Month: April 2018

The Most Important Thing to the Reformers, Part 1

What is the role of liturgy in worship? On this episode of 5 Minutes in Church History, Dr. Stephen Nichols is joined in the studio by Jonathan Gibson and Mark Earngey, coauthors of Reformation Worship.

William Farel

William Farel was born in 1489. He died on September 13, 1565. He was a significant figure in the Protestant Reformation and was the man who, from a human standpoint, was responsible for John Calvin’s coming to minister in Geneva.

Farel was a student at the University of Paris during the early years of the Reformation when Martin Luther was calling for reform in Germany. Luther’s influence had reached Paris, and Farel was right in the middle of the debates over the ideas of the Reformation.

During this time, Farel came under the influence of Jacobus Faber, also known as Jacques Faber, who was a Catholic theologian. Faber was an acquaintance of Desiderius Erasmus, and being influenced by Erasmus’ work, he paid significant attention to the Reformation. Faber helped Farel get his first job as a professor of grammar and philosophy in Paris, and Faber appointed Farel to be a preacher in 1522.

In his position as the preacher for the dioceses, Farel was responsible for appointing other ministers. A number of the ministers he appointed were Protestants. In the course of his interactions with them, these Protestant ministers influenced Farel and introduced him to Luther’s ideas. Somewhere in the middle of all of this, Farel was converted and sided with the cause of the Reformation.

Because of his newfound faith and the surrounding controversies, he fled Paris and went to Switzerland. He spent some time in Zurich with Huldrych Zwingli and also spent some time with Luther. Farel saw himself as an evangelist, and in 1530, he set his sights on the town of Neuchâtel and convinced the town to join the Reformation.

After Neuchâtel, he set his sights on Geneva. He was often kicked out of the city, and at one time, he was beaten. In fact, Farel was even shot at because someone was offended by his preaching, yet he would bring the Reformation to Geneva in 1536. That same year, he heard about a man coming through the city on his way up to Strasbourg. This young man was named John Calvin.

Farel convinced Calvin to stay in Geneva. In fact, in Calvin’s own words, he said, “Upon this, Farel, who burned with a marvelous zeal to advance the gospel, went out of his way to keep me.” Here, Calvin is referring to what Farel had said to him, that if he were to leave the city of Geneva, may God curse his studies.

Farel and Calvin were both kicked out of Geneva in 1538. Calvin finally made it to Strasbourg, and Farel went back to Neuchâtel. Their paths continued to cross, as Farel helped Calvin in his search for a wife and officiated at Calvin’s wedding in 1540.

The Minister, a Book, and a Controversy

Thomas Boston was born in 1676 and died in 1732. He was born in Scotland to a covenanter family. He was educated at Edinburgh, and for a time, was a schoolmaster. In 1699, he became the pastor at a small parish church in Simprin. While he was the minister of this small congregation, he wrote a number of books.

Boston’s most well-known book is called Human Nature in its Fourfold State. It’s a wonderful book that discusses who we are in Adam and, so much more importantly and happily, who we are in Christ. At Simprin, he also wrote his memoirs and had a number of sermons that were published. One of these collections was called A Crook in the Lot, a series of sermons about God’s sovereignty and wisdom in the trials of the Christian life. Boston also wrote a very learned and scholarly treatise on Hebrew vowel-points called Tractatus Stigmologicus, Hebræo-biblicus. In the Hebrew language, the consonants are pointed by diacritical marks that indicate which vowels to use for pronunciation . Now, it’s interesting why Boston would write a book about Hebrew vowel-points. It was actually an issue of controversy in his day. There were some who thought the vowel points were inspired by God, and some who thought they were absolutely unnecessary. When Boston wrote his scholarly treatise, he was entering into that debate in defense of the Hebrew vowel-points.

This is not the debate or the controversy that anyone remembers. The controversy that people remember in relation to Thomas Boston has to do with a book that he actually did not write. He was visiting in the home of one of his parish members around 1700, and he noticed a little book titled The Marrow of Modern Divinity, which was published in 1645. It was written like a Socratic dialogue between four people, a minister named Evangelista, a young Christian named Neophytus, a legalist named Nomista, and an antinomian named Antinomista. The book was rather obscure in its day, but when Boston got ahold of it, it changed the way he preached the gospel, and it changed a number of other men who gathered around him, known as the “Marrow Men.” This set off the Marrow Controversy, which was sparked by the ordination exams of a minister in 1717. The controversy made its way to the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland in 1719, and for the next few years, ricocheted through the Scottish churches.

The issues in Marrow Controversy about the relationship between legalism and antinomianism and the presentation of the gospel is not only relevant to eighteenth-century Scotland; we also see vestiges of it in our own day. If you would some help with engaging with these issues, you should track down another Scotsman’s work: Sinclair Ferguson’s The Whole Christ.

Bonhoeffer in London

From October 1933 through the spring of 1934, Dietrich Bonhoeffer pastored two churches in London. One of them was the German Evangelical Church in Sydenham. Its building was destroyed by bombs during World War II. The other one was St. Paul’s German Evangelical Reformed Church. These were small Lutheran congregations. Many of those in the congregations had fully assimilated into British life. In fact, most of them spoke English, and their German was actually not that great. Bonhoeffer spoke German and English, but all his sermon manuscripts from this period were in English.