Saturday, October 29, 2022

The Reformation in England and Scotland

Master Latimer, preaching before King Edward the sixth
Like my last post, this comes from my notes for a Sunday school class I taught last year on the history of the Reformation. You can listen to the two-part series at this link

Early Martyrs in Scotland

Patrick Hamilton (1504-1528) was a young professor at the University of St. Andrews in Scotland. George Wishart (1513-1546) was a teacher at Montrose and Cambridge who then preached throughout Scotland for a few years. Both of them were burnt at the stake at St. Andrews. 

Reform in England during the reigns of Henry VIII and Edward VI (1520s-1553): 

Henry VIII reigned in England from 1509 to 1547. He remained largely Romanist in his doctrine, but he broke with the pope in 1534 and allowed Protestantism to spread in fits and starts. His last queen, Katherine Parr, was a devout Protestant. His children were Mary Tudor, Elizabeth I, and Edward VI. 

William Tyndale was a teacher at Cambridge and an English reformer during the reign of Henry VIII. After translating much of the Bible into English while living abroad, he was burnt at the stake for heresy in 1536. 

Hugh Latimer was one of several reformers who met at the University of Cambridge. Latimer rose and fell several times under Henry VIII. Under Edward VI, Latimer was a popular and powerful preacher.

Thomas Cranmer, the archbishop of Canterbury, supported Henry VIII’s break with Rome and was the primary author of the Book of Common Prayer (1549, 1552) and the 42 Articles (1553).

Martin Bucer and Peter Martyr Vermigli came from Strasbourg to teach at Cambridge and Oxford and to assist with the reform under Edward VI. Vermigli had the more difficult task at Oxford. Bucer wrote On the Kingdom of Christ to encourage the Reformation in England.

John Knox was a Scottish priest, notary, and tutor who served as George Wishart’s bodyguard for a time. When Protestants gathered in St. Andrews castle, he was called to be a preacher. After being a prisoner on a French galley, became a preacher in England and a chaplain to Edward VI.

Marian persecutions and exile (1553-1558)

In the reign of Mary Tudor, a number of leading Protestants were executed. When Latimer and Ridley were burned, Latimer called out, “Be of good comfort, Master Ridley, and play the man! We shall this day light such a candle, by God's grace, in England, as I trust shall never be put out.” Thomas Cranmer was also burned at the stake. Many fled, especially reform-minded clergy, theological students, and gentry. About 800 exiles from England regrouped in Holland, Germany, and Switzerland. About 233 lived in Geneva, while others went to cities like Zurich, Frankfort, and Strasbourg. 

Reformed churches (re)established (1558-1580)

England - The Anglican Church

When Mary Tudor died, Elizabeth I came to the throne in England and reestablished Protestantism in 1558-1559. She reigned until 1603.

The Marian exiles brought back an agenda for reform in England and Scotland informed by Reformed teaching and models in Europe. The exile church in Geneva came back to Britain with the Geneva Bible, an English Psalter, and Calvinist orders for worship and church government. But Elizabeth retained the Book of Common Prayer and government by bishops. Tensions within the exile community concerning worship and church government would produce the Puritan movement, which sought further reformation of the English church from within the church. Despite not going as far as some wanted, most of the Anglican bishops appointed by Elizabeth were returning exiles from Zurich, influenced by Heinrich Bullinger and Peter Martyr Vermigli. Under Elizabeth and James I, the Church of England would be Calvinist in theology and episcopalian in government. 

Important documents for the English Church would include the Book of Common Prayer (1559), the 39 Articles (1571), the Book of Homilies (1571), Foxe’s Book of Martyrs (1563), and the Geneva Bible (1560). 

Scotland - The Kirk of Scotland

The Genevan model of worship and government found a better reception in Scotland. After a few visits, John Knox returned permanently in 1559. In 1560 Scotland adopted the Scots Confession of Faith, written by John Knox and five other men named John. The Book of Discipline (1560) defined the kirk’s presbyterian government (this was expanded in a second book in 1578) and The Book of Order (1556) brought the Genevan liturgy to Scotland.

John Knox and the “Lords of the Congregation” overcame opposition to reform from Regent Mary of Guise and her daughter Queen Mary Stuart. In both cases, this struggle eventually led to fighting, with Catholic France and Protestant England in the background. After Mary Stuart was forced to abdicate, the regents for young James VI (later James I of England) gave time for Presbyterianism to grow strong. John Knox died in 1572, about 59 years old. The King's Confession, which became the core of the Scottish National Covenant, was signed in 1580.
“Yea, whatever shall become of us and of our mortal carcases, I doubt not but that this cause, in despite of Satan, shall prevail in the realm of Scotland. For, as it is the eternal truth of the eternal God, so shall it once prevail, howsoever for a time it be impugned.” 
- John Knox (1559)

Tuesday, October 25, 2022

The Reformation in Germany and Switzerland

Luther at the Diet of Worms by Anton von Werner (1877)
Here are two timelines I put together for a Sunday school class I taught last year on the history of the Reformation in Germany and Switzerland. You can listen to the lesson at this link

The Reformation in Germany

1511 - Martin Luther arrives in Wittenberg after a visit to Rome the previous year.

1512 - Luther receives his doctorate and joins the faculty at the university in Wittenberg

1513-1517 - Luther studies and lectures on the Psalms, Romans, and Galatians.

October 31, 1517 - Luther publishes his 95 theses concerning indulgences.

1518 - The Heidelberg Disputation; Luther defends his ideas before the Augustinian order and university student Martin Bucer meets Luther.

1519 - The Disputation of Leipzig; 22-year-old Philip Melanchthon assists his fellow professors Luther and Karlstadt in their debate with Johann Eck.

1520 - Luther writes four short books: On the Papacy of Rome, The Address to the German Nobility, On the Babylonian Captivity of the Church, and The Freedom of the Christian Man. In December, Luther burns the Papal bull that threatened him with excommunication if he did not recant 41 statements. He is excommunicated by the Pope the next month.

1521 - The Imperial Diet of Worms; Luther refuses to recant before the emperor, Charles V. After he leaves he is declared an outlaw but is saved by Elector Frederick and kept safe for a time in Wartburg Castle. There Luther translates the New Testament (the Old Testament would be completed in 1534). In the same year, 24-year-old Philip Melanchthon writes the first Protestant systematic theology, Loci communes.

1525 - Martin Luther marries Katharina von Bora.

1526 - At the Diet of Speyer, local princes are permitted to decide religious issues. This is allowed to gain political unity in the Holy Roman Empire amid a war with France and the Pope. This gives opportunity for Protestant reforms.

1529 - Following the emperor’s sack of Rome, an attempt is made to nullify the earlier agreement. Five princes protest this attempt, earning the name “Protestants.”

1530 - The Protestants present their confession of faith, written by Melanchthon with Luther’s approval, to the emperor at the Diet of Augsburg. Protestant princes form the Schmalkald league for defense. But pressure from the Turks force the emperor to tolerate Protestants to maintain political unity. Protestantism also spreads to Scandinavia during this time.

1540-1541 - The Colloquy of Regensburg; Roman Catholics (led by Cardinal Contarini and Johann Gropper) and Protestants (led by Martin Bucer and Philip Melanchthon) dialogue and seek agreement, but fail to reach agreement on transubstantiation and papal authority.

1546 - Martin Luther dies in February. In June, the emperor launches the Schmalkald War to subdue the Protestants.

1555 - A treaty is made, the Peace of Augsburg, which allows each territorial prince to decide whether the territory would be Lutheran or Roman Catholic.

The Reformation in Switzerland

1516 - Ulrich Zwingli, a parish priest, influenced by Erasmus and the study of Scripture, begins preaching through the books of the New Testament. He also begins criticizing the use of Swiss Mercenaries in foreign wars after serving as a chaplain to them.

1519 - Zwingli becomes the preacher at the Grossmunster in Zurich. Plague hits the town and he stays to minister to the people and becomes sick himself, earning the trust of the people.

1522 - Zwingli defends members of his congregation who participated in the “sausage affair” (eating meat during Lent).

1523-1525 - Through preaching and public disputations, Zwingli persuades the people and city council to embrace Protestant teachings. The city abolishes the mass in 1525. He also debates the first Anabaptists (doctrinal and political radicals) and persuades the city to reject them as well.

1529 - The Colloquy of Marburg; the reformers in Germany and Switzerland attempt to unite. They reach agreement on fourteen and a half articles, but failed to reach sufficient agreement on the fifteenth article concerning Christ’s presence in the Lord’s Supper. Thus two branches of Protestantism would develop, Lutheran (e.g. Luther and Melanchthon) and Reformed (e.g. Zwingli and Bucer).

1531 - Zwingli dies in battle as Catholic Swiss attack Zurich after Zurich sought to pressure them to allow Protestant preachers in their cantons. A treaty is signed allowing each canton to decide for itself. 27-year-old Heinrich Bullinger succeeds Zwingli as the leading preacher in Zurich and goes on to serve in that capacity for over forty years.

1535 - William Farel persuades the independent city of Geneva to abolish the mass and embrace Protestantism.

1536 - 26-year-old John Calvin publishes the first edition of The Institutes of the Christian Religion. Later that year, while traveling from France to Strasbourg, Calvin is forcefully persuaded by Farel to stay in Geneva and minister there.

1538-1541 - Calvin spends time with Martin Bucer ministering in Strasbourg after being banished by the city council of Geneva, before being invited back to Geneva after his reply to Cardinal Sadoleto.

1542 - Peter Martyr Vermigli is forced to flee Italy after attempting reform there and takes up a teaching post with Martin Bucer in Strasbourg.

1541-1564 - Calvin leads the reformation of Geneva, turning it into a refuge for Protestant refugees, a center of learning, and a model for the reformation of church and city. Preachers trained in Geneva are sent throughout Europe and even to Brazil. The final edition of the Institutes is published in 1559. Calvin dies at the age of 54.

Wednesday, October 19, 2022

What is Prayer?

Question 98: What is prayer?
Answer: Prayer is an offering up of our desires unto God, for things agreeable to his will, in the name of Christ, with confession of our sins, and thankful acknowledgement of his mercies. (WSC)
Prayer, like the word of God and the sacraments, is an outward and ordinary means by which Christ communicates to us the benefits of his redemption. Prayer is a means ordained by God though which and in response to which he blesses his people. “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you” (Matt. 7:7). God himself exhorts and invites people to call upon him (Is. 55:6, Ps. 50:14-15). We pray as a response to his word.

Prayer is an offering up of our desires unto God. We are taught to “pour out your heart before him” (Ps. 62:8). In prayer, we make our requests known to God and we make a case for them, appealing to his character and promises, describing our situation and desires. The prayers of Scripture are sometimes bare requests (e.g. Luke 18:13), while other times they include arguments, appeals, and descriptions that support their requests (e.g. Gen. 32:9-12, 2 Chron. 20:5-12, Ps. 143).

We ought to offer up desires for things agreeable to his will and not for things unlawful. Sinful desires ought to be confessed to him with sorrow (see below), while lawful desires ought to be offered to him. We should especially seek the good things God has promised, knowing that prayer is a means by which he grants them. As Thomas Watson put it, “The tree of promise will not drop its fruit unless shaken by the hand of prayer.”

Prayer is to be offered in the name of Christ. That is, we should offer our prayers through his mediation, coming to God through Christ. No sinner can have access to God without a mediator, and there is but one mediator, Jesus Christ. Through faith in him, we gain confidence to approach God for help. We ask for mercy for Christ’s sake, “not by bare mentioning of his name, but by drawing our encouragement to pray, and our boldness, strength, and hope of acceptance in prayer, from Christ and his mediation” (Westminster Larger Catechism, Q. 180).

And prayer does not only consist in offering up our desires, but also in confessing our sins and giving thanks for his mercies (Dan. 9:1-19, Phil. 4:6). We confess our sins and admit our guilt, express our grief and hatred of sin, and seek his forgiveness and renewing grace. We also give thanks to him and praise him for his excellencies and blessings, expressing our faith, awe, love, and hope.

Wednesday, October 12, 2022

Partaking of the Lord's Supper in a Worthy Manner

Question 97: What is required for the worthy receiving of the Lord's Supper?
Answer: It is required of them that would worthily partake of the Lord's Supper, that they examine themselves of their knowledge to discern the Lord's body, of their faith to feed upon him, of their repentance, love, and new obedience; lest, coming unworthily, they eat and drink judgment to themselves. (WCF)
In this supper, Jesus holds out his hand to us. He testifies to his death, his promise, and our blessings and obligations as his people. But in this supper we also reach out and take his hand. We take and eat and drink. By receiving the bread and wine, we claim Christ's redemptive death on our behalf, expressing our faith in him. By partaking, we testify and renew our thankfulness, our engagement to God, and our mutual love and fellowship with each other, as members of the same body.

It is important to approach the Supper with this intent. To do otherwise is to partake in an unworthy manner, bringing judgment upon oneself (1 Cor. 11:27-31). We must not treat holy things with contempt. We must not, as it were, cross our fingers behind our back while shaking hands with God. Instead, we should examine ourselves and consider the meaning of the Supper as we approach it. The Lord’s Supper is for those who are resting upon Christ for salvation, repenting of their sins, and seeking after godliness. Examine, therefore, your knowledge of Christ, faith in him, repentance, love, and new obedience. Then receive the bread and wine with this knowledge and faith, remembering Christ’s death, feeding upon him by faith, giving thanks for his grace, and renewing your covenant with God and love for the saints.

In addition, not only do we have a responsibility to partake in a worthy manner, but the church also has a duty to guard the holy things (1 Cor. 5, Matt. 7:6, 16:19, 18:15-18). Thus, the Lord’s Supper is given to those who have been baptized, have publicly professed faith in Christ, and are members in good standing of a faithful Christian church.

At the same time, all of this does not mean we must wait until we feel worthy of Jesus, as if we must be free from sin to partake. He came to save sinners and in this sacrament promises remission of sins to those who believe in him. This sacrament is meant to increase the assurance, faith, and spiritual vitality of believers. It reminds us that Jesus is our strength, apart from him we can do nothing, and it is through him that we have peace with God. “So come to Jesus and find rest, refreshing, and nourishment for your weak and weary soul” (OPC BCO). 

Saturday, October 8, 2022

What Is the Lord's Supper?

Question 96: What is the Lord's Supper?
Answer: The Lord's Supper is a sacrament, wherein, by giving and receiving bread and wine, according to Christ's appointment, his death is showed forth; and the worthy receivers are, not after a corporal and carnal manner, but by faith, made partakers of his body and blood, with all his benefits, to their spiritual nourishment, and growth in grace. (WSC)
The Lord’s Supper was instituted by the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed, to be observed by his church until he comes again. In this supper, his sacrifice of himself is not repeated or offered again to God (Heb. 10:14), but his death is showed forth and proclaimed to us (1 Cor. 11:26). Christ crucified is portrayed and presented to believers in the gospel and in the sacrament, the bread and wine being symbols of his body and blood. We partake of the Lord's Supper in remembrance of the Lord Jesus and his once-for-all sacrifice of himself on the cross. And we do not merely remember that he died, but that he died for us. For this supper is a sign and seal of his promise to believers that this body and blood was given for them and the remission of their sins (Matt. 26:28). This sacrament is a seal of the covenant of grace in the way that people shake hands to confirm a deal. The physical act confirms the words spoken.

As we respond to this sign and seal with faith, it works as a means of grace by which Christ feeds us with himself. In this supper, he invites us to take and eat and drink of his body and blood. The apostle Paul calls this bread and wine a communion (or “participation”) in the body and blood of Christ (1 Cor. 10:16). It is akin, he says, to the sacrificial meals of the Old Testament, in which those who ate of the sacrifice were participants in the sacrifice (1 Cor. 10:18). The sacrifice on the cross happened long ago, but we continue to feed on it and draw strength from it today. As 1 Corinthians 5:7 says, “Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed.” The lamb was slain long ago. Yet 1 Corinthians 5:8 goes on to exhort believers: “Therefore let us keep the feast.” We continue to feed on the Lamb that was slain, participating in the benefits of his death. And in our case the Lamb is risen and alive and we abide in him (John 6:56), like branches in a vine (John 15:1-7). This sacrament is one means by which he gives himself to us, bringing us life from heaven.

While we do feed on Christ in this supper, we do not do so with our teeth and stomach. Jesus did not say that the bread and wine become his body and blood, or that his body and blood is inclosed in the bread and wine. His body remains a human body even when glorified, visible and limited to one place. His body is in heaven. Nevertheless, Christ’s words of institution do indicate that his body and blood is truly offered to believers in this supper. Those who outwardly partake of the visible elements in a worthy manner do inwardly by faith receive and feed upon Christ’s body and blood, receiving life and strength from him. This is done by the Spirit, who makes us living members of Christ’s body and conveys to us all the benefits of his death (1 Cor. 12:12-13, John 6:63).

Wednesday, October 5, 2022

To Whom is Baptism to be Administered?

Question 95: To whom is Baptism to be administered?
Answer: Baptism is not to be administered to any that are out of the visible church, till they profess their faith in Christ, and obedience to him; but the infants of such as are members of the visible church are to be baptized. (WSC)
Baptism is a sign and seal of our ingrafting into Christ, our partaking of the benefits of the covenant of grace, and our engagement to be the Lord’s. Who then ought to be baptized?

At first we might be tempted to say that the regenerate should be baptized. But we cannot look into the heart and see the new birth directly. The question then is, whom does Scripture tell us should be welcomed as members of the covenant? Who are the members of the visible church? The visible church is a society made up of those who profess faith and obedience to Christ, and of their children. The baptism of infants was not contested for much of church history, but it is contested in our day, so consider these points:

1. Since God makes his covenant of grace with believers and their children, welcoming believers and their children into his church, therefore believers and their children ought to be baptized (Gen. 17:7, Acts 2:39, 16:31-34). The New Testament does not teach that the new covenant takes a different approach to children, but rather demonstrates continuity with the Old Testament on this matter.

2. Since in the Old Testament the sign of entrance into the covenant (circumcision) was given to believers and their children, so in the New Testament, the sign of entrance into the covenant (baptism) ought to be given to believers and their children (Gen. 17:1-14, Col. 2:11-12).

3. Just as circumcision was a sign of benefits which were received by faith and was nevertheless applied to the infants of believers before they could express their faith (Rom. 4:11), so baptism is a sign of benefits which are received by faith and is nevertheless applied to the infants of believers before they can express their faith.

4. Since baptism is our initiation as disciples of the Lord Jesus (Matt. 28:18-20), and the children of believers are disciples of the Lord Jesus, to be raised by their parents as such (Eph. 6:1-4, Matt. 19:13-15), therefore we should baptize the children of believers.

What does baptism mean for the infants of believers? It means the same thing as it does for adult believers. They bear the name of God, they have been called out of the world, they are disciples of Christ, his benefits are theirs, and they are his, provided they keep the covenant through faith in him. It means they are visible saints, having the identity of Christians rather than pagans, to be treated as such, with hope and charity, as brothers and sisters.

Baptism is not a guarantee of salvation if it is without true faith. We have the examples of the circumcised and “baptized” Israelites in the wilderness (1 Cor. 10:1-14) and the baptism of Simon the magician (Acts 8:9-24). And so parents ought to be diligent in bringing up their children in the ways of the Lord, knowing that God uses the instrumentality of parents to raise up another generation to serve him (Gen. 18:19, Eph. 6:4). And all the church, of whatever age, ought to be exhorted to repent and believe in Christ, living in accord with their baptism and embracing its promises.