“[I] saw the great need of men who would dare to have convictions and stand for them even though evil influences were great.”
These words were written in 1951 by my grandfather, Merwyn Masters, in an essay he wrote for college at the age of 29. In the letter he’s describing his struggle with God during his time in the military and the immediate years afterward. Towards the beginning, my grandfather writes about his conversion and subsequent attraction to the ministry before Uncle Sam came calling. In the summer of 1945, my grandfather was shipped out to Calcutta, India. In his essay, he wrote about the utter poverty of the people there – both financially and spiritually. These experiences influenced my grandfather deeply and shaped his relationship with God for the rest of his life.
While in India, it was not merely the absolute destitution he saw which challenged him. It was also the missionaries he met over there who influenced him. They spoke about a great need for more missionaries to attend to the abundance of people in desperate circumstances. It was from these calls of aid that my grandfather felt challenged. Could he leave a relatively comfortable life in the United States? Could he bring himself to subject his wife and young daughter to move to a foreign country that appeared to be the meanest of places? Could he deny these people the chance of knowing Christ – the only person who could save them from their plight? These questions dogged my grandfather after his return to the United States and discharge from the military.
In 1947 my grandfather was invited to attend a young adult conference. It was here that the questions which had been plaguing him came to be answered. The conference speakers communicated the importance of consecrating oneself to God fully. And it was there that my grandfather recalled “the question was before me to a greater extent than ever before. This time I felt it must be answered.” This great burden which was upon him demanded an answer. It could wait no longer. So, it was at this time that my grandfather dared to have convictions. He wrote, “As I began to consecrate and yield my life to the Lord the great question was answered.”
From this time on, my grandfather was not plagued by these questions. He had submitted himself to God’s Lordship. He dared to have convictions when an answer was demanded of him. Ultimately, my grandfather never was called to India, but he was called to spread the Good News and to build the Lord’s exiled kingdom here on earth. He did this brick by brick and person by person for many years.1
As I read this essay by my late grandfather, I could not help but notice the similarities in my own life and in the life of our country. Recollections of my failures show many faults. There is vanity, pride, lust, and gluttony among others. Even further there was failure to trust God and false offerings of consecration. Yet, the Lord has illuminated the path ahead. Failures still abound, but there is a trust in the mercy and grace of Jesus Christ my Lord. There is a commitment that relies on the proper sacrifice which ignores the desires of the heart and follows the knowledge of God. And there is the gift of courage which dares to have convictions amidst great evil.
Yet not only did this essay recall personal similarities, it also recalls parallels to our own history as a country. As is clear from my grandfather’s essay, even in his day some 70 years ago, too few people stood up for their beliefs. However, we should not be surprised. Americans have long failed to stand up for what is honorable. From our inception we have often failed to stand strongly against the forces of dehumanization. We failed to stop slavery and the Holocaust, and did little to protect equal rights sooner. And so far, we are failing to address abortion, faulty police practices, corrupt governments, and corrupt corporations. But worst of all, we are failing to protect the faith we inherited from the Apostles.
All of these are complicated and sensitive issues. However, we can not shy away from difficult subjects. We must dare to have convictions. Most of the issues I mentioned above are moral and ethical problems. They are NOT political except through our worship of politics and our national identity. Christians need to reestablish trust and credibility in our communities and countries. That may seem impossible with so many who do not practice the historic, orthodox faith, however it is a noble task.
Yet Christians have been in seemingly impossible situations before. A great example is St. Athanasius himself. After the ecumenical council of Nicaea in 325, the Arian heresy was still alive and well. On several occasions they had the emperor backing their claims, even though the issue of Christ’s divinity had already been proclaimed in the Nicene Creed. It was during these periods of Arian control that Athanasius was often exiled from the Church in Alexandria. However no matter how many times he was exiled, Athanasius refused to give in to false teachings. He dared to have convictions in the face of opposition.
Still, Athanasius does not stand alone in history. We can also look to St. John of Damascus who defended the use of icons against those who believed icons were idols. At one point, the Byzantine emperor even forged letters to the Islamic Caliph in order to discredit him. This resulted in John having his hand cut off. However, he prayed before an icon of the Theotokos and it was miraculously healed. Whether you agree with John’s theology or believe his miracle is true, he dared to have convictions despite the consequences. (And if not for him, we would never have gotten those magnificent flannel board cutouts!)
A contemporary example would be Bible Answer Man Hank Hanegraaff. I am not trying to paint the guy as a saint and I am sure he would never claim to be one. However, when Hanegraaff converted to the Eastern Orthodox Church in 2017, he demonstrated that he dared to have convictions. His conversion shocked many evangelicals who felt Hanegraaff had abandoned his faith. The fallout was tremendous for the Bible Answer Man show. Over 100 stations dropped the long running radio broadcast after hearing of his conversion. Who knows how much this impacted the Christian Research Institute which produces the radio show and which Hanegraaff presides over as president. Despite this, he remained committed to following what he believes to be the truth. That is a commendable and rare act in today’s society.
And of course, we cannot forget the Apostles themselves. They faced many dangers. Paul was imprisoned and stoned while on his missionary journeys. Peter was crucified upside down. And the rest of the Apostles except John were executed. They did not give into the great temptation to deny their faith in Jesus who they saw resurrected. Their martyrdoms were in imitation of Christ Himself. They dared to have convictions. In fact they did more than dare. They knew what they saw and our faith relies on their witness to the events described in the Gospel accounts.
As my grandfather might say, these men dared to have convictions despite the evil influences they faced. Today, Christians in America need to dare to have convictions despite the consequences. This task belongs to us all – men, women, young, old, black, white, and anyone in between. We cannot hope to push back against the 70, 6, 2 predicament if we do not bear the cross that has been laid before us. If we are to rise to the challenge before us – to disciple those who already claim the name Christian – we must dare to have convictions grounded in Jesus Christ. So I end by asking: who dares to have convictions?
1 A true story. My grandfather helped to plant many churches as well as to actually build church buildings during his lifetime.