Altar Call – Opelika-Auburn News
October 27, 2013
One of 131 Christians everyone should know
This week I picked up a book I had not read. It is not a new book; it was published in 2000. The title interested me – 131 Christians Everyone Should Know. The book was authored by the editors of Christian History magazine with a foreword by respected Christian writer J. I. Packer.
Packer fueled my desire to read the book with this tribute: “There is not a dull line in this book.” He insists that the well-chosen 131 characters “come vividly to life, as our brothers and sisters in Christ; and learning the lesson of their careers is as pleasant a task as chewing candy.”
I wondered how many of the 131 I knew something about. My guess was right. I did recognize many of the names – Polycarp, George Fox, David Livingstone, Isaac Watts, Augustine, Martin Luther, John Calvin, Bach, Handel, C.S. Lewis, John Bunyan and others you would expect to find in such a list.
Methodists would not be surprised that the book includes John Wesley, Charles Wesley, George Whitefield, and Richard Allen. Billy Graham is one of the few living Christians included.
It was a delight to find that my old friend Bernard of Clairvaux was in the book. Years ago in reading about the mystics of the medieval age I came across a question Bernard had pinned above the door leading into his study: “Bernard, why are you here?” The obvious intent of the question was to boldly remind himself to focus on the reason for his existence.
I liked Bernard’s idea so much that I pinned the same question above the door to my study: “Walter, why are you here?” I kept it there for a long time – until one day a mischievous friend scribbled a note beneath it which read, “Everybody has got to be some place.”
My friend’s clever note motivated me to move the question inside my study but still above the door. This morning I wrote the question out and put it on a wall in my present study. At 81 I still need to confront that question every day.
Who was Bernard? Born in 1090 in France, he became a monk. The Cistercian order thrived under his leadership. Some 170 monasteries were founded by his order during his lifetime.
Had I lived back then, and been invited by Bernard to enter one of his monasteries, I would have said, “No, dear brother; your rules are too strict for me!” Bernard’s disciplinary habits were foolish. Not only did he practice fasting, he thought God could be honored by sleep deprivation. His disciplines severely impaired his health – “he was plagued by anemia, migraines, gastritis, hypertension, and an atrophied sense of taste his whole life.” I need to be more disciplined but not to that extent.
Bernard’s legacy is tainted by his support of the disastrous Crusades against Muslims. He should have stuck to writing on the love of God; he did that eloquently. His book, On Loving God, is considered the finest of his mystical writings.
One of the most influential Christian leaders of his time, Bernard served as an adviser to five popes. His advice ranged from superb to poor. Superbly he advised Pope Eugenius III, one of his former pupils, “You have been entrusted with stewardship over the world, not given possession of it….There is no poison more dangerous for you, no sword more deadly, than the passion to rule.” Yet foolishly be served as the pope’s chief promoter of the Second Crusade.
So much for one of the famous Christians that “everyone should know.” The brief story of Bernard reminds me that all of us are flawed. Each of us should be thankful for the Lord’s mercy – that he accepts us “warts and all.” Reading the stories of famous followers of Christ is helpful. It inspires me to reflect seriously on why I am here and what I need to do to honor the Lord of my life. + + +