Sunday, 29 November -0001 18:42

Youth Story

Written by Peter Langbroek
He read and he read; he wrote and wrote. As he read and wrote, he felt their pains and joys. He began with the early Christians, so fiercely persecuted and killed by the Roman tyrants: Caligula, Cladius Nero, and Dominitus Nero. He ended with the story of the son of John Fetty who went to prison to visit his father. The eight year-old came to the bishop's house to ask whether he could visit. The bishop told him, "Your father is a heretic." The boy answered him, "My father is not heretic; but you are an heretic, for you have Balaam's mark." The angry bishop let the boy visit his father, but not before he was stripped and whipped until blood ran down to his heels.

The man who wrote and read was John Foxe (1516-1587). The book he wrote was ÒActs and Monuments of These Latter and Perilous Days,Ó better Known as Foxe's Book of Martyrs. He felt the pain of the persecuted and killed Christians he wrote about, because he too was persecuted.

When Queen Mary severely persecuted Protestants in England, he with many others, fled to Germany. He was very poor, trying to eke a living by being a proofreader for writers and printers. He was a former tutor of children and a great scholar of church history. He spent his extra time writing the book so his readers might understand that witnessing for Christ has always been a dangerous act, which could even mean martyrdom.

He lived in a time when, unlike the early Christians, it wasn't just tyrants that persecuted the church; it was the established church itself! Strange, you may think, but not so strange when you understand Jesus' letter to the church of Pergamos (Revelation 2: 12- 17).

Pergamos was in the Roman heartland of learning, art, industry and religion. In fact, it was the first city to dedicate a temple to the worship human emperors. You could worship anyone or anything you wanted there, as long as you offered incense to worship the Roman emperor. If you didn't, well, that meant persecution or death.

There was a Christian church in Pergamos and in that church was a faithful witness, Antipas, who died for his faith, refusing to worship anything or anyone but the Lord revealed in Scriptures, the Lord Jesus Christ who died for his sins and to whom he was faithful. The church in Pergamos stood faithful, professing Jesus as the only way of salvation, even when they witnessed the death of Antipas.

Yet they slipped into a deceitful temptation. They slipped into the spirit of Balaam. Remember Balaam? He was the prophet who prophesied the victory of Israel over his enemies and the coming of King, Jesus Christ. He was also the one who sent Moabite women to make friends with the men of Israel to tempt them into the sin of idolatry and adultery. He succeeded and that brought a great plague upon Israel (see Numbers 25).

The church at Pergamos had fallen into the same temptation, allowing the false teaching of the Nicolaitans to be taught and practised. Jesus warned them of judgment if they continued.

When John Foxe wrote his book, he saw that throughout the history of the church it had fallen into the same sin as the church at Pergamos. And he was feeling the consequences.

It was a sin then and it is today. It is the sin of worldliness and of allowing evil within the church. At the time of John Foxe, the time of the Reformation, it was so bad that there was little difference between the church and the world.

But it was also a time when men and women were being enlightened by faithful teachers and pastors. It was a time when the Bible, the living Word of God, was placed in the hands of the common people. It was a time when godly men and women spoke out against the worldliness and evil in the church--the mark of Balaam. Because they did, many of them were severely persecuted and martyred for their steadfast faith.

During the month of October we remember the Reformation, but let's be careful when we do. The spirit of Balaam can so easily creep into our lives and into our churches. The history of the Protestants after the Reformation shows this to be very true. Let's not be proud. Let's not feel superior to those who are going astray. Rather, let us hear the voice of Christ who said to the church at Pergamos: "Repent; or else I will come unto thee quickly, and will fight against them with the sword of my mouthÓ (Rev.2: 16).

LetÕs listen to Him Who so graciously promises: "He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches; To him that overcometh will I give to eat of the hidden manna, and will give him a white stone, and in the stone a new name written, which no man knoweth saving he that receiveth itÓ (Rev.2: 17). He promises eternal life to all who overcome the temptation of the world and the evil one, and who cling to their Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ, in faith.

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