The Legacy of John Hus - page 4


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From the Winter 2015 issue of Knowing & Doing:  

The Legacy of John Hus

by Tom Schwanda,  Ph.D.
Associate Professor of Christian Formation and Ministry at Wheaton College

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 There is considerable scholarly debate regarding the extent of Hus’s contribution to the revisions of the Czech Bible; he was involved at some level, providing increased access for the common person. Hus devoted himself, much like Luther and Calvin later, to study the Scriptures and discover the truth.
 A second challenge from Hus is to keep Jesus Christ as the head of the church. Hus formulated his understanding of the nature and purpose of the church from Scripture, in particular the writings of the apostle Paul, through the lens of Augustine. For Hus the church was the gathering of all predestined believers in heaven and earth who confessed their faith in the Lord Jesus Christ and not a corporation of people controlled by the pope or church councils. However, if the church leadership followed Scripture, Hus would gladly conform to its teachings: “Whatever the holy Roman Church or the pope with the cardinals shall decree or order to be held or done according to the law of Christ, that I, humbly and as a faithful Christian, wish to respect and reverently to accept.”16
 Hus’s understanding of the nature of the church also emphasized true inner convictions rather than a polished external veneer, portrayed in the Pharisees of Jesus’ day. His communal emphasis on the church seems foreign to much of our American individualized practice, which has contributed to the secularization of the body of Christ. Instead of cooperating with other Christians, even within our own denominations or close-knit associations, we tend to divide from one another. Inherent within Hus’s teaching on the church is the principle of consistency. Hus struggled with following the decrees of the pope who “lived contrary to Christ” who was “the supreme head” of the church.17 Here again, Hus would proclaim the critical need to know and defend the truth. While Hus was a reformer, he recognized that his desired goal of church unity was possible only through true faith that was elusive if church-goers were not devoted to Scripture. As we critique programs or ministries today, we likewise can be challenged to base our actions on Scripture and not personal power or pride.
 Third, Hus recognized the centrality of worship to connect people to God. This would become more developed in Luther’s teaching on the priesthood of all believers, intended to increase the person’s focus on God. Unfortunately there is a trend today in many churches to create a more horizontal focus in public worship. Hus would be alarmed to discover that more time is devoted to announcements than the reading of Scripture in a representative cross section of churches.18 A similar diminishment of prayer is also detected in some worship experiences. Likewise, musically, large robed choirs presenting polished oratorios or high-powered pulsating praise bands can divert the proper focus from God to the singers or the worshipers who feel the performance is for their benefit. Hus desired to increase participation and create a vertical flow of worship by preaching and translating the liturgy and hymns into the vernacular, allowing the people to participate more fully.
 During this period, only the priest received the wine while the laypeople were limited to receiving the Eucharistic bread. Central to the Czech Reformation that followed Hus’s death was to return the cup to the laity. This was symbolized by a chalice placed on an open Bible, communicating the free proclamation of Scripture and the celebration of the Lord’s Supper with both bread and wine. Hus’s motivation again was derived from Scripture. In writing to his replacement at the Bethlehem Chapel, Hus asserted: “Do not oppose the sacrament of the cup of the Lord which the Lord instituted through Himself and through His apostle [i.e., Paul]. For no Scripture is opposed to it, but only a custom which I suppose has grown up by negligence. We ought not [to] follow custom, but Christ’s example and truth.”19

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