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.

 

 

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?

The Protestant Reformation 500 Years Later

“Whether by day or by night, whenever the cloud lifted, they set out…At the Lord’s command they encamped, and at the Lord’s command they set out.  They obeyed the Lord’s order, in accordance with his command through Moses” (Numbers 9:21, 23).

October 2017 is a special month. It marks the five-hundredth anniversary of the Protestant Reformation. The end of this month, October 31, will be five hundred years to the day since Martin Luther nailed the Ninety-Five Theses to the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg, Germany. This was the act that started it all, that started the grand and vast movement of Protestantism, that started the Reformation.

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In the evangelical church – and in the Church of the Nazarene specifically – we have obviously been greatly impacted by the Reformation.  If you have ever asked, “Why do we do this or that in the Church?”, many times the answer comes in large part due to the Protestant Reformation.

During the entirety of this month, we will be focusing on this anniversary. At times we will dive into the lives of the Reformers.  Other times we will focus on the core tenets of the Reformation (keep an eye out for the “5 Solas”). The primary purpose will be to help us learn about and reflect upon this enormously important event and how it has brought us to this moment in history as a Christian Church.

At the same time, a secondary purpose is also at work.  By dedicating a month to this topic, I hope that we will recognize that we are a Church that is always willing to evaluate itself and make adjustments as needed.  We have not always been good at that through history, have we? The Church has often been the last entity in society that is willing to change.

Thus, through this month I pray that we would renew our calling to reform, beginning with ourselves.  Just as the post-Exodus Israelites needed to be ready in any moment to follow the cloud, may we be so attuned to God’s presence that we willingly move and adapt at his prompting.  Lord, begin a reformation in me, and in us!

The Reformation(s) of the Church

*During the month of October we will be focusing on the 500th Anniversary of the Protestant Reformation.

By Charles W. Christian

Looking back on the Protestant Reformation reminds us of God’s continual desire to be in right relationship with His Church. 

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Reformation before Luther

Though the catalyst to the series of events known today as the Protestant Reformation was sparked in 1517 by Martin Luther’s posting of his 95 theses to the church doors at Wittenburg, the Church had long before been engaged in the process of reformation. In fact, one could argue that ever since the fall of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, God has been reforming. The Church continues its process of reformation today.

The coming of Jesus and the new Kingdom He embodied was a clarification of the reform that God had been attempting throughout the Old Testament. Even after the resurrection of Jesus, the disciples felt the need for ongoing reform. The experience of Pentecost in Acts 2 assisted the Church in carrying out the admonition of Jesus (Matthew 28) to “go into all the world,” because the Kingdom of God defies societal limitations and borders.

The work of God among the Gentiles through the ministries of Peter and Paul added another dimension of reform, culminating in key agreements among early church leaders in Acts 15. Through the words of Paul and other writers, the rest of the New Testament demonstrates a variety of “mini-reforms” needed among a growing and changing constituency. God lovingly and consistently reforms the Church.

The “next generation” believers, commonly referred to as the Church Fathers and Mothers, experienced a myriad of reformation opportunities, the best known of which were the Ecumenical Councils and the formulation of creeds in the first eight centuries of the Church’s history. These steps toward reformation led to unity among several groups, but also resulted in schisms. Most notably, the Eastern and Western branches of the Church (the Orthodox and the Roman Catholic groups, respectively) experienced an official schism in 1054 A.D.

On Luther’s Doorstep and Beyond

Around the time of Martin Luther, the stage had been set for a particularly earth-shaking renewal. A century before Luther, for example, a Czech priest and professor named Jan Hus (1369-1415) had been put to death for writings and protests regarding the actions of key church leaders. In fact, after Luther posted his 95 theses, many began referring to Luther as a “modern Huss-ite.” Many factors surrounding Luther’s contribution to reformation in the early sixteenth century, such as his education, the invention of Gutenburg’s printing press, and Luther’s powerful friends, allowed Luther’s message to transcend the confines of his village and of Germany and become a key catalyst of reforms already taking place throughout the world. From there came other movements: Calvinists, Arminians, Anabaptists, Quakers, Puritans, and Wesleyans, just to name a few.

This article was originally posted at: Holiness Today