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Commemoration of St. Polycarp of Smyrna, Bishop and Martyr

February 23rd, 2014 1 comment

The governor wants Polycarp to deny Christ, and promises if he will, his life will be spared. But the faithful bishop answers, “For 86 years I have served Him, and He has never done me wrong; how then can I now blaspheme my King and Savior?”

Born around AD 69, Saint Polycarp was a central figure in the early church. Said to be disciple of the holy evangelist and apostle Saint John, he provides a link between the first generation of believers and later Christians, including Saint Irenaeus, Bishop of Lyons, who later wrote of him. Saint Ignatius of Antioch also knew and wrote to him. His home town of Smryna (modern Izmir, Turkey) was one of the seven churches addressed in Revelation (see 2:8-11 for the details).

After serving for many years as bishop of Smyrna, Polycarp was caught up in a local persecution of Christians. While willing to be martyred, others encouraged him to flee. However, he was later arrested, tried, and executed for his faith on 23 February c. AD 156. An eyewitness narrative of his death, The Martyrdom of Polycarp, continues to encourage believers in times of persecution.

According to the ancient records, he was tried solely on the charge of being a Christian. When the proconsul urged him to save his life by cursing Christ, he replied: “Eighty-six years I have served Him, and He never did me any wrong. How can I blaspheme my King who saved me?” According the the customary reckoning of his birth and death, this means that he must have been baptized as an infant, raised as a Christian, and lived his entire life as in the Faith. His fidelity follows the encouragement given by the Lord to the church in Smyrna in Revelation 2:10, “Be faithful unto death, and I will give you the crown of life. (ESV)”

The following prayer is recorded as his immediately prior to the fire being kindled for his martyrdom:

Lord God Almighty, Father of Your blessed and beloved Son Jesus Christ, through whom we have received knowledge of You, God of angels and hosts and all creation, and of the whole race of the upright who live in Your presence: I bless You that You have thought me worthy of this day and hour, to be numbered among the martyrs and share in the cup of Christ, for resurrection to eternal life, for soul and body in the incorruptibility of the Holy Spirit. Among them may I be accepted before You today, as a rich and acceptable sacrifice, just as You, the faithful and true God, have prepared and foreshown and brought about. For this reason and for all things I praise You, I bless You, I glorify You, through the eternal heavenly high priest Jesus Christ, Your beloved Son, through whom be glory to You, with Him and the Holy Spirit, now and for the ages to come. Amen.

We pray:

O God, the maker of heaven and earth, who gave to Your venerable servant, the holy and gentle Polycarp, boldness to confess Jesus Christ as King and Savior, and steadfastness to die for the Faith, give us grace, following his example, to share the cup of Christ and rise to eternal life; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.

In the extended entry is a translation of the document The Martyrdom of Polycarp

Read more…

Commemoration of Martin Luther: Doctor and Confessor . . . Why is Martin Luther One of the Greatest Theologians in the Church’s History?

February 18th, 2014 7 comments

Lutheran theologian Hermann Sasse answers the question well:

“Why is Luther the greatest in what has been a long line of teachers in the church who have proclaimed the Word of God from generation to generation? It is because none of the others understood the Word of God so profoundly. The Word of God is greater than human words, which have limitations. The time will come when nobody remembers Homer, or Shakespeare or Goethe, but the Word of God will endure forever. Human words can certainly accomplish much – the command of a powerful ruler or of a general can decide the fate of nations, but sooner or later their power ceases to be. No mere human word is almighty. But God’s Word is always living and active because it is the Word of the eternal, almighty God, the Word through which all things were created. It is the Word of the Judge of all who live. It is the Word of forgiveness, the Word of redemption, the Word which no human word can contradict. It is the Word which, as John says, has become flesh in Jesus Christ. He is himself the eternal Word of God; ‘his name’, it is written in Revelation (19:13), ‘is called the Word of God’. To proclaim the Word of God is to proclaim Jesus Christ. ‘To him all of the prophets bear witness’, according to the apostle Peter (Acts 10:43). ‘We preach Christ crucified’ says Paul in regard to the preaching of the apostles (1 Cor 1:23). He, Jesus Christ, is the content of the church’s preaching – that he is the Redeemer and the Lord is the proclamation of the teachers of the church from its very beginning. That is the message which has been handed down from one generation to another. The proclaimers come and go, but the proclamation itself remains the same: Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today and forever. That and nothing else is the content of the Christian proclamation. Luther again and again reminded the church of this – a church which had forgotten it, and indeed which had almost buried the one Word of God under so many human words of religion and philosophy.

Luther is one of the great Christologists, the great witnesses to Christ in the church. Like the great theologians of the early church – an Irenaeus or an Athanasius – he stood in reverence before the great mystery of God’s revelation: ‘the Word became flesh’ (John 1:14); ‘great is the mystery of godliness, that God was manifest in the flesh (1 Tim 3:16). All of his life Luther stood prayerfully and reverently before the incomprehensible mystery of the person of Jesus Christ, ‘where God and man meet and all fullness appears’. What the Greek fathers of the 4th and 5th centuries acquired by deep study of Holy Scripture with reverent and prayerful meditation, what the ancient church confessed in her ecumenical councils and stated contrary to the reasoning of philosophy – that Jesus Christ is true God, God from God, Light from Light, very God of very God, of one being with the Father, and at the same time true man – Luther thought through these powerful truths and took them even further in his theology in connection with the doctrine of the Lord’s Supper. However, he tried to speak of these things so clearly and simply that even the simplest Christian – yes, even a child – could grasp them. ‘He whom the world could not contain, lies on Mary’s lap. He who upholds all things becomes a little child’. That is the teaching of Nicea. Or we think of how Luther expressed the doctrine of Chalcedon, the teaching of the two natures of Christ, in his catechism – ‘I believe that Jesus Christ, true God, begotten of the Father from eternity, and also true man, born of the virgin Mary, is my Lord…’ This explanation of the second article of the creed has been called by some the most beautiful sentence in the German language – it is the most beautiful sentence in the German language, but not only because of its structure, which reveals a master of language, but also because of its content. Here we find the eternal Word of God, the eternal Gospel: Jesus Christ, the same yesterday, today and forever.

From a sermon given on Reformation Day 1943 in Erlangen, Germany.
HT: Pastor Mark Henderson

Martin Luther, Doctor, Confessor and Reformer of The Church: February 18

February 18th, 2014 6 comments

Luther_death-hand_mask
On this day, in 1546, in the town where he was born, Eisleben, Germany, Dr. Martin Luther died, at the age of 63. Fittingly, he died shortly after collapsing at the end of his last sermon, preached at St. George Church in Eisleben. He was carried to a house just across from the church and there was received by our Lord into his heavenly rest. What a remarkable man. Luther continues to be a man who attracts interest across the world, as well he should. How blessed are we who identify ourselves with what Luther believed, taught and confessed. The picture you see here was taken in Eisleben, in the house where Luther died. This is a copy of the plaster face and hand casts made shortly after Luther died, a common practice in his day. What is most fascinating to me is that his right hand, his writing hand, is shaped in death as if he was holding a pen. And no wonder. The literary output of Martin Luther is simply astounding. If there ever was proof of the old adage that "the pen is mightier than the sword" we find it in the life and work of Martin Luther.

Luther's life and work can be studied from many different perspectives, each shedding its own unique light on our understanding of Luther. I've spent my entire adult life studying Luther: his life, his writings, the history surrounding the Reformation, and the lives and work of his friends and foes. I have never found anything more profound produced by Luther than his Small Catechism and his hymns. For here, in my opinion, is where the heart of Luther is revealed for all to see. For me, the truly "essential Luther" is found in his explanation of the Apostles Creed, and in the first hymn he wrote for congregational use Dear Christians One and All Rejoice, both of which follow:

I believe that
God has made me and all creatures; that He has given me my
body and soul, eyes, ears, and all my limbs, my reason, and
all my senses, and still preserves them; in addition thereto,
clothing and shoes, meat and drink, house and homestead, wife
and children, fields, cattle, and all my goods; that He provides
me richly and daily with all that I need to support this body
and life, protects me from all danger, and guards me and preserves
me from all evil; and all this out of pure, fatherly, divine
goodness and mercy, without any merit or worthiness in me;
for all which I owe it to Him to thank, praise, serve, and
obey Him. This is most certainly true.

I believe that
Jesus Christ, true God, begotten of the Father from eternity,
and also true man, born of the Virgin Mary, is my Lord, who
has redeemed me, a lost and condemned creature, purchased
and won [delivered] me from all sins, from death, and from
the power of the devil, not with gold or silver, but with
His holy, precious blood and with His innocent suffering and
death, in order that I may be [wholly] His own, and live under
Him in His kingdom, and serve Him in everlasting righteousness,
innocence, and blessedness, even as He is risen from the dead,
lives and reigns to all eternity. This is most certainly true.

I believe that
I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ,
my Lord, or come to Him; but the Holy Ghost has called me
by the Gospel, enlightened me with His gifts, sanctified and
kept me in the true faith; even as He calls, gathers, enlightens,
and sanctifies the whole Christian Church on earth, and keeps
it with Jesus Christ in the one true faith; in which Christian
Church He forgives daily and richly all sins to me and all
believers, and at the last day will raise up me and all the
dead, and will give to me and to all believers in Christ everlasting
life. This is most certainly true.

Dear Christians, One and All, Rejoice
Written by Martin Luther, 1523

Dear Christians, one and all, rejoice,
With exultation springing,
And with united heart and voice
And holy rapture singing,
Proclaim the wonders God has done,
How his right arm the victory won.
What price our ransom cost him!

Fast bound in Satan’s chains I lay,
Death brooded darkly over me,
Sin was my torment night and day;
In sin my mother bore me.
But daily deeper still I fell;
My life became a living hell,
So firmly sin possessed me.

My own good works all came to naught,
No grace or merit gaining;
Free will against God’s judgment fought,
Dead to all good remaining.
My fears increased till sheer despair
Left only death to my share;
The pangs of hell I suffered.

But God had seen my wretched state
Before the world’s foundation,
And mindful of his mercies great,
He planned for my salvation.
He turned to me a father’s heart;
He did not choose easy part
But gave his dearest treasure.

God said to his beloved Son:
"It’s time to have compassion.
Then go, bright jewel of my crown,
And bring to all salvation;
From sin and sorrow set them free;
Slay bitter death for them that they
May live with you forever."

The Son obeyed his Father’s will,
Was born of virgin mother;
And God’s good pleasure to fulfill,
He came to be my brother.
His royal power disguised he bore,
A servant’s form, like mine, he wore
To lead the devil captive.

To me he said: "Stay close to me,
I am your rock and castle.
Your ransom I myself will be;
For you I strive and wrestle;
For I am yours, and you are mine,
And where I am you may remain;
The foe shall not divide us.

"Though he will shed my precious blood,
Of life me thus bereaving,
All this I suffer for your good;
Be steadfast and believing.
Life will from death the victory win;
My innocence shall bear your sin;
And you are blest forever.

"Now to my Father I depart,
From earth to heaven ascending,
And heavenly wisdom to impart,
The Holy spirit sending;
In trouble he will comfort your
And teach you always to be true
And into truth shall guide you.

What I on earth have done and taught
Guide all your life and teaching;
So shall the kingdom’s work be wrought
And honored in your preaching.
But watch lest foes with base alloy
The heavenly treasure should destroy;
This final word I leave you."

Cranach-lutherLuher's Signature

Commemoration of Philip Melanchthon, Confessor

February 16th, 2014 11 comments

Philip Melanchthon (1497-1560) was a brilliant student of the classics and a humanist scholar. In 1518 he was appointedto teach along with Martin Luther at the University of Wittenberg. At Luther’s urging, Melanchthon began teaching theology and Scripture in addition to his courses in classical studies. In April of 1530, Emperor Charles V called an official meeting between the representative of Lutheranism and Roman Catholicism, hoping to effect a meeting of minds between two opposing groups. Since Luther was at that time under papal excommunication and an imperial ban, Melanchthon was assigned the duty of being the chief Lutheran representative at this meeting. He is especially remembered and honored as the author of the Augsburg Confession, which was officially presented by the German princes to the emperor on June 25, 1530, as the defining document of Lutheranism within Christendom.

Commemoration of Philemon and Onesimus

February 15th, 2014 1 comment

Philemon was a prominent first-century Christian who owned a slave named Onesimus. Although the name “Onesimus” means “useful,” Onesimus proved himself “useless” when he ran away from his master and perhaps even stole from him (Philemon 18).  Somehow Onesimus came into contact with the apostle Paul while the latter was in prison (possibly in Rome), and through Paul’s proclamation of the Gospel he became a Christian. After confessing to the apostle that he was a runaway slave, he was directed by Paul to return to his master and become “useful” again. In order to help pave the way for Onesimus’ peaceful return home, Paul sent him on his way with a letter addressed to Philemon, a letter in which he urged Philemon to forgive his slave for having run away and “to receive him as you would receive me” (v. 17), “no longer as a slave, but as a beloved brother” (v. 16). The letter was eventually included by the church as one of the booksof the New Testament.

We pray:

Lord God, heavenly Father, You sent Onesimus back to Philemon as a brother in Christ, freeing him from his slavery to sin through the preaching of the Apostle St. Paul. Cleanse the depths of sin within our souls and bid resentment cease for past offenses, that, by Your mercy, we may be reconciled to our brothers and sisters and our lives will reflect Your peace; through Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.

Commemoration of St. Valentine, Martyr

February 14th, 2014 7 comments

Having little, to nothing, to do with the sentimentalism of this day on the secular calendar, the real St. Valentine was quite a man, well worth remembering and commemorating on this day. A physician and priest living in Rome during the rule of the Emperor Claudius, Valentine become one of the noted martyrs of the third century. The commemoration of his death, which occurred in the year 270, became part of the calendar of remembrance in the early church of the West. Tradition suggests that on the day of his execution for his Christian faith, he left a note of encouragement for a child of his jailer written on an irregularly-shaped piece of paper. This greeting became a pattern for millions of written expressions of love and caring that now are the highlight of Valentine’s Day in many nations.

We pray:

Almighty and everlasting God, You kindled the flame of Your love in the heart of Your holy martyr Valentine. Grant to us, Your humble servants, a faith like Valentine’s and the power of love, that we who rejoice in Christ’s triumph may embody his love in our lives; through Jesus Christ, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

Commemoration of Aquila, Priscilla and Apollos

February 13th, 2014 Comments off

We pray
O God, the Strength of all who put their trust in You, mercifully grant that by Your power we may be defended against all adversity; through Jesus Christ, Your Son, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

First Reading: Job 9:1-35

Second Reading: John 4:46-54

Aquila and Priscilla were Jewish tentmakers, who left Rome (Aquila was a native of Pontus) in the Jewish persecution under Claudius, 49 or 50, and settled in Corinth, where they entertained St. Paul, as being of their trade, on his first visit to the town (Acts 18:1 ff.). The time of their conversion to the Faith is not known. They accompanied St. Paul to Ephesus (Acts 18:18-19), instructed the Alexandrian Apollo, entertained the Apostle Paul at Ephesus for three years, during his third missionary journey, kept a Christian church in their house (1 Corinthians 16:19), left Ephesus for Rome, probably after the riot stirred up by the silversmith Demetrius (Acts 19:24-40), kept in Rome also a church in their house (Romans 16:3-5), but soon left that city, probably on account of the persecution of Nero, and settled again at Ephesus (2 Timothy 4:19).

Commemoration of St. Silas: Fellow Worker of St. Peter and St. Paul

February 10th, 2014 2 comments

Saint Paul chose Silas, a leader in the church at Jerusalem, to accompany him on his second missionary journey from Antioch to Asia Minor and Macedonia (Acts 15:40). Silas, also known as Silvanus, was imprisoned with Paul in Philippi (Acts 16:16-40) and experienced the riots in Thessalonica (Acts 17:1-9) and Berea (Acts 17:10-15). They were apart for some length of time, after which he rejoined Paul in Corinth (Acts 18:1-5). Apparently, he remained there for an extended period. One account stands out for most readers of the New Testament. The time Paul and Silas shared in the Philippian prison gave them a special opportunity to proclaim the Gospel. God freed their bonds during an earthquake but they refuse to escape and instead saved their jailer from committing suicide because of his responsibility for them. The Lord used these two and the surrounding events to witness to the jailer about His love and forgiveness through Christ Jesus. Working through the Gospel, the Holy Spirit brought him and his household to faith in Jesus and led them to be baptized.

We pray:

Almighty and Everlasting God, Your servant Silas preached the Gospel alongside the apostles Peter and Paul to the peoples of Asia Minor, Greece, and Macedonia. We give You thanks for raising up in this and ever land evangelists and heralds of Your kingdom, that the Church may continue to proclaim the unsearchable riches of our Savior, Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

Commemoration of Jacob (Israel): Patriarch

February 5th, 2014 1 comment

Today we remember and thank God for Jacob, the Patriarch. Jacob was the third of the three great Hebrews given the title of patriarch, following his grandfather Abraham and his father Isaac. Jacob was the younger of the twin sons of Isaac and Rebekah. He received his name because before birth he gripped his brother Esau’s heel, seeming even then to be struggling for supremacy (Jacob can mean “He grasps the heel” or “he cheats”). After wrestling with the Angel of the Lord, Jacob, who certainly had lived up to the name of “Deceiver,” was renamed Israel, which means “he strives with God” (Genesis 25:26; 32:28). His family life was filled with trouble, much of it caused by his acts of deception toward his father and his brother Esau and his parental favoritism toward his son Joseph (commemorated on 31 March). He spent many of his later years grieving over the death of his beloved wife Rachel and the presumed death of Joseph, who had been appointed by the Egyptian Pharaoh to be in charge of food distribution during a time of famine in the land. Late in life, as he was blessing his sons, Jacob uttered God’s prophetic promise that the Messiah would come through the line of his fourth son, Judah (Genesis 49:8-12).

Source.

Commemoration of St. John Chrysostom – January 27

January 27th, 2014 4 comments

Johnchrysostom“Golden mouth” – that was John’s honorary name and well earned. One of the most famous preachers in the history of the Church, today is the day we commemorate, remember and thank God for John and his faithful ministry. Here are some interesting reflections I found on Chrysostom. If you are interested in more on the life and activities of John, please refer to the Wikipedia article, that also contains a nice bibliography at the end of the article.

Lessons from the life of John Chrysostom

John Chrysostom was nicknamed “Golden Mouth” and stands as one of the most famous Greek preachers in church history. I return to his life frequently to be reminded of some golden lessons.

1. Earnest education in the grammatical-historical interpretation of Scripture. Plaguing the exegesis of the early church preachers (the Patristics) is an allegorical interpretation of Scripture. The move away from allegorical to the grammatical-historical was attempted by several but matured primarily under the scholarship of Diodore of Tarsus and it was this man who passed this method of interpretation to Chrysostom in Antioch. Contrary to most schools, the Atiochene school was “built on a method of interpretation rather than a theological tendency” (Old, Reading and Preaching of the Scriptures, 2:169).

Training in the grammatical-historical method shows itself clearly in the fruits of Chrysostom’s preaching, reflecting a high view of the authority of Scripture. “The preaching of the Word of God is authoritative and efficacious because it is God’s Word, not the preacher’s. Here is the foundation of the passion and the power of great preaching. It is for this reason that the great preachers have preached and their congregations have heard them” (Old, 2:185). Only a conviction of Scripture’s authority forces the preacher to interpret carefully. Chrysostom held a high view of Scripture.

2. Secular liberal arts education. Amazingly, Chrysostom was both educated by one of the great Christian exegetes of his era and one of the great secular orators. His widowed (but wealthy) mother sent John to study under Libanius, a pagan professor famed for his rhetorician in Constantinople and Nicomedia. It seems to be an odd decision for a Christian mother but the fruit of this secular learning – a strong imagination, skills in clear communication and a powerful literary talent – are all evident throughout John’s later work (see our excerpt on spiritual warfare from last week). Hughes Oliphant Old writes, “Metaphors and similes seem to come to this preacher all quite naturally and without the least sort of effort” (Old, 2:193).

This blending of the secular/pagan and Christian educations was beneficial. Getting good exegetical and theological training is obvious. But those seeking to preach are encouraged to also seek a secular degree in liberal arts, too. “One of the reasons John Chrysostom achieve such distinction as a preacher was because he mastered both classical oratory as it was so brilliantly taught by Libanius and the principles of biblical interpretation as taught with no less luster by Diodore” (Old, 2:172). The diversity of training provides the preacher excellent skills in critical thinking, communicating in general and specifically in speaking the Gospel to fellow classmates who represent the diverse colors of culture (homosexual worldview, humanism, naturalism, atheism, agnosticism, theological liberalism, feminism, etc.).

3. Preaching against the sins of culture. In our day, when church-going Christians are in the minority, we are told the church should resemble the world in order to get non-Christians in the door. Chrysostom knew better. Christianity in his time was also the minority, lived among a majority of pagans in Antioch. Crowds of pagans would gather to hear good oratory and so Chrysostom’s sermons were well-attended by non-Christians. This did not stop him from taking the cultural sins and idols head-on. And he encouraged his people to live differently than the culture around them, to evangelize their neighbors by their actions before evangelizing with words. Chrysostom encourages us to evangelize our culture by being radically different.

4. Fighting worldliness. Chrysostom wrote on the topic of fasting: “Fasting is, as much as lies in us, an imitation of the angles, a contemning of things present, a school of prayer, a nourishment of the soul, a bridle of the mouth, an abatement of concupiscence: it mollifies rage, it appeases anger, it calms the tempests of nature, it excites reason, it clears the mind, it disburthens the flesh, it chases away night-pollutions, it frees from head-ache. By fasting, a man gets composed behaviour, free utterance of his tongue, right apprehensions of his mind.” Chrysostom understood the benefits of fasting and taught his people to prefer godly sorrow over worldly joy. John challenged his congregation to fast as an offensive against the idol-saturated Antioch. His asceticism and preaching against extravagance infuriated emperor Arcadius and his wife Eudoxia. Despite the mocking of the day, great and earnest preachers perceive the sinfulness of worldliness and warn souls.

5. Preaching plainly. I don’t suggest that John was a plain preacher. He was trained under one of the greatest Pagan orators in Libanius and his sermons bear the watermark of oratorical greatness. Whether a true offer or not, it is said Libanius eyed his prized student Chrysostom as his replacement. Obviously, Chrysostom could have preached with the greatest eloquence of his age. However, he chose rather to open Scripture in a simple manner, accessible to all of his hearers. “His plainness of speech gave great offense to the beautiful and imperious Eudoxia, the worldly consort of Arcadius. This hatred of the empress and the envy and anger of many of the clergy were the causes of Chrysostom’s deposition and banishment” (Dargan, A History of Preaching, 1:90).

Chrysostom preached to sinners in the “real world.” He touched understood the lives of his hearers, he was experientially sensitive and these qualities made a great impact. “The Shakespeare of preachers has not appeared,” John Broadus wrote in 1907. “But why should he not some day appear? One who can touch every chord of human feeling, treat every interest of human life, draw illustration from every object and relation of the known universe, and use all to gain acceptance and obedience for the gospel of salvation. No preacher has ever come nearer this than Chrysostom, perhaps none, on the whole, so near” (Broadus, Lectures on the History of Preaching, p. 78).

6. Late start. Chrysostom, who died at 60, took to the pulpit in Antioch at the age of 39. He had been educated in the Liberal Arts, worked in law and served as a deacon for several years. He had many years of Christian service behind him and a great knowledge of the world when he rose to the primary preacher in Antioch. But he was also a considerably old man when he got his start. This teaches preachers a bit about patience. You may know God has called you to preach His Word but now you are in school or working a secular job or otherwise wondering what God has in store. Chrysostom reminds us that God’s timing may come later than we want but He is sovereignly preparing us for ministry no matter where we are. We are called to commune with God and experience life in the “real world” in preparation for our future tasks. John Broadus writes, “In our impatient age and country, when so many think time spent in preparation is time lost, it is well to remember that the two most celebrated preachers of the early Christian centuries began to preach, Chrysostrom at thirty-nine, and Augustine at thirty-six” (Broadus, p. 76). Nearly 40 years of preparation for 18 years of fruitful ministry (12 years in Antioch and 6 in Constantinople). However in these 18 years, Chrysostom preached daily and only Spurgeon has left more sermons in print. Be patient in the preparation.

7. Sensitive to the cultural events. One of the most powerful experiences of Chrysostom’s ministry in Antioch occurred in 386. The people believing emperor Theodosius was overtaxing them rioted and destroyed imperial statues in the Antioch. Such an act brought swift and harsh response from the emperor including many arrests and killings. Even before the reprisal took place, the people knew they had sinned and were in deep trouble.

Amidst the upheaval in Antioch as the city awaited certain reprisal from the emperor, Chrysostom asked his city who they feared more. Do they fear the wrath of the emperor more than the wrath of God?

Chrysostom immediately began preaching sermons we now know as the “Sermons on the Statues” and initiated a 40 day fast for the city. Of his sermon content we are told, “At one time his object here is to console a people struggling with present distress; at another, to strengthen minds that were sinking under the extremity of danger; and above all, by repeated admonition, to persuade the people of Antioch, on occasion of the threatened calamities, to correct the vices and to wipe away the crimes that had thus provoked God’s wrath; which endeavor on the part of Chrysostom certainly ended in results agreeable to his desire, as he sometimes acknowledges” (Preface to the Benedictine edition).

In one sermon Chrysostom said,

“How then is it any thing but absurd, to submit to the greatest hardships, when an Emperor enjoins it; but when God commands nothing grievous nor difficult, but what is very tolerable and easy, to despise or to deride it, and to advance custom as an excuse? Let us not, I entreat, so far despise our own safety, but let us fear God as we fear man. I know that ye shudder at hearing this, but what deserves to be shuddered at is that ye do not pay even so much respect to God; and that whilst ye diligently observe the Emperor’s decrees, ye trample under foot those which are divine, and which have come down from heaven; and consider diligence concerning these a secondary object. For what apology will there be left for us, and what pardon, if after so much admonition we persist in the same practices.”

Chrysostom, like Jesus, used the climate of the day to point souls towards the holiness and wrath of God and to encourage repentance (Luke 13:1-5)? When preachers today use 9/11, tsunamis and hurricanes to point souls towards God they walk in the pattern set by Christ and followed by Chrysostom. So preachers, take advantage of the times. Be acquainted with the conditions of your culture and put them to use spiritually in calling sinners to repentance.

8. Preaching as a prophet calling God’s people to repentance. Chrysostom did not hesitate to call professing Christians to repentance. In this sense he was prophetic. “One can hardly avoid the observation that if he was everything a Greek orator was supposed to be, he was also everything a Hebrew prophet was supposed to be. With all the passion of Elijah he confronted God’s people with their sins; with all the eloquence of Isaiah he called his congregation to repentance” (Old, 2:195). This certainly flows from an understanding of the age he preached and the specific temptations of his people. The great preachers seek to pull their congregation out of their sins to humble them and lead them to the Cross. A failure to lead a church out of a particular sin leads to serious corporate troubles (see Rev. 2:1-3:22).

9. Errors. Chrysostom leaves a great legacy to follow but not without errors. While watching the busy city of Antioch, John “sharpened that penetrating knowledge of human nature,” but would later move to a monastery, a decision that would certainly hamper his (and his followers) sensitivity to the surrounding culture (Broadus, p. 73). While not allegorizing, he is known for twisting passages to suit his own needs. His emphasis on celibacy, transubstantiation, monasticism are all quite unfortunate though compared to his contemporaries Chrysostom held a cautious and discerning Mariology.

But most unfortunate, Chrysostom said far more about ethics and works than about Christ and redemption in the Cross. Too frequently readers of his sermons will find only momentary glimpses of the Cross. Were it not for his concluding benediction, Jesus Christ would be altogether absent from many of his sermons.

Conclusion

It does no good making a list of errors if we don’t humbly recognize we have our own. Church history repeats one general theme: Even the greatest preacher will not escape the errors of his day. We take lessons from Chrysostom’s life tempered with the sober reality that the Patristic era of church history contains many grievous errors. It will prove beneficial to pray and ask God this question: What errors of my age – those errors commonly held by my friends and associates – what of these errors have I unknowingly fallen? The errors which seem so obvious centuries later go unseen at the time.

The beauty of history is that we take the good and leave the bad. From the fruit of Chrysostom’s life we can return to our ministries with a basket filled with rich lessons.

 

 

Commemoration of St. John Chrysostom

January 27th, 2014 1 comment

Mosaic of Chrysostom in the Hagia Sophia. Istanbul (Constantinople), Turkey.

Given the added name of Chrysostom, which means “golden-mouthed” in Greek, Saint John was a dominant force in the fourth-century Christian church. Born in Antioch around the year 347, John was instructed in the Christian faith by his pious mother, Anthusa. After serving in a number of Christian offices, including acolyte and lector, John was ordained a presbyter and given preaching responsibilities. His simple but direct messages found an audience well beyond his home town. In 398, John Chrysostom was made Patriarch of Constantinople. His determination to reform the church, court, and city there brought him into conflict with established authorities. Eventually, he was exiled from his adopted city. Although removed from his parishes and people, he continued writing and preaching until the time of his death in 407. It is reported that his final words were: “Glory be to God for all things. Amen.”

Today, we pray:

O God, You gave to your servant John Chrysostom grace to proclaim the Gospel with eloquence and power. As bishop of the great congregations of Antioch and Constantinople, John fearlessly bore reproach for the honor of Your name. Mercifully grant to your church bishops and pastors who are like John in preaching and fidelity in their ministry of the Word to your people, and grant that we all be partakers of the divine nature through Jesus Christ, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You adn the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

For a longer biographical sketch of Chrysostom, read the extended entry. Read more…

Commemoration of Sarah

January 20th, 2014 3 comments

Today we commemorate and thank God for Sarah. She was the wife (and half-sister) of the Hebrew patriarch Abraham (Gen. 11:29; 20:12). In obedience to divine command (Gen. 12:1), she made the long and arduous journey west, along with her husband and his relatives, from Ur of the Chaldees to Haran and then finally to the land of Canaan. She remained childless until old age. Then, in keeping with God’s long-standing promise, she gave birth to a son and heir of the covenant (Gen. 21: 1-3). She is remembered and honored as the wife of Abraham and the mother of Isaac, the second of the three patriarchs. She is also favorably noted for her hospitality to strangers (Gen. 18:1-8). Following her death at the age of 127, she was laid to rest in the Cave of Machpelah (Gen. 49:13), where her husband was later buried.

And thus, today we pray:

Lord and Father of us all, You looked with favor upon Sarah in her advanced years, putting on her a new name, Sarah, and with it the promise of many blessings from her aged womb. Give us a youthful hope in the joy of our own new name, being baptized into the promised Messiah, that we, too, might be fruitful in Your kingdom, abounding in the works of Your Spirit; through Jesus Christ, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

Commemoration of the Cappadocian Fathers

January 10th, 2014 Comments off

Basil and the two Gregorys, collectively known as the Cappadocian Fathers, were leaders of Christian orthodoxy in Asia Minor (modern Turkey) in the later fourth century. Basil and Gregory of Nyssa were brothers; Gregory of Nazianzus was their friend. All three were influential in shaping the theology ratified by the Council of Constantinople of 381, which is expressed in the Nicene Creed. Their defense of the doctrines of the Holy Spirit and Holy Trinity, together with their contributions to the liturgy of the Eastern Church, make them among the most influential Christian teachers and theologians of their time.

We pray:

Almighty God, You revealed to Your Church your eternal being o glorious majesty and perfect love as one God in a Trinity of Persons. May Your Church, with bishops like Basil of Caesarea, Gregory of Nazianzus, and Gregory of Nyssa, receive grace to continue steadfast in the confession of the true faith and constant in our worship of You, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, who live and reign, one God, now and forever. Amen.

For more information on each of the Cappadocians, please read the extended entry. Read more…

Commemoration of Wilhelm Loehe: Pastor and Missionary

January 2nd, 2014 16 comments

Today is the day set aside in the calendar of commemorations in Lutheran Service Book to remember and praise God for the life and ministry of Pastor Wilhelm Löhe. He is remembered among us chiefly as the founding father of Concordia Theological Seminary in Fort Wayne, Indiana, an institution he gave as a gift to The LCMS. But we do well to recall what Dr. C.F.W. Walther said about Loehe: “Next to God it is Pastor Loehe whom our synod must almost solely thank for the happy increase and rapid strengthening in which it rejoices; it must rightly honor him as its real spiritual father.”

Although he never left Germany, Johann Konrad Wilhelm Loehe, born in Fuerth in 1808, had a profound impact on the development of Lutheranism in North America. Serving as pastor in the  Bavarian village of Neuendettelsau, he recognized the need for workers in developing lands and  assisted in training emergency helpers to be sent as missionary pastors to North America, Brazil,  and Australia. A number of the men he sent to the United States became founders of The  Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod. Through his financial support, a theological school was established in Fort Wayne, Ind., and a teachers’ institute in Saginaw, Mich. Loehe was known for  his confessional integrity and his interest in liturgy and catechetics. His devotion to works of  Christian charity led to the establishment of a deaconess training house and homes for the aged. Löhe, through study and reading of the classic sources of Lutheran theology: Scripture, the Confessions, Luther and the orthodox dogmaticians, reclaimed a deep love for the Lutheran Confessions, the liturgy and the chuch’s sacramental life and call to works of mission and charity. He was an ardent advocate of the primary place of the Small Catechism in the life of the Lutheran congregation, school and home and is perhaps most well known among us today as a catechist and founder of the Lutheran deaconess movement. Source Löhe’s most well known work is his Three Books About the Church. You can read more about Löhe’s theology and life in this book. There is an interesting overview of Löhe’s life and times available in this article.
Löhe, like all of us, had his faults and failings. His emphasis on the divine institution of the Office of the Holy Ministry led him to some excesses in how he explained its powers and duties. He was wrong on the millennium. He is today in some of our circles often dismissed in a ham-fisted manner by those who often do not understand well what Walther taught on the ministry. It is a continuing point of conversation as to what extent Walther misunderstood and even misrepresented Wilhelm Löhe, viewing him through the controversies he had with a Lutheran pastor in New York, Grabau. Löhe’s own assessment of conversations with Walther and Pastor Wynken is interesting to read. When he gave Concordia Theological Seminary to The Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod, Löhe issued a caution to The LCMS that we do well to consider today: 

In closing we want to share with you what is making our hearts
heavy, especially since it is of the utmost important to the seminary
in Fort Wayne. With much regret we have noticed that your first
synodical constitution, as is set now, did not completely follow the
example of the first congregations. We fear, and most likely rightly so,
that the basic, strong mixing of democratic, independent,
congregational principles into your church constitution will cause
more harm than the meddling of the princes and authorities did in our
church at home. Careful study of the apostles’ many lessons concerning
organizing the church and ministry, would have better and differently
taught the dear brothers from among the laity. Constitution is a
dogmatic, but not a practical adiaphoron. May that which the NT
teaches of constitution, organization and ministry at large, be the
right locus of the new seminary, and may the results of new research
done by Lutheran theologians in the home country not be considered
inferior and be ignored by the professors and teachers at Fort Wayne.
If a large, interconnected church is to be assembled which is to be a
haven for harried souls, care must be taken that she be endowed in
holy form and shape by which she can be recognized and grasped.

Signed with heartfelt, loyal love and esteem your devoted friend
and Brother,

Johann Conrad Wilhelm Loehe
Pastor at Neuendettelslau in Franconia

Commemoration of David: Prophet, Psalmist and King

December 29th, 2013 3 comments

DavidToday we remember and thank God for St. David, Kind of Israel, and ancestor of Christ the Lord. David is one of the more fascinating persons we learn about in Holy Scripture. He is a icon of God’s grace, truly human and truly redeemed. A nobody who became a somebody purely by God’s own choosing. A man who experienced the most profound depths of man’s sinful condition in his own personal life, and then, even more, the love and mercy of God for a repentant sinner. What I love most about King David are the wonderful treasure God gave us through him in the form of the Psalms: the inspired poetry that have formed the people of God’s “hymnbook” through the ages since they were given through David by inspiration of the Holy Spirit. We remember, praise God for, and commemorate David on this day, most importantly because through him and his offspring and descendants came the Son of David Himself, our Lord Christ, King of King and Lord of Lords.

David, the greatest of Israel’s kings, ruled from about 1010 to 970 B.C. The events of his life are found in 1 Samuel 16 through 1 Kings 2 and in 1 Chronicles 10—29. David was also gifted musically. He was skilled in playing the lyre and the author of no less than 73 psalms, including the beloved Psalm 23. His public and private character displayed a mixture of good (for example, his defeat of the giant Goliath, 1 Samuel 17) and evil (as in his adultery with Uriah’s wife, followed by his murder of Uriah, 2 Samuel 11). David’s greatness lay in his fierce loyalty to God as Israel’s military and political leader, coupled with his willingness to acknowledge his sins and ask for God’s forgiveness (2 Samuel 12; see also Psalm 51). It was under David’s leadership that the people of Israel were united into a single nation with Jerusalem as its capital city.
An ancient song in the Church puts it this way:
Come, let us extol David the king, the grandparent of God; for from him sprang out a stem, namely the Virgin, and from that did shine forth Christ the Flower, renewing the creation of Adam and Eve from corruption; for He is compassionate.