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Posts Tagged ‘Council of Trent’


A while back our Session was asked to consider whether or not we should say “he descended into hell” when we used the Apostles’ Creed as our confession of faith. This is the result of my work on the subject.

The Apostles’ Creed has been used as a confession of faith in the Western Church for approximately 1,500 years. It is a brief statement of orthodox Christian doctrine. There is one phrase, however, that many people stumble over. Unlike the rest of the Creed, it is not clear and open to a variety of interpretations. Some of those interpretations are theologically acceptable, but may not fit the context. Other interpretations are not acceptable. This leads some to a crisis of conscience when it comes to reciting the Apostles’ Creed.

 

The History of the Creed

In the early church, many churches developed brief symbols or rules of faith to be used in baptismal services. Catechumens would be instructed in the meaning of the faith through the symbol and recite it prior to their baptism. These symbols were necessitated by some false doctrines that had arisen, particularly Gnosticism.

Tradition, according to Rufinius, held that the Apostles’ Creed was put together by the Apostles before they left Jerusalem. They were alleged to have composed one stanza each. There is no evidence for this tradition. We do see that Irenaeus and Tertullian were familiar with rules of faith that greatly resemble the Apostles’ Creed. There was probably some “cross-pollination” between congregations as people traveled throughout the Empire.

Interestingly, the canons of Nicea established the Nicene Creed as the only creed to be used. In the Eastern Church, local symbols were replaced by the Nicene Creed.[1] The Western Church maintained local symbols. These Western forms were shorter and more simple. Schaff notes that they had less variety. He asserts that they were all merged into the Roman Symbol which became the rule of faith for the Western, or Latin, Church.[2] Historian Roland Bainton argues that as the emperors got involved they had wanted to unify or standardize the rules of faith. The local symbols began to be standardized in a cultural give and take.[3]

The first version that includes the phrase “descended into hell” (descensus ad inferos) is found in Aquileia, according to Rufinius in his commentary on the Creed dated in 404. Schaff thinks the church had believed this long before it found its way into the Creed.[4] We are not sure how it ended up there. Some, like Francis Turretin, believe that the phrase was taken from the Athanasian Creed.[5] The problem is that it is highly unlikely that Athanasius, a key figure in the Council of Nicea, wrote the creed that bears his name. The Athanansian Creed has a more developed Christology than that of Nicea and is estimated to be a product of the 7th century.[6] Therefore, it is more likely that its presence in the Apostles’ Creed influenced its inclusion in the Athanasian Creed.

Between the writing of Rufinius’ commentary and the Athanasian Creed, this phrase had spread to be found in the “final” version of the Apostles’ Creed.

 

The History of Interpretation

Unlike most of the Apostles’ Creed, this phrase has suffered from a variety of interpretations. While the Eastern Church did not use the Creed, they were familiar with the phrase. Herman Witsius says that Eastern Churches understood it to mean Christ’s burial. Herman Witsius quotes Vossius in this regard.[7] This would be redundant at best.

The most common understanding of the phrase in the West is that it refers to Jesus’ descent to the dead (infernos) based upon a common (mis)interpretation of 1 Peter 3:18 which has Jesus going to limbo to free the OT saints and bring them to heaven. Limbo is like a holding cell, not necessarily a place of punishment like hell or purgatory. They, unlike the unrighteous, would simply be awaiting release by the Messiah.[8]

Later versions would change the Latin to descensus ad inferna, descent into hell. This fits with another (mis)interpretation of 1 Peter 3:18. This view holds that Jesus descended to the unrighteous dead in hell to declare His triumph to them. We are unsure of why this would take place.

Both of these views would have this descent take place on the three days in which Jesus was in the grave. This aspect is asserted in the Catechism of the Council of Trent, Article 5.[9] They are inconsistent with the best understanding of Jesus’ words to the thief on the cross- “Today you will be with me in Paradise.”

MCC-31320 Portret van Johannes Calvijn (1509-1564)-uitsnede.jpgThese interpretations are also common among Lutheran and Anglican theologians. However the most common Protestant interpretation follows John Calvin and is expressed in the Heidelberg Catechism (#44). It serves as a summary statement for the sufferings of Christ in that He endured the curse and wrath of God on the Cross. Therefore, His descent is figurative or spiritual in nature. His death is not an ordinary death, but to bear our sin. Calvin expresses it this way:

 

“If Christ had died only a bodily death, it would have been ineffectual. No- it was expedient at the same time for him to undergo the severity of God’s vengeance, to appease his wrath and satisfy his just judgment. For this reason, he must also grapple hand to hand with the armies of hell and the dread of everlasting death.”[10]

 

The Heidelberg Catechism expresses it in this way:

  1. Q. Why is there added: He descended into hell?
  2. In my greatest sorrows and temptations I may be assured and comforted that my Lord Jesus Christ, by His unspeakable anguish, pain, terror, and agony, which He endured throughout all His sufferings but especially on the cross, has delivered me from the anguish and torment of hell.

The Westminster Larger Catechism takes a different approach to the infamous phrase.

 

Q 50. Wherein consisted Christ’s humiliation after his death?

  1. Christ’s humiliation after his death consisted in his being buried, and continuing in the state of the dead, and under the power of death till the third day; which hath been otherwise expressed in these words, He descended into hell.

 

This is a similar enough interpretation to the earliest understanding of the phrase in question. It is not simply being buried, but that for three days Jesus continued in the state of death and was under the power of death for us and our salvation.

 

Options for Moving Forward

The best interpretation of the phrase in question is that put forward by John Calvin and the Heidelberg Catechism. But this was not the original interpretation. If we confess this phrase with this interpretation in mind, we are not confessing it with much of the Church over time. Or as originally understood.

  1. We could remove the phrase from the Creed when we recite it. This would “restore” the Apostles’ Creed to its original versions.
  2. We could no longer say the Apostles’ Creed but default to other creeds like the Nicene Creed or the Rule of Irenaeus. This is the recommendation of William Cunningham.[11]
  3. Continue to recite the Apostles’ Creed as is and clarify it with a notation to affirm the interpretation of our confessional standards.
  4. Recognize that we are but one congregation and have no right to alter the Creed and send an overture to General Assembly to either amend the Creed for our congregations or provide necessary guidance via a study committee. While this process takes place, we could apply one of options 1-3.

 

We decided to merely footnote that portion of the Creed to express the interpretation found in the Westminster Larger Catechism. At some point we may choose to present an overture to our presbytery, but right now there are more pressing concerns for us as a congregation.

 

[1] Schaff, Philip. History of the Christian Church, Vol. 2, pp. 530.

[2] Schaff, History, pp. 530.

[3] Bainton, Roland. Christianity. Pp. 150.

[4] Schaff, History, pp 601.

[5] Turretin, Francis. Institutes of Elenctic Theology, Vol. 1, pp. 362.

[6] Witsius, Herman. Sacred Dissertations on the Apostles’ Creed in Two Volumes, Vol. 2, pp. 140.

[7] Witsius, pp. 140-141.

[8] Cunningham, William. Historical Theology, Vol. 1, pp. 92.

[9] Turretin, Vol. 1, pp. 357.

[10] Calvin, John. Institutes of the Christian Religion, book II, XVI, 9.

[11] Cunningham, Vol. 1, pp. 93.

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A Christian's Pocket Guide to How We Got the Bible (Pocket Guides)Another free book I got at the RTS Alumni and Friends lunch was How We Got the Bible: Old and New Testament Canon and Text by Greg Lanier. It is part of the Christian’s Pocket Guide series by Christian Focus books.

As the title indicates this is a brief introductory study into understanding why the books in the Bible are in the Bible and whether we have an accurate text. Modern scholarship and the media have been busy to undermine our confidence in the Scriptures, and Islam has also been at work to distort people’s view of the Scriptures.

Lanier briefly summarizes the need for this information. He addresses these questions in 6 chapters, though the last is just a few pages as he offers concluding thoughts. He wanted to provide a brief, non-academic book so lay people can have answers they need when challenges to the canon or the texts arise, and they do.

Canon has to do with which books belong, and don’t belong in the Bible. Textual criticism has to do with understanding which texts are the best, or most accurately reflect the original manuscripts.

He begins with understanding the Bible as a Divine Deposit. There have been books that have been discovered that some argue should be in the Bible. Novelists like Dan Brown have had popular stories that argue that the Church has conspired to keep these books out of the Bible. How can we know that these “lost books of the Bible” aren’t really part of the Bible?

Muslims often argue that the Church has changed the Bible since the rise of Islam since they think Muhammad is one of God’s prophets. They want their understanding of the Bible to supplant historic Christianity’s understanding of the Bible.

He defines Scripture as:

“the inspired deposit of writings received as divinely authoritative for the covenant community.”

This is an important definition. We believe they are writings that have been inspired or breathed by God. They were received by the covenant community. This is a distinctively Protestant view. We do not think the Church formed the canon, but rather received it. Scripture is also a covenant document intended for God’s people to know who He is, who we are with respect to Him, what He does for us and also what He requires of us. The first chapter unpacks these ideas in a succinct and clear fashion. It provides the foundation for the next 4 chapters in which he addresses the canon and then text of the Old and then New Testaments or covenants.

The question of the Old Testament canon identifies differences not only regarding “lost books” but differences between Protestants, Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox with regard to the Apocrypha. Protestants recognize the Jewish canon, those books recognized by Jews as divinely inspired covenant documents. He explains the three-fold shape of the Old Testament: Law, Prophets and Writings. Law, or Torah, came first and relates the giving of the Old Covenant. The Prophets apply the covenant to the people in later times, and hold out the promise of the new covenant. These cite the Law as divinely inspired. Many of the prophets will also affirm the message of earlier prophets as divinely inspired, as well as often claiming such inspiration for themselves in prophetic formula. The writings contain sections also found in the Law and Prophets.

In terms of the Apocrypha there is little evidence that those books, or additional chapters were understood by Jewish communities as divinely inspired. In the early church there was little agreement about them. This means a few people may have included some of them but most did not. Augustine, for instance, affirmed all found in the Greek translation of the Old Testament. The Eastern Orthodox Church followed his lead. Jerome used them as helpful but did not admit them as authoritative. This view held in the Roman Church until the Council of Trent which declared they were part of Scripture.

The Protestant churches have followed Jerome in finding them (possibly) helpful but not authoritative for faith and life. Some, like Calvin, thought they could be helpful. Most Protestant Bibles don’t contain them, and they are not generally read by most Protestants.

Moving to the text themselves, Lanier discusses the kinds of manuscripts we have and how they compare with one another. Another factor is the translations of the Old Testament we have, which themselves are over 2,000 years old. Those would be Greek, Samaritan, Aramaic, Latin and others. As a result we have many manuscripts and fragments to compare and find the best to form the texts that serve as the basis for our modern translations. The God who inspired the Old Testament texts also preserved them sufficiently for us.

Lanier then moves on to the canon of the New Testament. Contrary to Dan Brown’s fictional assertions, there was no council to form the canon. The canon is those books that were used and recognized by the early church. In this he discusses the centrality of the gospel, or new covenant, eyewitnesses, oral and written records. Unlike the books we find in our Bibles, these “lost books” were not received and recognized by the early church. Those who affirmed them we recognized as heretics. There are some books that the early church did use, like the Didache, which they found helpful but never recognized as inspired and authoritative. We see this from how the church fathers write about them.

from NT Bad Arguments

We then move into the question of whether we have the right words. He brings up former Christian and current skeptic Bart Ehrman. He can’t thoroughly refute Ehrman’s arguments, but generally refutes them. He mentions the Muslim doctrine of tahrif al-nass which states that “Jews and Christians have intentionally corrupted the text. As a result the NT doesn’t mention Muhammad (let’s ignore that it was written 500+ years before Muhammad). The text that Muhammad affirmed in 600 is older than many of the manuscripts we have today. Their doctrine is an illogical red herring.

He begins with discussing where our English Bible comes from. This refers to the formation of the Greek texts used in the vast majority of translations. We return to the large number of manuscripts available to us that have been found in archeological digs and copies by scribes. The relative number of differences is small, and largely insignificant. He discusses scribal errors and corrections, as well as how the better copyists provided marginal notes which help us as well. We also have ancient Latin, Syriac and Coptic translations.

He does all of this efficiently. He doesn’t ignore issues or sweep them under the rug. He instead shows how we’ve worked to find the oldest and best manuscripts to get closest to the autographs using a variety of sources. Integrity is revealed in our footnotes where the most significant issues in our translations are there for all to see. Lanier handles the task well and understandably. You won’t be an expert after reading this, but you’ll have a good idea of how to address many of the most significant objections raised.

I will close with his closing thoughts.

  1. We should be clear on what Scripture is in the first place.
  2. We should have confidence that we do have the ‘right’ OT/NT books.
  3. We should have confidence that we have the ‘right’ words of the OT/NT.

“How did we get the Bible? The answer to this question driving this book is clear. ‘Men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit,’ and the written deposit has been transmitted in the covenant community with high integrity, by the providence of God, ever since. Through these Scriptures, we are all, now, witnesses of these things: Christ suffered and died and on the third day rose again, so that repentance and the forgiveness of sins may be proclaimed to all the nations.”

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For those who have forgotten, my reading project this year is 2000 Years of Christ’s Power, a church history set by Nick Needham. Each quarter I’m reading one of the 4 volumes in the set. Due to vacation I started the 3rd volume a little late but finished it before the end of the quarter. A whole week to spare.

Volume 3 covers the Renaissance and Reformation. It covers quite a bit of material since the Reformation was not a uniform movement. By no means am I an expert on the history of the Reformation, but have read a fair amount. Needham provided plenty of nuance in his discussion, bringing in other factors that influenced people and events. There was plenty here I didn’t know and found beneficial particularly on interactions between groups seeking elusive unity. One issue that kept arising, and preventing union, was communion. Attention is paid to the different views and meetings over those views. Another distinctive mark of the series so far is present here as well. He addresses events in Eastern Orthodoxy during this time period in the final chapter. That he refuses to limit himself to Europe is one of the strengths of this set.

The first chapter covers the Renaissance, which in God’s providence give birth to the Reformation. The humanists were those who developed a great fondness and dependence on the “ancient books” that had in many places been forgotten. They began to read Plato and Aristotle, Augustine and fell under the spell of Greek and Hebrew. It was a revival of the knowledge of the past. There were pockets of the Renaissance in Italy, Germany, England, France and Spain. It was not a uniform movement with ideological goals. But many humanists, like Erasmus, begin to see and confront the problems they saw in the church. There were some theological critiques due to the renewed influence in Augustine, but largely they focused on moral issues.

The humanists laid the groundwork for the Reformation by bringing the study of Greek and Hebrew, and Augustine (among others) back into vogue. Many began to realize the rich heritage of the Church and how it differed at points with parts of their contemporary church. The theology of Rome was not uniform either. The theological aspects of the Reformation would later produce more uniformity in Roman Catholic theology as a response.

There were “Reformers” before Luther, people who expressed “evangelical” theology and called for changes within the Church. They would influence communities, but not a nation like Luther did. Needham notes people like John of Wesel who held to an early form of sola scriptura, attacked indulgences, rejected transubstantiation and enforced celibacy of priests. He was deposed from his office and subjected to the Inquisition. 79 years old, the Inquisition was too much for him and he renounced his “heresies”. He was sentenced to imprisonment in an Augustinian convent where he died 2 years later. Wessel Gansfort was a teacher who made many of the same criticisms, though he accepted a form of transubstantiation. He managed to escape the Inquisition. Girolamo Savonarola led a moral reform in Florence in which people burned their pornography, cosmetics and gambling devices. In his preaching he also attacked the corruption of the papal court. He was a strong Augustinian, and therefore drew the ire of the Franciscans.

One of the ironies of the Renaissance is the rise of the witch hunt. In such a time of great learning, there was also a time of great superstition and fear regarding black magic. Over 300 years governments put thousands of men and women accused of black magic to death. Estimates range (widely from 100,000 to as much as 9 million). For instance, in Geneva while Calvin was alive 2-3 women a year were executed by the government for witchcraft. Most were hanged, not burned.

Martin Luther by Cranach-restoration.tifNeedham moves to Luther in whom all of this took root, and through whom all of this came to be a crisis that rocked Europe. While a monk and professor, Luther’s spiritual guide was Johannes von Staupitz. He was a professor of biblical studies at Wittenberg University, as well as a disciple of Augustine. He was highly influential on Luther. Luther would take over Staupitz’ duties in 1512.

The initial dispute was over indulgences. Eventually the dispute moved to the root of that dispute: justification. But this took a few years. Luther’s personal breakthrough on the issue of justification likely took place in 1518-19 (with Melanchthon’s help), after the 95 Theses sparked the controversy. Men like Spalatin, Carlstadt and Melanchthon joined Luther. Some for a time (Carlstadt) and others for a lifetime (Melanchthon).

As one considers the Reformation, you see the different tensions that emerge. There was the theological tension between Augustine and Aquinas (despite being greatly influenced by Augustine), nationalism and the Holy Roman Empire, informed faith and implicit faith. The Reformation was about salvation, worship and Church government as well as the Church’s relationship with government.

The 3rd chapter focuses on 1521-1531 as Luther’s views began to shake up and shape much of Germany. In Germany a state church developed under the authority of the magistrate. There were no more Church courts, thereby unrolling the reforms of Hilbebrand.

All was not fine and dandy however. It was the Peasant’s Revolt, which was a misunderstanding and misapplication of Christian liberty among other things. There was also the iconoclast vision of Carlstadt and Zwilling in Wittenberg. They were concerned with actions, not hearts and went far beyond where Luther was willing and disrupted the city.

This period includes the beginning of the Swiss Reformation under Zwingli. While there were many common points with Luther, the one big difference was the Lord’s Supper. While they tried to work it out, it seemed insurmountable. Luther would condemn the Swiss Reformed, not even counting them as brothers. The milder Melanchton would maintain his friendship with them and would end up counting John Calvin as one of his best friends.

Martin Bucer by German School.jpgNeedham then brings us to Calvin whose reformation when deeper than Luther’s on many points. It would have gone deeper still if not for the hindrances of the local magistrate which saw itself as controlling the church. Under this chapter he includes Bucer who would have a great influence on Calvin, as well as Peter Martyr. Martyr would work with Calvin to “finalize” the Reformed doctrine of communion as distinct from transubstantiation, Luther’s view and Zwingli’s memorial view. Emphasis was placed on our union with Christ, the nature of signs and the role of faith in receiving that which they symbolized by virtue of that union.

He then focuses on Calvin. One of Calvin’s contributions was his view of the Church in distinction to the Roman Catholic, Lutheran and Anabaptist views. Calvin is dependent on Bucer but was able to say it better, with more force and able to implement it far more than Bucer did. They distinguished between the visible and invisible church, argued that the church and state work together but that the church was not controlled by the state. The church must exercise church discipline lest the visible church become corrupt.

Needham spends a fair amount of space on the controversy with Servetus. This “tragic episode” should be seen in a larger context of Calvin’s controversy with the Libertines or Perrinists. The Libertines opposed Calvin in his desire to enforce moral discipline. They often had loose morals and many held hetrodox views: pantheism, denying the inspiration of the Scriptures etc.. The Libertines made life very difficult for Calvin: so difficult he often wished God would let him leave. At the time of the Servetus trial and execution, Ami Perrin was the chief magistrate.

Michael Servetus.jpgServetus was considered a heretic by Roman Catholics and Protestants alike for his denial of the Trinity. Over the years he had correspondence with Calvin in which Calvin tried to reason with him. Eventually Calvin decided to no longer offer pearls to swine. Servetus was arrested and condemned by the Inquisition, but escaped the prison before he could be executed. For reasons unknown he went to Geneva where he was arrested.

The trial was a contest not only between Servetus and Calvin (a primary witness against him) but also between Calvin and the Libertines (who controlled the city council). In one of histories great ironies, Servetus believed that the magistrate should put heretics to death. He just didn’t believe he was the heretic. The Libertines used this as an opportunity to harass Calvin, putting every conceivable obstacle in the way to justice according to Genevan law. They strung it out even as they knew they couldn’t acquit him with all the western world watching. The council condemned him to death by burning. Calvin argued for a quicker, less cruel manner of death. His old friend, Farel, called Calvin soft.

The Libertines had destroyed their credibility by how they conducted the trial. In the next elections they lost power. In response they staged a riot, for which the ringleaders including Perrin were arrested and convicted. Most were banished, but Perrin was sentenced to death. He was able to flee Geneva to Berne to avoid his sentence. But the Libertines troubled Geneva no more.

Calvin’s work as a pastor and theologian of the first order was not carried out in ease. “He was a constant martyr to arthritis, migraine headaches, bleeding from the stomach, bowel disorders, hemorrhoids, inflamed kidneys and kidney stones, fever, muscle cramps, and gout.” He endured all of these without the benefit of modern medicine.

The 5th chapter covers what is called the Radical Reformation. Needham views this time as one of Reformations, not a single Reformation with different branches. This is due to the complexity of this phenomenon regarding theology and the view of the state and worship.

Needham identifies three Radical tendencies. Any group may have more then one of these tendencies, but any one of them put them outside of the Lutheran and Magisterial Reformations. Those three tendencies were Anabaptism (rejection of infant baptism and baptizing people “again”), Spiritualist (rejecting the authority of the Word for the Spirit apart from the Word) and Rationalist (rejecting the authority of the Scriptures for the authority of one’s on reason).

Some groups majored on Anabaptism, thinking the Reformers at the time weren’t going far enough in their rejection of Rome. Many of them were peaceful groups wanting to live out their faith in an increasingly dangerous environment due to the political realities of the time. One of their distinctive views was that of a “pure church” comprised only of the truly committed. Today this is expressed in a “regenerate church” in which being in the covenant is conflated with salvation. This is the presupposition that drives credobaptism. Zwingli, for instance, believed the Swiss Brethren were asking too much of him- to abandon the existing church and form this new separatist religious communities. Early on, Anabaptists like Grebel did not seek to change the mode of baptism to immersion but that would come and become a shibboleth for “real baptism” among Baptists today. Zwingli saw their baptisms and celebration of the eucharist as anarchy since they were outside of the established church.

They also seemed to shun theology. The Schleitheim Confession is a case in point. It “dealt exclusively with matters of morality and Church order.” With regard to the latter it develops their understanding of the ban or shunning. They thought everything flowed out of lifestyle, and theology arose from their “ethical and communal concerns”, which is quite the opposite of the Magisterial Reformation and Luther. This led to a rejection of the Augustinian views of salvation found among the Reformers. They were semi-pelagian or even Pelagian in their understanding of salvation. They rejected the forensic doctrine of justification by faith alone, and maintained Rome’s conflation of justification and sanctification. Like Rome they feared it was a license to sin.

Since Zwingli was forced to engage them on baptism, his own position changed. Early on he wrote that infant baptism was “neither right nor wrong.” In 1523 he was committed to infant baptism. In his engagement with the Anabaptists he formalized a biblical defense of infant baptism rooted in the covenant and connected to circumcision. One of his key texts was Romans 4, which was one of the key texts in my transition to Reformed infant baptism.

Unfortunately, some Anabaptist groups began predicting the return of Christ. Perhaps this was a consequence of their pure, or true, Church focus. Now that the true Church had been established, Christ would/could return.

MennoSimons.gifMenno Simons was one of the more balanced Anabaptists. But one way he differed significantly from the Reformers was his formulation of sola Scriptura. He disallowed any appeal to tradition. It was not simply that Scripture alone is the final authority, but cleaved Scripture and the church from the past for help in understanding Scripture. That is a very dangerous place to be.

The more a group also drank from the Spiritualist well the more dangerous that group became. This thread subordinated all external authorities, including Scripture, to the “living voice of God speaking directly in in the individual’s heart.” It was about “inward personal experience.” Sebastian Franck went so far as to argue that God deliberately placed contradictions in the Bible to point us away from it to the Spirit. At its worst it also resulted in the Munster community which was filled with sexual license and violence before the armies came to lay siege.

The Rationalist Radicals subordinated all external authorities, including to Scripture, to human reason, often called “right reason”. As a result they rejected the doctrines which were revealed but not provable by reason: the Trinity and the Incarnation. The most famous of them was Socinus.

Needham moves to the topic of Europe divided. Here is where the politics of the time rises in prominence. There were power struggles galore as states sought independence from the Holy Roman Emperor and regional churches sought independence from Rome and the Pope. At times it stained the Protestants, including Luther, Melanchthon and Bucer, when they approved of the bigamy of Philip of Hesse. This was significant because Philip’s role in the Schmalkaldic League which united Lutheran states against the Emperor. When Luther died, Charles struck and defeated the League. He could defeat their armies, but not their faith.

The Reformation spread to the Scandinavian countries, first gaining a toe hold in Denmark. Luther’s death also saw the growth of the Reformed faith in Germany due to the work of people like Peter Martyr. France experienced stiff resistance to the Reformed faith with quite a few persecutions and eventually a war that split the nobility. The Catholic League formed an alliance with Spain to destroy the Huguenots. Philip Duplessis Mornay, a Huguenot, developed Calvin’s statements on the lesser magistrate into A Defense of Liberty against Tyrants, which would be a theological justification for the English Civil War, the American Revolution and the horrible excesses of the French Revolution.

In addition to the divisions on the European continent, divisions would come to the British Islands. The 7th chapter focuses on England and Scotland. Here as well politics and religion formed a dangerous combination at times with persecution breaking out periodically, particularly by Mary as she sought to restore Catholicism as England’s faith. It all began with a king’s idolatrous pursuit of an heir. His three children from three mothers led to a see saw effect. Edward embraced Protestantism, Mary Catholicism and Elisabeth was Protestant but more concerned with uniformity. Her Act of Supremacy reasserted the throne as the Head of the Church of England setting the stage for the rise of the Puritans and the English Civil War.

In Scotland there was no king like Henry VIII, but plenty of internal struggle between Catholic royalty and Protestant nobility. We see the rise of John Knox (who spent time in England and Geneva as well as a French slave galley to make for an interesting resume).

The Catholic Counter-Reformation was not quite uniform. Needham spends some time on the evangelical Catholics. They affirmed justification by faith alone but typically maintained allegiance to the Pope and the doctrine of transubstantiation. One of these was Luther’s old mentor, Staupitz. While a faithful Catholic, his books were placed on the index of forbidden books in 1563. Others included Albert Pighius, Jacob Sadoleto and Juan de Valdes.

One the other side of the spectrum was the rise of Ignatius Loyola and the Jesuits. A former military man, he organized his order in similar fashion and acted like it was on, moving into “enemy territory” to reconvert the Protestants.

Rome also responded to the Reformation with the Council of Trent. Intended to be ecumenical, it was anything but that. The Pope(s) and Emperor struggled over the Council including its composition and location. They each had factions loyal to them. The Catholic Evangelicals were involved in early meetings but soon were pushed out. Roman Catholic theology had a greater breadth and variety leading up to the Reformation. Trent changed all that, bringing greater uniformity with its anathemas and affirmations. Needham notes that the anathemas were largely aimed at straw men. They consistently misinterpreted Protestants.

In the East, the Church fell on hard times to the spread of the Ottoman Empire. The courting of Rome for help didn’t work, and alienated much of the Orthodox masses who greatly resented the Pope and Roman Catholicism. The Russian Orthodox, among others, saw this compromise as close to apostasy. The Ottoman Empire defeated Constantinople and made Christians 2nd class citizens. They allowed the Patriarch of Constantinople to exist, but began to appoint men to the position. There was some correspondence with the Lutherans who wanted to remind Rome that there were churches tracing their roots to the early church that rejected Rome and the Pope’s authority. It didn’t get far due to stark theological differences.

The power vacuum created by the Ottoman conquest was filled by Moscow which was granted the position of Patriarch city. Oddly, the Russians didn’t seek to push the Ottomans out of Constantinople. While offended that Constantinople looked West instead of North, they did nothing about it. But the compromise of the South lead Russian Orthodoxy to believe they alone held to the true faith, a view which still exists today.

There is obviously much more in this volume. I’ve only touched on some highlights. As usual, this volume is engaging in its writing. Some history can be dreadfully dull as written. Needham’s isn’t. He hits on some points that other historians seem to overlook. He also rejects the temptation to neglect the Eastern Church after the Great Schism. This is good and informative reading that includes sections of original source material. Can’t beat that.

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Another vacation means reading another volume in the “Theologians on the Christian Life” series of books. So far I’ve read the volumes on Newton, Luther, Bavink and Edwards. I enjoy these books tremendously as they interact not just with their theology but also their practice.

This summer I chose Calvin on the Christian Life: Glorifying and Enjoying God Forever written by Michael Horton. I had some hesitancy about this volume. I haven’t read any Horton in years having grown weary of polemical theology, and not finding his expressions of two-kingdom theology all that helpful. I always seemed to be left saying “And?” when he talked about it.

This book was a pleasant surprise. It was a little more weighted toward theology than some of the others, but that theology was a necessary background to understanding how Calvin viewed life in Christ. There was a good progression of thought throughout the book. There were no exceedingly long chapters. There were plenty of quotes from Calvin and others who have produced volumes on his life and thought to make Horton’s points. I found it to be an edifying and encouraging volume in this series.

As he notes, Calvin’s was a very different time. The Reformation had been spreading throughout Europe and nation-states were gaining some measure of independence from the Roman Catholic Church and the Holy Roman Emperor. Like today there were many political and religious refugees in Europe, and many of them made their way to Geneva. In the religious reforms they were still in the process of sorting out how to implement what they believed. Calvin was one of the people working to bring the Protestants together as some differences seemed to be driving them apart.

Church was a central part of life with daily services part of many people’s routine or rhythm of life. It was a less distracted time, even if sin still found its way to manifest itself abundantly. As a result of this, some of how Calvin viewed the Christian life is anachronistic, or at least seems to be to us with personal devices, long commutes, mass media and more. Christian living, while personal, was far more public than we see today.

As one of the great figures in the Reformation we tend to think he was a parochial as we can be. There was no “Reformed tradition” or heritage for Calvin to draw upon. He drew upon the larger tradition of the Church, eastern and western. He was influenced, not only by Augustine, but also by Chrysostom, Cyprian, Irenaeus, and Bernard of Clairvoux among others. He interacted with Luther and Melanchthon to find common ground. He was not impressed with Zwingli. He spent time during his exile with Bucer and found that a great benefit. He influenced many of the next generation of leaders, like John Knox. Calvin was not an innovator but a man who lived as part of a theological community that exceeded his geography and time.

Horton begins where the Institutes begins: the knowledge of God and self. We were made to be in relationship with God and to reflect or reveal His glory as His image. So, to know God is to know ourselves in greater measure even if we see what we are not. Calvin was no fan of speculative theology. We cannot know God in the abstract, but know Him in Christ who came in the flesh to exegete the Father. We know God through His works, and so we recognize the divine drama or great Story of Creation, Fall, Redemption and Glorification. All of Scripture reveals this larger Story. We see some differences between how the Reformers and Roman Catholicism viewed general revelation and common grace. He saw our depravity going deeper so that no one was neutral when examining our world and/or doing theology. The pursuit of truth is distorted by our depravity. General revelation is not simply a “dimmer light but a different light than special revelation” because it does not speak of redemption.

Like Luther, Calvin was a theologian of the cross rather than a theologian of glory. God is known through Christ, and Him crucified. We do not seek to climb “ladders of speculation, merit and mystical experience” to gain union with God. Rather we are united to Christ crucified and resurrected for us to gain knowledge of God.

In this great drama there are actors and a plot. Here Horton explains that for Calvin the solas of the Reformation were a fabic, not independent statements. Similar to TULIP which was formulated long after Calvin’s death, they stand or fall together. Scripture is our final authority because it is God speaking to us about the Son through the inspiration and illumination of the Spirit. The great actor is the Triune God, not merely dogma but “the heart of reality in which we live and move and have our being.” The Incarnation of the Son reminds us that matter is good, not evil. That there is nothing inherently sinful about humanity itself despite its weakness and limitations. Our sinfulness is tied to being “in Adam” not simply being human. So Calvin did not hold to a Spirit-matter dualism as did medieval Rome and early Anabaptists. Rather, God made matter and uses it to His good purposes. One application of this is that the Spirit works thru the Word, contrary to the views of the Anabaptists and other fanatics.

The other actors in this are people, and so Horton moves quickly through Calvin’s anthropology. He is always contrasting this with the views of Rome expressed through the medieval church. This brings us to providence and grace as God works to redeem fallen humanity. Horton contrasts providence with the Stoic notion of fatalism. We see a God at work to redeem us, not a people who seek to redeem themselves. We see people who are lifted up by a Redeemer, not who lift themselves up by their bootstraps. We see people who are sought (and found) by God though they hide in the bushes, not people who seek after a God who hides. When we grasp both providence and grace, our circumstances are not punishment from a Judge but instruction from a Father who seeks to mold and shape us.

“Properly speaking, God is not angry with his elect, whose diseases he cures by afflictions as it were by medicines.”

From here, Horton proceeds to Christ the Mediator who came to us and for us. He uses a phrase that will be used often within the book, here with reference to His two natures: “distinction without separation”. This is a difficult formula to maintain but it was the heart of the Chalcedonian formula which made its way through Calvin’s theology. This formula, and how it is understood, was a key in the disagreements about the Lord’s Table that separated the Protestants. Horton’s comments on this are quite helpful.

As the Mediator, Jesus does not merely provide assistance to us but saves us to the uttermost. Yet, we live in the gap between inauguration and consummation, the already and not yet tension is at the heart of Calvin’s spirituality. Our salvation is received in union with Christ. We don’t receive His benefits so much as Christ Himself. He brings all those benefits with Him. They are distinct but without separation because we don’t have a divided Christ. Horton distinguishes these benefits in another chapter. They include effectual calling, justification, sanctification, and adoption. He always distinguishes the Protestant view from the Roman view, particularly as expressed in the Council of Trent.

With this heavier theology out of the way, Horton moves into life in the Body of Christ. Our Christian living is not a private thing, but one that is lived in the context of the Christian community. This is important for our individualistic society to hear so we can be freed from the shackles of a privatized faith. For Calvin it was corporate worship (Word, sacrament & prayer) that fed our personal worship (Word & prayer), and not the other way around. Corporate worship is where we learn how to read the Word and pray. We apply that in our personal and family worship. Community has precedence over individual. This is a radical statement today. Yet at we look at love and the fruit of the Spirit we see they all require others. The Trinity is an eternal community or fellowship of love. We have been made in God’s image to be a community or fellowship of love, not simply a periodic gathering of saved individuals.

This plays out in seeking grace in public worship, not medieval spirituality. We do not ascend to God, but Christ descended to us. We do not seek seclusion like the monks and nuns, but live in Christ in the midst of the world. Horton speaks of Calvin’s views of the preached Word, baptism, confession of sin (a good thing in worship!) and the Lord’s Table.

“The only way to serve God well is to serve our fellow believers. Since our good deeds cannot reach God anyway, he gives us instead other believers unto whom we can do good deeds. The one who wants to love God can do so by loving the believers.”

Horton continues with worship, discussing visual representations and music. These are some of Calvin’s more controversial views regarding worship today. While I want to keep the images of Christ out of our worship, I don’t want to keep the instruments out. I don’t see how they are part of the shadows and ceremonies. I see instruments in the heavenly visions of Revelation. If they are symbolic, what do they symbolize (it notes the singing, so….)? Music seems circumstantial to me. We don’t have any “authorized” tunes. So we waste our time, energy and breath arguing over such things. I’m sure God is more concerned with whether I strummed my guitar for him or myself, or if you listened to the instruments for his glory or simply your pleasure, than whether or not the corporate worship used instruments or not. But I digress.

Horton then brings us to Calvin’s view of prayer as the chief exercise of faith. Horton notes “true worship consists not in outward rights but in casting ourselves on the Father’s gracious care in Christ and by his Spirit.” He interacts with God’s providence and prayer so that prayer is one of the instrumental means of God’s providence. For Calvin prayer was “to the Father, in the Son and by the Spirit.” Our union with Christ also means that we do not pray alone but that Christ is praying not just for us, but with us. Our prayers are an echo of His prayers for us, we are following His lead because of the work of the Spirit in us resulting from our union.

You can’t talk exhaustively about Christian living without touching upon the Law of God. Horton brings in Calvin’s views in the tenth chapter. Like Luther, Calvin utilized a law and gospel distinction. “Calvin also appropriated Melanchton’s threefold use of the law.” The Law drives us to Jesus as He is presented to us in the Gospel. As justified people, the law shows us the pattern of holiness the Son wants to create in us by the Spirit. Law and gospel are distinct but not separate. Christians hear the law as the words of a Father, not a Judge; wisdom and guidance, not condemnation; and cry out to the same Father to help them walk in this way that pleases Him. Horton then summarizes Calvin’s view of these “house rules” expressed in the Ten Commandments.

Horton then addresses this new society, the church, as a theater of God’s fatherly care. Christian living includes finding a faithful church and making disciples. In church we are fed and guided by pastors and elders. We receive God’s hospitality from the deacons. Horton explains Calvin’s view of elements and circumstances regarding worship and how legalism turns circumstances into binding elements. License turns elements into circumstances. “Thus, the Reformer could see even among elements a ranking order, prizing unity over polity. Here we see a man of principle, to be sure, but among the principles was love. While wanting to obey everything that Christ commanded, he realized that not everything was equally clear or equally important.” And so my comments on music.

“Even when the church lies in ruins, we still love the heap of ruins.”

This new society exists, just as our original parents did, for a mission. For the creation mandate to be fulfilled, the Great Commission must be fulfilled. The church exists to make Christ as He is presented to us in the Gospel known, and to teach people to obey Him. The circumstances of the day meant that the Roman Catholic nations controlled the seas. But Geneva sent missionaries throughout Europe, many of whom died in France. The church brings Christ to the world.

We not only live in the church, but we live in the world. Here Horton explores Calvin’s view of the relationship of church and state, and Calvin’s understanding of the two kingdoms. There is discussion of moral law and its reflection in natural law. Christians don’t retreat from the world, nor do they think they can save the world (or creation) through “social justice”. This doesn’t mean Christians shouldn’t seek justice within our spheres of influence, but we have realistic expectations, goals and agendas. It also makes no sense to focus on race relations in society unless we are addressing them in the church. We don’t focus on sins in one kingdom while ignoring them in God’s kingdom. (My thoughts there)

We offer our gifts and abilities to the world, and the church, in terms of our vocation. The sacred-secular distinction has minimized the value of a layperson’s work in the world. Work that helps others survive or flourish is valuable work, not merely legitimate work. Jobs have value not simply as opportunities for evangelism, but for loving others by providing goods that enrich life. This is a big part of Christian living.

Lastly Horton ends with contemplation of glorification. We are not escaping the material world, but longing for freedom from sin; ours and others against us. We live in the not yet with regard to sin. This is intended to shape our lives in the already.

Horton lays before us a very thorough look at Calvin’s understanding of the Christian life. We exist for God, and to enjoy God. This means we live before the face of God at home, at work and at church. We live before the face of God and experience His grace because of Christ our Mediator in whom we experience all God’s blessings. Christian living is not about trying to attain God’s grace, but receiving it so we can glorify & enjoy Him. This was a great addition to the series.

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I feel like I’ve been reading Faithfulness and Holiness for a lifetime.  I usually read a book more quickly, but taking on the church history instruction made my reading grind to a near halt.  I had brain gridlock.  So, this is no reflection on the book, but merely my circumstances.  I am assured of God’s love for me, despite feeling like a complete slacker.

The final chapter in J.C. Ryle’s book is Assurance.  This is a much mis-understood doctrine- at least by those who deny it.  Ryle begins by discussing this, and the charge of presumption.  If our assurance were based on our performance, that charge would be true (the Council of Trent therefore calls it a ‘prime error of heretics’).  But assurance is based on the completeness of Jesus’ work on our behalf, which we partake of with even the least faith.

“There never yet was a Scriptural truth without abuses and counterfeits.  God’s election- man’s impotence- salvation by grace- all are alike abused.  There will be fanatics and enthusiasts as long as the world stands.  But, for all this, assurance is a reality and a true thing; and God’s children must not let themselves be driving from the use of a truth, merely because it is abused.”  Ryle then goes on to give lots of Scripture that points to the reality of assurance for the believer.  The point being, we lean upon Jesus our Mediator, and God’s Word. 

However, a “believer may never arrive at this assured hope, which Paul expresses, and yet be saved.”  It is not necessary to have assurance of salvation to actually be saved.  Many Christians have struggled with doubts and depression.  However, there hope is in Christ and they are saved.  Assurance is not infallible.  Nor is it a test of salvation.  “Faith, let us remember, is the root, and assurance is the flower.”  The root can be present, and lively, even if there is no flower to show it.

Why should we desire assurance?  First, it grants us some peace and comfort about our spiritual condition.  It helps us to stand firm under trial and loss.  It removes the fear of abandonment in the midst of great suffering.  This is no small thing (written as one experiencing trial at this time).

Second, it “tends to make a Christian and active working Christian.”  Assurance provides us with the safety to act, not the luxury of leisure.  We act because we believe we have new life, not to earn or maintain new life.  A Christian without assurance tends to become preoccupied with introspection.  This makes with a very unproductive, and counterproductive Christian life.  Such a person is often paralyzed.

Third, it makes a Christian a “decided Christian”.  I think decisive might be a better word choice today.  Lack of assurance creates a great deal of uncertainty and instability in our pursuit of God. 

Fourth, it tends to make the holiest Christians.  “He that is freely forgiven by Christ will always do much for Christ’s glory, and he that enjoys the fullest assurance of this forgiveness will ordinarily keep up the closest walk with God.”  Think the forgiven prostitute versus Simon the Pharisee.  They prize their assurance, and keep a close watch on their own hearts as a result.

“Now, has it never struck you that your neglect of assurance may possibly be the main secret of all your failures- that the low measure of faith which satisfies you may be the cause of your low degree of peace?” 

Why is assurance so seldom attained?  First, a defective view of justification.  People think it some combination of Christ’s work and their own.  It is all Christ’s- his active & passive obedience.  He completely obeyed the law & He endured God’s wrath as our substitute.  We affirm “simul justus et peccator”- at the same time we are just and sinners.  We are justified sinners (Romans 3-5). 

Second, we are slothful in seeking growth in grace.  We misunderstand assurance as an opportunity to be spiritual slackers.  Not seeing progress in sanctification, we certainly lack assurance.

Third, we are inconsistent in our walk.  We vary in our pursuit of Christ by faith.  This inconsistency destroys a peaceful conscience. 

I found this to be a sound & encouraging book.  I hope it won’t take you quite so long to read as it took me- may your circumstances be different.  Click the link, buy, read and apply to the glory of God.

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