Monday Missions Memo

September 22, 2014

Boniface: His Axe and Axioms
by Ron F. Hale

How does a missionary compete with the veneration of the hammer-wielding god called Thor?

The pagan people of Germany once believed that the power and presence of Thor resided in a giant Oak tree. Under its sinister shade, ancient religious rituals were conducted. One missionary had the courage to chop it down!

Boniface saw how the Germanic people in the forests of Northern Germany were steeped in superstition and ancient Norse mythology. The locals called Thor “Donnar” the god of thunder and believed he resided in this sacred oak tree. Surely Thor would quickly slay any threat to his mystery and majesty. At least, that was the sincere belief of the people living in the vicinity of Geismare around the year of A.D. 723.

Boniface boldly made his intentions known. In today’s lingo, he was calling Thor out. A curious crowd gathered around Thor’s Oak on the day of reckoning. Surely Boniface gained confidence from reading Old Testament power encounters like that of Prophet Elijah challenging the 450 prophets of Baal in the spiritual showdown on Mount Carmel. Since most of us have grown up in a knowledge-truth kind of Christianity, we know very little about power encounters within cultures that are more oriented toward the spirit world.

Legend says that the tree miraculously fell with a single blow. Another story has Boniface rescuing a boy from the hands of druids and their planned human sacrifice. Some even have Boniface inventing the Christmas tree on this eventful occasion.

With sharpened ax, Boniface stripped down to his waist and began chipping a deep wound into the base of the colossal tree. Not a single bolt of lightning backed by thunder was hurled in the direction of Boniface. A sudden gust of wind finally tipped the tree to breaking point and the ancient oak came crashing to the earth. The lumber was used to build a chapel!

The symbol of the falling oak signaled the fall of paganism in Germany. It was an epic moment!

Historian Leon McBeth says, “At this the hostility of the crowd turned to uneasiness, dimly grasping the inability of their god against a higher deity. Boniface used this as an open door to convert the entire territory to Christ. Timber from the oak was used to build a small chapel on that spot – a vivid reminder to the Germans that Christ must triumph.”[i]

This courageous missionary from Anglo-Saxon England was eventually made the archbishop of Germany by Pope Gregory III and many years later, he died a martyr’s death. His life and triumphs are celebrated in Germany to this very day!

Is there an overarching axiom of truth that we can glean from the mission work of Boniface, as we seek to reach postmodern America for Christ?

Dr. R. Pierce Beaver, Professor Emeritus from the University of Chicago shares several key observations concerning the well-developed mission strategy that Boniface spearheaded from England, and I will summarize:

  1. He spoke their language. Boniface preached to Germanic pagans in a language so akin to their own that they could understand.
  2. He educated. He built monasteries for academic work and for the practical work of agriculture, grazing, and domestic arts.
  3. He utilized women in his mission work. Boniface brought nuns from England to Germany, which was the first time women were formally and actively enlisted in mission work.
  4. He used indigenous workers. Clergy and monks were called from among the German people.
  5. He encouraged intercessory prayer. As Boniface consistently informed his leaders and people in England of his work and needs, they undergirded the mission with prayer.[ii]

Yet, the overarching axiom concerning the mission work of Boniface is: He was Bold! Boniface defied their gods, demolished their shrines, cut down the sacred trees, and built churches on holy sites.[iii]

In post-Christian America—who has the spiritual boldness to take the ax of truth to the sacred secular oaks of moral relativism, multiculturalism, and all the –ism’s of modern man based on a naturalistic view of the world which purposefully shakes its fist at the very thought of a transcendent God, who is loving and guiding His creation toward a glorious future?

Who will be bold enough to face the radical religious Jihadists of Islam who behead innocents, murder their daughters in honor killings, enslave women and children against their wills and plot and plan the genocide of the Jew and The West?

Who will defy our politically-correct progressive elites with the bold fresh claims of Jesus Christ—as they continue their deconstruction of our Christian moral foundations, values, and traditions? Who has the courage to stand under the bright spotlight of their media bias while they partner with ideological government officials with the power of audits and miles of life draining red-tape?

The bold will stand—and, they may pass from the scene in a gruesome manner, but their testimony endures for all generations.

[i] Leon McBeth, In Men Who Made Missions, (Nashville: Broadman, 1968) 25-26.

[ii] R. Pierce Beaver, “The History of Mission Strategy” in, Perspectives on the World Christian Movement, ed. Ralph D. Winter (Pasadena: William Carey Library, 1981,1992), B-58.

[iii] Ibid. B-58.