Posts Tagged With: Reformation

What is Reformed Theology?

66719If, as William Ames put it, theology is the “science of living blessedly forever”, Reformed Theology is its most self-consistent and biblical expression. Forged in the ancient struggles of the church fathers against pernicious heresies, formed in the 16th century struggle to rescue the true Church from her Babylonian captivity, and bathed in the blood of the martyrs, it consists of a series of doctrinal loci (derived entirely from the sixty-six books of Scripture,) and their logical interrelation. It fits together as a seamless system, but no one particular doctrine overshadows the rest; the whole counsel of God in Scripture is summarized and systematized without any artificial construct or over-emphasis of one over the other. The starting point for theology is God Himself, and His self-revelation both general and special. From there His decrees are understood, and His means of carrying them out (in Creation and Providence.) From there we understand Man, the Covenants, the Fall, and Christ the Mediator. These loci are more or less expressed commonly by all the major Reformed theologians who wrote systematic theologies from Calvin to Turretin, Dabney and Hodge. They are furthermore clearly expressed in the Reformed confessions, as sources of instruction but also protection for the Church, such as the Westminster Confession of Faith, the Belgic Confession, the Canons of Dordt, the French Confession of Faith, the Scots’ Confession, the Heidelberg catechism, etc. Reformed theology has been tested and tried, and has corrected much false teaching in Church history. It must continue to be refined, but must never alter or remove those landmarks that have been established based upon careful reflection on the Holy Scriptures. Reformed theology is Christianity come to its own, its fullest and most consistent expression. It magnifies the grace of God over the pride of man, humbles the sinner, and comforts the penitent. It is powerful medicine to cure the spiritual condition of everyday people that we meet. It is motivation and an effective tool for evangelism. It is a powerful method of discipleship. It is what every true Christian would like to know and believe, even if they do not know it yet.

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6 Reasons to Read Pierre Viret: The Angel of the Reformation by R. A. Sheats

I’ve just had the pleasure of completing Pierre Viret: The Angel of the Reformation by R. A. Sheats.  This is the finest specimen of a spiritual biography that I can recall reading in recent memory.  Here are 6 reasons why I recommend that you read it.

1. It is an action-packed, page-turning thriller.  From conflicts with Romanists, Protestant magistrates trying to control the church, & ignorant parishioners, to empoisonment, to illness, to blessed fruit, to a surprisingly gentle character in the face of opposition, capture, and imprisonment, I just couldn’t put this book down.  The action is non-stop.

2. It is well-written.  Sheats writes with an effusiveness and expressiveness of style that can only come from being immersed in 16th century French literature for months without end.  Her English prose ebbs, flows, and punches.

3. It is doxological.  As a spiritual biography should be, it glorifies God in all things.  This book will drive you to your knees in thanks to God for His mighty acts in history.

4. It fills in important historical gaps.  Pierre Viret (1511-1571) is a name that is largely forgotten, but it clearly should not be.  Viret, along with the more famous Calvin and Farel together formed the triumvirate.  These three pastors worked closely together, were dear friends, and were used mightily in French-speaking Switzerland.

5. Pierre Viret is an inspirational figure.  Dauntless, courageous, always loving, gentle, and pastoral.  Here are some notable quotes from the author:  “If Farel was the Peter of the French Reformation, and Calvin was the Paul, without a doubt Viret was the John.”  “The only thing that holds me to my post is Him. –Pierre Viret”

6. The beautiful glossy color photographs on location in Switzerland and France.  They made me want to go visit all those places.  Now, I have to someday.  Honestly.

I won’t say that you must read it.  I will only say that if you don’t, you’re really missing out.

Order here.

Read my expanded book review on the Ordained Servant Online.

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The Lausanne Academy

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Indeed, in the days prior to the establishment of Calvin’s Academy in Geneva in 1559, the preeminent place of study in the pays de Vaud was unquestionably Lausanne.  The Academy turned out countless pastors for the Reformed faith, and aside from the preachers who left the Academy to proceed as missionaries to the surrounding Roman Catholic countries were many world-renowned men of the Faith who also received their training at Viret’s school.  Some such students included Zacharias Ursinus and Casper Olevianus, authors of the Heidelberg Catechism of 1562, and Guido de Bres, author of the Belgic Confession of 1561.

R. A. Sheats, Pierre Viret: The Angel of the Reformation, p. 92

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Pastoral Letter — Oct 27, 2013

From Pastor Riley, to the members and friends of Hope Congregational Church,

Greetings in the name of Him who is reforming His Church, bringing her to greater conformity to His will!

The days are getting shorter and the nights are getting longer.  Temperatures are dropping.  Perhaps spending more time indoors than we normally do in the summer months will give us time to reflect on some important topics.  The one I would like to focus on at the moment is Reformation.  Reformation is a work of God found in the Scriptures, when He conforms and reforms His Church to His will as expressed in His holy word.  In the days of Hezekiah the King there was a mighty reformation, a time of revival and smashing the idols that people had been following instead of God.  We see the same thing occur under the reign of Josiah after the book of the law was rediscovered.  There are times of blessing when the word of God is rediscovered, ignorance is uprooted, and idols are smashed for the glory of God and the blessing of His Church.

On October 31, 1517 such a work of God began through the humble protest of a conscientious monk and Bible professor at Wittenberg University named Martin Luther.  Luther95thesesIn the middle ages Christianity had overtaken Europe, although North Africa and Asia Minor (modern day Turkey), once important centers of the Christian faith, had for the most part been overrun by Islam through successive conquests.  In the Middle Ages Bibles were scarce, and if available, it was only available in the Latin Vulgate translation.  As a result, many superstitions and errors had developed to cloud and obscure the gospel of Jesus Christ based on some key mistranslated passages in the Vulgate.  A general ignorance prevailed over Christian people, who generally did not have access to the Bible and heard homilies in Latin every Sunday, a language they could not understand.  Due to the interest of Renaissance scholarship, the original Hebrew and Greek Scriptures became more widely available in western Europe for the first time.  God used these events to bring about a reform movement back to the source of truth, the Holy Scriptures, and to restore the purity of the gospel in the tenets of the Reformation: upon the Scriptures alone, in Christ alone, by grace alone, through faith alone, for God’s glory alone.  On Sunday, November 3rd, in the afternoon following a potluck at church, you will have an opportunity to learn more.  I would like to invite everyone, including friends, relatives and neighbors to our first ever Reformation History talk.

Church History is important to the body of Christ.  It is our history, as God’s people.  It lets us know where we’ve come from, gives us an opportunity to praise God for what He has done, warns us of the errors of the past (which tend to keep reappearing under new names), and gives us hope that the God of our fathers is the same God who leads us today.  As we follow Him, in thankfulness for what He has done in history, let us also remember that as His Church we are to be ever increasing in our knowledge and application of what He requires of us.  A watchword of the 16th century Reformation was, Semper Reformanda – “always reforming”, (from Latin.)  God has helped us until now, but we always have room for improvement.  The correct attitude toward obedience to God as His church is to always be willing to change in ways (and only in those specific ways) that God requires of us in His word, the Holy Bible.  Just as individual Christians are to be brought more and more into conformity to Christ, so it is with His Church made up of them.  May God continue to richly bless us and reform us in accordance with His word.

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Announcing: Reformation History Talk 2013

Reformation History Talk

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On a providential day: October 31, 1517, a humble protest by a conscientious monk and University Bible professor named Martin Luther set off a chain of events which changed the world and altered the course of history. Let us take time to reflect on a mighty work of God in the past and its contemporary relevance.

What: First-Ever Reformation History Talk

When: Sunday, November 3rd, 2013 1:00 PM

Location: Hope Congregational Church, 40981 County Road GG, Bethune, CO

Topic: What was the Protestant Reformation? Why was it necessary? And what does it mean for us today?

Speaker: Rev. Riley Fraas

Come and join us for a discussion followed by a question and answer period and special music from the Hope Congregational Church Choir. No RSVP needed. Bring a friend. You won’t want to miss this historic occasion.

Facebook event page: http://tinyurl.com/kh4gpjj

Exodus 15:1 I will sing unto the Lord, for he hath triumphed gloriously: the horse and his rider hath he thrown into the sea.

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If Christianity is True, Why Are There So Many Different Churches?: Part 3, History Has a Lot to Do with It.

Our discussion of the fact that there are many different Christian churches would be remiss if it did not include a look at the history behind the various splits and divisions.

For the first few centuries of Christianity, there were different churches in different locations, which more or less had fellowship and communion with one another. In those early centuries a hierarchial structure developed whereby the most important cities in Christendom were led by archbishops. The most important centers and archdioceses were eventually Jerusalem, Antioch, Alexandria, Constantinople, and Rome. Now and then councils of bishops were held representing the entire Church to respond to false teaching that had crept up in part of the Church. The councils of Nicaea (AD 325), Constantinople (AD 381), Ephesus (AD 431) and Chalcedon (AD 451) are examples, which produced what we know today as the Nicene Creed and the Definition of Chalcedon. These statements about the Holy Trinity and the person of Christ are still important and instructive for us today, subordinate to the Scriptures. Those who could not adhere or subscribe to the documents produced by the councils were considered to be heresies or departures from the true Christian faith. The Church which was unified on the basis of the foundational doctrines of the Triune God and of Christ expressed in these documents was in those days known as catholic, meaning universal or as Augustine put it, “that which has always and everywhere been believed by all Christians” and orthodox, meaning that she followed straight doctrine. For the first millenium of Christianity, then, there was basically only one truly Christian Church extending from Britain and Portugal to North Africa and Palestine. Although many things varied between churches from city to city, and province to province, there was a basic organizational unity and fellowship among Christians professing the true faith handed down from the apostles.

The first and the largest split in the history of Christianity occurred in 1054 A. D. when the western church split from the eastern church, known as the “great schism.” Although there was sadly a good bit of political motivation behind the division, on the surface the split involved the question of whether the phrase “and the Son”, known in Latin as the filioque, belonged in the Nicene Creed. It was not part of the original document but it had been added in the West to express the biblical teaching that the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son. Eastern theologians disagreed, and still disagree to this day. There was also a dispute over whether it was proper to use leavened or unleavened bread in the sacrament of Communion, and over whether the bishop of Rome, aka. the pope, was the universal bishop of the whole Church. Ever since the schism, the eastern church has come to be known as orthodox and the western church as catholic.

The next great division occurred in the western church during the 1500’s, known as the Protestant Reformation. Over a period of centuries many false teachings had gradually but powerfully crept into the catholic church to the point where the good news of salvation by faith in Christ had been obscured. Many extra-biblical traditions had accumulated to the point where even the priests were quite ignorant of the Holy Scriptures, not to mention the laity! Mass was only held in Latin, a foreign tongue to many. The lives of parishioners were filled with such things as veneration of relics (dead bones and other objects supposed to be from saints,) prayer to saints, indulgences (get out of purgatory certificates sold to raise funds for the pope), and the addition of five sacraments not given as such in Scripture: marriage, ordination, confirmation, penance, and last rites. Salvation was taught to be a reward for good works and a result of partaking in the supposed seven sacraments rather than being based only on the merit of Christ himself, as Scripture teaches. But when a great movement known as the Renaissance made available such important scholarly material from the east as the Greek New Testament and the writings of the Greek fathers from the time of the great ecumenical councils we mentioned above, young scholars began to learn that the way of salvation revealed in Scripture is purely by the grace of God in Christ unto salvation unto everyone who believes in Him, based on His merit alone and not on any of our own works, following such passages as Romans 1:16, 17:

For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth; to the Jew first, and also to the Greek. For therein is the righteousness of God revealed from faith to faith: as it is written, The just shall live by faith.

Reformers like Martin Luther, Ulrich Zwingli, John Calvin, William Tyndale, John Knox, and Thomas Cranmer brought and preached the Bible in their home countries including Germany, France, Switzerland, England, and Scotland. The Bible was translated into the languages of the people from the original Hebrew and Greek so that they could understand the Scriptures for themselves. Worship was held and sermons were preached in the common languages of the people. Instead of basing the Christian faith on the great mass of tradition that had accumulated over the centuries, these Reformers looked to the Bible alone as the final authority and standard for the Christian faith. The Reformers kept those traditions which were based on Scripture and threw out the rest so as not to throw the baby out with the bathwater. Since the Roman Church had rejected the Reformers and their teaching, new churches were established in many countries, wherever the gospel was heard and believed in purity. Although divided by geography and sometimes by some of the finer points of doctrine, these churches, known as Protestant, held the basic Christian faith in common. By rejecting the doctrines of salvation by faith alone and the unique authority of the Holy Scriptures at the Council of Trent ( AD 1545-1563), the Roman Church, commonly known as the Catholic Church, departed from the true Christian faith handed down from the apostles. Sadly she still rejects these important pillars of the true Christian faith of salvation by faith in Christ alone and the Scriptures alone as the final authority, even today. The Protestant Reformation birthed such churches as the Lutheran, Reformed, Anglican, Presbyterian, and Congregational churches divided by geography and sometimes certain matters of doctrine or practice, but united on the basics of the gospel.

Over the years, further movements and divisions within the churches of the Reformation produced other churches such as the Baptists and Methodists with their own distinctive emphases during the 1600’s and 1700’s. The 1800’s saw a number of cults started by powerful personalities or self-appointed prophets who gathered their own following, especially in the United States, many of which groups continue until this day. In the 20th century, many of the Protestant churches had become infected with liberal theology which undermined the pure faith based on the Holy Scriptures that had characterized the churches of the Reformation.  Many churches were influenced by modern trends like evolutionary theory, “higher” biblical criticism, feminism, and sexual “liberation.”  But in several cases a remnant of true believers remained to carry on the heritage of faith in those churches or break away and form new denominations to bear the old name and faith. The charismatic/pentecostal movement attempted to recreate the experiences of the apostolic age, counter to a biblical understanding of God’s plan for redemptive history, I believe. And many independent churches were established, with no official ties or fellowship with any other congregations.

Here is a quick summary of the historical circumstances which led to the plethora of churches and denominations that we have today. So here’s what has happened. That leaves us to consider God’s ultimate purpose in it and offer some practical considerations. To be continued.

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