To the Evangelical Nicodemites


By Dr. R. Scott Clark:

Over the last few years there have been a few laments about “Reformed rocks stars.” Carl Trueman has rightly warned against the cult of personality. Now I would like to turn the tables. If we should be concerned about rock stars and personalities in evangelicalism and Reformed-dom then we should also be concerned about about another party to all this: those who attend those conferences and those who do not.

First, there are lots of Christians who attend congregations which, shall we say, are part of the problem more than they are part of the solution, where the gospel is not preached purely, where the sacraments are not administered purely, and where discipline is not practiced. These folk also attend Reformed conferences. They attend because they are “fed” there, because they can fellowship with like-minded folk there, because, in some cases, it’s a relief from their congregation. Still they stay in their congregations.

I know this happens because I have heard the stories and I’ve met such. They bring to mind Nicodemus (John 9), who came to Jesus late at night when it was safe to visit, so that he would not have to pay the price for being publicly associated with Jesus. In the 16th century, there was an analogous group whom the Reformed called “Nicodemites.” These were Roman Catholics who professed to hold the evangelical faith but who, nevertheless, were unwilling to leave their Roman congregations. They told their Reformed friends and sometimes even wrote to the reformers themselves to ask for counsel about this very problem. They felt the tension themselves. They were fearful of offending family. They feared leaving the familiar and the comfortable. They feared social consequences, even economic consequences, losing a job or an inheritance. In some cases it might have meant leaving town for purely religious reasons. There were strong external incentives to remain in the Roman Church while practicing the evangelical faith privately.

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