Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Faith of our fathers

We have touched on the faith and courage of the Protestant Reformation in previous postings. Steve devotes an entire chapter to this topic in his book. I think this is also a good place for us to spend some time discussing true faith and the courage needed to stand up for Jesus. What is required of us? As I’ve written about before, we must follow the narrow path that Jesus mentions in Mathew 7:13, “Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow is the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.” What is the narrow gate? Accepting God’s plan of salvation and His will for your life. Many enter through the wide gate because they follow their own selfish ways….which is following our enemy instead of God. Think about the world and the people in it. How many people do you know that are truly following God’s will for their lives? Who do you know that truly lives their life according to God’s Word? Who do you know that truly puts God #1 in their life? Most of us know a few people like this, but the vast majority of people (including many professed Christians) are not seeking God first. Obviously, if you want to know what true faith is composed of, the Bible is the source of what is required of us. If you want to see Biblical faith placed into practice, reading the history of the Protestant Reformers is another period in history that shows us the face of true faith. I believe it is important for us to see what they experienced, because I truly believe that we will face even worse persecution as true believers in our lifetime.

If you study the New Testament and the history of Christ’s Church after the fall of the Roman Empire, you begin to see a pattern develop. True believers in Jesus Christ are persecuted. Why? Our spiritual enemy attacks Christ’s followers. Were we warned? Absolutely. “I tell you, the devil will put some of you in prison to test you, and you will suffer persecution for 10 days. Be faithful, even to the point of death, and I will give you the crown of life” (Revelation 2:10). “Remember the words I spoke to you: ‘No servant is greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also” (John 15:20). It is happening throughout the world today and it will continue to the end of time. In the U.S., things have been a little too comfortable. I believe we have allowed ourselves to become complacent in our worship and our commitment to Jesus. As I’ve written before, I believe we have been given a very stern warning in Revelation 3:14-22. It’s time to re-focus our lives on Jesus and His plan for us. We must prepare ourselves spiritually for what is coming at us. Instead, many of us are living nice, comfortable lives and waiting for a pre-tribulation rapture to spare us any actual tribulation, a secret rapture that isn’t coming. If we’re told in the New Testament to expect tribulation and persecution as true followers of Christ, and this has happened consistently throughout history since Christ’s resurrection, why do we believe we will be spared now? Is it because we don’t really want to face tribulation? Is it because we don’t really want to “be faithful, even to the point of death”? Is it because we’d rather believe that we’re going to live comfortable lives and then be “caught up” when the going gets tough? Bingo.

Let’s continue in “End Time Delusions” with the chapter “Faith of our Fathers” and see what some of the Protestant Reformers were required to do for our Savior.

Protestants there are, but Protestantism is no more. –Alexander Vinet (1797-1847)

Through their acceptance of futurist and preterist viewpoints about antichrist, many people today don’t know who the real beast is. Yet our eyes have been opened. We know the truth. It won’t be easy, but with the Bible in our hands and God’s love in our hearts we must stand up for the “revelation of Jesus Christ” (Revelation 1:1) and solid prophetic truth, no matter what the cost. It is my hope and prayer that God will impress the minds of many well-known TV evangelists, radio hosts, seminary professors, best-selling authors, and ministry leaders to reconsider their positions. Hopefully, like noble ships with a new command from their captain, they will yet change their course.

As we near the end of this section, I want to focus on a lesson of faith and courage – of standing up for Jesus and His prophetic truth. Turning away from futurist fiction with its imaginary Nicolae, and also the preterist persuasion of a long-buried antichrist, we are about to look at the real account of a man who battled the beast in history. This conflict took place in the 1400’s, during the time of the famous Roman Catholic Council of Constance, in Constance, Germany. The council met November 1, 1414 and continued until April 22, 1418.

“The total number of the clergy alone present at the council, though perhaps not all of them all the time, was four patriarchs, twenty-nine cardinals, thirty-three archbishops, one hundred and fifty bishops, one hundred and thirty four abbots, two hundred and fifty doctors, and lesser clergy, amounting to eighteen thousand. With the emperor and his train, kings, dukes, lords and other nobles, the members were ordinarily fifty thousand. At certain periods of the conference there were as many as one hundred thousand present. Thirty thousand horses were fed and thirty thousand beds were provided by the city.”

In our modern terminology we would have said, “This is a big event. Parking is limited.”

The Council of Constance condemned the writings of John Wycliffe of England, who lived in the 1300’s. Wycliffe taught at Oxford University and has been called, “The Morning Star of the Reformation.” The movie, John Wycliffe – The Morning Star, was awarded the title of Best Film from the Christian Film Distributor’s Association. Before Martin Luther, John Wycliffe protested against Rome, was the first to translate the Bible from Latin into English, taught salvation by faith in Jesus Christ alone, placed the Word of God above popes and kings, and openly declared papal Rome to be the great antichrist of prophecy. The Council of Constance – more than forty years after Wycliffe’s death – decreed that his decaying bones should be dug out of his grave and publicly burned. His ashes were triumphantly thrown into a nearby brook. “This brook”, says an old writer, “hath conveyed his ashes into Avon, Avon into Severn, Severn into the narrow seas, they into the main ocean. And thus the ashes of Wycliffe are the emblems of his doctrine, which now is dispersed the world over.”

John Huss of Bohemia read the writings of John Wycliffe and continued many of his reforms. After denouncing Wycliffe, the Council of Constance summoned John Huss also, condemning him to the flames. Jerome of Prague was a good friend of Huss, and in April of 1415, before the martyrdom of Huss, Jerome arrived at Constance, hoping to help his friend. Unfortunately, he was seized by his enemies, cruelly dragged through the streets in chains, and promptly thrown into a dark, miserable, rat-infested dungeon. For almost a year, he was transferred from cell to cell. At last he was brought before the council. Fox’s Book of Martyrs declares that before that vast assembly these false charges were read to him: “1. He was a derider of the papal dignity. 2. An opposer of the pope. 3. An enemy to the cardinals. 4. A persecutor of the prelates. 5. A hater of the Christian religion.” Jerome was commanded to accept Romanism or be consumed at the stake.

Weakened by almost a year of horrible treatment, Jerome’s faith wavered, and he agreed in some measure to submit to Rome. But after he was returned to his rat-infested cell, he saw more clearly what he had done. He thought about his friend John Huss, who perished in the flames. He thought about Jesus Christ, his Savior, whom he had pledged to serve and who, out of love for Jerome’s lost soul, had endured the full justice of God’s holy wrath against sin and the incomprehensible pain of separation from His Father. Before his cowardly decision to compromise, Jerome had found comfort amid his sufferings in the assurance of Heaven’s favor; but now remorse and doubts tortured his soul. He knew other compromises must be made before he would be released, which could only end in his complete apostasy from God’s truth. As he looked into the whiskered faces of rats and felt cockroaches crawling around his toes, Jerome made his decision. He would no longer deny his Lord.

Jerome was brought again before the council, but this time he was determined to boldly confess his faith and to follow his friend John Huss to the flames. He publicly renounced his former denial and demanded, as a dying man, an opportunity to make his defense. “You have held me shut up three hundred and forty days in a frightful prison,” he protested, “in the midst of filth, noisomeness, stench, and the utmost want of everything; you then bring me out before you, and lending an ear to my mortal enemies, you refuse to hear me….If you be really wise men and the lights of the world, take care not to sin against justice. As for me, I am only a feeble mortal; my life is but of little importance.” His request was finally granted. In the presence of Europe’s judges, priests, and nobles, Jerome knelt down and prayed for the Holy Spirit to take control.

Jerome then gave an uncompromising defense in behalf of the truth. Referring to John Huss, he firmly declared, “I knew him from his childhood. He was a most excellent man, just and holy; he was condemned, notwithstanding his innocence…I also am ready to die. I will not recoil before the torments that are prepared for me by my enemies and false witnesses, who will one day have to render an account of their impostures before the great God, whom nothing can deceive…..Of all the sins that I have committed since my youth, none weigh so heavily on my mind, and cause me such remorse, as that which I committed in this fatal place, when I approved of the iniquitous sentence rendered against Wycliffe, and against the holy martyr, John Huss, my master and my friend. Yes! I confess it from my heart, and declare with horror that I disgracefully quailed when, through a dread of death, I condemned their doctrines. I therefore supplicate…Almighty God to pardon me my sins, and this one in particular, the most heinous of all.” Raising a bony finger toward his judges, he declared, “You condemned Wycliffe and John Huss…The things which they affirmed, and which are irrefutable, I also think and declare, like them.”

His hearers were stunned! “Shut him up!” screamed his enemies. “What need have we of further proof? We behold with our own eyes the most obstinate of heretics!” Yet Jerome stood unmoved, like a mighty rock amidst a hurricane. He thundered back, “What! Do you suppose I fear to die? You have held me in a frightful dungeon, more horrible than death itself. You have treated me more cruelly than a Turk, Jew or pagan, and my flesh has literally rotted off my bones alive, and yet I make no complaint, for lamentation ill becomes a man of heart and spirit; but I cannot but express my astonishment at such great barbarity toward a Christian.” He was seized by his guards and hurried back to the rats, beetles and vermin.

Jerome was again visited in his dingy cell and given one last chance to repent. “Prove to me from the Holy Writings that I am in error!” he responded. “The Holy Writings!” said one of his tempters. “Is everything to be judged by them? Who can understand them until the church has interpreted them?” Jerome replied, “Are the traditions of men more worthy of faith than the gospel of our Savior?” “Heretic!” spat back his accuser, “I repent having pleaded so long with you. I see you are urged on by the devil.” Thus Jerome, even though he was accused of being inspired by satan, refused to bow down to the traditions of mere mortals. “The Bible and the Bible only,” was his motto. This lesson is for us. We also may be accused of being Lucifer-led when we turn from preterist persuasions, futurist fables, and bestselling ideas. Nevertheless, with love in our hearts we should stick to “the Holy Writings”, no matter what the cost.

Sentence was passed, and Jerome was led out to the very same spot where John Huss had yielded up his life. He went singing on his way, his face lighted up with joy and peace. His gaze was fixed upon Jesus Christ, the Prince of Life, so why should he fear Dr. Death? Arriving at the place of execution, Jerome once more knelt down to say a heartfelt prayer. He was tied to a stake as branches of wood were piled around his feet. When the executioner stepped up to light the fire, this holy martyr exclaimed, “Come here, and kindle it before my eyes; for if I had been afraid of it, I had not come to this place.” As the flames began to rise, Jerome prayed again. His last words were, “Lord, Almighty Father…have pity on me, and pardon my sins; for Thou knowest I have always loved Thy truth.”

Do we love truth above tradition? Are we willing to stand up for Jesus Christ, the Author of Truth, and for the Holy Bible, no matter what the price may be? Dear reader, Jesus loves you personally. He has a special place in His heart for you and your family. He gave Jerome strength to stand up for what he knew to be right, and He will do the same for us. There is forgiveness only through the blood of the Lamb. Satan and mixed-up men may kill the body, but they can’t harm the soul (Mathew 10:28). Though the beast makes “war with the saints and overcomes them” on Earth (Revelation 13:7), in Heaven’s eyes “they overcome him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, [as] they did not love their lives to the death” (Revelation 12:11).

In our modern world of Delta flights, plasma TVs and heavily traded mutual funds, may our hopes still echo the words of the classic 19th century hymn, “Faith of our Fathers”:

Our fathers, chained in prisons dark,
Were still in heart and conscience free;
How sweet would be their children’s fate,
If they like them, could die for thee!
Faith of our fathers! Holy faith!
We will be true to thee till death.

Frederick W. Faber, 1849 (1814-1863)

Let’s take a look at a couple of things from this excerpt from Steve’s book. If you were still undecided about whether the Roman Catholic Church is, in fact, the antichrist and beast, think about the millions of people throughout Europe that were burned and tortured as a result of their ‘heresies’. If you’re saying to yourself, “Well, that was the dark ages….lots of bad things happened during that time in history,”….think about how Jesus preached and how this church behaved. The New Testament warns us not to judge people simply by their words, but by their actions. Did Jesus ever say to kill or torture someone if they disagreed with him? Absolutely not! Then why did the Catholic Church do this? Because they created their own version of Christianity based on man-made traditions and rituals. They were not concerned about Jesus and His teachings, only their own power and glory. Where do you suppose this doctrine came from? There’s only one other spiritual realm other than Heaven, so it’s easy to see where these church ‘leaders’ were getting their instructions.

If you then say to yourself -“Well, that was then and thank goodness I’m alive now!” You better start focusing on Bible prophecy and what it means for the immediate future. Does this ‘beast’ remain dormant? The Bible says no. The whole world will follow after this beast. Will we escape persecution from this beast? I’m 35 years old and I do not expect to die from old age. I believe that one of two things will happen to me. The first is that I survive to the end of this age and see Lord Jesus returning for me....so I believe that His return will be within my lifetime. The second scenario is that I will die standing against the beasts. It has been made clear to me that I will stand against evil…in some capacity. Regardless of how I’m asked to stand, I will not compromise my faith for anyone or anything in this world. Plain and simple. If I’m asked to do so, I will refuse…..regardless of the consequences. I still have a long way to go, but the Lord has placed me on His path for me. What path are you on? Are you traveling on the narrow path? Our brothers who lived during the Reformation fought the beast, we will be asked to do the same.

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