The Father of Modern Missions was a Calvinist

It may come as a surprise to those unaware of the influence of Reformed thinkers and pioneers but it’s true.

William Carey was a Calvinist.

To those who are familiar with church history, of course, this is not particularly surprising. There have been passionate, missional, church-planting pioneers and Evangelists on both sides of the theological debate: Reformed or Arminian.

The causes of the church’s lack of evangelistic zeal are usually found elsewhere – weak leadership, worldliness, lack of Holy Spirit power, unbelief, fear – and it is shameful that great and glorious doctrines are used as a kind of fig leaf.

Like most other Protestant missionaries of his day
Dr Thomas Schirrmacher writes, ‘Carey was a Protestant by conviction…The turning point, he believed, was reached by the Reformers.

‘He names especially Luther, Calvin, Melanchthon, Bucer and Peter Martyr. He [said, in ‘The Enquiry’, that]… missionaries must, among other things, be “of undoubted orthodoxy in their sentiments” [ie, Reformed].

‘Carey’s theology is not only unusual for modern tastes in its Postmillennialism, but also in its Calvinist soteriology, for many now believe that the doctrine of predestination extinguishes missionary effort rather than intensifying it.

‘Carey, like most other Protestant missionaries and missionary leaders of his day, agreed with the Calvinist view.’ (from an essay, ‘William Carey, Postmillennialism and the Theology of World Missions’)

Let Reformed Bloggers Rejoice!
So Carey was a Calvinist. Let all Reformed bloggers rejoice! Well, not so fast!

Carey’s passion wasn’t exhausted by writing intense, Scripture-filled blogs, letters to the editor, or even in crafting water-tight sermons that harmonise good doctrine and the need for missional churches.

No, he didn’t just preach well that others should go, he and his family left for India in 1793. Radical. Normal.

As a result of his ‘Expect Great Things’ sermon some friends gathered in 1792 in Kettering, England, formed the Baptist Missionary Society and raised just over thirteen pounds for worldwide evangelisation!

For the next part of the William Carey story click here

To read the first part of the William Carey story click here

© 2011 Church History Blog / 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

Luther wrestles with God – Through Anger, Guilt, Revelation and Forgiveness

When Luther returned to Wittenberg he began teaching and expounding the Scriptures and his thirst for truth intensified.

He writes:
‘I was seized with the conviction that I must understand [Paul’s] letter to the Romans.  I did not have a heart of stone, but to that moment one phrase in chapter one stood in my way.

I hated the idea, ‘in it the righteousness of God is revealed’ …according to which God is righteous and punishes the unrighteous sinner.

I lived without reproach as a monk, but my conscience was disturbed to its very depths and all I knew about myself was that I was a sinner.

I could not believe that anything I thought or did or prayed satisfied God.  I did not love, nay, I hated the righteous God who punishes sinners.

Certainly, and with intense grumbling (perhaps even blasphemy), I was angry with God and said, ‘As if it were indeed not enough that miserable sinners who are eternally lost through original sin and are crushed again by every calamity through the Ten Commandments, God Himself adds pain to pain in the gospel by threatening us with His righteousness and wrath!’

At last, meditating day and night…by the mercy of God, I gave heed to the context of the words, ‘In it the righteousness of God is revealed, as it is written, ‘He who through faith is righteous shall live.’

Then I began to understand that the righteousness of God is…a gift of God, namely by faith…

Here I felt as if I were entirely born again and had entered paradise itself through gates that had been flung open.

An entirely new side of the Scriptures opened itself to me…and I extolled my sweetest word with a love as great as the loathing with which before I had hated the term ‘the righteousness of God’.

Thus, that verse in Paul was for me truly the gate of paradise.’

Luther wrestled with God! Next time we’ll see how he wrestled his generation and began a reform movement that took on the world!

(The quote is from Luther’s Works, Vol 34, p.336-338 Fortress Press,and quoted in Luther, the Reformer by James M. Kittleson, IVP)

For the next part of the Martin Luther story click here

© 2008 Lex Loizides

Sarcasm and Scholarship – How to Start a Reformation

Erasmus


Desiderius Erasmus (1466-1536)

Along with Savanorola of Florence, the Dutchman Erasmus, from Rotterdam, was one of the shining lights of the Renaissance. The Renaissance (from the French – ‘re-birth’), was a movement seeking to throw off the ignorance produced in large measure by the exclusivity of the clergy, and which drew inspiration from classical literature and art for inspiration.

Erasmus attended several of the universities of Western Europe including Oxford where he began to turn his attention to Biblical studies.

He made two important contributions to the Reformation. Firstly, he wrote extensively against the corruption and abuses by both priests and monks (e.g., his book ‘In Praise of Folly’).  His style was sarcastic, witty, dismissive. His was a daring, sharp and hugely popular way of pointing out the tragic failings of the Mediaeval church, although he never left the Catholic Church and hoped for an internal reformation.

But in his criticisms he was aiming for genuine devotion:
‘No veneration of Mary is more beautiful than the imitation of her humility. No devotion to the saints is more acceptable to God than the imitations on their virtues.

Say you have a great devotion to St Peter and St Paul. Then by all means imitate the faith of the former and the charity of the latter. This will certainly be more rewarding than a dozen trips to Rome.’ (Quoted in The Protestant Reformation of Europe, Andrew Johnston, Longman, UK)

The Greek New Testament in print

Erasmus' Greek and Latin Parallel New Testament

Secondly, he edited and published the first printed Greek New Testament in 1516. The New Testament immediately drew attention to the obvious differences of the state of the Roman Church and the church in the Scriptures themselves.

The doctrines of Grace, hardly anywhere to be seen in Erasmus’ pre-Reformation Church, were everywhere in the Scriptures, and the nature and practices of the early church made the differences all the more obvious.  It was now just a matter of time.

Erasmus opened the door for the clear testimony of truth to impact both church and society. When his critics complained that he had laid the egg that Luther hatched, Erasmus defended himself with good humour, saying that he had expected a different kind of bird to emerge!

NB. A point of interest: Andrew Johnston is not only the author of The Protestant Reformation of Europe but now pastors a church in the UK

© 2008 Lex Loizides

Controversial Cartoons and the Conversion of Europe – Part 2

The ‘trial’ of Jan Huss of Prague

S.M. Houghton writes:
‘Kneeling down in the presence of all, Huss prayed, ‘Lord Jesus, pardon all my enemies for the sake of Your great mercy! You know that they have falsley accused me, brought forward false witnesses, and concocted false charges against me. Pardon them for the sake of Your infinite mercy.’

The Archbishop of Milan and six other bishops were appointed to perform the ceremony of taking from Huss the office of priest. This done, the words rang out, ‘We commit thy soul to the devil’. ‘And I commit it to the Lord Jesus Christ’ cried the prisoner.

As they hurried him to the place of burning ‘a crown of blasphemy’ was put on his head, bearing the words, ‘This is an arch heretic’, and depicting devils tearing his soul.

Falling to his knees Huss uttered repeatedly, ‘Into Your hands I commend my spirit’, for Christ strengthened him marvellously. ‘I am willing’, he said, ‘patiently and publicly to endure this dreadful, shameful and cruel death for the sake of Your gospel and the preaching of Your Word.’ (Houghton, Sketches from Church History, Banner of Truth p.70 language modernised)

Huss was a further voice proclaiming that the Bible, and not popes or priests, was the infallible guide for faith and life, and that the church should be compared to and seek to live up to its New Testament original.

Although a popular and influential preacher and writer, Huss somehow sensed that he was one ‘making straight paths’ for others to follow.

D’Aubugne writes that ‘prophetic words issued from the depths of the dungeon. He foresaw that a real reformation of the Church was at hand. When driven out of Prague and compelled to wander through the fields of Bohemia, where an immense crowd followed his steps and hung upon his words, he had cried out,

‘The wicked have begun by preparing a treacherous snare for the goose’ [which when pronounced sounded like ‘Huss’] ‘which is only a domestic bird…whose flight is not very high in the air [but] other birds, soaring more boldly towards the sky, will break through…with still greater force. Instead of a feeble goose, the truth will send forth eagles!’ (J.H. Merle d’Aubigne, History of the Reformation, Religious Tract Society 1846, p.30)

It was almost exactly 100 years later that Luther ‘broke through’, hammering 95 theses to the Wittenberg Church door.

© 2008 Lex Loizides