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Archive for the ‘John Knox’ Category

john_knox_statue_haddingtonThis is an extract from the First Book of Discipline of Scotland (1560). John Knox was one of the principal authors.  In these opening words, these godly reformers advocate total support of a godly preaching ministry throughout the realm and the total suppression of any preaching and worship not arising from the clear commandment of God.  While harsh to the modern ear, we must recall that God is a jealous God, prizing His instituted worship and passionately opposing all false religion.  Reformation must labor to cultivate pure worship root and branch and remove all false worship root and branch.  Or to use the imagery from the Books of the Kings, we must also take down the “high places,” the last holdouts and remnants of idolatry.

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The first head of docrtine.

Seeing that Christ Iesus is he whom God the Father hath commanded onely to bee heard and followed of his sheepe, wee judge it necessary that his Gospell be truely and openly preached in every Church and Assembly of this realme, and that all doctrine repugnant to the same, be utterly repressed, as damnable to mans salvation.

The explication of the first head.

Lest that upon this generalitie ungodly men take occasion to cavill, this we adde for explication. By preaching of the Gospel we understand not onely the Scriptures of the new Testament, but also of the old, to wit, the Law, Prophets, & Histories, in which Christ Iesus is no lesse contained in figure, then we have him now expressed in veritie. And therefore with the Apostle we affirme, that all Scripture inspired of God is profitable to instruct, to reprove, and to exhort. In which bookes of old and new Testaments, we affirme that all thing necessary for the instruction of the Church, and to make the man of God perfect, is contained and sufficiently expressed.

By the contrary doctrine we understand whatsoever men by lawes, counsells, or constitutions, have imposed upon the consciences of men, without the expressed commandement of Gods word, such as be the vowes to chastitie, forswearing of marriage, binding of men and women to several and disguised apparrells, to the superstitious observation of fasting dayes, difference of meat for conscience sake, prayer for the dead, and keeping of holy dayes of certaine Saints commanded by man, such as be all those that the Papists have invented, as the feasts (as they terme them) of the Apostles, Martyrs, Virgines, of Christmasse, Circumcision, Epiphanie, Purification, and other fond [foolish] feastes of our Ladie: which things because in Gods Scriptures they neither have commandement nor assurance, we judge them utterly to be abolished from this Realme: affirming farther that the obstinate maintainers and teachers of such abhominations ought not to escape the punishment of the civill Magistrate.

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“And therefore I feared not to affirm, that of necessity it is, that such as hope for life everlasting avoid all superstition, vain religion, and idolatry. Vain religion and idolatry I call whatsoever is done in God’s service or honour, without the express commandment of his own Word.”

– John Knox (c. 1514-1572)

 

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In the following quote from the great Scottish Reformer, John Knox, we see how vitally important the maintenance of the three marks of the Church are to its role, and for that matter to the witness of Christ in the world. The three marks constitute the ‘face’ of the Visible Church. That face of the Church, which identifies and distinguishes it among others, is the very face of Christ among men. So to the degree that the marks are compromised, the face of the Church and so of Christ are compromised. And where the marks are absent, the Visible Church is absent – and Christ walks not among such snuffed-out candlesticks.

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“The notes of the true Kirk are three: Word, sacraments and discipline: first, the true preaching of the Word of God in which God has revealed himself unto us; second, the right administration of the sacraments of Christ Jesus, which are annexed to the Word and promise of God to seal and confirm them in our hearts; last ecclesiastical discipline uprightly administered, as God’s Word prescribes, whereby vice is repressed and virtue nourished. In the observation of these notes the true face of Jesus Christ appears. We cannot make the face of Jesus Christ appear. Nevertheless, Jesus Christ himself, made known through Word and sacraments, is the true ordinance governing the life, form, and activity of the Church. We believe in Christ in the midst of those who meet in his name and by faith hear the voice of his Spirit speaking in and through the Scriptures and obey him. We see him in the Sacraments, and walk in holiness according to the leading of the Spirit of Jesus Christ. There the true Church manifests itself in the power of the presence of Christ the sole Head and Lord of the Church – there it steps forth before us, and distinguishes itself from any Church that usurps his authority.”

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The architects of the Reformed Churches in the 16th century were trans-generational thinkers. As those who rediscovered Covenant Theology, this should be expected. In reading the First Book of Discipline (1560), one will encounter explicit and repeated concern for future generations as justification for church policy decisions. For “the profite of the posterity to come.” Like good fathers, they wanted what was best for their bairns, and their bairns’ bairns as well!

Does this paternal, trans-generational concern shape the way we ‘do church’?  Is what we do in doctrine, worship, and government really in the best interests of the rising generations, or is it more candy to placate the over-indulged? Are we correcting and cultivating, or just coddling?

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The following quote from the First Book of Discipline (1560) illustrates how perceptive the Reformers were in the machinations of Satan – and human vulnerability.  Time and again, he has sought to draw the Church aside to the extremes of hyper-visibility (idolatry) and hyper-invisibility (profanity):

As Satan hath never ceased from the beginning to draw mankind into one of two extremities, to wit, that men should either be so ravished with gazing upon the risible creatures, that forgetting the cause wherefore they are ordained, they attribute unto them a virtue and power which God hath not granted unto them; or else that men should so contemn and despise God’s blessed ordinances and holy institutions, as if that neither in the right use of them there were any profit, neither yet in their profanation there were any danger: as this way, we say, Satan hath blinded the most part of mankind from the beginning; so doubt we not, but that he will strive to continue in his malice even to the end.

The Reformers sought to hold to a biblical via media in these matters.  There is a Visible Church.  Knox wished to alter the Creed from “I believe an holy kirk” to “I see (video) an holy kirk.”  Thus, the Reformers weren’t hyper-invisibilists like so many Anabaptist radicals.  But on the other hand, they were not hyper-visibilists calling believers to walk by sight and not by faith. 

We absolutely must retain this vital balance in the present climate of evangelical low-churchism.  And let us also be aware of the law of extremes.  Like the pendulum, one overreaction begets its opposite.  I’m sure Rome could become appealing to mystified followers of an eccentric old man who has to revise his end-time decrees every few years.

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John Knox, the great Scottish Reformer, was definitely no adept in worldy-wisdom.  His positions were always unbending and uncompromising.  He despised subtlety, and spoke always with the greatest of candor.  He obviously had little interested in making friends and influencing people; that is, unless by influence one means shameless, hard-hitting argument!

When Queen Mary came to Scotland in 1561 to take the throne, she was of a mind to assert her royal prerogatives in everything – religion included.  An ardent Romanist from her youth, she decided to make a clear, bold statement at the outset.  She would have a mass celebrated in the chapel of the Holyrood house, something forbidden by the Protestant magistracy at the time.

Not surprisingly, Knox was outspoken against the celebration.  There could be no accommodation, no middle ground.  “One mass,” proclaimed Knox,  “was more fearful unto him than if ten thousand armed enemies were landed in any part of the realm, of purpose to suppress the whole religion.”

One mass, Master Knox?  One private mass, as a concession to the rightful heir of the throne?  And that one mass should be of more dire consequence than a foreign invasion?  Not only is this intolerant, but it’s unreasonable!  Don’t you realize that to get what you want, you’ve got to give?

Knox responds to the naysayers.  The mass issue is a non-negotiable, for “in our God there is strength to resist and confound multitudes, if we unfeignedly depend upon Him, of which we have had experience; but when we join hands with idolatry, it is no doubt but both God’s presence and defence will leave us; and what shall then become of us?”

What the calculators of this world can’t grasp is that he was more practical than them all!  His explanation here reveals the deepest sagacic insight.  Why?  Because, thought Knox, you must factor God into every equation.  Giving in to Queen Mary on one little point may have been expedient on the earthly plane in the short-run, but by doing so it would alienate the One whose favor is absolutely indispensable.  You don’t want to mess with the ‘wrong man’ (or woman, in Mary’s case), but it’s far worse to mess with the ‘wrong God!’

Knox had learned his other-worldly wisdom at the feet of Wisdom incarnate.  He, the Logos, the Light that lightens every man entering the world had said, “Whosoever shall seek to save his life shall lose it; and whosoever shall lose his life shall preserve it” (Lu. 17:33).  To make it in this world and in the next, you must think counter-culturally, counter-intuitively.  But be assured, this is the best way!

In deference to the One who “knows all things,” Knox shunned statescraft.  But in doing so, he became the true patron and friend of the nation.  If only we had eyes to see what Master Knox saw!  If we would close our eyes and heed true Wisdom, we would walk the safest and most expedient course.  And we would assign much less weight to earthly factors, which to the eye of the flesh loom so large.

 

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