Thinking Out Loud

October 31, 2016

Luther and the Lion – The Totally True Story of Halloween

I know I ran one of Aaron’s posts just 9 days ago, but this one seemed so timely. Click this link to read at source.

It all started almost 500 years ago. Once upon a time there was a little boy named Martin Luther.

wittenberg

Martin was very poor, as were all the boys in his village. They were poor because every year a scary Lion from Rome would visit and take all the village’s money. Lion would go into All Saints’ Church (or All Hallows’ Church), stand at the top of the bell tower, and mightily roar,

“I am Lion! Hear me roar!
Give your gold! Give me more!
I won’t stop until you do!
You won’t sleep until I’m through!”

This scared Martin and all the children very much. So every year the families would go to All Hallows’ Church one by one and knock on the door. Lion would make them say “Purgatory or treat,” because if the village did not give Lion his treats, he would not give them indulgences.

Martin decided that he had had enough of this. He decided that he would stop Lion. That year, Lion came at the time of the harvest and locked himself in the church and demanded his treats, roaring,

“I am Lion! Hear me roar!
Give your food! Give me more!
I hold the Keys, I stand on the Rock!
Until you admit it, I won’t stop!”

Martin knew he would need help to stop Lion, so he went to visit his friend Calvin. Calvin was a sad and lonely boy who spent most of his day reading books, but he was very smart and clever.

calvin

Martin knocked on Calvin’s door and said, “I am going to stop Lion and kick him out of our village! You are so very clever. What shall we do?”

Calvin opened the door and said,
“Silly Martin. You can’t stop Lion.
He’s so very strong, it’s not even worth tryin’.
If God wants to do it then in time He will,
And if He does not then I won’t waste my skill.”
For Calvin was clever and very well read,
But also quite lazy, and left not his bed.

Martin needed someone else to help him to stop Lion, so he went to visit his other friend Wycliffe. Wycliffe was clever but moreover quite active. Wycliffe had learned to speak Lion’s language and secretly shared Lion’s books with the villagers. Surely he would help!

wycliffe

Martin knocked on the door and said, “I am going to stop Lion and kick him out of our village! You are so very clever and active! What shall we do?”

zwingli

But it was not Wycliffe who came to the door.
“I’m so very sorry, but please stay outside.
I’m sorry to say that my brother has died.
We did not pay Lion so he’ll come for us,
But it was nice to meet you. My name is Jan Hus.”
Wycliffe and Jan – They were both bold and smart.
But sadly for them, Lion’s teeth were too sharp.

Martin started off, but before he could go
Jan Hus said, “There’s one little thing you should know
My brother found out, before he got sick,
The Lion is lying – Purgatory’s a trick!”

Martin was very sad. He simply had to stop Lion but Wycliffe was gone, Jan would be soon, and Calvin was just too lazy. Martin almost gave up but then, on the last day in October, he had a brilliant idea!

“I can’t outsmart Lion. He can’t be out-dared.
But what if, I wonder, he were to be scared?”

So Martin went to visit his last friend, Zwingli. He knocked on the door and said, “Zwingli! I am going to stop Lion and scare him out of our village!”

zwingli-not-hus

Zwingli opened the door and asked, “How?”
Martin explained how they’d chase out the Lion.
Martin would dress up and then terrify him!
They took to the kitchen and chopped up his hair
And made him look sickly, his head’s top was bare.
Lion would run, thinking Martin a nut,
For no one is sane who has that hair cut.
Lion would tremble and Lion would flee
And the people of Wittenberg would then be free!

Dressed up as a complete lunatic,  Martin went to All Hallows’ Church. Lion roared from the tower,

“I am Lion! Hear me roar!
Give your soul! Give me more!
I don’t care if there’s a recession!
I have apostolic succession!”

luther

Martin knocked on the door, refusing to stop
Until Lion arrived on the 95th knock.
The doors opened wide with an ominous creak.
And Lion growled out, “Purgatory or treat!”
“Trick or treat!” The bald boy said,
Yelling quite loudly and showing his head.
The Lion was frightened, his eyes filled with dread.
“What is wrong with your hair!?” He shouted and fled.

Then Martin called out to the people nearby,
“Good news, everyone! Purgatory’s a lie!
We’re saved from our sins only by grace
And the Righteous, from this day on, shall live by faith!”

The people of Wittenberg shouted and applauded and that winter was the most joyful winter in years! Lion tried to come back every year, but the people of Wittenberg would knock on All Hallows’ Church’s door dressed as monsters to scare Lion away. They named the day “Hollowe’en,” after Lion’s hollow doctrine. In later years, they discovered they could scare Lion using images carved into hollowed-out pumpkins. Calvin always left his house a mess of pumpkin guts, but his brother Jacob was always there to clean up Calvin’s messes.

Wycliffe and Jan were gone, but the village built a library in their honour and filled it with all kinds of books! Martin and Zwingli remained good friends, but occasionally disagreed over the health benefits of juice and crackers.

And for the next 499 years, the village was free and happy and peaceful, apart from the occasional party on Azusa Street which the village was mostly okay with it. And that’s the true story of Halloween.

door

Happy 499th birthday, Protestantism!

 

 

September 29, 2016

From the Archives: Delving into the Classics

Filed under: Christianity, Church — Tags: , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 9:06 am

September, 2008: This week my kids and I are “binge reading” a number of devotionals from a collection by A. W. Tozer, one of the pioneers in the Christian & Missionary Alliance denomination. His final pastorate was at the Avenue Road* Church in Toronto, Canada, which continues to this day as Bayview Glen Alliance. Tozer is one of a number of classic reads, in a list that includes D. L. Moody, George Whitfield, Watchman Nee, Jonathan Edwards, E. M. Bounds and others. 

[Note: In the eight years since this was written I have come to learn, that by classic, many would assume the writings of what are termed “The Early Church Fathers.” Although Tozer, who was still writing within the last century, is pictured here, I actually mean people of his generation and writers from antiquity.]

What is it that’s different about reading classic authors like these?

Language
– Right away you notice that they speak with a different voice, and having studied the Philosophy of Language, I know that our use of words shapes our understanding. There is also a greater economy of words on some points, but there is laborious repetition on others, so that we don’t miss something profound. Clearly, the did understand some concepts somewhat differently than many of do today; and the “spin” on some Bible passages is distinctive by our standards.

Intensity – These classic writers endure because they were passionate about living the Christian life to the nth degree. There is an urgency about their writings that is sorely lacking in some modern Christian literature. Were they preaching to the choir, or were they voices crying in the wilderness? Probably both, and with the same message for both.

Response – They wrote in response to the issues of their day, some of which are unknown to us now, but some of which are strikingly similar to the issues of our day. There was a concern for a general apostasy, a watering-down of the gospel and of Christian ethics. Is this just preacher rhetoric, or are things truly deteriorating with each successive generation? Or do Bible teachers and preachers just get so “set apart” that they start to view both the church and the world less charitably?

Wisdom – These books represent the cultivation of much wisdom in an era that wasn’t full of the distractions of our era. While we will inevitably turn back to our modern writers; there is much to be gained from seeing how scripture was interpreted in a previous century. They did their homework so to speak, and interacted with others who were on the same path of study; and some of them were simply a few hundred years “closer to the story” than we are today.


What classic authors do you enjoy?

*Gotta love the redundancy of the name, “Avenue Road.” Still exists, running parallel to Toronto’s main drag, Yonge Street. (Pronounced “young street.”)

July 12, 2016

Retro Reviewing: Pagan by Frank Viola and George Barna

Filed under: books, Christianity, Church — Tags: , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 8:15 am

In 2008, books about ecclesiology were selling briskly. Bloggers were consuming and recommending books about the church and church planting at rates never before seen, and the market included both clergy and laity, with the latter group feeling empowered to take an interest in a subject previously left to the professionals. (Historically in North America, while you might need theological degrees to be the pastor of a church, the work of planting includes colorful stories involving all types of people.)

paganPagan Christianity?: Exploring the Roots of Our Church Practices was an important book during this time. The Tyndale House-distributed title with the bright red cover was presumably an update of a previous edition in 2002. According to what I wrote at the time, George Barna’s contribution was added for the revised edition. I have to assume that included much of the research; up to 25% of each page contains exhaustive footnotes. Those notes give the book an academic air, but in the end, especially re-reading this today as I’ve been doing, you realize that some of what is being offered up is based in opinion; specifically a preference for less-institutional, more organic worship setting, specifically the house church type of gathering. The book seems to want to call for a more radical paradigm shift than is realistically possible across the entire spectrum of churches.

In 2008, the market was ripe for a book like this. It was a time for deconstruction, and many were re-inventing the wheel. The terms emergent church and emerging church were on everyone’s lips, as was the idea of being missional, but this book doesn’t necessarily go there, since many emergent forms consisted of a blended worship which continued to incorporate the very traditional elements the book decries as rooted in medieval Catholicism, academia and even forms from other religions.

Where the book shines however is in terms of giving us an historical understanding of why we do the things we do.  The use of church buildings. The sermon form. The robes and vestments. The clergy. The paid church staff. The Choir. Our expression of Baptism and Communion. Christian Education.

In 2016, as I’ve gone through it again, I believe the book continues to speak into our tendency to do church as it has always been done. Reading it eight years later provides a different lens however; many models were considered and not those churches which were implemented succeeded. Rather, the book inspired church planters to take a salad bar approach, to pick and choose which elements they wished to refine or delete altogether. 

However, this time around, I also got more of the sense of walking in on a heated argument; a reminder that there are two sides in a debate, the other being traditionalists. It could be argued that we came through this micro-period in church history and not much changed. Or, it could equally be argued that in 2016 we have a much greater variety of churches doing very different types of things, and giving expression to their worship in unique ways. 

For the latter group, the book Pagan may have been a big part of that.

 

June 23, 2016

The Labyrinth

LabyrinthOne of the Anglican churches in the town where I live has a labyrinth in the field behind the building. I remember the first time I saw it, probably well over a decade ago, and thinking it a rather odd sight for a Christian place of worship. Wikipedia (linked above) offers this origin:

In Greek mythology, the labyrinth (Greek: λαβύρινθος labyrinthos) was an elaborate structure designed and built by the legendary artificer Daedalus for King Minos of Crete at Knossos. Its function was to hold the Minotaur eventually killed by the hero Theseus. Daedalus had so cunningly made the Labyrinth that he could barely escape it after he built it.

Later on the article states

Prehistoric labyrinths are believed to have served as traps for malevolent spirits or as defined paths for ritual dances. In medieval times, the labyrinth symbolized a hard path to God with a clearly defined center (God) and one entrance (birth). In their cross-cultural study of signs and symbols, Patterns that Connect, Carl Schuster and Edmund Carpenter present various forms of the labyrinth and suggest various possible meanings, including not only a sacred path to the home of a sacred ancestor, but also, perhaps, a representation of the ancestor him/herself: “…many [New World] Indians who make the labyrinth regard it as a sacred symbol, a beneficial ancestor, a deity. In this they may be preserving its original meaning: the ultimate ancestor, here evoked by two continuous lines joining its twelve primary joints.”

Almost as a postscript, the article ends with a section headed “Christian use”

Labyrinths have on various occasions been used in Christian tradition as a part of worship. The earliest known example is from a fourth-century pavement at the Basilica of St Reparatus, at Orleansville, Algeria, with the words “Sancta Eclesia” at the center, though it is unclear how it might have been used in worship.

In medieval times, labyrinths began to appear on church walls and floors around 1000 C.E.. The most famous medieval labyrinth, with great influence on later practice, was created in Chartres Cathedral.  The purpose of the labyrinths is not clear, though there are surviving descriptions of French clerics performing a ritual Easter dance along the path on Easter Sunday.  Some books (guidebooks in particular) suggest that mazes on cathedral floors originated in the medieval period as alternatives to pilgrimage to the Holy Land…

I’m sure my Baptist friends, if I had some, would be more strongly shocked and possibly even repulsed at the idea of such a very non-Biblical thing being part of the structure of the church. Nowhere do the scriptures suggest the construction or use of such. It’s very foreign to our experience…

300px-Labyrinth_at_Chartres_CathedralIn the bookstore where I work a couple of days a week there are two aisles at the front, three in the middle and one at the back. Occasionally, when there are no customers (which is an increasingly common problem) I will pick up a book, kick off my shoes, and start walking up and down the aisles forming a somewhat random pattern of circles. I’m able to read and walk at the same time without serious injury; although this practice of pounding bare feet on a thin carpet supported by a concrete floor may have led to my current symptoms of plantar fasciitis. For some reason, I find I make great progress reading this way, not unlike the times as a teen I would play improvisations on the piano while studying the geography or chemistry textbook for an exam. Either the rhythm of this type of activity, or the built-in distraction helps me focus.

I wonder if there’s any real difference between what I do at the store and the Anglicans who walk the labyrinth?

We can be so quick to criticize; so hasty in our judgment that we don’t realize we are often doing the same things only differently; or with different terminology. I could just as easily pace the floor and meditate on a passage of scripture or even pray (keeping my eyes open of course so I don’t crash into a display of coffee mugs.)

I’m sure the focus of the labyrinth at an Anglican or Episcopalian church is prayer and meditation. Those are good things, right?

Still…this is clearly an extra-Biblical practice. I also wonder if the more things we add on to the elements of church life, instead of creating forms and devices that aid people in spiritual disciplines, we simply have layered on another disciplines, and thereby robbed people of the more basic approach to prayer and meditation. (Heck, my imaginary Baptist friends really don’t like that last word, either.)

The other challenge is the possibility that a few people make some of these practices which lie on the fringes of the Christian life more central than they need to be. It can be for some an obsession, or a ritual which obscures more important things we ought to be doing.

I’m quite sure there are Evangelical equivalents.


Top image: St. John the Evangelist Church in South Lancaster, Ontario. I tried to find one for the church where I live, but this one is similar.

Bottom image: Wikipedia

March 19, 2016

Jesus For President (It’s better than some of the current options)

While I’ve re-run many articles over the course of the blog, book reviews have not been among them. Book mentions are usually unique to a particular time and place and only relevant while the book is new. The attention of reviewers and readers alike then moves on to whatever is next.

But I was drawn to this short review because the book is enjoying a bit of a renaissance in this an election year; not to mention the release of a 10th anniversary edition of the author’s first book The Irresistible Revolution. So grab some cooking grease to power the bus engine as we head out on the road once again…

“Growing up we were taught to sing the exciting songs of Noah and Abraham and little David and Goliath. But we were never taught songs about debt cancellation, land reforms, food redistribution and slave amnesty. We don’t know if it was just hard to come up with words that rhyme with “debt cancellation” or if folks were hesitant about venturing into the ancient (and sometimes boring) world of Exodus, Leviticus and Deuteronomy… Whatever the case, these books are where some of God’s most creative and exciting ideas come alive.”

Jesus for President pp 57-58

About fifty years ago elementary school students had something called ‘readers’ which contained base materials for a variety of subjects. Each page brought some new adventure, they were the equivalent of a variety show for students with poems, psalms, pictures, maps, science articles, biographical stories and fiction. Basically, everything in it but the kitchen sink.

I’ve just finished reading Jesus for President by Shane Claiborne and Chris Haw. Like Shane’s previous book, The Irresistible Revolution, this book has everything but the kitchen sink, too. 

This book begins with an overview of the early Jewish history as recorded in the Pentateuch. There is also a great deal of focus on Constantine’s influence on the Church in the 300s. Constantine, a hero to some for his legitimization of Christianity, isn’t doing well on review these days. (See Greg Boyd’s The Myth of an American Nation for more of this, or listen online to some of Bruxy Cavey’s teaching at The Meeting House in Oakville, ON www.themeetinghouse.ca or check the blogsphere for reviews of The Politics of Jesus by John Howard Yoder. etc.)

But kitchen sink style, Claiborne and Haw then move on to practical ways that the Church can make a difference especially in terms of the environment, the economy and creating equity. They don’t stop at stamping out poverty. They want to stamp out affluence, too. In some respects, they could have got two very different books out of this, but their understanding of Israel’s history, their interpretation of Christ’s teaching, their take on the first few hundred years of Christianity; all these provide context for where they see the church today. In other words, first you get their motivation, then you get their methodology.

Like the school readers of old, you’re left with a primer on social action, with every page yielding something new. (And the visual dynamics of each page help, too.) And not one paragraph, not even one sentence in the book is theoretical. It’s about living all this out on a daily basis. 


Keep up with Shane and partner-in-crime Tony Campolo at RedLetterChristians.org

A year after this was review was published, I later covered the Jesus for President DVD which is still widely available. You can read that review here.

 

 

January 25, 2016

Appreciating the Wisdom and Knowledge of N. T. Wright

I realized this weekend that I need to honor a promise to do this review, and it needs to be done in a timely fashion, even if I haven’t come close to finishing.

However, I am also well aware that by requesting an academic book for review, I am officially in over my depth, which partially if not fully explains why I am still only about a quarter of the way through its 378 pages. My reason for wanting a closer look at this book was singular: A fascination with the author’s intellect and wisdom.

N. T. Wright - Paul and His Recent InterpretersN. T. Wright‘s Paul and His Recent Interpreters (Fortress Press, 2015) is actually a sequel to another volume, Paul and the Faithfulness of God, and one of several concerning the Early Church apostle which forms his Magisterial series.

It’s specific purpose is to flesh out the teachings of a handful of Bible scholars from other generations while at the same time paying specific attention to where these stand in relationship to some of the more recent views about Paul which have occurred in our own time.

So the book falls into a category somewhat parallel to literary criticism that we might call theological critique. (Maybe they do call it that… remember, I’m in over my head.) There are however sections which would be more accessible to the lay-reader, provided they had overcome the $39 price point for this academic paperback.

For example, he begins with the conjecture as to what we might think if Paul’s writings had just been located in a type of Dead Sea Scroll discovery. We would see that he writes much about ho theos — the god — and this requires of us to wonder (a) What this divinity has done, and (b) What it is intending to do.

He then notes that Paul’s writings have been shelved in the area of Biblical studies whereas his writings have truly impact a vast array of categories such as Ancient History, Middle Eastern Culture, Politics and Philosophy to name a few. But with his writing simply shelving Paul under “Religion” limits the scope of his full impact and runs the risk of doing what the BBC in his own country does, placing religious writings in the same realm as fiction.

These moments were among the more accessible to me, and there are similar moments as I press through the book, but as I continue further, I realize that the primary prerequisite for reading this work ought to be some familiarity with the writers under the microscope; names familiar to academics and theologians but not to the average browser in the Christian book shop, or most readers here.

Still, I am struck by the mind of N.T. Wright and his authority in this particular area of study and New Testament studies in general. (His initials are so appropriate.) We need his voice to be heard, especially at a time when modern scholarship is deconstructing so many of the New Testament’s epistles and leaving people confused as to what Paul actually said or meant.

 

October 4, 2015

What Is a Saint?

Eric Metaxas, in the introduction to the chapter on Saint Maria of Paris, in the new book Seven Women and the Secrets of Their Greatness (Nelson Books).

Seven Women and the Secret of their Greatness - Eric Metaxas[S]he was a poet who swam among the literary elites of St. Petersburg; then she managed her family’s award-winning wine estate on the Black Sea — and became the mayor of the town there. When the Russian Revolution made life impossible, she moved to Paris and became a nun. Finally, even as a nun she confounds our expectations: she smoked and drank. She did not live in a monastery but considered the whole world her monastery. She married twice, divorced twice, and had three children by two different men. Yet for all of this woman’s dramatically unorthodox behavior, the Orthodox Church recognizes her as a saint. Can we be blamed for being confused about this extraordinary woman?

In truth, it is precisely because of all these things that she commands our attention. Her life was messy and complicated, as most of ours are messy and complicated. By breaking every mold in which we would put her, she shows forth the beauty and the full-throated reality of the Christian life in a way that few in history have done.


Many of us are from religious traditions that do not confer sainthood, so the very notion is foreign to us. However scripture reminds us:

Col 1:12 Giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified us to share in the inheritance of the saints in Light.

Eph 2:19 So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints, and are of God’s household.

The definition varies among denominations, but God is looking for people who live “set apart” to Him and for Him.  Even in the messiness of your life, you can live as such a saint.


The seven women featured in the book are: Joan of Arc, Susanna Wesley, Hannah More, Maria Skobtsova, Corrie ten Boom, Mother Teresa, and Rosa Parks

August 24, 2015

Heresy for the Rest of Us

Would we call Buddhism a heresy? (p. 148)

Counterfeit Christianity - Roger OlsonThere is a striking difference between heresy and heretics, and as the question above illustrates, much depends on where you’re standing when you ask it. Theology and Ethics professor Roger Olson has written a book which occupies a middle ground between the usual academic text and a popular survey of cults and isms. Counterfeit Christianity: The Persistence of Errors in the Church (Abingdon) makes examining the plethora of Christian beliefs and doctrines accessible to the common parishioner, but is in no way light reading.

Olson has written many hardcover textbooks, but with this 176-page paperback seems to go out of his way to make this sideways look at church history more appealing to a broader readership, using some colorful imagery:

The Nicene Creed means that Christians are to believe in a God who is “one what and three whos.” The Chalcedonian Definition, hypostatic union, means that Christians are to believe that Jesus Christ is “one who and two whats.” (p.32)

Got that?

Or in the contrast between the Protestant and Catholics views of doctrinal authority, he quotes Modecai Kaplan:

Tradition always gets a vote, but never a veto. (p.39)

The approach is fresh, and some of it helps explains areas where non-theologians get stuck trying to untangle complex concepts:

In other words, the doctrine of the Trinity can be explained; the Trinity cannot be explained. The doctrine of the Trinity was never intended to be an explanation of God; it was intended to be a model that helps people think about God in a way that does not destroy the mystery of God, is faithful to God’s self-revelation in Christ, and protects God’s triunity from misunderstanding and distorted explanations. (p. 90, italics added)

And again,

Folk religion is to historic religion what astrology is to astronomy… Not all folk religion is totally wrong or heretical, but it’s a fertile seedbed in which heresy can grow and flourish. (p.140)

Organizationally, the book begins with two chapters outlining heresy and orthodoxy, five chapters dealing with what we might consider classic heresies, and three chapters dealing with modern, unofficial heresies; those not condemned by a particular historic council.

Many chapters offer prescriptions for confronting flawed teaching:

The only way to have it in its full and true reality is to delve deeply into the Bible and Christian history by studying the whole Bible, not just passages that support our values and desires, and all the great voices of the Christian past – especially those who suffered for swimming against the stream of their cultures.

[There is] a need for American Christians to receive missionaries from Christian movements in the Global South where Christianity is thriving and, by all account, God’s involvement in day-to-day life is evident. (p.152)

Overall, I feel this title is something needed in the religion/apologetics/church history book market at this time. Again, this is not a textbook — though it could certainly serve as an undergraduate text — but has great potential for the average churchgoer who wants to go deeper into an understanding of false doctrine in the Christian era.

Review copy provided by Augsburg-Fortress Canada

April 15, 2015

Wednesday Link List

Hear See Post

Featured Stories

Churches Without Buildings – “Church attendance and construction boomed in North America during a time when having your own building was expected. For churches, businesses and families. In my parents’ era, owning real estate was a sign of success, status and stability. So churches that wanted to be seen as reliable and successful bought buildings. Often before there was a congregation to fill them. When someone started their own business, they would leave their house to sit in a building behind a desk all day long – even if every aspect of that business could have been done from their house. The brick-and-mortar building meant reliability and permanence… Brick-and-mortar may not be dead, but it is on life-support… The church should be leading the way in this idea… We already lose more churches every year from inability to pay the mortgage than from any other factor.”  Speaking of buildings…

The Ecology of Worship Gatherings – Every so often I find an article that is a few months old that should not have been missed. Such is the case here on the physical space we use for worship: “The very spatial mediums we use to communicate those messages shape and architect us in powerful ways. In fact, as a medium, the literal physical spaces we use may actually subvert the very messages we are preaching. What if the arrangement of spaces are actually speaking louder than what we are saying in our sermons? Ecology is the branch of biology that looks at how organisms relate to one another, and to their physical surroundings. If we apply this field of study to our worship gatherings… The premise of an Ecology of Gathering is that the non-living components dynamically interact and stimulate the living components (biotic), creating a living spiritual climate. This climate communicates a message, and over time, this climate controlled message trains us into a certain way of thinking and behaving.”

Pew Research on Religious Growth to 2050 – “In the United States, Christians will decline from more than three-quarters of the population in 2010 to two-thirds in 2050, and Judaism will no longer be the largest non-Christian religion. Muslims will be more numerous in the U.S. than people who identify as Jewish on the basis of religion…” As to the world as a whole, “by 2050 there will be near parity between Muslims (2.8 billion, or 30% of the population) and Christians (2.9 billion, or 31%), possibly for the first time in history.” The Nones continue to grow also: “At the same time, however, the unaffiliated are expected to continue to increase as a share of the population in much of Europe and North America. In the United States, for example, the unaffiliated are projected to grow from an estimated 16% of the total population (including children) in 2010 to 26% in 2050.” There is much more to the report, presented in text, graphs and tables.

Getting Your Hands Dirty – “I was speaking, learning, teaching, and advocating for mentoring without actually doing it. In anthropology, there are two types of field research: Etic and EmicEtic researchers make their observations from outside the culture. Emic researchers get up-close to local customs, traditions, and beliefs. Our temptation is to stay on the outside. To be Etic but not Emic. To attend endless conferences, read endless books, buy endless t-shirts. To dump cold water on our heads, take a selfie and hashtag it. To be about the latest ideas, like those on Mars Hill, to be waiting to see something new, like the newest post or picture online. Ideas, when used this way, can be very self-indulgent. All the while, we remain outside the issue, and quite possibly, outside of our own story. But the great ideas – love, justice, intimacy, reconciliation – require something of us.”

CBS Profile of Crossmaker Runs 22 Years Later – On Easter Sunday, CBS ran a profile of a man that was scheduled to appear in 1993. If you’ve driven the interstate highway system, you’ve seen Bernard Coffindaffer’s work: Crosses erected within sight of the freeway. “Coffindaffer has spent his own money on this project — close to $3 million … to buy the wooden poles, to hire road crews, to perform routine cross maintenance.” But the video never aired when he died of a sudden heart attack. Years later, his legacy continues: “There are 48,000 miles of interstate highway in America,” Sara Abraham of Crosses Across America said. “We will have crosses every 25 miles all across America.”

Editorial / Devotional on Christian Maturity– “Jason and I have often wondered what a foreigner or alien would think the church believed if they simply judged us on the books we buy and sell. As I walked through the aisles, I started to worry that they would perceive a church that is weak and powerless, so consumed with our own needs and self-esteem that we constantly battle the same issues, and never become effective agents of God’s mission in the world… Sadly, may of us in America are “grown up,” in that we’ve been serving Christ a long time, but we have not yet reached maturity. Like it says in Hebrews, we should be teachers, but we need someone to teach us the basics over and over again.”

Church History Lesson: The Non-Jurors – “[T]he new order was demanding that all clergy and office holders take oaths to the new king. Many clergy, including some of the church’s greatest spiritual and intellectual beacons, found that they simply could not accept. They refused to swear those oaths, and by dint of that, became non-swearers, “Non-Jurors.” They began a domestic schism from the established church, and ordained their own succession of bishops…They agonized over issues of ecclesiology, and at the same time sought new ways of leading a pure Christian life… you have very likely encountered portions of their writings or hymns. It was for instance Thomas Ken who wrote the famous Doxology.”

When Sharing Your Faith is Costly – The woman in the story works for the government-run National Health Service (NHS) in the UK: “Miss Wasteney had discussions about Christianity and Islam with a junior colleague, Enya Nawaz, and offered to pray with her when she became upset about health problems. She also invited her to church and gave her a book called I Dared to Call Him Father, about a Muslim woman who converted to Christianity. However, Miss Nawaz accused her of trying to convert her to Christianity and made a formal complaint. Miss Wasteney was suspended for nine months while the East London NHS Foundation Trust investigated.” In a story update, the Employment Appeals Tribunal ruled against her.

On My Own Blog – A look at what I call Spiritual Recidivism and a review of Did God Kill Jesus by Tony Jones.

Finally… – How younger leaders can gain credibility, from Brad Lomenick who tracks up-and-coming Christian leaders, 11 suggestions. Sample: “Become an expert NOW, even before you need to be. Set a standard of excellence way before you’re the leader in charge who is expected to. That way when it’s your turn to come off the bench you are ready.”

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January 31, 2015

A Book from the First Century Church, Discovered in 1873

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. I was recently interviewed on a popular podcast about it which can be found here: http://sjchurch.org/media-library/details/reformedcast-61

In regards to Tony Jones, I have to say while well written and having some good insights, his introduction is the most deficient I have read. His interpretation of the Didache really far more reflects his (and Trucker Frank’s) emergent agenda than Apostolic era Christianity of Syria Palestine. For far more historically and scholarly informed (but readable) introductions to the Didache I recommend either Thomas O’Laughlin’s The Didache or Aaron Milavec’s The Didache: Text, Translation, Analysis, and Commentary. This one by Milavec is his short introduction of only 114 pages. He also has a 1000 pages scholarly commentary by almost the same name. So just make sure you pay attention to the title.

 

Nothing Matters But The Weekend…
Some blogs pretty well shut down on Saturdays and Sundays, but weekends can be a rather quiet time for those who miss the pace of work or school; so Thinking Out Loud occasionally ramps it up with extra weekend posts.You can be a part of doing something similar. Find a need that’s not being met. Find a group of people who need connection. Find a place where every sign says ‘closed.’ And then step up. Make a difference. Swim upstream. You can have a part in changing lives. Know somebody who could use some people contact today? Maybe that’s you. Get in touch. Reach out.
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