Archive for the ‘Theology’ Category

Reading Ramblings – August 19, 2018

August 12, 2018

Reading Ramblings

Date:Thirteenth Sunday after Pentecost, August 19, 2018

Texts: Joshua 24:1-2a, 14-18; Psalm 34:12-22; Ephesians 5:6-21; John 6:51-69

Context: Holding fast to God’s wisdom may put us at odds with prevailing opinions, ideas, and concepts of truth. The verses for this week call God’s people to be wise in what and who they place their trust and faith in. There is only one source of truth, and whatever contradicts this truth cannot, logically, be true. It’s nice to think that this truth will always be self-evident in our world and culture, but that is not always the case. In those times we are called upon to rely upon our faith in God rather than side with the fashions or ideas of the day that contradict him.

Joshua 24:1-2a, 14-18 – The world offers us choices in where to place our faith and trust. There is no shortage of idols and vanities vying for our affections, attention, and faith. Inasmuch as these various options all contradict one another, it can’t possibly be right or healthy to presume that all of them could be true dependent on one’s subjective point of view. They might all be wrong, or one of them might be correct, but to pretend that all are equally valid is unreasonable and foolish, particularly if we are trusting our lives and futures by placing our faith in something or someone. The Israelites also were presented with myriad choices for who to worship and trust. Would they trust the Egyptian gods they once had worshiped? The gods of the peoples they were now in the midst of? Or would they cling to the God who had saved them from slavery and genocide and sustained them through decades of difficult life in the wilderness? Who we trust with our lives is based not simply on the circumstances of the moment, but how we understand and interpret our past, and the Israelites recognize this.

Psalm 34:12-22 – We recognize the truth in these words. Isn’t life better and simpler when we are honest and truthful? When we are guided by the precepts God didn’t simply create at Mt. Sinai but wove into the very fabric of creation and human nature? This is not to say that good people don’t suffer or that bad people don’t prosper. But in general, truthfulness and living life according to God’s design offers more peace and joy than alternatives. This is even more true as we consider the way we live now as shaping us at a fundamental level, preparing us either for eternal life with God or for a deep-seated rebellion against him that we will never let go of. Our behavior cannot be fully separated from our beliefs, and to claim we believe one thing while consistently and pervasively acting to the contrary demonstrates a rift in our being, a rift that we will either end up on one side of or the other. Our long term hope and faith and therefore words and actions and thoughts can only find joy, peace and security in God and his Word.

Ephesians 5:6-21 – We can be deceived. Who we trust is of critical importance, and on what basis we trust them is worthy of constant attention and examination. If we insist on rejecting God’s truth in favor of empty words with no substance or basis, we place ourselves under the wrath of God. So we must carefully guard who we trust. In Christ we are new creations, and we are not capable of simply continuing in the patterns of thoughts, words, and deeds that defined us before Christ – not because God cannot or will not forgive us, but because we can’t long remain between opposites. We will eventually move to one or the other. Rather, we should see to understand and ground ourselves in who we know God has designed us to be. This requires wisdom and vigilance because we are surrounded by thoughts and ideas that are empty and deadly. We ought to focus our attentions on building ourselves and one another up in actions that are pleasing to God rather than actions that tear down ourselves and others. We must constantly seek to see ourselves and those around us as creations of God who are owned by him, and who ought to be obedient to what He calls us to. Refusal to do this is always destructive, and there is no arena in which this is not true. Paul will begin to apply these ideas in practical ways in the following sections of Ephesians, providing practical guidance to various relationships in terms of how we seek God’s way rather than our own way or the way our culture calls us to.

John 6:51-69 – It can’t seem more illogical and downright offensive. Jesus insists that only by partaking of his body can people have eternal life. How often we fail to hear this today! But how strange it will sound to anyone unfamiliar with the Bible or the Church! How offensive, how ridiculous, how stupid. How can eternal life come from eating the flesh of another human being? And moreover, how can we expect 2000 years later to be eating that same body and drinking that same blood after Jesus’ bodily ascension? It makes no sense. After all, as materialists we understand that Jesus couldn’t possibly have enough flesh and blood for the billions of followers who join in Holy Communion. And of course a quick look under a microscope would prove that there is no human flesh in the bread or blood in the wine. A simple enough matter to prove that Jesus wasn’t serious. Couldn’t have been serious.

But we are called by faith to take Jesus’ words seriously. What may not seem possible or even likely, we are called in faith to trust as true. Jesus doesn’t mince words, seemingly intent on thinning out the crowds pursuing him, and testing even his disciples’ faith. His words remain just as stark and unblinking today. Our salvation must lie totally and completely in him, and only in him. Not in our good behavior. Not in our good efforts. Not in anything in us, but only in him. And not in some esoteric or theoretical way, but only by receiving him fully and completely as He promises to be present in the bread and wine. If we are offended by his words, if they disgust us, if they offend our sense of rationality and logic, we are free to choose our rationality and logic over Jesus’ words, but we must consider whether we are making a god out of our logic and rationality. Not being able to fully comprehend something doesn’t make it true or right. Does a microscope make Jesus a liar? Does it overrule eyewitness reports of the crucified man who claimed to be the Son of God appearing alive again to hundreds of witnesses? Do you trust that his words can’t be true, or do you trust that they are, even if they don’t seem to make sense? What wisdom will you make your own, and what wisdom will you use to guide your life?


Well Said

August 11, 2018

A good reminder of just one of the differences between God-as-a-djinni, who basically just wants to be rid of us and left alone and so gives us what we want (or what we think we want, or not really what we want but what we say we want, etc.), and God-as-God, who is committed to our perfection in Christ.  Thanks for the pointer, Janelle!


Sharing Ourselves

August 9, 2018

Last week my family and I launched a new ministry outreach.  Weekly I teach at a women’s residential addiction recovery facility.  I spend an hour a week with ladies in the midst of recovery.  Some of them are still detoxing from their latest binge.  Others are nearly finished with the program, obsessed with finding work or lining up schooling.  Women of all ages and from all walks of life.  We have wonderful times together laughing, talking about God’s Word and work.

But then they graduate from the program and it’s rare that I ever see them again.  I’m part of their program of recovery, and once graduated, they don’t see a purpose in continuing the relationship that was formed (my assumption).  Yet these women are the most vulnerable of the recovery community – especially those with children.  They need every resource they can find, but all too often church and pastors are presumed to be part of the past rather than an integral part of their present and future.

So to try and develop the relationships beyond the one-hour a week classroom environment, we started opening our home up.  Every week, 3-4 of these women sign up (voluntarily, not required) to come to our home Thursday evening for three hours.  There isn’t a program or a plan.  They aren’t required to do or be anything.  They can just come and be themselves.  Not as guests of honor, not as representatives of the recovery center, but just as women coming to a family home for dinner.  They pitch in to prepare, enjoy, and clean up from the meal while interacting not just with me but with my wife and children.

The hope is that relationships will form, and that some of these women will want to come back, and will recognize that recovery is more than a program, but a matter of relationship.  Likewise, the love of Christ is expressed through the Word (and Sacraments) of God delivered by friends, neighbors, people we have relationships with.

Tonight three different women are signed up to come.  It’s impossible to predict personalities and all the issues that a time together could bring, but it continues to show us that opening ourselves to others makes a difference in people’s lives.  Not necessarily immediately or dramatically.  Sometimes slow and subtly.  But relationships are created through these experiences, and only God knows how those relationships will develop and what He will do in and through them.  I believe He will do much more than deliver someone from addiction, but rather will deliver them from sin and death and hopelessness and despair.  And if He can do that through sharing a meal, opening our home, having our kids play Just Dance on the xBox with them or letting them pet our dogs, what a beautiful testimony not to our eloquence or skills but his creativity and power and goodness.


Reading Ramblings – August 12, 2018

August 5, 2018

Reading Ramblings

Date: Twelfth Sunday after Pentecost, August 12, 2018

Texts: 1 Kings 19:1-8; Psalm 34:1-8; Ephesians 4:17-5:2; John 6:35-51

Context: For reasons I’m unsure of, this is the second of three weeks where the Gospel comes from John rather than Mark. I’m sure there’s some reason for this other than the brevity of Mark’s Gospel! The reading in John continues on from the feeding of the 5000, with Jesus growing increasingly confrontational with those who have followed him from the previous days’ meal in hopes of making him their king. He has come for more than to hand out free meals. God sustains us daily with the bounty of the earth, but our full stomachs are not his primary concern. Rather, He seeks our eternal welfare through the bread of life, his Son.

1 Kings 19:1-8 – Despite a stunning victory over the priests of Baal in chapter 18, Elijah runs in fear from the death threat of Queen Jezebel, a formidable opponent to be sure. He flees into the wilderness away from everyone, and while the wilderness in Scripture is someplace where God can mold and shape us, Elijah seeks only death. But God does not abandon his servant or grant his request for death. Instead, God provides miraculously for Elijah so that he can continue his journey with divinely-granted strength for another forty days and forty nights until he reaches Horeb, the mountain where God revealed himself to Moses and the Israelites after freeing them from slavery in Egypt. God provides for our needs and sometimes provides more than we need. God who creates and sustains creation is not limited by the same rules and laws we are used to abiding by.

Psalm 134:1-8 – This is the final psalm of ascent – one of the psalms traditionally recited en route to Jerusalem and perhaps upon entry into the city. We are unsure of the introductory note – Abimelech is mentioned in 2 Samuel 11 by way of reference to Judges 9, which tells of Abimelech who was made king and came to a bad end by way of a mill-stone thrown by an old woman during his attempt to conquer the city of Thebez. This would have been well before David’s time, so it must reference a different Abimelech that we have no record of. The psalm is one of confidence and trust and rejoicing in the Lord’s provision, which includes some form of deliverance (vs. 4, 6). David leads his people to praise God who can be trusted to sustain and deliver them in their times of distress, much as God delivered Elijah from his distress.

Ephesians 4:17-5:2 – Having exhorted the Ephesians to unity through their shared faith in Christ, Paul exhorts them individually to set aside the lives they lived prior to coming to faith. The Christian thinks and acts fundamentally different than someone who does not believe in Jesus. The behavior may look similar on the surface, but the rationale is completely different. The Christian expects their minds to be renewed as they learn better and more thoroughly what the will of God is for them and how it differs from a culture bent solely on self-gratification. Having died to their sinful nature in Christ, the Christian is free to live as a new person. Such a new life will be characterized by honesty, as well as in tangible differences in how we work out problems between one another. Unity remains the goal, so that we are not entitled to dwell on our anger overnight, but should seek out the other party to make peace. Failure to do so provides an opportunity for Satan to work in our hearts and minds, leading us towards thoughts, words, and actions that contradict our new identity in Christ. Honesty is to include a turning away from theft, as well as a change in how we talk. What we do and say matter, both as a means of demonstrating our gratitude to God as well as a matter of how we love one another. Failure to allow the Holy Spirit to begin making these changes in our lives is a source of grief to the Holy Spirit, working against him rather than with him. Instead, we should cooperate so that we gain better control over our emotions, our words, and our actions. Rather than seeking only our own benefit and advancement we should earnestly seek to love and care for one another. We do so not necessarily because the other party deserves it, but rather because God has forgiven us. All of these things make us imitators of God, drawing us more closely into alignment with how He intends us to live, and how Jesus modeled life for us. Even if this means self-sacrifice, we do so willingly and gladly knowing that God has given us all things in Christ, and will vindicate us against our enemies on the day of judgment.

John 6:35-51 – Jesus directs the hearts and minds of the crowd to his true nature and work. He is offering himself on their behalf as real food, as real as the bread He miraculously provided the day before. Only in receiving the gift of Jesus in himself can anyone hope to escape from the constant clamoring simply for physical sustenance. Jesus offers nothing less than eternal life, something far beyond the hopes of a populace that sees him as a potential king to throw off Roman control. This of course is a cause of offense, particularly to those who think they understand who Jesus is and where He has come from. From their perspective, Jesus comes from Nazareth, from Mary and Joseph, not from heaven. Jesus continues unswayed, equating himself with God the Father by saying that He has seen God the Father. What Jesus has to offer is far greater than what Moses, one of the heroes of the faith, offered the Israelites in the wilderness. Moses was not the source of the manna, but still, that food was intended only to sustain God’s people physically for the normal course of their lifetime. What Jesus offers in himself is nothing less than eternal life, demonstrating his radical superiority to the religious and ethnic heroes of the people. The people want Jesus to be king, but a crown He will need to gain by force of war is far beneath him and what He offers. God is not content that we should simply live out our mortal lives, and He desires that we look for more than this from him as well. We should see him as the source of eternal life as well as the provider of what we need to live here and now. Only by keeping these things distinct and in proper proportion can we hope to receive the eternal life made possible by Jesus’ sacrificial death and resurrection.

Reading Ramblings – August 5, 2018

July 29, 2018

Reading Ramblings

Date: Eleventh Sunday after Pentecost – August 5, 2018

Texts: Exodus 16:2-15; Psalm 145:10-21; Ephesians 4:1-16; John 6:22-35

Context: The season of Ordinary Time focuses on the life of the Church, those who have been called in faith as part of the body of Christ. But what does this mean, and what does this look like? How is a congregation a faithful part of the body of Christ? Where does the focus lie? What are the measures of success or failure? Too often, we evaluate churches and congregations the way we do businesses. How big is it? How quickly is it growing? How many customers/parishioners are in attendance every week? What are the plans for growth or expansion in the future? Our American consumerist mentality leads us to judge congregations based on their size, the newness and expansiveness of their facilities, their annual budget size, their staff level, and numerous other criteria. Growth and size and power are the emphases. All in the service of the Gospel, to be sure, but at what cost? Unity, often, for one. We have been called to be part of the Body of Christ. We are not ourselves the body, but only parts of it, over whom Christ is the head. Paul repeatedly emphasizes the importance of unity. Being together in heart and mind. Culturally this is often a woefully neglected emphasis. In a culture where every person is supposed to determine all aspects of their life, what they believe to be right or wrong, true or false, acceptable or unacceptable – unity is destroyed. The body of Christ is atomized when we emphasize personal agency. But what is the alternative? Focus on the sustaining power of God the Father. Not on what we want or like but rather what He provides us with, just as He fed his people manna in the wilderness. Only if He is our emphasis can we hope for the unity that He himself provides us in the abiding presence of God the Holy Spirit, in the sacramental presence of God the Son.

Exodus 16:2-15 – God the Father provides his people with what they need. Not necessarily what we want, but what we need. He does so in myriad ways, but we are inclined to always seek for more, different, or what we consider to be better. How quickly we forget God’s deliverance, as He delivered his people from the genocidal Egyptians! Instead, we focus only on the moment’s lack or uncertainty, or the future’s lack of definition. How often we are willing to settle for a certain awfulness, rather than an uncertain hope and promise! We are anxious and irritable when we are not in control, when the illusion of control we cling to so desperately is removed and we are forced to consider how supremely and completely dependent we are upon our Creator. This might inspire terror if we know only God the Creator, and not God the Redeemer or God the Sanctifier. But we should be unified by our dependence on God’s provision, and the bond of common need and dependence that only the faithful can truly share.

Psalm 145:10-21 – Unity is found not in glorifying ourselves but in glorifying God. Unity is found not in emphasizing our personal wisdom or insight or strengths, but in recognizing all of these things as blessings of our Creator God to be used towards his glory alone through love and care of his creation and our fellow creatures. This psalm emphasizes how the Lord provides, and He chooses more often than not to provide through our fellow human beings. Rather than raining manna from heaven He leads some to tend the soil, some to raise animals, some to drive trucks and others to build grocery stores. We are all necessary parts of the way God cares for his Creation, and in seeing ourselves and one another in this way we are better able and hopefully more willing to seek unity rather than dominance, to value and prize one another simply for their existence as part of God’s marvelous creative activity and not simply as means to our ends, allies or opponents. If God has given me my neighbor, how can I mistreat them, or speak poorly of them, or seek to use them only for my personal advantage? How much more proper that I seek a unity of heart and mind with them in praise of our common Creator?

Ephesians 4:1-16 – Unity is the main emphasis here. Having prayed that God would bless the church in Ephesus with all his good gifts, Paul prays that they would exhibit this blessing in their unity. How can we fight with those around us whom God has blessed alongside of us? How can we criticize or blame or speak ill of these whom God has blessed us with as brothers and sisters in Christ in the very tangible sense rather than some abstract manner? We may disagree with one another, and have different perspectives and ideas. But all such perspectives and ideas are themselves gifts of God the Father! What is most important – more important than being right or being successful by the world’s definitions is how we seek unity with one another above all. How we would rather concede our point of view than allow Satan a place at the table by talking ill of others. We must value our brothers and sisters in faith not conceptually but actually. Not abstractly but concretely. And we must do so at any and all cost – other than the Truth of God’s Word, which must never be compromised or set aside! God has given us our differences to make us stronger, just as He has provided a variety of gifts and roles to be fulfilled among his people. Not to our glory but to his, and always towards the sole goal not of material prosperity or even growth but rather love of God through love of neighbor.

John 6:22-35 – Elect a king based on a free meal? Sounds silly, doesn’t it. What a small conception of God and what He offers to us! Yet how often are we equally presumptuous about what God should do for us? Good health? Financial security? Economic or social policies we agree with? How often do we want a God that will do the things we want him to do, but not a God that demands everything we are and have be submitted to him? Those people on the hillside were happy with a free meal but likely wouldn’t have been interested in taking up crosses and following Jesus to Golgotha. Are we any different? All too often, not. All too easily we presume God exists to satisfy us, rather than the Biblical assertion that we exist to worship and praise God. To rely on him for everything in good times or in bad. It is this shallowness of faith that Jesus calls us from. Jesus continues in this episode to insist that life is found only in partaking of him, something even his disciples exclaim is a hard teaching, difficult to hear and accept. But Jesus settles for nothing less. There is nothing less to be had. Either all or nothing. And either Jesus is the necessary aspect of every day of your life that He really is, or He really isn’t much of anything to us.

The Unexpected Tithe

July 22, 2018

I’m on vacation this week.  Which means I’m not leading worship and not writing out our weekly tithe check.  Part of me feels bad about this.  I try to fight against this part of me.  Not because I don’t value tithing but because I don’t like the legalistic guilt it inspires in me if I happen to miss a week.  If my comfort comes from putting a certain amount in the collection plate I’m sorely and dangerously mistaken.  I prefer the feeling of uncertainty that reminds me that my life and all I have belongs to the God who created and saved me and lives within me striving to make me holy.  Taking that reality for granted, as though I could pay off God with a certain amount each week is dangerous.  Deadly dangerous.

I walked out of my hotel about 1:30pm today.  I slept in – a Sunday luxury I very rarely have.  Again, the faint tug of guilt about not finding a church to attend.  Church is not my salvation,  though.  Christ is.  The Church points me to Christ and therefore the Church is beautiful and necessary and critical, but it is not in and of itself the answer, as though checking off an attendance box can put my soul at ease.  It shouldn’t, but it often tries to.

She was sitting by the entrance to the hotel I’m staying in.   I noticed one of the employees handing her a handful of granola bars as I searched for a newspaper, to no avail.  I exited the building, saying hi to her as she opened the granola bar.

Why was I thinking about her?  I crossed half the parking lot but there she was,  still in my mind.

Young-ish, but not too young.  Blonde hair showing brunette roots.

I turned around and went back to her. Are you hungry?   She nodded.  I’m heading to Denny’s, you can come with me and I’ll buy you a meal.

We walked the few hundred feet to Denny’s.   It was crowded.  She had a hospital bracelet on her arm and a taped pad to her upper arm from some sort of injection or blood withdrawal.  People watched us as we came in and waited.   I suppose that’s pretty impressive for a place like Vegas, where you assume people  have seen pretty much everything.  But here was something a bit out of place a few miles off the strip, this man in his slacks and this young woman in her shorts.  She pulled a long-sleeve white shirt on that covered the bandage.

So began the next four hours.

I don’t know if any of what she told me was true.  I pray I know someday.  We ate a breakfast lunch at Denny’s before walking a few blocks in 100+ degree heat to the CVS to fill her prescription for antibiotics for the kidney infection she had been discharged with this morning.  Food and coffee helped perk her up a bit for the walk.

Over breakfast-for-lunch it emerged that home, such as it was, is Reno.  Vegas is where she served a jail term, got her first job (at 28 years old), and been homeless for the past two months.  She’s been doing drugs for  15 years, with meth being her current choice.   I Googled and tried to figure out options.  The Greyhound for Reno left at 5:30pm.  It was 2:30 pm when we got out of the CVS with a prescription and enough snacks and necessity to tide her over on the nearly 24-hour bus ride to Reno, through LA and other parts in between.

The Greyhound folks weren’t encouraging.  We Ubered to the main bus station.  Along the way we picked up a couple from a now-famous pawn shop.  In town from Florida for a few days.  Complaining about a few meth-heads in the pawn shop,  and gushing about their gourmet meal the night before.  Jamie laughed along as we squeezed into the small car together.  I doubt the couple realized she was a meth-head.  I wonder what they would have said or thought?  At the Greyhound station we were told the bus was sold out, but we could try and get on it if someone didn’t show up.  We had two hours to kill at this point.  She ate half a Subway chicken sandwich and a McDonald’s shake and we sat.

And sat.  And sat.

Food and sugar had livened her up, and she was very talkative.  In the course of four hours she never asked a single question of me, inquired as to any aspect of my life.  I presume none of that mattered.  I was the source of free food and the possibility of a bus ticket out of Vegas.  What more did she need to know?  What more  could possibly matter to a young woman with three children from three different fathers, all of whom were adopted out?  Did I actually expect her to make polite conversation?  I was a sucker.  She was willing to go along with it for as long as the gravy train lasted, or until I said or did something she didn’t like, at which point I  have no doubt she would have cursed me out and stalked off in righteous indignation.

But we sat, and sat, and sat.  I didn’t say much, and she didn’t seem to mind.

She went off for a smoke and took all her gear with her.  I didn’t  really expect her to show back up, but she did a few minutes later.  We walked the block to the bus station and bought a ticket for the 7:30pm bus.   She could try to get on the 5:30pm bus after all the other passengers boarded, and if the driver said he still had room.   Everything she owned was in a single small bag given her the night before by a church whose name she couldn’t remember.  We sat in the lobby, waiting the last 15 minutes to the bus departure.

If we had been back home I could have connected her to resources.   I half considered sending her that way anyways, calling on some people I know to see if they would be willing to admit her to a long-term recovery program.  But there were no guarantees.  No guarantees the residential program would have space at the moment.  No guarantee that she would be willing to try it.  No guarantees at all.

At 5:25 I shook her  hand.  Either she was going to get a seat on that 5:30 bus or she would have to wait for the 7:30 bus.  She had what she needed to get home, where she felt she had a support system of sorts.  A better chance than she stood in Vegas.

I prefer to think she got on that 5:30 bus.  That she’s en route to Reno right now.  That by tomorrow, she’ll be with people who know her.  That there might be a chance that she’ll get help.  That life can be different tomorrow than it was this morning when she had nothing to look forward to but getting through a day in triple-digit  heat with a prescription she couldn’t pay to fill.

I don’t know that for sure, but I prefer to think so, and pray so.  It’s no more in my control than what happens to the check I write on Sunday mornings.  But it sure looked and felt a lot different.


Book Review – Authentic Christianity

July 11, 2018

Authentic Christianity – How Lutheran Theology Speaks to a Postmodern World

by Gene Edward Veith Jr. and A. Trevor Sutton

I enjoy and respect Gene Veith’s thoughtful writing and thinking.  This book is no exception.  He sets forth his ideas in easy to understand language, bypassing technical jargon for the most part or explaining it so that a seminary education isn’t required to understand what he’s talking about.

I’m just not sure who this book is intended for.

It purports to demonstrate how Lutheranism, of all Christian flavors, is best suited to the particular needs of our day.  I think I’d even agree with this premise, but such a statement in and of itself is addressed more to the religiously inclined than the non-religious.  Is this a book intended to sway lukewarm Christians towards Lutheranism?  Perhaps.

But much of our culture is increasingly coming to the conclusion that worship and a life of faith within any kind of church setting is unnecessary, and this book does not seem aimed at changing their mind.

It’s a wonderful refresher on basic Lutheran theology, the kind of stuff I wish more catechism and confirmation classes touched on because it has to do with how we live our lives, rather than just how we worship on Sunday mornings.  Perhaps this book is intended for Lutherans, to refresh us on what we believe and why we believe it?  Perhaps.

If that’s the case, I think it does an admirable job.  But I purchased this book thinking that it was going to focus on how to connect Lutheran theology with an increasingly unchurched population, and the book doesn’t really do that.  There are places where it could do more, particularly in the chapter on justification, or the reality that we all want to justify our stances, statements, behaviors, and lives to others and ourselves and ultimately God.  Really good potential here but it doesn’t really connect strongly.

This text would make a good book study for a Lutheran congregation.  It might be helpful in discussion with lukewarm Christians of other stripes, or folks who are disenchanted with their current worship home and looking for another.  But if you’re trying to figure out how to explain why what you believe really matters to someone who is thoroughly post-modern in their approach to these things (meaning they’re happy you believe what you believe but don’t feel that it necessarily has any bearing on what they do or should believe), this book probably won’t be of much help.

ANF – The Epistle of Ignatius to Polycarp

July 7, 2018

This post is one of a series of reviews of the early Church Fathers, who are technically referred to as the Ante-Nicene Fathers (before the Council of Nicaea).  To find other reviews of these ancient writings, use the search bar on my blog and search for ANF.


Polycarp is reputed to be a disciple of St. John, and the last link between the Apostles and those who were taught by them.  He was the bishop of Smyrna.  Ireneaus writes a letter of encouragement to Polycarp, exhorting him to continued faithfulness and the promotion of unity in the faith.  He also exhorts him to various other Scriptural mandates, including an equal love of all people regardless of their sex or status.  His letter concludes with admonitions to the people under Polycarp, that husbands should love their wives (Ephesians 5) and that the congregation should follow the leadership of their bishop, Polycarp.

ANF – The Epistle of Ignatius to the Smyrnaeans

July 5, 2018

This post is one of a series of reviews of the early Church Fathers, who are technically referred to as the Ante-Nicene Fathers (before the Council of Nicaea).  To find other reviews of these ancient writings, use the search bar on my blog and search for ANF.

In this letter Ignatius maintains some of the themes in his other letters, namely unity in faith and practice under the guidance of the appointed bishop.  However he touches on a new theme as well  in this letter.

Ignatius warns the church at Smyrna about those teaching that Jesus only appeared to be incarnate, but that his physical body was an illusion and He was only spiritual.  We know this as the heresy of docetism, from the Greek word for phantasm or apparition.  It began to be formally addressed close to the end of the 2nd century, but from writings like this it seems that it was present much earlier.  It grows from the Greek philosophical idea that anything material is definitionally inferior to the spirit, since material things decay, change, die, etc.  The idea that God – true Spirit – would take on corruptible human flesh would have made little sense in this philosophical tradition, so the temptation to argue that it was an illusion would be very tempting.  This teaching gained ground in part due to a pseudographical (one person writing as though they are someone else) work called the Gospel of Pete, which the early Church identified as not from the authentic St. Peter.

Ignatius warns his readers to reject this notion of the false-incarnation of Jesus that directly contradict the first-hand eye-witness accounts of the Apostles in the canonical gospels.




ANF – The Epistle of Ignatius to the Philedelphians

July 4, 2018

This post is one of a series of reviews of the early Church Fathers, who are technically referred to as the Ante-Nicene Fathers (before the Council of Nicaea).  To find other reviews of these ancient writings, use the search bar on my blog and search for ANF.

This letter is concerned primarily with the unity of believers in the church at Philadelphia.  This is a theme that Ignatius will touch on in several of his letters, and is forefront in this one.  Ignatius speaks highly of the bishop at Philadelphia and exhorts the parishioners there to unity under his leadership.  He strongly encourages them to avoid those who are schismatic or  separatist in nature, admonishing them to stay true to the Holy Eucharist together rather than separating into warring factions.  He argues that this is only natural to Christians.  “For there is one flesh of our Lord Jesus Christ, and one  cup to [show forth] the unity of His blood; one altar; as there is one bishop, along with the presbytery an deacons, my fellow-servants; that so, whatsoever ye do, ye may do it according to [the will of] God.”

He also asks for their prayers as he journeys towards his death, and warns them against falling back into the practices of Judaism.  Like St. Paul, Ignatius is battling against the very strong pressure on early Christians – many of whom were Jewish – to maintain the Jewish customs they used to.  Ignatius sees this as an effort by Satan to confuse and ultimately separate God’s people from his love for them in Jesus Christ.  This issue was strong enough that some people were being led to reject Jesus unless he could be proven to them as the Messiah on the basis of the Old Testament (Hebrew Scripture).  Ignatius is careful to uphold the value and worthiness of the Old Testament while arguing for the important nature of the New Testament in terms of Christ.