“...that I may gain Christ and be found in him...”—Philippians 3:8-9, NIV1984

Monday, October 14, 2013

Christopher Columbus - For Gold or the Glory of God?

Happy Columbus Day! Why or Why not?

Recently I finished the Columbus “half” of a book entitled Columbus and Cortez, Conquerors for Christ by John Eidsmoe. The author’s goal was to provide a more well-rounded account of their voyages. While there was much injustice done through the colonization that resulted from Columbus’ voyages, there is a very significant side of the story that is never told.

A primary reason that Columbus wanted to find another route to the Indies was to spread the gospel. He communicated this frequently in his writings to the king and Queen of Spain, in his personal journal during his voyages, and in his compilation, Book of Prophecies, which was about the gospel spreading to distant lands. Thanks in part to Gutenberg’s printing of the Bible, Columbus’ understanding of God’s heart to bring His Good News to the ends of the earth exceeds that of many Christians today, even though we have more resources on the matter than Columbus could have ever dreamed of. For example, in his Book of Prophecies, Columbus cited Isaiah 60:9 (NASB), among other verses, as his motivation and justification for such a risky endeavor:
Surely the coastlands will wait for Me;
And the ships of Tarshish will come first,
To bring your sons from afar,
Their silver and their gold with them,
For the name of the Lord your God,
And for the Holy One of Israel because He has glorified you.
Columbus understood that God intended for distant lands to know Him, and he believed that he was one of God's instruments for this purpose.

Once Columbus discovered the isles of the Caribbean, King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella sent priests and clerics to aid in the conversion of the natives. Columbus recorded that the Arawak tribe were a peaceful people, but the Caribs were quite the opposite. According to journals of eyewitness accounts, the Caribs were a terror to the Caribbean. They captured other tribes, emasculating the boys to fatten them up for a future meal. They kept the women as concubines and sodomized and ate the men. They depopulated entire islands by this practice. Their beliefs required that they pray to their gods for discernment of whether to murder an ill father, and they, like some other indigenous people groups, sacrificed children in worship.

In an effort to control these natives, Columbus followed the common practice of Christianity of the day which allowed for the enslavement of enemies. To be very clear, I believe this is evil. Yet like many Christians today, we often participate in the sins of a wicked and perverse generation for lack of discernment and biblical understanding. For example, many Christians see nothing wrong with abortion, or at least aren’t willing to take the right to abort away from others. While this does not excuse or justify this tragedy, it helps us to understand that Christians could have legitimately been true Christians and still have participated in or contributed to such evil.

12 October 1492 – Christopher Columbus discovers The Americas for Spain, painting by John Vanderlyn [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.
I agree with Eidsmoe’s spirit towards the accusation that Columbus forced Christianity on the natives: “This is true—and millions of people are in heaven today as a result (p. 140).” The author and I understand that people can’t forcibly be converted. True conversion comes from the sinner’s willful change of heart and mind to faith in Jesus Christ. This happened as the natives were exposed to the truth of who Jesus is and what He accomplished through His death and resurrection. The entire Caribbean was transformed from barbarism to civilization because  Columbus and his men introduced Jesus to savage sinners, like we all would be, without Jesus.

While Columbus and his men were imperfect, and perhaps some even intended evil, I am thankful for Columbus’ heart for the Great Commission. I also view this as a lesson for Christianity on the importance of evaluating our own mission for Christ—whether we are implementing it with great care and faith, holding to the principles of the Bible, or are we being sloppy, largely influenced by the evil that the “Christian” culture inadvertently approves.

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Seeing the Glory of God

Have you ever thought or said, “I am a sinful man?” It seems hard for anyone in our society today to even call anything sin. We live in a world where the idea that “what is right for you is not necessarily right for me,” has invaded even the minds of many church-going Christians. For example, they will say, “I don’t believe in doing that, but I don’t want to take that right away from someone else.” What we need is some real, biblical discernment to understand good and evil. I believe, in the Book of Luke, Chapter 5, we see the beginning of Peter’s transformation from a lowly, smelly fisherman to a god-fearing, discerning, sold out follower of Jesus, simply because he obeyed a seemingly futile request of Jesus (v. 4, NASB), “Put out into the deep water and let down your nets for a catch.”

Petri Fischzug Raffael
Jesus and the miraculous catch of fish, in the Sea of Galilee, by Raphael [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
How did Peter’s transformation happen? I believe it started when Peter replied  (v. 5, NASB), “Master, we worked hard all night and caught nothing, but I will do as You say and let down the nets.”
When we are willing to obey God, we are willing to do things contrary to our sinful nature. We are willing to rationalize, “Even though I want to do this thing instead, God’s ways must be good.” We disobey our own desires and obey God. The more we do this, the more we become sensitive to the good things from God and the evil things in our world and in our own thoughts. We see the glory of God and the depravity of ourselves and our need for God to forgive us. Peter obeyed Jesus, and saw God’s glory and his own depravity and exclaimed (v. 8, NASB), “Go away from me Lord, for I am a sinful man!”

Peter went on to become one of the most significant men in the redemption of the world. His faith and obedience played an immeasurable role in the radical transformation of the known world. If only we all had this kind of response!