August 28, 2017
A TRIP TO PRAGUE
I had never been to Prague and had the scantiest knowledge of the Czech Republic, but one day I was reading a newspaper and in the Travel section saw a cheap three day excursion offered to Prague. I thought about it and booked a flight and an hotel there.
The Czech Republic is a land-locked country in the middle of eastern Europe with Poland to the north, Slovakia to the east, Austria to the south and Germany to the west. I had once bumped into one Czech Christian, Jaroslav Kernal (‘Jarda’), at a Banner of Truth conference, though we had never spoken. But when I told Austin Walker of my coming brief vacation he insisted that I should meet Jarda and gave me his email address. He further wrote to him and told him of my visit. So Jarda was well prepared when he received my letter and came to the airport to meet me and take me to my hotel. The next morning he gave me a tour of the city.
King Wencelas, Prince of Bohemia from AD921, is one of the most famous historic Czech figures in the English speaking world, courtesy of the popular 19th Century Christmas song. Prague’s Golden Age was the late Middle Ages when the Holy Roman Emperor Charles IV chose it as his residence and spared nothing to make the city the most magnificent in Europe. A Catholic, he gathered a vast collection of relics (including an alleged part of Christ’s cross which he received in 1357) which he kept along with the crown jewels in Karlstein Castle.
The Roman church’s corrupt practices, opulent lifestyle, and the wealth and immorality of its leaders alienated many Czechs–nobles and peasants alike. John Hus became their spokesman and one of the most important religious thinkers of his time. He read the works of John Wycliffe and was deeply persuaded of the truth of his observations. His reformist preaching in Prague’s Bethlehem Chapel drew vast congregations which was noted with disapproval by the Papacy in Rome. As a result, Hus was excommunicated.
In 1412 Wenceslas IV, brother of the Holy Roman Emperor, banned him from Prague. Hus chose to defend his teaching at the Council of Constance. The Emperor promised him safe conduct, but to no avail. Hus was imprisoned and the following year he was declared a heretic and burned alive at the stake. Hus had given his life to the flames rather than give up the truth.
One of the first places Jarda took me was the huge monument to Hus in the Old Town Square. The statue was unveiled in 1915 on the 500th anniversary of the reformer’s murder. A part of it shows a group of evangelicals who were persecuted and forced into exile 200 years after the death of Hus. Today the Czech Republic is a typically secular European nation with nominal religion, insignificant church attendance, and an overwhelmingly rationalist form of Christianity.
To get to the Old Town Square it was necessary to cross the wide river on the famous landmark, the King Charles bridge. In the summer it is packed with people and even in the late winter it was crowded. Every ten yards there is some large statue or other and it is a fascinating place, though the statues are all Romish (the stations of the cross, many popes and monks and the like). Along the bridge are beggars, buskers, personal portrait painters and sellers of nick-nacks. A great variety of nationalities can be found there, many Asians in particular. We also visited Hus’ rebuilt Bethlehem Chapel. For a short time the Prague International Church met there but it has no Sunday services now and is used mainly for lectures and concerts.
Prague is fascinating. It avoided the bombing of the Second World War and so it hasretained much of its fine gothic architecture.
But what of Jaroslav Kernal? What is his story?
THE PILGRIMAGE OF JARDA
I was born and grew up in a country ruled by communists, a nation which was one of the satellites of the Soviet Union. The communists had their religion whose foundations were materialism, atheism and evolution, and even today little has changed in that regard; no fundamental alterations to Marxism have taken place. The spread of this religion has encouraged three negative emotions to thrive, envy, hatred and fear. I mention these things so that you can understand something of the climate in which I grew up. During my childhood and adolescence I never came across the gospel; I simply did not meet any Christians whatsoever.
Then during my years in high school, socialism collapsed in Eastern Europe and our country became politically, philosophically and religiously free. It was during those years that I began to hear more about God, some of my classmates were even confirmed as Catholics, and such changes, for most of us in school, were thought provoking. Going to church was something completely new for most Czech young people. However, becoming religious did not mean meeting with the truth of God’s Word, the power of the gospel and a new relationship with the risen Lord Jesus Christ. It was rather a reassertion of the old Czech tradition of Christianity; it was not a rebirth of living Christianity because mere religion cannot set a sinner free from sin; it is impotent to give real life. That comes from God alone, not from men and their ceremonies.
I can see now that my life as a teenager and student was one that was experiencing what the Bible affirms so clearly, that man is born a sinner, lives an empty way of life, and is ruled by selfishness; in fact he is a slave of sin. That’s exactly what my life was like at that time. I was hard and proud; I was essentially a very selfish person. My life revolved around alcohol, tobacco, sex, money, ‘fun’, and in my university years (when I studied history and the Czech language) I sampled drugs as well. They were freely available.
Then at the beginning of the second year of my studies the great change started to occur when I met a beautiful girl named Alena. Yet by the limited understanding I had then she unfortunately had one sad defect – she was a Christian. I was charmed by her and yet I was shocked at the same time. We corresponded for some months. I wrote more letters than I’d ever written during my whole life. My goal in my correspondence was to convince this lovely woman that as for religion she was totally wrong and that Christianity was a fairy tale for grandmothers and uneducated, superstitious people. I was dead serious about converting her, and so I got myself a Bible (the AV Czech equivalent) and I began to read it. I wanted really to understand what was Christianity simply in order that I could refute it to this girl and deliver her from her erroneous way of life. I started to read, probably in Mark’s gospel, and then I went through John’s gospel. Every day I tried to study thoroughly one chapter of these gospels and also to re-read the chapter I’d read the previous day. It was then, as I got involved in what I was learning, that I discovered something increasingly fascinating. An event of illumination and recognition took place. I had stumbled across true Christianity, the real uninventable Lord Christ.
I remember one particular day as I was talking to my room-mate in college I told him that if what the Bible says were actually to be true then it must result in a complete change in a person’s life. If anyone should believe the Bible, then his life would have to be tranformed completely from his very heart and soul.
God had been very patient with this arrogant young man. I was a sinner who deserved nothing but mockery from man and terrible judgment from God, yet I received fine mercy from God, patience, love, truth and amazing grace. My searching didn’t last long. I began to study the epistle of Paul to the Romans and read in the sixth chapter these words,
Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with him, knowing that Christ, having been raised from the dead, is never to die again; death no longer is master over him. For the death that he died, he died to sin once for all; but the life that he lives, he lives to God. Even so consider yourselves to be dead to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus. –(Rom 6:8-11)
I don’t know if it were exactly these verses that God used to stop me wasting my life, but I know that a day dawned when the old Jarda Kernal died and a new Jarda Kernal came to be. What is amazing to me still is that at this time of my conversion I had never been inside a church and Alena, the girl who was to become my wife, was one of the only two Christians I’d met during my whole life. I knew nothing of the Bible’s teaching on the new birth, or its explanation of conversion, regeneration, repentance, faith, etc. If you’d interrogated me as to what was happening to me, I couldn’t have explained it properly, but after that day, with growing certainty and increasing conviction, I knew that I was a disciple of Christ. I knew that I had to fight against sin. It was, to give you a small example of the changes that took place in my life, on that unforgettable day that I stopped smoking – what I had been completely unable to do before my conversion. I knew that I had been made free from sin’s domination of my life, that henceforth I belonged to God. My body was the temple of the Holy Spirit and I had a new Lord.
So, very soon we were married. God gave me Alena, that beautiful girl who had prayed for me and patiently listened to me and wrote to me helping me come to the true light of the gospel.
Subsequently God gave us two children, Jakub and Maja, now in their late teens. In his goodness God leads his people by his paths. On those paths he freely gives us all things richly to enjoy. Then, more than that, God called me to preach the word of God. He spoke to me as God speaks today – through his Holy Word, the Bible: ‘Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation.’ (Mark 16:15). He laid those words on my life as my own personal burden. It was not long after my conversion that I began to preach the word of God in church, and after my studies at the university I commenced studying at a theological seminary.
After graduating from seminary we left the church which we’d been attending for a few years. We left for what we believed to be important theological issues and church practice. With another family, and with my parents and one other brother who had all been converted, in the year 2004 we started a new church. God blessed this work, and answered our prayers. God works through intercession, and our bearing testimony to the truth of the gospel message, and especially the preaching of the word of God. We were not a large church. At our Sunday meetings we had between 20 to 35 attendees including children. Most believers in our congregation were first generation Christians. By God’s grace we saw them grow and become stronger in faith in the Lord Jesus and in love for the saints. The church set apart two or three elders and slowly some deacons began to emerge. God had given us the great privilege of establishing a biblical congregation that seeks his glory and desires to fulfill his mission, to spread the gospel and equip the saints.
In addition, he began to provide us with other valuable tools. I became the editor of the only reformed magazine in our country with 5000 copies published quarterly. Then a couple with whom we had formed the church were running a small Christian publishing house and they publish some helpful books by reformed writers. Stuart Olyott on Ephesians and Hebrews, Erroll Hulse on the Puritans, David Brainerd’s Diary, Spurgeon’s Catechism, and his Advice to Seekers, and his All of Grace, Ryle’s Duties of Parents, Pink’s Gleanings in the Godhead, and Profiting from the Word of God, Jay Adams’ How to Overcome Temptation. They would like to translate Nick Neeedham’s church history volumes, Two Thousand Years of Christ’s Power, as well as John Calvin’s Institutes and they have discussed translating Christianity Explored. They also have published two new books by contemporary Czech writers. They have organized seven theological preaching conferences, and also annual summer camps for many years. We pray for the word of God as it is spreading in our country. We are a nation with a rich Christian history. It was here in our land that the first ever church of the Reformation emerged. That was 50 years before Martin Luther’s reforming work. But alas, most of this heritage, if not all of it, is forgotten in our land, and has been for many generations. Our country is in the darkest spiritual night, and the worst thought is that the vast majority of existing churches intensify this darkness by querying and denying the sufficiency and infallibility of God’s word.
So, we pray that God will raise up more faithful preachers to preach his Word and to establish healthy biblical churches all over our country. Thus in 2015 it was strategic for the future of the gospel in the country to do what the apostle did and go to the leading centres of the nations. Our beloved first church sent us to the Czech capital, Prague, to plant a new work. God in his mercy has blessed this work and subsequently we are witnessing the slow but steady growth of a Christ exalting, gospel preaching and disciple making congregation. Praise God for his goodness and mercy. Such graces follow us indeed all the days of our lives.
AN ANSWER TO A 500 YEAR OLD PRAYER
The above testimony of Jarda Kernal can be seen as the historic response to the words of the great Czech reformer and martyr, John Hus, in one of his letters written from exile to his congregation at Prague.
Finally, I beseech you, dearly beloved, pray for those who proclaim God’s truth with his grace; also pray for me, that I may write and preach more against the malice of the Antichrist, and that when need is the greatest, God may place me in the battle-array to defend his truth.
Christ always answers our prayers though the response may be 500 years after we have prayed.
BANNER OF TRUTH online; SEPT. 28, 2017