Frame Defines Theology

I finally picked up John Frame’s Systematic Theology from the book pile and started reading it. I am very impressed so far, he is lucid, charitable and focused on the Scripture. I love his definition of theology:

…theology is the application of Scripture, by persons, to every area of life.

Why, then, do we need theology in addition to Scripture? The only answer, I believe, is “because we need to apply Scripture to life.”

Prior to this, he says:

…the theologian states the facts and truths of Scripture for the purpose of edification. Those truths are not stated for their own sake, but to build up people in Christian faith.

Pretty simple. Pretty much right on the money. Keeping these simple ideas in mind would be great for all of us.

The Reformation was About…

Peter Leithart has a post up today about the centrality of idolatry to the Reformation. I strongly concur with what he says, and I think his point is largely lost in modern Protestant polemics. The emphasis usually is placed on justification, when idolatry was every bit as large a concern, and I believe that you see more drift on idolatry in Anglican circles than on other issues. As Leithart says:

In short, throughout the Reformation, idolatry was the problem; high sacramentalism allied to a high Christology was the solution.

That, to put it mildly, is not how the Reformation is characterized in textbooks and pulpits, but this double concern with theological and practical idolatry were as much at the heart of the Swiss Reformation as of the Lutheran, and Calvin’s resolution of these issues was the same as Luther’s.  Interwoven with his satiric attack on the idolatrous veneration of relics, for instance, was Calvin’s insistence that relics were spiritually destructive because they pointed sinners away from those designated sites where Christ had promised to make Himself available — in the water, where the word is opened, at the table, in the fellowship of saints.

Invent Your Own Religion

While reviewing the Reformation, Jacques Barzun covers Calvinism, Lutheranism, Arminianism, and says that we overlook one of the most important figures of the time:

A last eccentric who should not be forgotten is the German Kaspar Schwenkfeld. If, he said, each soul has a unique destiny, then each man and woman may frame his or her creed within the common Christian religion. They deserve to have faith custom-tailored to their needs. Today, when Individualism has turned from a fitful theme to a political and social right, this seer deserves to rank as the Reformer with the greatest following – millions are Schwenkfeldians sans le savoir. A suitable name for their one-man church would be Privatist, if its very character did not forbid its having any name at all.

Sadly, this is very true. This man may be the true hero of all branches of religion in America today.

The Pope Accuses Martin Luther of Slander

Pope Leo the Tenth’s Bull regarding Luther’s theses said:

Rise up, Paul! also, we pray thee, who hast illuminated the same church with thy doctrine and like martyrdom. For now is sprung up a new Porphyry, who, as the said Porphyry then unjustly did slander the holy apostles, so, semblably, doth this man now slander, revile, rebuke, bite, and bark against the holy bishops our predecessors, not in beseeching them, but in rebuking them. And where he distrusteth his cause, there he falleth to opprobrious checks and rebukes, after the wonted use of heretics, whose uttermost refuge is this, (as Jerome saith,) that when they see their cause go to wreck, then, like serpents, they cast out the venom with their tongue; and when they see themselves near to be overcome, they fall to railing. For though heresies (as thou sayest) must needs be, for the exercise of the faithful, yet, lest these heresies should further increase, and these foxes gather strength against us, it is needful that, by thy means and help, they be suppressed and extinguished at the beginning.

To which Luther replied in part:

And what shall I do then in the mean time? First, I will contemn these dastardly dotipoles and unlearned papists and apostles of antichrist. And I will scorn them as Elias did, and say, If Baal be God, let him answer. Peradventure he is drunk, or busy in his journey: cry out higher, for he is a god, and peradventure sleepeth. For what other thing do these bull-bragging asses deserve else, which condemn that they know not, and confess all their own ignorance?

Secondly, I will not be troubled nor disquieted for the matter, neither am I to be counted heretic, erroneous, or offensive, so long as I shall not be proved and plainly convicted with simple and manifest words in what article I am so judged. Neither do I here charge my papists, these blockheads, that I will put them to their proofs, but only that they will show me at least my error; that is, that they will show me, if they know what it is that they themselves do prattle of, or have any feeling of their own doings. For so long as they assign me no heretical article, I am at free liberty to deny what article soever they lay unto me to be heretical, and say it is catholic.

Again, what a rudeness is it in this wicked and doltish antichrist, worthy to be laughed at, whereas these dromedaries do distinguish heretical articles from those that be erroneous, and the erroneous from offensive, and those again from slanderous? By the which subtile distinction of those gross-headed dolts this we do gather, that that article which is erroneous is not heretical; and if it be not heretical, what doth it then appertain to these ecclesiastical condemners, who ought to condemn those things only which be heretical? For that which is not heretical, is catholic; as Christ himself saith, He that is not against us is with us. Yea, I would wish that these jolly sophisters would show me in all the church an article that is erroneous and not heretical: for if it be erroneous, it differeth nothing from heretical, but only in stiffness of defending. For all things be equally either true or false, although affection, in some one thing which is true or false, may be greater or less. Ye see therefore again, how these men, for all their bragging bulls, are not able to produce me one article which is erroneous and not heretical; and yet, like wise brain-sick men, they will needs babble they know not themselves what, condemning that which they find erroneous and not heretical, which cannot stand either in matter or in words; so that such as are the articles, such is the condemnation. 


Christopher Hill has a chapter on the contrast between the Puritans who valued preaching highly, and sectors of the established Church that did not. He says:

One of William Prynne’s rare jokes was made in reply to Laud’s taunt that he could not have written Histriomastix single-handed. “It may be their [the bishop’s] laborious preaching once or twice a year permits them not to read or study half so much as meaner men.”

This was because some priests did not preach, they only read homilies or conducted prayers. Some bishops preached even less, so Prynne is attributing his knowledge to his studies in sermon preparation, something Laud (he implies) did not do. Hill continues:

Lord Brooke in 1642, after accusing some of the bishops of Arminianism and Socinianism, could rely on raising an easy laugh by saying that this was evidenced by their writings, “yea and sermons, though these be very rare.” It was a common jest in Dublin in the sixteen-thirties that the archbishop had only one sermon, on the text “Touch not mine Anointed” – “which once  a year he commonly read” on the King’s birthday. His congregation knew it by heart.


In his book, Society and Puritanism in Pre-Revolutionary England, Christopher Hill outlines the many uses of the term in its early days. As with most words, it was applied to a multitude of people with no real unity of purpose. Hill presents a wide range of opinions on what the term meant in those times. He quotes Henry Parker in defense of the term:

Those who denounce Puritans, said Henry Parker sweepingly in 1641, are “papists, hierarchists, ambidexters and neuters in religion”; also “court-flatterers, time-serving projectors and the rancorous caterpillars of the realm…and the scum of the vulgar…In the mouth of a rude soldier, he which wisheth the Scotch war at an end without blood” is a Puritan.

Hill notes a wide variety of men who were labelled Puritan, including “Archbishop Whitgift, Elizabeth’s Earl of Essex, Sir Walter Raleigh, James Hay, Earl of Carlisle, King James, Prince Charles…Inigo Jones, the Earl of Strafford.”

When contemporaries came to define Puritanism in religious terms, Sabbatarianism, opposition to popery and hostility to oaths were often mentioned. “Men and brethren, I am a Puritan”, cried Donne, if Puritanism means opposing oaths and profanation of the Sabbath. Many found the name a stumbling-block. Zeal in religion is called Puritanism, complained Bishop Bayley.

Beza the Mormon


If you are familiar with the Book of Mormon, you probably know its radical doctrine of the Fall:

Adam fell that men might be; and men are, that they might have joy.

II Nephi 2.25

So listen to Peter White talking about Beza:

Beza could even claim that ‘it was good that sin and death should enter into the world’ on the grounds that it was a necessary step before the benefits of the work of Christ. In that sense Adam’s Fall was ‘the best and the most profitable thing that could be done for us.’ [Beza, Quaestiones, I. 103-7]
Pretty wild stuff!

Catholics as Just Another Denomination

Mark Horne says:

But what if Roman Catholics are sectarians dreaming they constitute the historic and perpetual center of the identity of the Church?

What if the real Catholic Church is simply continuing on and the Roman Catholic Church is pretending that it is not lacking that full communion because it has created without warrant autistic conditions for fellowship?

Evangelicals have many issues to work on as they continue through history. But there is nothing to rejoin. If the Roman Catholic Church and another denomination join and receive, then that is simply two denominations uniting together. And if they join and receive under the shared assumption that the Roman Catholic Church is some kind of perpetual “center” that all others are “peripheral” to and must come “back” to, then all that would mean is that the Christian people of the other denomination have become persuaded of sectarian superstitions.

Plantinga is an Anglican

It was pointed out elsewhere that Theodore (not Cornelius as I mistakenly said earlier) Plantinga is now an Anglican. Witness:

The Canterbury Trail

Some of the reformationals, reacting against these developments began to cast a longing eye at the Canterbury Trail, as Robert Webber has called it. But when they departed for Eastern Orthodox or Roman Catholic or Anglican churches (called Episcopalian in the USA), they were not taking a step that can be hailed as reformational in the classic sense. Of course there are also reformationals who simply started out as Anglicans and were never enticed into joining a Reformed church, such as Craig Bartholomew.

Reformationals eyeing the Canterbury Trail could appeal to Abraham Kuyper for a degree of understanding, for in his book on worship Kuyper had written that the “English church” was much more developed in liturgical respects (liturgisch veel fijner ontwikkeld). And there was nothing particularly original about the decision of some of the reformationals to choose the Canterbury Trail; they could hardly congratulate themselves for being on the cutting edge. Rather, what they were doing was going back; in other words, they were embracing worship practices and sacramental emphases and forms of church governance which had been rejected by their ecclesiastical forefathers in centuries past.

It was as though the middle had fallen away. Many people had grown to love the “low-church” tendency that was more and more taking over the Reformed and Presbyterian churches. Gordon Spykman (1926-93) observed that while Lutherans were toning down their sacramental emphasis by thinking more like Calvinists, the Calvinists were moving away from their traditional position and beginning to sound more and more like the Zwinglians, who had advanced the “memorial feast” view of the eucharist during the early days of the Reformation. But a minority abhorred these developments and began to yearn for sacrament and liturgy and tradition. Some discovered the celebrated Anglican Book of Common Prayer and were drawn into the Anglican communion, while others remained closet Anglicans.

I was among those who were drawn to the Book of Common Prayer: early in the new millennium I turned Anglican. The aftermath of the worship wars within the Christian Reformed denomination were a major factor in my decision, as was the coldness toward the 1944 problem and toward the many Canadian Reformed people living among us that I had experienced especially during my days of ecumenical endeavor in the early 1990s (see my remarks above). There was, in addition, a third, very personal factor in my decision, which I will not discuss here.


Hugh Latimer Disputation

A few years ago I set about to modernize the language of this disputation, but alas, I didn’t get very far. Here is what I have to date:

The Disputation Had at Oxford, the 16th Day of April, 1554, Between Mr. Hugh Latimer, Answerer, and Mr. Smith and Others, Opposers.

The disputation began on Wednesday, the 18th of April, at 8 o’clock. It was in the same manner as before, but mostly in English. Mr. Latimer, the answerer, alleged that his Latin was out of use, and unfit for that place. Mr. Smith of Oriel College replied, Dr. Cartwright, Mr. Harpsfield and various others bit at him, and gave him bitter taunts. He didn’t escape hissings and scornful laughing any more than those who went before him. He was very faint and desired that he not stay long. He did not drink for fear of vomiting. The disputation ended before 11 o’clock.
Mr. Latimer was not made to read what he said he had painfully written, but it was exhibited up, and the prolocutor read part of it, and then proceeded to the disputation.
Weston’s preface to the disputation
“Men and brethren, we are come together this day, by the help of God, to vanquish the strength of the arguments and dispersed opinions of adversaries against the truth of the real presence of the Lord’s body in the sacrament. And therefore you, father, if you have any thing to answer, I do admonish that you answer in short and few words.”
Latimer: “I pray you, good master Prolocutor, do not exact that of me which is not in me. I have not these twenty years much used the Latin tongue.”
Weston: “Take your ease, father.”
Latimer: “I thank you sir, I am well. Let me here protest my faith, for I am not able to dispute; and afterwards do your pleasure with me.”

The Protest of Mr. Latimer

The conclusions that I must answer are these:
1. The fist is, that in the sacrament of the altar, by the virtue of God’s word pronounced by the priest, there is really and naturally the very body of Christ present, as it was conceived of the virgin Mary, under the kinds of bread and wine. And, in like manner, his blood [in the cup].
2. The second is, that after the consecration there remains no substance of bread and wine, or any other substance but the substance of God and man.
3. The third is, that in the mass there is the lively sacrifice of the church, which is propitiatory for the living and the dead.
To these I answer:
1. Concerning the first conclusion, I think it is set forth with certain new terms, lately found, that are obscure, and do not agree with the speech of the scripture. Nevertheless, however I understand it, thus do I answer, although not without the peril of my life. I say: there is no other presence of Christ required than a spiritual presence; and this presence is sufficient for a Christian man, as the presence by which we both abide in Christ, and Christ in us, to obtain eternal life, if we persevere in his true gospel. And the same presence may be called a real presence, because to the faithful believer there is the real, or spiritual body of Christ. I say this again, so that some sycophant or scorner supposes me, with the Anabaptist, to make nothing else of the sacrament but a bare and naked sign. As for what is pretended by many, I, for my part, take it for an invention of the Popes, and therefore I think it should be utterly rejected from among God’s children, that seek their Savior in faith and are taught among the fleshly Roman Catholics, that will be again under the yoke of antichrist.
2. Concerning the second conclusion, I say boldly that it has no support or ground from God’s holy word; but is a thing invented and found out by man, and therefore to be reputed and known as false; and, I would almost say is the mother and nurse of all other errors. It would be good for you my masters and lords, the transubstantiators, to take better heed to your doctrine, so that you do not conspire with the Nestorians. For the Nestorians deny that Christ had a natural body: and I cannot see how the Roman Catholics can avoid it, for they would contain the natural body which Christ had (sin excepted) against all truth, into a wafer cake.
3. The third conclusion, as I understand it, seems subtly to sow sedition against the offering which Christ himself offered for us in his own person, for all, never again to occur, according to the scriptures written in God’s book. In that book read the forceful and brief words of St. Paul in Hebrews 9 and 10, where he says that Christ himself made a perfect sacrifice for our sins, never again to be performed; and then ascended into heaven, and there sits a merciful intercessor between God’s justice and our sins; and there shall wait until these transubstantiators and all his other foes are made his footstool. This offering he freely made of himself, as it is written in John 10, he did not need any man to do it for him. I say nothing of the amazing presumptions of men, that dare attempt this thing without any manifest calling, especially that which intrudes to the overthrow and make fruitless (if not wholly, then partially) the cross of Christ. Therefore, a man can worthily say to my lords and master offerers, ‘By what authority do you do this? And who gave you this authority? When and where?’ St. John says, ‘A man cannot take any thing except it be given him from above,’ much less then may any man presume to usurp any honor before he is called to do it.
St. John also says, “If any man sin, we have,’ not a masser, nor an offerer upon earth who can sacrifice for us at mass; but ‘we have an Advocate with God the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous one, who once offered himself for us long ago.” The efficacy and effect of that offering endures forever, so that it is needless to have such offerers. But if they had a nail driven though one of their ears every time they offer, as Christ had four driven through his hands and feet, they would soon stop offering. Yet, if their offering did not bring gains in addition, it would not be done so often. For they say, ‘No penny, no pater noster.” What does St. Paul mean when he says “They that preach the gospel shall live of the gospel?” He should rather have said, “The Lord has ordained that they that sacrifice at mass should live of the sacrificing.” But although the Holy Ghost appointed them no living for their saying mass in God’s book, yet they have appointed themselves a living in antichrist’s decrees. For I am sure that if God would have had a new kind of sacrificing priest at mass, then he or some of his apostles would have made some mention of it in their master, Christ’, will. But perhaps the secretaries were not the masser’s friends, or else they saw that it was a charge without profit.