Monday, December 10, 2018

On Healing: Biblical Texts Important to Smith Wigglesworth

In “Smith Wigglesworth (1859-1947),” we learned about his remarkable ministry of healing which took place during the first half of the 20th century. He once said that the best tracts ever written on healing were Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. In Smith Wigglesworth on Healing, he mentioned many passages from these and other books of the Bible that strongly informed his ministry. Those he mentioned as important included (as quoted in the New American Standard Version):

Exodus 15:26
And He said, “If you will give earnest heed to the voice of the Lord your God, and do what is right in His sight, and give ear to His commandments, and keep all His statutes, I will put none of the diseases on you which I have put on the Egyptians; for I, the Lord, am your healer.”

Friday, December 7, 2018

Smith Wigglesworth (1859-1947)

Smith Wigglesworth was born into a poor non-Christian family in northern England. He worked full-time outside the house from the age of six just to bring in a little money. Yet he spent the last 40 years of his life traveling the world to serve Jesus Christ by preaching, healing, exorcising, and even raising the dead.

What follows is a summary of his reflections on that ministry found in Smith Wigglesworth on Healing (Whitaker House, 1999). Numbers at the end of sentences refer to the relevant pages and paragraphs in that book. My hope is that, by reflecting on the ministry of Wigglesworth, we too—as Christians and churches—might witness with greater clarity to Jesus Christ in this vital way.

Wednesday, October 24, 2018

Latourette (1953): Dividing the History of Christianity into Eight Meaningful Periods

To better understanding the Bible and theology, history and culture, ourselves and our world, we may divide history into different periods of time. For centuries Christians, for example, divided history into two primary periods of time: Before Christ (BC) and Anno Domini (AD).

Kenneth Scott Latourette (1884-1968) taught at the Yale University Divinity School from 1921 to 1953. In his two-volume work, A History of Christianity (Peabody, Massachusetts: Prince Press, 1999; originally published by Harper & Brothers, 1953), he divided the years AD into eight distinct periods. Looking at the broad titles he gives these periods, and the years he includes in each, will help us to improve our own understanding of this shared history.

Tuesday, October 16, 2018

An Edifying Confession of Sin

As human beings, we all have our strengths and weaknesses.

We may say the same of each church and denominational group of churches: they all have their strengths and weaknesses.

One abiding strength of churches in the Anglican tradition has been, since 1549, their Book of Common Prayer.

One strength of the Book of Common Prayer in use by the Episcopal Church since 1979 is its “Confession of Sin” (p. 360). As Christians, any of us may easily find edifying a daily repetition of this prayer, whether alone or with other members of our family or congregation.

Saturday, October 13, 2018

Church Chronology: Years of Growth Despite Persecution (64-313)

64-66 Nero initiates first persecution by the Roman state of Christians, in the city of Rome.
81-96 Domitian, emperor, initiates the second persecution of Christians, also in the city of Rome.
90 Letter of Clement
100 Didache (Teaching of the Twelve): first Christian document outside New Testament to discuss structure of Christian communities.
100s. New form of Christian writing: the apology, a defense of Christian theology and practice against Olympian attacks.

Thursday, October 11, 2018

Early Church Chronology

Following the death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus Christ, in AD 33 (James Ussher), came Pentecost and the beginning of the first Christian church. During the next 40 years, the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and the Christians and churches proclaiming it, spread from Jerusalem to Rome.
As Christians and churches spread, they had to wrestle with this problem: did Olympians (Gentiles) first need to become Jews in order to become Christians? Or, as assemblies, were churches decisively different from synagogues?
Hans Kung, in The Catholic Church: A Short History (New York: Modern Library, 2001; translated by John Bowden), published a chronology of these early years (page xi) with some indications of why Judaism and Christianity eventually separated:

Thursday, October 4, 2018

Islam: Chronology

Source: Esposito, John L (editor). The Oxford History of Islam (New York: Oxford University Press, 1999, pp. 691-696).

ca 570
Muhammad is born.

Muhammad is called.

Wednesday, October 3, 2018

Christianity: Chronology

Source: Chadwick, Owen. A History of Christianity (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1995, pp. 286-293).

4 BC
Birth of Jesus.

AD 33
Death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus.
Pentecost: beginning of the Church.

Tuesday, September 25, 2018

Ancient Egypt: The Latest Chronology

Recognizing, as Christians and churches, the importance of maintaining a historical memory, we do well to be as clear as possible about place and time. With those two coordinates, we can place people and events in a meaningful context.

Keeping clear about years and chronologies gets easier the closer we come to our own time. Getting any meaningful clarity at all grows more difficult the farther we reach back into ancient history.

Thursday, May 10, 2018

Why Olympian Civilization Lacks Meaningful Feedback

English historian Arnold Toynbee wrote An Historian’s Approach to Religion in 1956. In it he spoke of Latin Christian Civilization’s decline, its replacement by an Exuberant Olympian Civilization, that civilization’s increasing menace to humankind and the rest of creation, and our future.

Latin Christian Civilization’s Decline
At its best (1073-1201), Latin Christendom formed a commonwealth of self-governing states under the religious authority of the pope. It delicately balanced his power as ruler of the Latin Christian Church with the freedom of political rulers and leading intellectuals.

Tuesday, May 8, 2018

Olympian Civilization Makes All Others Olympian Too

Latin Christian Civilization began in AD 1 with the birth of Jesus Christ and ended in 1648 when it collapsed after a long, vicious, yet inconclusive civil war. After that its people, led by its best and brightest intellectuals, abandoned theology for technology and Jesus for Vulcan (god of technology).

Vulcan, of course, is just one of six now conventional yet always false and destructive gods of Olympianity. With devotion to him came adoration of the others as well. With remarkable speed, Olympianity replaced Christianity as the defining religion of the West and Christendom dissolved itself into Europe.

Monday, May 7, 2018

1648: Western Civilization Tips from Christian to Olympian

The civilizational tipping point in the West between Christianity and Olympianity, Christendom and Europe, technology as an expression of freedom or of power, came at the end of the Latin Christian civil war in 1648. Heralds of this change included Francis Bacon in his book, Novum Organum (New Method) (1620), Rene Descartes in Discourse on the Method (1637), Thomas Hobbes in Leviathan (1651), and Thomas Sprat in The History of the Royal Society (1667).

The first step taken by these still Christian intellectual leaders was to displace the saint or knight, and to ignore the natural philosopher, to valorize the technician as the real hero of Western Civilization.

Western Technological Development to 1648

In his book, The Betrayal of the West (1978), historian and cultural critic Jacques Ellul wrote that Western Civilization is unique in its affirmation of three values: freedom, reason, and the dignity of the individual.

Western tradition, beginning with Aristotle, identifies Thales of Miletus as the first philosopher and dates the beginning of Western philosophy from 585 BC. In that year, Thales was the first to predict an eclipse of the sun. Thales used reason to understand creational effects and their causes. By doing so, he was able to establish freedom, in this case some critical distance, between human beings and these effects.

In An Historian’s Approach to Religion (1956), English historian Arnold Toynbee highlights the invention or intentional spread of major technological innovations in the West before 1648:

Saturday, May 5, 2018

The Decline and Fall of Latin Christian Civilization

Every person and group faces a choice, at each moment, whether to follow Jesus on the path of freedom or six conventional Olympian gods on the path of power. Over an extended period of time, persons and groups establish themselves either on the Christian side of the spectrum or on the Olympian side. They also tend to move toward one end of the spectrum or the other.

In his book, An Historian’s Approach to Religion (1956), English historian Arnold Toynbee expressed his admiration for the Medieval Western Christian way of living because it maintained an unusual and delicate balance between freedom and power. Certain Latin Christian leaders kept themselves closer to the freedom end of the spectrum than was true of those before and after them. The best years of this balance, according to Toynbee, began in 1073 with the papacy of Gregory 7th.

Wednesday, May 2, 2018

Thoughts from the Springtime of Civilization

Like humans, civilizations are born, develop to maturity, grow old, and die. To use a different analogy, civilizations, following the seasons of the year, blossom in springtime, ripen in summer, slacken in autumn, and disintegrate in winter.

If we look at Christendom as a civilization, we may say that it first budded in AD 1 when Jesus Christ was born, started to ripen in 380 when it became the sole official religion of the Roman Empire, began to decay in 1216 with the death of Pope Innocent 3rd, then disintegrated into Europe in 1648.

We may apply this same analogy to Exuberant Olympianity (1648-2008) as a civilization. Let us say that it budded in 1648, ripened between 1815 (end of Napoleon) and 1914, decayed until 2008, then began its own terminal disintegration.

Tuesday, May 1, 2018

1648: Why Western Intellectuals Abandoned Theology for Technology

In our fabled land of Olympia, the great Age of Christianity began in AD 1, with the birth of Jesus Christ; and ended in 1648, with the collapse of the Latin Christian civil war into the Peace of Westphalia. After 1648, the best and brightest Western Christian intellectuals abandoned theology for technology.

Thomas Sprat (1635-1713) was both a bishop in the Church of England and a founding member and secretary of the Royal Society. In his book, The History of the Royal Society for the Improving of Natural Knowledge (1667), he explains why he and other Christian intellectuals made the switch.

Monday, April 30, 2018

The Fatal Mistake of Understanding Technology as Neutral and not Olympian

Christopher Columbus, sailing under the Spanish flag, led three ships to a renewed European discovery of the Americas in 1492. Portuguese explorer Vasco da Gama (ca 1460s-1524) led the first European ships to India in 1498. With these two fifteenth-century voyages of discovery, Western Civilization became the most expansive one ever. This distinction received dramatic confirmation in 1522 when Juan Sebastian Elcano and his Spanish crew completed the first circumnavigation of the globe after three years at sea. Francis Drake and his English crew repeated the same feat in 1580.

1. 1490: Civilizations of Olympia
In his book, An Historian’s Approach to Religion (1956), English historian Arnold Toynbee (1889-1975) notes the similarity in type between Western Civilization and others at that time:

Friday, April 27, 2018

Church Subordination: What the State Couldn't Do by Bullying It Did by Bribing

Jesus shared with his disciples the Parable of the Sower. Some of the seed fell among thorns. Later he explained, the one on whom seed was sown among the thorns, this is the man who hears the word, and the worry of the world and the deceitfulness of wealth choke the word, and it becomes unfruitful (Matthew 13:22, New American Standard Version).

In his book, An Historian’s Approach to Religion (1956), English historian Arnold Toynbee (1889-1975) applies this parable to the Church. He notes that, in Roman times, the Church stood up well when the Roman State bullied it with persecution. He regrets that the Church lost its integrity when the Roman State next challenged it with bribes.

Thursday, April 26, 2018

Courage or Compromise?

Introduction: A Parable
In his Parable of the Sower, Jesus tells us that some seed being sown fell on rocky places. Later he explains the meaning of this: 20 The one on whom seed was sown on the rocky places, this is the man who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy; 21 yet he has no firm root in himself, but is only temporary, and when affliction or persecution arises because of the word, immediately he falls away (Matthew 13:20-21, New American Standard Version).

1. State persecution and Church response
In his book, An Historian’s Approach to Religion (1956), English historian Arnold Toynbee (1889-1975) rightly applies Christ’s Parable of the Sower to the relationship between the Christian Church and the Roman State. Speaking of the seed sown on rocky places, Toynbee praises the Church’s response to persecution during Roman times (AD 63-313) with these words:

Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Remaining Mindful that Institutions Tip from Good to Evil

Generally, organized social groups begin when several individuals believe they can accomplish greater good by working together than by continuing to struggle separately. The good accomplished by the group initially outweighs the demands made on each individual. Eventually, however, comes the tipping point. After that, the organization parasitically makes increasingly destructive demands on the individuals participating in it.

In his book, An Historian’s Approach to Religion (1956), English historian Arnold Toynbee (1889-1975) notes that this pattern was true of even a municipal state as great as Athens at the beginning and end of its golden age.

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Christian and Olympian: The Range of Possibilities

Let us imagine a range of possibilities between 0 and 10.

Off the chart, to the left of 0, let us place the Olympian gods. Theirs is the way of power which is based on falsehood, expressed through indifference, and ends in death. We may place near 0 the most powerful human societies, the falsest human cultures, and the cruelest human beings.

Off the chart, to the right of 10, let us put Jesus Christ. His is the way of freedom which is based on truth, expressed through love, and leads to eternal life. We may place near 10 the strongest voluntary societies, the truest human cultures, and the most loving human beings.

Theological Anthropology: Psychology Centered in Christ

Every human being has two personalities. One, our Olympian personality, is structured in terms of the six conventional yet false and destructive Olympian gods, serves Satan, and is driven by the Flesh (or Unholy Spirit of Evil). Every person, however, Christian or non-Christian, also has a Christian personality. It is structured in terms of Jesus Christ, serves Abba, and is empowered by the Holy Spirit.

Our Olympian personality is wholly self-centered. It responds solely to promises and threats. It does what is right, but only if it is rewarded for doing so and punished—surely and quickly—for failing to do so.

Our Christian personality is wholly Christ-centered. It does what is right gratuitously, as an expression of gratitude to God who makes it possible, without hope of reward or fear of punishment.

Monday, April 16, 2018

Getting Ready for Great Truth and Freedom Soon! (Matthew 3:1-6)

Before Abba (our father in Heaven) could send us his son Jesus Christ, he knew he had to get us ready. Otherwise, we might remain completely deaf and blind to Christ’s words of truth and signs of freedom. He also knew that the best way to prepare us was to have us repent of our sins; that is, of our foolish devotion to false gods and our self-centered treatment of other people. So he sent to us John the Baptist.

Saturday, April 14, 2018

Taking Care of Our Own

One task to which Jesus is calling us as Christians is to build up our churches. Right now, our churches are generally nothing more than a loose association of individuals who gather together on Sundays for an hour of pleasantries before leaving and forgetting about everyone else for another week. These companions of our community are not relatives, friends, neighbors, or colleagues. In effect, they’re nobodies.

In rich contrast to this, Jesus calls each church to be nothing less than his alternative society and culture. He wants us to be the provisional representatives of the Kingdom of Heaven right now already on Earth. Do people want a taste of life in the age to come? Do they want some assurance there even is an age to come? Do they want to experience what freedom, truth, love, and vitality are really like? Do we? Then let us respond with gratitude to the gracious call of Jesus to live together as witnesses to him.

Friday, April 13, 2018

Freedom as Embracing Suffering We Could Otherwise Easily Avoid

In An Historian’s Approach to Religion (1956), English historian Arnold Toynbee (1889-1975) noted that, from the earliest days of civilization in our fabled land of Olympia, we humans have always devoted ourselves to false gods. In ancient times, we worshiped what he calls the “parochial community” exemplified, in the 5th century BC, by Athens. Later, when even the best municipal states—like Athens—failed to deliver on their promises of enhancing life and preventing death, we humans switched our devotion to the “oecumenical” or imperial community. Rome remains our best ancient example of this. Eventually, even Rome proved to be unworthy of our adoration.

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Contrasting Religious and Biblical Understandings of Human Nature

In his book, An Historian’s Approach to Religion (1956), Arnold Toynbee speaks of two forms of nature: non-human and human.

He states that humankind decisively defeated non-human nature as early as the Old Stone Age which ended 12,000 years ago. This is not to say that non-human nature does not at times bite back, even in our own times, through tornadoes, hurricanes, deep freezes, scorching temperatures, earthquakes, and volcanic eruptions. “On the whole, however, she ha[s] yielded to Man like a docile sheep” (22).

Not so human nature. “…Human Nature has shown itself as refractory, and as recalcitrant to human control, as a goat or a camel or a mule. When Man tries to coerce Human Nature, he defeats his own purpose; for, so far from cowing it, coercion merely stimulates its obstinacy, rebelliousness, and animosity” (22).

Monday, April 9, 2018

Turns out Current Equality Is Obedience to Vulcan Not Jesus

In The Technological System (trans. Joachim Neugroschel, 1980), Jacques Ellul demonstrates how technology is the key factor determining the structures, processes, and goals of today’s societies, cultures, and personalities (pp. 51-75).

One example he gives is “the transformation of a hierarchical society into an egalitarian one” (70). To help us understand the significance of this transformation, he gives us a little history lesson. “Traditional society, all traditional societies, are hierarchical…There have [70] never been any egalitarian societies, and hierarchy was part of the general-cultural universe” (70-71). All individuals within an organized social group, and all organized social groups within a society, have always been hierarchically organized.

Thursday, April 5, 2018

Freedom through Reading Good Books Well

The Global Technological System (GTS) is parasitic, collapsing, and meaningless. As the counter-creation of the Olympian gods and our most arrogant monument to them, the GTS embodies their path of power which is based on falsehood, expresses itself through indifference, and ends in death.

As prophetic Christian witnesses, Jesus Christ frees us, each day, to challenge the GTS. These challenges, for now, will be small but not insignificant.

One important way of witnessing to the freedom of Christ is by acknowledging how the norms of the GTS shape our thoughts, actions, and objects. A second way is then by being meaningfully different.

Thursday, March 29, 2018

Kissing the Easter Bunny Good-bye on Resurrection Day

Right now our churches are primarily Olympian. And while every person has both an Olympian and a Christian personality, right now even within each of us Christians our Olympian personality dominates. The influence of the painfully Olympian Global Technological System (GTS) is just that strong.

Mercifully, Jesus Christ decisively defeated all the powers of evil—including the conventional yet false Olympian gods behind the GTS. What’s more, his steadfast love endures forever and his faithfulness knows no bounds. Consequently, he persists in calling his churches back to him. He even calls and enables you and me to live as prophetic Christian witnesses tasked with showing his churches the differences between serving the gods and serving him. Today we will reflect briefly on the differences between Easter and Resurrection Day.

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

When Going to Church Is a Disastrous Distraction (Mark 11:15-18)

This is the week of Passover. Pilgrims from many lands are pouring into the holy city of Jerusalem. One important reason: to have a priest sacrifice an animal on their behalf in the Temple, the holiest place on Earth, as prescribed by the law of Moses.

To help these thousands of foreign visitors make the prescribed sacrifices, moneychangers inside the outer court of the Temple take their foreign coins and exchange them for Temple shekels. Pilgrims then take these shekels and choose which animals they wish to have sacrificed on their behalf. All the animals available inside the outer court are guaranteed to be clean, unblemished, and acceptable to the priests.

Monday, March 26, 2018

When Going to Church is Good but Not Enough (Jeremiah 7:3-11)

In 721 BC, Yahweh allowed an Assyrian army to destroy the Kingdom of Israel because the people of Israel had stubbornly abandoned him for other gods. With that destruction, those ten northern tribes disappeared from history. When they abandoned their meaning, they lost their existence.

One hundred years later, the Kingdom of Judah faced catastrophe for the same reason. But Yahweh didn’t want to lose them too. To avoid that, he sent Jeremiah to speak liberating if irritating words of truth to his people.

Saturday, January 20, 2018

How Courtesy Protects Freedom from the Law

All political leaders pursue policies that are disliked by some citizens. In America, citizens occasionally protest disliked policies by publicly burning an American flag.
After such incidents, numbers of other citizens sometimes demand that political leaders amend the Constitution to make such acts of disrespect fundamentally illegal.
In her book, Miss Manners® Rescues Civilization (1996), author Judith Martin questions the wisdom of both that protest and that demand. She does this in the name of freedom.

Thursday, January 18, 2018

Types of Etiquette as Different Ways of Honoring Jesus

Jesus Christ calls all Christians always to walk with him on the difficult path of freedom (Matthew 7:13-14). When we join him there, the Holy Spirit frees us to participate in his truth, love, and vitality and to share these with others.
Jesus Christ is calling a few of us disciples to serve him as prophetic witnesses. One way he is enabling us to do this is by freeing us, each day, to share his love for others by being courteous.
To help us understand more clearly how we might act courteously toward others, we will reflect on insights and advice shared by Judith Martin in her book, Miss Manners® Rescues Civilization (1996).
Miss Manners identifies three types of etiquette: “the regulative, the symbolic, and the ritual” (36).

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Clarifying Beliefs, Values, and Norms Concerning Jesus, Manners, and Etiquette

Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, dwell on these things (Philippians 4:8, New American Standard Version, here and following).
Following this advice of the apostle Paul, we will reflect today on the meaning and importance of manners and etiquette as understood by author Judith Martin and shared by her through her book, Miss Manners® Rescues Civilization (New York: Crown Publishers, 1996). By doing so, may we increase the clarity of our witness to the freedom and love of Jesus Christ by practicing the courtesy befitting Christians.

Monday, January 15, 2018

Turning to Miss Manners® for Help

To discern how we might live as nobler Christians, we are going to meditate on how Miss Manners® Rescues Civilization (New York: Crown Publishers, 1996). It’s her insightful discussion of manners and etiquette that might help us become more courteous—and thereby loving—witnesses to Jesus Christ.
If we were to summarize the Gospel, we might say that Jesus Christ is the truth who sets us free to love and leads us into fullness of life.
Because of Jesus Christ, every human being has two personalities. One, our Olympian personality, is structured in terms of the six conventional yet false and destructive gods of Olympianity. With his crucifixion, Jesus doomed it to destruction. The other, our Christian personality, is structured in terms of the truth, freedom, love, and vitality of Jesus Christ. With his resurrection, Jesus made it our bright future.