I gave a talk recently at an event for a friend, and I was asked to encourage people to speak the truth boldly. So to encourage people I decided to talk to them about one of my favourite heroes of the faith from Church history. Here is an excerpt from the talk that I gave:
“There are so many examples of bold preachers of the word in history. One of the most inspirational men I have ever read about in history was Michael Sattler. He was a Benedictine Monk in the early 1500s, in the time of the Reformation. For those who don’t know what the Reformation is, it was a massive cataclysm in the church in the late medieval era where people started to really challenge the coercive and corrupt nature of parts of the church.
Sattler, along with a few other humble men, was one of the first Christians in history to push for the free church movement. If you choose where you go to church today. If you are free to have a pastor that preaches from the word and not just tradition. If you are a member of a church where the members are all given a say. Then you have Michael Sattler and men like him to thank. He was one of the very earliest Anabaptists.
– He and his friends believed that Christians should not use violence to coerce the conscience.
– He and his friends believed the Word of God was the only authority in the church.
– He and his friends believed that Christians should be free to meet with like-minded believers and choose to be baptized.
– He and his friends also believed that they should challenge corruption in the church. And he wrote about this. He and other pastors published a famous confession, The Seven Articles and boy did it get a response. Far more than they expected.
He was for peace, non-violence and for Christians to be free to follow the word according to their conscience, “For these Anabaptists, the true Christian is the person who is transformed from within and obedient to God’s Word. Stated differently, the true Christian is one whose conscience binds them to obey the word of God.”[i]
How do you think they treated him for defending the word of God? That’s right they burnt him at the stake.
He was a highly respected man in his community, known to be of good character, and well-loved because of this. But as soon as he challenged the narrative they cancelled him, in medieval style:
“On the day of execution his tongue was cut out, he was torn seven times with red-hot irons, and eventually burned… On Wednesday Michael’s wife was taken out on the waters of the Neckar. She could not be turned away from her faith by any human grace or words. In great joy and strong faith she accepted and suffered death. God be praised! Thus she was drowned.”[ii]
We actually have his final words recorded and here are some of them:
“Therefore, you servants of God, in case you might not have heard or read the Word of God, would you send for the most learned (men) and for the godly books of the Bible, in whatever they might be, and let them discuss the same with us in the Word of God. If they show us with Holy Scripture that we are in error and wrong, we will gladly retract and recant, and will gladly suffer condemnation and the punishment for our offense. But if we cannot be proved in error, I hope to God that you will repent and let yourselves be taught.”[iii]
He refused to deny the word of God, and he warned his oppressors to repent and trust in God. He stood boldly till the end. If he could face that level of opposition, being brutally tortured to death, what is stopping us from being so bold? This is our legacy in history, the great men who proclaimed the word of God and the women who also stood strong in their own way. This is also our legacy in the Scriptures.”
There are so many great heroes of the faith throughout history. There would be many people who are not aware of this man, just like the people at the event I spoke at. And there are the countless individuals that none of us are aware of, because their names were not recorded. One day we shall get to hear their stories in heaven. It is good to see this legacy of faithfulness in history going back into the times of the Scriptures. May we add to this legacy and inspire many people around us and even some people in the future.
Matthew Littlefield writes to think through some of the current issues facing society, the Church and whatever else comes to mind that might be interesting to process. Matt's focus is usually historical or scriptural, though he will address current issues from time to time as well. He is a co-author of The Ezekiel Declaration and the book, Defending Conscience, How Baptists reminded the Church to defy tyranny. He blogs most days at YoungGospelMinister.blogspot.com.
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