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Reformation History Reading: D’Aubigne’s Classic, Volume 1

June 19, 2017 Leave a comment

For the 2017 Challies Reading Challenge, and especially appropriate for this the 500th anniversary of the start of the Reformation, I have read the first volume (out of five) of J.H. Merle D’Aubigne’s “History of the Reformation in the Sixteenth Century.”  Available free in the public domain, Librivox recording has recently completed a full audio recording of the first volume; the complete work is also available in PDF format, 1137 pages plus footnotes.

The reading is straightforward and clear, and a good selection for audio listening.  Though of great length and detail, the material is interesting as it tells the story of the early years of the 16th century, especially with reference to Martin Luther and his life, but also including the major players in Luther’s life.  Chapters introduce and provide details concerning Melancthon and Erasmus, as well as lesser known figures such as Reuchlin, Spalatin, and Staupitz.  (Here the PDF version is helpful, for spelling so many German names.)  D’Aubigne’s narrative combines his own commentary on the important events, along with many personal letters of Luther and his friends, and interesting anecdotes, to provide a detailed picture of what was going on in early 16th century Germany.  The focus is mainly on Luther, but we also see the many influences on his life, the friends placed in his life at various points, and the rising support from the leaders, students and the common people of Germany.  The section on Tetzel, the itinerant indulgences merchant, provides rich details and humorous accounts, such as “the trick of a nobleman,” who obtained an indulgence for a future crime to be committed:

A Saxon nobleman, who had heard Tetzel at Leipsic, was much displeased by his falsehoods. Approaching the monk, he asked him if he had the power of pardoning sins that men have an intention of committing. “Most assuredly,” replied Tetzel, “I have received full powers from his holiness for that purpose.” — “Well, then,” answered the knight, “I am desirous of taking a slight revenge on one of my enemies, without endangering his life. I will give you ten crowns if you will give me a letter of indulgence that shall fully justify me.” Tetzel made some objections; they came however to an arrangement by the aid of thirty crowns. The monk quitted Leipsic shortly after. The nobleman and his attendants lay in wait for him in a wood between Juterbock and Treblin; they fell upon him, gave him a slight beating, and took away the well-stored indulgence-chest the inquisitor was carrying with him. Tetzel made a violent outcry, and carried his complaint before the courts. But the nobleman showed the letter which Tetzel had signed himself, and which exempted him beforehand from every penalty. Duke George, whom this action had at first exceedingly exasperated, no sooner read the document than he ordered the accused to be acquitted.

Volume 1 book 4 deals with the events shortly after October 31, 1517, through the friendly session at Heidelberg in the spring of 1518 and the beginning persecution in Augsburg that fall.  This section shows Luther’s desire to remain loyal to Roman Catholicism and the Pope –even writing a respectful letter to the Pope, thinking that the Pope would agree with him—yet, in the face of unexpected opposition, his courage and boldness.  The Roman Catholic leaders expected a simple case of a humble Augustine friar who would quickly recant, and soon became impatient, seeing an unexpected quality in Luther.

A sample from Luther’s letters, shortly after the theses were nailed to the church door in Wittenberg:

They require moderation in me, and they trample it under foot in the judgment they pass on me!……We can always see the mote in our brother’s eye, and we overlook the beam in our own……Truth will not gain more by my moderation, than it will lose by my rashness. I desire to know what errors you and your theologians have found in my theses? Who does not know that a man rarely puts forth any new idea without having some appearance of pride, and without being accused of exciting quarrels? If humility herself should undertake something new, her opponents would accuse her of pride! Why were Christ and all the martyrs put to death? Because they seemed to be proud contemners of the wisdom of the time, and because they advanced novelties, without having first humbly taken counsel of the oracles of the ancient opinions.” –late 1517. From Volume 1 Book 3 Chapter 6.

Volume 1 is a great beginning to this History of the Reformation.  Since Librivox has now completed volume 1, I hope that they will soon add volume 2 and beyond.  Either way, I plan to read Volume 2 by next year, possibly in next year’s reading challenge.

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Reformation History: Confessionalism and Its Relevance Today

January 28, 2015 1 comment

Continuing through Carl Trueman’s Reformation history lectures, later messages provide excellent background and teaching regarding the confessional era and the development in the 16th century of “confessional states” (geographical regions defined by their common confessional belief), as well as the overall historical background of confessions.  As Trueman points out in the introduction to the Heidelberg Catechism (lesson 27), confessions — and catechisms to teach doctrine — really began in early church history (the first few centuries), yet reached a peak during the 1560s with the development of the Heidelberg Catechism (1563) and the Belgic Confession (1561), following the Anglican Church 39 Articles also in the mid-16th century.

This basic historical understanding (and its lack thereof) is very relevant today, as seen even in the Christian blog world recently.  Witness the many recent reviews-of-reviews-of-reviews regarding John Frame’s systematic theology and Frame’s revision of Reformed theology. Tom Chantry’s latest post this week, “Popping Interpretive Bubbles,” provides links to the other relevant posts – including the Triablogue’s rather anti-confessional (and lack of understanding) response to previous reviews of John Frame’s work — noting that “Somewhere in Orlando, John Frame must be chuckling.”

Chantry’s post provides a good synopsis, in written form, of this same background presented in Trueman’s audio lecture series, especially the following two points:

First, I wish confessional critics could understand and appreciate that confessions represent the settled opinion of a community of faith, not the fevered imaginations of any one Christian.

and

Second, recognize that the confessions paid great attention to earlier statements, from the Apostle’s Creed onward, in their summary of Christian doctrine. The Thirty-Nine articles are not original in the ordinary sense of the word; they are mainly a summary (in the English language) of the ancient and catholic teachings of the church. The Westminster Assembly set out to revise those articles because, in good conscience, the Divines could not continue to uphold episcopacy. Nevertheless, the Assembly retained the orthodox language of Anglicanism. The Savoy Declaration and the Second London Confession do not parrot the Westminster Confession because their authors lacked originality, but instead because they eschewed originality! Being conscience-bound to maintain a distinct baptismal practice, Baptists of the generation of 1689 nevertheless maintained the sound pattern of words already in use in the English language to express the catholic faith.

Trueman’s lectures #27 and 28, on the Heidelberg Catechism, provide this basic reference point along with further historical details, such as the beginnings of the Question-Answer catechism format during the High Middle Ages with a Catholic catechism developed in the 11th century and the pedagogical purpose, the very practical purpose that Martin Luther also experienced of needing to teach his young children.  Overall this series provides an in-depth look at society and politics and theology in the 16th century, lessons so needed in our very secular and individualistic culture.

Several posts from Tom Chantry have addressed the problems with the New Calvinism, (see especially the posts from summer 2014) which include the anti-confessionalism of those who disdain church history, its lessons and the importance of having creeds and confessions.  I highly recommend the “New Calvinism” posts also as quite instructive regarding the new Calvinism which puts the Doctrines of Grace in today’s culture of individualism.  As Chantry well observed:

Again we note that the Old Calvinism was serious about both ecclesiastical affiliation and confessional fidelity. Even where Old Calvinist fellowship has taken place across denominational and confessional lines, it has been between men who know both where they stand and who holds them accountable to stand there. It is hard to imagine how the Old Calvinism could have arrived where we are today.

and

The seeds of the newness of the New Calvinism are not, I believe, to be found in Calvinism at all. What has instead happened is that Calvinism has had its resurgence in the midst of an evangelical and secular culture which is profoundly different from that of Geneva or New Haven. Ours is a culture of individualism, and American evangelicalism is an individualistic form of Christianity. … New Calvinism has arisen where Calvin’s soteriology has been adopted without much challenge to the individualism of our age.

The Early English Reformation (Carl Trueman Reformation Series)

January 9, 2015 4 comments

In Carl Trueman’s Reformation series (see previous post), I am now going through the English Reformation section, and again pleased with the level of detail not found in most church history series.

Aside from the well-known facts about England’s Reformation – the basics about John Wycliffe as the “morning star” of the Reformation, and the political event of King Henry VIII’s desire for the pope to grant a divorce, Trueman fills in many more details for the overall background of that Reformation. A starting question, a “debate” among scholars, concerns the issue of how much of the English Reformation was done from the top-down imposed on the people, versus how much came from the grass-roots level of the people influenced by Wycliffe (the Lollards). The short answer is that we really don’t know the full extent of Lollardy among the people, though some areas of it have been researched. We can look at the statements in people’s wills, since in medieval times these usually included Catholic wording with reference to Mary and other saints, etc.; but not everyone wrote wills, so we don’t have that large of a sample. We can also look at cases of heresy trials. But not everyone who was tried for heresy was actually part of any organized “Lollard” type movement; some may have simply had great hatred for the Pope or his bishops or even the local priest. We do have record of “sporadic but significant” Lollard influence, including in Trueman’s home area of Gloucestershire, as well as in Kent and in the mid-lands.

As for Wycliffe himself, though he correctly understood basic Christian doctrine including justification by faith, he also advocated what is now called “Erastianism” (named for 16th century Thomas Erastus): an idea also advocated by Italian city-states during the later Middle Ages, that local government should rule over the church (though instead of the Catholic Pope). Wycliffe defined the church as the sum total of all the elect; then, in agreement with the medieval teaching, taught that no one could have assurance of their salvation, no one could know if they were of the elect – and therefore the Pope himself could not know if he was predestined and therefore the Pope could not know for certain if he was a member of the church – and therefore the Pope could not claim any powers related to the church.

England’s early “proto-Reformation” of the late 14th and early 15th centuries, including the lay preaching and the Wycliffe Bible translation in the hands of the Lollards, led to a negative association for the government officials: Bible translation equals political radicalism. The result was a delay in official English translations, and translations from the original Hebrew and Greek texts, until relatively late. Germany had its first German translation of the Bible in 1466 without any political controversy, while England’s first official translation, authorized and from the original Hebrew and Greek, did not come until 1539 (the “Great Bible” Coverdale, three years after Tyndale was martyred).

England’s first experience of the 16th century Reformation began in the 1520s and 1530s with the radical Anabaptist groups, as well as with a gathering of intellectuals at Cambridge: the White Horse Inn reading group. Unlike today’s popular online radio show and ministry website of that same name, the original White Horse Inn was not exclusively or particularly Protestant but more humanist, with the influence of Erasmus during his years there; the group included a few later “semi-Protestants” including Thomas Bilney, who came to a basic understanding of justification by faith yet still affirmed the Pope’s authority, the Mass and transubstantiation, yet was burned at the stake as a Protestant in August 1531. Protestant members of this group included Nicholas Ridley and Hugh Latimer, who would later be martyred together on the same stake. However, a few members of the White Horse Inn would become the ardent Catholic defenders against the Protestants in the 1550s.

From the top-down side of England’s Reformation, Trueman points out the history of England’s political view of national sovereignty versus the Pope, including many laws passed by England’s parliament in the 14th century against the promotion of papal laws and authority – laws sometimes worded quite vaguely so as to allow the English government to reject whichever laws introduced by the Pope that they disliked. Another interesting fact: the men that Henry VIII recruited for assistance with his legal problems with the Pope, came from the White Horse Inn group.

 

Reformation History Lectures From Carl Trueman

November 24, 2014 5 comments

A few weeks ago I learned about a good church history series, posted at the “Domain for Truth” blog: a 33 part lectures series from Carl Trueman on the History of the Reformation.

I have now going through this series, past the first 5 messages, and am impressed with the level of detail including theological points, philosophy, and political factors. Most church history series do an overview treatment covering the highlights: Luther’s earlier life and the famous date Oct. 31, 1517, but then jumping forward to the Diet of Worms and then on to the next Reformer. This series spends more time in just the Reformation itself, with the first 15 messages mostly in Luther’s life, exploring Luther’s own development of theology and looking at actual Reformation-era doctrines.

Some interesting points: as SlimJim noted, that Luther was a medieval man – and the difference in overall thinking between medieval men (their rural background complete with superstitions) and the later Reformers who were of the Renaissance age and its scholarship and humanism (of the 16th century type humanism, not today’s “secular humanism”). Though the Reformation placed much emphasis on the doctrine of justification, another important issue was that of medieval sacramentalism — dealing with the actual issue of Roman Catholicism’s 7 sacraments.  Luther’s early work, “Babylonian Captivity of the Church” (1520) addressed this issue, and Luther reduced the seven down to two or three:  baptism, the Mass, and penance (then, in the conclusion Luther added that penance wasn’t a sacrament either).

Also of note: the 95 theses were really not all that radical – Luther had an issue with the abuse of indulgences rather than the issue of indulgences themselves; true repentance (like John the Baptist calling people to true repentance before they came to be baptized by him) was to Luther a necessary part of getting an indulgence, rather than just purchasing something without any heart change. Trueman relates this to the issue of pastoral concern, and the problems that a church pastor observes going on with his local congregation.

In September 1517 Luther had put forth more radical ideas, yet no one took notice then: his Disputation Against Scholastic Theology, “in which he critiqued the whole way in which medieval theology had been done for centuries. That disputation, however, passed without a murmur. Indeed, humanly speaking, it was only the unique combination of external factors—social, economic, and political—that made the later disputation the spark that lit the Reformation fuse.” In between Oct. 31, 1517 and the later Diet of Worms, several events took place, including the Heidelberg Disputation meeting in the spring of 1518, and this series spends several messages detailing these years.

Topics in the series include full lectures specifically about Luther’s “The Bondage of the Will,”  (which I read several years ago, good reading concerning the nature of man’s will), and “Luther and the Jews.”  Two lectures consider Calvin’s view of the Lord’s supper, which I have only heard briefly described (as in this post).  I look forward to these upcoming lectures as I continue through the series.

Historical Theology and the Covenant Concept

August 25, 2014 4 comments

I once thought that “covenant theology” had (only) its three theological covenants, whereas (only) dispensationalists taught regarding the historical covenants (Noahic, Abrahamic, Davidic, New), with no overlap or combinations in between.  Also I heard the commonly asserted idea, that covenant theology only began in the 17th century.

Though some current day Calvinist-Dispensationalists may take exception to the idea of any theological covenants, it is interesting to note that classic dispensationalism from earlier years recognized the “Adamic/Edenic Covenant” (CT’s covenant of works). Also, the late Dr. S. Lewis Johnson, even in his earlier Dallas-Seminary years recognized in scripture both the “covenant of works” (Edenic) covenant and the theological “Covenant of Redemption,” along with all the historical covenants. The CT side, it turns out, also recognizes the historical covenants, though seeing the historical covenants as the redemptive history outworking of the theological “covenant of grace.” See for example this series on covenant theology, taught at a 1689 reformed, historic premillennial church, which teaches through the three theological covenants AND each of the historical covenants (Noahic, Abrahamic, Mosaic, Davidic, and New).

Variations also exist among different covenant theologians in terms of eschatology, with the (in modern times dominant) amillennial and postmillennial spiritualizing/replacement idea concerning the prophetic texts, as contrasted with the many classic/covenantal premillennialists’ literal understanding of the OT prophetic texts as describing the future millennial age and national Israel’s restoration. Such different approaches clearly relate to the different covenant theologians and their eschatological views, as well seen in examples such as Horatius Bonar’s “Prophetic Landmarks,” (see this excerpt and also this one) written by a covenant theologian advocating the literal, future Israel understanding of the Old Testament prophecies, with very sharp words against the  spiritualizing hermeneutic of his reformed/amillennial contemporary Patrick Fairbairn.

Regarding the development of “covenant theology,” certainly its highly developed form originated in the 17th century. But as pointed out in some online articles, the rudiments of covenants, and the scriptural approach to covenants, goes back to the early church. As with the doctrines of grace, Augustine had a more developed view of covenants than the earlier church fathers, even recognizing the “covenant of works” with Adam, as in this excerpt from Augustine:

But even the infants, not personally in their own life, but according to the common origin of the human race, have all broken God’s covenant in that one in whom all have sinned. Now there are many things called God’s covenants besides those two great ones, the old and the new, which any one who pleases may read and know. For the first covenant, which was made with the first man, is just this: “In the day ye eat thereof, ye shall surely die. “Whence it is written in the book called Ecclesiasticus, “All flesh waxeth old as doth a garment. For the covenant from the beginning is, Thou shall die the death.”

Even Augustine’s more limited (compared to later ages) understanding of covenants limited his thinking, as Ligon Duncan observes in his “History of Covenant Theology“:

That is why Augustine, with as good as an answer as he gave to Pelagius, didn’t quite solve all the issues related to original sin because Augustine did not have a fully worked out Covenant Theology.  Augustine was a realist in his view instead of a federalist in his view of the imputation of Adam’s sin, and so Augustine got up to a certain point and he was stymied. Some of the errors in his theology are related to that distinction with regard to the imputation of Adam’s sin.

Yet the basics were there, what he had learned from the even earlier Christian teachers.  Ligon Duncan’s article explains the early church use of the historical covenants: as part of their understanding and ability to respond to the early heretics. Irenaeus, in “Demonstration of the Apostolic Preaching,” expounded God’s redemptive plan as “unfolded in covenants with Adam, Noah, Abraham, Moses, David, the New Covenant, and Christ.” Justin Martyr, Tertullian and others likewise explained their thinking, their apologetic, on the basis of these covenants set forth in scripture. Their covenantal thinking helped in their responses to the gnostics, by showing the continuity of scripture, that the God of the Old Testament is the same God in the New Testament, and Christ is that same God. Their response to unbelieving Jews, who denied that Christians were the legitimate heirs of the Abrahamic promises, was similarly based on the historical covenants and the Abrahamic promises.

As we know, the early Reformation emphasized a return to the original languages of the scriptures and early Christian writings. Through this, the 16th century Reformers (a century before the Dutch and the full development of Covenant Theology) including especially Zwingli, rediscovered the covenant concept. Several of the 16th century reformers use the covenants as an organizing principle, especially Zwingli and Bullinger. Calvin taught the unity of the covenants for a covenantal framework to understand the sacraments and argue against the Catholic teaching. Other 16th century reformers followed with important contributions toward the development of full covenant theology.

The articles mentioned above give more details regarding the development of covenant theology from the early church up to the 17th century, for a helpful part of historical theology and the development of Christian theology that we have inherited from those who went before.

 

The Last (Divinely Sanctioned) Passover, the First Lord’s Supper: S. Lewis Johnson on 1 Corinthians 11

June 17, 2013 5 comments

Continuing through S. Lewis Johnson’s 1 Corinthians series, chapter 11 includes a mini-series, exploring the depth of the ordinance of the Lord’s Supper.  In a set of five messages (messages 27 through 31)  Dr. Johnson covers the Passover (as a type of Christ the final Passover Lamb); the Particular Redemption extent of the atonement (“Limited Atonement”); addresses the error of the Catholic Church while describing the variations of meaning (“this is my body”) within different Protestant groups; and notes the three components of the early church meeting.

Parallels between the Passover and The Lord’s Supper

  • Both are memorials for deliverance
  • Both are anticipations of future blessing:  Israel delivered from Egypt in order to be brought into the promised land.  The church of Jesus Christ: we in the celebration of the Lord’s Supper anticipate also the coming again of our Lord Jesus Christ and the entrance and the fullness of the blessings that our ours by redemption. (1 Cor. 11:26  “For as often as you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death till He come.”
  • Both were/are highlights of corporate worship: Israel’s yearly celebration of the Passover/  In the Christian Church, the Lord’s Supper is the highlight of worship.

The Passover service included four cups.  It is likely that the Lord used the third cup — the “cup of blessing”  (reference 1 Cor. 10:16).

Limited Atonement

I don’t like the term ‘limited’ because it seems to suggest that the grace of God is not full and great and sufficient for all.  It is sufficient for all.  Any believing person who comes to the Lord God will be received by Him.  It’s sufficient for all.  And I don’t know the elect.  The elect make themselves known by the work of the Holy Spirit in their hearts.  If I must answer the question, yes I believe in a limited atonement; but I would like to tell you Arminians who don’t understand the grace of God, that you do, too.

So you have plastered us with the term “limited,” but I say to you, your atonement is limited also, because your atonement, which you say is intended for everybody, doesn’t save everybody.  In other words, it is not all powerful.  My atonement that I celebrate is all powerful.  It saves everyone intended by the Lord God in Heaven.   So I like that atonement.  I love its power.  It celebrates the great power of our God in Heaven.

I do not want a God who is frustrated in his purposes.  I do not want a God who cannot do what he intended to do.   And so I must say, yes, my atonement is limited, but it is sufficient for all.

As SLJ notes, most evangelicals see the Lord’s Supper as symbolic and a memorial, the Zwingli view.  Dr. Johnson himself aligned more with John Calvin’s view: I tend myself to feel that there is something in what John Calvin says.  That is, when we partake of the elements, there is a ministry from the Lord Jesus himself that we receive by virtue of His spiritual presence in our meetings and the ministry of Himself to us as we partake of the elements. 

As referenced in Acts 2:42, the early church meeting had three parts: teaching (the apostles’ teaching), fellowship and the breaking of bread (the Lord’s Supper), and prayer.

What the Reformers Did Not Reform

August 11, 2011 3 comments

It is so well-established, beyond excuse, that Luther and Calvin did not reform eschatology, or ecclesiology, but just imported those ideas from Catholicism. How ironic that now the “truly reformed” act just as arrogant, appealing to church history and tradition, as “the Establishment” of Roman Catholicism did to the reformers years ago.

This statement, from a recent online discussion and then posted on one person’s Facebook status, brought about some rather interesting, though predictable, responses from some of those “truly reformed” individuals who reject dispensationalism.  Their responses show only continued unbelief, which is beyond excuse, and ignorance of both history and theology.

One response:  the Reformers did reform eschatology.  They got rid of purgatory, and Wikipedia says that purgatory is part of eschatology.  Leaving aside the lack of credibility for their source (Wikipedia and similar sites), consider just what purgatory really involved:  not “the afterlife” or “last things” but a works-based salvation system, which is part of soteriology and not eschatology.  The whole purpose of purgatory is to provide a works-based way for the works-based sinner to gain (by works) salvation and go to heaven.

Another response:  the Reformers did reform ecclesiology.  They departed from the Catholic church system.  Again how ridiculous a claim.  Leaving one church-state system, and then setting up a new (Protestant) church with the same ecclesiastical model of a church-state (even continuing infant baptism and keeping the government and church firmly together), is not reforming ecclesiology.

The next response:  why can’t you just accept that the Reformers did study eschatology, and through their own study and exegesis they came to the amillennialist conclusions?
Answer:  because they didn’t.  Luther and Zwingli both considered the book of Revelation as non-canonical.  Zwingli preached at his local church through every New Testament book–except the book of Revelation.  John Calvin did not reject Revelation from the canon, yet he wrote commentaries on every New Testament book except Revelation.  Calvin further thought premillennialism meant that eternity only lasts for 1000 years and dismissed that as an absurdity.

For an overview look at actual church history, and the beginnings of replacement theology, amillennialism and Covenant Theology, refer to this previous blog.