Captain Thin
A screen-shot of Amaruk's website.

A screen-shot of Amaruk’s website.

So, yesterday morning I published a lengthy bit of research into Amaruk, PAWGI, and Christopher Fragassi (see “Digging deeper into the Amaruk story: Who is Christopher Fragassi?”). I had been following news reports since CBC first broke the story, and thought the two groups (CBC News and The National Post) who had been giving the subject initial coverage might find it interesting. To that end, I tweeted them a link to my research early yesterday morning. I hoped it might spur them to dig a bit deeper into the story themselves.

I’m pleasantly surprised to discover that The National Post seems to have taken up the challenge: late yesterday Brian Hutchinson published a new story digging deeper into the background of Christopher Fragassi. The story has a lot of great original research, and benefits from including interviews with people who have actually met Fragassi. Careful readers will also note The National Post story repeats a number of things that I first brought to attention in my own report. Among these things are:

Highlighting Amaruk’s requirement that all prospective employees require PAWGI certification (while noting the suspicious links between the two groups).

  • Noting that professional guides began raising questions about PAWGI in an online forum years ago.
  • Noting Fragassi’s connection to Sooke, B.C.
  • Noting that Fragassi served as President of the BC Chapter of The Wilderness Society.
  • Noting that Fragassi was tapped as a survival expert consultant for Hinterland video games.


While I’m pleased to see The National Post take up the story again, an acknowledgment recognizing the use of my research would have been nice. Granted, it’s certainly possible all The National Post’s research could have been original, but the fact that The National Post published their story about a half-day after I published mine makes the timing rather coincidental—especially since I sent them a link to it earlier in the day. Their most recent story on the subject before last night’s was six days earlier. Still, I’m glad to see more investigative reporting going on regarding Amaruk and Christopher Fragassi, and hope to see more in the future.


UPDATE: Brian Hutchinson has responded to this post with a tweet, suggesting his story was actually filed on Wednesday afternoon. So while my post would have been published first, his would not have been directly influenced by mine. It may well have been a simple case of coincidence after all.

A screen-shot of Amaruk's website.

A screen-shot of Amaruk’s website.

You’ve already heard the story. A Trinity Western graduate named Bethany Paquette had her job application to Amaruk rejected in a letter that attacked her Christian faith. She subsequently filed a human rights complaint against the company. CBC News broke the story back on October 7. Further reporting by CBC and The National Post have raised questions about the company’s existence. Since then, we haven’t heard much.

Let’s look a little deeper into the story. A quick look into the WHOIS information for (as well as and lists a Joshua Wilkinson of Anchorage, Alaska as the registrant for the domain. Wilkinson is listed on Amaruk’s website as the Regional Lead Guide/Instructor for Alaska. Amaruk’s entry on Industry Canada’s website further identified Wilkinson as Vice-President, Public Relations for the company. (The Industry Canada entry has since been deleted, but a cached version from October 3, 2014 is available here.) A Joshua P. Wilkinson was also until recently listed as Technical Director of PAWGI (Professional Association of Wilderness Guides and Instructors) (see cached webpage here).

What is PAWGI, you ask? Well, it describes itself as a certification organization for wilderness guides. In fact, Amaruk’s internship hiring policies note that they require “Current Active/Inactive PAWGI Certified Assistant Guide (CAG) certification” for all applicants. But as The National Post reports, PAWGI itself seems to be a suspect organization. Their website until recently listed Christopher Fragassi-Bjornsen as its technical director for Canada (see cached webpage here); the same person was identified on Industry Canada’s website as Co-Chief Executive Officer for Amaruk (see cached webpage here). What’s more, Amaruk is apparently the trademark owner for PAWGI’s logo.

Concerns about PAWGI, Amaruk, and the relationship between the two began appearing online years ago; by early 2011, a forum on had begun to question the groups’ credentials. Out of nowhere, a new forum member signs up and begins defending the organization. It’s worth quoting one post on the forum at length here:

When I first came across the PAWGI website around christmas, I thought this looks good and began to look into deeper, do some research before committing and made some enquiries to PAWGI themselves and friends in Canada.

I had some concerns and raised them direct with PAWGI, the response was full of personal insults, abusive rants and threats of legal action, certainly not what you’d expect from an organisation with the word ‘Professional’ in it’s title!

The other day I received a letter from Amaruk, with further threats of legal action because of the points I’ve raised on this forum - It’s the first time I’ve been threatened with arrest in two countries or more, purely for asking questions if someone can provide evidence of claims they make on their own marketing.

I’ve found the whole thing bizarre !!

Sound slightly familiar? CBC reports that Sophie Waterman, who applied for a position with Amaruk at one point, faced similar responses after withdrawing her application. “”When I cancelled the interview, I received about 15 emails in quick succession,” she says. “All pretending to be from different people involved with the company, and all very litigious, accusing me and my friend of slander. My feeling is that it’s all one person.”

But I’m digressing. According to Amaruk’s website, all applicants are required to have PAWGI certification. By a lucky coincidence, Amaruk just happens to be the agency that offers PAWGI’s CAG certification. You can get it through an online course for only $745 plus tax. So then: we’ve determined that to be “eligible” according to Amaruk’s hiring policies, all applicants would first have to get PAWGI certification. And you get PAWGI certification through Amaruk. Is it possible that Amaruk’s purported job openings (Waterman called them “too good to be true”) are simply a way to funnel people into the online course—a scam in the simplest terms? Given that PAWGI’s CAG is listed as an essential qualification for applicants, it isn’t beyond belief.

The purported President of PAWGI is Bruce C. Kenwood. A Bruce Kenwood is also identified by WHOIS as’s domain registrant. Someone claiming to be Kenwood wrote to the National Post, turning down an interview request and criticizing media coverage of Amaruk.

But despite all these names and titles, the story always seems to keep coming back to Christopher Fragassi. CBC reports that he is listed as co-CEO of a number of other companies, and that the domain names for all these were registered in B.C. by him. What’s more, he alone is listed on Amaruk’s B.C corporate registry entry.

Christopher Fragassi-Bjørnsen (Google Plus).

Christopher Fragassi-Bjørnsen (Google Plus).

So who is Christopher Fragassi? It’s hard to say exactly. Curiously, CBC News has actually used him as a source before. A September 2012 story identifies him as a Yukon guide who was concerned people were poaching caribou near the border between Yukon and the Northwest Territories. Local conservation officers denied the story, saying there was no evidence of poaching in the area.

The story was followed up by Yukon News, who quoted a Maarten Harteveld (purportedly of Holland) as backing up Fragassi’s claims. [Unsurprisingly, Harteveld was, until recently, listed as Technical Director, The Netherlands on Amaruk’s technical committee.] And who else did Yukon News quote? Fragassi—who corresponded by email. He claimed to have been leading expeditions in the area for over 10 years.

More than a year earlier (in January 2011), Christopher Fragassi was named the new President of the British Columbia Chapter of the Canadian Section of The Wildlife Society. His contact information includes an Amaruk email address. He was still listed as President of the British Columbia Chapter a year and a half later in June 2012. The next issue of the newsletter after that notes a change in president in both the BC and Manitoba chapters.

Fragassi was also tapped as a survival consultant for a video-game kickstarter project that ended up raising more than $250,000 Canadian. In a publicity letter introducing (and praising) himself to supporters, he identifies himself as having begun his education at Oregon State University (OSU) in Fish and Wildlife Management. [Curiously a now-deleted page (see cache here) lists a Christopher Fragassi as a Department Member in Forest Ecosystems and Society at OSU. Even more curiously, a number of OSU webpages identify a Christopher Fragassi as a student there over the past few years. A Christopher Fragassi of Sooke, B.C. (then identified as a sophomore in natural resources) received a Crucilla Shepherd Smith Scholastic Award for the 2011-12 academic year. He received the same award in 2011, 2012, and 2013.]

If, indeed, as some have suggested all the various agents identified by Amaruk and PAWGI are all one and the same person, it may well be that Fragassi (or Fragassi-Bjørnsen as he goes by more recently) is where the buck finally stops. At any event, he doesn’t seem to be too keen at all the attention put on him as of late. DailyXtra is reporting that he intends to sue CBC News, Sun TV, and The National Post. And he’s already facing a human rights challenge for religious discrimination over his treatment of Bethany Paquette.

Still, legal challenges may be nothing new to him. It appears the same was named a defendant in a legal proceeding brought earlier by Call of the Wild—way back in 2007. Fragassi had apparently been operating an organization called Call of the Wild Expeditions. Fragassi either lost the trademark case or acquiesced, as the trademark registered by Fragassi was subsequently transferred to the plaintiff.

Frankly, I don’t fancy his chances in his current legal troubles either.


My latest piece for First Things takes up a subject I’ve discussed elsewhere from time to time: Christian Masculinity. The occasion for this particular post was a recent news story about “America’s manliest church”—one that’s raffled off guns and spends an inordinate amount of time talking about booze and “big balls.”

My focus in my article is less to talk about this particular church then to use it to talk about a problem that’s worried me for some time: the teaching that Christian men are called primarily to be warriors. Sometimes this takes a more dignified approach (we should be knights!) and sometimes it’s more crass, as in Ignite’s case. But in each situation, the problem is the same: it suggests aggression is or should be the defining feature of Christian masculinity.

I spend the rest of my article deconstructing this errant understanding of manhood, choosing the analogy of a gardener (like Adam) as a more helpful image of Christian masculinity. Read the article (“Uprooting the Christian Masculinity Complex”) to understand why.

Of course, there’s only so much you can say in so short a column. If you want a more in-depth discussion of the subject, you’ll have to read a feature I wrote for Converge a few years back: “Christian Masculinity: The Man God Hasn’t Called You To Be.”

Finally, I’ve broached similar topics in an article for A Christian Thing entitled “Does the Church Make it Hard to be a Man?”


Back in May, the Canadian Church Press and the Association of Roman Catholic Communicators of Canada held a joint conference together in Winnipeg. Among other things, the conference featured a number of workshops. One of these was a panel discussion on “The Francis Effect,” at which I was one of the panelists, bringing a Protestant perspective. Joining me were Joe Sinasac, Publishing Director of Novalis Publishing, and Marlena Loughheed, Public Relations and Communications Director of the Roman Catholic Church’s Archdiocese of Toronto. Laura Kalmar, editor of The Mennonite Herald, served as moderator.

While much of the discussion was spontaneous—answering questions posed from the audience—each of us was also asked to prepare a few minutes of introduction, attempting to answer what made Francis such a media darling. What follows is a draft of my opening remarks. Why should Protestants care how Pope Francis is viewed in the media? See my take below:



Shortly following Pope Francis’ election, Christianity Today published an interview with Luis Palau, an Evangelical leader from Argentina. Among other things, Paula praised Francis as “warm and gentle and spiritual.” “He likes to mingle with people,” he continued. “He’s gentle in his conversation.”

“Warm, gentle, spiritual.” These are words that have come to define Pope Francis’ public interactions. And it is this mixture of gentleness and faith that has garnered him such public admiration, I think. In other words, it is his pastoral tone that has brought him praise. He genuinely seems to care for people, for all people—and it’s hard not to like someone you suspect likes you first.

That’s what Evangelicals in Argentina came to understand, as Palau explains. And they weren’t the only ones. News of Francis’ election brought praise from both branches of Lutheranism in Argentina: the church associated with the more theologically conservative International Lutheran Council and the church associated with the more theologically progressive Lutheran World Federation. Both hailed his elevation. This is a man that all people seem to respect.

The same things which brought him respect in Argentina have brought him respect in wider Christendom—including among Canadian Christians. Along with the rest of the world, we have come to appreciate the Pope’s humility, his care for the forgotten, his—as I’ve said before—pastoral tone. Francis suggests that one cannot merely pontificate, if I may use the word, on moral issues; instead, he says, we need to make the Gospel central. Morality is important, yes, but it is not the central tenet of the Christian faith. Mercy is.

Some Canadian Christians have found in Francis’ manner of addressing the world a template for their own reinvention. Christians in the West are used to enjoying a position of respect in society: we’re used to having a platform to speak authoritatively into the lives of others. But that position has been eroding for a long time. Now when we try to speak authoritatively on moral issues, we find ourselves coming up against a wall.

It is in this context that Francis’ words in an interview published by America in September 2013 become clear. He warns that the Church must first focus on mercy, and not diminish Christianity to mere moralism. That’s not to say that he thinks morality is unimportant; it is. But you deal with first things first. In caring for the wounded, he says, you deal with the wounds first; and you leave the issue of high cholesterol till the patient has stabilized.

This way of approaching the world—pastorally, rather than by issuing moral decrees—is necessary in a society where Christianity has lost its traditional place of authority. Before we can tell people how to live, we must first earn their trust—we must first prove to them that we care about them, and that we have their best interests at heart. This way of communicating with the outside world is something Canadian Christians will, I hope, continue to learn from Pope Francis.

* But Francis isn’t just a model for emulation. He also serves as the de facto face of Christianity in the world, including, I think, Canada. There is name-recognition when it comes to the Pope in a way that there isn’t for the leaders of other denominations. People know who he is. It matters therefore vitally what the secular world thinks of him. If people have a positive impression of him, then it makes Christians’ work in sharing the Gospel all the easier—regardless of denomination. But if the secular world dislikes the Pope, people become more resistant to the Christian message in general—whether it’s being shared by Orthodox, Protestants, or Catholics.

If the secular world dislikes the Pope, people become more resistant to the Christian message in general—whether it’s being shared by Orthodox, Protestants, or Catholics.

As it happens, Pope Francis is still enjoying remarkable popularity. And while studies from Pew Forum and others haven’t seen an increase in church attendance due to the Francis Effect, there is a measurable increase in people who hold positive opinions of the pontiff. That leaves them open to what he might say.

But that’s the question: what might he say? Francis engages the media in a very different way than his predecessors did; he’s spontaneous. Unscripted. And while that has given a sense of genuineness to his pastoral tone, it’s also left him open to misunderstanding. Those expressions that have garnered some of the most media coverage—“Who am I to judge?,” being the classic example—have divided Canadian Christians of other traditions. Progressives have embraced this as evidence that Francis is going to make changes to Catholic teaching on issues like human sexuality, contraception, female ordination, and the like. Some conservative Christians have expressed concern that maybe he is withdrawing from traditional Catholic stances on these subjects. But I think it’s more correct to say that Francis has been misunderstood in these areas. He’s certainly relegated some hot-button issues to a less prominent place; but he hasn’t abandoned Catholic teaching on them.

I think the fact that the Pope can’t be put in these narrow political boxes of “conservative” or “liberal” are part of his appeal at current, both to the secular realm and to Christians of other traditions. But I’m not certain how long this popular approval can last. I suspect as people become more aware that Francis is, as he says, a loyal son of the church, his approval ratings will drop. Canadian Christians need to be aware therefore that this mini-renaissance of public approval for the church probably isn’t going to last.


* Of course, Pope Francis’ impact on other Christian traditions is not merely as a good example of how to better engage the unchurched around us. He is also a strong ecumenical voice. We have a real sense that he cares for Christians of other traditions. His history in Argentina speaks to this of course, but we’ve also seen it in his work as pope so far. We’ve seen it in official acts, of course: his meeting with Pope Tawadros II of the Coptic church, visits with members of the Lutheran World Federation, and his [then] upcoming trip to Jerusalem to strengthen ties with the Orthodox. But we have also seen his concern for ecumenism in unscripted acts as well: his video message to an American charismatic conference, for example, where he lamented the separation between Christians: “Who is to blame for this separation?” he asks, before humbly suggesting, “We all share the blame. We have all sinned.”

His words in a December 2013 interview were truly inspiring. When asked whether ecumenism was important to him, he was clear: “Yes,” he said, “for me ecumenism is a priority. Today there is an ecumenism of blood. In some countries they kill Christians for wearing a cross or having a Bible and before they kill them they do not ask them whether they are Anglican, Lutheran, Catholic or Orthodox. Their blood is mixed. To those who kill we are Christians. We are united in blood, even though we have not yet managed to take necessary steps towards unity between us and perhaps the time has not yet come. Unity is a gift that we need to ask for.” Those are words that most Christians, Protestant or otherwise, can appreciate and respect.

That final message—the idea that, to those outside the Church, we are all simply “Christians,” is an important one. It’s true of course to those who are literal enemies of the Church—those who wish to kill Christians. But it’s also true of those who are merely in the secular realm: to these people, unaffiliated with the faith, Christians are all simply Christians. And for many of these people, the Pope is the de facto face of Christianity.

(Image: Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0. Attribution:, via WikiCommons).

My friend Karl recently challenged me on Facebook to name ten books that have changed my life. Or, more accurately, I was to “write down ten books that have affected your life in some way and tag ten friends including me so I can see your choices as well.” Ignoring the fact that the word “affected” is “abominably vague” (as Karl also noted), here’s my list. It’s eclectic, to be sure, with fiction, poetry, theology, and more.

The books follow in no particular order.

narnia1. The Chronicles of Narnia – C.S. Lewis

This series served, in many ways, as my gateway to both fantasy and theology. As a child, it was my favourite series of books, and I still reread them all every few years. The Christian symbolism is not something I become aware of until some years later, when my pastor explained it to me. At first I rebelled at the knowledge, but eventually the secret of it (Another story beneath! Deeper magic!) led me to read more of C.S. Lewis, including…

MereChristianity2. Mere Christianity – C.S. Lewis

This. This was my first introduction to serious Christian thought. My first introduction, as it were, to theology. More detailed study into the various focuses of Christian theology came later, as did wide reading in the writings of Christians from across the centuries. But Mere Christianity was, for me, where it all began. And for that, I am truly grateful to C.S. Lewis.

man-who-was-thursday3. The Man Who Was Thursday – G.K. Chesterton

This book was my first introduction to Chesterton, and thus an introduction to numerous other important books in my life (like Heretics, Orthodoxy, Napoleon of Notting Hill, etc). The ability to make the ordinary strange is a particular gift of Chesterton’s and a prevailing theme in much of his other writing; but nowhere is the concept so well enfleshed as it is in The Man Who Was Thursday. This book is my favourite novel, bar none—even if (or perhaps because?) it so often confounds me.

The-Augsburg-Confession4. The Augsburg Confession (Confessio Augustana) – Philip Melanchthon

The primary Lutheran confession of faith, important not only for articulating Lutheran theology over/against contemporary abuses, but also for stressing the theological continuity of Lutheranism with the faith of the ancient Church. “The churches among us,” Melanchthon writes, “do not dissent from the Catholic Church in any article of faith.” Indeed.

freedom-of-a-christian5. The Freedom of a Christian – Martin Luther

Too many people (including too many Lutherans) seem to think that salvation by grace through faith alone means works are excluded from the Christian’s life. Nothing could be further from the truth. In this book, Luther explains the proper relationship between faith and works. While only the former justifies before God, he writes, both are nevertheless necessary in the Christian’s life. This little work, too seldom read, also introduces a number of other important Lutheran ideas, as I’ve summarized elsewhere: “Here Luther touches on the simultaneous sinner/saint state of Christians; explains Law and Gospel; argues justification by faith alone; defends the necessity of works as a fruit of faith; discusses what makes works ‘good’; expounds on the priesthood of all believers (both what it does and doesn’t mean); and delves into his theology of vocation, as well as hinting at the doctrine of the ‘two kingdoms.’”

spirituality-of-the-cross6. The Spirituality of the Cross – Gene Edward Veith

This is the quintessential introduction to Lutheranism for those wanting to know more about “the way of first evangelicals.” Veith provides a winsome case for the Evangelical Catholic (aka Lutheran) tradition, taking readers on a tour through the major points of Lutheran theology in clear and eminently readable prose. And it never descends into mere academic musings; this is a theology that is forever relevant and applicable to Christians today. Looking for a sacramental evangelicalism? A protestantism that is, at its core, nevertheless catholic? Veith explains why Lutheranism is the church you’re seeking.

poems-john-donne-16337. Poems (1633) – John Donne

Where do I begin? Donne’s poetry, whether focused on the earthly or the divine—and really, Donne would say (and I would agree), everything in creation counts under the category of “divine”—is deeply profound and deeply moving. Meaning is packed tightly into each line, each phrase, like a compressed spring waiting to be released. The Holy Sonnets have especially been important to me in my own spiritual journeys. While what I’m writing here applies to any edition of Donne’s English poetry, there’s something particularly pleasing about holding my reproduction copy of the 1633 edition, as I reflect on Donne’s Holy Sonnets. It provides a tactile experience, a weight in my hands to mirror the weight in my heart—a heart that Donne (and God) batter, for my good.

Pilgrim's_Progress_first_edition_16788. The Pilgrim’s Progress – John Bunyan

I know what you’re thinking: “That old book? That long-on-words and short-on-plot book? That thinly-veiled not-at-all-veiled allegory? Why that book?” I know this book isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, but it’s been important to me for a number of reasons, not least of all because Bunyan’s thoughts have helped me formulate my understanding of what literature is for. I also acknowledge this book for Bunyan’s theology of despair, a condition in which I have an interest both personally and academically. Christian’s encounter with Giant Despair is, for those interested, made all the more illuminating when reading it alongside Bunyan’s own spiritual battle with despair (as described in Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners).

Gospel-of-John9. The Gospel of John

While the Bible in its totality has had an obviously massive impact on my life, the Gospel of John is particularly dear to me. St. John’s surprisingly simple vocabulary make accessible complex theological ideas—mirroring, in a way, the enfleshing of the Divine Word in the Man Jesus. God humbles Himself that we may be brought up—He discloses Himself that we might to know Him Who made us.

odyssey10. The Odyssey – Homer

I am a lover of classical mythology and culture, and for me there is no greater story from the era than Homer’s Odyssey. This text led to my wider interest in the literature and philosophy of Ancient Greece and Rome—studies which have significantly impacted how I view all other literature and philosophies.

I can’t help but feel I’ve cut too many books that should also be on this list, just in order to keep it to ten. An expanded list must needs include some classic science fiction (such as the works of Jules Verne and H.G. Wells), children’s adventure stories (Hatchet and My Side of the Mountain), philosophy (Plato), drama (Shakespeare) fantasy (JRR Tolkien), and more from the Inklings (especially Charles Williams’ The Place of the Lion and War in Heaven). I should also mention the first book of C.S. Lewis’ Space Trilogy, as the description of Ransom learning alien language is what first kindled my interest (and subsequent degree) in Linguistics.

But there is one other book I just must mention, and that is C.S. Lewis’ The Great Divorce. Now what is so important about this book you ask? Well, it’s responsible (at least in part) for my marrying Leah. Some years ago, not long after Leah and I had first met, we fell into conversation at a large-group dinner event. We began by chance to speak of Lewis, zeroing in on The Great Divorce. I made some remark about the characterization of George MacDonald in the text. But Leah promptly corrected me, telling me in no uncertain terms I was wrong. Surprised, I actually went home that night and reread the book. Leah was right: I was wrong. About that time I began to realize just how attractive Leah was….

I count it a great blessing that Leah and I can talk so easily together about big ideas, and that each of us can learn from (and correct) each other. But it’s never lost on me that The Great Divorce led, in our case, to a rather Great Marriage.


Edit (August 27): I have no idea how I forgot to put The Screwtape Letters on this list. Major oversight.


We continue to speak [the words of the Nicean Creed] because they continue to be true. What the First Council in Nicea confessed on the basis of Scripture, Christians today continue to confess: Jesus is God. He was not created. He has always existed. And because He is God, He has power to save sinners like you and me. It might be ancient history, but the confessions made at Nicea are forever relevant to our faith today.

Of course, the council in Nicea in 325 was not the first council in history. In fact, Christians had long been in the habit of gathering together to discuss issues of concern, to pray, and to make plans for the future. Even the Apostles hashed out issues in this way, discussing whether Gentile believers needed to follow the same rules (on circumcision and dietary laws) that the Jews did (see the story of the Jerusalem Council in Acts 15).

In some ways, this might sound a little mundane. Surely God could guide the Church in a more dramatic fashion. Couldn’t we hold face to face discussions with Him like Moses did? Couldn’t He send signs and wonders to confirm what direction we should take? No doubt God could act in such a way, but the fact is He frequently chooses simpler ways to communicate with His people. He gives us a book—common paper, common ink—and yet infuses His own Word into it. He speaks over common water, pours it over our heads, and somehow claims us as His children. He takes bread and wine, mixes it with His words of forgiveness, and uses it to give us His own body and blood. He gives us normal run-of-the-mill pastors to speak God’s very own words of mercy to us on a regular basis.

The above is a selection from my recent column “Why we gather: A lesson from Nicea.” Check it out over at The Canadian Lutheran.



“The Lamb hath alone died for us, the Lamb only hath shed his blood for us: the Lamb only hath redeemed us; these things hath he done alone; now, if these be sufficient, then hath he alone made satisfaction, and is alone worthy to be our Redeemer and Justifier.” – Only Faith Justifieth Before God (Robert Barnes, English martyr)

On this day, we remember the Rev. Dr. Robert Barnes, martyred for the faith July 30, 1540. Barnes, Prior of the Augustinian monastery in Cambridge, preached a Christmas Eve sermon in 1526 which expressed criticism of ecclesiastical abuses. This sermon is often credited as the beginning in earnest of the English Reformation. Not coincidentally, Barnes is also considered one of England’s first Lutherans. He was a member of the group which met at the White Horse Inn.

Barnes was not executed alone. Reflecting the politically-charged nature of the Reformation in England, he was executed along with five others: two of them Evangelicals (ie, Protestants) and three of them conservatives (ie, Roman Catholics). All were executed without the benefit of a trial. Shortly before the execution, the three Protestants (Barnes, William Jerome, and Thomas Garrett) had been invited to preach at St. Paul’s Cathedral. The three Catholics (Thomas Abel, Richard Fetherston, and Edward Powell) had all supported Queen Catherine when Henry VIII sought to have the marriage annulled. The Protestants were executed for heresy; the Catholics for treason.

While we thank God for the faithful witness of Robert Barnes, we also pray for the day when Christian division would cease, according to the prayer of Jesus. “My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one—I in them and you in me—so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me” (John 17: 20-23).


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