A Brief Introduction to John Knox

I hope you’ll take a few minutes to acquaint (or reacquaint) yourself with this outstanding Christian Reformer.

Knox was born about 1514 and ordained as a Roman Catholic priest around 1536, after studying at St. Andrews University. But a decade later (1546) he had become a supporter of the Reformation and was acting as a bodyguard for George Wishart who was spreading Protestant doctrines. After the archbishop of St. Andrews had Wishart burned at the stake, Knox became a preacher in St. Andrews before being taken prisoner and put to work on a French galley ship.

 

While visiting Scotland this past August, my wife Leeta and I enjoyed learning more about John Knox, primary leader of the sixteenth-century Scottish Protestant Reformation. Here’s a bit of what we learned, along with some of the indicators we saw of the high honor in which Knox has been held in Scotland in the centuries since his ministry there. I hope you’ll take a few minutes to acquaint (or reacquaint) yourself with this outstanding Christian Reformer.

Knox was born about 1514 and ordained as a Roman Catholic priest around 1536, after studying at St. Andrews University. But a decade later (1546) he had become a supporter of the Reformation and was acting as a bodyguard for George Wishart who was spreading Protestant doctrines. After the archbishop of St. Andrews had Wishart burned at the stake, Knox became a preacher in St. Andrews before being taken prisoner and put to work on a French galley ship.

Following his release, he went to England where he served as chaplain to the young English king Edward VI. During Mary Tudor’s reign (1553-1558) Protestantism was suppressed in England, and Knox went into exile on the European continent, eventually settling in John Calvin’s Geneva, Switzerland. In 1855 Knox spent six months in southern Scotland where he had many supportive followers who repeatedly encouraged him to return to his homeland. But he was also condemned to death and burned in effigy by Scottish Catholic authorities.

When Knox did return permanently to Scotland in May 1559 he was promptly outlawed by royal decree. Nevertheless Knox and his supporters marched into St. Giles Cathedral in Edinburgh, and he preached there for the first time. The following week he was elected as the congregation’s minister. The cathedral was stripped of its Catholic icons and the church became a Protestant congregation. The following year the Scottish Parliament abolished papal authority throughout Scotland.

Knox and five other Protestant leaders soon produced the Scottish Confession of Faith, which remained the doctrinal standard of the Church of Scotland until replaced by the Westminster Confession in 1647. He also helped produce the First Book of Discipline, which sought to promote uniformity in doctrine, sacraments, election, and support of ministers, equality of all before God, church discipline, the assistance of the poor and advancement of education.

Knox and his colleagues emphasized four primary positive principles, which were in marked contrast to Roman Catholic teaching and practices of the time: (1) Holy Scripture is the sole and sufficient rule of Christian faith and practice; (2) People are justified (declared righteous by God) through faith in Jesus Christ alone for salvation; (3) The Christian minister is simply teacher of the Gospel, servant, and steward; (4) The people have a voice in electing pastors and church office-bearers.

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