f The Wittenberg Door: November 2008

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Commenting on Christendom, culture, history, and other oddities of life from an historic Protestant perspective.

Friday, November 28, 2008

This Week in Church History: John Knox, Scottish Reformation

On November 24, 1572, Scottish reformer John Knox died in Edinburgh.

Born in 1514, Knox trained for the priesthood and was converted under George Wishart, an early martyr of the Scottish Reformation. While pastoring in St. Andrews, Knox was imprisoned after Wishart's death and served for 19 months as a galley slave. After his release he pastored in England until Mary Tudor ascended the throne, when he escaped to the continent, where he studied under John Calvin and Heinrich Bullinger. Knox described Geneva as "the most perfect school of Christ on earth since the apostles," and during his exile he developed his defense for rebellion against idolatrous magistrates and female sovereigns. Upon his return to Scotland in 1559 he led in the development of the Scottish Reformed Church, introducing Reformed worship in his Forme of Prayers and Presbyterian polity in his Book of Discipline. In addition, his Scottish Confession, approved by the Scottish Parliament in 1560, was the confession standard of the Church of Scotland until it was superceded by the Westminster Standards in 1647.

Knox's secretary, Richart Bannatyne, recorded the passing of the "Thundering Scot" with these archaic words (recorded in the Presbyterian Guardian, November 4, 1935):

On this manner departed this man of God, the lycht of Scotland, the comfort of the kirk within the same, the mirror of godliness, and patrone and example of all true ministeris, in puritie of lyfe, soundness in doctrine, and bauldness in reproving of wickitness, and one that cared not the favor of men (how great soever they were), to reprove their abuses and synis. In him was sic a myghtie spreit of judgement and wisdome, that the truble never came to the kirk sen his entering in publict preiching but he foirsaw the end thereof, so that he was ever reddie a trew counsall and a faythfull to teich men that wald be taught to tak' the best and leive the worst.

- John Muether


Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Special Revelation - Part One

We confess that this Word of God was not sent nor delivered by the will of man, but that men spake from God, being moved by the Holy Spirit, as the apostle Peter says; and that afterwards God, from a special care which He has for us and our salvation, commanded His servants, the prophets and apostles, to commit His revealed word to writing; and He Himself wrote with His own finger the two tables of the law. Therefore we call such writings holy and divine Scriptures.

The Belgic Confession, Article 3

In the Seventeenth Century, a running dogfight ensued among Protestants over the place and authority of Scripture in the life and teaching of the church. A group called the Antinomians instigated the fight. The Antinomians, or Sectaries as they were called in England, were very much like our present-day Pentecostals. They held that Scripture was subordinate to the direct revelation of the Spirit, which each believer was supposed to receive. This supposed direct revelation was most important in preaching, as one Antinomian made clear: “I had rather hear such a one that speaks from the mere motion of the spirit, without any study at all, than any of your learned scholars, although he may be fuller of Scripture.”

The Puritans, of course, held a much different view. They championed the concept that Scripture was sufficient for doctrine and life.

There is not a condition into which a child of God can fall but there is a direction and rule in the Word, in some measure suitable thereunto.

Thomas Gouge (1605 - 1681)

The Puritan’s position was firmly rooted in the Reformation. Martin Luther said, “We have never yet desired anything else…than the liberty to have the Word of God, or the Holy Scriptures, to teach and to practice it.” The Reformation sought to return Holy Writ to God’s people by loosing it from the shackles placed on it by the Church of Rome.

This idea was highly esteemed among the Puritans. William Tyndale told a priest at Gloucestershire that “if God spare my life, ere many years pass, I will cause a boy that driveth the plough shall know more of the Scriptures than thou dost.” Indeed, God’s people are to be a people of the Book. John Ball’s Catechism answers the question, “Doth the knowledge of the Scriptures belong unto all men?” with, “Yes, all men are not only allowed, but exhorted and commanded, to read, hear, and understand the Scripture.” John Cotton exhorted his congregation to “FEED upon the WORD” and to “Let not a day ordinarily pass you wherein you will not read some portion of it, with a due meditation and supplication over it.” Richard Baxter implored his readers to “love, reverence, read, study, obey, and stick close to the Scripture.”

Scripture, in the Puritan view, was to be our sole authority. Cotton Mather referred to Scripture as “The rule according to which conscience is to proceed…” John Lightfoot echoed this sentiment: “This is the glory and sure friend of a church, to be built upon the Holy Scriptures…The foundation of the true church of God is Scripture.” Theological claims, therefore, are to be tried in but one court, “…by that which transcends all human antiquity, customs, counsels, and traditions (though all those may contribute some help), the Word of God.” Thus human opinions must bow to God’s Holy Word, as John Owen makes clear: “Pin not your faith upon men’s opinions…the Bible is the touchstone.”

To the Puritans it was clear: Scripture is to be our sole authority for doctrine and life, and as such, it is necessary and sufficient. It is upon this footing that we shall take our steps.

  • The first step will be to understand why Scripture is necessary.

  • Next we shall learn about the sufficiency of Scripture.

  • And finally, we shall consider Scripture’s place as our sole authority for doctrine and life.

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