Staging a Reformation
by Burk Parsons
Having served R.C. Sproul during the past several years, I have enjoyed the great privilege of answering to many of his humorous nicknames by which he addresses me. Over the past few years he has adopted one in particular that has seemed to catch on with many in our congregation - “Parson Parsons.” While I certainly appreciate the appropriate nature of the nickname as it pertains to my calling as a pastor, or “parson,” it has little to do with the ancestral derivation of my name, a fact that Dr. Sproul is well aware of; still, I have grown somewhat fond of it over the years. Nevertheless, the surname “Parsons” simply conveys that I am a son of Parr and not necessarily from a line of church parsons. Parr is an English name, and whether it’s for better or worse, my ancestry is entirely British. I am a son of Featherstone, Babcock, Oliver, and Parr - probably of the same ancestral lineage as Sir Thomas Parr of Kendal (1483–1517) who was the father of Henry VIII’s sixth, and last, wife, Catherine Parr (1512–1548).
Catherine was born just five years before her father’s death, which, incidentally, occurred only days after Martin Luther posted his ninety-five theses, igniting the flame that would eventually reach England. And considering Catherine’s impressive ability to outmaneuver Henry’s beloved employment of ecclesiastical annulment and Dr. Joseph Guillotine’s infamous mistress, Catherine should rightly be heralded as the last of Henry’s queen consorts on the soap-opera stage of the English Reformation. For it was a soap opera indeed, enshrouded by a cloud of reformers, romanists, and rogues. And although Henry VIII was certainly no church parson, he appointed himself “the only supreme head in earth of the Church of England.”
Henry’s self-performed, deformed, and uninformed reformation was a reformation from the top down. Yet, there is some consolation. By His sovereign hand, the only supreme Lord God Almighty brought His sacred Word to His people, and He set the entire British empire aflame with a small spark in Wittenberg, which, in turn, led to a human bonfire in Oxford in 1555 when the condemned Latimer turned his flame-singed face toward Ridley and said, “Be of good comfort, Mr. Ridley, and play the man. We shall this day light a candle by God’s grace, in England, as I trust shall never be put out.”