In the first century of our common era, the first martyr gave his life because of his stance for God, Stephen. (Acts 7:54-6) These early disciples of Christ had been given a commission that all Christians are expected to carry out:
Matthew 24:14: “this gospel of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the whole world.”
Matthew 28:19-20: “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations … teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.”
Acts 1:8: “you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.”
Stephen is seized, gives fearless witness, and dies a martyr for daring to bear witness about Christ. James died about 44 C.E. Herod Agrippa I had him executed with the sword. He was the first of the 12 Apostles to die as a martyr. (Ac 12:1-3) The rest of the book of Acts encompasses an unforgettable record of the judgments, imprisonment, and maltreatment, harassment, and downright oppression endured by faithful ones like Peter, and the Apostle Paul, the former persecutor turned apostle, who suffered martyrdom at the hands of Roman Emperor Nero about 65 C.E. – 2 Corinthians 11:23-27; 2 Timothy 4:6-8.
Acts 5:17-18 English Standard Version (ESV)
17 But the high priest rose up, and all who were with him (that is, the party of the Sadducees), and filled with jealousy 18 they arrested the apostles and put them in the public prison.
The Angel of the Lord
Acts 5:19-21 English Standard Version (ESV)
19 But during the night an angel of the Lord opened the prison doors and brought them out, and said, 20 “Go and stand in the temple and speak to the people all the words of this Life.” 21 And when they heard this, they entered the temple at daybreak and began to teach. Now when the high priest came, and those who were with him, they called together the council, all the senate of the people of Israel, and sent to the prison to have them brought.
The Astonishment of the Jailers
Acts 5:22-26 English Standard Version (ESV)
22 But when the officers came, they did not find them in the prison, so they returned and reported, 23 “We found the prison securely locked and the guards standing at the doors, but when we opened them we found no one inside.” 24 Now when the captain of the temple and the chief priests heard these words, they were greatly perplexed about them, wondering what this would come to. 25 And someone came and told them, “Look! The men whom you put in prison are standing in the temple and teaching the people.” 26 Then the captain with the officers went and brought them, but not by force, for they were afraid of being stoned by the people.
The Accusation by the Sanhedrin
Acts 5:27-28 English Standard Version (ESV)
27 And when they had brought them, they set them before the council. And the high priest questioned them, 28 saying, “We strictly charged you not to teach in this name, yet here you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching, and you intend to bring this man’s blood upon us.”
The Answer by the Apostles
Acts 5:29-32 English Standard Version (ESV)
29 But Peter and the apostles answered, “We must obey God rather than men. 30 The God of our fathers raised Jesus, whom you killed by hanging him on a tree. 31 God exalted him at his right hand as Leader and Savior, to give repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins. 32 And we are witnesses to these things, and so is the Holy Spirit, whom God has given to those who obey him.”
Ever since that unforgettable first-century, many have boldly followed in the footsteps of Jesus and those first martyrs. Those first-century Christian martyrs stood their ground against the religious leaders of their day, who did not want to hear the truth, and would execute anyone try to share the good news of the kingdom. (Matthew 23:13) This appendix is featuring just such a person, one who stood in the face of a very powerful religious system and refused to back down. John Hus (1371-1415) used those very same words of the Apostle Peter when he was ordered not to preach in his fellow Bohemians. He accepted the supreme authority of God and His Word at a time when virtually everyone else viewed the pope and the church as supreme. How did he come to take this stand?
The mother of John Hus was a widow and a peasant, which means that the family would have struggled for the simple necessities of like, let alone an education. Like Martin Luther, he chose to sing and perform services in churches to earn a living for the family. Initially, his desire to consider being of the clergy was because of their lifestyle that was free from the stresses of the day. As a student at the University of Prague Hus did not distinguish himself, as he was not a brilliant young man by any means. In 1393, he received his Bachelor of Arts, in 1394 Bachelor of Theology, and in 1396 Master of Arts. In around 1400, he was able to become an ordained priest; in 1401, he became dean of the philosophical faculty, and in the following year rector of the university. In addition, in 1402, he was chosen to preach at the Bethlehem Church in Prague, where he preached in the Czech language.
Throughout this period, there was much conflict between the Germans and the Czechs in the university. Hus would become a defender of the Czech cause, all the while his influence was growing because his preaching was becoming all the more powerful. Since 1382, the writings of the English Morning Star of Reformers, John Wycliffe had been pouring into Bohemia, and Hus had been taking them in all through his student days, especially the work On Truth of Holy Scripture, which he obtained in 1407. All the while, there had been a discontent and debate over many mistreatments involving the Roman Catholic Church. While many believe that the Bohemian Reformation only came about because of the stirrings in England, this just is not the case; they ran parallel to each other.
One line of opposition came from Archbishop Zbynek of Prague, who took exception to Hus’ preaching. To get even with Hus, Zbynek publicly burned the writings of Wycliffe in 1410. Another tactic to shut Hus out was to forbid preaching except in recognized churches, which would exclude the Bethlehem Chapel where Hus presided. Well, like any good reformer, Hus chose to disobey the archbishop’s prohibition, stating that he had to “obey God rather than men in things which are necessary for salvation.” Hus chose rather to take his case to the pope but was excommunicated by the archbishop for his efforts. However, Hus did not falter, finding that his better understanding had honed his conscience and made it more sensitive to the Word of God. He clearly stated, “Man may lie, but God lies not,” stressing the Apostle Paul’s words to the Romans. (Romans 3:4) King Wenceslas defended Hus’ reform movement, and eventually, Zbynek took flight out of the country, dying shortly thereafter.
Hostility and opposition were soon Hus’ bedfellow yet again. He condemned a movement against the king of Naples and uncovered the sale of indulgences for it, therefore ruining the priests’ income. Indulgences were letters of pardon issued by the pope for sins, which permitted a person to get relief from temporal punishment for the payment of money. To not bring any problems to the city of Prague, he fled into the country. While in exile, he wrote the work On Simony, which made the folks well aware of the clergy’s love of money, as well as their cohorts the secular authorities, who supported them as they soaked the poor of all they had. As was true of most reformers, in difficult times, they would depend on God’s Word to lead the way, so Hus defended his position with, “Every faithful Christian should be so minded as not to hold anything contrary to the Holy Scriptures.”
Hus shortly thereafter wrote an exposition entitled De Ecclesia (On the Church). Within the paper, he expressed a number of suggestions, one of which was the fact “That Peter never was, and is not, the head of the Church.” Hus had determined from his exposition of Matthew 16:15-18 that it was not Peter, who was the foundation and head of the church; it was Jesus Christ, who filled that position. For Hus, the real authority belongs with the law of Christ, which was found in the Word of God, not man.
The Council of Constance
The rivalry had grown to the point where the Catholic Church could no longer sit by while Hus buried them in publication after publication, exposing their wrongdoing. They sent for him to come and answer for his views before the Council of Constance, held from 1414 to 1418 near Lake Constance. On December 4, 1414, the pope had delegated a committee of three bishops with an initial inquiry against Hus. The witnesses for the prosecution had their opportunity to speak, but Hus was not allowed a supporter for his defense. He continued to stand fast against the authority of the pope.
The council at one point asked Hus to withdraw his teachings, and he responded that he would if they could prove him wrong with Scripture, in accordance with 2 Timothy 3:14-16. Hus allowed his Christian conscience to lead the way and knew that he would never live with himself if he offered some vague retraction that might save face and save his life. He clearly stated, “My wish always has been that better doctrine be proved to me out of Scripture, and then I would be most ready to recant.” He challenged the council to have their least member to show him from God’s Word where he erred. They were not so inclined and condemned him as a heretic instead and him back to prison without anything being discussed from the Bible.
The condemnation of Hus took place on July 6, 1415; he was officially condemned in the cathedral of Constance. The bishop of Lodi delivered a discourse on the duty of eliminating heresy; then some theses of Hus and Wycliffe and a report of his trial were read. Hus objected several times loudly, and when his appeal to Christ was rejected as a condemnable heresy, he exclaimed, “O God and Lord, now the council condemns even thine own act and thine own law as heresy, since thou thyself didst lay thy cause before thy Father as the just judge, as an example for us, whenever we are sorely oppressed.”
John Hus had his priesthood publicly stripped from him, as well as having his writings burned in the churchyard. At some point, he was led out into a field and burned at the stake.
The John Hus accomplishments at reform were 100 years before the start of the official Reformation, which was started by Martin Lither in 1517. John Hus and John Wycliffe were pioneers in opposing the pope and having their only true guide be that of the authority of Scripture. Hus helped to begin the commencement of the freedom of individuals, to allow their conscience to decide what is Scriptural and what is not.
In the early 1500s, Martin Luther was making a similar name for himself, as he was considered a Hussite. Obviously, we see Hus in his words, “Unless I am convicted by Scripture and plain reason—I do not accept the authority of popes and councils, for they have contradicted each other—my conscience is captive to the Word of God.” Perhaps that is why he said: “We are all Hussites without knowing it.”
John Hus, John Wycliffe, Martin Luther, and William Tyndale were the foundation of this return to Scripture, something that took the Reformation back to being like first-century Christianity. Of course, these ones did, not easily set the darkness of the period between the end of the Roman Empire in the fifth century and the early fifteenth-century, aside, as they were not able to shake off all the doctrines of tradition, but they established quite a few. Together, they reestablished the doctrine of sola scriptura, or Scripture alone, which means that Scripture, not popes or church councils, establishes all doctrinal matters. They returned to the Lord Jesus Christ, and early Christians enlightened view on this matter. – John 17:17; 18:37.
There is a battle that has been underway over the last 150-years between liberal Christianity and conservative Christianity, and it all boils down to the Bible. The liberal movement does not see the Bible as the Word of God, but instead, sees it as the word of men, filled with errors and contradictions, as well as myths and legends. The true conservative movement, on the other hand, sees the Bible as the Word of God, inspired and fully inerrant, the foundation of all they believe to be true.
Sadly, the liberal scholarship movement is at about 80 percent, with the conservative being around 20 percent. We are in a battle for the survival of the faith, and we too must take the same stand as that of John Hus, who echoed the words of the apostles, “We must obey God as ruler rather than men.” – Acts 5:29.