Category Archives: Books I’m Reading

Church History: The Beginning of Baptists

The recent release of Baptists in America: A History, by Baylor University faculty Thomas S. Kidd and Barry Hankins, landed on my desk this past week.  I love history, and I love my faith, so I couldn’t wait to crack it open and see the historical perspective of these two historians.

As I get into the reading, I can’t help but think that, as a whole, Baptists don’t do a good job remembering, or teaching, our heritage.  Other denominations have a deliberate method of teaching beginnings and beliefs, but Baptists have never been a group to look back.  Other than academia, few opportunities exist for the layperson to discover why and how we’re Baptist.  I think sometimes we just assume we’ve…well…always existed.

Two Fundamentals of the Baptist Faith

Baptists, then and now, have championed 2 fundamentals of their faith – believer’s baptism by immersion, and separation of church and state.  These two things are non-negotiable to Baptists.  As a group which defends the authority of the Scriptures and is faithful to its direction, Baptists believe that baptism by immersion follows profession of faith.  It is an ordinance that is both scriptural and historical, seen in the accounts of converts in the early Church.  Not until Augustine (5th c.) was infant baptism solidified.

In an age when state-sponsored church was the norm – even in the colonies – Baptists sought to meet freely without persecution.  Because Baptists rejected infant baptism, Anglicans and Congregationalists viewed them as unorthodox and frequently imprisoned, punished, or levied extra taxes for those who preached and met as Baptists.  Needless to say, Baptists waved the banner of separation of church and state and helped to facilitate this in our Constitution.

Our Origin

A common view is that Baptists had their beginning in the Anabaptist Church which formed in the 16th century after the Reformation.  Others reject this view and trace the origins of Baptists back to the English Separatists of early 17th century.  Kidd and Hankins even mention the followers of Menno Simons, a 16th century Catholic priest who rejected infant baptism because it lacked Scriptural proof, who was a proponent of believer’s baptism and preached it to his followers, known as Mennonites.

Although Kidd and Hankins don’t really settle on one specific, singular origin for the Baptist faith in their history, they do mention the Anabaptists, Mennonites and the English Separatists to point out the reformers who were ardent supporters of believer’s baptism.  I think it’s fair to say, though, that Kidd and Hankins favor the English Separatists as the first flowering of the Baptist Church, and this is based on both the amount of material presented as well as the narrative they present.  It was the English Separatists who fled persecution in England for a more favorable and friendly reception in Amsterdam, Holland, in 1608.  This would be the first named Baptist church.

Here is the impetus that moved individuals to create a new sect of believers:

By the early seventeenth century, some radical Separatists concluded that complete purity in the church demanded a rejection of infant baptism.  Infant baptism reflected an inclusive, geographic view of church membership that both Roman Catholics and Anglicans embraced, introducing the children of Christian families into the church as quasi-members.  But what if those children never experienced conversion?  The practice necessarily brought into the church people who, according to the Calvinist view of Puritans and Separatists, were not members of the elect, the chosen people of God.  Baptists sought to clear up this confusion, and to foster a pure church membership, by baptizing only those who had actually experienced conversion (p. 5)

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Grateful Obedience and the Mortification of Sin

I am currently reading John Owen’s On the Mortification of Sin in Believers with our staff here at 3BC.  We’ve been at it a few weeks now and, already, there is much that has challenged and encouraged me at the same time.  Owens, a 17th century theologian, church leader, and teacher, was considered a Nonconformist in his day.  Simply put, he is a Puritan, a title placed on him by virtue of his religious beliefs and activity in church life in England.

So far, Owens has made it clear that, though we are forgiven, there is still sin that remains in us.  Sin not only remains in us, but it is still acting out in our hearts.  Because of that, and out of our obedience and desire to glorify God, we must work daily to mortify sin.  We must kill it.  Owens states,

Do you mortify;

do you make it your daily work;

be always at it while you live;

cease not a day from this work;

be killing sin or it will be killing you.

Wow.  Be killing sin or it will be killing you.

That’s a hard task.  There is one who is constantly raising up this sin in our lives.  Yet, because of Christ’s death, and the power of the Spirit, we can overcome his temptation and the sin in our lives.  With God’s help, and because of his mercy, we can mortify it.

The Apostle Paul has a response to this.  In his letter to the Romans, he says,

I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.  Romans 12:1-2 ESV

In Paul’s writing throughout the New Testament, worship is described as service for the glory of God.  The Romans passage above reinforces that – “a living sacrifice”.  David Peterson, in his book Engaging with God: a Biblical Theology of Worshipstates that “Justification by faith opens up the possibility of serving God in a new way, in the power of the Holy Spirit.”  He goes on to say that

God’s mercies, supremely expressed in the saving work of Christ, the gift of his Spirit, his perseverance with faithless Israel and his gracious offer of salvation to the Gentiles, call forth the response of grateful obedience…

Grateful obedience and living sacrificially are both worship.  Grateful obedience and sacrificial living are also both the mortification of sin.

Let us kill our sin so that we can live daily in worshipping God, grateful for the mercies we receive through Jesus Christ, his So.

 

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Eusebius on the person of Jesus Christ

As one who loves to read about and study history, I have often seen referenced the much respected Ecclesiastical History of Eusebius (A.D. 260-369).  I have thought it to be something too academic, or at least too difficult for me, until I discovered Eusebius: The Church History – A New Translation with Commentary by Paul L. Maier.  It’s a very readable translation, and Maier provides commentary on occasion.  You can read Kim Riddlebarger’s review here.

I recently received the book by Maier and have started reading it.  As a history buff, and as a Christian, I recommend it highly as a book of discovery, information, and inspiration.  Eusebius’ original work was written sometime around A.D. 300, and material was added to it in subsequent years.  It is a great resource for learning about the Early Church, especially as it faced pressures from all sides.  This Eusebius (which, in Greek, means reverent, or pious) was well-respected in his time, both as a theologian and writer.  He was a contemporary of Constantine, and participated in many of the celebrations that honored Constantine’s rule.

In addition to his Ecclesiastical History, Eusebius was commissioned by Constantine to produce 50 copies of the Septuagint (a Greek translation of the Hebrew Old Testament) for use by the the churches in Constantinople.  He also was part of the Council of Nicea, from which emerged the Nicene Creed as well as the process used to determine the date of Easter.  In a time when the church had endured countless attacks, both from persecution and in its doctrine, Eusebius was a great defender of orthodoxy, defending the faith against one heresy after another.

This Eusebius was less than 300 years removed from the earthly ministry of Christ.  In that short amount of time, Eusebius had access to manuscripts and documents that have since been lost, and, even more, he had eyewitness accounts and first-hand knowledge of the Early Church.

So, it is with great interest and awe that I read his historical account of these early years of the Church.  On the person of Christ, he writes:

No language could adequately describe the origin, essence, and nature of Christ…For no one knows the Father except the Son, and no one has fully known the Son except the Father who begot him.  And who but the Father could conceive of the Light that existed before the world, the Wisdom that preceded time, the living Word that was in the beginning with the Father and was God?  Before all creation and fashioning, visible and invisible, he was the first and only offspring of God, the commander-in-chief of the spiritual host of heaven, the messenger of mighty counsel, the agent of the ineffable plan of the Father, the creator – with the Father – of all things, the second cause of the universe after the Father, the true and only begotten Child of God, the Lord and God and King of everything created, who has received lordship, power, honor, and deity itself from the Father. (pp. 22-23)

That, from Eusebius, is a statement that could very well be a creed for the Church on the nature and person of Jesus Christ.

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Could New Books be added to the Bible?

New books added to the Bible?  That’s the premise of the book The Constantine Codexa Christian fiction work by Paul L. Maier.  The book was published May, 2011, and is available in a variety of forms, including Kindle.

Maier, the Professor of Ancient History at Western Michigan University, has been praised for his many publications, which include both scholarly and popular works.  The “Skeleton Series”, a trilogy of religious fiction, began with A Skeleton in God’s Closetwhich became a #1 national bestseller in religious fiction.  It was followed by the sequel More Than a Skeleton in 2003, and, recently, The Constantine Codex.

I recently finished reading The Constantine Codex, my first Christian fiction experience, and I must say that I was pleasantly surprised.  Each of the three books in the “Skeleton Series” stand on their own and can be read independent of the others.  Because I enjoyed The Constantine Codex, I do plan on reading the others.

The book is labeled a theological thriller.  If you’re wondering what that is, think Indiana Jones in Raiders of the Lost Ark or Benjamin Franklin Gates in National Treasure.  Amazon gives this summary of the book:

Harvard Professor Jonathan Weber is finally enjoying a season of peace when a shocking discovery thrusts him into the national spotlight once again. While touring monasteries in Greece, Jon and his wife Shannon—a seasoned archaeologist—uncover an ancient biblical manuscript containing the lost ending of Mark and an additional book of the Bible. If proven authentic, the codex could forever change the way the world views the holy Word of God. As Jon and Shannon work to validate their find, it soon becomes clear that there are powerful forces who don’t want the codex to go public. When it’s stolen en route to America, Jon and Shannon are swept into a deadly race to find the manuscript and confirm its authenticity before it’s lost forever.

The Constantine Codex combines my interests in ecclesiastical history, Biblical studies, and Islam with the thrill of a good “shoot ’em up”.  There is much to learn and affirm in this work regarding various religions, archaeology, and church history, especially in regard to the origins of the Bible and various manuscripts.  Maier does such a great job of including much of what is fact that you sometimes have to step back and realize that the over-arching story is fiction.  It’s an easy read that you’ll find hard to put down.

Now, for the negative.

First, I thought the writing style was a bit contrived.  One has to remember that Maier is a scholar first, and, then, a writer of popular fiction.  Once you’re into book a chapter or so, you’ll notice it.  It doesn’t get in the way, so much, as it is just simply noticed.

Second, Maier stereotypes Southern Baptists.  A couple of the characters who interact with the main character, Dr. Jon Weber, are Southern Baptists.  Maier portrays them as “hayseeds” who seem to stand in the way of progress more so than being progressive.  It’s unfortunate, and maybe it’s Maier’s attempt at inserting levity into the story.  Not sure.  Nonetheless, it’s unfortunate whether deserved or not.

Lastly, I thought the relationship between Weber and his wife, Shannon, was a bit “syrupy”.  I’m not sure what he’s more passionate about – his wife, or the Biblical manuscripts.  Even Indiana Jones and Marion had some significant tension, and that was part of the resolution of tension in the end.  But, Maier had none of this between the two main characters.  It is, however, fiction!

I’ve read several reviews regarding The Constantine Codex.  Most have been positive…a few slightly negative.  Overall, though, I’d recommend this book, if for nothing else the elements of church history and Biblical studies.  And, it makes for great discussion between friends and makes one ponder the question…

Could new books be added to the Bible?

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Is the United States a Christian Nation? 9 questions to ask

In August, I will have the pleasure of co-leading a class at 3BC called “Politics According to the Bible”.  The class leaders (a pastor, an attorney, a retired District Attorney, and a Rutherford County official) will use as their resource a book by Wayne Grudem titled “Politics According to the Bible: A Comprehensive Resource for Understanding Modern Political Issues in Light of Scripture.”  It’s a 600 page tome that gives light to what Scripture states regarding government and specific issues (the protection of life, marriage, economics, the environment, and so on).

The class begins on Sunday, August 12.  It should make for good discussion, and more importantly, a time to affirm the guidance of Scripture in our lives.  Grudem, who holds a Ph.D. in New Testament studies and has 28 years of teaching at the graduate and post-graduate level, says this in the preface:

I wrote the book because I was convinced that God intended the Bible to give guidance to every area of life – including how government should function!

Grudem thinks there should be “significant Christian influence” on government and is sometimes asked if he thinks the United States is “a Christian nation.”  He responds by seeking a definition of what “a Christian nation” means.  To do that, he asks and answers 9 questions:

1)     Is Christian teaching the primary religious system that influenced the founding of the United States? Yes.

2)     Were the majority of the Founding Fathers of the United States Christians who generally believed in the truth of the Bible?  Yes.

3)     Is Christianity (of various sorts) the largest religion in the United States?  Yes.

4)     Did Christian beliefs provide the intellectual background that led to many of the cultural values still held by Americans today?  Yes.  This would include such values as respect for the individual, protection of individual rights, the value of hard work, the value of giving aid to other nations, and so on.

5)     Was there a Supreme Court decision at one time that affirmed that the United States is a Christian nation?  Yes.  But, the decision had more to do with hiring “foreigners and aliens” than establishing the fact that the United States was a Christian nation.  In 1892, the court ruled in Church of the Holy Trinity v. the United States that the church had the right to hire a minister from a foreign nation, despite an 1885 law that prohibited hiring “foreigners and aliens…to perform labor in the United States.”  The court supported its decision by stating that “there was so much evidence showing the dominant ‘Christian’ character of this nation that Congress could not have intended to prohibit churches from hiring Christian ministers from other countires.”

6)     Are a majority of people in the United States Bible-believing, evangelical, born-again Christians?  No.  Grudem cites the results of various polls and concludes that about 22% had true evangelical beliefs.  Even when Catholics are added, Grudem concludes that a majority doesn’t exist.

7)  Is belief in Christian values the dominant perspective promoted by the Untied States government, the media, and universities in the United States today?  No.

8)  Does the United States government promote Christianity as the national religion?  No.

9)  Does a person have to profess Christian faith in order to become a US citizen or to have equal rights under the law in the United States?  This is not true now, nor has it ever been true.

Grudem concludes by saying that, in current political conversations, asking the question – “is the United States a Christian nation?” – is not helpful and only leads to fruitless arguments.   Each question above has merit and can be discussed on its own, yet to even begin to define “Christian nation” can lead to all sorts of confusion and misunderstanding.

So, what do you think?

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The Shepherd Leader, pt. 4 (plus some Lagniappe)

It’s Monday morning, and I return to the book The Shepherd Leader, by Timothy Witmer.  Our staff at 3BC continues to discover new ideas and remember old ones as we thumb through these pages together.  It’s a good, practical writing so far, and, if I haven’t already, I recommend it to those who are called to shepherd the people of God, be they pastors, deacons, or small group leaders.

Witmer continues with the section “What’s a Shepherd to Do?” by lining out some specific ideas of what shepherding is, based on the model of the Good Shepherd.  In chapter 6, Witmer continues that shepherds must feed the sheep.  Provision is a fundamental need met by the shepherd, and Witmer asks the question, “With what does the shepherd-elder feed the sheep?”

Witmer states that it is the “fundamental responsibility of any and every shepherd…to assure that the sheep are well nourished.”  This is done on two levels.

First, the shepherd-elder oversees the public ministry of God’s Word.  This includes preaching from the pulpit, and goes on to encompass small group ministry.  Witmer encourages expository preaching, working through books of the Bible, teaching the sheep what to look for in biblical texts and how to apply them to daily living.

Second, the shepherd-elder must be prepared and seek out small group or individual discipleship based on the Word of God.  This can include young believers, believers laboring under a particular sin, believers who are declining in their commitment, and, finally, believers who are strong in their walk with God, encouraging them to grow ever deeper in their knowledge and relationship with God.

To close, Witmer asks the shepherd-elder, “When have you experienced the most growth as a believer?”  The answer to that question encourages us to seek out opportunities to shepherd the flock through the Word.

Lagniappe

1.  On April 15, 1912, the Titanic sank.  National Geographic has created a chilling recreation of exactly what happened and how the ship went down.

2.  On April 20, 1912, Boston’s Fenway Park opened.  The Red Sox played their first game in that park against the New York Highlanders, now known as the Yankees.  I had the opportunity to watch the ceremony Friday on MLB TV, and I can say it was incredible.  Six days after it opened, the Red Sox gave fans the opportunity to donate to help survivors of the Titanic sinking.  Here’s a great recounting of the opening of the park.

3.    Philip Humber just recently pitched the 21st perfect game in MLB history.  Humber is also a Christian.  Is he the next Jeremy Lin or Tim Tebow?  We’ll see.  Here’s what he had to say about his moment:

“For so long, I was trying to make it about me,” Humber said. “I was going to make it happen because of how hard I was working. … But because of the road I took, I couldn’t deny the fact that it was God doing it, that God had a plan. … . Wherever we’re at, whatever we’re doing, that God will be glorified in what we’re doing. And he can be glorified in our low moments or in our best moments.”

4.    Many people have asked if we…Christians…can support Mitt Romney, a Mormon, for president?  Justin Taylor gives some insight.

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The Shepherd Leader, pt. 3 (plus some Lagniappe)

Our staff here at 3BC is continuing to read and discuss together the book by Tim Witmer, The Shepherd Leader.  So far, it’s been an informative, readable book that not only addresses the historical and biblical foundations of shepherding, but gives practical suggestions, as well.  If you’re a pastor, or even a deacon, I recommend you getting this book.

After laying some historical foundations to shepherding, Witmer closes out the first section of his book, The Shepherd Leader, with a few words regarding authority.  He states,

It is important before moving on to what shepherds do that it is clearly understood that leaders have both the right and responsibility to exercise shepherding care.

In other words, church leaders have the authority, mandated by the Great Shepherd, to exercise care over their flock.  Witmer says that God’s shepherds have “the right to act” ( the Greek word here is exousia) on behalf of the Good Shepherd.  It’s God-given, and a responsibility that church leaders must accept full on.

Witmer makes 5 observations regarding authority as it relates to the shepherd-elder:

1.     All human authority is derived.  All authority belongs to God, who gives authority to the shepherd-elders.

2.     The exercise of authority is designed to serve the well-being of those under its care.  The authority of the shepherd-elder is “to do you good” (Romans 13:4) and for the well-being of the flock bought with Jesus’ own blood.

3.     This authority is to be directed by God’s Word.   The shepherd-elders are under the authority and direction of the Good Shepherd himself and must always be grounded in his Word.

4.     All who hold derived authority are ultimately accountable to the One who gave that authority.  Shepherd-elders “keep watch over you as men who must give account.” (Hebrews 13:17)

5.     The flock is called to submit to the authority of the elders.  Human authority is to be respected for the very reason that, ultimately, the authority is from the Lord.

The problem with all this is that we live in an age that does not respect authority.  Witmer roots the problem in the ’60’s, and it flourishes in the moral relativism that is still with us today.  Witmer states,

The deterioration of respect for authority in culture has its root in a failure to respect the sovereign lordship of the ultimate authority, the living God who is the Shepherd and authority of all of life.

In other words, the “sovereign authority of God has given way to the sovereign authority of the individual.”

Witmer moves from the first section into the second section prefaced by the question, “What’s a Shepherd to Do?”

This is the first chapter of practical application, and, it states the obvious…a shepherd knows the sheep.  Modeled after the display of eternal within the Trinity, and based on the understanding that the foundation for all relationships is our relationship with the Lord, Witmer goes on to detail how shepherd-elders must not only know the flock as a whole (the congregation, what he calls the macro-knowing), but as individuals as well (the micro-knowing).

More to come…

LAGNIAPPE

1.     Ever read the Bible and wondered where some of these places are they mention?  Well, here’a link to a site called BibleMap.org…just type in the scripture reference and the locations appear with descriptions.  Kind of a GPS-location thing.

2.     You can forecast weather.  Just a few things to know and you’ll be predicting the next day’s weather.  Of course, you won’t have the ‘power of 5’, but I’ve not seen evidence that really helps a whole lot in forecasting weather!

3.     What baseball team should I root for?  Notice, if you have no soul, you’re a Yankees fan!

4.     What God didn’t call you to do. He certainly didn’t call you to be me.

5.     The 9 Ways Pitchers React to Giving Up Home Runs.  I have to say, I’ve done all of these!

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