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A couple of years ago, David Dockery, president of TIU, established the Founders’ Day lecture series. He did so for the reason of learning our history for the first time, or for others to be reminded of our history.

It consists of a “two-day long event where students, faculty and staff of Trinity come together to celebrate the founding of the university and reexamine its history.” Foundational to our history, is a keen sense and awareness of the goodness and grace of God in sustaining his good work through the TIU, our EFCA school.

In this year’s third annual lecture, Doug Sweeney, Professor of Church History, chair of the Church History department, and director of the Jonathan Edwards Center, addressed the theme, “Immeasurably More Than We Asked or Imagined: The Trinity Story.” Sweeney “traced the institution’s history from its roots within the Scandinavian immigrant community to its present focus as a global institution.” (You can read a summary of Sweeney’s lecture here: Sweeney traces ‘The Trinity Story’ in Founders’ Day presentation.)

From its humble beginnings, God has used TIU to train and equip and compel into ministry for the Lord Jesus Christ 23,000 alumni living in 89 countries around the world.

In summary, Sweeney concludes,

Who could possibly have guessed that a school with such a pedigree—founded in a slum, transplanted several times, often tested by expansion and economic strain—would be used by the Lord in such a global way today? God has forged our identity through trial, to be sure. But He has done so in order to bless the church and the world, engineering a way of life and a culture here at Trinity that edifies us all.

It is great to hear once again our history, and to be reminded of God’s good providential plan, his “amazing grace,” that he has done a work that is “immeasurably more than we asked or imagined!”

Our EFCA 2017 Theology Conference was excellent! We learned, we worshiped, we were encouraged – and we encouraged one another, and we were equipped.

Resources

Resources from the Conference have been posted: Reformation 500: Theology and Legacy – God’s Gospel and the EFCA

On the website you will have access to the recordings of all the messages, and you will also find notes that accompanied many of the lectures. You will also be able to peruse or download the Notebook, which consists of information about the speakers, an introduction to the Conference, and bibliographies of each of the lecture themes.

Challenge: Listen and Learn

In light of this year being the 500th anniversary of the posting of Luther’s 95 Theses, I encourage you to “attend” this exceptional Conference by using these outstanding resources. In fact, I encourage you to do it with others. Plan to listen and discuss the material as a ministry team. If you desire to go further, consider choosing one of the books listed in the bibliographies. If you want some recommendations of some key books to read this year on some specific topic or theme of the Reformation, or even Pre or Post-Reformation, ask in the Comment.

Conclusion: Lord, please do it again!

We remember and celebrate the theology and legacy of the Reformation. We do so by focusing on some common and known truths about the Reformation and the resultant fruit from the Reformation. We also emphasize some lesser-known truths from the Reformation that have also shaped our theology and left a legacy. We do so not because it was the discovery of something new, or because that historical period of time is the pinnacle of the work of God.

Rather, we recognize the Reformation as an important time at which the gospel was rediscovered, which formed and shaped all that followed. Furthermore, we do not today want to recapture the historical time period of the Reformation. Rather, we ask God to revive and reform again, based on the truth of the Word of God, the theology of the Reformers, with the prayerful desire we leave a faithful legacy for the glory of God and the good of his people.

Pre-Reformation: John Wycliffe

Greg Strand – February 19, 2017 Leave a comment

On this date this date, February 19, in 1377, John Wycliffe (1330-1384) was on trial at St. Paul’s Cathedral, London, for having criticized the Roman Catholic Church.

What were his criticisms? Wycliffe spoke against . . .

  • the sale of indulgences;
  • the worship of saints;
  • the veneration of relics;
  • the meaninglessness of some church traditions;
  • the sloth and laziness of clerics.

These matters sound a lot like the issues the Reformers addressed in their reform from the Roman Catholic Church. Wycliffe stated them 140 years before the posting of the 95 Theses (October 31, 1517).

Interestingly, even though five papal bills were issued for Wycliffe’s arrest, he was never convicted as a heretic.

For the rest of Wycliffe’s story, he died on December 31, 1384. He was officially condemned as a heretic in 1415, the time at which another Pre-Reformer, Jan Hus, was martyred. Finally in 1428, Wycliffe’s bones were exhumed, burned, and scattered in a little river called Swift.

What was the meaning of all this? Did justice finally catch up with Wycliffe? Or was this the ironic yet beautiful providence of God such that Wycliffe’s ashes in the little Swift river were carried into the ocean known as the Reformation?

One writes,

As a postscript to his life, it must be noted that Wycliffe died officially orthodox. In 1415 the Council of Constance burned John Hus at the stake, and also condemned John Wycliffe on 260 different counts. The Council ordered that his writings be burned and directed that his bones be exhumed and cast out of consecrated ground. Finally, in 1428, at papal command, the remains of Wycliffe were dug up, burned, and scattered into the little river Swift. Bishop Fleming, in the reign of Henry VI, founded Lincoln College for the express purpose of counteracting the doctrines which Wycliffe and his followers had promulgated. As history has revealed, Wycliffe’s bones were much more easily dispersed than his teachings, for out of a sea of controversy and angry disputation rose his greatest contribution-the English Bible.

The chronicler Fuller later observed: “They burnt his bones to ashes and cast them into the Swift, a neighboring brook running hard by. Thus the brook hath conveyed his ashes into Avon; Avon into Severn; Severn into the narrow seas; and they into the main ocean. And thus the ashes of Wycliffe are the emblem of his doctrine which now is dispersed the world over.”

 For more, see Christian History, Issue 3 (1983), “John Wycliffe and the 600th Anniversary of the Translation of Bible into English

“What is Catechism?”

Greg Strand – January 20, 2017 3 Comments

Catechisms have been used as a means/method of imparting truth and passing on the faith once for all entrusted to the saints (Jude 3). One of the early ones written in the wake of the Reformation was The Heidelberg Catechism

One of the main authors of this catechism was Zacharias Ursinus (1534-1583). At the beginning of his commentary on the Heidelberg Catechism, Ursinus included a section, “Special prolegomena with reference to the catechism.”

Ursinus’ prolegomena addresses five key issues:

  1. What is catechizing, or the system of catechization?
  2. Has it always been practiced in the church, or what is its origin?
  3. What are the principal parts thereof?
  4. Why is it necessary?
  5. What is its design?

Ursinus lists nine reasons for the necessity of teaching the catechism in the church, with a summarizing warning.

  1. Because it is the command of God . . .
  2. Because of the divine glory which demands that God be not only rightly known and worshipped by those of adult age, but also by children . . .
  3. On account of our comfort and salvation; for without a true knowledge of God and his Son Jesus Christ, no one that has attained to years of discretion and understanding can be saved, or have any sure comfort that he is accepted in the sight of God.
  4. For the preservation of society and the church.
  5. There is a necessity that all persons should be made acquainted with the rule and standard according to which we are to judge and decide, in relation to the various opinions and dogmas of men, that we may not be led into error, and be seduced thereby, according to the commandment which is given in relation to this subject . . .
  6. Those who have properly studied and learned the Catechism, are generally better prepared to understand and appreciate the sermons which they hear from time to time, inasmuch as they can easily refer and reduce those things which they hear out of the word of God, to the different heads of the catechism to which they appropriately belong, whilst, on the other hand, those who have not enjoyed this preparatory training, hear sermons for the most part, with but little profit to themselves.
  7. The importance of catechisation may be urged in view of its peculiar adaptedness to those learners who are of weak and uncultivated minds, who require instruction in a short, plain, and perspicuous manner, as we have it in the catechism, and would not, on account of their youth and weakness of capacity, be able to understand it, if presented in a lengthy and more difficult form.
  8. It is also necessary, for the purpose of distinguishing and separating the youths, and such as are unlearned, from schismatics and profane heathen, which can most effectually be done by a judicious course of catechetical instruction.
  9. A knowledge of the catechism is especially important for those who are to act as teachers, because they ought to have a more intimate acquaintance with the doctrine of the church than others, as well on account of their calling, that they may one day be able to instruct others, as on account of the many facilities which they have for obtaining a knowledge of this doctrine, which it becomes them diligently to improve, that they may, like Timothy, become well acquainted with the Holy Scriptures . . .

The summary: “A neglect of the catechism is, therefore, one of the chief causes why there are so many at the present day tossed about by every wind of doctrine, and why so many fall from Christ to Anti-Christ.”

A few questions of application:

  • What would you identify as weaknesses in the church today?
  • How do you address this personally in your own life and in the life of your family?
  • What content, plans and structure are in place to address it in the church?

On January 19, 1563, the Heidelberg Catechism was first published by Reformed scholars in Germany. This Catechism was written by Peter Ursinus and Caspar Olevianus, and espouses a Reformed view of theology. Shortly after its publication, it was accepted by most of the Reformed churches in Europe. It was originally written “to prepare a catechism for instructing the youth and for guiding pastors and teachers.”

As a catechism, its structure is that of a question followed by an answer. It also includes Scripture references supporting the responses. It consists of 129 questions and answers, and soon after it was published, it was structured to be read in a year, and thus divided into 52 sections to reflect the 52 weeks of the year. In the sixteenth century, the National Synods of the Reformed Church adopted the Three Forms of Unity, which consisted of the Belgic Confession (1561), the Heidelberg Catechism (1563), and the Canons of Dort (1618-1619).

Here is a brief introduction to the Catechism:

The Heidelberg Catechism was written in Heidelberg at the request of Elector Frederick III, ruler of the most influential German province, the Palatinate, from 1559 to 1576. This pious Christian prince commissioned Zacharius Ursinus, twenty-eight years of age and professor of theology at the Heidelberg University, and Caspar Olevianus, twenty-six years old and Frederick’s court preacher, to prepare a catechism for instructing the youth and for guiding pastors and teachers. Frederick obtained the advice and cooperation of the entire theological faculty in the preparation of the Catechism. The Heidelberg Catechism was adopted by a Synod in Heidelberg and published in German with a preface by Frederick III, dated January 19, 1563. A second and third German edition, each with some small additions, as well as a Latin translation were published in Heidelberg in the same year.

The Catechism was soon divided into fifty-two sections, so that a section of the Catechism could be explained to the churches each Sunday of the year. In The Netherlands this Heidelberg Catechism became generally and favorably known almost as soon as it came from the press, mainly through the efforts of Petrus Dathenus, who translated it into the Dutch language and added this translation to his Dutch rendering of the Genevan Psalter, which was published in 1566. In the same year, Peter Gabriel set the example of explaining this catechism to his congregation at Amsterdam in his Sunday afternoon sermons.

The National Synods of the sixteenth century adopted it as one of the Three Forms of Unity, requiring office-bearers to subscribe to it and ministers to explain it to the churches. These requirements were strongly emphasized by the great Synod of Dort in 1618-19. The Heidelberg Catechism has been translated into many languages and is the most influential and the most generally accepted of the several catechisms of Reformation times.  

The first two questions frame the whole Heidelberg Catechism, and are foundational for the whole of the Christian life. These two questions and answers are worthwhile to memorize.

1.Q. What is your only comfort in life and death?

A. That I am not my own,[1] but belong with body and soul, both in life and in death,[2] to my faithful Saviour Jesus Christ.[3] He has fully paid for all my sins with His precious blood, and has set me free from all the power of the devil.[5] He also preserves me in such a way[6] that without the will of my heavenly Father not a hair can fall from my head;[7] indeed, all things must work together for my salvation.[8] Therefore, by His Holy Spirit He also assures me of eternal life[9] and makes me heartily willing and ready from now on to live for Him.[10]

[1] I Cor. 6:19, 20 [2] Rom. 14:7-9. [3] I Cor. 3:23; Tit. 2:14. [4] I Pet. 1:18, 19; I John 1:7; 2:2. [5] John 8:34-36; Heb. 2:14, 15; I John 3:8. [6] John 6:39, 40; 10:27-30; II Thess. 3:3; I Pet. 1:5. [7] Matt. 10:29-31; Luke 21:16-18. [8] Rom. 8:28. [9] Rom. 8:15, 16; II Cor. 1:21, 22; 5:5; Eph. 1:13, 14. [10] Rom. 8:14. 

2.Q. What do you need to know in order to live and die in the joy of this comfort?

A. First, how great my sins and misery are;[1] second, how I am delivered from all my sins and misery;[2] third, how I am to be thankful to God for such deliverance.[3]

[1] Rom. 3:9, 10; I John 1:10. [2] John 17:3; Acts 4:12; 10:43. [3] Matt. 5:16; Rom. 6:13; Eph. 5:8-10; I Pet. 2:9, 10.

I have used the Heidelberg Catechism as a supplement to my Bible reading. I have also used it with my family as part of our family worship/devotions. I commend it to you as well.

In our Free Church history, creeds have been formative, but also considered a concern. This relationship is summarized by one as follows:

Creeds can become formal, complex, and abstract. They can be almost illimitably expanded. They can be superimposed on Scripture. Properly handled, however, they facilitate public confession, form a succinct basis of teaching, safeguard pure doctrine, and constitute an appropriate focus for the church’s fellowship in faith.

The same could be said for the relationship with the Free Church and confessions. Although they are foundational, the concerns of their abuses have often resulted in their lack of use. At their best, they have been foundational and formative to Christians and the propagation of the Christian faith for centuries. If one does not use a catechism for spiritual formation, what is being used? It is not that young people and adults are not being formed and shaped. The concern is that what they are being formed and shaped by and to is not substantive biblical and theological truth.

At our upcoming Theology Conference, “Reformation, 500: Theology and Legacy,” one of our lectures will address The Reformation, Creeds, Confessions and Catechisms You can read more about the Conference, the speakers and the schedule here, and you can register here.