Five hundred years ago (officially October 31st, 2017), Martin Luther, in opposition to the false salvation that was being sold in the form of indulgences by the pope and the Roman Catholic Church, sparked the Protestant Reformation. The Ninety-Five Theses called out the false salvation system, and eventually Martin Luther would be brought to embrace the true gospel of Jesus Christ. What was intended as a debate in 1517 was in full protest mode by the Diet of Worms in 1521.
Pope Leo X despised Luther, and referred to him as a “roaring boar of the woods [who] has undertaken to destroy this vineyard, a wild beast [who] wants to devour it.” Luther described the Pope by saying:
We here are of the conviction that the papacy is the seat of the seed of the true and real antichrist. I owe the Pope no other obedience than that I owe to antichrist” (August 18th, 1520). 
Luther is also quoted as saying, “I am persuaded that if at this time St. Peter in person should preach all the articles of Holy Scripture and only deny the Pope’s authority, power and primacy and say that the Pope is not the head of all Christendom, they would cause him to be hanged.”  Many preachers and theologians throughout church history in the wake of the Reformation pointed to the pope as the Antichrist. John Calvin writes:
Some persons think us too severe and censorious when we call the Roman pontiff Antichrist. But those who are of this opinion do not consider that they bring the same charge of presumption against Paul himself, after whom we speak and whose language we adopt… I shall briefly show that they are not capable of any other interpretation than that which applies them to the Papacy. 
The question remains, should we look at Pope Francis as the Antichrist, the papacy itself as the Antichrist, or should both be viewed as one of many antichrists referenced by John in 1 John 2:18? In order to consider this question, I want to cite two historical references and then examine God’s Word for clarification in order to formulate our position.
The Statement of the 1560 Geneva Bible
During the reign of Queen Mary I (aka: Bloody Mary) in England, the protestants fled England and many people landed in Geneva, Switzerland where the protestants were welcomed with open arms. John Calvin was preaching and teaching in Geneva during that time, and the city had voted to embrace the Reformation. This provided a “safe city” for the refugees who came looking for religious freedom.
During this time, John Knox fled to Geneva under persecution, and he would eventually become the pastor of the English refugees in the Auditoire De Calvin which is next door to the St. Pierre Cathedral, the church Calvin pastored in Geneva. Under Calvin’s oversight, John Knox and a group of scholars worked to produce the first study Bible in English history. The Bible was published in 1560 and was known as The Geneva Bible. It would be the Geneva Bible that was brought off of the Mayflower onto the soil of America years later.
The 1560 Geneva Bible translated Revelation 11:7 as, “And when they have finished their testimony, the beast that cometh out of the bottomless pit, shall make wars against them, and shall overcome them, and kill them.” The study note attached to this verse stated the following:
That is, the Pope which hathe his power out of hell and cometh thence.
This statement, and a few others in the 1560 Geneva Bible, caught the attention of the Roman Catholic Church. It was eventually vilified and rejected. From the political protest that developed, the 1560 Geneva Bible was labeled “Calvinistic,” a term of derision. Although it was rejected by the Roman Catholic Church, it was well received by the people. It would serve as the household Bible for over three generations.
The Statement of the 1689 London Baptist Confession
If you are a Baptist today, you are connected to the 1689 London Baptist Confession, also known as the Second London Baptist Confession. It’s from the pages of this confession that other historical Baptist confessions flow—including The Baptist Faith and Message 2000. Many Baptist churches still embrace the 1689 LBC since it is much more thorough and contains stronger language on various doctrinal positions. In chapter 26, on the article of the church, the 1689 LBC states the following in paragraph 4:
The Lord Jesus Christ is the head of the church. By the Father’s appointment, all authority is conferred on him in a supreme and sovereign manner to call, institute, order and govern the church. The Pope of Roman Catholicism cannot in any sense be head of the church; rather, he is the antichrist, the man of lawlessness, and the son of destruction, who exalts himself in the church against Christ and all that is called God. The Lord will destroy him with the brightness of his coming.
Notice the specific statement regarding the Pope of the Roman Catholic Church. In clear language, without ambiguity, the authors of the 1689 LBC reference the Pope as the antichrist. For that reason, many people who appreciate the serious approach to theology choose not to embrace the 1689 LBC because they disagree with this statement. Shawn Wright, in his article titled, “Should you use the 1689 London Confession in your church?” comes to the following conclusion:
The SLC’s historical conditioning is also shown in its view of the Roman Catholic bishop of Rome, the pope. Pejorative references to the Catholic church were part and parcel of seventeenth-century Protestant polemic, but a local church would be wiser to restrain from using such violent language in our day. A church can—and should!—disagree with much Catholic theology without having to affirm that “the Pope of Rome” is “that antichrist, that man of sin, and son of perdition, that exalteth himself in the church against Christ, and all that is called God; whom the Lord shall destroy with the brightness of his coming” (26.4). 
The Pope Is Antichrist
According to the official positions of the Roman Catholic Church, the pope is referred to as the “Vicar of Christ.” The word “vicar” is connected to vicarious, meaning that the pope stands in the place of Christ. The bishop of Rome (the pope) is likewise referenced as the “holy Father.” Once again, this is a title reserved for God Himself. According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church 2034:
The Roman Pontiff and the bishops are “authentic teachers, that is, teachers endowed with the authority of Christ, who preach the faith to the people entrusted to them, the faith to be believed and put into practice.” The ordinary and universal Magisterium of the Pope and the bishops in communion with him teach the faithful the truth to believe, the charity to practice, the beatitude to hope for.
In addition to exalted titles, the Roman Catholic Church also lavishes exalted privileges reserved for Christ. Note the language of the infallibility of the pope in CCC 891, a teaching that clearly violates the Scriptures. No matter where you stand on matters of eschatology, the teachings of the Roman Catholic Church are blasphemous and heretical teachings that must be rejected. When we look to the Bible, we see clear warnings regarding the antichrists who were already in the world during the days of John the apostle (see 1 John 2:18 and 2 John 1:7).
The popes of historical periods such as the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries have come and gone, so we must reject the idea that one of the historical popes was the Antichrist – that specific man of sin or son of perdition mentioned in Scripture. While we can, with reasonable certainty, conclude that Pope Francis is not the Antichrist — in like manner we must conclude that he’s not a true Christian. Such a position is based on the clear heretical teachings of the Roman Catholic Church regarding the office of the pope and their teachings on salvation (for more, see my article titled, “The False Salvation of the Roman Catholic Church“). Anthony Hoekema provides a helpful point for us to consider in conclusion:
We conclude that the sign of the antichrist, like the other signs of the times, is present throughout the history of the church. We may even say that every age will provide its own particular form of antichristian activity. But we look for an intensification of this sign in the appearance of the antichrist whom Christ himself will destroy at his Second Coming. 
- LeRoy Froom, The Prophetic Faith of Our Fathers, Vol. 2., (Washington, D.C., Review and Herald, 1948). 121.
- John MacArthur, “The Lord of the Church” — Ligonier Ministries, May 14th, 2009.
- John Calvin, The Institutes of the Christian Religion 3.4.7.
- Shawn Wright, “Should you use the 1689 London Confession in your church?” — 9Marks Ministries, March 1st, 2010.
- Anthony Hoekema, The Bible and the Future (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1982), 162.
One of the biggest news stories today is the much anticipated birth of a giraffe. Yes, April the Giraffe is past due, and many people are watching live around the clock. April the Giraffe has her own website and is being filmed on a livestream feed from her own YouTube channel where millions of people are watching live from around the world to see her give birth. April the Giraffe not only has a website and a YouTube channel, but she also has a GoFundMe page. Not only can you follow April the Giraffe on social media, you can purchase apparel in her name to raise money for the Animal Adventure Park in New York.
As we consider the frenzy created by a 15-year old pregnant giraffe, what can we learn from this whole event in our culture? There are some good lessons to observe about our culture along with some blatant inconsistencies. What if April the Giraffe had an abortion? Would her abortion be newsworthy? If giraffe life matters, why does human life continue to be devalued in our modern society?
Giraffe Life Matters
When big news stories online, on the radio, and on the television all point to a pregnant giraffe in New York, it’s clear that giraffe life matters. Has anyone asked if April is pregnant with a blob of cells or a real living giraffe calf? Is that a relevant question worthy of our consideration? Soon enough, it will happen. April will give birth to a giraffe calf, and when that calf falls out onto the ground where hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of people will be watching live—it will not come as a shock to anyone that a real living giraffe was in April’s womb.
As the whole world watches with joyful anticipation for April to give birth, not one argument is being made that the “thing” in April’s womb is something other than a living giraffe. In fact, everyone across the board seems to agree that April is actually carrying a real giraffe calf. On the Animal Adventure Park’s website, they are using the language of “calf” in reference to April’s pregnancy. In their “Things To Know” section on the website, it clearly states:
The calf will weigh around 150lb and will be about 6′ tall at birth.
If everyone agrees that a giraffe is pregnant with a real giraffe calf and not a blob of cells, why is there such a raging debate in our society about human life? In 2009, an undercover study was done to point to the inconsistent lies and counsel given by Planned Parenthood to women who were seeking medical advice and potential abortions in their clinics. In one such case, an abortion doctor said, “A fetus is what’s in the uterus right now. That is not a baby.” Dr. Polhaska, the abortion doctor, claimed, “It’s not a baby at this stage or anything like that.” Polhaska also claimed an abortion will be “much safer than having a baby…You know, women die having babies.” 
You can see much of the same in the firestorm controversy of Planned Parenthood that erupted in 2015 on the website of The Center for Medical Progress. The Planned Parenthood Federation of America (PPFA) is the largest abortion provider in the U.S., performing nearly 330,000 abortions per year.  This accounts for 32% of the total 1,058,000 abortions per year in the U.S., or about 1 in 3, according to the latest data.  According to Dr. Deborah Nucatola, former Senior Director of Medical Services for PPFA (Hawaii Medical Director, Planned Parenthood), as of 2014 Planned Parenthood performed up to 40% of U.S. abortions.  We’ve proven that animal life matters to us, but we must face the question about human life. Does human life really matter to us?
A Question to Consider
What if a special announcement was made by the zoo keepers at Animal Adventure Park stating that a decision had to be made about the expected calf and the pregnancy of April the Giraffe. Suppose the zoo keepers announced that after a lengthy meeting with their staff, they decided that in order for April the Giraffe to be truly happy and fulfilled in the future, she would need to be released from the responsibilities of a calf to care for which would give her added freedom to live life. Therefore, in the best interest of April the Giraffe, the staff decided that her pregnancy would need to be aborted.
What if the abortion of April’s calf was captured live as millions of people watched on the Giraffe Cam? Do you think there would be outrage or support? What would be the response by PETA? How long do you think it would take before Animal Adventure Park was shut down? How would our culture respond to such a decision? It seems obvious that giraffe life matters to our culture and that such a decision would lead to a massive fury of outrage.
What if something far worse was happening as you read this article? What if a similar thing was happening to a human rather than an animal? What if little babies were being killed in professionally operated and medically licensed clinics just a few minutes from the Animal Adventure Park where everyone is anticipating the delivery of April’s calf? The reality is, just a few miles down the road from the location of Animal Adventure Park in New York, babies are being murdered. It’s not a big story. It’s not making a big stir. In fact, I called one of the abortion clinics not far from the zoo and found that they’re accepting appointments for this week.
While we’ve been taught to value the life of animals, we’ve likewise been taught to devalue the life of humans. We live in a culture of death in 2017. With all of the technology available to us—including 3D and 4D ultrasound imaging, we continue to support the legal termination of life in the womb. It has become normal to us. Why should we question the choice of the mother, right?
It may be the legal choice of the mother in America to remain pregnant or to terminate her pregnancy through abortion, but her choice doesn’t negate the fact that a pregnant mother has a living human in her womb. Technology and just plain good logical sense will tell you that a pregnant woman is carrying a living baby in her womb. The dark side of politics and medical practice in our modern age has attempted for many years to avoid the reality of life in a human pregnancy.
Sometimes we find ourselves, as it were, sitting in a room with an oversized and obvious elephant that needs to be addressed. Today, we have a pregnant giraffe in the room with us. The pregnant giraffe isn’t April—it’s abortion. This pregnant giraffe deserves attention from lawmakers, politicians, the medical community, and every human being in our culture. Not only does giraffe life matter, but so does human life. I’m not opposed to people watching a giraffe and celebrating the birth of this calf. However, it should concern us when our culture celebrates the birth of a giraffe but has lost the ability to weep over the murder of unborn babies.
Today a little less than 3,000 babies will be killed in America through legal abortion while we seem to be more interested in the birth of a giraffe.
- See: Planned Parenthood: “That’s not a baby growing inside of you.”
- “2013 Affiliate Services Medical Data,” Services. Planned Parenthood Federation of America May 2015. http://www.plannedparenthood.org/files/4514/3316/9332/PP_Services_05-28-15.pdf
- Jones et al, “Abortion Incidence and Service Availability In the United States, 2011,” Perspectives on Sexual and Reproductive Health March 2014. http://www.guttmacher.org/pubs/journals/psrh.46e0414.pdf
- See: Pg. 25, PPFA Transcript, The Center for Medical Progress. 7/25/2014. http://www.centerformedicalprogress.org/wpcontent/uploads/2015/05/PPFAtranscript072514_final.pdf
Today I’m beginning a short series that will be posted each Thursday titled, Do Not Worship the Reformers. The aim of the series is to point out why we love and respect these men, but at the same time, we should not hold them up to an unhealthy level of adoration and appreciation. The Reformers accomplished many things for the glory of God, but like you and I, they all had feet of clay.
We Should Applaud Luther’s Doctrine of Justification
Martin Luther was born November 10th, 1483 in Eisleben, Germany. He would be baptized the following day. His family connections provided opportunity for education and to excel in life, but Luther’s life would take a different turn. One that he didn’t expect and one that his family opposed. He would enter the monastery in keeping with a promise he made out of fear to God in a violent thunderstorm. Little did he know that providence was guiding his footsteps. Those footsteps would eventually be led to the castle church in Wittenberg on October 31st, 1517 in protest that would eventually be heard around the world.
Martin Luther has been hailed by some as a hero of church history. When we examine the history of the church, we see the enormous contribution of Luther as a man who brought the church back to the Bible and upheld justification by faith alone.
The material principle of the historic Protestant Reformation was justification by faith alone. Is the forgiveness of sins obtained by the work of Jesus alone, or is it obtained by the work of Jesus and the cooperation of sinners through external works, as the Roman Catholic Church teaches? That issue stood at the center of the debate in Luther’s day, and it remains central in our present day as well.
In thesis 52, Luther writes:
It is vain to trust in salvation by indulgence letters, even though the indulgence commissary, or even the pope, were to offer his soul as security.
Luther was outraged by the offer of salvation by the purchase of indulgences. Eventually Luther’s protest would grow in intensity after his conversion. True biblical salvation had been lost in the day of the sixteenth century like a precious diamond in the muck of a pig’s pen. God chose to raise up men who would recover the biblical teaching of salvation and bring God’s people back to the Bible. One such man was an Augustinian monk named Martin Luther. Commenting on the importance of justification by faith alone, Luther wrote:
The article of justification and of grace is the most delightful, and it alone makes a person a theologian and makes of a theologian a judge of the earth and of all affairs. Few there are, however, who have thought it through well and who teach it aright. 
We Should Question Luther’s Doctrine of Baptism
While Luther was a faithful opponent of the false doctrines of the Roman Catholic Church on matters of salvation, he seems to contradict himself at times on the subject of sola fide (faith alone). In discussing religious works in relation to the sacraments, Luther writes:
Therefore it cannot be true that there resides in the sacraments a power capable of giving justification, or that they are the “signs” of efficacious grace. All such things are said to the detriment of faith, and in ignorance of the divine promises. . . . In this way, the Romanists have put precepts in place of the sacraments, and works in place of faith. Now, if a sacrament were to give me grace just because I receive that sacrament, then surely I should obtain the grace, not by faith, but by my works. I should not gain the promise in the sacrament, but only the sign instituted and commanded by God. 
On a similar note, Luther writes the following about baptism:
A man can be saved without the sacrament, but not without the word; this is true of those who desire baptism but die before they can receive it. 
However, as we continue to read the works of Luther, we find statements that not only seem self-contradictory, but also seem to fall into tension with the faith alone formula of biblical salvation. The German Catechism was published in 1529. Concerning the effects of baptism, Luther appeals to Mark 16:16 and says:
This is the simplest way to put it: the power, effect, benefit, fruit, and purpose of baptism is that it saves. For no one is baptized in order to become a prince, but as the words say, ‘to be saved.’ To be saved, as everyone knows, is nothing else than to be delivered from sin, death and the devil, to enter into Christ’s kingdom, and to live with him forever. 
When Martin Luther nailed his Ninety-Five Theses to the castle church door in 1517, he wasn’t yet a true Christian. It would be over the next few years that he would come to embrace Christ by faith alone.
Moving beyond Wittenberg in 1517 and Worms in 1521, Luther wrote, preached, and taught much about the doctrine of salvation. In many points, we applaud his preaching and writing, but in some areas, we find ourselves confused about Luther’s beliefs.
The tension we find in Luther’s theology reminds us that he had feet of clay. Luther was an imperfect man with imperfect theology who lived in the looming shadows of the Roman Catholic Church in the days of the sixteenth century. In short, Luther should be appreciated and applauded, but not worshipped.
What exactly did Luther mean when he said that baptism saves? Did he have in mind something different than the Roman Catholics? I believe he did have something else in mind. However, he seems to move beyond the idea of baptism being a “means of grace” whereby God bestows blessings on His people. He seems to press toward something different. While Luther was not a heretic who nullified sola fide by baptismal regeneration, it seems that he did walk too close to the line on the subject of baptism.
Whatever he truly believed about baptism, we may never fully understand. However, we do know that Luther did champion the idea of infant baptism. Once again, he was saying something different than what the Roman Catholic Church said infant baptism accomplished, but he was still not clear enough. Although Luther should be respected on many levels theologically, the mode and efficacy of baptism in Luther’s system must be called into question.
Luther proved his humanity through his doctrine of baptism. It’s here that we see strange tensions in Luther’s beliefs rising to the surface. Martin Luther came out of Rome, but at times, it seems that not all of Rome came out of Luther.
While we should applaud Luther’s position on Scripture and his willingness to protest the false doctrine of salvation taught by the Roman Catholic Church—he should not be worshipped. He should be appreciated. He should be recognized and respected, but he should not be adored and worshipped. Martin Luther, like us all, had feet of clay. Martin Luther was a sinner who God saved and used for His glory—not a superhero Christian who lived above sin. We should be grateful for the man, but he must not be worshiped.
- WA, 25:375, quoted in What Luther Says, 704.
- Luther, “The Pagan Servitude of the Church,” 300–301.
- Paul Althaus, The Theology of Martin Luther (trans. Robert C. Schultz; Philadelphia: Fortress, 1966), 349.
- The Book of Concord: The Confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church (ed. Robert Kolb and Timothy J. Wengert; Minneapolis: Fortress, 2000), 459.
For the majority of the world, to become a Christian is at best a difficult life and in many cases it’s life threatening. Jesus not only gave His disciples a commission, but He likewise warned them of the danger that was ahead. Suppose that open persecution was legalized in your city, would you still be a Christian? Before you begin a response to me regarding the fine points of theology, I want you to know that I’ve crafted the question in a specific way on purpose. Would your fear of man override your fear of God? Would your love for prosperity and peace be more valuable than the treasure of Christ?
Christianity and Persecution
It may come as a shock, but each year thousands of Christians are losing their lives because of their relationship to Jesus Christ. Some statistics report as many as 100,000 per year die for their faith in Christ. Other statistics report numbers as low as 7,000-8,000. No matter what number is right, the point is clear, it’s not a safe world for Christians. What if you were arrested and imprisoned simply for having a Bible app on your phone or for attending worship on Sunday? Would you continue in your faith or would you save your life by denying Christ?
In many cases in the United States, a little rain or a better opportunity that’s presented in form of recreation will keep families away from the gathered church for worship. That’s the current climate beneath the umbrella of prosperity and freedom. What if you lived beneath the intense pressures of Christian persecution, as many do around the world? Would you still be a Christian? If the fear of death or the love of pleasure is of greater value than the treasure of Christ, you never possessed real Christianity in the first place. If you choose the world over Jesus, your faith is false (1 John 2:19; 1 John 2:15; John 12:25).
John 15:19 — If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you.
Real Christians Suffer Persecution
Christians are called to suffer, and to suffer for the proper reasons. Jesus promised that His followers would suffer persecution (Luke 21:17; John 15:18). At one point, Jesus said, “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Matt. 5:10). Not only did Jesus promise persecution for His followers, but He encouraged them to be persecuted for righteousness’ sake.
It is possible for real Christians to suffer persecution for the wrong reasons. Experiencing persecution for foolish choices or for sinful motives is not the same as suffering for righteousness’ sake. Jesus understood the difference as did the apostles (1 Peter 3:17). Christians can suffer for making poor choices that lead to suffering when it’s not absolutely necessary. We must be reminded that there are hills worthy of death, but not all hills are as valuable as others.
When Peter and the other apostles were arrested for preaching Christ, they were beaten and charged not to preach in the name of Christ again. The word, “beat” used in Acts 5:40, means, “strike or whip as to take off the skin.” This was a severe warning as opposed to death, which is what the religious leaders wanted to do to them. However, Peter and the apostles were resolved to continue preaching Christ. They feared God more than men.
The fear of death or severe punishment often reveals false Christians. In the 1970s, an illegal Bible study was being conducted in Asia. When Communist officials discovered the meeting, they sent soldiers to shut it down. The soldiers burst into the room, and confronted the pastor and small congregation. They demanded the pastor to hand over his Bible. The solider threw it on the ground and then stated that they could all leave, under one condition. Each member had to spit on the Bible, which the solider called a “book of lies.” As they called on individuals to come forward, they spat upon the Bible as directed and they were immediately released. When a young teenager was called upon, she approached the Word of God, knelt down, and wiped off the Bible with her dress. The Communist solider put his pistol to her head and pulled the trigger.
Consider the words of Christ, “And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell” (Matt. 10:28). For that very reason, the inner circle of Christ all suffered and most of them were killed for their faith. Many others would die for their faith following the days of the apostles—including men like Polycarp. Sinclair Ferguson writes:
Christians are persecuted for the sake of righteousness because of their loyalty to Christ. Real loyalty to Him creates friction in the hearts of those who pay Him only lip service. Loyalty arouses their consciences, and leaves them with only two alternatives: follow Christ, or silence Him. Often their only way of silencing Christ is by silencing His servants. Persecution, in subtle or less subtle forms, is the result. 
When John Rogers finished his translation work and had the Matthew Bible printed and distributed, he was later arrested for his views on the Lord’s Supper. When he refused to accept the doctrine of the Roman Catholic mass (the doctrine of transubstantiation), he was burned at the stake in 1555 in front of his entire family and others in the streets. Real Christians are prepared to suffer and die for their faith, but false Christians renounce Christ out of their fear of man and the prospect of pain.
The initial question was purposely crafted in a way to make you think. If persecution was legal, would you still be a Christian? All true Christians continue to the end, even beneath the pressures of persecution. As Justin Martyr famously stated, “They can kill us, but they can’t hurt us.” Is your Christianity shallow, weak, and false? In an evangelical climate where sports can actually compete with Jesus, the local church is placed down the list of priorities, and doctrine is downplayed—do we expect such professing Christians to die for their faith?
Would you be a Christian if persecution was legal?
Luke 9:24 — For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it.
- Sinclair Ferguson, The Sermon on the Mount, (Carlisle PA: Banner of Truth, 1997), 41.
- For more information on the persecution of Christians worldwide, visit Persecution.com.
In today’s chipper church growth culture, hell has been forgotten. It’s common to hear preaching about things that make us happy, subjects that bring delight, and sermons that result in joy. Hell doesn’t do any of that—and for that reason, hell is often neglected, overlooked, and forgotten by many pastors. Why is this such a tragedy?
People Forget Hell In Pursuit of Success
In many ways, today’s sophisticated evangelical church culture is in constant pursuit of success, and hell doesn’t appear sophisticated nor does it deliver success. If the modern church today is running on the fuel of pragmatism, the subject of hellfire must be avoided like the black plague.
Joel Osteen, in an interview on a special Easter edition of CBS Sunday Morning said, “They already feel guilty enough. They’re not doing what they should, raising their kids—we can all find reasons. So I want them to come to Lakewood or our meetings and be lifted up, to say, ‘You know what? I may not be perfect, but I’m moving forward. I’m doing better.’ And I think that motivates you to do better.”
In a tragic move toward being “happy,” people like Joel Osteen avoid the reality of hell and end up with a temporal joy that will fade away in due season rather than the eternal joy that is rooted in the person and work of Jesus Christ. If you embrace Jesus, you must embrace Jesus’ teaching on hell as well.
Forgetting the Message of Hell Diminishes the Glory of Heaven
In the final days of his life as he was preparing to leave this world, Robert Murray M’Cheyne’s preaching became stronger. In his final days, he preached with greater zeal about the reality of hell. The glory of heaven was before him, but he never could escape the horrific reality of hell for the unconverted. In his final nine months, M’Cheyne preached at least four sermons on hell to his own congregation. His final sermon from the pulpit of Andrew Bonar was described as “a sermon so solemn that one said it was like a blast of the trumpet that would awaken the dead.'”
One of the reasons that M’Cheyne preached about the awful reality of hell was based on the glorious reality of heaven. The love of Christ and the fear of God compelled him to preach on the subject repeatedly as he prepared to enter glory. If everyone who dies goes to heaven, as our secular culture seems to believe, there isn’t much reason at all to think or preach on the subject of hell.
Shame for Hell Results in Shame for the True Gospel
To our culture, hell is a shameful subject. Consider the terms used in Scripture to describe the place of damnation:
- Matthew 5:22 – “hell fire”
- Matthew 8:12 – “outer darkness” and “weeping and gnashing of teeth.”
- Matthew 22:13 – “outer darkness” and “weeping and gnashing of teeth.”
- Luke 13:28 – “weeping and gnashing of teeth.”
- Mark 9:44-48 – Three times the Bible mentions “worm dies not” and “fire is not quenched.”
- Mark 9:47 – “hell fire”
- Revelation 20:14 – “lake of fire”
Beyond specific references to hell, the Bible likewise uses other references in a more indirect manner to describe the judgment of God upon sinners. Such references include:
- Pit (2 Pet. 2:4).
- Falling into the hands of the living God (Heb. 10:31).
- Second death (Rev. 20:14).
- Blackness and darkness forever (Jude 13).
When hell is minimized, it’s necessary to minimize the cross as well. To preach on the substitutionary sacrifice of Jesus on the cross without a healthy proclamation of the doctrine of hell simply doesn’t make sense. Some time back, the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) contacted Stuart Townend and Keith Getty with a request to print an altered version of the hymn, “In Christ Alone.” They were seeking permission to change the text from, “Till on that cross as Jesus died/the wrath of God was satisfied” to “Till on that cross as Jesus died/the love of God was magnified.”
The request was denied and as a result, the hymn was banned from their hymnal. The representative, Mary Louise Bringle, from the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) explained:
The song has been removed from our contents list, with deep regret over losing its otherwise poignant and powerful witness. The “view that the cross is primarily about God’s need to assuage God’s anger” would have a negative effect on the hymnal’s ability to form the faith of coming generations, and it would do a disservice to this educational mission.
We’re living in strange days in the modern evangelical church where people are trying to clean up the bloody cross and silence the message of hell. The fact that God judged His Son and continues to judge sinners is unacceptable.
Before you try forgetting hell, you should remember that in Jesus’ day, He preached far more about the judgment of God than He did about the glory of heaven. As we draw closer to heaven it should break our hearts that more people are not coming with us. They must hear the truth about the coming judgment of God. Our culture would rather read books titled, Heaven Is For Real, while completely forgetting that hell is too.
This past Saturday marked the day that Martin Luther died 471 years ago—in the year 1546. His last words were, “We are all beggars. This is true.” Luther isn’t remembered as much for his final words as he is for his preaching.
After nailing his Ninety-Five Theses to the Castle Church door in Wittenberg in 1517, Martin Luther’s life would never be the same. Although he never intended to spark the Protestant Reformation, what would happen over the remaining chapters of his life was never planned in the beginning—at least Luther himself didn’t plan it. What emerged out of the Reformation was a true recovery of the gospel of Jesus Christ, a commitment to biblical preaching, and a great reform in how Christians would sing the gospel.
Luther may be known for his bold preaching and his tenacious faith in Jesus Christ, but he also took time occasionally to write hymns. The bold reformer penned 36 hymns. Perhaps his most famous has taken the title, “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God.”
Background to the Hymn
Although much of the background to the hymn can’t be precisely determined, what we do know is that it was penned during the Reformation era. While Luther faced the evils of his day, the mounting threats of the Roman Catholic Church, and the pressures of standing firm upon the pure gospel—he penned this hymn that has become titled, “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God.”
Two popular English translations exist. One was written by Thomas Carlyle titled, “A Safe Stronghold Our God Is Still” and the other one, the most prominent, was translated by Frederic Henry Hedge titled, “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God.” Luther’s faith was growing by his reading and teaching through the Psalms. Luther said, “The gospel in miniature” in describing the Psalms. It was Psalm 46 that gripped Luther and eventually became the backdrop of this now famous song.
Although many theories exist surrounding the backdrop of this hymn, one popular theory is that Luther penned the hymn as the plague spread among the people. While this is possible, it is known that Luther had already been in hiding in the Wartburg Castle after his bold stand at Worms in 1521. Luther understood what a mighty fortress was from first hand experience and He knew God was bigger and stronger than any castle men could construct.
As Luther faced devils in his day while standing for Christ, He turned to God. In Luther’s hymn, he called God a “bulwark never failing.” A bulwark is a defensive wall used to defend against enemies. For Luther living in the days of the sixteenth century, he understood what a bulwark was. All around Europe, castles lined the top of hillsides. They were often built on high places to provide good lookouts and provide for more productive defensive strategies against threatening armies.
Bigger and stronger than any defensive wall made by the hands of man was Luther’s God. He turned to God in the midst of good and bad days. As Luther understood that our “ancient foe” does seek to “work us woe” and was far more powerful than the enemies of the flesh, he turned to a bigger defense. He turned to God.
As we pass through this world with devils filled who threaten to undo us, we must learn to face such evils without fear. Luther understood that the gospel was worthy of death and that no matter what, God’s Kingdom is forever.
This world is filled with kingdoms and powers that rise and fall. However, the King of kings and the Lord of lords rules and reigns from Heaven’s throne and it will never fail. God’s Kingdom is forever. Luther’s bulwark must be ours too.
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 power 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 powers, 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.