protestant bible

The Protestant Reformation

But if it is by grace, it is no longer on the basis of works; otherwise grace would no longer be grace.

Romans 11:6

Tradition holds that in 1517, Martin Luther nailed his Ninety-five Theses on the door of the Wittenberg Castle Church in Germany. Actually, the legend is wrong. Luther, a professor at Wittenberg University, circulated these Ninety-five Theses to his compatriots at the university. Later, an unknown person nailed them to the door of the church.

Aided by the Gutenberg printing machine, the Theses spread throughout Europe in a matter of three weeks. In this age of immediate news, three weeks may sound like a long time, but in the early part of the 16th century, three weeks was remarkable.

The First Two Theses

The first two Theses are the most important part of Luther’s text. His first thesis was, that God intended believers to seek repentance. In other words, Luther believed that in humankind existed the compelling force of God pushing us to seek good and not evil.

The second was, that faith and divine grace alone, and not deeds would lead to salvation. In other words, actions are not relevant to salvation, but it is only through our faith in God and belief in the free and unmerited gift of grace by God we are provided salvation.

Luther studied Augustine’s writings and was heavily influenced.

Out of this study, Luther came to believe that the Bible was the central document for all believers. Luther extended this belief by stating the Bible shouldn’t be just written in Latin but in the language of the people. In fact, Luther’s translation of the Bible became the foundation for the existing German language.

Centuries before Luther, others had proposed similar ideas, but the reason Luther’s ideas “went viral” was because of the times and the Gutenberg press. The environment was ripe for these ideas to take hold and the Guttenberg press, akin to the introduction of smartphones in the 21st century, propelled the Theses in the 16th century.

The selling of indulgences also gave rise to the acceptance of Luther’s Theses. At the time, the Catholic church needed to raise funds to renovate St. Peters Basilica and so began selling indulgences to pay for the renovations. Indulgences were sold as a way of “buying” one’s salvation. In Germany, a local friar named Johan Tetzel was the chief salesperson. Many saw through this scheme, which created dissent among the intellectuals and clergy. Luther himself a Catholic priest, recoiled at this selling of salvation.

The political climate was also changing.

Luther had local support from the German princes. This nobility was seeking more freedom from the church to grow their business enterprises. These princes railed against the influence of the Holy Roman Empire and sought to distance themselves from it to become more powerful. Luther was a vehicle for them to create this power.

Luther, a Catholic priest, never really wanted to leave the church. His goal was only to reform internally. But subsequent events made this impossible.

The leaders of the Catholic church were obviously upset with Luther and declared him a heretic, a crime punishable by burning at the stake. Ona number of occasions the pope asked Luther to come to Rome and discuss his position. Luther, well aware of the trickery that had befallen Jan Hus a century before, refused. Hus had accepted a similar meeting and was captured then burned at the stake.

Protected by the German princes, Luther was able to continue his campaign. The crisis reached its apex when Luther called the pope the “Anti-Christ.” After this, no resolution would be possible. This was when the Protestant Reformation took hold.

Many followed suit, like Calvin and John Wesley.

Other nobles, sensing an opportunity to be free of the pope, took action and joined in. Henry the Eighth wanted a divorce, and when the pope denied him, he started his own church called the Church of England, also known as the Anglican church.

The Bible was soon translated into native languages, and the Protestant churches started to develop.

The church services themselves changed. They didn’t follow the Catholic church system of prescribed services. Instead, the local pastor decided on the structure of the service.

In many churches, the Eucharist was no longer held at the end of every service, as still occurs in the Catholic church. Eventually, it morphed into a once-a-month celebration in the middle of the service.

The pope had warned Luther that by allowing the individual to decide what the Bible said would lead to a fracture in the church, which it certainly did. Today, eight hundred million Protestants are members of hundreds of individual denominations.

Luther is considered the father of Protestantism.

He benefited from the times, political support, and a temporary ebb in Catholic morality. Luther was the right person at the right time in the right place. His independent thinking and bombastic style also made him the best catalyst.

He was able to appeal to both the noble and peasant classes. Both were in an emerging state of growth in the early 16th century. Luther was valuable to the nobles because he created a way for them to separate from the influences of the church. And for the peasant class, Luther made God more accessible.

However, there were many grandfathers of Protestantism who hide in obscurity, notably Jan Hus and John Wycliffe, whom we will discuss in future writings.

Before we take too harsh a view of the Catholic church, we must remember that of the 2.5 billion Christians, 1.5 billion are Catholic. They are faithful Christians with many wonderful traditions. In many parts of the southern hemisphere, it is the fastest growing branch of Christianity. The Catholic church has slowly reformed over the years, and ironically, many of Luther’s original theses have been adopted.

Creating other options

To me the reformation was more about creating other options for worship. Expanding the way we worship versus a repudiation of the Catholic church. All organizations have blind spots and the Catholic church is no exception. But I don’t feel comfortable judging the Catholic church, rather admiring its wonderful history and the saints it produced. I remain a Methodist because it fits me. And it is more than okay for others be members of other denominations. We are all Christians first and denominational second.

Blessings, until next time,
Bruce L. Hartman

Dr. Bruce L. Hartman is the author of Jesus & Co. and Your Faith Has Made You Well.

Photo by Aaron Burden on Unsplash

credit score

What Is Your Credit Score and Is It Right?

Give to everyone what you owe them: If you owe taxes, pay taxes; if revenue, then revenue; if respect, then respect; if honor, then honor.

Romans 13:7

I had gone into a Ford dealership to discuss buying a car. In order to get the best deal, I wanted to look at all the options: leasing, a loan, or cash. The salesperson took all my information and went to the dealership’s business manager. I could tell by the look in his eyes when he came back that something was wrong. He informed me I had a really bad credit score. I asked him why, and he said, “You have twenty-three credit cards!”

At that time, I did.

Anytime we went to a new store, they would offer us a discount if we opened up a credit account. To take advantage of the offer, we would get a credit card. Once the purchase was paid off, we would cut up the card or put it in a safe place. So, I was confused—why did it matter that I had twenty-three credit cards if those cards had no balance?

Well, as it turns out, having too many credit cards is a red flag, regardless if you have no balance. But it opened my eyes to how we get a “FICO” score—your credit rating. It matters if you pay you bills on time, but other factors go into determining your score as well.

Later, in speaking with my friend Les, I discovered more facts. He was complaining that his score was abysmal, and he had no idea why. He paid his bills, owned his house outright, and had only two credit cards. When he looked at his credit report, he noticed he had a good payment history and a good score for that factor. But he didn’t have a mortgage, and that was a big hit downward to his credit score. Also, he only had the two credit cards, and that also lowered his score.

His final dispute

His final hit was a dispute he’d had with a medical service company in which he thought the bill was too high. He had been charged more than his insurance company said was fair, and Les had only paid the amount they believed he owed. The provider didn’t agree and sent his bill to a collection agency, who filed a negative complaint. That was it—just one dispute and his score was lowered.

It turns out the ideal number of credit cards to have is six. And you should have a mortgage or at least one installment loan. Plus, even if you dispute a bill, the credit bureaus side with the one who overbilled!

The Rules

This probably doesn’t make a lot of sense, but these are the rules. What surprised me more was that after I had canceled all but four of our credit cards, my score didn’t really improve. Again, the reason was, I didn’t have enough credit.

For those with no debt or history of debt, its worse! Both of my two youngest daughters had been lectured by us to avoid debt. As such, neither had ever accrued any debt at all. Their credit score was at 300—the lowest possible score. To solve this, they had to apply for credit cards and put a deposit down to cover their limit in case of default.

Even more remarkable is that I get credit card solicitations from my credit scoring company, Experian, that they recommend for me! Huh, when did the credit bureaus get into the business of promoting debt?

Debt is bad in most cases.

Things like paying off your house, limiting what you spend to only what you can pay for, and paying on time are great life lessons and biblically supported. But some credit is necessary, like taking out a mortgage to buy a house, or to lease a car, or in some cases, to buy a business. Personally, I like the points I get for using my credit card instead of paying cash and then paying the balance off at the end of the month.

Credit Rules

Unfortunately, the rules of how the credit score is determined by the FICO corporation don’t make sense. The three credit reporting companies, Experian, TransUnion, and Equifax agree. In turn, they recently banded together and have started testing their own credit scoring system, called Vantage. Much of the silliness of the FICO score is addressed, but many lenders still use FICO. However, the Vantage score is becoming more accepted and slowly taking hold.

So, should we have exactly 6 credit cards, a mortgage, and use credit to pay our bills? Yes, if you want to have a good credit score. But don’t forget to pay your bills on time!

The system may eventually work itself out, and some of the inane things you have to do to maintain a good credit or FICO score will change. But in today’s verse, the Apostle Paul gives a simple solution in Romans, where he says: “Give to everyone what you owe them: If you owe taxes, pay taxes; if revenue, then revenue; if respect, then respect; if honor, then honor.” It is good advice regardless of whether or not it always helps your credit score. Doing the right thing is always good.

The rules will eventually catch up; they always do.

Dr. Bruce L Hartman, Christian Author and Story Teller. A former Fortune 500 CFO who left the corporate world to engage in a ministry of “Connecting The Lessons of the Gospels to the Modern Life.”  His life mission is “Helping People Walk into a Brighter Future.”

He is the author of Jesus & Co.  and Your Faith Has Made You Well

Visit www.brucelhartman.com

Blessings, until next time,
Bruce L. Hartman

Dr. Bruce L. Hartman is the author of Jesus & Co. and Your Faith Has Made You Well.

Photo by Two Paddles Axe and Leatherwork on Unsplash

marriage

Why Can’t Catholic Priests Marry?

I am often asked, “Why can’t Catholic priests marry?” This is certainly a long-standing debate and one that rages throughout history. According to Pew Research, 60 percent of Catholics believe priests should be allowed to be married.

Pope Francis

Pope Francis seems to be giving this issue real consideration. Politically, it would be a big movement for the Catholic church and, as such, he is treading carefully. But he has opened the door by suggesting perhaps priests could be married in those areas where there is a shortage of priests, such as the Pacific Islands and parts of South America. These are both places where there has been a significant rise in Catholicism.

A term being used is Viri Probati, which means “Men of proven Virtue.” The term is being used as a bridge to ending the marriage ban. Many in the Vatican are discussing this transition. But, as with all large organizations, change comes slowly.

It’s about discipline

The issue of having married priests has been with the church since at least 305 AD. At the Council of Elvira, married priests were asked to maintain a lifestyle of abstinence. Later, in 325 AD, at the Council of Nicaea convened by Constantine, a proposal to forbid married men to become priests was rejected.

It wasn’t until 1139 AD, at the Second Lateran Council, that an edict came out against married priests.

It is important to note that having unmarried men be priests is a discipline and not a doctrine. This means the pope can more readily change the rules.

Of all the reasons I have read in favor of this enacted discipline, the most prominent is the creation of a group “set apart.” Garry Wills suggested in Under God that the ban on marriage was adopted to lift the status of priests at a time when their authority was being challenged by nobles and others.

Separation of Church and State

In other words, the idea was to create a group that was freed from the politics of the twelfth century—a form of separation of church and state. In the preceding thousand years, the papacy and the church were influenced by political powers who sought to gain an advantage by controlling the church.

There is also ancient history from before Jesus’s time that has influenced the church. Early Druid priests were asked to not marry. This was also true of other pre-Christian religious sects. The thought was based on maintaining purity and a commitment to living a higher life.

Early Protestant reformers rejected the concept of having clergy not being married. It was viewed by Luther as a deviant lifestyle. Other than small groups like the Shakers, most Protestant sects still hold this position. It should be noted that Luther himself, a former Catholic priest, married a former nun whom he’d rescued from a German nunnery.

In 2012, a small scrap of parchment was discovered that quoted Jesus as saying, “My wife…” Scholars have reviewed this scrap and determined it was from antiquity and authentic. Does this mean Jesus had a wife? Maybe, but more likely it was the start of a quote about Jesus and the church. Jesus, in Revelations, is compared to a bridegroom, and his bride is New Jerusalem—the church of believers. So, while there has been speculation for centuries about whether or not Jesus was married, it is doubtful that he was.

Paul, in his letters, discussed marriage, and while he didn’t come out on either side, he left it up to the individual but cautioned that marriage could affect our following of Christ.

Biblically, there is no guidance about whether clergy should be married. The issue is one of custom and discipline.

It would be easy to say that those of the Catholic faith should follow the Protestant direction. However, the Protestant tradition was created by individuals like Luther who believed it was okay for clergy to be married and that to not marry was an invitation to lead an aberrant life.

Pope Francis currently holds the key to solving this issue. Because marriage by the clergy is not a doctrine, it could, in theory, be changed fairly easily. But tradition is not easily broken. There is still a large minority who believe that priests should not marry.

Pope Francis himself has said that chastity on the part of the priest is a real gift to the church. But, at the same time, he recognizes its potential impact on morality in terms of priestly conduct and the recruitment of future priests. He also realizes that this is a sensitive subject that could cause a schism in the church if not handled carefully.

Personally, I do think priests should be given the option to marry if they feel they can best serve the church through marriage as opposed to a life of celibacy. But that is a very Protestant view. There is something to be said for those who would choose to stay single as a symbol of their virtue.

The days when noblemen and kings could influence the church are long past and perhaps the rule is no longer needed.

There are places in the world that are growing in Christ that do not have enough clergy to guide them. Marriage can be a detriment to recruiting priests. Pope Francis recognizes this and has floated a trial balloon to potentially relax this discipline in those areas. Perhaps it is his way of easing the rules so that, eventually, all priests would be permitted to marry.

Pope Francis currently holds the key to solving this debate. I do not envy his position. Regardless of his own feelings, he has constituents on both sides of the argument who believe strongly in their views. This is a river he must try to navigate for the sake of the church.

Blessings, until next time,
Bruce L. Hartman

Dr. Bruce L. Hartman is the author of Jesus & Co. and Your Faith Has Made You Well.

Photo by Sandy Millar on Unsplash

mississippi

Looking Deeper Before We Judge

When they kept on questioning him, he straightened up and said to them, “Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.”

John 8:7

She was an African American born in 1902 who grew up in southern Mississippi. Throughout her youth she endured segregation, learning where she could go and what she could say. It was a tough life that required her to be vigilant so as to not offend the white folks. As she approached her teen years she started to think about her future. She saw the jobs the older African American women had: most were wash maids, servants, or wives of sharecroppers. She saw them struggle to make a life. It was not the kind of life she wanted for herself.

At the age of eighteen, she gathered up what few belongings she had and walked twenty-eight miles north to the town of Natchez. It was bigger than her small, rural town—perhaps here she could fulfill her dream of a better life. She quickly found out that not much was different for an African American woman in Natchez.

The only job she could find that paid well was as a prostitute in a section of town called, “Under the Hill.” It was a tough place filled with brothels and bars and a place where people would sometimes disappear.

It was especially dangerous for a prostitute.

She learned her craft well and squirreled away a large amount of money. She also developed a clientele that included the powerful men of Natchez and the surrounding communities. By the age of twenty-three, she’d saved enough money to buy a house on Rankin street in an upper middle-class part of town.

Here she continued her trade, safe from the dangers of working on the riverfront. Over a few years, many came to the screen door in the back of her house, and she hired other workers of the night.

By 1930 she had a full-blown brothel operating in the heart of town. She would run the brothel for another sixty years.

She was clever in how she ran her business. She kept a black book containing the names of the powerful men who visited her. On Christmas, she delivered expensive liquor to the mayor, police chief, and local sheriff.

All promised to leave her alone.

She would not let black men into her brothel for fear of reprisal. Every day she had southern comfort food for her clients. She sold beer and kept a cheery house. Not only did the locals visit, but soon she became Mississippi’s most famous madam. There was an Army base nearby, and on Saturday nights, the young serviceman would line up for blocks, waiting their turn.

But there was another side to this successful and tough businessperson. She and her girls made food for the local orphanage and delivered it secretly to the back door. She gave generously to the local Catholic church.

She paid for neighborhood improvements. If a neighbor needed money for repairs, she gave it to them.

During the civil rights era, when many local blacks were arrested for peacefully protesting, she used her pull with local officials and had them released.

The FBI would visit her house early in the morning to get information about the Ku Klux Klan. Despite the danger, she told them all that she knew and was instrumental in eliminating the Klan from her community.

She had one rule that she never broke.

After one of her girls was murdered by a drunken client, she refused to serve anyone who’d been drinking. It was a rule that would ultimately cost her her life.

On July 4th of 1990, a young man appeared at her back door, belligerent and drunk. She refused him entry. He left and went to the local gas station where he filled up a canister with gasoline and then went back to her house.

This time, she came to the door with a pistol she kept for protection. The man threw gasoline on her through the screen door and lit a match. Not only did she catch on fire, but her assailant did too.

As he ran away, he looked like a running fireball.

The house caught on fire, and she stumbled to her bedroom where she collapsed with severe burns on 80 percent of her body. A young female firefighter who responded to the scene comforted her while rescue vehicles arrived. Barely alive and breathing heavily, her last moments were lived in agony.

She and her assailant both died the next day. Pastor O’Connor, the priest from the nearby Catholic church offered to arrange her funeral. It was the same church that she had helped many times over the previous sixty years.

During the next week, some of the parishioners complained bitterly about their church being used for a madam’s funeral. Despite this, the following Sunday, Pastor O’Connor delivered a fire and brimstone sermon about judging others. He quoted the above verse from John 8:7. It is the story of a woman who was stoned for leading a life as a prostitute. When Jesus arrived, he asked the crowd to only cast a stone if they had never sinned. As we all know, the crowd disbanded.

The woman’s name was Nellie Jackson, and you won’t find a Wikipedia page about her. But if you google her name, you can read her story from newspaper accounts, and in 2017, a local produced a documentary called Mississippi Madam.

If you watch it, you will discover that she attended many World Series—the last one in 1984 in Detroit. Her tickets were given to her by Bill Harrah—yes, the man who started the Harrah casinos.

Nellie was befriended and beloved by many.

Not because she ran a brothel but because she gave to her community. She was a person who listened to those that needed comfort. Those who worked for her loved her, and so did her clients.

I don’t write this to support brothels or to glamorize prostitution. I write it to tell a story about a woman who did the best she could when society tried to keep her in a box. Could she have become a doctor and saved lives? Could she have become a great stateswoman and fought for democracy? Maybe, but given her background it’s unlikely.

Jesus defended the prostitute because he knew one thing—we all fail. Ours is not to judge but to pray for understanding. Ours is not to hate, but to love. We are all made in the image of God.

Blessings, until next time,
Bruce L. Hartman

Dr. Bruce L. Hartman is the author of Jesus & Co. and Your Faith Has Made You Well.

Photo by Hanson Lu on Unsplash

china trade

Is it Right for America to be Engaging in a Trade War with China?

So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets.

-Matthew 7:12

I recently read a CNN story about how President Trump’s trade war with China was nationalistic behavior at the expense of the global economy. Much of the impression that Trump is a nationalist comes from his quote, “Make America Great Again.” I already thought America was great, but we could always be better. I also think countries like Canada, Great Britain, Germany, and many others are great countries as well, but I believe that they, too, can be better. The fight with China is not a “nationalistic” fight but instead pushing back against unfair trade practices.

As a former business person who had to do business with China, I knew of many of their unfair practices. Technology companies had to give up their hard-earned intellectual property to do business in China. China subsidized their businesses in industries that they wanted to expand, such as the steel industry. These subsidies almost wiped out our own steel industry. Not only did Americans lose jobs but other steel-producing companies felt the same impact.

In some cases, payoffs have to be made to Chinese local officials. The companies I worked for did not comply and refused to engage in bribery.

China also supports its currency to provide an unfair advantage to their companies, while other nations allow their currency to float naturally.

China’s industries do not comply with international environmental standards and have become one of the most polluted countries in the world. Other nations that comply bear a significant cost disadvantage because they are good world citizens.

China produces 90 percent of the drug Fentanyl, which has contributed to the extreme drug crisis in America. While not an economic issue, it is a social issue that is costing America and other nations billions of dollars to address.

China regularly engages in cyber espionage to steal America’s and other countries’ hard-earned technology. Even my own website has “bots” that probe for information. Most coming from Russia or China according to my web hosting provider. Thankfully, I don’t have any great secrets and a strong firewall to prevent attacks.

It’s an abuse of its citizenry is currently being played out in Hong Kong, where the people want more freedom but are being denied. And let us not forget that they engage in some of the world’s most extreme persecution of Christians.

The trade war isn’t just about trade, it is about our country standing up against a despotic regime. President Xi recently had the Chinese constitution changed to make him president for life. This is a tough battle against a tough foe. This isn’t about nationalism, it is about fair play.

In my book Jesus & Co., It talks about the Golden Rule, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” This is an important moral and business concept spelled out in the book. Any business that wants to survive in the long term should follow this concept. The same is true for countries. History is littered with companies and countries that eventually suffer due to having a bad moral compass.

While we read headlines every day about the latest updates in the trade war, it is silently having an effect. China’s growth has slowed, and in the last year they have lost 10 percent of their manufacturing orders, with more losses to come. As their economy has slowed, their debt has risen dramatically. In an effort to mask the deterioration in their growth, they have increased their debt. According to the Institute of International Finance, today, China’s total debt stands at $40 trillion or 300 percent of its gross domestic product, which accounts for 15 percent of the total world’s debt. And that number is growing. Much of China’s debt is shadow debt and not reported.

China is under pressure and needs to find a deal that is workable for the world. For too long they have bullied the rest of the world and gotten away with it. Companies who want to do business in China have to give in to their abuse or risk losing out on the world’s second-largest economy. This is largely because politicians around the world have not pushed back.

While I often disagree with Trump’s rhetoric, I do agree with his fighting back. He is standing up to a known world-wide bully, and he is winning. Not only will Americans benefit, but the rest of the world will as well. You don’t hear much from other countries, but they are silently on board with the trade war. Not only is manufacturing returning to America but other countries are also benefiting from increased orders. Ultimately consumers around the world will have lower prices, and their countries will have more jobs.

We need to be careful when we label things good for the world as nationalistic. In this case, the trade war is good for all world citizens. Whenever any country stands up to abuse it benefits all its global neighbors. I know Jesus wouldn’t approve of Chinese business practices or their social abuses. This isn’t a nationalist issue, but a moral issue.

Blessings, until next time,
Bruce L. Hartman

Dr. Bruce L. Hartman is the author of Jesus & Co. and Your Faith Has Made You Well.

Photo by Hanson Lu on Unsplash

Wanda: a Story of a Faithfully Lived Life

I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.

Philippians 3:14

At our after-church Bible study, I went up to a woman and thanked her for giving us a wonderful testimony of a life lived fully with faith. Each Sunday after church, one hundred or so people gather for this Bible study group. It is definitely the largest I have ever attended. Each Sunday, one person gives a short testimony about their life.

This particular Sunday it was Wanda’s turn.

As I greeted Wanda after the Bible study ended, I noticed how frail she was. She walked with a cane, and her skin told the story of a woman whose earthly body was wearing down. But in her eyes, I saw a humble and joyous woman. Each time I told her that I was amazed at what she had accomplished, she said, “It wasn’t me; it was our Lord working within me.” She took no credit for anything that had happened in her wonderful life.

She had been very nervous speaking to this large group.

Her mouth was still dry as she talked with me, revealing exactly how nervous she had been. She confided that up to the moment she started speaking, she was sure she would fail. With a silent prayer, she started talking and held the audience’s attention throughout her riveting talk. Again, when I told her what a marvelous speaker she was, she said, “It was God and not me.”

When Wanda had first gotten married, she and her husband decided they would devote their lives to helping others and joined a missionary group that served in the States. First, they went to Colorado Springs for one year of training and received their certificates to be missionaries. Their early life was hard, with little in the way of financial resources, yet they continued.

They went to San Diego and worked in a house that harbored the poor. Wanda was a cook, cleaning lady, and baby sitter. Her husband was a general fix-it person. To supplement their income, her husband went to work with General Dynamics.

Later, she heard of a man who also worked as a missionary whose wife had died and left him with three young children. Through prayer, she felt that God was asking her to help this man with his children. She talked with her husband who, coincidently, had the same thing on his heart. So they approached the leaders of their missionary organization and mentioned they were willing to help him. They replied, “Thanks, but he is going to have a nurse help him.”

But Wanda had felt, through prayer, that God wanted her and her husband to help this man. She also felt that God had told her that she and her husband would have a child after they were done. By that time, Wanda and her husband had been married for seven years and had no children.

It looked bleak for them to be able to raise a family.

A couple of weeks later, the mission group called to say that the man could use their help after all. Wanda and her husband moved in at the mission where the widower was staying. For a couple of years, Wanda took care of the children while her husband and the widower worked in the mission.

When her assignment was over, she got a call that a young sixteen-year-old was about to have a baby and wanted to give the child up for adoption. They asked Wanda if she would care for the infant until adoptive parents could be found. She said yes. They took the baby, and her husband went back to work at General Dynamics. She applied to adopt the baby herself, and the mission she had been working for provided the money for legal help. After a few months, she and her husband became the child’s adoptive parents.

Later, another adopted child arrived.

Wanda now had the family she’d always wanted. Her husband got promoted and was transferred to Fort Worth, Texas, where he continued his climb up the corporate ladder. They lived there, raising their two children for thirty-four years.

Their children grew up and had kids of their own. Both ended up in the mountains of western North Carolina. When Wanda’s husband retired, they moved to Asheville to be with her children and grandchildren.

Today, Wanda has been married for sixty-six years and has grandchildren and great-grandchildren. She has never stopped helping others. Through her church, she worked on many missions. Even today, at nearly ninety years old, she stills works for the Lord.

Wanda is frail today and slowing down, but her eyes are still bright. She will only thank God for the wonderful life she has led. While younger versions speed around and build their own lives, Wanda stays in the fortress of the life she built with God.

Blessings, until next time,
Bruce L. Hartman

Dr. Bruce L. Hartman is the author of Jesus & Co. and Your Faith Has Made You Well.

Photo by Nicole Honeywill / Sincerely Media on Unsplash

 

Athanasius, the Original Pillar of the Church

Is not wisdom found among the aged? Does not long life bring understanding?

Job 12:12

Lost amongst the noise around the Catholic church are great founding members of the world’s largest Christian denomination. Augustine gets credit for his witty prose and writings. Certainly, there are Saint Francis and Thomas Aquinas too. But one person who has existed in relative obscurity this last millennium is one of the most important early fathers of the church—Athanasius.

Athanasius lived in the desert around Alexandria during the early part of the fourth century. He was the long-serving bishop of Alexandria and was credited with many of the theological understandings of Christianity and the Trinity.

The first person to name the twenty-seven books of the New testament.

Athanasius served as the chief defender of the trinitarian view of God at the age of twenty-seven during the Nicean Council. At the age of thirty, he was made bishop of Alexandria and served in that capacity intermittently for forty-five years. He constantly rubbed the Roman emperors the wrong way, who would then ask that he be replaced. This happened five times. He railed against political influence in the running of the church, and four separate emperors had him removed.

He was known in his times as Athanasius Contra Mundum—Latin for Athanasius Against the World. His defense of the Bible and the church against heresy and politicians was a constant struggle, but he never submitted to going along to get along. His primary focus in life was in defending the Gospel and the church. After his death, Gregory of Nazianzus called him “the pillar of the church” in recognition of his life-long commitment to it.

He was born between 296 AD and 298 AD. His parents were wealthy enough to provide him with a secular education, but they were not part of the Egyptian aristocracy.

As a child, he was observed imitating the ritual of baptism with his friends in the school play yard by the existing bishop of Alexandria. Athanasius was imitating the bishop during this youthful event. Upon this discovery, the bishop took Athanasius under his wing and would serve as his mentor for almost twenty years.

Give us Athanasius

When Alexander, the bishop of Alexandria, was on his deathbed, Athanasius fled, fearing they would make him the new bishop. However, the Catholic population surrounding the church would accept no person other than Athanasius. At an assembly to decide who the candidates would be, the crowd yelled: “Give us Athanasius!” Finally, Athanasius submitted and began his long and tumultuous forty-five-year service as bishop. Athanasius was unbending in his support of the Gospel and his belief the substance of God, in the form of the Holy Trinity.

When others would give in to appease the emperor, Athanasius stood firm at great personal peril. It wasn’t that he was trying to be difficult—his points of view were firm and well-founded. Each time he was exiled, a group would come back to his defense and request: “Give us Athanasius.”

Athanasius was also a prolific writer.

His most famous book was the biography of Anthony the Great, called the Life of Antony. Athanasius spent many of his years in exile in the desert residing among early monks who were called the Desert Fathers. These men and women sought to separate themselves from the world while living in caves meditating or writing about Jesus. Antony was a monk that Athanasius admired.

Whether the book is a factual or fictitious account of his friend Antony is a matter of debate amongst scholars. Some say it is a collage of the lives of the many who lived in the mountains of the desert of Egypt. Others insist it is a true account. Regardless of how it was written, it is a story about turning from the ways of the world toward a life of reflection about God. In it is also an early depiction of monastic life which many Catholics would mirror in future centuries.

Athanasius today is revered by the three separate denominations— the Coptic church, the Eastern Orthodox church, and the Roman Catholic church. This young boy who’d imitated the baptismal act in a schoolyard rose up to become the great defender of the Gospel and a well-loved patriarch of the church.

The common people loved him, and their cry of: “give us Athanasius!” was his support for most of his life. When rulers tried to subdue him, he stood up for faith. He was the Pillar of the Church because he stood up for his beliefs when others sought to please emperors through compromise.

The Catholic church has many great historical figures like Augustine, St Francis, Mother Teresa, and others. Athanasius was the pillar when those of our Christian faith first started to create the New Testament and many of the doctrines we have today.

Blessings, until next time,
Bruce L. Hartman

Dr. Bruce L. Hartman is the author of Jesus & Co. and Your Faith Has Made You Well.

Photo by Mateus Campos Felipe on Unsplash

 

thurgood marshall

Thurgood Marshall: an Effective Advocate for Civil Rights

I recently watched the movie, Marshall, and became interested in Thurgood Marshall, so I did some research to discover more about him. The movie portrayed him as a bit of a rabble-rouser, but like all movies that are “based on true events,” it was a bit off the mark. I found him to be a more enlightened individual than the movie portrayed. Skillful in pushing change, he used the Constitution and the word of law to enact his agenda of universal rights for all.

Thurgood knew how to beat a bully

It isn’t through emotional outbursts or loudly spoken demands. Instead, it is by carefully and coolly using the weapons at hand—in this case, the law. And much of what Thurgood accomplished was through making allies and not enemies.

For instance, he didn’t apply to the University of Maryland Law school, his local school. In the early part of the last century, African Americans couldn’t attend the University of Maryland School of Law, which Thurgood knew. Instead, he went to Howard University to get his degree. After some strong mentoring by the new dean of Howard University’s law school, he went into law to protect the oppressed. Once he had his own law practice, he met another young African American who actually had applied to the University of Maryland law school and was denied acceptance. While representing Donald Gaines Murray, Marshall eventually prevailed in getting Murray accepted to the school, winning his case before the State of Maryland Supreme Court. He had won the battle against the school to which he had once known he would be denied attendance only when he had the tools at his disposal to fight.

Fighting for what is right

Thurgood strongly believed in fighting hard for what was right and knew the law would follow. He was one of our country’s strongest constitutional attorneys. Thirty-two times he represented people not getting a fair break in front of the United States Supreme Court. He won all but three of those cases. He won his first case at the Supreme Court at the age of thirty-two.

His most famous case was Brown v. Topeka Board of Education. He successfully argued that “separate was not equal,” setting the stage for other public schools to accept people of all races. This landmark case broke apart the barriers that had prevented African American students from going to the schools of their choice.

Thurgood founded the NAACP legal arm and served in that post for twenty-five years. During that time, he created much of the legal legwork to support the later civil rights movement.

While other civil rights activists worked against J. Edgar Hoover, Marshall found a way to make Hoover an ally. He pushed President Kennedy on civil rights and encouraged him to appoint more African American judges. In turn, he was appointed to the federal appellate court as a judge and later was appointed, by Kennedy, as the country’s Solicitor General.

When Lyndon Johnson became President, he appointed Thurgood as the first African American Supreme Court justice. It was post he filled for twenty-four years. His service as a federal appellate judge had provided him with the necessary training to serve on our nation’s highest court.

Many may not know the deeper history of this wonderful American.

His story isn’t just about what he accomplished, but more about how he accomplished his goals. He was certainly liberal in his views, but not blindly so. He didn’t vote strictly on party lines but on what he believed was right. The most conservative judges respected him because he fought for his causes based on what he believed was right. He didn’t push for change until he had the right tools and information.

Thurgood knew that getting into wars of words with bullies was a dead-end street. He needed facts and the law to support his causes. He avoided celebrity to focus on the truth. As with his battle with the University of Maryland, he didn’t forget; instead, he returned to fight when he was prepared as a lawyer and used the Constitution to win his case.

Jesus tells us to stand up for the weak and to fight for the downtrodden. But Jesus also told us to be wise and kind as doves. This was Thurgood’s approach. In a very Christian manner, he pushed hard but not at the expense of civility.

Finding support

While others will squawk about what’s unfair, they forget to make allies. In their haste to get what they want, they forget about the barriers that angry discourse creates. Thurgood knew that any cause that is just will attract honorable people while name-calling attracts the wrong supporters.

While Martin Luther King felt that civil disobedience without violence was the right way, Thurgood believed it was through the legal system. Despite their difference, King driven by the Bible and Marshall by the law, they respected each other. When Marshall received harsh criticism by the more militant of the civil rights leaders, he stood his ground. He had been toughened up many years earlier in southern courtrooms while fighting for civil rights. He was there when they were young. Their criticism was nowhere near the violence he had faced many years earlier, like the time he’d had shotguns pointed at him on a train platform.

Rights for all

Thurgood Marshall is not the most visibly famous of the advocates for the universal rights for all people. But he is certainly the one who most changed the course of civil rights in America. Martin Luther King knew this, and despite their differences in approach, wrote to both President Kennedy and Johnson asking that Thurgood being made a Justice.

They complied.

Wrong is wrong and always needs to be corrected. There is always a need for immediacy to all change. Importantly, change needs two things: allies and intellect. Thurgood was a model for others to follow in affecting change. Angry rhetoric will not move the angry bear called injustice, calmness will. Power isn’t given up by clanging cymbals together but through genuine intellect. Those who seek to push back injustices while obtaining celebrity will not succeed. Those who seek to remove injustice with compassion in their heart will succeed.

Thurgood Marshall was a great American, and he knew our Constitution well. He may not be the most famous civil rights advocate, but he was certainly one of its most effective.

Dr. Bruce L Hartman, Christian Author and Story Teller. A former Fortune 500 CFO who left the corporate world to engage in a ministry of “Connecting The Lessons of the Gospels to the Modern Life.”  His life mission is “Helping People Walk into a Brighter Future.”

Blessings, until next time,
Bruce L. Hartman

Dr. Bruce L. Hartman is the author of Jesus & Co. and Your Faith Has Made You Well.

Photo by Iñaki del Olmo on Unsplash

 

bohemia

Jan Hus: The Unknown Protestant Reformer

In 1519, two years after Martin Luther had distributed his ninety-five Theses and started the Protestant Reformation, he was asked if he was a Hussite. To the shock of all those listening, he affirmed that he was.

Leaving their mouths agape.

Luther had just told them he wanted to completely separate from the Catholic church. Being a Hussite was heresy and an admission that Luther, who had at first wanted to reform the Catholic church internally, no longer desired that course. He was done and ready to move on to creating a separate church in Germany.

Being a Hussite was akin to treason.

The movement had been named after a Catholic priest from a hundred years earlier named Jan Hus. Hus was born in 1372 in the country currently called the Czech Republic. At the time, it was called Bohemia and was loosely associated with Germany. Hus was born in a small, rural town on the outskirts of Prague. He was certainly not born into wealth and would not even have been considered middle class. Hus wanted more from life than to labor in the fields.

He applied to the University of Prague to study theology and was accepted. This was not because he was interested in developing a higher morality but because he wanted to live more comfortably than those who lived in his hometown.

It is important to understand how the political state of Bohemia impacted how the University of Prague was run. Knowing this helps explain why future events occurred. The brother of the Emperor of the Holy Empire was the political leader of Bohemia, and the Emperor was also the king of what is now Germany. Further complicating the political situation in the 14th century, the Emperor of the Holy Empire had a very heavy influence on religious life and served with the Pope. As a result, most of what happened in Bohemia was heavily influenced by Germany and the Catholic church.

The University of Prague was affected by this entanglement.

More than 75 percent of educators were German, while more than half of the students were Bohemian or Czech. At the University, Hus was an excellent student and went on to earn a master’s degree. He also developed a stronger sense of his connectedness with Jesus. He prepared himself for ordination and to go on to obtain a doctorate degree.

In Prague and in a number of urban areas in Europe, there were chapels where young ordinates, like Hus, could hold service. Hus went to the Bethlehem chapel.

Remarkably, he became a minor celebrity. People flocked to his chapel to hear his sermons. He preached in the vernacular—the language of the people. Having studied Wycliffe and Wycliffe’s notes while at the University, he tried this form of preaching. For the students at the University of Prague, he became someone to look up to as well.

At the same time, the students at the University of Prague began to resent the heavy influences of Germany and the Catholic church. Like Hus, they admired the new theories of Wycliffe. Their resentment of outside influence coupled with the radical ideas of Wycliffe led to a movement.

Naturally, they followed Hus as their leader.

When the Archbishop of Prague got wind of Hus’s efforts, he asked him to stop. Hus refused and kept preaching. Then the Archbishop excommunicated him.

As we all know, the worst thing to do is to try to silence a young person who believes fully in their mission. The Archbishop’s attempts to suppress Hus didn’t work; he continued to preach and became louder in his protests.

Hus didn’t believe in selling indulgences, as most of the population and clergy did. His belief was that, if the church had the power to prevent people from going to hell, then church leadership should do it without thought of profit. Otherwise, selling indulgences was nothing more than extortion.

He had other views as well.

For instance, he disagreed with the church’s view of not letting those taking communion to share in the wine. In other words, they only received the bread of the body while the wine, or blood of the body, was reserved exclusively for the priest.

Hus saw this an insult to the parishioners—a sign that they weren’t considered as worthy as the priest. Again the populace agreed with Hus.

As time wore on, Hus was excommunicated a second time—this time by the Pope. Again, this did not put out the fire of revolt; it only increased the native population’s resolve and emboldened Hus’s voice.

The Emperor saw the potential danger of the situation and offered mediation. He invited Hus to attend the Council of Constance in 1414. Hus, excited to go and resolve the issues at hand, left before he received his letter of invitation.

This is important, as the invitation also contained a safe-conduct agreement. In other words, he would be safe to travel there and back. But the Pope had carefully worded the safe conduct agreement and only arranged for Hus’s safe arrival and not for his return home.

If Hus had waited, he would have realized the ruse.

He arrived and was immediately defrocked. Not allowed to defend himself, he was only allowed to answer yes or no to inquiries. He was found to be a heretic. On his knees and disrobed, he prayed and asked for forgiveness for all his enemies.

He was bound, led outside, and burned at the stake. His ashes were thrown into the river so that his followers and loved ones would be denied any physical remembrance of him.

The outcry back in Bohemia was enormous. The populace revolted, and went to the building in Prague where all the powerful men worked and threw them out of the windows. They all either died from the fall or were killed by the mob waiting below.

The local churches separated from the Catholic church and became independent. The Pope and Emperor asked for crusaders to invade Bohemia to regain control. After five unsuccessful attempts by the crusaders, a peace deal was finally struck. Bohemia was free, and the people there worshipped in churches that preached in the vernacular and had wine during communion.

They remained free for three hundred years.

While Luther gets the credit for the Protestant Reformation, his real contribution was carrying on the efforts of Wycliffe and Hus. Luther would mature their theology in later years, but he was certainly inspired by their lives.

Blessings, until next time,
Bruce L. Hartman

Dr. Bruce L. Hartman is the author of Jesus & Co. and Your Faith Has Made You Well.

Photo by Richard Hodonicky on Unsplash

 

wycliffe

John Wycliffe, the First Protestant Reformer

The grass withers, the flower fades, But the word of our God stands forever.

Isaiah 40:8

In the summer of 1348, the black plague hit the shores of England. For nearly two years, it ravaged the British Isles, and forty percent of its inhabitants lost their lives, throwing society into upheaval with food shortages and economic disarray. All tried to discern what has caused the death and destruction.

During that time, John Wycliffe was a resident teacher and theologian at the University of Oxford. Prior to the arrival of the Black Death, Wycliffe had observed the rise of what he termed “the Royalty of Clergy.” Wycliffe had long wondered about the contradiction of the existing priests’ lavish lifestyles with the teachings of Christ.

Wycliffe also noticed that the existing clergy had a higher death rate from the plague than the non-clerical population and made the unscientific observation that must have been related to their contradictory lifestyle.

At the same time of the Black Death, the nobility of England had begun to resent papal influence in running their empire. Local nobles saw this conflict as competition for resources from  far away rulers.

As Wycliffe formed his theories and began to go public, he gained political support and encouragement from the noble class. He called the clergy “a pest on society.” The more vocal Wycliffe became, the more support he gained from the nobles who also resented clergy holding political office.

One strong supporter of Wycliffe was John of Gaunt.

He was the third of the five surviving sons of King Edward III. Through his birthright, advantageous marriages, and significant land grants, he was one of England’s richest men.

Initially, Wycliffe benefited from John of Gaunt’s protection. A strange confluence of events had formulated his ideas regarding the Black Death and the rise of English nobility. His early writings and speeches centered around the question: what right does the papacy have to meddle in English affairs?

He was the grandfather of the idea that the Bible and only the Bible was the central authority in spiritual matters. He believed that local populations should be able to hear and read the word of God in their native languages. While Luther would later famously call the pope the Anti-Christ, Wycliffe actually used this phrase almost two centuries earlier.

Wycliffe also believed in the theory of pre-destination. In other words, God selects those who will go to heaven. As such, why was there a need for the existing church to intercede?

All of this coincidently tied in with the rise of the noble class.

While Luther is credited with the first translation of the Bible into the vernacular or native language, it was once again Wycliffe who accomplished this first. He is credited with personally translating sections of the four Gospels and supervising the translation of other parts of the Bible. In fact, 150 completed or partially completed manuscripts still exist today.

In his later years, Wycliff’s writings became directed at all authority and not just the Catholic church. This included English nobility. Though still protected by the noble class in his later years, he faced a period of temporary imprisonment. Though never formally abandoned by his native people, his last years were complicated.

Wycliffe died in 1384 at the age of sixty-four.

He was still attacked posthumously. In the early part of the 1400’s, his body was exhumed and burned at the stake. All likenesses of him were burned as well. The paintings we have of him today are from a much later period.

So, while Luther is often credited as being the originator of the Protestant Reformation, much of what Wycliffe did came first. He is the grandfather of the movement.

But like all periods in history, there is more to the story. Certainly, Wycliffe was sincere in his beliefs. But other factors were necessary for his voice to be heard. This is true of all future reformers like Hus, Luther, and Calvin.

Wycliffe was influenced by the horrible scourge of the black death.

It affected his gloomy view of the clergy and the world. In fact, Wycliffe believed the whole human race would be gone by 1400 AD. He correlated the high death rate amongst clergy with their contrary lifestyle.

Like other parts of the Reformation, the support of nobility was instrumental in creating the strength of the movement. This is not to say that Wycliffe, Hus, Luther, and Calvin were not sincere, but they were greatly aided by an aligned group of native elite who protected them. Protection that they gave quickly to benefit themselves.

I do not believe we should view the Protestant Reformation as a win but as the creation of another way to worship. The early Protestant reformers were external to the Catholic church. Internally, the Catholic church has also had reformers. The confluence of these two types of reformers have led to a strengthened Christianity. The church—both Catholic and Protestant—have many who believe in reformation and improvement.

We should always remember, we are all Christians first!

Blessings, until next time,
Bruce L. Hartman

Dr. Bruce L. Hartman is the author of Jesus & Co. and Your Faith Has Made You Well.

Photo by Piotr Gaertig on Unsplash