Sunni-Shiite Schism Compared with Catholic-Protestant Divide

A disagreement 14 centuries ago over Islamic leadership following the death of the Prophet Mohammed –whether it should be by merit or bloodline–divides a religion that will be world’s largest this century.

CHR Comment: Reporter Gregg Zoroya attempts to make the Sunni-Shiite conflict more understandable to western readers by comparing it to the conflicts that followed the Protestant Reformation. Both the Muslim conflict and the Christian conflict had issues of authority at their center and resulted in wars, which makes the different events comparable to some extent.

Zoroya points out that the conflict in Islam was over who would succeed the prophet Mohammed as a leader. In the Reformation, the conflict was different. Before the Reformation took place, the medieval church was developing the modern papacy and often conflicted with kings  and councils over issues of authority . Martin Luther appealed to the Scriptures as the ultimate authority since popes and councils erred. When the papacy took offense at Luther’s teaching and concluded that he was harming the church, Luther and his supporters appealed for a council to address the issues. The papacy did not wish for such a counsel to take place, which would undermine papal authority by putting the Protestants and the papal supporters on equal footing. Ultimately, the papacy did call what we know today as the Council of Trent (1545-1563), which established the doctrine and practice of Roman Catholicism in distinction from Protestantism. Not long afterward, the European wars of religion arose (Thirty Years’ War; 1618-1648), which brought horrible devastation.

When reviewing religious history, it is important to note that conflicts often have their origin not in religion itself but in the varied interests of religious people. There are always political and economic factors that attach themselves to the spiritual issues.

Source: Ancient Islamic Sunni-Shiite schism inflames a modern world

Keller, Piper, and Carson on Why the Reformation Matters Today

Don Carson, John Piper, and Tim Keller discuss the ongoing relevance of the Reformation for ministry today.

CHR Comment: A brief panel discussion by American Evangelicals considering the ongoing importance of Protestantism after 500 years. Most of the comments are about Luther and Calvin, especially Calvin. The panelists helpfully point out that the Reformers restored the role of primary source study and preaching to Christianity in general, guaranteeing their importance from the Reformation forward. They also mention excesses of the Reformers that should be avoided.

Source: Keller, Piper, and Carson on Why the Reformation Matters Today

Development of Luther’s Small Catechism

Luther’s Small Catechism first appeared in a chart form in January and March of 1529, the headwaters of a new emphasis on education in the Christian Church. There had, of course, been Christian education before—Luther’s work flows from that long tradition. But Luther’s efforts brought renewed focus on teaching the faith in a specific and intentional way.

The core texts of Christian education had long been: (1) The Ten Commandments, (2) The Creed, and (3) The Lord’s Prayer. Luther retained these basic texts and provided brief explanations for them in a question and answer format. He placed the Ten Commandments first since God’s Law comes first to show us the difference between good and evil. The Creed came second to show us our Savior from sin and evil. The Lord’s Prayer came third to show us how a believer, delivered from evil, may daily address the Lord in prayer and worship. The first three parts of the catechism work together and lay out the Christian faith before us.

The next parts of the catechism had not always been part of the earlier catechism tradition. These parts helped people identify and understand the means of grace Jesus Christ provided for believers: (4) Holy Baptism is the point at which Christian life begins, (5) Confession and Absolution are a return to the blessings of Baptism since Christians continually need the new life God gives, and (6) The Lord’s Supper nurtures Christian faith and life as we commune with our Lord and one another. These last three parts were also called “Sacraments,” sacred words and actions by which the Lord delivers us from evil and declares us holy.

So, the six chief parts of the catechism present the Christian faith and Christian life in a simple way. Luther also provided Daily Prayers and a Table of Duties in 1529 to help believers better understand their relationship to the Lord and to one another in the three basic orders of life: (1) Home, (2) Church, and (3) Society/Government. Luther viewed these orders of life as blessings provided by God for the peace and benefit of all.

Here’s how parts of the Catechism rolled out in different editions.

January, 1529 Chart Edition included:

Ten Commandments

Apostles’ Creed

Lord’s Prayer (minus explanations of the introduction and conclusion to the prayer)

Holy Baptism

Sacrament of the Altar

Daily Prayers

May 16, 1529 Edition added:

Table of Duties

June, 1529 Edition added:

A Short Form of Confession

1531 Edition added:

Explanations for the introduction and conclusion of the Lord’s Prayer

Confession and Absolution (questions and answers)

1546 Edition added:

Office of the Keys (three questions/answers in the Confession section)

1549 Erfurt Edition added:

Christian Questions with Their Answers (Luther may not have written these)

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Law and Gospel Distinction in Early Church

During the Reformation, Luther and Melanchthon first called the distinction between Law and Gospel by another title: “the Law and the Promises.” Recognizing and distinguishing these two teachings of God is at the essence of reading and applying the Bible in the Reformation but notable examples of the distinction appear in early Christianity, too.

Tertullian writes in Against Marcion:

“‘the New Testament’ will appertain to none other than Him who promised it—if not “its letter, yet its spirit;” and herein will lie its newness. Indeed, He who had engraved its letter in stones is the same as He who had said of its spirit, “I will pour out of my Spirit upon all flesh.” Even if “the letter killeth, yet the Spirit giveth life;” and both belong to Him who says: “I kill, and I make alive; I wound, and I heal.” We have already made good the Creator’s claim to this twofold character of judgment and goodness—“killing in the letter” through the law, and “quickening in the Spirit” through the Gospel. Now these attributes, however different they be, cannot possibly make two gods; for they have already (in the prevenient dispensation of the Old Testament) been found to meet in One.” (ANF 3:452–53)

Tyconius writes in The Book of Rules:

The [Gospel’s] promise is distinct from the Law; and since they are different, they cannot be mixed. (under Rule III)

John Chrysostum writes in a sermon on 2 Corinthians 3:

In the Law, he that hath sin is punished; here, he that hath sins cometh and is baptized and is made righteous, and being made righteous, he liveth, being delivered from the death of sin. The Law, if it lay hold on a murderer, putteth him to death; the Gospel, if it lay hold on a murderer, enlighteneth, and giveth him life. (NPNF1 12:307)

Augustine writes in On the Spirit and the Letter:

His words are, “The righteousness of God is manifested:” [Romans 3:21] . . . This is witnessed by the law and the prophets; in other words, the law and the prophets each afford it testimony. The law, indeed, by issuing its commands and threats, and by justifying no man, sufficiently shows that it is by God’s gift, through the help of the Spirit, that a man is justified; and the prophets, because it was what they predicted that Christ at His coming accomplished. (NPNF1 5:88–89)

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Faith Seeking Understanding. Anselm. Luther

Over the centuries members of the Christian Church have struggled to understand and apply the relationship between faith and reason. For example, many Scholastic theologians during the Middle Ages taught that faith and reason were fully compatible. Luther and other Reformers argued that reason always went too far in trying to resolve the tensions that arise between faith and reason.

Reason usually does not want to follow faith but ends up having faith in itself—a form of idolatry. When this happens, reason stops being reasonable and becomes doubt and skepticism. As a philosophy, skepticism has been very attractive to some thinkers over the centuries (e.g., Cynics, Cartesians) but most people have never broadly embraced skepticism as a philosophy of life. Why? They sense that there’s something impossible and unreasonable about living in constant doubt. As I pointed out earlier, trust—faith—is not a luxury or a delusion. We are born dependent on others. We are born requiring trust in order to survive. We are designed to live by faith and by reason. Casting aside one or the other leads to disaster.

The motto of St. Anselm (c 1033–1109), “Faith seeking understanding,” provided a helpful warning to the early scholastic thinkers. It reminded them and us to live by faith and exercise reason with due humility. A famous saying of Martin Luther (1483–1546) builds on these important themes. When confronted by a council at Worms, Germany, and asked to recant of his teachings, Luther is reported to have said:

Unless I can be instructed and convinced with evidence from the Holy Scriptures or with open, clear, and distinct grounds and reasoning—and my conscience is captive to the Word of God—then I cannot and will not recant, because it is neither wise nor safe to act against conscience. Here I stand. I can do no other. God’s help me! Amen.

Martin Luther supported the use of what we call sound reasoning but emphasized the Holy Scriptures, the Word of God, as the basis for faith and our relationship to God and His creation. So, we approach the Holy Scripture and life with our reason serving—not ruling—our faith so that we might believe and understanding. God help us! Amen.

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No Atheism. Martin Luther. Reformation Theology

In Martin Luther’s Large Catechism appears an argument demonstrating that everyone is religious whether they intend to be or not. Luther writes:

“What does it mean to have a god? Or, what is God? Answer: A god means that from which we are to expect all good and in which we are to take refuge in al distress. So, to have a God is nothing other than trusting and believing Him with the heart. I have often said that the confidence and faith of the heart alone make both God and an idol. If your faith and trust is right, then your god is also true. On the other hand, if your trust is false and wrong, then you do not have the true God. For these two belong together, faith and God [Hebrews 11:6]. Now, I say that whatever you set your heart on and put your trust in is truly your god.” (Large Catechism I 1—3)

So where ever we place our highest trust, that becomes the object of our religion, our faith. If an Indian in the Amazon forest trusts his totem animal for help and security, then that is the basis of his religion. If a radical environmentalist places his trust in nature, then nature is his god, the object of his devotion. If an ingenious philosopher denies that there is a god but places his trust in the state (as happened under communism), then the state has become his god.

You have a god. Everyone does. So the question becomes: Is your god the true God?

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