In the 16th century, the Protestant Reformation grabbed most of the headlines, as the upstart cleric Martin Luther stood his theological ground against the world's most powerful Church. But not long after Luther's gallant crusade, another cleric of equal renown flamed out on his calling.
Let me explain.
In the years following the Reformation, new controversies raged within the Church that Luther had left behind. The most heated was, Where had God placed the earth in His cosmos? The defining questions in this debate were, Are you geocentric? i.e., clinging to the notion that earth was the orbital center of all God's creation. Or Are you heliocentric? i.e., believing that the earth was just another planet taking its daily spin around the sun.
To side with the geocentric crowd was the safer choice; it was, after all, endorsed by the Church. Tradition has always been a powerful force. What was good for Grandpa is good enough for me!
On the flip side, those who tossed their cap into the heliocentric camp did so at their own peril. The Church of the 1500s did not encourage independent thinking. In fact, cutting-edge thinking tended to have guillotine conclusions.
However, during that time, one man had the correct answer to the geo/helio debate: Nicolaus Copernicus—but he wasn't talking.
Although Copernicus was the foremost astronomer of his day, he was also a cleric, a highly decorated member of the Church--the same church that fumed over Luther's earlier rebellion. And though his mathematical model of a heliocentric system was spot on, Copernicus just couldn't bring himself to expose the errors of the past and tell the world what he had discovered.
Copernicus worried. How can I tell people that Plato and Aristotle were nuts? How can I explain that Ptolemy didn't know what he was talking about? How do I say you're wrong to conventional thinking?"
For a thousand years the theories of these oft-quoted philosophers held the world's thinking in a stranglehold. Theirs was a science based purely upon observation. What they saw was what we got. The sun rose in the east and set in the west; therefore, they concluded, the sun revolves around the earth.
To compound their flawed thinking, the Church leadership liked the sound of those theories. They liked the idea that God staged His prized creation in the center of everything, not on some isolated, nondescript, obscure planet. Being the center of the universe appealed to the Church. That doctrine would preach!
The geocentric thinkers backed their claims with absurdity upon absurdity:
- Every dropped object always falls to the earth. That is proof that the earth is the center of everything. If the earth was not the universal core, every dropped object would fall toward another true focal point.
- Wind is a natural result of movement. Therefore, if the earth is in motion circling the sun, there would be an extraordinary display of wind. Where is that wind?
Who could argue with logic like that?
Certainly not Copernicus. For thirty years he kept the truth to himself. Not until his deathbed did he allow his work to be published and the truth to be known. What a waste! He chose to conceal the light from those who lived in the darkness.
On the flip side, many students of truth could not hold in what they knew.
The prophets. Even when the tide of public opinion turned against them, they wouldn't forsake their message—or the God who sent them.
The apostles. Their message was vigorously attacked by well-educated, well-funded and well-dressed opponents. Yet each proclaimer was willing to die for the truth.
The magi. Tradition says they had fame, fortune, and position. But what they wanted most were directions. "Where is He who has been born King of the Jews? For we saw His star in the east, and have come to worship Him."
No doubt you're like the truth-tellers who've gone before us: You've devoted your life to proclaiming truth without hesitation.
The gospel has always been good news, too good in fact to hide. There's a world of people in search of that truth. And, no doubt, they'll be dropping by during Christmas to hear it again.