Falling Down Before God In Awe image

Falling Down Before God In Awe

If you or I had been alive 100 years ago the chances are that we would have had a copy of John Foxe’s Acts and Monuments (commonly known as Foxe’s Book of Martyrs) on our bookshelves next to our Bible. Foxe’s work was pretty much standard reading for English evangelicals from the time of its writing (first edition in Latin in 1559, first English edition 1563) to the Victorian age. Foxe’s stories of the sufferings of English martyrs, particularly during the reigns of Henry VIII and Mary Tudor, have inspired generations of Gospel-preaching men and women throughout the English speaking world.

At the time of writing I am studying the story of Richard Woodman from the village of Warbleton which is less than 5 miles from where I live in Sussex. Woodman was executed in the county town of Lewes on 22 June 1557. I have been asked by the vicar of Warbleton parish church to give a talk on Woodman on the anniversary date of his execution. The story is one of faith and courage in the midst of intense persecution which I find genuinely inspiring. I am conscious that generations before me quite literally laid down their lives for the Gospel. With the baton now in my hands I am mindful, because of the witness of people like Richard Woodman, of the need to run a good race.
Before I tell you about the story of Richard Woodman, however, I thought I would tell you about a friend of mine who did some serious academic work on Foxe and his Book of Martyrs while we were at University together. Stefan and I were exact contemporaries as undergraduates and chose related PhD topics. I began a thesis on the impact of Lutheranism in the Netherlands and he began a thesis on the accuracy of Foxe as a historian. Stefan had a point to prove. He was from a nominal Eastern Orthodox background but was, in effect, an agnostic. He was convinced that Foxe could not be trusted as a historian, that his Book of Martyrs was a combination of distortion, dishonesty and fabrication. Yet to my utter amazement Stefan one day accosted me in the University library and invited himself to church.
In a recent post Andrew Wilson posed the following challenge:

Be honest: are the things people contribute in your Sunday meetings truly charismatic? Do unbelievers hear the prophecies that occur and fall down before God in awe? Or have the prophecies become blessed thoughts, the testimonies become anecdotes, the tongues/ languages become random babble, and the interpretations become attempts to fill the awkward silence afterwards?

I can honestly say that I have never been so pleased that I am a theologically convinced charismatic in a genuinely charismatic community of believers as I was on the day Stefan accompanied me to church. As the meeting kicked off, the person hosting brought a prophetic word from 1 Chronicles 4:9-11. He told the story of Jabez who, he reminded us, had a name that means pain and who cried out for God to bless him. My friend Stefan sat rigid in his chair but, at the end of the meeting, was the first person to respond to the salvation appeal. Stefan was radically born again.
When I met with him the next day Stefan explained what was going on the night before. As an English graduate Stefan knew that his surname (Smart) meant pain in Anglo-Saxon. The night before he came to church, in a somewhat agitated and desperate state he had cried out alone in his bedroom “God, if you are there would you bless me!” When the meeting started and the host related the story of Jabez it truly was a “God is really among you” (1 Cor 14:25) moment.
Sadly, Stefan’s PhD thesis on Foxe never got finished. He never quite had the same passions that he once had. He, like the guy who stumbled across treasure when wandering across a field one day (Matt 13:44) had had his priorities turned upside down and back to front. His one-man mission to discredit Foxe and to do down evangelicalism was something of a train wreck. His life has been transformed by the power of a prophetic word from God.

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