Thursday, July 30, 2015

ANF VI: Archelaus Disputation with Manes

Ante-Nicene Fathers Volume VI

Archelaus: The Acts of the Disputation with the Heresiarch Manes

This lengthy work is a supposed record of a series of debates held in front of important public officials between the Pastor of Caschar in Mesopotamia and Manes, the founder of the Manichean sect. In the text, Manes and Archelaus travel around the region debating the role of the body in the salvation of the human being. Is the body inherently wicked, and so salvation has to do with shedding the body in favor of the "good" spirit, as Manes claimed? Or, as Christians claim, are both body and soul made good, but fallen and so in need of redemption? Clearly many points of core Christian doctrine are going to come in to play here, including creation, the fall, the Incarnation, Crucifixion, and Resurrection. Even the doctrine of the Holy Spirit becomes relevant, since Manes claimed to be the Paraclete in person.

Though I don't think anyone would claim that we should read this as an actual direct transcript of an ancient debates (that's a literary form common in the ancient world, rather than an exact copy kept by a scribe of a debate between two religious leaders--though such debates did happen), this is still useful for seeing how Christian doctrine had developed in the farthest part of the Middle East. Over all, it's worth reading through, but don't bother getting bogged down--just skim over at a good clip.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

ANF VI: Pamphilus and Malchion

Ante-Nicene Fathers Volume VI

Minor Writers: Pamphilus and Malchion

These final fragments are interesting enough, but not really worth more than a quick skimming over.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

ANF VI: Alexander

Ante-Nicene Fathers Volume VI

Alexander of Lycopolis: Of the Manichaeans

This shorter work is another refutation of the Manicheans from the Eastern part of the church, and as such is worth reading. It's also kind of fun to see a pretty early version of the idea that "book learning" will lead you away from the faith and into heresy, "those who are devoted to dialectics... sagacious in handling nice and subtle questions; so that now they come forwards as parents and originators of sects and heresies." (pg 241)

Seriously, this is good one and worth attention and reflection. 

ANF VI: Phileas

Ante-Nicene Fathers Volume VI

Minor Writers: Phileas

Another of the excellent minor writers, Phileas highlights the authority and dominance of the local church. While I don't endorse everything he writes, there's much here that shows what the church of the 4th century looked like in terms of its structure.

Monday, July 27, 2015

ANF VI: Theonas

Ante-Nicene Fathers Volume VI

Minor Writers: Theonas of Alexandria

If the other "of Alexandria" minor writers are unimpressive, Theonas is a stand out. This may of course be because we have more fragments from him, and so more of his writings pop out. It may be because his writings are later and so the faith is more developed. Or it may be because his writings are the writings of someone else--a better theologian/writer. In any case, his letter to one of the Emperor's chamberlain's is worth reading both as good theology and as an interesting view of how a civil servant can be a good Christian, even under the emperor Diocletian.
Discharge the official duties to which you are severally appointed with the utmost fear of God and affection to your prince, and perfect carefulness. Consider that every command of the emperor which does not offend God has proceeded from God Himself; and execute it in love as well as in fear, and with all cheerfulness. (2) 

Friday, July 24, 2015

ANF VI: Theognostus and Pierius

Ante-Nicene Fathers Volume VI

Minor Writers: Theognostus of Alexandria and Pierius of Alexandria

These snippets are short and easily read--and the last not only because they are short but because there isn't much there. So read quickly and move one.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

ANF VI: Alexander of Cappadocia

Ante-Nicene Fathers Volume VI

Minor Writers: Alexander of Cappadocia

These brief fragments are short and unimpressive. Read them because they're quick, but expect little or expect to be disappointed.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

ANF VI: Anatolius

Ante-Nicene Fathers Volume VI

Minor Writers: Anatolius

As the editors point out, it's probably best to systematize these fragments rather that just presenting them in a shotgun blast of text. I'd add that for the most part, these can be lightly skimmed or skipped all together. The writings of Anatolius is one that can be skipped, although it is mildly (but only mildly) interesting to see what sorts of things the first generation of post-persecution Christians were writing about. Math and the calendar at the end of the day just don't do it for me--but then again I'm pretty non liturgical, so I suppose that makes sense.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

ANF VI: Julius Africanus

Ante-Nicene Fathers Volume VI

Julius Africanus: Extant Writings

Yet another writer living in the shadow of Origen, albeit one that comes much later than his other students. We see this as superstition and concern for genealogy begin to replace rigorous (if mistaken) philosophical inquiry. Which isn't to say Julius Africanus is without value--again we have a Christian devoutly pursuing the truth with all the tools at his disposal. And for that we should skim his work with appreciation, even as we read with caution.

Monday, July 20, 2015

ANF VI: Dionysius Fragments II

Ante-Nicene Fathers Volume VI

Dionysius: Exegetical Fragments

These are not so much of value as the fragments of epistles and philosophical writings, which is not terribly surprising. The strength of the early church was in its endurance through persecution and its love for the institution and its ordinances, not in its expositional preaching. So this may be skimmed or even skipped.

Friday, July 17, 2015

ANF VI: Dionysius Fragments

Ante-Nicene Fathers Volume VI

Dionysius: Extant Fragments

Another student/heir of Origen, the bits and pieces we have of Dionysius are mostly worth wading through, even if their value is pretty uneven as a whole. As with Gregory, Dionysius has a clear appreciation of the value of contemporary (i.e. "Hellenistic") philosophy and it does seem to be a shame that we don't have more of this work. Especially since Dionysius appears to have a good method of taking the ideas and comments of the Hellenistic Philosophers and turning them back on themselves, showing their absurdity when taken in isolation and their truth with illuminated by the light of Christ; their emptiness when lived for themselves and the satisfaction they can bring when put to the service of God.

Overall, this is worth reading, albeit at a quick skimming clip--not necessarily in depth.

Thursday, July 16, 2015

ANF VI: Gregory Thaumaturgus On Matthew

Ante-Nicene Fathers Volume VI

Gregory Thaumaturgus: Part II: Dubious or Spurious Writings On the Gospel According to Matthew

Weighing in at one paragraph, this shouldn't be skipped! It's really just a restatement of Matthew 6:22-23, and so for that it's fine enough.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

ANF VI: Gregory Thaumaturgus On All the Saints

Ante-Nicene Fathers Volume VI

Gregory Thaumaturgus: Part II: Dubious or Spurious Writings On All the Saints

This is so short there's no reason not to read it, but don't expect much. This is yet another later piece put in Gregory's mouth without much to recommend it to the reader.

Monday, July 13, 2015

ANF VI: Gregory Thaumaturgus Four Homilies

Ante-Nicene Fathers Volume VI

Gregory Thaumaturgus: Part II: Dubious or Spurious Writings: Four Homilies

The emphasis in these homilies on the annunciation to Mary of her pregnancy on Mary's person shows that these are much, much later ("after Nicea... probably after Ephesus" as the Elucidation says). And while they're useful enough for showing our Catholic friends that there is absolutely no idea of a perfect Mary, and that even in speaking about Mary the later early church still held Christ alone to be the source of salvation, I don't know that these are necessarily all that useful for spiritual edification. The Fourth Homily is worth skimming, but you can reasonably skip the rest.

Friday, July 10, 2015

ANF VI: Gregory Thaumaturgus On the Subject of the Soul

Ante-Nicene Fathers Volume VI

Gregory Thaumaturgus: Part II: Dubious or Spurious Writings: On the Subject of the Soul

As the Elucidation points out, this short essay is much more philosophy than theology and more reflective of an Aristotle than a Clement. And while the method is interesting (the soul is incorporeal, if it weren't... because it is... etc), it can be a bit dense here and there. So one to maybe skim, but not skip all together.

Thursday, July 9, 2015

ANF VI: Gregory Thaumaturgus Twelve Topics on the Faith

Ante-Nicene Fathers Volume VI

Gregory Thaumaturgus: Part II: Dubious or Spurious Writings: Twelve Topics on the Faith

These twelve topics are pretty short and simply and worth a quick read. In brief, each topic is a doctrine of the Christian faith followed by a short explanation of why rejecting that belief (or embracing a heresy contrary to it) ought to result in excommunication. For example:
If anyone affirms that Christ is perfect man and also God the word in the way of separation, and refuses to acknowledge the one Lord Jesus Christ, even as it is written, let him be anathema. 
This, the author tells us, is clearly contrary to the revelation in Scripture that "
God the Word did not give a man for us, but He gave Himself for us, having been made man for our sake. 
Because so much of this is focused on the Incarnation and the nature of Christ, as the Elucidation points out it's pretty obviously a document from a time long after Gregory. Which isn't tosay it isn't excellent, just that it's rightly put in the "spurious" section of writings.

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

ANF VI: Gregory Thaumaturgus: On the Trinity

Ante-Nicene Fathers Volume VI

Gregory Thaumaturgus: Part II: Dubious or Spurious Writings: On the Trinity

This fragment is so short there's really no reason not to read it, even if it's pretty underwhelming.
That is all :)

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

ANF VI: Gregory Thaumaturgus Sectional Confession

Ante-Nicene Fathers Volume VI

Gregory Thaumaturgus: Part II: Dubious or Spurious Writings: A Sectional Confession of Faith

This short work is excellent, whoever wrote it. In quick, readable segments this work lays out some key ideas behind our beliefs. For example:
No one, therefore, can know God unless he apprehends the Son.
The author emphasizes the Divinity, humanity, and Triune Unity of the Lord, especially the place of Christ in His entrance into the world and His authoring and Lordship of creation.

Read this, it's short and excellent!

Monday, July 6, 2015

ANF VI: Gregory Thaumaturgus Oration and Panegyric

Ante-Nicene Fathers Volume VI

Gregory Thaumaturgus: Part I: Acknowledged Writings: The Oration and Panegyric Addressed to Origen

This is Gregory's gift to Origen out of gratitude for Origen's time teaching and instructing him in the mental arts. Origen was especially helpful in teaching Gregory about the place of philosophy in the Christian life.
For he [Origen] asserted further that there could be no genuine piety towards the Lord of all in the man who despised this gift of philosophy-- a gift which man alone of all the creatures of the earth has been deemed honourable and worthy enough to possess, and one which every man whatsoever, be he wise or be he ignorant, reasonably embraces, who has not utterly lost the power of thought by some mad distraction of mind.
In this work, Gregory follows the standard Hellenistic philosophical method of walking through logic, physics, and ethics individually and in connection with each other. Origen specifically emphasizes how human understanding in each of these fields is simply wrong outside of the grace that comes to the Christian through Christ. Grace, however, enables us to look at the world properly through the filter of God's character as revealed in His Word. Through the lens of Scripture our logic is corrected, our view of physics and the operations of the world fall into its proper place, and our personal ethics begin to mature and grow us into a picture of the Lord.

This work is simply excellent, and well worth reading.

Saturday, July 4, 2015

Baptism Again

Once again, there's a good healthy discussion on baptism going on here in Internetworld. And once again its the Presbyterian "children of believers are part of the covenant and so should receive its sign and be affirmed when they ask about their membership" against the Baptist "you shouldn't intentionally baptize unbelievers or let them be members of your church." This debate even has some of the same players--at least Mark Jones is a part of it. On the Baptist side it's Jonathan Leeman (in the interests of full disclosure: Leeman is a friend) and Tom Chantry. You can find the latest piece in the debate and all the necessary links here. I've weighed in on the earlier version of the debate here, wherein I make up my own terms and say everyone is wrong about everything but me.

Since better writers/thinkers than me have already weighed in, I thought it might be useful to bring up a real-world historical example dealing with the problem of just when we might affirm someone's faith. This is a longish section out of Jonathan Edwards' excellent little work known as A Faithful Narrative where he tells the story of a small revival that broke out in his town. In this section, he relates the conversion of a four-year-old girl.

"But I now proceed to the other instance that I would give an account of, which is of the little child forementioned.6 Her name is Phebe Bartlet, daughter of William Bartlet. I shall give the account as I took it from the mouths of her parents, whose veracity none that know them doubt of. 
She was born in March, in the year 1731. About the latter end of April, or beginning of May, 1735, she was greatly affected by the talk of her brother, who had been hopefully converted a little before, at about eleven years of age, and then seriously talked to her about the great things of religion. Her parents did not know of it at that time, and were not wont, in the counsels they gave to their children, particularly to direct themselves to her, by reason of her being so young, and as they supposed not capable of understanding: but after her brother had talked to her, they observed her very earnestly to listen to the advice they gave to the other children; and she was observed very constantly to retire several times in a day, as was concluded, for secret prayer; and grew more and more engaged in religion, and was more frequent in her closet; till at last she was wont to visit it five or six times in a day: and was so engaged in it, that nothing would at any time divert her from her stated closet exercises. Her mother often observed and watched her, when such things occurred, as she thought most likely to divert her, either by putting it out of her thoughts, or otherwise engaging her inclinations; but never could observe her to fail. She mentioned some very remarkable instances. 
She once of her own accord spake of her unsuccessfulness, in that she could not find God, or to that purpose. But on Thursday, the last day of July, about the middle of the day, the child being in the closet where it used to retire, its mother heard it speaking aloud; which was unusual, and never had been observed before. And her voice seemed to be as of one exceeding importunate and engaged; but her mother could distinctly hear only these words (spoken in her childish manner, but seemed to be spoken with extraordinary earnestness, and out of distress of soul): "Pray, blessed Lord, give me salvation! I pray, beg, pardon all my sins!" When the child had done prayer, she came out of the closet, and came and sat down by her mother, and cried out aloud. Her mother very earnestly asked her several times what the matter was, before she would make any answer; but she continued exceedingly crying, and wreathing her body to and fro, like one in anguish of spirit. Her mother then asked her whether she was afraid that God would not give her salvation. She answered, "Yes, I am afraid I shall go to hell!" Her mother then endeavored to quiet her, and told her she would not have her cry; she must be a good girl, and pray every day, and she hoped God would give her salvation. But this did not quiet her at all; but she continued thus earnestly crying, and taking on for some time, till at length she suddenly ceased crying, and began to smile, and presently said, with a smiling countenance, "Mother, the kingdom of heaven is come to me!" Her mother was surprised at the sudden alteration, and at the speech; and knew not what to make of it, but at first said nothing to her. The child presently spake again, and said, "There is another come to me, and there is another; there is three." And being asked what she meant, she answered, "One is, 'Thy will be done'; and there is another, 'Enjoy him forever'"; by which it seems that when the child said, "There is three come to me," she meant three passages of its catechism that came to her mind. 
After the child had said this, she retired again into her closet; and her mother went over to her brother's, who was next neighbor; and when she came back, the child, being come out of the closet, meets her mother with this cheerful speech, "I can find God now!" referring to what she had before complained of that she could not find God. Then the child spoke again, and said, "I love God!" Her mother asked her how well she loved God, whether she loved God better than her father and mother; she said, "Yes." Then she asked her whether she loved God better than her little sister Rachel. She answered, "Yes, better than anything!" Then her elder sister, referring to her saying she could find God now, asked her where she could find God. She answered, "In heaven." "Why," said she, "have you been in heaven?" "No," said the child. By this it seems not to have been any imagination of anything seen with bodily eyes, that she called God, when she said, "I can find God now." Her mother asked whether she was afraid of going to hell, and that made her cry. She answered, "Yes, I was; but now I shan't." Her mother asked her whether she thought that God had given her salvation. She answered, "Yes." Her mother asked her, when. She answered, "Today." She appeared all that afternoon exceeding cheerful and joyful. One of the neighbors asked her how she felt herself. She answered, "I feel better than I did." The neighbor asked her what made her feel better. She answered, "God makes me." That evening as she lay abed, she called one of her little cousins to her that was present in the room, as having something to say to him; and when he came, she told him that heaven was better than earth. The next day being Friday, her mother asking her her catechism, asked her what God made her for. She answered, "To serve him," and added, "everybody should serve God, and get an interest in Christ." 
The same day the elder children, when they came home from school, seemed much affected with the extraordinary change that seemed to be made in Phebe: and her sister Abigail standing by, her mother took occasion to counsel her, how to improve her time, to prepare for another world: on which Phebe burst out in tears and cried out, "Poor Nabby!" Her mother told her she would not have her cry, she hoped that God would give Nabby salvation; but that did not quiet her, but she continued earnestly crying for some time; and when she had in a measure ceased, her sister Eunice being by her, she burst out again and cried, "Poor Eunice!" and cried exceedingly; and when she had almost done, she went into another room, and there looked upon her sister Naomi: and burst out again, crying "Poor Amy!" Her mother was greatly affected at such a behavior in the child, and knew not what to say to her. One of the neighbors coming in a little after, asked her what she had cried for. She seemed at first backward to tell the reason: her mother told her she might tell that person, for he had given her an apple: upon which she said she cried because she was afraid they would go to hell. 
At night a certain minister, that was occasionally in the town was at the house, and talked considerably with her of the things of religion; and after he was gone she sat leaning on the table, with tears running out of her eyes: and being asked what made her cry, she said it was thinking about God. The next day being Saturday, she seemed a great part of the day to be in a very affectionate frame, had four turns of crying, and seemed to endeavor to curb herself and hide her tears, and was very backward to talk of the occasion of it. On the Sabbath day she was asked whether she believed in God; she answered, "Yes." And being told that Christ was the Son of God, she made ready answer and said, "I know it."
From this time there has appeared a very remarkable abiding change in the child: she has been very strict upon the Sabbath; and seems to long for the Sabbath day before it comes, and will often in the week time be inquiring how long it is to the Sabbath day, and must have the days particularly counted over that are between, before she will be contented. And she seems to love God's house, is very eager to go thither. Her mother once asked her why she had such a mind to go, whether it was not to see fine folks. She said no, it was to hear Mr. Edwards preach. When she is in the place of worship, she is very far from spending her time there as children at her age usually do, but appears with an attention that is very extraordinary for such a child. She also appears very desirous at all opportunities to go to private religious meetings; and is very still and attentive at home in prayer time, and has appeared affected in time of family prayer. She seems to delight much in hearing religious conversation: when I once was there with some others that were strangers, and talked to her something of religion, she seemed more than ordinarily attentive; and when we were gone, she looked out very wistfully after us, and said, "I wish they would come again!" Her mother asked her why: says she, "I love to hear 'em talk!" 
She seems to have very much of the fear of God before her eyes (Psalms 36:1), and an extraordinary dread of sin against him; of which her mother mentioned the following remarkable instance. Some time in August, the last year, she went with some bigger children to get some plums in a neighbor's lot, knowing nothing of any harm in what she did; but when she brought some of the plums into the house, her mother mildly reproved her and told her that she must not get plums without leave, because it was sin: God had commanded her not to steal. The child seemed greatly surprised, and burst out in tears, and cried out, "I won't have these plums!" and turning to her sister Eunice, very earnestly said to her, "Why did you ask me to go to that plum tree? I should not have gone if you had not asked me." The other children did not seem to be much affected or concerned; but there was no pacifying Phebe. Her mother told her she might go and ask leave, and then it would not be sin for her to eat them; and sent one of the children to that end; and when she returned, her mother told her that the owner had given leave, now she might eat them, and it would not be stealing. This stilled her a little while; but presently she broke out again into an exceeding fit of crying: her mother asked her what made her cry again; why she cried now, since they had asked leave. What it was that troubled her now? And asked her several times very earnestly, before she made any answer; but at last [she] said it was because—because it was sin! She continued a considerable time crying; and said she would not go again if Eunice asked her an hundred times; and she retained her aversion to that fruit for a considerable time, under the remembrance of her former sin. 
She at some times appears greatly affected, and delighted with texts of Scripture that come to her mind. Particularly, about the beginning of November, the last year, that text came to her mind, Revelation 3:20, "Behold, I stand at the door and knock: if any man hear my voice and open the door, I will come in and sup with him, and he with me." She spoke of it to those of the family with a great appearance of joy, a smiling countenance, and elevation of voice, and afterwards she went into another room, where her mother overheard her talking very earnestly to the children about it, and particularly heard her say to them, three or four times over, with an air of exceeding joy and admiration, "Why, it is to sup with God." At some time about the middle of winter, very late in the night, when all were abed, her mother perceived that she was awake, and heard her as though she was weeping. She called to her, and asked her what was the matter. She answered with a low voice, so that her mother could not hear what she said; but thinking that it might be occasioned by some spiritual affection, said no more to her; but perceived her to lie awake, and to continue in the same frame, for a considerable time. The next morning, she asked her whether she did not cry the last night: the child answered, "Yes, I did cry a little, for I was thinking about God and Christ, and they loved me." Her mother asked her whether to think, of God and Christ's loving her made her cry: she answered, "Yes, it does sometimes." 
She has often manifested a great concern for the good of others' souls: and has been wont many times affectionately to counsel the other children. Once about the latter end of September, the last year, when she and some others of the children were in a room by themselves, a husking Indian corn, the child after a while came out and sat by the fire. Her mother took notice that she appeared with a more than ordinary serious and pensive countenance, but at last she broke silence and said, "I have been talking to Nabby and Eunice." Her mother asked her what she had said to 'em. "Why," said she, "I told 'em they must pray, and prepare to die, that they had but a little while to live in this world, and they must be always ready." When Nabby came out, her mother asked her whether she had said that to them. "Yes," said she, "she said that, and a great deal more." At other times, the child took her opportunities to talk to the other children about the great concern of their souls, sometimes so as much to affect them and set them into tears. She was once exceeding importunate with her mother to go with her sister Naomi to pray: her mother endeavored to put her off; but she pulled her by the sleeve, and seemed as if she would by no means be denied. At last her mother told her that Amy must go and pray herself; "but," says the child, "she will not go"; and persisted earnestly to beg of her mother to go with her. 
She has discovered an uncommon degree of a spirit of charity; particularly on the following occasion. A poor man that lives in the woods had lately lost a cow that the family much depended on, and being at the house, he was relating his misfortune, and telling of the straits and difficulties they were reduced to by it. She took much notice of it, and it wrought exceedingly on her compassions; and after she had attentively heard him a while, she went away to her father, who was in the shop, and entreated him to give that man a cow: and told him that the poor man had no cow! that the hunters or something else had killed his cow! and entreated him to give him one of theirs. Her father told her that they could not spare one. Then she entreated him to let him and his family come and live at his house: and had much more talk of the same nature, whereby she manifested bowels of compassion to the poor (1 John 3:17). 
She has manifested great love to her minister: particularly when I returned from my long journey for my health, the last fall, when she heard of it, she appeared very joyful at the news, and told the children of it, with an elevated voice, as the most joyful tidings; repeating it over and over, "Mr. Edwards is come home! Mr. Edwards is come home!" She still continues very constant in secret prayer, so far as can be observed (for she seems to have no desire that others should observe her when she retires, but seems to be a child of a reserved temper), and every night before she goes to bed, will say her catechism, and will by no means miss of it: she never forgot it but once, and then after she was abed, thought of it and cried out in tears, "I han't said my catechism!" and would not be quieted till her mother asked her the catechism as she lay in bed. She sometimes appears to be in doubt about the condition of her soul, and when asked whether she thinks that she is prepared for death, speaks something doubtfully about it. At other times she seems to have no doubt, but when asked replies "Yes" without hesitation."

Now, what are we to make of this? And you'll note I'm dodging around the "baptism" issue, as Edwards was a Congregationalist and so such the girl would have already been baptized. But we still are faced with the question of what a church should do when faced with this kind of situation? Of course, on the one hand we might note that this is an exceptional circumstance--most four-year-old girls aren't giddy over the WSC, mournful over their sins, and desperately worried about the safety of the local preacher.

We should note that whatever decision is made about affirming or not affirming children, some flexibility for exceptional circumstances should be allowed. Children with terminal diseases (God forbid!), war time situations, places where persecution is rife, all of these need to be considered and accounted for by the church and given maximum flexibility in the rules and in our thoughts.

But even with our exceptions for exceptional circumstances, what about normal circumstances? In the regular course of events when your child barely out of toddler-hood says "I'm a Christian, can I take communion/be baptized/attend member's meetings?" we are going to have to answer both as parents (non-authoritatively) and as members of the church (authoritatively). Edwards in this case responded with a "yes, you can", though he admitted that such was not the normal course of events. I think the answer is... I don't know.

I mean, in one sense the answer as a parent is pretty easy. Well, "easy", at any rate. The correct response if my four-year-old (not that I have one of those right now) to "daddy am I a Christian?" is "we'll have to wait and see what you think when you're older and what the church says about your application for membership, my job is to teach you not to make final judgments on whether it takes or not." I say that's the easy answer because it's the right answer of course ;) but also because it kicks the responsibility off onto the church. Of course it's not really "easy" because telling someone you don't know if they're a Christian does carry certain implications with it, since there are implications for not being a Christian, and that can be hard when that someone is your own offspring.

It's as a church member where we are obligated to speak with some authority where it gets difficult. As those with the authority to admit someone into membership and so make a public declaration about the state of their faith, this is something we need to do carefully and seriously with each individual. We need to be sure that we are giving full consideration to each request, including judging the sincerity of the applicant and the possibility that a few years down the road they will be equally sincere. Here is probably where most people are going to struggle with toddler-faith. Sure, they claim to believe in Christ now, but ten years from now will they have to be excommunicated for apostasy or simply stripped from the rolls as never having been believers in the first place. (Though we could also say the same about someone who has a history of bouncing back and forth between belief and unbelief.) What do we do?

We ask Jonathan Leeman, that's what :)

Friday, July 3, 2015

ANF VI: Gregory Thaumaturgus Canonical Epistle

Ante-Nicene Fathers Volume VI

Gregory Thaumaturgus: Part I: Acknowledged Writings: Canonical Epistle

Well, my plan to regularly go through each of the readings in this volume was offset by work, current events, family, and all those other things that regularly drag us down ;)

But I'll keep plugging away at it, even if it means that by the time I actually post these reviews it may have been so long since I read the work that my memory of it isn't all that great. [shrug] What can you do?

The "Canonical Epistle," for example. Isn't really what it sounds like. It's not so much an "epistle that everyone admits is a part of the canon of Gregory's works" as it is a "list of guidelines and doctrines the same as we see released by councils and such." For example, there's Canon VIII:
Now those who have been so audacious as to invade the houses of others, if they have once been put on their trial and convicted, ought not to be deemed fit even to be hearers in the public congregation. But if they have declared themselves and made restitution they should be placed in the ranks of the repentant.
In other words, what are we to do with criminals who claim to be Christians? If they have been tried and convicted by the state, they don't even get to show up at the church meeting. But if they admit their sin and repent of it, they should be allowed back in to enter into the process of reconciliation that others have to go through.
Or, what about Christians who have been pressed into military service by marauding barbarians? If they forget their Christian obligations not to kill or pillage, again they must be expelled from the assembly--at least until a council has made a final decision about what to do in such instances.

This is worth reading to get a sense for how the church fathers thought about church life and the relationship between the general culture and the body of believers.