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.

Saturday, January 28, 2017

Defending the Faith During Persecution

Very interesting study through the history of Christianity as we continue through the Patristic Period. Our study took us from the apostolic age up through the third century. During this period many Christians were martyred for their faith in Jesus Christ. There was a continues persecution that was legalized by an edict given to Pliny (the Younger, son of Pliny the Older) by Emperor Trajan. This edict was enforce throughout the second and third centuries. There were also periods of more intense persecutions which had an effect on the doctrine and practice of the church, and have had an effect right up through the modern age.
Governor Pliny of Bithynia knew Christianity was illegal, but could not find any crimes that the Christians were guilty of except obstinacy to the court. When brought before the court and told to curse Christ, worship the image of the emperor, and the statues of the pagan gods they refused. Governor Pliny sentenced them to death for their refusal to obey the court. More and more people where being accused, and there was an anonymous document put forth. So, governor Pliny wrote to Emperor Trajan regarding the Christian problem as he saw it. Emperor Trajan responded with an edict stating that the Christians were not to be sought out for punishment, but if they are accused of wrong doing they should be questioned. If they recant and worship the pagan gods then they are to be released, but if they refuse they are to be punished for the dignity of the court. Also no anonymous accusations are to be excepted.1
In addition to the persecutions, there were three types of Christian writers during this time period:
  1. The apostolic fathers (writers) who wrote to address a concrete problem or a specific issue within the church. This is the case with Ignatius of Antioch, Clement of Rome, The Didache, and The Shepherd of Hermas.2 The apostolic fathers wrote about problems from within.
  2. The apologist who wrote to address questions about the faith brought up by pagans.3 Justin Martyr was such an apologist and he said, “We do not seek to flatter you…but request that you judge on the basis of a proper and thorough investigation.”4 Most of the apologist writings deal with the issue of persecution.5 They wrote about problems from without.
  3. The teachers of the church were the first to write complete expositions on Theology. They did so, in refutation of heresies like that of the Marcions and the Gnostics. The teachers of the church are Irenaeus of Lyons, Clement of Alexandria, Tertullian of Carthage, and Origen of Alexandria.6
Tertullian’s writings are very important in the life of the church regarding our current understanding of the Trinity and the Hyperstatic union in the God Man, Jesus Christ. Of all of these writers I truly enjoyed Irenaeus of Lyons. Irenaeus had the heart of a pastor, and therefore, described God in terms of a Shepard guiding his flock with His two hands; the Word and the Holy Spirit. He saw God as a loving being who created the world and humankind out of His own desire to have a creation to love and to lead. He saw all of human history as being guided by the divine Shepard who is leading his flock to the final goal.7 Even though most Christians do not know much about this time period; both the writings of the early church and the aftermath of early Christian persecution has served to form the doctrine and practice of the church today.

1 Henry Bettenson and Chris Maunder, Ed., Documents of the Christian Church, 4th ed., (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011), 3-5.
2 Justo L. Gonzales, The Story of Christianity, Volume I: The Early Church to the Reformation, 2nd ed., (New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 2010), 83.
3 Ibid, 59-68.
4 Ibid, 59.
5 Ibid, 83.
6 Ibid, 84.
7 Ibid.

Sunday, January 22, 2017

The Apostolic Age

I began studying the history of Christianity this past week and today I would like to reflect on this past week’s study of the apostolic age. The earliest period of the church is called the apostolic age. This age is very important to the modern church’s doctrine and practice, because it is the age in which the New Testament was written. The time period begins around 33 AD with the Great Commission given to the apostles by our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ and ends around 100 AD with the death of the last living apostle. This time period also includes many historical, but non-biblical writings.1

It is very important that we all understand that the gospel is a historical event. Gonzales said, “The Good News Christians have proclaimed through the ages is that in Jesus Christ, and for our salvation, God has entered human history in a unique way.”2 One of the things that we discussed this week was Galatians 4:4 which says, “But when the fullness of the time came, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the Law.”3 All of human history from our beginning and all of history since points to a specific time in history when the eternal Word became flesh and dwelt amongst us in the person of Jesus, the Christ, the Son of God. We even mark time today, because of this event in human history. All things including culture, language, trade, and even the arts were sovereignly orchestrated at that particular time and place in history for the gospel message to spread.

It is equally important that the church understand the theological message in the book of Acts which is a historical narrative of the life of the early church. According to Gonzales, “the presence of God among us did not end with the ascension of Jesus.”4 To that regard the apostolic age which includes the writing of the New Testament and the spreading of the gospel by Christians in the Roman world was done by the Holy Spirit of God working in the life of the church. From its beginning and today the history of the church is the history of the Holy Spirit working in the lives of men and women in the church.5

Today in my Sunday School class we discussed the last beatitude from The Sermon on the Mount. “Blessed are you when people insult you and persecute you, and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of Me. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward in heaven is great; for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”6 Our class room lead by Steve Mills7 has a very open discussion forum. I did not speak in class today, but instead listened to my modern American brothers and sisters in Christ’s discussing persecution.

There were three Roman persecutions mentioned by Gonzales in our reading this week: a general persecution demanding worship of the emperor,8 persecution under Nero,9 and persecution under Domitian.10 During the Domitian persecution the book of Revelation was written.11 Our very knowledgeable Sunday School teacher mentioned the general persecution and the Neronian persecutions. Also, the earliest persecution by the Jews was discussed regarding the death of Stephen.12 The doctrine and practice of the church today was formed during the persecution of our brothers and sisters in Christ. Jesus words in Matthew 5:11-12 prophesied the persecution, and He taught his disciples how they should react to it when persecution comes. The one who wrote those words did so during a time that persecution was happening, so that Christians throughout church history would know the command of the Lord when persecution arrives.

1 Scott McPherson, “The Early Church”, Church History,, accessed January, 16, 2017,
2 Justo L. Gonzales, The Story of Christianity, Volume I: The Early Church to the Reformation, 2nd ed., (New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 2010), 1.
3 Gal 4:4 (NASB).
4 Justo L. Gonzales, The Story of Christianity, Volume I: The Early Church to the Reformation, 2nd ed., (New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 2010), 2.
5 Cf., Ibid.
6 Mt 5:11-12 (NASB).
7 Sylvania Church, Tyler, Texas,
8 Justo L. Gonzales, The Story of Christianity, Volume I: The Early Church to the Reformation, 2nd ed., (New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 2010), 43.
9 Ibid, 43-46.
10 Ibid, 46-48.
11 Ibid, 48.
12 Cf., Acts 7:1-60.

Friday, December 16, 2016

A Slave of Jesus Christ Update

I am writing today to update you on what the Lord has been doing this past year and my plans for next year. This past March 13th, I posted a blog titled “Breadth and Depth,” named so after the departed Jerry Bridges. In that blog post I announced that I would begin classes at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, working towards a Master of Theological Studies. I began graduate studies at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, March 21st of this year. Last week I completed my fourth class in that educational pursuit.

The first four classes of the program are called Bible Survey classes. We were required to read every book of the Bible, do a great deal of reading about each book in the Bible, discuss what we read with the other students, and write several papers. Some of my papers (not all) have been posted to this blog. The subject matter that you see on this blog will likely change over the next year, because this spring I will be taking Church History courses, a Hermeneutics course during the summer, and Theology courses in the fall.

The Gospel According to John evangelism ministry that the Lord has given me continues. Since June of this year I have been going down to the Smith County Courthouse one morning each week, on the weeks that jurors are being called; proclaiming what is written in “The Gospel According to John,” while passing our copies of the book. Lord willing, I plan to do the same in downtown Houston, Texas, and at NRG stadium during the Super Bowl Outreach with Sports Fan Outreach International, February 2-5, 2017.

Lastly, by profession I am a Critical Care Registered Nurse. I am now beginning my 20th year in the profession. Most nurses do not stay at the bedside as long as I have; they will either go into hospital management, case management, some sort of sales job, or return to school and get an advance practice degree. I had considered doing Critical Care/Cardiovascular nursing education within the hospital given my many years of experience. In fact, I was contacted by the Chief Nursing Officer of the hospital about that very thing. I jumped at the opportunity, because I have a burning desire within me to teach. After she connected me with the head of the education department I was disappointed to find out that the job had already been filled by a nurse with much less experience from another hospital.

I was, to say the least, very disappointed that I didn’t get the opportunity to apply. That disappointment has caused me to become discontent with my current job status. So, I have decided to quit my full-time job and work on an as needed status in all the ICU’s in the hospital; not just the Cardiovascular ICU, where I have been for many years. In this new position I will be able to work as often as I did before, but make my own schedule while continuing graduate studies and ministry.

Sunday, December 4, 2016

A Philosophy for Apologetics Based on 1 Peter

In an on-line search for the noun apologetics, a definition is given; “Reasoned arguments or writings in justification of something, typically a theory or religious doctrine.”1 A Christian website gives this definition of apologetics, “Apologetics is the branch of Christianity that deals with the defense and establishment of the Christian faith.”2 Now to the verse often sighted for Christian apologetics, “but sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts, always being ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence.” (1 Peter 3:15)

Some have taken this to mean debating atheist on a stage in front of an audience about the existence of God. I am not writing to discredit that enterprise, but rather to give a philosophy of apologetics based on what has been written in 1 Peter. The on-line definition from google as well as the definition from the website quoted would indicate debate, but I do not think that this is what Peter had in mind.

The epistle of 1 Peter can be structurally divided into three parts. The first part (1 Peter 1:1-2:10) focuses on the readers; identifying the readers as God’s people. This is based on their being born again; thereby, having a hope of salvation in Christ Jesus. The second part (1 Peter 2:11-4:11) exhorts the readers to have a focus on reverence towards God, love for the brethren, and loving those outside of the church as oneself. The third part (1 Peter 4:12-5:11) reiterates what has been said in the second part, but with a focus on the elders of the church.3

The first step in having a philosophy of apologetics based on first peter is that you must have been born again; according to the foreknowledge of God, by the sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit, through the seed of the living word of God to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. (cf. 1 Peter 1:2-3, 22-23) Now that you have this living hope you are putting away all malice, deceit, hypocrisy, envy, and slander. You are longing for the word of God and are seeking to grow in your salvation. (cf. 1 Peter 2:1-3)

The next step in a philosophy for apologetics based on 1 Peter is that you are seeking to live according to the example and teaching of Jesus Christ. Peter first tells the readers to honor authority and lastly he tells the readers to live Godly lives. (cf. 1 Peter 2:13-20 and 3:1-7) In between these two he exalts Christ as our example; saying, “For you have been called for this purpose, since Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example for you to follow in His steps.” (1 Peter 2:21) He then uses Isaiah 53 (Christ being the suffering servant of the Lord in Isaiah 53) to demonstrate that Christ committed no sin or lies, when reviled he did not revile, when suffering he offered no threat in return, but trusted in God. Then he describes how Christ died for the ungodly and bore our sins in his body on the cross while we were yet sinning. (cf. 1 Peter 2:22-25 and Isaiah 53:4-9)

The next step after honoring authority and living Godly lives is to “sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts, always being ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence; and keep a good conscience so that in the thing in which you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ will be put to shame.” (1 Peter 3:15-16)

This is implying that when someone sees the way that you are living; respecting authority, being kind to everyone, when reviled not reviling in return, when suffering not offering threats. When someone sees this, they may ask about the hope that is in you, because this sort of behavior is strange to the world. So when they ask, tell them about Jesus Christ. It is this living hope that the first century Christians had within them while being martyred.

1  “Apologetics,” Google, accessed December 1, 2016,
2 Matt Slick, “Apologetics,” CARM, accessed December 1, 2016,
3 J. R. Michaels, “1 Peter” in Dictionary of the Later New Testament and Its Developments, eds. Ralph P. Martin and Peter H, Davids (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 1997), 917-918.