JP Moreland – Defender of the Faith!

Introducing JP Moreland

JP Moreland

JP Moreland is one of the most refreshing defenders of the Christian position currently taking part in debates with non-Christian intellectuals.

He is himself an intellectual giant, razor sharp, humourous, passionate. In this debate on the existence of God he covers the standard Christian arguments, namely,

1. The Origins of the Universe

2. Inference from Design – The Fine Tuning of the Universe/Information in DNA

3. The Existence of Objective Moral Law

A charismatic intellectual and an intellectual charismatic!
In addition, he argues passionately for the reliability of the New Testament, and, unlike almost every other Christian apologist I’ve heard, he argues that part of the evidence that verifies the Christian position is the current reality of physical healings taking place.

He refers not only to things happening globally but also in his own home church. The impact of this on his opponent, Clancy Martin (Prof and Chair of Philosophy, University of Missouri KC), is striking.

One could argue that JP is presenting a more rounded, balanced and Biblical defence by bringing in contemporary examples of God’s power in the experience of Christians as evidence for God’s existence.

But you be the judge. Have a listen and feel free to leave a comment.

Click here for audio of JP Moreland and Clancy Martin in debate

JP is distinguished Professor of Philosophy at Talbot School of Theology, Biola University, California. For a full list of his extensive academic achievements click here

He is the author of many books including:

  • Scaling the Secular City: A Defense of Christianity (1987)
  • Christianity and the Nature of Science: A Philosophical Examination (1989)
  • The Life and Death Debate: Moral Issues of Our Time (with Norman Geisler, 1990)
  • Does God Exist?: The Debate Between Atheists and Theists (with Kai Nielsen, 1990)
  • The Creation Hypothesis: Scientific Evidence for An Intelligent Designer (1994)
  • Love Your God With All Your Mind: The Role of Reason in the Life of the Soul (1997)
  • Body and Soul: Human Nature and the Crisis of Ethics (with Scott Rae, 2000)
  • Naturalism: A Critical Analysis (co-editor with William Lane Craig, 2000)
  • Philosophical Foundations for a Christian Worldview (with William Lane Craig, 2003)
  • Kingdom Triangle: Recover the Christian Mind, Renovate the Soul, Restore the Spirit’s Power (2007)
  • Consciousness and the Existence of God (2009)
  • The Recalcitrant Imago Dei (2009)
  • The God Question: An Invitation to a Life of Meaning (2009)

© 2012 Lex Loizides / Church History Blog

Suffering, Sickness and Healing

PJ Smyth

Message of the Month – PJ Smyth

How should Christians respond when they are suddenly struck down with an illness? In the midst of suffering, are we to run away from medicine and trust only in prayer, or should we view prayer merely as a means of psychological comfort whilst trusting only in the prognosis of the medical professionals? Or, is there a faith-filled position which embraces both prayer and scientific medicine? And what about the Devil’s role in all this, and the role of vigourous resistance?

This message is by PJ Smyth who leads GodFirst Church in Johannesburg, South Africa. It was preached at the Newfrontiers ‘Together on a Mission’ conference in England in 2011.

It’s not a message on healing as such, but rather covers the broader range of pastoral issues that arise when we face serious sickness – including the source of sickness, and how we handle our approach towards recovery.

But it’s not merely academic. PJ was diagnosed with cancer in 2010, which was successfully treated. He tells the story in the message.

In terms of an overview of the Christian approach to the challenge of sickness and healing I think it is probably the best message I have heard on the subject, and which, in my opinion, reaches the correct conclusions.

But what do you think?

For the Video click here

For the Audio click here

© 2012 Lex Loizides / Church History Blog

A Christmas Miracle – Back from the Brink of Death

Christmastime with John Wesley

In December 1742 John Wesley and trainee leader Thomas Meyrick travelled to the North of England to preach the gospel.

It was a bitterly cold journey and they both became ill. Meyrick’s sickness, however, took a turn for the worse and twice he was feared dead.

Wesley tells the story of this particular Christmas miracle in his journal.

‘Wed 15th Dec. [Each of us had caught] a violent cold by riding the day before. Mine gradually wore off; but Mr Meyrick’s increased, so that on Friday, he took his bed…’

The Physician fears the worst

Mon 20th…they told me the Physician said, he did not expect Mr. Meyrick would live till morning. I went to him but his pulse was gone.

‘He had been speechless and senseless for some time. A few of us immediately joined in prayer: (I relate the naked fact) Before we had done, his sense and his speech returned.

‘Now he that will account for this by natural causes has my free leave: But I choose to say, This is the power of God.’

Keep praying and never give up!

Sat 25th Dec. ‘The Physician told me he could do no more; Mr. Metyrick could not live over the night. I went up and found them all crying about him; his legs being cold, and (as it seemed) dead already.

‘We all kneeled down, and called upon God with strong cries and tears.

‘He opened his eyes, and called for me; and from that hour he continued to recover his strength till he was restored to perfect health.

‘I wait to hear who will either disprove this fact, or philosophically account for it.’

(From John Wesley’s Journal, Baker edition, Vol 1, p.405-6)

A life of service to God

You might wonder what happened next – especially as he sank back into sickness after the initial bout of prayer.

Well, he did indeed recover and live a further 28 years, finally dying in 1770 (see here).

Prayer is not automatic. We come to a Person, to God the Father, who knows our need. But we can come with strong encouragements that He hears us according to His purpose and will.

Jesus said, ‘For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened.’ (Matt 7:8 – see the verses in their context here)

What are you asking God for?

© 2009 Lex Loizides

Supernaturally Healed Whilst Preaching

You may not agree with all of John Wesley’s theology. Indeed, some of his statements are baffling.

But one thing you can’t deny is that he was a seriously hard worker. His commitment to preaching and teaching and leading was phenomenal.
And sometimes he got sick.

Weakness and Fever
Here’s an incident from May 1741 which is encouraging. Wesley claims (and I have no reason to doubt the claim) that he was supernaturally healed mid-sermon!!

Friday 8th May, 1741
‘I found myself much out of order. However, I made shift to preach in the evening: but on Saturday my bodily strength quite failed, so that for several hours I could scarce lift my head.

‘Sunday 10th. I was obliged to lie down most part of the day, being easy only in that posture.

‘Yet in the evening my weakness was suspended while I was calling sinners to repentance.

‘But at our love-feast which followed, beside the pain in my back and head, and the fever which still continued upon me, just as I began to pray, I was seized with such a cough that I could hardly speak.

Believing and Receiving
‘At the same time came strongly into my mind, ‘These signs shall follow them that believe.’ I called on Jesus aloud, to ‘increase my faith’ and to ‘confirm the word of his grace.’

‘While I was speaking, my pain vanished away; the fever left me; my bodily strength returned; and for many weeks I felt neither weakness nor pain. ‘Unto thee, O Lord, do I give thanks.’
(John Wesley Journal, Baker edition, Vol 1, p.310)

© 2009 Lex Loizides

Why didn’t Wesley become a Reformed Charismatic?

John Wesley and John Calvin - nearly but not quite!

John Wesley and John Calvin - nearly but not quite!

Wesley was miraculously healed while reading Paul on predestination
There are several accounts of physical healings during the Great Awakening.

But one is particularly amazing, seeing as it happened to John Wesley, avowed opponent of the Doctrine of Predestination. Now that statement cries out for explanation, so without any further ado let’s cut to Wesley’s journal entry for the period of 15th to 17th May 1739:

‘Wed 15 – I explained at Greyhound Lane, the latter part of the fourth chapter to the Ephesians. I was so weak in body, that I could hardly stand; but my spirit was much strengthened.

Bed-ridden all day
‘I found myself growing sensibly weaker all Thursday; so that on Friday, 17, I could scarce get out of bed, and almost as soon as I was up, was constrained to lie down again.

‘Nevertheless I made shift to drag myself on, in the evening, to Short’s Gardens.

‘Having, not without difficulty, got up the stairs, I read those words, (though scarce intelligibly, for my voice too was almost gone), ‘Whom he did foreknow, he also did predestinate.’ (Romans 8:29)

Instant healing while reading about God’s predestinating grace
‘In a moment both my voice and strength returned: And from that time, for some weeks, I found such bodily strength as I had never done before, since my landing in America.’ (JW Journals, Baker edition, p. 306-7)

It’s amazing that God would heal Wesley, who had so misunderstood the Bible’s teaching on God’s sovereignty in salvation, while he was reading that particular verse.  But it didn’t soften him up or even cause him to pause.

When Wesley decided to preach so vehemently against predestination (and, therefore against Whitefield and Edwards) he asked that God would confirm his position. When the Spirit began to touch people with power, Wesley wrongly interpreted that as a divine confirmation of his rejection of predestination.

Why wasn’t Wesley consistent and view his instant healing as an endorsement of the verse? Because he’d already drawn a lot, to ‘preach and print’ against the Reformed position.

So the healing didn’t turn Wesley from his Arminianism to either a Reformed or a Charismatic position, nor did it cause him to become a forerunner of the modern Reformed Charismatic movement!

Wesley continued in his prejudice against election and probably interpreted the healing as God strengthening him to contradict the doctrine.

Shame that! Because of Wesley’s somewhat flawed (and inconsistent) means of gaining guidance, his continued determination to publicly blast election effectively divided the new converts’ loyalty, created bickering within the new movement, and caused energy to be directed away from the mission and onto this important, though secondary issue.

And that, folks, is why Wesley nearly (coulda, shoulda), but didn’t become a Reformed Charismatic!!

© 2009 Lex Loizides

John Wesley and so-called ‘Physical Manifestations’

John Wesley Preaching to the Crowds

John Wesley Preaching to the Crowds

Have you ever read John Wesley’s Journals? They are deeply interesting. In a manner similar to Edwards he tries to observe and assess the power of the Holy Spirit in the lives of those who hear the gospel.

‘Signs and Wonders’

Wesley writes that after preaching in one meeting, ‘We then called upon God to confirm his word. Immediately one that stood by (to our no small surprise) cried out aloud, with the utmost vehemence, even as in the agonies of death.

‘But we continued in prayer, till ‘a new song was put in her mouth’…Soon after, two other persons were seized with strong pain, and constrained to ‘roar for the disquietness of their heart.’

‘But it was not long before they likewise burst forth into praise to God their Saviour.’ He adds, ‘signs and wonders are even now wrought by his holy child Jesus.’ (JW Journals, Vol. 1, p.187, Baker Edition)

A few days later a similar thing happened: ‘At Weaver’s Hall, a young man was suddenly seized with a violent trembling all over, and in a few minutes, the sorrows of his heart being enlarged, sunk down to the ground.

‘But we ceased not calling upon God, till he raised him up full of ‘peace and joy in the Holy Ghost.’ (p.187-8)

Increased Power
Again and again as Wesley preached people were overwhelmed by God’s power. At this early stage Wesley and his fellow leaders were alarmed and concerned to help those who are affected. But then it spread…

During the sermon, as he emphasised the generous offer of mercy to all who come to Christ…’Immediately one, and another, and another sunk to the earth. They dropped on every side as thunderstruck.’ (p.188)

He then gives various descriptions of sorrow being turned to joy in those who were affected.

A Doctor’s Story
On April 30th Wesley recorded this incident:

‘We understood that many were offended at the cries of those on whom the power of God came; among whom was a physician, who was much afraid there might be fraud or imposture in the case.

‘Today, one whom he had known many years was the first (while I was preaching in Newgate) who broke out ‘into strong cries and tears.’ He could hardly believe his own eyes and ears.

‘He went and stood close to her, and observed every symptom, till great drops of sweat ran down her face, and all her bones shook. He then knew not what to think, being clearly convinced it was not fraud nor yet any natural disorder.

‘But when both her soul and body were healed in a moment, he acknowledged the finger of God.’ (p.189)

Wesley, as Edwards had done before him, was careful not to ridicule or harshly judge those who responded to the power of God’s Spirit in these overt ways.

And, as with Edwards, we must remember that these things were happening primarily in the evangelistic context. They were not a ‘draw card’ as such, but seemed to be evidence of God’s presence and of conviction of sin, and conversion.

Perhaps we need to take a step back from the highly ordered nature of much modern evangelism and ask God to reveal His holiness and power once again.

© 2009 Lex Loizides

Supernatural Healing and Health in Jonathan Edwards’ Town

Now this may come as a surprise, especially if you are aware of Edwards’ position on the cessation of the gifts of the Holy Spirit as listed in 1 Corinthians 12, at least ‘the extraordinary gifts’ as he puts it.

But good Mr. Edwards faithfully recounts what actually happened in Northampton during the season of an outpouring of the Holy Spirit in 1735.

And one of the tremendous surprises, as we read the Narrative is his testimony of a season of supernatural health that literally affected the whole town.

The passage is tucked away and rarely brought out, but here it is:

‘In the former part of this great work of God amongst us, till it got to His height, we seemed to be wonderfully smiled upon and blessed in all respects.

Satan seemed to be unusually restrained; persons who before had been involved in melancholy, seemed to be as it were waked up out of it;

and those who had been entangled with extraordinary temptations, seemed wonderfully freed.

And not only so, but it was the most remarkable time of health that ever I knew since I have been in the town.

We ordinarily have several bills put up, every Sabbath, for sick persons; but now we had not so much as one for many sabbaths together.’ (From, A Narrative of Surprising Conversions, in Jonathan Edwards on Revival, Banner of Truth, p. 69)

This amazing season of health didn’t last forever. Indeed he declares honestly that ‘after this it seemed to be otherwise.’ But the reality is that Jonathan Edwards did actually witness a season of supernatural health and healing in his own town during his ministry.

Why he didn’t consider this season of health an ‘extraordinary gift’ of healing, though it was truly extraordinary we don’t know. Why this experience of health over a whole community didn’t impact his thinking about the continuance of the gifts of the Spirit listed in 1 Corinthians 12 we don’t know.

What we do know is that God did grant such a season of health, and that God does continue to answer prayer even now, though perhaps not on such a widespread scale as Jonathan Edwards saw.

You can purchase Edwards on Revival here
You can read a review of Edwards on Revival here

© 2009 Lex Loizides

Sarah Edwards and Foretastes of Heavenly Glory!

Sarah Pierpont Edwards, by John Badger c.1750

Sarah Pierpont Edwards, by John Badger c.1750

We’ve been enjoying Sarah Edwards’ articulate descriptions of being filled with Holy Spirit during the 1741-1742 revival in Northampton, Massachusetts.

Here, she concludes her experience…

Monday morning at the Edwards’ house…
‘So strong were my feelings, I could not refrain from conversing with those around me, in a very earnest manner, for about a quarter of an hour, on the infinite riches of divine love in the work of salvation.’

Carried to the fireside entirely without strength
‘[Then], my strength entirely failing, my flesh grew very cold, and they carried me and set me by the fire.
As I sat there, I had a most affecting sense of the mighty power of Christ, which had been exerted in what he had done for my soul…and of the glorious and wonderful grace of God in causing the ark to return to Northampton.’

Mrs. Edwards leaps for joy!
‘So intense were my feelings, when speaking of these things, that I could not forbear rising up and leaping with joy and exultation.’

The Following Sunday at church…a foretaste of heavenly glory!

‘When I heard him [the preacher, William Williams] say, that those, who have assurance, have a foretaste of heavenly glory, I knew the truth of it from what I then felt: I knew that I then tasted the clusters of the heavenly Canaan: My soul was filled and overwhelmed with light, and love, and joy in the Holy Ghost, and seemed just ready to go away from the body. I could scarcely refrain from expressing my joy aloud, in the midst of the service.’

(From ‘The Narrative of Sarah Pierpont Edwards’, Jonathan Edwards [1743], Family Writings and Related Documents (WJE Online Vol. 41)

This was not ‘mere excitement’
Over-emotional? Iain Murray, himself wary of mere emotionalism, writes, ‘her joy, it should be noted, was far from the exuberance of mere excitement.’ (Iain Murray, Jonathan Edwards, Banner of Truth, p.196)

And her loving husband Jonathan writes of his wife’s ‘season in the Spirit’, ‘It was the greatest, fullest, longest continued and most constant assurance of the favour of God and of a title to future glory that I ever saw…in any person.’ (Quoted by Murray, p.195-6)

May God the Father bless you with similar assurances of His love for you in Christ, by the influence and power of the Holy Spirit.

© 2009 Lex Loizides

‘The Happy Ones!’ – Jonathan and Sarah Edwards in their Own Words

Jonathan and Sarah Edwards

Jonathan and Sarah Edwards

When a revival of Christianity took place in Northampton, Massachusetts in the early 1700’s Jonathan Edwards unexpectedly became the apologist of the new movement, warts and all.

His discernment and level-headedness in the midst of much religious excitement and emotion have impressed Christian leaders ever since.

As a young Pastor in his early thirties he led the congregation and the town through a turbulent and spiritually explosive time with great ability.

Edwards defended the fact that a powerful apprehension of God’s glory does tend to affect people in noticeable ways, particularly in their emotions, but sometimes even physically.

Because this was a major cause of concern and criticism from those outside the town he tends to speak quite a lot about it when discussing that period.

‘Joy inexpressible and full of glory!’
He had himself experienced something of the overwhelming love of God. Iain Murray in his biography of Edwards records one such moment:

‘Another Saturday night (Jan 1739) I had such a sense, how sweet and blessed a thing it was to walk in the way of duty; to do that which was right and meet to be done, and agreeable to the holy mind of God; that it caused me to break forth into a kind of loud weeping, which held me some time, so that I was forced to shut myself up, and fasten the doors.

I could not but, as it were, cry out, ‘How happy are they who do that which is right in the sight of God! They are blessed indeed. They are the happy ones!’ (Quoted by Iain Murray, Jonathan Edwards, Banner of Truth, p.146)

But not only had Jonathan had personal encounters of joy and delight in God’s presence; so had his wife!

And, certainly by the time he published ‘Religious Affections’ in 1746, he was surely drawing not only on his general pastoral experience but also on the experience of the woman he both loved and trusted.

He apparently urged her to write her story down. In this, and the next post, we’ll listen to her testimony of God’s presence and power.  She was 32 when she wrote of her experience.

Justified by faith and free from accusation!
Having described her longing for a more profound experience of God’s grace, she began reading Romans 8 once again, and particularly Rom 8:33f

‘Who shall lay any thing to the charge of God’s elect? It is God that justifieth.

Who is he that condemneth? It is Christ that died, yea rather, that is risen again, who is even at the right hand of God, who also maketh intercession for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?’ (Rom 8:33-35 KJV)

She writes,
‘The words…were impressed on my heart with vastly greater power and sweetness still.  They appeared to me with undoubted certainty as the words of God, and as words which God did pronounce concerning me.

I had no more doubt of it than I had of my being.  I seemed as it were to hear the great God proclaiming thus to the world concerning me; ‘Who shall lay anything to thy charge’, and had it strongly impressed on me how impossible it was for anything in heaven or earth, in this world or the future, ever to separate me from the love of God which was in Christ Jesus.

I cannot find language to express how certain this appeared…My safety and happiness and eternal enjoyment of God’s immutable love seemed as durable and unchangeable as God Himself.

Melted and overcome by the sweetness of this assurance, I fell into a great flow of tears and could not forbear weeping aloud.  It appeared certain to me that God was my Father, and Christ my Lord and Saviour, that He was mine and I His.’ (From ‘The Narrative of Sarah Pierpont Edwards’, Jonathan Edwards [1743], Family Writings and Related Documents (WJE Online Vol. 41) also for pictures above)

More next time…I’m struggling to keep these posts short!

© 2009 Lex Loizides

Jonathan Edwards on Conversion ‘a great and glorious work of God’s Power’

Jonathan Edwards, the great Calvinistic Pastor and Theologian

Jonathan Edwards, the great Calvinistic Pastor and Theologian

In 1735 there was a sudden outpouring of grace on the town of Northampton. Many came to Christ under great conviction of sin and revelation of the sovereignty and justice of God.

Salvation
Having described some of the struggles that some converts went through in terms of a realisation of their sin and guilt before God, Edwards describes the longed-for breakthrough of personal salvation.

He writes,
‘Conversion is a great and glorious work of God’s power, at once changing the heart, and infusing life into the dead soul; though the grace then implanted more gradually displays itself in some than in others.’

In some, converting light is like a glorious brightness suddenly shining upon a person, and all around him: they are in a remarkable manner brought out of darkness into marvellous light.

In many others it has been like the dawning of the day, when at first but a little light appears…and gradually increases.’ (Jonathan Edwards, A Narrative of Surprising Conversions, from Jonathan Edwards On Revival, Banner of Truth, p.40, 41)

The Newness of things
‘Persons after their conversion often speak of religious things as seeming new to them; that preaching is a new thing; that it seems to them they never heard preaching before; that the Bible is a new book: they find there new chapters, new psalms, new histories, because they see them in a new light.’ (ibid p.44)

‘While God was so remarkably present amongst us by His Spirit, there was no book so delightful as the Bible.’ (ibid p.47)

A love for God
‘Many have spoken much of their hearts being drawn out in love to God and Christ; and of their minds being wrapt up in delightful contemplation of the glory and wonderful grace of God, the excellency and dying love of Jesus Christ; and of their souls going forth in longing desires after God and Christ.’ (ibid p.44-45)

You can purchase Edwards on Revival here

You can read a review of Edwards on Revival here

© 2009 Lex Loizides

Healing – how to pray successfully, a book review

Doug Jones 1

What kind of faith do we need to exercise to see the sick healed in answer to prayer? What expectation should a person have who comes for healing prayer? These and other questions are considered in a review of Doug Jones’ book ‘Positioning yourself to receive Healing’.

Click here to read the review

From cessationism to joy – how a healing increased Augustine’s understanding of God’s grace

The turnaround from sin to grace, from worldliness to trusting Christ, wasn’t the only change Augustine experienced.  Earlier in his Christian life he had believed that miracles had ended when the first apostles died, but he rejected his former position as untenable following the dramatic and supernatural healing of a friend of his who had cancer. From then on he felt duty bound to publicise accounts of healings.

He was shocked that his close friend had kept her healing a secret and wrote:

“I was indignant that so astounding a miracle, performed in so important a city, and on a person far from obscure, should have been kept a secret like this; and I thought it right to admonish her and to speak to her with some sharpness on the matter.”

Bruce Shelley, Senior Professor of church history at Denver Seminar, writes:
‘Augustine’s hope was that, as apostolic miracles had aided the growth of the early church, miracles in his own day would draw people to Christianity.

Augustine’s exuberance for true miracles in City of God [one of Augustine's many books] shows that he no longer saw them as sham spirituality but as physical manifestations of God’s work in the world.

He wrote, “What do these miracles attest but the faith which proclaims that Christ rose in the flesh and ascended into heaven with the flesh? … God may himself perform them by himself, through that wonderful operation of his power whereby, being eternal, he is active in temporal events; or he may effect them through the agency of his servants… Be that as it may, they all testify to the faith in which the resurrection to eternal life is proclaimed.”’ (Bruce Shelley, Christian History Magazine, Issue 67)

The Dark Ages

Throughout the so-called ‘Dark Ages’ many evangelising monks spread the gospel, some with signs following (eg, Bede and Cuthbert) and brought the grace of God to many.

At this time fervent Christianity was often found amongst those believers, including monks and nuns, who had personally experienced the grace of God, but their books and documents are not always easy to read being so intermingled with extra-biblical references and practices.

Nevertheless, the light was still shining (see John 1:5) and an increasing number of individuals were beginning to speak up against the growing abuses of privilege amongst the priesthood and a gradual call for reform began to be heard across Europe.

For more on Augustine click here

© 2008 Lex Loizides

Miracles, Morality and the Power of the Local Church

We’ve been enjoying Edward Gibbon’s references to the Christian church in the latter years of the Roman Empire. We’ve seen that he emphasised three factors which assisted the growth of the Church and the influence of Christianity through the Roman world.

Firstly, he mentioned their zeal, their passion. They were on a mission to reach the world. Secondly, he emphasised that their confidence in their eternal security made them courageous even in the face of danger. Thirdly, he noted that these Christians were not only zealous and bold, but that they also prayed for the sick successfully, moved in the gifts of the Holy Spirit and were able to evangelise not with persuasive words of wisdom but in a demonstration of the Spirit’s power that clearly showed to a pagan world that Jesus Christ was indeed ‘Lord’. (see 1 Cor 2:4)

Before we leave Gibbon I want to draw on his further two observations as these will serve as a safeguard to us. Having shown us the impressive nature of their gifts and works, he also mentions the morality of the believers. He notes that there was a harmony of charismatic passion and personal integrity. Indeed, in beautifully quaint language he points to ‘the reformation of manners which was introduced into the world by the preaching of the Gospel.’ (Gibbon, Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, Penguin Classic edition ibid. p.283)

This process began, obviously, in evangelism: ‘The friends of Christianity may acknowledge without a blush that many of the most eminent saints had been before their baptism the most abandoned sinners.’ (ibid. p.284)

But the conversion of a person to the Christian faith produced not only an immediate moral impact in their lives but an ongoing one, so that they turned from their past sins, sought to support the social and economic structures of the society of which they were a part, became reliable workers, fair in business, honest in labour, modest in behaviour and faithful to both spouse and family. This notably different Christian lifestyle commended itself to those who were living close to them.

Lastly, Gibbon mentions the unity and discipline of the local churches as a factor in the sustained growth and spread of the Christian faith. The believers were locally organised under spiritually qualified elders, who cared for them, teaching them and supporting them in their new found faith. There were miracles but there were relationships and pastoral oversight.

Interestingly, Gibbon notes, ‘Independence and equality formed the basis of their internal constitution.’ (ibid. p.293) Somewhat different from the view that a single ecclesiastical power-structure oversaw all the churches, it seems that the churches were led by their own elders who drew on the wisdom of those who were apostolically or prophetically gifted.

Indeed, as we will later see, the local church has always been a key in the spread of the Christian faith in a nation or time period, and a sustainer of those powerful impulses in revival that have so impacted the world.

But, before we get there, we must look at some questions around the relationship between church and state. Just imagine if you were a Christian living in those days, wouldn’t you have prayed for the conversion of those in authority – and even the conversion of the Emperor himself? Well, early in the fourth century, after so many years of persecution, it happened!

The conversion to the Christian faith of Emperor Constantine brought a sudden and much longed-for release from persecution and an elevation and respect for the Christian faith. This was indeed an answer to prayer – but was it all good? And, what was the nature of his ‘conversion’?

We’ll see next time.

© 2008 Lex Loizides

Iraneaus and a beautiful picture of the early church: Missional and Miraculous!

The prominence of the miraculous in the mission of the church of the first few centuries was not a source of embarrassment to earlier historians. And it shouldn’t be for us either. We believe that God is God, and that He does not change.

In other words, the fact that God should act today in a manner consistent with how we see Him acting in the Bible should be a cause of celebration not surprise, and certainly not embarrassment!

In fact, for those who hold an evangelical view of Scripture, we should actually desire and even expect God to act consistently with the revelation He has given us.

Edward Gibbon was judiciously reflecting the statements of earlier historians. Eusebius (3rd-4th Century) sought to do likewise and quotes theologian and apologist Irenaeus, writing at the end of the 2nd Century:

‘So it is that in His name those who truly are His disciples, having received grace from Him, put it to effectual use for the benefit of their fellow-men, in proportion to the gift each one has received from Him.

Some drive out demons really and truly, so that often those cleansed from evil spirits believe and become members of the church; some have foreknowledge of the future, visions, and prophetic utterances;

others, by the laying on of hands, heal the sick and restore them to health; and before now, as I said, dead men have actually been raised and have remained with us for many years.

In fact, it is impossible to enumerate the gifts which throughout the world the church has received from God and in the name of Jesus Christ crucified under Pontius Pilate, and every day puts to effectual use for the benefit of the heathen, deceiving no one and making profit out of no-one: freely she received from God, and freely she ministers…

Similarly, we hear of many members of the church who have prophetic gifts and by the Spirit speak with all kinds of tongues, and bring men’s secret thoughts to light for their own good, and expound the mysteries of God,’   (Quoted in Eusebius, History of the Church, Penguin Classics [UK Edition] p209-210)

This is a stunning picture of the church serving the community in the power of prayer, in the power of the Holy Spirit. While the church in many countries may not always feel she has abundant material resources, she must never ever forget the power and authority given her to bring someone into the presence of God.

‘Peter said, “Silver or gold I do not have, but what I have I give you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, walk.”’ (Acts 3:6)

Such moments not only bring grace to an individual, but can be the doorway to whole communities.

Next time, we’ll look at Gibbon’s further reflections on the church’s impact and see that it wasn’t only miracles, but also a different kind of morality that helped commend the Christian faith to the waiting world.

© 2008 Lex Loizides

Supernatural Signs – Gibbon’s astonishing third reason for the spread of Christianity in the first 3 centuries.

It’s fair to say that all lovers of the Bible would adhere to the notion that God does indeed answer prayer. He hears our cry (Ps 40:1). However, while desiring to honour God with genuine faith, many believers wrestle with two difficulties.

On the one hand there’s the challenge of apparently unanswered prayer in our own experience, and on the other, there is the religious TV world of health and wealth and extravagant sounding claims, promises and requests. Perhaps good history can help us at this point.

Edward Gibbon, author of ‘The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire’, lists as a third key reason for the impressive spread of the Christian faith throughout the Roman empire the fact that the church successfully exercised miraculous powers.

This was such a prominent factor in the early centuries of the church that he brings it in before discussing the high moral quality of the believers lives. He specifically lists tongues, prophecy, deliverance, healings and even people being raised from the dead! This supernatural phenomena, accompanying the gospel message, continued on into the beginning of the 3rd century without any apparent evidence of ceasing.

Reading his description of the ‘post-apostolic’ church is like being plunged back into the gospels. He writes:

‘The Christian church, from the time of the apostles and their first disciples, has claimed an uninterrupted succession of miraculous powers, the gift of tongues, of vision, and of prophecy, the power of expelling demons, of healing the sick, and of raising the dead…The design of the visions was for the most part either to disclose the future history or to guide the present administration of the church…

The expulsion of the demons from the bodies of those unhappy persons whom they had been permitted to torment was considered as a signal though ordinary triumph of religion, and is repeatedly alleged by the ancient apologists as the most convincing evidence of the truth of Christianity…

But the miraculous cure of diseases of the most inveterate [long-standing] or even preternatural [beyond the normal] kind can no longer occasion any surprise when we recollect that in the days of Irenaeus, about the end of the second century, the resurrection of the dead was very far from being esteemed an uncommon event;

that the miracle [of raising a dead person to life] was frequently performed on necessary occasions by great fasting and the joint supplication of the church of the place; and that the persons thus restored to their prayers had lived afterwards among them many years.’ (Gibbon p279-281, Penguin abridged edition 1982)

It is deeply challenging to our faith that the churches frequently organised to pray and fast and successfully saw those they considered to have died prematurely actually raised to life again!

But that is perhaps to focus on the most challenging aspect of Gibbon’s account. Perhaps we should begin by merely embracing the reality of the supernatural dynamic of the Christian faith once more as a central apologetic in our mission to present the grace of God to a needy world around us.

See next post here

© 2008 Lex Loizides