“I share in the work of those whom He called and predestinated to preach the Gospel among grave persecutions to the end of the earth.” -Saint Patrick
St. Patrick and his holiday are filled with legends. St. Patrick did not drive snakes out of Ireland. He was not a Roman Catholic emissary to Ireland. He wasn’t even Irish, rather, British. Yes, he was a saint, but according to the Bible, all believers are saints (Romans 1:7; 1 Corinthians 1:2; Philippians 1:1; etc.).
St. Patrick was born into a Christian home in Britain. There are a number of interesting facts about the British church of Patrick's day. They had bishops, but they were pastors, overseers, of local churches. In the Bible the terms bishop, pastor, elder, are used synonymously to refer to the office of the leader in a local church (Acts 20:28; Philippians 1:1; 1 Peter 5:1-3). Their bishops married and had families (1 Timothy 3:2). They looked to the Bible as their supreme authority. They referred to monasteries, but a little investigation reveals a monastery was just their version of a Bible school or seminary. They had monks, but many monks were married, had children and preached throughout the countryside. A monk was simply a seminary student. They spoke of baptism by immersion. These are some of the reasons the great preacher, W. A. Criswell, preached his 1958 sermon, St. Patrick was a Baptist preacher (see W. A. Criswell in this blog’s right sidebar).
Whatever happened to these ancient British followers of Christ? The Romans withdrew their legions from Britain in the middle AD 400s. The British had not learned warfare and had no ability to protect their country. With the Romans gone, thousands of these British Christians were killed by invaders in the late AD 400s and 500s.
Patrick was born about AD 360 into a Christian home in Britain. His father was a deacon and his grandfather was a pastor. He, however, had not yet accepted Christ. In this day, the Celtic tribes of Ireland were uncivilized barbarians. During one of their raids on Britain, 16 year old Patrick was taken captive.
For six long years Patrick was a slave in Ireland. During his slavery, Patrick accepted Christ and his faith was strengthened. He wrote in his Confessions, “I would pray constantly during the daylight hours…the love of God…surrounded me more and more.”
God spoke to Patrick in a dream, “Your hungers are rewarded. You are going home. Look, your ship is ready.” As a fugitive slave, he walked over 100 miles to the Irish coast where he escaped on a ship and returned to Britain.
Back in Britain he entered into Christian ministry and in time became a bishop (pastor). Patrick developed a love for the pagan people of Ireland and sensed a call to take the Gospel to them. So years after he returned home, he voluntarily went back to Ireland as a missionary from Britain.
Patrick lived among the Irish, learned their culture, and gradually began to share the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Results were slow, but he was patient and faithful. Over time, thousands came to know Christ as their Saviour. He preached the Gospel throughout Ireland and established churches and monasteries (seminaries). Later Irish Christians followed Patrick’s example and spread the Gospel in Scotland, Britain, and Europe.
St. Patrick is one of the heroes of the Christian faith. He shows how growing up in a Christian family does not automatically mean you are a Christian, it must come by personal faith. He is an example of adversity strengthening personal faith. He reveals much about love for the lost, cross-cultural evangelism, and self sacrifice.
A few things to consider next week on St. Patrick’s Day.
Read more about it: St. Patrick was a Baptist Preacher, by W. A. Criswell, wacriswell.com; several Baptist Press articles on St. Patrick, bpnews.net; The Celtic Way of Evangelism by George G. Hunter III.
-David R. Brumbelow, Gulf Coast Pastor, March 11, AD 2010.