Some of God’s People have borne Really Strange Names – Genesis 5:21-32

audio version

I need to begin with an apology. Last week I teased you with the name of the son of Isaiah “Mahershalalhashbaz.” As was the case of several other important men in God’s Word, it was the Lord who dictated his name. “Then said the LORD to me, Call his name Mahershalalhashbaz.” “Before the child shall have knowledge to cry, My father, and my mother, the riches of Damascus and the spoil of Samaria shall be taken away before the king of Assyria.” Unlike many names which have simple meanings, in this name every syllable means something. “Mahershalalhashbaz” declares an entire sentence. It says something like, “In making speed to the spoil, he hasteneth to the prey.” I apologize for not giving you time to let that sink in. “Mahershalalhashbaz” means “In making speed to the spoil he hasteneth to the prey.” It makes almost no sense, except in the light of the upcoming judgment of God upon Syria and Samaria. The King of Assyria was making haste to come down and to spoil those two wicked countries. God knew it; God ordained it; and God prophesied through “Mahershalalhashbaz.”

Let’s start this afternoon’s message with another Biblical name, which again has a special meaning. The Bible clearly tells us that, like Isaiah, Enoch was one of the Lord’s great prophets. Jude says – “Enoch also, the seventh from Adam, prophesied of these, saying, Behold, the Lord cometh with ten thousands of his saints. To execute judgment upon all.” We are not told that God dictated to Enoch the name of his son, but I wouldn’t be surprised if he had. “Methuselah” is a very ancient name, dating back to eight generations short of Adam and Eve. That may be one reason why there is a variety of explanations to its meaning. James Strong says that it means “man of the dart.” Jamison, Fausset and Brown say – “He dieth and the sending forth.” And I have heard others say it means, “when he dieth it shall come.” Methuselah lived longer than any other man – 969 years in the ante-deluvian atmosphere. Later tonight, or tomorrow you have my permission to compare and add up the years of the lives of Enoch, Lamech and Noah. When you do, you will find that at the time of Methuselah’s death God destroyed humanity in the flood. “When he dies, it shall come,” and it did. I don’t believe that Methuselah died in the flood. He died just prior to it. And the gracious God extended that man’s life beyond any other, giving mankind more time to repent, but which of course, they never did. Sinners are “saved by grace through faith and that not of (themselves).” Even repentance and saving faith are beyond the reach of men who are dead in their sins. Repentance and faith are gifts from God.

For several months now, we have been considering some of the names and titles of the people of God. Those which we find in the Bible have all had special meaning – like “Mahershalalhashbaz” and “Methuselah.” After titles like “saint” and “brethren” we moved into Ecclesiastical history, examining some of the names and titles which we find there. Last week I introduced a couple of obscure derogatory names flung like mud against God’s people – primarily from the Protestants. This afternoon I’ll add a few more, saving just a couple for one more lesson. But I do reserve the right for another message just in case we need some sort of summary. You may have heard some of these remaining terms, but some of them are so obscure that only Leonard Verduin could find them for us.

Some of the names applied to our forefathers were silly and others slanderous.

A few years ago, I spoke with a missionary who was on the verge of losing some financial support. His work was not producing great numbers of conversions and baptisms, so one of his supporting churches was questioning whether or not he was evangelistic – which to them meant “knocking doors.” The supporting pastor demanded a meeting with that missionary. When they got together, the pastor took one look at him and decided to continue his support. The criteria he used to determine his spirituality and theology was the depth of the missionary’s tan – he had been out in the sun sufficiently to prove that he had been out “door-knocking.”

Verduin, in his book “The Reformers and Their Step-children,” says that for a while in medieval history, God’s people – the Anabaptists and Waldensians in Germany – were called “turlupins” wolf people. It was said that these “heretics” were ashamed to come out during the day. They met only at night, carrying out their illicit religious activities – preaching the gospel and observing the memorial of the Lord’s Supper. And so, at times, some of them were pallid in color – they were pale from a lack of sun-light. But of course, many of them were not pale, and many who were not Anabaptists were naturally pallid themselves. However, it is true that the Anabaptists were often forced to hide their assemblies from the authorities. They did go out at night to meet in barns and caves in order to worship the Lord. They sometimes did baptize by moonlight, because it was either illegal to baptize, or their enemies would swarm in upon them riding horses or driving cattle into the water. Protestant and Catholic parents probably did warn and frighten their children with horror stories about the “turlupin” coming to get them. Verduin speaks of a bishop who “when he looked at men he would tell by their pallor whether they had been to the Waldensians’ conventicles.” When Thomas Munster fell in battle against the German princes, the soldiers began a wholesale slaughter of anyone who looked slightly pale. The cliché has been tenacious, and Verduin says that even today in rural France when someone looks ill it might be heard “blanc comme un Huguenot.” But “Turlupins”? Ridiculous.

Every Baptist with even the slightest interest in their history should have a copy of William Cathcart’s “Baptist Encyclopedia.” It is a treasure trove of information on people, places and policies of Baptists – mostly in the early United States, but also much beyond that. One of the fun things in that book is to glance at the illustrations. When I read some of Cathcart’s articles about eminent saints and then look at their pictures I am shocked. Often they just don’t look like they should go together. Some of those sweet and godly men were down-right scarey looking in their appearance. And the beards – some of them look like they had never shaved or trimmed their beards.

Verduin supplies a footnote at one point in his book. It says, “It was a common feature of the medieval ‘heretic’ to wear a full beard, so much so that ‘heretics’ were commonly called ‘Bartmänner,’ men with beards. This throws an interesting, and probably significant, light upon the fact that among the more conservative descendants of the Anabaptists there still is a religious sensitivity that prescribes a beard for the adult male.” I can’t say that I retain my well-trimmed beard because I am an Anabaptist. Every time I have threatened to change my facial appearance, my wife tells me that she likes it. But if to be an Anabaptist I had to have a beard down to my waist, I’d let it grow.

Another of the terms of reproach thrown against the men of God has been “Leufer.”

It is a German word which means “one who walks, or, runs.” The church which Christ started during His earthly ministry was a missionary organization. Sure they needed a little push, which the Lord accomplished through persecution, but it was supposed to be a “going” concern. “Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world. Amen.” “Ye shall receive power, after that the Holy Ghost is come upon you: and ye shall be witnesses unto me both in Jerusalem, and in all Judaea, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth.” We aren’t surprised to find Philip in Samaria preaching Christ and then running down into the Gaza to give the gospel to the Ethiopian ambassador. We see Peter on the coast Tyre and Sidon even preaching to a Roman centurion. Churches were established around the region and then they began sending missionaries throughout the Mediterranean. Most of the Apostles left Israel, carrying the gospel of Christ in every direction – Africa, east as far as India, north towards Russia and so on.

Think about this – neither Catholicism nor Protestantism have been known for their evangelistic zeal. There is a logical explanation for that. When Constantine united religion and government into a two-headed monstrous society, its churches no longer needed evangelists. The law, the sword, tradition and fonts of water produced all the conversions they needed. Their Christianity was nothing but heathenism with a thin veneer of baptism – which I believe can be wiped off with a cheap towel. Granted, both the Catholics and Protestants have sent their missionaries into heathen areas. But that was after they saw the success of the Waldensian and Anabaptist missionaries. But what need was there for evangelism at home where infants were christened into the covenant of their god’s saving church? And isn’t it true, especially with Catholicism, that their missionaries usually traveled among soldiers with their swords drawn?

From the day when the Book of Acts was concluded, the Paulicians, Donatists, Albigenses and Anabaptists were evangelistic and missionary. Thousands of Waldenses became traveling merchants and booksellers, spreading the gospel of Christ throughout Europe. Those missionaries refused to recognize national borders. They flitted around like butterflies, leaving their color and joy, wherever they went. While they started in the Alps and Piedmont, true churches began springing up in Germany, Holland, Poland, the Balkans, and back again into Eastern Europe. Soon thereafter the Waldensian “heretics” began to be known as Anabaptists. And they were “Leufers” walkers, not content to stay at home worshiping their Saviour in the privacy and safety of their mountain meadows. “Leufers” became a synonym for missionary or evangelist – and initially it was meant derogatorily. Verduin wrote, “Among the Anabaptists the distinction of pastor and missionary was unknown; every pastor was a missionary, and every missionary was a pastor. The world was populated with two kinds of people, those who witness and those who are witnessed to. For them there was no third category.”

And please remember that in the days of the Reformation true evangelism meant death. How dare these “heretics” swim against the stream dripping from the fingers of the priests? In reading the histories of the Waldenses, Albigenses and their predecessors, we ought to be ashamed by the courage of those people. They may have been “Leufers,” but I read of one who swam the Ibs River, full of floating ice, in the deep of night in order to reach a person on the other side, who had shown receptivity to the truth.

So effective were these missionaries that the Catholics began to imitate them. After some time the Dominicans began to go out two by two – but it wasn’t so much as missionaries. They began to dress like the Anabaptists and even to grow long beards. But please realize that these Dominicans were notorious for their inquisitorial tactics. They looked like the true servants of God, and to a point acted like them, but if anyone mistook them for Anabaptists, these men turned on them like vipers, arresting them and sometimes killing them. It was hard to know who were the friends and who were the foes in this religious war.

There was a curious doctrine among of the early Protestants. It explained their early lack of missionary emphasis. Calvin for example took the parable of the Great Supper in Luke 14 and twisted it. “A certain man made a great supper, and bade many: And sent his servant at supper time to say to them that were bidden, Come; for all things are now ready.” He taught that initially the gospel was freely offered and people were encouraged to voluntarily accept. But when then refused, then God authorized a different approach. “The lord said unto the servant, Go out into the highways and hedges, and compel them to come in, that my house may be filled.” It was Calvin’s opinion that with the beginning of the Reformation, coercion and compulsion were the God-given method of evangelism. Even those who love Calvin, like Verduin himself, are ashamed at the blood on that man’s hands. If an Anabaptist did not consent to have his children christened into the Reformed church he was to be jailed, whipped and fined, and if he persisted, then he was to be stripped of his children and killed. Was this not the policy of the Protestants in early North America? Verduin quoted another man to say, “The prevailing view with regard to foreign missions at the beginning of the Protestant era was that the command to preach to the Gospel to all nations was given only to the original apostles and expired with them.”

Our forefathers for a few years in Germany were called “Leufers” because they believed God and went every where preaching the word – Acts 8:4. We should be “Leufers” not only through foreign missions, but also here at home. We should be people who “who walks, or, run” with the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ.