Anecdotes of Church History

    In the early days of the German Reformation it was mistakenly believed that Martin Luther, especially after he was abducted after the Council of Worms (he was “imprisoned” in the Wartburg Castle), had been martyred for Christ. Devastated by the rumors of Luther’s demise, and to express his profound grief and misery, the renowned Albrecht Durer, painter and printer (1471-1528), famously bemoaned in his diary:
    “I know not whether he lives or is murdered, but in any case he had suffered for the Christian truth. If we lose this man, who has written more clearly than any other in centuries, may God grant his spirit to another. His books should be held in great honor, and not burned as the emperor commands, but rather the books of his enemies, O God, if Luther is dead, who will henceforth explain to us the gospel? What might he not have written for us in the next ten or twenty years?” (my emphasis) but that was not the whole story. So profound was Durer’s unhappiness that he even hoped that Luther (emulating the pioneering work of the Lord Himself) might be resurrected. He wrote: “O Lord, who desirest before thou comest to judgment that as thy Son Jesus Christ had to die at the hands of the priests and rise from the dead and ascend to heaven, even should thy disciple Martin Luther be made conformable to him.”
    At the Council of Worms where Luther was summoned to defend his “heretical” writings before Charles V, who was king of Spain, the Netherlands, and Germany, the Emperor lobbied for the burning of all of his writings. One instrument of destruction was a Dutchman by the name of Aleander who upon his return to Holland was commissioned to indulge in the merry obliteration of Luther’s writings. As a nameless friar was supervising the torching, a daring bystander suddenly taunted Aleander, “You would see better if the ashes of Luther’s books got into your eyes.” Such witty boldness was life-threatening, even though the man’s point was truer than false.
    Simeon (390-459), a Syrian shepherd who lived in the 5th century, was notoriously famous for withdrawing from society to live the life of unqualified consecration to the calling of the hermit or monk. One historian (Charles Buck) reports that he “passed thirty-seven years standing on the top of five pillars, of six, twelve, twenty-two, thirty-six, and forty cubits high.” What is more, he assumed different postures of devotion, occasionally praying in an erect position, with his outstretched arms in the figure of cross, with his most talked about position “bending his meager forehead to the feet; and a curious spectator, after numbering twelve hundred and forty-four repetitions, at length desisted from the endless account.” Eventually, even though plagued by physical infirmities and inclement weather, he died without ever descending from his “holier-than-Thou” perch. What did such monastic showcasing prove, if anything? That they were sounding their trumpets, “as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may have glory of men” (Matthew 6:2).
    Interestingly, Simeon’s demonstration of “humility” was even tested by his monastic superiors who resolved to prove his willingness to submit to their authority and descend from his columns, if so ordered. When he indicated that he would cease-and-desist only at their command, they urged him to remain where he was, ipso facto endorsing his public display of “humility.” Thus his thirty-seven years of isolation proved that the “Simeon show” was not the vain bravado of a rogue religionist desiring to woo the world, but an ecumenical exhibition of self-righteousness by the church at large.
    The next time you’re forced to take a detour and murmur about it, think of the special providence of God in the travels of John Calvin. The familiar story is that Calvin was on his way to Strasbourg on the French border with the intent of settling into a life of contemplative book-writing, when he found himself hindered by the perilous war between King Francis of France and Charles V of Germany, foreclosing a direct route to his desired haven. Since the brunt of the war raged between Paris and Strasbourg, Calvin was reluctantly detoured. An “audible” was therefore called: he would embark on a safe journey to the south through western Switzerland via Geneva, where he providentially met up with Guillaume Farel, who through force of words persuaded him to “tweak” his travel and lodging plans.
    The result is history; Calvin acclimatized himself in the pastorate for three years until he resettled in Strasbourg for a limited time before returning where he would make an indelible mark on Geneva, Switzerland, and the whole world.
    In his book, The Joy of Calvinism, Greg Forster tells of his attendance at the evangelism classes at the Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church in Florida, which was manned by an ailing James Kennedy who taught right up to the time of his death. Forster vividly recalls how Kennedy responded to the criticisms of certain features of his Evangelism Explosion program, quoting, “I always ask them how they do it differently in their evangelism programs. And it always turns out that they don’t have any evangelism programs. So I tell them, ‘I like the way I do it wrong better than the way you don’t do it right.’”
    A formidable opponent to the Reformation was Holy Roman Emperor Charles V (1500-1558) , who not only opposed Martin Luther at Worms, but fanatically imbibed all the distinctives of the Roman Catholic Church, including his greatest regret, namely, that he should have ordered the execution of Luther when he had the opportunity. As a dyed-in-the-wool Papist, he not only bloodied himself with whips when doing penance, but “resolved to celebrate his own obsequies before his death,” that is, he commanded his funeral to be staged before his actual demise! For example, he commanded his own tomb to be stationed inside the monastery. To capture the futurity of the moment, his servants marched in funeral procession, holding blacked tapers in their hands, while he himself followed in his shroud. Then he was solemnly laid in his coffin while the service for the dead was chanted, with Charles mingling crocodile tears with the gloomy pageantry, as if it was a genuine funeral. This was followed with holy water sprinkled upon his coffin. Afterwards, all his domestics retired from the scene, closing the doors of the Chapel behind them. Then the sequel: Charles arose from his coffin, and retired to his apartment where he mulled over the rehearsal. Either exhausted by the energy required for the drama, or blasted by the terror of death, he was soon seized by a fever which took his life upon reaching 58 years, 6 months, and 21 days.
    Apologist Cornelius Van Til was famous for his surgical expose’ of unbelief, especially the issue of exposing the flawed methodology of all non-Christian systems of argumentation and logic. He showed that non-Christian methodologies that reject Christian theism are destructive of reason and science, relying ultimately upon the presuppositions of chance and randomness. To illustrate in his own words: “….Suppose we think of a man made of water in an infinitely extended and bottomless ocean of water. Desiring to get out of water, he makes a ladder of water. He set this ladder upon the water and against the water and then attempts to climb out of the water.” He comments: “So hopeless and senseless a picture must be drawn of the natural man’s methodology based as it is upon the assumption that time or chance is ultimate. On his assumption his own rationality is a product of chance. On his assumption even the laws of logic which he employs are products of chance…” (The Defense of the Faith, p. 102).
    Spanish film maker Luis Bunuel (1900-1983) was reared by the Jesuits. When queried later in life if his Jesuit education had dramatically impacted his worldview and thinking, he answered, “I am an atheist, thanks be to God.”
    George Canning (1770-1827) was a British prime minister in 1827 who was outspoken in his opinions. He attended a church service when the clergyman asked him to opine about the message. Canning answered, “You were brief.”
    “Yes,” responded the minister, “you know I avoid being tedious.”
    “But you were tedious,” answered Canning.
    Johann Beringer (1667-1738), who was a Professor of Medicine at Wurzburg University, believed that all fossils were special acts of providence in that God hid them in creation for his own glory with the view that they be discovered for man’s reading and edification. Accordingly, some mischievous students at the University baked some sham fossils from clay, imitating plants, reptiles, and fishes. To emphasize the glory of the anticipated find, some imprinted the name of God on the fossils in Hebrew and Syriac. Then their fossils were mischievously hidden in the turf where Beringer did his hunting and where he inevitably unearthed them. Misinterpreting his eureka moment, he made public his find and had a book printed containing 22 plates of facsimiles of his discoveries. Accordingly, a premature screening and exposure did not cool his zest, but shortly after the book was published its sham contents became self-evident even to Beringer himself, who tried to redeem all back copies before they went to press. He was too late, even though he would later win his case in court, although permanently tarnishing his reputation. His fossil discoveries were pilloried as “lying stones.”
    One of the excellent women of the Reformation was Charlotte D’Mornay, who had the unhappy experience of Church censures in southern France from a Consistory that was overly severe. It seems that the Consistory was quite strict concerning simplicity of dress, forbidding even curls so that such women would be excluded from the Lord’s Supper. Key verses were 1 Timothy 2:10-11, and 1 Peter 3, the latter reading in part “whose adorning, let it not be the outward adorning, of plaiting of the hair and of wearing of gold or of putting on of apparel, but let it be the hidden man of the heart,…” Thus Charlotte and her daughters were forbidden by the Consistory from coming to the Supper. To rectify this severity, her husband rebuked the Consistory, but all was for naught. Finally, Charlotte studied the issue and concluded that not only did no other Reformed congregation practice such discipline, but that 1 Timothy 2:9 applied more to one’s duties than to actual dress (she cited John Calvin for support). We are not told if the Consistory relented, but we are told that she appealed to the General Synod of the Reformed Church of France. (Again: We are unaware how the Synod ruled, if it ruled at all.) Later, a portion of her family removed to Saumur, where she liberally helped build a Reformed Church at her own expense. There–no doubt– curls were no bar for church membership. (This is documented in J.I. Good’s Famous Women of the Reformed Church, p. 90).
    When the Puritan Oliver Cromwell assumed command of the Parliamentary forces against Charles I, he required each soldier to carry a Bible in his packet. Among the army of the Ironsides was a wild young man who bolted from London in order to sow his wild oats in the Lord’s army where he imagined that army life would justify a life of dissipation. The man was shortly commanded to participate in a skirmishing party which he survived, despite “dodging” some live ammunition. That night when he was about to retire he noticed a hole in his Bible where a bullet had penetrated as far as Ecclesiastes 11:9, which reads: “Rejoice, O young man, in thy youth, and let thy heart cheer thee in the day of thy youth, and walk in the ways of thy heart, and in the sight of thine eyes; but know thou, that for all these things God will bring thee into judgment.” Those works led to his conversion: the Spirit of the living God fell upon him so that he became a consecrated disciple of Christ and lived in godliness in London for many years after the Civil War. The Bible was the means of saving both his body and his soul.
    There is a little evidence that when Scottish reformer John Knox (1514-1572) traveled to Glasgow he was informed that the famous bell in the church could strike any heretic dead who presumed to touch it. Although he declined the invitation to mount the steeple, he requested that the bell might be removed and relocated into the street where he would make an open show of it. Once the bell was laid in the street, he announced that the bell should kill him or he the bell. To accommodate his confidence as to the winner, he drafted a number of hardy men equipped with powerful hammers. As he stood before the bell, he uttered a number of imprecations against the Pope, and the church at Rome, railing on the Pope as the Antichrist and the whore of Babylon, not to mention the heretical doctrines she mothered. While the superstitious crowds expected Knox to suddenly give up the ghost, he commanded his attendants to hammer the bell to smithereens. The result was that the Reformed Faith was vindicated and the wonders of Rome exposed as products of religious huckstering and carnival barking.
    The most well-known and established John Knox campaign against idolatry was his skirmish while a thirty-three year old slave on a French galley for eighteen months. Knox and five other captives were chained to an oar when a statue of Mary was dangled before them for adoration and worship. They demanded a kiss which Knox was unwilling to cede, explaining, “Trouble me not; such an idol is accursed.” But his capturers were dogged; the idol was once again thrust before his lips to kiss, when he suddenly grabbed it and mockingly tossed it overboard, saying, “Now let our lady save herself. She’s light enough, let her learn to swim!”
    The Church during the days of the American frontier was much stricter than what we moderns usually give it credit for. For example, it was considered quite worldly for a minister to be entertained at the circus. Bishop E.M. Marvin wrote about the malady of circus worldliness in a letter around 1870. Here’s the essence of his indictment:
    “I have encountered one thing here which I believe is without precedent in the history of traveling preachers. Two members of the conference have been to the circus. I write this in hesitation. But it is a fact. Indeed, one of them was quite an old minister, a man of high standing. I was amazed. The fact is, there has been a good deal of looseness in this particular…. It was sad to see a man of gray hairs called to account in the conference for going to a circus. But the deed has been done and the conference could not overlook so grave an irregularity. I hope never…to hear of another Methodist pastor so far forgetting all the properties of his character and position.”
    Another preacher was asked to give account for his idleness because he chose to fish each Saturday and was reproached with the following sizzle: “How can you waste a whole day every week fishing when Satan’s so busy in this community. He certainly doesn’t take any time off!”
    But the pastor refused to take it lying down; he defended himself and even won his case, rebutting: “I don’t suppose he does. But I’m not following his example.”
    Still another pastor was seen embracing one of his female members too snugly to be discrete. When he was arraigned before the church, his defense was the Word of God: “Doan it say in de Book dat de shepherd taketh de lamb unto his bosom?”
    The church committee listened, deliberated, and issued the following verdict: “Be it resolved that we keep Brother Jones as pastor, but that in the future, when he taketh a lamb unto his bosom, it shall be a ram lamb.” (Ross Phares, Bible in Pocket, Gun in Hand, p. 116).

Rev. Jim West
He went to be with his Savior on March 25, 2023

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