April 27, 2004

Today in Church History

April 27, 1667 -- Milton sells Paradise Lost. The book sold for next to nothing (5 pounds up front, 5 more at publication, and 5 more for each new printing), and it took a four months to be published. When it was published, the press run was 1300 books.

I think about things like this when I dispair of ever getting published myself. Sheer determination often does well for an author. For a Christian writer, you can also keep in mind that God has a purpose for your work, and the important thing is to get the message out. Milton could have held out for more money -- he was a well-known writer. The message was important enough that he sold the work, and it has touched hearts for centuries since.

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April 17, 2004

Today in Church History

Ok, actually tomorrow in church history, but I think that this is a VERY significant event, so maybe I'll even give it two days worth. I'll start tonight just in case I don't get a chance to blog tomorrow.

"Since your majesty and your lordships desire a simple reply, I will answer without horns and without teeth. Unless I am convicted by scripture and plain reason--I do not accept the authority of popes and councils for they have contradicted each other--my conscience is captive to the Word of God. I cannot and I will not recant anything, for to go against conscience is neither right nor safe. Here I stand, I cannot do otherwise, God help me. Amen."

Yup, on this date in 1521, the Shot Heard Round Christendom. Martin Luther placed himself in grave danger of death because of his beliefs. A shot fired across the bow of a Catholic Church that had strayed. The opening salvo of the Protestant Reformation.

They had repercussions, to say the least. Frederick the Wise, who supported Luther for reasons as political as they were religious, became very nervous, worried that Scripture wouldn't support Luther after all. Others worried about civil war breaking out in Germany, since the Church and the State were so closely tied together. They waited for the Pope to send troops to bring Germany back into the fold. They brought their concerns to Luther, but he stood firm.

The official transcripts of Luther's trail do not contain these famous words, leading some scholars to doubt that they were ever said. They are certainly consistant with Luther's temperment, as anyone who has read his works can attest. They are also consistant with the attitude of the Reformers, and that of the Early Church. They should be ours.

I've noticed that there has been a recurring theme in some of the Today in Church History entries. That isn't entirely unintentional -- I think that the modern church has, in many ways, grown complacent. One of the things we need to learn from history is that God honors those who stand firm in their convictions, and who follow the leading of the Holy Spirit over the preferences of man. I get the events, along with a basic synopsis, at the Christian History Institute, so I'm not just picking and choosing events that go along with what I want to say. Maybe I just see a theme in history, and I'm going with that theme for a bit. My prayer is that, through the study of those who have gone on before, we can change the Church for the better, and make an impact on the world in the process.

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April 15, 2004

Today in Church History

I wrote about Protestants who were martyred at the hands of Catholics in England on Monday/Tuesday. Just to show that history is full of martyrs of ALL faiths, I bring you the story of John Gerard.

Gerard's only crime was to be a Jesuit in Reformation England. He was implicated in various plots and crimes -- none true accusations. This day in 1597 was simply another day of torture for him -- hoisted aloft by his arms, tortured so that he would implicate other Catholic priests in whatever the plot of the day was.

He was taunted by his captors. He was told that he'd be a cripple the rest of his life. On this day, it took Gerard much longer to faint than normal. He was taken down, seated, and offered a chance to confess. He refused. "No, I won't. And I won't as long as there is breath in my body."

He was hung up again. Rather than cry out, confess, and end his punishment, Gerard rejoiced that he had been chosen worthy to suffer for God. Finally, the tower governor tired of the game. He returned Gerard to his cell, and the torture ceased. Six months later, Gerard escaped. His only regret -- that he had not been found worthy to die in the service of his Lord.

Where is this kind of devotion in modern (and post-modern) Christianity? In America, we lobby and campaign. We protest and march. We try to make the system work for us, rather than realizing that we are never going to have a system made by men that is favorable to all. We should, as Jesus was, be about our Father's business, no matter who would stand in our way.

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April 13, 2004

Today in Church History

(Actually, looking at the clock, it's now Tuesday, so maybe this should be Yesterday in Church History...)

April 12, 1557: A thousand or more spectators in London watched as Thomas Loseby, Henry Ramsey, Thomas Thirtel, Margaret Hide and Agnes Stanley were burned as heretics. The charge -- converting to Protestantism. All five were given the chance to recant, were all granted audiences with Bishop Bonner in London, England. All five refused to attend churches that they could not in good conscience attend any longer -- the parrish churches were still Catholic.

Pragmatism would say "Stick it out -- God knows your heart. Don't make waves". Thomas Thirtel said, "My lord, if you make me a heretic, you make Christ and all the twelve apostles heretics." Agnes Stanley said, "My lord, as for these that ye say be burnt for heresy, I believe they are true martyrs before God: therefore I will not go from my opinion and faith as long as I live." Pragmatism lost that day.

Should we all stop going to church because we don't like what the preacher said last Sunday? No. One of the things that marked the Reformation was the willingness of common people to study the Scriptures, to attempt to understand what was contained in those sacred books. These five people did exactly that -- they studied the Scripture in English, and realized that they had been misinformed. They had the courage to stand behind their convictions.

We shouldn't leave church because we don't like something that is said. We must leave if we believe that we are being taught something that is incorrect. To do that, we must become students of the Word. This ties in with a previous rant, and connects to the second part of my report on the MRC item I spoke about a couple of days ago. We must study the things of God. We must know what we believe, and why. We need to be able to recognize when we are being told something that isn't true. And we must be willing to act on our convictions, no matter what.

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April 08, 2004

Today in Church History

April 8, 1929 -- The Soviet government passed legislation aimed at destroying evangelical Christianity.

"Religious associations may not (a) create mutual credit societies, cooperative or commercial undertakings, or in general, use property at their disposal for other than religious purposes; (b) give material help to their members; (c) organize for children, young people and women special prayer or other meetings, circles, groups, departments for biblical or literary study, sewing, working or the teaching of religion, etc., excursions, children's playgrounds, libraries, reading rooms, sanatoria, or medical care. Only books necessary for the cult may be kept in the prayer buildings and premises."

In other words, keep your religion to yourselves. Don't hold Bible school for the kids or teach them your faith. Don't encourage people to study the Bible. Don't give your members study materials. Do your thing on Sunday, and leave the rest of us alone. Make sure you're back to normal on Monday morning when you get to work.

Totalitarians fear and hate Christianity. The Romans did -- they tried to destroy the early Church. Hitler did -- he managed to co-opt many Christians by twisting Scripture and distorting historic teachings. Communist governments around the world do. We hear about the trials and tribulations of Christians in China all the time. Cuba is no better. One of the first things that happened in Russia after the wall came down was the re-emergence of the churches that had been driven underground by the government.

Many peope in the United States have this same feeling about religion. It's a great thing for Sundays, they say, but it has no place in everyday life. Don't inflict your opinions on the rest of us. Don't support political candidates who agree with you. Don't DARE share your faith with other people. What do you MEAN, you want to have a Bible study before school during the week?

We can do one of four things. Hide our heads in the sand, hoping that somehow things will get better. Pitch in with them, and stop living our faith outside the church walls. Try to get the government to change things (like that's working!). Or do what God has commanded us to do, and let happen to us what may.

Many Christians have chosen option one. They don't want to know what's going on. They've locked themselves away, and won't come out until the Lord comes back to get them. Far too many have chosen option two. They've sold their birthright for a mess of pottage, and they're parrotting the things the world says we should do. They let unbelievers define what being Christ-like actually is. The religious right has, for the most part, chosen option three. The nature of politics suggests to me that it won't work, and I've seen nothing from any administration to suggest it would be any different. Option four is the option that the early church chose. It's the option of the Reformation. It's the option of the growing Church in China. It's the option we need to choose in America.

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April 02, 2004

Today in Church History

Think I'm gonna do this every so often. I love church history -- I'm studying to be an ecclesiastical historian, so I guess that's a good thing. And there's a LOT we can learn by studying the history of the Church.

Today is Mordecai Ham's birthday.

Who?

He's only one of the most important evangelists in history!! Not just because he won thousands to Christ (which he did). NOT because of the great revivals he lead. Primarilly, because of one man that he influenced. One life he was able to change. One soul he saw the Holy Spirit bring to Christ.

One day in 1934. A meeting in Charlotte, North Carolina. Ham probably noticed nothing special about that meeting. But Billy Graham, who was sitting in the crowd at that meeting, made a declaration of faith that would literally change the world. Mordecai Ham is unknown to many people, although he was a great evangelist -- one who would stay in an area for months after a revival, meeting needs and discipling converts. But through his faithfulness to the calling of the Holy Spirit, he was able to impact a life that would go on to impact millions.

Ham probably never knew the impact he had. Just like many of us -- we do the things God has called us to do, and often never know if we've made a difference in anyone's life. We'll never know, in many cases, until we arrive in heaven. That's why we shouldn't do things for our own glory, but do all for the glory of God.

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