Their spiritual condition was the exact opposite of their physical reality. They were wealthy and admired in terms of money, but they were poor and pitiable spiritually. They had eye salve, but they were blind. They had fine black wool, but they were naked. And the most famous of all, they had hot and cold water, but they were lukewarm, and God was ready to spew them out of his mouth (Revelation 3:15).
“You have access to a world of knowledge on the phone in your pocket, but you have no wisdom.” Would this be something God would say to many of us in the church today if he were to speak to us in the same way he spoke to the church in Laodicea in the book of Revelation?
In showing Laodicea where they fell short, God used prominent features of their culture. He said in essence, “You have all these wonderful things in your cultural experience, but you are wretched and do not even know it.” Some key features of the culture surrounding the church were springs of hot and cold water, extreme wealth and admiration, and the production of fine black wool and eye salve.
These features of the culture are essential to keep in mind when we read the critique of the church. God says, “You say I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing, not realizing that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked” (Revelation 3:17).
Did you catch that? Their spiritual condition was the exact opposite of their physical reality. They were wealthy and admired in terms of money, but they were poor and pitiable spiritually. They had eye salve, but they were blind. They had fine black wool, but they were naked. And the most famous of all, they had hot and cold water, but they were lukewarm, and God was ready to spew them out of his mouth (Revelation 3:15).
Following this pattern of applying the significant features of their culture to point out their spiritual condition, I wonder what God would say to us. Here are a few elements of our culture with possible corresponding critiques.
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By Jim McCarthy — 10 months ago
A relatively small band of progressives have declared war against the PCA, demanding greater conformity, not to our confessional standards but to a version of the world’s standard of human sexuality in which one’s identity is determined by the sum total of their lusts. Their efforts have been magnified by the National Partnership; a highly organized, clandestine fraternity of block-voting progressives. While naïve moderates and confessionalists have been busy writing sermons and pastoring their churches, NP leaders have been mastering the art of denominational chess, stacking committees, distributing General Assembly voting guides, and maintaining anonymous mailing lists, closed Facebook groups, and password-protected websites
In 1643, George Gillespie traveled to London as one of the eleven Scots chosen to participate in the Westminster Assembly. Initially tasked by Parliament to revise the 39 Articles of the Church of England, one of the most contentious topics of the Assembly was the nature of the relationship between the church and state. On one occasion the renowned legal scholar and Erastian, John Seldon, argued for the spiritual subordination of the church to the magistrate. The logic of the elder statesman seemed so unassailable none rose to challenge him. Parliament had called the meeting, after all. But then, Gillespie heard the whispered voice of his friend, Samuel Rutherford, “Rise, George! Rise up, man, and defend the church which Christ has purchased with his own blood.” Gillespie stood and with scripturally-saturated wisdom, trumpeted Christ’s supremacy over his church and won the day, leaving an indelibly biblical mark on the ecclesiology of the Standards and the Reformation itself. He was 31 years old.
Gillespie’s bold example should serve as smelling salts in the nostrils of young churchmen in the PCA. Caught in the crossfire between a godly impulse to show deference to fathers in the faith and a culture of prolonged adolescence, it can be difficult for young elders to know their place and find their voice. When controversial issues like Revoice come knocking on the doors of our sessions, presbyteries and general assemblies, conventional wisdom kicks in, urging the greener presbyter to “Sit tight. Stay out of it. Let the older titans clash. ‘Even a fool who keeps silent is considered wise’ (Proverbs 17:28).” For the assistant pastor whose livelihood is umbilically connected to the good graces of his senior minister and session or for the RUF minister, missionary, chaplain, or church planter whose support may come from a broad coalition of churches with conflicting visions for the future of the PCA, biblical boldness can have a steep price tag. But while there is a time for young elders “to keep silence,” there is also “a time to speak” (Ecclesiastes 3:7).
Brothers, that time is now.
The PCA ordains gay pastors. The commitment of men like Greg Johnson to abstain from homosexual activity is important, but their insistence on identifying themselves by their sinful desires — instead of renouncing them with holy hatred — is a tragic compromise. While the adoption of the Nashville Statement and the Report on Human Sexuality were encouraging psychological victories for those eager to guard the purity of Christ’s church, all actual judicial attempts to exercise discipline have proven unsuccessful. This, coupled with the recent failure of two-thirds of our presbyteries to approve overtures intended to slow the spread of Revoice theology, is symptomatic of a denomination in crisis.
The Ephesian church of Paul’s day faced similar challenges. False teachers had risen to prominence and infected the church with their “strange doctrines” regarding marriage, celibacy, and homosexuality, among others (1 Timothy 1:10 & 4:3). To resist these wolves and shepherd the Ephesian flock, Paul sent in young Timothy, urging him, “Let no one despise you for your youth, but set the believers an example in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, in purity” (1 Timothy 4:10). You see, Paul knew that while “the splendor of old men is their gray hair,” “the glory of young men is their strength” (Proverbs 20:29). He knew that “it is good for a man that he bear the yoke in his youth” (Lamentations 3:27). He knew that Joseph was 30 when he entered the service of Pharoah and saved the world. He knew that Levitical priests were 30 when they started pleading for sinners before the mercy seat. He knew that David was 30 when he began to rule as king over Israel. He knew that Jesus was 30 when he came “into Galilee, proclaiming the gospel of God” (Mark 1:14–15). Paul knew that a man’s usefulness to the Kingdom of God has never been determined by his age but by his faithfulness. Young elders in the PCA must know it too.
 See Greg Johnson’s USA Today article, I’m a Gay Celibate Pastor of a Conservative Church. Here’s a Trick for De-Escalation.
By Keith Mathison — 1 month ago
Stephen J. Nichols’ The Reformation (Crossway, 2007). For those who find history difficult, Nichols’ style of writing is a breath of fresh air. He does not fill page after page with dry lists of names and dates. Instead, his gift is the ability to draw readers into the lives of the people about whom he writes, allowing us to see these great historical figures, warts and all.
Does the Protestant Reformation still matter? If so, why? These are important questions, especially in our day and age, because for many living today in the twenty-first century, what is important is not the past, but the future. We live at an unusual time in history. In terms of technology, the world has changed faster in the last one hundred years than it did in the previous two thousand years combined. This has affected us in many ways. Our generation no longer looks to the wisdom of the past for guidance; instead, we look for the next new invention. History is “yesterday’s news.” What matters is tomorrow.
Sadly, the same way of thinking has influenced Christians. We look at church history with a jaundiced eye, finding it boring or irrelevant, but we must understand that this is an unwise approach. God has always called his people to remember his gracious works in the past. Israel was called to remember the exodus. Christians are called to remember the death of Christ. The same principle holds true with the lessons of church history. It has been rightly said that those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it. The church simply cannot afford to forget the lessons of the Reformation.
There are hundreds of books on the Reformation, but if one coming to the subject for the first time were looking for the best place to start, he would be hard pressed to find a better introduction than Stephen J. Nichols’ The Reformation (Crossway, 2007). For those who find history difficult, Nichols’ style of writing is a breath of fresh air. He does not fill page after page with dry lists of names and dates. Instead, his gift is the ability to draw readers into the lives of the people about whom he writes, allowing us to see these great historical figures, warts and all.
By Jeffrey Kloha — 2 months ago
Luther sought to create a Bible not to be a bestseller, but one through which individuals would hear God speaking directly to them in their world, in their time, in their place. A Bible that was God’s Word—more accurately, God speaking. Not a passive tool that sits on a shelf or a table or even altar. But an active, speaking, seeking, hearable, and impactful speaking of God. Everything Luther does, from the style of translation to the title page to the sequence of the books to notes is designed to bring people to Christ.
We know exactly when the Bible first became the “best-selling book of all time.” It was September 21, 1522. This date was the opening of the annual book fair in Leipzig, Germany. The previous April, Martin Luther refused to recant his writings before the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V at an assembly convened to examine his works known as the Diet of Worms. From there he was secreted to the Wartburg Castle for his own protection.
In eleven weeks, he completed a translation of the New Testament from Greek into German. From there, his colleague at Wittenberg University, Philip Melanchthon, edited the translation. Two businessmen in Wittenberg, Lucas Cranach the Elder and his partner Christian Doering, then employed the printer Melchior Lotter the Younger to rush to completion this New Testament in German in time for the book fair—even setting up temporary presses on their property to ensure completion. Between 3,000 and 5,000 copies were made, bundled up, and rushed to Leipzig for the book fair.
An Immediate Bestseller
The book was a hit. All the copies of this German New Testament sold out before the fair ended a week later. From there, Luther’s German New Testament spread around Europe. A second printing was started immediately and released in December. A pirated version was printed in Basel before the end of 1522. In the next year a total of twelve authorized and sixty-six unauthorized reprints appeared throughout Germany and Europe—hundreds of thousands of copies sold in just over twelve months. Suddenly, the Bible was a bestseller. Luther’s Bible. The German New Testament.
Now, all this might be left as a footnote in history, except that this little Bible by Luther still influences the way that we read Bibles today. From format to contents to readability to explanatory notes—all have been shaped by the Septembertestament.
How did this instant success happen? Luther was not the first to market. In fact, the first printed German Bible had appeared in 1466, fifty-five years before Luther’s work. Seventeen total versions appeared before 1522. So, there was not simply a pent-up demand for the Bible in German into which Luther tapped. Rather, it was Luther’s theology and notoriety, combined with a readable translation style and a physical and visual format designed to help the reader understand the text—at least the text as Luther wanted the reader to understand it—that made this Bible become a bestseller.
The Context of Luther’s Achievement
For the first 1500 years of the church, the Bible, or rather, the various books and stories in the Bible, were accessed by almost all people not by reading, but by hearing. People heard the Bible in worship, they sung it in psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs. They were taught it in sermons and catechetical teaching, they saw its contents portrayed in icons and eventually stained glass, watched it performed in mystery plays and passion plays (some of which are still performed today).
But possessing a Bible, holding a Bible, whether on papyrus or parchment or paper was not at all common. Almost all physical copies of the Bible down to the 1500s were produced for use in churches, in monasteries, and for clergy. A few wealthy people had beautifully decorated devotional books, which often contained the Psalms, but the Bible as we know it was simply not accessible—nor indeed seen to need to be accessible—to the vast, vast majority of people.
Even Gutenberg did not produce a bestseller because what he produced looked and felt and, to some extent, even cost what a Latin manuscript of the Bible cost in the 1450s. Gutenberg could produce sixty copies in the time it took a copyist to produce one manuscript. The first edition of 1454 was produced in about 160 to 180 copies: ¾ of them on paper and ¼ on vellum.
Paper copies cost thirty florins at a time when the salary of a clerk in the Medici bank earned between fourteen and fifty florins per year. So, if you have a great job in 1450, a Gutenberg Bible would cost roughly one year’s wages—and you still had to be able to read Latin. Most copies were purchased by religious orders or wealthy individuals for donation to churches and ecclesial institutions. While a pivotal moment in western history (Time magazine named it the most significant event of the past 1000 years) Gutenberg did not immediately change the way that people accessed the Bible.
But in the early 16th century, people began to want to read the Scriptures for themselves. And reform-minded scholars throughout Europe worked to make it accessible to all people, in their own languages.
Desiderius Erasmus of Rotterdam was one of the greatest classical scholars of all time. He produced numerous first editions of texts from antiquity, including the first published Greek New Testament in 1516. But he did not call it a “New Testament.” He called it a “Novum Instrumentum,” a new tool. The edition has Greek in one column and Latin in the other, but not the Vulgate, the commonly used Latin text, but a fresh translation that Erasmus argued was more accurate to the Greek. He wanted to make the Greek text more accessible to scholars and theologians in the west who did not really know Greek. And what was this tool to be used for? He lays this out in his preface, what he called the paraclesis or “exhortation” at the beginning of his new tool:
The sun belongs to everyone; the science of Christ is just the same. I am totally opposed to the fact that divine scripture should not be translated into one’s native language, to be read by the non-clergy; it is as if Christ’s teaching was so mysterious that only a handful of theologians could understand it, or as if the fortress of religion was built with the ignorance which the Church has forced on the common man. I wish that even the lowliest women read the gospels and the Pauline Epistles. And I would that they were translated into all languages so that they could be read and understood not only by Scots and Irish, but also by Turks and Saracens… Would that, as a result, the farmer sing some portion of them at the plow, the weaver hum some parts of them to the movement of his shuttle, the traveler lighten the weariness of the journey with stories from this source.
Luther used the second edition (printed in 1519) of Erasmus’s “new tool” to create a New Testament for German farmers and weavers, and in so doing created a runaway success. The audience for this German New Testament was the German people themselves. Where the Gutenberg Bible was out of the reach of almost all people, both for the cost and the fact that it was in Latin, a bound copy of Luther’s New Testament cost a single guilder: schoolteacher’s two month’s wages, or the price of a calf.
A Book to Point to Christ
It seems self-evident to us today that the Bible should be translated. But for Luther, the translation of the Bible was not an end in itself. It was not simply, “let’s get the Bible out there and see what happens.” Nor was he interested in a text for academic study since Greek, Hebrew, and Latin editions were available for that if one wanted. Rather, Luther wanted a New Testament through which individuals could hear the Word of God directly, without the mediation of the church or a priest. Said another way: Luther’s goal was that individuals hear “God’s message about Christ.”
In the language of Romans 10: “So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.” Luther expresses this in his introduction to the Old Testament published later in 1534: “If, then, you would interpret well and surely, set Christ before you; for He is the man to whom it all applies.” But even the New Testament, which Luther acknowledged should be clear enough, also can be misinterpreted and therefore the reader needs assistance to hear the Gospel clearly.
Luther produced this book, quite simply, to point to Christ. To give people access, for themselves—with Luther’s guidance—to the promises of God. We see this on the title page of a 1524 Wittenberg Bible with its simple description, and Christ on the cross.
Luther’s entire purpose in translating the New Testament, then, and every feature of the translation and the contents of the volume is designed to preach Christ and the Gospel message. This accounts for the new features of the Septembertestament. It was a text like no other before it. It translated a Greek text into the vernacular for the first time in Western Europe since the Vulgate. It included prefaces and notes to ensure that the readers heard the Gospel. And even the sequence of the New Testament books was altered to suit Luther’s goal of leading people to trust the promises of Christ.
This might be surprising. A Reformation motto is sola Scriptura! By Scripture alone! without tradition or interpretation. But sola Scriptura itself is actually in service to the central Reformation tenet: “Christ Alone!” (solus Christus). Luther put Scripture into the language of the people so that by Scripture alone they could hear Christ and his gospel, and so receive salvation.