Monday, October 30, 2017

Reformation: The True Treasure of the Church is the Gospel of God


 
16 All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, 17 that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.
2 Timothy 3:16-17

20 knowing this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture comes from someone’s own interpretation. 21 For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.
2 Peter 1:20-21

500 years ago, Martin Luther nailed 95 theses to the door of the Wittenberg Castle Church on the 31st of October 1517.  And among the 95 theses, we found thesis no. 62 says:

62. Verus thesaurus ecclesie est sacrosanctum euangelium glorie et gratie dei.

62. The true treasure of the Church is the Most Holy Gospel of the glory and the grace of God.[1]

This particular thesis was meant to battle the grief mistake the Roman Catholic Church made as they sold the Indulgences letter.  It was in the hands of Johann Tetzel, the Grand Commissioner of the Indulgences to Germany, that the indulgence system was abused.  We all know that the indulgences was greatly abused for the purpose of accumulating funding to build the Basilica St. Peter in Rome.  Now, theologically, the Roman Catholic Church based their indulgences practice on the 2 Maccabees 12:45 which said:
45 But if he was looking to the splendid reward that is laid up for those who fall asleep in godliness, it was a holy and pious thought. Therefore he made atonement for the dead, so that they might be delivered from their sin.
And based on that they argued that their practice of the indulgences was scriptural.  However, Luther did not accept the second canon (deuterocanonical or the Apocrypha) as the Scripture.  When Luther spoke of the Scripture, he spoke of the 66 books of the Old and New Testaments as proposed by Church Father Athanasius in AD 367 and later on accepted by consensus by all churches as the closed canon of the Scripture.
            This issue is a very serious one.  And long before Luther or Calvin, Paul and Peter already made a case of the importance of the Scripture.  After speaking:
that no prophecy of Scripture comes from someone’s own interpretation. 21 For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.
Peter quickly warned:
1But false prophets also arose among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them, bringing upon themselves swift destruction. And many will follow their sensuality, and because of them the way of truth will be blasphemed. And in their greed they will exploit you with false words. Their condemnation from long ago is not idle, and their destruction is not asleep.
2 Peter 2:1-3
In the same way Paul, after instructing Timothy:
16 All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, 17 that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.
Also warned and charged Timothy:
1I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching. For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths. As for you, always be sober-minded, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry.
2 Timothy 4:1-5
In other words, Paul and Peter both pointed out to the Scripture as the source of truth.  The importance of the Scripture cannot be underestimated.  Preaching, teaching, evangelizing, instructing, rebuking, counseling, in the matter of faith, all must be founded upon the Scripture.  The Scripture is the final authority of our faith, not any other things.
            Luther, therefore felt greatly disturbed by the Roman Catholic’s action with the indulgences.  Even though he considered the Apocrypha as an appendix to the Old Testament Scripture, Luther put a title on the Apocrypha that said: “The Apocrypha: Books which are not to be held equal to holy scripture, but are useful and good to read.[2]  Therefore because of his strong conviction of the Scripture, Luther could not help himself but to insert thesis number 62 into his protest to the Roman Catholic Church.
            The root of the grief mistake that the Roman Catholic Church made was their equating some other writings with the 66 books of the Scripture.  The RCC considers traditions, other writings, and Pope’s decisions as the treasure of the church together with the 66 books.  However, according to Luther, only the Most Holy Gospel of the glory and the grace of God is the true treasure of the church, which is the 66 books of the Scripture.  No wonder the two could never meet.
            Luther had proven that equating other things with the Scripture resulted in unholy teaching.  His motive was to bring the church back to the truth and faithfulness to God.  His 95 theses were never meant to cause division, as we can see from his introduction to his theses:
Amore et studio elucidande veritatis hec subscripta disputabuntur Wittenberge, Presidente R. P. Martino Lutther, Artium et S. Theologie Magistro eiusdemque ibidem lectore Ordinario. Quare petit, ut qui non possunt verbis presentes nobiscum disceptare agant id literis absentes. In nomine domini nostri Hiesu Christi. Amen.
Out of love for the truth and the desire to bring it to light, the following propositions will be discussed at Wittenberg, under the presidency of the Reverend Father Martin Luther, Master of Arts and of Sacred Theology, and Lecturer in Ordinary on the same at that place. Wherefore he requests that those who are unable to be present and debate orally with us, may do so by letter. In the Name our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.[3]
Unfortunately, his theses was considered to be a challenge to the authority of the church, and of the pope.  And so Luther was met with fierce oppositions by the church.
            On April 18 1521, Luther spoke one of the most famous quotes that he spoke in the Diet of Worms, which was ordered by the Emperor Charles V and presided by Johann Eck (the assistant to the Archbishop of Trier):
Unless I am convinced by the testimony of the Scriptures or by clear reason (for I do not trust either in the pope or in councils alone, since it is well known that they have often erred and contradicted themselves), I am bound by the Scriptures I have quoted and my conscience is captive to the Word of God. I cannot and will not recant anything, since it is neither safe nor right to go against conscience. May God help me. Amen.
The Diet of Worms was set up to force Luther to recant his theses.  But Luther stood up faithfully on the Word of God.  Reformation broke out ever since.
            1500 years prior to Luther’s protest, Paul and Peter had warned Christians of the danger that was lurking that attempted to obscure the sole authority of the Scripture.  Such danger never stops threatening the church.  Then the Reformation era 500 years ago served as a reminder of the apostles’ warning of the danger.  Today we also witness the same threat bombarding the church.  Today’s extra-biblical writing comes from modern science that has assumed that evolution is a fact.  This threat leads to the challenge to re-write the Christian doctrines.  The doubt that this scientific assumption creates has shaken many people’s faith even in the validity of the Scriptures.  Not few Christian have believed that Genesis 1-11 as mere myth.  For those people, Genesis 1-11 is not historical fact.  Therefore, by implication, Adam and Eve were no longer they consider as real people.  Consequently, original sin too must be reconsidered.  If original sin is not real, then what of salvation?  Do humans even need salvation?  If salvation is not necessary anymore, Jesus Christ too then would need to be redefined.  Another side effect is that LGBT cannot be seen as a perversion or sin.  What is sin after all??  A simple threat may cause the demolition of the entire Christian faith and teaching.
            In a way, we are today like Martin Luther or John Calvin or Ulrich Zwingli or John Knox, standing before the modern indulgences that instruct people to believe only in scientific facts (or even falsehoods).  What are we to do?  Will we nail the 95 theses on the door of the church once more?  Will we continue to be faithful to the Scripture no matter what?  Will we consider the Most Holy Gospel of the glory and the grace of God as the true treasure of the church?  Or are we going to start flirting with the extra-biblical materials and thus put them on par with the Word of God?  Many Diet of Worms like court have been set up as ordered by the Supreme Court in order to pressure the modern Martin Luther into compromising with the power that be and the trend of the postmodern era.
            Many churches today have indicated that the General Revelation is of the same authority as the Special Revelation.  Consequently, for them, science gradually becomes authoritative for the Christian faith.  Peter’s and Paul’s warning suddenly becomes so real in the 21st century.  These people truly want only teachers who would satisfy their itching ears.  As the indulgences provided solutions to the concern of the common people over their deceased loved ones, they bought into the church’s malpractice and funded the greed of the church leaders of the time.  As modern churches today are losing members, they resort to compromise with the desire of the people who have started to put their faith and hope for salvation in science, and so they have replaced the Word of God with the word of man.
            Martin Luther’s theology illuminated by the Holy Spirit under the strict guidance of the Scripture would not permit himself to compromise the indulgences.  If we call ourselves Reformed, following the footsteps of Luther and Calvin and so on, then we too must not compromise with extra-biblical materials.  We can’t put all other writings on par with the Scriptures.  The pressure will be big.  The threat will be terrifying.  The battle will be fierce.  The fight will never end, from inside and outside.  Will we stand with the Reformers?  I hope we all do.


[1] Martin Luther, Disputation of Doctor Martin Luther on the Power and Efficacy of Indulgences: October 31, 1517, electronic ed. (Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software, 1996).
[2] F. F. Bruce, The Canon of Scripture (Downers Grove, IL: Inter-Varsity Press, 1988), 102.
[3] Martin Luther, Disputation of Doctor Martin Luther on the Power and Efficacy of Indulgences: October 31, 1517, electronic ed. (Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software, 1996).

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