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Today at dusk marks the beginning of Nisan 14 on the Jewish calendar. Many early Christians celebrated Passover at this time as a Christian celebration of Jesus, both to mark his sacrifice and to anticipate his coming. They interpreted the Gospel of John as indicating that they should celebrate on the eve of the 14th. This led to one of the largest ecclesiastical disputes in early Christianity, and it marks the earliest dispute on record about matters of church calendar. The real problem is that the Quartodecimans were breaking their fast earlier than other Christians. The other Christians wanted to hold the fast until Sunday (the Lord’s day), but the breaking of the fast by Quartodecimans was disruptive to them. Here is a discussion of the controversy from Eusebius:

1. But the bishops of Asia, led by Polycrates, decided to hold to the old custom handed down to them. He himself, in a letter which he addressed to Victor and the church of Rome, set forth in the following words the tradition which had come down to him:

2. “We observe the exact day; neither adding, nor taking away. For in Asia also great lights have fallen asleep, which shall rise again on the day of the Lord’s coming, when he shall come with glory from heaven, and shall seek out all the saints. Among these are Philip, one of the twelve apostles, who fell asleep in Hierapolis; and his two aged virgin daughters, and another daughter, who lived in the Holy Spirit and now rests at Ephesus; and, moreover, John, who was both a witness and a teacher, who reclined upon the bosom of the Lord, and, being a priest, wore the sacerdotal plate.

3. He fell asleep at Ephesus.

4. And Polycarp in Smyrna, who was a bishop and martyr; and Thraseas, bishop and martyr from Eumenia, who fell asleep in Smyrna.

5. Why need I mention the bishop and martyr Sagaris who fell asleep in Laodicea, or the blessed Papirius, or Melito, the Eunuch who lived altogether in the Holy Spirit, and who lies in Sardis, awaiting the episcopate from heaven, when he shall rise from the dead?

6. All these observed the fourteenth day of the passover according to the Gospel, deviating in no respect, but following the rule of faith. And I also, Polycrates, the least of you all, do according to the tradition of my relatives, some of whom I have closely followed. For seven of my relatives were bishops; and I am the eighth. And my relatives always observed the day when the people put away the leaven.

7. I, therefore, brethren, who have lived sixty-five years in the Lord, and have met with the brethren throughout the world, and have gone through every Holy Scripture, am not affrighted by terrifying words. For those greater than I have said ‘We ought to obey God rather than man.'”

8. He then writes of all the bishops who were present with him and thought as he did. His words are as follows:”I could mention the bishops who were present, whom I summoned at your desire; whose names, should I write them, would constitute a great multitude. And they, beholding my littleness, gave their consent to the letter, knowing that I did not bear my gray hairs in vain, but had always governed my life by the Lord Jesus.”

9. Thereupon Victor, who presided over the church at Rome, immediately attempted to cut off from the common unity the parishes of all Asia, with the churches that agreed with them, as heterodox; and he wrote letters and declared all the brethren there wholly excommunicate.

10. But this did not please all the bishops. And they besought him to consider the things of peace, and of neighborly unity and love. Words of theirs are extant, sharply rebuking Victor.

11. Among them was Irenaeus, who, sending letters in the name of the brethren in Gaul over whom he presided, maintained that the mystery of the resurrection of the Lord should be observed only on the Lord’s day. He fittingly admonishes Victor that he should not cut off whole churches of God which observed the tradition of an ancient custom and after many other words he proceeds as follows:

12. “For the controversy is not only concerning the day, but also concerning the very manner of the fast. For some think that they should fast one day, others two, yet others more; some, moreover, count their day as consisting of forty hours day and night.

13. And this variety in its observance has not originated in our time; but long before in that of our ancestors. It is likely that they did not hold to strict accuracy, and thus formed a custom for their posterity according to their own simplicity and peculiar mode. Yet all of these lived none the less in peace, and we also live in peace with one another; and the disagreement in regard to the fast confirms the agreement in the faith.”

14. He adds to this the following account, which I may properly insert: “Among these were the presbyters before Soter, who presided over the church which thou now rulest. We mean Anicetus, and Pius, and Hyginus, and Telesphorus, and Xystus. They neither observed it themselves, nor did they permit those after them to do so. And yet though not observing it, they were none the less at peace with those who came to them from the parishes in which it was observed; although this observance was more opposed to those who did not observe it.

15. But none were ever cast out on account of this form; but the presbyters before thee who did not observe it, sent the eucharist to those of other parishes who observed it.

16. And when the blessed Polycarp was at Rome in the time of Anicetus, and they disagreed a little about certain other things, they immediately made peace with one another, not caring to quarrel over this matter. For neither could Anicetus persuade Polycarp not to observe what he had always observed with John the disciple of our Lord, and the other apostles with whom he had associated; neither could Polycarp persuade Anicetus to observe it as he said that he ought to follow the customs of the presbyters that had preceded him.

17. But though matters were in this shape, they communed together, and Anicetus conceded the administration of the eucharist in the church to Polycarp, manifestly as a mark of respect. And they parted from each other in peace, both those who observed, and those who did not, maintaining the peace of the whole church.”

18. Thus Irenaeus, who truly was well named, became a peacemaker in this matter, exhorting and negotiating in this way in behalf of the peace of the churches. And he conferred by letter about this mooted question, not only with Victor, but also with most of the other rulers of the churches. (EH 5.24)

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If:

1. Abortion is immoral

2. Birth control reduces abortions

3. Government mandates that increase the cost of insurance are equivalent to wealth redistribution

4. Wealth redistribution is immoral

5. The government mandate reduces abortion and redistributes wealth

Then:

Opposition to government mandate indicates wealth redistribution is more immoral than abortion, therefore money is of higher value than human life.

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Having attended seminary, I am of the firm belief that the Bible is not magically able to be properly interpreted by everyone who reads it.  This is in contrast with many evangelicals, who generally expect the Bible’s message to be self-evident to the average attentive reader open to the Holy Spirit.  Notre Dame sociologist Christian Smith recently wrote about this, as well as various other problems with how evangelicals approach Scripture, in his book The Bible Made Impossible.  For a while now, I have been with Smith in considering this an inappropriate approach to Scripture because it simply does not work in real life:  People who don’t know better very often read Scripture quite poorly, despite their best efforts and intentions.

Some might consider it elitist to believe only certain better-equipped people can properly interpret the Bible, but consider this: There was a time when most people were illiterate, making the entire Bible completely inaccessible without some sort of mediator.  Was it elitist for God to inspire Scripture to begin with?  Then neither is it elitist to acknowledge that the Bible was written in unfamiliar languages and cultures a long time ago and that it is therefore not always easily understood.  In fact, even with additional training there is a lack of consensus about certain passages, highlighting how complicated the Bible really is.  This situation need not create a separate class of Christians who keep the Bible to themselves, but rather demands we do a better job connecting academics, clergy, and laity to one another so that everyone might have as many tools as possible to understand as much of the Bible as possible.  And in the event that having been better equipped, there are still certain parts which are harder to understand, lay people should have access to people and books who can point them in the right direction.  This highlights the importance of educated leaders, as well as for academics who take a strong interest in helping the church as a whole connect to their life’s work.

Too often today pastors are uneducated or focused solely on ministerial training rather than biblical studies and theology, and too often even the best educated pastors with an interest in theology do not know how to make this information accessible to their congregants.  We need strong educational requirements and a culture which values learning among our pastors.  We also need to train them in how to teach others about that which often stays shut up in the ivory tower.  We should encourage basic theological literacy among lay people through the sorts of preaching, Sunday school curricula, adults’ and children’s books, etc. to which we expose people in our churches and other Christian settings.  In my view, it would be wise to come to a general consensus on what sorts of topics every Christian deserves some basic instruction in and to make certain our teaching ensures anyone growing up in church or later joining a church has the opportunity to learn such material—in other words, we need more and better catechesis.

Another thing we need, however, is to recognize that the way evangelicals conduct many of their ministries is simply theologically irresponsible.  In particular, I am talking about the very lax standards for ministry in parachurch contexts.  I do not doubt that many of these individuals are called by God to serve and that God uses them in meaningful ways.  But we need to do a better job distinguishing between those in deacon-type positions vs. those with significant teaching and mentoring responsibilities.  Those who focus on practical service (ministries of compassion, social justice, fostering community and fellowship, the arts, etc.) need not possess a theological education, though some might find it helpful to have a background in theology, not to mention other sorts of training (to play certain instruments, to understand social issues, etc.).  However, this is not the case for those who preach and otherwise guide others through Scripture as a regular basis as part of their ministerial profession.

A perfect example of this is campus ministry.  Campus ministry organizations (whether interdenominational or denominational) need educational standards for their staff.  Period.  A typical campus minister may refer to their lessons as “speaking” or “teaching,” but there is no practical difference between the nature of their “talks” and a sermon the student might hear on Sunday morning.  For those who consider it problematic for pastors to lack theological education, the same standard should apply to campus ministers.  They play a very significant role in determining how young people form their theology, not only through preaching but also through “discipling” relationships.  Without educational standards, there is an enormous variance of “quality” of teaching between campus ministry staff, which is rather unfortunate.

Campus ministries, as well as other parachurch organizations, often have enormous power to influence the direction of the church.  We must consider it “worth it” to require—and then, of course, help fund—the education of those in such influential positions if we want to avoid perpetuating poor biblical interpretations, not to mention broader ignorance of theology and church history and the very large problem of evangelical anti-intellectualism.

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Excommunication Letter

I saw this on failblog and thought you all might enjoy it.

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In a stunning victory for Christianity, Mark Driscoll has converted Lisa Frank to Christianity and she has joined his Seattle church. Already, the artistic genius of Ms. Frank is making itself visible in the life of Mars Hill Church. In the recently unveiled “Peasant Princess” series found here, Frank’s talents have been put to good use. When asked for comment about Frank’s participation on the Mars Hill team, Mark Driscoll responded, “When I first met Lisa, I wasn’t sure I wanted to preach her the Gospel. After all, Jesus would never carry a Lisa Frank binder. But then the Holy Spirit TV Screen™ kicked on, and the Lord showed me her talent. I thought ‘You know, cute neon woodland creatures would be the perfect thing to go with a discussion of the sexually charged Song of Solomon.” Frank reported being happy with the move. “I’m just so excited. I’ve always wanted to use my art to reach people older than 11.” Truly the angels rejoice.

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