Monday, November 8, 2010

Dirk Willens: A Saint You've Never Heard Of

In honor of All Saints' Day on November 1, it's time time to introduce you to another saint—one you've probably never heard of. But first some background. When we think Reformation, the names that quickly come to the surface are Martin Luther, John Calvin, and Ulrich Zwingli. These were the headliners. Of course, when Luther nailed those 95 theses to the door of the Wittenburg church, his real intention was to reform the Catholic Church, not break away and start something new. But once set in motion, nobody could stop the wave of reformation that swept across Europe. Men like Luther and Calvin went pretty far in their theological and ecclesiastical reforms, but some in that era thought they didn’t go far enough.

I'm talking about the Anabaptists. These Anabaptists (ancestors to modern day Mennonites and Amish) took things a step further. In effect, they said to other branches of the reformation movement: “If you want to get back to the Bible, then get back to the Bible in all things.” That’s why Anabaptists (which means re-baptizers) were the only Reformation group to practice believer’s baptism by immersion instead of infant baptism. That’s why Anabaptists believed and practiced a form of church-state separation as best they could in a climate where church and state had been in bed together for centuries. And that’s why neither Catholics or Lutherans or Calvinists had any love for the Anabaptists. This group was persecuted and martyred by all of the above. Do you know the favorite way to kill an Anabaptist? Drowning—tie them to something heavy and toss them in the river. “If they are so committed to immersion baptism,” their persecutors said, “then we’ll immerse them into eternity.” Of course, Anabaptists were martyred in other ways as well.

Let me tell you a story about one of them. In 16th century Holland, the Anabaptists were outlawed and, when caught, often executed. Dirk Willens, a faithful Anabaptist convert, was being chased across an ice-field when his pursuer broke through and fell in. In response to his cries for help, Willens returned and saved him from the waters. His pursuer was grateful and astonished that he would do such a thing but nevertheless arrested him, as he thought it his duty to do. A few days later Willens was executed by being burned at the stake in the town of Asperen.

That’s it. That’s the story. But it’s a story that inspires me and makes Dirk Willens a saint in my eyes. Here’s a man who loved his neighbor as himself, who loved his enemies even. Here’s a man who put the interest of another ahead of himself. Here’s a man who loved Christ and Christ’s ways more than he loved his own life. Here’s a man who was faithful unto death. Here’s a man whose actions remind me of Jesus Christ. And it seems to me that if there’s one thing that should stand out about a saint, it’s this: when we think of the saint we can't help but think of Christ. Dirk Willens reminds me of Christ. And this leaves me with a question to ponder about my own life. Perhaps it’s a question you could ponder too: Do the people who know me best think of Christ when they think of me?


  1. John
    I just sent you an email.
    This post is about the people I come from and why I am torn about being 'in the world but not of the world.'
    Colleen Lohrenz

  2. I usually wouldn't respond to your blog, not wanting to draw any attention to me.
    However, my Pastor ask a very important question, that needs a very sincere reply. You bring us lessons from the scripture every Sunday. You present them knowingly to believers at all different spritual levels down to the carnal Christian and even to unbelievers that are present. Imagine, a Music Professor trying to make a presentation to those who couldn't read a note, all the way to those accomplished in classical music, a message that all could understand, and benifiet from; pretty difficult huh. You do that every Sunday and through your preperartion and prayer, the Holy Spirit uses those messages to reach people of all levels, I know, it has happened to me. Christ delivered those types of messages to multitudes. I would think if we took all the things you do in a month and tried to chronologically list them at the end of the month, It wouldn't seem possible to fit them all in.
    Your question was "Do the people who know me best think of Christ when they think of me?"
    I may not be one of those who know you best. However, when I think of you, I think of the way Christ has used you, and is using you today. Let me conclude this way to lengthy response with: I see you growing in santification, moving closer and closer to a Christ like life everyday. I feel blessed and inspired wittnessing this and benifieting from it. Yes, I think of Christ when I think of you.