A Prayer for Jonah

8 10 2013

Grant, Almighty God, that as thou hast not sent a Jonah to us, when alienated from every hope of salvation, but hast given thy Son to be our Teacher, clearly show to us the way of salvation, and not only to call us to repentance by threatenings and terrors, but also kindly to allure us to the hope of eternal life, and to be a pledge of they paternal love,- O grant, that we may not reject so remarkable a favour offered to us, but willingly and from the heart obey thee; and though the condition which thou settest before us in they Gospel may seem hard, and though the bearing of the cross bitter to our flesh, yet may we never shun to obey thee, but present ourselves to thee as a sacrifice; and having overcome all the hinderances of this world, may we thus proceed in the course of our holy calling, until we be at length gathered into they celestial kingdom, under the guidance of Christ, thy Son, our Lord. Amen.

-John Calvin, Lectures on Jonah, Lecture Seventy-Two

 





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.





Who the heck was Erasmus and why should I care? (Or…reading the Bible can be a dangerous thing)

29 08 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.

The first lecture in the series is by Gerald Bray, a highly regarded Anglican theologian and historian.  He’ll be teaching on “Erasmus and Tudor Humanism.”  Now if you don’t know who “Erasmus” was, or what “Tudor Humanism” is, then you’re probably more inclined to stay home and watch the Oxygen Network’s new reality series The Real Millionaire Preachers of L.A..  And that would be a shame, because Erasmus has probably played a hugely important role in your Christian life and you may not even know it.

Erasmus was a dutch humanist born in the late 15th century.  “Humanist” in our own day can mean someone who has rejected the claims of revealed religion.  We might even call someone a “secular humanist.”  In Erasmus’ day the term meant something very different.  In the 15th and 16th centuries, a “humanist” was someone who was dedicated to human literature (the philosophy and poetry of the ancient world) rather than the study of theology.  Such scholars were often interested in the ancient languages of Latin, Greek and Hebrew.  In Northern Europe, humanism took on a particularly religious bent where scholars used their newfound skills in the languages to take a fresh look at the texts of the Old and New Testaments.  This was called Christian Humanism.

During the renaissance, if someone said “the Bible” they most likely meant the Latin Vulgate, a Bible translated by a man named Jerome in the fourth and fifth centuries.  Jerome took the Hebrew and Greek texts and translated them into Latin, which was the popular or vulgar (vulgate) language of the day.  Jerome’s translation stood for 1000 years.  When the church discussed matters of faith and practice it was always done in reference to Jerome’s Latin translation, not the original Hebrew and Greek.  

Along came Erasmus (and a few of his friends) and took a fresh look at the Greek New Testament.  One might suppose that reintroducing the Bible and the Biblical languages to the Christian people would be a well regarded service to the Church but this was not always the case.  Some of the clergy in England regarded the study of Greek and Latin as “dangerous and damnable.”  There was a reason that the authorities were so afraid of the Greek New Testament and considered it “dangerous and damnable.”  As scholars across Europe read the New Testament in its original languages what they discovered was that the teaching and practice of the Medieval Church did not always conform to the teaching of Christ in the Bible.  These discrepancies were not minor  and in some instances threatened the very existence of some of the medieval church’s major teachings.

For example, consider Matt 4.17.  Just to more clearly make our point, let’s be good Christian humanists and Bible scholars and consider the text the way Erasmus.  That is, let’s start with the Greek!  In the Greek, the text is as follows:

Ἀπὸ τότε ἤρξατο ὁ Ἰησοῦς κηρύσσειν, καὶ λέγειν, Μετανοεῖτε ἤγγικεν γὰρ ἡ βασιλεία τῶν οὐρανῶν.

Now this is Jerome’s translation from the Latin Vulgate, the official Bible of the Medieval Church:

Exinde coepit Iesus praedicare et dicere paenitentiam agite adpropinquavit enim regnum caelorum.

For the most part, Jerome got it right.  The translation is good.  However Erasmus noticed one glaring problem between the Latin and the original Greek text.  The problem was Jerome’s translation of mετανοεῖτε (metanoiete).  Jerome translated mετανοεῖτε as “do penance.”  Thus, Matt 4.17 read:

From that time, Jesus began to preach and to say “Do penance:  for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand.

It was Jerome’s translation as mετανοεῖτε that was largely responsible for the Medieval Roman Catholic penitential system, where sinners were commanded by priests to “do penance,” that is to make satisfaction for their sins before God.  By the 16th century the penitential system had become a way for the church to raise vast sums of money by requiring financial satisfactions for sin.  It was not only a bad translation, but it justified an oppressive system that punished the poor and lined the pockets of the clergy.

Erasmus, taking a closer look at the Greek word, translated mετανοεῖτε (meta = change/ noew = mind) as repent, which he understood to be in reference to an inward psychological attitude of sorrow of sin and a turning away from it.  The changing of one little word, from “penance” to “repentance,” removed one of the main pillars of the medieval penitential system.  The English humanist and scholar Thomas Linacre, upon reading Erasmus’ Greek New Testament and accompanying Latin translation noted “Either this is not the Gospel, or we are not Christians.”  Erasmus’ Greek New Testament called the church to repentance and reformation in obedience to the Scripture, turning them away from the faulty and oppressive penitential system of the medieval church.  Erasmus’ translation permanently altered the course of Western Christianity.

Erasmus reminds us that to read the Bible is a dangerous thing.  The Bible is after all “living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and spirit” (Heb 4.12).  Just as western Christianity was never the same after reengaging the New Testament after several hundred years, we should not expect to stay the same either.  To paraphrase C.S. Lewis, the Bible is not tame, neither is it safe.  But it’s good and it’s good for you.

You can learn more about Erasmus 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.





What happens when a Muslim visits an Anglican Chapel?

27 08 2013

The following post comes from Carl Trueman over at Ref21.  I hesitate to post things like this, because in my experience Anglicans with lifeless liturgy, poor preaching, gospel-less theology, and pathetic outreach view such articles as a validation of their ministries.  I have no desire to validate such ministries.  Rather, I’m posting this article because if the only kind of Anglicanism you’ve ever known was the type described above then you probably overlooked the pure gold to be found in the classical Anglicanism of Cranmer’s liturgy.  I’m posting this because outside eyes are sometimes the best way to reappraise the treasures in your own house.  

Do make sure to click through and read the whole thing.

Yet here is the irony: in this liberal Anglican chapel, the hijabi experienced an hour long service in which most of the time was spent occupied with words drawn directly from scripture. She heard more of the Bible read, said, sung and prayed than in any Protestant evangelical church of which I am aware – than any church, in other words, which actually claims to take the word of God seriously and place it at the centre of its life. Yes, it was probably a good thing that there was no sermon that day: I am confident that, as Carlyle once commented, what we might have witnessed then would have been a priest boring holes in the bottom of the Church of England.  But that aside, Cranmer’s liturgy meant that this girl was exposed to biblical Christianity in a remarkably beautiful, scriptural and reverent fashion. I was utterly convicted as a Protestant minister that evangelical Protestantism must do better on this score: for all of my instinctive sneering at Anglicanism and formalism, I had just been shown in a powerful way how far short of taking God’s word seriously in worship I fall.

Of course, there were things other than a sermon which the hijabi did not witness: she did not witness any adults behaving childishly; she did not witness anybody saying anything stupid; she did not witness any stand-up comedy routine or any casual cocksureness in the presence of God; she did not see any forty-something pretending to be cool; in short, she did not witness anything that made me, as a Christian, cringe with embarrassment for my faith, or for what my faith has too often become at the hands of the modern evangelical gospellers.




Martin Luther: Good works flow from love and joy

18 03 2013

For where the Gospel is truly in the heart, it creates a new man who does not wait until the law comes, but, being so full of joy in Christ, and of desire and love for that which is good, he gladly helps and doe good to every one wherever he can, from a free heart, before he ver once thinks of law.  He wholly risks his body and life, without asking what he must suffer on account of it, and thus abounds in good works which flow forth of themselves.

-Martin Luther, Church Postil 2.2 76





Martin Luther: The Great Work of the Christian

14 03 2013

Challenging words from the good doctor:

A truly Christian work is it that we descend and get mixed up in the mire of the sinner as deeply as he sticks there himself, taking his sin upon ourselves and floundering out of it with him, not acting otherwise than as if his sin were our own.  We should rebuke and deal with him in earnest; yet we are not to despise but sincerely love him.  If you are proud toward the sinner and despise him, you are utterly damned.

-Martin Luther, Church Postil 2.261