Why normal, boring, everyday Christians are awesome

16 09 2013

This fall the Ridley Institute, the school of theology at St. Andrew’s, Mount Pleasant will be hosting “An Introduction to Reformation Anglicanism.”  This lecture series is pulling from some of the most well regarded Anglican church leaders and scholars in the world.  You can click here for details on the course.  By the way, all the lectures are live.  Below is an excerpt from the course text, prepared by yours truly.  

In the Winter of 1520 Martin Luther published “Von der Freiheit eines Christenmenschen,” or “A Treatise on Christian Liberty,” commonly called “The Freedom of the Christian.”  In the Treatise Luther wrote the following:


I advise no one to enter any religious order or the priesthood – no, I dissuade everyone – unless he be forearmed with this knowledge and understand that the works of monks and priests, be they never so holy and arduous, differ no whit in the sight of God from the works of the rustic toiling in the field or the woman going about her household tasks, but that all works are measured before Him by faith alone; as Jeremiah says: ” O Lord, thine eyes are upon faith”; and Ecclesiasticus: ” In every work of thine regard your soul in faith: for this is the keeping of the commandments.” no, he should know that the menial housework of a maidservant or manservant is ofttimes more acceptable to God than all the fastings and other works of a monk or a priest, because the latter lacks faith. Since, therefore, vows seem to tend nowadays only to the glorification of works and to pride, it is to be feared that there is nowhere less of faith and of the Church than among the priests, monks and bishops, and that these men are in truth heathen or hypocrites, who imagine themselves to be the Church or the heart of the Church, and “spiritual,” and the Church’s leaders, when they are everything else but that.

Now what’s he saying?  He’s not saying that some people shouldn’t aspire to the ordained ministry.  Quite the opposite.  Luther remained an ordained priest his entire life and trained many others for the same type of service.  So what is Luther saying?  What Luther is saying is that no one should become a priest who thinks that ordination will somehow set him above normal, boring, everyday Christians.  The “works of the monks,” writes Luther, no matter how dedicated, difficult, and disciplined “differ no whit in the sight of God” from the works of the field hand, or the stay at home mom, or the seamstress.  It is not the work, or even the greatness of the work that counts before God.  Rather, it is simple faith, or trusting in Christ.  In this regard, the simple farm boy who trusts in Christ is at least equal to the learned priest.  But the farm boy may be greater than the priest, for perhaps the priest is trusting in his works and his status rather than Christ making the priest a “heathen or hypocrite.”  The simple farm boy, with his simple faith in Christ, is the truly spiritual of the two.

This thinking was carried across the channel from Germany to England during the English Reformation.  In 1539 the Great Bible, the first authorized Bible to be published in the English language was released to the English people.  Cranmer’s preface to the Great Bible is instructive in terms of the theological shift that was taking place in England during the Reformation.  Just one generation prior, the highest form of Christian service imaginable was taking monastic vows and second to that was the ordination to the priesthood.  However, as we’ve seen, Luther gave pride of place to the simple Christian life of the husband and wife, innkeeper, farmer, etc.  Cranmer exhibits a similar bias in his preface.  He instructs Christians to read the Bible twice daily, with special intent towards understanding and applying the sermon heard on Sunday.  Anticipating objections, that perhaps laity do not need such training in Biblical knowledge and theology he wrote:

Let no man make excuse and say (saith he), I am busied about matters of the commonwealth; I bear this office, or that; I am a craftsman, I must apply mine occupation. I have a wife, my children must be fed, my household must I provide for. Briefly, I am a man of the world. It is not for me to read the scriptures. That belongeth to them that have bidden the world farewell, which live in solitariness and contemplation, and have been brought up and continually nuzzled in learning and religion. To this answering, What sayest thou man? (saith he) Is it not for thee to study and to read the scripture, because thou art encumbered and distracted with cares and business? So much the more it is behoveful for thee to have defense of scriptures, how much thou art the more distressed in worldly dangers. They that be free and far from trouble and intermeddling of worldly things live in safeguard and tranquility, and in the calm, or within a sure haven. Thou art in the midst of the sea of worldly wickedness, and therefore thou needest the more of ghostly succor and comfort! They sit far from the strokes of battle, and far out of gunshot, and therefore they be but seldom wounded. Thou that standest in the forefront of the host, and nighest to thine enemies, must needs take now and then many strokes, and be grievously wounded, and therefore thou hast most need to have thy remedies and medicines at hand. Thy wife provoketh thee to anger; thy child giveth thee occasion to take sorrow and pensiveness; thine enemies lie in wait for thee; thy friend (as thou takest him) sometime envieth thee; thy neighbor misreporteth thee or picketh quarrels against thee; thy mate or partner undermineth thee; thy lord, judge, or justice, threateneth thee; poverty is painful unto thee; the loss of thy dear and wellbeloved causeth thee to mourn; prosperity exalteth thee, adversity bringeth thee low. Briefly, so divers and so manifold occasions of cares, tribulations, and temptations, beset thee and besiege thee round about. Where canst thou have armor or fortress against thine assaults? Where canst thou have salves for thy sores but of holy scripture?

Note Cranmer’s language of those who are “free and far from trouble and intermeddling of worldy things,” who live “in safeguard and tranquility, and in the calm, or within sure heaven.”  Who do you suppose he’s talking about?  The monks and the priests of course.  And who is engaged in real Christian service, which brings with it real Christian adversity and Christian warfare?  Cranftsmen, businessmen, husbands, fathers, mothers, wives, children, etc.  In these few words Cranmer subtly portrays monasticism as a lesser form of Christian service than that of the everyday Christian.  Because the everyday, normal Christian is called to hard service in the world, it is all the more important that the everyday Christian equip himself with a steady diet of Scripture, which had been recently supplied in the Great Bible.

Luther’s point, sealed in Anglican theology by Thomas Cranmer, is that becoming a monk, or a priest, or a missionary doesn’t make a Christian great.  Christ makes Christians great and this is received by simple faith.  The janitor, truck driver, farmhand etc. are not lesser Christians than monks, priest, missionaries etc.  Rather all are equal before God and equally beloved of God by faith, not by works, so that no one can boast.  Not only are “ordinary” Christians great, but Cranmer reminds us that “ordinary” Christian practices are great.  In an age that calls us to be “radical” for Christ, Cranmer reminds us that more good would come if Christians simply read their Bibles, applied the sermon to their life, and sought wisdom by the Holy Spirit in prayer.  The ordinary Christian life is not to be shunned or despised, but admired, not because it makes much of the individual, but because such a life, through simple faith, makes much of Christ.

You can learn more about Cranmer and the English Reformation by attending the Ridley Institute’s Fall Course.  Click here to register, or talk to your Rector about the possibility of live streaming the entire course to your local church.


Was the Anglican Church Started Because the King Wanted a Divorce?

11 09 2013

This fall the Ridley Institute, the school of theology at St. Andrew’s, Mount Pleasant will be hosting “An Introduction to Reformation Anglicanism.”  This lecture series is pulling from some of the most well regarded Anglican church leaders and scholars in the world.  You can click here for details on the course.  By the way, all the lectures are live.  Below is an excerpt from the course text, prepared by yours truly.  Enjoy.

A typical jibe against the Anglicans is that we were the ones “whose church was started because the King wanted a divorce.”  As can be seen from the previous posts (Click here for Part I.  Click here for Part II) the Reformation was well underway before the King initiated the process that ended in his divorce.  Nevertheless, the King’s “Great Matter” as it was called, was the official reason for England’s break with the Pope in Rome thereby establishing the independent Church of England.  For these reasons, the King’s divorce, no matter how unpalatable, played an important role in advancing the Reformation in England.  Perhaps here we must be content to say with Joseph, “you meant it for evil but God meant it for good” (Gen 50.20).

Henry VIII was the youngest son of Henry VII, the first Tudor monarch of England.  Henry VII had seized the throne from Richard III at the Battle of Bosworth Field in 1485, thus ending the political upheavals and uncertainties that characterized the realm during the War of the Roses.  Henry VIII was not born to the throne.  Rather he was second in line to his brother Arthur, who died at the young age of sixteen in 1502.  Only then did Henry become the heir apparent.  Even so, his succession remained for a time uncertain.  The uncertainties regarding his succession were twofold.  The first problem was Henry’s age.  By the time Henry VII died, Henry VIII was only seventeen years old.  English law maintained that Henry could not manage his own affairs until he was twenty-one years of age.  Though he was the clear heir, his young age made him vulnerable in an already tense political situation.  This leads us to the second problem and that was Henry’s tenuous political situation.  It must be remembered that Henry did not come from a long line of English kings.  Henry’s father was the first Tudor king and he became so by violently taking it on the battlefield.  Henry’s claim on the throne was only as strong as his ability to maintain his grip upon it, as the Duke of Buckingham, Edward Stafford, would prove when he secretly plotted to overthrow the King in 1521.  Henry personally investigated the affair and had the Duke executed on May 17th, 1523.

A key to understanding Henry is to understand this fundamental instability that (real or imagined) always lurked behind the scenes.  The first move of stabilizing the young king’s reign was marriage.  Henry was married to Catherine of Aragon, the daughter of Queen Isabella I of Castille and King Ferdinand II of Aragon.  The marriage gave Henry powerful political allies in Spain, but the marriage was not without its complications.  Catherine had been betrothed to, and eventually married Henry’s older brother Arthur.  The two had been married for six months before Arthur died.  When the time came to arrange the marriage between Henry VIII and Catherine, it was thought that such an arrangement would be prohibited by Church Law.  The problem was Leviticus 18 vs. 16, which reads:

You shall not uncover the nakedness of your brother’s wife; it is your brother’s nakedness.

A more comprehensive reading of the Old Testament concerning such matters would easily demonstrate that the prohibition of marrying a brother’s wife applied only as long as the brother was alive.  The text therefore, was a prohibition against adultery as can clearly be proven by alternative texts where in the eventuality of a brother’s death the surviving brother is commanded to take his brother’s wife, not only to provide for her financially but to bear children on behalf of the deceased brother (See Ruth and Deut 25.5).

In light of the textual ambiguities, the English and Spanish authorities sought a Papal dispensation to overcome the presumed prohibition in Leviticus.  The Papal dispensation was written by Pope Julius II, who having been assured that Catherine did not know Arthur sexually, permitted Henry and Catherine to wed.  There is another text quite important to this matter that comes from Leviticus 20 vs. 21.  The text is essentially the same as that previously mentioned, but it adds a penalty to the sin that is not mentioned in the text from chapter 18.  It reads as follows:

If a man takes his brother’s wife, it is impurity. He has uncovered his brother’s nakedness; they shall be childless.

Some have argued that as early as 1514, Henry had come to believe that his marriage with Catherine was unlawful before God and that he was under God’s curse, since the couple had failed to produce offspring, having experienced multiple miscarriages and stillbirths.  However, in 1516, Catherine gave birth to Mary Tudor (eventually “Bloody” Mary), and Henry’s fears were, for a time, eased.  Henry desperately wanted a male heir to the throne.  The Tudor dynasty was still fragile.  For the good of the realm as well as the dynasty, Mary was a promising sign, but what Henry really needed was a son.

It is hard to determine what rekindled Henry’s fear over the legitimacy of his marriage, but the events of 1519 could not have helped the matter.  As much as Henry agonized over whether or not his marriage to Catherine was lawful, he did not experience the same turmoil of conscience in the multiple affairs he is said to have engaged in.  One affair of great importance to our present subject was his affair with Elizabeth Blount, who sometime in June of 1519 gave birth to an illegitimate child of the king.  What made this child of particular significance was that this child was a boy.  Lady Blount had given Henry a son.

The boy was given the name Henry Fitzroy.  Fitz meaning “son of” and Roy meaning “King.”  Rather than hiding the affair and the child, Henry proudly received the newborn at court declaring him the “Son of the King,” even acknowledging the boy and granting him a peerage (nobility) as the Duke of Richmond and Somerset.  This was the first time since the 12th century that an illegitimate child of the King had been elevated to nobility.  Henry was clearly paving the way for Henry to take the throne, even suggesting that Fitzroy marry his half sister Mary, so that Fitzroy could reign as king.

Perhaps of greater significance to our present narrative however, is that Henry had proven that he was capable of producing a male offspring.  In his mind then, the problem did not reside in himself but was the product of his unlawful marriage to his wife, Catherine.  Henry returned to his study of the scriptural prohibitions in Leviticus and concluded that God was justly angry with him and punishing him for his sin in marrying his brother’s wife.  Henry’s conscience was not eased by the council of his clergymen, one of whom suggested that in the original Hebrew, the curse was not childlessness but specifically the death of sons.

Henry’s string of divorces and absolute cruelty towards his enemies makes it quite easy to cast everything that the man had done in a foul light.  But the early stages of Henry’s divorce deserve a sympathetic reading.  Here is a man whose claim to the throne was fragile and bought with bloodshed.  Men and women who saw the horrors of the War of the Roses, and the pain it brought upon the English people, would have still been alive to tell stories of their turmoil to the young king.  Stability and peace could not be had without a secure monarchy. To secure the monarchy Henry needed a son.  These concerns would be enough to bear down upon any person, but if you add a theological/religious dimension to this struggle, no matter how misguided and ill-informed, the burden would be crushing.  In his mind, Henry was not only dealing with the burden of the nation, he and his wife were being crushed by the wrath of God for their sin and Henry wanted to get out from under the terrible arm of the Lord.  It is telling that Henry’s interest in annulment preceded his involvement with Anne Boleyn by as much as two years.

Henry, a faithful Catholic, initially sought an annulment to his marriage through proper channels.  In May of 1527 Henry sent delegates to the Pope to make his case that the marriage was unlawful.  Henry was held in high regard by the Papacy.  In 1516 he had contributed 115,000 ducats to the Papacy to support Leo’s war against the French (In these days, Pope’s went to war!).  In 1521 he had authored a book against Martin Luther, and for his efforts was pronounced by the Pope to be the “Defender of the Faith.”  He believed in his cause and the theological arguments behind it, but he also trusted in the goodwill of the Papacy that had given him such a prestigious title in Christendom.  Despite Henry’s past support, it soon became clear that the Papacy had no intentions of supporting his annulment.  There is every reason to believe that the Pope would have granted the annulment had Catherine not been the King of Spain’s Aunt.  The Pope could not afford to make an enemy of Spain, who was a powerful ally against the French.

Seeing that there was little to be gained in this matter from appealing to the Pope, an alternative course was suggested by a hitherto underutilized cleric, university professor, and ambassador, Thomas Cranmer.  Cranmer suggested that rather than continue negotiations with the Papacy, why not deploy teams of scholars across Europe to determine the lawfulness of the matter in the universities?  The European universities were stacked with humanists who wouldn’t blindly defer to the Pope, but would seriously investigate the matter in the Bible and in canon law.

Reactions both at home and abroad were mixed.  At home, the reforming humanist William Tyndale severely opposed the annulment on Biblical grounds.  The conservative Roman Catholic, Bishop Fisher, opposed the annulment out of deference to the Pope and mother church.  Across the English Channel, the marriage was opposed by Martin Luther, who had a low opinion of Henry to begin with that was only worsened by Henry’s marital infidelities.  The Swiss Reformers, Oecolampadius and Huldrych Zwingli were more sympathetic to the King’s trials of conscience.  In France, Henry failed to carry the majority of the theologians in Paris, though he did carry many of the most prominent.

What is easy to lose sight of to the modern reader, which would have been the obvious elephant in the room during this process was not so much a matter of whether or not the King had proper grounds for a divorce, but whether or not the Pope had the authority to set aside God’s law.  Leaving aside the tortured interpretation of Leviticus 20 for one moment, it was pointed out by Henry and others that if there was nothing wrong with the marriage in the first place then no Papal dispensation was necessary.  But a Papal dispensation was written, implying that in the church’s judgment the marriage was not entirely without its problems.  If the church had determined that the marriage between Henry and Catherine was forbidden by scripture, then the Pope had no right to set aside God’s law for political expediency This opinion was boldly expressed in the Censurae Determinations, or The Determinations of the most famous and excellent Universities of Italy and France, that it is unlawful for a man to marry his brother’s wife; that the Pope hath no power to dispense therewith.  The title itself is instructive.  To say that it is “unlawful for a man to marry his brother’s wife” was nothing new.  But to declare that the “Pope hath no power” to dispense the prohibition was especially provocative.   In the Determinations, Cranmer (most likely) wrote:

It shall be the duty of a loving and devout bishop not only to withstand the Pope openly to his face, as Paul did resist Peter, because the Pope verily is to be reprehended and rebuked, but also with all fair means and gentleness, and learning, in time and out of time ought to cry upon him to rebuke, reprove, beseech, exhort him that the persons so coupled together may forsake such marriages.

The message was twofold.  The Pope was not above scripture and could not set aside God’s law, no matter how good his reason.  Two, the Pope could fail in his duties to interpret scripture properly, and when he did it was the duty of faithful people to rebuke him.  We’re no longer just talking about divorce, but Cranmer and the other scholars involved in this project had begun a direct challenge to Papal authority on scriptural grounds.

It was not the divorce, but rather the challenge to Papal authority on the grounds that the Pope was not above Scripture which furthered the Reformation in England.  As was shown in the earlier posts, this challenge was not something that originated with Henry’s divorce.  Rather, Henry’s divorce gave the Reformers the chance to advance ideas they had been forming in secret for nearly a decade.  Namely, that no man is above Scripture.  King Henry, his infidelities and his temper remain a black mark on the period.  But good was brought from this evil.  It was through this evil that the English Bible eventually emerged, as well as Gospel centered preaching and Reformation liturgies.  We’ll learn more about these in the coming days.

You can learn more about Henry and the English Reformation by attending the Ridley Institute’s Fall Course.  Click here to register, or talk to your Rector about the possibility of live streaming the entire course to your local church.


Reading Luther and Drinking Beer is a Dangerous Thing

2 09 2013

This fall the Ridley Institute, the school of theology at St. Andrew’s, Mount Pleasant will be hosting “An Introduction to Reformation Anglicanism.”  This lecture series is pulling from some of the most well regarded Anglican church leaders and scholars in the world.  You can click here for details on the course.  By the way, all the lectures are live.  Below is an excerpt from the course text, prepared by yours truly.  Enjoy.

Undoubtedly the most significant name of the Protestant Reformation is that of Martin Luther.  Which is why it may surprise many that the course of Luther’s life changed not by picking up a Bible, but rather by praying to a saint.  Trapped in a field during a severe thunderstorm while travelling from Erfurt to Mansfield on June 30th, 1505, the young Luther cried out to St. Anne, “St. Anne Help me!  I will become a monk!”  Luther’s life was spared and he kept good on his promise.  He left the university where he was training to become a lawyer and enrolled in the strictest of the Erfurt monasteries, the Augustinian priory.  After enrolling in the monastery at Erfurt, Luther began to train as a novice; a period of a about a year where the person to be initiated is prepared before taking vows.  Each novice at the Augustinian priory was given a little, red leather Bible. When Luther received his Bible from Johann Staupitz, the Vicar General of the priory, it was the first time that Luther had ever even seen a Bible.  He cherished it, spending hours upon hours reading and memorizing the Biblical texts.  Years later, reflecting on his time reading and memorizing the Bible during his year as a novice he said:

If I had kept at it, I would have become exceedingly good at locating things in the Bible. At that time no other study pleased me so much as sacred literature. With great loathing I read physics [Aristotle’s Physics], and my heart was aglow when the time came to return to the Bible . . . I read the Bible diligently. Sometimes one statement occupied all my thoughts for a whole day.

Unfortunately for Luther, having completed his first year as a novice, the Bible was taken from him and he began to train for ordination in much the same way that his predecessors had been trained, namely by engaging the Latin works of the great medieval theologians such as Peter Lombard, William Ockham, Pierre d’Ailly, and Gabriel Biel.  Luther remarked that at that time it was possible to obtain a Doctor of Divinity without even owning a Bible, much less studying it, as his fellow professor Andreas Karlstadt had done.

Unlike many of his contemporaries, Luther dedicated himself to the study of the Bible. His aptitude for reading the Bible and understanding the text marked him as the obvious choice for the Chair of Biblical Studies at the University of Wittenberg, which he took up immediately after earning his doctorate.  From 1513-1519 Luther lectured on the Psalms, Romans, Galatians, and Hebrews to the assembled students at Wittenberg.  By 1519 Luther wrote:  “I had then already read and taught the sacred Scriptures most diligently privately and publicly for seven years, so that I knew them nearly all by memory.”  The Biblical text was woven deep in his bones and eventually, something changed within him.

The date of Luther’s conversion to the Gospel is disputed, as is the mysterious tower (some think it is the bathroom!) that he refers to.  What happened however, is beyond dispute.  Luther turned away from the works righteousness of Medieval Christianity and embraced the Gospel of Grace in the New Testament.  While reading Romans, Luther struggled with the phrase “the righteousness of God.”  He had thought that God’s righteousness meant the justice by which God punished sinners.  Thus Luther was afraid of God, even in one instance saying that he “hated God.”  However, while reading Romans in the tower, Luther learned from Paul that God’s righteousness was a gift from God given to sinful people through Jesus Christ, to be received by faith.  He wrote the following words to describe what it was like for this Gospel truth to dawn upon him:

The words ‘righteous’ and righteousness of God struck my conscience like lightning.  When I heard them I was exceedingly terrified.  If God is righteous [I thought], he must punish.  But when by God’s grace I pondered, in the tower and heated room of this building, over the words, ‘He who through faith is righteous shall live [Rom 1.17] and ‘the righteousness of God’  [Rom 3.21], I soon came to the conclusion that if we, as righteous men, ought to live from faith and if the righteousness of God should contribute to salvation of all who believe, then salvation won’t be our merit but God’s mercy.  My spirit was thereby cheered.  For it’s by the righeousness of God that we’re justified and saved through Christ.  These words [which had before terrified me] now became more pleasing to me.  The Holy Spirit unveiled the Scriptures for me in the tower.

It was not long after his “tower experience” that Luther posted his famous 95 Theses on the Power and Efficacy of Indulgences, commonly referred to simply as the 95 Theses.  On the eve of All Saint’s Day, Oct. 31, 1517, Luther posted the theses on the Castle Church at Wittenberg.  The action was not nearly as dramatic as it sounds, for the door of the Castle Church functioned in much the same way as a bulletin board at a local school or coffee shop would today.  Nevertheless, the theses were quite controversial.  Luther was writing primarily against the sale of indulgences.  At the time, an indulgence was a written assurance that could be purchased from an agent of the papacy to remit a certain number of years off of purgatory.  The salesman of such indulgences in Luther’s region was Johann Tetzel, who announced upon entering a town “As soon as the coin in the coffer rings, the soul from purgatory springs!”  The money collected by Tetzel and others was used to construct the now famous St. Peter’s Basilica.

Luther’s theses begin with an against the sacrament of penance.  Theses one through five read as follows:

  1. When our Lord and Master Jesus Christ said, “Repent” (Mt 4.17), he willed the entire life of believers to be one of repentance.

  2. This word cannot be understood as referring to the sacrament of penance, that is confession and satisfaction, as administered by the clergy.

  3. Yet it does not mean solely inner repentance; such inner repentance is worthless unless it produces various outward mortification of the flesh.

  4. The penalty of sin remains as long as the hatred of self (that is, true inner repentance), namely till our entrance into the kingdom of heaven.

  5. The pope neither desires nor is able to remit any penalties except those imposed by his own authority or that of the canons.

First notice theses 1-3’s dependence upon Erasmus’ Greek New Testament.  Luther flatly rejects penance as a sacrament.  Now notice the connection between theses 4-5.  If penance is not a sacrament, then neither the pope nor his priests has the power to remit sins through penance or indulgences.  If neither priest nor pope can remit sins, where then does Luther say forgiveness of sins can be found?  One must remember the tower experience.  Righteousness, said the Apostle Paul, comes to us as a free gift to be received by faith (Rom 3.22-24).  So Luther declares:

62.  The true treasure of the church is the most holy Gospel of the glory of the grace of God.

This glory of the grace of God is had by any “true Christian” who through faith and repentance shares in “all the blessings of Christ and the church; and this is granted to him by God” (Thesis 37).  This blessing is given by faith alone, even without indulgences, penance, or even the Pope!  Indeed, in light of the Gospel, Christians should be “especially on guard against those who say that the Pope’s pardons are the inestimable gift of God by which man is reconciled to him.”  Only the Gospel, the “true treasure of the church” is the means by which we are reconciled to God.

By 1518 the Theses had been translated into most major European languages.  Over the course of the next three years, the Pope sent a steady stream of theologians and cardinals to debate and refute Luther.  By June 15th, 1520, the Pope had warned Luther in a letter, called a Papal Bull, that if he did not recant his beliefs he would be excommunicated.  Luther publicly burnt the bull at Wittenberg on Dec 10th, 1520.  Though Luther had been excommunicated, this did not stop his works from proliferating throughout Europe.  By the 1520’s, Luther was being read in secret at at pub in Cambridge called the White Horse Tavern.  The little group that had gathered at the pub to read Luther’s writings, along with Erasmus’ New Testament, dubbed themselves “little Germany.”

The group meeting at the White Horse was a fairly prestigious bunch.  Those who frequented the Tavern to discuss Luther and the New Testament were such Reformation luminaries as Thomas Cranmer, Hugh Latimer, Nicholas Ridley, William Tyndale, Miles Coverdale, Robert Barnes, and Thomas Bilney among others.  Just to put this list in perspective, you have two Bible translators (Tyndale and Coverdale) who have had a direct influence on every English translation of the Bible since the 16th century.  There are two bishops and one Archbishop.  The author of the Anglican prayer books, as well as the architect of the 39 Articles of Religion is in this list.  Of the seven men listed above, six were martyred for the Christian faith.  Reading Luther and the New Testament over ale is not as safe as it sounds.

In 1529, the cause of the Gospel in England suffered under the King’s Chancellor, Thomas More, who ordered that the books propagating the “Lutheran heresy” be burned.  Books were not the only thing More burned.  In 1531, Thomas Bilney, the man initially responsible for convening men to read Luther and the New Testament at the White Horse was lashed to the stake and condemned to die for believing “the Lutheran heresy.”  Foxe records his final moments:

Before he went to the stake he confessed his adherence to those opinions which Luther held; and, when at it, he smiled, and said, “I have had many storms in this world, but now my vessel will soon be on shore in heaven.”  He stood unmoved in the flames crying out, “Jesus, I believe;” and these were the last words he was heard to utter.

It is an easy thing to go to the bookstore and purchase a New Testament in English.  A simple and carefree thing to confess salvation through Christ alone.  But these things you and I take for granted were bought and paid for by the blood of men who, to borrow the words of Bishop J.C. Ryle, “were certain they had found out truth, and content to die for their opinions.”  Many of the men of “little Germany,” the men of the White Horse Tavern purchased the privileges of modern Christians with their very lives.

You can learn more about Luther and the English Reformation by attending the Ridley Institute’s Fall Course.  Click here to register, or talk to your Rector about the possibility of live streaming the entire course to your local church.