Archive for category Theology
In my previous post I wrote about an upcoming exhibition at John Rylands Library on the Reformation. The exhibition, now open, marks the 500th anniversary for a happening that would become one of the most significant events in Church history.
Yesterday I visited the exhibition for the second time.
On arrival I was faced with an original handwritten letter by Martin Luther dated 1 January 1528. Written in German, the letter is very Christ centred. It shows a man who’s life was heavily under threat, unable to save himself and looking to Christ who remains the life and justification of the those who believe and trust in Him.
A translation is available and presents a very humble and spiritual man. It is a very touching letter.
Moving through the exhibition it is clear that the representatives of Rylands have portrayed the reformation properly. There is a 1539 ‘Great Bible’ and for the most part, the exhibition Focuses on the writings, influence and controversies of the following three distinct persons;
- Tyndale “Radical“
- Henry V111 “Rogue“
- Martin Luther “Renegade“
Here is a list of some of the displayed items and books.
William Tyndale features prominently and there is a Tyndale New Testament, printed in Antwerp, 1536. There is a copy of ‘The Obedience of a Christian Man and how Christian rulers ought to govern’ (Antwerp, 1528)
There is also an intriguing book “The Testament of Master William Tracie esquier expounded both by William Tyndal and John Frith’ (London, 1535)
Henry V111 rightly features and there is a fine decorated copy of a ‘Defense of the seven sacraments against Martin Luther” (London, 1521) and “The confutacyon of Tyndale’s answere” by Thomas More (London, 1533)
Also on display is a fine copy of “The Bible in Englishe“, known as the Great Bible (London, 1539)
This work was the first English Bible approved of by King Henry V111 and the New Testament contains the majority of Tyndale’s translation.
Martin Luther is very prominent with an original 15th century ‘indulgence‘ printed by Gutenberg at Mainz between 1454-1455. Luther’s reaction to this is displayed in his bold “Disputation on the power of indulgences” (Basel, 1517)
Other Luther books include ‘A treatise touching the liberty of a Christian‘ (1579 print) “On the Babylonian captivity of the Church” (Strasboug, 1520) and a Luther New Testament in German (Wittenberg, 1522) with an image of the ‘whore of Babylon‘ wearing the Pope’s Papal Tiara.
I like that one a lot!
Today, Christianity has become very troubling. In fact, it has become so troubling that it is a difficult thing to claim one is simply a ‘Christian’.
Theological divisions and historic splits have split the wood of Christianity into many branches. It is because of this that denominations have developed the habit of sticking a title or nickname before them. Baptists, Calvinists, Methodists, Congregationalists, Presbyterian, and so forth. Most of them holding onto a doctrine or a set of doctrines which have caused them to separate themselves or be excommunicated, or dispersed from the Churches they once were part of.
History shows there are many Godly people who have been forced out of Churches because their fellowships have fallen into error or apostasy.
I cast my mind back to the “Great Ejection” of 1662 when the Church of England formed “The Act of Uniformity” which in effect caused the likes of Puritan Richard Baxter, John Flavel, Thomas Watson and over 2000 Godly ministers to be ejected out of the Church. It was clearly a mistake that the ‘Church of England’ has never recovered from to this day.
In 1770 John Wesley gave a sermon upon the death of George Whitfield in which he spoke concerning their disagreements by saying, “There are many doctrines of a less essential nature … In these we may think and let think; we may ‘agree to disagree.’ But, meantime, let us hold fast the essentials…”.
Whitfield famously chose to speak against Wesley because the two did not agree on definitions of ‘grace’ and ‘predestination’. Whitfield held to a Calvinistic interpretation of those doctrines while Wesley believed ‘Calvinistic predestination’ was a “monstrous doctrine”.
But it is the term ‘agree to disagree’ which is clearly something that many Christians have failed to do. Rather than do see the truth of what Wesley said “let us hold fast to the essentials…” too many Christians choose to make a ‘false teacher’ or an ‘unbeliever’ out of anyone who questions or does not believe their beliefs.
After all, is it not a historical fact that it was the Bishops and priests who had Christians burned at the stake for believing the Bible? Is it not a Biblical fact that it was the men in the pulpits who denied the Christ and were partially responsible for the execution of some of the Apostles and disciples? Is it not also true that the majority of problems within Christianity today are caused from leaders and pastors who deny the truth yet accuse others of things they themselves are guilty of?
I think too many leaders need to take the plank out of their own eyes!
Today there are too many dogmatic ‘preachers’ who will simply not move one iota from what they believe and at times mentally bully other believers hoping they conform to their requirements, not considering for a moment that their requirements are wrong. Thus if the believers in question do not comply, the preachers often misrepresent them or label them as ‘rebels’ or ‘not saved’ or accuse them of simply ‘denying scripture’.
This however, is quite simply not always the case!
Christianity today has perhaps more denominations than any other ‘religion’ and much of this has come as a direct result of the problems created by the leaders themselves. Some have claimed there are as many as 43,000 denominations of Christianity worldwide. Many of them claiming to be Christian and merely believing and teaching what Scripture says, yet when tested, contain a great deal of error.
Indeed, cults claim they too hold to scripture. Last week I was in discussion with a Mormon gentleman and he too claimed to believe ‘just what Scripture says’. This week, I was in discussion with a gentleman representative from the Jehovah’s Witnesses and he too claimed to believe ‘just what Scripture says’.
Obviously I do not believe ‘Mormon’ or ‘Jehovah Witness’ teaching to be true to the Bible. On the contrary, I do not believe either of those two religions to be part of the body of Christ, but even we, despite our major doctrine divides, still managed to ‘agree to disagree‘.
What troubles me today however in true Christianity, is how so many Christians and Pastors, Priests, Bishops and leaders refuse to consider anything that contradicts what they believe, even if those beliefs are not “essentials” or ‘salvation issues’ but merely Biblically questionable.
In closing I will say this, I think Christians desperately need to cease from contesting one another on none essential differences and creating more division by locking themselves away behind the doors or their own beliefs.
May believers not be like the ‘Jehovah witness’ who, when presented with Scripture, merely replied, ‘that’s not what I believe’.
Differences of opinion within Christianity have for many years been of great interest to me. For me, the interest has rarely been concerning the variances themselves, but how the variances are dealt with.
There are within Christianity what some might call ‘salvation issues’ and others which might not be ‘salvation issues’.
The doctrine of ‘once saved always saved’ is what I would claim is not a ‘salvation issue’. But it is a doctrine of much contention.
People who believe ‘once saved always saved’ have their reasons and Scriptural basis for their beliefs. People who don’t believe ‘once saved always saved’ have their reasons and Scriptural basis for not believing it.
Some people get so irate over the doctrine that they make a heretic or an unbeliever out of anyone who does not believe it. Some think ‘once saved always saved’ is the pure Gospel in a nutshell and anyone who does not believe it is guilty of not believing Scripture and believing a doctrine of works. While those who do not believe it often treat the doctrine with contempt and argue it a licence to sin. Others, like myself who claim to have a somewhat none bias view do not overlook the Scriptures that can affirm the doctrine while at the same time do not ignore the implications behind the warnings given in Scripture to ‘abide’.
In reality the Scriptures work both ways concerning the Scriptural aspect of the doctrine. Some texts affirm ‘once saved always saved’ while others appear speak as though a believer can fall away and become an ‘apostate’.
In a historical reformation context, the two contrasting views are known as ‘Calvinism’ and ‘Arminianism’. Both views have their majority origins in 16th century Geneva in a somewhat bitter debate that arose between Jacob Arminius and Theodore Beza. Today both views are still believed, however, the views have altered somewhat since the days of Arminius and Beza.
In the 16th century their was only one main view of doctrine known today as ‘once saved always saved’ while today, it seems there are multiple views of teaching. Both views were responses to the extreme dogma of the Roman Catholic Church. Rome taught a very uncertain view of salvation which held people captive to the authority and sacramental works of that Religion.
Today however, things have changed. The doctrine of ‘once saved always saved’ is not centralised around refuting Rome, but Arminianism. The doctrine of ‘once saved always saved’ has took on a new commercial and popular form.
Thus, before a person can affirm ‘once saved always saved’ that person must first clarify which version of ‘once saved always saved’ is being talking about.
Lets look at the Scriptures.
Here is a list of some Scriptures used to affirm the doctrine:
John 3: 15-16, John 5: 24, John 10: 28-29, Romans 8: 38-39, Ephesians 1: 13-14, Ephesians 4: 30, 1 Peter 1: 5, Hebrews 10: 14, Jude 24.
Here is a list of some Scriptures used to refute the doctrine:
Matthew 10: 22, 32, Matthew 7: 19, Luke 12: 41-46, John 15: 2, Romans 11: 18-22, Galatians 5: 1-5, 1 Corinthians 9: 27, 1 Corinthians 15: 1-2, Colossians 1: 21-23, 2 Timothy 4: 10, 2 Peter 2: 19-22, Hebrews 6: 4-6, Revelation 2: 8-10, Revelation 3: 1-6, Revelation 21: 6-8, Revelation 22: 19
A problem I find is that both parties appear to overlook the contrasting texts or reinterpret them according to their persuasion. ‘Calvinistic’ thinkers commonly claim that those who have fallen away were never truly saved in the first place. While some ‘Arminian’ thinkers hold on so tightly to their salvation that they appear unsure if they will get to heaven even though they abide.
But where are the proofs?
The Scriptures speak clearly on the matter if we let them speak. They affirm that a believer will abide if he looks to Christ, in other words a believer must abide in order to abide.
The Scriptures affirm that God will keep our salvation and that it is the duty of every believer to keep the faith. In other words, if a believer does not abide, how can he continue to have faith? A person cannot have faith and trust in Jesus if he has ceased to believe He was the Christ.
The problem is that many preachers would simply attempt to persuade their congregations that those who walk away from the faith were never really saved in the first place? I beg to differ them and claim that such a view is inconsistent with all Scripture. I would further claim that such a view was not taught by the majority Ante-Nicene-fathers. For example, Ante-Nicene-Father Irenaeus once wrote;
“We should fear ourselves, least perchance after [we have come to] the knowledge of Christ, if we do things displeasing to God, we obtain no further forgiveness of sins, but are shut out from His Kingdom. And for that reason, Paul said, ‘For if [God] spared not the natural branches, [take heed] lest He also not spare you” (Romans 11:21). (Against Heresies 4.27.2]
“Those who do not obey Him, but being disinherited by Him, have ceased to be His sons.” (Against Heresies 4.41.3)
This same position was also affirmed by Tertullian, Cyprian, Origen and also in the Reformation in the Augsburg Confession, Article XII: “Of Repentance”. (feel free to contact me if you desire all the quotes)
The fact remains that the popular wishy washy view of ‘once saved always saved’ as taught in many modern churches, is certainly not the Calvinistic understanding of ‘once saved always saved’ and certainly not the eternal security affirmed in Scripture.
But the major error that I find within the teachings of a majority of proponents of ‘osas’ is that they continue to affirm the doctrine of ‘free will’. But how can this be? How can a person have a salvation that cannot possibly be taken away, while at the same time have ‘free will’? Surely, if a person has ‘free will’ and is saved and always will be saved he or she cannot have the ‘free will’ they claim to have. Because if a person has ‘free will’ he or she must have the freedom to choose whatever they choose and thus, they must have the freedom to choose to abide in Christ or walk away from the faith. If a person has ‘free will’ that person must logically have the freedom to choose either way.
This is why I think the Calvinistic position of ‘once saved always saved’ is far more consistent than the popular wishy washy view taught within many denominations. Yet even in Calvinism, no true Calvinist can logically know for certain whether or not he or she is part of ‘once saved always saved’ because they cannot truly know if they are one of the elect, because the evidence of perseverance has not yet fully come to pass until the day of death.
It seems to me that both sides are playing a game of dodgeball.
Thorns © 2017 Simon Peter Sutherland
In Matthew 27; 29, Mark 15; 17, John 19; 2, each of the three Gospel writers refer to an event in the life of Jesus Christ, where His head was pierced with a “crown of thorns”.
Gospel writers Matthew and John both use the same Greek to communicate this “crown of thorns” of which the Greek “stephanos” (crown) holds the meaning of a wreathe, or a badge of royalty.
In Israel today it is generally believed that these original thorns, were collected by a Roman soldier just a few yards or feet near the place where Jesus was mocked. These thorns according to a Syriac version are rendered “white thorns”. But sources claim there are more than 120 kinds of thistles and tares that grow in Israel, so it is difficult to determine the exact plant.
It is with the material plant in mind that I ponder upon the notion that it is often easy to focus our whole attention upon the physical side of Christ’s passion and the pain Jesus endured when the crown of thorns was twisted upon His head. Yet it should be noticed that the context of the Gospel passages prove that the Romans were mocking Jesus because of the claim He had to Royalty. This context implies that the original authors intentions were not exclusively intended to display the physical pain Jesus endured by the thorns, but the mockery He endured while permitting the Romans to inflict such wickedness upon Him. Jesus had laid down His power willingly that He might suffer for sin of those who tormented Him and for all mankind.
Research shows that Jesus was tormented by as many as 500 hundred soldiers at one time. The implications written about in Matthew 27: 27 where Jesus is delivered to the whole “garrison” or “band of soldiers” are that the whole number of soldiers to mock Jesus numbered as many as 500 or more men. This is made clear by Matthews use of the Greek “Speira” which is of Latin origin, meaning the root word derived from the language of the Romans. This word shows us that this troop was one tenth part of a Roman Legion.
We do not know how many of these soldiers twisted the crown upon Jesus’ head, but the text is translated in the plural sense. The ESV renders it “and twisting together a crown of thorns, they put it on his head”. Note the plural word ‘they‘.
These thorns are the subject of much interest and exploration. Writing in the 19th century, botanist and geologist Rev Prof. G. Henslow ascribed the thorn as “Paliurus aculeatus” which was known as ‘Christ’s thorn’. This was a flexible branch which bread the thorns in pairs and could easily be plaited into a crown shape to fit on our Lord’s head.
Evolutionists, at present, generally offer an unsatisfactory claim that thorns evolved as a defence mechanism, while Creationists generally believe that ‘thorns’ were created by God after the fall. This creation was centralised around God’s punishment of original sin. The claim is derived from Genesis 3: 17-19, more specifically verse 18 “thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you…”.
Part of that Old Testament judgement is revealed in the New Testament as the thorns being placed upon the head of Christ, penetrating His flesh, bones and blood, in the sacrificial offering of the second Adam as He took the sin of mankind upon Himself.
Most evidence for the location of the garden of Eden was stripped away during Noah’s flood, but it is my belief, though I cannot prove it, that the Garden of Gethsemane, where Christ was handed over, is the exact location of the garden of Eden. It is also my belief, though I cannot prove that either, that Golgotha, where Christ was crucified, was the exact location where the tree of life once stood in the garden of Eden. That the thorn which pierced Christ’s brow was taken from the exact location where God made the first thorn of Genesis 3: 18.
It is my belief that Jesus took upon Himself all aspects of the judgement that God had placed upon mankind through the law, and that the Roman soldiers crowned the Creator Himself with the thorns that He created on the very site that He had originally placed them. They may have been as large as one inch long.
Luther nailing his Thesis to the Church door © 2017 Simon Peter Sutherland
This year, 2017, is the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation.
On the 31st October 1517, Augustinian Monk, Martin Luther nailed his Ninety-Five Thesis to the Church door at Wittenberg.
The Thesis itself was centralised around his criticism of the Roman Catholic Church, the Papacy, Purgatory, and the selling of indulgences.
Today such a move would not seem all that bold, but in his day, the content of Luther’s thesis was one of the most radical criticisms of the Catholic Church that anyone had ever read. It was the dawn of such a bold and impactful move that Luther’s life between 1517-1546 would suffer a great deal of turmoil and tribulation.
In 1521 Luther stood trial at the Diet of Worms and was told to renounce all of his writings by order of Pope Leo X. Luther refused and was excommunicated by the very Church he sought to defend and reform. The Pope put a bounty on his head and Luther was given shelter by Prince Frederick the wise, at the Wartburg Castle.
Luther had his opponents, but it is always good to have friends in high places!
At the Castle Luther spent his time translating the New Testament from Greek into German. Luther’s New Testament was published and what would follow for Luther would be a life of turmoil, religious intolerance and even war.
Luther wrote: “Be a sinner, and let your sins be strong, but let your trust in Christ be stronger.”.
Luther was no perfect man, but his reformation was a quest for perfection.
Every generation of Christians from the 16th to the 21st century have been inspired or have benefited in some way from the work that Luther began. There were even men who lived centuries prior to Luther who by the same Spirit sought to bring reform and renewal to the Church of their days.
Each quest has been a struggle. But the Word of God cannot be broken!
The Reformation is far from over.
Reform is not a thing of the past, it is an ongoing future. All of us, whether we be preachers or simply Christians have a part to play in the widespread movement of reform.
It is true that complaining is not always a popular thing. Today in our hyper positive thin world, the masses generally like a more positive, uplifting message rather than doom and gloom. But where would we be today if Luther and the Reformers kept silent and looked at the positives rather than the predominant errors of so many Churches?
The sad truth is that there is much to complain about and logic knows that a light does not come on without the negative too. When God said “Let there be light” He was not speaking about the darkness. But after the darkness came the light.
The 16th century Reformation had a saying: ‘Post Tenebrass Lux‘ It was a Latin phrase meaning ‘Light after darkness‘.
Today, the Christian Church in England is in a dark time. There really is no point in ignoring that. Where would we be today if the Reformers had never recognised that the Church was in an age of darkness because they were stooped up in a weak and crowd pleasing positive message? Where would we be if they had never criticised the errors of the Roman Catholic Church? Where would we be if they had looked at the positives of Rome and failed to judge? They would not have hoped for light.
This year, in 2017 each one of us, wherever we are, can write our ninety-five Thesis and live in hope that the body of Christ is not done for!
Each one of us can stand against the widespread errors and deceitful doctrines of corrupt Churches. Even in the face of danger, excommunication, slander and fear based fundamentalism, each one of us can stand boldly and love our Bibles and say before God and man; ‘my conscience is captive to the Word of God, and to go against conscience is neither right nor safe. Here I stand, I can do no other God help me.‘
“Therefore, from the birth of Christ to the death of Commodus are a total of one hundred ninety-four years, one month, and thirteen days. There are those who have calculated not only the year of our Lord’s birth, but also the day. They say that it took place in the twenty-eighth year of Augustus, on the twenty-fifth day of Pachon [May 20] … Others say that He was born on the twenty-fourth or twenty-fifth day of Pharmuthi [April 19 or 20]”
Clement of Alexandria (c. 195)
Following on from my previous post concerning the birth of Jesus and my expressive doubts that the Bible even remotely claims that Jesus was born on December 25th, I continue on with this polemical theme, and in this post, consider a historic claim made by Clement of Alexandria in the 2nd century AD.
For those readers who may never have heard or read anything of Clement of Alexandria, his life is worth looking into. With that in mind permit me to spend a few moments relaying some things concerning his life and work.
Clement of Alexandria was born c. 150 AD in Athens, Greece and is believed to have died in Jerusalem c. 215 or 220 AD. He was a Christian Theologian and is venerated as a ‘Church father’ and his writings provide us with important source material concerning the beliefs and claims of the ante-Nicene Church fathers.
He wrote on such varied ethical topics as eating, drinking, laughter, filthy speaking, clothes, true beauty, ear rings, hair, Government, and behaviour in public baths. He also wrote concerning human arts, the necessity of understanding the Scriptures and Greek Philosophy. Clement wrote concerning the Septuagint and the comparison between the ancient Greeks with the Hebrews. Indeed, much of our understanding of early Christianity and the views of early Christians comes directly from the writings of the early ante-Nicene Church fathers.
A number of Clement’s works have fully survived. Here is a list of three of them.
- The Protrepticus
- The Paedagogus
- The Stromata
On embracing Christianity, Clement travelled extensively over Greece, Italy, and Jerusalem seeking instructions and teaching from “the most eminent teachers” of his day. He was recommended by Alexander, the Bishop of Jerusalem and Origen was one of his pupils. Church historian Eusebius also speaks well of him. Clement taught that Jesus Christ was the personal saviour of men and the living Word of God and he affirmed the Inspiration of the Holy Scriptures.
As part of Clement’s research and historic record of his day, the claim he made that “Others say that He (Jesus) was born on the twenty-fourth or twenty-fifth day of Pharmuthi [April 19 or 20]” may well be the earliest known reference to the actual birth date of Jesus?
It is with all this in mind that when a historic Church father of this calibre made such a historic claim that Jesus was not believed in his day to have been born on December 25th or anywhere near that date but in either April or May, I feel I must point out; it really is irrelevant whether a modern person agrees with Clement or not. He wrote what he wrote regardless!
With this in mind it is certainly clear we need no emphasis on ‘historic revisionism’ since it may well be more historically consistent to claim Nisan as Jesus’ birth date rather than December and we can be certain that neither Matthew or Luke made any references to the birth of Jesus as taking place in winter. On the contrary, as I stated in my previous article, “it is more probable that He was born at Nisan which took place in the spring”. And it seems by all accounts that Ecclesiastical history may well affirm this too!
Nisan falls in March-April, and Clement claims Jesus’ birth date as either April 19th or 20th which is almost upon us. So, since this really is not a divisive issue, may I humbly suggest that believers and followers of Jesus Christ consider this history as we approach the coming months and the season of Nisan.
Every year over the Christmas season I focus my mind distinctly upon the incarnate life of Christ as written in the Gospels. I often read Matthew and Luke’s narrative concerning the birth of Jesus at Bethlehem in the ancient Kingdom of Judah.
Many studies have been done to draw insights out from the Gospels to uncover the facts that surrounded Jesus’ birth. Questions are often asked: was Jesus really born on December 25th? Was He really born in a stable?
Over the many years of my being a Christian and desiring to know more about the incarnate life of Christ, I have approached the narratives from many perspectives and over recent years I have focused on His life from the perspective of Jesus as “the lamb of God” (John 1: 29).
From this perspective everything that Jesus did had to be a complete fulfilment of the requirements laid down by God concerning the sacrificial lambs offered up in the Temple. Lambs were to be perfect and without blemish (Exodus 12: 5, 1 Peter 1: 19) Jesus was perfect being without sin (1 John 3: 5, 2 Corinthians 5: 21, Hebrews 4: 15)
Likewise, the lambs which were reared to be offered up as Temple sacrifices were born in Bethlehem and sure enough, when they were firstborn were ‘wrapped up in swaddling cloths’ as Jesus was for a sign (Luke 2: 12). Yes, Jesus was born with the sacrificial Lambs.
Sadly for many, these points and necessities concerning the sacrificial lambs do not point to Jesus being born in December, but it is more probable that He was born at Nisan which took place in the spring.
Nisan is by far a more significant time since 14 Nisan marks the Fast of the firstborn, Jesus being the ‘firstborn among many brethren’ (Romans 8: 29, Colossians 1: 15) and 15 Nisan marks the birth of Isaac, whom demonstrates as a type or shadow of Christ. 15-21 Nisan marks the Passover when Jesus was crucified as the Passover lamb and 15 marks the Exodus from Egypt, which again was a foreshadow of Christ who delivered His people from the bondage of sin.
Obviously none of this proves that Jesus Christ wasn’t born in December, however if indeed He was born in Nisan it would be far more fitting with Scripture to consider it, since it is also on 17 Nisan that the ark of Noah came to rest upon the mountains of Ararat, which again speaks of Christ who is our eternal rest.
I like and enjoy Christmas and I too have my own traditions. These traditions include reading a fresh the nativity story from the Gospels, putting up the Christmas tree early while watching a Christmas movie and also reading ‘A Christmas Carol’ by Charles Dickens.
Yet even though I like tradition, I refuse to let it override Scripture.