Art and artisans since Moses

The contemporary church has failed to appreciate the value of art, artists, and artistry as an expression of our worship. The Protestant Church in the 16th century expelled much of art and believed that it was unnecessary and extraneous from the core of the gospel. This is why we have not seen much Christian art since the rise of Protestantism.

In the Old Testament (14-13th c. BCE), God had Moses commission the best of the artists, Oholiab, to design items of worship for the sanctuary. These items were not merely for practical uses, but were also meant to be beautiful and artistic–thus, demanding the best of the best artisans to design and craft the holy hardware.

“…and with him was Oholiab son of Ahisamach, of the tribe of Dan, an artisan, a designer, and an embroiderer in blue, purple, and scarlet yarn and fine linen.” (Exodus 38:23, NET)

During the exile of Jerusalem, the Babylonian King, valued the artists so much so that they were taken captive along with the best military officers, soldiers and craftsmen.

“King Nebuchadnezzar took all of Jerusalem captive, including all the commanders and the best of the soldiers, craftsmen, and artisans—10,000 in all. Only the poorest people were left in the land.” (2 Kings 24:14, NLT)

Art was highly valued in worship and is common in all cultures. Why should Christianity not also value artistry in our worship of the Lord?

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Poll: Authority of the Bible vs. the Church’s Teachings

Here’s a poll for you.  Have we gone too far in rejecting the authority in the church, or not far enough?  Find out where your church or congregation stands on authority–on the bible alone, or also on the teachings and traditions of the church?


It seems like the majority in the evangelical church today tend to understand the authority of the bible vs church tradition in this way:

Accepting the infallibility & inerrancy of the bible which is the only authority (to the exclusion of the authority of the church’s teachings)

while

Rejecting the authority of the church’s teachings/traditions based on the bible (but not to the exclusion of the bible as the only infallible authority)

Yes, seems like a small difference in wording but implications can be huge.  It comes down to this: Where upon which does the onus for infallibility lay?  1) Upon our individual congregation’s interpretation of the bible, or 2) Upon the Church’s historic, catholic, and apostolic interpretation of the bible?

What are the implications?  Many evangelicals are never taught anything about the historical meaning of the Church’s early traditions and confessions. As a result, have we evangelicals become individualistic and have a type of privatized inner spirituality where we see our faith as a kind of “me, God and my bible”?  I know it’s a tough question to answer because we need to dig really deep to examine our inner spirituality.

Historical background: The Reformation in the early 1500s carried a strong conviction lrose_stainedglass300that the Scriptures alone was the word of God.  Luther did not trust in the pope or councils alone because, in the past, they had spoken in error and contradicted themselves.  Therefore, reformers like Luther and Calvin rejected the pope’s official words as being the very words of God Himself, thus the phrase: “sola scriptura” and “word alone”.

Total devotion–in the monastery and the workplace

stpetersCan we be totally devoted Christians without hiding away in monastery or convent?  How do we do it in the marketplace without being beaten down for our faith?

Under Emperor Constantine in the Roman Empire, by imperial decree, everyone was baptized as an infant and understood to be a Christian.  To become a Christian was difficult because everyone else was already considered a Christian. The difference between the Christian and the “Christian life” became blurred.  Rather than help the Church, this may have hurt it.

There were Christians then who wanted to become seriously devoted Christians and made a personal decisions to give up everything to follow and serve God.  To pursue a higher calling then meant becoming a monk or a nun and renouncing materialism and marriage.  torontodowntownMonasticism grew.  People even made vows to the evangelical counsel of poverty, chastity and obedience.  In effect, this raised the bar higher. There was now more things to differentiate mainstream cultural Christians from those who sacrificed everything and committed their whole life to serve God.

In the Protestant and evangelical world, we don’t have monasticism.  So how can we express our devotion to the Lord Jesus without hiding away in a monastery?  Can we boldly bring our Christian faith into the workplace without sacrificing our total devotion to God?  It’s not easy, but I think it can be done.

Are pastors an obstacle to the priesthood of believers?

TC Robinson has a post “The Pastor: Obstacle to every member functioning”. He has raised a question in the blogosphere that has more of us thinking.  It provoked something in me that saddens me because I think it is true.  For many of the pastor-centric churches/congregations, the pastor has been an obstacle to a properly functioning congregation.

TC’s quote from Pagan Christianity by Viola and Barna says that the modern day pastor is an easy target—a punching bag, if you will:

THE PASTOR. He is the fundamental figure of the Protestant faith.  So prevailing is the pastor in the minds of most Christians that he is often better known, more highly praised, and more heavily relied upon than Jesus Christ Himself!

Remove the pastor and most Protestant churches would be thrown into a panic.  (pp. 105-6, Pagan Christianity, emphasis mine)

The early church did not have pastors or priests like we do today but the church was able to function.   The people held on to their faith in Christ and died in the name of Jesus Christ.  The church didn’t die but prevailed in the face of persecution, trials and tribulations.  Did the early church have sermons and teaching? Or prayers? Liturgy? Or hymns and songs?  Probably, but they were not officiated by the pastor/priest.   The laity or the people presided over the worship services way before there was ever a pastor as we know today.

The bible mentions shepherds, overseers, elders and deacons, but my question is what positional authority did these positions include?  If we removed the position and authority of the pastor as we know it today, would the church begin to function like it should–as a priesthood of all believers?

All Saints Day: any saints today deserving of recognition?

In the earliest days, St. John the Baptist and the early martyrs were honoured by a special day. The earliest day was traced back to Sunday after Pentecost. During the persecution under Diocletian’s rule there were a great number of Christians martyred so this common day was appointed by theRoman Catholic Church (RCC). Gradually, more saints were added to the list of saints including patron saints recognized by the RCC, plus saints like Luther and Calvin added by protestant churches.

I found out how a person becomes a Catholic saint according to the RCC:

1) The person must have exhibited heroic virtues in life;
2) There must have been a confirmed miracle attributed to the person; and
3) There must be another miracle attributed to his/her intercession.

If a person meets these three requirements, then he/she is canonized by the Roman Catholic Church as a saint.

Today, there are almost as many saints as there are days in the year. But why stop now? Today, I think many more saints of the Lord who are not Roman Catholic but are evangelicals. Protestants, evangelicals, and charismatics who claim numerous uncountable miracles are not as big on celebrating saints like the RCC but who are, nevertheless, deserving of the same commemoration as martyrs.

Why not open All Saints’ Day to all deserving candidates? Are there any lesser-known saints you know of who deserves to be recognized by us today?

Luther’s German translation of the New Testament

I wish continue to blog about the history of the New Testament and continue with Luther’s German translation. Luther was a radical for his own time. His views of the bible and of theology was reason enough for the Roman Catholic Church’s high authorities to want to take his life. In 1415, the Church burned John Huss alive at the stake for his heresy. Thank God this is not the case today. Luther began translating parts of the scriptures in 1517. In 1521, Luther was kidnapped by five armed riders while returning to Wittenberg from the Diet of Worms. They kidnapped him and brought him to Wartburg Castle to keep him safe from harm. For 10 months, from May 4, 1521 to March 1, 1522, Luther’s hideout was Wartburg Castle. (You have to see the movie or if you prefer, read the book). This was the place where he would translate the New Testament into German. No one knew where he was in hiding and when he did leave the castle, he grew a beard, dressed up as a knight and called himself “Knight George” (Junker Jorge).


Luther wanted to make the Word of God available to all of the German people so he translated the New Testament from the original Greek into easy‑to‑understand German. He completed the translation from Erasmus’ text which was a special new edition of the New Testament in Greek with a Latin translation. It was said that he completed the New Testament in three months. Three months is not much time to translate an entire New Testament. He must have had to work extremely hard.

There were only 5,000 copies of the first edition of the New Testament (printed in Wittenberg by Melchior Lotter). Each copy costs no less than 1 ½ gulden (I am not sure what this would be equivalent to in today’s dollars). Luther did not make a financial profit from the translation. To make a profit would have been unthinkable for Luther.

This bible became the people’s bible and it helped shape the common German language. This bible translated into the contemporary language of the common people did a great thing for the German language because it unified the various German dialects into one. It was used as the norm for the next four hundred years (much like the King James Version was in the English-speaking world). I think it would be safe to assume that today’s translations in modern languages around the world will also unify hundreds of dialects around the world.

After completing the New Testament, he continued translating the Old Testament. His colleagues at the University assisted him in this endeavor. By 1534 he completed the translationf the entire German Bible.

Ancient-future: does the future really lie in the past?

In the emerging church, some people have been rediscovering the ancient church. I consider myself evangelical, but not emerging, but have also discovered the past, and have been reading a little of some of the early church fathers like Iranaeus, Basil, Clement, Origen, Tertullian, etc. The emerging church movement should be more careful about completely buying into the historic past and thinking that the past has all the answers for the future. Looking into the past is not necessarily a key to discovering the truth for the present and future. The early church fathers had much theological debates about the trinity, the creeds, the eucharist, the persons of Christ and Holy Spirit, and many more issues. They all said some things that could be seen as being heretical today. Our newfound romanticized notion of the past is not necessarily as rosy as it seems. The early church fathers all fought over issues to the bitter end but could never come to any conclusive agreements.

With this being said, should we assume what the early church fathers taught was the gospel truth? No, certainly not. If we did, we would never be able to come to any theological conclusions on any issue because the church fathers never did themselves. Today’s new found enthusiasm for the patristics is wonderful, and it does help give us a deeper and richer sense of the history, apostolicity, and universality of the church, but it doesn’t necessarily give us any real solid answers. Does the future really lie in the past? It does and it doesn’t. The past is the past. I agree that it is good to study historic Christianity but doing so doesn’t carry more merit than any other academic discipline that looks back into its history. History is also full of mistakes—even grave mistakes. History should be read for the purpose of learning about past mistakes, but also for learning about what worked right. This is why the study of the early church fathers should never be seen as some sort of rediscovery of some long lost secret truths. History has shown that it can just as easily make bad mistakes as the present and future.

This search into the historic past in the use of icons, lectio divina, and etc. is nice but we must keep in mind that it is only one way of expressing spirituality; and it doesn’t necessarily work for all people either. In looking at it from the other side of the fence, many Christians who come from liturgical traditions like Anglicanism or Catholicism have also found that their traditional forms of liturgical worship have not satisfied their search for higher spirituality either. That is why they turned to evangelicals and/or charismatics for a taste of an alternate spirituality. We should realize that lectio divina or stations of the cross, and other ancient forms of spiritual practice are not the only ways and means to experience spirituality.

Each style of spirituality has its own unique value. Evangelical spirituality also has a rich spirituality. In recent decades, however, evangelical and pentecostal megachurches have gained a bad rap for being marketplace-driven, following the latest fashions, being success-driven and program-oriented, etc. This has hampered the richness in evangelical spirituality rather than helped it. This is one of the reasons for the rise in the emerging church. This megachurch phenomena is really a very recent trend in evangelicalism and dates back only to the last 20-30 years. It is not representative of early evangelicals in the 19th and 20th centuries. Before this time, early evangelicalism was known for genuine piety, humility, deep spirituality, and small-time church-ianity. It would be a shame for evangelicals to lose this kind of humble spirituality. If evangelicals forget about their own history, evangelicals will leave behind a rich history and spirituality. Each style of Christian expression has its own unique flavour of spirituality. And each style brings with it a wonderful way to express and experience spirituality, including the Orthodox, Catholic, Reformed, Anabaptist, Evangelical, Pentecostal, and etc. Why do you think the church continues to discover new forms and styles of worship? The Holy Spirit is constantly showing the Christian church, in each generation, new ways of worship. So I think there is hope for the future. (From left to right: Saint Basile-the-Great, Saint John Chrysostom, and Saint Gregory of Nazianzus; Tertullian of Carthage)

The first baptismal pool

This baptistry of the Lateran was built in the 4th century in Rome. It was one of the first public baptistries built by Emperor Constantine after his conversion to Christianity. Historically, Christian converts were baptized once a year on the eve of Easter. People in droves were baptized by immersion in this octagonal shaped pool. When you look up at the dome inside (which itself is supported by 8 columns), you’ll see an image of the dove of the Spirit in the center. Some baptistries built after this were very large and could hold many baptisms. Before Constantine, baptistries such as this one did not exist. In fact, Christians lived could only live out their faith in secret and were regularly fed to the lions as a game-sport or were burned alive. (Thank God for the working of the Spirit upon political leaders). Before Constantine Christians were likely baptized in secret. It might also be possible that the practice of water baptism was not ritualized like it is today. One thing for sure is that the method of baptism, as a ritual in the post-Constantine period, was done by immersion. It was only in the 6th century that baptism by sprinkling was used with the baptismal font. After the 9th century, infant baptism slowly became popular and fewer baptistries were built.