Why look on these things with the eyes of your souls asleep? Why listen to such things with the ears of your senses dulled? Scatter, I beg you, the black shadowy fog of the faintness of your hearts, that you may see the radiant light of truth and humility. A Christian not middling but perfect, a priest not worthless but outstanding, a martyr not lazy but pre-eminent, says: “It is now that I am beginning to be a disciple of Christ.”
- Gildas, The Ruin of Britain, British, 6th century
“Now brother will deliver up brother to death, and a father his child; and children will rise up against parents and cause them to be put to death. And you will be hated by all for My name’s sake. But he who endures to the end will be saved.”
- Matthew 10.21, 22
Gildas wrote from Britain about conditions in the churches in that country in the generation after Patrick. His book was a scathing indictment of church leaders. Gildas insisted that pastors were spineless, worldly, and lacking in discipline. The people knew little of true piety, and they evidenced but little zeal for the Gospel. The whole Christian community had become badly compromised, and everything about life in 6th-century Britain was declining as a result.
The “ruin of Britain” was the fault of churches unwilling to be what Christ intended them to be, and more interested in satisfying the needs and wants of people and priests, than in seeking the Kingdom of God.
Gildas had just quoted an excerpt from one of the letters of Ignatius, the second-century bishop of Antioch. Ignatius wrote letters to seven churches who sent messengers to greet and console him as he was being taken through Asia Minor to Rome for martyrdom.
In the excerpt Gildas quoted, Ignatius declared his resolve to face martyrdom in Rome as a badge of honor for the name of Christ. Ignatius did not fear death because he feared God and loved Him.
Ignatius represented a quality of Christian faith unknown to the comfortable and complacent pastors and believers in Britain, concerning whom Gildas wrote. He called on all who read his words to throw off “the faintness of your hearts” so that they might “see the radiant light of truth and humility.” Then they could begin to be true disciples of the Lord.
It’s only when we’re willing to die for our faith, Gildas insisted, that we can truly say, “now…I am beginning to be a disciple of Christ.” The dying required of true disciples is a daily dying to self and laboring to bring the grace and truth of Jesus to the people around them. Churches where this is not happening cease to be streams of living water in their community, and become instead lifeless backwaters from which few care to drink.
The Church in Britain and Europe had grown fat and lazy by the time the first Irish peregrini (wandering missionary/monks) began showing up in their parishes, late in the 6th century. The Church was a ruin of its former glory, and had lost that martyr’s outlook that was willing, if it were necessary, to be hated by all for the sake of the Gospel. Those who came from Ireland proclaiming the Gospel of the Kingdom to the lapsed Christians and outright pagans of Europe were hated by those whose comfort they disturbed by their preaching and exemplary lives.
They were hated, but they were heard. Over the course of two centuries, those Irish peregrini prevailed to bring revival, renewal, and awakening to the ruined churches of Europe.
Are we willing to be hated for the sake of the Gospel? Will we die to our self and its comforts, so that others might see and hear the Good News of Jesus? We won’t begin to be disciples of the Lord until, like Him, we set aside all other concerns for that of seeking and advancing the Kingdom of God.
We hear much talk these days about the need to be mindful of the sensitivities of lost people, making our churches places where unbelievers can feel welcome and right at home, lightening up and having more fun, toning down the rhetoric of our preaching so as not to offend anyone with our language of sin, repentance, and dying to self.
This is where the preachers in Gildas’ day had taken their stand. And they were ruining not only their churches, but their country as well. Gildas questioned the faith of those ministers, insisting they were not true disciples of Christ if they were not willing, for the sake of the Gospel, to be hated by all men.
I wonder what he would say about us?
The true disciple loves the Gospel more than the approval or ways of the world. Let the world – and perhaps even the “church” – hate us if it will, but let us not shrink back from living and proclaiming the Good News of the Kingdom of God to the people we meet each day.
Then we will begin to be disciples, indeed.
Questions for Reflection
1. To whom is God sending you today? How will you show these people that you are a true disciple of Jesus Christ?
2. What can you do today to encourage other believers to “begin to be disciples” of Jesus by dying to themselves?
Psalm 57.9-11 (Faben – Praise the Lord, Ye Heavens Adore Him)
Praise and thanks among the nations I will sing with all my might!
For Your truth and love are stationed far above the highest height!
Be exalted o’er the heavens, let Your glory fill the earth!
To Your Name all praise be given, let all men proclaim Your worth!
Lord, help me to make progress in discipleship today as I…
Pray for The Fellowship of Ailbe
The Lord provides for the needs of The Fellowship of Ailbe by moving on the hearts of those who benefit from our work and believe in our mission. If that includes you, please seek the Lord in prayer concerning this opportunity. It’s easy to give to The Fellowship of Ailbe, and all gifts are, of course, tax-deductible. You can click here to donate online through credit card or PayPal, or send your gift to The Fellowship of Ailbe, 360 Zephyr Road, Williston, VT 05495.
T. M. Moore, Principal
All Psalms for singing from The Ailbe Psalter. Scripture taken from the New King James Version. © Copyright 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
 Winterbottom, p. 59.