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27th Oct 2019

The Lutheran Reformation (in commemoration of Reformation Sunday)

The Reformation of the 16th century began with Martin Luther in Germany, which took various forms and emphases in different places, particularly in Europe. Luther’s efforts were foundational to all the Reformation activities in Switzerland, France, England and Scotland. It affected not only Christianity, but also the social, economic, and political realms of those societies.

Luther stood out among all the Reformers as one who was mightily used by God to bring about biblical changes in the Christian church. All that had happened within the church regarding its doctrines and practices (sacraments, church organisation, church’s relationship with the state, etc., culminating in the Council of Trent) proceeded from Scriptural truths proclaimed passionately.

Luther’s early protest stemmed from his deep convictions about the sound doctrines of Scripture. His vehement protest through preaching of the Word helped to clear the widespread disenchantment with the church. It paved the way for people to overcome their own ignorance of the pure Scriptural doctrines and to reject the fallacious teachings of the church. He objected to its indulgences (sales of pardon or remission of sin for the living and dead, who were believed to be in purgatory), idolatry, ritualism in public worship, monastic routine, immoral and power-thirsty hierarchy, etc. He also brought to light the erroneous teaching of the Catholic Church that salvation could be achieved by faith and good works, and asserted the biblical doctrine that salvation is the gift of God’s grace through Christ, which a man receives by faith alone.

(For a brief reminiscence of Luther’s part in 16th Century Reformation, I include the following extract on Lutheran Reformation from “The Reformers and Their Reformations” by Trueman, C. R., & Kim, E. in M. Barrett (Ed.), Reformation Theology: A Systematic Summary (pp. 112–114).)

Born in 1483 in Eisleben, the son of a mine manager, Luther became an Augustinian monk in 1505 as the result of being caught in a terrifying thunderstorm. He was also ordained a priest, which meant that he would always have regular pastoral duties in addition to those connected to his monastic vocation. In 1509, he transferred to the new University of Wittenberg, where he taught for much of his remaining life. A year later, a visit to Rome on business for his order confronted him not only with the heights of medieval piety, focused on relics, but also with the corruption of the Roman See.

Luther came to prominence when, in October 1517, he nailed his famous Ninety-Five Theses against indulgences to the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg. In doing this, he was merely calling for a debate on the practice of allowing Christians to buy time off purgatory for themselves or their loved ones. This had become a pressing pastoral problem for Luther when Johann Tetzel (1465–1519) arrived nearby to sell indulgences. For Luther, this practice effectively turned the grace of God into a commodity to be bought or sold on the market, with no reference to repentance or faith.

The details of the subsequent events that this initially nondescript act precipitated have been well rehearsed many times. The Ninety-Five Theses became a popular tract and rallying point for opposition to Rome. In April 1518, Luther presided at a disputation in Heidelberg, where he most memorably articulated his famous distinction between the theologian of glory and the theologian of the cross. Put simply, the theologian of glory assumes that God is made in man’s image and thus conforms to human expectations. So, for example, to please God, one does good works to earn his favor, as one would do with a fellow human being. The theologian of the cross, however, looks to God’s revelation of himself on the cross to understand how God has chosen to be toward us. There God shows that he is strong through weakness and overcomes death not by avoiding it but by going through it. This counterintuitive God contradicts all human expectations.

After Heidelberg, Luther’s move toward a definitive break with the medieval church both theologically and ecclesiastically continued apace. The church failed to take him into custody at the imperial Diet of Augsburg in late 1518. He debated with Johann Eck (1486–1543) at the University of Leipzig in 1519, at which point the issue of authority (i.e., sola Scriptura) emerged as a central Reformation concern. He wrote the three great manifestos of his reformation project in 1520, the year in which he was also excommunicated. And then in 1521, he was tried at, yet survived, the Diet of Worms.

What emerged in the four years after the posting of the Ninety-Five Theses were the central tenets of Luther’s theology. Human beings are dead in sin, incapable of moving to God in their own strength. God himself in Christ has taken human flesh and died and risen again. The righteousness of Christ can be grasped by the believer as he trusts in God’s Word, which unites him to Christ and leads to a joyful exchange of the believer’s sins for Christ’s righteousness.

Practically, this meant that the Word preached became central to Luther’s understanding of the Christian life. The preacher had to proclaim first the law, to remind his hearers of how far short of God’s holiness they fell, and then the gospel, to point them to the promise of salvation in Christ, who had done all things for them. This law-gospel, command-promise dialectic lay at the very heart of Luther’s understanding of the Christian faith.”

Testimony on Cebu-Bohol Mission Trip by Bro. Guesstine Leong

“Therefore, if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new” (2 Corinthians 5:17).

I would like to thank and praise God for the wonderful privilege of visiting The Gethsemane Care Ministry (TGCM) in Cebu with Pr Kelvin Lim, as well as the opportunity to share my testimony at TGCM’s 10th Anniversary Thanksgiving service.

Incidentally, it was Pr Kelvin who brought me to The Gethsemane Care Ministry in Singapore upon my release from Changi Prison more than 3 years ago. During my last incarceration, I said to myself, “I never want to step inside prison again, and if I were to step inside a prison, I mustn’t be in custody, but as a volunteer to encourage the inmates!” By the grace of God, I now have a new life in Christ, and I am no longer in the bondage of drugs.

Praise God for the opportunity to visit Bro. Tibo in the Talisay City Jail in Cebu with Rev. Reggor, Pr Kelvin and Bro. Alan. The configuration of the jail and its compound is so different from Singapore’s, not to mention the culture. We literally walked in, and visited him outside the dormitory openly with those locked up with him. Of course, this was done under the escort of three jail officials. Rev. Reggor exhorted the inmates to follow Jesus, and I shared my testimony of salvation and of how the LORD led me to TGCM in Singapore. Only the truths of the Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ can set a person free from the shackles of drugs!

In the Philippines, I was told that the authorities can shoot to kill during the raids on drug dens. Many drug addicts and pushers had been killed in the raids! As a Singaporean, I had been given many opportunities by the authorities to stop using drugs, unlike those in the Philippines. Many of them did not even have an opportunity to do so, as they were killed during the raids. These facts made me realise how much God had preserved me! I am thankful to be alive, and more so to be a child of God.

Next, I would like to thank God for the opportunity to visit Pr Edsel in Bohol and to get to know / fellowship with the brethren there. I am indeed humbled by the simple lifestyle of the people. I spoke to some of them and realised their poverty. One such brother only had the means to come for worship, and not back. Yet, he came! Thank God for using this brother to teach me to love Christ more, and to worry less about the material things of this world.

Furthermore, I also thank God for the privilege of visiting two other Gospel stations at different parts of Bohol – one located at Trinidad, and the other at Anda. As one of the locations is more than 100 kilometers away, the bus ride (which was on a non-air-conditioned bus) actually took up to 3 hours! I am grateful to God for this eye-opening experience to witness firsthand the love for God among the brethren there. How they would be willing to travel hundreds of kilometers to minister the Word of God or to worship the LORD!

Posted under 'Pastoral Exhortation'