Thoughts on life and Scripture...

Monday, October 31, 2016

Martin Bucer And A Deformation In The Reformation

One of the books I got from an old friend was a copy of Martin Bucer's 'Concerning The True Care Of Souls'. Martin Bucer is a lesser known reformer who lived from 1491 to 1551. He become the pastoral leader in the city of Strasbourg which became a center for Reformed learning. Calvin and other Reformation leaders spent time in this city.
   As I flipped through the book, I came across a section or two dealing with how civil rulers are to help the church in shepherding the sheep. Bucer goes into some detail about how the civil authorities are to find and return lost sheep in the church. I had to look twice as this is not a subject you will find in today's books on pastoral care. Let me give you a few quotes so you understand Bucer's ideas.

"Rulers are to provide the church with faithful ministers, see to the education and discipline of the young, and allow no one to turn either himself or others from sound doctrine and fellowship of Christ."pg 81

"And those who embrace particular sects are encouraged to turn away from disaster by means of fines and other severe penalties." pg81

Bucer supports his view by explaining that since Augustine taught and encouraged this, we should do the same. Augustine believed that "God uses punishment and prevention by force also to restore people from false doctrine and sects and contempt of religion."pg83 Since it 'worked' with Augustine in the days of the Roman Empire, so it should also work for us is the logic that Bucer uses. He also supports his view by saying that Old Testament Israelite rulers used force to deal with the immoral and idolaters. This goes to show what errors can come when one doesn't see the difference between Israel and the Church. Bucer goes on say that while we can't force people to believe or to do good against their will, God uses the force and punishment administered by the rulers as a means of leading them to salvation. Such a view however has nothing in the scripture to support it.

Martin Bucer's view of the role of government in the church is not an abnormality in that time. This view was held by all the reformers, although that may come as a surprise to some. Philip Schaff in his book 'History of the Christian Church'  says "The Reformers founded a popular state church, including all citizens with their families." pg71 vol 8

Concerning Zwingli and the church in Zurich, Schaff writes, "The only dissenters in Zurich were a small number of Romanists and Anabaptists, who were treated with the same disregard of rights of conscience as the Protestants in Roman Catholic countries, only with a lesser degree of severity. The Reformers refused to others the right of protest which they claimed and exercised for themselves, and the civil magistracy visited the poor Anabaptists with capital punishment." pg67 vol 8 Later he writes about the Anabaptists "They were cruelly persecuted by imprisonment, exile, torture, fire and sword, and almost totally surpressed in Protestant as well as in Roman Catholic countries." pg 72

What happened in Zurich, happened to some degree where ever the Reformation spread. The Church and State were still closely connected. When a country and its rulers supported the Reformation, they made it the official church and religion of the country. Everyone in the state therefore now belonged to the state church and must attend that church. If you decided gather in a other church due to any difference as the Anabaptists did, then the government could go after you to bring you back to the church by force and with punishment. Bucer and other reformers supported this, encouraged it or at the least didn't speak out against it. This view found its way into the Belgic Confession. There it is said that "the task of the civil government is the protection of the church and its ministry in order that, all idolatry and false worship may be removed and prevented, the kingdom of Antichrist may be destroyed." Later in 1905 the last part of the sentence was thankfully deleted by the General Synod of the Dutch Reformed Church.

I want to point this out not because the Reformation is not important or the reformers were terrible men. The Reformation was an important turning point in the history of the church. God restored the truth of the gospel and blessed us greatly with many wise men. But some people talk and act as though the Reformation is the standard for the church. They say we need to go back to the time of the Reformation. A rosy picture is painted for us of this important time in the church while ignoring its defects.The Reformers were still sinners and falible men.

We don't need to go back to the Reformation as the standard, but like the reformers we need to go back to the scriptures. There is a constant need to always be reforming. As individual Christians we can let bad theology and practices slip into our thinking and living. Churches face the constant danger of wolves without and wolves within who would destroy the church by error and sin. Thus we need to continually go back to scripture, to immerse ourselves in its truth. Every error must be examined by the Bible. We don't need to constantly change the truth but we do need to constantly examine our life and doctrine by the scriptures.

There is also a danger we let other people form our theology. For those growing up in the church, they can accept the theological position of the church to be their position without examining the scriptures for the proof and support of those positions. New Christians are often in a similar danger. They can let their new church or some preacher set their theology, without taking the time, patience and hard work to see the truth in God's word for themselves. If we hold to sola scriptura, then let us be people of the Book. While we should not disregard the past of the church, we should not let it govern our theology but govern our lives and doctrine by God's holy book.

Let me wish you all a Blessed Reformation Day and a Happy Anabapist day! (The Anabaptists have for the most part unjustly been given a bad reputation. While there were some who deserved the reputation, many lived godly lives and were martyred because they didn't support the State church. They deserve the appreciation of the church as well. We enjoy the liberty that they died supporting. More could be said about this but that would form a book.)


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