Saturday, March 10, 2007

He Didn’t Turn Her Brown Eyes Blue.

When Amy Carmichael was a child in Ireland, her mother told her that if Amy were to pray then God would answer. Since Amy didn’t like her brown eyes she prayed for God to give her blue ones. The next morning Mrs. Carmichael heard her wail in disappointment. It was a while before Amy would understand that "no" was an answer too.

Even though the “no” answer disappointed her she never lost her faith in God. Service to Him became the passion of her life leading Amy to start classes and prayer groups for Belfast’s many poor and homeless children, known as “ragamuffins.” Her Sunday classes were also attended by "shawlies", factory girls so poor that they could not afford hats to wear to church and wore shawls instead. Believe it or not this was enough for “respectable people” to refuse to have anything to do with them.

In the years following her father’s death the Carmichaels found themselves in tough financial circumstances, so Mrs Carmichael decided to move to England and work for Uncle Jacob. Amy and another sister joined her. Uncle Jacob asked Amy to teach his mill workers about Christ and she threw herself into the work, living near the mill in an apartment infested with cockroaches and bed bugs. However, she was constantly sick with neuralgia and had to lie in bed for days at a time. Her bad health eventually forced her to give up the work.

When she announced she was going to be a missionary, her friends thought she was being foolish and predicted that she would soon be back in England for keeps. Nevertheless, in 1892, she answered the call to the mission field and made her way to India.

In Dohnavur, India, Amy Carmichael became a kidnapper. According to local custom young girls dedicated to the Hindu gods were forced into prostitution to earn money for the priests. Amy heard about a five-year-old girl named Kohila who faced just such a fate. Dressed in a sari, her skin stained brown, Amy could pass as a Hindu. Disguised in this way she rescued the little girl and gave her shelter. Now she understood why God had given her brown eyes. Blue eyes would have been a dead giveaway!

When the child’s guardians discovered what had happen they demanded the child’s return. Amy refused to return the little girl to a life of certain abuse and arranged for Kohila to "disappear" to a safe place. Technically that made her a kidnapper. Over the years, Amy would rescue many other children, often at the cost of extreme exhaustion and personal danger. Charges were brought against Amy. She faced a seven year prison term.

Amy did not go to prison. A telegram arrived on February 7, 1914, saying, "Criminal case dismissed." No explanation was ever forthcoming, but those who worship Amy's Lord have no doubt that He had a hand in the decision.

Amy would continue her mission for the next fifty years until her death in 1951. Her first under-cover mission, to rescue little Kohila from the temple, happened on March 9, 1901 — 106 years ago this week.

Other things that happened this week - March 4 - 10.

March 4, 1866 - Alexander Campbell, founder of the Disciples of Christ and the Church of Christ, dies. He sought desperately to get back to a "simple evangelical Christianity," founded on the Bible and the Bible alone. Campbell believed that creeds, confessions and liturgy could only bring division, not unity to the universal Christian church. To use his words, "The testimony of the Apostles is the only and all-sufficient means of uniting Christians.”

March 5, 1899 - Alcoholic-turned-evangelist Sam Jones begins a crusade in Toledo, Ohio, where the mayor was also named Sam Jones. Mayor Jones at first welcomed the publicity, the evangelist Jones was very popular drawing crowds in the tens of thousands every he went. The mayor's enthusiasm would wane however, as evangelist Jones decried the city's immorality --- "If the Devil were mayor of Toledo," the preacher said, "he wouldn't change a thing!". It should be noted that one month after the evangelist folded his tents and left, the mayor was reelected by a significant margin.

March 6, 1629 - In Germany, Ferdinand II issues the Edict of Restitution, which restores all church property appropriated by Protestants since Peace of Augsburg (1555) to the Roman Catholic Church.

March 7, 203 - Perpetua, a Christian about 22 years old, her slave, Felicitas, and several others are martyred at the arena in Carthage. They were flogged, faced hungry leopards loosed by Roman officials, and finally beheaded by a gladiator. She remains one of early Christianity's most famous martyrs.
March 8, 1915 - The US Supreme Court finds religious education in the public schools in volitation of the First Amendment of the Constitution.
March 10, 1302 - Pope Boniface VIII sentences politician, Dante Alighieri, to be burned to death for political reasons. He avoided the fate by living in exile, but he never saw his wife again. During his time of exile Dante turned to writing poetry and eventually penned his most famous work, The Divine Comedy.

Friday, March 2, 2007

The Empire Strikes Back - by Joining the Rebels

“I believe in One God the Father Almighty, maker of heaven and earth, and of all things visible and invisible:...”

So begins the Nicene Creed, one of the most ecumenical of all the creeds with the Presbyterian, Eastern Orthodox, Roman Catholic, and most Protestant churches affirming it. Most people know it was written in the forth century, in an effort to bring together the various factions within Christianity that threatened to tear it apart. It sought to focus on what everyone held in common belief, rather than draw attention to the places where there were differences.

But what the average person in the pew does not know is the creed's connection to one of the great turning points in church history.

When Emperor Constantine legitimized Christianity shortly after his conversion, it brought to the surface the two main factions within the church. Christians in the Roman empire were divided between Arianism (which denies the divinity of Christ) and Trinitarianism (which sees God as three persons in one being). Before Christianity could fulfill it's role of the official state religion, this fundamental question had to be answered.

The first universal church council, held in the city of Nicea (in present day Turkey) in the year 325, resisted Arianism, with all but three of its Bishops voting for a creed that enshrined a belief in the Trinity. For many the idea of the Trinity was too hard to understand, and even its adherants admitted it had to be accepted largely on faith. But they felt the doctrine found its basis in scripture. If God is infinite, as Christians teach, He must exist in infinite dimensions and beyond space-time as we know it. Oddly enough, we now have the mathematics required to explain multi-dimensionality and the concept is far more readily accepted.

It was emperor Theodosius who ended the dispute by simply using his authority to issue an edict. The edit required that everyone must be a Christian. Not only that, the edit defined what it was to be a Christian. A Catholic (universal) Christian, it said, was one who held the Father, Son and Holy Spirit to be one Godhead and equal in majesty, essentially adopting the Nicene Creed as the de facto statement of belief.

The following year, Theodosius issued another edict specifically requiring worship of the one God according to the Nicene Creed. When the bishop of Constantinople, an Arian fellow by the name of Demophilus, refused to affirm the Nicene Creed, the emperor deposed him and replaced him with a Trinitarian, Gregory.

These edicts are significant for many reasons. First of all it made Christianity the official "state religion", and in so doing established an official, state-endorsed definition of what it was to be a Christian. In addition, they mark the first time the law of the land coerced people to become Christians, a contentious issue that would not be settled for hundreds of years. They made Catholic Christianity the official dogma of the church and established a pattern of using the apparatus of the state to suppress diversity of religious opinion. The church can only regret that before all was done, pagans, Arians, Manichees, and Jews were persecuted by people calling themselves Christians; many did not hold the name Christian due to zeal for Christ, but rather, because it was politically correct.

Theodosius' edict, making the Roman Empire "Christian", suppressing Arianism and establishing the concept of the Trinity as doctrine in the Christian church, was issued on February 27th, 380 -- 1,627 years ago this week.

Other things that happened this week... Feb. 25 - Mar. 3

February 25, 1536 - In Moravia, Anabaptist leader Jakob Hutter is tortured, whipped, and immersed in freezing water (to mock Anabaptist baptismal practices), then doused with brandy and burned. King Ferdinand had ordered the persecution of all Anabaptists because of a few violent, revolutionaries in Munster, Germany—even though most Anabaptists were pacifists and renounced the rebellion.

February 26, 398 - John Chrysostom becomes bishop of Constantinople. Johns' preaching skills were legendary, so much so that he earned the name "golden-mouth." He was a reluctant bishop, but nevertheless he executed the office to the best of his ability, preaching fervently against greed, sin and corruption. In 403 he spoke out against the empress Eudoxia for depriving a widow of her vineyard. The empress exiled him. So great was the outcry at his treatment she was forced to recall him, but he again offended Eudoxia, who again exiled him. He died three years later.

February 28, 1763 - According to radical Methodist George Bell, this was to be the day the world would end and God’s judgement would come upon mankind. Bell’s claims of having attained perfection and his brash prediction did serious damage to the Methodist movement. John Wesley opposed them both publicly and privately but was unable to convince Bell and his folloowers that they were in error, despite the fact few of their predictions proved true. Eventually Wesley was forced to exclude them from the movement.

March 1, 1854 - Pioneer missionary Hudson Taylor lands in Shanghai, China. "My feelings on stepping ashore I cannot attempt to describe," he wrote. "My heart felt as though it had not room and must burst its bonds, while tears of gratitude and thankfulness fell from my eyes." Taylor would found the China Inland Mission in 1865, and popularized the idea that missionaries should live and dress like the people they seek to evangelize.

March 2, 1938 - Lutheran pastor Martin Niemoller, one of the founders of Germany's "Confessing Church" is sentenced to seven months in prison for opposing Hitler. Though his name is often forgotten, many remember his words after the war as he apologized for not having acted sooner. "First they came for the socialists and I did not speak out because I was not a socialist," he said. "Then they came for the trade unionists and I did not speak out because I was not a trade unionist. Then they came for the Jews and I did not speak out because I was not a Jew. They came for me and there was no one left to speak for me."

March 3, 1547 - At Session 7 of the Council of Trent, the Roman Catholic church defines its theology of the sacraments. Rejecting the teachings of the Protestants that only two were required - Baptism and the Lord's Supper, the Council declared that seven sacraments are necessary for salvation--Baptism, Confirmation, the Eucharist, Penance, Extreme Unction, Orders, and Matrimony.