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Archive | Church History

The Blessed Fulgentius (A.D. 467-532)

Fulgentius, Bishop of Ruspe, remains a relatively unknown leader of the early church. Almost certainly born in A. D. 467, Fulgentius (sometimes known as Fulgence) lived a busy life of sixty-five years until his death in 532. He lived in North Africa (present day Tunisia) during a difficult era of church history colored by debates over the deity of Christ, His nature(s), and the Pelagian controversy. He served as bishop from 507 to 532, though he spent many of those years in exile under the rule of an Arian king; the Arians denied the deity of Christ. God raised up Fulgentius to vigorously defend the orthodox faith in the face of great persecution. He is arguably the greatest churchman of North Africa to come after Augustine, in whose tradition he followed. John Calvin made extensive use of his writings, but because the biography of Fulgentius and his writings have only been translated into English within the last two decades, most in the English speaking world have no idea who he was. Virtually everything we know regarding Fulgentius is found in his Selected Works, translated by Robert B. Eno (vol. 95, The Fathers of the Church, ed. Thomas B. Halton, Washington D. […]

You Can’t Reform What You Won’t Touch

I’ve loved all the special services, conferences, blog posts, and books for the 500th anniversary of the Reformation these past weeks. I’ve revelled in remembering stories of Luther’s heroics, hearing messages on the doctrines of grace, and being stirred to keep carrying the torch of reform. Yet I wanted to point out one important truth about Biblical reform we need to keep in mind.

You can’t reform what you won’t touch.

What do I mean? Individual, congregational, or cultural reform does not occur simply by lobbing doctrinal cannonballs from the pulpit to the pews or, worse yet, from one computer screen across cyberspace toward the screen of an intended target. Rather, you have to get messy and touch what you desire to see changed.

Recently Rebecca VanDoodewaard commented, “Sixteenth-century Europe didn’t change because three or four intelligent men wrote new theological works.” She wrote that in the context of explaining how the women of the Reformation worked hard by raising godly families, opening their homes to strangers, conducting poverty relief, promoting theological education, and influencing politics. With hearts and minds full of Biblical teaching, these women put their hands and feet to work with the busyness of going forward and touching people in ways […]

9.5 Theses: Suggested Reading on the Reformation

This article originally appeared here on the Tabletalk Magazine website and is reposted here with permission.

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With the five-hundredth anniversary of Martin Luther’s nailing of the Ninety-Five Theses approaching on the last day of this month, how might a church put together a guide for laypeople who want to learn more about the history of the Protestant Reformation? Before I answer that question, let me answer a more foundational one: Why is reading about the Reformation so important for Christians today? Please let me offer a bit of testimony for this latter question, then offer a guide to answer the first one.

Years ago, when I attended seminary in my mid-twenties, I took my first church history class. It was like stepping into a whole new world.

Having had a secular education, spotty church attendance through my childhood, a conversion in college, and then a journey for a few years before I came into a Reformed church, I had not known of the history I was now hearing. As I took courses and read, I often learned of people I had little to no knowledge about. I was fascinated by martyrs such as Perpetua and Polycarp in the early church, doctrinal […]

The Half-Way Covenant & Whole-Hearted Youth Ministry

Baptists and Presbyterians can agree regarding one application of child baptism in church history. What was known as the Half-way Covenant was a bad idea. Yet from it we can gain a valuable lesson regarding the church’s gospel duty to young people.

Jonathan Edwards was the pastor during colonial America to the Congregational church in Northampton, Massachusetts. His preaching in the mid-1700’s was one of the means God used to create the Great Awakening, where multitudes of people turned to the Lord. Yet in the midst of this great fruitfulness, a difficulty arose prompted by a practice in the church established by Edwards’ grandfather, Solomon Stoddard, who preceded Edwards as the minister in Northampton.

Children had been baptized in the Northampton congregation, grown up, and had not clearly professed Christ. Yet their names were left on the roll as baptized members. Then they began to have children. Stodddard, in the hope of influencing this later generation with the gospel, allowed the grandchildren of believing members to be baptized. In response, since church membership at the time was socially desirable, many parents who did not have saving faith in Christ readily agreed to have their children baptized. This Half-way Covenant, as it came […]

3GT Episode 50: The Noble Martyrs

Yes, they made it to 50 (and maybe even a little beyond like the prof)! The guys reflect a bit on their experience with 3GT and hope they can at least double the number of episodes as they carry on.

Then they dig into the subject of martyrdom. Admitted history novices, the guys discuss how each of them began to learn about those who gave their lives for Christ. They share some of their favorite stories. They talk of why believers should know of the martyrs, then offer ways congregations can be helped in learning more about these faithful witnesses.

A sober but needed reminder that we are to know of these ones of whom the world was not worthy.

https://threeguystheologizing.files.wordpress.com/2017/08/3gt-episode-50.mp3

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References

(Note: In the reference to the Philippine missionaries Martin and Gracia Burnham, Barry misspoke when he inferred they had both been martyred. After being held hostage for over a year by Muslim terrorists, Martin died but Gracia was rescued and recounts their story in the book In the Presence of My Enemies.)

John Foxe | Foxe’s Book of Martyrs

Elizabeth Elliot | Shadow of the Almighty, Through Gates of Splendor, The Savage My Kinsman

Joel Beeke, Sinclair Ferguson, Michael Haykin | […]

Biographies Towards Community

We live in a time when many in the church struggle to connect with other members of the body. Many consider connectedness something that happens online rather than through living in community. If you don’t believe me, ask the closest millennial–his or her deepest relationships may be with people they know via pixels and screens. We are “alone together” as sociologist Sherry Turkle has put it. The struggle for community is a problem in the world and increasingly it is also a problem in the church.

Besides this lack of connection—or communion—the 21st century North American church is also largely ahistorical. Being ahistorical, having a disregard for the history of the church, has led to old errors being revived, to a disconnection with ancient Christianity (hence the number of evangelicals that go to Rome or the Eastern Church in search of historical connection), and to an inability of individual Christians to gauge their experience against the experience of others.

Lack of connection and community, as well as an ahistorical approach to Christianity, has caused a deficiency in the lives of believers. What can be done to help encourage connection, community, and history? There are several vital remedies for regaining vibrant and experiential […]

Neither Jew nor Gentile: The Musings of a Modern Covenanter on Racial Reconciliation

This past Friday I had the privilege of conversing with Ligon Duncan, Chancellor and CEO of Reformed Theological Seminary. In that short exchange, Dr. Duncan expressed similar sentiments to ones he later posted the next day on Facebook, which read in part: “Just as a little historical tip for those interested, no Presbyterian and/or Reformed denomination in America has a better record for taking a biblical stand on slavery and racism than the Reformed Presbyterian Church of North America. The Covenanters were right on this long before the rest of us caught on.” You can see the rest of his comments here. 

His remarks sparked me to share the following article by Michael LeFebvre, Pastor of Christ Church in Brownsburg, Indiana, and Reformed Presbyterian Theological Seminary Board President. As you can see, Dr. LeFebvre recounts this history, not for the sake of any prideful boasting, but to encourage greater modern applications of the history where racial divides still exist. This article originally appeared in Reformed Presbyterian Theological Journal, Spring 2017 (Vol. 3, Issue 2). Used by permission.

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Introduction

Several months ago, I was at a large Christian university. I was there for a conference, and a campus tour was offered during an afternoon break. On […]

The Eschatological Insufficiency of the Archaic

In the church, as in life, it’s often hard to give up things that have become old friends. Sometimes, it’s hard to know when they have outlived their usefulness, and we must exercise wisdom in removing archaic fixtures.

You might have seen that Basking Ridge Presbyterian’s 600-year old white oak tree has died. Under that tree in Bernards, New Jersey, George Whitefield preached to over 3,000 people in 1740. Legend has it that George Washington picnicked beneath its outstretched limbs. My own ancestors worshiped at that church; indirectly, the shade of that tree has helped shape my own soul. That which served so well has died and must be removed.

Remove archaic fixtures we must, because devotion to the archaic reveals in us an insufficient eschatology. Loving what met needs in the past over what meets the need of the moment fails to anticipate the glory that is to be revealed. It trades a vision for the glory of Christ for earthly forms that are passing away. With the Apostle Paul, we must always seek fidelity to Christ as we count everything as loss for the sake of Christ that we may ultimately attain the resurrection from the dead. With Paul, we forget […]

Presbytery Exam Fun with J. Gresham Machen

For those in the Presbyterian tradition, oral exams for students of theology pursuing licensure to receive a call as a pastor can be terrifying. Students sit on a platform before dozens of elders and answer questions on Scripture, theology, history, ministry, and more. However, after many hours of exams in one day at a presbytery meeting, the exams can also become quite tiring for elders who must listen, ask follow-up questions, and vote to sustain or not to sustain the students.

As my fellow students of theology and I went through our exams more than a decade ago, we noticed these trends over the several years during which we sat before presbytery. We decided to try to spice things up just a bit as we sat before these men whom we deeply loved and respected. So, we occasionally worked rather obscure bits of history or theology into our answers for the fun of watching the faces of our examiners. And it was fun, even as we took our exams very seriously.

Later, one of my comrades read Ned B. Stonehouse’s biography of J. Gresham Machen, a father of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church. There, we learned to our surprise and joy that we had […]

Who Built That?

President Obama famously said while campaigning in 2012, “You didn’t build that,” as a way of emphasizing the role of government in the success of various business ventures.  While seeming to undercut the value of risk-taking and initiative, the former president did stumble upon a biblical truth that everyone in the church needs to keep front and center.