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Wed, Mar 13, 1991

03 - History of Christianity

by Robert Dean
Conference at Tucson Bible Church
Series:History of Christianity (1991)
Duration:55 mins 59 secs

History of Christianity—3

 

The picture we have by 1500 is of a church upon which the dark cloud of legalism had descended, Christian people by name who are dominated by superstition and slavery to legalistic concepts. It introduced not only the idea of heaven and hell, which are biblical, but a third concept of purgatory. In their interpretation of Scripture when Jesus Christ died on the cross He secured a treasury of merit that was placed on reserve. That was done by grace; God freely gave that to Jesus Christ. If one was a Roman Catholic and believed that by participating in the seven sacraments, such as baptism, infant baptism, the mass, penance, celibacy, entering into priestly orders, it was done by faith. So when we talk to a Roman Catholic we must understand that they have twisted word meanings. When we say we are saved by grace through faith they will say yes, because they understand that they are saved by grace; but the earn grace by going to the sacraments. When they participate in the sacraments by faith then God credits to their account some of Christ's merit. When they eventually accumulate enough of Christ's merit then they have salvation. But they never know whether they have enough merit or not to be saved. So if they die and have not accumulated enough merit then rather than going to heaven they go to purgatory. To get out of purgatory, to work their way up to eventually going to heaven, they have to be prayed for by the saints, those good believers who have already gone to heaven, and they have to have masses said for them by their friends, relatives and neighbors on earth.

 

Another way of getting out of purgatory was for people to purchase indulgences. An indulgence was a means of pursuing a person's release from purgatory. In 1517 a Dominican came to a town called Wittenberg. There he was selling indulgences, a papal fund raising technique, for the pope to get enough money to build St Peter's Basilica in Rome. He had a little phrase he would tell the people: "As soon as the coin in the coffer rings, A soul from purgatory springs." As he went through the streets chanting this little ditty people would come out and take of money they did not have and could barely afford and would buy indulgences to release their loved ones from purgatory. A young priest by the name of Martin Luther became quite angry over that, and as he thought things through he made it an issue for debate.

 

Who was Luther? Where did he come from? What was his background? Luther was born to German parents; his father was a miner; his parents were very strict Roman Catholics and instilled a discipline into young Martin. They also instilled in him a fear of the Lord. They grilled him with the whole doctrine of the wrath of God and as he grew up he was very much afraid of God. In young Martin's mind God was an awesome majesty and he was terribly afraid of offending. When he was a young man, although he was on track to go to university to be a trained lawyer, one day he was overtaken by a storm and in his fear that he would be struck by lightning he swore to St Ann that she would deliver him from the storm that he would become a monk. In 1507 he became a priest and in 1511 he earned his Ph D. In 1512 he joined the faculty at the University of Wittenberg where he began to teach the New Testament. As happens so often throughout the history of Christianity, when men are forced to get into the text of Scripture, true reformation and revival breaks out; for it is the Word of God that must always be the central focus of the church of God. It is the Word of God that teaches us how to live, teaches us about who God is and His holiness, teaches us about our sinfulness and our need for grace, and that man on his own can do nothing to earn salvation but that God has freely given it to us, that He sent His Son to die on the cross for us and by believing in Him we can have eternal life. During this time as Luther studied more and more he became more impressed with his own sinfulness. As he studied the Gospel of John and he read about how God the Father darkened the skies and forsook the perfect Jesus on the cross Martin could not understand how if the Father forsook Him then how could he ever have a relationship with this awesome, majestic God. And under the burden of his own sinfulness as he came to study Romans and Galatians he came to a saving knowledge of the doctrine of justification by faith.

 

In the Roman system justification is not a one-time event. In Protestantism we are taught that when we trust Christ as our savior God imputes to us the perfect righteousness of Jesus Christ. On the basis of our present possession of the perfect righteousness of Jesus Christ God then is able to declare us just—not because we haven't sinned, not because we are perfect; it is because we possess the righteousness of Jesus Christ. That is called a legal or forensic justification. It is a legal act; it is not experiential in the sense that we feel anything. But in Roman Catholic theology, because you receive the merit of Christ gradually each time you participate in a sacrament, justification does not take place at a point in time but it is a process. So in Roman Catholicism justification and sanctification are synonymous, they go together, they are linear, they take your entire life, and you never know whether you have arrived. As Luther studied Romans and Galatians he came to an understanding that we are justified by faith alone. And we define faith as simply mental assent or belief in something; it is a sense of trust. It is not commitment as in lordship salvation but it is an assent to the truth.

 

In the year 1517 on October 31st Martin Luther went to the church at Wittenberg and upon the door he nailed a list of 95 points or theses for public debate. They had to do with this whole issue of the sale of indulgences and earning one's way to heaven. As a result of those debates that followed in the coming years it looked like there would be a split from Rome. That was not Luther's original intent. He intended to reform Roman theology back to the doctrines of sin and grace that had been taught by Augustine. By 1528 he was threatened with excommunication. This forced him to escape in the night. Then in 1520 the pope issued a bull and Luther was excommunicated. This created an uproar in northern Germany. This area of Germany was under the dominion of Charles V who was the emperor of the Holy Roman empire, which was not really holy, Roman or empire. Now there was rebellion among his princes because some of those German princes were following Luther and others were not. All of this brought the Roman Catholic church in and there was tremendous turmoil. It was up to Charles V to quiet the rebellion so he brought Luther to the town of Worms. There, after the trial, Martin Luther made his famous statement in conclusion, "My conscience is captive to the Word of God; this is where I stand. So help me God, I can do no other."

 

In those three years Luther came first of all to an understanding of justification by faith alone and the slogan was Sola Fide—"by faith alone." Then he came to the realization that the only authority for the Christian life was not the papacy, not the Roman Catholic church, but the Word of God. So the second slogan was Sola Scriptura—"Scripture Alone." This is where Luther stood. Though he was excommunicated and threatened with execution. He was given a short stay of execution to visit with his family. On his way back to Wittenberg his friends kidnapped him and spirited him away to a castle where he was kept in isolation for a year to protect him from the troops of the pope. While he was there he translated the entire New Testament from the Greek into German, and that is still the primary New Testament translation that the German people use today.

 

After 1520 it was clear that there was a split between the followers of Luther and the Roman Catholic church. The movement was organized between 1521 and 1530. During this time Luther was identified with various other factions that were going on. One of the factors that led to this whole Reformation and created an environment for this was that the original text of the Greek New Testament had been recovered and was being published, and they were becoming spread widely among scholars. Once they got the original text then they could get to the truth in a more clear fashion and more quickly. Erasmus of Rotterdam was one of the leading humanists at this time and the humanists were also seeking a reformation in the Roman Catholic church, but they didn't want to break away. They also had some rather false theology in terms of putting man as an ultimate authority or reason as an ultimate authority over the Scriptures. So Luther had to separate himself from the humanists, and then there were also various radical groups that had sprung up. There was also a peasant revolt. There was tremendous turmoil in Europe at this time. The peasants used the political turmoil as an excuse to rebel against the legal authorities and they wanted to use Luther as a justification for their revolt. Luther quickly turned his back on them and distanced himself.

 

By 1530 Philip Melanchthon who was a brilliant theologian, a young man who associated with Luther, wrote a doctrinal statement for Luther called the Augsburg Confession. To this day in the conservative or traditionalism churches, not those who have been affected by Protestant liberalism of the 19th century, still affirm the Augsburg confession.

 

Luther was a very interesting man. He was given to enjoy life. Like most Germans he really enjoyed his beer. In fact, he wrote the great hymn A Mighty Fortress is Our God on a napkin in a tavern while he was down there having his afternoon brew. As he grew older, his biographer says, he became an irascible old man: petulant, unrestrained and, at times, positively coarse. What we see in this is that the men that God uses who have been great in church history are not always the kinds of wonderful people that we expect pastors and Christian leaders to be.

 

Luther's successor in the Lutheran movement, the real theologian of the movement, was Philip Melanchthon. He developed and articulated the theology of the movement. In Lutheran theology Christ is at the very center. Martin Luther understood that man was totally depraved and that there was nothing man could do to save himself. Sin was not just a sickness it was a constitutional defect. Man was not spiritually sick, he was spiritually dead. Because man was spiritually dead he could do nothing to save himself or to make himself favorable. Justification, therefore, was by faith alone in Christ alone. The only authority for the Christian was to be the Word of God. Luther's view of the sacraments, though, was what caused him to be different from the other reformers. Luther taught a view of the Eucharist was one that didn't come fully to what is now a Protestant view; he taught what was called consubstantiation. In that he said that the elements do not become the blood and body of Christ but the blood and body of Christ are nevertheless with the elements.

 

Luther and Lutheranism began the Reformation. Four or five years after Luther broke with Rome the German-Swiss Reformation began. This took place in the north central part of Switzerland near the town of Zurich. In Switzerland the government is based on cantons. A canton is something like a county and there are five or six in Switzerland. Each canton would decide what the religious orientation was for everybody there. Remember this was still a time when the church and the state are identified. When one came baptized as an infant they became a viable member or citizen of the state. Infant baptism was also a sign of loyalty to the civil powers.

 

In Switzerland Zwingli thought that the best way to attack the problem of the need for reform in the Roman church was to carry the debate before the government and the cantons. He had been a priest and he debated Catholics before the city fathers in 1523 and defeated them in debate. After that the city fathers voted and decided that Zurich would follow Protestant doctrine. But they weren't exactly clear about what all that meant. Remember, these men didn't know where they were going. They couldn't look at what they were doing from our perspective. Too often when we are critical of the theology of Luther or Zwingly or Calvin we ought to compare it to being critical of Henry Ford's Model T compared with a modern vehicle. As time went on the entire canton swung to Zwingli's support. Zwingli believed that Scripture was the only and ultimate authority for the Christian life. The center of Zwingli's theology was the sovereignty of God. Therefore he held to a double predestination; he goes back to Augustine for his theology. He believed that parents who were elect secured the salvation of their infants through infant baptism. So he transfers infant baptism over into Protestantism much as Luther did.

 

We believe that both in Lutheranism and the Reformed churches that they would have had a fuller break on the baptism issue if it hadn't been confused with the political orientation. They needed the support of the civil authorities to make their break successful and so they couldn't go all the way, they could only go part of the way and they felt it was more important to secure the doctrine of justification by faith than to go all the way. That really wasn't the way they reasoned but they could only go so far. Where they were strong was in the doctrines of salvation. In other areas they were weak but they were beginning to develop. Their view of justification was the same as Luther's. Zwingli's difference with Luther was his view of the Lord's table. Zwingli went back to the early church view that it was simply a memorial to what Christ had done on the cross.

 

Unfortunately in the ebb and flow of political power things began to go against Zwingli and they went into a military conflict. Zwingli was a fairly good military leader and he organized his troops and went against the Roman Catholics. They were defeated but in the process Zwingli was killed. His successor was Heinrich Bullinger, 1504-1575. He was the one who led the merger of Zwingli's followers with Calvin's followers. The theology of Bullinger was very similar to that of Zwingli. He believed in the authority of Scripture alone and he rejected the authority of the Roman church. He believed in the authority and inspiration of the Bible—Sola Scriptura. He, too, emphasized the sovereignty of God. That is the key point of what comes to be called Reformed Theology. Like Zwingli he held to double predestination; Luther did not. He began to emphasize, though, the idea of covenants, that God is into a covenant with man. This isn't the biblical idea of covenant as when we talk about the Abrahamic, Mosaic, Noahic, Davidic, and New covenants; this is the theological concept of covenant. This was the German-Swiss reformation.

 

At the same time that Bullinger is bringing order to the German-Swiss Reformation a young man flees from heresy. He has made friends with a man by the name of Nicolas Cop [sp?] who was heavily influenced by Luther's writings. Cop was very critical of the Roman Catholic church, the abuses of the papacy, the immorality of the papacy, and on All Saints Day (November 1st) he and his young friend John Calvin were forced to flee incognito from Paris. Calvin was a kind of shy retiring kind of man, a man who much preferred to be in the background, preferred to be a scholar, and who himself claimed that he was by nature antisocial and shy. Again, we see that the leaders of the Reformation were not men with winning personalities who would be voted the most likely to succeed or be most popular. These are men who have come to a knowledge of the truth and teach the truth. The emphasis is always on content, not on presentation.

 

Calvin escaped from France and ended up in Geneva. While he was in Geneva he ran into a friend by the name of William Farel. Farel had been influenced by Luther and the Protestant Reformation in Strasbourg. He had come down to Geneva to teach these Reformation principles to the people in Geneva. When he met Calvin he said, "Calvin you need to stay here in Geneva and to develop the work here."  That was too much for Calvin, he wanted to retreat and not be in the limelight. But Farel said, "If you don't stay here in Geneva, and of you don't take over this work, then God will curse you for the rest of your life." That made Calvin stand up and take note and he decided to stay in Geneva. He organized the church, he was a tremendous administrator. He was a very dour man and he established a very rigid system for the town. He was too much for the leaders in Geneva, he tried to push the Reformation too far. Zwingli had taken it slowly, getting the approval of the leaders and was very successful. Calvin's view of theology seemed a little harsh to the people, he hadn't brought them along slowly enough, and after three years they disenfranchised him and ran him out of town. He retreated to Strasbourg where he spent time studying under the influence of Martin Butzer. Butzer, previously a Roman Catholic priest, had come under the influence of Martin Luther and then had come to Strasbourg to bring the Reformation there.

 

Calvin now studies under Farel. Then he is persuaded by Farel and Butzer to go back to Geneva and try all over again. While there he attempted, and during his life, was successful in establishing a Christian city. It was a very rigid city with very little freedom of thought for those who were not Christians. Although Calvin himself had a certain level of compassion and is too often painted in very harsh strokes we must remember this was a hard time. Throughout Europe the church and the state are identified together. The Roman Catholics are burning people at the stake and hanging people for heresy just as much as the Protestants are. So when people want to criticize Calvin for some of the decisions that were made in Geneva they fail to understand in the light of what was going on at that time. Calvin was just a product of his own time. His major influence, though, was as an educator and an exegete of the Scriptures. He was a phenomenal organizer. He organized the church and the city government. There he established the Geneva Academy which is where many men came from all over Europe, especially England, and studied and learned. It was the theological seminary of the time. It trained Reformation leaders, sending them out all over Europe, taking Reformation doctrine and bringing about and securing the Reformation in those areas.

 

Calvin's theology was unique and very logical due to his training as a lawyer. He stressed the sovereignty of God, the total depravity of man, and that Adam's sin was imputed or reckoned to his account. If Adam's sin was reckoned to man's account then everyone was hopeless and no one could save themselves. Man could not, would not and does not want God. He emphasized unconditional election, that God chose who would be saved but there were no conditions. He didn't choose them because of their works, He didn't choose then because He foresaw faith, he didn't choose them for any reason other than His own will which He has not revealed to us. Calvin also held to double predestination, as Augustine, Zwingli and Bullinger did. He held to irresistible or efficacious grace, that the Holy Spirit brings people into salvation, not against their will, but along with their will. He emphasized the perseverance of the saints—really the perseverance of Christ for the saints—for eternal security. Once a person trusts Christ as savior Christ will persevere in keeping his salvation and it cannot be lost. He held to a Presbyterian form of government.

 

In his view of the Lord's table Calvin held to a spiritual presence. His view was different from Luther's view and different from Zwingli's view. But as the French and the German-Swiss elements of the Reformation merged together the memorial view took over. First there was a German-Swiss Reformation under Zwingli. Then there was a French-Swiss Reformation under Calvin. These two merged together and produced what has come to be called The Reformed Faith. So there was Luther developing Lutheranism in Germany and the Reformed Faith in Switzerland and in France. The Reformed Faith, in turn, is responsible for developing the Scottish Reformed Church, the Dutch Reformed Church; they heavily influenced Puritanism in England, out of which comes Congregationalism and Presbyterianism. Also there was the development in other countries other Reformed churches. In France they were called Huguenots. All of these groups go back theologically to the Reformation in Switzerland, to Zwingli and Calvin. As Calvinism spread throughout Europe it became entrenched in these areas.

 

As the system developed it came into conflict in the early 1600s over the whole issue of election and predestination. In Holland a theologian by the name of Jacob Arminius developed his own system of theology. He had problems with Calvin's view of predestination and election and he and his followers put forth five basic principles: a) Election was based on God's foresight of who would believe and who would not; it was not based on the foreknowledge of God; b) Christ died for everyone—unlimited atonement; c) Man's will was totally neutral. That goes back to the Pelagian heresy in the 5th century that Adam's death didn't affect anybody else's will; d) Grace is totally resistable; e) He was a little ambiguous on perseverance but his followers said that you could lose your salvation.

 

Over against that system of theology the Calvinists articulated their view that man was totally depraved and could do nothing on his own apart from a work of God's grace to save himself. Election therefore was unconditional and not based on any merit on his own but totally on God's grace. Christ died only for those He intended to save. Irresistible grace, which meant that once the Holy Spirit moved on those whom God intended to save they really could not resist it. God would secure that which He intended and salvation was secure. That is known as five-point Calvinism, easily remembered by the acronym TULIP: Total depravity, Unconditional election, Limited atonement, Irresistible grace, Perseverance of the saints.

 

Within about 30 years a man teaching in a theological seminary in France came up with another view of Calvinism where he rejected limited atonement and in its place put limited atonement, i.e. that Christ died for everyone. That is called four-point Calvinism. That was the view that was held by Dallas Theological Seminary.

 

Another thing that happened in the development of Calvinism was a theologian by the name of Johnannes [  ] who developed what is called Covenant Theology. Covenant theology is not based on the biblical covenants but on two theological covenants: a covenant of works that God had with Adam from the creation to the fall; then from the fall on it is a covenant of grace. Covenant theology holds to the five points of Calvinism, puts the salvation of man as the central theme of Scripture rather than glorification of God. It is opposed to dispensational theology. Covenant theology still hold to a literal view of interpretation in almost every area of theology but when it comes to prophecy it still holds to an allegorical view of interpretation which leads them to an amillennial view of the second coming of Christ.

 

The Anabaptists. When Zwingli was teaching his Bible classes in Zurich he had two or three key men under him, one by the name of Conrad Grebel. Grebel came to Christ in 1521 in one of Zwingli's Bible studies and became one of Zwingli's assistants. But the problem that Grebel had with Zwingli was that Zwingli wasn't pushing as fast as Grebel thought Zwingli ought to go. Why was Zwingli going slow? He wanted to have the support of the political powers. Grebel wanted to go fast and said there should be a separation of church and state. Remember Luther, Zwingli and Calvin all had systems that identified with a united church and state. Grebel came along and said it doesn't matter the authorities say, obedience to God is greater; there must be a separation between church and state.

 

So Grebel and two other men met together and they also came to an understanding that even though they had been baptized as infants they needed to be baptized again once they had trusted Christ as savior. This shows again that infant baptism was not related only to Christianity but also related to the state and to citizenship. What they saw in the teaching of Scripture was that once a person comes to a knowledge of Christ, his symbolic statement that he has trusted Christ and that he is a new creature in Christ is that he then becomes baptized. Because they were baptized again (by sprinkling) they were called Anabaptists [ana = re]. Because of this political orientation in relationship to baptism, baptism being viewed as being an act of good citizenship and loyalty to the civil powers, after they held their baptism services that was viewed not only as theological heresy but also as an act of a traitor. Men were brought to trial. While Grebel died of the plague in 1526 his two friends were arrested. One wanted to be immersed so they drowned him; the other burned at the stake.

 

Many of the Anabaptist martyrs, because of their view of separation of church and state, were viewed as heretical. It was a concept totally foreign to society at that time. Their missionaries were untrained men. In Lutheranism and Reformed theology they had a strong tradition of trained pastors. Anabaptists didn't live long enough to train at a seminary, they were martyred at early ages so their leaders tended to be untrained. One of the most well-known was a man by the name of Menno Simons, a rather pietistic man who emphasized the holiness of God and personal holiness, and had a tendency toward self-righteousness. He became the leader of a group that eventually migrated into the Dutch area, and his followers were called Mennonites. One particular group in England of Anabaptists, Puritans who had separated from the Church of England and then come to an Anabaptist view of baptism, fled from England to Holland for safety. While they were in Holland their children were growing up and weren't learning anything about England or English history the people were discouraged because they were living away from their homeland. They finally heard about the "new world." They made contact with businessmen back in England, arranged the finances to purchase two ships, and those groups (some didn't make it) under the leadership of Pastor John Robinson, arrived in Massachusetts. They were called pilgrims. They were not puritans because the Puritans held to a covenant theology and infant baptism. The pilgrims were Anabaptists.

 

The theology of Aanabaptists was basically the same as the reformers in all areas except for three: they believed in believer's baptism, separation of church and state, and most of them held to a pre-millennial return of Christ.