Today in Church History
15 July 1099 The City of Jerusalem is captured in the First Crusade. Thousands were massacred. According to legend, the European Crusaders had difficulty telling Jews and Eastern Christians (whom they were supposedly “rescuing,” although they enjoyed a wide degree of religious tolerance) from the Muslim “infidels.” Richard the Lionhearted supposedly declared, “Kill them all and let God sort them out.” And Billy Graham types wonder why Jews and Muslims dislike the term “crusade?” Alas, the attitude still prevails in much of the church around the world. Serbian Orthodox priest-chaplains told the Serbian soldiers make the Orthodox sign of the cross (3 fingers held together) as they massacred Croat Catholics and Muslims during the Balkan wars that broke up Yugoslavia.
15 July 1606 Rembrandt Harmenszoon van Rijn (1606-1669), the famous Dutch painter, is born. Personal tragedies were reflected in his art which included nearly 90 paintings and etchings of Christ’s Passion.
15 July 1704 August Gottlieb Spangenberg (1704-1792) is born in Saxony. Spangenberg became a bishop (and successor to Count Nicholas von Zinzendorf) to the Unitas Fratrum (“Unity of Brethren”) a pre-Reformation Protestant denomination that was one of the responses to the martyrdom of the Czech reformer Jan Hus. Spangenberg founded the North American branch of the Unitas Fratrum known as the Moravian Church in North America. He also established the Moravians in the U.K. before returning to North America. The motto of the “Unity” or Moravians is a good one for all Christians, “In essentials, unity; in non-essentials, liberty; in all things, charity.” Alas, anyone who has engaged in ecumenical dialogue knows that part of the disagreement is over what things are and what things are not “essentials,”–which makes Christian charity all the more important.
Also, because I didn’t blog yesterday, I didn’t get to wish our French colleagues and friends a Happy Bastille Day. Yes, it was on 14 July 1790 that French citizens, fed up with autocratic rule, stormed the notorious prison known as the Bastille and freed the prisoners. (Unfortunately, they also killed the warden or “governor” of the prison.) This is generally considered the start of the French Revolution. I wanted to celebrate by getting family and friends together and “setting captives free,” but my wife convinced me to do the same thing I do with Canada Day (1 July), Cinco de Mayo (commemorating the Mexican repulsion of Napolean’s troops ), and even U.S. Independence Day (04 July): barbecue meat and drink beer.
And lest we forget, 14 July 2000 was the day that the great Baptist historian William R. Estep (1920-2000) died of pancreatic cancer. Estep taught church history at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, TX from 1954 until 1994. He was active in the American Society for Church History, helped to found (and was president of) the Conference on Faith and History, and several other professional societies. He was a renowned author of books on the relationship of the Renaissance to the Reformation, of the Anabaptist movement, on missions history, and on struggles for religious liberty throughout history.
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