Pastor Martin Rinkart’s plague, and ours

Pastor Martin Rinkart’s plague, and ours

It would be hard to imagine a more catastrophic waste of time than Covid. That is if we all have important things to do which Covid and public health authorities have obstructed. Say, among Christians and within the Church, things like caring for our sheep who are suffering; and outside the Church, confessing faith in our Sovereign God and preaching His Gospel to those running from poverty and death.

But no, you must forgive us; those things have not been our focus.

Across the church aisle, both pro and anti-maskers and vaxxers are agreed that Covid is a terrible waste of time. Everything gets shut down. Businesses close. Churches close. Everyone stays home, but the web stays open. A perfect storm of wasted days and wasted nights.

So from the beginning, everyone got angry, and from then to this present day, the people of God, too, have been hot and bothered, taking out their distemper on one another—particularly online. Christians have condemned one another with the more conservative Christians gnashing their teeth and shouting that:

  • Covid isn’t real.
  • Covid isn’t dangerous.
  • Covid is a conspiracy of the nanny-state to get more authority.
  • Public health authorities are stupid.
  • Public health authorities are liars.
  • It’s old people who die.
  • Social distancing doesn’t work.
  • Masks are the libs’ sacrament.
  • Masks are idolatry.
  • Vaccines are evil.
  • Vaccines are idolatry.
  • You come near me with that needle and I’ll put a bullet in your forehead!
  • It’s all tyranny!
  • Resist the tyrants!

We could continue listing Christians’ Covid-inspired hoots and catcalls at each other, worldlings, and civil authorities. (If you’re wondering, the answer is “yes.” All these declarations above have been widely circulated by well-known conservative pastors.)

Is this how God intended His people to spend a year and a half when He sent us Covid? Has our mood and behavior been similar to the mood and behavior of the Church in response to a public catastrophe at any other time or place in history? Was this how Pastor Martin Rinkart of Eilenburg responded to the Thirty Years War and plague of 1637? Did he gnash his teeth and agitate against his civil authorities presiding over these disasters? Were his anger and belligerence the inspiration for his hymn, Nun danket alle Gott? Was this hymn his radicalizing his sheep in preparation for his leading them against their tyrants?

If so, the words would have been quite different, wouldn’t they?

Here then is the hymn long known as the German Te Deum, used at the celebration of the completion of Cologne Cathedral in 1880 as well as the laying of the foundation stone for the new Reichstags building in Berlin in 1884:

Now thank we all our God
with heart and hands and voices,
who wondrous things has done,
in whom his world rejoices;
who from our mothers’ arms
has blessed us on our way
with countless gifts of love,
and still is ours today.

O may this bounteous God
through all our life be near us,
with ever joyful hearts
and blessed peace to cheer us,
to keep us in his grace,
and guide us when perplexed,
and free us from all ills
of this world in the next.

All praise and thanks to God
the Father now be given,
the Son and Spirit blest,
who reign in highest heaven
the one eternal God,
whom heaven and earth adore;
for thus it was, is now,
and shall be evermore.1

So what do we Covid-agitators with all our arguments over political authority and statistics—we who are most decidedly not called to the offices of civil authority, but to church authority as deacons, elders, and pastors—have to say about Pastor Rinkart? I certainly hope we don’t give ourselves to such foolish thoughts as:

Poor docile and compliant man! Probably a pietist. Maybe even a quietist—you know, “let go and let God.” Anyhow, what a wasted opportunity. If ever there was a moment to raise a ruckus and resist the tyrants, it was then and Rinkart was the man.

Rinkart arrived in Eilenburg at the beginning of the Thirty Years War during which the city was repeatedly overrun by armies. It was a walled town filled with soldiers and refugees. The soldiers forced homes to provide them food and shelter, including the home of Pastor Rinkart. He was already poor and this provisioning for occupying soldiers robbed his family of what they already had too little of.

During the worst of the plague, the good man was the only pastor in the city and each day buried forty to fifty souls. That year (1637) alone, Pastor Rinkart buried 4,480 souls—including his much-loved wife whose death he mourned with two hymns written in her memory, one of which begins, “So I’m going there with joy.”2

The plague was followed by a famine so terrible that “30 or 40 people might be seen fighting in the streets for a dead cat or crow.”

What was Pastor Rinkart’s attitude and posture?

After the worst of the plague and famine, a Swedish general came to Eilenburg and demanded a huge annual tribute in exchange for lifting his siege. Already decimated in every way, this was the worst tyranny imaginable for beleaguered Eilenburg. So Pastor Reinkart went to the Swedish general to appeal for mercy.

The General remained adamant.

Did Pastor Rinkart respond by calling the souls he was over in the Lord to rebel against this tyranny? Returning to his fellow citizens inside the town walls, did he call his sheep to draw their swords? Did he expostulate on man’s natural rights? Did he convene a meeting of city fathers to plot their resistance?

No. Rather, having appealed to the general for mercy and been refused, Pastor Rinkart returned to the citizens looking to him for leadership and said, “Come, my children, we can find no hearing, no mercy with men, let us take refuge with God.”

Did God hear Pastor Rinkart’s meek and humble prayer? Did God respond to Pastor Rinkart’s pleas? Did the people’s Heavenly Father turn the heart of the General?

Yes, most certainly. God hears and answers prayer. The fruit of Pastor Rinkart’s prayers were that the Swedish general relented and lowered his demands of annual tribute from 30,000 thalers to 2,000 florins (a reduction of over ninety percent).

But, you say:

This has no application to us because Pastor Rinkart and his flock there in Eilenburg had no Constitution or Bill of Rights. Furthermore, their war and pestilence were real, but ours are fake. Too, it would have done no good for Pastor Rinkart to call his people to resist the tyrants because they would not have had a prayer. The things suffered over three decades had depleted them financially and emotionally, so there remained no firm will among the citizenry to roll back the tyranny.

The situation is very different with us!  We have guns. We have cars and very large pickup trucks. We have cowboy boots and beards and dogs, and we know how to read statistics.

We have the Constitution and Bill of Rights providing us every right and means to correct things. In fact, we ourselves are the lesser magistrates and we’re not going to take it anymore. Now then, forget the Church and our neighbors and join me and three other men you might know as we march on the county courthouse and yell through bullhorns.

It’s exhilarating. You’ll love it!

The Apostle Paul almost died in Ephesus (and really, almost everywhere he went) preaching the Gospel, but we don’t have time for that. Our Gospel is “Jesus, the Cross, Blood, and Guns.”

Yes, this is the T-Shirt worn by a local pastor at his local Christian school, and he’s known by the other parents for trashing the masks required by our local civil authorities.

It appears he’s finally found a reason to exist. This is now his pastoral ministry. Shouting down any authority requiring masks is his Gospel message. You can tell it by his great zeal—that and his T-Shirt:

Jesus, the Cross, Blood, and Guns!

This past year and a half, we have seen the proof of the truth long evident, that God’s people care a whole lot more about their rights than their neighbor’s salvation. What says it all is the zeal. Keep your eye on the zeal.

May God lead us to repent of our wordliness which has led to our betrayal of the calling He first gave us to feed and protect His flock, and to go into all the world to preach the Gospel—not of political, but eternal salvation.

No one’s been stopping us from doing that. They’ve only been telling us to preach the Gospel with our masks on.

The growth of tyranny is nothing recent. And yes, it continues. The arguments over health matters and stats are real. The shutdown of worship is intolerable.

But are Pastor Rinkart and the Apostle Paul not a rebuke to us? Might a reasonable Christian pastor not examine their conduct and come to the conclusion that he and his fellow agitators are merely spoiled babies produced by a decadent society?

The tyranny and suffering Pastor Rinkart and his parishioners lived under for decades four centuries ago were terrible. The tyranny and suffering of the Apostle Paul twenty centuries ago were also terrible. Under the authority of the Roman Empire whose citizen he was, he suffered riots, beatings, lashings, imprisonment; and in the end. he was executed. He preached Christ crucified, dead, buried, and risen—right to the very end:

“King Agrippa, do you believe the Prophets? I know that you do.”

Agrippa replied to Paul, “In a short time you will persuade me to become a Christian.”

And Paul said, “I would wish to God, that whether in a short or long time, not only you, but also all who hear me this day, might become such as I am, except for these chains.” (Acts 26:27-29)

Today, nowhere in the Western World is there any shortage of men shouting down and protesting masks, quarantines, and vaccination. What there is a shortage of, and a terrible one at that, is men set apart by the laying on of hands and prayer to the preaching of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Shame on us.


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References
1 Likely it was in 1636 that Rinkart first published this hymn, titling it, “A Short Prayer at Table.” In German, the third stanza is simply a version of The Gloria Patri.
2 https://play.google.com/books/reader?id=nAktAAAAYAAJ&pg=GBS.PA963&hl=en

About The Author

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Pastor of Trinity Reformed Church since 1996, Tim and Mary Lee have five children and lots of grandchildren. Tim's books include "Daddy Tried," The Grace of Shame," "Church Reformed," "Elders Reformed," and soon a book on marriage. Tim spent ten years in the PC(USA) and twenty in the PCA. He's now a member of Evangel Presbytery.

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