Protestantism

In Christendom today, there are often considered to be three primary branches – Catholicism, Eastern Orthodox, and Protestantism (debating aside whether or not this is an accurate representation of current-day Christianity). Let’s first get started with the usual…


Dictionary.com

Protestantism

noun
  1. the religion of Protestants.
  2. the Protestant churches collectively.
  3. adherence to Protestant principles.

Protestant

noun

1. any Western Christian who is not an adherent of a Catholic, Anglican, or Eastern Church.
2. an adherent of any of those Christian bodies that separated from the Church of Rome during the Reformation, or of any group descended from them.
3. (originally) any of the German princes who protested against the decision of the Diet of Speyer in 1529, which had denounced the Reformation.


Etymonline.com

1640s, from French protestantisme or else formed from Protestant + -ism.


Discussion/Explanation

Protestantism and Protestant are terms inherently embroiled with everything involving the Reformation or Protestant Reformation. To see more on this particular and important historical time, see the page on the Protestant Reformation.

I would be a Protestant as I continue in the tradition and theology of Protestants everywhere who separate themselves from Catholicism (in particular). Protestants do not talk about the Eastern Orthodox much as it was from the western, the Roman Catholic, church that the Protestants separated from historically.

Protestantism today is spread throughout the globe. The United States of America was largely founded by those seeking a place to call their own (many of whom Protestants) who came here to escape various hardships as well as religious persecutions from where they came.

I would highly recommend checking out the link above to find out more as you will come to see much of what has made Protestantism different from the “Christianity” that came before.


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Sacraments

Sacraments are a plural item in Christianity as it is a term for multiple activities. Let’s look first at some simple definitions to get started…


Dictionary.com

 1.  Ecclesiastical. a visible sign of an inward grace, especially one of the solemn Christian rites considered to have been instituted by Jesus Christ to symbolize or confer grace: the sacraments of the Protestant churches are baptism and the Lord’s Supper; the sacraments of the Roman Catholic and Greek Orthodox churches are baptism, confirmation, the Eucharist, matrimony, penance, holy orders, and extreme unction.

2. (often initial capital letter). Also called Holy Sacrament. the Eucharist or Lord’s Supper.

Also called Holy Sacrament. the Eucharist or Lord’s Supper
3. the consecrated elements of the Eucharist, especially the bread.
4. something regarded as possessing a sacred character or mysterious significance.
5. a sign, token, or symbol. a sign, token, or symbol.
6. an oath; solemn pledge. an oath; solemn pledge.

Etymonline.com

“outward and visible sign of inward and spiritual grace,” also “the eucharist,” c. 1200, from Old French sacrament “consecration; mystery” (12c., Modern French sacrement) and directly from Latin sacramentum “a consecrating” (also source of Spanish sacramento, German Sakrament, etc.), from sacrare “to consecrate” (see sacred); a Church Latin loan-translation of Greek mysterion (see mystery).

Meaning “a holy mystery” in English is from late 14c. The seven sacraments are baptism, penance, confirmation, holy orders, the Eucharist, matrimony, and anointing of the sick (extreme unction).


Discussion/Explanation

Obviously, there’s a broader context here besides just “certain activities”.

Historically, there have been seven sacraments as mentioned from both dictionary.com and etymonline.com. I think the dictionary.com definition #1 does a particularly nice job in this case as it not only shows what are the sacraments but also points out an important distinction between Protestants and the Roman Catholic/Greek Orthodox churches.

In Protestantism there is baptism and the Lord’s Supper. The Lord’s Supper goes by other names too – namely communion or the Eucharist. If you are not familiar with the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper, it’s practice is tied to Matthew 26:26-29 (as well as parallels in the other gospels). From this has come many practices observed but the common elements are the “bread and wine” – representing the body and the blood of Christ respectively.

Baptism has its variances as well but it still involves belief and water in each instance – whether the water be a sprinkling on the individual or by submersion & whether it’s the belief of the individual vs. the belief of the parents.

Penance, confirmation, holy orders, anointing of the sick (extreme unction) – I don’t intend to treat these here, perhaps in the future, but they are commonly practiced today in the Catholic church as well as others.

Matrimony or marriage is the one I personally find most interesting here. Why? Well, its because of how the Catholic church sees it as a sacrament but Protestantism overall does not. This will be the topic of a future post.

I will end it here. It should be clear what a sacrament is from these definitions as well as what practices are commonly considered sacraments in historic Christendom. As always, you’re welcome back next week where I move onto the next term in the list!


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Sola

The 5 solas of the Protestant Reformation are originally written in Latin and each indicate an aspect in the Christian faith with the world “alone” attached, or “sola”.

In my previous post, I addressed the topics of indulgence and salvation as it relates to the Catholic church and the Protestant Reformation. If you have not yet read that, check it out.

In that post, I did a quick run through of these alones and I will expound on them more now.

Sola Scriptura – scripture alone, or “by scripture alone”.

I start with scripture alone as it is by turning to the Scriptures, God’s recorded word to us, that we find the other four alones. Before the reformation, those who would follow Christ could not read the Bible in their own language. Everything about the faith had to be mediated through the priests. Much of the church liturgy (practice) was in Latin which the typical church attender did not understand. As a result, they were left with whatever they were told.

When you compare this time to the early days of Christianity, it becomes clear just how closed biblical information was. In the days of the apostles, the letters that make up much of the new testament were read aloud for the people to hear word-for-word. They were then copied and spread around. Fast forward to rule under the Catholic church and this just didn’t happen beyond the occasional verse or short passage reading. Even much of the schooling people were given didn’t have them interact with the Scriptures.

The Protestant Reformation changed this as you see a sort of “back to the Bible” approach as leading individuals read the Scriptures and then translated the Scriptures so that others could read. These acts were a major stab at the power base of the Roman Catholic church and it proved to be just the first domino in the unraveling of that power.

Sola Gratia – grace alone, or “by grace alone”.

Each of the sola can have their own book on it alone. Sola gratia is no exception. Upon digging into the Scriptures, it became apparent to the reformers that grace is at the root of our salvation. Grace was not something the Catholic church at the time denied but they did, and do, emphasized grace + works in salvation. In this way, the Catholic church could acknowledge God’s involvement but still claim their mediator role as they administered means of additional grace through works (sacraments, observances, etc.) and the benefits of good works.

In grace alone, we see that it is God’s grace extended to use that regenerates our hearts to turn to Him. No power of any church can do this. It is a work of God alone. One can even begin to talk about this grace’s irresistible quality but that is a topic for another time (I did say you can write entire books on this).

This sola may not sound like such a big deal; however, the Scriptures put grace as something given through God. Yes, observing biblical sacraments like communion can also impart grace but this still ultimately comes from God. While the church is a tool of sort in the dispersement of His grace, it is never the source. This sets the stage for the next.

Sola Fide – faith alone, or “by faith alone”.

Ephesians 2:8 directly connects grace and faith to one another. God’s grace extended to us is what allows us to then have faith in Him. God’s grace is what takes root and changes us such that we are able to respond to Him in faith. Notice once again, there’s no authoritarian church involved here. All that is necessary is the hearing of God’s Word (Scripture alone) and the working of God’s grace (Grace alone) in us such that we can respond in faith (Faith alone) and receive salvation.

Not only was the Roman Catholic church trying to keep a monopoly on people’s souls but they had to take it further and bring in purgatory in order to reinforce the sort of good works they wanted. You already had to go to a priest to even have a chance of hearing God’s gospel. Time had definitely turned spiritually dark which is why the Protestant Reformation occurred in the first place. God wasn’t going to let such an order stand which is why you see people like Martin Luther, Zwingli, and John Calvin (among others) come along to change things. The conflicts that came were the result of the disruption brought to the power order that could have been avoided if the Roman Catholic church truly sought to seek God’s truth rather than its own position of power.

Solus Christus – Christ alone, or “through Christ alone”.

As if the previous alones weren’t enough, we see that Scripture speaks of all of this being possible through Jesus Christ alone. He alone paid the price for our sin making it possible for us to be marked clean before a just God. There is nothing we can add to this saint-hood we now claim if we believe in Him.

Scripture is clear that the one work of Jesus Christ is what has freed us to go out and do good things in God’s name. We have no need to lash ourselves or do any sort of other torment to ourselves to be considered saints in the Lord’s eyes, unlike what Catholicism would have you believe. There is nothing more we can add to Christ’s comprehensive work on the cross.

Soli Deo Gloria – God’s glory alone, or “glory to God alone”.

I get the idea that this one is often overlooked and I can remember it not being a big point in my early Christian education as a kid.

Catholicism would have you aim to build a resume of pious deeds that make you seem like a Godly person and that would bring the church glory. By extension, this would bring God glory, but in reality it amounts to little more than falling back to the errors of the pharisees. Why? Because in Catholicism, it ultimately becomes “look at how good I am for the Lord” when it should be “I am nothing compared to the surpassing glory of Christ my God”.

In Solus Christus, the one work of Christ has freed us from our previous bondage to sin. We are now empowered to do what please Him. This brings Him glory. What’s more, God gets even more glory by the works we do in His name as it points people back to Him.

Now, I know some will say – that’s all well and good, but what do I have to gain by bringing God glory? While I’ll admit I believe there to be a bit of selfishness underlying such a question, it isn’t bad to answer it. The answer is fairly simple – we find our greatest fulfillment in our lives when we bring God glory.

 

I think I’ll leave it there. Please feel free to use the resources below to read and learn further. Also, the affiliated Awaken ministry now has a Facebook page. This will be the first post that will also update on the page. Until next time!

Sources & Further Reading:

http://www.christianity.com/church/church-history/the-five-solas-of-the-protestant-reformation.html

http://www.theopedia.com/five-solas

http://www.fivesolas.com/5solas.htm

https://www.monergism.com/thethreshold/articles/onsite/qna/fivesolas.html

http://www.faithbaptistorlando.com/resources/sermon/2017-10-22/the-five-solas-of-the-reformation-solus-christus

Key Reformation Disputes

There are a number of items the reformers diverged on from the Roman Catholic Church. Two of the key points made by not just Martin Luther would be the topics of indulgences and salvation.

Indulgences

For those who do not know: indulgences are grants made by the pope that people can then buy in order to reduce their time to spend in purgatory – a time decided by the weight of the individual’s sin.

Now, there’s a few problems with this. One of those being the many abuses of indulgences in the times before and during Martin Luther’s time. It was effectively used for whatever the Catholic Church wanted which even they will admit today was abused in those times. Interestingly though, the Catholic church still defends the use of indulgences as they see it producing a beneficial effect when not abused.

Another point of contention is found in what it depends on – this idea of purgatory and that the pope has power enough over it to grant these pieces of paper known as indulgences.

The pope has always claimed to be the “vicar of Christ” and thereby said to claim such spiritual authority. The issue: the arguments for this claim are shaky at best. We’ll touch on this more under the Salvation dispute next.

Purgatory, which is this place in between this life and the next involving excruciating waiting times before one day reaching heaven, quite simply has no biblical support. In fact, this is just one reason for why the Roman Catholic church declared the books known as the Apocrypha as part of the bible later – to attempt to have “scriptural” basis to argue for purgatory. Even with this move, I personally (as well as many others) question the argument to be made for purgatory as even the apocryphal literature is vague at best on even the idea – and this is coming from a person who’s actually read the Apocrypha.

So in summation: purgatory doesn’t even exist so the pope’s claims in regards to it go nowhere. I do not provide Scriptural references here because they simply do not exist that would truly support the idea of purgatory.

Salvation

To be more specific, I am talking about salvation in relation to the Church.

Now, indulgences were a point of corruption that the Catholic church earned a lot of ire about from numerous people, not just Martin Luther and major reformers like him. Even with that in mind, it was the claims about salvation that truly began to draw a line in the sand.

Keep in mind that reformers like Martin Luther never had the original intent to separate from the Roman Catholic church. In fact, they were trying to point out abuses and doctrinal errors in order to have them debated and corrected. The Catholic church though was a world power that effectively had positioned itself as the controlling element in your soul’s existence after death.

So how did this change?

In Martin’s 95 theses, he laid out the case made in Romans about justification by grace alone. In other words, we are not declared righteous by any means of the Catholic church before God but by God’s grace first transforming us alone. This is often referred to as God’s regeneration in us to a state that we can respond to him in faith and it was all brought about by God’s grace – Sola Gratia (one of the 5 Solas of the Protestant Reformation).

What’s more is that all of this was discovered by simply reading and studying the Scriptures, something the Catholic church discouraged by limiting translations and putting the pope as the top interpreter. With the authority of Scripture put back at the center of the faith by reformers and the realization of the work of God’s grace, the other 3 solas of the Protestant Reformation naturally came and dismantled the Roman Catholic’s authority over one’s standing before God – I’m talking about salvation.

God’s grace (by grace alone) is what regenerates you to faith (by faith alone). This faith is not whimsical but is in an actual person who was dead, buried, and raised to life thereby conquering death (through Christ alone). We see this in God’s word, the Bible (by Scripture alone). Ultimately, it all brings glory to God and His awesomeness (glory to God alone).

We are effectively saved by God and His power and no others. We do not need the Catholic church to be saved.

With all this in mind, it is no wonder at all that the balance of power in Europe became forever changed. Not even the rulers of the day had to any longer grovel before the pope for their eternal life but only had to turn to God Himself. Granted, there were plenty of leaders who abused this change to their own ends and the conflicts of the time are the result. Even so, Christianity has never been the same since!

I praise God for the Protestant Reformation brought through the reformers He raised up so that we may know the truth of His Word!

 

For additional reading:

http://www.christian-history.org/indulgences.html

http://www.ccel.org/ccel/luther

http://www.theopedia.com/five-solas

 


Hope you guys enjoyed the article. I apologize as it was delayed from my originally intended post of Sunday/Monday but I ran into some serious car trouble. Thankfully, it is resolving itself now. I enjoy writing these posts and look forward to the posts to come. The 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation is still on the way!

Along Martin Luther and Beyond

Now we go to some of Martin Luther’s counterparts and those who came after.

They are:

Desiderus Erasmus (~1467 to 1536), born in Rotterdam (Netherlands), Christian Humanist

John Calvin (1509 to 1564), born in France – didn’t stay there, considered Martin’s successor by many

Huldrych (Ulrich) Zwingli (1484 to 1530), Swiss Reformer

As you can see, all three of these mean were technically contemporaries of Martin Luther though John Calvin was certainly one that came in the later.

All three were writers and influential in their own right. What’s more, they were not in isolation as there are more men that could be listed from these times but I am only focusing on these.

Desiderus Erasmus was primarily an influence through his writings and there is evidence his work influenced Zwingli who had interactions with Luther.

Martin Luther and Zwingli’s most notable interaction involved mass. Zwingli advocated the removal of the Catholic mass and replaced it with a simply communion as well as changed a few other liturgical traditions. However, this wasn’t the key point of their interaction. Luther and Zwingli sparred over their interpretation of the elements in the Eucharist (communion). You can find more details on this particular debate here in the section titled “Relations with Luther”.

Despite a disagreement, Ulrich Zwingli and Martin Luther agreed quite a bit in the focus of the Protestant Reformation  – Scripture has the highest authority. A few things of note from Zwingli that we see in much of Protestantism today include the simple communion, the removal of images in the church & other liturgical changes, put forth some theses of his own, as well as completed some influential writings of his own.

In order to have them for comparison later, here is a summation of Zwingli’s main theses:

  1. The Church is born of the Word of God. Also, Christ is the only head of the Church.
  2. Church “laws” are only binding so long as they agree with Scripture.
  3. Christ alone is man’s righteousness.
  4. Mass is a gross offense to the sacrifice and death of Christ.
  5. There is no biblical argument for mediation for the dead involving purgatory. This would include the use of images in this.
  6. That marriage is lawful for all.

With the above theses, you can imagine then the church changes he then sought to bring about in Switzerland. These are changes still widely observed in churches today across the world that stand in the Protestant tradition.

What about John Calvin?

Ok. We’re getting to him now.

John Calvin came into all this with the other men and their influence as the backdrop. As can be seen at the start by the time-frames of each of their lives, John was a young man when the others began to pass away.

Born in France, John would later end up in Geneva, Switzerland where he would later die. John started his career as a law student – much as Martin was supposed to have become originally – and during his studies he was influenced by the humanist Desiderus Erasmus as well as others. Key components from this drove John to seek to understand the Scriptures in their original languages (something continued to this very day). As such, he went on to study Greek, Hebrew, and Latin.

Among Calvin’s first essays there was an emphasis on salvation by grace alone (one of the 5 Solas) rather than to focus on works and ceremonies.

I don’t intend to get into every detail here as there are great resources for further reading in the links below. Even so, key contributions made by Calvin were in his Institutes of the Christian Religion, commentaries, and influence that gave direction to Protestants elsewhere in Europe including those who would later go to America and start the Presbyterian and Congregationalist churches. There are many churches today that would consider John Calvin to be their founding father.

Hope this proved informative to you! I challenge you to read more on each of these influential men of the Protestant Reformation period and would suggest the links below are a great place to start.

 

Resources for further reading:

https://www.britannica.com/biography/Huldrych-Zwingli

https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/erasmus/

https://www.biography.com/people/john-calvin-9235788?_escaped_fragment_=

https://www.britannica.com/biography/John-Calvin

 

Martin Luther

Martin Luther is often the central figure to the Protestant Reformation. We saw last week that there were in fact pre-reformers as well who, in their own way, laid some groundwork for what was to come in Martin Luther’s time.

Like Wycliffe, Martin Luther found some friends in higher places that became key in his later survival – but I’m getting ahead of myself.

Martin lived from 1483 to 1546. He early on was given an education in Latin as well as memorized common things at the time like the 10 Commandments. When it was time for graduate studies he had the choice between law, medicine, and theology. Such a well-known theologian in the later Reformation must have chosen theology, right? Not correct. In fact, his father directed him into law, so Martin followed his father’s direction.

What changed Martin’s mind later, much to his father’s dismay was a storm. The storm was so bad that Martin was terrified he’d be killed by it and promised God he would change his path & instead become a monk in service to Him if he be spared him from death. Obviously, he was spared, because Martin stayed true to his word and entered a monastery.

What followed was a time of torment for Martin as he threw himself into the monastic life. The more he reached out to God, there more he saw his own sin and misery.

It was in 1508 in Wittenberg where he began his studies of theology and became exposed to the Scriptures themselves. After a trip to Rome and his continued studies, it wasn’t long before he began to see conflict between the faith as it is described scripturally and what the Catholic Church was putting forth.

Indulgences

A key trigger was the Pope’s endorsement and pushing of the doctrine of indulgences. Luther saw in them clear contradiction to the Bible. His response to them was the famed 95 Theses which famously were nailed to the doors of the church he had preached at. There is some debate whether this aspect truly happened, but he nevertheless did send a copy to Archbishop Albert of Mainz and some friends of his. This was made all the more possible by the invention of the printing press which would later prove invaluable in the spreading of Luther’s writings.

Martin Luther’s point in his actions was to spark a debate. He wanted things brought to light and have the church deal with them head-on, making reformations where necessary to get/keep the church properly on track. Martin had no intention of creating upheaval or rebelling. Even so, the controversy that ensued served to change Christendom as well as strengthen Martin’s faith as it proved to solidify him in the Bible being the final authority for the Christian faith.

I don’t want to get bogged down here into every minutia that came about next but suffice it to say that things escalated. (I will give it a deeper look in another article)

Eventually, the Pope declared Martin a heretic in 1521 with papal bull (Decree from the Pope) Decet Romanum Pontificem (translates: It pleases the Roman Pontiff). Martin Luther took the bull sent to him and burned it.

Now, here is where some of Martin Luther’s connections come in – albeit, not from any special ability of his own necessarily.

  1. German citizens were granted the right to a proper hearing before condemnation. (as such the papal bull did not immediately require an authority to apprehend Martin as it normally would)
  2. Frederick III stood by him and sought to protect him from Rome.

Diet of Worms

The “Diet of Worms” was effectively a meeting in Worms, Germany. Here, it was decided Martin would receive his hearing. Rome demanded Martin recant his works. In the end, he only admitted to speaking too harshly at points & apologized for this but ultimately & absolutely refused to recant his works.

At this point, Charles V (emperor) & Rome were after him which is where Martin Luther goes into hiding – again with help. When he eventually comes out again, he has added even more to his list of works – including a translation of the Bible into German.

The world is never the same again. Martin Luther’s works spread and new “mini” reformations are sparked in other countries. In time, the Protestant Reformation comes to impact all of Europe and then spills over into the New World (where the theologies impact the later formation of the USA).

 

There are far more details than what I’ve written here. This is just a primer of sorts. Many of Martin Luther’s works can be found online at no cost but you can still buy physical copies to this day of what he wrote.

Next week, I will continue on with key figures who’s lives overlapped with Martin’s or were just after him but continued the developments from the Reformation.

 

Before Martin Luther

As we come up on this year’s 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation, I want to highlight 2 “pre-reformers” and their impacts.

This two people would be John Wyclif and Jan Hus.

John Wyclif (there is some variant use of spelling on his last name) – his name is still known to this day in the Christian community in large part because of his last name, Wyclif. An organization of Bible translators is named after him.

He was born before 1330 near Richmond (Yorkshire) and later came to Oxford where he began to be an influence. He questioned some of the excesses of the Catholic Church at the time and found others who agreed with him. It was his stance on the sacraments (particularly Communion) that became the last straw for the Church. What’s more, he wrote in Latin and English making his works all the more available.

Nevertheless, when looking at John’s work it is clear Martin wasn’t the first to make the same claims about the authority of Scripture and God. What’s more John Wyclif translated the Bible into English. What isn’t widely known is that he put forth two translation, one being more idiomatic than the other. Translating the Bible was a no-no according to the Church.

John Wyclif, despite being declared a heretic, was not killed by the Catholic Church in the end but died of a second stroke in 1384.  Even so, he was already under fire before he passed.

Jan Hus (or Huss) – he was born about 1370 in what is now the Czech Republic. Jans paid the ultimate price and died at the stake but not before making his own impact.

Jan was influenced by John Wyclif works which was easy as Jan was also working in academia in philosophy.

Jan became embroiled in the Czech Reform Movement and took to preaching in the local tongue (Czech) rather than Latin (the Church’s typical m.o.).

An interesting element that flavored the environment of Jan’s time was the Western Schism in which there were two popes trying to lead the Roman Catholic Church (which lead to some reforms in attempt to prevent this from recurring).  It was a messy time that ultimately proved to catch Jan Hus leading to his eventual death.

Some of the things leveled at him included his refusal to stop preaching (when one of the popes tried to have preaching in chapels stop), his public denouncing of indulgences (Martin was no the first the refute these), and his writings that directly refuted his enemies.

He was arrested and tried as a “Wycliffe heretic” (despite not being in 100% agreement with Wyclif’s works) before the Council of Constance after being promised safe-conduct. After refusing to recant, he was burned at the stake on July 6, 1415.

 

Sources & additional information:

https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/wyclif/

https://www.britannica.com/biography/John-Wycliffe

https://www.britannica.com/biography/Jan-Hus

https://www.britannica.com/event/Western-Schism