Friday, February 15, 2008

Boniface of Crediton

Born in the latter half of the seventh century, he established schools, monasteries, and churches, some of which remain to this day. He labored tirelessly to see the Gospel embraced and applied among a pagan people. He instructed the ignorant, rebuked the immoral, empowered the righteous. His labors spanned a period of 40 years and, in the end, he crowned his life with martyrdom. Who is he? Winfrid is his name, though he is more popularly known as Boniface, the Apostle of Germany.

Boniface was born in England around 680, the son of noble parents. He is accounted one of those esteemed Anglo-Saxon missionaries who rescued continental Europe from the second darkness that descended upon it after Rome fell. Convinced that God had called him to missionary labor, Boniface took the Gospel to the Frisians, a tribe who lived in what is now the Netherlands. Rebuffed in his efforts, Boniface returned to England. However, he could not be content with a sedentary life in a monastery. And so he traveled to Rome. There he met the Bishop, Gregory. He was so encouraged by Gregory’s zeal and confidence, that he ventured into Germany with the Gospel.

Germany was a dark land--it reaked with the stench of paganism. Human sacrifice was common, immorality was rampant, and Christian missionaries not infrequently were murdered. Long attached to the pagan gods, most Germans refused to consent to Christianity. Boniface strove arduously for some time until finally, in a strategic move, he challenged the Germans to a duel. Imitating the faith of Elijah on Mt. Carmel, Boniface met the Germans while they were worshiping at the massive Oak Tree of Thor, god of Thunder. After challenging the Germans to renounce their false gods and embrace Christ, he pulled out an axe and began to chop down the tree. The startled Germans recoiled in horror, awaiting the dread judgment of Thor to fall upon Boniface. To their surprise, no doom fell--on Boniface, at least. Rather a great wind arose, seemingly miraculously, and the tree toppled and burst into four pieces. Thor died that day--and the German people converted to Christianity in droves over the succeeding years.

As his preaching and organizing ministries continued, Christianity became more solidified in Germany. Though encouraged by this turn of events, Boniface once again became restless. He recalled his abortive labors among the Frisians and resolved to return. He was convinced of the great need and impelled by missionary zeal. Accompanying him were numerous assistants ready to endure any hardship for the sake of the Gospel. And hardship came. Encamped by the river Borne where they were baptizing converts, the missionaries were set upon by armed men and slaughtered. Their labors in the land of Frisia ceased; yet their sacrifice was a fragrant offering unto the Lord and He considered it as He used the Gospel to crush the Frisians and bring them to faith in Christ.

What can we glean from the life of Boniface? First, boldness. Boniface was not content with quietude. He pushed himself again and again to advance the kingdom of God. His determination involved great sacrifice, even death, and yet it earned him the title of the Apostle of Germany. By God’s grace, his boldness was used to break the Germans’ bondage to paganism. Second, consistency. Rather than seek to coexist with the dominant paganism of the Germans, he demanded complete allegiance to the Triune God. Boniface understood that the Church has enemies with whom she cannot peacefully exist side by side. Christianity and paganism were mutually exclusive--one must win, the other lose. And, so far as Boniface was concerned, the victor was destined to be the Church. Finally, Boniface can teach us strategy. In his attack upon paganism, Boniface sought out the central symbolic pillar of the German religion and focused his attack there. With the fall of the symbol, German paganism disintegrated. Likewise in attacking our enemies we must make decisive blows against strategic objectives. We must look for the Oak of Thor in Mormonism, Islam, Planned Parenthood and political conservativism. Once found, we must take up the weapons of our warfare which are “divinely powerful for the destruction of fortresses” and lay them low. We must seize our axe and fell the tree.