February 03, 2007

This Week in Church History

February 4, 1555.

John Rogers was a good Catholic, born when everyone was a good Catholic (or a heathen). He also lived at a time when many were questioning the unscriptural practices of the established church.

Rogers was given a church position after he finished his education, but soon resigned. There were things that he was being taught that he could not reconcile with Scripture, and felt he could no longer serve the church. And that was where he was very wrong.
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March 17, 2006

A Wee Bit of Patrick

From "A Letter to the Soldiers of Coroticus," translated by John Skinner, included in The Confession of Saint Patrick more...

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October 31, 2005

Reformation Day, 2005

I actually had to work today, so this is the first opportunity I've had to talk about the real October 31st holiday -- Reformation Day.

This is the date that, in 1517, Martin Luther posted his 95 Theses on the door of the church in Wittenberg. Or maybe he didn't. The first known account of the actual nailing of the Theses didn't appear until after Luther's death, and there is some discussion among historians over whether it actually happened or not. It is in keeping with the practice of the day -- theses were traditionally nailed up when they were to be presented for debate, and Luther could have done just that, hoping for a debate that would spark reform within the Catholic church. At the very least, Luther's concerns as expressed in the Theses were made known to his superiors -- his opposition to Papal indulgences and many of the other problems in the church resulted in his condemnation and the beginning of the Lutheran church and Protestant Christianity.

I think it's interesting that one of the web sites that you find when searching for "Reformation Day" includes the question "Why is Reformation Day such an important Christian festival?" I would say that it is an ignored Christian festival. Ask the average Christian in the street what Reformation Day is, and they probably won't have much of a clue. Most churches are more concerned with organizing their Hell House and having hayrides for their Fall Festival than they are in teaching the historic origins of Protestant Christianity, or teaching what they were protesting to begin with.

It's a perfect opportunity to remember the Reformation slogan -- Ecclesia Reformata, Semper Reformanda -- The church reformed and always to be reformed. We need to always be careful that our beliefs and practices are based firmly on Scripture, and not on traditions, and we need to be willing to make changes when we are out of line. That, if nothing else, is what we must learn from the Reformation.

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September 06, 2005

This Week in Church History

A double-shot in this post. This is a big week in Baptist history, especially.

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July 01, 2005

This Week in Church History

June 27, 363

Though there is some arguement over the exact date (some sources say June 26), there is no mistaking the importance of this date.

The day that Julian the Apostate died in battle. more...

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June 08, 2005

This Week in Church History

June 9, 1732.

"Separation of Church and State" is a rallying cry today. I am in favor of keeping government out of the business of the church, and I think that the church has many more important things to do than worry about the details of running a nation. But I do NOT think that this means that Christians should expect no support from government in practicing their faith, nor does it mean that Christians should not act on their beliefs in public office.

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June 06, 2005

This Week in Church History

June 10, 1555.

Thomas Haukes was chained to a stake and burned to death.

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May 18, 2005

This Week in Church History

May 16, 583

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March 24, 2005

This Week in Church History

March 23, 322.

This is the anniversary of the death of Gregory the Illuminator. Gregory is credited with helping in the creation of the first Christian nation in the world. And it wasn't the United States.

There were certainly Christians in Armenia when Gregory was born -- tradition says that Bartholomew and Thaddeus both visited the country and preached Christ to them in the first century AD. There were churches in existence in 257 when Gregory was born, so there could be some truth to the legends.

Unfortunately, Christianity was not a popular faith. The Persian rulers of the land had all but extinguished it by the time of Gregory's birth. Gregory's nurse had to flee the country with him when his entire family was killed in retaliation for his father assassinating the Armenian king. Gregory was raised in Cappadocia, and learned the Gospel there. He soon returned to Armenia, where he preached the gospel.

He wasn't popular. The king persecuted him. His life was in danger. But his faithfulness won converts -- ultimately including the king himself, who declared Armenia a Christian nation.

The church in Armenia was incredibly strong -- lasting until the Turks massacred Christians there in the 20th Century. It was the first to have a Bible in it's own national language. And it was a strong voice for Christ in Europe.

I learned a lot from this study. I tend to consider state churches as a bad thing -- it isn't necessarily that way. Armenia is a perfect example of a state church done right. Unfortunately, men of Gregory's caliber are rare in this day. Few men today would be capable of balancing the power and responsibility that Gregory had.

What can we learn from this? We can learn a lot from Gregory's faithfulness, and his commitment to spreading the gospel. He had little hope of success, and could expect to be killed for his faith. He didn't stop.

We can also see the value in Christians united in their faith. While I still have a problem with the idea of a national church, a body of Christians united in purpose and faith can achieve amazing things. While there are some things that should divide Christians (issues concerning the deity of Christ, the value and role of Scripture, salvation by grace through faith, etc.), we often let insignificant things separate us. We need to determine what we must agree on, and what we can agree to disagree on. If we can do that, we can show the world the kind of church that the apostles saw, and that was present for thousands of years in Armenia.

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March 07, 2005

Today in Church History

(TWO in one 'week'! You'll get spoiled, I know you will ...)

March 7, 1274.

A man who is arguably the best theologian of the Middle Ages, Thomas Aquinas, died this day at 48. Aquinas adapted the writings of Aristotle to Christianity (for good or ill), in the process engaging Averroists in both Christianity and Islam in debate. His Summa Theologiae is still studied by students of all denominations all over the world. His teachings on the relationship between faith and are still studied (and are the subject of the next 'Faith and Reason' segment that I am working on).

Aquinas wasn't always this popular. His classmates thought he was stupid -- they called him a "dumb ox." His aristocratic family thought he was throwing his life away. Nobody thought he would ammount to anything.

They were wrong. The full impact of this man's theology and philosophy cannot be measured even today, but it is safe to say that the Roman Catholic Church, at the very least, would be vastly different in teaching and practice without him.

An outstanding resource on Aquinas can be found here.

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March 05, 2005

Today in Church History

(It's BACK! Did you miss it?)

March 5, 1797.

Henry Nott arrives in Tahiti to begin his missionary work. Twenty-two years later, he rejoices in his first convert.

How many of us would have that kind of patience? How many of us would stay in a country to minister after all those who came with us were killed by the natives? How many of us would have stuck with it?

We live in a society that demands instant results. We have microwaves because we can't wait for our food to cook. The other day, I saw microwaveable peanut-butter and jelly sandwiches in the freezer section at the grocery store. My wife assured me that they are not a new thing. It takes longer to nuke the sandwhich than it does to spread peanut-butter and jelly on bread!!

We have the internet so we can communicate instantly with anyone, no matter where they are. My first modem was a 300 baud modem for my Commodore 64. I still have it somewhere. Now I have a cable modem that gets me information almost instantly. And in another ten years, THAT will probably be too slow.

We are a people who cannot wait. And some things require patience -- like evangelism. God does not work in our time, even though we expect Him to. We need the patience of a Henry Nott, and we will see change.

Nott's first convert? King Pomare II, one of the most violent men in the world at that time. His conversion changed Tahiti forever. You never know who you can reach, if only you don't give up.

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January 08, 2005

This Week in Church History

January 3, 1560.

The death of Peder Palladius.

"Who?" you ask? Good question; Palladius isn't the best-known reformer, after all. He never gained the notoriety of Luther or Calvin, or even Zwingli. But the reform he brought to Denmark was just as important as their work.

Palladius was a student himself when the Reformation started, and was heavilly influenced by the writings of Phillip Melanchthon, travelling to Wittenberg to study under the great reformer. He devoted his life to Reformed teachings, and to service of the Church.

Denmark was split by civil war because of the influence of Protestantism. Catholic citizens refused to be ruled by a Protestant King (understandibly, since their nation could suffer interdiction, when Sacraments were witheld from the citizens by the Church), and revolted. Christian III defeated the Catholic forces and became the first Protestant King of Denmark. Christian proved to be a rather tolerant king, one of the few Protestant monarchs who didn't actively persecute the Catholics in his kingdom.

Palladius completed his studies in 1537 and was appointed to the highest church office in Denmark by the king. He proved to be not only a devoted bishop but also a porlific teacher and writer. He never forced conversion on anyone, but taught with love -- letting the Holy Spirit do the work of conversion.

The Reformation was a time of great turmoil in Europe; wars were regularly fought between Protestant and Catholic forces, both claiming to be the true faith. The example of Palladius (and the other reformers <-- requires Acrobat) in Denmark show that the Holy Spirit will work when we allow Him to, and that (contrary to popular belief) not all religion requires violence in it's service.

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December 16, 2004

This Week in Church History

December 11, 1792.

One month from now, Louis XVI would be executed for crimes against the French people. But on this day, something more important happened.

Joseph Mohr was born in Salzburg Germany. He was illegitimate -- the son of a German soldier (Franz Joseph Mohr) and Ann Schoiber, whose family he was living with at the time. When informed of her pregnancy, Mohr did what too many soldiers have done in similar circumstances -- he ran, even deserting the army. Ann was left holding the bag, and was forced to bear the shame and fine alone.

Young Joseph loved to sing, and was allowed to join a Benedictine choir, and studied music with the choirmaster's other students. He excelled, learning several instruments by the age of twelve. He was ordained a priest in 1815.

Three years later, faced with a broken organ and no Christmas music, Mohr wrote the words to one of the most beloved Christmas carols of all time, "Silent Night, Holy Night."

Mohr never became wealthy because of the song; in fact, he died penniless, having devoted his money to a school for poor children. But his example -- a child who had no hope for any future, whose stigma could have prevented him from receiving an education, but was given a chance by people who loved him -- is an inspiration for us all.


Stille Nacht, heilige Nacht,
Alles schläft; einsam wacht
Nur das traute hochheilige Paar.
Holder Knabe im lockigen Haar,
Schlaf in himmlischer Ruh!
Schlaf in himmlischer Ruh!

Stille Nacht, heilige Nacht,
Hirten erst kundgemacht
Durch der Engel Halleluja,
Tönt es laut von fern und nah:
Christ, der Retter ist da!
Christ, der Retter ist da!

Stille Nacht, heilige Nacht,
Gottes Sohn, o wie lacht
Lieb' aus deinem göttlichen Mund,
Da uns schlägt die rettende Stund'.
Christ, in deiner Geburt!
Christ, in deiner Geburt!
(If you have problems with some of the characters, change your Encoding to Unicode UT-
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December 07, 2004

Today in Church History

{This should have gone up yesterday, but I goofed. Sorry.}

I've done one of these this week, but I have a couple more. Some important things happened, and we need to think about the implications.

December 6, 1273.

Throughout his life, Thomas Aquinas had fought to be able to express his beliefs. He was called a "dumb ox" by his fellow students. His wealthy family didn't want him to become a monk -- going so far as to hire a prostitute to seduce him.

Thomas prevailed, and the church has been indebted to him ever since. Without his writings and philosophy, the teachings of the Roman Catholic Church would be very different. His Summa Theologica is regarded as one of the most important writings of the Middle Ages. He is widely regarded as being one of the greatest thinkers in all of Christendom.

On this date, he received a vision. When he was asked to tell of his vision, he simply said "Such things have been revealed to me that all I have written seems to me as so much straw. Now I await the end of my life."

What did Thomas see? Nobody knows. I think that it's clear that whatever he saw, it was enough to show him that, in the long run, disputations and debate are meaningless. Aquinas' theology, and that of most of the medieval Scholastics, taught that reason alone was enough to get to a saving knowledge of God. Centuries later, Martin Luther realized that the endless string of "ergo" {therefore} was leading people nowhere. He realized that you can 'ergo' straight to Hell -- the key to saving faith is in the word "Nevertheless."

God is omnipotent
Jesus is God
Ergo Jesus is omnipotent
Ergo Jesus could have defeated the Roman soldiers and established His kingdom on earth.
NEVERTHELESS, He dies willingly for our sins.

God is holy
We are not holy
Ergo there is a separation between God and Man
NEVERTHELESS, God has made a way for us to be reconciled to Him.

That one word makes the difference.

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December 04, 2004

This Week in Church History

December 5, 633.

A church council was convened in Seville, Spain, ordered by Archbishop Isidore of Seville. The council ruled on a anumber of important issues -- some of which we should pay attention to today. They affirmed the unity of God, while also affirming the Trinity. The ruled that Christians should not force Jews to convert. They also ruled that once a person became a monk, it was for life. They even got a little political, backing the newly-crowned King Sisenand even thogh he had deposed the old king. In exchange for their support, the King freed the clergy from any mandatory state service, and made the Church tax-exempt.

They also ruled on a controversial new form of music -- hymns. Prior to this time, most of the songs sung in church were Biblical passages set to music, but recently some Christians were writing their own praises to God. This caused a huge stir in the church, as people wondered whether these works of mere men were suitable for use in the church of God.

In the end, it wasn't much of a conflict. The council ruled that the hymns written by holy men, such as bishops Ambrose and Hilary, could be considered fit for use in holy services. When we read some of these hymns, it's clear that the content of the songs are scriptural, the music was the same style as had been used before, and the character of the writer was unquestioned. The music was fit for use in the Church.

We face a similar "controversy" today -- the feud over "praise music" and "contemporary worship" in churches. The songs are the same, the message is the same, but the fight is over the style. Can "modern music" praise God?

It always has in the past. God doesn't give us a formula in Scripture about what kind of music He likes, and what kind He doesn't. Christians are commanded to "do all for the glory of God" -- that includes our music, no matter what we listen to. I'm amused at the ammount of time we spend fighting about this issue -- a church can have a growing ministry, a tremendous outreach, and fantastic expository preaching, but if they have a praise band and play CCM, we want to lump them in with the apostates who deny the Gospel, the Bible, and every teaching of Scripture! This is self-defeating. We have more important work before us, and we should be worrying about that, not what style of music God likes.

We need to remember that this fight has always gone on, and has always been regarded later in history as a petty debate. We need to get over it, and get about more important work.

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October 28, 2004

Today in Church History

October 28, 312.

This whole week is huge for the Church. Luther's 95 Theses on the 31st, the publishing of the NIV yesterday -- both served as signs of change for the church.

Today's sign is bigger then either of these.

Hoc signo victor eris. By this sign, you will conquer. Those words, and a cross in the sky, changed history in an incredible way. At Milvan Bridge, Constantine became the first Roman Emperor to march into battle under the sign of the Cross of Christ.

Many people are skeptical of Constantine's true conversion. His forced baptism of entire armies makes Christians today cringe. His interference in church matters at the Council of Nicea cannot even be imagined in this day of religious liberty and separation of church and state -- imagine President Bush calling the nation's evangelical leaders together to settle the debate about Open Theism once and for all!

Whatever the cause, whether genuine or not, Constantine's conversion marked the beginning of a new era for Christianity. No longer worried about being killed for their faith, the church could settle down and resonlve some differences, make sure everyone knew what was really orthodox belief. Christian thinkers could be more open in their belief, and could turn toward persuading others to become Christians.

Then came the problem -- Christianity as the official religion. But that's for another post.

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October 27, 2004

Today in Church History

October 27, 1978.

An event that would forever shape the course of evangelical dialog in America. AN event that would give rise to a new teaching, a new distinction between believers. A watershed day, one whose importance still, I would hazard, has not fully been understood or appreciated.

On this date in 1978, the New International Version of the Bible was published.

I have to admit that I was, at the beginning of the movement, a KJVOnly. I enjoyed running around pointing at people reading this new version, and informing them that they were reading the Not Inspired Version. I had great fun with that for a long time.

Then my Dad bought an NIV study Bible, to use in preparing Sunday School lessons at church.

I couldn't make fun of my Dad, and he said that it was easier to understand and read, so I decided to read it. I found out that much of what I'd been told was wrong, and I started trying to learn all I could about the translation of the Bible, and the history of the English translations of the Bible. The more I learned, the more I knew I couldn't be KJVOnly anymore.

The NIV still isn't my favorite translation. I've even been known to pull out the Not Inspired Version line from time to time, in jest. I use the ESV and the NKJV in my personal studies, and the NASB at school. I still like the King James -- it's got an elegance that is hard to equal -- the ESV comes VERY close, and that's why I like that one.

The arrival of the NIV opened the floodgates for a plethora of modern translations, especially versions utilizing the dynamic equivalence translation method. The Bible aisles in Christian bookstores look like rows of alphabet soup cans -- NKJV, ESV, NASB, NAB, HCSB, RSV, NRSV, NLT, yadda yadda yadda. Some of the translations are quite good -- others are not. Rather than complain, we should be thrilled that there are people who are reading the Bible in their own language -- whatever form of English that might be -- for the first time. And lives are being changed.

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October 21, 2004

This Week in Church History

October 22, 1884.

Jesus came back on this date in 1884. Did you miss it? Yeah, so did everyone else.

Baptist minister William Miller, ignoring Christ's statement in Matthew that na man knows the day or the hour except God Himself, decided to predict Christ's return. He looked through history, took the traditional 'day=year' interpretation of Daniel 8 to heart, and decided that October 22, 1884 was The Day(tm).

He got together about 100,000 of his closest followers, and they sat on hillsides all over the world to wait.

And wait.

And wait.

When it became obvious to everyone that Jesus wasn't coming back that day, one of the leaders got up and made this statement: "I never did fix upon the precise time myself, and I always told my brethren they would get into trouble if they did; but they would not listen to me, but followed other leaders...I believe the most important thing after all is, to be ready..." Of course, he was one of them sitting on the hill waiting, so you have to wonder about his sincerity at that point.

It is dangerous to start setting dates. I can remember the sensation caused by the book 88 reasons Why the Lord Will Come Back in 1988. I'd LOVE to have been able to interview the author in 1989 or 1990 and ask him what happened. I think you can still find this book in used bookstores, though if I'd written the thing I'd be travelling the country buying up all the copies I could find, and burning them.

Date setting is fun, and popular. Nothing draws a crowd better than "Come to the revival meeting tonight, and I'll tell you when Jesus is coming back!"

Unless the answer is "Pretty Soon!", don't believe it. Christians are commanded to be busy until He comes back -- so that when He gets here, He finds we've been doing what we're supposed to. THAT is the lesson we can learn from the Millerites.

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October 16, 2004

This Week in Church History

October 16, 1701.

A group of Congregationalist ministers, unhappy with the liberalism at Harvard, decided to found their own school. They founded The Collegiate School so that "Youth may be instructed in the Arts and Sciences who through the blessing of God may be fitted for Publick employment both in Church and Civil State."

The first classes were held in the home of the first rector, Abraham Pierson. The students were expected to live religiously, and pray regularly. The main purpose of the student body was to be to know God in Jesus Christ. And even into the 1800s, the school stayed true to that goal.

The school was renamed in 1745, in honor of the donation of $2,800, and was still purposed to propagate the Protestant religion. The school still carries the name of this donor, though it is no longer following this course. The donor was Elihu Yale.

Schools change. The example of this particular school should serve as a warning to the founders of today's Christian institutions of higher learning. Good intentions of founders do not last long -- it is necessary to put in place mechanisms for accountability, to make sure that the school remains faithful to it's call.

This is true of individuals, as well. Without some sort of accountability, we tend to stray away from our calling. It's easy to do. We all need to be careful that we take precautions so that it doesn't happen to us.

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September 18, 2004

This Week in Church History

September 22, 1931

While riding to a zoo in the sidecar of his brother's motorcycle, C.S. Lewis made the most important decision in his life. He converted from mere theism to Christianity.

"When we set out I did not believe that Jesus is the Son of God and when we reached the zoo I did."

Lewis had been having ongoing discussions with J.R.R. Tolkien and Hugo Dyson about religion, and became convinced of Christianity's truth through them -- though I'm sure that Tolkien was disappointed that Lewis joined the Anglican church, rather than espousing Tolkien's own Roman Catholic faith. Lewis joined the church and took his first communion on Christmas Day that year.

I doubt that anyone knew the influence that Lewis would have on Christianity and Christian thought. His work Mere Christianity is an incredible logical defense of Christianity, that doesn't become dogmatic or lead to any specific denomination. His Narnia series introduces children to key Christian truths, including the resurrection of Christ. His Screwtape Letters have become a Christian classic. He continues to influence Christian thought to this day, though his theology would be considered far from evangelical today.

No big moral lesson in this one -- I'd just recommend everyone go out and buy a copy of Mere Christianity, if you don't already have one. And read it. And share it.

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