God And Savior: On the Deity of Christ

Last week, I posted a video response to a YouTube video I saw of a Oneness Pentecostal preacher named Pastor Gino Jennings and his attack on the Trinity. As I normally do, I prepared my response in general before I began my rebuttal of his criticisms, and as I prepared for one of his arguments, I decided it might be useful to post this response in a blog article; perhaps it may be useful in blog form for some fellow believers in how to respond to this particular criticism of the Trinity.

Pastor Gino’s attack on this particular point is aimed at Titus 2:13, and as a side note, this is probably the only point in his entire video where he actually attempted to deal with a very key passage about the deity of Christ. The passage reads as follows:

[waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ,] -Titus 2:13 (ESV).

As can be seen in the text, it seems very clear that Paul calls Jesus directly the God of the universe, making him deity. If this is allowed to stand, it presents clear problems for anti-trinitarians.

What such persons, such as Pastor Gino did, will do in response, is go to this passage and attempt to separate the God and Savior part, essentially saying that the appearing is of God, and also Jesus, as if God and Jesus are two separate individual beings as well as persons. That’s all that is meant here, according to them. In particularly Gino’s case, he connects Titus 2:13 with Acts 7:55, where Stephen, as he is being martyred, looks into heaven and sees Jesus sitting at the right hand of God, and this clearly indicates two separate beings (as well as persons) is in view, and therefore when we come to Titus 2:13, there is all the warrant to suggest two distinct individuals: God and then also Jesus, who is not God, but comes with Him.

The Granville Sharpe Principle

How do Christians respond to this counter-attack on our arguments for the deity of Christ? It would appear, based on this, that anti-trinitarians are completely justified in rejecting the deity of Christ. It is in a situation like this that it is very useful to know Greek, or at least, to know a technical rule in Greek linguistics we call the Granville Sharpe Construction. Fortunately, you don’t need to know Greek to know what this principle is, and how it functions. What is it?

The Granville Sharpe Construction (what we will abbreviate as ‘GSC’) is a rule named after its founder, the English philanthropist and linguist in 1798.

“Sharpe pointed out that in the construction article-noun-kai-noun (where ‘kai’ = ‘and’), when two nouns are singular, personal, and common (i.e., not proper names), they always had the same referent. Illustrations such as ‘the friend and brother’, ‘the God and Father,’ etc. are abound in the NT to prove Sharpe’s point.”

Translator’s Commentary; NET Bible, Full Study Notes Edition on 2 Peter 1:1

To condense the quotation above into a straightforward statement, the anti-trinitarian’s attempt to separate the two nouns (God and Savior) is simply invalid, and reflects an ignorance of proper exegesis of the Greek. We shall use examples to prove our point. Let’s first look at Titus 2:13, and the phrase in question (“Our God and Savior, Jesus Christ”) in the Greek:

“θεοῦ καὶ σωτῆρος ἡμῶν Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ”

The literal translation here is “God (θεοῦ) and (καὶ) Savior (σωτῆρος) of us (ἡμῶν) Jesus Christ (Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ)”, pronounced “theou kai soteros hemoun yesou cristou”. Notice the conjunction “kai” (which means ‘and’) in the passage, and how, just as the GSC says, connects the two nouns that the conjunction sits between as being about the same person. There are numerous points in the New Testament that we see this same construction take place,. We are going to look at three here to make our point–2 Peter 1:1, 1:11 and 3:18. We will begin first with 2 Peter 1:11 which reads:

κυρίου ἡμῶν καὶ σωτῆρος Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ

Notice the construction is the same as Titus 2:13 (the only difference being where “ἡμῶν” meaning ‘us’ is–before the conjunction “καὶ”); this once again is the Granville Sharpe Construction/Rule. However, notice one word difference. Instead of theou (θεοῦ) you have “kuriou” (κυρίου) which means Lord, which of course reads, “Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ”. Now for 2 Peter 3:18:

κυρίου ἡμῶν καὶ σωτῆρος Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ

Once more, the same construction as 2 Peter 1:11, as well as Titus 2:13. Now for 2 Peter 1:1:

θεοῦ ἡμῶν καὶ σωτῆρος Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ

Again, exactly identical with 2 Peter 1:11 and 3:18; the only difference is instead of ‘Lord’, you have ‘God’. The question then to ask each anti-trinitarian, including Pastor Gino about this is, are you going to be consistent and separate Lord and Savior in 2 Peter 1:11 and 3:18 as you would do in 2 Peter 1:1 and Titus 2:13? Not even the most vehement anti-trinitarian cults deny that Jesus is Lord, and that’s because it’s impossible to do such and be taken seriously. But shouldn’t they deny him as Lord since, just as it says “Lord and Savior” it says “God and Savior”?

What is the warrant to make two distinct individuals in Titus 2:13, 2 Peter 1:1, yet not in 2 Peter 1:11 and 3:18? There is absolutely no warrant in the text to see these passages differently. The reason is because they have a tradition they are defending, and it is not faithfulness to the revelation of God.

It is clear then, based on this evidence, that anti-trinitarians cannot be consistent on this point in any stretch of the imagination, and are caught in a situation of using different forms of interpretations based on their presuppositional denial of the Trinity and deity of Christ.

Further difficulties arise for the anti-trinitarian when you consider that the prophet Isaiah declared in Isaiah 43:3, 11 and 45:21 that there is no savior other than God Himself. Hence, to call Jesus Savior under an anti-trinitarian perspective would attribute to Jesus the greatest form of blasphemy, and that to follow him would be an act of idolatry (since in each passage of Isaiah cited, looking to other saviors/gods was tantamount to idolatry).

Conclusion

Clearly then the anti-trinitarian cannot remain consistent in this attack which, on the surface appears to be valid, but upon closer examination, fails to produce results, and it presents the anti-trinitarian further dilemmas of committing idolatry on biblical standards, since Christ, who is not God in their view, is nevertheless called the Savior, when only God can be the Savior.

As we can see, knowing something of Greek can help us immensely in dealing with anti-trinitarian attacks on the Trinity. It’s important to know about the languages; for myself, I am only a beginner in Greek, but I do rely on authorities that are very helpful to me, particularly here, and I hope that what I have presented here is also very helpful to other Christians and laypeople in defending the faith against heresies that threaten their foundations.

What Christians Can Learn From Game of Thrones (Shorter Version)

Many years ago, being a fan of fantasy, I saw Game of Thrones grow popular, and its advertisement drew my interest. I decided to give the show a try, when one of its seasons promoted itself by offering the first episode free to watch. It was an excellent promotion strategy that I’m sure worked on most. It didn’t work for me for the simple reason that I cannot stomach the amount of pornographic imagery rampant in the show, let alone the seemingly senseless violence throughout. As a result, I had to turn down watching the show, despite it nevertheless being very interesting.

However, I did keep what I call a “distant interest” in the show. For some reason, YouTube would constantly recommend me clips of the show as it progressed through its seasons, and I watched some of them. I’m one of those kinds of people who can take some information over here, some information over there, and begin to fill in the gaps myself, and that’s what I did. I essentially reconstructed the basic plot line while avoiding some of the most twisted scenes of the show.

Make no mistake, despite the graphic nature of the show, it is very well-written. You don’t have to like the way the show unravels to appreciate the complexity of the story and the characters themselves. There is much to learn in writing good dialogue on many of the scenes in the show, as well as plot progression elements.

But that doesn’t change the fact that there is this big problem that I would sum up in a single question: Is there a point to all of this? By ‘this’ I mean, the pornography, the seemingly senseless violence, the disgusting love affair between a brother and his sister (who have violent sex in the show), consistent, sexual-based cruelty throughout, and down-right debauchery.

An Epic With No Resolution

Even with the antagonists of the show, like Ramsey Bolton, who was a complete nutcase, the writers put so much time into telling the audience that he was a psychopath that at some point, any rational person ought to begin to wonder why keep showing us this? Sure, the audience needs to hate Ramsey, to want him dead, and to do that, perhaps we need to suffer through maybe one or two scenes of him being a sadistic maniac. But why keeping hitting home his insane cruelty over and over and over again? There is a strange and honestly disturbing fascination with the sadism portrayed in the show.

No one in this show seems to have tremendous virtues about them, even Daenerys, who progressively becomes more evil and power-hungry as the show runs. But that’s not entirely wrong. After all, good story has flawed characters; people who demonstrate virtue in one area, and incredible inconsistency and weakness in others. But especially when the show ends, what does each character ultimately learn and what great problems are resolved? Think about that for a moment as you go back to the very end and watch Arya sail the seas, as you watch Daenerys’ body be flown away, Tyrion gathering with special interests to begin rebuilding King’s Landing, and Jon Snow setting off to God-knows-where. What did each character ultimately learn that changed them in the end, and for the good of the show?

The takeaway that I get is that this show offered next to nothing for a resolution in the end. What it offered was literally in the title, a game of thrones, where to get that Iron Throne, which represents absolute power over the realm, you had to fight for it, you had to kill for it, you had to murder, slander, cheat, steal, and prostitute yourself or anyone else into getting it–which make no mistake, is and was a reality. In the monarchical periods of Europe, there was indeed a great game of thrones that was far more complex that Game of Thrones made it, and even today in the United States, there is a kind of game of thrones for power and control of the most influential country in the world.

Fallen Man and Nihilism

The problem is that while this show may depict with, sometimes unnecessary graphic novelty, the reality of what fighting for absolute power does to people, it doesn’t offer you any resolution for what we all would agree is twisted human nature. And the reason it doesn’t is because it can’t. The worldview behind Game of Thrones has nothing to offer you to solve what it so well demonstrates as the human condition of corruption that goes deep into the heart, which then causes that twisted human to lust, and to covet, and to hate.

Ned Stark was obviously the most virtuous of everyone who sat on the Throne, and that’s exactly why they had to kill him in the very beginning. You can’t have a hero in a world like this, because in the worldview of creators of this show, there are no heroes. There’s just cruel mankind. Ultimately, the show is pagan in its roots, closes you off from any ultimate redemption, and pits you in an endless cycle of nihilism.

That’s why the best example of true leadership after Ned Stark, Jon Snow, has to leave (we can’t really have an honest man on the Throne), and the entire band of good guys simply splinters off, or in Tyrion’s case, helps rebuild the same institution that led to this entire twisted drama. No one’s asking questions about the condition of mankind. No one ultimately learns anything about even the Mad Queen, Daenerys; someone so innocent, so gentle, yet still having fallen in the end.

What do we learn then? What we learn from Game of Thrones is that man can be virtuous, but man has an inherent darkness within himself that desires power. The Iron Throne represents absolute power and dominance, just like the Ring of Power in the Lord of the Rings does. The power of the Throne is too great for any mortal man to hold. Let’s presume for a moment that there was a mortal even better than Ned Stark, who what full of virtue and justice and fairness. One day, he will die, and who knows who will take his place? Obviously then, it is not simply good virtue that man needs, but man needs to be immortal.

The Christian Answer: King of Righteousness

Could we find such a man? What if there was a man who was incorruptible, untainted by the sin that infests the rest of mankind? What if this man was also immortal? Could not be killed, and could reign upon the throne forever? He was incorruptible and could bear the power of the throne; he was immortal and so could reign forever. Can we have such a man?

In the Old Testament, God gives David a promise through Nathan in 2 Samuel 7:8-17. That promise was to establish David’s house forever. David’s line would not perish, hence. Israel would have a king that would never be removed. Ever since, Israel has been looking forward to that great promise, for that wonderful king who would fulfill the promise of God to David.

But how can anyone fulfill this promise? As Game of Thrones shows us, everyone dies, even the king. In the Bible, and in reality, it is no different. Old covenant Israel is replete with kings who lived and then died, and however good they may have been, their dynasty and legacy died with them. Generations to come would soon forget all the good deeds they may have done for Israel. Surely, then, God’s promise to David had to go beyond mere mortality. If in the end, death always wins over a great king, how can anyone truly fulfill God’s promise?

In the psalms, we have particular “royalty psalms” that speak specifically to this picture of a great king over Israel. Psalm 2 is one of these, and it speaks of a mighty king, who is almost a kind of divine figure; holding a very close relationship to God. In fact, in verse 6-8, the king in this picture is said to have been “begotten” by God. This king therefore bears a very unique relationship to Him, and to him, God gives the nations, indicating this king is sovereign over the world under the authority of God.

In Psalm 72, another picture of a great and wonderful king is given. He is a righteous king, who is merciful to the oppressed, and absolutely righteous and just against all evil-doers. In the midst of the psalm, in verse 5, one might almost say that this king’s rule is eternal. Psalm 102 may perhaps be the most telling of all our examples here of the character of this king. It begins with a mysterious saying, “The Lord says to my Lord: ‘Sit at my right hand, until I make your enemies your footstool.‘”

The construction of the words are strange. “The Lord says to my Lord” is what we find most peculiar. There seems to be some form of conflation going on. Two Lords are in view here. If we connect all of this with Psalms 2 and 72, we might say here that Yahweh says to David’s Lord (since in each psalm, Yahweh appears to exalt a king, and particularly in 72, one whom He calls a son) to sit at His right hand. The first Lord is capitalized in the text, which is the translator’s way of telling you that you are reading the tetragrammaton for Yahweh (YHVH), the covenant name of the God of Israel.

The use of the phrase “sit at My right hand” is to show absolute power and honor in the Bible. It signifies that the King of Israel is the ruler on behalf of Yahweh.

In Psalm 110, another fascinating statement is made, where Yahweh again speaks to David’s Lord, saying He will make him a “priest forever after the order of Melchizedek”. He will be a priest, forever. He sits at the right hand of Yahweh. What do we make of this? Three things. (1) He is a king; (2) He is a priest; and (3) He is eternal.

That great King, the Bible says, came over two-thousand years ago, and told the world that he was the King of the Jews, descended from the line of David, and fulfilled the promise of God to establish that throne forever. That King was Jesus Christ. The New Testament connects Jesus to the line of David (Matthew 1:17, Romans 1:3). Jesus is also declared to be divine and eternal in his nature (John 1:1-4, John 8:58, Hebrews 1:3, Hebrews 1:8-12).

Jesus then is that great King that Israel had been waiting for, who would fulfill the promises of an eternal King. He is King because He is man, and He is eternal because He is God. As we have said earlier, corrupt, mortal men cannot truly rule the throne of the world. What about someone who is immortal, incorruptible, and is more than a man, and by his very nature alone has the right to rule the world? All of this, Jesus Christ is. Corruption cannot take hold of him, as it is shown in the gospels, such as Matthew 8:1-3. Leprosy was a form of extreme, physical disfigurement that infected anyone it touched. When Jesus touches the leper, rather than Jesus becoming unclean, the leper is cleansed. The power of Jesus and his divine origin is demonstrated here. He has the power over sin, death, and corruption.

The Gospel of the Kingdom

The Old Testament was looking forward to a pivotal moment in the future for a figure to appear by divine appointment who was going to bring an end to Israel’s great suffering. That moment came in the person of Jesus Christ. If you read Matthew’s gospel, Matthew’s great desire is to show a Jewish audience that Jesus is the fulfillment of these prophecies. The Messianic figure of Isaiah 7:14, 8:8, 9:6-7 is fulfilled in Christ (Matthew 1:23).

Jesus’s ministry and message was summed up into one phrase. He went about telling people, “Repent, for the kingdom of God is at hand”. The call was a call to turn away from sin, because the kingdom of God was in their midst. God had come, and He “tabernacled” among His people (John 1:14). The King had finally arrived, and hence proclaims a warning to surrender to His reign and rule, or perish (Matthew 4:17, Mark 1:14, Mark 3:2).

After Jesus had lived, died and been raised from the dead, He gives the great commission to his disciples in Matthew 28:18-20. He says that all authority had been given to him, and to therefore make disciples of the nations. The kingdom of God was here, and now the message of the gospel, of the risen King, who will rule with righteousness and justice commands us all to come to him in repentance and faith and service to his Lordship, bringing all nations into his subjection.

As we have said, it is the Gospel of the Kingdom. So far what we have given was the gospel of the King, however. He is the most central figure of that role, but there is good news for us as well. As I had mentioned before, we have a great sin problem, and how can a holy God allow sin to dwell in His kingdom? He cannot. What then must the just King do with us? He must destroy us. All corruption must end. But God has done something wonderful to answer this problem.

The Gospel of Redemption

First let’s remember what happened in the garden. Adam had not sinned yet, and hence he had no corruption. But once he committed the sin, he forever doomed his seed. Romans 5 is a great descriptor of what we call in theology the Federal Headship of Adam. All born under Adam’s seed inherit the sin nature at birth (Psalm 51:5). After Adam had sinned, God had the tree of life guarded by cherubim (Genesis 3:24) so that no one may enter paradise (Eden) again.

As the book of Hebrews shows us, all the constructions of the old covenant artifacts were a picture of the real ones, the heavenly ones (Hebrews 7:4-5). The symbolism was the return to Eden, to remove the angels guarding the way by a sacrifice. No one could do this, which we will see why as we explain how God redeems us in Jesus Christ.

Here is where Jesus fulfills the role of the High Priest. As Hebrews 10:1-4 sums up so well, the sacrifices of bulls and goats could never truly take away the sins of people. Man owed the debt. Only man could pay it. But for me to pay my debt means for me to die and perish. Then my salvation is hopeless in me. There is only doom.

Now we read on into Hebrews 10, in verse 5, where the Son speaks to the Father and says that a body had been prepared for Him. Now the Son, as a man, can pay the debt man owed, and He could pay the debt eternally because His life was of eternal value. In verse 11, the author again elaborates that the ordinary high priest could not truly fulfill all righteousness, being a sinner himself. Christ, who lives forever as High Priest, with an everlasting sacrifice in His own blood, offers one sacrifice, once for all who believe, purging their sins in eternity, becoming their Priest and King, and saving them fully and completely for the coming kingdom.

As Paul tells us in 2 Corinthians 5:21, Jesus our Savior was made sin for us, so that we might be made the righteousness of God in him. The idea here is a transaction. When I trust in Christ, all of my sin he bears, and I get in exchange all of his righteousness imputed to my account. Not to my present body, but my account, much like an actual bank account. God justifies me on the basis of what Christ did, not on the basis of what I have done. Hence it is through Jesus Christ, the Bridge, the Doorway that I may enter Eden again. As Jesus himself says, no one comes to the Father except through him (John 14:6). All of my sin, therefore, has been dealt with on the cross. Does this mean I no longer sin? Not so. John says in 1 John 1:8 that if we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. How do we make sense of this, then?

From Death to Life

In the prophecy of Jeremiah 31:31-34, the Lord will make a new covenant with Israel, and in this new covenant, God will put His law in their hearts and remember their sins no more. This the author of Hebrews declares is fulfilled in Christ in Hebrews 10:17.

In a similar prophecy, Ezekiel in chapter 36:25, Yahweh says that He will cleanse His people of all their idols. In verse 26, He declares that He will remove our hearts of stone and give us a heart of flesh that He will cause to obey Him. He will give us a new heart. This we call regeneration. A dead man comes to life (Ephesians 2). The point here is that something takes place when my sins are forgiven. The Spirit of God dwells in me. To put this all together, once I am saved, God begins to work life in me. Sin dwells in my current body, but as Scripture tells us, we are to be killing this flesh daily.

In Romans 6, after explaining the doctrine of justification by faith alone, Paul asks a rhetorical question, which is that if I have been forgiven of all sin, doesn’t that mean we can just live our lives in sin and continually say we are forgiven since all our sin is forgiven? Not so. Paul’s answer is that if you have been truly born again, something has happened to you. What is that? That you were buried and raised with Christ. Your sin is killed with him. Hence sin here means more than just bad actions–your corrupt state under Adam’s headship has been dealt with, though it still lives in this world. Now begins the new creation in the New Adam, born from eternity, that shows forth into this world.

This is what baptism represents. Notice what Paul says in Romans 6:5-8. He speaks of dying with Christ and being raised with him. Baptism symbolizes the going down under (the grave), and coming up alive, anew, and washed of sin. Hence the story of redemption, if we can sum it all up, is a story of how God conquers death through it. Through dying in Christ, we shall live (John 11:25-26). He says that he who believes in him [the Christ] and that he has been sent by the Father, has eternal life; they will not face the judgment but have “passed from death to life” (John 5:24).

An Eternal Hope

Thus in the gospel of Jesus Christ we have that great hope, that great redemption that was fulfilled in Christ when he came over two-thousand years ago, and will one day, at the end of time, be fully consummated in a new heaven and new earth, and for us who hold onto him, follow him in faith and repentance, restoration unto a new, pure and sinless life.

He is all that man was supposed to be, but couldn’t be and more. Like Game of Thrones, the Bible tells us of a great story. In the story is great evil, great pain, destruction, sacrifice, betrayal and loyalty. There are epic battles, and history-defining moments. But unlike Game of Thrones, the God who has written this story, who is telling this story always has a divine purpose; He is telling not simply a story of the reality of where we are now, but of a coming reality beyond this, where He will redeem all the evil, and all the pain, in something far greater than what we have.

There will be no sin that corrupts, corrodes and destroys. There will be no factions, no need to take sides. For all there are neighbors, all there are reconciled children of a great and merciful God. And they will serve a King whose reign never ends, whose glory is their light in the day, whose justice will never, ever fade away.

A Sacrifice of Thanksgiving

This is not a late, nor early devotion to the American tradition of Thanksgiving, rather something I was inspired to write while I was listening/reading the Bible on the way to work yesterday morning. Sometimes I don’t have the time to sit and read my Bible, so I have my Bible app audibly read it to me while I do my morning commute. This morning, something struck me as I was in Psalm 50 and 51 that I wanted to take time this morning to unpack and deliver in an article that I hope and pray is helpful to you, whether you are already a believer in Christ, or are struggling with understanding the core Christian faith, or something of both.

The question I want to ask to set this up is, what is it that God wants from us? What was the purpose of God setting up the entire Old Testament sacrificial and ceremonial system? These are questions any seasoned Christian ought to know the answer to, but ask yourself, how do you know the answer? Can you show me in Scripture that these were types and shadows of what God was going to do in Christ? I don’t think many Christians can, and because of that, I think that is why so many of us struggle between grace and law.

Lots of commentaries out there give some good explanations for the tough passages that seem to be God telling us to abide in law to remain in His grace, but often times it’s with Christianese, which doesn’t really explain anything. It doesn’t solve my struggle with why on the one hand I am saved by grace alone and on the other hand, why God demands a sacrifice from me. I will use one commentary from the ESV Study Bible to demonstrate this here, as well as one other from another place.

The Dilemma of Sacrifices

In Psalm 50, the Lord is rebuking Israel for its unfaithfulness to Him (Psalm 50:7). Once again, see the dilemma here. On the one hand, we’re supposed to be seeing God as being gracious to us in spite of our failings, and yet are we not seeing here God turning away from people because of their failings? To solve this, you must read on to verse 8-13. Here God tells Israel that there is nothing they can offer God that would aid Him in anything, since everything is already His. The sacrifices offered to God are therefore worthless.

But this then presents us with another dilemma: Why, then God, do you give us the ordinances of the sacrifices if they are ultimately fruitless? Why have us give you something you don’t really need? The answer to this question requires us to once again, read further into verse 14-15. The sacrifices are to be offered as thanksgiving, not as something that actually propitiates God’s wrath against sin.

This is a truth that is sprinkled all over the Old Testament, hidden in plain sight, often right in the midst of a passage on the importance of sacrifices to God (such as right here). For example, we go on right into the next Psalm, Psalm 51:16 where David, confessing his sin with Bathsheba, picks up on the exact same theme. Psalm 40:6 also mentions this; in Micah 6:6-8, once more, we have a reference to this. In 1 Samuel 15:22, the prophet Samuel rebukes Saul for his abuse of the sacrificial system. Notice what Saul is doing, he is treating the sacrificial system as some kind of bribery of God, as if the sacrifices fuel God’s engine for His power with Israel, like steam to a steam engine and so on.

This is utterly pagan to its core; it is pagan idolatry that demands human beings offer sacrifices to provoke the gods to act on their behalf. Pagans in ancient Israel times, as well as pagans to this very day still do these kinds of things (in our modern context, in less bloody manner). Even in subset of Christianity, such as the Roman Catholic Church, Eastern Orthodoxy, the LDS Church, or any legalistic church, what do they all have in common? To provoke God to move, you must first do these things; you must first set yourself right with God. This is the paganism that Saul fell for, and that frankly anyone who thinks like this has fallen for.

Christianese That Complicates the Matter

There are many places in the Old Testament where this is expressed, but I hope that the few that we have provided suffices to demonstrate that there is a paradox of some kind here. On the one hand, God ordains and commands the sacrifices. On the other hand, He seems to despise them. How then do we understand what is happening here? If we are thinking Christians, we are going to be honest and see that we have a dilemma. Let me quote some commentaries from my study material that helps expose some of the “Christianese” that we are susceptible to:

The Psalmist does not specify what God delights in, but OT passages demonstrate God does not appreciate sacrifices made as outward expressions of religion (e.g., 1 Sam 15:22). The prophets proclaim that God prefers justice and mercy over sacrifice and other outward expressions of religion (Isa 1:11-17; Mic 6:6-8). Wisdom literature likewise emphasizes the importance of righteousness, justice, and obedience over sacrifice (Prov 15:8; 21:3; Eccl 5:1).

Logos, Faithlife Study Bible; Commentary on Psalm 40:6

I’ve underlined some of the parts I want to emphasize I think express a kind of Christianese (unintentionally, I do not disparage the writers of this, I enjoy these commentaries very much!). God does not appreciate sacrifices made as outward expressions of religion, correct–but how do we know we’re not doing that in a New Testament church context? How do I know I’m not given over to empty religion to satisfy a vengeful God?

The prophets proclaim that God prefers justice and mercy over sacrifice, but doesn’t that mean any pagan who is an idolater can still do justice and perform mercy and therefore legalistically work his way into heaven?

Righteousness, justice and obedience are greater than sacrifice as Samuel said, but once again, can not pagans perform righteous and just acts? And isn’t obedience to God’s command performing sacrifices? How then can God demand obedience, ergo do the sacrifices, and then on the other side of His mouth say sacrifices are not necessary?

Now again, I am not asking questions to criticize Revelation, God forbid! What I am trying to expose here is what I think is often glossing over what Scripture is actually telling us. And let me please emphasize that I am not saying the people who put these commentaries together did a disservice to God, I am certainly not. But I know I struggled with these for quite some time, and I don’t think I’m the only one. Let me give one more example below from the ESV Study Bible on this subject:

The oracle then turns to the right use of sacrifices (cf. note on 40:6-8), focusing on the sacrifice of thanksgiving and vows (50:14). These were both kinds of peace offerings (Lev. 7:11-12, 16), which was the only kind of sacrifice in which the worshiper ate some of the sacrificial animal; its primary function was to eat a meal, in company with the sacrificer’s family and the needy, with God as the host. (1 Corinthians 10:16-18 shows that this is the basic meaning of the Christian Lord’s Supper.) Membership in God’s people is about being welcome in his presence (Ps. 50:14), depending on him (v. 15), and dealing justly with others (vv.19-20, 23); thus it engages the heart.

ESV Study Bible, Commentary on Psalm 50:7-15.

Now again, let me emphasize that I think this is extraordinarily helpful to anyone using this, most notably myself. I love my ESV Study Bible. But, did this really hit at the dilemma we have set forth? Most assuredly, it stresses that the Christian faith must be more than outward religion, it must deal with the heart. But again, if we are serious Christians, do we not ask: how do I know that my heart is in this? How do I know that I am not deceiving myself in religion to satisfy God’s wrath against me, rather than Christ’s offering for me?

The Covenants of God as Clues

With that set forth, I want to offer what I think is the solution, and to do this, we must go all the way back to the Fall itself. What does God do when Adam and Eve fall? Firstly, let’s discuss what happens when they disobey. Plainly stated, their grace with God is broken, severed and killed. Doesn’t this mean disobedience means death? Doesn’t this imply that we must do things to remain in God’s blessings? That may have been so before the Fall, but we are in post-Fall now. Look what God says in Genesis 3:14-15, before He turns to Adam and Eve. The Lord Himself is going to destroy what the Serpent did. He didn’t tell Adam nor Eve they had to do this.

Now follow the great covenants God made with Israel and see what the common theme with all of them is. Look at the covenant God makes with Abram in Genesis 15. Who is the one doing the actions necessary to uphold the covenant? Who is making the grand promises? God is. He is the one who is Abram’s shield, He is the one who is going to give Abram the offspring by which the covenant lives. Abram is a recipient of it. This does not mean Abram is not required to commit to rituals on his part, but we will get to that at the right time.

Furthermore, in Genesis 15:12-21, after Abraham had done what the Lord commanded, which was to setup a pagan-like covenant ritual for Abraham’s benefit; using Abraham’s own cultural familiarities to show Abraham what God was doing, who passes through the pieces to enact the covenant? God does through the “smoking fire pot” (the theophany of fire). So who is holding who accountable to this covenant God was making with Abraham? God was. God held Himself to fulfill the covenant, not Abraham. And when you read onward, God is the one who is going to do everything needed to keep the covenant. Obviously thousands of years later, with the advent of Christ, Paul reveals to us the fullest fulfillment of that covenant God made with Abraham, which was redemption and restoration to the promise land through Christ (Romans 4, Galatians 3:14, 3:29).

When Abraham is going to offer Isaac to the altar, as we all believe, he uttered divine-originated prophecy in Genesis 22:8 when he said that God Himself was going to provide the lamb. See how God is the one doing these things? And who ultimately fulfills this? Christ does of course. Christ was the true sacrifice, the Lamb of God (John 1:29, Revelation 5:6, Hebrews 10:12).

What about the Mosaic Covenant we ask? There seems to be a clear-cut example of God doing the opposite of what He did with Abraham and what we will soon see is David. The Mosaic Covenant is somewhat different, yet still related to our subject. How so? It’s important to recognize that the Mosaic Covenant takes place within a preexisting covenantal context, the covenants God made with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob (in each case, you see the same theme that God was going to fulfill the covenant).

Sinai exists in light of that, having fulfilled that. So what we see, therefore, is God calling Israel to do because of what? Because of what God has already done. In fact, when you see Moses give the Ten Commandments, what does God preface them with? Declaring to Israel what God has done. Furthermore, when God is giving the ordinances of the covenant, He continually reminds Israel who is giving it, “I am the Lord” (the Tetragrammaton for YHVH, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob), meaning, because of who He is and what He has done, therefore this. This will be important to remember later on, but ultimately, let’s not forget what we read all of this in light of, the sprinkled passages that we discussed before about how God ultimately does not want Israel to view the sacrifices as if they actually propitiate His wrath against sin. There is another reason for why Israel is to be doing this.

Lastly, in the Davidic Covenant, when God establishes David’s throne forever, once more, who was the one who was going to accomplish this? God was. David was a recipient.

What God Promised He Would Do

With this brief overview of the covenants God made throughout the Old Testament, we have the context to go into the New Testament and see how all of this fits. Let us first, once more, ask the questions in the opening of the article (as we have raced across so many texts of Scripture to scramble our brains somewhat, and lose sight of the purpose of the article) to remind us of our dilemma so as to solve it: What is it that God wants from us? Why the sacrifices if God condemns us for doing them? How do we do them in a right manner?

As we have seen, notice how in each of the great covenants God made with His elect, while He ordains particular practices for His people to perform in light of them, He never told any of them (nor us by extension) that they were to fulfill the covenant ultimately. Never did God say to anyone that it was upon their shoulders to return to the Promise Land. The opposite is stated; God is the one who is going to do it, He is the one who will bring Israel back to the Promised Land, out of the land of death, through shadow and despair.

For the sake of time and brevity I cannot dive into this extensively, but what I hope I have done at least is help setup for us the way to go into the New Testament and see how God has kept each of these promises in Christ. We see how Christ is the fulfillment of the Abrahamic Covenant in Romans 4, when Paul brings up how Abraham was justified before God. It was not by what Abraham did, but by what he believed God was going to do (and then you see that Abraham circumcises himself as a sign of that covenant, not in fulfillment of it). The implication here is that God’s promise to Abraham in Genesis 15 and in 22 extended far beyond what Abraham had imagined, yet nevertheless, it was Abraham’s looking forward to that promise that gave him the strength to push on.

Hopefully by now you are anticipating where I am going with all of this, the passage I like to call The Grand Hall of Faith, where we see the history of the great men of faith in Scripture, Hebrews 11. After the author of the Hebrews gives his great and remarkable argument of how Christ fulfills all things, all the types and shadows, how he embodies God’s actions to fulfill every covenant, himself being God (Hebrews 1:8-12), the author now exhorts his audience to grab hold of that one man, Jesus Christ, the fulfillment of God’s promises through the ages, and in that press forward to the kingdom of God.

You see then, with Hebrews as our lens to understand what motivated the great men of God in the Old Testament, they were not moved by a need to keep their end of the bargain. Abraham was not moved by the requirements to maintain God’s grace; Paul rebukes that in Romans 4 and in Galatians 3. It was because Abraham looked forward to what God was going to do (Hebrews 11:8-10) that he circumcised himself, that he offered sacrifices to God and so forth. This is the faith that carried them all, and that is the kind of mindset by which God commanded His people of the Old Testament to perform the sacrifices. It was not to actually satisfy God’s wrath, it was to give thanks and glory, looking forward to when God Himself was going to end this.

And now, as the church, we do not look ahead to the promise as God gave to the Israelites of old, we look back to what God has done for us in Christ, and in doing so, we push forward, struggling with our sin, conquering it with Christ as our Light, as the author of Hebrews says in chapter 12 (which of course follows 11), after he had proclaimed the entire patriarchy had been moved by faith in God, not work towards God, he tells us to now, having these promises, put off all sin that inhibits our ability to grab hold of the promise.

This is exactly the same kind of thing we see God telling Israel at Sinai. Because God has brought them out of slavery, now do this, do this in thanks to God. Now we of course know today that that was not the end; the ultimate fulfillment is Christ. What God is really saying then in the Mosaic Covenant, and indeed through Moses himself (Deuteronomy 18:15) was that God was going to guide Israel through all of this. What He asks of Israel is to obey in a spirit of thanksgiving for what God was going to do, not in a spirit of needing to keep God’s favor.

For what are we really saying when we believe our works keep God’s favor towards us? We are proclaiming we do not believe God when He says that He Himself is going to redeem us, and that lack of faith is damnable to the soul, for it is not faith in God that drives the individual, but faith in their own ability to act in God’s place in the covenant.

A Sacrifice Then of Thanksgiving

This is the thanksgiving we have being discussed in Psalm 50, this is what the psalmist means by sacrifices of thanksgiving. What is the mindset that we are to have in our offerings to God? It is not the mindset that we are the ones to uphold the covenant with God, it is the mindset rather of thanksgiving to God that He will do it, He is our shield, our Protector, our Shepherd, our King who will not let us be lost. So when we have well-minded Christians say what we have expressed is that God desires us to be just and merciful, we say amen, but what is simply stated is that God wants us to see the sacrificial system of the Old Testament as a shadow of what God was going to do, and just like Abraham, eagerly await when He is going to do it.

This is why Jesus says in John 6:29 that the work of God for us is to believe in him whom God has sent, Christ Jesus, and furthermore, in verse 40 that “all who look on the Son and believe in him shall have eternal life”. This, the apostle in Hebrews 11 says is what all the men of old were doing, from Abraham to the Apostles themselves, and this is how we can know we have eternal life. Why do you do what you do? Are you doing it to keep God’s wrath at bay just a little longer and longer and longer? Or are you doing it, knowing you have boldly approached the throne of grace with Christ as your advocate–not propitiating your sins with your own works, but by looking to him and trusting he has done it all, and thereby not being a just and merciful person to prove to God that you are a good person, but knowing that it is God who works such tenderness in you by His Spirit in you? By this we know that we are His.

This is why as Christians we proclaim the gospel, the wonderful good news to the world around us, to tell them to give up the pagan practices of trying to return to the Promised Land lost on their own strength, and instead, realize that God has done it for you, you need only to see the Christ in whom He has done it! And when you grab hold of that, it is there, and only there, that your life changes, not from the outside in, but from the inside out, to the praise and honor of His glorious grace, and His steadfast faith to do all that He said He was going to do.

Francis Chan, Church History and Why it’s Important

I originally intended this to be a short Facebook post, but how foolish it was for me to assume that something like this could be expressed in few words. For that reason, I’ve chosen to use my blog site to write about it. I’m not going to talk too much about Chan’s recent comments on the nature of communion and the Eucharist as I am about what his comments demonstrate is so important for us today.

What I will say, to the critics of those who have rightly criticized Chan, saying that Chan was simply saying we needed to just stop the division, and that Jesus didn’t start 30,000 denominations, and we need to just come together at the Lord’s Supper, and that’s more important than even preaching God’s word in a pulpit, to those saying this, I would simply defer you to a number of Roman Catholics on the internet right now who are saying amens to Chan’s comments and praying that he “come home to Rome”. The fact that there are Roman Catholics saying this should be compelling reason that, whether he intended it or not, Chan’s comments are swimming in the Tiber River.

Protestants, Rome and Eastern Orthodoxy

I want to talk about what seems to be a thing these days about Protestants finding an appeal towards Eastern Orthodoxy and Roman Catholicism. I have had friends in the past, and most recent past begin to drift closer and closer to these two institutions, people I once thought were solid in the faith. Surely, a reformed Protestant would be most immune to the lures of EO and the RCC. I was wrong, and being wrong, I’ve had to sit back and honestly reflect myself on whether I could be drawn to that.

If you haven’t listened to one of the most recent Dividing Lines (January 6th) I would highly recommend it. It’s lengthy, and I know I’ve said this before, but if there is one Dividing Line that, right now, you need to listen to, it’s now this one. I get it, you’re busy, you got family and kids and stuff. But I pray you make time to listen to this one. I haven’t gotten through the Leighton Flowers stuff as I write this, and I’m sure that’s important, but for the first hour, Dr. White discusses this issue of the current attraction towards EO and the RCC and I think his analysis is spot-on, right on the money. Almost everything he said was what I have been trying to say for some time now.

I don’t attend a reformed church, so I have the “non-denominational” believers mostly in my circle. It is because they are my primary personal encounters that I am very concermed about this. These people have children about to enter the high school and college years, and so I want to address them primarily in this article. For those people, I know that a lot of you guys will see this and think it’s just a waste of time, that all of this talk gets in the way of the Christian life. Why do we need to study church history? The only church history we need is what’s in the Bible, right? Where’s the value in learning about what is “basically just Roman Catholicism for over a thousand years”? is the general idea.

Well first, it actually isn’t that simple. Secondly, something Dr. White pointed out that I have been thinking greatly on is that the Jehovah’s Witnesses are losing people today and that is because of the internet. That is, there was a time when they could control their people, because they could restrict what information they got. Now that’s not the case. Your kids can access the internet easily these days and when they do, they will almost certainly discover that the world is much bigger than they thought it was. Christendom’s history involves a greater span than just America and Palestine/Israel. Dispensationalism is not the only eschatology out there. The subject of the nature of baptism is not so simple as we were told by our leaders.

The Youth Going to Rome and the East

Parents, your children are smart. They are not stupid, they are connecting dots that you may not even see. I’ve had kids ask me some questions that frankly blindsided me, and made me have to sit down and think through certain issues. One of these days, some (perhaps many) of those kids that you try to keep from knowing about the history of their faith in the world from the first century on to today, they’re not going to settle for the “no creed but Christ” idea. I’m already seeing it happening.

The reason I think that so many young people are attracted to EO and the RCC is having grown out of simplistic, independent Baptist circles (or circles like it) that taught shallow-level concepts drudge through the youth services and they come out doing one of two things: Either throwing the whole thing out, or realizing there are places they can go to get way more interesting “Christianity” than what they were raised in, such as Eastern Orthodoxy. It’s far more magisterial, it’s got rich history and philosophy. Because young people are starving for real, substantial things, such as a real, meaningful Eucharist (Lord’s Supper) not simply a memorial service. It is far more than that.

When they realize that there were people in the ancient past that spoke far more real about the Eucharist than their own elders ever said, there is a great chance they are enamored by it, and all they need is one guy from the EO or from Rome to give them a few quotes from Ignatius or Tertullian on the “real presence” of Christ in the Eucharist, out of its context and meaning, and *finger snap* that kid’s hooked. It’s only a matter of time from there.

Something that could have been avoided if we, A: taught them church history, and B: gave them the biblical foundations to see the problem with the citation, and also with recognizing that even if Ignatius or Tertullian were speaking about “transubstantiation” it would have been in error because neither man was infallible.

The superficial Christianity that tries to separate itself from the history of Christianity is not going to work anymore. Young people are rebelling against their traditions. Let me put it in simple terms: One of these days, your kids are going to learn about smoking. It’s going to happen. What would you rather have? Would you rather have introduced them to it yourself, and have given them the proper foundations to resist it, along with all the other problems of the world? Or would you rather have not, and inculcate them in the walls of your world in the hopes that if they ever do step outside those walls, won’t be attracted to that stuff?

I don’t know about you, but the ladder option rarely turns out well. Suddenly they learn there’s more stuff out there, stuff they didn’t know much about, and they begin to wonder why you not only didn’t make them aware of this, but that you didn’t give them sufficient reasons for why this is bad.

What Lies Outside the Walls

In a novel I am writing, one of my main characters, whose name is Bella, comes to learn that there is a whole world outside of the congested urban city she is raised in. But she’s an orphan with no money to go anywhere. She is found by another of my main characters, a half-elvish character named Annastaria, who saves Bella from her own low-life family (what family she has left). As a consequence, Bella comes with Anna on her own quest across the land, and now Bella embarks on her own journey to see just how big the world is.

This will be illustrated at an important point in the book, and I made that point very specifically for this purpose. She knows the world is far bigger than she ever dreamed it was. But with that also comes great danger. Bella has to learn that with that great wonder comes a world full of dragons, strange and dark creatures, as well as evil men and women who would seek to do her harm.

Hence I am aware of how dangerous it can be to open yourself up to that, which leads me to my final point. When I began to study church history, I had several people (some of which may read this) come to me and were concerned about me. They were concerned that I was going to be distracted by this stuff and end up going down a road that would take me off the road to Christ. They were right to be concerned, and I greatly appreciate that concern.

But it’s one thing to ask someone to be careful and be grounded first, it’s another to try and tell someone that because the “risk” of going off the road is there, don’t ever take the risk. That I cannot do. Why? Because I’m one of those young people who suddenly learned the world of Christendom was much, much, much bigger than I was ever told it was. Indeed, I have opened a Pandora’s Box that won’t close anymore. I’ve opened that door and gone to where there is no return.

Folks, you don’t simply open that door, walk past the walls and just go back to the simple life behind the walls. For someone like Bella (and even like Anna) there is no going back. Now you know there’s a whole world out there. Young people, who may be your kids, will do the same thing as Bella has embarked on. This is just the beginning of her journey. What would you rather them have if and when they do? The awareness of the world and to thus prepare for it when they open that door to go out? Or to blunder into that world with a poor foundation, subject to all the heresy that’s out there? Neither outcome is wonderful, I understand that. But if there was ever a good time for “the lesser of two evils is the best option” this is it, the way I see it.

Why did I not go off into Eastern Orthodoxy? Or swim through the Tiber River into Rome? Ultimately, the only conclusion I can give is by the grace of God. All I knew was that I was committed to Sola Scriptura, because that was the only safe place to be. It was my conviction of Sola Scriptura that carried me and continues to carry me through all the zanniness and weirdness and all the heresy in the world.

I know that we would rather the massive complexity of the history of the world simply not be an issue. Maybe in the next life it won’t be anymore, but where we are now, it is an issue, and my friends, though I don’t have kids of my own, I care about the youth. I know from personal experience, being one of these young people, what can happen when I have to find out for myself that the world is bigger than I was ever told it was. I know teaching church history is a huge risk, as Dr. White said in his latest Dividing Line, but I would rather they know about it from me than from learning about it themselves, without the guidance, without the foundation to confront it.

Why We Should Remember the Reformation

It is the beginning of October 2019, and we know what this means, do we not? No, I’m not talking about Halloween, a questionable practice amongst Americans. Whether or not you celebrate Halloween, it is a tragic thing that this tradition in America has overshadowed one of the most important anniversaries of October 31st. For myself, the greatest tragedy is that I spent my entire youth without ever being told about it (even though I was raised in a Christian home). It wasn’t until I was in my mid twenties that I learned of this historic event, and even then, I only learned about it through self-education, not as a tradition among my Christian brethren.

What I’m speaking about, of course is the Reformation. 502 years ago from this October 31st, the famous 95 Theses that Martin Luther is said to have hammered to a Wittenberg church door, as was custom for the scholars of the day to do when they made propositions such as these, became the iconic moment that started it all. It was the posting of these theses on October 31st, 1517 that began the spark of the Reformation, which would change western civilization forever. But of course, we don’t want to get too ahead of ourselves here. I want to discuss in this article why the Reformation still matters today, and why every Protestant Christian should celebrate it, and if I can speak personally, I prefer we celebrate this day over Halloween. While I find dark themes interesting, the sheer fact and weight of the Reformation is far too important to pass over, especially for a relatively meaningless holiday.

Remembering The Reformation

There are many factors that lead to an ignorance of the Reformation; some of them are unintentional, others are intentional, while still more others have a bit of both. For the unintentional ignorance, I will save for a later section. For now, I want to discuss the group that decidedly rejects any kind of allusion to the Reformation of 1517.

I once spoke briefly to a brother at church about the Reformation and church history, and he did not want to go there. He didn’t like church history, and his reasoning was because the men of church history were bad, filled with so much error and sin, and did terrible things. I smiled at him and had to say what I hope you the reader is thinking, “Strange. Sounds like you’re describing sinners!” Which is of course correct. They were sinners, just like we. I suppose we’ll stop reading about David, because after all, David was an adulterer, and a murderer.

Of course we read about David, and we read about him for two reasons (three, technically, it being divine revelation): One, he is central to the biblical story, and two, because from reading about David’s mistakes, we learn how to not do those things, and from his great successes, how we can glorify God in our own lives. In other words, it is to learn from the past of the men who walked the faith before us. To read about how their humanity limited and conflicted with them, and then how God in spite of such, used such a man (or woman) for His glory.

And that’s exactly why we should read and know church history. They were connected to the biblical story (how God works through His church, even in the darkness of pre and post-Renaissance), and two, because they did great things for God, and they did terrible things in His name. If we claim to be part of the body and church of Jesus Christ, the risen Lord and King of all, we should desire to know about the body that came before us. There is a rich history in studying the church throughout the ages.

Truly, if you are not a Roman Catholic or of Eastern Orthodox, you owe your roots in some way to the Protestant Reformation, especially if you are Baptist, Southern Baptist, Presbyterian, Lutheran, Calvary Chapel, Pentecostal, Charismatic and probably more (aside from the NAR and groups like it). The Five Solas are the basis for essentially all of these groups (in their basic form; whether they are consistent with these is not the point I am making) and those five solas find their origin in the Reformation. It is an inescapable fact.

It would seem to make sense then to want to discover the roots, history and tradition that gave rise to whatever denomination you ascribe to. Please understand, I am not here saying that everyone should become reformed as I am, but I do think that everyone who is connected to these groups in some way should celebrate this day, one of the most memorable moments in the history of humanity.

The Reformation in the West

The importance of the Reformation extends into various different areas. Firstly, let’s consider the Reformation in the west as a whole. What it did was it led to a revolt of a certain kind against the papal authority, which claimed to hold the Church in its hand, and consequentially the whole western world, and ultimately the salvation of anyone who lived in its domain. To be saved, therefore, required loyalty to the Church and its holy sacraments and dogmas.

This ultimately led to a darkness and corruption in the west. As the saying goes, absolute power corrupts, absolutely. The papal sea truly carried with it tremendous power, and with that centralization of power, history always tells us it never ends well. That kind of power typically always attracts the most ambitious, and most ruthless of men, and sure enough, it did.

This was until 1517, when Martin Luther hammered his 95 Theses to the church door in Wittenberg. Ironically, Luther had no intention of messing with papal authority at first. His only desire was to discuss the matter of indulgences and the abuse of them in Germany. When he did not receive his audience to discuss this matter, the consequence for the Church was that the people of Wittenberg got a hold of the theses, translated them into the vulgar (common tongue), and distributed the copies across Germany, causing the people to rise up against the papacy and its abuses of them.

While Roman Catholics today can cry foul and make a big issue about the “Revolution” (as they often call it), the fact is that the Roman Church had itself to blame in Luther’s day. Imagine what would have transpired if, instead of ignoring Luther, they responded to the theses immediately. But they opted to ignore it, which allowed the theses to stay up long enough for the people to get wind of it. The rest was history.

With the Reformation underway after Worms in 1521, when Luther was excommunicated, the result would be a split in Christendom that exists unto this day, leading to great wars across Europe, and a battle between the Protestants and the Roman Church over control of the land. While in the end, no one won, one thing the Reformation did achieve was breaking the Roman Catholic Church’s hold on Europe, never to have it again. The result of Protestantism would eventually lead to the Enlightenment (something we may see as a detriment and consequence of the Reformation, but not a direct result), the nation states, and the fall of feudalism and monarchical reign across Europe and further west.

The Reformation in the American Revolution

While the Reformation itself is not to be considered a revolution, it’s impact would lead to an eventual revolution. Two, to be exact. However, one of these—The French Revolution—was a terrible event, the other was a far greater revolution that did not lead to the rivers of blood and gore in the streets from headless, limbless bodies in the Reign of Terror carried out by one Maximilien Robespierre. This revolution would spark the conception of the most remarkable country ever to exist in history. That of course is the United States of America.

Yes, the Reformation was an important role in the American Revolution. In fact, most Americans, even among conservatives, don’t realize just how much they owe to the traditions that came out of the Reformation. These traditions would be extremely influential on the lives and thinking of the Puritans (who were Calvinists) that came to the Americas, seeking refuge from the persecution in Europe.

That unique Puritan tradition would raise generations after it that reach to the founders themselves. The majority of the leading founders were themselves Calvinists, and those that were not, owed their influences in some way to Protestantism, or in other words, the Reformation. Even for Benjamin Franklin, who was not a Christian by confessional standards, loved Jonathan Edwards’ preaching, and George Whitefield, two major Protestant reformers in America during his time.

As with the five solas, the simple fact of the matter is that every American who loves America, and the history of America owes much credit to the Reformation, and what came out of it in the next three centuries.

The Reformation in Liberty

While Luther and Calvin after him did not intend the Reformation to lead to what the American Revolution envisioned and realized (that is to say, the Reformation was a magisterial one), their work and influence would inevitably lead to these things. As we have shown, in brief, the Reformation led to the breaking of Roman Catholic control over the west, and sub-sequentially, it lead to the United States.

Remember, the five solas were a radical idea during the Reformation. Jan Hus and John Wycliffe, who came before Luther, had a less crystallized view of the concept of the five solas, and one of them ended up martyred over it. Imagine when Luther and Calvin come along, and especially with Calvin’s brilliant systematic thinking, putting these together in ways no one had done before, what that would end in. In other words, it was the most radical form of what Hus and Wycliffe were preaching.

The reality is that the Roman Church realized the danger of the solas. If the solas were true, it completely and utterly shattered Roman Catholic control over all of Europe. It meant that the Church could not control salvation, could not be the mediator between God and man. It had no right to stand in the way, and dictate to any man whether he was a sinner or saint. Only God had that power, and the church’s job therefore was a steward, a faithful servant to God on behalf of those whom God has Himself saved and is saving.

The consequence of this truth, therefore, meant that the church did not have the authority it claimed, and when the Reformation’s ripple effect of those who followed after the Reformers, continued to crystallize what they themselves started, the result was the recognition that no man, no matter how pious and godly he may appear, has a right over any other. The life of every man is squarely in the hand of the Almighty Himself, who owns all peoples by His sovereign right as God of the universe.

The church’s responsibility, therefore, was to be a witness to the world on behalf of her Bridegroom, her Lord and God in heaven. She is never to be seen as He the Judge on earth. Once this concept took shape in the Puritans, which would then influence the founding fathers, the concept of true liberty took form in the United States of the eighteenth century.

The Reformation Today

Now I wish to begin addressing those who are unwittingly ignorant of the Reformation. With this brief overview of the impact of the Reformation, my hope is that we now have the context to understand where we are today, and perhaps a greater insight as to why our society is crumbling around us. Listen to your standard talk show host on either left or right, and you will likely never get to the root of the problem. If you understand what led to the American Revolution and the government it produced, it would make more sense why the government that claims to be the same one of two-hundred years ago is nothing like it.

It is not an increase of God in America that is causing our societal collapse, it is a removal of Him from American society. The fact is that man was made to worship something. When the One to whom proper worship is owed becomes obscured and removed, who do we then go to for hope? Someone has to be our god, and hence, the government must come in to take that place. When man no longer has a God over him that gives him light to see who he is and who the world is, man will be left in darkness and decay, and will rot, taking everything else with him, including his neighbor, and eventually his society.

Hence it requires a recognition of the holiness of God, that He has the right to rule over us, and when we recognize that, and repent of our sins, then true liberty reigns. The Reformation restored that idea to the western world, and the United States adopted the crystallized essence of it, recognizing that true liberty is not when man is freed from all authorities, but freed from all man-made authorities, so that nothing stands in his way of being fulfilled and thus truly free in the God he belongs to.

I hope that this will inspire many of my readers to begin to study the Reformation, and the rich history from it. Not all of its history is great; there are many terrible things that Luther did. And if I can speak frank here, I don’t even think I could stand to be around Luther. In fact, Luther and Calvin both would consider me a heretic. I might not even be safe in Calvin’s Geneva because I am of a baptist persuasion.

Why then do I love Calvin and Luther? Because I look past these things, and see the value in studying what they gave to us. We have to be willing to do the same. I cannot stress to you, my reader, in these written words the deep conviction of my heart when I say this: You who do not study the history of your heritage as a Christian, who denies to your children the history of your heritage as a Christian set them up for disaster in the future. I pray that in that case, God is merciful to them, and will keep them safe despite your failure to show them these things. That is how strongly I believe in this.

I am not saying that you will lose your salvation in the slightest over this. Nor am I saying that you need to learn about the Reformation and be reformed. I believe you can truly celebrate what the Reformation gave us without being uber-reformed. You don’t need to be a Calvinist to believe in the five solas, nor to celebrate the Reformation. To my Calvinist brothers, please understand, I am not talking about consistency here, I am just stating a mere reality, that you and I must realize: Not everyone who holds to the central tenants of the Reformation are themselves reformed. You have to deal with that, just like I have to deal with it. Maybe the best way to do it is to meet your local church family that does not share your reformed convictions, buy them lunch and talk it over in brotherly love and grace.

My simple point is that those who do not learn from history are always doomed to repeat it, and even as Ronald Reagan said, freedom is always one generation from extinction. Franklin also said it is only in the religion of ignorance that man will lose his freedom. A people who know their heritage, know their history cannot be enslaved, and are far greater prepared for the future when they learn from the mistakes of their forefathers, as well as their successes.

The Reformation is, of course, not the gospel, but what it gave to us was a lesson in history that there is hope even in darkness, that God can and does do amazing things, with sinful human beings, and each and every one of us are connected to it in some way. Take some time this month and discover how you are connected to the Protestant Reformation, to the glory of God, Soli Deo Gloria!