Do Baptists have a Right to Celebrate the Reformation?

A painting of Martin Luther posting the 95 Theses by Ferdinand Pauwels, circa 1872

Tomorrow we celebrate the 500th anniversary of the start of the Protestant Reformation, dated from Martin Luther’s purported nailing of the Ninety-five Theses to the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg. It’s been a yearlong celebration, and some might mourn the passing of this Renaissance in Reformation studies. Have no fear! This is only the first of many anniversaries. We can now celebrate 500 years since the Heidelberg Disputation, the Leipzig Debate, the Diet of Worms, The Bondage of the Will, and the first catechisms. I hope I make it long enough to celebrate all the different editions of The Institutes of the Christian Religion.

Unfortunately, there are some people who don’t think I should be celebrating at all, because I am a Baptist. Throughout the course of this year, I have often come across statements such as, “Luther would have called Baptists heretics,” “Baptists have no clue about church history or historic theology,” “Baptists ignore the principles of the Reformation,” etc. Invariably, these statements come from people who hold to one of the confessions that arose out of the 16th or 17th centuries, such as the Augsburg Confession, the Heidelberg Catechism, the Belgic Confession, or the Westminster Confession.

Why would people make such statements? Is there any truth behind them? Should Baptists be taking off their party hats and going home with their heads hung low in shame? These questions are somewhat difficult to answer due to the diversity among Baptists. Add to that the fact that by “Baptist”, the Reformed and Lutherans often mean anyone who practices credobaptism (also called “believer’s baptism”). This would force us to include a wide variety of churches that make no claim to being Baptist and may not even have a clear statement of faith.

Nevertheless, I will attempt to briefly address these questions. When people object to a connection between Baptists and the Reformation, they usually have one of the following things in mind. Continue reading

The Reformation was a Tragedy

“Martin Luther in the Circle of Reformers” by the German School, circa 1625-50

We haven’t hit the month of October yet, and already I have read so much about the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation that I would just assume be done with it. Actually, that’s a lie. I could probably read articles about the Reformation until kingdom come. I am what is popularly called a history geek. Nevertheless, I acknowledge that this year has been so full of solas, beer steins, and papal anathemas that I hesitated to add to the deluge unless I had something to say that was rather different from what had already been said.

Well, here’s something you may not have heard from many Protestants this year: the Reformation was a tragedy. Yes, you read that correctly. In the midst of all this celebrating, I think we ought to take some time to mourn what we have lost. Great damage has been done to the cause of Christian unity, and 500 years later we have yet to recover.

“Hold on a minute!” you might be thinking. “Are you suggesting that the Protestants were wrong to break away from Rome? Do you really believe we should ignore major doctrinal errors in order to maintain a superficial unity?” No, that is not what I am saying at all. There are certainly aspects of the Reformation that we should be celebrating. The recovery of the doctrines known as the Five Solas (scripture alone, Christ alone, grace alone, faith alone, and the glory of God alone) was an absolutely essential development in the history of Christianity. Many of today’s doctrinal errors occur when we fail to cling to those biblical principles. Even so, I think we must celebrate with a twinge of sadness. Continue reading

No Thank You, Aquinas: Women Are Not Misbegotten

Depiction of Thomas Aquinas by Gentile da Fabriano, circa 1400

Thomas Aquinas was undoubtedly one of the greatest thinkers in Christian history. His Summa Theologica is quite possibly the most influential theological tome of all time. Christians of all stripes certainly have much to gain from reading the works of Aquinas.

However, my opinion of Aquinas is decidedly mixed. He introduced some great ideas into Christianity, but also some unfortunate errors that have resounded down to the present day. One such concept is the notion of “redemptive suffering”, which I have recently been studying. Aquinas was not the first person to teach this idea, but he certainly helped to lay the groundwork for a theology in which human suffering could itself hold salvific power.

Another place where Aquinas introduced erroneous thinking into Christianity is naturally rather important to me: his beliefs regarding women. The problematic section comes in Part One, Question 92 of the Summa. The first article he considers is, “Whether the woman should have been made in the first production of things?” Continue reading

Should Christians Use Satire?

Peter Sellers in “Dr. Strangelove”, perhaps the greatest satire film of all time. This is what’s at stake, people.

Yesterday, I was moseying around Twitter rather innocently: well, at least as innocently as possible for a person such as myself. As I was scrolling through the long line of news updates and quotations by famous theologians, I came across the following.

Could it be that The Gospel Coalition is taking a stand against satire and sarcasm? One Tweet does not amount to a campaign, but to have two of the biggest names in that organization make such comments does suggest a certain point of view. Continue reading

That Time Martin Luther Became a Thief

In this 1875 painting by Gustav Adolph Spangenberg, “Luther Making Music in the Circle of His Family”, Melanchthon is portrayed sitting at the table behind them. Apparently he was present at every Luther family gathering?

The relationship between the German Reformers Martin Luther and Philip Melanchthon has been puzzled over by scholars for centuries. They were fellow professors at the University of Wittenberg and collaborated on a number of projects, from a German translation of the Bible to the Augsburg Confession. Yet, there were undoubtedly some theological differences between them in later years, and all their contemporaries noted that their personalities were essentially opposites. Luther himself once characterized the relationship in the following way.

I am rough, boisterous, stormy, and altogether warlike. I am born to fight against innumerable monsters and devils. I must remove stumps and stones, cut away thistles, and thorns, and clear the wild forests; but Master Philip comes along softly and gently, sowing and watering with joy, according to the gifts which God has abundantly bestowed upon him.[1]

Continue reading

Exploring 1 Timothy – The Invisible God

“The Conversion on the Way to Damascus” by Carvaggio, circa 1600. This was the moment when God became visible in more than one way to Saul/Paul.

At one point in his first letter to Timothy, the Apostle Paul breaks into a kind of benediction: “Now to the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory forever and ever.” (1:17) This is a great statement of praise, but what strikes me is the list of attributes he applies to God.

Eternal means He has no beginning or end – He is the creator of time and beyond time. Immortal means He Himself is not created, and He can never not be. But what exactly does it mean that our God is “invisible”? What is Paul getting at here? Continue reading

The Origins of the Protestant Reformation

Woodcut by Lucas Cranach the Elder portraying the pope selling indulgences, circa 1521

Woodcut by Lucas Cranach the Elder portraying the pope selling indulgences, circa 1521

Can you recall the first time you learned about the Protestant Reformation? In all likelihood, you were told a story somewhat like this. On October 31, 1517, a German monk named Martin Luther nailed a piece of paper to the door of a church that stated his complaints with Roman Catholicism. This began the splitting of Western Christianity into two primary groups: Catholics and Protestants. Regardless of where you grew up and what form of religion your family practiced, the issue was almost certainly presented in this manner.

Most people today will never progress beyond that extremely limited and largely misleading version of events, nor will they come to realize the vast ways in which their own lives have been affected by the Reformation. Nearly 500 years later, if we are to truly understand what happened on that October day, we must go back in time and consider the events leading up to that period. Continue reading

Happy Reformation Day!

Wittenberg All Saints Church, The Theses Doors, Wiki AlterVista

The “Theses Doors” at All Saints’ Church in Wittenberg, Germany, where Martin Luther purportedly nailed his “Ninety-Five Theses” on October 31, 1517. Photo by Wikipedia user AlterVista

It is October 31st, a day which in the United States is associated with Halloween, a celebration that mostly involves dressing up, pigging out on candy, and covering the neighbor’s yard with toilet paper and smashed pumpkins.  However, did you also know that October 31st is Reformation Day?  What is Reformation Day?  Allow me to explain…

Nearly half a millennium ago, on October 31, 1517, a theology professor at the University of Wittenberg in Germany drafted an announcement of an upcoming university debate and posted it to the door of the local church, which in those days served as a kind of town message board. This is the kind of everyday occurrence that normally gets ignored by historians, except that the man’s name was Martin Luther and his announcement contained a list of “Ninety-Five Theses” that laid out what he believed were necessary reforms in the Catholic Church. As it turns out, the typical story of Luther authoritatively attaching his list of demands to the church door is likely apocryphal and based mostly on the account of his friend Philip Melanchthon, who may or may not have actually been in town at the time the event was supposed to have occurred. Continue reading