f The Wittenberg Door: October 2014

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Commenting on Christendom, culture, history, and other oddities of life from an historic Protestant perspective.

Friday, October 31, 2014

The Reformation

If you ask most kids what they celebrate on the last day of October, they would say Halloween. Would the response be different from a Sunday school calls? As the poet said, “The world is too much with us!” This is the season for thinking about the Protestant Reformation. With Halloween so spiritually questionable today, shouldn’t we be more concerned about our spiritual heritage?

When Martin Luther nailed his 95 these to the door of Wittenberg church on October 31, 1517, that was the beginning of the greatest spiritual awakening since the days of the apostles. Not only Luther, but Hus of Bohemia, Wyclif of England, Calvin of Geneva, and Knox of Scotland were used of God to kindle the fires of reform.

The basic doctrine of the Reformers was that the Bible is our only infallible rule of faith and practice. Not the pope, not human tradition, not church councils, but the Word of God must be our final court of appeal in matters of belief and conduct. This soul-liberating truth needs fresh emphasis in every generation.

Another doctrine rediscovered in the Reformation was justification by faith in Jesus Christ alone. Our salvation can depend on nothing except the perfect righteousness of Christ. The means of laying hold of the perfect righteousness is faith. “Therefore, since we have been justified by faith,” Paul says, “we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ” (Rom. 5:1). Without this truth there is no gospel, no good news for sinners.

Another truth stemming from the Protestant Reformation is the universal priesthood of believers. We depend on no priest or minister for our access to Almighty God. Jesus is the “high priest whom we confess.” Only through him do we have the right of direct access into the presence of a holy God.

We who are heirs of the Reformation have so much to thank God for. And yet we dare not think the battle fought by the Reformers has been won. In every generation, even the Protestant churches, that battle needs to be joined and, by the grace of God, won again. For the sake of the faith once delivered to the saints, we must be willing today to say with Luther, “Here I stand. I can do no other. God help me!”

Great Commission Publications

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What to do About Halloween?

All Saints’ Day (or All Hallows) is a church tradition dating back to the 7th century. At base it was an occasion set aside to remember the faithful who had come before. The observance of All Hollows Day, November 1, continued after the Reformation not only in Roman Catholicism, but also in the Lutheran and Anglican churches, as well as in some other segments of Protestantism.

The morphing of this holiday into our modern Halloween is a long and winding road that includes elements derived from Christian tradition, paganism, Roman Catholicism, and culture. But superstition is the string that ties them all together. Take costumes as an example. It was believed that certain malevolent spirits were allowed to wander the earth on All Hollow’s Eve seeking their revenge on the living. So costumes would be worn to keep the angry specters from recognizing their intended haunts. (Another weapon to have on hand is the Jack-o’-Lantern, which apparently terrifies these ghosts.)

To Participate? Or Not to Participate?

But all of this is but a back-drop to a larger question: Should I participate in Halloween or not?

There are thoughtful Christians on both sides. Those against it point to the pagan elements and the strong association with the kingdom of darkness. While other Christians see this as a way to celebrate Christ’s victory over death and the defeat of Satan; they also believe that all this attention paid to spirits and death provides ample opportunity for evangelism (as does meeting the neighbors through tick-or-treating). Valid points are made by both camps.

I think most Christians fall somewhere in the middle, and I’d include myself among them. That means I do participate, but I do so cautiously. Therefore, I stay away from the occult elements, the glorification of death, and the making light of demonic forces. Now that doesn’t mean that I shy away from a good fright. I do enjoy the old scary movies on TCM and I love a good haunted house. (As I see it, Halloween affords us the opportunity to experience the emotion of fear safely.)


I believe this to be a matter of conscience, although many on the “abstain” side would take issue. I admit that I don’t have a strong conviction on this and could be wrong. But one thing I’m certain of: whether we participate or not, this day, as do all others, belongs to Christ—there is no “Devils holiday.” Satan’s works have been destroyed (1 Jon. 3:8) and his kingdom conquered (Heb. 2:14 – 15). We stand triumphantly in Christ’s victory over him (1 Pet. 5:8 – 9, Matt. 16:18), and over death itself (1 Cor. 15–57). So whether we’re extorting candy from the neighbors, avoiding cow pies at a Harvest Festival, or sitting at home in the dark hiding from the doorbell, we should always remember that the message of Christ’s triumph is appropriate for all seasons.

--The Catechizer


Today in Church History: Martin Luther, Protestant Reformation

On October 31, 1517, Martin Luther launched the Protestant Reformation when he nailed his 95 Theses on the Wittenberg church door.

Contrary to modern impressions, the Augustinian monk's action was not a defiant and revolutionary gesture, but rather a dispassionate invitation for his fellow academics to debate the power of indulgences, and especially their abuse under the salesmanship of John Tetzel. The theses begin and end in this way:

  • 1) When our Lord and Master, Jesus Christ, said, "Repent," He called for the entire life of believers to be one of penitence.

  • 2) The word cannot be properly understood as referring to the sacrament of penance, i.e. confession and satisfaction, as administered by the clergy.

  • 94) Christians should be exhorted to be zealous to follow Christ, their Head, through penalties, deaths, and hells;

  • 95) And let them thus be more confident in entering heaven through many tribulations than through a false assurance of peace.

In the years that followed, Luther's struggles to reform the church prompted him eventually to strike at the heart of the Roman Catholic doctrine of salvation, as he embraced the doctrines of sola Scriptura (the Word of God cannot be subordinated to human tradition), sola fide (justification is by faith alone and not dependent on works-righteousness), and sola gratia (salvation is a gift of God's grace and not earned by human merit). Though his rediscovery of the gospel took shape over the course of years, it was foreshadowed in the posting of his 95 Theses. Thus it is fitting for all Protestants, including Orthodox Presbyterians, to commemorate October 31 as "Reformation Day."

John Muether

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Sunday, October 26, 2014

Today in History: God Created the World, at 9 a.m.

John Lightfoot (1601 – 1675), vice-chancellor of England’s Cambridge University, was one of the original members of the Westminster Assembly. His scholarship and lucidity translated into him being one of the key-figures in the formation of the Westminster Standards. A committed preterist, he wrote persuasively on end-time issues, such as Daniel’s “weeks prophecies” (Dan. 9:24-27). His studies led him to believe that God did His creative handywork on today’s date . . .

Heaven and earth, center and circumference, were made in the same instant of time, and clouds full of water; and man was created by the Trinity on October 26, 4004 B.C., at nine o’clock in the morning.

Now we know.

--The Catechizer


Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Reformation Hymnody

A mighty fortress is our God, a bulwark never failing; our helper he amid the flood of mortal ills prevaling. For still our ancient foe doth seek to work us woe; his craft and power are great, and armed with cruel hate, on earth is not his equal.

Martin Luther (1529)

October 31 is Reformation Day. As we take time to thank the Lord for the recovery of the Gospel, let us not forget the other fruits of the Reformation, such as hymnody. Informed by the recovery of the great truths of Scripture, hymns of the Reformation were Christocentric and theologically astute. They not only aided in worship, but they also acted as a teaching tool. (I used to joke with my former pastor that the hymns protected me from him.)

Salem-Ebenezer Reformed Church in Manitowoc, Wisconsin, has a fine tradition of singing Reformation-period hymns during the month of October (see list below). This is not only a fitting means of giving thanks to the Lord for the Reformation, but it's also a reminder of the often overlooked treasures found in our Reformed and Presbyterian hymns.

Jesus is My Boyfriend Music

Hymnody has fallen on hard times. The Second Great Awakening, Pentecostalism, and the Jesus Movement have taken a toll. No longer are hymns theologically informed and centered upon the Glory and majesty of God; instead, the great truths of Scripture that moved the pens of hymnists have been replaced by the man-centered, lavender quills of romantics.

Dr. Michael Horton, professor of theology and apologetics at Westminster Seminary California, reflects upon this transition in an article titled, Are Your Hymns Too Spiritual? Here's how the article begins:

The average Christian will learn more from hymns than from any systematic theology. Hymns chart progression from classic hymns of the 17th and 18th centuries (especially those of Charles Wesley, Augustus Toplady, John Newton and William Cowper) to the Romantic "songs and choruses" of the 19th and 20th centuries. They reflect the shift from Reformation categories (God, sin and grace, Christ's saving work, the Word, church, sacraments, etc.) to Romantic individualism. We sing, "I come to the garden alone while the dew is still on the roses. And the voice I hear, singing in my ear, the voice of God is calling. And he walks with me and he talks with me, and he tells me I am his own." Or, "He touched me." The number of 19th century hymns that talk about the objective truth of Scripture, and that which God has done outside of my personal experience, is overwhelmed by the number of hymns that focus on my personal experience. It is my heart, not God and his saving work, that receives top billing.

If that was true of the 19th century, the 20th century only exacerbated this emphasis, and the style of the commercial Broadway musical was imitated in songs that elevated personal experience and happiness above God and his glory. Today, the vast majority of entries in the Maranatha, Vineyard, and related praise songbooks are not only burdened with this self-centered and Gnostic tendency, but often contain outright heresy--probably not intentionally, but as a result of sloppy theology. In our day, sloppy theology usually means some form of Gnosticism.

You can read the rest here.

Reformation Hymns

The words for the following hymns were authored in the 16th or 17th centuries.

Hymn and Author
All People That On Earth Do Dwell Louis Bourgeois, William Kethe
All Praise to God, Who Reigns Above Johann Schutz
Now Blessed Be The Lord Our God Scottish Psalter
Ye Holy Angels Bright Richard Baxter
O Come, Let Us Sing to the Lord Scottish Psalter
Let us, With a Gladsome Mind John Milton
Praise to the Lord, Almighty, the King of Creation Joachim Neander
With Glory Clad, With Strength Arrayed Tate and Brady's
The Lord's My ShepherdScottish Psalter
A Mighty Fortress Is Our God Martin Luther
Now Thank We All Our God Martin Rinkart, Johann Cruger
O God, We Praise Thee; and Confess Tate and Brady's
Lord, Keep Us Steadfast In Thy Word Martin Luther
Whate'er My God Ordains is Right Samuel Rodigast
O Thou My Soul, Bless God the Lord Scottish Psalter
O Lord, How Shall I Meet Thee? Paul Gerhardt, Melchior Teschner
Fairest Lord Jesus, Ruler of All NatureMunster Gesangbuch
Wondrous King, All-Glorious, Sov'reign Lord VictoriousJoachim Neander
Greet Thee Who My Sure Redeemer Art Strasbourg Psalter
Lift Up Your Heads, Ye Mighty Gates! Georg Weissel
Comfort, Comfort Ye My PeopleJohannes Olearius, Louis Bourgeois
All My Heart This Night RejoicesPaul Gerhardt, Johann Ebeling

--The Catechizer

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Saturday, October 18, 2014

Dog-Nawpers, Churchwardens, and Ale-Houses

From Forgotten English . . .

Dog-nawper: A church beadle . . . with his long wand of office [for] tapping (nawping, we lads called it) the heads of either sleepers or unruly youngsters.

Dog-Whipping Day

At one time, any dogs found on the streets of York on October 18 were subject to being whipped. This practice commemorated an eighteenth-century incident in which a dog had consumed consecrated wafers in York Minister Cathedral. Many English churches of that time employed wardens who not only supervised the canines that accompanied their owners to church but also were at times assigned to keep parishioners awake during services. But these minor officials’ duties were not confined to the church.

As Frederick Hackwood’s Inns, Ales, and Drinking Customs of Old England (1909) explained: “The practice in the later centuries was for the churchwardens and the beadle . . . to sally forth on Sunday morning at the commencement of the reading of the second lesson, and to visit all the public-houses in the neighborhood of the church. Anyone found tippling during the church service was instantly apprehended and placed in the stocks, which not infrequently stood near the churchyard gates.”


Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Today in Church History: Christianity Today, Edmund P. Clowney

On October 15, 1956, articles by G. C. Berkouwer, Billy Graham, and Addison H. Leitch graced the cover of volume one, number one, of Christianity Today.

Edited by Carl F. H. Henry, the neo-evangelical magazine borrowed its title from a journal by the same name that J. Gresham Machen helped to start in 1930 (the predecessor to the Presbyterian Guardian). Its purpose was "to express historic Christianity to the present generation," and to provide evangelical Christianity with "a clear voice, to speak with conviction and love, and to state its true position and its relevance to the world crisis." Reaction to the magazine from the Orthodox Presbyterian Church was mixed. The Presbyterian Guardian made a brief and lukewarm reference to the new "undenominational fortnightly." Westminster professor Ned B. Stonehouse agreed to serve as a contributing editor, but his colleague, E. J. Young, declined. In its first few years, Christianity Today published occasional articles from Westminster faculty, including Meredith G. Kline, John Murray, Stonehouse, Cornelius Van Til, and Young.

Also debuting in the inaugural issue was a column by Edmund P. Clowney that he would write for four years under the pen name of "Eutychus."

John Muether


Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Today in Church History: John Murray

On October 14, 1898, John Murray was born in Bonar Bridge, Scotland.

Educated at Princeton Theological Seminary, Murray joined the faculty at Westminster Seminary in 1929 where he taught systematic theology until his retirement in 1967. Far from the ivory tower theologian, Murray was a remarkably active Orthodox Presbyterian churchman. In 1966, The 33rd General Assembly recognized Murray's labors with a testimonial scroll which read:

To our esteemed brother, father in the faith, teacher of the Word of God, fellow presbyter and undershepherd of Jesus Christ in the labors of the gospel, to Professor John Murray:

We, the commissioners of the Thirty-third General Assembly of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church, meeting in Oostburg, Wisconsin, April 28, 1966, affix our names on the following tribute:

You have been a warm friend and counselor to us, one and all, giving individual counsel whenever we sought always out of a rich wealth of knowledge and inspiring reverence for the written Word.

You have been a faithful presbyter, spending untold days in the service of our beloved church, both in its assembly services and as a member of many of its committees.

You have been a gracious reprover, a hearty encourager, and an un-bitter dissenter in our deliberations.

To many of us you have been a patient teacher and more, for you have taught us exactness in the study of Holy Scripture, and a deep reverence for its high doctrine.

We honor you in our hearts. We respect you for your scholarship and wisdom. We are grateful to our God for you, Professor Murray. But we are compelled to say more: we love you dearly, and it is with deep sorrow that it appears that we may not see your face or hear your voice in future assemblies. We pray God that He may lay His hand on you for a most useful and happy ministry during your retirement years in your native land. We "thank God on every remembrance of you.

Upon his retirement, Murray returned his native Scotland, where he died on May 8, 1975, in the same town in which he was born.

John Muether


Thursday, October 09, 2014

Plaguenation and Henry Alford

From Forgotten English . . .

Plaguenation: A barbarously formed substitute for damnation.

Birthday of Henry Alford (1810 – 1871)

English divine and fellow of Trinity College, Cambridge. He wrote about the Bible and the classics, and he composed poems and hymns. In the The American Language (1919) H.L. Mencken presented a number of barbarisms that derived from religious sources, guessing at Alford’s likely reaction when hearing them: “Some of the characteristic coinages of the time make one sympathize with the pious horror of Dean Alford. Bartlett quotes to dozologize, from the Christian Disciple, a quite reputable religious paper of the [18]40s. To funeralize [originally to make melancholy, but extended to the conducting of a funeral in America], and to pastor, along with to missionate [to perform the services of a missionary], and consociational, were other contributions of the evangelical pulpit; it also produced hell-roaring and hellion, the latter a favorite of the Mormons and even used by Henry Ward Beecher. To deacon, a verb which in colonial days signified to read a hymn line by line, began to mean to swindle or adulterate.”


Wednesday, October 08, 2014

Today in History: Sergeant York

The most famous American warrior of World War I was a reluctant hero. When drafted, he struggled with the idea of fighting. Thirty-year-old Alvin York, a backwoods Tennessee farmer, had only recently given up his “hog-wild” days of drinking and carousing, and had asked his sweetheart to marry him. He had embraced the pacifist Christian faith of his widowed mother. “I loved and trusted old Uncle Sam and I have always believed he did the right thing,” he later said. “But I was worried clean through. I didn’t want to go and kill.”

York spent weeks wrestling with his conscience, and finally decided that although he hated war, going was the right thing to do. He left for France convinced that “we were to be peacemakers. . . . We were to help make peace, the only way the Germans would understand.”

He had grown up hunting, and the other soldiers soon discovered that he was an astonishing shot. On October 8, 1918, in the Argonne Forest, his marksmanship saved American lives when his patrol ran into a German machine-gun nest. “Our boys just went down like the long grass before the mowing machine at home,” he recalled. He went on the attack, picking off 25 Germans with his rifle and pistol before their commander surrendered. By the time York and his companions got back to headquarters, they had a long line of prisoners. “Well, York, I hear you have captured the whole German army,” an officer said. York replied that he had only 132.

Promoted to sergeant and awarded the Medal of Honor, he was greeted in New York City after the war with a ticker tape parade. But he declined to grow rich off his fame. He returned to Tennessee, married, his fiancée, established a school for mountain children, and farmed the land as he had before.

American History Parade

1860 - A telegraph line between Los Angeles and San Francisco opens.

1871 - The Great Chicago Fire begins, reportedly when Mrs. O’Leary’s cow kicks over a lantern; the blaze destroys downtown, kills, 250, and leaves 90,000 homeless.

1871 - A horrific forest fire burns a broad swath of Wisconsin and Michigan, killing 1,200 people.

1918 -Alvin York almost single-handedly kills two dozen German soldiers and captures 132 prisoners in France’s Argonne Forest.

The American Patriot's Almanac: Daily Readings on America


Sunday, October 05, 2014

Today in Church History: Jonathan Edwards

Three hundred years ago, on October 5, 1703, Jonathan Edwards was born in East Windsor, Connecticut.

Generally regarded as America's greatest theologian, Edwards authored several classics in Christian literature, including The Religious Affections, The Freedom of the Will, and The Nature of True Virtue. In addition he is well known for preaching what might be the most famous sermon in American history, "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God." He was an ardent supporter of the Great Awakening, defending the revival both against its critics and its zealous extremists.

Pastor, theologian, missionary to Native Americans, and President of the College of New Jersey for a brief time before his death in 1758, Edwards' legacy has generated divided assessments. For some his theological orthodoxy and spiritual zeal exemplify the best of "experiential Calvinism." For other interpreters, his incorporation of Enlightenment ideas inevitably led to theological deviation of his successors in the rise of "New England Theology."

Several books have been recently published to mark the Edwards tercentenary, including George Marsden's biography, Jonathan Edwards: A Life (Yale, 2005) and The Legacy of Jonathan Edwards: American Religion and the Evangelical Tradition, ed. by D. G. Hart, S. M. Lucas, and S. J. Nichols (Baker, 2005).

John Muether