Were it not for heretics, we might not have the New Testament canon. Or a clarified doctrine of the Trinity (insomuch as we can clarify that) as found in the Athanasian Creed. And we likely wouldn’t have the understanding of Jesus as being simultaneously both fully human and fully divine, or his being of the same substance as the Father, or… Knowing how these debates played out helps us to understand the challenges we face today.
What comes to mind when you read the word “history?”
I grew up going to Canada School, so I remember struggling through every class. It was the class I loathed almost as much as Gym.1 Now, I love history. It’s fascinating. And Canada’s is actually really, really interesting (read this book and tell me I’m wrong). But it’s hard to care about subjects where it’s pretty obvious your teachers don’t.
As a Christian, especially as I think about our current time, I am drawn to history. Specifically, to church history. The story of the church in the world throughout the centuries—the history of Christianity lived out—is fascinating. It’s not always pretty, but it’s always interesting. The many shining examples of those who persevered against societal pressures to deny Christ. The times when the church has been at her best. When we see Christians demonstrating the love of Christ in practical action while declaring the gospel’s good news. But also the times when the church has capitulated. When power has corrupted us, and the church has forsaken her love for Jesus in exchange for a love for herself. Times of being persecuted—and also persecuting.
Church history really is amazing. And we can learn so much from studying it. In fact, here are three reasons
1. Studying church history is an act of obedience
Over and over again, the Bible commands God’s people to “remember.” Specifically, we’re to look back on what God has done, and remember his wondrous works (Exodus. 13:3; Deuteronomy 5:15; 7:18; 8:1; 8:18; 1 Chronicles 16:12; Psalm 105:5). So in a very real sense, studying church history is an act of obedience to the Lord. If we remember what God did, we can look forward in confidence that he is faithful to keep his promises and fulfill his purposes in this world.
But studying history isn’t just an act of obedience. It helps us to live right now.
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By Campbell Markham — 8 months ago
The Pharisees loaded the Sabbath with untold stupid laws and turned it into a day of fear and misery. Jesus now recovers it. For he is the Lord of the Sabbath. He is the God of the seven days of creation. He was the one who created the world and who rested on the Seventh Day.
My good friend has a heart problem. Sometimes it races uncontrollably, and dangerously. He’s a very busy man, with lots of plates in the air. The doctor says he has to slow down: “There needs to be time each day when you end up saying to yourself, ‘What shall I do now?’” Times of boredom are highly recommended. Does he ever find such times? I doubt it.
Our pace of life is frantic, perhaps especially if you have some kids running around. And then there’s our mind. There’s a three-ring circus going on up there: action, anguish, anger, drama, dismay, debate, and more action. “When I lay me down to sleep” is exactly when the circus of the mind is unmasked, “with inward furies blasted.” It can take a while to find sleep, and when you wake in the night, it begins again.
Whenever do we find rest for our bodies and minds? Rest from our worries? Rest from our financial obligations and strains? Rest from relationship clouds and puzzles? Above all, rest from sin? From relentless nagging temptation? From failure? From guilt and shame? When will we be able to look at one another with a placid conscience? When will we be able to look full into the awful and holy face of God without flinching with the shame and guilt of a sin-stained soul?
Rest is right here. Right here in the first three verses of the second chapter of Genesis.
Thus the heavens and the earth were finished, and all the host of them. (Gen. 2:1)
Moses pictures completed creation: light, firmament, verdant land, sun, moon, stars, birds, fishes, and the mighty creatures of the ocean deep, the land animals—domestic, wild, and swarming—as a mighty and splendid army, a great host arrayed before her general. And we, male and female in the image of God, are at the head of that array, made by God to enjoy, subdue, and govern it all for the mutual benefit of humanity and creation.
God finishes what he starts.
God was thus successful in his work. This is emphatic—both verses one and two begin in the original language with the verb “finished.”
How many times do we start something that we never finish: War and Peace, a home-project, learning German, or writing a piece of music? And we fail so often to complete far more important things: we pull out of a friendship, we give up on parenting, or even a marriage. Why do we fail? Sometimes because we lack the strength and ability: we thought we could write an EP, or build a greenhouse, but we just can’t. More often we get bored, or we simply lack the will to stick with what we promised to stick with. God set out to create the universe, with humanity as his leading image-bearers; and lacking neither the power, ability, or will, he completed his work.
And on the seventh day God finished his work that he had done, and he rested on the seventh day from all his work that he had done. So God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it God rested from all his work that he had done in creation. (Gen. 2:2-3)
Work is good.
God worked. Work is good. We were created to work. Work is not the result of the curse any more than childbirth is the result of the curse. It is the difficulty and frustration of work that came as part of the curse, just as it is the pain of childbirth—of bringing a child into a world of war and disease and evil—that was curse-caused.
The great goal of many in the West is retirement from work: endless summers of eggs Benedict, country drives, and barge tours down the Rhone. Work is painful and frustrating. Who does not want to be freed from that? But our Maker works (“My Father is always at his work to this very day,” John 5:17), and he made us to work. Work is good, and it is sin to want to have no work and responsibility. To get old and frail in body and mind, where we can no longer do as much work, is a sadness. We should look forward to those new bodies that are promised to Christ’s people, so that we can get back to work! What we need is not the absence of work, but the redemption of work.
Yet on the Seventh Day of creation week, God stopped working, and rested. Work is good, yet work is not an end itself. It is done to make something good, to achieve something worthy, and then after completion there is rest and the enjoyment of what is made. It is very bold of Moses to say that “God rested,” and even to say that he was “refreshed” on that day (Exod. 31:17). The idolatrous mind, always hankering to belittle God, instinctively seizes at his phrase: “Who is this god who is so wearied by his exertions that he needs to rest? Is he really almighty and self-sufficient?” Genesis 2 doesn’t say that a tired god needed to stop. This is God’s way: he works, and then he ceases from work and rests.
God’s way: work, and then rest.
This is likewise to be the way of God’s image-bearers. For God “blessed the seventh day, and made it holy.” When God blesses, he turns his face towards someone or something, communicates his goodness to that thing, and bestows function. (Thus, God had blessed the birds and fishes, land-animals, and humanity [Gen. 1:22, 28].) The Seventh Day alone is blessed, to reflect the face of God and all his goodness. The Seventh Day will carry a special function: God makes it holy—distinct, life-imparting, and good.
By Francis X. Maier — 4 months ago
Written by Francis X. Maier |
Monday, October 10, 2022
Most us still imagine society as a community of reasonably intelligent, reasonably independent individuals capable of managing their own affairs. Many of those in our expert class profess the same; but down deep, in the secret crevices of their hearts, they have a hankering for the cattle-management model Aldous Huxley captured so vividly in Brave New World and C. S. Lewis imagined in The Abolition of Man.
Let’s start with a simple irony. Much of today’s chatter about “defending democracy,” the sanctity of personal rights, and the sacred quality of human dignity comes from people who, consciously or otherwise, jeopardize all three by their actions. The evidence is abundant. And Aaron Kheriaty’s forthcoming book, The New Abnormal: The Rise of the Biomedical Security State (to be released November 1), is Exhibit A. Every few years a book comes along like Patrick Deneen’s Why Liberalism Failed or Carl Trueman’s The Rise and Triumph of the Modern Self that hits a cultural nerve and mustn’t be ignored; that combines elegantly lucid writing with vital and timely content.
The New Abnormal is just such a book. It’s a compelling account of the tech-driven “surveillance and control” state now emerging around us—reputedly for our own good, of course—by a doctor and scholar who’s paid a heavy price for noticing it, recognizing the implications, and resisting them.
But more about that in a moment. First, some background.
Hans Jonas, the philosopher, argued that three things set humans apart from all other living creatures. The tool enables man to pursue his needs; to imprint nature with his knowledge and will. The image—the grandeur of human art—expresses his memory, his desire for beauty, and his imagination. But the greatest factor distinguishing humans from other creatures is the grave. Only human beings bury their dead. Only humans know their own mortality. And thus only humans can ask where they came from, what life means, and what comes after it. The grave, for all its pathos, is actually a statement of reverence and hope. A nearly universal fact of human civilization is this: The body, even in death and decay, carries the resonance of something unrepeatable and holy, something “other than” this world and its cycle of futility.
When a biblically-informed culture speaks of “the dignity of the human person” and “the sanctity of human life,” it grounds those concepts in the Word of God. Consider Genesis 1:27: “God created man in his own image; in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.” And note Genesis 2:7: “Then the Lord God formed man of dust from the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul.” The American founding was shaped in equal measure by biblical and Enlightenment thought. But even the Enlightenment, as experienced here in the United States, drew its morality and anthropology from the Jewish-Christian ages that preceded it.
By Joy Pullmann — 1 year ago
Many religious leaders have mistaken American polarization as merely political, thus scapegoating Trump for pulling the rug off many cockroach nests that predate his presidency. Yet this polarization in fact sprouts from irreconcilable theological and philosophical differences, which accounts for its fierceness and existential nature. Americans are debating whether truth and human nature exist, and whether such things can be objectively defined for all or must be subjectively defined by power or “lived experience.” They are debating whether all men truly are created equal, or whether some are more equal than others. Christianity has a lot to say about these philosophical questions that also affect politics.
Along with the rest of the country, American Christianity is in the middle of a cold war. As this war heats up, it will mean church splits, takeovers, fights over denominational resources, and other power struggles as the Donald Trump era has increasingly brought clarity and pushed people to choose sides on existential questions.
The Southern Baptist Convention, the United States’ largest Protestant denomination, is one key example of this dynamic affecting American Christianity as a whole. On Oct. 1 in The American Conservative, Jackson Waters and Emma Posey reported on new developments in that denomination’s growing identity crisis. They contrast the Russell Moore, Beth Moore, and David French wing with the Voddie Baucham, Douglas Wilson, and I’d add Thomas Ascol wing.
“The direction Moore, French, and Moore are walking is not simply traditional evangelicalism, but a form of cultural accommodation dressed as convictional religion,” Waters and Posey write, after describing how the three have theologically shifted in recent years and months. “The result is a religious respectability that promotes national unity, liberalism, and wokeism under the rhetorical guise of love for neighbor. While Moore and his guest [Beth Moore] try to straddle the fence, there is little doubt that their biggest support is now coming from those significantly to their left politically.”
The Polarization Isn’t Superficial or Random
Many religious leaders have mistaken American polarization as merely political, thus scapegoating Trump for pulling the rug off many cockroach nests that predate his presidency. Yet this polarization in fact sprouts from irreconcilable theological and philosophical differences, which accounts for its fierceness and existential nature.
Americans are debating whether truth and human nature exist, and whether such things can be objectively defined for all or must be subjectively defined by power or “lived experience.” They are debating whether all men truly are created equal, or whether some are more equal than others. Christianity has a lot to say about these philosophical questions that also affect politics.
There are other political intersections and parallels. They include how some church leaders often use their authority against their own people instead of on their behalf, are utterly detached from ordinary people’s concerns, and appear to have little understanding of the nature of the cultural battles they try to avoid. These mass failures are prompting new leaders to take up the spiritual warfare many legacy leaders have abandoned.
Christ to the Sons of Peter: Feed My Sheep
While examples of leadership failures in the church are legion, one seems front and center today. In the face of mass government persecution of religious exercise over the past year and a half, Christian leaders overwhelmingly cowered and canceled services.
Shutdowns violate the theology of all Christians, both non-sacramentarians to sacramentarians. Those who don’t believe Christ’s statement, “This is my Body,” do heavily lean on his command called the Great Commission. In it, Christ tells the apostles to “Go and make disciples of all nations,” then tells them exactly how: “Baptizing them in the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you.” You can’t baptize or make disciples via Zoom.
In addition, corporate gathering for worship is expressly commanded in the Bible. Christians also don’t live in fear of suffering or death, for “to live is Christ, and to die is gain.”
For Christians who do believe in Christ’s real presence in Holy Communion, forbidding in-person worship is an even greater blasphemy. It means denying the Christ-mandated distribution of his physical Body and Blood to heal and preserve the souls of the redeemed for all eternity, the very reason for which Christ came to earth, was crucified, and resurrected.