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New Horizons

October, 2005: Luther and the Reformation

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Luther and the Reformation

Martin Luther died within eyeshot of the font where he was baptized as an infant. During his life, he had come to see the entire Western world change. Born on November 10, 1483, Luther entered a world dominated by the Roman Catholic Church. By the time of his death, that institution was crumbling. That was due in no small part to the lawyer turned monk turned reformer. Luther pried open the lock that the Roman Catholic Church had on worship, the sacraments, religious life, and especially the gospel. He pointed the church back to its sure foundation of God's word and the gospel, laying the foundation for the Protestant Reformation that would encompass Ulrich Zwingli's efforts in Zurich, John Calvin's in Geneva, and John Knox's in Scotland.

"Who would have divined," Luther recalled later in life, "that I would receive a Bachelor's and then a Master's of Arts, then lay aside my [law] student's cap and leave it to others in order to become a monk . . . and that despite all I would get in the pope's hair—and he in mine—and take a runaway nun for my wife? Who would have predicted this for me?" Read more

Luther's Theology of the Cross

No one could have expected that the Reformation would be launched by Martin Luther's Ninety-Five Theses against Indulgences in October 1517. The document itself simply proposed the framework for a university debate. Luther was arguing only for a revision of the practice of indulgences, not its abolition. He was certainly not offering an agenda for widespread theological and ecclesiastical reform.

Indeed, he had already said much more controversial things in his Disputation against Scholastic Theology of September 4, 1517, in which he critiqued the whole way in which medieval theology had been done for centuries. That disputation, however, passed without a murmur. Indeed, humanly speaking, it was only the unique combination of external factors-social, economic, and political-that made the later disputation the spark that lit the Reformation fuse. Read more

Luther's Voice in Scotland

By 1560, after much political and religious strife, the Protestant faith in its Reformed expression had achieved commanding influence in Scotland, under the leadership of John Knox. Prior to Knox, however, several Protestants, some of a Lutheran persuasion, were laying the foundation for the Reformation in their homeland.

Prominent among them was Patrick Hamilton, a blood relative of the reigning House of Stuart, which remained staunchly Roman Catholic when evangelical teachings appeared in the kingdom. A Frenchman named De la Tour had introduced Luther's doctrines about 1523, but information about him is scant. For this he paid with his life after returning to France in 1527. The New Testament in the English translation of William Tyndale began to circulate in Scotland at about the same time. Read more

Turning Points in American Presbyterian History
Part 9: The Special Commission of 1925

Progressive Presbyterians were not content with the revisions to the Westminster Confession that were approved in 1903. There was more work to be done to bring the Presbyterian Church into greater harmony with the modern world. The center of the progressive movement was in the Presbytery of New York, which pressed the liberal agenda on three fronts. First, on May 21, 1922, Harry Emerson Fosdick, the Baptist supply pastor of the First Presbyterian Church in the City of New York, rallied liberals with his famous sermon, "Shall the Fundamentalists Win?" Although the sermon was a plea for tolerance, most Presbyterians—liberal and conservative—would have answered the title's rhetorical question in the affirmative, because it appeared that the conservatives were strong enough to force the liberals out of the church. A year later, the Presbytery took the provocative step of ordaining two graduates of Union Seminary who could not affirm the virgin birth of Christ.

Finally, the Presbytery convened a gathering in Auburn, New York, in December 1923. It produced "An Affirmation designed to safeguard the unity and liberty of the Presbyterian Church in the United States of America." The Auburn Affirmation questioned the constitutionality of General Assembly deliverances that proclaimed certain doctrines as necessary and essential beliefs for Presbyterian ministers, and it went on to describe those doctrines (the inerrancy of Scripture, the virgin birth of Christ, the vicarious atonement, Jesus' resurrection, and his miracles) merely as theories about the Bible's message. Within a year, the Auburn Affirmation secured the signatures of 1,300 Presbyterian ministers. Read more

Helps for Worship #1: What Is Worship?

"The first foundation of righteousness undoubtedly is the worship of God." (John Calvin)

The term worship comes from an old word that means "worth-ship." It is to ascribe honor to one who is worthy. The highest duty of those made in the image of God is to "ascribe worth" to the one in whom they live and move and have their very being (Acts 17:28). Read more

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