Friday, December 31, 2010

Modern Theological Terms

The following list by Benjamin Mayes demonstrates the postmodern influence on theology insomuch as the meanings of words are dictated by the subjective whim of the user rather than a known objective standard.

Begetting — creation.

Creation — the eternal generation of the world.

Demonic (according to Tillich)—fixed, unchanging; for example, orthodox theology.

Dynamic — changing, variable; NOT: powerful.

Economic Trinity — a god that changes and develops ontologically, usually taking three modes, “revealing” him- or herself to be father (or mother), Jesus, and the holy spirit (or “sophia”). This is the god of modern theology.

Eschatological — changing, variable; NOT: having to do with the visible return of Jesus.

Freedom — the state of being ontologically changeable, variable.

Heilsgeschichte — the view that God and religion are changing, variable; NOT: scholarly writing about the history of God’s Old and New Testament people and his relationship with them.

Historical — changing, variable; NOT: written about in a former time.

Idolatrous (according to Sallie McFague) — Absolutizing one tradition of images for God, not being pluralistic. Note: According to this definition, the Christian church was idolatrous from its beginning until modern times.

Immanent Trinity — God the Holy and Blessed Trinity per se, considered separately from his creation. Modern theology hates this God.

Passionate — changing, variable, able to be changed or harmed by others (passio), used by modern theologians especially of their god; NOT: genuinely concerned or interested.

Personal — changing, variable, ontologically dependent on the existence of others.

Relational — relative, changing, variable, ontologically dependent on the existence of others.

Static — having the character of “one who does not change,” and “who is the same,” and “with whom there is no variation or shadow of turning.” Modern theologians hate this quality, especially if it is used to describe God.

Theology of the Cross (according to Moltmann) — Father, Son, and Holy Spirit suffered and died on the cross. NOT: One of the Holy Trinity suffered for us.

Taken from LOGIA, Volume 18, Number 4, 53.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Neocaesarea - Canon 8

If the wife of a layman has committed adultery and been clearly convicted, such [a husband] cannot enter the ministry; and if she commit adultery after his ordination, he must put her away; but if he retain her, he can have no part in the ministry committed to him.

If a woman had been accused and convicted of adultery,1 her husband was banned from serving as overseer, elder, or deacon.  While the man is the one to be recognized or ordained to a position, this does not absolve the woman of responsibility in conduct.  They are one flesh, and as such Paul relates how wives are to be faithful to their husbands for them to be considered and serve (1 Tim 3:4-5, 11).

The surprising portion of this canon is the requirement for divorce if she committed adultery after he was ordained.  While the need for purity in the marriage of a spiritual leader is paramount, severing the bond is highly extreme.  Possibly the intent of the canon was to protect the cleric from a wayward spouse, thus allowing him to continue in his office.

1 This accurately describes what was required in the Law (Deut 19:15-21) forming a basis of what was taught by Christ (Matt 18:15-20) and Paul (1 Tim 5:17-20).

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Neocaesarea - Canon 7

A presbyter shall not be a guest at the nuptials of persons contracting a second marriage; for, since the digamist is worthy of penance, what kind of a presbyter shall he be, who, by being present at the feast, sanctioned the marriage?

Canons of Ancyra and Neocaesarea had already referred to digamy unfavorably requiring penance.  An elder would not be thought to sanction such a union by his presence.  No penalty is specified, therefore we might understand that this simply gave the reason for an elder's refusal to attend.

Neocaesarea - Canon 6

Concerning a woman with child, it is determined that she ought to be baptized whensoever she will; for in this the woman communicates nothing to the child, since the bringing forward to profession is evidently the individual [privilege] of every single person.

Judging from the language of the canon, there must have been a question concerning the need to baptize an infant after birth if the mother had been baptized while pregnant.  With the prevalence of paedobaptism, this would have been an understandable concern.  The conclusion to the matter was correct, as the individual is responsible for his own trust in the finished work of the Lord Jesus Christ.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Neocaesarea - Canon 5

If a catechumen coming into the Church has taken his place in the order of catechumens, and falls into sin, let him, if a kneeler, become a hearer and sin no more.   But should he again sin while a hearer, let him be cast out.

At the time of this canon, two types of catechumen were known: the hearer who listened to the reading of the scriptures then departed and the kneeler who participated in the prayers.  The latter was to be more mature in the faith, so that a sin at this point was dealt with more seriously.  Then if that same person sinned again while being set back, he was excommunicated.

Neocaesarea - Canon 4

If any man lusting after a woman purposes to lie with her, and his design does not come to effect, it is evident that he has been saved by grace.

This canon was peculiar in that it did not directly regulate a matter of polity but focused on thoughts and intentions in relation to actions: probably both having a view of discipline in mind. The man was certainly guilty of adultery/fornication according to his intentions (Matt 5:27-30), but the canon recognized the sanctifying work that grace has wrought in keeping him from physically fulfilling his desire and thus keeping him from further harm and degradation.  Such is the work of our Lord for his people.

This does not absolve the man from need to contend with his sin nature and consider his members dead (Rom 6:12-14).  Obviously, some work remains to be done by the abiding word and Holy Spirit.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Neocaesarea - Canon 3

Concerning those who fall into many marriages, the appointed time of penance is well known; but their manner of living and faith shortens the time.

This canon applied to multiple spouses whether contiguously (polygamy) or consecutively (digamy or trigamy).  An already accepted time of penance was prescribed to be carried forward for these cases with the understanding that the evidence of Christian growth manifesting itself might lessen the period.

Times of penance, though enacted and carried down, were not always officially recorded. Basil had recounted in a letter to Amphilochius concerning trigamy that the time was "not by the canons, but following the precept of our predecessors,"1 thus giving deference to the wisdom demonstrated in past practice.

1 "To Amphilochius, concerning the Canons," Basil: Letters and Select Works, (NPNF2 8:225).

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Neocaesarea - Canon 2

If a woman shall have married two brothers, let her be cast out until her death.  Nevertheless, at the hour of death she may, as an act of mercy, be received to penance, provided she declare that she will break the marriage, should she recover.  But if the woman in such a marriage, or the man, die, penance for the survivor shall be very difficult.

While polygamy has had a wide acceptance, the same cannot be said of the reverse.  A moral society might accept and even promote a man taking more than one wife based either on cultural norms or rationalizing from the biblical patriarchs and kings.  And marrying sisters might even be considered acceptable from Isaac's example with Leah and Rachel.  Only the most corrupt would consider such a relationship for a woman with multiple husbands and being brothers besides.

If a polyamorous woman had been brought in as a believer, she was to be excommunicated without mercy until her deathbed.  At that point allowing a penitential position of the woman is allowed if she agreed to be rid of her extra husband through whatever means.

In the event that one spouse might die, the other would be hard-pressed to find mercy even to be penitent.  So great was the sin committed by virtue of the union that the church assumed those in the relationship could not be a true follower of Christ.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Neocaesarea - Canon 1

This begins a series on the council of Neocaesarea in Pontus. This council followed Ancyra but predated the others.1

If a presbyter marry, let him be removed from his order; but if he commit fornication or adultery, let him be altogether cast out and put to penance.

This canon echoes a sentiment behind Ancyra - Canon 10 concerning matrimony for church leaders.  This canon gave a strict ruling in regards to elders for either marriage or sexual sin. To the former, the council required that the elder be removed from his position in the church, though some measure of respect would continue based on wisdom and experience.  As for the latter case, the elder was removed from communion altogether.  This rule recognized the severity of sin in spiritual leaders, and the need to deal with it "in the presence of all, so that the rest may stand in fear " (1 Tim 5:20).

1 The Seven Ecumenical Councils, (NPNF2 14:78).

Wearing Ink: Inside or Outside?

Just recently I became aware of a promotion by City Church of Anaheim, CA to get visitors in the door.  Twelve congregants with the pastor received tattoos because of a promise made for reaching a goal.  This article is three months old, but it goes squarely to a problem found in the church of North America.  We're all about gimmicks.  The preponderance of attention gets directed to the flashy and cutting-edge groups.  I wonder what would have happened if the thirteen that received tattoos had instead turned their attention to making disciples of all nations.§

But who am I kidding?  Tattoos require much less discomfort and commitment.

§ I am not opposed to tattoos.  I am opposed to them as gimmicks taking the place of discipleship.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Ancyra - Canon 25

One who had betrothed a maiden, corrupted her sister, so that she conceived.  After that he married his betrothed, but she who had been corrupted hanged herself.  The parties to this affair were ordered to be received among the co-standers after ten years [of penance] according to the prescribed degrees.

The recounted sins in this canon were many: adultery, suicide, and murder in one scenario.  A betrothed man slept with his future sister-in-law.  He went on to marry his fiancée, but the sister-in-law found herself pregnant and disgrace, so she decided to end both her life that of the unborn child.

Why would an unwed pregnant woman consider ending her life and that of her child?  Rome had no social welfare system to care for widows, orphans, unwed mothers, poor, etc. except for the extended family.  If none was available, the situation was hopeless.  Based on that condition and lack of prospects, we can understand why the woman would choose to end her life rather than face the harsh future.

Those involved in were to be prevented from full fellowship for ten years.  The man was complicit in the death of the woman though not an active agent in carrying it out. 

Lastly, lest we think the Roman empire was overly harsh in this regard, note that our Bibles say the same thing: the family is to care for its own.  The responsibility for social justice is squarely on the individual.  Within the Mosaic covenant were laws given to care for those who could not care for themselves.  Most were directed to toward to what the individual family units were obligated to do (Lev 23:22; Deut 24:19), though every three years the tithe was set aside for the Levite, orphan, and widow in their towns (Deut 14:28-29).

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Ancyra - Canon 24

They who practice divination, and follow the customs of the heathen, or who take men to their houses for the invention of sorceries, or for lustrations, fall under the canon of five years’ [penance], according to the prescribed degrees; that is, three years as prostrators, and two of prayer without oblation.

Any who had fallen into practicing divination or attempting to bring in those who might bless a house or family through charms and incantations were separated from full communion for a five-year period.  Such a person was seen as seeking help from idols or demons rather than from the one true God who could perform above and beyond all that could be asked or thought.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Galatians (ZECNT), Thomas R. Schreiner - Book Review

Zondervan has initiated the Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (ZECNT) series designed to assist the preacher and teacher with practical help from evangelical scholars in better comprehending the underlying the Greek text without being overly technical or detailed.  Each scripture passage includes the author's translation and is broken into the following sections with descriptions edited from "Series Introduction" (10-12):

Literary Content Concise discussion of how the passage functions in the broader literary context of the book.
Main Idea A one- or two-sentence statement of the big idea or central thrust of the passage.
Translation and Graphical Layout A graphical layout of the commentator's translation with the purpose of helping the reader visualize the flow of thought within the text.
Structure The flow of thought in the passage and explanation concerning certain interpretive decisions regarding the relationship of clauses.
Exegetical Outline Detailed exegetical outline of the overall structure.
Explanation of the Text Using the Greek text to interpret the meaning of the text with an effort to make the commentary as readable and useful as possible even for the nonspecialist.
Theology in Application The theological message of the passage is summarized in terms of its place in terms of the book and the broader biblical-theological context.

In Schreiner's introduction he presents the background material for the book leading with the arguments regarding the long-disputed recipients and date (South Galatia, pre-Jerusalem council; North Galatia, post-council).  The arguments are given fair treatment on both sounds with an acknowledging that the theological understanding of the book will be based partially on the decision, but leaning toward the early, southern view.  Following this, various views are given concerning the source of opposition coming on the church of Galatia. The epistle's date has bearing here as well, since the regions were variously affected by Jews, Romans, and other pagan influences.  The book's structure and outline are presented last with no real surprises and form the remaining commentary's chapters with the divisions.

The given outline of Galatians is given in three major divisions with a fourth as summary.  The first and fourth are as expected (1:1-2:21 and 6:11-18 respectively).  The unique break came between divisions two and three with the latter beginning at 4:12 with the change of language from chastisement for being led astray to beseeching of fellow brethren.  The argument for placing the break here seems sound.

The book clarifies how Galatians was written not only to demonstrate that justification is by faith, but that sanctification also comes through the same way.  Works are unnecessary, and even counter-productive, for a right standing before God whether initially at salvation or anytime thereafter.  Works are a result of grace, not the vehicle for gaining it.

Schreiner's conservative understanding of the text manifests itself in his complementarian handling of the relationship between men and women in 3:28. He does so gracefully by showing how "Paul affirms the oneness of males and females in Christ, but he does not claim that maleness and femaleness are irrelevant in every respect" and "the equality of men and women in Christ does not cancel out, in Paul's mind, the distinct roles of men and women in marriage…or in ministry contexts" (259).

I found the commentary to be enjoyable with several good thoughts, the graphical layout of the translation being a particularly useful feature.  Those who use Logos software know the value of the sentence diagramming offered in the exegetical tools.  The book uses less technical language for diagramming and is more readable.  Though it claims to be directed to someone with some Greek training, I found the explanatory sections to be sufficient in overcoming any lack of training one might have.  I wholeheartedly recommend this book for the library of anyone desiring to teach in the local church.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from Zondervan.  I was not required to write a positive review.  The opinions I have expressed are my own.  I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commision's 16 CFR, Part 255: "Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising."

Ancyra - Canon 23

Concerning involuntary homicides, a former decree directs that they be received to full communion after seven years [of penance], according to the prescribed degrees; but this second one, that they fulfill a term of five years.

Part three of those canons involved with manslaughter on some level, this concerned involuntary cases.  From a modern, American perspective this seems unusually harsh.  The first question to arise might be: why would anyone need to do penance for an involuntary act?  The answer may be found in understanding our cultural laxity toward the sanctity of life.  The biblical response to involuntary manslaughter (Num 35:22-29) was two-fold: 1) the victim's family had the right of blood vengeance; and 2) the perpetrator was not guilty of blood as long as he remained in one of the six cities of refuge1 that had been established or until the high priest's death.2  This canon, in the same way, addressed both the seriousness of what happened with its due consequence of justice and the mercy to be extended by virtue of its involuntary nature.

1 I presume this included the surrounding lands attached to the city as well.
2 Upon the high priest's death, the shedder of blood was free from his "house arrest" without fear of reprisal from the victim's family.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Ancyra - Canon 22

Concerning willful murderers let them remain prostrators; but at the end of life let them be indulged with full communion.

This is a continuation of the previous canon but directed to those who murdered those born into the world.  Full communion was barred until their final hour was near.

One might ask how the differentiation could be made between the unborn and born to allow mercy for murdering the first but not the second.  There was and is a common conception that life does not begin until the first breath outside the womb.  Only at that point does the breath of life enter the baby.  This position was confronted by Tertullian.
Those who profess the truth care nothing about their opponents, especially such of them as begin by maintaining that the soul is not conceived in the womb, nor is formed and produced at the time that the flesh is molded, but is impressed from without upon the infant before his complete vitality, but after the process of parturition.  They say, moreover, that the human seed having been duly deposited ex concubiterin the womb, and having been by natural impulse quickened, it becomes condensed into the mere substance of the flesh, which is in due time born, warm from the furnace of the womb, and then released from its heat.  (This flesh) resembles the case of hot iron, which is in that state plunged into cold water; for, being smitten by the cold air (into which it is born), it at once receives the power of animation, and utters vocal sound.  This view is entertained by the Stoics, along with Ænesidemus, and occasionally by Plato himself, when he tells us that the soul, being quite a separate formation, originating elsewhere and externally to the womb, is inhaled when the new-born infant first draws breath, and by and by exhaled with the man’s latest breath.1
While we may not agree with the consequences meted out, we can appreciate cultural issues in dealing with the different types of cases before them and coming to a just solution.

1 ANF 3:205.

Ancyra - Canon 21

Concerning women who commit fornication, and destroy that which they have conceived, or who are employed in making drugs for abortion, a former decree excluded them until the hour of death, and to this some have assented.  Nevertheless, being desirous to use somewhat greater leniency, we have ordained that they fulfill ten years [of penance], according to the prescribed degrees.

Abortions were well-known in the Roman empire.  Tertullian, near the end of the second century, described the practice and utensils in "A Treatise on the Soul" as one sometimes considered necessary by the populace:
But sometimes by a cruel necessity, whilst yet in the womb, an infant is put to death, when lying awry in the orifice of the womb he impedes parturition, and kills his mother, if he is not to die himself.  Accordingly, among surgeons’ tools there is a certain instrument, which is formed with a nicely-adjusted flexible frame for opening the uterus first of all, and keeping it open; it is further furnished with an annular blade, by means of which the limbs within the womb are dissected with anxious but unfaltering care; its last appendage being a blunted or covered hook, wherewith the entire fœtus is extracted by a violent delivery.  There is also (another instrument in the shape of) a copper needle or spike, by which the actual death is managed in this furtive robbery of life: they give it, from its infanticide function, the name of ἐμβρυοσφάκτης , the slayer of the infant, which was of course alive.  Such apparatus was possessed both by Hippocrates, and Asclepiades, and Erasistratus, and Herophilus, that dissector of even adults, and the milder Soranus himself, who all knew well enough that a living being had been conceived, and pitied this most luckless infant state, which had first to be put to death, to escape being tortured alive.1
Elsewhere, in "The Apology" he demonstrated the blood-thirstiness of the pagans as opposed to Christians.
How many, think you, of those crowding around and gaping for Christian blood,—how many even of your rulers, notable for their justice to you and for their severe measures against us, may I charge in their own consciences with the sin of putting their offspring to death?  As to any difference in the kind of murder, it is certainly the more cruel way to kill by drowning, or by exposure to cold and hunger and dogs.  A maturer age has always preferred death by the sword.  In our case, murder being once for all forbidden, we may not destroy even the fœtus in the womb, while as yet the human being derives blood from other parts of the body for its sustenance.  To hinder a birth is merely a speedier man-killing; nor does it matter whether you take away a life that is born, or destroy one that is coming to the birth.  That is a man which is going to be one; you have the fruit already in its seed.2
Rightly, the early church denounced this behavior.  In the "Epistle of Barnabas," the author instructed believers:
Thou shalt not slay the child by procuring abortion; nor, again, shalt thou destroy it after it is born.3
With this back drop, this canon is understandable in condemning those who took part in abortions though they be Christians now.  Former decrees had been given to separate the wrongdoers from the body for the remainder of their lives thus demonstrating the severity of the grievous sin.  The noteworthy concession of shortening this time to seven years demonstrates the great difference from the world of the grace and mercy from those who had the truth and used it rightly.

1 ANF 3:206
2 ANF 3:25
3 ANF 1:148

Monday, December 13, 2010

Ancyra - Canon 20

If the wife of anyone has committed adultery or if any man commit adultery it seems fit that he shall be restored to full communion after seven years passed in the prescribed degrees [of penance].

While adultery was and is a grievous sin before God, such is forgivable before God and the church after an examination of penance.  That adultery carries a lesser penance than idol worship is surprising on a natural level, since another person is directly wronged.  Yet, idolatry is whoring after other gods, and the Lord of Hosts is the one agrieved by the infraction, ergo the more severe penalty.

Ancyra - Canon 19

If any persons who profess virginity shall disregard their profession, let them fulfill the term of digamists.  And, moreover, we prohibit women who are virgins from living with men as sisters.

Digamy is defined as "a second marriage, after the death or divorce of the first husband or wife; deuterogamy."1  The early church largely discouraged remarriage after losing a spouse; promoting the blessings of living as a single person dedicated to the Lord rather than being concerned with a spouse (1 Cor 7:27-28).

For any who had bound themselves to celibacy (i.e., perpetual virginity) but turned back, they were to take the same place as digamists for a time, since they had figuratively already married God but now physically sought to marry another.  And for any who declared their virginity, those of the opposite sex were not to live together as a brother and sister would.  This was simply a matter of preventing temptation before it started.

1 digamy. Unabridged. Random House, Inc. (accessed: December 13, 2010).

ESV Study Bible Giveaway

A copy of the ESV Study Bible is being given away here at Pastoral Musings.  Leave a comment for a chance to win.  The winner will be providentially selected by a casting of lots (Proverbs 16:33)—or something like that.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Worship While You Work

[Martin Luther insisted] that the command not to eat of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil was simply a means whereby God established a form of external worship.  Adam and Eve were not intended to keep this commandment in order to earn their relationship with God but rather as a means whereby they might show their gratitude and love for God.1  Similarly Gordon Wenham has observed in his writing on Genesis 1–2 that the activity of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden is described using terminology and linguistic constructions similar to the account of the activity of the priests in the Tabernacle later in the Pentateuch.2  Faith therefore gives rise to freedom for vocation, which glorifies God by reflecting his glory.  Vocation is therefore a liturgical act.

Jack Kilcrease, "Kenosis and Vocation: Christ as the Author and Exemplar of Christian Freedom,"
Logia, Vol XIX, No. 4, 27.

1 Luther's Works, American Edition, 1:104, 106
2 Gordon Wenham, “Sanctuary Symbolism in the Garden of Eden Story,” in Proceeding of the Ninth World Congress of Jewish Studies, ed. Moshe Goshen-Gottstein (Jerusalem: World Union of Jewish Studies: Magnes Press, Hebrew University, 1988), 19–37. Wenham mentions verbal parallels in Nm 3:7–8, 8:26, 18:5–6.

Ancyra - Canon 18

If any who have been constituted bishops, but have not been received by the parish to which they were designated, shall invade other parishes and wrong the constituted [bishops] there, stirring up seditions against them, let such persons be suspended from office and communion.  But if they are willing to accept a seat among the presbyterate, where they formerly were presbyters, let them not be deprived of that honor.  But if they shall act seditiously against the bishops established there, the honor of the presbyterate also shall be taken from them and themselves expelled.

There was a two-fold problem being addressed here.  First, the issue of duly appointed overseers not being recognized by the congregants.  Something was wrong with the appointing group, the overseer himself, the church body, or some of each.  Without particulars we have no way to intelligently speculate.  What we do know is that churches were expected to welcome the appointed since, according to Nicene canons, the overseer was to be from that church, and if none were qualified, one was appointed from the outside.  In either case, if something was discovered making the overseer unwelcome, the church evidently rejected him to find another.

Second, the overseer was going to another church with an established leadership and began interfering with and undermining authority.  With this in mind, we can see why the first church might have rejected him.  In any event, such an individual was to be stripped of any position and excommunicated.  As I noted previously of Nicaea - Canon 16, a leader is rejected for a reason, and the new church has every right and responsibility to investigate.

As to a rejected overseer, if he takes a place amongst the elders and serves in humility in that role, so much the better for all involved. The spiritually mature man will be able to serve, and the body will have the benefit of additional wise counsel.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Ancyra - Canon 17

Defilers of themselves with beasts, being also leprous, who have infected others,1 the holy Synod commands to pray among the hiemantes.

Those who had engaged in bestiality and coerced others to do the same—spreading sin as one spreads leprous diseases—were left out with the weepers (Προσκλαίοντες, flentes; also called χειμάζοντες, hiemantes): those "who prostrated themselves at the church doors in mourning garments and implored restoration from the clergy and the people."2

Christians largely misunderstand the sinfulness of sin.  Planning or committing the act is grievous enough and are to be confessed before God for his cleansing righteousness (1 John 1:9).  When we engage in sin so that others are caught up in the same sin because of our actions, how much greater is the gravity of the situation.  The consequences of our sin can be harsh.  Though we are forgiven before the Lord, more individual care is needed to ensure a consistent walk by faith from true repentance.

1 With the leprosy of this crime
2 Philip Schaff, History of the Christian Church, Vol 2, accessed at

SBL Greek New Testament "Commercial"

The Society of Biblical Literature has published Greek New Testament edited by Michael W. Holmes of Bethel University; available both as a download for Logos software and in print.  I do not know enough of the textual critical fine points to determine how it compares with UBS4 or NA27, but those who have more education and experience seem to think it worthwhile.  And if this work is as good as his The Apostolic Fathers: Greek Texts and English Translations, it should be excellent.

Enterprising soul and Bible College of Queensland instructor, Mike Bird,  has used his talents to create this spoof commercial for the SBLGNT.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Ancyra - Canon 16

Let those who have been or who are guilty of bestial lusts, if they have sinned while under twenty years of age, be prostrators fifteen years, and afterwards communicate in prayers; then, having passed five years in this communion, let them have a share in the oblation.  But let their life as prostrators be examined, and so let them receive indulgence; and if any have been insatiable in their crimes, then let their time of prostration be prolonged.  And if any who have passed this age and had wives, have fallen into this sin, let them be prostrators twenty-five years, and then communicate in prayers; and, after they have been five years in the communion of prayers, let them share the oblation.  And if any married men of more than fifty years of age have so sinned, let them be admitted to communion only at the point of death.

There were those who at some point had engaged in bestiality. Those teenagers that did so in the thralls of raging hormones were to be held back from full fellowship for twenty years.  If the person was more mature, the time was thirty years.  Lastly, if over fifty years, no communion was allowed until death was imminent.  During these probationary periods, penance could be shortened or elongated based on their conduct in relation to their past sinful practice.  Clearly, this sin was considered more grievous than any of the aforementioned worship of false gods, probably because it struck at the heart of something that should obviously separate Christians from pagans.

The Spirit of Christmas Present(s)

Monday, December 6, 2010

Ancyra - Canon 15

Concerning things belonging to the church, which presbyters may have sold when there was no bishop, it is decreed that the Church property shall be reclaimed; and it shall be in the discretion of the bishop whether it is better to receive the purchase price, or not; for oftentimes the revenue of the things sold might yield them the greater value.

If a church was without an overseer, an elder was not allowed to sell church property.  If he should, the overseer could reclaim it for the church unless he determined that the sale yielded more value than retaining the property.

And here I thought the current Presbyterian Church (USA) issues with church property was something new.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Ancyra - Canon 14

It is decreed that among the clergy, presbyters and deacons who abstain from flesh shall taste of it, and afterwards, if they shall so please, may abstain.  But if they disdain it, and will not even eat herbs served with flesh, but disobey the canon, let them be removed from their order.

Some elders and deacons had begun to abstain from meat.  When presented food with meat, they were to taste it then beg from eating.  However, if they took the more extreme approach of not even eating vegetables that were served with meat, they were to be deposed.  Such conduct was considered beyond what was proper drawing attention to the person when humility was in order.

There are workers of the church today who conduct themselves much as the Pharisee and say, "God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector.  I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get," thinking that they can be exalted by their works.  When in fact the correct way is for him to "not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, 'God, be merciful to me, a sinner!'" (Luke 18:11-13)

May our prayer be like Peter's:
As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God's varied grace: whoever speaks, as one who speaks oracles of God; whoever serves, as one who serves by the strength that God supplies—in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ.  To him belong glory and dominion forever and ever.  Amen. (1 Peter 4:10-11)

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Ancyra - Canon 13

It is not lawful for Chorepiscopi to ordain presbyters or deacons, and most assuredly not presbyters of a city, without the commission of the bishop given in writing, in another parish.

What is a chorepiscopus?
According to the Catholic Encyclopedia, he is an overseer
whose jurisdiction was confined to rural districts.  The earliest chorepiscopus of whom we have any knowledge was Zoticus, whom Eusebius designates as bishop of the village Cumana in Phrygia in the latter half of the second century.  In the beginning the chorepiscopi seem to have exercised all episcopal functions in their rural districts, but from the second half of the third century they were subject to the city bishops.1
These country preachers (using modern parlance) were allowed to fully function within their regions in the same capacity as the overseer in a major metropolitan area—Antioch, Jerusalem, etc.—yet being subject to the oversight of the nearest metropolitan.

What is the canon addressing?
The first part of the canon is clear in that the chorepiscopus was not to ordain certain elders or deacons without consent.  There has been some difficulty through history with the second part of the canon in knowing to what circumstances the Greek text and the English translation are referring.  The translation above appears to say that no chorepiscopus may not ordain someone in a different locale unless the city overseer from that other locale had given written approval.  In other words, someone from a region attached to Ancyra could not ordain someone in the jurisdiction of Antioch unless someone from Antioch with sufficient authority had given written permission.  Others will say it refers to separate regions under the jurisdiction of the same city.  The fine distinction is irrelevant as the outcome is the same.

1 Michael Ott, "Chorepiscopi," The Catholic Encyclopedia, Vol. 16 (New York: The Encyclopedia Press, 1914), accessed at

Friday, December 3, 2010

John Chrysostom on the Goodness of God to Man

In place of temporal toil he honored us with eternal life.  In place of thorns and thistles he prepared the fruit of the Spirit to grow in our souls.  Nothing was more insignificant than man, and nothing became more honored than man.  He was the last item of the reasonable creation.  But the feet became the head, and by means of the firstfruits, were raised to the royal throne.  For just as some generous and opulent man who has seen someone escape from shipwreck and only able to save his bare body from the waves, cradles him in his hands, and casts about him a bright garment, and conducts him to the highest honors; so also God has done in the case of our nature.  Man cast aside all that he had, his right to speak freely, his communion with God, his sojourn in Paradise, his unclouded life, and as from a shipwreck, went forth bare.  But God received him and straightway clothed him, and taking him by the hand gradually conducted him to heaven.  And yet the shipwreck was quite unpardonable.  For this tempest was due entirely not to the force of the winds, but to the carelessness of the sailor.

And yet God did not look at this, but had compassion for the magnitude of the calamity, and him who had suffered shipwreck in harbor, he received as lovingly as if he had undergone this in the midst of the open sea.  For to fall in Paradise is to undergo shipwreck in harbor.  Why so?  Because when no sadness, or care, or labors, or toil, or countless waves of desire assaulted our nature, it was upset and it fell.  And as the miscreants who sail the sea, often bore through the ship with a small iron tool, and let in the whole sea to the ship from below; so accordingly then, when the Devil saw the ship of Adam, that is his soul, full of many good things, he came and bored it through with his mere voice, as with some small iron tool, and emptied him of all his wealth and sank the ship itself.  But God made the gain greater than the loss, and brought our nature to the royal throne.  Wherefore Paul cries out and says, “He raised us up with him, and made us to sit with him, on his right hand in the heavenly places, that in the ages to come he might shew the exceeding riches of his grace in kindness towards us.”
Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Series 1, 9:179

The Conspiracy Game

This video reminds me of the material Isaac Air Freight did during the 1980's.

Ancyra - Canon 12

It is decreed that they who have offered sacrifice before their baptism, and were afterwards baptized, may be promoted to orders, inasmuch as they have been cleansed.

The patristic understanding of baptism included an actual washing away of sin.  This canon could refer either to the new believer in Christ or to catechumens who went through a period of up to three years between their initial following and baptism into full fellowship.  In either case all sin was considered washed away at that point.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Ancyra - Canon 11

It is decreed that virgins who have been betrothed, and who have afterwards been carried off by others, shall be restored to those to whom they had formerly been betrothed, even though they may have suffered violence from the ravisher.

It was not outside the bounds of pagan behavior to abscond with a Christian girl who was betrothed and make sport of her.  Had the girl been a willing participant in such an action, discipline for sin would have been enacted.  Here though, being unwilling, the girl was free to return to her fiancé without further incident.  A corollary understanding to this was that the man was willing to take her back.  If not, they were free to go separate ways.

This seems to be one of those situations that should be obvious, but the early church was highly sensitive to every appearance of evil.  O, that today's believers would be of the same mind without going to extreme strictures of Christian liberty.

Got Old Testament?

Last night I finished a Bible study in Hebrews with a brother, Randy, I have been discipling who is a fairly new believer.  His wife has confessed Christ for many years, and when he started following, she encouraged him to read and study that book.  She loved the book and knew he would, too.  He did—in spades.

Most reading this blog will know the structure of Hebrews with its use of the Law and Christ's exceedingly abundant fulfillment of all it represented.  After we were done, Randy commented on how important it was to know the Old Testament to understand the New.  His experience as a Roman Catholic was for the teaching to dwell solely on NT with various smatterings of Psalms and well-known stories as moral examples.  I told him that evangelicals at-large are not much different. Sure, there are some denominations and individual churches who understand the importance of rooting Christian teaching in sound biblical theology and the progressive revelation of redemptive history, but my experience is that Christians are so intent on "believing in Jesus" that they ignore why the incarnation and his atoning work were necessary, much less their full import.

Why do I mention all that?  This morning I read a book review of Reclaiming the Old Testament for Christian Preaching by my good friend1 at Pastoral Musings.  This offering from InterVarsity does not address the detail of each genre but the importance and method of preaching/teaching it to believers and making it applicable to today.  If the review is accurate, you will want to secure a copy of this for whomever is in a teaching role in your church, or get it for your church library so it can be shared.

Exodus 21 through Deuteronomy 33 appear to be dry reading because they are not taught or are not made applicable.  Let's change that.  I am currently leading a study with three other men through Deuteronomy.  They find the time rewarding and are putting together the puzzle pieces I mention above concerning Christ's work and our response to it.  The same can happen in your church.

1 He acknowledges my internet presence.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Ancyra - Canon 10

They who have been made deacons, declaring when they were ordained that they must marry, because they were not able to abide so, and who afterwards have married, shall continue in their ministry, because it was conceded to them by the bishop.  But if any were silent on this matter, undertaking at their ordination to abide as they were, and afterwards proceeded to marriage, these shall cease from the diaconate.

Celibacy had made inroads so that even deacons were greatly encouraged to follow this lifestyle.  The canon addresses what to do if single men came forward to be ordained.  If he stated forthrightly that he was unwilling to remain celibate, he could be ordained.  If he acknowledged his intention of celibacy and was ordained but married later, he was to be removed from his position. The difference between the two cases is demonstrated in their character.  The former was honest, knowing himself enough to come forward with his intentions.  The latter was caught up in pride acceding to a commitment with its spiritual prestige welling inside and in the eyes of the other believers.

The latter's action was identical to what happened to Ananias and Sapphira (Acts 5:1-11) who made a donation under false pretenses to receive honor from others for giving.  In both that incident and this canon, the decision was fully under the perpetrator's control.  Both could withhold something with the Lord's full approval without being considered somehow less spiritual or dedicated (Acts 5:3-4).  Yet because of spiritual pride perceived in the dedicatory act, they both sought the glory for themselves and were left to the consequences of their decisions.

Ancyra - Canon 9

As many as have not merely apostatized, but have risen against their brethren and forced them [to apostatize], and have been guilty of their being forced, let these for three years take the place of hearers, and for another term of six years that of prostrators, and for another year let them communicate without oblation, in order that, when they have fulfilled the space of ten years, they may partake of the communion; but during this time the rest of their life must also be inquired into.

As with a previous post, I have trouble understanding how a Christian can go to these lengths.  Perhaps initially they were not, but took part of God's word and the working of the Holy Spirit with them into apostasy as they even forced other believers into the same. But here they are returning in repentance to the church and seeking absolution for their great sin.  At this point we can assume these are now true, faithful believers willing to endure the ten-year wait for full communion.  And in this and every prior case, the overseer could alter the time based on the individual and his circumstance.  This way justice and mercy could walk together.

Note on the first nine canons
As I was reaching the end of this set of those who forsook the faith in various degrees and coupling that with the disciplinary actions documented in the canons of Nicaea, I was impressed by the technical clarity of each description and the appropriate consequence for acceptance into fellowship.  The matter was clear and settled.  No sudden appeal for mercy could assuage the spiritual leadership.  Only a walk of faith over an extended period would suffice for a measure of leniency.  These canons were not inventing a sin to discipline, as the Pharisees were wont to do, but seeking to correctly acknowledge what was already known as sin and addressing it properly.

Perhaps modern church bodies are missing out on something here.  I do not know of any that so fully and clearly outlines what should happen to those who fall away and wish to return.  The appeal to unique, individual circumstances is effective in overriding systems of governance both in jurisprudence and the church.  And I can understand that to a point, but maybe we should be taking the trouble to specify to some degree what is expected to enter back into full fellowship, then use it consistently.  Both matters, appropriateness and consistency, are difficult to define and enact.  And does this line of reasoning cross a line stepping away from grace, and if so, to what degree?  I am still working through this one.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Religious Elitism

The annual meeting of the Society of Biblical Literature occurred this past month in Atlanta.  That is not noteworthy, but what leads up to and comes from this meeting is an harangue against those who accept the Bible as something to be believed and followed.  If you consider yourself, evangelical, confessional, or (shudder) fundamentalist, be prepared to have a cloth over your mouth and shout, "Unclean! Unclean!" going from one seminar to another. While my tone is hyperbolic, the outrage against biblical literalists being part of their ranks is palpable from the e-mails and blog postings I have seen.

An observation to that attitude was made at Pastoral Musings.  His main point is great:
The true issue is this;  when we read the Bible as it presents itself to us we find that it is confessional in nature.  It calls for us to believe in a Creator who is omnipotent, transcendent, omnipresent, benevolent, righteous, and holy.  There are many other things we are called to believe, as well.

Not only so, but the Bible claims that it can only be truly understood by people who are believers.…I find it somewhat strange, then, that those who do not believe in Jesus should complain about people who do believe in Jesus meeting with the SBL, presenting papers, and having meetings in conjunction with SBL.
I chuckled upon reading the post having had the same thoughts.  Check out the post.

Ancyra - Canon 8

Let those who have twice or thrice sacrificed under compulsion, be prostrators four years, and communicate without oblation two years, and the seventh year they shall be received to full communion.

Sinning once under compulsion was grievous; doing the same multiple times incurred greater discipline.  The penance and probation was to correspond to the sin.

Ancyra - Canon 7

Concerning those who have partaken at a heathen feast in a place appointed for heathens, but who have brought and eaten their own meats, it is decreed that they be received after they have been prostrators two years; but whether with oblation, every bishop must determine after he has made examination into the rest of their life.

Karl von Hefele gives an excellent commentary on this canon:
Several Christians tried with worldly prudence, to take a middle course.  On the one hand, hoping to escape persecution, they were present at the feasts of the heathen sacrifices, which were held in the buildings adjoining the temples; and on the other, in order to appease their consciences, they took their own food, and touched nothing that had been offered to the gods.  These Christians forgot that St. Paul had ordered that meats sacrificed to the gods should be avoided, not because they were tainted in themselves, as the idols were nothing, but from another, and in fact a twofold reason: 1st, Because, in partaking of them, some had still the idols in their hearts, that is to say, were still attached to the worship of idols, and thereby sinned; and 2dly, Because others scandalized their brethren, and sinned in that way.  To these two reasons a third may be added, namely, the hypocrisy and the duplicity of those Christians who wished to appear heathens, and nevertheless to remain Christians.  The Synod punished them with two years of penance in the third degree, and gave to each bishop the right, at the expiration of this time, either to admit them to communion, or to make them remain some time longer in the fourth degree.1
The remarkable hypocrisy demonstrated here brings genuine faith in Christ into question.  We can understand the extreme duress and desire to avoid pain and conflict, but where is the line drawn?  When Christ says in Matt 16:24-26,
If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.  For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.  For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul?  Or what shall a man give in return for his soul?
then we must rightly assume he means that our lives are nothing compared to the surpassing value of knowing him. (Phil 3:8).  Perhaps there is a Christian who does not understand that completely, but in what does he or she believe?  What is the thing in which they trust—the gospel or vain philosophy of man's invention?

This does not preclude a true repentance and turning to Christ.  Certainly those mentioned in this and the previous canons can have believed on the finished work with salvation full and free but were possibly weak in faith.  In the end we do not know.  We simply must guard against those who easily stumble or practice deceit to save themselves or their reputations, yet desire to have full fellowship with the local body.

1 Karl J. von Hefele, The Seven Ecumenical Councils, (NPNF2 14:66).

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Ancyra - Canon 6

Concerning those who have yielded merely upon threat of penalties and of the confiscation of their goods, or of banishment, and have sacrificed, and who till this present time have not repented nor been converted, but who now, at the time of this synod, have approached with a purpose of conversion, it is decreed that they be received as hearers till the Great Day,1 and that after the Great Day they be prostrators for three years, and for two years more communicate without oblation, and then come to full communion, so as to complete the period of six full years.  And if any have been admitted to penance before this synod, let the beginning of the six years be reckoned to them from that time.  Nevertheless, if there should be any danger or prospect of death whether from disease or any other cause, let them be received, but under limitation.

There were some in the church who fell away and sacrificed to idols because of the threat of torture, and this they continued to do but now have repented of these acts.  These are to be allowed to hear the meeting until Easter, then go through a six-year progression to be brought back fully into communion with penance served prior to Easter to be allowed toward the entire time.  If because of possible imminent death for the person, he or she may be allowed in with limitations.

At this point one questions whether or not those who fell so easily were true believers.  That is a legitimate concern and may be a chief reason for lengthy time period for full reinstatement.

1 EasterDay – Wm. A. Hammond states, "The great reverence which the Primitive Church from the earliest ages felt for the holy festival of Easter is manifested by the application of the epithet Great, to everything connected with it."  (NPNF2 14:66).

Ancyra - Canon 5

As many, however, as went up in mourning attire and sat down and ate, weeping throughout the whole entertainment, if they have fulfilled the three years as prostrators, let them be received without oblation; and if they did not eat, let them be prostrators two years, and in the third year let them communicate without oblation, so that in the fourth year they may be received into full communion.  But the bishops have the right, after considering the character of their conversion, either to deal with them more leniently, or to extend the time.  But, first of all, let their life before and since be thoroughly examined, and let the indulgence be determined accordingly.

As opposed to those in Canon 4 who went up in festal attire, this addresses those who recognized they should not play into the wrong being perpetrated on them.  They should be penitent for two years then be allowed to be received into the fellowship if they had not eaten idolatrous meat but be penitent a year longer if they had.  In either case, at the beginning of the fourth year full communion was theirs assuming the overseer agreed based on current conduct, since the overseer had the power to shorten or extend the time of penitence.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Ancyra - Canon 4

Concerning those who have been forced to sacrifice, and who, in addition, have partaken of feasts in honor of the idols; as many as were haled away, but afterwards went up with a cheerful countenance, and wore their costliest apparel, and partook with indifference of the feast provided; it is decreed that all such be hearers for one year, and prostrators for three years, and that they communicate in prayers only for two years, and then return to full communion.

There were those believers who were forced to partake in sacrifices as mentioned in the previous canon, but then went on to partake willingly, were allowed to return but were required to spend a set amount of time at each prescribed position within the meeting. Since the leaders had already been addressed, this canon would be directed toward all others.

The lesser degree of severity was probably due to the lesser expectation of the common person in the church. A biblical example is the sin offering (Lev 4:1-5:13) where the sacrifice given varied depending on the relative spiritual position of the sinner within the company of God's people—the high priest offered a bull, but the common person offered a goat, lamb, birds, or flour depending on his or her financial ability.  Church leaders need to understand that the Lord requires a greater accounting because of the position in which he has placed them.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Ancyra - Canon 3

Those who have fled and been apprehended, or have been betrayed by their servants; or those who have been otherwise despoiled of their goods, or have endured tortures, or have been imprisoned and abused, declaring themselves to be Christians; or who have been forced to receive something which their persecutors violently thrust into their hands, or meat,1 continually professing that they were Christians; and who, by their whole apparel, and demeanor, and humility of life, always give evidence of grief at what has happened; these persons, inasmuch as they are free from sin, are not to be repelled from the communion; and if, through an extreme strictness or ignorance of some things, they have been repelled, let them forthwith be readmitted.  This shall hold good alike of clergy and laity.  It has also been considered whether laymen who have fallen under the same compulsion may be admitted to orders, and we have decreed that, since they have in no respect been guilty, they may be ordained; provided their past course of life be found to have been upright.

The council recognized that there were some believers who, while proclaiming their allegiance to Christ, would be tortured, abused, or have sacrificial offerings forcibly placed in their hands.  These were to be received back into full communion without reservation as they have not sinned.  Likewise, they were to be allowed ordination should their conduct otherwise allow it.

1 Meat offered to idols

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Psalm 9 for Thanksgiving

This psalm begins with thanksgiving to the Lord and recounts what he has done.  May all be blessed by God's word and his working in each one.

To the choirmaster: according to Muth-labben.  A Psalm of David.

    I will give thanks to the LORD with my whole heart;
        I will recount all of your wonderful deeds.
     I will be glad and exult in you;
        I will sing praise to your name, O Most High.

    When my enemies turn back,
        they stumble and perish before your presence.
     For you have maintained my just cause;
        you have sat on the throne, giving righteous judgment.

    You have rebuked the nations; you have made the wicked perish;
        you have blotted out their name forever and ever.
     The enemy came to an end in everlasting ruins;
        their cities you rooted out;
        the very memory of them has perished.

    But the LORD sits enthroned forever;
        he has established his throne for justice,
     and he judges the world with righteousness;
        he judges the peoples with uprightness.

    The LORD is a stronghold for the oppressed,
        a stronghold in times of trouble.
     And those who know your name put their trust in you,
        for you, O LORD, have not forsaken those who seek you.

    Sing praises to the LORD, who sits enthroned in Zion!
        Tell among the peoples his deeds!
     For he who avenges blood is mindful of them;
        he does not forget the cry of the afflicted.

    Be gracious to me, O LORD!
        See my affliction from those who hate me,
        O you who lift me up from the gates of death,
     that I may recount all your praises,
        that in the gates of the daughter of Zion
        I may rejoice in your salvation.

    The nations have sunk in the pit that they made;
        in the net that they hid, their own foot has been caught.
     The LORD has made himself known; he has executed judgment;
        the wicked are snared in the work of their own hands.  Higgaion.  Selah

    The wicked shall return to Sheol,
        all the nations that forget God.

    For the needy shall not always be forgotten,
        and the hope of the poor shall not perish forever.

    Arise, O LORD! Let not man prevail;
        let the nations be judged before you!
     Put them in fear, O LORD!
        Let the nations know that they are but men!  Selah

Ancyra - Canon 2

It is likewise decreed that deacons who have sacrificed and afterwards resumed the conflict, shall enjoy their other honors, but shall abstain from every sacred ministry, neither bringing forth the bread and the cup, nor making proclamations.  Nevertheless, if any of the bishops shall observe in them distress of mind and meek humiliation, it shall be lawful to the bishops to grant more indulgence, or to take away.1

This is a continuation of the first canon but deals directly with deacons.  As with the elder, if a deacon has served idols under duress and returns to the church, he shall not be able to serve further during the meetings of the church unless the overseer sees in the former deacon outward manifestation to allow some service.

1 I.e., what has previously been granted.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Ancyra - Canon 1

With regard to those presbyters who have offered sacrifices and afterwards returned to the conflict, not with hypocrisy, but in sincerity, it has seemed good that they may retain the honor of their chair; provided they had not used management, arrangement, or persuasion, so as to appear to be subjected to the torture, when it was applied only in seeming and pretense.  Nevertheless it is not lawful for them to make the oblation, nor to preach, nor in short to perform any act of sacerdotal function.

This council preceded Nicaea by 15 years and addressed matters concerning those who had come through persecution: how they fared, to what end they may have succumbed before returning to the church, and what future they could have within the company of believers.

Elders had succumbed under some measure of pressure to offer sacrifices to idols and then later returned to the church with full sincerity and desire to worship the only true God.  Those that return are to be honored according to their former place as long as the persuasive acts used against him were legitimate, in that a discovery of apparent torture through chicanery or misdirection by the elder and torturer shall not be tolerated by the church.  Regardless of whether or not the tortures were legitimate, if the elder worshiped falsely he was not allowed to practice in any capacity as was normal for a spiritual leader of the church, whether an offering, preaching, or priestly service.

This punishment will seem harsh to the contemporary church. A case would be made that the gospel is of forgiveness, and if forgiveness is given, it should be full and free.  I sympathize with that.  Whatever measure of acceptability we view here, the council was wise to not rush to restore the elder to full responsibility.  We would do well to take caution in restoring fallen spiritual leaders, not immediately thrusting them back to the limelight if at all.

Also noteworthy to point out is that the elders had these duties of service which became solely the purview of the overseer (i.e., bishop).  Apparently, the distinction between elder and overseer had not become so tiered as to allow an exchange or intermixing of duties within the local church.  This offers a graduated step between what we see in the New Testament and what later became a full acceptance of the bishop and archbishop (or metropolitan) noted in the Nicene canons.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Ancillary Church Councils

Christians, if they are familiar with early church councils, usually think of the Big Seven.  Sports-minded individuals might be wondering if this is some ancient sporting alliance akin to the NCAA Division I schools; rather they are a series of large ecumenical church councils beginning (A.D. 325) and ending (A.D. 787) in Nicaea.  Aside from these were other smaller, regional councils that dealt with matters that were arising locally.  The canons from these smaller councils were later ratified in the larger councils, so that they became applicable church-wide.  The first few are held in the following cities: Ancyra, capital of Galatia; Neocaesarea in Pontus; Gangra in Paphlagonia (though originally in Galatia); Antioch in Syria; and Laodicea in Phrygia.  By the time of the fourth council in Chalcedon, all the canons from these were accepted.  My plan is to go through these as I had those from Nicaea I.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Worry in Perspective

Chris Rosebrough of Pirate Christian Radio and Fighting for the Faith posted this status on Facebook:

Ninety-five percent of the things you worry about will never happen.  The other five percent will kill you.
 That pretty much says it.  And for sure someone reading this is mulling the question, "But which is the deadly five percent I need to avoid?"

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Lord, Save Me from "Christian" Marketing

An old friend posted this link on Facebook friend and had a few appropriate words about this offering from (drum roll, please) Left Behind Games.  Yes, according to the website of this offering, you too can:
Join the ultimate fight of Good versus Evil, commanding Tribulation Forces, the Global Community Peacekeepers the all new American Militia!

* Combat the Antichrist’s forces on two battle fronts - physical & spiritual warfare: Use the power of prayer and worship to resist spiritual influences and defend against their physical attacks.
* Control more than 40 unit types, each developed with unique attributes and special abilities... and witness Angelic appearances and Demonic battles as a direct result of your choices.
* Command your forces through the streets of New York in one of the most realistic recreations ever seen in a video game - now with improved graphics!
Not only that, there are these great features:
* No online subscription fees for online multiplayer games. Choose to play with up to 7 friends for free!
* Featuring original soundtrack by award-winning composer, Chance Thomas (King Kong, X-Men, Lord of the Rings).
My lone comment to my friend was, "It's being distributed to bless others—combat simulation for those missing the rapture.  (Turning sarcasm mode off)"

That has to be it, right?  There cannot be any other legitimate reason for this to exist.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Evangelicalism's Fads and Fixtures

Fads come and go.  But when a fad overstays its welcome it becomes codified, institutionalized,and otherwise immortalized.  Joe Carter at First Things has written a piece that points out how far evangelicals have taken some extra-biblical fads that should have died a natural death but were accepted as dogma.  And may I say as an acknowledged evangelical, how correct he is in most of what he shares.

Council of Nicaea: A Final Observation

Going into this study I knew that the Nicene council had one governing mission guiding their progress:

What do we believe?

What makes this so profound is its blatant simplicity.  Their singular objective was to come together and codify what was received from faithful witnesses (i.e. the gospels, epistles, and later apologists/teachers) concerning the triune God and his revelation in the already acknowledged and accepted Law, Prophets, and Writings (i.e., Old Testament).  In our present theologically diverse culture, an attempt at such dogmatism would most likely be met with disdain and derision.  Within the church is post-modernism with emphasis on what is best for the individual within his or her current circumstance and cultural.  Partially fueling this are the publishers of theological and biblical works who relish the production of whatever new perspective can be brought to a subject.  So much effort goes into the production of original thought that the church has lost the desire, nay, the ability to understand what it knows.

Lest the guilt be placed solely on these purveyors of paper, both academia and church leadership at-large have accepted the quest for the holy grail of "entering into the conversation" without attempting to address a topic in such a way that a legitimate, true answer can be presented or confirmed.  The search has become an end in itself.  Imagine playing "Capture the Flag" with players wandering helter-skelter in the sheer revelry of activity questioning the very existence of flags and the need to possess one if they do.

To these and the reader I beseech, To the law and to the testimony! (Is 8:20 NASB) When the people of Israel were on the far side of the Jordan ready to enter the land, Moses delivered the sum of God's covenant with them.  It demanded a response due to such a great and good sovereign.  They knew both their place and duty.
This day the LORD your God commands you to do these statutes and rules.  You shall therefore be careful to do them with all your heart and with all your soul.  You have declared today that the LORD is your God, and that you will walk in his ways, and keep his statutes and his commandments and his rules, and will obey his voice.  And the LORD has declared today that you are a people for his treasured possession, as he has promised you, and that you are to keep all his commandments, and that he will set you in praise and in fame and in honor high above all nations that he has made, and that you shall be a people holy to the LORD your God, as he promised.  (Deuteronomy 26:16-19)
The new covenant given in Christ's blood is the final, supreme, enduring act of that same God.  Our response can be no less.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Nicaea - Canon 20

Forasmuch as there are certain persons who kneel on the Lord’s Day and in the days of Pentecost, therefore, to the intent that all things may be uniformly observed everywhere (in every parish), it seems good to the holy Synod that prayer be made to God standing.

The actual position of prayer became an issue in relation the Lord's Day and Pentecost because the act was viewed in relation to the resurrection.  The standing position while gathered on those days signified rest and joy according to Augustine.  This practice was elongated during the church year as Hammond states.
Although kneeling was the common posture for prayer in the primitive Church, yet the custom had prevailed, even from the earliest times, of standing at prayer on the Lord’s day, and during the fifty days between Easter and Pentecost.1
Not all churches accepted this later practice.  Even the apostle Paul plainly kneeled to pray between Easter and Pentecost (Acts 20:36; 21:5).

The import of this canon is in carrying forth Paul's praise to Corinth in commending them for maintaining "the traditions even as I delivered them to you" (1 Cor 11:2).   Since Paul had established a common practice among the churches, it seemed natural to maintain commonality of activity in everything done.  Of course, the apostle would not have been so detailed in what he asked of each local body.  There was no reason to regulate all the activities and actions pertaining to those, only to establish the basis by which the church conducted itself in Christ.

1 Wm. A. Hammond, note to Canon 20, The Seven Ecumenical Councils, (NPNF2 14:42).

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Nicaea - Canon 19

Concerning the Paulianists who have flown for refuge to the Catholic Church, it has been decreed that they must by all means be rebaptized; and if any of them who in past time have been numbered among their clergy should be found blameless and without reproach, let them be rebaptized and ordained by the Bishop of the Catholic Church; but if the examination should discover them to be unfit, they ought to be deposed.  Likewise in the case of their deaconesses, and generally in the case of those who have been enrolled among their clergy, let the same form be observed.  And we mean by deaconesses such as have assumed the habit, but who, since they have no imposition of hands, are to be numbered only among the laity.

Paulianists were those who followed Paul of Samosata.1  Upon their entrance or return to orthodoxy, they were to be rebaptized.  The reason for this stems from Paul's heterodox view of the Trinity.  Any baptism performed purportedly according to the formula in Matt 28:19 would be invalid, since his doctrine of the godhead was invalid.

One may ask, "Why be baptized again?  What is the point?"  Baptism identifies the person as a full adherent to another.  In this case the one to whom the heterodox believer had been identified was in essence a false god.  Baptism was considered necessary to correct the outward sign of allegiance previously given.

The deaconesses mentioned were not new to Antioch or Paul in particular.  According to the excursus for this canon:
The principal work of the deaconess was to assist the female candidates for holy baptism.  At that time the sacrament of baptism was always administered by immersion (except to those in extreme illness) and hence there was much that such an order of women could be useful in.  Moreover they sometimes gave to the female catechumens preliminary instruction, but their work was wholly limited to women, and for a deaconess of the Early Church to teach a man or to nurse him in sickness would have been an impossibility.2

1 Bishop of Antioch from A.D. 260 until being deposed in 268 for teaching a form of monarchianism with leanings toward adoptionism.
2 "Excursus on the Deaconess of the Early Church," The Seven Ecumenical Councils, Canon 19 (NPNF2 14:41).

Monday, November 8, 2010

Nicaea - Canon 18

It has come to the knowledge of the holy and great Synod that, in some districts and cities, the deacons administer the Eucharist to the presbyters, whereas neither canon nor custom permits that they who have no right to offer should give the Body of Christ to them that do offer.  And this also has been made known, that certain deacons now touch the Eucharist even before the bishops.  Let all such practices be utterly done away, and let the deacons remain within their own bounds, knowing that they are the ministers of the bishop and the inferiors of the presbyters.  Let them receive the Eucharist according to their order, after the presbyters, and let either the bishop or the presbyter administer to them.  Furthermore, let not the deacons sit among the presbyters, for that is contrary to canon and order.  And if, after this decree, any one shall refuse to obey, let him be deposed from the diaconate.

The ecclesiastic hierarchy found shortly before the council was most evidenced within the formal procedure surrounding the administration of the Lord's Supper.  Remembering the early church's view of the elements (see Canon 13), the strictures are understandable.  Overseers, elders, and deacons each had their place and responsibility concerning who was served and when.  This canon was directed at misuses and misappropriation amongst the deacons that the council believed required censure.

Sunday, November 7, 2010


Concordia Publishing House has a promotion going on entitled Hymnal in every Home.  The idea is to place a hymnal in every Lutheran's home as a resource for family devotions and teaching.

I applaud CPH for making the effort.  Every home should have a hymnal that is used regularly.  Throughout history, men of God were noted for always having a Bible and hymnal as their regular reading and teaching material.  They took seriously the following passages from Paul.
Ephesians 5:18-21
And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit, addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart, giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ.

Colossians 3:16-17
Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God.  And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.

The need to use music for teaching was clear to the early church as noted in the following excerpts.  First from Clement of Alexandria:
In the present instance He is a guest with us. For the apostle adds again, “Teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, in psalms, and hymns, and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your heart to God.”  And again, “Whatsoever ye do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God and His Father.”  This is our thankful revelry.  And even if you wish to sing and play to the harp or lyre, there is no blame.  Thou shalt imitate the righteous Hebrew king in his thanksgiving to God.  “Rejoice in the Lord, ye righteous; praise is comely to the upright,” says the prophecy.  “Confess to the Lord on the harp; play to Him on the psaltery of ten strings. Sing to Him a new song.”  And does not the ten-stringed psaltery indicate the Word Jesus, who is manifested by the element of the decad?  And as it is befitting, before partaking of food, that we should bless the Creator of all; so also in drinking it is suitable to praise Him on partaking of His creatures.  For the psalm is a melodious and sober blessing.  The apostle calls the psalm “a spiritual song.”
The Instructor, Book II, cap. 4.

Then another from Tertullian in relation to godly marriage:
Where the flesh is one, one is the spirit too.  Together they pray, together prostrate themselves, together perform their fasts; mutually teaching, mutually exhorting, mutually sustaining.  Equally (are they) both (found) in the Church of God; equally at the banquet of God; equally in straits, in persecutions, in refreshments.…Between the two echo psalms and hymns; and they mutually challenge each other which shall better chant to their Lord.  Such things when Christ sees and hears, He joys.  To these He sends His own peace. Where two (are), there withal (is) He Himself.  Where He (is), there the Evil One is not.
To His Wife, Book II
Lastly, I recommend this homily by John Chrysostom on Colossians 3:16-17.

I have hymnals of various denominations in my house—Baptist, Methodist, Presbyterian, Plymouth Brethren to name some.  There are hymns used by all of Protestantism, while others are unique to a particular group.  Christian hymnody is broad and rich.  Local churches would do well to investigate the breadth and depth of what has been given to the church universal and make it their own.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Toxins: Indentifying and Eliminating

Erik DiVietro has a blog entitled
Intimate Church devoted to work in churches of less than 100—in other words average.  Recently he has posted concerning toxins that are in the church and secondly how to deal with them as a body of believers.  They are short, easy reads and direct in their assessment.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Nicaea - Canon 17

Forasmuch as many enrolled among the Clergy, following covetousness and lust of gain, have forgotten the divine Scripture, which says, “He hath not given his money upon usury,”1 and in lending money ask the hundredth of the sum,2 the holy and great Synod thinks it just that if after this decree any one be found to receive usury, whether he accomplish it by secret transaction or otherwise, as by demanding the whole and one half, or by using any other contrivance whatever for filthy lucre’s sake, he shall be deposed from the clergy and his name stricken from the list.

The underlying point of this canon lies within God's view of concern for his people.  Only those who are without would need a load to "get over the hump," and these occurrences come upon Christians.  Loaning money at interest adds a burden on the needy and demonstrates greed latent within the heart.  If any church leader should be found to be doing so, his position was forfeit.

1 Lev 25:37
2 As monthly interest