In Dependence

Written by Anthony Douglas on Friday, 24 November 2017.

TurkeyIn the United States, the people have just marked another holiday with largely forgotten religious significance in their Thanksgiving celebrations. While these days it largely means roast turkey, football, and pumpkin pie, it originally was meant to be an opportunity to thank God for his provision through difficult times.

It is no great surprise that this sense is fading, because America explicitly favours independence rather than dependence. Freedom, liberty, and the Fourth of July. Yet we must not be smug, because they are merely being explicit about what human beings all prefer implicitly.

Since the days of Eden, we humans have wanted our independence, and since even before that, God has been teaching us that it’s a fool’s goal. Not only can we never achieve it; even if we could, it would not be what we imagined.

We are made to depend. We rely on one another in our homes, our towns, and our societies. More than this, we rely upon God, who sends the rain and keeps us breathing free of charge. This is why the Bible so emphasises prayer. It’s both a reminder and an expression of our dependence on a gracious God. We don’t just pray because we need things, nor even just in obedience. We pray because it is who we are, as created, dependent beings.

So rather than celebrate our independence one day each year, let’s celebrate our dependence every single day of the year. Let’s remember our loving Father, and not be the turkey who misses out on the wedding feast of the Lamb!   

Of Misunderstandings

Written by Anthony Douglas on Saturday, 18 November 2017.

The news this week has been all about redefinitions, and changing how words are understood. The results of the postal survey have come back, and align pretty closely with what the polls have been saying.

Amidst all the hoopla, it’s become even clearer that the world hasn’t quite understood what Christians believe. Apparently, we have been given quite a shock this week, being forced to discover that millions of our fellow citizens disagree with us on the nature of marriage. I’m not sure why we should be thought surprised on this score, given that so many also disagree with us on the ethics of adultery and ambition. Rather, what we’ve seen this week is old news. Paul predicted the outcome of this poll back in Romans 1:21-23. The only real surprise is how long it has taken to reach this point.

Red AppleThe other misunderstanding revolves around the meaning of victory and of defeat. The headlines all spoke of a defeat for the ‘no’ case: numbers don’t lie. Yet we did not lose: we spoke the truth, out of love for our neighbours. The results have only vindicated what the Bible teaches. The losers in this survey are those who now are exulting. Tragically, they are now further confirmed in their alienation from God and in their approval of what is not in line with his purposes. A majority of Australian voters have spoken on what is right, and so of course it must be right. Right?

It’s been this way since a sheila ate a fruit she’d been forbidden, and her bloke ate too. They thought they’d know good and evil ... but they were deceived.

Pray for those who believe they won, but are lost in unbelief.

A Scarlet Woman

Written by Anthony Douglas on Saturday, 11 November 2017.

ZellOn December 3rd, 1523, Katherine Schutz married Matthias Zell. At 6 o’clock in the morning. It was an appalling thing to do.

We normally think of weddings as happy occasions, a great celebration of God’s gifts to human beings, a time for family and friends to gather and witness the promises made by the bride and groom. And so did the people of the sixteenth century...

...except, of course, that priests were not allowed to marry, and Katherine’s new husband, Matthias Zell, was a senior preacher in the cathedral in Strasbourg. That meant that many would have thought of Katherine as little better than a prostitute.

Why would anyone expose themselves to such public disapproval? Katherine has left us her own words, for she published a defence of her husband’s integrity less than a year later. Certainly, she loved Matthias, but she also insisted on the freedom of any believer to marry. And crucially, she identified the reason why the Catholic church still required celibacy: so that they could extract an annual tax from those clergy who kept mistresses.

Katherine would not be cowed, and continued to call out any practices that were inconsistent with the Bible, no matter whether they were those of friend or foe. As one of the very first women to marry a clergymen, she demonstrated that both men and women could serve the church together, with great love and integrity: Zell by name, zealous by nature, aflame with the love of God.

Two Sides to the Story...

Written by Anthony Douglas on Saturday, 04 November 2017.

It’s been enormously encouraging to keep meeting different leading lights from the Reformation this year, hasn’t it? The courage and insight that God gave them, and the way their influence led to a vast growth in understanding of God’s Word, and the huge strides taken in reforming church practices... It’s been a treat.

ReneeBut for every John (Calvin) there is a Jane (Grey), and for every Martin (Luther) there’s a Katharina (von Bora). Despite the way the structures of sixteenth century society meant that history tended to be shaped by men, it is remarkable how influential women were able to be in the unfolding Reformation. Whether they were monarchs or commoners, they had to work even harder to renew their undesrstanding of their own roles as Christian women - and they did it, with integrity and determination.

Take Renee of France, born a princess in 1510. Before she was 18, she was married off to an Italian lord, becoming the Duchess of Ferrara in 1534. At the time, that made her husband a direct vassal of the Pope. Yet Renee didn’t flinch from a Protestant faith, supporting compatriots including John Calvin. Her husband gradually expelled all French guests from his court, and in the early 1550s she was tried by the Inquistion for heresy - at her husband’s suggestion.

Renee remained a Protestant through it all. Would that we all had that kind of toughness!

Post Tenebras Lux

Written by Anthony Douglas on Sunday, 29 October 2017.

John Calvin was booted out of Geneva in 1538. He and his fellow reformer, William Farel, had fought with the town council over how to conduct church services, and the councillors decided to expel them to avoid the headache.

They soon regretted their decision. Without Calvin’s theological nous, the Genevans were struggling to hold on to their Protestant beliefs in the face of significant political pressure. It took two years, but they realised that they’d have to humble themselves and ask Calvin to return.

Make that ‘beg Calvin to return.’  His initial response was one of horror: ‘Rather I would submit to death a hundred times...’ A flurry of letters went back and forth, with the Genevan council signing off each of theirs with the town’s motto: post tenebras spero lucem (‘after the darkness, I hope for light’).

Post Tenebras LuxFinally Calvin agreed to return - but his letter of acceptance ended with the words ‘post tenebras lux’. After the darkness, light. It was a deliberate statement of confidence. God had shone his light into the world, opening the eyes of his people to the teaching of the Bible. There was no need to hope for light when God had already given it.

Post tenebras lux is still the motto of the city of Geneva, but it also became the unofficial slogan of the whole Reformation. And rightly so: the people walking in darkness had seen a great light! (Isaiah 9:2)

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