How the Reformation affected England then, a lesson for Nigerian churches today

No Text Time 23 11 17 Place Port Harcourt, Nigeria

Our second message is on how the Reformation affected England in days gone by and what lessons there are perhaps for Nigerian churches today.
There are two obvious difficulties in speaking to you on the Reformation in England. First, it was no overnight thing but something that occurred over many years, 150 and more, a period of many vicissitudes. The second difficulty is that it had both a political and a spiritual aspect.
As you know, the Reformation began in continental Europe with Luther. Henry VIII was King at the time, having become King in 1509. He reacted against Luther at first writing in support of the traditional seven sacraments for which the Pope made him Fidei Defensor Defender of the Faith, in 1521, a title still used by English Monarchs today.
Many in England were attracted to Reformation teaching and eventually Henry himself was won over to some extent, mainly for political reasons. In 1533 Thomas Cranmer secured for Henry the annulment of his marriage to Spanish Queen, Catherine of Aragon, enabling him to be lawfully married to Anne Boleyn. Following his excommunication by the Pope Henry became Supreme Head of the Church of England in 1534. The dissolution of the monasteries followed, undoubtedly from mixed motives, a major blow to Romanism in England. It was in Henry's time that, from 1539, English Bibles were first placed in all the parish churches. This Great Bible, the work of Myles Coverdale (1488-1569) relied heavily on the work of William Tyndale.
Henry's successor, his son Edward VI, received a thoroughly Protestant education and under his kingship even more thoroughgoing Protestant reforms were undertaken. Sadly, he died while still young and was succeeded by his sister Mary, who sought to reverse all his reforms. She put hundreds of Protestants to death, including Thomas Cranmer.
Mary thankfully reigned only six years. Elizabeth I, the next monarch, sought to steer a middle course, not Romanist and not Puritan either. Her successor, Scotsman James I, followed a similar line. He is the King James of the King James Version published in his reign in 1611.
Then in 1625 Charles I became King. His Archbishop, William Laud (1573-1645) sought to take the Church back in a more Romeward direction. The country was soon plunged into civil war, which came to an end when Charles was executed in January 1649. Britain was then a Republic for some years under the able leadership of Protector Oliver Cromwell, a godly man and a true Protestant.
However, following Cromwell's death in 1558, and the failure of his son Richard to give adequate leadership, the decision was taken to recall Charles' son, who became Charles II and reigned 1660-1685. An immoral man, he became a Roman Catholic on his deathbed. His brother James II, who succeeded him was also Roman Catholic but was succeeded in 1689 by William and Mary. Ever since, at least in theory, British monarchs have been Protestant.
You see how things changed then – Roman Catholic then more Protestant under Henry, increasingly Protestant under Edward before reverting back to the bad old days of Catholicism under Mary. Elizabeth and James tried to maintain a moderately Protestant line but things began to head in a more Romeward direction under Charles I who was removed from power to make way for the most Protestant period in England's history. Under Cromwell horse racing, cock fighting, bear baiting, stage plays, Christmas and many other things were banned. By 1558 people were reacting against this and with the Restoration of the monarchy from 1660 it was full speed toward Rome again until the so called Glorious Revolution of 1689 that secured a Protestant succession to the throne and a measure of toleration for those outside the Church of England.
That is the brief version of a long and potentially difficult to follow history. To make it easier I want to highlight a series of publications that appeared in these years in order to give you some idea of the positive things that happened in England and hopefully providing you with some pointers in the right direction for reformation in Nigerian churches today.
1. The Translation of the Bible by William Tyndale 1526-1537
William Tyndale (1494-1536) was born in Gloucestershire. He gained a BA (1512) and MA (1515) from Oxford. Godly and a gifted linguist, he became proficient in several ancient and modern languages. From 1517 to 1521 he was in Cambridge, where Erasmus had taught some years before but then became a chaplain back in Gloucestershire in the home of a Sir John Walsh. His Lutheran views got him into trouble with the church authorities. Shortly after this he is recorded as falling into an argument with a learned but blasphemous cleric to whom he famously said “I defy the Pope, and all his laws; and if God spares my life, ere many years, I will cause the boy that driveth the plough to know more of the Scriptures than thou dost!”
In 1523 he returned to London seeking support for translating the Bible from the original languages into English. Bishop Tunstall, whom he approached, was unsympathetic. It was at this time that he came to know cloth merchant Henry of Monmouth who later smuggled in Bibles for him.
After some further time in London he left for continental Europe where he began translating the New Testament, possibly in Wittenberg. It was completed in 1525 and an attempt was made to print it in Cologne. A full edition was produced in 1526 in Worms, by this time sympathetic to Lutheranism. More copies were then printed in Antwerp. These were smuggled to England. It was condemned in October 1526 by Tunstall, who issued warnings to booksellers and controversially had copies burned in public. Early in 1529 Tyndale was officially declared a heretic.
It was in Antwerp that he began revising his New Testament, translating the Old Testament and writing treatises. He opposed Henry VIII's marriage annulment, angering Henry who asked Emperor Charles V to have Tyndale extradited. Charles was unwilling. Eventually in 1535, Tyndale was betrayed to the authorities, seized and held in the Castle of Vilvoorde near Brussels. He was tried on a charge of heresy in 1536 and condemned to death, despite Thomas Cromwell's attempts to free him. Eventually he was tied to a stake, strangled and burned as a heretic. His final words, spoken “with a fervent zeal and a loud voice” were “Lord! Open the King of England's eyes.” He died some time around October 1536.
Tyndale did not personally translate all the Old Testament. Others completed the work shortly after his death. Within four years, four English Bible translations were published in England at Henry's behest, including his official Great Bible, all based on Tyndale, as was the 1611 Authorised Version.
Tyndale's translation introduced new words into the English language. Eg Passover, scapegoat. He may have coined the words atonement (at one-ment) though it may have already existed and mercy seat taken from Luther. He is also responsible for phrases such as
  • my brother's keeper
  • judge not that ye be not judged
  • twinkling of an eye
  • let there be light
  • salt of the earth
  • it came to pass
  • signs of the times
  • filthy lucre
Romanists did not approve of some words and phrases he introduced, such as overseer for bishop, elder for priest and love rather than charity. Even more controversial was his translation of the Greek ekklesia as congregation rather than church. Tyndale sought only to “interpret the sense of the scripture and the meaning of the spirit” but was accused of many translation errors. Only three original New Testaments remain. The most complete one is in Stuttgart.

Q (7:7) Ask and it shall be given you. Seek and ye shall find. Knock and it shall be opened unto you.

2. The Book of Common Prayer Prepared by Thomas Cranmer 1549 and 1552
Thomas Nottinghamshire born Thomas Cranmer (1489-1556) graduated from Cambridge BA (1511) and MA (1514) then took up a fellowship at Jesus College. When he was 25 he married. Little is known of this wife who died with her child in childbirth within the year. Cranmer returned to his former way of life and by 1520 was an ordained priest and a university preacher. In 1525 he received the degree of doctor of divinity.
A chance meeting in 1529 led to his employment in Henry VIII's royal service. In 1532 he went as ambassador to the court of Emperor Charles V in Germany. While there he grew sympathetic to Lutheran teaching and married a young German woman, Margaret, niece of prominent Lutheran scholar Andreas Osiander (1498-1552).
Within a year he was recalled to England, becoming Archbishop of Canterbury in 1533. The post came with strings attached. He was expected to secure Henry's longed for marriage annulment, which he did. He also declared the marriage to Anne Boleyn the previous January lawful and she was quickly crowned queen.
For the rest of his life Cranmer was a major instrument in establishing royal supremacy in matters spiritual and temporal. In 1536 he presided over a commission of bishops and divines that met at Lambeth Palace, his London home. It published the 10 Articles, a statement of faith that was a compromise document aimed at Lutherans and Catholics.
In 1536, Anne Boleyn was condemned to death for treason due to adultery. Her execution was briefly postponed so Cranmer could declare her marriage to Henry invalid. On the day of her death he granted Henry a dispensation to marry Jane Seymour despite their consanguinity.
In 1539 he opposed the Act of the Six Articles as too Catholic but was willing to help put together the so called King's Book, despite it being contrary to his beliefs. He was Erastian at heart, believing the state is supreme over the church.
In the last years of Henry's reign Cranmer was increasingly Protestant. Aware of this, Henry protected him from his enemies, allowing him to develop the liturgical material that would one day make him famous. As the use of English in worship spread, there was felt to be a need for a complete uniform liturgy for the Church. Cranmer published an English Litany in 1544 and then during Edward's reign the First Book of Common Prayer, use of which was compulsory. There were protests, firstly in the far west in Devon and Cornwall, where the English language had only recently established itself. Many missed the Latin Mass.
Later, came the 42 Articles, approved only a month before Edward's death in 1553. Cranmer and others worked on these articles for years. They are the prototype of the famous 39 Articles established in Elizabeth's reign. With the accession of Mary, Cranmer's days were numbered. He was soon imprisoned and killed. Despite initially recanting his views he vigorously affirmed his Protestant beliefs in the end and was burned at the stake on March 21, 1556.
The prayer book grew out of long discussions between conservatives and reformers. It is difficult to ascertain how much of it is actually Cranmer's personal composition. He is given the credit for editorship and the book's overall structure, however. He used many sources including a number of Lutheran authors. An even more Protestant Second Book of Common Prayer appeared in 1552, and proved to be the foundation of, and the most lasting formative influence, in the Church. Historian A G Dickens called it “a devotional asset ranking second after the English Bible”.
Like Tyndale's Bible it exerted a powerful influence on the English language. Examples
  • Speak now or forever hold your peace
  • Till death us do part
  • Earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust
  • From all the deceits of the world, the flesh, and the devil
  • Read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest
  • All sorts and conditions of men
  • Peace in our time
We would plead for ex tempore rather than written prayers as the norm but Cranmer's book has had a great, mostly positive influence on many denominations. Who has not turned at least to its marriage and burial services for help? All Protestants owe a great debt it. J C Ryle called it “a matchless book of devotion … one most admirably adapted to the wants of human nature”. John Wesley wrote “I believe there is no Liturgy in the world, either in ancient or modern language, which breathes more of a solid, scriptural, rational piety.”

Q (Communion) Almighty God, Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, maker of all things, Judge of all men, we acknowledge and bewail our manifold sins and wickedness, which we from time to time most grievously have committed, by thought, word and deed, against thy divine Majesty: provoking most justly thy wrath and indignation against us: we do earnestly repent, and be heartily sorry for these our misdoings: the remembrance of them is grievous unto us, the burden of them is intolerable: have mercy upon us, have mercy upon us, most merciful Father, for thy Son our Lord Jesus Christ's sake: forgive us all that is past, and grant that we may ever hereafter serve and please thee, in newness of life, to the honour and glory of thy name: Through Jesus Christ our Lord.

3. The Acts and Monuments Known as Foxe's Book of Martyrs by John Foxe 1563-1583
John Foxe (1516-1587) was Lincolnshire born and Oxford educated. He left Oxford in 1545 having become a Protestant and moved to London where he became a family tutor. He gave himself to writing in favour of the Reformation, including what would become his most famous work. At the accession of Mary his work had only gone as far as 1500. Her accession forced him abroad. He published a first Latin edition of the work in Strasbourg in 1554. He then went to Frankfurt, where he was a moderating influence on the Calvinistic party of Knox. Next he went to Basle, where in 1547 he wrote an appeal to the English nobility to stop the persecution of Protestants.
With the aid of material sent from England, he carried his account of the martyrs to 1556 and had it printed in 1559, the year following the accession of Elizabeth. He then returned to London and devoted himself to the completion of his great work. In England he did a great deal of research and spoke to many eye witnesses. The first English version was printed in March 1563. The Acts and Monuments, immediately acquired the popular name The Book of Martyrs. In 1570 a greatly improved second edition appeared. Only a dew changes were made in the third and fourth editions.(1576 and 1583).
The book is a polemical account of the sufferings of God's people throughout Western history with an emphasis on the sufferings of English Protestants from the 14th century on into the reign of Bloody Mary. Widely owned and read by English Puritans, the book helped mould British popular opinion for several centuries. It went through four editions in Foxe's lifetime and a number of later editions and abridgements, some that reduced the work to a Book of Martyrs.
After Foxe's death his book continued to be appreciated. One writer calls it, after the Bible, “the greatest single influence on English Protestant thinking of the late Tudor and early Stuart period.” It was one of the few books John Bunyan had with him in prison and there was time when one could be found in almost every English home.
From the beginning Foxe was criticised as an unreliable historian but this has proved not to be so. Slowly academia has come round to the view that he is reliable. The Encyclop√¶dia Britannica 2009 says his work is “factually detailed and preserves much firsthand material on the English Reformation unobtainable elsewhere.”

Q (Andrew Ricetti of Venice) A good Christian is bound to relinquish not only goods and children, but life itself, for the glory of his Redeemer: therefore I am resolved to sacrifice every thing in this transitory world, for the sake of salvation in a world that will last to eternity.

4. The Westminster Standards Produced by the Divines of The Westminster Assembly 1648
The Westminster Assembly of Divines was an assembly of theologians and members of Parliament appointed to restructure the Church of England. Divines include men such as Thomas Case, Thomas Goodwin and William Twisse. It sat 1643-1653. Six Scotsmen also attended (Samuel Rutherford, George Gillespie, etc). As many as 121 ministers were called to the Assembly, with 19 others added later to replace those who did not attend or were no longer able to attend. It produced a number of significant documents including the Westminster Confession, the Shorter and Larger Catechisms and the Directory of Worship. The Confession and catechisms were adopted as doctrinal standards by the Church of Scotland and other Presbyterian churches. Amended versions of the Confession were also adopted by the Congregationalists (the Savoy Confession 1658) and Baptists (the London Confession 1689). The Confession became influential throughout the English-speaking world.
The Assembly was called by the Long Parliament before and during the English Civil War. The Long Parliament was influenced by Puritanism and was opposed to the religious policies of Charles I and Archbishop Laud. One intention was to bring the English Church into closer conformity with the Presbyterian Church of Scotland where there were elders rather than bishops as in the Episcopalian English church. Although the Presbyterians were in the majority at the Assembly six Independents or Congregationalists were also present. The “dissenting brethren” included Jeremiah Burroughs, William Bridge and four others. Parliament eventually adopted a Presbyterian form of government but this all came to an end in 1660.
The Assembly considered the Bible as authoritative and worked in the Calvinistic or Reformed Protestant tradition, although not absolutely agreeing on particular redemption. Covenant theology was a major framework for the way the divines interpreted the Bible. The Westminster documents are well worth getting to know.

Q (Sh Cat) What is the chief end of man? Man's chief end is to glorify God and to enjoy him forever

5. The Pilgrim's Progress by John Bunyan 1678 and 1684
John Bunyan (1628-1688) a puritan preacher and writer, was the author of some 60 titles, many of them expanded from sermons. Bunyan was from Bedfordshire. He had little schooling and at 16 went off to fight in the civil war/ On returning to Bedfordshire he worked as a tinker, his father's trade. He was converted through the influence of his wife and became a stalwart in his local Baptist church. At the Restoration he was arrested and spent 12 years in jail altogether, unwilling to agree not to preach. His later years, in spite of another shorter term of imprisonment, were spent in relative comfort as a popular author and pastor. He died at the age of 59.
The Pilgrim's Progress from This World, to That Which Is to Come is a famous Christian allegory and Bunyan's best known work. It is regarded as one of the most significant works of literature ever penned and has been translated into more than 200 languages. It has never been out of print.
Bunyan began it while in prison for violating the conventicle act prohibiting preaching outside the auspices of the established church. He may have started it in 1775 but modern scholars date it back to his earliest imprisonment 1660-72 right after completing his spiritual autobiography, Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners.
There are two parts to the final edition, each reading as a continuous narrative with no chapters. The first part was completed in 1677. An expanded edition, with additions written after Bunyan was freed, appeared in 1679. The Second Part came out in 1684. In Bunyan's lifetime there were 11 editions of the first part published in successive years 1678-1685 and in 1688, and there were two editions of the second part, published 1684 and 1686.
Q (Christian to Obstinate) I seek a place that can never be destroyed, one that is pure, and that fadeth not away, and it is laid up in heaven, and safe there, to be given, at the time appointed, to them that seek it with all their heart. Read it so, if you will, in my book.
Lessons for Nigerian churches today
I think the lessons this all points to for churches today, in Nigeria and elsewhere, is that we need to be very active in at least five areas.

1. In promoting the Bible. Todays' need is not a fresh translation of the Bible but for people to make better use of the translations we have. The Bible is sadly neglected in many homes and even churches, where it is possible for there to be hardly a Scripture reading. The preacher may have a nice big Bible under his arm but does he refer to it? Is what he says drawn from the Bible?
2. In encouraging reverend worship. Most worship today in most churches is a far cry from what one would find promoted in Book of Common Prayer. We are not suggesting that a return to liturgical forms is what we need. No, written prayers are full of dangers. However, the sort of well thought through and biblical approach found in the prayer book is something that churches in Nigeria and elsewhere could well benefit from.
3. In encouraging and taking note of sacrificial Christian living. As you are well aware the situation in Northern Nigeria is not easy. The instinct to flee such persecution is right. However, wherever we may live the call to sacrificial and godly Christian living remains the same. There is a duty upon Nigerian Christians wherever they may be, and all other believers, to live their lives for God's glory. Meanwhile, it is important that the persecutions being carried out are carefully and accurately recorded and the stories made available to the churches in accessible form. Someone needs to sort fact from rumour, persecution from mere mindless violence and robbery. Who will be the John Foxe of modern Nigeria? Such people are needed.
4. In taking care over biblical doctrine. Confessional Christianity – Christianity that knows what it believes and cares about it – is a rare thing these days everywhere. Churches appear to be reluctant to set out exactly what it is that they believe. This can only lead to doctrinal imprecision, doctrinal drift and the danger of heresy. Rather, let us take out the old doctrinal formulae, let's get to know what they say, and let's seek to learn these things and teach them to those who are in ignorance.

5. In being enthusiastic and wise about Christian living. Pilgrim's Progress is essentially about the Christian life. It deals with imagination and flair with all sorts of matters including conversion, false teaching, backsliding, various difficulties, fellowship, perseverance, death, heaven, hell, etc, etc. How we need pastors who can preach experientially and can help God's people pastorally in such areas. Oh for pastors like Bunyan. The great John Owen was once asked by Charles II why he, a brilliant academic, so loved to hear Bunyan a poor tinker preach. Owen apparently replied “May it please your Majesty, if I could possess the tinker’s abilities to grip men’s hearts, I would gladly give in exchange all my learning.”