Julian Freeman

Freed to live through the death of another.

Tag: Church History (page 1 of 2)

How Do You Feel About Predestination?

Abraham & Isaac

The doctrine of God’s electing individuals to salvation, apart from any good in them (either actual or foreseen) is known as unconditional election (o predestination). It is exemplified in Isaac’s twin sons: ‘…when Rebekah had conceived children by one man, our forefather Isaac, though they were not yet born and had done nothing either good or bad—in order that God’s purpose of election might continue, not because of works but because of him who calls—she was told, “The older will serve the younger.” As it is written, “Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated”‘ (Romans 9.10-13).

Predestination is a doctrine that is often at the centre of controversy. And too often the controversy could be quelled, if not quenched, by a calm tongue and a gentle answer (Prov 15.1). But too much of the time those who believe the most strongly in predestination are (rightly or wrongly) associated with pride and arrogance and preachiness, rather than humility, gentleness, and love.

But that should never be.

That’s just one of the reasons why I loved reading this in the 1689 London Baptist Confession of faith the other day:

The doctrine of the high mystery of predestination is to be handled with special prudence and care, that men attending the will of God revealed in his Word, and yielding obedience thereunto, may, from the certainty of their effectual vocation, be assured of their eternal election; so shall this doctrine afford matter of praise, reverence, and admiration of God, and of humility, diligence, and abundant consolation to all that sincerely obey the gospel. (1 Thessalonians 1:4, 5; 2 Peter 1:10; Ephesians 1:6; Romans 11:33; Romans 11:5, 6, 20; Luke 10:20)

That’s a big mouthful, but basically it’s saying that this isn’t a doctrine to be wielded like an ax, to wound our enemies, but should be applied carefully, like a balm to give courage to wounded souls, and like a call to worship for those who embrace it and are humbled by God’s grace. For those who know the doctrines of grace and love them, this should be the very thing which calls forth our humility and our worship like nothing else. It should never be a source of pride and it is not a doctrine to be handled flippantly.

So how do you feel about predestination? Does it make you condemn those who don’t understand it? Or does it make you marvel at God’s mercy?

Who Dieth Thus Dies Well

Last night as I was singing to the girls before bed, I decided to sing some older hymns we haven’t done in a while. I sang More Love to Thee and My Jesus I Love Thee and O Sacred Head Now Wounded. As always, it’s a time of worship and contemplation for me as I pray for my girls and hope that the songs will help communicate the gospel to them in meaningful ways as they grow older. It’s just one way I try to speak the gospel to my kids in all of life.

Anyway, as I sang those three hymns, something stuck out to me. All three hymns seamlessly move from the reality of Christ’s finished work to the hope that we have in the face of our own death. These songs sing freely of the unavoidable nature of death, but glory in the hope that we have in the Saviour who has already overcome death.

This is why I love singing hymns: they speak with the freedom of past generations. Our generation doesn’t like to think about death. The church has largely handed over death to doctors and funeral directors and cemeteries. There once was a time when death was an integral part of church life and worship, hence the cemeteries on church property. (Just imagine for a second what it would be like to come to church every week and walk past the grave of family members and church members who had died through the years. That’s a totally different experience than walking into a trendy café type lounge after having your car valet parked. But I digress.)

In any case, death being a part of the cycle of church life and something that people had to face and talk about brought greater freedom and natural impulse to sing about death. It also calls on the worshipper to cling to Christ, feeling the desperation of this life which will inevitably slip away. This is a far cry from singing ‘Yes Lord, yes Lord, yes, yes, Lord…’. I’m so thankful to God for preserving these hymns for our generation. These hymns and those like them provide us with guidance on how to ‘die well’ — a concept almost entirely lost in our day.

More Love to Thee, Elizabeth Prentiss, 1856

Let sorrow do its work, come grief or pain;
Sweet are Thy messengers, sweet their refrain,
When they can sing with me: More love, O Christ, to Thee;
More love to Thee, more love to Thee!

Then shall my latest breath whisper Thy praise;
This be the parting cry my heart shall raise;
This still its prayer shall be: More love, O Christ to Thee;
More love to Thee, more love to Thee!

(Two of four verses. Prentiss wrote this when she was ill and suffering as part of her private devotions. It wasn’t until 13 years later her husband encouraged her to have these words published. Thank God!)

My Jesus, I Love Thee, William Featherston, 1864

I’ll love Thee in life, I will love Thee in death,
And praise Thee as long as Thou lendest me breath;
And say when the death dew lies cold on my brow,
If ever I loved Thee, my Jesus, ’tis now.

(One of four verses. Amazingly, Featherston was 16 at the time he wrote this.)

O Sacred Head Now Wounded, Bernard de Clairvaux, 1153

What language shall I borrow to thank Thee, dearest friend,
For this Thy dying sorrow, Thy pity without end?
O make me Thine forever, and should I fainting be,
Lord, let me never, never outlive my love to Thee.

My Savior, be Thou near me when death is at my door;
Then let Thy presence cheer me, forsake me nevermore!
When soul and body languish, oh, leave me not alone,
But take away mine anguish by virtue of Thine own!

Be Thou my consolation, my shield when I must die;
Remind me of Thy passion when my last hour draws nigh.
Mine eyes shall then behold Thee, upon Thy cross shall dwell,
My heart by faith enfolds Thee. Who dieth thus dies well.

(These are just three of the original 11 verses. Click here to hear Fernando Ortega’s rendition of the hymn.)

Why Singing Hymns is Better than Singing Contemporary Worship Music

Okay, it is time to re-establish some equilibrium in the universe. Sovereign Grace Music is not the only good form of worship, and hymns are most definitely not bad. Anyone who has worshipped with us at GFC knows that we do sing both contemporary worship music and hymns. And yes, that’s a deliberate choice. In my previous post, I tried to emphasize that hymns are not better merely because they are hymns nor because they are older. The best of Christian songs are the best of Christian songs because they focus our hearts and minds most clearly on what God has accomplished for his glory and for our joy in Christ–regardless of when they were written.

That being said, we must immediately recognize that as wonderful as Sovereign Grace Music (and many other contemporary worship composers / leaders) are, they are not the first Christians to be cross-centred, are there are many ways in which singing hymns can be beneficial. Here are just a few reasons why we need to sing older hymns. Feel free to add your own reasons in the comments.

1. Because We Need the Clean Sea Breeze

Here I want to listen to CS Lewis. Below is something he wrote with regard to the value of reading old books. I would argue that the same principle holds true in the songs we sing as Christians, since the songs that we sing are intended to be educational and edifying (Col 3.16).

Naturally, since I myself am I writer, I do not wish the ordinary reader to read no modern books. But if he must read only the new or only the old, I would advise him to read the old…. It is a good rule, after reading a new book, never to allow yourself another new one till you have read an old one in between. If that is too much for you, you should at least read one old one to every three new ones…. We all … need the books that will correct the characteristic mistakes of our own period. And that means the old books…. We may be sure that the characteristic blindness of the twentieth [and to be certain, the twenty-first] century … lies where we have never suspected it…. None of us can fully escape this blindness…. The only palliative is to keep the clean sea breeze of the centuries blowing through our minds, and this can be done only by reading old books.[1]

So while we may glory in some of the advances of reformed evangelicalism in the 21st century, which is producing wonderful new worship songs, we must also be cautious. The ‘characteristic blindness’ of our own age is invisible to us and we will be doomed to be held captive by it unless we’re able to let the centuries of Christians who have gone before us inform us.

Singing old hymns reminds us of the way that our brothers and sisters who have gone before us faithfully testified to and gloried in Jesus in their own day. Singing their hymns helps us see things a little more from their perspective, which helps open our eyes to the subtleties of the 21st century worldview that we would not otherwise be aware of.

2. Because of the Richness of Our History

As Christians, we simply cannot afford to ignore our glorious heritage. Too often we have been told that the history of the church is nothing but shameful. The average Christian can be made to be afraid of church history because ‘we were so bad in the crusades’ and we somehow view the whole realm of church history as belonging to the Roman Catholics (at least until the Reformation). But when we look back, we begin to uncover the treasures of our history that will help us to glory in our God who is Lord of generation after generation throughout all ages.

Take, for example, the ‘Odes of Solomon’ which were written and compiled in the first three centuries AD (either in Greek or Syriac). These worshipful meditations reflect gloriously (though with all the imperfections of non-inspired poetry) on the story of the Christian faith and the love that has been shown to us in Christ.

Look at this brief meditation from Ode 27:

  1. I extended my hands and hallowed my Lord,
  2. For the expansion of my hands is His sign.
  3. And my extension is the upright cross.
    Hallelujah.

So as early as the third century (at the latest) Christians were raising their hands in worship. But it was deliberate: They were making the sign of the cross. The cross wasn’t just the thing they were singing about, they were glorying in it with their bodies as well! We need to glory in the richness of our history, never run away from it in ignorance.

3. Because the Best of Hymns Are Cross-Centred Too

21st century evangelicalism may have invented the cool terminology for being ‘cross-centred’ or ‘gospel-centred’ but the concept is thousands of years old. And that is indeed reflected in the best of hymns from all ages. Take this hymn from Bernard of Clairvaux, written in 1153, for example.

O sacred Head, now wounded, with grief and shame weighed down,
Now scornfully surrounded with thorns, Thine only crown;
How pale Thou art with anguish, with sore abuse and scorn!
How does that visage languish, which once was bright as morn!

What Thou, my Lord, hast suffered, was all for sinners’ gain;
Mine, mine was the transgression, but Thine the deadly pain.
Lo, here I fall, my Saviour! ’Tis I deserve Thy place;
Look on me with Thy favour, vouchsafe to me Thy grace.

My burden in Thy Passion, Lord, Thou hast borne for me,
For it was my transgression which brought this woe on Thee.
I cast me down before Thee, wrath were my rightful lot;
Have mercy, I implore Thee; Redeemer, spurn me not!

What language shall I borrow to thank Thee, dearest friend,
For this Thy dying sorrow, Thy pity without end?
O make me Thine forever, and should I fainting be,
Lord, let me never, never outlive my love to Thee.

My Saviour, be Thou near me when death is at my door;
Then let Thy presence cheer me, forsake me nevermore!
When soul and body languish, oh, leave me not alone,
But take away mine anguish by virtue of Thine own!

Or how about this one, from Isaac Watts, written in 1707:

When I survey the wondrous cross
On which the Prince of glory died,
My richest gain I count but loss,
And pour contempt on all my pride.

Forbid it, Lord, that I should boast,
Save in the death of Christ my God:
All the vain things that charm me most,
I sacrifice them to his blood.

See, from his head, his hands, his feet,
Sorrow and love flow mingled down:
Did e’er such love and sorrow meet,
Or thorns compose so rich a crown?

His dying crimson, like a robe,
Spreads o’er His body on the tree;
Then I am dead to all the globe,
And all the globe is dead to me.

Were the whole realm of nature mine,
That were a present far too small;
Love so amazing, so divine,
Demands my soul, my life, my all.

Singing these hymns and hundreds of others like them not only points us to Christ, but unites us with brothers and sisters from past centuries, with whom we will one day worship forever.

4. Because Words Matter

There are many exceptions to this, so I say it with all the necessary qualifications in place, but I still think it’s worth point out. The form of hymns often tends to better use of English. The form, metre, and length of hymnstend to increase the demand for highly-skilled writing by those with a high level of poetic ability. For that reason, hymns are often better able to encapsulate more truth through more words in better and more memorable images. Not always, but often.

Speaking personally, when I sing to my children each night when I put them to bed, it is generally hymns that I sing, and it is generally for this last reason. I want them to hear more truth in poetic images and rhymes that they will remember into adulthood–truth that I pray God will cause to sink into their hearts and cause them to love the God of the gospel that we’re singing about.

——–

[1] C.S. Lewis, from God in the Dock. As quoted in John Piper’s Brother’s, We Are Not Professionals, 69-70.

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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