July 14, 2004

This Week in Church History

July 12, 1739

The conversion of a young man whose short life would impact the lives of individuals all across the North American continent:

One morning while I was walking in a solitary place (as usual) and came near a thick bunch of hazels, I felt at once unusually lost and at the greatest stand and felt that all my contrivances and projections respecting my deliverance and salvation were brought to a final issue.
After spending days in anguish, thinking finally that the spirit of God had departed, finally:
By this time the sun was scarce half an hour high, as I remember, as I was walking in a dark thick grove, "unspeakable glory" seemed to open to the view and apprehension of my soul. By the glory I saw I don't mean any external brightness, for I saw no such thing, nor do I intend any imagination of a body of light or splendor somewhere away in the third heaven, or anything of that nature. But it was a new inward apprehension or view that I had of God; such as I never had before, nor anything that I had the least remembrance of it. I stood still and wondered and admired.

David Brainerd enrolled at Yale, hoping to receive his ministerial degree. He was dismissed for making an impolite remark about a teacher (which he denied, but offered appology for). In spite of this, he was comissioned a missionary to the Native Americans, and ministered among them for three years.

Upon his death in 1747 at the age of 29, his father-in-law, Jonathan Edwards, preached his funeral service, and began work on his classic biography The Life of David Brainerd.

Just when you think that God cannot use someone of a young age, you are reminded of this remarkable young man. There is a new edition of Edwards' biography of Brainerd -- I highly recommend it.

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July 08, 2004

This Week in Church History

July 8, 1741

Jonathan Edwards was one of the most influential theologians of his day. His writing influenced preachers on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean, and helped to fuel the Second Great Awakening, just as he was influential in the First. Today, though, marks the anniversary of his preaching a sermon that was highly uncharacteristic of him.

"All you that never passed under a great change of heart by the mighty power of the Spirit of God upon your souls; all that were never born again, and made new creatures, and raised from being dead in sin...you are thus in the hands of an angry God; 'tis nothing but his mere pleasure that keeps you from being this moment swallowed up in everlasting destruction."


Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God is often cited as an example of fire-and-brimstone preaching that characterized the Great Awakening, not to mention the preaching of modern-day backwoods fundamentalists. Few people realize that the sermon was, in fact, an exception for Edwards.

Jonathan Edwards wrote books on science and nature. He wrote and preached logically and systematically. Later theologians would list the study of his books as a requirement for revival. And yet, as Sinners shows, he was perfectly capable of letting people know in no uncertain terms what their spiritual condition was, and what they needed to do about it. He was the personification of Evangelical Calvinism for later evangelicals (Presbyterian AND Baptist) who were confronted with growing hyper-Calvinistic opposition to evangelism. His works are still widely available, and there is currently a resurgence in the reading and study of this most influential man.


"Therefore let everyone that is out of Christ now awake and fly from the wrath to come."

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July 01, 2004

This Week in Church History

June 29, 67

Rome. The seat of all power in the known world. The heart of the Empire.

According to The People's Chronology, this is the date when the apostle Paul was beheaded.

The date itself is speculative -- the year has been thought to be anywhere from 62 to 67, and it's doubtful that we'll ever know for sure. What is important is the example of the life of Paul.

Paul was the most successful church planter in history. He planted churches throughout Asia Minor -- almost everywhere he went, a local church was born. He knew the importance of fellowship among Christians.

Paul also knew the importance of discipleship. He wrote constantly to the churches he helped to start, keeping track of their development and their problems, writing to encourage or correct. His letters were so influential, so obviously inspired by God, that even the apostle Peter included them with other inspired writings as Scripture (2 Peter 3:15-16).

Paul also pioneered the missionary movement. Not satisfied with waiting for people to come to him, Paul went out, teaching first in the synagogues, then everywhere he could -- always trying to reach people with the gospel of Christ. He was committed to the idea that the Gospel was for everyone, Jew or Gentile, male or female, slave or free. In spite of opposition, even from other apostles, he remained committed to this idea until his death.

There were many factors that led to Paul's death. He threatened many cities economically -- trade in idols and sacrifices was lucrative, and the growing Christian church threatened that. He also threatened Roman political power -- Christians could not worship the emperor as a god, which is what the Empire demanded. This new sect threatened to destabilize the Roman way of life, so it had to be stopped. The fact that not even the power of Rome could stop its growth shows that Christ's words were true: the gates of Hell would not prevail against His church.

Paul's influence on Christianity is unmistakable. It is ironic, then, that Paul had dedicated himself early on in his life to ending the influence of Christianity. The power of the presence of the risen Christ on the road to Damascus was overwhelming, though, and the results show how Christ can change anyone's life -- no matter how messed up, sinful, or confused.

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