Five Hundred Years of the Reformation: Recommended Reading Material

October is upon us and this month we are celebrating 500 years of the Reformation, but beyond some random hot-headed monk banging a bit of paper on a church-door and a few fights, what else happened?

It is my aim in this post to list a number of short books on the Reformation and Reformation characters, which everyone should read to give us all a bigger and better picture of what actually happened all those years ago.

What’s the big deal about the Reformation — is it just another word for the Renaissance?

The Reformation had very little to do with the Renaissance, if anything the Reformation was a grassroots movement against the Renaissance, a cultural and philosophical movement characterised by the revival of Græco-Roman ideas and art. The achievement central to the Reformation was the translation of the Bible into the native languages of European peoples, unlocking the eternal word of God for the masses. In my opinion, the Renaissance was mostly intellectual hot-air and risqué art leaving little to the imagination; for a few oily-haired loafers.

‘The Unquenchable Flame’ by Dr. Michael Reeves

I think Dr. Reeves’ work is the best short overview of the Reformation that money can buy. In a lucid and fluent writing style he describes the decline of the Church into immorality and debauchery, and then the spark of flame that set it all off. The book is a gripping read that is completely ‘unputdownable’! The Reformation was a clear work of God from start to finish; He used everyone from prince to pauper, gallant knights to little old monks shuffling around.

So who was this Luther bloke — wasn’t he a civil-rights campaigner?

The 20th century American civil-rights campaigner Martin Luther King actually named himself after the original Martin Luther, the German monk generally accredited with kick-starting the Reformation (although a change had been in the wind for a good few hundred years). However, in many ways, the two men were not dissimilar…

‘The Triumph of Truth: A Life of Martin Luther’ by J.H. Merle D’Aubigné

Martin Luther was a German monk turned Reformer. A promising future as a lawyer was cut short by a thunderstorm and the young German signed his life away to a monastery, and, in his own words, ‘If ever a monk could get to heaven by his monkery, it was I.’ Then the Lord drew Luther’s attention to His word, and therein Luther found the truth. His is a fantastic story interwoven with disguise, deception and betrayal. The Reformation started by Luther banging his Ninety-Five Theses on the church door, and this is quite simply a banging book! I’ve heard it said that more biographies have been written of Martin Luther than any other man, which makes choosing one difficult. But in my opinion, D’Aubigné (haven’t a clue how to properly say his name by the way – I think it could be ‘door-bin-ay’, but I don’t think its ‘dow-big-knee’ as some say) is one of the best, most honest historians covering the Reformation with a number of titles.

I’m a Scot — where does Scotland come into all this?

Scotland! Well, the Reformation shook Europe to the core, and this seismic revolution reverberated around the world; it didn’t take long to reach the glens of Scotland too.
The Reformers were an eclectic bunch, from all walks of life, there were the reflective thinkers, timid by nature who craved the quiet, bookish boffins like John Calvin, Philip Melanchthon and William Tyndale, and then there were the fiery lions like Martin Luther, Ulrich Zwingli and William Farel who all loved a good scrap. But, loud or quiet, they were all thrust into defending and suffering for the gospel. And there was another lion by the name of John Knox who was quite a character, and perhaps did more for the gospel in wee bonnie Scotland than any other man…

‘John Knox: Fearless Faith’ by Steven J. Lawson

This short sharp captivating biography captures the essence of John Knox, as he journeys from bodyguard to galley slave, to displaced exile, doing whatever it takes in order to preach the gospel in his beloved Scotland. Honestly, it is a simply fantastic read and breathtaking introduction to the fiery Scotsman and the Gospel he fought for!

Yeah but what I really wanna know is how the Bible got translated into English?

All in good time, my lad, and it certainly did take time! Several people had a crack at it until Wycliffe got most of it done before he popped his clogs back in the 14th century. Then England had to wait another one-hundred-and-fifty years before a chap by the name of William Tyndale came along. What did he do? Read this book and find out!

‘God’s Outlaw’ by Brian H. Edwards

The life of William Tyndale makes for fantastic reading. Brian Edwards really encapsulates the soul of the man and the King he served. Hunted and on the run in Europe, with the agents of the government after this elusive pimpernel; Tyndale battled tooth and nail to get the Bible translated and printed in English until eventually they nabbed him. From then on, it was only time until he was burnt at the stake; with one last cry, his dying prayer was, ‘Lord, open the king of England’s eyes!’

What happened?

That great womanising buffoon Henry VIII declared that a Bible in English be placed in every church building in the land. Boom!

It’s my belief that William Tyndale did more for the English language and the English Bible than any other Englishman in history. Bold claim? Read the book and see if you agree with me.

So, what is the best way to understand the Reformers?

Read the book that they all fought for, and many of them died for!

What book’s that?

The Bible, you numpty!

It is the greatest book ever written. It has God’s everlasting message of hope and salvation. The greatest thing to come from the Reformation was the word of God in the languages of the people of Europe. When you read it look out for the ‘Five Solas’ of the Reformation (although one’s a ‘Solus’ and another’s a ‘Soli’…). These were the five great truths championed by the Reformers.

Solus Christus – Christ Alone
Soli Deo Gloria – Glory to God Alone
Sola Scriptura – By Scripture Alone
Sola Fide – By Faith Alone
Sola Gratia – By Grace Alone

What should I do now?

Go and read, be educated and uplifted! And pray! We so need another Reformation. A Gospel Reformation, following those Five Solas. We need the name of Jesus Christ to fly like a banner across the sky for all the world to see once again!

Competition time! We would like to offer one reader of the Eat Write Sleep blog the chance to win any two of the books from this article of their choice. All you have to do is post a comment below (or on our Facebook page) with which two books you would like and why. The winner will be decided by lot (the Biblical method!), the books sent by post, and the competition will run until Saturday the 28th of October.

Why the Charismatic Church and the Reformed Church need each other!

Someone recently lent me a book by Martyn Lloyd-Jones entitled What is an Evangelical? Needless to say, it had a profound impact on me.  I found I agreed with most of what the author said, whilst also disagreeing with him on certain points.  In some ‘Reformed’ circles, this man is put on a high pedal stool, which annoys me greatly, however he was a man greatly blessed in ministry and wisdom.  Many thanks to Josh for lending it to me, it has been a great inspiration!

Evangelicalism: Primary and Secondary issues

What is an Evangelical? © ICM books
What is an Evangelical? © ICM books

The whole point of the book (a series of lectures given in 1971), is to define what an Evangelical is; that they are one who focuses on the whole truth of the gospel, not jeopardising the primary issues, such as the Cross and the Resurrection, etc. He also is keen to point out a lot of matters which are not primary issues such as Calvinism, how the Spirit works, baptism, prophetic interpretation etc.… with which a lot of Christians can get carried away with and divided by.

When I read this, I was extremely glad when the author noted the secondary issues that should not get in the way of unity amongst Evangelicals. I would add to this, colour of church doors, the type of worship music that we use, whether or not we have pews, or the version of the Bible that we use. There are so many little divisions that keep us from this unity.  I am also very glad that he notes of primary issues that we must focus on, and that we should be careful of those who vary from us on these primary truths.  The Catholic Church for example, in doctrine on primary truths, varies lot and we must be careful.   However Lloyd-Jones’ view on creation I think can be a red-herring, and a hindrance to real issues. Ultimately, how God created the world is neither here nor there when it comes to salvation. It doesn’t bother me, what bothers me is Jesus and his Word being proclaimed in our land.

Nonetheless, unity in the church is a topic Lloyd-Jones focuses on and I would like to take it even further, that the many denominations need to have further unity. In doctrine we will differ on these secondary issues, but with all our aims in evangelising, in spreading the good news, we must unite, as this infighting is just us letting sin control us.

Doctrine and Feeling: the Balancing Act

Lloyd-Jones attacks both intellectualism and emotionalism in these series of lectures. Both, he feels, hinder the work of the Gospel and our walk with the Lord. He notes that especially those in Reformed circles, if they feel the Spirit and are baptised in the Spirit they feel they have to become Pentecostal, which he states is not the case!  How true is this!  All Christians should welcome such a wonderful gift and should not feel inclined to change denomination because of it!  In this, he notes that there has to be knowledge of doctrine, which warns us of the danger of ecumenicalism.  That because we think we feel the Spirit does not mean that doctrine no longer matters, it does!  That’s why there is still an important divide between Catholics and Protestants, etc… What Lloyd-Jones notes, is that both the Spirit and doctrine are vital for our modern day church.  That either going too far one way will become very dangerous and I totally agree with this.  I will later go into the Reformed-Charismatic movement as a way of reaching the balance, but for now it is important to note that balance is always needed in the church.

Lloyd-Jones notes of the danger of the growing ecumenical movement that he saw rise during his lifetime. As Christians, we need to be careful of sharing with other churches which vary from the primary issues of the gospel.  The Catholic Church and some other denominations need to be kept apart from fellowship for our own good.  How can we share evangelism platforms with those who compromise  on fundamentals?  Share a platform with those who do not believe in a personal relationship with God, who believe in an infallible man called a Pope and pray to Mary? The poor woman would turn in her grave, if only she knew!  I am not saying that there are not Christians amongst the Catholic Church, far be it from me to say such things, but certainly the leadership and structure of the Catholic Church should never be met in fellowship, they are incredibly dangerous.  I sometimes feel as though we think ecumenical movements are the only way to achieve unity.  That idea is wrong, we can have unity in fellowship with our denominations, evangelize together, but we have to recognize our differences and stop trying to water down and compromise on doctrine.

He writes that the church has to be constantly reforming. This is an interesting notion and one that I fully understand.  The church should not be relying on its traditions to survive; it should rather be looking forward, and constantly improving itself, adapting to new challenges and situations, and most importantly continually growing in the Lord.

Reformed and Charismatics: where’s the in-between?

I would know like to move onto an article that discusses unity in an interesting way. The term ‘Reformed Charismatic’ might surprise a few, but I think it is wonderful. By it, we see a church desiring to learn the word, whilst acknowledging the wonderful and powerful work of the Holy Spirit.

If you have read my post on Calvinism, you would know that I am deeply against labels. However, a recent post by the Gospel Coalition really stood out to me. ‘Why Charismatics and Calvinists Need Each Other’. I now aim to explain what the author means by the term ‘Reformed Charismatic’ and why I indeed agree with him.

To me, in simplistic terms, Reformed (Calvinist) churches focus on doctrine but can tread into problems with intellectualism, whilst Charismatic churches focuses on the Spirit, but can tread in dangerous waters regarding emotionalism. Both broadly describe themselves as ‘Evangelical.’ There is no balance in either of these camps. Having emotion and doctrine is no bad thing; God has given us emotions that allow us to express ourselves when words cannot.  God has given us doctrine to grow closer to Him.

The church needs to embrace both these. The Spirit is real, the gifts God give are real, and God is unchanging, so why would he suddenly withdraw them from us?  The gifts are wonderful, and experiencing God is a fantastic experience that can stir our heart to praise Him more. Interestingly, many ultra-Reformed-types love the writing of Puritans such as Jonathan Edwards, however, it can be noted that he describes of incredible encounters and experiences with God, the like of which some would denounce today.

At the same time, doctrinal knowledge is needed. To keep us from wandering from God, to help us know more of him and to really grow as his children.  To generalise the church here, we have gone to one extreme or the other, rather than desiring both.  We have become scared of doctrine, or we have become scared of accepting the Spirit, of losing control and letting God use us.  What we need to be is unafraid and let God work; we need to desire to learn more of him, whilst we long for his spirit to fill us, to overwhelm us, so that like the old Puritan John Flavel who knew ‘more of heaven from one experience with the Lord than all the books and sermons he had ever read’; or as D.L. Moody, “Stay thy hand Lord! Or the vessel will break!”

The dangers of both extremes are real, between stiff-upper-lip hermit hyper-Calvinists and bewildered Charismatics living for weekly-experiences and healings, perpetually worried about losing their salvation or grieving the Spirit.

Even in our worship we must see a balance. Now I do aim to do an article of worship later on in more detail; but even in our worship we must reform.  In many Reformed circles, the organ and hymns are seen as the right way, that praising God can only be done this way; it keeps the emotions under control and is right and proper.  In Charismatic circles, having the most up-to-date music, with choruses, and a variety of instruments is seen as the best way to praise God.  That God can only work when music is used and that music is the only way we can praise God can sometimes be the message shown.  Now both are naïve in their understanding of God, but both can be good forms of worship.  To the Reformed, I say, do not box God up and tell him what proper worship is, and do not be scared of your emotions, neither should you hinder the use of God’s gifts he has given people, nor not allow other instruments or new songs into the church.  To the Charismatic church I say, don’t let your emotions go unchecked, don’t be afraid of the old stuff and don’t get carried away by the music alone.  We need authentic worship that comes from our heart.  If both types of churches embraced each other’s style, with an authentic heart then maybe we would really see God work more and more!

Is what I’m saying ecumenical? Hardly!  Churches will always have disagreements over secondary issues, but when it comes to Evangelical Reformed and Charismatic churches, we agree on so much, and the denominations agree on so much.  By being a Reformed Charismatic, perhaps we can move to a position where the churches can come together to evangelise and fellowship more, presenting a unified Body of Christ, resplendent and effective in evangelism, ‘salt and light’.  It will keep us aware of the doctrinal truth of the Bible, and thus aware of heresies such as the Roman Catholic Church, whilst engaging with so many more churches around us.  It will allow us to have a church that is filled with the Spirit, and one that is strong in the word of God.

Concluding thoughts

We must learn to come together in unity; we must immediately pray for this unity and get rid of the animosity in the church and we must learn to accept our differences. May our prayer be the prayer of Jesus in Gethsemane as John 17: 22-23 states ‘I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one— I in them and you in me—so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me. May we be like Christ as Philippians 2:1-5 says Therefore if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any common sharing in the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.’

Therefore to conclude, I think Lloyd-Jones’ lectures in What is an Evangelical? are as relevant today as they were then.  We need to see the dangers of certain movements, and of the liberal churches that are around.  We however, must move away from our extremes of intellectualism and emotionalism, and focus once again on the Gospel truth.  We need to embrace the Spirit, long for the baptism of the Spirit, for the gifts, whilst also having a strong knowledge of the biblical truths.  We need to be accepting of our differences, except when Gospel fundamentals are impinged on.  Although I am wary of labels, perhaps calling ourselves a Reformed Charismatic is a start in bringing a unity between Reformed and Charismatic churches, whilst also bringing together the gospel truths once more.  May you be blessed and may God burn in your hearts brothers and sisters!

God’s Grace at work during the Second World War

Grace is such a wonderful and amazing conundrum (and I don’t use these terms loosely!). Throughout history, since the beginning of time itself, God has guided and protected us, through trials and tribulations, as well as bestowing upon the world His greatest gift. Every breath we take is another gift from God. How often do we stop to think of His amazing and immeasurable grace in all these many ways?

The Great War (WW1) was billed as the ‘war to end all wars’. How wrong that was! Less than twenty-five years later, the world was plunged into chaos once again (the same old story since the Fall of Man)…

God’s grace during the Second World War

I had the opportunity recently to avail myself of two great little books. War and Grace by Don Stephens published in 2005 by Evangelical Press (EP) and the recent follow-up War and Faith published in 2015. They are short but nonetheless powerful collections of testimonies of the Lord’s grace to a number of people from the Second World War. These range from fighter pilots and submarine commanders to chaplains and ordinary men and women caught up in the whirlwind of the War. Their stories really took my breath away.

Often, it seems, certainly in my circles anyway, we hear much from the great revivals and stories from before the turn of the 20th century and not so much from afterwards, when equally as great works of God continue to abound. Another book I recommend, while I’m at it, also by EP is The Power to Save: A History of the Gospel in China by Bob Davey; we often talk vaguely of ‘things happening in China’, this goes into specifics about the world’s largest country (population-wise) and is an encouraging read for the Christian.

The fact is God was at work in many different amazing ways during the Second World War. Not just in the momentous battles in the sky, the sea, in the country, in cities, in the Cabinet War Rooms or the ‘Wolf’s Lair’, nay God was just as much at work amongst the families and individuals thrown hither and thither by the great conflict; the poor starving Russian peasants, fighting for their lives; the civilians upon whom bombs rained down; the forgotten millions dying in concentration camps; and the masses blindly following Hitler and his Nazi ideology. We ask: how was God at work in such a great manifestation of sin and man’s wickedness?

He was at work in small ways and in big ways. Many tales can be told of remarkable escapes and deliverances, in which God’s hand is clearly seen. Many died for their faith, many cried out to God in their distress (even the most ardent atheists turn to God in times of trouble). As a whole, we can see God’s fingerprints on the way events played out and justice was served.

Two tales I know of, firsthand from those who experienced it, go like this:

Somewhere in the desert, British soldier Les Walker and his jeep were stuck the wrong side of a minefield. He needed to cross this field, to join his comrades on the other side, before Axis forces overtook him. He didn’t really believe in God, but he prayed simply, “Lord, if you’ll get me through this minefield, then I’ll serve you.” Having done so, without any further thought, he put the jeep into gear and drove on, straight through the minefield. God listened to his prayer and he emerged from the minefield unscathed, to the astonishment of his compatriots.
True to his word, once the War was over and he was demobbed, he served in the Lord’s army, being put to good use in the spiritual war that is all-around us.

Even into his nineties he served the Lord, seeking to show people Christ, in his own unique way. Once when on the beach, witnessing to a group of rowdy lads, they began to get ugly at this old man talking such drivel. “I’m gonna beat you up,” said one of them, towering over the elderly figure.

Les looked him in the eye and smiled, “Well, judging by the looks of you and the looks of me, I shouldn’t think you’ll have much trouble.”

“You know what, I like you,” grinned the lad, antagonism gone. And Les had an opportunity to tell them of Christ the Rock of ages, who had been with him throughout his long life.

Another remarkable deliverance, I know of, a world apart from desert minefields, happened on the little island of Malta: The small island with a fascinating history, well worth looking into, from the apostle Paul, who was shipwrecked there (the archaeological records of which make for interesting reading) to the Great Siege of the 16th century against a handful of knights called the order of St John, to German and Italian attempts to obliterate the place and doing their utmost to prevent British convoys getting through during the Siege of Malta in the War.

During this last siege (1940-42), a dear lady in our church (a teenager at the time) was with her father, a harbour-master stationed in Malta, taking refuge in a single room with some other civilians. The bombs rained down, heavier and closer at hand than they had experienced before. They crouched under a table nervously waiting and listening, until the all-clear sounded. Her father cautiously opened the door and stepped out, “I think you should see this,” he said shortly. Looking out, the entire area was flattened, obliterated. The building they had been taking refuge in was devastated, but for the room they had been hiding in. The full weight of this remarkable deliverance only struck home later on in her life, when she realised this was the ‘unseen hand of providence’ clearly at work. She can tell of many such experiences.

Discovering forgotten tales of providence

To all you young men and women keeping yourselves to yourselves in your own little corner of the church, playing Pokemon Go on your smartphones: have a natter with some of the older members of the church, and ask them to tell you a story! Once you get past the ‘new technology-can’t-keep-up’ versus ‘old fuddy-duddy’ generational barrier, and laugh off the “How you’ve grown!” comments (their way of breaking the ice), they’ll not only amaze you with how like-minded they are but will be able to relate amazing tales of the Lord’s providence throughout their lives, perhaps stretching back to the War. These might otherwise remain unknown and thereby sadly forgotten. The experience will leave you buzzing, and they’ll be delighted to tell you about the ‘old days’. There’s a challenge for you… do it! Pray about it and for blessing in your conversations. Get a notebook and pen or bring a friend, if it helps. Either way, do write it down!

War and Grace

Don Stephens wrote many of these accounts, in just such a manner, through personal correspondence with those who experienced them.

The first book features some key players’ personal testimonies, from all sides, including: the lead Japanese pilot in the infamous Pearl Harbor raid; the US airman (and former athlete) adrift at sea for weeks before being captured by the Japanese and tortured, the exploits of whom were recently portrayed in the 2014 film Unbroken; the prayerful Royal Navy submarine commander stuck on the bottom of the ocean; the US chaplain who witnessed to Hermann Goering and other leading Nazi war criminals; and a German pastor who gave his life in the Lord’s service.

They are all amazing stories of the Lord’s grace, irrespective of any of the divisions, cultural and diplomatic during that period. He was at work amongst the Allies and the Axis.

War and Faith

Smaller things and little people matter as well as big things and big people. They can all encourage us equally. This is the focus of the second book. Individuals from various backgrounds and ‘denominations’ caught up in the war, including a test pilot, holocaust survivor and a martyr in a land not her own, stubbornly refusing to give in, instead trusting in her Lord till the end.

 

Such stories are so vitally important for us today. Much is forgotten, and so little survives, so we should treasure it all the more. We can learn valuable lessons from them, as well as take encouragement from these rousing tales of God’s grace in troubling times. If we think we’ve got it bad then maybe we ought to think again! I would wholeheartedly recommend having a chat with some of the older folk, with an open mind.

I think it would be fitting to end with the hymn that was the watchword of dear Les Walker’s life on earth (as a young lad, my two memories of him were of this hymn and his love of the book of Isaiah, we always sang and read together), as well as many others:

Our God, our help in ages past,
our hope for years to come,
our shelter from the stormy blast,
and our eternal home:

Under the shadow of your throne
your saints have dwelt secure;
sufficient is your arm alone,
and our defense is sure.

Before the hills in order stood
or earth received its frame,
from everlasting you are God,
to endless years the same.

A thousand ages in your sight
are like an evening gone,
short as the watch that ends the night
before the rising sun.

Time, like an ever-rolling stream,
soon bears us all away;
we fly forgotten, as a dream
dies at the opening day.

Our God, our help in ages past,
our hope for years to come,
still be our guard while troubles last,
and our eternal home!