A reader writes,
It sends shivers down my spine to contemplate the sheer wickedness of you uniting with those who persecuted and killed my ancestors for the good confession of their faith.
We have received similar comments from others, too, referencing the persecution Protestants experienced at the hands of Catholics. That persecution was, indeed, contemptible. I have no intention of disputing that. Wes Bredenhof recently posted a letter from the Reformer Guido de Bres to his wife on the eve of his execution by hanging. It is a powerful testimony to the sincerity of de Bres’ faith, and reading that letter as we do, from within a world where executing someone for heresy is unthinkable, it is difficult not to be incensed with those who killed him.
The problem, though, as demonstrated by the above comment, is that this standard is too often applied only one way. In Proverbs 11:1 we read, “A false balance is an abomination to the LORD, but a just weight is his delight” [ESV]. That clearly has implications beyond buying and selling, and is no less instructive for our words and judgments. Do we use the same weights for all actions, or only for those that benefit our cause?
For example, John Calvin, during his ministry in Geneva, had a man named Michael Servetus executed for his beliefs. Servetus was a heretic from any Christian perspective, and considered himself a free thinker. There are many people today who would call themselves free thinkers, and who would identify with Servetus’ cause and ideas. If one of them were to convert to the Reformed faith, would my correspondent make the same appeal to his spine shivers, and comment on the “sheer wickedness” of a free thinker joining with those who once executed his ancestors for their beliefs? Of course not.
But let’s bring this closer to home. When the English crown embraced the teachings of the Reformers, the Protestant authorities set about hanging, drawing, and quartering any priests found practicing their faith. This wasn’t a quick, neck-breaking hanging like the one de Bres would have had. No, this was a slow hanging, in which the priest was strangled to death. And while he choked, his executioners would cut off his genitals, slice open his belly, and burn his intestines in front of him. After his death, they would decapitate him, chop his body into four pieces, and send the pieces to various parts of the realm to be put on display. That was the cost of being a Catholic priest in Reformed England. Is your spine shivering?