Reformation Sunday

October 29, 2017 is Reformation Sunday. It is the Sunday closest to the date Martin Luther nailed his 95 Theses to the door of the Whittenburg Castle church. The document raised questions and propositions for debate. It was intended to lead to a meaningful discussion among Catholics, in the hope it would cause a reform to the institution.

The institution did not accept the invitation to meaningfully discuss the issues raised, and instead of reflecting on their own conduct, they condemned Martin Luther. Martin Luther was a devout Catholic. His questions were sincere. His loyalty to the institution was unaffected by the errors he saw in the scandalous selling of indulgences to finance projects in Rome.

Rome believed itself above criticism. They assumed their historic control was a right conferred by God. Therefore, the sincerity of Martin Luther and the legitimacy of his questions and propositions meant nothing to the institution. They branded Luther a heretic and threatened his life. This was the worst possible approach for Catholicism, and the best possible result for Christianity.

Cardinal Timothy Dolan, Archbishop of New York has recently acknowledged that, the Catholic Church was plagued with generalized corruption at the time of Luther “which we cannot deny.” He described the effect Luther had, “It was the striking of a match, creating a bonfire–the flames of which are still burning.”

Luther’s flame burns still because it was grounded in Christian sincerity, founded on legitimate criticism of institutional corruption, and advocated by a man whose faith led him on a quest to find and acknowledge truth despite all opposition encountered. The result was a society divided into camps that vilified or praised, threatened or protected, believed or condemned him. The ideas he advocated have literally changed the world. Those he persuaded have grown in numbers over the past 500 years.

Reformation Sunday should not pass without reflecting on the changes Martin Luther brought about to the world today. Although a flawed man, he was nonetheless an instrument in God’s hand to change our world for the better. If you own a Bible you can read in your native language, you owe a debt to Martin Luther. If you are either Catholic or Protestant, your church today is a result of changes caused by Martin Luther’s flames. Catholicism was reformed and Protestant churches came into existence as the result of Martin Luther.

John Wycliffe  1330-1384

Two hundred years before the Protestant Reformation there was a reformer who foreshadowed what was coming. Although the world’s circumstances were then not developed to permit the Reformation, many of Wycliffe’s criticisms of Catholicism and his translation of the Bible would prefigure the coming Reformation.

Wycliffe lived through the Black Death, when 25 million people died in Europe. That catastrophe delayed his completion of a doctorate at Oxford until 1372. He became a dissident, and although sanctioned and opposed by the Pope (five edicts from Pope Gregory XI condemned him for 18 errors and called him “the master of errors”), but he believed and taught that the Pope and the church were second in authority to scripture. He conceived of an invisible church of the elect who were recognized by heaven, rather than an organization on earth that controlled salvation. Many of his ideas would later be advanced by the Reformation Fathers.

His arguments with Rome were first political (1366-1378), and later theological (1378-1384). During his last six years of life he provided a continuing written campaign against the Pope and the entire church hierarchy of the time. By the end he came to equate the Pope to the Antichrist.

Among his issues, he disputed transubstantiation: “The bread while becoming by virtue of Christ’s words the body of Christ does not cease to be bread.” He condemned indulgences: “It is plain to me that our prelates in granting indulgences do commonly blaspheme the wisdom of God.” He repudiated confession to the priests: “Private confession … was not ordered by Christ and was not used by the apostles.” He viewed faith as saving: “Trust wholly in Christ; rely altogether on his sufferings; beware of seeking to be justified in any other way than by his righteousness.”

He believed every Christian ought to be able to read scripture. At a time when only Latin Bibles existed in England, he began translating it into the common English language. He was assisted in this by John Purvey, and, when Wycliffe died before it was completed Purvey finished the translation. Rome condemned this as an act of rebellion: “By this translation, the Scriptures have become vulgar, and they are more available to lay, and even to women who can read, than they were to learned scholars, who have a high intelligence. So the pearl of the gospel is scattered and trodden underfoot by swine.” Wycliffe responded with this explanation: “Englishmen learn Christ’s law best in English. Moses heard God’s law in his own tongue; so did Christ’s apostles.”

Wycliffe believed church officials ought not to live in wealth, but instead sacrifice to serve. Church wealth should be directed to help the poor. He encouraged English leaders of both church and state to stop sending wealth to Rome, and instead use it to help those locally in need.

Wycliffe died before authorities convicted him of heresy. After his death the Council of Constance declared him a heretic, ordered his remains to be removed from consecrated ground, burned, and his ashes thrown into the river Swift. Pope Martin V confirmed the edict and it was carried out. However, Wycliffe’s influence could not be suppressed, and as one writer observed,   “Thus the brook hath conveyed his ashes into Avon; Avon into Severn; Severn into the narrow seas; and they into the main ocean. And thus the ashes of Wycliffe are the emblem of his doctrine which now is dispersed the world over.”

Christian Talks in 2017

This year I will be speaking to Christians about the Christian Reformation. I will give three lectures in three different venues over the next year. The talks will be recorded and available online for anyone interested in the history and destiny of Christianity.

Christ originally sent twelve messengers to spread the news about Him. They organized congregations of believers throughout the Mediterranean World, the Indian sub-continent and beyond. These were diverse bodies of believers, and depending on which of the twelve organized them, reflected different priorities. But they were all “Christian” and all followed Christ’s teachings.

Early Christianity included diverse and sometimes conflicting groups, all calling themselves “Christian.” But conflicts grew in intensity over the centuries that followed. When the Roman Emperor Constantine saw the value in adopting Christianity, he did not realize Christianity was internally fighting over fundamental beliefs. Accordingly, in 324 a.d. Constantine forced an agreement among Christian leaders in Nicaea. The result was the Nicene Creed. This creed marked the beginning of a new era referred to as Historic Christianity.

Historic Christianity divided at about 1,000 a.d. between Rome (Catholic) and Constantinople (Orthodox). That division remains today, more than a millennium later.

Rome’s dominion over Western Europe was further broken up beginning in 1517 when the Protestant Reformation began. What began with Martin Luther, has continued to divide and multiply Christian denominations with different groups placing different emphases on parts of the New Testament.

Coming up on the half-millennium anniversary of the Reformation, I will deliver three talks. There are a number of volunteers working to help arrange venues and spread word about these talks. They will be free to the public and all are invited to come and consider the history and destiny of Christianity.

As soon as each talk is finished, it will be made available on-line. Next Saturday a new website devoted to the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation will be on-line. Work on that site, also by volunteers, has been underway for months. The link will be provided.

Arriving at a “unity of the faith,” which Paul hoped could be achieved by Christians (Eph. 4:11-13) is a ways off. Christianity has instead become the handmaiden of ambitious men who have diverted resources from the poor to serve themselves. The present state of Christianity is not markedly different from Jerusalem at the time of Christ. The Christian leaders today, like the Sadducees and Pharisees, shear the sheep, consume them, but fail to serve them as Christ did.

Christianity began with personal worship and devotion in the homes of believers. Christ and His twelve built no cathedrals, chapels or church structures, but did give aid to the poor. Isaiah prophesied that only one kind of building would be built for God by His followers:  A Temple or House of God, to be built on the mountaintop in Zion, and another in Jerusalem. (Isa. 2:2-3.) Beyond those two structures, all other resources should help the poor, as was once done by early Christians.

Although the website and lectures planned for 2017 are intended for a Christian audience, anyone who is interested in the history and the future of Christianity will find the material useful and interesting.

Talks to Christians

I have announced a plan to give three talks to Christian audiences. I have asked several theological programs to allow me to address their students. In every case I’ve been declined. Because of that, I asked others to help me find opportunities to address a Christian audience. In the last few months, a number of people have voluntarily made numerous requests to seminaries, churches and other religious groups asking them to allow me an opportunity to speak. Nothing has been arranged.

We are approaching 100 declined requests and it seems unlikely I will get an invitation from a seminary or church. As a result, a new approach will be taken to accomplish the project.

Next year will be the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation. Because the owners of churches and seminaries are uninterested, I will rent venues and invite Christians to come. It will be free for any who come to listen. I do not preach for hire, nor ask for donations. I will use my own resources to be able to address any who will listen.

When the venues and dates are confirmed, I will post the information here. Right now July, August and September are tentatively targeted. California in July, Texas in August and Atlanta in September. All talks will be recorded and available on-line after each one is given.

The new approach will require some effort to publicize the talks beforehand. I’ll be asking for volunteers to help pass out flyers and tell people of the talks in each area. The size of the audience is unimportant. But the talks need to be given and then made available for anyone to hear.

The talks will be celebrating the 500th anniversary of the Reformation, and will take note of the things God has done and yet promises to accomplish before the Second Coming in glory of the Lord. A new website is being prepared as part of this effort and should be live in January 2017. Posts on this website related to the outreach to Christians will also be posted on the new website. New videos of interest to a Christian audience are also planned for the new website.