Coming up next on Renewing Your Mind, a courtyard conversation with Nathan W. Bingham and Stephen Church History is our focus today. I'm pleased to be joined here in the studio by my colleague Dr. Stephen Nichols to talk about the significance of that city in biblical history.
As you listen, you'll even begin to hear the city wake up. Well, let's listen to that conversation now. Well, I'm sitting down with Dr. Steve Nichols. We are here in Rome. We're sitting in a courtyard in Rome, and we've just finished our 2022 Mediterranean Study Tour. Now, Dr. Nichols, as we think about Rome, our Renewing Your Mind listeners, immediately what would come to mind is Luther. So tell us, what was Luther's relationship with this city? Well, he visited Rome.
It was a very important moment in his life. It was 1510. He traveled from Wittenberg by foot, a thousand miles directly south to the city of Rome. And he would have entered through that gate to the north, and he would have entered into the Piazza del Popolo, the people's plaza. There was actually an Augustinian monastery right there. And Luther, as an Augustinian monk, that's where he would have stayed while he was in Rome. He visited with his fellow Augustinian brothers, and of course, he visited the sites of Rome, but he ended up at the Sancta Scala, those holy stairs. These are the stairs that Constantine had removed from Jerusalem and brought here to Rome.
Now, visitors today go to the Sancta Scala. There is a building, a church built over them. And Luther's day, they would have been open.
There may have been some kind of wooden booths at the bottom that were constructed. And of course, for pilgrims to enter the sacred stairs, they would have had to make their donation. Once they did so, they would go up and down the Sancta Scalas on their knees.
In fact, that's what pilgrims do even this day as they come here to Rome. Luther's doing this. He's going up and down with his fellow pilgrims.
One point, he gets to the top, he stands up, and he says, who knows if this is true? I think it signals, Nathan, just Luther's utter disillusionment in his church. Can we just set some context? So, Luther is here. He's saying it's 1510. What else is happening in this city?
Well, it's a very busy time. Leo X is the pope, and he's of the Medici family. This is the patrons of the arts.
The Medicis made their significant wealth and banking and then funded the arts. And so, Leo is convinced. He'll say he's going to leave Rome as a testimony to the glory of God. Well, might also have to be, have to do with a testimony to the glory of himself. And so, this is the construction of St. Peter's. This is Michelangelo designed that colonnade that wraps around the courtyard there in front of St. Peter's. Michelangelo said he designed it as if it were open arms, the embrace of God.
You were there yesterday in the courtyard. 10,000 guests a day visit the Basilica of St. Peter. The courtyard is just full of thousands more. It's just a massive tourist site. Well, this was all being built. Sistine Chapel, that site that people come to see to this day. It's breathtaking.
That was being painted. Cost money to do all this. And Leo, actually, in doing so, emptied the church's coffers. Well, now we enter Tetzel, that enterprising monk from Germany, and we have this unprecedented indulgence sale. So, in between Luther leaving Rome, being disillusioned with his church in 1510, and that very important year for us, 1517, all sorts of things are happening. Bad things are happening that are taking the church even further in decline, theologically, politically, in every way into decline.
And all of that's going to culminate and show up for us in the 95 Theses. Well, before we get to 1517, maybe let's just go back a little bit. What led Luther to join the monastery?
Well, we go back to 1505. Luther is a law student and brilliant at it. It's what his dad's hopes were for Luther, that he would become a lawyer, that he would give the family some prominence and maybe even a family crest, right? So, there's Luther demonstrating his intellectual prowess.
And he visits home, and on the way from home back to the university there at Erfurt, he's caught in a thunderstorm, violent thunderstorm. Luther takes it as God opening the skies to bring down his judgment upon Luther himself. Luther finds a rock, clings to this rock, and he cries out, help me St. Anne, and I will be a monk. Now, who's St. Anne? In Catholic tradition, Anne is the mother of Mary. We don't know Mary's mother's name, but that doesn't stop tradition from giving her one.
And however this worked out, she's the patron saint of miners. And in Luther's family, there would have been a shrine to St. Anne. And very likely, when Luther left his house, he would have bowed there before the shrine, he would have knelt before St. Anne, he would have prayed for her blessing upon his journey. But I find it very significant, Nathan, because Luther doesn't think to plead his case to Jesus, does he?
He doesn't think to, he would never imagine pleading directly to God. He needs a mediator, right? And this is showing us where Luther is, where the church is at this point. The church had stepped in as the role of mediator.
The saints had stepped in as the role of mediator. So, he's caught in the thunderstorm. He needs a mediator. And his instincts are to cry out to St. Anne. But he says, help me St. Anne, and I will become a monk.
Well, he is spared from the thunderstorm. And so, he gets back to Erfurt, and he gives up his law cap. He gives, he throws a party for his friends, gives away his law books, and enters the monastery, becomes an Augustinian monk in 1505. But it's classic, two steps back, one step forward for Luther.
He thinks entering the monastery is going to bring him peace. It doesn't. It makes it worse. Same thing happens in Rome in 1510. Coming to Rome is supposed to make it better for him, maybe end these soul struggles. It doesn't. It makes it worse. And even from 1510 to 1517, Nathan, he's just continuing to spiral down. The German word is Anfechtung.
The plural is Anfechtungen. The closest we could translate this would be deep soul anxiety or deep soul anxieties. This is Luther. What's he afraid of? He's afraid of the wrath of God, and he doesn't know how to get out from under it. One thing he does know is the church in its current state is not going to help him. Does he have a similar experience in 1517 where he nails these 95 theses and assumes that the church is just going to correct itself and conform to the word of God? Luther is an academic, and academics believe in the power of ideas and in the power of debate. And so, Luther writes out the 95 theses trying to make a case that he wants to present to his church. We have to realize at this point, Luther has no desire whatsoever to break from the Catholic church. He has no desire to go off and start a new movement. He truly wants to see the church right itself, and he's basically calling the church for its own rejection of its own ideas.
And there's no precedent for this indulgence sale that Leo kicks off. And even in the 95 theses, Luther makes it very clear. He mentions St. Peter's Basilica and the building up of St. Peter's Basilica. But he also, not so subtly, rather obviously, says the church's true treasure is not the collecting of its wealth. The church's true treasure is not this treasury of merits or this treasury of graces that have been accumulated by the saints over the centuries that we can tap into.
Luther says the church's true treasure is the gospel of Jesus Christ. And that's what he's calling the church back for. Well, the church is not interested in a debate. They are very much with the status quo.
There's no desire whatsoever to reform. In fact, when Leo first hears about the 95 theses, he says, ah, the ramblings of a drunken German, he'll think differently when he sobers up. Well, that's probably the greatest underestimation in all of history. For those that are not familiar with the 95 theses, could you introduce what are they, and are there specific ones that you might be able to call out that relate back even to his time 1510 when he was here in the city? Yeah, he does. He references St. Peter's Basilica. He remembers it. He sees it. He knows what's going on here. He knows what Tetzel is up to. He even uses one of the 95 theses he devotes to Tetzel had developed a jingle, almost, Nathan, like a marketing gimmick that you would use. And in German, it's klinkt and springt.
But in English, we would rhyme it with saying ring and spring. And so when a coin in the coffer rings, a soul from purgatory springs. Luther says, what a travesty and what a betrayal of the church's calling and of the gospel.
I love the ending of the 95 theses. When he gets to the end, he quotes from the prophets who say, the false prophet is the one who says peace, peace, and there is no peace. And this is the false cry of the Church of Rome in this moment. They're saying, we offer you peace. Buy this indulgence, and you'll have peace not only for your soul, but for the souls of your dead relatives.
Who doesn't want that? But it's not peace. They're false prophets.
They're false prophets. And then he says, listen to the prophet who says, cross, cross, and there is no cross. Now, what's he saying there?
Right? He's saying, Jesus is the one who bore the cross and there's no cross for you. Now there's debate over when Luther's converted. And personally, I'm of the opinion that it's more 1518, 1519. But what you do see at the 95 theses is Luther is definitely realizing the deficit of the church and the bankruptcy of the church.
It does not have an offer of salvation to give to people who need it. He's very close to understanding the gospel, but I don't think he's quite there yet. And when you realize just how far down the church had fallen, you see that it's probably not just going to be this instant realization on behalf of Luther. And it does take place over a few years, but I find, Nathan, that this document that starts all of Protestantism, very few people have read it, the 95 theses.
So, I'd encourage them to go out, find it, and read it. So, if Luther didn't find the gospel in the monastery or in the church, when he comes here to Rome, he doesn't find the answer. Where does he ultimately find the gospel message? Where it's been all along, he finds it in God's Word to us. And, you know, we could back up and say in 1516, he gets a copy of the Greek New Testament. Prior to then, it's the Latin text.
Then comes the 95 theses. Then he plunges himself into his second round of lectures on Galatians, on Romans, on the Psalms. He is immersed in the Word of God. And you can almost, like, look over his shoulder, see him reading Paul and seeing that wonderful declaration, that just shall live by faith. And when Luther sees that, it's a freeing of his soul.
We have that wonderful Wesleyan, my chains fell off, right? You can almost imagine Luther's chains falling off at that point. He found the gospel where God has given it to us in his Word.
And when he found it, it was, as he says, a breakthrough. The light of the gospel broke through the darkness. Well, that's Luther. But Rome is an ancient city. We can go all the way back to the pages of the New Testament.
That's right. We need to remember that Peter was here. And, of course, Paul was here. So, Peter very likely wrote 1 Peter from here and wrote 2 Peter from here. And I think it's very insightful when we think about that, for how Peter ends.
First, as he ends 1 Peter and 513, he references in greetings from the saints in Babylon, which is very interesting. That's what he calls Rome. Very provocative. It is provocative.
And I think it's also a helpful perspective. You know, we think of Rome, Rome calls itself the eternal city. We think of the beauty of it, the architecture of it. We think of the sophisticated system of the aqueducts and the system of Roman roads.
And those are achievements. We should note them and see them as celebrated. But we also recognize that in the first century, this was a rather decadent city.
This is a very decadent culture. Earlier, Nathan, you and I were at the Circus Maximus, and we were out there on the track of the Circus Maximus. And you think, this was basically designed for carnage of the chariot races.
And some of our listeners may be thinking of Ben-Hur and Charlton Heston on a chariot riding around those hairpin turns. We think of the Colosseum, a place where it was blood sport. We think of the persecution of Christians.
We think of the very low sexual ethic that was here in Rome, things we probably shouldn't even mention, you know, over air. And so, what does it call it? But Babylon, an enemy of God. And then I find this curious too, you know, you think about it, how he ends 1 Peter 5, he mentions, to God be the dominion now and forever. And then he ends 2 Peter 3 with, to God be the glory both now and forever.
Amen. And you think of Rome, and what do you think of? Glory, power, monumental achievements. You think of Rome, and you immediately think of empire, the Roman empire, and you think of dominion.
And this would have been all around. Remember, Peter's writing to Christians who suffer, Christians who are persecuted. And what Peter is helping them realize is that what you see on the surface is not the reality. Rome is not the glory. Rome is not the dominion. We know that it is God who is the glory. It is God who is on the throne and ruling and has dominion. And so, what a wonderful thing that Peter is reminding his first century Roman audience of. And it's probably something we need to think about often as well as we think about the world we live in. And as we see things in culture that confound us and maybe even disturb us, let's remember that to Him be dominion, to Him be glory, to Him be power forever and ever.
Amen. So the Apostle Paul, Dr. Nichols, was here as well. It's likely his life ended here.
Can you speak a little bit about him? Yeah, he came here as a prisoner. It was a very long journey to get here. It was actually the journey that we did as we finished up there in Jerusalem and made our way to Rome through the Mediterranean Sea. Took Paul over two years to do it, and it was treacherous.
You can read about it in Acts chapter 27. But then he arrived in Rome. He was under house arrest.
The Roman officials could find no reason why he was even arrested, let alone to be convicted of anything. And so, he's released. And we don't talk about it, but he's got his fourth missionary journey. And so, he travels back to some of those churches that he loved and that he helped plant and worked in for years. But then he's rearrested, and he's here in Rome. We don't know a lot of the details. He does say in 2 Timothy chapter 2, verse 9, that he is in chains.
This is not house arrest. There's the tradition that his final imprisonment was in the Mamertime Prison, which is just on the end of the forum there. There's a fourth or sixth century church built over it, and then another church built over that church.
And down below, as you go through the layers, there is a very dank, dark, stone-cold prison. And that may be where Paul was. We do know, though, that he writes his final epistle. It's a testament of a dying man, 2 Timothy. He writes it to Timothy. We know that it was written here in Rome. It was written before his martyrdom.
And it could be months, but many are of the opinion that it probably was more like weeks or days that Paul finished this and then led to his martyrdom. When we think of Paul, we think of his magnum opus, his letter to the Christians here in Rome. What would we miss in the New Testament if Romans wasn't in the canon?
Oh, we'd miss so much. I mean, you think of what a clear gospel presentation Romans is, or think of the Romans Road. Maybe some of you listeners were led to Christ through somebody who used the Romans Road, or maybe you used verses from Romans to lead others to Christ. What I love about Romans is we get to chapter 1, and we find we're under the wrath of God. We get to chapter 5, and Paul makes this declaration that we now have peace with God. And you go right in the middle at chapter 3, and what do you see but the righteousness of God as manifested and demonstrated in Christ and His sinless life and His obedient death on the cross for our sins. And so how do we go from the wrath of God to being at peace with God, which, Nathan, that's the ultimate question.
Everything else pales in comparison to that one. It's by the righteousness of God as manifested in Christ. It is by being justified by faith. So what a wonderful presentation Paul gives us in Romans. And then I always love the end of Romans with this mention of all these believers that are here in this city.
You know, we mentioned it. Peter calls Rome Babylon, and here in the midst of Babylon. And this is Nero's Rome in the 50s and the 60s.
He's the emperor. And here in Nero's Rome, there are Christians. There's a church. This is the power of the gospel. This is the power of God. This is, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it, being lived out decades after Christ makes that declaration.
So, yeah, I couldn't even want to imagine the New Testament without the epistle of Romans. Well, I love Romans 8 verse 30 and the confidence and the assurance that it gives Christians when Paul says, those whom he predestined, he also called. And those whom he called, he justified. Those whom he justified, he also glorified.
And I can just imagine being a Christian, living in this city, facing persecution, and knowing that if God has called you and justified you, that you will be there in glory. You know, one of the true gifts God gives us is not only saving us, but that wonderful assurance that we are His. And if we are His, we are kept.
That's all there is to it. You know, Jesus says, you're in my Father's hands. No one can take you out of my Father's hands. Paul, of course, taught this. He taught the doctrine of assurance.
But here's the beautiful thing. If we can go back to the end of 2 Timothy, 2 Timothy, those final words of Paul, here we see the application of assurance. Paul tells Timothy, and you know, I think we have to really see this in the personal relationship that Paul had with Timothy. And imagine Timothy reading this, knowing that very shortly, Paul is going to be taken from him, and Paul's going to be taken to heaven. And put yourself in Timothy's shoes. So this assurance that Paul has is also going to be something that's going to bring confidence to Timothy, and is going to edify Timothy. But Paul says at the end of 2 Timothy, chapter 4, so the Lord strengthened me, and so the Lord stood by me, and so the Lord delivered me. And then he says, and it is with full assurance and confidence that the Lord will bring me safely into His heavenly kingdom. This is the beauty. We can put Romans with the doctrine of assurance together with 2 Timothy in the application of assurance. And if you're chained, and you're in prison, it doesn't get much darker than that. And in that dark moment, Paul can say, the Lord will bring me safely into His heavenly kingdom.
That's assurance. Well, Dr. Nichols, let's spend some time talking about the persecution of Christians in those early centuries of the church here in Rome. Well, we could start with Nero. And so he's emperor of 50s, 60s. Of course, this is overseeing the martyrdom of Peter, the martyrdom of Paul. But it was also a time where he unleashed an intense persecution on Christians. We see it again at the end of the first century under the emperor Domitian.
He rules from 81 to 96. It was a time of persecution. It was under Domitian that John was exiled to the isle of Patmos. And so that was a season of persecution. We could think of the Colosseum.
We visited that yesterday. And there in the Colosseum, of course, it was the gladiators. And it was the gladiators against animals. It was animals against animals and gladiators against gladiators. And it was basically blood sport.
But there were also times where it wasn't just the gladiators. It was the persecution of Christians. And one that we know of is Ignatius of Antioch, who was martyred there in the Colosseum. Another intense time of persecution came in the 290s. In fact, we can see in the writings of Eusebius, who wrote one of the early church histories, he speaks of the jails being so full of Christians and Roman soldiers and proconsuls and government officials being so focused on arresting Christians that it actually launches crime sprees across the empire. Imagine the intensity of persecution. Next to the Colosseum, there is this arch, Constantine's arch.
What's the significance of that? Well, that brings us to the person who, in many ways, brings an end to that persecution. So, this is Constantine. At this time, there is a divided empire. And Constantine wins a victory at the Mulveian Bridge, the Battle of Mulveian Bridge, and secures the empire. He returns to Rome, of course, triumphantly. That arch is constructed to commemorate his victory. It still stands.
It's rather impressive of a monument. And following that victory, Constantine issues a series of edicts. And those edicts put an end to persecution, and then they actually legalize Christianity, and then they even hint at some prominence to come for Christianity. Many churches in the United States enjoy tax-free status.
They don't pay tax on their real estate. Well, the precedent for that goes all the way back to Constantine and some of those edicts, and giving churches tax-free property status. But it put an end to the persecution and brought about, really, a time of peace and prosperity. One of the benefits, almost an immediate benefit, is the Council of Nicaea that is called in 325. And so, we have in the early church, of course, mostly a time of persecution and suffering, but we also have a time of peace and security and prosperity. What can Christians today learn as they reflect on both seasons in church history where the church was persecuted and the church was experiencing peace? You know, you could say, who's the better emperor to be under?
Nero or Constantine? The reality is God puts us where He places us. He calls us to live in the place and time where He has put us. And He's called us to be faithful disciples. And sometimes that context is a context of persecution and suffering.
In fact, as we look across church history, we look across the church around the globe, probably the prominent place is a place of persecution and suffering. And so, the call there is to be a faithful disciple, to be faithful in proclaiming the gospel, faithful in living the gospel. But if we're in a time of peace and prosperity, we have that same call. We have that same challenge to be faithful and faithful disciples and faithful proclaimers of the gospel. Paul tells us that he's learned contentment. Whatever state he's in, if he's in a state of want and of need, he's learned contentment. And if he's in a state of plenty, he's learned contentment.
Because ultimately, he's learned that his identity is in Christ, and his calling is to be a faithful disciple. And that's the lesson for us. No matter what century, we find ourselves in it. Well, as I'm sure our listeners can hear, the city is beginning to wake up. So I think that's a great place to end this conversation. It's been a delight traveling with you, Dr. Nichols, these past couple of weeks. And thank you for taking some time just to reflect on the God of history and His work, even through a city like Rome. Yeah, it's been my pleasure, too, to visit these places with you and just reflect on what God has done here. Well, what you just heard was a conversation that my colleague Nathan W. Bingham had with Dr. Stephen Nichols. You're listening to Renewing Your Mind on this Friday.
I'm Lee Webb, and thank you for being with us. R.C. Sproul series, The Assurance of Salvation, was our focus this week here on the program, and I think these messages can be a great help to you if you have ever struggled with a question of assurance.
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