August 31, 2004

This Week in Church History

September 2, every year.

The second of September is celebrated as Martyr's Day in Papua, New Guinea. This holiday has different dates wherever it is celebrated, and is, in most cases, very similar to the US holiday of Memorial Day. Many martyrs that are celebrated were, in fact, political victims. Many, however, are Christians.

I think that it's fitting that we look pay and pay tribute to the martyrs who have paid the ultimate sacrifice for their faith. From the Reformation-minded Protestants who died rather than surrender sola fide, sola gratia, sola Christus, sola Scriptura, sola Deo Gloria, to the Catholics in post-Reformation England who died accused of treason. Missionaries the world over, who gave their lives in unknown places for the sake of the gospel.

Maybe we can get something started among Godbloggers. On September 2nd, post something about a martyr -- famous or not. Maybe we can have September 2nd declared the Internet Day of the Martyr. We remember those who gave their lives for the cause of their country; we shouldn't forget to honor those who surrendered their lives for a much higher call.

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August 17, 2004

This Week in Church History

August 14, 1670. (OK, so technically this is last week. It's within the last seven days, so I say it qualifies. Besides, it's my blog. ;-) )

On this day in London, England, two Quakers were arrested for preaching in public. One was a man named William Meade. The other was a young man who would become famous for his accomplishments in an entirely different continent -- William Penn.

When they were brought to trail, Penn demanded to hear the law that they were charged with breaking. He was told they were being tried under Common Law. He demanded once again to hear the law that he and Meade had broken, but the court refused. penn refused to enter a plea. As long as he didn't know what he was being charged with, he would not enter any plea. He was finally taken from the courtroom under protest, crying that what was being done to him could be done to anyone in England.

Meade echoed Penn's arguements, and he was dragged away as well. The jury was told to find both defendants guilty of preaching to the people and dreating a disturbance around them in public -- what we would now call disorderly conduct. The jury, perhaps inspired by the defendents' actions, found them guilty of preaching only. They were locked away with only bread and water, in an effort to get them to change their verdict, but they did not. Finally, the jury was arrested and thrown in jail. Penn and Meade were released. England's highest court ruled that the jury should not have been tampered with, and the jurors were set free.

Christians today are faced at times with opposition in the form of people who think they know the law. I'm reminded of a student that my wife taught in Georgia who was told that she couldn't read her Bible during free reading time -- by her English teacher. Her parents told her to keep her Bible at home; they didn't want to cause a fuss. My wife and I told her that we'd back her up if she wanted to go after the school -- I knew that the ACLJ would have loved to get in on that suit. But it didn't happen.

Christians need to be aware of their rights. We ARE allowed to pray in public. We ARE allowed to pray in schools -- as long as we don't force anyone else to pray. Students can pray whenever they want -- again, as long as they do not coerce anyone else. Teachers in public schools are permitted to honestly answer questions about religious faith, especially in the context of a history class. We have rights and privileges that we are not using, because we are ignorant of them, and we don't care to defend these rights.

Penn and Meade knew their rights as Englishmen. They knew that they had done nothing wrong, and they were willing to rock the boat to defend their rights. Because, as Penn states, if they can do it to one person, they can do it to all of us.

In a society that is increasingly hostile to public displays of religious devotion, we need to be aware of our rights as citizens, and we must be willing to defend those rights, for ourselves and for others.

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August 05, 2004

This Week in Church History

August 4, 1792.

A liberal's dream came true in France on this day. The ruling body that had taken over France in the wake of the Revolution declared all churches closed. Many were used as prisons. Some were used for more ... inappropriate uses.

The French revolution was, from it's inception, anti-Christian and anti-Church -- but especially the latter. The Church in France at the time had become corrupt, with bishops ruthlessly persecuting Hugenots and other non-conformists. Most of the bishops were from the upper class of society, and abuses of their power abounded. They were very good at illustrating the wrath of God, but His grace and love were absent.

So the philosophers embraced Deism, with it's absent clockmaker God, or outright agnosticism and atheism. Rationalism and Deism became the state religions, and an oath of loyalty was soon required. Anyone who refused to swear loyalty to the new secular government was exiled from France. Churches were destroyed, priests were harrassed, and Christians were ridiculed and openly persecuted.

This is NOT a pretty day in church history. This isn't a day to remember with pride. It is a day that the failings of a church that had gotten proud of itself, that had decided that the people were beneath it, came back to haunt it.

There is an attitude about the church today that is similar to that of the French philosophes. I wrote about Mr. Kristoff and his plea that Christianity become more tolerant and inclusive, and let go of the exclusivity of the gospel. I've talked about that subject before, a long time ago when this blog was new. People want to neuter religion, and to make it harmless.

We aren't without blame. Every day, you can read about Christians who haven't been living up to expectations. Christians who are not showing the love of Christ. we fail -- we're human, after all. But we like to cover things up. We need to admit to the world that we are far from perfect, but that in spite of our failings God wants to have a relationship with us. We have been forgiven, and they can be too.

We need to learn from the example of France. Take a look there now. It is one of the biggest mission fields in the world -- and one of the hardest to work in, from what I've heard. Christians need to stop giving people a reason to ignore us, and start giving them a reason to listen to us -- Jesus Christ, proclaimed unashamedly.

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July 14, 2004

This Week in Church History

July 12, 1739

The conversion of a young man whose short life would impact the lives of individuals all across the North American continent:

One morning while I was walking in a solitary place (as usual) and came near a thick bunch of hazels, I felt at once unusually lost and at the greatest stand and felt that all my contrivances and projections respecting my deliverance and salvation were brought to a final issue.
After spending days in anguish, thinking finally that the spirit of God had departed, finally:
By this time the sun was scarce half an hour high, as I remember, as I was walking in a dark thick grove, "unspeakable glory" seemed to open to the view and apprehension of my soul. By the glory I saw I don't mean any external brightness, for I saw no such thing, nor do I intend any imagination of a body of light or splendor somewhere away in the third heaven, or anything of that nature. But it was a new inward apprehension or view that I had of God; such as I never had before, nor anything that I had the least remembrance of it. I stood still and wondered and admired.

David Brainerd enrolled at Yale, hoping to receive his ministerial degree. He was dismissed for making an impolite remark about a teacher (which he denied, but offered appology for). In spite of this, he was comissioned a missionary to the Native Americans, and ministered among them for three years.

Upon his death in 1747 at the age of 29, his father-in-law, Jonathan Edwards, preached his funeral service, and began work on his classic biography The Life of David Brainerd.

Just when you think that God cannot use someone of a young age, you are reminded of this remarkable young man. There is a new edition of Edwards' biography of Brainerd -- I highly recommend it.

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July 08, 2004

This Week in Church History

July 8, 1741

Jonathan Edwards was one of the most influential theologians of his day. His writing influenced preachers on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean, and helped to fuel the Second Great Awakening, just as he was influential in the First. Today, though, marks the anniversary of his preaching a sermon that was highly uncharacteristic of him.

"All you that never passed under a great change of heart by the mighty power of the Spirit of God upon your souls; all that were never born again, and made new creatures, and raised from being dead in sin...you are thus in the hands of an angry God; 'tis nothing but his mere pleasure that keeps you from being this moment swallowed up in everlasting destruction."


Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God is often cited as an example of fire-and-brimstone preaching that characterized the Great Awakening, not to mention the preaching of modern-day backwoods fundamentalists. Few people realize that the sermon was, in fact, an exception for Edwards.

Jonathan Edwards wrote books on science and nature. He wrote and preached logically and systematically. Later theologians would list the study of his books as a requirement for revival. And yet, as Sinners shows, he was perfectly capable of letting people know in no uncertain terms what their spiritual condition was, and what they needed to do about it. He was the personification of Evangelical Calvinism for later evangelicals (Presbyterian AND Baptist) who were confronted with growing hyper-Calvinistic opposition to evangelism. His works are still widely available, and there is currently a resurgence in the reading and study of this most influential man.


"Therefore let everyone that is out of Christ now awake and fly from the wrath to come."

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July 01, 2004

This Week in Church History

June 29, 67

Rome. The seat of all power in the known world. The heart of the Empire.

According to The People's Chronology, this is the date when the apostle Paul was beheaded.

The date itself is speculative -- the year has been thought to be anywhere from 62 to 67, and it's doubtful that we'll ever know for sure. What is important is the example of the life of Paul.

Paul was the most successful church planter in history. He planted churches throughout Asia Minor -- almost everywhere he went, a local church was born. He knew the importance of fellowship among Christians.

Paul also knew the importance of discipleship. He wrote constantly to the churches he helped to start, keeping track of their development and their problems, writing to encourage or correct. His letters were so influential, so obviously inspired by God, that even the apostle Peter included them with other inspired writings as Scripture (2 Peter 3:15-16).

Paul also pioneered the missionary movement. Not satisfied with waiting for people to come to him, Paul went out, teaching first in the synagogues, then everywhere he could -- always trying to reach people with the gospel of Christ. He was committed to the idea that the Gospel was for everyone, Jew or Gentile, male or female, slave or free. In spite of opposition, even from other apostles, he remained committed to this idea until his death.

There were many factors that led to Paul's death. He threatened many cities economically -- trade in idols and sacrifices was lucrative, and the growing Christian church threatened that. He also threatened Roman political power -- Christians could not worship the emperor as a god, which is what the Empire demanded. This new sect threatened to destabilize the Roman way of life, so it had to be stopped. The fact that not even the power of Rome could stop its growth shows that Christ's words were true: the gates of Hell would not prevail against His church.

Paul's influence on Christianity is unmistakable. It is ironic, then, that Paul had dedicated himself early on in his life to ending the influence of Christianity. The power of the presence of the risen Christ on the road to Damascus was overwhelming, though, and the results show how Christ can change anyone's life -- no matter how messed up, sinful, or confused.

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June 23, 2004

This Week in Church History

June 23, 1863

J. E. Renan publishes his Life of Christ to great controversy. The book itself was quite literary, the ideas were very contemporary, and so it was widely read.

Renen managed to take away everything that would make anyone worship Christ. Virgin birth, ressurection -- myths. Renen removed the divine from Christ and left the readers with little more than a man who was a great role model, but was misunderstood for thousands of years by people who claimed to be his followers.

Scientific method and archaeological discoveries have repudiated many of Renan's methods, and most of his findings. Unfortunately, he could easilly find a place at the side of John Domminic Crossan and the rest of the Jesus Seminar's board of scholars, as they seek to demythologize Jesus -- removing most of the biblical record in the process.

And yet, the folks at the Jesus Seminar would have us believe that their findings are new. Elaine Pagels wants us to think her writing is new and cutting edge, as well. Study history, and you'll find that we've been down both these roads before. Unorthodox Christologies come and go, but the Orthodox idea of Christ as Messiah, Son of God, God incarnate, goes on.

Birthdays
Today: Samuel Medley, a Baptist pastor and hymn writer (what else, for a man named Medley?).

Tomorrow: Theodore Beza, John Calvin's successor in Geneva.

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June 16, 2004

This Week in Church History

June 13, 1757.

Pope Benedict XIV granted people throughout the world official permission to have the Bible in their own language.

Granted, the early church had Scripture in whatever tongue that was spoken. Syriac, Coptic, and Greek translations have been found dating very early in the history of the church. And vernacular Bibles had been around in "modern" times since before 1525, when such translations became ammunition for the Protestant Reformation.

Such "modern" translations were, however, condemned (sound familiar?). In 1408 the Council of Oxford condemned Wycliffe's efforts at spreading a vernacular English Bible. A hundred years later, William Tyndale had to flee England to make his own English translation.

Vernacular Bibles had the stigma of being associated with the growing Protestant "heresy". By 1528, the Bible could no longer be translated into French. Bible burnings were common events throughout Europe in the early 1500s. In much of the continent, posession of a Bible in your own language was illegal, usually punishable by death at the stake.

By about 1550, the Catholic Church began to turn around, thanks in large part to the Counter-Reformation. Vernacular Bibles were allowed, but only if they carried official Catholic annotations and explanations of the texts. It took until 1713 for the Pope to recognize that the Bible was, in fact, for everyone -- not just priests and scholars.

The Bible is for all of us. It's message can change lives. And it doesn't take a degree in theology to recognize the basic truths of God's Word.

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June 09, 2004

This Week in Church History

I've changed the title of this series, since I've only been doing it once per week. If I decide to add an extra entry, because of something very important or relevant happening on a particular day, I'll title that Today in Church History. Just so y'all know. ;-)

June 7, 1891. The end of an era. The final sermon from the Prince of Preachers, Charles Haddon Spurgeon.

I could say a lot, but thanks to Phil Jackson's archive, I think I'll let Spurgeon do the talking for himself.

"And David came to the two hundred men, which were so faint that they could not follow David, whom they had made also to abide at the brook Besor: and they went forth to meet David, and to meet the people that were with him: and when David came near to the people, he saluted them. Then answered all the wicked men and men of Belial, of those that went with David, and said, Because they went not with us, we will not give them ought of the spoil that we have recovered, save to every man his wife and his children, that they may lead them away, and depart. Then said David, Ye shall not do so, my brethren, with that which the Lord hath given us, who hath preserved us, and delivered the company that came against us into our hand. For who will hearken unto you in this matter? but as his part is that goeth down to the battle, so shall his part be that tarrieth by the stuff: they shall part alike. And it was so from that day forward, that he made it a statute and an ordinance for Israel unto this day. And when David came to Ziklag, he sent of the spoil unto the elders of Judah, even to his friends, saying, Behold a present for you of the spoil of the enemies of the Lord"—1 Samuel 30:21-26.


THOSE WHO ASSOCIATE themselves with a leader must share his fortunes. Six hundred men had quitted their abodes in Judaea; unable to endure the tyranny of Saul they had linked themselves with David, and made him to be a captain over them. They were, some of them, the best of men, and some of them were the worst: in this, resembling our congregations. Some of them were choice spirits, whom David would have sought, but others were undesirable persons, from whom he might gladly have been free. However, be they who they may, they must rise or fall with their leader and commander. If he had the city Ziklag given to him, they had a house and a home in it; and if Ziklag was burned with fire, their houses did not escape. When David stood amid the smoking ruins, a penniless and a wifeless man they stood in the same condition. This rule holds good with all of us, who have joined ourselves to Christ and his cause; we must be partakers with him. I hope we are prepared to stand to this rule to-day. If there be ridicule and reproach for the gospel of Christ, lot us be willing to be ridiculed and reproached for his sake. Let us gladly share with him in his humiliation, and never dream of shrinking. This involves a great privilege, since they that are with him in his humiliation shall be with him in his glory. If we share his rebuke in the midst of an evil generation we shall also sit upon his throne, and share his glory in the day of his appearing. Brethren, I hope the most of us can say we are in for it, to sink or swim with Jesus. In life or death, where he is, there will we, his servants, be. We joyfully accept both the cross and the crown which go with our Lord Jesus Christ: we are eager to bear our full share of the blame, that we may partake in his joy.

It frequently happens that when a great disaster occurs to a baud of men, a mutiny follows thereupon. However little it may be the leader's fault, the defeated east the blame of the defeat upon him. If the fight is won, "it was a soldiers' battle"; every man at arms claims his share of praise. But if the battle is lost, cashier the commander! It was entirely his fault; if he had been a better general he might have won the day. This is how people talk: fairness is out of the question. So in the great disaster of Ziklag, when the town was burned with fire, and wives and children were carried away captive; then we read that they spoke of stoning David. Why David? Why David more than anybody else, it is hard to see, for he was not there, nor any one of them. They felt so vexed, that it would be a relief to stone somebody, and why not David? Brethren, it sometimes happens, even to the servants of Christ, that when they fall into persecution and loss for Christ's sake, the tempter whispers to them to throw up their profession. "Since you have been a Christian, you have had nothing but trouble. It seems as if the dogs of hell were snapping at your heels more than ever since you took upon you the name of Christ. Therefore, throw it up, and leave the ways of godliness." Vile suggestion! Mutiny against the Lord Jesus? Dare you do so? Some of us cannot do so, for when he asks us, Will ye also go away?" we can only answer, "Lord, to whom should we go? Thou hast the words of eternal life." No other leader is worth following. We must follow the Son of David. Mutiny against him is out of the question.

Through floods or flames, if Jesus lead,
We'll follow where he goes."


When a dog follows a man, we may discover whether the man is his master by seeing what happens when they come to a turn in the road. If the creature keeps close to its master at all turnings, it belongs to him. Every now and then you and I come to turns in the road, and many of us are ready, through grace, to prove our loyalty by following Jesus even when the way is hardest. Though the tears stand in his eyes and in ours; though we weep together till we have no more power to weep, we will cling to him when the many turn aside, and witness that he hath the living Word, and none upon earth beside. God grant us grace to be faithful unto death!

If we thus follow our leader and bear his reproach, the end and issue will be glorious victory. It was a piteous sight to see David leaving two hundred men behind him, and marching with his much diminished forces after an enemy who had gone, he scarce knew where, who might be ton times stronger than his little baud, and might slay those who pursued them. It was a melancholy spectacle for those left behind to see their leader a broken man, worn and weary like themselves, hastening after the cruel Amalekite. How very different was the scene when he came back to the brook Besor more than a conqueror! Do you not hear the song of them that make merry? A host of men in the front are driving vast herds of cattle and flocks of sheep, and singing as they march, "This is David's spoil!" Then you see armed men, with David in the midst of them, all laden with spoil, and you hear them singing yet another song; those that bring up the rear are shouting exultingly, "David recovered all! David recovered all!" They, the worn-out ones that stayed at the brook Besor, hear the mingled. song, and join first in the one shout, and then in the other; singing, "This is David's spoil! David recovered all!"
Yes, we have no doubt about the result of our warfare. He that is faithful to Christ shall be glorified with him. That he will divide the spoil with the strong is never a matter of question. "The pleasure of the Lord shall prosper in his hand."
The old truth by which we stand shall never be blotted out.


Engraved as in eternal brass
The mighty promise shines;
Nor shall the powers of darkness rase
Those everlasting lines."


We are certain as we live that the exiled truth shall celebrate its joyful return. The faith once for all delivered to the saints may be downtrodden for a season; but rejoice not over us, O our adversaries: though we fall we shall rise again! Wherefore we patiently hope, and quietly wait, and calmly believe. We drink of the brook Besor by the way and lift up our heads.

This morning I want to utter God-given words of comfort to those who are faint and weary in the Lord's army. May the divine Comforter make them so!

Because of space limitations, I'm going to simply link to the text of the sermon, which is available here. Go there and read -- this man continues to bless more than a century after his death.

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June 02, 2004

Today In Church History

June 2, 1861

As the United States was just beginning to arm itself for the conflict that became known as the American Civil War, a Russian student in Japan was preparing to leave his homeland to serve as a chaplain to the Russian embassy in Japan.

Ivan Kasatkin, who became known more familiarly as Nikolai, studied Chinese and Japanese for eight years while working in the consulate. His first three converts were baptized in 1868.

Nikolai was committed not only to winning converts, but to building churches. He trained converts to become priests and lay workers in the Orthodox tradition. He established a Japanese synod that met every two years.

In later years, it became clear that Nikolai had planned well. The Russo-Japanese war made Christians very unpopular in Japan. The Bolshevik revolution and the beginning of communist rule in Russia put an end to Orthodox missions from that nation, resulting in no support for the ministries Nikolai had established in Japan. The independence of Japanese churches aided their survival, in small numbers, even to this day.

Nikolai had a long-term vision. It wasn't enough for him to build a huge church, or have a lot of followers. He saw beyond himself. He built churches, and encouraged converts to study and begin their own ministries. He didn't make the ministry all about himself -- he made sure he trained disciples of Christ, so that they could have a part in the work Christ was doing in Japan.

Leaders of the 'mega-churches' of today should take note. A church's glory shouldn't be in it's size, or it's membership. It should glory in how many mission churches it has started. How many pastors and teachers it has trained and sent out. How many missionaries it has sent to the field. What impact is it having for Christ in the long term, not just this year. A truly growing church is a church that reproduces -- it creates new bodies of believers everywhere. That should be our goal -- not increasing the amount of bodies we have in a Sunday morning service.

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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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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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