Reformation Heroes Today

For the western church, Reformation day is October 31–the day when we remember all of the men who did so much to bring about change in the early modern church. It’s when images of Luther hammering, Calvin writing, and Zwingli dying in battle come to mind. But much of the European Reformation was simply preaching and teaching the gospel to unbelievers: mission work in Roman Catholic areas.

And for future generations of the church, thoughts of reformation may not be associated with gowned Europeans, but with 20th century Chinese men and women. Names that are not so familiar to us in the west may, in the future, become better known and more influential than the names we know. Just as we recognize Calvin’s name, but probably not Fulgentius of Ruspe’s, so our brothers and sisters on the other side of the world may become familiar with names that we don’t know, even as Luther becomes a distant memory. Continue reading

A Praying Family

The quote below is an encouraging demonstration of how God can and does use prayer through generations of believers. The example of a praying father or grandfather can reverberate through centuries:

“Knox’s praying legacy extended for generations in Scotland. His youngest daughter, Elizabeth, married John Welch, a man, like his father-in-law, who became famous for his preaching and praying. The Welch home was filled with ‘earnest and familiar talking with God,’ and it was always audible and often loud. Welch would rise in the middle of the night to pray, and Elizabeth, fearing he would catch cold, would rise and cover her kneeling husband with a plaid for warmth…
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The Greatest Promotion

The English Reformer Hugh Latimer (c.1487-1555) wrote the following to his friend and fellow minister, Nicholas Ridley, as they sat imprisoned awaiting a likely death penalty by burning during the reign of Queen Mary:

“Be of good cheer in the Lord, remember what he requires of you, and what he promises you. Our common enemy will do no more than God will permit him. “God is faithful, which will not suffer us to be tempted above our strength,” &c. They can but kill the body, which must die regardless. They cannot even do that when they want, but when God wills, when the appointed time has come… Give a reasonable account of your faith, if they will quietly hear you; if not, you know, in a wicked place of judgment a man may keep silence following the example of Christ. Don’t let them deceive you… with their fallacies. As Paul says, “Let no man deceive you.”

“Fear of death does persuade a great number. The flesh is weak; but the willingness of the spirit will refresh the weakness of the flesh. The number of the martyrs under the throne must be fulfilled. If we are set apart to that we are blessed. It is the greatest promotion God gives in this world… “to whom it is given not only to believe, but to suffer.”

“Who is sufficient for these things? All our ability, all our sufficiency is in God. He requires, he promises… Pray for me.”

Hugh Latimer, Conferences Between Nicholas Ridley and Hugh Latimer. [1555]

Tyndale on Bible Reading

A few great, updated quotes from William Tyndale (c.1494-1536) on reading the Bible (he would have wanted them in the vernacular..):

“It is not enough to just read and talk about the Bible; we must desire, and ask God, every day, to open our eyes, and make us understand and feel why he is giving us this Scripture passage, so that it will be applied.”

“Scripture is a light and shows us the true way of what to do and what to hope for.”

“Stick to the text and plain story, work to grasp the full meaning of everything in it, and note everything in it as being directly relevant to your own heart and soul.”

“The New Testament was always there, even from the beginning of the world. There were always promises of Christ to come, from the beginning of the Old Testament. By faith in these promises the elect were justified before God.”

William Tyndale, Prologues to the Five Books of Moses. [1530]

Women of the Reformation

My husband keeps me well supplied with good books – primarily biographies. At the moment, I’m working through two collections of biographies of women: James Good’s Women of the Reformed Church, and Roland Bainton’s Women of the Reformation in France and England. Neither are recent publications; Bainton’s has been around for almost 40 years, and Good’s, initially published as a series of articles in a church periodical, first came out as a single volume in 1901. Both have helpful insights into the lives of women who helped shape the church, and as a bonus, both books have covers free from the typical flowers, lace, and wistful looking females that often clutter the front of women’s books.

The list of women with whom Good deals stretches from Calvin’s wife, Idelette, to an Victorian American lady. Though the women are so diverse, they tend to share two traits in addition to being Reformed: amazing hospitality and a dedication to educate themselves and their children. Despite having a strong Victorian flavour, Good’s writing is conversational, simple and easy to absorb between folding laundry and making supper, even with kids running around. Good wrote hoping that “the lives of these Reformed Saints will stimulate the ladies of our Church to greater interest in our splendid Church history, and to greater activity in missions and the practical work of the Church”. (2) These sketches, though lacking depth of detail, certainly did whet my appetite for more about these remarkable women, and make me want to imitate their piety and service.

Bainton supplies all the detail and support for his work that Good does not – footnotes, bibliographies, and period woodcuts round out each substantial chapter. These make it more of a “when-the-kids-are-in-bed” read. If you are prepared to work at understanding all the intermarriage and sometimes complicated lines of succession in Reformation Europe’s courts, it’s worth the time. Bainton’s beautiful style and wit make it pleasant work. Although he deals with both Protestant and Roman Catholic women (Bainton even includes Bloody Mary in the list), all of his subjects impacted the process of Reformation in some way. Because of “a paucity of material” (9) on pastor’s wives, the biographies deal with noble and royal women. In this volume of his series, part of Bainton’s purpose in writing is to explore the idea that “the individualizing of faith made for the personalizing of marriage”. (8) There is certainly much to learn not only about their marriages, but also how they used their positions in family and court, often for the good of the church.

If you have already started a Christmas wish list, both of these books would be good to add to it.

Calvin, Renaissance Art, and Nakedness

A while ago I wrote an article at Reformation21 on “Art, Nakedness and Redemption.” Prepping for a class lecture on the theology of Calvin, I came across these great quotes from Calvin in his Institutes on the functions and limits of art, with allusion to nakedness in art:

“I am not gripped by the superstition of thinking that absolutely no images are permissable [ie. outside of the worship life of the church]. But because sculpture and painting are gifts of God, I seek a pure and legitimate use of each, lest those things which the Lord have conferred upon us for his glory and our good be not only polluted by perverse misuse but also be turned to our destruction…”

Calvin goes on to praise art which legitimately instructs and brings pleasure to the viewer; at the same time he is not hesitant to reaffirm the limits of what is pure and legitimate in art by critiquing the contrary. Calvin’s response to at least a sector of Italian Renaissance art connects with the case against nakedness in art. Turning to discuss the place of paintings of “images and forms of bodies” in the Roman church, he takes particular note of

“how wickedly and indecently the greater part of them have been fashioned, how licentiously the painters and sculptors have played the wanton here – a matter that I touched on a little earlier.”

The comment from a little earlier:

“The pictures or statues that they dedicate to saints – what are they but examples of the most abandoned lust and obscenity? If anyone wished to model himself after them, he would be fit for the lash. Indeed, brothels show harlots clad more virtuously and modestly than churches show those objects which they wish to be thought images of virgins. For martyrs they fashion a habit not a whit more decent.”

Calvin, Institutes, book I, ch. XI, 7-9. [1559]