“Think You’re Radical, Think Again”
Is it radical to raise your hands in worship to God? Is it radical to pray out loud during congregational praise? Is it too radical to talk about your love for Jesus when others talk about their worries and fears? What does it mean to be a radical Christian? If you asked that question to any number of believers today, probably you would receive any number of comments. Why? It’s because radicalism’s meaning has changed many times over the centuries.
For example, in the 12th century if you demanded that the Bible be written in a common language for the common man, you were radical and probably would be burned at the stake. In the 16th century you were radical if you protested the worldly lifestyle of the pope. This also could cost you your life. Today many define radical Christianity as “holy rollers”—those who sing too loud, and want to talk about Jesus constantly. If that’s radicalism today, it won’t be tomorrow. One day every believer will sing loudly and shout to Jesus. When we get to heaven, the shouts of praise and rejoicing will never cease. Then the praises will come from everyone’s lips, even from the soft-spoken believer. Trust the Bible on this one. I’d like to take you back to a time in history when radicalism was no different than today’s most reserved and traditional Protestant.
The Rising Stars of Reformation were Radical
He was despised so by the Council of Constance that it charged him with over 200 crimes and ordered his writings burned. Then they dug up his corpse and burnt it. He had been dead for only 44 years. Now that’s pretty severe punishment for someone whose only crime was translating the Bible from Latin into primitive English for the common man. But his actions were too radical for the Catholic Church during the rising Reformation. And although his body was destroyed, John Wycliffe’s (c.329-1384) legacy continued. There were other radicals like Wycliffe. They started appearing in history when the Church became weak, immoral, corrupt and scholasticism became the focus of the Catholic Church. Scholasticism was an attempt to combine Greek philosophy with Christianity, but it backfired. Instead of training the best minds of the day to think, critique the classics, and support the Catholic Church, it educated a number of scholars that could now dispute Catholic doctrines, and do it intelligently.
Marsilius (c.1275-1343) was a man who could have had a successful career as a church official, but he blew it. That happens when people get radical. They disrupt their comfort zones. Marsilius, an Italian, believed that all beliefs should be measured against God’s word. If that wasn’t radical enough, he believed in the priesthood of believers. The priesthood of believers means that each man may go to God in prayer and each individual is responsible to God for his spiritual condition. When he attacked the pope, it didn’t set well with the powers that be, and he was excommunicated. If he had not received protection from a German prince, not only would he have been excommunicated but executed as well. Pretty radical stuff isn’t it?
By the way, the German prince that protected Marsilius also protected William of Ockham (c.1290-1349) from the pope. William of Ockham developed into perhaps the greatest logician that ever lived. He pointed out that ‘the Christian faith…is superior to any pope…’ This landed him in hot water too. William was tried for his beliefs, imprisoned for a while, and then excommunicated by the pope. These guys were just too radical for their times.
Moreover, radicalism spread to Bohemia. Bohemia is where the Czech Republic is located. The writings of Wycliffe made their way to the hands of John Huss. This is pretty amazing considering that there were no printing presses during Wycliffe’s day, and his few translations available were copied by hand. Huss was a scholar also. He had studied philosophy and theology at the University of Prague. This university went on to become one of the most famous institutions of higher learning in Europe. Huss came to share most of Wycliffe’s views about scripture. Huss finally drew the wrath of the Catholic Church and under guise of safe passage to the Council of Constance, he was arrested and burned at the stake. His last words were, ‘Lord, into Thy hand I commend my spirit.’ I might add that the burning of John Huss did not accomplish its objectives. His followers, called Hussites, increased more and more. One of the Hussite groups was the Moravians. They were famous for their missionary activities and influence on John and Charles Wesley. In 1501 the Hussites printed the first non-Catholic hymnbook. I think it’s rather ironic that after Huss was executed they cast his ashes into the Rhine River, flowing northward into Germany. A soon-to-be-famous German by the name of Martin Luther would one-day write, ‘If John Huss was a heretic, then there is not a single Christian under the sun.’
I could go on naming many more radicals of that time. There were men like Ulrich von Hutten (c.1488-1523) who took the liberty of attacking the papacy as it had never been attacked in Germany. Also there was John Reuchlin (c.1455-1522) who wrote a book that was friendly toward the Jews, and the pope condemned it. And then at the apex of the radical movement was, of course, Martin Luther. This former Catholic monk turned the world upside down with his “revelation” of Paul’s writing to the Romans—the just shall live by faith. That’s right. Martin Luther revealed the teaching about salvation by faith alone to the world at no small cost. Salvation by faith alone was a radical concept for the 16th century.
And there you have it. Many of the basic doctrines of Protestant Christianity were once radical ideas and didn’t set well with the powerful Catholic Church. Today we wouldn’t call these men radicals. We’d call them reformers, visionaries, or forefathers of faith, but we certainly wouldn’t consider their beliefs radical. In like manner, one day when Jesus rules from the Holy City of Jerusalem, we who were once considered “holy rollers” will be considered sedate compared to the saints before the throne. Brother and sister I think it’s time to get RADICAL.
Pastor Terry Dashner—Faith Fellowship Church—PO Box 1586, B.A. OK
for other articles on church history—firstname.lastname@example.org
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