2000 Years of Christ’s Power, Volume 3: Renaissance and Reformation – Nick Needham

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

Best of the series so far. I thoroughly enjoyed this exploration of Reformation history. I suspect that is probably because the Reformation is perhaps personally my favourite period of Church history, but I found Needham’s treatment absorbing all the same.

I was a little apprehensive that the feel of this volume would be substantially different from the previous two owing to the sudden change of pace: the first two volumes together covered 1500 years of history and this volume only 100. Yet, there is simply so much ‘Reformation’ that I hardly felt the change of pace. In a way, Needham simply recounts the same 100 year period several times over. However, each time the focus changes different group or movement, ocassionally overlapping with one another: the Lutherans, the Reformed, Radical (Anabaptist, Spiritualist, and Rationalist), the Roman Counter – Reformation, and the Eastern Orthodox church (who didn’t really undergo any sort of ‘Reformation’.) Some time is also spent considering the Reformation by country, with England and Scotland having their own chapter. The humanist movement preceding the Reformation is highlighted and its influence over the following century is often linked back to men like Erasmus.

I really appreciated the biographical nature of some of the leading reformers in each movement – especially Martin Bucer who often ‘goes under the radar’ in some other works. Furthermore, Needham gave useful context to some of the more distateful episodes of the Reformation, highlighting, for example, the differnce between anti – Semitism and anti – Judaism, and the ubiquity of the death penalty for heresy (making the incident with Servetus a little more historically representative than: Calvin burned Servetus.)

One thing I was really looking forward to reading about was the huge change in approach to the Biblical text that occured over the course of the 16th century. Particularly, the advances in textual criticism and, even, of manuscript evidence. I was expecting some discussion on the textus receptus and its surrounding issues, but I was left slightly disappointed.

Nevertheless, the series is so gripping so far, I cannot wait for the next volume!

Review: Saving the Reformation – W. Robert Godfrey

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Dr. Godfrey takes us back to the early 17th century to highlight the importance of what appeared, at the time, to be a local controversy among Dutch churches. However, the Remonstrance of 1610, the subsequent Synod of Dordt, and the following controversy surrounding the character, theology, and following of Jacobus Arminius proved to be anything but a mere local, intra-Reformed disputation.

In seeking to unravel this time period in history where, Dr. Godfrey claims that the Reformation was saved, the author focuses his attention around the historical context, and theological content, of the Canons of Dordt.

The work begins with a brief historical note on the state of the Dutch churches from the time of the Reformation to the early 17th century, providing necessary the historical backdrop to the meeting of the Synod of Dordt. This chapter was a real strength of the book, and Dr. Godfrey makes several interesting points about the international nature of the Synod (including the controversy about the seating arrangement for the British and French delegates, even though the French delegates were banned from attending!) and the disputations arising between members of the Synod (including the challenge of a duel). On a particularly amusing note, Dr. Godfrey was keen to highlight how the Synod invited the Arminians to testify at the Synod to give them a fair hearing. However, the verbosity of one Arminian, Simon Episcopius, led to the scribe noting that “Episcopius finally came to the part for which they had all been eagerly waiting: the end” (p. 26). Dr. Godfrey is gifted in making this historical section both concise and captivating.

After showing the reasons for the Synod’s meeting in responding to various teachings and accusations of the Remonstrants, the main section of the book focuses on an exposition of the Canons in a new translation.

The translation itself is very readable and fulfils its aim in making the Canons more accessible to modern readers without fundamentally diluting its content. The translation accurately captures the warm pastoral heart of the Canons, which is an aspect of the Canons that his highly stressed in this work. Personally, I am a fan of the translation, and the fact that it is included as a chapter as a stand alone, without any exposition, means I will endeavour to use it as my own translation of the Canons in future.

Dr. Godfrey’s exposition is clear and helpful in understanding both the overall structure of the Canons, its main intention in every Article and Rejection. The exposition also helps show how one Article relates to another, which is very beneficial in understanding the flow and internal logic of the Canons. Again, a major strength of the exposition is showing how the Articles and Rejections were intended to edify the church and be pastorally sensitive.

A rather frustrating caveat to an otherwise elucidating exposition, is Dr. Godfrey’s repeated reference and redefinition of Pelagianism. A partial explanation of Pelgianism is given in both the First and Second Heads of Doctrine, and then is again redefined in Article III.2 on original sin. Several other technical theological terms are treated in this manner and is a little frustrating to read. As a result, it is unclear what the expected understanding of the reader is throughout the book. Dr. Godfrey seems to be assuming that the reader has a strange intersection of not necessarily being able to define Pelgianism but also having a working knowledge of both the Belgic Confession and the Heidelberg Catechism.

This lack of clarity around certain assumed theological terms is exacerbated in an otherwise intriguing evaluation of Arminius’ teaching in Appendix 1. For example, it would have been helpful to at least have a passing mention as to the core teachings of Ramism in order to understand why Arminius holding to such a philosophy was potentially problematic. Despite this, however, the Appendix does reveal a perpespective about Arminius that rejects the prevailing notions the he was a non – controversial figure that was viciously attacked and misrepresented by Calvinists. In fact, the opposing view is supported. Indeed, a key remark that Dr. Godfrey makes, is that wherever Arminius positively defines his own doctrine of predestination, it is invariably Molinistic at its core.

In summation, this book effectively aids in the understanding of the Canons of Dordt, including placing them in their historical context. The translation itself is worth reading, as is the study of Arminius in the first Appendix.

Review: Grace Alone – Salvation as a Gift of God: What the Reformers Taught…and Why It Still Matters – Carl Trueman

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

This book is an excellent study on the concept of grace.

Trueman give an overview of how grace is presented in the Bible and how we are to understand grace from God. In doing so, one of the main points that he makes is that grace is not simply some force or power or energy that God simply dissipates, but rather God’s grace is seen most through His Son.

Then, Trueman discusses the doctrine of grace in the Church throughout history. Starting with Augustine, moving through to Aquinas, and finishing with the Reformers, the similarities and differences between the great theologians of the Church are highlighted. Key to this is Trueman’s ability to establish context for the theology, as we have to consider Augustine’s debate with the Pelagians as necessary context for his view of grace. Furthermore, what is also heartening is that Aquinas is presented as an ‘unexpected ally’ to Protestant theology on grace. In doing so, Trueman shows how Aquinas is entirely consistent with the Augustinian (and later Reformed) concepts of grace, fundamentally, but where we have to depart from his thought due to his sacerdotalism.

The final section looks at grace in the practice of a local church. This is an extremely important point that Trueman does well to include. He looks at the preaching of the Word, baptism, the Lord’s Supper, and prayer and their links to grace in the church. The straight talking manner in which he address issues of sin is also very helpful. The section on prayer specifically is fantastic, with the discussion on public and private prayer, and the distinctions thereof, being insightful and practically challenging.

The only real negative I have about this work, is that Trueman presents an odd view of the difference between single and double predestination. He makes no distinction as to the different types of double predestination, and seems to view the term ‘double predestination’ as synonymous with ‘equal ultimacy’, which is fallacious and does not take into account the Biblical definition of double predestination.

9 Things I Learned from the Reformation

The Protestant Reformation is one of the most important events in history. Far from being a relic of the distant past, the theology of the Reformation continues to have profound impact on the lives of many today. Whilst all Protestant churches owe their foundational beliefs to the Reformation, Reformed theology remains largely untouched and, sometimes, wilfully ignored by modern Christians. Indeed, until I was 21, my knowledge of Christian thought was extremely narrow; almost as if there were advanced parts of Christianity to which I was not privy, because studying theology was to be done by ‘those in ministry’. The theological food I was being served in my youth was filling, in that it answered my questions, yet it was bland and unenjoyable. I was satisfied, to an extent, with the answers to difficult questions, but I did not enjoy them – there was no richness or delight to be found. For example, I figured that the best Christians really had to explain the Trinity was “The Trinity is like how water, ice, and steam are the same substance but appear can appear in three different forms” or “Well, it’s not 1+1+1 = 3 but 1×1×1 = 1” or some other, similar response. “If that’s all there is to eat,”  I surmised “then I’ll eat it, bland and unintelligible as it is and not complain.” However, years on, having meandered my way entirely accidentally to come to Reformed theology, I am no longer on a spiritual diet that is the equivalent of crackers and tofu but a luxurious gourmet all-you-can-eat buffet, full of rare filet mignon, spicy chicken jalfrezi, and warm apple crumble. Here are 9 things I’ve learned from Reformed theology.


Salvation

My view of salvation was that it was a state that I had entered into upon making a choice to follow Jesus. We are fully able to make that choice, any one of us, and God is doing His best to save everyone, but we just need to accept His help. Once we choose to take God up on His offer, then we are saved. Jesus died for everyone, and everyone’s sins are paid for, you just need to ‘invite Him into your heart’.

But the Bible never talks about salvation like this. God is always the initiator. If He doesn’t begin His saving work in me, then there is no hope of me being saved! Once I found out that the Bible teaches that we hate God in our natural state (John 3:19-20 etc.) and refuse to come to Him, it became clear that God must first change my heart before I can choose Him. God must destroy our natural heart of stone and replace it with a heart of flesh before we can come to Christ. In fact, the imagery that the Bible uses is even more stark; we must be brought from spiritual death to spiritual life. God is not waiting for us to accept Him because we can’t; we’re spiritually dead! I was as active in my salvation as Lazarus was in raising himself from the tomb.

Predestination and Free Will

I used to just want the idea, and seemingly inherent contradiction, of predestination and free will to just go away. I wanted to pretend that terms ‘predestination’ and ‘election’ are never ever mentioned in the Bible (they are) and people who mention these terms are using a dodgy translation (they’re not). However, I needed to have at least some answer to this question of predestination. Romans 8 has always been a favourite chapter of mine…except maybe verses 29 and 30 because they had predestination in them so I could have no idea what they meant. So, I settled myself with what is the equivalent of bland theological junk food with phrases like “It’s 100% free will and 100% predestination, simultaneously. It’s just a paradox.” or, similarly, “They are like two parallel lines that meet at infinity” and other such phrases. I was satisfied with this until I read Romans 9 for the first time properly. My nonsensical phrases blew away like chaff in the wind, and my intellectual cowardice had been exposed. I wasn’t solving the problem of predestination and free will by holding to irreconcilable contradictions, I was fleeing from it.

I began to give some serious thought to this issue, and the only way I could ever get these two ideas to reconcile was to change the meaning of either one. Either, we’re not as autonomous as we think we are, or Paul meant something different than what I was assuming election and predestination meant. However, Reformed writers made me realise that nowhere does the Bible even presuppose and assume free will like I was doing. I was warping and bending the text to protect this idea of free will I had to defend at all cost.

It isn’t that we have no will, but that our will is not free – it’s a will in bondage to sin! The concept of a human will in which we are equally free to choose both good and bad is not a Christian idea; it is a pagan concept. We only choose the darkness because we love it; we want to sin so we do and we never want to choose God, so we don’t. Once I understood that, election made sense to me. How can I come to choose God unless He chose me first? I will never choose Him by myself if I am slave to sin. The Reformed faith teaches that because we are slaves to sin, we fully deserve God’s wrath and He is therefore under no obligation to save any of us. Out of His sovereignty, He chooses to display mercy to some, and gives justice to others; in neither instance is there injustice with God. Those who are the elect of God were chosen before the foundations of the world; a people set apart to display God’s grace and His mercy, just as Israel was chosen out of the nations. At the same time, God passes over others, repaying them justice and wrath as their deeds and unbelief deserve. This predestining of some unto salvation is nothing to do with anything God sees in the person, as the Bible maintains it is a gift from God.

Prayer

It began to strike me as odd how people in the Church would pray for unbelievers. Phrases like “change their hearts” and “reveal Yourself to them” and “draw them close to You” are often used, in all different churches that have very differing views on how salvation comes about.

But I came to see that only Reformed theology was consistent with our prayers. If God is doing what He can to save people, what is the point of asking Him to do anything else? If God couldn’t override the free will of people, then what else could He do? But if God is the one that does all of the saving, without our input, then this makes sense! Since salvation is of the Lord, and He is the one who chooses only then can we pray that God would soften the hearts of those who are hostile to Him. I now know that I can pray for God to drastically intervene in someone’s life and for the Holy Spirit to convict them of their sin and turn, in repentance and faith, to Him because that is their only hope!

Trinity

It must be simply stated that my view of the Trinity was very confused when I was a much younger Christian. No-one seemed to have provided a meaningful explanation of what we as Christians believed about the Trinity, and this was all mixed up with heretical analogies about water and fire and three-leafed clovers. The objection that the Trinity was contradictory because it’s 3 gods and yet 1 god seemed difficult for me to refute. Moreover, the person of Jesus seemed to me to be very well explained. He was the obvious one. In fact, if you were to talk to me at, say, 17, you might get the impression that I knew and loved this Jesus (almost as much as I loved myself)  but be utterly ignorant that I believed in Father, Son, and Holy Spirit unless directly asked. It is not that I didn’t believe in the Trinity, but because my knowledge of who the Son is so vastly outweighed my consideration of the other two persons, I couldn’t say anything meaningful. Perhaps, especially in light of some Christian festivals I attended, I could say something about how the Holy Spirit made people speak in nonsense languages and violently shake on the ground, but I couldn’t find much of that in the Bible.

Yet, in the Reformed faith, I have found something truly trinitarian. Not just in name, but in core belief. Firstly, I now understand that the Trinity isn’t some inherent contradiction, but that in the Godhead there exists, and always has existed, one divine being in three united yet distinct, co-eternal and co-equal persons. The Father is neither created nor begotten, the Son begotten of the Father, and the Spirit proceeds from both Father and Son, each with equal glory yet they have distinct workings. In salvation, for example, the decree of election flows from the will of the Father as He bequeaths the elect to His Son, who purchases their redemption by His obedience on earth as a man when He lived, died, and rose again, and who with the Father sends the Spirit, to work in the lives of men and women, convicting them in their sin, and leading them to the truth. This is the trinitarian gospel and we can give thanks and praise to each person of the Trinity for their work in our salvation!

Sin

A great failing of the churches or parachurch activities I’d been involved in is that sin was always minimised to as to make it, not acceptable, but less offensive to ‘sensitive ears’. Words were even used that would make our sin appear almost harmless or accidental. Phrases like “Jesus takes our messiness” or “God can forgive your mistakes” were prevalent in how I formed the concept of wrongdoing against God.

This strategy was abysmally insufficient to help me understand how serious sinning against a holy God is. A mistake is missing your exit on the motorway, or spelling ‘accommodation’ with only one ‘m’. Sin is the breaking of God’s holy law; it is treason in the presence of the King. I would come to think things like “I really didn’t sin much today” whereas I now realise that I don’t think I have ever kept the commandment to love the Lord with my heart, soul, and mind. I constantly fail to love my neighbour as myself. I am often envious of others, constantly selfish, and devote myself to the idols of my life almost unceasingly. In fact, I am chief of all sinners (Paul only said that he was the worst of all sinners in 1 Tim 1:15 because he hadn’t met me yet) and before I realised this truth, I had no real urgency in killing my sin. As the Puritan writer John Owen famously said, “Be killing sin, or it will be killing you”. I only wanted some of the bigger ‘mistakes’ I had made to be taken care of by God, instead of realising that I need to constantly repentant of all of my evils that are utterly repugnant to the Lord and start putting my old ways to death so I can serve Him!

Biblical Authority

Quaint phrases and good ideas that ‘sounded right’ would often dominate my Christian thought. This is evident in my thoughts about free will that I have mentioned before and in other areas I am no different. It is amazing to me how much rubbish I manage to pick up out of the ether; things I have just assumed about Christianity because they ‘seemed about right’. But, because I did not understand the Bible’s true authority on my life my mantra became “I like to think of God as…” or “I don’t think God would…”.

Now, I can see that I was just creating a god in my own image. As Christians, we ought to be able to provide a justification for our beliefs in Scripture. The Bible is not just “Best Instructions Before Leaving Earth”, like it is some sort of manual but it is the Holy Word of God and should be the foundation of our entire worldview. It’s standards are absolute and its decrees and decisions final. The Bible is inspired, inerrant, and authoritative. That means that no matter what I think  God might be like, or how I think He might want me to act, if there does not exist a sound Scriptural reasoning for my convictions, then I am wrong. The truth is not found in my feelings and emotions, but in His Word. With this comes the obligation of discernment; testing the concepts of man, however good they sound, against the Word of God.

Creed, Catechism, and Confession

To be frank, I had never been told what a catechism was, nor had I heard of confessions of faith, and the two creeds that I did know were just things recited at communion services as part of the liturgy. I don’t think I had even heard that the denomination that I grew up in, the Church of England, had a doctrinal confession until I was around 20. In fact, the Christianity to which I held was almost entirely devoid of historical truth and the idea of setting out specific beliefs to which I hold, and building on men of great faith who had gone before, was entirely foreign.

Whilst I am still new, in general, to catechesis and confessionalism, I can now appreciate their importance in keeping the body of believers within doctrinal boundaries. Without confessional Christianity, we are wandering blindly in the dark. Perhaps we will find our way eventually, but more than likely we will go astray and will be ignorant of the monsters that lie in the shadows. The creeds and confessions exist to give a sound guide by which we may navigate the faith, whilst catechesis serves to help us remember these truths and teach them to others. Whilst all these resources are not infallible or inspired like Scripture, they are incredibly useful for examining, strengthening, and defending the Christian faith.

Sacraments

My view of the sacraments was, one might say, loose. Other than necessary components for the Christian life because the Lord commanded these rituals in memory of Him, I wasn’t really sure why we baptised or distributed the bread and wine at communion. Also, why did people care what the ‘proper’ way to administer these sacraments was? Isn’t it just personal preference? What if I wanted to have communion with crisps and apple juice, what was the difference, ultimately?

In other words, my view of these sacraments was so low it could have dropped though the floor. While Reformed theology has never come to a unanimous consensus to how we should administer these sacraments,  it is evident to me that these parts of our Christian life are vitally important and our disagreements matter, even if they should not divide us. These are the signs and seals of the covenant of grace that God Himself made with man. Our baptism should be treasured because it should be an outward mark of our remission sin and our union with Christ, as true believers. At the Lord’s table, we should come and examine ourselves in the light of the cross, remembering all that Christ did for us when He shed His blood and broke His body and to spiritually receive and feed upon Him. In fact, so important are these means of grace towards us that the Bible says that, if we “eat and drink without discerning the body eats and drinks judgement on himself.” (1 Cor 11:29). These sacraments should be guarded and treasured in the hearts of every believer and we should praise God every time we witness a baptism or partake of the Lord’s Supper for His grace in giving us these signs and seals of His marvellous promises!

Corporate Worship

With a lot of modern church worship, especially those that strive to follow in the footsteps of the large megachurches around the world, the focus is very much on developing a feeling within the congregation – specifically in times of song. Some would go so far as to say it is emotionally manipulative but I think a more accurate term is emotionally driven. In fact, a lot of singing in praise felt more like a concert or performance than anything else. However, I was entirely comfortable with this frame of corporate worship as an immature Christian and I did not think much of it.

I never understood, for a long time, that there really exists correct and incorrect ways of worshipping God. Biblically, there does exists a category of worship that we can define as ‘unacceptable’ – just ask Nadab and Abihu. However, largely speaking, although the manner in which we worship was something I was challenged about first, it is the content of the worship that I continue to struggle with. The Reformed faith places such an emphasis not only on the Scriptures but in sound theology that a lot (not all, but a lot) of the modern praise songs come across as repetitive, shallow, and self-focused. It’s too much about us; too much about how our faith makes us feel, and worship should not be based on our feelings. It’s not a question of style, but about content. As the modern church, we have slowly embraced an affective principle of worship, rather than a regulative or even normative principle.

Finally, I now realise how important the ‘corporate’ is in our corporate worship. A quick look at Colossians 3:16 shows us “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs with thankfulness in your hearts to God.” Our singing in praise should be from the gospel, for one another, and to the Lord. When was the last time a song at church taught you something that made you go away and study the concept after church, or ask your minister? When was the last time a song at church admonished you? There is a sense in which we must teach and admonish our brothers and sisters in the church, week by week, in the things of the gospel through our songs. This is just one of the many reasons why the Reformed faith considers the regular attendance of a local congregation of such vital importance. If I am gaining the same spiritual benefit by listening to hymns on my own and singing praise with my church family, then there is something wrong with how I view worship.


In essence, what the Reformed faith has taught me is how valuable the five points of the Reformation are, and how to live by them. Sola Scriptura (Scripture Alone) – that the Bible is the sole infallible rule of faith and has unique authority in Christian lives. Sola Gratia (Grace Alone) – that God saves us by nothing but pure grace. Sola Fide (Faith Alone) – that this grace in us is manifested in our faith, that gives us union with Christ, and the only basis for our salvation. Solus Christus (Christ Alone) – that this faith must be placed in the person and work Jesus Christ alone. Soli Deo Gloria (The Glory of God Alone) – that all we are, and all we do, is to bring glory to the God who saved us!

Introductions: Jan Hus

When we think of the Protestant Reformation, that supposedly turns 500 on the 31st of October 2017, we often envisage the bold Augustinian monk, Martin Luther, furiously nailing his papers to the door of the church in Wittenberg in protest of the corruption of the Roman Catholic church. However, it should not be forgotten that there were men before Luther who had qualms with the Roman church of their day and fought for its reformation. One of the most important of these was the Bohemian teacher and preacher Jan Hus (sometimes Anglicised as John Huss). Hus is often a forgotten man, overshadowed by the events that happened a century after his time, but the power of his legacy in the so-called Reformation proper, and of the importance of his ideas in the church today, cannot remain so neglected. In fact, in 1519, just 2 years after famously nailing his 95 theses to door in Wittenburg, Luther debated Johann Eck in the Leipzig Disputation and affirmed, to general uproar of onlookers: “Yes, I am a Hussite”.

Hus was born in the small farming town of Husinec (literally “Goose Town”) in southern Bohemia, modern day Czech Republic, in c.1370. From such obscure and humble beginnings, Hus sought the priesthood of the Roman Catholic church of the day not for the service of God, his heart for the people, but, he said, for fame and a relatively easy life. Nevertheless, he was academically capable, with a particular aptitude for hard work and study, and so was one of very few students accepted into the University of Prague from his area when he applied, in 1390. He’d earned his Master’s degree by 1396 and, four years later, was ordained by the church, in 1400. In this time, Hus had distinguished himself in his mastery of humanities, language, and theology and so, in 1402, was made the rector of the university. In this role, part of his responsibility was to be the preacher at the Bethlehem Chapel in Prague; to speak to the people in their own language.

During his time at the University of Prague, Hus was greatly influenced by the writings of English theologian John Wycliffe. Specifically, Wycliffe advocated for some very unpopular ideas at the time. He was intent of providing the English people with a Bible in their own language and so translated the New Testament into the English vernacular, with some associates translating the Old Testament. This came to be known as the Wycliffe Bible. His zeal for providing the people with a Bible in their language came from his belief that the Church should be a place for Biblical teaching, focusing on the message of Scripture, and to rely less on the theological system of the medieval Roman Catholic church. Wycliffe also presented theological arguments against the authority and validity of the Papacy and the system of Roman Catholic church leadership. These arguments almost certainly were prompted by the so-called Papal Schism, whereby three men claimed to be Pope simultaneously – one in Rome, one in Avignon, and one in Pisa. This divide in the church prompted Wycliffe to examine the basis for the Papacy and its validity –  an idea Hus would later come to develop. Wycliffe’s writings were banned by the church in 1403, just a year into Hus’ rectorship, and was subsequently declared a heretic in 1415. However, despite this, Hus translated Wycliffe’s work Trialogus into Czech and distributed it to the people of Prague.

By 1406, Hus had gained some notoriety for his teaching and preaching, and was widely known. At this time, Gregory XII became Pope in Rome, and sent a warning against Hus and his teachings. Accordingly, the University of Prague demanded all Wycliffe’s writings be surrendered for correction and Hus obeyed, saying that he condemned any errors in the writings.  However, in 1409 the Pisan Pope Alexander V condemns Hus as a heretic, and this is followed by Hus’ excommunication by the Archbishop of Prague. In light of this, Hus’ continued teaching and preaching in the Bethlehem Chapel becomes ever stronger after his condemnation and receives even more attention than before.

After Alexander V dies in 1410, John XXIII ascends to the Papacy and in 1411 launches a Crusade against Naples. In an effort to fund this war, the priests began to sell indulgences to the people. In essence, they asked money from the people in exchange for a ‘guarantee’ of no punishment for sins in purgatory, after death, and to go directly to Heaven. This extortion of the common people for what, in Hus’ eyes, was an unnecessary war, emboldened him to start his diatribe against the established church. He rallies against the sale of indulgences and the church’s corruption. In 1412, a dispute took place where Hus delivered a message that taught that the Pope had no right to take up arms in the name of the Church and must, instead, be committed to pray for his enemies and bless those who curse him. Further, Hus argued that man obtains forgiveness for his sin and wrong-doing by true repentance, and not bartering using money. In response, his energised followers burnt the Papal decrees, saying that Hus should be followed, not the established church, since it had become corrupt and fraudulent. Three of these protesters were behead and became the first martyrs of the Hussite church.

Hus continued his teachings on church reform and refusing to give up his writings at the order of the Papal decrees, stating that they must first be proven un-Scriptural. The attacks on Hus by the Pope and Archbishops caused rioting in parts of Bohemia, with the King and government siding with Hus. As a result, a church censure was imposed upon Prague and Hus, hoping to protect the people in the city, exiled himself to the surrounding countryside. There, he met with many of the common peasants of Bohemia, preaching and teaching as he travelled. During this time, Hus’ realised the vast chasm that existed between the educated people of the university and the peasants in the rural villages and their priests. Therefore, he began a number of Czech books, focusing on the basics of the Christian faith and how to teach them, mainly for the instruction of priests whose knowledge of Latin was poor. Hus published De Ecclesia in 1413, based heavily on Wycliffe’s work of the same title. Hus’ most controversial doctrines in his work were that

  1. Every believer is a part of the Church
  2. The Bible is the sole authority in the Church
  3. Jesus Christ is the head of His Church

Hus taught that wherever the word of the Pope conflicted with the words of Christ in the Scriptures, that the believers must submit to Christ, for only He is the true King and Ruler. One of the other notable distinctives of Hus’ work, was that Hus argued for the lay people to receive the wine at the eucharist. In the medieval church, the cup of wine was reserved only for the priests as the wine was seen to be more holy, in some sense, than the bread and the clergy more holy than the lay people. Hus disagreed with this, and argued that the clergy were not entitled to sacraments withheld from the people; that there was no basis to distribute to them only one of the elements.

In 1414, Hus was summoned to the Council of Constance, to stand trial and end the dissension in the church. Hus agreed to go, having been promised a safe conduct by the head of the Holy Roman Empire, Sigismund of Hungary. Initially, Hus was at liberty in Constance under the protection of Sigismund, but continued to preach and celebrate the Mass, in violation to the restrictions placed on him by the church. A few short weeks into his stay in Constance, he was arrested by Sigismund’s men, and thrown in a monastery dungeon. He was imprisoned for 8 months before being brought out to trial. However, Hus was given no opportunity to articulate and defend his position and was merely asked questions about whether he would recant what he professed to believe. Hus refused. In July 1415, he was brought before the council and his priestly garments were stripped from him, one by one, as he refused to recant each of his teachings. A prelate at the council pronounced condemnation against Hus and his writings. Hus protested, saying that he only wished to be convinced from Scripture. He fell upon his knees and asked God to forgive all his enemies. He was forced to wear a hat, with the inscription “Arch Heretic” and was burned at the stake on 8th of July, 1415.

This act was viewed as one of the greatest crimes of the church in Bohemia, and inspired uprisings from the Czech people, who saw Hus as a symbolic figure against the tyranny of the Roman Catholic church, provoking Pope Martin V to order the death of any followers of Hus or Wycliffe and thereby starting the Hussite Wars.

Jan Hus should be remembered for his faith in the face of death. When seeking the Scripture as his authority of his beliefs, Hus sought the truth of God and recognised the corruption of a man-made institution. In speaking out he lost his own life, but in the last moments of his life, he famously made a pun on his own name (which literally translates to ‘goose’) that

They will roast a goose now, but after a hundred years they will hear a swan sing, and him they will endure

Martin Luther, in 1517, believed himself to a fulfilment of these words from Hus and decided to wrap his own reformation and beliefs up with that of Jan Hus, labelling himself a Hussite.

The tragedy is, in the current day, that many people pay only lip service, if anything at all, to the doctrines that Hus fought, and ultimately died for.  The idea that Christ, alone, is the head of His Church, and that the Bible is its sole authority is rarely carried through. Practically, the Church of modern times is marked by the opinions of its ministers and the ‘new’ ideas of how to make the Church something that will appeal to world. If Christ is the head of the Church, then the Church should gather to hear Him speak – and He speaks through His Word. The Church should be marked by an endeavour to bring the Word of Christ to His people, and to the submission to the Word. The life and death of Jan Hus shows us not only the corruption the Church faces by departing from Christ’s authority in His Church, but how precious the doctrine should be to us, as God’s people.