Nov 132017
 

Essentials

(Part One)

So, you’ve decided to get married.  You’ve waited a long time.  You’re middle-aged, but you’ve met a wonderful woman just your age.  She’s got a great since of humor.  You’ve been to her home and she’s a fantastic cook.  You like the same movies, the same music… it’s perfect.  There is, however, a small problem.  You know nothing about her beyond that last eight months when you first met her. 

 

You don’t know anything about her parents.  You don’t know where she was born.  You have no idea of where she lived during the time she grew up.  You have no idea whether she has any siblings.  You don’t know if she graduated from high school or if she went on to college. You don’t know if she has been married before.  She’s dropped a couple names of some children, but you have no idea if they are her children, or nephews and nieces, or if they are even related. All you have seen is a baby picture and a white bound “Book of Memories” chronicling her first year or two of life.

No problem… we’ll get married anyway.  Really?

History, even in personal relationships, is important.  Yet, it has always amazed me that many Christians ignore or fail to look into the history of the Church.  It is as though somehow at the end of the first century, the Holy Spirit took flight only to descend again in our own time (perhaps stopping in briefly at the Reformation). The reality is that between the death of the last Apostle and our own time, there are almost nineteen centuries in which the Church was led and shaped through the continuing work of God through the Holy Spirit.  

We are not the first ones to have walked upon this road.

All through those nineteen centuries, people like us have struggled to understand the meaning of Scripture and the manner in which the Church should function.  They sought to understand and, before the world, confess their faith in the God revealed in the words of Christ and in the testimony of the Hebrew Bible, the Gospels and the Apostolic writers.  In those nineteen centuries there have been controversies that make our current disagreements pale by comparison.  There have been times of heroic faith in the face of persecution and there have been times of unimaginable decadence.  In these intervening centuries individual figures emerged, often from humble origins, who almost single-handed reshaped the Church.  Moreover, through all the twists and turns of this glorious history, there have been theologians, men and women who spent their lives reflecting on the nature of God and writing to share those reflections with others. In all of this the Holy Spirit was active in guiding and shaping the Church.

Who would not want to know this history? 

I believe that to have a sense of this history, it is best to read the words of the very people themselves. Yet, one needs context and it is in providing context that modern authors can be of great help.  So, in presenting this occasional series of articles, I will share a modern author or two whose work(s) will assist in providing an overview of the era.  Following that, I will list certain works by the authors from the age itself that I consider to be, in some sense, essential.  

Now, I realize that others will have their own lists, preferences and favorites.  That is to be expected when approaching a treasury of authors that span both the millennia and the globe.  My selections arise out of having taught these subjects on a graduate level over the course of four decades and having published somewhat extensively in the course of years.  This is not to say that this selection is better or worse than that of someone else.  It is simply to say that I have found these particular writings to be of value for those who will take the time to read them.

So, where do we start?

Firstly, you might wish to obtain a book that gives you an overall survey of the history of the Church.  While there are many fine studies available, I would recommend Justo Gonzalez, The Story of ChristianityThis is a two volume work, available in a wide variety of formats.  Over the course of the last three decades, it has emerged as a standard text in colleges and universities.  While Gonzalez is a Methodist, there is no real denominational bias in this work, which has made it attractive across the whole spectrum of Christian institutions of higher learning.

With that recommendation, we can move on to the subject at hand for this article.

The Early Church

For someone who has spent the majority of his life in the study of the Early Church, putting together an “essential” reading list has been absolute torture! There is just so much.  My book on The Early Episcopal Career of Athanasius of Alexandria (Notre Dame, 1991) had a bibliography with over 800 entries.  Another book I edited on Augustine’s De Doctrina Christiana (Notre Dame, 1995) had almost 300 entries, just concerning this one treatise!  After due consideration, however, I came up with a list that I think will give you a flavor of the life and thought of the Early Church.

As with the Gonzalez survey, a single volume giving an overview of of this period is helpful.  Again many fine texts are available.  I would particularly commend Henry Chadwick, The Early Church. It is a small readable volume based upon impeccable scholarship, without denominational bias, and available in numerous formats. In the interest of full disclosure, Prof. Chadwick was an Anglican and a friend who acted as an early reader of my PhD thesis, for which I have been ever grateful.  When I would be in Oxford to deliver a paper or lecture, to see Henry in cassock, surplice, tippet and hood, long grey hair streaming behind him rushing to Evensong in the cloister of Christ Church, was to find oneself in the 18th century…

Now, on to the writings and voices of the Early Church.

I have chosen ten works (a pattern I will follow for other periods).  This list is not exhaustive, but I hope it will be suggestive of the great wealth of resources at our fingertips.  Most of these works are available online, but you might find that you want a hardcopy version to mark and annotate with your own discoveries. (NB – for those with koine Greek, the original text in the first three items listed is not difficult.)

1. The Didache – this is a “snapshot” of the early Christian community, written right at the end of the first century, within living memory of the apostles.  

2. The Letters of Ignatius of Antioch – these were written to several churches by Ignatius as a bishop while journeying to Rome where he was to be martyred c. 107.

3. The Letter to Diognetus – The earliest Christian apology written c. 150 gives us some sense of the Christian self-understanding in the second century.

4. Irenaeus of Lyon, Against Heresies – a detailed defense of Christianity, c. 180, over against Gnostic heresies. It is important for the use of much of the New Testament canon as well as defending the physical/incarnate nature of Christianity.

5. Tertullian – The Apology – written in 197, here we find the early development of Trinitarian theology. This is notable in that Tertullian later became a Montanist, a movement very similar to present day charismatics.

6. Athanasius of Alexandria – On the Incarnation – simply a classic, written about 319 or 320.  Be sure to read an edition containing the amazing preface by C.S. Lewis.

7. Hilary of Poitiers – On The Trinity – written about c. 360, in the midst of the Arian controversy, it is a summation of the theology of his day.

8. Basil of Caesarea – On The Holy Spirit – an exposition on the divinity of the Holy Spirit, based on Scripture and tradition written c. 364.

9. John Chrysostom – On The Priesthood – written c. 390, if you are a pastor – Baptist, Anglican, Orthodox, Calvary Chapel, Methodist, Lutheran… read this book!

10. Augustine of Hippo – Confessions – written c. 399, it is the story of one man’s conversion, who then shaped the theology of the Church.

So, there you have it.  Oh… a warning is in order. Read these works at your own peril. They might just change your life.

Duane W.H. Arnold, PhD

The Project

Nov 112017
 

O God, whose blessed Son came into the world that he might
destroy the works of the devil and make us children of God
and heirs of eternal life: Grant that, having this hope, we may
purify ourselves as he is pure; that, when he comes again
with power and great glory, we may be made like him in his
eternal and glorious kingdom; where he lives and reigns with
you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Nov 112017
 

Matthew 28:1-10

The Resurrection – We are now picking up on the 8th day. The 8th day represents the new creation. The resurrection is celebrated every Sunday – not just Easter. This is why we do not fast on Sunday during Lent.

So what are the various accounts in the other gospels? Are they looking at the same event? (In my class at this point, we did a summary of the various timelines & events)

1 Now after the Sabbath, toward the dawn of the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to see the tomb.

  • Everything stops for the Sabbath.
  • Note the wording – ‘toward the dawn of the …’ it was still dark.
  • The Marys pick up where they left off at the end of chapter 27.
  • What are the Marys expecting to find? A dead body.

And behold, there was a great earthquake, for an angel of the Lord descended from heaven and came and rolled back the stone and sat on it.

  • The stone was not rolled away to let Jesus out – it was to let all see that the tomb was empty. Similar to the tearing of the temple curtain – so all could see God had left the temple.

His appearance was like lightning, and his clothing white as snow.

  • Now that is quite a sight.

And for fear of him the guards trembled and became like dead men.

  • The guards see the angel – this is not like a secret appearance to the Marys. Here everyone sees the angel.
  • So, who here wants to see an angel and drop like dead men?
  • Did they faint, pass out? It sounds like they became like everyone else in the cemetery.

But the angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid, for I know that you seek Jesus who was crucified.

  • The angel knows and the angel testifies that it was Jesus who was crucified.
  • Muslims deny that it was Jesus who was crucified but say instead at some point it was Judas who was on the cross.

He is not here, for he has risen, as he said. Come, see the place where he lay.

  • “He is not here, for he has risen” – a short angelic sermon – A word and a visual – “Come, see”.

Then go quickly and tell his disciples that he has risen from the dead, and behold, he is going before you to Galilee; there you will see him. See, I have told you.”

  • Who is being referred to here? The 12 (11) or the 70? We will see below.
  • Note that the angel refers to Jesus’ disciple, the ones who ran away, denied Christ – the sinners who followed him – called disciples.
  • Note in V10 Jesus calls them brothers.
  • These women now have the good news to tell. Risen & Alive is Good News.
  • There they will see him with their very own eyes.
  • Does the empty tomb prove that Jesus is who he is? No, but at the least it proves his predictions were right – I must go to Jerusalem, be killed and rise again.

So they departed quickly from the tomb with fear and great joy, and ran to tell his disciples.

  • Fear and great joy – can you imagine? The great joy of hearing the message of the angel of the risen Lord, but the fear and confusion of trying to figure out what the heck just happened?
  • Note that the women kept focus. Imagine if they had run off telling everyone “guess what we saw? A shining angel who rolled away the stone all by himself.” They kept focus on what was important.
  • God is awesome and to be feared in this way – but joy comes in realizing that he does not use this power and might to condemn but to save.
  • So when we encounter God it should always be in reverential fear and great joy – AND we should run to tell others this gospel.

And behold, Jesus met them and said, “Greetings!” And they came up and took hold of his feet and worshiped him.

  • Remember, this is happening to the women.
  • Greetings = All Hail (KJV) = Greeted them = Rejoice = Peace unto you.
  • Or it could have been more like Surprise!!! I am sure these ladies were not expecting this.

10 Then Jesus said to them, “Do not be afraid; go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee, and there they will see me.”

  • Previously the angels said “do not be afraid.”
  • My brothers – John 1 says that we have the right to be called the children of God – and now brothers – no longer slaves.
  • In this we see the beauty of the forgiveness of sin – this is great grace.
  • The first to witness of the resurrected Christ were the women.
  • The first to carry out the commands of Jesus were the women.

 

Nov 102017
 

I just got out of bed after another night of little sleep.

Part of that is physical problems, some of it mental stress, but most of it is Chester.

As has been noted previously here, Chester wants to go outside.

Chester wants to do so as much as he wants to breathe.

Especially at night…

To facilitate his desire, he cries.

He howls.

He occasionally gets on my bed and screams in my face.

When he’s not doing those things, he’s looking for secret exits.

Perhaps there’s one behind the TV.

He pushes the TV on the floor to find out.

Perhaps there’s an opening behind the bookcases.

This necessitates pushing all the books, pictures, and knick knacks on the floor for a better view.

Maybe behind the headboard…which is also full of books.

Those fall on my head.

Could be in the bathroom…where I found all my toiletries in the toilet this morning.

Failing to find an opening, he resumes ripping up the carpet to tunnel under the door.

This happens every night, all night, except for the three or four hours he sleeps.

This morning, about 3:30 AM I informed him that I was getting rid of him as soon as I was awake enough to drive.

Enough is enough.

He’s out of here.

Except he isn’t.

While I will keep looking for solutions, I’ll never get rid of him.

I chose him, I adopted him, and for better or (God forbid) even worse, he’s my cat.

He’s also a living picture of my relationship with God.

I am Chester.

About the only time I’m not sinning is when I’m asleep.

I’m always looking for an out to escape some holy precept when I’m awake.

I’ve been known to leave a trail of carnage where ever I go.

I don’t think I’m worth the sacrifice or trouble, but He does.

He has chosen me, adopted me, and I’m His kid.

He will never leave or forsake me.

My name is written in the palm of His hand.

All of this applies to you.

Chester too…

It’s not about your performance, it’s about your relationship…

Chester just laid down…I’m grabbing a nap while I can…

Make your own application…

 

Nov 092017
 

Romans 12:1-2 is perhaps one of the best condensed passages that describe what it means to live out the gospel. 

I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God. (NKJV)

You have the living sacrifice of the cross as we are in Christ. You have a life that is in, but not of, this world. You have the old life becoming new as the result of new thinking.

You have all of this then put into practice in such a way that it’s a demonstration of the good and complete will of God.

Very heady stuff. Sounds amazing, but how do we do this? What does it look like? It isn’t a list of “do these specific actions” and “don’t do these.” It’s about new patterns. It’s about learning how to evaluate your everyday actions in light of these things. 

To help me remember a way to make these evaluations, I came up with an acronym based on the word RENEW that encompasses these two verses.

Release

This has to do with presenting our bodies, ourselves. The word “present” in context means to present and keep on presenting. In fact, the rest of this passage is a description of what it looks like to present ourselves. We need to look at what we need to release to the Lord as a sacrifice. Most of the time we don’t know we are holding something back that we need to Release. I’ll bet if we ask Him He will tell us.

We can ask ourselves, “What did I keep back from The Lord this week that I need to make available to Him?” 

Evaluate

“Do not be conformed to this world.” I love that word “conformed.” It’s a word picture of a malleable material like Pla-Doh. Pla-Doh can be conformed into just about any shape. The world has a shape. If we are intentionally or otherwise being pressed into the world, we will take on the world’s shape. Paul tells us to not let that happen. 

We can ask ourselves, “What about me this week was shaped more like the world and less like Jesus? Can it be reshaped, or do I need to get rid of it?”

Notice

“But be transformed.” Instead of being Pla-Doh we are to be transformed into something else entirely. The classic illustration of this is a caterpillar into a butterfly, which to me is still an amazing thing to watch. It’s noticeable. Maybe not immediately, but over time it becomes very apparent.

We can ask ourselves, “What did I do this week that was less like the old me and more like Jesus in me?”

Exchange

“By the renewing of our minds.” The mechanism of our transformation is the renewing of our minds. As we Exchange old ways of thinking for God’s new ways of thinking, as we Exchange how we process the events in and around our lives, we are being transformed into something new (see 2 Corinthians 5:17).

We can ask ourselves, “How was my thinking changed this week and how was that reflected in changed actions, or reactions?”

Walk

“That you may prove and do the will of God.” To prove something means to demonstrate the truth of the thing. It means to live it out because it’s true, not try to find evidence and academically provide proof of it. God’s will is good. God’s will is perfect, complete, not lacking anything. Paul is telling us that our lives are to be a demonstration that God’s will is good and lacks nothing.

We can ask ourselves, “What does God want me to learn from Him and then live out this week? How can I demonstrate the reality of what God is doing in me?”

Hopefully this helps provide others with some practical tools to live out the gospel. 

RENEW is a part of the Sunday process found in The Rhythm Journal which is something I originally developed for myself and decided to share with others. It is currently on Kickstarter, but the campaign ends Friday, November 10th and Noon Pacific time. If you are interested in more patterns and rhythms you can develop in your life, please check it out and consider backing a journal or two. Thanks, Michael, for the chance to share again.

Nov 092017
 

Durable Faith (John 4:46-54)

“So he came again to Cana in Galilee, where he had made the water wine. And at Capernaum there was an official whose son was ill.” (John 4:46-53)

In this story, the Evangelist carefully recorded the faith of the official at three different times, to draw our attention and teach us the nature of faith and how it grows.

Faith through the Gospel fully brings Christ with all his gifts home to each individual. There is only “one faith” (Eph 4:5), which is given not in parts but as a whole to every Christian, whether a child or St. Paul. This faith receives the same grace of God.

Yet the Bible distinguishes between strong and weak faith, between having something and firmly keeping hold of it. For example, Paul singled out Abraham as a man who grew strong in faith (Rom 4:20). Conversely, Jesus frequently chastised His disciples for their weak faith (e.g., Matt 8:26). The difference between strong and weak faith is not whether strong faith receives the gift of salvation while weak faith does not (both receive the same salvation), but whether or not faith is durable enough to withstand the trials of life.

“When this man heard that Jesus had come from Judea to Galilee, he went to him and asked him to come down and heal his son, for he was at the point of death.” (John 4:47)

The official had heard the Gospel that Jesus had compassion for His people and willingly helped every person brought to him. His faith laid hold of that, and was the reason he went to Jesus. The journey from Capernaum to Cana was about 15 miles, which the man himself made while his son was gravely ill. He would not have left his son and made the journey unless he believed that Jesus would help him. The man’s faith was strong enough to believe that if he could bring Jesus into his home, Jesus would heal his son.

“So Jesus said to him, “Unless you see signs and wonders you will not believe.” (John 4:48)

The man must have been distraught by the harsh rebuke from Jesus. Although His answer was not absolutely “no,” Jesus at first showed no compassion for the man or his son. The man’s affliction, however, was not without purpose. Jesus dealt severely with him to show him an imperfection in his faith, that it was still weak. The man had faith only in what he could see and experience in the presence of Jesus. Therefore, Jesus exercised his faith to bring it to a stronger level.

“The official said to him, ‘Sir, come down before my child dies.’ ” (John 4:49)

The man confessed belief in Jesus, but admitted his faith was tied to what he might see from the presence of Jesus. If Jesus did not come with him into his home to help his son, he would die. In other words, the man’s faith still grasped only what it could see.

Probably greatest example of the disciples’ weak faith is Thomas, who despite many witnesses said: “Unless I see in his hands the mark of the nails, and place my finger into the mark of the nails, and place my hand into his side, I will never believe.” (John 20:25) Jesus knew that if He was going to the Father’s right hand and His Church was to proclaim the kingdom of God to all nations, He would have to give us firm faith in what is not seen. Such a faith does not come all at once.

“Jesus said to him, ‘Go; your son will live.’ The man believed the word that Jesus spoke to him and went on his way.” (John 4:50)

The Word of God is not a human word, or rather it is a Divine word wrapped in human words. What distinguishes God’s Word from purely human words is that it accomplishes what it says. Therefore, when Jesus said “Go; your son will live,” His Word accomplished two ends: it healed the man’s son; and it raised the man himself to a stronger level of faith: “The man believed the word….”

If we want to know Christ and the grace of God, we must seek Him in His Word. Similarly, if we want to lead someone to Christ, we must lead Him to Christ through His Word. Through the Gospel, God grants to faith all His gifts and promises, including faith itself; it is a faith which does not rely on our senses or subjective feelings.

Faith in the Gospel promises is superior to faith in our feelings, because God’s Word is trustworthy and unchanging, whereas feelings are untrustworthy and subjective. As human beings, it is true that emotions are a gift from God and part of our humanness, which we can enjoy and should not repress. However, emotions have a proper lane, just as faith also has its lane, and our emotions should never cross over into the lane reserved for faith. In the lane of faith we should cling solely to the Gospel.

The Gospel, for example, says: “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16) God loved the world (which includes you and me) by sending Jesus to die and atone for the sins of the world, and there is nothing our feelings can add or subtract from this objective truth. Moreover, whoever believes in Jesus will not perish but have eternal life. The “whoever” also includes you and me, and, again, there is nothing our feelings can add or subtract from that objective truth. As if that were not clear enough, Jesus expressly desires to save all of us: “This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.” (1 Tim 2:3)

So despite what our feelings may tell us at any particular time about ourselves or God, we must ignore them when it comes to faith and trust the Gospel alone. The Gospel says that everything required for our salvation has been accomplished for us solely by Christ. We did not earn it; we do not deserve it; and we cannot undue it. All we can do is believe it: God your Father now forgives you all your sins!

“As he was going down, his servants met him and told him that his son was recovering. So he asked them the hour when he began to get better, and they said to him, ‘Yesterday at the seventh hour the fever left him.’ The father knew that was the hour when Jesus had said to him, ‘Your son will live.’ And he himself believed, and all his household.”

The Evangelist tells us that the man again believed after he learned that his son had recovered and that the healing occurred at the moment when Jesus said: “Your son will live.” Here the man experienced the further strengthening of faith, which follows suffering, when God comes to our aid and confirms our faith in His Word. This strengthening of faith then prepares us for the future, to believe and fully expect God’s help again when the next trial comes or at the hour of death. Paul, no stranger to suffering, also saw its benefits for faith: “knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope” (Rom 5:3-4).

The man’s entire household also believed in Jesus. The man went from a believer in signs to a strong believer in God’s Word. He now had the faith to share the living and active Word with His household, and it accomplished its purpose in them as well. May the Word of Christ dwell richly in each of us, both now and forever. Amen.

[T]hese are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.” (John 20:31) Amen.

Nov 082017
 

Last night we had a difficult conversation with T.

He’s fifteen and fifteen is hard.

You don’t know who you are yet, but you’re not wanting anybody else to define your identity…especially parents.

You look at everyone around you and you look at the culture to help you make your own choices.

Our conversation was around video games and what loosely passes for “music” these days.

He wanted to play a game that his friends all play online.

They really want him to play with him.

He wants to be accepted by his peers.

The game is nothing more than virtual murder practice.

“You only shoot bad guys…”

I felt defiled even hearing about it.

We said no…what you put in in your mind is what comes out.

Murder in, murder out.

The music is worse.

“Gangsta” rap is not some celebration of ethnic culture as much as a tool to totally destroy any culture, youth first.

I don’t give a damn who that offends…

You can’t put violence, disrespect, and misogyny, to music and expect a non violent, respectful, response from those who ingest it audibly.

We said no, again.

In doing so we pretty much isolated a kid who already feels alone.

When I got home there came the news from not far away of a 16 year old boy who slaughtered his family.

He shot them.

16.

He may as well be 100 because his life is now every bit as over as those he killed.

We will have more discussions about the guns and we should.

People will want to know if he was medicated with psychotropic drugs and that’s worth discussing.

What we won’t ask is who his favorite musical artists are or what his hobbies were.

We won’t even consider what impact the things we glorify as entertainment and cultural expression did to help bring him to this moment.

We won’t ask because the answer might indict all of us.

Maybe a lot of us have blood on our hands.

Maybe a lot of the things we celebrate are as deadly as assault rifles.

Maybe we really celebrate violence as a culture.

Maybe we need to ask different questions…

Nov 082017
 

Sometime in the near future (I’m working on the paperwork) I will be applying for 501(c) 3 status for this site and the other ministries I’m involved in or hoping to be involved in.

Phoenix Preacher Ministries will include our online presence and (God willing) the start of a new Anglican community here locally.

There are some other plans in prayer as well.

That will mean if we’re granted non-profit status that donations will be tax deductible.

I’m hoping we’ll have this early next year.

God has granted us a platform for over 15 years and this is the best way to grow that platform and make it possible for me to keep it thriving.

In the meantime, we can really use your help now.

Support our advertisers…especially when they are part of the online community.

EricL features his books and services up on the top right side of the blog and helps me often with our Linkathon.

We have a “trilogy” of devotional books based on my Friday TGIF columns available now.

“Make Your Own Application” Vol 1-3 can be purchased through iTunes,  Amazon ,and  Barnes and Noble

You can also make direct donations via PayPal using the “donate” button on the top left side of the site.

We covet your continued prayers and participation for what we do here.

Thank you for your help and support.

I can always be reached at phoenixpreacher@gmail.com with your questions or concerns.

 

Nov 082017
 

The Calvary Chapel Association International Pastors Conference is taking place as we speak at CC Golden Springs.

People have been checking in to see what I have to say about the gathering.

The truth is that there is not much more to say than I’ve already said.

 

 

The first piece I listened to was a panel discussion to kick off the event…which exemplified the theme of the event “Old Paths & Good Ways”.

Emphasis on the “Old Paths”…

They want the clan to believe they are the group that Chuck Smith anointed to take the reins.

They added more stories about the origin of the council to back their claim.

The distinctives are non negotiable.

They are of Chuck and they are Chuck to the rest of their share of the movement.

To be honest, I’m not going to listen to much of this conference.

I’m not going to comment on much of it, as I’ve already documented why the rank and file should have healthy doubts about the integrity of these leaders.

This was a split that never had to happen.

There was a time when I truly believed that there was value in finding and reporting the truth to those gathered at conferences like this.

Time has proven that they can’t handle the truth.

Perhaps we’ll all get raptured before that matters…

 

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