Prominent Jewish Believers in Jesus Christ

In a couple of weeks time I will be addressing nearly 2000 people on the subject of Judaism. Having been invited to do so as someone keen to communicate the benefits of faith in Jesus Christ, I accepted the challenge (I am no expert!).

Of course I have been enjoying (and studying) the Hebrew Scriptures for nearly thirty years now and am very conscious that it is because of the world’s most influential Jew, Jesus of Nazareth, that I, along with millions of other Gentiles, have come to love the writings of Moses, the Psalms of David and the prophecies of Isaiah.

We have found Him!

As I did some additional background reading I came upon a fascinating list of influential Jews who declared their belief that Jesus is indeed the promised Messiah.

The following examples may go some way to counter the argument that it is only ignorant or poorly educated Jews who believe that Jesus is the Messiah, or at least not those familiar with real Judaism.

It is a joy to know, indeed, that these Jews can say along with Philip and the first Jewish believers, ‘We have found him, of whom Moses in the Law and also the Prophets wrote – Jesus of Nazareth!’ (John 1:45)

Obviously this is merely a partial list but it may be of real interest to others who are on a spiritual journey and are considering the claims of Christianity.

1506 – Alfonso de Zamora  –  Rabbi
Alfonso de Zamora, a Rabbi, publicly declared his faith in Messiah Jesus in 1506. Working with Paul Nunez Coronel and Alfonso d’Alcala, two other Jewish believers, he uses his knowledge of Hebrew, Aramaic, Chaldean, and other languages to help develop a six-volume multilingual work known as the Polyglot Bible. He also writes a Hebrew grammar, a Hebrew dictionary, a dictionary of the Old Testament, and a treatise on Hebrew spelling.

1530 – Immanuel Tremellius – Hebrew Scholar, University Professor
Immanuel Tremellius came to faith in Messiah around 1530 and became Professor of Hebrew at Cambridge University in 1548. He later becomes Professor of Theology at Heidelberg, where he produces a Latin Old Testament that is published in Frankfurt in the 1570s and London in 1580. With Theodore Beza’s Latin New Testament attached to it, the Tremellius Bible is the Protestant contender against the Vulgate issued by Pope Sixtus V in a Reformation vs. Counter Reformation battle of Latin bibles.

1546 – Johannes Isaac  –  Hebrew Scholar, University Professor
Johannes Isaac came to faith in 1546. He became a professor of Hebrew at the University of Cologne.

1621 – Malachi ben Samuel  –   Polish Rabbi
Malachi ben Samuel, a Polish Rabbi, comes to faith in Messiah around 1621, several years after being impressed by a Yiddish translation of the New Testament. He is particularly surprised that marginal references to the Hebrew Scriptures are not distorted, as he had been told they would be. He writes, “My heart became full of doubt. No man can believe the pain and ache that assailed my heart. I had no rest day or night…. What should I do? To whom should I speak of these things?” He finally feels he has no choice but to believe.

1625 – Giovanni Jonas  –  Hebrew Scholar
Giovanni Jonas came to faith in Poland in 1625 and, working as a librarian, writes a Hebrew translation of the Gospels and a Hebrew-Chaldee lexicon.

1656 – Esdras Edzard – Hebrew Scholar
Esdras Edzard, who grew up studying Hebrew and the Talmud, and then studied in Leipzig, Wittenberg, and Basel, earns a doctorate and begins working among the Jews of Hamburg. He provides free instruction in Hebrew, helps the poor, and explains faith in Messiah to all. From 1671 to 1708 Edzard leads 148 Jewish people to faith. He emphasizes further study for those coming to faith, and almost all of those who joined him continue in faith.

1709 – John Xeres – Talmudic Scholar
John Xeres counteracts the slur that Jewish believers in Jesus are not well educated in Judaism by emphasizing his Talmudic studies. Others on the list of learned Jewish believers include Ludwig Compiegne de Veil, Friedrich Albrecht Augusti, Paul Weidner, Julius Conrad Otto, Johann Adam Gottfried, and more.

1722 – Rabbi Judah Monis
Rabbi Judah Monis, after becoming the first Jewish individual to receive a college degree in America (M.A., Harvard, 1720), publicly embraces faith in Messiah Jesus. In 1735 he publishes a Hebrew grammar, the first to be published in America.

1758 – Seelig Bunzlau – German Rabbi
Seelig Bunzlau, a revered German Rabbi, announces from the pulpit of his synagogue that he is has placed his faith in Messiah.

1781 – William Herschel – Scientist & Astronomer
William Herschel, a Jewish believer, using a telescope he designed and constructed, discovers the planet Uranus. Herschel also fixes the positions of 2,500 nebulas, of which only 103 had previously been known. He infers the existence of binary stars, and then identifies 209 such pairs of stars that revolve around a common center. He discovers the infrared rays of the sun, defines and explains the composition of the Milky Way, and makes many other discoveries.

1782 – Joseph von Sonnenfels, Distinguished Jurist
Joseph von Sonnenfels, a distinguished jurist in Vienna and a Jewish believer, lays out the principles for the Edict of Toleration regarding Jews that Austrian emperor Joseph II announces.

1809 – Joseph Samuel Frey – Hebrew teacher and Cantor
Joseph Samuel Frey, a Hebrew teacher and cantor, organizes the London Society for Promoting Christianity Among the Jews. He later comes to the United States and continues efforts to organize Jewish believers.

1810 – August Neander (David Mendel) – Professor at the University of Berlin
August Neander (born David Mendel) becomes Professor of Church History at the University of Berlin, where the influential Friedrich Schleiermacher also teaches. One observer comments on the “sad and singular sight” of “Schleiermacher, a Christian by birth, inculcating in one lecture room with all the power of his mighty genius, those doctrines which led to the denial of the evangelical attributes of Jesus.” Meanwhile, in another room “Neander, by birth a Jew, preached and taught salvation through faith in Messiah the Son of God alone.” Neander writes many scholarly books, including the multivolume General History of the Christian Religion and Church. Before his death in 1850 he goes blind, but dictates notes for the last section of his church history on the last day of his life.

1822 – Isaac da Costa – Author & Defender of European Jewry
Isaac da Costa, his wife Hannah, and his friend Abraham Capadose come to faith in Holland. Da Costa becomes Holland’s leading poet and Capadose a leading physician; da Costa’s book, Accusations Against the Spirit of the Century, attacks the rationalistic materialism that is coming to dominate Holland and demands that Messiah again become the center of national life. Da Costa writes often of Messiah and also his Jewish heritage: “In the midst of the contempt and dislike of the world for the name of Jew I have ever gloried in it.” The Jewish Encyclopedia comments about him, “His character, no less than his genius, was respected by his contemporaries. To the end of his life he felt only reverence and love for his former co-religionists.”

1825 – Rabbi Michael Solomon Alexander – English Rabbi
Rabbi Michael Solomon Alexander comes to faith Messiah in 1825 after concluding that Rabbis had concealed the truth about Jesus; seven years later he becomes Professor of Hebrew and Rabbinical Literature at King’s College, London. His name comes first on the long list of those who signed a “protest of Jewish Christians in England” against the false accusation that Jews used Christian blood in Passover rites. When the British Parliament endows the position of Bishop of Jerusalem, the appointment goes to Alexander; in Jerusalem, he opens both an institution for the training of Jewish believers and a hospital for the sick Jewish residents of Jerusalem.

1826 – Felix Mendelssohn – Composer
Felix Mendelssohn, Jewish believer and grandson of the great Jewish philosopher Moses Mendelssohn, writes his overture to A Midsummer Night’s Dream. He brings new public attention to Bach’s music, composes the Elijah and St. Paul oratorios, and arouses the resentment of anti-Semites by helping Jewish musicians. He composes the music to “Hark the Herald Angels Sing” and harmonizes “Now Thank We All Our God,” among other hymns.

1844 – Joachim Raphael Biesenthal – 
Joachim Raphael Biesenthal, a Jewish believer,  begins 37 years of ministry within the Jewish communities of Germany. He uses the knowledge gained in Talmudic academies and while earning a doctorate at the University of Berlin to write commentaries on many New Testament books as well as a History of the Christian Church that shows the strong Jewishness of the early church.

1847 – Carl Paul Caspari – University Professor
Carl Paul Caspari, a Jewish believer, begins teaching at the University of Christiana in Norway. He writes commentaries on many Old Testament books and, at a time when Christianity is under attack, stands for orthodoxy and becomes known over the following 45 years as “the teacher of all Scandinavia.” He also writes an Arabic grammar that becomes a standard work.

1859 – David Gustav Hertz – Advocate for Judicial Reform
Lawyer David Gustav Hertz becomes a municipal official in Hamburg, Germany, and holds various positions over the next 45 years. He works for reform of the justice and prison systems at a time when doing so put an individual at risk from those with a vested interest in corruption. 

1863 – Daniel Landsmann, a Jerusalem Talmudic Scholar
Daniel Landsmann, a Jerusalem Talmudic scholar came to faith in 1863, is almost killed-but by his own people, angered that someone well educated in Jewish tradition should become a believer in Jesus. His faith in Messiah began when he finds upon the street a page in Hebrew torn from a book. He loves what he reads, and when he later finds out that it is the Sermon on the Mount, he thinks differently about Jesus than he did before. When he tells all that he believes Jesus is the Messiah, his wife leaves him, one fanatical group puts spikes in his hands, and another tries to bury him alive. He finally moves to New York City and, with a wealth of Talmudic knowledge and a humble spirit, moves many to consider Messiah.

1868 – Benjamin Disraeli, Prime Minister of England
Benjamin Disraeli, a Jewish believer, becomes Britain’s prime minister. Disraeli, both the Conservative Party leader and the author of many popular books, emphasizes Christianity’s dependence on Judaism: “In all church discussions we are apt to forget the second Testament is avowedly only a supplement. Jesus came to complete the ‘law and the prophets.’ Christianity is completed Judaism, or it is nothing. Christianity is incomprehensible without Judaism, as Judaism is incomplete without Christianity.” He hopes that Jews “will accept the whole of their religion instead of only the half of it, as they gradually grow more familiar with the true history and character of the New Testament.” Throughout his career in Parliament he very publicly attacks those with anti-Semitic views, often with biting wit, and shows himself to be a proud Zionist. In a statement to Queen Victoria, he said: “Your Majesty, I am the blank page between the Old Testament and the New”.

1870 – Isaac Salkinson, Hebrew Scholar
Isaac Salkinson of Vienna translates Milton’s Paradise Lost into Hebrew. Over the next 15 years he translates into Hebrew Othello, Romeo and Juliet, and then the Greek New Testament.

1877 – Joseph Schereschewsky, Scholar & Translator
Joseph Schereschewsky, a former Lithuanian Rabbinical student, is consecrated as the Episcopal Church’s Bishop of Shanghai. In 1879 he lays the cornerstone for St. John’s College, the first Protestant college in China. Regarded by the Academic community as one of the most learned Orientalists in the world, he also translates the Bible into both Mandarin and colloquial Chinese and stays at his translation tasks even though partially paralyzed and unable to speak.

1883 – Alfred Edersheim, Biblical Scholar
Alfred Edersheim finishes seven years of writing The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah, which becomes the standard scholarly work in English for the next 100 years. Born in Austria, he serves as a minister in Scotland and a lecturer at Oxford. Four other major books of Biblical scholarship would flow from his pen.

1885 – Joseph Rabinowitz, Talmudic scholar and Lawyer
Talmudic scholar and lawyer Joseph Rabinowitz comes to faith in Messiah Jesus in 1885, and, through writings and lectures, begins influencing Russian Jews to become “Sons of the New Covenant.” He draws up a list of 12 articles of faith, patterned after Maimonides’s 13 principles, but proclaiming Jesus as the Messiah. He forms one of the early Messianic Congregations.

1892 – Leopold Cohn, Hungarian Rabbi
Leopold Cohn, a Hungarian Rabbi, comes to believe that Jesus is the Messiah. An outraged Jewish community forces him to flee, so he studies at divinity school in Scotland, emigrates to the United States with his family, and begins to hold meetings in a heavily Jewish section of Brooklyn that demonstrate that Jesus is the Messiah. Later he opens a medical clinic and a kosher food kitchen, and delivers free coal to the Jewish poor. The outreach he started grew into “Chosen People Ministries”, an International organization.

1892 – Louis Meyer, Doctor & Surgeon
Louis Meyer, a Jewish Doctor & Surgeon and immigrant to Cincinnati from Germany, come to faith. He goes on to receive a degree from an evangelical Seminary in Pittsburgh. His scholarship is recognized and he becomes one of the editors of The Fundamentals, the 90 essays produced between 1910 and 1915 to explain the difference between Biblical faith and Liberal Protestantism.

1894 – David Ginsburg, Hebrew Scholar
An emigrant from Poland to England, David Ginsburg, publishes a scholarly work including (in 1894) The Massoretic-Critical Text of the Hebrew Bible.

1904 – Max Wertheimer, Reform Rabbi
Max Wertheimer, after serving for 10 years as a Rabbi in Dayton, Ohio, publicly declares his faith in Messiah.  He then goes to an evangelical seminary, eventually becoming a Pastor. He recalls, “I had tried to get some tangible comfort out of the Talmud, Mishnah, and Rabbinical doctrines, but found none that satisfied my soul’s hunger and longings.” In studying the New Testament, though, he sees that the Christian doctrines he had derided as illogical and un-Jewish are sensible and truly Jewish.

1909 – Isaac Lichtenstein, Chief Rabbi of Hungary
In 1909, Isaac Lichtenstein dies, leaving writings explaining how he read a copy of the New Testament after 40 years of work as a Rabbi in Hungary and was impressed by “the greatness, power, and glory of this book, formerly a sealed book to me. All seemed so new to me and yet it did me good like the sight of an old friend…. I had thought the New Testament to be impure, a source of pride, of selfishness, of hatred, and of the worst kind of violence, but as I opened it I felt myself peculiarly and wonderfully taken possession of. A sudden glory, a light flashed through my soul. I looked for thorns and found roses; I discovered pearls instead of pebbles; instead of hatred, love; instead of vengeance, forgiveness; instead of bondage, freedom.”

A letter to his son, a doctor, reports that “From every line in the New Testament, from every word, the Jewish spirit streamed forth light, life, power, endurance, faith, hope, love, charity, limitless and indestructible faith in God.” Others, hating the idea of a long-term Rabbi turning “renegade,” attack Lichtenstein. His reply: “I have been an honored Rabbi for the space of 40 years, and now, in my old age, I am treated by my friends as one possessed by an evil spirit, and by my enemies as an outcast. I am become a butt of mockers, who point the finger at me. But while I live I will stand on my tower, though I may stand there all alone. I will listen to the words of God.”

1913 – Arthur Kuldell, Messianic Jewish Leader
Arthur Kuldell convenes a gathering of Jewish believers in Pittsburgh who establish the “Hebrew Christian Alliance of America”. Kuldell explains, “The Alliance is not a lodge. It is not a society organized for the purpose of aiding its members to the exclusion of others. It is not here to defame and slander the Jew behind his back. It is an organization that breathes the spirit of Messiah. It is actuated by the tenderest love for Israel.”

1921 – Max Reich, Professor and Zionist
Max Reich, a Jewish believer and Professor of Biblical Studies combats anti-Jewish propaganda, writing that “the so-called ‘Protocols of the Learned Elders of Zion’ was one of the basest forgeries ever fathered on the Jewish people. Jewish believers [in Messiah] will stand by their slandered nation at this time…. Jewish believers utterly detest the … unscrupulous Jew-haters, who remain anonymous, bent on stirring up racial strife and religious bigotry.”

1922 – Niels Bohr, Nobel Prize for Physics
Niels Bohr wins the Nobel Prize for Physics for his work on atomic structure. In 1939 he visits the United States and spreads the news that German scientists are working on splitting the atom. The United States responds with the Manhattan Project, from which the atomic bomb emerges. In 1942 he escapes from German-occupied Denmark via a fishing boat to Sweden, and leaves there by traveling in the empty bomb rack of a British military plane. He makes it to the United States and works on the atomic bomb at Los Alamos.

1927 – Henri Bergson, winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature
Henri Bergson wins the Nobel Prize for Literature. The French philosopher wrote books including An Introduction to Metaphysics (which develops a theory of knowledge) and Creative Evolution (which concludes that Darwinian mechanisms cannot explain life’s expansiveness and creativity). During the 1920s Bergson becomes a believer in Jesus, and in his final book, The Two Sources of Morality and Religion, describes Judeo-Christian understanding as the culmination of human social evolution. In 1937 he explains that his reflections led him to faith in Jesus, “in which I see the complete fulfillment of Judaism,” but he was reluctant to do anything that would separate him from his own Jewish people, because he was foreseeing “the formidable wave of anti-Semitism which is to sweep over the world. I wanted to remain among those who tomorrow will be persecuted.”

1930 – Haham Ephraim ben Joseph Eliakim, a Rabbi in Tiberias
The year 1930 saw the funeral of Haham Ephraim ben Joseph Eliakim, a Rabbi in Tiberias, Jewish Palestine, who after studying biblical prophecies believes that Jesus is the Messiah. Eliakim undergoes tremendous harassment from his former colleagues. He is buried in Jerusalem alongside a Christian Arab, with one reporter noting that “Jew and Arab were laid one beside the other, and Jews and Arabs were standing with bowed heads by the two open graves, touched and softened the one toward the others.”

1933 – Sir Leon Levison, Messianic Jewish Leader
Sir Leon Levison, founder and head of the International Hebrew Christian Alliance, rallies Jewish believers in 1933 to oppose Hitler. Levison states that there are 2.35 million Jews in Germany: 600,000 still identifying with Rabbinical Judaism and one and three-quarter million believers in Jesus of Jewish descent who go back to the second, third and fourth generation. Both groups, he notes, “are treated as Jews and are subject to vicious discrimination.” Jewish Christians also face discrimination from their own people: “If they apply to Jewish Relief agencies, they are told they must abandon their belief in Jesus.”

1938 – Morris Zeidman, Messianic Jewish Leader
Morris Zeidman of the “Hebrew Christian Alliance of America” appeals for help for the Jews and Jewish believers of Poland, Germany, and Austria, where “sorrow is turning into despair. They can see no hope, not a gleam of light or kindness anywhere…. We must help, if we have to sacrifice a meal a day. Surely those of us who eat three meals a day can afford to spare the price of one meal for our persecuted brethren in Central Europe.”   Zeidman was also well known for his relief work among the poor in Toronto and across Canada during the Depression.

1943 – Israel Zolli, Chief Rabbi of Rome
Israel Zolli served as Professor of Hebrew at the University of Padua from 1927 to 1938, then as Chief Rabbi of Rome. In that position he helps to save about 4,000 Roman Jews as the Nazis enter Rome. Posing as a structural engineer, he enters the Vatican and asks Pope Pius XII to protect Rome’s Jews. He offered himself as a hostage in return for the safety of the Jewish community. The pope makes churches, monasteries, convents, and the Vatican itself sanctuaries for them (though it may be argued that he did little for Jews outside Italy). Zolli publicly proclaims his faith in Messiah in 1945.  He said: “No one in the world ever tried to convert me . . . (my faith) was a slow evolution, altogether internal” 
Asked why he has “given up the synagogue for the church”, Zolli replies, “I have not given it up. Christianity is the completion of the synagogue, for the synagogue was a promise, and Christianity is the fulfillment of that promise”, “Once a Jew always a Jew”. When asked if he believes that Jesus is the Messiah, he says, “Yes, positively. I have believed it many years. And now I am so firmly convinced of the truth of it that I can face the whole world and defend my faith with the certainty and solidity of the mountains.”

As a result, Rabbinical Jewish leaders call him a heretic, excommunicate him, proclaim a fast of several days in atonement for his “treason,” and mourn him as one dead. Zolli responds, “When my wife and I embraced the church we lost everything we had in the world. We shall now have to look for work: and God will help us to find some”   Zolli would become a writer and teacher.

1951 – Karl Stern, University Professor and Neuropsychiatrist
Karl Stern, an emigrant from Nazi Germany to Canada, a noted neuropsychiatrist and Jewish believer, publishes his autobiography, The Pillar of Fire. One of his McGill University post-war Jewish students, Bernard Nathanson, who would go on to a Medical career, recalls him as “a great teacher; a riveting, even eloquent lecturer in a language not his own, and a brilliant contrarian spewing out original and daring ideas as reliably as Old Faithful. I conceived an epic case of hero-worship…. There was something indefinably serene and certain about him.” When Nathanson reads The Pillar of Fire, he realizes that Stern “possessed a secret I had been searching for all my life, the secret of the peace of Messiah.”

1953 – Dr. Boris Kornfeld, Medical Doctor, hero of the Gulag
Dr. Boris Kornfeld, imprisoned in a Soviet concentration camp for political reasons, talks with a devout Christian and comes to believe in Messiah. In his position as Doctor of the camp, he tries to help starving prisoners by refusing to sign papers that will send them to their deaths, and he reports to the camp commandant an orderly who is stealing food from prisoners. One day he talks at length about Messiah with a patient who has just been operated on for cancer. That night the orderly has his revenge and Dr. Kornfeld is murdered, but the patient ponders his words, becomes a Christian, and eventually writes about Kornfeld and conditions in the Gulag. The patient’s name: Alexander Solzhenitsyn.

1968 – Ernest Cassutto, Holocaust Survivor, Founder of Congregation of Jewish Believers
Ernest Cassutto, of Sephardic Jewish heritage, establishes Emmanuel Hebrew Christian Congregation near Baltimore, Maryland.
Casutto was a Holocaust survivor who had lost his parents and fiance during the war.

1974 – Howard Phillips, Chairman of the U.S. Office of Economic Opportunity
Howard Phillips, former chairman of the U.S. Office of Economic Opportunity, founds the Conservative Caucus. While researching, he runs across biblical perspectives on public policy, and that leads to his coming to faith. He says, “I began to spend more time studying the Scripture, both Old and New Testament, and began to come to grips with the constantly mentioned subject of blood sacrifice as the basis for atonement for sin where God was concerned. The ultimate blood sacrifice for sin, obviously, is Jesus. I committed my life to Him as Lord and Savior” 

1976 – Dr. David Block, Professor of Applied Mathematics and Astronomy
Dr. David Block, a professor of Applied Mathematics and Astronomy in South Africa, becomes a believer in Messiah. He writes, “I’d listen in shul as the Rabbis expounded how God was a personal God and how God would speak to Moses, to Abraham, to Isaac and to Jacob, and wonder how I fit into all of it. And by the time I entered university I became concerned over the fact that I had no assurance that God was indeed a personal God…. Where was the personality and the vibrancy of a God who could speak to David Block? If God is truly God, I reasoned, then why had he suddenly changed his character?”

A Christian colleague tells Block that a minister will be able to answer his questions; he reports, “My parents had taught me to seek answers where they may be found, and so I consented to meet with this Christian minister. [He] read to me from the New Testament book of Romans where Paul says that Yeshua (Jesus) is a stumbling block to Jewish people, but that those who would believe in Yeshua would never be ashamed. Suddenly it all became very clear to me: Yeshua had fulfilled the messianic prophecies in the Hebrew Scriptures, such as where the Messiah would be born and how he was to die…. I knew that Jesus was the Messiah and is the Messiah. And I surrendered my heart and my soul to Him that day.”

He concludes, “It might seem strange to some that a scientist and a Jew could come to faith in Jesus. But faith is never a leap into the dark. It is always based on evidence. That was how my whole search for God began. I looked through my telescope at Saturn and said to myself, Isn’t there a great God out there? The logical next step was to want to meet this Designer face-to-face.”

1982 – Andrew Mark Barron, Aerospace Engineer
Aerospace engineer Andrew Mark Barron, raised in Conservative Judaism, comes to faith in Messiah. He writes that in college “I believed God existed because of the phenomenal order to the universe, yet I felt human beings were far too miniscule for His notice.” Reading the New Testament helps him to see that God “constructed us with souls that can be fed only by His own hand. Believing God cares is not intellectual suicide; believing that He doesn’t care is spiritual starvation.”

1986 – Mortimer Adler, Professor at the University of Chicago
Mortimer Adler, author of numerous books on philosophical topics, becomes a Jewish believer at age 84. A long-time professor at the University of Chicago, he pushes for a “great books” and “great ideas” curriculum and writes popular works such as How to Read a Book (1940), The Common Sense of Politics (1971), and Six Great Ideas (1981). He writes an autobiography in 1977, Philosopher at Large, but writes another 15 years later (A Second Look in the Rearview Mirror: Further Autobiographical Reflections of a Philosopher at Large) that explains his coming to faith in Jesus. “We have a logical, consistent faith,” he says. “In fact, I believe [faith in Messiah] is the only logical, consistent faith in the world.” 

1990 – Bernard Nathanson, Medical Doctor
In the year 1969 Dr. Bernard Nathanson, former student of Karl Stern, a noted Neuropsychiatrist, runs the largest abortion clinic in the world, and co-founds the National Association for the Repeal of Abortion Law. After being involved directly or indirectly in over 75,000 abortions (including one of his own child). In the late 1970s he does a complete turn-around and becomes a leading pro-life advocate and produces an effective video, The Silent Scream. Contact with Christian pro-life workers gets him thinking about the source of their dedication: “They prayed, they supported and encouraged each other, they sang hymns of joy…. They prayed for the unborn babies, for the confused and pregnant women, and for the doctors and nurses in the clinic…. And I wondered: How can these people give of themselves for a constituency that is (and always will be) mute, invisible, and unable to thank them?” Around 1990 Nathanson becomes a believer in Jesus.

1993 – Jay Sekulow, Attorney
Jay Sekulow, chief counsel for the American Center for Law and Justice, successfully argues the Lambs Chapel case before the U.S. Supreme Court; the Court states that religious groups cannot be discriminated against in the use of public facilities made available to other groups. Sekulow appears before the Supreme Court numerous times in defense of religious freedom, and writes about his own religious liberation as he tried to understand the description of the “suffering servant” in chapter 53 of Isaiah: “I kept looking for a traditional Jewish explanation that would satisfy, but found none. The only plausible explanation seemed to be Jesus. My Christian friends were suggesting other passages for me to read, such as Daniel 9. As I read, my suspicion that Jesus might really be the Messiah was confirmed…. I’d always thought my cultural Judaism was sufficient, but in the course of studying about the Messiah who would die as a sin bearer, I realized that I needed a Messiah to do that for me.”

1997 – Lawrence Kudlow, Undersecretary of the Office of Management and Budget
Lawrence Kudlow expresses faith in Messiah after emerging from a battle with addiction. In the 1980s he served as undersecretary of US Office of Management and Budget. In 1994 The New York Times published a full-page article, “A Wall Street Star’s Agonizing Confession,” about Kudlow’s life and addiction to cocaine. He resigns from his $1-million-a-year job as chief economist at the Wall Street firm of Bear Stearns and later says, “As I hit bottom, I lost jobs, lost all income, lost friends, and very nearly lost my wife. I was willing to surrender and take it on faith that I had to change my life.”  I started searching for God.” Then, “All of a sudden it clicked, that . . . Jesus died for me, too.” Kudlow is now chief economist for CNBC and a frequent writer of articles that make the science of economics understandable to readers.

2001 – Richard Wurmbrand – Prisoner of the Nazis and Communists
Richard Wurmbrand, born into a Jewish home in Europe and founder of The Voice of the Martyrs, dies at age 91. After becoming a believer in Romania in 1936 and then a pastor, Wurmbrand and his wife are arrested several times by the Nazi government. He evangelizes Russian soldiers who are prisoners of war and does the same with Russian occupation forces after August, 1944. 
Communist leaders imprison Wurmbrand in 1948, subject him to physical and mental torture, threaten his family, and finally imprison his wife as well. She is released in 1953 and he in 1956, but he is re-arrested in 1959 and sentenced to 25 years for preaching Scriptures that are contrary to Communist doctrine. Political pressure from Western countries leads to his release in 1964. The Wurmbrand family leaves Romania in 1965 and begins informing the world about persecution of Christians in that country and elsewhere. By the mid-1980s The Voice of the Martyrs has offices in 30 countries and is working in 80 nations where Christians are threatened.

This selection compiled by Mottel Baleston.

CS Lewis, John Calvin and Michael Servetus

Collage of Calvin and Servetus
Collage of Calvin and Servetus

While the debate about Calvin’s culpability in connection with the death of the 16th century heretic Servetus continues to stir emotions, everyone is agreed that, heretic or not, he didn’t deserve to die.

Inevitably, those who affirm Calvin’s theological views express sympathy with his unenviable position, while those who dislike his doctrines seem almost eager to retell the story as compelling evidence to reject his teachings once and for all.

CS Lewis was not at all comfortable with what he called Calvin’s ‘dark answers’ in connection with predestination but he was at least an objective historian.

As he outlines some of the changes in belief that influenced the literature, he also discusses some of the consequences for departing from the accepted views – often persecution, even execution. The modern reader is appalled, but Lewis helps us understand the context of such brutality.

‘We must…take care not to assume that a sixteenth-century man who lived through these changes had necessarily felt himself, at any stage, confronted with the clear issue which would face a modern in the same circumstances.

A modern, ordered to profess or recant a religious belief under pain of death, knows that he is being tempted and that the government which so tempts him is a government of villains. But this background was lacking when the period of religious revolution began. No man claimed for himself or allowed to another the right of believing as he chose. All parties inherited from the Middle Ages the assumption that Christian man could live only in a theocratic polity which had both the right and the duty of enforcing true religion by persecution.

Those who resisted its authority did so not because they thought it had no right to impose doctrines but because they thought it was imposing the wrong ones. Those who were burned as heretics were often (and, on their premises, logically) eager to burn others on the same charge. When Calvin led the attack on Servetus which ended in his being burnt at Geneva, he was acting on accepted medieval principles.’[i]

More next time…

For the first post in this series on CS Lewis and his observations of 16th Century Christianity click here

©2013 Lex Loizides / Church History Blog


[i] CS Lewis, English Literature in the Sixteenth Century Excluding Drama (Oxford: Oxford University Press 1954), p.39

C.S. Lewis, John Calvin and Christian Joy

C.S. Lewis, John Calvin and Christian Joy

C.S. Lewis
C.S. Lewis

We’ve been dipping into CS Lewis’s wonderful work, English Literature in the Sixteenth Century (excluding drama) and have discovered some fascinating insights on the Protestant believers of the 16th Century and the Puritans that followed them in the 17th.

Lewis was never one to hold back his opinion and therefore readers of a variety of theological persuasion will find his views both illuminating and challenging. He has argued that our view of the early Protestant believers and our understanding of the Puritans needs some revision if we’re to understand what really drove their thinking forward:

C.S. Lewis on Protestant Joy: Too glad to be true!
‘It follows that nearly every association which now clings to the word puritan has to be eliminated when we are thinking of the early Protestants. Whatever they were, they were not sour, gloomy, or severe; not did their enemies bring any such charge against them. On the contrary, Harpsfield (in his Life of More) describes their doctrines as ‘easie, short, pleasant lessons’ which lulled the unwary victim in ‘so sweete a sleepe as he was euer after loth to wake from it’. For More, a Protestant was one ‘dronke of the new must of lewd lightnes of minde and vayne gladnesse of harte’ (Dialogue, III.ii)…Protestantism was not too grim, but too glad to be true.’[i]

Calvin’s freedom to enjoy God’s creation
‘Even when we pass on from the first Protestants to Calvin himself we shall find an explicit rejection of ‘that vnciuile [uncivil] and forward philosophy’ which ‘alloweth vs in no vse of the creatures saue that which is needful, and going about (as it were in enuie [envy]) to take from vs the lawful enjoyment of God’s blessings, yet can neuer speede vnless it should stoppe vp all a man’s senses and make him a verie block’.’[ii]

Lewis commends Calvin
‘When God created food, ‘He intended not only the supplying of our necessities but delight and merriment (hilaritas)’.

Clothes serve not only for need but also for ‘comelinesse and honesty’; herbs, trees, and fruits, ‘beside their manifold commodity’, for ‘goodlinesse, brauery, and sweete smelling sauour’.

The right mistake: Protestantism too earth-bound, enjoyable, ‘sensual’
A comparison of the whole passage (Institutio, III.x.2) with, say, the sermons of Fisher, will correct many misapprehensions. When Newman in his Letter to X Y professed an ‘abstract belief in the latent sensuality of Protestantism’, he was, in my opinion, dreadfully mistaken; but at least, like More and Harpsfield, he was making the right mistake, the mistake that is worth discussing. The popular modern view of the matter does not reach that level.’[iii]

CS Lewis on the freedom of the Protestants
‘To be sure, there are standards by which the early Protestants could be called ‘puritanical’; they held adultery, fornication, and perversion for deadly sins. But then so did the Pope. If that is Puritanism, all Christendom was then puritanical together. So far as there was any difference about sexual morality, the Old Religion was the more austere. The exaltation of virginity is a Roman, that of marriage, a Protestant, trait.’[iv]

To read the next post in this series (CSL on 16th Century persecution, including the Calvin and Servetus controversy) click here

To read the first post in this series on CS Lewis click here

©2013 Lex Loizides / Church History Blog


[i] CS Lewis, English Literature in the Sixteenth Century Excluding Drama (Oxford: Oxford University Press 1954), p.34

[ii] ibid p.35

[iii] ibid p.35

[iv] ibid p.35

CS Lewis on Predestination

English Literature in the Sixteenth Century Excluding Drama by CS Lewis
English Literature in the Sixteenth Century Excluding Drama by CS Lewis 

CS Lewis does not take a hostile view of predestination. He merely refuses to engage with what he calls its ‘darker’ side, and is skeptical of those who assert it apparently without feeling.

As you’ll see at the end of this post, he is far more comfortable declaring its pastoral strength to the believer and leave it there. I note also that both here and in his letters he uses Luther’s pastoral advice to provides assurance rather than allow a believer to sink into gloom.

Reformed Doctrine marked by joy and hope rather than heaviness
He writes, ‘It must be clearly understood that they [i.e. Protestant doctrines] were at first doctrines not of terror but of joy and hope: indeed, more than hope, fruition, for as Tyndale says, the converted man is already tasting eternal life.’

CS Lewis on Predestination
The doctrine of predestination, says the XVIIth Article[i], is ‘full of sweet, pleasant and unspeakable comfort to godly persons’.

But what of ungodly persons? Inside the original experience no such question arises. There are no generalizations. We are not building a system. When we begin to do so, very troublesome problems and very dark solutions will appear.

But these horrors, so familiar to the modern reader (and especially to the modern reader of fiction), are only by-products of the new theology. They are astonishingly absent from the thought of the first Protestants.

Relief and buoyancy are the characteristic notes. In a single sentence of the Tischreden[ii] Luther tosses the question aside for ever. Do you doubt whether you are elected to salvation? Then say your prayers, man, and you may conclude that you are. It is as easy as that.’[iii]

It is certainly true that modern novelists have written from a perspective of absolute abandonment, but is it true that the first Protestants didn’t wrestle with the apparent downside of the idea of predestination?

Your thoughts?

To read the next post in this series (regarding Lewis on Calvin and Joy) click here

For the first post from Lewis’s thoughts on Reformed Doctrine and the Puritans from English Literature in the Sixteenth Century Excluding Drama click here

©2013 Lex Loizides / Church History Blog


[i] Lewis is referring to The 39 Articles of Religion (1563), the doctrinal statement of the Church of England.

[ii] I.e., Table Talk – a collection of anecdotes, quotes and humourous sayings of Martin Luther recorded by some of his students

[iii] CS Lewis, English Literature in the Sixteenth Century Excluding Drama (Oxford: Oxford University Press 1954), pp 33-34

CS Lewis and the Puritans

CS Lewis at his desk
CS Lewis at his desk

What did CS Lewis think of the Puritans?
It is sometimes implied that Lewis leant equally towards Catholic as Protestant doctrine. Some may assume that his thoughts on hell and the afterlife imply he was unimpressed with the theological emphasis of the works of the English puritans.

But in his academic masterpiece of literary criticism, English Literature in the Sixteenth Century (excluding drama), he demonstrates a thorough, personally informed view of the major theological influences on that century and those that followed.

His discussion of puritan and reformed thinking is not only easy to grasp but thoroughly enjoyable. Typical Lewis.

Here are a few gems to whet your appetite…

A correct understanding of the goal of puritanism
‘The puritans were so called because they claimed to be purists or purifiers in ecclesiastical polity: not because they laid more emphasis than other Christians on ‘purity’ in the sense of chastity.’

A correct understanding of the nature of ‘puritan’ experience
‘We want, above all, to know what it felt like to be an early Protestant.

One thing is certain. It felt very unlike being a ‘puritan’ such as we meet in nineteenth-century fiction. Dickens’s Mrs. Clennam, trying to expiate her early sin by a long life of voluntary gloom, was doing exactly what the first Protestants would have forbidden her to do. They would have thought her whole conception of expiation papistical. On the Protestant view one could not, and by God’s mercy, need not, expiate one’s sins.’

Luther understood Paul correctly, according to CS Lewis
Luther understood Paul correctly, according to CS Lewis

Tyndale and Luther properly understood Paul’s doctrine of Justification by Faith and not by works
‘In the mind of a Tyndale or Luther, as in the mind of St. Paul himself, this theology was by no means an intellectual construction made in the interests of speculative thought. It springs directly out of a highly specialized religious experience; and all its affirmations, when separated from that context, become meaningless or else mean the opposite of what was intended…’

‘Catastrophic Conversion’ essential to an experience of joy (or bliss)
‘The experience is that of catastrophic conversion.

The man who has passed through it feels like one who has waked from a nightmare into ecstasy.

Like an accepted lover, he feels that he has done nothing, and never could have done anything, to deserve such astonishing happiness. Never again can he ‘crow from the dunghill of desert’.

All the initiative has been on God’s side; all has been free, unbounded grace. And all will continue to be free, unbounded grace.

His own puny and ridiculous efforts would be as helpless to retain the joy as they would have been to achieve it in the first place.

Fortunately they need not. Bliss is not for sale, cannot be earned.

‘Works’ have no ‘merit’, though of course faith, inevitably, even unconsciously, flows out into works of love at once.

He is not saved because he does works of love: he does works of love because he is saved.

It is faith alone that has saved him: faith bestowed by sheer gift. From this buoyant humility, this farewell to the self with all its good resolutions, anxiety, scruples, and motive-scratchings, all the Protestant doctrines originally sprang.’

To read the next post (CS Lewis on Predestination) click here

To read a review of AN Wilson’s biography on Lewis click here

© 2013 Lex Loizides / Church History Blog

The Birth of Modern Revival – Puritan Preaching in Scotland

16th Century Scottish Reformer, John Knox
16th Century Scottish Reformer, John Knox

Iain Murray, in his classic, ‘The Puritan Hope’, points out that the Puritan era was a period of many local revivals. He writes,

‘Following as it did so closely upon the Reformation it is not surprising that the Puritan movement in England believed so firmly in revivals of religion as the great means by which the Church advances in the world.’ (The Puritan Hope, Iain Murray, Banner of Truth, p.3)

16th Century Breakthrough

In 1559 a general revival broke out in Scotland. The conversions were so rapid that John Knox wrote, ‘God did so multiply our number that it appeared as if men had rained from the clouds.’ (ibid p.5)

Describing the spiritual hunger of the Scottish people he adds, ‘Now forty days and more, hath God used my tongue in my native country, to the manifestation of His glory…The thirst of the poor people, as well as of the nobility here, is wondrous great…’ (ibid p.5)

One Scottish church historian writes ‘in Scotland the whole nation was converted by lump; and within ten years…there were not ten persons of quality to be found in it who did not profess the true reformed religion, and so it was among the commons in proportion. Lo! Here a nation born in one day!’ (James Kirkton, The Secret and True History of the Church of Scotland, p.21-22)

The promise of Revival in the Seventeenth Century

This amazing receptivity of the people to powerful gospel preaching did not die out in the century to follow. A fairly compelling example of what we might call ‘revival’, or at least ‘revivalistic, is captured by a description of a powerfully anointed sermon from 1630.

Arthur Fawcett quotes James Robe as saying,

‘The omission of our worthy Forefathers to transmit to posterity a full and circumstantial account of the conversion of 500 by one sermon at the Kirk of Shots in the year 1630…I have heard much complained of and lamented.’ (Arthur Fawcett, The Cambuslang revival, Banner of Truth p.5)

Clearly Scotland, in the generation following the mighty John Knox and the many other ‘Scots Worthies’, was ripe for the gospel. Multitudes were swept into the Kingdom of God and the culture of the nation was definitively shaped by the Bible.

For more on Revival click here

Read the next post, The Pentecostal Power of the Puritan Movement

You can purchase Iain Murray’s The Puritan Hope’ here

© 2009 Lex Loizides

The Puritans – Judgemental Joy-killers or Evangelical Nation Builders?

The much-loved puritan author, John Bunyan
The much-loved puritan author, John Bunyan

Almost any Dictionary of the English language will give you two definitions of the word Puritan.

The first should tell you that they were a group of English Christians in the late 16th and 17th Century who were convinced that the English Reformation was not effective enough and who wanted to bring about a true reformation, or restoration of the church along New Testament lines.

The second will say something like this (eg, the Oxford American Dictionary) ‘a person with censorious religious beliefs, especially about pleasure and sex’.

Censorious means ‘severely critical of others’ and is from the Latin ‘censor’, which meant, basically a judge (magistrate).

So that’s why there aren’t many Christians stepping forward and wanting to identify themselves as judgemental, severely critical, pleasure-denying ‘puritans’!

Re-learning words
But, as with the generally undeserved negative feelings the word ‘Calvinist’ provokes, so we need to re-learn this word ‘puritan’, even though we know that ‘puritanical’ is probably past saving.

NB The Compact Oxford English Dictionary has ‘self-indulgence’ rather than ‘pleasure’, which is more accurate as the puritans were not against pleasure as such (deriving pleasure from the creation, pleasure in the presence of God etc) but they certainly were negative about self-indulgence.

The wonderfully articulate Thomas Watson
The wonderfully articulate Thomas Watson

English Puritanism is important in Christian history because of the wider influence the Puritans had on the church in many nations especially in relation to the massive revivals of the 18th century and the missionary outreach of the 19th century.

So we will take a brief look at these ‘restorationists’, these radical reformers, who wanted to purify the church of every unscriptural trapping and fancy and bring the word of God to the people of England.

Read more in ‘Puritans and a passion for Truth’

© 2009 Lex Loizides

The Amazing Power of a Testimony – Bilney and Latimer

Thomas Bilney
Thomas Bilney

Hugh Latimer was one of the shining lights at Cambridge University in the early 1500’s. He was intelligent, articulate, influential – a born leader.

But he was both alarmed and repulsed by the new Lutheran teachings that were slowly pervading the intellectual discussions of the University.

Speaking against the Reformation

When he graduated as Bachelor of Divinity in 1524 he was required to speak at a public lecture on a theological theme.

Biographer Robert Demaus wrote that, ‘With the characteristic zeal of an ardent lover of the Church, indignant at the success of the heresy which was everywhere finding disciples, he directed his whole oration against Philip Melancthon, the eminent German Reformer, who had recently impugned the authority of the school-doctors, and had maintained that they must all be tested by the supreme standard of Holy Scripture.’ (Robert Demaus, Hugh Latimer, A Biography, Religious Tract Society, London 1904, p.45)

Latimer even said that the reading of Scripture was dangerous! But there was someone in the crowd that day whose heart and mind had already been transformed by the ‘heresy’ of an open Bible. His name was Thomas Bilney.

Bilney was very clear that Luther had been correct, and that Scripture was our only true guide. Our justification before God was not on the basis of our good works, or of obedience to church ritual, but rather through faith in the person and work of Jesus Christ. But how was he to convince such an important and formidable opponent as Latimer?

He who is wise wins souls!

Being a wise soul winner, Bilney sought to speak to Latimer directly. Latimer had already been ordained and was therefore able to hear confessions. Bilney considered that he had a particular confession that he wanted Latimer to hear.

And so, Latimer, no doubt expecting that his stinging sermon had turned Bilney back to the old ways, agreed to a private meeting where he would hear Bilney’s confession.

For something like two hours, Thomas Bilney, on his knees, faithfully told the story of his desperate attempts to please God and how, through faith in Jesus, he had experienced a breakthrough at last. He emphasised the vital role the Bible had played in his relationship with God as opposed to the scholars of his day.

Latimer said, ‘To say the truth, by his confession I learned more than before in many years.’ (Demaus p.45)

As JH Merle d’Aubigne writes, ‘It was not the penitent but the confessor who received absolution. Latimer viewed with horror the obstinate war he had waged against God; he wept bitterly; but Bilney consoled him.

‘Brother, said he, ‘though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be white as snow.’
These two young men, then locked in a solitary chamber at Cambridge, were one day to mount the scaffold…’ (The Reformation in England, Banner of Truth, Vol 1 p.204)

Latimer and Ridley, standing together to the very end
Latimer and Ridley, standing together to the very end

They did indeed, both giving up their lives as martyrs in Oxford, being burned at the stake. You can see the place today, marked by a small cross in stone on the ground. In the end, Latimer gave everything he had for Jesus Christ.

The testimony of a changed life is powerful.

From the day a man said, ‘One thing I know, I was blind but now I can see!’ (Jn 9:25) to Bilney reaching the hard heart of Latimer, to you in your situation.

Be encouraged! What God has done for you, by forgiving your sins through Christ, is powerful – even before those with greater influence or learning or who seem resistant.

Don’t be silent. Find a way to graciously and appropriately share the good news of God’s amazing love with someone.

Latimer went on to be one of the English Reformation’s great heroes, preaching before the king and in many circles of influence. Who knows what God might do through you, and those you speak to?

You can purchase JH Merle d’Aubigne’s ‘The Reformation in England’ in two volumes here

© 2009 Lex Loizides

John Calvin’s Deathbed Confession

john_calvin1
John Calvin on his Deathbed – pure gospel to the very end!

Before we leave John Calvin, I couldn’t resist adding this wonderful statement from his last will and testament. Here he is, in Geneva, dying. And so he calls for a scribe and begins to dictate his will.

At the beginning of the document he firstly, gives thanks to God for the gospel. And he does so in such a beautiful manner that a careful reading of the following section from the Will would cause any true child of God to both identify with the sentiments and truths expressed and to worship the triune God for His amazing grace.

From his Will, 1564
‘I render thanks to God, not only because he has had compassion on me,
his poor creature, to draw me out of the abyss of idolatry in which I was plunged,
in order to bring me to the light of his gospel and make me a partaker of the doctrine of salvation, of which I was altogether unworthy,
and continuing his mercy he has supported me amid so many sins and shortcomings, which were such that I well deserved to be rejected by him a hundred thousand times
– but what is more, he has so far extended his mercy towards me as to make use of me and of my labour, to convey and announce the truth of his gospel;
protesting that it is my wish to live and die in this faith which he has bestowed on me, having no other hope nor refuge except in his gratuitous adoption, upon which all my salvation is founded;
embracing the grace which he has given me in our Lord Jesus Christ, and accepting the merits of his death and passion,
in order that by this means all my sins may be buried;
and praying him so to wash and cleanse me by the blood of this great Redeemer, which has been shed for us poor sinners,
that I may appear before his face, bearing as it were, his image.’ (Letters p. 249-250)

Quoted in Letters of John Calvin’ Banner of Truth (1980 edition)

Read about the birth of the Reformation in England: It all started with a testimony!

© 2009 Lex Loizides

Private Correspondence between Calvin and other Reformers

Fascinating remarks by the Reformer to Cranmer, Knox and Luther himself.

Thomas Cranmer, Archbishop of Canterbury, England
Thomas Cranmer, Archbishop of Canterbury, England

Like many other influential servants of God, John Calvin was a true man of letters. He was constantly preaching, teaching, writing pamphlets, treatises and debating.

But he also spent time writing to other influential Christian leaders and heads of state during the 16th Century.

He was a keen encourager of those who were seeking to restore the church to a more Biblical pattern.

A selection of these letters have been published and include some absolutely fascinating private correspondence between Calvin and some of the great Reformers.

On the procrastination that softened the impact of the Reformation in England: a piercing critique written in season – To Thomas Cranmer, 1552
‘I, for my part, acknowledge that our cause has made no little progress during the short period the Gospel has flourished in England.

But if you reflect on what yet remains to be done, and how very remiss you have been in many matters, you will discover that you have no reason to advance towards the goal with less rapidity…lest after you have escaped danger, you should become self-indulgent.

But to speak freely, I greatly fear, and this fear is abiding, that so many autumns will be spent in procrastinating, that by and by the cold of a perpetual winter will set in…for external religious abuses have been corrected in such a way as to leave remaining innumerable young shoots, which are constantly sprouting forth.

In fact, I am informed that such a mass of Papal corruptions remain, as not only to hide, but almost to extinguish the pure worship of God.’ (Letters p.141)

A criticism of the use of crucifixes in Church services – to John Knox, 1555
‘Certainly no one, I think, who is possessed of a sound judgement, will deny that lighted tapers, and crucifixes, and other trumpery of the same description, flow from superstition.

Whence, I lay it down for certain, that those who from free choice retain these things, are but too eager to drink from polluted dregs.

Nor do I see what reason a church should be burdened with these frivolous and useless, not to call them by their real name, pernicious ceremonies, when a pure and simple order of worship is in our power. But I check myself, lest I should seem to stir up a new strife…’ (Letters p. 174)

To Martin Luther
Writing to Luther in January of 1545, he says:
‘Would that I could fly to you, that I might even for a few hours enjoy the happiness of your society; for I would prefer, and it would be far better, not only upon this question, but also about others, to converse personally with yourself; but seeing that it is not granted to us on earth, I hope that shortly it will come to pass in the kingdom of God.

Adieu, most renowned sir, most distinguished minister of Christ, and my ever honoured father. The Lord Himself rule and direct you by his own Spirit, that you may persevere even unto the end, for the common benefit and good of his own church.’ (Letters p.73)

On the need identify ourselves as followers of Christ – to Martin Luther, 1545
‘How, indeed, can this faith, which lies buried in the heart within, do otherwise than break forth in the confession of the faith?’ (Letters p.71)

Read John Calvin’s Deathbed Confession

All quotes from ‘Letters of John Calvin’, Banner of Truth (1980 edition)

© 2009 Lex Loizides

Calvin and Servetus

Calvin
Calvin

The Controversial Calvin
Calvin’s main contribution to the Reformation and to succeeding generations is his incredible ability to honestly and simply interpret Scripture. His works continue to inspire and instruct teachers and preachers even today.

The question of Calvin’s role in the death of Servetus is hotly debated by those who oppose his theology. Because Calvin is singled out, it is a question we should consider.

Michael Servetus

In 1553 a Spanish teacher and unorthodox theologian, called Michael Servetus was arrested, interrogated and found guilty of heresy by the French Catholic Inquisition in Vienne, Southern France. He had been teaching, writing and troubling the churches, both Catholic and Reformed, with heresy for many years. His objections centred on the deity of Christ and the reality of the Trinity.

Servetus had been writing to Calvin about his ideas and had become increasingly hostile to Calvin’s replies. Some of Calvin’s responses to Servetus’ heresies were actually used as evidence against him. He escaped from his imprisonment in Vienne, Southern France, and in his absence a sentence of death by burning was pronounced by the Court.

Although he was first condemned to death by the French magistrates, Calvin is sometimes seen as the man who orchestrated the judgement. Although not responsible for the courts’ decision, it appears from a private letter that he agreed with the sentence.

When Servetus was identified and re-arrested in Geneva, a further examination by the Genevan Courts took place. Calvin was aware of the gravity of the situation. After the original sentence was upheld, Calvin asked for leniency in the manner of the execution.

It’s an easy thing from our 21st Century standpoint to accuse Calvin, and indeed, to go from theological debate to being burned at the stake was exactly the kind of scenario that the Reformers were struggling against! Servetus’ horrible death was a fate that surely too many friends of the Reformation had suffered.

THL Parker, Calvin’s biographer, writing of the pastoral council in Geneva, of which Calvin was a part, says ‘there can be no doubt at all that Servetus’ books were…grossly heretical. Their difficulty was that the Romanists had already condemned Servetus to death and their own conduct was being observed.’ (THL Parker, John Calvin, Lion p.144)

Andrew Johnston adds, ‘The [Genevan] Consistory had no civil jurisdiction and could not impose criminal sentences…The notorious anti-trinitarian Michael Servetus, condemned to death for heresy and blasphemy in 1554, was convicted and sentenced by the magistrates, not by the Consistory.’ (Andrew Johnston, The Protestant Reformation in Europe. Longman. P.64)

By now, the judgement of the court was beyond Calvin’s influence and Servetus was sentenced to death by burning just outside Geneva. Could Calvin have intervened? Should he have done more than merely ask for lenience? Would his intervention have made any difference on the rulings of the courts? We do know that Calvin visited him in jail and prayed with him in the days leading up to his execution.

While we cannot lay blame for Servetus’ death at Calvin’s feet, while he was not behaving out of step with his generation, it is precisely because he is so right in so many areas of understanding, and speaks to us with such clarity, that even his acquiescence in this sad incident is difficult to stomach.

Some Additional Comments on Calvin and Servetus, by Andy Johnston

I don’t think we should be too hard on Calvin on the Servetus question. Execution for heresy was par for the course in the 16th C – eg The Mass executions in Germmany after the Peasants’ War, Executions in Marian & Elizabethan England (Catholic & Protestant alike). In France – after the Edict of Chateaubriand (1551) it was no longer necessary for parlement to try heresy cases & they could be tried by lower courts making the death sentence much more likely

Calvin was not the driving force behind the execution – why then should he be singled out for particular criticism? The execution occured in 1553 when Calvin’s political opponents controlled the council & they were the driving force behind Servetus’s execution. The Council deliberately by-passed the Consistory as an attempt to marginalize Caslvin’s role in the affair. However, because of Calvin’s status he became an expert theological witness.

Servetus had the opportunity to return and face charges in Vienne but chose to stay in Geneva.
The city of Geneva had only 2 options (it had no prison) – execution or banishment. The magistrates consulted the authorities of Berne, Zurcih, Schaffhausen & Basle & they all recommended execution.
Calvin argued for the sword rather than burning but he was ignored. People have argued that even the burning was deliberately intended to make Servetus suffer but, even here, this is not the case. Geneva had no executioner.

Andy Johnston leads Christ Church Hailsham, England

He is also leading a seminar, titled ‘Our Great Debt to Calvin’ at the Newfrontiers International Leadership Conference later this year.

© 2009 Lex Loizides

John Calvin and Church Planting

john_calvin1

We have seen how John Calvin was not passive about the Great Commission.

Calvin  commissioned four church planters to go and preach the gospel to the Indians in Brazil (Ruth Tucker, From Jerusalem to Irian Jaya, p. 67). Yep, that’s right! John Calvin!

As Luther and other Reformers were struggling to establish the rediscovered truths of Scripture in heir own nations, Calvin was propelled into mission.

France
From exile in Geneva, he sent over 100 church planters to France. In fact, on the basis of his outreach to France, one could argue for Calvin as a genuinely apostolic church planter. In 1555 he planted his first Church in Poitiers.

Over the next 7 years there were 1,750 ‘Calvinist’ Churches planted in France. Not only were Calvin’s hundred there, but others were raised up to lead this new church movement.

The Protestant population increased rapidly! Loraine Boettner, in an article called ‘Calvinism in History: Calvinism in France’, writes:

‘So rapidly did Calvinism spread throughout France that Fisher in his History of the Reformation tells us that in 1561 the Calvinists numbered one-fourth of the entire population. McFetridge places the number even higher. ‘In less than half a century,’ says he, ‘this so-called harsh system of belief had penetrated every part of the land, and had gained to its standards almost one-half of the population and almost every great mind in the nation. So numerous and powerful had its adherents become that for a time it appeared as if the entire nation would be swept over to their views.’ [Nathanial McFetridge, Calvinism in History, p. 144]

Smiles, in his ‘Huguenots in France,’ writes: ‘It is curious to speculate on the influence which the religion of Calvin, himself a Frenchman, might have exercised on the history of France, as well as on the individual character of the Frenchman, had the balance of forces carried the nation bodily over to Protestantism, as was very nearly the case, toward the end of the sixteenth century,’ (Samuel Smiles, Huguenots in France, p. 100).

Not only Calvin, but many others spurred on to mission

A very large number of the 18th and 19th Century pioneering missionaries considered themselves to be ‘Calvinists’.  As we read their biographies we find that it was often their belief that God was Sovereign and had already planned to save many that enabled them to press through the most disheartening circumstances and discouragements.

These missionary heroes did not give up until the Christian faith was securely planted in other lands.
For example, William Carey (to India), David Brainerd (to the native Americans), John Elliot, Henry Martyn, Alexander Duff, Robert and Mary Moffat (to South Africa), J. Hudson Taylor (to China). The list goes on.

John Calvin, speaking of the gospel, said in 1536:

“Our doctrine must stand sublime above all the glory of the world, and invincible by all its power, because it is not ours, but that of the Living God and His Anointed, whom the Father has appointed king that He may rule from sea to shining sea, and from the rivers even to the ends of the earth.”

Read John Calvin’s Private Correspondence to other Reformers

© 2009 Lex Loizides

Calvin and the Great Commission

John Calvin was far more committed to world mission than most people realise.

As we look across church history since the Reformation it’s possible to detect apathy for mission by those who have sometimes called themselves Calvinists.

An emphasis on the sovereignty of God, on the doctrine of Election and on total depravity has sometimes been blamed for a lack of zeal in evangelism. Calvinists have been accused of holding a position which says, ‘If God has chosen upon whom He will have mercy, and if they are awakened only by His effectual call, and repent as a result of His working, then what is the point of evangelising? After all, unless He calls no-one can respond.’

But have you ever heard anyone actually argue this way? Even if we found someone foolish enough to argue in this manner I would be inclined to think that they were merely using good doctrine as a bad excuse for not reaching out to serve others by sharing the gospel with them.

Nevertheless, we must acknowledge that William Carey experienced something of this. Charles Finney was certainly keen to tell us that it was Calvinistic thinking that led to apathy for revival and evangelism.

So let’s look at Calvin. Was he laid-back about mission to other nations? Was he fatalistic? Did he even consider the importance of church planting or was he merely busying himself with trying to fathom the mysteries of God’s eternal decrees?

The simple fact is, that of all the well known Reformers, Calvin was by far the most focussed on missions and church planting. He eagerly sent church-planting pastors and evangelists to other nations.

Most of the reformers were contending for the faith in their own nations. Luther certainly was. This is, of course, perfectly understandable given the nature of the battle in which they were engaged.

But Calvin also believed the gospel would triumph across the world, and he acted on that belief.  He was, in a sense, forced into the nations, being exiled from France. He was therefore eager to send preachers and pastors from Geneva to reach his own nation.

And he sent wave after wave of church planters to France. In fact, THL Parker points out that ‘between 1555 and 1562 over one hundred ministers were sent into France.’ (THL Parker, John Calvin, Lion 1975, p.174)

There’s a story to tell: Read about John Calvin and Church Planting

© 2009 Lex Loizides

Calvin on Preaching, Grieving and Singleness

john-calvin-library

While we don’t quite have a version of Luther’s famous ‘Table Talk’ for John Calvin, here are four quotes on different subjects. The first two deal with public ministry but the second two are highly personal and give us a glimpse of his own struggles and challenges.

On the act of preaching
A preacher ‘preaches so that God may speak to us by the mouth of a man.’ (p.107)

On the importance of sermon preparation
‘If I should enter the pulpit without deigning to glance at a book, and should frivolously think to myself, ‘Oh well, when I preach, God will give me enough to say’, and come here without troubling to read or thinking what I ought to declare, and do not carefully consider how I must apply Holy Scripture to the edification of the people, then I should be an arrogant upstart.’ (p.110)

On the death of his beloved, formerly Anabaptist, wife
‘Truly mine is no common grief. I have been bereaved of the best friend of my life, of one who, if it had been so ordained, would willingly have shared not only my poverty but also my death. During her life she was the faithful helper of my ministry. From her I never experienced the slightest hindrance.’ (p.121)

On singleness
(Calvin didn’t remarry after the death of his wife)
‘As for me, I do not want anyone to think me very virtuous because I am not married. It would rather be a fault in me if I could serve God better in marriage than remaining as I am…But I know my infirmity, that perhaps a woman might not be happy with me. However that may be, I abstain from marriage in order that I may be more free to serve God. But this is not because I think that I am more virtuous than my brethren. Fie to me if I had that false opinion.’ (p. 121)

Read about John Calvin and the Great Commission here

Above quotes are from THL Parker, John Calvin, Lion 1975

© 2009 Lex Loizides

Calvin and the Doctrine of Election

Because of the reaction it caused, Calvin found himself rigourously defending the Doctrine of Election. He had to expand the section on Election in his Institutes. He was not unwilling to defend his understanding of this teaching because he felt he was defending a pastorally beneficial truth revealed by God.

His understanding was as follows: The Holy Spirit revealed that before the creation of the world, God the Father chose who would be saved through Jesus Christ His Son.

This choice was not generated by any future factors in the person who would receive this mercy, but was purely a result of God’s undeserved love.  He chose us.

Salvation is, therefore, a result of His grace and not the result of any desire for salvation or any work towards salvation on our part.

The recipient of this electing mercy, the sinner, must repent of their sin and believe in Jesus Christ’s substitutionary death on the cross and His resurrection from the dead in order to be saved.

The common experience of believers could be described like this: Having considered the claims of Christ, and having believed and been forgiven, we discover in Scripture that our salvation was God’s pre-ordained plan and not the result of our own choice or decision.This increases our appreciation of God’s particular love towards us and results in an increased desire to worship Him, live for Him and serve His purposes unselfishly.

Jesus Himself said, ‘You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit.’ (John 15:16 NIV)

Spurgeon on Election
CH Spurgeon, the 19th century British preacher, described his own delight in the Doctrine of Election this way: ‘I am sure He chose me before I was born, or else He never would have chosen me afterwards; and He must have elected me for reasons unknown to me, for I never could find any reason in myself why He should have looked upon me with special love. So I am forced to accept that great Biblical doctrine.’ (From the sermon, A Defence of Calvinism http://www.spurgeon.org/calvinis.htm)

A pastoral doctrine
The doctrine of election was not the headline teaching in Calvin’s Institutes.

Andrew Johnston writes, ‘It’s position in the Institutes is significant. It was treated in the third book dealing with the Holy Spirit in the life of the believer and not, as one might expect, in Book One which dealt with the doctrine of God.

For Calvin, predestination was essentially a pastorally-orientated doctrine. It was a source of assurance to the believer and a means of humbling the proud…Calvin was always careful not to go beyond what the scriptures explicitly stated.

Rather than predestination, the central doctrines of the Institutes were the glory of God and the divinity of Christ.’ (Andrew Johnston, The Protestant Reformation in Europe. Longman. P.58)

This astonishing, unfathomable, controversial doctrine is stated in numerous places in Scripture. But this teaching did not originate with Calvin and any serious student of the Bible will need to grapple with it. There are many other references to this in Scripture, but we must keep on track with the historical story we are following.

2 Thess 2:13 ‘But we ought always to thank God for you, brothers loved by the Lord, because from the beginning God chose you to be saved through the sanctifying work of the Spirit and through belief in the truth.’ (NIV)

Eph 1:3-6 ‘Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him.
In love he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace.’ (ESV)

Next time we’ll take a look at Calvin’s views on a number of different issues. There was no Calvin’s ‘Table Talk’, as there was with Luther, but we can still gain insight into his personal life and thought from various sources.

Read Calvin’s views on Preaching, Grieving and Being Single

Andrew Johnston leads Christ Church, Hailsham, Sussex, UK. Please visit http://www.christchurchhailsham.org/index.html for more details.

© 2009 Lex Loizides

John Calvin and Martin Luther – some differences

Martin Luther (left) and John Calvin

John Calvin – a Second Generation Reformer!
Calvin was 26 years younger than Luther and so represented the next generation of Reformers. Luther was German and Calvin was French and their combined influence on Europe was colossal. While being hugely influenced by Luther, and certainly building on his insights, Calvin didn’t agree with everything the older reformer had written.

Sanctification
Luther had rediscovered Justification by faith in Christ alone as the key to salvation. He had hammered that point home – and needed to! Calvin, in addition to a clear commitment to Justification by faith, also emphasised sanctification (obedience to God and holiness) in the life of the new believer. It was not enough to throw off the shackles of dead religion and come to Christ in a moment of decision – the new converts’ life should now be lived in a God-honouring way, according to the teaching of Scripture. It’s not that Luther rejected this, but merely that Calvin emphasised the importance of a comprehensive holiness in life.

The Local Church
Because of this commitment to sanctification, Calvin also emphasised the role of the local church in regulating and training believers to live godly lives. This immediately raised issues of discipline within the context of the church, and also the extent and nature of the authority of local church leadership. Calvinists have never really managed to break free from the perception that they are ‘disciplinarians’.

Unity of the Bible
Calvin was careful not to set the New Testament against the Old and stressed the continuity of the revelation of God throughout the Bible as a whole. His teaching style was far more progressive than Luther’s who still indulged in fanciful allegory. While Luther brought the Bible out of the darkness, Calvin laid the foundations and set the standard for Biblical study and exposition. Geneva became a respected centre of Biblical exposition.

The Lord’s Supper
Calvin also disagreed with Luther about the nature of the Lord’s Supper. He didn’t believe that Christ was literally in the bread (Christ was, after all, literally, physically at the right hand of the Father). He also disagreed with some of Luther’s opponents, that the bread and wine were purely symbolic and nothing more.

Calvin argued that, in the taking of the bread and wine, Christ’s presence comes to us. Jesus visits us as we partake of it. Calvin used the analogy of the Spirit coming in the form of a dove at Jesus’ baptism.

He wrote, ‘Our Lord, wishing to give a visible appearance to his Spirit at the baptism of Christ, presented him under the form of a dove. St. John the Baptist, narrating the fact, says, that he saw the Spirit of God descending. If we look more closely, we shall find that he saw nothing but the dove, in respect that the Holy Spirit is in his essence invisible.’ (John Calvin, Short treatise on the Lord’s Supper – 1540)

In the same way, while the bread and wine are symbols, nevertheless, Christ really does come to us, and is in truly present, by faith.

The Doctrine of Election
Also, while Luther and other reformers were very clear about the sovereignty of God, and the doctrine of election, and on the nature of the freedom/bondage of the will, it was Calvin who was drawn into a defence of those doctrines of grace, more so than others.

Because the focus of debate on issues of God’s sovereignty in salvation was on John Calvin, his defense on those particular points have come to be popularly known as ‘Calvinism’.

Source: Andrew Johnston, The Protestant Reformation in Europe (Harlow: Longman 1991).

We’ll look at Election in more detail here

For more on Luther begin here

For more on Calvin begin here

© 2009 Lex Loizides

Introducing John Calvin: Understanding the Bible

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The Frenchman John Calvin (1509-1564) was undoubtedly the greatest expositor and commentator on the Scriptures that the Reformation period produced.  In fact, his brilliant set of commentaries on most books of the Bible still sells well even today.

Although a multitude of reasons (both good and bad) have been suggested to explain his continued influence on Christian leaders, his skill in explaining the meaning of the Scriptures is his primary legacy.

In fact, those who have benefited from his writing will argue that it is not John Calvin, or ‘Calvinism’ in that sense, but the truth of Scripture that has had such lasting impact on the lives of Christians, missionaries and leaders.

Many preachers will have experienced the challenge of not finding help from modern commentators, only to discover that Calvin has both understood and explained the verses of Scripture they were studying.

His ability to explain difficulties, remove obstacles and apply the meaning of the text is precise, appropriate and full of spiritual life. In my opinion, every preacher, Teacher or Evangelist, should purchase a copy of his commentaries.

He describes his conversion as ‘sudden and unexpected’ and his immense intellectual powers were redirected from the study of law to the Bible.  When he was only 26 he published what has become one of Christianity’s greatest classics ‘The Institutes of the Christian Religion’.

The Institutes, written and later enlarged while Calvin was in Switzerland in exile from France. It was dedicated to the King of France, and was written to prove that the teachings of the Reformers and their followers was not a new departure but the orthodox, apostolic Christian Faith.

Calvin’s hope was that the King of France would read it, be convinced by it, and call an end to the terrible persecutions that were taking place.

No! That didn’t happen. Rather, Calvin himself was once again declared to be a heretic.

More next time…

© 2009 Lex Loizides

The Influence of Good School Teachers

The History Changers are Often Made by School Teachers

CS Lewis

cslewis
I was surprised to learn that CS Lewis hated school. He struggled intensely with the boarding school environment (he likened it to a concentration camp and a learning factory). He only really began to find genuine delight in learning when his father finally gave in and provided private tutoring for him.

One particular tutor, William Kirkpatrick, helped Lewis love both the classics and the power of logic. And, although both tutor and student were atheists at the time, this powerful blend of literary discovery and persistent logic produced in Lewis a love of learning that blossomed into an avalanche of brilliant lectures, sermons, radio programmes, novels and books which have helped steer multitudes to faith in Christ.

Martin Luther at school

I was likewise surprised on reviewing Kittleson’s superb biography of Martin Luther to find a similar pattern. Bad teaching, or teaching methods – which produced nothing in the life of a future history-maker – followed by good teaching, or rather an encouraging teacher, which catapulted Luther’s academic career forward.

This delight in learning and logic, was brought to bear upon Luther’s own discoveries in the New Testament, and then in his massive literary output, and the influence that followed.

Of his earlier education Kittleson writes:
‘The methods used by his teachers were consistently condemned as ‘barbaric’ by great educators such as Erasmus of Rotterdam.

Coercion and ridicule were chief among their techniques. Any child caught speaking German (the goal was to teach them in Latin) was beaten with a rod. The one who had done least well in the morning was required to wear a dunce’s cap and was addressed as an ass all afternoon.

Demerits were then added up for the week, and each student went home with one more caning to make the accounts balance.’ (Kittleson, Luther the Reformer, IVP p.37)

Luther hated it. Just like Lewis centuries later.

But all was to change. Luther was moved to a school in Eisenach. There ‘He found a teacher who could awaken his imagination while sharpening his mind. In his case the teacher was the headmaster of the school, one John Trebonius, whom Luther later praised as a gifted man.

Trebonius certainly must have instilled a very different atmosphere in this school from what prevailed at Mansfield, for there Luther also struck up a lifelong friendship with a teacher named Wiegand Geldennupf.

These men were more than figures of authority…As Luther now neared the end of his studies in Latin school, he could give speeches and write essays and poetry. He could also read some of the ancient authors…

The great pleasure he derived from these studies showed later in his life as he sat down to translate Aesop’s Fables into German and insisted that everyone must be a student of the classics and of history.’ (ibid p.39)

You and I may not be familiar with the names of Trebonius or Geldennupf or Kirkpatrick but they were the human catalysts that awakened the genius in their students.

When you see a skillful school teacher
When you see a school teacher, tutor or professor skilled in their work, helping to awaken a delight in learning in their students, take a moment to encourage them in the important work they are doing.

Who knows what great reformer might arise, or what great apologist might emerge to help steer a generation to grace, once God has intervened to redeem their skills and desires.

For the first part of the Martin Luther Story click here

To check some of the differences between Martin Luther and John Calvin click here

© 2008 Lex Loizides

Luther on Anxiety, Studying and the Restoration of the Church

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This will be our last visit inside the Luther household. Reluctantly, we must take our leave. And here, Luther gives us some parting wisdom regarding anxiety, study, preaching, the purpose of the church and on reaching our friends and neighbours with the good news of Jesus Christ.

On Anxiety
‘Time heals many things but worrying about them does not.’ (p.200)
‘Nothing has hurt me more than worrying, especially at night.’ (p.234)

On the need for diligent study
‘God’s gifts are boundless. He heaps upon us all things at once in the greatest profusion. He gives us the liberal arts and languages. The choicest books are to be had for a song. But woe to our sloth!’ (p.169)

On not preaching ‘over peoples’ heads’
‘In my sermons I do not think of Bugenhagen, Jonas and Melancthon, for they know as much as I do, so I preach not to them but to my little Lena and Hans and Elsa. It would be a foolish gardener who would attend to one flower to the neglect of the great majority.’ (p. 192-193)

‘Let all your sermons be very plain and simple. Think not of the prince but of the uncultivated and ignorant people. The prince himself is made of the same stuff as they! I preach very simply to the uneducated and it suits everybody. Though I know Greek, Hebrew and Latin, these languages I keep for use among ourselves.’ (p.193)

On the best result of good theological study

‘The best thing that theology can teach us is to know Christ. Therefore Peter says: “Grow in the knowledge of Jesus Christ.”’ (p.171)

On the Restoration of the Church
‘Building a church is not instituting ceremonies…but freeing consciences and strengthening faith.’ (p.227)

On bringing the gospel to the world
‘The first and greatest commandment requires faith and fear of God, the second [requires] love to one’s neighbour, which means we ought to preach to and pray for them and not flee into corners.’ (p.153)

(All references are from Table Talk, Smith and Gallinger edition 1915. Modern paperback edition published 1979 by Keats, USA)

For the first part of the Martin Luther Story click here

For the next part of the Martin Luther Story click here

© 2009 Lex Loizides

In Conversation with Martin Luther – Table Talk

So what was Martin Luther really like? Well, we do have a relatively good idea from the notes taken down by students and friends of his and compiled into a book that was called ‘Table Talk’.

We’ve already seen Luther in humourous mood. Here we get a closer look at the serious side of the man: his likes, dislikes, and passions. These various statement were written by those who heard him in various social contexts in his own home and provide us with a front row opportunity to hear from him.

Luther was spurred on to reform by a charismatic prophetic word
So let’s jump in immediately at the controversial end of the pool and note that Luther was encouraged to initiate reform and to persevere by news of a prophetic word conveyed to him by his spiritual advisor and overseer Johan Staupitz (Staupitz was vicar-general of the Augustinian monks in Germany). Recalling the time when he was struggling with the implications of Scripture against the papacy he said,

‘Staupitz encouraged me much. When he was in Rome in 1511 he heard the prophecy publicly proclaimed: “An Eremite (the Augustinians were called Eremties) shall arise and spoil the papacy!” A certain Franciscan at Rome had seen this in a vision.’ (TT p.9)

On the power of the Scriptures
‘The word of God is free, and will not be confined by human decrees.’ (p.86)

On the inability of good works
‘Works never bring peace to the conscience.’ (p.126)

On Justification
‘Prior to that time I dreaded and hated the Psalms and other parts of Scripture whenever they mentioned the ‘righteousness of God’, by which I understood that He Himself is righteous and judged us according to our sins, not that He accepted us and made us righteous. All Scripture stood as a wall, until I was enlivened by the words: ‘the just shall live by faith.’ From this I learned that the righteousness of God is faith in the mercy of God, by which He Himself justifies us through grace.’ (p.131)

(All references are from Table Talk, Smith and Gallinger edition 1915. Modern paperback edition published 1979 by Keats, USA)

For the first part of the Martin Luther Story click here

For the next part of the Martin Luther Story click here

© 2009 Lex Loizides

‘Here I Stand!’ – A defining moment in world History

 

The Papal Bull excommunicating Luther
The Papal Bull excommunicating Luther

Before Luther’s greatest moment of public clarity and integrity came an act of defiance. Following the debate with Eck in Leipzig the Pope excommunicated him.

This was publicised in a ‘Papal Bull’ (a letter or decree with the Papal Seal or, ‘bulla’) largely written by Eck and distributed throughout Germany with an additional command that Luther’s works to be burned.

Luther’s response was to burn a copy of the Bull itself, along with the books of Catholic Canon Law. This act of defiance was witnessed by an excited crowd of Wittenberg residents and many students who sang praises to God as the papers burned.

Eck, the Bull and a Diet of Worms!
The various names and terms have a comic quality about them now but Luther was nearing the most dangerous part of his career yet. Luther was both vulnerable and heroic.

‘I will enter Worms under the banner of Christ against the gates of hell!’ Luther said.

The ‘Diet of Worms’ (or, The Imperial Assembly in the town of Worms) took place in 1521.

The famous John Eck was sent to question Luther and conclusively prove him to be a heretic.  The crowds were immense and it was with great difficulty that Luther and his team entered the hall.

A great gathering of nobles and church officials were there including the 21 year old Emperor Charles V, six electors of the empire, 24 dukes, 8 margraves, 30 archbishops, bishops and abbotts, 7 ambassadors, papal nuncios etc.  All in all 206 of the leading political and religious figures of the day.  It was an intimidating sight.

To Luther’s surprise, there was no debate but simply a command for him to repent of the things he had written, to recant. Eck asked Luther to acknowledge that the books piled on the tables were his. Luther said yes.

Eck then asked him to withdraw and reject the teaching that the books contained.  Sensing the gravity of the situation, Luther asked for time to reflect on the question in order that he might act wisely and in accordance with God’s word.  The meeting was adjourned till the following day.

Luther prayed, ‘There is no strength in me. This is Your cause, O God, not mine.  On you I rely, not on man.’

The next day when Luther was again asked to retract the doctrines he gave a speech, first in Latin then, true to form, he gave it again in German.

'Here I stand! I cannot do otherwise!'
'Here I stand! I cannot do otherwise!'

He ended with these famous words:

‘Unless I am convinced by testimonies of the Scriptures or by clear arguments that I am in error – for popes and councils have often erred and contradicted themselves – I cannot withdraw, for I am subject to the Scriptures I have quoted; my conscience is captive to the word of God.

It is unsafe and dangerous to do anything against one’s conscience.

Here I stand; I cannot do otherwise.  So help me God.’

The meeting closed with the Emperor storming out and later said, ‘How can a single monk be right and the testimony of a thousand years of Christendom be wrong?’

Luther returned in safety and spent a period in hiding, but his influence – and the influence of the word of God – was felt all across Europe. He published many books and sermons and translated the Bible into German.  Churches were reformed, many preachers raised up and large numbers turned to the Lord.  A new era had begun.

Here I stand – trusting in Your Word
Here I stand – needing the intervention of God to vindicate His gospel
Here I stand – knowing that Truth cannot be suppressed forever
Here I stand – on behalf of my generation and the generations to follow
Here I stand – for the the truth of the gospel of Jesus Christ
Here I stand – where else can I go? Jesus has the words of eternal life! (John 6:6)

References: The Reformation – Owen Chadwick (Pelican), Luther the Reformer – James Kittleson (IVP), Sketches from Church History – SM Houghton (Banner of Truth)

For the first part of the Martin Luther Story click here

For the next part of the Martin Luther Story click here

© 2008 Lex Loizides

Faith Under Fire – Luther in Leipzig

Johannes Eck - Luther's most challenging opponent
Johannes Eck - Luther's most challenging opponent

In 1519 in Leipzig a debate took place between Luther and the academic papal heavyweight, John Eck.

Eck scored a huge point by making Luther concede that he agreed with some of the teachings of the hated ‘heretic’ John Huss.

Luther: ‘Among the condemned beliefs of John Huss and his disciples, there are many which are truly Christian and evangelical and which the Catholic church cannot condemn.’ (quoted in The Reformation, Owen Chadwick, Pelican p.50)

Luther caused a sensation at this debate by declaring that the supremacy of the Pope was unknown in the Scriptures, that it was a fairly recent historical development (only 400 years old) and that the General Councils were in error by giving their support to it.  Christ, and only Christ, was the head of the Church.

Luther returned from the debate with his 200 bodyguards (loyal University students) and Melanchthon, who later succeeded him as the widely acknowledged leader of the German Reformation.

Luther enjoyed growing, and carefully thought through, political support as did other emerging Reformers in Europe.  Spiritually and politically, it was time for Europe to break free from Rome.

And Luther’s most famous trial and his most robust declaration of personal integrity was still to come…

For the first part of the Martin Luther Story click here

For the next part of the Martin Luther Story click here

© 2008 Lex Loizides

On Defending the Faith – Luther in Augsburg

Luther comes under fire for his faith

The sale of Indulgences
The sale of Indulgences

Luther was initially surprised to find that he was considered a dangerous voice of rebellion against Rome. He had not intended to be. Perhaps he was naive. Perhaps he had not initially realised how far reaching his re-discovery of justification by faith actually was.

But his opponents seemed to pick up on it immediately. And so did his supporters, including the influential sovereign, Frederick, one of the Roman Empire’s electors (a member of a select and highly influential group who elected the Emperor).

The sale of indulgences were widely considered as a means of drawing of huge amounts of money from Germany to Rome. While Luther’s revulsion was theological and moral, Fredericks was also political.

What began in private study of Scripture soon led to his posting objections to indulgences on the Witenberg church door. This in turn created a very public debate.

The Pope called Luther to recant.  Luther refused.  The Pope pressurised Frederick to deliver ‘this child of the devil’ to Rome. But Frederick urged the Pope to consider academic hearings instead.

Luther appeared in Augsburg in 1518 to face the learned Cardinal Catejan. Luther was ready but nervous. He knew that Huss had gone to a similar hearing with the promise of safety, only to be arrested and killed.

Kittleson writes, ‘When he entered Augsburg on October 7, his stomach was so upset and his bowels ran so freely that he could no longer walk.’ (Luther the Reformer, Kittleson p.121)

Catejan’s objective was simply to get Luther to recant and promise not to upset the peace of the church. The debate lasted several days and ended in Catejan shouting at Luther to get out and only appear before him when he was ready to recant! Luther had escaped.

For the first part of the Martin Luther Story click here

For the next part of the Martin Luther Story click here

© 2008 Lex Loizides

Advice to Preachers from Martin Luther

Martin Luther

Dr. D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, in his classic, ‘Preachers and Preaching’ (Zondervan), gives refreshing and brilliant advice to preachers on just about every aspect of preaching.

Some might be surprised to learn that he also advises about knowing your own temperament, time management (so you don’t ‘fritter away the morning’), what to read and even comments on the pleasure of enjoying good music.

Of course Lloyd-Jones wasn’t the first great preacher to instruct others about the act of preaching. The greatest of the English speaking preachers, CH Spurgeon had done so at the end of the 19th Century (‘Lectures to my Students on the Art of Preaching’, Christian Focus). And before him, Martin Luther himself had given advice.

Here are a few incisive comments from the great Reformer which will help and challenge every public speaker.

On long Sermons
‘To me a long sermon is an abomination, for the desire of the audience to listen is destroyed, and the preacher only defeats himself.’ (p.188 )

‘Every priest must have his private sacrifices. Therefore Bugenhagen  sacrifices his hearers with his long sermons, for we are his victims. He did it finely today!’ [Bugenhagen was the parish priest of Wittenberg, Luther’s home town] (p.193)

How to be a good preacher

‘A preacher should have the following qualifications:
1. An ability to teach
2. A good mind
3. Eloquence
4. A good voice
5. A good memory
6. Power to leave off!
7. Diligence
8.Whole-souled devotion to his calling
9. A willingness to be bothered by everyone
10. Patience to bear all things.
In ministers nothing is seen more easily or more quickly than their faults. A preacher may have a hundred virtues, yet they may all be obscured by a single defect.’ (p.189-190)

On Sturdiness!
‘Melancthon is lighter than I and therefore more easily moved if things don’t go his way. I am heavier and stupider and am not so much affected by things I cannot remedy.’ (p.200)

On Dieting and Hygiene
‘It is true that good diet is the best medicine for anyone who can stand it, but to live hygienically is to live miserably!’ (p. 235)
Page references refer to Table Talk, Smith and Gallinger edition 1915. Modern paperback edition published 1979 by Keats, USA. The headings have been added.

For the first part of the Martin Luther Story click here

For the next part of the Martin Luther Story click here

© 2008 Lex Loizides

Laughing with Luther – quips and comments from the supper table

Martin_Luther

In this post we go inside Martin Luther’s house, into his home and we take our seats around his table and listen in on the conversation.

As students and friends were invited by the ever-hospitable Luthers to eat with them, some wrote down some of the things that Martin said. These various sayings were collected and are now usually published under the title of  Table Talk.

Here are a few examples.

On ‘Life Cycles’
‘My boy Hans is now entering his seventh year. Every seven years a person changes; the first period is infancy, the second childhood. At fourteen they begin to see the world and lay the foundations of education, at twenty one the young men seek marriage, at twenty eight they are householders and patres-familias, at thirty five they are magistrates in church and state, until forty two when they are kings. After that the senses begin to decline. Thus every seven years brings a new condition in body and character, as has happened to me and to us all.’ (p.43)

On Husbands and Wives
‘A good woman deserves a good husband. To have peace and love in marriage is a gift which is next to the knowledge of the gospel. [Turning to his wife:] Katie, you have a good husband who loves you. Let another be Empress, but you give thanks to God!’ (p.46)

‘God first created a single man, which was a good idea! Then he created woman, and therewith the trouble began! And so the monks, acquiescing with God’s first plan, live without wives, for they are wiser than God!’ (p.152)

On investing in your Children’s education
‘The best thing that ever came out of my father’s property is that he brought me up. No money is ever better spent than in education.’ (p.229)

On badly written worship songs
‘How does it happen that with reference to secular things we have so many a fine poem and so many a beautiful song, while for spiritual edification we have such wretched, cold things?’ (p.100)

On being willing to admit the Pope to church membership
‘If the Pope will throw away his crown and descend from his throne and primacy, and confess that he has erred, has destroyed the church and poured out innocent blood, then we will receive him into the church.’

This sample of sayings are from Table Talk, Smith and Gallinger edition 1915. Modern paperback edition published 1979 by Keats, USA. The headings have been added.

For the first part of the Martin Luther Story click here

For the next part of the Martin Luther Story click here

© 2008 Lex Loizides