Martin, Chuck, and Henry

The Roman Catholic Church was the only church in town for 1,500 years when a Catholic priest named Martin Luther began protesting many of the manmade rules of the church. Luther’s idea of “Sola Scriptura” (“Scripture Alone”) began to resonate with others who were soon protesting, demanding that the church be reformed. This begins the “Protestant Reformation.”

Martin, Chuck, and Henry ~ February 02, 2020 ~ 2 Timothy 3:14-17

My grandfather’s last words, before he passed, were “ugh!” Just kidding, I wasn’t there when he died. But I do have some other ones.

They couldn’t hit an elephant at this distance. Those were the last words of General John Sedgwick as he stood with his men, ducking from Confederate fire during the Civil War, right before he was hit and killed.

It’s better to burn out than fade away. That was in Kurt Cobain’s suicide note.

Steve Jobs’ final words were, “Oh, wow.” He said it three times after a long last look at his family. “Oh, wow. Oh, wow. Oh, wow.”

My hero, Elvis Presley. His final words, in public, said to the audience at his last concert before he died, was “I hope I haven’t bored you.”

We tend to pay close attention to the words of someone who is near death because we think that they may contain important wisdom, important reflection, or important advice that we need to listen to. That is what we have this morning in Paul’s second letter to Timothy. It is a letter expressing his final thoughts and instructions to his protégé timothy. If you would join me in the unison prayer as we prepare to study the Word of God. Would you pray with me?

Lord, upon the pages of this book is Your story. It is also our story. Open our eyes that we may see, our ears that we may hear, our minds that we may understand, and our hearts that they may be transformed. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

So, Paul says to Timothy:

You must remain faithful to the things you have been taught. You know they are true, for you know you can trust those who taught you.

He was taught by his mother and his grandmother, Eunice and Lois.

You have been taught the holy Scriptures from childhood, and they have given you the wisdom to receive the salvation that comes by trusting in Christ Jesus.

And then Paul says something that is so important for all believers. Verse 16:

All Scripture is inspired by God and is useful to teach us what is true and to make us realize what is wrong in our lives. It corrects us when we are wrong and teaches us to do what is right. God uses it to prepare and equip his people to do every good work.
2 Timothy 3:14-17

May God bless to us the reading and understanding of His holy and inspired Word.

This month, we are, here at South Congregational Church, celebrating our 350th anniversary, and it’s going to be awesome! Praise God! I do hope that you all have RSVPed. If you haven’t, it’s not too late, but it’s getting close. So, please let us know that you’re coming and how many are coming with you. We only have 200 spots available. How many are taken, Lauren? 100? So, we’re about halfway there. We do have a bunch of invitations that have gone out recently to non-members; I don’t know what their response will be, so, it is going to be a great night. So, to that end, since this is our anniversary month, I thought over the next few weeks I would focus a little bit on Congregationalism, our middle name. Some of you might know what it means to be a Congregationalist; some of you have come to my new members’ seminar. Perhaps many of you knew at one time but have forgotten: but it’s an important part of our tradition. We are Congregationalists.

What does that mean? Congregationalism came out of the early 16th century Protestant Reformation. You see, at the time, there was really only one established Christian church in the world. In fact, it really was the only church in town for the previous 1500 years. It was the church based in Rome, or the Roman Catholic church.

Now, I am a former Roman Catholic. Are there any other former Roman Catholics here? In nomine Patris, et Filii, et Spiritus Sancti. My brother is still a Catholic. My mother and father and stepmother are still Catholics. My in-laws are still Catholics. I want to be very clear: I am not anti-Catholic in any way. I am very proud of my roots. They planted seeds of faith in me, and I honor them. I also want to clear up some confusion, because I hear this phrase a lot: when I say, “Oh, so is your friend or relative a believer?” Oftentimes the response will be, “Well, they’re Catholic.”

Catholics are Christians! They believe that Jesus is the Christ; that Jesus died for our sins and rose again on Easter Sunday. That’s the definition of being a Christian. So, they are Christians. It’s not a matter of Catholic or Christian; it’s Catholic and Christian. As Protestants (or Congregationalists), we do have some doctrinal disagreements with our brothers and sisters-in-Christ in the Catholic church, just as we do with Methodists, or Lutherans, or Presbyterians, or Episcopalians. But we’re all Christians. We all believe that Jesus is the Christ.

It’s a different disagreement than we have with, say, Mormons, or Jehovah’s Witnesses, or Christian Scientists, who are really not Christians in any way that we would recognize. But that’s a longer conversation; a different sermon for a different day. Catholics are Christians. It’s just that, over the years, they have developed some beliefs that we, as Protestants, simply don’t agree with, we don’t share. One we talked about in Bible study was purgatory. Anybody ever heard that word? Purgatory. According to the Catholic Encyclopedia, purgatory is “a place or condition of temporal punishment for those who, departing this life in God’s grace, are not entirely free from venial faults, or have not fully paid the satisfaction due to their transgressions.” In English, that means Catholicism teaches that there is a place where people go after they die to be cleansed of their sins that have not been fully forgiven. They call that place purgatory.

Protestants don’t believe this. We have a disagreement. We believe that Jesus paid the price for our sins on the cross, and when He said, “It is finished,” right before He died, that’s what it meant. It is finished. The Lamb of God had taken away the sins of the world; all of them for all time. There was nothing more to do. There certainly is nothing more we could do. Our Roman Catholic brothers and sisters see it differently. At the second council of Leone in 1274, the Catholic Church defined its teaching on purgatory. They said (1) Some souls are purified after death; (2) Such souls benefit from the prayers and pious duties that the living do for them. So, in other words, we who are living can help out our loved ones who have died by doing something on their behalf here. This actually leads to another idea with which we disagree.

Protestants don’t believe in praying for the dead. We don’t believe that once you’re dead we can do anything about it. When you’re dead, you’re dead. And we certainly don’t believe in what is called “indulgences” – the idea that if you give a donation to the church, you can reduce the time spent in purgatory by your loved one. It’s like time off for good behavior; not their good behavior, your good behavior. We don’t believe that.

When did these teachings begin to be questioned, and why? When? The 16th Century – the Protestant Reformation. Why? All Scripture is inspired by God and is useful to teach us what is true and to make us realize what is wrong in our lives. It corrects us when we are wrong and teaches us to do what is right. You see, during the Middle Ages, the literacy rate was awful. It is estimated by the year 1300 in England, only 6% of the population could read. 94% of the people could not read their own name. They couldn’t even write their own name. If you’ve ever seen an old-fashioned movie on TV or in the theatres where they say, “Mark your X here!” That was real. People had to mark an X to sign a document because they couldn’t sign their own name; they couldn’t read the document. 96%. By 200 years later, by the year 1500, it still did not exceed 10-25%. 75% of the population could not read. However, things were beginning to improve because of the introduction of Johann Gutenberg’s printing press.

The invention of moveable type was incredible. You see, up until that point, all books in existence were copied by hand. you’ve seen those movies where the monks are sitting in the monkery, abbey, whatever it’s called, and they’re leaning over that wooden desk and they’re just copying. That’s true, that’s all they did their entire lives is copy the Scriptures. You should try it sometime. Go home and open up the Bible to page one, and say, “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.” Write out the first two or three verses. Time yourself; figure out how long it would take to manually copy a Bible. It took years. Because it took years, it was supremely expensive; nobody could afford books because they were copied by hand. Only the aristocracy, and the nobility, and the church who were doing the copying. Well, if you can’t get your hands on a book, what’s the point in learning to read? Nobody read, because you didn’t own a book to read anyway. The printing press comes out. It takes a process that took years, and suddenly, they’re pumping out books in weeks. The price of books came way down, and finally, middle class people could actually afford to purchase a book, which gave them the impetus to want to read; and the one book that everybody wanted to read was the Bible.

The good news is literacy rates shot up, because everybody wanted to learn the Bible. The bad news was literacy rates shot up, meaning people could now read the Scriptures. And when a German priest by the name of Martin Luther did so, he was shocked to discover purgatory is not in there! In fact, quite the opposite is in there. 2 Corinthians 5:8 says to be absent from the body is to be at home with the Lord. There’s no stop in between! Jesus told the thief on the cross, “Today, you will be with me in paradise.” He didn’t say, “today, you’re going to have to stop and spend some time in purgatory, and maybe I’ll see you later!”

It wasn’t in here. Neither were indulgences. Hebrews 9 was very clear:

Just as each person is destined to die once and after that comes judgment…

You die, you get judged, boom.

 … so also Christ died once for all time as a sacrifice to take away the sins of many people. He will come again, not to deal with our sins, but to bring salvation to all who are eagerly waiting for him.
Hebrews 9:27-28

And Ephesians 2:

God saved you by his grace when you believed.

In faith, not because of anything you have done. When you believed what Jesus did, God saved you by His grace.

And you can’t take credit for this; it is a gift from God. Salvation is not a reward for the good things we have done, so none of us can boast about it.
Ephesians 2:8-9

Because there’s nothing we can do to earn our salvation. It was a free gift of God.

Martin reads this stuff, and he’s stunned. In fact, Martin also does not see the idea anywhere in here that salvation was found only in one church. In Matthew 18:20, he hears Jesus say, “When two or three are gathered together in my name, are my followers, I am there among them.” We don’t need all of this – all of the trappings, all of the buildings, all of the gilded gold and pomp and circumstance. This is just fine – a room with two or three gathered together. Any place with two or three gathered together in Christ’s name, He is there.

Now, all this information was mind-blowing, and Martin thought, “You know what? The church has to hear about this!” So, he shares all this information with them, and they kick him out; they didn’t want to hear it. And this begins the Protestant Reformation.

Now, at the same time this is all happening in Germany, there is a gentleman by the name of Charles V, who is the Holy Roman Emperor and the King of Spain. Why is this important? Well, Henry VIII, King of England was trying to annul his marriage to Catherine of Aragon. Catherine of Aragon had not been able to produce for him a male heir, and that is the job of a queen – to produce a male child. We didn’t have the scientific knowledge back then that the men carry the determining chromosome. We’re XY; you’re all XX. So, we determine the gender of the child. We didn’t know that then. They were more on this line of, “You were the last one with it… what happened?!”

Catherine doesn’t produce a male; he wants to annul his marriage. Annulment is the Catholic version, if you will, of divorce. The Catholic church doesn’t believe in divorce, so they instituted this practice called annulment. Annulment is a determination that your marriage was never legitimate to begin with. It’s like when you were standing there before the priest saying your vows, your fingers were crossed; or you didn’t mean what you said; or you were under pressure, or whatever. If they determine your marriage wasn’t legitimate from the beginning, they annul it and it’s like it never happened.

Henry wanted his marriage to Catherine annulled, because he wanted to get someone who would produce him a male heir. He asks the Pope – this is not an unusual request, the Pope had been asked for annulments hundreds of times; he had granted them hundreds of times – this time, he says no. Why? Well, you see, the Roman church did not have a standing army of any significance, so if they wanted to enforce their teachings, they needed somebody with soldiers; so, they did this by being friendly to kings and queens, and anybody who had knights in armor and horses and chariots or whatever they needed. They needed military support, so they were friendly to rulers who would do their bidding with their military. Well, guess who Catherine of Aragon’s nephew is? Chuck! That’s right, Charles V! The Holy Roman Emperor. So, the Pope is sitting here going, “Oh my gosh, what do I do now? I do not want to irritate the Holy Roman Emperor, upon whose military I depend, by letting his aunt be tossed aside! So, Pope Clement VII makes his decision. No. I’m not going to grant this annulment.

Henry is not happy, so he decides to take all of the churches in England out of the control of the Roman Church, and he sets up a new church – the Church of England. Why do we care, pastor? This is a really long story!

We care, because Martin, Chuck, and Henry inspire some Christians in England to start saying, “Hey, you know what? I think it’s time to reform the church. I think it’s time to control alt delete, start over; and base the church now not on the idea of humans, but on the Word of God. Now that we can read it and we know what it says, it’s time to base the church on the Scriptures.” Sola Scriptura, Latin for Scripture alone, becomes one of the cries of the Reformation. Scripture alone! And just as Paul tells Timothy, Congregationalism was born from a desire to remain faithful to the things we have been taught in Scripture, because all Scripture is inspired by God.

So, from the beginning, Congregationalists are first and foremost a Bible-believing people. Now, in this day and age, that is not always a popular position to hold. But we need to remain steadfast, because when we do not, we end up teaching people that Christ’s death on the cross was not enough; that when you die, you have to go to purgatory to pay for all your sins, or get some family and friends to say some prayers or make a donation to the church so they can get you out of there. That’s not in here.

Now, I know. I know there are some things in here that are hard. I know. I truly do. There are some things in here that are a struggle. But we’re not supposed to change the Word to fit our lives. We’re supposed to change our lives to fit the Word. Because all Scripture is inspired by God. Congregationalism is a faith tradition based upon the Bible. Now, because there are not a lot of us Congregationalists, chances are you may get asked, “You’re a what?” I know I have. We were with a group at Plimoth Plantation years ago – Plimoth Plantation in Plymouth, Mass – Awesome! Next time I schedule a trip, you’ve got to go. The pilgrims – we all celebrate Thanksgiving, right? – The pilgrims were the first Congregationalists to come to this country. We’re in Plymouth. It is raining, so we duck into this store to get out of the rain, this gift shop. This gift shop is literally within a hundred yards of the Mayflower – the Mayflower, which brought all the Congregationalists, the pilgrim, to these shores. I struck up a conversation with the proprietor, telling him, “This is a class we have, and we’re from the Congregational church.” And he goes, “The what? What’s a Congregationalist?” I’m like, seriously? You are within rock’s throwing distance of the Mayflower, and you don’t know what a Congregationalist is? In Plymouth Massachusetts! There’s not a lot of us out there, folks. So, you may get the question, “You’re a what? A Congregationalist? What do they believe?” I always say, “The Bible. I believe in the Bible.”

Which surprises people sometimes; it really does. They go, “Really? You believe that God created the world in seven days? You believe that Adam and Eve were the first humans on earth, that we didn’t descend from monkeys? You believe that Moses parted the Red Sea so the Israelites could walk on dry ground? You believe that a virgin got pregnant without having sex? You believe that Jesus really walked on water, and that He rose from the dead?” And I say, “Yes. Yes, yes, yes, yes, yes, and yes! And everything else that this Book says.” Because of Martin, Chuck, and Henry, I’m a Congregationalist, and that means I believe all Scripture is inspired by God and is useful to teach us what is true and to make us realize what is wrong in our lives. It corrects us when we are wrong and teaches us to do what is right. God uses it to prepare and equip his people to do every good work.

Sometimes, I think, we don’t want to read our Bibles because we’re afraid of what we might find. But it’s the truth, friends, and Congregationalists are a Bible believing people, and I am proud to be one of them.