Preparing for Lent

ash-wednesday

This Wednesday I will receive the imposition of ashes.

I will start the day with prayer and fasting, eating after the service and Holy Communion has been received. The plan so far is to abstain from meat Wednesdays and Fridays throughout Lent, setting specific time aside for prayer and limiting my claroic intake so I remain a little hungry throughout the Lenten season.

My motive for taking part in Lent this year is simple, to discipline my self and focus on Christ and His glory. My motive in blogging about it is to stay on task and encourage others.

I am a great sinner and ask for your prayers as I begin this journey.

Yours in the Lord,

jm

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Read Calvin in 2018

calvin

Even if you disagree with John Calvin on predestination and election, you will love his pastoral nature and insights. Read Calvin’s Institutes in 2018 and experience the master theologian for yourself.

Yours in the Lord,

jm

Christmas Mashup

Well, it’s that time of year again. I feel like I’m pretty much alone on this issue so “why not give up?” I ask myself.

I dunno.

Maybe I will.

Maybe we shouldn’t base our faith on scripture alone?

Maybe some tradition is good?

Maybe a lot of tradition is not only good but needful?

Maybe tradition is safe guard?

Maybe I’m just messin’ with ya…lol

Yours in the Lord,

jm

“WE HAVE NO superstitious regard for times and seasons. Certainly we do not believe in the present ecclesiastical arrangement called Christmas: first, because we do not believe in the mass at all, but abhor it, whether it be said or sung in Latin or in English; and, secondly, because we find no Scriptural warrant whatever for observing any day as the birthday of the Saviour; and, consequently, its observance is a superstition, because not of divine authority.” – Spurgeon

Everyone Loves Christmas!scrooge-1
The Christmas festival is the celebration of the incarnation of the Son of God. It is occupied, therefore, with the event which forms the centre and turning-point of the history of the world. It is of all the festivals the one most thoroughly interwoven with the popular and family life, and stands at the head of the great feasts in the Western church year. It continues to be, in the entire Catholic world and in the greater part of Protestant Christendom, the grand jubilee of children, on which innumerable gifts celebrate the infinite love of God in the gift of his only-begotten Son. It kindles in mid-winter a holy fire of love and gratitude, and preaches in the longest night the rising of the Sun of life and the glory of the Lord. It denotes the advent of the true golden age, of the freedom and equality of all the redeemed before God and in God. No one can measure the joy and blessing which from year to year flow forth upon all ages of life from the contemplation of the holy child Jesus in his heavenly innocence and divine humility.

Johnny Come Lately:
…the festival of the birth of the Lord is of comparatively late institution. This may doubtless be accounted for in the following manner:

In the first place, no corresponding festival was presented by the Old Testament, as in the case of Easter and Pentecost.

In the second place, the day and month of the birth of Christ are nowhere stated in the gospel history, and cannot be certainly determined.

Again: the church lingered first of all about the death and resurrection of Christ, the completed fact of redemption, and made this the center of the weekly worship and the church year.

Finally: the earlier feast of Epiphany afforded a substitute. The artistic religious impulse, however, which produced the whole church year, must sooner or later have called into existence a festival which forms the groundwork of all other annual festivals in honor of Christ.

The feast of Epiphany had spread from the East to the West. The feast of Christmas took the opposite course. We find it first in Rome, in the time of the bishop Liberius, who on the twenty-fifth of December, 360…

(“The human mind is, so to speak, a perpetual forge of idols.” John Calvin, Institutes, 1.XI.8)

Christmas was introduced in Antioch about the year 380; in Alexandria, where the feast of Epiphany was celebrated as the nativity of Christ, not till about 430. Chrysostom, who delivered the Christmas homily in Antioch on the 25th of December, 386, already calls it, notwithstanding its recent introduction (some ten years before), the fundamental feast, or the root, from which all other Christian festivals grow forth.

Of Pagan Origin: 
The Christmas festival was probably the Christian transformation or regeneration of a series of kindred heathen festivals—the Saturnalia, Sigillaria, Juvenalia, and Brumalia—which were kept in Rome in the month of December, in commemoration of the golden age of universal freedom and equality, and in honor of the unconquered sun, and which were great holidays, especially for slaves and children. (Schaff’s footnote: The Satumalia were the feast of Saturn or Kronos, in representation of the golden days of his reign, when all labor ceased, prisoners were set free, slaves went about in gentlemen’s clothes and in the hat (the mark of a freeman), and all classes gave themselves up to mirth and rejoicing. The Sigillaria were a festival of images and puppets at the close of the Saturnalia on the 21st and 22d of December, when miniature images of the gods, wax tapers, and all sorts of articles of beauty and luxury were distributed to children and among kinsfolk. The Brumalia, from bruma (brevissima, the shortest day), had reference to the winter solstice, and the return of the Sol invictus.)

The OG Festival: All About the Incarnation
The feast of Epiphany on the contrary, on the sixth of January, is older… It refers in general to the manifestation of Christ in the world, and originally bore the twofold character of a celebration of the birth and the baptism of Jesus. After the introduction of Christmas, it lost its reference to the birth. The Eastern church commemorated on this day especially the baptism of Christ, or the manifestation of His Messiahship, and together with this the first manifestation of His miraculous power at the marriage at Cana. The Westem church, more Gentle-Christian in its origin, gave this festival, after the fourth century, a special reference to the adoration of the infant Jesus by the wise men from the east, under the name of the feast of the Three Kings, and transformed it into a festival of Genthe missions; considering the wise men as the representatives of the nobler heathen world. Thus at the same time the original connection of the feast with the birth of Christ was preserved. Epiphany forms the close of the Christmas Cycle. It was an early custom to announce the term of the Easter observance on the day of Epiphany by the so-called Epistolae paschales, or gravmmata pascavlia. This was done especially by the bishop of Alexandria, where astronomy most flourished, and the occasion was improved for edifying instructions and for the discussion of important religious questions of the day.

Does Romans 14 give us a defense for keeping Christmas? I’ve seen v.5 cited often as a general defense for the keeping of holy days.

It reads;

One man esteemeth one day above another: another esteemeth every day alike. Let every man be fully persuaded in his own mind.

Well folks, I don’t believe it applies to Christmas, just read the passage in context. The passage is speaking to the church at Rome made up of Jewish converts and Gentiles. Some wanted to keep old Mosaic holy days while other did not.

Gill explains this passage is;

“not to be understood of days appointed by the Christian churches for fasting, or abstinence from certain meats, either once a year, as the “Quadragesima”, or Lent; or twice a week, as Wednesdays and Fridays; for these are things of much later observation, and which had never been introduced into the church of Rome in the apostle’s time; nor were there any disputes about them: much less of days of Heathenish observation, as lucky or unlucky, or festivals in honour of their gods; for the apostle would never say, that a man who regarded such a day, regarded it to the Lord; nor would have advised to a coalition and Christian conversation with such a man, but rather to exclude him from all society and communion:”

If Paul isn’t defending Christian liberty to make up and keep holy days what is his point?

“it must be understood of Jewish days, or of such as were appointed to be observed by the Jews under the former dispensation, and which some thought were still to be regarded; wherefore they esteemed some days in the year above others, as the days of unleavened bread, or the passover; particularly the first night, which was a night to be observed throughout their generations; and in their service for it to this day”

Ahh, that makes sense. Gill continues;

“but let it be observed, that the man that did so was one that was weak in faith; the same man that ate herbs, because he would not be guilty of violating those laws, which ordered a distinction of meats to be observed, the same weak man esteemed one day above another, imagining the laws concerning the distinction of days were still obligatory, not rightly understanding the doctrine of Christian liberty, or freedom from the yoke of the ceremonial law”

The context of Romans 14 doesn’t support the introduction of unbiblical holy days. It just doesn’t.

I don’t believe ‘keeping Christ in Christmas’ will sanctify the day.

Don’t get me wrong, celebrate Christmas any way you like, I would never prevent you from doing so…I just don’t see a biblical reason for the celebration.

The Puritans didn’t either.

They went a step further and had it banned because of the open drunkenness and debauchery that attended the celebration. The Puritans were wrong for trying to ban Christmas. I wouldn’t ban the ‘holiday.’ (I also wouldn’t ban a gay pride parade, Hanukkah or Kwanzaa…I just don’t want tax dollars funding them.)

Christmas is one of our cultural traditions that I will participate in, just like Thanksgiving, but not because I am a Christian or because I believe it is a Christian Holy Day.

Keep a holy day if you like its up to you.

Gill on Christ’s Mass:

It directs to the observation of several fasts and festivals, which are no where enjoined in the word of God, and for which it provides collects, gospels and epistles to be read: the fasts are, Quadragesima or Lent, in imitation of Christ’s forty days fast in the wilderness, Ember weeks, Rogatian days, and all the Fridays in the year; in which men are commanded to abstain from meats, which God has created to be received with thanksgiving. The festivals, besides, the principal ones, Christmas, Easter and Whitsuntide, are the several saints days throughout the year; which are all of popish invention, and are either moveable or fixed, as the popish festivals be; and being the relics of popery makes us still more uneasy and dissatisfied with them.

Source: The Dissenter’s Reasons for Separating from the Church of England, Occasioned By A Letter wrote by a Welch Clergyman on the Duty of Catechizing Children. Intended chiefly for the Dissenters of the Baptist Denomination in Wales.

“Festival days, vulgarly called holy-days, having no warrant in the Word of God, are not to be continued.” Westminster Assembly, martinDirectory for Publick Worship (1645)

Albert N. Martin is a straight shooter. In a series on Christmas he outlines the history of the practice in connection with Christian liberty. It was a blessing for me personally and wanted to share it with others who may struggle to avoid keeping days, etc.
Christmas and the Christian 01
Christmas and the Christian 02
Christmas and the Christian 03
Christmas and the Christian 04
Christmas Liberty 01
Christmas Liberty 02
Christmas Liberty 03

Do Demons Love Christmas?

 

krampus

Friends on facebook have already started posting pictures of ChristmasTrees! Oh, well. Christmas is my favorite secular holiday, you will not find me “keeping Christ in Christmas” (He was never there in the first place) but enjoying this secular holiday with friends and family.

“The Demons it may be would once or twice in a Week trouble her for a few minutes with perhaps a twisting and a twinkling of her eyes, or a certain Cough which did seem to be more than ordinary. Moreover, Both she at my house, and her Sister at home, at the time which they call Christmas, were by the Demons made very drunk, though they had no strong Drink (as we are fully sure) to make them so. When she began to feel her self thus drunk, she complained, “O they say they will have me to keep Christmas with them! They will disgrace me when they can do nothing else!” And immediately the Ridiculous Behaviours of one drunk were with a wonderful exactness represented in her Speaking, and Reeling, and Spewing, and anon Sleeping, till she was well again. But the Vexations of the Children otherwise abated continually. They first came to be always Quiet, unless upon Provocations. Then they got Liberty to work, but not to read: then further on, to read, but not aloud, at last they were wholly delivered; and for many Weeks remained so” (Cotton Mather, Memorable Providences, Relating to Witchcrafts and Possessions (1689).

Sure, Mather may have been a little extreme, maybe. But isn’t it extreme the way people celebrate Christ’s Mass?

Is the Keeping of Christmas Pleasing to the Lord?

IS THE KEEPING OF CHRISTMAS PLEASING TO THE LORD?
by Robert D. Gracey (1935)

Christmas, a name that has lost its one-time charm!

Years ago when we were children, Christmas was to us a name associated with the purest joys of earth. It stood for giving and forgiving, for love, self-sacrifice and neighbourliness. Even the first day of the week, the Lord’s Day, held no charm like December 25th. Such as they were, there were always enough little gifts to go round the large family circle. And, literally, the day was scarcely over before we were laying plans for the next year’s happy family reunion and celebration.

• The Reproach of Being Different

We do not keep Christmas now. It was a terrible wrench to give it up. But, thank God, there are many others who are prepared to share the reproach of being different to the majority of those about them; who are willing to forego the popularity which might be theirs by simply joining in the popular enjoyments of the times; who place faithfulness to Christ in His absence before personal pleasure.

The Scriptures say nothing about the disciples of the Lord Jesus celebrating the anniversary of His birth. On the other hand, there are many references to the commemoration of His death, the Breaking of Bread, which was evidently to take place on the first day of each week. See Luke 22: 19-20; 1 Cor. 11: 23-26; Acts 20: 7.

Like many other things which affect people generally and which have more or less of a connection with Christianity, the kindly sentiment and activities connected with Christmas-keeping have doubtless had a softening effect upon this Godless world. But think how this ostensibly religious festival has become commercialized! Theatres, restaurants, stores and business concerns generally, have come to depend upon it annually as a source of revenue. True, it is still to many sincere persons a time of family reunion and of simple, natural pleasures,
but can any true lover of the crucified Saviour, the rejected Son of God, afford to overlook how He must regard these annual celebrations which bear His holy Name?

• The World’s Idea of a ‘Merry’ Time

As another has pointed out, if on the occasion of celebrating the birthday of a dead patriot one were to arise and eulogize him feelingly in well-chosen terms, those gathered in his memory would be delighted. Alas, how different it would be if a lover of the Lord Jesus Christ were to stand up in any one of most of the Christmas Day gatherings large or small and tell out in simple, heartfelt language the story of the humble circumstances of His miraculous birth; of His pathway of untiring service, yet of rejection, culminating in His vicarious death on Calvary’s cross; of His burial, resurrection and ascension and of the glorious prospect of His soon coming to take those who love Him to be forever with Himself.

Who would hesitate to admit that such a theme, even on Christmas Day, is not the world’s idea of a ‘merry’ time? To venture to tell of the Saviour’s dying love of His hatred of sin yet compassion for sinners, and of His holy perfections so delightful to the heart of God, would indeed be inappropriate and unwelcome in the great majority of Christmas Day parties or audiences.

• Objections

‘But’, says a fellow-Christian, ‘what you have said so far does not apply to my case at all. The fact that so many leave the Lord Himself out of their Christmas Day activities does not mean that everybody leaves Him out.

‘For me the Day is filled with thoughts of His lowly birth, of the visit of the magi who brought Him gifts of “gold, and frankincense and myrrh”.’

‘The family reunions, the renewing of friendships by means of greeting cards and visits, as well as the providing of food and other presents for the poor, are joys connected with Christmas that are almost sacred.’

‘In fact, I hold the Day itself so sacred that I would give up my position rather than consent to work on December 25th! ‘

• God is Calling Attention to Death of Christ

That is all quite understandable. No doubt your convictions and feelings are perfectly honest and sincere. Your motives too may be the best. But our convictions and feelings and motives, even at their best, are an unreliable guide in themselves. Cain’s motives may have been good enough when he thought to give an offering of the fruit of the ground, but his offering nevertheless was not acceptable to God. The important thing was not Cain’s intention, but God’s requirement what would be pleasing to Him.

Cain’s offering overlooked the necessity of blood-shedding; Abel’s, on the other hand, gave evidence that he valued in type the death of Christ, so he offered a lamb; and it says that “The Lord had respect unto Abel and to his offering; but unto Cain and to his offering He had not respect”.

Surely no lover of the Lord Jesus who reads his or her Bible prayerfully and in dependence upon the Spirit of God, can fail to see that God is calling special attention to the death of Christ rather than to His birth.

• A Device of Satan

Not only does the word of God make no request of us to commemorate the Lord’s birth, but, as we have already noted, it gives no intimation that the earliest disciples marked its anniversary. Nor does Scripture indicate the exact date of His birth.

Turning to accredited encyclopedias – e.g., Encyclopedia Britannica – we find the speculation as to the probable date ranged in early centuries from January 6, March 28, April 19 or 20, May 20, November 17 to December 25th! December 25th was evidently a day originally connected with sun-worship. My own suspicion is that Christmas-keeping was a device of Satan – who according to 2 Corinthians 11: 14 is transformed into an angel of light with a view to creating a place where Christian and unconverted might eventually meet on common ground in the Name of the Lord Jesus. If my suspicion is correct, Satan’s plan would seem to have proved to be one of his masterpieces, for Christmas calls supreme attention to the birth of Jesus whereas it is unmistakably evident from the Scriptures that God would have us constantly engaged with the efficacy of His atoning death.

Commemorating the Lord’s death involves reproach, which is true Christian ground. Heb. 13: 13. Commemorating a day which is generally accepted as His birthday involves no reproach whatever; on the contrary, to fail to keep it is sure to cause misunderstanding and reproach.
Evidently, therefore, not to keep the Day as the masses do is consistent for those who “esteem the reproach of Christ”, Heb. 11: 26.

• Three Questions

To those therefore who are really concerned as to whether or not they should ‘keep Christmas’, I would commend prayerful consideration of three questions:

Do I keep Christmas to please myself?
Do I keep it to please others?
Do I keep it to please the Lord?

The beloved Apostle Paul indicated that he felt the need of such concern as to matters in his own life, for he says in writing to the Corinthians: “Wherefore we labour, that, whether present or absent, we may be accepted of Him”, 2 Cor. 5: 9. Of the Lord Jesus it says that He “pleased not Himself; but, as it is written, The reproaches of them that reproached Thee fell on Me”, Romans 15: 3.

I am persuaded that in the face of the word of Scripture, of history and of present-day conditions, the question of Christmas-keeping will not be a difficult one for the Christian whose honest concern in life is to be pleasing to the Lord.

R.D.G.
Westfield, N.J., December 7, 1935

The Origin of Christmas

More reading from my fav Dispensationalist. (at least he was a Calvinist)

THE ORIGIN OF CHRISTMAS
by J. N. Darby

The church gives a yearly round of fasts and festivals, so that mere outward events may be before the mind without any dealing of God with the individual soul …

Scripture says, “it pleased God by the foolishness of preaching, to save them that believe”; but this foolishness of God dealing with the individual does not please the wisdom of the church. It has its own way of doing it. It keeps days, and months, and years. They turn again to the weak and beggarly elements, to which they desire again to be in bondage.

“I am afraid of you”, says the apostle. It was, he tells us, going back to heathenism … except Easter, which was the Jewish Passover, and Pentecost, and perhaps some more recently added saints’ days, the church festivals were deliberately and formally added from heathenism. Christians, so-called, would have festivals, and they tacked on Christian names to heathen ones.

The great Augustine informs us that “the church” did it, that if they would get drunk – which they did even in the churches – they should do do in honour of saints, not of demons. One of the Gregorys was famous for this, and left only seventeen heathen in his dioceses by means of it. And another Gregory, sending another Augustine to England, directed him not to destroy the idol temples, but to turn them into churches; and as the heathen were accustomed to have an anniversary festival to their god, to replace it by one to a saint.

It was thus Europe, Africa, and Asia Minor as least were Christianised. Sicily, which in spite of all efforts had remained heathen, as soon as it was decided that Mary was the mother of God at what I must call the disgraceful and infamous general council of Ephesus, gave up all her temples and churches. It was as easy to worship the mother of God as the mother of the gods. But everywhere drunkeness in honour of the saints, and even in the churches, took the place of drunkeness in honour of demigods, the great Augustine and other fathers bearing witness.

Such were the festal anniversaries.

Christmas having been – and it is still celebrated in heathen countries – the worst of heathen festivals, to celebrate the return of the sun from the winter solstice, without a pretence that Christ was born that day, but as they could not stop the revelry, they put Christ’s birth there. Such, in real fact, is the church’s celebration of anniversaries and saints’ days. This is certain, that the apostle declares that it was a return to heathenism, so that he was afraid his labour was in vain – avowedly turning the great and mighty parts of Christianity, by which God acted upon souls, to bring them into blessed and divinely-wrought relationship with Himself, individually and collectively, into certain outward events, or outward facts, and exclusively to their announcement as occurring at particular times. “I am afraid of you”.

In result the gospel is founded on a series of mighty and divine facts, by which, through the foolishness of preaching, God, in the power of the Holy Ghost, does act on individual souls for salvation, and gather them into one. The church system makes of them a set of outward events, historically remembered by anniversaries.

J.N.D.
Collected Writings of J. N. Darby, 29: 330-32

 

Gnosticism’s Influence on Early Church Monasticism and Asecticism

Gnosticism_s Influence on Early Church Monasticism and Asecticism

Reblog from Orthodox Christian Theology written by Craig Truglia in October 2016:

Several crucial doctrines separate Roman Catholicism/Eastern Orthodoxy/Etcetera from Reformed Christianity. Among these are the beliefs in baptismal regeneration, propitiatory penances, and the idea that sexual gratification (even in marriage) exists only for the purpose of procreation.

What if I told you that not only are all of these ideas not explicitly Biblical, but that they actually have origins in Eastern mystery religions and Greek philosophy? This would mean that the adherence to these ideas in Christianity are the result of a historical transformation over time where Gnostic influences permeated the Church.

This is a thesis I am not entirely convinced of, but let me make the case for the sake of motivating you to conduct further research.

Scriptural Teaching on Asceticism. Certainly self-denial is a Christian virtue. The Scripture admonishes a believer that if he wants to be Christ’s disciple, “let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me” (Matt 16:24). This self-denial is meant to be radical and lead to actions consistent with the willful emptying of oneself for the sake of others: “The man who has two tunics is to share with him who has none” (Luke 3:11) and “We know love by this, that he laid down his life for us—and we ought to lay down our lives for one another” (1 John 3:16). Marriage is even knocked down a peg, because even though it is “good” it is not as good as celibacy, because “the unmarried man is anxious about the affairs of the Lord, how to please the Lord; but the married man is anxious about the affairs of the world, how to please his wife, and his interests are divided” (1 Cor 7:32-34).

Certainly, Christians are taught that for the sake of others and devotion to God, forgoing  life’s pleasures is a positive good. However, the Scripture also warns of those who teach “doctrines of demons.” “They forbid marriage and demand abstinence from foods, which God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and know the truth” (1 Tim 4:3). A long treatment is given in Col 2:20-23:

If with Christ you died to the elemental spirits of the universe, why do you live as if you still belonged to the world? Why do you submit to regulations, “Do not handle, Do not taste, Do not touch”? All these regulations refer to things that perish with use; they are simply human commands and teachings. These have indeed an appearance of wisdom in promoting self-imposed piety, humility, and severe treatment of the body, but they are of no value in checking self-indulgence.

In the preceding passages, Paul is not writing against a strictly Jewish heresy, as there is nothing distinctly Jewish about severely treating the body or not marrying. Rather, Paul is speaking of an ascetic strain in Greek thought which taught that the way to knowing God is through emptying oneself of all distractions and punishing oneself for all of his sins.  Even mentioning such concepts causes people to immediately think of Christian monasticism.

The Example of Monks. Monks are known for their asceticism. Further, no one seriously entertains the notion that monks were originally part of Christianity. No second century Christian writer makes mention of them.

Traditionally, the first known Christian hermit was Paul of Thebes. He lived some time in the fourth century. While there is no reason to doubt that other men like him lived some time before, historically we would have no reason to believe that the monastic movement would predate him by several centuries.

Some may point to the fact that Paul was celibate, the Essene movement within Judaism, or the Nazirite vow as antecedents to monasticism. The problem would be that none of these may be properly understood as monastic. Paul was simply a celibate missionary, the Essenes married, and Nazirites had only temporary vows.

Yet, according to a scholar nearly 100 years ago, Joseph Ward Swain in his book The Hellenic Origins of Christian Asceticism, monks that look similar to early Christian monastics did indeed exist. These ascetics belonged in “eastern” (usually Middle Eastern) “mystery cults” such as the Manichees, Mithraists, Galli, and Isis cultists.

Of the Cybile cultists called Galli, Swain writes:

The Galli resembled a mendicant and begging order. By this mode of life, they won the admiration of multitudes. “Their ardent faith, their ascetic life, their austere disciplines were an effective and contagious discipline. Many a troubled soul was borne towards these interpreters of a divine word, who appeared superior to other men because they were no longer men, who heard confessions and directed consciences, forgave sins, and gave consolations and sublime hopes.” Others did not attain the lofty place held by these Galli, but led an ascetic life nevertheless. Some who had merely undergone a simple initiation organized themselves into communities called the “Religious of the Great Mother,” and led a life of greater strictness than that of other people, supported wandering Galli, let their hair grow long, wore special costumes ; but they were not pagan monks in the full sense of the term, for they did not cut themselves off from the world altogether they married and became fathers of families (p. 74).

Of the Mithraists:

“They [Mithraists] praised abstinence from certain foods and absolute continence.” The cult had a clergy upon whom ascetic rules were imposed. Tertullian says that the supreme pontiff might marry only once, and that, like the Christians, the worshippers of this god had their “virgins” and “continents.” “The existence of this sort of Mithraic monasticism is the more remarkable,” says Cumont, ” because this value attached to celibacy is contrary to the spirit of Zoroastrianism” (p. 78).

Of the Isis cultists:

Weingarten seriously attempted to explain the whole rise of Christian monasticism from them [the Isis cult], alleging that Pachomius, the legislator of Christian monasticism, had been such a recluse in his youth; this is obviously too simple a theory, and is not held by any serious scholars today, but the very posing of the question directed considerable attention to these men, and their ascetic character has been made very evident (p. 79).

Weingarten’s speculation  concerning Pachomius (one of the earliest Christian monks), is essentially unfounded, but the overall point is clear: These cultists followed monastic practices before the existence of Christian monasticism. Further, Christian monasticism did not  develop  in a cultural and intellectual vacuum.

The Gnostics were the intellectual go-between for eastern mystery religions and orthodox Christianity. While their cosmology and odd doctrines would appear to the modern eye to be so foreign from Christianity that one could not possible have anything to do with the other, contemporaries like Irenaeus did not take this view. To the ancient, Hellenized mind, the Gnostic view made some sort of sense and so to those hearing the message of Christ, the Gnostic spin on it had an appeal. So, while we may rightly expect that eastern, pagan monastic orders would have very little to do with Christian monasticism, Gnostic monasticism would have been visibly Christian, even if it were heretically so.

Concerning the Manichees (a Gnostic sect) a more recent source writes:

[T]he Manicheans…prove again that in decades prior to Pachomius’s emergence upon the scene a wide variety  of sometimes eccentric and sometimes ascetic experiments in religious life were underway (Philip Rousseau, Pachomius: The Making of a Community in Fourth-century Egypt, p. 31).

Scholars may not say that the preponderance of Manichee and Isis-cultist monks in Egypt directly led to Christian monasticism, but certainly they predated it and affected the mindsets of everyone, including Christians, that lived during the time. In the words of Swain:

[I]n the second and third centuries, the land [of Egypt] was filled with anchorites and wandering ascetics, who not only made it a point to abstain from flesh, wine and sexual intercourse, but who also inflicted upon themselves all sorts of severe mortifications. Egypt became preeminently the land of extravagant ascetics, so that the eccentric Christians had but little to add to what these Egyptians had already done (p. 79).

The Issue of Remarriages and Sexual Satisfaction. The debate over remarriage may be foreign to the modern mind. After all, the Scripture is so clear that not only is remarriage permissible, it is commanded: “I would have younger widows marry, bear children, and manage their households, so as to give the adversary no occasion to revile us” (1 Tim 5:14). Yet, great thinkers like Tertullian (probably) and Saint Hippolytus (temporarily) left the Church because it was permitting remarriage.

Why? It appears that very early on the Church started taking the view that sex, in of itself, is not good apart from procreation. For example, the second century Apologist Athenagoras writes in his Plea for Christians:

[W]e despise the things of this life, even to the pleasures of the soul, each of us reckoning her his wife whom he has married according to the laws laid down by us, and that only for the purpose of having children…Nay, you would find many among us, both men and women, growing old unmarried, in hope of living in closer communion with God. But if the remaining in virginity and in the state of an eunuch brings nearer to God, while the indulgence of carnal thought and desire leads away from Him, in those cases in which we shun the thoughts, much more do we reject thedeeds.  For we bestow our attention, not on the study of words, but on the exhibition and teaching of actions,— that a person should either remain as he was born, or be content with one marriage; for a second marriage is only a specious adultery (Chap 33).

Now, there s a lot here which might make one think, “Did Athenagoras read his Bible?” The Bible commends the enjoyable qualities of wine and sex (Prov 5:18-19). In commending man to marriage (1 Cor 7), Paul’s reasoning is that it satisfies lust. Nowhere did he write that the purpose of marriage was strictly for procreation and surely Paul was not admonishing man to take part in a lesser evil (the satisfaction of sexual desire) when he called the institution of marriage “good.”

Athenagoras was an Athenian philosopher who converted to Christianity, and he apparently imported the Hellenisitic (often pagan and Gnostic) idea that remarriage and sexual enjoyment is sinful into his own theology. The Eastern mystery religions taught that celibacy “prevented the introduction of deadly elements into the system” and that “chastity…preserved men from pollution and debility, became means of getting rid of the domination of evil powers and of regaining heavenly favor” (p. 72). Cynics, Pythagoreans, and Gnostic Platonists also taught the virtues of celibacy and avoiding marriages/remarriages. Gnostics Basilides, Marcion, and Valentinus all taught that celibacy was especially virtuous. For example:

For Basilides, marriage was at best a concession to men, and he strongly advised abstention from it (p. 81).

He [Marcion] condemned the flesh and forbade marriage. If married, his disciples had to renounce all sexual relations… Marcion even made continence a condition of baptism. “Marcion does not baptise flesh unless it is virgin or widow or celibate, or unless it has bought baptism by a divorce” (p. 82).

In short, the historical teachings that contraception is sinful sprouts from the Gnostic and Hellenistic asceticism, which had an aversion against the sexual act itself as it was thought to make someone impure and incapable of contemplating higher philosophical truths. To pretend that Athenagoras’ belief that sex is only for procreation stems from the example of Onan ignores the obvious truth that he viewed both sexual satisfaction and remarriage as bad and that he expected his pagan audience, in his Appeal, to approve wholeheartedly of this reasoning. Why? Because such negative views of the sex drive permeated the pagan Mediterranean world and would have been immediately identified as virtuous.

Penance. Repentance is in the Bible, but works of penance whose role is to restore salvation is not. Yet, works of penance are mentioned in some of the earliest writings of the Church Fathers, including On Penance by Tertullian and the Epistle of Barnabas. “Barnabas” wrote:

Thou shalt remember the day of judgment night and day, and thou shalt seek out day by day the persons of the saints, either laboring by word and going to exhort them and meditating how thou mayest save souls by thy word, or thou shalt work with thy hands for a ransom for thy sins (19:10).

Tertullian wrote:

Thus he who, through repentance for sins, had begun to make satisfaction to the Lord…It is intolerable, forsooth, to modesty to make satisfaction to the offended Lord! To be restored to its forfeited salvation (On Repentance, Chap 5, 10)!

Both “Barnabas” and Tertullian appear to be saying that salvation can be lost and that through works of penance, salvation is restored. Whether or not this is something they earnestly and literally taught, or they felt that repentance merely satisfied God in a general sense, I won’t debate here. Let’s simply concede they were speaking of works of penance as the Roman Catholics and Eastern Orthodox would understand them.

The idea that works of penance restore one to God is not necessarily anti-Christian. Surely, visible acts of penance are seen throughout the Old Testament. However,  this changes in the new covenant when the crucifixion of Christ  atoned for all the sins of His Church that have ever existed and ever will:

When you were dead in your transgressions and the uncircumcision of your flesh, He made you alive together with Him, having forgiven us all our transgressions, having canceled out the certificate of debt consisting of decrees against us (Col 2:13-14).

Any additional works, whose purpose would be to satisfy God and effect the forgiveness of sins, in light of this are superfluous. This is not my opinion, this is literally Paul’s point in Colossians 2. After stating the preceding tenet of doctrine he makes an application:

Therefore no one is to act as your judge in regard to food or drink or in respect to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath day…If you have died with Christ to the elementary principles of the world, why, as if you were living in the world, do you submit yourself to decrees, such as, “Do not handle, do not taste, do not touch” (Col 2:16, 20-21; read 16-23 for entire context)!

As we can see, because Christ has effected a total forgiveness of sins, therefore the Christian is not obligated to observe Jewish and Gnostic rituals whose purpose is to satisfy God and effect the forgiveness of sins. So, being that Paul spoke againstpenances effecting satisfactions for sin, where did the idea come from? According to Swain, eastern mystery religions:

Macerations, laborious pilgrimages, public confessions, sometimes flagellations and mutilations, in fact, all forms of penance and mortifications uplifted the fallen man and brought him nearer the gods (p. 71-72).

To Hellenized thinkers Tertullian, “Barnabas,” and the future purveyors of the preceding rite, penance made sense. As said before, their thought did not develop in a vacuum. In light of this, it appears they were importing pagan thought and misappropriating Old Testament texts.  This may have led to an anti-new covenant view of penance being practiced in the Church even very early on.

Baptismal Regeneration. There is no evidence that any of the church fathers before Cyprian explicitly believed in the doctrine,  as they usually conflated baptism with faith or repentance as the operative saving act. For example, Tertullian wrote:

We are not washed in order that we may cease sinning, but because we have ceased, since in heart we have been bathed already (On Repentance, Chapter 6).

Yet, not long afterwards, church fathers were arguing that baptism really effected a one-time get-out-of-hell free card that could even save those who did not have faith or repentance, such as infants. Where did this idea come from?

It is entirely possible that the idea arose from overly literal interpretations of verses such as Acts 2:38 and John 3:5. Further, references to the “laver of regeneration” from Justin Martyr, Theophilus of Antioch, and Irenaeus when read apart from context (they are clearly speaking of repenetance) would make it appear that these men believed that water literally effected the regenerating. So, to arrive at the doctrine of baptismal regeneration would not be unexpected given what the Scriptures and traditions say.

However, just as we said before, early Christian doctrine did not evolve in an intellectual vacuum. Swayne identifies that eastern mystery religions taught that baptisms and annointings effected an one-time-only complete remission of sins:

Two new things in particular were brought by the Oriental priests : mysterious methods of purification, by which they claimed to wash away the impurities of the soul, and the assurance that a blessed immortality would be the reward of piety…They had a series of ablutions and lustrations supposed to restore original innocence to the mystic. He had to wash himself in the sacred water according to certain prescribed forms (p. 70).

This did not belong to the eastern rites alone. Gnosticism, which essentially acted as the gateway between eastern mystery religions, Greek philosophy, and Christianity, also adopted the practice. Irenaeus condemns a Gnostic baptism by sprinkling rite in Against Heresies 1.21.5:

Others still there are who continue to redeem persons even up to the moment of death, by placing on their heads oil and water, or the pre-mentioned ointment with water, using at the same time the above-named invocations, that thepersons referred to may become incapable of being seized or seen by the principalities and powers, and that their inner man may ascend on high in an invisible manner, as if their body were left among created things in this world, while their soul is sent forward to the Demiurge.

Conclusion. The argument has been made that the preponderance of ascetic practices, found in pagan thought before the existence of Christianity suggests that Hellenistic intellectual norms permeated the Church at a very early date. This had a marked effect on the development of monasticism and peculiar, extra-biblical doctrines ranging from the admonishment to have sex only for procreation to propitiatory penances.

Now, it is possible to overstate this argument as there were specific Christian doctrines that early Church Fathers themselves recognized were found in Mithraism and the like. Justin Martyr wrote:

[W]hen those who record the mysteries of Mithras say that he was begotten of a rock, and call the place where those who believe in him are initiated a cave, do I not perceive here that the utterance of Daniel, that a stone without hands was cut out of a great mountain, has been imitated by them, and that they have attempted likewise to imitate the whole of Isaiah’s words (Dialogue with Trypho, Chapter 70)?

In chapter 66 of his First Apology, Justin likewise accuses the Mithraists of copying the eucharist. In the First Apology he blames “wicked devils”  for deceiving man into imitating the sacrament. We may easily infer that the Mithraists copied Christianity, and certainly, we have evidence of eastern mystery religions in later centuries mimicing Christian symbolism and the like. Certainly, this is what Gnosticism did.

However, it appears impossible to ignore that we certainly have evidence of pre-Christian practices that, though not Biblical like the Eucharist, did find their way into Christian practice and belief. There are two possible reasons why:

  1. Christianity simply has some practices and beliefs identical to that of pagan belief systems, and we can chalk that up to a broken clock being right twice a day.
  2. Early Christians were effected by the intellectual ideas of their time, and they interpreted God’s revelation in light of this intellectual climate.

While the former is possible, the latter appears much more likely. Why? For one, as we see in Athenagoras Appeal, some of these beliefs are actually against the Scripture and the Church universally has rejected  some of them (such as no re-marriage). So, we have bona fide examples of Hellenistic cultural import into the early Church. It would seem like special pleading to say that the other examples of doctrines listed here would not be similar, Hellenistic imports.

Secondly, Christians always have and always will be affected by the society in which they live. For example, we have churches that elect their pastors and makes decisions based upon popular vote. Clearly, democratic ideals have found their way into ecclesiastical practice. Woman’s liberation and hairstyles have virtually eliminated women’s headcoverings from the Western Church, even though there is no justifiable textual or traditional basis to do so. The same intellectual tradition has also helped destroy complementarianism. I have been to both Catholic and Protestant churches and have watched them try to explain away the fact that the Scripture calls wives to submit to their husbands. (To be fair, more ancient churches went beyond what the Scripture taught and were overtly misogynistic.)  In many churches, fornication is turned a blind eye to (look how Catholics and Protestants alike spoke so highly of men like Karl Barth.)

Saint Augustine warned:

[S]ins, however great and detestable they may be, are looked upon as trivial, or as not sins at all, when men get accustomed to them; and so far does this go, that such sins are not only not concealed, but are boasted of, and published far and wide (Chapter 80, Handbook on Faith, Hope, and Love).

Social norms have a very strong effect on the Church. Did social expectations about virtue lead to the importing of pagan and Gnostic forms of asceticism? Most likely, yes. It would have been natural for God-fearing Christians to seek excellence in virtue. It is just that their sense of virtue was colored by the intellectual climate of their time, and with some Scriptural justification, pagan and agnostic beliefs found their way into Christian practice.

Having Plenitude Of Power — The Antipas Chronicles

“…the Pope is as it were God on earth, sole sovereign of the faithful of Christ, chief of kings, having plenitude of power.” (Source: Lucius Ferraris, in “Prompta Bibliotheca Canonica, Juridica, Moralis, Theologica, Ascetica, Polemica, Rubristica, Historica”, Volume V, article on “Papa, Article II”, titled “Concerning the extent of Papal dignity, authority, or dominion and […]

via Having Plenitude Of Power — The Antipas Chronicles

In Their Very Bones

Posted in 2015

The church still needs Reforming when it comes to the issue of Christmas.

ChristsMass

“I know how difficult it is to persuade the world that God disapproves of all modes of worship not expressly sanctioned by His Word. The opposite persuasion which cleaves to them, being seated, as it were, in their very bones and marrow, is, that whatever they do has in itself a sufficient sanction, provided it exhibits some kind of zeal for the honor of God. But since God not only regards as frivolous, but also plainly abominates, whatever we undertake from zeal to His worship, if at variance with His command, what do we gain by a contrary course? The words of God are clear and distinct, “Obedience is better than sacrifice.” “In vain do they worship me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men,” 1 Sam. 15:22; Matt. 15:9. Every addition of His word, especially in this matter, is a lie. Mere “will worship” (ethelothreeskia) is vanity [Col. 2:23]. This is the decision, and when once the judge has decided, it is no longer time to debate.” The Necessity of Reforming the Church

And again, “I come now to ceremonies, which, while they ought to be grave attestations of divine worship, are rather a mere mockery of God. A new Judaism, as a substitute for that which God has distinctly abrogated, has again been reared up by means of numerous puerile extravagances, collected from different quarters; and with these have been mixed up certain impious rites, partly borrowed from the heathen, and more adapted to some theatrical show than to the dignity of our religion. The first evil here is, that an immense number of ceremonies, which God had by his authority abrogated, once for all, have been again revived. The next evil is, that while ceremonies ought to be living exercises of piety, men are vainly occupied with numbers of them that are both frivolous and useless. But by far the most deadly evil of all is, that after men have thus mocked God with ceremonies of one kind or other, they think they have fulfilled their duty as admirably as if these ceremonies included in the whole essence of piety and divine worship.”

John Knox of Scotland wrote against the Romanists who would enslave us with false worship, “That God’s word damns your ceremonies, it is evident; for the plain and straight commandment of God is, “Not that thing which appears good in thy eyes, shalt thou do to the Lord thy God, but what the Lord thy God has commanded thee, that do thou: add nothing to it; diminish nothing from it.” Now unless that ye are able to prove that God has commanded your ceremonies, this his former commandment will damn both you and them.”

The Larger Catechism is crystal clear.

Q. 109. What are the sins forbidden in the second commandment?

A. The sins forbidden in the second commandment are…any religious worship not instituted by God himself; tolerating a false religion…corrupting the worship of God, adding to it, or taking from it, whether invented and taken up of ourselves, or received by tradition from others, though under the title of antiquity, custom, devotion, good intent, or any other pretence whatsoever…

I bet Uzzah thought he was doing a good deed when I touched the ark and died.

So, at this point I have to say, if I keep Christmas as a Christian holy day…upon what authority? If I add it to my worship calendar and keep it, I do so upon my own authority or the authority of tradition.

Yours in the Lord,

jm