The biblical Christmas narratives in Matthew 1-2 and Luke 1-2 show that the birth of the Lord Jesus Christ was revealed to various types of people – a young carpenter and his fiancé, an aging priest and his wife, common shepherds, wealthy and learned foreign magi, as well as two faithful senior saints eagerly awaiting the coming of Messiah.

The Angel and the ShepherdsWhen an angel of the Lord announced the birth of the Savior to the shepherds he proclaimed: “I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; He is Christ the Lord.” This is good news of great joy for all the people because Jesus came to be the Savior of all types and classes of people. All who believe and receive Him as their Savior and Lord, regardless of their age or social status, are rescued from the penalty and power of sin and receive God’s gifts of forgiveness and eternal life.

A Ragpicker

A Ragpicker

This truth is beautifully illustrated through a remarkable event in the ministry of G. Campbell Morgan (1863-1945). Morgan, who has been called “the prince of Bible expositors,” twice pastored the prestigious Westminster Chapel in London. He once was conducting a series of evangelistic meetings in one of the Midlands towns of England when a poor ragpicker came into the inquiry room after the preaching service. According to Morgan the man had “grown hoary in the service of sin and Satan.” Morgan knelt by the ragpicker and used the Word of God to lead him to the Savior.

Presently someone touched Morgan’s shoulder and asked him to speak with another man who had come into the place of prayer seeking spiritual guidance. This second individual turned out to be the mayor of the town, and Morgan similarly pointed him to Jesus as his Savior.

G. Campbell Morgan as an older man

G. Campbell Morgan as an older man

After the mayor finished praying, he stood and went over to the ragpicker. Just a few weeks before the mayor had sentenced the ragpicker to a month of hard labor for one of his repeated infractions of the law. Now the mayor stated, “Well, the last time we met, it was not here.”

“No,” the ragpicker responded, “and we never shall meet where we met last time, thank God!”

Morgan’s comment on this unusual circumstance was that the same Gospel message was sufficient for both men.

This Christmas season may those of us who know Jesus as our Savior overflow with fresh praise and thanksgiving to Him for having come to earth to provide our salvation. If you have not yet done so, may God graciously draw you to place your faith in His Son as your Savior. If I may be of any assistance to you in that matter, please don’t hesitate to contact me.

A blessed and Christ-honoring Christmas to all!

Copyright 2017 by Vance E. Christie

John Calvin

John Calvin

John Calvin is commonly acknowledged as the Reformation’s supreme Bible teacher and the primary systematizer of Reformation theology. He also provides an outstanding example of embracing God’s call on one’s life, even when it involves personal sacrifice to do so, and as a result to be greatly used of the Lord.

Calvin was born on July 10, 1509, in Noyon, France. By age twenty-one he had earned the B.A. and M.A. degrees at the University of Paris. At his father’s wishes, he then studied law at the universities of Orleans and Bourges, earning the B.A. and licentiate in law at the former university. Following his father’s death in 1531, Calvin returned to Paris to study the classics, desiring to pursue the quiet career of a contemplative scholar.

In his early years of study he was “stubbornly tied to the superstitions of the papacy.” But over time he was exposed to early Reformation teachings that had reached France. This led to what he called his “unexpected conversion,” when he came to personally embrace such Protestant tenets as the ultimate authority of Scripture and justification through faith in Christ alone.

Early in 1535, after Protestants in France began to face persecution, Calvin sought refuge in the Protestant city of Basel, Switzerland. There he wrote the first edition of his highly influential work Institutes of the Christian Religion. Over the next twenty-five years Calvin issued several subsequent editions of that volume, expanding it each time. The final edition consisted of eighty chapters. Church historian Bruce Shelley calls Calvin’s Institutes “the clearest, most logical, and most readable exposition of Protestant doctrine that the Reformation age produced.” The work has been translated into numerous languages and continues to be read and studied with benefit to this day.

William Farel

William Farel

During the summer of 1536, at age twenty-seven, Calvin determined to move to Strasbourgh to continue his studies there. While taking a roundabout route in order to skirt a local war, he was providentially brought to Geneva. In recent years a fiery reformer named William Farel had been leading the Protestant cause there. Hearing that the scholarly young author of the Institutes was in town for the night, Farel went to convince him to stay on in Geneva to help out with the Reformation there. When Calvin demurred, Farel pronounced a divine curse on his intended life of quiet studies if he would not stay to help them with the Lord’s work there! Stunned and convicted, Calvin agreed to remain.

The city council offered Calvin a position as “Professor of Sacred Scriptures,” and he earnestly took up his new responsibilities. He prepared a confession of faith to be accepted by anyone who wished to be a citizen, promoted daily gatherings for psalm singing and expository preaching, and called for an autonomous church court for censuring or, if necessary, excommunicating (usually by exclusion from the Lord’s Supper) delinquent members.

Not surprisingly, influential families in Geneva’s high society (who ominously called themselves Libertines) opposed Calvin’s strict standards. In 1538 the city magistrates refused to accept Calvin’s contention that church leaders should be granted the authority to excommunicate unrepentant church members. Calvin was ordered to leave Geneva, and Farel chose to go with him, thus showing his support for his highly-capable young colleague.

Idelette Calvin, John Calvin's wife

Idelette Calvin, John Calvin’s wife

Calvin was able at last to make his way to Strasbourg. There he spent what may have been the three happiest years of his life. Martin Bucer, the highly respected and influential leader of the Reformation in Strasbourg, asked Calvin to pastor the French congregation that had formed there. Calvin produced a French liturgy and translated several Psalms and hymns into French for singing by the French exiles.

In 1540 Calvin married Idelette de Bure, a widow with two children. They were happily married, though only for nine years, as Idellete died of illness in 1549. Calvin called her “the best friend of my life.”

By 1541 Calvin’s supporters had again regained power in Geneva. They urged him to return to once again lead the Reformation there. Doubtless with a significant degree of trepidation he agreed to do so. [To be continued in a future Perspective.]

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Sources used: The Story of Christianity, The Early Church to the Present Day, Justo L. Gonzalez (Prince/Hendrickson, 2005), Vol. 2, pp. 61-69; Church History in Plain Language, Bruce L. Shelley (Word, 1982), pp. 274-281; Great Leaders of the Christian Church, John D. Woodbridge, Ed., “John Calvin,” James I. Packer (Moody, 1988), pp. 206-215.

Copyright 2017 by Vance E. Christie

Martin Luther is most remembered for two of his emphases which played a key role in igniting the Protestant Reformation: (1) his outspoken opposition to corruption within the professing Christian Church, signified by his nailing his “95 Theses” to the Castle Church door in Wittenberg, Germany; (2) his pronounced promotion of the Bible’s teaching of salvation through faith in Jesus Christ rather than by one’s own good works. Luther’s later contributions to the Reformation in its ongoing developmental stages are less well known and will be the focus of this Perspective.

Artist's depiction of Martin Luther at the Diet of Worms

Artist’s depiction of Martin Luther at the Diet of Worms

Due to Luther’s rejection of a number of Catholic Church doctrines and practices, Pope Leo X excommunicated him in January, 1521. Three months later, in response to an official summons, Luther appeared before Charles V, Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire, at the imperial diet (assembly) in Worms, Germany. There Luther was denied the opportunity to defend his teachings and was ordered to recant of his errors. His reported response to the assembly was, “My conscience is captive to the Word of God. I will not recant anything, for to go against conscience is neither honest nor safe. Here I stand, I cannot do otherwise. God help me. Amen.”

He was allowed to leave Worms, and on the way back to Wittenberg was intercepted by a group of men who had been sent by Prince Frederick, the Elector of Saxony and a supporter as well as protector of Luther. Luther was secretly taken to the castle of Wartburg so he would be safe from his enemies. While there he was declared an outlaw. Luther spent eleven months at Wartburg, in which time he worked on translating the Bible from Greek and Hebrew into German. That translation, which he completed in 1534, was one of Luther’s grand contributions to the Reformation in Germany. The translation would have a marked and abiding influence on the German church similar to that which the King James Version of the Bible had in English.

Wartburg Castle

Wartburg Castle

While Luther was away from Wittenberg, one of his fellow reformers, Andreas von Karlstadt, took the lead in introducing the first changes into worship services by simplifying the service, translating it into German and removing images from the churches. The changes had much popular support but also started producing some social unrest. Upon returning to Wittenberg in 1522, Luther actually slowed the pace of those reforms, fearing they placed too much emphasis on secondary external matters while diverting attention from the primary spiritual focus of the Gospel. Luther, however, did abolish the office of bishop since he found no warrant for it in Scripture.

Artist's depiction of a peasants revolt

Artist’s depiction of a peasants revolt

Three years later the demands of peasants for more rights led them into armed conflict with the nobles. The Peasants’ Revolt spread to about one-third of Germany. While Luther initially thought the peasants had some legitimate complaints, he strongly opposed their insurrection as posing an imminent danger to society. He was deeply concerned that the peasants had misconstrued the evangelical message to justify their cause and that opponents of the Reformation would blame it for the unrest. He wrote forcefully against the revolt which ended up being brutally suppressed by the nobles, with as many as 100,000 peasants being killed. As a result, many peasants turned away from Luther, returning to the Catholic Church or joining more radical forms of the Reformation.

Martin & Katherine (Katie) Luther

Martin & Katherine (Katie) Luther

An altogether happier development in Luther’s life that same year, 1525, was his marriage, at age 41, to Katherine von Bora, a former nun. Like Luther, many former priests who became reformers married and had families, promoting those as healthy and biblical practices. That was done in marked contrast to the mandatory celibacy of Catholic priests and the sexual transgressions it all too commonly produced. Martin and Katie’s marriage came to be filled with mutual love and devotion, and they had six children.

1525 was also when Luther wrote what he considered his most important theological treatise, On the Bondage of the Will. It was written in response to a work entitled On the Freedom of the Will which Desiderius Erasmus, the leading Renaissance humanist and Catholic scholar of the day, had published the previous year as an attack on one aspect of Luther’s theology. Luther’s treatise argued that man’s will is so utterly enslaved to sin that he cannot exercise his will to choose salvation. Instead, salvation is exclusively by God’s grace. Only by God’s action in predestining, calling and converting a person can he or she be saved. As a result of this exchange between Luther and Erasmus, many humanists stopped supporting Luther. But other humanists redirected their studies from literature to the Scriptures and became ministers.

Desiderius Erasmus, Catholic Scholar and Renaissance Humanist

Desiderius Erasmus, Catholic Scholar and Renaissance Humanist

From 1527 to 1529 Luther devoted much time and attention to a controversy he had over the Lord’s Supper with Ulrich Zwingli, leader of the Reformation effort in Switzerland. Luther held to what came to be known as “sacramental union” (many Lutherans prefer that term to “consubstantiation”), the belief that in communion the body and blood of Christ are actually present with the bread and cup. Zwingli, by contrast, held to a memorial view of communion, that the bread and cup merely symbolize the body and blood of Christ. Luther and Zwingli were unable to reach a consensus, with the result that the Lutheran and Reformed branches of Protestantism have remained divided on the communion issue to this day.

At the Diet of Speyer in 1526 the princes of Saxony decided that, as a temporary solution to their religious divisions, each prince would determine the religious practice of his own territory. In the subsequent 1529 Diet of Speyer the Roman Catholic majority declared there would be no further changes. Furthermore, while Protestant worship would not be tolerated in Roman Catholic territories, Roman Catholic worship had to be tolerated in Protestant territories. The evangelical princes protested those rulings, and from that protest came the designation “Protestant.”

Artist's depiction of Martin Luther with his wife and children

Artist’s depiction of Martin Luther with his wife and children

In 1530 Emperor Charles V returned to Germany for the first time since 1521. He called for the evangelical princes to present a confession justifying their faith. Luther, who was still considered an outlaw, could not attend the Diet at Augsburg. So Luther’s faithful ministry associate, Philip Melanchthon, went in his stead. After consulting with Luther, Melanchthon drew up the Augsburg Confession, an irenic but clear presentation of the basics of Luther’s theology. It has remained the basic confession of Lutheranism to the present day. Charles V rejected the confession, and the threat of war between Catholics and Protestants in Germany became real. Such war did not actually ensue, however, until a few months after Luther’s death in 1546.

Luther was far from a perfect individual. His forceful temperament sometimes led him to deal much too harshly with those who did not share his Christian convictions. He vehemently opposed not only Catholics who opposed evangelicals, but also Jews for their rejection of Christianity, and even Anabaptists whom he viewed as unhealthy extremists in the Reformation movement. Luther reportedly grew more irritable as he aged. That likely was due in part to various illnesses and bouts of depression he suffered in his later years.

Despite his ailments and personal shortcomings, Luther remained active and fruitful in ministry to the end of his life. He continued preaching regularly and teaching at the University of Wittenberg. He wrote on various theological topics and published major commentaries on Galatians and Genesis. He was an advisor to princes, pastors and students. He died peacefully of natural causes in Eisleben (the town of his birth) on February 18, 1546, at age 63. His significant influence on not only Lutheranism but also evangelical Protestantism as a whole continues to this day.

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Sources consulted: Church History in Plain Language, Bruce L. Shelley (Word, 1982), pp. 255-264; Great Leaders of the Christian Church, John D. Woodbridge, Ed., “Martin Luther,” W. Robert Godfrey (Moody, 1988), pp. 187-196.

Copyright 2017 by Vance E. Christie

 

 

Martin LutherOctober, 2017, marks the 500th anniversary of the igniting of what became known as the Protestant Reformation. Martin Luther is generally considered the father of the Reformation. Luther’s nailing his “95 Theses” to the Castle Church door in Wittenberg, Germany, on October 31, 1517, is commonly cited as the event that sparked reformation fires. While there had been other reformers and reformation efforts before Luther, he certainly was the leading human instrument in the much fuller reformation movement that God brought about in Luther’s era.

Martin Luther was born on November 10, 1483, in Eisleben, Saxony (part of modern east Germany). He studied at the University of Erfurt, earning the Bachelor of Arts degree in 1502 and the Master of Arts degree in 1505. He then began to study law in keeping with his father’s wishes. But when caught in a severe thunderstorm on July 2, 1505, Luther feared for his life and cried out, “St. Anne, I will become a monk!”

Thus bound by an oath to his father’s patron saint, Luther joined the Augustinian monastery in Erfurt where he practiced strictest discipline in devoting himself to study, prayer and the use of the sacraments. In rigorously employing the sacrament of penance he constantly and closely scrutinized himself for transgressions, sorrowed over his sins, confessed them to a priest and fulfilled whatever recompense was imposed on him. He sought to discipline and even punish himself with prolonged periods of prayer and fasting as well as through sleepless nights and physical self-flagellations.

Luther’s wise superior, Johannes von Staupitz, recognizing the young monk’s tremendous intellectual abilities, encouraged him away from excessive introspection and into the fuller pursuit of his studies. Luther learned Greek and Hebrew and eventually committed most of the New Testament and large portions of the Old Testament to memory. He was ordained a priest in 1507, taught at the universities of Wittenberg and Erfurt 1508-1511, and received his doctoral degree in 1512. That latter year he returned to the University of Wittenberg as a professor. There he carried out his lectures on the Bible, teaching through the Psalms (1513-1515), Romans (1515-1516), Galatians (1516-1517) and Hebrews (1517-1518). Those books of Scripture were foundational in shaping his theological understanding.

Luther experienced his Christian conversion around 1515, through his contemplation of Romans 1:17, which declares of the Gospel: “For therein is the righteousness of God revealed from faith to faith: as it is written, The just shall live by faith.” Luther came to understand the Gospel (good news) is that God reckons the perfect righteousness of Christ to sinners who receive it by faith. Faith in Christ and His atoning sacrifice on the cross alone leads to being justified (declared righteous) in the sight of God. This, Luther realized, clashed sharply with the Catholic Church’s elaborate system of sacraments, rituals and other good works by which people hoped to earn their salvation.

In 1517 Luther began publicly preaching against abuses in the sale of indulgences, which had been a favored source of papal income for centuries. People were told that by purchasing indulgences they were exempted from acts of penance over their sins. Indulgences could be purchased for the forgiveness of one’s own sins or for people in purgatory. A Dominican priest named John Tetzel was then preaching throughout much of Germany, to raise funds for the Pope to complete the construction of St. Peter’s basilica in Rome. “As soon as the coin in the coffer rings,” Tetzel claimed, “the soul from purgatory springs.”

Artist's depiction of Martin Luther nailing his 95 Theses to the Wittenberg church door

Artist’s depiction of Martin Luther nailing his 95 Theses to the Wittenberg church door

On October 31 of that year, Luther nailed his 95 Theses, also entitled Disputation on the Power and Efficacy of Indulgences, to the Wittenberg church door. That was a traditional way in those days of inviting the academic community to discuss an issue. Others realized the great importance of Luther’s 95 Theses and, without his permission, translated them from Latin (the language commonly used by scholars) into German, then published them.

Luther was soon denounced by the Dominicans and a Vatican theologian as a teacher of dangerous doctrines and guilty of heresy. In July, 1519, Luther was involved in an eighteen-day debate with prominent Catholic theologian John Eck at Leipzig. During the course of that debate Luther publicly declared that the Bible alone, not popes or councils, was invariably true and reliable. “A council may sometimes err,” he stated. “Neither the Church nor the Pope can establish articles of faith. These must come from Scripture.” Eck recommended to Rome that Luther be condemned as a heretic.

Artist's depiction of Martin Luther burning the papal bull that condemned his teachings

Artist’s depiction of Martin Luther burning the papal bull that condemned his teachings

Nearly a year later, in June, 1520, Pope Leo X issued a bull (named after the seal – bulla – on the official document) in which forty-one of Luther’s beliefs were condemned as heretical, false and repugnant to Catholic truth. Luther was called to recant of his teachings under threat of excommunication. He received his copy of the papal bull on October 10. At the end his sixty-day grace period, Luther led a throng of students and other supporters outside Wittenberg where he burned copies of the Canon Law, the works of some medieval theologians and a copy of the bull that condemned him.

During the last five months of that same year, 1520, Luther also produced three of his most influential treatises: (1) His Address to the German Nobility appealed to secular princes to call a council to implement reforms that were needed in the Church. He thought such a necessary, corrective council would otherwise never be convened and appropriately carried out due to the corrupt clergy and the vested interests of the princes of the church.

The 95 Theses Wittenberg church door today

The 95 Theses Wittenberg church door today

(2) Luther’s The Babylonian Captivity of the Church examined the seven sacraments of the Catholic Church and concluded that only baptism and the Lord’s Supper were true, biblical sacraments. Luther rejected the Catholic teaching of transubstantiation (that the bread and cup became the actual body and blood of Christ during communion) as well as the doctrine of eucharistic sacrifice (that in communion the priest offered Christ as a propitiation to the Father on the altar). That treatise also promoted the concept of the priesthood of all believers – that all true believers can approach God through Christ and present spiritual sacrifices to Him, rather than relegating such access and service only to Catholic priests.

(3) Luther’s On the Freedom of the Christian Man taught that the inner spiritual freedom that comes through faith in Christ results in outward good deeds on the part of all true believers. True Christians lovingly serve the Lord and their fellow human beings, not to try to earn anything from God, but to seek to please Him in all things. Man needs the law to learn of his moral helplessness and to be led to repentance. But the Gospel is the free promise of grace in Christ and is received through faith in Him rather than by one’s own good works.

In January of the following year, 1521, Luther was excommunicated by the Pope as a heretic. Two months later he was summoned to appear before the emperor Charles V at the imperial diet (assembly) meeting at Worms. Luther was promised a safe conduct, guaranteeing that he could travel safely to and from Worms. He well recalled the similar imperial safe conduct promised to John Hus that was not ultimately honored at Constance, resulting in Hus’s arrest, imprisonment and burning at the stake as a supposed heretic. Despite the possibility of that same fate befalling him, Luther set out for the imperial diet at Worms.

[To be continued in my next Perspective]

Martin Luther quote

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Sources consulted: Church History in Plain Language, Bruce L. Shelley (Word, 1982), pp. 255-264; Great Leaders of the Christian Church, John D. Woodbridge, Ed., “Martin Luther,” W. Robert Godfrey (Moody, 1988), pp. 187-196.

Copyright 2017 by Vance E. Christie

John Hus(This Perspective is the second in a short series of mini-biographies on several key leaders in what became known as the Protestant Reformation. This year marks the 500th anniversary of the Reformation, a tremendously significant period in history when God graciously brought about the restoration of sound biblical beliefs and practices to Christ’s universal Church.)

 John Hus, like John Wycliffe, ministered and died more than a century before the Protestant Reformation officially got underway. Wycliffe and Hus were the two most prominent and influential individuals in paving the way for the Reformation that followed their lifetimes. Hus (also commonly spelled Huss) helped lay the foundation for the Reformation through his courageous proclamation of the truth, even when doing so cost him his life.

John Hus was born around 1372 of poor parents in Bohemia (part of modern Czech Republic). He was educated at the University of Prague, where he earned the Bachelor of Arts degree (1393), the Master of Arts (1396) and the Bachelor of Divinity (another master-level degree, 1404). He was ordained in 1400 and two years later was appointed as rector and preacher at Bethlehem Chapel in Prague. That chapel had been founded a decade earlier as a center for reform preaching. So Hus was placed in a key position within the reform movement taking place in Bohemia at that time.

John Hus monument in Old Town Square in Prague

John Hus monument in Old Town Square in Prague

Since the marriage of England’s King Richard II and Anne of Bohemia in 1382, there had been close ties between their two countries. John Wycliffe’s earlier philosophical writings and his later, more-radical theological works made their way from England to the University of Prague, where they were discussed and debated. Hus, like most Bohemian reformers, rejected Wycliffe’s attacks on transubstantiation, but he readily agreed with his strong disapproval of clerical corruption. Hus especially opposed simony – the buying or selling of ecclesiastical privileges, such as pardons from sin or benefices (appointments to salaried positions within the church). Hus also accepted Wycliffe’s teaching on the Church that opened the door (1) to rejecting the authority of sinful church leaders and (2) to appealing to the authority of Scripture over that of the institutional church.

In 1409 Hus was selected to be the rector of the University of Prague. But the Archbishop of Prague, who opposed some of Hus’s views and wished to silence him, obtained from the pope a ban on preaching in chapels, including the Bethlehem Chapel. Hus refused to obey, so was excommunicated by the archbishop in 1410. When the archbishop burned 200 volumes of Wycliffe’s works that same year, Hus and others defended Wycliffe’s orthodoxy.

Two years later Pope John XXII launched a crusade against the king of Naples and offered full remission of sins to all who supported him. Hus attacked the pope’s selling of indulgences. As a result, Hus was excommunicated by Rome, and the city of Prague was placed under an interdict so long as Hus remained there. No religious services, including baptisms and funerals, could take place while he was still in the city. Under those circumstances, Hus felt compelled to leave Prague. He moved to southern Bohemia, where he wrote two of his most important works on The Church and Simony.

In 1414 the Council of Constance met in Germany to seek to heal some of the long-standing divisions within the Roman Catholic Church. Emperor Sigismund of Germany invited Hus to participate and promised him safe conduct to and from the council, even if some tried to bring a case against him. With considerable hesitation Hus decided to attend, but he was arrested and imprisoned in Constance. The council put him on trial and convicted him of heresy, though many of the charges brought against him were untrue. (This was the same council that condemned Wycliffe, posthumously, of having been a heretic.)

Hus was repeatedly invited to recant of his supposed heresies and thus avoid execution by burning at the stake. He steadfastly responded that he was willing to yield himself to the teaching of the church when instructed by Scripture in what way his teaching was wrong.

During his eight-month imprisonment in Constance, Hus prayed: “O most holy Christ, draw me, weak as I am, after Thyself. For if Thou dost not draw us, we cannot follow Thee. Strengthen my spirit, that it may be willing. If the flesh is weak, let Thy grace precede us; come between and follow, for without Thee we cannot go for Thy sake to cruel death. Give me a fearless heart, a right faith, a firm hope, a perfect love, that for Thy sake I may lay down my life with patience and joy. Amen.”

Artist's depiction of John Hus's burning at the stake

Artist’s depiction of John Hus’s burning at the stake

On the day of his execution – July 6, 1415 – Hus was taken to the cathedral at Constance, where he was dressed in, then stripped of, his priestly garments. His head was shaved, and a paper crown decorated with images of demons was placed upon it. While being led to the stake, Hus passed through a churchyard and saw copies of his books being burned. He laughed and told the bystanders not to believe the lies being circulated about him.

At the place of execution, as they tied him to the stake, Hus prayed aloud: ‘Lord Jesus, it is for Thee that I patiently endure this cruel death. I pray Thee to have mercy on my enemies.” When given one final opportunity to recant, Hus responded: “God is my witness that the evidence against me is false. I have never thought nor preached except with the one intention of winning men, if possible, from their sins. In the truth of the Gospel I have written, taught, and preached. Today I will gladly die.” He was heard quoting from the Psalms until the flames, rising up around him, extinguished his earthly life. Afterwards his executioners gathered his ashes and threw them into the nearby lake.

Nearly all Bohemians were indignant and repudiated the Council of Constance for this travesty in condemning and executing Hus. Several different groups, including members of the nobility, bourgeoisie and lower class, came together in their continued demands for reform in the church. On several occasions during the next fifteen or so years, Bohemian forces successfully repelled a number of crusades that the pope brought against the Hussites. Many Bohemians left the Catholic Church and eventually formed the Unitas Fratrum (“Union of Brethren”). For a time their numbers grew rapidly in Bohemia and nearby Moravia. During the Protestant Reformation of the sixteenth century, remnant groups of the Unitas Fratrum established ties with both Lutherans and Calvinists.

 

John Hus quotation (birthdate likely inaccurate)

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Sources consulted: The Story of Christianity, The Early Church to the Present Day, Justo L. Gonzalez (Prince/Hendrickson, 2005), Vol. 1, pp.348-53; Church History in Plain Language, Bruce L. Shelley (Word, 1982), pp.248-51; Great Leaders of the Christian Church, John D. Woodbridge, Ed., “John Wyclif,” A. N. S. Lane (Moody, 1988), pp.183-86.

Copyright 2017 by Vance E. Christie

John Wycliffe(This Perspective is a bit longer and denser than my normal postings. But I trust you’ll find it worthwhile to plow through the entire post.)

This year marks the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation. Conferences are being held, sermon series are being preached, a number of books have been published and innumerable blogs are being written to mark this tremendously significant occasion in history—the restoration of sound biblical beliefs and practices to Christ’s universal Church.

In the coming weeks I intend, Lord willing, to share a series of mini-biographies on several of the key leaders of the Reformation. Reading these brief accounts of their lives brings the benefits of (1) gaining a basic understanding of this vital period in Church History, (2) coming to have a deepened appreciation of the priceless Christian heritage that God provided for us in sovereignly bringing about the Reformation, and (3) being encouraged and challenged to make sure that our own Christian beliefs and practices are biblically sound and spiritually vibrant.

John Wycliffe window in Wycliffe Hall, Oxford University

John Wycliffe window in Wycliffe Hall, Oxford University

This first article features John Wycliffe (also commonly spelled Wyclif), who is sometimes called the Morning Star of the Reformation. He lived and died more than a century before the Protestant Reformation took place, but his influential teachings played a significant role in laying the groundwork for some of the reformations that occurred later.

It’s first necessary to briefly (in just two paragraphs! Smile) describe the religious and political setting of the era in which Wycliffe lived. For centuries the Roman Catholic Church and its popes had held unrivaled religious and political power throughout central and western Europe. But in the 1300s seismic shifts took place that began to change that. In the first place, the rise of nation-states and strong monarchies weakened the Church’s and the Pope’s claim to political authority and significantly diminished material revenues given to the Church. In order to supplement flagging revenues, the Church and Pope came up with a variety of questionable and objectionable measures such as instituting new taxes, charging significant fees for church service opportunities, and selling indulgences for the supposed remission of sins.

Secondly, France and England were continually at war throughout the fourteenth century, and other developing countries ended up picking sides in the ongoing conflicts, thus creating further disunity in Europe and the Church. Thirdly, from 1305 to 1377, in what is known as the Babylonian Captivity of the Church, six successive popes, all of French origin, chose to reside in the town of Avignon, near the border of France, rather than in Rome. For both religious and political reasons, many opposed and resented that change of location. Fourthly, the Great Schism of the Papacy took place from 1377 to 1407, in which period two separate successions of Popes, each with its own College of Cardinals, existed in Rome and Avignon, further splintering the Church.

Wycliffe Hall, Oxford University

Wycliffe Hall, Oxford University

John Wycliffe was born in Yorkshire, England, around 1330. Virtually nothing is known about his childhood. He was educated at Oxford University, earning the Master of Arts degree (1361), the Bachelor of Divinity (another master-level degree, about 1369) and the Doctor of Divinity (1372). In addition to studying and teaching at the university throughout those years, he was appointed as the rector of a Lincolnshire church and funded part of his education through that income. As was often done in that era, Wycliffe was actually an absentee rector through much of his career, needing only to provide a substitute to fulfill his pastoral responsibilities. Wycliffe became Oxford’s leading philosopher and theologian.

One of the burning issues of that era was the question of lordship or dominion. All agreed that the right to rule was granted by God. But some thought that only those appointed by the Church had the divine right to exercise such authority, while others believed that secular rulers who had not committed grievous sin were also qualified to govern. Wycliffe supported the latter position and further taught that any leaders, sacred or secular, who persisted in sin should be removed from office. He even went so far as to teach that secular authorities had the responsibility to remove unrepentant churchmen from office, as well as the right to seize the property of corrupt church officials.

Wycliffe's Lutterworth Church

Wycliffe’s Lutterworth Church

These teachings, which were not motivated by political aspirations on Wycliffe’s part, brought him into favor with England’s secular rulers but into disfavor with not a few Church leaders. As a result, in 1377 the Pope condemned Wycliffe’s teachings, and the English Bishops tried to put Wycliffe on trial. But John of Gaunt, the Duke of Lancaster and one of the most powerful people in England, intervened on Wycliffe’s behalf, and he was not brought to trial.

In the years that followed, the early years of the Great Papal Schism, Wycliffe continued to develop and teach other ideas that would have spelled his doom at any earlier time in the Middle Ages. He taught not only that the Bible is free from error or contradiction, but also that it contains the whole of God’s revelation and all that is necessary for salvation. There is no need for further teaching to be supplied by church tradition, the Pope or any other source. And all other authorities (including church tradition, canon law, councils and even popes) must be attested by the Scriptures.

The Wycliffe Bible

The Wycliffe Bible

Wycliffe also taught that the Bible is to be available to all Christians – laypersons and clergy alike. The latter conviction led some of Wycliffe’s followers, likely under his supervision, to translate the Bible into the common language of the English people. That translation, commonly called the Wycliffe Bible, was made from the Latin Vulgate rather than from the original Hebrew and Greek sources.

Concerning the papacy, Wycliffe taught that it was an office instituted by man, not by God. The Pope’s authority is confined to the church rather than extending to secular government. Furthermore, the Pope’s authority depends on his having the moral character of the Apostle Peter in leading a poor and humble life spent in the service of the Church and providing a clear example of Christian goodness. Such teaching implied the rejection of nearly all the recent popes in Wycliffe’s time. At first Wycliffe taught a Pope who does not follow Jesus Christ is the Antichrist. He later declared that the institution of the papacy itself is Antichrist.

Wycliffe challenged a wide range of medieval beliefs and practices: pardons, indulgences, absolutions, pilgrimages, the worship of images, the adoration of the saints and the distinction between venial and mortal sins. He gained the greatest opposition by rejecting the doctrine of transubstantiation, the belief that in Christian Communion the bread and wine (or juice) become the actual body and blood of Christ. Wycliffe believed, rather, that the bread and wine are symbols of Christ’s body and blood, that Christ is present in the communion elements sacramentally but not materially.

John Wycliffe's remains being exhumed, burned and poured in the River Swift

John Wycliffe’s remains being exhumed, burned and poured in the River Swift

Because of such beliefs, Wycliffe was no longer allowed to teach at Oxford beginning in 1382. That same year William Courtenay, the new Archbishop of Canterbury and a longtime opponent of Wycliffe, convened a church council in which a number of Wycliffe’s teachings were condemned as heresy. Wycliffe withdrew to Lutterworth in Leicestershire, where he had been the absentee rector since 1374. There he devoted himself to writing and lived out the final years of his life in peace. After suffering a stroke in December, 1384, he died that New Year’s Eve.

John Wycliffe's preachers, the Lollards

John Wycliffe’s preachers, the Lollards

Wycliffe received a Christian funeral and was buried in consecrated ground of the Church. But in 1414 the Council of Constance condemned him as a heretic. Consequently, his remains were disinterred and burned, and his ashes were thrown into the River Swift.

During his lifetime some of Wycliffe’s disciples went out into country villages and byways to minister to neglected souls there. They carried with them portions of the Wycliffe Bible and helped spread his teachings. They were derogatorily dubbed Lollards, which means “mumblers.” After Wycliffe’s death they were persecuted and became an underground, lower-class movement. But their ongoing influence helped pave the way for and bring about the English Reformation in the 1500s.

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Sources consulted: The Story of Christianity, The Early Church to the Present Day, Justo L. Gonzalez (Prince/Hendrickson, 2005), Vol. 1, pp. 324-48; Church History in Plain Language, Bruce L. Shelley (Word, 1982), pp. 233-48; Great Leaders of the Christian Church, John D. Woodbridge, Ed., “John Wyclif,” A. N. S. Lane (Moody, 1988), pp. 173-77.

Copyright 2017 by Vance E. Christie

Shortly after her release from a German concentration camp Corrie ten Boom started traveling throughout her home country of Holland and then to other countries of the world, sharing her hope-filled message of God’s love, forgiveness, healing and joy even in life’s darkest, most desperate circumstances. For more than three decades she crisscrossed the globe, sharing the Gospel of Christ and her Christian testimony in over sixty countries.

Corrie had a remarkable ability to communicate effectively with all different kinds of people in all varieties of settings. She shared the message of God’s love and salvation with royalty in palaces, government officials in embassies, celebrities at posh social gatherings, intellectuals and students in universities and schools, illiterate local people in their villages, upstanding citizens in service clubs, criminals in prisons, patients in hospitals and beggars on the street. Corrie seemed at ease and effective whether ministering to thousands in a large crusade or church meeting or to a single individual in an airport or restaurant.

While it was rewarding to minister around the world, it certainly was not an easy life. She normally soldiered through the challenges and hardships of itinerant ministry with remarkable willingness and selflessness. But occasionally the difficulties and sacrifices took a toll on her, and she was tempted to give in to self-pity or to give up altogether. Invariably at those times, the Lord brought circumstances into her life that helped her through the discouragements and renewed her determination to carry on in the ministry He had for her.

Once while ministering in Japan Corrie arrived at an evening church service feeling thoroughly sorry for herself. She was very tired and her stomach was upset from the unusual food she had been eating. Corrie longed for a good European meal back in Holland, a table where she would not have to sit cross-legged on the floor and a soft bed rather than the hard mats on which the Japanese slept.

At the church service that night Corrie spotted a bent little man in a wheelchair. His face bore the happiest expression she could imagine. After the service Corrie’s interpreter introduced her to the man. He smiled broadly when she inquired about several small packets wrapped in brown paper and tied with string on his lap.

Carefully unwrapping one of the packages to show Corrie its contents, he explained, “This is the Gospel of John, written in Braille. I have just finished it.” He went on to share that this was the fifteenth time he had written the Gospel of John in Braille. He had also written other Gospels as well as many shorter portions of the Bible for the blind.

“How did you come to do this?” she asked.

The man proceeded to tell Corrie about the Bible women in Japan who travel from village to village, taking copies of the Bible along with Christian books and pamphlets to those who are hungry for God. “Our Bible woman is very ill with tuberculosis,” he said, “but she travels every week to sixteen villages, even though she will soon die.”

“When I heard about it,” he continued, “I asked the Lord what I could do to help her. Although my legs are paralyzed, and I cannot get out of the wheelchair, in many ways I am healthier than she. God showed me that though her hands are shaky and my legs paralyzed, I could be the hands, and she the legs. I punch out the pages of Braille, and she takes the Bible around to the villages and gives them to the blind people, who miss so much because they cannot see.”

Corrie left the church that evening filled with shame. “Here was I,” she later divulged, “with two good legs for traveling all over the world, two good lungs and two good eyes, complaining because I didn’t like the food!”

She also related the valuable lesson she learned through that incident: “These precious people had discovered a sure cure for self-pity – service to others. … The best antidote I know for self-pity is to help someone else who is worse off than you.”

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Women of Faith and Courage by Vance Christie

A fuller account of Corrie ten Boom’s upbringing, early years of ministry, heroic endeavors during World War 2 and fruitful worldwide ministry in the closing decades of her life is provided in my book Women of Faith and Courage (Christian Focus, 2011). Corrie’s inimitable telling of the events of her life is found in her autobiographical works such as The Hiding PlaceTramp for the Lord, and Jesus Is Victor. Carole Carlson’s Corrie ten Boom: Her Life, Her Faith is an excellent one-volume account of Corrie’s life and ministry.

Copyright 2017 by Vance E. Christie

 

Artist's depiction of Corrie and Betsie ten Boom reading God's Word to fellow prisoners

Artist’s depiction of Corrie and Betsie ten Boom reading God’s Word to fellow prisoners

(Parental advisory: Some of the content of this Perspective is unsuitable for young children.)

Corrie ten Boom and her sister Betsie were imprisoned in Ravensbruck, the notorious Nazi women’s concentration camp, during World War 2. Of over 130,000 prisoners incarcerated at Ravensbruck, only 40,000 survived. But the ministry of Corrie and Betsie while there shows the incredible power of God’s Word to bring light and life to the darkest, most-desperate human situations.

At the Ravensbruck processing center for new arrivals each woman had to surrender whatever possessions she had brought to the camp, strip off every scrap of clothes and walk naked past a dozen watchful guards into the shower room. After showering she was given nothing more than a thin prison dress and a pair of shoes to wear. Corrie and Betsie begged a guard to show them the toilets and were tersely ordered to use the drain holes in the shower room. There, behind a stack of old wooden benches piled in a far corner, they hid a compact Bible, a vitamin bottle and a blue sweater they had brought to the prison.

Ravensbruck female prisoners at roll call, in The Hiding Place movie

Ravensbruck female prisoners at roll call, in The Hiding Place movie

After showering and selecting their prison clothes from heaps on the floor just inside the shower room door, Corrie sought to hide their little bundle of precious possessions under her prison dress. She afterward related: “I flattened it out as best I could … but there was no real concealing it beneath the thin cotton dress. And all the while I had the incredible feeling that it didn’t matter, that this was not my business, but God’s. That all I had to do was walk straight ahead.

“As we trooped back out through the shower room door, the S.S. men ran their hands over every prisoner, front, back and sides. The woman ahead of me was searched three times. Behind me, Betsie was searched. No hand touched me. At the exit door to the building was a second ordeal, a line of women guards examining each prisoner again. I slowed down as I reached them but the officer in charge shoved me roughly by the shoulder. ‘Move along! You’re holding up the line!’ And so Betsie and I arrived at Barracks 8 in the small hours of that morning, bringing not only the Bible, but a new knowledge of the power of Him whose story it was.”

Roll call began promptly at 4:30 each morning, was held out in the predawn chill and sometimes lasted for hours. Throughout that time the prisoners were required to stand at parade attention. Immediately next to them were located the punishment barracks. Of the overwhelming nightmarish suffering they observed in those days, Corrie later wrote: “From there [the punishment barracks], all day long and often into the night, came the sounds of hell itself. They were not the sounds of anger, or of any human emotion, but of a cruelty altogether detached: blows landing in regular rhythm, screams keeping pace. We would stand [at role call] in our ten-deep ranks with our hands trembling at our sides, longing to jam them against our ears, to make the sounds stop. …

Corrie ten Boom

Corrie ten Boom

“It grew harder and harder. Even within these four walls [of Barracks 8] there was too much misery, too much seemingly pointless suffering. Every day something else failed to make sense, something else grew too heavy. ‘Will You carry this too, Lord Jesus?’ ”

However, Corrie also testified of a redemptive spiritual reality that God brought about through their ministry of His Word in that blackest of settings: “But as the rest of the world grew stranger, one thing became increasingly clear – and that was the reason the two of us were here. Why others should suffer we were not shown. As for us, from morning until lights-out, whenever we were not in ranks for roll call, our Bible was the center of an ever-widening circle of help and hope. Like waifs clustered around a blazing fire, we gathered about it, holding out our hearts to its warmth and light. The blacker the night around us grew, the brighter and truer and more beautiful burned the Word of God. ‘Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? … Nay, in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him that loved us’ [Romans 8:35, 37].

“I would look about us as Betsie read, watching the light leap from face to face. More than conquerors. … It was not a wish. It was a fact. We knew it, we experienced it minute by minute – poor, hated, hungry. We are more than conquerors. Not ‘we shall be’. We are! Life in Ravensbruck took place on two separate levels, mutually impossible. One, the observable, external life, grew every day more horrible. The other, the life we lived with God, grew daily better, truth upon truth, glory upon glory.”

Betsie gradually weakened and died at Ravensbruck. A short while later, due to a clerical error, Corrie was released. She went on to devote the remainder of her life to sharing and showing the light and hope of God’s Word to benighted, hopeless people around the world.

 

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Women of Faith and Courage by Vance Christie

A fuller account of Corrie ten Boom’s upbringing, early years of ministry, heroic endeavors during World War 2 and fruitful worldwide ministry in the closing decades of her life is provided in my book Women of Faith and Courage (Christian Focus, 2011). Corrie’s inimitable telling of the events of her life is found in her autobiographical works such as The Hiding Place, Tramp for the Lord, and Jesus Is Victor. Carole Carlson’s Corrie ten Boom: Her Life, Her Faith is an excellent one-volume account of Corrie’s life and ministry.

Copyright 2017 by Vance E. Christie

Corrie ten Boom

Corrie ten Boom

Corrie ten Boom (1892-1983) is best known through the book and movie The Hiding Place for the courage, faith and love she and her family members manifested by harboring Jews from Nazis during World War 2 and while being imprisoned in a German concentration camp. But most people know little or nothing about the first half century of Corrie’s life – formative decades filled with active, fruitful service of the Lord and others.

Corrie’s parents, Casper and Cor ten Boom, were devout Dutch Reformed Christians with hearts of warm devotion for the Lord and compassionate concern for the people around them. In addition to raising their four children, Casper and Cor invited three of Cor’s sisters, two spinsters and a widow, to live in their modest home in Haarlem, Holland. Casper struggled to support so many people on his limited income as a watchmaker, but the family was rich in many other ways.

Corrie ten Boom (standing) with her family

Corrie ten Boom (standing) with her family

Every morning and evening without fail, regardless of whatever else was on the family schedule, Casper gathered the entire household for the reading of a chapter of Scripture and prayer. Casper and Cor saw to it that their three daughters received a secondary education while their son achieved both university and seminary degrees. The children were also taught an appreciation for hymns and classical music, with each child learning to sing and play one or more musical instruments. Guests were frequently at the family dinner table, and Mrs. ten Boom was constantly baking a loaf of bread or cooking a pot of porridge to be delivered to some pale young mother or lonesome old man.

In addition to graduating from secondary school, Corrie completed a course of studies at a Bible school in Haarlem. She played a major role in helping to care for family members at home and in assisting her father with his watchmaking business. In an era and a country where young women were not involved in the business world, she went to school in Basel, Switzerland, for two years to learn the watchmaking trade. She eventually became the first licensed woman watchmaker in Holland.

Ten Boom Home and Watchshop in Haarlem, Holland

Ten Boom Home and Watchshop in Haarlem, Holland

As the years passed, Corrie’s mother and three maternal aunts passed away. Corrie’s brother Willem and sister Nollie were both married and established households of their own, while Corrie continued to live in her girlhood home with her father Casper and her sister Betsie. For several months following World War 1, Casper, Corrie and Betsie took into their home a small group of frightened and undernourished German boys and girls. In 1925 the ten Booms took in the son and two daughters of a missionary couple serving in Indonesia. In the years that followed, eleven different foster children stayed in their home, with as many as seven living there at the same time.

Besides working at the watch shop and helping care for the children, Corrie taught Sunday school and Bible classes in the public schools. At the encouragement of a friend, she started a ministry to teen girls. Corrie’s exceptional organizational and leadership abilities were soon manifested. In a short time she recruited forty leaders to work with the large numbers of girls who flocked to her youth club. Club meetings consisted of games, music and a Bible study, while training activities included instrumental music, singing, sewing, handcrafts, folk dancing and gymnastics.

Corrie organized a number of such clubs. Before long a club meeting was being held every night. Girls who desired to learn more about spiritual matters were encouraged to join a confirmation class in one of the local Dutch Reformed congregations.

Corrie Ten Boom as a young lady

Corrie Ten Boom as a young lady

Another ministry that Corrie started up was a Sunday afternoon ‘church’ service for individuals with learning difficulties. If a disabled boy or girl wanted to join one of her clubs, or if a pastor approached her about such a person who was disrupting the normal Sunday service, she invited those individuals to her ‘special’ church. Corrie was burdened to share the Gospel with these people who could not understand a sermon but needed the Savior. She carried out this compassionate ministry for two decades.

A summer camp ministry for members of her various girls’ clubs was another of Corrie’s ventures. Early outings were done with tents while later ones were held at a plain log cabin that had room for about sixty girls. The highlight of each day was the evening campfire when the girls sat around the fire, wrapped in blankets, to sing and listen to Corrie’s meditation. They enjoyed her great sense of humor and her wonderful stories that always had a significant spiritual point.

Corrie’s girls clubs paved the way for the founding of the Girl Guide clubs of Holland, a European equivalent of the Girl Scouts of America. Corrie promoted a definite spiritual emphasis in the Girl Guide organization, believing that girls needed to be won to Christ rather than merely taught to be good citizens.

All too soon the events of World War 2 swirled down upon Holland, and the girls’ clubs were forced to close. The last time Corrie met with her club members, the girls struggled to sing the national anthem through their tears. “Girls, don’t cry,” she encouraged them. “We have had great fun in our clubs, but that wasn’t why we came together. Jesus makes us strong, even in times of war and disaster.”

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Women of Faith and Courage by Vance Christie

A fuller account of Corrie ten Boom’s upbringing, early years of ministry, heroic endeavors during World War 2 and fruitful worldwide ministry in the closing decades of her life is provided in my book Women of Faith and Courage (Christian Focus, 2011). Corrie’s inimitable telling of the events of her life is found in her autobiographical works such as The Hiding Place, Tramp for the Lord, and Jesus Is Victor. Carole Carlson’s Corrie ten Boom: Her Life, Her Faith is an excellent one-volume account of Corrie’s life and ministry.

Copyright 2017 by Vance E. Christie

Stained Glass Church Window of Mary Slessor in Calabar

Stained Glass Church Window of Mary Slessor in Calabar

Mary Slessor (1848-1915), a Scottish Presbyterian, served as a missionary to Calabar (southern Nigeria), West Africa, for thirty-eight years. At that time Calabar was considered one of the deadliest and most degraded countries in all of Africa. While the European slave trade had been largely abolished in Calabar decades earlier, the country’s population continued to be ravaged by intertribal warfare, disease and superstitious pagan practices. Mary compassionately, courageously pioneered in areas of Calabar that other missionaries and even traders avoided.

For the first several years of her missionary career, Mary ministered in two mission settlements, Duke Town and Old Town, on the Calabar River, about forty miles from the coast. She was soon placed in charge of the mission work at Old Town and its three small outstations. In those locations she held regular school sessions for both children and adults during the week, then led worship services and a Sunday School on the Lord’s Day.

One of the horrifying, superstitious practices that Mary and the other missionaries strove to overcome was the custom of killing twin babies. Calabarians believed that the father of one of the twin infants was an evil spirit and that at least one of the twins was a monster. Twin babies were seized, their backs were broken and they were thrown out into the bush to be eaten by wild animals or insects. The infants of slave mothers who died were also left in the wild to perish. The missionaries rescued both those types of endangered infants whenever they could and took them to the missionary compounds where they were cared for and protected.

Mary Slessor and adopted children

Mary Slessor and adopted children

Mary spoke out against the evils of those forms of infanticide and took several such rescued children under her care. At any given time throughout her missionary career she usually had a number of rescued and orphaned children she was foster parenting. At first the people of Calabar viewed this with suspicion, thinking Mary was in league with a devil and expecting to see her suffer ill effects as a result. But in time their superstitious suppositions faded, and she became known everywhere as “the white Ma who loves babies.” (In Calabar and neighboring regions “Ma” was a term of respect for a mother.)

After twelve years of service in Calabar, Mary was granted the longtime desire of her heart when she was given permission to carry out pioneering missionary work in the previously unreached Okoyong region, a densely forested wedge of land between the Cross and Calabar rivers north of Old Town. The Okoyongese practiced witchcraft and animal sacrifice. They plundered property and slaves from neighboring tribes. They commonly used two superstitious trials-by-ordeal to determine a person’s guilt or innocence if suspected of a crime: boiling palm oil was poured over the hands of a suspect or he was required to drink water mixed with ground powder from the poisonous esere bean. As a result, many innocent people were left badly burned or dead. The illness of a freeman was invariably considered the result of someone having practiced sorcery against him. The local witchdoctor was called to supposedly identify the guilty individuals, who were then executed by decapitation. When a chief died, many individuals were put to death to accompany him into the spirit world. Liquor, guns and chains were practically the only items of commerce that entered Okoyong. Gin or rum was in every home and was drunk by every adult and child, beginning from infancy.

Statue of Mary Slessor Holding Twins in Calabar

Statue of Mary Slessor Holding Twins in Calabar

Mary ministered among these desperately needy Okoyongese for many years. Initially she taught school and held Sunday worship services at two substantial neighboring villages, Ekenge and Ifako. She also helped undermine the prevailing and devastating liquor traffic in Okoyong by introducing more beneficial forms of legitimate trade. Okoyongese began giving their time, attention and effort to producing palm kernels and oil to trade with Calabarians in exchange for cloth, pots, dishes and other useful items. In addition to material benefits for the Okoyongese, this trade also resulted in a considerable reduction in the amount of time they spent in useless drinking and fighting.

Eventually the day came when, at Mary’s insistence and for the first time in the known history of Okoyong, the death and funeral of a chief took place without the traditional sacrifice of other individuals to accompany him into the afterlife. Chiefs and other free people, one by one and unknown to each other, secretly came to Mary to thank her for her love and courage as well as for all the peaceful, life-giving policies she was promoting. They encouraged her to keep a brave heart and to continue doing away with the old customs that invariably produced death.

Mary Slessor

Mary Slessor

Mary did continue to manifest marked courage in her dealings with the Okoyongese. On numerous occasions she was seen taking large, drunken mean by the neck, pulling them away from their alcohol and throwing them to the ground! She once stopped and confiscated a canoe-load of machetes that were being taken upriver for use in war. Several times she played a key role in preventing tribes from going to war with each other. On one such occasion she intervened between two tribes that were on the brink of attacking each other. Though her heart was beating wildly, she stood between them and made them pile their rifles on opposite sides of her. With mounds of weapons heaped up over five feet high on both sides, she then negotiated a peaceful settlement to the conflict.

Four years after beginning her ministry in Okoyong, the British Government asked Mary to carry out a new judicial responsibility in that region. For many years British authorities had exercised only minimal influence over the coastal regions of Calabar, while tribes like the Okoyongese further up the Cross River wholly ignored and opposed British directives. Recognizing Mary’s unique position and influence in Okoyong, British authorities asked her to organize and supervise an indigenous court and empowered her to do all that was necessary to promote the reception of new laws in the region.

Mary presided over the court at various locations throughout Okoyong. Large groups of tribal leaders came to consult her about adjusting their customs to the new laws. Through these activities justice was promoted for the local people and the rule of law was promoted in the region. Though Mary did not relish that type of service, she sought to carry it out faithfully, believing it to be part of the ministry the Lord had for her to do. Those efforts helped to greatly reduce such practices as killing infant twins, the poison bean ordeal and executing individuals at the deaths of chiefs. Mary gained a reputation as a tough but just judge, and Okoyongese

Women of Faith and Courage by Vance Christie

Women of Faith and Courage by Vance Christie

came from great distances to have their trials held before her.

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A fuller account of Mary Slessor’s storied missionary career in Calabar is recorded in my book Women of Faith and Courage (Christian Focus, 2011). W. P. Livingstone’s Mary Slessor of Calabar, Pioneer Missionary (originally published 1916) is the classic full-length biography of her life. Bruce McClennan’s Mary Slessor, A Life on the Altar for God (Christian Focus, 2015) is a more recent full account of her life.

Copyright 2017 by Vance E. Christie