Like the early church, the men and women of the reformation are remembered. They are remembered and read today because of what they said and did. To some they were a bright light, an exemplar of holiness. To others a damn nuisance. Either way, they are remembered because, like the Saviour they served, they could not be ignored.
Jesus was someone the locals had to deal with. Love Him our loathe Him, you could not ignore Him. After His resurrection, the Jerusalem Council found that it could not ignore the Apostles, and Rome could not ignore the early church. Some were admired, many were hated.
Jesus promised this.
If the world hates you, know that it hated me first…
Do not be surprised, brothers, that the world hates you. (John 15:18, 1 John 3:13)
Being noticed is not something we are told to persue. It’s not something we organise in the boardroom and execute in the arena. Mirror balls, smoke machines and marketing budgets be gone!
Being someone the world has to contend with is inevitable to one degree or another when the believer has his heart in glad submission to the Word of God.
In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven. (Matthew 5:16)
It may be a small act of extraordinary kindness or hard truths and glorious mercies spoken in the face of a big fat lie. Sometimes it will involve a microphone. More often than not it will be the way of a man with his wife, or a mother with her children, or the faithful woman serving at the shop counter. It will be the Christian midwife who says no to bloodshed or the young man who speaks the truth – even to his own hurt.
Either way, in a fallen world, godliness and faithfulness are hard to ignore.
The Christian with whom the world never has to contend is like the police officer who smiles and waves at the getaway car. Such a man is not compassionate or nice. He is weak. He is not merciful, he is disobedient.
Jesus was obedient to God. And so, even after His fate was sealed, the world did not simply get on with its afternoon shopping. They fussed and carried on, and continued to contend with the Saviour of the world – even as He hung from the cross.
People remember Jenny Geddes (she even had a Christian band named after her). Jenny was a no-nonsense Scottish milk maid who threw her milking stool at the head of the minister when he attempted to introduce Anglo-Catholic forms of prayer at St. Giles Cathedral in 1637.
When she threw the stool, the story goes, she cried out, “De’il gie you colic, the wame o’ ye, fause thief; daur ye say Mass in my lug?”, which was a polite way of saying that she hoped the devil would give the minister a stomach ulcer, for he was a false thief who dared to say mass in her ear.
Jenny needs more things named after her.
John Knox and George Wishart were men in their day that street sweepers and princes could not ignore, which is why we should lament the fact that young Christians can walk across the common at St Andrews today, totally oblivious to the blood of the martyrs that was shed beneath their feet
It’s why we should lament the yawn-making, bore-of-bore preacher who, rather the wake people up, puts people to sleep.
These do not notice the footsteps of those who have gone before them, and so they will not be noticed. They do not care to uphold the truths they have inherited, and so no one is likely to care what they say.
These will talk about timing, and sensitivity, and compassion, and ‘appropriate dialogue’. Truth is, they are way too consumed with status and with the things of this world.
Such men are cheerfully ignored by the world because they are not contending for anything other than what the world is contending for – their own self preservation.
But Jesus teaches us to lose our life that we may find it. To contend for the faith (Jude 1:3), even at our own peril, that we may lay hold of eternal life (1 Timothy 6:12).
This means being men and women who know the Word of God and have some seriously strong convictions about it. It means being willing to disciple the nations and teach them to obey all that Christ has commanded us, as Jenny Geddes did.
To be a person that the world has to contend with, you don’t have to have loud convictions, you just need to have solid ones.
You don’t have to be clever, you just need to be clear.
You don’t have to rant like a red-faced bully who can’t control his tongue. But you do need to be willing to throw a milking stool into the air from time to time – and be sure you’re hitting the right target.