Thanks to Gil Garcia for reminding us that the week of August 23 is the anniversary of the 1572 St Bartholomew’s Day Massacre. One of the great paradoxes of the history of Reformed theology is that “Calvinism” is often pictured as marching across Europe and the British Isles with Nazi-like efficiency. There are some counter-points, e.g. the work of Bruce Gordon and others. The actual history of the fortunes of the Reformed in the 16th century seem to me to be rather different and nowhere is this plainer than in the case of the St Bartholomew’s Day Massacre. It actually extended over several days but it began on the eve of St Bartholomew’s Day. When it was over tens of thousands of French Reformed Christians had been murdered by Roman Catholics.I don’t point this to stir up anti-Romanist sentiment but to remind Reformed folk (and would-be Reformed folk) that the history of the Reformed churches in Europe and the British Isles is the history of a suffering people—not the history of a conquering people. Our history and our theology is, properly understood, the history of a people sub cruce (under the cross) and our theology is a theology of the cross (theologia crucis). Perhaps this is a good reminder to those who envision their ostensibly Reformed denominations to one day be “a part of the mainline” or socially or culturally “influential.” Historically that just hasn’t been our role. Are we bound by the past? No, but it’s just stupid to refuse to be informed by it. Perhaps there’s a reason we’ve rarely been as influential as some folk would like to be.
Nor do I want to play the “victim card,” exactly. I do want to remind us, however, that the Reformed faith was confessed by French, Dutch, and English Christians at considerable cost. Many of them confessed the faith all the way to a matyr’s death. Some of us seem to be all too willing to cast aside that for which our brothers and sisters paid with their blood, whether it is the doctrine of justification sola fide or the regulative principle of worship (i.e. sola Scriptura). Those Reformed folk who died in the frenzy of anti-Protestant violence did not die singing cheap and tawdry choruses. If their tongues were not cut out, they died singing the psalms. It’s fashionable now for trendy, lightweight, wanna-be theologians to tell us that we have to move past the old conflicts and especially the Reformation. Well, perhaps they are willing to go where ever the wind blows, but the gospel is still the gospel and the law is still the law and, in that regard, nothing has changed since the sixteenth century.
If you’re tempted today to go along to get along, take a moment remember the 12,000 or so Dutch Reformed martyrs, who died under Phlip II, and the 30,000-50,000 French Reformed martyrs, who died during the St Bartholomew’s Day Massacre, who only wanted to confess the Gospel of salvation by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone and who wanted only to worship God in the way that he has commanded and for that were put to death confessing Jesus the only High Priest and Head of the Church and the Word of God as the only norm of the church.