Thursday, December 19, 2013

Personal Update

Hey guys,

So two days ago now I had Lasic eye surgery. So no more glasses for me. Yeah, I know. I look weird. Yeah, I know. I keep putting drops in my eyes. And yes, it really sucked for the first few hours. I don't think I would do the surgery again just yet. But, I did do it and that's that. So yeah.

Also, I'm reading the new book that just came out from crossway called From Heaven He Came and Sought Her: Definite Atonement in Historical, Biblical, Theological, and Pastoral Perspective. And yes, the book is as long as the name makes it seem like it would be. But it's crazy good so far. I just finished the Historical section today and I'll probably begin the Biblical section, which is the one I'm most looking forward to. I've browsed it a bit already and I'm dying to dive into that exegesis so hard. Although, there's quite a bit of Hebrew, so I might have to return to that chapter in a year or so when I've taken a few Hebrew courses and can fully grasp it all. Anyway, I've been reading that and a book on John Knox by D.M. Lloyd-Jones and Iain Murray. I should have finished that book weeks ago but I just haven't sat down to finish it. I mean, I only have like 25 more pages, but whatever. It's really good so far and the book has me proud to say that my heritage is Scottish. I'll probably review the two books as well as a book by Kathryn Tanner and perhaps a few more in a later post.

I'm also writing up a statement of faith. Why? Not really sure. Kinda just doing it for my own edification. Oh! and I just found out that YouVersion has a "Read the Bible in 90 Days" plan, which I am utilizing. It's a lot of reading, but it'll definitely be worth it. Marking the 6th or 7th time I've read through the Bible. But so far, it's started me off just in Genesis, which I haven't gone straight through in a while and which I have found to be humorous insofar as I forgot how stupid Abraham and Isaac were when they were both "no this isn't my wife, it's my sister" and then God would curse the king for taking their wives as their own and then the kings would flip. I mean, after the second time you think they would have learned but I guess they didn't. Sorry about the wordiness.

Anyway, that's about what's up since TWD doesn't come back on until like February and Psych... well I don't know when Psych starts back, but the musical was hilarious. Anyway, that's about it.

Thanks for reading.

Monday, December 16, 2013

A Calvinist who Reads Non-Calvinists

The Calvinist culture today, especially the new Calvinists, does not encourage reading non-Calvinist pastors or theologians. However, I do encourage Calvinists and my Reformed brothers to read non-Calvinists. Why? Because they're helpful, edifying, and glorifying to God. Here's my list of my favorite non-Calvinist/Arminian/Wesleyan scholars, theologians, and pastors.

Michael Brown- He is a "Messianic Jew" and has a great apologetics ministry which ministers especially to Jewish people. I greatly respect that ministry most especially because there is such little (and has been such for a long time) ministry to the Jewish people. Brown does a great work defending Christ as Messiah of the World, his deity, his two natures, his Incarnation, the Trinity, etc. to the Jewish people. I appreciate the work that Michael Brown does, because he is doing what I don't know of any Reformed guys even doing. He is not ashamed of the Gospel and is going to the Jews (Rom. 1:16).

Fred Sanders- This dude is the man. I've been blessed by his blog on Patheos so many times. He is a Calvinist... wait no he's not. He's a Wesleyan! But he's a Wesleyan who loves and appreciates Calvin. In fact, The Institutes made his top 10 books list. And I don't just like him because he's a Wesleyan who loves Calvin (and some Calvinists and Reformed guys too!), but also because he's super Trinitarian. He's one that has helped me learn that I should not just read those Reformed guys within my own camp, but should read those loving, Christian guys who have a passion for Christian orthodoxy and lie outside of my own theological camp.

William Lane Craig- Another apologist who has debated all the top atheists. This guy knows his philosophy. He's got a doctorate in philosophy and in theology- in fact he studied under the theological giant Wolfhart Pannenberg at the University of Munich! So needless to say, this guy knows his stuff. I love watching his debates and listening to his lectures. Obviously I have some serious disagreements here and there, but I've been blessed by Craig's ministry nonetheless.

Karl Barth- Ok ok, so yes, I know he's called a 20th century "Reformed" theologian, but let's get real: he's not Reformed enough to be Reformed. That is, he does not affirm the "Five Points." In fact, he has his own, peculiar view of election, which is worth reading. No, I haven't read all of Barth's CD but name one person who doesn't have a PhD who has. Exactly. Anyway, from what I've read, I've loved. I did not say I agreed with. But I loved his authenticity and his love for Trinitarian theology. His doctrine of the Word of God was seriously enlightening for me. One day I hope I work my way through the entirety that is CD.

Jürgen Moltmann- Honestly, I only really like Moltmann because of his The Crucified God. The "God suffering with us and for us" is super encouraging and something that leads quickly to worship. Moltmann has said some things that I certainly disagree with and I'm not sure where I stand on his Theology of Hope, although I know that I probably don't stand with or that close to him. Nevertheless, Moltmann has led me into meditative and reflective worship of the God who became flesh and suffered in our place.

There are others who I have particularly appreciated, but this is my list of non-Reformed theologians who have impacted me significantly in my theology and who I recommend my other Reformed brothers and sisters to invest some time in reading for their own edification. So, read up friends.

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Where and How Did Early Christians Worship?

From researching the early Christian use of buildings and other places for their worship, three themes or groups often reoccurred throughout many different sources. Those groups are of worship in the catacombs, worship in the house churches, and worship in the synagogues. Each group has its own distinct pattern of worship and is woven into the history of persecution of these early Christians, and so is only explained within the context of persecution in which it is found.

The catacombs were vast, underground excavations and tunnels, which Christians used to bury their dead, to take asylum when persecuted, as shrines to saints and martyrs, and for funeral feasts.[1] Christian worship in the catacombs is an interesting development and a phenomenon unique to Rome alone. The cause of this phenomenon is due partially to Christian abhorrence of cremation, based on their belief in the bodily resurrection of the dead at the Second Coming of Christ.[2] Cremation had been practiced often by the lower classes of Romans as a less expensive funeral ceremony.[3] However, cremation had also been popular since at least 400 BCE, though most Roman families kept to burial.[4] This led wealthy members of the Christian communities to purchase burial cemeteries for their own funeral ceremonies. Underground quarries for burial purposes were then developed where the rock was more easily worked.[5] It is estimated that there are more than 175,000 Christians buried in these Roman catacombs.[6] These kinds of catacombs have been found throughout Asia Minor, Crimea, Syria, Egypt, Cyrenaica, Sicily, Malta, and Italy.[7] Although catacombs are not a unique phenomenon, it seems that Christian worship in in them remained unique to Rome. Christian worship itself began when fierce persecutions arose, causing churches to be closed in the city, forcing the Christians underground. Because they were burial places, catacombs had the right of asylum by law.[8] About the middle of the third century, these persecutors began to violate the catacombs, probably as a result of the Decian persecution. Christians therefore began to destroy the old entrances and to build new, secret ones, along with interconnected secret passageways.[9]

Hiding and asylum were not the only things the early Christians used the catacombs for. Paintings, frescoes, and even some sculptures found within the catacombs reveal an intriguing form of worship through art.[10] The art was not only a form of worship, but it often depicted different aspects of Christian worship, their persecution, and their understanding of the Old Testament through their use of typology. It should be no surprise that, in the midst of their persecutions, pictures of Daniel among the lions in the den and the three boys, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, were found in many different catacombs; these stories encouraged the Christians, just as it had encouraged its Jewish audience previously.[11] In many of the catacombs, such as the cemeteries of St. Callixtus and Marcellinus, Jonah is depicted as a type of Christ’s resurrection.[12] It has been estimated that there were originally as many as one hundred thousand inscriptions carved into the walls. Fifteen thousand of these have been discovered.[13] The burial chambers of the common people were often more bare, usually with just the inscription “In Christ,” while some of the more distinguished had inscriptions, pictures, and decorations of various kinds.[14] The pictures cover about 132 themes. Twenty of these pictures are from the first century, three of which are Biblical, depicting the story of Noah, Daniel in the lion’s den, and the Good Shepherd.[15] That these two stories of deliverance and one of protection are depicted in the midst of the Christian community in Rome should be no surprise when reflecting on the context of their persecution. In the second century, many of the pictures refer to Christ in some way. They range from Jesus at the last supper to the Wise Men presenting him gifts as an infant, even depictions of the final judgment, the resurrection, and the following eternal life.[16] These images have been the source of much controversy, though. Images of figures from the Greek religion and mythology sometimes are intermingled with the depiction of Christian stories or Biblical images. One such example is in the Cemeteries of St. Callistus and of SS. Nereus and Achilleus (also called St. Domitilla).[17] There are found in these cemeteries two representations of Thracian Orpheus, the servant of Apollo and the Muses, charming many animals with the sound of his golden lyre. It seems peculiar at first that a mythical Greek figure would be among the Christian subjects, but evidently he is here introduced as a type of Christ, whose words tame the hearts of heathens as Orpheus’ lyre tamed the beasts.[18] The statues and sculptures found in the catacombs were dated much later. The earliest probably dates back to the end of the fourth century, so after the persecution.[19] It is doubtful that these statues were made by worshippers in the catacombs, and seems likely they were made to decorate and commemorate the memory of the catacombs.

Within the catacomb of St. Callixtus, there was found frescoes dating to the third century, which depict both the sacraments of Baptism and of the Eucharist.[20] Clearly this shows the practice of these Christian gatherers. Whether these sacraments were practiced within the catacombs is not certain, however, some scholars argue that it was in the houses and rooms of these Christians that weekly observation of the Eucharist took place.[21] Until about the end of fourth century, Christians continued to bury their dead in the catacombs from the desire to rest beside the martyrs of old.[22] Altogether, there are about sixty of these catacombs around Rome, stretching on for miles.

The Christian mission was founded and came from a Jewish context. It is no wonder then that Christians met beside the Jews in the synagogues for their worship, too. Not only outside sources, but even the Bible itself tells us that Christians often met in the synagogues. Paul preached and debated in and was often thrown out of the synagogues (Acts 17:1-4; 18:4; 19:8). The apostle Paul chose the synagogue as his entry point for preaching, debating, and spreading the Gospel throughout the Roman Empire.[23] This was partially because the lines of distinction between Christianity and Judaism were not perfectly clear, as Christianity was still seen as just a sect within Judaism.[24] Clearly Judaism had had messianic groups and zealots before (Acts 5:33-40), and messianic claims were still considered Jewish, which explains why Christians were continuing to worship within and attend the synagogues and Temple (Acts 2:46). In fact, Jewish communities were generally accustomed to tolerating a variety of doctrinal views.[25] Within larger cities, such as Jerusalem or Alexandria, there were enough synagogues to gather together according to theological conviction or preference. Pharisees, Essenes, Zealots, Sadducees, Therapeutae, and other sects could divide and congregate with those of similar theological persuasion. However, in towns and villages, small or single Jewish communities often learned to live and worship together, albeit differently, when doctrinal differences appeared between groups.[26] They were sometimes allowed long periods of time for debate and to argue for their particular understanding of the scriptures. It became clear that if they expressed themselves for too long in any one community, things often came to a breaking point and were then no longer allowed to participate as members of the synagogue.[27] Indeed, by Acts 7, hostility was growing in Jerusalem between the Jews and the Christians as Christianity became more Hellenized and less Jewish. The preaching and claim that Jesus was the resurrected Messiah would have been an annoying point of controversy, especially among the Sadducees, who did not believe in the resurrection of the dead.[28] One can easily assume that allowing the Gentiles into the faith without observing the whole Law would have been a point of dissention from the Pharisees, and the emphasis on spiritual rather than political renewal would have irritated the Zealots. What is more, soon there would be no synagogues in Jerusalem where Christians would have gathered, but outside of Jerusalem they would still often participate in the synagogues just as they had done before.[29] As the Christian mission to the Gentiles continued to wax stronger, however, the Jewish mission began to relent and draw back, thus undercutting the debate between the synagogue and the church. When Christianity chose the route of accommodating to the Gentiles’ culture, it left Judaism with two options: accommodate even more radically or withdraw and emphasize its own Jewishness. Jewish leaders opted for the latter and virtually took the synagogue out of the competition altogether.[30]

The slow struggle between Christian and Jewish leaders in the synagogues notwithstanding, some scholars argue that church offices were helped in being developed within the synagogues. The first Christians, being Jews, organized themselves similarly to how the leadership in the synagogues was organized.[31] This does not mean that the offices were typical or conventional; Christianity had a different mission, different priorities, and different convictions. But, it does mean that the Christian development of titles (presbyteros (elder), episcopus (inspector/overseer), and diaconus (helper)) did follow Jewish customs faithfully.[32] Some have described this distinct vocabulary as innovative and new. They argue that the simple, general names given to the positions describe new and untraditional functions instead of preexisting, traditional functions. In contradistinction to that position, scholars such as Burtchaell argue that the evidence shows that the Christian development of titles does in fact follow the Jewish customs faithfully.[33] Not only offices reflected synagogue worship, but the services that the Christians had after parting with the synagogue reflected aspects of synagogue worship as well.[34] The Jewish customs of synagogue continued in the Christian meeting services’ reading, preaching, discussion and prayer, combined with the domestic supper.[35] The rollover from synagogue worship to the service or liturgy of the early church is certainly worth discussion and comparison.

House churches are the final group of buildings used by the early Christian church for worship. This group was also one mentioned explicitly in the Bible itself and implicitly in a few other primary sources, such as in The Martyrdom of Perpetua. Indeed, most scholars agree that Christians met most often (one source says “almost exclusively”) in house churches.[36] It would be difficult to try to understand early Christianity without studying and understanding the ecclesial and missional significance the house church had on the Christian community and the church today.[37] One scholar goes so far to say that the development of church polity and structure could never be understood without reference to the house church.[38] No doubt, house churches also provided opportunity for mental separation from Judaism before any official split occurred. It also provided the training and development of leaders to succeed apostolic workers. A study of such provides students and academicians opportunity to properly understand the apostolic church, but only through constant reflection of the contribution of these house churches.[39] The organization of these household meetings cannot be determined. However, the “breaking of bread and the prayers” in Acts 2:42 is very probably some kind of fellowship meal that believers participated in daily in various homes.[40] 1 Corinthians 16:19 is another text which speaks of house churches, specifically that of Aquila and Prisca. It is probable, though, that this is not the only house church in Corinth; believers may have gathered in several different homes, no doubt of the wealthier Christians, and here they may have split into different, opposing parties: one for Cephas, another for Paul, another for Apollos, and even another for Christ.[41] The church in Corinth began in the synagogue, but it did not remain there long.[42] The Jews were expelled from Rome by Claudius in 49 CE, and among them was a Jew named Aquila.[43] The synagogues were probably how Christianity got its first foothold in Rome, because the first pre-Pauline Christians of Rome were Jews or God-fearers, who were attached to the synagogues. Once expelled, it is possible, according to one source, considering Paul’s work with Aquila and Priscilla in 1 Corinthians 16. Stephanus was the first person converted and baptized by Paul, yet it was with Aquila and Priscilla that Paul stayed, lived, and worked. The logical conclusion, this scholar argues, is that this was the same Aquila from Rome who had already converted and been baptized.[44] Aquila and Priscilla could have even been the ones to bring the message of the Gospel to Corinth in the first place.[45] There was clearly rollover from synagogue worship, however Paul’s letters do not show much evidence of the synagogue’s influence on their worship.[46] The point is this: the church in Corinth clearly had roots in the synagogue worship, but left only a little trace of it in the letters of Paul. Regardless of the synagogue’s influence, they did have two types of gatherings: one for Eucharist and another, which was more charismatic-like worship.[47] The former combined an actual meal, which concluded with the symbolic observation of Eucharist. The purpose of the meal was probably to have been charitable, where those with plenty supplied for those in need. However, this soon went awry: the ones who provided the food ate it before those in need arrived (1 Corinthians 11:22-23).[48] The charismatic gathering included some elements similar to synagogue worship, but it emphasized prophetic preaching rather than interpretation and discussion of the scriptures. This is where speaking in tongues was begun and abused within this church community (1 Corinthians 14). Alongside these things, the service also included the chanting of psalms, the singing of hymns, and some other matters (1 Corinthians 14:26-33). Within this community, it is clear that there was struggle for organization considering Paul had to emphasize so boldly the importance of order within the body throughout the letter.[49] This particular community, however, rejected a more structured, synagogue-like system of presbyters and deacons, even as late as the end of the first century.[50]

The house meetings and their structures in and around Jerusalem, Syria, and Palestine were often very different from those of Corinth and were highly reflective of Jewish structuring, particularly the Essenes’ practices of the day at Qumran. Just like the synagogue had effect on future church organization, structure, office, and liturgy, the Essenes’ structure is remarkably similar to the house church structure laid out in Acts. James, by virtue of his relation to Jesus, played a role similar to the Essene Mebaqqer (overseer). The twelve apostles and three pillars (Peter, James (the brother of Jesus), and John) are highly reflective of the Council of Twelve laymen plus or including three priests structure at the Qumran community. A larger group of apostles and elders functioned similarly to the priests of Qumran: carrying the burden of making decisions. And finally, the “many” participated in administering discipline, as they did in Qumran as well (Acts 15:33).[51] Hinson suggests here that the number of correspondences between the structure of house churches and the Qumran community are too great to ignore.[52] As such an apocalyptic community, the Essenes, according to Hinson, would have made the most likely prospects for converts to the Christian message as it was displayed in the structure and teaching of the house churches.[53] Jerusalem communities were often more structured and perhaps even more “Jewish,” and western churches such as the community in Corinth tended to be more charismatic and experiential in their worship. As is clear, the structures of different house churches were highly diverse and difficult to determine any one form of worship.

[1] Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th Edition, “Catacombs.”
[2] R.C. Foster, Studies in the Life of Christ, (Cincinnati: Standard Publishing, 1938; reprint, Joplin, MS: College Press Publishing, 2000), 21.
[3] Ibid.
[4] J.M.C. Toynbee, Death and Burial in the Roman World, (Baltimore: The John Hopkins University Press, 1971), 39-40.
[5] Foster, Life of Christ, 21.
[6] Foster, Life of Christ, 22.
[7] Foster, Life of Christ, 21.
[8] Ibid.
[9] Foster, Life of Christ, 21-22.
[10] J.W. Appell, Monuments of Early Christian Art, (London: G.E. Eyre and W. Spottiswoode, 1872), 1.
[11] E. Glenn Hinson, The Early Church: Origins to the Dawn of the Middle Ages, (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1976), 73.
[12] William Smith and Samuel Cheetham, ed., A Dictionary of Christian Antiquities, (London: John Murray, 1880), 1459.
[13] Foster, Life of Christ, 22.
[14] Ibid.
[15] Ibid.
[16] Ibid.
[17] As noted by J.W. Appell [Monuments of Early Christian Art, (London: G.E. Eyre and W. Spottiswoode, 1872), 46], there is discrepancy among older and more contemporary scholars about the names assigned to such cemeteries.
[18] Appell, Early Christian Art, 46.
[19] Appell, Early Christian Art, 5.
[20] The Catacombs of St. Callixtus, available from
[21] Joan Petersen, “House-Churches in Rome,” Vigiliae Christianae 23, no. 4 (December 1969): 264-265
[22] Foster, Life of Christ, 21.
[23] Hinson, The Early Church, 42.
[24] Ibid.
[25] James Tunstead Burtchaell, From Synagogue to Church: Public Services and Offices in the Earliest Christian Communities, (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004), 279.
[26] Ibid.
[27] Ibid.
[28] Ibid.
[29] Hinson, The Early Church, 42.
[30] Foster, Life of Christ, 72.
[31] Burtchaell, Synagogue to Church, 274.
[32] Burtchaell, Synagogue to Church, 283.
[33] Ibid.
[34] Burtchaell, Synagogue to Church, 285.
[35] Ibid.
[36] Robert Gehring, House Church and Mission: The Importance of Household Structures in Early Christianity, (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 2004), 1.
[37] Ibid.
[38] Floyd Filson, “The Significance of the Early House Churches,” Journal of Biblical Literature 58, no. 2 (June 1939): 111.
[39] Filson, Early House Churches, 112.
[40] Hinson, The Early Church, 42-43.
[41] Hinson, The Early Church, 53.
[42] Hinson, The Early Church, 53-54.
[43] Peter Lampe, From Paul to Valentinus: Christians at Rome in the First Two Centuries, (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2003), 11.
[44] Lampe, Paul to Valentinus, 11-12.
[45] Hinson, The Early Church, 53.
[46] Hinson, The Early Church, 54.
[47] Ibid.
[48] Ibid.
[49] Hinson, The Early Church, 55.
[50] Ibid.
[51] Hinson, The Early Church, 42-43.
[52] Ibid.
[53] Hinson, The Early Church, 43.

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