I will not believe because of Tertullian
I will believe only Jesus Christ my Shepherd—Pierre Viret
“I will not believe because of Tertullian or Cyprian, or Origen, or Chrysostom, or Peter Lombard, or Thomas Aquinas, not even because of Erasmus or Luther. … If I did so, I should be the disciple of men. … I will believe only Jesus Christ my Shepherd.”—Pierre Viret (1511–1571)
Reflections by Jennifer Boardman
As a lover of history, it’s easy to look up to the great forebears of the faith. For me, C. S. Lewis is an easy one: great personal conversion story, epic children’s tales, books to keep you learning after numerous readings. Then there’s Augustine of Hippo: I love his autobiography, his honesty, his leadership. The list goes on: the Apostle Paul, Elisabeth Elliot, Tim Keller. Giants of the faith to emulate and gain inspiration from. But in the past I’ve been awfully close to crediting these giants for my faith. And this is where Pierre Viret calls foul.
The painter of this Circle of Reformers did not include Viret.
Viret was a Swiss reformed theologian and evangelist in France. He was a friend and cohort of Calvin but much softer and more pastoral. Known as a true shepherd to his people, Viret was a charming and winsome speaker. He had influence and insight, learning and courage. And as a Reformer, he rightly recognized how he stood on the shoulders of the spiritual giants who preceded him. What did he know about them? Here are some credited assumptions:
Tertullian was disciplined.
Cyprian, pastoral and brave.
Lombard, an academic.
Aquinas, a true theologian.
Erasmus, a humanist and traditionalist.
And, of course, Luther, convicted in a stubborn, daring, and outspoken sort of way.
We can safely assume Viret admired these pastors and theologians for what they chartered and passed on to the next generations of believers. But to credit these followers of Jesus or to know their contributions or to even value them … that does not make one a believer because of them. It is simply being appreciative of their work.
The Reformers taught us many lessons, undoubtedly one of the greatest being Solas Christus. We don’t need a regular human mediator between God and man—we have Jesus Christ. Although they were great men used to advance God’s kingdom, we don’t need the thinkers Viret listed. No matter how erudite and spiritually attuned, we don’t need the Reformers we’re celebrating this year either. If God hadn’t used Cyprian or Erasmus or Viret or even Luther, He would’ve used someone else. “I will not believe because of …”
In the years before the Reformation, the Roman Catholic Church was caught in a human-driven trap of its own making. “Not most holy” popes stood at the top of the hierarchy trickling all the way down to priests who conducted church services in a language most Europeans would never understand. And what about today? Are we subject to the fear that without a certain personality, a thriving church will fail? “I want you to know, brothers and sisters, that the gospel I preached is not of human origin. I did not receive it from any man, nor was I taught it; rather, I received it by revelation from Jesus Christ” (Galatians 1:11–12).
While acknowledging all the positive attributes of these Christian leaders—and presumably recognizing that we do indeed need visionaries anointed by God—Viret calls us to focus upward. Our first question is not, “Who are these giants in Christ?” It’s not even, “Who am I in Christ?” The question is, “Who is this Christ, and how can I know Him?” That was the same song Tertullian, Lombard, Erasmus, and Viret sang. And it is every Christian’s song since.
Jennifer Boardman is a busy pastor’s wife, mother, editor, and writer with an affinity for Christian history.
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