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Jesus Died for More Than Your Decision

Wed, 10/25/2017 - 2:00am

If you made a decision for Christ, and yet you do not desire him, then you should examine yourself to see whether you’re really a believer.

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The Smile of the Reformation: Pierre Viret (1511–1571)

Wed, 10/25/2017 - 1:00am

Pierre Viret, born in 1511, was an apologist, an orator, a humorist, and an economist, and he was far ahead of his time. In addition to all this, he was also a great theologian.

A recent biography of Pierre Viret by Jean-Marc Berthoud is subtitled “A Forgotten Giant of the Reformation,” and that subtitle just about sums it up. We are so used to remembering the known giants of the Reformation — the likes of Luther and Calvin — that we sometimes forget they had peers.

Geneva’s Stepfather

Viret was a close personal friend to Calvin, and they both owed a significant debt to the same man, William Farel. Farel was the man who had heard that Calvin was passing through Geneva on his way to a quiet life in a library somewhere, and persuaded Calvin to stay there to help with the work of reformation. Persuaded is a mild way of putting it — he predicted thunder and ruin if Calvin did not remain — and so it was that William Farel scared Calvin into his prominent place in world history.

Pierre Viret was a native Swiss, but had gone to the University of Paris. He was converted to the Reformed faith while he was there, and fled to his hometown of Orbe to get away from the persecutions that had broken out in Paris. Farel was the man who then called Viret to the ministry, and so it was that he preached his first sermon at the age of 20, in May of 1531. This was five years before Calvin was confronted by Farel. Under his preaching ministry at Orbe, Viret had the great privilege of seeing his parents converted and brought into the Reformation.

Just as Calvin was associated with Geneva, so Viret was associated with Lausanne. The Genevan Academy is justly famous, but that academy was actually the stepchild of Viret’s earlier work. Viret had founded the first Reformed Academy in Lausanne in 1537. That academy grew and flourished there, and in its heyday had about a thousand students. Some of its former students went on to write the Heidelberg Catechism (Ursinus and Olevianus) and the Belgic Confession (de Bres). And Theodore Beza was the principal there.

Bridges Berned

But Viret was up against a similar challenge as that which faced Calvin — the issue of state-controlled church discipline. Because Lausanne was under the city of Bern’s authority, and because the civil authorities there would not permit church discipline apart from their review and permission, the result was continued moral corruption.

For one glaring example, one man was running a prostitution ring out of his mother’s home, and Bern prohibited withholding the Lord’s Supper from him. According to biographer Jean-Marc Berthoud, “In his polemical writings Viret was often to declare that the Bernese Pope in short frock (the absolute State) was a far worse enemy for the faith than the old Pope of Rome in his long gown” (Pierre Viret, 35).

After many appeals, Viret decided that he simply needed to draw the line. He had the local authorities postpone a communion service so that he could examine and instruct those coming to partake. When the lords of Bern heard about this, they were outraged and demanded that Viret be sacked, which he then was. Viret then went to Geneva — and the entire faculty resigned in protest. As a result, a few months later, the academy in Geneva was formed. In effect, the Lausanne Academy relocated — and a cloud of blessing with it.

A Reformer with a Grin

Farel, mentioned earlier, was fully orthodox, but it must be acknowledged that his head was kind of on fire. Viret, by contrast, was much more even-keeled. Although Viret was an effective polemicist, and by no means an ecclesiastical pacifist, by the time he died in 1571 he earned the sobriquet “The Smile of the Reformation.”

Viret knew how to be combative, but he was also entirely winsome. May his tribe return, and increase.

For more on Pierre Viret:

Pierre Viret: A Forgotten Giant of the Reformation by Jean-Marc Berthoud

Best Friends Make the Worst Enemies

Tue, 10/24/2017 - 8:03pm

Our best friends always make the worst enemies. Opposition of any kind can make life miserable, but opposition of a particular kind multiplies the misery.

We rarely give our enemies enough latitude to really hurt us. They can hurl insults, stand in our way, and even inflict pain, but we always have our guard up. But with our friends and family, we let them through the gates, inside locked doors, to the most vulnerable places. And too often, those we let near in love leverage precious trust to serve themselves at our expense — to betray us.

The husband who leaves for another woman.
The wife who gossips about her husband’s weaknesses.
The son who walks away from the faith.
The daughter who keeps making destructive decisions.
The father who over-works to avoid the family.
The mother who relentlessly demands and condemns.
The friend who disappears when we need them most.

Have you been betrayed by the ones you love most? When we have, we can retreat for a season — to process, to recover, to repair, and to prepare to forgive. God has given us a safe place to hide and find the strength and hope we need to press on in love.

Our Worst Enemies

King David knew the bitter flavor of betrayal.

It is not an enemy who taunts me —
     then I could bear it;
it is not an adversary who deals insolently with me —
     then I could hide from him.
But it is you, a man, my equal,
     my companion, my familiar friend. (Psalm 55:12–13)

My companion. My familiar friend. My loved one. The one I trusted. I sailed out into stormy seas with them, filled with hope and affection and confidence, and then suddenly they fled to safety while they watched me drown alone.

We can hide from faraway enemies — from dangerous strangers or foreign armies — but we can’t hide from loved ones. The memories creep in everywhere we might hide, but their sweetness has been poisoned by betrayal.

David had his enemies — by the thousands — but the worst enemies had been his best friends.

The Prodigal Murderer

We don’t know who the familiar friend of Psalm 55 was, but we do know David was betrayed by the ones closest to him. Maybe the most painful betrayal of all was by his son Absalom.

David’s son murdered his other son to avenge his sister’s rape. Read those words again slowly, and think about the awful weight of this father’s heartache. If you have children, think about trying to care for your family in the midst of that kind of relational hurricane, all while your own heart is being beaten up and drowned.

Despite the evil Absalom had done, David brought the prodigal murderer home (2 Samuel 14:21). He established boundaries (2 Samuel 14:24), but he eventually welcomed his son with a kiss (2 Samuel 14:33). How did Absalom respond to his father’s kindness, patience, and forgiveness?

He conspired to overthrow his father’s kingdom (2 Samuel 15:12). He slandered his father’s reputation (2 Samuel 15:3). He lied to his father’s face (2 Samuel 15:7–8). And he forced his father into hiding for fear of his life (2 Samuel 15:14). He not only betrayed his own flesh and blood, but he betrayed the father who had forgiven him for murdering his brother. And his betrayal cost twenty thousand men their lives (2 Samuel 18:7).

When Words Are Swords

David may not have written Psalm 55 about Absalom, but he certainly could have said this about his son: “We used to take sweet counsel together; within God’s house we walked in the throng” (Psalm 55:14). He could have been thinking of his son’s deadly lies in 2 Samuel 15:7–8:

My companion stretched out his hand against his friends;
     he violated his covenant.
His speech was smooth as butter,
     yet war was in his heart;
his words were softer than oil,
     yet they were drawn swords. (Psalm 55:20–21)

The soft words of a friend can be drawn swords in disguise — trading precious trust for selfish gain — convincingly promising precisely the affection and loyalty he or she surrenders so eagerly. David knew the most intimate kind of pain and opposition. Do you?

Take Cover

If so, you feel far more alone than you really are. Let the “But” in verse 16 call you out of loneliness and despair into hope again:

But I call to God,
     and the Lord will save me.
Evening and morning and at noon
     I utter my complaint and moan,
     and he hears my voice.
He redeems my soul in safety
     from the battle that I wage,
     for many are arrayed against me.
God will give ear and humble them,
     he who is enthroned from of old, Selah
because they do not change
     and do not fear God. (Psalm 55:16–19)

Take refuge in the friendship of God. When friends or family leave you or fail you, know that he never will. He remains faithful, strong, caring, and close by — evening, morning, and at noon. He is relentless, persistent, unfailing in his love for you, and his love for you is strong enough to overcome any love that has failed you.

You Can Trust Him

Take refuge in the friendship of God, and let God judge the betrayer. As difficult as it might be to run into the arms of God when we’ve been betrayed in love, it may be even more difficult to surrender our desire for vengeance — our innate longing to make the one who hurt us feel something of the pain we felt.

But the same love that holds and heals us in the wake of betrayal also frees us from having to administer justice. God, in unparalleled love, not only promises never to leave or betray us, but he also promises to punish every sin committed against us — either in the horrors of hell or in the death of his Son. As you wait for him to act, remember that your Judge intimately knows your pain. Jesus was not only betrayed to death by one of the worst of his twelve closest friends, he was also denied three times by one of the best — and then abandoned by the rest.

Instead of going after his betrayer, David went hard after God. He trusted him to bring justice.

Cast your burden on the Lord,
     and he will sustain you;
he will never permit
     the righteous to be moved.
But you, O God, will cast them down
     into the pit of destruction;
men of blood and treachery
     shall not live out half their days.
But I will trust in you. (Psalm 55:22–23)

“But I will trust in you.” Those six words are strong enough to carry you over the massive waves of betrayal. Resist the impulse to take things into your own hands (or words), and rest your heart, the relationship, and the future in his capable hands. You can trust him.

Is God a Megalomaniac?

Tue, 10/24/2017 - 8:00pm

God seeks our worship, not because it meets his need, but because it meets ours. God is the only one beautiful enough to satisfy us forever.

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The Final Authority

Tue, 10/24/2017 - 10:00am

Cultures change. Opinions come and go. God’s word stands forever.

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The Ink: Robert Estienne (1503–1559)

Tue, 10/24/2017 - 1:00am

The title page of the 1559 edition of John Calvin’s Institutes of the Christian Religion bears the device of its printer in Geneva: an olive tree shorn of several branches. The broken-off branches are pictured mid-fall and surrounded by the motto Noli altum sapere, “Do not be arrogant.” The tree also bears bandages where other branches have been grafted in.

An earlier version of this device, seen in the 1531 Thesaurus Latinæ linguæ, appends the phrase sed time, “but fear.” The man in the woodcut could be the apostle Paul, author of these words in Romans 11:19–20. Then again, the stones around the man’s feet suggest that the figure could also be Stephen, whose convicting preaching and martyrdom is portrayed in Acts 7.

The conjunction of these two biblical allusions here is significant because the device belongs to the typographer, printer, and scholar Robert Estienne, or “Robertus Stephanus.” Estienne’s life and career displayed many of the marks of the Reformation.

The Royal Typographer

Estienne was not only a significant printer on the Continent during the early- to mid-sixteenth century, but he was a scholar of the Bible and classical literature as well. While working in Paris during the rule of King Francis I, such was his skill that Estienne was named “Royal Typographer”: the king’s printer in Hebrew and Latin in 1539, and then the king’s printer in Greek in 1542.

The king of France understood well the new humanist impulse toward the study of ancient texts. Estienne wrote, “Far from grudging to anyone the records of ancient writers which he at great and truly royal cost has procured from Italy and Greece, he intends to put them at the disposal and service of all men.”

During his years in France, Estienne compiled and printed many linguistically focused books: a Greek primer, a Latin–French dictionary, and the Thesaurus linguæ latinæ. He also began work on the important Thesaurus linguæ graecæ, which would serve as a standard of Greek — and therefore biblical — lexicography until at least the 1800s.

Back to the Sources

As with so many Reformation-era scholars, Estienne’s love of ancient classical literature went hand in hand with a focus on the Bible in both the Latin Vulgate translation and its original Hebrew and Greek versions. He printed the Hebrew Old Testament twice, and his multiple editions of the Greek New Testament were highly influential and beneficial to the Reformation’s theological work.

It was Estienne who created the best and final system of verse division and numbering that our Bibles exhibit today. The famous Editio Regia of 1550 is a masterpiece of scholarship, artistry, and technical skill — the first Greek New Testament to include a critical apparatus to show variant readings, variants that Estienne found in the fifteen manuscripts he consulted. It is this edition, with its splendid Greek letters cut by Claude Garamond, that became the basis for the English-language Geneva Bible, as well as the study of Scripture for centuries to come.

By 1550, Estienne had printed many editions of the Latin Vulgate Bible in Paris, yet his scholarship had led him “in two directions” from that ecclesially authorized text: backwards, “behind the translation to the original texts,” and forward, to more full and careful explanations in his texts for the “ordinary educated reader,” which “could hardly avoid encroaching upon the domain of exegesis” (Robert Estienne, Royal Printer, 76–78).

In the 1545 edition, he included both a set of unauthorized marginal notes that discussed the legitimacy of the Vulgate’s rendering of the original texts, and his own rendering of Greek and Hebrew texts into a new Latin version parallel to the Vulgate. This book ultimately led to suspicion of heresy, of “Lutheran views,” and to Estienne’s fleeing of Paris for the haven of Geneva in 1550.

Geneva’s Publisher

In Geneva, now openly supporting the Protestant movement, Estienne set up his press and became the printer par excellence of the Reformation cause. His 1553 French Bible continued the Reformation emphasis on lay reading of Scripture in vernacular languages, and his editions of Calvin’s Institutes and Commentaries, with other Protestant writings, all served the growing movement in its desire to hear clearly and be governed by the Scriptures.

The 1559 edition of the Institutes was “the most comprehensive summary of Protestant doctrine during the Reformation” (John Calvin’s “Institutes”, 219), and arguably the most important volume to arise in the Reformation, as evidenced by its translation into six (perhaps seven) other languages by 1624. Estienne’s edition, effortless to read and beautiful even by today’s standards, played a large role in the growth of Reformation churches during the sixteenth century.

For more on Robert Estienne:

Robert Estienne, Royal Printer by Elizabeth Armstrong

John Calvin’s “Institutes of the Christian Religion”: A Biography by Bruce Gordon

The Printer’s Device: Robert Estienne’s Numbering of Verses and the Changing Form of the New Testament in the 15th and 16th Centuries by Pitts Theology Library

Harvey Weinstein and the Crisis of Masculinity

Mon, 10/23/2017 - 8:02pm

Actress Emma Thompson, 58, recently spoke out about movie producer, and alleged woman-hunting predator, Harvey Weinstein, saying he is just the tip of the iceberg of a Hollywood epidemic. Men abusing their power to force sexual advances on less-powerful females is, she says, our cultural “crisis of masculinity.”

How many other vultures prowl the hotels of Hollywood?

“Many,” said Thompson. “Maybe not to that degree. Do they have to all be as bad as him to make it count? Does it only count if you really have done it to loads and loads of women? Or does it count to do it to one woman once?

“This is a part of our world — a woman’s world — since time immemorial.”

The flood of recent news leaves us with questions. Will the Weinstein scandal soon explode into a Catholic-Church-level scandal for Hollywood? How far will the reverberations sound? How many powerful Hollywood elites will be exposed and implicated? And how did Weinstein, long scolded for his unwanted sexual advances, find a celebrated home in liberal politics for this long?

What the last year has made clear is that sinful men with influence and authority often take advantage of women who lack it — and it’s a problem for the most powerful elites on the right, and now clearly a problem for the most powerful elites on the left. It is a crisis of masculinity for all.

And, as Thompson said, it has been around since time immemorial.

David and Bathsheba

The story of a high-power movie producer inviting an aspiring actress to his hotel room, at some point stepping into the bathroom, emerging in a robe, asking for a massage (or worse), should make us uncomfortable. But the storyline is not new.

In its most infamous version, we read of the predation of King David and his misuse of his authority, and his abuse of a woman (2 Samuel 11:1–12:23).

Standing on his rooftop perch, looking down over the city under his control, David beheld a bathing woman. What he saw in the nakedness of Bathsheba was not a woman at the end of a long day partaking of a relaxing bubble bath as part of her daily convenience or soothing comfort. Like any other devoted Jewish woman, Bathsheba likely bathed once a month, a ceremonial necessity, an act of faith fitted to her very specific biological cycle (see 2 Samuel 11:4).

Most fundamentally, what David beheld was Bathsheba’s act of holy obedience to God’s command, an essential part of her faith and purity, as it was part of the restoration of her sexual availability to her husband — a husband currently away to fight the king’s war.

David turns this very private moment of Bathsheba’s self-touch into a moment for lustful curiosity and a fantasy leading to his own self-gratification.

It’s the kind of story that should make us all very uncomfortable.

We know where the shameful story heads next — from the lustful sight, to an abuse of his kingly authority to call her to his palace, then his bed, and then all the fallout: the pregnancy, the murder of her husband, the death of the resulting child, and the family turmoil that would haunt David’s own house as a result — one sin compounded by the next sin compounded by the next sin, all leading to a cascade of consequences.

The Sin

What makes this entire tragedy more vivid are the detailed accounts we are given of David’s brokenness and repentance after he was “outed” for his evil. Using a proverb of a predation, the prophet Nathan opens David’s eyes to see himself as the selfish thief of an unlawful pleasure (2 Samuel 12:1–15). The moment is as greedy and invasive as can be imagined, the prototypical sin of a man that echoes in the predacious role played by the Weinsteins of Hollywood and the conservative talkshow hosts of New York City.

On top of it all, we get a full Psalm from David debriefing his confession on his face before the God he has wronged. There David confesses that his sin is “ever before me.” He has sinned against a woman, sinned against her husband, sinned against his army, and sinned against his kingdom. And yet, all that is far and away surpassed by his offense against God. David confesses in prayer, “Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight” (Psalm 51:3–4).

David’s lustful gaze at Bathsheba was a sin against God because, among other reasons, he was taking advantage of her in her obedience to God. She was following God. She was living in a moment when obedience called for self-care. And it was in this moment that David saw his opportunity to capitalize on for his own self-gratification.

David was blinded from his lust from seeing a woman as a God-honoring woman. His failure of masculinity (in fact, his failure as ruler) was in failing to protect her obedience to God. And this is at the heart of our crisis of masculinity today: men whose self-centeredness cannot appreciate the holy beauty of a woman’s act of obedience to God’s call over her life. Whether it is an actress God has called and gifted to act, or a female gifted by God to sing and perform on stage, or a woman working under the authority of a powerful male boss, every woman must be protected for her obedience to God’s design for her life.

True Masculinity

Whether it’s Roman Catholic priests, powerful television hosts, Hollywood directors, male authorities in female gymnastics, or any other positions of male power, there remains a crisis of masculinity — a crisis of knowing that true masculinity is self-giving for the sake of the benefit and flourishing of women.

We are called to teach our boys that the girls in their schools are living their lives before God, and likely called to be wives of other men. We are to keep telling married men that your wife is not your possession, but God’s, to be protected and guarded as she fulfills her faithful obedience to her God.

This crisis of masculinity is an old tale — an old tragedy — since time immemorial. It plagues the left and the right. And all of us men would be hopelessly caught in this sin, had it not been for another King, one greater than David, who could meet a vulnerable woman at a remote well, not to take advantage of her, but to give her eternal joy.

In him we can still hope for the resurgence of the glorious masculinity God intended — men not bent on taking, but giving. Men not fixed on self-gratification, but ready to sacrifice self for her good.

The Final Authority

Mon, 10/23/2017 - 8:00pm

Cultures change. Opinions come and go. God’s word stands forever.

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Welcome to Paradise

Mon, 10/23/2017 - 2:00am

There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. This news should send our souls singing into paradise.

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The Genius of Geneva: John Calvin (1509–1564)

Mon, 10/23/2017 - 1:00am

In the fall of 1539, John Calvin wrote to Sadoleto, an Italian cardinal seeking to win Geneva back to the Roman Catholic Church: “[Your] zeal for heavenly life [is] a zeal which keeps a man entirely devoted to himself, and does not, even by one expression, arouse him to sanctify the name of God.” He goes on to say that Sadoleto should “set before [man], as the prime motive of his existence, zeal to illustrate the glory of God” (Selections from His Writings, 89).

This would be a fitting banner over all of Calvin’s life and work — zeal to illustrate the glory of God. The essential meaning of Calvin’s life and preaching is that he recovered and embodied a passion for the absolute reality and majesty of God.

Mastered by Majesty

Calvin was born on July 10, 1509, in Noyon, France, when Martin Luther was 25 years old and had just begun to teach the Bible in Wittenberg. The message and spirit of the Reformation would not reach Calvin for twenty years, and in the meantime he devoted his young adult years to the study of Medieval theology, law, and the classics.

But by 1533, something dramatic had happened in his life through the influence of Reformation teaching. Calvin recounts how he had been struggling to live out the Catholic faith with zeal when “God, by a sudden conversion subdued and brought my mind to a teachable frame. . . . Having thus received some taste and knowledge of true godliness, I was immediately inflamed with [an] intense desire to make progress” (Selections from His Writings, 26).

Suddenly, Calvin saw and tasted in Scripture the majesty of God. And in that moment, both God and the word of God were so powerfully authenticated to his soul that he became the loving servant of God and his word the rest of his life.

Genevan Pastor

Calvin knew what sort of ministry he wanted. He wanted the enjoyment of literary ease so he could promote the Reformed faith as a scholar. But God had radically different plans.

After escaping from Paris and finally leaving France entirely, Calvin intended to go to Strasbourg for a life of peaceful literary production. But while Calvin was staying the night in Geneva, William Farel, the fiery leader of the Reformation in that city, found out he was there and sought him out. It was a meeting that changed the course of history, not just for Geneva, but for the world. Calvin remembers,

Farel, who burned with an extraordinary zeal to advance the gospel, immediately learned that my heart was set upon devoting myself to private studies, . . . and finding that he gained nothing by entreaties, he proceeded to utter an imprecation that God would curse my retirement, and the tranquillity of the studies which I sought, if I should withdraw and refuse to give assistance, when the necessity was so urgent. By this imprecation I was so stricken with terror, that I desisted from the journey which I had undertaken.

The course of his life was irrevocably changed. Never again would Calvin work in what he called the “tranquillity of studies.” From now on, every page of the 48 volumes of books and tracts and sermons and commentaries and letters that he wrote would be hammered out on the anvil of pastoral responsibility. For the next 28 years (apart from a two-year hiatus), Calvin gave himself to expositing the word — to displaying the majesty of God in Scripture to his Genevan flock.

Glory Recovered

The need for the Reformation was fundamentally this: Rome had “destroyed the glory of Christ in many ways” (Portrait of Calvin, 9). The reason, according to Calvin, the church was “carried about with so many strange doctrines” was “because the excellence of Christ is not perceived by us” (Portrait of Calvin, 55). In other words, the great guardian of biblical orthodoxy throughout the centuries is a passion for the glory and the excellency of God in Christ.

The issue is not, first, the well-known sticking points of the Reformation: justification, priestly abuses, transubstantiation, prayers to saints, and papal authority. Beneath all of them — at stake in them all for Calvin — was the fundamental issue of whether the glory of God was shining in its fullness, or was somehow being diminished. From the beginning of his ministry to the end of his life, his guiding star in vision was the centrality and supremacy and majesty of the glory of God.

Unlocking the Treasures of Scripture

Geerhardus Vos has argued that this focus on the glory of God is the reason the Reformed tradition succeeded more fully than the Lutheran tradition in “mastering the rich content of the Scriptures.” Both had “cast themselves on the Scriptures.” But there was a difference:

Because Reformed theology took hold of the Scriptures in their deepest root idea, it was in a position to work through them more fully from this central point and to let each part of their content come to its own. This root idea which served as the key to unlock the rich treasures of the Scriptures was the preeminence of God’s glory in the consideration of all that has been created. (Shorter Writings, 243)

The true genius of Geneva was not the mind of John Calvin, but passion for the glory of God. Every generation needs to unlock the treasures of Scripture for the peculiar perils and possibilities of its own time. Our generation no less than any. I think we will only do this well if we have been profoundly and joyfully mastered by the greatest reality the Scriptures reveal — the majesty of God’s glory.

For more on John Calvin:

Portrait Of Calvin by T.H.L. Parker

The Legacy of Sovereign Joy: God’s Triumphant Grace in the Lives of Augustine, Luther, and Calvin by John Piper

Risk Your Kids for the Kingdom? On Taking Children to Unreached Peoples

Sun, 10/22/2017 - 8:03pm

Should a Christian couple take their children into danger as part of their mission to take the gospel to the unreached peoples of the world? Short answer: Yes.

Why? Because the cause is worth the risk, and the children are more likely to become Christ-exalting, comfort-renouncing, misery-lessening exiles and sojourners in this way than by being protected from risk in the safety of this world.

Provide for Their Greatest Good

When Paul said that “anyone [who] does not provide for . . . his household has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever” (1 Timothy 5:8), he was talking about world-idolizing slackers, not self-denying emissaries of Christ. But even that observation is not the main point.

The question raised by this text, and many others, is this: What is the greatest good you can do for your children? What does a real, countercultural, Christian ambassador and exile from heaven think when he is told, “Provide for your household”? Provide what? Culture-conforming comforts and security? Really?

I don’t think so. He is thinking, How can I breed a radical, risk-taking envoy of King Jesus? How can I raise a dolphin cutting through schools of sharks, rather than a bloated jellyfish floating with the plankton into the mouth of the whale called the world? How can I raise offspring who hear Jesus say, “The Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head” (Luke 9:58) and respond, “Let’s go”?

“Discipline of the Lord”

By all means, provide for your household. But what are we to provide? Paul says, “The discipline and instruction of the Lord” (Ephesians 6:4). Where might they taste the Lord’s discipline? Why should we think only in terms of spankings, time-outs, and family devotions? Why not the challenges and hardships implied in Hebrews 12:3–11?

Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted. In your struggle against sin you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood. (Hebrews 12:3–4)

Not yet! “It is for discipline that you have to endure. God is treating you as sons” (Hebrews 12:7).

Train Up a Child

Or when you think about “providing for your household,” what about providing practice in self-denial and risk? After all, doesn’t Proverbs say, “Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it” (Proverbs 22:6)? Perhaps we lose too many of our children because they weren’t trained as soldiers. Maybe we trained them in comfort and security, and now they won’t leave it.

Or what about providing for the young ones the way Deuteronomy 11:19 says? Teach them the wartime manual of life when you are walking among the hostile hearers, and when you lie down under the mosquito nets, and when you rise in the 95-degree heat. Come, my precious children, learn from mommy and daddy what it means to live with joy in the service of the King.

No matter how many Western, comfort-assuming, security-demanding, risk-avoiding Christians think otherwise, the truth is that there are worse risks for our children than death. This is simple Bible-reality. Not easy. Just simple. It is not complex or hard to grasp. There are things vastly worse than death. Wasting your life is worse than losing it.

Great Struggles Produce Great Citizens

One of the great ironies of history is that sometimes non-Christians see more clearly than Christians that the aims of family life are greater than safety. John Adams, who would become the second President of the United States, was sent as a Commissioner to France in 1778. His 10-year-old son, John Quincy (who would become the sixth President), went with him. Abigail, John Quincy’s mother, was totally behind this venture.

Here is David McCullough’s description of the mind-set behind this way of parenting. The boy would be away from his mother and his home for most of the next seven years. McCullough describes what this meant:

The boy was being taken across the North Atlantic in the midst of winter, in the midst of war. Just outside Boston Harbor, British ships were waiting to capture somebody like John Adams and take him to London, where most likely he would be hanged as a traitor. But the boy went, too, his mother knowing that she probably wouldn’t see him for a year or more, maybe never.

Why? Because she and his father wanted John Quincy to be in association with Franklin and the great political philosophers of France, to learn to speak French, to travel in Europe, to be able to soak it all up. And they risked his life for that — for his education. . . .

It was a horrendous voyage. Everything that could have gone wrong, went wrong. And when the boy came back, he said he didn’t ever want to go across the Atlantic again as long as he lived. And then his father was called back, and his mother said you’re going back. And here is what she wrote to him. And please keep in mind this is being written to an 11-year-old boy and listen to how different it is from how we talk to our children in our time. It’s as if she were addressing a grown-up. She’s talking to someone they want to bring along quickly because there’s work to do and survival is essential:

These are the times in which a genius would wish to live. It is not in the still calm of life, or the repose of a pacific station, that great characters are formed. The habits of a vigorous mind are formed in contending with difficulties. Great necessities call out great virtues. When a mind is raised, and animated by scenes that engage the heart, then those qualities which would otherwise lay dormant, wake into life and form the character of the hero and the statesman.

Well, of course he went, and the history of our country is different because of it. John Quincy Adams, in my view, was the most superbly educated and maybe the most brilliant human being who ever occupied the executive office. (American Spirit, 115–116)

“They risked his life for that — for his education.” To be with Franklin. To be with the French philosophers. To be at the heart of the great doings of the day! Because, in their mind, that is what life is for. A life not given to great things is not worth living. So, risk your life — and the life of your children — to be part of greatness.

Made for More

But ours is not the same calling. Ours is infinitely greater. We are not about establishing a mere country — like America. We are about serving the King who is over all countries. We are not about building a temporary, fallible, historical nation, but an eternal people — “a holy nation, a people for [God’s] own possession” (1 Peter 2:9). We are not about rescuing people from earthly tyranny, but from totalitarian oppression and suffering in hell forever. We are not about maximal education in the ways of this world, but maximum insight and involvement into the saving paths and power of God. Our aim for our children is not historical influence, but eternal impact.

If John and Abigail Adams thought that their comparatively small aims for their children were worth the risk of death, are not our aims worth just as much risk?

But we have more reason to risk. We have a promise: If God is for us, no one can be successfully against us (Romans 8:31). If they take our lives, our spouses, and our children, they cannot succeed. In all these things, we are more than conquerors. How better can we show our children this truth than to take them with us to the nations?

How Much of My Happiness Is Settled By Factors Outside My Immediate Control?

Sun, 10/22/2017 - 8:00pm

Someone recently claimed that 88% of our happiness is outside of our control. How should a Christian hedonist evaluate this theory?

Listen Now

A Simple Plan for Time Alone with Jesus

Sun, 10/22/2017 - 10:00am

Over the long run, our time alone with Jesus will go better if we have a plan — something that can guide us whether we have five minutes or an hour.

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The Champion of the Kirk: John Knox (c. 1513–1572)

Sun, 10/22/2017 - 1:00am

In the early 1500s, Scotland had one thing in common with the rest of Europe: a deeply corrupt and spiritually impoverished church, with morally moribund leadership. To cite one notorious example, David Beaton, cardinal and archbishop, illegitimately fathered at least fourteen children as his own. So much for celibacy in action. The spiritual ignorance was such that George Buchanan could claim that some priests thought the New Testament was a book recently published by Martin Luther.

Enter John Knox, and the Reformation was underway.

Born in Haddington, East Lothian, sometime between 1513 and 1515, Knox received his schooling locally and then at the University of St. Andrews. He became a priest and returned to his home region as notary and tutor. We know as little about his conversion as we do about Calvin’s.

Capture and Release

After the Protestant George Wishart’s martyrdom in St. Andrews, Knox came to the town with some of his young students and, in 1547, joined the group of Reformers living in the castle there. When Knox was appointed to preach, he refused, but he was virtually manhandled into accepting a call from the castle congregation to become their minister. Within a matter of months, however, the castle was under siege from French ships in St. Andrews Bay. Knox and others were captured, and he became a galley slave for the next year and a half.

In 1549, Knox was released and made his way to England. He pastored a congregation at Berwick, but soon he moved to Newcastle. He then became a royal chaplain during the days of the young King Edward VI. The death of Edward in 1553 was a body blow to the reforming party in England, leading as it did to the enthronement of Mary Tudor (“that idolatrous Jezebel” were Knox’s carefully chosen words to describe her). Knox sought refuge on the Continent.

Life on the Continent

Between 1553 and 1559, Knox lived a somewhat nomadic existence. He spent some time with Calvin in Geneva, calling it “the most perfect school of Christ . . . since the days of the apostles.” Thereafter, he accepted a call to pastor the English-speaking congregation at Frankfurt am Main.

Knox married Englishwoman Marjorie Bowes and, in 1556, returned to Geneva, where he pastored a congregation of some two hundred refugees. The following year, he received an urgent invitation to come back to Scotland — 1558 was the scheduled time for the marriage of the young Mary, Queen of Scots, to the dauphin of France, an event that seemed to destine Scotland for permanent Roman Catholic rule.

A taste of Knox’s vigor can be savored in a letter he wrote that same year to the people of Scotland, urging them not to compromise the gospel. He reminded them that they must answer for their actions before the judgment seat of God:

[Some make excuses:] “We were but simple subjects, we would not redress the faults and crimes of our rulers, bishops, and clergy; we called for reformation, and wished for the same, but . . . we were compelled to give obedience to all that they demanded.” These vain excuses, I say, will nothing avail you in the presence of God.

Return to Scotland

In 1559, Knox finally returned home to begin his most important phase of public ministry as the champion of the kirk (the Scottish term for church). Despite his lengthy absences from his native land, several things equipped Knox to lead the Reformation there: his name was associated with the heroes of the recent past, his sufferings authenticated his commitment, his broad experience had prepared him for leadership, and his sense of call made him “fear the face of no man.” So, for the next thirteen years, Knox gave himself to the reformation of Scotland.

By the summer of 1572, Knox was a shadow of his former self, and by November, it was clear he was not long for this world. On the morning of November 24, he asked his second wife, Margaret, to read 1 Corinthians 15 to him, and around five o’clock came his final request: “Read where I cast my first anchor” (presumably in faith). She read John 17. By the end of the evening, he was gone.

Many explanations have been forthcoming for Knox’s influence and that of the Scottish Reformation. No doubt there were many factors at work in the providence of God that brought about such spiritual renewal. But Knox’s own conviction was this: “God gave His Holy Spirit to simple men in great abundance.” Therein lies the greatest lesson of his life.

For more on John Knox:

History of the Reformation in Scotland by John Knox

Meal Above All Meals: Five Reasons We Enjoy Eating with Jesus

Sat, 10/21/2017 - 8:03pm

Has the Lord’s Supper become humdrum for you, something you do mindlessly, something you’ve simply done for years? Is it something that you do as you travel down the path of least resistance, something that is routinely passed to you so you figure you might as well?

Luke tells us that it is so much more. His account of the Lord’s Supper (Luke 22:7–30) provides us five magnificent reasons why this meal is above all others.

1. It Is Rooted in Redemption

Are you in need of forgiveness, of deliverance, of grace? This meal is for you.

Its roots extend deep into the history of God’s people and the riches of God’s character. Luke’s account makes clear that Jesus celebrates a Passover meal (Luke 22:8, 11, 13, 15), recalling God’s deliverance of Israel from slavery in Egypt. We’re reminded that God is eager to save his people (Psalm 86:5). And even as Jesus observes the Passover meal, he elevates it, claiming that it’s ultimately about his own imminent death.

Jesus himself is the Lamb who takes away the sin of the world. He is the Son whom God does not spare (unlike the firstborn sons of Israel at the first Passover) so that we may be spared. We receive this meal because we have been delivered from death and hell, and because we know we’re in desperate need of daily grace.

2. It Is Planned by Jesus Himself

Do you relish being at the table of a host who rejoices at your presence? This meal is for you.

Jesus provides elaborate instructions for Peter and John about how and where to prepare the Passover (Luke 22:8–13). It’s clear that this meal is Jesus’s idea. It occurs at his initiative, under his leadership, and according to his plan. When I proposed marriage to my wife Emma in October 2005, I left nothing to chance. I meticulously prepared a plan — plus two backup plans (depending on weather conditions).

In the years since, we’ve laughed about my over-preparation. But it clearly communicated to her my strong desire to marry her. Jesus carefully plans the meal, then says to his disciples: “I have earnestly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer” (Luke 22:15). He longs for us to join him at his Table. It’s good to ask ourselves, do we long to share this meal with him?

Do we anticipate the Lord’s Supper, or is it an afterthought? Jesus’s earnest desire invites us to desire the meal more, preparing ourselves beforehand through confession of sin, reconciliation with others, and joyfully expectant prayer.

3. It Anticipates the Future

Do you want a foretaste of the new creation? This meal is for you.

The reason Jesus is eager to share the meal with his disciples is that he won’t eat it again until “it is fulfilled in the kingdom of God” (Luke 22:16). The “kingdom of God” here refers to the new creation (Luke 22:18). Therefore, the implication of Jesus’s words is that the Lord’s Supper anticipates and begins the glorious future feast of the Messiah, a meal described in the Old and New Testaments.

The fragment of bread and taste of the cup we receive at the Lord’s Supper is the first course of a splendid eternal feast. It will be “fulfilled” later, but it starts now. At its source in northern Minnesota, the Mississippi River is an unimpressive little stream you can easily wade. But even at that point, it’s the real thing, the actual Mississippi. At the Lord’s Table, in the midst of a sin-sick world, the perfect future for which we long comes rushing into the present.

We hold in our hands a foretaste of the future. The apostle Paul was looking forward when he said, “As often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes” (1 Corinthians 11:26). The present meal heightens our desire for the full and final feast.

4. It Recalls Jesus’s Substitutionary Death

Do you desire a deeper understanding of Jesus’s death? This meal is for you.

Jesus says it refers mainly to himself and his redemptive work: “Do this in remembrance of me” (Luke 22:19). And we’re to remember not just the external events of his death — the soldiers, the scourging, the thorns, the nails — but their redemptive significance: “This is my body, which is given for you” (Luke 22:19). We remember that Jesus dies as our substitute. We remember that by shedding his blood for us, he inaugurates a new covenant (Luke 22:20). God’s judgment is fully poured out upon Jesus. Our sin is fully forgiven. As we share this meal with Jesus, we remember his unique, once-for-all, fully sufficient, substitutionary death.

5. It Forms a New Community

Do you long for life in true community? This meal is for you.

Immediately after eating, Jesus’s disciples dispute “as to which of them was to be regarded as the greatest” (Luke 22:24). They’ve clearly missed the meal’s meaning and transforming power. We may miss it, too, though perhaps in subtler ways.

As we leave the Communion gathering, are we annoyed that someone is talking in the parking lot, momentarily blocking our exit? Do we complain about missing the Sunday afternoon football game because a spouse or child needs our help? Later in the week, having been so powerfully reminded of God’s forgiveness, do we refuse to forgive someone who has sinned against us?

The reason Luke moves immediately from the institution of the Lord’s Supper (Luke 22:14–23) to Jesus’s teaching about humble service (Luke 22:24–27) is that he wants us to see that Jesus’s death in our place is meant to form a new community, creating in us servant hearts, propelling us to love one another in humble ways.

Long ago, J.C. Ryle wrote, “He that eats the bread and drinks the wine in a right spirit will find himself drawn into closer communion with Christ, and will feel to know him more and understand him better.” This is still true. This promise is for us when we feast at Jesus’s Table.

The Radical Reformer: Conrad Grebel (c. 1498–1526)

Sat, 10/21/2017 - 10:00am

A radical among radicals, Conrad Grebel’s vision for the church is a familiar one to most evangelicals today. But at the time it made him an exile, not just from Roman Catholicism, but even among the Reformers.

Grebel was born in 1498 to a prominent family in Zurich. In 1524, Grebel’s university career began in Basel with what seemed like a promising start. But things unraveled as Grebel’s differences of opinion with his teacher, his brawling, and his loose living caused his father to cut him off. Chastened, he returned home to Zurich, where he fell in with a small band of humanists studying Greek, Hebrew, and the Latin Bible under the instruction of Ulrich Zwingli.

Sometime in the year following his stint with Zwingli, Grebel’s life changed. He married a woman below his class, which caused a further break with his family, and he was converted, as evidenced by a dramatic change in his lifestyle. It didn’t take long for Grebel to become one of Zwingli’s most enthusiastic supporters and earn a reputation as a gifted gospel witness.

Dispute and Disrepute

But just a little more than a year later, in October 1523, a wedge began working its way between the two men. The culprit? Mass. In a public disputation, both men favored abolishing the Mass, but when Zwingli saw that the city councilmen were not ready to go that far, he relented. This was unthinkable to Grebel, who felt that the clear word of God must be obeyed without delay. Both sides felt betrayed: Grebel felt Zwingli agreed to do what he had condemned as abominable (that is, continue performing the Mass), and Zwingli felt Grebel was ungrateful and demanding.

This dispute got to the heart of one of Grebel’s deepest differences with the mainstream Reformers: To whom does the church answer? Grebel was convinced that the city councilmen should have no authority over the church and its practice — more so, they should have no authority over the word of God itself. On the flip side, he didn’t think the church should have authority over the state either, and he opposed compulsory tithing and the like. The seeds of a separation between church and state were germinating. To us, this separation is as familiar as the air we breathe; to them, it was revolutionary.

A Romish Water Bath

The last nail in the coffin on Grebel’s association with the mainstream Reformers was over infant baptism. Grebel had hoped that Zwingli might be amenable to his conviction that only believing adults should be baptized, but it was not to be so.

On January 17, 1525, Zwingli called for a public debate to force the issue. Grebel was joined by Felix Manz and George Blaurock for the side of believers’ baptism. In the end, the city council agreed with Zwingli and ordered Grebel’s group to cease meeting for Bible study. They also ordered all unbaptized infants to be brought for baptism or else be exiled. Grebel’s daughter was two weeks old at the time and, in Grebel’s words, “had not yet been baptized and bathed in the Romish water bath.” Nor would she be while Grebel drew breath, which wasn’t for long.

A few days after the debate, Grebel gathered at Felix Manz’s home with the exiled radicals, and he performed the first adult baptism on Blaurock, a married former priest. In the months following, Grebel preached the gospel of “repent and be baptized” in St. Gall, and around five hundred people responded by doing just that.

Grebel was arrested and imprisoned in October 1525. After escaping from prison the following year, he continued preaching the gospel until he died of the plague just a few months later.

Preach and Obey

The driving force behind Grebel’s actions and doctrinal reforms could be summed up this way: preach and obey the word without compromise. In his own words,

Seek earnestly to preach only God’s word unflinchingly, to establish and defend only divine practices, to esteem as good and right only what can be found in definite clear Scripture, and to reject, hate, and curse all the schemes, words, practices, and opinions of all men, even your own.

Even if it means exile or worse.

The Prosperity Gospel in Our Closet

Fri, 10/20/2017 - 8:03pm

Christianity is the religion of delight. But not any delight — delight in God himself. Listen to Psalm 84:

A day in your courts is better than a thousand elsewhere. I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God than dwell in the tents of wickedness. (Psalm 84:10)

On holidays as a child, I visited my cousin’s house up north. Year after year, I would wander into his bedroom to admire a poster he had on the wall. In the foreground was a row of supercars in private garages. Just beyond them, sitting on a hill overlooking the Pacific coastline was a Malibu mansion. The title of the poster read, “Justification for Higher Education.” I was enthralled.

Not so in Psalm 84. That poster bores the psalmist. He’s tasted too much happiness in the presence of God to let the things of this world have any decisive pull on his heart. This is what it means when he writes, “A day in your courts is better than a thousand elsewhere.” A Christian is someone who knows no higher joy than God. No surplus of trinkets, no company-keeping among the powerful or wealthy, can compete with the appeal God has. They’ve seen what the world has to offer and have found it wanting.

Shiney stuff bores the saints.

The Greatest Gift

For many of us, this point may be one we’ve had settled, in theory, for some time now. We know God is better than all the world offers. But if that’s where our delight in God ends, we’ve stopped short of how far the Bible goes. The staggering claim of the gospel is that God is not just better than anything the world has to offer — God is even better than anything God has to offer.

As Christians, we have access to a thousand gifts that are breathtakingly wonderful in their own right (Ephesians 1:3): forgiveness of our sins (Isaiah 43:25), relief from God’s wrath (Romans 5:9), escape from hell (Revelation 20:15), heaven forever (Luke 23:43), promise of a new glorified body in a new heavens and new earth (Romans 8:18–24). But for the Christian, these are not what we write home about. Our main gift in the gospel is God. The punchline of our good news is this: You get God!

Listen to Peter’s words: “Christ suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God” (1 Peter 3:18). Christ died primarily to allow us access into the presence of our Creator.

Christ Wants to Give You Christ

This was not the way I heard the gospel as a teenager. What I heard was essentially this: “You’re a sinner and hell is hot. Jesus is the only ticket out. Believe and be saved!” All of it is true, but it falls short of showing the real beauty of Christ’s coming. Christ didn’t just come to give us heaven — Christ came to give us himself!

Think about it in terms of a marriage. What an insult it would be for you to find out one day that your spouse married you simply to avoid being single! Fear is a terrible reason to get married, because it belittles your husband or wife. If all we have in our coming to Jesus is fear of hell, we will always only see him as a means to our end — not the great end he himself means to be for us.

Two Simple Questions

This truth confronts our shallow affections. Here are two simple questions to help expose the depth of your delight: 

1. What do you do when you falter in spiritual disciplines?

Several years ago, I began to notice something on days when I wouldn’t make time for Bible reading or extended prayer. I was sad. Not because I missed out on time with my heavenly Father, but because I now had a blemish on my record of spiritual consistency. To put it another way, my response revealed that I prized my self-righteousness more than my Lord.

It’s ironic that many of us are able to see the lies of the prosperity preachers, who promise new cars and houses for anyone willing to believe a little harder, but we don’t have eyes to see the more subtle threat of using our relationship with God as a means to boost our spiritual resume. This is the orthodox man’s prosperity gospel — going through the spiritual motions to acquire an elevated sense of self-worth. It’s the prosperity we keep in our closet, even our prayer closets.

Spiritual disciplines exist to bring us nearer to our Beloved, not to provide an ego boost.

2. How do you explain the gospel to others?

Is the punch line of your good news that we don’t have to go to hell when we die? If so, you’re not only holding back the brightest gem of the good news from others, you also might be betraying what you treasure most in being saved: yourself.

Heaven will be amazing, no question. But without Jesus as the centerpiece, there will be nothing of lasting good in heaven. Do you believe that? David tells us that joy isn’t found in a location, but in God himself: “in your presence there is fullness of joy” (Psalm 16:11). 

God Is the Gospel

Four decades ago, recording artist Keith Green said, “If your heart takes more pleasure in reading novels, or watching TV, or going to the movies, or talking to friends, than in just sitting alone with God and embracing him, sharing his cares and his burdens, weeping and rejoicing with him, then how are you going to handle forever and ever in his presence? You’d be bored to tears in heaven if you’re not ecstatic about God now.”

More than a decade ago, John Piper in his book God Is the Gospel put it this way: “Christ did not die to forgive sinners who go on treasuring anything above seeing and savoring God. And the people who would be happy in heaven if Christ were not there, will not be there. The gospel is not a way to get people to heaven; it is a way to get people to God.”

We must have our God, or we truly have nothing. All the great joys ring hollow without him. Every blood-bought pleasure and treasure are dollar-store trinkets until he takes his place as the center of our delights. But when he does, every other gift is sweetened forever.

The Majestic Beard of Zurich: Heinrich Bullinger (1504–1575)

Fri, 10/20/2017 - 1:00pm

In an age when the celibate priesthood set itself apart from the laity, in part, with clean-shaven faces, the Protestant Reformers grew beards to make a statement. They were restoring both maleness and humanity to church leadership, and they weren’t afraid to have it written on their faces.

Word is that Heinrich Bullinger, chief minister in the leading Swiss city of Zurich, had the best beard of all. One historian describes Bullinger’s as “majestically bushy” — and it wasn’t altogether disconnected from the theology he carefully grew, and groomed, in the wake of the Reformation’s first shocking loss.

Protestant and Preacher

Bullinger, son of a Catholic priest, was born in the Swiss town of Bremgarten in 1504. He went off to the University of Cologne in Germany in 1519 to study humanities, not medieval theology. While there he encountered a book-burning of Luther’s works, and it piqued his interest. He then determined to read the Reformer for himself, and as he did, his world turned upside down. He was now eighteen years old, and a Protestant convert.

In 1523, the year after his conversion, Bullinger met Ulrich Zwingli (1484–1531), who had been converted in 1519, around the same time as Luther, and quickly became the leader of the Swiss Reformation. Zwingli was twenty years Bullinger’s elder, but the two became allies, and eight years later their lives were forever linked when disaster struck the fledging Reformed movement.

Zurich Successor

Zwingli was not only pastor in Zurich but also army chaplain. On October 11, 1531, the great Reformer joined the Battle of Kappel to defend the city against Catholic forces. He was wounded, then found by the invading army, and executed.

After the Protestant loss, Bullinger’s hometown, where he now was pastoring a Protestant church, came under threat. He fled for Zurich. There he took into his own household the wife and two surviving children of his dead friend, and within weeks he was chosen as his successor as chief minister in Zurich, a post at which Bullinger would stand for 44 years, from age 27 until his death at 71 in 1575.

Early Covenant Theologian

How often history pairs the strengths of great men with attendant weaknesses. One of Bullinger’s signature contributions was his primitive form of “covenant theology.” Here he followed the lead of Zwingli, who organized his theology by the covenant motif, rather than by medieval categories.

Zwingli located his theological center in God’s creation covenant with Adam. Bullinger matured and modified that theology to focus on Abraham, a step in the right direction, but as historian David Steinmetz notes, both located their theological center of gravity in the Old Testament rather than the New. The strengths included reading the whole Bible as one story; the weaknesses included a penchant to minimize (or reject) discontinuities revealed in the New.

In short, Zwingli and Bullinger read the whole Bible but still a flat Bible. What remains unclear is how much such early covenant theology led to the mistreatment of Zurich’s so-called Anabaptists (“re-baptizers”), and how much it developed in response to these “radicals.” In 1525, Zwingli and Bullinger together defended infant baptism at a public disputation against the Anabaptists, which led to the eventual drowning of some.

Bullinger also followed Zwingli in opposing church music because of its danger to become an idol and hinder true worship. Bullinger groomed Zwingli’s instinct into a matter of principle, and church music was not restored in Zurich until almost 25 years after Bullinger’s death.

Peacemaker

Yet his life and enduring legacy would not be as a divider, but as a unifier. Behind his majestic beard was one of the biggest hearts of the Reformation era, and one of its most tireless peacemakers. Though he rarely left Zurich, he engaged in voluminous personal correspondence (some twelve thousand of his letters have survived) to counsel and build coalition with Reformed leaders across Europe.

Even more than his gifted preaching, he was known for his patience, wisdom, and generous spirit. He stabilized the young but influential Zurich church, not only after its shocking tragedy but then for more than forty years. He grew and groomed what Zwingli began. According to Steinmetz, “Without Zwingli there would have been no Reformation in Zurich; without Bullinger it would not have lasted.”

For more on Heinrich Bullinger:

The Reformation: A History by Diarmaid MacCulloch

Reformers in the Wings by David C. Steinmetz

Bring Your Doubt to Jesus

Fri, 10/20/2017 - 2:00am

Our salvation doesn’t depend on the quality of our faith. God’s mercy to us hinges solely on Jesus.

Watch Now

The Majestic Beard of Zurich: Heinrich Bullinger (1504–1575)

Fri, 10/20/2017 - 1:00am

In an age when the celibate priesthood set itself apart from the laity, in part, with clean-shaven faces, the Protestant Reformers grew beards to make a statement. They were restoring both maleness and humanity to church leadership, and they weren’t afraid to have it written on their faces.

Word is that Heinrich Bullinger, chief minister in the leading Swiss city of Zurich, had the best beard of all. One historian describes Bullinger’s as “majestically bushy” — and it wasn’t altogether disconnected from the theology he carefully grew, and groomed, in the wake of the Reformation’s first shocking loss.

Protestant and Preacher

Bullinger, son of a Catholic priest, was born in the Swiss town of Bremgarten in 1504. He went off to the University of Cologne in Germany in 1519 to study humanities, not medieval theology. While there he encountered a book-burning of Luther’s works, and it piqued his interest. He then determined to read the Reformer for himself, and as he did, his world turned upside down. He was now eighteen years old, and a Protestant convert.

In 1523, the year after his conversion, Bullinger met Ulrich Zwingli (1484–1531), who had been converted in 1519, around the same time as Luther, and quickly became the leader of the Swiss Reformation. Zwingli was twenty years Bullinger’s elder, but the two became allies, and eight years later their lives were forever linked when disaster struck the fledging Reformed movement.

Zurich Successor

Zwingli was not only pastor in Zurich but also army chaplain. On October 11, 1531, the great Reformer joined the Battle of Kappel to defend the city against Catholic forces. He was wounded, then found by the invading army, and executed.

After the Protestant loss, Bullinger’s hometown, where he now was pastoring a Protestant church, came under threat. He fled for Zurich. There he took into his own household the wife and two surviving children of his dead friend, and within weeks he was chosen as his successor as chief minister in Zurich, a post at which Bullinger would stand for 44 years, from age 27 until his death at 71 in 1575.

Early Covenant Theologian

How often history pairs the strengths of great men with attendant weaknesses. One of Bullinger’s signature contributions was his primitive form of “covenant theology.” Here he followed the lead of Zwingli, who organized his theology by the covenant motif, rather than by medieval categories.

Zwingli located his theological center in God’s creation covenant with Adam. Bullinger matured and modified that theology to focus on Abraham, a step in the right direction, but as historian David Steinmetz notes, both located their theological center of gravity in the Old Testament rather than the New. The strengths included reading the whole Bible as one story; the weaknesses included a penchant to minimize (or reject) discontinuities revealed in the New.

In short, Zwingli and Bullinger read the whole Bible but still a flat Bible. What remains unclear is how much such early covenant theology led to the mistreatment of Zurich’s so-called Anabaptists (“re-baptizers”), and how much it developed in response to these “radicals.” In 1525, Zwingli and Bullinger together defended infant baptism at a public disputation against the Anabaptists, which led to the eventual drowning of some.

Bullinger also followed Zwingli in opposing church music because of its danger to become an idol and hinder true worship. Bullinger groomed Zwingli’s instinct into a matter of principle, and church music was not restored in Zurich until almost 25 years after Bullinger’s death.

Peacemaker

Yet his life and enduring legacy would not be as a divider, but as a unifier. Behind his majestic beard was one of the biggest hearts of the Reformation era, and one of its most tireless peacemakers. Though he rarely left Zurich, he engaged in voluminous personal correspondence (some twelve thousand of his letters have survived) to counsel and build coalition with Reformed leaders across Europe.

Even more than his gifted preaching, he was known for his patience, wisdom, and generous spirit. He stabilized the young but influential Zurich church, not only after its shocking tragedy but then for more than forty years. He grew and groomed what Zwingli began. According to Steinmetz, “Without Zwingli there would have been no Reformation in Zurich; without Bullinger it would not have lasted.”

For more on Heinrich Bullinger:

The Reformation: A History by Diarmaid MacCulloch

Reformers in the Wings by David C. Steinmetz

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