2017 Advent Prayer Guide

Each year I produce an Advent Prayer guide for the use of the folks at Christ Our King. We also put it up on our website in electronic form so that people can download and use. There are also audio clips of all the tunes for singing the psalms, canticles, and hymns in the guide. My hope is that this will deepen your prayer life and enable you to seek the Lord during this season.

Come, Lord Jesus!

2017 Christ Our King Advent Prayer Guide – CLICK HERE

5 Common Misconceptions of Reformation Day

For many people the date October 31 is significant not only for being the Eve of All Saints (All Hallows Eve, Halloween) but as the day in 1517 when Martin Luther nailed his 95 theses to the door of the Castle Church in Wittenburg. These theses were a list of arguments against the abuses of the papacy as it was in the early 16th century, largely centering on the sale of indulgences by the Roman Church. The 95 theses were quickly copied and distributed with the emerging printing press, and soon became a manifesto of sorts for the reform of the church in Europe.

The 500th anniversary of this event is quickly approaching.

Because of this many people are talking about the Reformation and interest in Reformation events and theologies is swelling. Along with this interest and discussion comes several of the myths or misconceptions about the Reformation that have been perpetuated over the years.

As a historical theologian I am not only interested in these misconceptions for accuracy’s sake (though I do care about accuracy) but also because I believe that holding to faulty conceptions about the Reformation does harm to the actual intentions and aims of the Protestant Reformers.

For this reason, I am going to briefly address 5 of these misconceptions and discuss why correcting them is important.

1. Nailing the 95 Theses to the Church Door Was an Act of Protest

to read the rest of the article click here.

Sunday Music – The Old Rugged Cross

At Christ Our King, the church where I pastor, we’ve been recording our worship services, including the music. Here’s a recent rendition we did of the old hymn, “The Old Rugged Cross.” I hope it is a blessing to you!

Vocals: Tim LeCroy and Olivia Cordray
Guitar: Tim LeCroy
Mandolin: Olivia Cordray
Violin: Erica Kallis
Bass: Tim LeCroy

Why Pray the Hours? – Reflections on Reformation

The church throughout her history has kept regular, set times of prayer each day. Should modern Christians reacquire this ancient practice?

Note: this begins a series on my blog called Reflections on Reformation which will be running this year in commemoration of the 500th anniversary of the onset of the Protestant Reformation.

Early on in the history of the church, Christians understood that the 1st century Jewish practice of meeting for prayer at set times of the day was a good and biblical practice to continue. We find references to this in several places in Scripture. In Acts 3 we find Peter and John attending a set prayer at the temple at 3PM. Acts 10 seems to reference Peter continuing this practice in his devotional life as he was praying at the ninth hour (3pm). Later in the story he prays at the sixth hour (noon).  Pentecost occurred at the third hour of the day (9 am). In Jesus’s parable in Luke 18 we find two men going up to the temple to pray. While he does not tell us the exact hour, it was a corporate prayer service they were attending. Simeon and Anna prayed in the Temple continually, it says in Luke 2. We tend to assume this is individual devotional prayer, but it would make more sense if this referred to them participating in the set prayers of the temple service. In Acts 22 we find Paul praying at the temple. In Luke 1:10 we find a multitude praying in the temple courts at the “hour of incense.” In Daniel 9 we find Daniel praying at the time of the evening sacrifice. He did this even though the temple was destroyed and there was currently no sacrificial ministry occurring.

In the Psalms there are multiple references to prayer and times of day. Psalm 88:13 says, “But I, O LORD, cry to you; in the morning my prayer comes before you.” Psalm 141:2 says, “Let my prayer be counted as incense before you, and the lifting up of my hands as the evening sacrifice!” Psalm 5:3 says, “O LORD, in the morning you hear my voice; in the morning I prepare a sacrifice for you and watch.” Psalm 59:16, “But I will sing of your strength; I will sing aloud of your steadfast love in the morning. For you have been to me a fortress and a refuge in the day of my distress.” Psalm 119:147, “I rise before dawn and cry for help; I hope in your words.” Psalm 55:17, “Evening and morning and at noon I utter my complaint and moan, and he hears my voice.” Psalm 119:148, “My eyes are awake before the watches of the night, that I may meditate on your promise.” Psalm 134:1-2, “Come, bless the LORD, all you servants of the LORD, who stand by night in the house of the LORD! Lift up your hands to the holy place and bless the LORD!” Psalm 119:62, “At midnight I rise to praise you, because of your righteous rules.” This is not to mention numerous places in the Psalms where specific times of day are referred to with relation to receiving mercy, hearing God’s word, groaning, crying out, meditating on his greatness, etc.

Perhaps this is also what is meant by the several references in the scriptures to praying night and day and praying without ceasing. This would make sense in the context of gathered set times of prayer, which we know were happening at least in the temple and also in an extension of those temple services in private prayers (see Peter and Daniel above).

Are we to take these numerous references to prayer at specific times of day as a descriptive coincidence? Or do the Scriptures intend to prescribe a practice for God’s people? Indeed, the early Christians saw these references as scriptural warrant to offer prayers at set times each day. Based on specific times mentioned in scripture (just before dawn, third hour, sixth hour, ninth hour, sunset, evening, midnight) and based on Psalm 119:164 which says, “Seven times a day I praise you for your righteous rules,” the early Christians established set times of prayer at these times.

https://pastortimlecroy.files.wordpress.com/2017/09/daf9c-xpray-the-hours-pagespeed-ic-msrl-z6coo.jpg?w=840

Not everyone prayed seven times a day in the early church, although for some this was the ideal (see Hippolytus of Rome’s Apostolic Constitutions). Yet the churches called those to prayer who were pastors and workers, those with vocations within the church and those who were able and willing to do so. Eventually communities sprang up who were devoted to prayer, such were the early monasteries. In the Rule of Benedict he lays out the liturgies for the set times of prayer along with the Psalms that were to be sung at them. In the ancient practice of the Benedictine Rule, the monastery was directed to sing through the entire Psalter every week.

This may be what Paul had in mind as well when he describes that the widows who are enrolled in the church when he writes in 1 Timothy 5:5, “She who is truly a widow, left all alone, has set her hope on God and continues in supplications and prayers night and day.” Interestingly, Calvin remarked on this in his Institutes in book 4:8:18-19 where he discusses the enrollment of widows as deaconesses to “discharge the public ministry of the church toward the poor and to strive with all zeal, continancy, and diligence in the task of love.” It is interesting because he does not address the apostolic command that these widows continue in supplications night and day. His reaction against late medieval monasticism was too strong to allow him to consider that possibility. In this he was not unlike many of the Protestant Reformers who saw the services of the hours as attempts to “appease God with songs or unintelligible mumbling.”

Despite Calvin’s protestation, the church has continued these daily prayers, the hours or divine offices throughout her history. At the time of the Protestant Reformation one of the main questions that arose was whether and which practices of the ancient and medieval church should be continued. While some protestant traditions continued the daily office in some form (mainly Anglicans and some Lutherans), most of the Protestants jettisoned the daily office in favor of the teaching ministry of the church. Calvin himself taught the scriptures daily, and for that reason we have an expansive collection of his biblical teaching. We might ask though, while teaching the scriptures is obviously a very good thing, should the corporate prayer ministry of the church have been abandoned? If the answer is no, what are ways that we can reincorporate this ministry into the life our churches today?

Evangelical churches have tended to relegate prayer to the private life of the individual believer. The emphasis on alone time with the Lord is in keeping with Christ’s teaching on prayer, and this was the main influence for Evangelical piety. Yet in the 20th century, Pentecostal and Charismatic movements have reacquired this ancient emphasis on prayer, while not taking up the ancient forms. Many charismatic prayer ministries seek to be faithful to God’s word by opening up prayer rooms where there is a sign-up and a schedule to ensure that prayers are being offered around the clock.

While this re-emphasis on prayer is to be commended, it largely focuses on the efficacy of prayer (a true and good notion), but not necessarily on the formative aspects of prayer for the Christian believer. In the early church it was both the efficacious and the formative aspects of prayer that shaped the church’s practices. Could we glean from this formative aspect of prayer today?

There has been much work recently in this area. James K. A. Smith’s work on Christian formation has drawn deeply from prayer’s formative aspect and the goodness of this for Christian formation. Additionally Greg Thompson in his public teaching ministry has made this a focus. Both Thompson and Smith have drawn from the life of the ancient church in its rich liturgies and from the Rule of Benedict which prescribes prayer as a way of life for disciples of Christ. It should be noted that both Smith and Thompson are active in the Reformed context, Thompson being a pastor in the PCA and having given a series of foundational lectures at Covenant Theological Seminary on this topic.

What then are we to make of this? I’m not suggesting that every Christian should pray the seven offices every day. Yet it would be helpful if Evangelicals leaned into this rich tradition to form our congregations in some way. It is also very helpful, if not necessary, that those who are in vocational ministry participate in the daily office as a way to rest, recharge, and fulfill our callings to intercede as ministers of word and prayer.

I’ll offer several practical suggestions below.

  1. Offer avenues for daily prayer to congregants. This could be in the form of a prayer guide that the church produces, or suggestions of various smartphone apps which fulfill the same purpose. For example, each year for Advent and Lent my church offers a daily prayer guide to all our congregants to enter into daily prayer. Mind you, this is not seven times a day, but a suggestion and resource for engaging in once-daily prayer as individuals and families. Another option is to offer a page in the weekly service bulletin with all the lectionary readings for that week and encourage congregants to use that week’s service as a prayer guide throughout the week.
  2. Offer a mid week prayer service. Churches with access to facilities during the week could offer a mid-week vespers or matins (or both!) so that congregants who wish could attend to pray together and be shaped by these rich patterns of prayer.
  3. Pray daily as a church staff. If you have multiple staff who office at the same location, gather for morning prayer as you start each day. Make it a priority and block the time out on your schedule.
  4. Seminary Communities. Seminaries are uniquely positioned to enter into the richness of communal prayer. If chapels are more lightly attended than years past, perhaps a shift away from the didactic focus of a chapel sermon to the communal and formative act of prayer will reinvigorate seminary communities. Begin by exposing students and faculty to things like chanting psalms and saying the hours. Do the office for one or two of the chapel services a semester. Pick one day per semester to cancel classes and pray the hours (9am, 12, 3, and at sunset), encouraging the students and faculty to work in between the prayer services. Eventually begin offering morning prayer on a daily basis for those that desire it. Then sit back and see what the Lord does with it.
  5. Individual pastors. I encourage all pastors to say the office at least once a day. I say the morning office every morning (even Sunday before church!) except for my day off. This has been very beneficial for me in a number of ways, which I will detail in a future post.

Won’t this require too much work and take up too much time? The great thing about the office is that once you learn how it works, you don’t need to spend time preparing and practicing like we have done for many chapel services and Sunday services these days. Find someone who can lead it well. Find someone who can chant psalms. Then just show up and do it. Take 15-20 minutes out of your day (minimum) to spend time in community before the Lord. I promise that you will begin to see tangible results in the lives of those who participate.

Martin Luther is supposed to have said, “I have so much to do that if I didn’t spend at least three hours a day in prayer I would never get it all done.” There is no written evidence that he ever said that, though perhaps it was a oral tradition that was passed down through the ages due to its poignancy. Whether he said it or not, we must remember that Luther was a medieval monk who prayed the hours. That shaped him and formed him in his knowledge of the scriptures and in his love and knowledge of God. Augustine prayed the hours. Chrysostom prayed the hours. Anselm prayed the hours. In fact, all the theological giants of the ancient and medieval church prayed them in some form. Our fathers and mothers were steeped in scripture because of this. We often think that we know the bible well and understand it even better. But are we steeped in scripture to the level that our fathers and mothers were? Who recited the psalter by heart once a week? Who read through the bible at least every three years? Who daily spent hours in prayer before the face of God?

 

Want me to help you learn how to chant the psalms? Contact me.

Apps for the daily office
These apps are available in your app store. Note: these apps come from various theological traditions.

  • Mission St. Clare
  • Divine Hours, Vinyard Ann Arbor
  • Universalis
  • Daily Prayer from the COE
  • Do you know of others? Comment below!

 

Did Recent Scientific Findings Actually Disprove the Biblical Account of Israel’s Conquest of Canaan?

This is not an anti-science post. I love science. I have a Bachelor’s of Science in Chemical Engineering. I graduated from the South Carolina Governor’s School for Science and Mathematics. I have worked in STEM fields and have taught science to middle and high school students. If I hadn’t gone into the Christian ministry, I would be working in STEM fields today.

Due to all my love and appreciation for scientific knowledge and discovery, I was interested when I saw the following title pop up on my news reader, “Ancient DNA counters biblical account of the mysterious Canaanites,” a recently published article in Science magazine. I was interested to read the article, not because I expected any scientific findings to render the bible irrelevant, but because I wanted to read for myself what had been discovered in the study.

This article, which you can read for yourself in the link above, presents evidence from a UK based geneticist who extracted DNA samples from ancient skeletons buried in the ancient city of Sidon. Then he compared his data to the DNA of modern Lebanese people. This is what the author of the article wrote in summary:

If the Israelites had wiped out the Canaanites as the Bible claimed, the ancient populations wouldn’t have been able to pass on their genes to modern people. Instead, Haber found that the present-day Lebanese population is largely descended from the ancient Canaanites, inheriting more than 90% of their genes from this ancient source.

This would be sound reasoning if the Bible claimed that the Israelites had completely destroyed the ancient Sidonians. But the Bible does not make any such claim. Thus there isn’t so much a problem with science here, but with comparing those scientific findings with the actual data found in the biblical narratives.

In fact, in the text of Joshua itself, which tells the story of Israel’s conquest, we find a description of areas that had not been conquered by the Israelites in their conquest. In Joshua 13 we read this:

Now Joshua was old and advanced in years, and the LORD said to him, “You are old and advanced in years, and there remains yet very much land to possess. 2 This is the land that yet remains: all the regions of the Philistines, and all those of the Geshurites 3 (from the Shihor, which is east of Egypt, northward to the boundary of Ekron, it is counted as Canaanite; there are five rulers of the Philistines, those of Gaza, Ashdod, Ashkelon, Gath, and Ekron), and those of the Avvim, 4 in the south, all the land of the Canaanites, and Mearah that belongs to the Sidonians, to Aphek, to the boundary of the Amorites, 5 and the land of the Gebalites, and all Lebanon, toward the sunrise, from Baal-gad below Mount Hermon to Lebo-hamath, 6 all the inhabitants of the hill country from Lebanon to Misrephoth-maim, even all the Sidonians. I myself will drive them out from before the people of Israel. Only allot the land to Israel for an inheritance, as I have commanded you. (Jos. 13:1-6 ESV)

So the text of Joshua explicitly says that they were not able to conquer the Sidonians, along with many other Canaanite peoples that remained in the land. As the biblical narrative continues through the books of the Kings, we to find that these peoples were never displaced and continued to live alongside the Israelites. In fact, there were times in Israel’s history that the kings of Sidon had a friendly relationship with Israel and even aided them in the building of their Temple, as we see in Solomon’s letter to Hiram King of Tyre:

Now Hiram king of Tyre sent his servants to Solomon when he heard that they had anointed him king in place of his father, for Hiram always loved David. 2 And Solomon sent word to Hiram, 3 “You know that David my father could not build a house for the name of the LORD his God because of the warfare with which his enemies surrounded him, until the LORD put them under the soles of his feet. 4 But now the LORD my God has given me rest on every side. There is neither adversary nor misfortune. 5 And so I intend to build a house for the name of the LORD my God, as the LORD said to David my father, ‘Your son, whom I will set on your throne in your place, shall build the house for my name.’ 6 Now therefore command that cedars of Lebanon be cut for me. And my servants will join your servants, and I will pay you for your servants such wages as you set, for you know that there is no one among us who knows how to cut timber like the Sidonians.” 7 As soon as Hiram heard the words of Solomon, he rejoiced greatly and said, “Blessed be the LORD this day, who has given to David a wise son to be over this great people.” 8 And Hiram sent to Solomon, saying, “I have heard the message that you have sent to me. I am ready to do all you desire in the matter of cedar and cypress timber. (1 Ki. 5:1-8 ESV)

We later find in the last stages of Israel’s recorded history in the Old Testament that the Sidonians were still around to help with the rebuilding of the Temple under Ezra:

So they gave money to the masons and the carpenters, and food, drink, and oil to the Sidonians and the Tyrians to bring cedar trees from Lebanon to the sea, to Joppa, according to the grant that they had from Cyrus king of Persia. (Ezr. 3:7 ESV)

Remarkably, we also find in the Gospels the Jesus himself visited the region of Tyre and Sidon and met with a Canaanite woman there, who begged him to heal her daughter of demon possession. So we find that throughout the history of the biblical narrative, there was never a claim that the Sidonians, or any of the Canaanite peoples for that matter, had been completely annihilated as the article in Science magazine claimed.

Now, as I stated above, I have training in science and have a deep appreciation for scientific knowledge and discovery. I also said that this would not be an anti-science post. Let me expand on that briefly. One of the main reasons for my interest in this subject is because I am also a credentialed Historical Theologian. When we approach the science of history we are trained to utilize the many sources at our disposal. Written texts are the most prominent. But scientific disciplines such as genetics and archaeology are a very important piece of that puzzle. Thus the reason why I came to the article with a dose of skepticism (the sensationalist title notwithstanding) is because I have already studied quite a bit in the area of Ancient Near Eastern archeology, and have been convinced of the veracity of the biblical accounts.

The study bible I use in my daily bible reading has excellent notes that often discuss the archaeological findings that verify the text. I have also preached through books of the bible, like Amos, and have had my study enriched by sound archaeology that has surfaced regarding the geographies and peoples mentioned. But the main source of my confidence is founded in the influential work by British archaeologist Kenneth A. Kitchen entitled On the Reliability of the Old Testament. In that tome, which approaches 700 pages, he meticulously compares the biblical text with archaeological findings and shows that while the text cannot always be proven through archaeological science, known archaeological findings do not contradict the basic biblical narrative.

One of the sections Kitchen deals with is the Israelite conquest. The entire chapter is insightful, but I will make two brief points. The first is that we simply have not dug down deep enough in many of these archaeological sites to get to the time periods where evidence for or against the conquest would be found. Kitchen writes (page 183):

In any modern attempt to trace the effects of the campaigns several points need to be made. First, the text of Joshua does not imply huge and massive fiery destructions of every site visited (only Jericho, Ai, and Hazor were burned). The Egyptians did not usually burn cities, preferring to make them into profitable tax-paying vassals; the Hebrews under Joshua sought basically to kill off the Canaanite leadership and manpower, to facilitate later occupation. These Egyptian and Hebrew policies are not readily detectable in the excavated ruin sites. Second, even when a Late Bronze II settlement is found to have been damaged or destroyed, there is no absolute certainty as to who was responsible (Egyptians? Local neighbors? Sea Peoples? The Israelites?). Third, the identifications of some biblical place-names with mounds known today are not always certain — a wrong identification can bring a wrong result. Fourth, the erosion of an ancient settlement mound through the centuries by natural causes or human destruction can result in loss of the evidence for occupation and destruction of particular levels in a site. Fifth, with 95% of the site undug (as is common), the evidence may still be under the ground.

With this in mind, Kitchen carefully surveys the relevant archaeological data and concludes that the biblical narrative is reliable, “Of these twenty-four entries, only four can be regarded as deficient in background finds for LBII [Late Bronze Age II], and in those cases there are factors that account for the deficiency,” (page 189).

Therefore, with all due respect and acknowledgment for the scientific knowledge and contributions of geneticists, and with full support and hope that they will continue their work to deepen our knowledge of the Ancient Near East for historians and biblical scholars, the particular conclusion claimed in the title of the article recently published in Science magazine cannot be substantiated. The genetic science is sound, no doubt. But the conclusion is erroneous because the overall science (scientia – Latin for knowledge) of the biblical text and relevant archaeological data has not been adequately considered. I look forward to geneticists working with biblical scholars and ANE archaeologists to further the scientific knowledge of the bible in the future.

 

 

Grace and Truth from the Apostle John

My friend Scott Sauls posted the following two corollaries to his Twitter and Facebook yesterday:

Grace without truth is codependent enabling.

Truth without grace is religious bullying.

When I saw that it made me think of a wonderful story about the Apostle John that is relayed in Eusebius’s Ecclesiastical History. This story is admittedly not canonical, but in my judgment many of the details ring true. Even if it did not happen, it is a wonderful picture of God’s grace and truth, exhibiting well the Lord’s parable of the shepherd leaving the 99 to find the one. (The historical notes are mine)

“Listen to a tale, which is not a mere tale, but a narrative concerning John the apostle, which has been handed down and treasured up in memory. For when, after the tyrant’s*  death, he returned from the isle of Patmos to Ephesus, he went away upon their invitation to the neighboring territories of the Gentiles, to appoint bishops in some places, in other places to set in order whole churches, elsewhere to choose to the ministry some one of those that were pointed out by the Spirit.

“When he had come to one of the cities not far away (the name of which is given by some),** and had consoled the brethren in other matters, he finally turned to the bishop that had been appointed, and seeing a youth of powerful physique, of pleasing appearance, and of ardent temperament, he said, This one I commit to thee in all earnestness in the presence of the Church and with Christ as witness.’ And when the bishop had accepted the charge and had promised all, he repeated the same injunction with an appeal to the same witnesses, and then departed for Ephesus.

“But the presbyter taking home the youth committed to him, reared, kept, cherished, and finally baptized him. After this he relaxed his stricter care and watchfulness, with the idea that in putting upon him the seal of the Lord he had given him a perfect protection.

“But some youths of his own age, idle and dissolute, and accustomed to evil practices, corrupted him when he was thus prematurely freed from restraint. At first they enticed him by costly entertainments; then, when they went forth at night for robbery, they took him with them, and finally they demanded that he should unite with them in some greater crime.

“He gradually became accustomed to such practices, and on account of the positiveness of his character, leaving the right path, and taking the bit in his teeth like a hard-mouthed and powerful horse, he rushed the more violently down into the depths.

“And finally despairing of salvation in God, he no longer meditated what was insignificant, but having committed some great crime, since he was now lost once for all, he expected to suffer a like fate with the rest. Taking them, therefore, and forming a band of robbers, he became a bold bandit-chief, the most violent, most bloody, most cruel of them all.

“Time passed, and some necessity having arisen, they sent for John. But he, when he had set in order the other matters on account of which he had come, said, Come, O bishop, restore us the deposit which both I and Christ committed to thee, the church, over which thou presidest, being witness.’***

“But the bishop was at first confounded, thinking that he was falsely charged in regard to money which he had not received, and he could neither believe the accusation respecting what he had not, nor could he disbelieve John. But when he said, I demand the young man and the soul of the brother,’ the old man, groaning deeply and at the same time bursting into tears, said, He is dead.’ How and what kind of death?’ He is dead to God,’ he said; for he turned wicked and abandoned, and at last a robber. And now, instead of the church, he haunts the mountain with a band like himself.’

“But the Apostle rent his clothes, and beating his head with great lamentation, he said, A fine guard I left for a brother’s soul! But let a horse be brought me, and let some one show me the way.’ He rode away from the church just as he was, and coming to the place, he was taken prisoner by the robbers’ outpost.

“He, however, neither fled nor made entreaty, but cried out, For this did I come; lead me to your captain.’

“The latter, meanwhile, was waiting, armed as he was. But when he recognized John approaching, he turned in shame to flee.

“But John, forgetting his age, pursued him with all his might, crying out, Why, my son, dost thou flee from me, thine own father, unarmed, aged? Pity me, my son; fear not; thou hast still hope of life. I will give account to Christ for thee. If need be, I will willingly endure thy death as the Lord suffered death for us. For thee will I give up my life. Stand, believe; Christ hath sent me.’

“And he, when he heard, first stopped and looked down; then he threw away his arms, and then trembled and wept bitterly. And when the old man approached, he embraced him, making confession with lamentations as he was able, baptizing himself a second time with tears, and concealing only his right hand.

“But John, pledging himself, and assuring him on oath that he would find forgiveness with the Saviour, besought him, fell upon his knees, kissed his right hand itself as if now purified by repentance, and led him back to the church. And making intercession for him with copious prayers, and struggling together with him in continual fastings, and subduing his mind by various utterances, he did not depart, as they say, until he had restored him to the church, furnishing a great example of true repentance and a great proof of regeneration, a trophy of a visible resurrection.”


 

What a beautiful picture of God’s grace, and a wonderful example of Christ himself to risk his own life to win back the one who was lost. No truth is sacrificed in the endeavor, yet such grace as to shame us all into repentance. What’s striking to me about his as a historical theologian, is that it has hardly any taint of legalism in it (the copious prayers, struggling, and fasting for restoration possibly excepted). I’ve read a lot of patristic and medieval theology. A lot of it can seem pretty legalistic and works centered. When I read this, I was floored by the grace that was being exhibited. That’s one big reason why I think it may be a genuine story.

It is also revealing to consider that this is the same Apostle who wrote these words to a religious bully, “I have written something to the church, but Diotrephes, who likes to put himself first, does not acknowledge our authority. So if I come, I will bring up what he is doing, talking wicked nonsense against us. And not content with that, he refuses to welcome the brothers, and also stops those who want to and puts them out of the church.” (3 Jn. 1:9-10)

One has to conclude that the same grace would have been afforded Diotrephes if he had likewise repented in a second baptism of tears.

 


Thanks to Scott Sauls for the insightful Tweets, and to Wayne Sparkman for the reference to 3 John. The text is from Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History, Book III:23:6-19.

*The tyrant is Roman Emperor Domitian, who tradition says exiled John to Patmos.
**The name of the church was Smyrna. It was omitted out of respect for the Bishop Polycarp who had pastoral oversight over the lad.
***Again, this presiding bishop was Polycarp.

Ambrose’s Advice to Augustine When Visiting Other Churches

A beautiful example of Christian discipleship

When I was in graduate school preparing for my doctoral comprehensive examinations on the history of eucharistic theology, I came across an insightful passage in Augustine’s letter to Januarius (Letter 54, found here). In this letter, Augustine relays to Januarius a situation he had with his mother who was scandalized when visiting a church in a distant city that did not worship the way she was accustomed. You see, Augustine was raised by his mother, Monica, according to the Roman rite, and during her sojourn with her son in Milan she was confronted with the different practices of the Milanese rite. All that to say that when traveling, she and Augustine went to church and she was putt off by the way they worshiped (the exact details are contained in the text below).

Now when I came across this passage I was a bit younger and more strident in my opinions about worship. To be sure, I still have a developed liturgical theology, but as I have aged a bit and grown from experience, I have softened a good deal. One of the things that softened me was Ambrose’s advice to Augustine (Was Monica’s scruple really his own?), and Augustine’s advice in turn to Januarius.

Here is another example how the wise Ambrose’s shepherding helped the young Augustine to mature. I think it’s a beautiful picture of Christian discipleship. Like Augustine, my own opinions in my younger days were such that I could not truly participate in worship with any sort of true and humble spirit of unity for all the scruples my sinful heart was throwing before my eyes. I’ve had to repent of that, and this passage from Augustine helped me to do that. Perhaps it will help you as well.

Be mindful that Augustine uses some strong words at the end of the passage, but we can forgive him as he was confronted by violent schism in his native diocese of Hippo and the surrounding areas near Carthage in Northern Africa.

There are other things, however, which are different in different places and countries: e.g., some fast on Saturday, others do not; some partake daily of the body and blood of Christ, others receive it on stated days: in some places no day passes without the sacrifice being offered; in others it is only on Saturday and the Lord’s day, or it may be only on the Lord’s day. In regard to these and all other variable observances which may be met anywhere, one is at liberty to comply with them or not as he chooses; and there is no better rule for the wise and serious Christian in this matter, than to conform to the practice which he finds prevailing in the Church to which it may be his lot to come. For such a custom, if it is clearly not contrary to the faith nor to sound morality, is to be held as a thing indifferent, and ought to be observed for the sake of fellowship with those among whom we live.

I think you may have heard me relate before, what I will nevertheless now mention. When my mother followed me to Milan, she found the Church there not fasting on Saturday. She began to be troubled, and to hesitate as to what she should do; upon which I, though not taking a personal interest then in such things, applied on her behalf to Ambrose, of most blessed memory, for his advice. He answered that he could not teach me anything but what he himself practised, because if he knew any better rule, he would observe it himself. When I supposed that he intended, on the ground of his authority alone, and without supporting it by any argument, to recommend us to give up fasting on Saturday, he followed me, and said: “When I visit Rome, I fast on Saturday; when I am here, I do not fast. On the same principle, do you observe the custom prevailing in whatever Church you come to, if you desire neither to give offence by your conduct, nor to find cause of offence in another’s.” When I reported this to my mother, she accepted it gladly; and for myself, after frequently reconsidering his decision, I have always esteemed it as if I had received it by an oracle from heaven. For often have I perceived, with extreme sorrow, many disquietudes caused to weak brethren by the contentious pertinacity or superstitious vacillation of some who, in matters of this kind, which do not admit of final decision by the authority of Holy Scripture, or by the tradition of the universal Church or by their manifest good influence on manners raise questions, it may be, from some crotchet of their own, or from attachment to the custom followed in one’s own country, or from preference for that which one has seen abroad, supposing that wisdom is increased in proportion to the distance to which men travel from home, and agitate these questions with such keenness, that they think all is wrong except what they do themselves.

SOURCE: Augustine, Letter 54 to Januarius, CCEL (accessed here).

IMAGE: Gozzoli, Ambrose baptizing Augustine with the words of the hymn Te deum (Source: Wikimedia Commons) 15th c.