Rosaria Champagne Butterfield on Sexual Identity

This week on Theology on the Go we are replaying an old conversation between our host, Dr. Jonathan Master and Dr. Rosaria Champagne Butterfield. Dr. Butterfield is a former tenured professor of English and women’s studies at Syracuse University, converted to Christ in 1999 in what she describes as a train wreck. Her memoir The Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert chronicles that difficult journey.

Rosaria’s second book, Openness Unhindered: Further Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert on Sexual Identity and Union with Christ, addresses questions of sin, identity, and repentance that she often encounters during speaking engagements. Her heart’s desire is for people to put the hands of the hurting into the hands of the Savior, who equips us to walk and grow in humility.

Rosaria is married to Kent, a Reformed Presbyterian pastor in North Carolina, and is a homeschool mother, author, and speaker. Rosaria is also zealous for hospitality, loves her family, cherishes dogs, and enjoys coffee.

This week on Theology on the Go the topic will be on sexual identity, the first in a series focusing on sexual identity and the public square. In light of recent cultural events, Theology on the Go believes that a series like this is an important service to the Church of our Lord Jesus Christ.  So, grab that cup of coffee and meet us at the table!

Just for listening, the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals would like to give you a free resource. An MP3 of Rosaria Butterfield’s message, “The Testimony of an Unlikely Convert” is yours free as our gift to you.  Go to ReformedResources.org to download your free MPS!

History: Helping Church to Love it

 You shall teach them to your sons, talking of them when you sit in your house and when you walk along the road and when you lie down and when you rise up. Deuteronomy 11:19, NASB

It’s somewhat ironic for me to be writing an article on helping children love church history. I love church history, and that’s part of why I studied history in college. But when I was a child, I hated history. I argued with my parents about why I had to waste my time on such a pointless subject. It was boring, and it was useless. I would have much rather spent my time on math and science.

Maybe you’re like I was as a child. Maybe you think history is boring and useless. You may be asking yourself why does it matter if our children love history, particularly church history. We should love history and teach our children to love it, because history is the story of how we got here and why things are the way they are. As Christians, church history is family history. It’s the story of how our family of believers came to be and how God has worked in the lives of believers and the church throughout the ages.

The Bible is full of history. It opens “In the beginning” (Gen. 1:1) and tells the story of how God created the world and mankind, how sin and death entered the world, and how God saved humanity from their sins. History reminds us of God’s sovereignty and His work through and for his people. Frequently the Bible tells us to remember what God has done (Psalm 105) and to teach our children (Exodus 12:26, Joshua 4:6).

The Deuteronomy 11 passage about teaching our children is specifically about teaching them God’s commandments. However, even the giving of the law in Exodus is prefaced by a statement of who God is and what God has done for His people. “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.” (Exodus 20:2, NASB)

The other reason we should love history and teach our children to love it is to protect them from making the mistakes of the past. As the saying goes, “Those who do not learn history are doomed to repeat it.” For Christians, most often the danger is falling into heresy when we forget our church history. A love of church history helps to guard against error because we know what battles have been fought before us and why our doctrinal statements are formulated the way they are.

So how do we as parents go about encouraging our children to love church history? We do it, in part, by teaching it in such a way as to peak their interest and to give them a desire to learn more on their own. This is not done by forced memorization of facts. Names, dates, and places are useful, but on their own, they are dull and boring. They are placeholders for understanding the big picture of what was going on. The important part of history is the story.

Most children love to hear stories. They often like to hear stories about their families. How did our family come to live here? Where are we from? How did their parents and grandparents meet? Church history can be approached in much the same way. We can tell our children the stories of how our church “family” came to be, where we came from, and how our ancestors lived and died for the gospel. Focus on the flow of the story and the important themes of our history. Don’t get bogged down in the minutiae. It’s not that the details don’t matter. They do, but they’ll come naturally as the children learn the stories.

To teach church history to children, I recommend reading biographies. Simonetta Carr has a wonderful series of biographies for children. From Augustine to Luther, Carr has written engaging stories that tell the history of some of the most influential men and women in church history. These biographies can be used to discuss weightier theological topics with children. For example, a biography of Athanasius could be used to begin a discussion on the Trinity and why the Nicene Creed was written.

Another good way to teach children to love church history is through historical fiction. Now, not all historical fiction is worth reading. It’s necessary to be discerning. Historical fiction is fiction, so it’s not completely accurate. However, the stories can spark interesting discussions over what isn’t accurate and what artistic license the author has taken. Most Christian publishers have historical fiction as a genre of books they publish. I would encourage you to read these with your children. Your interest in the subject will encourage theirs.

Primary sources are an additional resource when teaching our children about church history. Historical sermons, speeches, and church documents are not quite as exciting, at times, as biographies and historical fiction, but they can be useful. For example, you could read Jonathan Edwards’ “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God” as part of a discussion on the Great Awakening.

Movies and documentaries can also be a great way to help our children learn to love history. With the 500th anniversary of the Reformation this past year, there have been many movies and documentaries about Luther, for example, that give insight as to what was going on in the early Reformation. There are also documentaries on the people who worked to translate the Bible into English that I highly recommend. Historical movies and documentaries are a fun way to approach history.

Over all, the way to teach our children to love church history is love it ourselves and to make use of the various resources we have available to us. In this way, we can show them that history isn’t boring and pointless. Once they appreciate the interesting and relevant story of history, children will come to love it.

Rachel Miller is News Editor for the Aquila Report. She has a BA in History from Texas A&M University. She is a member of a PCA church in the Houston area and the homeschooling mother of three boys.

William Tyndale and Sola Scriptura

William Tyndale’s English translation of the New Testament, first published in 1526, was met with sharp disapproval in England – not only because it was common knowledge that Scriptures should not be placed in the hands of the uneducated masses, but also because of the translation itself.

            Translating “congregation” instead of “church,” “superior” instead of “priest,” and “repentance” instead of “penance” was to have potentially huge consequences on the Church’s doctrine. For example, penance implied an action performed by the sinner for the remission of his or her sins, but repentance could simply be an admission of guilt and turning of the heart. It would have dismantled many of the Church’s “remedies” for sin, such as confession to a priest, pilgrimages, and indulgences.

            Tyndale stood by his translation. He had an excellent knowledge of both Greek and the Scriptures, and knew enough of the history of the church to see how these “remedies” had developed throughout time in response to a felt need.

Tyndale’s Early Life

William Tyndale was born in Gloucestershire, England, probably in 1494, to a large and influential family. He graduated at Magdalen College, Oxford with a BA in 1512 and MA in 1515, when he was also ordained priest. He was appalled to discover that his studies of theology didn’t include Scripture. Most likely, he supplemented his studies with Erasmus’s new Latin translation of the New Testament, which was published together with the original Greek.

            Tyndale continued to preach while working as tutor for the children of a noble family. His preaching, with a strong emphasis on scripture for the people, was well accepted by many but also strongly opposed by some – so much that Tyndale was suspected of heresy. This only strengthened his desire to print the New Testament in English. In 1523, Tyndale was in London, where he stayed for almost a year, preaching and looking for support of his project. When he realized that his efforts were in vain, he left for Germany, supported by a few cloth merchants in London (who later got in trouble for that).

Tyndale the Translator

            Tyndale moved to Wittenberg and enrolled in the university. By 1525, he had translated the New Testament into English and was looking for a publisher. The first publisher who accepted the task, Peter Quentel, had to stop when his workshop was raided by opponents of this work. Tyndale fled to Worms, where the translation was finally published in 1526, and began to be smuggled back into England on merchant ships. There, the ecclesiastical authorities sought to have it burned.

            Over the next ten years, Tyndale made at least two revisions to his translation of the New Testament and – after learning Hebrew (which was virtually unknown in England) – he began translating the Old Testament, completing Genesis to Deuteronomy, and the book of Jonah. At the same time, he wrote a long series of polemical treatises arguing the claims of reformed theology – particularly sola fide, sola Scriptura, and the precedence of God’s calling over our faith. These pamphlets were also smuggled into England.

            Tyndale’s most influential book outside his Bible translations, The Obedience of a Christian Man, came in October 1528. Enemies were asserting that the reformers throughout Europe were encouraging sedition and teaching treason. Tyndale wrote to declare for the first time the two fundamental principles of the English reformers: the supreme authority of scripture in the church, and the supreme authority of the king in the state. These pamphlets were widely read and immediately banned.

 Tyndale and Thomas More

            Thomas More, councilor for King Henry VIII, was zealous in his critique of Tyndale. A large portion of his Dialogue Concerning Heresies (1529) was devoted to Tyndale’s translation of the Bible and some of Tyndale’s teachings. Tyndale replied point by point with An Answer unto Sir Thomas More’s ‘Dialogue.’ In his view, the church’s opposition to his translation showed much more than a simple desire for accuracy. “There be secret pangs that pinch the very hearts of them,” he said, “whereof they dare not complain. The sickness, that maketh them so impatient, is that they have lost their juggling terms. For the doctors and preachers were wont to make many divisions, distinctions, and sorts of grace ; gratis data, gratum faciens, prceveniens, and subsequens. And with confession they juggled; and so made the people, as oft as they spake of it, understand shrift in the ear[1]; whereof the scripture maketh no mention: no, it is clean against the scripture, as they use it and preach it; and unto God an abomination.”[2]

            These “juggling terms” included Purgatory, which Rome based mostly on a reading of 1 Corinthians 3:15. It was such a flimsy interpretation that even Peter Martyr Vermigli, while he was still a committed Roman Catholic priest, had to admit it was forced. More presented other verses to prove the existence of Purgatory, but they were all strained deductions which were easily rebuttable.

            “For since God in His righteousness will not leave sin unpunished and in His goodness will not perpetually punish the sin after the person’s repentance, it follows there must be temporal punishment. And now since the person often dies before undergoing such punishment . . . a very child, almost, can see the conclusion: that the punishment remaining due and undone at death is to be endured and sustained afterward.”

            A Lutheran or Reformed Christian would have taken the first sentence, and finished it with “it follows there must be a divine Savior who can take the punishment for our sins.” More’s replies shows how far the gospel had been removed from the consciousness of Christians.

            Not much has changed. As recently as 1987, Pope Benedict XVI commented on critics of the Purgatory by saying, “This biblicism has scarcely anything to do with the Catholic understanding, according to which the Bible must be read with the church and her faith. My view is that if Purgatory didn’t exist, we should have to invent it … because few things are as immediate, as human, and as widespread – at all times and in all cultures – as prayer for one’s own departed dear ones.”[3] Once again, felt needs come before a strict adherence to the Bible.

Tyndale’s Death

In 1535, just when Tyndale was nourishing hopes to finish his translation of the Old Testament, he was betrayed by a young Englishman who had pretended to be interested in the work of Bible translation. In reality, he had agreed to betray Tyndale for cash. After persuading Tyndale to leave the house, he led him straight into an ambush prepared by English officers. All of Tyndale’s property was confiscated. Thankfully, his later translations were safe in another place.

            Tyndale was taken to the castle of Vilvorde, outside Brussels, where he was imprisoned for sixteen months and condemned as a heretic in August 1536. In October, he was led to an open space outside the castle where he was strangled and then burnt at the stake. His last words, cried with a loud voice, were “O Lord, open the King of England’s eyes!”

            His prayer was answered only three years later, in 1539, when King Henry VIII allowed the printing of the “Great Bible” – the first authorized Bible in the English language. The first page of the book shows Henry while he assigns, with the visible blessing of God on high, Bibles to the clergy who in turn distribute it to the laity.


[1] Auricular confession

[2] Tyndale, William, An Answer unto Sir Thomas More’s ‘Dialogue,’ Cambridge, University Press, 1850, p. 22.

[3] Ratzinger, Joseph, and Messori, Vittorio, The Ratzinger Report: An Exclusive Interview on the State of the Church, Ignatius Press, 1987, p. 146.

History: Why Read it? A Pastoral Perspective

I am an avid history reader. I have been since about the age of five. That’s 48 years of history reading. I became an avid church history reader when I came to faith in Christ in 1983. Since then church history, among all sorts of historical works, has been a staple part of my reading diet. As a Christian, but especially as a pastor, reading church history and reading theology done in the past is essential.

I read church history because the Holy Spirit didn’t begin working in the church with me. On the contrary, he has been working in the church since the fall and more especially since our Lord poured forth the Holy Spirit on the church at Pentecost. In other words, church history is a gift of God to the church in the present age. Unlike Scripture, of course, church history is not inerrant nor is it infallible. But as C. S. Lewis once noted, the blind spots of other eras are different than ours so that fact makes spotting blind spots all the easier.  All of this is to say that church history is a fallible record of the Holy Spirit working with his church and we can learn much from it.

More importantly, reading church history is about participating in the reading of Scripture in community with others from the past. Just as it is wise to learn from our brothers and sisters in the church now as we wrestle with the meaning and significance of Scripture and attempt to daily live out the Scriptures, so also it is prudent to learn from brothers and sisters in ages gone by. In other words, those who have gone before us have read the Bible and in many instances have discovered the true meaning of the biblical text through the Holy Spirit directed use of ordinary means (i.e., attending public worship, having private and family worship and using things like Bible dictionaries, commentaries, and atlases and other helpful literature). To put the matter simply, why reinvent the wheel? We in Reformed and evangelical circles sometimes have an overly individualistic mentality. Reading the great theologians and biblical commentators from the past is of great benefit.

So too is reading about pastors and laypeople who have been used by the Lord in the past to build the kingdom of God or the church. Reading about the ancient church and

 battles with the powers that be is inspiring and encouraging. Discovering the depth of biblical devotion among the saints in the Middle Ages is humbling. Even when the church went astray as it did in Medieval Roman Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy, there were saints who have much to teach us. The same is even more so as we come into the era of the Reformation, the discovery of the Americas, and church history events which have occurred closer to our time. Of course, because church history and historical theology are not infallible nor inerrant, we must read both primary sources and the secondary literature with critical care. Personally, I find great encouragement from reading church history. I often think to myself, if the Lord could do great things back then, perhaps he will do it again in my lifetime. This exponentially assists me in my prayer life.

Because church history, like all history, is a mixture of the good and the bad, we learn both habits to inculcate and habits to avoid. We discover the truth about the saints, warts and all. Church history has its protagonists and its villains. The presence of sin in the lives of all saints makes the picture much more complex. We find this to be the case in the Bible itself, do we not? Think of David in 1st and 2nd Samuel. David is God’s chosen and anointed king and is a man after God’s own heart. But he is a sinner saved by grace too. He sins by committing adultery with Bathsheba and arranges for the death of her husband, which leads to spillover in his own personal life, the life of his extended family, and ultimately in the life of the Israelite kingdom. The Apostle Paul reminded us that biblical history was written down for our benefit so that we could learn what to embrace and what to shun.

If I can encourage my people, as a pastor, to read their Bibles and church history their growth in Christian grace and truth will be greatly enhanced. One way I do this is through using illustrations from church history in my teaching and preaching. My goal is not to overload my congregation with historical factoids to fill their heads, but to provide illustrations from biblical and church history which will illuminate a point being made from the text of Scripture. At the end of the day, the benefit of reading church history, a benefit which assists me in my pastoral labors, is greater understanding and hopefully meditation upon and obedience to the Scriptures and the Lord of the Scriptures.

Jeffrey C. Waddington (Ph.D., Westminster Theological Seminary) is stated supply at Knox Orthodox Presbyterian Church.  He also serves as a panelist at Christ the Center and East of Eden and is the secretary of the board of the Reformed Forum.  Additionally he serves as an articles editor for the Confessional Presbyterian Journal.

History: Reading Biography

When I was in elementary school, I discovered the joy of reading biographies. In my mind’s eye, I can still see the shelf containing a series about important figures in American history. I loved the stories and was disappointed when I finished the last book. First impressions leave a mark, so I retained a rather idealistic view of these people, which was probably the goal of the series. Thus, when I was required to read a biography of George Washington in my first (and only) college history class, I was exposed to much more than the cherry tree and the crossing of the Delaware. The text was in-depth and well researched, but the iconic figure was not the larger-than-life hero I remembered. He was human and quite fallible, and I was a bit disillusioned. But perhaps the humanity of the subject is one of the benefits of reading biographies.

This may be an obvious statement, but biographies are about real people. They are not about fictional characters, superheroes, or even super-saints. Their subjects are also not just producers of output that I value, mere channels for great works of theology, literature, music, art, science, and statecraft. These people have bodies and souls and suffer adversity and physical and mental illness. Sometimes these struggles are overcome, but oftentimes they remain. Acknowledging this aspect of their lives respects their humanity and gives me a greater appreciation of what they were able to accomplish. For example, I am always encouraged by the works of Charles Spurgeon, and yet he suffered intense depression. Knowing this makes the encouragement sweeter because it came at a cost.

Reading about the human side of those I admire, and of bygone saints in particular, also keeps me from putting them on a pedestal. If I am only willing to hear the good but no critique, I probably do not have a very accurate picture of the person in question. After all, the Bible does not gloss over the sins and struggles of faithful men and women. It is honest in its assessment of people, and I should do likewise. The figures in the “Hall of Faith” in Hebrews 11 had their share of serious faults and failings. The apostle Paul wrote, “Be imitators of me, just as I also am of Christ,” (1 Cor. 11:1) but he did not hide the fact that he was formerly a persecutor of the church. The only perfect human to walk this earth was Jesus Christ, and yet God is gracious to save sinners. He is faithful to transform them for kingdom service in his providence, and recognizing this faithful providence may be the most important benefit of reading biographies.

While I can’t lose sight that real people are the subjects, there is also a real God involved in every aspect of history. Just the fact that the human race has survived thus far and not destroyed itself through our own folly and sin is a testimony to his kindness. From headline-making incidents down to boring every day life, there are no random events; there are no random people. And when it comes to the history of the church, the fact that Christianity continues to exist and even thrive in the most unlikely places is proof that his hand is quite active. How many times have you read the story of the person who “just happened” to be in the right place at the right time to hear the gospel? The tract, book, or open Bible that “by chance” was lying within reach? What circumstances were tailor-made to develop the minds, hearts, and characters of faithful brothers and sisters who have stood for truth down through the ages? It is amazing to think of how God has orchestrated these details the half of which has not been told.

So when I open the pages of a biography, this is the story of a real person with gifts, accomplishments, strengths, and weaknesses. But the real hero behind the scenes is God himself who works all things in human history according to the counsel of his will.

Persis Lorenti is member of Grace Baptist Chapel in Hampton, VA where she serves as bookkeeper and deacon of library/resources. She has a M.S. in computer science from Virginia Commonwealth University. She blogs at triedbyfire.blogspot.com and out-of-theordinary.blogspot.com. You can follow her on Twitter @triedwfire.

History: Why Read It?

Why should history have to make a case for itself? No one questions why we should study mathematics or science. The humanities are always having to justify their existence in a way that is not expected of other disciplines. Even so, I do not mind the question—either as a writer of historical fiction or a student of historic theology—because I believe that studying history provides many benefits to us, not only as human beings, but specifically as Christians.

  1. History reveals the depravity of man.

I once worked on a social science research survey where I was required to ask young people whether they believed that human beings were basically good. Nearly all of them, regardless of ethnicity, socioeconomic status, education, or religious beliefs, answered that we are basically good. Scripture, on the other hand, suggests that human beings tend toward evil apart from the grace of God.

As Jeremiah prophesied, “The heart is more deceitful than all else, And is desperately sick; Who can understand it?” (Jeremiah 17:9) The Apostle Paul wrote that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23), and Isaiah lamented, “For all of us have become like one who is unclean, And all our righteous deeds are like a filthy garment; And all of us wither like a leaf, And our iniquities, like the wind, take us away.” (Isaiah 64:6)

It is impossible to study history without encountering this truth. If we only focus on what is happening in our immediate context, and that immediate context happens to be protected from many of the ills of this world, we can start believing the lie that people are generally good. However, if we look beyond to the heartache that has plagued every generation, we understand that things are not as rosy as we supposed. Who can read about the Soviet gulags, the African slave trade, or the systematic rape carried out by invading armies without wondering, “Are we really good?” No culture in history has made it through any substantial amount of time without committing wicked acts, including our own. This is a testament to our innate depravity.

  1. History reveals the sovereignty of God.

Isaiah tells us, “Behold, the nations are like a drop from a bucket, And are regarded as a speck of dust on the scales; Behold, He lifts up the islands like fine dust…He it is who reduces rulers to nothing, Who makes the judges of the earth meaningless.” (Isaiah 40:15, 23) Likewise, the Apostle John revealed that all of history points toward the final victory of our God, who is king over all the nations. “The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of His Christ; and He will reign forever and ever.” (Revelation 11:15b)

History once again confirms this biblical truth. Empires rise only to fall. The princes and principalities we fear today are in the hand of our God, who works everything according to His sovereign purpose. As we study history, we see powerful kingdoms ascend one by one, and each time we think, “Maybe this one will last.” Like clockwork, they all decline. Moreover, the Lord uses both the great events of history and the small events in our own lives to bring everything toward that point when every knee will bow and every tongue confess that He is Lord. (Philippians 2:11)

While it can be dangerous to read God’s purposes into history, scripture itself reveals how the rise and fall of the Assyrian, Babylonian, Greek, and Roman empires helped to bring about God’s salvific plan. Caesar Augustus was the most powerful man in the world for a time, and yet in one of his seemingly mundane acts—his command that a census be carried out of the entire Roman world—he unknowingly played a part in God’s intent that the Messiah should be born in Bethlehem. (Luke 2:1-5) God is sovereign over everything, including boring government decrees.

3. History reveals the faithfulness of God.

This is a related point. When we study the history of God’s people, both in the pages of scripture and various historical records, we see how the Lord provided for them time after time. When the light of the gospel seems to dim, He brings forth a flame. When it looks as if His people will be destroyed, He preserves a remnant.

The survival of the Church and its continued growth in the face of tremendous persecution is a testament to God’s faithfulness. Likewise, the transformative power of the Spirit in our own lives and those of great Christians throughout history reminds us what kind of God we serve. When we read about such people as Augustine of Hippo, Martin Luther, and John Bunyan, we see the impact of the gospel. More than that, we see how God remained faithful to them through many trials. Whether our lives be short or long, the Lord will have his way in them. He will accomplish His purposes.

Studying history does not simply help us become critical thinkers and sympathize more easily with others. It also reveals important truths that reinforce the inspired teaching of scripture. Therefore, go forth and read about history!

Amy Mantravadi holds a B.A. in Biblical Literature from Taylor University. She is an active member of Patterson Park Church in Beavercreek, Ohio. You can read her blog at www.amymantravadi.com or follow her on Twitter @AmyMantravadi.

Young Luther’s Christmas

On December 22, 1898 the New York Observer wished its readers a “Merry Merry Christmas to All.” Following that wish was a wonderful gift.  On every page of the Observer was something to direct the reader’s thoughts to the reason for the season.  And on page 818 there is a poem called, “Young Luther’s Christmas” written by a well-known theologian (whose name appears at the bottom – and it’s not mine!).  This poem has likely not been reprinted since 1898 – so enjoy!

Young Luther’s Christmas

‘Twas grand old Martin Luther said-

“There’s naught on earth more sweet to see

Than a loving woman’s tender way,

Whose heart is filled with piety.”

 

He’d found it so that dreadful night,

When, up and down the frozen streets,

He sang his choicest songs for bread,

‘Mid biting winds and beating sleets,

 

Yet ever found he sang in vain,

And touched no heart, but only got,

Instead of bread to soothe his soul,

A “Stone” for his unpitied lot.

 

When Lo! from out a goodly house

A flute note on a mission sped:

He stopped, and, softened by the sound,

Yet once more sang his song for bread;

 

“The foxes to their holes have gone,

And every bird unto its nest,

But I still wander here alone,

And still for me there is no rest.”

 

“My Christ was hungry, He was poor,

And I but follow where He led,

And He will feed me from His store,

And daily gave me daily bread.”

 

“A child’s voice surely,” quoth the dame

The weary wanderer found his rest

Oh, good dame Colta! Dost thou know

How by thy deed a world was blest?

 

Dame Ursula, an angel thou,

An angel didst from want relieve;

A world has shared in thy reward,

A world’s deep gratitude receive!

 

God’s love to Luther came in need,

God’s love through love of woman true;

God’s love can never fail His own,

Can we not be its channel too?

 

Oh, men and women, to whose hands

The Lord commits His wealth to keep,

Remember that ye stewards are,

And not your own the gains ye reap.

 

Oh, men and women, for whose souls

The Christ has given His life, in love,

Give freely of your lesser things, –

He will not fail to mark above.

 

 Princeton                               Benjamin B. Warfield

Jeffrey A. Stivason is the pastor of Grace Reformed Presbyterian Church in Gibsonia, PA. He also holds a Ph.D. in systematic theology from Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia, PA.  Jeff is the author of From Inscrutability to Concursus (P&R), he has contributed to The Jonathan Edwards Encyclopedia (Eerdmans) and is the Executive Editor for Place for Truth.

Morals and Theology at the start of the Reformation

In the years just before the Reformation, a great number of Christian leaders saw the need for moral reform in Europe. The church was corrupt and the gap between biblical precepts and daily life seemed far too great for an ostensibly Christian society

     Before the Swiss pastor Ulrich Zwingli inaugurated the reformation in Switzerland in 1519, he protested the way young Swiss men signed up in numbers to serve as mercenaries both for the armies of France and the pope. He was a chaplain for Swiss mercenaries of the pope in 1513 and 1515. When he saw young men maimed and killed in battle for modest pay, he attacked the system that destroyed naïve young men while the organizers or war got rich.

     The Reformation came to Zurich in 1519 because Zwingli began to preach through Matthew, then Acts – something no one had done for centuries. As he preached, he noticed contrasts between the wealthy churches of Zurich and the simple churches of Acts. It led him to dismantle gilded images of saints and to re-use the wood to create a prominent pulpit. He also noticed the gold chalice and communion plate. He knew Jesus surely used ordinary dishes, so he offered the gold to the city on condition that much of it be given to the poor.

     Calvin’s social reforms also seem almost spontaneous. For example, Calvin gets credit for providing the theological or moral basis for Western banking. How so? When Protestant refugees flooded into Geneva, they needed jobs, which meant the need to create opportunities. Calvin studied biblical laws on loans and concluded that the law’s prohibition of interest applied to personal loans to needy family and neighbors, not all loans. This cleared the way for investments in new ventures to flourish through proper financial support.

     Thus acts of reading the Bible with fresh eyes led to aspects of the Reformation. Moral reformation is always possible when we study the word and apply it to our world. But the Reformation’s greater social reforms rested directly on the gospel.

      For centuries, church tradition offered to find a modicum of certainty of salvation, even though Catholic theology explicitly declared (and still declares) that one can have assurance in the present, as one walks with God, but cannot have assurance about the future. As my first blog noted, Gabriel Biel, an influential medieval theologian, said the best idea is to “do what is in you,” especially by using the means of grace, chiefly the sacraments. The best way to find grace was to become a monk or priest, since that gave most frequent access to the sacraments.

     Luther certainly believed that the sacraments offer grace, but Luther said the gospel grants assurance of salvation. Further, in one of his most radical concepts, he said all believers are priests, with access to God, his word, and his grace. If all believers are priests, then all of life is, or can be, sacred. That means the distinction between sacred and secular work disappear and farming is not uniquely sacred or secular. Everything depends on the disposition of the farmer.

     Thus, Luther famously declared that the farmer shoveling manure and the maid milking her cow please God as much as the minister preaching or praying. All honest work is holy and pleases God. Further, as we labor in our God-given station in life, we become God’s agents. Indeed, God milks the cows through the vocation of milkmaids. Moreover, God answers the prayers of his children through our labor. We pray for daily bread at night, and faithful bakers rise in the morning to bake it. By our work, we clothe the naked, feed the hungry, heal the sick. Luther said God “gives the wool, but not without our labor. If it is on the sheep, it makes no garment.” Men must sheer, card, and spin.

     Luther grounds all this in his soteriology and his dispute with monasticism. Priests and monks claimed the term vocation because, in theory, monks had a unique opportunity to complete their faith through good works and so to gain assurance of salvation.

     Luther countered that monastic works are vain and self-centered, since they seek assurance of salvation by monastic practices, rather than by faith in Christ. Luther then argued that every Christian has a vocation – to believe the gospel and to serve God and man in their station in life. Whatever someone’s station may be, faith transforms it into a vocation. Every vocation is a divine commission and all please God equally.

      This applies to all work, even if menial or unsavory – farming, cleaning, fighting. Luther loved strong language, so he said that if there is a lack of hangmen, constables, judges or soldiers and a disciple believes he is qualified, he should offer his services. So the active life is as noble as life in the monastery.

     By our work, the naked are clothed, the hungry fed, the sick healed. Through our work, we please our Maker and love our neighbor. All honest work is a calling. Everyone can complete their faith through good works and gain assurance of salvation as they serve in their God-given station in life.

     Luther’s view of work is praiseworthy because it dignified all labor. God summons everyone to a “station” where they serve. This is a great consolation to all who feel trapped at work. Our restless age needs the call to labor in our place, instead of constantly asking “What’s next?”

     But Luther’s emphasis on place misses part of Scripture’s teaching. Consider this: If every legitimate task is a divine calling, how can anyone take a new position or reform abuses in the workplace? Luther’s teaching, followed rigidly, vitiates the motives for ongoing reform of labor.

     For Luther, 1 Corinthians 7:17-24 was essential: “Each one should remain in the condition in which he was called.” But Luther missed half of what Paul said. 1 Corinthians 7 is for people who are stuck in one of three conditions: 1st, unhappy marriage or singleness. 2nd, the “wrong” ethnic status. 3rd, enslavement.

     To people miserably married, Paul said that believers must ordinarily stay where they are, although they are free if an unbelieving spouse deserts them (1 Cor. 7:10-16). Second, Paul addressed enslaved people. God created all mankind free, but there were many slaves in Greco-Roman society. A few became so poor that they sold themselves into slavery to avoid starvation. Paul forbade that, saying, “Do not become the slaves of men.” He also told slaves to serve where they are, in the position you had when called. Yet he also said “But if you can gain your freedom, avail yourself of the opportunity” (7:21). That is, do it.

     In each case, Paul said believers should stay where they are, unless…unless irrevocable abandonment ends a marriage, unless a slave can gain his freedom. We see therefore that “Stay where you are” is an important principle, not an absolute principle.

     Furthermore Luther’s view of calling fit a static society, but not so well in western societies marked by rapid economic change. How can we stay in our station if it is liable to disappear through layoffs or relocation?  

     Beyond that, if all honest work is a divine call or station, how can we question dehumanizing forms of work? If it’s divine work to shovel manure, that’s comforting. But if shoveling manure is a divine call, who dares to ask if there is a better way to do it? Luther’s ideas can blind us to the way work can be legal but misshapen and in need of reform.

     In short, we need the principle of Semper Reformanda – always reforming. We give thanks for the sixteenth century Reformation and the way it established reform through the gospel, but the work is not yet complete. We must explore new ways to put the faith to work (and hope to do so in future blogs).

Dan Doriani teaches Theology and Ethics at Covenant Seminary. He earned his M.Div. from Westminster and talked everyone into a joint Yale/Westminster Ph.D. He also pastored a very small church for five years and a very large one for eleven. He plays tennis, hikes mountains, wrangles grandchildren, speaks at conferences, and writes books, including The New Man.

History: Covenant & History

The first day of creation consisted in God creating day and night. God created light and distinguished it from darkness. God created history and filled it with the objects he created, sustains and perfects. What we call “history” is dependent on God, both for its existence, purpose and outcome. This means God interprets history. God’s written word and Spirit provide us the interpretation of history we should have as his image bearers. In saying things about history, then, we are saying things about God.  

According to the Bible, everyone’s view of history is unavoidably theological. Put another way, every historian is a theologian (the reverse is also true). Historians do not choose this; it has already been chosen for them. While it may not be apparent to, or admitted by us, or many historians, how history writing (historiography) is expressing a theology or a view of God, nonetheless it is. This is the unavoidable conclusion forced upon us by God’s word.

Speaking of Jesus, the Apostle Paul tells us that, “all things were created through him and for him” (Col. 1:16). All history has a purpose, a goal, and Jesus, and his eternal and glorious kingdom where righteousness and justice will reign forevermore, is it. Paul went on to write that Jesus is “before all things, and in him all things hold together” (Col. 1:17). The Westminster Confession of Faith rightly affirms that all God’s works, and therefore all our thoughts about God and our actions in God’s creation, should be understood from the two doctrinal categories of “creation” and “providence.” Great joy and peace belongs to the one who trusts in the Triune God’s ordering all things in creation after the counsel of his will for his glory, and knows that there is nothing in all creation that can separate him or her from the love of God in Christ Jesus (cf. Eph. 1:3-14; Rom. 8:31-39).

By God’s works of creation and providence, we are directed to think of the entire span of history from two perspectives—1) God’s Old and New covenant, and 2) this created age that is passing away and yielding to the New creation age that has come, is coming and will come. The two realities to which the perspectives refer are organically joined.

The Scripture’s affirm that God’s covenant is with all creation. When God told Noah that he would establish his covenant with Noah (Gen. 6:18) the Hebrew verb form requires us to affirm that God was continuing with Noah an already existing covenant relationship. It raises the question: When did this covenant relationship begin? It began with creation at the time of God creating; of God creating time!

Later we learn from such passages as Genesis 9; Deuteronomy 4:25-31; 30:11-20; Jeremiah 33:19-26, and Romans 8:18-25, among others, that God’s covenant with his people is inseparably joined to his covenant with all creation. Indeed, God’s covenant with his people is an extension of his covenant with creation—we are creatures. While there is plenty of confusion among some, even in reformed circles on these matters, Scripture is not so confusing.

God has a covenant with the day and the night. God gave a covenant sign to all creation (Gen. 9) prior to giving a covenant sign to his redeemed people (Gen. 17). The accomplished work of Jesus, the Creator, who is the Last Adam (John 1:1-5; 1Cor. 15:45; cf. Rom. 5:12-21) brings the covenant blessing promised to Abraham (Gal. 3:6-14) to both Jew & Gentile in and through the Church.

While many debate which terms are best to use in naming God’s covenant (works, law, grace, creation, life and redemption etc.) and which ways the Old and New Covenant relate, we should recognize that history can only rightly be understood according to God’s making and keeping his covenant. Thus, the Bible as well as history, is structured according to the Old Covenant and New Covenant. Notice I did not write covenants. As the Westminster Divines affirmed: “There are not therefore two covenants of grace, differing in substance, but one and the same, under various dispensations” (WCF VII, 6). One covenant, because there is only one God. But there are various administrations of his covenant.

It seems that many Christians in the West should consider a paradigm shift. Rather than thinking right along with Western culture so that the Christian faith is considered foremost, if not exclusively, in terms of human beliefs and behaviors, so that life is reduced and subordinated to human rationality and projects, we should consider the biblical perspective—God IS. God IS Life. All human beliefs and behaviors throughout all history are an extension of God’s life. History is part of an organism, the organism that is God’s life. One day the knowledge of God will cover the earth like the water covers the sea. Eternal life will reign unchallenged.

Thus, it is not merely that history consists of God’s Old and New Covenant, but that history is God fulfilling his glorious purpose to bring life and conquer sin and death. This age of Sin and Death is passing away and the age to come has come, is coming, and will come (1Cor. 10:11; Heb. 9:23-28; Rev. 1:1-8)! Because history is God’s creation, we must have a view of history that conforms to God’s living covenantal character that conquers death by bringing his kingdom.

David P. Smith (Ph.D.) is the author of B. B. Warfield’s Scientifically Constructive Theological Scholarship (Wipf & Stock) and co author with Ronald Hoch of Old School, New Clothes: The Cultural Blindness of Christian Education Wipf & Stock). David is Pastor of Covenant Fellowship A.R.P. Church in Greensboro, North Carolina.  

Simonetta Carr Podcast

This week on Theology on the Go, Dr. Jonathan Master is joined by Simonetta Carr.  Simonetta is an award-winning author.  She was born in Italy and has lived and worked in different cultures. She worked first as elementary school teacher and then as home-schooling mother for many years. Besides writing books, she has contributed to newspapers and magazines around the world and has translated the works of several authors from English into Italian and vice versa. Presently, she lives in San Diego with her husband Thomas and the youngest of her eight children. She is a member and Sunday School teacher at Christ United Reformed Church.

Today Jonathan will talk to Simonetta about her love for history and especially about her new book on Irenaeus.

Just for listening, the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals would like to give you a free resource. Register to win a free copy of Simonetta’s book on Irenaeus by going to ReformedResources.org!      

Now, grab that cup of coffee and meet us at the table!