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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.


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”