Monday, October 11, 2010

Early Christian Teachers: Philo of Alexandria c15 B.C. to c. 50 A.D.

Okay. Philo was not a Christian, but a Jewish philosopher and interpreter of the Torah. However his ideas of studying would greatly influence the early Christians.

Philo was a Hellenistic (Greek) Jew. He was one of the first to combine the logical processes of the Greeks with the truths of Judaism. He was a Stoic. Stoicism was a type of Greek philosophy founded in Athens in the early 3rd century B.C. They believed that strong emotions resulted in errors in judgment and strove to separate themselves from such emotion. They were very interested in the free will of humanity compared to the gods, or God. They sought to use logical processes to understand the cosmic universe.

Philo regarded the Torah as the "source not only of religious revelation, but also of philosophic truth." ( He wrote commentaries on Jewish law and he also wrote in allegory searching for the inner truths and meanings of the Torah, not just the literal ones. In fact, he often rejected any literal sense of scriptural passages if it raised any type of factual contradiction. He also pointed out that what the scriptures didn't literally state was also important, and that a single word is often the key to true interpretation. He believed that each word should be studied for the inner meaning or truth of the passage.

"According to Philo, God transcends all first principles, incorporeal and cannot even be said to occupy a space or place; He is eternal, changeless, self-sufficient and free from all constraint or necessity (cf. Tripolitis 1978, pp. 5-6 ff.). God freely willed the creation of the cosmos, first in a purely intellectual manner, and then, through the agency of His Logos (Philo's philosophical term for the Wisdom figure of Proverbs 8:22)....Philo calls the thoughts of the Logos "rational seeds" (logoi spermatikoi), and describes them as having a role in the production of the cosmos which, he insists, was brought into being out of non-being by the agency of God." []

Christians took to the idea of the Logos. In fact the introduction of the Book of John in the New Testament has seeds of Philo's writings such as using the term "Word" translated as "Logos." He also taught that God helps His followers based on their love and devotion to him and their fellow man.

Many early Christian teachers would follow his Hellenistic example of understanding the verses through Allegory, word meanings, and the silence of the scriptures. These included Clement of Alexandria, Origen, and Augustine.

It should be noted that many of the Jews of Judea did not accept his teachings as they were opposed to the teachings of the Pharasees at that time.

What does all this mean? Human beings have struggled to understand the Bible for thousands of years. Some view a literal interpretation of everything in it. Some look for the allegorical truths, while others debate the meanings of the words. I think all of this together in the Weslayan tradition should be studied, prayed over, and the truths sought out.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Why Were the Early Christians Hated and Persecuted?

The early Christians of Jerusalem, as I've already discussed, were seen as a Jewish sect. Paul came to the Jerusalem Council and argued to allow Gentiles (non-Jews) to become Christians. As more gentiles joined the fold, many true Jews were upset, and they were angry with some of the teachings of the Christians. Remember the martyrdom of Stephen. Following the Stephen's murder, the Christians fled Jerusalem and spread the Gospel throughout Judea and into Asia-Minor (Turkey) and North Africa, as well as throughout the Roman Empire.

The Romans worshipped and sacrificed to many gods, while the Christians denied the existance of any god, but the one true God. The Christians practiced Communion in secret, and rumors developed about Christians being cannibals (eating the body and drinking blood). Christians also stood against the status quo and were revolutionary with their teachings such as Love your enemies, and that slaves could be rewarded equally with the rich and the nobles in Christ's service. In fact in Galatians 3:28, Paul stated that there was neither Jew nor Greek, neither "slave nor free, there is neither male nor female." This type of talk was very offensive to the castes of the Romans.

The Romans were also fed up with the Jewish zealots and revolts throughout Judea that had been occurring for almost a hundred years. Around 50 A.D. during a Passover ceremony, a Roman guard "mooned" the Jewish elect and chaos and rioting resulted. When all was over, nearly 30,000 Jews were killed. Eventually Jewish zealots attacked Roman outposts and Nero sent General Vespasian to end the problem. Soon after, Vespasian was crowned the Roman emperor. On August 5, 70 A.D. the Romans conquered Jerusalem and burned the temple mount to the ground. Following this tragedy the Jewish leaders of the Diaspora (the time of scattering througout all the lands of the world), began to exclude other groups, such as the Christians. Timothy Paul Jones, a modern scholar and minister, writes that by "90 A.D. the weekly synagogue prayers included a curse against" the Christians.

Emperor Domitian (son of Vespasian) continued persecuting all Jewish groups, including the Christians. Then Emperor Trajan also persecuted the Christians. Christians were considered outlaws and criminals and were hunted down, killed in the arenas, burned, and crucified. Many of the early Christians began to believe that they could earn their way to Heaven by dying as martyrs, though most of the leaders of the Church taught against this early "heresy." By the mid-100s, many Christian leaders became known as apologists, as they argued to prove that Christians were not criminals or outlaws.

The Christian God was different from the Roman ones. He was a personal savior. He had suffered and died. He understood human suffering and loss. Despite all the persecution and violence, Christianity continued to grow throughout the Roman Empire, as people sought this personal relationship with a loving God. It has been said the Church grows more when it is persecuted. This may be true, it certainly was in the Roman days.

God did not promise anything in this life, but peace and joy of the soul in relationship with Him. To the early Christians, that was enough.

The Apostles

The 12 Disciples of Jesus were chosen to experience his ministry first hand and following his crucifixion and resurrection the 11 remaining were caught up in the Holy Fire of the Holy Spirit and set out to work in his service.

Christians are not promised success, wealth, or even good health in this life. Sorry to the mega success churches out there, but they got it wrong. The proof. Here is what happened to the Apostles:

1. Simon-Peter: The Fisherman who was chosen by Jesus to the the Rock of his Church (to establish Christianity), the only human to ever walk on water (though he ultimately failed when he took his eyes off Jesus), the one who swore to never deny Christ, though he did three times in one night, and after the ressurrection-it was Peter who Jesus told to "Feed my sheep." He eventually made his way to Rome where he was crucified during Nero's persecution of the Christians. Nero blamed the Christians for setting Rome on fire in 65 A.D., making them scapegoats for what many believe was his plan to rebuild Rome. Peter refused to be crucified as Jesus had been, "I'm not worthy." Instead tradition states he was crucified upside down and suffered a horrible death.

2. James-Son of Zebedee, one of the first chosen by Jesus, and witness to the transfiguration. Following the first wave of anti-Christian rioting with the murder of Stephen, James is said to have traveled to Spain, then after a vision, returned home to be beheaded by King Herod Agrippa I in 44 A.D.

3. John-Son of Zebedee, one of the first chosen by Jesus, witness to the transfiguration, member of the Jerusalem ruling council, and the only disciple to remain with Jesus' mother at the foot of the cross watching Jesus die. John is the one "Jesus loved," though he obviously loved them all. He lived to be very old and died in 100 A.D. after recieving many prophetic visions. He was the only Apostle that died of natural causes.

4. Andrew, brother of Simon-Peter, an original follower of John the Baptist and then Jesus, and later he spread the Gospel to north of the Black Sea, and to the new city of Byzantium. He was crucified in Patras in Greece. Like Simon-Peter, he begged not to be crucified as Jesus had been, but instead was tied to a cross that made an X now known as Saint Andrew's Cross.

5. Philip. He preached to the Hellenistic (Greek) Jews. Tradition states that he converted the wife of the Roman Proconsul in Heirapolis. The Proconsul was so angry he had Philip, Bartholomew, and Mariamne tortured and then crucified Philip and Bartholomew upside-down, but Philip continued to preach from the cross. The crowd, converted, and released Bartholomew, but Philip refused to be released and died on the cross. Another legend has him beheaded in Hierapolis. Either way, he was probably killed there for his teachings.

6. Bartholomew (Nathaniel). The Apostle usually linked with Philip. Following the resurrection, tradition states he traveled to India through Mesopotamia and Armenia. Stories tell that he was flayed alive, and crucified, head downward by the brother of the King of Armenia after he converted the King to Christianity. Other stories state he was beheaded in Armenia.

7. Matthew. He followed Jesus and was a witness to the resurrection and ascension of Christ. He lived in the upper room with Mary and other Christians in Jerusalem. He preached the Gospel throughout Judea and later to Ethiopia, Greece, and Persia. He may have died of natural causes, but the Catholic church claim he died a martyrs death.

8. Thomas, the one who doubted. He may have also been known as Judas (no not that one, he is listed later). It is believed he traveled to India and preached the Good News until about 72 A.D., when he upset Madai, a local king at mylapore. Madai ordered Thomas to be taken to a nearby mountain, be allowed to pray, then they stoned and stabbled him to death.

9. James the lesser, the Just. According to tradition he may have been a early leader of the Christian sect in Jerusalem following the Ascencion of Christ. Tradition states he was martyred by being beaten to death by a club at Ostrakine in Lower Egypt while preaching the Gospel.

10. Jude, possibly also known as Thaddeus. According to Armenian tradition he was martyred in 65 A.D. in Beirut, Lebanon.

11. Simon the Zealot. He wanted to free Israel from the Romans and like Judas Iscariot, probably wanted Jesus to be a warrior king rather than the Prince of Peace. After the Ascension, Simon evangelized with Jude in Egypt, Persia, and Armenia. There are many traditions about his death and possible martyrdom. Justus Lipsius writes that Simon was sawed in half at Suanir, Persia. Others state he was martyred in Spain, Britain, or even was killed in the Jewish revolt against Rome. Only one states he died peacefully in Edessa.

12. Judas Iscariot. The Betrayer of Christ. He may have committed suicide after the betrayal, some traditions state his innards burst out of his body, some state he grew enormous and was crushed by a chariot, and one even states that the other disciples stoned him to death. I go with the Gospel of Matthew and believe he killed himself, probably by a sword or dagger to the gut (hence the field of blood reference).

13. Matthais. Judas Iscariot's replacement following the Ascension. An early historian, Nicephorus wrote that Matthais taught in Judea, then in the modern region of Georgia (no not the state, the nation near Russia) where he was crucified in Colchis. Another tradition states he was stoned in Jerusalem by the Jewish rulers and beheaded.

So. Only one for sure, and possibly two of the original Apostles lived a long life and died of natural causes. We are not assured of peace, health, or success in this life. We are assured that we are saved in the next life with Jesus in eternal worship and joy. We are promised earthly joy in Christ. If you have a personal relationship with the Lord, the Holy Spirit will comfort and guide you, and your earthly days will be a monument to His grace, love, and forgiveness.

De Colores.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Peter's Life

The Apostle Peter

Simon was a simple fisherman. Jesus chose him to become “fishers of men.” Can you imagine meeting someone, they ask you to leave everything you have, all the people in your life, your job, perhaps even a wife and children, and you do? Obviously there was power with Jesus and charisma that drew people to him.

Simon’s brother is the Apostle Andrew and their father was John of Jonah from the village of Bethsaida in Galilee. Andrew had been a disciple of John the Baptist and had witnessed John announce Jesus as the Lamb of God. Andrew then went to Simon and and brought him to hear Jesus. Simon owned a fishing boat and was listening to Jesus teach on the shore of Lake Gennesaret. The crowd was pressing closely to Jesus, and He used Simon’s boat to stand on to preach to the masses. Jesus then performed a miracle by having Simon, and his fishing buddies, James and John, lower their nets and catch a large number of fish. Amazed, they decided to follow him.

Later, Peter is called upon by Christ to establish the Christian Church. “And I say unto thee, That thou art Peter, and upon this rock, I will build my church.” (Matthew 16: 18-19. Peter or Petra is translated to be “rock,” though there was some controversy in the translation from the Hebrew and Greek. Jesus then said to Peter in verse 19, “I will give to thee the keys to the kingdom of heaven.” According to Acts 1-2, 10-11, 15, Peter is the leader of the early church of Jerusalem and church traditions state he later moved to Rome and established the Church there.

The Protestant view is that Jesus is not referring to Peter when talking about the rock, but referring to Peter’s confession of faith in the preceding versus. This would mean that the Church would be built upon the foundation of “revelation of and confession of faith of Jesus as the Christ.” Even this is debated amongst Protestant Church historians.

Does this debate matter? Yes and no. Yes if you are proving the primacy of Peter as Bishop of the Roman Catholic Church, or if you are teaching that faith is the rock that would establish the Christian church on earth. No when it comes to salvation. Some things we can put on a shelf and trust that God knows what we do not.

After Jesus’ resurrection, Peter established the church in Antioch and preached to other churches in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia Minor, and Bithynia. He was arraigned before the Jewish Sanhedrin twice for preaching the Good News and directly defied their orders. He supported Paul and the evangelizing to the Gentiles.

When the persecutions began he fled Jerusalem and went to Rome to establish Christianity there. Jesus had told him, “when you are old you will stretch out your hands, and another will dress you and take you where you do not want to go.” Many believe Peter was crucified at Rome. He was placed on an upside down cross as he did not consider himself to die the same way as his master. This was probably during the time of the great fire of Rome in the year 64. Emperor Nero blamed the Christians for the burning of Rome and had many rounded up and crucified for it.

Now consider this. Peter loved Jesus as a disciple, but denied him three times on the day of his crucifixion. He was human and afraid for his own life. Then following Pentecost, he was on fire for Christ, willing to go anywhere, face any hardship, to teach the saving news that Christ loves us, died for us, so we could have everlasting life with him. He was a Christian. He faced death on an upside down cross to serve the Lord.

Christianity does not promise an easy life on this earth. However, it is a life of peace, understanding, love of others, and service that makes this life worthwhile. Christianity offers us a new way to live as brothers and sisters in a Society of Agape, and promises everlasting life with our Savior and with our loved ones.

Consider Peter’s story of Christian growth from denial to facing death on a cross to srve the God he loved.

What are you called to do? How can you serve? I ask myself this everyday and though I fail most days, I keep this truth close to my heart. Am I serving Him today? Am I living an authentic Christian witness? What can I do differently?

Love to all,


Monday, May 17, 2010

Wesley's Quadrilateral

It's been a while since I could post. Here is something I've learned only during the past few weeks. Thanks Jeff Gage of Bryan's First United Methodist Church for introducing me to this concept.

I believe in growth through study. I am also a devout Wesleyan in how I view my Christian life and service. John Wesley was a man way ahead of his time in how he viewed the Christian life and our responsibilities to our fellow man. He was chased out of many towns and churches for preaching hard truths and forcing them to think about what they were doing and why they were doing it.

I’ll write more about John Wesley another time though, as today I want to discuss the “Wesley Quadrilateral.” First know that Wesley never wrote directly about this, but people who have studied his writings and journals have summarized his views this way.

The Wesley Quadrilateral is a way we can study the Bible to come to various theological conclusions (truths) about how to live our lives as Christians. I have recently heard a radio preacher speaking about women preaching and how the Bible expressly forbids this. He then said, “You can’t pick and choose what you believe and don’t believe. It’s in the Bible, therefore you have to do it.”

Really? So when your brother dies, you marry your sister in law to keep the bloodline strong? You take part in stoning adulterers? Oh that part doesn’t apply? But you just said, “You can’t pick and choose what you believe and don’t believe.”

So how do we find the answers we seek? What are the truths that God reveals to us in the Bible? Wesley’s thoughts on this are my own and they come down to the famous Wesley Quadrilateral.

First the Bible is divinely inspired and is the primary way we learn of God’s will for our lives. Wesley taught that the Bible was “primary, but not solitary.” This meant that the Bible is where all instruction begins and all the answers are there, but we must also apply reason, experience, and tradition to truly come to the understandings we so desperately seek.

I’ve heard a minister say, “The King James version of the Bible is the only Bible.” Really? What about all the other Bibles printed or copied since the 3rd century? The King James was an English language version in the 16th century marking a Reformation movement for people to be able to read the Bible in their own language. See Education and the application of REASON are important. God would not have given us reason if he did not expect us to use it. I’ve also heard another minister teach that it is “easier for to get a camel through the eye of the needle, than for a rich man to enter the Kingdom of Heaven.” He then held up a sewing needle basically emphasizing that no rich man could ever get to Heaven. Okay, let’s apply some reason here. The “Eye of the Needle” was the gate leading to where the Camels and other animals were kept in the “barnyard.” Camels are big, dumb animals and have to be kicked and prodded to be brought into the yard through the gate, but they do make it inside, usually on a daily basis. See this changes the entire meaning of the quote. Don’t half-quote scripture, and do not attempt to apply it without Reason!

To truly understand what Paul was saying about lady ministers we must understand the culture and times he lived in, the basic morals and values, and traditions of that time. If you read the scripture, apply Reason, personal experiences, and church (universal) traditions then you can come to an understanding of what is right and wrong, what are the truths, and how they effect your PERSONAL relationship with God.

Personal experiences are also important in our understanding of God’s love and grace. I believe that every person must “seek God with fear and trembling” as each of us must answer to him for our own lives. My experiences in various churches growing up had both positive and negative effects on me. My personal growth through study in my Church and in my life have given me some insights that may be wrong, but I hope are right. My goal is to live an authentic, Christian life that may help others to know the love and grace of Jesus Christ. My goal is not to attack my brother’s and sisters, to be judgmental, or to drive them away from knowing God’s love and grace. How has God worked in my life and how can I grow and develop from these experiences? We do not exist in a vacuum, and God is ever revealing himself to us in our personal relationship with him. If you came to the alter to get married, you wouldn’t say goodbye as soon as the ceremony was done and leave to live the rest of your life without your spouse. The conversion experience is like that. You must foster a personal relationship with God to grow in that relationship. This is the purpose for your life.

Finally there is the idea of church traditions. Why do Methodist’s always do Communion during the 1st Sunday of a Month? A hundred years ago, itinerate ministers rode from town to town and would perform Communion and weddings while he was there, usually once a month. The Bible actually doesn’t prescribe when to have the Communion service. Jesus said, “Do this as often as you eat it.” Does this mean every meal, or does this mean when we stop to remember him? The church must change and grow with the times. It does not make sense for the church to practice and teach as it did 1000 years ago. The truths may be the same, but the culture, the technology, even the literacy rates are different.

Only by using the Bible as the primary source for learning, and then applying reason, experience, and traditions can we truly discover the truths of God’s grace and love for us and further our personal relationships with him.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

The Ever-Revealing God

Who is God? What is he? She? How did humanity move from being mostly polytheistic (worshipping many gods), to being mostly monotheistic (worshipping one God)? In 1912, Father Wilhelm Schmidt, in his book, The Origin of the Idea of God,” suggested that there had been a primitive monotheism before men and women had started to worship a number of gods”. He states that this original, High God, was replaced by the “more attractive gods of the pagan pantheons.” However, most anthropologists believe that most of the ancient world was polytheistic.

It was with an ancient man named Abraham in the land of Sumer, outside of the city-state of Ur, that the God of the Jews is revealed. Abraham is said to have left Ur and eventually settled in the land of Canaan sometime between the nineteenth and twentieth centuries BC, or about 4000 years ago. God tells Abraham that he has a special destiny as the father of a great nation. His sons become the fathers of the tribes of Israel and eventually move to Egypt to escape a famine. Abraham knew Him as El Shaddai. In these ancient times God would appear and walk among men in an intimate manner. They could talk to him and even wrestle with Him, as Jacob did on the West Bank of Jabbok. God tested Abraham’s trust (faith) when he ordered him to sacrifice his son Isaac. This is a horrible story to our modern understanding, and many Christians have debated what this was for. We need to understand that many of the gods of ancient days practiced human sacrifice as they required “the input of energy from men and women.” God did not, and by stopping the sacrifice of Isaac he was distancing himself from these other human-created gods. Abraham had proven his faith and the covenant was secure. God was seen as a jealous, war-like God, who protected His elect, and punished all who stood against them. So afraid of Him were the Jews, that they refused to call him by name (they believed that names had power, and that no mere mortal could contain the power of God by naming him). Ancient Hebrew writing YHWH, left out the vowels so His name would not be pronounced.

Later, when God led Moses and the Israelites out of slavery in Egypt, he sent many plagues and finally the Angel of Death to strike down all the first born males of Egypt, then destroyed Pharaoh’s army by swallowing them up in the miracle at the Sea of Reeds. At this time the Israelites saw God as a God of War, also known as Yahwek Sabaoth, the God of Armies. God would make a new covenant with Moses. The people of Israel were to worship only God and would keep to his laws. He required obedience, but time and time again the Israelites would fail in their part of this agreement.

Eventually the Jews created a temple as a place to house the Ark of the Covenant and they began to see it as a “replica of Yahweh’s heavenly court.” His worshippers saw him as a being of fire and power, though Elijah would show another aspect of God when he took refuge on a mountain of the Sinai peninsula. He sheltered in the rocks and waited to see God. There was a mighty wind, but God was not in it. Then a great earthquake, but God was not in it. Then fire, but again God was not in it. After the fire came the sound of a gentle breeze. Elijah knew God was there and he “covered his face with a cloak.” Unlike the pagan gods, the God of the Hebrews was not in any of the “forces of nature but in a realm apart. He is experienced in the scarcely perceptible timbre of a tiny breeze in the paradox of voiced silence.”

Around 900 B.C., the Hebrew’s ideas of God began to change again. God’s prophets communed with him and new ideas of social justice began to develop. What was in men’s hearts was more important than the outward observances of Jewish traditions. God, ever seeking a closer relationship with man was continually being revealed. In fact, a basic tenet of the Jewish religious beliefs includes studying the Torah, as well as the ever-revealing truth of God. This is something that many Christians have lost in their traditions. God is always seeking a closer relationship with us and is ever-revealing Himself to us. Jews were required to profess their faith in the Shema: “Listen Israel! Yahweh is our God. He alone! You shall love God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength. “

At the time of Christ, the most progressive of the Jewish sects were the Pharisees. Yes, I know they have been depicted as hypocrites in our modern churches, but some scholars suggest that Christ was one of them as he often debated with them in their style of questioning and debate (only other Pharisees were allowed to debate in this manner). They believed that everyone in Israel were “called to be a holy nation of priests. God could be present in the humblest home as well as in the Temple….Jews could now approach [H]im directly without the mediation of a priestly caste and an elaborate ritual. They could atone for their sins by acts of loving-kindness to their neighbor; charity was the most important mitzvah in the Torah; when two or three Jews studied the Torah together, God was in their midst.”

One story of Pharisaic Master Hillial, states he was approached by a pagan and told that the man would convert if the Master could recite the Torah while standing on one foot. “Hillial replied: ‘Do not do unto others as you would not have done unto you. That is the whole of the Torah: go and learn it.”

Another story, following the destruction of the temple by the Romans has the Rabbi Yohannan teaching another not to be upset, that “We have another atonement as effective as this. And what is it? It is the acts of loving kindness, as it is said: ‘For I desire mercy and not sacrifice.’”

So God is ever revealing himself to us. He desires a personal relationship with us. His grace calls to us. He loved us enough to take on human form, to live amongst us, to suffer loss, end experience the joys and sorrows of mankind, and to finally experience death on a cross in our place, so we may come to him justified, and have life-everlasting in him.

God loves you. Accept it.

Most of this was extracted from the book A History of God by Karen Armstrong and from the Bible.