I was remodeling a kitchen. The man I was working for had an art print nicely framed on one of the walls inside his home. The painting was of a nude woman and looked to be the work of some “old master.”
The man was clearly proud of his painting. He drew my attention to it and asked me what I thought of it. I responded honestly: “It looks like pornography to me.”
After a momentary pause, he chuckled and said: “You must be a Calvinist like my wife.”
I must be a Calvinist? That comment raised my curiosity. I looked up what a Calvinist was in the dictionary (an old Merriam Webster). There I found that a Calvinist is “an adherent of Calvinism.” Under Calvinism, I found this:
The doctrines of the French theologian John Calvin (1509-64), including election or predestination, limited atonement, total depravity, irresistibility of grace, and the perseverance of the saints. Calvinism especially emphasis the sovereignty of God in the bestowal of grace.Frankly, I didn’t understand all of that. Those phrases were not typically used within the fundamentalist circles I was familiar with. But I was drawn to better understand this theologian because I knew he was from the Reformation, and that the Reformation was a movement that birthed Protestantism, and I am a Protestant. But more than that, it was Reformation theology that motivated the Mayflower Pilgrims of America’s early history.
I’ve had an affinity and respect for the Pilgrims for a long time. It began when I visited Plymouth, Massachusetts, as a teenager. Then, in my early 20s, at my mother’s urging, I went to hear Peter Marshall speak at a local church for several nights. Marshall is co-author of the book, The Light and The Glory, which tells the absolutely amazing story of God’s hand in the founding of this country. It was history that recognized and glorified God. I had never heard anything like that in my 12 years of government schooling.
In recent months I have felt my interests drawn back to the Reformation. I have tried to better to understand the theology of the Reformers, the history of that time, and the people who God used in this movement.
I find it so odd that my Christian experience has been centered, for the most part, within fundamental Baptist circles, which are clearly Protestant, yet the Baptists rarely mention much about the Reformation that produced their denomination.
After some time, it became clear to me that the typical Baptist does not like the predestinarian doctrines that John Calvin espoused. And since most of the Reformers held predestinarian views, the whole matter of Reformation history is only mentioned parenthetically in fundamentalist circles, if at all. At least that has been my experience.
This is a sorry state of affairs. I dare say it is a tragedy. The history of the Reformation is horrible and beautiful and inspiring and instructional. It is nothing short of fascinating. There was incredible hardship and persecution. Many people died as martyrs for their faith. In the case of the Reformers, they died because they took very seriously God’s call to purity and separation from apostasy.
This understanding of God’s calling, the purity of faith, and the steadfastness of witness is something we who call ourselves Christians should really understand.
Many of you who are reading this now are fully aware of what I’m only just beginning to understand about Reformation history. You know all about men like Calvin, John Knox, Ulrich Zwingli, and all the others. But there are scores of you who are like I was (or am)—mostly unaware or even pitifully ignorant. If you fall into that category, I invite you to take a little tour through the Reformation by way of a book titled, The Reformation: How a Monk and a Mallet Changed the World, by Stephen J. Nichols.
it is not a big book, and it is not an expensive book, and it is not a hard book to read. Fact is, the book reads very easily and Mr. Nichols does an excellent job of introducing readers to several of the fallible but faithful people who, for the glory of god, changed the world by putting their faith into action. The Reformation was a remarkable period in the history of the world. In many respects, we could say that the religious and philosophical foundations of America were laid in the Reformation.
One of my favorite stories in the book happens to be one of the smaller incidents of Reformation history. It centers around a young woman named Lady Jane Grey who was Queen of England in 1553. Her reign lasted nine days. She was 16 years old. She would die for her faith.
Prior to Lady Jane Grey, Edward VI ruled England. Edward carried on the Protestant reforms of his father, King Henry VIII. Heir to the throne after Edward VI was Mary I, a Roman Catholic. Edward knew that Mary would restore Catholicism to England and undo his reforms. So, before he died, he disinherited her. After his death, Edward’s advisors and Protestant supporters put Lady Jane Grey, granddaughter of Henry VIII’s sister, on the throne. As I said, she remained Queen only nine days before Mary I’s forces took control.
Mary would become known as “Bloody Mary” for her reign of terror and revenge on the Protestant church in England. But she offered to spare Lady Jane Grey’s life, if she would but take the Roman Mass. Here is an excerpt from the book. Remember, Jane Grey is 16 years old.
After her arrest, Lady Jane was quizzed by Mary’s archbishop, Feckenham, in the chapel at the tower of London before an audience of Mary’s supporters, which is to say before a Roman Catholic audience. Jane Grey withstood Feckenham’s challenges to her rejection of the Roman view of the Lord’s Supper, outfoxed him in arguing for the Reformation principle of Sola Scriptura (Scripture Alone), and got the upper hand on the issue of justification and our standing before God.Jane Grey, at 16 years of age, chose to die for what most Christians today would say is a minor theological difference.
In the exchange over justification, Feckenham tried to trip her up by accusing her of rejecting good works, so clearly required of the Christian. “It is necessary unto salvation to do good works also; it is not sufficient only to believe.” he told her. She returned, “I deny that, and I affirm that faith only saves; but it is meet for a Christian to do good works, in token that he follows the steps of his Master, Christ, yet may we not say that we profit to our salvation; for when we have done all, we are unprofitable servants, and faith only in Christ’s blood saves us.” Luther could scarcely have put the doctrine of justification by faith better. On February 12, 1554, two days after her interview with Feckenham, Lady Jane Grey, the nine-day queen was martyred for her beliefs. Her last words upon the scaffold were, “I here die a true Christian woman and I trust to be saved by the blood of Christ, and by none other means.”
In light of the world we now live in, I find this young woman, her knowledge of scripture, her steadfast faith, and her example, to be amazing. Here is another excerpt from the book:
So adamant was she in her beliefs that she chastised her family’s chaplain for conveniently converting to Catholicism when Mary came to power. “Will thou refuse the true God, and worship the invention of man, the golden calf, the whore of Babylon, the Romish religion, the abominable idol, the most wicked mass?” she wrote. Jane Grey took theology seriously. Imagine if she had a pulpit.I encourage you to read the book and begin to learn more about the Reformation.
As a footnote to this essay, I would like to say that it is not intended as an affront to any Roman Catholic readers. Though I happen to agree with Jane Grey, my objective here is to point out that there is a rich heritage of Christian conviction and faith within the history of the Reformation. Different groups will take different things from this history, but I think we can all benefit if we will take the time to understand it.