In it Together

by Mark Johnston

Ours is an age of rapidly rising social disintegration. Loneliness and isolation are major issues – not just for the elderly, but for every other age group as well. It would be naïve not to see some connection between these issues and the steady erosion of the classic concept ‘family’ in Western culture for over half a century.

Historically the family has been seen as the basic unit of society. When families are strong, then community is strong also. Conversely, when the individual takes precedence over family, not only do families or even the wider community suffer, but nations suffer too.

In the midst of this social collapse, we as the church need to think again about how we fit into this picture. Many things could be said, but one thing stands out. It is the fact that, through the gospel, we hold the answer to this problem. In Christ we are God’s new humanity expressed in renewed community.

What this means in practical terms is very much to the fore in the book of Hebrews. It was written to Christians whose faith was wavering with a view to calling them back Christ as the only true hope for salvation. But, interestingly, it was not addressed merely to believers in isolation, but to God’s family as a whole.

In our natural families when individual family members, or the family as whole is in trouble, everyone ‘rallies round’. That same principle applies in God’s family. What we experience as individuals is deeply affected by how we function together as a family. The writer flags this up whn he says: ‘Let us consider how we may spur one another on to love and good deeds. Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another – and all the more as you see the Day approaching’ (He 10.24-25). We are called to ‘rally round’ as a family in three crucial areas.

In our Love for God

The writer literally says, ‘Let us spur one another on to love…’ It is not immediately clear what object of this love should be – God, or others? The ambiguity may well be deliberate given that, in biblical terms, you cannot have one without the other.

That said, love for God is clearly to fore in the author’s mind. His preceding exhortation to ‘draw near to God’ (10.19-22) is evidence of this. The only way we can approach God with heartfelt desire and deep confidence is through a deep appreciation of how deep God’s love for us in Christ really is. Seen in these terms, it seems almost incredible that our love for God could ever grow cold – yet it does. And when this happens it is impossible to recover this lost love on our own. To try to do so only leads to morbid introspection. So the first great thrust of this call to encourage one another is to mutually nurture our love for God. And we do so by faithfully gathering to worship God together (10.25).

In our Love for God’s People

As we have already noted, there is almost certainly a double edge to what the writer is saying here: our love for God seen in the context of our wider love for one another as fellow-members of his family.

He is calling his readers back to the kind of love for their brothers and sisters that had been expressed at an earlier time in their Christian life when they stood shoulder-to-shoulder in the face of persecution (10.32-34). Their love for one another thrived even in midst of hardship.

It isn’t immediately clear what had caused these relationships to cool off after their ordeal, but it may have had to do with wrong expectations – looking for their hope of salvation to be realised in the here and now. That would explain why he says they will ‘receive what promised’ when Christ returns (10.36-38).

The bond between the members of any family is galvanised by working towards some shared goal. How much more so in bond between God’s people. We need to keep reminding each other where our shared destiny lies – in the new heavens and the new earth – and so help each other to press on.

In our Love for God’s Work

Where there is true love, there will also be willingness to labour for the sake of love. The writer points to what love for God and each other means practically: it leads to ‘good works’. When love for God and our fellow Christians grows cold, the first casualty is our willingness to work – to play our part in the life of the church. When this happens we will no longer bless God or others as he wants us to.

The very heart of our calling as Christians is, ‘to do the good works which God prepared for us beforehand’ (Eph 2.10). If we truly belong to God it will mean we no longer work for ourselves, or for this world that is passing away, but for God. This doesn’t mean we must all go into full-time Christian service, but it does mean that we see everything we do as a unique opportunity to do something for God.

The simplest way to show our love for someone is to ask, ‘What can I do for you?’ The same is true as we look for ways to express our love for God – and we do this together.

In all of this we are called to be creative: ‘let us consider’ how we may help each other in these ways. As we look forward to the Autumn work ahead in our different churches, we should each think how we can play our part in church. Because, when this happens, the felt presence of the church in the community will begin to make some small difference to the loneliness and isolation all around us as we display the gospel of Christ our Saviour.

 



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Ratramnus of Corbie and His Book on the Lord’s Supper

by Simonetta Carr

Little is known about Ratramnus. He was a Benedictine monk at Corbie Abbey, in Picardy, France, who had gained an excellent reputation as scholar and writer. Besides his work on the Lord’s Supper (On the Body and Blood of the Lord), he wrote several books, including a popular treatise in four books in defense of the “Filioque Clause” (as added to the Nicene Creed). He also defended the monk Gottschalk and his controversial views on double predestination.

The Reason for the Book

            It was Charles the Bald, King of West Francia, who asked Ratramnus to write on the Lord’s Supper. Ratramnus’s teacher, Paschasius Radbertus, had recently written a similar book by the same title, but Charles wanted to reach a better understanding and was interested in hearing Ratramnus’s opinion, which he greatly valued.

            Specifically, Charles wanted to know “whether that which in the church is received into the mouth of the faithful becomes the body and the blood of Christ in a mystery or in truth.”[1] According to Ratramnus, the church was already “divided by great schism”[2] in this matter.

            Ratramnus’s work stood in opposition to Radbertus’s. For Radbertus, at the moment of consecration, the eucharistic bread and wine become identical with the body and blood of Christ. According to 16th-century Cardinal Robert Bellarmine, Radbertus’s book represented the first written declaration of the reality of the Body and Blood of Christ in the Eucharist, which became official Roman Catholic doctrine in 1215.

            Ratramnus, instead, described the elements as a figurative representation to be partaken by faith in remembrance of Christ. There is no record of any controversy between the two monks, not even when, later that year, Radbertus became Corbie’s abbot.

            Ratramnus is the clearest of the two, and demonstrates a greater familiarity with the church fathers, particularly Augustine. Radbertus’s work is shorter and simpler, employing stories of eucharistic miracles in the lives of saints.

            Ratramnus’s clarity stems at least in part from his stronger distinction between truth and figure. For Radbertus, truth is, in this context, “anything rightly understood or believed inwardly concerning this mystery”[3] – a fairly generic definition – while Ratramnus defines it as a concrete reality, a “representation of clear facts, not obscured by any shadowy images … for example, when Christ is said to have been born of the Virgin, suffered, been crucified, died, and being buried.”[4]

            To this definition of truth, Ratramnus contraposes “figure” as “a kind of overshadowing that reveals its intent under some sort of veil. For example, … when Christ speaking in the gospel says, ‘I am the living bread who came down from heaven,’ or when he calls himself the vine and his disciples the branches. For all these passages say one thing and hint another.”[5]

            Along these lines, Ratramnus points out that, when Jesus first said, “This is my body … This is my blood,” he was standing there with the disciples. There was obviously a vast difference between the true body and blood of Christ and the elements which he held in his hands, just as there is a large difference now between the true and living resurrected body of Christ and the elements that are passed out in the Supper. What’s more, in the eucharistic bread, “there is a figure not only of Christ’s own body, but also of the people who believe in Christ, for it bears the figure of both bodies.”[6]

The Book’s History

            If very few documents are left about Ratramnus’s life, his book on the Lord’s Supper has a history of its own. It was rarely mentioned until 1050, when French archdeacon Berengarius of Tours made it a subject of great controversy, defending its views against Radbertus’s. He was however confused about its author, and attributed to the Irish theologian John Scotus Erigena. The same year, a synod at Vercelli, Italy, condemned Berengarius and burned the book.

            About thirty years later, the book was quoted again by the Benedictine monk Sigebert of Gembloux. Two of his copyists, however, spelled Ratramnus’s name as Bertramus, a name that stuck (especially in its shorter form “Bertram”), since it was obviously easier to remember.

            The book finally caught the interest of 16th-century reformers, who saw it as a proof of the historicity of a clerical opposition to transubstantiation. Roman Catholics, on the other hand, were quick to denounce it as a fake. It sounded too much like a Protestant work. The Franciscan Sixtus of Siena believed that Bertram was a pseudonym for Oecolampadius, a Swiss reformer. The accusations didn’t hold water, because Oecolampadius never mentioned the book in any of his works.

            Most famously, Bishop Nicholas Ridley said of this Bertram: “This man was the first that pulled me by the ear, and forced me from the common error of the Roman church to a more diligent search of Scripture and ecclesiastical writers on this matter.” Bertram, Ridley said, was unequivocal in his conviction that “the substance of bread remaineth still in the sacrament.”

Given the book’s popularity in Protestant circles, the Council of Trent placed it on its list of forbidden books in 1559.

            The question of authenticity was resolved in 1672, when the Benedictine Jean Mabillon found a definite proof of the book’s author. In spite of this, the French crown repeated its condemnation in 1685, and the Roman Catholic Church kept it on its list of forbidden books until 1900. Today, Roman Catholic authorities believe it has simply been misread.

            Nearly forgotten for the first 200 years, misattributed for the next 600 and condemned until the 20th century, Ratramnus’s book is today still obscure. In some ways, Ratramnus is like Augustine: both Roman Catholics and Protestants claim him as their own. In reality, his book stands in church history more as a question mark than a period. It has contributed to raise important inquiries, and has proven that the history of Christian thought is not as black and white as we often depict it.


[1] George E. McCracken and Allen Cabaniss, eds., Early Medieval Theology, The Westminster Press, Philadelphia, 1957, p. 119

[2] Ibid, p. 118

[3] Ibid, p. 102

[4] Ibid, p. 120

[5] Ibid, p. 119

[6] Ibid, p. 147.

 



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Place for Truth is a voice of the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals. It is supported only by its readers and gracious Christians like you. Please prayerfully consider supporting Place for Truth and the mission of the Alliance.

Echoes of Exodus Podcast

by Jonathan Master

The event of Israel’s exodus from Egypt is not just an historical Old Testament account, but a more complex theme that resonates throughout the Scriptures.

Jonathan and James sit down with Bryan Estelle to explore Echoes of Exodus: Tracing a Biblical Motif. Bryan walks us through several passages–from the gospels, to the Pauline epistles, all the way to the book of Revelation–helping us to recognize this recurrent exodus, and its implications for our lives today.

Show Notes

About Bryan Estelle

Salvation through Judgement and Mercy: The Gospel According to Jonah

Thanks to our friends at IVP Academic, we’re giving away copies of Echoes of Exodus. Register, and you might be one of the winners!

 



The Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals is member supported and operates only by your faithful support. Thank you.


Place for Truth is a voice of the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals. It is supported only by its readers and gracious Christians like you. Please prayerfully consider supporting Place for Truth and the mission of the Alliance.

Maximus the Confessor and The Two Wills of Christ

by Simonetta Carr

At the beginning of the seventh century, the decision of the Council of Chalcedon that Jesus had two natures, human and divine, indivisible but distinct, was still not universally accepted. Even if the Council had specified that the expression “two natures” doesn’t mean that Jesus is “parted or divided into two persons,”[1] many took it this way. It was a cause of disunity, and emperor after emperor tried hard to come to a compromise.

            In 633, the Byzantine Patriarch Sergius came up with a convenient solution: if the expression “two natures” suggests a division, let’s say that Jesus had only one energy. This wording could emphasize the unity without disturbing the formula of Chalcedon.

            Sergius tested his theory on other bishops who didn’t see anything alarming. In fact, the Patriarch of Alexandria announced an upcoming feast to celebrate this agreement.

            There was, however, one dissenting voice. Sophronius, an elderly and well-respected monk (later patriarch of Jerusalem) said that “one energy” sounded too much like “one nature.”

            The idea was dropped, but Sergius didn’t give up trying. He proposed the expression “one will.” After all, he thought, we can’t say that Jesus the man wanted one thing and Jesus God’s Son wanted another. The solution seemed perfect.

            Once again, most bishops went along with the proposal. This time the dissent came from another monk who had doubts and decided to study the Scriptures on the subject. His name was Maximus.

Maximus’s Life

            Born in Palestine in 580, Maximus had spent some youthful years serving as secretary of Emperor Heraclius, until he felt a calling to be a monk. He joined a monastery in Chrysopolis (today’s Scutari), where he later became an abbot, then moved to a monastery in Cizicus, on the southern shore of the Sea of Marmara.

            As the conquering Persian armies moved toward Constantinople, they approached the Sea of Marmara. Fearing for their lives, Maximus and other monks fled the monastery and traveled to Crete, Cyprus, and Alexandria before settling in Carthage.

            Maximus was about 53 when Sergius wrote his new proposal. While studying the Scriptures, he became particularly intrigued by Luke 22:42: “Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me. Nevertheless, not my will, but yours, be done.” Until then, the church had taken these words as hypothetical, assuming that Jesus’ will would not disagree with that of his Father.

            Maximus believed that Jesus really meant what he said, and that his human will would have much preferred escaping the torment of the cross. A man without an autonomous will is not a full man. Today, we would call him an automaton, a pre-programmed being. To save humanity, Jesus had to be fully man, in body and soul, which included the will.

            While Maximus was pondering these thoughts, the Islamic threat on the empire was becoming increasingly real. Realizing the need for a united empire, Emperor Heraclius decided to put a stop to theological squabbles by moving forward with Sergius’s proposal. Once again, he didn’t receive much opposition. Even the Roman Pope Honorius accepted the new formula (while the following popes disagreed).

            Maximus traveled to Rome in 645, where he conferred with Pope Theodore I. In agreement with Maximus, Theodore responded to the emperor’s proposal by breaking off communion with the patriarch of Constantinople. This move enraged Heraclius’s successor, Constans, who decided to go a step further. Since arguing back and forth was apparently getting nowhere, he issued a decree known as the Typos, which forbade “any discussion of one will or one energy, two wills or two energies, which might lead to future controversies, fight or brawl.”[2]

            Theodore died before the Typos reached Rome, but his successor, Martin I, convened a council where he issued a full condemnation of the document and the doctrine of one single will of Christ (known as Monothelitism). Being held without the emperor’s approval, the council was seen as an act of treason.

            Martin was arrested and taken under guard to Constantinople, where he was tried and condemned. After stripping him of his pallium in front of a mocking crowd, the imperial guards led chained Martin to prison. He was finally exiled in Crimea, where he died in 655 from cold and starvation.

Maximus’s Trial and Death

            Maximus, now 75, was also arrested, together with two of his friends (both named Anastasius). At first, the emperor sent a bishop to offer him money and honors in exchange for his recantation. When Maximus refused, he and his friends were brought to trial in Constantinople. Maximus defended himself by declaring that Constans, as a layman, didn’t have the authority to dictate what the church should teach. The imperial official brought up the example of Melchisedek, who was both king and priest (Genesis 14:17), but Maximus replied Melchisedek was a very unique character in biblical history.

            Ultimately, Maximus was condemned and exiled in Bizye (modern Vize), in the lower Balkans. The exile could not stop him, and he continued to write against Monothelitism. In 662, he was brought back to trial. This time, as punishment for his stubbornness, he was flogged and his tongue and his right hand (the instruments he had used to defend his position) were amputated. He died soon afterwards, at age 82, while exiled in Lazica, Georgia. Because of his persistent witness, he is remembered as Maximus the Confessor.

            In 680, less than twenty years after Maximus’s death, Constans’s son, Constantine IV, summoned a new ecumenical council at Constantinople, which condemned Monothelitism and confessed “two wills and two operations, concurring most fitly in [Christ] for the salvation of the human race.”[3] The wording of the Acts of the Council displays Maximus’s reflections and writings.

Why?

            Humanly speaking, it’s easy to understand why an emperor with a hostile army at his gates didn’t take much time to consider whether Jesus had one or two wills. In reality, as Maximus pointed out, the emperor was not responsible for making an official decision on the issue. But for a monk like Maximus who had the duty of teaching the Scriptures to others, it was a matter of utter importance.

            Why else would a man be willing to sacrifice – literally – life and limbs for what may seem a theological detail, a technicality which had escaped the attention of most bishops, including the Roman pope? Maximus was willing because we can worship and place our trust only in the Christ who is revealed in Scriptures. We can’t make our own version, no matter how convenient it might be.

            Besides, any neat, expedient, and simplistic explanation of the Godhead and his redeeming work invariably implies a reduction of God’s sovereignty, otherness, and inscrutability. It creates a predictable Bible, depriving us of the wonders of passages like Jesus’ prayer at Gethsemane and preventing us from basking in their mysteries (in this particular passage, the depths of Christ’s obedience, the intensity of his love for us, and the bewildering “new energy of one of lived in a new way.”[4])

            To Maximus, Christ showed us “a wholly new way of being human.”[5] But this was only possible because He was fully human, with a human will that could live in harmony with the divine one. And Maximus, who had experienced the comfort of that truth, couldn’t possibly allow it to be obliterated.


[1] Dogmatic Definition of the Council of Chalcedon, https://www.ewtn.com/faith/teachings/incac2.htm

[2] Concilium Lateranense a. 649 celebratum, 208, ll. 19-23, quoted in Salvatore Cosentino, “Constans II, Ravenna’s Autocephaly and the Panel of the Privileges in St. Apollinare in Classe: A Reappraisal,” http://www.academia.edu/9785419/Constans_II_Ravennas_Autocephaly_and_the…

[3] Acts of the Council of Constantinople (680-681), Session XVIII., L. and C., Concilia, Tom. VI., col. 1019, http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/3813.htm

[4] Patrologia Graeca 91:1057d, as quoted in Robert Louis Wilken, The Spirit of Early Christian Thought, Yale University Press, 2003, 131.

[5] Ibid.

 



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Place for Truth is a voice of the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals. It is supported only by its readers and gracious Christians like you. Please prayerfully consider supporting Place for Truth and the mission of the Alliance.

The one Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church

by Mark Johnston

Christians have a remarkable ability to skew what the Bible’s teaches about the church. As with so many things in life, we tend to perceive and define it with ourselves as the key reference point. But when this happens it distorts both our understanding and our enjoyment of whatever is in view.

The most obvious way we do this is to see either our own church/denomination, or else the church we most admire as the benchmark for what we think it should be. Whether in terms of belief or practice, we find ourselves drawn to it because it matches what we are looking for. The flaw in this ought to be self-apparent, yet we stumble into it repeatedly. Our subjective judgement can never be the final arbiter of what is true and good.

It is not without significance that God’s people through the ages have seen the need to objectify the truths taught in God’s word in such a way that they never cease to challenge us. Regardless of how well we might think we know them, the core teachings of Scripture are so immense that we are constantly challenged to adjust our thinking in light of them. This comes out in a surprising way in the great Catholic creeds of the church. Far from being minimalist summaries of Christian doctrine, they were designed to be maximalist expressions of truth in short compass. Brief and simple enough to be memorised, even by children, but sufficiently dense to consistently stretch even the most erudite theologian.

So it is with the creedal statements about the church. The Apostles’ Creed captures it tersely in the statement: ‘I believe in the church, the communion of saints’. The Nicene Creed, however, says a lot more using the same number of words: ‘I believe in one holy, catholic and apostolic church’.

Whereas the statement enshrined in the earlier creed most certainly has the church universal within its purview, it is expressed in a way that inclines its confessors to focus on its expression in denominations or local congregations. The issue, then, is whether the church is to be understood ‘from the bottom up’, or ‘from the top down’. The Nicene Fathers leave no doubt as to which is prior.

Why does this matter? For a multitude of reasons that are more relevant than ever to a post-Enlightenment generation that thinks instinctively ‘from the bottom up’. Ours is the age that denies the very notion of ‘metanarrative’ or ‘big picture’. ‘Me and my world’ loom so large in our thinking that we lose sight of the bigger factors that provide the larger context for our understanding. One does not have to look far to see how this impacts our generation’s view of the church.

Grasping the Nicene formulation of the doctrine of the church will, in the first place, enable to appreciate the church in light of what it is in its essence. St Paul points to this in relation to Christ’s purpose in redemption being ‘…to purify a people for himself that are his very own’ (Tit 2.14). In doing so he simply echoes what Jesus declared to his disciples at Caesarea Philippi: ‘You are Peter and on this rock I will build my church’ (Mt 16.18). This is Jesus’ first recorded use of the word ecclesia in his earthly ministry and it is striking that his focus is on the church universal and not on its local and regional expressions.

As Dr Robert Letham helpfully argues, there must always be a logical as well as theological priority to the church universal’s having precedence to its other manifestations, organisationally as well as geographically. In terms of its very essence, its smaller and more localised expressions can only be understood in light of what it is in its totality.

In the second place, the Nicene formulation gives us a more meaningful appreciation of the church’s unity and diversity. Despite its many facets, flavours and dimensions, the church is ultimately ‘one’ and its oneness is defined by its being ‘holy’ (set apart for and wholly devoted to God). It is also ‘catholic’ (comprised of a rich diversity of churches/congregations throughout history and throughout the world). And, for it to be the true church, it must be ‘apostolic’ (defined and governed by apostolic truth – which, by definition, rests upon its Old Testament foundation).

This has enormous pastoral relevance for churches in their self-understanding and well as for their members in terms of how they regard ‘other churches’. It delivers us from a parochial outlook on the body of Christ: struggling to see beyond the hedges and walls of our own particular expression of church. More than this, it fosters a genuine sense of joyful koinonia when God blesses another part of the body along with corresponding sympathy and support when suffering is their lot. The church really is bigger than we imagine and oftentimes God shocks us in the way he uses churches that may not align with our own particular grouping to advance the cause of Christ.

Lastly, this great creedal truth should be given a more functional role in the life of every church that dares to confess it. There is no place for congregations to recite these words with fingers crossed behind our backs or mental caveats being inserted to restrict what we mean when we say them. These words bind us to the same ‘devoted-to-God-passion-for-truth-with-large-hearted-catholicity’ that has defined the very best and most orthodox expressions of the church throughout its history.

When churches recover this ancient vision for the church in all its fullness and glory, they will not only discover more of the beauty and joy of being part of the body of Christ, we will become more effective in our efforts to reach the world with the gospel entrusted to us.



The Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals is member supported and operates only by your faithful support. Thank you.


Place for Truth is a voice of the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals. It is supported only by its readers and gracious Christians like you. Please prayerfully consider supporting Place for Truth and the mission of the Alliance.

Christ and Covenant Theology Podcast

by Jonathan Master

Christ and Covenant Theology

Jonathan and James invite Dr. Cornelis Venema for a conversation about his collection of essays entitled Christ and Covenant Theology.

But what is Covenant Theology? Dr. Venema offers a rich definition, making a distinction between the covenant of works and the covenant of grace.  He clarifies the significance of Adam under the covenant of works, the theological issue of Republication, and more. Does Jesus save us by grace, or by His work? Tune in and hear what the professor has to say!

Show Notes

About Dr. Cornelis Venema

Mid-America Reformed Seminary

Our Reasonable Faith by Herman Bavinck

Thanks to our friends at P&R Publishing, we’re able to give away few copies of Dr. Venema’s book Christ and Covenant Theology. Register for the opportunity to win!



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Place for Truth is a voice of the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals. It is supported only by its readers and gracious Christians like you. Please prayerfully consider supporting Place for Truth and the mission of the Alliance.

Pierre Durand – Huguenot Martyr

by Simonetta Carr

Pierre Durand was born in a turbulent France. In 1685, only 15 years before his birth, France’s king Louis XIV (“Le Roi Soleil”), revoked the 1598 Edict of Nantes which had been allowed Protestants freedom of worship.

            Louis’s persecution against Huguenots (French Protestants) had been gradual – from their simple exclusion from government positions and limitations of their meetings to an outright demand that they convert to Roman Catholicism. This demand was enforced by special forces known as dragoons. Once the number of Protestants was significantly reduced, evoking the Edict of Nantes appeared like a politically sensible move in the interest of national unity.

Pierre’s Youth

            In order to survive, Pierre’s parents, Étienne and Claudine, had to make some compromises. For example, they had allowed their children to be baptized in the Roman Catholic Church and to receive Roman Catholic instruction at school. At home, however, they raised them in the Protestant faith, using a Bible, a Psalter, and a few other books they were able to keep in a hiding place inside a wall.

            They also kept by the barn a hiding place for preachers who passed through their region – the rough, charming area between the Rhone River and the Massif Central mountains, where Protestantism had survived the harshest persecution.

            Peter was born in the small village of Bouschet de Pranles. As soon as he finished his basic schooling, he began to work for a notary in the nearby town of Privas. It was there that he met one of the young pastors who had recently banned in a desire to unite and reform the small and struggling Huguenot churches.

            There was a lot to do. After the persecution, some Protestants known as Camisards had started a militant rebellion against the crown. The main fighting lasted two years (1702-1704), but uprisings continued until 1710, when most of the Camisard leaders had died.

            It was then that a new generation of pastors took the lead. The Camisards had fought bravely but had done little to unify the church, especially on doctrinal grounds. In 1715, taking advantage of an interim period in the government, the group met to discuss a line of action.

            Their leader was 19-year old Antoine Court, a fiery young man with clear ideas. His agenda included the establishment of regular worship, the restoration of proper church government (including consistories and regular synods), the training of pastors, and the suppression of fanaticism in all its forms, such as violence and prophecies (which had often taken the place of Scriptures).

Clandestine Preacher

            Pierre began advocating this agenda in his area, organizing and promoting worship services. On January 29, 1719, he and his friend Pierre Rouvier organized morning and evening services at a house owned by Claudine, with 19-year old Pierre Durand preaching and his friend reading the Scriptures. In between services, the two roamed the area to invite more people. They didn’t know that a government spy had attended the morning service and had informed the authorities.

            The evening service had barely started when the guards attacked the congregation, making arrests and shooting at those who fled. Most people managed to escape, but Claudine, being the property owner, was arrested. Her house was burned, and the Durands never saw her again. They only heard about her death seven years later.

            Some guards stayed at the Durands’ for 21 days, hoping that Pierre would return. When he didn’t, they left with some of Étienne’s furniture and animals.

            In the meantime, Pierre and his friend found refuge in Switzerland, where Antoine Court was also based. Pierre contacted his father six months later. The letter, addressed to both parents because he didn’t know about Claudine’s arrest, explained Pierre’s decision of becoming a minister of the Gospel. He knew that his parents would have reservations. It was a dangerous choice, and several relatives had already expressed negative opinions about him.

            Still, he was convinced of his calling. “I pray to the Lord that all will be to the glory of His name, to the furthering of His reign, and to the destruction of Satan’s empire,” he wrote.  

            He was ordained in 1526 and moved back to France as an itinerant preacher.

A Difficult Decision

            Two years later, he had to make what was probably the toughest decision of his life. His father, who had been arrested, sent him a letter begging him to leave France. “Have mercy on me once,” wrote Étienne, “considering my age and the grief I am suffering, and also take care of yourself.”

            The thought of his father languishing in prison must have been heart-wrenching, especially since Pierre knew he was the cause of Étienne’s arrest. On the other hand, his countrymen were in dire need for trained preachers. Besides, he didn’t trust the government’s promises. Most likely, they were planning to catch him at the border while keeping his father in prison.

            Étienne was imprisoned at Fort Brescou, a small island off the coast of France. His daughter Marie was also captured and imprisoned in the Tower of Constance, for the only crime of being connected to a Protestant preacher.

A Martyr for the Gospel

            Pierre’s activities in France continued to be a cause of irritation for the government. His constant travels and the secrecy of his meetings made him uncomfortably elusive. In 1532, the government decided to produce an extremely high reward on his head. The plan worked. On February 12, as he was leaving the home of some friends, he was spotted by a woman who revealed his location to the authorities. He was soon captured in an ambush by French guards.

            He could have fought back. In fact, he instinctively reached for his gun, but let go when he realized these were government authorities. One of the tenets of the newly reformed church – in contrast with the Camisards’ tactics – was respect for the civil powers.

            The guards took him for questioning, then led him to a prison to wait for his execution. In line with a long Huguenot tradition, he sang a Psalm as he rode to his death. In his case, it was Psalm 25, “To You, O Lord, I lift up my soul.”

            On the day of his execution, he begged the authorities to release his relatives from prison: his father, his sister, his sister’s fiancée (or husband, according to some sources), and his mother-in-law Isabelle Rouvier (mother of his best friend). Isabelle had been imprisoned for some time in spite of her absolute opposition to Pierre’s marriage to her daughter Anne.

            Anne lived in Switzerland at that time, urged by Pierre who was concerned for her safety. Their children, Anne Jr. and Jacques-Étienne, stayed with some relatives because they were too young to travel (their first child Jeanne had died in similar circumstances).

            Pierre last letter to his wife, written on February 15, included practical matters and reassured her of the safety and health of their children, ending with these words, “A Dieu, ma chere Enfant. I am and will be all of my life, with much ardent and sincere affection, your most humble servant and faithful husband.”

Pierre Durand in Reformed History

            Pierre Durand was not simply an isolated martyr in the history of the church. He was one of the main architects in a concerted effort to bring the Huguenot churches to unity, order, and theological orthodoxy. By the time the French Revolution brought legal toleration of the Protestant faith, the membership of those churches was around 500,000 people, and was soon increased by the influx of thousands of others who had left France during the persecution.

            More importantly, Pierre, Antoine Court, and other like-minded pastors represented a short-lived but important stand for Reformed orthodoxy and church government, bringing clarity and organization to a weary, scattered and confused church.



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Worshiping with Your Family

by Donald Whitney

My spiritual mentor began worshiping with his wife before they were married, and has faithfully continued the practice through the arrival of children and grandchildren for more than fifty years. Sadly, it seems that few men among even the best evangelical churches today could speak of daily family worship in their home. In the minds of some, active church involvement eliminates the need for family worship. For others, Bible reading, prayer, and singing praises to God together as a family have been crowded out by the television, the Internet, and a non-stop schedule that makes even meals together a rarity.

But the father (and in his absence, the mother) of the family has the responsibility from God to provide spiritual leadership for his household. As He did with Abraham, the Lord wants every father to “command his children and his household after him, that they keep the way of the Lord” (Genesis 18:19). Each one should raise his children “in the training and admonition of the Lord” (Ephesians 6:4). Every husband should love his wife as Christ loves His bride—the church—and follow Christ’s example of washing his wife with “the washing of water by the word” of God (Ephesians 5:26).

While it isn’t the only way, the simplest method of applying all these texts in a steady, practical way is through daily family worship. This is how generations of Christians have understood them. For instance, both Baptists and Presbyterians in the 1600s saw this biblical teaching, and incorporated identical language about the expectation of family worship into the most influential confessional statements in their respective histories. To this day, many churches still maintain (at least officially) that, “God is to be worshipped everywhere in spirit and truth; as in private families daily.”[1]

Somehow, though, many men have gotten the idea that family worship is complicated, or that it requires time-consuming preparation. But it need not require any more preparation than your personal worship of God. And the entire experience can be reduced to three simple elements:

1. Read. The centerpiece of family worship is the Bible. Read a passage of appropriate length for your family, making any impromptu comments that come to mind. Those with younger children should emphasize the narrative portions of Scripture, and possibly the Proverbs. Eventually, most seem to work up to about a chapter a day, reading consecutively through a particular book of the Bible. I recommend that you ask a few questions to determine comprehension, or just ask the children to repeat what they remember.

2. Pray. Let the words of the passage you read suggest matter for prayer. The husband/father should pray, and perhaps one or all the rest of the family members. Most days this will be brief.

3. Sing. Use a hymnal and sing a cappella, or sing along to a recording, or let a family musician lead the way. Sing as little as one verse, or for as long as the family enjoys it.

Any order of “read, pray, sing” is fine. It doesn’t have to be long to be effective. Be patient with the interest and attention span of the younger ones. Remember that you’re not only fulfilling a responsibility to God by leading family worship, you’re also introducing your children to Him. In these moments together, your children can see your love for God and for His Word, and some of the most teachable moments of their childhood will occur.

So start family worship in your home today. It doesn’t matter when you have worship. For some, early morning is best. For others, it’s mealtime, and for still others, it’s bedtime. Just start. Whether you’ve been married fifty years or newly engaged, just start. Keep it simple, and keep it up.


[1]London Confession of Faith (Baptist) 22.6; Westminster Confession of Faith (Presbyterian) 21.6.


Donald S. Whitney (PhD, University of the Free State, Bloemfontein, South Africa) is professor of biblical spirituality and associate dean at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky. He has written several books, including Family Worship. To read more from Dr. Whitney, head to our store at ReformedResources!


Editor’s Note: This article was originally published on reformation21 in May 2007.



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How Can I Forgive that Man?

by Dan Doriani

“I know what the Bible says, but how can I forgive that man, after everything he has done? And he isn’t even sorry.”

      It is a familiar question or comment, and perhaps the second most common and difficult that pastors hear (trailing only “How could God let this happen?”) Both ask for help explaining suffering; the second addresses great sins and offenses: “How can I forgive that man?” This question is more complex than it seems and the answer has several aspects. Indeed Jesus spoke to it several times. Two passages might appear to stand in tension at first, and seeing how they fit together is essential.

      In Luke 17:3-4, Jesus says, “If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him, and if he sins against you seven times in the day, and turns to you seven times, saying, ‘I repent,’ you must forgive him.”

      In Matthew 6:14-15, he says, “For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.”

      These texts describe different aspects of forgiveness. Matthew 6 sounds absolute. If we are forgiven, we forgive, because the forgiven are ready to forgive. This free forgiveness echoes Jesus’ free gift of salvation (Rom. 6:23). And yet forgiveness comes with a cost and a condition. The cost is the blood of Christ. The condition is that the sinner must repent (Luke 24:47). Humans forgive similarly, but not identically. We forgive freely, “from your heart,” Jesus says (Matt. 18:35). The cost is letting go of our desire for justice or vengeance. We then “pray for those who abuse” us (Luke 6:28). We don’t call down God’s wrath, we pray the Lord will lead sinners to repent, believe, and receive his mercy (Rom. 12:19-21).

      And yet there are conditions. The Lord forgives sinners if they repent (1 Kgs. 8:47-48, 2 Chron 6:37-38, Ps. 7:12, Luke 17:4, Rev. 2:16). Similarly, among men and women, the condition for complete forgiveness is that the sinner must repent. That is, even if one person forgives another “from the heart,” matters are not quite closed if the offending party refuses to repent – and they often do refuse!

      In short, Jesus sometimes tells us to forgive unconditionally, and sometimes he tells us to forgive conditionally – if the sinner repents (Matt. 6:14-15, Luke 17:4). We harmonize these teachings by distinguishing two aspects or elements of forgiveness. We unconditionally forgive an offender subjectively or inwardly by loving, praying for them, and seeking peace with them. But the objective element of forgiveness is conditional – the sinner must repent. Some call this the attitude of forgiveness and the transaction of forgiveness. The attitudinal aspect is clear, but we need to consider the transaction or external aspect of forgiveness.

      Suppose someone steals my car. Even after I forgive the thief subjectively and unconditionally, business remains. If he is a disciple, I must call him to repent: “If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you… If he listens to you, you have gained your brother” (Matt. 18:15). Moses regards reproof as an act of love (Lev. 19:17-18).

      Suppose that I see the thief driving my car, stop him, and confront him. He says, “I repent. Please forgive me.” I will reply “I forgive you.” But I also say, “Now please step out of my car and give me the keys.” If he refuses to return the car, the matter is not closed.

      The demand for the car applies biblical law where it commands thieves to make restitution (e.g. Ex. 22:1-9). There are exceptions, but the norm is double restitution (22:4, 7). In principle, the car thief would return the car and add another car. This is perfect justice, since the thief then loses precisely what he would have taken and the victim gains exactly what he would have lost. This word shows that repentance has a public dimension. The offending party must set things right, if possible. Thus, if one man slanders another, and the slanderer repents, the truly repentant slanderer needs to tell the truth and restore the reputation of the person he slandered, as much as possible.

      But there is more. First, the worse the person, typically, the less interest they have in repenting or setting things right. Godly people typically know their sin and repent of it (1 Tim. 1:15), while great sinners are least likely to repent.  Bullies, abusers, thieves, and slanderers commonly have a weak or “seared” conscience, which makes repentance harder (1 Tim. 4:2). Indeed, it is impossible, unless the Spirit renews them. Evildoers tend to be oblivious to their actions. They smash a guitar and say “We were just horsing around and you put it in our way.” They remember events so differently that progress is impossible. Normal people assume that a father would remember throwing a son down a flight of stairs, but the father tells himself the boy started the altercation and he was just defending himself. Indeed, evildoers often believe they have been mistreated when someone merely resists them or corrects them. This is why Paul said “If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.” The qualification is necessary because reconciliation takes two or more parties (Rom. 12:18).

      The wicked also project their sins onto others. Sexual abusers sometimes say, “She asked for it,” “She liked it,” or “He never complained.” Tragically people even “facilitate” this by excusing evil behavior: “Yes, your father hits us sometimes, but he is under a lot of pressure.”

      The final element, in dealing with great sin, is caution. I take this point from the proverbs that warn against teaching, trusting, or hiring a fool (e.g. Prov. 26:4-6, 10-11). In Scripture, the fool is godless and wicked rather than stupid. Thus, Scripture warns us again trusting dangerous people. To say it differently, the phrase “forgive and forget” may be true or false, depending on the meaning of “forget.” Forgiveness does not require that we literally forget the sins we suffer. When God says he will remember our sins “no more” (Jer. 31:34), he means he will not hold them against us. God is omniscient and cannot literally forget anything, and we rarely forget traumas. Besides, the phrase “forgive and forget” never appears in Scripture. Thus, when we forgive, we “forget” the desire for justice. But we need not pretend that nothing happened.

      It’s no virtue to let offenders hurt us repeatedly. Jesus told his disciples to protect themselves:  “When they persecute you… flee” (Matt. 10:16-23). So “forgive and take steps” is a better summary than forgive and forget. If someone fails to repay a loan, and asks forgiveness, we should forgive them and ask them to repay. We may also decline to make loans to them in the future. Similarly, adult children may separate from dangerous parents, even if the child forgives them. Or the child may insist on ground rules for the relationship: “You may come for two days, but you will not have time alone with my children, and if you say this or do that, I will insist that you leave.” It is not easy to love and forgive someone and take this posture, but it can be necessary. In conclusion, believers always forgive subjectively, but the public and transactional elements of forgiveness are complex and conditional. The transactional dimension applies the teaching “If he repents, forgive him.” It also heeds the exhortation to steer clear of fools (Prov. 26) and danger (Matt. 10:23, Titus 3:10). In this way we both live out the gospel and heed Jesus’ teaching to be innocent as doves and wise as serpents (Matt. 10:16).

Dan Doriani teaches Theology and Ethics at Covenant Seminary. He earned his M.Div. from Westminster and talked everyone into a joint Yale/Westminster Ph.D. He also pastored a very small church for five years and a very large one for eleven. He plays tennis, hikes mountains, wrangles grandchildren, speaks at conferences, and writes books, including The New Man.



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Philip Melanchthon and His Friendship with Luther

by Simonetta Carr

Philip Melanchthon was a brilliant scholar (one of the greatest Greek interpreters of his day), an insightful theologian, and Martin Luther’s right-hand man. Today, his memory is often limited to his mention in some of Luther’s most famous quotations.

            He was, for example, the indecisive companion Luther chided with his often misquoted “Sin boldly!” He was also one of the drinking buddies in Luther’s notorious quote, “While I slept, or drank Wittenberg beer with my Philip [Melanchthon] and my Amsdorf [Nicholaus von], the Word so greatly weakened the papacy that never a prince or emperor did such damage to it.”

            In reality, he had a major impact on both the history and theology of the Protestant Reformations. His search for fair and middle ground caused him to be appreciated as official representative of Protestantism in several European meetings, and his proven clarity as writer of religious confessions gained him an invitation to England to compose a similar document. Melanchthon declined this invitation, apparently because a horoscope told him he would die during sea travel. In any case, Queen Mary came to the throne the same year.

            The same search for middle ground brought Melanchthon some criticism in both Reformed and Lutheran circles. Interestingly, however, Luther continued to hold his friend in high esteem, even when their views differed.

Melanchthon’s Life

            Melanchthon was born as Philip Schwarzerdt on 16 February 1497 in Bretten (Baden, Germany), home of his mother Barbara. His father Georg, one of the best armor-makers in the country, died nine years later, allegedly poisoned by a rival of the Elector Philip the Upright (one of his clients). To weaken a prince, kill his armorer. 

            Barbara sent Philip and his brother Georg Jr. to school in nearby Pforzheim. Philip’s propensity for academic studies was clear. Since it was common for scholars to translate their last names in Latin or Greek, a distant relative, Johann Reuchlin, gave him the name Melanchthon as Greek equivalent of Schwarzerdt (“black earth”).

            After further studies, Melanchthon’s proficiency in Greek earned him a position of professor of that language at the University of Wittenberg, where he met Luther. Immediately, a strong bond formed between the two Reformers.

            It was Luther who persuaded Melanchthon to marry Catherine Krapp, daughter of Wittenberg’s burgomaster. Catherine was described as pious and devoted, even if not as efficient as Luther’s wife Katharina. Together, Catherine and Philip had four children.

             Melanchthon’s most famous writing was a book on systematic theology, Loci Communes, which was the first of its kind in the Reformation and remained the main summary of the Protestant faith for many years. As Calvin did with his Institutes, Melanchthon kept revising the Loci throughout his life. He also proofread Luther’s translation of the New Testament from Greek to German and wrote several commentaries.

            A test of his leadership came in 1520-1521, when Luther (after the Diet of Worms) was confined in the Castle of Wartburg. Together with Amsdorf, he guided the population of Wittenberg in the transition from Roman Catholicism, dealing with both reluctancy and extremism. 

            Ten years later, when Emperor Charles V summoned the Protestant princes to defend their faith at the Diet of Augsburg, Melanchthon was chosen as their representative. It was in that occasion that he wrote the Augsburg Confession (now in the Lutheran Book of Concord), which is still the main confessional standard of Lutheranism.

Melanchthon and Luther

            Luther and Melanchthon had contrasting personalities but seemed to complement each other. Luther was bold, outspoken, and sociable. He combated depression by mingling with people and looking away from his navel. Melanchthon, instead, was careful and introverted, ready to shy away from controversies.

            Letting God work while he drank beer with Luther was probably a comfort to him. “If I were my own master, I would prefer to hide myself away in some kind of solitude than to be involved in such a throng of affairs,”[1] he once confessed to his friend Joachim Camerarius regarding the religious battles in England and France. 

            Melanchthon’s discouragement over the struggles of the Reformation and the criticism of several detractors reached an all time low in 1540. “I have been like Prometheus on the rock,” he wrote to Camerarius. “I feel as if I must sink and die.”

            Eventually, the depression affected his overall health, weakening his defenses against a tertiary fever and forcing him to stay in bed. According to Luther’s biographer Martin Brecht, Luther found his friend “deathly ill, changed beyond recognition, unable to hear or speak.”[2]

            Quite characteristically, Luther went to the window to let out his complaints to God, claiming God’s promises and telling Him He had to hear him if he “were to trust any of His other promises.”[3] Finally, he turned to Melanchthon and ordered him to eat. When Melanchthon refused, he told him he had to, or he would be excommunicated.

            Luther’s methods might not have been the most pastorally sensitive but showed great concern for his friend. Luther himself had many bouts of depression, “but not all the time.” He thought Melanchthon was “constantly tormenting himself” and “sucking up cares like a leech.”[4] In any case, he offered to hurry to his side any time Melanchthon needed him.

            Melanchton’s cares included the marriage of his first daughter Anna, which he had arranged with one of his favorite students. The student turned out to be an abuser, and Anna died soon after giving birth to her sixth child, leaving Melanchthon plagued by both grief and regret.

            Thankfully, his second daughter Magdalena enjoyed a happy marriage. She and her husband (another of Melanchthon’s students) lived in a home built for them behind Melanchthon’s house, providing the gentle Reformer with a cheerful family atmosphere.

            While we don’t know much about Catherine, she must have been of great comfort to Melanchthon, who wrote moving words of praise at her death in 1557 (while he was at the Colloquy of Worms).

            Melanchthon didn’t survive long after her departure. When he died in 1560, 14 years after Luther’s death, he was buried next to dear his friend in the Castle-church of Wittenberg.

 


[1] Melanchthon’s Briefwechsel, Regesten 2; Melanchthon’s Briefwechsel. Texte 6, 1489, p. 198, quoted in Anja-Leena Laitakari-Pyykkö, “Philip Melanchthon’s Influence on English Theological Thought During the Early English Reformation,” Dissertation, University of Helsinki, 2013, 62 https://helda.helsinki.fi/bitstream/handle/10138/41764/Pyykko_Dissertati…

[2] Martin Brecht, Martin Luther: The Preservation of the Church, 1532-1546, Volume 3, Augsburg Fortress, Minneapolis, 1987, p. 210

[3] Ibid.

[4] Martin Luther, Luther, Letters of Spiritual Counsel, ed. and transl. by Theodore Tappert, Regent College Publishing, Vancouver, British Columbia, 1960, pp. 146-147.

 



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