A New Book!

August 4, 2014 — Leave a comment

securedownload

I am very excited to announce the release of my newest book, New Testament Snapshots. It has been almost two years since the release of Leading into the 21st Century…and Beyond and with the move to Brazil last year, I got a little behind in my writing. New Testament Snapshots is only going to be released as an ebook and I know that you are going to love it!

The book focuses on ten people in the New Testament that we all have heard of if we have spent any time at all reading the Bible. At the same time, we know very little about these ten people and it seems that they are often shrouded in mystery. I believe that these ten people still have something very important to say to us. This book explores what their messages are.

New Testament Snapshots is a fantastic way to stimulate your own personal study of the Bible. I provide some discussion questions at the end of each chapter to help you dig a little deeper. This book is also an excellent study guide for small group study. Most of these stories were discussed in our own small group. Annie and I lead an incredible Connect Group here at C3 Church Curitiba, and we all learned so much as we looked at these New Testament Snapshots.

I have kept the book short and very readable. It is only about 75 pages long. So many people get intimidated trying to read a 200+ page manuscript. We all know that “leaders are readers,” and it is easy to feel guilty if we are not cultivating the reading habit. New Testament Snapshots is a great way to pick back up on that New Year’s Resolution that you made in January to read some good books this year.

This is the first book that I have published myself and it is only going to be available here. I would so appreciate it if you would forward this post to anyone that you think might be interested in reading a great book. We are keeping the price low so that everyone can afford it.

So, how can you get your copy? This link will take you to PayPal. Just drop the small sum of $3.97 in the account of ntsnapshotsbook@gmail.com and I will send a copy your way. Thanks so much for your support!

As always, if you want to support our missionary work in Brazil, just click here. Obrigado!

 

 

The Martyrdom of William Tyndale

The Martyrdom of William Tyndale

The Apostle Paul was the first New Testament writer to clearly lay out the doctrine of Salvation by Faith. One of Paul’s clearest statements on faith is found in Romans 5:1-“Therefore, since we have been made right in God’s sight by faith, we have peace with God because of what Jesus Christ our Lord has done for us.” Paul was the Church’s first great theologian and articulated in his letters the fact Salvation is a gift from God on the basis of an individual’s faith. As he writes in his letter to the Christians in Ephesus, “God saved you by his grace when you believed. And you can’t take credit for this; it is a gift from God.” (Ephesians 2:8)

After the original apostles died, a group of Church Fathers continued their teaching. In 367 AD, the Canon of the New Testament was finalized. As the Church got farther away from the time of the apostles and the Church Fathers, however, they also got further away from the teaching of the Scriptures. Church Traditions were established that were not based on Scripture. By the time of the Middle Ages, Church Services were still conducted in Latin, even though only the clergy and the very educated could understand Latin. The Scriptures were finally translated into a common language in the 1380’s, when John Wycliffe produced a hand-written English translation. William Tyndale produced and printed the first English translation based on the original Greek manuscripts in the 1520’s. Wycliffe only had the Latin manuscripts at his disposal.

Martin Luther was a German monk and seminary professor who had become more and more disillusioned with the teaching of the Roman Catholic Church. Luther was especially angered over the sale of indulgences. Indulgences were sold by the Church as a means of offering forgiveness of sins. The more money one spent, the more forgiveness they were able to buy. In 1517, Luther was studying in preparation to teach Paul’s letter to the Romans. When he came to 1:17, Luther came to understand salvation in a new way. Paul says in that verse, “This Good News tells us how God makes us right in his sight. This is accomplished from start to finish by faith. As the Scriptures say, “It is through faith that a righteous person has life.”

Luther saw Paul’s emphasis on faith as how our salvation is accomplished. It is not our works or purchase of indulgences. Salvation comes as we exercise our faith in the finished work of Christ on the cross. When Luther came to understand that he could not earn his salvation, “I felt entirely born again and was led through open gates into Paradise itself. Suddenly the whole of Scripture had a different appearance for me. I recounted the passages which I had memorized and realized that other passages, too, showed that the work of God is what God works in us… thus St. Paul’s words that the just shall live by faith, did indeed become to me the gateway to Paradise.”

It was Luther who is credited with launching the Protestant Reformation. One of the primary tenants of Reformation Theology is Salvation by Faith Alone. Luther translated the New Testament into German in 1522. As the Scriptures became available in more languages, people could read the Word of God for themselves. As people continued to read the New Testament, most of them came to the same conclusion that the Apostle Paul had taught Salvation by Faith all along. It was the Roman Church that had drifted away from the truth of the Scriptures.

Today, Salvation by Faith is a common belief among most Christian Churches. Most churches and Christian organizations have very similar doctrinal statements. Even though most of us believe in Salvation by Faith, however, there is always a tendency to drift away from the simplicity of the Gospel and try and make it more complicated than it really is. We must never forget that salvation is a gift from God. Our faith allows us to enter into a relationship with Him because of Jesus’ death and resurrection.

Would you consider becoming a part of our team? Annie and I are working hard in Brazil helping train and develop leaders so that we can plant more churches. Just click here to get involved. Obrigado!

Faith Throughout History

September 15, 2014 — Leave a comment

 

Photo by Frank Kovalchek

Photo by Frank Kovalchek

The idea of faith has always been an integral part of Christianity. The first recorded sermon of Jesus had to do with believing: “At last the time has come!” Jesus announced. “The Kingdom of God is near! Turn from your sins and believe this Good News!” (Mark 1:15)

Jesus chastised His closest followers for their periodic lapses of faith: “And he asked them, “Why are you so afraid? Do you still not have faith in me?” (Mark 4: 40) In another place, Jesus referred to his disciples as, “You faithless people!” (Mark 9:19)

When He visited His hometown of Nazareth after His ministry had begun, “he couldn’t do any mighty miracles among them except to place his hands on a few sick people and heal them.” (Mark 6:5) The reason Jesus was not able to do any mighty miracles was because of the people’s unbelief. Throughout the Gospels, faith is often seen as the link between people’s needs and God’s provision. A father once brought his son to Jesus for healing. The father said, “Have mercy on us and help us. Do something if you can.” Jesus’ answer showed the importance that He placed on our faith: “What do you mean, ‘If I can’?” Jesus asked. “Anything is possible if a person believes.” The father’s response was beautiful in its honesty, “I do believe, but help me not to doubt!” (Mark 9:22-24)

Jesus also rewarded those who exercised their faith towards Him. There was a woman with a serious bleeding problem. She believed that if she could just touch Jesus as He walked past in the crowd, she would be healed. Not surprisingly, she was healed when she touched Jesus. His response was, “Daughter, your faith has made you well. Go in peace. You have been healed.” (Mark 5:34) The Greek word that is used here for, “well,” is a derivative of “sozo.” This is the word we would get the idea of “eternal life” from. It implies more than just a physical healing. Jesus was telling this woman that her faith not only led to her natural healing, it also led to her spiritual healing and renewal.

Jesus praised those who demonstrated faith. A Roman Officer sent some Jewish Elders to ask Jesus to heal his very sick servant. The officer knew that if Jesus just spoke the word, his servant would be healed. Jesus was actually amazed at the Roman’s faith and said, “I tell you, I haven’t seen faith like this in all the land of Israel!” (Luke 7:9)

Of the four New Testament Gospels or accounts of Jesus’ life, the Gospel of John discusses the idea of faith and believing more than any of the others. John mentions “faith” or “believing” almost one hundred times in twenty-one chapters. It is John’s Gospel that contains perhaps the most famous verse in the entire Bible, “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16) Here, John very clearly links belief and faith to a person’s eternal salvation. John also makes the point that this idea of faith and belief in Jesus was why he wrote his book. He said that Jesus did many more signs and miracles than the ones that John recorded. “But these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing in him you will have life.” (John 20:31)

To be continued…

Looking for a good place to invest in building God’s Kingdom? My wife, Annie, and I are working with C3 Church in Curitiba, Brazil. We are helping train and develop leaders and focusing on church planting here. Join our team! Obrigado! 

woman-studying

When approaching the Bible, it is important that one never approach it as just another book. First of all, it is a collection of sixty-six different books and letters, written by many different authors, over a period of 1,500 to 2,000 years. The Bible was written to many different audiences over that time. It was also written in three different languages: Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek, and then later translated into the other languages.

An excellent way to begin studying the Bible would be to take a particular book and focus on it for a period of time. For example, if one were going to do a detailed study on one of the Apostle Paul’s letters, he or she might start with the letter to the Galatians. This is a good one to start with because it was one of Paul’s earliest letters, it is fairly short, and the subject matter is very important.

To get a good feel for the letter, it should be read through in one sitting. It would take someone about 20 minutes to read Galatians through. If the person would read Galatians through in its entirety several times, he or she would begin to get an idea of what the book is about. If the person read the entire book once a day for a week, this would be a good start to the study.

After several full readings, it is time to get some background on the book. There are many sources available where one could go to get some help for his or her study. An excellent link for Bible Study is BibleStudyTools.com. This excellent site provides commentaries, different Bible translations and other tools to assist in a study of the Scripture. Another website to help with Bible study is The New Testament Gateway. There is also an Old Testament version.

These sites provide background information and detailed study material on the book that one is studying. In the case of Galatians, one can easily find out about the circumstances of Paul’s ministry in that region, the churches that he planted and the reason for this letter. Because the student has read the book through several times and has already seen the basic themes, this background study will help fill out his or her knowledge and understanding of the book. This is a good time to start taking some notes. An online program like Evernote or an actual pen and notebook will both work. The important thing is that the student begin to write down what he or she is learning, insights that he or she has gained and ways in which what he or she is studying can be applied.

After the student has explored some material on the author of the book, the circumstances for his writing, and the audience that was being written to, he or she should read the book through in its entirety again. Armed with this new knowledge, the student should find the document beginning to come alive with meaning. It is now time for the student to become more specific in his or her study.

For this more detailed study, the book should be broken down into smaller sections. For a letter like Galatians, this can easily be done by chapters. As each chapter is read, the student can look for the one or two main points of that chapter. What truth is Paul trying to communicate? How does he drive that point home to his audience? How does that truth relate to the modern reader?

The student should answer those important questions in his or her notes as he or she focuses on each chapter. After working through the book by chapters over a period of a few weeks, the student might want to break the chapters down even further, depending on their length. Picking a key verse or two from each chapter will help reinforce the main themes of those chapters. Actually memorizing verses or key passages from the book will also serve to help the student internalize the Scriptures that they are studying.

Another popular Bible study method is to focus on a particular theme. In this type of study, the student will trace a theme throughout the Scriptures, rather than just focusing on one book. This can lead to very interesting discoveries, but it is a much more involved type of Bible study.

One interesting theme that one might want to consider would be Jesus use of miracles. Jesus performed many miraculous signs and healings in all four of the Gospels, Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. Each writer presented them a little differently, however, depending on the point he was trying to make and depending on to whom he was writing.

A good place to begin a study like this is to examine the miracles that are common in more than one Gospel. Because Matthew, Mark and Luke are so similar, they have much common material. Mark is commonly accepted as being the first Gospel written and the one that Matthew and Luke drew heavily from. Each Gospel, for example, presents the feeding of the 5,000 people. At the same time, each author frames the story for his particular audience.

In John’s presentation of the feeding of the 5,000, he presents more of Jesus’ teaching surrounding the event. John’s Gospel is written to lead people to faith in Christ, so the writer often explains the spiritual significance of the miracle. John goes to great lengths to help the reader understand that this miracle is more than just Jesus’ miraculously feeding some hungry people. It is about the fact that the true Bread of Life, Jesus himself, has been sent to Earth to save mankind. The other Gospel writers present the same miracle but let the sign speak for itself instead of trying to interpret it.

For this kind of study, it is recommended that the reader use the study tools listed above to find where all of the common miracles are in the Gospels. Reading each account multiple times will allow the person to see the similarities and the differences. These insights should be written down or stored in your online notes. The next step would be to use some Bible dictionaries and Biblical commentaries to see what others say about these miracles.

After one has taken a thorough look at the miracles that the Gospels have in common, it might be interesting to examine those miracles that are only listed in a single Gospel. Matthew, for example, is the only book to record Peter’s walking on the water after Jesus had fed the 5,000 people. John presents several miracles that are not listed in the other Gospels. The same methods could be used to study these miracles. The reader might then explore why the author included that particular miracle.

A study of the Jesus’ miracles, like any other study, should seek to understand what message the author was trying to convey to his original hearers. The next step would be to see what applications a modern reader might draw from the study. A final step of any type of Bible study would be for the student to begin to apply the fresh truths of God’s Word to his or her life. 

What are some other methods that you have used to study the Scriptures?

Would you consider supporting Annie and I as we serve the Lord in Brazil? Every gift makes a difference! Just click here to get involved. Obrigado!

 

 

cross-of-christ

The earliest New Testament writing to mention the idea of “redemption” was the Apostle Paul’s letter to the Galatians. Most scholars believe that Galatians was one of the first, if not the very first, of the New Testament documents to be written. In fact, it is very likely that most of Paul’s letters were written before any of the other New Testament books. In Galatians 3:13-14 Paul says that Christ has “redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us.” Paul then goes on to say that Christ redeemed people “in order that the blessing given to Abraham” might come.

The Greek word that Paul uses here in Galatians is exagorazo. This Greek verb that is translated as “redeemed,” carries the meaning of “to buy out of the market-place.” It also has the meaning of buying back something that once belonged to them. The idea that Paul seems to be conveying here is that Christ has purchased believers’ freedom through his death. The Christians in Galatia were struggling with the idea of trying to follow Christ but also feeling that they had to obey the Law. Paul made it clear that Christ’s redemption of them had set them free from having to obey the Law. Paul seems to be saying that Christ’s death has purchased or redeemed His people from having to follow the Law. Since Christ was put to death under the Law as a once for all sacrifice, all the requirements of the Law have been fulfilled already.

A second Greek word that Paul uses that is translated as “redemption” is apolutrosis. In Ephesians 1:7, Paul says, “In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace…” Apolutrosis carries the meaning of being delivered or set free from from something. In this passage, Paul says that Christ has delivered people and set them free from their sins. Rather than being in bondage to the sin nature, Christ has redeemed his followers to walk in freedom from sin. Through His “redemption,” Christ has purchased the freedom of his people.

One of the most famous passages in the entire New Testament relating to the idea of redemption came from Jesus’ own lips. In Mark 10:45, Jesus said that he came “to give his life as a ransom for many.” The Greek word here is lutron and means to deliver someone through the payment of a ransom. When the price is paid, the prisoner is set free. This was what Jesus accomplished through his death. He purchased freedom for all of mankind.

The New Testament portrays Jesus as the One who redeemed mankind. Redemption is a completed work accomplished through Christ’s death. In this act, Jesus has accomplished three things. First of all, his redemption has set his followers free from the Law. They are no longer subject to the demands of the Law. A second thing that Christ has accomplished is that he purchased humanity as someone would have purchased a slave at a marketplace. His redemption actually indicates his ownership for all of his followers. The last thing that Jesus’ death accomplished was that of paying the ransom so that his followers might be set free. Someone had to be punished for mankind’s sins. Jesus took that punishment on himself and offers the gift of redemption to all who will accept it.

Would you consider supporting Annie and I as we share the message of redemption in Brazil? Just click here to get involved. Obrigado! 

 

follow-the-leader

When Jesus started His public ministry, he handpicked a group of men to follow Him. While most people are familiar with the Twelve Disciples, in actuality, Jesus had many more followers than that. The Twelve were later pulled from this much larger group to be the key leaders in carrying Jesus’ message to the world after he was gone.

Jesus trained his followers in three ways. First of all, he allowed them to observe him at work. They were with him as he taught and performed miracles. There were occasions after Jesus had taught that his disciples would come to him seeking clarification. He would often break down and dissect what he had just taught the crowd to make sure that his closest followers understood the parable or teaching.

Because Jesus’ followers would be expected to perform the same type of works that he had performed, he let them observe him performing many types of miracles, including healings and even raising the dead. On almost every occasion, Jesus had his followers with him when he performed these supernatural signs. In some of these instances, he even allowed his disciples to participate in the miracle. This was the case in the two miraculous feedings. In one case he fed over 5000 people and another time he fed 4000 people. In Mark 6:41, for example, the food was multiplied as Jesus gave it to the disciples and they distributed it to the crowd.

The second way that Jesus trained his followers was that he after they had been with him for awhile watching him work, he sent them out on short ministry trips. These trips were great opportunities for the disciples to get real ministry experience while spreading the Gospel message. After these ministry trips, the disciples reported back to Jesus about all they did. They would then spend time discussing their results and receiving further training from Jesus.

On one occasion, Jesus sent out a large group of seventy-two of his followers out on a ministry trip. They were paired up and sent to some of the villages and cities that Jesus was planning on visiting. When they returned from their trip, they proudly reported that they had been able to cast out evil spirits, just like Jesus. Jesus used this as a teaching point to stress what was really important. “But don’t rejoice just because evil spirits obey you; rejoice because your names are registered as citizens of heaven.” (Verse 20)

The last way that Jesus trained his followers was that he sent his Holy Spirit to live inside them. When Jesus left the earth he sent the Holy Spirit back to indwell his people. Jesus promised that the Holy Spirit would lead his followers into all truth and continue to teach them. This began to take place in the early Church as Christ’s followers attempted to do the same kinds of things that they had seen Jesus do. There was, of course some trial and error but as the early Christians prayed for guidance and then stepped out in faith, the Holy Spirit directed their steps.

One example of this was in Acts 15. The Church was faced with a major decision. It was a decision that affect every succeeding generation of Christians. It involved the question of whether or not non-Jews should be circumcised and required to obey the Jewish law to be considered Christians. After some spirited debate, it was decided to not make it difficult on the non-Jews turning to Christ. They were not required to keep the entire law. Salvation by faith became the understood way for people to become Christ followers. James, one of the primary leaders in the early Church wrote a letter to non-Jews explaining the decision. The non-Jews were asked to avoid sexual immorality, idolatry, and asked to observe a few minor dietary restrictions so they could maintain fellowship with the Jews. James said in the letter, “It seemed good to the Holy Spirit and us not to place an unnecessary burden on those who are turning to Christ.” There was a conscious sense that the leaders of the Church were acting in concert with God’s plan.

Thankfully, those who follow Christ still have access to the Holy Spirit. The Church, however, is led by people. The pattern that Jesus left was a Spirit-filled, Spirit-equipped, group of people who continue to learn from their leaders, each other, and the Holy Spirit.

How can we utilize these three methods in training leaders today?

Would you consider helping Annie and I as we train and develop leaders in Brazil? The fields are ripe for a harvest and we are seeing God do some incredible things. Just click here. Obrigado!

boatinstorm

“Jesus was sleeping at the back of the boat with his head on a cushion. Frantically they woke him up, shouting, “Teacher, don’t you even care that we are going to drown?” When he woke up, he rebuked the wind and said to the water, “Quiet down!” Suddenly the wind stopped, and there was a great calm.” (Mark 4:38-39)

This miracle is the first of several “nature” miracles that Mark records. Jesus has just finished teaching all day. It was indicated earlier that He probably spent part of the day teaching while sitting in a boat anchored just off shore. Now He is ready to cross the lake and instructs His disciples to take Him to the other side.

Without much other preamble, Mark says that a terrible storm came up suddenly, complete with vicious winds and waves that were breaking over the sides of the boat. The Sea of Galilee has long been infamous for these sudden squalls. Surrounded by mountains at most points, the lake swirls violently when a strong wind enters. For anyone who has ever been caught in a storm in a small or even medium sized boat, it is easy to imagine the fear that the disciples felt. It is interesting to note, however, that most of Jesus’s disciples were experienced boatmen. They were career fishermen and had probably been through a few storms. The fact that these experienced fishermen were scared seems to point to the severity of the storm. As English notes, “it is usually the experts who recognize the need to panic!”

By way of contrast, Jesus is sleeping soundly in the stern of the ship. It is evident that He is exhausted. Teaching all day has taken its toll on Him. This is a beautiful snapshot of Jesus’s humanity. He is so tired that He is sleeping through this terrible storm. Mark’s picture of Jesus’s physical exhaustion will also provide a interesting contrast when He confronts the storm later.

The disciples’ fear finally became so great, that they awoke Jesus, and with more than a little petulance asked, “Teacher, don’t you care if we drown?” Granted, it was their fear that caused them use a reproachful tone with Jesus. One senses the desperation that the disciples must have been feeling, however, for the fishermen to ask the carpenter to do something!

One wonders what the disciples expected Jesus to do. Maybe they wanted an extra set of hands bailing water out of the boat. Maybe they needed some help keeping the boat on course in the pounding waves. Or maybe, the disciples, even with their imperfect understanding of Who Jesus was, felt that if He was awake, He could do something to help or protect them.

After being wakened, Jesus got up and confronted the storm. He spoke to the storm as if it were a person, “Quiet! Be still!” In fact the language that Jesus uses is similar to the way in which He spoke to the demon possessed man He encountered in the Capernaum synagogue. The word He uses here for “be still” literally means to “be muzzled.” The result is that the winds and the sea obey, just as the demons do.

Not only do the winds and sea obey, but they do it instantly. In a moment, the winds died down and the surface of the sea became “completely calm.” The sea became as smooth as glass. The Psalmist wrote in 107:25-30:

“For he spoke and stirred up a tempest that lifted high the waves. They mounted up to the heavens and went down to the depths; in their peril their courage melted away. They reeled and staggered like drunken men; they were at their wits end. Then they cried out to the Lord in their trouble, and he brought them out of their distress.He stilled the storm to a whisper; the waves of the sea were hushed. They were glad when it grew calm, and he guided them to their desired haven.”

This Psalm seems to prophetically capture this incident on the Sea of Galilee. Jesus is shown here exercising divine authority. It is not just the portrait of a wonder-worker; it’s the story of divine revelation. God’s power over nature is present in Jesus, just as it was at creation.

This miracle provides the clearest revelation of Who Jesus is in Mark’s Gospel up to this point. The disciples, however, still do not seem to have a clear grasp of Jesus’s divinity. They ask, “Who is this? Even the wind and the waves obey him!” The disciples actually appear to be more frightened over what they had seen Jesus do to the storm than they had been of the storm itself. Mark records that, “They were terrified” after Jesus had exercised authority over the elements. Translated literally, Mark says that the disciples “feared a great fear.” They have seen Jesus exercise authority over crowds, sickness, disease, and evil spirits. This display by Jesus is beyond anything that they could imagine.

Jesus recognizes the disciples’ fear and addresses it. “Why are you so afraid?” Note, He does not ask them, “Why were you so afraid?” As we just mentioned, they are more afraid now by the realization that they are confronting something that they do not understand. Jesus continues, “Do you still have no faith?” In asking if they “still” have no faith, Jesus is gently rebuking the disciples’ unbelief. After all they have seen Him do, and all they have heard Him teach, they should have a better grasp of Who He is. This miracle should have been a final piece to the puzzle of Jesus’s identity.

A last aspect of this miracle that will be discussed is the how this miracle has been interpreted in Church history. The boat has often been seen as a figure of the Church being buffeted by the waves and winds of persecution and temptation. It might seem that Jesus is asleep and does not care about what His people are going through. In reality, however, He “awakens” at just the right time and rebukes the storm.

On a personal level, this is a question that we must all come face to face with at some time: “Teacher, don’t you care if we drown?” Does Jesus care if we are battling sickness? Does He care if a loved one dies? Does Jesus care if we lose our job? Does Jesus care if our teenager storms out of the house telling us that they hate us? Does He care if our marriage breaks up? While we know from the Scriptures that the answer to each of these questions is a resounding “yes,” each of us has to experience God’s grace and concern for ourselves. A true faith is a tested faith.

What storm are you going through right now? Does it seem like God is awake or asleep?

Annie and I are serving the Lord in Curitiba, Brazil. We are helping develop leaders and church planters. You can be a part of what God is doing in South America! Just click here. Obrigado!

 

David Spell preaching

“But as many as are led by the Spirit of God, these are the sons of God.” Romans 8:14

This message is from our recent series on “The Holy Spirit.” There have been books written, sermons preached, and conferences organized around the theme of being led by the Holy Spirit. Unfortunately, this verse of Scripture is usually ripped from its context. When examined in its full context, however, Paul explains what it really means to be led by the Holy Spirit.

You can watch the entire message here. My good friend, Erick Stocherro, was my translator.

Would you consider becoming a part of our team? God is doing some incredible things in South America and we are just getting started! Just click here to be a part. Obrigado!

Martin Luther

While the Protestant Reformation is often attributed solely to Martin Luther, there were other people who played a significant role. John Wycliffe and John Hus, for example, lived about a hundred years before Luther and laid the groundwork for Luther and the other Reformers.

During Luther’s lifetime, Huldriech Zwingli, John Calvin, and John Knox were very influential in spreading the Reformation teaching throughout Europe. John Calvin is often regarded as the primary theologian of the Reformation. Calvin founded the Presbyterian Church and wrote “Institutes of the Christian Religion,” the treatise on Reformation theology.

There is no doubt, though, that Martin Luther was one of the primary reformers and, in many ways, had the most influence in bringing about significant change in Germany and in other parts of Europe. In 1517, Luther nailed his “Ninety-Five Theses” to the chapel door at the University of Wittenberg, where he taught. These theses outlined his critique against the Roman Catholic Church’s sale of indulgences, which Luther believed was unscriptural. Luther also argued for justification by grace alone. This would be the beginning of a long battle between Luther and the Catholic Church. He would eventually be excommunicated.

Luther’s spiritual journey to this point started with his own spiritual disillusionment. He became a monk against his father’s wishes. Even as a monk, however, Luther felt separated from God. He felt that no matter what he did, God was not pleased with him. Luther fasted, prayed, went on pilgrimages, and made frequent confessions, but nothing brought him peace. He still felt far away from God.

In 1515, Luther was asked to lecture on Paul’s letter to the Romans. As he was studying and preparing for his lectures, he came across Romans 1:17. This verse changed his life and the course of history. Luther came to the understanding that he could not earn God’s favor. Salvation was a gift given from God. It had to be received by faith.

Luther and the other Reformers agreed on three primary Fundamentals of the Christian Reformation.

1. The Sole Authority of Scripture. From the very beginning after Luther’s conversion, he argued that the Scriptures should be the only authority for doctrine and practice in the Church. This was at the very heart of the sale of indulgences. The Roman Catholic Church holds that tradition and the Scriptures have equal authority.

2. By Faith Alone. Luther experienced this first-hand. It was not all the religious things that he did that brought about his salvation. It was only when he exercised his faith in the completed work of Christ and received it by faith that Luther was justified before God. This was exactly what the Apostle Paul taught in Ephesians 2:8-9.

3. The Priesthood of All Believers. This Reformation fundamental taught that all Christians have access to God through Jesus. They do not need a priest to mediate for them. This teaching hit at the heart of the Roman Catholic doctrines of confession, the mediation of the saints, and, most importantly, the authority of the Pope.

The Reformation had wide-reaching consequences beyond the walls of the Reformed Churches that sprang up throughout Europe. Even today, almost five hundred years later, these three fundamentals are still held to by most segments of Protestantism. Most Protestant Christians view the Reformation as a return to Biblical Christianity.

My wife, Annie, and I are developing leaders and helping fulfill the Great Commission in Brazil. Would you consider supporting us with a one-time gift or even becoming a part of our support team? Just click here to be a part! Obrigado!

 

The Last Rally by Mort Künstler

The Last Rally by Mort Künstler

The American Civil War is one of the most tragic and fascinating periods in America History. This conflict stretched from April of 1861 to May of 1865. While there were numerous significant battles and events, there are several that stand out more than others. A few of these will be highlighted.

The Confederate Shelling of Fort Sumter

This event, on April 12, 1861, signalled the start of the American Civil War. Fort Sumter was located in the harbor of Charleston, South Carolina. After South Carolina seceded in Dec of 1860, state officials demanded that the Union forces there turn the fort over to state control. The commander of the fort, Major Robert Anderson, refused. After several hours of being shelled by confederate batteries, Anderson surrendered on April 13, 1861. There were no casualties on either side due to the fighting, although two Union soldiers did die as they were evacuating because of an accidental explosion.

The Wounding of Confederate General Joseph Johnston

After the war began, General Johnston was senior Confederate general and commanded the Army of Northern Virginia. General Johnston was an experienced and talented general. He is best known, however, for his cautious and strategic defensive maneuvering, rather than his offensive prowess. When Johnston was wounded on May 31, 1862, at the Battle of the Seven Pines, General Robert E. Lee assumed command and never relinquished it. General Lee was known primarily for his offensive prowess. It was Lee was able to keep the Union off balance and backpedaling for the next several years. Johnston did recover from his wounds and served primarily in the Western Theater until the end of the war.

The Death of General A. P. Johnston

At the beginning of the Civil War, many considered Confederate General Albert Sidney Johnston to be the most talented officer in their military. President Davis appointed Johnston as the commander of the Western Theater. On April 6, 1862, General Johnston caught General U. S. Grant’s forces completely by surprise and attacked them at Pittsburgh Landing, Tennessee. This became the Battle of Shiloh. Johnston’s forces battered Grant’s forces all day long. Johnston continued to stay close to the action and was struck in the leg by a bullet. He did not think the wound was serious and did not immediately seek help. The general bled to death from this wound. The next day, Grant’s forces counterattacked and forced the Confederates to retreat. General Johnston holds the distinction of being the highest ranking officer of either side to be killed during the war.

The Death of General Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson

Jackson was one of the South’s top generals and Robert E. Lee’s top lieutenant. He was audacious in his tactics. He had waged the Shenandoah Valley Campaign in 1862. This campaign pitted Jackson’s smaller, but much more mobile army against several larger Union forces. Jackson scored victory after victory and gave General Lee the breathing room he needed. In May of 1863, Jackson had joined with General Lee at Chancellorsville, Virginia. Lee rashly divided his smaller force in front of Union General Hooker’s forces. Jackson took these forces on a flanking maneuver and struck Hooker from behind. The Union Army was routed. Jackson, however, was shot and wounded by accident by his own troops. His left arm was amputated and it was thought that he would recover. Jackson contracted pneumonia, however, and died on May 10, 1863.

The Fall of Vicksburg

The surrender of Vicksburg, Mississippi, to Union forces on July 4, 1863, was the culmination of almost a year of effort by General Ulysses Grant. Vicksburg was almost impregnable and Grant tried several different methods to take the city. The siege of Vicksburg eventually led to Confederate General Pemberton surrendering to Grant. With the capture of Vicksburg, the North controlled the Mississippi River. This victory also led to Grant’s promotion as the Commanding General of all Union forces.

The Battle of Gettysburg

In the summer of 1863, with the South’s limited resources dwindling, southern General Robert E. Lee launched an invasion of the North. This was only the second time in the war that the South attempted to invade the North. The southern army was in dire need of the resources that the North held. 

The two armies came together at the small town of Gettysburg, Pennsylvania on July 1, 1863. On the first day of the fighting, General Lee’s southern army dominated the fighting. On the second day of the fighting, the results were more even. On the climactic third day, however, General Lee believed that he could break the union army at its center. General Pickett led his men on the ill-fated Pickett’s charge. They were wiped out and the South was defeated. Most historians see Gettysburg as the turning point of the Civil War. 

The American Civil War continues to fascinate, create debate, and inspire study. There are only a few of the key events of that conflict. They do provide a starting point, however, for further study.

Please consider supporting my wife, Annie, and I as we serve the Lord in Brazil. You can join our team by clicking here. Obrigado!

 

Christian_Martyrs_Last_Prayer_Header-final1

A study of history always has the potential to provide the student with some incredible insights. It often seems that people who are not students of history, really do not have a clear understanding of what is going on in the present. It is only as you study your history and the history of others that you are able to gain the needed tools to understand what is going on in the present.

Church history is a fascinating segment of history that should be studied by all who would say that they are Christ followers. A study of church history is important for several reasons. First of all, it provides a chain of custody back to the earliest days of Christianity. When looking at early church history, one is able to see the connections between Jesus’ apostles and other followers to the Church Fathers of the second century and onward.

The Apostolic Church Fathers, for example, were the men who had been students of Jesus’ apostles. Clement and Polycarp are two examples. Clement had close ties to the Apostles Peter and Paul and ended up as the third bishop of the Roman Church. Polycarp had been a disciple of the Apostle John and was the leader of the church in Smyrna.

These Church Fathers, and the many others, passed along what they had been taught from Jesus’ disciples. It was the Church Fathers who were also the first to acknowledge the New Testament writings. Two hundred years before the New Testament canon was formalized, several of the Church Fathers had already listed the writings that they felt had the authority of Scripture. Almost every list that has been preserved contains most of the twenty-seven books that make up the New Testament today.

As one looks back at the earliest days of church history, up to the present point, it is easy to see that the basics of Christianity have not really changed. There are some minor doctrinal differences that are seen in different Christian groups today. In reality, there have always been minor differences among what different segments of the church believe. At the same time, however, there are the fundamentals of the faith that every Christian group holds.

A second reason why a study of church history is important is it strengthens your faith. As Christians today look back over their rich heritage, it allows them to see God’s hand at work. From the brutal persecution of the first two centuries, through the Dark Ages, into the Reformation, the Great Awakening, the rise of theological liberalism, and the Revivals of the 19th and 20th centuries, God has sustained his people by His grace. Through good times and bad, the church has continued to grow and thrive all over the world.

Another important benefit of examining the church’s history is that it prepares the church for the future. As history demonstrates, the church is only effective when it is able to adapt and change its methods with the times. The message of the gospel never changes and, as mentioned above, really has not changed in 2000 years. The methods that the church uses to convey that message, however, change regularly.

One example of changing methods would be the use of technology to spread the gospel message. After the invention of the printing press, the printed word was a primary means of spreading Christianity throughout the world. A few hundred years later, the printed word is still very important. Television, radio, and the internet, however, have become at least as important as the printed word in communicating the Gospel. Successful and growing churches understand the power of having a presence on the internet. A good, informative website is something that every church should have today.

Another example of changing methods is that of music. Fanny Crosby was a 19th century hymn writer with several thousand songs to her credit. Crosby was known to use popular secular music of the day to go with the words that she had written to create many of her hymns. Music is always going to be one of the powerful tools that the church uses worship, teach, and evangelize. Most contemporary churches today make ample use of contemporary worship music accompanied by electric guitars, drums, keyboards, and expensive sound systems. While many traditional churches still make use of hymns written hundreds of years ago, many are also incorporating more contemporary music as well.

A last benefit to studying church history is that it keeps one balanced. One of the things that church history shows is a tendency to over-react and over-correct. The pendulum seems to constantly want to swing too far into being like the world or too far into seperating oneself from the world. The church must always maintian the tension of living in the world but not becoming like it. A look church history can help to keep the pendulum from swinging too far to either side.

There are many other benefits to studying church history; the few outlined here serve to provide the student with a good starting point. There is a great value is looking at the lives of those who have gone before you and learning from their example.

Can you think of any other benefits to studying Church History?

Would you consider joining our support team as Annie and I serve in Brazil? God is doing some incredible things here and the future is bright for the Church in South America! Just click here to get involved. Obrigado!