The ruins of columns of an ancient Byzantine church in the ancient city of Philadelphia, now called Alashehir, Turkey. Notice the mineret between the ancient basilica.
The Turks did not live in the modern land what is called “Turkey” today; in the NT days it was Asia Minor, Anatolia, Galatia, Cappodocia, Bythinia, Pontus, Phrygia, and Armenia. The Seljuks Turks first came to Turkey in the east in 1071 and defeated the Byzantines at the battle of Manzikert near Van. Then the Ottoman Turks defeated the Byzantines in Contstantinople in 1453 after the many wars and battles of the Crusades period of 1095-1299 and beyond. Notice the Islamic minaret in between the ancient church ruins. Like the church at Ephesus, the church in Philadelphia eventurally left its first love also. ( Revelation 2:4-5) Every generation is responsible for the great commission in their own time. Just because a land had the gospel before in history, does not mean that it should not have the gospel preached again to that same land, because the people are different; different ethnicities, and different generations.
The early church had “quickly deserted Him who called you by His grace” (Galatians 1:6) and eventually, the churches in Revelation chapters 2-3 did the same thing.
As we celebrate the Reformation on October 31 this year, we are reminded of several things:
1. Individual local churches did fail in history; and that does not go against the promise of Matthew 16:18. That even in the Scriptures, at that time in history, individual churches were very quickly drifting away from the truth of the gospel. Galatians 1:6-9
This shows that they can drift and cease to be true churches. God warned all the churches by His warning to the first church there in Revelation 2, Ephesus: “If you don’t repent, I am coming in judgment and I will remove your lamp stand, unless you repent.” (see Rev. 2:4-5) All the churches in Revelation 2-3 were eventually conquered, first by the Goths, then by Islam. There are a few Eastern Orthodox people left in Izmir ( Smyrna) today, but that is all from those that claim the ancient succession. There are alive, biblical churches, underground, evangelical, Protestant, in other parts of Turkey.
“I am amazed that you are so quickly deserting Him who called you by the grace of Christ, for a different gospel; which is really not another; only there are some who are disturbing you and want to distort the gospel of Christ. But even if we, or an angel from heaven, should preach to you a gospel contrary to what we have preached to you, he is to be accursed! As we have said before, so I say again now, if any man is preaching to you a gospel contrary to what you have received, he is to be accursed!”
2. Galatians 1:8-9 teaches Sola Scriptura in principle. The fact that the apostle Paul considered his letter, by him writing it, and using these words, “. . . so I say to you now . . . ” (v. 9) shows that he is communicating in the same way that Jesus did when Jesus said, “have you not read what God said to you?” ( see Matthew 22:31). The Scriptures are “God speaking”. Paul considered his letters, as “God speaking”, as “God-breathed”. (see also I Corinthians 2:13; 4:6; 7:40; and 14:37) That, and along with the fact that this gospel and his apostleship was not from men or humans or by the agency of man” (verse 1), shows that he knew His letters were authoritative and had the God-breathed quality of Scripture. This demonstrates, in principle, that the canon existed before being called “canon”, that is, the historical ontological existence of the books of Scripture was at the time of writing (48-70 AD or 48-96 AD) “canon” (which was a measuring rod that eventually meant, “standard”, “rule”, “principle”, “criterion”, “law”, before it meant “list”. See Galatians 6:16; and a textual variant at Philippians 3:16 for this meaning of the Greek word, “kanon”.); and was before the human process of the early church of discerning, sifting, and putting all the 27 books “under one cover”, so to speak.
Luther says on this text: “Here then is a plain text like a thunderbolt, wherein Paul subjects both himself and an angel from heaven, and all others, doctors, teachers, and masters, to be under the authority of the Scriptures.” (Martin Luther, Commentary on Galatians, quoted in Tabletalk Magazine, January, 2009, p. 29.)
“In spite of this emphatic denunciation so many accept the pope as the supreme judge of the Scriptures. “The Church,” they say, “chose only four gospels. The Church might have chosen more. Ergo the Church is above the Gospel.” With equal force one might argue: “I approve the Scriptures. Ergo I am above the Scriptures. John the Baptist confessed Christ. Hence he is above Christ.” Paul subordinates himself, all preachers, all the angels of heaven, everybody to the Sacred Scriptures. We are not the masters, judges, or arbiters, but witnesses, disciples, and confessors of the Scriptures, whether we be pope, Luther, Augustine, Paul, or an angel from heaven.” Luther, Galatians, at 1:9, see Luther’s Commentary on Galatians here.
3. Remember Sola Fide; Justification by faith alone. We should celebrate Luther’s insight by reminding ourselves of it – this is dramatically illustrated here with a short clip from the old black and white movie about Luther.
The Roman Catholic Church had drifted from the Scriptures and the truth of the gospel and replaced it with ceremonies, relics, indulgences, prayers to saints and Mary, exalting Mary too much; the treasury of merit, purgatory, baptismal regeneration as the ex opere operato work that causes regeneration and initial justification, mortal vs. venial sin categories of being able to loose real justification; and good works as conditions for regaining and keeping justification, and other “sacramental treadmill” works such as transubstantiation and confession to a priest. The result being that no one could ever be sure they were even justified or saved.