A Mighty Fortress

By Dr. Clark Armstrong

One of the great byproducts of the Reformation was that the people started singing. The chants of the monastic era, which had been almost entirely in Latin, were the only music of the church. But suddenly the common people came alive like the early church singing hymns, psalms and spiritual songs (Col. 3:16) in their own languages. It greatly changed the worship of the Protestants and the people have never stopped singing!

Martin Luther wrote many hymns for the church to sing. But we would do well to think about the words of his most famous hymn. It is called “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God” taken from Psalm 46. It has motivated soldiers going into battles. It has empowered many Christians who felt themselves to be experiencing great spiritual warfare as well. It always seemed to encourage the believers in the church that I came into as a Christian.

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You cannot leave any verse out of this hymn because it is a classic account of the struggle between good and evil, light and darkness, even God and the devil. It builds up with dramatic overtones until its grand conclusion. One of my favorite lines is a simple one. Speaking of that dastardly devil, it says “One little word will fell him.” One day in church as we were singing it, I realized what that little word was. See if you can figure it out.

A mighty fortress is our God, a bulwark never failing;

Our helper He, amid the flood of mortal ills prevailing:

For still our ancient foe doth seek to work us woe;

His craft and pow’r are great, and, armed with cruel hate,

On earth is not his equal.

Did we in our own strength confide, our striving would be losing,

Were not the right Man on our side, the Man of God’s own choosing:

Dost ask who that may be? Christ Jesus, it is He;

Lord Sabaoth, His Name, from age to age the same,

And He must win the battle.

And though this world, with devils filled, should threaten to undo us,

We will not fear, for God hath willed His truth to triumph through us;

The Prince of Darkness grim, we tremble not for him;

His rage we can endure, for lo, his doom is sure,

One little word shall fell him.

That word above all earthly pow’rs, no thanks to them, abideth;

The Spirit and the gifts are ours through Him Who with us sideth;

Let goods and kindred go, this mortal life also;

The body they may kill: God’s truth abideth still,

His kingdom is forever.

ClarkA1.jpg*Dr. Clark Armstrong is a Missionary Professor at Asia-Pacific Nazarene Theological Seminary in Manila, Philippines where he has served with his wife Connie since September 2013. Previously he served as a pastor for 32 years in the United States.

 

 

Reformation Quiz

By Dr. Clark Armstrong

This month is the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation.  We have enjoyed several reflections in the past two weeks, but now let’s take a simple five question quiz about the Reformation to see what has been learned so far?
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Click here to take the quiz online: Reformation Quiz

#1 – The start of the Protestant Reformation occurred when?

  1. The Gutenberg Bible was produced off the first printing press.
  2. Martin Luther nailed his Ninety-Five Theses on the Castle Door at Wittenberg.
  3. John Hus was burned at the stake in Bohemia.
  4. John Calvin wrote “Institutes of the Christian Religion.”

#2 – The Reformation began on October 31 of what year?

  1. 1415
  2. 1452
  3. 1517
  4. 1536

#3 – The Protestant Reformation began as an attempt to reform what?

  1. The Roman Catholic Church
  2. The European Monarchies
  3. Certain Universities and Educational Institutions
  4. The Middle Earth Peoples.

#4 – True or False.

The Reformers opposed what they perceived as false doctrines and ecclesiastical malpractice — especially the teaching and the sale of indulgences (or the abuses thereof) and doctrinal policies about purgatory, particular judgment, Mariology (devotion to Mary, Jesus’s Mother), the intercession of and devotion to the saints, wrong beliefs about most of the sacraments, the mandatory clerical celibacy, including monasticism, the unbridled authority of the Pope and the practice of simony: the selling and buying of clerical offices.

#5 – Which of the following was a prominent point of the reformers?

  1. Sola Scriptura (Scripture alone as our source of authority.)
  2. Sola Fide (Salvation is by faith alone and not by works.)
  3. The Priesthood of All Believers
  4. All of the above.

Bonus Question:

The Reformation continued until the Treaty of Westphalia brought the European religious wars to an official end in what year?

  1. 1492
  2. 1525
  3. 1597
  4. 1648

You probably correctly answered the majority of the first five questions. So what about the Bonus Question? It was 1648. That event signaled the end of the Reformation through the peaceful ending of what was called the Thirty Years war between the Habsburgs and their Catholic allies and the Protestants with their French allies.

The Catholic Church was not reformed, per se, by that date, but the Protestant churches were fully established by then.  After Luther, many other reformers came who extended the reformation attempt. But by 1648, it was clear that all attempts to reform the Catholic Church had not been successful and the severance of the protesters from the church was complete. They had established Protestant Churches that were independent from the Mother Church and were thriving in most parts of Europe except Italy.

Click here if you want to download the quiz (in PowerPoint format): Reformation Quiz PPT

*Dr. Clark Armstrong is a Missionary Professor at Asia-Pacific Nazarene Theological Seminary in Manila, Philippines where he has served with his wife Connie since September 2013. Previously he served as a pastor for 32 years in the United States.

 

Ulrich Zwingli

*Excerpt from the book: 131 Christians Everyone Should Know

Militant Swiss reformer

“For God’s sake, do not put yourself at odds with the Word of God. For truly it will persist as surely as the Rhine follows its course. One can perhaps dam it up for awhile, but it is impossible to stop it.”

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Ulrich Zwingli, the city chaplain, stood before the Zurich City Council in January 1523. The winds of reform had made their way over the Alps from Luther’s Germany, and Zwingli was arguing 67 theses, beginning with “All who say that the gospel is invalid without the confirmation of the church err and slander God.” Though 28 shy of Luther’s 95 Theses, published some six years earlier, Zwingli’s arguments were more persuasive: authorities gave him permission to continue his preaching, which emphasized Christ first and the church second (“Christ is the only mediator between God and ourselves,” said another of Zwingli’s theses). The Reformation in Switzerland was now well on its way, and Zwingli would play the key role in the early years.

Línea de Tiempo.pngAnxious for his charge

Zwingli was born to a successful farmer in the Toggaburg Valley of the eastern lower Alps. Here Zwingli developed a deep love for his homeland. Later he translated one line of Psalm 23, “In the beautiful Alps, he tends me,” and he used the Rhine River as an illustration of a key theme of his preaching: “For God’s sake, do not put yourself at odds with the Word of God. For truly it will persist as surely as the Rhine follows its course. One can perhaps dam it up for awhile, but it is impossible to stop it.”

But it took Zwingli years to discover the power of this Word. After graduating from the University of Basel in 1506, he became a parish priest in Glarus. From the beginning, he took his priestly duties seriously. He later wrote, “Though I was young, ecclesiastical duties inspired in me more fear than joy, because I knew, and remain convinced that I would give an account of the blood of the sheep which would perish as a consequence of my carelessness.”

The feeling of responsibility for his charge (rather than, like Luther, a personal search for salvation) motivated Zwingli’s increasing interest in the Bible. In an age when priests were often unfamiliar with the Scriptures, Zwingli became enamored with it, first after purchasing a copy of Erasmus’s New Testament Latin translation. He began teaching himself Greek, bought a copy of Erasmus’s Greek New Testament, and started memorizing long passages. In 1519 he began preaching from the New Testament regularly.

Privately Zwingli also started challenging the customs of medieval Christendom he thought unbiblical. He had struggled with clerical celibacy for some time (and even admitted that as a young priest, he’d had an affair). In 1522 he secretly married. That same year, he broke the traditional Lenten fast (by eating sausages in public) and wrote against fasting.

By 1523 he was ready to take his ideas to a larger audience, and in January he did just that before the Zurich City Council at what is now called the First Disputation. The Second Disputation came in October, and with further approval from the council, more reforms were carried out: images of Jesus, Mary, and the saints were removed from the churches; the Bible was to have preeminence.

Arguments over Supper

Things moved rapidly after that. In 1524 he wedded his wife publicly, insisting that pastors had the right to marry. In 1525 he and others convinced the city to abolish the Mass, with its emphasis on the miracle of transubstantiation, and replace it with a simple service that included the Lord’s Supper but only as a symbolic memorial.

As it turned out, it was the Lord’s Supper that prevented the uniting of the German and Swiss reform movements. At a 1529 meeting at Marburg, called to unite the two movements, Luther and Zwingli met. Though they agreed on 14 points of doctrine, they stumbled on the fifteenth: the Lord’s Supper. Against Zwingli’s view, Luther insisted on Christ’s literal presence. Zwingli balked. Luther said Zwingli was of the devil and that he was nothing but a wormy nut. Zwingli resented Luther’s treating him “like an ass.” It was evident no reconciliation was possible.

Zwingli died two years later in battle, defending Zurich against Catholic forces, and plans for spreading the Reformation into German Switzerland were ended. Still Zurich remained Protestant, and under the leadership of Heinrich Bullinger, Zwingli’s successor, this unique branch of the Reformation continued to blossom.

This article was originally published at: Christianity Today

Luther and Nazarenes

Today (October 13, 2017) we celebrate the 109th Anniversary of the founding of the Church of the Nazarene.  Happy Birthday, Nazarenes!

Throughout this month we are also celebrating the 500th Anniversary of the Protestant Reformation, so we thought, “Why not combine the two celebrations today in one post?”

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Rev. Klaus Arnold is a German Nazarene and Rector of European Nazarene College on the German/Swiss border.  He is also a friend and he and his wife were commissioned as Global missionaries in our denomination together with Emily and me in February 2007.  Arnold recently wrote an article in Holiness Today entitled “Growing up in Luther’s Shadow” in which he concluded by comparing Luther’s theology with Nazarenes’:

In Germany all Christians, including Nazarenes, have grown up in the large shadow of Martin Luther. Of course, there are key differences. Like Luther, we Nazarenes believe that baptism is a sacrament: a time when God’s grace is present in a special way. However, Luther was known to assert that baptism was the means by which God cleanses us from original sin, and this is not a teaching consistent with doctrinal statements of the Church of the Nazarene.

Another difference is in the doctrines of justification and sanctification. We believe (like Luther) that we are justified by grace alone through faith alone because of what God has done through the person and work of Jesus Christ. However, for Luther the change of relationship between a believer and God is only relative, but there is no real change in the believer.

He believed that a Christian is always “sinner and justified” as long as he/she lives. The Church of the Nazarene believes that while there is a relative change in justification, there is also a real change taking place: we become a new creation.

Sin does not need to reign over us, and we do not have to sin deliberately or consistently. With the infilling of God’s love through the Holy Spirit, our sinful nature is cleansed in entire sanctification.

God’s mission is the renewal of his creation. And part of that is transformation of believers into the image of God (Christlikeness). As we are filled with God’s love, we want to share that with the rest of creation and truly make a difference in our world and participate in God’s mission wherever we are! We affirm, with Luther, that our new life begins and continues by grace through faith in Jesus Christ.

 

What Was the Reformation All About?

The following is a video created by Ligonier Ministries, that provides a summary of the historic and important Protestant Reformation.

“500 years ago, a German monk named Martin Luther started a protest that exploded into a worldwide movement. So what was the Protestant Reformation all about? Discover the answer in this short video narrated by Dr. R.C. Sproul.”

Hus’ Last Words

*Excerpt from Five Minutes in Church History by Dr. Stephen Nichols.

This month we are celebrating the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation by writing various reflections concerning this momentous occasion and its influence.  Dr. Stephen Nichols does the same thing in his Five Minutes in Church History, a podcast I highly recommend.  The following is an excerpt from his October 4, 2017 episode: The Goose and the Swan.

Jan Hus was a forerunner of the Protestant Reformation. Hus was from Prague in Bohemia, or what is now the Czech Republic. He served at Bethlehem Chapel in Prague. He was charged with several great crimes against the church, the first of which was that he preached in the Czech language rather than in Latin. He also refused to wear the clerical garb of the medieval church because he believed it contributed to an illegitimate distinction between clergy and laity. Finally, he was also in favor of congregational singing and desired the reform of the church.

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He was greatly influenced by the writings of John Wycliffe. Eventually, Hus’ own writings and influence drew the attention of church officials, and he was summoned to the Council of Constance. There, he was condemned as a heretic. Actually, the council condemned him as a heresiarch—an arch-heretic. He was led about a kilometer outside the city and was martyred by burning at the stake.

Hus’ last words are important. He declared that he would die trusting in the gospel that he had proclaimed and taught. Then he told his executioners that they could burn the goose (his surname means “goose” in Czech), but a hundred years later, a swan would come whom they would be incapable of killing.

Hus was almost a true prophet. It wasn’t exactly a hundred years later, but rather a hundred and two years later, that Martin Luther posted his Ninety-Five Theses to the church door at Wittenberg.

Johannes Zacharias was Hus’ fiercest opponent at the Council of Constance, and he was buried under the slab in the Augustinian monastery in Erfurt where Luther was ordained as a priest. At that monastery, Luther studied not just the traditions of the past but also the Word of God. Out of that study, the Reformation began.

 

Luther Before Luther

I have recently become fascinated by the backstories of great leaders throughout history.

Growing up, I studied in school the presidency of Abraham Lincoln and the political influence of Martin Luther King, Jr.  Today, students around the world research Gandhi’s brave pacifism and Wangari Maathai’s contribution to democracy and sustainable development.  These are history-makers, and we rightly need to know when and how they transformed entire nations.

However, oftentimes there is very little attention given to the making of these giants.  Did anyone know who they would become? Could they see in a child or young adult the seed of something great? And how was that seed sown and watered so that its fruit would be evident to all decades later?

Essentially, I am asking, “Who were these world-changers before the world even knew it was being changed?”

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During the month of October 2017, we are celebrating the 500th Anniversary of the Protestant Reformation.  The one man most responsible for this revolution is Martin Luther.  We know about the 95 Theses and the Lutheran Church.  His proclamation at the Diet of Worms (“Here I stand!”) is renowned and we can read his extensive writings.  But how did he become what he became?

Holly Hausler explores Martin’s childhood and education more extensively, but for our purposes I will highlight three interesting parts of Luther’s upbringing.

First, all accounts agree that Luther grew up with strict parents and stringent schooling.  He was taught to follow rules and was punished harshly if he did not.  This environment certainly fostered the essential discipline necessary for Martin to later examine the Scriptures deeply and meticulously.  Why did the Church he loved not adhere to what he saw in Scripture?

I also wonder what his strict education had to do with his understanding of grace.  Success in studies, and perhaps all of life, came down to following the rules, and “Martin’s teachers did not consider him a model pupil.” Having grown up with parents and teachers – and then his Church! – all telling him to sit straight and stop questioning authority undoubtedly cultivated in him a longing to be freed from day-to-day validation based on works.  How marvelous for him to discover that “toeing the line” would not save him, but only grace alone!

Second, as a young student in Eisenach, Germany, Luther loved music and actually put this love to a practical use.  He and his classmates would sing door to door welcoming small donations and bread crumbs.  He had to sing for his supper, so to speak. There we find little Martin on the street corner saying, Panum propter Deum, “Bread, for God’s sake.” Martin Luther a beggar?! Martin Luther singing humbly with an empty stomach?!  It is not the view we have of the iconic Reformer.  Yet, how did those moments on the street corner mold and shape him in his faith and later ministry?

Third, on July 2, 1505, he was caught in a terrible thunderstorm on his way to Erfurt, Germany. Some accounts claim that he was even struck by lightning. Stephen Nichols writes that Luther thought that God was out to get him, to take his very soul. He cried out, “Help me, and I will become a monk,” calling on the patron saint of miners (his father was a miner). Despite his extensive studies in law (he had earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees) and the anger of his father, Luther kept his vow. He turned over his law books to his friends, threw a party, and two weeks later entered the Augustinian monastery.

This is Luther before he became LUTHER.  These are moments in his early years that left an indelible mark on his character and calling.  They are glimpses into the Reformer while he was still being formed.

Could there be a reformer in your midst disguised as a hungry child who has trouble following the rules?

Have you had trouble seeing how God has been leading you through seemingly insignificant experiences? What are the instances in your formative years that have drawn you into a higher calling?