Adult biographies, Articles, Book Reviews, Church history
10 great Christian biographies
A reason to read Christian biographies is to see and be encouraged by what God has done in other people’s lives. They're a way to learn about how God acts in the world around us. There's also a challenge that comes with true stories of Christians who have gone before us – when you see how God used them, you have to ask yourself, "What could He do with me, if only I trusted Him to keep hold of me?"
The reviews are divided into 2 sets of 5. In every case, you can find a longer review of the book by clicking on its title.
5 to get you (or your kids) started
This first set is for everyone who hasn't gotten into biographies yet. These are especially accessible, sometimes because they are shorter reads, and others because they are fictionalized biographies that read like novels because, well, they are novels... but grounded firmly in reality.
Graphic novel, yes; superficial? No!
2. When Faith Is Forbidden
by Todd Nettleton
40 true stories from the front lines about God using miracles and persecution to gather His people.
3. The Vow
by Kim and Krickitt Carpenter
After a car accident leaves a wife with no memory of even meeting, let alone marrying, her husband she remains committed to the marriage vow she made before God.
4. A Promise Kept
by Robertson McQuilkin
Short account of a Christian college president who leaves his influential position when his wife is struck by Alzheimer’s because that's what love is.
5. Steal Away Home
by Matt Carter and Aaron Ivey
A fictionalized biography of Charles Spurgeon and his friend, a former slave, Thomas Johnson – a pain-free way to learn about the “Prince of Preachers.”
Bonus: Douglas Bond’s The Thunder – A fictionalized biography of John Knox, the man and the legend, a bodyguard, galley slave, and a pastor to queens, including one who really didn't like him.
5 for those who already love biographies
This second set is for those who already appreciate biographies. And while I'll readily concede that tastes differ, the top three titles here should be included in anyone and everyone's Top 10 biographies list – these are fantastic books!
by Laura Hillenbrand
WWII veteran Louis Zamperini survived enemy fire, being alone on a raft for weeks, and a Japanese POW camp, all the while being “unbroken.” But Who was keeping him so?
Dutchman dares to smuggle Bibles behind the Iron Curtain, counting on God to make seeing eyes blind.
3. The Hiding Place
by Corrie ten Boom
Dutch woman and her family hide Jews during WWII, get caught and are sent to concentration camps, and Corrie shares us how God was with her in it all.
4. The Hardest Peace
by Kara Tippetts
A pastor’s wife starts a mommy blog, then uses it to share her journey when she is diagnosed with terminal cancer. She shows us how to die in the security, and to the glory, of God. Amazingly beautiful!
5. Man of the First Hour
by George van Popta
For anyone with Canadian Reformed denominational connections, this is a must-read. The story of the first pastor of the Canadian Reformed churches, and is as much a history of him and his family as of the founding of the denomination.
Bonus: Rosario Champagne Butterfield’s The Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert – Lesbian university professor meets a pastor who asks her, have you considered you might be wrong?
You can find even more great biography recommendations by clicking here.
Assorted, Church history
Santa Claus at Nicea
As we continue to celebrate Advent, we need to deal with a competing story. But it would probably be more accurate to say that we have to deal with a ...
Church history, Theology
Why and how the Nicene Creed came to be
The word “orthodoxy” comes from the Greek orthos which means right, true, or straight, and doxa which is praise, or opinion. Therefore, orthodoxy ...
Church history, Theology
When they thought the Apostles had written their creed…
It is interesting to note that there has long been a belief that the Apostles’ Creed was written by the apostles of Christ on or around Pentecost with each making a specific contribution. That’s why it has also been known as the 12 Articles of the Christian Faith. While there is little evidence that the Apostles had any such role, in his Divine Tragedy, Longfellow includes an epilogue outlining each apostle’s traditional contribution to the creed. We include it here, just for interest’s sake. Peter: I believe in God the Father Almighty; John: Maker of Heaven and Earth; James: And in Jesus Christ his only Son, our Lord; Andrew: Who was conceived by the Holy Ghost, born of the Virgin Mary; Philip: Suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, dead, and buried; Thomas: And the third day he rose again from the dead; Bartholomew: He ascended into Heaven, and sitteth on the right hand of God, the Father Almighty; Matthew: From thence he shall come to judge the quick and the dead. James, the son of Alpheus: I believe in the Holy Ghost; the holy Catholic Church Simon : The communion of Saints; the forgiveness of sins; Jude: The resurrection of the body; Matthias: And the Life Everlasting....
Adult biographies, Book Reviews, Church history
Radiant: Fifty remarkable women in Church history
by Richard M. Hannula 330 pages / 2015 I found this book very interesting and met a lot of fascinating women. Professor Eta Linnemann who taught historical-critical theology for 30 years but in 1978 became convinced that she was wrong and she threw out all the books and articles she had written and asked those who had bought her material to do the same. Bilquis Sheikh (1912-1997), a very wealthy woman in Pakistan in a prominent caste who was unhappy with what she read in the Koran. She compared it to the Bible and became a Christian. Her daughter asked her why she was doing this. Bilquis answered: “My dear, there is nothing that I can do but be obedient.” She was baptized but had to flee the USA to save herself from being murdered. Queen Berta (550-606) who prayed for her husband, King Ethelbert to be converted. She was a shining example of a Christian wife and eventually he did become a Christian. The Pope sent him along with Augustine and 40 monks for mission work to the Kingdom of the Franks where they were given a run down little church which was the beginning of Canterbury Cathedral. Monica, the mother of Augustine, is also mentioned. It was told her by the Bishop that “it cannot be that the son of these tears should perish.” There are many more short profiles including Martin Luther’s wife, and Francis Schaeffer’s wife. The author and publisher come from a Reformed background, so most of the women Richard Hannula profiles are people we’d agree with on most theological matters. But as you might expect in a book that covers 50 different women, there are also a few who got notable matters wrong. For example, Hannula tells us of Amanda Smith, a former slave, who travelled the world singing and sharing her testimony about Jesus Christ. She was told that the Holy Spirit could perfect here on Earth so that she could live her life from then on without sin. She prayed for this perfection and believed she had received it. So this should not be read as some sort of theological treatise. It is, however, a fascinating look at, as my minster Rev. Kampen once put it, how the Lord spreads his Gospel message using imperfect people, in imperfect ways, with their problematic interpretations of the Bible. What came to mind in reading this book was how St. Boniface brought the Bible to those stubborn and wild Frisians – I remembered my mother once telling me that Boniface not only brought the Gospel but also relics. His was a flawed presentation, but it was still the Word of God, and we must not underestimate how God will use it. My thoughts are not with some of the irritations as mentioned above but with the amazing women in "God's army" who had such a love for the Word of God and were so convicted to follow His example. These are wonderful stories. I would most certainly recommend it, but add the caution that readers do need to have some level of discernment....
The necessity of creeds and confessions
Many years ago, ten Christian men got together and decided to start a church. For several weeks they met together every evening to discuss what they believed to be the essentials of the Christian faith. As they charitably reflected and discussed these matters, they discovered that everyone had a slightly different view on what constituted the essentials. They began to despair as they realized that their deliberations were not yielding any fruit. Out of frustration, Mr. Unity asked a simple yet profound question, “Brethren, on what basis will we come together as a church? What exactly is it that we believe concerning God and the Gospel of Christ Jesus, our Lord?” Mr. Calvin, the leading thinker of the group, pondered the question for some time as he gently tugged at his beard with his eyes closed. Suddenly, Mr. Calvin responded, “Yes. That’s it! We must put in writing what we believe the Scriptures teach concerning God and the Gospel of Christ Jesus, our Lord! What is it that we can all agree upon? What is it that we all believe the Holy Scriptures teach? What is it that we together confess with heart and mouth? Of course, there will be more work to be done. We will need to write a few procedures on how we will deal with conflict, choose leaders, worship, but for now, let us put in writing exactly what, as a church, we believe. Let us put in writing our official position on those issues that will form the basis of our life together as a Christian church.” Mr. Luther, the man who struggled with his salvation – “How can God love a wretched sinner like me?” – immediately responded to Mr. Calvin’s suggestion. “Mr. Calvin,” said he, “Your proposal is great. Is it acceptable to you and to you, my dear friends, if we begin with the existential question, What is your only comfort in life and in death?” Mr. Luther continued, “As you know, I often struggle with comfort and I need to be reminded daily of the greatness of my Savior.” Mr. Calvin and the others agreed, and so the hard work of writing a confession began. Mr. Ursinus was the first to speak. He opened his Bible and turned to Romans 8:35-39 and said, “Brothers, I believe that our greatest comfort is that we belong to Jesus Christ. Therefore, I propose the following answer, My only comfort in life and in death is that I am not my own but belong to my faithful Saviour Jesus Christ.” Everyone agreed. Mr. Olevianus spoke next. He said, “My dear brother, what you say is true, but more can be said.” With his already opened Bible he turned to 1 Peter 1:18-19, which he read aloud and then said, “We need to add the following, ‘He has fully paid for all my sins with his precious blood.’” Before he could finish, Mr. Unity interjected, saying, “I like the sound of it. ‘My only comfort in life and death is that I am not my own but belong to my faithful Saviour Jesus Christ. He has fully paid for all my sins with this precious blood.’ I really like the sound of that. Deep. Rich. Biblical.” Several others in the group nodded their heads approvingly and said, “Yes,” or “Amen.” Then Mr. Trent spoke up. “Hmmm… I like where we are going with this statement, but we need some more precision. We all agree that the devil is in the details and I’m worried that we might be giving the wrong impression. I fear that some of the weaker brethren might conclude that since Jesus has done everything for us, they might not be concerned about living a faithful life. Why don’t we make a slight change, an ever-so-slight change? How about this? ‘My only comfort in life and death is that I am not my own but belong to my faithful Saviour Jesus Christ. He has paid for my sins with this precious blood.’ By eliminating the words ‘fully’ and ‘all’ we can affirm the necessity of works and merit. To have comfort in this life, we must not only trust in Jesus: we also need to have confidence in our works and the work of the saints.” Much discussion ensued, but Mr. Trent was unable to convince anyone of the merits of his position. The group was almost ready to vote on the final wording: What is your only comfort in life and in death? My only comfort in life and in death is that I am not my own but belong to my faithful Saviour Jesus Christ. He has fully paid for all my sins with his precious blood. However, Mr. Arius, the gentle, kind, and soft-spoken grey-haired man, stood up and pleaded with the brethren. He said, “Dear brothers, I am concerned that we are giving too much weight to our interpretation of Scripture and not enough consideration to Scripture itself. The Bible says that Jesus is the son of God. Hence, he is not God himself, but the son of God. Therefore, we must say, with the Apostle Paul that our only comfort is in God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ (2 Cor. 1:3). Please, brothers, let us not divide over man’s words. Let us be content with Scripture itself, which clearly teaches us that Jesus is not God and not our greatest comfort.” Though Mr. Arius spoke with sincerity, compassion and pastoral sensitivity, the group could not adopt Mr. Arius’ interpretation of Scripture. Not even Mr. Trent could agree with him. When the time came for the ten brothers to vote, they voted on the following motion: Whereas the following question and answer reflects our interpretation of Holy Scripture, which is our highest and only infallible rule for faith and life: What is your only comfort in life and in death? My only comfort in life and in death is that I am not my own but belong to my faithful Saviour Jesus Christ. He has fully paid for all my sins with his precious blood. Resolved: This question and answer is our official understanding of Scripture. It is our confession of faith; it is our position paper on comfort; it is our doctrine; it is part of the “pattern of sound words” that Paul calls us to follow; All pastors, elders and deacons in our church must sincerely receive and adopt this confession as containing the system of doctrine taught in the Holy Scriptures. The motion passed 8-2, with Mr. Trent and Mr. Arius voting in the negative. Mr. Trent decided to join a church that regarded Scripture and Tradition as co-equal authorities, denying Sola Scriptura and Mr. Arius joined a local cult that denied the deity of Christ. Rev. Garry Vanderveen blogs at Show, Don’t Tell where a version of this first appeared. It is reprinted here with permission. FAQ Do confessions undermine the authority of Scripture? No. Confessions are a common/shared interpretation of Scripture, which is the highest and only infallible rule for faith and life. Can confessions undermine the authority of Scripture and create dead orthodoxy? Yes. The ungodly suppress the truth in all kinds of ways, so it is entirely possible that one masters the Confessions and the Scriptures, yet hates Christ. Can confessions create lazy Christians, Christians who love God but do not study his Word? Yes. I have experienced the following exchange several times. Me: Why must we obey the commands of God? Other: Because God has saved us we must obey his commands as an expression of gratitude. Me: Are there any other reasons? Other: No. This is the reason the Heidelberg Catechism gives. Although the Heidelberg Catechism provides a biblical answer it is not the only biblical answer. The Bible says that since we are united to Christ, we must live his life (Rom 6:10-11; Gal. 2:20). Since Christ obeys the commands of God, we who are united to Christ must obey them because this is who we are. Can one have a saving relationship with Christ and reject confessions? Perhaps. However, as soon as someone summarizes the Bible on any given matter, he is offering a “confession” of sorts. Unless someone recites the whole Bible from Genesis to Revelation in response to a question about the Bible, one is involved in confessional activity. Should the church embrace old confessions? Yes. Absolutely. Without a doubt. The truth of God’s Word is not new, nor is the Spirit’s work of opening our eyes to the truth of his Word a recent occurrence. God’s Word endures throughout all of history – it never changes (Isaiah 40:8); and, the Holy Spirit continues to sanctify his church into that unchanging truth (John 17). Should the church write new confessions? Yes. Every age has its particular challenges and questions, and the church must address them. How should a church write a new confession? Since a confession is an official interpretation of Scripture by the church, confessional writing should involve many churches. What happens when a church doesn’t subscribe to a written confession? In such cases, the church usually succumbs to the tyranny of the loudest, most powerful, and persuasive member(s). When there is no objective confession that the church embraces, someone will rise to the top and impose his or her confession upon everyone else....
The Defenestration of Prague
You can download or listen to the podcast version (5 minutes) here. ***** Today we’re going to look at a small event that had big consequences. This was the Defenestration of Prague. It was May 23, 1618, and Catholic representatives of the Holy Roman Emperor Ferdinand II arrived at the Bohemian Chancellery in Prague bright and early at 8:30 am. To understand why this visit mattered, you have to know a little bit of the background. In 1555, the Peace of Augsburg had settled religious tensions in the Holy Roman Empire by allowing the local ruler to determine the state religion of the region rather than the Emperor himself. Back in that time, if you were Catholic and the ruler was Protestant, or you were Protestant and the ruler was Catholic, you had to put up with discrimination, or else you had to move to a different principality. By our 21st century standards, that sounds awful, but it was quite a change and a change for the better. Before the Peace of Augsburg, the official faith of the entire empire had been decided by the emperor who was generally Catholic. That meant that Protestants either had to accept persecution and discrimination or leave the empire, an area bigger than modern Germany. Compared to that, moving to a nearby town was a breeze. With a new ruler, a Catholic, being appointed over Bohemia, the Protestants were nervous. They thought their religious freedom was being threatened, And just in case they thought they were being paranoid about that, the Roman Catholic Church started to demand that no further Protestant churches be built in Bohemia. The church said the land was Catholic, but the Protestants said the decision about religion belonged to the local ruler. While the word "defenestration" is a recent one, the act itself has been going on for a lot longer. As the “Death of Jezebel,” by Gustave Dore, depicts, this monarch's end came when her eunuch attendants threw her out an upper story window (2 Kings 9:30-37). So, back to that meeting on May 23, 1618. Things seem to have gotten out of hand very quickly, and the representatives of the emperor were put on trial for trying to restrict freedom of religion in Bohemia. The verdict was probably a foregone conclusion, and apparently the sentence was death because it wasn’t long before the Protestants were attempting to defenestrate the Catholics, which is to say throw them out the window. Those Catholic nobles took a tumble, falling 16 meters to the ground, yet were physically unharmed... though their pride had certainly taken a beating. The Catholics said the men had landed without incident because they were carried down on the wings of angels. The Protestants were quick to counter that the men had actually had their fall cushioned by a giant dung heap. And while you might say the whole event stinks, the consequences of this single, ridiculous event were tragic. This defenstration – throwing people out the windows – acted as the trigger event to the Thirty Years War. France, Sweden, Denmark, Spain, and a whole lot of the German states were eventually pulled into this war, with estimates ranging from 5 to 11 million killed. It ultimately ended in 1648 in the Peace of Westphalia, which, ironically, re-established the right of the local ruler to determine the official religion of his region. Perhaps the one truly odd thing about the Defenestration of Prague is that this was actually the second Defenestration of Prague. The first occurred 199 years earlier, in 1419, when a protest by Hussites, an early group of Protestant Reformers, was hit by a rock thrown from a window in the town hall. The enraged Hussites ran into the town hall and threw several town councilors out the window. As well, in 1948 Soviet government agents were in Prague with the mission of intimidating local officials. Jan Masaryk, the Czech foreign minister, was found dead in the courtyard of the Foreign Ministry, just below the bathroom of the suite he occupied. The official explanation was that he had jumped to his death. Foul play by Soviet agents with a remarkable sense of history was widely suspected by those who knew Masaryk. Unfortunately for those in the last two examples, this time there were no dung heaps close by. This article is taken from an episode of James Dykstra’s History.icu podcast, "where history is never boring." You can check out other episodes at History.icu or on Spotify, Google podcasts, or wherever you find your podcasts. The cover picture is "The Defenestration, 1618" by Václav Brožík (c. 1890). To dig a little deeper see: Wikipedia - Defenestration of Prague Wikipedia - Hussite Wars Wikipedia - Peace of Westphalia Britannica History Extra Atlas Obscura Encyclopedia.com Radio Prague New Statesman Private Prague Guide...
Amazing stories from times past, Church history
30 days of April
For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven: a time to be born, and a time to die... **** April is the month of new b...
Jenny Geddes: the Reformer who let fly…
You can download or listen to the podcast version (5 minutes) here. **** Our story is about what should have been a small thing. It wasn’t such a...
When the Word of God is not preached
Half-truths, little tidbits of information used for one's own interpretation and advantage, can be harmful, even damnable. Zeal without knowledge can ...
Church history, Pro-life - Abortion
A 2,000 year history of Christian pro-life activity
The pro-life movement began in the early 1970s as a result of the legalization of abortion in Britain (1967), Canada (1969), the USA (1973) and elsewhere at this time. Or rather, that’s when the modern pro-life movement began, because ours is not the first generation to fight against abortion and infanticide. Those evils have been present at various points in history and Christian pro-life movements, of one sort or another, have been active at various points as well. American author George Grant (not to be confused with the pro-life Canadian philosopher of the same name) has written a book on the history of the pro-life movement called Third Time Around: A History of the Pro-Life Movement from the First Century to the Present. He gives a brief overview that divides pro-life history into three main periods: The early church and medieval period; The Renaissance/Reformation and mission movement period leading into the nineteenth century; Our own era of the pro-life movement beginning around the 1960s. First time: Roman times During the time of the Roman Empire, unwanted babies were commonly abandoned outside of cities to die from exposure. Abortion was also practiced in a primitive way. But the fourth-century bishop Basil wanted to stop these kinds of things and thus initiated a campaign against abandonment, abortion and infanticide. This campaign influenced Emperor Valentinian to take steps against those practices. Grant writes: “For the first time in human history, abortion, infanticide, exposure, and abandonment were made illegitimate.” Of course, other leaders in the early church also contributed to the struggle against child-killing. Grant sums up the situation: “The early church was pro-life. They issued pro-life pronouncements. They launched pro-life activities. And they lived pro-life lifestyles.” As years passed the church continued its efforts to defend and promote the sanctity of life. Despite the increasing number of corruptions that were creeping into the church during this period, it maintained a consistent pro-life stand and its influence had positive political repercussions: “As early as the reign of the Byzantine Emperor Justinian in the sixth century, pro-life legislation was universally and comprehensively enforced.” The first centuries of growth for the church in Europe had a major effect on changing people’s views about the value of infants’ lives. “Before the explosive and penetrating growth of medieval Christian influence, the primordial evils of abortion, infanticide, abandonment, and exposure were a normal part of everyday life in Europe. Afterward, they were regarded as the grotesque perversions that they actually are.” Second round: the Renaissance and Reformation Unfortunately, those evils made a comeback during the Renaissance and Enlightenment period in Europe, roughly the sixteenth to eighteenth centuries. Ancient Greek and Roman thought was revived during that period, along with its corresponding views supporting baby killing. As Grant writes, European “culture soon reverted to the morals of pagan antiquity, including the desecration of life.” In a number of Western European cities, anywhere from 10 percent to over 30 percent of newborn infants were killed or abandoned during this period. However, with the emergence of the Reformation in the early sixteenth century, and the subsequent Counter-Reformation of the Roman Catholic Church, major figures in both the Protestant churches and Papal Church condemned and fought against anti-life forces. Leading reformer John Calvin was firmly opposed to abortion. Grant quotes Calvin as arguing, “If it seems more horrible to kill a man in his own house than in a field, because a man’s house is his place of most secure refuge, it ought surely to be deemed more atrocious to destroy an unborn child in the womb before it has come to light.” During the nineteenth century, there was a surge in Protestant missionary work, with large numbers of missionaries from Europe and North America going all over the world with the Gospel of Jesus Christ. The effect of the Gospel was, of course, the salvation of multitudes of people. But the Gospel also has benefits for earthly life and, “chief among those benefits, of course, was a new respect for innocent human life – a respect that was entirely unknown anywhere in the world until the advent of the gospel.” In areas of the world affected by the missionaries, the practices of abandonment, infanticide, and abortion were severely curtailed. In sum: “The great pro-life legacy – that had been handed down from the Patristic church to the Medieval church to the Renaissance church – was honored, upheld, and even extended by the missionaries that circled the planet during the nineteenth century.” Yet a third time Strangely, abortion was a relatively widespread practice in the United States during the first part of the nineteenth century. Grant states: “Abortion was big business. And abortionists were men and women of great power and influence.” After the Civil War of the early 1860s, however, various American churches took strong stands in opposition to abortion, and a vigorous pro-life movement developed. Within a few years it had been completely successful in eradicating abortion in the United States: “By the end of the century the procedure had been criminalized across the board. Most of the legal changes came during a short twenty-year period from 1860 to 1880.” Human nature being what it is, abortion began to find prominent supporters again by the early twentieth century among people who were concerned about “overpopulation.” Margaret Sanger, the founder of Planned Parenthood, was a central leader in the effort to promote birth control and abortion. Grant seems to suggest that support for birth control opened the door for supporting abortion among the Protestant churches. In embracing birth control in 1930, the liberal American Protestant ecumenical group, the Federal Council of Churches (precursor to the current National Council of Churches), “became the first major organization in the history of Christendom to affirm the language and philosophy of ‘choice,'” First the liberal Protestants, and then many evangelical Protestants, embraced birth control and subsequently abortion. Yes, by the late 1960s many evangelical leaders were in favor of abortion (i.e., “pro-choice”)! This began to change rapidly during the 1970s as certain evangelical leaders spoke out against abortion. Francis Schaeffer is most notable in this regard, alerting evangelicals to the Biblical position, which is very different from the liberal position, of course. The effect was substantial: “By 1985, twenty-eight Protestant denominations, associations, and missions had recanted their earlier pro-abortion positions.” Basically, the bulk of the evangelical churches swung back to the historic Christian position of opposition to abortion by the late 1980s. Lord, please bless our efforts today! It can be depressing to see the current widespread support for abortion in Western countries, especially the support from the media, and academic and political elites. But in their struggle against abortion, modern Christians are following in the footsteps of believers through the centuries. As Grant writes, “Pro-life efforts have been an integral aspect of the work and ministry of faithful believers since the dawning of the faith in the first century.” Looking back at those efforts, we can see that God has blessed Christian pro-lifers at various points through history. Laws were passed and cultural attitudes about infants and unborn children were changed for the better. This should be an encouragement to every Christian, reminding us of 1 Corinthians 15:58, "Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain" (ESV)....
Assorted, Church history
Henry VIII’s reformation, Big Bird, and the end coming to us all
Komm, süßer Tod, komm selge Ruh or "Come, sweet death, come, blessed rest" is a melody Johann Sebastian Bach composed in the 1700s. Through this wonderfully harmonious composition, Bach evokes in Christians the desire for death, heaven and the Lord Jesus. The words, by an anonymous author, are these: Come lead me to peace Because I am weary of the world, O come! I wait for you, Come soon and lead me, Close my eyes. Come, blessed rest! Just recently we heard some neighbor children express the desire to see and speak with their grandparents, both of whom died this last year within weeks of one another. The children were four and six years old. "Can't I just send them an e-mail," the four-year-old piped up, as his mother smilingly shook her head. The other one stated, as he raced a toy car along the floor, that he preferred to get in an airplane and soar up into the sky to say “hi” to Nana and Grandpa. Such anecdotes make us smile, but they should also make us aware that most children, as well as many adults, have no idea about what death actually is; that they have no inkling that it is a stepping-stone to an eternity that never ends. Big Bird’s lament Many of us who had or were children during the 1970s, were acquainted with Mr. Hooper on the children's program Sesame Street. (This is a program, by the way, which children should not watch any longer.) Friendly Mr. Hooper, who ran the grocery store on the program, was well liked. When he died during the 1982 season the dilemma for the producers of Sesame Street was what to tell their audience, composed of children, about Mr. Hooper's demise. They came to the conclusion that the show’s adult actors should tearfully and emotionally explain to one of the favorite characters, Big Bird, that Mr. Hooper had passed away and would never come back to Sesame Street. Big Bird reacted tearfully and became very upset. He was both confused and sad. The adults continued to reassure him that they were still there and loved him and that they would take care of him. Death itself was not explained, although Big Bird pointedly did ask his adult friends, "Why does it have to be this way? Give me one good reason!" One of the adults answered him in a vague sort of way: "Big Bird, it has to be this way ... just because." It was a very unsatisfactory explanation of death leaving the viewers with a void – ignoring both the promise of heaven and the reality of hell. Another Mr. Hooper To offer contrast, there is the story of the death of another Mr. Hooper, a Mr. John Hooper who lived and died in England during the 1500s. And intertwined with his passing there is the story of a child who accepted and believed that John Hooper's death was triumphant and not at all the end of his life. Although not much is known about this English John Hooper's childhood, it is a fact that he was the only son and heir to a well-to-do English family and was brought up as a staunch Catholic. To tell his story, or what we know of it, we must focus on Gloucester, the city where he died. By our standards, Gloucester, England, was not, at the time of John Hooper, a big city. Four thousand citizens lived and worked in the small metropolis. They had various occupations; the sun rose and set on them daily; and they lived and died within its boundaries without traveling elsewhere. There were the coopers, friars, bakers, carpenters, and there were the rich, poor, blind and maimed people. The streets were lined with inns, several monasteries, and between them were hidden both wooden and stone houses. Four main roads led in and out of Gloucester, all meeting at a main intersection where the town's high cross stood. They were named from the gates by which they entered the town. Thus there were the Eastgate, Northgate, Southgate and Westgate streets. Northgate led to London; Southgate to Bristol; Eastgate to Oxford; and Westgate to Wales. People walked, rode in carts, and journeyed by horse on these unpaved roads. Gloucester was a little world within the world. The Roman Catholic Church held sway in Gloucester. Henry VIII had ascended to the throne of England in 1491 and was a loyal servant of the Catholic Church. That is to say, he was a loyal servant of the church until he wanted something the church would not give him – an annulment to his marriage. His disagreement with the Pope on this matter led him to establish the Church of England. God uses all things for His glory, both good and bad. The Church of England was thus born partly out of lust, and it was a church that, although free of papal authority, had a man as its head. In Gloucester, pamphlets had been distributed and copies of the Bible were sold by tinkers and booksellers prior to Henry's divorce. People read comforting words by candlelight and many were convinced by the Holy Spirit of the truth of the Gospel. In 1538 Henry issued a royal license that the Bible might be openly sold to and read by all English people without any danger of recrimination. He then issued another decree appointing a copy of the Bible to be placed in every parish church. It was to be raised upon a desk so that anyone might come and read it. Henry VIII died, as all men must die, and was buried with great pomp and ceremony. His son Edward, who was only nine years old, became king after him. Young Edward had been fed the Solas of the Reformation by Protestant teachers and his youthful heart had been convinced of their truth by the Holy Spirit. It was during his brief reign that Gloucester was blessed with a Bishop who diligently and openly began to feed its citizens God's Word. His name was John Hooper, and he was no longer Roman Catholic. Another Paul John Hooper was a Paul. He was a faithful pastor. At times preaching four or five times a week, both on the streets of Gloucester and inside the Cathedral, he truly loved and felt compassion for the people. He fed the poor, explained the Gospel and was diligent in visiting his flock. Consequently, John Hooper was much loved by the people of the city. A boy by the name of Thomas Drourie also lived in Gloucester at this time. He was a local lad and was blind. Whether he had become blind as the result of an accident or an illness, or whether he was born blind, is not known. It is not recorded that he was a beggar, so very likely he had a supportive family. Perhaps he had been educated in the school which Henry VIII had established in Gloucester, or perhaps he'd had a tutor. In any case, Thomas Drourie was well acquainted with the Bible. During those blessed years of young Edward VI, Protestant teachers and pastors were safe from the charge of heresy. But these were only a few years – the years of 1547 to 1553. The very youthful monarch, providentially placed by God on the throne of England at this time, died of tuberculosis when only a teenager. His half-sister, Mary, succeeded him. Mary was a dyed-in-the-wool Roman Catholic, and she had no regard for the John Hoopers and the Thomas Drouries of her realm. After Mary's ascent to the throne, John Hooper was immediately arrested, tried for heresy and found guilty. Because he had been pastor in Gloucester, he was eventually brought back to that town in February of 1555, to die there at the stake. As preparations were being made for the burning of this faithful pastor, the boy Thomas Drourie found his way to the place where he was held prisoner. Thomas knocked loudly at the door and a guard opened it to see who was making all the noise. Thomas, after a long conversation with the guard, who took a liking to the boy, was taken to see the Bishop. Upon entering the Bishop's cell, Thomas was overcome with love. He himself had been imprisoned just a few weeks prior for his faith but had been released with a warning. After all, he was only a child. Bishop John Hooper asked the boy why he had been imprisoned. Thomas candidly confessed his faith in Jesus and in His atonement. Upon hearing the child's earnest words, the bishop began to weep. "Ah, Thomas!" he said, "Ah, poor boy! God has taken from you your outward sight, for what consideration He best knows; but He has given you another sight much more precious, for He has induced your soul with the eye of knowledge and faith. God give you grace continually to pray unto Him that you lose not that sight, for then you should be blind both in body and soul." Thomas hid the bishop's words in his heart and begged the guard who led him out of the prison cell to be permitted to hear the bishop speak prior to his being burned at the stake. The guard took the boy to the cathedral sanctuary where the Chancellor of Gloucester, Dr. Williams, was working together with his registrar. Now Dr. Williams had the distinction of having had two “conversions.” Originally Roman Catholic, he had 'converted' to the Protestant religion during Henry VIII's later years. And now, under Mary, he had “converted” back to Roman Catholicism. When the boy was brought before him, Dr. Williams examined him on some minor matters, but then he questioned Thomas on transubstantiation. "Do you believe that after the words of the priest's consecration, the very body of Christ is in the bread?" Thomas responded strongly with a child's assurance: "No, that I do not." Dr. Williams peered at the boy in front of him. "Then you are a heretic, Thomas Drourie, and shall be burned. Who taught you this heresy?" Thomas, the eyes of his heart bright even though his outward vision was dull, answered: "You, Mr. Chancellor." Dr. Williams sat upright. "Where, pray, did I teach you this?" Thomas replied, pointing with his hand to where he supposed the pulpit was, "In yonder place." Dr. Williams was aghast. "When did I teach you this?" Thomas, looking straight at the place from where the Chancellor's voice came, answered clearly: "When you preached there a sermon to all men, as well as to me, upon the sacrament. You said the sacrament was to be received spiritually by faith, and not carnally and really as the papists have heretofore taught." Dr. Williams felt a certain shame in his heart. Nevertheless, his voice boomed out through the church. "Then do as I have done and you shall live as I do and escape burning." Thomas did not hesitate. "Though you can so easily dispense with your own self, and mock God, the world and your conscience, I will not do so." Dr. Williams, unable to threaten or cajole or convince the boy to recant back to Roman Catholicism, as he himself had done, finally said: "Then God have mercy upon you, for I will read your condemnatory sentence." Thomas, showing no fear, responded: "God's will be fulfilled." The registrar stood up and walked over to the Chancellor. "For shame, man! Will you read the sentence and condemn yourself? Away! Away! Substitute someone else to give sentence and judgment." But Chancellor Williams would not change his mind. "Mr. Registrar," he barked out, "I will obey the law and give sentence myself according to my office." After this he read the sentence, albeit with a shamed tongue and an even more shamed conscience. Knowing that death was but a stepping stone to life, the blind boy, Thomas Drourie was burned at the stake on May 5, 1556, almost three months after Bishop John Hooper was burned. The end that comes to all Chancellor Williams came to a sad end, or rather, a horrible end, about three years later. Having dined with a William Jennings, a representative of the newly crowned Queen Elizabeth I, a queen who had much sympathy for the Protestant cause, he was asked by Jennings to meet with some royal commissioners. Whether he was worried about his colorful “conversion experiences” is not known, but it is a fact that he did not want to go to this meeting. Consequently, Mr. Jennings rode off alone. Later Jennings was overtaken in his journey by a servant who informed him that the Chancellor had become ill. It was afterwards conjectured that the Chancellor had poisoned himself, so worried was he that he would be ill-treated by the Queen's commissioner. However, upon receiving a courteous and friendly message from the commissioner shortly after he had downed the poison, the Chancellor tried to recover from his lethal dose by taking some antidote. It was too late. The poison took its course. Heaven is real. Hell is real. And children die as well as adults. But those who die with the eyes of their hearts opened, confessing the Lord Jesus, can sing with a hope that shines eternally: Come lead me to peace Because I am weary of the world, O come! I wait for you, Come soon and lead me, Close my eyes. Come, blessed rest! For the rich man, there was eternal torment. For Bishop John Hooper, there was the bosom of Abraham. For Chancellor Williams - what shall we say? For Thomas Drowrie there was the light of God's countenance....
Church history, People we should know
Rahab the whore...mother of Christ
"...the LORD your God is He who is God in heaven above and on earth beneath..." - Joshua 2:11 ***** In the house where one pays for love there arrived two young customers who had a different kind of business on their minds. They were engaged in espionage, nothing less: covert activities which required circumspect movements; activities that disguised their real intent, that even lead to the pretense of tourism, accentuated by a trip to the establishment of the local prostitute. They had been sent out by the master of strategy, Joshua the son of Nun, one of the two survivors of an earlier spy mission some forty years ago. At that time the economic intelligence gathering yielded interesting results, but the military intelligence had been devastating for an unbelieving generation. It took forty years to purge the nation of that element of destructive disbelief: they were all buried in the sands of the desert. Forty years of grave digging, forty years of sighing about "the wind passing over it, and it is gone, and its place knows it no more," (Ps. 103:16) as one of their offspring, David, would later sing. Then, at last, even Moses died; the LORD Himself took care of the funeral arrangements. Some safe house! Rahab hiding the spies in the flax. But now a next generation had come forth, the covenant had been renewed, and with it came a new willingness to serve, as these young men demonstrated, arrayed in their disguises. They were in the business of gathering information, and for information, they searched. This woman they met was ready to give answers to questions that had not even been raised. And so, notwithstanding the surroundings of ill repute, they had come to the right address; this too was of the Lord. Maybe they did not realize it, but they ended up in what the spy industry calls a "safe house." "Some safe house," one might mutter; hardly had they bedded down then that the local constabulary arrived for their arrest! Had the woman ratted on them? They were instructed, "to view the land, especially Jericho" (Josh. 2:1). Had they been too obvious in their observations of the land, even in their disguises? Were their questions reported? Thinking fast What do you do when soldiers come with their raucous order: "Open up in the name of the law!"? How do you respond to the gruff demand: "Hand them over, those enemy agents that we know came to your house!"? What do you do? Do you panic? Do you deny the obvious? In times of war and threats of war, house searches are not always conducted under the sanction of a warrant, the validity of which one could politely argue so as to gain some time to contemplate one's next move. But here was a woman who did not panic, who did not need to stall for time. Had her trade made her skillful in leading men astray? She surely knew how to forestall a house search! She was, likely, more than a little coy when she assured them that, indeed, these men had come to her, you know these things happen in an establishment like mine, and they left not so long after they arrived, and that is not unusual in my profession either. And you tell me they were spies? Wow! Then, in a conspiring manner, she might have whispered, "They can't have gone far; they went that-a-way. Run after them and you'll be sure to catch up with them." The path she pointed out to the soldiers seemed to be clear route towards promotion in rank, and maybe even a decoration. The gates were opened for them and the gates were shut again after them, and the pursuers of Israel's heroes chased after wind. The “white lie” Through the years much has been theorized and debated about the possibility of "white lies." It seems that up until World War II most commentators agreed that a deception like the one performed by Rahab was still, in itself, a sinful act. But during the war many persons of great integrity suddenly faced Nazi soldiers and their loud demand: Aufmachen, Polizei!! "Open up, it's the police!" Since then the condemnation has not been so outspoken any more. Those who managed to lead the authorities down the garden path showed no remorse when later they admitted to have given their deceptive testimony. In fact, they were rather gleeful to report how several Jews were saved, the consequence of a gullible interrogator. There are some amusing anecdotes about those days. The scene in the book of Joshua is not without humor either, enhanced by this preposterous elaboration: "so the men pursued after them on the way to the Jordan, as far as the crossing points..." (Josh 2:7). You could almost hear the eager conversations between then: how pleased the captain would be when they brought the spies in, and how proud their wives would be when their men would have their medals pinned on them. And then, gradually, the conversation slowed until finally they muttered: Where on earth are those fellows? But the readers of Joshua know where those fellows were all along: right there, hidden under the flax on the roof! Yet, "the men pursued them," Joshua said seriously. What a joke! Prostitute and now traitor? All this may seem somewhat goofy, worthy of an occasional chuck, but yet... couldn't we say that Rahab the whore had now added to the abominable character of her profession the sordid crime of high treason? She had joined in with the enemy camp! If we think back to World War II again, who would have anything to do with someone who stooped that low? However, is that verdict fair? Should she be displayed in the marketplace, shaven, shorn, and tarred, to have all the passersby spit on her? "The love of country is inborn in every citizen," it is said. We know all about that. During wars opposing armies claim: "We have God on our side." How convincing are the speeches of the leaders! How strong the conviction of their followers! "With honor and valor we fight for our cause, with God on our side." It has been repeated over and over at wreath-laying ceremonies. But inside this woman something had changed. Was she aware of Noah's curse over Canaan? Who were those gods that were supposedly on their side? Wasn’t it to demons that they offered their sons and daughters? The cruelty of those evil forces! Then, in total contrast, there were the stories of this large nation trekking through the desert, the children of Abraham. There was a cloud to guide them by day and a fire by night, she was told. Those were the manifestations of an entirely different God – One who loved His people, who was like fire around them to protect them, who rained bread from heaven to feed them, and who let them drink from the rock. True, He punished them for their evil doings, but He still upheld them and destroyed their enemies before them. Who knows, but that some wandering minstrel might have come by with fragments of the song of Moses "...the Lord will vindicate His people and have compassion on His servants..." (Deut. 32:36). This God was not like the demons who belong to the netherworld. He was the God in heaven above and on the earth beneath. But in His holy nation, would there be a place for her, daughter of the accursed Canaan, a woman who had availed herself of the profits of fornication? From rebel to child of God Rahab helps the spies climb out over Jericho's wall. But then this wonder took place, as miraculous as creation itself: according to His decree, God softened her heart and inclined her to believe. At the same time the crisis of possible detection having been forestalled, she ran up the stairs and blurted out her confession: "I know that the LORD your God is He who is God in heaven and on earth beneath." Would a critical onlooker find that confession a bit meager? It is probably fair to say that she wouldn’t have passed an exam in systematic theology. All we know is that in that confessed faith she bargained with the two representatives of God's holy nation: their safety for her and her family. They made a deal and it was confirmed by oath. The last words reportedly from her mouth were: "Amen, so be it" (Josh 2:21). Of these actions, undoubtedly recited through the ages, James, the leader of the church at Jerusalem, would later make honorable mention, listing them in one breath with the great works of faith by father Abraham (James 2:23-25). So it was that the first major strategic undertaking of Joshua, the son of Nun, seemed to have been upset by the tardiness of the spies. What kind of secret agent accomplishment was that, to bed down in a house of ill repute, to sneak through a window, to hide three days in the caves? Not a very good start, was it? Yes, true, it did not seem like much, but out ways are not God's ways. Just look at the valuable intelligence they received out of the hands of a woman chosen by God: "Truly the Lord has given all the land into our hands; and moreover, all the inhabitants of the land are fainthearted because of us" (Josh 2:24). God’s ways are not man’s ways ...and the walls came tumbling down. The preparations for the battle of Jericho, seen from a military point of view, seemed to be directed towards a total disaster. When the first encounter with a fortified city is to take place, what military exercises come up front? Stamina-building drills? A mock attack? Special wall-climbing exercises? None of that happened. Instead, the sign of the covenant was administered (Josh. 5:2-9). All the army was circumcised. The effect of adult circumcision was that the army was sapped of its military strength for days. If the enemies were to find out... But thus it pleased the LORD to fulfill all righteousness. And stranger yet, a patch of ground within view of Jericho was declared holy territory, where the military leader of Israel met the commander of the mighty host of the LORD (Josh. 5:13-15). Joshua, the son of Nun, was in this very peculiar way made ready for battle: he had to take off his shoes. Now Jericho, known for its mighty men of valor, was sealed up tight ready to defend itself behind its fortified walls with whatever strength still remained within its armed forces. So, we would say: "Time for action. Get on with it! Let the battle start...” But then again the events took a weird turn. Instead of an attack, there was a solemn procession around the city: seven priests blowing horns, followed by the Ark of the Covenant, and after that, the army detachments. No shouting, no banging of drums, no belligerent songs. Only the mournful sound of the seven rams’horns. The army followed silently; it was an uncanny show. Once this was accomplished, everybody headed back to their own camp and the deathly silence returned. The following days it happened again, and the next day again, and again. And every time the procession came by the house of Rahab the whore the people saw the scarlet cord hanging out of the window. And every time Rahab the whore looked out of the window and saw this strange procession going by, her heart beat wildly in anticipation. The battle of the Lord was taking shape and she had taken His side, or rather, He had taken her on His side. Now it was going to happen: the Hour Zero approached rapidly. The tension was building to an unbearable level. Finally, on the last day the procession around the city was repeated several times over, till the final trip was made and the horn blowing ended. There was a short moment of utter silence. Then the trumpets sounded their dramatic long blast, and the whole scene erupted into turmoil. The entire army gave off a loud shout, a howl of derision for the enemies of God. After that a rumbling came up, as bricks and mortar split apart, as boulders cracked and rolled away, and in their course felling and crushing the hapless defenders. Then the walls of the city fell upon them, and the ruins of the structures covered them. And through the clouds of dust, over the rubble, clambered the victorious armies of God, in endless waves, to fulfill the command of total destruction. Total destruction? Yes, the city was devoted to the LORD for destruction. Nothing was to be spared. Nothing except... The war correspondent in Joshua 6 first passes on the direct order as it was given: destroy everything. Everything, except the house of Rahab the whore. Reason for the exception? She hid the spies. Then follows the narrative: as instructed by General Joshua, the young spies went into the one remaining structure of the ring-wall. It was marked with the crimson cord. Spitting out the gritty dust of the ground granite that made film on their lips, they egged on the occupants: "hurry, hurry, quick this way to safety!" Finally comes the recap, the summing up of the total victory: the city was burned with fire. The vessels of bronze and iron were put into the treasury of the house of the LORD. End of report? No! Again it is stated, and now with greater emphasis yet, that Rahab the whore and her father's household, and all who belong to her were saved alive. "And," concludes the report, "she dwelt in Israel to this day." Why? "Because she hid the messengers, whom Joshua sent to spy out Jericho," that's why. In the Hall of Fame In the hall of fame of the heroes of faith, there is a long wall lined with portraits. Hebrews 11 leads us through it. There is Abel, all scarred up, but still speaking through his faith. And look, there is Noah, that ridiculous shipbuilder on dry ground, but therefore heir of the righteousness that comes by faith. See Sarah there, laughing, because at age ninety she still conceived, and God had made laughter for her... And then...yes, indeed there she is. Rahab the whore. Even now the title of her terrible profession is still etched on the copper plate that carries her name. But her features seem familiar. Haven't we seen her somewhere before? Yes, of course, the evangelist Matthew listed her in the genealogy as a not-so-immaculate mother of Christ! The company some people keep! Look at the strange smile on her face. After all those centuries, does she still think that sending those poor soldiers on a wild good chase was rather funny? Frankly speaking, it really was funny, but it seems that the smile is not about that. No, this is a fond smile, a smile caused by amazement and expressing great love. How could she, daughter of the cursed Canaan, and practicing prostitute, how could she possibly have ended up here, among these great ones in the kingdom of Christ? Indeed, there is every reason for amazement. Here was one woman who came in last, totally unworthy, not even qualifying for the crumbs of the dogs, and yet she was given a seat of honor up front by her Great Son, the Christ, through the eternal love with which He loved her before the foundation of the world. If that does not make you smile, what else would? In this reflection the author wants to direct us back to the text to look at it with new eyes – an oh-so-familiar story startles us once again when viewed under this different light. But like any commentary on Scripture, it shouldn’t be read instead of the text itself. Read on its own, it could become confusing as to what are the author’s thoughts, and what the text actually says. So an important follow-up then is to read Joshua 2-6. This is a slightly edited version of an article that first appeared in the December 1993 issue. John de Vos was the very first editor of Reformed Perspective....
Rome's Catacombs art was created to encourage fellow Christians
Imagine a vast, underground series of zigzagging passageways covering an area several miles in length, 590 acres in size. Ponder the amount of work that was required to dig down between 2 and 60 feet deep into volcanic tuff rock in order to create these passageways and the loculi (burial niches) that lined the sides of them. In an ancient time period when graveyards were not permitted within the city limits of Rome, the catacombs were created for the burial of Christians, Jews, and some pagan individuals. The catacombs are thought to have held between four and seven million graves. Between 40 and 60 multi-level burial chambers connected by numerous tunnels have been discovered just outside of Rome. Narrow steps go down as many as four stories, leading to passages that are about 8 feet high and 3 or 4 feet. The burial niches were carved into the walls and are generally 16-24 inches high and 45-60 inches long. And it is here, in these catacombs, where we can find the earliest known examples of Christian artwork. During the second century, the traditions of the Romans and Etruscans favored cremation, but the Christians, believing in the bodily resurrection of the dead, thought that bodies of the deceased should be buried, as was the described manner within the Old and New Testaments of the Bible. Because of that, and because it was inexpensive, Christians dug these catacombs, generally beginning on the property of one of the Christians, digging downward and then branching out in many directions. Imagine starting such a project in your back yard! The Christians definitely expanded the number of catacombs, and were known to hold funeral services in small chapel-like rooms, similar to how people hold graveside services today. WHAT WAS THE EARLIEST CHRISTIAN ARTWORK LIKE? We can learn a lot about the people who expressed their faith artistically in the catacombs. It is especially uplifting to note the particular themes and symbols that were chosen, as well as noticing those that were not. This fresco painting of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego in the fiery furnace (Daniel 3) is found in the Priscilla catacombs in Rome and is dated to around the third and century. It is also interesting to consider that whereas some religions, such as the pagan worship in Egypt, provided artwork within their burial places for the use of the deceased along the way to the afterlife, Christians provided artwork for the encouragement of the living who would visit the catacombs. Christians’ souls were already in Heaven, but the bodies awaited the great resurrection at the day of judgment. The types of artwork found in the catacombs include fresco paintings (paintings done on wet plaster), Greek and Latin inscriptions, carved stone burial boxes (sarcophagi), and statues. Some of the artwork is simple and amateurish, but in other cases it’s clear Christians hired professional artists to decorate the graves of their loved ones with the purpose of advancing the message of Christ. The people who could afford it placed the body of a loved one in a stone sarcophagus that was most often decorated, but those who were poor simply bound the body up in linen. It was then placed in the loculi– the burial niche – and the niche was sealed with a slab that bore the name, age and date of the person’s death. Catacombs historians state that there are three themes that are seen throughout the catacombs' artwork: resurrection, salvation, and baptism, which Andrew Shubin in Early Christian Imagery in the Catacombs of Priscilla refers to as the "three core tenets of Christianity." Another catacomb art historian, Gregory S. Athnos, states that: Every story in catacomb art is a tale of deliverance, a tale of the powerlessness of death and the certainty of the resurrection. God delivers us from the consequences of death situations and gives us life instead. In our view of the history of Christian art it appears the crucifixion of Jesus holds the highest place." A French Catholic cultural historian, Frederic Ozanam, sums up the topics depicted in this early Christian artwork thus: In these figures of Noah in the Ark, Moses striking the rock, Job on the dunghill, the Miracle of Cana, the feeding of the five thousand, Lazarus leaving the tomb, and most prominent – Daniel in the lions' den, Jonah cast out by the whale, the three Children in the furnace. All these are types of martyrdom – martyrdom by beasts, water, and fire, but all symbolical of triumphant martyrdom such as is necessary to depict in order to maintain courage and console grief. And, amazingly he points out the following: We see no trace of contemporary persecutions, no representation of the butchery of the Christians, nothing bloodthirsty, nothing which could rouse hatred or vengeance, nothing but pictures of pardon, hope, and love. A fish carving from the Domitilla Catacombs in Rome, dated to around second or third century AD. The letters below spell fish in Greek (ichthys) and can also be used to form an acronym of the phrase “Jesus Christ, Son of God, Savior.” In this regard, Athnos points out that he saw "no crosses in the catacombs – no symbols of death. Rather, he saw symbols of the Resurrection such as the Phoenix, a bird which came back to life, and the fish, which speaks of God’s provision and sustenance, as well as a reference to Jesus’ calling his disciples to follow Him and become fishers of men. Other researchers describe pictures of a dove, representing the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost to dwell within Christians and bring them guidance, wisdom, peace, comfort, and joy. Another frequent symbol was the anchor, representing hope in Jesus as expressed in Hebrews 6:19, “We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure.” Although Athnos saw no crosses, other researchers point out that when the anchor is turned upside down, the Greek letter TAU was formed and the T represented the shape of the cross, promising salvation through Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection. Last of all, the symbol of a peacock was adopted for use by early Christians. It had long been a symbol of eternal life for other cultures, who feared death and their unknown future; Christians improved on it, believing that the victory of Christ’s resurrection canceled the obscurity of death. One subject that was frequently repeated in statuary was that of the Good Shepherd. The Old Testament book of Psalms, Chapter 23, begins with, “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not be in want.” The Psalmist describes how this good shepherd watches over his sheep by taking them to green pastures with quiet, not frightening, streams of water, and providing comfort for them in every dangerous situation. “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.” Jesus announced Himself in John 10:11-18 as the Good Shepherd who would lay down His life for His sheep; this reference would have brought Psalm 23 to His disciples’ minds. It brought great comfort to the souls of early Christians to believe in Christ as their good shepherd. There were also pictures found of the Virgin Mary, of a person praying in Orant style (arms uplifted), and of the disciples and other early saints and martyrs of the Christian faith. These, too, served to encourage the living by referencing the power and love of God and the witness of other believers. There are also depictions of Jesus performing His many miracles, but these aren’t the earliest pictures, as the first Christian arts were seemingly more reluctant to depict Him than later ones. DID CHRISTIANS HIDE IN THE CATACOMBS? A catacomb fresco painting of Samson with the jawbone of a donkey (Judges 15). Photo credit: Isogood_patrick / Shutterstock.com Many of us have heard references to the Roman persecution of Christians which took place during the first three centuries after Christ. Ministers have often called on us to imagine the difficulties which led many Christians to hide from the Romans down inside of the catacombs. However, some modern historians dispute whether the catacombs were used as a hiding place, and one source even questioned whether there really was a great persecution! These writers call the ideas tradition, myth or a romanticizing of what actually occurred. Note the following arguments and responses: OBJECTION: There is no visible evidence that suggests that Christians hid there from the Romans. RESPONSE: People who were generally very poor, on the run, and hiding for their lives would be careful not to leave any trace of their whereabouts. OBJECTION: The stench from the rotting bodies would have made it a difficult place to exist and it would have been an unpleasant place to live. RESPONSE: Each grave was sealed with stone, and it was cold down there, so it was unlikely that there would be a stench; besides, people who are running for their lives might not be so concerned about the comforts of life. There is at least one known location in the catacombs that still shows blood, where a Christian was killed, proving that there was at least one person who hid there. OBJECTION: The catacombs were a public place well-known to the Romans, so they would not have provided a good hiding place. RESPONSE: Since the passageways are very long, irregular, and complicated, it would be difficult to find people there even if the soldiers knew they were in there somewhere. OBJECTION: Christians were willing to die as martyrs for their Lord Jesus Christ, so why would they want to hide? RESPONSE: While Christians were (and should still be) willing to die for Christ, that doesn’t mean we seek death! The Apostle Paul sneaked out of the city of Damascus to avoid being killed by an angry group of Jewish leaders (Acts chapter 9) and like him, if Christians can avoid death while staying true to Christ, then we should. Also consider, since the artwork was intended to encourage people who were living in dangerous circumstances, those who painted and sculpted it did expect that it would be viewed by others; this lends credence to the idea that some Christians would be coming there sometime. CONCLUSION The catacombs outside of Rome served as an extensive underground burial location around the second century. The Christians who dug some of them held funeral services within the small chapels there, and some hid there to avoid persecution. They expressed their faith in salvation through Jesus Christ by painting or sculpting symbols of Christianity and references to carefully chosen Biblical accounts that would particularly instill courage, faith, hope, and trust within those who viewed them. Hebrews 12 sums up the encouragement that the early Christians passed on to others through their artwork in the catacombs: Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart. BIBLIOGRAPHY All online resources were last accessed on April 15, 2015. Gregory S. Athnos’ The Art of the Roman Catacombs: Themes of Deliverance in the Age of Persecution (Outskirts Press, 2011) Middletown Bible Church’s “The Catacombs and the Cloisters.” Jay King’s “Throwing Christians to the Lions: Fact and Legend.” Suny Oneonta School of Art & Humanities “Early Christian Art.” J. Maresca’s The Catacombs of Rome(Documentary, 42 minutes, 2002). Frederic Ozanam’s “The Christian Art of the Catacombs” as published in the Fall 1993 issue of The Dawson Newsletter. Christine Quigley’s Skulls and Skeletons: Human Bone Collections and Accumulations (McFarland and Company, Inc., 2001). Rick Steves' Rick Steves Europe “Rome, Italy: Catacombs and Appian Way.” Andrew Shubin’s “Early Christian Imagery in the Catacombs of Priscilla." This article first appeared in the January 2016 issue under the title "Artwork in Rome’s Catacombs: Early Christian art was created to encourage fellow Christians." ...
Macarius: great works vs. grace
“For by grace you have been saved through faith; and this is not your own doing, it is the gift of God - not because of works, lest any man should b...
Report of a meeting which was never held
What I am going to tell you is pure fantasy, but it might be useful to pause a moment because it can teach us something. It was some years after ou...
Abraham Kuyper: larger than life
After John Calvin, Abraham Kuyper is probably the figure who looms largest in our Reformed church history. In some ways, in his lifetime he was even more significant and powerful than Calvin was in his. He was a pastor, professor, prolific writer, and politician. He even served as the Prime Minister of the Netherlands. He established a university. He was an important leader of the 1886 Doleantie and an architect of the Union of 1892. For good reason people referred to him as "Abraham the Mighty," or as "Father Abraham." Because of the role of his views in later church controversies, his name would become rather black amongst many in the Canadian Reformed Churches. But you do not have to appreciate or endorse the idiosyncrasies of Kuyper’s theology to understand that he has a played a huge role in shaping who we are as Reformed people today. Here we will explore his life's story and elsewhere, in this same issue, dip into his theology. Early life Let’s start at the beginning. Abraham Kuyper’s father was Jan Frederik Kuyper. He was a minister in the Netherlands Hervormde Kerk (NHK), the official Dutch state church. Jan Kuyper had already been a minister for six years when 120 conservative congregations left the NHK in the "Secession of 1834." However, he did not join them. He wasn’t a liberal, but he wasn’t completely confessionally Reformed either. He was just happy to stick with the status quo. Abraham was born October 29, 1837 in Maasluis, just outside of Rotterdam. For what we would call elementary school he was homeschooled by his parents. When he was 12 years old, his family moved to Leiden and there he went to school for the first time. This would be similar to our high school except that it was oriented to academics – it was preparation for university studies. He studied there for six years and then, in 1855, when he was 18, he began studies at the University of Leiden. There he pursued what for us would be the equivalent of a Bachelor of Arts degree. He graduated with the highest honors – obviously a bright and gifted student. Kuyper as a young student But we should take note of what all this did to his faith. He would later write, I entered the university a young man of orthodox faith, but I had not been in the school more than a year and a half before my thought processes had been transformed into the starkest intellectual rationalism. He even stopped praying altogether. He remained a member of the Hervormde Kerk, the NHK, at least on paper. But his faith shriveled, to be replaced by the modernism and liberalism then in vogue. Related to this point, Kuyper didn’t make public profession of his faith. In fact, it would not be until some years later, after he graduated from seminary and was a candidate for the ministry, that he would finally take that step. Even then, there wasn’t much faith to confess. After graduating with his bachelor’s degree, Kuyper stayed on at Leiden University to study theology. Leiden’s theology department was a center for liberal theology. Some of the most notorious liberal theologians taught at Leiden. One of them was Prof. J. H. Scholten. He was a persuasive teacher of systematic theology. But he didn’t believe the Bible was the Word of God. When it came to formulating his system of theology, he relied more on reason than on revelation. Then there was Prof. L. W. E. Rauwenhoff. I once mentioned him in the introduction to a sermon I preached on Lord’s Day 17. Let me briefly tell the story: The young man and his friends were excited. There was a new teacher at the school. The new professor was not much older than them, only thirty-two years old. Finally there was some fresh, young blood at the school, some fresh thinking. His name was Professor Rauwenhoff, a professor of church history. One of his first lectures dealt with the resurrection of Christ. The young man listened intently. Professor Rauwenhoff pointed out that the Bible spoke very clearly about the resurrection. However, he said, we have to be careful because the Bible often uses symbolic language that is not meant to be taken literally. After all, the Bible is not a textbook for science or history. Moreover, no rational modern man could actually believe that Christ’s body was raised from the dead at certain place at a certain point in real history. That would be against all the laws of nature and everybody knows that those laws simply can’t be broken. Jesus rose from the dead, yes, but not in history. He rose in the hearts of his disciples. His body remained in the tomb. As the professor reached his conclusion, the young man and his friends leapt from their seats and started clapping. They were applauding a professor who finally understood. Finally they had a teacher who was with the times. The young man, twenty-three years old, was thrilled with a prof who had the courage to say what everybody else was thinking. That’s a true story and it took place in 1860 in the Netherlands at the University of Leiden. The students were all men studying to become Reformed ministers. The young man was Abraham Kuyper. Now eventually, God would grab hold of Kuyper and convert him and he would become a mighty tool in God’s hands to bring Reformation to the Netherlands. He had his weaknesses and shortcomings – no man is perfect – but many of our families trace their roots back to the Reformation led by Kuyper, the Doleantie. Later in life, Kuyper confessed that he was still haunted by what happened in that classroom in 1860. He had applauded the denial of Christ’s resurrection. With his denial, he had grieved his Lord and Saviour and this bothered him immensely. Rauwenhoff was known as “the Defender of Modernism.” His teaching continued to send Abraham Kuyper down the path of unbelief. Yet God did not stop chasing him. A series of providential events led Kuyper back to faith. It began with learning how to pray again. The University of Groningen organized an essay competition. One of Kuyper’s seminary professors encouraged him to enter and write a research paper comparing the views of John Calvin with a Polish Reformer named Jan Laski. Kuyper was reluctant because there wasn’t much out there still available from Laski. Still Prof. DeVries encouraged him to persevere and sent him to his father in the city of Haarlem who had a large collection of books. The elder DeVries wasn’t sure where the books of Laski were in his library, but he told Kuyper to come back the next day. In the meantime he would check. When Kuyper returned, he encountered the very writings of Laski that he had been missing. Kuyper thought it was something like a miracle and from this point on he began praying again. This event also encouraged him to engage in some serious scholarship. He not only wrote a prize-winning paper on Laski, but also went on to write his doctoral dissertation on him, and later published a complete critical edition of Laski’s writings. But as far as his spiritual development was concerned this was only the small first step. He received his bachelor of divinity degree in 1861 and his doctorate in theology in 1862. Around the same time another piece fell into place. He read a novel. It is unusual in church history for a novel to play a role. More unusually, the novel was not in Dutch, but in English. It was a Victorian novel entitled The Heir of Redclyffe. It was written by Charlotte Yonge. There were two things that Kuyper took away from this novel. First was a reorientation of his priorities. He came to realize that God values a broken and contrite heart and he began to feel that heart within himself. The second thing was a sense of the place of the church. At the end of the book, one of the characters dies and Yonge writes about how he had been prepared for that moment by “his mother church,” a church which had guided him all his life. When Kuyper read those words, he became jealous. He had never known such a church, but he wanted her. Called to the ministry After receiving his doctorate, Kuyper was examined to be eligible for call in the Hervormde Kerk. He sustained his examination. However, there was a glut of candidates. Vacant churches could afford to be fussy and they were. It took ten months before Kuyper finally received a call. It was to the Hervormde Kerk in the village of Beesd, to the south of Utrecht. He was ordained as their pastor on August 9, 1863. He was married a month before this to Johanna Hendrika Schaay. His first congregation didn’t exactly welcome him with open arms. Kuyper had a reputation as a fence sitter. He was sort of liberal and sort of orthodox, but not really one way or the other. The more liberal minded in the congregation could live with a compromiser more readily than the orthodox. Pietje Baltus (1830-1914) Amongst the orthodox was a single woman in her mid-thirties, Pietje (Pietronella) Baltus. Despite still being in the liberal-dominated Hervormde Kerk, she was a devout Christian. Rev. Kuyper did not impress Pietje Baltus. She wanted nothing to do with him. Nevertheless, Kuyper made his visits and soon was in her neighborhood. A neighbor told her that before long the new minister would be at her door too. She scoffed, “I have nothing to do with that man.” But then the neighbor said, “But don’t forget, Pietje, that our minister too has an immortal soul, and that he too is travelling towards eternity.” Those words changed her mind and the door swung open when the minister came to visit. Pietje Baltus became another instrument in God’s hand in the spiritual development of Abraham Kuyper. As he visited with her, she witnessed to him of her hope in Jesus Christ. She told him that he must have the same hope or he would perish eternally. This made an impact. Kuyper often came back to visit with her. She influenced him positively in a Reformed direction. He wasn’t yet totally orthodox in a confessional sense. But by this point God was breaking him away from liberalism and turning him back to true faith in Christ. As can be expected, these developments in his personal life had a bearing on his preaching and ministry in Beesd. This was partly because of a peasant woman who would otherwise receive no notice. Pietje Baltus is another example of how God used the weak and lowly in the eyes of the world to advance the Reformation of his church. Largely because of her, Kuyper would always have a special place for those he called the “kleine luyden,” the little folks. Controversy in Utrecht Kuyper spent four years in Beesd, and then, in 1867, he was called to Utrecht, a city slightly to the north. The consistory there was orthodox, though again, still part of the Hervormde Kerk. Yet controversy was brewing. There were two issues in Utrecht. One had to do with the formula for baptism. There were various words being used to baptize in the Hervormde Kerk. Some ministers baptized “unto faith, hope and love.” Others, “unto initiation into Christianity,” and there were other “creative” formulas besides. Under the leadership of Kuyper, the Utrecht consistory decided that they would not recognize any baptisms not administered in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. They decided that guest ministers would not be allowed to administer baptism unless they promised to use the words of Christ from Matthew 28. Then the Utrecht Hervormde Kerk sought out other churches that were opposed to laxity on this issue. They formed an association of 143 churches that were dedicated to the Trinitarian baptismal formula. The other issue had to do with church visitation. In Reformed church government every year a pair of ministers are supposed to visit each church on behalf of the churches in a classis region. They look at whether everything is being done properly and then report to the next classis. In the Hervormde Kerk of this time, this was done in a different way. There would be two years where the “visit” was done in writing, and then the third year it would be done in person. Some of the questions asked by the church visitors had to do with doctrine, the doctrine confessed by the Hervormde Kerk. Kuyper and the Utrecht consistory recognized this for the farce that it was. There was no doctrine held in common by the Hervormde Kerk. So when the bureaucratic visitation letters came in 1867 and 1868, the Utrecht church just responded in a bureaucratic fashion by sending back some statistics about the church. They refused to answer the questions about doctrine. They said that the questions are “asked on behalf of a synod with whose dignitaries the consistory has no communion of faith or confession.” The classical board sent another set of questions with a demand that Utrecht comply, but they received the same response. Then the classical board said they would send a committee of two people to ask the questions in person. Utrecht said that they would not receive the committee and the committee didn’t come. Eventually the bureaucracy accepted the position of Utrecht. The ultimate conflict was delayed. Reformation in Amsterdam As for Abraham Kuyper, his stay in Utrecht wasn’t very long. In 1870 he took a call to the enormous Hervormde Kerk in Amsterdam. There was one church for the whole city, but it had several worship services, dozens of elders, and numerous ministers. Of course, there were thousands of members. This was one of the most influential churches in the whole Hervormde Kerk. Now Kuyper was there as one of the ministers. This church was largely heading in an orthodox direction. His inaugural sermon dealt with the doctrine of the church. Kuyper gave a clear indication of where he was going with his principles. He emphasized the autonomy of the local church and criticized the idea of synodical hierarchy. The inevitable conflict with the bureaucracy was looming. Things were pushed further along in 1871. It was Easter and a Rev. P. H. Hugenholtz was on the pulpit for one of the services in Amsterdam. He denied the bodily resurrection of Christ. A member of the church objected to this sermon. He wrote a letter to the consistory and he asked that Hugenholtz be deposed along with any other liberal ministers like him. The consistory couldn’t make a decision like that – the discipline of office bearers was something that the classical board had to deal with. So they forwarded the request to the classical board. And what did they do? They said that the historicity of the resurrection of Christ was not something that ministers were required to believe. There was freedom in the Hervormde Kerk to believe that Christ did not really rise from the dead with a physical body on the third day. Hugenholtz got a pass. However, seventeen elders from the Amsterdam church were fed up. They made a public statement to the church in March of 1872, almost a year after the original sermon. They declared that they were no longer going to attend church when liberal ministers were preaching or administering the sacraments. They encouraged the rest of the congregation to do likewise. By sitting and listening to these heresies, the elders and members were saying that these things weren’t really so concerning. They needed to take a stand. Not everybody in the church saw it the same way. About 1,200 members signed a protest against the seventeen elders. The consistory appointed Abraham Kuyper to write the reply to these members. It turned out to be a 144-page brochure. As a result of the leadership of Kuyper and others, the consistory stood behind the seventeen elders. Writing and politics I just mentioned Kuyper’s brochure. He was a prolific writer. In 1871, he started a weekly newspaper, The Herald (De Heraut). This newspaper was an important means through which Kuyper spread Reformational thinking, and it was popular. In 1872, he established another newspaper, this one a daily entitled The Standard (De Standaard). This periodical was used mainly to spread his political ideals. On top of that, he cranked out many books dealing with a variety of topics. Some of them have been translated into English, for instance his book on worship (Our Worship) and a thick book on the Holy Spirit (The Work of the Holy Spirit). In 1874 there was another major change in Kuyper’s life. He officially became involved in politics and was elected as a member of Parliament for the Anti-Revolutionary Party (ARP). For some time already he had been involved with Groen van Prinsterer, one of the leading figures of the ARP. Van Prinsterer urged Kuyper to stop merely talking and writing about politics and actually take action. So he did, and now he was faced with a dilemma. According to Dutch law, he could not be both a minister of a church and a member of Parliament. He would have to choose. He chose to resign as a minister of the Hervormde Kerk in Amsterdam to enter the political realm. For a few months he stayed on as an elder of the church, but this proved too much. Until 1882 (when he again became an elder), his official ecclesiastical status was just that of a retired minister. Yet that doesn’t mean that he stopped thinking or writing about theology. It also didn’t mean that he stopped showing leadership with regard to concerns about the Hervormde Kerk. It also didn’t mean the end to his own spiritual development. His Methodist moment Up to this point, Kuyper was still not completely confessionally orthodox. This is reflected in some strange events in 1875. Kuyper became entangled with the Methodists. Methodism was a religious movement originating in England with John Wesley. Most Methodists in history have been Arminians – which means that they deny the doctrines of grace found in the Canons of Dort. They also put a lot of emphasis on revival meetings and having spiritual experiences, especially a conversion experience. In April of 1875, Kuyper wrote an article in The Standard in which he was appreciative of some Methodist evangelists. Shortly afterwards, Kuyper went to England and attended a revival campaign. At one of these gatherings, he even administered the Lord’s Supper. When he came back, he continued to gush about the Methodists and appeared to be leaning in their direction. Then quite abruptly, there was nothing more from Kuyper on this. What happened? First, one of the Methodist evangelists (Robert Pearsall Smith) that Kuyper had been so appreciative of came under suspicion of sexual immorality. Second, and probably more importantly, Kuyper suffered a breakdown. He was overworked. He spent some months recovering in the south of France. It was there that God brought him on the last steps of his journey to confessionally Reformed orthodoxy. Having flirted with Arminianism, he finally fully embraced the doctrines of grace. Kuyper wrote: In the quiet solitude of suffering that I experienced in Nice, my soul was transplanted to the firmness of the firm and energetic religion of our fathers. My heart had indeed yearned for it before, but it was only in Nice that I took a resolute decision. He was about 38 years old. The Free University In the summer of 1877 he resigned his seat in Parliament and took on a new challenge: the development of Reformed higher education. At the end of 1878, Kuyper had mobilized enough people to form a society that would endeavor to set up a university. Finally, in 1880, the university opened. Abraham Kuyper was at the helm of the Free University of Amsterdam and he was also one of the theology professors. The Free University becomes important in church history because it offered an alternative to the liberal seminary training in the state universities. But at the same time, it was an independent institution (a Free University), not under the oversight of any church. The first point became a factor in the Doleantie. The second point became a factor in the discussions regarding unity between the Secession churches and the Doleantie churches. The Doleantie and sunset years In the 1880s, Kuyper also resumed his work as an office bearer in the Hervormde Kerk in Amsterdam. He became an elder again in 1882. He was enmeshed in the struggles of the Amsterdam church with the synodical hierarchy of the Hervormde Kerk. Kuyper showed leadership both inside the consistory room and outside. In 1886, when the Doleantie happened, he was part of the consistory that was suspended and then deposed by the bureaucracy because of their refusal to issue attestations to liberal members. He then led the deposed office bearers and concerned members to form what they called the Nederduitse Gereformeerde Kerken (“Low German Reformed Churches”). Together with the consistory, he organized an ecclesiastical congress of concerned members in early 1887 in Amsterdam. They decided to throw off the yoke of synodical hierarchy and form a new federation where the autonomy of the local church was honored and where confessional orthodoxy was taken seriously. There was another meeting in 1887 and there it was decided already to pursue unity with the Secession churches, the churches that had already left the liberal Hervormde Kerk back in 1834. That decision would lead up to the Union of 1892 and Abraham Kuyper would be extensively involved with those discussions as well. 1896 Kuyper portrait by Hendrik J. Haverman Through the 1880s and early 1890s, Kuyper continued to teach theology at the Free University. But in 1894, he was called back to state politics. He was elected again as a member of Parliament. He continued to serve in that capacity until 1901. That year he became the Prime Minister of the Netherlands. His time as PM was beleaguered by various controversies. He only served about four years. By this time, Kuyper was 68 and he “retired.” He took a year off and did some travelling. In his “retirement” years he again served as a member of Parliament on several occasions, and then his last political appointment came in 1913. He was elected to be a Dutch Senator. However, he was getting older and was starting to slow down. He reached the age of eighty-three and then God called him home. That was on November 8, 1920. Conclusion Figures like Abraham Kuyper simply do not exist anymore. You will look in vain for someone who effectively combines being a Reformed pastor, professor, politician, journalist and even prime minister. His accomplishments are all the more remarkable when we remember how muddled his theology was in his early life. God made use of such a mixed-up man to make such an enormous impact. Glory be to God! End notes Frank Vandenberg's Abraham Kuyper. See James D. Bratt's Abraham Kuyper: Modern Calvinist, Christian Democrat. The story was embellished later by Kuyper. There is some question about his public profession of faith. Praamsma (41) says that he did it right before being declared eligible for call. Bratt (23) says that it took place earlier, in 1857. Kuyper would later say, “At the beginning of my service as a minister, I was, sad to say, not acquainted with the way of truth, and I stood in opposition to the holy things of God.” Quoted in H. Bouma's Secession, Doleantie, and Union: 1834-1892 Apparently De Heraut became a weekly religious supplement to De Standaard. As quoted in Louis Praamsma's Let Christ Be King: Reflections on the Life and Times of Abraham Kuyper Dr. Bredenhof has also written a companion piece called "Kuyper's legacy: for better and for worse."...
On the shoulders of giants: how church history helps
Czeslaw Milosz, winner of the 1980 Nobel Prize for Literature, remarked in his acceptance speech in Stockholm that our age is characterized by a "refusal to remember." I think it is more than that. I believe it is an indifference rather than an outright refusal to remember the past. And because we don't know our past, we have become a rootless society. In his provocative book Amusing Ourselves to Death, Neil Postman argued that the television rendered the previous generation unfit to remember. Television's focus on the immediate deprived us of a historical experience. So many know so much about the happenings of the last 24 hours, but very little of bygone centuries or even the last 60 years. No wonder that youth show little affinity with the past. Today's generation lives even more in "a perpetual present," without depth, definition, or secure identity. Many think the study of history is a dull and irrelevant exercise. Gathered wisdom The lack of historical awareness has also affected the Church. Too many evangelical and Reformed Christians jump from the early church of the Apostles right to the present. They seem to forget that men and women lived the Christian life before them. But there is this great "cloud of witnesses," who have wrestled with doctrinal and moral issues that contemporary Christians can learn from. Because they are unaware of the profound doctrinal debates of the church fathers, of the Reformers, and even of the recent history of their own denominations and all the momentous implications, they deprive themselves of the gathered wisdom of the ages. For example, as a student of church history, I am deeply impressed by the outstanding theological works produced by the 17th-century Puritan spiritual giants. They greatly surpass the generally weak and shallow theology and spirituality of the present. The creeds and confessions are also a vital link with the past. They show how throughout the centuries, the Holy Spirit has been at work in forming, maintaining and renewing the Church. The Three Forms of Unity express the heart of the apostolic and also of the Reformed faith, the faith which has been accepted as true for generations. The confessions remind us of the communal nature of the Church. They also tell us that we are not the first generation that has read the Bible. The confessions show us a particular way of understanding Scripture which the Christian Church has recognized as responsible and trustworthy. A church which no longer pays attention to her creeds and confessions denies her heritage. Only when we remain in fellowship with the faithful who have gone before us are we able to travel into the future. We must know where we come from so that we may know where we are going. Dr. J. I. Packer rightly observed, "Knowing the family history is one way of avoiding past errors and preparing to face the future." Inspiration The study of church history is also important for the development of our spiritual life. Without a reflection on the past, Christians are prone to become spiritually anemic. The story of the Christian martyrs, who sacrificed their all for the cause of Christ, is inspirational. A moving testimony from the early church is the martyrdom of Polycarp (c. 70-155), faithful pastor and champion of apostolic tradition. After his capture by his persecutors, infuriated Jews and Gentiles gathered wood for the stake. Polycarp stood by it, asking not to be fastened to it, and prayed: O Lord, Almighty God, the Father of Thy beloved Son Jesus Christ, through whom we have received knowledge of Thee.. . I thank Thee that Thou hast thought me worthy, this day and this hour, to share the cup of Thy Christ among the number of Thy witnesses. And I think of the martyrdom in China of John and Betty Stam, missionaries with the China Inland Mission. Betty, a gifted poet, had been raised in China by Presbyterian parents, and felt God's call to return there. John, of Dutch immigrant ancestry from New Jersey, was also drawn to China where, as he said," a million a month pass into Christless graves." Their missionary work was short-lived. In 1934 they were captured by the communists and executed. Their martyrdom made a great impact and led many to volunteer for missions. The most publicized martyrdom in recent history is no doubt the January 1956 massacre of five young missionaries by the Auca Indians in Ecuador. The story of their lives has been well told by Elisabeth Elliot, the widow of one of the martyrs. But their deaths have not been in vain. There is now a church among the Auca Indians. The stories of the martyrs give a feeling of fellowship with those who have carried the torch before and an appreciation of the priceless heritage which is ours in Christ. Seeing further We can learn from the wisdom and the examples of godly men and women of the past. We can also learn from their mistakes and follies. Here is how John of Salisbury, a 12th-century British author, described the importance of studying history: We are like dwarfs sitting on the shoulders of giants. We see more things than them, and things that are farther away - not because we can see better than they, or because we are taller than they are, but because they raise us up, and add their stature to ours. A version of this article first appeared in the April 1999 issue of Reformed Perspective under the title "Inspired by Past." Rev. Johan Tangelder (1936-2009) wrote for Reformed Perspective for 13 years. Many of his articles have been collected at Reformed Reflections....
Marcion: a heretic we need to know
When one asks the most influential thinkers in the modern evangelical church are, one might find names such as Jim Packer, John Stott, and Don Carson. I would like to suggest, however, that there is one whose influence is perhaps much greater than we are aware of, yet whose thinking all but pervades the modern evangelical church: Marcion. He's the man who gets my vote for most profound influence on evangelicalism, from canon to theology to worship practices. You never see his books on the shelves in your high street Christian bookshop; you never see him advertised as preaching in your local church; but, rest assured, his spirit stalks those bookshops and pulpits. He's the man who gets my vote for most profound influence on evangelicalism, from canon to theology to worship practices. You never see his books on the shelves in your high street Christian bookshop; you never see him advertised as preaching in your local church; but, rest assured, his spirit stalks those bookshops and pulpits. Nothing new under the sun Marcion is – or, rather, was – a somewhat shadowy figure, with most of what we know about him coming from the hostile pen of Tertullian. Apparently, he was a native of Pontus (in modern times, the area by the Black Sea), who flourished in the middle of the second century, dying circa 160. His major distinctive was his insistence on the Christian gospel as exclusively one of love to the extent that he came to a complete rejection of the Old Testament and only a qualified acceptance of those parts of the New Testament which he considered to be consistent with his central thesis (i.e. ten letters of Paul and a recension of the Gospel of Luke). So how does Marcion influence modern evangelicalism? Well, I think evangelicalism has become practically Marcionite at a number of levels. 1. Out with wrath First, the emphasis upon God's love to the utter exclusion of everything else has become something of a commonplace. We see this in the collapse of the notion of penal substitution as an evangelical doctrine. Now, maybe I'm missing something, but of all the things taught in the Bible, the terrifying wrath of God would seem to be among the most self-evident of all. Thus, when I hear statements from evangelical theologians such as “God's wrath is always restorative,” my mind goes straight to countless OT passages, the Bible's teaching about Satan, and NT characters such as Ananias and Sapphira. There was not much restoration for any of these folk – or are being swallowed alive by the earth, consumed by holy fire and being struck dead for cheating the church actually therapeutic techniques intended to restore the individuals concerned? And when leading evangelicals tell me that penal substitution is tantamount to cosmic child abuse (don't laugh - this is seriously argued by some leading evangelical theologians), I'm left wondering whether I should sit down and explain the doctrine to them, or whether I should merely tell them to go away and grow up. Do they really expect the church to take such claims as serious theological reflection? 2. Out with the Old Then, there is the constant tendency to neglect the Old Testament, in particular in our theological reflections, and our devotional lives also need to take full account of the Old Testament. We need to read the Bible as a whole, to understand each passage, each verse, within the theological and narrative structure of the canon as a whole. As evangelicals we can often err by focusing purely on the straight doctrinal teaching of the letters in the NT and the great passages in John's Gospel. An NT scholar and friend once said to me that he thought the average evangelical's life would be pretty much unaffected if the whole Bible, except for the Gospel of John and the Letter to the Romans, simply disappeared. Hyperbole maybe, but probably not by much. We need a solid biblical theology – not one which downgrades everything to the level of economy at the expense of ontology but one which takes full account of the central narrative of the Bible and seeks to do justice even to those bits of the Bible we don't like. 3. Out with God's songs Then, in our church practice, we need to take the Old Testament more seriously. It astounds me, given the overwhelming use of psalms as central to gathered worship in the first four centuries, the absolute importance given to psalmody for the first two centuries of the post-Reformation Reformed churches, and the fact that the Book of Psalms is the only hymn book which can claim to be universal in its acceptance by the whole of Christendom and utterly inspired in all of its statements – it astounds me, I say, that so few psalms are sung in our worship services today. Moreover, often nothing seems to earn the scorn and derision of others more than the suggestion that more psalms should be sung in worship. Indeed, the last few years have seen a number of writers strike out against exclusive psalmody. Given that life is too short to engage in pointless polemics, I am left wondering which parallel universe these guys come from, where the most pressing and dangerous worship issue is clearly that people sing too much of the Bible in their services. How terrifying a prospect that would be. Imagine: people actually singing songs that express the full range of human emotion in their worship using words of which God has explicitly said, “These are mine.” Back here on Planet Earth, however, there is generally precious little chance of overloading on sound theology in song in most evangelical churches as the Marcion invasion is pretty much total and unopposed in the sphere of worship. Yet I for one prefer Athanasius to Marcion and, in his letter to Marcellinus, he gives one of the most beautiful and moving arguments for psalms in worship ever penned. It is a pity more have not taken his words to heart Making God unknowable So what will be the long-term consequences of this Marcionite approach to the Bible? Ultimately, I think it will push “the God who is there” back into the realm of the unknowable and make our god a mere projection of our own psychology, and make our worship simply into group therapy sessions where we all come together to pretend we are feeling great. God is the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob – take that identity away and what do we have left? As the OT is the context for the NT, so the neglect of OT leaves the NT as more or less meaningless. As our reading, our sermons, and our times of corporate worship neglect and, sometimes, simply ignore the OT, we can expect a general impoverishment of church life and, finally, a total collapse of evangelical Christendom. Indeed, there are mornings when I wake up and think it's already all over, and that the church in the West survives more by sheer force of personality, by hype and by marketing ploys rather than by any higher power. We need to grasp once again who God is in his fullness; we need to grasp who we are in relation to him; and we need teaching and worship which gives full-orbed expression to these things – and this will only come when we in the West grow up, ditch the designer gods we build from our pick-n-mix Bible where consumer, not Creator, is king, and give the whole Bible its proper place in our lives, thinking and worship. Think truncated thoughts about God and you'll get a truncated God; read an expurgated Bible and you get an expurgated theology; sing mindless, superficial rubbish instead of deep, truly emotional praise and you will eventually become what you sing. Dr. Carl Trueman is Professor of Church History at Westminster Theological Seminary and blogs at FirstThings.com. This article first appeared in Themelios Vol. 28 No. 1 under the title “The Marcions have landed. A warning for evangelical” and is reprinted here with the author’s permission. ...
What sort of man was John Calvin? We can get a feel for him from his letters
It started with a conversation discussing various matters, when the subject of John Calvin came up. I was absolutely flabbergasted when my interlocutor said that Calvin was a hard man – someone who would not have been very nice to know. Dumbfounded, I dropped the subject because I really didn't have a defense. I had never heard such an accusation before, and had been brought up to think that Calvin belonged on a pedestal right next to Augustine, Luther and other church fathers. Did that mean I considered Calvin a saint? No, of course not. Calvin was a man like us, who had to daily contend with a sinful nature. But he was also a great man, specially gifted by God, so I was flabbergasted as to where this negative view of Calvin had come from. So when the next opportunity arrived I searched and found in my library a booklet which answered my questions. Why so negative? My first question was where this negative view of Calvin had come from. What I had never realized before is that there are umpteen books that attack Calvin, and I'm not even talking about the books that attack his theology – the umpteen I mention here is just the books that attack Calvin the person! This is what I learned after opening a book that had long been in my library but was still unread. You know the type – it was one of those books purchased with the thought that it might come in handy one day. Well it became handy indeed. The book, or rather booklet (it is just 96 pages), is called the The Humanness of John Calvin and was written by a Richard Stauffer. This Swiss pastor shows that he is well acquainted with the writings of both Calvin and his critics – early in the book Stauffer, especially in the footnotes, gives extensive quotes from those who were no friends of Calvin. In the introduction Stauffer remarks: "Luther, by his spontaneity and his exuberant spirit, ....succeeded in awakening sympathy from his very opponents, and Zwingli commanded respect as a lucid patriot and a courageous soldier in the very ones who would contest his theology, but the French reformer not only has suffered calumny from his enemies, he has also been misunderstood and misinterpreted by his great-grand children." In a footnote he cites Emile Doumergue, who correctly noted: “In relation to repugnance and hatred, one finds that Protestants rivaled Catholics.” However, a little further he also gives an example of a Catholic who slandered Calvin, by the name of Jerome-Hermes Bolsec. Bolsec had been Roman Catholic, then Protestant, and then after returning to Rome, he wrote a biography of Calvin that was simply insults and lies, or as Stauffer put it, "no more than a vile tract." "Calvin was accused in it with being ambitious, presumptuous, arrogant, cruel, evil, vindictive, and above all, ignorant. Also he was described as an avaricious and greedy man, as an imposter who claimed he could resurrect the dead, as a lover of rich fare, worst yet: as a gadabout and a Sodomite, who, for his infamous habits, had been sentenced in the city of his birth, Noyon, to be branded with a red-hot iron." Stauffer continues over the next couple of pages quoting mainly Roman Catholic but also Protestant writers who have done their utmost to picture the Reformer as a thoroughly evil man. Jealousy prompted hatred That Roman Catholics hated him is understandable because Calvin more than any other was able to show the evil of Roman doctrine, which enslaved people to men rather than make them servants of the living Savior. But where does this hatred – for that is what it is – of Calvin come from in the Protestant camp? I think we must seek the answer in the way that Calvin, more than anyone, sought to give all honor for our salvation to Jesus Christ. He opposed all forms of what later would be called Arminianism. It is not our own efforts that save us but only the completed sacrifice of our Lord Jesus Christ. Those who didn't bow their knee as he did, were shown up by Calvin's humility, and that likely made him enemies. Another reason for the hatred toward Calvin is, without doubt, that he labored without ceasing to help the spread of the Reformed doctrine. He was a giant, and so he was a target. While giving a write-up on the book Letters of John Calvin, one reviewer noted Calvin "...regularly lectured to theological students, preached on average five times a week and authored enough material to fill forty-eight enormous volumes. could scarcely be expected to show enthusiasm for correspondence. Yet the Complete Works of John Calvin include another eleven volumes of his correspondence." His letters show his nature Calvin’s many, many writings reveal a humble, caring man. He penned the following as a dedication in honor of his Latin teacher, one Mathurin Cordier, (whose Latin grammar textbook was still being used in the 19th century). This appears at the beginning of Calvin’s commentary on 1 Thessalonians: "…. it was under your guidance that I entered on a course of studies, and made progress at least to the extent of being of some benefit to the Church of God. When my father sent me as a boy to Paris I had done only the rudiments of Latin. For a short time, however, you were an instructor sent to me by God to teach me the true method of learning, so that I might afterwards be a little more proficient…. for me it was a singular kindness of God that I happened to have a propitious beginning to my studies…. It was my desire to testify to posterity that, if they derive any profit from my writings, they should know that to some extent you are responsible for them." Reader, do you here recognize the description given by Jerome-Hermes Bolsec? I know I do not. Here is another, this one addressed to John Knox, in which Calvin expresses his joy at the advance of the Gospel in Scotland. Remember John Knox had studied under Calvin in Geneva. At the same time he uses the opportunity to express his sympathy to John Knox who had just lost his wife. Calvin wrote: "Your distress for the loss of your wife justly commands my deepest sympathy. Persons of her merit are not often to be met with. But as you have learned from what source consolation for your sorrow is to be sought, I doubt not but you endure with patience this calamity. You will salute very courteously all your pious brethren. My colleagues also beg me to present to you their best respects." At the time of Calvin’s death in 1564, Farel who years before had persuaded Calvin that his task lay in Geneva, wrote that he wished he could have died instead: "Oh, why was I not taken away in his stead, and preserved to the church which he has so well served, and in combats harder than death? He has done more and with greater promptitude than any one, surpassing not only the others by himself. Oh, how happy he has run a noble race! May the Lord grant that we run like him, and according to the measure of grace that has been dealt out to us." Shortly before his death Calvin wrote to Farel and, though Calvin was dying, his concern was for Farel. He told Farel, an old man at this time, that there was no need to rush to Calvin's deathbed: "Farewell, my most excellent and upright brother; and since it is the will of God that you should survive me in the world, live mindful of our intimacy, which, as it was useful to the church of God, so the fruits of it await us in heaven. I am unwilling that you should fatigue yourself for my sake. I draw my breath with difficulty, and every moment I am in expectation of breathing my last. It is enough that I live and die for Christ, who is to all his followers a gain both in life and death. Again I bid you and your brethren farewell." Conclusion Let me finish this article by quoting once again from the booklet The Humanness of John Calvin. The author concludes with words written by Nicolas des Gallars, who was one of Calvin’s colleagues in Geneva for several years: What labors, what sleeplessness and worry he bore, with what keenness and finesse he foresaw dangers, with what zeal he guarded against them, what fidelity and understanding he showed in everything, what a kind and obliging spirit he had toward those who came to him, how quickly and frankly he answered those who asked him even the most serious question, with what wisdom he settled both privately and publicly the difficulties and problems which were posed for him to settle, with what sensitivity he comforted those who grieved and lifted up the broken and discouraged, how resolutely he opposed the enemies, how ardently he attacked the prideful and the obstinate, with what grandeur of spirit he endured misfortune, with what restraint he behaved in prosperity, and finally with what dexterity and élan he discharged all the duties and responsibilities of a true and faithful servant of God, I could certainly not be able to convey fully by the use of any words. I have quoted only a few excerpts by or about Calvin and would direct any one interested in finding out more to investigate either The Humanness of Calvin, or his letters. It will certainly close the door upon some of the slander which passes for serious study in some quarters. A version of this article was first published in the July/August 2002 issue. Rene Vermeulen published more than 150 articles in the pages of Reformed Perspective from 1984-2010. ...