Friendship: The Tie That Binds

There’s a well-known rhyme that describes the ends of Henry VIII’s six wives—Divorced, beheaded, died; divorced, beheaded, survived. Katheryn Parr, Henry’s sixth and final wife, enjoyed the sole position as a survivor. What’s interesting about Katheryn was her commitment to the “new faith” that was spreading through Europe and England. Katheryn brought piety to the court and surrounded herself with others who were like-minded. She even conducted daily gatherings in her personal chambers, where high-ranking women of the court discussed Scripture, listened to sermons, and prayed together.

This practice did not escape the notice of Bishop Gardiner, whose religious views were clearly and irrevocably at odds with the Queen’s Christian convictions. Although Henry had broken with the Roman Catholic Church, the practices of the church, such as the Mass, remained in effect. So the Bishop hoped to spin a web in which to trap Katheryn.

His plan centered around a young gentlewoman named Anne Askew. Anne was a passionate believer with a reputation for “gospelling,” which led to her arrest and condemnation as a heretic. The Bishop knew that Anne was connected to the Queen, so he brought her to the Tower of London in order to interrogate her, believing she would pave a trail to the palace.

However, no matter how hard he tried, the Bishop, along with his attendants, could not get Anne to speak against her friends or disclose her connections with them. Growing impatient with the prescribed manner of interrogation, the men hauled her to a dungeon and directed her attention to the rack, hoping this would loosen her tongue. Her status should have protected her from this horror—only the King or council could command such inhuman treatment—but the men forged ahead with unwavering tenacity of purpose. [Anne is the only woman to have been tortured in the Tower of London.]

Anne found no compassion in her dark-visaged tormentors. She also showed no fear.

When the Bishop finally ceased his gratuitous brutality, Anne had to be carried away in a chair since she no longer had use of her limbs. History records that she confessed nothing to her torturers and never betrayed her sisters in the faith. Henry later received news of her treatment and was appalled, but not enough to commute her sentence.

On July 16, 1546, Anne was carried on her chair to Smithfield to be burned at the stake. After refusing to recant, she cried out that she “came not hither to deny my Lord and Master!”  This amazing young woman died a martyr’s death at the age of 25, but her shortness of life was no measure of her significance in the grander drama.


Clearing the Fog

As I recently read about Anne’s life, I was struck by her loyalty not only to Jesus but to her earthly friends as well. She lived in turbulent times where the “belief police” were a clear and present danger to all the sons and daughters of the Reformation. Anne obviously didn’t count her own life dear, but she did hold her faith and friends precious right through the flames. May God multiply her tribe!

The stories of faithful Christians are great aides for clearing away the culture-induced fog in our lives, so Anne got me thinking about my own friendships. Often things such as common interests, a shared history, or common values draw people together, providing the “glue” necessary to form a close bond. Yet, friendship is much more than the sum of things we share in common.

The Japanese have a term, kenzoku, which means “family.” The word connotes a bond between people with a similar commitment, who will share the future together. Kenzoku also implies a deep connection of friendship, of lives lived in camaraderie. I think this is a good word to describe Christian friendship.


Our Interconnection

There are many reasons God blesses us with Christian friends.  One of them is encouragement.  Standing in the middle of the word—between the en- and the -ment—is the word courage. How we need courage in the daily battle! We need a friend’s encouragement when our faith is flagging. We also need the faithful wounds of a friend who can see our blindspots and sins and address them in love. And, whether we’re an introvert or an extrovert, we need a friend’s companionship. God has created us as social beings interconnected with one another.

However, when I think of my Christian friends, the thing I need most from them is their daily exhortation (Hebrews 3:13). Their friendship is a means of grace in my life, reminding me who I am (a child of God), why I’m here (to glorify God and enjoy him forever), and where I’m going (into God’s presence where I will give an account for my life on this earth).

Of course, the only true friend we will have in this life—the friend who always keeps his word, loves us through thick and thin, and never leaves us or forsakes us—is the Lord Jesus Christ, the friend who sticks closer than a brother. Look at how he loved, served, taught, prayed, healed, interacted, exhorted, comforted. Look at how he entered into the pain and suffering and brokenness of sinners and then laid down his life for his friends (John 15:13). Look at how his whole life glorified God. Look at the pattern he gave us for Christian friendship.

Christian friendship is a high calling, not to be taken lightly. As we find ourselves more and more embattled in the present culture, our shared mission in the gospel should bond us ever more closely in Christian friendship so that once again it can be said of us, “See how they love one another.”

From sorrow, toil, and pain,
and sin, we shall be free;
and perfect love and friendship reign
through all eternity.

John Fawcett, 1782


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