An Ancient Letter explaining why Christianity spread so quickly
“Christians are indistinguishable from other men either by nationality, language or customs. They do not inhabit separate cities of their own, or speak a strange dialect, or follow some outlandish way of life. Their teaching is not based upon reveries inspired by the curiosity of men. Unlike some other people, they champion no purely human doctrine. With regard to dress, food and manner of life in general, they follow the customs of whatever city they happen to be living in, whether it is Greek or foreign.
And yet there is something extraordinary about their lives. They live in their own countries as though they were only passing through. They play their full role as citizens, but labor under all the disabilities of aliens. Any country can be their homeland, but for them their homeland, wherever it may be, is a foreign country. Like others, they marry and have children, but they do not expose them. They share their meals, but not their wives.
They live in the flesh, but they are not governed by the desires of the flesh. They pass their days upon earth, but they are citizens of heaven. Obedient to the laws, they yet live on a level that transcends the law. Christians love all men, but all men persecute them. Condemned because they are not understood, they are put to death, but raised to life again. They live in poverty, but enrich many; they are totally destitute, but possess an abundance of everything. They suffer dishonor, but that is their glory. They are defamed, but vindicated. A blessing is their answer to abuse, deference their response to insult. For the good they do they receive the punishment of malefactors, but even then they, rejoice, as though receiving the gift of life. They are attacked by the Jews as aliens, they are persecuted by the Greeks, yet no one can explain the reason for this hatred.
To speak in general terms, we may say that the Christian is to the world what the soul is to the body. As the soul is present in every part of the body, while remaining distinct from it, so Christians are found in all the cities of the world, but cannot be identified with the world. As the visible body contains the invisible soul, so Christians are seen living in the world, but their religious life remains unseen. The body hates the soul and wars against it, not because of any injury the soul has done it, but because of the restriction the soul places on its pleasures. Similarly, the world hates the Christians, not because they have done it any wrong, but because they are opposed to its enjoyments.
Christians love those who hate them just as the soul loves the body and all its members despite the body’s hatred. It is by the soul, enclosed within the body, that the body is held together, and similarly, it is by the Christians, detained in the world as in a prison, that the world is held together. The soul, though immortal, has a mortal dwelling place; and Christians also live for a time amidst perishable things, while awaiting the freedom from change and decay that will be theirs in heaven. As the soul benefits from the deprivation of food and drink, so Christians flourish under persecution. Such is the Christian’s lofty and divinely appointed function, from which he is not permitted to excuse himself.”
From a letter to Diognetus (Nn. 5-6; Funk, 397-401)
Some people in Scotland think too highly of John Knox; others think ill of him. A Scottish cab driver was driving an American up the hill to Edinburgh Castle: “That is the house of John Knox.” The visitor replied: “And who was John Knox?” The driver said in disgust: “Go home, man, and read your bible!” The cab driver thought too much of Knox.
John Knox was converted by the Holy Spirit as he read John 17. He was discipled by “Master” George Wishart, whom Knox wielded a two-handed claymore sword for so that Wishart could preach the Gospel without being attacked in Scotland. When Wishart was summed to die as a martyr Knox asked to accompany Wishart, but Wishart said: “Nay, return to your bairns, and God bless you. One is sufficient for a sacrifice.”
Knox was called to preach in front of a congregation of Protestant refugees in St Andrew’s castle by another preacher (Mr. Rough), and Knox burst forth into an abundance of tears. The French brigaded the castle, seized Knox as a galley slave for 19 months, and burned Rough at the stake.
The English rescued Knox from the French, and for ten year Knox was a pastor-preacher in exile from Scotland because he was a Protestant (1549-1559). He served in Berwick & Newcastle (England), Frankfurt (Germany), and Geneva (Switzerland). Looking back over the years in England Knox imagined Christ saying to him something like Christ would have said to Peter: “Yet art thou too proude to be a pastour, thou canste notstoupe, nor bowe thy backe down to take up the weake shepe;thou does not yet knowe thine own infirmitie and weakness,and therefore canst thou do nothing but despise the weak ones.” (Dawson, p. 69)
When Knox returned to Edinburgh, Scotland on May 2, 1559. The bishops assembled in the Monastery of the Black Friars to discuss improvements to the Roman Catholic Church in Scotland. For example, any priest caught in adultery loses 1/3 of pay; and priests could not put their sons in their wills (not supposed to have any sons in the first place). For example, Cardinal Beaton had 8 illegitimate sons. While meeting, a messenger unannounced entered the meeting and shouted: “Knox is returned to Edinburgh!” We read: “at once they closed their meeting & arose hastily.”
The Summer of 1559 was an extraordinary time of revival. Knox preached in the major cities, and promoted reformation of the church. Knox said he was: “Churching it like a Scythian.” (There was no watering down of the wine among the Scythians of Ancient Greece.)
In the summer of 1559 when he first returned to St Andrews, warning was sent to him by the bishop that if he dared to preach the next Sunday there would be a dozen hand guns discharged in his face. His friends advised delay, but he went ahead and took for his text Christ driving the buyers and sellers out of the temple. The famous painting above is of the scene of Knox leaning out over the pulpit before the Dutchess of Arguile holding her baby by Sir David Wilkie captured something of that day, June 11, 1559, and the effect of it at the time can be seen in the 14 priests of the Roman Church, who confessed the faith.
Five Swift Reforms that Year 1559
By the 1560 the French forces were defeated.
Parliament adopted laws
RCC was replaced with Presbyterianism
A Nat’l Confession of Faith established by 6 men named “John” in five days. The closing words of the Scots Confession—a prayer: “Arise, O Lord, and let Thine enemies be confounded; let them flee from thy presence that hate thy godly name. Give thy servants strength to speak thy word with boldness, and let all nations cleave to the true knowledge of thee.”
Book of Discipline
How was Scotland Reformed into Presbyterianism so Fast?
“In Scotland the whole nation was converted by lump; and within ten years after popery was discharged in Scotland, there were not ten persons of quality to be found in it who did not profess the true reformed religion, and so it was among the commons in proportion. Lo! Here a nation born in one day.’” ( Kirkton’s History)
Calvin wrote to Knox: “We wonder at success so incredible and in so short a time.”
Knox explained the success of the Reformation in Scotland in his History: (Citing Isaiah 40 in Geneva Bible) . . . “This promise has been performed for us Christians here in the realm of Scotland. For what was our force or strength? What was our number? Yea, what was our wisdom or worldly policy was to us to have brought to a good end so great an enterprise?”
Knox replied to Calvin: “God gave His Holy Spirit to simple men in great abundance.”
Three Broad Lessons from the Ministry of John Knox
The Logos, Ethos, and Pathos of Reformation Preaching
Logos: “Unto me…is this grace given that I should preach the unsearchable riches of Christ.” Ephesians 3:8
“God is friendly minded to sinners”
“We opened more fully the fountain of God’s grace to sinners”
“Christ so tender towards those who put Him to death that He first sent unto them the ministry of reconciliation.”
Ethos: The primacy of preaching over writing (“I consider myself rather called by my God to instruct the ignorant, comfort the sorrowful, confirm the weak, and rebuke the proud, by tongue and living voice, in these corrupt days, than to compose books for the age to come.”)
“It hath pleased God of his superabundant grace to make me, most wretched of many thousands, a witness, minister and preacher.”
Used Plain speech – Puritans loved this word plain. “For if the trumpet give an uncertain sound, who shall prepare himself to the battle?” 1 Corinthians 14:8
Pathos: (“A dinging the pulpit”) – To Ding is to hit the pulpit hard and almost seem to be flying out of it.
A student there at the time was fifteen-year-old James Melville, and he would see Knox walking to church from the old priory, a staff in one hand and held under his other armpit by a friend, with furs wrapped round his neck. It was the year before his death and his strength was gone. Melville wrote in his Autobiography:
“Of all the benefits I had that year  was the coming of that most notable prophet and apostle of our nation, Mr John Knox, to St Andrews . . . I heard him teach there the prophecy of Daniel that summer and winter following. I had my pen and my little book, and took away such things as I could comprehend. In the opening up of his text he was moderate the space of an half hour; but when he entered to application, he made me so grew [shudder] and tremble, that I could not hold a pen to write.”
Melville says further that Knox had to be lifted up into the pulpit “where it behoved him to lean at his first entry; but before he had done with his sermon he was so active and vigorous, that he was like to ding that pulpit in blads and fly out of it!”
English Ambassador—Knox “put life into them more than 500 trumpets.”
A Love for the Church and the Courage to Reform Her
Two days before his death—“I have been in meditation these last two nights [concerning] the troubled church of God, the spouse of Jesus Christ, despised of the world but precious in his sight. I have called to God for it, and have committed it to her head, Jesus Christ.”
Earl of Morton at Knox’s funeral—“Here lies one who neither feared nor flattered any flesh.”
Faith in the Promises of God through Prayer
“Let us now humble ourselves in the presence of our God, and, from the bottom of our hearts, let us desire him to assist us with the power of his Holy Spirit . . . that albeit we see his Church so diminished, that it shall appear to be brought, as it were, to utter extermination, that yet we may be assured that in our God there is power and will to increase the number of his chosen, even while they be enlarged to the uttermost coasts of the earth.”
Prayer From John Knox for the Holy Spirit: “Because we have need continually to crave many things at your hands, we humbly beg you, O heavenly Father, to grant us your Holy Spirit to direct our petitions, that they may proceed from such a fervent mind as may be agreeable to your holy will. Amen.”
Frodo had leadership thrust upon him, and his long journey is, in one sense, a process of his acceptance of his own leadership. He can’t escape it, even with the Ring, and he certainly wasn’t sufficient for it alone. One dear Christ-like figure in the story is Frodo’s friend, Sam.
My dear friend, Will Coats, pictured them this way.
We all rage against God at some point after we were converted, called, and empowered to lead in our particular place. God shows us favor when He chooses us in love to fulfill His gracious plans to many. Some times the person runs ahead of God’s plans, presupposing that they are entitled to it and quite self-sufficient for the task (i.e. Moses; cf. Acts 7:25). Other leaders attempt to manipulate the blessing out of His Hands with an outrageous mo for strategic planning without God’s wisdom. For example, Rebekah and Jacob. God particularly loves to invite reluctant leaders like Moses, Jonah, and Esther to courageous lead for the sake of others’ welfare, but reluctance is yet another way we rage against God’s timing and call on our lives.
What we need is Gospel-rest that comes only after we have raged against God to the point of futility, only to finally realize we were already given the favor – already discovered and wanted and secure in God’s redemptive story. One of my favorite authors, Dan Allender writing on leadership, put it this way:
“Remember, only repeated encounters with our furious flight from God can bring us the genuine rest we seek . . . God invites the one who rages to collapse in his arms of love. Rest comes when we can no longer sustain our flight, and we find God waiting for us. But rest is not true rest without surrender.” How do we surrender? “We must eventually be caught face to face with God and be unnerved by his kindness. Only then will we surrender” (p. 104).
Do you know when a leader knows that she knows she has surrendered to God? When he has assurance that the calling and place and people God gave him to lead was a gift? It is when the leader is thankful, even for the furnace of affliction that has forged her to become the leader she now is, and worn out from avoiding it. Allender adds: “The funny thing about gratitude is that it is not earned or deserved; it, too, is a gift. We can’t force ourselves to be grateful, but we can stumble into the arms of gratitude when we’re exhausted from our running” (p. 108).
Dan B. Allender, Leading with a Limp: Take Full Advantage of Your Most Powerful Weakness (The Crown Publishing Group).
Our identity, besides being one of the most precious things to prevent from theft, crisis, or loss, is extremely important to God. The Father has given his children an identity in Christ that will shape us on our journey to heaven. If in the process of identity formation we ignore what God says concerning our identity, then we may expect confusion in other seasons of spiritual formation.
Just after birth, a child is given an identity. Identity formation, however, is a longer process. When Jesus Christ was approximately thirty years of age the Father spoke of his identity at his baptism just before entering fully into his calling. In the same way, identity in Christ ought to precede our calling to Christ. It is at this important season of identity that Satan challenges each of us, as he did our Lord. The devil’s first attacks on our Lord were aimed at his identity: “If you are the Son of God.”
The evil trinity—the world, the flesh, and the devil—is seeking to kill and destroy us in each season of spiritual formation. In the spring they confuse our identity, in the summer our calling, in the autumn our intentionality, and in the winter our legacy. The world escorts us to the pit; the flesh entices us to fall in; and the devil pushes us over the edge. “The pit,” as it were, represents a dark and slimy collection of lies, condemning thoughts, and foolish strategies designed to confuse and distort our identity formation.
An Identity Group is the first of four spiritual formation groups designed to shape us into the likeness of Jesus Christ. It assumes that you have to begin here before asking the next three major questions of the Christian life: Where’s my place (calling)? How do I steward all my gifts, resources, and efforts with intentionality in the light of eternity (intentionality)? What inheritance, testament, and benediction do I leave behind as I prepare to cross the river of death in order to gain eternity (legacy)?
The Christian ought to not feel secondary if they do not have a full-time Christian vocational calling, which most do not have. In fact, in scripture the bible highlights how most leaders had significant roles in God’s kingdom without serving God as priests, prophets, apostles, or pastors. They were mothers and fathers, shepherds and farmers. They were fishermen and government officials.
A leader at my church has worked his entire career at a major corporation. At a recent and helpful seminar he taught to pastors and elders at our annual General Assembly to make sure our sermons have more to do with people in the work place than pastors and missionaries. Although he has a seminary degree, he sees every work (paid or not) as sacred to God.
A debate with Jesus began when an Old Testament scholar brought an old chestnut; a repeated and tedious debate about the 613 commands of God in the scriptures at that time. Which one was the most important? Jesus cited two in Deuteronomy 6 and Leviticus 19. Jesus answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the scriptures” (Matthew 22:37-40).
The scholar was overwhelmed because he understood that every command was motivated and practiced by perfect love. He responded, therefore, saying that all the burnt offerings in the world would not be sufficient to make up for the human deficiencies in loving well, let alone perfectly.
Jesus, gladdened by the scholar’s response, said: “You are not far from the kingdom of God” (Mark 12:34). This man made progress because he saw he needed Christ’s righteousness and death to pardon his sins. We are half way to heaven when we admit we are not saved, but we are still not all the way until we receive the free gift of salvation by faith alone.
There once was a dear man in this condition. One Sunday night he went to church, and God spoke to him through the sermon. Christ was striving with him that night. The pastor invited people to meet with him in his office to receive the free gift of eternal life.
The Service finished, and out he went on his way back home. Sliding down the row, walking out the aisle, pushing open the doors, and marching along the sidewalk, he found himself unable to walk out the gates. He suddenly turned! He went marching back along the sidewalk, pushing open the doors, and walking up the aisle. As he was approaching the pastor’s office door, he was struck with the thought: “This is crazy.” So he went back out the church, walking out down the aisle, pushing open the doors, marching along the sidewalk, and finding himself unable to step through the gates. He suddenly turned back!
This went on for two or three times while a church officer was tending the gates, and was watching this guy. He looked, to him, like a man pursued by an unseen being. That is because he was. The officer said to him: “Listen, you really will need to make up your mind. Is it going to be in or out? I am shutting these doors and gates soon.” And the man, who was not far from the kingdom of God, replied: “By God’s grace it will be in!”
The man at the gate is Jesus, and you may be the one not far from His kingdom. Jesus says to you today: “Listen, you really will need to make up your mind. Is it going to be in or out? I am soon shutting these gates.” You better at least come to the point where you are prepared to say like the man, who was not far from the k, in reply: “By God’s grace it will be in!”
Tim Trouten: “We, “re-create” ourselves so that we can live in the tension of a world that is full of thorns and thistles, but also one where we were called to tend the garden. There was initially joy in our work (pre-Fall), but God still provided a time for recreation.”
There is a tide in the affairs of men.
Which, taken at the flood, leads on to fortune;
Omitted, all the voyage of their life
Is bound in shallows and in miseries.
On such a full sea are we now afloat,
And we must take the current when it serves,
Or lose our ventures. Julius Caesar Act 4, scene 3, 218–224
Brutus and Cassius are discussing the final phase of their civil war with the forces of Octavian and Marcus Antonius. Cassius has been urging that they group their forces at Sardis and take advantage of the secure location to catch their breath. Brutus, however, advocates heading off the enemy at Philippi before Octavian can recruit more men. Brutus’s main point is that, since “the enemy increaseth every day” and “We, at the height, are ready to decline” (lines 216–217), he and Cassius must act now while the ratio of forces is most advantageous. “There’s a tide in the affairs of men,” he insists; that is, power is a force that ebbs and flows in time, and one must “go with the flow.”
Waiting around only allows your power to pass its crest and begin to ebb; if the opportunity is “omitted” (missed), you’ll find yourself stranded in miserable shallows.
Ships usually need high tides to enter a port or leave it. We cannot control these tides. When these tides come or leave the coast, the ships in waiting must use this opportunity by making no delay. Brutus here says that it is the ripe time, and their army should tackle Octavious and Antony’s forces. However, if they wait further, then they would lose their soldiers and might face defeat. Are you trusting God when opportunities arise? Ecclesiastes 11 warns us about delaying: “Cast your bread upon the waters, for you will find it after many days.”
This is a metaphorical expression of ebbs and flows helps us to recognize whether the tide is an opportunity or an obstacle. This requires us to risk and interpret providence, and avail it as an opportunity or a warning sign.
Oswald Chambers in My Utmost for His Highest (June 8th) above offers discerning thoughts on the nature of risk.
Embrace the Truth; Renounce the Lie and Foolish Strategies