Category Archives: History

The Early Christian View on Generosity Was Incredibly Radical

Generosity, in Christian understanding, goes further than simply the wallet – it reveals the condition of the soul. There is a natural selfishness in our conditioned responses, which instinctively says spend and not give. But is this really the mindset that we want to pass on to our children? As someone has said, “we must teach them the greater joy of giving before they figure out the lesser joy of receiving.”

One very early Christian text can back this up. The ‘Didache‘ (pronounced “didder-key”, it’s Greek for “teaching”) is of uncertain date, but internal evidence leads most commentators to place it at the latest AD 100. It is a short handbook of moral and practical governance for churches, perhaps in Syria, and it is anonymous. Continue reading The Early Christian View on Generosity Was Incredibly Radical

What Do We Mean By “Evangelical”?

In recent news, the term “Evangelical” has been used a lot. It was used during last year’s American elections due to Donald Trump and the Republican Party, and recently, the term has come up in response to scandals involving politician Ray Moore.

Whenever I see the term “Evangelical” used today, it always refers to a very specific group of people. It is always used in the context of politically/socially conservative American Protestants, especially from the southern United States. However, this use of the term is both historically and theologically inaccurate, and I believe that this needs to be addressed. This is especially true because of this organization — Pentecostals & Charismatics for Peace & Justice. The Pentecostal/Charismatic movement is in fact a part of the wider Evangelical tradition, so I think that we need to discuss what that term means in its wider context.  Continue reading What Do We Mean By “Evangelical”?

Battling Demons and Possessions: The Life of Antony of Egypt

Antony of Egypt was a true pioneer, whose influence is still felt today. What makes him so remarkable is that he did what he did long before it made sense to do such things, but by doing it he blazed a trail for posterity.

Evangelical Protestant historians explain the migration to the desert by thousands of monks, nuns and hermits as a reaction against the political “Christendom” created by Constantine I and his successors in the 4th century. Yet Antony had already made his statement a generation earlier, at a time when the Early Church was still supposed to be in its bloom. Continue reading Battling Demons and Possessions: The Life of Antony of Egypt

Community of Goods: Economics According to the New Testament

The original movement behind modern Charismatic Christianity is Pentecostalism. The name “Pentecostal”, as we all likely know, comes directly from the second chapter of the Acts of the Apostles. In that chapter, on the day of Pentecost (referring to the fiftieth day after Passover), the early church received an amazing gift (charism): the Holy Spirit descended upon them. The Bible says:

When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability (Acts 2:1-4).

The story of Pentecost is powerful. It testifies to us the importance of the Spirit in the church. However, we in the Pentecostal/Charismatic movement have a tendency to stop reading the chapter not long after this. We heavily emphasize spiritual gifts and revival, but we ignore the following verses in this chapter, in which the early church’s social dynamic is described to us. Continue reading Community of Goods: Economics According to the New Testament

‘The Cry of Slaughtered Millions’: William and Catherine Booth’s Aggressive Christianity

Image: inspirationalchristians.org

William Booth preaching
Image: inspirationalchristians.org

William Booth (1829-1912), Founder-General of the Salvation Army, certainly favoured the ‘in your face’ approach. With these words he began the front page article of the first issue of The War Cry, on 27 December 1879: Why a “War Cry?” Because The Salvation Army means more war!”

Today, the Army’s ‘fight’ against poverty and marginalisation takes many forms, from questions in parliament to individuals giving a few pounds to a homeless charity. But Booth’s radical eye saw deeper than mere deprivation and squalor: he saw inner lostness, people without hope because God’s love was not made real to them. Some churches tried, but in the main, Christians ‘walked by on the other side’. Not so the Salvation Army!

Continue reading ‘The Cry of Slaughtered Millions’: William and Catherine Booth’s Aggressive Christianity

The Gift of Provocation? Tertullian Certainly Had It!

Tertullian (full name Quintus Septimius Florens Tertullianus) was born at Carthage in North Africa around AD 155, son of a Roman centurion. He trained as a lawyer and had a razor-sharp mind. Little of his early life is known, but at about 40 he became a Christian. Immediately, he began to write – and Christendom hardly knew what had hit it!

He didn’t ‘do’ much reasoned theology; he confronted. Wrong teachings, sloppy morals, lax leaders, cowardly faith, Tertullian laid into them all. His writing is passionate, with holy sarcasm – and at times still funny even today. You sense a ‘wildness’, a burning heart for integrity and justice, contemptuous of all compromise. Here are some examples:

At a time of fierce persecution, when many favoured fleeing, he wrote: The blood of the martyrs is [the] seed [of the church], adding that once you start fleeing, you will never stop fleeing!

Seeing the growing emphasis on education in church leadership, he cried: What has Athens [headquarters of Greek philosophy] got to do with Jerusalem!

He took aim at worldly pursuits: All public entertainment damages the spirit.

He castigated the folly of persecutors: If the Tiber rises too high, or the Nile too low, the remedy is always to feed Christians to the lions.

He understood the fleshly human nature that he was confronting: The first reaction to truth is hatred.

Perhaps most biting of all is his judgement on self-centred living: Whoever lives only to benefit himself, benefits the world only when he dies!

Yet Tertullian was more than a polemicist. He was deeply conscious of his personal failings; once, he wrote a piece on patience because he knew he had to learn it. Continue reading The Gift of Provocation? Tertullian Certainly Had It!

A Revival in Poland Began with Praying Children

Image: flickr.comIn the early 18th century, a revival took place in middle Europe that has received little attention. It had something most unusual about it: it was a revival among the children.

Lutherans were being increasingly marginalised by the Roman Catholic authorities in Silesia, (the borderlands of Poland and Czech today), but the schoolchildren would not accept this. Some time in 1707, the children of Sprottau (today Szprotawastarted to meet in the field outside the town, two or three times a day, to pray for peace in the land and for freedom of religion. They would read some Psalms, sing hymns and pray, some of them lying prostrate, and close with a blessing.

The old town of Sprottau with the fields where the children prayed

The movement spread through the mountain villages of Upper Silesia and into the towns. Not all adults were happy about this, fearing the consequences; some tried locking their children in the house, but they would climb out of the windows! In some villages, Roman Catholic children joined the Lutheran children to pray. Continue reading A Revival in Poland Began with Praying Children