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Sunday, February 19, 2017

The Anglican Church


The Anglican Church:




The Anglican Church came out of the English Reformation of the sixteenth century.  Just as the Lutheran Church came out of the Protestant Reformation of the fifteenth century.  The Protestant Reformation would change the religious makeup of Europe, with half the population becoming Protestant. And the Reformation that took place in England would shape religion in America in the years to come.


All of England was Catholic in the fifteenth century and the Catholic Church in England was having the same problems as the Catholic Church in the rest of Europe. Many of the church leaders lived in luxury and wielded great power and influence over the people causing many Catholics to call for reform, William Tyndale, a reformer, was put to death by the Church. It was King Henry VIII who finally caused the English Catholic Church to split from the Roman Catholic Church and become the Church of England.


King Henry VIII was a Catholic and didn’t want to reform the Catholic Church.  All he really wanted was a baby boy and his wife Katharine of Aragon couldn’t seem to produce one for him.  King Henry VIII was attracted to Anne Boleyn and he hoped that she could produce a male heir for him.  The king asked the pope to give him an annulment to cancel his marriage to Katharine so he could marry Anne Boleyn.  The pope refuse to give the king the annulment he wanted, so King Henry VIII married Anne Boleyn anyway.  The pope responded by excommunicating him.


This caused England to split from the Roman Catholic Church. The British Parliament removed the Church of England from the pope’s control and declared that King Henry VIII would now have control over the Church of England. 


King Henry VIII did not intend to change any of the church’s doctrines.  He just wanted to take the oversight of the English Church away from Rome. Even though King Henry VIII put some Protestant reformers to death he did allow Catholics in England to read the Bible, something the Roman Catholic Church had not allowed.


After several years of marriage to Ann Boleyn, King Henry VIII tired of her and had her head chopped off! She had also failed to give him a male heir. After marrying and divorcing or doing away with six wives, King Henry VIII died in 1547: and his sickly nine-year-old son, Edward VI, succeeded him to the throne. During Edward VI’s brief reign as king of England, he allowed the Protestants to reform the Church of England. Clergy were now allowed to marry and the first Book of Common Prayers in the English language was brought in for the people.




When Edward VI, who was Protestant, died, his half-sister Mary, who was a strict Catholic, came in to rule England as their queen. Mary has sometimes been called “Bloody Mary”, because she either beheaded or burned many of the leading Protestant reformers of her day!


After twenty-five years of turmoil where England went from being Roman Catholic to English Catholic to Protestant and back to Roman Catholic, the situation had led to chaos in England!  But then Elizabeth I, the half-sister of Mary and Edward came to the throne in 1558.  Elizabeth reigned for forty-five years and Elizabeth used her influence to cause the citizens of England to stop  fighting and to be united in a common faith. A truly amazing story!   




Queen Elizabeth I put together the Church of England, which was made up of Catholics and Protestants, and was called the Anglican Church. There were large numbers of both Catholics and Protestants in England at that time and the Queen wanted them all  to come together. Queen Elizabeth I negotiated an agreement between them to form the Church of England – a Church that would keep some of the Catholic doctrines as well as some of the Protestant doctrines!
 


The Queen’s agreement for a new state church in England was known as the “via media” or “middle way”. She called out to her beloved Englishmen to stop the fighting and bloodshed and she encouraged Catholics and Protestants alike to unite as one.  The Queen encouraged Catholics and Protestants to work together peacefully and amazingly they did!  Because of this the Anglican Church was born!




Even though we each may not have the influence that the Queen had over England, if each of us used our influence and encouragement to bring about peace and unity, we might just change our little world as Queen Elizabeth did hers! After Queen Elizabeth I died, King James I came into power and he authorized a new translation of the Bible known to us today as the King James Version.


Marks of the Anglican Church that are part of the Catholic teaching are the three-fold ministry of the bishop, priest, and deacon and the seven sacraments.  Also the Catholic sense of great reverence for God in the liturgy has continued in the Anglican Church, along with the reliance upon the spiritual disciplines that are a part of the Catholic Church. 




The more Protestant elements of Anglicanism include the fact that bishops, priests, and deacons can be married and women can serve as priests in some areas.  Also the members of the church share in the ministry of the Anglican Church. 


The Catholic Church determines what their beliefs and practices are from two sources. (1) the Bible and from   (2) their church traditions.  The Lutheran Church only determine what they believe and practice from one source, (1) the Bible, or as Luther stated, “Sola Scriptura” – only Scripture.  And the Anglican Church chose to determine their beliefs and practices by following (1) Scripture, (2) Tradition and (3) reason. 




They called this their “three-legged stool. The Catholic Church and many conservative denominations of Protestants believe that human reason can never be placed on the same level as God’s Word, the holy Scriptures. Conservatives take a high view of Scripture and worry that this emphasis on human intelligence gives the more liberal denominations a low view of Scripture. .    




Prayer is the main emphasis of the Episcopal or Anglican Church.  Jesus said that God is looking for people to worship Him in spirit and in truth. Anglican worship is not casual but “high church”. An Anglican church service is never a performance given for an audience but an Anglican worship service is always a time to remember that a holy and almighty God is present and a time to humbly worship Him.


Anglicans believe that without prayer, we simply cannot continue to live as God desires.  The idea that “The law of prayer is the law of belief” is an idea that is very important to Anglicans.  It means that praying and worshipping are the most important things they do.  The essence of Christian faith is found in worshiping together, spending time each day in prayer, and listening for God’s voice.  The Anglican Church has a Book of Common Prayers which is read in all their services. Also, Anglicans are encouraged to set aside certain times of the day to pray and worship and read the Psalms. 


Anglicans believe that prayers and praise and worship shape their Christian belief.  They call on their members to bring discipline and order to their prayer lives.  Through prayer, Jesus found strength.  And we will too.  We can learn valuable lessons from our Anglican brothers and sisters.  Let’s follow their example in prioritizing prayer and worship.
 
And we can also learn lessons from the Anglican attitude of “via Media” or “middle way” of working together to negotiate agreements so all may unite as one.  This gentle attitude of peace and cooperation still seems to be a part of many Anglican congregations. We Christians from other branches on Christianity’s family Tree can learn much from our Anglican brothers and sister in Christ.            
 This material has taken information from Adam Hamilton’s book “Christianity’s Family Tree” Chapter 5 “Anglicanism: Common Prayer.


 
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Sunday, February 12, 2017

Lutheranism: Word and Faith


Lutheranism: Word and Faith

The early Christians (35 A.D) were a faithful loving group. They joyfully received the Gospel and believed in Christ as their Savior and Lord.  The Holy Spirit came on each believer and their lives were miraculously changed. Miracles and healings were common in their gatherings.

.And when the terrible persecutions came upon them, the new Christians stood firm and bravely continued to proclaim their faith in Christ. In an attempt to stop the spread of Christianity, many believers in Christ were imprisoned and beaten and many more gave up their lives for the faith.  But these cruel persecutions only fanned the flames of Christianity and seemed to spur the Christian faith onward to spread like wild fire across Southern Europe and Asia Minor and Northern Africa.        

After several hundred years of enduring severe persecutions, the early Christian Church seemed to finally find relief. In the third century, the Roman ruler, Constantine, declared Christianity to be the faith of the Roman Empire.  Now Christians could relax and settle into their church headed now by the state! Believers in Christ called themselves “catholic” meaning “universal”, so the Catholic Church got its’ name. Christians had fought so hard for their faith.  The blood of the many Christian martyrs was not forgotten.  But now in the third century A.D. with the government and the church intertwined, the future appeared to be looking good for the Catholic Church! Now with power and money behind it, how could it lose?  The Christian faith could move ahead, couldn’t it? 

But as the centuries rolled on the Catholic Church gradually seemed to move farther and farther off track.  Finally, by the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries the Catholic Church was experiencing her darkest period ever. She had lost her way. The high ecclesiastics, the bishops and popes and church leaders had let power and money go to their heads.  Instead of being Gods’ servants of the Church and shepherds of God’s flock, the Catholic bishops, abbots and popes had become powerful rich secular rulers. The church leaders lived in luxury and held great power over to people.

This was the sad state of the Catholic Church when Martin Luther was ordained a priest in 1507.  Martin Luther had been raised with the fear of God.  He thought of Jesus only as a judge and he constantly felt guilt because of his sin. Some historians believe that he might have suffered from depression. Because Luther was studying for the priesthood he was allowed to read one of the few Bibles available that had been copied by hand.  (The printing press was invented shortly before Luther’s lifetime.)  As Martin Luther read the Bible for the first time he was amazed to find that the holy Scriptures taught that a person is not made right with God by their good works, or by paying money to the church. Luther read in the Bible that a person is made right with God by faith in Jesus Christ as their Savior and Lord. And that salvation is a free gift from a loving God. Luther had always worried when he read in Scripture that only the righteous person will please God.  He knew that he was not righteous.  But when Luther read Romans 1:17 a great weight fell from him and he realized that God made a person righteousness through Jesus Christ.  All a person needed to do was to have faith. Here is what Romans 1:17 says: “In the gospel a righteousness from God is revealed, a righteousness that is by faith from beginning to end, just as it is written: ‘The righteous will live by faith.’”. This passage of Scripture changed Martin Luther’s life!  Afterwards he was no longer depressed with guilt as he had accepted Christ as his righteousness.  His whole life changed!   He described himself as one who was “born again”. 

About this time, the pope decided to build a great cathedral in Rome – later to be named  St. Peter’s.  Of course, the pope would need a lot of money to build Saint Peter’s Cathedral. Priests and church leaders were commissioned to ask their members to give money (called indulgences) to build this Cathedral. The priests told their people that if they would pay money for this building project they would get something back in return.

 The money (or indulgences) church members would pay would buy the prayers of their priests and bishops. The priests would pray for the deceased loved ones of the members who paid.  Nearly everyone had a loved one who had died and they were told that these deceased loved ones were now suffering in Purgatory! The priests would not say special prayers for the non-paying members loved ones in Purgatory. So, if a church member did give money their loved ones would be freed from this Purgatory much sooner than if they didn’t give money!

 The priest was needed to intercede between the Christian and his God.  A priest’s prayers and intervention was all important! A preacher named Tetzel came and spoke in Martin Luther’s town.  One of his sales pitches went this way: “When the money in the coffer rings, the soul from Purgatory springs!”  Luther was furious!

How could the Catholic Church make up these stories to raise money?  Luther fumed.  How could the church leaders tell members that they must pay money to get their loved one’s sins forgiven?  God takes money to pardon people from sin? Luther knew that only Christ can take away sins! This practice of the Church pushed Luther over the edge. He composed a list of ninety-five statements questioning the practices of indulgences (taking money to get people out of Purgatory) and other problems Luther saw with the Catholic Church of his time.  He nailed these ninety-five statements on the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg, Germany on October 31, 1517..  Lutherans call this day “Reformation Day.”


Martin Luther never intended to leave the Catholic Church.  He only hoped to reform it.  Many other people around Europe were also frustrated with the abuses of the Church in that day and joined in with Luther’s call to the Catholic Church to change. Someone translated Luther’s ninety-five statements from the original Latin to German so that the people could read it also. The newly invented printing press printed Luther’s ninety-five statements and soon they were spread like wildfire across Europe. Luther loved his Church and waited for an answer.   


The Catholic Church of the fifteenth century refused to acknowledge Luther’s ninety-five statements.  They called Luther “apostate” and refused to believe that they might have any problems. Instead the Catholic Church tried to silence Luther. He had to flee for his life. There was a break from the Catholic Church and the Protestant branch of Christianity was born.  The movement was called the Protestant Reformation. Thousands of frustrated Catholics joined  Luther in this protest – this reformation. They split from the Catholic Church and formed a new reformed church, the Lutheran Church. Eventually Lutheranism came to be the main church in Germany, Denmark, Sweden, and Norway.


Several of the main beliefs of Lutherans – reforms that Luther wanted the Catholic Church to consider – were 1) The Priesthood of All Believers,2) Sola Scripture (only Scripture) and 3) Justification by Faith.  We will start with the priesthood of all believers.  Luther believed that Scripture teaches that each Christian believer can come before God without the priest being the mediator. Protestants believe that Jesus Christ is our mediator and we can all come to God through Him, as Scripture teaches.


In Luther’s day, the priests did most of the worship while the members watched.  Luther understood that worship was meant for the whole people of God.  Luther translated hymns and the Scriptures and encouraged the people to read the Bible and sing hymns to God and pray directly to God themselves.  He maintained that all believers were ordained to serve God and do His work, not just priests. And each Christian had a calling.  Believers found great joy through the Holy Spirit in serving God and in Bible study and in prayer.   


Luther’s second main affirmation was “Sola Scriptura “or “only Scripture”.  Luther believed that the churches should only teach doctrines that can be found in Scripture. That the Bible is Gods’ Word. This led to rejection of many of the practices of the Catholic Church. The practice of paying indulgences to get loved ones out of Purgatory could not be found in Scripture so this was rejected!  Praying to saints was rejected since the Bible commands us to only pray to God. The Bible was placed in the hands of the laity and everyone was encouraged to read it and live by it. 


And Luther’s third main affirmation was the “Justification by Faith”.  Luther had grown up believing that our salvation hinged on our doing enough good works to overshadow our sins.  The fact that Scripture tells us that we are saved through faith in Christ was a new truth when Luther first read it in the Bible.  “For by faith are we saved through faith and not of yourselves, it is a gift of God, not of works lest any person can boast.”  (Ephesians 2:8-9)

This truth utterly transformed Luther!  He accepted Christ as his Savior and this was the central tenet of Luther’s faith and the faith of the entire Protestant Reformation which we believe was led by the Holy Spirit.  Luther’s truths would be picked up by others who would press them further. Next week we will see how another reformer, John Calvin and the Presbyterians grew out of Luther and the Protestant Reformation.  



The ideas in this blog are taken from Adam Hamilton’s book, “Christianity’s Family Tree”   










    

   


Sunday, February 5, 2017

The Orthodox Church



The Orthodox Church

The official stance of the Orthodox Church is that they are the one true church.  The word “orthodox” means “true” or “right”.  Does that mean that they think that other believers in Christ who are not Orthodox are not going to heaven?  Members of the Orthodox church make up the second largest number of Christians after the Roman Catholics.  Most of the orthodox Christians are in the east, with the largest number being in Russia.

Eastern and Western Christians have some cultural differences in the way they approach our faith and worship.  Western Christians are perhaps more intellectual about their Christian faith and tend to see the good news of Christ in more concrete terms.  We attend Bible studies, bring in special speakers and sometimes conduct theological debates.  But Eastern Orthodox Christians tend to make greater allowances for mystery and tradition and for experiencing God.

Women are not ordained in the Orthodox Church.  And the divinely inspired Fathers of the Orthodox Church are the only ones who can interpret the Scriptures.  Their authority cannot be challenged or ignored or questioned!  Orthodox Christians believe that the holy Spirit was guiding the early church and that the writings of early Christians during the first five centuries are all important.  They repeat a favorite story of Polycarp, an early Christian martyr, who was burned at the stake because he refused to renounced his Christian faith.  Polycarp’s body did not burn in the flames and he was finally stabbed to death. 

The Orthodox have many more stories of early Christian martyrs and writings of early Christian leaders that hold a central place in their faith practices.  Most Protestant Christians are not eve n familiar with these stories that inspire Orthodox Christians so deeply.  The Orthodox Christians have created icons of many of these early martyrs – icons which they look to for inspiration and icons to which they can pray to and ask for strength to carry out their own Christian pilgrimage.  These icons are all over the walls in their churches. 

One of the main teachings of the Orthodox church is their teaching concerning what is real.  Orthodox doctrine emphasize that real life is found in participating in the kingdom of God.  The real world is not what they are doing for a few short years here on earth.  The real world is heaven, God’s eternal kingdom and we are just pilgrims and aliens here on earth.  Orthodox Christians dwell on the fact that there is a heavenly realm that we can =not see but that it is all around us.  Orthodoxy challenges their members to live with the certainty of this kingdom of God. 

An Orthodox church is built to help the worshipers “see” or experience the mystery of the kingdom of God.  The ceiling represents heaven.  And the dome on the top of the church gives the worshiper a sense of being encompassed within the realm of heaven where often a mosaic of Jesus is on the dome or ceiling looking down on the congregation.  This is a reminder that Jesus is looking down on us.  During Orthodox worship and praise, thick sweet incense rises to the ceiling, reminding the orthodox worshipper that the prayers of the saints are going up to God.

The walls inside the Orthodox place of worship are covered with icons and an icon screen containing painted images of Jesus and Mary and the apostles is placed in front of the worshippers.  The icons are not worshipped but they are venerated and held up as good examples to follow.  These icons are reminders that the saints are all around the throne of God praying for the worshippers.  And behind the icon wall is the altar, representing the holy place where the spirit of God resides.

The orthodox Christian is encouraged to live in the mystery of the kingdom of heaven and run the race here on earth as faithful followers of Christ, always remembering that those saints or Christians who went before them are cheering them on.  The emphasis seems to partially come from chapter eleven in the book of Hebrews, the “faith” chapter, that describes the faith of many of the saints in the Bible.  Let’s listen to some of the passages of this “faith” chapter.

“Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.  Indeed, by faith our ancestors received approval.  By faith we understand that the worlds were prepared by the word of God, so that what is seen was made from things that are not visible…

By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to set out for a place that he was to receive as an inheritance: and he set out, not knowing where he was going.  By faith he stayed for a time in the land he had been promised, as in a foreign land, living in tents, as did Isaac and Jacob, who were heirs with him of the same promise.  For he looked forward to the city that has foundations, whose architect and builder is God…

All of these died in faith without having received the promises, but from a distance they saw and greeted them.  They confessed that they were strangers and foreigners on the earth, for people who speak in this way make it clear that they are seeking a homeland.  If they had been thinking of the land that they had left behind, they would have had opportunity to return.  But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one.  Therefore, God is not ashamed to be called their God: indeed, for He has prepared a city for them. 

Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the author and finisher of our faith, who for the sake of the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, disregarding its shame, and has taken His seat at the right hand of the throne of God.”  (Hebrews 11:1-3, 8-10, 13-16:  12:1-2)

Orthodoxy challenges us to live our lives remembering that we are citizens of the kingdom of heaven and it is reality.  We are to travel lightly here on earth, remembering that the patriarchs, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob lived in tents and never put down roots.  They confessed that they were “strangers and foreigners on the earth” (Hebrews 11:9) “desiring a better country with foundations, whose architect and builder is God.” (Hebrews 11:10)

The icons in the Orthodox church are visible reminders that the saints are around the throne of God today and that these saints who came before us are praying for us and encouraging us to keep focusing on Jesus and to run the race set before us.  The orthodox liturgy is meant to replicate on earth the kind of worship that is taking place in heaven.  The chanting, prayers, incense, Scripture reading, praise, thanksgiving, are all used to transport the worshiper to the heavenly realms. And worshipers mystically join in with the angels singing their praises. 

This is the essence of faith: remembering what is true and real even though we cannot see it.  This is the gift the Orthodox give us.  We might learn something from our Orthodox brothers and sisters. Even though the Orthodox Church may still believe that they are the one true church and wonder whether we are going to make it to heaven or not; we believe that they are going to make it there.  We are all sheep in God’s pasture and like sheep, we all seem to stray. We wander off track in one direction and our brother and sister in another direction. All of us have sinned.   None of us are “Orthodox” or “true”.  We are all lost until the good Shepherd goes out in the dark cold night and searches until He finds us and brings us back to the fold.  Only through Him (Jesus Christ0 are we truly “Orthodox”.  We are not saved by a church!  We are saved by a Savior!  Praise God!

The Orthodox Church is a large branch of Christianity’s family tree.  We all have so much in common. All the churches we will study including the Orthodox Church, share the trunk of the tree which is Jesus Christ. All of us, Orthodox, Catholic and Protestants have believed in Him as our Savior and Lord.  We are all baptized into Christ’s body by one Spirit (the Holy Spirit) We all share His body and blood in the Eucharist or communion.  We all believe in the Holy Scriptures, the New and Old Testaments of the Bible.  And we all share a common creed, the Nicene Creed.  Indeed, even though we have each strayed in different directions and we still argue and disagree on some issues, we Orthodox, Catholic and Protestant Christians are still truly part of Christianity’ magnificent Family Tree.
This blog was taken from  chapter 1 “Orthodoxy”  of Adam Hamilton’s book “Christianity’s Family Tree”   



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Saturday, January 28, 2017

The Catholic Church


 The Catholic Church

There are approximately two billion Christians in the world and Catholic Christians make up over one billion of the two billion Christians on earth. Catholics outnumber all the other Christians worldwide.  

The Catholic Church got its name from the word “catholic” which means “universal”.  The word “catholic” was used to describe the early Christian church because the Christian church or the body of Christ was and is one and is universal. The body of Christ is one body and Christians can be found all over the world. In the first several hundred years after the birth of the Christian church at Pentecost, there were no divisions among Christian believers and all Christians believers considered themselves as one.

All early Christians were simply called “followers of the Way” or “believers in Jesus Christ.”  And along with this unity of believers God gave the early Christians great power in the Holy Spirit. As long as that early Christian church obeyed God and loved one another and stuck together so faithfully, God continually blessed them with miracles and healings and power in the Spirit.  Their love for one another attracted thousands to follow Christ also.    

 As the years passed Christianity grew and spread as many Christian churches sprang up all over Greece, Turkey, Egypt, Ethiopia, and Italy as well as Asia Minor.  It seemed that more Christians settled in Rome than in any other place and soon Rome became the center of the Christian church.  Each local area where Christians lived had its own leader or “bishop” and over time the bishop of Rome came to be the most influential of all the bishops of other cities or towns.  So by the end of the fourth century this head bishop came to be called the “pope,” which means “father”.   

Most of the Catholics in the West accepted the growing authority of the pope, while the Catholics in the East grudgingly went along. Latin became the main language of the Western Catholic churches whereas Greek was the dominant language of the Eastern Catholic churches, causing a language barrier and more frustrations between east and west. However, the universal Catholic church, the East and the West, remained one glorious united Church for almost a thousand years! Even though tensions and differences kept growing between them.

And then it happened!  Around 1050 A.D. the Western Catholic hierarchy, without receiving full agreement from the Eastern Catholics, added three little words to the Nicene Creed which was then and always has been the creed for all Christians. The Nicene Creed had been written through the guidance of the Holy Spirit in 325 A.D. after much prayer and fasting by two hundred Christian bishops.  One small line in this creed stated that the Holy Spirit was sent from God the Father. In about 1050 A.D. the Western Catholic Church hierarchy added (and the Son) to that wording in the Nicene Creed.  These three little words (and the Son) better explained that Jesus Christ, God the Son, along with God the Father also sent the Holy Spirit to the Church. This was the last straw for the Catholics living in the East!

How dare those Western brothers add those three little words to the Nicene Creed!  The Eastern Catholic churches, calling themselves the “Orthodox Church” broke away from the Western Catholics and from the one universal Catholic Church and the split became official in 1054 A.D.  Instead of building on what held them together, the East and the West split over their differences.  The Catholic church in the east was now “the Orthodox Church.”   “Orthodox” means “true” and they believed that they were the true church of the apostles and that their Western Catholic brothers and sisters had wandered off the path.

And five hundred years later the Protestant Churches also broke away from the Catholic Church. When we read the Roman Catholic Catechism, the official teachings of the Catholic Church, we find that Catholics and Protestants agree on most issues. They share the Nicene Creed. Many Protestant denominations believe that our Christian beliefs come ONLY from the Holy Scriptures alone.  But Catholics believe that their faith and Christian beliefs stand not only on the Holy Scriptures but also on Holy Spirit-led traditions and teachings of the church through the centuries.  They believe that God keeps on teaching us through the Holy Spirit even after the Bible was completed. 

Now we will briefly go over several Catholic practices from which Protestants can learn valuable lessons. And we will discuss more about our differences in future blogs. First, we will discuss the power of ritual.  When Protestants left the Catholic church, they threw out many of the Catholic rituals, often considering them to be dead and empty.

  Praying the Stations of the Cross can become a way of recalling the story of the passion and death of Christ.   The rosary is a Catholic ritual to recount the stories of Mary and Jesus and it includes the “Hail Mary” taken from Luke’s Gospel and the Lord’s Prayer, the Apostles’ Creed: and the recounting of the story of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection.  Rituals can be comforting because it gives us a sense of participation and belonging and it also gives us a tie to the past.  Ritual can help a person comprehend the majesty, mystery and holiness of God. 

The Catholics can teach other Christian denominations the importance of reverence for sacred things.  We Protestants often have not learned to worship, obey and reverence God or humble ourselves before a holy and almighty God in the way the Catholics have. God is praised and worshipped during the Mass and Catholics bow and kneel at the altar in prayer and make the sign of the cross on their forehead, lips, and heart, saying, “The Gospel be on my mind, and on my lips, and in my heart.”  Also, the name of the Trinity is pronounced when one crosses oneself saying, “Father, son, and Holy Spirit, I am yours.”  Catholics genuflect before the altar in reverence to the Lord God.  And they beat on their breasts to show sorrow for their sins.   

Scripture says: “O, come, let us worship and bow down.  Let us kneel before the Lord, our Maker!  For He is our God, and we are the people of His pasture, and the sheep of His hand.”  (Psalm 95:6-7) Protestants are often casual in their worship services. Catholics can inspire and teach us much about coming before the almighty and holy God and Father.


For Catholics, the Eucharist or the communion is the point of the entire worship service.  Mass or taking the body and blood of Christ is served in every worship service.  Catholics believe that at a Holy Mass when the priest says the words of Christ and gives a prayer, the Holy Spirit changes the substance of the bread and wine into the actual body and blood of Christ.  When Catholics receive Mass the bread and wine is really Christ’s body and blood that they receive.  In His body and blood they believe that grace flows from these elements out to the Christian who is receiving them.  They receive the gift of Christ each time they go to Mass.  

Jesus said “Very truly, I tell you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man (Jesus) and drink his blood, you have no life in you.  Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood have eternal life, and I will raise them up on the last day: for my flesh is true food and my blood is true drink.  Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in Me, and I in them.”  (John 6:53-56)   

Scripture also says: “For all who eat and drink without discerning the body, eat and drink judgment against themselves.”  (1 Corinthians 11:29) Taking the body and blood of Christ is indeed serious and should never be done casually.

 The Catholic Church and the Protestant churches both believe that Christ is truly present in the bread and the wine.  Protestants believe that we receive Christ spiritually.  That His presence is there.  And we have an opportunity, in a physical way, to accept His gift of salvation.  The Catholics believe that the bread and wine are actually His body and blood.  This is a doctrine called “transubstantiation.” 

This holy communion meal binds us together as Christians: Catholics, Protestants and Orthodox Christians alike.  We all remember the suffering, death, and resurrection of Christ. Catholics, Protestants and Orthodox Christians all humble ourselves before God and accept Christ’s saving work.  We all feed our souls with His body and blood.  All the denominations or churches in our Christian family share the same Lord Jesus and we all worship the same God.  We are all nourished and guided by the same Holy Spirit.  Catholic, Orthodox and Protestant – we all believe the same Scriptures.  Our heavenly Father would have us forgive each other for our differences and love each other for all that we have in common.  As brothers and sisters in Christ we are all part of Christianity’s  big marvelous living family tree.      

Much of this blog was taken from Adam Hamilton’s book “Christianity’s Family Tree”.   

 
 The Catholic Church

There are approximately two billion Christians in the world and Catholic Christians make up over one billion of the two billion Christians on earth. Catholics outnumber all the other Christians worldwide.  

The Catholic Church got its name from the word “catholic” which means “universal”.  The word “catholic” was used to describe the early Christian church because the Christian church or the body of Christ was and is one and is universal. The body of Christ is one body and Christians can be found all over the world. In the first several hundred years after the birth of the Christian church at Pentecost, there were no divisions among Christian believers and all Christians believers considered themselves as one.

All early Christians were simply called “followers of the Way” or “believers in Jesus Christ.”  And along with this unity of believers God gave the early Christians great power in the Holy Spirit. As long as that early Christian church obeyed God and loved one another and stuck together so faithfully, God continually blessed them with miracles and healings and power in the Spirit.  Their love for one another attracted thousands to follow Christ also.    

 As the years passed Christianity grew and spread as many Christian churches sprang up all over Greece, Turkey, Egypt, Ethiopia, and Italy as well as Asia Minor.  It seemed that more Christians settled in Rome than in any other place and soon Rome became the center of the Christian church.  Each local area where Christians lived had its own leader or “bishop” and over time the bishop of Rome came to be the most influential of all the bishops of other cities or towns.  So by the end of the fourth century this head bishop came to be called the “pope,” which means “father”.   

Most of the Catholics in the West accepted the growing authority of the pope, while the Catholics in the East grudgingly went along. Latin became the main language of the Western Catholic churches whereas Greek was the dominant language of the Eastern Catholic churches, causing a language barrier and more frustrations between east and west. However, the universal Catholic church, the East and the West, remained one glorious united Church for almost a thousand years! Even though tensions and differences kept growing between them.

And then it happened!  Around 1050 A.D. the Western Catholic hierarchy, without receiving full agreement from the Eastern Catholics, added three little words to the Nicene Creed which was then and always has been the creed for all Christians. The Nicene Creed had been written through the guidance of the Holy Spirit in 325 A.D. after much prayer and fasting by two hundred Christian bishops.  One small line in this creed stated that the Holy Spirit was sent from God the Father. In about 1050 A.D. the Western Catholic Church hierarchy added (and the Son) to that wording in the Nicene Creed.  These three little words (and the Son) better explained that Jesus Christ, God the Son, along with God the Father also sent the Holy Spirit to the Church. This was the last straw for the Catholics living in the East!

How dare those Western brothers add those three little words to the Nicene Creed!  The Eastern Catholic churches, calling themselves the “Orthodox Church” broke away from the Western Catholics and from the one universal Catholic Church and the split became official in 1054 A.D.  Instead of building on what held them together, the East and the West split over their differences.  The Catholic church in the east was now “the Orthodox Church.”   “Orthodox” means “true” and they believed that they were the true church of the apostles and that their Western Ccatholic brothers and sisters had wandered off the path.

And five hundred years later the Protestant Churches also broke away from the Catholic Church. When we read the Roman Catholic Catechism, the official teachings of the Catholic Church, we find that Catholics and Protestants agree on most issues. They share the Nicene Creed. Many Protestant denominations believe that our Christian beliefs come ONLY from the Holy Scriptures alone.  But Catholics believe that their faith and Christian beliefs stand not only on the Holy Scriptures but also on Holy Spirit-led traditions and teachings of the church through the centuries.  They believe that God keeps on teaching us through the Holy Spirit even after the Bible was completed. 

Now we will briefly go over several Catholic practices from which Protestants can learn valuable lessons. And we will discuss more about our differences in future blogs. First, we will discuss the power of ritual.  When Protestants left the Catholic church, they threw out many of the Catholic rituals, often considering them to be dead and empty.

  Praying the Stations of the Cross can become a way of recalling the story of the passion and death of Christ.   The rosary is a Catholic ritual to recount the stories of Mary and Jesus and it includes the “Hail Mary” taken from Luke’s Gospel and the Lord’s Prayer, the Apostles’ Creed: and the recounting of the story of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection.  Rituals can be comforting because it gives us a sense of participation and belonging and it also gives us a tie to the past.  Ritual can help a person comprehend the majesty, mystery and holiness of God. 

The Catholics can teach other Christian denominations the importance of reverence for sacred things.  We Protestants often have not learned to worship and reverence God or humble ourselves before a holy and almighty God in the way the Catholics have. God is praised and worshipped during the Mass and Catholics bow and kneel at the altar in prayer and make the sign of the cross on their forehead, lips, and heart, saying, “The Gospel be on my mind, and on my lips, and in my heart.”  Also, the name of the Trinity is pronounced when one crosses oneself saying, “Father, son, and Holy Spirit, I am yours.”  Catholics genuflect before the altar in reverence to the Lord God.  And they beat on their breasts to show sorrow for their sins.   

Scripture says: “O, come, let us worship and bow down.  Let us kneel before the Lord, our Maker!  For He is our God, and we are the people of His pasture, and the sheep of His hand.”  (Psalm 95:6-7) Protestants are often casual in their worship services. Catholics can inspire and teach us much about coming before the almighty and holy God and Father.


For Catholics, the Eucharist or the communion is the point of the entire worship service.  Mass or taking the body and blood of Christ is served in every worship service.  Catholics believe that at a Holy Mass when the priest says the words of Christ and gives a prayer, the Holy Spirit changes the substance of the bread and wine into the actual body and blood of Christ.  When Catholics receive Mass the bread and wine is really Christ’s body and blood that they receive.  In His body and blood they believe that grace flows from these elements out to the Christian who is receiving them.  They receive the gift of Christ each time they go to Mass.  

Jesus said “Very truly, I tell you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man (Jesus) and drink his blood, you have no life in you.  Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood have eternal life, and I will raise them up on the last day: for my flesh is true food and my blood is true drink.  Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in Me, and I in them.”  (John 6:53-56)   

Scripture also says: “For all who eat and drink without discerning the body, eat and drink judgment against themselves.”  (1 Corinthians 11:29) Taking the body and blood of Christ is indeed serious and should never be done casually.

 The Catholic Church and the Protestant churches both believe that Christ is truly present in the bread and the wine.  Protestants believe that we receive Christ spiritually.  That His presence is there.  And we have an opportunity, in a physical way, to accept His gift of salvation.  The Catholics believe that the bread and wine are actually His body and blood.  This is a doctrine called “transubstantiation.” 

This holy communion meal binds us together as Christians: Catholics, Protestants and Orthodox Christians alike.  We all remember the suffering, death, and resurrection of Christ. Catholics, Protestants and Orthodox Christians all humble ourselves before God and accept Christ’s saving work.  We all feed our souls with His body and blood.  All the denominations or churches in our Christian family share the same Lord Jesus and we all worship the same God.  We are all nourished and guided by the same Holy Spirit.  Catholic, Orthodox and Protestant – we all believe the same Scriptures.  Our heavenly Father would have us forgive each other for our differences and love each other for all that we have in common.  As brothers and sisters in Christ we are all part of Christianity’s  big marvelous living family tree.      

Much of this blog was taken from Adam Hamilton’s book “Christianity’s Family Tree”.   

 



Monday, January 23, 2017

Christianity's Family Tree


Christianity’s Family Tree

I recently read Adam Hamilton’s book “Christianity’s Family Tree” and my faith was strengthened by what I read.  We can trace the start and beginning of our Christian family from the outpouring of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost over two thousand years ago all the way to the present. We have many relatives in our Christian family and a rich history. I would like to pass some of this history along to you hoping you will be blessed as well.

Our can find our Christian brothers and sisters in many different Christian churches and denominations. Even though each church or denomination may have different traditions and minor differences in some of their beliefs, the same Holy Spirit has baptized us all into the body of Christ

. We will introduce you to what each Christian denomination emphasizes in their walk with God and how some of their traditions may be different from ours.  We will briefly explore how one church differs from the other in our Christian family tree: -the Orthodox Church, the Catholic Church, the Methodists, Presbyterians, Lutherans, Anglicans, Baptists and Pentecostals.  In future weeks, we will go over the beliefs of each of these Christian churches. There are off shoots of these larger branches that will not be mentioned here because of time constraints.

The Christian church is spiritually alive and is guided by the Holy Spirit. The Church had it’s beginning at Pentecost when the Holy Spirit first was given. Jesus had instructed the believers to wait and pray for the Holy Spirit to come. Then ten days later God sent the Holy Spirit to each of the apostles and believers who were waiting and praying. Scripture tells us that when the Holy Spirit came down that very first time, there was a mighty rush of wind in the room and then a tongue of fire could be seen over the head of each believer and each believer began speaking in unknown tongues.  (Acts 2:1-5) Since then the Holy Spirit has been given to each believer or each member of the Christian family when they believe in Christ as Savior and Lord.

 In the first century of Christianity there were no denominations among those early believers.  The major division was between Jewish Christians and Gentile Christians.  There were only believers in Jesus Christ, and most of the believers lived in Jerusalem or Antioch.

By the end of the first century the Church had grown quite a bit and many Christian churches that had been planted by Paul.  Churches of believers called themselves, “Followers of the Way”, or “Christian”.  And these Christians communities were thriving all over what is now Greece, Turkey, Egypt and Italy. But these Christians were often jailed, whipped, stoned and persecuted unmercifully because of their faith.  Peter and Paul were both put to death in Rome. By the third century the Roman ruler Constantine became a Christian himself and stopped the terrible persecutions. Instead Constantine made Christianity the national religion. 

Heresies and false teachings have always threatened the Christian faith and each Christian generation has had to contend for the faith by stopping these heresies.  In those early days one of the main heresies threatening Christianity was the Aryan heresy.  Arius was an early Christian bishop in Alexandria who did not believe that Jesus was God.  He believed that Jesus was created by God the Father at some point in time and that Jesus was not eternal and was a lesser god.  Aryanism rejected the doctrine of the Trinity:  the doctrine that God encompasses Three Persons in One being. God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit. There are cult groups today who hold to the Aryan heresy. The Jehovah’s Witness and Mormon churches do not believe in the Trinity, or that Jesus is God the Son.    

Christians in the third century prayed that the Holy Spirit would lead them into the truth and help them dispel heresies and false teachings.  Constantine called all of the bishops of the Christian churches together to pray and to write out a creed that would state the tenants of the Christian faith. With much prayer for God’s guidance, three hundred Christian bishops gathered together at the Council of Nicea in 325 A.D.  These bishops or leaders of their local churches, after much prayer and with the guidance of the Holy Spirit, wrote the Nicene Creed, which has been the guiding creed for all Christians ever since.  All but two bishops voted against the Aryan heresy.  They voted that Scripture teaches that Christ is eternal, the Son of God and God the Son.  Belief in the holy Trinity is the cornerstone of our Christian faith. If Jesus were not God He could not have saved us from sin. 

All the beliefs of the Christian faith were summarized in the Nicene Creed in 325 A.D. and the Catholic Church, the Orthodox Church, and all of the Christian Protestant denominations down through these many hundreds of years have professed that they believe this Nicene Creed.  The Nicene Creed spells out our Christian faith.  We have this one common faith will all brothers and sisters in Christ.  And we are all baptized into the body of Christ by one Spirit – the Holy Spirit. (1 Corinthians 12:13) 

Here is what the Nicene Creed states: “We believe in one God, the Father, the Almighty, maker of heaven and earth, and all that is seen and unseen.
 We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ, the only Son of God, eternally begotten of the Father, God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God, begotten, not made, and on one Being with the Father, through Him all things were made.  For us and for our salvation He came down from heaven: by the power of the Holy spirit He became incarnate from the Virgin Mary, and became truly human.  For our sake He was crucified under Pontius Pilate: He suffered death and was buried.

On the third day He rose again in accordance with the Scriptures: He ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of the Father.  He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead, and His kingdom will have no end.

We believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life, who proceeds from the Father.  Who with the Father is worshipped and glorified, who has spoken through the Prophets.  We believe in one holy catholic and apostolic Church.  We acknowledge one baptism for the forgiveness of sins.  We look for the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come.  Amen.” 

Next week we will explore what the Catholic Church believes and practices.  The Catholic Church is the largest church with the most members in Christendom.  And if we have time we will cover the Eastern Orthodox Church as well.  And then after that we will cover the Protestant churches, the Lutherans, Baptists, Methodists, Presbyterians, Pentecostals, and the Anglicans in the weeks that follow. 

We will find that each branch or church group in our Christian family has brought certain strengths and blessings.  Wouldn’t it be un-healthy if we were to cut off all the other branches and leave only our branch?  How tragic it would be to say that our branch is the whole tree!  Perhaps the beauty of the great tree comes from its diversity.

We personally may feel more comfortable on our own branch and in our own church.  And we may disagree with some of the practices of some of the other branches or churches that make up the Christian family.  We don’t have to agree with everything our family members do or say to love them. 




All the branches or churches share the same roots and the same trunk.  Our roots are Judaism and our trunk is Jesus Christ.  We all live by the same Scriptures and are all nourished by the same truths.  The Holy Spirit is feeding and watering the many limbs and leaves and branches and keeping this glorious Christian family tree alive!  Let’s remember that we are all connected to one another and together we all make up the glorious body of Christ.

The ideas and quotes in this blog are taken from Adam Hamilton’s book, “Christianity’s Family Tree”.



   

 






Saturday, January 14, 2017

Jesus has Harsh Words for the Pharisees


Jesus has Harsh Words for the Pharisees
Matthew 23

In all of the lessons and parables that Jesus gave as He and his disciples traveled around Israel from town to town healing and teaching; we cannot find any of His words or teachings that come close to the angry words He had for the scribes and Pharisees!  We read Jesus’ severe warnings to the Jewish people concerning the Pharisees in Matthew 23.

Jesus begins by saying: “The teachers of the law, and the Pharisees sit in Moses seat,” (Matthew 23:2) Several thousands of years earlier, God had given the Ten Commandments and other laws to the Jewish people through Moses. The scribes and Pharisees, the Jewish religious leaders, were the idols and darlings of the Jewish people because they spent their whole life studying God’s laws.  They were supposed to interpret God’s laws to the people just as Moses had done.

But Jesus added that the scribes and Pharisees “tie up heavy loads and puts them on men’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to lift a finger of it.” (verse 4) Jesus was speaking about the many additions that the scribes and Pharisees had illegally added to God’s law given by Moses. All these man-made laws had become a great burden for the Jewish people to follow; and this deeply grieved and angered Jesus.  How dare the religious leaders lie to the people, telling them that the laws they thought up were the same as God’s laws!  God wanted to give the people life: but the Pharisees, who were supposed to speak for God, were standing in the way! 

The Pharisees loved to dominate the people and show off their authority by forcing the people to follow their own man-made ceremonies and traditions.  These goody goody religious leaders prayed eight to ten hours a day out in front of all the people, to impress everyone as to how pious they were. They lied to the people telling them that God would send them to hell if they didn’t obey each of their knit picking ordinances.  All of this enraged Jesus.

   Jesus goes on: “All their work is done for people to see.  They made their phylacteries wide and the tassels on their clothes long: they love the place of honor at banquets and the most important seats in the synagogue….to have people call them “Rabbi”.  But you are not to be called “Rabbi” for you have only one Master and you are all brothers.”  (Matthew 23:5-8) 

Jesus was all about humility.  And Jesus also taught that a spirit of humility should govern the action of believers. He tells us not to give other humans the authority that should only be given to God.  He said: “Do not call anyone on earth “father” for you have one Father and He is in heaven.”  (Matthew 23:9) Jesus continued: “The greatest among you will be your servant, for whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted.”  (Matthew 23:10b-11) 

Jesus went on his tirade by calling the religious leaders “Hypocrites”.  “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites!  You shut the kingdom of God in people’s faces.  You yourselves do not enter, nor will you let those enter who are trying to.  You travel over land and sea to make a convert, and then you make him twice as much a son of hell as you are.”  (Matthew 23:15)

Jesus is furious because the religious leaders have “shut the kingdom of heaven” away from the people.  Do some religious leaders do that today?  The people were relying on these supposed “men of God” to lead them in God’s Way, and instead the people were being led away from God’s Way.  As religious leaders and interpreters of Scripture, the Pharisees should have been the first to respond to Jesus as their Messiah and then influenced the people to follow. 

Their Scriptures, our Old Testament, had promised that a Messiah and a Savior would be given and that they were to look for Him.  The Pharisees read the Scriptures day and night and should have asked themselves questions when Jesus healed so many and performed miracles and raised dead persons back to life. But when Jesus, their Messiah, finally came to them, the Pharisees didn’t want to “see” Him.  That is “see” Him with their hearts.  Their hearts were too hardened to be able to “see” Jesus. They might have to change their ways if they were to “see” Jesus and recognize Him as their promised Messiah, and the proud Pharisees surely didn’t want to change!

Jesus went about healing many people all over Israel.  People who were blind were given their sight and people who were lame were given the strength to walk when Jesus would come their way.  Sick people were healed and deaf people could hear again when Jesus touched them.  Demon possessed people were freed from their demons and mentally ill people were healed when Jesus prayed for them.

Jesus even broke up funerals and raised people from the dead.  Scripture had prophesied that the coming Messiah would heal their illnesses.  The religious leaders should have wondered if possibly Jesus was indeed their promised Messiah!  But instead the Pharisees and scribes were furious when Jesus healed the sick and especially when He raised Lazarus from the dead!  In fact Lazarus’s resurrection from the grave caused them to  agree among themselves that they would find a way to have Jesus crucified!  Too many of their people were following Jesus and they were jealous.  The Pharisees might lose some of their power and influence over the people if they couldn’t get rid of Jesus! 

Jesus had harsh words for these religious leaders who at that very moment were plotting his death.  He told them that they “shut the kingdom of heaven in people’s faces.”  (Matthew 23:13b)  He also called the Pharisees “blind guides”, “a brood of vipers”, and “whited tombs, which are beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of dead men’s bones”.(Matthew 23:27b)  He told them that they killed and persecuted God’s prophets.  And Jesus asked the Pharisees this question: “How will you escape being condemned to hell?”  (Matthew 23:33b)   

Jesus was standing in the temple when He spoke these harsh words to the religious leaders. And a few days after this, Jesus was crucified as angry crowds called out “Crucify Him, crucify Him!”  As Jesus stood there in the temple speaking to the Pharisees, Jesus looked over Jerusalem and cried out these words: “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you.  How often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing.  Look your house is left to you desolate.  For I tell you, you will not see Me again until you say, “Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord.”  (Matthew 23:37-39) 

A sad day indeed. Jesus left the temple that day and never returned.  A temple abandoned by the Messiah!  A house left desolate indeed!  The Lord’s public ministry was finished.  Jesus tells them: “You will not see Me again until you say, “Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord.” (Matthew 23:39) At Christ’s second coming the nation of Israel will recognize their rejected Messiah and will welcome His return with great emotion!  (Romans 11: Zechariah 12:10) What a day that will be!