I write this the day after Pauline McMillen presented her powerful paper on the life of Bishop John Hooper of Gloucester (1 March 1495 – 9 February 1555). We placed it on that particular Wednesday evening after a series of postponements to fit with the anniversary of his death, but it seems appropriate that I use him to introduce this letter, seeing he was born on St. David’s Day.
His life coincided with the great events of The Reformation. While we clearly mark the beginning of the Reformation in Europe as 31 Oct 1517 when Luther nailed his 95 Theses to the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg, it is not so clear cut in England. Henry VIII reigned in England 1509-1547. For both his own convenience and at times his convictions he became an integral part of The English Reformation and the swing from Roman Catholicism to the Protestant faith was back and forth for some time, even after his death. People were not sure what he believed, and therefore many were equally confused themselves. Bishop Hooper was not one of them. He clearly understood that the Truths rediscovered and declared in the Reformation were the great Truths of the Bible. It cost him his life when he was burnt at the stake in Gloucester on 9 Feb 1555.
We live in a day of similar, but potentially greater confusion. The internet gives us access to what seems like an infinite amount of material. This is particularly valuable in a day when reading is not as popular as it once was, but also the reading ability within our country has sadly declined. The internet provision is therefore wonderful, but the flip side of it is that it is not easy to decide what is true and what is perverse when it comes to listening to sermons and ministry on the internet. I would like to be able to be give you a simple list of websites and then tell you to avoid all others. There are some that we can use with a measure of confidence, for example MLJ Trust; Gospel Coalition; Together for the Gospel; and Sermon Audio; as well as sources closer to home: the EMW website; websites of churches known to us. Allow me a personal reference. I, naturally, am not an avid reader. I read because I need to benefit from other ministers both present and historical, therefore with very few exceptions I only read men that I know or who have been recommended to me by people I trust. By doing that I do not waste my time with false teaching and hopefully it will be good for my soul?
Having written that, how do we decide whether a message is safe? I would suggest the following tests,
- Was The Bible read before the ‘preaching’ began?
- Was the help of the Holy Spirit sought in prayer?
- When the message was preached did the preacher take you back to the Bible for the source of His authority?
- Similarly we should be expecting to hear about the Lord Jesus Christ in every sermon, because He tells us that even the Old Testament speaks about Him.
- This point is very personal – did it make you love the Lord Jesus more, or rejoice in your salvation.
You might ask “Why have I connected contemporary ministry with Reformation martyrs?” The answer is that we are seeing such a change in UK thinking that we might lose our freedom if we do not follow “the party line”. If we are to oppose the party line we must be sure that we are standing on the Truth that is only found in the Bible and is only made clear by the work of the Holy Spirit.
It is appropriate that we recall those who were so concerned for the Truth that they were ready to die, but it is equally necessary that we build ourselves up in our most holy faith. May the Lord help us all so to do?