Editorial: A Sober Read

Every Christian should read some Church history. The Pilgrim Church by E.H. Broadbent (available from Gospel Folio Press at www. gospelfolio.com) is a worthy choice of a book giving a good overview of the history of the church from the Day of Pentecost to the last century. At times the reading may be difficult as we are confronted with unfamiliar places and people, some with unpronounceable names, yet the cumulative effect of reading the entire history gives one a sober perspective on the church.

There has been times when earnest believers suffered horrible treatment. Many were tried and convicted by the state for crimes such as owning a Bible in their own language, remembering the Lord without state church officials, practicing believer’s baptism by immersion, rejecting church authority and man-made traditions while accepting only the authority of scripture.

Consider the case of believers known as the ‘Waldenses’ who during the 12th to 14th centuries suffered at the hands of the Roman Catholic church. Here is the account from The Pilgrim Church:

Regular individual reading of the Scriptures, regular daily family worship, and frequent conferences were among the most highly-prized means of maintaining spiritual life. These saints would take no part in government; they said the apostles were often brought before tribunals, but it is not ever said that they sat as judges.

They valued education as well as spirituality; many who ministered the Word among them had taken a degree at one of the universities. Pope Innocent III (1198-1216) bore a double testimony to them when he said that among the Waldenses educated laymen undertook the functions of preachers, and again, that the Waldenses would only listen to a man who had God in him.

The comparative peace of the Waldensian valleys was broken when, in 1380, Pope Clement VII sent a monk as inquisitor to deal with heretics in certain parts. In the next thirteen years about 230 persons were burnt, the goods of the sufferers being divided between the inquisitors and the rulers of the country. In the winter of 1400 the scope of the persecution was enlarged, and many families took refuge in the higher mountains, where most of the children and women and many men died of cold and hunger.” Page 121, 122

Or consider this from the days of Wycliffe:

The translation of the Bible had its due effect, and great numbers came to acknowledge it as the only guide for faith and conduct. Various views prevailed as to different points, but there was general agreement as to the authority of Scripture, and the ruling Church was denounced as apostate and idolatrous.

The first to suffer at the stake after the law was enacted for burning heretics was William Sawtre (1401), a Norfolk rector. The House of Commons presented petitions to Henry IV asking for the diversion of the surplus revenues of the church to useful purposes, and the modification of the laws against Lollards. His answer was to sign a warrant for burning Thomas Badly, a tailor of Evesham. This man, accused of denying transubstantiation, after giving a courageous defense of his belief before the bishop of Worcester, was tried in St. Paul’s Church before the archbishops of Canterbury and York and many of the clergy and nobility, and was burnt at Smithfield.

A leader among the Lollards was Sir John Oldcastle, Lord Cobham, a distinguished soldier. His castle of Cowling was a refuge for the travelling preachers, and meetings were held there, in spite of their being forbidden under severe penalties. Henry IV did not venture to interfere with him, but as soon as Henry V came to the throne he besieged and captured the castle and took its owner prisoner. He escaped from the tower, however, and was able for some years to elude pursuit, though many others were taken and executed, including thirty- nine of the Lollard leaders. When Sir John was finally captured in Wales he was burnt, the first English nobleman to die for the faith.

After his death, a law was passed that whoever read the Scriptures in English would forfeit land, chattels, goods, and life, and be condemned as a heretic to God, an enemy to the crown, and a traitor to the kingdom; that should have any benefit of sanctuary and that, if he continued obstinate, or relapsed after being pardoned, he should first be hanged for treason against the king, then burned for heresy against God.” Pages 141, 142

Could such days arise again? Ominous signs suggest they could. Christians in many parts of the world are facing similar conditions. These are not the days to be halfhearted Christians. This is not the time to be on the fringe of our local church fellowships. If there ever was a time, it is now, to be whole hearted and fully committed to the work of your local assembly. Jettison all from your life that stands in the way of you and your family being one hundred percent committed to your fellow believers. This is not the time to be complaining about trivial things in our fellowships. No longer can we afford to absent ourselves from meetings, nor neglecting time in Bible study and prayer. We cannot risk the lukewarm faith that tries to live in the world and in the church. When persecution arises we need to be whole hearted for Christ.

Church history is a sobering read.



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