Where Wong gets it Wrong (pt. 2): The idea of a secular society

This is the second of two posts responding to a recent speech by Senator Penny Wong on the rationale for same sex marriage ‘rights’ to be granted to gay and lesbian Australians. Please read Part 1 first and perhaps take the time to read Senator Wong’s speech for context.

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Assertion #2: Australia is a secular society & religious belief has no part in law-making

People of faith (as Wong herself claims to be) would be wise to reject the categorisation of Australia as a “secular society” – or at least insist on strict boundaries on what such a phrase is intended to mean.

We undeniably have a secular government: in the sense that there is no religious test for holding public office (a problem that long plagued the United Kingdom, but which was partly demanded by their unique historico-political circumstances). Nor is there any constitutional power held by the federal government to establish a national religion, nor any appropriate role for the government to interfere in spiritual, liturgical or theological matters.

But when we speak of a “secular society” or “separation of church and state” we must always be careful that we are not ceding too much ground to “secularists.” By secularists, I mean those members of society who take a combative attitude towards all forms of organised religion, supernatural belief and transcendent morality and seek to bar it from every aspect of public life and prejudice the national mind against all kinds of faith.

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We see a very active secularist push in the United States, where many political figures, educators and commentators are uncomfortable with the potential for enormous influence on the nation’s politics by a sizeable devoutly religious segment of the population. A more hardened form of secularism is entrenched in modern France, where the revolutionary spirit has driven the political culture to seek to completely sideline the Catholic Church from exercising its once powerful influence in the country. The most extreme and – arguably the most successful – projects in secularism have been Communist countries, where the regimes have eliminated both religious and political freedom, made Marxism a kind of religion of its own and thus kept religious views completely out of public life (N.B. secularists in democratic societies would likely contest my categorization of communist countries as secular, but I am suggesting it is the probable end-point of a secularism pushed too far).

Wong pays lip-service to the idea of ensuring that secular is not interpreted as meaning “anti-religious,” but her attitude toward religious beliefs she disagrees with suggests that she is masking her secularism to make her intentions appear more benign than they actually are. She doesn’t believe that Christian (or any other) religious beliefs about marriage should have any bearing upon the legal definition. And she seems happy to silence those voices in favour of exclusively heterosexual marriage by trumpeting her idea of secularism.

Australia should be more helpfully understood as a ‘pluralistic’ society. People of faith do have a right to express their views publicly (because we are a democracy) and seek what they think is best for the nation (because we are a ‘commonwealth’). Citizens who vote – and participate in the political process in other ways – have real beliefs about life, God and the universe and these views will naturally affect how they approach political and social questions.

Just as we might be exhorted not to leave our brains at the door when going to church, we should not be expected to leave our soul at the gate when we enter the polling booth.

secularism

Secularism prejudicially preferences atheism, humanism, agnosticism and religious indifference over sincerely held religious beliefs. Pluralism recognises that society is a complex combination of people with certain shared absolute values and beliefs and certain disputed ones. Secularism seeks to silence religious voices by telling them to keep their personal beliefs private. Pluralism accepts that people of any or no religion can freely express their honest opinions on a subject in the public sphere. These views will then be assessed and either accepted, modified or rejected by politicians and other members of the public in the course of the debate.

Secularism attempts to safeguard the religious neutrality of the state and government by limiting religious freedom and denying religious individuals and organisations political influence. Pluralism achieves a multi-religious society by legally enshrining religious freedom and preventing the establishment of a state religion. But it welcomes the input of all citizens in political life – irrespective of how much their religion shapes their political views.

Principled pluralism is a better way forward than hardened secularism.

  1. “Liberal democracy is not compatible with fundamentalism of any description, whether ideological or spiritual.”

There is a deep irony and lack of self-awareness in this statement. Senator Wong implies that you mustn’t take your religious beliefs “too seriously” (the majority of Australians would agree with the sentiment): because this might come at the expense of the paramount values of a liberal democracy. But she fails to acknowledge that there is a kind of sexual fundamentalism raging across Western civilisation which is seldom condemned as incompatible with liberalism and democracy by those who share its understanding of sexuality.

Perhaps the average Australian can more easily identify the difficulties posed to social cohesion by hardcore adherents of Christianity and Islam or the threat to political liberty that is inherent in communism and fascism. But it is time to wake up and acknowledge that a cultural revolution that idolises sexual orientation but detests religious liberty is continuing to unfold in this country (and others). Sexual fundamentalism and progressive fundamentalism promote their own forms of strict orthodoxy and are not hesitant to use tools of coercion and oppression to enforce their views and punish dissent.

“Religious freedom means being free to worship and to follow your faith without suffering persecution or discrimination for your beliefs. It does not mean imposing your beliefs on everyone else.”

This is one of the central themes of Senator Wong’s address. Religious beliefs are being wielded as weapons which harm the rights and freedoms of other members of society who do not share such views.

She later adds:

“Religion-based moral codes continue to limit the freedoms and the rights of those who, in the view of religious groups, do not ‘conform’ to their views. In advocating, and indeed proselytizing, their own views, they too often restrict and constrain the rights of others.”

This is proof that the Senator is herself a hardened secularist. She purports that secularism entails: “the ability of everyone to believe what they wish, to practise their religion as they see fit, to express their ethical and moral preferences, to say what they wish – but all without imposing their beliefs and views on anyone, and without inflicting injury or hurt.” But this amounts to saying that freedom of religion (and associated acts of free speech) must be exercised separately from any freedom to participate in the political process. If you have religiously-influenced views on marriage you can express them (until those rights are taken away by a future government anyway), but you are disqualified from acting in any way that advances those views in the political process.

Because Wong argues that “In a secular society, ‘the norm’ is not the view of the majority,” there can be no question of persuading the majority of your fellow Australians that your view of marriage is the one society should recognise and celebrate (especially by way of getting them to accept your religious worldview). Even if 15 million of the 16-17 million eligible voters in Australia could be convinced that marriage should legally remain defined by the current definition indefinitely, Wong’s moral casuistry would demand that the government still legislate in favour of SSM, because it supposedly proceeds from an inviolable principle of equality (the idea of which was rejected in part 1).

Arguments made from a non-religious stand-point are not inherently better than religiously-informed ones. Politicians seem to recognise that certain moral issues are better decided by a conscience vote in Parliament when there are serious ethical questions involved. In Australian history, such issues have naturally been resolved by MPs voting in accordance with their deeply held beliefs about life, death and humanity – often overtly religious in nature. Matters of marriage and sexuality have been resolved in this manner in previous Federal parliaments and funnily enough, the ALP repeatedly calls for a “free vote” on the issue, in which members from both sides could be expected to vote with their conscience and beliefs.

If politicians are entitled to vote in accordance with their conscience and core principles (something which the Senator and her party only believe in when it suits them), surely people of faith who vote, pay taxes and contribute to the well-being of society are entitled to vote according to their own deeply held values and petition their representatives to advance those views inside and outside of parliament? A hardcore secularism that won’t allow for this is no longer liberal or democratic. If Senator Wong pursues this path, she risks committing the very crime against the heart of our society that she accuses opponents of SSM of doing.

Unless something changes soon, a future government in which people with the same attitudes as Senator Wong hold the reins of power will foreseeably damage freedom of religion in Australia; pass laws that open the doors for persecution and discrimination on the basis of genuinely held beliefs; and impose their own (non-religious, but nonetheless ideological) beliefs upon the rest of us.

It’s time to stop being complacent and apply the blowtorch to politicians that want to use the idea of a secular society to curb religious freedom. Because they need to start feeling the pressure they’re trying to put on people of faith. Australian democracy must learn to thrive as a principled pluralistic society, or it will be slowly choked to death by a secularism that will squeeze the life out of religious liberty and silence millions of voices.

For more Christian responses to Senator Wong’s speech, check out David Ould’s sterling effort on ABC’s the Drum last week or my former theology lecturer Dr. Michael Bird’s response at The Thermidorian. John Piper has also written about the Christian commitment to pluralism – instead of secularism or religious coercion – in the context of seeking to glorify God as supreme in all things. 

[1] Orderinchaos “Penny Wong speaking at an event in Perth on 31 July 2014” CC BY-SA 4.0 wikipedia
[2] David Goehring “Hey, You Got Your Church In My State!” flickr (CC BY 2.0)

Where Wong gets it Wrong: The Nature of Marriage, ‘Rights’ & Australian Society

This week, Australia’s most prominent homosexual politician, ALP Senator Penny Wong, gave a lecture promoting the right of gay and lesbian couples to marry in Australia. While endless ink has been spilled and air expired concerning this ongoing social debate, it is important that Australian Christians listen, consider and respond to the latest arguments being made by perhaps the most significant proponent of same-sex ‘marriage’ in federal politics.

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Senator Wong makes a sweep of assumptions and assertions in this speech that must not escape our notice. I will not deal with each point individually, but have provided a summarised list of these below:

1) Legal Marriage is a ‘right’ for all loving relationships, irrespective of sexuality.

2) “At the centre of the opposition to equality of marriage rights for gay & lesbian members of the community is the conflation of religious concepts of marriage with secular concepts of marriage.”

3) Social conservatives “remove from marriage the idea of love, companionship, common enterprise and the creation of family” and make it about ‘utilitarian’ child-rearing

4) a. Australia is a secular society and religious belief has no part in law-making
b.
“Liberal democracy isn’t compatible with fundamentalism of any description, whether ideological or spiritual.”

5) “Discrimination against people on the basis of an innate characteristic, like sexual orientation, is anti-liberal and anti-democratic.”

6) “Religious freedom means being free to worship and to follow your faith without suffering persecution or discrimination for your beliefs. It does not mean imposing your beliefs on everyone else.”

7) Safe Schools style education programs are “essential” for Australian society

8) Why “should the gay and lesbian community be merely ‘tolerated’ when the heterosexual community takes for granted ‘acceptance’ and recognition of their sexual preference as ‘the norm’?”

9) A secular society is the creation of its own freedom, which is itself a consequence of the basic equality of human beings.

10) “the strongest argument for equality by lesbians and gay men rests on the assertion that . . . respect for natural rights depends on a foundational commitment to equality as the first moral good and a defining feature of our political and legal traditions”.

That’s way too many to tackle in a blog post, but the core of Senator Wong’s lecture boils down to two main assertions.

1) Same-sex marriage is a legal right being denied to homosexual couples (mainly) at the behest of religious opposition.

2) Australia is a secular society in which personal religious beliefs and convictions have no place in forming public policy or legislation that affects the wider community.

Or we could distill this further to problem and proposed solution.


Problem:
Same-sex couples in Australia are being denied a basic right: the right to marry. The law must change.
Solution: The Marriage Act can easily be changed if religious-based objections to change are discredited and dismissed as irrelevant in a secular society.

I will deal with these fundamental assertions that lie behind the rest of Senator Wong’s arguments, by arguing two counterpoints.

1) We should reject the idea that Same-sex marriage is a genuine legal right.
2) We should reject the suggestion that Australia is a “secular” society – to the extent that this means silencing religious viewpoints in the public sphere.

Same-sex marriage is a claimed and invented (human/legal) right, not a genuine, fundamental right

In opening her speech, Senator Wong sends a signal to “those who deny marriage rights to gay and lesbian Australians.” In doing so, she assumes a point that is in fact at the very centre of the same-sex marriage debate.
Is it actually a “legal right” (or even a “human right”) for two gay men or two lesbian women to have their relationship recognised by the rest of society as a “marriage”?

Homosexual individuals have real human and legal rights that must not be encroached upon. But the right to redefine the legal and social meaning of marriage to suit their own preferences and desires is not one of them.
No one in this debate is trying to deprive homosexual people of their basic rights to life, food, shelter, welfare, health care, political representation, free speech, religious freedom and protection under the law from violence, deprivation of liberty and discrimination in the workplace.

Homosexual citizens enjoy the same rights and freedoms in these areas as heterosexual ones do. And in fact, it is not facetious to say that they enjoy the same marital rights under Australian law as well.

The Marriage Act of Australia’s definition of marriage reflects the reality of a unique kind of human relationship.
An exclusive social, sexual, economic, domestic and legal union between a man and a woman for life is qualitatively different to any other kind of relationship – romantic or otherwise. That’s what marriage is and every Australian adult – even gay or lesbian ones – could legally enter into such a union, irrespective of their race, language, skin colour or religion.

The fact that most people who are not sexually or romantically interested in members of the opposite sex would not wish to make use of this right – and prefer an alternative arrangement under the law – does not mean they are being denied a right. Their quest to have marriage redefined – according to their idea of what it should be – is an option they can pursue in a democracy. But it is in no sense a human or legal right.

But even if the gay lobby succeeds in changing the legal definition of marriage (as has happened in other countries) – it does not change what marriage is. Homosexual relationships are inherently incapable of becoming marriages, because marriage is by definition a lifelong union between two members of the opposite sex. Changing the Marriage Act so it no longer reflects this reality is simply misdefining a different kind of relationship as though it is the same as marriage, when it isn’t

You can’t be entitled to a right where the thing being claimed doesn’t actually exist. Nor is it reasonable to seek such a redefinition as a legal right, when this novel view will then be imposed upon every member of society. There is no right to “forced recognition” of homosexual unions as marriages. To dress up such an incursion on other people’s liberties as a core right is dangerous sophistry that must be rejected.

Regrettably, we already see an analogous example of this at work in our society. The ability of a woman to wantonly engage in whatever sexual activity she wishes and then avoid the natural biological outcome of sexual intercourse by contracting the murder of her child is constantly defended as her fundamental “right to choose.” In this case, the freedom to behave promiscuously and then avoid the consequences of sex is dressed up as a fundamental right of bodily autonomy. But this supposed “right” requires the negation of another human being’s essential right to life, if it is to be exercised.

In the SSM debate, the purported right “to redefine marriage so that other people have to recognise my homosexual relationship as completely equivalent to a heterosexual marriage” is dressed up as a fundamental issue of people being free to marry the person they love. But like the abortion issue, this concocted right comes at the expense of a more fundamental right held by others. Freedom of speech and religion will be curtailed to force people to recognise homosexual relationships as something they aren’t. Members of society who sincerely believe that marriage is between a man and a woman will suffer – legally and socially – for maintaining this stance.

Senator Wong is wrong to suggest that there are religious people in Australia trying to deny a basic right to others. There is no genuine right being denied to homosexual people under the legal status quo. But can the Senator explain how people’s genuine, fundamental rights to religion and free speech will be protected if marriage is redefined by Parliament and the new definition is enforced with legal penalties?

I’ll address the question of whether Australia should be understood as a “secular society” in the next post…

 

[1] Kate Lundy “Penny Wong May 2012” wikipedia (CC BY 2.0)

Protestant Profiles #8: John Knox

John Knox (c. 1513 – 1572)

 

Born: Haddington, East Lothian, Scotland
Role: Pastor; bodyguard; reformer; royal chaplain; pamphleteer; historian; founder of Scottish Presbyterianism & co-author of the Scots Confession
Theological Emphases: sola Scriptura; justification by grace through faith alone; God’s preservation of His church; true vs. false churches; predestination; Christian society
Protested against: papacy; Mass; purgatory; kneeling during communion; indulgences; pilgrimages; clerical celibacy; mandatory fasting

 

John Knox is best known for his vital role in the Scottish Reformation and consequent formation of the Presbyterian family churches. He was ordained to the Catholic priesthood in his early 20s and functioned as a notary public for the early part of his career, until he came under the influence of Protestant ideas around the time he turned 30.
He had a brief stint as a bodyguard to Protestant preacher George Wishart – famously carrying a sword to defend him against would-be assailants – as Wishart spread Continental-Reformed ideas throughout Scotland by way of itinerant preaching.

Wishart was captured on the authority of Cardinal David Beaton, tried and executed in 1546. The following year, a band of Wishart’s friends assassinated the cardinal in a revenge attack and seized control of his castle in St. Andrews, Fife. Knox reluctantly began a preaching ministry at the castle, which began with a fiery denouncement of the papacy as the Antichrist depicted in Daniel 7. This period of ministry only lasted a few months, before the castle was put under siege by forces from Scotland’s Catholic ally, France, and Knox and the other members of the community were imprisoned upon galley ships for the next year and a half.

Knox spent around 5 years in England, preaching in favour of widespread reformation in the English and Scottish Church and briefly serving as a chaplain to (arguably) England’s most committed Protestant monarch, King Edward VI. He fled to the Continent in 1554, due to the accession of the Catholic Queen Mary to the English throne and the onset of her ruthlessly bloody persecution of Protestants. He spend the next year or so travelling through Switzerland and increasing his connections with the Continental reformers.

Calvin’s Geneva made a particularly strong impression upon Knox – he referred to it later as “the most perfect school of Christ.” He returned to Scotland in late 1555, where he was warmly welcomed by some Protestant nobles, but treated warily by the Scottish royal and Catholic authorities. Instead of staying there, he soon returned to Geneva and continued to minister to Protestant (mainly English) exiles who lived there. He remained in Switzerland until Mary’s death saw the Protestant Elizabeth I take the English throne and most of his congregation moved home.

Ministry in England was not a viable option for Knox, who had alienated Elizabeth through his infamous pamphlet The First blast of the Trumpet against the monstrous Regiment of Women – attacking the legitimacy of female rule (aimed specifically at the Scottish regent Mary of Guise). But the folly of this publication – which earned the ire of key allies including Calvin – providentially led to Knox’s return in 1559 to Scotland where he would have an enormous impact.

1560 was a hugely significant year in the Scottish Reformation – with Parliament outlawing mass, divorcing the nation from the Catholic Church and Knox leading the process of formulating and publishing a national confession of faith: the Scots Confession. But Knox was unable to see the Kirk (Scots for ‘church’) reorganised and financed according to his reform agenda – due to political difficulties with the nobility and the return of the Catholic Mary, Queen of Scots.

Knox’s meetings with Mary are almost legendary – with the monarch’s disposition towards the reformer ranging from cordial to infuriated and on more than one occasion he is said to have brought the young woman to tears. In the end, Knox never managed to sway Mary to abandon Catholicism in favour of reformed principles – with the result that although Protestantism was the official religion of the land and elements of Catholic liturgy remained unlawful, the queen herself continued to worship privately according to Roman rites and receive the Mass from her priests.

An uncompromising figure, Knox saw many of his goals for reformation achieved, while constantly experiencing frustration at those further elements of reform that seemed unachievable in his lifetime. As his biographer M.H. Dottwerweich notes, “Knox’s firm stance on the scripture principle and against idolatry…made him a ‘founding father of English Puritanism’ as well as an influence on later Scots Protestantism.” The continuation of his personal ethos in these two movements, in different kingdoms on that shared isle of Great Britain, is perhaps his greatest legacy. It is hard to imagine what Presbyterianism would be today without the foundation it had in Scotland that was largely due to Knox’s contribution. Likewise, without similar-spirited individuals to Knox that characterised the English Puritanism movement, evangelical Christianity as-we-know-it would not exist today.

You can read a biography of Knox’s life and ministry here
Or read his Scot’s Confession here.

Sources

John Knox @ en.wikipedia.org
Dotterweich, “KNOX, John” Biographical Dictionary of Evangelicals 

Protestant Profiles #7: William Tyndale

William Tyndale (c. 1494-1536)

 

Born: Gloucestershire (near the town of Dursley), England
Role: Scholar, Bible Translator, Early English Reformer
Emphases: Bible in English; justification by faith; translation of key biblical ecclesiastical terms in line with original NT context, rather than with Catholic terms (eg; ‘overseer’ instead of ‘bishop’; ‘elder’ instead of ‘priest’; ‘congregation’ instead of ‘church’ etc;)
Protested against: veneration of saints/Mary, papacy, purgatory

In 1523, a young English scholar travelled to London to seek the endorsement of the city’s bishop to undertake perhaps the most important translation project in the history of the English language. William Tyndale, aged in his late 20s-early 30s was convinced of the need to produce an English version of the Holy Scriptures, which would be the first to be translated from the original biblical languages and the first ever to be mass-printed using the printing press.

His mission to ensure that the Bible was available to all literate English men and women was born out of a desire to see the knowledge of the Lord and access to the truths of gospel spread throughout society. The refusal of the English Catholic hierarchy to support his project was born out of their desire to ensure the Church remained in control of what the English knew about God and His Word.

Tyndale was heavily influenced by Luther and the Protestant Reformation on the European continent – a fact that is evident throughout his translation work and other writings. The English bishops were strongly determined to suppress Luther’s ideas and prevent them from gaining traction in the British Isles and preventing the Scriptures from being translated into the common language was one way the Catholic Church could contain the theological uprising they were trying to put down.

And so, Tyndale translated the New Testament into English from Greek: not in England, but as an exile of sorts in Germany. His New Testament translation was completed after around a year of work and began to be distributed illegally throughout England in 1526. Over the next decade, Tyndale continued to revise his work, in an effort to make it as accurate a translation as possible, and collaborated with others such as Miles Coverdale to work towards a complete translation of the Bible, with the Old Testament based on the best available Hebrew text.

The intensity of Tyndale’s passion to get a Bible people could read into the hands of his countrymen was matched only by the passionate hatred of those who wanted to stop his work. He was abducted by officers working for King Henry VIII while walking in Antwerp with a treacherous friend who had deliberately betrayed him. After being imprisoned for well over a year, he was trialled – essentially on charges of being a Protestant – and then executed by strangulation followed by the burning of his corpse, in October 1536. Tyndale’s last words were reportedly, “Lord, open the King of England’s eyes!”

Tyndale’s legacy in the English-speaking Christian world is hard to overstate. Amongst Anglophones he is at least as significant as Luther and Calvin to the understanding of Christianity we enjoy today. This is because his Bible translation work is the textual foundation for the most influential of all English Bibles – the Authorised Version published in 1611 under the reign of King James I. Even popular English translations of the last 50 years, including the NIV and ESV are indebted to Tyndale’s work in so many ways.

As evangelical Christians, we must always esteem the matchless sacrifice of Jesus Christ – to make atonement for our sins – as unique, supreme and incomparable. Yet as people who love the Bible (and yet in some ways take it for granted) we would do well to remember that someone seeking to faithfully follow the Lord Jesus died so that we could have God’s Word in a language we could understand. While in one sense Tyndale’s death does not benefit us spiritually whatsoever – in God’s providence this man lived and died a martyr of the faith in his quest to make sure people like you and I could read and understand the Gospel for ourselves.

You can read a sample of Tyndale’s translation work here (John’s Gospel).
For a more substantial biography of his life and ministry, see here.

Sources

Tyndale’s Betrayal and Execution – Christian History
“William Tyndale” Wikipedia
ANS Lane, “TYNDALE, William” Dictionary of Evangelical Biography

Protestant Profiles #6 Theodore Beza

Theodore Beza (1519-1605) 

Born: Vezelay, Burgundy (France)
Roles: Pastor; theologian; university professor; Reformer; Calvin’s biographer and successor in Geneva
Theological emphases: (Double) Predestination; supralapsarianism, Reformed sacramentalism
Protested against: purgatory, monastic vows, pilgrimages, Catholic prohibition of marriage, Catholic food prohibitions, ceremonial observance of days, auricular confession, indulgences

 

Beza’s involvement in the Protestant Reformation is inseparably tied to Jean Calvin. The two became personally connected in the 1540s and not long after Beza’s conversion to Protestantism he became (with the backing of Calvin and other key Reformation figures) the professor of Greek at the Lausanne Academy – an institution for the preparatory training of gospel ministers. During these years – until the end of Calvin’s life – Beza served as his offsider, aiding him in disputations, defending his theology and actions and working together for continued Reformation in Europe.

Beza was definitively Calvinist in his theology, but he was not factious or irreconcilable towards Christians of different theological persuasions. He demonstrated genuine love and concern for other Christians in his persistent advocacy for the Waldensians – the religious minority of Peter Waldo’s followers in Southern France who were being ruthlessly persecuted by Catholic authorities – and a desire for unity amongst Protestants in his dealings with Lutherans and Zwinglians.

Not long before Calvin’s death, Beza became the inaugural rector of the newly established University of Geneva (which continues today) and when the Genevan Reformer died in 1564, Beza succeeded him as head of the movement. Beza’s biographer, Baird says:

Calvin saw in Beza not the slavish copy of himself, but a scholar of greater polish and wider knowledge of polite society, better capable of dealing with courts, with a stronger physical constitution, and therefore having the promise of being able to accomplish much that was denied to his own enfeebled health.

This capacity for scholarship was on display when in the year following Calvin’s death, Beza published an important edition of the Greek New Testament, based on the earlier works of Erasmus and Estienne and also based – in all likelihood – upon the Greek manuscript which bears his name Codex Bezæ. Along with his Latin translations from the Greek, these works played an important part in biblical scholarship in this period.

His role as Calvin’s successor was on display in 1571 when he presided as moderator over the Synod of all French Protestant churches – a meeting which was attending by numerous Protestant royals and luminaries and which affirmed the doctrinal standards of the French Reformation. The atrocious St. Bartholemew’s Day massacre occurred the following year and Beza found himself welcoming Protestant survivors and Huguenot pastors to Geneva as refugees fleeing Catholic aggression. He was an ally and encourager of Protestantism in Britain, especially Presbyterianism and the emerging Puritan movement.

Beza’s life and ministry highlights the need for faithful and suitable succession to Christianity’s great leaders, thinker, movers and shakers. Beza would have no significance to our history if it were not for Calvin and yet our appreciation of Calvin would likely be significantly less if it were not for the work of Beza. As Calvin’s biographer and the man who laboured hard to see his theology established in European churches and the institutions he founded prosper, Beza could be called the Calvinist of Calvinists. Yet, as we have seen he did not promote this theological disposition from a place of arrogance or contempt for other Christians.

Beza devoted himself to the teachings of Calvin insomuch as he believed Calvin had devoted himself to the teachings of Christ and the apostles. In so doing, he provides a model for today’s Christians of how we might faithfully promote the theological heritage we’ve received (as far as we believe it to be in harmony with Scripture), without sacrificing our love and goodwill towards those who share our evangelical faith while differing on secondary matters of doctrine.

You can read a fuller treatment of Beza’s life and ministry here

Other sources:
Robert Letham, “Beza” Biographical Dictionary of Evangelicals
Theodore Beza @
wikipedia

Protestant Profiles #5 Heinrich Bullinger

Heinrich Bullinger (1504 – 1575)

Born: Bremgarten, Switzerland
Role: Monastery headmaster; pastor; theologian; Reformer; successor to Zwingli
Theological emphases: covenant theology; total depravity/original sin; predestination; justification by faith in Christ alone; symbolic baptism & Lord’s Supper
Protested against: unbiblical traditions; icons & relics of saints; ancient heresies & antinomianism; papacy; Catholic sacramentalism; purgatory

 

Bullinger became intrigued by the fuss over Luther while a university student in Cologne in the opening years of the Reformation. His theological studies of the early church fathers led to an embrace of Protestantism as a more biblically faithful alternative to the kind of medieval scholasticism that prevailed in the educational environments he had studied in.

But while it was Luther and then Melancthon that contributed to Bullinger’s evangelical awakening, it was Zwingli whom he became personally involved with. The two developed a close partnership throughout the 1520s, engaging in reform work and theological disputes  together. When Zwingli was killed in battle in 1531, Bullinger quickly became his successor as the chief Reformer in Zurich (and by extension Swizterland). He was still a relatively young man and remained in this role for almost 45 years.

Similar to the way that Melancthon played a key role in systematising Luther’s theology, Bullinger’s importance to the Protestant Reformation lies in his efforts to produce clear statements of Reformed Christian theology that could be spread throughout Christendom as a precursor to Protestant beliefs being widely understood and embraced by people all over Europe. He was instrumental in drafting the First and Second Helvetic Confessions of Faith, which clearly put forward Reformed doctrines on the gospel, salvation and the church, while rejected Roman Catholic and heretical positions on these issues. The Second Helvetic Confession was an incredibly important document for Reformed Christians in this period and won wide acceptance amongst believers of this theological persuasion in many different countries.

Bullinger was also a prodigious preacher and writer, making his impact felt heavily not only in Zurich but in many other places. His works were highly influential in the development of Reformed Christianity within England and he is known to have corresponded with the key Protestant monarchs – Henry VIII, Edward VI and Elizabeth I – along with the English martyr-queen Jane. By the time he preached his final sermon at Pentecost in 1575, he is believed to have delivered more than 7000 pastoral messages in Zurich.

Bullinger did have disagreements with other Protestants during his ministry, including Calvin, Lutherans and Anabaptists – but he is widely regarded as a man who cared about Christian unity and sought after harmony and affection between sincere evangelical believers. He was called by Theodore Beza (featured next week) “the common shepherd of all Christian Churches” and showed great love for and solidarity with a wide range of other Christians.

While he remains relatively unknown to many today, Bullinger stands behind much of the thought and theology that Presbyterians, evangelical Anglicans and many other Reformed and Protestant Christians have come to take for granted. A giant in his lifetime, he deserves to be remembered in this 500th anniversary of the Reformation in which he played a key part.

You can read a more extensive biography here.
Or read the Second Helvetic Confession here.

 

Sources

ANS Lane, “Bullinger, Heinrich” Biographical Dictionary of Evangelicals
“Heinrich Bullinger” wikipedia
“Heinrich Bullinger” in Schaff’s History of the Christian Church 

Protestant Profiles #4: Philipp Melanchthon

Philipp Melanchthon (1497-1560)

 

Born: Bretten, Baden (Germany)
Role: Scholar, Professor, Reformer, Systematic Theologian
Emphases: Justification by faith alone; law/gospel distinction
Protested against: Transubstantiation, veneration of saints, papal and clerical abuses

Having looked at the lives and impact of the “big three” Protestant Reformers, it’s time to consider the role of the men who were their co-workers and successors. Philip Melanchthon was a student, sidekick, successor and systematiser of Martin Luther and his theology and ministry. An academic rising star (renowned humanist scholar Erasmus said of him in 1516, “What acumen of innovation, what purity of language, what mature erudition!”), he became a lecturer at Wittenberg University (the town where Luther ministered and where the Reformation began) at a fairly young age in 1518.

Melanchthon became inseparably associated with Luther (in fact he reportedly said, “I would rather die than be separated from this man!”), holding the same evangelical convictions and concerns for reform and taking on common theological adversaries like John Eck. The publication of his Loci Communes Rerum Theologicum (Common-place Theology) in 1521 was a watershed moment for the Protestant Reformation, as it represented the first attempt at a detailed systematisation of evangelical beliefs.

Melanchthon became substitute-leader of the Reformation in the period Luther spent disguised doing translation work at Wartburg while under the protection of Prince Frederick of Saxony. While Luther did return to Wittenberg and continue his reform work for over 20 years, his imperial outlaw status prevented him from undertaking certain activities and Melanchthon acted as Protestant statesman in his place. This was especially so at the Diet of Augsburg in 1530, where Melanchthon led what we would now call a Lutheran delegation to present an evangelical statement of faith to the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V.

The Augsburg Confession was largely the work of Melanchthon himself and attempted to present Lutheran theology in a manner that would stress both the emphases of the Reformation and the areas of agreement between Protestants and Catholics. This confession remains the foundational document for many Lutherans today and its publication at Augsburg has been regarded by some as the beginning of the distinct branch of Christianity called Lutheranism.

When Luther died in 1546, Melanchthon succeeded him as the foremost figure in Reformation Germany, until his own death in 1560. He continued to strive for as much peace as possible between Christians of all stripes, while staying faithful to Protestant principles. He not only faced significant political and religious challenges in relation to Roman Catholicism during this period, but was decried as a sell-out or even a closet-Catholic by some Lutherans who thought he was not strong enough in emphasising Luther’s distinct convictions. Lutherans in this period also struggled with questions of common ground and divergence between them and the emerging Calvinistic Protestants, along with the more established Zwinglian churches.

Melanchthon continued to develop Lutheran theology and the impact of his writings extends to most other branches of evangelical Christianity, as later theologians and assemblies looked back on his key works. He has been called “Theologian of the Reformation” (perhaps a surprise after seeing the prominence of Calvin last week) and “The Preceptor (Instructor) of Germany” and deserves to be recognised alongside the more famous trio as a champion of early Protestantism and biblical principles.

You can read a more detailed biography of his life here.
Or read the Augsburg Confession here.

Sources
“Melanchthon” Biographical Dictionary of Evangelicals
“Philipp Melanchthon” Wikipedia
http://justus.anglican.org/resources/bio/192.html
www.luther.de/en/melanch.html
www.lutheranhistory.org>melanchthon