Going to Church with Supreme Disappointment. You know what I mean. It was just a few weeks ago. On Friday morning, June 26, 2015, the Supreme Court of the United States of America declared in a 5-4 decision that a constitutional right to homosexual marriage exists and must be protected in every corner of this nation. Somehow, every Christian in America had to pick ourselves up from getting kicked in the gut with that news and walk into church 48 hours later.
As a pastor, I had the duty not only to personally do that, but to lead and pastor a congregation full of Christians who are bewildered, confused, disappointed, discouraged, fearful, mourning, and so on. I wondered as I was walking to church that morning, “What was it like to worship in 1973, the Sunday after the murder of abortion was legalized by the Supreme Court?” Since I was not born yet, I do not personally know, but the record of this publication is interesting. For all of 1973 and 1974, only two times is “abortion” even referred to in the Reformed Herald (and only in passing). I won’t venture a conclusion as to why that is. I certainly know that the members of the Reformed Church in the U.S. disagreed with abortion in 1973. Did they not understand how revolutionary such a decision was, and what would happen in the decades after it? Were they so busy fighting the good fight of faith in other areas that they didn’t focus on this issue that consumed the politics and culture of the society at large?
In any case, we must not repeat that history. We mention it in this Editorial. We also note that, EVEN BEFORE this tragic decision to legalize homosexual marriage, our Synod had studied God’s Word on these matters in recent years, published a study paper available for sale on Amazon.com (Promoting a Biblical Sexual Morality, published June 27, 2013), and taken a position on Marriage and Sexuality to provide pastoral advice and witness to our churches and the world. In May 2015, we also applied these issues to our Constitution and to our Standing Rules. Forty years from now, wherever Christians are on this planet, they will know that the RCUS recognized the Supreme Disappointment of June 26, 2015. It is a day when the nation’s brightest intellectual minds, the ones entrusted with the final word on what is just and legal for American citizens, declared that they know better than God what marriage is. No longer do the enemies of God simply question Him like Satan when he told Eve, “Has God really said???” For the majority of the Supreme Court, God (whoever or whatever He/She/It is) has said that homosexual marriage is right, just, and full of dignity.
So, what do we Christians do with this supreme disappointment? What do we do, knowing that all sorts of infringements on our religious liberty are coming? Dear Christian, we do what God’s people have always done. We worship. We worship our Creator, Redeemer, and Judge. We worship because we remember. We remember God’s promise to His elect, like that found in Malachi 3:6: “For I am the LORD, I do not change; Therefore you are not consumed.” Though earth’s judges may change, though popular opinion may change, the Lord Who created us and the institution of marriage does not change.
God’s unchanging character applies to more issues than whether humans have the right to change the definition of marriage. The promise in Malachi is that we will not be consumed by wrath because of His unchanging character. Though the world may pour out its wrath upon us for not being ‘tolerant’ of deviant lifestyles, God’s wrath is the real danger that any human needs to find a way to deal with. There is, of course, only one way to get right with God and escape His wrath. He has declared that in His unchanging Word. Worship is the very place that we have learned this gospel. So, no matter what disappointments threaten us or our world, we continue to worship God, where we are refreshed by the Gospel that only by true faith in Jesus Christ can the sinner escape God’s Wrath. That is a truth that is comforting to any sinner, including those guilty of any sort of sexual sin, whether it be homosexuality or any other of the Biblically forbidden uses of our sexuality. The God Who does not change has promised that all who have faith in Christ will not be consumed. Christ has already been consumed for us, bearing the guilt and shamefulness of all our sins on His cross.
How do you worship with Supreme Disappointment? You remember Who God is. This has never been easy for the Christian. Yet it is our joyful calling. We read in Psalm 73:2 But as for me, my feet had almost stumbled; My steps had nearly slipped. 3 For I was envious of the boastful, When I saw the prosperity of the wicked. . . 17 Until I went into the sanctuary of God; Then I understood their end. 18 Surely You set them in slippery places; You cast them down to destruction. . . 25 Whom have I in heaven but You? And there is none upon earth that I desire besides You. 26 My flesh and my heart fail; But God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.
Rev. Kyle A. Sorensen, Manitowoc, Wisconsin
The Women of the Tower of Constance in France
Editor: This article is Chapter 22 of Famous Women of the Reformed Church, by Rev. James I. Good. (orig. published by The Sunday School Board of the Reformed Church in the United States, 1901; available electronically from the Reformed Church in the U.S., 2004).
The Huguenot Church has been famous for its martyrs, but among them none are more noble than the women. We have given a brief sketch of one of them in the previous century, Philippine of Luns. There is one place that is especially associated with the female martyrs of the French Reformed Church. It is the tower of Constance at Aigues-Mortes in southern France, not far from the Mediterranean. There, it is true, they did not die, but they suffered worse, theirs was a living death as they were imprisoned for life. The tower consisted of two large circular apartments, one above the other. The lower one received light only from the other, through a round hole about six feet in diameter. The upper is pierced by a similar aperture in the center of a vaulted ceiling, beneath the terrace that covers the tower. By these apertures alone can smoke escape or the fresh air enter, and with the air, cold, rain and wind.
When the Revocation of the Edict of Nantes in 1585 made it unlawful for the Reformed to worship in France, the galleys on the Mediterranean became the prison for the ministers and the men, and this tower for the women. It was well-named the Tower of Constance or of constancy, for they remained firm and constant to their Reformed faith in spite of their sufferings. Their only crime had been that they had attended a Reformed service in the woods or in caves or had sent their children there. And yet for this they were virtually entombed alive. In it they were continually solicited to give up their faith. Priests and laymen, foreigners and Frenchmen urged them to kiss the crucifix so as to become free. But no, they would not. Twenty-five women were confined there, according to the list given by Marie Durand in 1754.
One of them, Marie Berand, was blind, but in spite of her blindness she was seized, by order of the king, torn from her home and conveyed to the tower where she died, aged 80 years. Another, Marie Rey, had been separated from her children because she had taken part in a Reformed service. She was detained a prisoner since 1737. A third, Marie Neviliard, was separated from her children because she had been married by a Reformed minister, which was illegal according to the law.
The following story is told of a fourth. At the end of March, 1735, in the plain of Bruzac, a Protestant service was being held for the celebration of the Lord’s Supper. Suddenly the congregation was broken into by soldiers and all who were not able to escape were arrested, among them a young couple, Francis Fiale and his wife, Isabeau Menet. He was condemned to the galleys either at Marseilles or Toulon, where he died in 1743. His wife was cast into the tower of Constance, where she gave birth to a child, which was taken away from her to be reared a Catholic. Her letters tell the sad story of the sufferings of the long captivity, of the sorrow of separation from her child, and of the death of her husband. Though sad, they are full of hope and piety. Nowhere do they breathe any trace of anger against her persecutors.
But the most interesting and best-known of the captives was Marie Durand. She entered the prison a young girl of 15; she left it an old woman, aged 53, white with gray hairs. Her story was that as the French officers had not been able to catch her brother, one of the most zealous of the French Reformed ministers, who secretly held services, they took her aged father in his place, and imprisoned him until he died. And then the French commandant determined to try it on his daughter, only fifteen years of age. She was to be imprisoned for her brother’s activity. As she was superior in education to most of the women in the tower (who belonged to the artisan class), she soon gained the confidence of the sad colony and became their interpreter and correspondent. She corresponded, especially in the later years, when the surveillance was less strict, with Paul Rabaut, the famous French preacher of the Desert, and others. We once heard Rev. Mr. Bersier, of Paris, tell the story that he had a glove-Psalter—that is a hymn-book such as the French ladies could hide in their gloves.
“This glove-Psalter,” he said, “I can never touch without emotion, for it belonged to a girl who was arrested at the age of fifteen for having gone to worship in the mountains, and who was shut up in the famous tower of Constance, where she remained forty years and where one winter’s night she had her foot half-eaten by a rat. There, on those pages, you can clearly see the traces of her tears, chiefly on some of the Psalms, such as the 42nd, where David says he will once more go to the tabernacle of the Lord and sing his praises in the great congregation.”
In 1764 the register of Aigues-Mortes announced to them that the Jesuits had been driven out of France and that religious liberty was granted in France, but that they would be retained in prison until their death, because most of them were aged and infirm, and as it was not possible to return their confiscated property. At this they were plunged in the greatest consternation, so that they all became sick. In their agony they charged Marie Durant to write to Paul Rabaut, who appealed to the various members of the nobility to aid them.
It was the prince of Beauveau who was mainly instrumental in gaining their freedom. While near the tower on business he determined to visit it. He says they were conducted up an obscure and winding stairs to a large round room deprived of air or of the light of day. There they found fourteen women languishing in misery. As he looked at them he could not control his feelings. They fell at his feet, overpowered with weeping so that they could not at first speak, and when speech came, they all together recounted their common sufferings. He was interested by the story of Gabrielle Guinges, who had given two sons to die in the French wars, yet was permitted to languish in prison. He was touched by the miserable appearance of Jeanne Auguiere and Isabeau Maumejan, who were eighty years of age, and of Isabeau Anne Gaussaint, of Sommieres, who was ninety years and who had been imprisoned for 36 years.
Overcome by a noble instinct of compassion, he himself broke the chains of their sufferings and gave them their liberty. For this he was threatened with the loss of his office. He replied in fiery words, “The king is my master to deprive me of my place, but not to prohibit me from fulfilling my duties to my conscience and my honor.” The prisoners quitted their sad abode. But where could they go? Their property had been confiscated. Their friends were dead. Marie Durand was able to return to her former home, now in ruins. The consistory of Amsterdam hearing of her sufferings and poverty gave her a life-pension of 200 livres. But the flower of their life was gone, given for their faith. Yet “the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church.” Not far from the tower there is now a modest Reformed chapel, where every Sunday the Reformed meet to the number of 150. This church (or temple, as they call Protestant churches in France), was dedicated February 22, 1863.
Let this tower of Constance be an inspiration to the women of our Church today, that they may be constant in their faith. There is no persecution now and yet there is what is worse, a worldliness that silently saps all piety. Oh, if the women of the tower of Constance could remain true to their faith in spite of such persecutions for so many years, what an inspiration it ought to be to the ladies of our Church today to be true to their Reformed churches. May the faithfulness of these martyrs prove an inspiration to nobleness and firmness of character in all who read this book.
Heritage RCUS of Waymart, PA, has established a mission work in the greater Philadelphia area and is seeking contacts in the region to plant a permanent RCUS congregation.
Reformation Church of Blue Bell, PA, was formerly a member church of the Canadian and American Reformed Churches. Blue Bell, Pennsylvania, is located between Philadelphia and Valley Forge. The Church recently suffered a decline in membership because of the relocation of a principle employer. In March of 2014 the remaining members were taken under the care of Heritage RCUS by transfer and a mission work was established. The 200 year old church building in which the congregation worships is very close to the original home and church of the first RCUS Pastor in the region, Rev. Phillip Boehm (both his home and the church building from which he pastored are still in existence).
Worship is held morning and afternoon each Lord’s Day at 10:00 a.m. and 4:00 p.m. Worship consists of both preaching and reading services. The Rev. Ron Potter of Heritage RCUS provides afternoon preaching several times a month and administers the sacraments. The Rev. Jay Fluck of Covenant RCUS, Gettysburg, PA, fills the pulpit in the afternoon once a month. Please see the Reformation Church web site for more details: www.refchurchbluebell.com/ or follow the link from the RCUS web site.
Reformation Church is seeking contacts in the Philadelphia and surrounding regions who might have an interest in attending an RCUS Church. If you know of someone you might refer to us please contact Rev. Ron Potter at 570-785-4012 (e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org) or go to the Reformation Church web site to contact us from there.
“What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun. Is there anything of which one can say, “Look! This is something new”? It was here already, long ago; it was here before our time.”
THEME: By reminding us of our true condition, Ecclesiastes teaches us to turn our eyes towards God for real newness of life.
Brothers and sisters, if the author of Ecclesiastes was coming to visit us at the beginning of the twenty-first century, would he repeat the words we have just read: “Nothing new under the sun…”? Would he not find the products of our industrial and electronic revolution very new? Would he not think that being able to communicate by email is both new and refreshing? Would he not like to cross the ocean by plane and be in New York City in less than 14 hours? Would he not be amazed at the possibility of cloning sheep and mice and, maybe one day, human beings? How would he react at the wonder of digital photography, or at the special effects of Hollywood movies? Maybe Ecclesiastes missed the right epoch. The Biblical author should have appeared during the twenty first century; his life would have been filled with the novelty and the happenings he seemed to have searched for in vain in his own time… But let us stop fantasizing over what the author of Ecclesiastes would have thought had he come back to visit us, for we shall never know it.
In any case, how could one compare the times when Ecclesiastes lived, a few centuries before our era, with our own time, the twenty-first century? And that is perhaps where a deeper question lies, behind all these artificial questions which will never get an answer. A deeper question which is also a very problematic one for us, Christians of today: can we still identify with what Ecclesiastes wrote such a long time ago? After all, we are the ones confronted with the technological revolution, with the communication revolution. They bear their mark on our everyday life. We are the ones who have to adapt to so many new things year after year, even month after month (look at computer programs for instance). Actually, we can hardly keep track with novelty. So what does Ecclesiastes have to tell us today, with his words: “Nothing new under the sun”? If he had gone through what we are going through, would he have ever written them? Maybe part of the answer lies in a saying which disillusioned people in France say when they take note of the inability of politicians to solve chronic problems of the country. They say: “The more it changes, the more it remains the same.” In a sense, that is where the strength of Ecclesiastes’ message lies. Under the surface of that which changes, there is a deeper layer in human life: the level of that which does not change, the level of the things which stay permanently at the very core of our existence. Those are the ones Ecclesiastes is addressing.
THEME: By reminding us of our true condition, Ecclesiastes teaches us to turn our eyes towards God for real newness of life.
- Ecclesiastes warns us about trying to escape our condition.
You see, we might have mesmerized ourselves to the point of believing that the changes we bring at the surface are actually capable of changing the deepest of our being. Perhaps we indulge in all kinds of changes (technological or others) precisely in order to forget that there is a deeper core in our existence. Perhaps that core, that central point in our lives, what the Bible calls our “soul,” bothers us too much: perhaps we don’t want to face its real needs, its real and naked condition. So we surround ourselves with many-colored candy-floss and pretend to be happier. And now, Ecclesiastes comes to us from the ancient world and dispels our illusions: he brings us back to the basic reality of our existence, to the level of things unchangeable.
There are probably quite a few reasons why Ecclesiastes decided to write down these words which make the object of our meditation today: first, he must have known a lot about the history of his country, and of the nations and civilizations surrounding him. And pondering about the history of peoples, he must have realized that many historical events looked like the mere repetition of one and the same pattern: the rise and fall of empires, for instance. That is something we have been able to observe in exactly the same way during our own century. He must also have observed the process of growing old. Who could escape such a process? Who can escape it, even today?
Another reason for Ecclesiastes to write down his thoughts, was perhaps a certain irritation towards people who introduced new things and pretended that times had really changed. Ecclesiastes wanted to prove them wrong, to show them that what they called “new” was actually very well known. These people too might have tried to forget about the core of their existence and indulged in their dreams of novelty. They might have wanted to bury their past, as we often try to do with our own past. The dream of being a new creature, brothers and sisters, of living in a new world, is also at the core of our existence, but what does it signify, at the deepest level? All the novelty which we bring about should not be seen merely as normal human development, merely as something which distinguishes us from animals. This novelty brought about by mankind certainly testifies that we have been created in God’s image and that we can be creative and innovative as well.
But there is much more to it: our quest for the new is in many respects an attempt to forget that we are mortals, that we shall die. By inventing new things, or creating a new environment, humans often try to liberate themselves from some obsessions, like the obsession of death, or of a dark past: look at the thriving economic progress of a country like Germany after Second World War: Germany rushed towards novelty and prosperity, not just because it had been left in ruins by the war, but also because people wanted to forget about the horrors which they had let to happen in their own country. And still, forty years later, the memories of these atrocities continue to follow them. Germans cannot escape them. All these efforts to forget were made in vain. In his own time, Ecclesiastes understood and uncovered with a remarkable clarity the motives of people to search for new things.
We find another striking example of the search for novelty and its deeper meaning in a passage of the New Testament: namely when Paul visits Athens, the intellectual capital of the Western world of the time. We read, in Acts 17:21, that “all the Athenians and the foreigners who live there spent their time doing nothing but talking about and listening to the latest ideas.” Like in the modern Western capitals, New York, London, or Paris, the people of Athens were thirsty for news, for something creating movement in their life: they hated static, fixed situations. So they were very eager to hear about new gods and new religions as well. But the question is: were all these idols really satisfying them? What was the real drive behind their insatiable curiosity, behind their brilliant minds? “The eye never has enough of seeing, nor the ear its fill of hearing,” Ecclesiastes reminds us in verse 8. Do you see now, brothers and sisters, why the message of Ecclesiastes remains relevant for us today? He uncovers our deep motivations, he questions our assumptions and forces us to leave the level of the surface, of these things we take for granted so that we would not have to ask ourselves more basic questions about the meaning of our existence.
But you will now ask: “Fine, but where is the Gospel in the message of Ecclesiastes? What hope does he give us, after forcing us to look at so-called new things in a different way?” Is he not perhaps an old grumpy man full of frustrations, someone who never managed to enjoy anything in his own life, not even his harem, “the delights of the heart of man”? (2:8)
- Ecclesiastes redirects our look towards The One Who really can make things new.
On the base of the same questions many people have wondered what the Book of Ecclesiastes is doing in the canon of the Bible. But it is precisely because we read all the other books of the Bible that we can also read and make sense of the book of Ecclesiastes. Reading Ecclesiastes starts making sense when we read him in the context of the whole Bible. We would not understand the extraordinary impact of the words in the Book of Revelation (21:5) “He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!” if we had not read first the words of Ecclesiastes “there is nothing new under the sun” and deeply meditated about them. Ecclesiastes tells us, in so many words, how meaningless a life is that is not filled by God. He does not just imply it, he says it very explicitly. Listen for example to his words in chapter 2:24-25: “A man can do nothing better than to eat and drink and find satisfaction in his work. This too, I see, is from the hands of God, for without him, who can eat or find enjoyment?” In line with the whole Old Testament, Ecclesiastes expects fulfillment from God and from Him only. But this expectation takes sometimes unusual forms in his words: as if it was necessary to state certain things in an almost brutal way for people to accept their true condition. For Ecclesiastes knows that mankind loves escapism to avoid having to ponder its naked condition after the Fall into sin.
In reading Ecclesiastes, it is as if we are reading a premonition of what Paul will write a few hundred years later, in Romans 8:22-24: “We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies.” Surely, Ecclesiastes too would love to see something really new. But not the caricature of novelty which his fellow men brought forward. No doubt, he would not have received with joy and enthusiasm the news of being able to clone sheep, mice, and soon humans: in any case, what is the interest of reproducing very exactly all the sins of a given individual? Here too we could say, with Ecclesiastes, “nothing new under the sun”; we have seen exactly the same sins in the original individual. The copy does not bring anything new. No, Ecclesiastes is searching for something more: that which can fill him totally, without any regret or sense of uncompleteness.
Are we, men and women living at the beginning of the twenty-first century, also looking for that which can bring real fulfillment to us? And where to find it? Brothers and sisters, God is the One who brings that fulfillment. God is not against making things new, bringing novelty in our lives. Actually, God is the only One Who can make things completely new. He is the One who announced to his prophet, Jeremiah (31:31): “The time is coming”, declares the Lord, “when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah.” He is the One who fulfilled His promise, when Jesus-Christ ate and drank the Lord’s Supper with His disciples: “This cup is the new covenant in my blood; do this, whenever you drink it, in remembrance of me.” (I Cor. 11:25) He is the One Who gives new life to those who have been grafted in the same Lord Jesus Christ: “You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; to be made new in the attitude of your minds; and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.” (Ephesians 4:22-24) God is the one Who created heaven and earth, and it was completely “new” when He created them. He is also the One who is re-creating us by His mighty Spirit, and making of us totally new creatures in Christ.
The voice of Ecclesiastes is not a mere human voice. Behind what some would think is only a disillusioned look upon life, there is a call to look deeper, to search for God beyond man’s made novelties. We still live in a world where the prince of darkness disguises himself into an angel of light: he tries to make us believe that we can redeem ourselves with our own inventions. As long as we will live in this world, the God-breathed voice of Ecclesiastes will resound and call us to wake up to the reality of this lie and of our true condition before God. And this God-breathed voice will direct our look towards The One Who really can make things new. Reading Ecclesiastes again and again will render us even more eager to await the promised heritage which God disclosed to His servant John: Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” (Rev. 21:1-4) AMEN!
Rev. Eric Kayayan
France, Reformed Faith and Life
Box 1. Our quest for the new is in many respects an attempt to forget that we are mortals, that we shall die. By inventing new things, humans often try to liberate themselves.
Box 2. Insert image 471180388, iStock