kutilek2Five hundred years after Martin Luther posted his 95 proposed topics for public debate regarding Roman Catholic doctrine and practice, this audacious act is generally regarded as the opening salvo in the Protestant Reformation. In spite of Luther’s fame, in fact, there had been other challenges to Catholic Church dogma and actions for several years around Europe.

One watchword of the Protestant Reformation in Europe in the 1500s was “Sola Scriptura,” Latin for “Scripture alone.” It promoted the Bible as the sole authoritative source of theological truth. This avowal was in stark contrast to what had been long-claimed by the Roman Catholic Church as the bases for its doctrines: Church tradition, decrees of councils and papal declarations, oh, and the Bible (with the apocrypha inserted) as well, last and least important of all.

Martin Luther strongly advocated a “Bible alone” position in his finest hour — his appearance, really his trial, for heresy, before the Diet of Worms in April 1521. In response to a demand that he renounce his own writings, he boldly declared,

I cannot submit my faith either to the pope or to the councils, because it is clear as the day that they have frequently erred and contradicted each other.  Unless therefore I am convinced by the testimony of Scripture, or by the clearest reasoning,–unless I am persuaded by means of the passages I have quoted–and unless they render my conscience bound by the Word of God, I cannot and I will not retract, for it is unsafe for a Christian to speak against his conscience.

Had Luther been more consistent in practice with what he professed in theory at Worms, he would have left a greater legacy with far fewer warts.

How did the Sola Scriptura view arise, or rather, how was it reclaimed as the heritage of Christians? When Johann Gutenberg invented the printing press in the 1450s, the first document he published was the Bible — in Latin. The Bible of Roman Catholic Church was very much a closed book to the great majority of contemporary Europeans, who were either illiterate, knew no Latin, or owned no Bible. The printing of the Bible in the original languages was slow in coming — the Hebrew Old Testament was first printed in 1488, while the Greek New Testament was first published in 1516, more as a commercial venture by the printer Froben of Basle, than out of zeal for Divine truth.

The availability of the original language texts sparked intense widespread interest in studying the Scriptures firsthand, which often meant learning the Greek and Hebrew languages, necessary tools for that study. And studying the Bible directly for oneself immediately exposed the gross and frequent departures of Catholicism from the plain teaching of the Bible. It soon became apparent that one must follow either the Church or the Bible, because one could not follow both. A flurry of modern language Bible translations appeared in short order, enabling the common people to hear and read for themselves God’s written revelation in their own native languages, and freed them from slavish dependence on the priests for what little knowledge of Scripture they might be allowed.

The Reformers collectively adhered, to a large degree, to Sola Scriptura on the matter of salvation by grace through faith alone, apart from human works or merits. But on a great many other doctrines and practices, they failed to abandon the unbiblical ages-long errors of medieval Romanism and practices which had no basis in Scripture. Of the major Reformers, Luther departed the least from the teaching of the Roman Catholic Church, and Zwingli probably the most, with the Anglicans and Calvin somewhere in between. All of them kept a great deal of the theological and practical baggage of the medieval Catholic Church, including infant baptism, union of church and state, persecution of dissent (Luther approved of the execution of heretics, and Calvin personally sanctioned the burning of Michael Servetus, while also acquiescing in the drowning of dozens of Anabaptist parents for refusing to baptize their infants; Zwingli actively persecuted Anabaptists), an ecclesiastical hierarchy, an Augustinian view of predestination, and amillennialism.

The name “Anabaptist” — literally re-baptizer — was an accusatory term pinned on those scattered and diverse people who concluded, based on a close examination of the Bible, that true Christian — Biblical — baptism can only occur after an individual personally exercises faith in Christ, and that therefore no infant baptism was valid.

Anabaptists arose more or less spontaneously in various locations in Europe throughout the 16th century — Switzerland and south Germany (among the followers of Zwingli), Moravia, north Germany and the Netherlands, Poland, Hungary, and even Romania. A common consistent commitment to the Bible as the sole source of Divine truth led them, though widely scattered geographically, toward converging and common theological views. While there were some lunatic-fringers among professing Anabaptists (chiefly the Munsterites of 1535) as there are among self-identified Baptists today, the great majority were of a serious type who sought only to follow the teachings of Christ and the Apostles as closely as possible, without any addition of human tradition.

Not a few of the leaders of the various Anabaptists groups were highly educated men, including university graduates and former Catholic priests. The knowledge of Hebrew, Greek, and Latin was not rare among them. By way of example, it is notable that Anabaptist scholars Ludwig Haetzer and Johann Denck first translated the OT prophets from Hebrew into German in 1527. Luther’s translation of the same, first appearing seven years later in 1534, made large use of their work.

The Anabaptists individually and collectively left relatively little in writing with regard to their beliefs and practices or recording their history. Balthasar Hubmaier was the single most voluminous Anabaptist writer, and is acknowledged as being as learned a scholar as existed in Europe at the time. The reasons for this are not far to seek, since the Anabaptists were regularly harried and harassed by both Reformers and Catholics, lived commonly as exiles, were often in prisons, and frequently sealed their faith with their blood. An estimated 80% of the martyrs in England under the brief reign of bloody Mary I (1553-1558) were Anabaptists. As many as 300 Anabaptists were judicially murdered in one location on a single day. Rare was the Anabaptist leader who enjoyed an extended ministry of as much as a decade, and ministries lasting a year or two, or even just months, were commonplace. Short and immensely busy ministries left little time for writing. Then again, there was no centralized body or denomination to preserve and propagate Anabaptist views and writings, in contrast to, say, Luther or Calvin. And their adversaries among both Protestants and Catholics were quick to commit any and all Anabaptist writings to the flames, as well being prone to grossly misrepresenting Anabaptist views and actions in their own writings, presenting them in the worst possible light.

Few Anabaptists are widely known today — perhaps only Menno Simons, and maybe Balthasar Hubmaier. But the list of devout, faithful, fervent men who labored diligently, blazed brightly, and suffered mightily for their sincere adherence to the Bible alone is lengthy. Time prevents us from speaking in detail of Conrad Grebel, George Blaurock, Felix Manz, Michael Sattler, Hans Hut, Jacob Hutter, Pilgram Marpeck, Wilhelm Reublin, Peter Riedemann, Hans Denck and others, many now known only to God, who lived, labored, and all too often died for their fervent commitment to the Bible as their solitary guide.

The Anabaptists established precedent for most distinctive present-day Baptist principles, including the Bible alone as the source of theological truth, believer’s baptism (though pouring, along with immersion, was commonly practiced by them), separation of church and state, soul liberty, freedom from persecution, regenerate church membership, local church autonomy, and congregational church government. It must not be forgotten that the Reformers and their theological heirs, including the Puritans of New England, formed government-supported state churches, and frequently invoked the civil authorities to persecute, even to death, those who believed in liberty of conscience. And during the 16th century, it was the Anabaptists, not the Reformers, who displayed a fervent missionary spirit as they sought to literally fulfill the command of Christ in Matthew 28:18-20. (It must also be noted, in contrast, that in some matters the general, but not uniformly held, beliefs of Anabaptists diverged from common Baptist views today, notably in pacifism, refusal to take oaths, and non-participation in government.)

The issue of direct lineal descent of 17th century English Baptists (and subsequently modern Baptists) from 16th century Anabaptists is a disputed matter, much debated by historians, but there is no doubt of a spiritual kinship. Baptist Greek scholar A. T. Robertson matter-of-factly declared, “Give a man an open Bible, an open mind, and a conscience in good working order, and he will have a hard time not being a Baptist.” We, too, like the Anabaptists, profess “Sola Scriptura” and we genuinely strive to adhere to that principle.

 

kutilek1

dominos

The date is three days following the 9/11 attacks and the setting is the Washington National Cathedral. The country is searching for some form of comfort. The strains of “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God” could be heard drifting through the portals of the gigantic cathedral. It was part of the National Service of Prayer and Remembrance.

I have spent my entire adult life planting churches in the land of Martin Luther, the reformer who penned that hymn, the man who found comfort in a personal God who cares. Living and ministering in Germany so long has provided me a perspective on this culture, I have learned to love these people – I know this culture by immersion. The following is my take on the lasting effects of the Reformation, 500 years downstream.

Even our city of ministry, Aschaffenburg, located a 30-minute drive east of Frankfurt, where we have planted a strong, viable church, played a trivial role in the reformation. It was here in this city on the river Main, that Luther’s direct boss, Albrecht von Brandenburg, resided. Luther had a copy of the 95 theses sent to his direct report. Albrecht, who held little desire to be a theologian, forwarded them on to Rome and the Pope. Albrecht later died in Aschaffenburg on September 24, 1545.

“On All Hallows’ Eve, October 31, 1517, the Roman Church received the world’s most memorable trick-or-treater at its door — though barely noticed at the time — when a lowly priest named Martin Luther approached the threshold of the Wittenberg branch in Germany and posted his 95 measly theses (they aren’t nearly as impressive as you would expect). The coming All Saints’ Day seemed like an excuse for sparring about the Church’s deplorable sanctioning of indulgences, and Luther was angling for some good-spirited debate.” David Mathis, Executive Editor, desiringGod.org

Reforms do not stay reformed

Reforming is a common struggle. Do you have an unused membership to a fitness club – even when you pay the monthly subscription and are convinced of the benefits? What likelihood would you give Congress in bringing health care reform? University of Scranton research suggests that just 8% of people achieve their New Year’s goals and, according to a U.S. News study, approximately 80% of resolutions fail by the second week of February. In other words, lasting reform is difficult at best. Germany is a prime example.

Lasting effects of the Reformation

  1. In Germany, Lutherans are 27.1% of the population. It is one of the two state churches – there is no separation between church and state in this culture.
  2. The German-speaking world has a reliable Bible in its own language.
  3. The publication of the Bible in German unified a common language. Prior to Luther’s Bible, Germany was fractured in regional dialects. This influence cannot be overstated. Much of present-day appreciation for Luther has less to do with his theology than for his cultural and social impact.
  4. Sola Scriptura
    Following Luther’s initial translation in 1522, an estimated 5,000 copies were sold in two months. The Bible was an instant bestseller, the must-have book to read at the time of its publication.Most important, the Bible left a permanent impression on a great translator of the English Bible. William Tyndale, one of the Reformation’s champions, had fled from England to the Continent about the time Luther was publishing his German New Testament. He too was translating from the original manuscripts, and possibly he and Luther met in Wittenberg.Luther’s strong influence on the father of the English Bible is unmistakable. Since Tyndale’s English translation makes up more than 90 percent of the King James New Testament, Luther’s legacy is clearly visible.

    “It is not possible to reproduce a foreign idiom in one’s native tongue,” Luther wrote. “The proper method of translation is to select the most fitting terms according to the usage of the language adopted. To translate properly is to render the spirit of a foreign language into our own idiom. I try to speak as men do in the marketplace. In rendering Moses, I make him so German that no one would suspect he was a Jew.”

  1. Study resources
    Every serious student of scripture will have access to language and historical reference materials. Many of the authoritative resources are from German authors, so thorough and reliable in their research. Among them would be Keil and Delitsch, as well as  Kittel’s Theological Dictionary of the New Testament.
  1. Biblical Archeology
    In 1864 or 1865 the German engineer Carl Humann was charged with the geographical investigation and excavation of acropolis ruins in the ancient city of Pergamon. In 1878 the German government acquired a license to dig in Turkey. The temple described by the apostle John as being the seat of Satan was removed in its entirety to Berlin. Since the beginning of the 20th century, museum visitors can visit this temple on exhibit (although museum renovations have this section off-limits until it reopens in 2019). Additionally, the processional walls of Babylon seen by Daniel, buildings from Ninevah seen by Jonah, the marketplace of Milet – where Paul met with the church leaders of Ephesus are a must-see stop when visiting the reunified capital of Germany.

There was a time when the Scriptures had great significance in Germany.

Then entered philosophy (for example, Friedrich Nietzsche) and the influence of a new field: science. At the end of the 19th century, new thought questioned the veracity of Scripture and a widespread doubt seeped its way into mainstream society. The Modern age was born where truth is determined logically via what can be observed. The telescope and microscope became the go-to source for answers.

With Scripture undermined and human logic the guide, theologians were swept into the popular decision to question anything that did not make common sense, so even the bedrock of the Gospel message would be renegotiated and redefined. The background was now set for a dictator to sweep into power – it was no longer assured that every soul was created in the image of God. Fifty million people would die as a result of World War II.

The drift of not holding to the Reformation

Modern Germany rose from the literal ashes of 1945 alongside assistance of allies and the Marshall plan, yet has struggled to find any major motivation to turn God-ward.

  1. The influence of a divided Germany

In the former East Germany, 85% of people have no religion. In 1950, 90% of people claimed Christianity. At the fall of the iron curtain in 1989, 30% were Christian and 70% had no religion.

“The Protestant state church is fairly dead. The percent of committed Christians in Germany is maybe at 3 or 4 percent. Eighty percent belong to a church nominally, Protestant or Catholic. A mere 0.5 percent belong to a free evangelical church. The percent of people believing in life after death is fewer than 50 percent.” Sarah Pulliam Bailey, http://www.christianitytoday.com, November 9, 2009

From Sarah Pulliam Bailey’s interview of a Lutheran pastor:

Question: “The 500th anniversary of Martin Luther’s 95 theses is coming up in 2017. Do you think that will spark any renewal or interest in the church?

Reply: No. When did an anniversary spark anything? Two hundred years of Jonathan Edward preaching. Wow. Let’s have another revival. I don’t think so.

It’ll be just another celebration. But who will remember the real Luther? Luther was rude, Luther was a revolutionary, Luther was a punk. The church leaders in Germany are so unlike Luther. The current mainline Protestant church is the opposite of Luther. Luther would have driven most of our bishops from their pulpits.“

  1. The impact of affluence

Germany has a great system for developing intellectual talent. University study is paid by the government, but is only available to an elite group – and that selection is decided by the fourth, yes fourth, grade. As a result, “Made in Germany” has become a worldwide branding reputation that equals high quality. Exports have allowed Germany to produce 25% of the entire Gross Domestic Production of Europe.

This has brought a higher salary for workers and the standard of living is very high. Being a socialistic society, taxes are extremely high, even if income tax is not the highest. Sales taxes are 19% along with an incredibly long list of other ways to tax people: TV and radio tax, road taxes, energy tax ….

That has also had a trickle-down effect – millennials are waiting longer and longer to establish families. Two income families are the norm. One of the ways that many are lowering their tax burden is to leave the rolls of church membership, since “donations” are deducted from wages and given to the church. Over 300,000 are unregistering from the state church annually. This disconnect is difficult to surmount, once established.

This is one of the dangers of affluence and a challenge for the European church planter. General spiritual disconnect or apathy is prevalent.

  1. General discontent

The German news magazine Spiegel published a widespread study of the average German, revealing interesting aspects…

“The radio will be on, day after day, and so will the TV – for at least three hours a day – and the message it will convey to viewers is that some people make 1,000 times as much money as they do, that their lives are 1,000 times as exciting, even though they cannot possibly be working 1,000 times as much.”

Another edition of Spiegel quotes a study:

“During the course of the study, the researchers managed to unlock a typically German sequence of steps to enjoyment, which they named “pleasure DNA.” The first step involves the feeling of having earned something. This is followed by preparation for the longed-for pleasure, such as booking a day of wellness treatments. But then comes the biggest hurdle: letting go and clearing the mind.”

“Many Germans apparently lack crucial components to this “pleasure DNA.” Though some 91% of the study participants said that pleasure makes life worthwhile, only 15% could recall moments in which they were able to forget their worries and feel truly happy.”

Absence from work due to depression has increased almost 70% in Germany from 2000 to 2013.

Could it be that this postmodern spiritual disconnect has lasting pragmatic consequences? Augustine stated: You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our heart is restless until it rests in you.”

In closing, history is not isolated to another cultural group, in this case Germans – everyone is in danger of drifting from essentials. We would do well to reaffirm the Solas of the Reformation: By faith alone, by Scripture alone, Christ alone, alone by grace, alone to God’s glory. We are witnessing a societal shift, we would be wise to continually reassess where our culture is negatively impacting our walk with Christ. Indeed, a mighty fortress is our God. And in times of uncertainty as these, it is a good reminder.

by David Melton

I’m a history guy, not only by innate interest but by training, so I always cringe when a student here in Boston gives me the “I don’t like history” line.  Ugh.  I know they DO like history…they just don’t know it.  Everybody likes history.  If you bother to look at your pay stub to be sure they got your salary right, you are looking at a historical document.  Ever celebrate a birthday?  You are celebrating history!  Even if you try to remember what you wore two days ago, you are doing historical analysis.

Nothing proves that we are ALL historians to some degree better than the growing interest in ancestry.  The website searches, the DNA profiles, the nostalgic television shows…all of those and more address our desire (I would argue our “need”!) to understand where we come from – as a part of who we are.  A friend of mine had me rolling recently when he told me about his trial membership on an ancestry website.  He got back three of four generations only to find that the limbs on his family tree crossed awkwardly…two cousins turned out to be spouses!  My friend ended his search and canceled his membership immediately.

I find students and others who sometimes treat church history similarly.  A quick look can be confusing, even maddening, so we stop.  Bad move.  More and more we all agree that our physical health cannot be best understood without knowing our genetic history.  Why would we think our spiritual health would be otherwise?  Church history is rarely simple or tidy or embarrassment-free.  But it is our story.  And it is HIS story.  Our ancestry is what it is, mingled with dollops of grace.  You can’t “not like history.”

I recently attended David Lingo’s funeral. David served for many years as a missions professor at Baptist Bible College. Based upon the crowd and the testimonies shared, he was a huge influence for Christ. This stirred my heart as I realized the profound importance of those that serve here at BBC.

Alumni around the world tell of the impact and motivation they received from their college professore. Every year, BBC has been blessed by loving, helpful, interested and godly men and women that have dedicated their life to helping train a new generation.

It is my privilege to observe the effort, time, love and concern our professors have for their students. These godly men and women set an example with their lives and teach from experience. I love and appreciate them.

BBC is blessed. Not only are our professors committed believers, but so is our staff. The people that serve in offices and maintain facilities are able to share the things of the Lord and encourage our students. Those that shine the floors, fix the pipes and make sure the lights work are at BBC because this is their ministry. I am sure I have neglected to give them the great appreciation they all deserve.

I am blessed – we all are – to have such sacrificial servants that give their life to help educate and train these spiritually hungry and determined students.

Would you take just a moment and reflect on someone that made an impact on your life? If there was a professor, a staff member, or a local pastor that made an impact on your life, would you write a note about it and share it with us through email or Facebook?

I am so thankful for the great professors that poured their words and their very heart into me. I am thankful that this continues today. Please pray for BBC and for God to use this year in a great way.

In a life of over 55 years of ministry, one of the greatest lessons I have learned and one of the best pieces of advice I could ever give a church planter would be to just be yourself. Don’t be a copycat. Be you. No one is more vital to your ministry than you. It is you that God has called to do this ministry of church planting.

Do not try to copy another’s success. Don’t try to be something or somebody else. No one can be you except for you. It’s not the way they dress that makes them successful. It’s not the music they play that makes them successful. It’s not the way they put their hands in their pockets, the Levi’s they wear or the shirt and tie. It’s not their delivery, it’s not their method, it’s not their style, but it is them being themselves.

Discover who you are, your strengths, your weaknesses, and your passions. God’s calling on your life is more important than somebody else’s personality or method in your life.

Yes, study the success of others. Explore different approaches and styles, gather information, read and collect as much knowledge and wisdom as you possibly can from others, but be yourself. God has a designed a ministry for your life, for your talents, for your gifts, and for your vision. No one else can perform this vision and mission that God has given you but you.

Apart from integrity and loyalty, one of the greatest characteristics that people follow and admire is authenticity. Someone has well said, “You can fool some of the people some of the time, but you can’t fool all the people all the time.” Another has said, “You can spot a phony a mile away.” Just be you because no one else can.

It is estimated that nearly 50 million migrants currently reside in the USA. This diasporic population shift has prompted the government to be creative in addressing the various challenges that arise as these people transition to life in the United States. God has set before us an unprecedented mission opportunity to which we can ask, “What can we as Christians do to effectively reach these communities with the Gospel?”

God’s redemptive plan is for EVERY nation. He is now bringing the mission field to us. We need to respond by seizing the opportunity to prayerfully consider ways to reach these people living outside their native land. For years, our primary focus has been sending missionaries to reach the lost on the foreign field, yet we cannot neglect to also extend our scope to those in our own country. There is no difference between reaching out to the Vietnamese in Dallas, the Ethiopian in Washington D.C, or the Honduran in San Diego.

Hundreds of people groups in the world have no Gospel witness and many are scattered throughout our nation. In order to reach them, we must:

  • See the need,
  • Ask God to give us a desire to minister to them,
  • Develop a plan,
  • Equip our people,
  • Go out and meet them,
  • Learn about them,
  • And bring them to Jesus.

With the right attitude and an effective plan, God can use us to spread His Gospel among the people groups who find themselves far away from their familiar cultural influences. Imagine the possibilities of God calling those reached on US soils to take the Good News back to their home country. What an amazing opportunity churches have in reaching both an accessible mission field right here and sending a potential mission force into unreached places of our world. God is bringing them to us – is your church considering them?

As I think about the 500th anniversary of Luther’s nailing of his 95 Theses to the door of the Wittenberg Castle church there are a few things that come to mind. First, that the Bible alone is our highest authority. Second, that we are saved through faith in Jesus Christ and by the grace of God alone.

Growing up in the Philippines in a BBFI missionary family, I got to see first-hand the preaching of the Gospel to people immersed in religion and ritual. I observed the biblical truths that are often associated with the Reformation at work in people’s lives.

In those days, few people had Bibles. One challenge my parents encountered was the mindset the Bible was only to be read by priests, not ordinary people. It was amazing to watch someone who had never read the Bible begin to read it themselves. We witnessed the power of Scripture to bring light and understanding to many people.

When my wife’s father, Bob Hughes, realized that people did not have Bibles, he launched an ambitious project to print one million Bibles. His ministry was known as, “What does the Bible say?” The passion for the Word of God led to a vibrant and enduring church planting movement in the Philippines.

Religious rituals and good works were the accepted path to salvation. I will never forget watching three people literally nailed to a cross in what appeared to be a heroic act of penance and good works. Our message was clearly focused on the freeness of salvation because of the finished work of Christ and the grace of God. The simple truth of Ephesians 2:8-9 brought freedom and salvation to all who would receive it.

As the 500th anniversary of the Reformation is celebrated, the world will revisit these important biblical truths. I am grateful to be a part of the Baptist Bible Fellowship International where these truths have been the foundation of our message since the beginning.

by Sharon Hoffman

When my daughters were young, it wasn’t unusual to find me poolside at a dear friend’s house during the summer months. One afternoon, Betty must have noticed the weariness on my face from her kitchen window. It wasn’t long until she appeared at my side with napkins, lemonade, and cookies. Betty listened as I poured out my heart about the weight of motherhood, being pulled in too many directions, and an overload of ministry responsibilities. [click to continue…]

by Carla Slayden

My husband and I have been blessed with four children, and are now enjoying being Grandma and Papa to 12 grandchildren. They range in age from 15 years to three months. As I reflect on my days of raising children, there are a few adjustments I would make. [click to continue…]

by Mary Herman

Investing is the best way to prepare for the future. This is true financially as well as spiritually. My parents taught us to pay God, pay ourselves (savings), and adjust our choices so we could live on the remainder. Those lessons have proved to be invaluable as life has unfolded, and especially as the retirement years grow closer. [click to continue…]