You Can Read the Church Fathers For Yourself

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Ever wonder what the Earliest Christians believed?

These days, you don’t have to wonder and you don’t have to take someone else’s word for what they believed.

You can read their own words from their own writings for yourself!

Visit

http://earlychristianwritings.com/churchfathers.html

Choose an early Christian leader and learn directly from them what they believed–unfiltered, and unedited.

My recommendations for those who aren’t familiar with these early Christians are:

  • The Didache –

http://earlychristianwritings.com/text/didache-roberts.html

  • 1st Epistle of St Clement (1 Clement)

http://earlychristianwritings.com/text/1clement-roberts.html

  • The Martyrdom of Polycarp –

http://earlychristianwritings.com/text/martyrdompolycarp-roberts.html

  • Justin Martyr (Dialogue with Trypho)

http://earlychristianwritings.com/text/justinmartyr-dialoguetrypho.html

These are a good representative sampling from the 1st and 2nd Century Church Fathers.

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Historical Background of Lent

Article from Christianity Today

The Beginning of Lent

Like all Christian holy days and holidays, Lent has changed over the years, but its purpose has always been the same.
The Beginning of LentImage: John Ragai / Flickr

“What did you give up for Lent?” I had grown up in Baptist and other conservative evangelical churches, so my friend’s question held no meaning. I figured it was like a second chance at a New Year’s Resolution for those who had already abandoned theirs.

Even around here at the Christianity Today offices, where Christian History is based, it seems that Ash Wednesday passed with little notice. There were just as many donut trays by the coffee pots, and just as many hamburgers in the lunch room.

That’s surprising, especially since Lent is one of the oldest observations on the Christian calendar.

Read more at:

https://www.christianitytoday.com/history/2008/august/beginning-of-lent.html?share=

Undercover Boss: The Incarnation

undercover-boss-s1-2560x1450_1280x725_1153896516002Do you know the TV show Undercover Boss?  The premise is that a CEO or President of a large corporation goes undercover in his own company as a new employee.  He is disguised so that people wont recognize him, and he gets an inside view of how his employees perform when he is not there. And often he finds that he is not well treated or received.  Others, he finds out, treat him with respect and kindness.  At the end of each episode, he reveals his true identity and he reveals what he has learned. He rewards those who treated him well, not knowing who he really was, and those who did a good job while he was there.

Well….

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“In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God…He was in the world, and although the world was made through Him, the world did not know Him.  He came to His own, but those who were His own did not receive Him. But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name…and the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have beheld his glory, the glory as of the only Son of the Father, full of grace and truth.”  (John 1:1, 10-12, 14)

In Christ, we have the ultimate Undercover Boss. The Creator of the Universe came down to live among his people as one of them. God Almighty became a human being.

You must have the same attitude that Christ Jesus had. Though he was God, he did not think of equality with God as something to cling to. Instead, he gave up his divine privileges; he took the humble position of a slave and was born as a human being. When he appeared in human form, he humbled himself in obedience to God and died a criminal’s death on a cross. (Philippians 2:5-8)

But why would he do this? Why was it necessary for him to come to earth as a human being?

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Very often, when we ask about why Jesus came, we hear “He came to die for our sins!” And this is true….but it is incomplete.

The purpose of his coming was so much more that just to die on the Cross.  Every part of the story is a necessary part of our salvation: his Incarnation, his perfect sinless obedience, his miracles, his death on the Cross, the Resurrection,  the Ascension, the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, and his promised Return.  All of it was necessary for our salvation.

So the Incarnation itself was as much a saving act as his death on the Cross.

In becoming flesh, Christ united our humanity with the Divine. And in so doing, he redeemed our humanity,  enabling our humanity to bear the Divine and allowing us to be united to God in Christ through the indwelling Holy Spirit.

 For in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily, and you have come to fullness in him, who is the head of every ruler and authority. (Colossians 2:9-10)

God became flesh in order to bridge the gap between us and him.

Because…

No one has ever seen God at any time. But the one and only Son, who is himself God and who is in the closest relationship to the Father, has made him known. (John 1:18)

And…

He is the image of the invisible God…For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, by making peace through the blood of his cross. (Colossians 1:15,19-20)

The Incarnation made the invisible God visible.  The Incarnation brings eternity into time and brings the infinite into the finite so that we can become “partakers in the Divine nature” (2 Peter 1:4)

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We are flesh. God is spirit. He himself bridged that chasm because we could not. He came to his own as one of us to bring God near to us. Jesus was literally “God with us”, our Emmanuel.

If Jesus were not God incarnate, then he could not be our Savior, for…

I am the Lord,
    and besides me there is no savior. (Isaiah 43:11)

If Jesus were not God, he could not have died for the sins of all humanity. Even a sinless person who was merely a created being could only have atoned for at most ONE other person. Only a Savior who is both God and man at once, whose death would be of INFINITE value could have atone for all of the sins of all of humanity once and for all time.

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If Jesus were not God, he could not be our perfect Mediator between us and God, perfectly representing God to humanity and humanity to God.

The great 2nd Century Church Father, Irenaeus of Lyons said,

He caused human nature to cling to God, to be one with God. For had not a man banished the enemy of humanity, that enemy would not have been justly defeated.

And on the other hand, had salvation been granted by anyone other than God, we would never have been sure of it. And if humanity had not been joined to God, humanity could never have shared in incorruptibility. 

It was necessary therefore that the Mediator between God and human beings be kin to both, to restore friendship and concord to both, presenting humanity to God and revealing God to humanity. (Against Heresies 3.18.7)

God came near. The Creator became part of his Creation to redeem all of creation.

Let us  renew our understanding of the importance of the Incarnation to our salvation.

 

Forgotten?

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Imagine you wake up in a field. It is daylight. You have no idea how you got there. You know your name, but you cannot remember anything about your life before that moment. You don’t know where you came from. You don’t know who your parents were, or where your home town was, where you went to school, who your best friends were growing up, or anything at all about your childhood. As far as you are concerned, your life began the moment you awoke in that field. You have no memory of your life before that point. You have no history, no family, no roots.

That is how many people are with their Christian faith. We have “forgotten” our roots. We have no awareness of where our faith actually came from or what our history is. We don’t understand why we believe what we believe and why we worship as we do. Some of us may know the Bible, which is a good start. But how do we know that we are understanding the Bible the way that it was intended to be understood?  How did the earliest Christians understand the Bible? For that matter, how did the Bible itself come to be as it is today? Who decided that?

For most Evangelical Christians, there is a huge gap in our understanding of our own faith. It is for many of us as if Christianity simply fell asleep after the New Testament was written, and nothing of any consequence happened until we were born, and then Christianity picked up again where it left off. There is a 2,000 year gap in our memories of our faith. It is a form of “amnesia” that plagues so many Christians today.

Why is this a Problem?

There is an inherent danger in this. If Christianity has no roots, no background, no real history, then people are free to reinvent it as they see fit. If we can all just take the Bible and start from scratch right here in the 21st Century and interpret it any way we want, then we can make Christianity be anything we choose for it to be. And that is what many people do. We are in an era of “Entrepreneurial Christianity.” You don’t like the way “traditional churches” do things? Fine! You can start your own church with your own set of beliefs that you “feel led” to believe. Each individual becomes their own private “pope” of their own private religion. There are no rules. There is no template from which to work except one person’s interpretation of Scripture.

It is clear even in our daily attempts to communicate with one another that context matters.  Without historical context, we make erroneous assumptions.  We assume that the early Christians lived, believed, and worshiped very much like us–minus the air conditioning and sound systems. But did they? Your church may have “altar calls” at the end of every service. Did the early Christians do that? If not, then where did this practice come from? Who first started doing it and why? Did the early Christians have crackers and grape juice to celebrate Communion?  Weren’t the earliest Christians Jews? Didn’t the Jews, like, worship on the Sabbath, which was Saturday? If so, then why do we worship on Sunday? When did that practice start? What about the belief in the Trinity? We sing about it, but do we understand what that means and what makes it defining doctrine of Christianity?

Even if we don’t fall prey to such individualistic impulses of inventing our own faith, we are still impoverished by having no memory of the roots of our faith.  By failing to teach the historical foundations of the tenants of the faith, we in the Protestant church have given rise to a generation of Christians that have no idea why they believe what they do. It is easy to see how quickly this leads to confusion, vulnerability to deception, and the propagation of misinformation.  There are a lot of websites out there full of bad information conspiracy theories about the early church and its practices.  But is any of it true? We don’t know because we don’t know the background of our own faith.

It is time for Christians to begin reconnecting with and rediscovering our heritage.  We need to be teaching our people about where their faith came from. Yes, we must connect them to the Bible,  but then we also must show them how we got from there to here. We need to show them WHY we believe and worship as we do. We need to teach them at least a little bit about the Early Church, the first 500 years of our faith, about the Medieval church,  and the corruptions and abuses that began to creep in, and about the Protestant Reformation, and teach them WHY we are Protestants and WHY we broke away from Catholicism.  They need to know about their own denominations and why they formed and why they believe and worship as they do.

People need to know WHY. It is the “why” that matters more than the “what”. When people understand WHY they believe and worship as they do, only then can they truly internalize it and “own” their faith. The “why” is the difference between an immature, weak, half formed faith, and a mature, deep, established, strong faith that will stand the storms of life and endure.

“But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of, because you know those from whom you learned it.” 2 Timothy 3:14

 

Why Does the Trinity Matter?

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Why does the Doctrine of the Trinity even MATTER?

Other than being an interesting theoretical issue to ponder, what practical application does the Trinity have to our lives? Shouldn’t we just leave discussions of the Trinity to musty professors and theologians in the ivory towers of Universities and Seminaries? How does it affect our lives in any way in real life?

For the Christian, the Doctrine of the Trinity has implications on everything we do in our lives and our worship. Here are some reasons why the Trinity IS important:

  • If we are to worship God, we must worship Him as He is and as he has revealed himself to be.

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God has revealed himself to us in Jesus Christ and in the Scriptures to be Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and so we should take this self-disclosure seriously and relate to him accordingly. 

“For God is Spirit, so those who worship him must worship in spirit and in truth” John 4:24

  • Christian prayers are Trinitarian in nature.

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When Jesus taught his disciples how to pray, he taught them to pray, “our Father”. And Jesus himself prayed to the Father. He also taught them to pray to the Father “in my name”. We are also taught that we are to pray in the power of the Holy Spirit. We are to pray TO the Father, in the Name of Jesus, by the power of the Holy Spirit. Also, Scripture tells us that “when we do not know how we ought to pray, the Spirit intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express.” (Romans 8). Jesus prayed to the Father and asked him to send the Holy Spirit to us. Jesus intercedes for us before the Father as our eternal Advocate before the Father. So even our prayers are affected by our belief in the Trinity.

  • Our very salvation is the work of the Trinity.

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The Father sent the Son to become flesh for our sakes. The Holy Spirit overshadowed the Virgin Mary and she became pregnant with the Incarnate Son, who was born to her…so the Son came into this world BY the Holy Spirit.

The Son accomplished all righteousness for us in his perfect obedience to the Father. The Son reveals to us the invisible Father, whom we can ONLY know through him. The Son died upon the Cross for our sins and the Father raised him on the third day by the Holy Spirit. The Son glorified the Father in his life and in his death.
Jesus, the Son, ascended to the Father and presented himself as our perfect sacrifice for sin, our perfect mediator between us and God–being both man and God himself.
The Father accepted the sacrifice of the Son for our sakes and forgave our sins. The Father and the Son sent the Holy Spirit into the world to empower those who believe in the Son to proclaim the Gospel.
The Holy Spirit testifies to Christ, convicts the world of sin, draws people toward faith in Christ, regenerates those who repent of their sin and place their faith in the Son, and enables them to have a relationship with the Father through Jesus Christ the Son.
Everything in the Gospel is the work of the Trinity. We cannot understand the Gospel apart from discerning the work of the Trinity.
  • Our worship as a Church is Trinitarian in nature.

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We, the Church, are the Body of Christ, indwelt by and regenerated by the Holy Spirit, worshiping the Father.

We are united together, not just by a common Creed or by a unified hierarchical structure…but by our common possession of and indwelling by the Holy Spirit.

The Holy Spirit has union with himself, and he is in us all, and so we have union with one another. It is by the Holy Spirit that we are One in Christ. We are, by the Holy Spirit, “hidden with Christ in God (the Father)” (Colossians 3:3).

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When we partake of the Eucharist, or the Lord’s Supper, it is by the power of the Holy Spirit that the elements, the bread and wine (or juice) are made to be for us the Body and Blood of Christ (whether literally or figuratively, or mystically, depending on what your persuasion is…it matters not to this point.) It is in this act that we become partakers in the sacrifice of Christ, who once and for all time paid the penalty for sin and gave us peace with God the Father.

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When we are baptized into the Church, it is “in the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit“...in the name of the Trinity! The Scriptures tell us that we are all baptized by one Spirit into One Body, the Body of Christ. When we gather to pray and to worship as a church, we do so as a Trinitarian body.

  • The Scriptures are Trinitarian in nature.
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Jesus himself said that the whole of the Scriptures testify about him. The writers of the Scriptures were inspired by and “carried along by” the Holy Spirit.
The Scriptures teach us about Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Scriptures are said to be “the Word of God”, inspired by the Holy Spirit, and Jesus Christ himself is “the Word made Flesh”. And yet, The Scriptures are not only inspired by the Holy Spirit, but also illuminated by the Holy Spirit.
The Spirit inspired the writers of the Scriptures with the Words of the Father (Jesus said that the Holy Spirit did not speak of his own accord, but only what the Father gave him to say), and those Scriptures testify about Christ, and Christ reveals to us the Father, and the Father glorifies the Son.

Not only is the Trinity found and taught all throughout the Scriptures, the Bible itself is the product of the Trinity.

  • The obedient Christian life can only be lived through the work of the Trinity.
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The life of the Christian is to glorify God the Father and obey the commands of the Son by the Power of the Holy Spirit. According to Scripture, human beings are not capable in their own power to obey the commands of Christ–not even the simplest ones to love others as God loved us.

It is only by the power of the Holy Spirit that we are capable of truly obeying God.

And the Holy Spirit is empowering us, convicting us of residual sins in our lives, and guiding us toward more perfect obedience every day. This is called “sanctification”.
But Christ knew we could not obey perfectly, and so he accomplished our perfect obedience FOR us during his life. He not only took the penalty for our sins, but he also accomplished all righteousness for us.
It is his perfect obedience that is credited to us when we place our faith in him, and becomes for us “the righteousness of God that is by faith”. Therefore, we are free to grow in righteousness without fear of punishment or rejection by God if we fail and do not perfectly obey him.
It is because of Christ’s perfect obedience that we can be FREE from condemnation and fear and live freely before God, obeying out of love and gratitude, not out of fear and obligation.

And so it is that pretty much everything in the Christian life is affected by the Doctrine of the Trinity! It is not a distant, obscure theory that has no practical application to our lives. It is a living, central part of our lives every day.  
From our baptism and salvation, to our prayers and our worship and our reading of Scriptures and even our daily living out of the commands of Christ–ALL OF IT is wrapped up in and centered around the Trinity.

The Trinity Part III: God the Father

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The Father is the Supreme Head of the Trinity.

  • Yet for us there is but one God, the Father, from whom are all things and we exist for Him; and one Lord, Jesus Christ, by whom are all things, and we exist through Him. (1 Corinthians 8:6)

In the Godhead, all things flow from the Father.

  • Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change. (James 1:17)

The Son is Begotten of the Father and shares the Father’s Divine Nature. Everything the Son has and is comes from the Father. The Son has his “Root of Being” in the Father. And although he is equal to the Father by nature, sharing the Father’s Divine Nature, he is subject to the Father’s authority and does NOTHING apart from the Father.

  • No one has seen God [the Father] at any time; the only begotten God [Greek: monogenes theos, “God the Only Son” or “the Only Son, who is himself God”] who is in the bosom of the Father, He has explained Him. (John 1:18)
  • For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life. (John 3:16)
  • Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God [the Father] spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world. The Son is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power (Hebrews 1:1-3)

While all three Persons of the Trinity are equally God, there is a definite order of authority and honor in the Trinity.

The Son is equal to the Father by nature, but not in authority.  That is why Jesus said, “My Father is greater than I”.  The Father has the “First Place” in the Trinity.  The Son occupies the “Second Place” within the Trinity.  And the Holy Spirit is “Third” within the Godhead.

Understand, this speaks not to any kind of inferiority in nature, but only to the order of authority within the Godhead.  The Son is every bit as much God as the Father is.  And yet, the Son is subordinate to the Father in authority and glory.

We must understand, however, that this is not to diminish the true and full Deity of the Son or the Holy Spirit.  This simply recognizes the revealed roles that each Person has within the Trinity.  As James R. White put it in his book The Forgotten Trinity, Rediscovering the Heart of Christian Belief

“Difference in function does not indicate inferiority by nature”

If you have ever had a job where you had a boss, you were subject to your boss’ authority.  But did that make you an inferior being to your boss? Did their authority over you make them a superior being to you? Of course not. You and your boss were EQUALS by nature,  both equally human beings. But yet there was a difference in your function and authority in the company.

The Son is no less God than the Father is.  But they have different roles and ways of functioning within the Trinity. All things that the Son does is to bring glory to the Father.  All things the Holy Spirit does is to glorify the Son and the Father.  And yet, the Father shares his glory and his Divine Nature with the Son and with the Holy Spirit.

  • So Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of his own accord, but only what he sees the Father doing. For whatever the Father does, that the Son does likewise. For the Father loves the Son and shows him all that he himself is doing.” (John 5:19-20)
  • All that the Father has is mine. For this reason I said that he will take what is mine and declare it to you. (John 16:15)
  • Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God as something to be exploited but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. (Philippians 2:5-11)

The Holy Spirit, too, Proceeds from the Father, and shares the Father’s Divine Nature.  The Holy Spirit is also every bit as much God the Father and the Son.  And yet, as to his role within the Godhead, he is subordinate to the Father and the Son.

  • When the Advocate comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth who proceeds from the Father, he will testify on my behalf.” John 15:26
  • When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth; for he will not speak on his own authority, but will speak whatever he hears, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. He will glorify me, because he will take what is mine and declare it to you. ” John16:13-14

And yet there is ONLY ONE GOD!

  • Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of service, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who empowers them all in everyone. (1 Corinthians 12:4-6)

All things in the Trinity flow from the Father through the Son and by the Holy Spirit.

This is the economy and working of our Triune God.

The Trinity Part II

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There is Only One God.

This basic Truth must never be forgotten. The Trinity is a monotheistic understanding of God.  Any understanding of the Trinity which suggests more than one God is a mistaken and false view of the Trinity.

The Trinity is a Doctrine that maintains the absolute oneness and unity of God.

Here is what the Scriptures say, and this is what we believe:

  • Exodus 6:4 “Hear, O Israel! The LORD is our God, the LORD is one!”
  • Deuteronomy 4:35 “To you it was shown that you might know that the LORD, He is God; there is no other besides Him.”
  • Isaiah 46:9 “Remember the former things long past, For I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is no one like Me.”
  • Isaiah 43:10 “You are My witnesses,” declares the LORD, “And My servant whom I have chosen, In order that you may know and believe Me, And understand that I am He. Before Me there was no God formed, And there will be none after Me.”
  • 1 Corinthians 8:6 “yet for us there is one God, the Father, from whom are all things and for whom we exist, and one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom are all things and through whom we exist.”
  • 1 Timothy 2:5 “For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus”

Therefore, Christians believe in one and only one God. God is utterly and indivisibly one. He is not divided. There is no other God but him. Period.

Whenever we speak of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, we must understand that we are never suggesting that there is, or ever could be more than one God. Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, the Trinity, are understood to be that one God.

There are those who reject the Trinity, mistakenly believing that it is a belief in three separate deities who work together as one in cooperation. That is not the Trinity. That is Tritheism. There is a group that does, in fact, believe that Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are three separate individual divine beings–it is the Mormons (Latter Day Saints or LDS).

But that is not what the Trinity is.  The Trinity is not three Gods.  We believe in only ONE God.

This is the starting place for the whole Doctrine of the Trinity.