Month: February 2018

February 23 traditionally marks the death of the early Christian bishop and martyr, Saint Polycarp.  Being a “lesser” feast, his day is often suppressed during the season of Lent.

Saint Polycarp

Polycarp (69 – 155) was a follower of the Apostle John, and later a bishop of Smyrna.  As such, he forms an important bridge between the time of the apostles, and that of subsequent notable Christians, such as his own pupil, the gifted theologian Irenaeus.  He is noted to have been an opponent of the Gnostic heresy.  His lone surviving work is a letter to the Phillipians, available online here, in a traditional language translation.

An account of his death is preserved.  At the age of 86, he was dragged from his estate to appear before the magistrate.  He was offered an opportunity to escape death by renouncing Christianity:

But when the magistrate pressed him hard and said, ‘Swear the oath, and I will release thee; revile the Christ,’ Polycarp said, ‘Fourscore and six years have I been His servant, and He hath done me no wrong. How then can I blaspheme my King who saved me?’ 

He was sent to burn at the stake, but when the fires seemed not to touch him, was finished off by sword.

Forthwith then the instruments that were prepared for the pile were placed about him; and as they were going likewise to nail him to the stake, he said; ‘Leave me as I am; for He that hath granted me to endure the fire will grant me also to remain at the pile unmoved, even without the security which ye seek from the nails.’ So they did not nail him, but tied him. Then he, placing his hands behind him and being bound to the stake, like a noble ram out of a great flock for an offering, a burnt sacrifice made ready and acceptable to God, looking up to heaven said;

‘O Lord God Almighty, the Father of Thy beloved and blessed Son Jesus Christ, through whom we have received the knowledge of Thee, the God of angels and powers and of all creation and of the whole race of the righteous, who live in Thy presence; I bless Thee for that Thou hast granted me this day and hour, that I might receive a portion amongst the number of martyrs in the cup of [Thy] Christ unto resurrection of eternal life, both of soul and of body, in the incorruptibility of the Holy Spirit. May I be received among these in Thy presence this day, as a rich and acceptable sacrifice, as Thou didst prepare and reveal it beforehand, and hast accomplished it, Thou that art the faithful and true God. For this cause, yea and for all things, I praise Thee, I bless Thee, I glorify Thee, through the eternal and heavenly High-priest, Jesus Christ, Thy beloved Son, through whom with Him and the Holy Spirit be glory both now [and ever] and for the ages to come. Amen.’

When he had offered up the Amen and finished his prayer, the firemen lighted the fire. And, a mighty flame flashing forth, we to whom it was given to see, saw a marvel, yea and we were preserved that we might relate to the rest what happened. The fire, making the appearance of a vault, like the sail of a vessel filled by the wind, made a wall round about the body of the martyr; and it was there in the midst, not like flesh burning, but like [a loaf in the oven or like] gold and silver refined in a furnace. For we perceived such a fragrant smell, as if it were the wafted odor of frankincense or some other precious spice. So at length the lawless men, seeing that his body could not be consumed by the fire, ordered an executioner to go up to him and stab him with a dagger. And when he had done this, there came forth [a dove and] a quantity of blood, so that it extinguished the fire; and all the multitude marvelled that there should be so great a difference between the unbelievers and the elect.

A Prayer for the Feast Day of Saint Polycarp: “O God, the maker of heaven and earth, who gave to your venerable servant, the holy and gentle Polycarp, boldness to confess Jesus Christ as King and Saviour, and steadfastness to die for his faith: Give us grace, following his example, to share the cup of Christ and rise to eternal life; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever.” (Anglican)

The following quotation from Billy Graham went viral, being retweeted an average of every 20 seconds yesterday on Twitter:

Someday you will read or hear that Billy Graham is dead. Don’t you believe a word of it. I shall be more alive than I am now. I will just have changed my address. I will have gone into the presence of God.”

Graham, who was an admirer of the evangelist Dwight L. Moody, founder of the Moody Bible Institute in Chicago, borrowed and adapted an older quote by Moody.  Christianity Today has an interesting article on this.  It notes their common faith, and ends:

Though Moody and Graham have both left this world, their legacies live on. Indeed we can be confident they are “more alive” now that they have “gone up higher” and rest in “the presence of God.” And thanks be to God, through their ministries countless others, who now joyfully join them, can say the same.

“I haven’t written my own epitaph, and I’m not sure I should. Whatever it is, I hope it will be simple, and that it will point people not to me, but to the One I served.”
(Billy Graham)

“I have read the last page of the Bible. It’s all going to turn out all right.”(Billy Graham)

Billy Graham, “America’s Pastor”, has died today at age 99. It is said that through his evangelistic crusades, radio shows, and TV programs, he reached an estimated 2.2 billion people in his lifetime. Wikipedia notes: According to his staff, more than 3.2 million people have responded to the invitation at Billy Graham Crusades to “accept Jesus Christ as their personal savior”.

Graham was born in Charlotte, NC, and grew up on a milk farm. He became passionate about evangelism shortly after his own decision to come forward at an “altar call.” Though he had been raised Presbyterian, he switched to the Southern Baptist faith. NPR reports:

In his determination to replicate the evangelical style, Graham read the sermons of notable preachers and then practiced delivering them himself. According to his biographer, William Martin, Graham regularly closed himself in a tool shed and “preached to oil cans and lawnmowers. Or he paddled a canoe to a lonely spot on the river and called on snakes and alligators and tree stumps to repent of their sins and accept Jesus.”

He went to Wheaton college, where he met his future wife, Ruth. He briefly had a pastorate in a Baptist Church, then soon followed his passion into mass evangelism. His big break came at a tent meeting in Los Angeles. Originally scheduled for three weeks, these meetings were so popular that they were extended to eight. 350,000 people attended.

He is quoted as saying “I don’t need a successor, only willing hands to accept the torch for a new generation.” Very few of those hands will have the outsized impact that he had.

The Barna Group has conducted a survey of teens aged 13-18, to assess their attitudes toward religion. They found that the percentage of this group that identifies as atheist (13%) is double that of the U.S. adult population. Only 59% identify as some sort of Christian, compared with 78% of Boomers.

Generations were defined as follows:
GEN Z were born 1999 to 2015. (Only teens 13 to 18 are included in this study.)
MILLENNIALS were born 1984 to 1998.
GEN X were born 1965 to 1983.
BOOMERS were born 1946 to 1964.
ELDERS were born before 1946.

(The full report is available here).

This would seem to contradict a 2016 study showing a different trend:

a 2016 U.S. study found that church attendance during young adulthood was 41% among Generation Z, compared to 18 percent for Millennials at the same ages, 21 percent of Generation X, and 26 percent of baby boomers

(Wikipedia cites Hope, J (2016). “Get your campus ready for Generation Z”. Dean & Provost. 17 (8): 1–7.).

Time will tell which of these portraits will be most accurate. This is a generation which hasn’t yet passed through the crucibles of college, work, and family. In any case, it is our challenge and solemn mission as Christians to reach as many as possible in each generation with the gospel of Jesus Christ.

In 2018 fate has put Ash Wednesday on the same day as Valentine’s Day. Men nervously scour the pink laden aisles of Target and Kroger for last minute gifts for their wives or girlfriends, thereby observing Valentine’s Day as the national holiday of romantic love. Simultaneously, this year Christians will begin Lent, that solemn journey of penitence and remembrance that culminates at the Cross of Jesus. A smudge of ash on the forehead is an odd juxtaposition with the arrows of Cupid.

Yet the Bible more than once waxes nearly erotic in describing God’s longing for a
relationship with his wayward people. The Presbyterian theologian and preacher Francis Shaeffer once remarked, “This is the biblical picture, one that we would not dare use if God himself did not use it.” More on this in a moment.

In the Old Testament, one need look no further than the “Song of Solomon”, a poetic book full of sexual imagery, which is generally interpreted as a metaphor for God’s love for us. The book opens with the maiden (God’s people) waxing rhapsodic about her lover (God):

Let him kiss me with the kisses of his mouth—
    for your love is more delightful than wine.
Pleasing is the fragrance of your perfumes;
    your name is like perfume poured out.

Elsewhere in the Old Testament we see numerous passages likening God to the husband of Israel. God’s relationship, his covenant, is essentially that of marriage. Isaiah 54 states “For your husband is the One who made you.” Hosea 2:15 states “And I will betroth you to me forever. I will betroth you to me in righteousness and in justice, in steadfast love and in mercy.”

In the New Testament, Christ also compared himself to a bridegroom. For example, when the Pharisees criticized Jesus for not fasting, he replied: “Can the friends of the bridegroom fast, as long as the bridegroom is with them? but the days will come, when the bridegroom shall be taken from them, and then shall they fast.” (Mark 2)

In Ephesians 5, we have a clear statement of this metaphor:
Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it; that he might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the word, that he might present it to himself a glorious church, not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing; but that it should be holy and without blemish. So ought men to love their wives as their own bodies. He that loveth his wife loveth himself. For no man ever yet hated his own flesh; but nourisheth and cherisheth it, even as the Lord the church: for we are members of his body, of his flesh, and of his bones. For this cause shall a man leave his father and mother, and shall be joined unto his wife, and they two shall be one flesh. This is a great mystery: but I speak concerning Christ and the church. Nevertheless let every one of you in particular so love his wife even as himself; and the wife see that she reverence her husband (Ephesians 5:25-33).

Here is a more expansive version of that earlier quote from Francis Schaeffer:

The picture here is overwhelming. As the bride puts herself in the bridegroom’s arms on the wedding day and then daily, and as therefore children are born, so the individual Christian is to put himself or herself in the Bridegroom’s arms, not only once for all in justification, but existentially, moment by moment. Then the Christian will bear Christ’s fruit out into the fallen, revolted, external world. In this relationship, we are all female. This is the biblical picture, one that we would not dare use if God himself did not use it. (From The Church Before The Watching World, 1971; text available here).

Unfortunately, in this relationship we humans have long been the unfaithful party. As Jeremiah stated (in his eponymous book, chapter 3):

Then the LORD said to me in the days of Josiah the king, “Have you seen what faithless Israel did? She went up on every high hill and under every green tree, and she was a harlot there. … Go and proclaim these words toward the north and say, ‘Return, faithless Israel,’ declares the LORD; ‘I will not look upon you in anger For I am gracious,’ declares the LORD; ‘I will not be angry forever.

This topic would not be complete without a mention of the strange case of Hosea the prophet. As the book of Hosea opens, the prophet is asked by God to marry an actual prostitute, as an object lesson of the relationship between God and Israel:
When the Lord began to speak through Hosea, the Lord said to him, “Go, marry a promiscuous woman and have children with her, for like an adulterous wife this land is guilty of unfaithfulness to the Lord.”

At the outset of the covenant, God knew that we would blow it. From the beginning, therefore, He planned a drastic measure to try to get us back. The Cross of Jesus is the end of that journey. It is God’s ultimate valentine to the world.

As Francis Schaeffer stated in his meditation on those opening verses of the Song of Solomon:

  We will remember the love which suggested the sacrifice of yourself; the love which, until the fullness of time, mused over that sacrifice, and longed for the hour of which, in the volume of the Book it was written of you, “Lo, I come.” We will remember your love, O Jesus, as it was manifested to us in your holy life, from the manger of Bethlehem to the garden of Gethsemane! We will track you from the cradle to the grave, for every word and every deed of yours was love. You, wherever you did walk, did scatter loving kindnesses with both your hands. As it is said of your Father, “God is love,” so, surely, you are love, O Jesus! The fullness of the Godhead dwells in you; the essence of love, nothing else but love, is your incarnate person.
  And specially, O Jesus, will we remember your love to us upon the cross! We will view you as you come from the garden of your agony, and from the hall of your flagellation. We will gaze upon you with your hands and your feet nailed to the accursed tree. We will watch you when you could, if you had willed it, have saved yourself; but when you did, nevertheless, give up your strength, and bow yourself downward to the grave that you might lift us up to heaven. We will remember your love which you did manifest through your poor, bleeding hands, and feet, and side.
  We will remember this love of yours until it invigorates and cheers us “more than wine,”-the love, of which we have heard, which you have exercised since your death, the love of your resurrection, the love which prompts you continually to intercede before your Father’s throne, that burning lamp of love which will never let you hold your peace until your chosen ones are all safely housed, and Zion is glorified, and the spiritual Jerusalem is settled on her everlasting foundations of light and love in heaven. We will remember all your love, from its beginning in the eternal past to the eternity that is to come; no, we will try to project our thoughts and imagination, and so to remember that, long as eternity shall continue, even forever and for evermore, so long shall your love exist in all its glory, undiminished in its luster or its force. “We will remember your love more than wine.”

(Schaeffer’s sermons on the Song of Solomon are available at GraceGems).

Are Christian men more likely to abuse women (perhaps because of traditional views on gender roles)? No, says sociologist Brad Wilcox, who was interviewed by Christianity Today.

My research suggests that wives married to churchgoing evangelical men are comparatively safe. In the National Survey of Families and Households, husbands and wives were both asked if their arguments had gotten physical in the last year, and, if so, if they or their partner had “become physically violent.” By these measures, churchgoing evangelical Protestant husbands were the least likely to be engaged in abusive behavior.
Research that looks solely at the impact of church attendance comes to similar conclusions. Sociologist Christopher Ellison and his colleagues found that women who were married or cohabiting were significantly less likely to report abuse if they regularly attended religious services. According to their study, “compared with a woman who never attends religious services, a woman who shares similar demographic characteristics but attends several times a week is roughly 40% less likely to be a victim of domestic violence.” Not surprisingly, they also found that “men who attend religious services several times a week are 72% less likely to abuse their female partners than men from comparable backgrounds who do not attend services.”

Interestingly, he reports that the most violent husbands tended to be nominal Protestant evangelical Christians who rarely if ever attend church services. Also, people who attend church for extrinsic reasons (e.g. to look good, or to please a spouse) are more likely to be violent than those men who are intrinsically motivated to attend.

Additionally, he notes that women tended to be happier in marriages where the man is a committed Christian:

Men and women who attend church together are almost 10 percentage points more likely to report that they are “happy” or “very happy” in their relationships, compared to their peers who attend separately or simply don’t attend religious services at all.

From the wreckage of the Dr. Nassar abuses, and the celebratory stories of justice finally achieved, one bright star for me was the courage and witness of Rachael Denhollander. Testimony that she gave in her victim statement has become widely circulated. Here is an excerpt:

In our early hearings. you brought your Bible into the courtroom and you have spoken of praying for forgiveness. And so it is on that basis that I appeal to you. If you have read the Bible you carry, you know the definition of sacrificial love portrayed is of God himself loving so sacrificially that he gave up everything to pay a penalty for the sin he did not commit. By his grace, I, too, choose to love this way.

You spoke of praying for forgiveness. But Larry, if you have read the Bible you carry, you know forgiveness does not come from doing good things, as if good deeds can erase what you have done. It comes from repentance which requires facing and acknowledging the truth about what you have done in all of its utter depravity and horror without mitigation, without excuse, without acting as if good deeds can erase what you have seen this courtroom today.

If the Bible you carry says it is better for a stone to be thrown around your neck and you throw into a lake than for you to make even one child stumble. And you have damaged hundreds.
The Bible you speak carries a final judgment where all of God’s wrath and eternal terror is poured out on men like you. Should you ever reach the point of truly facing what you have done, the guilt will be crushing. And that is what makes the gospel of Christ so sweet. Because it extends grace and hope and mercy where none should be found. And it will be there for you.
I pray you experience the soul crushing weight of guilt so you may someday experience true repentance and true forgiveness from God, which you need far more than forgiveness from me — though I extend that to you as well.

Throughout this process I have clung to a quote by CS Lewis where he says,

“My argument against God was that the universe seemed so cruel and unjust. But how had I got this idea of unjust and just? A man does not call a line crooked unless he has some idea of a straight line. What was I comparing this universe with when I called it unjust?” (C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity)

Larry, I can call what you did evil and wicked because it was, and I know it was evil, and wicked, because the straight line exists. The straight line is not measured based on your perception or anyone else’s perception, and this means, I can speak the truth about my abuse without minimization or mitigation and I can call it evil because I know what goodness is.

And this is why I pity you, because when a person loses the ability to define good and evil, when they cannot define evil, they can no longer define and enjoy what is truly good. When a person can harm another human being, especially a child, without true guilt, they have lost the ability to truly love.

Larry, you have shut yourself off from every truly beautiful and good thing in this world, that could have, and should have brought you joy and fulfillment. And I pity you for it. You could have had everything you pretended to be. Every woman who stood up here truly loved you as an innocent child. Real genuine love for you and it did not satisfy.

I have experienced the soul satisfying joy of a marriage built on sacrificial love, and safety, and tenderness, and care. I have experienced true intimacy in its deepest joy’s and it is beautiful and sacred and glorious and that is a joy you have cut yourself off from ever experiencing and I pity you for it.

You can read the entire statement at CNN.

In a followup article by Christianity Today, she was asked, “Was there a particular Bible verse or passage that you felt spoke to your situation?”

One was from John 6, where Jesus asks Peter, “Do you want to leave too?” Peter says, “Where else would I go, Lord? You have the words of life.” There was a point in my faith where I had to simply cling to the fact that although I didn’t understand or have the answers, I knew that God was good and that he was love. Whatever else I didn’t understand couldn’t be a contradiction to that.

Beyond that, it was learning more about God’s justice, that contrast between darkness and light, and how to properly interpret God’s sovereignty and Bible verses that command us to give thanks or reveal God’s promises of bringing goodness out of evil. When those verses are interpreted properly they are glorious and beautiful truths. More often than not, particularly in the case of sexual assault, they’re really used to mitigate and to minimize—almost as if the victim handles it “properly,” if the victim just forgives, all of the feelings are going to go away. That’s not true and that’s not what Scripture teaches.

The recently observed Feast of the Presentation (also known as “Candlemas”) reminded me of an interesting YouTube video, a bit of living history, that I ran across some years ago. In 1997, a reconstruction of a Sarum rite Candlemas liturgy was conducted at Merton Chapel, Oxford.  The following link is to one portion of the service:

“Sarum” refers to medieval English worship practices centered at Salisbury Cathedral. The codification of the Sarum use was largely the work of Saint Osmund, nephew of William the Conqueror, who after the 1066 Norman conquest became Lord Chancellor of England (1070-1078) and then Bishop of Salisbury in 1078. His ceremonies and customs owe much to those of Rouen in Normandy, but were adapted in a way that he hoped would benefit both the French and the Saxons. It is noted that the Sarum rituals were more elaborate than other rites of the Roman Catholic Church, including the Tridentine.

In time the Sarum use came to dominate much of England, and the other rites (those of York, Lincoln, Aberdeen, Bangor, and Hereford, among others) were suppressed by King Henry VIII. The Sarum Rite influenced, and was in turn displaced by, the English language Book of Common Prayer after Henry’s death. Sarum usage enjoyed a brief revival from 1553-1559, under Queen Mary I.

The snippet of the Candlemas service above shows the Offertory. From the comments, I am informed that the background music is ‘Gaude, Gaude, Mater’ by John Sheppard. The musicians are from the Choir of the Church of Our Lady at Lisson Grove in London.

You can view the entire service in a series of YouTube installments, thanks to a YouTuber who calls himself “BrunoTheLabrador”.