LABOR DAY: 4 who exemplify laboring for the Lord

by Stephen Douglas Wilson, posted Friday, August 31, 2018 (one year ago)

PIPPA PASSES, Ky. (BP) -- On Sept. 3, Americans will celebrate Labor Day. Congress created the holiday in 1894 to honor all those who labor, designating the first Monday in September for its official observance. The federal Labor Day actually was preceded by more than 30 states that had already sanctioned the holiday.

It is interesting to think about some important Christian leaders who performed extraordinary feats of labor in their lifetime ministries; here are four who met that high standard.

The dedication and work ethic of William Tyndale, Adoniram Judson, Annie Armstrong and Billy Graham easily exceed most of the labor that contemporary Christians perform for their faith, though these short accounts are not meant as complete biographies.

Moreover, these four Christians certainly stand out as powerful role models for us today.

William Tyndale (1494-1536) lived during the early years of the Reformation. While attending Oxford University and acquiring a master of arts degree, he studied theology and languages. He eventually learned six languages besides English. Influenced by Luther and his own readings of Erasmus' Greek New Testament, he became a Protestant Christian.

William Tyndale
 
As the 16th century progressed, Tyndale decided to translate the Bible into English from the original languages. His friends played minor roles in this endeavor. Tyndale's work, a labor of Christian love, was considered more significant than Wycliffe's earlier English version since Wycliffe's translation was derived from only the Latin Vulgate. Tyndale completed and published the New Testament and later started on the Old Testament.

His Old Testament work progressed but remained unfinished. Since his bold declarations of faith antagonized both Catholic and Anglican authorities, he was apprehended and executed in 1536. Miles Coverdale, an associate of Tyndale, then translated the rest of the Old Testament and, along with Tyndale's work, published it as the Coverdale Bible.

Tyndale's influence on later English Bibles remains evident today. A good portion of the King James Version still includes most of his earlier work, and Tyndale even coined English theological words like "Passover," "scapegoat" and "atonement" ("at one" describing the reconciliation between God and humankind). Today English-speaking Christians owe a considerable debt to this hard-working Christian translator.

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Adoniram Judson (1788-1850), like Tyndale, proved to be a remarkable laborer for the Lord's cause. At age 19 he was named valedictorian of the college that later became Brown University. Embracing a Baptist theology while en route to India, he decided instead to labor on the mission field in Burma (Myanmar today). To support his work, Judson and Luther Rice helped found the first American Baptist foreign mission board, popularly called the Triennial Convention in 1814.

Adoniram Judson
 
Enduring great hardship in Burma that included an imprisonment and the deaths of many family members, Judson's work there was incredible. He learned four languages including Burmese, translated the Bible into Burmese, authored both a work on Burmese grammar and a Burmese-English dictionary, evangelized the lost, founded churches and schools and ministered at them, wrote hymns, and originated many of the protocols for how a missionary society supports people on the mission field.

Dying in 1850, his work in Burma speaks for itself. Today Myanmar possesses the third-largest concentration of Baptists in the world behind only the United States and India.

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Annie Armstrong (1850-1938) tirelessly served as a lay leader in a variety of Christian ministries. Saved at age 20, Annie reached out to various groups of poor Americans through home missions that included orphans, African Americans, Chinese Americans, Native Americans and women in general. She was known for combining the Gospel message with practical charity for those she served.

Annie Armstrong
 
She also had a heart for missions in general, including those laboring overseas. In 1888 she helped found the Woman's Missionary Union, which became an auxiliary organization to the Southern Baptist Convention. She was the corresponding secretary for the organization, a position that functioned much like an executive director. In spite of a tremendous workload, Armstrong at one point expressed a desire not to take a salary for her efforts and traveled to meet missionaries on the field at her own expense. She wrote extensively and in one year she authored 18,000 letters.

Armstrong lobbied for special offerings for both foreign and home missions. The first recipient of her Christmastide offering was the famed Chinese missionary Lottie Moon. The offering for foreign missions was later named in Moon's honor. Armstrong also proposed a springtime offering for home missions, and after Armstrong retired from the WMU, it was named in her honor. After her WMU tenure, she continued to support home missions in Maryland until her death.

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Billy Graham (1918-2018) certainly deserves a place among Christianity's hardest-working laborers. Saved at a revival conducted by Mordecai Ham, Graham began his ministry in small churches and ministries. His strong voice and excellent sermon delivery soon propelled him to conduct his own revivals and crusades.

Billy Graham
 
Graham's work ethic and zeal for the faith soon caught the attention of the media and he became famous early in his ministry. Graham's ministry accomplishments were impressive. A pioneer in television ministry, perhaps 2.5 billion people have tuned into his various broadcasts. He preached more than 400 crusades in 185 countries and territories, and 210 million attended them. The organization that he founded, the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, revealed that 3.2 million accepted Christ at the various crusades. Graham and the BGEA also produced 130 Christian-themed films.

His labors also bore additional fruit. Graham advised American presidents from Truman to Obama on spiritual matters, once presided over a seminary at a very young age (Northwest Bible College), and even received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame -- the only one given to a minister for ministry (some gospel music performers have stars). Graham's long life of 99 years enabled him also to mentor a number of generations of young Christian protégés.

We Christians of this era unfortunately view some of our duties in the faith as burdensome chores, but the people profiled here worked hard in behalf of Christ, His teachings, the Bible and the Great Commission. On Labor Day, we should honor their efforts and renew our own commitment to laboring in the faith.

Stephen Douglas Wilson is a history professor at Alice Lloyd College and is a former member of the Southern Baptist Convention Executive Committee.
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