Wednesday, 23 August 2017

A Safe Stronghold Our God Is Still

Five centuries on, Martin Luther should be feted as hero of liberty and free speech: Peter Stanford of the Guardian

Luther became one of my great heroes since I read the hymn, 'A safe stronghold our God is still a trusty shield and weapon', when I was fifteen and newly converted to the Christian faith. It was a tremendous help to me at that time and forewarned me that the spiritual life is a battle! At eighteen at Sullivan Upper School in Holywood I remember reading in the library one of the great biographies of the man, 'Here I Stand' by Roland Baiton. I felt very like Luther at the time - I was spiritually depressed and thought I would never get out of it, despite knowing Luther would- fortunately I eventually got out of it as well!. 

I would argue that there are many takes on Luther. I personally like him because I see him as a man of clay, but also much more than that, he was a man who had a great spiritual passion and was prepared to take on the role as leader of the great Reformation of the Christian Church -despite all his many enemies. 

I hope you enjoy the following essay by Peter Sanford. Andrew K

In the English version of the Reformation, Martin Luther’s role amounts to little more than noises off. First, he attracted the hostility of Henry VIII, aided and abetted by Thomas More, as they flung barbs at “this venomous serpent” challenging the Catholic church’s stranglehold over Europe. Then, just over a decade later, the king exploited the breach in Rome’s defences that Luther had created to launch a national church.
But Henry was always keen to stress that he was no Lutheran, and the German reformer’s new take on Christianity did not survive intact when crossing the Channel. So the celebrations this year of the 500th anniversary of Luther issuing his 95 theses – the key text in his onslaught against the pope’s abuse of power and scripture – is set to largely pass us by.
The “joint fest for Jesus Christ”, organised by the Lutheran World Federation and the Vatican, is a remarkable act of togetherness after half a millennium of enmity and bloodshed. It will be getting into gear this Easter across continental Europe, but there is no party happening here. Which is mighty unfair on Luther.
When the new Protestantism – a word invented by Luther’s enemies at the Diet of Speyer in 1529 – did arrive on these shores once Henry had shut out Rome, it might not have been specifically Lutheran, but it would not have existed at all had it not been for Luther. Once he had argued that you could worship God by following the scriptures not the pope, others such as Zwingli and Calvin followed in his wake, setting up their own churches as Protestantism quickly fragmented.

We live today in secular, sceptical, scientific times, when religion itself is regularly branded irrelevant. So Luther, if considered at all, tends to be dismissed as dour, distant and two-dimensional, better suited to the dusty pages of history books than the 21st century. So much so that he is often confused with Martin Luther King, whose continuing importance is much more readily understood.
Yet as one of the makers of modern Europe, and a populist who rose to prominence on a wave of anti-establishment discontent among those who felt themselves shut out and forgotten (sound familiar?), his story has never had a more immediate resonance.
In his native Germany, at least, they still appreciate that. Some 30% of the population remains Lutheran, including the chancellor, Angela Merkel, daughter of a Lutheran pastor. Recently a Playmobil model of the Augustinian friar, clutching his quill pen and Bible, became the fastest-selling toy its makers have ever put on the market there, with 34,000 sold during its first 72 hours on the shelf.
A case of celebrating a local hero? That is part of it, but it is too narrow. Luther’s contemporary relevance for all of us lies in understanding how and why an obscure monk from a backwoods university, light years away from the corridors of power in Renaissance Rome, orchestrated a revolution so powerful that it brought a hitherto all-powerful Catholicism to its knees.
It certainly was not down to the originality of his theological arguments. Not a single one was new. All had been aired before, some by saints, many by those branded heretics by Rome for their trouble, their lives snuffed out on pyres in public squares as casually as the candles on its gilded altars.
What Luther did in the 95 theses – which, incidentally, were sent to his local archbishop, not nailed to a door, a fanciful exaggeration put about by his followers after his death – was to tap into a deep vein of alienation among the poor in a fragmented Germany. They were disillusioned not only with the excesses and corruption of their pope and church, but also with their own local rulers in the jigsaw of states that made up their country.
Luther struck a chord with a congregation that felt exploited and ignored: on the one hand, fleeced to pay for lavish basilicas in Rome by the sale of worthless pieces of parchment known as indulgences that “guaranteed” a berth in heaven for loved ones (or themselves); and on the other, in the secular world, seeing the age-old ways on which their livelihoods depended overturned by the rise of a money economy.
The 95 theses – and much of what Luther subsequently said in public as his message spread across the continent, right up to his excommunication in 1521 – were the work of a classic disrupter who, in today’s terms, wanted to drain the “Vatican swamp”.

Those in the pews no longer had to rely on the word of priests and bishops instead of the word of God. He realised the force of appealing over the head of “experts” long before Michael Gove hit upon it in the Brexit push.
And in working with the owners of newfangled printing presses, he was among the first to spot the potential of what was the social media of its day as an alternative means of spreading his new anti-establishment gospel. Pamphlets of edited versions of his tracts spread like ripples through Germany, then Europe, Rome and even England. In an age of widespread illiteracy, he made sure he engaged those who could not read by including illustrations, using crude, often satirical woodcuts from the studio of his close friend and fellow Wittenberger, Lucas Cranach the Elder.
So when he stood before the Holy Roman Emperor and the princes and prelates of Germany at the Diet of Worms in 1521, defending his writings on pain of death, Luther had crowds outside on the streets rallying to his defence, stirred up by leaflets and posters saturating the town.
Much as they wanted to be rid of “this petty monk”, as pope Adrian VI labelled him, the establishment could not hand him over to his fate for fear of igniting an uprising. So Luther, unlike those earlier would-be reformers, lived to put his theories into practice.
All those who court popular support, though, inevitably one day lose it. For Luther, that moment came in 1525, when the long-brewing unhappiness among Germany’s poor boiled over in the Peasants’ War. Luther was forced to choose sides, and threw his lot in with thode princes who had embraced his Protestantism (and with some who hadn’t).
This was not a matter of self-preservation. His doctrine of the “two kingdoms” – leaving to the state earthly matters, and to the church those spiritual pursuits that were Luther’s lifeblood – was sincerely held, but his application of it was taken as a cruel betrayal by many among the rebels who had placed their hopes in him as their saviour.

Yet the consequences of Luther’s rebellion were not confined to a particular period, to Germany, or even to organised religion. His essential message was that, at the end of his or her life, each believer stood naked before God, awaiting eternal judgment, with only the Bible and their faith to protect them. The “good works” that Catholicism encouraged – earning brownie points by going to mass, making pilgrimages, praying to relics and contributing to the church coffers – were irrelevant in salvation.
He was thus challenging the entire late medieval way of doing things and the result was strikingly modern. For Luther championed conscience, informed by reading the scriptures, over the dictates of church rules and regulations. Read scripture and make your own mind up. This, in its turn, opened the door in the 17th and 18th centuries to Enlightenment notions of human liberty, free speech and even human rights, all of which today shape Europe. Our ability to read the word of God and reject it out of hand comes from Luther – an outcome he could not have foreseen and which would surely horrify him.
But if that sounds too abstract, there is one final aspect of Martin Luther that gives him a relevance and a three-dimensional appeal. For sheer, selfless courage, he is impossible to outdo. He may now be recalled, if at all, as a jowly friar from history, but for a thousand years before Luther came along, the Catholic church had been one of the great powers on earth, so powerful it even fixed the calendar the world still uses, taking as its pivot the birth of Jesus Christ. Until Martin Luther.
He had the courage to take on a monolithic church, in the full expectation that it would cost him his life, but he did it nonetheless, confronting the might of the first truly universal religion, in person and often alone, with an extraordinary passion, intensity and energy. And, most remarkable of all, not only did Luther survive, he triumphed, and we are all better off because of him.
What’s not to celebrate?
Martin Luther: Catholic Dissident by Peter Stanford is published by Hodder & Stoughton at £20.


The papacy ‘If the Pope would throw away his crown and step down from his Roman throne and renounce infallibility, then we would accept him into the Church. Otherwise he will always remain the Antichrist.’
God ‘I was thrown into battle over the gospel by God without knowing it was happening. He simply blinded me, the way one puts blinders on a horse, when one wants it to stay on the path.’
Liberty ‘I want to believe freely and to be slave to the authority of no one. I will confidently confess what appears to me to be true, whether it has been asserted by a Catholic or a heretic.’
Conscience ‘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 

Saturday, 29 July 2017

Knowing about other people's faith beliefs is important for Christian people, especially if we hope to engage with them in a meaningful and sensitive Christlike manner.In this short essay, Dr Chandler, himself a former Buddhist, presents us with an introduction to Buddhism and how Christians might best approach individual Buddhists with regard to being a good witness. AK.
'Interfaith Interface with Buddhists' by Dr H. Chandler
Buddhism runs deep in my family’s religious history. My father was born in a Buddhist family, my mother was born in a Buddhist family. In fact, both of my parents’ families’ ancestors were Buddhists for generations. One of my ancestors on my father’s side was Samyongdang, a well-known sixteenth-century Buddhist monk in Korean history. When I was born, my parents were not Christian; they became Christ-followers in the 1970s (and I in 1982). During my childhood in South Korea, I sometimes went on school field trips to various religious sites such as Buddhist temples. Seeing Buddhist monks in gray robes on the streets of Seoul was a common sight.

For the goal of mutual understanding and enrichment, and
also for the sake of evangelism, we need to listen to and
learn from the teachings of Buddhism.
For over a millennium, Korea has been a multi-religious nation, teeming with world religions such as Shamanism, Buddhism, Confucianism, and Christianity. Currently, about one-third of the Korean population is Christian and one-third Buddhist. Christians’ interfaith interface with followers of other religions is both a challenge and an opportunity for Christians in Korea. Likewise, in North America, Europe, and other continents, world religions endeavor for their survival and expansion in the twenty-first century. Interfaith interface is one of the most challenging themes in global Christian movements.
As Lesslie Newbigin explains, one reason for Christians’ need to engage in interfaith interaction is to be “obedient to [the missionary] call of Christ.”1 To Michael Barnes, “the motivation for mission” is “responding to the gift of God’s love” by sharing it with others.2 Stephen Neill also echoes the same sentiment:” If we affirm that Christianity is true…we are faced by the painful issue of the intolerance of truth” [by not sharing the gospel with others].3
Attitudes do matter when one engages in inter-religious interaction with people of different faiths. John Stott lists four “marks” of attitude needed in interfaith interface: authenticity, humility, integrity, and sensitivity.4 I strongly concur with Newbigin’s claim that until one has felt in one’s soul the dynamic power and influence of a great religion, one has not heard or understood the message of it.5
Thus, for the goal of mutual understanding and enrichment, and also for the sake of evangelism, we need to take time to listen to and learn from the teachings of Buddhism.
The Buddha’s Life
Buddha was born around 560 B.C. in Kapilavastu, a borderland squeezed between India and Nepal. Buddha is not a proper name, but a title of honor meaning “the enlightened one.” His personal name was Siddhartha Gotama. Siddhartha was a prince of a small Indian kingdom. His mother, Maya, died immediately after giving birth to him. A famous fortune-teller told his father that Siddhartha would either unite all the Indian states or become a humanity-saving saint.
As a ruler, the father rather wanted his son to succeed him. However, after seeing the disabled, the sick, the dead, and a yogi, the prince left the palace, leaving behind his noble status, his wealth, his beautiful wife, and his newborn son, Rahula.
The Buddha painfully experienced that life itself is suffering. He desperately searched for means to stop suffering. He became a wandering ascetic in a forest for six years. One day he realized that extreme asceticism does not liberate one from life’s pains and sorrows, but extreme hunger actually distracted his mind. Thus, he abandoned ascetic practices and advocated that one should avoid extremes in life, for the true way to liberation lies in the middle way—between hedonism and asceticism. Even today, the middle way (moderation) is a key virtue in Buddhism.
Under a Bodhi tree, the truth-seeker had an enlightenment experience. Many people came to hear the awakened one’s teachings and became his disciples, forming a community (sangha) of faith. According to Buddhist legend, the Buddha went back to his hometown before his death, and his son also became a Buddhist monk. Pensive and down-to-earth, he cherished silence and solitude as his favorite virtues. He died around 483 B.C.
The Buddha’s Basic Teachings
Suffering was clearly the Buddha’s departure point both for his truth-seeking and his teaching, and relief from suffering was its climax.6 The Buddha taught the Four Noble Truths as the Way to nirvana: self-liberation from the cycle of rebirth, suffering, and ignorance. The Four Noble Truths, the essence of his teachings, concern “the nature and extent of suffering, its origin, its cessation, and the path leading to its cessation.”7
First Noble Truth: Recognize that life is duhkha, generally translated as “suffering.” To the Buddha, being or life in and of itself is always impermanent or incomplete because everything is transitory or constantly changing. Nothing stays the same. The impermanence or incompleteness of existence is duhkha itself. To all creatures, suffering is plentiful and unavoidable.
Second Noble Truth: Perceive that craving for or clinging to things causes present sufferings. This dislocation of one’s intention is called tanha, commonly translated as “desire,” “thirst,” “attachment,” “craving,” or “yearning.” So the aim of religious life for Buddhists is freedom or liberation from all tanha, which causes duhkha.
Third Noble Truth: Know and believe that this suffering ends when one “extinguishes” the flames of wanting or burning desires. Thus, nirvana, which literally means “blowing out,” is sometimes described as the ceasing of craving or extinction of desire. For this stage, the Buddha confidently declares, “…whoever in this world overcomes his selfish cravings, his sorrows fall away from him, like drops of water from a lotus flower.”8
Fourth Noble Truth: Know that desires and sufferings end when one practices the Noble Eightfold Path. The Noble Eightfold Path is a methodological system of therapy and liberation. It introduces the necessary elements of the spiritual yet practical path to self-liberation when one diligently practices the following on a daily basis:
correct view
correct motive
correct speech
correct conduct
correct occupation
correct effort
correct mindfulness
correct contemplation
After the death of the Buddha, the highly philosophical religion flourished in India for about five centuries. Emperor Ashoka of India in the third century B.C. sent out Buddhist missionaries to many countries to spread the teachings of the Buddha. Buddhism gradually began to decline in popularity, for it mainly appealed to a certain group of people in society rather than the masses, who could not follow strict precepts of the Buddha (e.g., do not drink, do not eat meat, etc.). Before it became a minor voice in India, the religion spread to its neighboring countries, and has been expanding around the globe for the past two thousand years.
Two major branches of Buddhism exist in Asia: Theravada and Mahayana. Theravada (“Little Raft”) is strictly ascetic in nature, and has appealed to monks predominantly in these Southeast Asia countries: Sri Lanka, Thailand, Cambodia, and Myanmar (Burma). Mahayana (“Big Raft”) Buddhism emerged about four hundred years after the Buddha’s death. Mahayana Buddhism is less strict in interpreting the Buddhist sutras, and has attracted many lay people and flourished in the Far Eastern countries of China, Japan, and Korea. To treat Buddhism as an Eastern religion is an obsolete view, for Buddhism has been steadily increasing its influence in the West in the last 150 years as well.
It is important to mention here that Buddhism, as in Christianity, has a variety of branches, ranging from non-theistic, iconoclastic Zen Buddhism to pantheistic (pan-Buddhistic, Buddhists would argue) Pure Land Buddhism. Accordingly, their buddhologies (plural, as in theologies) on key doctrines such as karma, nirvana, and enlightenment vary from tradition to tradition.
Interacting with Buddhism
In the current backdrop of postmodern religious pluralism, in which religion A is as valid and true as religion B, Christian-Buddhist interface would be fruitless if focused only upon the religions’ similarities without examining their differences as well. Two major irreconcilable differences between Christianity and Buddhism are (1) the existence of God and (2) Jesus as the historical incarnation of God.9
In today’s academic circles, the debate on whether the Buddha was an agnostic or atheist is still ongoing. He simply preferred not to speak of the Divine, for he firmly believed that speaking about the metaphysical would not relieve anyone from his or her suffering. To him, it did not matter whether God exists or not, since God’s existence is irrelevant to human sufferings.
On the contrary, Christians believe the Judeo-Christian God exists and has names (e.g., the name God gave Moses in the burning bush was “I AM WHO I AM”; Exodus 3:14). Christians maintain that God has also revealed himself to humanity through the Bible and in the person of Jesus. Jesus is the incarnate being, the consummate revelation of God by himself, who came down from heaven to redeem the children of God. In Buddhism, there is no specific mentioning of “beginning” per se, and no sharp-lined separation exists between the Absolute and its creations.
In Judeo-Christianity, there is a distinctive beginning and an end executed in time. The very first verse in the Bible proclaims God as the Creator of the universe: “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth” (Genesis 1:1). The Christian religion teaches that the creator/creature difference exists, and that the distinction is of monumental importance.
Based upon the above items discussed briefly, Christians would do well to refrain from initially striking interfaith dialogue with Buddhists at a supernatural level on Christian theology-based topics. Christian presuppositions of supernatural nature (such as the existence of God and creation) neither attract nor convince the Buddhist mind.
Beginning the Conversation
Instead, I propose we start a conversation with Buddhists at the ground level (since Buddhism is a down-to-earth, existentialistic religion in essence), and that we start moving up (literally and figuratively) from there. In other words, as Kenneth Cragg, the renowned Christian scholar on Islam, suggests, we ought to start from where they start. Since suffering is an issue many Buddhists (if not all) can identify with, it is a good and safe topic to use.
In Buddhism there is a direct link between one’s attitude and elimination of suffering, as emphasized by their Noble Eightfold Path. The Buddhist view of humbleness as emptying oneself is very similar to the incarnational model of Jesus Christ (cf. Philippians 2). Although God himself, Jesus did not demand and cling to his rights as God. The key concept of Jesus’ humility is portrayed well in Philippians 2:3. He “emptied” himself or made himself nothing. Jesus was our Suffering Savior who died for us in our places because of our sins (Isaiah 53). He humbled himself, and became obedient to the point of death on the cross–a Christian aspect Buddhists tremendously admire.
In short, Buddhism is a religion of “self power,” whereas Christianity is a religion of “other power.” In Christian faith, God rejects auto-soterism (salvation by self). When in dialogue with Buddhists, it is imperative to emphasize that there is no power within people that can save them. Salvation by human efforts, however sincere they might be, is a futile attempt that ends in despair and result in eternal damnation. Buddhism may offer temporary relief from suffering, but it does not offer liberation from death, the ultimate test of authentic religion.
Based upon my experiences with Buddhists, the most effective way of reaching them with the gospel is demonstration of Christian love in person, on a long-term basis. Some of my relatives in Korea are devout Buddhists. I had been sharing the message of Jesus with a cousin of mine for a few years. A perennial Buddhist on her (my) mother’s side, my family’s Christian action (forgiveness and love) toward her family in the past had touched her.
When her son (my nephew) came to study at a Christian school in Washington State two-and-a-half years ago, I took care of his needs (spiritual, emotional, and legal) as much as I could. Two years after his arrival, in the fall of 2009, she accepted Jesus, was baptized in a church, and is growing in the knowledge of Christ.
Before the baptism, she made sure she removed all her Buddhist amulets, paintings, and artifacts from her house. It was not the Christian message initially, but the prayers and actions of Christian family and friends eventually motivated her and her son to make the decision to leave Buddhism and follow Christ.
According to one survey I did with Korean Buddhists, many Buddhists respected Jesus and his teachings, but they got turned off by Christians’ “arrogant” attitudes and “discrepancies between Christian faith and lifestyles.” Christians’ insensitivity, arrogance, impatience, lack of love, and our lack of grace offend them.10 The common denominator between Christianity and Buddhism is self-giving for the benefit of others, as Jesus did on the cross.11
Both Christians and Buddhists are called to pursue selflessness or self-offering for other humans as a goal and virtue in life. God saves and glorifies through suffering. Let us intentionally step into the broken world to save and encourage suffering humanity, one person at a time, thereby fulfilling the Great Commission and the Great Commandment, honoring God and loving our neighbors.
1. Newbigin, Lesslie. 1978. Open Secret. Grand Rapids, Mich.: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 206.
2. Barnes, Michael. 2002. Theology and the Dialogue of Religions. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 148.
3. Neill, Stephen. 1978. Call to Mission. Philadelphia, Pa.: Fortress Press, 9.
4. Stott, John R.W. 1975. Christian Mission in the Modern World. Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity Press, 77.
5. Newbigin, 1978, 208.
6. Fernando, Antony. 1991. Buddhism and Christianity: Their Inner Affinity. Kelaniya, Sri Lanka: Empire Press, 182.
7. Gowans, Christopher W. 2003. Philosophy of the Buddha: An Introduction. New York: Routledge, 119.
8. Dhammapada, trans. Juan Mascaro. 1973. New York: Penguin Classics, 336.
9. Yandell, Keith and Harold Netland. 2009. Buddhism: A Christian Exploration and Appraisal. Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity Press, 181-212.
10. Im, Chandler H. 2008. “Korean Christians and Won Buddhists in Dialogue on Suffering.” Ph.D. Dissertation. Pasadena, Calif.: Fuller Theological Seminary, 195-196.
11. Im, 2008, 167-168.
Dr. Chandler H. Im is director of Ethnic Ministries at the Billy Graham Center at Wheaton College. He also serves as director of the Ethnic America Network and is adjunct professor of missions at Faith Evangelical Seminary (Tacoma, Washington, USA).

Saturday, 10 June 2017

Richard Wurmbrand

Romanian pastor who survived the tortures of the gulag by preaching sermons to himself in his underground cell
RICHARD WURMBRAND, who has died aged 91, was a Romanian Lutheran pastor whose determination to spread the word of God led to his being imprisoned for 14 years and tortured by the Communist authorities.
He came to prominence in 1964 when he was ransomed from the Romanian government by a group of Norwegian Christians for $10,000. From then on he campaigned for religious freedom. When the Communists seized power in Romania in 1945, Wurmbrand and his wife, Sabina, set up an underground church which ministered both to the Romanian people and the invading Red Army. In 1948 Wurmbrand disappeared into the gulag and three years later his wife followed.
During his years in jail, Wurmbrand was beaten on his body and and on the soles of his feet, given mind-altering drugs and forced to watch the humiliation of fellow prisoners. Through everything, he refused to recant. For three years he was held in solitary confinement in a cell some 35 ft underground; he kept sane by preaching himself a sermon every night, fixing more than 300 of them in his brain with mnemonics and rhymes. After his release, he published 22 as a book, Sermons in Solitary Confinement (1969).
Only once did he have anyone else to speak to - a prisoner in the next cell to whom he communicated in Morse by tapping on his cell wall and whom he converted to Christianity. Sabina Wurmbrand meanwhile was forced to work as a slave labourer; at one stage, while building a canal, she was reduced to living on grass. After her release in 1954, she was denied work for refusing to divorce her husband. When later informed that he had died in prison, she refused to believe it even when strangers called on her claiming to be former prisoners who had attended his funeral.
After their release from Romania, the Wurmbrands moved to America where Richard Wurmbrand founded the Christian Mission to the Communist World (later renamed Release International), an organisation which highlights religious persecution around the world. His books Tortured for Christ (1966) and In God's Underground (1968) exposed the extent of religious persecution under Communism and became best-sellers.

In May 1966 when Wurmbrand testified in Washington before the Senate's Internal Security Subcommittee, he stripped to the waist to show 18 deep torture wounds covering his body. Richard Wurmbrand was born on March 24 1909 into a Jewish family in Bucharest, Romania. He married Sabina Oster, also Jewish, in 1936 and they became Protestant evangelical Christians under the influence of Isaac Feinstein, who was to perish under the Nazis.

In 1938, their part of Romania became part of the Soviet Union, only to be invaded by German troops in 1940. From then until 1943 most of its large Jewish population was deported, starved or massacred. Though under great threat themselves, the couple brought several Jewish children out of the ghetto and concealed them. When the Soviet Armies occupied Romania in 1945, they surreptitiously distributed literature to the Red Army despite the risk of deportation to Siberia, and carried on interdenominational work.
Wurmbrand was a fiery, almost explosive man who never fought shy of controversy. Although he always spoke about his oppressors with understanding, he was passionate in his belief that "Communism is the greatest crime in humanity" and was highly critical of those who sought dialogue with Communist regimes.
In 1967, on a visit to Britain, he roundly condemned British churches for their lack of interest in the plight of Christians under Communism: "What is happening in China?" he demanded. "All the churches have been desecrated and closed, but nobody protests."
The British churches, he believed, had been compromised by their membership of the World Council of Churches which included members of the officially-approved Russian and Romanian churches. He recalled how, during his incarceration, he had been asked whether he would like to become a bishop - so that he could help to influence the World Council of Churches in "our" favour.
He also attacked organisations such as the British and Foreign Bible Society which believed that the way to advance Christianity behind the Iron Curtain was to conclude agreements for official imports of Bibles. Wurmbrand argued that such an approach would only benefit the official churches and that Bibles should be smuggled to those in the underground churches who were really keeping Christianity alive.
During the 1970s, Wurmbrand became involved in a unedifying dispute with a rival evangelical organisation, Underground Evangelism, one of whose star preachers, a young emigre from the Soviet Union had been found dead, apparently from suicide. Wurmbrand's allegation that the young man had been exploited ended up as a libel case in the Californian courts, but was later abandoned.
After the execution of Romania's Communist President Nicolae Ceaucescu in 1989, the Wurmbrands returned to Romania where they were welcomed as heroes. Richard Wurmbrand's wife Sabina died in August last year; they are survived by a son.

Wednesday, 29 March 2017


This afternoon I met Mr Rowland Todd, an elderly, ninety five year old gentleman, from the Shankill Road, giving out Christian booklets in High Street, Holywood. The booklet he gave me was: 'Heaven- Home of many Mansions' , written by another Belfast man, the late Ernest Allen- an evangelist I had met over thirty years ago. Today I was privileged to hear a little of Mr Todd's story. He described to me how, at the tender age of fourteen, he had been arrested and sent to Borstal for three years, then on his release in 1940, he immediately joined up to fight for king and country in the Second World War. When the war ended he got married and in 1952 he gave his life to the Lord shortly after seeing the text on a Brethren church notice board, which read: 'Prepare to meet your God'. He told me that when he saw it, he said to himself: I survived the war and now God is going to take me. With the help of his wife he asked God to save his soul and make him a follower of Christ. Later he went on to become a Pentecostal pastor on the Shankill Road in Belfast. Though retired from being a Pastor many years ago,at ninety five years old, he still tramps the streets giving out tracts and proclaiming the love of Christ to lost sinners. I salute such a man who, to use his own words, would consider himself a deserter if he were to stop going out into the highways and byways. In our short conversation he often referred to the Lord as the Captain of his salvation.The testimony of this old Christian soldier reminded me of the hymn of Charles Wesley which very obviously typifies his life.
1.A charge to keep I have,
A God to glorify,
A never-dying soul to save,
And fit it for the sky.
2.To serve the present age,
My calling to fulfill:
Oh, may it all my powers engage
To do my Master’s will!
3.Arm me with jealous care,
As in Thy sight to live;
And O Thy servant, Lord, prepare
A strict account to give!
4.Help me to watch and pray,
And on Thyself rely,
Assured, if I my trust betray,
I shall forever die.

Tuesday, 21 March 2017


I bind unto myself today
The strong Name of the Trinity,
By invocation of the same,
The Three in One and One in Three.
I bind this day to me for ever.
By power of faith, Christ's incarnation;
His baptism in the Jordan river;
His death on Cross for my salvation;
His bursting from the spic├Ęd tomb;
His riding up the heavenly way;
His coming at the day of doom;
I bind unto myself today.

I bind unto myself the power
Of the great love of the cherubim;
The sweet 'well done' in judgment hour,
The service of the seraphim,
Confessors' faith, Apostles' word,
The Patriarchs' prayers, the Prophets' scrolls,
All good deeds done unto the Lord,
And purity of virgin souls.

I bind unto myself today
The virtues of the starlit heaven,
The glorious sun's life-giving ray,
The whiteness of the moon at even,
The flashing of the lightning free,
The whirling wind's tempestuous shocks,
The stable earth, the deep salt sea,
Around the old eternal rocks.

I bind unto myself today
The power of God to hold and lead,
His eye to watch, His might to stay,
His ear to hearken to my need.
The wisdom of my God to teach,
His hand to guide, His shield to ward,
The word of God to give me speech,
His heavenly host to be my guard.

Against the demon snares of sin,
The vice that gives temptation force,
The natural lusts that war within,
The hostile men that mar my course;
Or few or many, far or nigh,
In every place and in all hours,
Against their fierce hostility,
I bind to me these holy powers.

Against all Satan's spells and wiles,
Against false words of heresy,
Against the knowledge that defiles,
Against the heart's idolatry,
Against the wizard's evil craft,
Against the death wound and the burning,
The choking wave and the poisoned shaft,
Protect me, Christ, till Thy returning.

Christ be with me, Christ within me,
Christ behind me, Christ before me,
Christ beside me, Christ to win me,
Christ to comfort and restore me.
Christ beneath me, Christ above me,
Christ in quiet, Christ in danger,
Christ in hearts of all that love me,
Christ in mouth of friend and stranger.

I bind unto myself the Name,
The strong Name of the Trinity;
By invocation of the same.
The Three in One, and One in Three,
Of Whom all nature hath creation,
Eternal Father, Spirit, Word:
Praise to the Lord of my salvation,
Salvation is of Christ the Lord.

Sunday, 19 February 2017

Frank Laubach’s Inner Journey by Nakin Lenti

Frank Laubach (1884-1970) was a Christian mystic who believed that practicing the presence of God would do more good for humanity than political sand diplomatic schemes devoid of God.
Laubach devised a remarkably effective adult literacy program known as, “Each One Teach One.” However, his primary aims were always spiritual — to live his life in a moment to moment relationship with God, and to inspire others to do the same.

“A university man’s religion”

Swami Kriyananda tells us that there was nothing in Laubach’s religious training to suggest that an inner world of divine realization existed. Kriyananda writes that “it was divinely natural and right for him, in the context of his own spiritual development, to turn his perceptions outward.”
Laubach’s own words support Kriyananda’s perception. Writing about his life before 1930, he describes himself as having a “the university man’s religion:”
I believed that Jesus was probably the best man who had ever lived. But that memory of Jesus lacked power.
Then I had a personal experience of Christ in Mindanao, Philippine Islands, which left me sure that he not only lives, but lives in my heart. When he entered my heart, he brought to me a tender compassion for the multitudes which has been the driving power of my life ever since.
Laubach grew up in Pennsylvania, in a fundamentalist Christian environment, the son of a prosperous dentist. His interest in religion began at a young age and by early adolescence, he had discovered, in the town library, The Imitation of Christ by Thomas a Kempis, a devotional classic on prayer and contemplation.
At age 16, Laubach decided to make the ministry his life’s work. He graduated from Union Theological Seminary in New York City in 1913, and received a PhD from Columbia University in 1915. It was during his seminary years that he became acquainted with Brother Lawrence’s book, The Practice of the Presence of God.

A long standing ambition

After being ordained a minister of the Congregational Church, Laubach felt a calling for missionary work and volunteered to serve in the Philippines. He intended to work with the Moros (Moslems) on the southern coast of the island of Mindanao, one of the few areas that had not been Christianized.
However, within a few weeks of arriving in the Moro city of Dansalan in the province of Lanao, Laubach and his wife were forced to leave. The United States Army, which controlled the area, considered the Moros much too hostile to Christians.
The Laubachs settled on the northwest coast of Mindanao where they did missionary work. In 1922 they moved to Manila where Frank Laubach served as a pastor of an interdenominational church and helped establish Union Theological Seminary. But his longstanding ambition was to bring Christianity to the Moros.

An atmosphere of tension and suspicion

After fifteen years, hostilities among the Moros subsided and Laubach immediately made plans to return to Lanao. For the time being, his wife and family were to remain in Manila.
Unsuspectingly, Laubach walked into an atmosphere of tension and suspicion. Some of the Filipino Christian teachers who had previously come to Dansalan had violated local customs. Several of the teachers were killed and at least fifty of their schools burned down.
Laubach encountered hostility and indifference everywhere he went. After a month, he had to acknowledge to himself that he was beaten.

God speaks to him

Laubach was not only discouraged over his inability to win over the Moros. He was also profoundly dissatisfied with his spiritual life. Recalling the books by Thomas a Kempis and Brother Lawrence he had read years before, he realized that he was still not living his days “in a minute by minute effort to follow God’s will.”
Determined to keep the constant presence of God, he prayed with renewed fervor and asked, “What, Father, do you desire done? What, Father, do you desire done this minute?”
Each evening at sunset he climbed Signal Hill, a twenty-minute walk from his house. There, overlooking the lakes, mountains and the distant sea, he often prayed aloud and listened with all his soul for an answer. One evening, in the depths of despair, his lips began to move; it seemed that God was speaking to him through his own voice.
“My child,” the voice said, “you have failed because you do not really love these Moros. You feel superior to them because you are white. If you can forget you are an American, and think only how I love them, they will respond.”
Laubach answered, “It is the truth, God. Drive me out of myself. Come and take possession of me and think Thy thoughts in my mind.”
And the voice said again through his own lips, “If you want the Moros to be fair to your religion, be fair to theirs. Study the Koran with them.”

Learning from the Moro priests

The next day Laubach went to the Moro priests and told them that he wanted to study the Koran. They responded eagerly, thinking he wanted to become a Moslem.
They brought with them a list of the four holy books of Islam — the Torah (the laws of Moses); the Zabur (the Psalms of David); the Kitab Injil (the gospel of Jesus Christ); and the Koran of Mohammed. *
Laubach explained as well as he could in their language, “From childhood I have studied the first three books on your list.” Partly in English, partly in the Moro tongue, the priests talked of Jesus as the holiest prophet after Mohammed.
Having finally established a bridge with the Moros, Laubach was now ready to tackle the problem of illiteracy, which to him was an essential first step before talking to them of religion. His first project was to create a dictionary of  “Maranaw,” the Moro language. A printing press and a building for a school soon followed.
The Moro priests and a group of young Moros often expressed their gratitude: “You are the first who has ever tried to appreciate us,” they insisted.

Meeting God face to face

Not only was Laubach’s work showing outward results, his spiritual experiment was also bearing fruit. He wrote: “Now I like God’s presence so much that when He slips out of my mind — as He does many times a day — I feel as though I had deserted Him and lost something very precious in my life.”
In letters to friends and relatives, Laubach shared his inner experiences:
How infinitely richer this direct first hand grasping of God is, than the old method which I used and recommended for years: the reading of endless devotional books. Almost it seems to me now that the very Bible cannot be read as a substitute for meeting God soul to soul and face to face….
I have tasted a thrill in fellowship with God…. This afternoon the possession of God has caught me up with such sheer joy that I thought I never had known anything like it. God was so close and so amazingly lovely that I felt like melting all over with a strange and blissful contentment.

The birth of “Each One Teach One”

The reading campaign was a great success. When the depression of the 1930s and lack of funds threatened to cripple the work, Laubach arrived at the “Each One Teach One” concept — a revolutionary idea, whereby everyone who knew how to read must teach someone else.
This concept became the cornerstone of Laubach’s adult literacy program, and the foundation for teaching adult literacy on a mass basis, using volunteer teachers. His new teaching method soon spread throughout much of Asia, Africa, Latin America and the Middle East.
In spite of years of intense travel and activity, Laubach continued his “game with minutes” in which he challenged himself to think of God at least once each minute. Having disciplined himself to rise at 3 or 4 a.m., he wrote, prayed and meditated during the early morning hours, and recorded in his diary his daily struggle towards spiritual perfection.
In the mid-1930s he wrote a booklet, The Game with Minutes, designed to show others how to practice the presence of God.

The secret “interview room”

Many years later Laubach had a vision of God and Jesus together in a long room. Jesus spoke to him, saying it was time for him to take “a long stride toward becoming a full-grown son of God.” Jesus explained:
Your game with the minutes was in the right direction, but tonight you are going beyond that game into the game with moments. One of your songs which best express the goal for you is:
Moment by moment
I’m lost in His love.
Moment by moment
I’ve power from above.
Jesus said that from then on, Laubach was to spend each “day and night, with the door wide open into the secret interview room with us.” In an obvious reference to the spiritual eye, Jesus explained that the interview room was “in the front of your head: When you wish to consult us, lift up your eyes a little and there we are, not beyond the stars but just over your own eyes.”

Intense and constant work

As Laubach approached his eightieth birthday, he was asked about the seeming conflict between his trust in God and his habit of intense and constant work. He said:
As far as my faith is concerned, I believe that God is running the universe.  He is going to work out everything. If He doesn’t work it out through one of us, He will work it out through another who is willing. But I must not forget that these things will not come through me unless I work with all my might.
Frank Laubach died June 11, 1970, at the age of 85.
*Muslims do not regard Muhammad as the founder of a new religion, but as the restorer of the original monotheistic faith of Abraham, Moses, Jesus, and other prophets. Most Muslims today believe that the Jewish and Christian scriptures have been corrupted and are not the original divine revelations.
Nakin Lenti, a minister and long-time Ananda member, serves in the Sangha Office at Ananda Village.