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Today is the first of the month in which we celebrate the 500th anniversary of Luther’s posting of the 95 Theses: October 31.

Desiring God is providing a month-long study of the Reformation leading up to the October 31, the actual day of the posting of the Theses: Here We Stand: A 31-Day Journey With Heroes of the Reformation Each of the studies focuses on an individual used of God in the Reformation.

This study is described as follows:

In one especially memorable scene, he stood before the emperor and declared courageously, risking his own life, “Here I stand. I can do no other. So help me, God.”

But Luther did not stand alone. The Reformation was not about one or two big names — Luther, Calvin, Zwingli — but about a massive movement of Christian conviction, boldness, and joy that cost many men and women their lives — and scattered the seeds that are still bearing fruit in the twenty-first century. Not only was Luther surrounded by many Reformers in Germany, but lesser-known heroes of the faith rose up all over Europe. Heroes like Heinrich Bullinger, Hugh Latimer, Lady Jane Grey, Theodere Beza, and Johannes Oecolampadius. Luther was the battering ram, but he ignited, and stood with, a chorus of world changers.

And here we stand today, 500 years later. Luther wasn’t alone then, and he’s not alone now. To mark the 500th anniversary, we invite you to join us on a 31-day journey of short biographies of the many heroes of the Reformation, just 5–7 minutes each day for the month of October.

The first one in the series was officially published today:

Jon Bloom, The First Tremor: Peter Waldo Died by 1218

One was published last week as a precursor to the series:

Stephen Nichols, The Morning Star of the Reformation: John Wycliffe c. 1330-1384

Here are a few that were published leading up to this 31-day journey of learning.

John Piper, Does God Really Save Us by Faith Alone?

Ryan Griffith, Luther Company Remember the Rest of the Reformers

Tony Reinke, The Nail in the Coffin of Our Hearts: Five Hundred Years of Fighting Idolatry

I encourage you to sign-up and join many others in learning about key individuals, known and lesser known, but all important as they were used of God, in the great work of God in reforming the church, and bringing God’s people back to affirm and embrace the solas: sola Scriptura (Scripture alone), sola fide (faith alone), sola gratia (grace alone), solus Christus (Christ alone), and soli Deo Gloria (to the glory of God alone).

As Johannes Bugenhagen (1485-1558) wrote, which captured the heart of the solas and of the Reformation, “We give God the glory if we trust in His grace that He does everything and that our work, righteousness, ability, and merit cannot save us or eradicate sin.”

October 31, 2017 marks the 500th anniversary of Martin Luther’s posting of the 95 Theses

There are a number of excellent resources that have been published in conjunction of this anniversary. I include a couple of those resources below, which you ought to consider using if you are interested in pursuing the Reformation further for adult Sunday school classes or small groups.

Echoes of the Reformation: Five Truths That Shape the Christian Life (six-week video series with an accompanying workbook/study guide)

Echoes of the Reformation: Five Truths That Shape the Christian Life is a new Bible study examining the five core truths that came from the Reformation—often called the solas. Group members will explore these essential convictions of the faith and emerge more immersed in the gospel of Jesus Christ. The solas include:

• Sola Scriptura (by Scripture alone)
• Sola gratia (by grace alone)
• Sola fide (through faith alone)
• Solus Christus (through Christ alone)
• Soli Deo gloria (glory to God alone)

Ideas That Changed the World: The Four Key Gospel Truths and People of the Reformation (four-week video series with accompanying workbook/study guide)

Around 500 years ago a momentous change was spreading across Europe—a change that has become known as the Reformation.

At the heart of the Reformation were four ideas and four leaders. The ideas: faith alone, grace alone, Bible alone and Christ alone. The leaders: Luther, Calvin, Tyndale and Cranmer.

In this course we will travel together to Wittenberg, Geneva, London, Antwerp and Oxford to see the massive impact of the four key Reformation ideas: that we are saved by grace alone (by God’s gracious initiative in Jesus); that salvation is made available to us through faith alone (not by us being good enough); that we know God through the Bible alone (and not through any church authority); and that we can pray to the Father through Christ alone (and not through the saints).

This was the topic/theme of last year’s Theology Conference: Reformation 500: Theology and Legacy – God’s Gospel and the EFCA

2017 is the 500th anniversary of Luther’s posting of the 95 Theses, what traditionally is known as the beginning of the Reformation. We join the celebration in giving thanks to God for this rediscovery of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Our emphasis will be on the theology of the Reformation and its ongoing historical legacy, with a specific focus on the biblical gospel of grace, rediscovered by the Reformers (Luther referred to himself and the movement as Evangelicals, not Protestants), and its impact historically on the EFCA.

I encourage you to consider using these excellent resources as well. Ask someone to join you in this study. Listen to the messages individually, and then come together to discuss them. You can do this with one other, or consider doing it as an elder board.

This year, on October 31, we celebrate the 500th anniversary of Luther posting the 95 theses on the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg. That sounds unusual to us, but the door served the purpose as a bulletin board for various kinds of announcements related to church and academic matters.

Luther, 33 years old, was a Roman Catholic and desired to address issues within the Roman Catholic church, and thus remain a Roman Catholic. One of the key issues he addressed in these theses was the matter of indulgences. He called for a “disputation on the power and efficacy of indulgences out of love and zeal for truth and the desire to bring it to light.” Luther was a faithful monk and priest who had been appointed as a professor of biblical theology at the University of Wittenberg. In this role, he considered it his responsibility to raise and address these issues.

There is much that happened between the posting of the theses and what I will address today as one of the final steps of Luther’s formal and official break with the Roman Catholic Church. As these days mark a break, it also marks the beginning of Protestantism, or Evangelicals, a term the Reformers preferred, since they rediscovered the gospel of Jesus Christ, the evangel.

In June of 1520, Pope Leo X issued a Papal bull, a decree, Exsurge Domine, in which he outlines 41 errors found in Luther’s 95 theses, and other related writings. Not only did Luther not recant his beliefs, on December 10, 1520 he burned his copy of Exsurge Domine. This was followed by Pope Leo X’s response in Decet Romanum Pontificem, a Papal bull issued on January 3, 1521 in which he excommunicated Luther for his refusal to recant for challenging practices of the Roman Catholic Church. This was a follow through with the threat contained in his earlier decree.

In this bull, Luther would lose his civil rights and protection. Charles V, the emperor, intervened by giving Luther another opportunity to recant his beliefs at the Diet of Worms. The Diet was a formal assembly of the leaders of the whole Roman Empire. Prince Frederick III, Elector of Saxony, worked to guarantee Luther safe travel to the Diet. On April 18, 1521, Luther responded to the question posed to him about recanting his works in what has become famous last and first words: last of his life and ministry in the Roman Catholic Church, and first in the Protestant church, or life, teaching and ministry as an Evangelical. Luther said,

Unless I am convinced by the testimony of the Scriptures or by clear reason (for I do not trust either in the pope or in councils alone, since it is well known that they have often erred and contradicted themselves), I am bound by the Scriptures I have quoted and my conscience is captive to the Word of God. I cannot and will not recant anything, since it is neither safe nor right to go against conscience. May God help me. Amen.

More will be said about this and other events in the life of Luther and the other Reformers and the larger Reformation this year as we celebrate its ongoing theology and legacy in Evangelicalism and the EFCA. I mention this today since it marks the day Pope Leo X excommunicated Luther, which led to the Diet of Worms.

Being descendants of the theology and legacy of the Reformation, the EFCA will join in the celebration at our upcoming Theology Conference, February 1-3 on the Trinity International University campus. If you have not yet registered, I encourage you to do so here.

Our 2017 Theology Conference will be held February 1-3 on the campus of Trinity International University. In the introduction to the conference, we will focus on the EFCA’s roots in the Reformation and the Reformation’s legacy in the EFCA.

We are excited for this Theology Conference. Not only are we addressing the Reformation, a timely and important theme in conjunction with the 500th anniversary of Luther posting the 95 Theses, but we have some of the foremost scholars addressing the various themes/topics of the Conference.

In our first two lectures we focus on common Reformation themes, that of sola Scriptura and justification. Most are familiar with these truths, along with the other solas of the Reformation. However, the Reformation addressed more than these issues. In our following lectures we address a few important and related topics of the Reformation, which are not often known or addressed. Our goal is that we will all learn more about the Reformation and its theology, and also its legacy, up to and affecting those of us serving in the EFCA in the present.

Scott M. Manetsch, Professor of Church History, Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, will focus on the ongoing legacy of the Reformation. He will focus on the fruit God produced in and through the Reformation and also its broad and expansive impact. Not only was this gospel-centered movement against the foundational beliefs of the Roman Catholic Church, both in doctrine and practice, it was also foundationally grounded in the gospel with its reach affecting everything related to the major tenets of doctrine, the church and the Christian life. The reason for this fruit and its pervasive and ongoing influence is that the Reformation was a rediscovery of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Much of what we do today as pastors in pastoral ministry in the local church has been influenced and affected by what God did in and through the Reformation. We live the fruit and legacy of the Reformation without truly knowing it. This is some of what we will learn as we focus on the extent of the Reformation’s reform, which will be a fitting conclusion to our focus on the Reformation.

The Extent of the Reformation’s Reform: Word, Church, Ministry and Worship

Although one can pinpoint and highlight a few key doctrines that were central to the Reformers and the Reformation, the impact was far-reaching. There was nothing of life and ministry that remained unaffected. This is particularly true regarding the local church and pastoral ministry within the local church. The Word became central and the central authority. This was reflected in the role the Bible played in the corporate service and the prominence given to the pulpit. This also affected how the church was composed and understood. All believers were priests, there was no necessary intermediary between believers and Christ, and Christ alone is the Priest at the right hand of the Father who is the mediator between God and humanity. This was affirmed in the priesthood of all believers (note the plural, not the singular). This also had an influence on how they considered ministry within the church, which was extended to families. This transformed the way pastoral ministry was considered and conducted. The corporate singing as the people of God gathered was also transformed, since the whole priesthood was called upon to sing praises to God. These truths transformed the hymnology of the church. In this lecture we will focus on the key ways the Reformation transformed most everything about the church and pastoral ministry, and what we ought to learn today and experience a new Reformation.

Scott has addressed this topic numerous times over the years. One of his major works focuses on the ministry of John Calvin and his training of pastors: Calvin’s Company of Pastors: Pastoral Care and the Emerging Reformed Church, 1536-1609 (New York: Oxford University Press, 2013). The fruit of this work has been presented in conferences in the EFCA, Switzerland, Germany, France and the Netherlands, and it has encouraged many. He also serves as co-editor with Timothy George of the helpful and insightful Reformation Commentary on Scripture. Each of the commentaries in this series “consists of the collected comments and wisdom of the Reformers collated around the text of the Bible,” which serve as “a unique tool for the spiritual and theological reading of Scripture and a vital help for teaching and preaching.” Scott provides his own input in his own forthcoming contribution as editor of the work on 1 Corinthians: New Testament Volume 9A (Downers Grove: IVP Academic).

Scott has been associated with Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in the capacity of a student, receiving his MDiv and MA from TEDS, and as a professor, teaching in the Church History department since 2000. As noted above, he has spoken at our EFCA conferences on the topic of “The Reformation of the Pastoral Office” and he has also addressed this theme in a brief article emphasizing Three Important Pastoral Lessons. Last fall, at the EFCA Great Lakes District conference on the theme “The 5 Solas: Celebrating 500 Years,” Scott spoke on the topic of Sola Gratia.

Scott is a premier church historian of the Reformation. He is committed to the authority of the Scriptures in the life of the pastor and in pastoral ministry in the context of the local church. He finds great delight in teaching and training future pastors for this privileged task. He also recognizes the important role history plays in understanding, learning, forming and shaping pastors and ministry today. As a church historian and churchman training pastors, Scot also serves as a model of a pastor-theologian. I have learned and continue to learn much from Scott, so I am grateful he will share that learning with other pastors and leaders at our upcoming Theology Conference. 

You can read more about the Conference, the speakers and the schedule here. Please register here. Plan to attend, and plan to bring other staff members, elders and/or leaders from the church.

Our 2017 Theology Conference will be held February 1-3 on the campus of Trinity International University. In the introduction to the conference, we will focus on the EFCA’s roots in the Reformation and the Reformation’s legacy in the EFCA.

We are excited for this Theology Conference. Not only are we addressing the Reformation, a timely and important theme in conjunction with the 500th anniversary of Luther posting the 95 Theses, but we have some of the foremost scholars addressing the various themes/topics of the Conference.

In our first two lectures we focus on common Reformation themes, that of sola Scriptura and justification. Most are familiar with these truths, along with the other solas of the Reformation. However, the Reformation addressed more than these issues. In our following lectures we address a few important and related topics of the Reformation, which are not often known or addressed. Our goal is that we will all learn more about the Reformation and its theology, and also its legacy, up to and affecting those of us serving in the EFCA in the present.

Kenneth N. Young, Professor of Systematic Theology and Christian Ministries, University of Northwestern, will address the important topic of creeds, confessions and catechisms. In our Free Church history, creeds have been formative, but also considered a concern. This relationship is summarized by one as follows: “Creeds can become formal, complex, and abstract. They can be almost illimitably expanded. They can be superimposed on Scripture. Properly handled, however, they facilitate public confession, form a succinct basis of teaching, safeguard pure doctrine, and constitute an appropriate focus for the church’s fellowship in faith.” The same could be said for the relationship with the Free Church and confessions. Although they are foundational, the concerns of their abuses have often resulted in their lack of use.

The concern is that either the creed or the confession supplant or replace the Scriptures. That is a legitimate concern, but not a result that is inevitable. One must recognize the difference between and the different roles played between the Scriptures, which is the norma normans, which is consistent with sola Scriptura or absoluta Scriptura, and the norma normata, that which is normed by the norm, the Bible. One explains it in this way: “All creeds are more or less imperfect and fallible. The Bible alone is the rule of faith (regula credendi), the norma normans, and claims divine and therefore absolute authority; the creed is a rule of public teaching (regula docendi), the norma normata, and has only ecclesiastical and therefore relative authority, which depends on the measure of its agreement with the Bible. Confessions may be improved (as the Apostles’ Creed is a gradual growth from the baptismal formula), or may be superseded by better ones with the increasing knowledge of the truth.”

Finally, a catechism is the manner in which the Creeds and Confessions, the truth once for all entrusted to the saints, are passed on to others. Once again there are fears that are real, such that knowing certain doctrinal truths does not necessarily equate with spiritual birth or maturity. Neither of the latter issues will be realized apart from doctrinal truths. But the former does not equate with spiritual birth. Even the demons believe (Jms. 2:19), which means, they are, in a sense, orthodox. But they shudder before God, in that they do not believe such that they are born again, and they are condemned to eternal damnation (Jude 6). Luther and the other Reformers and post-Reformers, believed it important to equip God’s people with doctrinal truth. This was the means they used to propagate the faith. Luther summarized the effects of introducing his catechism in this way: “I have brought about such a change that nowadays a girl or boy of fifteen knows more about Christian doctrine than all the theologians of the great universities used to know.” Evangelicals in the Free Church today need to ask what role Creeds, Confessions and Catechisms play in our own lives and in the ministries to God’s people in local EFC churches. They are being spiritually formed by something. We need to ensure they are being formed to the truth once for all entrusted to the saints, in both head and heart (Matt. 22:37-39).

The Reformation, Creeds, Confessions and Catechisms

A supernatural work of God in renewal and revival is often accompanied and sustained by structures in order to sustain the fruit from the good work God is doing. If no structures are put in place, God’s work among humans often dissipates or implodes. The long-lasting fruit that can and should be born is lost. One of the important ways the truths of the Reformation, those major truths of sola Scriptura and justification by faith that were rediscovered, were taught and passed on was through creeds, confessions and catechisms. These were written to be used in the church and in families at home. Consider the Augsburg Confession (1530), the Belgic Confession (1561), The Thirty-Nine Articles (1571), The Westminster Confession of Faith (1646), and others. Consider Luther’s Small Catechism (1529), The Catechism of the Church of Geneva (1545), The Heidelberg Catechism (1563), and others. These tools, rooted in the Scriptures, profoundly grounded, formed and shaped the children of the Reformation. And yet, as good and right as this was, something was missing if one attempted to look to the structure of creeds, confessions and catechisms to produce spiritual fruit apart from spiritual life. The Pietists responded to this. And yet, Pietism gone too far emphasized the internal and subjective at the expense the creed, confession and catechism. Both of these movements make up the historical and theological stream of the EFCA. In this lecture we will focus on the proliferation of confessions and catechisms, how they were used, their strengths and weaknesses, and what sort of tool/structure the church needs to foster and sustain the good work God is doing today.

Kenneth received his D.Min. in Biblical Counseling from Westminster Theological Seminary, and he also received his Ph.D. in Systematic Theology from Luther Seminary. He presently teaches at the University of Northwestern, a role he has had for the past many years. Although Kenneth’s primary ministry at the moment is in the academy, he is a pastor theologian who is a committed churchman. This is validated in that in addition to his theological ministry in the academy, he has served for many years as a local church pastor. Many of those years in pastoral ministry have been with the EFCA, both as a church planter and a sr. pastor, where is also is ordained. He has also served in other leadership roles within the EFCA. Much of his ministry has focused on the intersection between orthodoxy and orthopraxy, particularly in the realm of racial reconciliation. I am grateful Kenneth will join us to address this important topic.

You can read more about the Conference, the speakers and the schedule here. Please register here. Plan to attend, and plan to bring other staff members, elders and/or leaders from the church.