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Archive for October, 2011

I have been reading through Michael Holmes’ The Apostolic Fathers (3rd edition, Greek Texts and English Translations) for my class on Church History, and I am compelled to share a few noteworthy excerpts.  These are, in my estimation, among the most graceful and inspiring words ever penned.

The early centuries of the Christian church were dangerous; the next wave of persecution was always merely a breath away, executed through the command of a hostile Roman emperor.  One of the innumerable martyrs during this period was Ignatius, the bishop of Antioch.

Ignatius was the bishop of one of the largest and most famous Christian congregations, that of Antioch.  Antioch was one of the earliest missional churches, sending Paul and Barnabas on their missionary journey.  In Acts 11:26, we learn that Antioch was where the followers of Christ were first called “Christians.”  This congregation was one with a rich, albeit brief, history of following the teachings of their Savior faithfully.

At some point early in the second century, a group of ten Roman soldiers was dispatched to arrest the bishop of this faithful congregation in order to bring him back from Antioch to the Coliseum in Rome, where he would be thrown to the wild beasts.  On the way to Rome, Ignatius wrote a series of letters to churches in cities along the way, who had sent delegations to meet with Ignatius.

These letters are immensely valuable for understanding what concerns a bishop of this time might have for other congregations as well as how martyrdom was viewed by one on his way to such a fate.  My desire here is to simply expose you to some brief passages which I found deeply inspiring.

In his letter to the Ephesians (4:1-2), Ignatius likens the unity of the church to a lyre (a stringed musical instrument–think guitar) and a choir:

(1) Thus it is proper for you to run together in harmony with the mind of the bishop, as you are in fact doing.  For your council of presbyters, which is worthy of its name and worthy of God, is attuned to the bishop as strings to a lyre.  Therefore in your unanimity and harmonious love Jesus Christ is sung.  (2) You must join this chorus, every one of you, so that by being harmonious in unanimity and taking your pitch from God you may sing in unison with one voice through Jesus Christ to the Father, in order that he may both hear you and, on the basis of what you do well, acknowledge that you ar members of his Son.  It is, therefore, advantageous for you to be in perfect unity, in order that you may always have a share in God.

In his letter sent ahead to the church in Rome, to which he is journeying to his death, Ignatius implores the believers there not to interfere in his being thrown to the beasts.  He wants them to allow this to take place in order that he might accomplish a great thing to God’s glory.  He writes in chapter 2:

(1) For I do not want you to please people, but to please God, as you in fact are doing.  For I will never again have an opportunity such as this to reach God, nor can you, if you remain silent, be credited with a greater accomplishment.  For if you remain silent and leave me alone, I will be a word of God, but if you love my flesh, then I will again be a mere voice. (2) Grant me nothing more than to be poured out as an offering to God while there is still an altar ready, so that in love you may form a chorus and sing to the Father in Jesus Christ, because God has judged the bishop from Syria worthy to be found in the west [where Rome was], having summoned him from the east [where Antioch was, in Syria].  It is good to be setting from the world to God in order that I may rise to him.

I think Ignatius’ using the rising and setting of the sun (from east to west) as a metaphor for his journey as a martyr is stunningly beautiful, absolutely breathtaking.

I will leave you with a final excerpt, again from Ignatius’ letter to the Romans (chapter 4).

I am writing to all the churches and am insisting to everyone that I die for God of my own free will–unless you hinder me.  I implore you: do not be unseasonably kind to me.  Let me be food for the wild beasts, through whom I can reach God.  I am God’s wheat, and I am being ground by the teeth of the wild beasts, so that I may prove to be pure bread.

Think on these passages, and always remember that Christians today are united with the same Church that bore these burdens so many centuries ago.  I encourage you to seek out the writings of the early Church; they can be incredibly edifying and inspiring.  The link “Early Christian Writings” on the far right of this page will take you to many of them.  1 and 2 Clement, the Martyrdom of Polycarp, and the letters of Ignatius of Antioch are great places to start.

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I read an article on Yahoo! today about a recent summit of conservatives, and I couldn’t help but notice the glaring inconsistency of one of the speakers.

Towards the end of the article, the author, Patricia Zengerle, writes:

Romney was followed to the stage by Bryan Fischer, a director of the American Family Association, known for inflammatory remarks against homosexuality and ‘non-Christian religions,’ which he has said include Mormonism.  ‘The next president of the United States needs to be a man…of sincere authentic genuine Christian faith,’ he said, in a jab at Romney.  Fischer said the next U.S. president must deny evolution, stop government assistance for the poor…[emphasis mine]

Obviously, this summit was attended by Republican voters and Presidential hopefuls, and this typically goes hand in hand with smaller government (i.e. less government assistance for the poor).

However, this creates a problem: while Fischer certainly seems to see the ideal United States government as some sort of theocracy with a strong believer as President, he insists that part of this leader’s program must include the cessation of government assistance for the poor.

I defy Mr. Fischer to demonstrate from Scripture how “a man of…sincere authentic genuine Christian faith,” who oversees his ideal Christian nation, could possibly maintain the purity of his faith while eliminating aid for his poverty-stricken subjects.  Christianity is a religion of intense compassion for the “have-nots,” and the “haves” always shoulder the burden of providing for others in a spirit of generosity.

Now I would agree with Mr. Fischer that some of these programs should be eliminated in order to control the deficit.  However, I disagree that we must necessarily elect his ideal President to remain faithful Christians.  The United States government is not a Christian institution and has no need of becoming one.  I would rather elect a competent President, who happened to be Mormon (not an endorsement for Romney) than a Christian who was incapable as a leader.

Is it important to provide for the poor and afflicted in our midst?  Absolutely! However, this is to be the work of the Church.  Demonstrating the love of God for the world is part of our responsibility as ambassadors of Christ, and this includes providing for unmet social needs in the world.

The Church must step up to be the body of Christ in the world rather than continue to play power-politics in order to establish some sort of Christian dominionism.  The Kingdom of God will certainly come to Earth in full force, but I promise it will not come through the staunch anti-evolutionism or anti-homosexual policies of some misguided “Christian” President.  It will come through Jesus Christ.

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Earlier today I came across an article on Yahoo! which was reporting the reaction of a Westboro Baptist Church official to the death of Steve Jobs.  Shortly after my disgust subsided, I had to read Jonah for my OT Survey class.  In light of the above article, I am compelled to briefly discuss the book.  (Before continuing, check out the article and read through Jonah…it’s short, like a ten minute read.)

The book opens with Jonah’s call to go to Ninevah, the capital of the ancient superpower Assyria, to “announce judgment against its people because their wickedness has come to my attention” (NET).  Jonah, however, has other ideas, and he went to the coast and boarded a ship for Tarshish.  The text is very clear that Jonah is being disobedient here, twice stating that Jonah was fleeing “from the Lord’s presence.”

When a terrible storm puts the lives of all those on board in danger, Jonah is found to be the issue and is promptly tossed overboard at his own command.  Jonah spends three days and nights in the belly of a “great fish.”  Finally, Jonah repents and prays to the Lord, who causes the fish to spit Jonah out on the dry land.

When Jonah arrives in Nineveh, he pronounces judgment against the city and, to his great dismay, the king orders his subjects to immediately fast and repent of their evil deeds.  They turn back to the Lord, this terrible city of Assyrian pagans!  There is no deliberation; the text presents the Assyrian repentance as immediate.

Jonah was furious.  The message of an Israelite prophet was hardly ever well received by fellow Israelites, who had received God’s covenant and Law.  From Jonah’s perspective, how much less should these evil Assyrians heed the prophet’s warning!

However, this is precisely what happens, and it is the basis for Jonah’s contention with God in chapter 4.  Now, we learn that Jonah did not flee God’s presence because he was afraid of the Assyrians or unsure of his calling or whatever.  He fled because he did not want to give the Assyrians even a chance to repent.  Essentially, Jonah says to God, “You see!  This is exactly what I was afraid of!  You and all your compassion and mercy!  I’d rather die than witness this!”

So God causes a tree to grow and provide shade for Jonah.  Then, the next day, He destroys it, and Jonah is angry.  This sets up God’s closing statements, which drive home the main theme of the book:

Jonah 4:10-11 (NET)

So the Lord said, “You cared about the plant, which you did not labor over and did not grow.  It appeared in a night and perished in a night.  Should I not care about the great city of Nineveh, which has more than 120,000 people who cannot distinguish between their right and their left, as well as many animals?”

God’s point here stems from His being the Creator: “Jonah, you were concerned about a plant in whose existence you played no part.  How much more should I be concerned about all these people and animals, each of whom I myself created!”

I think the takeaway here is this: the same God who, as Creator, has the prerogative to execute judgment on evildoers is also fiercely compassionate towards the nations, even the supremely evil ones who live apart from His commands.

If the Creator Himself would mercifully offer a warning to Nineveh and, in fact, relent from bringing His judgment, what sort of attitude should we have towards people who have allegedly “[given] God no glory & taught sin”?

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