Question Answers

Questions for Professor Ronald Cammenga:

Question: It seems clear to me that Hus (and probably Wycliffe) would have clearly embraced Christ alone and grace alone.  It seems also likely that they (especially Hus) would have clearly been aware of his personal assurance of being in Christ without possibly being able to articulate and profess faith alone.  (I personally very much embrace Luther’s statement of the church standing or falling on the doctrine of faith along.)  I would appreciate any comments or observations about these great men of God (Wycliffe and Hus) with regards to faith alone and personal assurance.  Thank you.

Answer: As in so many respects, the pre-reformers led the way for the Reformers with regard to the important truths recovered by the Reformation.  And although they did not see many things as clearly as the Reformers and their theology may not have been as well developed as the Reformers, they raised the same issues and promoted the same great gospel truths.  That certainly is true of justification (salvation) by faith alone, and the related matter of the assurance of salvation.  Both Wycliffe and Hus taught salvation by faith alone and taught that assurance is of the essence of faith.  In general I refer you to two works for your own further study.  They are Tracts and Treatises of John de Wycliffe, edited by Robert Vaughan, and The Church, by John Huss.  Let me quote briefly from each work.  First, Wycliffe: “But Christian men take their faith of God by his gracious gift, when he giveth to them knowledge and understanding of truths needful to save men’s souls, by grace to assent in their heart to such truths.  And this men call faith, and of this faith Christian men are more certain than any man is of mere worldly things by any bodily wit.” (Tracts and Treatises, p. 62.)  Then, Hus: “And for the reason that believing is an act of faith, that is, to put trust in–fidere–therefore know that to believe that which is necessary for a man to secure blessedness is to adhere firmly and without wavering to the truth spoken as by God.  For this truth, because of its certitude, a man ought to expose his life to the danger of death.  And, in this way, every Christian is expected to believe explicitly and implicitly all the truth which the Holy Spirit has put in Scripture, and in this way a man is not bound to believe the sayings of the saints which are apart from Scripture, nor should he believe papal bulls, except in so far as they speak out of Scripture, or in so far as what they say is founded in Scripture simply.”  (The Church, p. 71.)

Question: I would appreciate some comments or observations of the failure of the Eastern Church to embrace the Reformation.  And should Christians view the Eastern Orthodox Church as an apostate church as Rome clearly is?

Answer: From a historical point of view, the Reformation was an event that took place within the Roman Catholic Church, the church of the west, therefore, and not an event in the eastern branch of the church.  Even then, gradually and over time the members and clergy of the Eastern Orthodox Church became apprised of the Reformation.  But having become acquainted with the Reformation, there was no widespread movement to embrace the distinctive theology of the Reformation.  In my view, there is no essential difference between the Roman Catholic Church and the Eastern Orthodox Church.  It may even be argued that matters are worse in the Eastern Church, not so much from a moral point of view as from a doctrinal point of view.  That may be considered to be the fruit of the denial of the filioque, that is, the double procession of the Holy Spirit.  I would view the Eastern Orthodox Church also as an apostate church, not fundamentally different from the Roman Catholic Church.

Questions for Pastor Martyn McGeown:

Question: As a former Roman Catholic, I noted your reference to their images as a type of idolatry. I’ve always thought the alleged transubstantiation of the Eucharist in the Catholic Mass was the worst idolatry of Roman Catholic worship. Is that not the case? I’m not sure Luther saw it that way. But, when I’m obliged to attend a Catholic Mass for a wedding or funeral of a family member, I am more uncomfortable with the veneration of the “host” as the physical body of Christ than statues and such things. Which leads to my question: If, out of respect for family members, I kneel and stand on cue during the Mass, I am kneeling during the “transubstantiation” portion of their priestly rituals. If I kneel during this ritual but don’t believe in what it represents, am I guilty of committing idolatry?

Answer: You are right: the Roman Catholic Mass, while perhaps not so obviously so, is the main form of idolatry in the Roman Catholic Church. I would agree that the Mass is worse than pictures of Jesus and other idols/images. The Heidelberg Catechism rightly calls it “an accursed idolatry” (Q&A 80).

The issue of attending Mass for funerals/weddings, etc. is current in Ireland where I am a missionary. The members of the mission who are converted Roman Catholics do not attend Mass in such circumstances (or in any circumstances). Instead, they will stay outside of the church building while Mass is being celebrated. In answer to your question then, I would urge you not to attend the Mass. I would certainly urge you not to “stand or kneel on cue” during the Mass. To do so, whether you believe in transubstantiation or not, is idolatry. The Nicodemites were a group of French Protestants in Calvin’s day: they claimed not to believe in the errors of Rome, but they attended Roman Catholic worship out of fear of persecution. They excused themselves, arguing that they did not believe in their heart (transubstantiation) what they practised outwardly (kneeling, etc.). Calvin responded to them with his Anti-Nicodemite writings, a book I would recommend. If persecution does not justify kneeling at the Mass, certainly respect for family members does not justify it. John Bradford, to whom is attributed the phrase, “There, but for the grace of God, go I,” and who was burned at the stake in 1555, wrote a treatise, “The Hurt of Hearing Mass.” Respect for family is one thing; the glory of God is another. Therefore, avoid the Mass, and take the opportunity to witness to family and friends by taking a stand against it. is a sermon that you might find helpful on this point.

Question:  I imagine that you have read Carlos Eire’s book about the Reformation and Worship with doctrine of worship being a primary impetus for the Reformation. Personal conviction from scripture is that Lord’s greatest chastenings and/or judgments on the visible church (OT) is the result of false worship and/or Sabbath desecration. Now the question. How can one best admonish/plead with our Lutheran brethren for reform? (Here in the US both the Wisconsin and Missouri Synod have true gospel preached in many pulpits)

Answer: Yes, I did read Carlos Eire’s book in preparation for my speech. I agree that God does chastise his church because of laxity in worship or even because of idolatry. I do not have any great insights into how to admonish our Lutheran brethren, however: as with every situation, teach the Word of God. Teach it clearly, faithfully, and patiently. I have no magic formula to convince Lutherans of the regulative principle of worship, for example. Besides that, Modern Lutherans are sadly hostile to Calvinism because Lutheranism after Luther followed Melanchthon more than Luther on the subject of sovereign grace. Read R. C. H. Lenski’s commentaries, for example, and you will find many swipes at Calvinism in otherwise helpful exegetical works. (I profit from Lenski’s careful analysis of Greek grammar, but wince at his attacks on Calvinism).

Question: In your comments you made, as an aside, some critical comments on the Reformation in England.  You implied that the Book of Common Prayer was a halfway measure towards reforming worship in England. When you made that comment, were you referring to the 1549 Book of Common Prayer?  Or, do you believe the 1552 Book of Common Prayer also fell short of the mark when it came to reforming worship?  Do you believe the 1662 Book of Common Prayer is less than a reformed liturgical document?

If you had in mind only the 1549 BCP, then I would agree.  If you think the criticism you made also rightly applies to the 1552 BCP and the 1662 BCP then I would be inclined to disagree.  The 1552 BCP was a more reformed document then any contemporary Lutheran liturgy in use at that time.  The 1549 was a hesitant first step.  Likewise Elizabeth’s 1559 was a step back from a properly Reformed liturgy.

Answer:  I had in mind the earliest edition of the Book of Common Prayer, which was a tentative attempt at reform, although bold given the historical and political background of England at the time. Nevertheless, the Anglicans did not embrace the regulative principle of worship in the same way in which Calvin and Knox did. I must confess that I have not (recently) read the 1662 edition of the Book of Common Prayer, so I cannot answer your question in any depth. I would argue, however, that a Book of Common Prayer is not necessary as a Reformed church service can be conducted without one.

Questions for Pastor Steven Key:

Question: Could you offer some insight and historical knowledge as to why the Reformed branch of the Reformation made little progress into Scandinavia?

Answer: I’m sorry, apart from the all-encompassing providence of God, I am unable to offer any significant historical insight into your question.  Given the geography, one would expect the Lutheran influence to spread into Scandinavia from Germany, as it did.  But why there was little Reformed influence in that area I am unable to answer with certainty.  Bear in mind, however, that most of the Reformed influence in Germany, apart from Emden, was in southwestern Germany, rather than in the northern region which might be considered the gateway to Denmark.  That and the unsettled situation and slow advance of the Reformed faith in the Lowlands, because of persecution, were probably factors.  In addition, Jonathan Israel, in his book The Dutch Republic, does speak of long-standing economic conflicts between Denmark and the Netherlands, which, in the providence of God, might also have formed barriers in Scandinavia to any advance of the Reformed faith from Dutch sources.