Read 1 John 4:7-17
ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear; for fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not reached perfection in love.” (1 John 4:18)
Michael Servetus lived during an incredibly tumultuous time. The Protestant Reformation had been raging across Europe, dividing the Western Church into Catholics and Protestants, and dividing the protestants into splinter protestant groups. Servetus, a doctor and a Roman Catholic, began to question the orthodox doctrine of the Trinity and also the practice of infant baptism, as there was no precedent and/or command for it in the Bible, which only prescribes adult baptism.
As for the Trinity, Servetus rejected the classical formulation as being non-Biblical, arguing that it came from the teachings of Greek philosophers. He felt that the Trinitarian formula, as laid out in the Nicaean Creed, went far beyond what is found in the Gospels. He began writing letters to Calvin, sharing his ideas and theology on the Trinity. This was common practice among scholars and academics to exchange, debate and refute ideas and Servetus thought he had an academic colleague in Calvin. But Calvin was not friendly to Servetus or his ideas.
Instead, Servetus had unwittingly made an enemy out of Calvin. When Servetus escaped from prison in France three days after his arrest by the Roman Catholic Church for heresy, he fled to Geneva in hopes to find sanctuary there. He even attended one of Calvin’s sermons and it was there that he was arrested and tried for heresy. In the end, Michael Servetus was found guilty of heresy and sentenced to be burned at the stake. Calvin protested burning Servetus and petitioned the council to decapitate him as that was “less cruel.” The council rejected that request. Regardless of his protest of the method, Calvin believed that Servetus deserved to be killed and supported the council’s decision. On October 27, 1533, Servetus was burned to the stake with his book chained to his leg.
As a Christian, I am horrified and deeply disturbed by this story. For me, it is a reminder of how far off the beaten path we as Christians have often strayed. I have grown up professing the Trinitarian doctrine and have personally experienced the Triune nature of God in my life; however, I also recognize the limitation of theology. After all, theology is how we talk about and relate to God. It is a tool for humans to understand that which is far beyond their comprehension. Therefore, to kill someone over theology seems to not only be futile…but totally against the very teachings of Christ.
Do not mistake what I am saying. I am not implying that theology is useless, or that it shouldn’t be taken seriously. I am certainly not saying that “any theology goes” either. I am simply asking us to pause and question ourselves for a moment. In our defense of doctrine and theology, are we defending Christ or our image of Christ? Are we following the life and teachings of Jesus, or are we superimposing our life and teachings upon Jesus? When we put theology and doctrine in a place of prominence over and above the teachings and example of our Lord and Savior, we fail to follow the one we claim to be “following.”
Christ does not call us to a life of defending the Gospel, but to a life of LIVING the Gospel. There will always be people who get caught up in the details and lose the big picture. There will always be critics of our way of understanding things and I am not suggesting that we just go ahead and accept everything that is presented to us as truth. All I am suggesting is that instead of getting lost in the details we “get found” in the application of the Gospels. Let us be a people of the Gospel message. Let us be a people who love God by loving others, no matter how different from us they are. What do we have to fear? What do we have to lose by LOVING others? Our lives? So be it! If we embrace the Gospels we will certainly err on the side of grace and embrace a life of compassionate love.
THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“I cannot and will not recant anything, for to go against conscience is neither right nor safe. Here I stand, I can do no other, so help me God. Amen.” – Martin Luther at the Diet of Worms, Germany, where he was being tried for heresy.
Lord, love does not breed fear. Help me to snuff the flames of fear and be filled with your love. Amen.