Saturday, May 26, 2007

Save your Enemy - Get Burned.

Week 20 - May 13-19

Every once in a while the subject comes up about people who have been baptized as infants being re-baptized as adults when they come to faith for themselves. Some denominations allow it, others do not. What has always amazed me however, is just how contentious an issue it can be. Consider the story of Dirk Willem.

Dirk was captured and imprisoned in his home town of Asperen in the Netherlands for the crime of being an Anabaptist. These were basically peaceful cit
izens who did not believe in war and who became the forerunners of today's Mennonites and Amish. The main complaint of the authorities against them was that they did not believe infant baptism had any value. They chose to be re-baptized as willing adults. Dirk knew his fate would be death if he remained in prison, so he made a rope of strips of cloth and slid down it over the prison wall (yeah people actually escaped using the bed-sheet trick). One of the guards gave chase.

A late spring frost had covered a nearby pond with a thin layer of ice. Dirk decided to take his chances and dashed across the flimsy surface. He made it, but the guard that was chasing him didn’t. Falling into the cold icy water the man c
ried out for help. Dirk could not ignore his cries.

You see, the Anabaptist aversion to infant baptism was based on their determination to do all things in accordance with scripture. This devotion to the Word also meant Dirk believed in Jesus’ teaching that a man should help his en
emies. He immediately turned back and pulled the floundering guard from the frigid water. The event was reported in The Martyrs Mirror, first published in 1660 by Thieleman J. van Braght. A woodcut depicting the rescue (pictured) accompanied the account.

Grateful for his life the guard was of a mind to let Dirk escape, but a Burgomaster (chief magistrate) who had been standing on the shore sternly ordered him to arrest Dirk and bring him back, reminding him of the oath he had sworn as an officer of the courts. Reluctantly, the guard escorted Dirk back to prison; Dirk offered no resistance.

As expected he was condemned to death for being re-baptized, allowing secret church services in his home and letting others be baptized there. The record of his sentencing concludes: "all of which is contrary to our holy Christian faith, and to the decrees of his royal majesty, and ought not to be tolerated, but severely punished, for an example to others; therefore, we the aforesaid judges, having, with mature deliberation of council, examined and considered all that was to be considered in this matter, have condemned and do condemn by these presents in the name; and in the behalf, of his royal majesty, as Count of Holland, the aforesaid Dirk Willems, prisoner, persisting obstinately in his opinion, that he shall be executed with fire, until death ensues; and declare all his property confiscated, for the benefit of his royal majesty."

As was the custom Dirk was burned to death for his crime (women were executed by drowning). They also placed a cumbersome clamp on Willem’s tongue. This was because many Anabaptists proved to be so bold in their final testimony for Christ that authorities began to clamp their tongues before leading them out to their execution so that they could not speak up and win more converts.

The wind blew the flames away from him resulting in his death taking much longer and being far more painful than was usually the case. Time and again Dirk cried out to God for release. Finally one of the judges could not bear to see him suffer any longer and ordered one of the guards to end his torment with a quick death.

How many Anabaptists died during the sixteenth century persecution in Europe? No one knows for sure. What is certain is that at least 1,500 were cruelly tortured and killed, for the crime of wanting to decide for themselves when they should be baptized.

Dirk William paid the ultimate price for his dedication to Scripture on May 16, 1569 - 438 years ago this week.

Other events that happened this week.

May 13, 1963 - Death of A.W. Tozer, Christian and Missionary Alliance pastor and author of The Pursuit of God and The Knowledge of the Holy.

May 14, 1572 - Gregory XIII, who reformed the Julian calendar bringing into usage the calendar used today and was subsequently named for him, is raised to the papacy.

May 15, 1984 - Presbyterian evangelical Francis A. Schaeffer passes away in Rochester, Minnesota. Schaeffer was the author of many books, and founder of the L'Abri (the Shelter) community in Switzerland.

May 17, 1844 - German biblical scholar Julius Wellhausen is born. His controversial theory about the Pentateuch—that it is a compilation of four literary sources (J, Jahwist; E, Elohist; D, Deuteronomist; and P, Priestly Editor), laid the foundation for most subsequent Old Testament criticism.

May 18, 1920 - Karol Wojtyla (who would take the name John Paul II when elected pope) is born in Wadowice, Poland.

May 19, 1971 - The musical Godspell, based on Matthew's gospel, opens at the Cherry Lane Theater in New York.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

One Spring day on the Salisbury Plain

Week 19 - May 6-12
- The Battle of the Bulge
- Vimy Ridge
- Defeat of the Spanish Armada
- Waterloo
- Gettysburg

The history of war and the history of mankind are inseparable. The battles listed above are turning points not just in the wars of which they are a part, but also in the course of human events. I’d like to tell you about another such pivotal battle. One you probably haven’t heard of. I’d like to tell you about... Ethandun.

Danes (Vikings) had been attacking the British Isles for many years. One by one the individual kingdoms that would one day be united under the same flag fell to Danish control; Northumbria, East Anglia, Mercia. By 877 only the kingdom of Wessex resisted the invaders. The Viking king, Guthrum, had sworn on oath of peace the year before, but in a surprise attack that winter drove the king of Wessex, Alfred, from his throne. The other Saxon nobles and kings had f
led overseas, and Guthrum assumed that Alfred would follow the same course.

Alfred however, was not like other nobles. He was not about to give up his kingdom so easily. He went into hiding on the Isle of Athelney in Somerset until the spring of 878. At that point he sent out messengers, summoning the Anglo-Saxons to a place known as Egbert's Stone. The thanes responded, rejoicing to learn that their king had not abandoned them. The army then spent a night at Iley Oak, deep in wooded country, a spot now called Robin Hood's Bower. (Sorry! I haven't the foggiest idea why it's named after Robin Hood, though the name certainly has some implications).

According to the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle about 4,000 men marched from Egbert’s stone. Only a small minority of the army would have been professional soldiers. The majority would have been made up of land owners, those that owed money to the land owners, and those who rented land from the land owners.

Guthum found out about the approaching force, and mobilized his army t
o meet them. When Alfred found the Viking army, it was occupying the high ground at Ethandun (Edington). Alfred would have approached from the south east across Salisbury Plain. What Alfred’s troops lacked in experience they made up in numbers. Guthrum and his professional soldiers were driven off the field of battle. He fled to his fortress at Reading. A few days later he surrendered. Alfred had sufficient arms and men to destroy his enemy once and for all.

But he didn’t. Instead, he negotiated another peace. Once again we turn to the Anglo Saxon Chronicle, “Then the raiding army granted him (Alfred) hostages and great oaths that they would leave his kingdom and also promised him that their king (Guthrum) would receive baptism; and they fulfilled it. And three weeks later the king Guthrum came to him, one of thirty of the most honourable men who were in the raiding army, at Aller- and that is near Athelney- and the king received him at baptism; and his chrism losing was at Wedmore.

Guthrum was baptized with the name Aethelstan and spent the next twelve days being taught by Alfred what it meant to be a Christian. His catechism completed he was allowed to return home with the remainder of his men. Except for one brief (and unsuccessful) raid prompted by Danish nobles back home, Guthrum kept the new peace.

Alfred himself became the only English king called "Great." In order to ensure the security of his expanding kingdom, he built a navy featuring a new ship design, created a system of forts allowing a permanent standing army while protecting the populace at home, brought the previously mentioned kingdoms and W
ales under Saxon authority, and revised a number of laws, building on Biblical teachings.

Alfred the Great is sometimes called the "father of the English langua
ge." Constant war had disrupted learning in England. Alfred reformed learning among his subjects by changing from Latin to the early English language. Scholars were in such short supply so he imported them. He himself spearheaded the drive to translate psalms, Gregory's Pastoral Care, Orosius' Geography, Boethius' Consolation of Philosophy, and several other works into the language of England.

The Battle of Ethandun, which turned the tide of history preserving Christianity and promoting its values as part of Alfred’s sweeping reforms happened on May 6, 878 — 1,129 years ago this week.

Other events that happened this week.

May 7, 1274 - The Second Council of Lyons convenes with the goal of reunifying the Roman and Greek churches. Orthodox delegates agreed to recognize the papal claims and recite the Creed with the"from the son" clause added, but the union was fiercely rejected by the majority of Orthodox clergy and laity fiercely rejected the union.

May 8, 1559 - The Act of Uniformity receives Queen Elizabeth I's royal assent, reinstating the forms of worship Henry VIII had ordered and mandating the use of the Book of Common Prayer (1552).

May 9, 1983 - Pope John Paul II reverses the Catholic Church's 1633 condemnation of Galileo Galilei's Copernican heliocentric (sun-centered) theory of the universe.

May 10, 1310 - In Paris, 54 Knights Templar are burned alive. The catholic church created the Templars to protect Holy Land pilgrims from bandits, but the knights' quick rise in power and wealth made them unpopular. Philip the Fair (?) of France trumped up charges of blasphemy and homosexuality
against them to convince Pope Clement to disband the order and persecute its members.

May 11, 1610 - Death of Jesuit missionary Matteo Ricci, the first Catholic missionary to China. Entering the country as a clockmaker, Ricci was criticized for embracing the teachings of Confucius scholar and allowing ancestor "worship." Ricci did not gain many converts but among the few were a number of influential Chinese families.

May 12, 1792 - Father of Modern Missions William Carey publishes his highly influential book on the importance of evangelism. Carey was a innovative missionary but could have used an assist on the title of the book - " An Enquiry into the Obligations of Christians, to use means for the Conversion of the Heathens in which the Religious State of the Different Nations of the World, the Success of Former Undertakings, and the practicability of Further Undertakings, are Considered."

Friday, May 11, 2007

Something's Been Eating at Caesar

Week 18: April 29- May 4

Sometimes it's hard to decide which event in a week to write about. Other times the subject justs jumps out at you and says, "Here I am! Write about me!" This week it's the latter, and it's a double-header.

Galerius was born about AD 250 in a little village near Florentiana in Upper Moesia. His father was a simple peasant and his mother came from beyond the Danube. At first it appears he worked as a herdsman, a man of violent character, fond of pleasure and politically insignificant; but then he joined the army and proved to be an efficient soldier, then a loyal officer devoted to Emperor Diocletian.

In 293 Diocletian divided the empire into a tetrarchy, that is he created four lesser empires and assigned his best and most trusted confidants to serve a junior Caesars. Galerius, together with Constantius Chlorus, was chosen from the senior military leaders. He took the name Gaius Valerius Maximianus and was entrusted with rule of the powerful Balkan provinces, Pannonia, Moesia and Thraciae and the Diocese of Asiana in Asia Minor (Turkey).

Galerius' tenure as junior Caesar had its ups and downs (he suffered an embarrass
ing defeat at the hands of the Persians but managed to exact his revenge a few years later) but over all his power and influence grew. So much in fact, that most historians ascribe the four edicts against the Christians published after 303 by Diocletian, who was himself a strong believer in the heathen superstitions.

Much points toward Galerius in this respect. His mother Romula was said to have been a fanatical paganist. Having grown up under the influence of such religious zealotry, it is well possible that Galerius's feelings should have been very hostile toward other religions.

The Christians had been gaining converts at ever increasing rates, both among the soldiers and the civil officials. Magnificent churches were being erected in the large cities, and the time seemed not far distant when the new religion would become more popular than the old. Christianity therefore, had to go; believers needed to be rooted out, the Holy Scriptures must be abolished, the churches destroyed, and the cemeteries confiscated.

The edicts, ever increasing in severity, were enforced much more strictly in the East where Galerius was in command than in the West. It was in the East that the decisive struggle between paganism and Christianity was fought out. When Diocletian voluntarily abandoned the imperial throne at Nicomedia in May, 305, he named Galerius his successor. The latter thenceforth passed most of his time in Illyricum.

Galerius himself is believed to have issued an edict in 304 requiring everyone in the empire to sacrifice to the gods of the empire on pain of death or forced labor; hundreds of Christians executed. When Diocletian abdicated, Galerius became senior emperor in 305. He didn't let up, in fact his persecution became even more widespread. However, Christianity simply would not go away. Eventually even Galerius began to suspect it would be impossible to snuff out the illegal religion.

Then in the year 311 he became ill. A Christian writer named Lactantius said that Galerius' flesh began to rot away and was eaten by maggots while he writhed in agony. Some members of Galerius' household claimed the emperor connected his illness with the persecution of the Christians. He seems to have seen his illness as a judgment from the Christian God. Whether or not this is true we will likely never know for sure. At any rate, he issued an edict which mentioned only Christians.

The edict began by justifying his previous edits. "Amongst our other measures for the advantage of the Empire, we have hitherto endeavored to bring all things into conformity with the ancient laws and public order of the Romans. We have been especially anxious that even the Christians, who have abandoned the religion of their ancestors, should return to reason."

Noting that some of the Christians had betrayed their faith out of fear while others endured torture, Galerius for some inexplicable reason also declared, "we, with our wonted clemency, have judged it wise to extend a pardon even to these men and permit them once more to become Christians and reestablish their places of meeting..."

In a final attempt to hedge his chances Galerius added, " should be the duty of the Christians, in view of our clemency [mercy], to pray to their god for our welfare, for that of the Empire, and for their own, so that the Empire may remain intact in all its parts, and that they themselves may live safely in their habitations."

Galerius wanted the Christian's to intercede on his behalf. Reminds me of Pharoah aand Moses (Exodus 8:28) Did he hope for a miracle? If so, he was disappointed. He died a week after issuing the edict.

His successor, Emperor Maximinus, tried to counteract the edict but did not succeed to any great extent in his short rule. The Great Persecution of Christians had ended.

Now... why do I call this a double-header? Because both the fourth and final edit ordering the persecution of the Christians in 304, and the issuing of the edit that ended the persecution in 311 went out from Galerius on April 30 exactly seven years apart; 1,703 and 1696 years ago this week.

Other events that happened this week.

April 29, 1429 - Joan of Arc, who had experienced mystical visions and voices since childhood, enters the besieged French city of Orleans to lead a victory over the English. The next day, the English retreated, but, because it was a Sunday, Joan refused to allow any pursuit. On a sortie the next year, The English captured Joan and put her on trial for heresy.

May 1, 1873 - Missionary-explorer David Livingstone dies. Responsible for "opening up" central Africa and for popularizing missions to that continent, Livingstone himself only made one convert—who later backslid. Still, he is widely considered one of Christianity's missionary heroes.

May 2, 373 - Church father Athanasius, "the father of Orthodoxy," dies. He attended the Council of Nicea, and after becoming bishop of Alexandria, he fought Arianism and won. He was also the first to list the New Testament canonical books as we know them today.

May 3, 1675 - A Massachusetts law goes into effect requiring church doors to be locked during services. Officials enacted the law because too many people were leaving before sermons were over.

May 4, 1873 - Father Damien enters the Leper Colony on Molokai Island, Hawaii to minister to the population there. Ignored by everyone, the residents of the colony lived what Damien described as "the most retched existence imaginable." For the next twelve years he devoted himself to reforming conditions on the island and bringing the souls of the residents to salvation. His mission ended when he contracted the disease himself. He died four years later. His unselfish devotion inspired many others around the world who continue his work to this day.