“Greek Life” @ Cary Christian School – Training the Next Generation of Reformers

[Some All Saints Day (and late “Reformation Day”) musings, tying together my dual roles as a high school Biblical Greek teacher and a student of church history.]

Martin Luther did not mean to start the Reformation. In 1517, Luther, a teacher of theology in Germany, posted some items for an academic discussion on the church door in Wittenberg (really a community bulletin board back then).  At this point in his career, he had no intention to break away from the Roman Catholic church—as a “doctor” of theology Luther had the right, and the obligation, to express concerns about the church. Luther was attacking the practices of some extreme “indulgence preachers” who were basically selling get-out-of-Purgatory-free cards (indulgences). Luther had no idea how far up the chain of authority this corruption went. In fact, Pope Leo X gave his official blessing to this indulgence fund-raiser in order to finance his massive building project at St. Peter’s Basilica, the largest church in Christendom. Continue reading

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Muslim and Christian Scholarship

In Muslim vs. Christian arguments, I’ve heard it said that Muslim societies were much more advanced than medieval Western cultures.  Also, it’s claimed that we should thank Muslim scholars for preserving the classics of Greece for us.  Philip Jenkins has a different view.  In The Lost History of Christianity, Jenkins reminds of the history we never knew.  In particular, he writes:

“It is common knowledge that medieval Arab societies were far ahead of those of Europe in terms of science, philosophy, and medicine, and that Europeans derived much of their scholarship from the Arab world; yet in the early centuries, this cultural achievement was usually Christian and Jewish rather than Muslim.  It was Christians–Nestorian, Jacobite, Orthodox, and others–who preserved and translated the cultural inheritance of the ancient world–the science, philosophy, and medicine–and who transmitted it to centers like Baghdad and Damascus.  Much of what we call Arab scholarship was in reality Syriac, Persian, and Coptic, and it was not necessarily Muslim.  Syriac-speaking Christian scholars brought the works of Aristotle’s Topics from Syriac into Arabic, at the behest of the caliph.  Syriac Christians even make the first reference to the efficient Indian numbering system that we know today as ‘Arabic,’ and long before this technique gained currency among Muslim thinkers,” (The Lost History of Christianity:  The Thousand-Year Golden Age of the Church in the Middle East, Africa, and Asia–and How It Died, 18).

“The Lost History of Christianity” – Philip Jenkins

I’m enjoying (and learning!) from almost every page of Philip Jenkins’ outstanding book, The Lost History of Christianity:  The Thousand-Year Golden Age of the Church in the Middle East, Africa, and Asia–and How It Died.  Here’s a paragraph which summarizes the thrust of the book:

ancient eastern tower

“For most nonexperts, Christian history after the earliest centuries usually conjures images of Europe.  We think of the world of Charlemagne and the Venerable Bede, of Thomas Aquinas and Francis of Assisi, a landscape of Gothic cathedrals and romantic abbeys.  We think of a church thoroughly complicit in state power–popes excommunicating emperors, and inspiring Crusades.  Of course, such a picture neglects the ancient Christianity of the Eastern empire, based in Constantinople, but it also ignores the critical story of the religion beyond the old Roman borders, in Africa and Asia.  We suffer perhaps from using unfamiliar terms like Nestorian, so that the Eastern religious story seems to involve some obscure sect or alien religion rather than an extraordinarily vigorous branch of the Christian tradition.  Only by stressing the fully Christian credentials of these Asian-based movements can we appreciate the abundant fullness and diversity of the global church during the millennium after the Council of Nicea–and the depth of the catastrophe when those movements fell into ruin.  Anyone who knows the Christian story only as it developed in Europe has little inkling of the acute impoverishment the religion suffered when it lost these thriving, long-established communities.”

Clement of Alexandria’s Aesthetic Theology

Clement Alex

I just found out about the group Read the Fathers, and jumped right in.  We’re reading Clement of Alexandria’s Exhortation to the Heathen, and Clement’s extended musical metaphors soar!  Some excerpts from ch. 1:

“Behold the might of the new song!  It has made men out of stones, men out of beasts.  Those, moreover, that were as dead, not being partakers of the true life, have come to life again, simply by becoming listeners to this song.  It also composed the universe into melodious order, tuned the discord of the elements to harmonious arrangement, so that the whole world might become harmony.”

“And He who is of David, and yet before him, the Word of God, despising the lyre and harp, which are but lifeless instruments, and having tuned by the Holy Spirit the universe, and especially man,–who, composed of body of soul, is a universe in miniature,–makes melody to God on this instrument of many tones; and to this instrument–I mean man–he sings accordant:  ‘For thou art my harp, and pipe, and temple.’–a harp for harmony–a pipe by reason of the Spirit–a temple by reason of the word; so that the first may sound, the second breathe, the third contain the Lord.”

“A beautiful breathing instrument of music the Lord made man, after His own image.  And He Himself also, surely, who is the supramundane Wisdom, the celestial Word, is the all-harmonious, melodious, holy instrument of God.  What, then, does this instrument–the Word of God, the Lord, the New Song–desire?”

“The instrument of God loves mankind.”

“Well, inasmuch as the Word was from the first, He was and is the divine source of all things; but inasmuch as He has now assumed the name Christ, consecrated of old, and worthy of power, he has been called by me the New Song.”

“This is the New Song, the manifestation of the Word that was in the beginning, and before the beginning … The Word, who was in the beginning bestowed on us life as Creator when He formed us, taught us to live well when He appeared as our Teacher; that as God He might afterwards conduct us to the life which never ends.”

Those Manly, Racy Puritans!

Authors like Anne Douglas (The Feminization of American Culture) and Leon Podles (The Church Impotent:  The Feminization of Christianity) have documented what might be called the “feminization of the church.”  More recent offerings like Why Men Hate Going to Church bring statistical data and anecdotal evidence that men just don’t seem to like, or fit in, at most  churches.  While I think these authors all make good points, I was recently struck at how “feminine” certain Puritan theologians were.  For many in my conservative Reformed circles, the Puritans are the standard against which we measure our own orthodoxy and our spiritual fervor.  Many Puritans are revered for their “manly” courage and heroic gospel deeds.  I don’t want to belittle any of that–I simply want suggest that some of the these “manly” Puritans spoke, wrote, and preached in quite “feminine” terms.

Continue reading “Those Manly, Racy Puritans!”

The Blessed Unity of our Singing

In A New Song for an Old World:  Musical Thought in the Early Church, Calvin Stapert shows how important congregational singing was to the early church as a visible and audible expression of Christian unity:

Building on Paul’s exhortation in Romans 15:5-6, Stapert asks:  “Does ‘with one voice’ refer directly to singing?  Probably not–at least not exclusively.  But no one can doubt that it articulates a principle that the church took very seriously for her singing.  The importance of singing ‘with one voice’ was a constant refrain among the early Christian writers.  Listen to some of its recurrences during the first few centuries of the Christian era.  Clement of Rome (ca. 96):

In the same way [as the angels] ought we ourselves, gathered together in a conscious unity, to cry to Him as it were with a single voice …

Clement of Alexandria (ca. 150-ca. 215):

The union of many in one, issuing in the production of divine harmony out of a medley of sounds and division, becomes one symphony following one choir-leader and teacher, the Word, reaching and resting in the same truth, and crying Abba, Father.

Eusebius of Caesarea (ca. 260-ca. 340):

And so more sweetly pleasing to God than any musical instrument would be the symphony of the people of God, by which, in every church of God, with kindred spirit and single disposition, with one mind and unanimity of faith and piety, we raise melody in unison in our psalmody.

Ambrose (ca. 339-397):

[A Psalm is] a pledge of peace and harmony, which produces one song from various and sundry voices in the manner of a cithara …  A psalm joins those with differences, unites those at odds and reconciles those who have been offended, for who will not concede to him with whom one sings to God in one voice?  It is after all a great bond of unity for the full number of people to join in one chorus.  The strings of the cithara differ, but create one harmony (symphonia).”

Stapert comments:  “Unity was an important matter to the early Christians, and, as these quotations show, almost from the beginning music was an expression of, a metaphor for, and a means toward unity” (25-26).

Lenten Humility

Lent is traditionally a season in the church year where we actively seek to live in a state of more humility and repentance.  Orthodox theologian Alexander Schmemann has some brilliant insights into how we are actually becoming more like God when we seek humility:

“But what is humility?  The answer to this question may seem a paradoxical one for it is rooted in a strange affirmation:  God Himself is humble! … In our human mentality we tend to oppose ‘glory’ and ‘humility’–the latter being for us the indication of a flaw or deficiency.  For us it is our ignorance or incompetence that makes or ought to make us feel humble … God is humble because He is perfect; His humility is His glory and the source of all true beauty, perfection, and goodness, and everyone who approaches God and knows Him immediately partakes of the Divine humility and beautified by it … How does one become humble … by contemplating Christ, the divine humility incarnate, the One in whom God has revealed once and for all His glory as humility and His humility as Glory …”

“The lenten season begins with a quest, a prayer for humility which is the beginning of true repentance.  For repentance, above everything else, is a return to the genuine order of things, the restoration of the right vision.  It is, therefore, rooted in humility, and humility–the divine and beautiful humility–is its fruit and end.  ‘Let us avoid the high flown speech of the Pharisee,’ says the Kontakion of this day, ‘and learn the majesty of the Publican’s humble words …'” (Great Lent: Journey into Pascha, 19-20).