Tag Archives: Church History

Devotional Hymns from a Dead Time

I have been learning about the various movements in the English Church in the 18th century. Sadly, most of them were just sad. There was the Broad Church which, as the name suggests, became as shallow and wide as possible to allow all beliefs in. (Maybe you could call it the seeker sensitive position in the days of rationalism). There was the High Church, which was an effort to return to worship and theology all that was lost in the reformation. Basically an attempt to be as Roman Catholic without actually rejoining (including worship/veneration of saints and Mary!) Both of these movements are fairly disappointing. Yet there was also the Low Church, or the evangelical movement.
In the evangelical movement, there were many great names, like Wilberforce, Newton, Ryle (a bit later), Simeon, and one of my favorite hymn writers, Isaac Watts.

As always it is encouraging to think of faithful men amidst a generation of doctrinal laziness, and regrettable returns to works righteousness. So, here is a hymn I have been enjoying recently that came out of that time despite the Church’s weaknesses:

Come, Holy Spirit, heavenly Dove,
With all Thy quick’ning powers;
Kindle a flame of sacred love
In these cold hearts of ours.

Look how we grovel here below,
Fond of these trifling toys;
Our souls can neither fly nor go
To reach eternal joys.

In vain we tune our formal songs,
In vain we strive to rise;
Hosannas languish on our tongues,
And our devotion dies.

Dear Lord! and shall we ever live
At this poor dying rate?
Our love so faint, so cold to Thee,
And Thine to us so great!

Come, Holy Spirit, heavenly Dove,
With all Thy quick’ning powers;
Come, shed abroad the Savior’s love
And that shall kindle ours.

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Church History Post 3

As you reflect on all that happened politically in England and Scotland, how was the Church involved? What do you think are some of the pros and cons to the involvement?

Given the basic assumption of the time that the state and church are to hold the same beliefs, the intertwined story is itself a surprise to my own sensibilities. The history of the reformation in England lends itself to dramatic twists in the story, as well as much frustration over the way in which the state intervened in Christ’s body.

As it benefited the desire and ambition of the monarch the gospel was prospered. So, when Henry VIII saw fit to disregard the Pope, the suppression of Luther and Wycliffe was lifted and the gospel spread rapidly. In fact it was Henry VIII’s desire to have multiple marriage that represented the various periods of freedom for the gospel in England. Thus, the different children’s loyalties varied according to the legitimacy of their mother’s marriage, the reformers either prospering or being persecuted.

Despite the fickleness of the royalty, the Church seemed to persist with clear vision of her goal. Obviously some clergy kept their posts simply by switching doctrinal badges when it was useful. Yet the degree to which the gospel took off when allowed to do so indicates that the Church never lost sight of the gospel.

One lasting effect of the times of governmental favor was the book of common prayer and the idea that what the Church does is to be common to all parishes and dictated by the monarch. I believe this sets the stage for the Non-Conformist and Puritan (if they are any different) clash with the Anglicans. Still it seems that the Church of England is bound to the crown in an unhealthy way, but I am not sure if that relationship has changed at all.

Scotland’s story seems just as dramatic with the Lords capturing the castle of St. Andrews, Knox’s capture and time in slavery etc. Yet, what seems to have happened in Scotland that didn’t in England was the constant confrontation (however stormy or calm) between the lead reformers and the monarch. Of course, Knox was only able to do what he did because all the people and Lords were behind him. Yet that tension between the Church and the State is what interested me the most.

Much of what we believe today is spawned materialism and evolutionary theory mixed with some good old capitalism. The belief is that it is possible to rule and govern with only objectively true assumptions. The problem is that even a completely secular government is determined by its own set of assumptions on the nature and metaphysic of man, his place in the world, what man is meant to do on earth etc. So to have a secular government is a small step from another monarch, since both are biased.

Yet, as much as I would like to reject secular rationalism and its attempt to establish some objective basis for law, I cannot admit that the State and the Church have nothing to do with each other. I hate the ways that the Church is led into heresy, ease and capitulation because of rulers who annex the Church. Yet, I have to admit that Luther, Knox and the British Reformers couldn’t have succeeded without the Lord opening political doors. Again, as much as Henry VIII is a great example of how the gospel can prosper under a good ruler, he is equally an example of the Church needing to be free of the reach of the ruler. Luther’s two kingdom’s view looks very appealing on this topic (though not so much in other areas).

So I am left in a tension and acknowledge the co-dependence of the Church and the State. The glorious part, however, is that the Church ultimately has Christ as her hope and trust.

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Church History Post 2

From the reading of Calvin’s testimony in his preface to his Commentary on the Book of the Psalms, how does he describe his own personality? Were you surprised by this assessment of himself? Why or why not?

Calvin describes himself as bashful, and apparently he isn`t just being modest. It sounds like the preface to this commentary is one of the few places Calvin speaks about himself. While I didn`t expect him to be boisterous like Luther, especially given the way he writes, I was nonetheless interested to see the particular workings of his disposition.

The stereotype (all too well founded) is that theologians have no care for people, the church, or really anything but the very focus of their study. (And sometimes their study is elevated above the Lord himself.) Yet Calvin doesn`t fit this category very nicely. His constant mention of desiring to `retire` to study clearly shows that he had a burning longing to know. Yet his love for God set him apart. It was his love of God that spurred him to publish the first edition of the Institutes, and thereby `come out of hiding`. It was his love of God that drew him back to Geneva `with many tears and sorrow`. Since he cherished seclusion it might be presumed his studiousness was only for his own benefit. Rather, he wrote, taught, preached, governed, and studied for the Church as a whole and in Geneva.

The general trajectory of his life might convince us that even with pure motives for study, knowledge is most useful as a benefit to Christ`s body. Calvin seemed to learn the lesson thoroughly enough that it shaped his theology. As he says that the trials with which God has exercised his soul have opened the door for him to better understand the prayers of the Psalms, he demonstrates the degree to which our understanding is dependent on God and not reason. This is a very humble (and I would say biblical) epistemology; our knowledge is subject to God in his creation, and therefore we cannot elevate ourselves above him. This is what Calvin constantly emphasizes in the Institutes. So it seems that the very pains, burning conviction for the Church, and tears also drew him to a fuller articulation of the place of knowledge (and therefore study) in relation to our Lord and his body.

It would be my prayer that I would be as concerned for the welfare of the Church in my studies as Calvin was.

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Church History Post 1

I have been taking a class through Covenant Theological Seminary on Reformation through Modern Church History. Every week we are asked to post our thoughts on a certain prompt. I will begin posting these responses; below is the first.

As you study the life of Martin Luther, where are you challenged in your own life? How will you use the history of people like Luther and the other Reformers in your ministries?

There are many things that are welcomed as I read the account of Luther`s life. His coarseness, vulgarity, sharpness with opponents, all are close to my own failings and tendencies. His tenderness to Katie Von Bora, love of God`s word and people and willingness to stand for the truth are all things that I would aspire to.

The most surprising thing, noted in lectures and readings, was how aloof he was of all things political. Obviously he was aware of the great politico-religious monolith whose fury and wrath he was welcoming by his work. Yet he never once courted political support. It`s almost as if he didn`t care one way or another what the tides of political favor were, given their changing nature. He followed the instruction of his political superiors, but never sought to maneuver or manipulate for his own advantage. He ventured himself and his family (no less), completely on God`s care and kindness to him. It seems he never consulted the polls, but simply sailed out on God`s faithfulness into the very tumultuous sea in which he had no clout.

Despite his intentional ignorance of all things political, he continually benefited from the protection of Frederick the Wise. As well, much of Frederick`s ability to protect him derived from the constantly changing political-military landscape. Had it not been for the Turkish invasion on the East, Charles V would have been able to to prosecute Luther, and sharply so. As well, Francis I`s continual provocation of Charles left the Emperor in need of unified German support. The peace signed at Nuremberg seems mostly to have been negotiated by Lutheran princes. Some of these princes were involved in the Lutheran cause not for any theological convictions but because of their disdain for the Pope`s meddling in their lands. Nationalism was quickly joined to the protestant theology as dual force for the removal of Papal and Imperial authority from Germany.

All of this, of course, is a testament to Luther`s own trust in his `mighty fortress`. Moreover, it is a great picture in favor of his two kingdoms view. Much of the trouble he got himself into was when he dabbled in the civil (i.e. advising a violent suppression of the peasant rebellion.) As much as his two kingdom view has against it, it is certainly not in danger of any sort of Constantinian submission to evil authority. The church is preserved by its separation from temporal power.

What is striking in all of this, and convinces me of the value of particular ministries, is Luther`s keen focus on the Word, and ultimately on the education of the people in that Word. He was intentionally aloof from the political realm, it seems, because of his intense devotion to the Word of God. As well, he was not simply concerned with his own appropriation of Biblical truth, but of all people`s. He was deeply concerned with changing the worldview of people, and not the governmental structures. So much in missions (and sometimes in church work,) is focused on development and partnering with the government. While this is certainly a good goal, it succinctly ignores the primacy of the Church as God`s tool. Development is preferred to gospel teaching, changing men and women`s hearts. Much can be said in defense of either side, both having real merit. Yet, looking at Luther and the other reformer`s I am convinced that education, devotion to the word, study, preaching, and education of the polis are the means I am to be committed to in ministry. My work is to be a co-worker in the changing of men and women`s hearts and minds. Much energy is spent elsewhere on good things, but I (and I am convinced all of us), am called to be the Church to the local church and to the world through the ministry of the word.