It should go without saying that Christian worship should be centered on Christ, but sadly many worship services are centered on the additives—and sometimes such additives are carnal attempts to please carnal people who care very little about the Jesus of holy Scripture.
Every church has a specific liturgy that it follows—from a more biblical background to a more contemporary and pragmatic order—every church follows a specific structure. In many cases, the worship service is centered around a pragmatic arrangement in order to guide the emotions of people. In such cases, the worship becomes man centered rather than Jesus centered. When was the last time you examined the worship service of your church and asked honest questions about why it’s ordered in that specific way? Is truth driving the order of your service or is emotion or other man centered pragmatic goals?
The Jesus centered worship service will have a goal of pointing people to their hope in Jesus from the opening Scripture reading and call to worship to the benediction. The Jesus centered worship service is not a rejection of Trinitarian worship. In fact, all Christian worship is Trinitarian, but true Trinitarian worship puts a priority on Jesus who is the true worship leader, the Prophet greater than Moses, the Priest greater than Melchizedek, and the King greater than David.
The Father Emphasizes the Centrality of Jesus
Before the world was created, the decision was made among the Trinity to send Jesus into his own creation as the second Adam—the Messiah—the Christ of God. According to Scripture, Jesus was sent by the Father (Matt. 10:40; John 5:24, 30, 37; John 12:49). One of the greatest verses in the Bible teaches this very truth. In John 3:16, it says, “For God so love the world that he gave his only Son…”
The Father places emphasis on the Son as one who provides eternal life to fallen sinners. This exclusive hope grounded in Jesus necessitates the centrality of Jesus as the focus of our Christian worship. Perhaps this could not be more clear than in John 6:40, when Jesus says, “For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.” When we gather for worship on the Lord’s Day, our worship should be unacceptable in a Jewish synagogue because it’s Christian worship focused on our Triune God with a central emphasis upon Jesus—the Christ of God.
The Spirit Points the Church to Jesus
Many Christian groups have erred throughout history by placing an unhealthy emphasis upon the Spirit of God which is not God’s intention for Christian worship. The Spirit’s goal is to point God’s people to truth (John 16:13-15) and emphasize the work of Jesus Christ for guilty and helpless sinners. We see this clearly taught in 1 Peter 1:2, as Peter describes that we are saved “according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, in the sanctification of the Spirit, for obedience to Jesus Christ and for sprinkling with his blood: May grace and peace be multiplied to you.”
The Spirit’s role among the Trinity is to point people to a saving knowledge of Jesus (John 15:26; 16:14). This purpose is clearly revealed in the pages of Scripture. In Romans 8:9, listen to the way Paul describes our assurance of salvation in Jesus. He writes, “You, however, are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if in fact the Spirit of God dwells in you. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him.” The Spirit leads us to Jesus and provides us with ongoing assurance as he indwells us—as the Spirit of Christ.
John Calvin, in the opening words of book three of his Institutes, observes, the “Holy Spirit is the bond by which Christ effectually unites us to himself.”  As the Spirit unites us to Jesus through the gospel, he continues to keep us in union with Christ by his work of sanctification. The Holy Spirit is more than a soft white dove—He is the third person of our Triune God. He is omnipotent, eternal, and holy. Although we can and should worship the Spirit, it is the Spirit’s goal to point our attention and affections toward Jesus so that we will be conformed to his image rather than the image of this present evil world.
In John 16:7-11, Jesus said the following:
Nevertheless, I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you. But if I go, I will send him to you. And when he comes, he will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment: concerning sin, because they do not believe in me; concerning righteousness, because I go to the Father, and you will see me no longer; concerning judgment, because the ruler of this world is judged.
It is the Spirit’s role to convict guilty sinners of sin, because they have rejected the gospel of Jesus (John 16:9). Secondly, the Spirit convicts sinners of righteousness, specifically the righteousness of Jesus. In order to be saved, we must look away from ourselves to an alien righteousness of Jesus—the true and better Adam who kept the law in totality and never sinned in one point. Finally, the Spirit of God convicts sinners of the coming judgment that will consume Satan and anyone who is deceived by him into rejecting Jesus.
Jesus Receives the Worship of His People
Throughout Jesus’ earthly ministry, we find people worshipping him. For instance, in John 9:38, the blind man who was healed by Jesus believed in him and worshipped him. We see a similar scene in Matthew 1:1-2 as a leper approached Jesus and worshipped him. In Matthew 21:15-16, as Jesus entered the city of Jerusalem, the crowds worshipped him. Perhaps in one of the most striking scenes of worship, we find the apostle John falling on his face before Jesus in worship and awe as he sees a transcendent and glorious vision of Jesus.
When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead. But he laid his right hand on me, saying, “Fear not, I am the first and the last, and the living one. I died, and behold I am alive forevermore, and I have the keys of Death and Hades (Revelation 1:17–18).
It’s clear that Jesus is the center of worship for the Christian Church. What better place to see this truth than when Jesus himself led in the final Passover meal and instituted the Lord’s Supper with his disciples just prior to his crucifixion. Paul describes this scene to the church at Corinth:
For I received from the Lord what I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it, and said, “This is my body, which is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” In the same way also he took the cup, after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me” (1 Corinthians 11:23–25).
Jesus was more than a good teacher or an influential rabbi—Jesus was God in human flesh and remains so to this very day. He did not reject the worship of people as we see the angel rebuking the apostle John in Revelation 19:10. The angel spoke to the confused apostle and said, “worship God.” As people bowed down to worship Jesus he received the worship of his people. This includes the fulfillment of the Passover celebration and the institution of the Lord’s Supper which points directly to Jesus’ substitutionary death, atoning blood sacrifice, and triumphant return.
Needless to say, Christian worship places Jesus at the center. If your worship is focused on the personality of a preacher, the entertaining music of the band, or the programs of the church community—you’ve missed Jesus and he remains unworshipped. The Scriptures provide ample evidence as to why Jesus should be worshipped, but tragically Jesus remains unworshipped within the contexts of many churches from week-to-week.
Think about your worship service and ask an honest question. Is this service centered on Jesus and organized by truth or is it arranged in such a way that pleases carnal people who care very little about truth and worship a Jesus of their own imagination? Bryan Chapell in his book, Christ-Centered Worship made the following statement:
Worship cannot simply be a matter of arbitrary choice, church tradition, personal preference or cultural appeal. There are foundational truths in the gospel of Christ’s redeeming work that do not change if the gospel is to remain the gospel. So, if our worship structures are to tell this story consistently, then there must be certain aspects of our worship that remain consistent …We cannot honor the gospel and, at the same time, worship in ways that distort it. 
John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion (ed. John T. McNeill; trans. Ford Lewis Battles; 2 vols.; Philadelphia: Westminster 1960), Institutes, 3.1.1.
Bryan Chapell, Christ-Centered Worship: Letting the Gospel Shape Our Practice (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2009), 85.
When we hear the term reformation we automatically have visions of an Augustinian monk marching to the large Castle Church door in Wittenberg with hammer in hand to nail his Ninety Five Theses there on October 31st 1517. However, there’s more to the Reformation than that one event and there’s an ongoing work of Reformation in our day. The weekly responsibilities of a pastor involves reforming the church. That’s what we see in Paul’s letter to Timothy in 1 Timothy 3:14-16.
The Church and Cultural Trends
There are dangerous ditches to fall into within the church. One ditch is the ditch of tradition where a church member resists any idea of change simply because he has never done it that way before. Another ditch to avoid is that of constantly changing in order to accommodate the changing culture. There is steady cultural breeze that seeks to move the church off course. It may not seem like it’s too far off at first glance, but over time the distance becomes greater and the compromise becomes more severe.
The church is under a steady assault from the world. Everything from the message to the mission of the church is being influenced by the culture. If not properly guarded—the church will be deformed little by little. Very seldom does a false teacher walk in the front door and introduce himself as the devil’s agent sent to destroy the church. But, if the message of the church is not properly guarded—the deformation of truth will take place week by week until the gospel is veiled altogether.
This is the same pattern with regard to every aspect of the church—including the weekly worship service. That’s why there is a steady need for reformation in the life of the local church.
The Pastor and the Work of Reformation
The pastor of the church in Ephesus was Timothy. Paul wrote to him and gave clear instructions for him to reform the church’s behavior (1 Tim. 3:14-15). The term “behavior” comes from the Greek word, “ἀναστρέφω” meaning — “to conduct oneself in a specific manner.” It’s a reference to the functionality of the church.
Apparently, since Paul wrote this letter to Timothy, there is reason to believe that something was off. It could be an indicator of some sort of compromise with personal relationships or within public worship—and both areas matter much to God.
The pastor’s role as an overseer is to guard the church’s behavior. Interpersonal relationships matter as the church is called to maintain the unity of the Spirit and the bond of peace (Eph. 4:3). Likewise, weekly worship must be orderly and arranged in such a manner as to bring glory to God. When the weekly worship is filled with man-centered elements from pragmatic arrangements to entertainment focused services—the gathering ceases to honor God and in some cases ceases to be a church altogether.
Rather than entertaining the church, the pastor is to reprove, rebuke, and bring correction according to the Word of Truth (2 Tim. 3:16-17). Both personal relationships and public worship are to be regulated by the Word of God. The Scriptures are sufficient to guide us in friendships and the worship of God. It is the Word of God that provides boundaries for God’s people and it is the responsibility of the pastor to regulate the church for God’s glory. Such red lights and green lights help us to see the path of righteousness and the cultural errors which enables us to walk in obedience among the household of God.
Not only was this true in the days of ancient Ephesus, but it remains true for us today. When we hear of consumerism invading the church whereby people pack up their bags and move churches over simple disagreements, larger playgrounds at a church down the street, or because their grandchild decided to attend another church three miles from their current church—we’re reminded of the need to understand proper behavior among the church. When we see pastors entering the pulpit on zip lines and rock bands leading the people into a frenzy through secular music—we are reminded of the need for faithful pastors to guard the church and to regulate the church’s behavior both in relationships and worship in order to avoid error and glorify God.
Pray for your pastors. Pray that they will not be swept away by the winds of compromise. Pray for them as they seek to engage in tedious work of reforming the church that the culture has sought to deform over time.
The phrase ecclesia reformata, semper reformanda (the church reformed, always reforming) is the call of the church as a whole and it begins with those who are called to lead.
Unless a person comes to the knowledge of the truth by God’s sovereign grace, he will be forever lost in his unbelief (1 Tim. 2:4; 2Tim. 2:25). So it was with an Augustinian monk named Martin Luther. As Luther focused on Romans 1:17, God caused a divine ray of grace to fall upon the troubled monk. Suddenly, the righteousness of God was revealed to Luther—bringing him from darkness to light.
The battle cry of the Reformation was post tenebras lux, meaning “after darkness, light.” The entire movement of the Reformation was filled with light and heat. The possession of God’s knowledge among God’s people should result in a proper passion to serve God. Knowledge and zeal are closely connected. Martin Luther and the Reformers understood the balance of doctrine and duty.
Luther, in his commentary on Galatians, writes, “So we also labor by the Word of God that we may set at liberty those that are entangled, and bring them to the pure doctrine of faith, and hold them there.”
A PROPER LOVE OF GOD
Five hundred years ago, the Roman Catholic Church suppressed the promulgation of God’s Word. They demanded that everyone come and listen to lectures of the Bible in Latin, as they refused to allow the Word of God to be printed in the common man’s language.
God raised up the Reformers to bring the Bible out of the shadows. God raised up these faithful men who courageously labored to give us God’s Word in our language. Certainly, it must be recognized that the Reformation was a return to the Scriptures. The biblical words, sentences, and phrases matter because knowledge matters. God’s people love the Bible because of their love for God—not merely because of their love of knowledge.
Jesus, in quoting the Shema (Deut. 6:4–5), said, “And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength” (Mark 12:30). God wants all of us—including our minds.
A proper pursuit of God involves knowing and worshiping God with the intellect. To focus on one’s heart, soul, and strength but to bypass the mind would be a tragic mistake. James Montgomery Boice once said:
We live in mindless times, days in which millions of people are drifting along through life, manipulated by the mass media, particularly television, and hardly know it. Few give thought for their eternal souls, and most, even Christians, are unaware of any way of thinking or living other than that of the secular culture that surrounds them.
ZEAL FOR GOD
Have you ever known someone who wasted his life? How many Christians waste their knowledge? Perhaps out of timidity and fear of man, they hide their light under a basket. Consider the fact that many people join the right churches, read the right books, and attend the right conferences—but seem to lack zeal.
If you travel to Geneva and walk into St. Pierre Cathedral where John Calvin proclaimed his rich expositions, you will find the passionate motto post tenebras lux looming in the backdrop of the pulpit. This battle cry is likewise etched into the Reformation Wall on the grounds of the University of Geneva. Calvin was passionate in his pursuit of truth. He was the towering theologian of the Reformation.
However, from Calvin’s passionate preaching arose an army of zealous-hearted missionaries and preachers of God’s Word. Not only was Calvin himself zealous to serve God, but he trained many others who were filled with holy zeal. Edward Panosian writes:
From that city [Geneva], hundreds of missionaries, evangelists, and pastors traveled to all corners of the continent preaching the gospel. Their efforts, sometimes sealed with a martyr’s blood but always crowned with success, thrilled Calvin.
John Calvin’s ministry was fueled by a high view of God, and this transcendent knowledge produced a proper zeal to serve God. In a sermon on Isaiah 12:5, Calvin said:
[Isaiah] shows that it is our duty to proclaim the goodness of God to every nation. While we exhort and encourage others, we must not at the same time sit down in indolence, but it is proper that we set an example before others; for nothing can be more absurd than to see lazy and slothful men who are exciting other men to praise God.
In his letter to the church in Colossae, Paul urges his hearers on to spiritual maturity and says, “For this I toil, struggling with all his energy that he powerfully works within me” (Col. 1:29). The word translated “struggling” conveys the idea of strenuous effort. Paul was struggling or wrestling with all of his spiritual strength for the glory of God.
If you love to gain knowledge about God, but you lack a proper zeal to serve God, you must examine yourself to see if you are in the faith. We must remember the warning of James—faith without works is dead (James 2:17). Even demons are capable of possessing knowledge (v. 19). The torchlight of the gospel and the ongoing protest of the Reformation demand both knowledge and zeal for the glory of God (Rom. 12:11). Knowledge without zeal is no real knowledge at all.
We are living in an era in history where Christians enjoy traveling to historic sites to learn about the martyrs, the Reformers, and the Puritans—but very few are willing to engage in a risky defense of the gospel today.
In 2017 I had the distinct honor of traveling through Germany and preaching in a Reformation tour. During our tour, we visited the birth house and the death house of Martin Luther. We were given the opportunity of visiting the Augustinian Monastery where Luther began his journey as a monk. We toured Wittenberg, Worms, and Eisleben. Perhaps one of the most moving sites we visited was a room in the Wartburg Castle where Luther translated the Bible into German at a relentless speed of 1,500 words per day.
Eventually, the time came when Luther was unable to remain hidden away from the public eye. Luther had to leave the castle and engage in the work of the Reformation. To leave the castle was a risk worth taking for Luther. The perversion of the gospel was no molehill for Luther. The leader of the Reformation could not lead from the castle, he had to walk the streets of Wittenberg, talk to the common man in the marketplace, teach students in the classroom, defend his writings openly, and preach sermons from the pulpit. It was a risky venture.
As we survey the landscape of our Christian circles today, it’s apparent that things are not well. The modern-day reformation that we celebrated yesterday stands in need of a new reformation today. A glowing appreciation for God’s sovereignty and a love for the doctrines of grace is a wonderful thing indeed—but how quickly it is that the evangelical church can fall into error. We are living in times where confusing doctrines and trendy ideas infiltrate the church on a daily basis. The information superhighway of the Internet runs at light speed. Such a modern reformation is not possible when men remain silent and hunker down in the safety of their own personal castles.
As Charles Spurgeon surveyed the doctrinal downgrade of his day, he made a couple of very prophetic statements:
A Reformation is as much needed now as in Luther’s day, and by God’s grace we shall have it, if we trust in Him and publish His truth. 
We want such an one as Martin Luther to rise from his tomb. If Martin Luther were now to visit our so-called reformed churches, he would say with all his holy boldness, “I was not half a reformer when I was alive before, now I will make a thorough work of it. 
When it comes to a defense of the gospel, two things are necessary—courage and discernment. If one is fueled with great zeal and little discernment, he can do great harm to himself and others in the path of his sword. When we make a stand for the gospel, we must determine if we are looking at a molehill worth avoiding or a hill worthy of death. We must make our evaluation by examining the issues through the lens of the the Scriptures. We must be committed to the Reformation principle of sola Scriptura and go forward with a high view of God. Nothing else will suffice.
If a new reformation is needed we must be clear that it will not come without confrontation of error (2 Timothy 4:1-5) and confrontation of error rarely passes without controversy. Seasons of controversy call for a defense of the faith. Consider Paul who wrote to the church at Galatia in a time when the gospel was being perverted by the Judaizers. He insisted that the gospel be defended and that error must be avoided—no matter who it was who preached and published it (Gal. 1:6-9).
Martin Luther stood courageously at Worms in 1521 and put his neck on the line for the sake of the gospel. Rather than bowing down to the powerful system of his day—he refused to recant. Not only was this a bold move by Luther—it was a tremendously dangerous decision and one that exposed him to difficulty and persecution. As Robert Murray McCheyne once remarked, “We do not know the value of Christ, if we will not cleave to Him unto death!” 
John Rogers was burned at the stake under the reign of Queen Mary I (known as “Bloody Mary”). While Rogers was the man who took up the work of his mentor and friend William Tyndale and completed the Old Testament translation that Tyndale was unable to complete—Rogers’ death was for a different cause. While Tyndale was burned for his translation work, Rogers’ death was centered upon the fact that he refused to embrace the doctrine of Transubstantiation.
Jonathan Edwards was fired and dismissed from his pulpit on June 2, 1750. Edwards was forty-seven and had the responsibility of caring for his wife and eight children who were still at home. Yet, his dismissal was not based on a moral failure—it was centered on a controversy over biblical doctrine. Arguably the nation’s most brilliant and capable pastor-theologian was fired over his position on the Lord’s Supper. He rejected his grandfather’s teaching known as the Halfway Covenant which allowed unconverted people to partake of the Lord’s Supper. Edwards was faced with a decision—remain silent and protect his position as a pastor or speak up and become vulnerable. Edwards counted the cost and entered the controversy which cost him his pastorate.
When the gospel is being watered down and overshadowed by various issues that confuse the mission of the Church—men must leave their castles behind in order to engage in the defense of the gospel. Seasons of doctrinal controversy require men to put their reputations on the line for the sake of the gospel. Far too many men hide behind thick walls and peek through the window of their castle to see if it’s safe to enter the battlefields.
We’re living in a day when many people are willing to get a selfie in the streets in Oxford where the Oxford martyrs (Hugh Latimer, Nicholas Ridley, and Thomas Cranmer) died for their faith, but very few are willing to enter the fight and subject themselves to the harsh criticism of defending the faith. It’s never safe to defend the gospel (Matt. 10:22, 24:9; Luke 6:22). It may harm your reputation and complicate friendships in the process, but the gospel is worthy of such risks. It’s quite possible that preachers who stand firm on the gospel will lose speaking engagements, be rejected by publishing companies, and will be ridiculed publicly, but the question remains—is Christ worth it?
Anytime we survey doctrinal controversies in our day, we must evaluate them based on their degree of importance. Is it a hill worth dying on? Sometimes people divide over matters of eschatology or the style of music in worship services, but let’s be honest—these are not hills worthy of death. A great deal of discernment is necessary when evaluating the need to defend the faith. We should never be willing to die on a molehill, but when it comes to the purity of the gospel and the mission of the Church of Jesus Christ—this is certainly a hill worthy of death.
Do we serve the “utilitarian god” as A.W. Tozer once described the false god who labors to make a person happy and successful? Do we serve the sovereign God who is both the creator and ruler of heaven and earth? Our sovereign God has never promised us personal success and safety, but he has called us to defend the faith once delivered to the saints (Jude 1:3). When you see the mission of God’s Church and the gospel of King Jesus being maligned, misrepresented, and marginalized—will you peek out the window and hide behind your comfortable walls or enter the battlefield of controversy in order to make a defense of the gospel? Far too often good men confuse mountains for molehills. I leave you with the convicting words of Charles Spurgeon who not only entered controversy, but did so with a great deal of discernment. As he took his stand he stood unashamedly upon the authoritative Word of God:
We want again Luthers, Calvins, Bunyans, Whitefields, men fit to mark eras, whose names breathe terror in our foemen’s ears. We have dire need of such. Whence will they come to us? They are the gifts of Jesus Christ to the Church, and will come in due time. He has power to give us back again a golden age of preachers, and when the good old truth is once more preached by men whose lips are touched as with a live coal from off the altar, this shall be the instrument in the hand of the Spirit for bringing about a great and thorough revival of religion in the land.…I do not look for any other means of converting men beyond the simple preaching of the gospel and the opening of men’s ears to hear it. The moment the Church of God shall despise the pulpit, God will despise her. It has been through the ministry that the Lord has always been pleased to revive and bless His Churches. 
Charles Haddon Spurgeon, ed., The Sword and the Trowel: A Record of Combat with Sin & Labour for the Lord (London: Passmore & Alabaster, 1866), 123.
Charles Haddon Spurgeon, The New Park Street Pulpit, Vol 5 (Pasadena, Texas: Pilgrim Publications, 1981), 110–111.
Robert Murray McCheyne, Comfort in Sorrow, (Scotland: Christian Focus, 2002), 67.
Charles Haddon Spurgeon, Autobiography, Vol 2: The Full Harvest, 1860–1892, comp. Susannah Spurgeon and Joseph Harrald (London: Banner of Truth, 1962), v.
Last year I was introduced to Stephen McCaskell and I knew immediately that he was a gifted man. McCaskell uses his gifts to tell an important story from church history—one that all of us need to know. The official trailer of his new film documentary of Martin Luther was unveiled at the 2017 G3 Conference back in January. Just a couple of weeks ago, the film was released and I had the privilege to view it with my wife this past weekend. If you’re looking for a simple summary to describe it, I would say it’s historically accurate and brilliantly presented through the interviews and the motion graphics.
Why should you consider watching a documentary on the life and legacy of a man who lived 500 years ago in church history? Not only is history important, but the study of church history should be something that all Christians give themselves to at some level or another. It’s important to know where we stand in a long line of gospel people. This film on the life of Luther gives us a unique look into his life and reminds us of the importance of the Reformation.
This year marks the 500th anniversary of what’s known as the Protestant Reformation. A simple document, intended to spark a debate among the scholarly world and Roman Catholic community in Wittenberg, Germany, was nailed to the castle church door and turned into a spark that set the world ablaze. Martin Luther wanted to talk about the theology behind the selling of indulgences, and it turned into a massive world-changing controversy. This eventually led to a movement which eventually morphed into a protest.
This is a wonderful year to learn more about Martin Luther, the central figure in the Reformation. If you don’t know much about church history, this documentary will aid you in building your knowledge about the Reformation and key figures of the protest known to us as the Reformation. Often with documentaries and historical biographies, men can become giants—exaggerated to the level of super human where we often fail to remember that they too have feet of clay.
Stephen McCaskell does a great job of reminding us that Martin Luther was a unique and gifted man that God raised up for a unique purpose in church history. However, like all of us, he had both flowers and flaws. In a balanced way, McCaskell tells the story of Luther’s life and provides us a balanced view of his flaws. This is perhaps best explained by Carl Trueman in one of the sections of the documentary as he called Luther a “bull-headed man.”
As you can expect with any documentary, the film contains footage of interviews with authors, scholars, and preachers on the subject of Luther’s life and legacy. In a masterful way, these segments are woven together along with the motion graphic sections to make for a stunning presentation. McCaskell interviews some of today’s leading voices and personalities on the life and ministry of Martin Luther including R.C. Sproul, Carl Trueman, Steven Lawson, and more.
In a way that does more than attempt to memorialize Luther, the authors, theologians, and preachers who are interviewed do an excellent job of providing details pertaining to the man known as Luther. As Dr. R.C. Sproul stated, “Luther blazed the rediscovery of justification by faith alone, and he restored the church’s focus to Christ alone.”
The Motion Graphics
Not many historic documentaries use animated graphics to tell the story of a person from history, but McCaskell employs animation in his film in a natural and non-distracting manner that ads great value and appeal to the story.
No matter what your knowledge base of Martin Luther’s life and place in church history is, you will find this documentary to be a great resource for your library. Luther accurately covers the life and ministry of the central figure of the Reformation. This documentary is powerfully presented with key interviews and stunning motion graphics. This is a great time to learn about Martin Luther and the Reformation that not only rocked the false church of Rome—but impacted the entire world. This resource would be good for both a home and church library.
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.