October 25, 2019

Rector’s Weekly Letter to the Congregation for Sunday, October 27, 2019


Excesses in the Church

Before the Protestant Reformation actually happened, there were underground murmurings for many years against many teachings and excesses in the church. No one could dare talk about those wrongs in public for fear of the Pope. Popes had assumed great powers over the years, and they used those powers to instill fear in kings and princes and bishops and priests and everybody. The Pope could excommunicate a person, for example, even without provable malfeasance. Excommunication was the ultimate horror possible because the church taught that there was no salvation outside of itself. So, people kept their mouths shut tight and complained incognito.

Then a man named Johann Tetzel went to Germany to sell indulgences. Indulgencies were defined as grace conferred upon an individual to amortize the punishment one has to undergo for his sin in Purgatory. There were different kinds of indulgencies that Tetzel announced: indulgencies for past sins, for present sins, and for future sins. Each kind carried a different price. One could even pay for the sins of loved ones who were in hell so that they would be taken from hell to purgatory where they would be purged some more and later be admitted into heaven. For those in purgatory, Tetzel made the famous statement, “As soon as the coin in the coffer rings, the soul from Purgatory springs” and goes to heaven, that is.

Martin Luther

With such a teaching, people scrambled in droves to buy indulgences for themselves, their relatives, and their friends. The church got a lot of money. Martin Luther came upon a man who was drunk silly and reprimanded him for his drunkenness and told him to repent and receive God’s forgiveness. The man replied that there was no more need to repent. He pulled out the certificate issued to him by Tetzel pronouncing all his sins forgiven past, present, and future on the strength of the indulgencies the man had bought for himself.

Martin Luther was appalled and immediately confronted Tetzel and asked him what he was telling the people in regard to indulgencies forgiving past, present, and future sins. Tetzel responded that the Pope himself knew what he was teaching and did not object. Who was this Martin Luther to raise questions? Tetzel continued his line of teaching and people accepted what he taught as true.

Martin Luther was utterly disgusted at Tetzel’s teaching. He wrote ninety-five statements called theses about what he saw were excesses in the church. He intended to debate these with other scholastic priests and the church leadership in a public forum so as to bring about reform in the church. He is said to have posted the theses on the front door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg, Germany, on October 31, 1517, during the papacy of Leo X. The theses stirred a storm, but no debate was allowed by the Pope. Martin Luther was arrested a number of times. His last trial was at the Diet of Worms in 1521 where he was commanded to repudiate his writings. He stood alone with his conscience against an array of powerful clergy and statesmen. He didn’t repudiate his writings. Instead, he responded,

“Unless I am convicted by Scripture and plain reason (I do not accept the authority of popes and councils because they have contradicted each other[in the past]), my conscience is captive to the Word of God. I cannot and will not recant anything, for to go against conscience is neither right nor safe. So help me God.”

At this, Martin Luther was summarily excommunicated from the Roman Catholic Church. That excommunication set in motion the Protestant Reformation. 

Calvinism vs. Arminianism

The Protestant Movement was guided by five solae to formulate doctrine and guard against the whims of church leaders and church councils.: Sola Scriptura, Sola Fide, Sola Gratia, Solus Christus, and Soli Deo Gloria, meaning Only Scripture, Only Grace, Only Faith, Christ Alone, and To the Glory of God alone.  Two prominent theological positions rose to prominence as the years of Protestantism went by. One was championed by a man called John Calvin and the position itself is called Calvinism, and the other by a later theologian named Jacobus Arminius, and his position is Arminianism.

There was a heated disagreement between these two positions, each condemning the teachings of the other as a heretic in regard to five points, namely, Total Depravity of Man, Unconditional Election, Limited Atonement, Irresistible Grace, Perseverance of the Saints (TULIP).  Both positions appeal to the Bible to defend their assertions. In 1618 -1619 there was a synod in Dordtrecht, Netherlands which produced what is known as the Canons of Dort, a theological explanation of the benefits the Christian obtains through the life, death, and resurrection of Christ. The Canons side with Calvinism and explain the errors of Arminianius’ position on all five points of TULIP. After the death of Arminius, a group of men, sold out to Arminius’ teaching, vigorously objected to and opposed Calvinism. They came to be known as the Remonstrants. They were rejected by the Dutch Reformed Church which is was staunchly Calvinist.

T.U.L.I.P. – A Summary of Calvin’s Teaching

T – Total Depravity:

The effect of the fall upon man is that sin has extended to every part of his personality, that is, his thinking, his emotions, and his will, not necessarily that he is intensely sinful, but that sin has extended to his entire being. That being so, human beings do not have the wherewithal to rouse themselves on their own to follow God. God is the one who can take the initiative to prompt a human being to respond to him. As Ephesians 2:1 says, “Once you were dead because of your disobedience and your many sins.” What can a dead person do? Only one thing, to stink, unless there’s intervention from outside of his dead body. So, according to Calvin, salvation is solely in the hands of God, and there is nothing anyone can do about it. If God does not act, no one can be saved.

This is not to say that all human beings are evil and totally devoid of any nobleness. What the statement means is that human beings cannot choose God on their own, that God has to be the one to move them to follow him. The total depravity causes human beings to look out for themselves as their chief concern in life and care less about seeking and honoring God. We are drawn to sin like a metal towards a magnet, and this will always be so unless God intervenes in an individual life.

U – Unconditional Election:

God in his sovereign will before the creation of the world chose those whom he would save, the elect. The election is unconditional because it is not conditioned upon anything that God sees in the chosen that makes them worthy of his choosing them, not foreseen faith nor good moral life, nor anything else whatsoever. The election is based entirely upon God’s sovereign choice according to the kind and wise intention of his will. God chose the elect because he decided to bestow his love upon them based solely upon his sovereign grace.

L – Limited Atonement:

The word atonement comes from the verb “to atone” which means the paying of the price for a wrong or injury done. Human beings broke their relationship with God at the Fall through Adam. Jesus atoned for human rebellion against God through his death and resurrection, that is, he paid the price for sin so the sinner does not have to pay. That would be double jeopardy. But whom did Jesus die for? Did he die for the sins of each and every human being who is on the planet or has ever been on it or will be on it in the future? If that is so, then all human beings have had their sins paid for and will all go to heaven. If not that, then the atonement of Christ is limited only to the elect of God and does not extend to all human beings en masse, and those will be saved. Specifically, Christ died for the invisible Church, that is, the sum total of all those who would ever rightly bear the name “Christian.”

I – Irresistible Grace:

It was stated under the first point that the natural inclination of a human being is to turn away from God and never towards him and that no one can choose to follow God without God first drawing him. But when the grace of God works on the elect, they cannot resist it. So, those God intends to be saved will be saved. They will be drawn by his grace. It is irresistible to them.

P – Perseverance of the Saints:

Simply put, this statement means that once saved always saved. Once a person has experienced true, genuine salvation in Christ, he/she cannot lose it. It must be understood that genuine salvation is not the same as participation in Christian activities or even taking the sacraments. One can be baptized and confirmed and might even claim to have received Christ as savior and be active in religious activities and in fact be only faking it and is not saved at all. Other times people can be so consumed and deceived within their own religiosity or active participation in church things and think that what they are doing is sufficient to take them to heaven, and then never embrace Christ as their savior.

The Westminster Larger Catechism with Supporting Texts

Q. 1. What is the chief and highest end of man?

A. Man’s chief and highest end is to glorify God, (Romans 11:36, 1 Corinthians 10:31) and fully to enjoy him forever (Psalm 73:24-28, John 17:21-23).

Q. 2. How does it appear that there is a God?

A. The very light of nature in man, and the works of God, declare plainly that there is a God (Romans 1:19-20, Psalm 19:1-3, Acts 17:28),

but his Word and Spirit only do sufficiently and effectually reveal him to men for their salvation (1 Corinthians 2:9-10, 2 Timothy 3:15-17, Isaiah 59:21).

Q. 3. What is the Word of God?

A. The Holy Scriptures of the Old and New Testament are the Word of God (2 Timothy 3:16. 2 Peter 1:19-21), the only rule of faith and obedience (Ephesians 2:20, Revelation 22:18-19, Isaiah 8:20, Luke 16:29, 31, Galatians 1:8-9, 2 Timothy 3:15-16).

Q. 4. How does it appear that the Scriptures are of the Word of God?

A. The Scriptures manifest themselves to be the Word of God,

  • by their majesty (Hosea 8:12, 1 Corinthians 2:6-7, 13, Psalm 119:18, 129) and
  • purity; (Psalm 12:6, Psalm 119:140)
  • by the consent of all the parts, (Acts 10:43, Acts 26:22)
  • and the scope of the whole, which is to give all glory to God; (Romans 3:19, 27)
  • by their light and power to convince and convert sinners, to comfort and build up believers unto salvation: (Acts 18:28, Hebrews 4:12, James 1:18, Psalm 19:7-9, Romans 15:4, Acts 20:32),
  • but the Spirit of God bearing witness by and with the Scriptures in the heart of man, is alone able fully to persuade it that they are the very word of God. (John 16:13-14, 1 John 2:20, 27, John 20:31)

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