An Introduction to a 2 year series of Articles
These were all commended for their faith, yet none of them received what had been promised. God had planned something better for us so that only together with us would they be made perfect. Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith . . . Hebrews 11:39-12:2
I have decided to start 2017 with a very ambitious project. If God blesses my plans, this project will take two years to complete. I want to write an article in this blog on each of the “100 Christians that you should know.”
For a long time I have been worried that we who are Christians living in the United States have very little sense of our roots in the Christian faith. Our knowledge of Scripture itself is poor enough, with few of us able to remember the Ten Commandments or where in the Bible to find the Sermon on the Mount. But our knowledge of the history of our faith is almost nonexistent. Most of us at least feel guilty for not knowing our Bibles better, but we could care less about the more than 1900 years of the existence of Christianity between New Testament times and the present. It is as though we believe God quit loving anyone or dealing with anyone the moment the apostle John died in 95 AD, and God only started being active again after we were born.
The epistle to the Hebrews, however, teaches us how to appreciate the heroes of the faith. We are to fix our gaze squarely on Jesus while we are running the race of this life. The heroes of the faith that have gone before give us mighty examples of how to do this.
For the next two years I propose to present to you a series of articles about remarkable and remarkably average (and sometimes remarkably sinful) people who placed their trust in Jesus Christ and who spiritually changed the world. I have set myself certain parameters in choosing the people I will write about:
1. They must not have appeared in the New Testament (one could come up with a list of nearly 100 spiritually relevant people from the New Testament alone).
2. They must not currently be alive (so Billy Graham, although certainly spiritually very influential will not be covered here).
3. They must be representative of an event, series of events, or schools of thought that made a difference in the way people have come to understand Scripture and the Christian Faith. Being influential is not necessarily the same as being famous. Some of the Christians I will write about were not widely known, while some who were widely known, I have passed over.
4. Because I am writing from the perspective of US Christianity, I am afraid that I have chosen to write about Christians who have been influential in Christianity as we have experienced it here. Someone writing in Korea, Latin America or Africa would undoubtedly have a different list. Nonetheless, I have tried not to be provincial, and only about 15 of the 100 will be Americans.
I don’t want to organize these articles chronologically. Instead, I have isolated twelve great areas of spiritual influence across the centuries. These areas of influence are as follows:
1. The Martyrs—these are the Christians who were killed because of their faithfulness to Jesus Christ, and in dying bore witness to Him (the word “martyr” comes from the greek word for “witness.”). Traditionally, Martyrdom is the greatest service a Christian can perform for the Kingdom of God.
2. The Missionaries—these are the Christians who left their homelands to bear witness to Christ and to God’s Word in other countries and to people speaking languages different from their own.
3. The Evangelists—these Christians have preached the gospel to hundreds, thousands, and sometimes hundreds of thousands of people for the sake of bringing them to a commitment to Jesus Christ. Although their calling exposes them to many temptations of the flesh, the greatest among them have joined charisma and passion to humility for the sake of the redemption of souls and, not infrequently, society itself.
4. The Holy People—throughout the history of Christianity there have been men and women who, while carrying out great tasks, were nonetheless best known for their integrity and holiness. These have called us all to a higher plain of existence. They have shown what it is to live as a new creation.
5. The Reformers—The passion of these Christians has been the church and calling the church to live out its obedience to Jesus Christ. Because the church is reluctant to answer the Reformer’s call, they have often been instruments to call new churches and movements into being. This is not, however, because they desire divisiveness, but because they want to present the Church to Christ as a pure bride.
6. The Activists—These are similar to the Reformers, but their passion is the love that God has for society in general. These Christians have prayed “Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done on earth as it is in Heaven” and have then worked to make their prayer a reality.
7. The Preachers—I differentiate the preachers from the evangelists by observing that the preachers have also been pastors. Their job in preaching has not only been to call people to a commitment to Jesus Christ, but to sustain them in that commitment.
8. The Rulers—Ever since Joseph and Daniel in the Old Testament, God has called some believers to occupy positions of great authority and power in the world. These Christians face perhaps the greatest temptations of any of us, particularly the temptation to confuse their own political, military, and diplomatic agendas with the will of God. As we shall see, their legacies can be a mixed bag of good and evil, but their influence on Christianity has been very great.
9. The Apologists—If many of the rulers have defended their faith with political and military power, the Apologists have defended Christianity by the force of their arguments and reasoning. The best ones have done this in language that everybody could understand, and for this reason they are to be classified separately (and before) from scholars and theologians.
10. The Theologians—These are the Christians who through their writings have led the church to think carefully and deeply about the faith, about God, and about the Scriptures.
11. The Scholars—Christians are committed to the pursuit of truth wherever it may be found. Where the theologians do their work chiefly for the church, Christian historians, philosophers and scientists seek out truth for the world.
12. The Artists—God is not only present in the search for truth. God is also present in the search for beauty. Christian artists, composers, and writers have sought to give glory to God while offering insights into both earthly and celestial reality.
I hope that you will enjoy meeting each one of the brothers and sisters in the faith. Pray for me as I seek to introduce them to you, that I would present them honestly and sympathetically. More importantly, pray that I may be able to show how they “fixed their eyes on Jesus,” so that we can do the same.