May 29, 2004

Today in Church History

May 30, 1416.

Today marks the death of a reformer, Jerome of Prague. Hevilly influenced by his friend and mentor, Jan Hus, Jerome brought John Wycliffe's teachings to Bohemia.

Jerome studied at Oxford in England for several years before leaving to spread the Lollard teachings throughout Europe. Eventually, he was arrested and charged with heresy. After imprisonment and abuse, he finally recanted, only to go back on it in public later on. He was finally burned at the stake, convicted of heresy.

Modern Christians, especially Protestants, tend to forget that the Reformation didn't happen overnight when Luther posted his 95 Theses. Reformation ideas had been spreading for over a hundred years -- as soon as people were able to read and study the Bible in their own language.

This was the basis of Wycliffe's teachings. He taught that people should be able to study Scriptures themselves, and be taught in their own language. When the monopoly on Scriptural literacy had been broken, people began to realize that what they had been taught was wrong, and they were outraged. In many cases, their reactions were worse than the offenses against them. It was only the political situation in England that kept Wycliffe from igniting the Reformation a hundred years earlier -- with people like Hus and Jerome helping to spread the word on the continent.

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May 20, 2004

Today in Church History

March 20, 325.

312 bishops of the newly-legalized Christian Church meet in Nicea at the behest of the Emperor of the Roman Empire himself. Their task? To determine, once and for all, what the Church believes about the nature of Christ -- was He God, Man, or both?

The conflict started because of a teacher named Arius. Arius claimed that Jesus was simply a creation of God. He was the first creature, but only a creature. Hi substance and nature were not the same as God's, and there was a time when He did not exist.

In the other corner was Bishop Alexander of Alexandria. He was appauled at the suggestion that Christ was less than God. The dispute caused conflicts all over the Empire, and Emperor Constantine wanted it stopped -- quickly.

Many of the bishops present had suffered greatly under the rule of Diocletian. They had risked their lives for the faith, and for Christ. They couldn't stand to see this man Arius make Christ into a simple man -- He was God incarnate! When a bishop rose to defend Arius, they tore the speach from his hands. The conflict threatened the unity of the Church.

After much debate and arguement (and there IS a difference between the two!), the issue was finally resolved. God and Christ were the same substance (in Greek, homoousion). Christ was co-eternal with God. But in many ways, Nicea only started the theological ball rolling. Later councils would argue about the nature of Christ, the virgin birth, and other Christological concerns. But without the Council of Nicea, there would have been no starting point at all.

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May 12, 2004

Today in Church History

(Actually, this is more like yesterday in Church History.)

May 11, 1816. New York. 28 different local Bible Societies gathered together to form an organization that would help them to work together more efficiently. May 11 marks the day that they voted to form the American Bible Society. By years end, 41 different regional groups had joined it in it's effort to "encourage the wider circulation of the Holy Scriptures throughout the world". Interestingly, they were committed to distribute Bibles with no commentary or footnotes in them at all.

Since then, the Society has pushed to make sure that Bibles are available throughout the world -- a goal they have since been joined in by the Gideons. They have produced Bibles in thousands of foreign languages, and have been influential in the spread of the Gospel internationally.

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May 04, 2004

Today in Church History

Taking a Stand.

On this day in 1873, a Catholic priest known simply as Father Damien purposed in his heart that he would not take the easy way out -- he would, almost literally, enter hell to witness to the people there.

Father Damien was a missionary to Hawaii. I met some missionaries to Hawaii while in college; I expected lots of pictures of people on the beach, accounts of Christian luaus, the works. What I saw shamed me. Poverty, disease, things that the tourist board doesn't want people to know about. And above all, lost souls hungering for Christ.

Father Damien faced similar conditions in Hawaii, specifically in the leper colonies that he went to. Leperous men attacked young girls whose condition had not yet deteriorated. Living conditions that rival the worst third-world nation today, huts filled with filth -- this is what Father Damien faced as he began his ministry to the lepers.

He was given opportunities to give up and leave, but he refused. He managed to get fresh water to the settlement. He taught the people there how to farm, and helped set up many farms there. He helped build new houses, tearing down the hovels that were there.

He made a difference in the lives of people. He showed that he cared, and the people saw Christ in him. His evangelism efforts saw much fruit. The authorities on the island tried to get him to leave, even making up stories about him. He stayed, until he finally became one of the lepers that he was ministering to. He was dead four years after contracting the disease.

But his testimony lives on, an example for us to follow.

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