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Our Love-Hate Relationship With Our Family Prophets

Stoning

The Apostle Paul said, “Follow the way of love and eagerly desire gifts of the Spirit, especially prophecy…the one who prophesies speaks to people for their strengthening, encouraging and comfort.” Then again, Jesus said, “A prophet is not without honor except in his own town, among his relatives and in his own home.” 

Is it appropriate to make this correlation: That prophetic words…

a) are the most important gifts for the church,

b) are intended to take people from where they are to where they could be (e.g., change their lives), and

c) will be rejected by the family they intend to serve?

As I go spelunking into the caverns of church history, I have begun to notice an all-too-common theme. There are many men and women who seem to have had uniquely clear vision in their day to see their condition, and a path to its improvement. With 20-20 historical hindsight, we honor these people. But most, in their day, faced stern resistance, rejection, and even extermination.

The sad thing? So many of these simply wanted the best for the church. They died for having a grander vision of what the church family could be than the rest of them could see.

Luther preachingI’ve come to find out in my short time here on the planet this less-than-profound truth: People want to enjoy themselves. That goes for my church family, too. In our age and place, with so many church options to choose from, most will pick a place that they likeOf course. Why would you pick a place you don’t like?

The church, though, is not designed to cater to our wants. It is, by definition, a place of discipleship, therefore discipline. As the author of Hebrews says, “Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as his children. For what children are not disciplined by their father? If you are not disciplined—and everyone undergoes discipline—then you are not legitimate, not true sons and daughters at all … God disciplines us for our good, in order that we may share in his holiness. No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it” (Hebrews 12:7-8, 10-11). When Jesus commanded the Apostles to make “disciples” of all nations (Matthew 28:19), he was charging them baptize people into communities of discipline all over the world. Melding these passages together, Jesus was calling these men to broadcast a call to a life of painful hardship that will train you to become righteous, holy, peaceful and good. Anything less is illegitimate.

Prophets – those gifted by God to see truth, and boldly proclaim it in the church family – are on the front lines of this disciplined life. Like that really hard teacher in high school, or the over-the-top aerobics instructor, or that drill sergeant from your military days, the prophet is the one who calls you out of your present, and into your future. As the contemporary adage says, “No pain, no gain.” When we look back on these disciplinarians, some – especially those who rejected their leadership – might see them as obnoxious. But many of us are now grateful for the vision that they had for our lives, and their persistent drive to see us change. Those who endured bear the fruit, and are thankful.

Cranmer

Despite this whatever belated appreciation we can muster, it is a spiritual axiom that those with prophetic giftings will face rejection from the very family they are trying to serve. They are also indispensable to the life of the family. Paul tells us be especially ardent in seeking this gift … but really, who wants it?

Most all of our most famous aunts and uncles of the faith faced bitter rejection at the hands of the churches they served. Like their leader, they also become “the stone the builders rejected.” Paul. Athanasius. Benedict. Wycliffe. Hus. More. Luther. Hubmaier. Cranmer. Edwards. And a cavalcade of saints in local churches from our modern world. We may not say it … we may not even realize it! … but we’re eternally thankful for your faithfulness.

-eo

 

 

 
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Posted by on October 5, 2013 in church, leadership, Uncategorized

 

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Uncle John Wyclif – Dangerous Mind

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An iconoclast. A controversial thinker. Not a good pastor, but a man whose thoughts and leadership did more for the common saints of England than perhaps any church leader in British history.

He’s part of my family, and I like him. He’s John Wyclif. Like most family members, I mostly like him, but am troubled by a few things about his life. Maybe I like him because he reminds me a bit of myself, and my own troubling weaknesses. Sometimes I think I am a direct product of Uncle John’s spiritual gene pool.

First, some of the rough stuff. He was part and parcel of a religious machine that he at once  a) criticized openly, and  b) benefited from handsomely. In those days, you could get assigned the oversight of a church in England, and not even have to be there – you were simply expected to get substitutes to cover your bases. Uncle John was awarded a rectorship when he was 31, and another one at 44…but never lived in the towns of the churches until he had to for political reasons, when he was 52 – 21 years! For all this time, he was paid by the church as an absentee rector, but stayed in Oxford, where he thought, and wrote.

What I love about Uncle John W. is his mind. He addressed many issues that today, with our post-Reformation perspective, seem somewhat obvious. But they weren’t then. They were shocking, “heretical”, and considered dangerous. Some examples:

He believes all political rulers need to be godly, and that leaders who live blatantly sinful lives forfeit their right to govern. Not the “divine right” of kings, but the “divine responsibility” of kings. 

* He believes the Bible is free from error, free from contradiction, and is God’s entire revelation – that there is no need for added teachings by the church, and that all theological thinking needs to be measured against the text of scripture. 

wycliffe* He believes the Bible should be available to all people, not just the teachers. It therefore needs to be translated into common languages. 

* He believes that Jesus is present in the Lord’s Supper, but not in the way Thomas Aquinas described a century ago, saying Jesus is “transubtantiated” into the physical bread and wine. Uncle John W. thinks it is more mysterious than that.

* He believes that the office of the Roman papacy is man-made, not God-ordained. He also believes the pope should have no authority in secular government. Finally, he says an immoral pope – in fact the entire papacy – is “the antichrist” (and the popes were quite immoral those days!).

Interesting…the Roman church usually burned thinkers like Wyclif at the stake, right? How did he survive? The same way another one of our family members did – Martin Luther. Both of these men enjoyed enough political protection in their home countries to continue thinking and publishing. Sure, Uncle John’s ideas were repeatedly condemned by Rome, but no one was able to lay a hand on him…

Well, until after he died,  He passed away on New Years Eve in 1384, after experiencing two strokes. But, just because he’s dead doesn’t mean he can’t be punished. 44 years after he was buried, they exhumed his bones, and burned them. I guess that showed him.

FMB Mural The Trial Of WyclifThere are different kinds of people in our spiritual family. Some are great with people. Others are deep in prayer. There are those who are unusually active in service. And there is the occasional super-evangelist.

And then, there are people like Uncle John W. They see things. They get things. They uncover blind spots for others, which often isn’t received too well. They make logical connections from truth to truth which challenge the status quo. They aren’t particularly skilled at kneading his thoughts into the hearts of individual people – that’s what pastors do. But they get the important, game-changing thoughts out on the table, and those thoughts find their way to the right people who can, in turn, make a difference on the ground.

It seems I spend much of my time these days wrestling with what I think are important thoughts … then sharing them … then apologizing for the hurts they inflict on others. I mean no harm – in fact, I truly want my ideas to be redemptive. When people seem to be after my bones, Uncle John W. reminds me that I’m not alone … and, by the grace of God, it may well be worth it in the long run.

 
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Posted by on August 28, 2013 in Uncategorized

 

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