Sunday, April 26, 2015

Early Church Fathers and Sola Scriptura

A well-documented collection of quotes from Michael Patton, showing that the Early Church Fathers taught that  authority for Christians beliefs comes ultimately from Scripture.

Patton concludes with this quote from J N D Kelly:

The clearest token of the prestige enjoyed by (Scripture) is the fact that almost the entire theological effort of the Fathers, whether their aims were polemical or constructive, was expended upon what amounted to the exposition of the Bible. Further, it was everywhere taken for granted that, for any doctrine to win acceptance, it had first to establish its Scriptural basis (Early Christian Doctrines, San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1978, pp. 42, 46).


Friday, April 24, 2015

Where does God draw the line?

I was brought up in a Baptist Church and was taught that God offers salvation from his wrath for everyone who believes in Jesus as Saviour. We understood that apart from God's grace, we all deserve punishment for our sin.

Trying to gain God's favour by good works is fruitless, because none of us can measure up, and because God has made clear that we are freed from sin through what Jesus has done, not from our own efforts.

But we were also taught that many people hope that they will be saved because their good deeds outweigh their bad ones.

And, many churches also do not truly teach salvation by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone, but add extra things to this.

We were usually told that those who add to the good news of salvation through Christ cannot be saved from God's judgment.

However, every now and again, someone would say something like this:

When we get to heaven, there will be a lot of surprises. There will be plenty of Roman Catholics in heaven.
It seems to me there is a line between universalism (which teaches that all will be saved) and exclusivism (where only those in our little group are enjoying God's favour). But where does God draw the line?

I am sure many folk would think of me as being very narrow-minded. And we did spend two enjoyable, but challenging years in the little town of Narromine. The challenging part was high school Music teaching!

I enjoy reading articles in Christianity Today, but have discovered that some other Evangelicals think it is far too inclusive. I'm sure they would cringe at this article in which Marlena Graves writes about her experiences at seminary, where she learnt
to be generous to Christians who see some important things differently.
They might also not be very happy with the story in The Wall Street Journal about the identical twin brothers, raised as Baptists, who are now a Roman Catholic priest and an Anglican bishop.

I was also interested to see that the newly-formed Australian chapter of The Gospel Coalition is attracting criticism from folk who think it is too inclusive and from those who would like it to be less complementarian.

I think Marlena Graves achieves a good balance in what she says in the last half of her article:

I think of my experience in seminary, where I studied alongside students from 50 different church backgrounds and denominations, from Pentecostal to Presbyterian and Roman Catholic to African Methodist Episcopal. The distinctives of our traditions meant that at core, we had intense disagreements over doctrine (especially over the nature and practice of the sacraments) and other controversial issues (like the ordination of women). But amazingly, we didn’t spend time debating our differences.
We could all trace the genesis, trajectories, emphases, and tragedies of our particular traditions in church history. None of us could afford to be arrogant about our traditions. We all “called upon the name of the Lord”; we all “declared with our mouths, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believed in our hearts that God raised him from the dead” (Rom. 10:9-13). Our common devotion to Jesus and love for one another reigned supreme. For the first time in my life I thought, “This is what heaven must be like.”
As Protestant evangelicals, we have some specific beliefs that are starkly different than a lot of fellow Christians, including Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox brothers and sisters. But to those who suggest that moving from Protestantism to Roman Catholicism or Eastern Orthodoxy amounts to “changing religions,” I direct them to our brothers in Christ who have been martyred for the faith.
Those Coptic Christians killed in February, or the Ethiopian Orthodox Christians killed just days ago, are they not really Christians? Are they members of a different religion, Orthodoxy, not “the faith once for all delivered to the saints”? I certainly wouldn’t say that. (And, for the record, neither wouldPope Francis.)
As CT blogger Peter Chin wrote earlier this year:
Our response to the death of the 21 clearly demonstrated that we share a profound connection with other believers despite the considerable geographical, cultural, and theological gaps between us. We have proven that we do not need to be in complete alignment with other followers of Christ to stand with them in their pain.
What do you think?
 

Friday, April 17, 2015

Is this harmonisation really by Bach?

Is this wonderful harmonisation really by Bach?
I have not been able to locate it anywhere other than in Geoffrey Shaw's Twice 20 Choral Songs for Choirs.
I have found the tune harmonised by Bach, but not in this specific, superb version.

Can you help?

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

One Perfect Day

I was listening to Denis Walter's terrific album Songs From a Southern Land today and was captivated again by One Perfect Day.

Vin Maskell is a great writer and tells the story of how he came to love this song here and also includes the songwriter's own recollections.

It looks like he is thinking of this article as old and I'm hoping he doesn't take the page down, because it's a great story.

I love Sara Storer's version. I love Denis Walter's version, too. But I'm disappointed the line about Margaret Thatcher's government doesn't feature in either of them.

In case he does:

St Andrews market, Victoria, May 2012

Is One Perfect Day, by 1980s Melbourne band The Little Heroes, one perfect song?

St Andrews is a town in the hills on the edge of Melbourne. It’s not quite a suburb and it’s not quite out in the country. I visited its popular Saturday market as the stall holders were packing away their goat’s cheeses, their angora scarves, their wooden toys, their landscape paintings.

But the bloke with about 30 milk crates of second-hand records was in no hurry. There were hundreds of, if not a few thousands of, albums there. “Five dollars each,” the bloke said.  “Or, at this time of day, three for ten.”

But with so many albums, where would I start? Pop, folk, rock, country?  By accident or by design, by chance or by fate, The Little Heroes’ 1982 album Play By Numbers was jutting out on an angle from the back of one of the milk crates on the ground. I only knew one Little Heroes song, One Perfect Day, and I’d always liked it. (The song reached number 25 on the Australian charts.)

I can’t remember when and where I first heard it (maybe on Countdown) but I’ve always felt it was a gorgeous piece of pop, in which the singer tries to will a reunion with a former lover who is on the other side of the world.

One Perfect Day, I’ll get your telegram
And you’ll be calling me – who whoa
This Perfect Day I can’t stop thinking
Are you over there, are you happy there


The only version I had of the song was a restrained version by Bernadette Robinson, an internationally acclaimed Melbourne soprano who has also interpreted songs by Edith Piaf, Billie Holiday, Leonard Cohen, Rufus Wainwright and Leonard Cohen.  Her Perfect Day (on a very good 1993 compilation album called Moon Over Melbourne) is stripped back and slowed down:  a pure voice, a piano and a bass, rather than the original pop band treatment, which included a touch of  1980s synthesiser.

Crouched there on the gravel of the St Andrews market, I turned the album cover over  to read the song listings and there was One Perfect Day – final track, side one. The song had been floating in and out of my head for 30 years and now here it was in my hands, on old-fashioned vinyl.

And tell me if it’s still raining there in England
And did the Government fall last night
And tell if it’s still raining there in England
Adventures so hard to come by
If you ever come back just drop by


One Perfect Day
One Perfect Day
One Perfect Day


I flicked through some more milk crates and plucked out Dedication by Gary US Bonds (for his version of Jackson Browne’s The Pretender) and a Linda Ronstadt Greatest Hits album.

Australian country music star Sara Storer recorded a version of One Perfect Day in 2010. The song’s writer and The Little Heroes’ lead singer, Roger Wells, told One Song at a Time:  “Sara’s strong Aussie accent took the song into her world and she made it her own.  I loved it.”

The Little Heroes called it a day in 1985, after three albums and the one hit single. Roger Wells later became a meditation trainer and author, with a keen interest also in travel, art and photography.  He writes songs from time to time.

Postscript

Roger Wells speaks to Stereo Stories (via email),  August 2012

Missing, alienation and yearning seem to be at the heart of most of my songs, which is unfortunate, because it got a bit tedious for everyone else. Of course now, with the ability to look back and connect all the dots of my life, I understand – but back then, with various bands rolling their eyes as I reeled out yet another melancholy lament, I kind of wished I could write something different.

One Perfect Day came to me one night in 1979.  I was still getting over the death some months before, of a girlfriend, Christine, who I’d been very much in love with. And not having been present when she died, or seen her buried, her loss left a nagging feeling that I just couldn’t throw, that she was still alive somewhere – so I was having trouble moving on.

That particular night I was sitting on a couch watching the late night news on a little black and white TV – coverage of the British elections, and it seemed as if Thatcher might lose.

I’d received a letter that day from an old friend, Kerry, who was living in London working as a nurse, and I had been writing a reply, which was lying on the table.

On the couch beside me was a book I’d been reading, This Perfect Day by Ira Levin, a science-fiction novel about a false utopia.

So I’m sitting there noodling on my guitar, gazing blankly at the British election on the little black and white screen, thinking of Kerry, having just finished reading this book, and I began singing, and as often happens, the song just happened – very quickly.

The two short verses and chorus drew together all the elements I’ve mentioned and wrapped them around the core of Christine’s death . And I had yet another song of missing and yearning.

I recorded the song on an old cassette, then played it back.  It seemed oddly complete, though there wasn’t much to it. I thought maybe it needed more, because after all, two verses and a chorus isn’t much. But still, there was a strange symmetry to it that seemed to work.

I woke my girlfriend Carol and played the song to her.

'It’s a hit,' she said and went back to sleep.

And that’s the only song I ever wrote that she said that about.

From then on the song seemed blessed – Carol’s pronouncement was echoed by everyone who heard it – the band, the producer, Peter Dawkins, the head of EMI, who we were signed to.  In rehearsals and then the recording of it, everything came easily, as if the song was using all of us to realise itself – it was the strangest thing. It had a momentum all of its own.

And when it went out, everybody picked it up and ran with it, from audiences to radio.

Problem is, I, the writer, just cannot hear the magic of the song.  For sure, I can hear a nice song – but I can’t hear the magic.

Over a couple of wines a friend of mine even tried to point it out one night, saying “… it’s when your voice goes up, and the bass does this, and the chords change, and … fuck mate, it’s amazing … and the outro …”

And I thought I could see it, but then I couldn’t.

But it’s been like an angel to me, in the life I’ve led. Each time I’ve been broke, or stuck somewhere, it leans down from the sky and scatters a little money to help me out … and my life stumbles on.

So it is a magical song … I just wish I could hear that magic.

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Investigating Baptist origins

I found this interesting article by Leon McBeth today. It is over 35 years old, but is worth reading.

I was looking for an article on origins of the Baptist Church and was pleased with what is said in this short piece.

This part is particularly helpful:

Baptists New and Old
The story of Baptist beginnings forms a paradox. On one hand, Baptists are deeply convinced that theirs is a Bible faith, rooted in the message of Jesus Christ and the apostles. To that extent, Baptists can be called a New Testament church.
On the other hand, the historical evidence clearly states that Baptists originated, as a distinct denomination, in the early seventeenth century. How does one harmonize the sense of continuity from Bible times with the factual reality of more recent beginnings?
Some have so emphasized the sense of continuity from Bible times that they find it difficult to face up to historical facts about Baptist origins. Some have even erected elaborate schemes, or "Trails of Blood," seeking to trace Baptists through all the centuries from Christ to the present. These theories are based upon assumptions, unreliable or nonexistent historical data, or faulty interpretation of Jesus’ promise that the gates of death should never prevail against his church. A Baptist today can have a real sense of identification with the teachings of Christ without trying to prove historical succession.
Other Baptists, however, may so emphasize the recent origin of Baptists that they lose the sense of continuity in faith and practice from Jesus himself. The earliest Baptists recovered and proclaimed anew the old faith that has come down the centuries from the Lord and his apostles. The Baptist denomination dates from the seventeenth century; the Baptist faith, we believe, dates from the first century.

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Why do bad things happen to us?

Why does God allow suffering?
I think there's a clue in one little word in John chapter 11: the story of the raising of Lazarus to life again.

When Jesus hears that Lazarus is sick, he says:
 "This sickness will not end in death but is for the glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it." (John 11:4 Holman Christian Standard Bible)
Then we read:
 Now Jesus loved Martha, her sister, and Lazarus. *So* when He heard that he was sick, He stayed two more days in the place where He was. Then after that, He said to the disciples, "Let's go to Judea again."  (verses 5-7)
Some translations don't have "so", but I think it makes sense of the story.  Because Jesus loved Martha, Mary and Lazarus, he wanted them to see for themselves that he is the Son of God, who brings the dead back to life. This could only happen if he waited till Lazarus was dead before he got to Bethany.
And when that happened, he was able to assure them with the magnificent words:
"I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in Me, even if he dies, will live.  Everyone who lives and believes in Me will never die- (John 11:25-26 HCSB)

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Making sense of the Matthew and Luke genealogies of Jesus

Ben Witherington has a good article on the quite different genealogies of Jesus, which is as good as anything I've read, so far.

Here are a few pertinent bits:

While there are a few similarities between the two (e.g. they both mention that Jesus is the ‘so-called’ son of Joseph), they are mostly different, and they serve very different purposes. Some Bible students along the way have tried to suggest that we have Mary’s genealogy in Luke, and Joseph’s in Matthew, but this solution simply doesn’t work, since Joseph and his ancestry is referred to in both cases...

Luke’s, is an ascending genealogy (tracing Jesus all the way back to Adam, and thence to God) and focuses on Jesus’ human ancestry in general. The other, Matthew’s, is a descending genealogy and is a strictly Jewish genealogy that wants to establish that Jesus is a descendant of Abraham and of Moses and of David, and thus is the Jewish messiah. Neither genealogy attempts to be complete, but rather they are selective and stylized. In royal genealogies in antiquity often the skeletons would be left in the closet, and sometimes whole generations would be left out of account.The genealogy was intended to be illustrative of the ancestry, not an exhaustive account thereof. Furthermore, in the case of Matthew’s genealogy, there is an attempt to suggest that Jesus is the perfect descendant of Abraham, noticing the references to three sets of 14 generations, with seven being the number of perfection...

Because Matthew is trying to shoe horn Mary and Jesus into Joseph’s genealogy (a reasonable thing to do since if Joseph adopted or accepted Mary’s child, by Jewish tradition she was entitled to Joseph’s genealogy in the bargain), because of the virginal conception,many scholars have suggested that the odd references to various notable or notorious women in this otherwise all male genealogy is meant to prepare for the irregularity of mentioning Mary, the mother of Jesus (and his only physical parent) who came by her child in an irregular way. So we have Tamar, Rahab, Ruth, and Uriah’s wife (i.e. Bathsheba), and what all these women share in common with Mary is ‘irregular unions’. In other words, God can use all kinds of irregularities his wonders to perform, even to produce his messiah, the final anointed king.