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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)....

Church history

Rome's Catacombs art was created to encourage fellow Christians

Imagine a vast, underground series of zigzagging passageways covering an area several miles in length, 590 acres in size. Ponder the amount of work that was required to dig down between 2 and 60 feet deep into volcanic tuff rock in order to create these passageways and the loculi (burial niches) that lined the sides of them. In an ancient time period when graveyards were not permitted within the city limits of Rome, the catacombs were created for the burial of Christians, Jews, and some pagan individuals. The catacombs are thought to have held between four and seven million graves. Between 40 and 60 multi-level burial chambers connected by numerous tunnels have been discovered just outside of Rome.  Narrow steps go down as many as four stories, leading to passages that are about 8 feet high and 3 or 4 feet. The burial niches were carved into the walls and are generally 16-24 inches high and 45-60 inches long. And it is here, in these catacombs, where we can find the earliest known examples of Christian artwork. During the second century, the traditions of the Romans and Etruscans favored cremation, but the Christians, believing in the bodily resurrection of the dead, thought that bodies of the deceased should be buried, as was the described manner within the Old and New Testaments of the Bible. Because of that, and because it was inexpensive, Christians dug these catacombs, generally beginning on the property of one of the Christians, digging downward and then branching out in many directions. Imagine starting such a project in your back yard! The Christians definitely expanded the number of catacombs, and were known to hold funeral services in small chapel-like rooms, similar to how people hold graveside services today. WHAT WAS THE EARLIEST CHRISTIAN ARTWORK LIKE? We can learn a lot about the people who expressed their faith artistically in the catacombs. It is especially uplifting to note the particular themes and symbols that were chosen, as well as noticing those that were not. This fresco painting of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego in the fiery furnace (Daniel 3) is found in the Priscilla catacombs in Rome and is dated to around the third and century. It is also interesting to consider that whereas some religions, such as the pagan worship in Egypt, provided artwork within their burial places for the use of the deceased along the way to the afterlife, Christians provided artwork for the encouragement of the living who would visit the catacombs. Christians’ souls were already in Heaven, but the bodies awaited the great resurrection at the day of judgment. The types of artwork found in the catacombs include fresco paintings (paintings done on wet plaster), Greek and Latin inscriptions, carved stone burial boxes (sarcophagi), and statues. Some of the artwork is simple and amateurish, but in other cases it’s clear Christians hired professional artists to decorate the graves of their loved ones with the purpose of advancing the message of Christ. The people who could afford it placed the body of a loved one in a stone sarcophagus that was most often decorated, but those who were poor simply bound the body up in linen. It was then placed in the loculi– the burial niche – and the niche was sealed with a slab that bore the name, age and date of the person’s death. Catacombs historians state that there are three themes that are seen throughout the catacombs' artwork: resurrection, salvation, and baptism, which Andrew Shubin in Early Christian Imagery in the Catacombs of Priscilla refers to as the "three core tenets of Christianity." Another catacomb art historian, Gregory S. Athnos, states that: Every story in catacomb art is a tale of deliverance, a tale of the powerlessness of death and the certainty of the resurrection. God delivers us from the consequences of death situations and gives us life instead. In our view of the history of Christian art it appears the crucifixion of Jesus holds the highest place." A French Catholic cultural historian, Frederic Ozanam, sums up the topics depicted in this early Christian artwork thus: In these figures of Noah in the Ark, Moses striking the rock, Job on the dunghill, the Miracle of Cana, the feeding of the five thousand, Lazarus leaving the tomb, and most prominent – Daniel in the lions' den, Jonah cast out by the whale, the three Children in the furnace. All these are types of martyrdom – martyrdom by beasts, water, and fire, but all symbolical of triumphant martyrdom such as is necessary to depict in order to maintain courage and console grief. And, amazingly he points out the following: We see no trace of contemporary persecutions, no representation of the butchery of the Christians, nothing bloodthirsty, nothing which could rouse hatred or vengeance, nothing but pictures of pardon, hope, and love. A fish carving from the Domitilla Catacombs in Rome, dated to around second or third century AD. The letters below spell fish in Greek (ichthys) and can also be used to form an acronym of the phrase “Jesus Christ, Son of God, Savior.” In this regard, Athnos points out that he saw "no crosses in the catacombs – no symbols of death. Rather, he saw symbols of the Resurrection such as the Phoenix, a bird which came back to life, and the fish, which speaks of God’s provision and sustenance, as well as a reference to Jesus’ calling his disciples to follow Him and become fishers of men. Other researchers describe pictures of a dove, representing the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost to dwell within Christians and bring them guidance, wisdom, peace, comfort, and joy. Another frequent symbol was the anchor, representing hope in Jesus as expressed in Hebrews 6:19, “We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure.” Although Athnos saw no crosses, other researchers point out that when the anchor is turned upside down, the Greek letter TAU was formed and the T represented the shape of the cross, promising salvation through Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection. Last of all, the symbol of a peacock was adopted for use by early Christians. It had long been a symbol of eternal life for other cultures, who feared death and their unknown future; Christians improved on it, believing that the victory of Christ’s resurrection canceled the obscurity of death. One subject that was frequently repeated in statuary was that of the Good Shepherd. The Old Testament book of Psalms, Chapter 23, begins with, “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not be in want.” The Psalmist describes how this good shepherd watches over his sheep by taking them to green pastures with quiet, not frightening, streams of water, and providing comfort for them in every dangerous situation. “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.” Jesus announced Himself in John 10:11-18 as the Good Shepherd who would lay down His life for His sheep; this reference would have brought Psalm 23 to His disciples’ minds. It brought great comfort to the souls of early Christians to believe in Christ as their good shepherd. There were also pictures found of the Virgin Mary, of a person praying in Orant style (arms uplifted), and of the disciples and other early saints and martyrs of the Christian faith. These, too, served to encourage the living by referencing the power and love of God and the witness of other believers. There are also depictions of Jesus performing His many miracles, but these aren’t the earliest pictures, as the first Christian arts were seemingly more reluctant to depict Him than later ones. DID CHRISTIANS HIDE IN THE CATACOMBS? A catacomb fresco painting of Samson with the jawbone of a donkey (Judges 15). Photo credit: Isogood_patrick / Shutterstock.com Many of us have heard references to the Roman persecution of Christians which took place during the first three centuries after Christ. Ministers have often called on us to imagine the difficulties which led many Christians to hide from the Romans down inside of the catacombs. However, some modern historians dispute whether the catacombs were used as a hiding place, and one source even questioned whether there really was a great persecution! These writers call the ideas tradition, myth or a romanticizing of what actually occurred. Note the following arguments and responses: OBJECTION: There is no visible evidence that suggests that Christians hid there from the Romans. RESPONSE: People who were generally very poor, on the run, and hiding for their lives would be careful not to leave any trace of their whereabouts. OBJECTION: The stench from the rotting bodies would have made it a difficult place to exist and it would have been an unpleasant place to live. RESPONSE: Each grave was sealed with stone, and it was cold down there, so it was unlikely that there would be a stench; besides, people who are running for their lives might not be so concerned about the comforts of life. There is at least one known location in the catacombs that still shows blood, where a Christian was killed, proving that there was at least one person who hid there. OBJECTION: The catacombs were a public place well-known to the Romans, so they would not have provided a good hiding place. RESPONSE: Since the passageways are very long, irregular, and complicated, it would be difficult to find people there even if the soldiers knew they were in there somewhere. OBJECTION: Christians were willing to die as martyrs for their Lord Jesus Christ, so why would they want to hide? RESPONSE: While Christians were (and should still be) willing to die for Christ, that doesn’t mean we seek death! The Apostle Paul sneaked out of the city of Damascus to avoid being killed by an angry group of Jewish leaders (Acts chapter 9) and like him, if Christians can avoid death while staying true to Christ, then we should. Also consider, since the artwork was intended to encourage people who were living in dangerous circumstances, those who painted and sculpted it did expect that it would be viewed by others; this lends credence to the idea that some Christians would be coming there sometime. CONCLUSION The catacombs outside of Rome served as an extensive underground burial location around the second century. The Christians who dug some of them held funeral services within the small chapels there, and some hid there to avoid persecution. They expressed their faith in salvation through Jesus Christ by painting or sculpting symbols of Christianity and references to carefully chosen Biblical accounts that would particularly instill courage, faith, hope, and trust within those who viewed them. Hebrews 12 sums up the encouragement that the early Christians passed on to others through their artwork in the catacombs: Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.  Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart. BIBLIOGRAPHY All online resources were last accessed on April 15, 2015. Gregory S. Athnos’ The Art of the Roman Catacombs: Themes of Deliverance in the Age of Persecution (Outskirts Press, 2011) Middletown Bible Church’s “The Catacombs and the Cloisters.” Jay King’s “Throwing Christians to the Lions: Fact and Legend.” Suny Oneonta School of Art & Humanities “Early Christian Art.” J. Maresca’s The Catacombs of Rome(Documentary, 42 minutes, 2002). Frederic Ozanam’s “The Christian Art of the Catacombs” as published in the Fall 1993 issue of The Dawson Newsletter. Christine Quigley’s Skulls and Skeletons: Human Bone Collections and Accumulations (McFarland and Company, Inc., 2001). Rick Steves' Rick Steves Europe “Rome, Italy: Catacombs and Appian Way.” Andrew Shubin’s “Early Christian Imagery in the Catacombs of Priscilla." This article first appeared in the January 2016 issue under the title "Artwork in Rome’s Catacombs: Early Christian art was created to encourage fellow Christians." ...

Church history

Macarius: great works vs. grace

“For by grace you have been saved through faith; and this is not your own doing, it is the gift of God - not because of works, lest any man should boast.  For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” – Eph. 2:8-10 **** When he was born on January 2 in the year 300 A.D. in Alexandria, Egypt, his parents must have been filled with great thankfulness and hope, for they named their little baby boy Macarius.  Macarius means “supremely blessed.” Perhaps they'd had other children die, or perhaps they had prayed for a child for a long time and were not sure that they would ever have one.  Whatever the case, the bundle of blessing grew up and became a man, and that man took on the job of merchant. There are times in the lives of believers when they consider how much they have done, how much they ought to have done and what they have not done.  There is no doubt that these moments of reflection can lead to fruitfulness, to a further developing of the fruits they are admonished to have. After all, Peter encourages readers in his second epistle (1:5-7): "...make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love." Across New Testament pages Peter shakes hands with Paul, who tells believers in Phil. 2:12 to work out their salvation with fear and trembling. Retreating from the world Macarius married, but his wife died shortly afterward.  Impressed by the spectre of death which he had encountered firsthand, a spectre which was neither a respecter of youth nor of financial status, the merchant was led to forsake the world. What did this mean for Macarius? It meant that he gave away all his material goods and moved to a solitary place where no one else lived. This place was the Thebais in Upper Egypt, a desert, a lonely area which had become a retreat for a number of Christian hermits. Macarius was convinced that this action would prepare him for eternity, that this would enable him to devote himself to thinking heavenly thoughts, that here he would be able to concentrate on pure matters. Perhaps, however, the Thebais was not as stimulating in holiness as he speculated, for later in life he moved on to different deserts in Lybia.  Hermits lived here as well, but these men were not within eyesight of one another. Macarius became an austere man. There was a drive in him to strive for what he perceived to be perfection of character.  It is not recorded whether he diligently studied the Word of God, or whether, as Peter puts it in the second part of his epistle, he experienced the grace and peace afforded those who have the knowledge of God and of Jesus Christ our Lord.  Resisting the “temptation” to serve During the course of his stay in one of the deserts, Macarius, at one point of his life, was overcome by a virtuous desire to travel to Rome to spend time serving and aiding those who were ill in that city.  It was a noble aspiration.  We are told in the Bible to serve others.  Indeed, Jesus commands His followers:  "Love one another even as I have loved you." (John 13:34)  And did He not help the ill and the maimed? And did He not die for us? Because Macarius often deprived himself of God-given sustenance, he was prone to strange hallucinations which he supposed were godly visions.  Persuaded through some of these that to help others would make him proud and give him too much esteem in the world's eyes, he did not leave the desert for Rome. Instead he threw himself down on the ground and cried out to the imagined “temptation,” "Drag me hence, if you can, by force, for I will not stir from here."  He lay on the ground all night. However in the morning, upon rising, he found that his desire was still for service in Rome.  Not wishing to give in, he filled two baskets with earth, lay them on his shoulders and plodded into the surrounding wilderness.  Meeting someone he knew, he was questioned as to what he was doing with those baskets on his shoulders.  He made no reply other than: "I am tormenting my tormentors."  Returning to his lodging in the evening, he was glad to be free of the “temptation” to serve. It seems Macarius spent no time contemplating Jesus' temptations in the desert – temptations which were overcome. It seems Macarius did not ponder the fulfillment of the law performed by the Lord during His life, death, resurrection and ascension. And it seems that Macarius did not think of the fact that the Holy Spirit had been sent to enable and equip believers to serve in thankfulness. The definition of an anchorite such as Macarius, as given by Abbot Rance de la Trappe, (1626-1700 and founder of the Trappist monks), reads: “..a soul which relishes God in solitude, and thinks no more of anything but heaven, and forgets the earth, which has nothing in it that can now please. It burns with the fire of divine love, and sighs only after God, regarding death as its greatest advantage; nevertheless it will find itself much mistaken if it imagines it shall go to God by straight paths.... in which it will have no difficulties at all...” Sadly, such a definition describes the error of those who think they might climb into eternity using their own boots, their own merits, pushing open heaven's door by their own victories. A contrast Also a January baby, my father, Louis Praamsma, was born on January 1, 1920 – one hundred and nine years ago. He was no anchorite, however, for he loved to mingle with people all of the 74 years of the life on earth which God gave him.  He studied the Word of God diligently, was humble and acknowledged his sin, preaching forgiveness of sins through Jesus Christ in season and out of season, always seeking people out and giving them the reason for the hope which was in him. This is how pastors (and all believers) should be – compassionate, seeking sheep, in but not of the world, eager to listen and never too preoccupied with self.  Louis Praamsma did not walk into heaven on his own merits; neither did he open heaven's doors with his own hands when he died in 1984.  No, salvation had been accomplished for him by his Savior, Jesus Christ.  Hence his earthly life was full of thankful service. Perhaps my Dad has met Macarius in heaven, if that anchorite perceived at the end of his life that all his works had been but as filthy rags. May it be that 2019 is a year of thankfulness – one filled with love, joy, peace, patience, goodness, kindness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control – because against such there is no law.  And may our thankful lives radiate outwards towards loving one another even as Christ loves us....

Adult biographies, Adult non-fiction

Shocked by Augustine's Confessions

There are many classics I mean to read in my life, but I just haven’t yet. Fortunately this summer, while laid up with an injury, I found myself facing Augustine’s Confessions without an excuse. So I dove into it. And I was quite shocked – not by any of his confessions, but how readable it is. You always imagine classics to be quite unreadable, which doesn’t really make any sense, because how could anything become a classic unless people read it? But whatever the case, this classic is engaging. FREE TO QUESTION The best thing about the first few chapters is all of Augustine’s questions. Instead of doing what most books do, which is pose a question (such as ‘Why does a good God allow evil?’) and then immediately answer it, Augustine just begins with posing questions. Many chapters start with a block of questions directed towards God, and Augustine doesn’t even pretend he has answers to most of them. If he has part of an answer, or a thought about the answer, he’ll say it, but it’s not from a position of authority. His bits of answers are not presented as definitive. He just lets his mind go wild with wonder over God. I’d give a few examples, but to baldly state the questions in my own words destroys his beautiful wording of them. I’ll just say one or two – for example, haven’t you ever wondered whether you have to know God first before you cry out to him, or if you can cry out to him in order to know him? And haven’t you ever wondered how a God who’s outside time, and created time, experiences time? AN ATTRACTIVE HUMILITY The unexpected thing about this is Augustine is such a revered figure in the church. He’s more or less the ancestor of many of the churches that exist. So much of Christian theology has roots that go back to his writings. So I expected him to present himself as an expert. It was refreshing because I haven’t read a book that admitted it didn’t have the answers for a long time. Most often people write books because they do think they have the answers. Or they write because they think people need the answers, so they cobble together some kind of explanation. They know their book won’t attract our precious divided attention if they don’t make bold claims. But Augustine shocked me because he’s not presenting himself as the pattern the Church after him should follow…even though the Church does. (At least, he doesn’t present that way in the first part of Confessions.) If anyone has a right to make bold claims, it would be Augustine, of all writers. Some translations of Augustine’s "Confessions" can be easily found online and downloaded for free. But the free versions often have older language, with "Thees" and "Thous." A more current, very readable (but not free) version is Benigus O’Rourke’s translation pictured here. – JD This is not to say Augustine is completely uninterested in answers. No, in fact much of his search for God is driven by his dissatisfaction with the answers given by his pagan worldview. And finding a few answers was central in his conversion – he explores answers more and more the further you delve into his book. However, the questions never stop. In the end, he is willing to have faith without answering every question that could be asked about God. QUESTIONS ASKED IN FAITH The second really cool thing about Confessions is that, unlike if I was the one asking the questions, Augustine is able to ask them without a trace of cynicism. He doesn’t resent God for not providing answers to all of them. Somehow Augustine is able to put down all his wonderment with the deepest humility, and in a fever of steadfast love. He’s asking because he loves God. He wonders because a person is obviously interested in the ones they love. I can only hope I present a similar attitude one day. If someone had wanted me to read Confessions before now, they should not have described it as Augustine’s autobiography, or however else people describe the book. They should have said, “Here’s a guy who lived a couple thousand years ago, who has a mind that works just like yours.” It’s crazy to reach across the centuries and find a thought pattern that feels familiar. And as for the unanswered questions? This is what Augustine says about them: “Let ask what it means, and be glad to ask: but they may content themselves with the question alone. For it is better for them to find you, God, and leave the question unanswered than to find the answer without finding you.”...

Family, Movie Reviews

Storm and Luther's forbidden letter

Family / Drama 105 minutes / 2017 RATING: 7/10 Storm Voeten is the 12-year-old son of a printer, living in 1500s Antwerp. Martin Luther has written his 95 Theses and his ideas are a source of debate and division across Europe. That's also true in the Voeten household, where Storm's mother, a staunch Catholic, doesn't even want to hear Luther's name. But his father is interested in learning more...and he's even willing to print Luther's ideas. The opening scene has Luther making his brief appearance in the film. He's writing a letter, even as a squadron of soldiers is heading his way. The letter is entrusted to the care of an assistant to quickly and secretly take to Antwerp. Though the events in this film are more of the "inspired by" variety, rather than purporting to be historically accurate, there is some real history here. Luther did send a letter to Antwerp. In the film the letter is a rallying cry against the Catholic Church, and a call to rely on Jesus alone. In real life, while we don't have the letter itself, other accounts make it sound as if it had an additional target, the Anabaptists. But that doesn't come up in the film. When Luther's assistant arrives in Antwerp he seeks out Storm's father. Voeten Sr. accepts the printing job, even though the town's Inquisitor has already arrested another printer for producing forbidden Protestant materials. And that's when the film turns into a chase movie. The authorities catch Storm's father in the act of printing and arrest him, but not before Storm runs off with the letter's printing plate. He gets chased through the alleys and only escapes when 12-year-old street orphan Maria, and her handy sling, intervene. Now it's up to Storm to figure out how to get the letter printed, and how to save his dad. CAUTIONS There are no language concerns, and any "sexual content" is limited to one short kiss between the two 12-year-olds at the film's end. But there is a fair amount of violence. All of it is muted and some of it takes place off screen. But here's a partial list: A printer's burned hand is shown briefly (one second). The printer is tortured by the Inquisitor – via some form of water boarding – and while we don't see it happen, we do briefly hear the man pleading. A couple of soldiers get hit in the head by rocks hurled by Maria and her sling. Maria hits a soldier in the head with a pole. Storm hits a soldier in the head with a pole. One man is murdered by the Inquisitor, but off-screen, and before Storm arrives. We do see the body with just a little blood for a second or two. In addition, there is quite a lot of tension. Some of it involves chases, and some of it involves not knowing what will happen next – when Storm's father is set to be burned at the stake, the young audience doesn't know whether he'll be saved, and that makes this quite scary. For those reasons I'd say the target audience for this is probably 12 and up. One theological concern: Maria thinks that the Virgin Mary helps her. Storm tells her Luther's thoughts on idols, and that Mary is just an ordinary woman, but the issue is left unsettled. By film's end, Maria hasn't clearly changed her mind.  So that might be a good topic to discuss with younger viewers CONCLUSION The big caution with this film concerns the tension. This is more a "chase film" than a theological exploration of Luther's views, but that might just make it perfect for the younger audience it's aimed at. While the plot is a bit simple for mom and dad, the authentic 1500s setting will keep their attention. This is good, clean, even educational, fun. The film was carefully shot so that it could be dubbed into a number of different languages. If you pay attention you'll notice that the principal characters often speak with their mouths obscured in some way. Sometimes we see their mouth when they start speaking but, as they continue, the camera cuts away. That's because this was shot in Dutch, and this clever camera work means the dubbing is hardly noticeable in the English version. An English trailer doesn't seem available, but the Dutch version still gives a good idea of the look and feel of the film. While the English trailer is hard to find, it's easy enough to find online stores that sell or rent the English film. A version of this review first appeared on ReelConservative.com. https://youtu.be/BcbR4at2p_U...

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....

History

Ulrich Zwingli: Reformer in the shadows?

In 1983 churches all over the world commemorated the 500th anniversary of the birth of Martin Luther. Ulrich Zwingli should have gotten the same sort of celebration a year later, when his own 500th birthday came and went on January 1, 1484. But Zwingli (1484-1531) has had to stand somewhat "in the shadows" of such giants as Luther and Calvin. But Zwingli's person, work, and life merit some more attention than he has received through the years. The call to "remember your leaders" (Hebrews 13:7) extends also to this man and the work he was enabled to do by the Lord. Early life Ulrich Zwingli was born into a relatively prosperous family living in the mountainous region of Wildhaus, Switzerland, as one of many children. Already at a very young age he left home, first to learn from an uncle, Bartholomew Zwingli, who was priest in the town of Wiesen. When he was ten years old, Zwingli proceeded to the grammar schools in Basel and Bern. Fearing that, because of his beautiful singing voice, Zwingli would be inducted into monastery life, his parents sent him on to Vienna, where he studied (natural) science and literature. Here in Vienna, Zwingli was drenched in the humanistic philosophy of his time. In 1506 Zwingli returned to Basel where he was promoted to magister artium (Master of Arts). After a brief training in (mostly scholastic) theology, Zwingli was ordained as priest in the village of Glarus. At this time Zwingli is a typical priest: well educated but humanistically oriented in his thinking. Taking a pacifistic turn Zwingli's period of service in Glarus is significant in many ways. It is here that he begins to study both Christian and secular classics, and becomes attracted to the works of Erasmus, the Dutch humanist. Here, also, Zwingli displays some of the patriotism for which he will become legendary. Although he twice accompanies Swiss infantry in battle for the Pope against the French, Zwingli begins to discourage young Swiss men from becoming mercenaries in foreign service. He expresses these sentiments strongly in an Aesop-like morality tale, The Fable of the Ox. Having experienced the ugly, mass slaughter of the battlefield, Zwingli turned to a more pacifistic philosophy. In 1516, Zwingli left Glarus and took up ministry in Einsiedeln. Here Zwingli further refined his emerging pacifistic views. During this time he considered all service in foreign armies a curse, although he maintained that it is one's patriotic duty to defend one's homeland. While in Einsiedeln, Zwingli met Erasmus and discovered Erasmus' edition of the Greek New Testament. As he proceeded to study this edition, Zwingli began to distance himself more and more from Erasmus' humanistic views and from the prevailing allegorical interpretation of Scripture. He began to study the Word of God in its own light and began to understand that Scripture require a literal interpretation. He realized that the scholastic and philosophical approach to the Bible and theology must be rejected. It is during this same time that Zwingli made a serious study of the works of Augustine and came to condemn the worship of relics and the adoration of saints. This growing resistance gradually deepened into a carefully-worded warning against the worship of Mary, and into a ridiculing of the indulgences. Ministry in Zurich In 1519 Zwingli was installed in Zurich, and it is in this city that he clearly made himself known as a prophetic reformer of great influence. It became evident that Zwingli wanted to let the Scriptures speak for themselves, and that he understood traditions and precepts of men that are made binding for the church are to be rejected. The sola Scriptura of the Reformation began to take powerful form in his ministry! Zwingli supported those who rejected the Romanist laws of fasting. He spoke out against celibacy and himself married a widow of class, Anna Reinhart, a marriage which became officially known two years later, in 1524. That same year Zwingli broke with the Church of Rome by declaring that he can no longer accept the Pope as the "head of the church," instead accusing the Pope of abusing worldly power. Christ is declared as the only Head of the church and His Word as its only guide. Spurred on by Zwingli's preaching, the city council of Zurich refused to give in to the objections of the Bishop of Constanz, but it did agree to conduct a public disputation. The first of these disputations — not unknown in the days of the Reformation — took place in January 1523 between Zwingli and the influential Romanist prelate, Johann Faber. The result was a smashing victory for the Reformation, for at its conclusion the city council of Zurich decrees that from then on nothing may be preached which is not in full accord with the gospel. Growing divisions Many Swiss cities, such as Basel and Bern, took the side of the Reformation in Zurich and, in 1528, formed a Christian federation. However, the Roman Catholic cantons were also organized against the influence of Zwingli and Zurich. This situation ultimately led to battle and bloodshed. On October 11, 1531, in a battle near Kappel, Zwingli was killed along with 400 other citizens of Zurich. After having declared him to be a heretic, a hastily formed court lets his body be quartered and burned. Zwingli paid the price in blood; at age 47, his earthly course suddenly came to an end. While the rift between the Romanist and Reformed factions in Switzerland was inevitable, there also emerged other, perhaps not so expected, divisions. In the years before Zwingli's death, there were radicals in Zurich who felt that Zwingli was not going far enough in his reforms. These radicals, such as Konrad Grebel and Felix Mantz, began to reject all civil authority. The Anabaptist movement was born and it causes so much dissension and confusion that the city council of Zurich arrested its leaders. One of these, Felix Mantz, is executed by drowning in 1527, and the Anabaptist movement then also had a martyr. All this was a source of great sorrow for Zwingli; many of the Anabaptist leaders were former associates and close friends. Of greater significance, perhaps, was the growing division between Zwingli and Luther. In 1529, in a meeting in Marburg, Luther and Zwingli discussed at length the matter of the Lord's Supper but could not come to agreement. Luther's theory of consubstantiation is too far from Zwingli's symbolic interpretation. Although both agree that Christ is present in bread and wine, they cannot agree as to the manner. Luther and Zwingli depart bitterly from each other and become estranged. This controversy, of course, greatly damaged the cause of the Reformation. Since it furthered Zwingli's isolation, it also contributed to his death. Conclusion It is not easy to estimate the significance of the work of a person such as Zwingli. Because of his own development and changing insights, Zwingli's significance cannot be caught in an easy formula. In liberal circles, Zwingli is hailed as the reformer who was a true humanist, a worthy forerunner of contemporary radical and political theologians. His humanistic background and patriotic zeal, perhaps, cause him to recede somewhat to the background in Reformed appreciation. We generally turn to Calvin for advice. Yet it cannot be denied that Zwingli's basic convictions and personal endeavors are true to the spirit of the Great Reformation. Zwingli wanted nothing else than to live by the Scriptures alone and to let the Scriptures explain themselves under the illumination of the Holy Spirit and not under the tradition of the church. For Zwingli it was without doubt that it is not the church with its sacramental administration that governs the flow of grace, but that men are reconciled to God only by the death of His Son. He clearly rejected the "cursed idolatry" of the mass and its excesses in the worship of saints and relics, proclaiming that our salvation lies only in the sacrifice of Christ, once offered on the cross. Zwingli did not tire in defending the just cause of the Reformation over against the Anabaptists, remaining firm with respect to the Scriptural doctrine of infant baptism. Although in many ways a disciple of Erasmus, he refuted the teaching of the master that the will of man is free. Man cannot save himself, Zwingli emphasized time and again, but must have true knowledge of God and sin, knowledge learned only from the Word of God. Man has no saving knowledge in himself! It is clear, then, that in these key issues there is a direct line from Ulrich Zwingli to John Calvin. In the turbulent era of the Reformation, Zwingli maintained the Scriptures over against the prevailing humanism and emerging radicalism of his time. In this respect he is still an example for the church, some five hundred years later. It would be good if in this commemorative year his works were rediscovered and studied anew. Since we are faced in our time with similar extremes, humanism and radicalism, we can learn from Zwingli's struggle. Zwingli definitely does not belong in the shadows between Luther and Calvin. Rev. Clarence Stam (1948-2016) was the editor of Reformed Perspective for eight years, from 1985-1993, and was a contributor for many more. This is an edited version of an article that first appeared in the June, 1984 edition....

Church history

Marcion: a heretic we need to know

When one asks the most influential thinkers in the modern evangelical church are, one might find names such as Jim Packer, John Stott, and Don Carson. I would like to suggest, however, that there is one whose influence is perhaps much greater than we are aware of, yet whose thinking all but pervades the modern evangelical church: Marcion. He's the man who gets my vote for most profound influence on evangelicalism, from canon to theology to worship practices. You never see his books on the shelves in your high street Christian bookshop; you never see him advertised as preaching in your local church; but, rest assured, his spirit stalks those bookshops and pulpits. He's the man who gets my vote for most profound influence on evangelicalism, from canon to theology to worship practices. You never see his books on the shelves in your high street Christian bookshop; you never see him advertised as preaching in your local church; but, rest assured, his spirit stalks those bookshops and pulpits. Nothing new under the sun Marcion is – or, rather, was – a somewhat shadowy figure, with most of what we know about him coming from the hostile pen of Tertullian. Apparently, he was a native of Pontus (in modern times, the area by the Black Sea), who flourished in the middle of the second century, dying circa 160. His major distinctive was his insistence on the Christian gospel as exclusively one of love to the extent that he came to a complete rejection of the Old Testament and only a qualified acceptance of those parts of the New Testament which he considered to be consistent with his central thesis (i.e. ten letters of Paul and a recension of the Gospel of Luke). So how does Marcion influence modern evangelicalism? Well, I think evangelicalism has become practically Marcionite at a number of levels. 1. Out with wrath First, the emphasis upon God's love to the utter exclusion of everything else has become something of a commonplace. We see this in the collapse of the notion of penal substitution as an evangelical doctrine. Now, maybe I'm missing something, but of all the things taught in the Bible, the terrifying wrath of God would seem to be among the most self-evident of all. Thus, when I hear statements from evangelical theologians such as “God's wrath is always restorative,” my mind goes straight to countless OT passages, the Bible's teaching about Satan, and NT characters such as Ananias and Sapphira. There was not much restoration for any of these folk – or are being swallowed alive by the earth, consumed by holy fire and being struck dead for cheating the church actually therapeutic techniques intended to restore the individuals concerned? And when leading evangelicals tell me that penal substitution is tantamount to cosmic child abuse (don't laugh - this is seriously argued by some leading evangelical theologians), I'm left wondering whether I should sit down and explain the doctrine to them, or whether I should merely tell them to go away and grow up. Do they really expect the church to take such claims as serious theological reflection?  2. Out with the Old Then, there is the constant tendency to neglect the Old Testament, in particular in our theological reflections, and our devotional lives also need to take full account of the Old Testament. We need to read the Bible as a whole, to understand each passage, each verse, within the theological and narrative structure of the canon as a whole. As evangelicals we can often err by focusing purely on the straight doctrinal teaching of the letters in the NT and the great passages in John's Gospel. An NT scholar and friend once said to me that he thought the average evangelical's life would be pretty much unaffected if the whole Bible, except for the Gospel of John and the Letter to the Romans, simply disappeared. Hyperbole maybe, but probably not by much. We need a solid biblical theology – not one which downgrades everything to the level of economy at the expense of ontology but one which takes full account of the central narrative of the Bible and seeks to do justice even to those bits of the Bible we don't like.  3. Out with God's songs Then, in our church practice, we need to take the Old Testament more seriously. It astounds me, given the overwhelming use of psalms as central to gathered worship in the first four centuries, the absolute importance given to psalmody for the first two centuries of the post-Reformation Reformed churches, and the fact that the Book of Psalms is the only hymn book which can claim to be universal in its acceptance by the whole of Christendom and utterly inspired in all of its statements – it astounds me, I say, that so few psalms are sung in our worship services today. Moreover, often nothing seems to earn the scorn and derision of others more than the suggestion that more psalms should be sung in worship. Indeed, the last few years have seen a number of writers strike out against exclusive psalmody. Given that life is too short to engage in pointless polemics, I am left wondering which parallel universe these guys come from, where the most pressing and dangerous worship issue is clearly that people sing too much of the Bible in their services. How terrifying a prospect that would be. Imagine: people actually singing songs that express the full range of human emotion in their worship using words of which God has explicitly said, “These are mine.” Back here on Planet Earth, however, there is generally precious little chance of overloading on sound theology in song in most evangelical churches as the Marcion invasion is pretty much total and unopposed in the sphere of worship. Yet I for one prefer Athanasius to Marcion and, in his letter to Marcellinus, he gives one of the most beautiful and moving arguments for psalms in worship ever penned. It is a pity more have not taken his words to heart Making God unknowable So what will be the long-term consequences of this Marcionite approach to the Bible? Ultimately, I think it will push “the God who is there” back into the realm of the unknowable and make our god a mere projection of our own psychology, and make our worship simply into group therapy sessions where we all come together to pretend we are feeling great. God is the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob – take that identity away and what do we have left? As the OT is the context for the NT, so the neglect of OT leaves the NT as more or less meaningless. As our reading, our sermons, and our times of corporate worship neglect and, sometimes, simply ignore the OT, we can expect a general impoverishment of church life and, finally, a total collapse of evangelical Christendom. Indeed, there are mornings when I wake up and think it's already all over, and that the church in the West survives more by sheer force of personality, by hype and by marketing ploys rather than by any higher power. We need to grasp once again who God is in his fullness; we need to grasp who we are in relation to him; and we need teaching and worship which gives full-orbed expression to these things – and this will only come when we in the West grow up, ditch the designer gods we build from our pick-n-mix Bible where consumer, not Creator, is king, and give the whole Bible its proper place in our lives, thinking and worship. Think truncated thoughts about God and you'll get a truncated God; read an expurgated Bible and you get an expurgated theology; sing mindless, superficial rubbish instead of deep, truly emotional praise and you will eventually become what you sing. Dr. Carl Trueman is Professor of Church History at Westminster Theological Seminary and blogs at FirstThings.com. This article first appeared in Themelios Vol. 28 No. 1 under the title “The Marcions have landed. A warning for evangelical” and is reprinted here with the author’s permission.  ...

News

Did the Church fathers take Genesis literally?

In this 49-minute lecture, Dr. Todd Wood answers the objection that "scientific creationism" is only a recent phenomenon. As he shows by going to the works of the Church fathers, they thought the opening chapters of the Bible communicated real history, not metaphor. This lecture is one of 60 that made up the "Is Genesis History?" Conference earlier this year, and all 60 can be had for $10 here: https://www.isgenesishistory.com/conference/...

Adult non-fiction, Church history

What God has done in Korea

The Korean Pentecost  tells the remarkable story of Christianity in 20th century Korea ***** Christianity is originally an Asian religion. It can seem strange to think of Christianity that way now because currently, Christianity has less presence in Asia than perhaps any other continent. That’s largely because Islam violently expunged most Christians from Asia hundreds of years ago. However, in one part of Asia, Christianity has been growing since the beginning of the twentieth century. South Korea probably has the strongest presence of Protestant Christianity of any Asian country. Yet life for Christians in Korea has not always been easy as is clear from its numerous martyrs during the twentieth century. Their sure confidence in God, even in the face of death, is an example to us. 1832 – Protestantism arrives in Korea While there may have been a Roman Catholic presence in Korea from as early as the 1500s, it wasn’t until 1832 that the first Protestant missionary, a German, came to visit Korea. However, he was in the country only briefly. It wasn’t for thirty-three years before another Protestant missionary arrived. In 1865, Rev. Robert Thomas, a Welshman, boarded an American ship, The General Sherman, to take gospel tracts and Bibles from China to Korea. However, many Koreans were suspicious and fearful of the intentions of those on that ship, and therefore set it on fire. As crewmembers swam ashore, the Koreans killed them. Rev. Thomas made it to shore with some of his Christian literature, but he was killed as well. Years later, in 1893, American missionaries of the Methodist and Presbyterian churches established permanent residences in Pyongyang, Korea. The following year, as a result of the First Sino-Japanese War (1894-1895, in which China and Japan fought over the Korean Peninsula) Christians in that city fled into the countryside. They shared the gospel with others, and by the war’s end, many Koreans had become Christians. As missionary William Blair put it, “God’s Spirit had been using those days of war and peril to make men welcome the message of his love and the comfort of the gospel.” 1901 – William Blair arrives The missionaries visited each new group of Christians. However, there were too few missionaries to keep up with all the work because of the large number of new converts. Additional help was requested from America. William Blair was a young missionary who responded to this call and went to Korea. He arrived in 1901 under the auspices of the Board of Foreign Missions of the Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A. Blair later put pen to paper to record his experiences in Korea, and is one of the two authors of the recently republished The Korean Pentecost and the Sufferings Which Followed. His first-hand account of what God did in those early years make up the first part of the book. (The second half, by his son-in-law Bruce Hunt, covers the period of Japanese persecution and then the post-World War II Communist persecution of the Christians in North Korea.) Upon his arrival, Blair’s first task was to learn the Korean language. Then he began his missionary work in earnest. Interestingly, he found that the fact that Jesus was not an American made Christianity more appealing to Koreans. In his words, “It makes a world of difference to an Oriental to know that Jesus was born in Asia.” Blair and the other Presbyterian missionaries carried on their regular tasks of evangelism, Bible study, catechizing, baptizing, etc. year after year. The success of their efforts led them to set up an autonomous Korean Presbyterian Church in 1907. However, Korea was under Japanese occupation, and a strong anti-Japanese and anti-foreigner nationalism was taking hold in Korea. Even Korean Christians were caught up in this nationalism. Some of the anti-foreigner sentiment was directed towards the American missionaries by Korean Christians. 1907 - The Korean Revival It was during this time of crisis that a large, days-long Bible study class for men was held in a Presbyterian church in Pyongyang, early in January 1907. American missionaries and Korean pastors took part in leading the meetings. About 1,500 men attended in the evenings. On the second night of these meetings, Blair writes, “a sense of God’s nearness, impossible of description” was felt. A Korean pastor called upon the men to pray. According to Blair: “As the prayer continued, a spirit of heaviness and sorrow for sin came down upon the audience. Over on one side, someone began to weep, and in a moment the whole audience was weeping.” The following night was even more unusual. Early on, one of the Korean elders publicly confessed to the sin of personally hating William Blair. He then asked Blair to forgive him and to pray for him. As Blair began to pray, “It seemed as if the roof was lifted from the building and the Spirit of God came down from heaven in a mighty avalanche of power upon us.” Men throughout the meeting began to pray aloud, some lying prostrate on the floor, others standing with their arms outstretched towards Heaven. The missionaries had been praying for an outpouring of God’s Spirit upon the people and they realized their prayers were being answered. Many of those praying felt a need to publicly confess their sins and the missionaries gave them an opportunity to do so. Public confession of sin As Blair relates: “Every sin a human being can commit was publicly confessed that night. Pale and trembling with emotion, in agony of mind and body, guilty souls, standing in the white light of that judgment, saw themselves as God saw them. Their sins rose up in all their vileness, till shame and grief and self-loathing took complete possession; pride was driven out, the face of men forgotten.” This was an unusual way to conduct a meeting and Blair knew that. But he notes, “We may have our theories of the desirability or undesirability of public confession of sin. I have had mine; but I know now that when the Spirit of God falls upon guilty souls, there will be confession, and no power on earth can stop it.” After this series of meetings, the men returned home with a new enthusiasm and a special closeness to God. “Everywhere the story was told the same Spirit flamed forth and spread till practically every church, not only in North Korea, but throughout the entire peninsula had received its share of the blessing.” Those were exciting times for Christians in Korea. Unfortunately, as Bruce Hunt relates in his portion of The Korean Pentecost, severe hardship and persecution were just around the corner. Japanese oppression As mentioned, Korea was under Japanese occupation. The Japanese hated Christianity because they saw it as a threat to their authority. Some Christians were arrested and tortured. The situation became worse shortly after the end of World War One. With President Woodrow Wilson advocating for the self-determination of small nations, many Koreans felt a need to speak out on behalf of their own country’s independence. Hunt writes: “A Declaration of Independence was secretly drawn up and signed by thirty-three prominent leaders in Korea. Fifteen of the signers, including the Rev Kil Sunjoo, a nationally beloved evangelist and Bible teacher, were Christians.” The Japanese reacted violently to that declaration, wounding and killing many Korean nationalists. Because Christians were prominent among the nationalist leaders, Christians in general were singled out by the Japanese for punishment. Many of them were killed. A major conflict erupted over education. The Japanese authorities demanded that all schools be registered with the government and use government-approved curriculum. Religious – in other words, Christian – instruction was forbidden. Later, the Japanese partially relented and allowed some Christian instruction, but frequently the Christian teachers were not acceptable to Japanese authorities and therefore not allowed to teach. Compulsory idolatry Things got even worse when the authorities began requiring all teachers and students to regularly bow before Shinto shrines to demonstrate that they were loyal subjects. Shinto is a religion in which the Japanese Emperor is considered to be a deity. Bowing to a shrine shows loyalty and submission. This is analogous to Roman times when Christians were expected to offer incense to the Roman Emperor, who was also considered divine. At first, Christians knew they could not participate in idolatry by bowing to the shrines. Gradually, however, compromise set in and some were able to rationalize the activity. Eventually the Japanese decided they wanted all subjects to bow to Shinto shrines regularly. All public meetings, including Presbytery and General Assembly meetings of the Presbyterian Church, had to be opened with Shinto bowing. Many Christians broke under the strain and went along with this idolatry. The church became divided between a majority who compromised with Japanese demands and a minority who determined to remain faithful to God. The Presbyterian General Assembly itself compromised and declared (under heavy government pressure) that shrine worship was not idolatry. As a result, faithful Christians withdrew from the Korean Presbyterian Church to worship separately. Hunt writes: “Following the example of the Scottish Covenanters, a statement was drawn up, pointing out the biblical teaching on shrine worship and the necessity of breaking completely from those who condoned idolatry. From then on, no one was baptized who did not give consent to this document, and no one was allowed to lead services who had not subscribed to it.” Those that remained faithful were persecuted, often imprisoned and even killed. According to Hunt, no one knows how many Christians were killed for refusing to participate in Shinto worship. 1939 – A courageous testimony in Japan In 1939, Elder Pak Kwanjoon made an especially courageous testimony against Japan’s persecution of Korean Christians. He traveled to Japan with two other Christians to protest directly to the government. On March 21, all three went into the Japanese Parliament, which is known as the National Diet, with leaflets hidden in their clothing. They took places in the gallery above the four hundred Diet members. When Pak gave the signal, all three threw their leaflets onto the members of the Diet. Hunt writes: “Elder Pak’s leaflet urged the Japanese government to cease from its rebellion against God in forcing shrine worship on its people, lest the wrath of God fall upon the country. Pak’s leaflet 1) urged that Christianity be made the national religion of Japan, and 2) warned that if Japan continued to persecute Christianity, she would be destroyed” It may be worth noting that six years later Japan surrendered to the Allies after being devastated by two atomic bombs. Could that be a fulfillment of Elder Pak’s words? He was arrested and sent back to Korea where he died in prison shortly before the end of WWII. 1945 – From the frying pan into the fire Of course, with the end of World War Two in 1945, Korea was freed from Japanese oppression. Unfortunately, the Soviet Union occupied the northern part of the country and imposed Communism. Hunt notes that from the Communist perspective: “Christianity was interpreted as a political crime, an act of vilest rebellion against the state, ‘the people,’ and therefore deserving of the severest punishment, even death.” Korea’s northern Christians went from the frying pan into the fire. Before the end of 1945, Christians in North Korea were being imprisoned. This was just the beginning, for as Hunt writes: “After the Communists came into power in the northern half of Korea, thousands of Christians in that area, especially Christian ministers, church officers and leaders, were killed by them.” The few remaining North Korean Christians continue to suffer persecution to this very day. Conclusion Christianity is commonly seen as a European or Western religion but that is not true. Most of the events in the Bible occurred in Asia or Africa, and Jesus Himself was an Asian. The “Holy Land” is in Asia, not Europe. Currently, Christianity has little presence in most Asian countries. But since the late nineteenth century it has been growing successfully in Korea. The Korean Revival of 1907 is widely recognized as having had a great influence on the spread of Christianity in that nation. And the faithful testimony of Korean martyrs in the twentieth century should be better known in the West. The Korean Christians have suffered much for the faith but stood strong, assured that God remained with them. We can learn much from their example. Dr. Michael Wagner is the author many, many books, and is a regular contributor to Reformed Perspective....

Christian education

School: who should rule?

A few years back I was privileged to join my colleague André Schutten in making presentations to Reformed churches and schools across Canada. We were talking about the political and legal challenges we are seeing against parental authority in education, and in preparing for these presentations I did some research into what Reformed Christians believe about who is primarily responsible for the education of children. I had assumed that there was a common perspective about parental authority, in light of covenant theology. I was wrong. Who calls the shots - the Church or parents? The church orders of the Reformed denominations in Canada can be traced back to the Synod of Dort Church Order drafted in 1618-1619. Article 21 of this document stated that: The consistories everywhere shall see to it that there are good schoolteachers, not only to teach the children reading, writing, languages, and the liberal arts, but also to instruct them in godliness and in the catechism. Article 44 adds, The classis shall authorize a number of its ministers… to visit all the churches once a year, in cities as well as in rural districts, and to take heed whether the ministers, consistories, and school teachers faithfully perform the duties of their offices, adhere to sound doctrine… What this means is that churches are assumed to have authority over schools, at least when it comes to deciding who teaches and what is taught. CHURCH In my research I discovered that the Netherlands Reformed Congregations (NRC) in Canada uphold this 1619 Church Order, and as such, have officially church-run schools. But they are a rarity. PARENTS So what do the church orders of the other Reformed denominations say? The Canadian Reformed Churches (CanRC) have Article 58, which states: The consistory shall ensure that the parents, to the best of their ability, have their children attend a school where the instruction given is in harmony with the Word of God as the church has summarized it in her confessions. Parents are entrusted with the authority to have their children attend a faithful school, though churches are to encourage them in this. The United Reformed Church’s (URC) version of the Church Order, in Article 14, notes that elders “are to maintain the purity of the Word and Sacraments, assist in catechizing the youth, promote God-centered schooling…” As such, it is similar to the CanRC Church Order but it does not insist that schooling is in accordance with the Reformed confessions. The 2012 Proposed Joint Church Order of the CanRC and URC churches does a great job combining these by calling on the consistory to “promote schooling at all levels that is in harmony with the Word of God as summarized the Three Forms of Unity.” This creates space for home schooling and also requires conformity to the Reformed confessions. The Free Reformed Churches have a common theological heritage as the NRCs, but their Church Order has changed on this matter. Article 54 states: The Consistories shall see to it that the parents, in harmony with the promises made at the baptism of their children, have them taught at schools where the instruction is in accordance with the Word of God and the Three Forms of Unity. Like the CanRC Church Order, there is explicit mention made that the schooling must be in accordance with the Reformed Confessions. Are the church orders true to life? These various church orders do seem to reflect the type of education that we commonly see occurring among families in these denominations. NRC congregations have set up their own church-directed schools. Apart from the Roman Catholic schools, this model is very rare in Canada today. Members of CanRC churches have started schools where the majority of the students are also CanRC. However, more recently the direction has shifted to working with parents of other orthodox Reformed churches in starting and maintaining schools. URC churches recently came out of the CRC and as a result many of the children still attend non-denominational Christian schools, though a more recent move is towards explicitly Reformed schools like Heritage Christian School in Jordan, Ontario. FRC parents don’t have as many options as they have fewer churches. But they work together with NRC, Heritage Reformed, and parents of other church backgrounds to maintain confessional Reformed schools. All of these Reformed denominations recognize a responsibility for churches when it comes to promoting solid education, but most have moved far away from the 1619 model in which the churches had direct authority and responsibility over schools. Schooling according to the Bible One big reason for the difference of perspective on the role of the church in education is because the Bible has very little to say about schooling. There is no mention of schools in Scriptures. The same is true of education in an institutional sense for children in general. Does this mean that the Bible has nothing to say about education? No. But it does mean that our modern understanding of education is foreign to Bible times. Through the lens of the Bible, life itself is education. In other words, education is not limited to a specific setting or a time in our life. It starts when we are born and never ends. This is important because institutional education has become an industry in the Western world. We associate it with certificates, diplomas, and degrees. But as valuable as these may be, if we think they are necessary for education then the Bible says we are missing the mark. Making the tough choices At the baptismal font, parents promise to raise their children in the fear of the Lord as soon as these children are able to understand. The schooling they choose for their child should be consistent with this promise and with the preaching they get from the pulpit. This raises the question of how far a church can go when there is disagreement between elders and parents of what constitutes “godly schooling.” It is not uncommon for parents in a church to send their children to different schools. And when the consistory addresses the parent’s choice, it can quickly become a sensitive and difficult conversation. In our postmodern world, we don’t like being told that the choice we make is right or wrong. In fact, even being questioned about our choices in education can get our hackles up. This is a sensitive issue. For example, after one of the ARPA presentations about legal challenges in education I was quite surprised when one homeschooling mom told me that this was the very first time she heard some of our points – about the centrality of parental authority in education and the dangers of teaching within the state-directed education system – being made within the walls of the particular church we were presenting in and which she was a member of. She explained that they had tried to raise related issues for years but most people would refuse to consider it. Although homeschooling seems to have strong biblical support, apparently discussing it at her Reformed church was not welcomed. All of the church orders mentioned previously are consistent in ascribing elders with the responsibility of holding parents to account about their decision for how they educate their children. The reality is that in this part of life, as everywhere else, there can be many temptations to pursue what we want rather than what is best. The desire to attend a school that has better facilities, teachers, academic standards, sports programs, shop classes, etc. can lead us to compromise how these things are taught. On the flip side, we are wrong if we think our only educational option is a school that has the name “Reformed” on it or that, in its constitution, says it is based on the Reformed confessions. There is much more to education than a name or a constitution. And from another angle, just because education is being done in the home does not make it godly or quality. The Bible does not insist that schooling has to be institutional (ie within the walls of a school). But it does make it clear that all education has to be in harmony with God’s Word, and our Church Orders make it clear that the consistory has a responsibility in this regard. Questions for the readers In an effort to spark some public discussion about this, I would like to submit the following questions with the hope that some of Reformed Perspective’s readers will respond via letters to the editor or article submissions: While homeschooling isn't specifically mentioned in most Reformed church orders, should we assume it to be implicitly included (as just another type of school)? Or should it be included explicitly? Why or why not? How should consistories go about ensuring that education being done in a homeschool is godly and in line with the Reformed confessions Some Reformed families send their children to public schools (also in places where Reformed and Christian schools do exist). From the context of what is outlined in the church orders, can this be defended? Some Reformed families send their children to non-denominational Christian schools, also in places where an orthodox Reformed school is present. Should the church speak to this through preaching, prayers, and visits? If so, how? Some Reformed families send their children to Reformed schools and believe this completes their parental educational responsibilities. What more is required of them? How can the consistory and Church best go about explaining that to them? Some schools are structured as parental schools but go by the name of a church federation (ex. the Hope Canadian Reformed School). What happens when the direction of the parents/board of the school conflicts with the direction of the church that these parents have implicitly or explicitly tied themselves to (ex. in choice of Bible translations)? What are the blessings and dangers of a parental school going by the name of a church federation? ...