Happy Reformation Day! October 31, 2011 marks the 494th anniversary of the legendary event considered the spark that ignited the Protestant Reformation when Augustinian monk, Martin Luther, nailed the Disputation on the Power and Efficacy of Indulgences(commonly known as the 95 Theses) to the door of the castle church in Wittenberg, Germany in 1517. In the years that followed, Luther lead the movement to reform the church’s understanding of what the Bible teaches about the doctrine of justification by God’s grace alone, received through faith alone, in Christ alone, according to Scripture alone, to the glory of God alone. The Lutheran tradition would build on Luther’s work on justification, and they placed it at the center and starting point of all of the benefits of the redemption purchased
by Christ for his people. But biblical reformation of soteriology didn’t end with Luther and the Lutherans. The Reformed movement also grew alongside of the Lutheran movement, and while both were co-belligerents against the Roman doctrines of justification and the other benefits of redemption in Christ, they differed on the most biblical way to systematize these truths.
Friday on the Reformed Forum’s podcast, Christ the Center, Camden Bucey, Jim Cassidy and Jeff Waddington interviewed Dr. Lane Tipton, the new Charles Khrae Professor of Biblical and Systematic Theology at Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Dr. Tipton was allowed two hours to spell out the differences between the Lutheran and Reformed approaches to justification and many current issues related to this essential aspect of Protestant theology, such as whether Dr. Michael Horton’s academic work on the subject is moving Reformed theology toward a more Lutheran, and therefore,according to Dr. Tipton, semi-Pelagian doctrine of justification. Listen to the podcast at this link.
I was introduced to Reformed theology by Michael Horton’s materials and the Lord used his parachurch ministries Christian United for Reformation (CURE) and the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals (ACE) and the White Horse Inn radio show to gradually bring me around to embrace it. I will certainly be looking forward to a future Christ the Center program in which Dr. Horton responds to Dr. Tipton’s characterization of his work on justification and the other benefits of redemption in Christ. More public dialogue on this ought to take place, IMHO. At this point, Dr. Tipton’s case sounds convincing and more in line with the Reformed confessions and catechisms, as opposed to Dr. Horton’s efforts to, as I once heard him state on the air, build a kind of ecumenism between Reformed, Lutheran and Anglican traditions. I can see how some synthesis may be taking place in that effort. But what do I know?
Reformata, Semper Reformanda!
Here’s a helpful paragraph from D. G. Hart’s new history of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church (OPC), released at the 78th General Assembly of the OPC two weeks ago in celebration of the OPC’s 75th anniversary. Here, Hart describes J. Gresham Machen’s reasons for objecting to Princeton Seminary President, J. Ross Stevensons proposal at the 1920 General Assembly of the PCUSA “for a grand plan to unite the largest Protestant denominations into one denomination” (p. 16). Hart writes:
The disadvantage of the plan for union, as Machen and most of his Princeton colleagues pointed out, was that by entering into a united church, Presbyterians would be abandoning those aspects of Protestantism that made them Presbyterian. If predestination, infant baptism, and Presbyterian polity, for instance, were actually revealed in God’s word as true and necessary for faithful witness, how could Presbyterians give away their teaching and practice to join with Baptists, Methodists, Lutherans, and Episcopalians in a generic Protestant church? The other problem with organic union, as Machen argued in a series of articles for church periodicals, was that it was based upon doctrinal indifferentism. Union turned away from serious doctrinal and ecclesiastical differences among Protestants and implied that these were less important than the greater good that a united church could achieve by transforming American society. Opposition to this sort of ecumenism, which was directly linked to the Social Gospel’s goal of ushering in the kingdomof God, was precisely the impetus for Machen’s important book, Christianity and Liberalism (1923). Not only did he argue that Christianity and liberalism were two different religions, and so liberalism needed to be excluded from the church. Machen also showed how American Protestant interdenominational cooperation stemmed from an indifference to Christian teaching and so distorted the gospel into a message of works righteousness.
D. G. Hart, Between the Times: The Orthodox Presbyterian Church in Transition, 1945-1990 (2011, The Committee for the Historian of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church,Willow Grove,PA), pp. 16-17. opc.org/publications.html Check out Hart’s blog, Old Life: Reformed Faith and Practice.