Thinking Out Loud

October 4, 2019

The Acts of the Apostles: What Were Those Acts?

Filed under: Christianity — Tags: , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 9:12 am

As an information guy, I really love those books which present a complete harmony of the gospels. If you can’t afford to buy one, have a peek at any Bible version’s edition of the Life Application Study Bible and at the end of John’s gospel, you’ll see a list version summarizing 250 events in the life and teaching of Jesus gathered from all four gospel accounts.

It occurred to me this week that I personally (see below) know of no such list that would relate to the book of Acts since there are no other books with which to harmonize. (I say that loosely however, because the corroborations between Acts and the Epistles are the object of frequent study.)

I decided to pick up a copy of the NIV 2011 and simply copy out the section headers from all 28 chapters of Acts. (Which is why the words are all capitalized.)

Having said (see above) that I know of no such list, with the thousands of Bible-related things that are uploaded to the internet each day, I am sure there are dozens of these lists, but for me, the value was in the doing of this; taking time to look at the Acts story arc (compared to the Gospels story arc) and then my wife reading these back to me as we both shared a different type of discovery process in this account of the first generation church.


1. Jesus Taken Up Into Heaven
2. Matthias Chosen to Replace Judas
3. The Holy Spirit Comes at Pentecost
4. Peter Addresses the Crowd
5. The Fellowship of the Believers
6. Peter Heals a Lame Beggar
7. Peter Speaks to the Onlookers
8. Peter and John Before the Sanhedrin
9. The Believers Pray
10. The Believers Share Their Possessions
11. Ananias and Sapphira
12. The Apostles Heal Many
13. The Apostles Persecuted
14. The Choosing of the Seven
15. Stephen Seized
16. Stephen’s Speech to the Sanhedrin
17. The Stoning of Stephen
18. The Church Persecuted and Scattered
19. Philip in Samaria
20. Simon the Sorcerer
21. Philip and the Ethiopian
22. Saul’s Conversion
23. Saul in Damascus and Jerusalem
24. Aeneas and Dorcas
25. Cornelius Calls for Peter
26. Peter’s Vision
27. Peter at Cornelius’s House
28. Peter Explains His Actions
29. The Church in Antioch
30. Peter’s Miraculous Escape From Prison
31. Herod’s Death
32. Barnabas and Saul Sent Off
33. On Cyprus
34. In Pisidian Antioch
35. In Iconium
36. In Lystra and Derbe
37. The Return to Antioch in Syria
38. The Council at Jerusalem
39. The Council’s Letter to Gentile Believers
40. Disagreement Between Paul and Barnabas
41. Timothy Joins Paul and Silas
42. Paul’s Vision of the Man of Macedonia
43. Lydia’s Conversion in Philippi
44. Paul and Silas in Prison
45. In Thessalonica
46. In Berea
47. In Athens
48. In Corinth
49. Priscilla, Aquila and Apollos
50. Paul in Ephesus
51. The Riot in Ephesus
52. Through Macedonia and Greece
53. Eutychus Raised From the Dead at Troas
54. Paul’s Farewell to the Ephesian Elders
55. On to Jerusalem
56. Paul’s Arrival at Jerusalem
57. Paul Arrested
58. Paul Speaks to the Crowd
59. Paul the Roman Citizen
60. Paul Before the Sanhedrin
61. The Plot to Kill Paul
62. Paul Transferred to Caesarea
63. Paul’s Trial Before Felix
64. Paul’s Trial Before Festus
65. Festus Consults King Agrippa
66. Paul Before Agrippa
67. Paul Sails for Rome
68. The Storm
69. The Shipwreck
70. Paul Ashore on Malta
71. Paul’s Arrival at Rome
72. Paul Preaches at Rome Under Guard


The section headers are part of the NIV core text, so it’s probably helpful that we mention that this was prepared using Bible Gateway. Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® Copyright ©1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide. 

Image: Adapted from the cover of a book by William A Anderson, Liguori Publishing.

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February 7, 2019

Theology Resource Aims to Make Us Better Informed

You’re wading through a thread of online comments when you realize that you’re being inundated with terminology you don’t quite get. As one of the not-formally-trained, you really want to understand what’s under discussion but the use of certain words either leaves you in the dust or leaves you scrambling to secondary sources to see what’s at stake.

There’s nothing truly “contemporary” about theology. The roots of the subject are the individual doctrines which are, in one sense, unchanged since the resurrection. That foundation was laid a long, long time ago. But over history there have been movements, and changes in emphases, that have resulted in many different ideas about how we understand God and his ways.

That’s where the book Contemporary Theology: An Introduction (Zondervan) enters. The full title is Contemporary Theology: An Introduction – Classical, Evangelical, Philosophical and Global Perspectives and is described as “a new 412-page collection of names, movements, and methods found in theological and biblical discussions that are never fully discussed or explained in the books one reads.”

That’s true. If you find yourself constantly looking up theological references online, this print resource might prove to be handier. If you want to know about the basic doctrines of Christianity, you need a different book. Instead, author Kirk MacGregor wants you to be better informed about the things which crop up in blogs, forums and other venues for heated discussion.

Consider the list. Each one of these gets about eight pages plus two pages of bibliography. This chapter list has been edited to show you what I considered the highlights:

4. Existentialism
5. Dispensationalism
7. Spurgeon’s Biblical Theology
8. Vatican I and Neo-Thomism
9. Revivalist Theology
10. The Social Gospel
11. Christian Fundamentalism
12. Karl Barth and Neo-Orthodoxy
14. Pentecostalism & Pneumatology
16. Contemporary Evangelicalism
20. Catholic Theology: Vatican II to today
23. Current Anabaptist Theology
24. Liberation Theology
25. Feminist Theology
26  Complementarianism / Egalitarianism
27. Reformed Epistemology
29. Postmodern Theology
30. Open Theism
34. Theology and the Arts
35. Paul and Justification
37. Evolutionary Creation

With an academic text like this, I haven’t read each individual entry, but focused initially on those movements I was already familiar with. It left me wanting to get the word about this great resource out there. The ones I did read I thought were fair and balanced, and unlike other books of this nature where different writers contribute different chapters, I was impressed that an individual author could be so well-versed on such a diverse group of theological perspectives.


Zondervan Hardcover | 412 pages | 9780310534532 | $34.99 US

Thanks to Mark at HarperCollins Christian Publishing Canada for arranging for me to get a closer look at this book.

January 15, 2019

It’s Older than Most New Testament Books, But Not Part of the Canon

There are two ways, one of life and one of death, and there is a great difference between the two ways.

~Didache 1:1

While New Testament scholars always knew it existed, it was not until 1873 when a dusty, worn copy was pulled off an Istanbul library shelf by an Archbishop who promptly left it on his desk to attend to other matters, where it sat for months before he finally grasped what it is he had discovered. In fact, the document whose lost text he had discovered was once considered for inclusion in the Biblical canon.

The Didache (pronounced DID-ah-kay) is only about half the length of the Gospel of Mark, but it provides an intimate view of Christian life and Christian community for the early church. There are many books on the subject, but a simple introduction — along with a copy of the complete text — is Tony Jones’ The Teaching of the 12 (Paraclete Press, 2009).

(Random) Highlights:

  • Let your alms sweat in your hands until you know to whom to give them. (1:6)
  • Do not be one who opens his hands to receive, or closes them when it is time to give. (4:5)
  • Do not give orders to your servants when you are angry, for they hope in the same God… (4:10)
  • Your fasts should not be with the hypocrites, for they fast on Mondays and Thursdays. You should fast on Wednesdays and Fridays. (8:1)
  • [Concerning the Eucharist, give thanks this way] “Even as this broken bread was scattered over the hills and was gathered together and became one, so let your church be gathered together from the ends of the earth into your kingdom…” (9:4)
  • Let every apostle who comes to you be received as the Lord. But he must not remain more than one day, or two, if there’s a need. If he stays three days he is a false prophet. (11:4,5)
  • Concerning Baptism, you should baptize this way: After first explaining all things, baptize in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit in flowing water. (7:1, italics added)
  • Hate no one; correct some, pray for others, and some you should love more than your own life. (2:7)

The early Christians were also told to pray the Lord’s Prayer three times daily (8:3) and if they baked bread, to give the first loaf to the prophets (13;5). The translation above is from Tony Jones’ book, and seems to be closest to one online by Charles Hoole.

So in a post-DaVinci Code climate, where does a document like this fit in?

First of all, we have all we need in the Bible, and no one should feel compelled to read extra-Biblical writings like this, much less those on the periphery such as The Gospel of Thomas.

But for those who want a snapshot of New-Testament life, this document has the recommendation of many respected pastors, though don’t expect a movie anytime soon.

DVD: There is a 6-week curriculum DVD available based on Tony Jones’ book. Here’s some info — and a 2-minute promo video — from Tony’s blog, Theoblogy.

This post first appeared on Jan 26/11 at Christianity 201


When first published at Thinking Out Loud, this article attracted several comments; one that we’ll repeat here as well…

One gentle word of correction is that the Didache does not hail from the age after the apostles, but the age of the apostles. The Didache is actually older than most of the books of the New Testament, especially all the Gospels with the possible exception of Mark. Aaron Milavec who is one of the foremost authorities on it places its date between 50 & 70 AD! Yes that is 15 to 35 years after the resurrection. A dating this early means most of the apostles are still alive. Another authoritative voice is Thomas O.Laughlin, who though not as dogmatic, still takes it around that time. The last of the Apostles, John, was still alive in 98 AD when Trajan came to power. From a scholarly standpoint, this era from the resurrection up to the death of John is roundly considered the “apostolic age” and so documents like the Didache, Barnabas, and the Shepherd of Hermas are generally considered the “apostolic fathers” as compared with the documents of the post apostolic age which is generally considered the Ante-Nicene Fathers. On top of all this, the Didache almost made it into the canon. It was widely used among the Fathers and Origin referred to it as “scripture.” I whole heartedly agree with you that Scripture as we have it is sufficient. But I personally still feel that Didache is in a class by itself. [At this point the comment continued to a podcast link which is no longer valid.]

September 23, 2018

Christianity on the Move: When He Said Timbuktu, He Really Meant Timbuktu

Brian Stiller, Global Ambassador for the World Evangelical Alliance on the expansion of the Christian church worldwide.

Part One: 4 Minutes

Part Two: 5½ Minutes


Link to the World Evangelical Alliance

Brian is also the author of An Insider’s Guide to Praying for the World (Baker) which we reviewed here recently.

My review of Brian’s Evangelicals Around the World (Thomas Nelson) (an encyclopedia of all things Evangelical).

My review of From Jerusalem to Timbuktu (InterVarsity).

April 24, 2018

Evangelicals: A Guided World Tour

As Global Ambassador for the World Evangelical Alliance (WEA), Brian Stiller has a big-picture perspective unlike anyone else on the planet. His two most recent books have confirmed this: Evangelicals Around the World: A Global Handbook for the 21st Century (Zondervan, 2015) and An Insider’s Guide to Praying for the World (Baker, 2016). Simply put, Brian Stiller is a walking encyclopedia on all things Evangelical and he gains his information not from typical research but through firsthand, on-the-ground observation and involvement. We’re talking both frequent flyer miles, and the recognition of Christian leaders on every continent.

This time around he’s with InterVarsity Press (IVP) for From Jerusalem to Timbuktu: A World Tour of the Spread of Christianity (248 pages, paperback).

So…about that title. Brian Stiller argues that if we see Jerusalem as the birthplace, and thereby global center of Christianity, that center point moved up into Europe and then back down and then, around 1970 that center started shifting to the global south. The impact of this is huge; it means that North American and Western Europe are no longer setting the agenda for Christianity. It also means that one particular nation, rocked by the link between Evangelicalism and the election of a particular leader and now trying to consider if it’s time to rename the group entirely, simply cannot be allowed to dictate that change when one considers all that Evangelicals, quite happy with the term, are doing in the rest of the world.

Disclaimer: I am blessed to know Brian personally. His wealth of knowledge impacted me when I sat in the offices of Faith Today magazine, and Brian rhymed off the names of organizations founded in the years immediately following World War II, and then how, as these maverick, dynamic leaders passed the baton to the next generation, these organizations entered a type of maintenance mode, with lessened radical initiative. As Director of Youth for Christ Canada, President of the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada (this country’s counterpart to the NAE), President of Tyndale University College and Seminary and now Global World Ambassador for the WEA, he has truly lived four distinct lifetimes.

But that’s not the topic for this book. Rather he looks at five drivers which have characterized the growth of Evangelicalism globally. These are:

  1. An undeniable increase in emphasis on the work of the Holy Spirit.
  2. The fruit of years of work by Bible translators.
  3. A shift towards using national (indigenous) workers to lead.
  4. A greater engagement with legislators and governments.
  5. A return to the teachings of Jesus regarding compassion and justice.

Beginning with the first of these, Brian doesn’t hide his own Pentecostal/Charismatic roots, something I haven’t seen as much in his earlier books. A final chapter looks at the influence of prayer movements, the role of women in ministry, the trend in praise and worship music, the challenge of welcoming refugees, and the constant spectre of persecution.

The book compresses decades of modern church history into a concise collection of data and analysis.  It is an answer to the question, “What in the world is God doing?”

I know of no better title on the subject simply because I know of no one more qualified to write it. This is an excellent overview for the person wanting to see the arc of Evangelicalism since its inception or the person who is new to this aspect of faith and wants to catch up on what they’ve missed.

For both types of people, this is a great book to own.

► See the book’s page at the IVP website.

January 8, 2018

What is a Charismatic? Two Sets of Characteristics

A few years ago, I ran a post at Christianity 201 where the author Michael Patton gave seven reasons why he believes that the gifts of the Holy Spirit have not ceased to operate. This is known as the continualist position or continuism. The opposite is the cessationist position or cessationism.

Patton had blogged just the day before at Parchment and Pen about six characteristics he believes identifies Charismatic Christians. (He used a lower case ‘c’ but I have chosen to capitalize this where it refers to an admittedly diverse denomination, in the same way some are now arguing that Evangelical needs to be capitalized.) Update (12:30 PM EST): That article is now available at this link.

1. Unusual attention given to the empowering presence of the Holy Spirit in the life of the believer

2. The tendency to seek and expect miraculous healings

3. The tendency to seek and expect God’s direct communication (dreams, visions, experiences, personal encounters, etc.)

4. Unusual attention given to the presence of demonic activity in the world

5. Very expressive worship

6. Belief in the continuation of all the gifts of the Holy Spirit

He spells out each of these, and then describes the entire spectrum of belief as to the gifts of the Spirit, ending up with this chart. (I do appreciate his calling both extremes as unorthodox; you can tell me that the tongues and interpretation aren’t for today, but don’t try to tell me they never happened!)

Belief Spectrum - Gifts of the Holy Spirit

At this point I would link, but unfortunately the website is no longer in service.

I think his analysis is good, though his terminology is a bit intense. Perhaps the charismatics I know are more conservative, or possibly he is envisioning charismatic believers in Africa or South America. I would rephrase his six points this way:

1. A distinct emphasis on the limitless power and work of the Holy Spirit in the world today

2. Expectant, faith-consumed prayer even in the face of great odds and obstacles

3. A belief that God speaks into the hearts and minds of his people through dreams, visions, circumstances and a ‘still small voice’

4. An acknowledgement that the Christian is always embroiled in spiritual warfare

5. Passionate worship

6. Belief in the continuation of all the gifts of the Holy Spirit

The problem with any doctrinal emphasis is that it always takes place at the expense of something else. So if you speak of an “unusual emphasis” on the Holy Spirit, or on demonic activity, are you doing so at the cost of not emphasizing the work of redemption on the cross, or the call to love our neighbors, or the priority of world missions? (Points 1 and 4) The Charismatics — albeit with a few exceptions — that I know haven’t thrown the baby out with the bath water.

And if you believe that God is still in the business of impressing things on his people (Point 3) that doesn’t mean it is at the expense of not prioritizing the role of scripture. Most of the Charismatics I know have a good working knowledge of scripture.

I did leave one (Point 6) intact. Update: The original article with about 90 insightful comments is available at this link.

August 22, 2017

Church Life: Special Music

In a majority of the middle part of the last century, a feature of Evangelical church services was “the special musical number” or “special music” or if the church didn’t print a bulletin for the entire audience, what the platform party often logged as simply “the special.”

While this wasn’t to imply that the remaining musical elements of the service were not special, it denoted a featured musical selection — often occurring just before the message — that would be sung by

  • a female soloist
  • a male soloist
  • a women’s duet
  • a men’s duet
  • a mixed duet
  • a mixed trio
  • a ladies trio
  • an instrumental number without vocals

etc., though usually it was a female soloist, who, in what would now be seen as an interruption to the flow of the service, would often be introduced by name. “And now Mrs. Faffolfink, the wife our beloved organist Henry, will come to favor us with a special musical number.” This was followed by silence, with the men on the platform party standing as the female soloist made her way to the microphone. (We’ll have to discuss ‘platform party’ another time.)

While the song in question might be anything out of the hymnbook, these were usually taken from a range of suitable songs from the genre called “Sacred Music” designed chiefly for this use, compositions often not possible for the congregation to sing because of (a) vocal range, (b) vocal complexity such as key changes, and (c) interpretive pauses and rhythm breaks. These often required greater skill on the part of the accompanist as well.

A well known example of this might be “The Holy City” which is often sung at Easter, though two out of its three sections seem to owe more to the book of Revelation. “The Stranger of Galilee” and “Master the Tempest is Raging” are two other well-known examples of the type of piece. Sometimes the church choir would join in further into the piece. (The quality of the performance varied depending on the capability of soloists in your congregation.)

By the mid-1970s commercial Christian radio stations were well-established all over the US, and broad exposure to a range of songs gave birth to the Christian music soundtrack industry. More popular songs were often available on cassette from as many as ten different companies. Some were based on the actual recording studio tracks of the original; some were quickly-recorded copies; and some of both kinds were offered in different key signatures (vocal ranges.) Either way, they afforded the singer the possibility of having an entire orchestra at his or her disposal, and later gave way to CDs and even accompaniment DVDs with the soundtrack synchronized to a projected visual background.

Today in the modern Evangelical church, this part of the service has vanished along with the scripture reading and the pastoral prayer. If a megachurch has a featured music item, it’s entirely likely to be borrowed from the Billboard charts of secular hits, performed with the full worship band.

This means there is an entire genre of Christian music which is vanishing with it. This isn’t a loss musically — some of those soloists were simply showing off their skills — as it is lyrically. The three songs named above were narrative, which means they were instructional. They taught us, every bit as much as the sermon did; and were equally rooted in scripture texts. The audience was in a listening mode, more prepared to be receptive. Early church historians will still despair over the passive nature of listening to a solo, but I believe the teaching that was imparted through the songs was worth the 3-4 minutes needed.

My personal belief is that this worship service element will return, albeit in a slightly different form, as congregations grow tired of standing to do little more than listen to pieces they can’t sing anyway because of vocal range or unfamiliarity. This may be taking place already in some churches.

We’ll be better served when that happens.

 

July 27, 2017

Resenting the Church’s Wealth

Filed under: Christianity — Tags: , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 7:34 am

Before leaving Austria’s Melk Abbey, I persuaded my wife to buy two small postcards. It was a rather strange place to make our only abbey/cathedral/church expenditure because she was not terribly impressed with this particular excursion.

She found it extremely opulent and it was such a huge contrast to the simple crucifix that we had seen in the museum. The two postcards were meant to ask the question, “How did we get from this to this?” In other words, how did the death of the simple, peripatetic rabbi as a common criminal lead to the layers and layers of gold which adorned the worship space?

One answer that was given us on another tour was that the churches and cathedrals “must outdo the palaces” because “God deserves better than the King.”

Just ponder that for a few minutes…

…I wonder to what extent the average person at the time of construction could come to resent the church’s wealth? When your family is living in a cold and damp hovel in the middle of cruel winter and you’ve had to skip supper because the rats have eaten the food you had set aside to cook that night; and then you look out the window and see this gigantic gold-topped cathedral being built just a mile or two from your home, do you start to wonder about the equity of all things? Or do you in fact the connect the dots as we did and wonder how the simple story of the teacher who told his closest disciples to carry no bag for their journey and focus on building heavenly treasure gave way to stained glass and organs and statues and twelve libraries?

Fast forward to 2017. Are things much different? Do people resent the church’s wealth today? When your family is living in subsidized housing and the landlord refuses to fix the hot water heater and you’ve had to skip dinner because the refrigerator is empty, the Food Stamps/EBT debit card is missing and the only friend who might help you out is in lockup for DUI; when you look out the window and see the megachurch on the other side of the freeway which now prevents you from seeing the sunset; do you start to wonder why that huge building needs to exist at all while you go hungry? Do you connect the dots and wonder how the story of the Nazareth carpenter who preached the Sermon on the Mount and told the rich young man to sell everything gave way to an air-conditioned house of worship with 2,600 plush seats and a fully equipped children’s ministry center and state-of-the-art sound and lighting?

Are we still trying to outdo the palace?

March 10, 2017

House Party: Barbecue, Pool, a Movie, and “We’re having a guest preacher.”

It’s a summer weekend. You invite a few friends over to use the pool, enjoy a barbecue, and watch a movie on DVD. Oh, and you’ve also invited a preacher who will sit everyone down in the living room for a 40 minute sermon. Wait, what? Wouldn’t an Amway Ambush be better than listening to a sermon?

While your swim, burger, and film night might include comfortable chairs, popcorn, refreshments, etc. in 2017, inviting a preacher might have been the equivalent type of party in the 18th century.

Victorian ParlourWhile reading 7 Men and the Secret of Their Greatness by Eric Metaxas a few years ago, I encountered the term parlor preaching, or if you prefer, the more Anglicized spelling, parlour preaching. Apparently William Wilberforce’s family would have John Newton over for the evening as a guest speaker. If magicians can do parlor tricks, I suppose pastors can parlor preach.

A short trip to a few search engines later, I am not a whole lot wiser on this subject. How widespread was this type of social event? Was it the province of the aristocracy or upper class, or could anyone commission the pastor for a thousand words of exegesis and exhortation?

Though it seems to harken back to a long bygone era, I love the concept. I just can’t see anyone pulling this off successfully today, especially if you get the kind of preacher whose voice raises when he gets passionate. The sermon, as an art form is slowly fading. Rhetoric in general is getting lost in a world of txt msgs and 140-character Tweets. Most party invitees don’t want to arrive at your home only to find they’re at church.

With the absence of information we have to do some guessing. My money’s on this phenomenon as being more church service than small group, but as one-off event. A theological education was highly prized and respected, so the type of interactive format we enjoy in small groups wouldn’t be as likely to occur. You certainly would never offer an alternative view and you might not feel comfortable asking a question, either. At best, you’d save it until afterwards when tea was served.

But it could have resembled house church. There would be a piano in the parlor (aka ‘front room’ or what we would call the ‘living room’) so possibly there could be some singing, with the latest worship songs being transmitted from place to place via printed sheet music (no doubt, CCLI song #5) followed by something the preacher had prepared. Start time and dress would be less formal than Sundays and probably children (if present) would be free to sit on the carpet.

Again, I’m making all this up because there is very little corroboration online for this. If you know differently, please fill the rest of us in.

We do this today, sometimes inviting friends over to watch a sermon podcast, though we have the freedom of hitting the pause button. Today, we don’t expect our pastors to be suburban circuit-riders, in fact pastoral home visitation in general is going extinct, a topic for another article, I suppose.

Still, I would love to travel back in time to be part of one of those informal house meetings; a kind of house concert with a spiritual orator instead of a singer. I’ll bet the preaching would be first-class.

March 2, 2017

Christians Should Study Mormonism

A reader wrote asking if I’d ever reviewed any books by Denver Snuffer. I get requests to review self-published books all the time, but this time I found the name intriguing and next thing, I was reading a number of articles on his blog. He’s written a number of books, and has an additional website commemorating the 500th anniversary of the Reformation. According to my contact, “He was raised baptist and is now an excommunicated Mormon.  He’s a lawyer who is qualified to practice in the Supreme Court.” But it was this article below, which I thought readers here might find interesting.

 

Christians Should Study Mormonism

by Denver Snuffer

Between the death of Christ’s apostles and the Council of Nicaea, Christianity changed dramatically. It is impossible to account for all that happened to cause the changes. Although some of the writings of the Ante-Nicene Fathers (Christian leaders before Nicaea) have been preserved, the records are wholly inadequate to understand everything that happened, and why it happened.

A new religion rarely appears in history. When one does, it presents a unique opportunity for us to study the process.

Religions begin with an inspired leader whose confident vision opens new light and truth into the world. If there is no new vision then the religion won’t survive. But an original, inspired leader is difficult to replicate. Within a short time, the founder’s work is overtaken by others. Their insecurities and fears leave them without the confidence once present at the foundation. Believers donate, and contributions aggregate. A new generation of believers begin to notice the wealth of their movement, and aspiring leaders who would never sacrifice their name, reputation, security and lives are drawn to management, seeking personal benefit from the institution. Bold claims become hollow echoes, and leaders’ insecurity results in defensive and protective steps. Instead of moving forward with inspired new light and truth, the established religion fears and fights against threatened losses.

William James explained the process:

A genuine first-hand experience like this is bound to be a heterodoxy to its witnesses, the prophet appearing as a mere lonely madman. If his doctrine prove contagious enough to spread to any others, it becomes a definite and labeled heresy. But if it then still prove contagious enough to triumph over persecution, it becomes itself an orthodoxy; and when a religion has become an orthodoxy, its day of inwardness is over: the spring is dry; the faithful live at second hand exclusively and stone the prophets in their turn. The new church, in spite of whatever human goodness it may foster, can be henceforth counted on as a staunch ally in every attempt to stifle the spontaneous religious spirit, and to stop all later bubblings of the fountain from which in purer days it drew its own supply of inspiration. Unless, indeed, by adopting new movements of the spirit it can make capital out of them and use them for its selfish corporate designs!” (The Varieties of Religious Experience, being the Gifford Lectures on Natural Religion Delivered at Edinburgh in 1901-1902, Lectures XIV and XV: The Value of Saintlessness.)

Mormonism was founded in 1830 by Joseph Smith who claimed that ten years prior to founding a church he had been visited by God the Father and Jesus Christ. In the intervening years between the first visit and the time a church was organized, Joseph claimed to have been visited by an angelic messenger who delivered to him a new volume of scripture, the Book of Mormon. He claimed to have received revelations before founding the church, and then many more after its organization.

mormon-article-3-2Whether you believe Joseph Smith’s claims or not, he and his followers give a unique opportunity to witness how founding a religion sets in motion a series of predictable events that happen every time a new religion begins. Perhaps the best way to decipher the transition of Christianity from the original Primitive Christianity to its replacement, Historic Christianity, is to study Mormonism. Similar to the way the Primitive Christian church passed away after the death of the apostles, Mormonism has passed away following the deaths of Joseph and Hyrum Smith. The same process was at work in both.

Primitive Christianity and Mormonism set out to change the world, and after some initial success, both enjoyed worldly success. Their success diverted attention from saving souls to managing people and property. Paul observed, “the love of money is the root of all evil.” (1 Tim. 6:10.) A new religion is not profitable for the first believers. They are persecuted. They sacrifice their lives and property to follow what they believe to be God’s burden laid on them. Because of their sacrifices, they have faith and know they please God. Without sacrifice, it is impossible to obtain the faith required for salvation. Founders make sacrifices, successors enjoy the fruit of those sacrifices.

In time, the founding gives way to popular approval. John Wesley observed the price that is paid for popular acceptance is the loss of the Spirit.

“It does not appear that these extraordinary gifts of the Holy Ghost were common in the Church for more than two or three centuries. We seldom hear of them after that fatal period when the Emperor Constantine called himself a Christian;… From this time they almost totally ceased;… The Christians had no more of the Spirit of Christ than the other heathens…. This was the real cause why the extraordinary gifts of the Holy Ghost were no longer to be found in the Christian Church; because the Christians were turned Heathens again, and had only a dead form left. Churches all come to depend on money for survival.”

Churches, like the men who belong to them, are just as vulnerable to the “love of money” which leads to “all evil.” People can have the gifts of the Spirit, or they can acquire riches in this world, but cannot have both.

Catholicism grew wealthy from the offerings of its members. When it owned most of the European lands and ruled over all people within Roman Catholic boundaries, it was cold, corrupt, violent and cruel. The transition from persecuted minority to dangerous majority took three centuries. With that status the original was lost.

Mormonism has followed the same path and achieved the same end in less than half the time. If a Christian wants to know how Primitive Christianity was lost to apostasy, the history of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is where it can be found. Mormon beliefs are so unstable that they now “unequivocally condemn” 10 of the first 11 of their church presidents, including Brigham Young, John Taylor and David O. McKay.

In order to progress forward, we must go back. Since we have no way to recover enough information to understand Christianity’s trek from Jerusalem to Rome, Mormonism allows Christians a view into the transition from Nauvoo to Salt Lake. Both paths followed the same tragic topography.


Go Deeper: In a more recent article Denver Snuffer draws a parallel between the time of Irenaeus and the doctrinal path of Mormonism. Check out Christian Apostasy.

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