пятница, 13 октября 2017 г.

Some events and dates in first century church history

Researching for church history I have been looking into some events and dates in the life of the New Testament church. I thought that some of these might be of interest to others. Also, writing them up as a blog post is a convenient way of storing and updating information.

Mary, the Mother of the Lord. Many will know that the words spoken by the Lord on the Cross to John were indeed fulfilled and that it is with the Disciple Whom Jesus loved that his mother is most closely associated after the Lord's ascension. Mary was among the 120 in the Upper Room. She then lived on in Jerusalem until the 40s CE. Hippolytus from Thebes, a church historian from the 7/8th century, says that Mary lived for another 11 years after the Lord's Passion, placing the end of her earthly life somewhere between 41 and 48 CE. An alternative, later date might be 64 CE. In the Eastern Orthodox and Roman Catholic traditions Mary's passing is known as the Dormition or the Assumption of Mary. The sources for this church teaching are somewhat later and would best be covered in another post.

James the Brother of the Lord. There were at least three James among the Apostles: the brother of John, James the Less and James the brother of the Lord. The latter was possibly a cousin or half-brother via Joseph. He was not initially a believer, but the risen Christ appeared to him and by Acts 15 James was the established leader of the Jerusalem church (what would later be known as the bishop) and, it appears, zealous for the observance of the Old Testament law by Jewish Christians. He was known as James the Just and was famous for his constancy in prayer. He was martyred in 62 CE.

John the Apostle. John the Apostle was present at the Last Supper and at the Cross. He was a witness to the Risen Jesus, as he writes in his Gospel. John was with Peter in the temple in Acts 3. And it would seem that he served in Jerusalem until either the mid-40s or the mid-60s CE when he moved to Ephesus (modern Turkey). The Apocalypse (book of Revelation) is addressed to seven churches of Asia Minor (the area around Ephesus).

The Jewish church. The development and eventual demise of Jewish Christianity is very interesting for various reasons. In the run-up to the sacking of Jerusalem by the Romans in 70 the Jewish Christians, following the words of Jesus in the Olivet Discourse escaped from Jerusalem to Pella (Jordan), which became a new centre for Jewish Christianity. Some did return and the church in Jerusalem remained Jewish until the Bar Kokhba revolt in 135, after which time the bishops and members of the Jerusalem church were all Gentiles (the city was renamed Aelia Capitolana and Jews banned from entering). By the mid-1st century the relationship between synagogue and church became strained. From 90 the synagogue prayers included a curse on the "minim" which is taken to refer to Christians. By the time of Justin Martyr (early 2nd century) Christians were mainly Gentile and viewed the church as having in some way replaced the Jews as God's people. Jewish Christianity did continue to exist into the V century and writers such as Jerome refer to those who contained to observe the Jewish laws while believing in Christ. The Jewish Christians were called Nazarenes, while the Ebionites espoused a sub-Christian heresy along the lines of adoptionism (Jesus the man was adopted as God's son at his baptism). 

среда, 4 октября 2017 г.

Кого посадить? (вычерк из "Церковной Истории" Евсевия)

"В скором времени, когда некие люди попытались завладеть царской властью в области, именуемой Мелитинской, а другие — в Сирии, вышел царский указ повсюду бросать в темницу и держать в оковах предстоятелей Церквей. То, что затем произошло, превосходит всякое описание: повсюду попали в заключение тысячные толпы; тюрьмы, построенные издавна для убийц и разрывателей могил, были теперь полны епископов, священников, диаконов, чтецов и заклинателей; места для осужденных за преступление не оставалось."

(Евсевий, Церковная История, 8.6.8-9)

"Such things occurred in Nicomedia at the beginning of the persecution. But not long after, as persons in the country called Melitene, and others throughout Syria, attempted to usurp the government, a royal edict directed that the rulers of the churches everywhere should be thrown into prison and bonds. What was to be seen after this exceeds all description. A vast multitude were imprisoned in every place; and the prisons everywhere, which had long before been prepared for murderers and robbers of graves, were filled with bishops, presbyters and deacons, readers and exorcists, so that room was no longer left in them for those condemned for crimes." 

(Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History, 8.6.8-9)

четверг, 21 сентября 2017 г.

Some thoughts on a preaching series in Job

At church we are doing a preaching series in the book of Job.

Job is one of those books more or less everyone knows in general, many people have read through, but few have studied in depth. The 'Cliff notes' one-liner on Job is both helpful and simplistic. A more nuanced reading of the whole text promises to yield a more nuanced answer to the problem of unjust suffering raised.

Two important motifs throughout the book are that of a legal frame (Job wants to put his case before the Lord) and creation (eg in the Lord's reply to Job in chapters 38-39).

A particular challenge is the section from chapter 3 to 27 where Job is engaged in debate with his 'friends'. This section begins with Job cursing his day (Job 3). This is followed by three cycles of speeches by Job's friends, to which he responds. In the first three cycles Eliphaz, Bildad and Zophar each speak; in the final cycle only the former two speak.

How much of this is simply wrong thinking and what can be learnt from it?

One of the ideas suggested in one article was to identify some of the poignant questions Job asked as a way to identify relevant threads in the debate which may not be tied to a single passage.

In particular I have been looking for suitable passages on which to preach. Having done some research, here are some suggested passages in the first cycle of discourses (chapters 3 to 14) with titles. (I realise this is a somewhat Anglo-Saxon approach, but it does give an idea of the subject matter.)
  • Job 4-6/4-11. "When counselling doesn't help"
  • Job 7. "What I have done to you, O Watcher of men?" 
  • Job 9. "How can a man be justified before God?"
  • Job 11. "False consolation"
  • Job 4; 8:1-19; 11.
  • Job 13:15. "Though He slay me, yet will I praise him." 
  • Job 14:14. "If a man shall die, shall he live again?" 

понедельник, 14 августа 2017 г.

Миссионерство и монастыри

"... В 700г, территория вокруг реки Рейна относилась к примитивному, безграмотному миру насилия, скудное население которого проживало в хаотичных поселениях деревянных шалашей и зарабатывало себе на жизнь от примитивного сельского хозяйства и выпаса. Люди еще не переделали ландшафт и в этом регионе были просторные леса, болота и холмы. В такой среде миссионерская работа должна была себя обеспечивать, хотя миссионеры получали поддержку из Англии. Монахи, монахини и короли из англо-саксонской Англии отправляли пожертвования своим землякам на миссионерской ниве: книги, ризы, одежда и какие-то деньги, но недостаточно для того, чтобы поддержать повседневную деятельность миссионеров в течение десятилетий.

"Англо-саксоны были хорошо знакомы с одним заведением, которое умело приспособиться к скудно заселенным регионам без городов, рынков или без обильных денежных средств. Монастыри процветали в примитивных материальных условиях самой англо-саксонской Англии. Святой Бенедикт (Нурсийский) хотел, чтобы его монастырь был самоокупаемым, хотя его мотиваиця была религиозного характера: свести к минимуму контакт между монахами и светской жизнью. На основе монашеского самоопеспечения англо-саксонские миссионеры обеспечивали свою деятельность материально. Поскольку было обилие незаселенной земли в Рейнланде, то нетрудно было найти подходящие места для стройки. Идеальное место для монастыря рядом с водоемом с разными корпусами для монашеской жизни (церковь, общежитие, столовая и врачебница) и для экономической жизни (цехи, конюшни, склады для зерна и мельница). Монастырь был окружен полями для зерна, что являлось основным видом пищи. Твердый, работоспособный бенедисктинский монастырь послужил хребетом миссионерской работы на континенте Европы".

Источник: Lynch, The Medieval Church, Chapter 4

"... In 700, the Rhine region was part of a primitive, illiterate, violent
world of sparse population living in disorderly villages of wooden huts and
gaining a living from primitive agriculture and herding. Human effort had
not yet remade the landscape and region was marked by vast forests, marshes
and moors. In such an environment, missionary activity had to pay its own
way and meet most of its own needs, although the missionaries received some
support from England. Monks, nuns and kings in Anglo-Saxon England sent
gifts to their compatriots in the mission lands: books, liturgical
vestments, clothing and some money, but certainly not enough to support for
decades the day-to-day activities of the missionaries.

"The Anglo-Saxons were well acquainted with an institution which could adapt
well to sparsely inhabited regions without cities, markets, or a plentiful
supply of money. Monasteries had flourished in the primitive material
conditions of Ireland and Anglo-Saxon England itself. St Benedict had
intended that his monastery be economically self-sufficient, although his
motive was a religious one, that of minimising the contact of his monks with
secular life. The Anglo-Saxon missionaries built on that monastic
self-sufficiency to support their work economically. Since unoccupied or
sparsely settled land was plentiful in the Rhineland, there was little
difficulty in finding suitable sites. The ideal monastery was built in a
well-watered place with buildings for monastic life (a church, a dormitory,
a dining hall and an infirmary) as well as for economic life (workshops,
stables, granaries and a mill). It was surrounded by fields for grain, the
staple for life. The sturdy, workable Benedictine monastery was the backbone
of missionary work on the continent."

From Lynch, The Medieval Church, Chapter 4

пятница, 11 августа 2017 г.

A plea for condescension (in response to article on Infant Dedication by Donald Macleod)

When Donald Macleod speaks, I, for one, want to listen. And just this morning I awoke to read an article he has written in defence of the Reformed faith and worship - and of the practice of infant baptism.

I tread carefully, as by no means do I, a Baptist, wish to say anything which would disparage the Free Church of Scotland, its confession, its form of worship or its ministry. I agree that the Reformed faith is a 'package' which includes a comprehensive confession of faith, a form of worship, a form of church government and a discipline in respect of the administration of the sacraments. It is not open to a pick-and-mix approach or to be tampered with.

At the same time, I am one of those Baptist incomers to whom he refers, although I can honestly say I have not yet prevailed upon a Presbyterian minister to conduct an infant dedication for any of my three covenant daughters.

My aim is much less ambitious. I wish to offer my Presbyterian brethren a rationale for the practice of praying for covenant children before they are baptised. I want to give you a way of thinking about infant dedication - and of practising it in a church context - which doesn't injure your Reformed conscience or violate your confession and form of worship.

There is a sacrament of Baptism. There is no such sacrament as Infant Dedication. There, I have said it. In praying for newborn infants or children it is not being claimed that some new Biblical ordinance has been invented. And, it goes without saying, that no one is doing away baptism. Prayers are being offered for covenant children that they would come to faith and receive baptism. The baptism of those covenant children is simply being postponed until they are of age to answer for themselves. In much the same way as participation at the Table is postponed in a Presbyterian context.

So why pray for newborn children? You could say, either covenant baptise them properly or don't do anything at all. However it seems to me that one could treat such prayers for newborns as a preliminary to their baptism, rather like the ancient church prayed for catechumens or indeed like the Free Church offers preliminary prayers and petitions parental vows prior to administering the sacrament.

Far be it for me to suggest liturgical innovation, but this could be made clearer if the parents in question came forward with their children at the same time as others brought forward their children for baptism. The Baptists could participate up to a point, answering the vows, but, at the relevant time, not present their children for baptism. From a Presbyterian viewpoint this could be seen as offering infant baptism as something they are missing out on - and to be received in due course.

The Confession doesn't specify any time-frame for covenant baptism. If there were a Biblical precedent it would be on the eighth day. I think we all know that is not the current practice (although I believe one of the Reformers did do it that way). While the practice of covenant children receiving baptism when of age on profession of faith isn't what is being prescribed in the Confession, I don't think comes under the censure of the Confessional phrase "it is a great sin to contemn or neglect this ordinance".

It terms of the historical Reformed faith, the position is clear: the baptism of infants is both permissible and required for children born of Christian parents: "the infants of one, or both, believing parents, are to be baptized." But even covenant baptism requires consent, in this case the consent of the parents. To say that all Christian parents should have their children baptised is like saying that all believers should be baptised or indeed that God commands all people everywhere to repent. Yes, he does. But that doesn'to obviate the need for our response. We Baptist parents in Free Churches are not ready yet.

Are there not in every Free Church of Scotland believers who have never come forward to profess faith and have never shared at the Table? Are they not, regardless, treated with understanding as Christian brothers and sisters - with the longing and hope that one day they will be ready to receive the convenant signs? Are not prayers offered on behalf of such adherents that they might in due time come forward? Could not the same condescension be extended to us, the unworthy sons of Hubmaier and Simons, Carey and Spurgeon?

Pax ecclesiae Christi! 

понедельник, 10 июля 2017 г.

DNA and specified complexity

A friend of mine recently gave me a copy of a book he recommended: "The Case for a Creator" by Lee Strobel. The book is divided into chapters, each devoted to a piece of evidence in support of a Creator. In each case Lee Strobel interviews an expert in a given field to provide additional insight into the issue being investigated.

I am particularly interested in the issue of DNA and how the DNA code is claimed to be language-like. As a linguist it is interesting for me to think about what the features of human language are.

I would like to share what I have gleaned from reading the relevant chapter in the book.

So, as I understand it, the DNA code is information contained in every cell which provides instructions about how to build proteins. The information is coded in the form of strings made up of four different 'bases' (chemicals): adenine. guanine, cytosine and thymine. These function as four different letters in the genetic alphabet. The instructions for building a single protein represent a string of hundreds of such letters: A-C-C-A-T.... (and so on). These then 'instruct' the cell to build the relevant strings of amino-acids to produce a given protein. Each cell contains hundreds of such proteins.

Now what makes this DNA code language-like is what is called 'specified complexity', which is basically meaningful irregularity. On the one hand one can have order, such in the case of salt crystals. On the other hand one can have randomness. However, meaningful irregularity is where the patterns are not repetitive, but their irregularilty has a function, namely to produce the diverse proteins required by a cell. Order would produce a string of letters such as A-G-A-G-A-G. Randomness would produce a meaningless string such as A-T-G-C-A-T-T etc. However 'specified complexity' produces the strings of genetic 'letters' (chemical bases) which produce the required proteins. 

четверг, 29 июня 2017 г.

Оправдание или врачевание?

Говоря о Боге, о вечном, о спасении мы ссылаемся на те сферы жизни, которые нам близки. На западе и повсеместно принято говорить об "отношениях с Богом", тем же сравнивая вечное с самым дорогим в земной жизни. А на православном востоке преобладают образы спасения из других сфер жизни: врачевание и победа.

За этими разными образами (способы донести истину) таится и разность в понимании. Обобщая, можно отметить, что запад понимает спасение в плоскости положения человека перед Богом (восстановление отношений), а восток в плоскости состояния человека (восстановления бытия).

Каждая сторона в этой полемике дорожит собственным пониманием и пренебрегает пониманием собеседника. Касательно западной церкви, то парадигма о вине и прощении часто истолковывается как некое искажение или неполноценное представление, обусловленное западными шаблонами, римским правом (Lex), общественным строем средневековья (сеньоры и вассалы) и так далее. Вчера увидел ссылку в соцсети на проповедь Кураева на эту тему.

Восточно-православная сторона также уязвима для критики. Национальная озабоченность о физическом здоровье и исторически обусловленная озабоченность о военной безопасности отражаются на понимание христианских истин. В этом тоже есть некая субъективность, особенно если оно сочетается с отвержением других важных граней истины.

И все-таки нет повода, застревать в тупике. Божье Слово не ограничено нашим осмыслением его и мы не настолько во власти своих предвзятых представлений, чтобы только сменяя конфессию и культуру быть в состоянии принять Слово. Почему бы не изучать и принимать все богатство различных образов, присутствующих в Писании?

Для западного христианина не помешало бы, уделять внимание тому, что Христос не только умер вместо нас и воскрес, но и мы умерли вместе с Христом-Начальником и совокресли. Спасительное действие Христа также спасает нас от подвластности Сатане и смерти, Спаситель же Победитель (Christus Victor).

А восточно-православному христианину не надо отвергать богатые библейские и святоотеческие истины о том, что Бог во Христе "праведный и оправдывающий", что "Бог во Христе примирил мир с Собою". К примеру, православный богослов Бредли Нассиф полноценно вмещает учение об оправдании. Афанасий Великий: "Всесвятой Сын Отца, являющийся образом Отца, пришел к нам, чтобы восстановить человека, сотворенного по Его подобию, и так как он потерян – найти его через прощение грехов".