Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Happy Reformation Day!

Disputation on the Power and Efficacy of Indulgences
Commonly Known as The 95 Theses
by Martin Luther

Out of love and concern for the truth, and with the object of eliciting it, the following heads will be the subject of a public discussion at Wittenberg under the presidency of the reverend father, Martin Luther, Augustinian, Master of Arts and Sacred Theology, and duly appointed Lecturer on these subjects in that place. He requests that whoever cannot be present personally to debate the matter orally will do so in absence in writing.

1. When our Lord and Master, Jesus Christ, said "Repent", He called for the entire life of believers to be one of repentance.

2. The word cannot be properly understood as referring to the sacrament of penance, i.e. confession and satisfaction, as administered by the clergy.

3. Yet its meaning is not restricted to repentance in one's heart; for such repentance is null unless it produces outward signs in various mortifications of the flesh.

4. As long as hatred of self abides (i.e. true inward repentance) the penalty of sin abides, viz., until we enter the kingdom of heaven.

5. The pope has neither the will nor the power to remit any penalties beyond those imposed either at his own discretion or by canon law.

6. The pope himself cannot remit guilt, but only declare and confirm that it has been remitted by God; or, at most, he can remit it in cases reserved to his discretion. Except for these cases, the guilt remains untouched.

7. God never remits guilt to anyone without, at the same time, making him humbly submissive to the priest, His representative.

8. The penitential canons apply only to men who are still alive, and, according to the canons themselves, none applies to the dead.

9. Accordingly, the Holy Spirit, acting in the person of the pope, manifests grace to us, by the fact that the papal regulations always cease to apply at death, or in any hard case.

10. It is a wrongful act, due to ignorance, when priests retain the canonical penalties on the dead in purgatory.

11. When canonical penalties were changed and made to apply to purgatory, surely it would seem that tares were sown while the bishops were asleep.

12. In former days, the canonical penalties were imposed, not after, but before absolution was pronounced; and were intended to be tests of true contrition.

13. Death puts an end to all the claims of the Church; even the dying are already dead to the canon laws, and are no longer bound by them.

14. Defective piety or love in a dying person is necessarily accompanied by great fear, which is greatest where the piety or love is least.

15. This fear or horror is sufficient in itself, whatever else might be said, to constitute the pain of purgatory, since it approaches very closely to the horror of despair.

16. There seems to be the same difference between hell, purgatory, and heaven as between despair, uncertainty, and assurance.

17. Of a truth, the pains of souls in purgatory ought to be abated, and charity ought to be proportionately increased.

18. Moreover, it does not seem proved, on any grounds of reason or Scripture, that these souls are outside the state of merit, or unable to grow in grace.

19. Nor does it seem proved to be always the case that they are certain and assured of salvation, even if we are very certain ourselves.

20. Therefore the pope, in speaking of the plenary remission of all penalties, does not mean "all" in the strict sense, but only those imposed by himself.

21. Hence those who preach indulgences are in error when they say that a man is absolved and saved from every penalty by the pope's indulgences.

22. Indeed, he cannot remit to souls in purgatory any penalty which canon law declares should be suffered in the present life.

23. If plenary remission could be granted to anyone at all, it would be only in the cases of the most perfect, i.e. to very few.

24. It must therefore be the case that the major part of the people are deceived by that indiscriminate and high-sounding promise of relief from penalty.

25. The same power as the pope exercises in general over purgatory is exercised in particular by every single bishop in his bishopric and priest in his parish.

26. The pope does excellently when he grants remission to the souls in purgatory on account of intercessions made on their behalf, and not by the power of the keys (which he cannot exercise for them).

27. There is no divine authority for preaching that the soul flies out of the purgatory immediately the money clinks in the bottom of the chest.

28. It is certainly possible that when the money clinks in the bottom of the chest avarice and greed increase; but when the church offers intercession, all depends in the will of God.

29. Who knows whether all souls in purgatory wish to be redeemed in view of what is said of St. Severinus and St. Pascal? (Note: Paschal I, pope 817-24. The legend is that he and Severinus were willing to endure the pains of purgatory for the benefit of the faithful).

30. No one is sure of the reality of his own contrition, much less of receiving plenary forgiveness.

31. One who bona fide buys indulgence is a rare as a bona fide penitent man, i.e. very rare indeed.

32. All those who believe themselves certain of their own salvation by means of letters of indulgence, will be eternally damned, together with their teachers.

33. We should be most carefully on our guard against those who say that the papal indulgences are an inestimable divine gift, and that a man is reconciled to God by them.

34. For the grace conveyed by these indulgences relates simply to the penalties of the sacramental "satisfactions" decreed merely by man.

35. It is not in accordance with Christian doctrines to preach and teach that those who buy off souls, or purchase confessional licenses, have no need to repent of their own sins.

36. Any Christian whatsoever, who is truly repentant, enjoys plenary remission from penalty and guilt, and this is given him without letters of indulgence.

37. Any true Christian whatsoever, living or dead, participates in all the benefits of Christ and the Church; and this participation is granted to him by God without letters of indulgence.

38. Yet the pope's remission and dispensation are in no way to be despised, for, as already said, they proclaim the divine remission.

39. It is very difficult, even for the most learned theologians, to extol to the people the great bounty contained in the indulgences, while, at the same time, praising contrition as a virtue.

40. A truly contrite sinner seeks out, and loves to pay, the penalties of his sins; whereas the very multitude of indulgences dulls men's consciences, and tends to make them hate the penalties.

41. Papal indulgences should only be preached with caution, lest people gain a wrong understanding, and think that they are preferable to other good works: those of love.

42. Christians should be taught that the pope does not at all intend that the purchase of indulgences should be understood as at all comparable with the works of mercy.

43. Christians should be taught that one who gives to the poor, or lends to the needy, does a better action than if he purchases indulgences.

44. Because, by works of love, love grows and a man becomes a better man; whereas, by indulgences, he does not become a better man, but only escapes certain penalties.

45. Christians should be taught that he who sees a needy person, but passes him by although he gives money for indulgences, gains no benefit from the pope's pardon, but only incurs the wrath of God.

46. Christians should be taught that, unless they have more than they need, they are bound to retain what is only necessary for the upkeep of their home, and should in no way squander it on indulgences.

47. Christians should be taught that they purchase indulgences voluntarily, and are not under obligation to do so.

48. Christians should be taught that, in granting indulgences, the pope has more need, and more desire, for devout prayer on his own behalf than for ready money.

49. Christians should be taught that the pope's indulgences are useful only if one does not rely on them, but most harmful if one loses the fear of God through them.

50. Christians should be taught that, if the pope knew the exactions of the indulgence-preachers, he would rather the church of St. Peter were reduced to ashes than be built with the skin, flesh, and bones of the sheep.

51. Christians should be taught that the pope would be willing, as he ought if necessity should arise, to sell the church of St. Peter, and give, too, his own money to many of those from whom the pardon-merchants conjure money.

52. It is vain to rely on salvation by letters of indulgence, even if the commissary, or indeed the pope himself, were to pledge his own soul for their validity.

53. Those are enemies of Christ and the pope who forbid the word of God to be preached at all in some churches, in order that indulgences may be preached in others.

54. The word of God suffers injury if, in the same sermon, an equal or longer time is devoted to indulgences than to that word.

55. The pope cannot help taking the view that if indulgences (very small matters) are celebrated by one bell, one pageant, or one ceremony, the gospel (a very great matter) should be preached to the accompaniment of a hundred bells, a hundred processions, a hundred ceremonies.

56. The treasures of the church, out of which the pope dispenses indulgences, are not sufficiently spoken of or known among the people of Christ.

57. That these treasures are not temporal are clear from the fact that many of the merchants do not grant them freely, but only collect them.

58. Nor are they the merits of Christ and the saints, because, even apart from the pope, these merits are always working grace in the inner man, and working the cross, death, and hell in the outer man.

59. St. Laurence said that the poor were the treasures of the church, but he used the term in accordance with the custom of his own time.

60. We do not speak rashly in saying that the treasures of the church are the keys of the church, and are bestowed by the merits of Christ.

61. For it is clear that the power of the pope suffices, by itself, for the remission of penalties and reserved cases.

62. The true treasure of the church is the Holy gospel of the glory and the grace of God.

63. It is right to regard this treasure as most odious, for it makes the first to be the last.

64. On the other hand, the treasure of indulgences is most acceptable, for it makes the last to be the first.

65. Therefore the treasures of the gospel are nets which, in former times, they used to fish for men of wealth.

66. The treasures of the indulgences are the nets to-day which they use to fish for men of wealth.

67. The indulgences, which the merchants extol as the greatest of favours, are seen to be, in fact, a favourite means for money-getting.

68. Nevertheless, they are not to be compared with the grace of God and the compassion shown in the Cross.

69. Bishops and curates, in duty bound, must receive the commissaries of the papal indulgences with all reverence.

70. But they are under a much greater obligation to watch closely and attend carefully lest these men preach their own fancies instead of what the pope commissioned.

71. Let him be anathema and accursed who denies the apostolic character of the indulgences.

72. On the other hand, let him be blessed who is on his guard against the wantonness and license of the pardon-merchant's words.

73. In the same way, the pope rightly excommunicates those who make any plans to the detriment of the trade in indulgences.

74. It is much more in keeping with his views to excommunicate those who use the pretext of indulgences to plot anything to the detriment of holy love and truth.

75. It is foolish to think that papal indulgences have so much power that they can absolve a man even if he has done the impossible and violated the mother of God.

76. We assert the contrary, and say that the pope's pardons are not able to remove the least venial of sins as far as their guilt is concerned.

77. When it is said that not even St. Peter, if he were now pope, could grant a greater grace, it is blasphemy against St. Peter and the pope.

78. We assert the contrary, and say that he, and any pope whatever, possesses greater graces, viz., the gospel, spiritual powers, gifts of healing, etc., as is declared in I Corinthians 12 [:28].

79. It is blasphemy to say that the insignia of the cross with the papal arms are of equal value to the cross on which Christ died.

80. The bishops, curates, and theologians, who permit assertions of that kind to be made to the people without let or hindrance, will have to answer for it.

81. This unbridled preaching of indulgences makes it difficult for learned men to guard the respect due to the pope against false accusations, or at least from the keen criticisms of the laity.

82. They ask, e.g.: Why does not the pope liberate everyone from purgatory for the sake of love (a most holy thing) and because of the supreme necessity of their souls? This would be morally the best of all reasons. Meanwhile he redeems innumerable souls for money, a most perishable thing, with which to build St. Peter's church, a very minor purpose.

83. Again: Why should funeral and anniversary masses for the dead continue to be said? And why does not the pope repay, or permit to be repaid, the benefactions instituted for these purposes, since it is wrong to pray for those souls who are now redeemed?

84. Again: Surely this is a new sort of compassion, on the part of God and the pope, when an impious man, an enemy of God, is allowed to pay money to redeem a devout soul, a friend of God; while yet that devout and beloved soul is not allowed to be redeemed without payment, for love's sake, and just because of its need of redemption.

85. Again: Why are the penitential canon laws, which in fact, if not in practice, have long been obsolete and dead in themselves,—why are they, to-day, still used in imposing fines in money, through the granting of indulgences, as if all the penitential canons were fully operative?

86. Again: since the pope's income to-day is larger than that of the wealthiest of wealthy men, why does he not build this one church of St. Peter with his own money, rather than with the money of indigent believers?

87. Again: What does the pope remit or dispense to people who, by their perfect repentance, have a right to plenary remission or dispensation?

88. Again: Surely a greater good could be done to the church if the pope were to bestow these remissions and dispensations, not once, as now, but a hundred times a day, for the benefit of any believer whatever.

89. What the pope seeks by indulgences is not money, but rather the salvation of souls; why then does he suspend the letters and indulgences formerly conceded, and still as efficacious as ever?

90. These questions are serious matters of conscience to the laity. To suppress them by force alone, and not to refute them by giving reasons, is to expose the church and the pope to the ridicule of their enemies, and to make Christian people unhappy.

91. If therefore, indulgences were preached in accordance with the spirit and mind of the pope, all these difficulties would be easily overcome, and indeed, cease to exist.

92. Away, then, with those prophets who say to Christ's people, "Peace, peace," where in there is no peace.

93. Hail, hail to all those prophets who say to Christ's people, "The cross, the cross," where there is no cross.

94. Christians should be exhorted to be zealous to follow Christ, their Head, through penalties, deaths, and hells.

95. And let them thus be more confident of entering heaven through many tribulations rather than through a false assurance of peace.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

The Great Lordship Debate

Phil Johnson, blogging at PyroManiacs, has finished his latest series of posts:
You'll want to take your time and read them all.

For more on the issue of "lordship salvation," check out Pulpit Magazine's blog.

Monday, October 16, 2006

On Service and Dominion

I would like to briefly consider the seeming paradox believers face as we think about the relationship between being stewards of God’s creation and the palpable disinterest in worldly endeavors that seems a part of the New Testament narrative particularly.

Specifically, I’ve been thinking about Peter’s description of Christians as "sojourners and exiles" (I Peter 2:11). Interestingly, immediately after this passage, Peter moves on to a discussion of civil authority and the obligations, duties and responsibilities of citizenship. So how exactly are we exiles and citizens at the same time, and what holds these two strands together?

Beyond Peter, James says that our life is like a vapor. Christ indicates that His Kingdom is not of this world. Paul says that our citizenship is not of this world, but is in heaven. Our kiddies go to summer camp and sit around the campfire singing ditties like this:

This worlds not my home, I’m just a-passin’ through
My treasures are laid up somewhere beyond the blue
The angel beckons me from heaven’s open door
And I just can’t live at home in this world anymore.

Conversely, we’re told in Scripture that we are to exercise dominion on God’s behalf. "Be fruitful, multiply, and subdue the earth" was the command given to Adam and Noah, and it hasn’t been revoked. We’re told to go "and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you." Jesus taught his disciples to pray, "thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on EARTH as it is in heaven." Likewise, we sing "This is Our Father’s World" and we believe that redemption extends as far as the curse is found.

How shall we reason through the paradox? How is that we can exercise dominion while being exiles and sojourners?

First, we must make a distinction between being in and of the world. The word "world" is used in numerous ways throughout scripture, as it is in modern parlance. To think of the world as the created order or as a geographic area, for instance, is different from considering it as an ethical system.

Scripture affirms that God loved the world (John 3:16), the cosmos, and thus sent His Son to perish for its ultimate redemption and glorification (Rom. 8:21). Likewise, Genesis says that God created the world and that everything he saw was "good." In Col. 1 we read of the supremacy of Christ, and His role as creator: "For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities--all things were created through him and for him" (v. 16). Christ also sustains all things via His providential hand (v. 17).

Further, in the Bible, men are never saved out of this world, but are recreated in Christ for the purpose of serving Him (Eph. 2:10). Christ’s prayer in John 17 is clear: "I pray not that thou shouldest take them out of the world, but that thou shouldest keep them from the evil one. They are not of the world, even as I am not of the world."

So "the world" as the benevolent gift and creation of God is something that is good, something we should work to restore. But world often has another meaning, too. It is frequently used to represent an ethical system. See the thoughts of Greg Bahnsen discussing Satan as the "prince of this world":

It is quite common for the term "world" to be used, not in a geographic sense, but in an ethical sense…the immoral realm of disobedience…The “world” represents the life of man apart from God and bound to sinful impulses. Thus, when scriptural writers speak of "the world," they often mean the world in so far as it is ethically separated from God...the world is that realm which is dominated by Satan and his standards…[and] must be interpreted [in many passages] as the kingdom of darkness, the city of reprobate man.

So, often in the New Testament when we are given commands about fleeing from worldliness, the command isn’t to retreat into monasticism or pietism, but to keep our minds and hearts from conforming to the wicked ways of "the world," meaning the ethical system characterized by Satan’s standards.

I think a better way to understand the passage in I Peter, however, is simply to allow Scripture to interpret Scripture. Many of Peter’s readers would have been familiar with the Older Testament and recalled the words of Jeremiah 29. Writing to exiles in Babylon, Jeremiah, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, penned these words:

Build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat their produce. Take wives and have sons and daughters; take wives for your sons, and give your daughters in marriage, that they may bear sons and daughters; multiply there, and do not decrease. But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the LORD on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare.

Then in verse 10 we read God’s promise, "When seventy years are completed for Babylon, I will visit you, and I will fulfill to you my promise and bring you back to this place."

There are two things happening here. First, the people could look ahead to a future promise, a future restoration in their home. They had great and wonderful prospects for a future deliverance from exile. Likewise, so do Christians.

At the same time, they didn‘t eschew their responsibilities in history, for it is by God‘s providential hand that they had been placed in their circumstances. The language employed by Jeremiah--"build houses," "multiply there," "seek the welfare of the city"--echoes the language of the Cultural Mandate. It is, in short, the language of dominion.

What ties these two seemingly contradictory ideas together is the Christian understanding of service--or as Peter says in verse 12, having conduct that is honorable and doing good deeds.

Such deeds, empowered by the Holy Spirit, are ultimately blessed by God, who brings a harvest of souls as a result. Christians ultimately have different ideas about dominion than those in "the world." Non-believers make the mistake of assuming that power is simply wielded indiscriminately for personal benefit. Christians, on the other hand, believe that true power and authority stem from a foundation in service.

Think about the example we are to emulate in Christ. Matthew says, "whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave— just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many" (Matt. 20:26-28). Paul says that "Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus: he humbled Himself and became obedient to death." And what was the result of His servanthood? Paul continues: "Therefore god exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name" (Phil. 2:5,9).

So we are to serve. Jesus says we are to seek first the kingdom of God, and ultimately success, or dominion--represented by the visible expansion of God’s Kingdom in every aspect of life--is accomplished by service to God, which is usually accomplished by serving other men and God’s creation.

Consider missionaries headed for an overseas appointment. They are leaving their home to become sojourners and aliens in a foreign. They’re ultimate home is heaven, but they are leaving the comforts of their temporal home behind. They will be subject to the laws of a new land and will learn to speak new languages, adapt where possible to new and strange customs--basically go native, all for the purpose of doing good to others and ultimately proclaiming the excellencies of God (I Peter 2:9). Sitting here in our wealthy and blessed land, we think this the height of spirituality. And yet, we are likewise aliens, in very similar circumstances, and our goal should be to carefully think through how to apply the same principles in our day-to-day lives.

Monday, October 09, 2006

Parenting and the Gospel

As many of you know, my wife, Dawn, and I are in the process of adopting a little girl from China. This will be our first child, so you can imagine how excited we are!

We realize what a tremendous blessing this will be and that our lives will change forever. We also know that our priority, not only as parents, but as believers, is to help lead our daughter to a saving faith in Christ.

One of the things that I'm sure many Christian parents have struggled with is how to present the gospel to their children. We all know that the gospel of Jesus Christ is a fundamental aspect of the Christian family, but where do you start with one so young?

Rob Wilkerson, blogging at Miscellanies on the Gospel, sees this as a crucial task in parenting, especially when it comes to disciplining children:
    Not to share the gospel when we discipline our kids is, I believe, to drive them to anxiety and exasperation (Eph. 6:4). If parents discipline without the gospel, they cause both emotional and physical pain to a child, only to offer no spiritual power or hope which can heal the guilt incurred in the emotions and cause the heart to view the pain with thanksgiving.
As for the "how," Wilkerson breaks it down into four parts (and you will want to check out his blog for more detailed descriptions of each):
  1. Show them their sin.
  2. Show them what God says about their sin.
  3. Show them what God has done about their sin.
  4. Show them what you are going to do about their sin.
It is my prayer that we are able to raise our daughter in a way that glorifies our Heavenly Father. May God grant us the grace and strength to do so.

* For more on our adoption experience, feel free to visit our family blog.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Christians Should Get LOST

The TV series, that is.

I admit that the Calvinist in me is always intrigued by stories in which the characters struggle to find meaning and purpose behind seemingly random coincidences. It has been my experience that when you really start to pay attention in life, you soon realize that random coincidences simply don't exist. Nothing happens by chance in a universe under the care of a sovereign Creator.

Of course, it goes beyond that. Once you begin to filter through all the garbage that's out there, you find that there are actually a few shows that have redeeming qualities. LOST is one such show.

James DeMar, writing for American Vision, explains why the series has been such a hit and why Christians should pay attention:
    LOST has and will affect tens of millions of people in numerous ways during the next few years before the show finally comes to an end. The writers engage the viewer through the use of inordinately involved story telling and multiple tie-ins through various media avenues. ...

    ... No other show in history has pulled so much from the past and present culture into a weekly TV production. Christians should take note. God calls us to be the "light of the world." If Christians want to be taken seriously and not be thrown into the dustbin of history, we need to start creating meaningful "stuff" through all the different avenues available that captures the unbeliever's attention along with fellow Christians. So often, movies are made or books are written with just Christians in mind. Jesus' message was for the lost of this world along with the believer.

    Relate the Bible and God's Word to everyone. I don't believe the creators of LOST expect to save anyone's soul or even care, but it may actually stimulate more people into reading scripture and plant that needed seed more so than Bible thumping, yelling and screaming that we so often see on college campuses. At least LOST doesn't portray Christians as wackos. LOST is a show that engages and intrigues. Why can't Christians do the same?
While I certainly wouldn't call LOST a Christian show, it definitely touches on biblical themes. It is a show to which Christians can relate and one that perhaps could be used with non-believers to begin a discussion about God, faith, relationships, and life in general.

So, if you haven't done so already, get LOST. You'll be glad you did.

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