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

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Nicaea - Canon 16

Neither presbyters, nor deacons, nor any others enrolled among the clergy, who, not having the fear of God before their eyes, nor regarding the ecclesiastical Canon, shall recklessly remove from their own church, ought by any means to be received by another church; but every constraint should be applied to restore them to their own parishes;1 and, if they will not go, they must be excommunicated.2  And if anyone shall dare surreptitiously to carry off and in his own Church ordain a man belonging to another, without the consent of his own proper bishop, from whom although he was enrolled in the clergy list he has seceded, let the ordination be void.

This canon serves as counterpoint to the previous with emphasis being placed on the responsible conduct of the church being visited by a rogue leader.  Any spiritual leader in the church who removes himself from one church in order to serve in another is not to be accepted into fellowship but sent back from whence he came.  And any attempt to appoint the newcomer in a leadership position will be voided.

I wonder how many churches would be spared if they did due diligence toward those purporting to know the scriptures and desiring a place to speak and teach?

1 In this context parish is equivalent to diocese.
2 The idea is "not joining in sacrifice with" or "not being allowed to celebrate together with" rather than complete banishment.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Nicaea - Canon 15

  On account of the great disturbance and discords that occur, it is decreed that the custom prevailing in certain places contrary to the Canon, must wholly be done away; so that neither bishop, presbyter, nor deacon shall pass from city to city.  And if any one, after this decree of the holy and great Synod, shall attempt any such thing, or continue in any such course, his proceedings shall be utterly void, and he shall be restored to the Church for which he was ordained bishop or presbyter.

Leading up to this council, some church leaders had begun moving from one locale to another without sanction for various reasons—some altruistic, some not.  The council recognized that such movements were counter-productive and attempted to stem the practice.  Citing that the bond between a church and its leader was akin to marriage, they viewed it as an act of spiritual adultery.  There were legitimate cases that seemed to require a move.  In such both the sending and receiving churches would agree with the blessing of fellow overseers.  However, over time this canon was entirely disregarded.

Though having fallen into neglect, the intent of this canon has direct application for today in relation to the modern pastorate.  A typical scenario has the following elements:
1.A man filled with desire to do something for God
2.He attends seminary full-time (or as near to possible) in order to finish quickly
    a. Neglecting his wife and possibly children
    b. Ruining his health
3.He graduates with little practical experience.
4.He travels about candidating at various churches looking for the proper fit
5.A church issues a formal call
6.If accepted, the man actively pastors at that church for an average of 4-5 years, gaining much-needed experience
7.Either the church or the pastor determines the fit is not correct
8.Start over at step 4 and repeat until retirement or death

The differences between the early and modern church are quite stark.

Local Emphasis – When Paul and Barnabas ministered returned from the outer reach of their missionary trip, they stopped to see the new disciples and "appointed elders for them in every town" (Acts 14:23).  From the beginning oversight was from within the local church and not an act of superimposing another spiritual authority on top of the local church.  After the first apostles died, this pattern continued as churches aged and new ones were begun.  All believers were expected to be actively discipling with a natural outcome of growth both in the giving and receiving of sound doctrine.  As younger men aged, those who exhibited Christ-like character, wisely used the scriptures, and cared for the local church were recognized and acknowledged as new overseers.  Bringing in an outsider was the exception rather than the norm.

Today the opposite is expected.  Out of an initial church plant, few if any are properly discipled, and those who have an acumen for the Lord's things are encouraged to attend Bible school and seminary, but rare is the case that such a person will return to the commending church.  More commonly, the seminarian forges into other territories seeking to make his own way leaving the home church with unfulfilled hopes.  Even more likely than this is the church which has nobody with a penchant for the ministry.  In both cases there will eventually need to be someone to shepherd the church.  The job posting is placed, applicants are interviewed, and someone is hired to do the work of the ministry.  Even if the hired preacher is not forced out by internal strife, people will not consider themselves accountable to God for the work he gave them to do (Eph 2:10) or the call to grow in grace (2 Pet 3:18), rather wallowing in a sanctimonious or self-pitying mire.

Permanency – In the early church, those in oversight generally stayed in one place unless forced to do otherwise.  There is scant evidence of any elder in the apostolic church moving from one city to another, though a case might be made for Aquila, the believer from Rome (Romans 16:3-5) who with his wife Priscilla found themselves in Corinth because of persecution against the Jews (Acts 18:2).  The names of Irenaeus, Tertullian, Cyprian, and Ignatius come readily to mind as those who stayed to mind the flock without thought of moving away.  Though the latter two  were forced because of persecution to leave their posts, neither had a desire to leave the flock unattended.  As the Nicene canon intended, the overseer was to be a permanent fixture of his church.  The bond was between spiritual shepherd and sheep was meant to be as fixed as the Lord Jesus' own (John 10:12).

This element is more rare today.  Either the pastor or church can terminate what is in essence an employment contract.  As long as the terms of employment are met, the contract remains in force.  If either fails to maintain the terms or wishes to renegotiate, either party is allowed to sever relations.  On the surface this seems quite clinical, and it is.  The correct bond never truly exists between the overseer and the people.

Perhaps now is the time for the church to correct this faux pas and reinstate the need for sound, godly leadership as the natural growth product of consistent discipleship.