Monday, April 03, 2006
Almost halfway through the book The Pilgrim Church by E.H. Broadbent, Marshall-Pickering 1985, I am now in the early days of the Reformation—Wycliffe, Huss and some lesser known reformers of that era.
The premise of the book is, of course, that there were throughout the centuries, lots of faithful, biblically sound, and growing groups of believers all over the world—without any need for the Reformation as we think of it. Among them were the Waldenses and the Vaudois in Southern Europe, enormous, widespread "unofficial" churches—the latter descended directly from the Apostles' ministry in Rome and continuing through the early days of the Reformation (13-1400s) in spite of terrible persecution from the hierarchy of the Church. The name Evangelic given to them, is tied not insignificantly to our term Evangelical today, referring to Bible-believing, evangelizing churches.
They had little time for the hierarchical, man-centered, power-hungry system that then characterized the Papal Church. Even today's norms of church governance, where whole congregations have ultimate responsibility for the direction of their fellowships, reflect the practices of these churches. Broadbent concludes of the Waldenses, "In matters of discipline, appointment of elders, and other acts, the whole church took part, in conjunction with its elders." All this long before any notions of political democracy had taken hold in medieval Europe.
It is fascinating and so encouraging for me just to get a little familiar with what God has been doing with his church in big and small ways in the nooks and crannies of history. Their faithful approach to truths like the priesthood of the believer, salvation by faith, Christ's headship of the Church and the significance and role of His body, the members of the church, were consistent with, and apparently influenced men like John Huss and the early Reformers, who stood up against the corrupted Church of Rome. They were aggressive in spreading the Gospel but were known for their peaceable lives and kindness to the poor and the sick.
The Westminster Confession, shows up a little later (1648). It was "...commissioned from an assembly of 121 Puritan clergymen meeting in Westminster Abbey, called the Westminster Assembly , which was convened in 1643 for the purpose of drafting official documents for the reformation of the Church of England." (from an introduction) It seems to be these good men's attempt, in the wake of recovery from Rome's corruptions, to answer the question "What is Biblical Christianity...and What is the Church?"
Quaint style and language to us, but probably some of the most complete thinking on the church and the essential truths of the Bible I'll ever encounter outside the Bible itself. The Savoy Declaration was added in 1658 with some clarifications and new references to the church and church order that have provided a foundation for many, if not most, modern churches. Developing...