Freed to live through the death of another.

Category: Church History (Page 1 of 2)

A Confession That Connects

A Good Pattern to Follow

When we planted Grace Fellowship Church Don Mills there was very little that we wanted to do differently from what we had seen. You might have been able to tell from the name that we chose (we were planted by another Grace Fellowship Church), but we firmly believed — and still believe — that the pattern that had been established for us was a good one.

That church prioritizes the word, exalts Christ, depends on God in prayer, worships him with authentic and theologically rich singing, and lives out some genuine New Testament fellowship. She is led by godly elders and served well by deacons that look an awful lot like Jesus in their Christ-like serving. All the essentials are there, so there really was very little to change when we planted.

That being said, we didn’t simply want to copy & paste, or go with a church-in-a-box mentality either, so we carefully investigated just about everything so that from top-to-bottom we were making sure that we weren’t just assuming essentials.

We wanted to act out of conviction, not convention.

Taking a Different Turn

One place where we decided to head in a different direction was in our Statement of Faith. While we believed (and still believe!) everything in the Statement of Faith from our planting church, we wanted something a little more. Our desire was twofold for our Statement of Faith:

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Did John Bunyan Question His Salvation?

You bet he did! Like most Christians throughout the history of the church, this famous believer was prone to discouragement. When he saw the sway that sin still held in his life he would begin to question whether or not God was really working in him–whether God would indeed keep him.

So what did he do?

Bunyan did excellently what we are so frequently admonishing each other to do: Preach truth to your own heart. A wonderful illustration of this is below.

Here, when faced with fits of despair and discouragement, Bunyan takes the truth of justification (forgiveness of sins and the imputation of Christ’s righteousness) and preaches it to his heart. Despite what he feels, he says to himself, ‘This is what is true. This is where I can find hope, comfort, and peace.’

We would all do well to learn from his example and follow in his footsteps when we are discouraged or downcast.

Sometimes I bless the Lord my soul hath had the life that now I am speaking of, not only imputed to me, but the very glory of it upon my soul; for, upon a time, when I was under many condemnings of heart, and feared, because of my sins, my soul would miss of eternal glory, methought I felt in my soul such a secret motion of this—Thy righteousness is in Heaven, together with the splendour and shining of the Spirit of Grace in my soul, which gave me to see clearly that my righteousness by which I should be justified from all that could condemn, was the Son of God Himself in His own Person, now at the right hand of His Father representing me complete before the Mercy- seat in His Ownself; so that I saw clearly that night and day, wherever I was, or whatever I was a doing, still there was my righteousness just before the eyes of Divine glory; so that the Father could never find fault with me for any insufficiency that was in my righteousness, seeing it was complete; neither could He say, Where is it? because it was continually at His right hand.


Also, at another time, having contracted guilt upon my soul, and having some distemper of body upon me, I supposed that death might now so seize upon as to take me away from among men; then, thought I, what shall I do now? is all right with my soul? Have I the right work of God on my soul? Answering myself, “No, surely”; and that because there were so many weaknesses in me; yes, so many weaknesses in my best duties. For, thought I, how can such an one as I find mercy, whose heart is so ready to evil, and so backward to that which is good, so far as it is natural. Thus musing, being filled with fear to die, these words come in upon my soul, “Being justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus” (Rom 3:24). As if God had said, Sinner, thou thinkest because that thou hast had so many infirmities and weaknesses in thy soul while thou hast been professing of Me, therefore now there can be no hopes of mercy; but be it known unto thee, that it was not anything done by thee at the first that moved Me to have mercy upon thee: neither is it anything that is done by thee now that shall make me either accept or reject thee.

Free Audio Resources from

Every month gives away a coupon code to download one of their audiobooks for free. Oftentimes these books are quite good! One I got Augustine’s On Christian Doctrine. Another time they were offering Don Whitney’s Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life. On another month they offered Pilgrim’s Progress. All in all, it’s an offer worth checking out.

This month is quite good again. I’ve never listened John Foxe’s Book of Martyrs, but I have read it. Now I’m going to download it for free and see what it’s like to listen to these stories of great men and women who died for their faith. I’m sure it will be a blessing, so I thought I’d pass along the offer.

Here’s the deal below: 


How to React to the Fall of Rome – Part 2

In the previous post we saw that the ancient church’s view of a historical phenomenon (namely, the Roman Empire) shifted dramatically within the space of a few generations, on account of their particular experiences with that empire.

I would suggest that we have seen something somewhat similar take place over the past few generations up until our day–though not with an empire, per se.

I think it is particularly interesting to see how many Christians lament over the end of modernism the way Jerome mourned the fall of Rome. So many of us weep over modernism as if it was a Christian creation, designed for the spread of the gospel–God’s chosen means for reaching the world.

In reality, there is little that is further from the truth. In and of itself modernism was never a friend to the gospel. Secular modernist philosophers and scientists have always used modernism as a means of attacking and discrediting the claims of the Christian faith.

For all the ways that modernism has provided a platform for displaying the truthfulness of Christianity (text criticism, archaeological studies of ancient cities, much of creation science, etc.), it was never a ‘Christian’ view.

The trustworthiness of Christianity in a modern mindset boils down to little more than making a ‘case for Christ’ logically. The trouble is that Christianity, by its very nature, will not fit in these categories.

All that we are as Christians is based on the claim that Jesus Christ was entirely God and entirely man, lived a perfect life fulfilling God’s law, suffered and died to take on the curse of the law for us who receive his righteousness, and that God really did physically and literally raise him from the dead.

But here’s the deal: I can’t prove that to you in a scientific way. I can point to evidences, but that’s all. There is something necessarily personal and experiential (existential?) about the Christian faith. What we believe is not relativism, because our believing does not determine whether something is true or false, but our faith is what saves us.

In other words, it’s something personal, internal, ‘unprovable’ that makes all the difference in the world. That’s what our religion is based on. This is the kind of thing that modernists can’t grasp. They want something to touch, to examine, to test, to prove.

So what then? Do we rejoice over the fall of Rome? Do we rush off to align ourselves with the newest invaders who have come to expose Rome’s weaknesses? Do we embrace all that is postmodernism with open arms?

I suggest that we do what Augustine did. We use this opportunity to look around and evaluate from the perspective of eternity. What about modernism was evil and passing? What was good? What reflected God? How was modernism used for the spread of the kingdom?

And then, we ought to begin asking some careful questions about the ’empire’ that is coming upon us. How can we use its strengths and its weaknesses to further the cause of the kingdom? How does postmodernism provide ways for the gospel to go forth that modernism never would?

In the end we must remember that neither modernism nor postmodernism is ‘God’s perspective.’ These philosophical mindsets are of man, and they will pass. We need to examine the world around us closely so that we can see how to better hope in, trust in, and point to the world that is to come.

How to React to the Fall of Rome – Part 1

Looking over my notes today from my early church history course, I noticed something interesting. It’s nothing new or profound, but it caught my attention anyway. The church’s response to the fall of Rome was weird, in many ways.

I think it’s necessary to lay some background before we move on.

From the founding of Christianity (Pentecost somewhere around 33AD) to 64AD the Christian church enjoyed religious protection, since it was seen by Rome as a Jewish sect. When Rome burnt in 64AD, however, Nero needed someone to blame and so he blamed the Christians.

Nero’s actions set the precedent for persecution of Christians that would last the next few hundred years. Rome was ruled by pagans who hated Christians. From the heart of Rome all the way up to places like Gaul (southern France) Christians were persecuted.

It is important to note that throughout this time period, Christians saw the hand of Satan at work in the Roman Empire, as both he and they sought to destroy Christ’s church.

Skipping ahead a few centuries, we find that in 312AD a Roman Emperor (Constantine) becomes a Christian. This is part of a monumental shift for the way Christianity and Rome came to relate. Though (contrary to popular belief) Constantine did not legislate Christianity, he did legally protect Christians from persecution.

As Christianity gained favour with the upper segments of society (it’s popular to like what the emperor likes), Rome grew in favour with the Christians as well.

Within a few generations, it seems, Christians had forgotten that Rome had for so long killed and persecuted their forefathers in the faith. Now Rome was a friend to them, and they could see it as nothing else.

This is seen nowhere more clearly than in Jerome’s reaction to the fall of Rome. In his writings, he laments the fall of the Roman empire, citing Scriptures originally speaking of Jerusalem, and now using them in reference to Rome! Christians like him wept and lamented that this ‘Christian’ empire could fall.

This is a far cry from the view of Christians who had lived only a few generations before him, who saw Satan at work through the Roman empire.

How could this shift have happened?

It happened because Christians like Jerome were so consumed with what they could see in their own time, that they lost sight of what the scriptures truly do say about kingdoms, empires, and earthly regimes.

Just as a side note, in closing, it must be noted that my personal hero, Augustine, did not fall prey to such a short view. In response to Jerome, Augustine would write letters to him, admonishing him to look past Rome to the City that will never fall. Likewise, against the pagans who said that the fall of Rome meant the fall (and failure!) of Christianity, Augustine wrote the City of God which functions as a theodicy and an apologetic to the philosophers of his day.

What does all this have to do with us and how we view history today, as it unfolds? That’s for another post.

I Love Christians!

I’ve been doing a lot of reading lately for several of my courses about textual criticism of the New Testament Greek texts. It’s been really interesting, to say the least, and I’ve been learning lots.

One of the greatest things I learned was this. In the first century AD the copying of manuscripts was a highly developed profession. It would typically take place in what was called a Scriptorium. There an author would dictate (or, if they were making copies, then someone would read aloud from the original manuscript) and a whole crew of thoroughly trained men (usually slaves) would record the words being read. In this ways dozens of copies of books could be made in quite a short period of time, and quite inexpensively as well. It is remarkable to read about the procedures for training these men and for checking the manuscripts for accuracy as well.

But if that’s the case, you ask, then why are there so many variant readings and wordings in hundreds of places in the New Testament? Shouldn’t it be more uniform?

Well… here’s the thing. If the New Testament were produced only for the rich aristocrats, it probably would have. But the average Christian was either a slave with no expendable income, or else just too poor, and couldn’t afford to have a New Testament done like this.

But they were unwilling to live without a copy of the Scriptures. That’s what I love about Christians. No matter how poor, no matter their circumstances, they depend on the Bibles as their very spiritual food.

So, they took to making copies. They made their own copies, had copies done by less than professionals, and found any way they could to get more copies distributed. Of course, since these are non-professionals doing it now, you’ve got all kinds of manuscript errors creeping in, which is unfortunate, but I can hardly blame them.

As an interesting side note, many scholars have conjectured that it was Christians who invented the codex (or, ‘book’) format of manuscripts, rather than the scroll, which was always used at this point in history. Why? So that they could each have their own copy of the Scriptures, so that they’d be able to carry it with them, and so that they could look passages up much more quickly. Can you ask for better motivation than that?

Their love for the Bible changed the way humans formatted books.

And most of us have about 15 translations sitting on our bookshelves in various formats, with all kinds of different study notes. Most of them are collecting dust.

I’m glad it was the early Christians who got the Bible first. They may not have copied it with all the accuracy we would’ve liked, but at least they loved it, copied it, made it their own.

What have I done with my Bible?

Chronological Listing of the New Testament Books

Today I thought I’d do a google search for a chart giving a chronological listing of the New Testament books, according to the date authored. Maybe I’m just a really bad googler or something, but I had a hard time finding something that was (a) easy to read, and, (b) worth looking at.

While there is much debate over the precise dating of several of the NT books, it can be quite helpful, I find, to think through the writing of the NT canonical books in their historical order. Since I couldn’t find anything good online, I thought I’d put one up on our church website (you can view the chart here). I have found it quite an interesting and insightful study… hopefully it helps you grow in your understanding of the New Testament as well!

A chart of the New Testament Books in Chronological Order, according to Date Authored

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