“How and when will the world end?” My answers to this query are short and (likely) less nuanced than others might like. The world (at least, the world as we know it) will end through the paradigm altering, cosmos bending, history fulfilling, and cataclysmic event of the Lord Jesus returning. His return will usher in renewed reality. Things that are not as they should be now will be made right. Christ’s words in Revelation 21:5 will be fulfilled: “Behold, I make all things new.” What this looks like in more detail, we are not told (more on that in a moment). As for when this will occur, “concerning that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father only” (Matthew 24:36). To speculate concerning when Christ will return is folly, an empty prophecy undermined by the words of I AM. There is no checklist of socio-political events that need to occur before Jesus is able to return. God is not waiting on humanity to force the rebuilding of the Jerusalem Temple or create a one-world order or anything else. At any moment “the Lord himself will descend with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God” (I Thessalonians 4:16). Continue reading
Many readers of the New Testament are both fascinated and perplexed by the book of Acts, the earliest “history of Christianity” put to papyrus. Acts begins to tell the story of the church, following the miracles, lives, and journeys of Peter, the Jerusalem Church, and the Apostle Paul. But Acts also ends abruptly—with Paul under house arrest in Rome—and often raises a number of questions about the early Church. Thus, readers find themselves wondering, “What really happened after Acts?” In answer to this question, Bryan Liftin has written After Acts: Exploring the Lives and Legends of the Apostles (Chicago: Moody Publishers, 2015), a book dedicated to introducing and exploring the traditions of the Apostles following the end of “church history” in the New Testament canon. Continue reading
In comparison to all other extant ancient works, the writings of Tertullian of Carthage against Marcion remain the fullest and most precise rejection of Marcion’s theology. Tertullian composed as least six works against Marcion, including his Prescription against Heresies and Five Books against Marcion which are extant today. In the Prescription against Heretics, Tertullian made a number of accusations concern Marcion’s use of scripture, canon, and authority, perhaps the most clear being that Marcion had induced a schism within Catholic church authority. Writing somewhat generally, Tertullian wrote that Marcion introduced new material to the Christian faith, formed a theology based on philosophical thought that moved beyond the teachings of Christ and the ‘rule of faith,’ twisted and distorted Christian scriptures, and had moved Christian faith away from its Jewish and apostolic roots to a new theology. Continue reading
It’s Holy Week for Christians, the week we remember the last days, Passion, Death, and (ultimately) the Resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth. The vast majority of all Christian knowledge about the death and resurrection of Jesus comes from the four canonical gospel accounts, each of which records in some detail the events leading up to Jesus’ crucifixion and death. And since that historic Friday almost 2,000 years ago, a great deal has been written (and drawn, painted, scripted, and produced) about the passion of the Christ. And despite what some scholars and news outlets claim this time of year, most scholars conclude that its safe to say that we know a good deal about the events surrounding the death (and resurrection) of Jesus. Continue reading
Ignatius of Antioch and the letters he wrote on way to his martyrdom in Rome have long fascinated those studying early Christianity. Killed around 117 CE by the Emperor Trajan, Ignaitus’s tale reads like a drama: the bishop of Antioch (one of the largest cities in the Roman Empire and home to one of the most important centers of early Christianity) Ignatius is arrested and set with a group of Roman soldiers across Asia Minor and Greece for execution in Rome. Along the way, he receives fellow Christians for encouragement and sends them back to their churches with letters for the edification of other Christian communities. Ignatius meets his end in Rome, but his letters live on and continue to influence Christians nearly two thousand years after their hasty composure. Continue reading
When thinking about the God and his control over the universe, a topic which weighs heavily on everyone’s mind is death. If God has a plan, why must it include death? Milton addresses such questions in his great pastoral elegy Lycidas, written on the passing of Edward King. In this poem Milton expresses surprise and disdain that King, a man who had given up the ‘high life’ of the educated for the vocation of preaching, should perish at such a young age. “Where were ye nymphs when the remorseless deep/ Closed o’er the head of your loved Lycidas?” (Lycidas, 50-51) Milton asks. Where was God when this man died? Why was it that a man so committed to the work of the Lord died at such a young age? “What hard mishap hath doomed this gentle swain?” (Lycidas, 92) How could God let such a thing happen? Milton seems to be asking these questions, not only for King’s sake, but for his own sake as well. The death of King seems to have collapsed Milton into the realm of doubt: If God let Edward King die before he fulfilled his purpose in life, then why should he not expect the same to happen? Continue reading
The Roman Catholic Church claims a history as long as the history of the Christian Church itself. It does injustice to Church History (and the history of Western Civilization) to summarize the history of the church in a paragraph; yet here we must. So, in as much of a nutshell as possible: the Apostle Peter is said to have founded the Church at Rome and been its first bishop, setting the stage for the Roman Church’s leadership for the next two centuries (and indeed, the amount of early Christian literature coming from Rome at least partially supports this claim). While the Western Church was less involved in the great Ecumenical Councils of the fourth and fifth centuries, they nonetheless affirmed the teachings of those councils (as well as the three additional councils of the sixth through eighth centuries). As the dominant city and church of the Western Roman Empire, the prestige and influence of the Roman Church and her bishop steadily increased throughout Late Antiquity and the Middle Ages. The Western Roman Church suffered a series of splits from the Eastern Roman Church (commonly called the Byzantine or Orthodox Church) over the course of the tenth through thirteenth centuries, most famously in 1054 CE. The rise of scholasticism (c. 1100-1700 CE), impact of the Protestant Reformation (begun 1517 CE), and challenge of the Enlightenment further shaped the doctrine and practice of the Roman Catholic Church, most notably in the Council of Trent (1545-63 CE) and First Vatican Council (1868-70 CE). Of greatest importance in our times has been the Second Vatican Council (1962-5 CE), and the worldwide prominence of certain popes, most notably Pope John Paul II (d. 2005) and the current pontiff, Francis. The Roman Catholic Church has more than 1.2 billion members around the world, making it the largest Christian communion.
Doctrinal Considerations (Where possible from the Catechism of the Church)
Much like the long and varied history of the Roman Catholic Church, there are countless Catholic doctrinal points which we could discuss. For the sake of brevity, we will touch only on the major doctrinal stances of Catholicism. With most other Christians, the Roman Catholic Church affirms both the Apostles Creed and the Nicene Creed, though they include the filioque clause in the latter, differentiating themselves from the Orthodox Church. The Catholic Church affirms that “The Sacred Scriptures contain the Word of God and, because they are inspired, they are truly the Word of God” (CoCC, 135), as well as the canons of twenty-one councils ranging from Nicaea to Vatican II. Among the doctrinal points which distinguish the Catholic Church from her Western Protestant brothers and sisters are the sacraments, Marian doctrines, views on justification, and teaching on Papal infallibility. The RCC believes in seven sacraments: baptism, confirmation, Eucharist, penance and reconciliation, anointing the sick, holy orders (the priesthood), and matrimony. The four Catholic Marian doctrines state that Mary may be called the Mother of God (theotokos, the ‘God-bearer’), was bodily assumed into heaven, remained a virgin perpetually, and was conceived without original sin. Catholic teaching affirms that the Pope (whose full title I need to work in here: ), when speaking ex cathedra as teacher of the church, is infallible on matters of faith or morals (Vatican I, First Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, 4.9). The most important modification to the Catholic Church in recent decades was the Second Vatican Council, which (among other things) named Protestants “separated brethren” and encouraged the delivery of Mass in the vernacular (instead of Latin). Such changes undoubtedly have helped fuel the increasing number of Protestants who have migrated to the Catholic Church in recent years.
Local Church Experience
We visited St. Leo the Great Catholic Church this past Sunday for our local engagement with the Catholic Church. Having been to Mass before, we were fairly confident in what we would walk into, but were surprised on several fronts nonetheless. The first thing we noticed upon arriving was the food for the poor, which was overflowing into the entrance of the building. The second thing we noticed were the folding chairs– the church was packed, in spite of the fact that we attended the fourth service of the day. The sanctuary was already so full by the time we arrived that we barely grabbed a seat in the last pew, and people were quickly filing the folding chairs along the sides of the sanctuary and the back. The ushers were bringing people and having to make room for people for the first half-an-hour or so of the service. The third thing we noticed was the diversity. People of all ages (lots of children and teens included), backgrounds (from suits to shorts and t-shirts), and ethnic backgrounds were worshiping together. Even the priest who was preaching was from Germany. One thing we would add is that if we had not been familiar with the basic parameters of Mass (i.e., what a hymnal was, how to use the service booklet, to not go up to communion), we probably would have been quite lost, as there wasn’t much instruction of any sort. Overall, our visit was very positive and eye-opening, and we were glad to have worshiped with our Catholic brothers and sisters.
Thank you for following along with our Church Search. We wrap up our “First Exposure” phase with a visit to the Eastern Orthodox Church in a few weeks. We look forward to sharing our experience with you.
While Christians often talk about the death (and resurrection) of Jesus Christ, they often don’t give much thought to the the deaths of his earliest followers. No doubt this is because of the centrality of Christ’s death and subsequent resurrection for Christian faith. Additionally, the historical sources for accounts of the deaths of the apostles are considerably less reliable than those attesting the final hours of the Lord Jesus’ life. Nevertheless, there are various traditions surrounding the martyrdoms and deaths of the apostles and earliest followers are Jesus which are worthy of our reflection. Below are short renditions of some of the more widely attested accounts of the testimonies of the martyrs (please remember– these are traditions, often put together with spotty and somewhat questionable sources).
Perhaps the most widely known tradition concerning apostolic martyrdom is that of Peter who is said to have been crucified in Rome upside down during the reign of the Emperor Nero (typically dated around 64 CE). According to tradition, Peter felt unworthy to die in the same manner as the Lord Jesus, and thus was apparently crucified upside down on an x-shaped cross.
James, brother of John (not to be confused with any of the other prominent James’ in the early church), was executed with the sword in Jerusalem, and is generally understood to have been beheaded. Some traditions hold that one of the Roman guards assigned to watch him was so overcome by James’ faith that he joined him in his execution. Continue reading