I am teaching a class for OCU right now, on Church History (Part II). It highlights the events in the church from 1054 to current times and even looks at future trends. It is interesting that the way the scheduled topics fall, that we discussed the pre-reformation last week and this week (Thursday), we will look at the Reformation. Sunday evening, I shared a little bit about the Reformation. Even though I do not agree with many of the nuances in Reformed Theology, the Wesleyan-Arminian movements are much indebted to the principles championed by the Protestant reformers.
The Coming Reformation
The Roman Catholic Church had become deeply corrupted. There had already been the “Great Schism” between the Roman Catholic Church of the West and the Orthodox Church of the East in 1054. However, towards the 14th and 15th centuries, many things brought this corruption to the forefront. People were leaving the church because of the crusades and the chasm between the priests and people. Those that stayed were encouraged to buy indulgences from the Catholic church to get some time off of purgatory for themselves or others, living and dead.
Other things, such as pressure to have the state to come out from Church’s scope of authority. As people came back from the crusades, they also brought back the lost writings of early Christian fathers and apologists that helped formed the faith after the close of the New Testament. In other words, some Christians were stepping out of superstition and ignorance, back into the light of authentic Christian teaching. Individuals such as Wycliffe and Erasmus realized that the people needed the Word of God in their own language (Wycliffe), and that it was essential to study the Scripture in its original languages (Erasmus). At that time, all they had was Latin and the only ones that could read it was the priesthood. The invention of the printing press was also instrumental, as it made it easier for everyone to have reading materials of their own (now everyone could have the Scripture for themselves). These pre-reformers and much more were hoping for drastic change.
The Protestant Reformation
It is said that “Luther hatched the egg that Erasmus laid.” Of course, Erasmus argued that he intended for a different kind of eff. Both, Erasmus and Luther were hoping for reform inside the church. Luther did not want to start a new group, but he did. It is accepted that on October 31, 157, the monk, Martin Luther, went to the Castle Church Wittenberg and nailed his 95 theses to the door. The response was overwhelming, and Luther would be called to recant his stance. To which he responded in an assembly called the Diet of Worms, “Here I stand; I can do no other. God help me.”
More reformers, such as John Calvin and Ulrich Zwingli would later join in the movement. Groups such as the Anabaptists (“to again baptize”) would move farther past the other reformers regarding practice. When the Reformation came to England, the state resolved to create the Anglican church, reformed in theology but Roman Catholic in practice. The Puritans of England would seek to make a full transition from Roman Catholics altogether. However, all these protestant groups and even my holiness brethren affirm the key principles of the Reformation. The principles are Sola Scriptura (“by Scripture alone”), Sola Fide (“by faith alone”), Sola Gratia (“by grace alone”), Solo Christo (“Christ alone”), and Soli Deo Gloria (“glory to God alone”). Another primary tenant is the priesthood of all believers. Highlighting our emphasis that we do not need a priest to approach God on our behalf but that we can have a personal relationship with the Lord.
Again, we owe much to the Protestant Reformation that seems much older than 500 years. It was and remains a great revival of Biblical proportions. In conclusion, have a happy Reformation Day!
Transitions from one part of life to another is never easy. People are resistant to change and are quick to defend against change. Israel went through such a transition. After 40 years of wandering in the wilderness, an entire generation passed away. God raised up a new leader, Joshua, to take over where Moses left off. It is intimidating to follow someone who has already been successful. Even though Joshua has proven himself already, this new challenge of leading the people of God to the Promise Land was not for the faint of heart.
There is not much to be said about this passage except, be strong and of good courage. This admonition is repeated four times. Three times by the Lord to Joshua and one by the people to him. Encouragement goes a long way in providing a safe an open environment for leaders and followers to be morally courageous. We must continually check ourself to see if our critiques provide positive reinforcement or are simply negative and hurtful to others. In our local churches, we need to create opportunities for people to lead without fear of others in the community attacking their ideas. Sharing leadership encourages others to take responsibility and to think creatively, something a lot of pastors long from a congregation.
How long has it been since you offered a word of encouragement to someone struggling with life? Have you complimented someone for doing a good job or being their for you? Taking notice of others and offering a kind word at just the right time can impact someone for a lifetime. We need to build each other up more instead of tearing down. First Corinthians 5:11 reminds us, “Wherefore comfort yourselves together, and edify one another, evan as also ye do.” Scripture tells us to do everything we can to build up the Kingdom. We do that by building each other up.
One of the greatest strengths of the Bible is that difficult passages are not hidden. Our life is filled with complexity and God’s Scripture faces it with His grace and wisdom. I am thankful for that as it gives hope and guidance. If it some of it’s teachings are hard to understand and hard to accept. Our first chapter today is a difficult passage.
Read Exodus 32:1-34:35
Moses cares for the people. That’s the big lesson I gain from chapter 32. “But wait,” you say, “what is this about the Lord repenting.” Why would the Lord need to repent? This is one of those difficult areas. The people of Israel made a molten calf. Aaron’s response in 32:24 is comical, “They made me do it and gave me their gold. When I through it in the fire, a golden calf jumped back out.” This infuriated God and went against the grace He just showed by bringing them out of Egypt. However, after Moses’ pleading, God repented of the evil He thought to do. Notice, He didn’t ask for forgiveness, which is included in our understanding of repentance. In this sense, it means to change direction, to do something different. He was going to destroy them but through Moses pleading, God changed His mind. To me, this displays Moses growing love for the people. Notice also in 32:30-35, that Moses is so passionate for Israel that he was willing to have his name blotted out in their place. Moses has changed from not wanting to defend Israel in front of Pharoah, but now will plead with God for them. That’s a pastor’s heart. One who grows in love for His people that they will pray for God’s grace and favor upon the congregation and community regardless of self-cost.
Another major point in this passage, is God’s relationship with Moses. We see clearly 33:11, “And the LORD spake unto Moses face to face, as a man speaks unto his friend.” This is wonderful to know that God, the Creator, will enter into a relationship with us beyond covenant partnership and into covenant friendship. God even rubs off onto Moses (33:18-23, 34:5-9 & 29-35). God has great love for us, and the more we are around the Lord, the more we are changed.
One of my favorite stories is the Chronicles of Narnia. In The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe, the children are talking about the Christ-like figure, Aslan the Lion. The conversation goes, “Aslan is a lion- the Lion, the great Lion.” “Ooh,” said Susan. “I’d thought he was a man. Is he quite safe? I shall feel rather nervous about meeting a lion”…”Safe?” said Mr. Beaver …”Who said anything about safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the King, I tell you.”
God is certainly good, but he is not safe, at least for sin and wickedness to be around. The Lord is going to demonstrate in our reading His power and intolerance of sin and the evil in the hearts of men and women. God will send ten plagues upon Egypt. We will learn about the first nine in our passage today.
Read Exodus 6:28-11:10
What does it mean that God would harden Pharoah’s heart (Exodus 7:3)? There are a variety of explanations based on how one understands God’s sovereignty and man’s free will. However, it may be sufficient at this point in God’s story to note that this is ultimately above our pay grade, “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts” (Isaiah 55:8-9). Still, I would like to point out God’s dealings with people’s hearts in Romans 1:18-32. A passage we have already visited. You will notice that in the Romans passage, three times God says “God gave them over” (Rom. 1:24, 26, 28). I believe this is similar to God hardening Pharoah’s heart. Pharoah made a choice to live without Israel’s God and when confronted with another choice, kept going against God. God gave Pharoah over to his desire to not listen, and he reaped the consequences of Godlessness. In other words, Pharoah chooses where he wants to make to his bed, and God said, “Okay, if that’s what you want.”
The plagues demonstrate another aspect of God. God is holy and loving. They are not separate concepts. Instead they are two sides of the same coin. God’s holiness may seem harsh, but it is in His holiness that He is the only real source of Love. As love, there is the aspect of the Lord appearing tough on those things that cast themselves against what God loves. Through the plagues, we see judgment fall on those who are against God, but mercy on those who follow God. Whether God’s action is seen as judgment or compassion is based on what side of redemption you are standing on. From the side of the unredeemed, God’s actions produce conviction, fear, and at times bitterness. However, from the viewpoint of the redeemed, all that came before was accompanied by God’s providential grace. Providence is the grace that God sends before us to bring us to Him. Thank God for His grace that goes before us to prepare the way.
We take a little bit of a leap forward to get the big picture of the Bible. In between our previous passage and today’s reading, is a lot of sin. In those chapters, we find brother murdering brother and a growing contempt for God. Sin multiplies, and we see God move to cleanse the world. Grace, however, is also seen this passage of Scripture. The word “covenant” is introduced in this chapter too.
Read Genesis 6:5-7:24
The state of humanity is summed up in Genesis 6:5-6, “And God saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. And it repented the LORD that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him at his heart.” I believe Romans 1:24 is an excellent commentary on the flood event and the actions of God afterward, “Wherefore God also gave them up to uncleanness through the lusts of their own hearts, to dishonour their own bodies between themselves.” Romans 1:26 and 1:28, echo this idea of giving over. In my observation, it is God telling humanity that if they don’t want Him around through their continual sinning, he will grant their request and let them see the consequences of such an action. The evil of our present world is the outcome of man’s rejection of God.
God would go on to destroy the created world by flood. Noah, though, would find grace in God’s eyes. In the story, justice, mercy, and grace are on display. Justice is receiving what we deserve. Mercy is not receiving what we deserve. Grace is receiving something that we don’t deserve. Romans 3:23 teaches, “For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God.” The difference between Noah and the rest of the world was faith. The writer of Hebrews stated, “By faith Noah, being warned of God of things not seen as yet, moved with fear, prepared an ark to the saving of his house; by the which he condemned the world, and became heir of the righteousness which is by faith” (11:7). Faith is more than belief. It is faithfulness or the actual living out of what is believed to be true.
Covenants generally symbolized in today’s time. Ancient near-eastern covenants were solemn oaths, typically bonded by a blood sacrifice displaying the seriousness of the covenant. They were symbolized generally by a token. The token given by God to Noah was the rainbow. Every time we see a rainbow we are reminded of God’s promise to not destroy the world through a global flood. God keeps His promises. Second Peter 3:9 reads, “The Lord is not slack concerning his promise, as some men count slackness; but is longsuffering to us-ward, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance.” God would bring in new covenants throughout human history. The final covenant being made between Jesus Christ and man. That covenant is the promise of salvation by faith made possible by God’s grace in Jesus’ death, burial, and resurrection.
“Is any thing too hard for the LORD?” -Genesis 18:14
“Ye Lord God! behold, Thou hast made the heaven and the earth by Thy great power and stretched out arm, and there is nothing too hard for Thee.” — Jeremiah 32:17
“For with God nothing shall be impossible.”
The opening question is rhetorical in nature. The interesting point is that God is asking this question himself. The event that this phrase is nestled is centered around God’s promise to Abraham that him and his wife Sarah would have a child. Sarah, because of her age, laughs out loud. God confronted the outburst with a reference to His omnipotence.
The premier display of God’s power is interwoven with His love. The single act of power works its way throughout history, climaxes at the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, and reaches throughout eternity. As Paul wrote, “For the preaching of the cross is to them that perish foolishness; but unto us which are saved it is the power of God.”
I am thankful for the power of God that is displayed in the world and in my life. He took my sins away. He has filled my life with the Holy Spirit and enabled me to resist temptation and endure trials. He has prepared a place of eternal bliss. Oh, what a great and glorious God we serve.