All posts by Uri Brito

A Short Bio of the Man Who Changed the World

The great Reformer Martin Luther belonged to a peasant family. Luther once wrote that “his father, grandfather, and all his ancestors were thorough peasants.” Luther’s father made his livelihood by mining for copper. Margaret was Luther’s strong and strict mother. In fact, you can see that Luther’s personality comes very much through his mother. There is some record of the strictness and sometimes harshness in the Luther home. On one occasion, “His mother whipped him till the blood flowed, for stealing a hazel-nut.” In fact, Luther writes that it was the strictness and the rigorous life that led him to the monastery and made him a monk. a

One of the remarkable events in Luther’s life was one that is often unknown. Growing up in a peasant home, Luther’s opportunities to move to a higher rank of society were minimal. One of the things young Luther did to help with schooling and food was to go around from door to door with his friends and sing. It was in one of those occasions where he met Mrs. Ursula Cotta. She welcomed Luther to her table and exerted a great influence on Luther. Specifically, Mrs. Cotta taught Luther the ways of a more refined home circle. Essentially, she taught Luther proper mannerisms. This actually provided Luther opportunities to move to a higher rank in society than the ones his parents belonged bAt 18 Luther entered into the University of Erfurt and as always Luther distinguished himself. The author S.M. Houghton observed: “Little did Luther realize that even at this time God was preparing him for a career of activity which was to astonish Europe, and which was to shake a proud and polluted Church to its foundation (79).” It was at Erfurt that Luther came across a copy of the Bible. Contextually, we need to remember that peasants did not have copies of the Bible, so this was Luther’s first engagement with the Word of God. What caught his attention was the story of Hannah and Samuel, and how Samuel was called by God. This is all the background formation of Martin Luther before he became the great Protestant leader.

When Luther finished his studies, a series of events occurred, which really led Luther to consider his life and what he wanted to do in the future. There are two main events. The first was the day when one of Luther’s best friends got involved in a fight and was killed. At that moment he asked himself the question: “What if I had been killed instead of my friend?” The second and legendary event was the day when during a trip, a vicious thunder-storm broke over Luther. Luther believed that he was surely going to die before he reached his destination, and “stricken with fear he fell prostrate to the ground, crying out: ‘Help, Anna, beloved saint, I will become a monk.’” Luther kept his vow and after a big farewell party, the next day he presented himself at the door of an Augustinian monastery. Growing up in a peasant home, the last thing Martin’s father wanted was his son to pursue an ecclesiastical life. He wanted him to pursue law and achieve fame and wealth. But Luther wanted something different than fame and wealth, though as result he certainly achieved fame and the respect of many of the wealthiest in Europe. Luther—ultimately—wanted peace with God. For Luther, the way to obtain this peace was to isolate himself. He obeyed the very strict monastic rules, performed menial tasks, and went on begging on behalf of the monastery c. One author said that Luther was the “most sincere, conscientious monk who ever tried in genuine earnestness to merit salvation by human effort (81). He even became proud of his humility. This is important because this is shaping Luther’s thinking and how drastic his theological change was. He sacrificed everything to find peace. “He observed every detail of discipline, praying, fasting, watching, confessing his sins and he literally tortured his body to obtain peace for his soul.” Luther’s conscience plagued him so much that he despaired of salvation, and his physical strength began to waste away (Sketches, 80). His fellow-monks couldn’t help him, the departed saints that Luther prayed to so fervently could not help him. One person who brought some consolation to Luther was John von Staupitz, the head of the Augustinian monastery in Germany. He visited Luther often. Luther would cry often to his friend, Staupitz: “Oh, my sins! My Sins! My Sins!” Luther could not view God as the punisher of sin. Staupitz offered Luther many great theological truths that sank into Luther’s head. Once he said to Luther: “ Your thoughts are not according to Christ; Christ does not terrify, he consoles.” In God’s grace, the Spirit revealed to Luther that our works can never merit salvation before God. Only the mercy and grace of God can bring sinners to true faith. Luther once wrote that the phrase The Just Shall Live by Faith was the very gate of Paradise.
The result of a changed mind is a changed life. Martin Luther began proclaim the light of the gospel far and wide, and before long he became aware that this was not received well by the Church of the day.

Martin Luther was deeply troubled when he was commissioned to go to Rome in 1510. In his way to Rome he discovered that there was deplorable wickedness being done in the name of the Church, he saw the remarkable ignorance in the monasteries. The priests did not know the Scriptures well. Luther was so enamored with Rome in the beginning of his trip, but at the end, he wrote: “If there is a hell, Rome is built over it.” (Sketches, 84). When Luther returned to Wittenberg , he received a doctorate degree and began to preach in the parish church. He was loved by the people, because here was a man opening the word of God. As the people began to learn, Luther desired that more people hear the Word of God. As a result, Luther began to protest more and more.

And his protest came to a culmination when the popes decided that St. Peter’s Cathedral in Rome should be rebuilt. The expense was to come from every area of society where the church had influence. One of Rome’s fundraiser experts was a man named Tetzel. Tetzel taught that those who donated to the project of re-building would deliver their loved ones who had died from purgatorial torments. Tetzel, and other issues of corruption infuriated Luther who began to preach vehemently against Tetzel. Luther wrote down 95 theses attacking indulgences. And at mid-day 1517 on October 31st, Luther nailed them to the Wittenberg Castle. His intention, of course, was to begin a conversation, but the conversation has been going on for over 400 years now. There was the printing press that made Luther’s theses popular, but what really got the attention of the citizens was that following October 31st was All Saints’ Day. Multitudes flocked to church. Luther’s theses were read, copied, printed, and distributed all over Germany, and eventually all over Europe (Sketches, 88). Luther’s these was received with little protest by the church, but as the popes and priests began to see how much it was affecting the population.

As Luther’s fame went far and wide, he quickly became the leader of this new movement emerging in Europe. In Luther’s day, Emperor Charles V was requested to deal with the case of Martin Luther. He ordered Luther to appear before him in the city of Worms. Luther’s friends reminded him of what had happened to John Huss. But Luther was committed to going to Worms. This is the famous Diet of Worms. The Council of Worms as is commonly known. Luther arrived at Worms and the streets were crowded with people all waiting to see the man who was taught to be the “devil personified” (88). He was the man who stood up against church and state, and not church and state were ready to crush him. As Luther entered the hall of the assembly he was astonished that the great religious and political leaders of the day were all present. The presiding office, Johann von Eck, opened the proceedings by asking Luther if he was the author of the writings on the table, and secondly he asked Luther if he would retract the doctrines in the books. Luther answered that he was the author of the books, but he said he wanted to think through his doctrines carefully to make sure he was being truthful to the Word of God. Luther spent the rest of the evening in prayer. April 18th, 1521 is described as the greatest day in Luther’s life. One author describes the day as “one of the sublimest scenes which earth ever witnessed, and most pregnant with blessing.” Luther came back and Dr. Johann von Eck posed the question again: “Luther, do you recant of the doctrines written in your book?” And here is the English translation of what Luther said:

“Unless I am convinced by testimonies of Scriptures or by clear arguments that I am in error—for popes and councils have often contradicted themselves—I cannot withdraw, for I am subject to the Scriptures I have quoted; my conscience is captive to the Word of God. It is unsafe to do anything against one’s conscience. Here I stand; I cannot do otherwise. So help me God.”

Several days after this statement, Luther was declared to be an outlaw and anyone who lodged him or gave him food or drink were liable to be charged with treason. Nothing stopped Luther’s mission and throughout the rest of his life he wrote, preached, translated and left a remarkable legacy. In these times he held very dear to Psalm 46, and in fact, wrote his greatest hymn A Mighty Fortress is our God. God became his fortress in his time of trial.

In 1546, Luther fell ill and shortly thereafter he died. It is said that one of his closest friends asked Luther if remained determined to stand fast in Christ and in the doctrine which he had preached! Luther responded with a distinct Yes. Luther died and was buried at the Wittenberg Castle; the same place where 29 years earlier he had nailed the 95 theses.

  1. see Martin Luther the Man  (back)
  2. Sketches from Church History, pg. 79  (back)
  3. Sketches, 81  (back)

The Bible as Manipulative Tool

The Bible is God’s inspired word. Yet, it has been used by unprepared, foolish, and evil men. Instead of a means to renewal it has been used to destroy lives and to offer a false Gospel. The first matter to be considered when the Bible is at the center of a community is the matter of its applicability/livability. The Bible, to use Eugene Peterson’s famous language, “is to be eaten.” We don’t actually use the Bible, we live in the Bible. What we do as those who depend on its truth is incarnate it in our rhetoric and re-live its drama in our lives. Chuck DeGroat meditates on this idea of using the Bible and his reaction is similar:

How do I use Scripture?  It’s the wrong question.  We can ask, “How do I use an empty chair technique?” or “How might I use my own story to build trust?”  No, we don’t use Scripture.  We live in it, we breathe it, we are immersed in it (see Eugene Peterson’s Eat this Book).  I suspect a fish wouldn’t ask, “How do I use the water in my tank?”

The Bible is the word of the living God. But the Bible in the hands of man who do not live in its story establishes a precedent for abuse and misuse. We have seen too much of that. It’s to time to feast in it. Eat it. Consume it. And then proclaim it boldly.

Reformation Myths, Part IV

The final myth is that when the Reformers broke from Rome, they broke free from liturgical worship. True Protestant worship is spontaneous and unconstrained by liturgical forms. “Who needs a bulletin? Let’s just follow the Spirit.” This is the general belief of most evangelicals in America– that breaking from Rome is breaking from liturgy. Of course, everyone has a liturgy; some are thought through, others are not. And because of this supposed idea of how a Reformed Church should be, many Protestants have ended up with spontaneous and entertainment-driven worship. But here is the irony of all of this: before the Reformation, the people would gather to be entertained by the Roman Church. Now they were not entertained by skits and praise bands as many do today, rather they were entertained by seeing the priest do his magic. In those days, the priest would take the bread and wine and magically it would be turned into the substance of Christ’s body. But when the magic was done the people themselves did not take the bread and wine; only the priest took the bread and wine. The people just sat there and listened to the priest talk in a language that they did not know. It was a sort of passive entertainment. Do you know how the Reformers reacted to this magical trickery and this passive entertainment offered to the people? The Reformers said: “Enough of this!” “The Reformers rediscovered the biblical truth that the whole congregation is a priesthood called to offer up spiritual sacrifice before God.a

The Reformers insisted that the people together with the minister do the work of worship; that people instead of sitting down passively and watching the trained musicians or the priest do his trick were now going to become themselves living sacrifices unto God. So, instead of only the trained musicians in the choir singing, the Reformers began to take the laity, the common people, and trained them to sing. Luther, of course, was a much better trained musician than most of the Reformers, so he began to compose beautiful music. He began to train the congregation to sing robustly, not like monks, but like warriors. And Calvin, who was not musically gifted, hired a musician to put the psalms into music b. So, you see what is happening is that the  passive nature of the people in worship, where only the professionals sing–that is in fact still prevalent in our own day– has much more in common with Roman Catholicism than it does with Protestantism. The Reformers wanted the congregation involved in the liturgy: in the singing, confessing, and every other part of worship. Therefore, the Reformers did not abandon the liturgy, they corrected the liturgy of Rome. Instead of only priests and trained singers involved in the church, while the people remain silenced, the Reformers involved the entire congregation in sacred worship.

Many of you who have probably visited a Roman Catholic Church may say, “The modern Roman Catholic church is not like the Catholic Church of the 16th century.” The modern day Catholic church has services in English and the people sing and the people take the bread and wine every Sunday. Do you know why this is the case? Because many years after the Protestant Reformation, the Roman Catholics realized that the Reformers were taking over the world and that they were losing the game and so they concluded: “We need to imitate the Protestants.”

It is not uncommon to have someone visit the congregation I pastor in Pensacola and say that our liturgy looks Catholic. But this means that they have bought into a myth. It is not that our liturgy looks Catholic, it is rather that anything that the Catholic Church does that appears in any way similar to what we do at our Church was learned from the Protestant Reformers, not the other way around. Do you think the modern day Protestant understands the Reformation? I would like to think they do. But every time you hear these myths stated remember what really happened. Remember and remind non-Reformed people that the Reformers loved the unity of the Church, they believed strongly that the people should read their Bibles in the context of the church, that the Reformers believed in predestination because the Bible taught predestination, and that the Reformers, not Rome, restored worship to the people.

Why do we celebrate the Reformation? Because the Reformers believed that the ancient paths of Moses and Paul were good paths and that we should walk in them and find rest for our souls.

  1. Thanks to Rich Lusk for some of these insights and quotes  (back)
  2. called the Genevan Psalter  (back)

Reformation Myths, Part III

The third myth is that the Reformers invented the idea of predestination. The Reformers certainly taught the idea of predestination, but they certainly did not invent the idea of predestination. Augustine many centuries earlier in response to the heretic, Pelagius, had a very developed theology of predestination. Augustine wrote:

“For not only has God given us our ability and helps it, but He even works [brings about] willing and acting in us; not that we do not will or that we do not act, but that without His help we neither will anything good nor do it.”

But beyond that, it was Moses and Paul who first said that God will show mercy on whom He will have mercy. John Calvin’s greatest work is undoubtedly the Institutes of Christian Religion. Evangelicals may get the impression that the only thing Calvin talked about was predestination, when in fact Calvin did not tackle the subject of predestination until the tail end of Book #3 of the Institutes. This means that you have to read more than 900 pages to get to Calvin’s position on predestination, and when you get there, you will find that Calvin talks about predestination in terms of how this truth will comfort us. For Calvin, predestination was a doctrine of comfort, not some ethereal and academic topic. The Reformers believed in predestination because Moses, Jesus, John, Paul believed it exalted the grace of God, so the Reformers taught it with full biblical conviction.

Reformation Myths, Part II

Continuing our brief look at some of the Reformation myths that have developed since the 16th century, we now come to the second.

The second myth is that the Reformers wanted each individual Christian to read the Bible on his own and interpret the Bible on his own. Some define this as the priesthood of all believers; that every man was his own priest and interpreter. But this is not what the Reformers meant by the priesthood of all believers. The Reformers did not want individual Christians taking their Bibles home and acting as if they were an authority in and of themselves, and that therefore they needed no one to guide them. On the contrary, the priesthood of the believers” for the Reformers “meant that all believers (had common access to the heavenly throne of grace) could come to the throne of grace with equal access…that we could act as priests to one another…the Reformers did not mean that instead of having one pope, every Christian would be his own pope, rather that the Bible is put in the hands of the people, so it may be studied in the context of a community. The Reformers never intended for the people to try to understand the word of God apart from the guidance and teaching ministry of the Church. After all, the Reformers were biblical people and they knew Paul’s words that the Church needs pastors and teachers to equip the saints.This is why they wrote confessions and catechisms for adults and children.

The Reformation did not mean biblical anarchism. In fact, Luther feared that some would think that since they now had a Bible they would no longer need the Church. Luther feared this lack of submission to those in positions of authority in the Church. To those who did not seek the guidance of the Church, Luther had this to say: “If we read the Bible in our own way, we will just go to hell in our own way.” Martin Luther believed as Paul did that God gave the church ministers and elders to equip her in all truth. So, this idea that the Reformers believed that it was every man for himself and that people could come to their own conclusions without the accountability of the Church is a great myth. Theology apart from the Church is anarchism and the Reformers rejected this idea.

Reformation Myths, Part I

Reformation Myths, Part I

Reformation Sunday is coming! With the popularity of new movements, the Reformed faith has become a familiar furniture in the evangelical house. Still, Reformed theology can be very divisive. Our calling as Christians is to strive towards like-mindedness with other non-Reformed people, but this does not mean that we ought to strive towards like-mindedlessness…the call to unity is a call for us to come to open discussion with other Trinitarian Christians with an open Bible and a humble spirit. aAnd to begin this conversation we need to clear away misunderstandings; to clear away the myths concerning the Reformation. It is my humble opinion that the greatest expression of Trinitarian orthodoxy in the world today is found in the Reformed faith, and so explaining precisely what this great tradition desired to do will help us ground ourselves in the Reformation’s conviction that the Scriptures is our highest authority in life.

Critics have developed many myths about the 16th century Reformation. The irony of it all is that if it had not been for the Reformation, the critics would not have the privilege and liberty to express their criticism towards the Reformation, yet, here are four of these myths. I will list the first one and add the others in the days ahead.

The first myth is that the Reformers did not care about the outward unity of the Church.

In Jesus’ high-priestly payer in John 17, He commands that we be one just as He and the Father are one. But the more astute may say, “But wait a minute: the Reformation did not unite the Church, it actually fractured it greatly.” In some sense it did, however, what one may fail to understand is that true Christian unity cannot be rooted in coruption. A corrupt and immoral Church cannot continue to bless the nations. You see, the issue here is not just unity, the issue is uniting around the right things. The Reformers understood this. They understood that unless false doctrine and corruption were dealt with you would have a weak, paralyzed Church incapable of being the salt and light of the earth. The Reformers were so concerned about not dividing the Church that when Rome charged the Reformers with the sin of schism (the sin of division), Calvin called for a Church wide council, so that both sides could be examined. He wanted another ecumenical council to debate these important issues, and perhaps they could come to an agreement and not divide. In fact, Luther—the father of the Reformation—said to Philip Melanchthon before he died that “after his death many harsh and terrible sects will arise, God help us!” The Reformers feared the idea of a divided Church. They wanted to unify the Church, but their vision never came to pass in their day nor in ours. Our hope is that the vision begun in the Reformation will continue in the decades and centuries to come. Still, the Reformation understood that unity is not based on the appointment of an arch-bishop or a pope; placing an ecclesiastical figure does not bring unity unless there is purity and true doctrine as the basis of this unity. The Reformation was intended to be a reformation of the Church, since the Reformers understood that without the Church there is no ordinary possibility of salvation.

  1. Thanks to my friend, Rich Lusk, for elaborating on these  (back)

Three Classic Quotes from John Calvin

“The gospel is not a doctrine of the tongue, but of life. It cannot be grasped by reason and memory only, but it is fully understood when it possesses the whole soul and penetrates to the inner recesses of the heart.”

― John Calvin, Golden Booklet of the True Christian Life

“There is not one blade of grass, there is no color in this world that is not intended to make us rejoice.”

― John Calvin

“We should ask God to increase our hope when it is small, awaken it when it is dormant, confirm it when it is wavering, strengthen it when it is weak, and raise it up when it is overthrown.”
― John Calvin

Movement vs. Community

Bonhoeffer makes a helpful distinction in his work Life Together. He argues that movements are led by individuals who want to see their priorities above all else honored and implemented. A community, on the other hand, demands bodily participation and engagement. Everyone plays a role in its future. Communities have leaders, but these leaders do not set their agenda above everything and everyone. Communities care about the weak and helpless. Movements are filled with visionary dreamers, “the one who acts like he is the creator of the Christian community, as if his dream binds men together. When things do not go his way, he calls the effort a failure. When his ideal picture is destroyed, he sees the community going to smash.” a Certainly there is a legitimate conversation to be had over the legitimacy of movements, but under this definition, movements are to avoided.

  1. Life Together  (back)

Jesus’ Housewarming Gifts

Life is filled with deaths and resurrections. We like the idea of resurrection, but we like it as long as we can skip through the deaths. But life in Jesus is inescapably deadly. Like Aslan in C.S. Lewis’ wonderful Narnian stories, Jesus is not safe. When God intervenes in our lives and gives us His Son, we are entering into a dangerous journey. It is a fantastic journey, but not a safe one. Sometimes we will come near death like Epaphroditus. Sometimes we feel like death has conquered us. But in these moments God provides us a meal of thanksgiving; a weekly reminder that death is not here to stay; that hope and resurrection is not far from us, nor is it an impossible thing to contemplate. The reason why we obey Jesus in doing this often is because Jesus likes to intervene in our lives often, and when He does, He likes to bring us a housewarming gift. This is His gift to us and when we enjoy it we give him thanks. Let us receive his gifts and give Him thanks.