Saturday, October 3, 2009

Unpacking Luther’s Baggage, chapter 3, page 1

As Luther’s protest against Catholicism morphed into various denominations the doctrinal evaluations of each group did not question how a movement that began by proclaiming the Jewish Messiah could end up severing itself from its Jewish roots. As I have moved through various denominations, I did not question this either, until I started to do some research. But first, here is a little background on denominations that have touched my life:
I was baptized, confirmed, and raised in the Lutheran Church, Missouri Synod. At age 17 I made a decision for Christ at a conservative Baptist camp in Dunbar, Wisconsin and then attended a Baptist church for a few months. After graduating from High School, I worked at Gitchee Gumee Bible Camp in Eagle River, Michigan on the shores of Lake Superior. Six months later, with the Vietnam war looming large, I joined the Navy. My only exposure to Christians in the Navy and the area around Norfolk, Virginia was that of Fundamentalists. Since I came out of a dysfunctional family my lack of maturity was evident during this time and I had periods of backsliding. After the Navy, I eventually attended a more moderate Baptist General Conference church and its affiliated Swedish Baptist College in St. Paul, Minnesota (Bethel). In 1976 I married Rita (who came out of a Catholic environment) and we attended the following churches: two independent Baptist-like churches in Minnesota, Highland Park Baptist church in Southfield, Michigan (you may have heard of the pastor there: Joseph Stowell), Brighton Christian Church for 15 years, and, since we’ve moved to West Michigan, a megachurch in Holland called Central Wesleyan. 
The following lists the origins of some of these denominations:
During the time of Luther, the Anabaptists rejected infant Baptism and believed in separation of church and state. The groups which came from the Anabaptists included: Mennonites, Amish, Hutterites, Moravians, and regular Baptists.
John Calvin was a contemporary of Martin Luther. Calvin came out of the French Catholic church and fled to Switzerland because of persecution. His teachings became known as Reformed theology, which is a system of biblical interpretation that focuses on the supreme sovereignty of God, His majesty, His holiness, etc. It relates this to man's fallen, sinful nature. Calvin differed from Luther in his interpretation of the Lord’s supper, the nature of the Sacraments, and in his styles of worship. Calvinism is famous for the acronym TULIP, which defines the major tenants of Reformed theology:
T = Total depravity of man in every thought and deed so nothing we do can please God.
U = Unconditional election: God chooses or predestines those who will be saved or not.  
L = Limited atonement. Jesus actually atoned for the sins of those the Father has chosen.
I = Irresistible grace. When God works in our hearts, regenerating us and creating a renewed will within, then we run to Jesus just as previously we ran away from Him. 
P = Perseverance of the saints. God perseveres with us, keeping us from falling away, as we would certainly do if He were not with us. If anyone turns away and disowns God, then they obviously were not saved.
I dwell upon Calvinism because I now live in an area that is a bastion of Reformed theology. But I soon learned that there are two competing branches: the CRC (Christian Reformed Church) and the RCA (Reformed Church of America). They split in the Netherlands in 1857 and brought their fractions and factions to West Michigan, starting up competing colleges: Calvin College in Grand Rapids (CRC) and Hope College in Holland (RCA). It’s generally acknowledged that the RCA is more liberal. I should say that my son Peter attended and graduated from CALVIN college, while my daughter Nellie graduated from Spring Arbor University, which is a Free Methodist school... and a good lead-in to:
Methodism was first introduced in Oxford, England by John and Charles Wesley in 1729 (who belonged to the Church of England).  After John died in 1791, the Methodists separated themselves from the Church of England. When Methodism came to America, two issues in particular caused a split in 1860: slavery in America and freedom to worship. While the mother church did not take a stand on slavery, those who took the name "Free" Methodist opposed slavery. Another issue was the widespread practice of renting and selling church pews, thus relegating the poor to benches in the back of the sanctuary. "Free" Methodists called for free seats for all and emphasized tithes and offerings to support the church's ministries. Freedom in worship, in contrast to deadening formalism, was also important to "Free" Methodists. (quoted in part)
By the way, offshoots of Methodism include the Salvation Army and the Church of Nazarene. Methodism drifted in pieces until the United Methodist Church was established in Great Britain in 1932. 
Alister McGrath is an Oxford professor of historical theology who wrote a book called CHRISTIANITY'S DANGEROUS IDEA: THE PROTESTANT REVOLUTION--A HISTORY FROM THE SIXTEENTH CENTURY TO THE TWENTY-FIRST. Here is a quote from a review of the book:
“For Dr. McGrath, Protestantism's "dangerous" idea consists in the right of each community, indeed of each individual, to interpret the Bible for himself. This right constitutes the fundamental identity of Protestantism. It ... continually rethinks and revises the understanding of the Bible in order to meet changing circumstances... Pentecostalism has revived Protestantism in the United States and greatly expanded it in Latin America, Africa and areas of Asia, in particular Korea. For Dr. McGrath, it represents the wave of the future. He reports that the 500 million Pentecostals now outnumber all other Protestant denominations combined throughout the world.”
What is striking to me, is that of all the Evangelical churches today, the Pentecostals have embraced the Messianic movement more than any other.

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