Category Archives: Church History

In the (e)mail from @AccordanceBible, @ivpacademic’s “Ancient Christian Doctrine (5 Volumes)”

NA28 on AccordanceThanks to H at Accordance for this!

From the Accordance Website:

This exciting five-volume series follows up on the acclaimed Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture to provide patristic commentary on the Nicene Creed. The series renders primary Greek, Latin, Coptic and Syriac source material from the church fathers in lucid English translation (some here for the first time) and gives readers unparalleled insight into the history and substance of what the early church believed.

Including biographical sketches, a timeline of ancient Christian sources, indexes, bibliographies and keys to original language sources as well as the Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed in Greek, Latin and English (ICET version), this series illuminates key theological essentials in the light of classic and consensual Christian faith and makes an excellent resource for preaching and teaching.

This module includes the following five volumes:

  • Volume 1 – We Believe in One God (Edited by Gerald L. Bray)
  • Volume 2 – We Believe in One Lord Jesus Christ (Edited by John Anthony Mcguckin)
  • Volume 3 – We Believe in the Crucified and Risen Lord (Edited by Mark J. Edwards)
  • Volume 4 – We Believe in the Holy Spirit (Edited by Joel C. Elowsky)
  • Volume 5 – We Believe in One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church (Edited by Angelo DiBerardino)

You may also be interested in the 29-volume Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture (ACCS Complete) and the 3-volume Ancient Christian Devotional (Ancient Devotional).

BTW, as of today, there is a 20% discount storewide.

This is what it looks like on my Mac:

Screen Shot 2015-03-25 at 9.26.04 AM

 

This is what it looks like on my iPad with 2.0 Accordance App:

  

  

I mean… how awesome is that!

Tertullian on Interpreting Scripture

…Now there are two conditions of prophetic announcement which I adduce, as requiring the assent of our adversaries in the future stages of the discussion. One, that future events are sometimes announced as if they were already passed. For it is consistent with Deity to regard as accomplished facts whatever It has determined on, because there is no difference of time with that Being in whom eternity itself directs a uniform condition of seasons. It is indeed more natural to the prophetic divination to represent as seen and already brought to pass, even while forseeing it, that which it foresees; in other words, that which is by all means future. As for instance, in Isaiah: “I gave my back to the smiters, and my cheeks (I exposed) to their hands. I hid not my face from shame and spitting.” For whether it was Christ even then, as we hold, or the prophet, as the Jews say, who pronounced these words concerning himself, in either case, that which as yet had not happened sounded as if it had been already accomplished. Another characteristic will be, that very many events are figuratively predicted by means of enigmas and allegories and parables, and that they must be understood in a sense different from the literal description. For we both read of “the mountains dropping down new wine,” but not as if one might expect “must” from the stones, or its decoction from the rocks; and also hear of “a land flowing with milk and honey,” but not as if you were to suppose that you would ever gather Samian cakes from the ground; nor does God, forsooth, offer His services as a water-bailiff or a farmer when He says, “I will open rivers in a dry land; I will plant in the wilderness the cedar and the box-tree.” In like manner, when, foretelling the conversion of the Gentiles, He says, “The beasts of the field shall honour me, the dragons and the owls,” He surely never meant to derive His fortunate omens from the young of birds and foxes, and from the songsters of marvel and fable. But why enlarge on such a subject? When the very apostle whom our heretics adopt, interprets the law which allows an unmuzzled mouth to the oxen that tread out the corn, not of cattle, but of ourselves; and also alleges that the rock which followed (the Israelites) and supplied them with drink was Christ; teaching the Galatians, moreover, that the two narratives of the sons of Abraham had an allegorical meaning in their course; and to the Ephesians giving an intimation that, when it was declared in the beginning that a man should leave his father and mother and become one flesh with his wife, he applied this to Christ and the church. (Adv Marc 3.5)1

And with that, he goes one to defeat Marcion.

  1.  Tertullian, “The Five Books against Marcion,” in Latin Christianity: Its Founder, Tertullian (ed. Alexander Roberts, James Donaldson, and A. Cleveland Coxe; trans. Peter Holmes; vol. 3; The Ante-Nicene Fathers; Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Company, 1885), 3324.

Good Stuff from St. Irenaeus on St. Paul (inspiration, rhetoric)

Irenaeus compiled a list of apostolic successi...
Irenaeus compiled a list of apostolic succession, including the immediate successors of Peter and Paul” (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Holy cow. I love this sort of stuff.

St. Irenaeus is fighting off Marcion and attempting to explain some things about St. Paul’s writing. Here, he cites Galatians 3.19. The Iion from Lyons writes,

From many other instances also, we may discover that the apostle frequently uses a transposed order in his sentences, due to the rapidity of his discourses, and the impetus of the Spirit which is in him. An example occurs in the [Epistle] to the Galatians, where he expresses himself as follows: “Wherefore then the law of works? It was added, until the seed should come to whom the promise was made; [and it was] ordained by angels in the hand of a Mediator.” For the order of the words runs thus: “Wherefore then the law of works? Ordained by angels in the hand of a Mediator, it was added until the seed should come to whom the promise was made,”—man thus asking the question, and the Spirit making answer. (Adv. Haer. 3.7.2)

I see a few things:

  • St. Paul writes haphazardly “due to the rapidity of his discourses, and the impetus of the Spirit.”

Notice the collision of human and divine. After St. Irenaeus notes why St. Paul is writing in such a way — and why it is often confusing, the word order is messed up, etc… — he offers a correction. 

Second,

    • St. Irenaeus sees a dialogue in Galatians.

Some of us have noted that this seems to be St. Paul’s style in various other books, notably Romans. This would be a very small snippet of this, but St. Irenaeus noticed it and that is a big [Joe Biden] deal.

 

Wesley, Sermon 134 , on the importance of doctrine

John Wesley Quote

There is this notion that John Wesley somehow cared very little for “orthodoxy, or right opinions,” and yet, we see throughout his sermons (which are official doctrinal standards in the United Methodist Church) a sound footing placed not on experience of emotions and subjective ideas, but on these right doctrines as expressed best in the three creeds (Apostles, Nicene, and Athanasian).

If his sermons are doctrinal standards (and they are) then this means we should based our doctrine moving forward on these sermons. In as such, I want to focus on one in particular (for now). This one, True Christianity Defended, has the basis of Wesley’s vision for the individual Christian. What we see is not a turning, or loosening of, from doctrine to nothing but good works (i.e., recent definitions of Social Justice). Rather, what is seen is a concrete call to these right opinions as matters of the heart and practice.

This post will be done in two parts. One focusing on Wesley’s view of doctrine and the second, focusing on Wesley’s view of practice. You can find it here if you would like to follow along.

Wesley is distressed at the lack of sound doctrinal teaching. If you look at the collected sermons, you will not teachings on various doctrinal points — The Trinity, Justification, etc… — and not just good works. Anyway, this part really nails it, I think.

We have likewise cause to give thanks to the Father of Lights, for that he hath not left himself without witness; but that there are those who now preach the gospel of peace, the truth as it is in Jesus. But how few are these in comparison of those (hoi kapeleuontes) who adulterate the word of God! how little wholesome food have we for our souls, and what abundance of poison! how few are there that, either in writing or preaching, declare the genuine gospel of Christ, in the simplicity and purity wherewith it is set forth in the venerable records of our own Church! And how are we inclosed on every side with those who, neither knowing the doctrines of our Church, nor the Scriptures, nor the power of God, have found out to themselves inventions wherewith they constantly corrupt others also!1

That last line is a doozy, ain’t it? Those who know nothing of the foundation of the Christian Church make up things as they go along. (I honestly blame the seminaries here who seem more intent on teaching innovation and bureaucracy than Scripture, Tradition, and Reason). First, this should tell us Wesley understood well the reasoning behind Tradition. Second, it tells us Wesley did not care for “new” or “innovative” because they more often than not betray the lack of connection the inventor has with Christianity.

What had gotten Wesley so riled up is that he believed the Anglican Church (and perhaps the Church Universal) as infected with debasing doctrines. Just before this quote, he has harsh words for his community, words I dare say would never be uttered today by many United Methodists,

How faithful she was once to her Lord, to whom she had been betrothed as a chaste virgin, let not only the writings of her sons, which shall be had in honour throughout all generations, but also the blood of her martyrs, speak;—a stronger testimony of her faithfulness than could be given by words, even

By all the speeches of the babbling earth.

But how is she now become an harlot! How hath she departed from her Lord! How hath she denied him, and listened to the voice of strangers! both,

I. In respect of doctrine; and,
II. Of practice.

Honestly, though, imagine a pastor standing up in a local UMC congregation and telling it that we had gone astray because we had not listened to Scripture (writings of her sons) and Tradition (blood of the martyrs).

In what areas did we go astray, the Staff Parish committee would say, as they were preparing the letter to tell the Bishop the pastor had gone insane.

The pastor, watching the Trustees nominate from the congregation people who can only be bivocational bouncers-slash-pallbearers, says simply,

In doctrine and in practice.

Doesn’t that (the seemingly sole focus on Scripture) sound a bit… fundamentalist! Hardly.  While we can imagine Wesley was a “man of one book,” Wesley did not discourage many others books besides — but actually recommended many, many books.  He writes,

It cannot be said that all our writers are setters forth of strange doctrines. There are those who expound the oracles of God by the same Spirit wherewith they were written; and who faithfully cleave to the solid foundation which our Church hath laid agreeable thereto; touching which we have His word who cannot lie, that “the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” There are those also, (blessed be the Author of every good gift!) who, as wise master-builders, build thereon, not hay or stubble, but gold and precious stones,—but that charity which never faileth.

Believe it or not, Wesley valued Tradition, albeit a firm — apostolic — Tradition. He knew that Scripture and Tradition could be expounded upon (the former) and expanded (the latter) — but when one dismissed either of them, substituting their own ideas and experiences for the Christian message, then this was what actually damaged the Church. “Babblings of the earth” are those things separated from Christian Tradition.

After detailing some issues with Bishops of the Anglican Church who had tried to focus more on works than on faith, Wesley concludes:

But why should we seek further witnesses of this Are there not many present here who are of the same opinion who believe that a good moral man, and a good Christian, mean the same thing that a man need not trouble himself any further, if he only practises as much Christianity as was written over the Heathen Emperor’s gate, — ” Do as thou wouldest be done unto;” especially if he be not an infidel, or a heretic, but believes all that the Bible and the Church say is true

Oh snap. You mean Wesley believed there was a difference between morality (of which anyone could have) and Christianity? In other sermons, Wesley went far to say atheists had better morality and works than Christians! Indeed, Wesley believed there was a difference between morality and Christianity, separated by doctrine. Notice the last line here. Wesley honors both Scripture and Tradition (that…the Church say is true). Fr. John is pointed here. It takes more to be a Christian than morality — it takes more to be a Christian and moral than to simply honor the “golden rule.”

I would not be understood, as if I despised these things, as if I undervalued right opinions, true morality, or a zealous regard for the constitution we have received from our fathers. Yet what are these things, being alone What will they profit us in that day What will it avail to tell the Judge of all) “Lord, I was not as other men were; not unjust, not an adulterer, not a liar, not an immoral man” Yea, what will it avail, if we have done all good, as well as done no harm, — if we have given all our goods to feed the poor, — and have not charity How shall we then look on those who taught us to sleep on and take our rest, though “the love of the Father was not in us” or who, teaching us to seek salvation by works, cut us off from receiving that faith freely, whereby alone the love of God could have been shed abroad in our hearts

Does this need explanation? Wesley honored the Tradition he received as needful, the doctrines he received as just and required, but demanded morality equally. In the next section of the sermon, he turns to practice (orthopraxy).

We are condemned if we consider ethics as equal to or primary to doctrine. Equally, we are condemned if we consider doctrine as unimportant. 

If this is our (United Methodist Church) doctrinal standard, then why do we suffer through those who do the exact thing condemned herein?

Wouldn’t those who think that nothing exists outside of Scripture find a better home in the Southern Baptist Convention while those who think subjective experience and emotionalism reign find a better home in the UCC?

What makes us Wesleyan if Wesley would not recognize us?

  1.  John Wesley, Sermons, on Several Occasions (Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 1999).

the progressive fundamentalist

In the thick of the street festival, some demo...
In the thick of the street festival, some demonstrators used the occasion to get their message out. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Recently, because of a shared post on FB and my recent post on Rob Bell (1 that was critical v. the dozens or so that are supportive), I have encountered what can only be called progressive fundamentalism. Do not get me wrong. Not all of those who disagreed with me can be labeled as such, nor do I want to make a sweeping generalization, but in these examples and in my continued defense of orthodox Christianity (doctrines, creeds, councils, etc…), the progressive fundamentalist will regularly rear its head. As a former fundamentalist of the opposite side, it is pretty easy to spot one. The behaviors are the same, almost exactly so.

It is neither logical nor fair to label everyone who is different than I a “fundamentalist.” Indeed, this term is often debated. Does it refer to the early 20th century movement? Yes, but when I do so, I usually try to capitalize the “f” (Fundamentalist). However, it can and should refer to those who have adopted an unquestionable stance. Like the Fundamentalists who drew a line around historical inquiry into Christianity, these modern-day fundamentalists draw lines around certain things as well. Granted, for them, the line is drawn rather tightly around specific axioms of individual experience and belief. While we often look to conservatives to be the bastions of immovability, progressives have their fair share of individuals who simply require intellectual inquiry.

Unmovable and unquestionable are two different things, to be sure. For example, I have a high Christology (which is connected to my orthodox stances). This is unmovable because what makes up orthodox Christianity begins with a high Christology. Yet, this belief (in the divine sonship of the Second Person of the Trinity) is questionable given new data regarding such things as Second Temple Judaism and the like. I welcome questions because, frankly, a faith without questions is stupid. And it keeps me less judgmental because I’m usually okay with most things, even Gnostics (Gary!).

The one thing I usually lack the strength to overcome is fundamentalism. Why? because fundamentalism is a harmful system.

Progressive fundamentalism is a real thing. These PFs tightly define a set of specific believes, albeit even if it is a “this is what we cannot allow” and require others to follow it. As I wrote previously, even progressives build walls to keep people in.

Because I want to use others sources to help flesh out fundamentalism as a label (before adding “progressive”), I want to turn to a recent post highlighting a growing trend of fundamentalism in the Orthodox Church, a system I once thought impenetrable to fundamentalistic thinking.

Dr. George E. Demacopoulos writes,

Like other fundamentalist movements, Orthodox fundamentalism reduces all theological teaching to a subset of theological axioms and then measures the worthiness of others according to them.  Typically, this manifests itself in accusations that individuals, institutions, or entire branches of the Orthodox Church fail to meet the self-prescribed standard for Orthodox teaching.

We can see this easily applied to both the conservative (not merely Westboro types, but the Ken Hams, Mike Huckabees, and Robert Jeffresses of the world) and the progressive sides of Christianity (for instance, those who think we cannot dare challenge Tony Jones, Brian McLaren, Rob Bell, and current attitudes towards justice, peace, and inclusion). Each side has a litmus test established, usually on individual preference, to insure that the axioms of the “faith” are followed and in this litmus test, they deem all others unworthy, if not sinful/heretical/evil — or, ironically, fundamentalist.1 Equally so, they are legalistic. If you step out of line, you will know about and you will be shamed into compliance.

If you read Demacopoulos’s post, you will see more connections between what he describes as an Orthodox fundamentalist and what you might see demonstrated by both the left and the right (especially in Protestant circles). For instance, the regular use of misrepresentations of history and act to achieve their goals. In reality, Jesus wasn’t about inclusion (unless it was about Gentiles into Israel’s covenant). He excluded (abusers, sinners who refused to heed the call, and those who hated others). Further, Jesus did have social justice aims (what the ancients called a “leveler”). Eunuch doesn’t mean what you want it to mean. Yet, often times these facts are chucked in order to make a point. They create this fanciful notion of the idyllic Christian message — either to the welfare line or to hell.

Demacopoulos goes on. “The insidious danger of Orthodox fundamentalists is that they obfuscate the difference between tradition and fundamentalism.  By repurposing the tradition as a political weapon, the ideologue deceives those who are not inclined to question the credibility of their religious leaders.” If you remove “Orthodox” and replace it with conservative, progressive — or, better, just the word “ALL”, it becomes truer.

Fundamentalists, as he writes, are reductionists. They (both conservatives and progressives) remove Tradition so that their interpretation remains unchallenged. They create a basic set of unquestionable doctrines or tenets of belief required to be “right.” They remove points of departure and unity so that the walls remain high — to keep people in. Then they go heresy hunting.

Both sides, both extremes, include more fundamentalists than they care to admit. They share similar behaviors, and similar worldviews. Indeed, they inhabit the same system of abusive, control, and manipulation. Neither side allows questioning and if it happens, such action is met with abusive behavior and shunning.

There is no way to stop it — it develops naturally in every system. The best we can do is to recognize it and attempt to provide a buffer against it — without becoming fundamentalists ourselves.

  1. The term “fundamentalist” is often thrown around by progressives as a way to stop conservation and is used as a wall to keep people in. After all, the one thing you cannot tolerate as a progressive is a fundamentalist.