Some of God’s People have borne Really Strange Names – Isaiah 8:1-4

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The son of Isaiah the prophet has to be one of the most interesting object lessons ever ordained by God. The Lord commissioned his servant to take his wife and father a child, ordering that the baby have a very special name “Mahershalalhashbaz.” Of course the lesson developed very slowly – almost as long as some of Jeremiah’s object lessons. First, there was the conception and nine months later the birth of the baby. But then the Lord added a few years after that before the full effect of the lesson was reached. “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.” Before this baby boy is able to say “dada” and “moma” the king of Assyria would destroy Syria and Samaria. But what about that name? “Mahershalalhashbaz.” Unlike many names which have a general meaning, every syllable in this name means something. It wasn’t simple like “David” which means “beloved,” or “Hannah” which means “grace.” “Mahershalalhashbaz” declares an entire sentence. It says something like, “In making speed to the spoil he hasteneth to the prey.” In all likelihood no one ever had that name before this little boy was born. And remember too that everyone spoke Hebrew, so they knew exactly what the name meant. Even though they might not have known what the name meant.

One evening about a year ago, some of the brethren were talking and the name of a book was mentioned. Leonard Verduin wrote a book called “The Reformers and their Stepchildren.” It is a Protestant book written by a Protestant scholar, but it is very unprotestant. I bought and read that book back in 1998, but the 2015 conversation enticed me to pull it out and read it again. Verduin says that our Baptist forefathers – the Anabaptists and Waldensians of the Reformation era were castigated with various names. Those names weren’t as colorful as “Mahershalalhashbaz” – but some of them were just as significant.

As I went through the book’s 300 pages, the Holy Spirit pointed to a potential series of messages. Verduin mentions the Donatists, Cathari, Anabaptists and Waldensians, and I said to myself, that these people need to be publically praised for their service of God. But then as I meditated further, I decided that before we address these historical names and titles, it would be appropriate to look at the Biblical titles of the people of God. So this series has had two major divisions – the Biblical section and the Historical.

Tonight, we will start to bring the series to a conclusion, with a kind of epilogue. Tonight, I pull out Verduin, who I have basically ignored since he first gave me the idea. Tonight I want to consider some of the more obscure names, with which, this author says, that our forefathers have been labeled.

Some historians have called us “the Radicals of the Reformation” and “Restitutionists.”

I am not very fond of the first designation, for a couple of reasons, but it should still be considered. Martin Luther was a Roman Catholic monk who got tired and disgusted with the wretched condition of his father’s religion, so he attempted a reformation – a corrective movement. As is true of most of the Reformers, he couldn’t conceive of a world without Catholicism. But it had become so corrupt, so wicked, so decadent that it needed to be exposed and cleaned up. It needed a surgeon who could open up the festering wounds, clean out the gangrenous, dying flesh, so that it could get back to its former glory. But the fact is there was no former glory in Catholicism. And reformation wasn’t accomplished anyway – it makes one wonder why the name is used. Luther, Calvin, Zwingli, Knox, and the rest were booted out of their Roman Catholicism.

Once Luther and Calvin took their stand, they began to see that there were others, already standing for the pure and original faith. Nearby were the Albigenses and the Waldensies – Anabaptists. For a while the Reformers and the true churches compared notes and tried to encourage one another. But it was soon obvious that the Reformers were not interested in the entire package, and eventually they turned their guns on both Rome and the ancient churches of the Alps and the Piedmont. They called themselves “Reformers,” but they called our forefathers “radicals,” because not only did we reject Rome we also rejected the Reformer’s adaptations of Rome.

The term “Radicals of the Reformation” make us sound like Reformers who have gone a little too far. It is a term will takes us back to Thomas Munster and the bloody political revolution which he tried to lead against the others. But the truth is the Donatists, Paulicians and Novatians were never reformers at all – radical or not. Our forefathers came out from among the Catholics and chose to be separate, rather than attempting to be scullery maids, cleaning up the Roman filth. Although some may have used the words, “Radicals of the Reformation” they do not really apply to our people.

A better word, but still not really on the point, would be “Restitutionists.” We have heard hints of this term in many of the quotes we have given you over the last couple of months. But those quotes came from others – Protestant historians or from our enemies. The early Paulicians and Donatists were not trying to restore New Testament Christianity. Most of them would have declared that they were simply practicing New Testament Christianity. They were not trying to return to Paul and Christ, they were just trying to continue what their forefathers brought to them from Paul and Christ.

A third title to which I have often referred is “Heretic.”

Perhaps two months ago, I gave you the etymology – the history of the word – but let me reiterate it. Most people have the modern definition and a corrupted perception of the word in their minds, missing its true and original meaning. My little “Chambers Etymological Dictionary” gives this definition for “heresy.” “n, an opinion adopted in opposition to the usual belief, esp. in theology; heterodoxy. Gr. hairesis – haireo, to take or choose.” Let me repeat that – “an opinion ADOPTED in OPPOSITION to the USUAL BELIEF.In its original definition, “heresy” is the deliberate choice to reject the common opinion of something.

From the middle of the 3rd century – from the days when Rome began to accept the liberal Biblical interpretations of the School of Alexandria, followed by Constantine’s “conversion” to Christianity, bringing heathen doctrine into the falling Christian churches… From the time when more and more churches accepted the Roman Empire’s approval…. the word “heretic” has been applied to those churches which refused to bow the knee to Rome and Constantine. Tertullian and the Montanist churches which refused to accept the Christianized Pontifex Maximus were accused of being “heretics,” and they were, simply because they chose to be different. The Paulicians who refused the common corrupted use of the Old Testament to justify infant baptism, a superior priesthood, and the sacraments, were called “heretics.” What the Dontatists, Novatians and Waldensians did was to make a deliberate choice not to join the flow of religious sewage into the gutters of Rome.

To quote Verduin “The ‘heretics’ were folk ‘of whom the world was not worthy.’ An integral part of their total vision was that salvation comes by a believing response to the preached Word, rather than by sacramental manipulation. In a word, they took at face value the New Testament doctrine that “Faith cometh by hearing and hearing by the Word of God” (Romans 10: 17). They asked the question, in all seriousness, ‘How shall they call on him in whom they have not believed? and how shall they believe in him of whom they have not heard? and how shall they hear without a preacher?’ Because they believed that salvation comes by way of believing response to the preached Word, they opposed any and all forms of Sacramentalism. It was this that earned for them the derogatory name of ‘Sacramentarians.’”

I admit to sometimes using the words “heresy” and “heretics,” and I’ve heard some of you using the words as well. That is fine, but we need to keep in mind the original meaning of the word. You and I – our church is far more appropriately “heretical” than mainstream Protestantism or Catholicism. Because we are continuing to take a theological position which is contrary to general “Christendom.” The gospel which we preach, the gospel of the sovereign God, is heresy to the average Baptist. Our understanding of the ordinances is heresy to 95% or 98% of Christianity. Our fathers have been called “heretics” almost from the beginning, and it will remain so. Don’t be ashamed of the worduse it discretely when you apply it to others.

Verduin used another title in that quote which I just shared with you – “Sacramentarian.”

I debated with myself about this making in a point in this message partially because his chapter was confusing. But I wanted to use that earlier quote, so I’m kind of stuck with the word. My dislike of the term comes from the fact that I dislike the word “sacrament.” Its simple definition refers to something which is sacred. But the corrupted and common definition makes “sacrament” a sacred means of obtaining God’s grace.

The gospel and doctrine of the early and true churches begins with man’s depravity and sin. Adam sinned and humanity spiritually died, so individuals must be born again in order to fellowship with God. But essentially since the day after Adam’s fall, man has been trying to earn God’s acceptance. Mankind has been making his offerings, performing his rituals and sacrificing his good works in order to please offended Jehovah. When the Lord has said that sinners are dead in their trespasses, man has essentially argued the point. When man has said, “Here, God, is a gift, now bless me,” the Lord has said “no.” From the beginning man has said “no” to God’s revelations, and Jehovah has said “no” to man’s religious suggestions. As Verduin puts it, God has said “no” to man’s “yes”

and man has said “no” to the Lord’s “yes.” God’s greatest “yes” – His greatest gift – was the scandal at the cross, where once again man said “no.” And the preaching of the cross is essentially a demand that man say “yes” to God’s “yes” while saying “no” where God has said “no” – to sin. A proper reception of the gospel requires repentance and faith. But fallen man’s idea of salvation continues to be “no” to repentance and “yes” to working for salvation.

In his study of Protestant history, Verduin says that some called the Anabaptists “sacramentarians” because they rejected the ordinances as the road to the grace of God and salvation from sin. That was indeed the doctrine of those true churches – the sacraments do not save sinners. But in my limited understanding of things, I would have preferred to use the term “anti-sacramentarian.” He used a German word translated “sacramentarian” so, as they say, I may have missed something in the translation.

Until next week, let’s consider one more term of reproach thrown against the Anabaptists – “Winckler.”

Verduin says the meaning of the German word is “people who gather in the corner or some secluded place.” The Wincklers gathered in “winckelpredigtens” winckel-preachings. Implicit in the word is the idea of illicit, clandestine, unauthorized meetings – conventicles. A “conventicle” is a secret or unlawful religious meeting, typically of people with nonconformist views. In England during the 16th century a similar word was “hedge.” A hedge at first meant a fence-row, but over time it came to mean “illicit” or “unauthorized.” A “hedge priest” in medieval England was man who secretly immersed believers or who preached the gospel without a licence. I am told that the Dutch had a similar word with a similar meaning – “haag.” “Hagepreken” was hedge-reaching – preaching without a licence from the civil authorities.

You might remember me mentioning that the Albigenses and others were accused of not believing in marriage. The state church accused the Waldenses of gross immorality by encouraging people to live together and have families without the benefit of marriage. Of course, the accusations were ungodly lies, created to drive a wedge between the common Catholic and the true believers. The fact was, the civil authorities passed out marriage licences under the authority of whatever church was in charge at the time. Our brethren did not believe that either the state or the fallen religion had such authority. The Cathari churches believed in godly morality more strongly than their neighbors, but they didn’t have civil authority to wed people. And thus they were Wincklers.

Remember that in the pre-Christian world, society was an homogenous unit. Religion, education, government, entertainment – everything was linked together. People didn’t elect the emperor, they worshiped him as some sort of God, and they bought their beef steak from vendors who had slaughtered their cattle in his name. Then along came the first churches, gathering without permission from the Sanhedrin, Rome or any earthly authority. Sometimes they met in secret for fear of their lives, and at other times they were open about it. But in both cases their meetings were illegal, because they were not approved. They were Wincklers. And soon they came under the fire of various governments – they were persecuted and killed. Sometimes the Jews led the charge, and then at other times it was heathen Rome.

But then there was a world-shaking, cataclysmic shift. Constantine chose to incorporate falling Christianity into his heathen government and society. While some early churches and some ill-informed Christians rejoiced, others did not. Quickly, the Montanists, Donatists, Paulicians and Novatians, pulled back and continued to meet what became unauthorized conventicles. Rome and the civil governments related to her began to persecute the faithful brethren – millions died.

And then came the Reformation, wresting some authority away from Rome, overtaking some of the European nations. But the Reformation was nothing more than a new form of the old homogenous society. Every church in Lucerne, Germany, this country or that, had to agree with the Reformer in charge. And those godly churches which refused to place themselves under the Reformed authority became illicit. They were Wincklers.

Apparently the term itself began in Germany during the Reformation. And perhaps “Winckler” wasn’t used as such in England, France or the Netherlands, but the legal status of our Anabaptist brethren, was not generally give in those other countries. The name wasn’t applied as much in the 17th and 18th centuries, but the conditions continued. And even as people with their various religions crossed the Atlantic, the illegitimacy of God’s true churches continued here. Baptists were banned and persecuted in Massachusetts, Virginia, South Carolina, Connecticut and elsewhere. We have been Wincklers from the beginning of Christendom, from the beginning of the Reformation, and from the beginning of the United States of America. Furthermore, there is a sense in which we continue to be. The day is coming, when once again it will be illegal to believe and practice the Bible in any literal way. The day is coming, and now is in many countries when churches must be registered and approved by civil and religious courts before they can serve God. That is the law in Canada, but there are Wincklers who refuse to obey. Isn’t this what Brother Parrow was talking about in regard to his former mission in the Canary Islands? Isn’t this precisely what Brother Mocholav is talking about in Russia?

I guarantee, based upon the promise of God, that Winckler churches, like ours, will continue in the world until Jesus comes again. The FBI, IRS, CIA, NBC and DHS may know about Calvary Baptist Church. But we are registered with no governmental agency. We refuse to seek man’s approval to serve the King of kings. Calvary Baptist Church is a “Winckler” congregation. We may not use that word, because the world, even the Christian world, doesn’t understand it. But if in order to serve God we must be considered illicit or unauthorized, we will be satisfied with the authority of the Lord Jesus Christ.