Saturday, November 22, 2014

The Sacramental Nature of Baptism As Seen In Song

This evening, during Evening Prayer, I finished singing through Wesley Hymns (edited by Ken Bible) . . . at least for this go around!  -  The last hymn in the book expresses the sacramental nature of baptism, nicely.  This is a good reminder for Wesleyan Christians (especially Evangelical ones) that we differ from many "Evangelical Christians" at this point.  Instead, we stand in line with our Methodist and Anglican forefathers, back to the Ancient and New Testament Church.

Many of our Evangelical sisters and brothers (e.g., Baptists), view holy baptism (and holy communion) as a mere ordinance.  (I say mere, because ordinances they surely are.  Even the hymn uses that term.  However, they are not merely so.)  As a mere ordinance, our sisters and brothers of this tradition view baptism as something that, while commanded by Christ, is exclusively understood to be a testimony by the one being baptized concerning what Christ has done in his/her life by faith.

We Wesleyans would affirm that, when a convert is being baptized, s/he is, indeed, testifying to what Christ has done in her/his life by faith . . . but we believe that this testimony is secondary.  Along with our forefathers in the faith, we believe that holy baptism is primarily God's work.  That is to say, we believe that baptism is not just an ordinance.  It is also a sacrament.  Whether the one being baptized is an infant or an adult convert, when we come to the waters of baptism with faith in Christ, God is present and at work.  Further, as the hymn makes clear, we believe that the whole of the Holy Trinity is at work in this sacrament.

To be sure, it is not an "automatic thing" simply because we go through the outward motions of a ritual.  Nevertheless, God's promised presence is granted to those who come with faith in Him.

Charles Wesley expresses this sacramental nature of baptism in this hymn:
 

Father, Son, and Holy Ghost

1. Father, Son, and Holy Ghost,
In solemn pow'r come down!
Present with Thy heav'nly host,
Thine ordinance to crown,
See a sinful soul of earth!
Bless to him the cleansing flood!
Plunge him, by a second birth,
Into the depths of God.

2. Let the promised inward grace
Accompany the sign;
On this newborn soul impress
The character divine!
Father, all Thy name reveal;
Jesus, all Thy name impart;
Holy Ghost, renew and dwell
Forever in his heart!
 
 
(Charles Wesley)

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

N.T. Wright : Husband and Wife - A Signpost for Heaven & Earth and God's Creation

The following is a video of N.T. Wright addressing the Humanum Colliquium.  I found it posted on my friend, Fr. James Gibson's blog, Locust and Wild Honey.  If it were not for his post, I couldn't have copied it, here!

I found +Wright's video to be well worth watching.  I hope you do, as well.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Phineas F. Bresee



(I originally wrote the following piece for "For All the Saints: A Calendar of Commemorations Second Edition," edited by Heather Josselyn-Cranson, OSL 2013.  )

Phineas Franklin Bresee was born to Phineas and Susan Brown Bresee in Franklin, NY, December 31, 1838.  At 16, Bresee experience his own “warmed heart” through a personal faith in Christ.  Soon, thereafter, he sensed a call to ministry and was granted a Methodist exhorter’s license.  He was ordained a deacon in 1859 and an elder two years later.[1]

In 1867, in Chariton Iowa, Bresee “entered into the blessing of entire sanctification.”[2]  Bresee had struggled with doubt.  The altar call after his sermon that night produced only one seeker; Bresee, himself.  “. . . [A]s I cried to [the Lord] that night, he seemed to open heaven on me, and gave me . . . the baptism with the Holy Ghost . . . it not only took away my tendencies to worldliness, anger and pride, but it also removed the doubt.”[3]  That experience of Christian Perfection would have a huge impact on Breese’s ministry.

Bresee served rural charges, and then large, urban churches in Iowa[4] and, after 1883, Los Angeles and Pasadena, CA.  He was appointed presiding elder in West Des Moines (1864)[5] and in Los Angeles.[6]  Further, Bresee served as a delegate to multiple General Conferences.[7]

Education was important to Bresee, as was seen by his serving on the board of Simpson College[8] and the University of Southern California.[9]  Later, Bresee became the president of Pacific Bible College (now Point Loma Nazarene University).[10]

 By the mid-1890’s, Breese’s commitment to the message of holiness led to his role as vice president of the National Holiness Association (NHA).  The experience of holiness also brought a passion for the poor.  The first miracle after the baptism with the Holy Ghost was upon a beggar, and so, Bresee reasoned, the priority of a Holy Ghost-baptized church ought to be the poor.[11]  This passion led him to withdraw from the MEC’s appointive system in 1894 to serve with the Peniel Mission.  However, while away, preaching for the NHA, Bresee was ousted from the Mission.  He was now left without the Mission or a MEC appointment.[12]

Thus, at the request of a number of southern California’s Holiness people, the Church of the Nazarene was organized on October 20, 1895 as a “Christian work, especially evangelistic and city mission work, and the spreading of the doctrine and experience of Christian holiness.”[13]  Bresee was the general superintendent of a growing holiness denomination.  A series of mergers with other regional holiness groups established the church as a national denomination in 1908 at Pilot Point, TX.[14]

Bresee served as the denomination’s senior general superintendent until his death on November 13, 1915.  He left behind his wife, Maria, six children, and what would become the largest denomination in the Wesleyan-Holiness wing of Methodism.



[1] Ingersol, Stan. Nazarene Roots: Pastors, Prophets, Revivalists & Reformers. Beacon Hill Press of Kansas City. 2009. p. 87-88.
[2] Bangs, Carl. Phineas F. Bresee: His Life in Methodism, the Holiness Movement, and the Church of the Nazarene. Beacon Hill Press of Kansas City. 1995. p. 71-73, 77.
[3] Girvin, E.A. Phineas F. Bresee: A Prince in Israel. Kansas City, MO. Nazarene Publishing House. 1916. p. 50-52.
[4] Ingersol. p. 88.
[5] Kostlevy, William C., Ed. Historical Dictionary of the Holiness Movement. Lanham, Maryland, and London. The Scarecrow Press, Inc. p. 28-29.
[6] Bangs. p. 286.
[7] Ingersol. p. 88-89.
[8] Ibid. p. 88.
[9] Kostlevy. p. 29.
[10] Ingersol. p. 91.
[11] Ibid. p. 88-89.
[12] Kostlevy. p. 29.
[13] Bangs. p. 195-196.
[14] Kostlevy. p. 29.

One Desire

We live in a world in which we hear from certain supposed "Christian leaders" that God's greatest desire is to bless us with financial success.  This supposed "gospel message" is broadcast via TV, radio and the internet, and is found in print in best selling "Christian" books.  These "Christian leaders" encourage Christians to pursue such "blessings" in the name of Jesus; a pursuit, it must be pointed out, that is no different in kind than the pursuit of secular minded non-Christians throughout the world . . . save that it is done "in Jesus' name."

As readers of this blog know, it is my custom to (usually) include some hymns while praying the office of Morning Prayer.  Currently, I am singing from Wesley Hymns, compiled by Ken Bible (Lillenas Publishing).  Today's hymn, along with the passage quoted below the hymn, provide a wonderful corrective to the popular message described, above.  The hymn, of course, is a (very short) hymn by Charles Wesley, and the quote following the hymn comes from John Wesley's A Plain Account of Christian Perfection.

May the words of this hymn and John Wesley's words be true for me and for the whole Church!

O My All-sufficient God

O my all-sufficient God,
Thou know'st my heart's desire;
Be this only thing bestowed;
I nothing else require,
Nothing else in earth or skies,
Not through all eternity;
Heav'n itself could not suffice:
I seek not Thine, but Thee.
 
"One design you are to pursue to the end of time, the enjoyment of God in time and in eternity.  Desire other things so far as they tend to this; love the creature, as it leads to the Creator.  But in every step you take, be this the glorious point that terminates your view.  Let every affection, and thought, and word, and action, be subordinate to this.  Whatever you desire or fear, whatever you seek or shun, whatever you think, speak, or do, be it in order to your happiness in God, the sole end, as well as source, of your being."


Friday, November 7, 2014

Thou Hidden Source of Calm Repose

The following Wesley hymn was one of the hymns I sang during Morning Prayer, today.  I thought that I should post it, here.  May God bless you through it!

Thou Hidden Source of Calm Repose

1. Thou hidden Source of calm repose,
Thou all-sufficient love divine;
My help and refuge from my foes,
Secure I am, if Thou art mine.
And lo! from sin and grief and shame
I hide me, Jesus, in Thy name.
 
2. Thy mighty name salvation is,
And keeps my happy soul above;
Comfort it brings, and power and peace,
And joy and everlasting love.
To me, with Thy dear name, are giv'n
Pardon and holiness and heav'n.
 
3. Jesus, my all-in-all Thou art;
My rest in toil, my ease in pain,
The healing of my broken heart;
In war my peace, in loss my gain,
My smile beneath the tyrant's frown;
In shame my glory and my crown.
 
4. In want my plentiful supply,
In weakness my almighty power,
In bonds my perfect liberty,
My light in Satan's darkest hour;
In grief my joy unspeakable,
My life in death, my heav'n in hell.

Saturday, November 1, 2014

A Hymn for All Saints

Come, Let Us Join Our Friends Above

 
1.  Come, let us join our friends above
Who have obtained the prize,
And on the eagle wings of love
To joys celestial rise.
Let saints on earth unite to sing
With those to glory gone;
For all the servants of our King,
In earth and heav'n, are one.
 
2.  One family we dwell in Him,
One Church above, beneath,
Though now divided by the stream,
The narrow stream of death.
One army of the living God,
To His command we bow;
Part of His host have crossed the flood
And part are crossing now.
 
3.  Ten thousand to their endless home
This solemn moment fly;
And we are to the margin come,
And we expect to die.
E'en now by faith we join our hands
With those who went before,
And greet the blood-besprinkled bands
On the eternal shore.
 
4.  Our spirits, too, shall quickly join,
Like theirs with glory crowned,
And shout to see our Captain's sign,
To hear His trumpet sound.
Jesus, be Thou our constant Guide;
Then, when the word is giv'n,
Bid Jordan's narrow stream divide
And bring us safe to heav'n.
 
(Charles Wesley)

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Halloween: What's a Christian to Do?

(The following article was printed previously)

A number of years ago, during a time of family devotions, we were talking about the “PACT” form of prayer: Praise, Ask, Confess, and Thank. In the devotion we were reading, we were also asked to read the Lord’s Prayer, and then the lesson asked which part of the Lord’s Prayer fit each letter of PACT.

The very first one, of course was Praise, and my wife asked what part of the Lord’s Prayer was praise. Well, I immediately raised my hand and said, “I know, I know.” And so, my wife called on me. Do you know which part of the Lord’s Prayer is considered praise? - “Our Father, who art in heaven; Hallowed be thy Name.” You see, in that prayer we are saying, “May your Name be hallowed.”

Now, when I said that, one of our kids immediately asked, “What does hallowed mean? Is it like Halloween?” - What do you think? When we pray, “Hallowed be thy Name,” is it like Halloween?

I think that question goes to the question that is often asked in Christian circles, “What do we do with Halloween?” - You know, when I was a kid, our church used to have Halloween parties every year. We used to hold it out in the woods at the Optimist Club building. It was a great time. I remember going, and our family arrived early one year. It was the year that I was dressed up like the Incredible Hulk. I had a rubber Hulk mask and inflatable muscles. Anyway, because we arrived early, we split up and hid. I think I hid behind a tree in the surrounding woods. Then we would each one “arrive” at different times, so as to help disguise who we really were. One year I was Scooby Doo. (That was before I could do the Scooby Doo voice.) We had a really great time.

However, as time went by, I encountered Christians at other churches (even within the same denomination) who would never do such a thing. From their perspective, Halloween was an evil, even Satanic celebration. It was to be avoided completely.

Some suggested Christian alternatives, sometimes called Hallelujah Parties, instead of Halloween Parties. These ranged from events where you could dress up, so long as there were no monsters, or evil costumes, to events where you could only dress as Bible characters, to no costumes allowed whatsoever. - And I learned never to assume anything about people’s position with regard to Halloween.

So it leaves us with the question, since there are a range of opinions, what ought we, as Christians, do about Halloween?

Well, when the question was asked, “What does hallowed mean? Is it like Halloween?” I said, “Actually, it is like Halloween.” - You see, to hallow is to make or to declare something or someone to be holy. We are saying to God, “Your name is holy.” - And Halloween is a form of All Hallow’s Evening, or All Hallow’s Eve; Hallowe-‘en. In other words it is the evening before All Hallow’s Day, or All Holy One’s Day, which we know as . . . All Saints’ Day. All Saints’ Day is celebrated on November 1st or the first Sunday, thereafter. - All Saints, by the way, was one of John Wesley’s favorite days.

Now, since that is the case, it should at least make Christians stop and consider a bit before we simply declare Halloween to be evil and Satanic. - But, of course there is more to the story. - So, how did Halloween come about with all of our costumes and customs?

Well, in Ireland, the ancient Druids, prior to the arrival of Christianity, marked the coming of the new year on November 1st. Like so many groups, their calendars were governed by the seasons of the year, especially the times of harvest. Around November the season would changed from the time of harvest to winter; that is, to the time when things died.

October 31st was called Samhain (often pronounced SOW-in), the Celtic word for the end of Summer. In their Pagan superstitions they believed that on October 31st, the end of the year and the beginning of the time of death, the curtain between the living and the dead became blurred. On this night, it was believed that the ghosts of the dead would return to this world.

This was their reasoning: When the dead are buried, they are buried under the ground. During the Summer months, the grass is green and alive, the flowers bloom, the trees are full of life, and they are, therefore, able to keep the dead buried. But when the trees and flowers all die, and the grass turns brown, what is there to keep the dead buried? They are, therefore, able to escape . . . at least for that one night.

Well, in addition to damaging crops, it was believed that these spirits made it easier for the Druid priests to see into the future so that they could determine whether the crops would survive the winter, etc. Therefore, they would have a ritual of sorts involving a large bonfire, burning crops and animal sacrifices while wearing disguises (like animal costumes), which would confuse and ward off any evil spirits.

Now, by the ninth-Century, as the Church spread throughout the land, the Church did what the Church has always done. It sought to appropriate and redeem, or transform and sanctify the secular or the Pagan. It sought to “redeem the time” or the day, as St. Paul says, and claim it for Christ. And here is how the Church went about it:

Early on, it was the custom of the Church to remember the Martyrs. - As early as the 4th century the Church in the East held a feast to honor all of the martyred saints, together. On May 13, 610, relics of martyrs were moved from some catacombs to the Pantheon, and the bishop of Rome, Pope Boniface IV consecrated the building with the title of the feast of All Martyrs and All Saints and Our Lady.

Now, fast forward to the ninth-Century, again, when the Church had spread throughout the Celtic land. It was in 835 that the new bishop of Rome, Pope Gregory III, designated November 1st as All Saints Day, many believe in an attempt to Christianize the Celtic holiday. Thus, Samhain became All Hallow’s Eve, or Halloween. - By the way, we also know that by A.D. 1000, there were parades and bonfires and people dressed in costumes of saints and angels, etc. in order to honor and celebrate those saints who had died in the faith.

Now, in America, the Puritan settlers didn’t want anything to do with those Pagan, and more importantly foreign customs. But, when Irish immigrants came over, in such a new setting, their customs began to take on new forms. So, any remaining Pagan elements of their customs quickly vanished. Bonfires were often replaced with candles in pumpkins. (I’ll not take time to go into the history of the Jack-O-lantern.) Animal disguises to ward off evil spirits became children’s costumes. And an American holiday was born.

So, those customs that the Church failed to transform the good ole’ American marketplace succeeded in secularizing. - Unfortunately, it has also had great success in secularizing such holy days as Christmas and Easter, as well. So much so that many Christians fail to observe the important season of Advent in preparation for Christmas, and then once Christmas Day arrives, they are ready to pack everything away; thus, failing to celebrate the twelve days of the Christmas season. Oh, how we have allowed the secular marketplace to de-Christianize us! But that’s another story for another time!

So with all of this in mind, what ought we to do with Halloween? First, respect the convictions of those around us. But, having said that, my opinion is, let the kids (and adults) have fun. And as a Church, use the opportunity to teach our children (and adults) about those who have gone before us in the faith.

Now, in our post-modern, post-Christian age, with the resurgence of various spiritualities such as Wicca and Paganism, the Pagan versions of Samhain is certainly experiencing a resurgence, at least in certain pockets of our population. Christians do need to be aware of this.  Nevertheless, I think that we who are in Christ ought to join with St. Paul and the saints throughout the ages by faithfully redeeming the time for the glory of God!