Friday, December 28, 2007

I love to study history, theology, current affairs on an international level, and most other things as well. This,of course, does not necessarily mean that I know a whole lot about any of those subjects, but I like to think that I have at least a little better handle on things than Joe Sixpack.

Don't take that as a put down on Joe. I don't mean anything derogatory toward my friend Mr. Sixpack. Most Joe Sixpack's that I know are interested in their home, wife, kids the game their favourite teams will be playing in on the next weekend. There is nothing wrong with Joe and there are times when I wish I did not find these other issues so interesting.

I'm a blue collar worker. I am an operator at an oil refinery in South Louisiana and before that I worked as a scaffold carpenter. My work world is the world of Joe Sixpack and I love it. I like working with construction "hands" and other blue collar folk.

Conversations at work are filled with discussions of football (American style), deer hunting, cattle raising, four wheel riding, bass fishing, etc... I like to hunt, though I am not very good at it. I like to fish, which I am even worse at and I am very interested in LSU football. I also have a wife and four children. These items, along with our work, give me many points of contact with my friends at work.

Still, where I work, I am the only one that I know who can name all the Tudor and Stewart monarchs. I am the only one who's read Suetonius' De vita Caesarum (Life of the Caesars) or Jordanes' Lives and Deeds of the Goths. I am also the only one who's read all of Justin Martyr's works, all the letters and several treatises of St. Cyprian, and a fair chunk of other Church Fathers like Polycarp, Ignatius, Athanasius, Augustine, etc

I don't know much about the latest Hollywood starlet, or what is in the gossip columns. I have a very shallow knowledge of pop culture, but my wife has recently confinced me that such knowledge could be useful when I am speaking with young people. So I hope to start learning some of that stuff, but I plan to do so in moderation. I just does not interest me.

What I've basically admitted above is that for my world and the line of work that I'm in, I am a bit of an odd ball. But that is ok. One of my good friends at work was introducing some new hires to everyone and when he got to me, with his East Tennessee accent, and a bit of a chuckle, he said "This is Kenny. He knows more useless bullshit than anyone else in the world."

My friend, we call him Bird, was having a bit of fun and he was giving me a complement (in his own way). Anytime there is a crossword puzzle with some obscure history or geographic question on it they come to me looking for an answer. They always act shocked when it is something that I don't know off the top of my head.

I'm not a complicated person. Though I do admit that somethings may seem gray, it is only because of our lack of light to perceive its true color. When all is revealed in the brilliant light of God at the final day we will see that there was no gray.

My oldest son, who is now serving in the U.S. Navy, once told me that I was the last man on earth who still believed in Christian chivalry. He was not happy with me at that moment and he meant it as a jab, but I took it as a complement. Since that time he has acknowledged that such chivalry is a good thing to have. I only wish the accusation were more true about me than it is.

I'm 47 years old, and unless I live to be a very old man, which is not likely, I have already lived well over half my life. The most heroic thing that I have done in my life is love my wife and children and go to work every day to support and provide for them.

My adult life is not one that would make a good Hollywood movie. I've worked hard and I've worked a lot. I've never cheated on my wife and just as importantly I have never cheated on the mother of my children. I pray with my children when I am home and encourage them to pray. I tell them to remember that they are baptised into Christ and that salvation is not to be found outside of Jesus Christ and His Church.

I sometimes wish I were rich and I did not have to work so hard to provide for my family and to keep what we have, but then I look into my soul and know what demons and misdeeds might be released from my heart if life were too easy. I think great riches and great poverty are damaging to the soul, and I am glad that I've had to work hard for what we have and that I have to continue to work hard to keep it. It is not always fun, but it is much safer for the soul than great riches or extreme poverty.

A Christian culture can not be achieved in the passing of laws or constitutional amendments, though these things can sometimes be helpful, godly culture can only be realised by men and women living their everyday lives in a godly way. There is no magic and there is no silver bullet.

I hope to continue to live that sort of mundane life. I also hope to pass that idea on to my children, and (by God's grace) to my grandchildren. Joe Sixpack is not to far from the truth, but God has to be first, wife and children second, his fellow man, then those other things that he loves.

Coram Deo,

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Charles the Great

On Christmas day 800 A.D. Charles the Great, the king of the Franks, and grandson of Charles the Hammer (Charles Martel), was crowned emperor of a vast empire that covered much of Western Europe. Today know this Charles by the name Charlemagne. Charlemagne's empire was made of much of the old western Roman Empire. It stretched from part of Spain to Austria, from northern Italy to the northern parts of Germany.

The empire of Charlemagne was made up of numerous barbarian tribes, their lands and the upon the ashes of the old Western Roman world. It was a vast sea of illiteracy with a few scattered islands of learning. Many of the people in the empire were Christianised barbarians, and this was true of Charlemagne also. But he was a Christian and he did desire to see the Christian faith extended. He encouraged education, literacy and learning; things that the German barbarians had looked down on.

Charlemagne was important for bringing a Christian culture to Post Roman Western Europe. It was a long process. Bibles and other writings were very rare, and those that did exist were hand copied by monks in their cloisters. Theaverage person and even the more prosperous had not change of holding muchless owning or even reading the Bible.
God used the monastic life to preserve his Holy Word through those dark times and we who have the Bible today owe much of what we know to the faithful labours of those monks.

Today, unlike Charlemagne's times, we live in an age and land where the Bible is readily available to anyone who wants one. This is a great blessing that we seldom think about, but for most of church history it was not possible for the average Christian to have access to the Bible.

We need to be diligent to use this great privilege to study God's Word and live our lives accordingly.

Coram Deo,

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Saint Polycarp

One of the most renown and beloved saints of the early Church was Polycarp. This great man lived from 69-155 A.D. Polycarp knew the Apostle John and was a disciple of the the beloved Apostle. Irenaues, another great man among the Early Church Fathers, was a disciple of Polycarp. Read what Irenaues wrote Polycarp his teacher. He says "I distinctly remember the incidents of that time better than events of recent occurrence ... I can describe the very place in which the Blessed Polycarp used to sit when he discoursed ... his personal appearance ... and how he would describe his intercourse with John and with the rest who had seen the Lord, and how he would relate their words."

Polycarp became the Bishop of Smyrna and he vigorously defended the Gospel against the growing heresies of his day. He was deeply sorrowed by the rise of heretical movements inside and outside the church, yet he knew that he had to defend the truth against them, and he did for many years.

In 155 A.D. during a festival at Smyrna (these were Olympic like games), eleven Christians were brought into the arena and martyred for the enjoyment of the cheering crowds. The crowd, its appetites whetted with the blood of these saints, called for elderly and beloved bishop Polycarp to be brought in to the arena as well. Men were sent to get him and after a time this was done and he was brought in to satisfy the blood thirsty throng. The political leaders of the town wanted to spare the old man and let him go. They told the eighty-six year old saint that if he would only renounce Christ, he could go free. Here is Polycarp's response to them. "Eighty and six years have I served Him and He hath done me no wrong. How then can I speak evil of my King who saved me?"

On that same day the second century church's beloved Polycarp joined the growing list of Christian martyrs. He, like so many of his brethren (and our's), he preferred to a suffer cruel death rather than renounce the Lord of Glory. Polycarp was led to a post surrounded by kindling. He knew the Spirit of the Lord would give him the strength to stand firm. A blaze was set and we was burnt at the stake and then stabbed.

We live in trying times, but we, in this country, have not yet been called on to defend the truth of Christ with our lives as have so many Christians of the past have had to do, and as many Christians still have to do around the world even today. In Polycarp's day the Christian Church existed in only small parts of Africa, Asia and Europe and in all these places the faith was outlawed and Christians were, in periodic waves, severely persecuted, tortured and killed. In all the rest of the world then brutal acts of human sacrifice and differing types of cannibalism were quite common. These horrible things were often normal to much of the pagan world. We often forget that the pre-Christian (non-Judaic) world, the pagan world, was a world of pitch-black spiritual darkness.

Today, there are hundreds of millions of Christians and they live in most parts of the world. Our King, Jesus, is, even now, conquering the nations with the power of His Gospel. In Polycarp's day the world was far worse than it is today, because Christianity had not yet tempered any part of it. We are commanded, by our King, to "make disciples of all the nations" and teach them to observe all that He has commanded. There is still much for us to do. There is much that we can learn from Polycarp and other godly men and women who have come before us.

Coram Deo,

Sunday, December 09, 2007

Lorenzo dé Medici and Rome

In the late 15th century, Italy was arriving at the pinnacle of the High Renaissance. This is the age and time of Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo, and Raphael. It is also the time of political philosopher Nicolo Machiavelli. All of these very talented people mentioned were natives of Florence, Italy. The chief politician of Florence at that time was Lorenzo dé Medici, he was known as the Lorenzo the Magnificent.

Lorenzo, though not holding official government office for most of his rule, was the de facto ruler and near dictator of Florence. Officially, Florence was a Republic, but Lorenzo had inherited his position from his father and his grandfather. He held on to to his power by subterfuge, bribes, ruthlessness, and other political arts.
Renaissance Italy was wrought with political intrigues and violence and Lorenzo flourished in this environment. One of his chief opponents, for a time, and after that one of his chief allies was none other than the Bishop of Rome (i.e. the Pope).

In the late 1470’s Pope Sixtus IV was involved in a plot to overthrow Lorenzo. The plot evolved into an attempt to assassinate Lorenzo and his brother Giuliano, though the Pope insisted that he did not know of the plot to kill the dé Medici brothers. The chief conspirators in the assination plot included several priest and also Francesco Salviati, Archbishop of Pisa. The plot failed, though Lorenzo’s was wounded, and his brother Giuliano was killed. The cleric assassins struck during mass at the cathedral in Florence.

Lorenzo and his followers struck back quickly. They caught and executed Archbishop Salviati and a number of other conspirators that same day. Then Florence went to war against the Pope, who was the earthly prince over the Papal States of central Italy.

After the death of Pope Sixtus IV, Innocent VIII became Pope. The war came to an end, and Lorenzo and Pope Innocent were on good and even friendly terms. As part of the new political alignment, Lorenzo gave his 14-year-old daughter to be wife of the Pope's 38-year-old illegitimate son (Francis).

Lorenzo had much clout with Pope Innocent VIII and he greatly desired a place in the church for his young son, Giovanni. After arranging for his daughter to marry the Pope's illegitimate son. He politicked with Innocent VIII to have young Giovanni made a prince in the church.

In 1488 Giovanni was made a priest, awarded a doctorate in canon law (though he had not yet studied the subject) and also made a Cardinal in the Church. In less than two months the 13-year-old Giovanni dé Medici went from being merely the second son of the tyrant ruler of Florence, to being a Cardinal in the Catholic Church. After these things took place, a good deal of money then passed from Lorenzo dé Medici’s bank to the Papacy.

The thirteen year old Cardinal Giovanni dé Medici would eventually become Pope Leo X. It was Leo X who was Pope when Martin Luther nailed his 95 Theses to the castle church door at Wittenberg, Germany which ignited the Protestant Reformation.

The High Renaissance was a time of great papal and church corruption. A glimpse of that corruption can be seen in this thumbnail sketch. Things were, at a number of points, much worse than what is seen here.

There was bound to be a reaction to the theological and political corruption that then existed at the center of the Western Church.

Coram Deo,

Saturday, December 01, 2007

J.I. Packer on Theological Liberals

J.I. Packer is on of my favourite living theologians. He is best known for his book Knowing God. The first book by him that I ever read was Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God. That was more than twenty years ago and I still count is as one of my favourite books.

Dr. Packer is a conservative Anglican who is also solidly Reformed.

Recently the 81 year old Packer spoke about the turmoil that is on going in the Anglican Communion, that has been produced by the rise of liberalism in the Anglican Churches in Western World and a large growing, orthodox, evangelical Anglican church in Africa and Asia.

In that talk Dr.Packer said this about theological liberals, "Liberal theology as such knows nothing about a God who uses written language to tell us things, or about the reality of sin in the human system, which makes redemption necessary and new birth urgent. Liberal theology posits, rather, a natural religiosity in man (reverance, that is, for a higher power) and a natural capacity for goodwill towards others, and sees Christianity as a force for cherishing and developing these qualities. They are to be fanned into flame and kept burning in the church, which in each generation must articulate itself by concessive dialogue with the cultural pressures, processes and prejudices that surround it. In other words, the church must ever play catch-up to the culture, taking on board whatever is the “in thing” at the moment; otherwise, so it is thought, Christianity will lose all relevance to life. The intrinsic goodness of each “in thing” is taken for granted. In following this agenda the church will inevitably leave the Bible behind at point after point, but since on this view the Bible is the word of fallible men rather than of the infallible God, leaving it behind is no great loss."

I think Packer's assessment is a good one. He is right on target. When discussing the Christian faith with "liberals" it is of little consequence to them if you can show them that what they hold to is counter to the Word of God, because as a rule they do not believe that the Bible contains the Word of God, except when the Scriptures agree with something that they already hold to.

Theological liberals get their worldview from the culture that they see as evolving and progressing. For them, it would be wrong to tie their believe system to an ancient book that is archaic and at many points vulgar and offensive in it content.

It is interesting that liberals believed that for Christianity to survive it needed to evolve and grow with the culture to survive and remain relevant. What we have seen over the past half century is the steady decline of those Churches that have been most influenced by theological liberalism.

Theological liberalism is anti-Christian and it leads to a slow death for the denomination that is overrun with it.

Coram Deo,