The Duties of the Church (Bullinger)

Henry Bullinger’s mid-sixteenth century publication, The Decades is a four volume collection of sermons on the main points of the Christian faith. The Decades is something like Calvin’s Institutes in structure, content, and character. These sermons by Bullinger are worth reading!

In the fifth book of The Decades, sermon 1, Bullinger wrote on the church. After discussing the church militant/triumphant, visible/invisible, the marks of the church and the power of the church, Bullinger gave a nice summary statement on the duties of the church. These paragraphs are a biblical summary of what the Christian church should look like. It is true that there is no perfect church, but by God’s grace we should strive for these biblical goals and duties. (Notes: I’ve edited the following slightly for length and readability. The two translations I have go back and forth using “it” and “she” to refer to the church.)

For the church executes that power which it hath received of God most carefully and faithfully, to the end that it may serve God, that it may be holy, and that it may please him. And that I may reckon up some of her duties specially: first of all it worships, calls upon, loves and serves one God in Trinity; and takes nothing in hand without having first consulted with the word of this true God.

For she orders all her doings according to the rule of God’s word: she judges by the word of God; and by the same she frames all her buildings, and being built maintains them, and being fallen down she repairs or restores them again. The assemblies and congregations of saints upon earth she fervently furthers and loves. In these things it hearkens diligently to the preaching of the word of God: she is partaker of the sacraments devoutly, and with great joy and desire of heavenly things.

It prays to God by the intercession of our only mediator Christ with a strong faith, fervently, continually, and most attentively. It praises the majesty of God for ever, and with great joy gives thanks for all his heavenly benefits. It highly esteems all and every the institutions of Christ, neither doth it neglect any of them. But chiefly it acknowledges that it receives all things belonging either to life, salvation, righteousness, or felicity, of the only Son of God, our Lord Jesus Christ; as as the one who alone chose her, and then by his Spirit and blood sanctified her, and made her a church, that is, a chosen people, whose only king, redeemer, high priest, and defender, he is, and without whom there is no salvation.

Therefore in God alone by our Lord Jesus Christ she only rests; him she only desires and loves; and for his sake she rejoices to lose all things that belong to this world, yea, and to spend her blood and her life. And therefore it cleaves unto Christ by faith inseparably…for without Christ nothing at all in life seems to be pleasant.

It is exercised with afflictions, but yet never overcome. It keeps unity and concord carefully. All and every the members of her body she most tenderly loves. It does good unto all men, as much as power and ability will suffer. It hurts no man. It forgives willingly. It bears with the weak brother, till they be brought forth forward to perfection. She is not puffed up with pride, but through humility is kept in obedience, in modesty, and in all the duties of godliness.

 Henry Bullinger, The Decades of Henry Bullinger: The Fifth Decade, ed. Thomas Harding (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1852), 46–47.

My prayer is that we, as members of Christ’s church, do our Christian part to help the body of Christ reach these great biblical goals for God’s glory and the good of other people in – and outside of – the church. Churches that reflect these biblical goals shine brightly in the midst of the surrounding darkness!

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI, 54015

Worshiping the Inventions of Our Own Hearts? (Bullinger)

God is knowable. He has made himself known in and through creation but most specifically and clearly God has made himself known in his Word. Many people, however, think about God in their own terms as they wish. It’s not only wrong to think our own independent thoughts about God, it is a dark and idolatrous path to follow. I appreciate how reformer Henry Bullinger (d.1575) explained this in a sermon called “Of the True Knowledge of God and of the Divine Ways to Know Him“:

Let no man therefore, that goeth about to know any certainty of God, descend into himself to search him out with thoughts of his own; neither let him ground his opinion upon men’s determinations and weak definitions: for otherwise he shall always worship the invention of his own heart, mere folly, trifles and foolish fantasies.

But on the other side again, the man cannot choose but think rightly, judge truly, and speak well of God, that attributeth nothing to himself, deviseth nothing of his own brain, nor followeth the toys of other men’s inventing; but in all things giveth ear to the word of God, and followeth always his holy revelation. Therefore let this stand as it were for a continual rule, that God cannot be rightly known but by his word; and that God is to be received and believed to be such an one as he revealeth himself unto us in his holy word. For no creature verily can better tell what, and what kind of one God is, than God himself.

 Henry Bullinger, The Decades of Henry Bullinger: The Fourth Decade, ed. Thomas Harding (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1851), 125.

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

Bullinger: Stick Fast Unto the Word

Around 1550, Swiss Reformer Henry (Heinrich) Bullinger’s sermons (called The Decades of Henry Bullinger) were published.  Bullinger preached on faith, justification, the Apostles’ Creed, the Ten Commandments, the law, the gospel, the sacraments, and so forth.  At the beginning of these sermons Bullinger focused on God’s Word – what it is and why it is necessary for us.  Here’s how he beautifully concludes his second sermon on God’s Word.

“For the Lord in the word of truth hath delivered to his church all that is requisite to true godliness and salvation. Whatsoever things are necessary to be known touching God, the works, judgments, will and commandments of God, touching Christ, our faith in Christ, and the duties of a holy life; all those things, I say, are fully taught in the word of God. Neither needeth the church to crave of any other, or else with men’s supplies to patch up that which seemeth to be wanting in the word of the Lord.”

“For the Lord did not only, by the lively expressed voice of the apostles, teach our fathers the whole sum of godliness and salvation; but [he] did provide also, that it, by the means of the same apostles, should be set down in writing. And that doth manifestly appear, that it was done for the posterity’s sake, that is, for us and our successors, to the intent that none of us nor ours should be seduced, nor that false traditions should be popped into any of our mouths instead of the truth. We must all therefore beware, we must all watch, and stick fast unto the word of God, which is left to us in the scriptures by the prophets and apostles.”

“Finally, let our care be wholly bent, with faith and profit to hear whatsoever the Lord declareth unto us: let us cast out and tread under foot whatsoever, by our flesh, the world, or the devil, is objected to be a let (hindrance) to godliness. We know what the diseases and plagues of the seed of God’s word, sowed in the hearts of the faithful, are. We [also] know how great the power of God’s word is in them which hear it devoutly.”

“Let us therefore beseech our Lord God to pour into our minds his holy Spirit, by whose virtue the seed of God’s word may be quickened in our hearts, to the bringing forth of much fruit to the salvation of our souls, and the glory of God our Father. To whom be glory for ever.”

Henry Bullinger, The First Decade of Sermons: The Second Sermon.  Found in Thy Word Is Still Truth e.d. Peter Lillback and Richard Gaffin Jr. (Phillipsburg: P&R Publishing, 2013), p. 72-73.

shane lems
hammond wi