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The brain is the final frontier of medical science.
There is so much about it that physicians have yet to discover. Sometimes, what is stated as fact is really only the best guess today.
The theories behind Alzheimer’s, for instance, lead one to believe that mental activity will slow it down or prevent it. However, I know people with the disease who were mentally active up to the moment before they had it. They played bridge regularly, enjoyed complex crossword puzzles and read extensively. So, be warned — this does not necessarily prevent the disease.
Depression is another grey area. For some years, medical experts have believed that serotonin levels are related to this malady. The Revd Jesse Johnson, a pastor at Grace Community Church in Los Angeles and blogger at Cripplegate, recently heard a broadcast on NPR (America’s National Public Radio) which
astounded me so much I had to pull over to focus on it. Correspondent Alix Spiegel went on a quest to find the medical evidence that depression can be caused by a chemical imbalance. I’d encourage you to listen to the piece in all nine minutes of its radio glory, but here is a summary.
Spiegel begins by relating what happened to her when she was 17; she was so depressed she felt like she had a black hole in her chest. He parents took her to Johns Hopkins Hospital, and she was told:
“The problem with you,” she explained, “is that you have a chemical imbalance. It’s biological, just like diabetes, but it’s in your brain. This chemical in your brain called serotonin is too, too low. There’s not enough of it, and that’s what’s causing the chemical imbalance. We need to give you medication to correct that.”
Then she handed my mother a prescription for Prozac …
Spiegel then takes the listener on a tour through the history of Prozac. She explains why it is used to fight depression. Ostensibly, depression can be caused by low levels of a chemical called serotonin in the brain, and Prozac helps correct that. But Spiegel explains that this narrative—she calls it the “low serotonin story”—is propagated more for its simplicity than for its medical veracity …
Spiegel’s piece concludes with some startling admissions. One after another, the experts grant that there is no real evidence linking depression to low serotonin. Amazingly, they justify the propagation of the “low serotonin story” simply because it is easy to understand. In other words, it doesn’t have to be true to be helpful …
At the end of the broadcast, Spiegel concluded:
Unfortunately, the real story is complicated and, in a way, not all that reassuring. Researchers don’t really know what causes depression. They’re making progress, but they don’t know. That’s the real story.
Johnson said that the experts interviewed on NPR agreed that people suffering from depression feel better to a degree if they are told why they have it. So, giving them a reason can help their recovery.
Personally, I think that certain situations can depress some normally healthy people. Remove the person from the situation and their burden is often lifted. Unfortunately, if a work situation is causing depression, it’s not always that easy to leave or to find another job.
Mainline Protestant denominations can also create problems with their interpretations of the Bible, depriving people of deriving much-needed comfort and reassurance from it. Some Catholic theologians are also guilty of this.
Unfortunately, pietist churches might not be helping, either. One of the comments on Johnson’s post reveals that some churchgoers blame the person suffering from depression as being unrepentant and too inactive in the life of the church. If only they would DO something, they would feel better.
However, some members of the clergy also suffer from depression.
Some sufferers find that a course in therapy helps give the sufferer an outlet during which they can explain what they are going through.
Most, though, opt for tablets, which are increasingly being prescribed. One of Johnson’s commenters, Matt Waymeyer, had this to say:
Back to the point of Jesse’s article, my wife and I were once counseling a young woman who was taking Prozac, and she told us very plainly: “Prozac doesn’t take away my sin—it just makes it easier to live with.” Interesting admission. In fact, the descriptions of Prozac and its effects often remind me of the wonder-drug “soma” in the classic 1932 novel “Brave New World” by Aldous Huxley. Listen to the description of soma by the character Mustapha Mond toward the end of the novel:
“And if ever, by some unlucky chance, anything unpleasant should somehow happen, why, there’s always soma to give you a holiday from the facts. And there’s always soma to calm your anger, to reconcile you to your enemies, to make you patient and long-suffering. In the past you could only accomplish these things by making a great effort and after years of hard moral training. Now, you swallow two or three half-gramme tablets, and there you are. Anybody can be virtuous now. You can carry at least half your mortality about in a bottle. Christianity without tears—that’s what soma is.”
I don’t intend to over-simplify a very complex issue—and for the record, I share Jesse’s view of never counseling someone to stop taking medication that was prescribed by a doctor—but the parallels are uncanny. And concerning.
One of Johnson’s readers, himself depressed, shared a link to an article from 2009 by Bob DeWaay, who was a pastor for many years and is still involved in discernment ministry. DeWaay points out that if more people took a Reformation approach to Scripture and really understood the doctrine of the means of grace, depression would be less of a problem.
He also takes issue with certain denominations’ emphasis on ‘doing something’ (emphases mine):
During my first ten years in Christian ministry I was committed to the power of the human will, and it proved to be one of the greatest failures in my life in ministry. That commitment dominated my counseling and preaching. I assumed that the human will was the key to everything from overcoming sin to freedom from demonic influence. I read books that went as far as speaking of the “sovereignty of the human will,” and I approved of them. I actually believed that when it came to doing something in the life of the believer, God was powerless to overcome the human will.
I was not alone in my delusion. The American evangelical movement committed itself to the power of the human will as early as the 19th century, when the teachings of Charles Finney turned the movement away from the doctrines of grace and toward the doctrine of human ability …
Finney taught that all humans are fully able to obey God as they are; they just need to get motivated. His influence still holds considerable sway over most evangelicals. This includes how the gospel is presented, how people are counseled, how sermons are preached, and how people think about sanctification. Whether stated or not, most people think that Christianity is about motivating people to make better decisions. That is exactly how I thought.
This delusion was reinforced in the 20th century, when psychology found its way into evangelicalism. Psychology promised to uncover the secrets of human behavior by studying everything from the subconscious mind to events in early childhood. Researchers and others proposed diverse theories about human behavior, and most of these theories found their way into the church as psychology became a requirement for students in bible colleges and seminaries. This remains true to this day. One purpose of these theories is to unlock the secrets of why people make specific choices. In one way or another, most of the theories assume that something in a person’s past is the key issue that must be uncovered. Academia, business, and government have invested an unbelievable amount of money and effort to figure out why people do not make better choices in life.
I just purchased a book entitled Life’s Healing Choices,2 by John Baker, the founder of Celebrate Recovery. The book is based on Rick Warren’s series of sermons called “The Road to Recovery” that was based on the beatitudes. In the series, he interprets the beatitudes as “eight healing choices” that will lead to happiness.3 (Never mind the beatitudes themselves never speak about “choices.”) Incidentally, about six years before Warren preached his sermon series, Robert Schuller published The Be Happy Attitudes.4 Schuller uses the beatitudes to teach that if we change our attitudes we will find happiness. Baker and Warren teach that if we just change our choices we will find happiness ...
… sadly, the evangelical movement has become addicted to the flesh. For example, two of the larger evangelical mega-churches in our area use Theophostic counseling for their members. I have written about this before.7 Theophostic counseling theory claims that Christians’ present emotional responses are caused by their interpretation of first memory events. This false teaching effectively negates the one thing that Christians have that no one else does: freedom from our sinful past …
There is nothing in the law that removes inward desires. Humans cannot keep the command not to have desires. Willpower does not remove desire.
That is why an inner work of the Holy Spirit is the only hope for sanctification. The Holy Spirit progressively gives the Christian new desires. Once the desire changes, the choices will follow. Desires drive choices; it is not the other way around. This is a rather simple concept.
DeWaay’s article is well worth reading in full — especially for those who are unfamiliar with the means of grace. He cites Paul’s and Peter’s letters, really bringing them to life.
DeWaay takes pastors to task:
The Lord Jesus instituted the Lord’s Supper so that we do not forget how we gained forgiveness. Pastors and elders of Christian churches are duty-bound to put the truth of the gospel and the whole counsel of God before congregations. Many, however, do not preach the gospel because they think preaching the Bible to Christians is not “practical.” But Peter tells us that to forget our purification from former sins would cause us to lack Christian virtues. Preaching the gospel to Christians is practical. God uses it to bring His Spirit to them and perform an inward work of grace …
Though some theologians do not believe prayer is a means of grace, there is good Biblical support for the idea that it is. Consider this passage: “Therefore let us draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (Hebrews 4:16). We find grace at the throne of grace. Individual and corporate prayer are practices ordained by God that come with the promise of grace for our needs.
When I first started teaching the means of grace I found that most Christians had never heard of the concept or even the terminology. The idea is taught in Lutheran and Reformed theology, but American evangelicalism outside of those movements either has lost the doctrine of means of grace or has never had it. We find at our church that we must regularly teach about means of grace as new people come. Many come from various evangelical churches that had gone into the seeker movement. For the most part they had never heard of means of grace. I think the reason for this is the commitment to human willpower that has been so prevalent for so long.
Recapturing or becoming acquainted with what Scripture really says will bring us in touch with its truths. Neither a revisionist interpretation nor a semi-Pelagian one can help us, particularly the depressed Christian.
This isn’t to say that Bible study and prayer are a silver bullet for depression, but they certainly help in the long run to bring true peace of mind.
We can also help the depressed by continuing to be their friends and keeping in touch with them. A pleasant word and patient listening can be of benefit.
A couple of weeks ago, news appeared in the blogosphere that the well-known Baptist pastor John Piper and the Roman Catholic Lectio Divina proponent Beth Moore appeared recently at the Passion 2012 Conference in Atlanta, Georgia. (H/T: Anna Wood)
The Revd Ken Silva from Apprising Ministries carries the story (emphases mine):
It’s an incontrovertible fact that right from its hatching in hell corrupt Contemplative Spirituality/Mysticism (CSM), such as that taught by Living Spiritual Teacher and Quaker mystic Richard Foster along with his spiritual twin and Southern Baptist minister Dallas Willard, was a core doctrine …
It’s also giving rise to a rebirth of Pietism; this isn’t surprising when you consider that CSM flowered in the antibiblical monastic traditions of apostate Roman Catholicism. As the evangelical fad of CSM expands there’s a decided charismania also developing, which is producing a syncretism where Word Faith heretics like Joel Osteen and T.D. Jakes are essentially considered mainstream now. With all of this has come more and more people claiming to have direct experience with God …
Hosted by Louis Giglio, pastor of Passion City Church in Atlanta, Passion featured an interesting lineup of speakers such Francis Chan, Beth Moore and New Calvinist mentor John Piper. Not surpisingly the conference had a distinctive charismatic and even contemplative flair; e.g. prayer walking. After one session the crowd was urged to break into “love groups” and go out to pray and “take back the city of Atlanta.”
One can certainly point a finger at the Roman Catholic Church, but, as I wrote in the comments on Anna’s site, what has occurred at Passion 2012 is more symptomatic of 17th century Lutheran/Moravian pietism in general and of the Holiness movement which dates back to 19th century Methodism and advanced in the following century through the many Holiness denominations. Ultimately, this led to our current charismatic services and Pentecostal churches.
John Wesley borrowed heavily from Moravian pietists whose acquaintance he made on the journey from England to America. After his return to Europe, he even studied at their HQ in Herrnhut, Germany.
Although pietism has its most ancient beginnings in the earliest days of the Church, it was later revived when Germans and Scandinavians became disillusioned with ‘staid’ state churches and wanted something more.
Today, however, I am sorry to read that Dr Piper — a confessional, or Particular, Baptist — has fallen for more pietistic holiness (Rick Warren being the foremost example), hallmarks of which include contemplative prayer, Quaker quietism (‘let go and let God’ — wait until you get a ‘sign’ of some sort), small groups, personal accountability, public confession, overt sentimentality, strong emotional worship, receiving ‘divine messages’ and personal testimony over doctrine (or the Bible).
Yet, these activities are everywhere. Even Church of England vicars encourage them — contemplative prayer, especially. A number of Anglican churches offer days or mornings of ‘silent prayer’, which is the same thing.
Pietism is known for its ecumenism, so it’s no surprise that Passion 2012 featured speakers from a variety of Christian denominations. Unfortunately, those denominations which practice pietism — holiness churches, in particular — will be affected by these cross-currents. The Church of the Nazarene has experienced an onslaught of Fuller Seminary and Roman Catholic influence: The Reformed Nazarene blog chronicles them in detail. I empathise with Nazarenes who wish to keep their denomination pure, but, ultimately, this is the outcome of pietism and the holiness movement. The Nazarenes emerged from the Wesleyan holiness movement in the 19th century.
Pietism is experiential, emotional and introspective. It seeks to transform denominations, if not the Church as a whole, in order to bring about personal and moral change.
Bob DeWaay, who has been in discernment ministry most of his life, admits to having fallen prey to pietism:
My journey into the “deeper life” oftentimes involved embracing contradictory teachings. For example, two of my favorite teachers in the early 1970’s were Watchman Nee and Kenneth Hagin. One taught a deeper Christian life through suffering) and the other taught a higher order Christianity that could cause one to be free from bodily ailments and poverty.The hook was that both claimed to have the secret to becoming an extraordinary Christian. I found out that they didn’t.
My dissatisfaction with the Christianity taught in Bible College led me to join a Christian commune some months after graduation. That group’s founder taught that all ordinary churches and Bible Colleges were caught up in “religious Babylon.” He taught that the kingdom of God was to be found by quitting one’s job, selling one’s possessions, giving the money to the commune, and moving in together to be devoted to the “kingdom” twenty four hours a day. So in my search to become an extraordinary Christian I did what he said and joined …
By God’s grace I went back to the Bible and determined to merely teach verse by verse from that point on. It took another five or six years to rid myself of the various errors I had embraced and then I taught Romans in 1986. Through that study I came to appreciate the doctrines of grace. That understanding opened my thinking and was the turning point for my ministry. I also came to realize that the wrong-thinking that attracted me to pietism was that I held to a theology based on human ability rather than grace alone. Once I grasped that, I never looked back …
Pietism can be practiced many ways including enforced solitude, asceticism of various forms, man made religious practices, legalism, submission to human authorities who claim special status, and many other practices and teachings …
These appear to most poorly taught Christians to be what the Lord wants. They reason, “Of course God is happier with a person who sells all and moves into a convent where he takes an oath of poverty than He is with someone who goes to work forty hours a week and uses some of the money to buy things.” Is He? When I was a pietist, if someone told me he prayed two hours a day, then I had to pray three hours to make sure I wasn’t missing out on something. I reasoned, “Of course God is happier with a Christian who prays three hours than one who prays two.” Is He? When I was a pietist I would work on cranking up my desire for holiness because I reasoned that holiness is found through something in the person rather than through God’s grace. Based on sermons I’d heard I reasoned, “Christians are not experiencing a higher degree of holiness because they do not desire it enough.” Is that true? No, none of these pietistic statements are true. Such teachings lead to elitism and comparing ourselves to others. The Bible tells us not to do that. Paul stated that these practices “are of no value against fleshly indulgence.”
I, along with confessional Lutherans, would disagree with DeWaay when he goes on to say that Spener was not a pietist but only reacting against a State Church. Spener’s theology was deeply pietist in that he promoted small groups (conventicles), agonised repentance and giving up worldly entertainments. He promoted justification by works through holiness and self-deprivation.
However, DeWaay rightly cites John Wesley as being a pietist:
Wesley’s Methodism and perfectionism were themselves pietistic. Wesley is an example of a much less extreme pietism. But the idea that some humanly discovered and implemented method can lead to the achievement of a better Christian life than through the ordinary means of grace is nevertheless pietism.
He is careful to draw a line between Wesley and Charles Finney, pre-eminent during the Second Great Awakening in the United States:
Wesley at least held to prevenient grace so as to avoid Pelagianism. Finney was fully Pelagian in his approach to both salvation and sanctification. And his innovations permanently changed much of American Evangelicalism. After Finney other perfectionist movements arose. The Holiness movement, for example, came not long after Finney. Both the Holiness movement and the subsequent Pentecostal movement held to second blessing doctrines that by nature are pietist because they create an elite category of Christians who have had a special experience that ordinary Christians lack.
DeWaay calls our attention to the Emergent Church and Rick Warren’s Purpose Driven Church as the most recent examples of pietism:
Today the largest new pietist movement is the Emergent Church. As I pointed out earlier, pietism often arises in response to the perception (sometimes warranted) that the church has become too worldly and it seems true once again today. Some now assume that since ordinary Christianity is compromised, they must discover an extraordinary way to become better Christians. One Emergent leader has even entitled one of his works, “A New Kind of Christian.” But this movement really isn’t all that new. It draws on teachings and practices found in other pietist movements in church history. In fact, a recent Emergent book includes essays by those experimenting with communal living, something I tried in my pietist days!
Furthermore, the Purpose Driven movement is also a pietistic movement. Rick Warren claims there are world class Christians that are in a better category than ordinary Christians. He had his followers take a long oath at a baseball field to pledge themselves to serving his new reformation. I already mentioned the apostles and prophets movement that is pietistic. So ironically, three huge movements in American evangelicalism (Purpose Driven, Emergent, and C. Peter Wagner’s latter day apostles) are all based on pietism. The three movements seem radically diverse, but each one claims to be a new reformation and each offers a higher status than that of ordinary Christians.
He cautions us against movements preaching against ‘dead orthodoxy’ and notes that the Charismatics are also pietist in this regard.
He also notes that the problem is not with orthodoxy but with church members, who are often spiritually dead:
Pietism misdiagnoses the problem and creates a false solution. It sees a compromised church that is apparently caught in dead orthodoxy. The real problem is not dead orthodoxy but spiritually dead sinners who give mental assent to orthodox truth but show no signs of regeneration. If indeed such a church existed (if truth really is there God has His remnant there as well), that church would be characterized by worldliness and sin. This is the case because dead sinners do not bear spiritual fruit. There was a church in Revelation that Jesus called “dead.” Pietism that holds to the true gospel but goes beyond it imagining that the dead sinners who are church members are Christians. When some of them become regenerate through the efforts of the pietists, they assume they have now entered a higher class of Christianity. They posit two types of Christian: “carnal” Christians and “spiritual” Christians. But in reality there are only Christians and dead sinners.
DeWaay writes that pietists end up ignoring the Gospel message in favour of works righteousness:
When I was a pietist I thought salvation was an interesting first step a person took, but mostly lost interest in the topic unless I ran across someone who needed to pray the sinners prayer, which I imagined was the first step. The gospel of Christ was only of marginal interest to me as I sought the “deeper things.” The more I tried to be a very special type of Christian, the further my mind wandered from the cross. I was guilty of the very thing for which Paul rebuked the Corinthians.
It seems that people fall for pietism in its various guises because it gives them a sense of reassurance — misguided though it is. Charismatics and Pentecostalists enjoy the heady experiences of being ‘born again’ — speaking in tongues, for instance — something they can do and feel. Others believe that dressing differently sets them ‘apart’ from the world as does abstaining from alcohol, tobacco and certain foodstuffs. Hence, some desire to join faith communes, which is radical pietism. Then, there are the ‘mystics’ who follow Lectio Divina and believe they are channelling a ‘higher consciousness’, who are most likely Christian refugees from the New Age movement. This leads to a Gnosticism of sorts — a supposed special, secret knowledge or spiritual attainment that other people lack.
Sadly, this desire to ‘experience’ Christianity can lead people down the paths of error: Pelagianism and Gnosticism are heresies. The rest of us would do well to pray for these people and hope that God’s grace leads them to a true confessional denomination.
Some time ago, I read a forum thread on Puritan Board which mentioned that John MacArthur learned the Bible by heart by reading each chapter 30 times.
I have finally found the sermon where MacArthur describes this method in more detail (emphases mine):
as a young guy in my early days in seminary, even a little bit before that, I was looking for a way to understand the New Testament better and I found a way to do that by repetitiously reading it. I read an old book, How To Master The English Bible by James M. Gray(?), an early president of Moody Bible Institute who suggested that if you wanted to retain the Bible, you had to read it repetitiously and not just read it once and keep moving.
And so, I decided that what I’d do is read [a] book of the Bible every day, break it down into sections that were manageable and I would do that for 30 days. Then I figured at the end of 30 days I would pretty well have in mind what was in that portion of Scripture. And I started with 1 John and it was brief, only five chapters, so I decided I’d read it every day for 30 days. At the end of 30 days I felt like I still didn’t quite have it all so I said I’ll go 60 days. At the end of 60 days I said I don’t think I’ve got it yet and I went 90 days. And so every day for 90 days I read 1 John until it became very familiar to me. And as I look back even then in my early twenties of my life, even though I knew what was in the book, the real depth and the real profound elements of this book even then escaped me. There is in this book an almost unending supply of spiritual truth that keeps revealing itself the more diligently one studies so that in a sense there is clear truth on the surface, but much more down below as you go over it and over it. Here we are many, many years after that exercise of mind. By the way, I did eventually did finish the New Testament, it’s about a two and a half, three-year process to do that but you have to stick with the 30 days and not do 90 or it will elongate the whole process.
I hope to acquire the self-discipline in order to try this!
If you have used this method, please leave a comment and let us know how it worked for you.
Apprising Ministries reports that some Bible translations destined for Muslim countries will omit the words ‘Father’ and ‘Son’ in order not to offend.
Wycliffe Bible Translators, Summer Institute of Linguistics (SIL) and Frontiers are under fire for “producing Bibles that remove “Father,” “Son” and “Son of God” because these terms are offensive to Muslims” …
The main issues of this controversy surround new Arabic and Turkish translations. Here are three examples native speakers give:
First, Wycliffe and SIL have produced Stories of the Prophets, an Arabic Bible that uses an Arabic equivalent of “Lord” instead of “Father” and “Messiah” instead of “Son.”
Second, Frontiers and SIL have produced Meaning of the Gospel of Christ , an Arabic translation which removes “Father” in reference to God and replaces it with “Allah,” and removes or redefines “Son.” For example, the verse which Christians use to justify going all over the world to make disciples, thus fulfilling the Great Commission (Matthew 28:19) reads, “Cleanse them by water in the name of Allah, his Messiahand his Holy Spirit” instead of “baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” Rev. Bassam Madany, an Arab American who runs Middle East Resources, terms these organization’s efforts as “a western imperialistic attempt that’s inspired by cultural anthropology, and not by biblical theology.”
Third, Frontiers and SIL have produced a new Turkish translation of the Gospel of Matthew that uses Turkish equivalents of “guardian” for “Father” and “representative” or “proxy” for “Son.” To Turkish church leader Rev. Fikret Böcek, “This translation is ‘an all-American idea‘ with absolutely no respect for the ‘sacredness’ of Scripture, or even of the growing Turkish church.”
The article mentions that Biblical Missiology, a ministry based in Boulder, Colorado, is sponsoring a public petition to protest these changes. You can find out more and sign the petition here. They note that
Western proponents condone removing Father or Son because they say Muslims can only see sexual connotations to these terms. Numerous missionaries and national believers, however, strongly assert this is not the case. Further, Christian churches in places like Pakistan, Bangladesh, the Middle East, Turkey, and Malaysia have asked these agencies to stop producing these translations, but to no avail.
For a thorough explanation of our concerns, including documentation offered in response to Wycliffe’s comments about the petition, please read “Lost In Translation Fact Check.” For more information, please visit Biblical Missiology, as well as the “Petition Updates” section for articles and resources, including the new book, Chrislam.
The notion of our being adopted sons of God is also very important when evangelising to Muslims. Their relationship with Allah is distant and not a filial one as is the Christian relationship with God.
Let’s pray along with Biblical Missiology that the Bible translators decide not to go ahead with this plan, which would obscure God’s truth.
Today’s post continues with St John’s epistles, most of which have been omitted from the three-year Lectionary.
The reading is from the King James Version with commentary by Matthew Henry and John MacArthur (sermons from 2002, as cited in the post).
12I write unto you, little children, because your sins are forgiven you for his name’s sake.
13I write unto you, fathers, because ye have known him that is from the beginning. I write unto you, young men, because ye have overcome the wicked one. I write unto you, little children, because ye have known the Father.
14I have written unto you, fathers, because ye have known him that is from the beginning. I have written unto you, young men, because ye are strong, and the word of God abideth in you, and ye have overcome the wicked one.
15Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him.
16For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world.
17And the world passeth away, and the lust thereof: but he that doeth the will of God abideth for ever.
Last week’s post, which introduced this current series, examined John’s warning that those who called themselves Christian yet ignored Christ’s commandments to love were liars still walking in the darkness of sin.
This continuation of 1 John 2 shows that John addresses Christians at whatever level of their sanctification. Hence, he addresses children, young men and fathers. He does not mean this chronologically but by spiritual development in Christ. As Matthew Henry explains:
All Christians are not of the same standing and stature; there are babes in Christ, there are grown men, and old disciples. As these have their peculiar states, so they have their peculiar duties; but there are precepts and a correspondent obedience common to them all, as particularly mutual love and contempt of the world.
This is not necessarily as obvious as it seems. In ‘The Stages of Spiritual Growth’, John MacArthur explains that an unlearned layperson can be further along the road to sanctification than a clergyman with multiple degrees, a younger person might be more advanced than an elderly person and so forth. I would also venture that it is gender neutral, in that many women are further along the path than men. So, sanctification has little to do with age, education, social status or sex.
St John structures his letter such that he begins with a universal truth for those new to the faith (verse 12). They are the most recent Christians; regardless of age, they are spiritual ‘children’ in their development. Therefore, he begins by citing the fundamental of Christ’s forgiveness of their sins.
He addresses each type of Christian with a different message, not unrelated, but appropriate for their level of sanctification. In verses 13 and 14, he explains why. To those who have been Christians for a long time and have immersed themselves in the faith — ‘fathers’ — he says that he includes them because they have known Christ the longest. To the ‘young men’ — still remembering their conversion yet now immersed in knowing more about Christ’s and the Apostles’ teachings — because they know how to avoid temptation. And to the newest members because they now know God the Father through a belief in Christ.
In verses 15 and 16, he exhorts all believers to turn away from the ‘world’ — Satan’s domain — meaning temptation to break the Commandments. We are hard-wired to sin, to fall prey — with Satan’s help — to greed, sensuality, envy, violence and excess. This recalls verses from John’s Gospel, among them:
- Christ speaking in John 7:7: ‘The world cannot hate you, but it hates me because I testify about it that its works are evil’.
- Christ in John 8:23-24: ‘And he said unto them, Ye are from beneath; I am from above: ye are of this world; I am not of this world. I said therefore unto you, that ye shall die in your sins: for if ye believe not that I am he, ye shall die in your sins.’
- John 8:34: ‘Jesus answered them, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Whosoever committeth sin is the servant of sin.’
- Christ to the Pharisees in John 8:44 and John 8:47: ‘Ye are of your father the devil, and the lusts of your father ye will do. He was a murderer from the beginning, and abode not in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he speaketh a lie, he speaketh of his own: for he is a liar, and the father of it.’ And: ‘He that is of God heareth God’s words: ye therefore hear them not, because ye are not of God.’
- Christ in John 8:51: ‘Verily, verily, I say unto you, If a man keep my saying, he shall never see death.’
Henry explains John’s focus on this theme:
The world draws down the heart from God; and so the more the love of the world prevails the more the love of God dwindles and decays.
Some readers might say, ‘But if Christians, as John tells the “children”, are saved, why worry?’
MacArthur says of sanctification:
Now there are a number of ways in which the Bible defines spiritual growth. It calls it “following after righteousness,” 1 Timothy 6:11. It calls it “being transformed by the renewing of your mind,” Romans 12:2. It calls it “perfecting holiness in the fear of God,” 2 Corinthians 7:1. As we noted earlier, it calls it “pressing toward the mark,” Philippians 3:14. Colossians 2:7 says, “It’s being built up in the faith.” This is spiritual growth. It’s not mystical. It’s not sentimental. It’s not devotional. It’s not psychological. It’s not due to an experience. It’s not due to an event. It’s not due to a decision. It’s not due to a rededication. It’s not due to a secret insight any more than your growth is due to any of those. Your growth as a living human being is not due to anything mystical, sentimental, devotional, psychological, it’s not due to any event, it’s not due to any commitment or decision, it is a process…it’s a process of feeding your body so that it can develop. And that’s the same in the spiritual dimension, it is a process of taking in the truth of God and growing on the basis of believing and responding to that truth. To put it simply, you cannot grow spiritually unless you grow in your understanding of God’s truth. That’s the only way to get there. “Man doesn’t live by bread alone, but he lives by every word that proceeds out of the mouth of God,” Jesus said. Life is growth and growth comes by eating and the food that you have is not bread, but it is every word that comes out of the mouth of God. Spiritual growth is directly related to an increase in your understanding of God’s revelation.
Now in our text in 1 John, this is wonderfully instructive treatment of the three stages of spiritual growth. Obviously there are a whole continuum in between, but there are sort of three categories that you grow in that are named here. Children, young men and fathers…obviously that’s how it is in the human realm, using a man as an illustration, provides a very instructive framework for us to understand spiritual growth.
The better we understand the Bible, Church doctrine and our denomination’s confessions of faith, the better we are able to resist the temptations of the world. Yes, earlier I said that degrees in theology were no indicator of sanctification. However, if we spend time as often as we can exploring them — alone or in a class offered at church — we shall find the answers to many of our ‘unanswerable’ questions. Our love for Christ is bound to increase. As such, our resistance to worldly lures also be buoyed. We also become better at discerning right from wrong, truth from falsehood. We can apply this to the secular world as well.
Whilst it is fine to have our favourite Christian authors and Bible verses — most often those which make us feel good — it’s also useful to find out what God dislikes and how He would like us to approach Jesus.
Another benefit of pursuing sanctification is that we avoid slipping into Gnosticism, Pantheism, Pelagianism and other heresies and syncretic forms of Christianity which can draw us away from the true Church. There are a number of so-called churches today which are based on syncretism, racial lines or pastor-mandated methods of legalistic personal conduct and aberrant family life. These do just as much to destroy the Church’s reputation — not to mention drive families apart — as do other serious sins by Her members which make the headlines.
In ‘The Love God Hates’, John MacArthur preached:
The only way you can be saved is to affirm the gospel of Christ and when you affirmed that the gospel of Christ in its fullness was true and you believed it and you embraced it and you confessed Jesus as Lord, at that moment you were dead to the world because the world is a system that opposes that reality. That’s why we can say as Christians that we do not love that system. We hate that system. It doesn’t mean I hate the creation. It doesn’t mean I hate people. It doesn’t mean that my fallenness is not sometimes allured toward the things that make up the world, but down in the depths of my being, the truest and purest expression of my redeemed soul is that I hate what opposes my Lord. Is that not true? I hate it. And sometimes I want to make a whip and clean out the places, and so do you. And sometimes you want to take the books that deny the deity of Christ and throw them against the wall because they anger your soul, because you hate that which misrepresents God and misrepresents the Lord Jesus Christ. If you’re a true Christian, that’s how you feel. And if you don’t feel that way, then you love the world and the love of the Father is not in you.
What is the dominant spirit of the world? I don’t care what religious form it comes in or irreligious form it comes in, I don’t care whether it’s agnosticism, atheism, or whether it’s the most sophisticated kind of religion, the common denominator in the entire system is anti-Christ. That’s why in chapter 4 verse 3 the spirit of Anti-Christ is already operative in the system. This prevailing anti-Christ mentality, whether it’s Islam or Buddhism, or Atheism, or whatever it is, cultism, schisms, whatever, eastern religions, any other kind of religion, aberrant forms of Christianity, you name it, whatever it is, the common denominator is that it contains a misrepresentation of Jesus Christ and the glories of salvation and it is purveyed by an endless line of false prophets. And it hates us. The line was drawn when you became a believer. The world and the family of God are opposites.
Satan tempts us subtly, by appealing to our senses and minds. In ‘The Cardiology of Worldliness’, MacArthur preached on this letter of John and illustrated it with the temptation of Eve in Genesis 3:
She was gone in her mind. She had fallen but she hadn’t yet sinned. She was in a fallen condition. She hadn’t yet sinned. What is the matrix in her fallenness that’s going to literally cause her to sin? Verse 6 tells you, follow this, “When the woman saw that the tree was good for food,” what’s that? Stomach, bodily appetite, lust of the flesh, it isn’t related to hunger, she had all kinds of things to eat. It was the idea that there was some satisfaction being withheld from her. It was good for food, the lust of the flesh, fulfill some desire, some appetite.
Secondly, she saw also that it was a delight to the eyes. That’s the lust of the eyes. It not only excited her…her sort of basic desire for the sensual joy of food, it excited her otherwise noble appreciation of beauty so it went from her physicality, to her emotion. And she saw that it was a beautiful tree and that made it desirable. She could appreciate beauty. And so she was seduced by her hunger and she was seduced by her vision.
And then she also saw that the tree was desirable to make one…what?…wise. What was that? Pride of life. That’s the matrix that sin works on, the baser desires and appetites of the body, the nobler visions of beauty and form and the highest of all, the ability to know wisdom because you’re made in the image of God, comes the point of pride.
In verse 17, St John tells his followers — and us — that the world and people’s love of it will die one day. However, those who obey the Lord will enjoy eternal life. Henry remarks:
From the whole of these verses we should observe the purity and spirituality of the apostolical doctrine. The animal life must be subjected to the divine; the body with its affections should be swayed by religion, or the victorious love of God.
Christianity isn’t enough for many people today. One of the things I noticed since I have been researching pietism in pre-Reformation and Reformation Europe is that people fought tooth and nail for their faith in that era. We could debate the details, political motives and the doctrines endlessly, but the point is that that Europeans felt passionately about Christ only six or seven centuries ago. Catholics and Protestants went to war for their beliefs. I’m not advocating war but rather indicating the intensity they had for Christ.
It wasn’t like today, when hardly anyone in Europe believes in Christ. Recall Christ’s words in John 3:18:
He that believeth on him is not condemned: but he that believeth not is condemned already, because he hath not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.
Nearly everyone is wrapped up in materialism, climbing the greasy pole and personal ‘needs’. I know a few people who no sooner return home from holiday and start planning the next six. Others are preoccupied by house prices and real estate; they have to know the layout of other people’s homes to make themselves feel better. Or there’s the contest to see what schools they can get their children into.
However, the lower classes are hardly blameless. The animalistic behaviour on display during the riots in England in August 2011 was a case in point. Sin doesn’t discriminate on grounds of social class. It affects everyone: the so-called ’99%’ as well as the ’1%’.
In ‘Why Christians Don’t Love the World’, MacArthur said:
You say things have never been this bad in my life. Well that’s right, they’ve never been this bad in anybody’s life because it’s getting worse and worse and worse. We can assume it’s going to be worse in the next generation and worse in the generation after that and the generation after that until Jesus comes. Sin is destroying the system it thrives on. It’s like cancer, it’s eating itself. Is that a threat to us? No. Because verse 17 says the one who does the will of God abides how long? Forever…forever. Who is the one who does the will of God? Believers…believers. We are defined as the ones who do the will of God. What is the will of God? “This is My beloved Son, hear Him,” that’s the will of God. We did that. It is the will of God that we believe the gospel. We’ve done that. It is the will of God that we embrace Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, we’ve done that. That’s the will of God. It is the will of God that we love the Son, we obey the Father. “This is the will of My Father,” John 6:40, “that everyone who beholds the Son and believes in Him may have eternal life.” That’s the will of the Father. Just another way to talk about believers, we’re believers. We’re those who do the will of God. The will of God is that this is My Son, believe in Him, John 6:40. Christians have done that and we live forever.
We’re not going where the system is going. The system is going into death and we’re going into life. So we can’t love the world because of what it is, the system of Satan. Who we are, the children of God. What it does, it incites the sin, and we resist that and long for righteousness.
Next week: 1 John 2:18-29
John MacArthur points out that John was not always the apostle of love. Because we have been told about his love from the time we were in Sunday School or catechism class, we have accepted it. Mediaeval and Renaissance paintings further reinforce the image of a delicate man, doe-eyed, leaning on Christ’s shoulder at the Last Supper.
However, when Christ chose him and his brother James, Mark’s Gospel refers to them as standing out with their strong personalities. Here is Mark 3:14-19 (emphases mine):
14And he ordained twelve, that they should be with him, and that he might send them forth to preach,
15And to have power to heal sicknesses, and to cast out devils:
16And Simon he surnamed Peter;
17And James the son of Zebedee, and John the brother of James; and he surnamed them Boanerges, which is, The sons of thunder:
18And Andrew, and Philip, and Bartholomew, and Matthew, and Thomas, and James the son of Alphaeus, and Thaddaeus, and Simon the Canaanite,
19And Judas Iscariot, which also betrayed him: and they went into an house.
Off topic for a moment: I linked to Mark 3 in its entirety so that readers who are unaware may also note verses 28 and 29 about the unforgiveable sin of blaspheming against the Holy Spirit.
Back to the apostle John. Note that Christ referred to them as Boanerges — ‘the sons of thunder’. Neither was soft or self-effacing.
MacArthur reminds us that John is quoted only once in the Gospels, in Mark 9. To set the background, the chapter begins with an account of the Transfiguration, in which Jesus took Peter, James and John to a mountaintop whereby they saw Him become absolutely radiant in all His glory. Not only that, but Moses and Elijah appeared with Jesus and conversed with Him.
As most of us would have done, Peter proposes erecting three tents — one for the transfigured Christ and two more for Moses and Elijah. Then, the Transfiguration suddenly ends, but not before God the Father says (Mark 9:7): ‘This is my beloved Son, hear Him’.
On the way back, the three apostles started discussing who amongst them was the greatest. They were proud and privileged to have seen the glorious Christ. None of the other apostles had. Surely, they reasoned, among the three of them, Jesus must have had a preference. This is an example of boastful human nature at its best, and who are we to say that we would have done any differently?
Later on, Jesus asks them what they were talking about. He knows, of course, but He wants them to say it. Here is the exchange (Mark 9:33-35):
33And he came to Capernaum: and being in the house he asked them, What was it that ye disputed among yourselves by the way?
34But they held their peace: for by the way they had disputed among themselves, who should be the greatest.
35And he sat down, and called the twelve, and saith unto them, If any man desire to be first, the same shall be last of all, and servant of all.
In an attempt to deflect His attention from them, John briefly points a finger at someone of whom he disapproved (Mark 9:38):
And John answered him, saying, Master, we saw one casting out devils in thy name, and he followeth not us: and we forbad him, because he followeth not us.
Jesus corrects him by replying (verses 39-41):
39But Jesus said, Forbid him not: for there is no man which shall do a miracle in my name, that can lightly speak evil of me.
40For he that is not against us is on our part.
41For whosoever shall give you a cup of water to drink in my name, because ye belong to Christ, verily I say unto you, he shall not lose his reward.
He had a volatile personality. He had a fervent passionate personality. He was intolerant, very ambitious. He was anything but that dove-like person he’s often painted as being in those medieval paintings. In fact, when James one time wanted to bring down fire and burn up all the Samaritans, that’s a little less than the desirable evangelistic love, when James wanted to call down fire from heaven and just burn up all the Samaritans, John was in agreement. John agreed. John wasn’t the passive brother, they were both sons of thunder. When James’ mother went to Jesus to ask for special privilege and honor from the Lord, John was there too. They were explosive, ambitious, driven …
That’s [Mark 9:38] the only thing John ever says and he feels guilty about being stubborn, obstinate. He feels guilty about being narrow. He feels guilty about being prejudice. He feels guilty about being sectarian. He’s wired like that. Yeah, burn up the Samaritans. Yeah, we want to be in the chief seats. Yeah, buddy, you’re not in our group, shut up! This is John. He had a real competitive spirit. It showed up in condemning this man who was trying to minister in the name of Jesus, whether he was actually doing it or not, he was trying to do it. John shut him down. Jesus rebukes John for that sectarian attitude.
By now, you might wonder why Jesus would have chosen people whom we would accuse today of being ‘intolerant’ or ‘not very nice’.
Why would the Lord Jesus make him an Apostle? Because this is the kind of man that can be shaped into strength. He had the potential to be hard for the truth. What the Lord had to do was make him loving. And perhaps it was that critical rebuke there in Mark 9 that catapulted John toward being loving. He had that kind of personality of conviction, of narrowness, uncompromising, intolerant devotion to what was true. He was very black and white, he had a clear-cut view of spiritual realities. There was nothing vague in his world. And that was good and God needed it but it had to be tempered with love.
And this is what happened and how John became Jesus’s favourite apostle, leaning on His shoulder at the Last Supper and being the go-to man for Peter to say, ‘Ask Jesus who the betrayer is’ (John 13:21-26):
21When Jesus had thus said, he was troubled in spirit, and testified, and said, Verily, verily, I say unto you, that one of you shall betray me.
22Then the disciples looked one on another, doubting of whom he spake.
23Now there was leaning on Jesus’ bosom one of his disciples, whom Jesus loved.
24Simon Peter therefore beckoned to him, that he should ask who it should be of whom he spake.
25He then lying on Jesus’ breast saith unto him, Lord, who is it?
26Jesus answered, He it is, to whom I shall give a sop, when I have dipped it. And when he had dipped the sop, he gave it to Judas Iscariot, the son of Simon.
So, although John does not name himself in his own Gospel, MacArthur points out that we know it is he who penned it — and how he came to be portrayed in mediaeval and Renaissance paintings:
And so, that’s why … when the medieval artist starts to paint John, he starts to paint a lover because it was eventually true of John. And it shines through the gospel that he wrote and it shines through the epistles that he wrote. For in the gospel of John you see this unwavering regard for the truth. Everything with John is absolute, there is light and darkness in the gospel. There is life and death, there’s the Kingdom of God, and there’s the kingdom of the devil. There are the children of God and there are the children of the devil. There’s the judgment of the righteous and there’s the judgment of the wicked. There is salvation and there is damnation. There is receiving Christ and rejecting Christ. There is a vine and it has some branches with fruit and some with no fruit. There is obedience to His commands and there is disobedience to His commands. And that’s the way it’s always portrayed by John. And when you get to the epistles, it’s the same thing. There are those who are in the light, and those who are in the darkness. There are those who confess their sin and those who deny their sin. There are those who are disobedient to Christ and those who are obedient to Him. There are those who love others and those who don’t, those who love God and those who don’t, those who are righteous and those who are sinful, those who keep the commandments and those who don’t, those who believe and those who don’t, and it’s just that simple.
John did not write an ‘analogy’ — as someone who emailed me a few months ago said — but Gospel truths. This also holds for his epistles, which also preach about the basis of love in Christ’s commandments. They also warn us against false prophets, who came into the Church almost immediately.
In the second epistle, 2 John, calls for complete separation from all those people who aren’t faithful to the truth. And the third epistle says essentially the same thing. The one who does good belongs to God, the one who doesn’t hasn’t seen God. John gives us a fundamental understanding of Christianity in its absolute sense, but he does it in these epistles as we will find with a tenderness and a love of a pastor. Somewhere along the line, this man had been tempered. Jesus wanted his strengths, He wanted his resolution, his commitment, but He needed to get rid of all the hints of selfish ambition and pride and He needed to turn him from being a sectarian to being a lover who could embrace while calling them to the truth …
But John’s love never slid into some sentimentality. It was never sentimentality and tolerance masquerading as love. Until the end of his life as the last Apostle to die at the end of the first century, he never, never tolerated deception, he never tolerated lies, he was always committed to the truth. He never tolerated sin of any kind …
And the assumption today is that if you hold to the truth without ambiguity, without vagueness, if you hold to the absolute truth of Scripture, you’re somehow not loving. Nothing, of course, could be further from the truth.
Allow me, please, to segue briefly before returning to St John. I’m fully aware from some of the comments I receive from Anglicans that a) we should be focussing more on the ‘nice’, comforting verses and b) embrace semi-Pelagianism, Universalism and pietism. Many of our Church of England clergy — top to bottom — are utterly irresponsible in presenting Christ’s teachings to us. Anglicans announce, ‘Well, my vicar says …’ or ‘My vicar told me I didn’t need preparation for my confirmation’. Confirmation is the time when Anglicans need to understand the 39 Articles of Religion and why we have them. It’s also the time when we need to study the various heresies, because many of us go on to adulthood, if not death, in error. We have no catechism in current use, which probably wouldn’t be so bad if our clergy knew Scripture well enough to explain it to us, but they do not. Or, if they do, then they wilfully take most of it out of context and apply unintended meaning — e.g. Social Gospel, ‘analogy’ — to it. Or they say, ‘Look, all that was in the past. Just focus on the Beatitudes’. They raise more questions than they answer, and the result is that many Anglicans are at sea spiritually. It is no wonder our churches are empty. Our clergy make the Bible sound like an historical tome, nothing more. It’s no wonder that some Anglicans drift into New Age ‘philosophy’ or towards the ‘certainties’ of Islam which they describe as ‘beautiful’ and ‘peaceful’. On the other hand, the laity who stay in the Church are offended by verses proscribing sin: ‘Surely, we will all be saved at the end of the day’. Why?
That is not what the New Testament says. And this is what John points out to us in his Gospel and his letters in the way that only he can.
I’ll close here with another passage from MacArthur’s sermon:
The priority is the truth, proclaimed in love. That’s the balance. That’s the divine balance … sound doctrine and the graciousness, the love of the Spirit. It’s not enough to have the love and the gentleness and the graciousness and leave out the truth. You have to have the truth. The ignorant and the deceived need the truth. And it’s not enough to love them, that is to leave them in error, leave them in shallowness. It’s not enough to come to people clothed in tolerant sentimentality which is a poor substitute for genuine love. There must be the truth.
But it’s not unloving, self-exalting orthodoxy either. It’s not good when love is missing and the truth is just cold facts stifling and unattractive. Ministry must possess truth and love for that is the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ. Christ was the perfect image of truth and love in balance. If you’re seeking to minister, these are the two things you seek. You seek to know the truth as God has revealed it, and you seek to love as Christ loves. And there all, as always in every era, lots of imbalance with respect to these two virtues. Plenty of shallow teaching, plenty of tolerance of error in the name of love, and there’s always plenty of hard, harsh, brash, self-righteous, cold orthodoxy. Sentiment and superficiality on the one hand, and orthodox indifference on the other. Critical mix and the critical balance is what God desires.
There will always be passages from Scripture, even the New Testament, which are difficult to grasp or seem ‘offensive’ to modern-day readers. However, that is our opportunity to study them more closely and understand their meaning. This is why a good commentary is such an important accompaniment to our reading. It has nothing to do with ‘liberal’ or ‘conservative’, because both of them can sometimes be in error, especially with some of the more present-day regression (e.g. ‘federal headship‘) in reaction to current denominational politicisation and apathy.
Back on topic: if you enjoy reading John’s Gospel, you will certainly like what his letters have to say. You can find out more in the next several Forbidden Bible Verses, continuing tomorrow.
Yesterday’s post looked at the influences that geography, the Eastern Orthodox Church and politics had on Jan Hus and his fellow citizens in a Bohemia which was united at the time with Moravia.
The story left off with Hus in a prime position as an ordained priest and rector of the University of Prague. Meanwhile, the Archbishop of Prague’s importance was lessening and, in 1411, he died. Religious dissent was growing with many citizens wishing for a return to the type of worship and polity they had under the Eastern Orthodox Church, which has Christianised them. Helping further fan the flames were renegade priests such as Conrad Waldhauser (Steikna), John Milicz, of Kremsier in Moravia; and Matthias of Janow. Waldenses had also established themselves in the area, having fled Strasbourg some years before. All were promoting a theology which was Waldensian and pietist.
Bohemians, Hus and schism
John Wycliffe‘s writings became increasingly important in northern Europe. Wealthy Bohemian and German travellers to England — yes, there were some — were able to bring back copies of Wycliffe’s works to Bohemia. Wycliffe’s theology, being oriented to Scripture and prayer, became increasingly important to people living in the region as an antidote to the excesses of the papacy, indulgences and clergy.
Hus (shown at left, courtesy of Wikipedia) borrowed heavily from Wycliffe’s teachings in his speeches and writing. In 1412, some theologians from the University of Prague opposed Hus’s support of Wycliffe. Successive popes had issued papal bulls forbidding mention of or belief in Wycliffe’s teachings. A group of his followers took it upon themselves to burn the papal bulls, insisting that Hus — not the Pope — was their spiritual leader.
Then, three men from the lower class openly denounced indulgences. The authorities arrested and beheaded them. They are considered to be the first Hussite martyrs.
Hus’s teachings were then officially forbidden, although, by then, the University of Prague theologians ignored the edict and asked that any objections be proven scripturally. The conflict between Church and State against Hus had escalated. Meanwhile, everyone in or near Prague was aware of it. Hus and his followers also wanted tensions to calm down and asked for freedom in ecclesiastical matters — a teaching borrowed from Wycliffe.
Bohemian Wyclifism was carried into Poland, Hungary, Croatia, and Austria.
In 1413, Rome declared that Wycliffe’s works must be burnt.
Hus’s final months
The following year, King Wenceslaus’s brother — Sigismund of Hungary (heir to the Bohemian crown) — promised Hus safe passage if he would attend the conference at Konstanz (Constance) in order to resolve the schism.
Hus agreed and wisely got his personal affairs in order before leaving home. For a few weeks, he was free in Konstanz as Sigismund had promised, until his opponents hunted him down and eventually imprisoned him in a Dominican monastery. Sigismund was angry upon hearing the news, but Church authorities replied that promises made to a heretic (Hus) could not be guaranteed.
Hus was transferred to the Archbishop of Konstanz’s castle on the Rhine River and imprisoned for 73 days under brutal conditions. In June 1415, he was transferred to a Franciscan monastery before he went on trial. During his trial, Church authorities asked him to recant Wycliffe’s teachings. Hus replied that he wished to debate with them Wycliffe’s teachings versus those of the Church, using Scripture. He said that should the clerics prove him wrong, he would be glad to recant. They refused his offer and he refused to recant.
He was burnt at the stake, with these words:
God is my witness that the things charged against me I never preached. In the same truth of the Gospel which I have written, taught, and preached, drawing upon the sayings and positions of the holy doctors, I am ready to die today.
The aftermath – conflict
In 1457, a group of Hus’s followers organised themselves as the Bohemian Brethren, or the Unity of the Brethren — Unitas Fratrum being the original name. Ten years later, the Waldensians ordained the Brethren’s bishop.
Hus’s movement spread to the extent that 90 per cent of those living in Czech crown lands — including the nobility — became Protestant. They opened their own schools, many of which had more than one teacher — unusual for that period in history. Also unusual were their schools for girls. The University of Prague was also Protestant.
To counter this, the Holy Roman Emperors invited the Jesuits to establish Catholic schools in the region, which they did, beginning in 1566. By 1622, with the backing of the Holy Roman Empire, the Protestant schools were forced to close. The Protestants had rebelled a few years earlier in the Bohemian Revolt, which occurred when the Emperor Matthias attempted to instal a Catholic as King of Bohemia, but were defeated in 1621. Not only had Protestant education and civil authority had come to a close, but the Holy Roman Emperor forbade the use of the Czech language, including the reading of books in that language.
Consequently, the Brethren had to flee or go underground. One community went to Poland and the other dispersed into smaller groups in Moravia. This latter group became known amongst them as the Hidden Seed.
The Hidden Seed and Count von Zinzendorf
Nikolaus Ludwig von Zinzendorf und Pottendorf, Imperial Count of Zinzendorf and Pottendorf, (1700 – 1760), German pietist and bishop of the Moravian Church, was born in Dresden. He was known as Ludwig.
The Zinzendorf family were Lutheran pietists and among the longstanding nobility of Lower Austria. Despite its name, Lower Austria is actually in the northeastern corner of the country. Young Ludwig’s godfather was Philipp Jakob Spener, one of the foremost Lutheran pietists. As I mentioned previously (emphases mine):
Spener studied theology in Strasbourg … then moved on to see what the Calvinists and the Waldensians were doing in Geneva. There he met a number of professors and pastors who deeply impressed him …
In 1686, Spener became a royal chaplain and was transferred to Dresden. He mentored a group of young theologians in Leipzig in a society he formed there for devout application and practice of biblical principles. Later, he ended up founding the University of Halle, which was based on pietistic theology. Not all went smoothly; a number of pastors in Leipzig opposed his pietism and made a stance for orthodox Lutheran doctrine and practice.
Like Spener, the Zinzendorfs — along with a number of other Lutherans — believed that Lutheranism had lost its way since the days of Martin Luther. They did not believe the clergy engaged people enough to pursue a holy and righteous life.
When Ludwig was only six weeks old, his father died. The child was raised by a pietist grandmother and aunt. His grandmother did much to bring him into the Christian faith — and pietism. He attended school in Halle, a pietist stronghold, thanks to Spener’s influence. Note that Spener’s earlier royal chaplaincy had based him in Dresden, where Ludwig was born.
In 1716, Zinzendorf studied law at the University of Wittenberg in preparation for a diplomatic career. He also travelled to the Netherlands, France and Germany. Like his godfather, he, too, visited a variety of Protestant churches and was careful to seek out the holiest of men as his friends.
He married whilst young, but not to his first love, whose family disapproved of the proposed union. Scholars believe that this disappointment brought him into an even closer pursuit of holiness. Although Spener died when his godson was only five years old, his teachings must have had a profound influence on the Zinzendorf family, because the young count was determined to further his godfather’s pietism. However, Zinzendorf was also concerned about the excessive rationalism emerging from the new Age of Enlightenment, which would eventually give rise to atheism and deism.
Although Spener never intended to separate from the Lutheran Church, Zinzendorf believed that a true practice of Christianity could come about only through free associations of believers committed to a knowledge and love of Jesus Christ.
When the young Count was 22 years old, a small group of the Hidden Seed from Moravia arrived on his estate. Their leader asked the Count whether he would countenance accommodating them on part of it. The Count granted permission to these refugees, whose faith was now illegal in their native Moravia and Bohemia, to construct the village of Herrnhut, two miles from the Count’s residence.
Herrnhut still exists today, by the way, as the centre for the Moravians in Germany.
Herrnhut, a refuge for persecuted Protestants
As the established village of Herrnhut became more widely known as a centre for freedom of Christians, a number of other persecuted groups settled there. In time, conflicts about belief arose amongst them.
Nonetheless, Zinzendorf continued putting money and support into the settlement. He was also deeply attached to it and in 1727, compiled the unifying Brotherly Agreement, which the settlers adopted. After that, the village’s popularity increased even further. Moravian historians note what took place from that point into the early 19th century:
- Setting up a watch of continuous prayer that ran uninterrupted, 24 hours a day, for 100 years.
- Originating the Daily Watchwords.
- Establishing more than 30 settlements internationally on the Herrnhut model, which emphasised prayer and worship, and a form of communal living in which simplicity of lifestyle and generosity with wealth were held to be important spiritual attributes. The purpose of these communities was to assist the members resident there in the sanctification of their lives, to provide a meeting place for Christians from different confessional backgrounds, to provide Christian training for their own children and the children of their friends and supporters and to provide support for the Moravian Mission work throughout the world. As a result, although personal property was held, divisions between social groups and extremes of wealth and poverty were largely eliminated.
- Being the first church body to begin missionary work; and
- Forming many hundreds of small renewal groups operating within the existing churches of Europe, known as “diaspora societies”. These groups encouraged personal prayer and worship, Bible study, confession of sins and mutual accountability.
All those points certainly characterise the main tenets of pietism: a close watch on one another, small groups, personal accountability within those groups, evangelism, mission work and personal sanctification — sometimes in a radical pietist commune.
Zinzendorf’s Brotherly Agreement, incidentally, still exists today as ‘The Moravian Covenant for Christian Living’.
Radical pietism and lovefeasts
Some time after he established the Brotherly Agreement, Zinzendorf obtained a copy of the Ratio Disciplinae, which was the behavioural guide for the early Unitas Fratrum. He was amazed to see how closely the two aligned.
He proceeded to organise the Herrnhut inhabitants into families. These, however, were not what we call nuclear families today, but ones which he called ‘choirs’, organised by sex, marital status and age. The Count explained that at every age, people need something different from Christ and what better way to obtain it than by impartial group segregation. The concept sounds awful, but similar Moravian communes were established in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania (later known for its steel), and in Salem, North Carolina (the other half of which is Winston). Two positives to note about the American settlements: escaped slaves there were on a par with all the other members and the wealthy occupied the same living quarters as the poorest.
As we know from previous posts on pietism, it is a religion of the ‘heart’, deeply rooted in emotionalism and personal experience rather than a more detached, cerebral exegesis of Scripture. The notion of ‘love’ was — and still is — also emphasised. The Moravian communities were no different.
To this end, at certain times of year, a ‘lovefeast’ was performed. This ritual was also part of other Brethren and Primitive Methodist services on special occasions. All these groups are pietist. The Primitive Methodists’ lovefeasts featured a potluck — ‘bring a dish to pass’ — which is also part of today’s Alpha groups, originating in the Anglican Church. Alpha also revolves around small groups in many parishes and involves experiential sharing and, to some extent, personal accountability.
Back to the Moravian and Brethren denominations which undertake lovefeasts. Wikipedia describes them as being:
based upon the Agape feast and the meals of the early churches described in the Bible in the Acts of the Apostles, which were partaken in unity and love. It is not, however, to be confused with or serve as a replacement for Communion. Traditionally for European, Canadian, and American Lovefeasts, a sweetened bun and coffee (sweetened milky tea in Germany, Holland and England) is served to the congregation in the pews by dieners (from the German for servers); before partaking, a simple table grace is said. The foods and drinks consumed from congregation may vary tremendously at the Lovefeast and are usually adapted from what the congregations have available. Services in some Colonial-era Lovefeasts, for example, used plain bread and water; some in Salem were even known to have served beer.
The Moravian Lovefeast also concentrates on the singing of hymns, and listening to music which may come from the organ or choir. The songs and hymns chosen usually describe love and harmony. The congregation can also talk quietly with their fellow brothers and sisters in Christ about their spiritual walk with God. Christmas Eve Lovefeasts can become particularly spectacular in the congregation’s choice of music and instrumentation. Many churches also have trombone choirs or church bands play prior to a Lovefeast as a call to service.
A Moravian congregation may hold a Lovefeast on any special occasion, such as the date their church was founded, but there are certain established dates that Lovefeasts are regularly observed. Some of these notable dates include Watch Night, Good Friday, the Festival of August 13th (the 1727 date on which the Moravian Church was renewed or reborn), and Christmas Eve, where each member of the congregation receives a lighted candle at the end of the service in addition to the bun and coffee.
Groups that descend from the Schwarzenau Brethren such as the Church of the Brethren, Brethren Church, Old German Baptist Brethren, and Dunkard Brethren also regularly practice a Love Feast based upon New Testament descriptions of the Last Supper of Christ. The Brethren, however, combine the Agape meal (often consisting of lamb or beef and a bowl of sop) with a service of feetwashing prior to the meal and communion afterward. The term “Lovefeast” in this case generally refers to all three ordinances, not just the meal. Influenced by German Pietists during the early 18th century, the Lovefeast was instituted among Brethren before Moravians adopted the practice.
International Moravian missions
Before the population of Herrnhut reached 300 people, their Moravian missionaries were already on the move, evangelising. The first were in Europe, but in 1732, they were on a ship to St Thomas (Virgin Islands). They ministered there to slaves as well as to slaveowners. St Thomas had its first Moravian bishop in 1735.
In 1740, they focussed on the (then) British colonies in America, establishing a mission in Dutchess County, New York (where Poughkeepsie is). There, they evangelised among Native Americans, treating them as equals. However, with the advent of the French and Indian Wars, their motives were suspect and the colony of New York expelled them. The following year, they moved on to Pennsylvania and North Carolina to found the aforementioned Bethlehem and Salem settlements. By 1801, they had reached the state of Georgia, where they established a mission to the Cherokee tribe, until the United States Government resettled the Cherokees in Oklahoma, where the mission continues today under the aegis of the Danish Lutheran Church.
We may well owe our two-day weekend to Count von Zinzendorf, thanks to his exhortations in Philadelphia to respect the Old Testament Saturday Sabbath with time off to listen to additional preaching on the Sunday. (The picture on the left, courtesy of Wikipedia, shows him preaching to all men and women on his mission travels.)
Moravian missions in Australia were transferred in time to the Presbyterian Church. Those in Greenland are now under the auspices of the Lutheran Church.
They also evangelised in South America and Asia, as well as Africa.
Today, the largest concentration of Moravians can be found in Tanzania in Africa.
So, from their earliest days in Herrnhut, Zinzendorf ensured that the Moravians could spread Christianity.
The darker side — sexual imagery, scandal and the Count’s remarriage
Because Zinzendorf was so emotionally involved in religious experience, he began to use rather explicit — if not, to the outsider, blasphemous — sexual references to describe it.
He was preoccupied with our Lord’s wounds from the Cross, describing them as
so moist, so gory
and, astonishingly, in referring to the side wound, called it
the Seitenhölchen (‘little side-hole’). This was tied to his wish to overcome the traditional shame which was attached to sexual organs and acts:
What in the Bible is mentioned an hundred, and more than an hundred Times, but on Account of the Fall, by Reason of Deprivation, is call’d by the hideous name Pudendum; this he (the Saviour) has changed into Verendum, in the proper and strictest sense of that Word: And what was chastised by Circumcision, in the Time of the Law, is restored again to its first Essence and flourishing State; ’tis made equal to the most respectable Parts of the Body, yea ’tis on account of its Dignity and Distinction, become superior to all the rest; especially as the Lamb would choose to endure in that Part his first Wound, his first Pain…
Today’s pietists are welcome to disagree with me, but their undue prohibition on behaviour and thoughts brings about a vacuum which only Satan can fill. It would be interesting to find out which branch of Christianity has the most pornography addicts. Personally, I venture that it is the pietists. Only on their blogs and fora do I see such comments as, ‘Brother, I have struggled with this sin [pornography] for many years and find it to be a daily battle’. To those men in good physical health, I say have a drink, enjoy a quiet smoke and love your wife. The first two are far preferable in moderation than seeking out depraved internet sites or, like Zinzendorf, referring to our Redeemer in such carnal phraseology.
Wikipedia cites a famous Christian hymn which follows this carnal line of thought:
Zinzendorf’s emphasis on the “blood and wounds” is not that different from hymns that are sung today without second thought: “Rock of Ages, cleft for me, let me hide myself in Thee.”
Well, those lyrics have also given me pause for thought in the past, and I am happy that my church does not sing them.
Zinzendorf’s son, Christian Renatus, lived in another commune, Herrnhaag — the Lord’s Grove — and took the imagery further:
he led the Single Brethren’s Choir composed of the unmarried men in the Congregation. Excessive use of sexual imagery, combined with questionable theology of “playing in the Lord,” came to mean that the young men did little work and came to look down on those who were in the mission field laboring for the Kingdom instead of spending every moment adoring the Savior. Ensuing scandal and near-financial ruin forced Ludwig to chastise his son, bringing him to England. Casimir Count of Isenburg-Buedingen demanded the submission of the Moravians of Herrnhaag to himself, and that they reject their allegiance to the elder Zinzendorf. The entire community rejected this demand, leading to the closure of Herrnhaag beginning in 1750-53.
Christian Renatus died in 1752. Zinzendorf felt a profound loss. Two years before, the Count was almost forced to file for bankruptcy, having spent his fortune on financing Herrnhut and the missions. In 1756, his wife died; she was also a close friend and confidante. However, only a year later, he married Anna Caritas Nitschmann, 15 years younger than he. Wikipedia explains:
he had been very close [to her] for many years. Anna had for years been spiritual leader of the women of the movement. The marriage was not publicized broadly since Anna was a commoner, and would have been extremely controversial.
Zinzendorf died in 1760. Anna went to her rest just a few weeks later. Zinzendorf’s son-in-law took his place as head of the Moravian communities.
Soon: More on pietism in other denominations
Apologies to my readers who might find the words ‘Moravian’, ‘history’ and ‘Jan Hus’ offputting.
However, to understand where Jan (‘John’) Hus and the Moravians derived their influence, it helps to find out more about the history of Moravia and its influences from geography as well as kingdoms and other strands of Christianity. As most Protestants know, Hus was part of the run-up to Luther’s Reformation.
Moravia comprises more or less the eastern part of today’s Czech Republic. It derives its name from the Morava River, the principal waterway of the region. One of the Morava’s lowland regions is known as the Marchland, march meaning ‘border’ in German and not ‘marsh’, as we might think. Wikipedia explains a fact pertinent to parts of this post (highlights mine):
The lower part of the river, downstream of the confluence with the Thaya at Hohenau an der March, marks the Austro-Slovakian border. This is one of the oldest national boundaries still extant in continental Europe; it was the eastern boundary of the March of Austria from the 11th century, and also marked the boundary of the Carolingian Empire with the Avar Khaganate during the 9th century (the March was within Habsburg territory during 1526–1918 due to the imperial expansion of Austria).
Bohemia is the territory to the west of Moravia.
Both Moravia and Bohemia are surrounded by mountains. Moravia’s northern and westernmost range is the Sudete(n) Mountains. The Carpathians lie to the east. The Beskids form its southern border.
Bohemia, which translates loosely to ‘home of the Boi people’, has the Bohemian Forest on its borders between what are now Germany and Austria, with the Ore Mountains to the north and the Sudeten mountains to the east. Its principal river is the Moldau.
Celts and, later, a Germanic tribe, invaded Moravia. As for Bohemia, the Boii were originally in what is now today’s Italy, when they fled from Roman invasion in the late 2nd century BC.
An independent people
Both groups, although later invaded and conquered by different tribes and kingdoms and were at times unified, maintained an independent streak which would play its part in the century leading up to Martin Luther’s Reformation.
When I was growing up, unconventional ‘artsy’ people — or ‘beatniks’, as they were called in the 1950s and early 1960s, were called Bohemians. They frequented coffee houses, dressed unconventionally and had little regard for social mores. They were not Bohemians from what was then Czechoslovakia; they were just unconventional. In the late 1960s, author Tom (Bonfire of the Vanities) Wolfe shortened this to ‘boho’. Today, in the 21st century, we have another word, ‘bobo’, which originated in France and is short for ‘bourgeois Bohemian’. It refers to well-brought up people of means who have defected from the middle-class norm in terms of behaviour, politics and social attitudes. ‘Bobo’ is now increasingly used in English and American parlance. In recent years, Americans have been using the word ‘hipster’, which means the same thing.
During the latter half of the fourteenth century (1350-1400), Bohemia occupied a place among the nations of Europe somewhat correspondent to her local position in the heart of the continent. Her capital was the residence of the German emperor. Her university at Prague, though recently founded, was the oldest and most flourishing – indeed, almost the only one – in Eastern Europe. Her churches, cloisters, and palaces were remarked by the stranger with surprise and admiration, while through her connection with the German empire, her influence was widely felt.
in 1310 John of Luxembourg became king of Bohemia. Moravia and Bohemia remained within the Luxembourg dynasty of Holy Roman kings and emperors (except during the Hussite wars), until inherited by Albert II of Habsburg in 1437.
The cry of Reform which was to be heard in almost every country of Europe, demanding the removal of the papal schism, and a remedy for the evils of the church, was to find a memorable echo in her own university. In her bosom she was fondly to cherish one of her own sons, whose influence should be more enduring and extensive than that of Petrarch, and the fundamental principle of whose doctrines – the sole and supreme authority of the word of God – was to strike the key-note of the Great Reformation in the succeeding century.
This was because the Bohemians resented the Germans, who seemed to overrun the area not only in governance but also in cities and universities in their own land. As Gillett explains:
For the two preceding centuries it had been kept alive, and had even acquired strength in opposition to foreign innovations. The introduction of the usages of the Romish church, and the extended jurisdiction of Roman law, had not been gained without a struggle. The popular literature, meager as it was, was warmly cherished, and gave place but slowly to Latin learning.
Bohemia, like England, was sheltered by her isolated situation. And besides all this, her attachment to her old usages, long cherished by the patriotic feeling of her citizens, had made her exceedingly reluctant to conform to the Romish ritual. Former sympathies and associations had connected her with the East. By the Greek church she had first been Christianized, and, until near the middle of the fourteenth century, a strong attachment to the rites and usages derived from this source had very generally prevailed. The process by which the nation was brought to recognize the authority of the See of Rome was slow and difficult.
The Bohemians and Moravians resented the Germanic introduction of the Church of Rome’s practices of the Eucharist in one specie only (bread) and the celibacy of the clergy. Emperor Charles IV set forth a series of penalties for rebellion against Rome and the sentiment among local people was bitter.
As such, they began to revive their own local and regional traditions. This was true in every social class, even the nobility. Bohemian literature was made available — this was pre-printing press — to the people as much as possible. Works in Latin were translated into Bohemian to further their classical awareness.
Charles IV was forced to install an Archbishop of Prague over the presiding (German) Archbishop of Mayence (Mainz). The Bohemians also gained the right to civil judges who could speak and understand the local language. At the turn of the 15th century, the University of Prague instituted the ‘College of the Bohemian nation’, specifically for Bohemians.
It was against this backdrop that Jan Hus began his university education.
Waldensian influence in Bohemia
If you read my post on Peter Waldo and his Waldenses from southern France and the Italian Alps, you’ll recall that a version of Waldo’s life story takes him into ‘Germany’ for safe haven, where he is thought to have died. Gillett subscribed to that theory, saying that after the burning at the stake of a number of Waldenses in Strasbourg many others fled to Bohemia and settled there — Waldo, he believed, among their number.
Interestingly, Gillett posits that Waldo first fled to Picardy — the region in Northern France where John Calvin was born in the early 16th century. Incidentally, the Bogomilist map shows that their beliefs spread to the same region. Indeed, ex-Catholic Calvin codified Christianity along Bogomilist lines, which Martin Luther, himself a former Augustinian monk, did not do, although it appears that Bogomilism had also spread to Germany.
Am I saying that Calvin is a heretic? Not necessarily, however, he was firmly opposed to anything which was even vaguely Roman Catholic, whereas Luther showed a greater flexibility towards adiaphora, which the Bogomilists despised, as do present-day Calvinists.
In any event, back to the Waldenses — also influenced by Bogomilism — seeking refuge in Bohemia, a region of mountains and valleys, both to which they were already accustomed. ‘Waldenses’ comes from ‘Vaudois’, the French word for ‘people from mountain valleys’, as I explained in my post, citing the Swiss canton of Vaud, located in the Alps.
According to Gillett, the Waldenses continued to preach and teach in Bohemia:
The vulgar tongue was as fitting for prayer, in their view, as the Latin, which they did not understand … They laughed at the legends of the saints. They reverenced “the traditions” of the church no more than Christ did the traditions of the Pharisees. They denied purgatory. They considered lights in churches needless. To them holy water was no better than any other, and the cross was but a piece of wood. But it was their veneration for, and their acquaintance with, the word of God, abundantly attested by their persecutors, that led them to dissent so emphatically from the Roman church. Of the purity of their lives, and the simple devotion which characterized their worship, their foes themselves leave us no room to doubt.
Prosperity and independent thought
That said, the region was advancing, thanks to the German presence. And, on another level, the more people became aware of their social and mercantile advances, the more they began examining their own Eastern Orthodox traditions, the teachings of the Waldenses and the Roman Catholic Church. The University of Prague ranked the third most notable institution of higher education in Europe, only behind those of Oxford and Paris, respectively.
Many Bohemians — Moravians included — had already heard of three men of recent memory who had opposed the Catholic Church. They were Conrad Waldhauser (Steikna), John Milicz, of Kremsier in Moravia; and Matthias of Janow.
Conrad Walshauer died around the time that Jan Hus was born. Walshauer had lived through the Black Death and made the journey to Rome for Pope Clement VI’s jubilee in 1350. The numbers of people there and the immoderate sales of various indulgences floored him. He returned to Austria a changed man and devoted his life to repentance. He was later charged with breach of the peace for his inflammatory preaching, much of it in Prague. Despite that, Charles IV appreciated his sermons and invited him to become the parish priest in Leitmeritz. However, a number of the locals as well as Franciscans and Dominicans opposed the appointment. He was able to preach at a church in Prague, but the numbers who gathered in and outside the church were too numerous, and, as a result, Walshauer went outdoors to preach — a notable characteristic of pietism. He especially criticised the monks for their licentiousness and hypocrisy. However, he also preached that the laity repent of their sins and give the proceeds of their wealth to the poor — the latter being another mark of pietism. He appears to have meant much more than charity. He died, a parish priest, in 1369.
John Milicz was a native of Moravia, appointed archdeacon and preacher at the cathedral. He was a contemporary of Walshauer’s and had — as John Calvin would — read theology and law at university. He studied at the University of Prague. He preached against Communion as bread only, saying that the people should partake of the wine as well, as Christ instituted at the Last Supper. He was also disconcerted that people could not worship in their own language. Furthermore, he objected to the taking of holy orders as being synonymous with personal sanctity. Eventually, he resigned his position at the cathedral for a much lesser-paid post as sacristan there (preparing the elements for Communion, maintaining the vestments and parts of the building). He volunteered himself to poverty — another mark of pietism. Although Milicz had been strident, he practiced what he preached and maintained the affection of those attending cathedral services. Even as a sacristan, they demanded that he preach to them three or four times a day.
In time, word spread to German visitors to Prague. In order to widen his audience, he learned German and preached in that language. Although he spent a short time as a curate in a town in Pilsen (western Bohemia, where the beer originated, not the neighbourhood in Chicago!), he returned to Prague, where he became more self-sacrificing in his poverty and preaching than before, going from church to church to spread his message. Eventually, he focused his ministry on helping to reform women of ill repute. He became convinced that the Pope was the Antichrist and journeyed to Rome to seek an audience with Pope Urban. Milicz was imprisoned for intimating his thoughts publicly and was freed only once Urban returned to Rome from Avignon (Provence, in France, where a concurrent opposing papacy with Rome was in place for some years). Back in Prague, he organised a group of like-minded pietistic ascetics, whom the public opposed vigorously. Perhaps Milicz had gone one step too far. Yet, Charles IV appointed him to the post Walshauer held when he died. Regional bishops complained. Milicz travelled to Avignon to complain to the Pope, but died whilst there.
Matthias of Janow was similar in that he taught that the laity must live a holy life by works — a ticklist of behaviours which they must adopt, another hallmark of pietism. ‘If you do this, then you will be saved’ — a form of semi-Pelagianism. He seems to have been the John Wesley of his time in that his innate holiness inspired others to adopt it. However, innate holiness in one person on the road to sanctification does not necessarily mean that everyone else will experience that same Providential grace at the same time along that same road. All of us are different.
Matthias, like Wesley was well-versed in Scripture and well-travelled. He wrote a treatise on the truth of Scripture, contrasting it with the practices of the Catholic Church. Although he cross-referenced not only his volume but his sermons with Scripture, he, too, had a pietistic bent in railing against people who did not accept his version of personal holiness. Sometimes he was right in lashing out against hypocrisy amongst the clergy and laity. He was also right to argue for a return to Holy Communion in both forms — bread and wine. However, he seemed to have been bound up in condemnation for people who did not do exactly as he did by means of sanctification. Although he became a prebendary at Prague, in 1389, he appeared before the Synod there and was told to recant what he had written. As was the case with Milicz, Charles IV won out in the end. Matthias continued in the same vein as before. He died in 1394, and in 1410, his writings were burnt along with those of John Wycliffe.
Jan Hus’s ministry
By 1396, Jan Hus held a Master’s degree from the University of Prague. Four years later, he was ordained a Catholic priest. Between 1402 and 1403, he became the rector of the University of Prague as well as the priest of the new Bethlehem chapel. His main influence was John Wycliffe, whose writings had been condemned during the same time period. Nonetheless, Hus translated Wycliffe’s Trialogus into the vernacular, so that the local people could read it.
As had his fellow countrymen — Walshauer, Milicz and Matthias of Janow — Hus railed against the same ills of the Catholic Church. In 1405, upon instruction of Pope Innocent VII, the Archbishop of Prague forbade any preaching or teaching of Wycliffe.
In 1406, two Bohemian students brought a document bearing the seal of the University of Oxford. It was a tribute to Wycliffe which Hus read from the pulpit. Two years later, Pope Gregory XII wrote the Archbishop of Prague that anyone espousing Wycliffe’s teachings — including King Wenceslaus — must stop doing so.
Wenceslaus (pictured on the right) also needed to act, as he wished to become a future Holy Roman Emperor. He decreed a neutrality towards both Popes — of Rome and Avignon. He expected the University of Prague to follow. The Archbishop pledged to remain loyal to Gregory XII. Meanwhile, at the university, only Hus’s voting bloc — one of four — voted for neutrality.
Wenceslaus declared that the Bohemians would become the major voting blocs in university affairs. You wouldn’t think that this would be such a major event, but between 5,000 and 20,000 foreign scholars left the university in 1409. A number of them founded the University of Leipzig and denounced the Bohemians for spreading heresies.
One would have thought this could have spelled disaster for Hus, but instead he remained rector of the University of Prague and went on to greater renown. Meanwhile, the Archbishop was sidelined.
Next: Hus — fame or notoriety?
When the Georgia Guidestones first appeared in the news in 1980, I was at university:
Elbert County owns the Georgia Guidestones site. According to the Georgia Mountain Travel Association’s detailed history: “The Georgia Guidestones are located on the farm of Mildred and Wayne Mullenix…” The Elbert County land registration system shows what appears to be the Guidestones as County land purchased on October 1, 1979. 
My friends and I discussed it in the dining hall. One said, ‘It’s really evil — all about population control.’ I, on the other hand, found the messages quite intriguing and perfect for the end of the 20th century. Our group had a dinnertime discussion about the morality and ethics behind the ‘ten guides for a New Age of Reason’ (image at left courtesy of Wikipedia):
1. Maintain humanity under 500,000,000 in perpetual balance with nature.
2. Guide reproduction wisely – improving fitness and diversity.
3. Unite humanity with a living new language.
4. Rule passion – faith – tradition – and all things with tempered reason.
5. Protect people and nations with fair laws and just courts.
6. Let all nations rule internally resolving external disputes in a world court.
7. Avoid petty laws and useless officials.
8. Balance personal rights with social duties.
9. Prize truth – beauty – love – seeking harmony with the infinite.
10. Be not a cancer on the earth – Leave room for nature – Leave room for nature.
I accused my friend of not having bothered reading past the first point, to which she said, ‘A “world court” would be really problematic. It would be like the UN. This is the United States of America! We don’t need world courts!’
In her Midwestern state, many people outside the larger towns and cities were deeply suspicious of the United Nations. It was not unusual for someone in that part of the world to pay in perpetuity for a billboard in the countryside that said ‘Get US out of the UN!’ At that time, the only people who thought like that had read books by the John Birch Society or heard their ideas discussed by friends or family.
So, I ignored what she had to say and forgot all about the Georgia Guidestones. Everyone else in our group was more anti- than pro-, by the way.
Over the past couple of years, however, I started reading about them again online. My occasional correspondent, Rogue Lutheran, sent me a few links to peruse in 2010, which got me going.
Thirty years on, after having reread the ten guides and the articles, I now think that the whole concept and content are rather depressing. So, my sincere apologies to Rogue Lutheran for not having written on them earlier.
It turns out that we still don’t know who paid for this humanist monument de nos jours, although speculation abounds. The only thing we know is that its sponsors are or were
A small group
of Americans who seek
the Age of Reason.
The author of this multilingual message is one R C Christian, which is a pseudonym. The word is misspelled on the stone as ‘pseudonyn’. I bet whoever commissioned it is rather annoyed about that.
Those who are familiar with esoteric (gnostic) societies surmise that R C Christian is a person (or persons) involved in Rosicrucianism, which used to be advertised in the back of Sunday newspaper supplements. They also call for
a global religion, world courts, and for population levels to be maintained at around 500 million, over a 5.5 billion reduction from current levels. The stones infer that humans are a cancer upon the earth and should be culled in order to maintain balance with nature.”
Throughout the 1970s, overpopulation, the biosphere (as it was called then) and pollution were big news. The word ‘ecologist’ went mainstream at that time. These were experts, don’t you know, and I took what they had to say seriously. Guest editorials in newspapers and cover articles in newsweeklies covered these subjects regularly.
Back then, our society was much freer and much more given — in my opinion — to conspicuous consumption. Maybe it was just newer then; it was certainly cheaper. People also seemed happier, although not as happy as they were in the 1960s. However, we had fewer laws then, although the clamour for more regulation of industry was increasing.
Now that we are in the 21st century, we have more laws not only for businesses but also many of a personal nature — more than we even know about. It seems to me, that regardless of who devised the ten guides, we are being forced into them. Even OccupyZine — the magazine of the Occupy movement — has called them to its adherents’ attention.
The OccupyZine link directs readers to an article published by the Vigilant Citizen in 2010 called ‘Sinister Sites: The Georgia Guidestones’.
Vigilant Citizen (VC) writes:
As you can see, the guidelines call for a drastic reduction of the world population, the adoption of new a world language, the creation of a world court and a vague allusions to eugenics. In other words, a blueprint for a New World Order.
The first “commandment” is particularly shocking, since it basically stipulates that 12 out of 13 people on Earth should not exist; basically, that would mean everybody in the world would disappear except half of India. If today’s world population is 6,7 billion, then that is a 92.54% surplus. To consider these figures is mind-boggling. But then, how many people survived in the movie 2012? Not many. Who were they? The earth’s wealthiest people. Is this predictive programming?
The last rule of the Guidestones, “Be not a cancer on the earth – leave room for nature – leave room for nature” is particularly disturbing as it compares human life to cancer on earth. With this state of mind, it is easy to rationalize the extinction of nearly all of the world’s population.
VC also notes:
The second rule (“Guide reproduction wisely – improving diversity and fitness”) basically calls for the inference of lawmakers into the management of family units. If we read between the lines, it requires to creation of laws structuring the number of children per family. Furthermore, “improving diversity and fitness” can be obtained with “selective breeding” or the sterilization of undesirable members of society. This used to be called “eugenics”, until it became politically incorrect because of the Nazis.
VC has read the Georgia Guidestones Guidebook and provides several helpful quotations from it which promote the idea of a world government and world courts.
In their own words, the authors have chosen to stay anonymous
in order to avoid debate and contention which might confuse our meaning, and which might delay a considered review of our thoughts. We believe that our precepts are sound. They must stand on their own merits …
Fair enough. But they also are in favour of
A diverse and prosperous world population in perpetual balance with global resources will be the cornerstone for a rational world order. People of good will in all nations must work to establish that balance …
With the completion of the central cluster of The Georgia Guidestones our small sponsoring group has disbanded. We leave the monument in the safekeeping of the people of Elbert County, Georgia.
If our inscribed words are dimmed by the wear of wind and sun and time, we ask that you will cut them deeper. If the stones should fall, or if they be scattered by people of little understanding. we ask that you will raise them up again.
We have enough laws controlling our own behaviour as it is. I predict that the exponential increase in laws regulating personal conduct will be the theme which history shows as characteristic of the first two decades of the 21st century.
VC explains that R C Christian (emphases in the original):
is a clear reference to Christian Rosenkreuz whose English name is Christian Rose Cross, the legendary founder of the Rosicrucian Order. Some might say that the resemblance between R.C. Christian and Christian Rose Cross is the result of an odd coincidence. As we will see, it is however only one of the MANY references to Rosicrucianism associated with the monument. This is only one piece of the puzzle, but an important piece nonetheless.
Rosenkreuz (1378 – 1484) was kidnapped as a five-year old by an Albigensian and raised in one of their monasteries. Therefore, he fell under the Bogomilist spell with the Albigenses in the south of France. Bogomilism is a heresy which is again picking up in popularity.
VC has also picked up on the loss of personal liberties and freedom:
Reading between the lines, the Guidestones require from the masses the loss of many personal liberties and to submit to heightened governmental control on many social issues … not to mention the death of 92.5% of the population…and probably not those of the “elite”. Is the concept of a democracy “by and for the people”, as idealized by the Founding Fathers a mere illusion, a temporary solution until the introduction of socialist world government? Why are the world’s citizens not being consulted in a democratic matter? I guess it is easier for the elites to manufacture consent through mass medias. But maybe it won’t work on everybody…
Someone defaced one of the tablets in 2008, but the stones must be pretty securely placed to have survived intact — outside of a few chips — up to now.
It seems that this would be a good subject for Sunday School ethics classes for those in secondary school. If you’re reading this and happen to teach a class of youngsters, it would make a good lesson or two on discernment.
One of the links Rogue Lutheran sent me is from Van’s Hardware Journal. Don’t be dissuaded by the name of the blog; this post, ‘Decoding the Georgia Guidestones’, tells the local story. As mentioned earlier, no one is sure of the identity of R C Christian, however, there are even a few local Elberton possibilities, including someone who closely followed Alice A Bailey’s Theosophist teachings, which she and her husband turned into the Lucifer Publishing Company in 1920. It is now Lucis Trust and well known for its New Age publications.
The Baileys’ Lucis Trust and their Arcane School, Van tells us (emphases mine):
have become very influential organizations and appear to be favored as the blueprint for a United Nations endorsed world religion.
A central theme in this Theosophical lineage … is the idea that man can attain divinity. As such, God becomes the jealous adversary working to thwart man’s elevation to godhood. Satan, or, more commonly in modern occult circles, Lucifer is seen as man’s ally, the Bringer of Light, the Bestower of Knowledge.
Therefore, it is a blend of Pelagianism — man’s ‘divinity’ — with satanic ideas and gnosticism, or secret knowledge.
Van’s Hardware Journal explains a possible Guidestones scenario for the unfortunate masses — well worth using if you ever teach this subject:
Through a state run eugenics program, Christian believes the world can produce “healthier and more productive human beings” over each succeeding generation. “Superior human intelligence, compassion and drive” and other “desirable mental and physical qualities” can also be enhanced under such eugenic conditions.
Humorously yet sinisterly, Christian cites “docility” and “loyalty” achieved through selective breeding in dogs as evidence that “comparable but more important modifications” in human behavior can be achieved through eugenics.
In R.C. Christian’s “Age of Reason,” even if the state allows you to have children, you will be required to raise them under strict conditions so as to “mold their characters and to develop their potentials as socially worthwhile adults.”
That is, if the state even allows you to keep them.
Because even if you and your spouse are considered good breeding stock, the state might find you “temperamentally unsuited for parenthood.” In which case, your children will be transferred “to the care of others capable of nurturing them into well adjusted adulthood” …
And don’t think that you are safe just because you lined up for voluntary sterilization.
For instance, if the economy is bad and you lose your job, in Robert Christian’s rational world order, you will have to become a slave of the state to survive. You won’t be able to vote and you will be compelled to work jobs often held by illegal immigrants, who will then be displaced back to their native lands. If you don’t like your job and quit, you will starve.
Not only will you have to be suitably employed or own a private business to vote, you will also have to pass both intelligence and “educational requirements” tests to prove to the state that you are worthy of the right of suffrage. Want to run for public office? Robert Christian has more tests that you will need to pass first.
Speaking of rights, you will have none if Christian gets his way. Rights to him are privileges that the state will only bestow upon you if you properly serve the state.
And don’t forget your identity card! In Christian’s nightmare world, everyone is required to carry with them a unique biometric ID card. Without one you will not be able to get work or get government help.
Okay, so you are a good citizen in Christian’s new age world. You might be allowed to have children. You might be allowed to raise them. You might be lucky enough to find a suitable job so that you can vote.
Just be sure not to get sick or injured, because Christian believes the state must ration health care “favoring those individuals whose continuing lives are most valuable” to the state.
But you were injured because your new Halliburton electric toothbrush exploded in your right hand, blowing it off at the wrist and blinding you for life. Surely, you have recourse to litigation. No, Christian wants to place caps on litigation and let financial damage beyond this limit fall to his state’s wonderfully efficient and fair health and welfare system.
Unfortunately, that means that since you can no longer work, you will lose your voting privileges, almost certainly lose your child because you will not be able to care for him properly on welfare and you will receive the lowest standard of medical care available because you are no longer productive for the state.
It’s all very rational and reasonable in Christian’s mind.
Yet, I run across a number of commenters on British and American blogs who also (sadly) would find this all perfectly reasonable.
What does the Bible say about each of these ten guides of our time?
Short answer: obey the Ten Commandments and one will have no need for the ten guides.
In a recent interview with the Australian Broadcasting Network, trends analyst and financial forecaster Gerald Celente said (emphases mine):
I would say, since I’ve been doing this work, over 30 years ago, I’ve never been more concerned than I am right now.
According to Dominique de Kevelioc de Bailleul of Beacon Equity, who summarises the interview:
Twenty-two months of hysteria of an impending European financial collapse, starting with Greece in March of 2010, will finally come to an end in 2012, according to the founder of Trends Research Institute, Gerald Celente.
Celente’s latest forecast, ‘The First Great War of the 21st Century—Prepare, Survive, Prevail’, predicts more turmoil for the Middle East, North Africa and Europe.
And — things are set to become even worse in the United States, to be covered in a moment.
Meanwhile, Celente voices his concerns about Europe:
“If you live in Greece, you’re in a depression; if you live in Spain, you’re in a depression; if you live in Portugal or Ireland, you’re in a depression,” Celente said. “If you live in Lithuania, you’re running to the bank to get your money out of the bank as the bank runs go on. It’s a depression. Hungary, there’s a depression, and much of Eastern Europe, Romania, Bulgaria. And there are a lot of depressions going on [already].”
Celente advises us not to expect China to come to the rescue (quite rightly):
… China will then likely slow its imports of materials from countries which have been supplying mined product during the commodities boom, leading to a vicious spiral of increased unemployment and declining economic activity—a scenario strongly intimated by Dow Theory Letters author Richard Russell in his latest letter to investors (excerpts posted on King World News). Russell, too, expects a steepening U.S. depression, with 25 percent unemployment in the America as his target at the bottom of the depression.
“This whole thing is connected,” Celente explained. “China isn’t going to have the money to throw around to losers anymore than loan shark would give a gambler who can’t pay his old debts back and has a bad gambling habit another loan to gamble . . . They [Chinese] have their own problems to deal with.”
As for the United States, Celente’s home country:
The Panic of ’08; you have the Great Recessions—Great Depressions going on. Oh, by the way, real estate prices in the United States, they’re at a steeper decline than they were during the Great Depression. Foreclosures continue to mount. It’s taking people over 40 weeks, who lose jobs to find another job, and then finding one at a fraction of what they lost the old one at.
He hasn’t changed his mind about imminent war, either, which, as students of history know, is the established answer to a prolonged economic downturn:
“So then you look at the trade wars that they’re now talking about,” Celente said. “And, as I said, when you add them up, you have the beginnings of a great war going on already. Oh, and now, and now, they’re talking about, hey, we did such a great job in Iraq and Afghanistan, why don’t we bomb Iran? Have you heard the presidential candidates of the United States, with the exception of Ron Paul, that all want to go to war against Iran? So you can see where it’s going.
Celente said the kickoff to a global meltdown and a call to war could “spiral out of control” some time “by the first quarter of 2012” as the European crisis worsens to the point of a crack up. “There’s no way to bail out the European nations,” Celente said forcefully.
And the build up to social unrest, calamity and possible civil war can be seen a mile away, said Celente, who segued into another one of the trends he sees for 2012: Safe Havens (escaping the United States).
Celente also mentioned the NDAA (National Defense Authorization Act) in the interview, which allows for American citizens to be unconstitutionally held with no charge and without trial. Although he offers no clear solutions for Americans wishing to escape this possibility:
enacted … expansion plans suggest the U.S. may enter a crisis on par with the lead up to the U.S. Civil War of 1861-5.
To find out how Celente’s 2011 predictions worked — very well, by the way — continue reading here.
Whilst I do not wish to alarm anyone unnecessarily, Celente is often, shall we say, on the money.