Church history, Recent Articles, RP App, Uncategorised
Can two denominations become one? What are the state of CanRC and URC unity talks?
This is an overview of an episode of Lucas Holtvlüwer and Tyler Vanderwoude’s Real Talk, a biweekly podcast under the Reformed Perspective umbrella. It features great guests talking about a host of issues affecting our Reformed community, ranging from social and economic, to theological and educational. If you haven’t checked it out already, you should. And you can, at www.RealTalkPodcast.ca.
The Oct. 10 episode of Real Talk was all about church unity. Hosts Lucas and Tyler were talking with a couple of pastors representing two denominations working towards being just one. Their guests were Rev. Steve Swets, pastor of the Rehoboth United Reformed Church (URC) in Hamilton, and Rev. Dick Wynia of Lincoln Canadian Reformed Church (CanRC). The conversation covered the history of both the CanRC and URC, as well as the current and potential future status of the two federations’ relationship.
Two pastors, three denominations
Both pastors were uniquely suited to the conversation. Rev. Wynia grew up as a member of a Christian Reformed Church (CRC) in St. Catharines, but studied at the Canadian Reformed Theological College in Hamilton, prior to being ordained in Aylmer CRC in 1987. He then helped to lead a Calgary congregation out of the CRC federation and (eventually) into the newly formed URC federation. And for the past fourteen years, Rev. Wynia has served at Vineyard CanRC in Lincoln. With his experience serving churches in three different federations, he brought a unique perspective to the conversation.
Rev. Swets calls himself “an American serving in Canada”: he was a minister at Abbotsford (BC) URC for over seven years, prior to taking the call to Rehoboth URC. Rev. Swets grew up in the south Chicago area, and as a teenager, was part of a church split out of the CRC that resulted in the formation of a new URC. Rev. Swets is the secretary of the United Reformed Churches’ Committee for Ecumenical Relations and Church Unity, and has preached in many Canadian Reformed churches over the years too.
A little history to start
To begin, Rev. Wynia gave a general outline of the history of how and why the Canadian Reformed Churches were founded, with a helpful explanation of the main reasons that many immigrants from the Netherlands who were members of the “liberated” churches, could not find themselves at home long term in the CRC congregations, nor in the Protestant Reformed Churches they found in Canada.
(The CRC had not taken much interest in the church split that had happened in the Netherlands in 1944, with “liberated” churches on the one side, and the GKN church federation they’d been driven out of on the other. But by not taking a side, the CRC effectively supported the GKN. In addition, church leaders in the CRC did not want to bring any of the controversy from the Netherlands into churches in North America, and did not want immigrants to speak about these issues. But such a restriction couldn’t be acceptable to “liberated” believers – they couldn’t be somewhere where they weren’t allowed to talk about the stand they’d thought so important they’d taken it at the cost of friendships and family relationships too..)
Prof. K. Schilder, one of the leaders of the "liberation" had warm regard for the Protestant Reformed Churches (PR), so some of the "liberated" immigrants formed PR churches in Hamilton and Chatham, Ontario shortly after arriving in Canada. However, the PR Synod of 1950 required that their churches subscribe to a specific view of the covenant. This restriction on covenantal views was the very reason the "liberated" members had left the GKN, and so they could not live with a condition like this after their significant struggles in the Netherlands.
After this CanRC history lesson, Rev. Swets summarized how the United Reformed Churches came to be founded. They were begun largely by former members of the CRC who disagreed with that denomination’s views and decisions on the authority of the Bible:
“It really came to a head around 1995, when the CRC opened all the church offices to women… and there were issues of theistic evolution, and practicing homosexuals in good standing in the church. There were a lot of peripheral issues but really what it came down to is the Scripture.”
As Rev. Swets explained, by making the Scriptures and Biblical teaching limited to the culture or time of Paul or Moses (as the CRC was doing),
“you start to undermine the authority of the Scriptures: The Bible does not actually say what it means… all of a sudden you’ve kind of knocked the foundation out of the authority of Scripture. I’d say that is the real reason why these churches left the CRC.”
Rev. Wynia also recalled the controversies regarding the teaching of Calvin College professors like Harold Dekker, who denied limited atonement, and Howard VanTil, who held to theistic evolution. They held views that were not Biblical but which were being tolerated.
Why didn’t CRC exiles join the CanRC in the 90s?
Holtvlüwer asked if those who left CRCs in Canada during this period considered joining with the Canadian Reformed Churches.
Rev. Swets answered that although he wasn’t involved personally at that time, his understanding was that
“the URC needed to be established, and we needed to figure out who we were…. Dr. DeJong, and Dr. VanDam’s advice (to us) was to get ourselves established first, and then we’ll meet… and we can figure out a way forward of how we can become one that makes sense… So the advice was to become your own federation first.”
Rev. Wynia recalled asking Dr. Jelle Faber, his former professor from the CanRC seminary, for advice:
“I remember as a pastor in Calgary saying, ‘What do I advise my congregation to do; you know, there’s a true church in Calgary: should we start a new church, or should I say to (our members) that we are obliged to go there?’ And (Faber) said, ‘You have to be the shepherd of your sheep; if you advise them (to join the CanRC in Calgary), they will scatter, and this way you hold them together.’”
Some of the history of personal relationships and acquaintances was also a factor in the new federation forming. Rev. Wynia remembered that “at that time, you would have had members who remembered the Liberation (in the Netherlands), and… that was a bitter thing… I mean, they had their conflicts in the Netherlands, and to some degree in Canada, and they remembered.”
The group also discussed the impression that especially twenty-five years ago, some CanRC members would have considered their federation the only true church. While this was never an official position of the federation, enough CanRC members may have defended that idea to make former CRC members hesitant about getting together. Rev. Wynia brought up the counterpoint that whenever this issue was raised at the level of consistories talking to one another, the issue was quickly dealt with. As one CanRC consistory put it to Rev. Wynia, “If we didn’t think you were true churches, we wouldn’t be talking to one another.”
“There’s a lot of personal issues (in the past), and the pastors and leadership knew this,” said Rev. Swets. Some of these issues, dating back to the 1950s were still, in 1995, remembered by older church-goers. But not any more, 25 years later. As all four gentlemen could agree, there is excellent cooperation today between churches from the two federations.
Three obstacles to unifying
In 2001, the two federations accepted one another as “sister churches,” and there were some fairly aggressive timelines proposed for an official joining together. These discussions stalled for a variety of reasons (including a lack of enthusiasm from many of the URCs in the United States). The three main obstacles seemed to be:
- a Proposed Joint Church Order which neither federation could entirely accept,
- the issue of federational or independent theological seminaries for the training of ministers,
- and a non-theological issue that still is close to members’ hearts – what songbook could be used in the worship services.
This last issue highlights a difference in the decision-making process within each federation. The URCs overall prefer that a matter like which songs may be sung in worship services would remain within the purview of the local elders.
While agreeing that Christ’s authority rests with local elders in local churches, the CanRCs have traditionally decided many things together at their General Synods. Rev. Swets stated, “There is a perception from the URC that the Canadian Reformed (church order) is too hierarchical, and that Synod has too much authority; Synod says too much.” With the URC’s history, coming out of the CRC denomination where the problems started at the top, this is a particularly understandable concern.
We have grown closer
The first half of the podcast might have had listeners believing that there is no foreseeable path towards unity for these two church federations. However, much of the second half of the podcast highlighted the progress that has been made over time. In Canada especially, there’s all sorts of cooperation between churches: in education, in mission work like Streetlight Ministries in Hamilton, and in recognition of one another.
In 2016, the URC took a six-year hiatus from further unity talks with the CanRC. But this year, in the URC Synod Niagara 2022, unity efforts will resume. The Synod will hear reports from the URC Committee for Ecumenical Relations and Church Unity, including the results of a survey that the committee put out to each URC. (This podcast was recorded about a month before Synod Niagara took place.) The results of this survey suggest that a small majority of the 58 URCs that responded are in favor of federational unity with the CanRC.
As might have been expected, a higher percentage of the Canadian URCs are in favor, while less than half of the American URCs responded positively. Only eight of the churches surveyed indicated they had any “theological concerns” regarding a potential union. One of the theological concerns brought up is the fact that the CanRCs have not made a federational statement on the Federal Vision movement, although professors from the Canadian Reformed Theological Seminary have participated in meetings and forums to explain the CanRC view of the covenant, and of the Federal Vision.
Looking further at the survey, Rev. Swets pointed out that “Twenty-eight of the 58 churches said they perceive the Canadian Reformed to have a hierarchy.” He personally disagreed with this perception, and stated that the URCs could also be perceived as having structures that are hierarchical. “We actually have a Stated Clerk of the URC; we elect him every Synod… he’s an employee of the URC.”
Rev. Wynia reminded the group that both federations “have some diversity of views when it comes right down to it… Professor Schilder, before the Liberation in Holland, would say that he could live in the same church federation as Kuyper, (despite their) different views of the covenant. We can tolerate theological divergencies. There’s an acceptable range that we would judge as within the bounds of the confessions and live with those differences.”
Rev. Swets shared one possible route to unity, by the CanRCs accepting the URC church order:
“Since the URC church order is broader than the Canadian Reformed, the Canadian Reformed church order can fit within the URC church order… The way that would work is that you would have to introduce regional synods into the URCs, or have the seminary under the oversight of, for example, Regional Synod Canada, and therefore it still has church jurisdiction, still has professors appointed by and overseen by a church ecclesiastical body. That would be the fastest way forward that… If you did that, nothing would have to change in the life of a Canadian Reformed Church: you aren’t forced to have the Trinity Psalter Hymnal if you don’t want, it’s up to each church. You can keep the Book of Praise… Whereas if the URCs become Canadian Reformed, we’d have to throw away our Trinity Psalter Hymnal for corporate worship, and we’d have to sing out of the Book of Praise… There would have to be more changes for the URCs to become Canadian Reformed, whereas in practice there wouldn’t be changes for the Canadian Reformed to become URC. The things you’d have to change are behind the scenes, like the oversight of the seminary, and how does superannuation work for ministers, but in the life (of the average member) nothing would have to particularly change.”
In his concluding remarks, Rev. Swets said, “When you talk about church unity, there’s a lot of issues to deal with. But at the very foundation of all unity is that it has to be given by the Holy Spirit. It can be frustrating because it takes time; you have to be patient in it, and pray, pray the Holy Spirit will work in this way…” Rev. Wynia expressed thankfulness for the unity that the two federations do have already, and for the progress made so far, in these discussions together.
Readers who would like to listen to more are encouraged to download the 90-minute podcast at www.RealTalkPodcast.ca, or watch the video version below.
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Church history, Theology
How and why the Apostles’ Creed came to be
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The necessity of creeds and confessions
Many years ago, ten Christian men got together and decided to start a church. For several weeks they met together every evening to discuss what they believed to be the essentials of the Christian faith. As they charitably reflected and discussed these matters, they discovered that everyone had a slightly different view on what constituted the essentials. They began to despair as they realized that their deliberations were not yielding any fruit. Out of frustration, Mr. Unity asked a simple yet profound question, “Brethren, on what basis will we come together as a church? What exactly is it that we believe concerning God and the Gospel of Christ Jesus, our Lord?” Mr. Calvin, the leading thinker of the group, pondered the question for some time as he gently tugged at his beard with his eyes closed. Suddenly, Mr. Calvin responded, “Yes. That’s it! We must put in writing what we believe the Scriptures teach concerning God and the Gospel of Christ Jesus, our Lord! What is it that we can all agree upon? What is it that we all believe the Holy Scriptures teach? What is it that we together confess with heart and mouth? Of course, there will be more work to be done. We will need to write a few procedures on how we will deal with conflict, choose leaders, worship, but for now, let us put in writing exactly what, as a church, we believe. Let us put in writing our official position on those issues that will form the basis of our life together as a Christian church.” Mr. Luther, the man who struggled with his salvation – “How can God love a wretched sinner like me?” – immediately responded to Mr. Calvin’s suggestion. “Mr. Calvin,” said he, “Your proposal is great. Is it acceptable to you and to you, my dear friends, if we begin with the existential question, What is your only comfort in life and in death?” Mr. Luther continued, “As you know, I often struggle with comfort and I need to be reminded daily of the greatness of my Savior.” Mr. Calvin and the others agreed, and so the hard work of writing a confession began. Mr. Ursinus was the first to speak. He opened his Bible and turned to Romans 8:35-39 and said, “Brothers, I believe that our greatest comfort is that we belong to Jesus Christ. Therefore, I propose the following answer, My only comfort in life and in death is that I am not my own but belong to my faithful Saviour Jesus Christ.” Everyone agreed. Mr. Olevianus spoke next. He said, “My dear brother, what you say is true, but more can be said.” With his already opened Bible he turned to 1 Peter 1:18-19, which he read aloud and then said, “We need to add the following, ‘He has fully paid for all my sins with his precious blood.’” Before he could finish, Mr. Unity interjected, saying, “I like the sound of it. ‘My only comfort in life and death is that I am not my own but belong to my faithful Saviour Jesus Christ. He has fully paid for all my sins with this precious blood.’ I really like the sound of that. Deep. Rich. Biblical.” Several others in the group nodded their heads approvingly and said, “Yes,” or “Amen.” Then Mr. Trent spoke up. “Hmmm… I like where we are going with this statement, but we need some more precision. We all agree that the devil is in the details and I’m worried that we might be giving the wrong impression. I fear that some of the weaker brethren might conclude that since Jesus has done everything for us, they might not be concerned about living a faithful life. Why don’t we make a slight change, an ever-so-slight change? How about this? ‘My only comfort in life and death is that I am not my own but belong to my faithful Saviour Jesus Christ. He has paid for my sins with this precious blood.’ By eliminating the words ‘fully’ and ‘all’ we can affirm the necessity of works and merit. To have comfort in this life, we must not only trust in Jesus: we also need to have confidence in our works and the work of the saints.” Much discussion ensued, but Mr. Trent was unable to convince anyone of the merits of his position. The group was almost ready to vote on the final wording: What is your only comfort in life and in death? My only comfort in life and in death is that I am not my own but belong to my faithful Saviour Jesus Christ. He has fully paid for all my sins with his precious blood. However, Mr. Arius, the gentle, kind, and soft-spoken grey-haired man, stood up and pleaded with the brethren. He said, “Dear brothers, I am concerned that we are giving too much weight to our interpretation of Scripture and not enough consideration to Scripture itself. The Bible says that Jesus is the son of God. Hence, he is not God himself, but the son of God. Therefore, we must say, with the Apostle Paul that our only comfort is in God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ (2 Cor. 1:3). Please, brothers, let us not divide over man’s words. Let us be content with Scripture itself, which clearly teaches us that Jesus is not God and not our greatest comfort.” Though Mr. Arius spoke with sincerity, compassion and pastoral sensitivity, the group could not adopt Mr. Arius’ interpretation of Scripture. Not even Mr. Trent could agree with him. When the time came for the ten brothers to vote, they voted on the following motion: Whereas the following question and answer reflects our interpretation of Holy Scripture, which is our highest and only infallible rule for faith and life: What is your only comfort in life and in death? My only comfort in life and in death is that I am not my own but belong to my faithful Saviour Jesus Christ. He has fully paid for all my sins with his precious blood. Resolved: This question and answer is our official understanding of Scripture. It is our confession of faith; it is our position paper on comfort; it is our doctrine; it is part of the “pattern of sound words” that Paul calls us to follow; All pastors, elders and deacons in our church must sincerely receive and adopt this confession as containing the system of doctrine taught in the Holy Scriptures. The motion passed 8-2, with Mr. Trent and Mr. Arius voting in the negative. Mr. Trent decided to join a church that regarded Scripture and Tradition as co-equal authorities, denying Sola Scriptura and Mr. Arius joined a local cult that denied the deity of Christ. Rev. Garry Vanderveen blogs at Show, Don’t Tell where a version of this first appeared. It is reprinted here with permission. FAQ Do confessions undermine the authority of Scripture? No. Confessions are a common/shared interpretation of Scripture, which is the highest and only infallible rule for faith and life. Can confessions undermine the authority of Scripture and create dead orthodoxy? Yes. The ungodly suppress the truth in all kinds of ways, so it is entirely possible that one masters the Confessions and the Scriptures, yet hates Christ. Can confessions create lazy Christians, Christians who love God but do not study his Word? Yes. I have experienced the following exchange several times. Me: Why must we obey the commands of God? Other: Because God has saved us we must obey his commands as an expression of gratitude. Me: Are there any other reasons? Other: No. This is the reason the Heidelberg Catechism gives. Although the Heidelberg Catechism provides a biblical answer it is not the only biblical answer. The Bible says that since we are united to Christ, we must live his life (Rom 6:10-11; Gal. 2:20). Since Christ obeys the commands of God, we who are united to Christ must obey them because this is who we are. Can one have a saving relationship with Christ and reject confessions? Perhaps. However, as soon as someone summarizes the Bible on any given matter, he is offering a “confession” of sorts. Unless someone recites the whole Bible from Genesis to Revelation in response to a question about the Bible, one is involved in confessional activity. Should the church embrace old confessions? Yes. Absolutely. Without a doubt. The truth of God’s Word is not new, nor is the Spirit’s work of opening our eyes to the truth of his Word a recent occurrence. God’s Word endures throughout all of history – it never changes (Isaiah 40:8); and, the Holy Spirit continues to sanctify his church into that unchanging truth (John 17). Should the church write new confessions? Yes. Every age has its particular challenges and questions, and the church must address them. How should a church write a new confession? Since a confession is an official interpretation of Scripture by the church, confessional writing should involve many churches. What happens when a church doesn’t subscribe to a written confession? In such cases, the church usually succumbs to the tyranny of the loudest, most powerful, and persuasive member(s). When there is no objective confession that the church embraces, someone will rise to the top and impose his or her confession upon everyone else....
The Defenestration of Prague
You can download or listen to the podcast version (5 minutes) here. ***** Today we’re going to look at a small event that had big consequences. This was the Defenestration of Prague. It was May 23, 1618, and Catholic representatives of the Holy Roman Emperor Ferdinand II arrived at the Bohemian Chancellery in Prague bright and early at 8:30 am. To understand why this visit mattered, you have to know a little bit of the background. In 1555, the Peace of Augsburg had settled religious tensions in the Holy Roman Empire by allowing the local ruler to determine the state religion of the region rather than the Emperor himself. Back in that time, if you were Catholic and the ruler was Protestant, or you were Protestant and the ruler was Catholic, you had to put up with discrimination, or else you had to move to a different principality. By our 21st century standards, that sounds awful, but it was quite a change and a change for the better. Before the Peace of Augsburg, the official faith of the entire empire had been decided by the emperor who was generally Catholic. That meant that Protestants either had to accept persecution and discrimination or leave the empire, an area bigger than modern Germany. Compared to that, moving to a nearby town was a breeze. With a new ruler, a Catholic, being appointed over Bohemia, the Protestants were nervous. They thought their religious freedom was being threatened, And just in case they thought they were being paranoid about that, the Roman Catholic Church started to demand that no further Protestant churches be built in Bohemia. The church said the land was Catholic, but the Protestants said the decision about religion belonged to the local ruler. While the word "defenestration" is a recent one, the act itself has been going on for a lot longer. As the “Death of Jezebel,” by Gustave Dore, depicts, this monarch's end came when her eunuch attendants threw her out an upper story window (2 Kings 9:30-37). So, back to that meeting on May 23, 1618. Things seem to have gotten out of hand very quickly, and the representatives of the emperor were put on trial for trying to restrict freedom of religion in Bohemia. The verdict was probably a foregone conclusion, and apparently the sentence was death because it wasn’t long before the Protestants were attempting to defenestrate the Catholics, which is to say throw them out the window. Those Catholic nobles took a tumble, falling 16 meters to the ground, yet were physically unharmed... though their pride had certainly taken a beating. The Catholics said the men had landed without incident because they were carried down on the wings of angels. The Protestants were quick to counter that the men had actually had their fall cushioned by a giant dung heap. And while you might say the whole event stinks, the consequences of this single, ridiculous event were tragic. This defenstration – throwing people out the windows – acted as the trigger event to the Thirty Years War. France, Sweden, Denmark, Spain, and a whole lot of the German states were eventually pulled into this war, with estimates ranging from 5 to 11 million killed. It ultimately ended in 1648 in the Peace of Westphalia, which, ironically, re-established the right of the local ruler to determine the official religion of his region. Perhaps the one truly odd thing about the Defenestration of Prague is that this was actually the second Defenestration of Prague. The first occurred 199 years earlier, in 1419, when a protest by Hussites, an early group of Protestant Reformers, was hit by a rock thrown from a window in the town hall. The enraged Hussites ran into the town hall and threw several town councilors out the window. As well, in 1948 Soviet government agents were in Prague with the mission of intimidating local officials. Jan Masaryk, the Czech foreign minister, was found dead in the courtyard of the Foreign Ministry, just below the bathroom of the suite he occupied. The official explanation was that he had jumped to his death. Foul play by Soviet agents with a remarkable sense of history was widely suspected by those who knew Masaryk. Unfortunately for those in the last two examples, this time there were no dung heaps close by. This article is taken from an episode of James Dykstra’s History.icu podcast, "where history is never boring." You can check out other episodes at History.icu or on Spotify, Google podcasts, or wherever you find your podcasts. The cover picture is "The Defenestration, 1618" by Václav Brožík (c. 1890). To dig a little deeper see: Wikipedia - Defenestration of Prague Wikipedia - Hussite Wars Wikipedia - Peace of Westphalia Britannica History Extra Atlas Obscura Encyclopedia.com Radio Prague New Statesman Private Prague Guide...
Amazing stories from times past, Church history
30 days of April
For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven: a time to be born, and a time to die... **** April is the month of new beginnings; the month of crocuses and daffodils peeping up. It is the month to which many particularly look forward; a month in which our children exclaim: "April Fools," and one in which we excitedly call out: "Hey, there's a robin." But, as in every month that our good God gives us, April is also a time to reflect on how short our days actually are and that there is nothing new under the sun and that God sweeps men away; they are like a dream (Psalm 90:5). **** April Fooling has been done for many years. In the 1500s, Francis, the Duke of Lorraine, and his wife were held prisoners in Nantes and effected their escape in consequence of it being April 1. Disguised as peasants, the duke bore a hood on his shoulder while his wife carried a basket of rubbish on her back. Very early in the morning, thus disguised, they walked the streets towards the gate. A woman, recognizing them, ran to the guard at the gate to tell him the duke and his wife were escaping. The guard, thinking it was a joke, cried: "Poisson d'Avril" or, "April Fools!" and all the guards, to a man, bawled out: "Poisson d'Avril!" including the sergeant in charge of the gate. And so the “peasants” were allowed to pass. The governor of Nantes, to whom the story was relayed, became suspicious and ordered the fact to be proven. But it was too late. Through all this tomfoolery, the duke and his wife were well on their way to freedom. But at the end of the days appointed to them by God, they too, like all mortals, died, and were buried. The wise person has his eyes in his head, but the fool walks in darkness. And yet I perceived that the same event happens to all of them (Eccl. 2:14). **** On April 2, 308, Theodosia of Caesaria was martyred. She was but seventeen-year-old - a Hebrews 11 type. Tortured and urged to reject Christianity, she was thrown into the sea when she clung fast to Christ. If you see in a province the poor oppressed and justice and right violently taken away, do not be amazed at the matter…(Eccl. 5:8). **** The Welsh-born poet, George Herbert was born on April 3. He died of consumption at age 39. His biographer said of him that he composed “such hymns and anthems as he and the angels now sing together in heaven.” He has made everything beautiful in its time. Also, he has put eternity into man's heart, yet so that he cannot find out what God has done from beginning to the end (Eccl. 3:11). **** Oliver Goldsmith, English poet and writer, died on April 4, 1774 of a kidney infection. Described by his contemporaries as congenial, impetuous and disorganized, he once planned to emigrate to America but failed to do so because he missed his ship. A wise man's heart inclines him toward the right, but a fool's heart toward the left (Eccl. 10:2). **** On April 5 in 1689, Danton, a leading figure in the early stages of the French Revolution, was guillotined. Moreover, I saw under the sun that in the place of justice, even there was wickedness, and in the place of righteousness, even there was wickedness (Eccl. 3:16). Richard the Lionhearted died on April 6 in 1199. He was shot by a crossbowman in battle at Chalus, central France. His entrails were buried at Chalus. The rest of his body was entombed further north, in Fontevraud Abbey. And His heart was embalmed and buried in Rouen. Transformed into a brown powder which rests in a crystal box, the heart is exhibited at a museum of antiquities and does not exceed the weight of one and a half ounces. As man came from his mother's womb he shall go again, naked as he came, and shall take nothing for his toil, which he may carry away in his hand (Eccl. 5:15). **** On April 7, 1506, Francis Xavier was born. A Roman Catholic missionary, he ventured into Japan, Borneo and the Malaku islands. He was canonized by the Roman Catholic Church in 1622. As well, the Dutch Petrus Camper, died on this day in 1789. Camper was a physician, anatomist, physiologist, mid-wife, zoologist, paleontologist and a naturalist. Then I saw all the work of God, that man cannot find out the work that is done under the sun. However much man may toil in seeking, he will not find it out; even though a wise man may claim to know, he cannot find it out (Eccl. 8:17). **** On April 8, 217, Caracalla, the 22nd Roman emperor died. In order to get the throne, Caracalla assassinated his brother Geta, executed most of his brother's supporters, and ordered his brother’s memory stricken from records. In my vain life I have seen everything; there is a righteous man who perishes in his righteousness, and there is a wicked man who prolongs his life in his evil-doing (Eccl. 7:15). **** George Peacock, dean of Ely for the last twenty years of his life, and a mathematician, was born in Denton, in 1791 on the 9th of April. While dean of the cathedral, he wrote a textbook on algebra comprising two volumes. On this same date in 1616, Francis Bacon, philosopher, statesman and scientist, died. He died of pneumonia which he contracted while studying the effects of freezing on the preservation of meat. He who quarries stones is hurt by them; and he who splits logs is endangered by them (Eccl. 10:9). **** On April 10th, 1843, eight laborers were digging around some trees in Tufnell Park near Highgate on the north side of London. Hitting something hard with their shovels, they were surprised to find at the root of one particular tree were two jars filled with 400 sovereigns of gold. These they divided. However, soon afterward, Mr. Tufnell, lord of the manor where they were employed, claimed the whole treasure. According to the law, this hidden treasure belonged to the Crown, to the lord of the manor, to the finder or to two of these three. While all were puzzling, the real owner came forward. He was a brass founder from Clerkenwell. For nine months he had had a temporary mental delusion and one night he had taken the two jars of sovereigns and buried them. Being able to prove it, his claim was admitted. He who loves money will not be satisfied with money; nor he who loves wealth, with gain; this also is vanity (Eccl. 5:10). **** On April 11, 461, Pope Leo the Great was born. The first pope to be called “Great,” he asserted the universal jurisdiction of the Roman bishop. As well, Stanislaus Poniatowski, the last king of Poland, died on this day in 1798 in St. Petersburg. All go to one place. All are from the dust, and to dust all return (Eccl. 3:20). **** Seneca, a Roman philosopher, one who was tutor to Nero, died April 12 in 65, because he dared advise his fiddling pupil that he should restrain his excesses. When this advice went ignored, he knew his life was in danger. Not one to be told what to do, Nero ordered his teacher to commit suicide. This Seneca did in front of his wife and friends. His veins were opened and he took a draught of poison. Dying slowly, he was submersed in a warm bath which was expected to speed blood flow and ease pain. Some medieval writers believed Seneca had been converted to the Christian faith by Paul. It is better for a man to hear the rebuke of the wise than to hear the song of fools (Eccl. 7:5). **** In 1760, on the 13th of April, Dr. Thomas Beddoes, writer on medicine and natural history, was born. On that same day in 1759, George Frederick Handel died. There is ... a time to be born, and a time to die... (Eccl. 3:2a). **** The 14th of April in the year 1360 was the morrow after Easter. King Edward III, with his host, lay before the city of Paris. It was a dark day, full of mist and hail and so bitterly cold that many men died while sitting on their horses. Wherefore, this day has been called Black Monday. Keep the king's command, and because of your sacred oath be not dismayed; go from his presence, do not delay when the matter is unpleasant, for he does whatever he pleases (Eccl. 8:2-3). **** Dominico Zampieri, an Italian painter died on April 15, 1641. The son of a shoemaker, he was slight in stature and knows as “little Dominico.” His paintings are said to be worth much money, even millions, today. I hated all my toil in which I had toiled under the sun, seeing that I must leave it to the man who will come after me, ... (Eccl. 2:18). **** One John Law, speculative financier, was born on April 16, 1671. Working for Louis XV, he established a private bank, Banque Generale, in France. Three-quarters of its capital consisted of government bills and government notes, making it the first central bank of the nation. A gambler and a brilliant calculator, he was known to win card games by mentally calculating the odds. Then I considered all that my hands had done and the toil I had spent in doing it, and behold, all was vanity and a striving after wind, and there was nothing to be gained under the sun (Eccl. 2:11). **** On April 17th of 1725, a John Rudge bequeathed to the parish of Trysall in Staffordshire, 20 shillings a year. He did this so that a poor man might be employed to go about the church during the sermon and keep people awake as well as keeping dogs out of the church. Guard your steps when you go to the house of God (Eccl. 5:1). **** On April 18, 1740, Dr. Erasmus Darwin, grandfather of the infamous Charles, died. Erasmus had two illegitimate daughters with his son's governess. He was also the grandfather of one Francis Galton, who in the late 19th century would found the science of eugenics. As you do not know how the spirit comes to the bones in the womb of a woman with child, so you do not know the work of God Who makes everything (Eccl. 11:5). **** In 1757, on April 19th, Edward Pellew, Viscount Exmouth, naval commander, was born. He fought during the American War of Independence, the French Revolutionary Wars and the Napoleonic Wars. A good name is better than precious ointment; and the day of death than the day of birth (Eccl. 7:1). **** Bram Stoker, he who penned Dracula, in 1897, died on April 20 in 1912. The more words, the more vanity, and what is man the better? (Eccl. 6:11). **** On April 21, 1653, Prince George of Denmark, consort of Anne, Queen of England, was born. Anne's seventeen pregnancies by George resulted in twelve miscarriages, four infant deaths and a chronically ill son, William, who died at the age of eleven. Despite the deaths of their children, George and Anne's marriage was a strong one. It is better to go to the house of mourning than to go to the house of feasting, for this is the end of all men and the living will lay it to heart (Eccl. 7:2). **** King Henry VII of England died on April 22 in 1509 in Richmond. Henry VII was the first monarch of the House of Tudor. There is a grievous evil that I have seen under the sun: riches were kept by their owner to his hurt, and those riches were lost in a bad venture (Eccl. 5:14). **** On April 23, 1215, King Louis IX of France was born. As well, William Shakespeare died on this day in 1616 in Stratford-on-Avon. Again I saw that under the sun the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, nor bread to the wise, nor riches to the intelligent, nor favor to the men of skill; but time and chance happen to them all (Eccl. 9:11). **** On April 24 in 1731, Daniel Defoe, author of Robinson Crusoe died. A prolific writer, who wrote more than 500 books, he used more than 198 pen names. He was probably hiding from creditors when he died. All streams run to the sea, but the sea is not full; to the place where the streams flow, there they flow again (Eccl. 1:7). **** In Rymer's Fedora (a collection of miscellaneous documents), there is reference to a woman named Cecilia who was jailed for the murder of her husband. While in jail she remained mute, and was said to have abstained from food for 40 days, after which she was presented to King Edward III. It is recorded that, moved by piety and for the glory of God, and the virgin Mary, (to whom it says the miracle was owing), the king pardoned her on April 25, 1357. If the anger of the ruler rises against you, do not leave your place, for deference will make amends for great offenses (Eccl. 10:4). **** In 1711 on the 26th of April, David Hume, philosopher and historian, was born in Edinburgh. He was a skeptic and an atheist and continues, sadly enough, to influence many people today. ...the lips of a fool consume him. The beginning of the words of his mouth is foolishness and the end of his talk is wicked madness (Eccl. 10:12b-13). **** On April 27th in the year 1546, William Foxley, pot-maker of the Mint in the Tower of London, fell asleep and could not be awakened by pinching, cramping, burning, or anything else. He slept for 14 days and 15 nights. The cause of his thus sleeping could not be known, although the cause was diligently searched for by the king's physicians and other learned men. The king himself examined William Foxley, who was in all points found at his waking as though he had slept but one night. And he lived more than 40 years afterward. Sweet is the sleep of a laborer, whether he eats little or much; but the surfeit of the rich will not let him sleep (Eccl. 5:12). **** On April 28th, 1772, there died at Mile End a goat that had twice circumnavigated the globe. In the ship “Dolphin,” under Captain Wallis and in the ship “Endeavour” under Captain Cook. The Lord of the Admiralty had just signed a warrant, admitting the goat to the privilege of an in-pensioner of Greenwhich Hospital, a boon she did not live to enjoy. For the fate of the sons of men and the fate of beasts is the same; as one dies, so dies the other. They all have the same breath, and man has not advantage over the beasts; for all is vanity (Eccl. 3:19). **** On the 29th of April, in 1676. Michiel de Ruyter died. In early life a common sailor, he rose to the rank of admiral. De Ruyter was the man who by the grace of God, in the seventeenth century, made Holland one of the greatest maritime powers in the world. He was struck by a cannonball at age 69 and passed away in Sicily, Italy. For if a man lives many years, let him rejoice in them all; but let him remember that the days of darkness will be many. All that comes is vanity (Eccl. 11:8). **** On April 30, 1751, Richard Gough wrote in his diary: "At Glastonberg, Somerset, a man 30 years old afflicted with asthma, dreamed that someone told him if he drank of such particular waters near the Chaingate for seven Sunday mornings, he should be cured. The man did and accordingly became better, attesting his healing with an oath. This being rumored abroad, it brought people from all parts of the kingdom to drink of the so miraculous waters for various distempers and many were healed and a great number received benefit. It was actually computed that 10,000 were at Glastonberg to drink the water. Is there a thing of which it is said 'See, this is new?' It has been already, in the ages before us (Eccl. 1:10)....
Jenny Geddes: the Reformer who let fly…
You can download or listen to the podcast version (5 minutes) here. **** Our story is about what should have been a small thing. It wasn’t such an unusual thing. You hear about it from time to time. Someone got upset and threw their stool. Someone got excited, got a little rowdy, and that was the end of it, right? Not quite. The stool thrower was a certain Jenny Geddes, She wasn’t a notable woman, merely running a fruit stall just outside the Tron Kirk, the main church in Edinburgh. Her stall was the 1600s equivalent of a hot dog stand. She wasn’t the sort of person that you would expect to appear in the history books. She was average. Not unusual. Much like you or me. But maybe that goes to show you that if the cause is important enough, the small can rise to do big things. In 1635, Charles I, king of England and Scotland, had declared himself to be the head of the Scottish church. Not all the Scots were terribly happy about this. In the spirit of the Reformation, the Scottish church had gone a good ways toward removing Catholic influences and developing its own, distinctive, Protestant style of worshipping. There was quite a bit of fear that Charles would change all that. Charles wanted the Scottish church to be more like the English one, uniting religion in his kingdom. Catholic subterfuge? Charles and the unpopular English Archbishop of Canterbury, William Laud, appointed a committee of, admittedly, Scottish bishops to develop a prayer book for use in the Scottish church. The Scots saw this prayer book as a way to make the Scottish church Catholic again by subterfuge. A lot of the more conservative Scots, the more Puritan leaning members of the church, were not impressed. So when it came time to debut the new Book of Common Prayer in an actual worship service, tensions were running high. Sunday, July 23, 1637 saw Deacon John Hanna nervously ascend the pulpit at St Giles Cathedral in Edinburgh. Sitting in the back of the cathedral was Jenny Geddes. Interestingly, the women were required to sit at the back, and bring their own stools to sit on which undoubtedly has a fascinating story behind it. For our purposes, it’s enough to realize that any stool light enough to be brought from home is also light enough to be thrown across the room. At some point Geddes had had enough. She rose and colorfully accused Hanna of being a Catholic priest in disguise. She yelled “Devil cause you severe pain and flatulent distension of your abdomen, false thief: dare you say the Mass in my ear?” and then flung her stool across the room and at Hanna’s head. Cursing flatulence on someone and flinging your stool seems to have been the trigger for chaos. A riot started in the church – possibly involving more flying stools – with the service ending up more like a barroom brawl than a place of worship. One worshipper who dutifully used the appropriate responses from the new Prayer Book was soundly thumped with Bibles. The riot spread out onto the street, even the city council chambers were besieged, and in time the authorities were called in to break up the chaos. The ruling authorities in Edinburgh appealed to the capital in London to withdraw the new Book of Common Prayer, but the government of Charles I refused. The Scots responded by signing a National Covenant in February 1638, to make the Scottish church more Presbyterian and less Anglican, and later that same year tossed out the Scottish bishops who had written the new Prayer Book. King Charles treated this as rebellion, and in 1639 launched the First Bishops War, the first in a series of wars with the Scots known as the Wars of the Covenant. These wars would tax his treasury, and, ultimately, lead to the confrontations with Parliament which would eventually cost him his head. Conclusion All this came about because one woman threw a stool. The funny part is that historians aren’t even sure if Jenny Geddes was a real person, or just a wonderful element to throw into a pretty crazy story about religious and political reform. Whatever the case, the riot was real, and it goes a long way towards showing that at the right moment, real, average, even boring, people can make a spectacular difference. Sometimes it’s not where you take your stand that matters, but where you take your seat. This article is taken from an episode of James Dykstra’s History.icu podcast, where history is never boring. You can check out other episodes at History.icu or on Spotify, Google podcasts, or wherever you find your podcasts. For some further digging… Wikipedia on "Jenny Geddes" Undiscovered Scotland on "Jenny Geddes" Reformation History on "Jenny Geddes" Scot Clans on "Jenny Geddes" InAmidst.com on "Lo and Behold"...
When the Word of God is not preached
Half-truths, little tidbits of information used for one's own interpretation and advantage, can be harmful, even damnable. Zeal without knowledge can ...
Church history, People we should know
Rahab the whore...mother of Christ
"...the LORD your God is He who is God in heaven above and on earth beneath..." - Joshua 2:11 ***** In the house where one pays for love there arrived two young customers who had a different kind of business on their minds. They were engaged in espionage, nothing less: covert activities which required circumspect movements; activities that disguised their real intent, that even lead to the pretense of tourism, accentuated by a trip to the establishment of the local prostitute. They had been sent out by the master of strategy, Joshua the son of Nun, one of the two survivors of an earlier spy mission some forty years ago. At that time the economic intelligence gathering yielded interesting results, but the military intelligence had been devastating for an unbelieving generation. It took forty years to purge the nation of that element of destructive disbelief: they were all buried in the sands of the desert. Forty years of grave digging, forty years of sighing about "the wind passing over it, and it is gone, and its place knows it no more," (Ps. 103:16) as one of their offspring, David, would later sing. Then, at last, even Moses died; the LORD Himself took care of the funeral arrangements. Some safe house! Rahab hiding the spies in the flax. But now a next generation had come forth, the covenant had been renewed, and with it came a new willingness to serve, as these young men demonstrated, arrayed in their disguises. They were in the business of gathering information, and for information, they searched. This woman they met was ready to give answers to questions that had not even been raised. And so, notwithstanding the surroundings of ill repute, they had come to the right address; this too was of the Lord. Maybe they did not realize it, but they ended up in what the spy industry calls a "safe house." "Some safe house," one might mutter; hardly had they bedded down then that the local constabulary arrived for their arrest! Had the woman ratted on them? They were instructed, "to view the land, especially Jericho" (Josh. 2:1). Had they been too obvious in their observations of the land, even in their disguises? Were their questions reported? Thinking fast What do you do when soldiers come with their raucous order: "Open up in the name of the law!"? How do you respond to the gruff demand: "Hand them over, those enemy agents that we know came to your house!"? What do you do? Do you panic? Do you deny the obvious? In times of war and threats of war, house searches are not always conducted under the sanction of a warrant, the validity of which one could politely argue so as to gain some time to contemplate one's next move. But here was a woman who did not panic, who did not need to stall for time. Had her trade made her skillful in leading men astray? She surely knew how to forestall a house search! She was, likely, more than a little coy when she assured them that, indeed, these men had come to her, you know these things happen in an establishment like mine, and they left not so long after they arrived, and that is not unusual in my profession either. And you tell me they were spies? Wow! Then, in a conspiring manner, she might have whispered, "They can't have gone far; they went that-a-way. Run after them and you'll be sure to catch up with them." The path she pointed out to the soldiers seemed to be clear route towards promotion in rank, and maybe even a decoration. The gates were opened for them and the gates were shut again after them, and the pursuers of Israel's heroes chased after wind. The “white lie” Through the years much has been theorized and debated about the possibility of "white lies." It seems that up until World War II most commentators agreed that a deception like the one performed by Rahab was still, in itself, a sinful act. But during the war many persons of great integrity suddenly faced Nazi soldiers and their loud demand: Aufmachen, Polizei!! "Open up, it's the police!" Since then the condemnation has not been so outspoken any more. Those who managed to lead the authorities down the garden path showed no remorse when later they admitted to have given their deceptive testimony. In fact, they were rather gleeful to report how several Jews were saved, the consequence of a gullible interrogator. There are some amusing anecdotes about those days. The scene in the book of Joshua is not without humor either, enhanced by this preposterous elaboration: "so the men pursued after them on the way to the Jordan, as far as the crossing points..." (Josh 2:7). You could almost hear the eager conversations between then: how pleased the captain would be when they brought the spies in, and how proud their wives would be when their men would have their medals pinned on them. And then, gradually, the conversation slowed until finally they muttered: Where on earth are those fellows? But the readers of Joshua know where those fellows were all along: right there, hidden under the flax on the roof! Yet, "the men pursued them," Joshua said seriously. What a joke! Prostitute and now traitor? All this may seem somewhat goofy, worthy of an occasional chuck, but yet... couldn't we say that Rahab the whore had now added to the abominable character of her profession the sordid crime of high treason? She had joined in with the enemy camp! If we think back to World War II again, who would have anything to do with someone who stooped that low? However, is that verdict fair? Should she be displayed in the marketplace, shaven, shorn, and tarred, to have all the passersby spit on her? "The love of country is inborn in every citizen," it is said. We know all about that. During wars opposing armies claim: "We have God on our side." How convincing are the speeches of the leaders! How strong the conviction of their followers! "With honor and valor we fight for our cause, with God on our side." It has been repeated over and over at wreath-laying ceremonies. But inside this woman something had changed. Was she aware of Noah's curse over Canaan? Who were those gods that were supposedly on their side? Wasn’t it to demons that they offered their sons and daughters? The cruelty of those evil forces! Then, in total contrast, there were the stories of this large nation trekking through the desert, the children of Abraham. There was a cloud to guide them by day and a fire by night, she was told. Those were the manifestations of an entirely different God – One who loved His people, who was like fire around them to protect them, who rained bread from heaven to feed them, and who let them drink from the rock. True, He punished them for their evil doings, but He still upheld them and destroyed their enemies before them. Who knows, but that some wandering minstrel might have come by with fragments of the song of Moses "...the Lord will vindicate His people and have compassion on His servants..." (Deut. 32:36). This God was not like the demons who belong to the netherworld. He was the God in heaven above and on the earth beneath. But in His holy nation, would there be a place for her, daughter of the accursed Canaan, a woman who had availed herself of the profits of fornication? From rebel to child of God Rahab helps the spies climb out over Jericho's wall. But then this wonder took place, as miraculous as creation itself: according to His decree, God softened her heart and inclined her to believe. At the same time the crisis of possible detection having been forestalled, she ran up the stairs and blurted out her confession: "I know that the LORD your God is He who is God in heaven and on earth beneath." Would a critical onlooker find that confession a bit meager? It is probably fair to say that she wouldn’t have passed an exam in systematic theology. All we know is that in that confessed faith she bargained with the two representatives of God's holy nation: their safety for her and her family. They made a deal and it was confirmed by oath. The last words reportedly from her mouth were: "Amen, so be it" (Josh 2:21). Of these actions, undoubtedly recited through the ages, James, the leader of the church at Jerusalem, would later make honorable mention, listing them in one breath with the great works of faith by father Abraham (James 2:23-25). So it was that the first major strategic undertaking of Joshua, the son of Nun, seemed to have been upset by the tardiness of the spies. What kind of secret agent accomplishment was that, to bed down in a house of ill repute, to sneak through a window, to hide three days in the caves? Not a very good start, was it? Yes, true, it did not seem like much, but out ways are not God's ways. Just look at the valuable intelligence they received out of the hands of a woman chosen by God: "Truly the Lord has given all the land into our hands; and moreover, all the inhabitants of the land are fainthearted because of us" (Josh 2:24). God’s ways are not man’s ways ...and the walls came tumbling down. The preparations for the battle of Jericho, seen from a military point of view, seemed to be directed towards a total disaster. When the first encounter with a fortified city is to take place, what military exercises come up front? Stamina-building drills? A mock attack? Special wall-climbing exercises? None of that happened. Instead, the sign of the covenant was administered (Josh. 5:2-9). All the army was circumcised. The effect of adult circumcision was that the army was sapped of its military strength for days. If the enemies were to find out... But thus it pleased the LORD to fulfill all righteousness. And stranger yet, a patch of ground within view of Jericho was declared holy territory, where the military leader of Israel met the commander of the mighty host of the LORD (Josh. 5:13-15). Joshua, the son of Nun, was in this very peculiar way made ready for battle: he had to take off his shoes. Now Jericho, known for its mighty men of valor, was sealed up tight ready to defend itself behind its fortified walls with whatever strength still remained within its armed forces. So, we would say: "Time for action. Get on with it! Let the battle start...” But then again the events took a weird turn. Instead of an attack, there was a solemn procession around the city: seven priests blowing horns, followed by the Ark of the Covenant, and after that, the army detachments. No shouting, no banging of drums, no belligerent songs. Only the mournful sound of the seven rams’horns. The army followed silently; it was an uncanny show. Once this was accomplished, everybody headed back to their own camp and the deathly silence returned. The following days it happened again, and the next day again, and again. And every time the procession came by the house of Rahab the whore the people saw the scarlet cord hanging out of the window. And every time Rahab the whore looked out of the window and saw this strange procession going by, her heart beat wildly in anticipation. The battle of the Lord was taking shape and she had taken His side, or rather, He had taken her on His side. Now it was going to happen: the Hour Zero approached rapidly. The tension was building to an unbearable level. Finally, on the last day the procession around the city was repeated several times over, till the final trip was made and the horn blowing ended. There was a short moment of utter silence. Then the trumpets sounded their dramatic long blast, and the whole scene erupted into turmoil. The entire army gave off a loud shout, a howl of derision for the enemies of God. After that a rumbling came up, as bricks and mortar split apart, as boulders cracked and rolled away, and in their course felling and crushing the hapless defenders. Then the walls of the city fell upon them, and the ruins of the structures covered them. And through the clouds of dust, over the rubble, clambered the victorious armies of God, in endless waves, to fulfill the command of total destruction. Total destruction? Yes, the city was devoted to the LORD for destruction. Nothing was to be spared. Nothing except... The war correspondent in Joshua 6 first passes on the direct order as it was given: destroy everything. Everything, except the house of Rahab the whore. Reason for the exception? She hid the spies. Then follows the narrative: as instructed by General Joshua, the young spies went into the one remaining structure of the ring-wall. It was marked with the crimson cord. Spitting out the gritty dust of the ground granite that made film on their lips, they egged on the occupants: "hurry, hurry, quick this way to safety!" Finally comes the recap, the summing up of the total victory: the city was burned with fire. The vessels of bronze and iron were put into the treasury of the house of the LORD. End of report? No! Again it is stated, and now with greater emphasis yet, that Rahab the whore and her father's household, and all who belong to her were saved alive. "And," concludes the report, "she dwelt in Israel to this day." Why? "Because she hid the messengers, whom Joshua sent to spy out Jericho," that's why. In the Hall of Fame In the hall of fame of the heroes of faith, there is a long wall lined with portraits. Hebrews 11 leads us through it. There is Abel, all scarred up, but still speaking through his faith. And look, there is Noah, that ridiculous shipbuilder on dry ground, but therefore heir of the righteousness that comes by faith. See Sarah there, laughing, because at age ninety she still conceived, and God had made laughter for her... And then...yes, indeed there she is. Rahab the whore. Even now the title of her terrible profession is still etched on the copper plate that carries her name. But her features seem familiar. Haven't we seen her somewhere before? Yes, of course, the evangelist Matthew listed her in the genealogy as a not-so-immaculate mother of Christ! The company some people keep! Look at the strange smile on her face. After all those centuries, does she still think that sending those poor soldiers on a wild good chase was rather funny? Frankly speaking, it really was funny, but it seems that the smile is not about that. No, this is a fond smile, a smile caused by amazement and expressing great love. How could she, daughter of the cursed Canaan, and practicing prostitute, how could she possibly have ended up here, among these great ones in the kingdom of Christ? Indeed, there is every reason for amazement. Here was one woman who came in last, totally unworthy, not even qualifying for the crumbs of the dogs, and yet she was given a seat of honor up front by her Great Son, the Christ, through the eternal love with which He loved her before the foundation of the world. If that does not make you smile, what else would? In this reflection the author wants to direct us back to the text to look at it with new eyes – an oh-so-familiar story startles us once again when viewed under this different light. But like any commentary on Scripture, it shouldn’t be read instead of the text itself. Read on its own, it could become confusing as to what are the author’s thoughts, and what the text actually says. So an important follow-up then is to read Joshua 2-6. This is a slightly edited version of an article that first appeared in the December 1993 issue. John de Vos was the very first editor of Reformed Perspective....
Rome's Catacombs art was created to encourage fellow Christians
Imagine a vast, underground series of zigzagging passageways covering an area several miles in length, 590 acres in size. Ponder the amount of work that was required to dig down between 2 and 60 feet deep into volcanic tuff rock in order to create these passageways and the loculi (burial niches) that lined the sides of them. In an ancient time period when graveyards were not permitted within the city limits of Rome, the catacombs were created for the burial of Christians, Jews, and some pagan individuals. The catacombs are thought to have held between four and seven million graves. Between 40 and 60 multi-level burial chambers connected by numerous tunnels have been discovered just outside of Rome. Narrow steps go down as many as four stories, leading to passages that are about 8 feet high and 3 or 4 feet. The burial niches were carved into the walls and are generally 16-24 inches high and 45-60 inches long. And it is here, in these catacombs, where we can find the earliest known examples of Christian artwork. During the second century, the traditions of the Romans and Etruscans favored cremation, but the Christians, believing in the bodily resurrection of the dead, thought that bodies of the deceased should be buried, as was the described manner within the Old and New Testaments of the Bible. Because of that, and because it was inexpensive, Christians dug these catacombs, generally beginning on the property of one of the Christians, digging downward and then branching out in many directions. Imagine starting such a project in your back yard! The Christians definitely expanded the number of catacombs, and were known to hold funeral services in small chapel-like rooms, similar to how people hold graveside services today. WHAT WAS THE EARLIEST CHRISTIAN ARTWORK LIKE? We can learn a lot about the people who expressed their faith artistically in the catacombs. It is especially uplifting to note the particular themes and symbols that were chosen, as well as noticing those that were not. This fresco painting of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego in the fiery furnace (Daniel 3) is found in the Priscilla catacombs in Rome and is dated to around the third and century. It is also interesting to consider that whereas some religions, such as the pagan worship in Egypt, provided artwork within their burial places for the use of the deceased along the way to the afterlife, Christians provided artwork for the encouragement of the living who would visit the catacombs. Christians’ souls were already in Heaven, but the bodies awaited the great resurrection at the day of judgment. The types of artwork found in the catacombs include fresco paintings (paintings done on wet plaster), Greek and Latin inscriptions, carved stone burial boxes (sarcophagi), and statues. Some of the artwork is simple and amateurish, but in other cases it’s clear Christians hired professional artists to decorate the graves of their loved ones with the purpose of advancing the message of Christ. The people who could afford it placed the body of a loved one in a stone sarcophagus that was most often decorated, but those who were poor simply bound the body up in linen. It was then placed in the loculi– the burial niche – and the niche was sealed with a slab that bore the name, age and date of the person’s death. Catacombs historians state that there are three themes that are seen throughout the catacombs' artwork: resurrection, salvation, and baptism, which Andrew Shubin in Early Christian Imagery in the Catacombs of Priscilla refers to as the "three core tenets of Christianity." Another catacomb art historian, Gregory S. Athnos, states that: Every story in catacomb art is a tale of deliverance, a tale of the powerlessness of death and the certainty of the resurrection. God delivers us from the consequences of death situations and gives us life instead. In our view of the history of Christian art it appears the crucifixion of Jesus holds the highest place." A French Catholic cultural historian, Frederic Ozanam, sums up the topics depicted in this early Christian artwork thus: In these figures of Noah in the Ark, Moses striking the rock, Job on the dunghill, the Miracle of Cana, the feeding of the five thousand, Lazarus leaving the tomb, and most prominent – Daniel in the lions' den, Jonah cast out by the whale, the three Children in the furnace. All these are types of martyrdom – martyrdom by beasts, water, and fire, but all symbolical of triumphant martyrdom such as is necessary to depict in order to maintain courage and console grief. And, amazingly he points out the following: We see no trace of contemporary persecutions, no representation of the butchery of the Christians, nothing bloodthirsty, nothing which could rouse hatred or vengeance, nothing but pictures of pardon, hope, and love. A fish carving from the Domitilla Catacombs in Rome, dated to around second or third century AD. The letters below spell fish in Greek (ichthys) and can also be used to form an acronym of the phrase “Jesus Christ, Son of God, Savior.” In this regard, Athnos points out that he saw "no crosses in the catacombs – no symbols of death. Rather, he saw symbols of the Resurrection such as the Phoenix, a bird which came back to life, and the fish, which speaks of God’s provision and sustenance, as well as a reference to Jesus’ calling his disciples to follow Him and become fishers of men. Other researchers describe pictures of a dove, representing the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost to dwell within Christians and bring them guidance, wisdom, peace, comfort, and joy. Another frequent symbol was the anchor, representing hope in Jesus as expressed in Hebrews 6:19, “We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure.” Although Athnos saw no crosses, other researchers point out that when the anchor is turned upside down, the Greek letter TAU was formed and the T represented the shape of the cross, promising salvation through Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection. Last of all, the symbol of a peacock was adopted for use by early Christians. It had long been a symbol of eternal life for other cultures, who feared death and their unknown future; Christians improved on it, believing that the victory of Christ’s resurrection canceled the obscurity of death. One subject that was frequently repeated in statuary was that of the Good Shepherd. The Old Testament book of Psalms, Chapter 23, begins with, “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not be in want.” The Psalmist describes how this good shepherd watches over his sheep by taking them to green pastures with quiet, not frightening, streams of water, and providing comfort for them in every dangerous situation. “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.” Jesus announced Himself in John 10:11-18 as the Good Shepherd who would lay down His life for His sheep; this reference would have brought Psalm 23 to His disciples’ minds. It brought great comfort to the souls of early Christians to believe in Christ as their good shepherd. There were also pictures found of the Virgin Mary, of a person praying in Orant style (arms uplifted), and of the disciples and other early saints and martyrs of the Christian faith. These, too, served to encourage the living by referencing the power and love of God and the witness of other believers. There are also depictions of Jesus performing His many miracles, but these aren’t the earliest pictures, as the first Christian arts were seemingly more reluctant to depict Him than later ones. DID CHRISTIANS HIDE IN THE CATACOMBS? A catacomb fresco painting of Samson with the jawbone of a donkey (Judges 15). Photo credit: Isogood_patrick / Shutterstock.com Many of us have heard references to the Roman persecution of Christians which took place during the first three centuries after Christ. Ministers have often called on us to imagine the difficulties which led many Christians to hide from the Romans down inside of the catacombs. However, some modern historians dispute whether the catacombs were used as a hiding place, and one source even questioned whether there really was a great persecution! These writers call the ideas tradition, myth or a romanticizing of what actually occurred. Note the following arguments and responses: OBJECTION: There is no visible evidence that suggests that Christians hid there from the Romans. RESPONSE: People who were generally very poor, on the run, and hiding for their lives would be careful not to leave any trace of their whereabouts. OBJECTION: The stench from the rotting bodies would have made it a difficult place to exist and it would have been an unpleasant place to live. RESPONSE: Each grave was sealed with stone, and it was cold down there, so it was unlikely that there would be a stench; besides, people who are running for their lives might not be so concerned about the comforts of life. There is at least one known location in the catacombs that still shows blood, where a Christian was killed, proving that there was at least one person who hid there. OBJECTION: The catacombs were a public place well-known to the Romans, so they would not have provided a good hiding place. RESPONSE: Since the passageways are very long, irregular, and complicated, it would be difficult to find people there even if the soldiers knew they were in there somewhere. OBJECTION: Christians were willing to die as martyrs for their Lord Jesus Christ, so why would they want to hide? RESPONSE: While Christians were (and should still be) willing to die for Christ, that doesn’t mean we seek death! The Apostle Paul sneaked out of the city of Damascus to avoid being killed by an angry group of Jewish leaders (Acts chapter 9) and like him, if Christians can avoid death while staying true to Christ, then we should. Also consider, since the artwork was intended to encourage people who were living in dangerous circumstances, those who painted and sculpted it did expect that it would be viewed by others; this lends credence to the idea that some Christians would be coming there sometime. CONCLUSION The catacombs outside of Rome served as an extensive underground burial location around the second century. The Christians who dug some of them held funeral services within the small chapels there, and some hid there to avoid persecution. They expressed their faith in salvation through Jesus Christ by painting or sculpting symbols of Christianity and references to carefully chosen Biblical accounts that would particularly instill courage, faith, hope, and trust within those who viewed them. Hebrews 12 sums up the encouragement that the early Christians passed on to others through their artwork in the catacombs: Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart. BIBLIOGRAPHY All online resources were last accessed on April 15, 2015. Gregory S. Athnos’ The Art of the Roman Catacombs: Themes of Deliverance in the Age of Persecution (Outskirts Press, 2011) Middletown Bible Church’s “The Catacombs and the Cloisters.” Jay King’s “Throwing Christians to the Lions: Fact and Legend.” Suny Oneonta School of Art & Humanities “Early Christian Art.” J. Maresca’s The Catacombs of Rome(Documentary, 42 minutes, 2002). Frederic Ozanam’s “The Christian Art of the Catacombs” as published in the Fall 1993 issue of The Dawson Newsletter. Christine Quigley’s Skulls and Skeletons: Human Bone Collections and Accumulations (McFarland and Company, Inc., 2001). Rick Steves' Rick Steves Europe “Rome, Italy: Catacombs and Appian Way.” Andrew Shubin’s “Early Christian Imagery in the Catacombs of Priscilla." This article first appeared in the January 2016 issue under the title "Artwork in Rome’s Catacombs: Early Christian art was created to encourage fellow Christians." ...
Church history, History
The Queen on our coins testifies to Canada's Christian roots
If you look at the back of any Canadian coin you will see an image of Queen Elizabeth II. Someone might consider that to be a little bit strange. Canada has been an independent country for well over a century, so why does its money portray a British monarch? Canada has indeed been independent for many years, but it’s important to realize that the British monarch is also simultaneously the Canadian monarch. People generally understand the monarchy in Canada to be entirely symbolic, if not anachronistic. But there is much more than symbolism involved. A simple analysis will reveal that the Queen is, in fact, at the center of Canada’s Constitution. According to the “letter of the law,” she is very powerful. Of course, in reality, she is more of a figurehead and does not actually exercise that power. But on paper, in the actual wording of the document, she holds a lot of power – she is Canada’s Head of State, although her functions here are usually conducted by the Governor General, as her representative. Under the section on Executive Power in The Constitution Act, 1867, the following is stated: “The Executive Government and Authority of and over Canada is hereby declared to continue and be vested in the Queen.” Not only that, but: “The Command-in-Chief of the Land and Naval Militia, and of all Naval and Military Forces, of and in Canada, is hereby declared to continue and be vested in the Queen.” This is the current authoritative Constitution of Canada. The monarch holds the power of the executive branch of the Canadian government, and he or she is also the commander in chief of the Canadian Armed Forces. Of course, in practice the Queen doesn’t exercise these powers nowadays, but they are still firmly entrenched in the current constitution. The Queen and Christ From a Christian perspective, this is very significant because the Queen provides a direct institutional connection between Christianity and Canada’s political system. The connection becomes especially clear by examining the Coronation Service for the installation of Elizabeth II as Queen in 1953. Veteran BC lawyer Humphrey Waldock summarizes important aspects of that service in his 1997 book The Blind Goddess: Law Without Christ? highlights the specifically Christian aspects of it. Much of the service was conducted by the Archbishop of Canterbury, the highest prelate in the Church of England. In one place the Archbishop asked Elizabeth: Will you to the utmost of your power maintain the Laws of God and the true profession of the Gospel? Will you to the utmost of your power maintain in the United Kingdom the Protestant reformed religion established by Law? Will you maintain and preserve inviolably the settlement of the Church of England and the doctrine, worship, discipline and government thereof as by Law established in England? Will you preserve under the Bishops and Clergy of England and to the Churches there committed to their charge all such rights and privileges as by Law do or shall appertain to them or any of them? To these questions Elizabeth replied, “All this I promise to do.” Then she laid her right hand upon the Bible and swore, “The things which I have herebefore promised I will perform and keep, so help me God.” Then she kissed the Bible, and signed the Oath, after which the Archbishop said: To keep your Majesty ever mindful of the Law and the Gospel of God as the rule for the whole life and government of Christian Princes we present you with this book, the most valuable thing that this world affords. Carefully note that Canada’s Head of State took an oath to maintain the Law of God to the utmost of her power. She has clearly violated this oath, as well as others, but she is still accountable to the oath. Canada’s Head of State is formally bound, by her own words, to uphold God’s Law. Subsequently in the service, Matthew 22:15 was read, the Nicene Creed was recited, a hymn sung, and then Elizabeth was anointed by the Archbishop. As he anointed her Queen he stated: As Solomon was anointed King by Zadok the Priest and Nathan the Prophet, so be Thou anointed, blessed and consecrated Queen over the peoples whom the Lord Thy God hath given Thee to rule and govern. Next, the Archbishop presented the Sword of State saying, ...that she may not bear this sword in vain but may use it as the minister of God for the terror and punishment of evildoers and for the protection and encouragement of those that do well. With this sword do justice, stop the growth of iniquity, protect the Holy Church of God, help and defend widows and orphans, restore the things that are gone to decay, maintain the things that are restored, punish and reform what is amiss and confirm what is in good order. That doing these things you may be glorious in all virtue and so faithfully serve our Lord Jesus Christ in this life that you may reign forever with him in the life which is to come. She also received other tokens of authority including the Robe Royal, the Rod of Equity and Mercy, and a ring. The Archbishop continued, Receive the Ring of kingly dignity, and the seal of Catholic faith: and as you are this day consecrated to be our head and prince, so may you continue steadfastly as the Defender of Christ’s religion As Waldock points out, it is clear from the Coronation Service that Canada’s monarchy formally acknowledges that it receives its authority from God. The Queen, Waldock writes, “had utterly submitted her temporal jurisdiction for justice to the authority of Christ and the Church under oath.” Loyal to God In section 128 of The Constitution Act, 1867it is stipulated that every Senator, every MP and every MLA must take the Oath of Allegiance which appears in the Fifth Schedule of the Act. The Oath of Allegiance entails one to swear to “be faithful and bear true Allegiance to Her Majesty” Queen Elizabeth II. If the Queen has sworn to uphold the Law of God, and Canada’s elected officials swear allegiance to her, it would seem, then, that those officials must uphold the same Law the Queen has sworn to uphold. This is certainly the implication that Waldock draws: “No servants of the Queen have any authority or jurisdiction to substitute their ideas of morals or religion for those she has sworn to.” Many Canadians no longer support the Monarchy and see the Queen as a foreigner who is inconsequential to Canada. But Canada’s Constitution says otherwise, and the Monarchy provides a vital institutional link between Christianity and Canada’s government. There are moves afoot in Britain to change the role of the monarchy and it’s likely that the explicitly Christian aspects will be lost in the future. But as things stand now, and as they have stood throughout Canada’s history to this point, our Head of State is sworn to uphold the “Protestant reformed religion.” Clearly, Canada’s Head of State is an explicitly Christian monarch. Take a look at the back of the coins in your pocket or purse and remember the oath made by the lady whose image you see. She may be woefully deficient in keeping her oath, but it remains an acknowledgment that she, the head of the country, is accountable to our Lord. This article was originally published in the March 2013 issue under the title "One for the Money: The Queen’s image on our coins points to the constitutional bond between Christianity and Canada’s national government." If you want to read further on this topic, Michael Wagner’s book, "Leaving God Behind" about Canada’s Christian roots can be purchased here. Also, the folks at Worldview Encounter have created a 5-minute video based on this article that you can view below, and if you like this one, be sure to check their website for more in the upcoming weeks. How the Queen Demonstrates Canada's Christian Foundation. from Kingdom Focus on Vimeo....
Macarius: great works vs. grace
“For by grace you have been saved through faith; and this is not your own doing, it is the gift of God - not because of works, lest any man should boast. For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” – Eph. 2:8-10 **** When he was born on January 2 in the year 300 A.D. in Alexandria, Egypt, his parents must have been filled with great thankfulness and hope, for they named their little baby boy Macarius. Macarius means “supremely blessed.” Perhaps they'd had other children die, or perhaps they had prayed for a child for a long time and were not sure that they would ever have one. Whatever the case, the bundle of blessing grew up and became a man, and that man took on the job of merchant. There are times in the lives of believers when they consider how much they have done, how much they ought to have done and what they have not done. There is no doubt that these moments of reflection can lead to fruitfulness, to a further developing of the fruits they are admonished to have. After all, Peter encourages readers in his second epistle (1:5-7): "...make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love." Across New Testament pages Peter shakes hands with Paul, who tells believers in Phil. 2:12 to work out their salvation with fear and trembling. Retreating from the world Macarius married, but his wife died shortly afterward. Impressed by the spectre of death which he had encountered firsthand, a spectre which was neither a respecter of youth nor of financial status, the merchant was led to forsake the world. What did this mean for Macarius? It meant that he gave away all his material goods and moved to a solitary place where no one else lived. This place was the Thebais in Upper Egypt, a desert, a lonely area which had become a retreat for a number of Christian hermits. Macarius was convinced that this action would prepare him for eternity, that this would enable him to devote himself to thinking heavenly thoughts, that here he would be able to concentrate on pure matters. Perhaps, however, the Thebais was not as stimulating in holiness as he speculated, for later in life he moved on to different deserts in Lybia. Hermits lived here as well, but these men were not within eyesight of one another. Macarius became an austere man. There was a drive in him to strive for what he perceived to be perfection of character. It is not recorded whether he diligently studied the Word of God, or whether, as Peter puts it in the second part of his epistle, he experienced the grace and peace afforded those who have the knowledge of God and of Jesus Christ our Lord. Resisting the “temptation” to serve During the course of his stay in one of the deserts, Macarius, at one point of his life, was overcome by a virtuous desire to travel to Rome to spend time serving and aiding those who were ill in that city. It was a noble aspiration. We are told in the Bible to serve others. Indeed, Jesus commands His followers: "Love one another even as I have loved you." (John 13:34) And did He not help the ill and the maimed? And did He not die for us? Because Macarius often deprived himself of God-given sustenance, he was prone to strange hallucinations which he supposed were godly visions. Persuaded through some of these that to help others would make him proud and give him too much esteem in the world's eyes, he did not leave the desert for Rome. Instead he threw himself down on the ground and cried out to the imagined “temptation,” "Drag me hence, if you can, by force, for I will not stir from here." He lay on the ground all night. However in the morning, upon rising, he found that his desire was still for service in Rome. Not wishing to give in, he filled two baskets with earth, lay them on his shoulders and plodded into the surrounding wilderness. Meeting someone he knew, he was questioned as to what he was doing with those baskets on his shoulders. He made no reply other than: "I am tormenting my tormentors." Returning to his lodging in the evening, he was glad to be free of the “temptation” to serve. It seems Macarius spent no time contemplating Jesus' temptations in the desert – temptations which were overcome. It seems Macarius did not ponder the fulfillment of the law performed by the Lord during His life, death, resurrection and ascension. And it seems that Macarius did not think of the fact that the Holy Spirit had been sent to enable and equip believers to serve in thankfulness. The definition of an anchorite such as Macarius, as given by Abbot Rance de la Trappe, (1626-1700 and founder of the Trappist monks), reads: “..a soul which relishes God in solitude, and thinks no more of anything but heaven, and forgets the earth, which has nothing in it that can now please. It burns with the fire of divine love, and sighs only after God, regarding death as its greatest advantage; nevertheless it will find itself much mistaken if it imagines it shall go to God by straight paths.... in which it will have no difficulties at all...” Sadly, such a definition describes the error of those who think they might climb into eternity using their own boots, their own merits, pushing open heaven's door by their own victories. A contrast Also a January baby, my father, Louis Praamsma, was born on January 1, 1920 – one hundred and nine years ago. He was no anchorite, however, for he loved to mingle with people all of the 74 years of the life on earth which God gave him. He studied the Word of God diligently, was humble and acknowledged his sin, preaching forgiveness of sins through Jesus Christ in season and out of season, always seeking people out and giving them the reason for the hope which was in him. This is how pastors (and all believers) should be – compassionate, seeking sheep, in but not of the world, eager to listen and never too preoccupied with self. Louis Praamsma did not walk into heaven on his own merits; neither did he open heaven's doors with his own hands when he died in 1984. No, salvation had been accomplished for him by his Savior, Jesus Christ. Hence his earthly life was full of thankful service. Perhaps my Dad has met Macarius in heaven, if that anchorite perceived at the end of his life that all his works had been but as filthy rags. May it be that 2019 is a year of thankfulness – one filled with love, joy, peace, patience, goodness, kindness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control – because against such there is no law. And may our thankful lives radiate outwards towards loving one another even as Christ loves us....
Report of a meeting which was never held
What I am going to tell you is pure fantasy, but it might be useful to pause a moment because it can teach us something. It was some years after ou...
Kuyper's legacy: for better and for worse
Abraham Kuyper left behind a lasting legacy. There is, most notably, his indispensable role in the Doleantie of 1886, in which he led an exodus of con...
Abraham Kuyper: larger than life
After John Calvin, Abraham Kuyper is probably the figure who looms largest in our Reformed church history. In some ways, in his lifetime he was even m...
Marcion: a heretic we need to know
When one asks the most influential thinkers in the modern evangelical church are, one might find names such as Jim Packer, John Stott, and Don Carson. I would like to suggest, however, that there is one whose influence is perhaps much greater than we are aware of, yet whose thinking all but pervades the modern evangelical church: Marcion. He's the man who gets my vote for most profound influence on evangelicalism, from canon to theology to worship practices. You never see his books on the shelves in your high street Christian bookshop; you never see him advertised as preaching in your local church; but, rest assured, his spirit stalks those bookshops and pulpits. He's the man who gets my vote for most profound influence on evangelicalism, from canon to theology to worship practices. You never see his books on the shelves in your high street Christian bookshop; you never see him advertised as preaching in your local church; but, rest assured, his spirit stalks those bookshops and pulpits. Nothing new under the sun Marcion is – or, rather, was – a somewhat shadowy figure, with most of what we know about him coming from the hostile pen of Tertullian. Apparently, he was a native of Pontus (in modern times, the area by the Black Sea), who flourished in the middle of the second century, dying circa 160. His major distinctive was his insistence on the Christian gospel as exclusively one of love to the extent that he came to a complete rejection of the Old Testament and only a qualified acceptance of those parts of the New Testament which he considered to be consistent with his central thesis (i.e. ten letters of Paul and a recension of the Gospel of Luke). So how does Marcion influence modern evangelicalism? Well, I think evangelicalism has become practically Marcionite at a number of levels. 1. Out with wrath First, the emphasis upon God's love to the utter exclusion of everything else has become something of a commonplace. We see this in the collapse of the notion of penal substitution as an evangelical doctrine. Now, maybe I'm missing something, but of all the things taught in the Bible, the terrifying wrath of God would seem to be among the most self-evident of all. Thus, when I hear statements from evangelical theologians such as “God's wrath is always restorative,” my mind goes straight to countless OT passages, the Bible's teaching about Satan, and NT characters such as Ananias and Sapphira. There was not much restoration for any of these folk – or are being swallowed alive by the earth, consumed by holy fire and being struck dead for cheating the church actually therapeutic techniques intended to restore the individuals concerned? And when leading evangelicals tell me that penal substitution is tantamount to cosmic child abuse (don't laugh - this is seriously argued by some leading evangelical theologians), I'm left wondering whether I should sit down and explain the doctrine to them, or whether I should merely tell them to go away and grow up. Do they really expect the church to take such claims as serious theological reflection? 2. Out with the Old Then, there is the constant tendency to neglect the Old Testament, in particular in our theological reflections, and our devotional lives also need to take full account of the Old Testament. We need to read the Bible as a whole, to understand each passage, each verse, within the theological and narrative structure of the canon as a whole. As evangelicals we can often err by focusing purely on the straight doctrinal teaching of the letters in the NT and the great passages in John's Gospel. An NT scholar and friend once said to me that he thought the average evangelical's life would be pretty much unaffected if the whole Bible, except for the Gospel of John and the Letter to the Romans, simply disappeared. Hyperbole maybe, but probably not by much. We need a solid biblical theology – not one which downgrades everything to the level of economy at the expense of ontology but one which takes full account of the central narrative of the Bible and seeks to do justice even to those bits of the Bible we don't like. 3. Out with God's songs Then, in our church practice, we need to take the Old Testament more seriously. It astounds me, given the overwhelming use of psalms as central to gathered worship in the first four centuries, the absolute importance given to psalmody for the first two centuries of the post-Reformation Reformed churches, and the fact that the Book of Psalms is the only hymn book which can claim to be universal in its acceptance by the whole of Christendom and utterly inspired in all of its statements – it astounds me, I say, that so few psalms are sung in our worship services today. Moreover, often nothing seems to earn the scorn and derision of others more than the suggestion that more psalms should be sung in worship. Indeed, the last few years have seen a number of writers strike out against exclusive psalmody. Given that life is too short to engage in pointless polemics, I am left wondering which parallel universe these guys come from, where the most pressing and dangerous worship issue is clearly that people sing too much of the Bible in their services. How terrifying a prospect that would be. Imagine: people actually singing songs that express the full range of human emotion in their worship using words of which God has explicitly said, “These are mine.” Back here on Planet Earth, however, there is generally precious little chance of overloading on sound theology in song in most evangelical churches as the Marcion invasion is pretty much total and unopposed in the sphere of worship. Yet I for one prefer Athanasius to Marcion and, in his letter to Marcellinus, he gives one of the most beautiful and moving arguments for psalms in worship ever penned. It is a pity more have not taken his words to heart Making God unknowable So what will be the long-term consequences of this Marcionite approach to the Bible? Ultimately, I think it will push “the God who is there” back into the realm of the unknowable and make our god a mere projection of our own psychology, and make our worship simply into group therapy sessions where we all come together to pretend we are feeling great. God is the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob – take that identity away and what do we have left? As the OT is the context for the NT, so the neglect of OT leaves the NT as more or less meaningless. As our reading, our sermons, and our times of corporate worship neglect and, sometimes, simply ignore the OT, we can expect a general impoverishment of church life and, finally, a total collapse of evangelical Christendom. Indeed, there are mornings when I wake up and think it's already all over, and that the church in the West survives more by sheer force of personality, by hype and by marketing ploys rather than by any higher power. We need to grasp once again who God is in his fullness; we need to grasp who we are in relation to him; and we need teaching and worship which gives full-orbed expression to these things – and this will only come when we in the West grow up, ditch the designer gods we build from our pick-n-mix Bible where consumer, not Creator, is king, and give the whole Bible its proper place in our lives, thinking and worship. Think truncated thoughts about God and you'll get a truncated God; read an expurgated Bible and you get an expurgated theology; sing mindless, superficial rubbish instead of deep, truly emotional praise and you will eventually become what you sing. Dr. Carl Trueman is Professor of Church History at Westminster Theological Seminary and blogs at FirstThings.com. This article first appeared in Themelios Vol. 28 No. 1 under the title “The Marcions have landed. A warning for evangelical” and is reprinted here with the author’s permission. ...
What sort of man was John Calvin? We can get a feel for him from his letters
It started with a conversation discussing various matters, when the subject of John Calvin came up. I was absolutely flabbergasted when my interlocutor said that Calvin was a hard man – someone who would not have been very nice to know. Dumbfounded, I dropped the subject because I really didn't have a defense. I had never heard such an accusation before, and had been brought up to think that Calvin belonged on a pedestal right next to Augustine, Luther and other church fathers. Did that mean I considered Calvin a saint? No, of course not. Calvin was a man like us, who had to daily contend with a sinful nature. But he was also a great man, specially gifted by God, so I was flabbergasted as to where this negative view of Calvin had come from. So when the next opportunity arrived I searched and found in my library a booklet which answered my questions. Why so negative? My first question was where this negative view of Calvin had come from. What I had never realized before is that there are umpteen books that attack Calvin, and I'm not even talking about the books that attack his theology – the umpteen I mention here is just the books that attack Calvin the person! This is what I learned after opening a book that had long been in my library but was still unread. You know the type – it was one of those books purchased with the thought that it might come in handy one day. Well it became handy indeed. The book, or rather booklet (it is just 96 pages), is called the The Humanness of John Calvin and was written by a Richard Stauffer. This Swiss pastor shows that he is well acquainted with the writings of both Calvin and his critics – early in the book Stauffer, especially in the footnotes, gives extensive quotes from those who were no friends of Calvin. In the introduction Stauffer remarks: "Luther, by his spontaneity and his exuberant spirit, ....succeeded in awakening sympathy from his very opponents, and Zwingli commanded respect as a lucid patriot and a courageous soldier in the very ones who would contest his theology, but the French reformer not only has suffered calumny from his enemies, he has also been misunderstood and misinterpreted by his great-grand children." In a footnote he cites Emile Doumergue, who correctly noted: “In relation to repugnance and hatred, one finds that Protestants rivaled Catholics.” However, a little further he also gives an example of a Catholic who slandered Calvin, by the name of Jerome-Hermes Bolsec. Bolsec had been Roman Catholic, then Protestant, and then after returning to Rome, he wrote a biography of Calvin that was simply insults and lies, or as Stauffer put it, "no more than a vile tract." "Calvin was accused in it with being ambitious, presumptuous, arrogant, cruel, evil, vindictive, and above all, ignorant. Also he was described as an avaricious and greedy man, as an imposter who claimed he could resurrect the dead, as a lover of rich fare, worst yet: as a gadabout and a Sodomite, who, for his infamous habits, had been sentenced in the city of his birth, Noyon, to be branded with a red-hot iron." Stauffer continues over the next couple of pages quoting mainly Roman Catholic but also Protestant writers who have done their utmost to picture the Reformer as a thoroughly evil man. Jealousy prompted hatred That Roman Catholics hated him is understandable because Calvin more than any other was able to show the evil of Roman doctrine, which enslaved people to men rather than make them servants of the living Savior. But where does this hatred – for that is what it is – of Calvin come from in the Protestant camp? I think we must seek the answer in the way that Calvin, more than anyone, sought to give all honor for our salvation to Jesus Christ. He opposed all forms of what later would be called Arminianism. It is not our own efforts that save us but only the completed sacrifice of our Lord Jesus Christ. Those who didn't bow their knee as he did, were shown up by Calvin's humility, and that likely made him enemies. Another reason for the hatred toward Calvin is, without doubt, that he labored without ceasing to help the spread of the Reformed doctrine. He was a giant, and so he was a target. While giving a write-up on the book Letters of John Calvin, one reviewer noted Calvin "...regularly lectured to theological students, preached on average five times a week and authored enough material to fill forty-eight enormous volumes. could scarcely be expected to show enthusiasm for correspondence. Yet the Complete Works of John Calvin include another eleven volumes of his correspondence." His letters show his nature Calvin’s many, many writings reveal a humble, caring man. He penned the following as a dedication in honor of his Latin teacher, one Mathurin Cordier, (whose Latin grammar textbook was still being used in the 19th century). This appears at the beginning of Calvin’s commentary on 1 Thessalonians: "…. it was under your guidance that I entered on a course of studies, and made progress at least to the extent of being of some benefit to the Church of God. When my father sent me as a boy to Paris I had done only the rudiments of Latin. For a short time, however, you were an instructor sent to me by God to teach me the true method of learning, so that I might afterwards be a little more proficient…. for me it was a singular kindness of God that I happened to have a propitious beginning to my studies…. It was my desire to testify to posterity that, if they derive any profit from my writings, they should know that to some extent you are responsible for them." Reader, do you here recognize the description given by Jerome-Hermes Bolsec? I know I do not. Here is another, this one addressed to John Knox, in which Calvin expresses his joy at the advance of the Gospel in Scotland. Remember John Knox had studied under Calvin in Geneva. At the same time he uses the opportunity to express his sympathy to John Knox who had just lost his wife. Calvin wrote: "Your distress for the loss of your wife justly commands my deepest sympathy. Persons of her merit are not often to be met with. But as you have learned from what source consolation for your sorrow is to be sought, I doubt not but you endure with patience this calamity. You will salute very courteously all your pious brethren. My colleagues also beg me to present to you their best respects." At the time of Calvin’s death in 1564, Farel who years before had persuaded Calvin that his task lay in Geneva, wrote that he wished he could have died instead: "Oh, why was I not taken away in his stead, and preserved to the church which he has so well served, and in combats harder than death? He has done more and with greater promptitude than any one, surpassing not only the others by himself. Oh, how happy he has run a noble race! May the Lord grant that we run like him, and according to the measure of grace that has been dealt out to us." Shortly before his death Calvin wrote to Farel and, though Calvin was dying, his concern was for Farel. He told Farel, an old man at this time, that there was no need to rush to Calvin's deathbed: "Farewell, my most excellent and upright brother; and since it is the will of God that you should survive me in the world, live mindful of our intimacy, which, as it was useful to the church of God, so the fruits of it await us in heaven. I am unwilling that you should fatigue yourself for my sake. I draw my breath with difficulty, and every moment I am in expectation of breathing my last. It is enough that I live and die for Christ, who is to all his followers a gain both in life and death. Again I bid you and your brethren farewell." Conclusion Let me finish this article by quoting once again from the booklet The Humanness of John Calvin. The author concludes with words written by Nicolas des Gallars, who was one of Calvin’s colleagues in Geneva for several years: What labors, what sleeplessness and worry he bore, with what keenness and finesse he foresaw dangers, with what zeal he guarded against them, what fidelity and understanding he showed in everything, what a kind and obliging spirit he had toward those who came to him, how quickly and frankly he answered those who asked him even the most serious question, with what wisdom he settled both privately and publicly the difficulties and problems which were posed for him to settle, with what sensitivity he comforted those who grieved and lifted up the broken and discouraged, how resolutely he opposed the enemies, how ardently he attacked the prideful and the obstinate, with what grandeur of spirit he endured misfortune, with what restraint he behaved in prosperity, and finally with what dexterity and élan he discharged all the duties and responsibilities of a true and faithful servant of God, I could certainly not be able to convey fully by the use of any words. I have quoted only a few excerpts by or about Calvin and would direct any one interested in finding out more to investigate either The Humanness of Calvin, or his letters. It will certainly close the door upon some of the slander which passes for serious study in some quarters. A version of this article was first published in the July/August 2002 issue. Rene Vermeulen published more than 150 articles in the pages of Reformed Perspective from 1984-2010. ...
Adult non-fiction, Church history
What God has done in Korea
The Korean Pentecost tells the remarkable story of Christianity in 20th century Korea ***** Christianity is originally an Asian religion. It can seem strange to think of Christianity that way now because currently, Christianity has less presence in Asia than perhaps any other continent. That’s largely because Islam violently expunged most Christians from Asia hundreds of years ago. However, in one part of Asia, Christianity has been growing since the beginning of the twentieth century. South Korea probably has the strongest presence of Protestant Christianity of any Asian country. Yet life for Christians in Korea has not always been easy as is clear from its numerous martyrs during the twentieth century. Their sure confidence in God, even in the face of death, is an example to us. 1832 – Protestantism arrives in Korea While there may have been a Roman Catholic presence in Korea from as early as the 1500s, it wasn’t until 1832 that the first Protestant missionary, a German, came to visit Korea. However, he was in the country only briefly. It wasn’t for thirty-three years before another Protestant missionary arrived. In 1865, Rev. Robert Thomas, a Welshman, boarded an American ship, The General Sherman, to take gospel tracts and Bibles from China to Korea. However, many Koreans were suspicious and fearful of the intentions of those on that ship, and therefore set it on fire. As crewmembers swam ashore, the Koreans killed them. Rev. Thomas made it to shore with some of his Christian literature, but he was killed as well. Years later, in 1893, American missionaries of the Methodist and Presbyterian churches established permanent residences in Pyongyang, Korea. The following year, as a result of the First Sino-Japanese War (1894-1895, in which China and Japan fought over the Korean Peninsula) Christians in that city fled into the countryside. They shared the gospel with others, and by the war’s end, many Koreans had become Christians. As missionary William Blair put it, “God’s Spirit had been using those days of war and peril to make men welcome the message of his love and the comfort of the gospel.” 1901 – William Blair arrives The missionaries visited each new group of Christians. However, there were too few missionaries to keep up with all the work because of the large number of new converts. Additional help was requested from America. William Blair was a young missionary who responded to this call and went to Korea. He arrived in 1901 under the auspices of the Board of Foreign Missions of the Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A. Blair later put pen to paper to record his experiences in Korea, and is one of the two authors of the recently republished The Korean Pentecost and the Sufferings Which Followed. His first-hand account of what God did in those early years make up the first part of the book. (The second half, by his son-in-law Bruce Hunt, covers the period of Japanese persecution and then the post-World War II Communist persecution of the Christians in North Korea.) Upon his arrival, Blair’s first task was to learn the Korean language. Then he began his missionary work in earnest. Interestingly, he found that the fact that Jesus was not an American made Christianity more appealing to Koreans. In his words, “It makes a world of difference to an Oriental to know that Jesus was born in Asia.” Blair and the other Presbyterian missionaries carried on their regular tasks of evangelism, Bible study, catechizing, baptizing, etc. year after year. The success of their efforts led them to set up an autonomous Korean Presbyterian Church in 1907. However, Korea was under Japanese occupation, and a strong anti-Japanese and anti-foreigner nationalism was taking hold in Korea. Even Korean Christians were caught up in this nationalism. Some of the anti-foreigner sentiment was directed towards the American missionaries by Korean Christians. 1907 - The Korean Revival It was during this time of crisis that a large, days-long Bible study class for men was held in a Presbyterian church in Pyongyang, early in January 1907. American missionaries and Korean pastors took part in leading the meetings. About 1,500 men attended in the evenings. On the second night of these meetings, Blair writes, “a sense of God’s nearness, impossible of description” was felt. A Korean pastor called upon the men to pray. According to Blair: “As the prayer continued, a spirit of heaviness and sorrow for sin came down upon the audience. Over on one side, someone began to weep, and in a moment the whole audience was weeping.” The following night was even more unusual. Early on, one of the Korean elders publicly confessed to the sin of personally hating William Blair. He then asked Blair to forgive him and to pray for him. As Blair began to pray, “It seemed as if the roof was lifted from the building and the Spirit of God came down from heaven in a mighty avalanche of power upon us.” Men throughout the meeting began to pray aloud, some lying prostrate on the floor, others standing with their arms outstretched towards Heaven. The missionaries had been praying for an outpouring of God’s Spirit upon the people and they realized their prayers were being answered. Many of those praying felt a need to publicly confess their sins and the missionaries gave them an opportunity to do so. Public confession of sin As Blair relates: “Every sin a human being can commit was publicly confessed that night. Pale and trembling with emotion, in agony of mind and body, guilty souls, standing in the white light of that judgment, saw themselves as God saw them. Their sins rose up in all their vileness, till shame and grief and self-loathing took complete possession; pride was driven out, the face of men forgotten.” This was an unusual way to conduct a meeting and Blair knew that. But he notes, “We may have our theories of the desirability or undesirability of public confession of sin. I have had mine; but I know now that when the Spirit of God falls upon guilty souls, there will be confession, and no power on earth can stop it.” After this series of meetings, the men returned home with a new enthusiasm and a special closeness to God. “Everywhere the story was told the same Spirit flamed forth and spread till practically every church, not only in North Korea, but throughout the entire peninsula had received its share of the blessing.” Those were exciting times for Christians in Korea. Unfortunately, as Bruce Hunt relates in his portion of The Korean Pentecost, severe hardship and persecution were just around the corner. Japanese oppression As mentioned, Korea was under Japanese occupation. The Japanese hated Christianity because they saw it as a threat to their authority. Some Christians were arrested and tortured. The situation became worse shortly after the end of World War One. With President Woodrow Wilson advocating for the self-determination of small nations, many Koreans felt a need to speak out on behalf of their own country’s independence. Hunt writes: “A Declaration of Independence was secretly drawn up and signed by thirty-three prominent leaders in Korea. Fifteen of the signers, including the Rev Kil Sunjoo, a nationally beloved evangelist and Bible teacher, were Christians.” The Japanese reacted violently to that declaration, wounding and killing many Korean nationalists. Because Christians were prominent among the nationalist leaders, Christians in general were singled out by the Japanese for punishment. Many of them were killed. A major conflict erupted over education. The Japanese authorities demanded that all schools be registered with the government and use government-approved curriculum. Religious – in other words, Christian – instruction was forbidden. Later, the Japanese partially relented and allowed some Christian instruction, but frequently the Christian teachers were not acceptable to Japanese authorities and therefore not allowed to teach. Compulsory idolatry Things got even worse when the authorities began requiring all teachers and students to regularly bow before Shinto shrines to demonstrate that they were loyal subjects. Shinto is a religion in which the Japanese Emperor is considered to be a deity. Bowing to a shrine shows loyalty and submission. This is analogous to Roman times when Christians were expected to offer incense to the Roman Emperor, who was also considered divine. At first, Christians knew they could not participate in idolatry by bowing to the shrines. Gradually, however, compromise set in and some were able to rationalize the activity. Eventually the Japanese decided they wanted all subjects to bow to Shinto shrines regularly. All public meetings, including Presbytery and General Assembly meetings of the Presbyterian Church, had to be opened with Shinto bowing. Many Christians broke under the strain and went along with this idolatry. The church became divided between a majority who compromised with Japanese demands and a minority who determined to remain faithful to God. The Presbyterian General Assembly itself compromised and declared (under heavy government pressure) that shrine worship was not idolatry. As a result, faithful Christians withdrew from the Korean Presbyterian Church to worship separately. Hunt writes: “Following the example of the Scottish Covenanters, a statement was drawn up, pointing out the biblical teaching on shrine worship and the necessity of breaking completely from those who condoned idolatry. From then on, no one was baptized who did not give consent to this document, and no one was allowed to lead services who had not subscribed to it.” Those that remained faithful were persecuted, often imprisoned and even killed. According to Hunt, no one knows how many Christians were killed for refusing to participate in Shinto worship. 1939 – A courageous testimony in Japan In 1939, Elder Pak Kwanjoon made an especially courageous testimony against Japan’s persecution of Korean Christians. He traveled to Japan with two other Christians to protest directly to the government. On March 21, all three went into the Japanese Parliament, which is known as the National Diet, with leaflets hidden in their clothing. They took places in the gallery above the four hundred Diet members. When Pak gave the signal, all three threw their leaflets onto the members of the Diet. Hunt writes: “Elder Pak’s leaflet urged the Japanese government to cease from its rebellion against God in forcing shrine worship on its people, lest the wrath of God fall upon the country. Pak’s leaflet 1) urged that Christianity be made the national religion of Japan, and 2) warned that if Japan continued to persecute Christianity, she would be destroyed” It may be worth noting that six years later Japan surrendered to the Allies after being devastated by two atomic bombs. Could that be a fulfillment of Elder Pak’s words? He was arrested and sent back to Korea where he died in prison shortly before the end of WWII. 1945 – From the frying pan into the fire Of course, with the end of World War Two in 1945, Korea was freed from Japanese oppression. Unfortunately, the Soviet Union occupied the northern part of the country and imposed Communism. Hunt notes that from the Communist perspective: “Christianity was interpreted as a political crime, an act of vilest rebellion against the state, ‘the people,’ and therefore deserving of the severest punishment, even death.” Korea’s northern Christians went from the frying pan into the fire. Before the end of 1945, Christians in North Korea were being imprisoned. This was just the beginning, for as Hunt writes: “After the Communists came into power in the northern half of Korea, thousands of Christians in that area, especially Christian ministers, church officers and leaders, were killed by them.” The few remaining North Korean Christians continue to suffer persecution to this very day. Conclusion Christianity is commonly seen as a European or Western religion but that is not true. Most of the events in the Bible occurred in Asia or Africa, and Jesus Himself was an Asian. The “Holy Land” is in Asia, not Europe. Currently, Christianity has little presence in most Asian countries. But since the late nineteenth century it has been growing successfully in Korea. The Korean Revival of 1907 is widely recognized as having had a great influence on the spread of Christianity in that nation. And the faithful testimony of Korean martyrs in the twentieth century should be better known in the West. The Korean Christians have suffered much for the faith but stood strong, assured that God remained with them. We can learn much from their example. Dr. Michael Wagner is the author many, many books, and is a regular contributor to Reformed Perspective....