It was great to be back in Hope Church again with our people there. I always know that I have had a good holiday when I am itching to get back to preaching in my own place again and this was the case on Sunday. Added to that was a certain energy from brothers and sisters there who are certainly in good spirits and enthusiastic to work for the gospel.
The holiday in question was a ten day break in the Loire Valley in France. Now I love France for a variety of reasons. They have a food culture, they speak a beautiful language, they actually see the sun in summer and they have good roads. But they are also one of the most secular countries in the world and that despite the fact that a church building dominates every town and village in the country.
The Loire is of course full of chateaux. Many of these are connected with the French monarchy including two we visited- Amboise and Chambord. This year was the 500th anniversary of the accession of Francis 1st one of France’s great kings. He was a true Renaissance man being a patron of the arts, a jobbing poet himself and builder of some of France’s most beautiful chateaux. He even persuaded Leonardo Da Vinci to move to Amboise and provided him with a stately home and resources to continue his work.
Francis’ attitude towards the growing Protestant movement shifted and was probably determined by his desire to have authority over the church. However, he was minded towards moderate reform of the church at one point and even dared to suggest to Pope Clement VII that he convene a church council in which Catholic and Protestant rulers would have an equal vote in order to settle their differences. His mood changed after the loony action of some Protestants known as the Affair of the Placards in which notices declaring the evils of the Mass were pinned in prominent places throughout the country including the door of the king’s chamber in Amboise. This put a stop to the mood for reform and led to dozens of Protestants being burned alive.
Which brings us to France’s greatest export, John Calvin. Calvin’s great summary of Christian doctrine, the Institutes of the Christian Religion was dedicated to Francis 1 and was written two years after Affair of the Placards. In his preface he makes a bold plea for the persecuted evangelicals and for recognition of the church on the basis of the pure preaching of God’s Word and the lawful administration of the sacraments.
Calvin’s task was made all the more difficult by the antics of the Anabaptists (“Re-baptisers). In Germany they had proclaimed Munster the new Zion and introduced polygamy whilst in Amsterdam an Anabaptist prophet persuaded his hearers that the return of Christ was imminent and that no clothes would be needed in heaven. Running naked in the wintry streets they were soon put under arrest.
Calvin’s appeal is a gem of common sense and courage. Common sense in distancing himself from the two extremes of his day. Courage in the bold manner of his calling for Francis to exercise his authority for the preservation of the persecuted Protestants. Ultimately Francis and his successors were not persuaded and the St Bartholomew’s Day massacre of 1572 brought the Reformation in France to a halt.
Weirdness doesn’t advance the gospel. It just makes people nervous. I don’t know what impact the only “eglise evangelique” near us was making on its community but when the lady behind me started to make noises like a fire alarm during a time of prayer it certainly made me uncomfortable.
The cause of the gospel in Scotland is, like 16th century France too precarious to indulge in wackiness. Whether it’s spiritual pyrotechnics or obscessing over exclusive psalmody it just looks plain weird to the onlooker. Far better to follow our favourite Frenchman and champion the cause of the downtrodden and proclaim the gospel fearlessly and intelligibly.