Thursday, January 28, 2010

Tertullian on Jeremiah and the Life of the Unborn

The upcoming Old Testament lection comes from Jeremiah 1:4-10. In my study, I found the comments of Tertullian of Carthage (late 2nd/early 3rd centuries) on verse five to be very interesting in relationship to the issue of abortion.

Jeremiah 1:5 quotes God as saying: "Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you; I appointed you a prophet to the nations" (NRSV).

Tertullian comments: "The embryo therefore becomes a human being in the womb from the moment that its form is completed. The law of Moses, indeed, punishes with due penalties the one who shall cause an abortion, inasmuch as there exists already the rudiment of human being that has imputed to it even now the condition of life and death, since it is already liable to the issues of both, although, by living still in the mother, it for the most part shares its own state with the mother" (One the Soul 37. As found in Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture, OT XII).

One might ask what Tertullian means by "the moment that its form is completed" (emphasis, mine). One could argue from the remainder of his comments that one need not think in literal terms of absolute completion of form; that, instead, it could be argued that Tertullian would accept the "completion" of conception, i.e., once a human being has been formed in terms of conception. However one may answer that question, it is clear that his comments refer to one (in this case, Jeremiah) who is not yet born.

What I find of interest in this passage, along with the story of the blessed virgin Mary's visit to Elizabeth, is how God is actively at work in and through those (i.e., Jeremiah, John & Jesus), who had not yet been born.

In Jeremiah's case, God knew him even before he was formed in the womb, and before he was born, God consecrated/sanctified him and appointed him to be a prophet.

In John's case, he is filled with the Holy Spirit before he is born (cf., Luke 1:15), and he actually prophesies prior to his birth (by virtue of his "leap[ing] for joy," and through the words of his mother), as one sees in Luke 1:41-45.

In addition to whatever weight these passages might add to the argument that infants are proper candidates for baptism, they certainly support those churches (like the Church of the Nazarene) that take a stand for life.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

The Feast of St. John Chrysostom

Today we celebrate the Feast of Saint John Chrysostom, Bishop of Constantinople. The Patriarch of Constantinople was, indeed, one of the great saints of the Eastern Church.

In his early days, John heeded a call to desert monasticism. When he returned to Antioch, after six long years, he was ordained a presbyter (elder). In 397, John was consecrated to the episcopacy as the Patriarch of Constantinople. His was a difficult episcopate, however. He was forced into exile twice. On September 14, 407, during his second exile, John died.

I had the opportunity to study John Chrysostom during one of my preaching classes during my doctoral work at Asbury Theological Seminary, under one of my professors, the Rev'd. Dr. Michael Pasquarello. It was a great class! The primary book on Chrysostom was Golden Mouth: The Story of John Chrysostom, Ascetic, Preacher, Bishop by J.N.D. Kelly.

The name "Golden Mouth," of course, refers to the bishop's preaching. Chrysostom has been referred to as one of the greatest preachers in the entire history of the Church. In fact, the name (or really, title), Chrysostom means "the golden-mouth." Chrysostom saw preaching as an integral part of pastoral care. He warned that if the elder (priest) was weak in the area of preaching the Word of the Lord, then the souls of those in his charge "will fare no better than ships tossed in the storm." Today, preachers have the opportunity to gain from the bishop's (and other Early Church Fathers') preaching insights through the wonderful commentary series, The Ancient Christian Commentary of Scripture.

Of special interest to readers of this blog are the insights into the liturgy which we can gain through Chrysostom's sermons. This is especially true concerning early Eucharistic practices. Chrysostom describes the liturgy as a glorious experience, in which all of heaven and earth join.

And so, on this Feast of St. John Chrysostom, I bid you, join with me in praying:

O God, you gave your servant John Chrysostom grace eloquently to proclaim your righteousness in the great congregation, and fearlessly to bear reproach for the honor of your Name: Mercifully grant to all bishops[/superintendents] and pastors such excellence in preaching, and faithfulness in ministering your Word, that your people may be partakers with them of the glory that shall be revealed; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
The collect and much of the information, above, comes from "The Proper for the Lesser Feasts and Fasts - 1997," Church P., New York.
A wonderful quote from John Chrysostom can be found on the Rev'd. Daniel McLain Hixon's blog, Gloria Deo: Wesleyanglican Ramblings. - Thanks Daniel!

Friday, January 22, 2010

World Methodist Statement on Haiti

The Rev'd. Dr. George Freeman, General Secretary of the World Methodist Council, has issued a "Special Edition" of his regular "First Friday Letters." These letters are sent to the members of the World Methodist Council Executive Committee on the first Friday of each month (or there abouts!). The special edition letter addresses the recent earthquake in Haiti. It includes a message from the Rev'd. Dr. John Barrett, Chairperson of the World Methodist Council.

This special edition, along with the previous letters can be downloaded from the WMC site by clicking here.

Thanks to Drs. Freeman and Barrett for addressing the WMC denominations at this time so critical to Haiti. Thanks, also, to Dr. Stan Ingersol from the Church of the Nazarene Archives for his report about the Nazarenes in Haiti, as mentioned in the letter.

According to the 2007-20011 World Methodist Council Handbook of Information (though the statistics are admittedly a bit dated), the largest expression of Methodism in Haiti is found in the African Methodist Episcopal Church (reported as 76,336 members) and the Church of the Nazarene (there reported as 70,716 members, but now having 118,000 members). Other, smaller expressions of Methodism in Haiti include: The Free Methodist Church, The Wesleyan Church, The Methodist Church in the Caribbean and the Americas, and the Christian Methodist Episcopal Church.

As the WMC letter indicates, we who are a part of the world-wide Methodist family are called to pray for the people of Haiti and "to contribute liberally to agencies within [our] Church which are involved in emergency relief for Haiti." - For Nazarenes, the place to give is at .

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Open Letter from General Superintendent J. K. Warrick on Haiti

As we all continue to keep the Haitian people in our prayers, the Rev'd. Dr. J. K. Warrick, General Superintendent (i.e., Bishop) of the Church of the Nazarene has issued an open letter to Nazarenes around the globe. Dr. Warrick was in Haiti in order to preside at the various District Assemblies and was there when the earthquake struck. We give thanks to the Lord that he was not injured, or worse.

Safely back home, Dr. Warrick has issued the following letter, which I have reproduced from :

Dear Nazarenes:

I want to bring you up-to-date on the latest information available to us regarding the crisis situation in Haiti. This is a first-person account of some of the things I experienced as I arrived in Haiti on the afternoon of 12 January 2010 for district assemblies.

The United States Geological Survey reported that the magnitude 7.0 quake—the most powerful to hit Haiti in a century—struck shortly before 5 p.m. Eastern Time and was centered about 10 miles (15 kilometers) southwest of Port-au-Prince. It could be strongly felt in eastern Cuba more than 200 miles away, witnesses said.

The earth became like an angry ocean.

Status Report

Here is what we know as of Friday 15 January 2010:

The dire situation in Haiti continues with extreme shortages of food, water, shelter, fuel, and medical care. Roughly one third of the population of 9 million has been affected, and at least 50,000 are estimated to have lost their lives.
What we take for granted in terms of infrastructure in developed countries (electricity, water, sewers, and roads) simply doesn't exist in Haiti. This lack of basic needs is adding to the difficulties of providing assistance to people.
It is not easy to land planes at the Port-au-Prince International Airport due to congestion. This situation needs to improve quickly so that helpers and larger quantities of supplies can be brought in to meet the overwhelming demands of the dear people of Haiti.
Haitian Nazarenes are working to distribute food, water, tents, and blankets and to provide medical attention. Simultaneously, our international church continues working around the clock to join the efforts of others in meeting the needs.

It is worth noting that the value of World Evangelism Fund dollars and the faithful giving you have provided to this country can be found in the 500+ churches and nearly 116,000 Nazarenes who are serving the dislocated people of Haiti on behalf of the Church of the Nazarene.

The Immediate Needs

The best thing to do is pray:

For all Haitians but especially for our people who need food, water, patience, comfort, and strength. There is no place for people to stay. They sleep on the ground in the open air, sometimes using cardboard boxes to lie on, if they can find them.
For initial responders—search and rescue personnel; medical teams who are setting up clinics on our seminary campus near Petionville; firemen, police, and others who are going into Haiti to stabilize the country.

Cash donations are needed in order to provide emergency supplies and assistance:

I ask you to give generously and sacrificially
Connect to this link for important information about giving
This is a link to a video I recorded 15 January 2010

The Long Road Ahead

In the next few months our seminary and other locations will become staging grounds for scores of Work & Witness teams to build churches and homes and to repair the Nazarene Seminary in Haiti. More information will be available at and through your church as details are worked out and logistics are put in place.

In Closing

Here are some words from John Smee, regional director for the Caribbean:

"Sixty years ago the Church of the Nazarene began in Haiti with two members. Now 116,000 Haitian Nazarenes, living in the poorest nation of the Western Hemisphere are facing death and destruction, and yet they remain strong and resilient, true to their faith. They are depending on Nazarenes around the world to pray and give as they seek to rebuild their lives, their towns, and their country. God bless you for your prayers and the support Haitians are already receiving."

There is simply no adequate answer to the question "why?" We must leave that for some future time. "Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face" (1 Corinthians 13:12). So let us focus on this question: "How can I help?" As we respond to this question our great Nazarene family around the world will make a difference for the future of the Haitian Nazarenes and the Haitian people. This will please the heart of our Lord!

Thank you for your faithful response.

J. K. Warrick
Chair, Board of General Superintendents
Church of the Nazarene

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Friday, January 15, 2010

Who Baptizes Whom?

This past Sunday was the Feast of the Baptism of Our Lord, or, as it is more commonly referred to, Baptism of the Lord Sunday. And so, I would be remiss if I did not take the opportunity to write a little about baptism.

The title of this article might lead some to think that the article is going to take up the argument about whether the act of baptizing is more properly done by the laity or the clergy. In some traditions it is common that those being baptized are baptized by family members, or close friends, or those who have been influential in their walk of faith . . . assuming that they, too, have been baptized. For those within the Wesleyan/Methodist tradition, as well as the Anglican and Catholic traditions, it is the clergy who serve as representatives of the congregation, who have been authorized to perform the actual baptism. (This does not preclude the possibility, when circumstances might demand it, that a baptized layperson might validly baptize someone. An example would be in the case of near death, when a pastor is not present. Even Rome accepts such baptisms as being valid, but this is the exception, not the rule, so to speak.)

One might think that this is what this article would be about. But it is not. For Nazarenes, like myself, and other Methodists, this question is really moot. We have an established order that is not likely to change any time soon.

Rather the question expressed in the title of this article arises out of my reading of the Church Fathers in preparation for last Sunday's sermon. I preached from St. Luke's account of Jesus' baptism. An account that was quite sparse! And I, of course, related the significance of our Lord's baptism to our own. I brought up that one of the things that I usually tell people when we are having a baptismal service is that since it is Christ (who is the Head of His Body, the Church) who commands His Body, the Church, to baptize, and since it is the Body of Christ who responds to their Head by baptizing, it is truly Christ Himself who actually baptizes.

That very concept was re-affirmed by St. Chrysostom as he commented on Luke 3:16. The fourth-century bishop of Constantinople said, ". . . John the Baptist told us, for our instruction, that man does not baptize us but God: 'There comes after me one who is mightier than I, and I am not worthy to loose the strap of his sandal. he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire'" (Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture, New Testament Vol. III, Luke. P. 64. InterVarsity P.).

As a pastor, I may be the one who "baptizes" someone, but in a much truer since, it is not I who baptize. It is Christ our Lord.

This fact, of course, has so many implications. It reminds us that, while baptism is certainly a sign of our testimony of what Christ has done for us (in the case of baptism for those who are old enough to have accepted Christ as their Lord and Savior by faith), it is only secondarily such a testimony. Rather, it is primarily God's sign, God's word, God's act. In other words, baptism is truly a sacrament, not merely an ordinance, alone. God is at work in the midst of and through our baptism as we come to the baptismal waters with faith in the One who has gone into those waters before us, and who calls us to follow Him in Baptism. Baptism is the gift of God to us.

It also raises the question, again, of who may be baptized. Is baptism only for those who have already owned the faith for themselves, those who have reached a certain age, who have come to "understand" what baptism really means? Or are our infant children also eligible to receive the waters of baptism?

If it was just the pastor who was doing the baptism, and if baptism were an ordinance only, and if baptism was simply my testimony of what Christ has already done for me, then the answer to the question of who may be baptism would certainly be that it is only for those who have reached a certain age and who have personally accepted Christ as their Lord and Savior.

However, if the understanding espoused above of Christ as the Head of His Body, the Church, is correct, and if St. Chrysostom's reading of the words of John the Baptizer in St. Luke's account of the Gospel is correct, then surely we must give a very different answer. Our answer must be consistent with the practice of the Apostles who (according to the Book of Acts) baptized entire households (not just the adult members of those households). Our answer must be consistent with the words of St. Peter who, on the Day of Pentecost, proclaimed, "Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ so that your sins may be forgiven; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you, for your children, and for all who are far away, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to him" (Acts 2:38-39, emphasis mine).

And just who did Christ call unto Himself? When people were bringing "little children" (the word means infants) to Him, Jesus said, "Let the little children come to me; do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs. Truly I tell you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it" (Mark 10:14-15) - Certainly, they will need to be taught the faith as they grow. Certainly, they will need, some day, to own that faith for themselves, personally. But, for now, "Let them come to me, for the Kingdom of God belongs to them" (Paraphrased).

Today, whether baptized as a baby, or as a mature adult, we can have faith that when we were baptized, Christ, Himself, is the One who baptized us! - Thanks be to God for this amazing gift of God's grace!

Two Articles Worth Reading

In recent days I have had the opportunity to "meet" another one of my brothers in the Order of Saint Luke, via our cyber-chapter. His name is Wade Powell, and he serves as the district lay leader of the San Angelo District of the Southwest Texas Conference of the United Methodist Church.

I would like to commend to you two articles that Br. Wade has written and posted on his website. The first is titled, "What's the Big Deal About Holy Communion?". The second is, "How can a baby be Baptized if it doesn't know what it's doing?". - Though written from within the United Methodist denomination, specifically, they present a perspective that I would commend to all within the Wesleyan/Methodist tradition.

The articles can be viewed by clicking here.

Thanks Br. Wade!

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Please Help With "Jerry's Kids" & Muscular Dystrophy

This is a personal plea to all who read this blog. - On January 13, I will be "locked-up" for Jerry's Kids and the MDA. They have set my bail at $1200.00. Therefore, I am asking all of those who follow this blog to please help me raise my bail and thereby help Jerry's Kids.

The MDA has assigned to me a secure website where you can make your donations. The suggested donation is $25, $50 or more. However, ANY donation would be greatly appreciate!

The secure website can be reached by clicking, here.

Please give to help Jerry's Kids and the MDA! - THANKS!!!

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

OSL Has A New Look

If you have not visited the website for the Order of Saint Luke lately (or ever), I would encourage you to take a look!

Br. Roger Bake, O.S.L. has been appointed the Webscribe for the Order, and he has done a fantastic job of redesigning the website.

In addition to the new look, you will all kinds of information about the Order, as well as a number of very helpful resources for those concerned with the liturgical and sacramental nature and practice of the Church.

You can link to the website by clicking here.