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The Past of Our Future

Read Amos 9:8b-15

HOPE! Part 1 of 3

After what we’ve been reading in Amos, v.8 is so refreshing! “‘Except that I will not utterly destroy the house of Jacob,’ declares the Lord.” God will sift His people through the sieve of His judgment, but a remnant of solid stones will remain!

Remnant. God always takes a bit of the past in order to build the future. Remember Noah and the Ark? God could have really started from scratch, and just made a new Adam and Eve. But He doesn’t.

Evangelical Orphan was launched out of a desire to better know the remnant God has used through time to bring me us where we are today. I was “orphaned” when I became a Christian in a Restoration Movement church. Leaders adopted an ahistoric primitivism, saying that the remnant through Church history was irrelevant after the New Testament accounts, and that all we need is God’s pure revelation, the scriptures, in order to build our family expression today.

True?

But God, and His Word, betray a different agenda. Encased in our texts is our Biblical heritage, Old Testament and New, warts and all. God wants us to know this time-and-space history. And Jesus came as the fulfillment of that history: the seed, the root, the stump, the branch. And now we are grafted into that history through the Messianic gospel being proliferated to the nations.

God never gave up on His covenant people, and did a do-over. Why do we think that, since Christ, God gives up occasionally on His Church, but does a contemporary do-over today? Because we deserve it more than they have in preceding centuries? Because we’ve are more, I don’t know, enlightened? (Don’t get me started…)

“In that day I will raise up the booth of David that is fallen and repair its breaches, and raise up its ruins and rebuild it as in the days of old” (v. 11). God could start over. Instead, He deals with ruins. And the completed project will be a re-stored people “as in the days of old.” We look back for an image of our glorious future. (I love that the “booth” or “hut” of David is contrasted with the ritzy, collapsing temple at Bethel earlier in the chapter.)

“I will restore the fortunes of my people Israel, and they shall rebuild the ruined cities and inhabit them”  (v. 14). God will restore (see also v. 11, v. 15), but the people will do the rebuilding. Like Nehemiah, we are to be about God’s business of exploring our collective rubble, and rallying our people for the rebuilding of our tradition.

The past provides the plumb line for our building of our today, and our tomorrow. Our hope is firmly imbedded in our heritage. Without a keen sense of our history, we are lost. With it, we have hope.

Who is this hope for? And what will it look like? Two more days, friends…two more days…

– EO

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Meet Francis Schaeffer

– by Jeremy Arntz

fs 4Francis Schaeffer was a complex man whose legacy makes an intimidating study for the seminarian who is only beginning to understand the long road of a life committed to vocational ministry. Schaeffer’s Christian experience ran the full gamut from unchurched to believer, pastor to missionary, and conversationalist to lecturer; further, he pastored Presbyterian churches in the United States and also opened student communes in Europe. Schaeffer’s prismatic plethora of experience culminated in one of the most exciting and refreshing evangelistic approaches stemming from the Fundamentalist movement. A study of Francis Schaeffer’s legacy is polarizing which is perhaps reminiscent of the man himself and his Christian journey.

BEGINNINGS

A consideration of Francis Schaeffer’s beginnings must look at not only his upbringing but also his early experience with the faith. He was born to working-class parents in Germantown, Pennsylvania in 1912. He later intended to follow the path of his father as a tradesman, but when he came to study both philosophy and the Bible concurrently, a spark was struck which led him to the notion that would become absolutely critical in his experience of which, at the age of 17, he wrote in his diary: “All truth is from the Bible.”[1] Thus, the stage was set for his formative years at seminary which came under the tutelage of J. Gresham Machen at Westminster Seminary who was one of the foremost voices in the debate against liberal theology at the time. Schaeffer’s commitment to Biblical truth was such that he left Westminster and enrolled in the foundling Faith Theological Seminary which had come into existence as a consequence of a rift gone schism which found Machen expelled from the Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A.; resultantly, Schaeffer became the first minister of the newly organized Bible Presbyterian Church.[2] It is important to understand that Schaeffer’s early theological beginnings resulted in a fundamentalism deeply rooted in the doctrine of biblical inerrancy which had emerged in opposition to the notions of liberal theology that were widely courting much of Christian and secular academia at the time. It is likely this deeply rooted belief in biblical truth across all experience would result in Schaeffer’s singularly desirable conversational apologetics later in his ministry; however, the direct result of his fundamentalist underpinnings was a period of approximately nine years during which he served to pastor Presbyterian Churches in Pennsylvania and Missouri. Regardless, his beginnings, both in life and ministry, served to uniquely prepare him for the powerful impact that he would come to have on evangelicalism.

COMMUNAL MISSIONARY

Francis Schaeffer’s mainstream impact on evangelicalism actually sprang from work that he began in the field of missions following his time in the pulpit. In 1945 he and his wife Edith were approached by the Independent Board for Foreign Missions about “[building] networks among Bible-believing churches, pastors, and institutions.”[3] This would begin the span of time and events that led to the Schaeffer’s establishment of L’Abri which was a student commune in the Swiss Alps. In explaining the driving force behind the establishment of the communal home Schaeffer wrote: “This was and is the real basis of L’Abri. Teachinfs l'abrig the historic Christian answers and giving honest answers to honest questions.”[4] At L’Abri, Francis and Edith opened their home as an extension of community and hospitality that expressed Christianity in terms of love while, at the same time, Francis conversed with European students who were being educated in a secularized system of philosophy that was long on man and almost totally devoid of God. This is where Schaeffer truly excelled because, in the words of Barry Hankins, “his training within the Reformed branch of American fundamentalism by scholars such as J. Gresham Machen and Cornelius Van Til” allowed him to “engage [young Europeans] through discussion at the level of ideas and not merely tell them to straighten up and get right with Jesus.”[5] At the very core of Schaeffer’s conversational apologetic evangelism is this notion of engaging in discussions at the level of ideology, and this approach stemmed from “Schaeffer’s view that American fundamentalism expended too much time and energy attacking any semblance of liberalism and not enough constructing a positive response to modern ideas that competed with Christianity for people’s hearts and minds.”[6] Thus, L’Abri fused fundamentalism with community and hospitality which would have been a paradox of incalculable impossibility in America but was perfect for its time in Europe.

TEARING DOWN THE VEIL IN AMERICA

hswtlEventually, Schaeffer’s work in Europe found an audience in America as a result of recordings of his conversations and books which were primarily written from transcripts of his recorded lectures and conversations.[7] His conversational style of ideological apologetics found a ready following among American evangelical students which is articulated by Michael Hamilton writing for Christianity Today in a 1997 article which reads: “Historian Mark Noll remembers the Wheaton talks as the most stimulating campus intellectual event of his student years. Francis Schaeffer tore down the gospel curtain that had separated evangelicals from contemporary cultural expression, giving Christians object lessons in how to interpret sculpture, music, painting, and literature as philosophical statements of the modern mind.” Thus, the veil was torn between evangelicals and the mainstream, for Schaeffer’s notion was that the arts are really philosophical expressions hailing from society; therefore, they are also cultural ideologies which are open for Christian discussion- or at least they are according to Schaeffer’s style of conversational apologetics. This train of thought deeply appealed to the evangelical students of the time; after all, this was the mid 1960s and the fabric of America was being stretched as never before- particularly in artistic expression. In effect, Schaeffer’s evangelism gave the green light to engage people in the areas that were most culturally relevant which is a topic of concern up into our present day. It is extremely important to understand all of this in light of Schaeffer’s never-ending belief in biblical inerrancy. The interpretation of which Schaeffer spoke must not be mistaken in any way that would lead one to believe that he held to the notion of subjugating the authority of God or his word; rather, Schaeffer’s notion was that the interpretation of art was subject to biblical truth. Essentially, art was another opportunity for discussion at the level of ideas, and his part of that conversation remained from a point of biblical inerrancy which informs the human condition. Clearly, the veil of which Mark Noll spoke was rent asunder by Schaeffer’s notions which allowed evangelicals to engage with seculars in ways that fundamentalism in America was never able to do.

LAST DAYS

Francis Schaeffer succumbed to lymphoma on May 15, 1984 in Rochester, Minnesota. He and Edith had spent almost a decade in Rochester following the discovery of cancer in his lymph system, and during this period “the shadow of death intensified his concern to do what he could to try to reverse the horrific trend of easy abortion.”[8] His work toward preserving the life of unborns brought him to be associated with America’s religious Right, and during this period he came to be known as “the philosopher of the Moral Majority.”[9] Suddenly, Schaeffer was a leader not only involved in political issues but an advocator of civil disobedience which many viewed as an endeavor in hypocrisy, but for Schaeffer- ever the product of fundamentalism- “the battle lines were not drawn around the inerrancy of scripture… such a position could be held coldly, without love. Rather, for him the watershed issue was obeying the Bible.”[10] It is in this that Schaeffer’s ideas become confused especially by American evangelicals who are often polarized into either the fundamentalist or anti-fundamentalist camps over the doctrine of inerrancy. Perhaps this is one last legacy that Schaeffer left behind with his passing- that one can seek to obey the Bible and lovingly engage with others about the issues that face man while remaining firm about God’s truth as inerrantly preserved in Scripture.

fs 5CONCLUSION

Francis Schaffer’s work can have a polarizing effect as the result of his widespread path through Christian ministry. From his fundamentalist beginnings to his politically active ending, his is a study in variety; ultimately, one cannot help but feel a ring of truth to his particular style of apologetics which were deeply rooted in love, community, and conversational truth. Perhaps this unlikely fusion was made possible by the prismatic plethora of pursuits that defined his life in ministry.

     [1] Walter A. Elwell, ed., Handbook of Evangelical Theologians (Grand Rapids, Mich: Baker Books, 1993), 248.

     [2] Elwell, Handbook of Evangelical Theologians, 248.

     [3] Michael Hamilton, “The Dissatisfaction of Francis Schaeffer,” Christianity Today, March 3, 1997, http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/1997/march3/7t322a.html?start=4.

     [4] Hamilton, “The Dissatisfaction of Francis Schaeffer,” Online.

     [5] Barry Hankins, Francis Schaeffer and the Shaping of Evangelical America, Library of religious biography (Grand Rapids, Mich: William B. Eerdmans Pub, 2008), 231.

     [6] Hankins, Francis Schaeffer and the Shaping of Evangelical America, 232.

     [7] Elwell, Handbook of Evangelical Theologians, 252.

     [8] Elwell, Handbook of Evangelical Theologians, 257.

     [9] Elwell, Handbook of Evangelical Theologians, 258.

     [10] Elwell, Handbook of Evangelical Theologians, 258.

 

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Meet Tertullian

QUINTUS SEPTIMIUS FLORENS TERTULLINA

tertVery little is known about the life of the Christian apologist and writer Quintus Septimius Florens Tertullian except that which is found in his own writings and from other early historians such as Eusebious of Caesarea and Jerome. However, what can be clearly said and seen is that the prolific writings of Tertullian were instrumental in developing a rational, logical, and ardent defense against the many heresies of his day and have served to become the basis for Christian doctrine and what is now known to be orthodoxy. What will follow will be a brief look at the life or Tertullian through the eyes of church historians, both from the today and yesterday, and an examination of some of his most important writings in defense of Christians doctrine and orthodoxy.

As mentioned above not much is known about the early life of Tertullian. What is generally agreed upon is that he was born in the Roman province of Carthage located in northern Africa around 155 CE. He was converted to Christianity in Rome around 190 CE but returned to Carthage where he became an influential leader and prolific writer. The facts around his childhood, his education, and profession seem to be grounded in church tradition stemming from the writing of his contemporaries and those that soon followed him.

Regarding his childhood . . .  

mapJerome (347-420 CE) writes the following, “Tertullian, the presbyter . . . was the son of a proconsul or Centurion.”[1] This paltry statement is one of very few statements that speaks to the childhood years of Tertullian and is seen by some modern day historians as suspect. For example, in Justo Gonzalez’s introduction to the early years of Tertullian the author’s language is vague and non-committal to the facts surrounding his early years and makes no mention of the possibility of his father being a Roman proconsul or Centurion. Additionally, according to literary critic Timothy David Barnes, Ph.d, “it is unclear whether any such position in the Roman military ever existed.”[2]

Regarding his education and profession . . .  

The common belief is that he was educated and trained in rhetoric and was most likely employed as a lawyer.[3] However this too has been called into question by critics such as Dr. Barnes who asserts that many of the writing that clearly identify Tertullian as a lawyer are only fragments and belong to a contemporary of Tertullian with the a similar name. Additionally Dr. Barnes asserts that the legal expertise exhibited in the writings of Tertullian is that which would be commonly known and understood by a Roman citizen.[4]

Regarding his writings and in particular marriage . . .

Despite the vagueness of Tertullian’s childhood and upbringing it is clear that he had a keen mind and an unyielding desire to define and defend Christian doctrine and orthodoxy. This is evidenced by his radical commitment to holiness as well as the many writings that are attributed to his name. These numerous writings cover a wide range of topics and issues that faced the early church and provide modern readers with a glimpse into how the early church viewed early practices and institutions. For example Gonzalez notes that Tertullina’s De Baptismo (On Baptism) is the oldest surviving work that speaks to the early church’s view and practice of baptism and that his two letters Ad Uxorem (To His Wife) provide a glimpse into how the early church viewed marriage marriage.[5]

fragAd Uxorem Tertullian make many observations regarding marriage that many would find to be still held in the modern day Evangelical Christian Church. First, that although marriage is good and lawful, he views celibacy as being preferable. For example he writes the following,

In short, there is no place at all where we read that nuptials are prohibited; of course on the ground that they are “a good thing.” What, however, is better than this “good,” we learn from the apostle, who permits marrying indeed, but prefers abstinence; the former on account of the insidiousnesses of temptations, the latter on account of he straits of the times.[6]

Other views held by Tertullian that are still held by many today is that there will be no marriage in the resurrection, marriage is lawful but polygamy is not, marriage serves to sooth the flesh of its carnal desires, it provides the legitimate avenue for the blessing of children, and that death definitely ends the marriage covenant and returns freedom to the surviving spouse. However it is on this last observation that some modern day evangelicals might find some disagreement.

For Tertullian the motive of all Christian men and women was to live a life in pursuit of the highest good, the truest truth, holiness, and as noted above although it was good to be married it was better and more preferable to be single and celibate. Therefore, in his view, once liberty and the freedom to worship God without distraction had been returned through the death of a spouse the surviving spouse should seek to devote himself or herself to the ministry of the church. This view is not emphasized or held by many today. In fact it is common practice, and almost expected, that those who find themselves newly single will eventually remarry.

Regarding the rigorousness of Tertullian . . .

Tertullian’s rigorous pursuit of truth and of the highest good not only shaped his view of marriage but also led to his eventual break from the church and his involvement with Montanism.

Montanism was an extreme sect of early Christianity that believed that the true church had entered into a new age marked by the prophecies of Montanus who called for a more rigorous life. The attraction for Tertullian is clear as he struggled with his own sins and those of other believers. For him Montansim provided a means of explaining why sin existed in the life of the believer even after baptism as well as provided a system of dealing with those sins. Still the rigorous lifestyle of Montansim proved to be insufficient and eventually he left this order and formed his own sect, which would later be known at the Tertullinaists.[7]

It is an interesting fact that whereas the Roman Catholic Church has canonized many of his contemporaries as Saints, Tertullian’s involvement with Montanism and the formation of his own sect based on the rigors of his own writings has prevented the Roman Catholic Church from labeling him as a Saint.

Regarding Adversus Praxean (Against Praxeas) . . .

The most compelling argument for Tertullian’s contribution to Christendom is his early work in the formation of the Trinitarian view of God as a defense against the heresies of Praxeas and what would come to be know as patripassianism.[8] Tertullian writes the following against Praxeas;

That this rule of faith has come down to us from the beginning of the gospel, even before any of the older heretics, much more before Praxeas . . . especially in the case of this heresy, which supposes itself to possess the pure truth, in thinking that one cannot believe in One Only God in any other way than by saying that the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost are the very selfsame Person.[9]

In this seminal defense of the faith Tertullian is the first to develop the following view of God, which would serve as the foundation for the Doctrine of the Trinity, “one substance and three persons.”

trinFor Tertullian, the paradox and mystery of God, was not something to be fully understood but that did not mean that humankind could not grasp the truth of the Trinity for God himself had revealed himself in the following ways. First, there eternally existed God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Ghost. Secondly, these three are not distinct gods but one God of the same substance. Finally, although they are distinct in person, or aspect, or power, they again are of one substance and fall under the names of the Father, and of the son, and of the Holy Ghost. Again Tertullian writes;

As if in this way also one were not All, in that All are of One, by unity (that is) of substance; while the mystery of the dispensation is still guarded, which distributes the Unity into a Trinity, placing in their order the three Persons-the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost: three, however, not in condition, but in degree; not in substance, but in form; not in power, but in aspect; yet of one substance, and of one condition, and of one power, inasmuch as He is one God, from whom these degrees and forms and aspects are reckoned, under the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. How they are susceptible of number without division, will be shown as our treatise proceeds.[10]

Throughout this work the keen legal mind of Tertullian and his expertise in the tools of rhetoric are clearly displayed as he defends and defines the doctrine that would formerly become know as The Doctrine of the Trinity. In fact Tertullian is the first writer to use the word Trinity and is also the first to begin to define the terms substance and economy that are the foundational elements of understanding how as he observes a Unity can be divided into diversity.

Concluding thoughts . . .

Anyone seeking to understand the mode and thinking of early Christianity as well as the modern views of Christian doctrine would be well served to read and study the writings of Tertullian.

In them they will find the work of a brilliant mind that was dedicated to defining and defending the beginning of the Christian faith through thoughtful and logical argument and understanding. In addition to this the reader will gain an appreciation for not only the past but also for today as many of the topics that modern day skeptics struggle with are the very same notions that skeptics of yester-year struggled with. The doctrine of the Trinitarian God was a mystery then and is still a mystery today.

By having an appreciation for and understanding of the foundational thoughts of Tertullian, believers today will be better equipped to explain the mysteries of God and perhaps remove many of the obstacles the prevent modern day skeptics from seeing Christianity as something more than a religion for the simple and unlearned, and begin to see it as it truly it – the one true path to the One True God.

– Steven Baker

SELECTED BIBLIOGRAPHY

Barnes, Timothy David. Tertullian: A Historical and Literary Study. 1985 edition. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1985.

Gonzalez, Justo L. The Story of Christianity. Rev. and updated, 2nd ed. New York: HarperOne, 2010.

SELECTED TRANSLATIONS

Excerpts from Tertullian’s Adversus Praxeam Chapter II provided by; http://www.tertullian.org/anf/anf03/anf03-43.htm#P10374_2906966

Experts from Tertullian’s Ad Uxorem provided by

http://www.tertullian.org/anf/anf04/anf04-11.htm#P700_173688

Excerpts from Jerome’s On Famous Men, Chapter 53 provided by; http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/2708.htm

SELECTED MEDIA

Image of Tertullian provided by; http://www.higherpraise.com/preachers/tertullian.htm

Image of Ad Uxorem provided by; https://www.deutsche-digitale-bibliothek.de/item/NZD5G7XB5WFLME6VRPV4L3GC7Y3SV7UP

Map of Mediterranean Sea and Christian Area; http://www.higherpraise.com/preachers/tertullian.htm

[1] Translation of Jerome’s On Famous Men, Chapter 53 provided by; http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/2708.htm

[2] Timothy David Barnes, Tertullian: A Historical and Literary Study, 1985 edition. (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1985), 11.

[3] Justo L. Gonzalez, The Story of Christianity, Rev. and updated, 2nd ed. (New York: HarperOne, 2010), Location 1715 of 9758.

[4] Barnes, Tertullian, 23–27.

[5] Gonzalez, The Story of Christianity, 1699=1715 or 9758.

[6] Experts from Tertullian’s Ad Uxorem provided by; http://www.tertullian.org/anf/anf04/anf04-11.htm#P700_173688

[7] Ibid., 1780 or 9758.

[8] Patripassianism is the belief that God the Father suffered the cross with Christ. This belief is also referred to as Modalism, which asserts that the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit are simply modes or appearance of God.

[9] Translation of excerpt from Adversus Praxeam Chapter II provided by; http://www.tertullian.org/anf/anf03/anf03-43.htm#P10374_2906966

[10] Translation of excerpt from Adversus Praxeam Chapter II provided by; http://www.tertullian.org/anf/anf03/anf03-43.htm#P10374_2906966

 

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Meet Erasmus of Rotterdam

(This summer, The Evangelical Orphan will feature several postings from my students at Phoenix Seminary. They have be encouraged to meet long-lost relatives from our ecclesiastical family, and introduce them to us all – in class, and through this blog. We’re hoping these offerings will serve as a whet for your ongoing appetite to learn more about our history. Enjoy! -bh)

Erasmus … “The Prince of Humanists”

Erasmus - by Hans Holbein the Younger

Erasmus – by Hans Holbein the Younger

Erasmus lived in Europe from 1466 until 1536. He was a priest and scholar who loved Christ and his bride. As a predecessor to the coming reformation he contributed to it in a number of important ways, however, he never broke with the papacy or the established church. As a result his importance and role were largely downplayed for centuries.

As the illegitimate son of a Catholic priest and a physician’s daughter orphaned by the plague; Erasmus was hardly positioned for great success and glory. His early education was entrusted to a monastic group, “The Brethren of the Common Life.” Although he would later be critical of certain monastic ideals, Erasmus would go on to appreciate the discipline and order that he learned from the order.

In order to fulfill a desire to study and travel Erasmus joined the Augustinians and was ordained as a priest. Erasmus became the secretary to the bishop of Cambrai who sent him to Paris to study theology. The studies in Paris were rigorous and challenging, but his monastic upbringing prepared him for the studies and the difficulty of the studies would prepare him for his future academic works. As he studied Erasmus developed a love for his studies. It is this love that connected him with a movement of academics called the Humanists. The Humanists were men devoted to the study of the literary works of the past. They were not Humanist based on their belief of the centrality of men, rather on their devotion to the humanities.

Throughout his studies Erasmus began writing and quickly became an accomplished and prolific writer. He would write no fewer than 15 published works and by 1530 between 10 and 20 percent of the published works sold were written by him. His works included titles like; On Free Will, The Praise of Folly, On Civility in Children, Copia: Foundations of the Abundant Style, Julius Exclusus, and Handbook of a Christian Soldier. The last book was a more complete expression of his theology. Erasmus believed that all men were accountable as soldiers of Christ and used a series of military metaphors to express the call to discipline and service. He was critical of the monastic and priestly elites that celebrated their piety, but did little to call others to practical lives of obedience. He was also critical of the engagement in “the vices of the pagans” that he observed at every level of the church leadership. These criticisms would eventually lead him to speak well of Luther’s call for reform even if he disagreed with Luther’s methodology.

Rotterdam, The Netherlands

Rotterdam, The Netherlands

Erasmus pursued the best theologians around Europe. His studies took him to England as well. While in England he made two enduring relationships that would impact him for the rest of his life. He became fast friends with Thomas More and they remained close for the rest of their lives. The second relationship emerged after Erasmus heard John Colet preach. Colet preached from the Scriptures anew rather than the commentaries that Erasmus had studied in Paris and elsewhere. It is not clear if the theology was distinctly different, but it was clear to Erasmus that it came from a devotion to and an understanding of the text. This kindled within Erasmus a desire for an understanding of the text that was the result of deep study of the text.

For Erasmus the logical step was to seek the text in its purest form. Rather than mining the depths of contemporary understanding he sought to dig down into the text itself. To this effort Erasmus began to study Greek and to gather to himself as many manuscripts as he could find. As a result of his discipline and dedication he was able to quickly master the Greek language. He worked frantically on the New Testament and quickly produced a collected Greek new testament formed from the manuscripts. Upon completing the collection he began to translate the work in to the common language of the academy, Latin. Although the Latin Vulgate already existed at this time, Erasmus desired to improve the quality of the translation both in accuracy and in care for the language.

What Erasmus produced was a tri-linear publication with the original Greek New Testament line by line with both the Vulgate and his own Latin translation. Included in the text were his personal study notes as well. Erasmus’ express purpose for producing this document was to create a translation that would be easily translated into the common languages of the people quickly and accurately. In fact this is the most significant impact that Erasmus had on the reformation. His translation and collected manuscript work would go on to be used in the translation of the KJV version and Luther’s German translation of the bible. Erasmus invited scholars to discuss the translations and the common man to engage in the text.

Erasmus is quoted in the preface of his published translation as saying, “Would that these were translated into each and every language… Would that the farmer might sing snatches of scripture at his plough and that the weaver might hum phrases of Scripture to the tune of his shuttle, that the traveler might lighten with stories from Scripture the weariness of his journey.” Even before the Reformation took hold, Erasmus desired future where the Holy Scriptures guided and inspired all of God’s people directly.

erasmus pcAlthough Erasmus was highly critical of the corruption in the church’s leadership he never fully supported Luther. He is quoted as supporting Luther’s call for reformation and speaking well of him to the Pope, but rather than serve to promote Luther this largely only served to alienate Erasmus and the Papacy. Despite the rift between Erasmus and the Pope, he did not support Luther’s efforts. Erasmus desired the unity of the church and a call to reform the practices of the church. He viewed the dissention and disunity as equally abhorrent to the corruption inside the existing church and therefore struggled to choose a side of the argument to support. Erasmus was also able to recognize the great cost that the debate would have saying, “I doubt that either side of the dispute can be suppressed without grave loss.”

In his later years Erasmus was still pursued by both the church and the Lutherans. He continued to ride the fence between the two positions. As a result the Pope accused him of sedition and censored much of his writing and the Lutherans accused him of forsaking the gospel and called him a coward. When pressed for an answer Erasmus recognized the Pope as the Vicar of Christ and the established church as the best opportunity for unity of the faith.

It was only centuries later when the rhetoric died down that Lutherans and Catholics alike looked back and recognized the work of Erasmus. He was then understood to be a man of significant scholarly achievement and as a man who loved the Scriptures and Christ. Despite his abstaining from a fight that he feared would hurt both parties, he was a passionate man seeking God and desiring the same for all men.

Nick Fryberger

 

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7th Day of Christmastide – Feast Day of Sylvester

Sylvester_I_and_Constantine7th Day of Christmastide – and the feast day of St. Sylvester.

Sylvester, born in Rome, was ordained to the ministry during the peaceeful days before the persecutions of Diocletian. He passed through those days of terror, and eventually saw the triumph of Constantine in the year 312, and the Edict of Milan in 313, which made Christianity legal in the Empire for the first time in centuries. Two years later he became Bishop of Rome, a position held for 24 years until his death in 335.

The Council of Nicaea took place during his papal ministry (325), but he didn’t attend because of his advanced age. He sent his legates in his place, but ultimately it was his “sign-off” on the Nicene Creed that was critical for Western acceptance. St. Sylvester was Pope for twenty-four years and eleven months. He died in the year 335. His Feast Day is December 31st.

Sylvester saw so much change: Peaceful days, heavy persecution, Constantine’s triumph, church freedom and prestige, ecumenical councils, and the move of the Empire’s center from his home town to the east. How I wish I could have a cup of coffee with him, and hear all of those stories.

 
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Posted by on December 31, 2014 in Early Church, Saints

 

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Cute Noah’s Ark? Third Friday of Advent – 14.12.19

noah's arkDoes anyone else connect Noah’s Ark with Christmas? I do…mostly because I remember giving a toy Noah’s Ark to our daughters for Christmas one year. And, each year that cute Noah’s Ark ornament finds its way to the family Christmas tree.

The fact that this portion of mankind’s history has become a sentimental children’s story is interesting. Somehow, lots of cuddly animals on a family boat trip, culminated by a rainbow … these tender images have pretty much trumped the specter of the global holocaust that was going on under the waters.

We have the tendency to do the same thing with the Second Coming of Christ. Do we long for it? Of course! But, in it’s tow will be devastation the likes of which the world has never seen. Personally, I don’t long for that.

Today’s text from 1 Peter references the flood.

“God’s patience waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was being prepared, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were brought safely through water. Baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ” (1 Pet. 3:20-21).

Sinful men, the patience of God, the covenant between God and His elect established, the impending judgment, and the salvation of the remnant. These are descriptors for both the days of Noah and these “last days” before the return of Christ. The season of Advent drives us into this connection, and to acknowledge the gravity of our times.

Triptych-Left-Panel-Philipp-Melanchthon-Performs-A-Baptism-Assisted-By-Martin-Luther-Centre-Panel-The-Last-Supper-With-Luther-Amongst-The-Apostles-Right-Panel-Luther-Makes-His-Confession-Luthers-Sermon-BelowMartin Luther’s words help here: “As it happened when Noah was preparing the ark, so it takes place at present … As he had regard to himself and was saved in the ark which swam upon the waters, so must you also be saved in baptism… we sail in the ark, which means the Lord Christ, or the Christian church, or the Gospel that Christ preached, or the body of Christ to which we cling by faith, and are saved as Noah was in the ark … where there are now those who cling to Christ, there is surely a Christian church.”

Not to get way off on baptism here – but Jesus commanded us to go into the world and baptize. This ancient initiation rite, infused with divine efficacy and depth of meaning by Jesus and his disciples, is an indispensable part of God’s gospel plan. It has always been understood as the official “embarkation” onto the ark – which Luther equates to Jesus/the Church/the Gospel all in one!

There is, however, a striking difference between Noah’s ark and today’s church: God has called today’s “Noah” to go into the highways and byways, and seek passengers for the ark of salvation before the deluge begins! Each day God’s patience delays the second coming means salvation for many (2 Pet. 3:9). But the flood waters are coming. Our advent focus should heighten our urgency to share the evangel-invitation to the world, that they, too, may be baptized onto the passenger list.

So, when you see a cute little Noah’s Ark this holiday season, think a bit about the underwater reality of that story, and let it motivate you to prepare for His coming!

E     *     O

 
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Posted by on December 19, 2014 in Advent 2014, Baptism

 

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See Those Lights? No? Third Thursday of Advent – 14.12.18

politicalI made the mistake yesterday of “getting into it” with someone in the comments section of a blog. I felt indignant that my ideas were being both misunderstood and belittled. By the end of the exchange, I had sinned on several fronts. Not only did I share poorly chosen words, but my spirit was flustered, and my conscience was stained. Overall, a bad exchange.

In my angst, I began doing some reading. I found an interesting article about the theory of motivated reasoning. In the article, the author breaks down reasons why, even when given considerable evidence, we can be very slow to change our minds because of our pre-existing beliefs. “All we can currently bank on,” says the author, “is the fact that we all have blinders in some situations. The question then becomes: What can be done to counteract human nature itself? Given the power of our prior beliefs to skew how we respond to new information, one thing is becoming clear: If you want someone to accept new evidence, make sure to present it to them in a context that doesn’t trigger a defensive, emotional reaction.”

Minds don’t change easily.  Which leads us to today’s text from 1 Peter, and Martin Luther’s commentary thereof.

“Even if you should suffer for righteousness’ sake, you will be blessed. Have no fear of them, nor be troubled, but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect, having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame” (1 Pet. 3:14-16).

n278s Turning AwayWhat do you think, Martin Luther? “The method by which [for the sophists] it must be shown that the faith is a right one, must agree with reason and come from the brain. But our faith is above all reason, and it alone is the power of God. Therefore, if people will not believe, then be silent; for you are not responsible for compelling them to hold the Scriptures as the Word or Book of God. It is enough that you give your reason from the Scriptures. But if they take exceptions … when you hear people of this stamp, who are so blind and obtuse as to deny or doubt that this is God’s Word, then be silent, speak nor more with them, and let them go.”

If you are an unbeliever reading this blog, you probably feel terribly patronized by Luther right now – after all, we’re right, and you’re obtuse. I apologize for that rhetoric – sort of. But the Biblical truth states that … well, we are right (not because we’re brilliant, but because God by His grace has revealed truth to our hearts and minds), and you’re … well, just unable to see it. And we can’t make you able to see it. Only God can do that.

Christmas_Lights_021A holiday analogy for you. Say you had a blind friend. No, wait, let’s expand that – you live in a colony of people who are all blind. But you have undergone a surgery – one that has been available to everyone in your town. But most people don’t think that it’s really available, or that it really works. But you believed. And now, you can see.

Now, suppose you are taking a group of blind friends for a walk through your neighborhood. You were just like them a few days ago, but now you can see the Christmas lights! So you enthusiastically tell them what “light” is, and then tell them about “colors”, and describe all the “beautiful” homes to them. And, you remind them that they could be enjoying these sights, too.

How do they respond? They say there’s no such thing as the surgery, or light, or colors. You must be making it up. You’re either self-deluded, or insane. The fact that they can’t see them doesn’t mean that you don’t. But, clearly, no amount of arguing is going to change their minds. The only way they will change is if they have the surgery done.

Some will believe in the surgery because of your testimony. Some simply won’t believe, and will remain blind. As the scriptures say, “Without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him” (Heb. 11:6).

I’m so thankful that I can see the lights. I do want others to see the lights. It seems, though, that the more I talk about the lights with some, the more hostile they become. It seems to make them angry, for some reason.

But I can’t be hostile back! Gentleness. Respect. Gracious silence. And mercy and compassion for them in their blindness. I will pray that their hearts will be moved – so they will truly long for and receive the vision that is freely given to those who believe. And, in the meantime, enjoy the lights, and be thankful!

E     *     O

 
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Posted by on December 18, 2014 in Advent 2014, Evangelism

 

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