Thomas Cranmer

In the early-to-mid 1500s, Thomas Cranmer was the personal chaplain to King Henry VIII and the archbishop of Canterbury, the highest position in the Church of England. At a time when Protestantism was being celebrated and embraced in England, Cranmer was a political and spiritual ally. Cranmer was instrumental in England’s rejection of papal rule and in getting William Tyndale’s English translation of the Bible placed in every church.

Though chained to the pulpit, the Bible was available for anyone to come and read God’s word in their own language.

Cranmer was such a friend to the Reformation that he tried to assure that a Protestant would take the crown after the death of King Henry VIII and his young and sickly son, Edward VI. Cranmer endorsed Lady Jane Grey (the young nine-day queen), but her half-sister Mary was crowned instead.

Bloody Mary, as she has become known, wanted to reverse all of the Reformation strides that had taken place in England. She was especially angry with those who had defiantly acted against her and her mother, Catherine.

Cranmer and many others were arrested and urged to profess themselves once again faithful children of the Roman Catholic Church. After much ridicule and suffering, Cranmer wrote letters that recanted (gave up) his Protestant faith. In spite of his humiliation, Queen Mary still wanted him to die for his previous words and actions.

On the day of his execution (he was to be tied to a pole and burned alive), Cranmer was allowed to address the crowd. Since he had already renounced his Protestant faith, what he said was a great surprise to all.

Cranmer said, “Now I come to the great thing that troubles my conscience more than any other… in my life… I wrote things against the truth, because I was afraid I would be killed. I now here renounce and refuse these things as written with my hand contrary to the truth which I believed in my heart… My hand has offended in writing contrary to my heart; therefore, my hand shall be burned first.”

Echoing the words of Stephen (the biblical martyr) in the book of Acts, Cranmer said, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” On March 21, 1556, at the age of 67, Thomas Cranmer was burned alive as an enemy to the crown and the Roman Catholic Church.

Cranmer reminds us that we too may serve Christ with a less-than-perfect witness. But, we may all decide this day to serve Him well.

God help us all to live for His glory, and may He make us all faithful servants to the end.

An Infamous Sausage Supper

Ulrich Zwingli was a mercenary, a pastor, and the leader of the Reformation in Switzerland. Under his leadership, many in Zurich were leaving the Roman Catholic Church and becoming Protestants. However, Zurich was still a city divided regarding many important matters.

On March 9, 1522, several friends put everything on the table at a sausage supper during Lent.

Lent is a religious tradition, wherein Christians fast from eating meat for 40 days (46, but Sundays do not count) before and up until Easter Sunday. This tradition arose, like many other traditions, in the ritual-laden Roman Catholic Church. Of course, the tradition itself is not commanded in the Bible, but many Roman Catholics practiced the observance. And the legalistic bent of humans can easily move any tradition into the realm of divine law.

Zwingli’s friend, a book publisher by the name of Christopher Froschauer, got together with some other men on March 9, 1522, to eat a sausage dinner during Lent.

This dinner was a scandal to Zurich’s society of Roman Catholic adherents. Even if one was not Roman Catholic anymore, the cultural traditions still stuck. Christopher and his friends had consulted with pastor Zwingli before eating their sausage dinner, and Zwingli approved of their expression of personal freedom. He even prepared a sermon on the subject for the following Sunday morning.

Zwingli preached “On the Choice and Freedom of Foods.” He pointed to the reality that “Lent” (both the word and the tradition) were found nowhere in Scripture. Therefore, to bind the conscience of any person by expecting them to participate in this tradition was legalism and anti-Gospel.

Zwingli boldly reminded his congregation that day of something that every Christian from every generation should constantly remember: religious traditions are utterly meaningless unless they are grounded and commanded from the Word of God.

Scripture alone is able to bind the conscience, and the trappings of tradition will only serve to confuse and obstruct those who need to know and believe the Gospel.

Thomas Muntzer

During the Protestant Reformation, there were many strong Christian voices urging people towards greater Gospel clarity and fidelity, but there were other voices as well. While the Gospel and the Church were of great interest, so too was Christianity’s relationship to the civil government a subject of hot debate.

Some wanted to submit to the civil authorities, and others wanted to separate from civil government altogether. Just underneath the surface of these political arguments raged the simmering anger and discontent of those who perceived themselves to be oppressed victims.

One man who arose as a leader of a separatist movement was Thomas Muntzer. Like Martin Luther (the Augustinian monk who became a leader of the Reformation), Muntzer was a German. He became a Protestant after reading some of Luther’s writings, but Muntzer also became convinced that Luther was not going far enough in his reforms.

Muntzer believed himself to be God’s man, who would bring God’s kingdom to earth. He took his message to the poor and victimized of society, and his message resonated with their own feelings of discontent. In 1525, Muntzer lead the Peasant’s Revolt, but it was unsuccessful, and he led many people to their deaths.

On March 9, 1522, Martin Luther began to preach a series of sermons that highlighted Muntzer’s extreme errors. Luther gathered the people who would listen back around the word of God, rather than encouraging a political and/or military uprising.

In our own day, we would do well to remember that Christianity is a religion of the Book and not a religion of the sword.

May God help us all to find our hope in the promised rescue of a risen Christ, and not the wishful thinking (or violent conquest) of an earthly leader.

Martin Bucer

On February 27, 1551, Martin Bucer died at the age of sixty-one. While many leaders of the Protestant Reformation lived much shorter lives and died quite painful deaths, Bucer expired as an ill old man in his bed. Martin Bucer is a lesser known Reformer, but his kind leadership and thoughtful contributions were and are still expressly appreciated.

In a time when the word “Church” was being rethought and redefined, many Reformers felt a great burden to understand and apply only biblical features to the ancient institution – the Church. Martin Bucer was an incredible mind and voice on the subject, and his work “Concerning the True Care of Souls” was the Reformation handbook for pastoral ministers (Bucer called them the “carer of souls”).

Bucer, like all Protestant Reformers, understood that the Bible (the word of God) is the supreme source of Christian life and vitality. With lengthy and wordy prose, he wrote,

“Since all sickness and weakness in the Christian life stem from the weakness and ignorance of faith, and faith comes from the word of God… all strengthening of the weak and ailing sheep depends on the word of God being faithfully set forth to them…

And since the Lord, to promote the right understanding of His holy gospel – from which alone all godliness and blessedness come – has ordained the holy assemblies and practices of the church and has so earnestly commanded His people… to join and commit themselves to these assemblies and practices… they should [do so] with all diligence, listen eagerly to God’s word, … and be zealous and reverent in all the practices of the church.”[1]

In our own day, local assemblies and biblical teaching are much more taken for granted rather than treasured and esteemed. May God give us eyes to see the true value of that which we have been given for our great spiritual benefit.

May we prize God’s word, and may we delight in the fellowship of Christian community, which God’s powerful word creates and sustains.

[1] Bucer, M. (2009). Concerning the true care of souls (P. Beale, Trans.). Edinburgh: Carlisle, PA. 167-168.

Lady Jane Grey

On February 12, 1554, Jane Grey (a 17-year-old young lady) was executed by order of Queen Mary. Jane had been queen herself, for just nine days, but Mary was the stronger political and royal power.

These two figures (Lady Jane Grey and Queen Mary) are important in history. Queen Mary was the Roman Catholic monarch who persecuted and killed so many English Protestants under her rule – that is why she earned the title “Bloody Mary.”

Lady Jane Grey is important to history and to us today because she reminds us of the importance of living every moment to God’s glory and with eternal things in mind. She, more than most, could have easily been distracted by the cares of this life… but her focus seems incredibly fixed on God’s promises and His trustworthiness in them.

Just hours before she was killed for her faith, and for the part she played in trying to maintain Protestantism in England, Lady Jane wrote these words to her sister.

“I have sent you, my dear sister Katherine, a book. On the outside, it is not trimmed with gold, but inside it is worth more than precious jewels. It is the book, dear beloved sister, of the law of the Lord. It is His testament and last will, which He left to us poor sinners, and it will lead you to the path of eternal joy. If you read it with a good mind and follow it with an earnest desire, it will bring you to an immortal and everlasting life. It will teach you how to live and how do die.

If you study diligently this book, using it as a guide for your life, you will inherit great riches that the covetous will never take from you, the thief will never steal, and the moth will never destroy…

Desire, sister, to understand the law of the Lord your God. Live to die, that by death you may enter into eternal life, and then enjoy the life that Christ has gained for you by His death.

Don’t think that just because you are now young your life will be long, because young and old die as God wills. As for my death, rejoice as I do, my dear sister, and consider that I shall be delivered of this corruption and put on incorruption, for I am sure that I will…

Farewell, my beloved sister. Put your trust only in God, for He alone can help you.”

Love for the Scriptures, trust in God’s promises, and an unshakable hope of eternal glory are inspiring and challenging traits.

May God raise up many Christians with these same convictions.

T4G Reflections: John MacArthur

I thoroughly enjoyed my time at Together for the Gospel 2016. I have also enjoyed reflecting upon some of the messages I heard over those three days, and I have posted some brief articles on a number of them (see my “T4G Reflections” articles).

In a general session address, John MacArthur spoke about Christ’s call to Reformation in our day. Below is a recap and my own considerations concerning the speaker and the topic.

One of the most notable things about John MacArthur is that he is a polarizing preacher, author, and speaker. In my estimation, this is one of the reasons why he is such a good speaker. His direct approach and candid delivery are always quite engaging. While I have some areas of disagreement, on the whole I believe MacArthur is a strong theologian. Moreover, his four decades of pastoral ministry in one local church speaks of the seriousness with which he regards such an office. During his time in ministry, MacArthur has been an ever-sounding reformation alarm to American Christianity. It was appropriate that he address the topic of “Christ’s call to Reformation” among churches and pastors.

MacArthur asked an interesting question at the outset, “Have you ever heard of a church that repented?” MacArthur went on to say, “Churches needs to repent before they can call the nation to repent.” This was MacArthur’s way of setting the stage for what was to come. Essentially, he went on to explain that repentance and reformation are necessary among our churches today.

From chapters two and three of Revelation, MacArthur walked through the progression of sin and the need for reformation in the churches listed among the seven. He noted at the outset that there is no commendation in this passage for making sinners feel welcome among the church. No stranger to lashing out against the “seeker-sensitive” movement, MacArthur pointed to the reality that the church is not actually supposed to feel overly welcoming to those who oppose Christ and remain in sin.

Observing the exclusions of Smyrna and Philadelphia (these churches were not chastised, but only commended by Christ), MacArthur showed how each church among the seven went from bad to worse. He argued that the number of genuine believers among each congregation decreased as the passage continued. If the passage can be understood as an exemplary pattern of the slippery slide into apostasy, MacArthur contended, then we may be served well by examining the initial misstep.

The first church mentioned is that of Ephesus, and the repentance and reformation needed there is a reacquisition of the “first love.” It is instructive, then, that we consider the object of appropriate affection and devotion. Of course, the love that every Christian and every congregation must have (first and foremost) is love for Jesus Christ. MacArthur said, “Your people cannot love Christ fully if they don’t know Him fully.” Then he challenged pastors when he said, “They cannot know Him fully unless you preach Him fully.” MacArthur’s charge was straightforward, as usual. He proclaimed that pastors ought to teach the fullness of God’s Word, and pastors ought not shy away from any doctrines of Scripture. The local church is intended to be a Christ-loving and disciple-making family.

During this presentation I was in perfect agreement with Dr. MacArthur, but I did take an honest inventory of my own expectations and what I believe are the general expectations among my congregation. I am still fairly new among my people (not quite 2 years), so I am still able to see a significant distinction between my own posture and perspective and that of my congregation. Of course, there are some in my church family who align with me more than others, but I am thinking on the whole and in general terms.

For my own part, I do notice a desire in me to be liked and admired by the world. I also see a possible shift of emphasis towards acting on behalf of Christ rather than living as Christ lives in me. On the first count, my love for this world must be overshadowed by my love for Christ, and I believe that God is still doing this work in me. On the second count, this perennial struggle (some seasons seem less affectionate than others) is also an ongoing part of my own divinely-empowered sanctification.

For my congregation’s part, it appears that we are likely very similar to many Southern Baptist churches today. We seem very interested in being a welcoming place to all, a well-programed institution, and a service-oriented society. These are not inherently bad, but they can each shift us away from the main thing if we are not careful. Additionally, I am glad to say that we do not seem to have a strong inclination to capitulate to our culture on some socially taboo matters (such as same-sex attraction, transgenderism, and abortion). Yet, we have proven more than willing to accommodate the culture on other matters (such as no-fault divorce, promiscuity, and the idolatry of hobbies and/or family).

There is always room for improvement (at both the personal and congregational levels), and this (I believe) is the meaning of semper reformanda.

May God forgive us where we fail Him, correct us where we disobey, and empower us to serve Him well in our day. To Christ be the glory for all He has done, and to Christ be the glory for what He will do.