Books from the Reformation
Many important books emerged from the Reformation of the 1500s. Some are well known, some now forgotten. Two of the most important were....
(1) John Calvin's Institutes - 1541
One of the most famous of them all was John Calvin's Institutes. Calvin was, perhaps more than any other of the reformers, a great "systematiser" of truth. He wanted to put together a comprehensive book full of Christian teaching. His desire was to share the Gospel with his french countryfolk. Whether a 1000 page book was quite what common folk were looking for is up for debate! The book is worth reading even today and remains in print. Get the new translation by Robert White.
(2) Van Bright's Martyrs Mirror - 1659
Many of my readers will have heard of Calvin's Institutes, but my guess is that none of them have heard of "Martyrs Mirror." And that is a tragedy of history. Martyr's Mirror (or to give it its unsellable title "The Bloody Theatre or Martyrs Mirror of the Defenceless Christians") is a massive book - over 1000 A4 sized pages. Unlike Calvin's doctrinal book, this is a book full of the stories of Christians who have been persecuted from the days of the apostles to around 1660. In other words it's an expansion of the book of Acts (but not inspired, of course).
What drove Van Bright to put it together was in particular the savage persecution levelled against the Anabaptists of the 1500s. He shows that true Christians of all ages are persecuted. In point of fact "everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted." (2 Tim 3:12).
Persecution is a mark of a true Christian and a true church.
In our day, and in particular in the evangelical churches of the west, many attempts are being made to avoid persecution and the reproach of Christ.
Here are some of them:
(i) Run with the culture on gay issues. Tony Compalo and Eugene Peterson are two of the latest "leaders" who have sided with same-sex marriage to avoid the reproach of Christ. For men like this, it is much more important to be respected and accepted by the world, than to be faithfully persecuted by the world. In a smaller way, churches are embarrassed to preach about the sin of homosexual practice (which like the sin of theft or adultery can be forgiven and left behind).
(ii) Run with the culture on gender issues. This is far more subtle. The central gender issue in the church today is the divine created order between men and women, not the transgender confusion. Do the commands of the NT that men alone lead and preach in the church stand or can they be ignored? It starts in the home. Do men lead their families and their wives? Or has Adam and Eve's gender-disordering disobedience become the norm? Many churches are too afraid to preach these things and too afraid to follow them up in practise.
(iii) Run with the culture's addiction to man-made titles. In the NT servants of the church were defined by spiritual characteristics such as "slaves", "servants", "filled with the Holy Spirit." When Paul boasts he boasts about his sufferings and beatings and rejection by the world. But read today the blurb on the back of any Christian book and it will be full of earthly and useless titles, "President of", "Professor of", "Founder of", "Doctor of" and so on. Why? Because the church is deeply affected by the spirit of the world and desperately wants the approval of the world.
Can you imagine the following blurbs todsay:
John Smith, pastor of a small church in Nothing-hampton
Simon Nobody, slave of the church in Backwater
Henry Jack, imprisoned at the pleasure of HM Government and despised by many
The Evangelical church would laugh at such titles! But if the truth be told, they are far far closer to the cross-carrying spirit of the NT than any of the clap-trap Dr / Professor types.
If the church stood up against the sin of homosexuality, stood up for God's creation order in the family and the church, and stood against the foolish addiction to passing fads and titles she would be persecuted.
And to be sure, churches and pastors who stand for the truth will be lied about and persecuted.
But persecution is a cause for rejoicing!
"Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the Prophets who were before you." (Matthew 5:11-12)
Institutes vs Martyrs Mirror?
So which tome tunes in with NT Christianity best? We need both. We need the good doctrine of the NT, and we need the true living of persecuted Christians.
But if I was marooned on a desert island with only one to choose from, after the Scriptures, Martyr's Mirror would be the more useful.