The Explosive Effect of the Bible

If there is a single thread running through the whole story of the Reformation, it is the explosive and renovating and often disintegrating effect of the Bible.[1]

It’s this idea that Timothy George unpacks in Reading Scripture with the Reformers.[2] So often, when it comes to our retelling of the events of the Reformation, we focus on the preaching ministry of pastors like Luther, Calvin, Zwingli, and others. And rightly so! After all, the recovery of God’s Word went hand-in-hand with a recovery of the preaching of God’s Word. In large part, this is how God’s Word was opened up for people.

However, we must not forget that once people received the Word, they themselves now were equipped to speak and defend and live out that Word. In Reading Scripture with the Reformers, George provides several vignettes of the transformational effect of the Word, even among some unexpected individuals: Continue reading “The Explosive Effect of the Bible”

The Development of Theology: A Review of J.N.D. Kelly’s Early Christian Doctrines

Like many parents today, I am fighting what seems to be a losing battle with my kids, trying to keep them from the wonders of technology. Whether it’s on-demand shows or games and apps on the iPad, my kids live in a world where they can take all this technological entertainment for granted. I, on the other hand, clearly remember coding on my Apple II and waiting for cartoons to come on at a certain time of the week. Having experienced the development of technology over the past three decades, I have a much deeper appreciation of current technology, and, I hope, a wiser approach as to how to best use it.

In many ways, Christians today can be no different than my kids. They might be aware of their church’s Statement of Faith. They might even recite the Apostle’s Creed or the Nicene Creed in a church service from time to time. But for so many, these truths are something they take for granted, a theological package they’ve been handed, which they no idea where it has come from.

It is in this context that J.N.D. Kelly’s Early Christian Doctrines [1] is so helpful. Continue reading “The Development of Theology: A Review of J.N.D. Kelly’s Early Christian Doctrines”

Four Lessons from John Knox on Local Church Reform

John Knox, champion of the Scottish Reformation, fearless preacher, uncompromising prophet… defeated by a church business meeting?

Knox’s legend began early. Converted under the preaching of the early Scottish reformer George Wishart, he became his sword-bearer, carrying a claymore to Wishart’s preaching engagements (29).[1] After Wishart’s martyrdom, Knox became a preacher himself and his plain, fiery preaching with “ruide boldness… unto your faces” (59) won the hearts of both English and Scottish alike. Standing up to the Queen and royal authorities, he constantly called Protestant leaders to resist any compromise, not even when faced with persecution or exile (both which he himself experienced).

Soon after becoming a preacher, Knox was captured by French Catholic forces and enslaved in French galleys for 19 months. One story captures Knox’s spirit:  Continue reading “Four Lessons from John Knox on Local Church Reform”

Meaningful Membership at Spurgeon’s Metropolitan Tabernacle

In 1854, when Charles Spurgeon began pastoring at the New Park Street Chapel, he had a handful of deacons assisting him and a membership of 313 (though the actual attendance was much smaller). In just twelve weeks, they outgrew their space and began making plans to enlarge their building. But as soon as that was done, they found themselves immediately once again in need of more space, and so began making plans to build a new building, which would eventually be the Metropolitan Tabernacle. However, more than just a space issue, Spurgeon found himself caring for a congregation that was beyond his capacity to shepherd. Continue reading “Meaningful Membership at Spurgeon’s Metropolitan Tabernacle”

Spurgeon and the Church’s Fight for the Truth

The Christmas season of 1887 was a dark one for Charles Spurgeon. Earlier that year, Spurgeon had published two articles on what he called “The Down Grade,” the infiltration of liberal theology into the Baptist Union. Later that summer, he wrote and published three more articles lamenting the decline of orthodox theology among Baptist and other Dissenting churches. He hoped that these articles would spark a conversation at the October meeting of the Baptist Union, but to his disappointment, the leadership refused to address the issue. This culminated in Spurgeon’s withdrawal from the Union on October 28, 1887, setting off a massive public debate. During this period, Spurgeon saw many of his former allies turn on him, including some of the pastors he had trained. And things would only get worse in the New Year. Continue reading “Spurgeon and the Church’s Fight for the Truth”

The Time Calvin Was Fired and the Need for Pastoral Mentoring

The story is familiar: A bright young theologian agrees to pastor a church torn by factions and needing reform. Before long, he is plunged into controversy and conflict as he seeks to implement change. The congregation appreciates his preaching at times, but his call to discipleship seems too zealous, even extreme. His attempts to re-organize the church for better pastoral care are met with opposition. Theological controversy arises as he responds to false teaching harshly, raising concern from the other leaders. In the second year, the young pastor pushes for the right to practice church discipline and this proves to be too much for the church. The young pastor is fired, and the church is left worse off than before.

Is this the story of some young, restless, and reformed pastor? Perhaps a fresh seminary graduate who came across some 9Marks materials and sought to implement them in his church?

Actually, this is the story of John Calvin. Continue reading “The Time Calvin Was Fired and the Need for Pastoral Mentoring”

Irenaeus and the Ecclesiastical Constitution of the Church

In our day, there has been a revival of discussion surrounding church membership and other aspects of church polity. But are these matters simply modern inventions? How did the early church think about these matters?

Writing in the 2nd century AD, Irenaeus bishop of Lyons combated the Gnosticism of his day in his most famous work, Against the Heresies. Throughout his work, he appeals to sound reasons and the Scriptures to combat the Gnostic teachings of Valentinus, Marcion, and other heretics. However, Irenaeus shows himself to be not only a theologian but also a devoted churchman. One prominent theme throughout this work is how all the churches scattered throughout the world possess the tradition of the apostles and “preserve the same form of ecclesiastical constitution.” [1] There is a visible unity of church order which characterizes all the churches. In saying this, Irenaeus does not lay out an explicit church polity. Rather, he describes in general terms the practice of the churches, and these practices serve to make the point that the church is indeed built on the Gospel. In putting those pieces together, it becomes clear that this structure is a significant apologetic against the Gnostics, creating a clear separation between the world and the church. Continue reading “Irenaeus and the Ecclesiastical Constitution of the Church”