Editor: In our Family History Series we are seeking to understand how Christians of the past have pursued making disciples. We want to connect the church’s current efforts to make, mature, and multiply disciples to its historical roots as well as encourage the church to learn from her rich past. So far in our series:
- 4 Simple Ways Fred Elliot Discipled His Children
- 4 Lessons from St. Patrick for Making Disciples the Irish Way
- 3 Counter-Cultural Lessons from Elisabeth Elliot
- 2 Principles for Living Free from J. R. R. Tolkien
- 4 Convictions for Boldness from John Knox
- 3 Essentials of Discipleship According to Herman Bavinck
- 4 Gifts to the Church from Mechthild of Magdeburg
- 3 Lessons from John L. Girardeau for Crossing Divides
Yesterday I meandered through Prague with my friend Nuno. Nuno used to be a student of my father’s in Lisbon, Portugal, and we now oddly find ourselves sharing a few days together in Prague, his adopted city. Prague is everything I thought it would be: craftsmanship in every detail of the city—the rails, the sewer caps, the windows, the roofs, the palaces, and the cathedrals. We walked through cramped cathedrals with thousands of others who could barely get enough space to take photos. We walked over the Charles Bridge, passed snake handlers, beggars, artists, and tourists rubbing statues for good luck and blessings. We escaped the crowds when we went to the cemetery of the Jews and the oldest standing synagogue in Europe. It was preserved, unlike the jewish people in Prague, during world War II because Hitler wanted it to be a museum or monument to the extinct race. On our walk, I learned the mixed history of this city. It was central in trading, the arts, and religion. Now it’s central in human sex trading, the arts, and atheism—the brand of atheism that refuses to even think about God.
Then we stepped into a nondescript building donated and built by a shopkeeper where the Bible was to be preached in Czech. I found this fact both inspiring and disappointing, what were all the other cathedrals for?
An old Czech woman walked us into the vast silent chapel where, 700 years ago commoners, business owners, nobleman, and university students pilled in by the thousands to hear the gospel in their language, many for the first time. They say it seats 3,000 people. Historians note it was normal for upwards of 5,000 to gather there. To the side of the pulpit where Jan Hus preached the gospel is a deep, ancient well. Literally. On the walls you can see slight remnants of hymns etched in stone where people sang the gospel in their language. The room itself was powerful. More powerful than the massive gothic cathedrals crammed with tourists, because of the significance of what happened in that space and in the souls of thousands hundreds of years ago.
My friend Nuno and I, who hope to give our lives to seeing everyone in our cities experience the deep well and life found in Christ, sat quietly meditating on the reality that we wouldn't be where we are in life without the ministry and discipleship of Jan Hus.
Jan Hus was a Czech priest and a professor at the Prague University which was established by Charles IV, the Holy Roman Emperor. Hus was given the privilege of being the preacher of the Chapel of Bethlehem where he was charged with delivering sermons in the language of the people. This is what Jan Hus did and the impact was astounding. It’s amazing how such a simple act can have massive global, historical implications and how at the time it was seen as a small charitable work of an entrepreneur.
As Hus preached the gospel, people responded. As he declared the gift and mercy of Christ, his convictions hardened against the system which kept people from receiving that. Jan Hus stood as a sign post in one of the Church’s major forks in the road. Would the church be given to the lives of everyday people? Would she include them or would she be kept exclusively for the ruling class? Hus, emboldened by the fruit of the gospel, knew instinctively that it should be given to the people. He worked to have the Bible and his works published into Czech and allowed every believer to take part in communion—to drink the cup and eat the bread for themselves.
Jan Hus came into the reformation movement after Wycliff and before Luther and Calvin. On my tour through his small apartment attached to the chapel, I saw a piece of art that depicted Wycliff lighting a spark with stones, Hus lighting a candle, and Luther carrying a torch. Hus stands firmly as a major player in our family history. Luther would say later that he was Hus’ “disciple” despite the time and place that separated them.
In the fall of 1414, Hus was called to attend the counsel of Constance and speak before the rulers of Europe and the Catholic Church about his beliefs and teachings. He was granted safe passage, but once he arrived and shared his beliefs they demanded he recant his teachings and his reformation ways. Hus was soon put into prison to await a trial. At the trial, he refused to recant unless they could prove his error through the Scriptures. In the summer of 1415, he was condemned a heretic and sentenced to death. He was burned publicly at the stake in the center of town and in the shadow of the cathedral. Dying, he sang hymns to God as worship before breathing his last as flames blew in his face.
Here are just four lessons on gospel-centered discipleship I learned from Jan Hus in the old city of Prague:
1. Unleash the Artists to worship God through their work in the Cities
“I entreat all artisans faithfully to follow their craft and take delight in it.”
This is so evident through out the city. The wealth that flowed through Prague and the vision of Charles IV attracted hundreds of artists to build temples, bridges, theaters, clocks, statues, and palaces. Jan Hus continued to press the creative tradition and took it further. Ultimately God commissions the artisans to create beauty in the world, notnobility or bishops .
2. We want to be pastors for respect and admiration, but instead we lose our lives and it is sweet
“I was anxious to take the holy orders to have a life of comfort and the admiration of the people.”
Hus’ desire to become a priest was rooted in his desire for comfort and respect. He saw the life of a priest accurately in that time. Instead of the life he envisioned, he found the gospel to be everything his heart desired. As a pastor, his life models mine. Honestly, my heart often seeks admiration from people through my vocation. I don’t simply just want to be liked but revered. Hus’ life and writing teach me to be honest about that while pursuing the greater calling which is to give your life away and find the deepest life possible in the gospel.
Hus stood in front of kings, emperors, and a pope knowing he could have their affection by recanting his beliefs. Yet, he sang hymns to God amidst flames in death. He found God to be more worthy of worship than himself. Then, he found God more worthy of worship than his peers.
3. The Gospel is For Everyone
During Hus’ lifetime, many church leaders were separating people into categories—who is important and who is not. For them, the church existed for the wealthy and powerful more than the people. The church played the role of power broker and power keeper more than a place for everyone to know the love of God and to love one-another.
This is our family history, too. We cozy up to the influential and use the uneducated, the burdened, the insignificant as collateral damage in kingdom building. Many times we are more like the Catholic church of 700 years ago than we would like to admit. We prefer to imagine ourselves and our family history beginning with Jan Hus; however, all of it is our history. And some of it ought to be a caution to us as we build kingdoms, seek the influential, and disregard the un-cool. This problem isn’t new—Jesus critiqued the Pharisees, Paul fought Jewish leaders to include Gentiles, and James rebuked the church for keeping special seats for the “important.”
Jan Hus teaches us that the gospel is for everyone and for every aspect of life. The gospel is grace, mercy, and faith—not power, money, and control.
4. Proclaim and Die for the the Gospel alone
“I hope, by God's grace, that I am truly a Christian, not deviating from the faith, and that I would rather suffer the penalty of a terrible death than wish to affirm anything outside of the faith or transgress the commandments of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
I love how Hus describes his reasons for persevering to death. He would not let go of what he knew and believed to be central to his faith. He died for refusing to give up anything central. He didn’t die for the fringe, he didn’t stir up conflict, and he didn't try to start a revolution.
He was fixated on making the gospel clear, understood, and experiential. He wouldn’t recant that. He couldn’t stop preaching the gospel. Because to stop proclaiming the gospel andto stop inviting people to the communion table would make his life in Christ void.
The gospel of free salvation and mercy in Jesus was controversial and it still is. As we make disciples this has to be our focus, too. We have to put all our efforts into making the gospel central and clear. As we make disciples in community and in our cities, we need to create a space for the gospel itself to be controversial. Step into conflicts about those things that without you would not be a Christian.
We are in the midst of many conflicts, disagreements, and issues in our culture. I pray that we are fighting with the gospel in mind and for the gospel. I pray our hope in talking about sexuality is rooted in the gift of God’s love in Jesus. I pray that our discussions about racial reconciliation are directly sourced in the reconciliation of God to man in Christ. I pray that our motivations in government are founded on God’s love for all men and women. Above all, I pray that we are motivated and empowered by the Spirit of God to make the gospel plain and clear to everyone around us.
Brad Watson (@bradawatson) serves as a pastor of Bread&Wine Communities where he develops and teaches leaders how to form communities that love God and serve the city. Brad is the author of Raised?, Called Together: A Guide to Forming Missional Communities, and Sent Together: How the Gospel Sends Leaders to Start Missional Communities. He lives in southeast Portland with his wife and their two daughters. You can read more from Brad at www.bradawatson.com.