Thursday, December 24, 2009

Wednesday with Wesley: Unity and Schisms (the very Late Edition)

Ok, let me start of by saying I know it is Thursday not Wednesday. I had wanted to post this yesterday but just did not get the chance too. So if you will allow, I consider this the very late Wednesday edition.

Since I have been thinking about essentials and unity I thought it would be fitting to post portions of John Wesley's sermon On Schisms. Certainly Wesley having had to wrestle with the call by many to separate from the Church of England would have some insightful things to say on the subject.

Wesley starts off his sermon trying to define the word schism landing on the following definition "A causeless separation from a body of living Christians". He based his sermon on three passages in 1 Corinthians (1 Cor 1:10, 11:18, 12:24-25). Wesley than asks...
I shall be thankful to any one who will point to me any other place in the inspired writings, where this word “Schism” is to be found. I remember only these three.
With the aid of computer linked lexicons and concordances (that were lacking in the 18th century) we can quickly find a few more verses , but the meaning still remains clear, divisions are destructive.
And no one pours new wine into old wineskins; otherwise, the wine will burst the skins, and both the wine and the skins will be destroyed. (Mark 2:21)
Wesley warns us to be on guard against schisms...
It is evil in itself. To separate ourselves from a body of living Christian, with whom we were before united, is a grievous breach of the law of love. It is the nature of love to unite us together; and the greater the love, the stricter the union. And while this continues in its strength, nothing can divide those whom love has united. It is only when our love grows could, that we can think of separating from our brethren. And this is certainly the case with any who willingly separate from their Christian brethren. The pretences for separation may be innumerable, but want of love is always the real cause; otherwise they would still hold the unity of he Spirit in the bound of peace. It is therefore contrary to all those commands of God, wherein brotherly love is enjoined: To that of St. Paul, “Let brotherly love continue:” — that of St. John, “My beloved children, love one another;” — and especially to that of our blessed Master, “This is my commandment, That ye love on another, as I have loved you” Yea, “By this,” saith he, “shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye love one another.”
...I will make the case my own: I am now, and have been from my youth, a member and a Minister of the Church of England: And I have do desire no design to separate from it, till my soul separates from my body. Yet if I was not permitted to remain therein without omitting what God requires me to do, it would then become meet and right, and my bounden duty, to separate form it without delay. To be more particular: I know God has committed to me a dispensation of the gospel; yea, and my own salvation depends upon preaching it: “Woe is me if I preach not the gospel.” If then I could not remain in the Church without omitting this, without desisting from preaching the gospel I should be under a necessity of separating from it, or losing my own soul. In like manner, if I could not continue united to any smaller society, Church, or body of Christians, without committing sin, without lying and hypocrisy, without preaching to others doctrines which I did not myself believe, I should be under an absolute necessity of separating from that society. And in all these cases the sin of separation, with all the evils consequent upon it, would not lie upon it, would not lie upon me, but upon those who constrained me to make that separation, by requiring of me such terms of communion as I could not in conscience comply with. But, setting aside this case, suppose the Church or society to which I am now united does not require me to do anything which the Scripture forbids, or to omit anything which the Scripture enjoins, it is then my indispensable duty to continue therein. And if I separate from it without any such necessity, I am just chargeable (whether I foresaw them or not) with all the evils consequent upon that separation.

I have spoke the more explicitly upon this head, because it is so little understood; because so may of those who profess much religion, nay, and really enjoy a measure of it, have not the least conception of this matter, neither imagine such a separation to be any sin at all. They leave a Christian society with as much unconcern as they go out of one room into another. They give occasion to all this complicated mischief. and wipe their mouth, and say they have done no evil! Whereas they are justly chargeable, before God and man, both with an action that is evil in itself, and with all the evil consequences which may be expected to follow, to themselves, to their brethren, and to the world.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

The Salvation Essentials... or what is a Christian

In 1863 Charles Spurgeon preached a sermon called "The Root of the Matter" in which he dealt with the essentials of being a Christian. Thanks to the PyroManiacs for posting some of his sermon, which I found in its entirety here.
The tree can do without some of its branches, though the loss of them might be an injury. But it cannot live at all without its roots—the roots are essential—take those away, and the plant must wither. And thus, my dear Friends, there are things essential in the Christian religion. [...] But there are some distinct truths of Revelation that are essential in such a sense that those who have not accepted them cannot be called Christians. And those who willfully reject them are exposed to the fearful anathemas which are hurled against apostasy. (emphasis added)
There are doctrines that are so essential that they define Christianity. I want to lay out what those are, but before we define what these doctrines are we should first attempt to define the term "Christian". Using the Scriptures I would offer up the following definition - a Christian is an adopted member of God's family (Mark 3:34-35; Romans 8:14-16,23,9:4; Galatians 4:5; Ephesians 1:5, Ephesians 2:19).

Using our definition of a Christian as someone who is a member of God's family then certainly a belief in God whose family we hope to become a part of (Hebrews 11:6) must top the list of "distinct truths of Revelation that are essential". Surprisingly a Barna study showed...
Seven out of ten adults (70%) say that God is the all-powerful, all-knowing creator of the universe who still rules it today. That includes the 93% of born again adults who hold that conviction.
It was surprising to see that 70% of adults in America believe in the Creator God of the universe (understanding that this may include ideas about a God that is not based on the Scriptures). However one has to wonder what those other 7% of "born again" believers think about God.

Another important fact from this definition is that we are adopted into the family of God. The fact that there is an adoption implies that we do not start out as members of God's family but rather as orphans. This fact should bring two questions to mind 1) why are we orphans and 2) how does one become adopted into God's family.

There are a set of essential doctrines that answer the question why we are orphans. We are orphans because we are all sinners (Rom 3:10,23) and God is holy and requires us to be holy as well (Lev 19:2; 1 Peter 1:15-16). Without understanding that fact we can move no further (and in a single blog entry on essentials we can only dive so deep on this). John the Baptist - the forerunner of Jesus - made the paths straight by making it clear to people that they were sinners because without this understanding we have no need for a Savior. The problem was that the Jews at that time were relying on the fact that they were related to Abraham and thus were in a sense already in the family of God. They did not realize that sin prevented them from being part of that family. John came so that they might repent (change their mind about what they currently believed and accept the fact that they were sinners).

There are a set of essential doctrines that answer the question about how we are to be adopted. Paul in writing the first letter to the Corinthians lists the essential truths that make up the gospel message...
15:1 Now I want to make clear for you, brothers and sisters, the gospel that I preached to you, that you received and on which you stand, 15:2 and by which you are being saved, if you hold firmly to the message I preached to you – unless you believed in vain. 15:3 For I passed on to you as of first importance what I also received – that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures, 15:4 and that he was buried, and that he was raised on the third day according to the scriptures,
Here we are presented with two essential truths - that Jesus died for our sins and rose from the dead. Using the Roman Road as our guide we have already seen that we are sinners (Rom 3:23) who are orphans that are separated from God. However God loves us and graciously offers us forgiveness through Jesus who has died for our sins. It is through His sacrifice that we are reconciled to God (Rom 5:8,10-11)and thus adopted into the family.

Jesus death on the cross allows us to be forgiven by God and this fact necessitates both the humanity and Diety of Christ. The humanity of Jesus allows Him to identify with us and enables Him to suffer and die for our sins. The Deity of Christ is required so that being sinless He could be the atoning sacrifice for our sins (Isa 53:9; 2 Cor 5:21). If Jesus were not Deity how could He be sinless? If He were not sinless how could He pay the penalty for our sins? It is the fact that Jesus was the perfect Passover Lamb that makes it possible for His death to atone for our sins. Yet a Barna study surprisingly demonstrates that many do know accept this essential part of the gospel...
Although a core teaching of the Christian faith is the divinity and perfection of Jesus Christ, tens of millions of Christians do not accept that teaching. More than one-fifth (22%) strongly agreed that Jesus Christ sinned when He lived on earth, with an additional 17% agreeing somewhat. Holding the opposing view were 9% who disagreed somewhat and 46% who disagreed strongly. Six percent did not have an opinion on this matter.
At this point I have tried to establish the core set of essential beliefs for being a Christian trying to show how they all tie together. Taking any one of them away would alter the gospel message.
  • Belief in God.
  • Belief that we are all sinners.
  • Belief that God is Holy.
  • Belief that Christ was both human and divine.
  • Belief that Christ died for our sins.
  • Belief that Christ was raised on the third day.
These make up the "essential[s] in the Christian religion such that those who have not accepted them cannot be called Christians. Does accepting them however make one a Christian? There is one more thing that is required.
  • Belief that we are saved by faith alone, apart from works (sola fide)
Spurgeon includes this essential in his sermon. As does John Wesley who in 1741 preached a sermon that tackled the question "If it be inquired, “What more than this is implied in the being altogether a Christian?” I answer,..."
There is yet one thing more that may be separately considered, though it cannot actually be separate from the preceding, which is implied in the being altogether a Christian; and that is the ground of all, even faith. Very excellent things are spoken of this throughout the oracles of God. “Every one,” saith the beloved disciple, “that believeth is born of God.” “To as many as received him, gave he power to become the sons of God. even to them that believe on his name.” And “this is the victory that overcometh the world, even our faith.” Yea, our Lord himself declares, “He that believeth in the Son hath everlasting life; and cometh not into condemnation, but is passed from death unto life.” (emphasis added)
It is not just understanding and agreeing with a set of doctrines (the head knowledge) but also the will/heart that trusts and places confidence in these truths - faith (Heb 11:1) - that causes one to be adopted into God's family.

This post was a followup to one on essentials and unity a few days ago.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

What is Essential?

One of my favorite theology blogs Parchment and Pen has done a series of posts on trying to identify and get people to think about the essentials on Christianity. The goal is for people to rethink when unity should be broken or more importantly when it should not. The theme is the popular quote:

“In Essentials, unity. In non-essentials, liberty. In all things, charity.”

This is certainly a principle made in Ephesians 4:3 that tells us to

Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.

Last year Michael posted a test, which I recommend you take - it will make you think and that is a good thing.

Today his blog entry groups several doctrines into various "buckets" based on essentiality.
  • Essential for Salvation
  • Historic Orthodoxy
  • Traditional Orthodoxy
  • Denominational Orthodoxy
  • Important but not essential
  • Not Important
  • Speculation

As I wrestle through this task I found Michael's wise suggestion of 4 criteria to consider helpful - primarily this boiled down to 1) is the doctrine clearly taught as central in Scripture and 2) is the doctrine something believed as central universally and historically by the church.

I understand what he is driving at on that second point as Augustine used this principle in identifying the canon of Scripture as laid out in "On Christian Doctrine" Book 2, Chapter 8:

Now, in regard to the canonical Scriptures, he must follow the judgment of the greater number of catholic churches; and among these, of course, a high place must be given to such as have been thought worthy to be the seat of an apostle and to receive epistles. Accordingly, among the canonical Scriptures he will judge according to the following standard: to prefer those that are received by all the catholic churches to those which some do not receive. Among those, again, which are not received by all, he will prefer such as have the sanction of the greater number and those of greater authority, to such as are held by the smaller number and those of less authority. If, however, he shall find that some books are held by the greater number of churches, and others by the churches of greater authority (though this is not a very likely thing to happen), I think that in such a case the authority on the two sides is to be looked upon as equal.
The idea here would be that when in doubt about the interpretation and essentiality of a doctrine consider "the judgment of the greater number of catholic churches" - here catholic means universal and not Roman Catholic. Using this approach is why the book 1st Clement is not part of the NT Canon - some held that it should be but apparently not the greater number or more authoritative churches.

The historical orthodoxy bucket is clarified as being "what has been believed by the historic Christian church for the last two thousand years, no matter what tradition" as well as it being held as a central belief. In the blog the later date priority of Matthew over Mark, and the authorship of Matthew and 2 Peter are not placed in this group even though they were believed by the historic Christian church because they are not considered central doctrines. In my mind this bucket can become subjective since it is not whether a doctrine can be shown as universally held historically that puts it in the bucket but also whether it was considered a central part of the message of Christianity as well. So is the date priority of Mark worth breaking unity over - no, but it was historically held. I agree that what is historically important should influence our thinking and for me the major creeds jump to the front as candidates for centrally held historic doctrines. If the doctrine was part of a creed it was likely central to the Christian church.

However as one places doctrine into buckets the traditional orthodoxy/denominational orthodoxy become essentially the same and could have been combined into the "important and essential/worth dividing over" - at least in my opinion as I think through my own set of beliefs and there essentiality. Why? Because first it is at this level of doctrine where the divisions tend to take place (just look at the items placed there on the blog) and thus are where unity is broken. This would make these doctrines "important and essential" to those holding them regardless of the source (historic, tradition, denominational etc).

For example the doctrine held by the RCC - bucketed as "traditional" and stated on the blog as "[b]elief that both Scripture and unwritten tradition have ultimate authority as they are interpreted by the Magisterium" is certainly not an essential belief for salvation (or historic though the RC would disagree) but is certainly important enough to break unity over since the source of authority (Scripture or Magisterium), the nature of authority (infallible or not), who has authority (elders or Pope/Bishop) and even the source of truth are not held to be the same. This would naturally make governing and teaching the church in unity a near impossibility.

Another doctrine listed as traditional is the "[b]elief that justification is through faith alone on the basis of Christ alone", which would be part of the essential for salvation list for me regardless of where the doctrine is placed in a historic/traditional/denominational sense. Same for the doctrine that "Christ is the only way to salvation" (which was placed in the historic bucket) this is an essential for salvation for me too. See my comment #23.

I do see the point and importance of identifying where a doctrine comes from historically, however the main source of truth is Scripture. History certainly can provide an excellent guide when one is wrestling with what one believes and whether or not it is worth dividing over but once one is practically trying to put them into buckets from a salvation and unity/division point of view I see these "extra buckets" of tradition/denominational as less useful.

Certainly I think we could all consider expanding our sphere of unity in our theological debates and stances but there are some issues of practicality as well as importance that probably must be considered as well if a church is to conduct itself in an orderly manner that strengthens the body (1 Cor 14:26,40). For example the gender of the teacher and baptism,in my opinion, are not essential for salvation. However the gender of a teacher and the age and beliefs of a baptismal candidate could well cause serious problems in a local church if there is wide spread disagreement in these areas.

Kudos and blessings to Michael at the Parchment and Pen for putting this series together and hopefully my comments on the buckets he proposed will be taken for what they are - which is what that I found them useful as I work through the test he proposed. But hey even if your list of essential buckets may vary I am not willing to divide over it...

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

150 years ago today...

Darwin's Origin of Species was published 150 years ago today sparking debate over the origins of man. So I thought it fitting to post some thoughts on origins today. Darwin himself seems to have struggled with the First Cause...
But I may say that the impossibility of conceiving that this grand and wondrous universe, with our conscious selves, arose through chance, seems to me the chief argument for the existence of God; but whether this is an argument of real value, I have never been able to decide.
Life and Letters Vol. 1 (page 306-307)

He goes on to say in later reflections...
"Another source of conviction in the existence of God, connected with the reason, and not with the feelings, impresses me as having much more weight. This follows from the extreme difficulty or rather impossibility of conceiving this immense and wonderful universe, including man with his capacity of looking far backwards and far into futurity, as the result of blind chance or necessity. When thus reflecting I feel compelled to look to a First Cause having an intelligent mind in some degree analogous to that of man; and I deserve to be called a Theist. This conclusion was strong in my mind about the time, as far as I can remember, when I wrote the 'Origin of Species;' and it is since that time that it has very gradually, with many fluctuations, become weaker. But then arises the doubt, can the mind of man, which has, as I fully believe, been developed from a mind as low as that possessed by the lowest animals, be trusted when it draws such grand conclusions?
I cannot pretend to throw the least light on such abstruse problems. The mystery of the beginning of all things is insoluble by us; and I for one must be content to remain an Agnostic.
Life and Letters Vol. 1 (page 312-313)

One of my favorite theology blogs has recently analyzed the various views one might have relating to creation and evolution. As I reflect on these options as well as what Darwin has written I turn to Romans 8 and have to wonder what creation is groaning about if chance and natural selection are the basis of our origins.
For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? 25 But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience. (Romans 8:19-25 ESV)
For if God did use evolution (macro/common descent) and natural selection to create man then what was creation subjected to and when?

It would seem that subjection to bondage and corruption would require a state of creation that existed prior to its being subjected. And that state must be something different than what exists today. But in theistic evolutionary views the earth is required to be essentially the same for the 4.5 billion years (give or take) of its existence because the "7 days" of creation in Genesis 1 are where the work of natural selection processes were at work culminating in the evolution of man.

But if that is the case then what freedom and state is creation aspiring too? What does that look like? And what affect does this have on our own hope in the future since our hope and that of creation seem to be intertwined with restoration at Jesus return?

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Wednesday with Wesley: Total Depravity

We read a biography on John Wesley with our kids recently and since then I have been reading through some of the writings and sermons of John Wesley trying to understand his theology.

In Sermon 44, entitled Original Sin, Wesley explains what is called "total depravity". In the sermon he starts off refuting the idea that man is basically good saying...
But, in the mean time, what must we do with our Bibles? — for they will never agree with this. These accounts, however pleasing to flesh and blood, are utterly irreconcilable with the scriptural.
Wesley, then compares the heart of man prior to the flood - using Gen 6:5 as the basis - with that of man after the flood coming to the conclusion that they are no different. Here is how Wesley describes the heart of man:
“God saw all the imaginations of the thoughts of his heart;” — of his soul, his inward man, the spirit within him, the principle of all his inward and outward motions. He “saw all the imaginations:” It is not possible to find a word of a more extensive signification. It includes whatever is formed, made, fabricated within; all that is or passes in the soul; every inclination, affection, passion, appetite; every temper, design, thought. It must of consequence include every word and action, as naturally flowing from these fountains, and being either good or evil according to the fountain from which they severally flow.
Later he says this:
[Christianity] declares that all men are conceived in sin,” and “shapen in wickedness;” — that hence there is in every man a “carnal mind, which is enmity against God, which is not, cannot be, subject to” his “law;” and which so infects the whole soul, that “there dwelleth in” him, “in his flesh,” in his natural state, “no good thing;” but “every imagination of the thoughts of his heart is evil,” only evil, and that “continually.”
He will explain that "by nature" we do not 1) know God, 2) love God, or 3) fear God and concludes that all men are "Atheists in the world".
But as soon as God opens the eyes of their understanding, they see the state they were in before; they are then deeply convinced, that “every man living,” themselves especially, are, by nature, “altogether vanity;” that is, folly and ignorance, sin and wickedness.
Only God can help the natural man understand spiritual things (1 Cor 2:14-15; John 16:7-11) including the very fact that he is a sinner, only God is righteous, and the coming judgment.

Indeed, if man were not thus fallen, there would be no need of all this. There would be no occasion for this work in the heart, this renewal in the spirit of our mind.
Keep to the plain, old faith, “once delivered to the saints,” and delivered by the Spirit of God to our hearts. Know your disease! Know your cure! Ye were born in sin: Therefore, “ye must be born again,” born of God. By nature ye are wholly corrupted. By grace ye shall be wholly renewed. In Adam ye all died: In the second Adam, in Christ, ye all are made alive.

In this sermon Wesley has laid out our need for Jesus as total - we are totally unable to come to Him, until God open our eyes and helps us understand that we are sinners and that we need Him to cure the otherwise incurable disease!

Quotes taken "Sermons on Several Occasions John Wesley" available online @ Christian Classics Ethereal Library

Friday, October 30, 2009

Happy Reformation Day

On Oct. 31, 1517 Martin Luther (reportedly) nailed the 95 Theses to the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg, Germany thus sparking the Protestant Reformation.

The immediate problem Luther was dealing with was the selling of indulgences to pardon sins and free souls from purgatory. This was an offense to the real good news that we are saved by grace through faith!

A few years after posting the 95 Theses Luther would write Concerning Christian Liberty describing the inner and outer man, and the relationship between faith and works. In this work he gives the following illustration:
To make what we have said more easily understood, let us set it forth under a figure. The works of a Christian man, who is justified and saved by his faith out of the pure and unbought mercy of God, ought to be regarded in the same light as would have been those of Adam and Eve in paradise and of all their posterity if they had not sinned. Of them it is said, "The Lord God took the man and put him into the garden of Eden to dress it and to keep it" (Gen. ii. 15). Now Adam had been created by God just and righteous, so that he could not have needed to be justified and made righteous by keeping the garden and working in it; but, that he might not be unemployed, God gave him the business of keeping and cultivating paradise. These would have indeed been works of perfect freedom, being done for no object but that of pleasing God, and not in order to obtain justification, which he already had to the full, and which would have been innate in us all.

So it is with the works of a believer. Being by his faith replaced afresh in paradise and created anew, he does not need works for his justification, but that he may not be idle, but may exercise his own body and preserve it. His works are to be done freely, with the sole object of pleasing God. Only we are not yet fully created anew in perfect faith and love; these require to be increased, not, however, through works, but through themselves.
Let's remember the courage of Martin Luther and other reformers who took a strong stand for Jesus making sure that the truth of the Gospel was clearly taught at a time when it was dangerous to do so.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Examining The Outsider's Test of Faith

I stumbled on a blog Debunking Christianity that is written by John Loftus a former preacher turned atheist.

One of his recent entries talked about "witnessing to believers" using a technique called the Outsider's Test Of Faith. Interested in what the technique was I read on. I was unsure what this test was but was easily able to find the following definition on the blog in another post:
Earlier I proposed something I called The Outsider Test for your faith, where I wrote: If you were born in Saudi Arabia, you would be a Muslim right now, say it isn't so? That is a cold hard fact. Dare you deny it? Since this is so, or at least 99% so, then the proper method to evaluate your religious beliefs is with a healthy measure of skepticism. Test your beliefs as if you were an outsider to the faith you are evaluating. If your faith stands up under muster, then you can have your faith. If not, abandon it. For any God who requires you to believe correctly when we have this extremely strong tendency to believe what we were born into, surely should make the correct faith pass the outsider test. If your faith cannot do this, then the God of your faith is not worthy of being worshipped.(emphasis in original)
I understand his point about where people are born having a huge impact on whether a person hears the good news about Jesus or not, though I will not focus on that part of the test. I think the main crux - what the author is aiming at (correct me if I am missing it) can be summed up using his own words (emphasis removed):
Test your beliefs as if you were an outsider to the faith you are evaluating. If your faith stands up under muster, then you can have your faith. If not, abandon it.
In another entry also defining the test he defines the outsider as a
mere seeker who has no prior presuppositions about any faith, or no faith at all
I can't say that by this definition anyone is a true outsider. We all certainly have our presuppositions whether we have faith in Jesus or faith in something else like reincarnation, the absence of supernatural activity, or Darwinian evolution.

He goes on to ask the question:
So what's the problem here? Why aren't Christians posting by the droves and saying, "Fine, I have no problem with The Outsider Test?” Why not?
It is the test and the supposed problem with the test that I want to comment on. As a Christian I don't have a problem with the test, ie) evaluating your faith against facts.

When ever I (or anyone else) attempts to witness we are asking someone to essentially take this very test. We are trying to help someone abandon their current position (what would be the insider's view) and accept another position - likely the one we hold (the outsider's view) by considering the facts we present. In such a conversation the person we are talking to is likely doing the same thing, trying to get us to consider their position. We then need to have an open dialogue about our current faith and beliefs (assuming an atheist would accept the terms faith and belief as describing their views), which would require both people to be able to discuss facts and difficulties regarding their positions.

As Christians are we afraid to take the same test we ask others to take? I certainly hope not. The Bible actually commends our checking out the facts before making a decision.

By way of example consider the apostle Paul, a Jew turned Christian, who went to various countries to share the good news with Gentiles. The Gentiles - typically polytheists living outside of Palestine - would be taking the outsider's test and determining if what Paul was telling them "passed muster". Emulating Paul, Christian missionaries do this all the time when they travel to distant lands today - to make sure that those living in say Saudia Arabia for example have a chance to hear.

Paul in defending the resurrection of Jesus in 1 Corinthians 15 says if
if Christ has not been raised, your faith is worthless
He appeals to the prophetic nature of Scriptures, living witnesses, and his testimony as proofs of his claim and therefore encourages the readers to examine the claim he is making regarding the resurrection of Christ and the dead.

In Acts 17, the Bereans are commended as being noble-minded for examining the things Paul taught. One note of interest is that they were eager to accept the truths, but still checked them out to make sure that it was truth.
Now these were more noble-minded than those in Thessalonica, for they received the word with great eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see whether these things were so.
Of course John (1 John 4:1) and Moses (Deuteronomy 13, 18) tell us to be wary of false prophets and to test them.

Certainly examining the basis of our faith is something we should not be afraid of. However we must remember that most things can not be proven to 100% iron-clad guarantee. One must examine the facts and work on coming to a reasonable conclusion that is beyond a reasonable doubt. This is the case for examining the resurrection as much as for evolution.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Who wrote Mark Part III?

In the first two blogs on the Gospel of Mark we have examined the historical records of the Papias (110) and Irenaeus (180). Both men are from Asia Minor and preserve information regarding the author and dating of the book. They are two of the earliest pieces of information that we have.

Combining the two accounts we learned the following regarding the Gospel of Mark:
  1. Mark was the author.
  2. Mark was a disciple of Peter recording what he preached.
  3. Mark was not a disciple of Jesus (while Jesus was alive).
  4. Mark was enabled by the power of the Holy Spirit.
  5. Mark wrote after Peter and Paul were martyred in Rome.
  6. The Gospel of Matthew was written before the Gospel of Mark.
Another source of information regarding the Gospel of Mark is found in the Anti-Marcionite Prologues. These prologues were included with the Gospels in many Latin manuscripts and would have served a purpose similar to the summaries that precede a Biblical book in Bibles today. They provided the reader with information about the book.

All the prologues except for the Gospel of Matthew are still extant. The Anti-Marcionite Prologues are generally dated from the 2nd to the 4th century.
Mark made his assertion, who was also named stubby-fingers, on account that he had in comparison to the length of the rest of his body shorter fingers. He was a disciple and interpreter of Peter, whom he followed just as he heard him report. When he was requested at Rome by the brethren, he briefly wrote this gospel in parts of Italy. When Peter heard this, he approved and affirmed it by his own authority for the reading of the church. Truly, after the departure of Peter, this gospel which he himself put together having been taken up, he went away into Egypt and, ordained as the first bishop of Alexandria, announcing Christ, he constituted a church there. It was of such teaching and continence of life that it compels all followers of Christ to imitate its example.
The prologue confirms that Mark was the author and a disciple of Peter, which is also confirmed by Peter (1 Pet 5:13). However it does add some additional information:
  1. The book was written in Rome at the request of believers.
  2. Peter approved of the writing.
However, this information does contradict the account in Irenaeus that the gospel was written after Peter was martyred.

We learn from this prologue another important piece of information regarding Mark. That after Peter died he went to Alexandria, Egypt and founded the church there. A fact that Eusebius (around 325) also records.
And they say that this Mark was the first that was sent to Egypt, and that he proclaimed the Gospel which he had written, and first established churches in Alexandria. (Eccl Hist 2.16)
Eusebius also confirms that the church of Rome requested Mark to write down Peter's preaching and that Peter approved citing Clement of Alexandria and Papias as witnesses.
And so greatly did the splendor of piety illumine the minds of Peter’s hearers that they were not satisfied with hearing once only, and were not content with the unwritten teaching of the divine Gospel, but with all sorts of entreaties they besought Mark, a follower of Peter, and the one whose Gospel is extant, that he would leave them a written monument of the doctrine which had been orally communicated to them. Nor did they cease until they had prevailed with the man, and had thus become the occasion of the written Gospel which bears the name of Mark. And they say that Peter when he had learned, through a revelation of the Spirit, of that which had been done, was pleased with the zeal of the men, and that the work obtained the sanction of his authority for the purpose of being used in the churches.
(Eccl Hist 2.15)
Given the extant information of Papias' writings Eusebius may have gone too far in stating that Papias confirms much more than Mark being the author and follower of Peter. He gives no information related to Peter's approval or when the text was written. Clement was a bishop of Alexandria and prolific author. Eusebius does quote from Clement of Alexandria's (180-200) work:
Again, in the same books, Clement gives the tradition of the earliest presbyters, as to the order of the Gospels, in the following manner: The Gospels containing the genealogies, he says, were written first. The Gospel according to Mark had this occasion. As Peter had preached the Word publicly at Rome, and declared the Gospel by the Spirit, many who were present requested that Mark, who had followed him for a long time and remembered his sayings, should write them out. And having composed the Gospel he gave it to those who had requested it. When Peter learned of this, he neither directly forbade nor encouraged it. (Eccl Hist 6.14)
Origen, a student of Clement, who later succeeded him as bishop of Alexandria himself confirmed this same thing (215-220) quoting his commentary on Matthew:
“Among the four Gospels, which are the only indisputable ones in the Church of God under heaven, I have learned by tradition that the first was written by Matthew,... The second is by Mark, who composed it according to the instructions of Peter,... (Eccl Hist 6.25)
With the addition of the Anti-Marcionite Prologue, Clement, and Origen we get another line of information coming primarily from Alexandria, Egypt. What makes this information interesting is that history records that the author Mark was the founder of the church there and its first bishop. Their information may be better even if it is later than Papias and Irenaeus since it would likely be derived from the author of the book.

However there is a possibility that all of the historical information presented is correct in regards to the time of the writing. When one examines 2 Peter, we see that Peter knows that he is close to his death and is writing to remind the readers of many things including the removal of sin (2 Pet 1:9), our being allowed into the Kingdom (2 Pet 1:11), and the power to live for Christ now (2 Pet 1:3). He includes as one of his goals to make sure they have a record of these things.
Therefore, I intend to remind you constantly of these things even though you know them and are well established in the truth that you now have. Indeed, as long as I am in this tabernacle, I consider it right to stir you up by way of a reminder, since I know that my tabernacle will soon be removed, because our Lord Jesus Christ revealed this to me. Indeed, I will also make every effort that, after my departure, you have a testimony of these things.
(2 Peter 1:12-15 NET)
Could it be that Peter (as well as the church of Rome) wishing to make sure that the gospel of Jesus that he was sharing was preserved after he was gone helped Mark get started on the project of writing the Gospel of Mark. However before the work was completed Peter was martyred leaving Mark to finish it. This would allow the tradition that Mark wrote the gospel after Peter died be accurate (per Irenaeus) since that would be when the work was completed while also allowing the strong tradition from Alexandria (where Mark founded the church) that Peter was involved with the work be true as well.

Note: Other early affirmations of Mark recording Peter's preaching include Tertullian (208) in his books Against Marcion 4.5, however this account does not include information that helps us determine Peter's involvement in the creation of the work.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Who wrote Mark Part II?

As we continue to look at the history of the early church to learn what we can about the gospel of Mark, we next can look at the works of a man named Irenaeus. His information regarding the book is ultimately tied to the same sources that Papias had since Irenaeus knew about Papias' works (Ad Haer 5.33.4) and both he and Papias knew Polycarp (Ad Haer 3.3.4; 5.33.4). Polycarp,bishop of Smyrna, is said to have learned about the Christian faith from the apostles (Ad Haer 3.3.4).

Irenaeus was an apologist defending the Christian faith against the Gnostic heresies writing 5 books (Against Heresies) dealing with them. He also wrote a book Demonstration of the Apostolic Preaching, describing Christian teaching. All of these works are available to us today. In Against Heresies Book 3 (circa 180), Irenaeus describes how the gospel message was handed down from the apostles first through preaching, then by writing the Scriptures all with the power of the Holy Spirit.

We have learned from none others the plan of our salvation, than from those through whom the Gospel has come down to us, which they did at one time proclaim in public, and, at a later period, by the will of God, handed down to us in the Scriptures, to be the ground and pillar of our faith. For it is unlawful to assert that they preached before they possessed “perfect knowledge,” as some do even venture to say, boasting themselves as improvers of the apostles. For, after our Lord rose from the dead, [the apostles] were invested with power from on high when the Holy Spirit came down [upon them], were filled from all [His gifts], and had perfect knowledge: they departed to the ends of the earth, preaching the glad tidings of the good things [sent] from God to us, and proclaiming the peace of heaven to men, who indeed do all equally and individually possess the Gospel of God. Matthew also issued a written Gospel among the Hebrews in their own dialect, while Peter and Paul were preaching at Rome, and laying the foundations of the Church. After their departure, Mark, the disciple and interpreter of Peter, did also hand down to us in writing what had been preached by Peter. Luke also, the companion of Paul, recorded in a book the Gospel preached by him. Afterwards, John, the disciple of the Lord, who also had leaned upon His breast, did himself publish a Gospel during his residence at Ephesus in Asia.
(Ad Haer 3.1.1)
From this passage we learn the following regarding the Gospel of Mark:
  1. Mark the disciple of Peter wrote what Peter preached.
  2. Mark was enabled by the power of the Holy Spirit.
  3. Mark wrote after Peter and Paul were martyred in Rome.
  4. The Gospel of Matthew was written while Peter and Paul were preaching, and therefore was written before the Gospel of Mark.
All of this lines up with the account that Papias gave us (70 years earlier). It also helps us start to give us a range of dating for Mark as between 65-69 AD (at least until we consider additional information). This is based on the fact that Peter and Paul were martyred around 65-67 AD. The end of the range is based on the fact that Mark does not note the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem in the book. This would likely have been used to bolster the account in Mark 13.

And as he went out of the temple, one of his disciples saith unto him, Master, see what manner of stones and what buildings are here! And Jesus answering said unto him, Seest thou these great buildings? there shall not be left one stone upon another, that shall not be thrown down. And as he sat upon the mount of Olives over against the temple, Peter and James and John and Andrew asked him privately, Tell us, when shall these things be? and what shall be the sign when all these things shall be fulfilled?(Mark 13:1-4 KJV)
It is strongly argued (and I have to agree) that Mark would certainly have mentioned the fulfillment of the prophecy here if it had already occurred.

That is all for tonight...

Edit: added link highlighting Irenaeus knew Polycarp in his youth.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Who wrote Mark?

We are getting ready to study the gospel according to Mark in Sunday school and I have been preparing for the first class where we will deal with the introduction and overview of the book. In this class one of the things we want to deal with are the questions 1) who wrote the book, 2) when was the book written, 3) where was the book written, and 4) why was the book written.

The book is technically an anonymous work, as are all of the gospels. In no part of the original text is the author identified. So how do we know who wrote the book that we know as "the Gospel according to Mark"? To answer that question we have to turn to the history of the early church for it not only has preserved the text of the book, but also the history about the book. While the records and documents that we have from the early church are valuable, it is worth stating up front that they are not Scripture and they are not free from error.

The early church is unanimous in claiming that the author of the book is Mark, who served alongside Peter and recorded the things that he taught. The earliest such testimony is found in the writings of Papias. He wrote 5 books that were called Expositions of Oracles of the Lord (circa 110). These books are no longer extant, but they were available to Irenaeus (180) and Eusebius (325) the latter having preserved most of what we have today in his Church Histories.

Papias was a bishop of Hierapolis (in Asia Minor near Colossae and Laodicea). According to Eusebius, who had access to his full works, stated that Papias heard much of his information second hand from those who studied under the apostles.
But Papias himself in the preface to his discourses by no means declares that he was himself a hearer and eye-witness of the holy apostles, but he shows by the words which he uses that he received the doctrines of the faith from those who were their friends. ... And Papias, of whom we are now speaking, confesses that he received the words of the apostles from those that followed them, but says that he was himself a hearer of Aristion and the presbyter John. At least he mentions them frequently by name, and gives their traditions in his writings. These things we hope, have not been uselessly adduced by us.(Eccl Hist 3.39.2,7)
There is some debate today as to whether Papias himself was a student of the Apostle John or an elder named John. It is the elder John (possibly the Apostle John) who passed on to Papias the earliest information we have about the author of the gospel.
"This also the presbyter said: Mark, having become the interpreter of Peter, wrote down accurately, though not in order, whatsoever he remembered of the things said or done by Christ. For he neither heard the Lord nor followed him, but afterward, as I said, he followed Peter, who adapted his teaching to the needs of his hearers, but with no intention of giving a connected account of the Lord’s discourses, so that Mark committed no error while he thus wrote some things as he remembered them. For he was careful of one thing, not to omit any of the things which he had heard, and not to state any of them falsely.” These things are related by Papias concerning Mark. (Eccl Hist 3.39.15)
From this passage we learn the following:
  1. Mark was the author, recording what Peter preached.
  2. Mark was not a disciple of Jesus (while Jesus was alive).
  3. Mark wrote his account without error.
From this account we do not learn anything about when Mark may have written the book. For that we have to check out some other early church writers.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

HomeSchooling Humor

The HEAV home school conference is this weekend and as my wife and I get ready for the ride to Richmond hoping to find all the materials we need for the upcoming year (hopefully most of them used), thought I would share this funny clip.

As we await the white robe promised in Zechariah and Revelation let us remember the awesome job and responsibility we have as Christian parents to raise our kids to know the LORD no matter what schooling options we choose.

Hear, O Israel! The LORD is our God, the LORD is one! You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. These words, which I am commanding you today, shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your sons and shall talk of them when you sit in your house and when you walk by the way and when you lie down and when you rise up. (Deut 6:4-7)

We have incredible freedom and choice here in America but let us not take them for granted. Support the Parental Rights amendment.

Saturday, February 28, 2009

Ezekiel 1 comes alive

We just started studying Ezekiel this week and our Professor shared this YouTube video that really brought chapter 1 visually alive.

That is one life changing walk along the Chebar river.

One of the interesting things we noted was that Ezekiel was likely 30 years old (Ezek 1:1) and would have just been at the acceptable age (Num 4:3-4) to start working in the temple had he not been exiled to Babylon and had Jerusalem and the temple not been destroyed since he was in the priestly line (Ezek 1:3).

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Is the NT Canon a Fallible Collection?

We have an amazing collection of 66 books in the Bible (at least in the Protestant version), but have you ever wondered how that collection ever got assembled? It can be an important question as the Catholic Bible contains additional books (Apocrypha) and there have been a series of critical views (from the DaVinci Code to various books by Ehrman) suggesting that the collection we have is incomplete or inaccurate. Many question 2 Peter is old enough to be written by the Apostle Peter others suggest that the "lost" gospels like Thomas or Judas were wrongly left out. So how do we know which books belong in the Bible? Can we accept the Table of Contents (ToC) in the front of our Bible as infallible?

As a starting point we would have to start by defining the Bible as a collection of books that are inspired by God. In order to be included in the collection a book must be inspired.

In stating that the ToC is infallible we would be asserting more than that there are no errors in the list (since I would agree that we have the right books and only the right books), but that there is no possibility of error in the list.

Since the Bible is a collection of inspired books, Geisler and Nix in their book "An Introduction to the Bible" rightly state that:

  • God determines which books are in the canon.

  • Man discovers which books are in the canon.

We should have no problem stating that the contents (at least in the autograph) of a particular inspired book (for example Ephesians) would have authority and infallibility because God was involved in the writing (determining). The authority of the book comes from God. The recognition of the authority of that book is done by man.

In order for there to be no possibility of error in the ToC, God would have to be equally involved in the discovery process as He is in the writing process to insure that was the case. However, we first have to acknowledge that there is no "list of books" in any of the books that are accepted as inspired. There are quotes and acknowledgments of other books as being inspired, for example Paul states that Scripture is inspired (2 Tim 3:16) and Peter affirms the writings of Paul (2 Peter 3:15-16), but we could not be certain what books are included in the Scriptures Paul refers to or which writings are part of the Pauline corpus that Peter mentions.

Second when one looks at the history of the discovery of the NT canon there is no evidence for a unified NT until the 4th century. The first evidence that we see the NT Canon containing the 27 books we have today and only the 27 books that we accept today is in 367 AD (Athanasius' 39th Festal Letter). This list is confirmed in a series of councils starting with Canon 36 of the Council of Hippo in 393 AD. This is well after the Apostolic era when it is generally regarded that the inspired books are written.

Finally we must acknowledge that man is fallible. To describe any of the councils where the canon was debated and where the discovery phase was concluded (for all practical purposes) as infallible would be conferring the capability of being inerrant to people where only God possesses this ability. Since man is fallible it seems logical that the discovery phase was also a fallible process. There were no signs and wonders that confirm the process (2 Cor 12:12). Since it is these councils where we find the discovery phase completed, to acknowledge the NT ToC as infallible would also invite the possibility other proclamations made in these councils can be too. Why would the NT listed in Canon 36 of Hippo be considered infallible yet not the rest of Canon 36 which includes the OT and Apocrypha? What about another Canon by the same council? We have as much basis for concluding that Canon 1-35 are infallible as we do Canon 36.

For another view on the fallibility of the NT Canon check out Michael Patton's post. He deals with the Catholic claim for an infallible list of infallible books based on the infallible authority of the church. For a contrasting view check out this post.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Which Translation?

Never a great way to start a blog, but as a Kutless fan I just found out about the Bible Study Magazine (put out by Logos Bible Software) because they are offering a free Kutless MP3. If you like rock music and want music that glorifies our Savior Jesus Christ - check out Kutless.

I have to admit that I am unfamiliar with the magazine (though I am considering subscribing since I am a fan of Logos/Libronix) but there is a good preview article on Bible translations that is written by Daniel B. Wallace. He discusses the pros and cons on the approaches to translating from the original languages to English (or any other language for that matter). The two approaches are "formal equivalence" or "word-for-word" translations (KJV, NASB) and "dynamic/formal equivalence" or "thought-for-thought" translations (NIV). Included in the article are overviews of most major English translations. If you are considering buying a Bible this may provide helpful information before making your purchase.

I have to agree with Wallace's overall suggestion - use at least two translations - a formal and a dynamic. My favorite formal translation is the NASB - generally regarded as true to the original languages and widely used in Bible churches (at least the ones I have attended). My NASB has served me well for nearly a decade. My favorite dynamic translation would have to be the NET Bible. I find it to be very easy to read. The added bonus with this translation are the translator notes. They give easy access to more literal "formal" translations, different interpretations of the passage, and textual differences in the manuscripts. The NET is probably my favorite translation overall, though I have to admit there are many verses where I still prefer the rendering in the NASB. This is due to the fact that I have become so familiar with them in that translation since I have used it for a longer period of time.

If you are interested in more information about translations or church history, Wallace offers an excellent overview on the History of the English Bible. I highly recommend reading all four parts.

Wallace ends the third part with the following prayer:

"Enable us, Father, to love this book, to study this book, to read it, search it, embrace it. Forgive us for our apathy and our laziness. Give us a passion to know your Word, Lord, that we might know you."

Wise prayer and good advice indeed. No matter what translation you use, read it and get to know God.