Archive for October, 2005

Remembering Another Reformation Figure: Gustavus Adolphus

October 31st, 2005 Posted in Reformation

As any student of the Reformation knows, this powerful gale of spiritual life that blew across western Europe had a major impact on the political realm. In the Scandinavian kingdom of Sweden and its dependency, Finland, for instance, the Reformation occurred against a background of considerable political and social upheaval. It was really not until the 1590s that the Reformation there was securely established. Though Gustavus Vasa (1496-1560), the ruler of Sweden from 1523 till his death, was committed to making Sweden a Protestant nation, the Reformation lacked widespread popular support until well after Gustavus Vasa’s death. Finally in 1593 the Swedish Church adopted the Lutheran Augsburg Confession (1530) as its statement of faith. In fact, so deeply rooted was the Swedish Reformation in the first decades of the seventeenth century that the key champion of Protestant Europe was none other than Gustavus Adolphus, the grandson of Gustavus Vasa.

Gustavus Adolphus (1595-1632)

Gustavus Adolphus was schooled in the classics and various European languages. By the age of sixteen he was not only conversant in Swedish and German, his native languages, but he had also mastered Latin, Italian, Dutch, Spanish, Russian and Polish! Due to the fact that he was expected to inherit the throne, his father, Charles IX (r.1604-1611), also introduced him at an early age to the realms of politics and warfare. His reign, which commenced in 1611, dramatically transformed Sweden from a position of political and military insecurity into one of the most powerful nations in Europe. The Swedish king became known as one of the greatest men of his age, a skilled diplomat and a brilliant military commander. Gustavus Adolphus’ personal appearance gave further lustre to his political savvy and martial know-how, for he was a tall, muscular man with blond hair. The Italians called him Il Re d’Oro—the Golden King.

However, Gustvaus Adolphus had inherited an extremely difficult political situation. Sweden was involved in two separate struggles in the Baltic when his father died. A fratricidal war with the Danish was brought to an end in 1613 and one with the Russians was concluded very advantageously for the Swedes in 1617. A series of wars with Poland, though, which began in 1621 dragged on for most of that decade. With the final conclusion of the Polish Wars in 1629, the Swedish King could turn his attention to what was a pressing concern for all Protestants in Europe, the Thirty Years’ War (1618-1648).

The Thirty Years’ War

This war—really a succession of armed conflicts—was essentially religious in nature. It began in May, 1618, when Calvinists in Bohemia revolted against their king, the Jesuit-trained Ferdinand II (1578-1637), by tossing two of his officials out of a palace window in Prague. The two men apparently survived a seventy-foot fall because, some claimed, they landed in a pile of manure! Ferdinand, who was also the Holy Roman Emperor and ruler of Austria, was determined to subdue Bohemia since it supplied a significant amount of his wealth. Moreover, the monarch had dedicated himself to the restoration of Roman Catholic power in central Europe. Ferdinand thus sought to roll back the religious gains of the Reformation in his lands with the power of the sword. He was counting on the support of such Catholic allies as Spain to achieve these goals. The revolt in Bohemia plunged Europe into a series of wars that lasted for thirty years.

The high point of this struggle for the Roman Catholics was the forcible expulsion by Austrian arms of some 30,000 Protestant families from Bohemia—long a bastion of the Hussite Church and Protestantism. In the words of one historian, Owen Chadwick, this was “the most signal and permanent triumph of the Counter-Reformation.” An edict passed in the same year as this Roman Catholic victory, 1629, stripped all Calvinists in the various German states comprising the Holy Roman Empire of their civil rights. Moreover, the edict required all lands acquired by German Protestants since 1552 to be restored to Roman Catholic powers. All would have been lost for German-speaking Protestantism if had not been for the providential intervention of Gustavus Adolphus and his army.

The warrior

It is important to note that while political reasons were not absent from Sweden’s entry into this war, Gustavus’ religious convictions were a central motivation in his decision to lead an army into the heart of Europe. He rightly believed that he could not sit idly by and watch fellow believers suffer to such a degree and in such large numbers.

The success that attended his campaign in the Thirty Years’ War and other military ventures is usually completely ascribed to his genius as a tactician. He realized, for example, that mobility was critical in battle, and accordingly he had the equipment of his soldiers lightened as well as the artillery pieces. Furthermore, due to the fact that Sweden at this point in history had a population of only 850,000 (with Finland having another 350,000), it was impossible for Gustavus to field a completely Swedish army capable of waging war on the European continent. He thus made skilful use of well-trained soldiers from other nations, of which those from Scotland were the most notable.

The loyalty he inspired among his soldiers was also a key factor in his success as a general. One Scottish officer who served under him wrote: “Such a General [as Gustavus] would I gladly serve; but such a General I shall hardly see, whose custom was to be the first and last in danger in himself, gaining his officers’ love, in being the companion both of their labours and dangers.” Even his enemies recognized the love his army had for him. An Italian by the name of Gualdo Priorato, who had actually fought against Gustavus, stated: “No prince was ever so beloved as he was…no general was obeyed with greater affection and readiness.”

Gustavus would die on the field of battle on November 6, 1632, at the Battle of Lützen.

The Christian

Finally, and most importantly, the fact of Gustavus Adolphus’ deep-seated Christian piety as a factor in the success of his army should not be ignored. Like the piety of another great Christian soldier of the seventeenth century, Oliver Cromwell (1599-1658), Gustavus’ evangelical faith shaped his army and gave it purpose and resolve.

No Christian worthy of the name likes war, and in this Gustavus is no exception. There is no evidence that the Swedish monarch engaged in the wars that he did for military glory. The glory, though, that Gustavus Adolphus longed for was the glory of God. This is quite different from many warriors of the early modern era. Lord Nelson, about whom we have been blogging recently, actually sought for glory in war.

Yet, Gustavus also knew himself to be a man called to a huge responsibility: securing the welfare of his nation and succouring the Protestant cause in Europe. He was convinced that God had called him for the hour in which he lived. And if he had not had acted, German Protestantism would have been well nigh annihilated. There is little doubt that Gustavus Adolphus helped change the course of European history.

The kingdom of God is not ushered in through force of military arms, but such wars as Gustavus fought—wars essentially for self-defence—are not ruled out by the Word of God, as a careful reading of passage like Romans 13 shows. The name of Gustavus Adolphus belongs with those of other military commanders like Oliver Cromwell, James Gardiner (1688-1745), Robert E. Lee (1807-1870), and T.J. Jackson (1824-1863)—men who loved the Lord Jesus and who did not feel their calling conflicted with their Christian faith.

Remembering Lady Jane Grey

October 29th, 2005 Posted in Uncategorized

An important Reformation hero to be remembered on the upcoming anniversary of Reformation Day (October 31) is Jane Grey (1537-1554). Her faith and witness, which shone out so strongly in the days before her execution on February 12, 1554, is a good reminder that the heroes of the Reformation are not simply the remarkable cadre of theologians that emerged at that time, men like Martin Luther, Huldreich Zwingli, Heinrich Bullinger, Thomas Cranmer, and John Calvin. But the faith that these Reformers sought to explicate and promote gripped the hearts of many who were not vocational theologians. Jane Grey was such a one. Only a day or so before her death, Jane wrote in her Greek New Testament a letter for her younger sister Katherine, who was fourteen. She was seeking to encourage Katherine to turn from the fleeting pleasures of this world to embrace Christ and find a treasure that is eternal. She wrote:

“I have sent you, good sister Katherine, a book, which although it be not outwardly trimmed with gold, yet inwardly it is more worth than precious stones. It is the book, dear sister, of the laws of the lord: It is His Testament and Last Will, which He bequeathed unto us wretches, which shall lead you to the path of eternal joy, and if you, with a good mind read it, and with an earnest desire, follow it shall bring you to an immortal and everlasting life. …as touching my death, rejoice as I do and consider that I shall be delivered of this corruption and put on incorruption, for as I am assured that I shall for losing of a mortal life, find an immortal felicity.”

Here we see the typical Reformation love of the Scriptures: “it is more worth than precious stones.” And central to this love of the Scriptures is Jane’s clear understanding as to why they were given: to lead sinners—those whom Jane calls “us wretches”—“to the path of eternal joy” and “immortal and everlasting life.” Finally, she has an assurance of salvation, a basic datum of New Testament Christian experience that had been recovered by the Reformers.

If we ask why she had such an assurance, a final document that she wrote, also on the eve of her execution, tells us. She wrote the following three sentences in her prayer book, the first in Latin, then one in Greek and the final one in English: “If justice be done with my body, my soul will find mercy with God. Death will give pain to my body for its sins, but the soul will be justified before God. If my faults deserve punishment, my youth at least, and my imprudence, were worthy of excuse; God and posterity will show me favour.” She has assurance of salvation because she stands justified before God, she has been made right with God, and thus is now confident of his favour.

Robert Haldane & the British Navy

October 27th, 2005 Posted in Uncategorized

Robert Haldane (1764-1842) was an important 19th-century Scottish Baptist leader whose ministry via the spoken word and written text deeply impacted Baptists in what was then British North America—now Canada—and Francophone Evangelicals on the European continent. Here is a fine little study of his naval days and links with Lord Nelson, whom I have been blogging about recently. A dear friend and colleague wrote it, Clint Humfrey @ Cowboyology: ‘An Ornament to His Country’.

Clint ends it by saying: “Was Robert Haldane ‘an ornament to his country’ in the way that Horatio Nelson was? Certainly not. But in Immanuel’s land, Haldane’s name will be written in the greatest of books (Rev. 20:12), while Nelson may not even rank a mention.”

David Brainerd & Today’s Teenage Boys

October 25th, 2005 Posted in Uncategorized

Browsing through some blogs I came across a humorous reference to Ranelda Hunsicker’s David Brainerd (Bethany House Publishers, 1999) in Kim’s The Upward Call. See her post “Through the eyes of 21st Century Boys.”

Her thirteen-year-old son is reading the book, which depicts Brainerd on the front cover with a pony tail. She notes that his first remarks about the book were: “Hey! Sweet! He has a ponytail! Why can’t I have a ponytail?”

Kim later showed the book to his eleven- year-old brother, who is also going to read the book. His comment was: “He has the word nerd in his name.”

Kim’s comment to all of this typical young adolescent male talk (how well I know this because of one in my household!) was “I don’t know if I should laugh or bang my head against the wall.” I can sympathize!

The Eternality of the Body

October 25th, 2005 Posted in Uncategorized

Among the Ancients it was the Greeks who were most fascinated with the human body—witness their sculpture and passion for sports. Yet it was these very men and women who scorned the idea of a physical resurrection when they heard it from the lips of the Apostle (Acts 17:32).

Similarly our culture in North America is passionate about the human body and its various expressions—witness our sports, faddish diets, and the use of sex to promote everything from beer to cars. Yet, the preaching of the resurrection—“We believe in the resurrection of the body”—is rejected as nonsense or scorned as utterly naïve.

But such hope is what binds us to the community of saints throughout time. God’s people in the past had the conviction that with their bodily eyes they would see the King of glory. And with such a hope could they face down the complete disintegration of their physical frame.

Not for nothing has death sometimes been termed “the King of Terrors.” It seemingly destroys all that we are. The Christian, though, has a hope stronger than death: “sown in dishonour;…raised in glory;…sown in weakness;…raised in power;… sown a natural body;…raised a spiritual body” (1 Corinthians 15:43-44).

Though this body, so essential to my sense of identity, crumble into dust, the living God knows every molecule and every atom. And He will, in time, refashion all of them into a body totally controlled by the Spirit of His Son and covered with His glory.

“But lo! There breaks a yet more glorious day;
The saints triumphant rise in bright array…”

(William Walsham How, 1823-1897)

St. Crispin’s Day and “Bands of Brothers”

October 25th, 2005 Posted in Uncategorized

We have been thinking of the Battle of Trafalgar in recent days (by the way, I hope to post something more on this in the next week) in which Napoleon’s fantasy of invading Great Britain was scotched once and for all. One of the elements in the British victory was the sense of personal loyalty that Nelson’s men felt towards him and Nelson to them. In Nelson’s words, “I had the happiness to command a band of brothers.” The phrase “band of brothers” is drawn from William Shakespeare’s Henry V, a play from which Nelson frequently quoted. On this, see Adam Nicolson’s brilliant study, Men of Honour. Trafalgar and the Making of the English Hero (London: Harper Collins, 2005), 125-127.

The phrase occurs in the speech of Henry V, as Shakespeare imagined it, on that day that he defeated the French at Agincourt in 1415.

“…Crispin Crispian shall ne’er go by,
From this day to the ending of the world,
But we in it shall be remembered—
We few, we happy few, we band of brothers;
For he to-day that sheds his blood with me
Shall be my brother; be he ne’er so vile,
This day shall gentle his condition;
And gentlemen in England now-a-bed
Shall think themselves accurs’d they were not here,
And hold their manhoods cheap whiles any speaks
That fought with us upon Saint Crispin’s day.”
(Henry V, Act IV, Scene III, lines 58-68).

Reading George Grant’s blog— Grantian Florilegium—for today alerted me to the fact that today is St. Crispin’s Day, on which Henry V won his notable victory at Agincourt. Henry V did make a speech that day, though, of course Shakespeare’s words are not what he actually said. But there is no doubt that the speech is stirring stuff—the stuff on which young men feed mind and heart—and which Nelson knew could foster valour and heroism.

Now, if it be true that Nelson’s band of brothers were critical to his victory, how much more so is it in the Kingdom of the Lord Jesus. Did not Paul have such a band on his missionary travels? And the Cappadocian Fathers when they sought to beat back Arianism? And William Carey in India? Far more has been accomplished for the Kingdom of God by such “bands of brothers” than by isolated stellar figures!

Horatius Bonar: A Brief Memoir

October 25th, 2005 Posted in 19th Century

One of my heroes is Horatius Bonar (1808-1889), the finest Scottish hymn-writer of the nineteenth century. Bonar was born in Edinburgh on December 19, 1808. His father, James Bonar (1757-1831), was an elder in Lady Glenorchy’s Chapel, a bulwark of Edinburgh Evangelicalism that had been founded in 1774 with money donated by Lady Glenorchy (1741-1786), a wealthy patroness of Evangelical causes. However, James Bonar died when Horatius was but 13, and thus the greatest influence on him during his early years was his godly mother, Marjory Maitland Bonar (d.1854), and his eldest brother James (1801-1867), who, like his father, was an elder at Lady Glenorchy’s Chapel and was deeply involved in numerous Evangelical and philanthropic enterprises. There are no known details, however, of Horatius’ conversion.

Three influences

He was educated at Edinburgh High School and Edinburgh University before entering the Divinity Hall, where the Professor of Divinity was Thomas Chalmers (1780-1847), whom the Scottish literary figure Thomas Carlyle (1795-1881) pronounced to be “the Chief Scottish man of his time.” Chalmers had an enormous influence upon the young Bonar, who considered Chalmers the greatest Christian he ever knew.
Another important influence on the young Bonar was some lectures on the Book of Revelation that were given in Edinburgh over the years 1828 to 1830 by Edward Irving (1792-1834). At the time Irving was one of the most popular Presbyterian preachers. In 1833, though, he would be removed from the ministry of the Church of Scotland for espousing erroneous views regarding the humanity of Christ. Horatius Bonar, though, would have agreed with his friend Robert Murray McCheyne (1813-1843) when the latter described Irving as “a holy man in spite of all his delusions and errors.”
The long-lasting influence of Irving’s premillennial convictions on Horatius can be seen, for instance, in The Quarterly Journal of Prophecy, a publication that he edited from 1848 to 1873 and that was designed to promote premillennial eschatology. More than a few of his hymns also sought to press home this prophetic perspective, for instance, “I know not in what watch He comes,” written in mid-March, 1880.
A third important influence with regard to Horatius Bonar’s spiritual growth during his days at the Divinity Hall came from a circle of friends that included three of his brothers, Robert Murray McCheyne, Alexander Neil Somerville (1813-1889), John Milne (1807-1868), and a number of other young men. As the biblical proverb puts it, these men shaped each other as iron sharpens iron (Proverbs 27:17).

Leith and Kelso (1833-1866)

After being licensed to preach in 1833, Bonar’s first ministerial appointment was at Leith, the port of Edinburgh, where he worked as an assistant minister to James Lewis in the parish of St. John’s.
Word of Bonar’s effective ministry at Leith came to the ears of a newly established congregation in Kelso, the North Parish Church, which sent a deputation to hear Bonar preach and sound him out regarding a call to their church. Unanimously called to this work on November 30, 1837, Bonar would labour in the Scottish Borders for 29 years.
It was at Kelso that Bonar’s gifts as an evangelist blossomed. The keynote that he sounded right from the start of his Kelso ministry was “Ye must be born again” (John 3:7). Bonar was rightly convinced that without this emphasis from the pulpit on the vital need for personal regeneration “all religion is hollow and superficial.”
One of Bonar’s successors at Kelso was W. Robertson Nicoll (1851-1923), who was minister there from 1877 to 1885 and who later became a well-known author and journalist. Nicoll noted that Bonar’s ministry at Kelso was one of “quenchless zeal and unrelenting labour. He set himself to evangelize the Borderland. His name was fragrant in every little village, and at most of the farms. He conducted many meetings in farm kitchens and village schoolrooms, and often preached in the open air.”

A writing ministry

Bonar was also convinced of the importance of Christian literature as a vital means of evangelism and Christian nurture. To that end he began writing while at Kelso a series of tracts and small booklets that could be printed cheaply and widely distributed. From the titles of those written by Bonar—for example: Believe and Live, The Well of Living Water, Luther’s Conversion, The Lord’s Supper, Do you go to the Prayer-Meeting?—it can be seen that they covered a variety of subjects, but a central theme was evangelistic. Other authors, including his brother Andrew (1810-1892), were also involved and the series became known as “The Kelso Tracts.”
These tracts opened the way for larger literary endeavours. In 1845 his first book, The Night of Weeping; or, Words for the Suffering Family of God, appeared. It was followed by a flow of books, sermon collections and biographies. One of his most popular books was Bonar God’s Way of Peace: A Book for the Anxious, which was published in 1862. The book was translated into French, German, and Gaelic, and sold more than 285,000 copies during his lifetime. Bonar was also involved in the editing of a number of periodicals, including The Quarterly Journal of Prophecy mentioned above, and the widely-read Christian Treasury.

The Disruption of 1843

In 1843, there occurred what has been called the most important event in the history of nineteenth-century Scotland, namely the Disruption, which cut the Church of Scotland in two. Two issues were central to this momentous event. First, whether or not a minister could be imposed on a congregation at the wish of a patron even when such a settlement was contrary to the will of the congregation. Second, in connection with their objections to patronage, Evangelicals wished to revitalize the idea of pastoral ministry being a calling. Those who wished to uphold the practice of parish patronage appealed to the civil courts, while Thomas Chalmers led those who wished to honour the sovereignty of Christ over the affairs of his Church and who maintained that the civil courts had no jurisdiction in the spiritual realm. Among those following Chalmers was Bonar.
Rather than abandon the Church’s independence from the state, Chalmers, Bonar and those like-minded decided to give up the privileges of establishment, which included such things as a financial security, a manse and a place of worship.
All told, slightly more than 450 ministers out of an estimated 1,195 ministers separated from the Church of Scotland in May, 1843, to form the Church of Scotland Free (better known as the Free Church of Scotland). Somewhere between 40 and 50 per cent—estimates vary—of the membership of the Established Church went with the Free Church.

Chalmers Memorial Church, Edinburgh (1866-1889)

Horatius Bonar’s final sphere of ministry was in Edinburgh. He had received several calls to other spheres of ministry during his time at Kelso, but he never seriously considered leaving until called in June, 1866, to become the first minister at the newly established Chalmers’ Memorial Church (now St. Catherine’s Argyle Church).
He would be there till his death on July 31, 1889. The congregation grew significantly under his Spirit-filled preaching, increasing from 61 in October 1866 to 805 in July 1888. He preached up until a year or so before his death in Edinburgh on July 31, 1889.

The hymns

Bonar had begun writing hymns in Leith for the children who attended the Sabbath school that he supervised. There were over 280 of them present on any given Sunday. What struck him as he first watched them in 1833 during their times of worship was how fidgety many of them were. He soon came up with the idea of providing them with hymns of their own, set to tunes the children knew well and liked to sing. The experiment worked and he noticed a marked improvement in their paying attention during the times of worship in the Sabbath school.
Just as the writing of small tracts had led on to bigger literary projects, so the children’s hymns eventually led, in 1836, to Bonar writing hymns that were for the use of older worshippers. The first of these was the well-known hymn, “Go, labour on; spend, and be spent.” It breathes the evangelistic passion that characterized Bonar’s ministry all of his life and ends, not surprisingly, on an eschatological note.
Bonar went on to publish over 600 hymns and poems during the course of his life. Among them are such hymns as “I heard the voice of Jesus say,”—originally entitled by Bonar as “The Voice from Galilee”—his communion hymn, “Here O my Lord, I see Thee face to face,” and “Not what these hands have done”, a rich meditation on the central emphases of Reformed thought.

Bonar’s significance

Bonar’s hymns have rightly led to his being regarded as the finest Scottish hymn-writer of the nineteenth century. His hymns and other literary works, moreover, reveal the rich vitality of nineteenth-century Scottish Presbyterian piety. As such, they are a marvelous resource for contemporary Evangelicals seeking to know something of their spiritual heritage.

“Bucket-Worthy” Books

October 24th, 2005 Posted in Books

I really appreciated Tom Ascol’s post “Bucket-worthy books” where he relates which books from his library he stored in plastic containers in light of the impact of Hurricane Wilma. There is a poignancy to the post and a call for the rest of us to pray for our brothers and sisters in the direct path of this storm. As Tom shared, “It is an agonizing experience. Like most bibliophiles I have more books than container space. How do you decide which books are ‘bucket-worthy?’ ”

I note that Andrew Fuller’s Works found space in a bucket. As Tom said, “not because they are irreplaceable (although some of my early editions of his works would be harder to replace) but because my blood, sweat and tears mark their pages. Ditto John Gill’s Body of Divinity.”

Tom concluded with an important reflection on the place of books in the Christian life: “Under God I owe much to my books. Through them I have been challenged, corrected, strengthened, rebuked, humbled, instructed and encouraged in my Christian life. The thought of losing any of them to wind or rain or storm surge saddens me. If God in His mercy and wisdom spares me that loss, I will once again be very grateful. If in His mercy and wisdom He does not, perhaps I will at least have those who are riding out the storm in buckets to help me in its aftermath.”

PS It appears that the books—and most importantly—the Ascols came through the storm safely. There are some pictures of Tom choosing which books are “bucket-worthy” on his daughter Becca’s Blog. See and scroll down to the sixth, seventh and eighth pictures.

Warfield on the Cross

October 24th, 2005 Posted in Great Quotes

Rightly has one recent observer/participant of Evangelicalism described it as being in a state of “free fall.” Increasingly Evangelicals are committed to fewer and fewer solidities of the faith. One that is being heavily challenged in our day is the doctrine of Christ’s penal, substitutionary atonement. For some this doctrine is only one option among a number when considering the death of Christ. For others, the whole idea of the redemptive violence of the cross is increasingly problematic. See, in this regard, Steve Chalke’s views as detailed here: Steve Chalke and the Atonement – Update and reply by Daniel Strange.

For us, though, the words of B. B. Warfield (1851-1921) are still right on:

“Not only is the doctrine of the sacrificial death of Christ embodied in Christianity as an essential element of the system, but in a very real sense it constitutes Christianity. It is this which differentiates Christianity from other religions. Christianity did not come into the world to proclaim a new morality and, sweeping away all the supernatural props by which men were wont to support their trembling, guilt-stricken souls, to throw them back on their own strong right arms to conquer a standing before God for themselves. It came to proclaim the real sacrifice for sin which God had provided in order to supercede all the poor fumbling efforts which men had made and were making to provide a sacrifice for sin for themselves; and, planting men’s feet on this, to bid them go forward. It was in this sign that Christianity conquered, and it is in this sign alone that it continues to conquer.”

For another classical Evangelical statement on the cross, see the recent post “Spurgeon on substitutionary atonement” by Phil Johnson.

Being Episcopal or Congregational?

October 24th, 2005 Posted in Uncategorized

I have always considered it a great privilege that I did both my master’s and doctoral levels of theological studies at the evangelical Anglican seminary Wycliffe College, here in Toronto. There I was exposed to the scholarship and piety of such men as R. K. Harrison, Richard Longenecker, Jakob Jocz, Oliver O’Donovan, and Alan Hayes, and profoundly shaped by the Reformed worship of the Book of Common Prayer. For a while in the 1970s, a fellow-student and I—he coming from a non-denominational charismatic background and I from a Fellowship Baptist context—considered becoming Anglicans, for there was much that we found attractive in evangelical Anglicanism.

But I stumbled over two issues in particular, though I suspect there would be further issues today. First, I could not be reconciled to the idea of infant baptism. I could not—and still cannot— see any place for such a rite in the life of a church seeking to be in harmony with the New Testament. Then, there was one of the Six Principles of the College that well summed up the doctrinal orientation of the school. I could fully subscribe to five of the six, which encapsulated the Reformed piety of the Church of England when it was founded in the sixteenth century—for these principles, see “Six Principles” ( But I wrestled with the fifth one, which entailed subscription to “The historic episcopate, a primitive and effective instrument for maintaining the unity and continuity of the Church.”

As a student of Patristics, I knew something of the early roots of episcopacy. Ignatius of Antioch (died c.107) was clearly an early advocate of a threefold form of church government (bishop, elders, and deacons). But, as with baptism, I had to test episcopacy against the New Testament. And in that foundation document for the church, there are only two ongoing offices distinctly delineated—elders, sometimes called bishops or overseers, and deacons. Other ministries, like that of the Apostles, were foundational in the structure of the Church, but never intended to be ongoing. Moreover, studying the New Testament I was convinced that the congregation played a vital role in the governance of the Church. I thus embraced what John Owen (1616-1683), the “Calvin of England,” has called “the old, glorious, beautiful face of Christianity.” For an historical study of this, see my “ ‘The old, glorious, beautiful face of Christianity’: Congregationalism and Baptist life”, The Gospel Witness, 84, No. 5 (October 2005).

So I did not become an Anglican but stayed a Baptist, more firmly and consciously committed to our Congregational heritage. But I am so glad I went through the struggle of determining what church polity best reflected that of the New Testament church. It deepened my love for and commitment to our Baptist heritage.