In Celebration of the Life of Charles Wendell Colson, October 16, 1931- April 21, 2012
By Sarah Frances Ives
Special to Virtueonline
May 16, 2012
On May 16, 2012, the life of Charles Wendell Colson, 80, was celebrated in a full Washington National Cathedral. Filled with scriptures and words of hope, the testimony to Jesus Christ as savior led the ceremony. In the words of tribute, Colson was remembered as the special counsel to President Nixon, his famous conversion to the Christian faith, his long work with Prison Fellowship, the Christian Worldview seminar, the Manhattan Declaration, and his many books. Colson's Centurions, those who work with the incarcerated through Prison Fellowship, sat in designated seats of honor. The celebration of his life gave Christ the glory for as Colson had written about his conversion, "From that day on, nothing about my life has been the same. It can never be. I have given my life to Jesus Christ."
Colson's family read the chosen scriptures. His granddaughter Caroline Colson Usry and grandson Charles Christian Colson read the powerful scripture from St. Paul, "But our citizenship is in heaven, and it is from there that we are expecting a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ. He will transform the body of our humiliation that it may be conformed to the body of his glory, by the power that also enables him to make all things subject to himself." Philippians 3:21.
In the first tribute, Colson's daughter, Emily Colson, spoke about her famous father's conversion and said it was a privilege to have seen the change and transformation he went through. "Christ ruled in his heart," she said. After his conversion, he had the same passion and drive for life but "a softness came over him. . . My dad became a new creation." Emily encouraged all fathers to know the power of their role in children's lives and said about this role, "Don't miss it." She spoke with joy saying that her dad put God first and family second above all. She had talked daily with him and said that Colson had spent much time with her autistic son, Max. "My dad would clear his schedule and be present for Max and would do nothing else." She concluded about this, "My father stood by his convictions, even when no one else was looking."
An introduction in the funeral program about the man giving the second tribute, Chaplain Danny Croce, read from Colson's words, "People often ask what my legacy will be. The answer is simple. Apart from my family, it will be the living monuments of God's grace, the people who have experienced a complete new life, and I've been privileged to be a part of. At the top of the legacy list will be Danny. He and I have a special kinship, and as I watch him grow in Christ, I rejoice, and I feel pride-the right kind of pride, that is. This is the man whom God anointed to do great things, to be a witness to our culture, to reach out to the poorest of the poor, and to give hope-new hope, indeed-to the 1 out of 32 Americans today who are either in prison or on probation. What's the answer to the staggering prison problem in America? More Danny Croces."
Chaplain Croce spoke quietly about Colson, describing him as a "friend of sinners." He claimed a special kinship with Colson and said, "God revealed himself to us while we were behind the wall." He proclaimed, "When Jesus said, 'Come.', Chuck came. When Jesus said, 'Follow.', Chuck followed. And when Jesus said, 'Go.' there was nothing left but a cloud of smoke."
Croce spoke of how Colson declined a donor who wanted to build a memorial to Colson with a building named after him or a statue of him. Instead, Colson, a friend of sinners, wanted a scholarship fund for inmates, and so this was done. Croce himself received an education because of this fund and now is a chaplain in the same prison he was incarcerated in himself 26 years ago.
The Honorable Albert Quie, a former Member of the House of Representative and former Governor of Minnesota, gave a tribute to Colson and remembered his faith in Jesus using the words from Philippians. Quie said that Colson forgave people with his whole self and he "realized forgiveness is the grace of God." Quie understood part of Colson's legacy as the 2009 Manhattan Declaration with its three principles: the sanctity of life, traditional marriage, and religious liberty.
Quie described an encounter between the democratic Senator Harold Hughes, a liberal Democrat who would leave meetings when Republicans would talk, and Chuck Colson, who had a year previously strategized for President Nixon's re-election. Quie said Hughes and Colson were at a meeting together. Hughes walked toward Colson and said, "I am your brother for life." Colson rose and they embraced each other." Quie declared, "That was a miracle."
Toward the end of the service, the Rev. Dr. Timothy George, dean of Beeson Divinity School and the executive editor of Christianity Today preached the gospel in the Cathedral pulpit. Colson, he said, was the youngest captain in the United States Marine Corps and he "loved his country fiercely." George talked about Colson's 1973 conversion sitting in the driveway of friend Tom Phillips. Colson was crying so hard he was "trying to swim under water." Then Colson cried out in a moment of surrender to Jesus, "I want to give myself to you." Following this, Colson went through an emotional, intellectual and moral conversion. Colson was a Baptist but he had a "passion for Christian unity" and he brought together Evangelicals and Catholics with his vision for reconciliation in the 2009 Manhattan Declaration.
George said that through the writing of St. Augustine, Colson understood the reality of two great temptations in life. One was a belief in utopianism and the lure of trying to make this world the Kingdom of God. This temptation, Colson thought, lies in liberalism and Marxism. The second temptation is cynicism, which is to give up on the world all together. Instead, of these temptations, Colson saw that the foundation of life is Jesus Christ and later developed his Christian Worldview seminar based in this theology.
George shared a funny story about Colson when he was on a plane being pushed and jostled by an impatient man looking for his seat. Colson said to him, "I'm an ex-Marine and an ex-con and if I weren't a Christian you would be on the floor of this plane." Then Colson told the gospel to the fellow traveller.
George also described a moment when Colson visited and spoke with a group of untouchables in India. Following his talk, Colson ignored the rules and moved out into a group of untouchable men and shook all of their hands. Through a Hindi translator, Colson shared a testimony of the grace and forgiveness of Jesus Christ to these men.
George described a group of great 20th century evangelist: John Stott, Billy Graham, Martin Luther King Jr. and Charles Colson. In placing Colson in this group, George helped everyone understand the legacy of Chuck Colson. The spiritual power and energy of this humble yet effective evangelist, Charles Wendell Colson, lives on. Talking about how Colson's work will continue, George quoted from Joshua, "Be not afraid, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go."
The funeral message came through with clarity and vision; the profound truth is that Jesus Christ invites everyone, including the poor, the forgotten and those in prison. The concluding hymn Great Is Thy Faithfulness emphasized the fresh truth of the saving grace of God incarnate.
In the celebration of the life of Charles Wendell Colson, he was remembered as a transformed father proclaiming forgiveness and grace, a friend of sinners, and a Christian serving his Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
Sarah Frances Ives is a regular columnist for Virtueonline. She is based in Washington DC
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