Saturday, February 14, 2009

The Manly Religion of John Knox

Once I was talking to a young man about why he didn't want to go to church. He confessed that he felt like going to church would compromise his manhood.

One of the problems with the evangelical church is that it has become so feminized. (See Steve Hayhow's article
Why Men Hate Church: The Feminization of Christianity)

That is why I like John Knox. He was both a Christian and a MANLY MAN.

John Knox was born to Scottish parents sometime between 1510 and 1514, during one of the most tumultuous periods of European history.

At the time, Scotland was in a state of turbulence, being controlled by various competing forcing, including the English, the French and the Roman Catholic Church.

As a young man, Knox decided to enter the Roman Catholic priesthood as a means to pursue an academic career. While serving as a tutor, the young priest became exposed to the writings of great continental reformers such as Luther, Zwingli and Calvin.

Knox soon began to experience the reformation first hand when George Wishart, a fiery Protestant preacher, stayed with the family who employed Knox. Being convinced of the reformation cause, Knox took on the job of Wishart’s personal bodyguard. While Wishart preached, Knox stood guard beside him holding a large two-handed Scottish sword, lest anyone take umbrage with Wishart’s message.

In 1546, Wishart was arrested, strangled and burned at the order of cardinal Beaton, a churchman well known for his immoral lifestyle. Furious over the cruel death of this popular preacher, sixteen Protestant nobles stormed St. Andrews Castle, where Beaton took residence. The Protestants avenged Wishart’s death by brutally murdering the cardinal. With the Protestants still inside the castle, it was immediately put to siege by a fleet of French ships (France, at that time, was a close ally to Scotland since both nations were Roman Catholic).
.
During a brief lull in the siege, Knox visited the castle and was asked to remain on as their preacher. Reluctantly, Knox accepted the post. It was a fateful decision since the castle was soon put under siege again. When the French finally broke through, all the occupants were either imprisoned or sent to be slaves in French galleys. Though Knox had not approved of Beaton’s murder, he was forced to be a galley slave along with all the rest.

Knox languished in the French galleys for nineteen months. Upon his release, Knox spent some time in Northern England as a preacher. He also travelled to London to assist Archbishop Cranmer in revising the Book of Common Prayer. It was during this period of his life that he met and married his first wife, Marjorie.

Being forced to go abroad again in 1553 after Mary Tudor (known pejoratively as ‘Bloody Mary’) ascended the English throne, Knox travelled to Geneva Switzerland, the home of John Calvin. Under the influence of Calvin, Geneva had become a hotbed of the Protestant reformation. \
.
Knox immensely enjoyed his days in Geneva, where he preached to various other English exiles who had fled there. He preached just down the road from John Calvin, who had a great admiration for the fiery Scottish preacher.
While in Geneva, Knox wrote tracks attacking Mary Tudor, who was vigorously persecuting Protestants back in England. He also published The First Blast of the Trumpet Against the Monstrous Regiment of Women, a diatribe aimed against female rulers in general and Mary Queen of Scots in particular. Calvin counseled Knox not to publish tract, pointing to the Biblical example of Deborah as a godly female ruler. Always sure of his own mind, Knox decided to ignore Calvin’s advice and press ahead - a decision that would later come back to haunt him.

Knox did, however, return to Scotland to assist with its transformation into a Protestant nation. Knox was asked to help write the prayer books and catechisms for the Scottish Presbyterian Church, known as the Church of Scotland. It was also during this period that Knox's wife, Marjorie, died in December 1560, leaving Knox to care for their two young boys.
.
Mary Tudor died in 1558, the same year that The First Blast of the Trumpet was published. She was succeeded by her half-sister, the Protestant Elizabeth. Though Knox could have had an ally in Elizabeth, he had inadvertently alienated himself from her through The First Blast of the Trumpet. Consequently, Knox was unable to help with the reformation in England. However, he was able to assist in Scotland’s transformation into a Protestant nation, taking a leading role in writing the prayer book and catechism for the Scottish Presbyterian Church (known also as the Kirk of Scotland).

In December 1560, Knox's wife, Marjorie, died, leaving Knox to care for their two young boys alone.

The reformation in Scotland was not without its challenges. Knox frequently found himself at logger-heads with Mary Queen of Scots, who ruled Scotland unsuccessfully during the 1560s. Mary was once known to have remarked about Knox’s imprecatory prayers: “I fear these prayers more than all the assembled armies of Europe.” (An imprecatory prayer is one in which the supplicant calls down curses from heaven on false religion.) Mary had good reason to fear Knox's imprecatory prayers, which may have contributed to the lack of Scottish support for a Catholic monarch.

When he was fifty, Knox married again, this time to a sixteen-year old distant relative of Mary Queen of Scots. Little is known about their marriage, other than that they had three daughters, Martha, Margaret, and Elizabeth.

Though Knox was not always particularly nice, his life stands as a stalwart testimony that believing in Christ is not simply a personal, private affair. For Knox, Christ’s Lordship applied as much to entire nations as to individuals. Once, he was overheard praying in a church garden, saying, with great agony of spirit, “Great God, give me Scotland, or I die.”

God answered that prayer, for during Knox’s own lifetime, Scotland was transformed from one of the most sinful and superstitious nations in all of Europe to one of the most godly and righteous nations. The legacy of Scotland’s Christianity was international in its impact. In the 18th century, thousands of Scottish Presbyterians immigrated to America, bringing their faith with them and forming an integral part of America’s Christian heritage.

Knox was responsible for instituting many social reforms. One of these was helping to develop a universal education in Scotland so that everyone would be able to read the Bible for themselves.
Believing that “a man with God is always in the majority”, Knox was unafraid to oppose the powers that be, in addition to naming and shaming specific rulers whom he believed had departed from Biblical precepts.

Though he was thundering and dogmatic, he was never slip shod in his logic. Macgregor says:
.
"Listening to Knox was a little like listening to the evidence at a murder trial. At times you wearied of the long drawn-out evidence for a conclusion you might have reached already. But you admired the way he reached it and, above all, the process had all the fascination of a modern detective novel." (The Thundering Scot, p. 55)

Considering the manifold accomplishments of John Knox, it is strange that there is no monument to mark the spot where he is buried. He is burried underneath parking space number 23 in the parking lot of St Giles’ Cathedral in Edinburgh.

Knox was not perfect by any means. He is partly responsible for the suspicion of ritual and formality within many Presbyterian churches which has led to a type of evangelical gnosticism and anti-liturgicalism (he refused to be made an Anglican bishop because of a dispute over kneeling). He was not a great theologian nor an eloquent writer. He lacked tact and could adopt a bullying posture towards those with whom he disagreed. Occasionally he even bears the hallmarks of a fanatic.
.
Even so, John Knox represents the sort of men we need today in our age of fence-sitting and tolerance. In short, he life shows us that being a Christian and being manly are not antithetic.
.
.
To join my mailing list, send a blank email to phillips7440 (at sign) roadrunner.com with “Blog Me” in the subject heading.
Post a Comment

Buy Essential Oils at Discounted Prices!