Biblical Fidelity in the Reformers:
By Jeremiah Greever,
Growing up, I liked and cheered for the National Football team, the Dallas Cowboys. I had the playing cards, the helmet mug with the Cowboys emblem, and the videos immortalizing prior Cowboys seasons. Year after year, during good seasons and bad, I cheered for the Cowboys as if I were part of the team.
I recently reflected as to why I liked the Cowboys so much. I wasn’t born in Texas, nor have I ever lived in Texas. So why was I such an ardent Cowboys fan? I cheered for the Cowboys for no other reason than my father cheered for them, and he passed that tradition on to me.
When we think back over church history, it is good for us to be reminded that in the same way that my father passed on the tradition of cheering for a specific football team, so too have traditions of biblical fidelity (faithfulness) been passed down to us from the Reformers. As current ministers and laypeople for the faith, it is important for us to recognize what our forefathers have handed down to us in the form of biblical constancy and faithfulness. Our church fathers labored for the accuracy and intentionality of the Word, and in so doing, have passed on the legacy of precision when it comes to the text.
Granted, in our modern culture, it can be difficult to maintain biblical fidelity. It seems that every other week some new megachurch pastor is attempting either to discredit the inerrancy of Scripture, or to challenge clear biblical teaching about sin and salvation. With so many modern pastors failing to defend biblical fidelity, we can quickly find ourselves wondering whether anyone remains faithful to God’s Word. Therefore, we would be wise to not only remember the legacy passed down from these specific Reformers, but also to hold fast to the truths for which they fought and died. One such figure who gave his life holding fast to the truths of Scripture was Jan Hus (John Huss).
When many people think on the Reformation, they rightly think back to Martin Luther’s nailing of the 95 Theses to the Wittenberg Door in 1517 as the inauguration of the Reformation. While this event was the pivotal point of the Reformation, the Reformation proper actually began years before Luther was even born. One of the earliest and most influential Reformers was a Bohemian priest named Jan Hus (c. 1371-1415 A.D.), who died over 100 years prior to Luther’s nailing of the 95 Theses.
Hus was one of the first Reformers to hold to a high view of Scripture. Because of his elevated view of Scripture, Hus committed himself to obeying Scripture in all forms and practices. Therefore, while serving as priest at Bethlehem Chapel in Prague around 1402, Hus committed his life to accurately attesting to the truthfulness found in Scripture by focusing exclusively on preaching in the common vernacular. One of Hus’ earliest controversies against the Roman Catholic Church involved the unbiblical practice of allowing only the celebrants (priests) to take the chalice (wine) during the Lord’s Supper. Using Scriptural support, Hus fought against this distortion of the Lord’s Supper by the Roman Catholic Church.
While Martin Luther is also credited as the one who dispelled the sale of indulgences (documents that gave remission for sins), Jan Hus was one of the first to condemn the unbiblical papal practice of selling indulgences. In 1412, Hus preached against the sale of indulgences, and even claimed that the indulgences were the antichrist – “In a word, the papal institution is full of poison, antichrist himself, the man of sin, the leader of the army of the Devil, a limb of Lucifer, the head vicar of the fiend, a simple idiot who might be a damned devil in hell, and more horrible idol than a painted log.”
Understanding the gravity of what was at stake, Hus denounced participation in the practice that he deemed “wholly and completely unbiblical.” When challenged on his views concerning indulgences, Hus responded, “Shall I keep silent? God forbid! Woe is me, if I keep silent. It is better for me to die than not to oppose such wickedness, which would make me a participant in their guilt and hell.” It was this response from Hus that brought the greatest attacks from the Roman Catholic Church.
Even with violent responses from the Catholic Church, Hus’ commitment to Scripture became progressively more evident in his writings. He affirmed that his life goals were to “hold, believe, and assert whatever is contained in them [Scriptures] as long as I have breath in me.”
Unfortunately for Hus, he had few breaths left in him. A few years later in 1415 while imprisoned in Constance, Germany, the convening council charged Hus with heresy. According to one of the council members who condemned Hus, “Since the birth of Christ there has never been a more dangerous heretic than you [Hus], with the exception of Wycliffe.” After being ordered to recant, Hus refused, and was ordered to be burned at the stake.
Just before his execution, Hus was given one final opportunity to recant his views of the Scriptures and the Church. He responded: “God is my witness that … the principal intention of my preaching and of all my other acts or writings was solely that I might turn men from sin. And in that truth of the Gospel that I wrote, taught, and preached in accordance with the sayings and expositions of the holy doctors, I am willing gladly to die today.” As the flames engulfed Hus’ body, his final words were, “Jesus, son of the living God, have mercy on me.”
Jan Hus lived and died defending one of the core tenants of the Christian faith – the necessity and infallibility of the Bible. Like the Catholic Church so many years ago, many people today treat the Bible in a parallel fashion – solely as a list of moral suggestions and guidelines that can be contrived for personal use and gain. Jan Hus rightly understood that the Bible is unquestionably and unchangeably the Word of God, and thus cannot be manipulated to satisfy mankind’s preferences. Just as in Jan Hus’ day, we must hold fast to the truth that Scripture is all-sufficient for every area of life, all the while guarding the Scriptures from those who seek to fragmentize it.