Thursday, March 16, 2017

Why it is Essential to Know the Essentials

Last week I completed the first year and first third of the total course work for the Master of Theological Studies at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. Of the classes that I am taking in pursuit of this degree, all are online except one (Leadership Practicum). I will be fulfilling this requirement during a unique experience. I just completed History of Christianity I and will be taking History of Christianity II during the second term of the spring semester.
History of Christianity I covered the apostolic age through the middle ages up to the reformation. History of Christianity II will cover the reformation to the modern church age. Following that class I have been blessed to go on a trip with the seminaries Historical Theology professors (Dr. Owen Strachan, Dr. Jason G. Duesing and Jared C. Wilson) to fulfill the Leadership Practicum requirement. We will be going on a historical tour of New England; studying the reformation as it occurred in New England, as well as the gospel work going on there today. My wife will be taking part in the experience alongside me.
This recalls a concern that I have regarding historical theology. My concern regards some of the post that I have seen on social media. Social media is a strange phenomenon, because of this I have been on and off social media a few times in the past. At present, I endeavor to remain on social media in order that I might keep up with those who I know and love.
The problem that I have noticed is a tendency, by those on social media to make non-essentials an essential. I will explain by comparing two men and their beliefs; let’s call them Bill and Bob. Bill and Bob both believe that God is Father, Son and Holy Spirit; one God in three persons, a Holy Trinity. Both men believe that Jesus is the God Man; fully God and fully Man except in sin. Both men believe that Jesus death on the cross was a sin sacrifice; Christ died for our sins per the scriptures. Both men believe that on the first day of the week Jesus rose bodily from the dead. Both men believe that Jesus will return and all the dead will rise to face Him in judgment; the goats to eternal punishment and the sheep to eternal life. However, the two men disagree on how to interpret Genesis 1-3. Bill believes Genesis 1-3 to be an historical narrative of creation and the fall of man. Bob believes Genesis 1-3 to be an allegorical narrative on the sovereignty of God and total inability of man. Which one of these two men’s beliefs are orthodox?                           
The correct answer throughout the history of Christianity is that both Bill and Bob’s beliefs are orthodox. A word of warning; if you chose one man’s beliefs over the other there is a chance that you are not orthodox in your beliefs. Notice that I did not ask which man was correct with regards to Genesis 1-3, nor do I endeavor to do so, but I only asked which one of these two men’s beliefs are orthodox. Orthodoxy is based on one’s beliefs regarding the essentials alone. How one interprets Genesis 1-3 is not essential to the Christian faith, it is an important discussion, but not essential to the Christian faith.
These two men can have a brotherly discussion as to why each believes his view of Genesis 1-3 is correct. The conversation must occur where both Bill and Bob affirm the other to be a Christian based on his faith in the essentials alone. They also must end the conversation on those same grounds. If at any time Bill or Bob believes the other to not be Christian, because they do not hold the same position on a tertiary belief like the question in prose, though holding to the previously mentioned essentials, he has crossed the line and is the one in need of repentance. He needs repentance, because he is adding too orthodoxy by making a non-essential an essential.
Dr. Duesing, my last instructor and provost at the seminary described seminary as formal, structured, discipleship. I have learned so much during this past year. Therefore, if you are willing, pray that I continue to grow in faith and knowledge of God, the Father, His only begotten Son Jesus Christ, and the church. May I also grow with regards to love; love both for the church and the lost. Blessings to you all in the name of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

The New World

When did the protestant, reformation begin? Many mark October 31, 1517, as being the day that the protestant reformation began. It is, because on this day Martin Luther nailed his 95 Theses against the sale of indulgences to the church door in Wittenberg.1 Why is this act by Martin Luther called reformational history, but the acts of Wycliffe and Huss pre-reformational history? As I studied through some writings about Luther, as well as his own writings, I concluded; it was not Luther’s act that set the reformation rolling, many had already done that before him. Martin Luther’s act was significant, because it stood; it was the act of another man that allowed Martin Luther’s writings to stand. 

On May 4, 1521, while on the way home, after having taken his stand at the Imperial Diet at Worms; five soldiers under orders from Elector Prince Fredrick the Wise intercepted Martin Luther’s wagon and kidnapped him to Wartburg Castle. This was part of an elaborate scheme by Elector Fredrick to protect Luther from being put to death. No one knows if Elector Fredrick agreed with Luther’s writings, or if he ever talked with Luther, but this bold act not only saved Luther’s life; it kept the protestant reformation alive and growing.2 For the next few centuries the protestant reformation, and counter reformation by the catholic church would take center stage in Europe.
Have ever wondered why there are so many Catholics in Central and South America? While the protestant reformation was happening in Europe, then later, North America; Catholicism was being spread through Central and South America by Imperial force. This happened by order of Ferdinand and Isabella of Spain, and they did so using the same principles as the Crusades. If the Indians cannot be converted by missionaries, then conquest must happen by whatever means necessary.3 Gonzales said, “The impact of the Iberian (Spain and Portugal) enterprise in the Western Hemisphere was so momentous—and so tragic—that it tends to eclipse the parallel impact of the Western Hemisphere on Europe and the events taking place.”4 Despite all the ruthless devastation, many people would come to hear the name of Jesus Christ. Therefore, we must trust in the sovereignty of God always; even through the acts of evil men.

1 John D. Woodbridge and Frank A. James III, Church History: From Pre-Reformation to the Present Day. Vol. 2 (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2013), 112.
2 Ibid, 124-127.
3 Justo L. Gonzales, The Story of Christianity, Volume I: The Early Church to the Reformation, 2nd ed., (New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 2010), 449-485.
4 Ibid, 487.

Sunday, March 5, 2017


Among the many ideals that captivated the imagination of western Christendom during the Middle Ages, no other was as dramatic, as overwhelming, or as contradictory, as was the crusading spirit. Tragically romanticized by many, the Crusades have the distinction of being one of the most blatant of the many instances in which Christianity, fueled in part by its own zeal, has contradicted its very essence—on this score, only the Inquisition can be compared with it.1
The Crusades and the Inquisitions both demonstrate the wrong thinking that had overwhelmed the church. The church in the Middle ages and the Renaissance was in desperate need of reformation; both ecclesiastic and theological reformation. This was most diffidently a destructive time in the life of Christ’s church. The Crusades which began towards the end of the 11th century had run their course by the end of the 13th century. One may speak if the crusades as first crusade, second crusade, and so on, but the reality is that they were not isolated campaigns.2
Therefore, the pope is not the head, nor are the cardinals the whole body of the holy, Catholic and universal church. Only Christ is the head, and his predestined are the body, and each is a member of that body.3
The church during this time had lost sight of the gospel. We see, what is called a pre-reformation in the likes of John Wycliffe and John Huss. These men, and men like them leading up to the reformation would be persecuted in the Inquisitions. During this time, there was a conciliar movement which formed a universal council who would use the Inquisition to demonstrate their authority. Huss a teacher in Bohemia began to follow the teachings brought by students from Oxford to Prague.4 
Wycliffe taught that the scriptures were the position of the predestined body of Christ. Therefore, he taught that the Bible should be put back into their hands, and should be translated into a language that they could understand. He also taught that the church is not the pope or his visible hierarchy, but the invisible who are predestined for salvation; no one knows who they are, but there are indications in their fruit.5

The thirteenth century reached the apex of papal power under Innocent III. During the same time the mendicant monk orders were set out on a mission to bring the world to Christ. Also, universities were being developed, and Gothic art was being used to depict the gospel to the illiterate. During this time the Black Plague ravaged much of Europe.6
While there was much bleakness about the Middle Ages there are some bright spots. Anselm of Canterbury was one of those bright spots. Anselm was educated as a Benedictine monk, he was a theologian, and a scholar.7 
Anselm was the first theologian to pose the satisfaction theory of atonement. He said, “To sin is to fail to render to God His due.” Anselm said that what God is due is righteousness; therefore, only a righteous being can satisfy God. God is the only righteous being, so only God can satisfy His righteousness, and since man sinned, man must die. The only way to satisfy the righteousness of God and the justice of God with the death of man is for a God/Man to take man’s place.8 This view of the atonement is the standard view among evangelical Christians today.

1 Justo L. Gonzales, The Story of Christianity, Volume I: The Early Church to the Reformation, 2nd ed., (New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 2010), 371.
2 Ibid, 346-351.
3 Ibid, 406.
4 Ibid, 409.
5 Ibid, 413.
6 Ibid, 380-393.
7 “Who is Saint Anselm? S. Accessed March 4, 2017.
8 Henry Bettenson and Chris Maunder, Ed., Documents of the Christian Church, 4th ed., (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011), 146-147.

Sunday, February 26, 2017

The End of an Era

Gonzales writes, “When Augustine died, the Vandals were laying siege to the city of Hippo. Shortly thereafter, they were masters of the northern coast of Africa, Except Egypt. A few years earlier, in 410 CE, Rome had been taken and sacked by Alaric and his Goths.”1 Augustine died in in 430 AD, historians will give varying answers as to when the Patristic period ended and the Medieval period began. My instructor, Provost, Dr. Jason Duesing marks it around 500 AD.2 There is good reason for this; Catholics and Protestants alike look back at Augustine as the last great theologian of the Patristic period, but there were still much in the realm of Christological debates still occurring during the fifth century. There were two great Ecumenical councils during the fifth century (Ephesus 431 AD and Chalcedon 451 AD) that came to a consensus on the person of Jesus Christ, who is fully God and fully Man yet without sin.3
During the Medieval period much of the areas discussed during the Patristic period in the East and Northern Africa were invaded by Arab Muslims.  The Eastern Empire would hold for several more centuries in the Byzantine Empire in Modern day Turkey. During the Medieval period the East (Orthodox) and West (Catholic) church were drifting apart, a final schism occurred in 1054 AD.4
With the destruction of the Western Empire by the Germanic invaders, the Bishop of Rome, who was called Pope would become a leading figure in the west, because there was no emperor. In the Eastern Byzantine Empire, the emperor would dictate ecclesiological matters. There was a brief restoration of the Western Empire under Charlemagne in the ninth century. Charlemagne was a proponent of education, but the Carolingian period would not last.5
During the eleventh and twelfth centuries reform was the name of the game, but not what we Protestant Christians understand as reform. The reform was in the form of the Monastic movement and the clergy. In the Monasteries, The Rule of Benedict for monastic life was mostly ignored, therefore reform was underway to bring the monastic life back to the Rule of Benedict. As a result of the reformation of the monasteries, a movement was made to reform the entire church. The reformation that took place in the Monasteries spilled over into ecclesiastical reform, because the popes and bishops had become feudal lords.6
Simony was rampant, because there was much power and wealth to be had as clergy. Simony, which is the buying and selling of Bishop and abbot posts was common place. The Monastics perceived that the greatest enemy to ecclesiastical reform was clerical marriage, because the Bishop and Abbey post once bought were handed down to their perspective children. A group of three reforming popes emerged; the third and most significant was Hildebrand. Hildebrand was a monk of modest upbringing from a monastery in Rome.7
The program of reformation of the clergy centered around the idea of clerical celibacy and the doing away of simony. When Hildebrand was elected pope he took the name Gregory VII, and continued his work against simony and clerical marriage. Gregory’s reformation clashed with the interest of Emperor Henry IV, but in the end the program succeeded. Therefore, Catholic clergy today must take a vow of celibacy. The power of the papacy continued to grow through the thirteenth century. While like the monastics they took a vow of celibacy, they in no way lived in poverty. In fact, many used their positions for personal profit. So, what was intended for good, was used for evil; creating the ecclesiastical monster that existed at the dawn of the protestant reformation.8

1 Justo L. Gonzales, The Story of Christianity, Volume I: The Early Church to the Reformation, 2nd ed., (New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 2010), 259.
2 Jason Duesing, 30,000 Foot Overview of Christian History (Instructional Video), accessed January 24, 2017, Link Private.
3 Justo L. Gonzales, The Story of Christianity, Volume I: The Early Church to the Reformation, 2nd ed., (New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 2010), 296-302.
4 Ibid, 295.
5 Ibid, 315-324.
6 Ibid, 330-334.
7 Ibid, 334-336.
8 Ibid, 337-344.

Sunday, February 19, 2017

Ambrose, Chrysostom, Jerome, and Augustine

This week’s study in “The History of Christianity” took us through some very interesting figures. Great men of God who lived and wrote in the later part of the fourth century to the early part of the fifth century. Each man had a part to play in our current understanding of theology, doctrine, and practice. Most evangelicals today have heard of Augustine of Hippo, even if only vaguely, but have you heard of Ambrose, John Chrysostom, or Jerome?
Ambrose of Milan was governor of that city. There was division at that time within the church over the deity of Christ. Tempers were flaring and each side wanted his own view represented in the elected Bishop. So, Ambrose attended the election in order to avoid a riot. He was a trained speaker who won the support of the crowd. Even though he was not seeking to be Bishop, the crowd elected him to be their Bishop. Ambrose was a catechumen (new believer) who had not yet been baptized. In those days a new believer was discipled in the way of the faith prior to baptism. So, he received baptism and became Bishop of Milan. He would undergo study of the scriptures, and emphasized the centrality of the incarnation in his sermons. His preaching touched a young man named Augustine who had come to hear him speak. Ambrose Challenged Emperor Theodosius to repent of a wrong doing for which he demonstrated repentance publically.1
John of Constantinople was later called John Chrysostom, because of his preaching ability. John was first ordained deacon, then presbyter, and finally Bishop of Constantinople. He set before him the task of reforming the clergy of the church. John also challenged the Roman Emperor who ruled in the east, but unlike Ambrose that ruler would not repent and it was John who would have to leave his position.2
Jerome was a very interesting figure in the history of Christianity. He was interesting, because of his struggle with the world and himself.3 I told my pastor the other day that my favorite character out of the patristic period is Irenaeus of Lyons, a second century theologian who had the heart of a pastor, and saw God as a Shephard guiding his flock with his two hands; the Word and the Spirit.4 I told him, “Unfortunately I am more like Jerome.”5 I said this, because like Jerome, I struggle with the world and my flesh. Jerome brought to the church the Latin Vulgate. He went to Palestine, learned to read Hebrew, and translated the Hebrew Old Testament into Latin. Previous translations had used the Greek Septuagint.6
Augustine of Hippo came to faith gradually along a tortured path. He came to believe that Jesus was the Christ, the Son of God who had died for his sins, but he struggled with leaving behind the things that he loved in the world. Gonzales said, that he struggled “between willing and not willing.”7 It was the voice of a child who song out in play, “Take up and read, take up and read” that caused him to read a passage out of Romans, from which God granted him repentance. After his conversion he was baptized by Ambrose.8
Augustine would come to write much about the freedom of the will in refutation of the Manichaeans. He would write a just war theory in refutation of Donatism. In that theory the motive of love was of most importance. Lastly, what Augustine is most known for is his theological works against the Pelagians. Most who call themselves Christian today have an Augustinian or Semi-Augustinian theology. His two greatest writings are “Confessions” and “The City of God.” The contributions of these great men served the Lord in shaping the church today. Each had a significant part in the shaping of the doctrines and practices of the church, but none more so than Augustine of Hippo.9

1 Justo L. Gonzales, The Story of Christianity, Volume I: The Early Church to the Reformation, 2nd ed., (New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 2010), 219-224.
2 Ibid, 225-231.
3 Ibid, 232.
4 Ibid, 84-85.
5 Mike Peek, Personal Conversation with Phillip Dance, February 15, 2017.
6Justo L. Gonzales, The Story of Christianity, Volume I: The Early Church to the Reformation, 2nd ed., (New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 2010), 237-239.
7 Ibid, 245.
8 Ibid, 241-246.
9 Ibid, 241-252.

Saturday, February 11, 2017

Purifying Doctrine

This past weekend; Friday, Saturday, and Sunday I spent 8 hours each day alongside 100 other Christians who came from all over the United States. We were in Houston, Texas, preaching the gospel in open-air, passing out tracts, and talking with people. We were broken up into 10 teams of 10. The event was Super Bowl LI in Houston, Texas. On Friday and Saturday we surrounded the outer complex of Discovery Green in Downtown Houston, the location of what was called the Super Bowl experience. On Sunday (game day) we surrounded the outside of the stadium. One could not enter or exit Discovery Green on Friday or Saturday, or enter NRG Stadium on game day without having heard at least a portion of the gospel.

The gospel that we preached, is the same gospel that Christians have been proclaiming through the ages. “That in Jesus Christ, and for our salvation, God has entered human history in a unique way.”1 God became flesh in the person of His only begotten Son Jesus Christ and dwelt among us.2 We were created in the image of God,3 but have all sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.4 God being righteous has decreed that the wages of sin is death.5 Jesus promised eternal life to everyone who repents, believes in Him, and therefore follows Him as Lord and Savior.6 Jesus never sinned, but willing died in our place because God is love. He was crucified, died, and was buried. On the third day He rose again.7 All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to Him. He commissioned His disciples to Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that He commanded them. He promised to be with them always, even to the end of the age.8

The main issue at stake during this week’s study of the History of Christianity was the nature of Jesus Christ. During the early fourth century a conflict broke out between Alexander the Bishop of Alexandria and Arius a presbyter in Alexandria. Gonzales said, “Although the points debated were many, the main issue at stake was whether the Logos, the Word of God, was coeternal with the Father.”9 Arian said, “there was when He was not,” but “Alexander held that the Word existed eternally with the Father.”10 An ecumenical council, the first in the history of the church was convened in Nicaea by order of Emperor Constantine to settle the issue, 325 AD. The council anathematized Arianism and settled on a Creed to declare their mutual doctrine on the divinity of Jesus Christ.  The Creed would become what is known today as the Nicene Creed.11
Arianism lingered throughout the fourth century. In fact, Constantine was baptized on his death bed by Eusebius of Nicomedia who had presented the Arian argument in Nicaea. Except for Emperor Julian who supported paganism, the Roman Emperors during the fourth century supported an Arian view of Christianity. Even though Arianism was anathematized at Nicaea it was not ratified until 56 years later at the second ecumenical council in Constantinople, 381 AD.12 The man most responsible for defending the orthodox view of Jesus Christ from the Synod of Nicaea to the Synod of Constantinople was Athanasius of Alexandria. Athanasius died in 373 AD before the second ecumenical council in Constantinople.13
Much happened during the Patristic Period of the church, but the Patristic Period as a whole comes down to three main theological issues. The three main theological issues from the Patristic Period are the nature of God, the nature of Jesus Christ, and the nature of man. Without an orthodox view of all three the gospel that we preached at the Super Bowl, and the gospel that all Christians have proclaimed through the ages falls apart. The divinity of Jesus Christ is an essential doctrine for the salvation of man, without which we are all dead in our trespasses and sin.

1 Justo L. Gonzales, The Story of Christianity, Volume I: The Early Church to the Reformation, 2nd ed., (New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 2010), 1.
2 Cf. Jn1:1-14.
3 Gn 1:26-31.
4 Rom 3:23.
5 Rom 6:23.
6 Cf. Jn 10.
7 1 Cor 15:3-4.
8 Mt 28:18-20.
9 Justo L. Gonzales, The Story of Christianity, Volume I: The Early Church to the Reformation, 2nd ed., (New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 2010), 184.
10 Ibid.
11 Justo L. Gonzales, The Story of Christianity, Volume I: The Early Church to the Reformation, 2nd ed., (New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 2010), 181-192.
12 Ibid.
13 Justo L. Gonzales, The Story of Christianity, Volume I: The Early Church to the Reformation, 2nd ed., (New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 2010), 199-207.

Thursday, February 2, 2017

The Political Rise of Christianity

The early church for the most part was not filled with intellectuals or the social elite. Historians have pieced together an understanding of the early church through the writings of early church leaders. Their writings do not give a complete picture of the Christian life during the early church period. Much like the writings of church leaders today do not fully reflect a picture of the rank and file Christian. A pagan writer named Celsus wrote, “Christians were ignorant folk whose teaching took place, not in schools nor in open forums, but in kitchens, shops, and tanneries.”1 This was said to mock the Christian faith, but the fact remains, Christianity did not spread through the Roman Empire through an elite class of missionary evangelist, but by everyday Christian folk talking “in kitchens, shops, and tanneries.”2
The apostolic writers wrote about very specific issues within the church. The apologist who followed them wrote in defense of the faith to unbelievers outside of the church. It is from two sources, one from each group of writers; “The Didache or Teaching of the Twelve” (an apostolic writing), and from Justin Martyr (an apologist) that we get an understanding of the order of worship during the time of the early church.3 Much of the life of the early church was plagued by persecution. The last and great persecution occurred early in the fourth century by Emperor Diocletian and Galerius the Caesar under him. In 304 AD Galerius became ill and issued an edict ending persecution by the Roman empire. There remained lingering persecution until the edict of Milan in 313 AD.4
Through a series of calculated battles and events in the early fourth century Constantine became sole Emperor of the Roman Empire. Though much of his actions were not Christian he was nonetheless Christian friendly; therefore, from that point forward much of Christian life changed as it went from a faith of the poor and meek, to a faith of the rich and powerful.
What we do in church worship services today are reflect changes made by the Constantine era. For the first 300 years’ church meetings were held in houses, and in the catacombs (subterranean burial sites). Teaching included both interaction with the teacher and the other brethren, and communion was part of a full meal. Changes to the church meetings began after Constantine. Christians started meeting in buildings called basilicas, which was a Roman/Geek Imperial building or pagan temple. Professional orators trained in rhetoric began to speak in the church. Because of the layout of the basilica, and also having professional orators there was less-and-less interaction with the teacher and the other brethren.5
As a result, today we meet in church buildings not in homes. Communion does not follow a full meal. We sit in pews facing forward having no interaction with one another during the meeting, and we do not engage the pastor during his teaching. The speaker is on a platform or stage and has a podium to speak from. None of these things are found in the life of the early church.6 However, we have unity with our brothers and sister from the early church in these; we believe in and hold to the teachings of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, and to those of the apostles and prophets. We meet on Sunday mornings, and hold to the sacraments of baptism and the Lord’s supper. We are of the whole (catholic) one in Christ Jesus our Lord.

1 Justo L. Gonzales, The Story of Christianity, Volume I: The Early Church to the Reformation, 2nd ed., (New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 2010), 105.
2 Ibid.
3 Earle E. Cairns, Christianity Through the Centuries: A History of the Christian Church, (Grand Rapids: ZondervanPublishingHouse, 1996), 84.
4 Cf., Justo L. Gonzales, The Story of Christianity, Volume I: The Early Church to the Reformation, 2nd ed., (New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 2010), 119-126.
5 Scott McPherson, “The Early Church”, Church History part 4,, accessed January, 31, 2017,
6 Ibid.