Month: April 2018

The Most Important Thing to the Reformers, Part 1

Stephen Nichols (SN): Today, I’m joined by two very special guests. My first guest is Dr. Jonathan Gibson. He’s an assistant professor of Old Testament at Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia. He was born in England and was raised in Northern Ireland. It’s a pleasure to have you, Dr. Gibson.

Jonathan Gibson (JG): Thanks very much, Steve. It’s a pleasure to be on the program.

SN: I’m also joined by Mark Earngey. He’s an Anglican minister from Sydney, Australia, and he’s currently undertaking doctoral studies at Oxford University. Mark, it’s a pleasure to have you on the program.

Mark Earngey (ME): Thank you very much. Good to be here.

SN: These two have collaborated on a book. I love the title. It’s Reformation Worship: Liturgies from the Past for the Present. I love that it’s about the Reformation, worship, and this idea that the past is for the present. Gentlemen, why did you do this book, and what is this book about?

JG: Well, we’re both Christian ministers. I was a minister in Cambridge, England, for three years. I had sabbatical leave, and I was tasked by my denomination in the United Kingdom, the International Presbyterian Church, with putting together some resources for liturgy to be used in our churches. Long story short, I happened upon a few rich liturgical sources from the Reformation era, and I went off down rabbit trails and thought it would be wonderful to have all of these liturgies that were written in the sixteenth century put together in one volume, updated, translated, and collated all together for pastors and ministers. I found it to be a great help as I was leading worship each week to actually be delving into some of these orders of service, prayers, and readings, learning about how worship was thought about by the Reformers in the sixteenth century.

ME: Something I would add to that: one of the things that really sparked it for Jonny and me was just looking at some of these liturgies and considering the theological thoughtfulness that our Reformers put into these liturgies. Indeed, looking at the orders and looking at the elements that they included in these liturgies and thinking, “This is something that clergy today can look at and see some marvelous principles and theological principles to put into practice, things perhaps that have been neglected, forgotten, or left by the wayside, but things to build up the saints and feed people week by week.”

SN: You know, as I look over the table of contents of this book, I really appreciate it. Both of you have some wonderful essays to set the stage up front, and there’s names we should expect to see in here. Of course, we’ve got Martin Luther. We’ve got one of my favorite Reformers from Basel, Johannes Oecolampadius. Huldrych Zwingli is in here. John Knox is in here. Zacharias Ursinus, whose name is associated with the Heidelberg Catechism, he’s in here. The thing that holds all these Reformers together is a Word-centered approach to worship.

JG: Yes, very much so, Steve. I think you see that in Luther’s liturgy where he writes in his preface that we basically need to get back to the Word and let the Word shape everything we do in church. You see it also with Calvin and his tradition when he writes the liturgy in Geneva. It’s really a movement that flows out of sola Scriptura. For the Reformers, everything we do must flow from the Scripture. In a sense, they were saying that it is God who calls us to His worship through His Word, and that worship to which He calls us should be shaped and guided by His Word. The beautiful thing about these liturgies is that the Word is present not just in the readings that take place during the order of service of the Word or at the Lord’s Supper, but also that the prayers bleed biblical verses. They’re full of thoughtful reflection on how the Scriptures teach us how to pray and what to pray.

SN: Well, we’ve only scratched the surface here talking about Reformation Worship. The good news is we’ll be back next week to finish the conversation.

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.