Reforming According To The Rule Of The Word (Bullinger)

Henry Bullinger’s mid-16th century Decades are a series of sermons on the main doctrines of Scripture. While they are not technically “systematic theology,” these sermons do cover most of the topics today’s systematic theology books cover. In the fourth decade Bullinger writes a dedication letter to Edward the Sixth, King of England. The topic of this brief letter was reforming the Christian church according to the word of God. Bullinger noted that in many church councils leading up to the Reformation God’s word had “neither due authority or dignity.” He mentioned to King Edward that the church must be reformed “according to the rule of the books of both Testaments, which we do rightly believe, being written by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, to be the very word of God.” A bit later in the letter Bullinger gave the biblical example of King Josiah’s story from 2 Kings 23:

The most holy king Josiah, most godly prince, may alone in this case teach you [King Edward] what to do and how to do, with the warrant and authority of God himself. He by the diligent reading of the holy book of God, and by the contemplation of things present, and the manner of worshipping God that then was used, did understand, that his ancestors did greatly and very far err from the plain and simple truth; for which cause he called together the princes and other estates of his kingdom, together with all the priests, to hold and celebrate a council with them.

In that council he stood not long disputing whether the examples of the elders ought rather to be followed, or God’s commandment simply received: whether he ought rather to believe the church, or the scripture: and whether all the judgment of religion ought to be referred to the high priest. For laying abroad the book of the law, he submitted both himself and all his unto the sacred scripture. Out of the book of the law both he himself did learn, and bid all his [people] to learn, what thing it is that pleases God, namely, that which was commanded and learned in the reading of the law of God. And presently he gave charge, that all men should do and execute that, not having any regard to the ancient custom, or to the church that was at that time: he made all subject to the word of God. Which deed of his is so commended, that, next after David, he is preferred before all the kings of Judah and Israel.

Now your royal majesty cannot follow any better or safer counsel than this, considering that it proceeds from God, and that it is most fit for the cause which is even now in hand. The disputation is of the reformation of religion, and the true faith of Christ. You know that that does spring from heaven, namely, that it is taught by the word of God, and poured into our hearts by the Holy Spirit….

This letter from Henry Bullinger to King Edward is a great example of what the Protestant Reformers were doing: reforming the church according to the teaching of God’s holy word. And of course, the church should always be reforming according to the word!

 Henry Bullinger, The Decades of Henry Bullinger: The Fourth Decade, ed. Thomas Harding (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1851), 121.

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI, 54015