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Protestantism Today

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Date December 2, 2002

Sadly, we live in a day when that once (and still) noble word "Protestant" has fallen on hard times.

by Ian Hamilton

Last month I attended the Annual Cambridge Lecture sponsored by the Protestant Truth Society. Sadly, we live in a day when that once (and still) noble word "Protestant" has fallen on hard times. Part of the reason, no doubt, is that the word has been hijacked by politically minded people, many of whom are as much strangers to true Protestantism as my cat. However, there is a deeper, more lamentable reason why this venerable word has fallen on hard times – we live in a nation that is profoundly ignorant of its history. And the nation that forgets its history has lost its moorings and is headed for disaster.

Let me make one point before I go any further, just in case you think this letter is a plea for us to yearn for the past. I am no antiquarian. We live in the twenty first century, not the sixteenth or seventeenth. God is the living God, he is not tied to any era of history, however blessed (though even the most blessed of past eras were punctuated with spiritual and moral ignorance and declension). However, to be ignorant of history, is to be ignorant of God. History is His-story (trite maybe, but profoundly biblical and theological). There is a constant refrain in Deuteronomy that makes the point: again and again the Lord commands his church to "remember", not to forget his past goodness and mercy and kindness. A sense of history is essential for authentic, faithful Christian living.

The lecture I heard illustrated what I am saying. The title was "John Rogers: Proto-Martyr of the English Reformation." To my shame, I had never heard of John Rogers (being a Scotsman, I have some excuse – perhaps!) Rogers lived in a day when simply to teach your children the Ten Commandments in English put you in jeopardy of your life. Because he was an unyielding "Protestant", a man who put the authority of the Bible above and before the authority of Queen Mary ("Bloody Mary"), and Parliament, he was burned at the stake. He had a wife and eleven children, but not even for their poor sakes would he recant his evangelical faith. Indeed, it was his wife and children who pressed him to be faithful unto death! Whatever else he was, John Rogers was a man who took Jesus Christ seriously – and it cost him his life. In laying down his life, Rogers was simply following in the footsteps of an eminent company of men and women throughout the ages who "were tortured and refused to be released, so that they might gain a better resurrection … the world was not worthy of them" (Hebrews 11:35ff). This is our history.

But what has all this to do with us today, living as we do in the twenty first century? Everything. It reminds us that the cause of the gospel is not advanced by faint hearts. The enemies of the gospel today do not burn us at the stake, they just ridicule, marginalise and demonise us. Absolute truth is mocked – except of course the absolute truth of humanistic relativism (i.e. "anything goes!") Let us not be in any doubt that faithfulness to our Lord Jesus today will be costly. No-one will burn you at the stake, perhaps, but there are other costs that are sore and wounding to bear.

We live in a post-Christian culture, much like the culture into which the Christian church was born. It was not faintheartedness that caused the world to be turned upside down by the early Christians. They confronted their godless world with great grace and great boldness – "We must obey God rather than man", was their unshakeable conviction. What was it God blessed in their labours? Their courageous proclamation of the good news of a Saviour, in the power of the Holy Spirit. This is what shook godless Corinth and delivered sin-blinded, morally-depraved men and women from their bondage to Satan, and brought them into the light and liberty of the Kingdom of Jesus Christ – "and such were some of you, but you were washed…" (1 Corinthians 6:9-11).

History teaches us that no matter how degenerate a people may be, the gospel is the power of God for salvation. God is the God of history. His "footprints" are all over history – if we have the eyes of faith to see them. But those "footprints" were often sprinkled with the blood of faithful Christians. So let us "be steadfast, unmoved, always giving yourselves to the work of the Lord, knowing that your labour in the Lord is not in vain." He was obedient unto death, and he is the Pioneer and Perfecter of our salvation.

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