It’s that time of the year again, where Americans celebrate the 1/64th Irish blood in their veins with song, corned beef, and Guinness. So unless you find yourself in a Baptist, Pentecostal, or dry household, beer will likely be on tap.
In my own experience, I grew up in a dry household. Even though it was a dry household, I never received the impression that our family had a condemning view towards alcohol. With the exceptions of going to a San Diego Padres game and having the classic hammered fan yelling chants at the opposing team or spilling gross Miller or Bud Lite on us, I was never really exposed to it. In fact, I never thought too much about it until years later.
I recall in my recent Church History classes that it seemed as if the American Church (in all its iterations) developed a negative view of alcohol in the last century. It came about through the Progressive movement of the Late Nineteenth to Early Twentieth Century, where many people (including churches and Christians) tried to use the State to implement an ideal nation. Without getting into the politics of it all, it seems like that perception has never quite fully disappeared.
However, compare this American perspective with the Irish Christians of the olden days like St Brigid above. They were a different breed of Christians, a little bit lighter than the developing Roman Catholic Church. While there were deeply Trinitarian in their theology, they also saw God in the wild (but not in the pantheistic understanding). They were frequently seen as an ancient group that had a love of nature, since it reminded them of God’s goodness. They also loved stories, and they saw the connection between the secular and sacred. And to make the large leap into the future, the love of stories is usually connected with the pub and a hearty ale.
For those who are being shaped by the Word of Christ, I want to make clear statements that drunkenness, not necessarily drinking, is condemned in Scripture. So if you find yourself with a green beer in your hand this weekend, I hope you consume it responsibly. And with St. Brigid, raise a pint of ale to the King of Kings in preparation for the return of the King of Kings! Raise your Guinness, knowing that one day we will raise a glass with “Heaven’s family, drinking it through all eternity.”
March brings many great things. This month brings spring, March Madness, my birthday (hooray!), and St Patrick’s Day. New life and old celebrations come to the forefront in this wonderful month. Since March is often associated with green, I thought it would be appropriate to focus here on Wisdom Wednesdays on the Emerald Isle of Ireland. While I might be a little biased towards the Irish, the roots of Christianity are incredibly deep there and I have learned incredible things from these Irish Christians of old.*
When we think of Ireland and Christianity, typically the image of St Patrick comes up. Patrick was a man from the Scotland area who was captured by Irish seafarers and was brought to work in Ireland at around the age 16 in 401-5 AD (the date of this event is not quite certain). A few years passed in slavery before he would escape from the island and from his chains. Later in his life, he received a deep impression by God to go back to the island that once held him hostage. God had called him back to the pagan island of his captivity to bring the good news that Jesus was Lord. Decades later, he was ordained in his late 40s and then returned to the island in 432. He would spend 30 years on this island and eventually died around 462.
Patrick was a bishop of the church, who would also become a missionary to the land. He frequently confronted many chieftains in Ireland. As a former slave, he knew the land and culture well, and he was able to spread the faith across the island. At that time, the Celtic tribes were militaristic and engaged in human sacrifice from time to time. However, through the spread of the gospel of Christ, change occurred in that land. While some missionary forces spread the faith through the point of a sword, both the missionary effort of Patrick and the monastic movement within Ireland would help spread the faith peacefully. Ireland would become a beacon of light during the tumultuous times surrounding the Fall of Rome. The missionary force from this island would help spread Christianity across the continent.
In the remaining posts of this month-long series, we will explore the unique distinctions of Celtic Christianity and also the robust prayer life of these ancient followers of Christ.
*I am indebted to Michael Bischof of Souleader Ministries for this information. His class at Fuller Seminary tremendously helped me in my walk with Christ and also introduced me to this incredible saint.
Since we are in the final week of the love month of February it might be appropriate to close this out with a little bit of love.
As you may or may not recall, I wrote previously on the importance of loving people, even those who might annoy us. Yes, loving even those people who might send you in the opposite direction if you spot them walking into the room. That’s a tough thought, isn’t it?
Reading through an old book on my shelf, I noticed a couple of statements by the Early Church Fathers on this topic. In the Second Century, Clement of Alexandria wrote a portion on love that caught my eye. Actually, he might have been one of the first writers to use a variance of the much-maligned phrase “hate the sin, love the sinner.” Clement reminded the church at that time to love the thief or “ungodly person.” He wanted them to love that individual, but hate the sin that ensnared them. The inclination to sin that I know all too well. But before you hit the close button on your browser, let me say something quickly about what Clement said.
Clement did not want the person to be tolerated in the presence of Church. He did not want them to passively accept the individual. He did not want the people to put a scarlet letter on the shirt of the individual. Instead, he wanted the followers of Jesus to look at the person through a different set of eyes. Loving that person does not mean to condone or condemn them, but to see them as a man or woman that God has made, and that they are the work of God. They are the very work of God, someone who is precious in the eyes of their Creator.
Tertullian, another ancient Christian from the Third Century, would also comment that Christians were different in that age because they did not only love people who liked them. They loved their enemies, they loved people who might turn them over to the persecuting Roman authorities. For Tertullian, the Christian faith is focused on loving others and praying for those who might persecute you. Whether it’s that relative who calls you names because of your faith or the oppressive government militaries that break up church services by force, loving an enemy is something alien to our broken human nature and yet found in the heart of God.
For those who are in Christ, we too know that we have a dirty past. That while we were in the enemy camp, Christ died for our sins and was raised for our justification. This is a basis of love. This is where a person can learn to not tolerate others, instead embracing them for who they are– a man or woman with the image of God on them.
“This is the end, but for me it is the beginning of life.”
Dietrich Bonhoeffer at his death
How would I live if I knew that the government hated what I was doing? How would I act if I knew that living in the Kingdom of God and walking in that manner could very well mean my painful demise? These are tough questions to think about, yet a simple pastor went through a time like that. He exited this world with the conviction that he needed to do what was right, even if the consequences proved fatal. That man was the modern day martyr Dietrich Bonhoeffer.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer was a German pastor who lived under one of the most evil regimes in modern history. Even though he lived under the Third Reich, he chose to not be complacent in those dark times and keep his head down. Bonhoeffer chose to remain faithful to God even when others in the church compromised their message. He was convinced that he could not remain silent about the evils that the state was performing. In fact, to be silent in his mind meant that you were complicit in those heinous acts.
With the church either hiding or condoning the acts of the Nazis, Bonhoeffer sensed the need to train young men to be faithful proclaimers of the Word of God. As a result of this, he formed an underground seminary to accomplish his goal. Out of this experience, the marvelous little book “Life Together” was born, encapsulating his view on life in Christ and community.
Living in fellowship with other Christians is a non-negotiable. For Bonhoeffer, it was a good thing when people who belonged to Jesus lived in unity. For people who lived between the “death of Christ and the Last Day,” it was and is a privilege to be in fellowship with others. Those who might not have the opportunity (the sick, imprisoned, solo missionary) miss the connection with others (yet those who are alone still have Christ). If it was at all possible, physical presence of other Christians is a source of incomparable joy.
Christian community is more than a place. As he wrote in Life Together, “Christianity means community through Jesus Christ and in Jesus Christ.” A Christian needs others because of Jesus. They come to others only through Jesus, and they (in Jesus) have been “chosen from eternity, accepted in time, and united for eternity.”
To understand this train of thought, one must know that those who are in Christ are not good in themselves. They have been justified (declared righteous) and had their filth wiped clean in God’s eyes. Any good, or righteousness, they do comes from God. It is an alien (other) righteousness. If they were asked where his/her salvation was, they would point not to themselves but to the Messiah. They would point to Jesus, who would assure them of their salvation.
If you’re still with me, you may ask, “Jeremy, why the journey into theology and theologizing?” And that’s a great question! The reason I raise this is because from Bonhoeffer’s perspective, people needed to be rooted in Jesus before they could be rooted in a community.
Fellowship is founded in the “alien righteousness” of Jesus. Community springs from the message of justification of humanity through grace alone. In this context, Christians will long for community. Without the intermediary Jesus, we would neither know God nor peace. And we would never be able to connect with others in community without Jesus. For Jesus is our brother and through union to him we develop brotherly love for others. When we received forgiveness, we could provide forgiveness towards others. In other words, the more we received, the more we could give.
Community and the love of the other allows for the freedom to meet the person as Christ’s own. They are not made in my image, so I am free to enjoy being with that person. If that person is in Christ, then I am able to respect who they are as a person and let God work on them as he is so inclined.
Lastly, the body of Christ must be understood as catholic, it is global and universal in scope. One community has not arrived at perfection, instead it is just one part of a broader world, of a broader church. Though the “one, holy, catholic, and apostolic church” might not meet all at once, it is connected by something more. The community of Christ is bound together by faith, not by experience. It is through him and by faith in him that unity can be found among the diverse church.
Next: Life in Community
This year I am embarking on a personal project. One of my goals is to bring a small measure of the wisdom of 2000 years of Church History to people. After being exposed to the great thinkers, writers, doers, and leaders of the faith in seminary, I have developed a passion to bring these out. Previously, I never knew that such wisdom existed. Reading through the writings and histories of the incredible men and women of the faith was truly inspiring and encouraging.
So with great fanfare and parades (*cue trumpets*), this post is here to announce that henceforth Wednesdays will be dubbed (*cue trumpets*) Wisdom Wednesday. Not that I offer wisdom on my own, but instead this wisdom will come from the saints who have gone before us.
The weekly posts will highlight the ideas, stories, writings, prayers, and legacy left for the Church. These posts will bring the insights from Eastern Orthodox , Roman Catholic, and Protestants voices, males and females, ancient and more contemporary Christians. It will be focusing on small sections of the tapestry of faith that is not often referenced in the contemporary church.
I was impressed at the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels in Los Angeles when I saw the main sanctuary adorned with tapestries crafted with saints from across the ages on them. As I mentioned in a previous post, With All the Saints, “those tapestries serve as a deliberate reminder that we are rooted in generations of fellow Christ followers and that we are not lone rangers.” So in that spirit, I am going to start this project of reintroducing the saints of the faith to the current generation of saints.
Next week, the series will kick off with a look at Dietrich Bonhoeffer and his powerful book “Life Together.” If you have read it or would like to read it with me, please comment along on the posts. I would love to get your feedback and work through the book. Bonhoeffer’s work is composed primarily from his time at an underground seminary in Nazi Germany before he was captured and ultimately executed. It will be insightful to see what he has to say, especially to our society.
I look forward to our time together as we explore the work of a modern martyr!
(If you would like me to look into an individual, please let me know.)
How often have you heard the phrase “it’s a relationship, not a religion”? How about “I’m spiritual but not religious”? Maybe some of you have said it or posted it on your Facebook. I have heard those phrases a lot, and I’ve used those phrases a lot.
Confession time: I’ve come to the conclusion that that phrase is lame and not helpful.
Yet, even now when I hear that phrase it is tough for me to respond in the moment. Like a classic introvert, I cannot gather the right words in the moment to rebut this phrase. I get what the individual wants to say, but it’s dangerous to their faith. It’s dangerous because Christianity is a religion in addition to a relationship. Let me explain.
Peter declared in the Gospel of Matthew that Jesus was the Christ, the Son of the Living God. Jesus replied, affirming what he said. Jesus then went on saying, “Upon this rock I will build individualistic relationships.”
Oh wait, that’s not how it goes? Hmm, let me get my New Testament out. Oh, it says “upon this rock I will build my church.” Well this is an interesting moment. Jesus is saying here upon this rock (the rock is the affirmation of Peter for Protestant readers of Scripture, or Peter himself for my Roman Catholic friends) the church will be built.
(*Puts on nerd glasses*) Church in this sentence is the Greek word ekklesia. Ekklesia is a gathering or assembly. So what Jesus is communicating is that upon this bedrock foundation a gathering of saints and a group of redeemed would be formed (*takes off nerd glasses*). In other words, Jesus wanted a community not just a relationship.
Jesus instituted a religion, an assembly of believers. The Book of Acts follows this pattern as well. Take a look at the imperfect early church, they were a group of Christ followers in community. A new religion was formed in spite of mistakes and infighting.
Christianity is both spiritual and religious. It is both deeply personal and dynamically communal. The church is a work in progress, it was so from the beginning. Imperfections are bound to arise wherever humans congregate, including followers of Jesus. But the glorious truth is that God works in his church, daily molding them into the image of Christ. We connect to God and others in the institution of religion and relationship. It is foolish to separate the one from the other, because it will take the Church (the community of saints) to help form a Christian.
You see, my dear friend, God redeems not just individuals who say the sinner’s prayer. No, he is redeeming a “royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that [they] may proclaim the excellencies of him who called [them] out of darkness into his marvelous light. Once [they] were not a people, but now [they] are God’s people; once [they] had not received mercy, but now [they] have received mercy” (I Peter 2:9-10). The Lord is looking to redeem a people, not just a person. As Michael Horton would put it, “he does not simply want a few outstanding trumpet players who ‘wow’ their adoring fans, but an orchestra where the attraction lies in the harmony.”
A robust relationship must take place within the context of a community. So my encouragement is join a community of faithful followers of Jesus, and be part of the community of the redeemed. We need you.
Here is a prayer associated with St Patrick. I was introduced to this in my Spiritual Traditions and Practices class and wanted to pass it along.
St. Patrick’s Breastplate
I bind unto myself today
The strong Name of the Trinity,
By invocation of the same,
The Three in One and One in Three.
I bind this day to me forever.
By power of faith, Christ’s incarnation;
His baptism in the Jordan river;
His death on Cross for my salvation;
His bursting from the spicèd tomb;
His riding up the heavenly way;
His coming at the day of doom;*
I bind unto myself today.
I bind unto myself the power
Of the great love of the cherubim;
The sweet ‘well done’ in judgment hour,
The service of the seraphim,
Confessors’ faith, Apostles’ word,
The Patriarchs’ prayers, the Prophets’ scrolls,
All good deeds done unto the Lord,
And purity of virgin souls.
I bind unto myself today
The virtues of the starlit heaven,
The glorious sun’s life-giving ray,
The whiteness of the moon at even,
The flashing of the lightning free,
The whirling wind’s tempestuous shocks,
The stable earth, the deep salt sea,
Around the old eternal rocks.
I bind unto myself today
The power of God to hold and lead,
His eye to watch, His might to stay,
His ear to hearken to my need.
The wisdom of my God to teach,
His hand to guide, His shield to ward,
The word of God to give me speech,
His heavenly host to be my guard.
Against the demon snares of sin,
The vice that gives temptation force,
The natural lusts that war within,
The hostile men that mar my course;
Or few or many, far or nigh,
In every place and in all hours,
Against their fierce hostility,
I bind to me these holy powers.
Against all Satan’s spells and wiles,
Against false words of heresy,
Against the knowledge that defiles,
Against the heart’s idolatry,
Against the wizard’s evil craft,
Against the death wound and the burning,
The choking wave and the poisoned shaft,
Protect me, Christ, till Thy returning.
Christ be with me, Christ within me,
Christ behind me, Christ before me,
Christ beside me, Christ to win me,
Christ to comfort and restore me.
Christ beneath me, Christ above me,
Christ in quiet, Christ in danger,
Christ in hearts of all that love me,
Christ in mouth of friend and stranger.
I bind unto myself the Name,
The strong Name of the Trinity;
By invocation of the same.
The Three in One, and One in Three,
Of Whom all nature hath creation,
Eternal Father, Spirit, Word:
Praise to the Lord of my salvation,
Salvation is of Christ the Lord.
Lent is a season where many people make promises to do things for a variety of reasons, both secular and sacred. While some abstain for disciplinary purposes in their faith, some abstain for reasons more practical, like getting off of sugar. The latter group would try to link spiritual fitness with their own physical or emotional well-being. Some feel the pressure (as I have at one point in my life) that if other people are doing it then so should I! Good old fashioned Lent peer-pressure! Sad to say, but this point is something that not even well-meaning evangelicals get entirely right.
I do not mean to be overly critical of people who observe Lent. While it is not a biblical mandate or event (then again, neither are summer camps), I view it generally as helpful to one’s faith. The season should be a time used for preparation and spiritual discipline. It is a time of personal reflection between the individual and God. The individual can also come to the sides of other believers and persevere in the time of discipline, as the whole Church anticipates the Passion Week of Christ and his subsequent death on Good Friday. The time should make the triumphant resurrection of Christ on Easter all the sweeter.
While people often give up things, they should also consider adding something on as a discipline. Whatever they choose it should be done with the expressed purpose of conforming their will (through the power of the Holy Spirit) to the will of the Father. This is quite often done in the act of self denial and taking ones cross to follow in the footsteps of Christ who leads us to the Father. It is also a time of exercising spiritually, training ourselves as an athlete preparing for the Olympics. We should learn discipline and rely upon Christ for strength.
I wholeheartedly endorse Lent as a spiritual practice as long as it is personal, reflective and deeply Christ-centered. This video might help you along this 40 day journey of faith.
“For it was to him no lowering to put on what he himself has made. Let that handiwork be forever glorified, which became the cloak of its own creator.”
– John Chrysostom
Timothy Keller once wrote that the message of Christmas is that God comes to us and that we cannot come to God. The implications of Emmanuel (God with us) is profound, for we will always live in the reality that we are on a visited planet. God came down and took on flesh for us. The Word, as John would write, wrapped Himself in a human body to provide humanity a way to God.
The Word was the inspiration and giver of breath for the created world. He was there at the beginning of it all. Athanasius wrote that “there is no inconsistency between creation and salvation for the One Father has employed the same Agent for both works, effecting the salvation of the world through the same Word who made it in the beginning.” The second person of the Trinity both made and then redeemed that fallen creation. It was not a detriment for Him to take on flesh. Instead He humbled Himself in order to restore humanity to the possibility of a right relationship with their God.
Thanks be to God for making and redeeming us! As Chrysostom wrote, “To Him, then, who out of confusion has wrought a clean path; to Christ, to the Father, and to the Holy Spirit, we offer all praise, now and forever. Amen.”
One thing that I find quite positive about being a Protestant is that I can stand on Scripture alone. I stand upon the bedrock of the Bible, the written Word of God as the source of my theological understanding. The Bible is the penned version of God’s eternal Word. Humans neither created it nor compiled it. Men at the various ancient academies and councils, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, recognized it as the Word. This is a big difference between Catholics and Protestants (Michael Horton can further detail this here). The actions of these men were not infallible, no person is that way. Instead they were guided there.
While I certainly believe in the wisdom of the Historic Church; however, I cannot base my own theology solely upon them. I can supplement my faith with them, but my faith will not be founded on it. At the end of the day, Athanasius, Augustine and Aquinas are human beings, prone to err. As shocking as it may sound to come from my keyboard, even Luther and Calvin made mistakes! In the Word of God alone will I place my trust and theological foundations. If I make a mistake it is because of my own thinking, not because of God’s Word.