Monday, October 31, 2011

A Brief History of Martin Luther, Part 9

Luther Burns The Papal Bull:

Luther, expecting the bull, turned the tables on the Pope, who was the heretic according to the Scriptures. He wrote a Latin and German tract “Against the bull of Antichrist,” calling it a “cursed, impudent, devilish bull.” His ferocious anger against the bull bordered on frenzy. He went so far as to say that no one who adhered to the bull could be saved. So, Luther resolved on a symbolic act that would cut off all possibility of retreat. The Pope had ordered all of his books burned, without distinction, to be burnt, and they actually were burnt at several places. Luther wanted to show that he could burn books, too. Returning fire for fire, Luther gave notice of his intention, and on December 10, 1520, at 9 AM, in the presence of a large number of professors and students, he committed the papal bull to the flames with these words of Joshua, “As thou [the Pope] hast vexed the Holy One of the Lord, may the eternal fire vex thee!" (Joshua 7:25). The spot where this happened can still be seen today.

Burning the Pope’s bull was the most audacious and evocative act of his entire life. For by it he defied the greatest power on earth, a power before which emperors, kings and princes bowed in reverence and awe. It was the signal of absolute separation from Rome and it destroyed the effect of all future papal bulls on half of Western Europe. It liberated Luther and the whole Protestant whole from the unbearable tyranny of the papacy.

Friday, October 28, 2011

A Brief History of Martin Luther, Part 8

The Disputation of Leipzig:

The agreement between Militz and Luther was short-lived. Before the matter could be settled by a German bishop, it was revived by a violation of promise by both sides. A disputation between Luther and Eck was held in a large hall of the Castle of Pleissenburg at Leipzig, under the sanction of Duke George of Saxony. The debates were in Latin, but Luther broke out occasionally in his more vigorous German. The primary interest of the disputation hinged on the authority of the Pope and the infallibility of the Church. Eck maintained that the Pope is Peter’s successor and Christ’s vicar by divine right. Luther argued that this claim is contrary to Scripture, to the ancient church and to the Council of Nicaea and rests only on the decrees of Roman pontiffs. Luther concluded his argument saying, “I am sorry that the learned doctor only dips into the Scripture as the water-spider into the water - nay, that he seems to flee from it as the Devil from the Cross. I prefer, with all deference to the Fathers, the authority of the Scripture, which I herewith recommend to the arbiters of our cause."

Both parties claimed victory, but Luther was quite dissatisfied and felt that the whole event had been a waste of time. However, he had made a deep impression on many of the students at Leipzig, who soon transferred to Wittenberg. In the end, Luther always benefited more from the controversies than his enemies did.

The real importance of the debates is that it marks a progress in Luther’s liberation from the papal system. From this time on, he embarked on a ground-breaking crusade against the Roman Church until the anarchical dissentions among his own followers drove him back to a more conservation position. Nevertheless, after the Leipzig debate, Luther lost all hope of reforming the Roman Church. He was now fully prepared for a bull of excommunication.

This begins the great stormy period of his life which culminated in the Diet of Worms. Having recently learned from the book of Laurentius Valla, republished by Ulrich von Hutten, that the Donation of Constantine, by which this emperor conferred on Pope Sylvester and his successors the temporal sovereignty not only over the Lateran Palace, but also over Rome, Italy, and the whole West, was a baseless forgery of the dark ages. He therefore issued in rapid succession his three most effective reformatory works: "Address to the German Nobility," the "Babylonian Captivity of the Church," and the, "Freedom of a Christian Man."

After the Leipzig debate, Eck went to Rome and did everything possible to secure the condemnation of Luther and his followers. He was finally able to secure the bull of excommunication on June 15, 1520. 

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

A Brief History of Martin Luther, Part 7

The 95 Theses:

After some serious reflection, and without consulting any of his friends, Luther resolved upon a public act of unforeseen consequences. He chose the orderly and usual way of a learned academic disputation. So, on the memorable 31st of October, 1517, he fastened to the doors of the castle-church at Wittenberg, ninety-five Latin Theses on the subject of indulgences, and invited a public discussion. At the same time he sent notice of this to Archbishop Albrecht of Mainz, and to Bishop Hieronymus Scultetus, to whose diocese Wittenberg belonged. He chose the eve of All Saints’ Day (Nov. 1), because this was one of the most frequented feasts, and attracted professors, students, and people from all directions to the church, which was filled with precious relics.

No one accepted the challenge. No discussion took place. The professors and students of Wittenberg all agreed with the practice of indulgences. But history itself seems to have taken up the discussion and defense. Within a few weeks, the Theses were copied, translated, printed and spread throughout Germany and Europe. The speedy circulation of the Theses was due to the perfect freedom of the press. There was no censorship or copyrights. Luther’s Theses found an enthusiastic response from liberal scholars and enemies of monastic obscurantism, from German patriots who longed for freedom from Italian rule, and from thousands of ordinary Christians waiting for a man who would give utterance to their feelings of anger against existing abuses, and to their desire for a pure, scriptural religion.

On the other hand, the Theses were strongly attacked and condemned by the Episcopal and clerical hierarchy. Luther, then still a poor emaciated monk, was at first frightened by the unexpected effect. Many of his friends worried. One told him, “You tell the truth, good brother, but you will accomplish nothing; go to your cell, and say, God have mercy upon me." The main opponents of Luther were Tetzel of Leipzig, Conrad Wimpina of Frankfurt-on-the-Oder, and the more learned and formidable John Eck of Ingolstadt, formerly a friend of Luther, but now his irreconcilable foe. They injured their case in the public eye by their weak defense. They could produce no support for their doctrine and practice of indulgences from Scripture or the Greek and Latin Fathers. They relied solely upon exaggerated views on the Pope’s authority. They even went so far as to advocate papal infallibility, which was still an open question in the Roman Church, and remained so until 1870.

Luther gathered nerve. He felt that he had begun this business for the glory of God and was ready to sacrifice even his life for his honest conviction. He now began to develop his formidable polemical power, especially in his German writings. He had full command over the vocabulary of common sense, wit, irony, slander and abuse. Unfortunately, he often resorted to coarse and vulgar expressions which, even in that semi-barbarous age, offended men of culture and taste.

He debated fiercely against the authority of the Pope. This brought him into a direct conflict with the Pope, though he still hoped for a favorable hearing from Leo X, whom he personally respected. He dedicated to Leo a defense of his Theses in May of 1518.

By October, 1518 he was summoned to appear before the papal legate, Cardinal Cajetan. They had three interviews (Oct. 12, 13, 14). Cajetan assured Luther of his friendship, but still demanded a retraction of his errors and absolute submission to the Pope. Luther resolutely refused. Cajetan threatened him with excommunication, already with the papal mandate in his hand. Cajetan dismissed Luther with the words,”Revoke or do not come into my presence again.”

Luther made his escape from Augsburg, with the aid of an escort provided by friends. He rode a worn-out horse. He reached Wittenberg on the first anniversary of his 95 Theses. He immediately published a report of his conference and wrote a letter to the Elector exposing Cajetan’s unfairness. Before he left Augsburg, he left an appeal to the Pope with Cajetan – “for the Pope ill-informed to the Pope to be better informed.” He quickly appealed to the Pope for a general council, and thus fully expected the papal sentence of excommunication.

But before this final judgment, one more attempt was made to silence Luther. Pope Leo sent his nuncio, Karl von Militz. On his journey, Militz discovered a wide-spread and growing sympathy with Luther. He held a conference with Luther in the house of Spalatin at Altenburg on January 6, 1519. He was very polite and friendly. He blamed Tetzel for the scandal that the Theses had caused. He used all his powers of persuasion to convince Luther not to divide the Holy Catholic Church.

Militz and Luther agreed that the matter should be settled by a German bishop instead of going to Rome. Luther promised to ask the pardon of the Pope, and to warn the people against the sin of separating from the holy mother-church. After this agreement they partook of a social supper, and parted with a kiss. Miltitz must have felt very proud of his masterpiece of diplomacy.

In a letter to the Pope, dated March 3, 1519, Luther expressed deep humility and denied that he ever desired to injure the Roman Church, which was over every other power in heaven and on earth, save only Jesus Christ the Lord over all. Yet he repudiated the idea of retracting his conscientious convictions.

At the same time, Luther continued a careful study of history and found no trace of popery and its extravagant claims before the hallowed Council of Nicaea. He also discovered that the Papal Decretals and the Donation of Constantine were forgeries. He wrote Spalatin on March 13, 1519, saying, “I do not know whether the Pope is Antichrist himself or his apostle; so wretchedly is Christ corrupted and crucified by him in the Decretals.” 

Monday, October 24, 2011

A Brief History of Martin Luther, Part 6

Luther Angered By The Indulgences:

Luther was provoked to speak out against this profane practice when Tetzel, the famous hawker of indulgences came to Jüterbog, a few hours from Wittenberg. Tetzel was born somewhere between 1450 and 1460. He began his career as a preacher of indulgences. Protestant writers depict him as an ignorant, noisy, impudent, and immoral charlatan, who was not ashamed to boast that he saved more souls from purgatory by his letters of indulgence than St. Peter did by his preaching. Roman Catholic historians defend him as a learned and zealous servant of the church. His private character was certainly tainted, if we are to credit the papal nuncio, Karl von Miltitz, who had the best resources of information, and charged him with avarice, dishonesty, and sexual immorality.

Tetzel traveled with great pomp through Germany, proclaiming everywhere the indulgences of the Pope. He was received like an angel from heaven. Priests, monk, magistrates, men, women and children marched in great processions with songs and candles to meet him and his fellow monks. Tetzel displayed the papal Bull on a velvet cushion. This was placed on a high altar where a red cross draped in a silk banner bearing the papal arms was set up in front of it. Beneath the cross was placed a large iron chest for the indulgence money. Tetzel here spoke those notorious words: “A soul flies from Purgatory as soon as the penny tinkles in the box."

The common people made no distinction between the guilt of sin and its punishment, so they eagerly embraced this rare offer of salvation from punishment. The Elector of Saxony would not allow Tetzel to set up his trade in his territory for fear that he might take too much money from his subjects. So this is why Tetzel set up his trade on the border of Saxony, at Jüterbog.

Luther had experienced remission of sins as a gift of free grace. This was diametrically opposed to the system of forgiveness by payment of money. It was a conflict of principles.

Thus, he could not be silent when the traffic of indulgences came so near to the borders of his sphere of ministry. As a preacher, a pastor, and a professor, he felt it to be his duty to protest against such measures: to be silent was to betray his theology and his conscience. 

Friday, October 21, 2011

A Brief History of Martin Luther, Part 5

Luther Becomes a Professor at Wittenberg:

Luther was called by Staupitz to Wittenberg and arrived there in October, 1508. He was called back to Erfurt in autumn of 1509. He was sent to Rome in 1510. He returned to Wittenberg in 1511 and stayed there till a few days before his death in1546. He first lectured on scholastic philosophy. But he soon devoted himself exclusively to theology, which was much more congenial to his taste. By contemporary standards, he was well equipped for his position. By modern standards he was quite ill-equipped. Although he was a Doctor of Divinity, for several years he relied almost exclusively on the Latin version of the Scriptures. Very few professors knew Greek, and still less knew Hebrew. Luther had acquired a superficial idea of Hebrew at Erfurt. The Greek he learned at Wittenberg, we do not know exactly when. His labor in translating the Bible forced him into a closer familiarity with the original languages, though he never attained to mastery.

Luther began his theological teaching with David and Paul. These became the pillars of his theology. His first original work in German was an exposition of the seven Penitential Psalms. This was in 1517. It was a suiting introduction to his Theses, for in these he set forth true evangelical repentance. In this exposition he set forth the doctrines of sin and grace and the comfort of the gospel for the understanding of the common people.

Luther did not have any idea yet of reforming the Catholic Church – and still less did he plan to separate from it. He considered himself a good Catholic even in 1517. He still prayed devoutly to the Virgin Mary from the pulpit, and he believed in the intercession of the saints. He celebrated mass fully believing in the repetition of the sacrifice of the cross and the miracle of transubstantiation.

Christ began his public ministry with an ejection of the traffickers of the temple court. Likewise, the Reformation began with a protest against the traffic in indulgences that profaned and degraded the Christianity.

According to the Roman legal code indulgence was a term of amnesty from punishment. In ecclesiastical Latin it meant the temporal (not eternal) remission from the punishment of sin on the condition that money was given to the Church or to some charity. The practice of indulgences grew out of a custom of the Northern and Western barbarians to substitute pecuniary compensation for punishment or an offense. The church favored this custom in order to avoid bloodshed, but did wrong in applying it to religious offenses. After the Crusades, the granting of indulgences degenerated into a regular traffic, and became a source of ecclesiastical and monastic wealth. Most of the profits went into the papal treasury. The idea of buying and selling the remission of punishment and release from purgatory had roused protest from earnest minds long before Luther, but without much effect. 

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

A Brief History of Martin Luther, Part 4

Luther’s Conversion:

With help from the old monk and Staupitz, but especially from the study of Paul’s Epistles, Luther gradually was brought to the conviction that the sinner is justified by faith alone, without works of law. By the end of his convent life he came to the conclusion that “the righteousness of God” (Rom. 1:17) is the righteousness which God freely gives in Christ to those who believe in him. Righteousness is not to be attained through man’s own exertions and merits. Rather, it is complete and perfect in Christ, and all the sinner has to do is to accept it from Him as a free gift. Justification is that judicial act of God whereby he acquits the sinner of guilt and clothes him with the righteousness of Christ on the sole condition of personal faith which apprehends and appropriates Christ and shows its life and power by good works, as a good tree bringing forth good fruits. This experience acted like a new revelation on Luther. It shed light upon the whole Bible and made it a book of life and comfort. He felt relieved of the terrible load of guilt by an act of free grace. From then on the doctrine of justification by faith alone was the very substance of the Gospel and the heart of theology. He measured every other doctrine and the value of every book of the Bible by this standard. That is the reason for his great enthusiasm for Paul, and his dislike of James, whom he could not reconcile with his favorite apostle.

In this way Luther’s monastic and ascetic life was a preparation for his evangelical faith. It was the tutor that lead him to Christ (Rom. 3:20; Gal. 3:24). He was ordained to the priesthood, and on May 2, 1507, he said his first mass. This was a great event in the life of a priest. He was so overwhelmed by the gravity of offering the tremendous sacrifice for the living and the dead that he nearly fainted at the altar.

An interesting event in his training for the Reformation was his visit to Rome. In the fall of 1510 he was sent to Rome at the suggestion of Staupitz, who wished to bring about a disciplinary reform of the Augustinian convents in Germany. Rome was filled with enthusiasm for the renaissance of classical literature and art, but was unconcerned with religion. Julius II, pope from 1503 to 1513, bent all his energies on the enhancement of the secular dominion of the papacy by means of an immoral diplomacy and bloody wars. When Luther came in sight of the city, he exclaimed, “Hail to thee, holy, Rome! Thrice holy for the blood of martyrs shed here.” In his own words, he ran around like a “crazy saint” going to all the churches, crypts and catacombs with an unquestioning faith in the legendary traditions about the relics and miracles of martyrs. He even climbed the 28 steps of the Scala Santa (said to have been transported from the Judgment Hall of Pontius Pilate in Jerusalem), on his knees. But at every step he seemed to hear the word of the Scripture as a protest in his ear: "The just shall live by faith" (Rom. 1:17). So here, even at the height of his ascetic career he doubted its efficacy in giving peace to the troubled conscience. This doubt was strengthened by everything he saw around him. He was shocked by the unbelief, levity and immorality of the clergy.
Money and luxurious living seemed to have replaced apostolic poverty and self-denial.

In the year 1502 Frederick III, surnamed the Wise, Elector of Saxony, founded a new University at Wittenberg. Wittenberg was a poor and badly built town of about three thousand inhabitants in a dull, sandy, sterile plain on the banks of the Elbe, and owes its fame entirely to the fact that it became the nursery of the Reformation theology. Luther says that it lay a few steps from barbarism, and speaks of its citizens as wanting in culture, courtesy and kindness. He felt at times strongly tempted to leave it. Melanchthon complained that he could not get a decent meal at Wittenberg. The university was opened October 18, 1502. The organization was entrusted to Dr. Pollich and to Staupitz, the first Dean of the theological faculty, who fixed his eye on his friend

Wittenberg soon overshadowed its powerful rivals in Erfurt and Leipzig by the new theology. The number of students was four hundred and sixteen in the first semester, then declined to fifty-five in 1505, partly in consequence of the pestilence, began to rise again in 1507, and when Luther and Melanchthon stood on the summit of their fame, they attracted thousands of pupils from all countries of Europe. At times Melanchthon heard eleven languages spoken at his table.

Monday, October 17, 2011

A Brief History of Martin Luther, Part 3

Luther Becomes a Monk:

In the summer of 1505 Luther entered the Augustinian convent at Erfurt and became a monk. His father nearly went crazy when he heard the news. Later in life, Luther declared that his monastic vow was forced from him by terror and the fear of death and the judgment to come, yet he never doubted that God’s hand was in it.

The Augustinian convent at Erfurt became the cradle of the Lutheran Reformation. Luther was a sincere, conscientious monk. It was significant that the order Luther joined bore the name of the greatest Latin father who, next to St. Paul, was to be Luther’s chief teacher of theology and religion. But it is an error to suppose that this order represented the anti-Pelagian or evangelical views of the North African father. In fact, it was intensely catholic in doctrine, and given to excessive worship of the Virgin Mary, and obedience to the papal see which conferred upon it many special privileges.

At the end of 1505 Luther promised to live until death in poverty and chastity, to render obedience to Almighty God, to the Virgin Mary, and to the prior of the monastery. For the next two years he diligently read the Scriptures and the latter Scholastic theologians. He observed the tiniest details of discipline. No one surpassed him in prayer, fasting, night watches, and self-mortification. He was already held up as a model of sanctity. "If ever," he said afterward, "a monk got to heaven by monkery, I would have gotten there."

He was disappointed in his hopes to escape sin and temptation behind the cloister walls. He found no peace in all his pious exercises. The more he advanced externally, the more he felt the burden of sin within. He had to contend with temptations of anger, envy, hatred and pride. He saw sin everywhere, even in the smallest trifles. The Scriptures impressed upon him the terrors of divine justice. He could not trust in God as a reconciled Father, as a God of love and mercy but trembled before him, as a God of wrath, as a consuming fire. He could not get over the words: "I, the Lord thy God, am a jealous God." His confessor once told him: "You are a fool, God is not angry with you, but you are angry with God." He remembered this afterward as "a great and glorious word," but at that time it made no impression on him. He could not point to any particular transgression; it was sin as an all-pervading power and vitiating principle, sin as a corruption of nature, sin as a state of alienation from God and hostility to God that weighed on his mind and brought him often to the brink of despair. In this state of mental and moral agony, Luther was comforted by an old monk of the convent who reminded him of the article on the forgiveness of sins in the Apostles’ Creed, of Paul’s word that the sinner is justified by grace through faith, and of an incidental remark of St. Bernard (in a Sermon on the Canticles) to the same effect.

His best friend and wisest counselor was Johann von Staupitz, Doctor of Divinity and Vicar-General of the Augustinian convents in Germany. Staupitz was Luther’s spiritual father. He encouraged Luther to enter the priesthood (1507), and brought him to Wittenberg. He convinced him to take the degree of Doctor of Divinity, and to preach. 

Friday, October 14, 2011

A Brief History of Martin Luther, Part 2

Luther Enters The University:

When he was 18, in 1501, he entered the University of Erfurt which had been founded in 1392 and was one of the best in Germany. By this time his father was able to assist him so that he was free of care and could acquire a little library. His main studies were scholastic philosophy, namely: logic, rhetoric, physics and metaphysics. He also studied the ancient classics. In this way he was able to acquire sufficient mastery of Latin to write it with clearness and vigor, although not with elegance and refinement.

He had an unblemished moral character and his reputation was not sullied for sharp and scathing language until after his theological passions were roused by the Reformation. He went to mass regularly and observed the daily devotions of a sincere Catholic. His motto was: to pray well is half the study. He was a devout worshipper of the Virgin Mary.

He was 20 when he first saw a complete Bible in the University library. He was surprised to find that it contained far more than he heard explained in the churches. He began a systematic study of the Bible once he entered the convent. He was very concerned about his personal salvation and given to gloomy reflections over his sinful condition. Once he fell dangerously ill, and was seized with a fit of despair, but an old priest comforted him, saying: "My dear Baccalaureus, be of good cheer; you will not die in this sickness: God will yet make a great man out of you for the comfort of many."

He graduated Bachelor of Arts in 1502 and Master of Arts in 1505. This degree was bestowed with great solemnity. Speaking of the ceremony, Luther said, “What a moment of majesty and splendor was that when one took the degree of Master, and torches were carried before him. I consider that no temporal or worldly joy can equal it." His talents and attainments were the wonder of the University.

Luther now began to prepare himself for the profession of lawyer, after his father’s wishes. But certain circumstances opened a new path for his life. The events that led to this sudden step we gather from his fragmentary utterances which have been embellished by legendary tradition. He was shocked by the sudden death of a friend. Shortly afterward, on July 2, 1505 he was overtaken by a violent thunderstorm near Erfurt on his return from a visit to his parents, and was so frightened that he fell to the earth and tremblingly exclaimed: "Help, beloved Saint Anna! I will become a monk." 

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

A Brief History of Martin Luther, Part 1

Then I grasped that the justice of God is that righteousness by which through grace and sheer mercy God justifies us through faith. Therefore I felt myself to be reborn and to have gone through open doors into paradise – Martin Luther

Luther’s Youth:

Although Christianity was agreeable to their instincts, the Germans were never at home under the rule of the papacy. The medieval conflict between the Emperor and the pope kept up a political antagonism against foreign rule. More than 100 complaints against Roman misrule were brought before the Diet of Nürnberg in 1522. The mysticism of the 13 and 14 centuries fostered love for a piety of less form and more heart. Hence, Erasmus says that when Luther published his Theses, the whole world applauded him. 1 "Totus illi magno consensu applausit." In a letter of Dec. 12, 1524, to Duke George of Saxony who was opposed to the Reformation. Cited in Schaff, History of the Christian Church, vol. VII, chap. 2

Luther, like all the Reformers, was a man of humble origins. Of all the Reformers Luther is the first. He is so closely identified with the German Reformation that the one would have no meaning without the other. No other Reformer has given his name to the church he reformed.

Martin Luther was born Nov. 10, 1483, an hour before midnight, at Eisleben in Prussian Saxony, where he died, Feb. 18, 1546. He was baptized on the next day and received the name of the saint of the day. His parents had recently moved to Eisleben from Mahra near Eisenach in Thuringia, where Boniface had first preached the gospel to the Germans. Six months later they settled in Mansfeld. His parents were very poor. They were, however, pious, industrious and honest people from the lower class. Luther was never ashamed of his humble origins. His mother had to carry the wood from the forest, on her back, and father and mother, as he said, "worked their flesh off their bones," to bring up seven children (he had three younger brothers and three sisters).

Luther had a hard childhood and was brought up strict discipline. On one occasion, his mother beat him until blood flowed for stealing a nut. His father once flogged him so badly that he ran away for a while. But Luther recognized their good intentions. In the Luther home, he was taught to pray to God and the saints, to admire the church and the priests, and was told scary stories about the devil and witches, stories that haunted his imagination the rest of his life.

Discipline was equally severe in school. Luther remembered being chastised no less than fifteen times in a single morning. But he had also better things to say about school. He learned the Catechism, i.e.: the Creed, the Lord’s Prayer, and the Ten Commandments, and several Latin and German hymns. He received his elementary education in the schools of Mansfeld, Magdeburg, and Eisenach. By the age of 14 he had to support himself by singing in the street. His lack of refined breeding showed its effects in his writings and actions. It limited his influence in the higher classes, but strengthened his influence over the middle and lower classes.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Why Trichotomy is Wrong 3 F, The Errors It Spawns

3F Various Other Errors

As if the last 5 posts weren't enough to expose Trichotomy for the false doctrine that it most definitely is, we will conclude this series today by looking at a few other assorted erroneous theological consequences of Trichotomy.

1. Let us consider first what Trichotomy means for the doctrine of regeneration. On the Trichotomist scheme, regeneration is the miracle which occurs when God gives us a new spirit, since we are spiritually dead. Christians are said to have a new life which unbelievers do not possess. God has given us a new spirit, or as some prefer to put it, God has created in us a new spirit. B.B. Warfield clearly saw the inherent theological flaw in the Trichotomist scheme. He writes, "Thus the man is not saved after all; a different newly created man is substituted for him. When the old man is got rid of - and that the old man has to be ultimately got rid of [we do] not doubt - the saved man that is left is not at all the old man that was to be saved, but a new man that has never needed saving." (B.B. Warfield, Review of "He That Is Spiritual," by Lewis Sperry Chafer.) Warfield's point, while apparently philosophically obtuse, is actually a very valid objection. If regeneration means that the "old man" who was me is no more and has been replaced by a "new man" by God's miraculous act of creating a new spirit, then I am no longer me. If I replace an apple tree with a cherry tree, I no longer have the same tree. In other words: I was not saved; I was made into a man that didn't even need to be saved.

2. Trichotomy also allows for the false doctrine of free-will. The body, since it is flesh, we are told tends toward evil - and we are said to be spiritually dead. But the soul remains magically unaffected by the Fall into sin, therefore it is able, when properly induced, to make a decision to accept Christ and savingly believe on Him. Trichotomist anthropology lets its adherents appear to take seriously the passages of Scripture which speak of men as dead in their fallen sinful condition, while at the same time, making full allowances for this Baal of free-will. In the final analysis, this makes man's will, and not God's grace, to be the final arbiter and determining factor of each man's eternal destiny. If we reject Trichotomy, we are left with a man who is composed of two elements, a body and a soul, both of which are ruined by sin. Thus any hope of salvation must reside in God's good pleasure and not in man's pretended abilities to do that which is diametrically opposed to his nature. Fish can't fly; neither can dead sinners resurrect themselves.

3. Trichotomy is responsible also for many of the more flagrant errors of Pentecostalism and Charismaticism. Let's consider the issue of Tongues again for a moment. If I edify myself by speaking in a language which my mind does not understand, why is an interpreter required by Paul when I do this in church? If I can edify myself by hearing my babbling of unintelligible syllables, why can't the rest of the church be edified by hearing the same uninterpreted things which edify me? This alone is sufficient to demolish the whole modern tongues-speaking movement. It is obvious from the text that the speaker understood what he was saying in a language he knew but with which the rest of his hearers were unlearned. This is why his understanding was unfruitful. He knew what he was saying, but no one else did. I speak Tagalog fluently. If I were to stand up in a small country church in rural America and speak in Tagalog, I may edify myself by the wondrous truths I was proclaiming, but my understanding would be unfruitful because no one else in the room would benefit from my understanding without an interpreter.

4. Another potential danger of Trichotomy is dualism. By elevating the "realm of the spirit" over the body, i.e., by understanding the spirit to be higher than the body and soul, one creates an unscriptural dichotomy between the material and immaterial. This is plain old Greek speculative philosophy. It pits spirit against soul and body in a way that is unjustifiable. Matter is not evil. God proved this by (1) creating it in the first place, (2) by the Incarnation, and (3) by the promise of resurrection. If matter is inherently evil, how can we maintain that a good God created it? This is exactly what the ancient dualistic heretics did. If the body, as matter, is inherently bad, how can we maintain that Christ took on human flesh? If Christ did not take on human flesh, we are still in our sins, because a hologram cannot die. If our bodies, as matter, are inherently bad, how can we hope for their resurrection? Killing a flawed inferior thing is a good thing. It does not gain dignity simply by being brought back to life. Let me anticipate a question here, too. Why, you might ask, is the soul considered with the body as part of the lower nature of man and not up with the spirit in the higher nature? It is for this reason. "The most familiar, but also the crudest form of Trichotomy is that which takes the body for the material part of man's nature, the soul as the principle of animal life, and the spirit as the God-related rational and immortal element in man" (Louis Berkhof, Systematic Theology).

You might object that no professing Christian holds to such false views of the body. I beg to differ. Even if Trichotomists denied belief in such propositions, this would not make them invalid consequences of their system, mind you. Once you divide man into superior and inferior parts - and you put soul and body down into the inferior category, you have nowhere to go logically but to dualism. If you pit the spirit against the soul as the animal life of the body, soul and body must be viewed, and accordingly treated, as inherently bad. This has been proven repeatedly by Church history. Monasticism is a case in point. Why did men and women deprive themselves of sleep and food? Why did Simon sit on the top of a pole for decades? Why did countless monks sleep on the ground and not in beds? Why did they wear hair shirts? Because they saw their bodies as part of a lower nature with the soul, that was necessary to keep under wraps if one was to nourish and nurture his higher, i.e., spiritual nature. Animals eat, drink, bathe, breed, sleep, etc. If we are higher than animals, and the soul is the animal life of the body, then these impulses must be subdued if one wishes to be spiritual. Why was poverty considered such a noble state? To read some of the medieval mystics, or John Wesley for that matter, you'd think that being poor was already a deeply spiritual accomplishment on its own. If one had to choose between poverty and even sufficient provisions, there was no doubt in these people's minds that poverty was the more spiritual option. This foolishness is also what was behind the whole celibacy movement as well. How could a person who enjoys the bodily pleasures associated with the marriage bed be as spiritual as one who has deprived himself of such? Again, nothing in Scripture even remotely suggests that we should ask this question.

5. There is another potential Trinitarian error inherent in Trichotomy. If you recall when we dealt with the false teaching of the 'carnal Christian,' we quoted Chuck Smith, an advocate of such teaching, as saying, "We meet God in the realm of our spirit." Many people have misunderstood John's phrase "in the Spirit" (Revelation 1:10) to be describing a different realm or dimension of reality. This is an extremely dangerous idea. It depersonalizes the Holy Spirit into a 'force' or a 'dimension.' Think of Frank Peretti's novels. There is the realm of the physical and a spiritual realm in which is mirrored all the events of the physical realm. This spawned all the strange idea current in our days regarding 'spiritual warfare.' Christians, through mind-denigrating spiritual exercises can somehow influence unseen things in this spiritual realm, which in turn, impact events in the physical realm. There is nothing new under the sun. The Manicheans of old held the same view of reality. By referring to the Spirit as a realm, the Trinity is denied. The doctrine of the Trinity teaches us that God is one, and that He exists in one divine Essence, yet subsists in three Persons. 'Person' is the operative word. A realm is not a person. This seems to me to be latently pantheistic. Pantheism is the belief that God is the sum total of all existence. In other words, everything is God and God is everything. If my spirit and your spirit and God's Spirit are a realm, then they are all by definition one common realm of common experience for us all - which means that my spirit and God's are essentially the same thing. How can I distinguish my own spirit from God's? This is pantheism. If my spirit is a dimension or realm for experiencing the divine and your spirit is an entirely different realm, then there could be no talk of a "realm of the spirit." We would have to allow for an innumerable multitude of these "realms." But no one speaks this way. Trichotomists constantly and consistently speak of one "realm of the spirit." This has at least a tinge of pantheism in it. Therefore it is no surprise when the spiritual exercises proposed to nurture the spirit are identical, whether they be "Christian" or Pantheist. It also explains why their form of the spiritual gift of a "words of knowledge" looks suspiciously like mind-reading or a Vulcan mind-meld. We reiterate: the Holy Spirit is not a realm, a force, or a dimension of experience. Speaking this way is an implicit denial of the Trinity. Incautiousness in speech begets wrong ideas; wrong ideas beget false doctrine; false doctrine begets more false doctrine; and false doctrine damns, especially when it spawns idolatrous notions about the Godhead. Other doctrines may be negotiable; doctrines about God and His nature are not.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Why Trichotomy is Wrong 3 E, The Errors It Spawns

3E. Gnosticism

I have restrained myself thus far from equating Trichotomy with Gnosticism, but now I must restrain myself no longer. For those who are unfamiliar with Church history, Trichotomy was toyed with by thinkers around the fringes of Christianity in the 2nd and 3rd Centuries. It was basically rejected monolithically by orthodox theologians as a speculative Greek philosophical notion rather than a biblical teaching. It was the Gnostics who adhered to this tri-partite division of man into body, soul and spirit. Just to clarify what we’re saying, Gnostics were heretics who claimed to have access to secret knowledge that only those who were initiated into their “mysteries” could learn. Gnosticism is generally defined as the belief and/or practice of attaining 'secret knowledge.' The word derives from the Greek 'gnosis' which means knowledge. More specifically Gnosticism is communion with God without means. Many of the screwball teachings I described in the previous post are Gnostic. How so? They do not derive from Scripture. So how did their purveyors come by them? By an appeal to a personal, private, secret revelation from God. This is what I meant by "communion with God without means." It is an attempt to deal directly with God without Christ the Mediator and without Word and Sacrament.

Now you may say to me, "People in the Bible communed with God without means, didn't they?" On the whole, no they didn't.  Yes, there were instances of this, but they were few and far between. Moreover these people were called Prophets and Apostles. The direct unmediated revelation they received was intended by God to be added to the canon of Scripture. God never dealt with anyone in this way except to expand the canon of Scripture. God alone can do this. And once Revelation was completed, this is no longer a live option since God Himself places a curse on anyone who would dare add to the canon. Gnosticism places one above the Prophets and Apostle since their revelations are intended, not to be added to the canon, but for personal, private edification. Gnosticism claims to receive revelations intended only for the recipient. This make the Gnostic greater than Apostles and Prophets. And it makes Scripture superfluous.

Benny Hinn, as well as many other Charismatics, teaches (or at least he taught this at one time) that Christ underwent spiritual death. Kenneth Copeland amplifies this further by saying that when Christ bore our sins, He died spiritually and was born again in hell. Now I am not going to refute this idiocy here. But let me note something important relating to our subject. Hinn did not come by this teaching through serious study of Scripture. Nobody could. Nor did he arrive at his 9-person trinity from meditating on the Scriptures. Nobody could. No, these were direct revelations to him from God, so he claims. He has since backpedaled on some of his more egregious heretical teachings. But that is not enough. If I once believed something because I misunderstood Scripture and now I no longer believe it, well and good. This is growth. But this is not true in Hinn's case. He did not, according to his own claims, misunderstand Scripture. No, he claims to have received these blasphemous teachings directly by divine revelation. So a mea culpa is not really an option for him, especially since he still claims to receive doctrine in this manner.

Hinn, of course, is an extreme example. But that is precisely my point. We now have 'Evangelicals' like Richard Foster, Dallas Willard and Scott Hodge advocating the unscriptural, mystic, pantheist 'contemplative prayer' of the medieval Roman Catholic mystics. The numbers of men advocating, or at least courting these practices, is steadily growing. At its core, it is Eastern mysticism - which as I have repeatedly asserted, is inherently pantheistic. It has more in common with Jedi religion than Christianity. One is encouraged to quiet the soul and clear the mind of all thought. This is Satanic. Nowhere in Scripture are we taught to empty our minds of all thought so that we can commune with God. This is more Hinduism than Christianity.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Why Trichotomy is Wrong 3 D, The Errors It Spawns

3D. Anti-intellectualism

This is a very difficult subject to handle for two reasons. First, it is very hard to talk about the anti-intellectualism that Trichotomy is responsible for without sounding uncharitable. I have a natural sarcastic streak in me anyway, and much of what passes for Evangelical teaching literally begs to be made fun of. So I admit that it is very hard to demonstrate how this anti-intellectualism works without sounding unnecessarily harsh. Secondly, much of this same teaching is clearly Gnostic in origin. I plan to treat Gnosticism as a separate offspring of Trichotomy.

I have argued already that Scripture teaches that cognitive understanding is in one's spirit, thus further demonstrating the proposition we already made that the Bible uses soul and spirit interchangeably. It is important to remember this while we proceed.

How does Trichotomy breed anti-intellectualism? And even if it does, is this wrong? First of all, we must answer that, yes, it is wrong because Christ explicitly commands us to love God with all of our mind. A love for God which neglects the mind is disobedient at best. But how does Trichotomy cause this to happen? Popular Pentecostal teaching provides the best example of how this happens.

When I was a Pentecostal I was taught that by praying in 'tongues' I could nurture my spirit and grow. I remember explicitly an occasion when a woman I knew testified to me how she had experienced a period of prodigious spiritual growth when she made it a point to pray in tongues daily for an extended period of time. Never mind how she knew that she had grown spiritually, let's just ask how this is supposed to have worked. According to this theory, while one is praying in tongues, one's spirit is saying things and asking God for things of which the mind is unaware. Thus God, answering these prayers, grants phenomenal spiritual growth to someone who hasn't the foggiest clue of what he/she has asked God for in prayer. A weird idea indeed. Where does such a strange notion come from, you ask? It comes from a Trichotomist interpretation of 1 Corinthians 14:14, which reads, "my spirit prays, but my understanding is unfruitful." The Trichotomist reads this to mean that the man is uttering things which his mind does not understand. So the Trichotomist claims that his spirit speaks in a heavenly language which completely bypasses the mental understanding of his soul. Furthermore, he assumes that back in verse 2 of chapter 14, when Paul speaks of mysteries, he is referring to these deep secrets that are in his unintelligible utterances in tongues.

To call this heretical is understatement. First of all, "mystery" is used in Scripture in a way that is completely different from contemporary Trichotomist usage. Throughout the New Testament, the word musterion, (mystery) is consistently used in reference to the Gospel of Christ which was hidden in ages past, but which is now clearly revealed to the Church. See Matthew 13:10, Mark 4:11; Luke 8:10; Romans 16:25-27; 1 Corinthians 2:7; 1 Corinthians 15:51; Ephesians 3:2-6; and Colossians 1:25-27. Jesus and Paul invariably use the term in reference to revelational truth which, though hidden in the past, is now revealed and understood. This is diametrically opposite to the way Trichotomists use the word.

Tie these strands all together and here's what you get: The mind is denigrated. Our spirit gets fed and strengthened by circumventing the mind. Therefore to be truly spiritual one must be anti-intellect and anti-doctrine. It is not uncommon for Pentecostals to be told that they need to spend less time reading and studying and more time learning to "operate in the spirit." Anti-intellectualism runs rampant through the Pentecostal and Charismatic world as a direct result of their Trichotomist anthropology. Authors like Andrew Murray and Watchman Nee, who are popular among Pentecostals and Charismatics, have promulgated Trichotomy to the Evangelical world and have corrupted Christian piety by juxtaposing "soul" to "spirit," thus affirming that the intellect hinders true spirituality. Thus the only way to grow spiritually is to 'crucify' the flesh and the soul life.

How has this been borne out in the Church's experience? The Creeds, Confessions and Catechisms for which our forefathers labored so vigorously and for which they gave their lives are virtually unknown in both name and content. Doctrinal teaching, intended to educate Christians on the content of their faith has been ousted in favor of practical teaching. I regularly receive Christian book catalogues and I am constantly amazed at how many books come with a DVD and curriculum intended to help the readers learn how to 'put into practice' the things they have learned from the book. This is substituting Law for Grace. B.B. Warfield rightly criticized the 'coterie' of Keswick teachers for this very reason. Though many of these men were ostensible Calvinists, their Trichotomist anthropology led them straight into the Arminian form of the doctrine of sanctification. I cannot count how many times I have heard the validity of doctrinal study questioned because the student might not put it into practice. Being unsure of how to put the doctrine of the Trinity into practice, they assume that is a mere piece of speculation that is not practically important for Christian living. Countless other biblical doctrines are treated with the same disdain.

I don't want to poison myself. Lysol is poisonous. I know this. Therefore, I don't drink Lysol. That's just how it works. Life is affected by what we believe. Hence it is important that we believe aright. Idolatry is a damnable sin. Idolaters will be cast into the lake of fire. Entertaining false ideas about God is idolatry. Therefore it is important to engage one's mind when reading Scripture so that Scripture correctly informs our minds about God.

Further, think of some of the strange things to have come out of the Charismatic movement. Benny Hinn claims that Adam could fly and that he actually flew in outer space and even went to the moon. Morris Cerrulo and others of his ilk, claim to be gods. Kenneth Copeland claims that Christians have the same creative power as God does to speak things into existence. This is why 'confession' is such a big deal among the Word of Faith types. We all remember Benny Hinn claiming that the Trinity was actually composed of 9 Persons. John Hagee teaches that Jesus never claimed to be the Messiah. Recently some goof of a preacher prayed at a Nascar event and thanked God for his "smokin' hot wife." I could go on and on and on and on and on. I am not exaggerating what these people teach. This stuff is sheer and utter stupidity! But this is exactly what happens when we check our brains at the church door. I heard a preacher once point out a man in the audience and tell him that God had spoken that he was to give the preacher $50. The man complied without hesitation. I saw Tammy Faye talk a diamond ring off a lady's finger. Anyone who falls for that nonsense deserves to be deceived! And these people pride themselves on their discernment!

I recently saw a video wherein Mark Driscoll was describing his "gift of discernment." He described having a screen in his head (figuratively speaking) on which he 'saw' things. Where in Scripture is discernment described this way? Again, stupidity! The Greek word for discern is diakrino. It derives from dia, which means 'through' and krino, which primarily means 'distinguish,' or 'decide,' but also has, by implication, the meanings 'think, judge, and question'  - all of which are mental activities. Here we see more ridiculous consequences of Trichotomy: Discernment is placed in the 'spirit,' completely divorced from any action of the mind. But the mind is precisely where Scripture places discernment. I mean, think about it. How can you think about something, ponder its ramifications, weigh its evidence, question its reasonableness, distinguish among its aspects and decide in favor of it or against it  WITHOUT YOUR MIND? Sheesh!

Try to correct one of these people's doctrine and you'll get a crash course on anti-intellectualism. They'll tell you, "I hear what you're saying. I'm gonna go home and pray about this and see what the Holy Spirit tells me about these verses." Oh, it sounds humble, but in fact it is rank pride. Trichotomy gives men an excuse to reject the time-honored stance of the Church on doctrinal issues as affirmed in the creeds and confessions. It breeds individualism (just me and the Bible) and ignores the covenantal and corporate aspects of the Spirit's work. It substitutes some indefinable 'impression' in one's spirit for the authoritative statements of Scripture. We are to form our beliefs based on what saith the Scripture, not on what the Spirit impresses upon us. Trichotomy puts us in the driver's seat.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Why Trichotomy is Wrong 3 C, The Errors It Spawns

Part 3C: Split level Christianity

Back in the first post of this series, I said that the early Church rejected Trichotomy because it was a piece of speculative Greek philosophy, not a biblical teaching. Here’s where we begin to make good on that accusation.

The tri-partite concept of man dates back at least to Plato, but the form we are all most familiar with comes from Plotinus. Before we illustrate this, we need to put a little bit of groundwork in place. In common popular evangelical teaching and literature on the Christian life, Trichotomy is the soup de jour. Although nearly all theologians reject this understanding of man, it is nonetheless the most prominent view out there among run-of-the-mill Evangelicals. This teaching has resulted in many theological errors, some of which we have already exposed; but one in particular has been gained widespread acceptance and has caused great havoc on personal Christian piety. I speak, of course, of the wretched doctrine of the carnal Christian.

Where did such an idea come from and what does it have to do with Trichotomy? Let’s look at how a classic Trichotomist, Chuck Smith (an advocate of the Carnal Christian teaching), handles 1 Thessalonians 5:23, one of the two Trichotomist proof texts. He writes, “We meet God in the realm of our spirit." (New Testament Study Guide, pg. 113)

Then when handling 1 Corinthians 2-3, the proof text of the Carnal Christian teaching, he writes, “Many of the Corinthian Christians hadn't entered the spiritual dimension yet," and that the "Holy Spirit gives us knowledge beyond our experience." The Gnostic impulse associated with Trichotomy comes out guns blazing when he says, “Our problem arises from living as redeemed spirits in unredeemed bodies. We desire to be delivered from these bodies of flesh so that we can enjoy the full, rich, overflowing life in the spirit." [Chuck Smith, New Testament Study Guide (Costa Mesa: The Word for Today, 1982), p. 78, 113, 193.]

Historically Christians have always affirmed that God meets us through means - Word and Sacrament. But Smith affirms that God meets us immediately "in the realm of our spirit." And since he affirms this, it follows for him that not all Christians have "entered into the spiritual." This posits two categories of Christians, the "carnal" and the "spiritual.” You will search in vain for this distinction in Scripture.

Chuck Smith did not originate this doctrine, of course. He gets it from his beloved Scofield Reference Bible, which has numerous notes advocating a Trichotomist view of man. For instance, in the notes on 1 Corinthians 2:14, the Scofield notes read:

“Paul divides men into three classes: (1) psuchikos, meaning of the senses, sensous, (Jas 3:15; Jude 19), natural, i. e. the Adamic man, unrenewed through the new-birth (Jn 3:3,5); (2) pneumatikos, meaning spiritual, i.e., the renewed man as Spirit-filled and walking in the Spirit in full communion with God (Eph 5:18-20); and (3) sarkikos, meaning carnal, fleshly, i.e. the renewed man who, walking "after the flesh," remains a babe in Christ (1 Cor 3:1-4). The natural man may be learned, gentle, eloquent, fascinating, but the spiritual content of Scripture is absolutely hidden from him; and the fleshly or carnal Christian is able to comprehend only its simplest truths, "milk" (1 Cor 3:2).”

I said earlier that this Trichotomist view of man was not a Scriptural doctrine, but rather a Plotinian view of man. Let me give you Plotinus’ exact words so that a comparison can be made:

“All men, from birth onward, live more by sensation than by thought, forced as they are by necessity to give heed to sense impressions. Some stay in the sensate their whole life long. For them, sense is the beginning and the end of everything. Good and evil are the pleasures of sense and the pains of sense; it is enough to chase the one and flee the other. Those of them who philosophize say that therein wisdom lies... Others do lift themselves, a little above the earth. Their higher part transports them out of the pleasurable into the honorable. But, unable to perceive anything higher and with nowhere to set themselves, they fall back in virtue's name - on the activities and "options" of that lower realm they had thought to escape. But there is another, a third class of men - men godlike in the greatness of their strength and the acuity of their perceptions. They see clearly the splendors that shine out from on high. Thither, out of the mist and fogs of the earth, they lift themselves. There they stay, seeing from above what is here below, taking their pleasure in truth.” Plotinus, "The Intelligence, the Ideas and Being," in The Essential Plotinus, trans. Elmer O' Brien (Indianapolis: Hacket Publications, 1964), pp. 46-47.

Notice the similarities? On the one hand you have Plotinus’ categories of “sensate,” “above the earth,” and “godlike” And on the other hand you have Scofield’s “natural man,” “carnal Christian,” and “Spirit-filled Christian.” Plotinus’ first level corresponds to the “natural man” in Scofield’s system. Plotinus’ second level corresponds to Scofield’s “carnal Christian” who can only handle “the milk of the Word.” Scofield’s “Spirit-filled Christian” mirrors Plotinus’ third level.

Plotinus’ system is to blame for many of the mystery religions and the New Age movement. But you obviously don’t need to get into weird things like these to be influenced by such a Gnostic philosophy. Merely by adopting Trichotomist anthropology, you can get the same structure of belief. The same belief system behind the New Age movement has infiltrated Evangelicalism through Trichotomy, or the Carnal Christian view of sanctification and the Keswick or "higher-life" teachings that have become central to fundamentalist theology. 

Visitor Counter

Flag Counter