Category Archives: The Church

Baptist Boy

I’m not the type to toot my denominations horn. As a matter of fact, until a year or so ago, I didn’t think denominations mattered. They do, but that’s not the point of this post. I grew up Baptist and I can’t remember ever attending anything outside of that—except one time when my family thought it would be a good idea to attend midnight mass at First United Methodist Church on Christmas Eve. I would probably think differently about that experience now if I could do it over again, but then I just wanted to go home, eat cookies, drink hot chocolate, and maybe convince my parents to let me open a gift early.

Recently, my wife and I have found ourselves church-less. We are in a weird transition period. I’m done with seminary and looking for open ministry positions, something along the lines of associate pastor, discipleship, connections, etc. So, we decided to step outside of our Baptist upbringing and visit some different traditions. On Sunday we visited Park Cities Presbyterian Church. For me, Presbyterianism is an obvious choice. Though I grew up Baptist, I was discipled in high school with the Westminster Confession of Faith, which heavily influenced the 1689 London Baptist Confession of Faith. The theology between the two confessions is almost indistinguishable, except for a few differences in church order.

The verdict? We loved it. I’m not sure how “high church” it was because, like I said, I don’t have much experience outside of Baptist life—the priest wore robs, there were various forms of liturgy, and the choir entered from the back of the church in procession. So, needless to say it was the highest church form I’ve ever experienced. Here are a couple things that stuck out to us:

1. High church does not equal traditionalism. I read one author who said, “Traditionalism is the dead faith of the living and tradition is the living faith of the dead.” A common critique I hear regarding churches with high forms of liturgy is it’s wooden and rigid. Our experience was quite the opposite. In Baptist circles, I generally know what to expect: Opening Songs, Welcome/Greetings, Songs, Sermon, Invitation, Offering, Closing. This form is in just as much danger of becoming stale as high forms, and the same goes for edgy, contemporary communities as well. Now, before I go further I want to make it clear that I don’t necessarily think there is anything wrong with the Baptist form and I’m not saying that it is wooden. Knocking my upbringing is not an interest for me. However, at PCPC, there were more aspects of worship : Preparation, Call and Response, Singing, Prayer, Corporate and Private Confessions, multiple Scripture readings, Thanksgiving, and the Benediction. I’m not saying the Presbyterian way is better or worse, but simply that you can’t look at the liturgy on the surface and make a judgment call about the heart of the worship. There are churches that practice high forms of liturgy that are alive, as well as contemporary communities that are dead.

2. It was intensely theological. Every aspect of the service clearly taught something about the nature and character of God, as well as the nature and character of man. There was no question that PCPC is distinctly Trinitarian, because the first song we sang was a celebration of the God-head.  I had never heard these words, but I was very familiar with the tune (To God be the Glory), which is popular in Baptist circles. Take a look:

Likewise, they believe in human inability (depravity) to do any godly work, as we confessed corporately from the Belgic Confession of Faith, “We are indebted to God for the good works we do, and not He to us, since it is He who worketh in us both to will and to work for His good pleasure (Article 24).” That article is worth your time to read. I very much enjoyed this about  the service as each aspect of the liturgy was dripping with theological truth. Again, I’m not saying that Baptists have no theological truth in their worship, but perhaps we could learn something from our Presbyterian brothers and sisters regarding other worship forms that convey the same theological truths in different ways. Corporate confessions of faith and recitations of various creeds are a couple of things that I would like to see reintroduced into Baptist worship.

From visiting one Sunday, those are just a couple of things that stuck out to us. We will most likely go back this Sunday and see how it changes week to week. I encourage anyone who might be reading this to check out some other traditions if you have been locked into one your entire life. I’m not saying abandon ship, but there is so much you can learn from simply observing other traditions. At the end of the day, we are all a part of the one, holy catholic faith—united by the blood of Christ and sealed by the Spirit.

If you have visited some other traditions, what was your experience?

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Reading Rightly

As Christians, we are to make it a priority to read the Bible faithfully. When I say that I don’t necessarily mean that we need to read it daily—although I believe we should. By faithfully, I mean two things: First, we need to read it in faith, knowing that the Triune God of the universe has revealed Himself in it. Perhaps there are times we approach the Scriptures flippantly with no fear of God in our hearts. Similarly, perhaps the Scriptures simply become another textbook that we are forced to read, thus we focus on our method of reading rather than the God who wrote it. I have experienced this firsthand and it is a frightening thing to read God’s revelation of Himself and be unmoved by it. Second, it is absolutely necessary that we read the Scriptures with the faithful. The primary reason the Bible has been given is not so  I can lock myself in my study and discern what God has to say to me. The Scriptures are for the church, the community of faith and it is meant to be read within the community of faith.

Herman Bavinck, late 19th century to early 20th century Dutch Reformed theologian and author of Reformed Dogmatics (which I highly recommend) writes about the importance of the role of the historic faith community in our reading of Scripture (where asterisk is found, see definition at the bottom) :

Neither scientific objectivity[1] nor complete subjectivity[2] are possible. All knowledge is rooted in faith, and for faith to be real it must have an object that is knowable… Christian theologians must place themselves within the circle of faith and, while using church tradition and experience, take their stand in the reality of revelation […]

The concern for revelation-based normativity in dogmatics[3] must not be construed to serve as a reason to overlook or deny the importance of confessional and cultural factors in dogmatic treatises. No one is free from the biases of church upbringing and particular environmental contexts. We are always products of our background, including our ecclesiastical[4] upbringing. Awareness of this reality led some to attempt divesting themselves of their confessional identities and returning to the more confused and “pure gospel” situation of the New Testament and the early church. So-called “biblical theology” is then opposed to “scholastic theology,” as though the latter were not at all biblical. But setting Scripture against church teaching is as wrong as separating heart and mind, feeling and knowing. The sole aim of dogmatics is to set forth the thoughts of God that he has laid down in Holy Scripture. A good dogmatic method must take into account church teaching and Christian experience as well as Scripture. Dogmatic theology is possible only for one who lives in the fellowship of the Christian church.


[1] Objectivity can also be described as unbiased, or not influenced by one’s personal feelings.

[2] Subjectivity – whereas objectivity is unbiased, subjectivity means that one is influenced by their personal feelings. In other words they are biased.

[3] The word dogma, from the Greek word dokein (“to be of the opinion”), denotes that which is definite, that which has been decided, and is therefore fixed. When we use the term dogma, or dogmatics we are referring to beliefs in the Christian community that are non-negotiable.

[4] from the Greek word ekklesia, meaning assembly. Ekklesia is the word in the New Testament for church.

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Same Song

Reading the Old Testament through the lens of Jesus Christ continues to blow my mind. Seeing Jesus in the OT is often deemed unwise because it is reading something into the text that is not there. However, when you begin to investigate the New Testament and all the claims that Jesus makes about Himself, you do not have to read him into anything—you simply recognize that He is there.

I recently listened to a sermon by Tim Keller called Getting Out (You can watch it here. Where he parallels the life of the Christian with that of an Israelite during the Exodus. His point is that the Israelites were “getting out.” God delivered them and they got out of slavery and oppression. In Matthew 2:15 it says speaking of Christ, “Out of Egypt I called my son.”  This verse is a quotation of Hosea 11:1, which refers to the Exodus. The son in Hosea is the nation of Israel. However, Matthew attaches a completely different meaning to Hosea. He is claiming that Jesus is the true Israel, the true son. The point is in Christ we are experiencing the true, perfect “getting out.”

Keller shares a piece about how an Israelite would describe himself:

Think about it. Think about what an Israelite would say coming out of Egypt. Here’s what they would say. If you were to say, ‘who are you?’ They would answer, ‘I was in a foreign land, under the sentence of death, in bondage, but I took shelter under the blood of the lamb. And our mediator led us out and we crossed over. Now we are on our way to the promised land, but we’re not there yet. But he’s given us his law to make us a community and he’s given us the tabernacle because you have to live by grace and forgiveness. And his presence is in our midst and He will stay with us until we get home.’

Shocking. The church joins with the saints of old to sing the song of the redeemed!

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Early Christian Spirituality Pt. III

The previous posts have dealt with the underlying assumptions that drove the actions and overall worldview of the early Christians. You can read Parts 1 and 2 here.

Particular Practices

Perhaps there is yet another way to describe Christian spirituality that sums these up and gives a foundation as we enter to discuss particular practices in early Christianity. This of course would be none other than the concept of imitation. In every early Christian practice there was a statement of faith being made that hinged on their aim to be imitators of Jesus Christ. The second part of this paper will focus on those various aspects of life and worship in the early church and special attention will be given to how those practices played into their attempt to imitate Christ.

Baptismal Catechesis

The early spread of Christianity as portrayed to by the book of Acts is one of ethnic, gender, and diverse religious backgrounds. Once persecution struck the church in Acts chapter eight, the church was scattered to different parts of the world and the Gospel began to take root among the Gentiles, may of which were polytheists. It would be absurd to assume that Gentiles were fully initiated into the church without first being instructed in the beliefs and practices of Christianity.[1] Their background would have likely been pagan, so to fully initiate a pagan into church would be damaging to the body because the former pagan would still retain some former presuppositions. The same can be said for Jewish converts because becoming Christian would mean that they had to deny some Jewish presuppositions and take on a new Christian metaphysic. Therefore, Christian catechesis was intended to teach the convert how a Christian ought to think and act. It would have been a deconstruction of former thoughts, while simultaneously reconstructing Christian thoughts. Part of this deconstruction involved exorcism and a renouncement of Satan. This exorcism was not what is typically thought of today, specifically demon possession, but referred to the bondage and slavery of those who are in sin. Cyril of Jerusalem claimed that without exorcism, salvation was not possible because the soul could not be cleansed. However, through catechism and exorcism, the convert was set on fire and purified by the Spirit as gold is by the goldsmith.[2]

Furthermore, Early Christian catechesis did not only exist to construct a certain theology, but also to explain the Christian sacraments. What was about to take place in Baptism and its significance would likely not have been known, nor would Holy Communion communicate the Gospel to the untrained. This catechesis served as an explanation of these “mysteries,” their significance, and the role that imitation played in them.

The question of when this baptismal catechesis took place is not simple to pin down. There simply is no evidence to support a standardized time for catechesis. Some churches instructed their people prior to baptism while others catechized them post baptism. For example, Egyptian churches instructed new converts to fast for forty days in imitation of Jesus’ fast in the wilderness as they received instruction and were joined in fasting by the remainder of the community. The end of that fast was the preferred time for baptism of the catechumens as they were thoroughly tested before fully initiated.[3] The consistent factor is that baptismal catechesis was vital in early Christian spirituality for the explanation and preservation of the faith.

Baptism as Initiation

The origin of baptism can be traced to several different traditions, some of which are not distinctively Christian. The Jews, and the Jewish sect known as the Essenes practiced baptism as a repeated ritual of purification.[4] However, for Christianity, baptism is approached in a completely different way, not as a repetitious purification ritual, but as initiation into the body of Christ. The majority of contemporary American FCE tends to view baptism as an outward sign of an inward commitment. While this is not necessarily wrong, it does seem to be an incomplete understanding when set against the view of early Christian spirituality. There were certain benefits that a full member of the body of Christ enjoyed that a non-believer, or non-initiated believer did not enjoy, namely the Eucharist.[5] FCE membership seems to center around whether or not a person is allowed to vote on church matters, not whether or not they get to participate in Holy Communion.

The Role of the Community

            Perhaps one of the most interesting aspects of baptism in early Christian spirituality was its communal nature. In contemporary American Christianity, baptism is often viewed as the individual’s statement of faith to the church body, yet the church body does not respond with a statement of faithfulness to the convert. The Didache alludes to the communal nature of baptism, saying, “And before the baptism let the one baptizing and the one who is to be baptized fast, as well as any others who are able.”[6] This seems to indicate that the community to which a convert was being baptized played a central role in the baptism itself. They were not simply spectators or bystanders, but active participants as they celebrated and welcomed the new sheep into the fold.

Imitation

            As for what exactly happens when a person is baptized, a full consensus regarding the theology of baptism is missing in early Christian spirituality. However, what we do have is a rich view of numerous things that transpire upon baptism. Baptism was thought to be an imitation, or reenactment of Jesus’ baptism by John in the Jordan river. In those moments of baptism when Jesus arose from the water, the heavens opened and the Spirit descended and the Father proclaimed, “ This is my one dear Son; in him I take great delight (Matt 4:17).” So also when the Christian is baptized the Father speaks to him as his adopted child.[7] Cyril of Jerusalem speaks of baptism as imitation in this way, “O strange and inconceivable thing! We did not really die, we were not really buried, we were not really crucified and raised again, but our imitation was but in a figure, while our salvation is in reality.”[8] In other words, to the early Christian baptism was imitation and a signet of the believer’s union with Christ.

The Water

One of the great metaphors for baptism in the Holy Scriptures can be found in Exodus 14 and Israel’s crossing of the Red Sea. Upon seeing the enemy approaching the people of Israel were afraid, but Moses charged them saying, “Do not fear! Stand firm and see the salvation of the Lord that he will provide for you today.” Then God did a great saving act through Moses, he parted the Red Sea and the people of Israel passed through on dry ground. Not only did they pass through, but also the enemies of Israel were swallowed up by the water. Therefore, is it fair to say that God saved Israel by means of the water? Cyril claims that baptism is “a ransom to the captives; the remission of offences; the death of sin; the regeneration of the soul; the garment of light; the holy seal indissoluble; the chariot to heaven; luxury of paradise; a procuring of the kingdom; the gift of adoption.”[9] What is missing from early baptismal literature is the strong emphasis on the connection of baptism to Romans 6.[10] While this connection could be drawn from such quotations as that of the previous quote by Cyril, mimicking Christ’s burial and triumph was not the central focus, rather new life. The early Christian placed emphasis on the water because it symbolized the Holy Spirit. The water represented life and refreshment, not death. The Didache gives further insight to the nature of early Christian baptism:

Now concerning baptism, baptize as follows: after you have reviewed all these things, baptize in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit in running water. But if you have no running water, then baptize in some other water, and if you are not able to baptize in cold water, then do so in warm. But if you have neither, then pour water on the head three times in the name of Father and Son and Holy Spirit.[11]

Now what seems to be the case is not the method by which a person is baptized, but the proclamation of the Triune God and the water. The Didache first commands that baptism is to be distinctively Trinitarian. This is one of the two non-negotiable aspects of baptism. The second is the use of water. It does not indicate a strict “immersion only” baptism, but leaves room for variation because access to pools of water were likely difficult in the Middle East. The emphasis is on the water—it was preferable that it be living, or moving water to portray the living and moving Holy Spirit. In addition, the water was to be cold if possible to symbolize the refreshing nature of the Spirit and his affects on those whom He indwells. It was this indwelling Spirit that moved in the person being baptized, refreshing them and giving them new life that was the emphasis of early Christian baptism, not primarily the method. In John 3 Jesus tells Nicodemus that in order to have eternal life one must be born of water and the Spirit, or born again. This passage drove the early Christian’s understanding of baptism because Jesus equates the water with the Spirit and the necessity of rebirth.

What can be gleaned from this summary of baptism in early Christian spirituality is that it was the means by which one was identified as a member of the Christian church. This practice was heavily communal and did not simply involve the one being baptized, but also the entire body to which the believer was being baptized. The baptism itself carried significant theological statements; specifically that it was Trinitarian and the celebration of new birth and new life in the Spirit. Contemporary FCE often debates the mode by which one should be baptized (e.g. sprinkling, pouring, immersion), but the early Christian was concerned with what the Spirit was appropriating to the convert by grace, through faith, and through the baptismal waters. Prior to this initiation, the convert did not enjoy the benefit of the Eucharist, to which we now turn.

The Eucharist

If one had to choose a focal point of Contemporary FCE worship based on our practice, the answer would likely be corporate song, and the proclamation of the word. These have come to define the liturgy of most American Evangelical churches, even churches that would declare themselves “non-liturgical.” Liturgy is simply the way in which a church conducts themselves when they meet. Therefore, the category of “non-liturgical simply does not exist for any Christian body.

Origin of the Eucharist

            The Eucharist finds its origin in Judaism in the practice of the Passover meal. The sacred Passover meal was a means of expression for the Jew regarding his relationship to the divine. Meals have always been a means of expressing a relationship between people and in Judaism, the people participated in the Passover as a declaration of God’s acceptance of them and a celebration of their deliverance. [12]

Christianity picks up many of the major themes that are found in the Passover meal. It remains an expression of God’s adoption and acceptance of them, as well as a proclamation and celebration of salvation. Foundationally, the difference is in the assumptions. The Eucharist meal is not the Passover, neither is the Passover the Eucharist. There is a foundational assumption that sets the two apart and that is the Eucharist declares acceptance and salvation by way of the crucifixion and resurrection of the God-Man Jesus Christ.

Center of Worship

 This declaration came to be the centerpiece of early Christian spirituality. After baptism, a convert was fully initiated into the church and enjoyed all of the rites that accompanied that membership. It was at the Lord’s Table that the people of God gathered, not only to remember what Christ had done, but also to observe the “eschatological messianic community here and now.”[13] The final Great Banquet Supper of the Lamb was celebrated not only as a future reality, but also a present celebration. The Eucharist solidified the Christians identity as truly belonging to the community of faith, and like baptism, the Eucharist was communal.[14]

Their presence at this meal was a sign of their reconciliation to God and their membership among the elect to who would one day feast together in God’s kingdom, and the intimate fellowship with one another that they experience around the table was a foretaste, an anticipation, of the union that they would enjoy for ever with God. The whole meal even was thus both a prophetic symbol of the future and also a means of entering into that future in the present.[15]

In addition, The Didache gives instructions for how Christians were to celebrate the Eucharist and in each section, the writer gives the church something to proclaim together.[16] Therefore, the Eucharist was not only communal, but it was also confessional. As the community participated in the Eucharist, it was believed that in the elements of the bread and the wine, they were actually partaking in the body and blood of Christ. In this participation, they were believed to be made into the same body and the same blood with Christ, and in so doing, shared in the divine nature.[17]

Eucharistic Community

      As previously stated the Eucharist defined early Christians—they were a Eucharistic community. As the center of their worship, it was impossible to truly be considered Christian, void of the Eucharist because in it, those who belonged to the community of faith were defined. Therefore, it was impossible for early Christians to read passages such as John 6, which reads, “The one who eats my flesh and drinks my blood resides in me, and I in him,” and not think of the Eucharist. For them it was the primary identifier in their union with Christ and the rest of the church.

The next post will conclude this series on Early Christian Spirituality and I will do my best to offer a brief comparison of Early Spirituality with the Spirituality that we see in Contemporary American Evangelicalism.


[1] Paul Bradshaw, Early Christian Worship, (Collegeville, Minnesota: Liturgical Press), 1996, 3.

[2] St. Cyril of Jerusalem,  Lectures on the Christian Sacraments: The Protochatechesis and the Five Mystagogical Chatecheses, Popular Patristics Series, Edited by F.L. Cross, (Crestwood, NY: St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press), 1977, 45.

[3] Bradshaw, 13.

[4] Ibid., 2.

[5] Paul Meyendorff, Christian Spirituality, 350.

[6]  [6] The Apostolic Fathers, 3rd ed., Edited by Michael W. Holmes, (Grand Rapids: Baker), 2007, 355.

[7]  Ibid., 352.

[8] St. Cyril of Jerusalem, 61.

[9] St. Cyril, 50.

[10] Paul Meyendorff, Christian Spirituality, 352.

[11] The Apostolic Fathers, 355.

[12] Bradshaw, 38.

[13] John D. Zizioulas, Christian Spirituality, 29.

[14] Ibid., 30.

[15] Bradshaw, 40.

[16] The Apostolic Fathers, 359-361.

[17] St. Cyril, 68.

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Christian Spirituality Pt. 2

My intention to post a series on Christian spirituality was pure, and I wanted to do it in consecutive days, but I attended a youth camp in central Texas last week and was unable to post consistently. So eleven days later… let us continue by looking at the foundational assumptions that governed early Christian life and worship. If you would like to read the introduction, you can do so here.

The first foundational assumption that governed life and worship in the early church was their doctrine of God. The Triune nature of God has long since been a defining characteristic of any distinctively Christian community, which states that there is one God who exists as three distinct persons—God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit.[1] Making this distinction clear through their life and worship was necessary because of the various heretical positions that arose in the early church in regards to the person and work of Jesus Christ. Gnosticism and Modalism became vibrant heresies during the early spread of Christianity, thus, wanting to show the distinction, early Christian spirituality was centered on the Triune nature of God. The divine essence was believed to be unknowable, thus the spiritual person had to be satisfied with mystery. Basil the Great writes, “we know the greatness of God, His power, His wisdom, His goodness, His providence over us and the justness of His judgments; but not His essence.”[2] The Trinitarian nature of God governed the very episcopal structure of the church. For the early Christian, the bishop sat in the place of Christ as His representative to the church and is submissive to the Father in all things just as the Son is submissive in all things.[3] However, the Trinity did not merely govern their governmental structure, but it also depicted the Christian life primarily taking place within community. It was absolutely absurd to think that a Christian could possibly mature into a spiritual person apart from the greater body of Christ. However, because of the context that surrounds contemporary American FCE, Christian spirituality is typically privatized and individualized to such a degree that the full body of Christ has little influence on the maturation of believers. Instead, spirituality is measured by how much time the believer spends reading the Bible and praying.

Within the broader theology of the Doctrine of God is Christology, specifically the Incarnation. Christian spirituality ought to be shaped by the fact that the infinite Son became infant, the immaterial became material, and the non-sensible became sensible. St. Athanasius wrote a small treatise entitled On the Incarnation where he describes Jesus, the God-man as not merely appearing to be human, but human in actuality.

He took our body, and not only so, but He took it directly from a spotless, stainless virgin, without the agency of human father—a pure body, untainted by intercourse with man. He, the Mighty One, the Artificer of all, Himself prepared this body in the virgin as a temple for Himself, and took it for His very own, as the instrument through which He was known and in which he dwelt.[4]

Athanasius perceived the entrance of the divine logos into the physical realm as affecting the entire human race.[5] As previously stated, one of the primary heresies in early Christianity was Gnosticism. The foundational assumptions of Gnosticism were far removed from orthodox Christianity and simply pealing back a few layers will reveal the vast difference between the two. Gnosticism held to the belief that the Demiurge, a vile and evil god created this physical world. Gnostics viewed the God of the Old Testament as evil and the God of the New Testament, the Father of Jesus as good. The problem is because everything sensible, visible, and physical is bad, Jesus was not truly human but only appeared to be human. Ultimately, Gnostics believed salvation was escape and relief from the physical realm and being returned to the spiritual realm with the Father.  As a result of this faulty view of the physical realm, Gnostic spirituality seems to have revolved around the renunciation of the physical.[6] However, Christians hold to an all-together different set of assumptions. Christians believe that the Father of Jesus Christ and the Creator of the physical realm are one in the same. Therefore, when the Son of God became incarnate, the Triune God was making a statement about the physical; namely, Christ had come to redeem it to the fullness for which it was intended. Thus, Christian spirituality was not opposed to the physical, or in other words, non-sensible, but in light of the incarnation involves the senses. When the infinite Son of God took on a human body, he simultaneously gave the senses a renewed role into the forefront of spirituality. “He became Himself an object for the senses, so that those who were seeking God in sensible things my apprehend the Father through the works which He, the Word of God did in the body.”[7] In light of this we should not view salvation as escape from the physical and we ought not to refrain from appealing to the senses when it comes to the Christian life and spirituality.

Another aspect of Christian worship that flows from Christology is the life of submission to God. Jesus Christ, the Son of God was submissive to the Father in all things. He did not plot out his own course in any fashion but went where the Father sent him and spoke the words that His Father gave Him.[8] This aspect of life and worship seems to be missing in American FCE, and it likely because of the fact that the church is steeped in a democratic society, which claims no authority accept that which is “by the people.” In other words, we acknowledge no authority unless we have set it up. Christ claimed no authority over his own life, rather was in complete submission to His Father, the source. Contemporary spirituality is often concerned with conquering, or dominating certain aspects of life. However, early Christian spirituality was less concerned with rising above things and more concerned with being under things, or better, being dominated. Therefore, the question is not, “How can I rise triumphantly over this sin, hurt, or pain,” but rather, “How dominated, empty, and humiliated can I be by the Triune God?”

Finally in regards to the doctrine of God, spirituality is pneumatological. The third person of the Trinity, the Holy Spirit is often times overlooked in various FCE traditions. The reason seems to be the aforementioned thought that the physical and sensible has no place in spirituality. However, what makes something spiritual is not whether or not it is material or immaterial, but whether or not it has been sanctified by the Spirit. “We can tell the Spirit’s divine nature by examining the Spirit’s activity in the economy of salvation: the Spirit is holy like God and is truly divine, because a creature cannot sanctify others.”[9]In other words, things become spiritual by virtue of the Spirit. Thus far, we have seen the Triune emphasis on Christian spirituality and the underlying assumptions that followed suit, namely, spirituality is communal, sensible, humiliating, and dependent on the Spirit’s work.

The next post will focus on the particular practices of the church and how these foundational assumptions drove their actions—focusing primarily on Catechism, Baptism, and the Eucharist (a.k.a. Communion/Lord’s Supper).


[1]     A more thorough description of orthodox Trinitarianism can be found in the Creed of Nicaea. See Chris Maunder ed. Documents of the Christian Church, (Oxford: Oxford University press), 1999, 27.

[2] Thomas Hopko, Christian Spirituality, Vol. 16. 25 vols. World Spirituality, Edited by John Meyendorff Bernard McGinn, and Jean Leclercq. (New York: Crossroad), 1985, 260.

[3]     John D. Zizioulas, Christian Spirituality, Vol. 16. 25 vols. World Spirituality, Edited by John Meyendorff Bernard McGinn, and Jean Leclercq. (New York: Crossroad), 1985, 32.

[4] Athanasius, On the Incarnation, (Crestwood, NY: St. Vladimir’s Orthodox Theological Seminary), 1944. Reprint, 1982, 34.

[5] Charles Kannengiesser, Christian Spirituality, Vol. 16. 25 vols. World Spirituality, Edited by John Meyendorff Bernard McGinn, and Jean Leclercq. (New York: Crossroad), 1985, 64.

[6] Robert Grant, Christian Spirituality, Vol. 16. 25 vols. World Spirituality, Edited by John Meyendorff Bernard McGinn, and Jean Leclercq. (New York: Crossroad), 1985, 45).

[7]  Athanasius, 43.

[8] Cf. Jn 5:19, 30; 7:18; 12:49-50; 14:31

[9] Charles Kannengiesser, Christian Spirituality, 68.

Christian Spirituality Intro

I took a bit of a hiatus from leisurely writing for the past few weeks while I finished up my semester at seminary. The end of the semester was crazy and I wrote somewhere in the ballpark of 50 pages in the last couple of weeks of April. I needed a break. After the semester was over I spent some time out by the pool at our apartment complex, playing pool volleyball and finishing up grading some papers for my grad internship. After that, I went on a serious vacation with my wife—a much needed vacation because even though I had been working hard, she puts me to shame. As a CPA finishing up tax season, she crossed the finish line exhausted like a marathon runner. You know, the ones whose legs turn to jello at the end of the race and all they can do is crawl? That pretty much sums up how badly my wife needed a vacation.

Being away for a week was refreshing. I love being away from my computer, television, and especially my cell phone. I got to read a novel— The Last Juror by John Grisham, and just BE. I didn’t have to be anywhere or do anything. In those moments there was no hustle and bustle, just rest. This got me to thinking about how important rest is to Christian Spirituality. Rest, of course, is but the fringes of Christian Spirituality.

For the next few post, I want to walk through a biblical, historical understanding of Christian Spirituality by looking at the life and worship of the early church. I recently took a class on this and it blew my mind, so I want to report some of what I learned. A word of caution is necessary, especially for people like me. What I mean by that is I have a bent when it comes to the history of Christianity. Sometimes I associate “Early” with “better” or “correct.” This isn’t always true but what I will say is that if the early church did or believed something and we don’t, then we had better have a good reason.  What I want to avoid are blanket statements such as, “Well it was good for the early church so we should do it too.” Well, not necessarily. What I do hope to do is point out the various differences between the life and worship of the Early Church and 21st century American Free Church  Evangelicalism (FCE). Walk into any contemporary FCE church and you will likely find a service that centers around music and preaching. This shows the development of an unofficial liturgy that has come to characterize the FCE movement. The problem is, as we will see, the liturgy that the church expresses directly reflects their theology. On a typical Sunday morning in many FCE churches, people fill the pews, receive an order of worship, and are led step by step through the service in a manner that seldom requires any active elements. This is a form of liturgy although it may not seem so in the modern understanding of the term. More than this, the movement is also characterized by a privatized spirituality, whereby prayer, the reading of scripture, and spiritual growth takes place “one-on-one” with God. The intended result of this hopeful spiritual growth is often times a sense of fulfillment and happiness.

However, is this the only option? Has this been the defining mark of Christian worship since the beginning? What elements did the early church employ and what was there overall view of spirituality? These are the questions that I will seek to explain by first offering a summary of early church spirituality. This section will address some of the underlying assumptions that directed the specific actions in the early church. Second, I will attempt to provide a glimpse into particular practices, specifically the two sacraments within the early church and how those practices differ from contemporary FCE.

So that is the direction I will be going over the next few posts. Next post will deal will the foundational assumptions that governed and drove early church spirituality.

Interpretation of Tradition

Kevin DeYoung’s recent article entitled “Tradition Still Requires Interpretation” is very interesting. He responds to the Catholic critique of Evangelicalism’s doctrine sola scriptura. Their accusation basically picks at the Evangelical claim that one person has the ability to interpret Scripture, rather than submitting to the interpretation of the Catholic Church. I encourage you to check it out as he clarifies the doctrine and responds by critiquing Catholic hermeneutics. DeYoung writes:

I respect Catholic theology for its intellectual history, its commitment to doctrinal precision, and for the many places it promotes historic orthodoxy. But I do not see how an appeal to authoritative church tradition, in its practical outworking, makes the interpretation of Scripture any more settled. In my experience, what it does is push the boundaries of the debate away from Scripture out to papal encyclicals and the like. This is fine to do as a means for establishing what Catholics have believed about Christian doctrine (much like I don’t think it’s a waste of time for Presbyterians to discuss the Westminster Confession of Faith). But here’s my point: just because you have an authoritative tradition doesn’t mean you won’t argue over the interpretation of that tradition.

For example, take the immigration debate. How should Christians view the ethics of immigration? Two evangelicals might both turn to the Bible and come up with a difference response. I’m not saying one answer wouldn’t be more right than the other (we’re not relativists or hard postmodernists when it comes to texts), but they could very well disagree even though they both adhere to sola scriptura. So do Catholics have an easier time giving a definitive answer? Clearly not.

Check out his post in its entirety by clicking the link at the top.

Atheist Doctrinal Statement

I heard Dr. Krieder once say, “The atheist has a short doctrinal statement, ‘NO!'” This Sunday I have the opportunity to share with 15-20 adults the importance of theological study and passing down orthodox theology to students. Each of these adults are small group leaders, each trying their best to love, engage, and teach truth to their students. Please pray for me as I share with them and plead with them to keep the Gospel central in their life and teaching. I am absolutely pumped about this because it is essentially what I want to do with my life. I want to bring theological education back into the church. A good friend of mine, Ben Humeniuk, helped me out by drawing this up. He is a godly, talented, and hilarious guy who uses his gift to bring honor and glory to Christ. May that be said of me as well. If you want to see more art and comic humor, check out Ben’s Gallery.

King Jimmy (James) Rules!

2011 will mark the 400th anniversary of the King James Version of the Bible. This is simply amazing. If you are a Christian and an English speaker you should be grateful for it because it was a huge breakthrough in its day. That doesn’t mean you have to use it because let’s just face it, speaking in “thees” and thou arts” can get confusing.

A friend sent me an article stating that the King James Version (KJV) is the only true English version. At first a laughed and then I had to read it because I love to torture myself. I am not going to list the writer because I don’t want to attack a specific person. Many people hold this belief and although I wholeheartedly disagree with them, I will try to respect their opinion. So here we go, “9 Reasons Why the KJV is THE Word of God.” From here on out my words will be italicized and in red… I will be forced to cut out a majority of the article so if you want to read it leave a comment with your email and I will send it to you.

1. Because God always translates perfectly. Scholars insist that the KJV cannot be infallible, because it is “only a translation. [However], a translation CAN be perfect, if God is involved in the translating.When the New Testament writers would quote the Old Testament they had to translate from Hebrew to Greek. So, if a translation cannot be infallible, then even the NT in the ‘original Greek isn’t infallible, because it contains translations from the Hebrew text!

2. Because it produces good fruit.God had the KJV translated for the purpose of bringing forth fruit, and it has been obedient to the call.  The greatest preachers of the past four centuries have been King James Bible believers. I love this next part…The new translations produce EVIL fruit.  The modern perversions of scripture are producing infidels who do not even know what the word of God is, much less where to find it.  The new translations produce spiritual babies who are totally incapable of discussing Bible doctrine.  The new versions produce NEWER versions, which produce MONEY for the publishers, and I Timothy 6:10 tells us that the love of MONEY is the root of all EVIL. Never mind the fact that the KJV is the numer 3 highest selling version of the Bible and probably number 1 of all time.

3. Because all new translations compare themselves to the KJV. Those who oppose the KJV are unsure of themselves, for they have no Final Authority; so they despise those of us who DO have an Authority.  They’re unstable, insecure, dishonest, and very inconsistent.  They’re all TERRIFIED of One Book, the KJV, and they’ll stop short of nothing in their efforts to rid the Body of Christ of that Book. The KJV is the word of God, because it’s the standard which all others use for comparison.

4. Because of the time in history in which it was translated. The Kings James Bible was not translated during the apostate and lukewarm Laodicean church period, like the new translations.  The Laodicean period is the last church period before the Second Coming of Christ. One can clearly see that we are living in the Laodicean period today by simply comparing modern churches to the church of Revelation 3:14-22.  This lukewarm period began toward the end of the 1800’s and will continue until Christ returns. The [KJV], however, was translated LONG BEFORE the Laodicean churches appeared. It was this church that the Lord Jesus COMMENDED for KEEPING HIS WORD (Rev. 3:8-10)!

I am really trying hard not to be mean here. Let’s just keep going.

5. Because of the manuscript evidence. Ninety-five percent of all evidence SUPPORTS the text of the King James Authorized Version.  Yea, and 89.6 percent of all statistics are made up on the spot. [The new versions] come from Alexandria, Egypt, and Rome.  We don’t need an Egyptian version, for Egypt is a type of the WORLD in the Bible.  God called His people OUT of Egypt (Exod. 3:14), and God called His Son out of Egypt (Hos. 11:1 with Matt. 2:13-15).  Why, the Bible says that “every shepherd is an abomination unto the Egyptians” in Gen. 46:34, and the Lord Jesus Christ is called a SHEPHERD in Acts 6:9.  So we don’t need a “bible” from Alexandria Egypt.Then there’s the Roman text, also called the “Western Text.”  We can also do without a Roman “bible”, because it was ROMAN soldiers who nailed our Lord to the cross.

This is unbelievable… Shoddy scholarship at best.

6. Because it exalts the Lord Jesus Christ. A REAL Bible will testify of the Lord Jesus Christ.  The true word of God will always EXALT Jesus Christ, and it will NEVER attack His Deity, His Virgin Birth, His Blood Atonement, His Bodily Resurrection, His Glorious Second Coming, or any other doctrines concerning His Person.  However, the new versions attack ALL of the fundamental doctrines concerning the Lord Jesus Christ at one time or another. He never clarifies but I wonder what he means by “new versions.” I have never read a “new version” that would deny any of these things.

He lists several other reasons that I will briefly list:

7. Because the KJV translators believed they were handling the very words of God.

8. Because the KJV translators were honest in their work.

9. Because No one has ever proven that the KJV is not God’s word.

Perhaps a lot of this could be cleared up if we knew what the writer meant by “new versions,” but he does challenge the reader to compare any version to select verses from the KJV and see how they attack the Lord Jesus Christ. I don’t see it and I disagree. I have resolved not to be mean but please feel free to be brutally honest.



Sing Good Songs

There are a lot of fluffy songs out right now. Songs that don’t even seem Christian because they are man focused and God is the treated as nothing but an agent that is supposed to do what we ask. I am starting to love more and more the hymns and spiritual songs of old. Songs like It is Well, The Solid Rock, and my personal favorite Crown Him with Many Crowns.

There is hope for modern music. I believe there are many song writers that are dedicated in writing songs that are Christ-centered and based on Scripture. There are new hymns and spiritual songs that are amazing. In Christ Alone (written in 2002) is one of these songs. Below is another song, one that was written after John Piper’s message, “The Great Work of the Only Wise God.”

 

(Sung to the tune of “Hark the Herald Angels Sing.”)

God alone is full of wisdom,
God alone knows every end,
God alone plans every pathway,
More than we can comprehend.
Infinite! His wisdom soars,
High above our peace and wars,
Grasping all the mysteries,
Governing the galaxies.
Infinite! Our God is wise!
Let our boast in him arise!

Wise! He saves the lowly sinner.
Wise! He keeps his covenant.
Wise! His ways at Calvary
Silence ev’ry argument.
By his blood and righteousness
Jew and gentile he will bless.
None shall boast in any man,
All shall marvel at his plan.
Infinite! Our God is wise!
Let our boast in him arise.

(This song was written to summarize the message, “The Great Work of the Only Wise God.”)