My post on the history of infant baptism has gotten some traction. It was hosted on the Theopolis Institute Blog and I was interviewed on the subject by the Kuyperian Commentary Podcast. Check ’em out!
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
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.
I published a post yesterday responding to attacks on some brothers and sisters who put up a challenging podcast on the topic of women and the church. As of right now, that post has been viewed almost 6,000 times in 24 hours and has been signed by nearly 100 people, most of them PCA pastors (I keep getting requests to sign the post, even even after I closed the comments). I say that not to brag, but to show how broad the support has been for what we said and attested to in that post.
Since we posted, the author of the original blog castigating the podcast and calling for letters to be written to their authorities has been taken down. However, these facts still remain:
- An apology was not issued and the author continues to make his case on social media.
- An email blast campaign was sent out by the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals asking recipients to contact the ecclesiastical authorities of the podcast hosts to rebuke them for their errors. That bell cannot be unrung.
- Many people, inflamed by the original post on Mortification of Spin continue make their case on-line.
- As of this moment (4PM, Sunday, April 2) the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals is still hosting a version of the original post, regardless of the fact that it was deleted from Mortification of Spine.
Due to the fact that the author deleted his posts from his blog and has disengaged himself from the podcast hosts, I have closed comments and stopped adding names to my post. However, due to 1-4 above, I will let my post remain up and running with comments and names that were submitted prior to me closing them.
If you have any questions or need further clarification, you may contact me via the information on this website.
Here is a screen shot of the post that is still being hosted by ACE.
February is Black History Month, a month to pay “tribute to the generations of African Americans who struggled with adversity to achieve full citizenship in American society.” As a church historian I am particularly interested in paying tribute to those African-Americans and others of African origin who played a major role in the story of the Christian Church. There are many who have done excellent work in telling the story of early African-Americans who contributed to American Christianity: leaders like Absalom Jones and Richard Allen, and early African-American Presbyterian leaders like John Gloucester.
My interest in church history though lies further back in the annals of time. I’m a medievalist and I also dabble in the early church period. I have been encouraged at the increased awareness of just how many of the early church Fathers were African: Athanasius, the staunch defender of Nicene Orthodoxy, Augustine, the Schoolmaster of Western Christianity, Cyril of Alexandria, Origin, Cyprian of Carthage, Tertullian… I could go on. I was encouraged to see an article recently that highlighted this wonderful history as a part of a series of posts on Black History Month on the Reformed African-American Network.
The medieval period, however, has often been seen as a time without much contribution from Africans to the life and work of the Church. Part of that is due to the spread of Islam over North Africa. Part of that is due to our ignorance in knowing and telling the stories of African Christians during that time. Yet, as I was reading the article linked above I remembered one particular African who had an enormous impact on medieval Europe: Hadrian of Carthage.
Hadrian, also known as St. Adrian of Canterbury, was like St. Augustine a North African of the Berber people. He was born in Carthage in the early to mid 7th century, and classically educated. He later moved to Italy and became an abbot of a monastery near modern day Naples. Bede describes Hadrian as, “a native of Africa, very learned in the Scriptures, experienced in ecclesiastical and monastic administration, and a great scholar in Greek and Latin,” (HE IV:1). That’s a pretty impressive endorsement by Bede! Because of his experience and erudition, Hadrian was impressed upon two separate times by his friend Vitalian, the Bishop of Rome, to take the vacant see of Canterbury and engage himself in a much needed reformation and revival in the English Church. Twice though Hadrian turned him down, the last time recommending another monastic leader, one Theodore of Tarsus. Theodore accepted the appointment, but the Pope insisted that Hadrian go along, ostensibly, to show Theodore the way through Gaul to England. Yet it was not travel directions that the Bishop of Rome truly desired Hadrian to give, but to be a partner to Theodore in the reformation and revival of the English Church.
Theodore and Hadrian set off for England in 668, after a brief pause for Theodore to grow his hair out so as to be able to accept the Roman form of tonsure. They arrived in England in 669 and began visiting the churches so as to ascertain their state and begin the needed education and reform. They began to attract students whom they instructed in the knowledge of theology, church customs and rites, sacred music, Greek and Latin, and the study of sacred Scripture. Bede describes a renaissance of sorts in England that came as a result of their labors, “The people eagerly sought the new-found joys of the kingdom of heaven, and all who wished for instruction in the reading of the Scriptures found teachers ready at hand,” (HE IV:2). This explosion of learning was such that Bede remarked a couple of generations later that, “some of their students still alive today are as proficient in Latin and Greek as in their native tongue,” (ibid.).
Thus we can see that Hadrian’s impact on England and the church in England was massive. Yet what remains to be seen is just how much his contribution to the reformation and revival of England led to the foundations of Christianity in Western Europe.
Western Europe in the 7th c. was still a largely unreached place. Catholic Christianity was established in some places, while others of the Germanic tribes had been converted to Arian forms of Christianity. Still others remained pagan. There was a great need in these Germanic areas for both evangelization and Christianization. The problem was that the existing churches of Western Europe (mostly in Gaul, modern France) were not equipped to undertake this mission. This is where the English came in.
Due to the work of Hadrian and Theodore, the English were equipped to engage in this mission to the Germanic peoples. And so they did, with great vigor and success. Boniface led a wave of missionaries from England back to the continent to evangelize and establish churches. He is now known as the Apostle to the Germans. Educational leaders like Alcuin of York were brought from England by the Carolingian rulers to help establish court schools as well as cathedral and monastery schools and to lead in the Christianization and reform of the churches in Western Europe. The legacy of these English missionaries is hard to overstate: these are the fathers of the Europe we know today. They established the institutions and infrastructure upon which Western civilization is established.
And none of this would have been possible without the efforts of St. Hadrian, the African. A medieval giant who had a greater impact than any of us probably realize.
Let us give thanks for St. Hadrian and celebrate his work and ministry and its vast impact on the world we live in.
I’m a listener. I do not like to speak too quickly. Call it wisdom. Call it caution. Call it what you will. It’s the way God made me.
I’ve been listening over the past three days. I’ve been mourning. I’ve been angry. I’ve been numb. But I’ve been listening.
I’ve been listening to my LGBTQ friends. I’ve been reading their posts and the articles they’ve shared. Friends, I’ve been listening, and I’ve heard you.
When news of the Orlando Massacre began to come out and I became aware of it Sunday afternoon, I wanted to say something. But I also did not want to seem like an opportunist capitalizing on a horrible tragedy. I am cognizant that as a straight white Christian man that I didn’t necessarily have an invitation to speak. I didn’t want this to be about me, because it’s not. It’s about the dead. It’s about the injured. It’s about their families. And it’s about every LGBTQ person in this country who lives in a constant state of fear.
But I’ve heard the voices of my friends. And they need their straight allies to speak.
So today, while I’m still listening, I’m now speaking.
Here’s what I have to say.
LGBTQ friends, I mourn with you. I am angry with you. I love you.
I acknowledge that this massacre was an act of hatred against LGBTQ persons. I utterly condemn all acts of violence against LGBTQ persons who are targeted for being Gay. I condemn bullying LGBTQ people. I condemn making fun of LGBTQ people. I condemn shunning and shaming LGBTQ people.
There are not many safe places for LGBTQ people to feel free to be who they really are without fear. That club was such a space. That was attacked and that safety shattered. It saddens me to know that LGBTQ people truly do not have any safe places now.
I hope the church can be a place of safety for you. A place where you don’t have to be afraid. A place where you don’t have to be on your guard. A place where you can be you. That’s what I hope, but I know that realizing that hope will be messy. It won’t be easy. But I truly hope that for you and for us, because we need you.
I realize that for many of you the church has been anything but safe. I realize that the last place many of you would go for safety would be a church. I also realize that there are many of you already in the church who love the Lord and are afraid of opening up to the church because you don’t know what will happen. I lament all of this. I repent of the ways I have contributed to it.
So, for Christian people reading this, we have a job to do. Let us affirm what scripture clearly teaches us to affirm about this tragedy. All people are made in God’s image. God loves every person that he has made. Do not murder is one of the top ten rules on God’s list. Bullying, attacking, mocking, shunning and shaming are all lesser forms of murder. Jesus was not afraid to enter into all kinds of places and love people for who they are. Jesus accepted people that society shunned, shamed, mocked, and stoned to death.
So let us weep with those who weep. Let us condemn violence against LGBTQ persons. Let us not mix in our moral or theological opinions during this time. Let us not talk about gun rights (on either side) during this time. Let us refrain from defending ourselves during this time. Let us simply grieve, love, listen, pray, and serve.
What are some ways to serve? You can donate blood to a local blood bank. You can donate time or money to a local charity that serves at risk youth that have been made homeless because they are Gay. You can be a compassionate voice in defense of those who are suffering injustice. You can listen and learn from your LGBTQ friends. Trust me, you have some.
Pray for those friends and for all LGBTQ people. Pray for their safety. Pray for their comfort and healing in this time. Pray for the families of the dead. Pray for the healing of those survivors.
LGBTQ friends, God loves you, he doesn’t hate you. He made you in his own image. You were fearfully and wonderfully crafted by Him.
Jesus weeps at this tragedy. This is not the way things were made to be in this world.
Come, Lord Jesus.
Here is a transcript of the speech that Rev. Jim Baird, former Senior Pastor of First Presbyterian Church, Jackson, MS, gave on the floor of General Assembly in support of the personal resolution on Civil Rights.
Mr. Moderator, Jim Baird, Mississippi Valley Presbytery.
In 1971 twelve men were elected to form a new denomination. Take two years and form that denomination. Of those twelve men six were ministers and six were ruling elders. All have died or left the PCA except two: Kennedy Smartt and Me.
And I confess, that in 1973, the only thing I understood was that we were starting a new denomination, which we did. And I confess that I did not raise a finger for civil rights. I was taught (sic) with one thing, and that was to start a new denomination, for the sake of the scripture, for the sake of the preservation of historic Presbyterianism, and for the furtherance of the gospel proclamation. And so I confess my sin.
I’m not confessing the sin of my fathers, I’m confessing my sin, and of those twelve men. Were we racists? No. But we did not do anything to help our black brethren.
That’s the first thing here.
The second thing, fifty years later I’m a different man, but that’s beside the point. It was my understanding that this resolution would have been passed here and would have been passed with the understanding that we confess, you men, but I confess personally that I did nothing.
But the idea was that it would be sent down to the local churches. What you do here is not going to affect anything at the local church, unless they have a chance to represent themselves. And it seems to me that we oughta say that we made a mistake. We confess our sins. I don’t believe there’s anybody here who hasn’t said I got problems one way or another with the racial problems in the United States. We got a problem. OK. But we oughta do something. We’re looking for a resolution. And I just assumed that we would have the resolution, and by the way it comes from Mississippi. Two men from Mississippi. And it is also my conviction that we’re never going to solve the problem among us, not in Baltimore, or in Chesapeake or in any other place, or in Chattanooga – it’s gotta be done in Mississippi.
And there are some of us who are trying.
But if we go back and go to every single congregation in the PCA and ask the Session of that church and the Deacons of that church to bring it before their own and decide themselves what have we done in forty years, and what should we be doing today – and take it to every single congregation, and then take it to the presbyteries, and then bring it to the next General Assembly. And that’s what I thought this was all about.
And where all the arguments have gone, I don’t understand. But I thought I was going to go back to the First Presbyterian Church of Jackson Mississippi and speak to the issue. And say, “Let’s do something.”
Have I been wrong, Mr. Moderator?
[Mr. Wert: I hope not.]
I don’t understand. Why don’t we take this thing and just say, the resolution – and that’s how I think the resolution ends, I don’t have it in front of me. But I think the last thing the resolution says is to take it back to your local church, and have your local church deal with it. Every single denomination [sic – congregation]. And can you imagine what it would mean to have a whole denomination to work on that one issue – that’s what I thought it was all about.
And that’s what I would propose.
Thank you Mr. Moderator.
[Mr. Wert: Thank you sir. I think that is a speech for the recommendation.]
[Mr. Wert: Thank you, brother Baird.