Nine Consequences of a State Church Structure

A student recently sent me the photo of a page in a book seeking my advice. This author said:

“There are no records of Paul reproving a church for not growing, or even giving commands and exhortations concerning personal evangelism. This is all the more striking when we remember that Paul sharply reproved churches for division, heretical teachings, and immoral behavior.”

As I read these lines several reasoning came to mind:

  • The author seems to lack a full understanding of the use of New Testament verbs related to evangelizing.
  • The author highlighted two points important to a state church: (1) avoid division at all cost and (2) safeguard against heretical teaching.
  • State church constructs have rarely or almost never been supportive of personal evangelism within their realms. These negative predispositions to personal evangelism taint everything they touch: histories, theologies, commentaries, and lexicons.

Several hours later, in meeting with this student, I was surprised to find that the book was written by a Baptist for Baptists—who have a long history of being persecuted dissenters, primarily due to their emphasis on personal evangelism!

The several lines of this author cited above, led me to consider how differently the Scriptures can be read, whether from a state church perspective or from a freedom of conscience perspective. As the Scriptures are translated, printed and disseminated, a worldview is sometimes injected or imposed upon the text. For the greater portion of Christian history, a state church interpretation has been the dominant worldview.

However, in order to understand how a state church worldview might influence Bible translation and the broader culture, it may prove helpful to extrapolate consequences of a state church religious system on Christian doctrine and practice. The following nine statements posit points of compliance resulting from the acceptance of a state church arrangement.

(1) Moving toward a General Atonement

The first obvious result of a state church was enshrined in the 1525 Diet of Spier: “Whose Region, His Religion.” Accompanying the concept of a state church was the belief that the entire population within a geographic region was automatically under obligation to submit to the system of religious persuasion of its political leader. Hence one religion, and only one religion, for everyone in a given region. This dictum offered a level of legality to the massacre of Baptists across many parts of the Continent of Europe.

With a universal belief system logically follows the necessity for a universal salvation for those living within those political boundaries. Hence, general atonement naturally proceeds from the state church construct.

In the early development of the state church system, there was a little known council, the A.D. 473 Council of Arles. At that Council a series of recantations were drawn up for a certain errant Lucidus by Bishop Faustus of Riez. One of the teachings Lucidus was to recant was, “That says that Christ our Lord and Savior did not undergo death for the salvation of all.” It appears that Lucidus was not teaching in favor of general atonement, and he was reprimanded for his departure from both a general atonement view, and the larger state church consensus.

(2) Unified Doctrinal Guidelines

As elaborated in the point above, in order to properly manage a state church, rules and regulations are required. For the “Orthodox” churches of the time, the Nicene Creed became their foundational document. Let it be noted that the Nicene Creed did not hinder the state church from fully accepting a sacramental system of salvation.

In a sacramental system of salvation, an evangelist is not needed to preach repentance toward God and faith in Christ. Rather, in a sacramental system, a priest is needed to bestow the graces of Infant Baptism, the Eucharist, and the other prescribed means of grace as determined by the consensus of the leadership of the state church.

(3) Centralizing Authority

Along with controlling the church doctrinally, lines of authority are needed that follow the precedent of political lines of authority. If the state government is centralized, then a centralized church authority is needed to properly associate the state church construct with the many levels of leadership of the state. The pages of the Bible were mined for passages tending toward a focus on centralized authority. In this light, Deuteronomy 17:8-13 proves helpful to require absolute submission to a centralized religious system.

(4) Developing Hierarchies of Roles and Offices

With the borrowing of the organizational structures of the state, titles were needed for different levels of leaders. The pages of the New Testament were therefore scoured to find leadership titles to reflect the organizational hierarchies of the state. From the New Testament were drawn terms such as apostle, bishop, deacon, doctor (teacher), elder, and pastor (shepherd). Soon New Testament church titles did not suffice to fill in the state church flow chart. So, other titles were drawn from the Old Testament, such as patriarch and priest. These titles filled in the elaborate hierarchies being applied to the church, even though they represented an organization quite foreign from what is found in the Book of Acts. They came to exist as the state church sought to align its leaders with their political counterparts. Later titles were invented from outside of Holy Writ (archbishop, archdeacon, cardinal, pope).

Interestingly, two less used New Testament titles are evangelist and prophet.

The use of a term as a state church office title is very hard for a reader to shake off. For example, the title Bishop carries with it cultural connotations related to the state church office of a Bishop. The meaning of a state church title becomes enshrined in the linguistic jargon of a people.

(5) Monopolizing Christ’s Ordinances

In order to control its religious identity and monopoly, the state church quickly gravitated to controlling the application and uses of the ordinances of Christ. They could not allow that just anybody could obey the command of Christ, “Do this in remembrance of Me.” Their state church role was to oversee that only those who upheld a correct (Orthodox) understanding of the ordinances should be authorized to administer the ordinances of Christ. There must be seriousness and unity in the application of the Lord’s Supper, as well as in the administration of Baptism. These two ordinances must be controlled—and they were!

In the case of Roman Catholic Tradition, the names of the ordinances became “Sacrament,” “means of [receiving] grace”—or the reception of holiness based on the root meaning of the Latin sacrum (something consecrated, a holy thing, holy place, etc.). Therefore, the reception of the gift of God’s grace was conferred by these two ordinances, to which five other ordinances were added. Foot washing not being considered one of the Seven Sacraments.

As a follow-up to controlling the ministration of the ordinances of Christ was the extension of church membership into the state-church all those who were “rightly baptized.” The concept of “right baptism” was somewhat fluid as it included Arian Visigoths, a self-baptized Jew from Metz, France, and all those baptized in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit by whatever method or in whatever church. The caveat to this extended church membership was that church discipline [and state discipline] could therefore be applied all who were considered church members by “right baptism.”

(6) Controlling the Preaching Offices

Even as titles were being conferred and the ordinances administered, the preaching office of the church also needed state church oversight. Without state church supervision, how could heresy be kept from the pulpits and from the streets. The regulatory machinery of the state church complex began to decide who could and who could not preach.

In so doing, there is a valid question if state church leaders usurped the authority of Christ, who said, “So send I you.” As in most of the above points, it appears that the true leadership of Christ in His church was being substituted for the leadership of the human hierarchy of the state church.

It was at this juncture that a strong distinction was made between laity and clergy. Soon, in the Western State Church, being considered clergy meant submitting to the state of celibacy. Lay people get married. Clergy remain celibate.

(7) Discrediting Freedom of Conscience

As more and more control was gathered in the state church leadership structure, the right of the people to think religiously for themselves was greatly diminished. As mentioned above, “Whose Region, His Religion.” The state church construct had the tendency to remove all freedom of conscience from their citizens in areas of spirituality and religious practice.

Controlling freedom of conscience is controlling conversion. Persons were not allowed to decide for or against Christ for themselves. At Infant Baptism they had chosen Christ as taught by the state church, and that decision was immutable. The idea of adults willingly repenting and confessing Christ was popularized in English lands through the First Great Awakening—and that not without significant cultural upheaval.

(8) Controlling Bible Translations

The Bible received the highest scrutiny from the state church. After all, the Bible is the one document that provides the followers of Christ with their unified religious constitution. The Bible catalogues the very words of God.

As state churches enlarged their regulatory oversight, after the invention of the printing press in A.D. 1455, Bible publishers and printers of religious materials came under special scrutiny. It appears that one of the factors leading King James to authorize the English translation that bears his name was to quiet the impact of former English translations, such as the Wycliffe, the Tyndale, and the English Geneva. After the formation of the British and Foreign Bible Society in 1803, some Continental state churches were not amenable to the free distribution of Bibles in their lands.

(9) Prohibiting Evangelism

Along with controlling the preaching offices within the state church complex, outdoor preaching of the gospel was strongly discouraged, especially by untitled individuals. Only clergy received training to preach, and only clergy were allowed to preach. Obedience of Christ’s Great Commission was restricted to ordained clergy only, which in the case of the Western Church meant that they also had to be celibate.

The two clearest hindrances to evangelism and evangelists throughout the history of the churches have been state-controlled clergy and Infant Baptism. Through Infant Baptism, all the citizens of cities, towns, and parishes were already “born again.” There was no need for an evangelist to come through town and preach, “You must be born again!”:

“Preacher, everyone is all right in this town. We’re all baptized. Leave us and go elsewhere.”

“What, Baptism is not enough? Why, you must be a heretic!”

It was the A.D. 529 Second Council of Orange that formally linked the reception of grace with [Infant water] Baptism.

All These Are Enshrined in a State Church Reading of Scripture

As projected by the quote of the certain author above, these nine consequences of the state church construct run deep in the veins of our English culture. They are very hard to shed or move beyond. Yet the absolute authority of God and His Word, the Bible, demands that we seek to allow Christ to rule His church and our hearts.

Therefore, are there any “commands and exhortations concerning personal evangelism” in the New Testament?

  • How about, “Follow Me and I will make you fishers of men”?
  • Or how about, “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation”?
  • Or again, “I have sent you to reap”?
  • And, “You shall be witnesses to Me”?

I have several hundred pages of notes on New Testament verbs directly related to evangelism. For example, Paul used the verb “evangelize” (εὐαγγελίζω) 23 times in his writings, and Luke used that same verb 25 times. These are almost never translated evangelize in English, except for the brief season that the Holman Christian Standard did so (1999-2016):

Acts 8:25, “Then, after they had testified and spoken the message of the Lord, they traveled back to Jerusalem, evangelizing the many villages of the Samaritans.”

Acts 8:40, “Philip appeared in Azotus, and passing through, he was evangelizing all the towns until he came to Caesarea.”

Acts 14:7, “And they kept evangelizing.”

Acts 14:21, “After they had evangelized that town and made many disciples, they returned to Lystra, to Iconium, and to Antioch.”

Acts 16:10, “After he had seen the vision, we immediately made efforts to set out for Macedonia, concluding that God had called us to evangelize them.”

Rom 15:20, “So my aim is to evangelize where Christ has not been named, in order that I will not be building on someone else’s foundation.”

1 Cor 1:17, “For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to evangelize—not with clever words, so that the cross of Christ will not be emptied of its effect.”

There’s something about seeing “evangelize” in the text of the New Testament! In parallel form, Paul exhorted Timothy, “Preach the word!” However, Paul was wise to use the first person when he wrote of evangelism, allowing the reader to transfer the application to himself.

As regards the second part of the quote, “Paul sharply reproved churches for division, heretical teachings.” The state church complex vested within itself the role of doctrinal oversight. Anyone not accepting their particular doctrinal distinctives was deemed divisive and heretical.

Ultimately here comes the question of authority and who has the obligation to obey the commands of Christ to “Take heed,” “Be on the alert,” and “Keep watch.” Eventually each individual will stand before God for himself. And each individual must obey the commands of Christ to “Take heed,” “Be on the alert,” and “Keep watch.” Obedience to these commands cannot be deeded over to a state church.

This essay is being written using the English language. Along with the English language comes a cultural use of church titles and a history of Bible translation related to areas such as evangelism. Knowing that certain predispositions exist can enable us to see beyond them and seek to shed them as we may deem necessary in light of our future accountability to Christ.

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How Smartphones and Supercomputers Are Reversing the Tower of Babel

[1]

“Come, let Us go down and there confuse their language, that they may not understand one another’s speech.” Genesis 11:7.

Answersingenesis.org dates the confusion of languages as depicted in Genesis 11 to 2242 B.C. At that time, the inhabitants of the world were dispersed by language group. Language continues to be the greatest barrier to ethnic interconnectivity. According to ethnologue.com as of 2017 there are 7,099 languages spoken in the world. Therefore, 4,259 years after the Tower of Babel languages continue to divide people into nationalistic entities. Into this mix, smartphones and supercomputers have begun to change the landscape of worldwide language disconnectivity.

Linguistic Mapping

Linguistic Mapping systems have developed in the past several years. One site, Llmap.org, was developed as a project of Eastern Michigan University, the University of Stockholm, and several other collaborators. Indiana University oversees new.linguistlist.org, to discuss issues and exchange linguistic information. Ethonologue.com is powered by Summer Institute of Linguistics. Worldgeodatasets.com is run as For-Profit site marketing their linguistic research. I.B.M.’s Watson, Google’s Cloud Natural Language API, and Amazon’s Lex are also important contributors to the fields of linguistics, voice recognition (VoiRec), and Instantaneous Translation (InsTra). The field of linguistic mapping has grown significantly, attested by universities with degrees in linguistic studies and the competition in this area between technology companies.

Greater clarity in understanding diversity among languages provides assistance in the development of InsTra tools. The advent of smartphones has revolutionized the need for inter-linguistic communication. Further, social media provides the big data necessary for study of linguistic differentiation.

Smartphone Saturation

The first cell phone that had “smartphone” capabilities was the Simon Personal Communicator unveiled 13 November 1993. It was created as a joint venture between Bellsouth and I.B.M. The term smartphone was first used of the iPhone, unveiled by Steve Jobs in 2007. It is estimated that 1.495 billion smartphones were sold in 2016, and that there existed a total of 2.1 billion users by the end of 2016, representing approximately 28.3% of the world population.

The interconnectivity represented by worldwide smartphone use portrays a rapid seismic historical event. Worldwide inter-communication provides an incentive to breaking down the linguistic divides put in place at the Tower of Babel.

Supercomputers and Instantaneous Translation

Connected to the capitalistic motivation of selling smartphones is conjoined the corollary need to incentivize sales. Members of smaller language groups must be made to expect the benefits of software and applications available to larger language groups. These incentives necessitate InsTra and VoiRec. In the past, InsTra and VoiRec required the computing speeds of the largest supercomputers in the world. However, by 23 August 2017, Google announced its ability to translate instantaneously both text and voice in 90 languages in the world on the Galaxy smartphone. This was up from 32 languages in 2015. The future trend appears to be InsTra into more languages from smaller devices.

Machine Translation

The M.I.T. Technology Review (9 May 2017) heralded a breakthrough in deciphering translation into rare languages at the University of Munich:

“So an important challenge for linguists is to find a way to automatically analyze less common languages to better understand them. Today, Ehsaneddin Asgari and Hinrich Schutze at Ludwig-Maximilian University of Munich in Germany say they have done just that. Their new approach reveals important elements of almost any language that can then be used as a stepping stone for machine translation.

“The new technique is based around a single text that has been translated into at least 2,000 different languages. This is the Bible, and linguists have long recognized its importance in their discipline. Consequently, they have created a database called the Parallel Bible Corpus, which consists of translations of the New Testament in 1,169 languages. This data set is not big enough for the kind of industrial machine learning that Google and others perform. So Asgari and Schutze have come up with another approach based on the way tenses appear in different languages.”[1]

Using the various translations of the New Testament, researchers are now decoding linguistic distinctions. At this time, their research appears to be limited to verbal tenses. However, as research develops, it may soon be possible that computer programs will decode the linguistic differentiation God injected into the human experience at the Tower of Babel. One of the driving motivations in this quest is the dominance of worldwide Bible translation in the history of Protestant Missions!

The ultimate success of this proposed linguistic connectivity has yet to be seen. It’s implications on the global human experience have yet to be discerned. There will be religious ramifications to this possible linguistic geo-connectivity. First, restraint will be needed to avoid drifting into religious centralization, so that freedom of conscience can be upheld in light of denominational distinctives. Second, with centralized inter-connectivity comes the issue of control of past and present worldwide Bible translation and translations, as well as Bible access and distribution. It is clear that as linguistic differentiation decreases, an administrative vacuum will be created.

It is helpful to remember that the same God who confused the languages of men so many years ago, also understands computer Assembler Language. Nothing will ever take Him by surprise!

 

“‘For My thoughts are not your thoughts, Nor are your ways My ways,’ says the Lord. ‘For as the heavens are higher than the earth, So are My ways higher than your ways, And My thoughts than your thoughts.’” Isaiah 55:8-9.

For a related paper from 2013: “Virtualized Biblical Authority: A 50-Year Megashift from Biblical Inerrancy to Automated Translation Work”: http://www.evangelismunlimited.com/documents/virtualized-biblical-authority.pdf.

[1]Emerging Technology from arXiv, “Linguistics Breakthrough Heralds Machine Translation for Thousands of Rare Languages” (9 May 2017); available at: https://www.technologyreview.com/s/607825/new-software-program-translates-thousands-of-rare-languages/ (Online); accessed: 26 Nov 2017; Internet.

Augustine as an Ecumenical Rendezvous

I have long been intrigued of Augustine’s role as ecumenical rendezvous.

Augustine was widely and prominently cited by both Peter the Lombard in his Four Books of Sentences (A.D. 1155) and by Thomas Aquinas in his Summa Theologica (A.D. 1265). Whereas both Luther and Calvin shunned the doctrinal dialectics of the Medieval Scholastics, Calvin especially found some common ground with Augustine of certain particular points.

Luther’s Sola Scriptura did not necessitate doctrinal succession. If the Bible teaches a truth, being properly interpreted, it stands regardless of any known or unknown historical succession of thought. However for Calvin, the historical precedent of Augustine appears to have provided apologetic weight to his Institutes, originally penned only very shortly after his full conversion to the Evangelical cause:

  • 1533 (Oct), Placards incident in France (involving posters against the Mass)
  • 1534 (Jan), Placards revenge wherein the King of France received Mass six times while six Lutherans were being burned over six fires in Paris squares
  • 1534, Calvin presided over Mass three times at the Angouleme chapter
  • 1535, Calvin briefly settled in Basel
  • 1536, Calvin wrote the first edition of his Institutes of the Christian Religion dedicated to Francis I, King of France.

Two relevancies emanate from this context. First, in his Institutes, Calvin appears to be directly responding to the prosecution and burning of Lutherans over the anti-Mass poster incident in Paris:

“The zeal of those whose cause I undertook,
“Has swelled a short defence into a book.”
(Institutes, “Epistle to the Reader”)

Second, Calvin’s training in Latin thoroughly introduced him to Lombard and Augustine, as well as to the panoply of authors available to him at that time both in Latin and French. It is scarcely reasonable to assume that he could cite texts outside of his knowledge or experience. Calvin cited from and wrestled from within the context of his own educational system.

Luther, having slowly migrated in his views towards justification by faith, was focused on the sale of indulgences when he wrote his Ninety-Five Theses, and not on the burning of heretics—even though they received his name as “Lutheran.” His wrestling was not with the hollow eyes and twitches of a skeleton blowing in the wind over a fire, but with the greed in the eyes and the sound of coins dropping into the kettles of sellers of indulgences.

Luther also wrote a magisterial appeal, “To the Christian Nobility,” in 1522, five years after nailing the theses to the Wittenberg Door. It was not until 1523 that Luther wrote the first Protestant Martyrology, “Neues Lid,” on the martyrdom of Augustinians Voez and Esch for Lutheran heresy. That burning took place in Brussels, many miles from Luther’s eyes.

However, both Calvin and Luther were cold to the sophistries of the Medieval Scholastics. Although Lombard and Aquinas cited Augustine far more than anyone else, their doctrinal positions differed markedly from those of Luther and Calvin.

Which begs the question, what is it about Augustine that makes him such a desirable ecumenical rendezvous for scholars and students generation after generation? Or to ask the question in another way…

What is the doctrinal gain or pragmatic benefit of marketing Augustine as an important figure in church history?

Several points emerge from this final question:

  1. Augustine was a master of rhetoric
  2. Augustine has a voluminous body of literature
  3. Augustine made the points that numerous scholars appreciate and cite.

So from the point of view of volume, depth, and dialectic, Augustine provides a feast of material for the cogitating human mind.

From a contextual approach, however, several considerations emerge. Augustine focused not on the Christological and Trinitarian controversies, so often associated with Early Church Historical doctrinal development, but rather on issues of soteriology and communion.

In order to understand the purpose and role of Augustine’s content, it is important to understand his context in the story of Christianity.

One must consider events preceding and concurrent to his lifetime to properly gauge where he stood in relation to these events:

  • 311, Donatus Magnus accused of rebaptizing lapsed clergy
  • 312, Emperor Constantine’s vision of a cross in the sky (hence, his conversion)
  • 313, Donatus Magnus became Bishop of Carthage (today’s Tunis, Tunisia)
  • 325, The Council of Nicaea established a minimalist doctrinal basis for Roman state-church doctrine
  • 330, Emperor Constantine moved the capital of the Roman Empire to Byzantium
  • 347, Donatus Magnus was exiled from Carthage
  • 354, Birth of Augustine in North Africa (today’s Algeria)
  • 355, Donatus Magnus died in exile
  • 386, Augustine’s conversion to Christianity
  • 387, Augustine was baptized by Ambrose
  • 391, Augustine was ordained a priest in Hippo (today’s Annaba, Algeria)
  • 395, Augustine was made coadjutor bishop of Hippo
  • 430, Augustine’s death in Hippo.

Several doctrinal issues were being formulated during the lifetime of Augustine. These matters appear to be only slightly discussed in English histories of Christianity:

  1. The development of the State-Church model versus congregational rule
  2. The development of Sacramental salvation versus an Evangelical salvation
  3. Rome’s self-determination to be the universal autocephalous church versus Byzantium or Carthage being autocephalous.

It must be noted that these three points alone have strong ramifications on how history is conceived, written, and taught (historiography), as well as on the historical-doctrinal foundations given to students who are likely unaware of the historical contexts which codified the Imperial Church’s position.

Anecdotally, any form of congregational rule is virtually absent from mainstream church histories of the Early Church. In English church histories congregational rule rarely appears until the First Great Awakening (Presbyterian), 1610 (English dissenters and Calvinist Baptists), or perhaps 1524 (Anabaptists). In some French Protestant church histories, congregational rule may date back to the Waldenses (1184) or to the earlier Cathars (formalized in 1167), disappearing into the smoke of the fires of Medieval documentation.

As to Sacramental salvation, the majority of Christian churches see the point of salvation wed to the Baptismal font (see: http://www.evangelismunlimited.com/documents/eight-views-of-baptism.pdf). It is no surprise that churches that practice infant baptism follow the Sacramental views of Augustine on this point; their church histories naturally follow in the same vein.

Rome as an autocephalous church brings up an interesting question. When Constantine moved the capital of the Roman Empire to Byzantium, did the fourth chief monarchy in the prophecies of Daniel 2 and 7 likewise move from Rome to Byzantium? The Reformation historian Johannes Sleidan took up this topic in his Four Chief Monarchies as the Key of History [Histoire des Quatre Empires Souverains] (Geneva, 1558).

These three topics are not minor doctrinal concepts for contemporary Evangelicals. And from this trio emerges another three points issues related to Augustine: his Contra Donatisten, Contra Manichean, and Confessions.

First, Augustine spent considerable intellectual energy fighting the Donatists, who were a rival North African Christian sect based out of Carthage (only 300 kilometers from Hippo). Augustine’s writings on this topic were gathered under the heading Contra Donatisten in Philip Schaff’s Post-Nicene Fathers. It appears that Augustine argued for the autocephalous headship of Rome in these texts. He was definitely not arguing for the cause of the Bishop of Carthage, even less for congregational rule, wherein each assembly of Christians stands as its own autocephalous (independent) church.

Second, Augustine also spent time defending a Sacramental form of salvation. It appears that his rhetorical position was best defended by use of what he described as a Manichean dualism. Augustine adroitly countermanded the Evangelical position of no intermediary “between the soul and God”:

“Evangelicalism does not cease to be fundamentally antinaturalistic, however, in becoming antisacerdotal: its primary protest continues to be against naturalism, and in opposing sacerdotalism also it only is the more consistently supernaturalistic, refusing to admit any intermediaries between the soul and God, as the sole source of salvation. That only is true evangelicalism, therefore, in which sounds clearly the double confession that all the power exerted in saving the soul is from God, and that God in his saving operations acts directly upon the soul.”
(B. B. Warfield, The Plan of Salvation [1918])

However, Augustine taught that the Sacraments were physical “signs and symbols” of the spiritual benefit that they represented. Hence, codifying Rome’s autocephalous ambitions with a monopoly on the “signs and symbols” that only its church leaders could rightly confer.

The dualism Augustine argued against was the separation between the spiritual and the physical, or as Warfield wrote, the supernatural and the natural. Augustine taught that the supernatural came through the natural substance of the Sacrament (wholistically). He conjectured that it was a dualism to consider that the supernatural and natural did not cooperate Sacramentally in this way.

Third, in Augustine’s Confessions, his conversion point is related to a child playing behind a fence, singing “Pick up and read” (Book 8, Chap 12). His conversion was due to predestination (according to his writing), and not based on his hearing of and believing in justification by faith alone (Rom 3:21-26). Nor was there any mention of the Great Commission in the Confessions, nor indeed of the need to evangelize. And these amazing omissions have characterized Roman Catholic practice since that time.

In conclusion, Augustine remains a magnetic personality and a prolific author. Many of his writings avoided the fires of censorship over sixteen centuries. Yet while many beneficial and positive lessons can be learned from Augustine, there may be need for some consternation for the reasons enumerated above. Augustine must-needs-be read in his full context.

Hence, Augustine as an ecumenical rendezvous begs the question of his context. If Christ alone, Scriptures alone, and justification by grace alone, through faith alone, and without works are important to the reader, then he may need to rendezvous elsewhere.

Simeon Stylites and History as Catechism

An ascetic Syrian monk living in the 4th and 5th Centuries has captured the minds of students of church history for a number of years. Simeon Stylites (A.D. 390-459) appears to have desired the life of a hermit. Being bothered by people coming to him for prayers, he retreated to the top of an abandoned column in the ruins of Telanissa, Syria. This column was 9 feet tall. However, due to frequent interruptions Simeon was unable to adequately continue his austerities. So he retreated to the top of a 50-foot column, living on a small platform at the top. From this station he continually repeated prayers.

Simeon Sylites

Simeon lived on a pillar for 37 years, and became quite an attraction. Over time a wall was erected around his pillar so that people would not disturb him; the wall allowed Simeon to continue his “prayerful contemplations.” His life and asceticism came to the attention of Roman Emperors Theodosius II and Leo I, as well as Genevieve of Paris. After his death Simeon was commemorated as a “Saint” successively by four church bodies, the Egyptian Coptic Orthodox Church, the Eastern Orthodox Church, the Eastern Catholic Church, and the Roman Catholic Church.

What is curious about the story of Simeon Stylites is that it continues to be retold as a part of Church History One with little or no biblical analysis. To the modern Evangelical reader his story seems like it comes from a different world. The retelling of his story, and that of other ascetic monks like the Western Hermit Benedict of Nursia (A.D. 480-543) form a fitting sandbox for adapting the teaching of history into catechetics—a teaching tool to modify the values of the learner.

While the lives of hundreds of evangelists who lived and ministered in the first five centuries are lost in the sands of time, these two ascetic monks were raised to sainthood by the various state churches. The life of Simeon was inscribed by one his disciples, the monk Antonius; and Pope Gregory I wrote about the life of Benedict. The lives of both of these men exemplify a readjustment of focus in Early Church evangelism, missions, salvation, and spiritual life. The ministry of Simeon Stylites and Benedict of Nursia serves to reshape the doctrinal positions of students of history on several fronts:

  • A redefinition of true Christian spirituality
  • A refocusing away from the Great Commission
  • Advancing the inadequacy of the Bible to properly interpret history
  • The need for subservience to the state-church’s decrees

This article will address each of these concerns, and provide an Evangelical response to the subtle realignment suggested through their uncritical inclusion in church histories.

As far as redefining Christian spirituality, a focus on these cenobitic monks (relationally separate from the world) diverges from the 62 “one another” commands of the New Testament. The most conspicuous of these “one another” commands is the command to “love one another.” It is found listed three times in John 13:

“A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:34-35)

All 62 of these “one another” commands can only be lived out with other Christians within the context of the local church. Therefore, obedience to these commands cannot be lived out through the ascetic isolation of the life of a hermit.

Further, true biblical spirituality does not consist of physical asceticism, as taught by Paul:

“Therefore, if you died with Christ from the basic principles of the world, why, as though living in the world, do you subject yourselves to regulations—‘Do not touch, do not taste, do not handle,’ which all concern things which perish with the using—according to the commandments and doctrines of men? These things indeed have an appearance of wisdom in self-imposed religion, false humility, and neglect of the body, but are of no value against the indulgence of the flesh.” (Col 2:20-23)

Rather Paul warned that a time would come when asceticism would replace true Christianity:

“Now the Spirit expressly says that in latter times some will depart from the faith, giving heed to deceiving spirits and doctrines of demons, speaking lies in hypocrisy, having their own conscience seared with a hot iron, forbidding to marry, and commanding to abstain from foods which God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and know the truth.” (1 Tim 4:1-3)

So, a “history as catechism” teaches and the titles of “saint” promulgate, the lives of Simeon Stylites and Benedict of Nursia are examples of a holy life. But their examples do not follow New Testament norms.

Then follows another tragedy, a refocus away from the Great Commission. A focus on the lives of these two hermits glamorizes their privatized, personalized, and individualized-approach to spirituality. Instead of this type of self-oriented spirituality Christ put a message in the mouths of His followers. He gave us the gospel along the command to go into the whole world with that message:

“And He said to them, ‘Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature.’” (Mark 16:15)

“Then He said to them, ‘Thus it is written, and thus it was necessary for the Christ to suffer and to rise from the dead the third day, and that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in His name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem.’” (Luke 24:46-47)

True spirituality is never focused for one’s own benefit or to one’s own glory. True spirituality is focused outwardly toward others with the gospel of Christ to the glory of Christ. And Christ never commanded His followers to live an ascetic life. Rather, He reframed the argument between the Stoics and Epicureans by replacing it with justification by grace alone and through faith alone.

A third unfortunate result of focusing on the spirituality of these hermits is the perception that the Bible is inadequate for properly interpreting history. Rather, for the Evangelical, the Bible must remain the interpretive lens through which all of life is analyzed and understood—including church history. The words of God’s Word provide the worldview through which the world is to be analyzed:

“And these words which I command you today shall be in your heart. … You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes.” (Deut 6:6-8)

Jesus said:

“Therefore whoever hears these sayings of Mine, and does them, I will liken him to a wise man who built his house on the rock: and the rain descended, the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house; and it did not fall, for it was founded on the rock. But everyone who hears these sayings of Mine, and does not do them, will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand: and the rain descended, the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house; and it fell. And great was its fall.” (Matt 7:24-27)

Yet, enter these ascetics with the accolades of territorial church’s “sainthood,” and what happens to the teachings of the New Testament? The clear teachings of the Bible contradict these lifestyles as exemplary on a number of levels. So, when they are taught as good examples without being properly vetted through the Bible’s doctrine and practice, the student of history is left with a non sequetor. In order to accept these men as valid “holy” men, he must disengage his view of spirituality as taught in the pages of the Bible.

To reconcile this obvious non sequetor, the student of history must surmise that a different set of criteria are needed for interpreting Early Church spirituality. The student is made to engage in mental historical-criticism and to relinquish his present experience and understanding of life and posit a fairytale where the Bible is no longer the foundation of all truth.

The salty historian has the student right were he wants him, in a state of ambivalence. Now the scholar provides his pupil with an answer. To properly interpret Early Church history, one must find it in and through (1) an authoritative Church, (2) Its authoritative decrees (canonizations of saints), and (3) Its authoritative Creeds. The authority and inerrancy of the Scriptures are replaced with an authoritative Church and its inerrant history.

Finally then, the Evangelical student of history is left to interpretations of history hand-selected to provide him catechetical training. His congregational view of the church is not considered. His view of the Great Commission is never addressed. Evangelism and justification by faith are lost in the rhetoric of the Trinitarian and Christological controversies. In this fourth step, the student is asked to submit his mind to the state-church’s affirmation that these ascetics we really “saints” and lived exemplary lives. He may never consider why they are included in histories or why they are lifted up as examples.

Sola Scriptura is lost in these last two transactions. The Evangelical student of history may not realize that his newfound historical-critical insight, if unchecked, will eventually impale his Evangelical view of salvation. More historical catechetics are still to come. Simeon Stylites and Benedict of Nursia are only an appetizer. Church History One is filled with delectables to disengage the mind of the student of history from New Testament doctrines, creating a distant world far removed from the possibility of analysis through Scripture!

“But you must continue in the things which you have learned and been assured of, knowing from whom you have learned them, and that from childhood you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus.” (2 Tim 3:14-15)

The Wisdom of this World

“Let no one deceive himself. If anyone among you seems to be wise in this age, let him become a fool that he may become wise” 1 Corinthians 3:18

The subtlety and speed with which the wisdom of this world enters into the Christian and the church is amazing. Was it not this subtlety that led one generation after another of Israelites to fall into the trap of Baal worship? Was it not this subtlety that led the Corinthian church to fall prey to the teachings of the “super-apostles,” who were unified against Paul and his ministry?

But, more importantly in the current day, how do the subtleties of the “wisdom of this age” enter the church? How does it impact Christian higher education?

The wisdom of this age usurps spiritual wisdom whenever the clear teaching of the Bible is confounded or confused by the teachings of this world. No topic or subject is immune from the impact of the wisdom of this world. Every topic has subtleties through which the wisdom of this age can worm its way into the topic and undermine, sabotage, and twist the teaching of the Bible on the topic.

The examples are numerous, and most are very touchy. Therefore, I will not give any examples. This blog will merely point out that examples do exist en masse, and allow the reader to consider what they may be.

“Behold, I send you out as sheep in the midst of wolves. Therefore be wise as serpents and harmless as doves” Matthew 10:16

“After Grace Has Been Received Through Baptism”?

With this 6th Century phrase the veil of the human sacraments descended upon the Western Church. The saving work of the Holy Spirit through the Word of God was limited to a priest saying a series of words over the water: “In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” The need for hearing the gospel and responding by repentance and faith was eliminated from the order of salvation. Evangelism and the work of the Evangelist were rendered useless. And from that time on in the state-endorsed Western Church, Evangelicalism no longer found a home.

These words belong to the second paragraph of the conclusion of what is called “The Second Council of Orange” (3 July 529). The original wording of the conclusion is ascribed to Archbishop Césaire d’Arles. He took the teaching of the 25 preceding Canons and added the chronological sentiment of this clause. It may be helpful to share the entire sentence from which proceeds this phrase:

“According to the catholic faith we also believe that after grace has been received through baptism, all baptized persons have the ability and responsibility, if they desire to labor faithfully, to perform with the aid and cooperation of Christ what is of essential importance in regard to the salvation of their soul”

Through this statement, Baptism—most commonly practiced as Infant Baptism—was made the very time of receiving the grace of God. Consider then, that if grace is received through the rite of Baptism, it is not received by the exercise of personal faith:

Eph 2:8-9, “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast.”

Nor is grace received after hearing the gospel, as is clearly stated in the Bible:

Rom 10:17, “So then faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.”

Eph 1:13, “In Him you also trusted, after you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation; in whom also, having believed, you were sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise.”

In this last verse, Paul’s use of the word “after” directly contradicts the use of the same preposition as above used by Césaire d’Arles. Persons must first hear so that afterwards they may believe and be sealed by the Spirit of promise.

Thus the need for a hearing of faith is necessary, as affirmed in Galatians:

Gal 3:2, “This only I want to learn from you: Did you receive the Spirit by the works of the law, or by the hearing of faith?”

Jesus Himself taught the need for hearing His words followed by belief in the same unto eternal salvation:

John 5:24, “Most assuredly, I say to you, he who hears My word and believes in Him who sent Me has everlasting life, and shall not come into judgment, but has passed from death into life.”

In fact, the verses directly teaching the need to hear the gospel prior to faith and receiving grace are many. The plenary teaching of New Testament salvation hinges upon this one concept.

But through one phrase in the 6th Century Second Council of Orange the Western Church system was ushered into a very long era of sacramental salvation. The impact of this one phrase cannot be overestimated.

“After grace has been received through baptism.”

This phrase shaped how salvation was conceived in the state-church after that time. Those who did not hold to this exact view of Baptism as the reception of divine grace were framed as heretical and were anathematized as such.

Centuries of doctrinal education and theological categories were strained through the filter of that phrase. The Evangelical view was framed out of doctrinal consideration. Evangelicals and Evangelicalism were scrubbed from the pages of church histories.

On a practical front, Evangelists and evangelism were pushed outside the periphery of the church and its activities. Evangelical churches and their activities became incognito. It still took another 500 years before the fires of persecution burned at the center of European town squares.

Eventually a theologian was found who fitfully framed Evangelicalism out of the question. Lombard’s Four Books of Sentences became the only standard for Western theological education for over a half a millennium. Not long after him another prominent Doctor of the Church, “that great Angelic Doctor,” applied the work of his predecessor to the cultural conditions of dealing with presumptuous heretics. Western Europe was ushered into a time of extreme spiritual darkness. Great persecution ensued.

“quod post acceptam per baptismum gratiam”
[“After grace has been received through baptism”]

With six Latin words, New Testament evangelism was almost extinguished from Western Christianity. It took the publishing of the Greek New Testament almost a thousand years later to shake Western European Christianity from its darkness and slumber.

400 years after the Protestant Reformation evangelism was birthed within theological education. In 1901 L. R. Scarborough founded and chaired the first seminary department of evangelism at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. 100 years later evangelism continues on in theological education, both in teaching and practice. My prayer is for a bright future for evangelism in theological education!

A New Look at an Old Verb

The 1999, 2009 Holman Christian Standard Bible (HCSB) reintroduced a Middle English translation when its translators used the verb “evangelize” six and seven times in the New Testament. The context of these seven uses is amazing and powerful.

Here are those seven times:

  • Acts 8:25, “Then after the apostles had given extensive testimony and had spoken the word of the Lord, they returned to Jerusalem. En route they were evangelizing many of the Samaritan towns.”
  • Acts 8:40, “Philip, on the other hand, was found at Azotus. So he passed through all the (western) towns, evangelizing until he came to Caesarea.”
  • Acts 14:7, “And there they kept evangelizing.”
  • Acts 14:21, “After they had evangelized in Derbe and had made many disciples, they returned to Lystra, Iconium, and (Pisidian) Antioch.”
  • Acts 16:10, “After his vision, we at once were seeking to depart for Macedonia, inferring that God had called us to evangelize them.”
  • Rom 15:20, “in such a way as to realize my ambition of evangelizing where Christ has not been named, so that I might not build on another man’s foundation.”
  • 1 Cor 1:17, “For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to evangelize—not with clever words, so that the cross of Christ will not be emptied of its effect.”

Clearly, the verb “evangelize” in its New Testament (NT) context refers to a traveling herald of the gospel. It also relates in context to the beginning of the gospel work in an area. Hence, Paul was initiating work the work of the gospel in Macedonia, and wanted to do so in other places also. In1 Corinthians, Paul stated that his ultimate mission was not baptizing, but rather evangelizing. All of these are powerful uses of this important verb.

As amazing as these seven uses of “evangelize” are, they represent only 13% of the total NT uses of this important verb. Before looking more closely at the biblical use of the verb “evangelize,” let’s discuss why this topic is important and relevant. Use of the verb “evangelize” in the Bible:

  • Relates to the Great Commission given to the church, in other words, the raison d’être of the church.
  • Correlates with the order of conversion, one of the most important and most hotly debated topics in Christian theology.
  • Engenders debate and disagreement in the practice of NT Christianity, leading to significant differences of opinion.

For a precedent to this translation of the verb “evangelize” one has to traverse back in time and search the pages of Wycliffe’s First Edition of 1382. In this edition of the Wycliffe Bible, the verb “evangelise” was used 34 times. However, 6 years later, after the death of Wycliffe in 1834, the Wycliffe translation was revised. One key change was the removal of 33 uses of “evangelizing” and replacing them with “preaching.” That change resulted in a 632-year veil over the term to English-only readers.

The addition of “the gospel” to “preach” took place after John Darby translated “evangelize” in English as “announce glad tidings” in 1884. Since that time the standard translation of the “evangelize” has been “preach the gospel.” Hence, the 1885 English Revised Version translated “evangelize” as “preach the gospel” 25 times.

Several problems emerge from using the verb “preach” as the primary translation of “evangelize.” First, use of the verb relates primarily to ordained people. This played into the hands of state churches who sought to keep control of preaching. They did not want lay people preaching, so they had to muffle the use of the verb “evangelize” by making it apply only to those who had the [invented] “Sacrament of Holy Orders.” A second problem was the limitation of “evangelizing” to men only. The state church did not affirm a women’s role to evangelize. The third problem the translation of “evangelize” to “preach the gospel” is the limitation of “evangelizing” to preaching within the four walls of the church building. Evangelizing is differentiated from preaching primarily by its location and audience: outside the church and to non-believers.

But because the printing presses were controlled by state churches, the primary translation that has come down to us, from Greek lexicons and other Greek grammars, has been tainted by the state-church construct. It is no wonder that once Wycliffe died, his translation was changed to appease the Catholic Bishops in the English Church at the time.

As time progressed, the printing presses were wrestled from the hands of non-Reformation and Reformation state churches. However, the limitations imposed by use of the word “preach” were never reversed until modern times.

However, amazingly the HCSB reversed a 632 year state church lockbox on the use of “evangelize” in English translations of the Bible. And yet, even while the HCSB made this giant step forward, what of the 87% other uses of “evangelize”?

Here are four examples of other NT uses of “evangelize”:

  • Jesus said, “I must evangelize” (Luke 4:43).
  • Paul wrote, “For if I evangelize, I have no reason to boast, because an obligation is placed on me. And woe to me if I do not evangelize!” (1 Cor 9:16).
  • Paul wrote, “Now brothers, I want to clarify for you the gospel which I evangelized to you; you received it and have taken your stand on it. You are also saved by it, if you hold to the message which I evangelized to you—unless you believed for no purpose” (1 Cor 15:1-2).
  • Paul wrote, “But even if we or an angel from heaven should evangelize you other than how we evangelized you, a curse be on him!” (Gal 1:8)

The verb “evangelize” is actually found a significant number few times in both the OT and NT:

  • The Old Testament LXX used the verb 23 times.
  • The New Testament Greek uses the verb 54, 55, or 56 times, depending on the Greek text which one consults.

Two notable OT uses are:

  • Isaiah 40:9, “O Zion, You who evangelize, Get up into the high mountain; O Jerusalem, You who evangelize, Lift up your voice with strength, Lift it up, be not afraid; Say to the cities of Judah, ‘Behold your God!’”
  • Isaiah 52:7, “How beautiful upon the mountains Are the feet of him who evangelizes, Who proclaims peace, Who evangelizes good things, Who proclaims salvation, Who says to Zion, ‘Your God reigns!’”

Most notably, Isaiah 52:7 is quoted in Romans 10:15, with its one or two uses of the verb “evangelize,” again depending on the Greek text one is using.

NT usages of “evangelize” are found as follows:

  • Luke-Acts, 25 or 26 uses: 10 in Luke; 15 or 16 in Acts.
  • Pauline, 20/21 or 22/23 uses: depending if Paul wrote Hebrews.
  • Six other uses: 3 in 1 Peter, 2 in Revelation, 1 in Matthew.

Comparison of versions that used the verb “evangelize”:

  • 435 A.D.: Latin Vulgate:
    43 uses of evangelize out of 55 in the Greek text of that day.
  • 14th Century English: Wycliffe:
    36 uses in 1st edition (1382);
    3 in 2nd edition (1388).
  • 16th Century French Texts:
    13 uses in Protestant Olivétan (1534);
    4 in Catholic Louvain (1550);
    24 in French Geneva (1560).
  • 1560 Geneva Bibles:
    24 uses in French Geneva;
    0 uses in English Geneva (and 0 in 1611 KJV).
  • Darby Bibles:
    21 in French Darby (1859);
    1 in English Darby (1884).
  • Holman Christian Standard Bibles:
    6 uses (1999 edition);
    7 uses (2009 edition)!

Summary and conclusion:

  • From the time of the Middle Ages evangelizing was deemed a threat to state church monopolies, being considered treasonous behavior.
  • From at least the 11th Century on, no motivated lay person was to usurp the office of preaching (or “evangelizing”), which was only conferred by the “Sacrament of Holy Orders”—which among other things included training in Latin and the Sentences of Peter the Lombard, and enforced celibacy.
  • Wycliffe and his followers, the Lollards, were known for their evangelism fervor, which may have been fueled by seeing the verb “evangelize” 36 times in the 1382 Wycliffe First Edition of the New Testament.
  • Removal of the verb from the text of the New Testament in the 1388 Wycliffe Second Edition appeared to be an attempt to squelch the evangelism fervor of the Lollards.

Perhaps the current reawakening of the use of “evangelize” in the HCSB will result in a renewed biblical understanding of evangelism, as well as lead to a resurgence of NT evangelism!