Posts Tagged With: Church History

6 Reasons to Read Pierre Viret: The Angel of the Reformation by R. A. Sheats

I’ve just had the pleasure of completing Pierre Viret: The Angel of the Reformation by R. A. Sheats.  This is the finest specimen of a spiritual biography that I can recall reading in recent memory.  Here are 6 reasons why I recommend that you read it.

1. It is an action-packed, page-turning thriller.  From conflicts with Romanists, Protestant magistrates trying to control the church, & ignorant parishioners, to empoisonment, to illness, to blessed fruit, to a surprisingly gentle character in the face of opposition, capture, and imprisonment, I just couldn’t put this book down.  The action is non-stop.

2. It is well-written.  Sheats writes with an effusiveness and expressiveness of style that can only come from being immersed in 16th century French literature for months without end.  Her English prose ebbs, flows, and punches.

3. It is doxological.  As a spiritual biography should be, it glorifies God in all things.  This book will drive you to your knees in thanks to God for His mighty acts in history.

4. It fills in important historical gaps.  Pierre Viret (1511-1571) is a name that is largely forgotten, but it clearly should not be.  Viret, along with the more famous Calvin and Farel together formed the triumvirate.  These three pastors worked closely together, were dear friends, and were used mightily in French-speaking Switzerland.

5. Pierre Viret is an inspirational figure.  Dauntless, courageous, always loving, gentle, and pastoral.  Here are some notable quotes from the author:  “If Farel was the Peter of the French Reformation, and Calvin was the Paul, without a doubt Viret was the John.”  “The only thing that holds me to my post is Him. –Pierre Viret”

6. The beautiful glossy color photographs on location in Switzerland and France.  They made me want to go visit all those places.  Now, I have to someday.  Honestly.

I won’t say that you must read it.  I will only say that if you don’t, you’re really missing out.

Order here.

Read my expanded book review on the Ordained Servant Online.

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Pastoral Letter 12/1/13

Greetings in the name of Him who came to save His people from their sins!

As I type I can feel the leftover turkey and yams churning in my stomach.  We have much to be thankful for, and the upcoming Advent season gives us even more reason to be thankful, for it is this time of year that we pause to remember God’s gift of His Son Jesus Christ, God from all eternity, conceived and born in due time, predestined before the foundation of the world to come as the Savior of Sinners.

Although the Bible does not fix for us the date of the birth of Christ, Christmas is an ancient tradition in the Christian Church.  The date of December 25th began to be observed in Rome in the 4th century.  (The 4th century church father John Chrysostom notes that there was a longstanding tradition already in the Church that Jesus was born during the winter time dating back long before this time.)  Around the same period, in the Eastern churches of Greece and Asia Minor (modern-day Turkey), Epiphany was starting to become a popular festival on January 6th celebrating Jesus’ birth, the visit of the wise men, and baptism by John in the Jordan River.  While the celebration of Epiphany spread westward, the celebration of Christmas spread eastward and southward to the churches.

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Nicholas of Myra strikes Arius at the Council of Nicaea; Fresco in the Soumela monastery, Turkey

In this period of time there was a great controversy in the Christian church due to a teaching of a preacher in Alexandria, Egypt named Arius that from all eternity “the Son was not.”  He taught that only the Father was the eternal God and that Jesus the son was a lesser god who had been created by the Father at a point in time prior to creation.  (This doctrine is similar to the teaching of some modern groups, for example the “Jehovah’s Witnesses.”)  Arius’ teaching caught on like wildfire because many people found it easier to understand and accept than the biblical teaching on the Trinity: One God in Three Persons (cf. Matthew 28:19.)  But God in His providence raised up great preachers to oppose this teaching, men like the Greek fathers Gregory of Nyssa, Gregory Nazianzus, Basil the Great, and John “golden mouth” Chrysostom.  They knew that without a Savior who is both fully God and fully man, with two distinct natures in one person, there could be no reconciliation of a holy God with sinful man, and there would be no salvation.  These church fathers thought that a new festival on December 25th would provide a valuable opportunity to proclaim the truth about the person of Christ, that God the Son, being fully God from all eternity with the Father and the Spirit, took to Himself a full yet previously un-impersonated human nature, and became man, in the womb of the virgin Mary.  They used Christmas as a defense against Arius and his false teaching about Christ.  It was Gregory Nazianzus who said in reference to John 1:1, “What better way to celebrate Him who is the Word, than by preaching the word?”  Christmas caught on in churches all over the world as a time to hear sermons on the incarnation of Christ, and in the end, it was probably one of the great influences which wound up leading to the decision of the Council of Nicaea in favor of the biblical teaching on who Christ is.  (At the council, according to tradition, there was one minister from the city of Myra in Asia Minor named Nicholas, who is said to have struck Arius in the face during a council session when he said, “The Son was not” in an attempt to knock some sense into him.  Nicholas was defending the biblical doctrine of Christ being fully God, and was also known for being generous to the poor.  He is the origin of the “Santa Claus” stories.)  The results of this council were encodified in the Nicene Creed, an important and historical statement of the doctrine of Christ and the Trinity.

As we reflect on Christ during this season, let us be thankful to God for leading His Church to the truth about who He is, guiding her through history, and remember that salvation is only in Him who being God from all eternity, became man in the womb of the virgin Mary, was born in a stable, and continues to be God and man, in one person, with two distinct natures forever, the Mediator between God and sinful man.

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Calvin on the Ancient Church as a Model of Biblical Church Polity

ImageUntil now we have spoken of the order of governing the Church, according as it was left to us by the word of God alone.  We have also treated of the ministers as Jesus Christ instituted them.  Now in order that all of this be familiarly declared to us and imprinted in our memory, it will be beneficial for us to recognize what the form of the ancient Church was in all these things, considering that she is able to represent to us as in a mirror this instruction from God that we have set forth.

Jean Calvin, L’Institution Chrétienne, IV.IV.I.1

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The Lausanne Academy

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Indeed, in the days prior to the establishment of Calvin’s Academy in Geneva in 1559, the preeminent place of study in the pays de Vaud was unquestionably Lausanne.  The Academy turned out countless pastors for the Reformed faith, and aside from the preachers who left the Academy to proceed as missionaries to the surrounding Roman Catholic countries were many world-renowned men of the Faith who also received their training at Viret’s school.  Some such students included Zacharias Ursinus and Casper Olevianus, authors of the Heidelberg Catechism of 1562, and Guido de Bres, author of the Belgic Confession of 1561.

R. A. Sheats, Pierre Viret: The Angel of the Reformation, p. 92

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A Drunken Disturbance While Dafydd Morris Preached

He stood to declare the Word near an inn door.  Opposite him, on the other side of the road, were three trees growing at the side of a river.  Soon after he had started preaching, a drunken man passed by who started shouting out at the end of every sentence from the preacher, ‘He’s lying!’  Dafydd Morris suffered this for a while, but as the man continued with his shouting and threatenings, his spirit was aroused, and he said to the crowd around him, ‘Listen! Those three trees will bear testimony against that man on Judgment Day, unless retribution overtakes him before then.’  The people noted his remark, and it was soon brought to their notice again, when the drunkard fell over a wall in his drunkenness one dark night, and was drowned.  And this took place only a few paces away from the spot where the preacher had stood.  As the Bible says, ‘Be not over much wicked, neither be thou foolish: why shouldest thou die before thy time?’

Jones & Morgan, The Calvinistic Methodist Fathers of Wales, vol. I, p. 728.

geograph.org.uk

geograph.org.uk

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Pastoral Letter — Oct 27, 2013

From Pastor Riley, to the members and friends of Hope Congregational Church,

Greetings in the name of Him who is reforming His Church, bringing her to greater conformity to His will!

The days are getting shorter and the nights are getting longer.  Temperatures are dropping.  Perhaps spending more time indoors than we normally do in the summer months will give us time to reflect on some important topics.  The one I would like to focus on at the moment is Reformation.  Reformation is a work of God found in the Scriptures, when He conforms and reforms His Church to His will as expressed in His holy word.  In the days of Hezekiah the King there was a mighty reformation, a time of revival and smashing the idols that people had been following instead of God.  We see the same thing occur under the reign of Josiah after the book of the law was rediscovered.  There are times of blessing when the word of God is rediscovered, ignorance is uprooted, and idols are smashed for the glory of God and the blessing of His Church.

On October 31, 1517 such a work of God began through the humble protest of a conscientious monk and Bible professor at Wittenberg University named Martin Luther.  Luther95thesesIn the middle ages Christianity had overtaken Europe, although North Africa and Asia Minor (modern day Turkey), once important centers of the Christian faith, had for the most part been overrun by Islam through successive conquests.  In the Middle Ages Bibles were scarce, and if available, it was only available in the Latin Vulgate translation.  As a result, many superstitions and errors had developed to cloud and obscure the gospel of Jesus Christ based on some key mistranslated passages in the Vulgate.  A general ignorance prevailed over Christian people, who generally did not have access to the Bible and heard homilies in Latin every Sunday, a language they could not understand.  Due to the interest of Renaissance scholarship, the original Hebrew and Greek Scriptures became more widely available in western Europe for the first time.  God used these events to bring about a reform movement back to the source of truth, the Holy Scriptures, and to restore the purity of the gospel in the tenets of the Reformation: upon the Scriptures alone, in Christ alone, by grace alone, through faith alone, for God’s glory alone.  On Sunday, November 3rd, in the afternoon following a potluck at church, you will have an opportunity to learn more.  I would like to invite everyone, including friends, relatives and neighbors to our first ever Reformation History talk.

Church History is important to the body of Christ.  It is our history, as God’s people.  It lets us know where we’ve come from, gives us an opportunity to praise God for what He has done, warns us of the errors of the past (which tend to keep reappearing under new names), and gives us hope that the God of our fathers is the same God who leads us today.  As we follow Him, in thankfulness for what He has done in history, let us also remember that as His Church we are to be ever increasing in our knowledge and application of what He requires of us.  A watchword of the 16th century Reformation was, Semper Reformanda – “always reforming”, (from Latin.)  God has helped us until now, but we always have room for improvement.  The correct attitude toward obedience to God as His church is to always be willing to change in ways (and only in those specific ways) that God requires of us in His word, the Holy Bible.  Just as individual Christians are to be brought more and more into conformity to Christ, so it is with His Church made up of them.  May God continue to richly bless us and reform us in accordance with His word.

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I Kill Myself (…on Twitter)

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The Biggest Obstacle to Faith in Christ the Savior

Amid the rampant unbelief in the world, one often hears people putting up roadblocks and obstacles by describing that which keeps them from believing the good news of reconciliation with the Creator through Jesus Christ.  The most common objections verbalized tend to be along the lines that evidence is lacking for God, for the integrity and truth of the Bible, that the morality revealed in Scripture is outdated, or that the Bible’s record on such things as creation is contradicted by modern science.   But as we know from human experience, things are not always as they appear when it comes to people saying why they do not accept something.  People are prone to not indicate the real obstacle that prevents them from coming to Christ.

Would it surprise you to know that the biggest obstacle to people’s acceptance of the gospel of Jesus Christ today is not a lack of evidence, but self-righteous pride?  The Bible humbles the pride of man.  It describes him not as righteous, but as ungodly, unholy, evil, undesirable, and unworthy of any consideration or favor from the Creator.  According to the Scriptures, the good news is that God has offered eternal blessing in Christ to those who only deserve His eternal curse and punishment in hell forever.

Romans 3

10 As it is written, There is none righteous, no, not one:

11 There is none that understandeth, there is none that seeketh after God.

12 They are all gone out of the way, they are together become unprofitable; there is none that doeth good, no, not one.

13 Their throat is an open sepulchre; with their tongues they have used deceit; the poison of asps is under their lips:

14 Whose mouth is full of cursing and bitterness:

15 Their feet are swift to shed blood:

16 Destruction and misery are in their ways:

17 And the way of peace have they not known:

18 There is no fear of God before their eyes.

19 Now we know that what things soever the law saith, it saith to them who are under the law: that every mouth may be stopped, and all the world may become guilty before God.

People just cannot accept the picture that God paints of them in Scripture.  They are offended by what He says about them in His word: that they are vile, corrupt, and worthy only to be cast into hell forever.  That is the biggest obstacle that the average person has to receiving Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior.  It is pride.  It is an unwillingness to accept that they are as worthless as God says they are.  For it is only those who recognize their need as sinners, and their utter inability to help themselves or to do anything pleasing to the Creator, which makes them ready to receive the free gift of salvation in Jesus Christ the Savior.  The world’s biggest obstacle to receiving the gospel is not a lack of evidence for God or the Bible; It is the pride of humans who think they are good people.

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Old South Church, Boston

Ebenezer Pemberton, a Congregational minister who served as the pastor of the Old South Church, Boston from 1700-1717, puts it this way,

“The freedom and riches of divine grace to the greatest of sinners is an essential part of the glory that is displayed in the gospel.  But we are naturally slow of heart to believe; a self-righteous spirit appears in a variety of forms to obstruct our approaches to God through Jesus Christ*.”

Thanks be to God that for those of us who have embraced Christ when we heard the gospel, the Lord subdued our self-righteous pride and stubborn will, informing us of our miserable condition, making us willing and able to receive Him as He was offered to us as Savior.

*Ebenezer Pemberton, Don Kistler, ed., The Puritan Pulpit, Orlando, FL: Soli Deo Gloria Publications, 2006, p. 207.

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A Trio of Tales

Sixteen Seasons

Sometimes we as modern people are quite fond of making a distinction between the head and the heart, between, for example, what goes on at seminary and “what really matters.” We send our young(ish) men off to this small building in west Hamilton where they learn about Dogmatics, and Symbolics, and Hermeneutics, and Poimenics. While those men argue about how far we can go with applying the typological hermeneutic to Scripture, the rest of us get up in the morning and build houses, and milk cows, and mow lawns, and take care of kids. You know, the stuff of real life.

In the first place, sure; there is some truth to that. My son doesn’t need to know how to exegete Tiddler the Fish, and Arenda’s not interested in the final cause of my moustache (which is, of course, contemplative beauty). But if there’s some truth there, it’s also a…

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Echoes of Ananias and Sapphira in North Wales

In north Wales, in 1748, God was saving many souls through the ministry of the Methodists.  A baron named Sir Watkin became a terrible persecutor.  He was levying fines on the poor who heard the Methodist preachers and threatened to evict them off the land, and he owned most of the land in the region.  “A number of poor people had gathered in a prayer meeting, and one of those praying obtained such a hold on God as he pleaded with him to halt the persecution that he was assured on rising from his knees that his requests had been heard in heaven.  He gave out a hymn of his own composition to sing, noting his feelings:

Queen Esther now is near

To entering the King’s chamber

A pardon to her he’ll extend,

Sir Watkin’s evil works will end.

It is at that moment, so it is said, when this verse was being sung in the prayer meeting, that the baron met his end at Wynnestay Park.”  While riding his horse, ”the rider was thrown onto his head on the ground, and died on the spot.”

*Jones & Morgan, The Calvinistic Methodist Fathers of Wales, vol I, pp. 519, 520

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