POC Blog

The random technotheolosophical blogging of Reid S. Monaghan

Books I enjoyed in 2015

The Bible says that of "the making of many books there is no end and much study is a weariness of the flesh." (Ecclesiastes 12:12) In other words, there are many words not worth reading. Certainly the words of the wise and the Words of God are the guides of life and there are many books not worth the bits and bytes they are produced in. Yet there are some good ones to read. Here are a few of the books where I found some joy this past year.

The Bible

I've been reading and teaching in a few main biblical texts in the most of 2015

My continued love of history and creative Non Fiction dominated my audiobook reading again this year and continues to be my favorite genre of music to listen to ;-). The following were fantastic reads in 2015. All my car, exercise and yard work time is occupied with these sorts of friends...and a few podcasts.

In terms of explicitly Christian market books I enjoyed the following...

Jupiter Hammon - A First Among Poets

JUPITER HAMMON (1711-1806)

GOING FIRST

To say someone was one of the first to do something is a pretty big deal. To say someone was the first American of African descent to do something in our country is a really big deal. Many times those who are the first in this way are said to break a color barrier as African Americans were required to play by different rules, subject to different laws and under extreme prejudice and injustice for centuries on this continent. In preparing this brief biographical sketch on a man from the earliest days of America I was saddened that I knew more about Jackie Robinson than Jupiter Hammon. If you know not either Jackie or Jupiter, I’m happy you are taking the time to hear of Mr. Hammon first. 

BASIC BIOGRAPHY

Jupiter Hammon lived his life as the owned property of other human beings. He lived through the era of imperial rule in the Americas, through the revolutionary days into the earliest dawn of the United States.  He lived not far from us here in New Jersey growing up and living most of his life on Long Island, NY. He lived his entire life as a slave in the service of the Lloyd family. The Lloyds were a wealthy household and Hammon served as a tutor to children as well as a business clerk and bookkeeper. 1 Hammon was educated by Harvard graduate Nehemiah Bull and a missionary named Daniel Denton. 2 Though a slave in the temporal and natural sense of the word he was, however, possessed by another master as he saw his life ultimately belonging to Jesus Christ. His dedication to the Lord was demonstrated by his taking on extra work simply to earn money to purchase his own Bible. It was this book that occupied so much of his thought, heart and devotion and it is reflected throughout his work.The Lord he loved inspired him to write poetry. His work was so compelling that he became one of the first published African American authors in North America in 1769.4  

HAMMON’S WORKS 

Hammon’s best known works are An Evening Thought: Salvation by Christ, with Penitential Cries 5 and his Address to the Negroes in the State of New York. The former was the poem which was his first published work in 1769. The latter as it was his most enduring and wide read address. An Evening Thought is a clear and resounding work of gospel clarity and devotion. Hammon was a convert to Jesus through the spiritual awakenings in the colonies in the 1730s and 1740s. 7 In a day when black people were seen by many as inferior to their European masters, Hammon’s thoughts drew his readers up to our common creator, judge and savior Jesus Christ. Hammon wrote in such a way that people were apparently doubtful that his work was the product of a slave. Even his printers included a disclaimer which was published as a header to his most famous work “An address to the Negroes in the State of New York.” The disclaimer read as follows in the original. 

hammon_disclaimer.PNG
As this address is wrote in a better style than could be expected from a slave, so maybe ready to doubt the genuineness of the production. The author, as he informs in the title page, is a servant of Mr. Lloyd, and has been remarkable for his Fidelity and abstinence from those vices, which he warns his brother in against. The manuscript wrote in his own hand, is in our possession. We have made no material alterations in it, except in the spelling, which we found needed considerable correction. 8 

HAMMON ON SLAVERY 

Hammon’s views of slavery may sound strange for some of us to understand. In his address to his fellow African Americans in New York, he shared that his desire was to remain as a servant to his masters. He expressed he had no desire to be free though he encouraged others towards freedom if they could gain it honestly.9 This however must be coupled with a few observations. First, Hammon apparently had a good relationship and situation with the Lloyd family of Long Island. It seemed they both viewed and treated him as a trusted part of their household and family. Furthermore, he seemed to have held two truths in tension. First, how slaves should relate to their earthly masters and second, whether or not people were morally right in taking others as slaves. He viewed the latter as morally evil while encouraging those who were slaves to show honor and obedience to their masters. For example, in his “Address to the Negroes” we read the following doubt of the institution’s morality, while affirming the honoring of masters.  He wrote:

 “Now whether it is right, and lawful in the sight of God, for them to make slaves of us or not, I am certain that while we are slaves it is our duty to obey our masters, in all their lawful commands, and mind them unless we are bid to do what we know to be sin, or forbidden in God’s word.” 10  

Finally, a more recently discovered manuscript makes it resoundingly clear that Hammon viewed slavery as “a manmade evil.” 11 Many of his works were also published by the Quakers a group firmly on the side of the full abolition of the institute of slavery in America. 

THINGS I LEARNED

In reading Hammon’s work I learned a few things and was impacted in several ways.  First, Hammon was a realist about the fallenness of this word astutely observing that “I have had more experience in the world than most of you, and I have seen a great deal of the vanity, and wickedness of it.” 12 Second, even though he existed under a system of utter injustice and slavery he did not see that as a reason to sin and disobey God. It seems he understood the Lord Jesus who taught us to love our neighbors and even our enemies. He even gave fellow slaves counsel on how following the Lord, doing right and honoring others, and not stealing would be of more benefit to them than sinning against a harsh master. He condemned theft and being unfaithful to others in the strongest of terms.13 Third, he put the honor of God and God’s name above all.  His exhortation against swearing or taking God’s name in vain was unambiguous. He even dissuaded those who would use the example of swearing white masters as an excuse for their language. He reminded them that there is a higher authority always with each of us: “God is greater than all other beings, and him we are bound to obey. To him we will give an account for every idle word we speak.”14  Finally, though he desired freedom for the coming generation of black people in America, he continued to point to the great reality of spiritual and eternal freedom as the greatest concern.  I think he just dropped the mic after this one: “We cannot be happy if we are ever to so free, or ever so rich, while we are servants of sin and slaves to Satan.”15

It is clear from reading Hammon’s poetry and addresses that he was first and foremost concerned with the Kingdom of God and people coming to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ. He even encouraged freed blacks in his day to use their new freedom for the study of the Bible and to promote of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. To the freedmen he said plainly “You have more time to read God’s holy word, and to take care of the salvation of your souls. Let me beg of you to spend your time in this way, or it will be better for you, if you had always been slaves.” Whether this was said as hyperbole or simply from a strong set of eternal values, Hammon saw the preeminence of Christ and his Kingdom.  This comes through pointedly in his first published poem which begins with these words:

SALVATION comes by Jesus Christ alone, 
The only Son of God; 
Redemption now to every one, 
That love his holy Word. 
Dear Jesus we would fly to Thee, 
And leave off every Sin, 
Thy tender Mercy well agree; 
Salvation from our King. 
Salvation comes now from the Lord, 
Our victorious King; 
His holy Name be well ador'd, 
Salvation surely bring. 
Dear Jesus give thy Spirit now, 
Thy Grace to every Nation, 
That han't the Lord to whom we bow, 
The Author of Salvation.
Dear Jesus unto Thee we cry, 
Give us thy Preparation; 
Turn not away thy tender Eye; 
We seek thy true Salvation.

We do seek the same King today that he so strongly pointed his world to in America’s early days. 

Lord, do Give us thy preparation,
Reid S. Monaghan

Notes

  1. Nancy I. Sanders, America’s Black Founders, Revolutionary Heroes and Early Leaders, 26. 
  2. Henry Louis Gates Jr, African American Lives, (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004), Kindle edition, location 18342.
  3. Sanders, 26.
  4. Gates, kindle edition, location 18396.
  5. Jupiter Hammon, An Evening Thought: Salvation by Christ, with Penitential Cries, Available online at http://xtf.lib.virginia.edu/xtf/view?docId=chadwyck_aap/uvaGenText/tei/chaap_D046.xml
  6. Jupiter Hammon, Address to the Negroes in the State of New York. 1787. Sabin Americana, Print Editions 1500-1926.
  7. Gates, kindle edition, 18360.
  8. Preface to Hammon, Address to the Negroes in the State of New York. 1787.
  9. Hammon, 13.
  10. Hammon, 7.
  11. Bridget Lewis “UT ARLINGTON PROFESSOR, GRADUATE STUDENT DISCOVER POEM WRITTEN BY 18TH CENTURY SLAVE FROM NEW YORK”, http://www.uta.edu/news/releases/2013/02/Jupiter%20Hammon%20poem.php. Published on Feb 5, 2013. Accessed Feb 25, 2013.
  12. Hammon, 7.
  13. Hammon, 8, 9.
  14. Hammon, 12.
  15. Hammon, 19. 
  16. An Evening Thought

A text message that made Dad smile

I just got a text message from my daughter who turns 11 on Sept 27th. It brought a smile and a tear to the eye today.

Said Daughter: Daddy, is this appropriate for me? I saw on the biography section on ur shelf. It looks all right but I wanted to ask u

Said Daddy: Ooooo, I have not read that one but you have a thumbs up from me - you just have to share with Dada a bit as you read!

Said Daughter: Ok! YAY!!! :-)

Peter: Disciple, Apostle and Witness for Jesus Christ

Introduction

One of the most compelling and interesting figures in the New Testament is a man named Simon Peter. He is in full focus and featured quite often in the Gospel of Mark. There is a rich church tradition and history which holds that John Mark actually wrote down the accounts of Peter in his gospel. When we come to Mark’s gospel we not only read about Peter’s life with Jesus but perhaps we hear echoes of his own voice and eyewitness accounts.

In this essay I want to do a few ambitious things.  First, I want to lay out a brief sketch of Peter’s life and biography from the New Testament. Second I want to briefly look at how Peter is featured and focused upon in the Gospel of Mark. Finally, for contemporary reflection, I will provide a postscript to discuss the Roman Catholic papacy in relation to the claim that Peter was the first pope. In writing this essay it is my hope and prayer that we will see Peter the man not the superman or Saint with a capital S on his chest. My desire is that we see a real person with real faith in Jesus whose life was transformed by his Lord. Then we might understand how Peter, and the other early Christians, went on to powerfully transform our world through the gospel they proclaimed.

Peter in the New Testament

Peter is a complex character in history leaping to life from the pages of the New Testament. He was many things but here we will focus on just three as they are directly related to Jesus.[1]

Peter: Disciple of Jesus

The New Testament uses a particular word to name the followers of Jesus: disciples.  The English word is derived from the same root as “discipline” and it means one who is a committed follower.  The Greek term which is used for disciple is mathetes, which means one who learns from and follows a master.  It describes a pupil who is submitted as an apprentice to a teacher.[2] In the most basic sense Peter was a disciple of Jesus in this way. In another sense Peter was one of the twelve disciples, a group of men selected by Jesus to serve as his team in gospel ministry.

He was born in the province of Galilee in the city of Bethsaida (John 1:44) and apparently had a home in Capernaum during his adult life. He was born with the Jewish name Simeon or Simon (Acts 15:4, 2 Peter 1:1) and had a wife though we do not know much about her (Mark 1:30).  We do know that she accompanied her husband in his missionary travels at some point due to Paul’s description in 1 Corinthians 9:30.

Peter was called to be a follower of Jesus along with his brother Andrew with this call variously recorded in the early chapters of the gospels of Mark and John. Apparently he was part of the crowd who had gone out to hear and respond to John the Baptizers call for repentance of sin and Jesus met him during this season. It was from Jesus that Simon was also given the named Peter which means “Rock” (John 1:40-42). Throughout his early ministry Jesus called several men to learn from him and be directly involved in leading his mission. Peter was a part of this crew when they became known as the twelve disciples (Mark 3:16).

Peter’s role among the twelve was a prominent one and the earliest writings about him list him as a leader of the twelve. He was called one of the pillars of the early church movement (Galatians 2:9) and was declared to be one of the first witnesses of the resurrected Jesus (1 Corinthians 15). These two traditions were widely in play before AD 50.[3] Along with James and John, Peter was involved in some of the most pivotal times in Jesus’ life and ministry.  He was present at the healing of Jairus’ daughter (Mark 5), present as a witness of Jesus’ glorious transfiguration (Mark 9, Matthew 17) and was praying with Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane the night before the crucifixion.

We see in the gospels Peter to be as passionate person and even rash at times. At Jesus’ final meal with his friends he strongly protests that his Lord would wash his feet like a common servant only to ask for a full bath after Jesus taught him that servanthood was the way of his Kingdom. He struts boldly out to walk on water with Jesus in Matthew 14:28-33 only to sink quickly with doubt when he is out of the boat.  He talked a big game saying to Jesus, “Even though they all fall away, I will not” (Mark 14:29) only to punk out and deny his king three times when the pressure was on. Yet he also used his speaking ability to represent and speak for the disciples on several occasions.

As a friend and follower, Peter had a very close relationship with his Lord and Jesus seemed to have big plans for Peter as well.  Some of Jesus’ last challenges to Peter were for him to take care of Jesus’ “sheep.” A proverbial way to call him to be a shepherd to God’s people even though in the end it would cost him his life (John 21:15-29). Even though Jesus predicted Peter’s denials before that first Good Friday, he also foreordained Peter’s forgiveness and restoration to leadership. He made sure that Peter knew of his resurrection specifically for he had work for this disciple (Mark 16:7).  The learner would now need to become a leader and bring the message of the gospel to the world.

Peter: Apostle of Jesus

The Book of Acts is a fascinating work that details the spread of the gospel from its Jerusalem roots out into the reaches of the Roman Empire.  As the gospel began to be proclaimed Peter was at the center of the early ministry of Christ’s messengers. The disciples were now apostles with a message to spread to the uttermost parts of the world.  Peter’s role is so prominent in Acts that many outline the book by the ministry of Peter and the ministry of Paul.  The first twelve chapters focus on Peter’s leadership in the Jerusalem context amidst early persecutions and spread of the gospel.  From chapter thirteen on the focus shifts to Paul as a missionary in the empire finally making his way to Rome.

What we find in Peter’s apostolic ministry is that he begins as an emboldened preacher of the good news of Jesus’ death and resurrection.  At the feast of Pentecost Peter brings the gospel in power and a huge crowd of people get saved (See Acts 2 and 3).  Furthermore, Peter also serves as a representative of the Christians in Jerusalem and courageously stands before the ruling council with the message of the gospel.  The believers are greatly encouraged by Peter and his faithful Spirit filled leadership brings great unity and boldness to the church (See Acts 4).  Peter also served as a church leader, ruling and judging in the affairs of the people with miraculous signs accompanying his work (See Acts 5). Finally, we see Peter as a missionary helping the gospel forward in the province of Samaria (Acts 8).  We also find a wonderful story of God convincing him and sending him to Gentiles (Acts 10) so that God’s work could begin among them.  This initial work gives way to the apostle Paul’s commissioning into the Gentile world where the gospel spread broadly.  Peter also serves making wise judgments at the council of Jerusalem in Acts 15 on important questions that new Gentile Christians had about Jewish observances as followers of Jesus. There has been speculation about how Peter ends up in Rome, but how he ends up there after his early missionary work cannot be known with certainty. One thing is sure, all roads did lead to Rome and Peter arrives there to lead the church in the great city as a witness for Jesus.

Peter: Witness for Jesus 

In his final years Peter wrote and transferred much of his thought and teachings of Jesus into the writings of our New Testament. His preaching and teaching about the life and message of Jesus make it to us by way of his secretary John Mark (see below for issues related to this). In the epistles which bear his name he pastors the church well in many ways.  He encouraged believers to persevere in times of suffering with full hope in the gospel and coming Kingdom of God. He spurs us on to mature in our faith and deepen in our commitment to Jesus so that our lives reflect the character of our King.  Jesus taught us that Peter would have a central role in building his church and we certainly see that in the movement that flowered in history after his life.  Though it is difficult to confirm without doubt, tradition teaches that Peter indeed did fulfill his calling and died as a martyr for his faith in Rome during the persecutions of Nero in AD65. Jesus had told Peter that he would eventually give the last full measure of devotion as a leader of his church. It may well be that the once denier of Jesus died as one of his champions on his own cross of crucifixion.[4]

Now I wish to turn briefly to the gospel of Mark for a discussion of how Peter is particularly seen in this work. We will begin that task by looking at Peter’s voice found in the writings of the gospel itself.

Peter in the Gospel of Mark

Peter’s Voice in Mark

The earliest church traditions all associate this gospel with John Mark and his task to record the account of the apostle Peter in writing. The earliest sources we have are from the writings of Papias, a church leader in Hierapolis (in modern day Turkey), and Irenaeus, a bishop from Lyon (in what is modern day France). Papias’ work survives in a text written by the prominent early church historian Eusebius.  It reads as follows:

And the Elder said this also: “Mark, having become the interpreter of Peter, wrote down accurately whatever he remembered of the things said and done by the lord, but no however in order.” For neither did he hear the Lord, nor did he follow him, but afterwards, as I said, Peter, who adapted his teachings to the needs of his hearers, but not as though he were drawing up a connected account of the Lord’s oracles.  So then Mark made no mistake in thus recording some things just as he remembered them.  For he took forethought for one thing, not to omit any of the things that he had heard, nor to state any of them falsely. [5]

 It is estimated the Papias tradition is very early and dates perhaps to within 90-100 AD.[6] Irenaeus, writing in the second century, recorded the following:

After their departure, Mark, the disciple and interpreter of Peter, did also hand down to us in writing what had been preached by Peter. Luke also, the companion of Paul, recorded in a book the Gospel preached by him.[7]

 The oldest traditions all hold that Mark was the author who arranged the teachings of Peter to give a written account of Jesus Christ to the church. In addition to the tradition there is good internal evidence in the book that Mark’s gospel greatly reflects the preaching of Peter that we see in the book of Acts.[8] New Testament scholar Daniel Wallace provides a great summary of the internal connection with Mark and Peter; I will quote him at length:

  1. John Mark had contact with Peter from no later than the mid-40s (Acts 12:12) and it appears that the church met at Mark’s own residence.
  2. Both Peter and Mark were connected to the churches in Antioch and Jerusalem.
  3. Paul sent Mark from Rome to the Colossian church and to Philemon in 60-62. If Peter were in Rome at this time, Mark would have had contact with him there.
  4. 2 Tim 4:11 we find Paul giving Timothy instructions to bring Mark with him from Ephesus to Rom (c. 64). It is possible that he had been outside of Rome since his departure in 62.
  5. Mark is with Peter in Rom in c. 65 (1 Peter 5:13) perhaps after his return at Paul’s request. Peter also calls Mark his “son” in this passage indicating a more long-standing relationship.
  6. The book of Mark’s outline follows the Petrine teaching recorded in Acts 10:36-41. (1) John the Baptist  (2) Jesus Baptized by John (3) Jesus’ miracles show he is from God (4) he went to Jerusalem (5) was crucified (6) he was raised on the third day. This shows that perhaps Mark even received a framework for the oracles of Jesus from Peter.
  7. The low view of Peter and the other apostles in Mark shows that the person writing was not trying to put them on a pedestal.  A non-apostolic writer would have done this unless he was recording what he actually had received from Peter.[9]

So we have good reasons, both the external testimony from church tradition and the content of the book itself, to hold that John Mark arranged the instruction of Peter who gave eyewitness testimony to the life and teaching of Jesus Christ.

In light of this conclusion, in the gospel of Mark we likely have Peter’s accounts of direct events with Jesus and perhaps Mark’s own style reflecting upon them in his writing style.  As we come to the actual text, the question I want to pose is how do we see Peter portrayed in Mark? Do we find Peter put in just a positive light or is there some honest, even critical, stories told about him?[10] The actual data is quite mixed.

Peter in Positive Light

As mentioned in the biographical sketch above Peter is very important in the New Testament and Mark’s gospel is no exception. He is the one who speaks for the apostles, he present with the other “pillars” at crucial times in the life and ministry of Jesus and his progressive understanding of Christ is key to understanding the narrative as Mark crafts the text. Jesus even makes a special mention to tell Peter of his resurrection, reassuring him of his role in the mission of Jesus that is coming. In these ways Peter is a very important, yes positive, character in the gospel of Mark.

Peter in Negative Light

At the same time Peter is a central and cathartic character in Mark and does come off looking rather dumb witted at times. In Mark 1 he is trying to get Jesus to become a superstar prematurely. In Mark 8 Jesus calls him Satan as Peter is opposed to the messianic mission of death and resurrection. Furthermore, he shows much foot-in-mouth disease on the mountain of transfiguration where he really doesn’t know what to say in Mark 9. Peter takes a nap at just the wrong time when Jesus is asking for prayer and support in Mark 14. Finally, one cannot miss Peter full out denying Jesus three times when the pressure of the arrest and pending execution is visited upon the disciples. Some speculate whether the gospel of Mark is part of a wider attack upon Peter[11] as it shows him in such negative light. Perhaps there is a much simpler explanation for how Peter is portrayed?

Peter – Human in Process

Peter throughout the gospel of Mark is certainly one thing. A human being. He is also a person of passion and commitment to Jesus who has given all to follow him. What is seen in the gospel of Mark is a man who has hopes and expectations yet these are not quite in congruence with Jesus’ purposes and plans.  Peter therefore has to be adjusted, he was to be corrected and he has to grow in faith and trust in Jesus’ actual plan. This at times comes off painful as Peter gets it wrong, shows weakness and punks out on Jesus. Yet one thing is clear.  Peter is also a human being Jesus loved and wanted to use in this world. So we see his life and faith grow in the gospel of Mark until the death and resurrection of Jesus.  Mark makes sure we see that Jesus wanted Peter to know what he had risen for as we read in Acts and in church history: God had much work left for Peter in his world.  In Mark’s gospel I believe we are also to see ourselves. We are to see the blind and mute come to see clearly and speak the truth. Just like Peter.  Then we take up seeing eyes and speaking lips to serve Jesus in our world.

Conclusion

We have looked at Peter the disciple, apostle and witness to Jesus and found a remarkable story.  We find a man compelled and called by God to follow Jesus the Messiah.  We find a man whose natural passions and impetuousness sometimes got him in trouble but also gave him huge potential.  In the life of Peter we also find embedded another narrative; the story of God. In this story a great King comes and pays a great price to purchase a great community to be his people. That community would need shepherds and servant leaders as it followed forward in the King’s mission. Such leaders are forged in the battle of life and ministry and take time to grow. Jesus was patient with Peter for this purpose. To take a human being, shape him into an instrument for the hands of God, and unleash him into the world on mission.  Each of our lives holds the same potential in varying degrees. The question is will we repent of sin and come to Jesus? Will we give ourselves fully to his mission once we have tasted his grace and his forgiveness? Peter would exhort to shout amen to this invitation.

I’ll give him the last word here for us:

[9] But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. [10] Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.

1 Peter 2:9-10 RSMESV

Following the witness of Peter to give all for Jesus and his gospel mission in the world,

Reid S. Monaghan

Appendix: Was Peter the first pope?

 The confession of Peter of Jesus being the Christ in Mark 8 and its more robust parallel in the sixteenth chapter of Matthew’s gospel has been the source of some historical controversy between Protestants, Eastern Orthodox and Roman Catholics.  It is taken by the latter to be biblical warrant for the institution of the Roman papacy, the Pope as the father of the church and its supreme teacher in regards to faith and morals.  I will quote the Matthew passage here:

16 Simon Peter replied, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” 17 And Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven. 18 And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. 19 I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.”

While this brief appendix cannot treat these issues with the rigor which is needed, I do hope it might illuminate the differences between Roman and Protestant/Eastern Orthodox views of the Christian faith.  I will lay out a few points of argument made by each side in regards to the issue of the papacy.

Catholic Arguments for Primacy of the Bishop of Rome (The Pope)

There are many arguments that the Roman church makes in favor of the primacy and leadership of the Pope and the hierarchy of cardinal, bishop and priest which is under him.  The argument usually takes two lines—one from the tradition of the church and the other from Holy Scripture.[12] On the tradition front, there is a section in the classic work of the 2nd century church father Irenaeus to which Roman Christians point to as favoring papacy.  Irenaeus was bishop of Lyon which was located in what is now modern day France.  He wrote extensively confronting several heretical teachings of his day. He is quoted often in various contexts—in this case, in favor of the primacy of Rome.

Since, however, it would be very tedious, in such a volume as this, to reckon up the successions of all the Churches, we do put to confusion all those who, in whatever manner, whether by an evil self-pleasing, by vainglory, or by blindness and perverse opinion, assemble in unauthorized meetings; [we do this, I say,] by indicating that tradition derived from the apostles, of the very great, the very ancient, and universally known Church founded and organized at Rome by the two most glorious apostles, Peter and Paul; as also [by pointing out] the faith preached to men, which comes down to our time by means of the successions of the bishops. For it is a matter of necessity that every Church should agree with this Church, on account of its pre- eminent authority, that is, the faithful everywhere, inasmuch as the apostolical tradition has been preserved continuously by those [faithful men] who exist everywhere.[13]

Additionally, the ecumenical council of Nicea in AD 325 listed four major patriarchates/sees (seats of authority) being Rome, Alexandria, Antioch and Jerusalem with Rome given the place of highest honor.  In the late fourth century Constantinople was inserted making the list of honor—Rome, Constantinople, Alexandria, Antioch, Jerusalem, though the rivalry of Rome and Constantinople would continue until the east/west split in AD 1054.  One of the issues in this schism was papal authority in Rome which the Eastern Orthodox churches still reject until this day. Finally, the text from Matthew quoted above is used extensively in the argument for the papacy. The keys of the kingdom were given to Peter, who was the first bishop of Rome, the first pope. His successors maintain the highest authority in the church. The succession of bishops, or overseers of the church in Rome, is not the issue. The issue is this man’s rule over the church as the supreme representative of Jesus on the earth today.

Arguments against the Papacy

There are many long standing arguments against the papal authority in church history.  They too interpret both tradition and Scripture to make the argument.  Again, this is necessarily brief and therefore incomplete.  First, it is argued that Peter is but one of a plurality of leaders in the early church.  All traditions attribute great honor and leadership to Peter, but he was by no means infallible.  During the life of Jesus we see Peter’s evolution into a great leader through his many failures (see above).  Yet even post resurrection we see the apostle Paul rebuke Peter for his inconsistent and hypocritical actions in relating to Jew and Gentile in a way contrary to the gospel (See Galatians 2:11-14).  Second, the text in Matthew 16 does not imply the papacy and certainly nothing like papal infallibility.  Many interpretations have been offered which give primacy to Peter and his role in the establishment of the church, but none of this need imply the papacy which evolved in the Roman church during the Middle Ages. Third, the historical honoring of Rome by councils does not warrant the papacy. Rome is honored as a great historical church in the councils of Nicea and Constantinople, but the other great churches and their patriarchates were not subjected to her—in fact, this was not the case with Constantinople and continued to be an issue for hundreds of years and persists until today.  There also has been a reality in history which stated that councils should decide matters of dispute, not one bishop.  This was the case through the first seven ecumenical councils and was argued by the conciliar movement in the late middle ages.  Additionally, the apostolic succession of Popes and their infallibility seems historically dubious.  First, one particular pope, Honorius 1, was declared posthumously to be a heretic and false teacher in AD 681 for advocating something called Monothelitism.  How could he be considered infallible?  Second from AD 1378 to 1417 there were actually two popes in the Western church, one in Rome one in France seated at Avignon.  The Council of Pisa in 1409 disposed both popes and appointed another, but both did not step down leaving the church with three popes for a brief time.  The issues were resolved with the Council of Constance (1414-17) but raised the question of whether a council could rule over the pope for the council had removed the two popes and elected Martin V to power.[14] One last historical issue is of note. Although the Roman church claims it was always the case, papal infallibility was not made Roman teaching until Vatican I in 1870. In conclusion it must also be said that the story of the papal institution has been haunted by grabs for power, accumulation of wealth, immorality and sin. Though the Catholic Church claims that the Pope has not erred and has never officially taught in contradiction to Scripture I think history is replete with examples of both action and teaching which do not reflect infallibility. This only means that Popes are people and are in no way infallible. The highest authority for the church has never been the succession of popes in Rome, but the apostolic teaching of Scripture being faithfully entrusted and passed on through the ages. 

We trust not hierarchy or power to maintain the church, but the Spirit and the Word of God. There are errors on all sides…Protestant, Orthodox and Catholic.  There are none who have everything perfect in life, faith and doctrine. Yet our disputes are resolved in humility, standing under, not over the very Word of God in Holy Scripture.  History and our lives are messy, we no doubt move forward with truth and at times error.  But much as Luther echoed long ago under great pressure to recant his views—our consciences are chained to the Word of God…here we stand, we can do no other.

Notes

[1] Here I will follow a basic outline of Peter’s life which focuses on his role as disciple in the gospels, apostle and messenger in the book of Acts and then suffering witness to his Lord as church leader in Rome. This approach is taken in both the Wood, D. R. W., & Marshall, I. H. (1996). New Bible dictionary (3rd ed.). Leicester, England; Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press. and The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, Revised. 1988 (G. W. Bromiley, Ed.). Wm. B. Eerdmans.

[2] μαθητής, Arndt, W., Danker, F. W., & Bauer, W. (2000). A Greek-English lexicon of the New Testament and other early Christian literature (3rd ed.) (609). Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

[3] The book of Galatians is one of the earliest Pauline epistles written around AD 48/49. First Corinthians was most likely written around AD53 but the resurrection narrative in chapter 15 is likely even earlier than this. The clear reality is that Peter and his role was well known even before the writing of Mark’s gospel in the 60s.

[4] Peter is said by many in the first few centuries of the church to have died by way of an upside down crucifixion.

[5] Ibid., 8.

[6] James R. Edwards, The Gospel According to Mark (Grand Rapids, Mich: Eerdmans, 2002), 4.

[7] Irenaeus. Against Heresies (Book III, Chapter 1).

[8] William L. Lane, The Gospel According to Mark; the English Text with Introduction, Exposition, and Notes (Grand Rapids,: Eerdmans, 1974), 10-12.

[9] Daniel Wallace, “Mark: Introduction, Argument, and Outline”, Bible.org http://bible.org/seriespage/mark-introduction-argument-and-outline (accessed Jan 4 2012).

[10] Even to those who may not conclude that Peter’s direct testimony is found in the gospel, there has been reflection as to whether Mark casts a positive or negative light upon Peter. See E. Best, “Peter in the Gospel According to Mark”, The Catholic Biblical Quarterly, 40, 1978.  

[11] Best, 558.

[12] It should be noted that in the Roman religion that Scripture and the teaching Tradition of the church are equal forms of authority which are seen as complementary and never contradictory.   Protestants hold that Scripture is the supreme authority and is the corrective and judge of all human teaching in the church.

[13] Irenaues, Against Heresies 3.3.2—http://www.ccel.org/ccel/schaff/anf01.ix.iv.iv.html

[14] For a good summary of church history during this era see Justo Gonzalez, The Story of Christianity, Vol 1 (New York: HarperOne, 1984) - See particularly the chapter on the Medieval Papacy.

Sojourner Truth - When I found Jesus

Sojourner Truth (1797-1883)

Each of our lives is shaped by a convoluted set of circumstances which mix in families, human culture and historical events and opportunities. Furthermore, Scripture teaches us that in all the seemingly random events, myriad of human choices and activity of spiritual forces that God is providentially guiding and ordering all things. Certain human lives are particularly marked by a convergence of people, events and history such that the fingerprints of God become more evidently seen.  One such individual was a woman born unnoticed, in bondage, under the name Isabella Baumfree. She died known to the whole nation as Sojourner Truth.

Early Life

Sojourner Truth was born at the close of the revolutionary century in America. She arrived into the world in 1797 under the slave name of Isabella.[1] She was born in Ulster County, New York[2] and was sold several times before becoming the property of one John Dumont at the age of thirteen[3]. She underwent brutal treatment and was beaten often as a child beginning at the tender age of nine. Slavery was made illegal in New York State by 1827 but Isabella would flee the tyranny of her masters three months ahead of this time. Her master had promised to free her and provide housing for her and her children in 1826, but upon his reneging on this promise she took matters in her own hands and walked away.[4] She would find shelter in the home of Issac and Maria Van Wagener who were devout Quakers. She recounted how God had shown her their home in a vision prior to her taking refuge there.[5]

An interesting fact from this period of her life involves the vengeful act taken by her former master. In light of her escape, he sold one of her sons back into slavery in Alabama where slavery had not yet been abolished. She actually sued her former master as New York law did not allow slaves to be sold across state lines. She won in court and her son was reconciled to the family.[6]

A New Name and New Calling

Truth’s faith was beginning to deepen and in this period of her story and she describes an awakening to Jesus that would shape the direction of her life. According to her narrated biography, A Narrative of Sojourner Truth,[7] she experienced a conversion which she described as follows:

God revealed himself to her, with all the suddenness of a flash of lightning, showing her, ‘in the twinkling of an eye, that he was all over’–that he pervaded the universe–‘and that there was no place where God was not.’ She became instantly conscious of her great sin in forgetting her almighty Friend and ‘ever-present help in time of trouble.

In 1843 she moved to New York City and had a time of wandering among some of the cults and false teachers of the great city. After coming out of these groups she became a member of The Mother African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church, a congregation with its roots in historic biblical Christianity.[8] She would remain affiliated the AME Zion denomination for the rest of her life. At this juncture, she also sought God for a new name that would connect with her deep felt calling. She sensed that God wanted her to be called “Sojourner” as she was to “travel up an’ down the land, showin’ people their sins, an’ bein’ a sign unto them” and “Truth” as “I was to declare the truth to the people.”[9] Under this new name, one not chosen by slave masters, she set out to influence her world.

Activism

Sojourner Truth began to speak widely and her message would come to center on three great subjects. First, she spoke on the subject of Jesus changing her life, declaring on one occasion to a group of ministers the following:

“When I preaches,” she said, “I has just one text to preach from, an’ I always preaches from this one. My text is, “When I found Jesus.”[10]

She also took up the great cause of the 19th century which was joined by many others who named the name of Christ, that of the abolition of slavery. This caused her to connect and work with some of the looming figures of the abolitionist movement including William Lloyd Garrison and the imminent Frederick Douglas[11]. In addition to the abolitionist cause, she also took up women’s rights in the early 1850s. In 1851, while giving a speech in Akron, Ohio she spoke what would become her most famous and remembered words:

And ain’t I a woman? Look at me! Look at my arm. I have plowed, I have planted, and I have gathered into barns. And no man could head me. And ain’t I a woman? I could work as much and eat as much as a man—when I could get it—and bear the lash as well! And ain’t I a woman? I have borne children and seen most of them sold into slavery, and when I cried out with a mother’s grief, none but Jesus heard me. And ain’t I a woman?[12]

Sojourner truth began her life in slavery and over the course of one lifetime she found freedom, met the risen Jesus, pointed out the sins of slavery and struggled for equality for women. While she remained illiterate her entire life she was able to make a myriad of speeches and gain an audience with Abraham Lincoln.[13] Sojourner Truth would retire to Battle Creek Michigan in 1875 and remained there until she died on November 26, 1883.

To close this brief biography I want to share a few things I learned reading about the life of Sojourner Truth.

Things I Learned

Sojourner Truth was born into a time of injustice and bondage in the early days of the American Republic. Though uneducated, she saw her life as usable in the hands of God and did not shrink back from pursuing what she sensed as a divine call. She was one who exercised great courage and boldness in her life which was exhibited on many occasions. She stood up to a slave master suing him for his breach of the law in the New York courts. She would not shrink back from speaking even when under threats and pressure to remain silent. In one particular instance she was beaten by a mob which left her walking with a cane for the remainder of her days. On another occasion, after disobeying a segregated street car ordinance in Washington DC, she was violently thrown from one of the cars by the conductor. This was some 90 years before a similar protest was taken up by Rosa Parks to fight segregation on the buses of Montgomery Alabama in 1955. Yet even in the midst of such realities Sojourner Truth maintained a quick wit and a vibrant spirit. Two stories demonstrate this well. First, when some people heckled and accused her of being a man disguised as a woman she simply opened her blouse on stage to settle the matter; an open-and-shut case.[14] On another occasion, when the venue where she was supposed to speak was threatened to be burned down, she replied “Then I will speak to the ashes.”[15] Finally she demonstrated in her life what it meant to suffer as a follower of Jesus. She had been beaten cruelly in her childhood, raised her own children in slavery, was forced to do hard labor, was beaten by mobs, thrown from a street car and yet she never gave up. In fact, when Frederick Douglas was despairing about the cause of abolition in 1852, Truth rose up and shouted from the congregation, “Frederick, is God dead?”[16] No, he was not and the sojourn of truth in the American experience resulted in the abolition of slavery with the 13th amendment to the United States Constitution in 1865.

As a follower of Jesus, Sojourner Truth was never able to read the Scriptures herself, yet she still committed to having Bible stories read to her over and over again for her understanding.[17] Though unable to have formal theological training, she lived and acted upon that which she did know. The Jesus died for her and could change people’s lives. How much more should the literate believer attend themselves to the words of God in our day?  

As we reflect upon the lives of others who have been transformed by forgiveness and grace, let us too follow with passion and courage the one who lived and died and rose again.

Reid S. Monaghan

EndNotes


[1] Mark Gali and Ted Olsen, ed. 131 Christians that Everyone Should Know, (Nashville: Broadman and Holman) 2000, 289.

[2] Marvin A. McMickle, African American Christian Heritage, (Valley Forge: Judson Press) 2002, 165.

[3] Gali and Olsen, 289.

[4] McMickle. An interesting accounting of the story has Truth saying the following: “I did not run off, for I thought that wicked, but I walked off, believing that to be all right.” See Women in History, Sojourner Truth (Isabella Baumfree) http://www.lkwdpl.org/wihohio/trut-soj.htm

[5] Gali and Olsen.

[6] McMickle.

[7] A Narrative of Sojourner Truth, was published in 1850. It is available online http://digital.library.upenn.edu/women/truth/1850/1850.html  Her autobiographical account was dictated orally and written down by one Olive Gilbert as Truth was illiterate.

[8] McMickle.

[9] Gali and Olsen.

[10] Ibid.

[11] A really challenging read from history is Douglas’ powerful call out of the church and white Christians in his day. See “The Church and Prejudice” http://www.frederickdouglass.org/speeches/index.html#church

[12] Gali and Olsen, 290.

[13] Ibid.

[14] McMickle, 166.

[15] Gali and Olsen, 289.

[16] McMickle.

[17] Ibid.

Isaac Watts - Joy to the World

Introduction

There have been many things born in barns over the years. In one sense, Jesus himself had such a rustic beginning and in many ways the modern hymnody movement in the English speaking world was born in a barn. In May 1731 Philip Doddridge, a minister in the congregational church, dispatched a joyous letter to his friend Isaac Watts.  Watts and Doddridge were a part of a movement who were known as non-conformists, those who were not a part of the official state church on England.  Doddridge had held a service in a barn for “plain country people” in which they sang one of Watts’s hymns which had brought a tearful and celebratory response within the congregation present.[1] The church in the English speaking world began to sing, and write its own songs, and sing some more. In many ways, we are the recipients of their work.  The churches in Europe had typically sung from the Psalter, the psalms of the Old Testament.  Watts and those following after him wrote songs in the language of the common people expressing biblical theology in the style and language of the people.  The Protestant churches of England and the American colonies were profoundly impacted by this upheaval. Historian Mark Noll in his early chapter of the book Wonderful Words of Life – Hymns in American Protestant History and Theology sums up well the influence of hymn singing on the faith and religion of people in the early days of the evangelical movement of the early 18th century:

From the early generations of evangelicals, hymn singing became almost sacramental. It was the one physical activity that all evangelicals shared and it was the one experience that bound them most closely together with each other. In fact, it is difficult to discover any significant event, person, or structure of early Evangelicalism that did not involve the singing of hymns. It is likewise difficult to discover any significant experience of singing or hands have not been freshly written by the evangelicals themselves (or by Isaac Watts who befriended them and his hands they embraced enthusiastically from the start)[2].

In the 18th century revivals of England and her colonies figures such as Jonathan Edwards, Charles and John Wesley and George Whitfield take up much of the historical horizon. Isaac Watts perhaps had as large an impact upon this time yet his voice is not as pronounced in our histories. Interestingly it was this man’s hymns and his courageous break with tradition that brought a myriad of voices to life in those striking years of awakening and revival.  So much is the influence of Watts on the history of evangelical hymn writing that Mouw and Noll entitled the first section of their book on English Protestant Hymn singing, “In the Beginning was Watts”. [3]

The Beginnings of Watts

Isaac Watts was born in 1674 in the town of Southampton in England.  He was raised by a father of strong biblical convictions.  His father stood so much by his convictions that he did some jail time for his dissent from the Church of England and was apparently on lock down when little Isaac was born.[4] During his lifetime England underwent tumultuous vacillations with the forces of Catholicism and Protestantism still yet in struggle for the soul of the island nation. Bernard Manning, in a paper on Watts delivered at Cambridge in 1937, made this commentary on the times in which Watts lived his life:

At the very end of his life, Dr. Watts had the satisfaction of witnessing in the failure of the ‘45 the collapse of the Young Pretender, and the final deliverance of Great Britain from the dangers that had menaced it since the death of Oliver Cromwell. The Constitution was saved from Divine Right. Protestantism was saved from France and the Pope. Dissent was saved from Toryism and persecution. Watts, then, was one of those fortunate persons whose life coincides with the increasing triumph of his own cause. The right people win. The wicked are cast down. All things — visibly — work together for good to them that love God. The note of cheerfulness — perhaps the most distinct note in Watts’s poetry — comes appropriately from such a setting.[5]

Though the end saw the triumph of Watt’s community and its beliefs, his life was lived in a time of great change, some of which he would later bring to the churches himself. 

As a young boy Watts showed himself to be quite intelligent and somewhat a master of languages.  He began learning Latin at age four and went on to master of Greek, Hebrew and French.[6] Apparently he had a tendency towards rhyming which makes me think he would drop some great freestyle if living in our day. One impish little instance from his youth is recorded by Norman Mable:

One morning while the household were engaged in family prayers little Isaac was heard to giggle. The other worshippers were very shocked, and when devotions were over his father demanded in a freezing tone why he had laughed. ‘Because, replied the boy nervously, while he pointed to the bell-rope that hung by the fire-place, I saw a mouse running up that; and it came to my mind: There was a mouse for want of stairs, Ran up a rope to say his prayers. The father, without a word, turned to a shelf and took down the rod, whereupon poor little Isaac, falling on his knees, begged with streaming eyes: father, father, pity take, And I will no more verses make.[7]

Nice flow, young Isaac, nice flow. 

As a member of a non-conformist community he was not permitted to study at Oxford and Cambridge the bastions of English intellectualism.[8] This lack of pomp and pedigree did not thwart him becoming a first rate thinker and scholar albeit at what would have been considered a secondary school. Watts’s studies led him into Christian ministry as a pastor and theologian but he was also a first rate logician.  It is less known but Watts’s textbook on Logic was used in as the standard text at Oxford, Cambridge, Harvard and Yale and it found use for decades in the academies.[9]  Yet most rightly remember Watts for the six hundred or some hymns he wrote and the precious poetical gems still sung in churches until this day. Isaac Watts departed this earth in 1748 but his influence would echo long after his flesh had passed away.

Watts’s Influence

We cannot say enough about Watt’s influence upon the singing scenes of the English speaking churches in the 18th and 19th century.  After his studies in college he began to be frustrated with the singing and music in the churches and complained about it. Having a good dad, Watts was challenged by his father to come up with something better.[10] He did.  Watts began writing “new hymns” and published several volumes in the early 1700s.  Hymns and Spiritual Songs, in Three Books (1707) and Psalms of David Imitated (1719) were perhaps most influential in his efforts to reform singing in the churches.[11] The latter was an effort to state some of the biblical Psalms with Christ-centered meaning and the poetic structure of the times.  Not surprisingly this was opposed vigorously by some traditionalist with some wonderfully titled pamphlets Vindication of David’s Psalms from Mr. I. Watts’s Erroneous Notions and Reasons wherefore Christians ought to worship Go, not with Dr. Watts’s Psalms, but with David’s Psalms.[12] Particularly opposed was Thomas Bradbury who referred to Watts’s works as whims instead of hymns.[13]Yet Watts’s work would find traction in hungry souls seeking some freshness and heart expression in the worship of their great God and King.  His hymns took particular root in the American colonies.

Watt’s work was known in the colonies from his personal connection and correspondence with church leaders in New England.  It is known that Cotton Mather, had received copies of Watts’s work directly from the English poet himself[14] and in 1729 his Psalms of David was published in the colonies by none other than Benjamin Franklin.[15]

Watts’s influence on colonial and then later American Christian faith has been profound. His songs crossed racial boundaries which were being sung in black and white churches. Congregations of African slaves took to Watts’s music so much that a certain type of singing became known as “Dr. Watts” singing.[16] His hymn When I Survey the Wondrous Cross has been labeled by some greatest hymn in the English language.[17] The 19th century abolitionist and preacher Henry Ward Beecher had this to say of the impact of Watts:

When believers analyze their religion emotions, it is as common to trace them back to the early hymns of childhood as to the Bible itself. At least until very recently, most English-speaking Protestants who thought about heaven did so more in the terms of Dr. Watts than of the Revelation of St. John.[18]

This broad influence continued in England as well with a profound influence on the singing of Charles Haddon Spurgeon’s Metropolitan Tabernacle.[19]  Finally, in our own day, churches continue to sing classic hymns by Isaac Watts. Today Sojourn Community Church in Louisville Kentucky has put out two albums which remix the hymns in fresh new music and styles.[20] I think Dr. Watts would likely approve.   Yet one cannot miss Dr. Watts as Christmastime when his wonderful hymn Joy to the World bursts forth new each year with resounding joy. We will close with a brief treatment of that work.

Joy to the World

The text of Joy to the World was originally titled “The Messiah’s Coming and Kingdom” when it first appeared in Watts’s Psalms of David Imitated of 1719.[21] It was his interpretation of Psalm 98 which read in the King James Bible, “Make a joyful noise unto the LORD, all the earth: make a loud noise, and rejoice, and sing praise.” Watts connected the joy found in the Psalm to the worship and praise of the coming Messiah. The song was conceived by Watts as a poem celebrating the second and final coming of Jesus but as we know, it has become a precious Christmas carol for the churches.  It would not get set in its current musical form until a Jersey born son named Lowell Mason put his musical arrangements to the hymn in 1836.[22] In 1911 a recording of Joy to the World by Elise Stevenson and Trinity Choir climbed up into the top five on contemporary charts; a remarkable feat for a song typically sung in houses of worship.[23]

Joy to the World continues to receive love and attention by Christians who sing the words of Dr. Isaac Watts set to the Lowell Mason tune.  It celebrates the King of Kings who comes to make blessings flow as far as the curse of sin and death is found.  Sins and sorrows will flow no more when King Jesus renews all things.

Repeat the sounding joy my friends, repeat the sounding joy.

Notes

[1] Mark A. Noll, “The Defining Role of Hymns in Early Evangelicalism,” in Wonderful Words of Life : Hymns in American Protestant History and Theology, ed. Richard J. Mouw and Mark A. Noll(Grand Rapids, Mich.: W.B. Eerdmans Pub., 2004), 3-4.

[2] Ibid., 4.

[3] Ibid., 1.

[4] Ace Collins, Stories Behind the Best-Loved Songs of Christmas (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan, 2001), 108.

[5] Bernard Manning, “The Hymns of Isaac Watts,” in The Hymns of Wesley and Watts: Five Papers (The Epworth Press  1942). Online edition published in the Christian Classics Ethereal Library at http://www.ccel.org/ccel/manning/wesleyhymns.P4.html

[6] “Biography of Isaac Watts.” http://www.ccel.org/w/watts/ (accessed 12/15/2011).

[7] Norman Mable, “Popular Hymns and Their Writers ” ( Independent Press Ltd.). Locations 3004-3011

[8] “Biography of Isaac Watts.”

[9] The book’s short title is simple Logic but in the original form, and typical of titles in that time, it was Logic, or, The Right Use of Reason in the Inquiry after Truth: With a Variety of Rules to Guard against Error in the Affairs of Religion and Human Life, as Well as in the Sciences

[10] Collins, 108.

[11] Esther Rothenbusch Crookshank, “We’re Marching to Zion: Isaac Watts in Early America,” in Worderful Words of Life, Hymns in American Protestant History and Theology, ed. Richard Mouw and Mark Noll(Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2004), 18.

[12] Ibid., 22.

[13] Robert J. Morgan, Then Sings My Soul 2vols. (Nashville, Tenn.: Nelson Reference & Electronic, 2004), Book 2, 24.

[14]  Crookshank, 24.

[15] “Biography of Isaac Watts.”

[16] Crookshank, 34.

[17] Kenneth W. Osbeck, 101 Hymn Stories (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Kregel Publications, 1982), 278.

[18] Crookshank, 17.

[19] C. H. Spurgeon, Our Own Hymn Book: A Collection of Psalms and Hymns for Public, Social and Private Worship (London: Passmore & Alabaster., 1883).

[20] See Sojourn Music, Sojourn Community Church http://www.sojournmusic.com/category/albums/ (accessed December 16 2011). I particularly recommend the Watts remix “Over the Grave”

[21] Kenneth W. Osbeck, Amazing Grace : 366 Inspiring Hymn Stories for Daily Devotions (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Kregel Publications, 1990).

[22] Collins, 112.

[23] Ibid., 113.

Bibliography

“Biography of Isaac Watts.” http://www.ccel.org/w/watts/ [accessed 12/15/2011].

Collins, Ace. Stories Behind the Best-Loved Songs of Christmas. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan, 2001.

Crookshank, Esther Rothenbusch. “We’re Marching to Zion: Isaac Watts in Early America.” In Worderful Words of Life, Hymns in American Protestant History and Theology, edited by Richard Mouw and Mark Noll. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2004.

Mable, Norman. Popular Hymns and Their Writers Kindle Edition ed.: Independent Press Ltd.

Manning, Bernard. “The Hymns of Isaac Watts.” In The Hymns of Wesley and Watts: Five Papers: The Epworth Press  1942.

Morgan, Robert J. Then Sings My Soul 2vols. Nashville, Tenn.: Nelson Reference & Electronic, 2004.

Music, Sojourn, Sojourn Community Church http://www.sojournmusic.com/category/albums/ (accessed December 16 2011).

Noll, Mark A. “The Defining Role of Hymns in Early Evangelicalism.” In Wonderful Words of Life : Hymns in American Protestant History and Theology, edited by Richard J. Mouw and Mark A. Noll, xx, 288 p. Grand Rapids, Mich.: W.B. Eerdmans Pub., 2004.

Osbeck, Kenneth W. 101 Hymn Stories. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Kregel Publications, 1982.

________. Amazing Grace : 366 Inspiring Hymn Stories for Daily Devotions. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Kregel Publications, 1990.

Spurgeon, C. H. Our Own Hymn Book: A Collection of Psalms and Hymns for Public, Social and Private Worship. London: Passmore & Alabaster., 1883.

The Silent Collapse - Thoughts from GK Chesterton

The following is an excerpt from a new biography on GK Chesterton entitled “Defiant Joy - The Remarkable Life and Impact of GK Chesterton” by Kevin Belmonte. It highlights the unraveling of Western thought which Chesterton observed in his time. I believe the confusion on these matters continues today.

The longer, set off quotation below is from his 1907 work Heretics. Much of Chesterton’s poignant cultural critique was on the eve of a world that spawned the two most horrific wars in human history…all in the name of civilization, progress and freeing the masses from the past. The 20th century was wrought by highly educated people claiming to seek the “good” of the world. Chesterton was a prophet in his day warning of madness being spoken in his day. He lived to see much of it take place around him. For collapses in thinking always proceed collapses in doing.

Chesterton warned that a “great and silent collapse” had taken place in his time. “All previous ages have sweated and been crucified in an attempt to realize what is really the right life, what was really the good man. A definite part of the modern world has come beyond question to the conclusion that there is no answer to these questions.

Acquiescing in this mind-set was an act of sheer and dangerous folly. For Chesterton, it came down to this: many of his contemporaries were seeking to solace themselves in a series of self-deceptions.

Every one of the popular modern phrases and ideals is a dodge in order to shirk the problem of what is good. We are found of talking about “liberty”; that, as we talk of it, is a dodge to avoid discussing what is good. We are fond of talking about “progress”; that is a dodge to avoid discussing what is good. We are fond of talking about “education”; that is a dodge to avoid discussing what is good. The modern man says, “Let us leave all these arbitrary standards and embrace liberty.”

This is, logically rendered, “Let us not decide what is good, but let it be considered good not to decide it.” He says “Away with your old moral formulae; I am for progress.” This, logically stated, means, “Let us not settle what is good; but let us settle whether we are getting more of it.” He says, “Neither in religion nor morality, my friend, lie the hopes of the race, but in education.” This, clearly expressed, means, “We cannot decide what is good, but let us give it to our children.”

Chesterton called such self-deception “solemn folly”…

Kevin Belmonte, Defiant Joy - The Remarkable Life and Impact of GK Chesterton, (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2011) 89, 90

I encourage you to take up some Chesterton if you have never read any of his works. I recommend his classic 1908 work Orthodoxy is the best place to begin. Enjoy.

St. Anselm's Prayers

Fast Facts on St. Anselm of Caterbury

  • Lived: 1033-1109
  • Calling: Bishop in England
  • Remembered for:  Works in philosophy and theology, particularly for an ontological argument for God’s existence and meditations on the incarnation and the atonement. 

In reading St. Anselm’s The Proslogian over the last ten years of my life I have found myself returning to several of his prayers in my devotional moorings. These prayers continue to hold influence in my life.  The prayers of chapter one in particular have pushed me forward towards God in a really good way. Here is a sampling.

UP now, slight man! flee, for a little while, thy occupations; hide thyself, for a time, from thy disturbing thoughts. Cast aside, now, thy burdensome cares, and put away thy toilsome business. Yield room for some little time to God; and rest for a little time in him. Enter the inner chamber of thy mind; shut out all thoughts save that of God, and such as can aid thee in seeking him; close thy door and seek him. Speak now, my whole heart! speak now to God, saying, I seek thy face; thy face, Lord, will I seek (). And come thou now, O Lord my God, teach my heart where and how it may seek thee, where and how it may find thee.

Maybe its my background in amateur wrestling that makes me love talk like that. Get up little man! His calls to himself to get up and get to prayer and deep meditation before God have both convicted me and encouraged me deeply.  Anselm’s prayers are particularly helpful for those who either love or hate theological reflection. Anselm serves as a great example to us in that we can indeed think deep thoughts about God, yet maintain a burning heart for God. The doing of theology, philosophy and categories of biblical doctrine can be pursued, yes should be pursued, with a pious zeal for God. 

Having a zeal which is according to the knowledge of God is indeed a biblical concept. By the negative way we find this idea in Romans 10 where Paul speaks of Israel having a zeal which is NOT according to knowledge.  As one who loves theology I need to learn to neither lose God in the books nor give way to a non-thinking piety. The former grows dry and cold while the latter stops short of the hard work of integrating gospel thinking throughout all of life.  To cease doing this hard work of theological integration or to lose a rich love for Jesus in the gospel will leave God’s people disconnected from his mission in the world.  We will be steeped in an irrelevant ignorance or not walk in the spiritual vitality from which Paul could say “be imitators of me as I am of Christ.” (1 Corinthians 11:1) 

Anselm shows me that both “head” and “heart” matter in our love for God.  Afterall, was it not Jesus who taught us to love God with all that we are? 

“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.”

Yes, all that we are was made by him and for him.  So let us have both mind and heart drawn upward and be set ablaze by our communion with God.  Afterall, the prayer above is proceeding a work in philosophical theology; a matter that hardly seemed boring to the old archbishop of Canterbury.

Jesus...Fully God, Fully Human

Paul’s letter to the Colossians is a short letter with a singular focus.  He wants us to see that Jesus is enough for God’s people.  In the middle of Chapter 1 he goes to some length to explain to us who Jesus really is in all his glory.  In looking at what some have deemed the “Christ Hymn”1 of Colossians, we quite literally come to one of the mountaintop vistas in the entire Bible.  As Jesus is the central focus of the Bible (Luke 24:27) such clear and airy Christology2 found Colossians 1:15-20 is indeed one of the high points of the Bible.  This passage has been central to the church’s understanding of Jesus and has been part of a robust theological discussion over the years.

The Identity of Jesus in Early Church History

The identity of Jesus was of extreme importance to Christians in every era of history but was especially central to his earliest followers.  Jesus himself walked on the earth, lived his life with a community of people, preached, taught, was crucified and raised from death.  Jesus is truly a complex person. In the New Testament he is at once a very human, human being. At the same time he claimed to be God striding upon the soils of planet earth.  After his life, Jesus’s apostles and their associates wrote down his story, his teachings and eyewitness accounts3 of his death and resurrection in what we call the “Gospels” of the New Testament. There are four of these—Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.4 In addition to these gospels there are various sections of the other New Testament writings which speak to the identity of Jesus. 

Early Controversies 

There was some debate among the early Christians as to whether Jesus was “more human” (ala Arianism—he was not fully God) or “more God.” (ala Docetism—a view that said he just appeared human). Some wanted to focus more on his humanity, others on his divinity and some wanted to keep the divine and human separated. There is good reason for this debate.  The Bible is vehemently and without equivocation monotheistic.  There is only one God (see Deuteronomy 6:4; 2 Samuel 7:22; Isaiah 44:6-8, 45:5; Romans 3:30; Ephesians 4:4-6; James 2:19) and yet Jesus claims to be God and prays to God as his Father.  Something wonderful and different is up here! 

Historically, the truth of Jesus is found in the New Testament teaching.  Clarity on all this matters took some time, but a strong unity was forged in the early creeds and councils of the church.  The major controversy was between followers of Arias (who taught that Jesus was a created being and not eternal God) and those following the New Testament in holding God/Humanity of Jesus together in one person. This position’s leader was an Egyptian named Athanasius.  These two positions were debated at the Council of Nicea in AD 325.  This council was to resolve this debate about the nature of Jesus Christ and was not in any way a council that “gave the church the Bible” or any other of Dan Brown’s Da Vinci Code speculation.5

Theological Consensus

The council of Nicea resulted in a big thumbs down on Arias’ doctrines declaring them to be heresy.  The council also affirmed the biblical teaching with an early formation of the Nicene Creed.  This document was the statement around which Christians unified in relationship to the unique identity of the God of the Bible as a Triune being existing eternally as Father, Son and Holy Spirit.  The following is just a snippet that may sound familiar to those who grew up in liturgical church traditions.

We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ, the only Son of God, eternally begotten of the Father, God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God, begotten, not made, of one Being with the Father.  Through him all things were made.  For us and for our salvation he came down from heaven: by the power of the Holy Spirit he became incarnate from the Virgin Mary, and was made man.  For our sake he was crucified under Pontius Pilate; he suffered death and was buried.  On the third day he rose again in accordance with the Scriptures; he ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of the Father.  He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead, and his kingdom will have no end.

The Nicene creed simply articulated the teaching of the Bible that Jesus was indeed God. More doctrinal precision was provided by the Chalcedonian definition in AD 451 which clarified the biblical teaching that Jesus was fully human and full God in one person.  He was not sort of human and really God or sort of God and kinda human.  The definition reads as follow.

Therefore, following the holy fathers [early church leaders/pastors], we all with one accord teach men to acknowledge one and the same Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, at once complete in Godhead and complete in manhood, truly God and truly man, consisting also of a reasonable soul and body; of one substance with the Father as regards his Godhead, and at the same time of one substance with us as regards his manhood; like us in all respects, apart from sin; as regards his Godhead, begotten of the Father before the ages, but yet as regards his manhood begotten, for us men and for our salvation, of Mary the Virgin, the God-bearer; one and the same Christ, Son, Lord, Only-begotten, recognized in two natures, without confusion, without change, without division, without separation; the distinction of natures being in no way annulled by the union, but rather the characteristics of each nature being preserved and coming together to form one person and subsistence, not as parted or separated into two persons, but one and the same Son and Only-begotten God the Word, Lord Jesus Christ; even as the prophets from earliest times spoke of him, and our Lord Jesus Christ himself taught us, and the creed of the fathers has handed down to us. 6

Though we might need a dictionary along with us to read the above, it is indeed an awesome statement.  The teachings of these creeds about Jesus are simply articulations of the teaching of Jesus and the apostles and have played a unifying role in church history.7 In fact, all Christians from every tradition—Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, Protestant, Evangelical8 are in agreement on the truths of these creeds. Why? They come from the Bible which bears witness to this unique person. In fact, Jesus is revealed in the Scripture as the most unique person who ever lived. The following will be but a simple survey of some of the biblical teaching.

The Biblical Teaching

Jesus is not normal. Never was, never will be.  In fact, he is the most startling, unique, mysterious, glorious, compelling, magnetic, loving and true person who ever lived.  The Scriptures reveal to us both truths that Jesus was God and man.  The following will be a listing of some of the biblical teaching. 

He is man

In the Old Testament we are taught that the coming Messiah/Christ would be a human being (Isaiah 7:14; 9:6,7). Jesus fulfills this in every way. First, he was born into and grew up in a human family (Luke 1-2).  Second, he exhibits the full range of human emotions in the gospels. He was tired, hungry, thirsty and in his humanity he had limited knowledge (John 4:6-7 and 19:28, Mark 13:32).  Third, Philippians 2:6-8 clearly teaches that Jesus, though was in very nature God,  humbled himself and became human.  Fourth, He was tempted just as we are yet did not sin. (Matthew 4, Hebrews 4:15) Some erroneously teach that to be human means to be sinful.  Yet we see Jesus fully human without sin.  Finally, all the gospels record that Jesus bled and died on the cross.  It is simple for us to understand Jesus was an historical human being, yet some question whether this man was truly God incarnate.  The amount of biblical testimony to this second claim is actually massive in detail.  On we go to that happy trail.

He is God

Here we will provide a sketch of the testimony of Scripture as to the deity of Jesus along five major lines. For those who desire more I refer you to a couple of clear recent works that cover the issues in some detail.10

#1 He is clearly called God and divine names are attributed to Jesus

First, Jesus is called theos the Greek word for God in many places in the New Testament (John 1:1, John 20:28, Romans 9:5, Hebrews 1:8, Titus 2:13, 1 John 5:20, 2 Peter 1:1). Second, he is called the Son of God in the gospels.  This is sometimes a misunderstood concept where many think this distinguishes Jesus from being God.  Philosopher Peter Kreeft makes the following observation that sheds light on how this title was understood.  Kreeft writes: Son of a dog, is a dog, son of an ape an ape, son of God, is God — Jews were Monotheistic, only one God—Son of God is the divine title of Jesus and everyone at his time understood this title to mean just that.Third, Jesus is called the Son of Man some 84 times in the gospels and is his most used title for himself. This title represents the perfection of humanity in the person of Jesus in contrast to the sinful nature of humanity in Adam.11 It is also a direct reference to the divine figure in Daniel 7 of the Old Testament.  Jesus used this to describe both his first and second coming. About his first coming he said, the Son of Man came to give his life as a ransom for people (Mark 10:45 and Matthew 20:28). As to his second coming, in direct reference to Daniel 7, he tells the high priest at his trial that the Son of Man will come again on the clouds of heaven.  At this he is accused of blasphemy because he had claimed to be God. See dialogue in Matthew 62-65. Finally, Jesus is called LORD, kurios, which is used for Yahweh in Greek translations of the Old Testament (Philippians 2:11, 1 Corinthians 2:8). 

# 2 Certain attributes of God are used to describe Jesus

There are certain characteristics about God that theologians calls his divine attributes. Some of these are directly predicated to Jesus as well.  Jesus is said to be unchanging (Hebrews 1:12, quoting Psalm 102:25-27, Hebrews 13:8) and all powerful (Philippians 3:20,21, Revelation 1:8) and eternal (Isaiah 9:6,7; Micah 5:2). 

# 3 Jesus does the works of God

Jesus is said to be the creator and providential sustainer of all  (Colossians 1:15-20, Hebrews 1:1-3). Furthermore, he is said to give eternal life and forgives sins that are against God (John 10:28, John 17:2, 1 John 2:25, Mark 2:5-12, Colossians 1:14, 3:13). Jesus’ miracles also confirm his power over nature, disease and death itself.

#4 He is worshipped as God by monotheistic people

The Scriptures are clear that the worship of anyone or anything is idolatry and the deepest of sins. Deuteronomy 6:13-15 teaches us that God’s people shall worship/fear only the Lord their God. Additionally, The Ten Commandments call us to worship only the God of the Bible and to reject idols and the worship of images (Exodus 20). Furthermore, the angels, various men and Jesus himself all understand that worship is exclusively for God (Angels in Revelation 19 and 22, Peter in Acts 10, Paul in Acts 14 and Jesus himself quotes Deuteronomy 6:13 to Satan during his own temptations in Matthew 4). So we find something amazing happening in the New Testament. Jesus is worshipped and he accepts worship without any hesitation at all (Matthew 2:11, John 9:35-39, Matthew 21:9-16, Luke 19.37-40 and Matthew 28:9,10, 17).  Even more amazing is that God the Father actually commands angels to worship Jesus (Hebrews 1:6) and Jesus will be clearly worshipped in Heaven (Revelation 5). 

#5 He directly claimed to be God

His own testimony is that he is the pre-existing great I AM of Exodus 3 (John 8:58), he is one in essence with the Father (John 10:30), he existed with the Father before the world began (John 17:5) and he claims to be the divine Christ (Matthew 26:63,64). His enemies wanted him killed for blasphemy because he, a mere man, was clearly claiming to be God.  

The Unique Glory of Jesus

The wonder of Jesus Christ isn’t that he was a great moral teacher. He was.  The wonder of Jesus Christ is not that he was kind, loving and compassionate to the poor. He was. The glory is found in that God became poor and one of us. He desires to walk with us, teach us and lead us. The glory is that Jesus is worthy of worship because as the unique Son of God he gave his life for us. Some might make him too exalted and far away—less human. Some might seek to bring him down from heaven and make him just a slob like one of us.11 Dear friends, the path he gives us is much better.  He shares our humanity and lives with us by his Spirit as the divine, glorified and risen Savior. He is the King of Kings and Lord of Lords—he shall reign forever and we shall worship him.  He is worthy of all that we are.

Notes

1. See discussion in Douglas Moo, The Letters to the Colossians and Philemon (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2008) See introductory section on Colossians 1:15.

2. Christology is the theological discipline dedicated to the study of the person (who he is) and work (what he has done) of Jesus the Christ.

3. See Richard Baukham, Jesus and the Eyewitnesses: The Gospels as Eyewitness Testimony (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2006)

4. Matthew and John were among the twelve apostles.  Mark wrote down the apostle Peter’s account (see my introduction to Mark here http://www.powerofchange.org/storage/docs/nt_web_jw.pdf) and Luke was the traveling companion and missionary secretary of St. Paul.  Luke’s gospel, by its own prologue, was Luke’s job to pull together the Jesus story with some precision.

5. A simple, helpful book on all that schmack Darryl Bock, Breaking the Da Vinci Code (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2006).

6. Both the Nicene Creed and the Chalcedonian Definition can readily be found online. Use the Bing or the Google and you’ll find these.  Or just go here—http://www.reformed.org/documents/index.html

7. For a thorough treatment on creeds and there use in the Christian tradition, see Jaroslav Pelikan, Credo-Historical and Theological Guide to Creeds and Confessions of Faith in the Christian Tradition (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2003). Good buy for the library.

8. For the continued Evangelical consensus on these issues see JI Packer and Thomas Oden, One Faith—The Evangelical Consensus (Downers Grove: Intervarsity Press, 2004) 71-75.

9. Geisler and Hoffman, Why I am a Christian, Part 5, Chapter 13—Peter Kreeft Why I believe Jesus is the Son of God (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2001) 222-234. 

10. Donald Macleod, The Person of Christ, (Downers Grove: Intervarsity Press, 1998) and Robert Bowman, J. Ed Komoszewski, Putting Jesus in His Place, The Case for the Deity of Christ (Grand Rapids: Kregal, 2007)

11. Ben Witherington III, “The Christology of Jesus Revisited” in Francis Beckwith, William Lane Craig, JP Moreland, To Everyone an Answer – The Case for the Christian Worldview (Downers Grove, Intervarsity Press, 2004) 155

12. Lyrics by Eric Bazilian , One of Us, performed by Joan Osborne, 1995.

 

Staying in the arena

The following is a quote that perhaps many of you are familiar with. It is an excerpt from a speech given by the former president Theodore Roosevelt. It was given at the Sorbonne in Parish in 1910 during the years immediately after Roosevelt’s two terms as President (1901-1908). 

Though there is perhaps much to delight in and perhaps vehemently disagree with regarding Roosevelt and his views, his desire to be a doer and not merely a spectator or empty talker on the roads of life is commendable: 
It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.
Theodore Roosevelt, The Man in the Arena, 1910. Available online at http://www.theodore-roosevelt.com/trsorbonnespeech.html
For those who further interest in Theodore, by all means begin here

A few weeks with Colonel Roosevelt

 

Over the last few weeks I have been joyfully wandering through Edmund Morris’ new book “Colonel Roosevelt” which covers the final period of the life of one of America’s most interesting and influential presidents. The book is the third in a trilogy of works by Morris which have been published over the last few decades. The first work was the Pulitzer prize winning “The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt” and the second, covering his almost eight years as president, was aptly entitled “Theodore Rex

Colonel Roosevelt begins with the African Safari Roosevelt took after stepping away from the presidency in immense popularity concluding his second term in 1908.  The book covers the later years of a career that saw Roosevelt as nature enthusiast, adventurer, international statesmen, author, public intellectual, politician, 3rd party presidential candidate, advocate for WWI preparedness, father/family man and finally a dying icon on the American scene.  

Beginning this book I felt I knew very little about Theodore Roosevelt beyond some very small details picked up along the way in the educational process. After reading this work I very much look forward to reading Morris’ first two installments on the life of this man.  Certainly Roosevelt was a man of his times; some of his time was in need of transformation. At the same time I felt that much of what this man exemplified has been lost in our day.  An advocate for progressive reform in politics, but also not afraid to fight for honor and truth.  A man who despised passive, emasculated manhood, yet was a loving husband and father. A man who would chase down lions in the wilderness and get down on the floor to play with the kids.  As a Harvard graduate who was fluent in multiple languages, he was a scholar and perhaps one of the best and widest read presidents we have had. At the same time he was also man who would have loved MMA (he had a love for boxing and apparently had lessons in jiu-jitsu and a brown belt in judo - or as he wrote to his sons…he liked “manly sports”)

To put it plainly, Theodore Roosevelt was a dude.  A person who would have exemplified the quality that Harvard professor Harvey C. Mansfield recently called Manliness.  Yes, he thought a bit much of himself. Yes, he was never lacking words and always spoke his mind somewhat loudly. Yes, he thought war could be virtuous and called pacifists “aunties” and “sublimated sweetbreads.” Perfect man, no way. One of the more interesting people I have ever encountered? Indeed.

I found myself with real tears in the eyes as the story of his death was told in this book. I felt a sense of loss that such a figure would be consumed by that great enemy of the grave. I then remembered the words of Ecclesiastes which say “No man has power to retain the spirit, or power over the day of death.” The great ones all come and go the same way and some inspire others along the way.

Teddy Roosevelt is now a new friend - an enigmatic one.  One who was at home in a bar fight and in the courts of European royalty. In short, Roosevelt was not simply a man, he was a dude…one who believed in virtue, adventure, nobility and masculine strength aimed at proper ends.  As such, I am all the better for having read this book and anticipate the journey into the earlier books of the trilogy.

Note: For those with commutes or enjoy audio books, Colonel Roosevelt as read by Mark Deakins was a delightful listen with the readers “Roosevelt” voice for each of his quotations a stunning joy which brought me many laugh out loud moments. 

Surprised by History

 

This summer I have been a bit into some reading of history. For some time I have loved the history of ideas and how these flow from people in various political, social and economic contexts.  Good history is also something done by good story tellers - I have been blessed by both of late.  

Here are a few titles which have occupied my mind a bit over the last several months. I also have become somewhat addicted to the audio book reading of John Lee - very intoxicating.

Colossus: Hoover Dam and the Making of the American Century by Michael Hiltzik - this book was a fascinating look at the history of southwestern United States, water rights, the entrepreneurs and engineers who put blood, sweat, tears and political wrangling into the project to bring electrical power and water to the arid dessert.  Very good read that covers a broad history and range of subject.  Book and Audiobook

Empires of the Sea: The Siege of Malta, the Battle of Lepanto, and the Contest for the Center of the World by Roger Crowley - A wonderful read that focuses on the 16th century battles between the great Mediterranean sea powers of the Spanish and Ottomon Empires. The story of the Battle of Malta was unfamiliar to me and I am thankful that this deficit has now been remedied.  Book and Audiobook

Worlds At War: The 2,500-Year Struggle Between East and West by Anthony Pagden - Though a bit tainted by the author’s massive secular bias, this book nonetheless succeeds at covering a massive swath of history. It truly does traverse the entire 2500 years.  I really felt like the author had a naive and ignorant view of religion and the conclusion of the book was just weak and demonstrative of the lack of any real vision secularism offers today. It was worth the time to read; I particularly enjoyed the early histories involving Alexander the Great and the Persian empires. This book is also very long. Book and Audiobook

Lee: A Life of Virtue (The Generals) by John Perry - A short treatment of the life of Robert E. Lee with emphasis on his character and virtue as a leader.  This was my first book on Lee and I found it interesting and compelling enough for me to add two very long movies to our Netflix Queue :-) Book and Audiobook

The History of the Medieval World: From the Conversion of Constantine to the First Crusade bySusan Wise Bauer - I enjoyed this much more than Pagden’s work as it did not carry the anti-religious baggage along the journey.  Bauer covers not only the typical western far but also the histories of Islamic empires and those ruling the lands of China, India and Japan.  Though the western histories are a bit more robust the breadth of the treatment of the time period was much appreciated.  Bauer is an English prof at the college of William and Mary and appears to be married to a minister. This showed in both her writing and lack of derogatory tone towards religious views. Also very long. Book and Audiobook

OK, that’s all for now - I’m off in search for my next read in history - love medieval and late medieval periods so I may land there.  

Any suggestions?

 

Historical Understandings of the Lord's Table

Throughout church history Jesus’ people have observed a simple meal that appropriately has various titles.  Some have called it Eucharist, from the Greek term for thanksgiving for Jesus gave thanks when he instituted the meal.1  Others have used the word Communion for in and through this sacrament we commune with the living and risen Christ.  Still others have used the term The Lord’s table for it is here that we eat and receive from Jesus. The record of the early Christians in the book of Acts (Acts 2:42, 20:7) refer to it as the breaking of bread.2 Finally, due to Jesus establishing the meal at the Last Supper, we have called it the Lord’s Supper. I find all of these titles appropriate when their meaning is understood.  As the church has various names for this sacrament it has also had variegated understandings of what transacts at the table. 

In this essay we must have ambitious goals pursued by modest means.  I will first describe in brief four views which followers of Jesus have held in understanding communion.3  I will then explain our doctrinal view at Jacob’s Well and why we land where we do in light of a holistic view of the biblical teaching.  This treatment is constrained by space so please pursue the footnotage for further study and reading.   Now to the four views.

Transubstantiation (Historic voice: Thomas Aquinas  Observed: Roman Catholicism)

The official view of the Roman Catholic church is that the bread and wine actually become the flesh and blood of Jesus Christ when consecrated in the Mass. They are offered as a bloodless propitiatory sacrifice to God for the people gathered in the Mass.4  To understand the view that developed over time in the Roman Catholic Church we must understand a few things.  First, the words of Jesus “this is my body” and “this is my blood” is taken quite literally in that the view teaches the bread and wine must become these things mysteriously as Jesus taught us.  Second, the view became known as transubstantiation over time and was codified as church law at the fourth Lateran council in 1215.  Following this period the philosophical theology of the great doctor of the church St. Thomas Aquinas solidified it in the Catholic mind.

Thomas, following Aristotle, employed a certain philosophical view of matter in order to explain the logical possibility of bread and wine actually being human meat and blood.5 The idea called hylomorphism pervades the thinking of Aristotle and the view teaches that all material things are a combination of matter (stuff) and form (the idea that makes something what it is). In other words, matter has the potential to be all sorts of things, but the form is what makes something actually what it is.  Aristotle also used the additional language substance and accidents to describe things.  The substance is what something is, say bread and wine, and the accidents are things like color, taste, shape, etc. which reflect the reality of that substance. Thomas Aquinas used these categories to describe how bread and wine become flesh and blood in the mass.7 When the items are consecrated by prayer and thanksgiving they substantially change but they accidently remain bread and wine.  So what you really have is Jesus’ flesh and Jesus’ blood though what appears before you tastes, smells and looks like bread and wine. This is all very nice if you believe in this view of matter and find it necessary to explain the Lord’s supper. However, there have been many throughout church history who have objected to the view that the bread/wine becomes the very same flesh and blood as Jesus’ incarnate body. There are both practical and biblical reasons this view has been seen as problematic but this remains the view of the Catholic church today.

Components of the View: Thanksgiving, Remembering, Proclaiming, Participating, Real Body and Blood, A Bloodless Sacrifice of Jesus is repeatedly made in the mass.

Consubstantiation/Sacramental Union (Historic voice: Martin Luther Observed: Lutheranism)

Though not all Lutherans readily accept the label of consubstantiation the view has historically been associated with his theology.  Much of the Protestant view of the Lord’s table has been a reaction to what they saw as excesses in the Catholic Mass and doctrine of transubstantiation.  Those who hold this view reject that the mass is a “bloodless sacrifice” in that the book of Hebrews clearly teaches that Jesus’ sacrifice of his body and blood was a single act that took place historically on the cross.  Furthermore, Luther did not want to say, as did Ulrich Zwingli, that communion was simply a sign and memorial.  One thinks of his now infamous carving of the words “THIS IS MY BODY” into a table when debating the matter with Zwingli at Marburg Castle in 1529.Those holding this view believe that the body and blood are sacramentally unified with the bread and wine but do not become them substantially.  Luther’s words were that the body/blood were with, in and under the elements but I’m not sure anyone really knows what this means. Smile.

Components of the View: Thanksgiving, Remembering, Proclaiming, Participating, the Body and Blood in union with, in and under the elements

Memorialism (Historic voice: Ulrich Zwingli  Observed: Some Baptists, many modern evangelicals, Pentecostals)

Perhaps the most simple view is that of memorialist theology which was represented during the reformation by the Swiss protestant leader Ulrich Zwingli.  The focus in this view is on the phrase in Luke’s gospel and repeated in the first letter to the Corinthians “do this in remembrance of me.”  It avoids trying to make bread become body and wine become blood but some think that this evacuated the presence of Jesus and his work from the sacrament. 

Components of the View: Thanksgiving, Remembering, Proclaiming, Only Symbols, No Real Presence

Spiritual Real Presence (Historic voice: John Calvin Observed: Reformed traditions including Presbyterians and some Baptists.)

(Note: Methodists also hold to a form of real presence but do not clarify their meaning)

The final view rejected both the Lutheran and memorialist views in favor of a real presence of Jesus without the bread/wine becoming material flesh and blood.  It affirms both the remembering and proclamation of the table, situates its observance as the new covenant meal while also affirming that Jesus is present at his table ministering grace to his church through the sacrament. It seeks to be faithful to the panorama of the biblical teaching while neither believing in transubstantiation nor the offering of a bloodless sacrifice in the mass.  Calvin interacts with all of the above views in shaping his doctrine which is laid out in his Institutes of the Christians Religion and in a little essay entitled A Short Treatise on the Lord’s Supper.9 This view is close to what we teach and observe at Jacob’s Well.

Components of the View: Thanksgiving, Remembering, Proclaiming, Participating, Jesus present spiritually through the bread and wine.

A Summary of our View at Jacob’s Well

In our doctrine and theology and membership classes we put forth the following view of the Lord’s Table for our members.  We want to be clear on what we think the sacrament is and what it is not.

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If baptism is the right of entry into the church, the Lord’s Supper is the ordinance of continuing communion with Christ and his church.  The Lord’s Supper (sometimes referred to as the Lord’s Table, Communion, or the Eucharist) was commission by Christ at the Last Supper where he shared bread and the cup with his disciples (Mark 14:22-25, Matthew 26:26-29, Luke 22:17-20, 1 Corinthians 11:23-26).  The Lord’s teaching was two-fold.  First, the bread represents his body, broken for us.  Second, the cup represents the blood of the New Covenant, poured out on our behalf.  Luke’s gospel and the apostle Paul record that we are to eat and drink in remembrance of our Lord.  In contrast to the Roman Catholic view of transubstantiation, we hold that the bread and wine do not become different substances in communion.  The bread substantially and accidentally remains bread and the wine substantially and accidentally remains wine. 

However, we do hold there is a real presence of Christ by way of the Holy Spirit at the Lord’s Table.  The Second London Confession states as follows:

Worthy receivers, outwardly partaking of the visible Elements in this Ordinance, do then also inwardly by faith, really and indeed, yet not carnally, and corporally, but spiritually receive, and feed upon Christ crucified and all the benefits of his death: the Body and Blood of Christ, being then not corporally, or carnally, but spiritually present to the faith of Believers, in that Ordinance, as the Elements themselves are to their outward senses.

The 1677/89 London Baptist Confession of Faith

Although the Lord’s Supper is a remembering, a memorial of the broken body and shed blood of Christ, there is in our view a real meeting with Christ at the table that is a nourishing, spiritual, soul-refreshing presence.10

As the Lord’s Supper is the continuing ordinance of the church, it should be practiced regularly.  The Lord’s Table was central to the early church and seems to have been observed weekly (Acts 20:7, 1 Corinthians 11:17-34) as the church gathered.  Although, I do not think that weekly observance is mandated by this witness of Scripture, or by the practice of the early church, its regularity must be enjoined.   It is a great shame that in many churches, this central rite of the church which demonstrates love and communion with the living Christ is regulated to an afterthought observed just a few times a year.  In this communion we reflect on the Lord’s work in the past and hope for his coming in the future.  In this ordinance, when handled with grace, reverence, and care, there is a powerful proclamation and experience of the gospel of grace.

Finally, our unity as a local church is also expressed in this ordinance as we partake of the bread and cup together. For this purpose I believe that communion should be celebrated when the most members would be present. For most congregations this would be in the primary worship gathering. For these reasons we celebrate communion on a weekly basis as a central part of the worship gatherings of Jacob’s Well.

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Though this treatment is necessarily brief and incomplete I do pray it is of help in understanding the various historical views of the table and to see the biblical reasons behind our own observance of this blessed gift to the church.  It is a great privilege to come to Jesus together by regularly by observing his table. The amazing grace of the gospel is both known and seen visibly in what Jesus ordained for his church.

Notes

1. The word is, eucaristia which simply means to give thanks and reflects the language which Jesus used when establishing the meal at the Last Supper.

2. Recent scholars Gregg R. Allison, John Polhill, FF Bruce as well as Historical figures JL Dagg Manual of Church Order and John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion have held this view.  Though questioned by some and certainly practiced as part of fellowship meals, this has been the historic view of the meaning of breaking of bread in the book of Acts.

3. For an excellent summary of these see Chapter “The Lord’s Supper” in Packer, J. I. Concise Theology : A Guide to Historic Christian Beliefs. Wheaton, Ill.: Tyndale House, 1995.

4. See THE EUCHARIST IN THE ECONOMY OF SALVATION in the Catechism of the Roman Catholic Church—http://www.vatican.va/archive/catechism/p2s2c1a3.htm#III See sections 1333, 1365, 1367.

5. For a description of Aristotle’s views see http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/aristotle/ and scan down for the header for hylomorphism.

6. This was debated heavily in the late 9th century. The Benedictine abbot Paschasius Radbertus argued for the flesh/blood view in his treatise On the Body and Blood of the Lord and was vigorous opposed by a monk named Ratramnus from the same abbey in a book of the same title.  Further, the nature of the body and blood of Jesus in the sacrament was taken up extensively by all major leaders of the Protestant Reformation.  See Chapter 12 ”The Lord’s Supper” in Gregg R. Allison, The Assembly of “The Way” - The Doctrine of the Church, (Wheaton: Crossway Books, forthcoming)

7. See Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica, Question 75. The change of bread and wine into the Body and Blood of Christ http://www.newadvent.org/summa/4075.htm

8. The Marburg Colloquy of 1529 was arranged by the German prince Philipp I of Hesse in attempt to unite the various streams of Protestantism.  Luther and Zwingli failed to agree on the nature of the Eucharist and Philips dream of a fully united Protestantism failed.

9. See John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion Book IV, section 17 and A Short Treatise on the Lord’s Supper available online at http://www.the-highway.com/supper1_Calvin.html

10. This phrase is used in the Chapter 10 – “His Soul-Refreshing Presence, The Lord’s Supper in Calvinistic Bpatist Thought and Experience in the ‘Long’ Eighteenth Century” in Anthony R. Cross and Philip E. Thompson, Baptist Sacramentalism, Studies in Baptist History and Thought ; V. 5 (Carlisle, Cumbria, U.K. ; Waynesboro, GA: Paternoster Press, 2003).

Patrick of Ireland

(AD 390s-460s)

Each year a peculiar celebration takes place among many people.  Green clothes are worn, green beer is imbibed and strange stories about snakes being chased out of Ireland are told. Shamrocks abound and leprechauns seem to jump out from behind every bush. People are pinched for not participating in the fashion of the day and parades are thrown in the name of a man who lived long ago. To someone who is Irish it is a special day of pride and cultural identification; ironically many use it as an excuse to get really drunk.1 Yes, I am speaking of March 17th, St. Patrick’s Day. 

Strangely, few people know much about the man whose name adorns the day. Growing up we always celebrated St. Patrick’s day and my Mom made sure we knew we were Irish. My people actually come from Monaghan county in Ireland.  As I have grown older I have become keenly interested in the history of the Irish and the figure of Patrick who made a significant impact on history. A few fun facts as we begin.  First, he did not drive snakes out of Ireland, they were gone long before Patrick, if they ever existed in that climate. Second, though he is called a “saint” by those who recognized him as a faithful man of God, he was never officially canonized by a pope. Third, or triunely, he may or may not have used the shamrock to teach Irish pagans about the three-in-oneness of God. We just don’t know for sure.

After becoming a Christian years ago my interest in Patrick has grown immensely so this essay emerges from my own interest and study of this historical figure. This will be but a short trip into the life and mission of a man who lived some 1500 years ago whose influence on a people and culture is still felt today. For those who wish to read more just remember; Jesus loves footnotes and so should you.

Patrick, The Briton Who Became an Irishman

One of the ironies in the story of Patrick is that he was not born an Irishman.  He was born a Roman citizen in Britain during the last years of the 4th century AD. He was the son of a Christian nobleman and deacon in the church named Calpornius.2 The faith ran deep in Patrick’s family as his grandfather was a priest. As an aside priests married in these days without any hindrance from the church. As such, his early education would have included instruction in classical learning as well in the teachings of the church. At the time Patrick was clear about his own faith; he was in no way a follower of Christ. In his own words, he was an atheist in his youth.

Patrick lived in tumultuous times in a world where barbarian tribes and the Empire of Rome clashed on many frontiers.  In his home world of Britain, Celtic (pronounced Keltic) raiders would come from Ireland to carry off women and children as slaves. Even the power of Rome was unable to stave off this common occurrence on the British Isles as Patrick and his family soon found out. At roughly the age of 16 Patrick was snatched from his bed by an Irish hoard and taken off in captivity.  Patrick the Roman was now Patrick the slave.

The Celts at this time were indeed a harsh people and accounts from ancient literature testify to their passion and barbarism.  They were a farming people and a patchwork of warring clans on the island.  The Celts had long traveled and settled in various parts of Europe making up the people of Gaul (location of modern day France) and populating regions as far as Galatia in Asia Minor.4  To describe the Celtic barbarians as a frightening people would have been an understatement for a Roman Briton like Patrick. One example will suffice to illustrate.  The Irish Celts practice in battle was to strip naked and charge their enemies carrying a sword wearing nothing but sandals and a gold neck band called a torc.To add to this unusual practice was the fact the Celtic warrior would have come to battle after building himself up into a frenzy which they called a “warp-spasm.”  Thomas Cahill describes this practice well so I will quote him at length.

The Romans, in their first encounters with these exposed, insane warriors, were shocked and frightened.  Not only were the men naked, they were howling and, it seemed, possessed by demons, so outrageous were their strength and verve. Urged on by the infernal skirl of pipers, they presented the unaccustomed and throbbing Roman sensorium a multimedia event featuring all the terrors of hell itself. 6

Other historical fragments from the late 4th century record victorious Irish warriors smearing the blood of the vanquished upon their faces and even cannibalizing their victims.  This was the world into which a teenage boy was taken to be a slave.

From what we know Patrick’s life as a slave would have been one of harsh servitude.  Rather than a room of his own as he likely had in Britain, he would have shared a slaves shed with others in bondage. His particular role as a slave was the mundane and repetitive task of shepherding sheep7. This was lonely and exhausting work of leading sheep to pasture, guarding them from wolves and bringing them back to safety each night.  It was during six long years of slavery in the harsh, wet and cold of Northwestern Ireland8 that Patrick began to meet with the God of his youth.  As a slave in the green fields of barbaric Ireland, Patrick became a Christian. His own words about this time in his Confessions is quite compelling:

But after I reached Ireland I used to pasture the flock each day and I used to pray many times a day. More and more did the love of God, and my fear of him and faith increase, and my spirit was moved so that in a day [I said] from one up to a hundred prayers, and in the night a like number; besides I used to stay out in the forests and on the mountain and I would wake up before daylight to pray in the snow, in icy coldness, in rain, and I used to feel neither ill nor any slothfulness, because, as I now see, the Spirit was burning in me at that time.9

After his conversion his love for God grew and became quite evident to his fellow slaves and the Irish he served.  What would happen next in his story was the first of several dreams/visions which would shape the rest of his life.  For as God would have it, Patrick was about to go home.

Based upon his own writings, Patrick had a dream in which he heard a voice speaking which said to him “You do well to fast: soon you will depart for your home country” and then later “Behold, your ship is ready.” At these promptings, Patrick fled from his captor and began what must have been an arduous trek across the island to the eastern shores.  Patrick only recounts the trip was of some 200 roman miles (about 185 miles in our accounting) and that God guided him and he was without fear.10 Patrick indeed found a ship and took the risk to ask aboard its crew.  The captain at first declined him, perhaps for fear of taking on an obvious fugitive, but then relented and asked him to join the crew.  Patrick was to arrive back in Britain and reunite with his family. It was as if they received him back from the dead and in many senses they did.  For the Patrick that returned was a different man; a man forged by the love of God into one desiring the service of his new King.

While at his home Patrick would have two more dreams/visions which would direct his destiny.  The first of which was a vision of the people of Ireland calling him back to their lands to serve among them. The second Patrick describes as the hearing of a beautiful prayer the words of which he could not understand.  The first vision burdened him with sorrow for the Irish people, the second one he understood as God the Holy Spirit speaking within him both words of comfort and commission. He was sure of his calling. Though friends and family would not want him to go, he had to return to Ireland and preach the gospel on the isle of his captivity.11  

Though there is little information about the next season of his life, Patrick likely proceeded through the usual paths to become a minister of the church. Some traditions hold that he spent time in Gaul studying theology for his ordination at the monastery of Lérins before becoming a deacon.12 One could not become a priest until the age of thirty, so Patrick served as a deacon learning to be a minister during this time.  It is uncertain when and how he eventually became a priest and bishop but we do know that he did rise to this rank in the church.  His mission to Ireland required this office for he would need to appoint and ordain others to gospel ministry on the green shores that lay ahead.

The Mission and Ministry of Patrick

We do not know the exact details of Patrick’s entrance back to the island of his captivity but we do very much know the results of his work there.  His labor centered in the northern parts of the island and we know that he had two main objectives in his ministry there.  First, we was a bishop who would care for and guide the small community of Christian believers in Ireland.  We know that in 431 the bishop of Rome (Pope Celestine) ordained and sent a man by the name of Palladius as the first bishop/overseer for the Irish.  Later records show that his work was rather unsuccessful but his bishopric was followed by the very successful ministry of Patrick.  It has been speculated that perhaps Patrick was a young priest who came along with Palladius, but this cannot be certain.13

Patrick’s second purpose was to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ to any pagan who would listen to him.14 Patrick forgave and then loved the people of Ireland. His concern for them can be heard in his writings. On one occasion he spoke of the condition of women slaves, many of whom had become followers of Jesus.

But it is the women kept in slavery who suffer most—and who keeps their spirits up despite the menacing and terrorizing they must endure. The Lord gives grace to his many handmaidens; and though they are forbidden to do so, they follow him with backbone.”15

His passion and love for his people and innumerable converts to the gospel come forth with resounding clarity in his Letter to Coroticus. Coroticus was a British king who had taken up power after the fall of the Roman empire in 410.  Britain had become a more chaotic place where warring kings asserted power by force of arms.  Apparently Coroticus had taken up the practice once used by the Irish; raiding the other land for slaves.  On one such raid in northern Ireland, many of Patrick’s converts had been taken away. His Letter to Coroticus is his plea to have the people released and a chastisement of the so called Christian king for enslaving and devouring Irish Christian brothers and sisters.  Many have noted that in this letter we have the first human being to speak out without equivocation against the evil of slavery.16 The former slave now castigates those who were enslaving a people whom they thought racially/tribally inferior.17

Finally, we can learn much from Patrick and the Irish believers that followed. Much could be said about how Irish monks kept alive literature and learning during the dark ages of continental Europe after the fall of Rome18, but for our purposes I wish to close with a focus on the vibrant gospel witness of Celtic Christians. First, their methodology of evangelizing the pagans of Ireland has much to be commended for our day.  They lived in Christian community while living in close proximity to those who worshipped many gods.  By voice of their preaching and example of gospel living together in good works, Celtic Christianity spread rapidly over Ireland.19 Furthermore, they remained orthodox to the teachings of the Bible and the early creeds while living out this faith in a way very close to the lives of the Celts.  Their faith was alive to creation with God the Trinity as the great creator.  Their theology was very practical and suited to a simple farming people; they did not deal in some of the abstract theologizing that lead to debate throughout the empire.  They were faithful to the truth but contextualized it for the agrarian Celts whose historical ties were deep with creation. This is seen powerfully in the Irish prayer known as “Saint Patrick’s Breastplate” dating to perhaps a century or so after Patrick.20 Though the form that survives most likely is not from the pen of Patrick, yet it certainly encapsulates the Christian faith he established amongst this once barbarous people.21 It is a prayer dancing with both God and the natural world and ends with a phrase familiar to many who have heard of Patrick. I first read it on the walls of a small Irish pub in Franklin, TN.

Christ with me, Christ before me, Christ behind me, Christ in me, Christ below me, Christ above me, Christ to the right of me, Christ to the left of me, Christ where I lie, Christ where I sit, Christ where I stand, Christ in the heart of everyone who thinks of me, Christ in the mouth of everyone who speaks of me, Christ in every eye which sees me, Christ in every ear which hears me.22

May this be said of each of us who follow him—to the glory of God.

Notes

  1. For some humor about the irony of St. Patrick’s Day see Christian Lander, Stuff White People Like #89—St. Patrick’s Day—online at http://stuffwhitepeoplelike.com/2008/03/16/89-saint-patricks-day, accessed 3/12/2010.
  2. Philip Freeman, St. Patrick of Ireland—A Biography (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2005), 2.
  3. Ibid, 12, 13.
  4. Thomas Cahill, How the Irish Saved Civilization (New York: Anchor Books, 1995) 79.
  5. Ibid, 82.
  6. Ibid, 82, 83.
  7. Most likely his job would have included taking sheep to pasture and caring for pigs
  8. Freeman, 24, 25.
  9. Patrick, Confession of St. Patrick, Christian Classics Ethereal Library — http://www.ccel.org/ccel/patrick/confession.iv.html, accessed 3/12/2010.
  10. Ibid, http://www.ccel.org/ccel/patrick/confession.v.html, accessed 3/12/2010.
  11. Freeman, 50, 51.
  12. Cahill, 106, 107.
  13. Freeman, 68-71.
  14. Ibid, 74.
  15. Cahill, 109.
  16. Ibid 114.
  17. For the text of the Letter to Coroticus, see The Gilder Lehrman Center for the Study of Slavery, Resistance, and Abolition http://www.yale.edu/glc/archive/1166.htm
  18. This is the focus and thesis of Thomas Cahill’s excellent book, How the Irish Saved Civilization. For that story please see this work.
  19. For a book length practical look at the way the Celts evangelized their pagan neighbors, see George Hunter, The Celtic Way of Evangelism: How Christianity Can Reach the West…Again (Abington Press, 2000).
  20. Freeman, 161.
  21. Cahill, 116.
  22. Freeman, 164.

Lemuel Haynes

Lemuel Haynes

The main source for this brief biographical sketch is Thabiti Anyabwile, The Faithful Preacher, Recapturing the Vision of Three Pioneering African American Pastors, (Wheaton: Crossway, 2007) 17-23.

The following was part of Jacob’s Well’s reflection on Black History Month in February 2010

Lemuel Haynes was born July 18th 1753 in West Hartford Connecticut.  The circumstances of his birth are the subject of some debate.  Some think that his mom was  either a wealthy white woman of a prominent Hartford, Connecticut family while others argue that she was a Scottish servant girl by the name of Alice Fitch.  His father was one John Haynes of whom we know very little about other than he was of African descent. His parents quickly become irrelevant to his biography as he was abandoned at an early age.  As child of racially mixed parents he was abandoned as a five month old baby.

He was brought to a family by the name of Rose where he was indentured as a servant. He would gain his freedom after working for the family until 1774.  The Rose family raised him as their own and he was brought up with strong gospel teaching in their home. Lemuel became a follower of Jesus Christ who would one day call him to be a preacher of the gospel in New England.

Upon gaining his freedom he volunteered to fight as a Minuteman in the militia of Massachusetts and in 1776 joined up with the continental army in the American Revolution.  He fought for the American colonies before being relieved of duty due to his contraction of typhus. During this time his views were shaped by his admiration of George Washington and became an ardent Federalist who believed in the sharing of power among the states and the federal government.

His spiritual views were influenced immensely by the Great Awakening in New England which took place in the 1740s and influenced the region for decades after.  He trained for gospel ministry studying the biblical languages under two Connecticut ministers. He was licensed to preach on November 29th 1780 and five years later became the first African American ordained by any religious group in America.

He began his ministry as a member of a new church in Middle Granville, Massachusetts where he preached on occasion.  At the time of his ordination, he was serving a church in Torrington, CT. Though he was a powerful preacher, churches in his area would not offer him a pastorate due to racial prejudice among some of the churches.

He married in 1783 to the twenty year old Elizabeth Babbit, a young white school teacher who was a member of the Middle Granville church. They would go on to have 10 children from 1785-1805.

In 1788, he finally received a call to pastor a congregation in Rutland Vermont, an all white church he served faithfully for 30 years.  He served another congregation in Manchester Vermont for four years and for  another eleven years as a preacher in Granville New York.  After battling a severe infection in one of his feet, Lemuel Haynes died at the age of eighty in 1833.

During his pastorate in Vermont, he received an honorary Master’s Degree from Middlebury College in 1804; this too was another first for an African American in our country.

He spoke out against slavery and thought that God, in his providential plans, would eradicate the institution and bring an integrated society.  His life was categorized by his earnest preaching of the teachings of the Bible with particular focus on the Sovereignty of God, his saving work in Jesus and the reality of eternity always before us.  He focused much on the character of a Christian minister and how one must seek walk before God if they are ever to stand and preach to people.

As a biracial man, raising a biracial family he was granted a closer position in white society than most African Americans of his time.  Yet this proximity also made the discrimination he faced all the more difficult as indicated by churches that would let him preach the gospel to them but would not let allow him to be in authority over them as their pastor.

One final note of historic interest. In 1975 The Lemuel Haynes House in Granville, New York was made a national historic landmark by the United States government in memory of his life and legacy. 

Yet for all his achievements in breaking racial barriers in New England long ago, Lemuel’s own writings demonstrate to us that his primary concern was that men and women of all races meet and believe in Jesus Christ.

In closing, I want you to hear the words of this man of deep gospel conviction from his first published sermon in 1792 entitled The Character and Work of a Spiritual Watchman Described.

Courage and fortitude must constitute part of the character of a gospel minister. A sentinel [a watchman or guard] who is worthy of that station will not fear the formidable appearance of the enemies, nor tremble at their menaces. None of these things will move him, neither will he count his life dear unto him as he defends a cause so very important.  He has the spirit of the intrepid Nehemiah: “Should such a man as I flee?” (6:11). He stands fast in the faith, conducts himself like a man, and is strong.

A good word for the people of Jacob’s Well seeking to live for the glory of God in our day in central New Jersey. 

Courage my friends…courage and fortitude for the paths ahead.



Pastor as Resident Theologian

The Theology track from the recent Acts 29 Bootcamp in Louisville, KY is now online. The following were breakout sessions offered, and they are listed in the order sessions were given.

Pastor as Resident Theologian Track

  1. Revival - When God Comes to Church by Ray Ortlund, Jr.
  2. How Theology Can Kill Your Church by Joe Thorn
  3. Church Planting and Historical Theology by Dr. Gregg Allison and Reid S. Monaghan
  4. Pastor as the Resident Theologian by Daniel Montgomery

Thanks to Tyler Powell for getting everyone wired up and recording the breakout sessions…It was a great privilege to introduce and teach one of the sessions with my good friend Dr. Gregg Allison.

Relating to Caesar - Christians and Governments

In the book of Daniel we see our central protagonist serving God and Babylon faithfully under Nebuchadnezzar.  When we arrive to chapters five and six we see that a regime change is brought about and Daniel is now serving under the government of the Medo-Persian Empire.   I thought it might be interesting to discuss a little bit of how Christians are to live and flourish under various governments and systems as the sands of time continue to fall. 

In a previous essay we discussed the role civil disobedience1 in the life of a follower of Jesus.  The Scriptures are clear that we are to relate to government in an orderly fashion and even pray for our leaders.   A quick summary:

  • Government is given by God to give order and punish evil (Romans 13)
  • We are to pray for those in authority over us-even those with whom we disagree (1 Timothy 2)
  • We are to respect and honor those in authority while keeping God as the highest authority in our lives (1 Peter 2:13-17)
  • We are to obey God and not people when human authorities require us to sin against God. In such cases, non violent civil disobedience is our pathway (Exodus 2, Acts 4)

Governments have taken diverse and variegated forms throughout history and it seems some governments might be easier to live under than others.  After all, humans have been governed by monarchies of Kings or Queens, aristocracies where lords and landowners held power, oligarchies where small groups govern the many, socialist schemas where the state owns the means of production, fascist dictators have roamed the earth, communist have offered classless utopias and free market democracies have raced around the world.  Let it be known that I do like freedom, democracy and representative republics; I am not a fan of big brother or a massive centralized government.I am also for the separation of church and state (more on that later) and not for any sort of theocracy until the Kingdom comes and Jesus is the fully reigning King.  In this essay I have no interest in advocating for a particular system of human government.  Furthermore, the question as to how politically involved those who belong to God's kingdom should be I will also save for another time. My goal here is much simpler.  I only want to demonstrate that followers of Jesus can and should seek to follow the above commands of Scripture under whatever government they live.  

Jesus was clear that the human state and the Kingdom are not the same thing when he told his disciples to "give to Caesar what is Caesars and to God what is Gods."  In other words, we should obey just laws, pay taxes and seek to be good citizens in all the places God sends us.  Furthermore, we should seek to act justly and follow Jesus as the highest authority in whatever circumstance at whatever costs to our lives.  To demonstrate this I want to briefly survey a few different political settings in which God's people have faithfully lived out these principles.  The final government will be our own American situation. In discussing our own cultural situation I want to hit a few issues.  First, an understanding of state/church separation.  Second, some of the deep blessings afforded to us in our historical situation along with some risks we face living under our system in the 21st century.  In closing I want to encourage us in our sojourn here in New Jersey to live in light of the gospel so that God is glorified and our communities are blessed.

Examples of Christians under Governments

Under Roman Imperialism - Perpetua and Felicitas

The person of Jesus was born the son of carpenter in the middle east.  This area of the world was under the vast and powerful rule of Rome and much of early Christianity was birthed in this context.  The gospel took root among both the poor and the titled in the urban contexts of the port cities of the Empire.Both slaves and nobility became worshippers of Jesus and lived gospel life together.  At the dawn of the 3rd century, a noblewoman named Perpetua lived in the North African city of Carthage with her husband, son and a slave who was named Felicitas.  Under the edict of Emperor Semptimius Severus in AD 202,4 Roman power sought to suppress the Christian movement and aimed its efforts at the growing Christian community in North Africa.  Perpetua and several of her friends were cathechumen, new believers studying the faith to prepare to be baptized.  They were arrested and imprisoned under imperial rule and given opportunity to worship the emperor by sacrificing to him.  Her father begged her to say she was not a Christian but she could only confess that she was indeed a follower of the risen Jesus.  Her words to here father are instructional to our understanding of living under oppressive governments:

It will all happen at the prisoners dock [her trial] as God wills, for you may be sure that we are not left to ourselves but are all in his power.5

Perpetua and Felicitas were put before wild beasts to be attacked and then ultimately publically executed by the sword.  Under a state that persecuted them, they lived and then died as faithful followers of Jesus.

Under Clans and Kingdoms - Patricus in Ireland

After the sack of Rome by the Visigoths under the leadership of Alaric I much of the western Roman empire was in disarray.  The church brought stability and eventually the barbarian conquerors were converted to the Christianity of those they befell.  Yet in the outlying areas of the British isles, much of the government was based on clan affiliation, power landowners which were small Kingdoms unto themselves.  North of Britain were the pagan Celts of Ireland who were nothing like the "civilized" continentals of the Roman way.  A young 16 year old boy from Wales named Patricus was ripped from his home and made a shepherd-slave by Irish raiders.  For some six years he labored in isolated servitude and it was during this time that he met deeply with God and was formed spiritually.   After such years he escaped back to his homeland only to be called by Christ to return.  Patricus recounts a vision where a man from Ireland appeared to him begging him "to come and walk among us once more."  The visions continued and Ireland would not leave him.  At this point Christ began to speak within him "he it is who gave his life for you, is he that speaks within you."6  Patrick would go establish a mission in Ireland to bring the gospel to the clans and Kingdoms of the Celts.  A barbaric people who once cut their captives heads off to wear them dangling from ropes around their waists, would soon tie books and Bibles to the same.   Patrick brought the gospel to a people who lived under a clan-like government structure brought many into the Kingdom of God.

Under 20th century Communism-Richard Wurmbrand

Communism was founded on the philosophical and historical political theories of many thinkers, most prominently Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels.  Marx once wrote that religion is the opiate [drug] of the masses7 which kept them subservient to the power brokers and rulers of a culture.  If people only cared for the life to come they would endure any misery in the here and now.  Communism was in no way friendly to the Christian faith.  In fact, communist regimes have systematically sought to suppress and eliminate faith to set about its atheistic, secular agenda to create a classless society.  Dictators of all stripes have never liked followers of Jesus who found his rule and reign higher than that of government commissars.  Jesus told people he would set them free no matter what situation and government they lived under; communists typically did not like this sort of thinking.  Yet as the Soviet power of the 20th century seized power in Romania, one Richard Wurmbrand, would choose the freedom of Jesus in jail cells over the oppression of a godless society.   Wurmbrand was a preacher who continued his work in the underground church in Romanian despite communist oppression.  He was arrested and jailed in 1948 and spent over eight years in various prisons and labor camps.  He resumed his work in the underground church in 1956 only be arrested again in 1959.  During his imprisonments he was tortured and suffered greatly spending years in solitary confinement.  Upon his release he began to speak for the persecuted church and founded Voice of the Martyrs a ministry which continues to this day.  Wurmbrand was a Jewish Christian who knew that Jesus was a good king who would guide him through his darkest hours.  He faithfully served under communist regimes and then lived in freedom before finally going to be with his Lord in February 2001.8

Under American Democracy

Our own situation is one in which we currently have freedom of religion.  We assemble in our homes, rent public meeting spaces and have every right that any one else has regardless of our religious beliefs.  This is a rare occurrence in the history of the world and one for which we need to be thankful.  This country was founded by those seeking religious freedom and many of them argued to keep it by desiring the church to be free from state control.  The first clause of the first amendment to our constitution reads:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof

There is no state church for our country and we have no official religion.  Yet in recent times some have began to interpret this clause to mean that it demands a public square free from all religion and only a strict secularism is to be permitted for citizens when they are relating to "public" issues such as education and law.  Spiritual beliefs and philosophical opinions should be kept a private matter and not be brought up in public company.  It is with great joy that we live in a culture where we have such great freedoms for our faith, yet I'm not sure that we can assume that it will always be this way. 

Today our culture can see evangelism as invasive and intolerant. Today many seek to silence teaching about Jesus and relegate it to the private halls and houses of worship.  It is not by force of arms or rule of law but by intellectual and social pressure and ridicule that Christians are subtly urged to keep quiet in the streets. 

Our freedom also brings great risks as we live under our current government.  It is easy to value Americanism and its values over the Kingdom and what Jesus wants for his people.  We can value riches and political influence over the gospel and loving others.  We can be seduced to thinking that America is somehow a divine nation rather than simply a nation that God has ordained for this time and place.  Please don't misunderstand me, I love this country and our systems of government.  Yet America ≠ The Kingdom of Heaven.  Nancy Pearcy, in her book Total Truth, even has a chapter with a revealing title "Christianity met America and Guess Which Won?"We must not confuse Christian faith with a particular political party, system of human government or nation.  We must always remain citizens of two realms, our own nation and the Kingdom of Heaven.  As Paul told the Christians in the ancient city of Philippi our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ.

Conclusion

Our call has been clear in sojourning in Babylon with Daniel and his posse.  They lived in a culture in which the structures of power were profoundly not in submission to the creator God.  Their media, art and educational systems were in honor of false gods and human potentates.  Yet like Daniel, we too can walk with Jesus, remain faithful to God, be humble in our service to others and work diligently for the transformation of our culture.  We are not called to be powerful oppressors pushing our will upon others, but citizens of an in breaking Kingdom where we stand for justice, seek mercy and hold out the saving gospel of God as the only hope for all people.  Jesus suffered unjustly under a governor named Pontius Pilate even though he was the rightful ruler of the universe.  As we follow him we are reminded that our weapons are not of this world but rather comes through the powerful truth of the gospel.  God forgives, makes new and justifies the wicked through the work of Jesus Christ.  All who come to him are set free from sin, death and hell and will inherit eternal life.  We now live as sojourners in light of the cross, living for the glory of God and the good of others.  This is our way.

Notes

1. Essay on Civil Disobedience available online here: http://www.powerofchange.org/blog/2009/02/to_obey_or_not_to_obeythat_is.html

2. UVA Sociologist Brad Wilcox recently discussed in the Wall Street Journal how a growing state usually corresponds with a shrinking church-http://online.wsj.com/article/SB123690880933515111.html

3. For more on the early spread of Christianity see Rodney Stark, Cities of God-The Real Story of How Christianity Became an Urban Movement and Conquered Rome (HarperOne, 2006).

4. Justo Gonzalez, The Story of Christianity (HaperSanFrancisco, 1984) 83.

5. Perpetua, in Mark Gali and Ted Olson 131 Christians Everyone Should Know (Broadman and Holman, 2000) 363.

6. Summary of the account in Thomas Cahill, How the Irish Saved Civilization (Anchor Books, 1995) 105, 106.

7. In the introduction of Marx's Introduction to A Contribution to the Critique of Hegel's Philosophy of Right, 1843.

8. An interesting historical video on Wurmbrand is actually online at http://www.persecution.tv/media/tfc/player.html

9. See Chapter 10 in Nancy Pearcey, Total Truth (Crossway, 2004) 273.