Wednesday, May 10, 2017

A Slave of Jesus Christ Book Review: Why Church History Matters, An Invitation to Love and Learn from Our Past

Biographical Sketch of the Author
Robert F. Rea, PhD, is professor of church history at Lincoln Christian University in Lincoln, Illinois. He is a member of the North American Patristics Society and the American Society of Church History. Prior to teaching he was in pastoral ministry from 1974-1987. He received a PhD from Saint Louis University. He received a MDiv from Emmanuel School of Religion and a BA/B.Th. from Kentucky Christian University.1
Summary of the Contents
When Dr. Rea began to teach, he knew that he needed a text book that would inspire students to study what he calls “the Christian tradition.” The book is broken down into three sections following an introduction. Each section is further broken down into 2-4 subsections. The main three sections are:
1.      How We Understand the Tradition.
2.      Expanding Circles of Inquiry.
3.      Tradition Serving the Church.
In the introduction, Dr. Rea explains in brief the question that he intends to answer in the book, Why Church History Matters? When Dr. Rea came to do his doctoral work on church history, he was asked by an inquisitor, “If theology only comes from the Bible, and if we can get everything we need from the Bible, why are you here?”2 The inquisitor knew that he was a protestant and heard him answer another inquisitors question about his beliefs on theology by saying, “I believe that theology should be Bible-based.”3
This book is a call to Christians who love the Bible to study historic Christians and their wisdom and experiences throughout the ages—to understand the Bible and theology better and to experience a fuller Christian life…I hope to stimulate the study of church history among those who love God, love the Bible, love the truth and seek to know the truth and its application for life.4
In short, the book is a call for Christians to join hands with all Christians across throughout the ages.
In part 1, “How We Understand the Tradition,” Dr. Rea shows how Christians throughout the ages understood the tradition. That throughout church history Christians looked to their predecessors to understand truth. Some abused this to promote their own agendas, but we should not cast aside tradition because someone in the past used it for wrong.
In part 2, “Expanding Circles of Inquiry,” Dr. Rea explains why church history matters, it is because Christianity is not a self-faith, but it is a we-faith. We can study the Bible ourselves, but then need to go outward, to those closest to us, to our local church, to our own denomination, to other denominations with similar theological views, to those with contrasting theological views, to cultures different than our own, and across the ages. It is when we go through these circles that we come to what he calls “Consensus Fidelium.”
In part 3, “Tradition Serving the Church,” Dr. Rea explains how Christian history helps us to minister more effectively in the same way that it helps us to better understand Scripture. We can study what others did in the past to more effectively minister in the present. In the end, he tells us the real reason church history matters. “Church history helps us celebrate the whole body of Christ!”5 Studying church history helps us to see that our church family extends far beyond the local body.
Critical Evaluation
In the introduction Dr. Rea said, “The ideal reader of this book is a student who, throughout this book, is described as a Bible-focused Christian.”6 What he means by this is Bible-focused Protestants Christian. Having just studied through church history myself, from the 1st century to the 21st century, and being a Bible-focused Protestant Christian, I can say that it is very worthwhile to know the tradition. My pastor has a PhD in Patristic Church history, because of the things that he says from the pulpit about the early church beliefs and practices while expositing the Scriptures, I decided to study theology formally at a seminary. Encouraging others to study “the tradition” as Dr. Rea does in this book is very important to the body of Christ.
I would recommend this book to all my Protestant brethren. Most love the Bible, Jesus Christ, and the Church. As this book attest, they can understand the Bible better by knowing church history, and know the Church better as well. I would like to use the teaching from this book, especially the three parts:
1.      What is the Tradition?
2.      Expanding Circles of Inquiry.
3.      Tradition Serving the Church.
To encourage my local brethren to study church history in order that they may embrace the whole body of Christ and learn from their extended family. Excellent book for anyone who loves God, loves the Bible, loves the truth and seeks to know the truth and apply it in ministry to others.

1 Dr. Robert Rea, Lincoln Christian University, accessed May 04, 2017,
2 Robert F. Rea, Why church history matters: an invitation to love and learn from our past (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2014) 13-14.
3 Ibid, 13.
4 Ibid, 15.
5 Ibid, 192.
6 Ibid, 17.

Saturday, April 29, 2017

Charles Haddon Spurgeon

If you've been part of the Baptist Church for anytime at all you've surely heard of Charles H. Spurgeon; if you are from another evangelical denomination you've likely heard of Charles H. Spurgeon; if your circle is a little further out, you’ve probably heard of Charles H. Spurgeon; that’s because during the 19th century no other preacher attracted larger crowds in London, England, than Charles H. Spurgeon. 
“A number of superb preachers graced pulpits during the Victorian era, yet Spurgeon garnered the title the Prince of Preachers.”1 As a young pastor his preaching drew large crowds. Not only did Spurgeon’s preaching have an influence on the religious history of Britain, but he also founded a pastors’ college which trained young men for ministry. He published his sermons, edited the magazine, “The Sword and the Trowel, and wrote some seventy books. He was the peoples pastor, because like the people he was subject to the effects of a fallen creation. He battled gout, depression, family issues, and dealt with theological debate regarding the down grade controversy.
Even though Charles H. Spurgeon was a preacher in London, England, during the Victorian era, his ministry has influenced me in 21st America. One of my personal favorite books is “All of Grace” by Charles H. Spurgeon. In the 8th chapter he defines faith as being made up of three things: knowledge, belief, and trust. Spurgeon said, “Faith is believing that Christ is what He is said to be and that He will do what He has promised to do.”2 This changed my thinking about preaching as a Reformed Baptist; I cannot make anyone believe in Jesus, nor can I make anyone trust His promise of eternal life, but I can tell you about Jesus and His promise.

     1 John D. Woodbridge and Frank A. James, Church History Volume 2: From Pre-Reformation to the Present Day. The rise and growth of the Church in its cultural, intellectual, and political context (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2013) 601.
     2 C. H. Spurgeon, All of grace (New Kensington, PA: Whitaker House, 2003) 63.

Saturday, April 8, 2017

History of Christianity During the 17th Century

For the past 20 years, I have worked as a Critical Care Registered Nurse; which means that I take care of people who would normally die without interventional care. Most who are critically ill recover, but some do not, therefore I witness a great deal of suffering and death. This is one of the reason that I am compelled to share the gospel in a lost and dying world.

In this week’s study in History of Christianity we read about the 17th Century. One of the things that stunned me most was the death rates and the reason for it during the 17th Century. In Europe, the infant mortality rate was 30-35%, 50% of the population died by the age of thirteen, and average life expectancy was twenty-three to twenty-six. England had it much better, average life expectancy was thirty to thirty-five.1 The great majority of my patients are seventy years-plus; they have reached the end of a full life and are in critical condition because of infection, organ failure or injury, all of which is related to age. None of them are there because of war, famine, or plague, which was the 17th Century norm.

During the 17th Century western Christianity was divided among Roman Catholics, Lutherans, and Reformed. Catholic theology was defined by the Council of Trent (1545-1563). Reformed theology was defined at the Synod of Dort, which repudiated the Remonstrance treatise put forth by Jan Uytenbogaert and Simon Episcopius who were supporters of the deceased theologian Jacob Arminius. The Synod of Dort ruled that Arminius’s teachings were heretical and rejected the Remonstrance with five counter responses known by the mnemonic TULIP. Lutheran Germany fell into infighting after Luther’s death. German Pietism arose through Philipp Jakob Spener as a reaction to dead orthodoxy. The theology of the Pious centered on: conversion, the centrality of scripture, sanctification, and church renewal (the priesthood of all believers). In England, a Puritan movement was occurring. Some within the Puritans sought to reform the Church of England, while others sought separation. The Puritans can loosely be defined as those who relate to the theological tenets put forth by the Westminster Assembly.2

Keeping the Puritan movement in mind, authority played a large part in the History of Christianity during the 17th Century. The people were in a web of hierarchical relations and always subject to superior powers. People were divided into three estates: clergy, nobility and the people, but a monarch enjoyed the privilege of supreme authority over the three estates. There was much revolt during the 17th Century, which lead to the dismal life expectancies. The Roman Catholics accused Calvinist of having such a revolutionary spirit, particularly with the Huguenots in France. There was even infighting among Roman Catholics between Jesuits (Trent Catholics) and Jansenist (Augustinian Catholics). Most in Christendom held that the Bible was the inspired written revelation of God; however Roman Catholics held to a duel authority of tradition and Scripture. Scripture to Roman Catholicism means the Latin Vulgate. Protestants held that Scripture alone held the authority of God on earth. Protestants held that the true Scriptures are the Hebrew and Greek text, but believed that they should be translated into the vernacular for all people to read.The 17th Century is an interesting and active period in History of Christianity and forms a great deal of the beliefs and practice of the Church today.

     1John D. Woodbridge and Frank A. James, Church History Volume 2: From Pre-Reformation to the Present Day. The rise and growth of the Church in its cultural, intellectual, and political context (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2013) 285-286.

     2 Ibid, 253-284.

     3 Ibid, 315-354.

Thursday, March 30, 2017

John Calvin

It seems that many have a love-hate relationship with John Calvin, oftentimes because of his doctrine on predestination. Woodbridge said, “Despite his often negative reputation, Calvin is properly judged the great theological heir of Augustine and the theological refiner of Luther’s theological insights. He belongs in the pantheon of the greatest theologians in all of church history.”1

Let that statement sink in for just a minute. It is as though Christian theological thought reached its pinnacle in Augustine. Then began slowly declining through the medieval period, reached bottom during the 14th century with the Avignon Popes; and yet, there remained a bright and morning star shining in the likes of Wycliffe and Hus. Then theological thought began the arduous task of ascending the mountain once again with Martin Luther. Thought continued with Zwingli and Bullinger in Zurich. Bucer at Strasbourg and Peter Martyr in England, but attained to the level that it once had with Augustine in John Calvin’s Institutes of Christian Religion.

Have any of you ever read the institutes? I have not read the full 1559 version, but have read an abridged version of the 1559 edition edited by John Lane; I encourage you to get a copy. John Calvin is pastor, theologian, and writer in that order.  It is because of this that John Calvin was significant to the course of the reformation; we have what he wrote. It is pastor/theologian who would stand in the pulpits of reformational churches thereafter. It is his writings that make him highly significant to the course of the reformation. He wrote on almost every book in the New Testament and much of the Old Testament. His theological treatise in the institutes is widely regarded as one of the greatest theological writings in the history of the church.2

1 John D. Woodbridge and Frank A. James, Church History Volume 2: From Pre-Reformation to the Present Day. The rise and growth of the Church in its cultural, intellectual, and political context (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2013) 181-183.
2 Ibid, 171-172.

Saturday, March 25, 2017

Renaissance to Protestant Reformation

Joseph Fiennes in the Motion Picture Luther 2003
Beginning with the Acts of the apostles there has been a constant struggle from within and without. The time of 1300 AD to 1500 AD is no exception. During this time the black plague ravaged much of Europe, within the papacy there was crisis, social and political order outside the church was changing.
With the papacy in crisis, a Conciliar movement took authority; decreeing its own authority, and if anyone (including the pope) did not obey the authority of the council they were to be punished. Such was the case with the pre-reformer John Hus who was burned at the stake by the council of Constance for his refusal to obey their demands to recant his writings. John Hus appealed to the Lord and Judge Jesus Christ and stood on scripture alone.
After the crisis was over (the crisis regarding multiple popes); the pope disbanded the council and once again regained authority. At this same time a Renaissance of ancient art and writing was gaining ground in Italy and spreading throughout Europe. It was the study of scripture in the original languages and reading the patristics that caused some to question the soteriology and ecclesiology of the Roman Catholic church. The Renaissance and the Christian faith became linked; therefore, it was Christian humanist who called for reformation based on scripture. These Christian humanists believed that it was their knowledge of Greek and Hebrew that helped them better understand scripture.1
One of those men was Martin Luther; Luther recommended that citizens receive a classical liberal arts degree and instruction in Hebrew and Greek so that they could diligently study scripture.2 Martin Luther became a doctor of Theology at the University of Wittenberg. Through diligent study, while lecturing on the Psalms and Romans, Martin Luther had a breakthrough. The Catholic Church taught active righteousness through works, in Romans 1:17 Luther saw that the scripture taught imputed righteousness through faith in Christ Jesus alone.3
Medieval Catholic doctrine taught a system of planks in salvation. The first plank baptism, the second plank penance and the third plank purgatory. Baptism washed away the guilt of original sin, but there was still sin done in the flesh that must be punished. Penance was required to remove temporal sin. In 1215 the Fourth Lateran Council defined penance as requiring: contrition, confession, and satisfaction all done as a responsibility of the sinner. Contrition is a sorrow for committing sin. Confession is an oral admission of sin to a priest. Satisfaction required that God be compensated; typically, a special prayer, fasting, almsgiving, or a pilgrimage. All three most be completed successfully to receive absolution which is then granted by a priest. If all three are not done perfectly the sinner most spend time in purgatory to punish temporal sin.4
While studying this, a question enters my mind; how could anyone believe this Catholic doctrine, and not live in constant terror of death? It was under the confines of the sacrament of penance that indulgences were sold, because it was believed that the pope had the keys to the kingdom, and could give out merits. Pope Sixtus IV decided that indulgences were good for the sinner in this life, and good for their family members in purgatory. It was in this context that John Tetzel sold indulgences using the sales pitch, “Once a coin into the coffer clings, a soul from purgatory springs.”5 Martin Luther was outraged; therefore, he nailed his 95 Theses to the church door on October 31, 1517, in Wittenberg, Germany, which became a catalyst for the protestant reformation.6

1 John D. Woodbridge and Frank A. James, Church History Volume 2: From Pre-Reformation to the Present Day. The rise and growth of the Church in its cultural, intellectual, and political context (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2013) 105.
2 Ibid, 101.
3 Ibid, 107-112.
4 Ibid, 112-113.
5 Ibid, 112.
6 Ibid, 112-114.

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.