This week we are celebrating a special time in the history of the Christian church. While many denominations existed before the Reformation, the Roman Catholic church was the primary instrument of the spreading of the Christian religion. Of course there were exceptions--for a while we had the Celtic church, and I shall never cease to mourn their merging withe the Church of Rome. We had the Coptic church, and various other sects and creeds. We even had a few cults. (Which will always exist.) But we did not have what are now referred to as denominations. That came as a result of the Reformation.
It is interesting to note that the Church throughout history goes through certain periods of dryness which require a "refresh" button to be pushed. Often a painful time of cleansing and soul-searching, these seasons of study cause men and woman to emerge better grounded in the Word of God, and with a fresh view of His Kingdom. I think we're in need of such another painful cleansing now, I shall not be surprised to see it come.
While this series will be by no means exhaustive (we're not going through a step-by-step evaluation of Calvin's Institutes, alas.) I hope at least to offer my fellow bibliophiles an introduction into the rich history and the interesting controversy surrounding the Reformation.
Much better, in my opinion, to celebrate new life in the church, rather than death and demons. And that's my anti-Halloween rant for today.
While posts this week will be of varying length (Wednesday's will not be long) today I am pleased to offer you a very special book review. It's a nonfiction book, but so engaging and informative that I think even young children will enjoy it, and it's written by Dr. Joel Beeke.
Two years ago we had the great pleasure to hear Dr. Beeke speak on Reformation Day about the "Five Solas of the Reformation". I was amazed--here is a great yet humble scholar, who does not rely on volume or motion to get his points across, but who keeps your attention through the intense passion his quiet voice radiates. This is a man in love with his Lord, and grounded in his faith.
I remember walking into the church, and true to form, eyeing the book table the first thing I did. The one that grabbed my eye was a beautiful coffee table biography of great reformers. The whole table was full of books fully appropriate for Reformation Day, and unfortunately we couldn't bring them all home.
But we did buy one. And we did get it signed by Dr. Beeke. And it was the beautiful coffee table biography of great reformers.
Reformation Heroes contains biographies of 44 men and women of the Reformation, as well as sections on The Protest at Speyer, The Heidelberg Catechism, the Tragedy of St. Bartholomew's Day, The Counter Reformation, and the Influence of the Reformation. It also includes study questions (no answers) and an extensive bibliography.
The most interesting thing about this book is the fact that Beeke and Kleyn portray men as they are--with their faults and failings, infighting, and triumphs. They also do an excellent job portraying good men within the Roman Catholic church.
Reformation Heroes portrays the lives of the Reformers with poignancy, drama, and even humor on occasion. Take, for instance, Martin Luther. Known as "the bulldog of the Reformation" his uncompromising and bold stance contained very little tact, and rubbed more that a few feathers the wrong way. Whom did God send to assist him but the gentle Phillip Melanchthon, who smoothed over many an argument and misunderstanding.
To quote the book:
If Melanchthon had been like Luther, they would have spoiled many things by haste and harshness, and if Luther had been like Melanchthon, neither of them would have had the boldness and strength to do what had to be done. Melanchthon was like the oil on the wheels of the Reformation that made everything turn more smoothly.In fact, they were such opposites that when Melanchthon fell ill he was not at all loathe to die. Luther was distraught, and after earnest prayer, threatened to excommunicate him if he did not eat something. Needless to say, Melanchthon recovered.
I enjoyed this book, not only because of the men I learned about, but especially the women. Charlotte, the Nun of Jouarre, was my personal favorite, but there are others: Queen Marguerite of Navarre, Queen Jeanne d'Albret of Navarre, etc. These women show that a God calls young ladies to a biblical and complementarian influence on the spiritual and political state of their times.
I highly recommend Reformation Heroes to enlighten and enrich your understanding of this great time in history.
A couple of questions arise in studying the Reformation--perhaps more than a couple. The issue of Calvinism we will address later, but today I would like to talk about denominations. When studying the Reformation, one must ask about the division that these men caused. After all, even the Reformers were divided: Luther wouldn't speak to Zwingli because they held differing views on communion. Isn't it better to have a united church of Christ, where we are one people and one denomination, rather than many different denominations?
I would say no.
Throughout my life, we have visited and attended many different types of churches: nondenominational, Baptist, Presbyterian, Christian Reformed, etc. I can say from these experiences that I have learned the importance of being able to worship with any believer, regardless of their theology. Because wherever two or three are gathered in the name of Christ, there he is in the midst of them, regardless of whether they have "Reformed" or "Baptist" on their church sign. The Reformation, as far as denominations go, was absolutely necessary. It grants us the freedom to worship God according to our understanding of His Word. If we still only had the Catholic church, then we would be subject to the rules of men. As it is now, we are free to follow the rules of God, and God alone.
However, the reformation does have some warnings we should be aware of. The first one is a result of time, not necessarily the result of the Reformers. They came out of the cloisters of the Catholic church. Grace was a free gift, one not to be taken advantage of. Today, we take advantage of it. The reformers paid a price for grace, but we have not, so it behooves us to be aware that we must be careful not to abuse it. A good read on this topic would be Dietrich Bonhoeffer's Cost of Discipleship.
The second warning comes from the lives of the Reformers. Unfortunately in their quest for truth they sometimes trampled each other in the process. For instance, when Luther and Zwingli met to discuss their differences on the Lord's Supper, they agreed on fourteen points. But when they could not reach an agreement on the fifteenth, Luther refused to shake Zwingli's hand in peace. It is wrong when we are so wrapped up in our theology that it excludes our fellowship with people who are not of the same mind. It is not wrong to have differences, but it is wrong to allow them to break fellowship.
As a student of God's providence in history, I treasure every good resource I can find that explains the world from a biblical perspective. Reformation Heroes is one of these resources. Read it, and be amazed at Jesus' work in his Church throughout the ages.
To listen to Joel Beekes' sermons, go to:
His page on SermonAudio
From the 2011 Desiring God conference put on by John Piper:
Cultivating Private Prayer as a Pastor (good for anyone!)
Leading Family Worship (I highly recommend this one.)
And tomorrow, we'll have a couple of movie reviews, as well as some basic information about the Reformation. :)