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In school, I learned that there are three major branches of Christianity: Catholic, Orthodox and Protestant Christianity. I haven’t questioned this until recently: why aren’t Orthodoxs called protestants, since they’ve rebelled against the Catholic church just as we have (or perhaps, from their perspective, Rome rebelled against them during the great schism)?
An argument against that is that the Orthodox church(es) claim, just like the Roman Catholic church, to be the uncorrupted church with direct historic lineage to the holy community of the Biblical apostles. Protestant churches, however, recognize that these churches are not that uncorrupted, but that false doctrines and practices has developed during the millennia.
In fact, many Catholics and Orthodoxs will admit that they believe in things that there is no evidence that the Biblical church believed in, but they will argue that when the church(es) introduced these things it was because it (they) had matured, and got to think about more fundamental things than how to survive persecution.
So basically, we have two streams of thought here: those who think that the church changed in a good way (which we, for simplicity’s sake, can call evolutionism) and those who think it changed in a bad way. Those who think the church changed in a bad way, usually propose that we should go back to the good way. This is commonly called restorationism or Christian primitivism, the idea that we should restore Christianity to its Biblical, primitive form. As many of you know, I am a restorationist Christian.
This awesome article has been frequently shared by people in my networks the last couple of days; Preston Sprinkle writes about 4 ways the modern church doesn’t look like the early church (and, as several have pointed out, this goes especially for the modern mainstream Western church). These four areas are:
1. How we view other Christians. When the early disciples called themselves brothers and sisters, they actually treated each other like brothers and sisters and had a community that was far more relational and sacrificial than fellowship in most Western churches.
2. How we spend our money. The early Christians didn’t collect money for church buildings and pastors’ wages but for the poor.
3. How we think about power. The early church refused to be patriotic but was pacifist and persecuted.
4. How we study the Bible. Early Christians let every new convert study the Scriptures in a detailed manner, and most disciples then knew the Bible better than many Western church goers today.
I totally agree with all of Sprinkle’s points, and I’m glad that more and more start descovering the radical roots of the Christian faith. However, I would like to pinpoint three additional areas where the early church looked different from the mainstream Western church life today: (more…)
Today is the 490’s birthday of Anabaptism, the radical, biblical, pacifist and restorationist Christian movement that consists of millions of Jesus believers around the globe, including me. You may have heard my little song about what Anabaptism is already but it won’t hurt to listen to it again, eh?
So here’s the story about how Anabaptists came to be. The 16th century Protestants were far from the first who rebelled against the Catholic church and its unbiblical teaching, but they weren’t as radical as the Hussites or Waldensians had been. In fact, neither Luther nor Calvin wanted to restore the Biblical church completely but rather, they argued that Biblical practices they didn’t like had “ceased” (I talked about this two posts ago).
They had no problem with unbiblical practices like the state church system, though. Luther and Calvin are called magisterial reformers because they didn’t want to separate the church from the state but, on the contrary, relied on the secular state powers to liberate themselves from Rome.
In this video, I present my chapter “Charismatic Anabaptism: Combining Signs and Wonders with Peace and Justice”, which is included in the new anthology A Living Alternative. In the chapter I argue that Christians should use the miraculous gifts of the Holy Spirit in order to promote nonviolence and economic equality. To defend this thesis, I use the Bible, church history as well as modern testimonies.
The church historical part can be a bit mind-blowing to some – not many Anabaptists know that their movement initially was very charismatic, with an emphasis on prophetic visions, healing and miracles. Likewise, most Pentecostals and charismatics are unaware of that the early Pentecostals were pacifists and criticised capitalism. Even though they are hardly connected historically, early Anabaptism and early Pentecostalism were extremely similar, which I interpret as the work of the Holy Spirit, whom both movements wanted to be influenced by.
Both Anabaptism and Pentecostalism are restorationist, that is, they want to restore the New Testament church. Now, Calvinism and Lutheranism – Protestant movements that also originated during the 16th century reformation just like Anabaptism, that were far more positive to violence, economic inequality and pesecution than the Anabaptists – also argued that they restored the Biblical church, basing their theology on “Scripture alone” instead of relying on Catholic unbiblical tradition. (more…)
I’VE WRITTEN A BOOK chapter! The book is called A Living Alternative and it is awesome. Together with 19 other Anabaptists, I write about why ANABAPTISM is amazing!
“Ana-whaaat?!” you may ask, but watch this video and you will learn everything you need to know about Anabaptism through my epic song skills.
IN OCTOBER 312, the Roman Emperor, Constantine, claimed that the Christians’ God had helped him crush his enemies and secure power at the Battle of Milvian Bridge. This marked the end of persecution and the apparent promotion of the Church to a privileged position in society. “Christendom” was born – the Church was wedded to the political power of the day.
In reality, Christendom was a dreadful deception. The Church for the most part abandoned its call to be a countercultural embodiment of the Kingdom of Jesus – which He had described as “not of this world”. Empire and Church were mingled. The proclamation of the gospel was largely drowned out in the clamour of the marching feet of imperial armies. “Love your enemies” morphed into “slay the barbarian”.
Some, however, resisted this development. Men such as Antony, Pachomius and Macarius and other Desert Fathers forsook wealth and influence and moved to the desert. Here they formed radical communities, a quiet but powerful alternative to the political Christianity of the empire.
Antony was a true pioneer, whose influence is still felt today. Born in Egypt about AD 251, his parents died when he was young, leaving him a small fortune. One day he heard a Christian quote Jesus’ words: If you would be perfect, go sell all you have, give to the poor, and come follow Me (Matt.19:21). They cut him like a knife. He sold his estate and became the disciple of a godly pastor.Yet his heart grew restless. He didn’t belong to the world he saw around him. He felt a strong pull to the desert beyond the Nile. Here hot and cold, flood and drought engaged men in a daily, physical battle for life itself. To Antony, this mirrored the human soul in its battle between flesh and spirit, love for God and love of self. Here too was a pioneering adventure, where only the real would make it. (more…)
I’m writing a minor thesis about belief in miracles, where I compare a charismatic, Lutheran and Catholic church leader (namely Surprise Sithole, Swedish Archbishop Emeritus KG Hammar, and Pope Francis). This is and extract from the theoretical background:
Theology of Miracles in Church History
The New Testament describes how both Jesus and his disciples experienced “wonders” (Greek: τέρας) and “works of power” (δύναμις), such as healings of blindness and deafness, casting out demons, hearing the audible voice of God and raising the dead. These were not new claims in the Jewish culture, since the Old Testament talks about “wonders” (Hebrew: פֶ֑לֶא) like parting the red sea, healing the sick and raising the dead (Ps 77:14, Ex 13:17ff., 1 Kings 17, 2 Kings 5). The apostle Paul wrote that the Holy Spirit bestows miraculous gifts to all believers (together with non-supernatural gifts like wisdom or faith), and encouraged his readers to seek such gifts together with love (1 Cor. 12:4-14:1).
Fathers in the early church believed that miracles were possible, and many argued that they or their church members had experienced them. Justin Martyr argued that the prophetical gift had remained with the church to his day, and that “numberless” persons plagued by demons had been healed by Christian exorcists (II Apol. 6, Tryph. 82). Origen made parallels between the miracles of the Bible and Christians of his day who “expel evil spirits, and perform many cures, and foresee certain events” (Cels. 1.46). Similar claims were made by many other church fathers.
The great African theologian Augustine was the first to argue that one of the miraculous gifts had ceased, namely xenolalia – to be able to speak an existing language one has never studied like the early disciples did on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2:4-12). Augustine did however argue that other Biblical miracles were still happening in his days, in his City of God he gives numerous examples of people being healed from blindness, breast cancer, paralysis, demonic possession and other torments, and he gives four examples of Christians in the area who were raised from the dead (City of God 22.8). Augustine argued that miracles are not contrary to nature, but what we know as nature – hence he did not want to differentiate between the natural and supernatural (City of God 21.8). (more…)
Happy All Saints Day! When the world is playing with ghosts and demons, let us instead remember and honor the millions of holy brothers and sisters that has went before us. As Shane Claiborne writes on facebook:
Over the centuries, Halloween has not been about glorifying death. It’s been more about respectfully remembering the dead and honoring that life is “hallowed” — holy.
Before there was “Halloween”, there was “All Hallows’ Eve” — and All Saints Day. For hundreds of years, before jack-o-lanterns and zombies and candy corn, Christians around the world have remembered the dead, the saints, the cloud of witnesses that have gone before us.
The “cloud of witnesses” refers to Hebrews 12:1, which after name-dropping several Old Testament saints who endured in faith even though they had not yet the Kingdom of God in all its glory yet, says: (more…)
One of my greatest passions has for years been to teach what the Bible says concerning poverty and wealth. This is the topic for my blog and youtube series God vs Wealth, as well as my free e-book God vs Inequality. I think it’s very clear in the Bible and in early church writings that Christians should not be rich. Instead, we should live simply and practice community of goods and economic equality, just like Jesus and the apostles.
Someone who disagree with me is Dave Ramsey, Christian money guru who argues that Christians can and should be rich. In an interview with charismatic TV host Pat Robertson, Ramsey says:
“I think there’s a problem out there with some bad and toxic teaching that somehow [says] that if you’ve won money, if you’ve built a level of wealth, if you’ve become successful – biblically you have done something wrong. And that’s actually a form of heresy called gnosticism.”
Is it really gnosticism? It’s not the first time I hear a statement like this, and I would like to debunk it. Firstly, who are Ramsey talking about here? He’s saying that the modern “Gnostics” are attacking the production and accumulation of wealth, rather than the possession and storaging of wealth. Now, it’s important to differentiate between these. Ramsey is basically using the accumulation of wealth to defend the possession of it – he’s talking about “building a level of wealth” and “becoming succesful”.
As I argue in my e-book God vs Inequality, the Bible says that we should work and produce wealth, but not for personal gain but for the benefit of the common. Thus, while we work we should be content with food and clothing (1 Tim 6:8) and promote equality (2 Cor 8:13), having everything in common (Acts 2:45). Of course, there is a temptation in earning a lot of money, and many times people earn money through harmful means, destroying the environment or exploiting others, which is unacceptable for Christians. But the main problem for me and other Christian activists such as Shane Claiborne, Jim Wallis or Ron Sider is economic inequality and how rich Christians possess a lot of wealth instead of living simply and share all they have with the poor.
Criteria for defending a Christian belief or practice/ Christian pacifism
In order to defend a Christian belief or practice, one must be able to prove it from 1) scripture 2) history, 3) experience, 4) biblical/historical trajectory.
1) Scripture is of most importance. Can it be confirmed by at least two or three scriptures in the Bible? Do those verses apply to new covenant believers? “Every matter must be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.” 2 Corinthians 13:1. Many cultic groups have become errant by building doctrines or beliefs around only one scripture.
2) History is of secondary importance. Was it held to by the early church and has it continued until the present day?
As I mentioned last week I’m reading Jeff Doles’ Miracles and Manifestations of the Holy Spirit in the History of the Church, and it’s amazing to see what God has been doing continously in His church throughout world history. The book is basically only made up by quotes from older works, and it gives clear proof that cessationism – the idea that miraculous spiritual gifts ceased with the apostles – hardly existed before Luther and Calvin. For example, take a look at what Irenaeus of Lyon, the second century bishop who was a disciple to Polycarp – who in turn was a disciple of John the evangelist – says concering miraculous gifts when he refuted the Gnostics in his famous work Against Heresies:
“Those who are in truth His disciples, receiving grace from Him, do in His name perform [miracles], so as to promote the welfare of other men, according to the gift which each one has received from Him. For some do certainly and truly drive out devils, so that those who have thus been cleansed from evil spirits frequently both believe [in Christ], and join themselves to the Church. Others have foreknowledge of things to come: they see visions, and utter prophetic expressions. Others still, heal the sick by laying their hands upon them, and they are made whole.
Yea, moreover, as I have said, the dead even have been raised up, and remained among us for many years. And what shall I more say? It is not possible to name the number of the gifts which the Church, [scattered] throughout the whole world, has received from God, in the name of Jesus Christ, who was crucified under Pontius Pilate, and which she exerts day by day for the benefit of the Gentiles, neither practising deception upon any, nor taking any reward from them* [on account of such miraculous interpositions]. For as she has received freely from God, freely also does she minister [to others]**. (Against Heresies, book 2, chapter 32, section 4)
I got three amazing books in my hand that I can’t wait to read! Let me introduce them to you:
Being one of the most popular books during the Jesus Movement in the 70’s, and according to Christianity Today, it’s the seventh most influential book that have shaped evangelicals. Sider goes against the commonly held view that it’s absolutely fine for Christians to be rich while thousands of people are starving to death, using Bible study, statistics on economic inequality and examples of radical Christian groups that have taken the economic teachings of Jesus seriously. Sider’s ideas are very similar to those I express in my series God vs Wealth, but to this point I have actually never read him – I got my ideas directly from the Bible.
A reader called Kelly writes on GoodReads:
“I was really floored by this book. The author first presents some startling and informative statistics on world hunger and poverty, where we have been and what is projected. Then he talks about God’s intense love for the poor, and that if we want to “be imitators of God” we must as Christians learn to share in that love. I left this book really wanting to do more to make a difference… even with specific ideas how! The best thing about this book was also the worst thing – sooo much information. Never before have a seen a pastor… talk so intelligently about ALL facets of poverty. Politics, economics, environment, sociology, religion – these topics were all included in great detail and from a Christian perspective. I have not seen anything more complete out there. That said, it was also very overwhelming (as it probably should be).”
Christianity is a pacifist religion. Most of the early church fathers wrote that Christians should not kill or join the military, and the idea of “just wars” first developed in the late fourth century, after Constantine’s reforms. The ante-Nicaene church was to a large extent a non-violent church. This was clearly shown already in 1919 when John Cadoux pubished his book The Early Christian Attitude to War, which is now available online. The research has been updated with Ron Sider’s book The Early Church on Killing, which was published last year. But only by looking at quotes from early church fathers, we see that these saints were far from the war-waging right-wing Christians that unfortunately are quite influential in the public debate today:
Justin Martyr wrote in 160 AD:
“We ourselves were well conversant with war, murder, and everything evil, but all of us throughout the whole wide earth have traded in our weapons of war. We have exchanged our swords for ploughshares, our spears for farm tools. Now we cultivate the fear of God, justice, kindness to men, faith, and the expectation of the future given to us by the Father himself through the Crucified One.” (Dialogue with Trypho 110.3.4)
Tatian (dead c. 185), Justin’s disciple, wrote:
“I do not wish to be king, I don’t want to be rich, I reject military service. I hate adultery”(The Ante-Nicene Fathers, Alexander Roberts and James Donaldson, Grand Rapids, Michigan, Vol. II, reprint 1979, p. 69)
Athenagoras (133-190) wrote:
“What, then, are these teachings in which we are reared? ‘I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, pray for those who persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven, who makes his sun to shine on the evil and on the good, and sends his rain on the just and on the unjust . . . Who [of the pagan philosophers] have so purified their own hearts as to love their enemies instead of hating them; instead of upbraiding those who first insult them (which is certainly more usual), to bless them; and to pray for those who plot against them? . . . With us, on the contrary, you will find unlettered people, tradesmen and old women, who, though unable to express in words the advantages of our teaching, demonstrate by acts the value of their principles. For they do not rehearse speeches, but evidence good deeds. When struck, they do not strike back; when robbed, they do not sue; to those who ask, they give, and they love their neighbours as themselves . . . We . . . cannot endure to see a man being put to death even justly.” (Legatio 11, 34-35 (Athens, 175))
For a long time, I didn’t want to read non-biblical Christian books. I thought that most of the time they were actually diluting the radical teachings of Jesus (and quite frankly I still think this is the case). But I discovered that there are two areas where I get very equipped by Christian litterature, namely church history and testimonies. This has helped me a lot both when I pursue signs and wonders, evangelize and work for peace and justice. I want to share with you some books that really has inspired me a lot and that I highly recommend. First out is Pilgrims of a Common Life: Christian Community of Goods Through the Centuries by Trevor J. Saxby.
Saxby has been a part of the Jesus Fellowship Church, or the Jesus Army, in the United Kingdoms since its beginning in the 70’s. The Jesus Army was the main fruit of the charismatic revival among hippies in the UK and they practiced community of goods, something Saxby was very attracted by. He doctored at Oxford in church history, writing his thesis about community of goods. In Pilgrims of a Common Life, he shows how community of goods has been practiced in all of church history in many different cultures, countries and churches.
In the first three chapters, Saxby effectively challenges the popular misconception that the apostolic church of Jerusalem was the only one practicing community of goods and that it was an exception rather than an example. He shows that community of goods is the logical consequence to the economic teachings of Jesus, he points at the fact that Jesus Himself practiced community of goods with His disciples, and he also looks at the cultural and historical context and shows how community of goods was not a foreign idea in first century Israel – the essenes practiced it and it was supported by both Greek and Jewish morals.
Hippies aren’t always popular among evangelical Christians. Mark Driscoll has famously said: “Some emergent types want to recast Jesus as a limp-wrist hippie in a dress with a lot of product in His hair, who drank decaf and made pithy zen statements about life while shopping for the perfect pair of shoes. […] I cannot worship the hippie, diaper, halo Christ because I cannot worship a guy I can beat up.” I do agree that Jesus wouldn’t shop shoes or be a Buddhist, but He surely would be able to beat up. In fact, that’s what they actually did with Him on Easter.
The hippie movement emerged in the 60’s and 70’s in the United States and spread quickly to Europe and other parts of the world. It was a youth movement with international influences that emphasized love, peace and understanding, freedom and environmentalism, music, sex and drugs. It was influenced by eastern religions and sparked both new age occultism and the sexual revolution. These latter bits make it understandable why Dricoll doesn’t like hippies very much.
However, in the early 70’s thousands of hippies were saved in what is simply called the Jesus Movement, or the Jesus People Revival. They protested against both drugs and occultism, saying that we should “get high on Jesus” and be baptized in the Holy Spirit instead, but they preserved the hippie passion for peace, justice and a simple lifestyle. Over 100 000 Jesus hippies lived together in communal houses, they were preaching the Gospel in the streets and on the beaches, and many miracles happened as they prayed for the sick and prophesied.