Life's busy, read it when you're ready!

Create a free account to save articles for later, keep track of past articles you’ve read, and receive exclusive access to all RP resources.

Browse thousands of RP articles

Articles, news, and reviews with a Biblical perspective to inform, equip, and encourage Christians.

Get Articles Delivered!

Articles, news,and reviews with a Biblical perspective to inform, equip, and encourage Christians delivered direct to your inbox!


Most Recent



The Rest


Drama, Movie Reviews

End of the Spear

Drama 2005 / 108 minutes Rating: 7/10 This review first appeared in the January 2006 issue How does a Christian group succeed in presenting a major motion picture in secular theaters? How do they present a true story about the Truth setting an entire native tribe free…and do it without the director and producer of the film taking too much dramatic license? I must admit to being a bit disappointed when I viewed The End of the Spear during it’s opening weekend - it wasn’t quite the Christian story I had been hoping for. But then I spoke with a friend of mine from Wycliffe Bible Translators who had met Steve Saint, the author of the book from which the film was made, and I became much more sympathetic to the challenge he faced. This movie is based on the true story of five missionaries who went to Ecuador back in the 1950’s to the Waodani tribe (known to most as the Aucas), a fierce homicidal “Stone Age” tribe. Many people are acquainted with this account via the famous book Through Gates of Splendor by Elisabeth Elliot, the wife of the missionary Jim Elliot. Jim Elliot is also well known as the author of the quote: “He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose.” The missionaries reached out to the tribe but all five men were speared to death. Later on some of their wives and a sister went back and lived with the tribe, teaching them about Christ, and many were converted, giving up their violent ways. A church still exists there today, with Steve Saint, the son of the slain missionary Nate Saint, living among them. One movie becomes two The original goal was to make just one movie – The End of the Spear. But Steve Saint wasn’t willing to give in to the moviemakers’ desire to take dramatic license and change the actual events of the real story. In the end a compromise was made – first they made a true-to-life documentary. Afterwards, Steve consented to their taking some dramatic license in another film as long as it was still close enough to reality. The documentary, entitled Beyond the Gates of Splendor, was released to DVD in October 2005. It gives the entire story of the missionaries, from their days in Wheaton College until current times. The family members of the five missionaries are interviewed, along with several members of the Waodani tribe. Their faith in Christ and eagerness for their mission will no doubt be an inspiration to all who view this film. As for The End of the Spear, the story is told from the point of view of the natives, with less emphasis on the missionaries themselves. It focuses on what they thought and learned. It isn’t intended to be a “tract,” but rather, as one local commentator put it, it’s supposed to tell a true religious story “without beating people over the head with it.” An obscured message The major disappointment is that the name of Jesus Christ is never mentioned. We learn that the missionaries wanted to teach the people to give up spearing one another, and they would not kill the Waodani because those people were not ready for Heaven. God is referred to by His Waodani name, and the fact that He had a Son who “was speared but did not spear back” is mentioned. A converted Waodani woman shares with her tribe the fact that God left “carvings” for them to follow – in other words, information directly from Him on how He wanted them to live. But when the tribesman asks to see the carvings, no Bible is quoted from or shown. There is also a scene when the missionaries are afraid, yet they do not even pray! We learn that those who listened to the missionaries became peaceful, and near the end we do see that the “Gospel” has been translated into Waodani. But is all of this enough to accurately explain the transforming power of Christ that took place? There are enough pieces to the message/puzzle there for someone to take it and elaborate on it later. I couldn’t help but think of urban gang violence and revenge when the Waodani were spearing each other repeatedly at the beginning of the film. The clue is there: the same message that helped this tribe could help others. In fact, according to the movie's promotional materials, it was this hope for spreading the Gospel message that convinced the Waodani to put aside their embarrassment regarding their history and give permission for it to be told. But what could we really learn about the change of heart that took place in these people? Basically, we discovered that when the tribe learned about God’s Son not retaliating their lives were changed. I was left thinking that based only on what was in the film it would be possible for secular viewers to think of (the un-named) Christ as a Gandhi or any other non-divine “good teacher,” and remain happy and un-offended. At the end of the credits the filmmakers could have added, “no non-Christian positions were harmed in the making of this film.” To those of us who believe in the Truth, it is sad that the entire story of God’s redeeming love could not have been spelled out more clearly. We can hope that there is enough interest from the film to lead people to watch the documentary afterwards. Some final considerations A few other factors regarding the film should be mentioned. The scenery in both films is absolutely breathtaking, and especially so on the big screen where I saw it. Another factor to consider is the native dress. Missionaries have to deal with that, and while the Beyond the Gates of Splendor documentary showed the more authentic dress (read: almost naked), The End of the Spear film actually covered the people more than was authentic. If there is any time when one might say that nudity is acceptable, this would be it. Still, I found it rather disturbing, watching the thonged naked behinds of men running through the jungle for two hours. It’s something to consider before taking the whole family to see the film. There is no greater arrogance in our society today than for someone to state that he has the Truth. So, even in a movie telling the story of the Truth transforming the lives of many, Christ’s name and most tenets of the missionaries’ faith were carefully avoided. It reminded me of some brands of diet ice cream – where the basic substance is there but I find myself searching for the missing flavor. It was better than nothing, but it left me disappointed. “I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone that believes….” Romans 1:16a ...

Drama, Movie Reviews

Freedom

Drama 2014 / 94 minutes Rating: 7/10 Like many a film "inspired by true events," this isn't good history but it is pretty decent cinema. Freedom is really two stories in one, the first loosely based on the life of John Newton. He's the author of the hymn "Amazing Grace" and while the film gets the broad details of his life right – he was the captain of a slave trade ship, he did have an encounter with God on his ship, and he did turn his back on the slave trade – the timeline of those events has been greatly compacted. In real life, his rejection of the slave trade was a gradual shift over years and even decades, while in the film it seems more a matter of weeks. The second story takes place 100 years later, and is a fictional account of a family of slaves fleeing Virginia via the Underground Railroad. Cuba Gooding Jr. stars as the father, Samuel. He has his wife, son, and mother with him, and while his mother trusts in God's faithfulness for everything, Samuel has no interest in God. How, he asks, can any slave think God cares about them? It's unusual for a Christian film to ask difficult questions. While Samuel does come to God before film's end, both he, and we, are left with the realization that God might not give us all the answers we are after, or at least, not on this side of Heaven. What connects these two stories is a Bible that John Newton is supposed to have given Samuel's great grandfather when he was just a boy years ago. Samuel's mother still has it, and we take the leap back in time when she tells the story of how Newton came to give a Bible to a slave. Newton's "Amazing Grace" is the musical centerpiece to the story, but there are lots of other songs too. It isn't a musical, though – in musicals people just randomly start to sing instead of talk. Here most of the songs have a natural fit: characters sing because they are comforting someone, or as part of a performance, or they sing to pass the time. But whatever the reason they are singing, the music is very good! Cautions Freedom received an R rating for the violence that's done to the slaves. While many of the blows happen just offscreen, communicated more by sound than by visuals, it can be brutal. That makes this best suited for older teens and parents. While God's name is used throughout the film it is used appropriately, to either talk about Him, or to Him. There is one use of "damn." Conclusion One secular critic called this "an overly sentimental cinematic history lesson best suited for church and school groups" and while he meant it as a criticism, I'd just say he's nailed the target audience. The slave trade was brutal, and while this is too, it is only so in parts because the filmmakers didn't want to present an unvarnished look – they weren't trying to make a Schindler's List that'd leave everyone mute and depressed afterward. By presenting only some of the horror, they allow families to view and discuss it together with their older teens. Freedom could serve as an instructive introduction to this chapter of history... at least for teens and adults. ...

Documentary, Movie Reviews

Beyond the Gates of Splendor

Documentary 96 min; 2005 Rating: 7/10 In 1956 a team of five missionaries were killed by the Waodani tribesmen they were trying to befriend. The murders caught the attention of the world, but what happened next wasn't widely reported. Beyond the Gates of Splendor tells the story of what happened when one of the missionaries' widows and a sister came to live with the very people who had killed their loved ones. They did so at the risk of their own lives. At the time of the missionaries' contact with them, the Waodani were a murderous people, not only to newcomers but with each other too. The documentary drives home that point with one native recounting his family tree by pointing out where each member of his family had been speared to death – his uncle over there, his dad a few years later by that bigger tree, another uncle further away in the bushes. “Waodani children grew up understanding they would spear and live, or be speared and die.” No one died of old age. But as brutal and vengeful as the Waodani were, the bloodshed stopped when the women's example was used by the Holy Spirit – some of the tribe turned to God. Caution Readers should bear in mind that, due to the native style of dress, there are frequent, though very brief moments of National Geographic type nudity, including topless Waodani women, and a lot of naked backsides. There are also some descriptive conversations about violent deaths, and some imagines shared of the missionaries' dead bodies. Conclusion While an animated video, The Jim Elliot Story, and a dramatized feature film, End of the Spear, have also been made about the missionaries, this documentary was needed to fill in the rest of the story – how the tribe lives today – and to bring more to the fore the spiritual transformation God worked, changing these rebellious murderers into repentant children. While some Christian films can be preachy, Beyond the Gates trusts that the facts of the matter will speak for themselves. That makes this a very good presentation of an astonishing story. Be sure to check out the trailer below. ...

Book Reviews, Teen fiction

The Revolt: a novel in Wycliffe's England

by Douglas Bond 269 pages /  2016 I was never a fan of Church history in school, but I've come to realize that this was really the textbook's fault. It was a series of dry and weary titles, with lots of dates and facts, but no story to them. So I owe a debt of thanks to Douglas Bond for reviving my interest in what is really a most important topic, and he has done so by telling great stories. Sometimes, as he has in this novel, that story-telling involves weaving in fiction among the facts, so I can just imagine someone saying, "But then you're not really learning Church history, are you? Not if lots of it is made up!" Ah yes, but I know more Church history than I once did, and it was painless! And what's more, Bond's fictionalized biographies – he's tackled Calvin, Knox, C.S. Lewis, and now Wycliffe – left me wanting to know more about these men. So after read a Bond book I've followed it up with reading non-fiction books about, or by, all of them. My old Church history textbook never inspired me to do that! In The Revolt, Bond takes on an early Reformer, John Wycliffe, who lived and died more than 100 years before Martin Luther nailed up his 95 theses. Like Luther, Wycliffe was a man very much on his own – he had followers, but not really colleagues. He was the trailblazer who decided that, contrary to what the Pope and Church has pronounced, the common people needed to hear the Bible in their own tongue. One thing he had going for himself is that he lived in a time when there was two popes at the same time, which made it easier to question the need for submission to the pope. Wycliffe doesn't actually show up until page 62, so this is more a book about the England of his time than about him. The story begins with a young scholar on the battlefields of France, where the English army is surround by a much larger French force. The scholar has been assigned the task of recording the events, so while everyone else has a bow, or a battle axe, or something with some sort of sharp steel end, he is armed only with his quill. It's a great beginning, and from then on we follow along with this scholar who serves as the story's narrator. Through him we meet peasants, other scholars, and finally Wycliffe himself. The Revolt is a novel most any adult would find an easy and enjoyable read. I'm not sure, though, that this would be a good book for a teenager who is only a casual reader. It is a very good story, but it's not the non-stop "thrill ride" that so many Young Adult books try to be these days. To put it another way, this is far from a heavy read, but it's also not a light read either. However, for anyone with any interest in Church history, this is an ideal way to learn more. I sure hope Douglas Bond keeps on coming up with these great fictionalized "biographies"! ...

Book Reviews, Teen non-fiction

Nero

by Jacob Abbott 2009, 202 pages How do you make history come alive for teens? Sometimes it means turning to an author long dead. Jacob Abbott died 125 years ago, but a quick read through this volume explains why his books endure. The original 1853 edition of Nero is available for free in many places online, and is well worth downloading to your Kindle. But it does benefit from the updating that publisher Canon Press has done to their version. Some longer 70-word sentences have been broken up and editor Lucy Zoe Jones has also replaced a few obscure words like "declivities," "salubrity," and "preternatural." Little else was required. Now, Nero's life might not seem like appropriate material for a biography aimed at teens – this Roman emperor indulged in every sort of immorality. However Abbott is both a tactful and talented writer. He doesn't delve into the salacious details, so younger readers will only encounter a broad overview of Nero's wickedness. But Abbott does tuck in a bit more information in between the lines, there to be read and understood by older, less naive readers. It's an impressive feat. Like many good teen books, adults will enjoy this as well - it is a engaging introduction to a key figure in both Church and Western history. For Canadian readers, this edition is available at Christianbook.com. In the US you can find it at CanonPress.com. where you can find more of these great updated Jacob Abbot biographies like: Cyrus Xerxes Alexander the Great Hannibal Julius Caesar Cleopatra Alfred the Great William the Conqueror Elizabeth I ...

Adult biographies, Book Reviews, Church history

Radiant: Fifty remarkable women in Church history

by Richard M. Hannula 330 pages / 2015 I found this book very interesting and met a lot of fascinating women. Professor Eta Linnemann who taught historical-critical theology for 30 years but in 1978 became convinced that she was wrong and she threw out all the books and articles she had written and asked those who had bought her material to do the same. Bilquis Sheikh (1912-1997), a very wealthy woman in Pakistan in a prominent caste who was unhappy with what she read in the Koran. She compared it to the Bible and became a Christian. Her daughter asked her why she was doing this. Bilquis answered: “My dear, there is nothing that I can do but be obedient.” She was baptized but had to flee the USA to save herself from being murdered. Queen Berta (550-606) who prayed for her husband, King Ethelbert to be converted. She was a shining example of a Christian wife and eventually he did become a Christian.  The Pope sent him along with Augustine and 40 monks for mission work to the Kingdom of the Franks where they were given a run down little church which was the beginning of Canterbury Cathedral. Monica, the mother of Augustine, is also mentioned. It was told her by the Bishop that “it cannot be that the son of these tears should perish.” There are many more short profiles including Martin Luther’s wife, and Francis Schaeffer’s wife. The author and publisher come from a Reformed background, so most of the women Richard Hannula profiles are people we’d agree with on most theological matters. But as you might expect in a book that covers 50 different women, there are also a few who got notable matters wrong. For example, Hannula tells us of Amanda Smith, a former slave, who travelled the world singing and sharing her testimony about Jesus Christ. She was told that the Holy Spirit could perfect here on Earth so that she could live her life from then on without sin. She prayed for this perfection and believed she had received it. So this should not be read as some sort of theological treatise. It is, however, a fascinating look at, as my minster Rev. Kampen once put it, how the Lord spreads his Gospel message using imperfect people, in imperfect ways, with their problematic interpretations of the Bible. What came to mind in reading this book was how St. Boniface brought the Bible to those stubborn and wild Frisians – I remembered my mother once telling me that Boniface not only brought the Gospel but also relics. His was a flawed presentation, but it was still the Word of God, and we must not underestimate how God will use it. My thoughts are not with some of the irritations as mentioned above but with the amazing women in "God's army" who had such a love for the Word of God and were so convicted to follow His example. These are wonderful stories. I would most certainly recommend it, but add the caution that readers do need to have some level of discernment....

Book excerpts, Book Reviews

Turning it to our good - an excerpt from "Man of the First Hour"

A great reason to read biographies is because they are an antidote to short-term thinking. When you’re caught up in the moment it’s easy to fixate on how hard-pressed you are, or how weak, or how hurt. When we’re thinking about only the now, we’re liable to question where God is, and forget how faithful God has shown Himself in the past. Biographies take us out of the immediate by showing us how God has operated in a person’s life over that lifetime. So yes, they faced challenges and difficulties, but an overview of their whole life will often allow us to see exactly how God caused “all things to work together for good to those who love God” (Rom. 8:28). RP’s newest release, Man of the First Hour by George Van Popta, is a biography about his father Jules Van Popta, the very first pastor of the Canadian Reformed Churches. If you’ve ever despaired about how things today are getting worse and worse, it’ll be such an encouragement to see that some of the challenges this pioneer had to face have definitely improved since then. In fact, one of the challenges his generation had to face has been transformed into a blessing that benefits us greatly today. As George van Popta writes in this excerpt from the book: “One of the questions that confronted my father right from the beginning was whether a member of the church could join a trade union (ch. 7). This issue had arisen in the New Westminster church and the consistory had decided that membership in a trade union was incompatible with church membership. Brother Efraim Baartman, an office-bearer in New Westminster, and my father published articles about unions and union membership in the first yearbook (1952) of the churches. Both articles demonstrate the incompatibility of such dual and conflicting memberships. My father’s very thorough piece is added as an appendix to this book (appendix 3). He carefully analyzed a number of union constitutions and showed how a member was required to pledge to obey future decisions the union would make. A Christian, said my father, owes that allegiance to Christ, and to Christ alone. “My father’s position on union membership left a stamp on the Canadian Reformed Churches. In Canadian Reformed culture there has been an aversion to joining and binding oneself to a union. The pages of the Year-End issue of Clarion, a magazine widely read in the Canadian Reformed Churches, are replete with advertisements and well-wishes from many businesses owned by members of the churches. Some companies trace their origins to the stalwart efforts of the early immigrants. These independent businesses have been an incalculable blessing to the churches, providing employment for thousands of people who, in turn, are well able to support the ministry of the gospel, the Christian schools, old age homes, summer evangelism, political associations, diaconal relief efforts, and more.” There were other reasons not to join a union: their adversarial underpinnings, an offshoot of Marxist thinking that sees the worker as having to fight ownership; union members striking while also preventing replacement workers from filling in (they acted as if the job was theirs, rather than belonging to the business owner who created it, and in this way they stole the job); and union dues being used to fund ungodly political efforts. While these issues haven’t gone away, we can see that many of them have gotten better. For example, the Christian Labor Association of Canada is a union that specifically renounces the Marxist adversarial approach. More encouraging still is seeing how God used the difficulties then to build His Church now. Entrepreneurs started businesses so that they and their brothers and sisters could find non-union work, and some of those businesses today fund much of the good our Church community is involved in. This can be an encouragement for us today. Our corporate culture’s embrace of “Pride Month” in June is another indicator of how hard it’s becoming for a Christian to get a job in a big company. Will they hire someone who won’t pretend that Fred – who now goes by Fredina – is a woman? What will they think of someone who doesn’t want a rainbow flag on his desk? Certain jobs may be out of bounds once again for the faithful Christian. That is a challenge. In the short-term that can be downright depressing. But God has promised that He will turn this to our good. And in reading great biographies like Man of the First Hour, we can be encouraged to see how He has done so many times before. Order ”Man of the First Hour” at Press.ReformedPerspective.ca. ...

Animated, Movie Reviews, Watch for free

Torchlighters: the Eric Liddell Story

Animated / Family 2007 / 31 minutes Rating: 6/10 Eric Liddell is best known for the stand he took to not compete in the 1924 Olympic 100-meter race. He was among the United Kingdom's best chances at a medal, but he didn't want to run because doing so would require him to run in a heat on Sunday. Despite enormous pressure to compromise for the sake of his country, he still refused, pointing to the 4th Commandment's call to "remember the Sabbath Day, to keep it holy." His country was important to him, but it came a distant second to his God. Eventually, a different sort of compromise was struck, which had Liddell run in the 200 and 400-meter races instead, winning a bronze and a gold. His firm convictions, and his outstanding athletic performances, were the subject of the 1981 film (and Oscar winner for Best Picture) Chariots of Fire. However, Hollywood indulged in a bit of artistic license. They made it seem as if Liddell only found out about the Sunday heat on the boat ride to the Paris Olympics, but the truth, as shown much more accurately in this animated video, is that Liddell knew months before. While both film and video cover Eric-the-athlete, this video covers his later years too, as Eric-the-missionary. Liddell was born in China, to Scottish missionary parents, and while educated in Scotland, actually spent most of his life in China. He returned there after the Olympics, serving as a missionary from 1925, until 1943, which is when the Japanese invaded. He could have fled, and he did send his family away, but Liddell stayed to continue telling the Chinese about God. That cost him, as he ended up in a Japanese internment camp, but even there he remained a faithful witness until his death in 1945, likely due to a brain tumor. Cautions This would have gotten at least a 7/10 if not for the choice the creators made to have Chinese characters speak broken and stilted English – their inarticulate language skills make them look a little dumb. Liddell was raised in China, which means his Mandarin was likely excellent, and for important conversations, they likely would have all used the language they all knew well, and his Chinese friends could have been shown speaking clearly and articulately in their native language. Maybe I'm wrong. Maybe they were all trying to learn English, and so that's the language they all spoke all the time, some better, and many worse. But I doubt it, and that's why I knocked a star off what is otherwise a solid account of a faithful and fascinating man. Also, as noted earlier, Liddell does die in a Japanese camp, and while that is not depicted, if you have some sensitive younger souls, you might want to give them a heads up early on, so that ending doesn't come as a shock. Conclusion This is more educational than entertaining, but I think families could enjoy watching this together – that it is a true story does make it compelling. To say it another way, this might not be the sort of video your kids will ask mom and dad to put on, but if you start it going, and the whole family is watching together, I don't think there will be many complaints. So sit back and be inspired by a man who knew that God was worthy of all honor, and most certainly came before fame and before his own safety. You can watch The Eric Liddell Story for free below, with commercial interruptions. For an ad-free presentation, you can sign up, also for free, at RedeemTV.com. ...

Documentary, Movie Reviews, Watch for free

A Return to Grace: Luther's life and legacy

Docudrama 2017 / 106 minutes Rating: 8/10 What makes this a must-see is its unique mix of drama and documentary. Other great Luther documentaries exist, but the most engaging of "talking heads" can't really grab the attention of a broad audience. I have seen even children enjoy one of the many dramatized accounts of his life, but drama can't go into the same depth as a documentary – an actor can show us Luther's despair or his joy, but they can't depict the greatness of God's grace, so, in this genre, it goes largely unexplored. A Return to Grace is a docudrama – half documentary and half drama, making good use of the strengths of each. There are learned theologians to give us the background and explain the Scriptural debates that occurred, and there are also elaborately set and well-acted scenes from Luther's life. I would guess it is a near 50/50 split. Pádraic Delaney's Luther is very believable (and maybe second only to Niall MacGinnis' 1953 portrayal), speaking volumes with not just his tongue, but his grimaces, smiles, and silences. I've probably watched at least a half dozen Luther films, and I've never seen the chronology of Luther's life depicted as clearly. There are also explanations offered here that are left as mysteries elsewhere. Have you ever wondered why the Pope didn't just crush this monk early on when he was still seemingly insignificant? The answer shared here is that the Pope didn't want to make an enemy of Luther's prince, Frederick III, because the prince was one of the seven electors who would choose the next Holy Roman Emperor. The Pope had no direct say in that selection, and if he hoped to have any sort of influence at all, he would need to be on the good side of the electors. God so set the scene that the Pope had to act cautiously and with restraint and couldn't just burn Luther at the stake. While I was familiar with only one of the theologians interviewed (United Reformed professor Carl Trueman), they all had some great Luther gems to share. James Korthals, a professor at Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary contributed this one about Luther's view on vocation: "The  farmer out in the field pitching dung is doing a greater work for God than the monk in the monastery praying for his own salvation." This was, at the time, a revolutionary idea of vocation. Even today, many seem to think that minister and missionary are the true God-glorifying jobs, and all else is second best. In saying all jobs could be done to God's glory, Luther presented all fruitful work as being worthy of respect. This is one of the ideas highlighted in the film's alternate title: Martin Luther: The Idea That Changed the World. The story here is first and foremost about Luther rediscovering the gracious nature of God, but it is also about Luther's influence as it impacted people far beyond the church door, and about the ripples that continue to be felt even today, and even in the secular world. Cautions I have no real cautions for the film. I was a little concerned when a Roman Catholic Cardinal, Timothy Dolan, made a few brief appearances. But he doesn't say much of anything, and even concedes that Luther's rebellion was understandable against that old corrupted Roman Catholic Church. He might be implying that today's Roman Catholic Church is different, but he isn't given the time to make that case. Conclusion Return to Grace's drama/documentary combination draws viewers in without sacrificing depth. I'll add that this still isn't one for preteens, but for adults, and teens who are on their way, this will be a fascinating presentation of the man, and what he learned about our great God. So don't save it for Reformation Day – it's free to see now (though with some commercials). ...

Family, Movie Reviews, Watch for free

Patterns of Evidence: Young explorers

Docudrama 190 minutes / 2020 Rating 7/10 This didn't grab me on a first viewing but as I wasn't the target audience, I thought I would still test it out on my kids. I'm glad I did: what's good-but-not-great for dad turned out to be downright funtastic for the younger set! This 5-episode series is based on filmmaker Timothy Mahoney's full-length documentary Patterns of Evidence about his search for evidence of Israel's captivity in Egypt. The original was part mystery, part biblical history and my wife and I both enjoyed it immensely, which is why I ordered this sequel of sorts. But what initially put me off of the Young Explorers version was the added element of a whole gang of kids helping Mahoney investigate this mystery. This is now not simply a documentary, but a docudrama, with fact and fiction, education and entertainment, all mixed together. The kids were decent actors but still kids, and while I enjoyed the gags and dry humor, it all struck me as just a bit...cheesy. However, after testing it out on my daughters, I realized what I was bristling against wasn't cheese so much as enthusiasm, and though the greybeard that I am should know better, I still sometimes succumb to that weird teenage cynicism that believes enthusiasm is the opposite of cool – I was actually faulting Mahoney's junior investigators for being eager beavers! But watching this with my own kids, then the gangs' enthusiasm became a key feature of the film: here were 10 keeners sharing their passions, and no one was getting mocked for gushing about this or that. It was a whole group of geeky kids encouraging and cheering each other on. Would that my own kids can be like that (would that I can be like that!). So yes, a cynical, edgy, or critical audience will find plenty to mock here, and consequently won't be interested in the gang's big adventure. But if you've got geeky kids of your own, then they may just love it! There's a lot of love in the more than 3 hours of content. One highlight is the "Exploration Chamber" – a fictitious holodeck that the group can enter to then see and explore Egypt as it once was. Adults will appreciate how we hear directly from the horse's mouth, with Mahoney often interviewing the very critics he is trying to rebut. On my second viewing with the family I caught how there is humor on two levels here, with pratfalls for the kids, and dry humor for the adults - there are some snort-worthy moments! The five episodes in order cover: The adventures begins when the kids hear about Timothy Mahoney's work and are eager to help They learn that we may know where Joseph lived in Egypt The team searches for signs of captive Israel's population explosion The Young Explorers go search for signs of the 10 plagues The search continues on into Israel, where the team now investigates the fall of the walls of Jericho Caution There are no real content concerns so the only caution I'll offer is not to take Mahoney's conclusions as the final word. Mahoney isn't the only one trying to solve these mysteries, and while his answers are especially compelling, there seem to be some other creationist contenders. Conclusion While this isn't something for dad to watch on his own, it could be some great viewing for the family...if your teens aren't going through that overly critical phase. Or skip the teens altogether and watch this with your elementary ages kids: they love it...and mom and dad will too. The one downside? It is pricey, running between $30-$45 US. You can buy it for online streaming at Christian Cinema, and Christianbooks.com, or buy it on DVD at PatternsOfEvidence.com. You can also watch it for free (you will have to register an account) at RedeemTV.com here. To get a feel for the series, check out the trailer below and find other sneak peeks here. ...

Adult biographies, Book Reviews

Saint Patrick

by Jonathan Rogers 2010 / 132 pages While legends about St. Patrick (385-461) abound, facts about this Irish saint are hard to come by. Jonathan Rogers explains that the most substantive information we have about Patrick comes from just two documents, which are the only pieces of writing we have from the man himself. The Confession of Saint Patrick, lays out his theological beliefs, even as he shares the story of his capture by Irish slavers, and his later escape back to civilization. The Letter send to the soldiers of Coroticus, was a plea to a British raider to return the newly baptized Irish Christians the man had stolen and taken off to slavery. These two documents are included, in their entirety, as appendices in the back of this slim volume. Rogers uses the remaining 100 pages to put Patrick's writings in a historical and cultural context. The biggest eye-opener for me was the reason Ireland hadn’t yet been evangelized. With the Christianization of the Roman Empire, people of this time saw “outside the Empire” as being “outside the Church.” So to most it was unthinkable that the barbarian Irish could even become Christian. But it wasn't inconceivable to Patrick. My takeaway from this book is that what made Patrick special was his zeal for lost people that others thought irredeemable. That’s a takeaway worth applying. While new copies are getting scared, used copies abound, and the e-book is readily available on Amason....

Christian education

Why study History?

Things that we have heard and known, that our fathers have told us. We will not hide them from their children, but tell to the coming generation the glorious deeds of the Lord, and his might, and the wonders that he has done. – Psalm 78:3-4 ***** History is important for day-to-day life in ways that most of us don’t know. A shared history unifies communities, and knowing history can inspire individuals to be better people because they can learn from previous generations what to do and what to watch out for. Recently history professor John Fea of Messiah College in Pennsylvania wrote a book about the importance of history called Why Study History? Reflecting on the Importance of the Past. While an aim of the book was to encourage college students to major in history, what he shares would be beneficial to all Christians. Shared history binds us together Fea points out that historical accounts are important to the identity of communities: “We need the stories of our past to sustain us as a people. History is the glue that holds communities and nations together.” The history of our community (whether as a church, ethnic group, or political unit) creates a perception of shared experience with other members of our community. This helps to bind us to one another. The kind of experience we share with other community members will be influenced by how its history is presented. In a national context, competing groups may emphasize different aspects of the past and thus offer different versions of history. In the United States, disputes of this nature have arisen in public schools. Fea writes, “The battle over what American schoolchildren learn about the nation’s past has been a significant part of the ongoing culture wars in this country.” “Past” versus “history” Fea makes an distinction between what he calls “the past” and “history.” The past consists of all the events that have occurred before the present time. This includes the dates and facts about what happened. History, on the other hand, involves the creation of a narrative using information about the past. History is always written by a person, and each historian has to determine which information from the past is important and how it fits together. In this sense, history always involves an interpretive framework provided by the historian – all history is written from a particular perspective or worldview. The right worldview is key That being the case, it is very important to determine whether or not a particular historian works within a good worldview. For example, when a Marxist writes a history of the sixteenth century, he sees economic forces as the primary factors leading to the origin and success of the Reformation. He will discount the specifically “religious” aspects of the Reformation as window dressing for the real action which he believes is in the economic sphere. The Marxist does not even believe in God, so how could he attribute any facet of the Reformation to spiritual activity? It’s completely outside the realm of possibility in his worldview. Thus a Marxist interpretation of the sixteenth century will inevitably miss the most important aspect of the Reformation, namely, the work of God in restoring His truth to the church. A Reformed historian will look at exactly the same information as the Marxist and see an entirely different picture. The Reformed historian will focus on the religious and spiritual nature of the Reformation. Economic forces do matter at various points throughout history but they cannot account for genuine spiritual occurrences and the work of the Holy Spirit in the hearts of people. While there are many learned and thoughtful historians of various persuasions who have written important books, if they didn’t approach history from a Biblical Christian perspective it is possible that they missed important features of their subject. Like a Reformed historian, a Roman Catholic historian may also see the Reformation within a spiritual context. However, his analysis would likely be the opposite of the Reformed view. To him or her, the Reformation involved a schism from the true church. Clearly, the perspective held by any historian will provide the interpretive framework through which he or she evaluates the past. All historians operate within a particular worldview that determines what they will consider to be worthy of including in their account. Leftwing history Leftwing historians, often known as “progressive historians,” understand the importance of history in the life of a community. They also understand the power of historical interpretation as a method of promoting political change. Particular historical accounts can be used as the justification for political action. As a result, they interpret history through an especially leftwing framework as a means to advocate for socialist solutions. Fea explains: As these historians began to speak out against the injustices that they saw in society, they began to articulate a method of approaching the past that was concerned less with objectivity and more with activism. They looked to the past for antecedents to contemporary social problems that might help point the world in the right direction. Their accounts of American history, therefore, focus on the negative aspects and largely ignore the positive aspects. Fea notes, “They wrote books calling attention to the nation’s long history of injustice. Such works were largely one-sided, but that was the point.” If the United States is historically based on racist oppression and capitalist exploitation of the poor, then the way to improve it is through socialism. Government planners can enforce “social justice” through state coercion. This is the leftwing ideal, and it appears more plausible when backed by historical arguments about pervasive evil in the nation’s past. If individual freedom has led to oppression and exploitation, then it must be sacrificed to government control in order to achieve justice. History motivating politics In other words, a particular historical perspective becomes the underlying basis for an associated political agenda. History conducted in this way provides the driving force for a program of political change. The example of the “progressive historians” demonstrates the use of history in a powerful and negative way. But history can also be used to undergird a positive agenda. Fea points out that some American Christians have written history books to boost the case for Christian political activism. For example, if Christianity held a privileged position in earlier periods of American political life (and it did), then Christianity should not be expelled from American political life today. However, Fea also notes that some of these efforts by Christians have been so lopsided as to turn history into political propaganda, much like the progressive historians have done. This is certainly an error to avoid, but it does not discount the possibility of the proper use of history to buttress Christian activism in the culture wars. Sanctification Besides the political role of history mentioned above, history can also motivate us to improve ourselves as individuals. As Fea explains it, The past has the power to stimulate us, fill us with emotion, and arouse our deepest convictions about what is good and right. When we study inspirational figures of the past, we often connect with them through time and leave the encounter wanting to be better people or perhaps even continue their legacy of reform, justice, patriotism, or heroism. Used in this way, history can actually be an aid in sanctification. Conclusion History is important for the role it plays in binding communities together and in motivating political action. It can also help to encourage individuals to improve themselves or inspire them to become involved in a cause. The value of particular historical accounts will be heavily influenced by the perspective of the writer of the account. Only a Christian historian can truly appreciate the role of God in history. It’s hard to love something you know little about. Learning the history of your country can help you to love your country. Learning the history of your church may help you to appreciate your church more too. Whatever the case, it is certain that studying history is a valuable activity. This article first appeared in the November 2015 edition....

Documentary, Movie Reviews

Logic on Fire

Documentary 2015 / 102 minutes RATING: 7/10 Even if you don’t know Dr. Martyn Lloyd Jones (1899-1981) you likely do know some of the people praising him in this documentary. The list includes John MacArthur, Iain Murray, Kevin DeYoung, Sinclair Ferguson, and RC Sproul, who say of him: “I believe that Lloyd Jones was to twentieth century Britain what Charles Spurgeon was to the nineteenth century.” Like Spurgeon, this was a man God used to stir up Britain. The joy in watching this documentary is to see what God did, and how He acted through this servant. Another good quote from one of the interviewees highlighted how very different Lloyd Jones was from the pastors of his time and many of the celebrity pastors of our own. …he wasn’t at all seeker-friendly. In fact he was seeker-unfriendly, because he felt that a non-Christian ought to be deeply uncomfortable in church. Because you actually want him to be uncomfortable because you need to realize your need for the Gospel. The only caution I would offer is that while Lloyd Jones was generally Reformed, he got some notable matters wrong. For example, his views on baptism differed with those of the denomination he served – he seems to have opposed paedo-baptism, though not loudly. But that is an aside because it is his preaching, and his generally Reformed perspective, that are the focus here. Both my wife and I really enjoyed this very polished production, and it might be the most re-watched documentary in our house.  It comes comes with 2 bonus disks and a small hardback book among the extras. Logic on Fire would make a great gift for any pastor and anyone who enjoys Church history, or documentaries. It can be rented and streamed online for $6 US here. Canadians and Americans can order the DVD set via the Banner of Truth US website BannerOfTruth.org/US. ...

Book Reviews, Teen non-fiction

The Plot to Kill Hitler: Dietrich Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Spy, Unlikely Hero

by Patricia McCormick 184 pages / 2016 Dietrich Bonhoeffer was the youngest son in a large, loving, and intellectual family. When he, at a young age, announced that he planned to become a pastor, everyone was astonished. His father told him that it was a pity that he chose such “a quiet...uneventful life.” His brothers told him that his career choice meant a retreat from the big issues of the day. Little did they know that the gentle daydreaming Dietrich would one day challenge one of the most evil tyrants in history. The short chapters in this well-researched book contain aids to enhance the young reader's understanding of World War 2. Helpful also is the list of characters, and a time line. McCormick focuses our attention on Bonhoeffer’s fight against Hitler’s Nazi ideology, not on his struggle with his Christian beliefs so seemingly at odds with his chosen path of treason and murder. Nevertheless, if read in a classroom or family setting, this book could spur a lively discussion on the meaning of true discipleship. The question "Can we see evil and do nothing?" still resonates today. This book would be an excellent addition to our church, school and home libraries. Recommended for readers ages 12 and up....

Amazing stories from times past

The Son of the Clothmaker - a slice of the English Reformation

During the reign of Edward VI (1547-1553), Maurice Abbot, a clothmaker in Guildford, Surrey, England, and his wife Alice, became committed Protestants. And during their lifetime it wasn’t always easy to be so. Edward, the boy king, tubercular and frail, had the distinction of being the first English king who was raised Protestant. Zealous for the Reformed cause, if he had lived longer, the Church of England might well have become more explicitly Protestant. But God took him at the tender age of sixteen. After Edward's death it became difficult for Maurice and Alice to confess their faith publicly because Edward’s half sister, “Bloody” Mary Tudor, came to power. She vigorously tried to overturn the Reformation, and during her five-year reign, over 300 Protestants were burned at the stake. But times of persecution vanished when Elizabeth I ascended to the English throne in 1558. The Abbots rejoiced in her coronation. They breathed a sigh of relief as they resided peaceably in a cottage nestled beneath some trees in close proximity to the Wey River, openly able to practice their faith. Quite the fish story Then, in the year 1562, Alice Abbot was heavily pregnant. Uncomfortable and unable sleep one night, Alice eventually fell into an uneasy slumber and into a strange dream. She dreamt that if she but ate a jackfish, (a fish of the pike family), the baby she carried would become a great person and rise to a situation of prominence. A peculiar dream indeed! Maurice Abbot worked diligently at his trade but when all was said and done, clothworking was not a profitable business. The finishing of woven woolen cloth, was hard labor and paid very little. Alice related her unusual fish dream to Maurice and he shrugged. A few weeks later, due to give birth any day, she fetched a pail of water from the nearby Wey River. Sweating with exertion, she lifted the pail out of the water, and was amazed to see a jackfish splash about in the bucket. Having had a craving for jackfish ever since her dream, she went home, cooked the fish and ate it. Maurice shrugged again. But the narrative became known about town. Folks enjoy a good story. As it is with good stories, this one circulated outside the perimeters of the town of Guildford. After the baptism of the child, a few wealthy persons called on Maurice and Alice, offering to be patrons of the newborn baby who had been named George. Considering their low-born and rather impoverished condition, as well as the fact that they had little hope of sending their children to school, the couple thankfully accepted the provision. Now whether or not George's fortune would have prospered were it not for the jackfish tale is a matter of providential dispute. At any rate, George, as well as his older brother Robert, attended the free Royal Grammar School in Guildford and were taught reading, writing and Latin grammar. The school was free in name only; pupils consisted of those who could afford to pay the fees. Because they were healthy, good-natured and of quick minds, the patrons sent the boys on to higher education. To make a long story short, George eventually graduated from Oxford. The school was a Puritan stronghold at that time, with teachers who admired Calvin and Augustine. Grounded in Reformed theology, George felt called to become a minister. Regarded as an excellent preacher, his sermons drew large, listening crowds. Archbishop George! The years flew by and in 1611, George the clothmaker's son, rose to the rank of Archbishop of Canterbury. A bit of a gargantuan step - from the humble cottage on the banks of the Wey to Lambeth Palace on the banks of the Thames. His father and mother had died by this time. Dying within ten days of one another, they had been married for fifty-eight years. Perhaps it can be argued that their passing was an even more gargantuan step than that of their son George - from the humble cottage on the banks of the Wey to Everlasting Joy on the banks of the River of Life. Prior to becoming archbishop, George had been selected by King James 1 of England, together with other scholars, to translate the Bible. Calvinistic in theology, favoring the Puritans for their simplicity in worship, George Abbot remained within the Church of England. He never married and was a solitary man. Some considered him of a gloomy nature, unsmiling and rather somber; others counted him true to his principles and kind. Having attained to the highest church office in England, that of archbishop, George now lived in Lambeth Palace in London. Wealthy, respected and honored, he became a personal adviser to King James I. James had been brought up as a member of the Protestant Church of Scotland and often heeded the archbishop's advice. But this “Reformed” advice did not make George popular with those who had Roman Catholic leanings and at times put him out of favor with the king as well. For example, in 1618 James I published “the declaration of sports.” It was a declaration that allowed for Sabbath amusements. The archbishop regarded this declaration a clear temptation to break one of the Ten Commandment. James I had ordered this decree to be read out loud from the pulpit in all of England's churches. George willfully disobeyed his earthly king's order. He forbade the reading of the proclamation in his parish church. James I, rather fond of George, ignored his resistance, but it was not an easy time for the archbishop. A year later, in 1619, George founded a hospital. Resolved within himself to devote some of his wealth to benefit others, he remembered with fondness and nostalgia the town of Guildford where he had been born and bred. He meant to create work opportunities for his home town and he desired to support the elderly people living there. The health center was named Abbot's Hospital, or the Hospital of the Holy Trinity. Handsome inside, portraits of Abbot himself, of Wycliffe, of Foxe and of other Reformers, hung in the dining room. Doctor’s orders Over the years the effects of being harassed by those who disliked him, physically wore George down. Being a large and rather sedentary man, his doctor advised him to get more exercise. Consequently, he often walked about for recreation. Hunting was in vogue and even an archbishop was able to partake in that sport. As a matter of fact, the gay, hallooing troop of huntsmen rarely left the courtyard without an ecclesiastical person present among them. One night in July of 1621 found the archbishop in his library among all his books. However, he was not reading but cleaning his fowling piece. His crossbow, as well, lay nearby on the heavy oak library table. One of his servants inquired whether or not he was planning on going hunting. "Yes," he answered, "Lord Zouche has invited me to Bramhill House in Hampshire to hunt in his park there. It would be discourteous of me to refuse and the exercise will almost certainly do me some good." The next morning his servant saw him off. A groom rode at his side. An arrow deflected However, in the providence of God, a sad mishap occurred at Bramhill. While hunting with his crossbow at Lord Zouche's estate, the archbishop aimed and shot a barbed arrow at a deer. One of the gamekeepers, eagerly but carelessly beating the bush so that an animal might jump out for the hunters, suddenly appeared in the path of the party. The arrow which George Abbot had just discharged, went awry. Deflecting off a tree limb, it hit the gamekeeper. The man, whose name was Peter Hawkins and who had been warned more than once to keep out of harm's way, was wounded. The arrow had lodged in an artery in his left arm. Within one hour the man had bled to death. Horrified, the archbishop was thrown into deep despair. Walking up and down the apartment he had been given, he refused to speak to visitors, constantly repeating: "Whoso sheddeth man's blood, by man shall his blood be shed." There was nothing anyone could do or say to comfort him. Although the death was deemed an accidental homicide by all who had been present, George Abbot required the king's dispensation and pardon before he could resume his duties. Some of those who hated his Protestant policies sought his removal from office, insisting that a commission of inquiry be convened to examine what had happened in the accident. And such was the devastation, grief and guilt that George felt that he withdrew from public life during the inquiry. He refused to preach, ordain, baptize, or pray publicly in a service, depressed and sick at heart. Many of his friends began to avoid him, a number claiming that one who had killed another man should not hold the highest church office in England. Throughout the remainder of his life, George observed a monthly fast every Tuesday, the weekday on which the accident had taken place. He also settled an annuity of twenty pounds on Mrs. Hawkings, the gamekeeper's wife, an amount which soon brought her another husband. Although eventually, George Abbot received a full royal pardon, the incident was not forgotten. In the ensuing years, he also increasingly disagreed with the king's more liberal policies. Consequently, his influence at court dwindled. Although he still crowned Charles 1 in 1626, his became a minor role. More and more thwarted in leading the church, he was forced into early retirement although he remained as archbishop until his death. A twittering mob There is a story told of his last years. He was traveling by coach to his home, when a group of noisy women surrounded his carriage, harassing him with shouts and insults. Upon his entreating them to leave, they shouted: "Ye had best shoot an arrow at us then." George Abbot, the clothmaker's son and Archbishop of Canterbury died in 1633 at age 71. He was buried at the Guildford Church. Throughout his life he acted according to his God-given conscience and was not afraid of opposing kings when Biblical principles were at stake. A conscience is a gift from God and George Abbot had a strong one. Often suffering from depression, one of his major misdeeds seemed to haunt him right to the grave. Yet do all believers not have major misdeeds? For who has not had a hand in killing the Vinekeeper's Son? And who can plead the excuse of accidental homicide? George Abbot was a clothmaker's son, but he was actually more than that. Alongside him, believers do well to remember that all who believe in Jesus Christ as their only Savior are, like George, Soulmaker's sons.  "…then the Lord God formed the man of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living creature.” Gen. 2:7...

Church history

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...

Church history

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"...

Church history

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 be destructive, extremely destructive. Indeed, this type of zeal can become the devil's toy. ***** More than 250 years ago, a little girl was born in the parish of Ottery St. Mary, in the county of Devon in the west of England. The month was April and the year was 1750. Joanna Southcott, for so the girl-child was baptized, grew up in rather poor conditions. Her father, William Southcott, sprang from rich stock, but circumstances had reduced him from living on a manor to working a small dairy farm. A Church of England member, by all accounts, he read the Bible to his family. As she grew older Joanna was taught to help out on the farm, even running it for a time when her father was ill. She was capable girl. Eventually Joanna left home to begin a career. Employed by an upholsterer in Exeter, she learned how to cut cloth, choose fabric, work with trims and sew welted edges. It was during this time that she became engaged to a young man by the name of Noah Bishop. Noah was a footman, whose duties at his place of employment included admitting guests and waiting at table. They seemed a well-matched couple. However, after a rather short courtship, Joanna suddenly broke off the engagement. The reason she gave her fiancé was rather strange - she let him know that an angel had appeared to her one night telling her that she must not allow her body to be defiled by a man. Poor Noah!! His intentions towards Joanna had been honorable. He concluded that she was deranged! During Joanna's stint of employment with the upholsterer, a revivalist Methodist preacher visited the area. Notoriously amoral, he openly lived with a mistress and flirted freely with the opposite sex. Yet he was allowed in the pulpit, preaching loudly about sin and damnation. Proud and boastful of his salvation status, he openly thanked God for not making him like the other “sinners” in the congregation. All Joanna's fellow workers were afraid of him. Joanna was not. She saw through the man and was amazed that his hoax was accepted. Leaving the employ of the upholsterer after breaking her engagement, Joanna began work as a domestic servant in Exeter. According to a later portrait drawing of her by artist and engraver William Sharp (1749-1824), we can conclude that Joanna was probably a sweet and pretty-looking girl in her younger years, becoming more buxom and well upholstered around the waist in middle age. A woman in need of friends Although she had been raised in the Church of England, Joanna joined the Wesleyans in 1792. Persuading others that she possessed supernatural gifts, she wrote and dictated prophecies in rhyme. She also began to teach, preach (Had she never been taught regarding I Tim. 2:12?) and prophesy. A number of her predictions seemed to come about. Many of these “prophecies” referred to events that occurred during her lifetime. For example, she is credited with having foretold the famine of 1795, the bad harvest of 1797, the Irish Rebellion of 1798, and the deaths of several more or less well-known persons. Was Joanna a loner? She surely needed Christian companions who loved her enough to caution her. Her feet and her mouth were steering her towards greater and greater heresy. The worst heresy was that she claimed to be the woman mentioned in Revelation 12:1-6. Quite a profession! She openly designated herself a prophetess whom God had divinely appointed to be the mother of the Messiah. (What happened to Isaiah 7:14? Did she not know the Christ Child had already been born?) Joanna must have been without Christian friends. Friends will caution you; friends will reprove you; friends will point you to the truth of the Gospel fulfilled; and friends will tell you of the hope of heaven and the danger of hell if you do not turn from error. Joanna's followers were marked by peculiarity of dress, which resembled that of Quakers, the men sporting long beards. With thousands of adherents, among whom were some clergy, Joanna also began making and selling printed seals which supposedly guaranteed the buyer entry into paradise after the Apocalypse. (Even the familiar John 3:16-18 seems to have been lost on Joanna and her supporters.) Seating, it was said, was limited to 144,000, so buy seals while you can. Exorbitant prices were charged. Joanna, denying that she was profiting from the sale of these “indulgences,” continued to manufacture them. Some six or seven thousand were sold and a number of them are still in existence. They are small pieces of paper with a circle drawn in the middle. In this circle are written words which imply that the buyer is saved. Every one of these seals was signed by Joanna Southcott. In addition to teaching and lecturing, Joanna also wrote some thirty or so books which were published during her lifetime. The manuscripts, many of which are written in different handwritings, are still available, pointing to the employment of an assistant. Pregnant at 63? In 1813, Joanna now being 63 years old, and living with two lady companions, began to take on the appearance of a pregnant woman. Her stomach grew rounder and rounder, and she announced to her followers that she was now about to become the mother of the promised Child spoken of in Revelation 12. She asserted that redemption would be completed in herself. (What happened to Hebrews 9:12?) She would bruise the serpent's head and the immediate aim of her life was to destroy the devil. Possibly due to a tumor growing within her abdomen, Joanna presented herself to the public as one shortly to give birth. Those who believed what she spouted, waxed enthusiastic. Holding collections, they sent a delegation to an expensive cabinet-maker and bought a cradle - a fashionable cradle, richly ornamented and decorated. They set this up in a specially prepared place and began to collect accessories. Baby blankets, pillows, linens and embroidered sheets began to accumulate. It was, after all, for a miraculous child and who would not want to hail this baby with luxury and comfort! The excitement over this apparent pregnancy and upcoming birth was palpable among the population, especially in the London area. The number of eager followers were said to have numbered around 100,000. Most of them were illiterate and rather credulous, but some were middle-class and clergy. They all fully believed the claptrap and nonsense. (Where there is no prophetic vision people cast off restraint - Proverbs 29:18.) One pastor even offered to resign from his diocese if the “Holy Joanna,” as he called her, failed to give birth to the Messiah. The days and months passed. No baby was born. In August of 1814, a physician by the name of Dr. Reece, examined Joanna, to “ascertain the probability of her being in a state of pregnancy, as then given out.” He affirmed that she was indeed with child. Other doctors were called in, reputable medical men, and they, as well, concluded that she was pregnant. More weeks passed and Joanna herself, despite her grand delusions, became uncomfortable with her bulky stomach. She hesitatingly allowed that she might have been deceived by some spirit, either good or evil. Dead but still causing problems As the year of 1814 drew to a close, Joanna Southcott died. She died surrounded by a few of her ill-informed disciples, and she died without giving birth. She had been barren. Prior to her death another surgeon had been called in by Dr. Reece and he had, without any uncertainty, declared that Joanna was not in the family way, that she was ill, and that he did not foresee any hope of her recovery. Before her death at the end of December 1814, she had been confined to bed for ten weeks. Dr. Reece, who was in attendance during her last hours, immediately after Joanna died, wrote to the editor of the Sunday Monitor: “Agreeable to your request, I send a messenger to acquaint you, that Joanna Southcott died this morning precisely at 4 a.m. The believers in her mission, supposing that the vital functions are only suspended for a few days, will not permit me to open the body until some symptom appears, which may destroy all hopes of resuscitation." Holding on to the hope that Joanna would resurrect, something she had predicted, her followers wrapped her body in warm blankets, placed hot water bottles at her feet, and kept the room warm. Crowds assembled around the house, hoping and waiting for her to rise from the dead. However, it was all to no avail and her body began to putrify. Even as decomposition set in, there were those who swore not to shave their beards until Joanna's resurrection. Likely a great many men with very snarled and lengthy beards were consigned to the grave in the years that followed. A later autopsy showed that Joanna Southcott had suffered from dropsy which had killed her. She was buried in Marylebone cemetery on January 2, 1815. Laid into her coffin, she was interred under a fictitious name. The authorities feared that if they did not do this, grave robbers might want to open the tomb, ransack her remains, and profit by the sale of her bones. Prior to her death Joanna had dictated a will in which she professed to have lied, professed to have been prompted by the devil. In this document she insisted that after her death, the cradle and all things with it, should be returned to the people who gave them. The 1568 Bishops' Bible reads Proverbs 29:18 in this way: When the worde of God is not preached, the people perishe: but well is hym that kepeth the lawe. In twenty-first century English language this translates freely as: When the Word of God is neglected, ignored or not preached properly, the people will perish: but discerning people who hear the Word of God and obey it, are blessed. Again, where God's Word is not preached, people become fools, believing anyone and everything. Strange and ludicrous as Joanna's story is, many Joanna's have walked the earth in the past and are still walking it. A William Davies (1833-1906), leader of a Latter Day Saint schismatic group, taught his followers that one of his children was the reincarnated Jesus. Lou de Palingboer (1898-1968), founder of a religious movement in Holland, claimed to be “the resurrected body of Jesus.” And a couple of years ago, a parish in the Church of Sweden, tweeted out that Greta Thunberg, teenage climate activist, was an appointed successor to Jesus Christ. Pregnant with self-deception and self-importance, such people give birth to the wind and reap the whirlwind. Make sure you are able to recognize such frauds. Make it your 2020 resolution to become better acquainted with God's Word and to read it faithfully each day! This article has been corrected to note that it was a parish in the Church of Sweden and not the Church of Sweden itself that tweeted “Announcement! Jesus of Nazareth has now appointed one of his successors, Greta Thunberg.”...

Church history, Theology

Original Sin: Luther’s other life-changing doctrine

Every Reformation Day we remember how God used Luther to teach the Church that we are justified by faith alone, not by what we do. But often overlooked is how God used Luther to revive another forgotten, life-changing, doctrine.  **** Martin Luther is more than another dusty historical figure – he has become a symbol of the Reformation itself. His legend is vivid enough to obscure the details of the actual man and the world in which he lived. The legend tells us the story of the tight way his life mirrored his theology, in his journey from the bondage of doubt to freedom in Christ. Yet this is not the only legend told – a man as famous as Luther collects negative portrayals as well as positive ones. Not all Roman Catholics would see Luther as a man to celebrate.1 In fact, Martin Luther has been characterized as a coarse man, a divisive man – worse than that, a man who allowed his own personal struggles with his faith to split the church. He was offered every comfort in the church he was raised in. His priest confessor grew tired of listening to the litany of sins he had committed, sins so minor they were hardly worth the breath it took to confess them.2 Why couldn’t Luther find comfort in his faith? It is said of him, that surely he must have been of a depressive temperament, or mentally unstable.3 Surely he was a peculiar man, an unusual man, and not a man others should've followed. Of course, it shouldn’t come as a great shock to anyone that a Roman Catholic might disparage Martin Luther as being unhealthily obsessed with sin, even as a Protestant might respect him as a great mind. Yet what we are after in this article is an honest evaluation of the life and thinking of this pivotal figure who has had such an enormous impact on Christianity. So this is the necessary question:was Luther unhealthily obsessed with his defects, or was this an important piece in the formulation of his theology? Awareness of the full horror of our sinful inclinations Luther’s theology is well-known: justification by faith alone. But to focus on justification by faith alone is to miss the rest of the story. It misses Luther's awful awareness of sin, and his dawning realization that sin was not limited to his conscious actions but was linked to the very nature of who he was. In fact, Luther suffered because he was aware not only of his actualsin, but also his sinful nature. And the comfort his church offered him all the years he struggled as a monk was rooted in a very different view of humanity's original sin, a view that did not provide him with the strategies to address his own sinful nature as the fountain of his sinful impulses. This is not a mere scholastic discussion. Not only does one’s opinion of Martin Luther as a human being affect the way one views the Reformation, but it also affects the way one approaches anyone who experiences distress, as Luther did, over their sinful inclinations. Luther’s understanding of his sinful nature, can give comfort to those who are also rightly realizing the full horror of the sinful inclinations running through their every action. This is an important point. Understanding the sinfulness of our nature is necessary if we’re going to give true comfort to believers who produce sin continually. To neglect to define human nature as actively inclined to sin, even after conversion, leads to spiritual distress. Luther’s life illustrates this, and Reformed theology further confirms this. Consequently, it is necessary to first look at the doctrine of original sin as the Roman Catholic Church understood it, and then how Luther differed and how it affected his life. A sinful nature or an ungoverned one? Did Roman Catholics in Luther’s time, then, not think humans had a sinful nature? It is perhaps better to say they did not talk in terms of a sinful nature at all. Theologians defined original sin as a lackof a special gift God had granted at creation. This special gift, which is often called “original justice” in their writings, enabled man to conform his will to God. And as a result of original justice, man’s will could be rightly directed towards God. Then, when man fell, this special gift was removed, and therefore man in his nature was wounded and no longer directed to God.4 Man’spassions became unleashed as a result of losing original justice in the Fall, and these passions were no longer rightly directed by man’s will and reason. This ungoverned desire or passion was not in itself regarded as sinful unless it resulted in an actual sinful action. Therefore there did remain in man the “tinder of sin” or “concupiscence,” from which actual sins sprung, but which was not sin itself.5 Concupiscenceis not a replacement for the Reformed understanding of man’s sinful nature, but rather a separate concept, separated from man’s will and reason, and not something active in every part of a man. This illustrates that medieval theology had quite a different formulation of the nature of man, and used these divisions to explain original sin in a very different way than later Protestant theology. This doctrine had developed throughout the Middle Ages, with theologians such as Anselm and Thomas Aquinas increasingly defining original sin as a lack of something, rather than an active inclination against God, as Augustine had.6 In one sense their move in this direction makes sense, because to define original sin as a lack and a removal of a special gift appears to preserve the justice of God. If God only took back what had never been essential to man’s nature, God is not unjust because he may grant or not grant gifts as he wishes. A division of the nature of man was one way to address this, and medieval theology was further influenced by philosophical traditions of the time.7 This conception of original sin was carried over by the Nominalist theologians that Luther reacted most strongly against. In this school of thought, God adapted his righteous requirements to mercifully accept the very best acts man could do, and that God would, in return, give grace to man if man did his very best.8 This has obvious implications for justification, but it affects original sin as well, as it teaches that man, after the fall, is still able to detest sin and seek God.9 It was asserted that man in his natural powers could achieve selfless love out of his own will, and God would graciously respond to this.10 This theology can only result from a conception of original sin as a lackof something, rather than an activeinclination to rebel against God. Luther’s struggle When expressed this way, the division between the usual Protestant and Roman Catholic view of Luther becomes clearer. Our opinion of Luther might hinge on the nature of the sinful inclinations Luther detected in himself. If God did nothold Luther guilty for his concupiscence, all of Luther’s fellow priests were right to be exasperated by his continual struggle with his worry over it, and Roman Catholics today are right to dismiss Luther’s obsession as anxious mental instability. But if he truly stood condemned before the face of God, as he felt he was, then he was justified in his terror and his struggle to find a source of comfort. As a result, the Reformation that resulted from his shift in theology was justified, and more than justified– it was necessary! Luther suffered deeply as he grew more and more aware of the sea of sinful inclinations inside him. He would confess his sins daily – for as long as six hours – searching his memory and analyzing his every motive to be sure he had not missed a single one. While his priest grew exasperated with listening, Luther grew more and more frightened that he could go on thinking of new sins even after six hours. Roland H. Bainton underscores this in his biography of Luther, Here I Stand: “There is, according to Luther, something much more drastically wrong with man than any particular list of offenses which can be enumerated, confessed and forgiven. The very nature of man is corrupt. The penitential system fails because it is directed to particular lapses. Luther had come to perceive that the entire man is in need of forgiveness.”11 This realization plunged Luther into terror. Philip Watson describes Luther’s state like this: “The scholastic theologians, it is true, taught that concupiscentiawas not in itself to be regarded as sin… But this again occasioned questionings and apprehension in Luther’s mind. Had his will not consented? … Was he really in a state of grace – for he could perceive no evidence of its effective working in him?”12 The comfort offered by his priests – that God was a merciful God – did little to alleviate this burden. To Luther, this kind of mercy diminished God’s righteousness, and he refused to conceive of God’s justice in such human terms.13 But was Luther’s problem his own sinful inability to accept mercy, or was there a flaw in his theology that needed to be rectified? Luther came to believe there was a flaw in his theology, namely, that every action a person takes, even those which outwardly appear to be good ones, are shot through with sin. One could easily conclude Luther’s conscience was overly sensitive, and that he suffered for nothing.14 It might even be comforting to conclude Luther could not have been in his right mind to have been so bothered by how he fell short of God’s standards. Everyone falls short, after all, and it is comforting to assume God will overlook small shortcomings. And Luther was a monk – he’d devoted everything to being a good one. But it is better to conclude that Luther had the valuable ability not to take his sins lightly. Perhaps his sensitive conscience was necessary to correctly depict a God who doesn’t make compromises with sin. Luther himself mused in this way later in his life.15 Luther experienced intense distress, and part of his distress was a direct result of the way theology was framed at the time. Defining original sin as a loss rather than an active inclination did not give him a conception that equipped him to understand the sinful inclinations he could see in himself. When he felt the desire to curse God, the only way he could fit it into the theology he knew at the time was in a way that damned him. If he truly was a believer he should be moving towards a deeper understanding of God, but despite all his spiritual acts he never felt his sinful impulses lessen. He knew what was inside him was an active inclination. The sins he confessed constantly were active rebellion, an active rebellion against God. And he needed a theology that could incorporate this rebellious inclination that he could not deny was in himself, and yet still grant him the comfort of being saved. Luther’s freedom began when he, finally, not only faced the reality of his depravity, but also grasped that Christ’s sacrifice had the power to atone for not only his actual sins but also his sinful nature. “Thereupon I felt myself to be reborn and to have gone through open doors into Paradise.”16 It was only after this realization that he was freed from his constant inner reflection to be able to go out into the world and actually, by the grace of God, to change it. Luther’s concept of original sin When it comes to original sin it is clear that Luther objected to the church’s doctrine of original sin on two points: first, that natural man can take even a step towards loving God, or make any motion that God could condescend to respond to with grace; second, that even after conversion man still possesses sinful desires that are present even in outwardly good works. Luther never systematically pulls all of his theological ideas together in one work, but he discusses original sin throughout his writings. In particular, his early lectures on Romans are crucial in the development of his ideas on original sin because in connection with Romans he spends a lengthy amount of time considering this doctrine.17 Luther argues on the basis of Romans that original sin was not just a lack of a quality in the will or a lack of light in the mind, but a total lack of uprightness and power of everything in body and soul – a complete inclination to evil.18 The scholastic trend Luther discerned was an attempt to replace divine grace with light of human reason.19 Luther argues, in response, that using human reason to discern what is good will only define the best things according to humans, not God. “e should call ‘natural’ the fact that we are in sin and death and that we desire, understand, and long for things that are corrupt and evil,” Luther states in another one of his works.  He then insists, “Who does not see the contradiction between the statement that the natural powers are perfect, and the statement that nature is corrupted by sin?”20 Human nature will result in doing “good things in an evilway.” Good things performed by natural capacity are good in an evil way, performed not for service of God but in service of the creature.21 In this work on Romans, Luther also works out the sinfulness of believers. One of the reasons Luther was so radical is related to his second assertion, that an active sinful nature still operates in a believer, and that therefore a person can be simultaneously saved and a sinner. Yet his lectures on Romans should utterly destroy any notion that Luther preached righteousness through faith alone in order to dispense with good works: Luther argues that a sinner has the beginning of righteousness and continues to seek more and more of it. In other words, while a man knows he is a sinner and knows every moment that he is entirely incapable of doing anything good, he continues to follow the will of God in his life. He continues to walk the path God has set out, because God’s grace has shown him the first step. Every intentional step a sinner takes is an intentional movement from sin to righteousness.22 Luther was convinced that defining original sin in terms of privation (or lack) alone was a reductionist approach and did not express the real severity of the Adam’s sin. He argued sin is not a localized part but in the whole person, as well as a positive reality and not privation.23 This doctrine needs to be intimately connected with salvation – Christ is the second Adam, and just as the penalty in Adam leads to condemnation, believers receive the gift of grace through Christ to avoid condemnation.24  Roman Catholic response It is clear Luther’s view of original sin was one of part of his theology that Rome objected to. In 1545 the Roman Catholic Church convened the Council of Trent specifically to deal with the theology of Luther and other Reformers. The Council’s decrees state: “This concupiscence, which the Apostle sometimes calls sin, the holy council declares the Catholic Church has never understood to be called sin in the sense that it is truly and properly sin in those born again, but in the sense that it is of sin and inclines to sin. But if anyone is of the contrary opinion, let him be anathema.”25 Here the Council declares that even when Paul laments that he is inclined to actively commit sin, he is not talking about something that is sin in and of itself. Due to conflicting streams of Roman Catholic thought on original sin at the time, the definition of original sin by this council is perhaps more vague than it could have been, and yet it still rejects any formulation of original sin that could fall in line with Luther.26 It is defined as a loss (of justice and holiness), and underscores that the origin and possible effect of concupiscence is sin, while concupiscence itself does not incur guilt – under this definition it is then possible for believers to do good works free of sinful inclinations. More clarity on the decrees of the Council of Trent is provided in TheCouncil of Trent: Catechism for Parish Priests, written soon after the Council of Trent ended. This catechism continues to define concupiscence as the “fuel of sin” and not sin itself.27 It confirms that when concupiscence is used to refer to the remains of sin after baptism, it is not conceiving of concupiscence as identical to the Reformed conception of the sinful nature. It is interesting to note is how concupiscence is defined as the remains of sin after baptism (the “fuel of sin” or the “tinder of sin”), and yet in this Catechism it is also defined as merely a desire for something one doesn’t have. Certainly a desire for warmth when one is cold should not be considered a sin, but can this desire be thought of as a remainder after original sin is removed? It seems more likely that the term concupiscence can be used in two ways, first as a more benign term which refers to desire, and then as a more negative term referring to the unbridled desires that man loses control over as a result of his wounded nature. The Reformed definition of sinful nature would not be a loss of control over human desires, but rather the active sinful bend in every human desire. And this parish priest catechism goes on to highlight the issues with understanding concupiscence in this way, when it goes on to define sinful concupiscence as concupiscence that conflicts with spirit and reason. The Reformed interpretation would emphasize that spirit and reason are bent away from God as well, and so a conflict between desire, spirit and reason would be meaningless as a barometer of sinfulness before God. The medieval Roman Catholic interpretations of original sin flow out of understandable concerns – concerns to preserve the voluntary nature of original sin, and to prevent an overly deterministic understanding of sin. There is an impulse to encourage believers to do good works, and fight against their actual sin. However, the solution runs up against obvious problems. If the radical nature of sin is diminished, and man’s nature is affected by the fall only by the loss of something, any active rebellious tendencies are left without an explanation. Our Comfort How, then, should original sin be defined? As with any doctrine, there are many different ideas about it. But a definition of original sin needs to be practical, and speak directly to the individual believer who sees in themselves a sin-streaked nature. This is why the Reformers formulated confessions to be used in the church, and these define sin clearly. First, the Heidelberg Catechism emphasizes man is unable to do good because he is by nature inclined to hate God and his neighbour. This active turning away from God is at the heart of both our sinful nature and every actual sin.28 The Belgic Confession also devotes an article to the doctrine of original sin, and emphasizes in the same way that man is a slave to sin.29 Original sin, according to the Belgic Confession, corrupts the entire nature of man: “As a root it produces in man all sorts of sin. It is, therefore, so vile and abominable in the sight of God that it is sufficient to condemn the human race. It is not abolished nor eradicated even by baptism, for sin continually streams forth like water welling up from this woeful source.”30 This formulation does a few things. It insists original sin corrupts the entire nature of man, not just one part of it. And it does not diminish the radical nature of human nature’s corruption. The Belgic Confession uses as scriptural evidence not just Paul’s well-known passage about doing the sin he does not want to do, but also Romans 5:12, which declares through Adam all were made sinners. Adam’s sin resulted in more than just a potential from which true sin could spring, rather it produced real sinners. This is necessary to grasp, and the various explanations of original sin must hold onto this central concept. Therefore in the Belgic Confession humans did not just merely lose something because of original sin, just as Luther insisted man did not just merely lose some quality in the will or light in the mind. “For whatever light is in us has changed into darkness,” the Belgic Confession agrees. Scripture supports this by showing the corruption of the will and of every part of man: the heart of man is polluted, the mind of man is set on sin, and the desire of man is contrary to God.31 Humans of themselves are by nature rebellious and always turned away from God – “None is righteous, no, not one” (Rom. 3:10). The Belgic Confession insists the effects of sin are so radical and so widespread, especially in man prior to conversion, that it is impossible to imagine how man can take even a step towards a right relationship with God again. And it underscores Luther’s understanding that even in a believer this sinful nature will continue to produce sin, as it states: “the awareness of this corruption may make groan as they eagerly wait to be delivered from this body of death.” Therefore our confessions present to us a necessary formulation of the biblical passages on original sin – and, in addition, it provide unspeakable comfort. See, for example, the declaration in the Belgic Confession: “We believe that, when He saw that man had thus plunged himself into physical and spiritual death and made himself completely miserable, our gracious God in His marvellous wisdom and goodness set out to seek man when he trembling fled from Him.”32 This is utterly realistic about humanity. It does not shy away from the worst of our nature. Yet it magnifies God. God does not meet us halfway – God goes farther and actually saves those who are actively running away. In conclusion, this confession – and this entire doctrine of original sin – directly reassures those who are distressed because they are real sinners with active rebellious inclinations against God. Just as Luther looked at himself and despaired at his progress toward loving God, unable to leave behind sin and unable to make progress in ridding himself of his sinful nature, so too many believers may look at themselves in discouragement. In order to move on from despair, Luther needed to both acknowledge the bend of his own nature away from God – radically affecting every ounce of him – and to accept this inclination as true sin. Then he could fully grasp the even greater length God reaches, and find the assurance of astonishing forgiveness in Christ. Christ’s blood covers the guilt of our sinful nature just as much as it covers actual sins. Just as in Adam man fell so fully, so man was so united with Christ as to be absolutely saved. And believers today can follow in this comfort. They no longer need to be paralyzed by an inward focus on the depth of their sin, but they can move on from the depth of their sin to look outward to Christ. And this truly frees a believer to live and act. End notes 1 This is not to deny many Roman Catholics do, in fact, view Luther positively despite his excommunication by the Roman Catholic Church. 2 “Look here,” said , “if you expected Christ to forgive you, come in with something to forgive—parricide, blasphemy, adultery—instead of all these peccadilloes.” Roland Bainton, Here I Stand, (New York, Abingdon Press, 1950), 54. 3 For examples of modern speculations on Luther’s mental state, including diagnoses of scrupulosity, see http://catholicexchange.com/from-scrupulosity-to-lutherosity-part-1, and http://www.catholicstand.com/scrupulosity-a-little-bit-of-hell/, for two examples. Accessed November 6, 2017. This Roman Catholic view of Luther stems from writings such as the above, as well as personal interaction with individual Roman Catholics. It is important to note no one view of Luther is unanimous. 4 George Vandervelde,Original Sin: Two Major Trends in Contemporary Roman Catholic Reinterpretation, (Amsterdam: Rodopi, 1975), 30. 5 In medieval theology, the Fall did result in original sin; however, the guilt and condemnation of original sin is removed by God in his grace in baptism. The doctrine of original sin is intimately connected with the doctrine of baptism, however to explore the meaning of the sacrament of baptism in depth is beyond the scope of this paper. According to Roman Catholic theology, baptism remits original sin. 6 There were various theological strains on the doctrine of original sin within the Roman Catholic Church in the Middle Ages, with different scholars following Augustinian, Anselmian and Thomistic formulations of the doctrine. There was not one defined, dominant view. Vandervelde, Original Sin, 27, 28. 7 Jairzinho Lopes Pereira attributes Augustine’s lack of influence among the Scholastics (those Luther opposed) to Aristotelian philosophical influence. Jairzinho Lopes Pereira, Augustine of Hippo and Martin Luther on Original Sin and Justification of the Sinner(Bristol: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2013), 267. 8 Ibid., 269-270. Gabriel Biel, who spoke of a ‘pactum’ between God and humans, where God promises to reward with grace those who do their best, not because humans deserve grace, but because God is merciful. Luther wrote against this, and others in the Nominalist school of thought. 9 Ibid., 275. 10 Another theologian Luther was likely reacting against was Duns Scotus: see Philip Watson’s description of Luther’s interaction with Scotus’ theology. Philip Watson, Let God be God:  An Interpretation of the Theology of Martin Luther(Philadelphia: Muhlenberg Press, 1948), 50. 11 Bainton, Here I stand, 55. In Luther’s work on Psalm 51 he also describes his struggle to understand the doctrine of original sin, and his conviction that natural man could not will the good. He lectured on the Psalms early in his career, prior to lecturing on Romans. From this passage, it is not clear whether he finds much comfort in this conception of man’s sinful inclinations. He does not move on to justification in his explanation, but rather asserts an explanation of original sin is a mystery. A correct understanding of original sin needs to be tied to salvation in Christ to bring comfort. See “Psalm 51,” in Selected Psalms 1(ed. Jaroslav Pelikan; trans. Jaroslav Pelikan; vol. 12 of Luther’s Works; Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1955), 351. 12 Watson, Let God be God, 16. 13 Pereira, Augustine of Hippo and Martin Luther, 322n.3. 14 Bainton goes on to address the question of Luther’s mental state, admitting many aspects of Luther’s state at the time do compare with mental disturbances. However, he maintains, Luther’s mental struggle never affected his tremendous work output. In addition, the issues Luther struggled with were real issues that existed in the religion he lived and worked with, and more than that, he did make progress through his struggles to clarify what religious solutions actually addressed his struggles and which were unhelpful. Later, Bainton shows Luther’s mentor, Staupitz, must have considered Luther fundamentally sound despite his exasperation with Luther’s inability to find comfort, because Staupitz told Luther he should assume the chair of the Bible at the university. Despite all Luther’s struggles, he was entrusted with teaching others, and Staupitz appeared to have confidence that by teaching the source of their religion, Luther would learn about what help the Bible offered him in his struggles. Bainton, Here I Stand, 56, 60. 15 Ibid., 361. Throughout his life Luther eventually worked out a technique for dealing with his spiritual depression. One important part was that he came to believe that sensitive believers could, by going through such struggles, understand their beliefs in a deeper way. Sensitive believers could then share these beliefs with less sensitive believers in a way that leads them to agree with the truth of it. 16 Bainton, Here I Stand,65. 17 Pereira, Augustine of Hippo and Martin Luther, 28, 31. 18 Martin Luther, Lectures on Romans: Glosses and Scholia(ed. Hilton C. Oswald; trans. Jacob A. O. Preus; vol. 25 of Luther’s Works; Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1972), 299. 19 In Luther’s work on Psalm 51, he also describes being taught that man had only lost grace and that if man followed the light of his nature he would be given grace. Luther rejects this formulation. See Luther, “Psalm 51,” 351. 20 Ibid., 351. 21 Pereira, Augustine of Hippo and Martin Luther, 338-339. 22 Luther, Lectures on Romans,260. 23 Pereira, Augustine of Hippo and Martin Luther, 331-332. 24 Pereira, Augustine of Hippo and Martin Luther, 335. 25 Council of Trent, Session 5, June 17, 1546, Decree concerning original sin, in The Canons and Decrees of the Council of Trent, trans. Rev. H. J. Schroeder (Rockford: Tan Books and Publishers, 1978), 27-28. 26 See Louis Berkhof, Systematic Theology(Grand Rapids: 1949), 258, http://downloads.biblicaltraining.org/Systematic%20Theology%20by%20Louis%20Berkhof.pdf Vandervelde argues that the reason the Council of Trent was somewhat vague in its definition was that there were participants from Augustinian, Anselmian and Thomistic traditions. They agreed on which errors to combat, but less so on what ideas to defend (p 33).  It is interesting to note one of the participants at the Council of Trent, Seripando (who was an Augustinian), opposed defining concupiscence as “a morally neutral human drive” instead of a “morally qualified inclination to evil.” However, he was not successful. Vandervelde, Original Sin, 40. 27 Catechism of the Council of Trent, trans. John a. McHugh and Charles J.Callan (Rockford: Tan Books and Publishers, 1982) 183-184, 469-470. 28 “The Heidelberg Catechism,” in Creeds of Christendom: with a History and Critical Notes, ed. Philip Schaff (New York: Harper & Brothers, 1919), 309. 29 “Belgic Confession,” in Creeds of Christendom: with a History and Critical Notes, ed. Philip Schaff (New York: Harper & Brothers, 1919), 3:398-400. Hereafter I will cite the Belgic Confession in the form BC Article 14 with the volume and page number of Schaff following in brackets, e.g., BC Article 14 (3:398-400). 30 BC Article 15 (3:400-401). 31 See Louis Berkhof, Systematic Theology, 258, as well as Jer 17: 9, Rom 8: 7, Gal 5: 24. 32 BC Article 17 (3:402). Bibliography Bainton, Roland. Here I Stand. New York, Abingdon Press, 1950. Beattie, Trent. http://catholicexchange.com/from-scrupulosity-to-lutherosity-part-1. Accessed November 6, 2017. “Belgic Confession.” In Creeds of Christendom: with a History and Critical Notes, edited by Philip Schaff, 3:383-436. New York: Harper & Brothers, 1919. Berkhof, Louis. Systematic Theology. Grand Rapids: 1949. PDF. http://downloads.biblicaltraining.org/Systematic%20Theology%20by%20Louis%20Berkhof.pdf. Catechism of the Council of Trent. Translated by John a. McHugh and Charles J.Callan. Rockford: Tan Books and Publishers, 1982. “Heidelberg Catechism.” In Creeds of Christendom: with a History and Critical Notes, edited by Philip Schaff, 3:307-355. New York: Harper & Brothers, 1919. Luther, Martin. Lectures on Romans: Glosses and Scholia. Edited by Hilton C. Oswald. Translated by Jacob A. O. Preus. Vol. 25 of Luther’s Works. Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1972. Luther, Martin. “Psalm 51.” Pages 301-410 in Selected Psalms 1. Edited by Jaroslav Pelikan. Translated by Jaroslav Pelikan. Vol. 12 of Luther’s Works. Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1955. Miller, Leila. http://www.catholicstand.com/scrupulosity-a-little-bit-of-hell/. Accessed November 6, 2017. Pereira, Jairzinho Lopes.  Augustine of Hippo and Martin Luther on Original Sin and Justification of the Sinner. Bristol: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2013. Trent, Council of. Decree concerning original sin. Session 4, June 15, 1546. In The Canons and Decrees of the Council of Trent, translated by Rev. H. J. Schroeder, 21-28. Rockford: Tan Books and Publishers, 1978. Vandervelde, George.  Original Sin: Two Major Trends in Contemporary Roman Catholic Reinterpretation. Amsterdam : Rodopi, 1975. Watson, Philip.  Let God be God:  An Interpretation of the Theology of Martin Luther. Philadelphia : Muhlenberg Press, 1948. The painting is Ferdinand Pauwels' (1830–1904) "Luther discovers the bible."...

Church history, Pro-life - Abortion

A 2,000 year history of Christian pro-life activity

The pro-life movement began in the early 1970s as a result of the legalization of abortion in Britain (1967), Canada (1969), the USA (1973) and elsewhere at this time. Or rather, that’s when the modern pro-life movement began, because ours is not the first generation to fight against abortion and infanticide. Those evils have been present at various points in history and Christian pro-life movements, of one sort or another, have been active at various points as well. American author George Grant (not to be confused with the pro-life Canadian philosopher of the same name) has written a book on the history of the pro-life movement called Third Time Around: A History of the Pro-Life Movement from the First Century to the Present. He gives a brief overview that divides pro-life history into three main periods: The early church and medieval period; The Renaissance/Reformation and mission movement period leading into the nineteenth century; Our own era of the pro-life movement beginning around the 1960s. First time: Roman times During the time of the Roman Empire, unwanted babies were commonly abandoned outside of cities to die from exposure. Abortion was also practiced in a primitive way. But the fourth-century bishop Basil wanted to stop these kinds of things and thus initiated a campaign against abandonment, abortion and infanticide. This campaign influenced Emperor Valentinian to take steps against those practices. Grant writes: “For the first time in human history, abortion, infanticide, exposure, and abandonment were made illegitimate.” Of course, other leaders in the early church also contributed to the struggle against child-killing. Grant sums up the situation: “The early church was pro-life. They issued pro-life pronouncements. They launched pro-life activities. And they lived pro-life lifestyles.” As years passed the church continued its efforts to defend and promote the sanctity of life. Despite the increasing number of corruptions that were creeping into the church during this period, it maintained a consistent pro-life stand and its influence had positive political repercussions: “As early as the reign of the Byzantine Emperor Justinian in the sixth century, pro-life legislation was universally and comprehensively enforced.” The first centuries of growth for the church in Europe had a major effect on changing people’s views about the value of infants’ lives. “Before the explosive and penetrating growth of medieval Christian influence, the primordial evils of abortion, infanticide, abandonment, and exposure were a normal part of everyday life in Europe. Afterward, they were regarded as the grotesque perversions that they actually are.” Second round: the Renaissance and Reformation Unfortunately, those evils made a comeback during the Renaissance and Enlightenment period in Europe, roughly the sixteenth to eighteenth centuries. Ancient Greek and Roman thought was revived during that period, along with its corresponding views supporting baby killing. As Grant writes, European “culture soon reverted to the morals of pagan antiquity, including the desecration of life.” In a number of Western European cities, anywhere from 10 percent to over 30 percent of newborn infants were killed or abandoned during this period. However, with the emergence of the Reformation in the early sixteenth century, and the subsequent Counter-Reformation of the Roman Catholic Church, major figures in both the Protestant churches and Papal Church condemned and fought against anti-life forces. Leading reformer John Calvin was firmly opposed to abortion. Grant quotes Calvin as arguing, “If it seems more horrible to kill a man in his own house than in a field, because a man’s house is his place of most secure refuge, it ought surely to be deemed more atrocious to destroy an unborn child in the womb before it has come to light.” During the nineteenth century, there was a surge in Protestant missionary work, with large numbers of missionaries from Europe and North America going all over the world with the Gospel of Jesus Christ. The effect of the Gospel was, of course, the salvation of multitudes of people. But the Gospel also has benefits for earthly life and, “chief among those benefits, of course, was a new respect for innocent human life – a respect that was entirely unknown anywhere in the world until the advent of the gospel.” In areas of the world affected by the missionaries, the practices of abandonment, infanticide, and abortion were severely curtailed. In sum: “The great pro-life legacy – that had been handed down from the Patristic church to the Medieval church to the Renaissance church – was honored, upheld, and even extended by the missionaries that circled the planet during the nineteenth century.” Yet a third time Strangely, abortion was a relatively widespread practice in the United States during the first part of the nineteenth century. Grant states: “Abortion was big business. And abortionists were men and women of great power and influence.” After the Civil War of the early 1860s, however, various American churches took strong stands in opposition to abortion, and a vigorous pro-life movement developed. Within a few years it had been completely successful in eradicating abortion in the United States: “By the end of the century the procedure had been criminalized across the board. Most of the legal changes came during a short twenty-year period from 1860 to 1880.” Human nature being what it is, abortion began to find prominent supporters again by the early twentieth century among people who were concerned about “overpopulation.” Margaret Sanger, the founder of Planned Parenthood, was a central leader in the effort to promote birth control and abortion. Grant seems to suggest that support for birth control opened the door for supporting abortion among the Protestant churches. In embracing birth control in 1930, the liberal American Protestant ecumenical group, the Federal Council of Churches (precursor to the current National Council of Churches), “became the first major organization in the history of Christendom to affirm the language and philosophy of ‘choice,'” First the liberal Protestants, and then many evangelical Protestants, embraced birth control and subsequently abortion. Yes, by the late 1960s many evangelical leaders were in favor of abortion (i.e., “pro-choice”)! This began to change rapidly during the 1970s as certain evangelical leaders spoke out against abortion. Francis Schaeffer is most notable in this regard, alerting evangelicals to the Biblical position, which is very different from the liberal position, of course. The effect was substantial: “By 1985, twenty-eight Protestant denominations, associations, and missions had recanted their earlier pro-abortion positions.” Basically, the bulk of the evangelical churches swung back to the historic Christian position of opposition to abortion by the late 1980s. Lord, please bless our efforts today! It can be depressing to see the current widespread support for abortion in Western countries, especially the support from the media, and academic and political elites. But in their struggle against abortion, modern Christians are following in the footsteps of believers through the centuries. As Grant writes, “Pro-life efforts have been an integral aspect of the work and ministry of faithful believers since the dawning of the faith in the first century.” Looking back at those efforts, we can see that God has blessed Christian pro-lifers at various points through history. Laws were passed and cultural attitudes about infants and unborn children were changed for the better. This should be an encouragement to every Christian, reminding us of 1 Corinthians 15:58, "Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain" (ESV)....

Church history

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." ...

1 2