Book Reviews

A week or so ago, I stayed the night at a local monastery with a friend. We got to see, and be partially involved in the day to day life of the Monks there, especially during mealtimes. We sat and ate in silence together while someone read to us, which was actually more enjoyable than I expected it to be. I can't remember what the book was called now, but it was to do with the Passion and what the crucifixion meant, and the point they were reading about was when the Roman soldier stabbed Jesus in the side.

 

This is where it got interesting and gave me something to think about that I'd never heard taught before. Normally most preachers and sermons talk about the blood and water flowing out as prefiguring baptism, but that's not what was pulled out of in this book we were listening to. No, the main point its author took was that this in fact symbolised the new birth we have now in Christ! Baptism by water was only secondary to this emphasis.

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I'd never thought of it this way before but it struck a chord with me. Through Jesus’ death and resurrection we have a new birth and are born again, just as we are born naturally into this world in blood and water, we can now be born again through Jesus who bled blood and water for us in his death.

 

But the similarities don't end there. Baptism obviously follows on from this, as does the other sacrament of the Eucharist. The sacraments themselves are all centred around blood and water which point back to the cross which that in itself points to the forgiveness of sin and new birth.

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Through “the water of rebirth” we receive the “renewal by the Holy Spirit” (Titus 3:5) that gives new life, and, as Peter says, “as an appeal to God for a good conscience” (1 Peter 3:21). Baptism brings about forgiveness and displays our repentance over our former life.

 

Similarly, it is through the partaking of the Eucharist that we take on the eternal life that Jesus gives, to become a “partaker of the Lord’s immortality” as Clement of Alexandria wrote, and to make a reality the eating of the bread of life and being sustained by “every word that comes from the mouth of the LORD” (Deut. 8:3). Just as Jesus taught his listeners that they must “eat of the flesh” and “drink his blood” in order to attain eternal life and be raised up on the Last Day (Jn 6:53-54), so we must continue in this practice – though obviously not in a cannibalistic sense (which many early critics of Christianity misunderstood!).

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When Jesus first taught about this, many of his disciples abandoned him and turned away saying that it was a “difficult teaching” that was hard to accept. The metaphor is gruesome and vivid, but I believe that that was due to it prefiguring in what was to come when the crucifixion arrived, something which his disciples needed to be prepared for. Jesus later uses this flesh and blood analogy again in the Last Supper when he tells his disciples that the bread and wine are his body and blood which was to be “poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins” (Matt 26:26-28).

 

The Message of the Cross

Paul writes that “the message of the cross is foolishness” in his letter to the Corinthian church – but only to those who can’t accept it. To us who believe, it is the “power of God” (1 Cor 1:18). The sacraments, and Easter time especially, is the constant reminder of that!

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It’s easy to see how it may look like foolishness; a man who preached so much about having eternal life and being from God was suddenly (and without resisting) taken away and killed in the most gruesome way known to human history. And then his followers for centuries afterwards celebrate this day and even call it “Good Friday”!

 

What’s so good about Good Friday though if the saviour is barbarically killed on this day? I wondered that for many years when I was younger, until one day it ‘clicked’. It may not have been a very good day as far as Jesus was concerned, by the fact he was being flogged, beaten and nailed to pieces of wood, but in terms of what he accomplished through his death – that is what makes Good Friday so very good!

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The death of Jesus is a very central point to our faith, though only made sense of by the resurrection. This is the Gospel, the Good News, which has been preached the world over since. The Good News is that despite the One who authored Life itself being put to death on a tree (Acts 10:39-40), it is also through him that we are given eternal life and can partake in the resurrection in which Jesus was the first fruits of (1 Cor 15:20).

 

Irenaeus gives a concise overview of this Gospel message and draws out the dual nature of the tree, when he writes, “by means of a tree, we were made debtors to God. Likewise, by means of a tree, we can obtain the remission of our debt.”.

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But what does that mean? In a word: reconcilliation.

 

We have now been reconciled back to God along with “all things, whether on earth or in heaven”, through Christ in whom “all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell” making peace “through the blood of the cross” so he can “present [us] holy and blameless and irreproachable before [God]” – and now, in turn, God has given us who accept and believe the Gospel, the mission to do the same for anyone and everyone else we meet along the way as “ambassadors for Christ” (2 Cor 5:18-20; Col1:19-22)!

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Remember, even though it seemed as though death reigned and had won the day on Good Friday, it was actually the total opposite happening in the death of Jesus. He died and took death with him! Whilst the “first adam” brought death, the “last adam became a life-giving spirit” (1 Cor 15:45) and in that sense, died the last ever death.

 

He knew death so that we would not! Now we can look forward to the ultimate reconciliation and redemption of our bodies (and all of creation): the resurrection!

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This is the Good News, this is Good Friday.

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Evidence of the Trinity in the Hebrew Scriptures

| 08th November 2017 | Trinity

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Should Christians celebrate Halloween?

| 30th October 2017 | Halloween

It's that time of year when you begin to see various articles and debates online about Hallowe'en, and whether it's something that Christians should have any part in. To some people the answer is a straightforward “no”, while others say it falls into the realm of Christian freedom and personal discernment. But what about if you're unsure or somewhere in the middle of those two positions, how should you decide what is the right thing to do? We can all see that the modern celebration of Halloween is focused quite heavily on darkness and evil beings. Here in the UK it's not quite so prevalent; it seems more like an excuse for adults to dress up and have a party as much as the kids do (although with more alcohol involved). American society has really taken the holiday to its extremes with some of the decorations I've seen online and on TV and films, to the point that suicide and murder victims left in public view have been mistaken for scary props! Origins of the holiday Has Hallowe'en always been like this though? Let's take a look at its origins to see where this holiday comes from to help us decide whether we should partake or not. Did you know that Hallowe'en actually started out as a Christian holiday (Holy Day)? “Hallowe’en”, or more precisely, All Hallows Eve (from the Old English hallowed meaning “holy”), is an ancient holiday in the Christian calendar to mark the day before All Saints Day on November 1st. All Saints Day is a day to celebrate and remember the martyrs and all those who have died and gave their lives for the Faith. Originally, this yearly festival began in the 7th century when Pope Boniface IV consecrated the Pantheon, a Roman temple to the gods. This then became a church called St. Mary of the Martyrs, and the date of the consecration, May 13th, was to be celebrated annually thereafter as the Feast of the Holy Martyrs. This was then later changed to November 1st by Pope Gregory IV in 835 AD to commemorate the dedication of St. Peter's Basilica in Rome to all of the saints. The feast day was then extended and made universal to include all the saints who had died, not just martyrs, since there had become too many to individually commemorate. And thus, All Saints Day was born. This isn't even the earliest time that martyrs were remembered as a formal event, as the practice goes way back to at least 135 AD which we can read about in the Martyrdom of Polycarp. In it the believers are said to treat the bones of Polycarp as “more precious than the most exquisite jewels, and more purified than gold”. The next reference comes around 250 AD. In Epistle 36 of Cyprian, he states that the Church should take note of the days in which the martyrs are killed: Finally, also, take note of their days on which they depart, that we may celebrate their commemoration among the memorials of the martyrs … there are celebrated here by us oblations and sacrifices for their commemorations There's also other early references to this practice in sermons by Ephrem the Syrian (373 AD) and John Chrysostom (407 AD), so we can see from the existing historical documents that celebrating the lives of martyrs and “saints” has been long observed within the Church, with the first record being in what is now modern-day Turkey. Aren’t there pagan roots? There is often a lot of references to Hallowe'en being an ancient Celtic festival of Samhain (pronounced Sow-in, a Gaelic word meaning “end of the summer”), originating in Ireland over 2000 years ago. The story goes that this was always the time when the Celts celebrated their dead, and as Christianity spread, the Pope “replaced” the pagan festival with a “Christianised” version to try and convert people easier. But there are a few issues with this version of events, and the historical timeline that it’s meant to follow. For starters, if it truly were an ancient Celtic festival, then the historical documents we have from the early Church shoul...

American Gun Violence and the Early Church on War and Violence

| 03rd October 2017 | Early Church

In light of the sad, recent events in the Las Vegas shooting — and similar events in America— I often see Christians across social media jumping to the defence of gun ownership whenever there is even a slight hint at gun control in America. But how has gun culture become so ingrained in American Christianity when we can observe a clear theme and pattern of thought in the first few centuries of the Church, which goes completely against this? Update 7th Nov 2017: It's so sad to have to update this post on the same subject so soon, almost a month to the day. Yet another shooting, this time in Texas where 26 people have been shot dead in a church of all places. But despite this, America tightens its grip on their guns, and Trump says tighter gun laws would have made no difference to the situation. Days earlier though, when a terrorist killed 8 people in NYC by running them down with a truck, President Trump was quick to tweet about implementing "extreme vetting" of immigrants. Yet again, voices are loud for everything else except curbing gun ownership, and the silence from the Church in America is still deafening. You can read more in the link below, but here's a few examples from the early Church with regards to war and violence, and using or owning weapons: “It is not lawful for a Christian to bear arms for any earthly consideration.” — Marcellus ~298 AD “Under no circumstances should a true Christian draw the sword.” — Tertullian 155-230 AD “God wished iron to be used for the cultivation of the earth, and therefore it should not be used to take human life.”  — Cyprian ~250 AD “The servants of God do not rely for their protection on material defenses but on the pine Providence.”  — Ambrose 338-397 AD I don't have an answer to this cultural problem, and I'm not sure we can ever fully solve the issues of gun violence in the States now; but one thing that I do know is this: the Church in America needs to repent of its idolatry of guns, turn back to God and focus on the love of Christ again, and not on the weapons of destruction. Even if the rest of society clings to their guns, the Church should be the ones clinging to the Prince of Peace instead, and rejecting anything that could cause another harm. You can't love your neighbour or your enemies if you are willing to kill them (Matthew 22:36-40; Matthew 5:44-45). Matthew 26:52Then Jesus said to him, “Put your sword back into its place; for all who take the sword will perish by the sword. There is no room in the teaching or examples of Jesus, nor in the New Testament epistles, to give those who claim the name of Christ, permission to kill another human being! And before you head to the comments to write it, no, Jesus didn't command that we own weapons — Luke 22:36 is taken entirely out of context if you believe that, along with Exodus 22:2 if your thoughts were taking you there next. As John Piper puts it, "Does it accord with the New Testament to encourage the attitude that says, “I have the power to kill you in my pocket, so don’t mess with me”? My answer is, No.". Which is as Paul also taught in Romans: "Do not repay anyone evil for evil" and to "never avenge yourselves" (Rom 12:17, 19) because that is the role of the Lord, not us. Clearly this teaching of non-violence was something that was understood pretty well by the Early Church, as the quotes above point out. We have documented teaching from the first two centuries by those who were taught by the Apostles and who followed in their (and Jesus') instructions, rejecting any and all forms of violence and weapon bearing.  So where did it all go wrong and change?   See more early Church quotes on war and violence here: rogueminister.wordpress.com/.../quotes-the-early-church-on-war-and-violence/ Let me know your thoughts in the comments below.   Further Reading: https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2017/oct/02/las-vegas-shooting-wh...

My Upcoming Book

| 09th August 2017 | My Books

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