Thursday, May 29, 2008

Where Are All the Brothers

Where Are All the Brothers?

Pastor Eric C. Redmond writes with a burning passion for revitalization in the African American church. For Pastor Redmond, such revival begins with theology. While that word (theology) may terrify some, Pastor Redmond realizes how relevant theology is to everyday life.

In fact, "Where Are All the Brothers?" is "theology in disguise." It is a practical manual written with wit and wisdom in particular for the black male who has a litany of reasons for being unchurched.

Chapter by chapter in bite-size chunks, Pastor Redmond helps men to digest biblical and practical answers to questions they have about the value of Christianity and the Church. He challenges men to give him ten minutes for nine days. His prayer is that his male readers will be transformed by truth and in turn African American churches will experience a reformation as an army of African American men march back into leadership in church and society.

In many ways, Pastor Redmond writes like the great African American pastors of the past--Rev. Richard Allen, Bishop Daniel Alexander Payne, Pastor Peter Randolph, Pastor Lemeul Haynes, and so many other stalwarts of the faith. They share in common the courage of their conviction that God's truth sets men free.

Day by day, Redmond disabuses men of lies about Christ, Christianity, and the church. Day one: addressing hypocrites in the church. Day two: explaining the inspiration of Scripture. Day three: interacting about the role of men and women in the church. Day four: exploring the preacher's calling. Day five: contrasting what Islam claims to offer Black men and what Christ offers all men. Day six: discussing the church and money. Day seven: defending organized religion. Day eight: honoring the Deity of the Lord Jesus Christ. Day nine: outlining eight marks of a healthy church.

What we have here is the ability to communicate. Pastor Eric Redmond has penned an "ecclesiology for everyday life" (a practical defense of the relevance of the church--especially for the black male who has his doubts).

But this book is not only for the black brother. It is for all brothers and sisters. And it is not only for those who are not attending church. It will strengthen the faith and resolve of church members also. "Where Are All the Brothers?" is enticing, educating, equipping, and empowering reading for all believers.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Held, Part II

Held, Part II

Guest Blog by Pastor Aaron Tolson
Youth Pastor of CROSS-EYED Youth Ministry

Held has always been one of those songs that tugs at my own heart. Being the father of two amazing young children, I must admit that I can’t imagine losing either one of them. My prayer every night to God is “keep them healthy and strong.” Perhaps my prayer should be “keep ME healthy and strong.”

Then She Was Gone

Less than two months ago, one of the members of the nationally-known group Selah, Todd Smith and his wife Angie gave birth to a beautiful little girl named Audrey Caroline. Their time with their brand new baby was special – seeing as how they knew that her even being alive was a miracle in and of itself. Months earlier they had learned that Audrey had developed several different problems which meant a very small chance at being born alive. For 2 ½ hours, though, Todd, Angie, and the rest of the family were able to share earth with another special little girl. Then, she was gone.

Angie has written several blogs about the experience as well as a letter to her daughter after she passed away. Warning! You will need several boxes of tissues.

Then three weeks ago in our service, we showed the clip “99 balloons” which is another story about the loss of a child. Warning! You will need another box of tissues to watch this.

Job-Like Questions

These heart-wrenching stories bring about several different personal responses: a deep love and appreciation for my own children, doubts about whether I would be able to handle a loss like that, and then a question directly for God that goes something like “What are You thinking? What purpose can that serve? Certainly Your kingdom is big enough that You don’t really need to use the death of an innocent child…right?!”

Having recently rolled that around in my head, and coming to some initial conclusions that mesh with my theological musings, it was of no coincidence that the very question should arise from someone else’s experience and present an opportunity for me to minister to them.

This past weekend I worked as a Spiritual Director on a retreat weekend in an undisclosed location in West Virginia. This was an opportunity for individuals within the body of Christ to have an encounter with God and specifically His grace! At one particular point in the weekend, a lady came to me with her pain, hurt, and confusion. Four years earlier, her daughter had gotten sick and within twenty-four hours had died. It was very unexpected and heartbreaking. Their daughter, Nora, was about to turn three.

Nora’s Mom

For four years, this mom had been carrying around some very hard questions that others had been unable to help her gain clarity on. She shared with me that she attends a church that believes in the healing power of God and she has seen God heal others – some quickly, some over a period of time. This reinforced her question about God – why didn’t He heal her daughter? Was it that He couldn’t? Was it that He could, but then apparently chose not to? What was God thinking?! Then she was confused about whether it was ok to feel angry toward God or not! Understandable.

It was one of those moments where there is other stuff happening and time is pressing - this isn’t a sit-down-and-chat counseling kind of moment. I took a split-second mental pause to clear my head and listen for God to speak. Here is what came out:

First, it’s ok for you to feel angry. God created you with emotions – to feel the full range of them, from the greatest joy to the very pit of frustration and anger. God gave you those emotions to experience, not to fight. Don’t condemn yourself for having strong emotions, particularly with regard to the loss of your daughter.

Second, can I speak some truth to you? What if it isn’t about what God did or didn’t do, what if it isn’t about whether God for some reason chose not to heal her – as if to punish you in some way? What if it is about God allowing the consequences of sin. This got her attention, and I know exactly what was going through her mind – she was expecting me to launch into some talk about God’s judgment for some sin in her (or her husband’s) life that resulted in the death of her daughter. But that is NOT where I was going… Instead, I took her back to the Garden. We reflected on the truth that God created Adam and Eve and placed them in a place that they could enjoy. Sin, however, resulted in several consequences, one of which is a sin-cursed earth filled with death, diseases, and things that just don’t agree with the virility of our human life.

I have come to believe firmly that God is a Creator who is filled with joy, and delight, and can’t help but continue to be creative. He creates things that know how to create more things! The Bible says that before the foundations of the earth He knew me – and He knew Nora as well. He knew that she would be alive for only 3 years. He knew that Audrey Caroline Smith would only last 2 hours. But they are just as much Image Bearers as you or I are. They are an expression of His creativity no matter how short or long they exist here on earth, and He delights in each and every single human being He thought up, fashioned, created, and placed here on this planet. It was due to His joy and creativity that He just had to create them, to create Nora.

You Are Special: Imago Dei

It reminded me of the story “You Are Special” by Max Lucado. I picture Eli, the wood worker, taking such joy in creating each individual Wemmick – some big, some small, some skinny, some fat, some with hats, and some with big noses – each one a different expression of his creativity! Eli took such delight in his creations simply because He had made them and they reflected a bit of who He was. He delighted in creating Punchinello too. But Eli also knew that when He created Punchinello that he would enter a town filled with other wooden Wemmicks who were going to put stickers and dots all over him, cause him to focus on second-things, and get wrapped up in developing people-pleasing flesh – forgetting all about who it was who made him. But that doesn’t stop Eli from creating or placing him in the town.

Yet, this story doesn’t accurately reflect what we deal with. For Lucado’s story to be more realistic, then the perfect little town where the Wemmicks live would also have to be filled with termites! So, not only was this a place filled with hurting and broken people, but a world that is literally eating away at the Wemmicks’ bodies. This, I feel, is a more accurate picture.

We live in a world filled with broken people. A world filled with termites – things that eat away at our very existence. Yet this is no reflection of the character of the Creator, but rather a statement about the consequences of sin. This also does not make God less joyful or less creative, nor does it take away the pure delight He has with each Image Bearer he places into the broken world. I do believe that His “heart” hurts knowing His creation will only last a little while and that in turn will lead to the hurt, pain, and heartache experienced by other Image Bearers He created.

I continued with the mom. God had already thought up Nora and He so delighted in her that He just had to create her. He took such joy in this little life – regardless of the length of time here. She was a unique expression of His creativity. It pains God to know that you are hurting, but He’s not upset that you’re upset about it. He understands perfectly.

Choose to live in the truth of who God is and how much He delights in you… and Nora.

Finally. Freedom.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Cinderella: The Making of a Princess

Cinderella: The Making of a Princess

Guest Blog by Pastor Aaron Tolson,
Youth Pastor of CROSS-EYED Youth Ministry

Being the father of a three year old daughter has made me quite familiar with the fairy tale classics such as Sleeping Beauty, Snow White, and Cinderella as well as newer stories of princesses like Arial, Jasmine, and Belle. My daughter has several princess outfits that she wears constantly and a few cd’s of beautiful, flowery music to which she loves to dance. Often she will extend an invitation for me to dance with her, and these are the moments I will treasure forever.

Recently I had the opportunity to address the issue of sexuality with some of the teen girls in our youth ministry. While I am normally more than content to let the female shepherds give these speeches, I sensed the need to add to the discussion a few thoughts from the perspective of a father – and ultimately The Father. Sharing my own experiences with my daughter and wanting to affirm them in their femininity and reinforce their value as precious daughters of The King, I used the story of Cinderella.

While we are all very familiar with the story, perhaps you will come to discover another aspect of application just as I did. That is what I would like to share with you briefly – something beautiful hidden just beyond the obvious and in total contrast to the message usually conveyed from this story (and others like it).

Cinderella was not a common girl. No great fortune. No great future to dream of. Hers was a so-called-life filled with the unreasonable demands that others placed upon her. Each day she awoke was another day to simply exist in a sad and unfair world – a world that included the death of her father and the cruelty of her would-be family. Cinderella should have been treated as a common girl at the very least, yet she was treated as a soul-less slave, without care or concern for her well-being. In fact, she is so miserable that she resorts to carrying on conversations with animals – birds and mice in particular.

At the same time in the same kingdom was the prince. A young man whose parents were intent on continuing their royal lineage through his marriage to… well, whoever! It didn’t really matter to them. And so we have the arrangement of a magnificent ball to which all the single ladies in the kingdom were invited to attend. (Parents trying to get life out of their children’s lives – how archaic) Of course, with the help of her friends and a Fairy Godmother, Cinderella finally makes it to the ball, they fall in love, and then she dashes away into the night just before the final stroke of midnight.

The next day it is as if Cinderella has become a new person – hope, joy, and yes – love have found their way into her heart. The focus is (of course) on the prince and the moments they shared together. As an observer to the story, it is our own desire for a happy ending that leads us to root for squire and Cinderella to finally connect – culminating in the most successful glass slipper fitting ever recorded in history! We cheer as Cinderella marries the Prince and becomes the Princess to live happily ever after. The End. (Married folks know that really they have just begun and would love to see the book that continues to follow the happy couple into the victories and defeats associated with marriage… but I digress.)

What I found interesting about this story is that Cinderella’s new identity – becoming the Princess – is dependent upon marrying the Prince. It is implied that the Prince is the one who makes her royalty, when in fact that is hardly the truth! Consider that social classes and standing were a really big deal particularly during this period of history. Those of nobility did not associate themselves with lower class commoners, much less those who were the hired hands or slaves of the common folk. It was one thing for royalty to marry royalty or nobility, but a totally different matter to marry a slave girl.

So while it appears that the love of the Prince is what changes Cinderella’s identity from “slave” to that of Princess, the reality is that he had little to do with it at all. The reality is that unless the King chose to welcome her into the family she could be denied that title and still treated as worthless.

It is interesting to me to see how much focus young ladies put on finding the right “prince” assuming that he has the ability to rescue them from their perceptions of self and bestow upon them a new identity – perhaps one that is more appealing, more beautiful, more lovable. The truth is that only The King can make the girl a princess. Only The King can grant a new identity. Only because The King welcomes her into the family does she lose the old identity and gain a new one.

Young ladies – you’ve missed the point of the story… stop dreaming about the prince. Go to the King.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

The Hidden Tradition: Women of the Reformation, Part V

The Hidden Tradition:
Women of the Reformation, Part V

Listening to the Silenced Voices

When we listen to the silenced voices of the women of the Reformation we hear the Reformation message of the priesthood of all believers. These women took seriously the doctrine that salvation in Christ made every believer a new creation (regeneration) and re-established a direct relationship between the Christian and God (reconciliation). Therefore, they believed they had the right, the responsibility, and the ability to come to the Bible directly and to use it to minister the truth in love.

All agreed on this foundational principle of direct access to God and God’s Word through Christ. However, they did not believe that this required uniformity of roles. Some of the women of the Reformation maintained “more traditional roles” of “wives of great leaders” and of a ministry primarily (but never always) to and in the home. Others chose the “less traditional role” of defenders of the Reformation.

Marie Dentiere: Conscience Held Captive to the Word of God

Regardless of their roles, their consciences were held captive to the Word of God. Marie Dentiere (1495-1561) captures well the essence of their message and method. Writing to Queen Marguerite of Navarre (1492-1549), she biblically defends the priesthood of all believers and the calling of women. “Do we have two gospels, one for men and the other for women? One for the educated and the other for the multitude. Are we not all one in our Savior?”

She continues, this time more pointedly emphasizing women’s roles. “For we ought not, any more than men, hide and bury within the earth that which God has revealed to us women. Although we are not permitted to preach in assemblies and public churches, nevertheless we are not prohibited from writing and advising one another, in all charity.”

Boldly she adds, “Not only do we wish to accuse any defamers and adversaries of the truth of very great audacity and temerity, but also any of the faithful who say that women are very impudent in interpreting Scripture for one another. To them, one is lawfully able to respond that all those who are described and named in the Holy Scripture are not to be judged too temerarious.”

Dentiere then discusses a host of women of the Old and New Testament who “are named and praised in the Holy Scriptures, not only for their good morals, deeds, bearing, and example, but for their faith and doctrine.”

Her concluding words encapsulate well the attitude of the great women soul care-givers and spiritual directors of the Reformation era. “If God has given graces to some good women, revealing to them something holy and good through His Holy Scriptures, should they, for the sake of the defamers of the truth, refrain from writing down, speaking, or declaring it to each other? Ah! It would be too impudent to hide the talent which God has given us, we who ought to have the grace to persevere to the end. Amen!”

[i]Wilson, 260.
[ii]Ibid., 275.
[iii]Ibid., 277.
[v]Ibid., 278.

Friday, May 23, 2008

The Hidden Tradition: The Women of the Reformation, Part IV

The Hidden Tradition:
The Women of the Reformation, Part IV

Reformation historian Roland Bainton proposed that the Reformation had a primary effect on the role of women in society. The dropping of monasticism in Protestant lands “made for the exaltation of the home, the especial domain of the wife, as the sphere for exercise of the gentler virtues of the Sermon on the Mount. In Catholic thought these have been called the counsels of perfection to be observed by monks. Protestantism made no distinction between the counsels to be observed by the few and the precepts binding upon all. The entire Christian ethic was held to be incumbent upon every believer.”[i]

Reformation Wives: Daughters of the King of Kings

Ruth Tucker explains the impact of this titanic change upon marital relationships. “For the first generation of Protestants, marriage was a far more significant decision than it was in the generations that followed. Renouncing celibacy was viewed by the Catholics as giving in to the sin of lust.”
[ii] For the leading male Reformers, the decision whether or not to marry was thus mired in complexity, culture, and conflict. For the women who married them, the nature of their husband-wife relationship was equally multifaceted.

Katherine von Bora Luther: Sticking to Christ and Ministering to Christians

Katherine von Bora is the best known of all the women of the Reformation because she was Martin Luther’s wife. However, she was much more than that. Katherine was born in January 1499 in a little village near Leipzig. Her parents enjoyed a degree of financial security and unlike most girls her age she received an education, studying at a Benedictine school beginning at age six. At age ten, when her mother died and her father remarried, they sent Katherine to a Cistercian convent to prepare for solemn vows, eventually taking them when she was sixteen.

In the early 1520s, Luther’s writings began to infiltrate monastic houses. “The sisters at Nimschen, nine of them, disquieted in conscience, sought his counsel. Luther advised escape and undertook to make the arrangements.”
[iv] Luther turned to a highly trusted layman, Leonard Kopp, who delivered barrels of smoked herrings to the nuns. Hidden in the covered wagon, they rumbled into Wittenberg. A student there wrote to a friend, “A wagon load of vestal virgins has just come to town all more eager for marriage than for life. May God give them husbands lest worse befall.”[v]

Luther felt responsible that worse should not befall. All were placed either in teaching posts, in homes, or in matrimony. Katherine spent two years working in a home while Luther sought a husband for her. Finding no match, and at her initial suggestion, Luther agreed to marry Katherine because his marriage “would please his father, rile the pope, make the angels laugh and the devils weep, and would seal his testimony.”
[vi] She was twenty-six; he was forty-two.

Though initially a marriage of convenience, they grew to love and depend upon each other profoundly. In fact, Luther would say of her, “In domestic affairs, I defer to Katie. Otherwise I am led by the Holy Ghost.”
[vii] When he thought her at the point of death, he pleaded, “Don’t die and leave me.”[viii] Thirteen years after their marriage, Martin would say of Katherine, “If I should lose my Katie I would not take another wife through I were offered a queen.”[ix]

What was it about Katherine’s character and ministry that so endeared her to Luther? She “ministered to her husband’s diseases, depressions, and eccentricities.”
[x] Her son, later a physician, praised her as half a doctor. He could not have survived his depression, which he interpreted as satanic temptations to doubt God’s forgiveness, without her sustaining and healing ministry. At night he would turn over and plead with Katherine, “Forbid me to have such temptations.”[xi] Based upon Luther’s own methods of soul care for such depression, we can surmise that Katherine responded by ministering sustaining empathy and healing encouragement through spiritual conversations and scriptural explorations.[xii]

Luther’s own testimony further describes Katherine’s empathic care. Speaking from the experience of their marriage and parenting he writes, “Marriage offers the greatest sphere for good works, because it rest on love—love between the husband and the wife, love of the parents for the children, whom they nourish, clothe, rear, and nurse. If a child is sick, the parents are sick with worry. If the husband is sick, the wife is as concerned as if it were herself. If it be said that marriage entails concern, worry, and trouble, that is all true, but these the Christian is not to shun.”
[xiii] Undoubtedly, Martin frequently experienced Katherine’s as if compassion numerous times in his battles with depression.

Katherine was unafraid to lovingly rebuke Martin. When his language was too foul, she would say, “Oh come now, that’s too raw.”
[xiv] Luther’s Table Talks also disclose that Katherine at times prodded her husband to respond forcefully to unfair attacks and doctrinal error.[xv]

As with Idelette Calvin, Katherine’s ministry was not exclusively to her family. The Augustinian Cloister where Luther had lived as a monk was first loaned and then given to the couple by the Elector. It had on the first floor forty rooms with cells above. Eventually not a single room was unoccupied. A friend described the scene. “The home of Luther is occupied by a motley crowd of boys, students, girls, widows, old women, and youngsters.”
[xvi] Katherine “came to be a mistress of a household, a hostel, and a hospital.”[xvii]

Luther recognized and appreciated her versatility and creativity. “To my dear wife Katherine von Bora, preacher, brewer, gardener, and whatsoever else she may be.”
[xviii] On other occasions he referred to her as “my kind and dear lord and master, Katy, Lutheress, doctoress, and priestess of Wittenberg.” Yet again, ten years after they married, he had this description. “My lord Kate drives a team, farms, pastures, and sells cows . . . and between times reads the Bible.”[xix]

But for Katherine, reading the Bible was insufficient. She longed to apply it. “I’ve read enough. I’ve heard enough. I know enough. Would to God I lived it.”
[xx] Such was her testimony to her dying day. Ill for three months after an accident landed her on her back in a ditch filled with icy water, Katherine died on December 20, 1550, at age fifty-one. The final words from her lips depict how she lived her entire life. “I will stick to Christ as a burr to a top coat.”[xxi] The last words of Idelette and Katherine each communicate that they were not simply wives of Reformers, but more so daughters of the King of King.

[i]Bainton, Women of the Reformation in Germany and Italy, 7.
[ii]Tucker, Private, 40.
[iii]Bainton, 23.
[v]Ibid., 24.
[vi]Ibid., 26.
[vii]Ibid., 27.
[viii]Ibid., 26.
[x]Ibid., 29.
[xi]Ibid., 29-30.
[xii]Kellemen, Spiritual Care in Historical Perspective, 45-56.
[xiii]Bainton, 42, emphasis added.
[xiv]Ibid., 37.
[xv]Ibid., 38.
[xvi]Schwiebert, Luther and His Times, 584.
[xvii]Bainton, 30.
[xviii]Ibid., 39.
[xix]Tucker, Private, 27.
[xx]Bainton, 37.
[xxi]Ibid., 42.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

The Hidden Tradition: Women of the Reformation, Part III

The Hidden Tradition:
The Women of the Reformation, Part III

Reformation historian Roland Bainton proposed that the Reformation had a primary effect on the role of women in society. The dropping of monasticism in Protestant lands “made for the exaltation of the home, the especial domain of the wife, as the sphere for exercise of the gentler virtues of the Sermon on the Mount. In Catholic thought these have been called the counsels of perfection to be observed by monks. Protestantism made no distinction between the counsels to be observed by the few and the precepts binding upon all. The entire Christian ethic was held to be incumbent upon every believer.”[i]

Reformation Wives: Daughters of the King of Kings

Ruth Tucker explains the impact of this titanic change upon marital relationships. “For the first generation of Protestants, marriage was a far more significant decision than it was in the generations that followed. Renouncing celibacy was viewed by the Catholics as giving in to the sin of lust.”
[ii] For the leading male Reformers, the decision whether or not to marry was thus mired in complexity, culture, and conflict. For the women who married them, the nature of their husband-wife relationship was equally multifaceted.

Idelette Calvin: The Unfading Beauty of a Gentle and Quiet Spirit

Idelette Calvin (1510-1549) met John Calvin when she and her first husband fled persecution in their native Holland. Coming to Strasbourg, they connected with Calvin’s church and converted to the Reformed faith. When Idellete’s husband died in a plague, Calvin conducted the funeral. He was impressed with how she had cared for her dying husband as well as for her two children. He also noted that she was an intelligent woman who was unafraid to speak her mind.

Calvin communicated his idea of the ideal wife in a letter written to his friend William Farel even before he met Idellete. “But always keep in mind what I seek to find in her; for I am none of those insane lovers who embrace also the vices of those with whom they are in love, where they are smitten at first sight with a fine figure. This only is the beauty which allures me, if she is chaste, if not too fussy or fastidious, if economical, if patient, if there is hope that she will be interested about my health.”

Though unlike the modern ideal of romantic love, Calvin saw in Idellete the unfading beauty of her gentle and quiet spirit. She ministered soul care to her husband through her patient love, and that was exactly what Calvin needed to counter his own “impatience and irritability.”

Since Calvin’s mother died when he was three, and he had received little love from his stepmother, Calvin had modest experience of a loving home. His best model was Martin Bucer’s family life. “In his family during the entire time I saw not the least occasion of offense but only ground for edification. I never left the table without having learned something.”

Calvin saw Elizabeth Bucer as a good mother, a hospitable homemaker, and her husband’s best critic. Idelette played a similar role. Calvin called her “the faithful helper of my ministry” and “the best companion of my life.” Calvin’s biographers speak of her as a woman “of some force and individuality.”

From the beginning, Idelette’s marriage to John was filled with complications and frustrations. In addition to his pastoral ministry, Calvin was a teacher and houseparent at his own boarding house, governed by a domineering housekeeper with a sharp tongue. To make matters worse, sickness would plague them both throughout their marriage.

External circumstances improved when Calvin was called back to Geneva. Idelette had become “first lady” of the parish, and she could have enjoyed a lavish lifestyle. Instead, she chose to extend her soul care ministry beyond her home. “Idelette, if she had chosen, might have passed her time in presiding over brilliant social gatherings. But like her unostentatious husband, she devoted her time and energy for the most part to the performance of charitable duties. She often visited the sick, the poor, and the humble folk. On many occasions she entertained visitors from communities who sought inspiration from her husband.”
[ix] Like so many feminine soul care-givers before her, Idelette cared for the body as well as the soul, living out Christ’s call to care for the least of these (Matthew 25:35-40).

John and Idelette endured traumatic personal grief together. Idelette became pregnant three times, but none of the children lived beyond infancy. Soon after coming to Geneva, Idelette gave birth to a boy, but baby Jacques lived only two weeks. At his birth, Idelette became quite ill. His death piled sorrow on top of her physical anguish. The next month, Calvin wrote a friend, sending greetings from his wife, who was unable even to dictate a letter due to her heartache. Calvin added, “The Lord has certainly inflicted a severe and bitter wound in the death of our infant son.”
[x] Coming from a man like Calvin, known more for his head than his heart, these words are vital reminders of the normalcy of grief for all Christians.

Working through her grief, over time Idelette became known throughout the first-generation Protestant world. “Your hospitality in the name of Christ is not unknown to anybody in Europe,” wrote an acquaintance.

After only nine years of marriage, Idelette succumbed to her frequent illnesses. On her deathbed, she and her husband prayed together. He witnessed and wrote of her peaceful composure, and recorded her final words of tribute to God. “She suddenly cried out in such a way that all could see that her spirit had risen far above this world. These were her words, ‘O glorious resurrection! O God of Abraham and of all our fathers, the believers of all the ages have trusted on Thee and none of them have hoped in vain. And now I fix my hope on Thee.’ These short statements were cried out rather than distinctly spoken. These were not lines suggested by someone else but came from her own thoughts.”
[xii] As Idelette lived, so she died—choosing to exalt God by encouraging others.

After her death, Calvin shared his profound sorrow, offering insight into what Idelette had meant to him. “I have been bereaved of the best companion of my life, who, if our lot had been harsher, would have been not only the willing sharer of exile and poverty, but even of death. While she lived she was the faithful helper of my ministry. From her I never experienced the slightest hindrance.”

Soul care historically and currently takes many forms. Idelette Calvin epitomizes soul care in the home through loving, caring, patient empathy and encouragement, as well as soul care outside the home through holistic ministry to “the least of these.”

[i]Bainton, Women of the Reformation in Germany and Italy, 7.
[ii]Tucker, Private, 40.
[iii]Peterson, 25 Surprising Marriages, p 73.
[iv]Van Halsema, This Was John Calvin, 113.
[v]Peterson, “Idelette: John Calvin’s Search for the Right Wife,” 13.
[vi]Peterson, 25 Surprising Marriages, p 77.
[viii]Tucker, Private, 40-41.
[ix]Hyma, Life of John Calvin, 85.
[x]Van Halsema, 147
[xi]Ibid., 148.
[xii]Peterson, “Idelette,” 15.
[xiii]Walker, John Calvin: The Organizer of Reformed Protestantism, 1509-1564, 236.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

The Hidden Tradition: Women of the Reformation, Part II

The Hidden Tradition:
The Women of the Reformation, Part II

Many readers are familiar with the names associated with the male leaders of the Reformation era. Few, however, recognize the unheralded names of the women of the Reformation. By unveiling their hidden tradition, we gain insight not only into Protestant feminine soul care and spiritual direction, but also into the roles, self-concept, value, and worth of women in the early Protestant tradition.

Many of the women of the Reformation had a share in the public controversies it unleashed. Given the dynamic tensions of the day, they were not only accused of doctrinal heresy, but also of behavioral and relational sin for usurping their supposed proper role. They did not stand silently by when so indicted.

Katherine Zell: Afflicting the Comfortable and Comforting the Afflicted

Katherine Zell (1497-1562) likewise defended her right to minister in Christ’s name, though always doing so in a spirit of humility. Speaking of her relationship to her husband, she describes herself as “a splinter from the rib of that blessed man Matthew Zell.”

Matthew Zell was a celibate Catholic priest turned married Lutheran pastor. Marrying Katherine Schult, he found a life partner with courage and conviction. As she portrays herself, “Ever since I was ten years old I have been a student and sort of church mother, much given to attending sermons. I have loved and frequented the company of learned men, and I conversed much with them, not about dancing, masquerades, and worldly pleasures but about the kingdom of God.”

Protestant leaders concurred with her self-assessment. Church historian Philip Schaff noted that the well-known Reformers of her day who frequented her home said that she “conversed with them on theology so intelligently that they ranked her above many doctors.”
[iii] The admiration and the ministry were mutual. “I honored, cherished and sheltered many great, learned men, with care, work and expense. . . . I listened to their conversations and preaching, I read their books and their letters and they were glad to receive mine.”[iv]

To her ministry in her home, Katherine added a public ministry—often in defense of her husband and their ministry. When Matthew was excommunicated for marrying her, opponents of the Reformation circulated the tale that she had caught him with their maid and that, when she protested, he had thrashed her. She published a refutation, saying, “I have never had a maid. . . . And as for thrashing me, my husband and I have never had an unpleasant 15 minutes. We could have no greater honor than to die rejected of men and from two crosses to speak to each other words of comfort.”
[v] Katherine exemplifies a rare and worthy-to-be-followed balance of confronting enemies while comforting loved ones.

In the same tract, she not only refutes this particular slander, but provides a vigorous defense of her ministry. “You remind me that the Apostle Paul told women to be silent in the church. I would remind you of the word of this same apostle that in Christ there is no longer male nor female and of the prophecy of Joel: ‘I will pour my spirit upon all flesh and your sons and your daughters will prophesy.’ I do not pretend to be John the Baptist rebuking the Pharisees. I do not claim to be Nathan upbraiding David. I aspire only to be Balaam’s ass, castigating his master.”
[vi] Thus with wit and wisdom she offers shrewd biblical confrontation based upon the doctrine of the priesthood of all believers—male and female.

At her husband’s funeral, Katherine assures her listeners that she did not seek to become “Doctor Katrina” as rumor had it. “I am not usurping the office of preacher or apostle. I am like the dear Mary Magdalene, who with no thought of being an apostle, came to tell the disciples that she had encountered the risen Lord.”

Such courageous boldness might mistakenly cause us to think that Katherine was above suffering and grieving. However, the ceaseless criticism along with her overwhelming grief after Matthew’s death exposed her human neediness. Friends arranged for her to stay in the home of a pastor in Switzerland, and the renowned Reformer Martin Bucer sent a letter of introduction. “The widow of our Zell, a godly and saintly woman, comes to you that perchance she may find some solace for her grief. She is human. How does the heavenly Father humble those endowed with great gifts!”
[viii] It truly is normal, human to hurt.

Even in her ongoing grief, Katherine ministers to others. In less than a year she was back in the parsonage in Strasbourg. To one of the displaced Protestant leaders she wrote, “I have been allowed to keep the parsonage which belongs to the parish. I take any one who comes. It is always full.”

Yet she was able to candidly admit that she still struggled. In a letter to two Protestant Reformers, whom she helped to hide from authorities, she apologizes for what she perceived as a lack of hospitality. “I wish I could have done better for you but my Matthew has taken all my gaiety with him.”

Out of Katherine’s grief, she was able to comfort other grieving wives, offering them both sustaining empathy and healing encouragement. At Kensingen in Breisgau, the minister was forced to leave by those enforcing the Edict of Worms against Luther and his followers. They evicted one-hundred-fifty men of the parish along with the pastor. One man was executed. The rest fled to Strasbourg where Katherine housed eighty in the parsonage and fed sixty for three weeks, while finding shelter and provisions for the rest.

Katherine pens a letter of scriptural exploration to the wives left behind. “To my fellow sisters in Christ, day and night I pray God that he may increase your faith that you forget not his invincible Word. ‘My thoughts are not your thoughts, saith the Lord’ (Isa. 55:8). ‘Whom I make alive I kill’ (Deut. 32:39). The Lord would wean you from the world that you may rely only on him. Has he not told us that we must ‘forsake father and mother, wife and child’? (Luke 14:26). ‘He who denies me him will I deny in the presence of my father,’ (Matt. 10:33). ‘Those who would reign with me must also suffer with me’ (2 Tim. 2:12).

Katherine continues with healing words of spiritual conversation. “Had I been chosen to suffer as you women I would account myself happier than all the magistrates of Strasbourg at the fair with their necklaces and golden chains. Remember the word of the Lord in the prophet Isaiah (54:8) ‘In overflowing love I will have compassion on you.’ ‘Can a woman forget her suckling child? Even these may forget, but I will not forget you’ (Isa. 49:15). Are not these golden words? Faith is not faith which is not tried. ‘Blessed are those that mourn.’ Pray, then, for those who persecute you that you ‘may be perfect as your Father in heaven is perfect’ (Matt. 5:4, 44, 48).”

Katherine did not limit her soul care ministry to other women. In 1558, though ill herself, she ministers to Felix Ambrosiaster, the chief magistrate of Strasbourg who had been diagnosed with leprosy and quarantined. Her letter to Felix depicts a sensitive awareness of his level one external suffering. “My dear Lord Felix, since we have known each other for a full 30 years I am moved to visit you in your long and frightful illness. . . . We have often talked of how you have been stricken, cut off from rank, office, from your wife and friends, from all dealings with the world which recoils from your loathsome disease and leaves you in utter loneliness.”

Not stopping there, Katherine’s words also represent brilliant insight into his level two internal suffering—and how to face it with faith. “At first you were bitter and utterly cast down till God gave you strength and patience, and now you are able to thank him that out of love he has taught you to bear the cross. Because I know that your illness weighs upon you daily and may easily cause you again to fall into despair and rebelliousness, I have gathered some passages which may make your yoke light in the spirit, though not in the flesh. I have written mediations on the 51st Psalm: ‘Have mercy upon me, O God, according to thy lovingkindness,’ and the 130th: ‘Out of the depths have I cried unto thee, O Lord,” and then on the Lord’s Prayer and the Creed.”

One would hope that such ministry to others would always lead to ministry from others. However, Katherine’s last days were filled with strife and betrayal. Ludwig Rabus, a former resident in her home and indebted to her for spiritual counsel, preached against her, calling her a “disturber of the church.”

Bold to the end, Katherine responds with the light of truth. “A disturber of the peace am I? Yes indeed, of my own peace. Do you call this disturbing the peace that instead of spending my time in frivolous amusements I have visited the plague infested and carried out the dead? I have visited those in prison and under sentence of death. Often for three days and three nights I have neither eaten nor slept. I have never mounted the pulpit, but I have done more than any minister in visiting those in misery. Is this disturbing the peace of the church?”
[xvi] Like the Apostle Paul throughout 2 Corinthians, false accusations forced her to “the foolishness of self-defense,” but always for the purpose of defending a woman’s right to biblical ministry.

Her own words best summarize the nature of her lifelong ministry. In 1534, she issued a collection of hymns that she had compiled, publishing them in four pamphlets that sold for a penny each. Her ministry goal was to inspire lay people of all ages, all walks of life, and both genders toward greater spirituality. “When I read these hymns I felt that the writer had the whole Bible in his heart. This is not just a hymn book but a lesson book of prayer and praise. When so many filthy songs are on the lips of men and women and even children I think it well that folk should with lusty zeal and clear voice sing the songs of their salvation. God is glad when the craftsman at his bench, the maid at the sink, the farmer at the plough, the dresser at the vines, the mother at the cradle break forth in hymns of prayer, praise and instruction.”
[xvii] In all her ministry endeavors, spiritual equality in Christ motivated Katherine Zell.

[i]Bainton, 55.
[ii]Tucker, Daughters of the Church, 182.
[iii]Schaff, History of the Christian Church, Vol. 7, 633.
[iv]MacHaffie, 92, emphasis added.
[v]Bainton, 55.
[vii]Tucker, Private Lives of Pastor’s Wives, 33
[ix]Ibid., 34.
[xi]Bainton, 61.
[xii]Ibid., 62-63.
[xiii]Ibid., 69.
[xv]Ibid., 72.

Monday, May 19, 2008

The Hidden Tradition: The Women of the Reformation, Part I

The Hidden Tradition:
The Women of the Reformation, Part I

Many readers are familiar with the names associated with the male leaders of the Reformation era. Few, however, recognize the unheralded names of the women of the Reformation. By unveiling their hidden tradition, we gain insight not only into Protestant feminine soul care and spiritual direction, but also into the roles, self-concept, value, and worth of women in the early Protestant tradition.

Many of the women of the Reformation had a share in the public controversies it unleashed. Given the dynamic tensions of the day, they were not only accused of doctrinal heresy, but also of behavioral and relational sin for usurping their supposed proper role. They did not stand silently by when so indicted.

Argula von Grumbach: Refusing to Bury Her Talent

Argula von Grumbach (1490-1564) was a Bavarian noblewoman from the house of Hohenstaufen. Following in their tradition of dissent and scholarship, in the early 1520s she became a serious student of the Bible and Lutheran doctrine. In 1523, the University of Ingolstadt tried a student, Arcasius Seehofer, for his Lutheran sympathies and extracted a humiliating recantation from him. Von Grumbach took up pen on his behalf, arguing with university and secular officials in a series of letters in which she insisted that the Bible was on his side and that she would prove it.

In her letters, Argula proclaims the importance of Scripture and her right to determine faith and practice thereby. “I beseech you for the sake of God, and exhort you by God’s judgment and righteousness, to tell me in writing which of the articles written by Martin or Melanchthon you consider heretical. In German not a single one seems heretical to me.”
[ii] She continues by quoting Luke 7, 1 Corinthians 9, Psalm 36, John 2, 8, 9, 10, 14, 16, Matthew 24, and Isaiah 40 highlighting the Word of God and illumination.

Argula then defends her source of authority and commitment to it. “I have always wanted to find out the truth. Although of late I have not been reading any [information published by the Reformers], for I have been occupied with the Bible, to which all of Luther’s work is directed anyway. . . Ah, but what a joy it is when the spirit of God teaches us and gives us understanding, flitting from one text to the next—God be praised—so that I came to see the true, genuine light shining out. I don’t intend to bury my talent, if the Lord gives me grace.”

She certainly was tempted and confronted to bury her talent. Argula’s husband was fired because of her and he mistreated her as a result. Her family reviled her, others wrote against her. In a letter to her cousin, Adam von Torring, she explains, “I hear you have heard that my husband has locked me up. Not that, but he does much to persecute Christ in me. At this point I cannot obey him. We are bound to forsake father, mother, brother, sister, child, body, and life. I am distressed that our princes take the Word of God no more seriously than a cow does a game of chess.”
[iv] Bury her talent she did not!

Responding to rebuke for not remaining silent, she retorts, “I am not unacquainted with the word of Paul that women should be silent in the church (1 Tim. 1:2) but, when no man will or can speak, I am driven by the word of the Lord when he said, ‘He who confesses me on earth, him will I confess and he who denies me, him will I deny,’ (Matt. 10, Luke 9), and I take comfort in the words of the prophet Isaiah (3:12), ‘I will send you children to be your princes and women to be your rulers.’”

And speak she did. “When I heard what you had done to Arsacius Seehofer under terror of imprisonment and the stake, my heart trembled and my bones quaked. What have Luther and Melanchthon taught save the Word of God? You have condemned them. You have not refuted them. Where do you read in the Bible that Christ, the apostles, and the prophets imprisoned, banished, burned, or murdered anyone?”

As was typical of the women of the Reformation, Argula based her confidence upon Christ and His grace, not upon herself. “I do not flinch from appearing before you, from listening to you, from discussing with you. For by the grace of God I, too, can ask questions, hear answers and read in German.”
[vii] Here we detect Argula boldly applying to her life as a woman the Lutheran doctrine of the priesthood of all believers.

Of her, Martin Luther reported to Spalatin, “I am sending you the letters of Argula von Grumbach, Christ’s disciple, that you may see how the angels rejoice over a single daughter of Adam, converted and made into a daughter of God.”
[viii] To another friend, Luther wrote of Argula, “The Duke of Bavaria rages above measure, killing, crushing and persecuting the gospel with all his might. That most noble woman, Argula von Stauffer, is there making a valiant fight with great spirit, boldness of speech and knowledge of Christ. She deserves that all pray for Christ’s victory in her . . . . She alone, among these monsters, carries on with firm faith, though, she admits, not without inner trembling. She is a singular instrument of Christ. I commend her to you, that Christ through this infirm vessel may confound the mighty and those who glory in their strength.”[ix]

Since her confidence was neither in herself nor in Luther, but in Christ, Argula adds these final words. “And even if it came to pass—which God forbid—that Luther were to revoke his views, that would not worry me. I do not build on his, mine, or any person’s understanding, but on the true rock, Christ himself, which the builders have rejected.”
[x] Thus Argula von Grumbach offers all women, and men, the biblical reminder that we base our ministry upon Jesus, the ultimate Soul Physician and Spiritual Friend.

[i]MacHaffie, Her Story, 99-100.
[ii]Ibid., 119.
[iii]Ibid, emphasis added.
[iv]Bainton, 105-106, emphasis added.
[v]Ibid., 97-98.
[vi]Ibid., 97.
[vii]MacHaffie, 120.
[viii]Bainton, 106.
[x]MacHaffie, 120.

Thursday, May 01, 2008

Common Themes in African American Acceptance of Christ

Common Themes in African American Acceptance of Christ

Note: Excerpted from Beyond the Suffering: Embracing the Legacy of African American Soul Care and Spiritual Direction, by Kellemen and Edwards

During slavery, if spiritually famished African Americans were going to convert to Christianity, then they had to convert on the basis of Christ’s life, death, and resurrection as revealed in the Bible, not on the basis of Christianity revealed in the lifestyles of the Christians they knew. Ironically, to find redemption in Christ, African Americans had to redeem Christianity as they saw it practiced. “By some amazing but vastly creative spiritual insight the slave undertook the redemption of a religion that the master had profaned in his midst.”[i]

Christ’s suffering for humanity’s sin was the key that unlocked their hearts and enlightened their eyes. “Jesus quickly became the ardent personification of the slaves’ own suffering.”
[ii] Their suffering at the hands of Christians caused them to identify with a suffering Savior who suffered at the hands of religious leaders.

At the same time, African American Christians clearly recognized and constantly emphasized the difference between Christ’s sinlessness and their personal need for forgiveness from sin. The recurring theme of the conversion narratives was salvation from sin, not from suffering. Yes, Christ shared with them the experience of unjust suffering. But more importantly, they shared in Christ’s suffering for their sins.

The Sin of Slavery and the Slavery of Sin

Pastor James W. C. Pennington, reflecting on his conversion, seamlessly expresses his understanding of suffering and of sin. Without minimizing for a moment the evils of slavery, he maximizes for all eternity the horrors of his own enslavement to sin and Satan.

"I was a lost sinner and a slave to Satan; and soon I saw that I must make another escape from another tyrant. I did not by any means forget my fellow-bondmen, of whom I had been sorrowing so deeply, and travailing in spirit so earnestly; but I now saw that while man had been injuring me, I had been offending God; and that unless I ceased to offend him, I could not expect to have his sympathy in my wrongs; and moreover, that I could not be instrumental in eliciting his powerful aid in behalf of those for whom I mourned so deeply" (Pennington).

Rejecting the “slaveholding gospel” of the institutional Church of that era, the enslaved African Americans gave birth to a regenerated Christianity that reflected fundamental Christian doctrine while maintaining compatible African traditions. Their cultural practice of biblical Christianity provided the new orientation toward existence that they needed given their shattered external circumstances and sinful internal nature. It created the new narrative of present resilience made possible by a Savior who suffered with them because they were sinned against. It also created the new narrative of future hope made possible by a Savior who suffered for them because they were sinners.

Their focus offers an indispensable caution for all soul physicians. While we are called to sustain and heal people in their suffering, if we neglect to address their sinning, if we fail to offer reconciling, then we may enable people to become more self-sufficient sinners. Such one-sided ministry attempts to empower people to live this life more successfully while giving them little incentive to turn to Christ’s resurrection power for eternal life later and abundant life now. We should shudder at the thought.

[i] Thurman, Deep River, p. 36.
[ii] Andrews, Practical Theology, p. 18.
[iii] Pennington, “The Fugitive Blacksmith,” in Katz, Five Slave Narratives, p. 52, emphasis added.