On Baptism (Part I)

In this two-part article, I offer some reflections on baptism, beginning in this post with the Bible and history and wrapping up with some musings on covenant and sacrament in the next.

Baptism in the Acts of the Apostles

Last summer I led a Bible study on the Acts of the Apostles. While I had prior experience reading and studying Acts, nothing quite engages you with a biblical book like having to teach it to a group of people. One of the themes in Acts that we regularly encountered was the issue of baptism: how does Luke explain this Christ-instituted rite associated with the Way? Without delving too much into all the particulars of baptism in the early church, the varieties of baptism that Acts presents as valid stood out in our study. In contrast to many contemporary Christian doctrinal statements on how baptism ought to occur in a specific way at a particular time, Acts describes some basic parameters for baptism—the need for baptism in water in the name of God and the efficacious influence of the Holy Spirit (the so-called “baptism of water” and “baptism of the Spirit”)—and then seems to allow for what contemporary Christians think of as different forms of baptism. Continue reading

Gnosticism, Women, and Elaine Pagels

This post is part of an ongoing series reflecting upon Women and Gender in Early Christianity.

GnosticsFor today’s reflection, I outline and reflect on Elaine Pagels’ “What Became of God as Mother? Conflicting Images of God in Early Christianity.”[1] In so doing I argue that while Pagels’ approach to the question of the divine feminine remains an important aspect of early Christian thinking, her characterization of the category “gnostic” remains unhelpful for framing the study of these documents. Continue reading

Reflections on Communion

These reflections originally appeared as part of a Round Table discussion at Conciliar Post.

CommunionWhat is communion and how does it impact my faith? For me, Communion is the sacramental participation in the body and blood of our Lord Jesus, a visible and real “joining together” with our Lord that, among other things, is a foreshadowing of our eventual union with Him in the new Heaven and new Earth. I think a good explication of this are the three English terms that are often used to describe this Christian meal: Communion, the Lord’s Supper, and the Eucharist. Continue reading

The Early Church and the Trinity

This past Sunday was Trinity Sunday for many Christians, very often the day of the year when the Trinitarian nature of God and Christian theology are most clearly discussed. This post reflects on how the early Church grappled with the complexities of Trinitarian theology.

TrinityThe doctrine of the Trinity–espoused by the Cappadocian Fathers as “God is one object in Himself and three objects to Himself”–is commonly understood to be one of the more difficult concepts to grasp in Christian theology. Much of Early Church history revolved around debates concerning the Person of Jesus Christ and His relationship to the Father, and doctrine concerning the Holy Spirit was often not explicitly discussed. However by the time of the Cappadocian Fathers and Augustine, an explicit doctrine of the Trinity was emerging in Christendom (Kelly, 252). In her essay entitled “Why Three?” Sarah Coakley engages the Maurice Wiles’ perspective on the Trinity as espoused in his The Making of Christian Doctrine. Continue reading

Agobard and the Holy Spirit: Efficacious Procession

Icon of the Holy Trinity (Rubilev)

Icon of the Holy Trinity (Rubilev)

Belief in the Trinity makes Christianity stand out. This is true for a number of reasons, including the importance that this doctrine places on faith (how else can you explain how one is three and three are one?), trust in the Christians of the past (most contemporary Christians do not excavate the Trinitarian and Christological controversies of the early Church for themselves), and for the importance of relationship in the Christian tradition (the Trinity affirms the necessity of love and companionship, especially among those created in the image of God[1]). Yet the exceptionality of this belief also makes it fraught with potential misunderstandings, misapplications, and outright heretical appropriations. Continue reading

Second Treatise of Great Seth

Nag Hammadi CodicesThe Second Treatise of the Great Seth is one of the “G/gnostic” texts found at the Nag Hammadi Library in Egypt.[1] Generally dated in the third century by scholars, the name and origin of this text remain a mystery,[2] though it has been speculated that the name Seth originated from the son of Adam and Eve from Genesis 4.[3] In this treatise, the gnostic Christ is speaking to the “perfect and incorruptible” ones and describing a true understanding of his life story, crucifixion, relationship to the Father, and his teaching. This document contains both elements of both a pro-Gnostic message and an anti-Christian message, as Christians are said to proclaim the teachings of a dead man while persecuting the true gnostic church. While gnosticism is an oft discussed phenomena of late antiquity and the early Christian age, there remains a certain amount of ambiguity and uncertainty as to what gnosticism actually was, perhaps mostly because the Christian apologists and writers of the gnostic age did not discuss the actual theology of their opponents aside from what was wrong with it.[4] In this text, Christ seems to be advocating a form of mind-body dualism that seems to be fairly pervasive among certain branches of gnosticism in the early Christian era. It is important to note that most scholars have failed to place this specific gnostic text within any specific genre of gnostic literature, further evidence of the uncertainty of its origin and writing.[5] Continue reading

Roman Catholicism in the Nineteenth Century

St. Peter's Basilica, Vatican City

St. Peter’s Basilica, Vatican City

The nineteenth century posed a number of unique challenges to the Roman Catholic Church, among them the continued rise of Protestantism, the increasing influence of modernism, the development of historical and biblical criticisms, and the rise in understanding of numerous world religions. Roman Catholicism developed a number of responses to these challenges, most notably through Pope Pius IX’s Syllabus of Errors and the canons of the First Vatican Council. In these writings, Rome affirmed the veracity of the tradition of the Church in opposition to the world, dogmatically affirming the accuracy and infallibility of the teachings of the Church and Pope. Continue reading

Sit, Walk, Stand

Sit, Walk, Stand, NeeWatchman Nee was one of the most influential leaders and thinkers in the history of Chinese Christianity. It has been said that Nee’s writings and example, more than any other factor, have shaped the contemporary Chinese church. In his highly popular book, Sit, Walk, Stand, Nee offered an exegesis of Paul’s Letter to the Ephesians that outlines the Christian’s position in Christ, life in the world, and attitude toward the enemy (10). In this book, Nee argues that Paul advocated that the Ephesian church interact with the cosmos in three distinct ways: sitting, walking, and standing. For Nee these concepts not only appear to provide an exegetical model for understanding Ephesians, but also seem to function as one of the primary lenses through which he views the Christian life. Continue reading

A Prayer for Writing

WritingBelow is a prayer for writing adapted from a prayer of Walter Wink found in his book Just Jesus (page 23 for those interested). I found Wink’s words a powerful reminder about our need to rely on the “muse” of the Holy Spirit when writing.

On this beautiful summer day, Lord, I bring my whole self, including my questions and confusions to you, and offer myself to be used by you in the process of writing. Deliver me from egocentric plots. Give me courage to rewrite with perfection. I do commit myself from you, O God, in life, in death. I commit myself to the truth, your truth. I will not be cowed by pain or use it as an excuse for resistance. I will not bend to laziness or ignorance. I will try to hold myself open to the depths. I ask for images and metaphors to flow as I write. I ask for help in revising this writing, to make it really readable. I ask for patience to do it right. May my writing and living honor your name and not my own. Amen.