin College was established in Grand Rapids in 1876. It was initially meant just to be a preparatory school and seminary for the Christian Reformed Church. But later, as Kuyper’s views took hold in the CRC, it became a liberal arts college along the same lines as the Free University. Kuyper’s emphasis on Christian education would also have an impact on Canadian Reformed people. Because of him and others, we also value the idea of a Christian school that imparts a distinctively Christian worldview to its students. We recognize that public schools follow a secular worldview and therefore our covenant children don’t belong there. Humanly speaking, at least some of the credit for this way of thinking has to be given to Kuyper. For worse However, Kuyper also had some controversial views. Let me just briefly mention them. Many Reformed people appreciated Kuyper’s emphasis on the antithesis. However, Kuyper had another idea related to culture that some Reformed people appreciated and others didn’t: common grace. Common grace He believed that God had a special grace for the elect. This was the saving grace that he has in Jesus Christ. But there is also a common grace, a grace that God shows to all human beings. With this grace, he gives good things, he restrains wickedness, and he allows unbelievers to make true scientific discoveries, produce beautiful art, compose compelling music, and many other things. This became controversial because some thought that the word “grace” in Scripture always refers to what God does for his people because of Christ. It is true that the word “grace” is not the best word to describe what Kuyper had in mind. Moreover, things became even more complicated when people focussed on the concept of common grace without limiting it by the antithesis. Common grace became so emphasized that believers started becoming more and more worldly and forgetting about the differences that they have with unbelievers. This became a problem in the Reformed Churches in the Netherlands and this also became a problem in the Christian Reformed Church in North America. This doctrine bore the fruit of worldliness and this led many to react against it. As an example of how this works out in practice, a CRC pastor in Calgary named John van Sloten has used episodes of The Simpsons as the text for his sermons. With a doctrine of common grace in the background, he argued that God can reveal himself just as well through cultural phenomena as through his written Word. Therefore, pastors can use music, movies, and TV shows as the “texts” for their sermons. This is what happens when the antithesis is no longer recognized. Another controversial view of Kuyper had to do with the church. He distinguished between the church as institute and the church as organism. The church as institute is the local congregation and the church as organism includes all believers everywhere, or the church in its broadest sense. Some objected to the terminology – “institute” and “organism” are not words found in Scripture or in our Reformed confessions. In fact, the word “organism” was seen by many to have more of a connection to German philosophy than to the Bible. Again, there was also the fruit of this distinction: some placed all the emphasis on the church as organism, seeing that as the “real” church, and then used that to justify cooperation with non-Reformed people in many different endeavours, including Christian education. After all, if the church as organism is the “real” church, and all believers are in this church together, then shouldn’t we work together for God’s kingdom? One could also argue that this view was behind the reluctance of the concerned in the Hervormde Kerk to leave, even when things were so obviously off the rails. Why were they staying in a church where ministers were denying the resurrection of Christ when Paul so clearly says in 1 Corinthians 15 that to deny this is to deny the gospel itself? Kuyper’s weak view of the church probably allowed this to be rationalized. Baptism and the Liberation of 1944 There were other issues, but let me finish with baptism. This is important because of the role it plays in the Liberation of 1944. Kuyper maintained that baptism is administered on the presumption that the child receiving baptism is regenerated - we presume he is saved. The presumption of regeneration then becomes the ground or the basis for administering baptism. That presumption can later turn out to have been wrong. It may become evident that a child has not been regenerated. In that case, Kuyper taught, the baptism was not a real baptism. Against that, Kuyper’s critics argued that baptism is administered on the basis of God’s command and his promises. The starting point is God’s covenant, not what might be presumed about what has happened with regard to regeneration in the one being baptized. Now Kuyper had the freedom to hold these views. While we may not agree with them, these views do fall under the umbrella of confessional orthodoxy. While he taught these views with conviction, with most of these positions he did not himself insist that one had to hold them in order to be Reformed. Problems arose when the next generation made that insistence. They made Kuyper’s theology the exclusive touchstone of Reformed orthodoxy. One could no longer disagree with Kuyper without being accused of being unReformed. That’s where problems began. Klaas Schilder and other theologians took issue with Kuyper’s theology of baptism, his doctrine of the church, his view of the covenant, and other points. When they did this, the followers of Kuyper insisted that such critiques were a breach of orthodoxy. This led to the Liberation of 1944, a foundational event in the history the Canadian Reformed Churches.  Conclusion Today Kuyper has been largely forgotten by many. This is unfortunate. He was a giant in our history. God worked in powerful ways in his life to bring him to true faith. Then he was used by God in a powerful way to point a straying church in the right direction. Whether we realize it or not, a lot of the ethos in our Reformed churches has been shaped by Abraham Kuyper or by reactions against Abraham Kuyper. We can’t ignore him. Endnotes Louis Praamsma's Let Christ Be King: Reflections on the Life and Times of Abraham Kuyper See Hendrik Bouma's Secession, Doleantie, and Union: 1834-1892. He did make that insistence with regard to presumptive regeneration. Dr. Bredenhof has also written a companion piece called "Abraham Kuyper: larger than life."...

Church history

Abraham Kuyper: larger than life

After John Calvin, Abraham Kuyper is probably the figure who looms largest in our Reformed church history. In some ways, in his lifetime he was even more significant and powerful than Calvin was in his. He was a pastor, professor, prolific writer, and politician. He even served as the Prime Minister of the Netherlands. He established a university. He was an important leader of the 1886 Doleantie and an architect of the Union of 1892. For good reason people referred to him as "Abraham the Mighty," or as "Father Abraham." Because of the role of his views in later church controversies, his name would become rather black amongst many in the Canadian Reformed Churches.  But you do not have to appreciate or endorse the idiosyncrasies of Kuyper’s theology to understand that he has a played a huge role in shaping who we are as Reformed people today. Here we will explore his life's story and elsewhere, in this same issue, dip into his theology. Early life Let’s start at the beginning. Abraham Kuyper’s father was Jan Frederik Kuyper. He was a minister in the Netherlands Hervormde Kerk (NHK), the official Dutch state church. Jan Kuyper had already been a minister for six years when 120 conservative congregations left the NHK in the "Secession of 1834." However, he did not join them. He wasn’t a liberal, but he wasn’t completely confessionally Reformed either. He was just happy to stick with the status quo. Abraham was born October 29, 1837 in Maasluis, just outside of Rotterdam. For what we would call elementary school he was homeschooled by his parents. When he was 12 years old, his family moved to Leiden and there he went to school for the first time. This would be similar to our high school except that it was oriented to academics – it was preparation for university studies. He studied there for six years and then, in 1855, when he was 18, he began studies at the University of Leiden. There he pursued what for us would be the equivalent of a Bachelor of Arts degree. He graduated with the highest honors – obviously a bright and gifted student. Kuyper as a young student But we should take note of what all this did to his faith. He would later write, I entered the university a young man of orthodox faith, but I had not been in the school more than a year and a half before my thought processes had been transformed into the starkest intellectual rationalism. He even stopped praying altogether. He remained a member of the Hervormde Kerk, the NHK, at least on paper. But his faith shriveled, to be replaced by the modernism and liberalism then in vogue. Related to this point, Kuyper didn’t make public profession of his faith. In fact, it would not be until some years later, after he graduated from seminary and was a candidate for the ministry, that he would finally take that step. Even then, there wasn’t much faith to confess. After graduating with his bachelor’s degree, Kuyper stayed on at Leiden University to study theology. Leiden’s theology department was a center for liberal theology. Some of the most notorious liberal theologians taught at Leiden. One of them was Prof. J. H. Scholten. He was a persuasive teacher of systematic theology. But he didn’t believe the Bible was the Word of God. When it came to formulating his system of theology, he relied more on reason than on revelation. Then there was Prof. L. W. E. Rauwenhoff. I once mentioned him in the introduction to a sermon I preached on Lord’s Day 17. Let me briefly tell the story: The young man and his friends were excited. There was a new teacher at the school. The new professor was not much older than them, only thirty-two years old. Finally there was some fresh, young blood at the school, some fresh thinking. His name was Professor Rauwenhoff, a professor of church history. One of his first lectures dealt with the resurrection of Christ. The young man listened intently. Professor Rauwenhoff pointed out that the Bible spoke very clearly about the resurrection. However, he said, we have to be careful because the Bible often uses symbolic language that is not meant to be taken literally. After all, the Bible is not a textbook for science or history. Moreover, no rational modern man could actually believe that Christ’s body was raised from the dead at certain place at a certain point in real history. That would be against all the laws of nature and everybody knows that those laws simply can’t be broken. Jesus rose from the dead, yes, but not in history. He rose in the hearts of his disciples. His body remained in the tomb. As the professor reached his conclusion, the young man and his friends leapt from their seats and started clapping. They were applauding a professor who finally understood. Finally they had a teacher who was with the times. The young man, twenty-three years old, was thrilled with a prof who had the courage to say what everybody else was thinking. That’s a true story and it took place in 1860 in the Netherlands at the University of Leiden. The students were all men studying to become Reformed ministers. The young man was Abraham Kuyper. Now eventually, God would grab hold of Kuyper and convert him and he would become a mighty tool in God’s hands to bring Reformation to the Netherlands. He had his weaknesses and shortcomings – no man is perfect – but many of our families trace their roots back to the Reformation led by Kuyper, the Doleantie. Later in life, Kuyper confessed that he was still haunted by what happened in that classroom in 1860. He had applauded the denial of Christ’s resurrection. With his denial, he had grieved his Lord and Saviour and this bothered him immensely. Rauwenhoff was known as “the Defender of Modernism.” His teaching continued to send Abraham Kuyper down the path of unbelief. Yet God did not stop chasing him. A series of providential events led Kuyper back to faith. It began with learning how to pray again. The University of Groningen organized an essay competition. One of Kuyper’s seminary professors encouraged him to enter and write a research paper comparing the views of John Calvin with a Polish Reformer named Jan Laski. Kuyper was reluctant because there wasn’t much out there still available from Laski. Still Prof. DeVries encouraged him to persevere and sent him to his father in the city of Haarlem who had a large collection of books. The elder DeVries wasn’t sure where the books of Laski were in his library, but he told Kuyper to come back the next day. In the meantime he would check. When Kuyper returned, he encountered the very writings of Laski that he had been missing. Kuyper thought it was something like a miracle and from this point on he began praying again. This event also encouraged him to engage in some serious scholarship. He not only wrote a prize-winning paper on Laski, but also went on to write his doctoral dissertation on him, and later published a complete critical edition of Laski’s writings. But as far as his spiritual development was concerned this was only the small first step. He received his bachelor of divinity degree in 1861 and his doctorate in theology in 1862. Around the same time another piece fell into place. He read a novel. It is unusual in church history for a novel to play a role. More unusually, the novel was not in Dutch, but in English. It was a Victorian novel entitled The Heir of Redclyffe. It was written by Charlotte Yonge. There were two things that Kuyper took away from this novel. First was a reorientation of his priorities. He came to realize that God values a broken and contrite heart and he began to feel that heart within himself. The second thing was a sense of the place of the church. At the end of the book, one of the characters dies and Yonge writes about how he had been prepared for that moment by “his mother church,” a church which had guided him all his life. When Kuyper read those words, he became jealous. He had never known such a church, but he wanted her. Called to the ministry After receiving his doctorate, Kuyper was examined to be eligible for call in the Hervormde Kerk. He sustained his examination. However, there was a glut of candidates. Vacant churches could afford to be fussy and they were. It took ten months before Kuyper finally received a call. It was to the Hervormde Kerk in the village of Beesd, to the south of Utrecht. He was ordained as their pastor on August 9, 1863. He was married a month before this to Johanna Hendrika Schaay. His first congregation didn’t exactly welcome him with open arms. Kuyper had a reputation as a fence sitter. He was sort of liberal and sort of orthodox, but not really one way or the other. The more liberal minded in the congregation could live with a compromiser more readily than the orthodox. Pietje Baltus (1830-1914) Amongst the orthodox was a single woman in her mid-thirties, Pietje (Pietronella) Baltus. Despite still being in the liberal-dominated Hervormde Kerk, she was a devout Christian. Rev. Kuyper did not impress Pietje Baltus. She wanted nothing to do with him. Nevertheless, Kuyper made his visits and soon was in her neighborhood. A neighbor told her that before long the new minister would be at her door too. She scoffed, “I have nothing to do with that man.” But then the neighbor said, “But don’t forget, Pietje, that our minister too has an immortal soul, and that he too is travelling towards eternity.” Those words changed her mind and the door swung open when the minister came to visit. Pietje Baltus became another instrument in God’s hand in the spiritual development of Abraham Kuyper. As he visited with her, she witnessed to him of her hope in Jesus Christ. She told him that he must have the same hope or he would perish eternally. This made an impact. Kuyper often came back to visit with her. She influenced him positively in a Reformed direction. He wasn’t yet totally orthodox in a confessional sense. But by this point God was breaking him away from liberalism and turning him back to true faith in Christ. As can be expected, these developments in his personal life had a bearing on his preaching and ministry in Beesd. This was partly because of a peasant woman who would otherwise receive no notice. Pietje Baltus is another example of how God used the weak and lowly in the eyes of the world to advance the Reformation of his church. Largely because of her, Kuyper would always have a special place for those he called the “kleine luyden,” the little folks. Controversy in Utrecht Kuyper spent four years in Beesd, and then, in 1867, he was called to Utrecht, a city slightly to the north. The consistory there was orthodox, though again, still part of the Hervormde Kerk. Yet controversy was brewing. There were two issues in Utrecht. One had to do with the formula for baptism. There were various words being used to baptize in the Hervormde Kerk. Some ministers baptized “unto faith, hope and love.” Others, “unto initiation into Christianity,” and there were other “creative” formulas besides. Under the leadership of Kuyper, the Utrecht consistory decided that they would not recognize any baptisms not administered in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. They decided that guest ministers would not be allowed to administer baptism unless they promised to use the words of Christ from Matthew 28. Then the Utrecht Hervormde Kerk sought out other churches that were opposed to laxity on this issue. They formed an association of 143 churches that were dedicated to the Trinitarian baptismal formula. The other issue had to do with church visitation. In Reformed church government every year a pair of ministers are supposed to visit each church on behalf of the churches in a classis region. They look at whether everything is being done properly and then report to the next classis. In the Hervormde Kerk of this time, this was done in a different way. There would be two years where the “visit” was done in writing, and then the third year it would be done in person. Some of the questions asked by the church visitors had to do with doctrine, the doctrine confessed by the Hervormde Kerk. Kuyper and the Utrecht consistory recognized this for the farce that it was. There was no doctrine held in common by the Hervormde Kerk. So when the bureaucratic visitation letters came in 1867 and 1868, the Utrecht church just responded in a bureaucratic fashion by sending back some statistics about the church. They refused to answer the questions about doctrine. They said that the questions are “asked on behalf of a synod with whose dignitaries the consistory has no communion of faith or confession.” The classical board sent another set of questions with a demand that Utrecht comply, but they received the same response. Then the classical board said they would send a committee of two people to ask the questions in person. Utrecht said that they would not receive the committee and the committee didn’t come. Eventually the bureaucracy accepted the position of Utrecht. The ultimate conflict was delayed. Reformation in Amsterdam As for Abraham Kuyper, his stay in Utrecht wasn’t very long. In 1870 he took a call to the enormous Hervormde Kerk in Amsterdam. There was one church for the whole city, but it had several worship services, dozens of elders, and numerous ministers. Of course, there were thousands of members. This was one of the most influential churches in the whole Hervormde Kerk. Now Kuyper was there as one of the ministers. This church was largely heading in an orthodox direction. His inaugural sermon dealt with the doctrine of the church. Kuyper gave a clear indication of where he was going with his principles. He emphasized the autonomy of the local church and criticized the idea of synodical hierarchy. The inevitable conflict with the bureaucracy was looming. Things were pushed further along in 1871. It was Easter and a Rev. P. H. Hugenholtz was on the pulpit for one of the services in Amsterdam. He denied the bodily resurrection of Christ. A member of the church objected to this sermon. He wrote a letter to the consistory and he asked that Hugenholtz be deposed along with any other liberal ministers like him. The consistory couldn’t make a decision like that – the discipline of office bearers was something that the classical board had to deal with. So they forwarded the request to the classical board. And what did they do? They said that the historicity of the resurrection of Christ was not something that ministers were required to believe. There was freedom in the Hervormde Kerk to believe that Christ did not really rise from the dead with a physical body on the third day. Hugenholtz got a pass. However, seventeen elders from the Amsterdam church were fed up. They made a public statement to the church in March of 1872, almost a year after the original sermon. They declared that they were no longer going to attend church when liberal ministers were preaching or administering the sacraments. They encouraged the rest of the congregation to do likewise. By sitting and listening to these heresies, the elders and members were saying that these things weren’t really so concerning. They needed to take a stand. Not everybody in the church saw it the same way. About 1,200 members signed a protest against the seventeen elders. The consistory appointed Abraham Kuyper to write the reply to these members. It turned out to be a 144-page brochure. As a result of the leadership of Kuyper and others, the consistory stood behind the seventeen elders. Writing and politics I just mentioned Kuyper’s brochure. He was a prolific writer. In 1871, he started a weekly newspaper, The Herald (De Heraut). This newspaper was an important means through which Kuyper spread Reformational thinking, and it was popular. In 1872, he established another newspaper, this one a daily entitled The Standard (De Standaard). This periodical was used mainly to spread his political ideals. On top of that, he cranked out many books dealing with a variety of topics. Some of them have been translated into English, for instance his book on worship (Our Worship) and a thick book on the Holy Spirit (The Work of the Holy Spirit). In 1874 there was another major change in Kuyper’s life. He officially became involved in politics and was elected as a member of Parliament for the Anti-Revolutionary Party (ARP). For some time already he had been involved with Groen van Prinsterer, one of the leading figures of the ARP. Van Prinsterer urged Kuyper to stop merely talking and writing about politics and actually take action. So he did, and now he was faced with a dilemma. According to Dutch law, he could not be both a minister of a church and a member of Parliament. He would have to choose. He chose to resign as a minister of the Hervormde Kerk in Amsterdam to enter the political realm. For a few months he stayed on as an elder of the church, but this proved too much. Until 1882 (when he again became an elder), his official ecclesiastical status was just that of a retired minister. Yet that doesn’t mean that he stopped thinking or writing about theology. It also didn’t mean that he stopped showing leadership with regard to concerns about the Hervormde Kerk. It also didn’t mean the end to his own spiritual development. His Methodist moment Up to this point, Kuyper was still not completely confessionally orthodox. This is reflected in some strange events in 1875. Kuyper became entangled with the Methodists. Methodism was a religious movement originating in England with John Wesley. Most Methodists in history have been Arminians – which means that they deny the doctrines of grace found in the Canons of Dort. They also put a lot of emphasis on revival meetings and having spiritual experiences, especially a conversion experience. In April of 1875, Kuyper wrote an article in The Standard in which he was appreciative of some Methodist evangelists. Shortly afterwards, Kuyper went to England and attended a revival campaign. At one of these gatherings, he even administered the Lord’s Supper. When he came back, he continued to gush about the Methodists and appeared to be leaning in their direction. Then quite abruptly, there was nothing more from Kuyper on this. What happened? First, one of the Methodist evangelists (Robert Pearsall Smith) that Kuyper had been so appreciative of came under suspicion of sexual immorality. Second, and probably more importantly, Kuyper suffered a breakdown. He was overworked. He spent some months recovering in the south of France. It was there that God brought him on the last steps of his journey to confessionally Reformed orthodoxy. Having flirted with Arminianism, he finally fully embraced the doctrines of grace. Kuyper wrote: In the quiet solitude of suffering that I experienced in Nice, my soul was transplanted to the firmness of the firm and energetic religion of our fathers. My heart had indeed yearned for it before, but it was only in Nice that I took a resolute decision. He was about 38 years old. The Free University In the summer of 1877 he resigned his seat in Parliament and took on a new challenge: the development of Reformed higher education. At the end of 1878, Kuyper had mobilized enough people to form a society that would endeavor to set up a university. Finally, in 1880, the university opened. Abraham Kuyper was at the helm of the Free University of Amsterdam and he was also one of the theology professors. The Free University becomes important in church history because it offered an alternative to the liberal seminary training in the state universities. But at the same time, it was an independent institution (a Free University), not under the oversight of any church. The first point became a factor in the Doleantie. The second point became a factor in the discussions regarding unity between the Secession churches and the Doleantie churches. The Doleantie and sunset years In the 1880s, Kuyper also resumed his work as an office bearer in the Hervormde Kerk in Amsterdam. He became an elder again in 1882. He was enmeshed in the struggles of the Amsterdam church with the synodical hierarchy of the Hervormde Kerk. Kuyper showed leadership both inside the consistory room and outside. In 1886, when the Doleantie happened, he was part of the consistory that was suspended and then deposed by the bureaucracy because of their refusal to issue attestations to liberal members. He then led the deposed office bearers and concerned members to form what they called the Nederduitse Gereformeerde Kerken (“Low German Reformed Churches”). Together with the consistory, he organized an ecclesiastical congress of concerned members in early 1887 in Amsterdam. They decided to throw off the yoke of synodical hierarchy and form a new federation where the autonomy of the local church was honored and where confessional orthodoxy was taken seriously. There was another meeting in 1887 and there it was decided already to pursue unity with the Secession churches, the churches that had already left the liberal Hervormde Kerk back in 1834. That decision would lead up to the Union of 1892 and Abraham Kuyper would be extensively involved with those discussions as well. 1896 Kuyper portrait by Hendrik J. Haverman Through the 1880s and early 1890s, Kuyper continued to teach theology at the Free University. But in 1894, he was called back to state politics. He was elected again as a member of Parliament. He continued to serve in that capacity until 1901. That year he became the Prime Minister of the Netherlands. His time as PM was beleaguered by various controversies. He only served about four years. By this time, Kuyper was 68 and he “retired.” He took a year off and did some travelling. In his “retirement” years he again served as a member of Parliament on several occasions, and then his last political appointment came in 1913. He was elected to be a Dutch Senator. However, he was getting older and was starting to slow down. He reached the age of eighty-three and then God called him home. That was on November 8, 1920. Conclusion Figures like Abraham Kuyper simply do not exist anymore. You will look in vain for someone who effectively combines being a Reformed pastor, professor, politician, journalist and even prime minister. His accomplishments are all the more remarkable when we remember how muddled his theology was in his early life. God made use of such a mixed-up man to make such an enormous impact. Glory be to God! End notes Frank Vandenberg's Abraham Kuyper. See James D. Bratt's Abraham Kuyper: Modern Calvinist, Christian Democrat. The story was embellished later by Kuyper. There is some question about his public profession of faith. Praamsma (41) says that he did it right before being declared eligible for call. Bratt (23) says that it took place earlier, in 1857. Kuyper would later say, “At the beginning of my service as a minister, I was, sad to say, not acquainted with the way of truth, and I stood in opposition to the holy things of God.” Quoted in H. Bouma's Secession, Doleantie, and Union: 1834-1892 Apparently De Heraut became a weekly religious supplement to De Standaard. As quoted in Louis Praamsma's Let Christ Be King: Reflections on the Life and Times of Abraham Kuyper Dr. Bredenhof has also written a companion piece called "Kuyper's legacy: for better and for worse."...

Church history

On the shoulders of giants: how church history helps

Czeslaw Milosz, winner of the 1980 Nobel Prize for Literature, remarked in his acceptance speech in Stockholm that our age is characterized by a "refusal to remember." I think it is more than that. I believe it is an indifference rather than an outright refusal to remember the past. And because we don't know our past, we have become a rootless society. In his provocative book Amusing Ourselves to Death, Neil Postman argued that the television rendered the previous generation unfit to remember. Television's focus on the immediate deprived us of an historical experience. So many know so much about the happenings of the last 24 hours, but very little of bygone centuries or even the last 60 years. No wonder that youth show little affinity with the past. Today's generation lives even more in "a perpetual present," without depth, definition, or secure identity. Many think the study of history is a dull and irrelevant exercise. Gathered wisdom The lack of historical awareness has also affected the Church. Too many evangelical and Reformed Christians jump from the early church of the Apostles right to the present. They seem to forget that men and women lived the Christian life before them. But there is this great "cloud of witnesses," who have wrestled with doctrinal and moral issues that contemporary Christians can learn from. Because they are unaware of the profound doctrinal debates of the church fathers, of the Reformers, and even of the recent history of their own denominations and all the momentous implications, they deprive themselves of the gathered wisdom of the ages. For example, as a student of church history, I am deeply impressed by the outstanding theological works produced by the 17th century Puritan spiritual giants. They greatly surpass the generally weak and shallow theology and spirituality of the present. The creeds and confessions are also a vital link with the past. They show how throughout the centuries the Holy Spirit has been at work in forming, maintaining and renewing the Church. The Three Forms of Unity express the heart of the apostolic and also of the Reformed faith, the faith which has been accepted as true for generations. The confessions remind us of the communal nature of the Church. They also tell us that we are not the first generation that has read the Bible. The confessions show us a particular way of understanding Scripture which the Christian Church has recognized as responsible and trustworthy. A church which no longer pays attention to her creeds and confessions denies her heritage. Only when we remain in fellowship with the faithful who have gone before us are we able to travel into the future. We must know where we come from so that we may know where we are going. Dr. J. I. Packer rightly observed, "Knowing the family history is one way of avoiding past errors and preparing to face the future." Inspiration The study of church history is also important for the development of our spiritual life. Without a reflection on the past, Christians are prone to become spiritually anemic. The story of the Christian martyrs, who sacrificed their all for the cause of Christ, is inspirational. A moving testimony from the early church is the martyrdom of Polycarp (c. 70-155), faithful pastor and champion of apostolic tradition. After his capture by his persecutors, infuriated Jews and Gentiles gathered wood for the stake. Polycarp stood by it, asking not to be fastened to it, and prayed: O Lord, Almighty God, the Father of Thy beloved Son Jesus Christ, through whom we have received knowledge of Thee.. . I thank Thee that Thou hast thought me worthy, this day and this hour, to share the cup of Thy Christ among the number of Thy witnesses. And I think of the martyrdom in China of John and Betty Stam, missionaries with the China Inland Mission. Betty, a gifted poet, had been raised in China by Presbyterian parents, and felt God's call to return there. John, of Dutch immigrant ancestry from New Jersey, was also drawn to China where, as he said," a million a month pass into Christless graves." Their missionary work was short-lived. In 1934 they were captured by the communists and executed. Their martyrdom made a great impact and led many to volunteer for missions. The most publicized martyrdom in recent history is no doubt the January 1956 massacre of five young missionaries by the Auca Indians in Ecuador. The story of their lives has been well told by Elisabeth Elliot, the widow of one of the martyrs. But their deaths have not been in vain. There is now a church among the Auca Indians. The stories of the martyrs give a feeling of fellowship with those who have carried the torch before and an appreciation of the priceless heritage which is ours in Christ. Seeing further We can learn from the wisdom and the examples of godly men and women of the past. We can also learn from their mistakes and follies. Here is how John of Salisbury, a 12th-century British author, described the importance of studying history: We are like dwarfs sitting on the shoulders of giants. We see more things than them, and things that are farther away - not because we can see better than they, or because we are taller than they are, but because they raise us up, and add their stature to ours. A version of this article first appeared in the April 1999 issue of Reformed Perspective under the title "Inspired by Past." Many of Rev. Johan D. Tangelder's (1936-2009) articles can be found at his blog Reformed Reflections....