When I started ministry in the local church, I worked with teenagers. When I first came to Congregational Bible Church, I worked with teenagers. For over 10 years I witnessed firsthand how immature, stubborn, and foolish teenagers can be. But, I have also witnessed how bold, useful, and encouraging teenagers can be as well. I have seen teenagers stand for the truth of the gospel (despite the views of their classmates), I have seen teenagers boldly and excitedly share the gospel with strangers (which is more than some adults), and I have seen teenagers selflessly serve and give of themselves for others.
Throughout the Scripture you can see God doing amazing things through men and women who couldn’t even legally call themselves an adult (in the United States). David was a teenager when he was named ‘a man after God’s own heart’, king Josiah reformed Israel back to the Scripture when he was just sixteen, Mary was a teenager when she was saddled with the responsibility to give birth to the Son of God, and there are many others as well. As we come to the end of this year, and our look at the Protestant Reformation, I would like to spend this last month looking at a young teenage martyr…and our first woman Reformer: Lady Jane Grey.
Lady Jane Grey reluctantly took the throne of England on July 10, 1553. When her cousin (Bloody Mary) raised an army to overthrow her, she willingly stepped down. The date was July 19, 1553, a mere nine days! Jane Grey was dubbed the Nine Day’s Queen. Only five days later, Bloody Mary would sign the death warrant that would send Jane Grey to the scaffold to be beheaded. You see, Jane had become a born-again Christian, a sure target of the wrath of Bloody Mary. Jane had been in the royal court to learn how to be a royal, but had actually been led to the Lord by Queen Katherine Parr.
Jane didn’t write a book or some theological treatise like other Reformers, but Jane knew her Bible. In fact, she learned Greek and Hebrew so she could study her Bible in the original languages. She also stood her ground for her faith and courageously accepted her fate as being under the sovereign hand of God. While she was awaiting her execution, her cousin Bloody Mary, sent a Catholic chaplain to Jane to try and save her soul (or so he thought). Bloody Mary wanted to woo her back to the Roman Catholic Church, and no doubt, get a recantation from Jane. At this encounter, Jane was about 17 years old.
The Catholic chaplain, John Feckenham, proceeded to debate the condemned teenager while she sat in prison awaiting execution. They debated justification: John saying justification is by faith and works; Jane saying justification is by faith alone. They debated communion: John saying the bread and wine are the body and blood of Christ; Jane saying they are a mere representation. They debated church authority: John saying the church and the Bible have authority; Jane saying the Bible alone is the authority. Imagine this scene as the seasoned Catholic apologist debates a condemned teenage girl in a dungeon about spiritual matters!
As Feckenham turns to leave, unable to convince Jane, he says, “I am sure we two shall never meet again.” Of course, implying that Jane was going to hell for her beliefs. Jane turns the warning back on him by saying, “Truth it is we shall never meet again, unless God turns your heart.” What courage and boldness from a 17-year-old awaiting her execution!
What a lesson we can learn from this teenage martyr. She was eventually beheaded on February 12, 1554 asking God to receive her spirit as the axe fell. I hope teenagers read this and understand the importance of knowing God, knowing the Bible, and courageously standing for its truth. I think we adults can also be humbled at the scholarship and boldness of someone we would casually dismiss as a ‘kid.’
While each month we have looked at a different Reformer, I have chosen the more favorable stories to report on each of these people. The truth is, none of them are perfect, none of them are sinless, and they (like us) are deeply flawed. We should never exalt any sinful human being as a hero, but we can still learn much of how God used individuals to reform His precious church back to Scripture.
- Pastor Mark Scialabba