Christianity Thrives Under The Carolingian Empire (732-814)

Jesus Christ Savior | The Carolingian Empire was among the most significant early medieval empires in Europe. It came into being on the turn of the 9th century and came to end by the first quarter of the 10th century. The Empire was very significant for the later history of Europe, being the precursor to the later Holy Roman Empire and to the different monarchies which later ruled different regions of Europe. (image, The Age of Charlemagne – Refers to an important period in the History of the powerful Carolingian empire who’s expansion into other territories had a lasting impact on medieval Europe.)

The Carolingian Empire effectively began with Charles Martel, the Mayor of the Palace under the Merovingian Franks. He stopped the Muslim invasion of Europe at the Battle of Tours near Poitiers in 732, and supported St. Boniface in his conversion of Germany.

His son Pepin and the Papacy formed an historic alliance. Pepin needed the blessing of the Pope in his seizure of leadership of Gaul from the Merovingians. Pope Stephen II, besieged by the Lombards in Italy, was the first Pope to leave Italy and cross the Alps in 754. He named King Pepin Patrician of the Romans,and in turn Pepin swept into Italy and conquered the Lombards, securing the Papal states. Pepin died in 768 and divided his realm between his two sons, Carloman and Charles.

Charles, known as Charlemagne (742-814), took over all of Gaul upon the death of his brother in 771, and soon conquered most of mainland Europe. He was a vigorous leader and ruled until 814. Charlemagne was a strong supporter of Christianity. During his reign, Christianity became the guiding principle of the Carolingian Empire, as the Church established a powerful presence throughout Europe. He instituted a school of learning in his palace at Aachen. In the Middle Ages there was in theory a division between temporal power and spiritual authority, but in practice one saw a strong Emperor take control of some spiritual affairs and a strong Pope take control of some affairs of state. Charlemagne, as Constantine, considered himself the leader of Christendom as political head of state and protector of the Church. Pope Leo III crowned Charlemagne Emperor of the Romans on Christmas Day 800, and this marked the formal alliance of the Carolingian Empire and the Papacy. The historian Christopher Dawson called this the beginning of medieval Christendom.

Our anonymous author is a physician and a Masters graduate in Theology and Christian Ministry from Franciscan University, Steubenville, Ohio. He teaches Sunday Bible Class at St. James Catholic Church and serves both Pastoral Care and the Medical Staff at St. Joseph’s Hospital.



A Remarkable History of Christian Self-Understanding

by Gil Bailie | French historian Antoine Arjakovsky has written a penetrating exploration of the struggle to keep or restore Christian unity and his own intimations of how that effort might bear more fruit.

What Is Orthodoxy? A Genealogy of Christian Understanding
By Antoine Arjakovsky
Foreword by John Milbank
Angelico Press, 2018
Paperback, 412 pages

Last year, the five-hundredth anniversary of the Protestant Reformation was celebrated by some and noted with remorse by others. Though the reformers sought to rebuild Christianity on the principle of sola scriptura, without either papal or magisterial authority the movement immediately began fracturing over the proper interpretation of the Scriptures. Today, the number of Protestant denominations is estimated to be somewhere between 35,000 and 47,000, a sobering reminder that sola scriptura was incapable of performing the task assigned to it.

Though ecumenical efforts to repair the damage done by such divisions have been most welcome, not a few Catholics were puzzled by the Vatican decision to commemorate the anniversary of the Reformation by issuing a stamp depicting Martin Luther and his collaborator Philip Melanchthon kneeling at the foot of the cross. In 2018, that concern quickly paled by comparison when the scandal of criminal and immoral behavior on the part of ordained priests and bishops abruptly brought to light divisions within the Church of which many of the faithful had been unaware.

At year’s end, the Anglican communion’s self-declared middle-way between Catholic and Protestant alternatives suffered another setback when the Church of England abandoned any pretense of adherence to Judeo-Christian theological anthropology by promulgating guidelines for a baptism-like ceremony for those who claim to have changed their gender. While some saw this as more evidence of how quickly churches and ecclesial traditions are succumbing to the increasingly burlesque spirit of the age, others declared it to be indicative of Christianity’s growing moral acuities.

On January 5th of this year, the spiritual leader of the world’s Orthodox Christians, the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, formally granted autocephalous status (canonical independence) to the newly created Ukrainian Orthodox Church. The Russian Patriarchate went so far as to warn that this step could lead to the most significant break within Christianity since the Great Schism between the Greek Church of the East and the Latin Church of the West in 1054.

Alas, Christianity is deeply paradoxical – dying in order that one might live, the least being the first, and so on. The faithful have not always managed to keep the mystery at the heart of these paradoxes – and that holds the antinomies in creative tension – in focus. Nor should it surprise us that we Christians have found taking stock of our fallen nature less congenial than taking sides in contentious theological disputes.

In his book, What Is Orthodoxy? A Genealogy of Christian Understanding, the French historian Antoine Arjakovsky has given us a remarkable overview of the question that lies at the heart of all the neuralgic issues just mentioned. The author’s historical erudition is extraordinary, as is his deft analysis. As Arjakovsky sees it, the effort to restore orthodoxy can be handicapped by unquestioned presuppositions about the very nature of orthodoxy.

As Joseph Ratzinger often noted, in the ancient church orthodoxy did not mean “right doctrine.” Rather it meant the authentic glorification of God, which was to be done on several registers: liturgically, morally, intellectually, socially, and aesthetically. Being in a right relationship with God would ennoble every aspect of one’s life and give it a coherence not otherwise achievable. On this, the German pontiff and the French historian concur. Writes Arjakovsky in one of his most lapidary summaries:

Orthodoxy is not, as was commonly believed for a long time, simply the opposite of heresy, understood as a partial knowledge of the truth. Orthodoxy is a mode of relationship to the truth that prevents worship from emptying itself of the glory it seeks to proclaim, that prevents memory from ossifying itself by clinging to a remembrance as if it were an object, that refuses a moral testimony not lived out in practice, and that leads science, in danger of remaining merely at a purely theoretical level, back to its obligations of justice. It assures a relationship to the truth that is complex and embraces the fundamental metaphysical positions of worship, memory, ethics and justice.

Arjakovsky quotes the Orthodox theologian Alexander Schmemann’s critique of what he saw as the Byzantine Church’s defective understanding of orthodoxy:

A crystallization of tradition began within the Byzantine Church, a tendency to define the Tradition and consider it as closed and immutable. In this sense the Byzantine mentality considered the “triumph of orthodoxy” as a decisive and total victory of orthodoxy, the end point of its historic development. Henceforth the Orthodox Church is defined as “the Church of the Seven Councils and the Fathers” and the Byzantines would regard any heresy as a repetition of former heresies and condemn it almost automatically by referring it to decisions taken in the past. This fundamentalist and conservative attitude, which is still one of the characteristic traits of the orthodox mentality and which bestows an absolute importance on the most accidental details of the life and cult of Church, can be traced to this deeply anti-historic attitude of Byzantium.

Arjakovsky points to what he sees as the risks that each of the major forms of Christianity runs in striving for orthodoxy.

… the “Orthodox” risk of imagining that stagnation is the best way to avoid being dogmatizing and thus risking heresy, the “Protestant” risk of believing that doctrinal authority only deserves obedience when it is faithful to Scripture (which presupposes another body capable of judging this conformity … but which?) and the “Catholic” risk of being led to believe that a magisterial teaching is itself sufficient because it comes from a legitimate authority.

Arjakovsky proposes several answers to the question the book asks, namely: orthodoxy as right truth, as worthy glorification, as faithful memory, and as true and just knowledge. In fact, he sees in Christian history the ascendance in turn of each of these approaches to orthodoxy: “orthodoxy as worthy glorification (33-313), orthodoxy as right truth (313-1453), orthodoxy as faithful memory (1453-1948), orthodoxy as true and fair knowledge (1948 to present).” He explores each at some length in the second section of his book.

The reader senses the passion that moved the French historian to tackle so daunting a task in his treatment of the Great Schism of 1054 and its aftermath. He appears to be particularly haunted by the failure of the Council of Florence in 1439. Under the growing threat from the Ottoman Turks, the Eastern representatives at the Council conceded to a number of doctrines of the Western Church, not least concerning the filioque issue – that the Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son – and the primacy of the pope. But this extraordinary achievement was resisted by the faithful and civil leaders in the East. After Constantinople fell in 1453, one of the most consequential and lamentable events in history, the 1484 Synod of Constantinople rejected the earlier agreement. A reader can feel the author’s heavy heart in Arjakovsky’s summary: “The historiography of the ensuing confessional period of orthodoxy will rewrite, over the ashes of wounded memories, a polemic and proselyte history of the council.”

The author’s hopes for the ecclesial traditions he obviously loves and his reason for writing this extraordinary book are perhaps best captured by a quotation he shares from another Orthodox historian:

…the schism is an ongoing event and not a historical fact. It is not a question of relating an unfinished history; it is a question of bringing this history to a close and recognizing the starting points of departure for such a venture. First we need to go back to the basics, to rediscover the same vision … It is the lack of dialogue and the lack of charity which hardened the opposing differences.

Arjakovsky has given us, not only a vast historical panorama, but a penetrating exploration of the struggle to keep or restore Christian unity and his own intimations of how that effort might bear more fruit. This reviewer’s genuine gratitude notwithstanding, there are a few, perhaps minor, matters which cause concern.

For instance, when Arjakovsky writes: “Truth is dependent on the degree of conciliarity among those who attest to it.” This arresting statement holds true as long as the word conciliarity is not allowed to become a synonym for political consensus. Pope Benedict XVI, for whom Arjakovsky has high regard, has warned that conciliarity must not be taken to mean, or serve as a forerunner for, a horizontal, “pluralist” or “federative” ecclesiology, as some fear the principle of synodality might presage. Benedict has boldly argued that a properly conciliar ecclesiology is one that finds its center, not in theological compromises, but in the Mother of the Lord. Happily, it appears that Arjakovsky concurs on this point. For at one point in his exposition he cites the schema of Hans Urs von Balthasar, according to whom the ecclesial architecture of the Church is configured around Peter, James, John and Paul, while all of these inflections of Christian truth are held in creative tension by the fiat of the Virgin at the center.

As the attenuation of both Christian faith and Christian cultural influence continues, the temptation to nostalgia is understandable. Arjakovsky dismisses that option as inadequate. Of its opposite danger, he seems less wary. He writes:

On the other hand, if orthodox thought were understood as being, at the same time, a mystical theology, a participative philosophy, a political science of justice and moral understanding, then contemporary thought would be able to find new resources to face the new global age of its history and propose a more fair and peaceful civilization, one more respectful of creation.

One can sympathize with this assessment while feeling some unease with both its mildly enlightenment tone and the globalist, post-national vocabulary with which it is invoked. It may be parodied as a typically American concern, but nonetheless it should be said that frustration with how national and ethno-national loyalties have often exacerbated Christian divisions is insufficient reason for assuming that the attenuation of otherwise benign or healthy forms of patriotism will favor greater unity among culturally deracinated Christians.

Doubtless Christians have often enough doctored their moral and theological principles in deference to national, ethnic, or tribal loyalties, something Arjakovsky traces back to Eusebius and Augustine. Today, however, they are more likely to set aside Christian principles in favor of the sentimental humanitarianism which is too often assumed to be Christianity’s chief concern. However indebted to Christianity secular anthropocentrism is, and whatever the merits of its economistic, political and ecological aspirations, Christ did not die on the cross and rise from the dead primarily to arouse these aspirations. They are a far cry from the spiritual, moral and sacramental transformations for which Christ commissioned his Church.

In the West, especially in the post-conciliar years, and with increased urgency since the ascendance of Jorge Bergoglio to the Chair of Peter, the temptation to embrace the political, economic, environmental, and sexual dogmata of the post-Christian secular ideologues has most often been resisted by Christians who honor the classical virtue of pietas, defined by the British historian Christopher Dawson as “the cult of parents and kinsfolk and native place as the principles of our being … a moral principle which lies at the root of every culture and every religion.” He warned that a society that loses this fundamental sense of belonging “has lost its primary moral basis and its hope of survival.”

This brings us to another concern: that Arjakovsky gives more weight than warranted to the fact that “orthodoxy understood as doctrinal fidelity no longer appeals to the present generation of American Christians.” Doubtless such indifference to doctrinal fidelity deserves attention. But one doubts whether the theological perspicacity of “the present generation of American Christians” is a sufficiently weighty datum to render doctrinal fidelity otiose. Arjakovsky does not propose this, of course, but his citation of this lamentable fact suggests perhaps something of the problem now infecting the Catholic Church, namely, a subtle capitulation to a progressive understanding of history, according to which more weight is given to the worldviews of later generations than to their predecessors simply on the basis of their chronological posteriority.

These may not be entirely minor quibbles, but they pale in light of what a rich and learned exploration of Christian orthodoxy this wise and gifted historian has given us. The book is a serious and scholarly approach to a very old and very complex problem, a masterwork in fact. We will not likely see anything comparable to it for a very long time. It makes demands on the reader, but the effort is richly rewarded. Arjakovsky urges his readers to shake off the lethargic tendency to accommodate to divisions festering in the Body of Christ that ought to trouble every serious Christian. He whets his readers’ appetite for a magisterial proposal for resolving the confusions and divisions in contemporary Christianity.

Alas, such a tidy solution is not forthcoming, for it would betray the seriousness of this book. Of this slight disappointment, the grateful reader might want to recall the lines from Robert Frost’s poem, Mowing:

Anything more than the truth would have seemed too weak
To the earnest love that laid the swale in rows…

Gil Bailie, JD, is the founder and president of The Cornerstone Forum, and the author, most recently, of God’s Gamble: The Gravitational Power of Crucified Love.



Being ECWA Today: ECWA Identity and Sense of Belonging in Christ in an Age of Challenge

by Emmanuel Datiyong Akanet | Reclaiming ECWA Believers’ Identity and Sense of Belonging in Christ: A Problem of Christian Identity
Download Reclaiming ECWA Believers’ Identity and Sense of Belonging in Christ
I had the privilege of participating in the Lord’s ministry in Nigeria for twenty-eight years before I came to Asbury Theological Seminary in the fall of 2004, and I realize that the Lord enables me to serve better in the areas of teaching, preaching, and writing Christian literature. I served as a teacher and principal in one of my denomination’s Bible schools as well as pastoring several churches at various locations and times.

A mission body known as the Sudan Interior Mission (SIM) founded the denomination to which I belong: the Evangelical Church of West Africa (ECWA) back then but now known as the Evangelical Church Winning All (ECWA) in Nigeria. My previous observations and experiences as well as the history of the church shows that early congregations started on a solid foundation, faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, with a desire to grow towards maturity in Christ. At the beginning believers were known for what they profess to be believers in Christ otherwise called “Christians.” They were not afraid to share their faith with others in obedience to the Lord’s command to preach the gospel to all nations of the world (Matt. 28: 18-20). They were continuously striving and engaging in Bible studies, evangelistic activities, and constant fellowship in community settings. They collaborated with the missionaries in building and sustaining the body of Christ.

Nevertheless, the time came when missionaries handed over the church leadership to nationals who followed the examples set forth by the founding fathers. The work continued well. Leaders gave their time and resources in selfless service in the Lord’s vineyard, and the congregations trusted them and their leadership. Fifty years after the handover to the nationals, several problems seem to have crept into the life of the church. The spiritual state of believers appears to be declining, and some of the leaders seem to be deviating from the mission of the church which is to glorify God in life and service. Sensing the problem is what prompted me to be devoted in preaching, teaching, and writing.

This report includes a brief history of Nigeria and the church, biblical and theological foundations for the research, a literature review on leaders, leadership tasks, leadership approaches, the qualities, competencies as well as the spirituality required of a leader. The ministry intervention aimed at helping ECWA believers reclaim their identity and sense of belonging in Christ and to one another. Assessments confirmed the existence of spiritual decline among ECWA believers and the need for leaders with spiritual vision and direction to lead the church in reclaiming ECWA believers’ identity and sense of belonging in Christ and to one another. The ministry intervention of this research was designed with a need for spiritual and visionary leaders to provide learning environments that would facilitate a learning process in helping ECWA believers reclaim their identity and sense of belonging in Christ and to one another. This need, which has been a burden upon my wife and I, led us into starting a Servant Leadership Ministry to the disable persons, widows/widowers, orphans, senior citizens, and the poor in Madakiya community in which we were brought up and to which we belong.

Ministry Intervention
The distinctly Christian response to any need is a ministry response (i.e., a servant response). Jesus conceived of his own ministry as a response to specific human need. He articulated this construal of his ministry in his explanation of his unconventional behavior of “eating with tax collectors and sinners” (Mark 2:13-17). He responded to questions about this behavior in terms of the link between human need (the “sick” and their need of a “physician“) and his own purpose (why he “came” [Mark 2:17]). Similarly, in his programmatic statement summarizing his whole ministry, he claimed he had come “not to be served but to serve” and to “give [his] life a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45). Therefore, a most fitting response to the perceived need in ECWA is along the lines of the following design, judging from the research.

Encouragement from Greater Africa and a Testimony
The need for trans-formative leaders seems to be of great concern among many ecclesiastical leaders in many African countries. Other Africans are leading awakenings like that proposed in this study. Two ministry initiatives that are taking place in Africa today encourage one to think that a ministry intervention of the sort here proposed has, by God’s grace, a reasonable likelihood of success.

Calembo’s International Leadership Institute of Southern Africa (ILISA)
A premier example of these African ministries is the International Leadership Institute of Southern Africa founded and led by Alfred Calembo. His ministry aims at recruiting and training potential leaders who would also train others in their localities. The ministry appears to be flourishing, apparently meeting well the needs of adult learners and meeting perceived leadership needs. Calembo demonstrates the servant leadership attitude needed to be able to influence leaders in a community. His ministry is administered at the national and international levels. Its main aim is influencing the direction of his denomination by shaping leaders who would go and shape others, too.

The core values of Calembo’s ministry emphasize the importance of visionary leadership, relevant evangelism, stewardship, and leadership multiplication processes that seek and train men and women who, in turn become leaders of leaders who will effectively train others. According to Calembo, the curriculum emphasizes the importance of character and integrity because credible leaders exert greater influence on their followers. His ministry focus is based on:

  • Training and mobilizing leaders of leaders,
  • Evangelization and Church planting,
  • Ministering to HIV/AIDS, widows/orphans and vulnerable children,
  • Community health,
  • Education, and
  • Economic empowerment and emergency food relief

Producing leaders with a vision such as Calembo’s who will lead transformational learning programs like his is the goal of this proposed ministry intervention. Calembo exemplifies the fruit anticipated when ECWA believers find their identity and sense of belonging in Christ and to one another.

Akanet’s Servant Leadership Ministry
My own experience encourages me to think that new awareness of ECWA’s identity in Christ, of belonging to Christ and to one another, can take hold across the denomination from national to local grassroots levels to energize and shape local ministries and Christian witness. Based on my understanding of the gospel, which offers full liberation from the ravages of sin and the call to Christian leadership as a call to serve, my wife and I started a “servant leadership ministry” in the community in which we were raised. This ministry extends God’s grace and love to the disabled, the sick, the less privileged, and to HFV/AIDS victims and other needy persons within the range of our influence. The ministry focuses on the following:

  • To support and encourage young widows struggling with young children ages 1-15;
  • To support and encourage disabled persons and the disadvantaged to be self-supportive and self-reliance;
  • To support and encourage young persons in leadership positions to strive towards excellence, able to balance their lives between family and ministry demands;
  • To encourage and support senior citizens who have no relatives to support and care for them.
  • To help and support the sick who have much difficulty or no means of getting medical care; and,
  • To provide economic empowerment and emergency food relief to the diverse groups as described above.

The ministry is microcosm, done in a neighborhood environment that could be done at regional and national levels. However, the success and positive response to our limited efforts has encouraged me to think similar ministries could be creatively replicated in many local ECWA congregations. The spirit and direction of the holistic ministry could also set the tone and direction for national and regional leadership and would be a harbinger of spiritual renewal in ECWA.

Connect with Emmanuel Datiyong Akanet @datiyongx



How Does the “Selfie Culture” Affect Young Women Today?

by Rachel Marie Stone | It’s not healthy to dwell too much on how we look.

A selfie? Whether it’s spelled with an ‘ie’ or a ‘y’, Oxford defines it as;

“A photograph that one has taken of oneself, typically one taken with a smartphone or webcam and uploaded to a social media website.”

Branding yourself is not a new concept. However branding yourself with the image that you want the world – or your followers to see – is a new form of personal branding. And the way you see yourself in a selfie is tailored toward the way you expect others to see you and not the way your close family, friends and relations sees you.

 

 



The Christians, the Soviets, and the Bible

 | ‘The Americans’ has handled Christianity in a way unlike almost any other show. What’s going on? (FX Networks, 'The Americans')

In the first episode of The Americans, a pretty woman seduces a State Department bureaucrat. “You know,” he says to her, his voice thick with bluster, “most people, they get into their warm beds at night, they have no idea what really goes on out here. The sheer number of people working to destroy our way of life.”

He’s too distracted to finish the thought—and this may be a good place to mention that The Americans, which begins its fourth season on FX on March 16, is as graphically sexual and violent as you’d expect a cable show about spies to be. But by the time we see the woman drive away, tearing a wig from her head in disgust, we’ve figured out what he never will: that she is among those “working to destroy our way of life.”

In fact, she’s one of a pair of married Soviet spies hiding behind the respectably bland identities of Elizabeth and Philip Jennings, suburban travel agents. And both the ease with which the bureaucrat falls into Elizabeth’s trap and the machine-like efficiency with which she manipulates him (and herself) sets up exactly the Cold War conflict viewers expect to see: inhumanly efficient Communists versus freedom-weakened Americans.

Keri Russell in 'The Americans'The Americans is a great show for many reasons, but one of them is surely that it keeps its viewers off balance. Its conflicts are again and again refracted and transformed; like the many-pseudonymed, oft-bewigged Jennings themselves, it is always more than it appears to be. (Keri Russell and Matthew Rhys, as the couple, make each transformation utterly believable; as you watch their targets convince themselves to trust them, you become a target yourself.)

The family’s new neighbor, Stan Beeman, turns out to be an FBI man whose past career—as a sleeper agent who infiltrated a white-supremacist group—eerily mirrors theirs. Philip Jennings has meanwhile started to weaken in his hatred of America; he spends much of the pilot arguing the advantages of defection. Elizabeth’s militant patriotism, in turn, makes her not wholly unlike some of her Beltway neighbors. (Nor does Philip’s relative openness make him a less formidable enemy to national security than his wife: in future episodes, his greater insight into American mindsets often saves the Soviets from potentially disastrous overreaches. Nothing on this show is simple.)

The various sides are shown to be, as often happens to the various sides in a war, also at war with themselves. The Soviets jockey for position (mostly each other’s). Entrenched sexism at the FBI leads them to overlook a strategic vulnerability—her name is Martha, and she’s played brilliantly by Alison Wright. Philip and Elizabeth bicker over defection, over tactics, over which of them will be first to admit that their sham marriage is no longer really a sham. (The chemistry between Rhys and Jennings is so intense that the actors themselves have succumbed to it. This writer wishes them every happiness.)

Many writers have already, and rightly, pointed out that this spy show is “really about marriage” or, as the unsuspecting Jennings children took center stage in the second and third seasons, “really about family.” The US-Soviet conflict has never really gone away—some of the show’s most suspenseful moments coincided with President Reagan’s assassination, and Reagan’s “Evil Empire” speech put the exclamation point on last season’s cliffhanger.

But teenage daughter Paige’s storyline in particular—thanks in no small part to Holly Taylor’s superb performance—has taken on a gravity rarely afforded child characters on these sorts of shows (think of poor, irritating Dana on Homeland). Moreover, Paige’s storyline has allowed the show not only to explore generational conflicts with sometimes comic tenderness, but to pick up on a geopolitical conflict far more interesting than the one between Americans and Soviets.

Call it the war between the kingdom of Machiavelli and the kingdom of God.

Around the time in which the series is set, the Christian thinker Jacques Ellul wrote about this conflict in a brilliant, neglected book called Living Faith. As Christian enthusiasm swept Carter and then Reagan into the White House, Ellul condemned politics itself in startlingly sweeping terms. “Politics is the acquisition of power: the means necessary for getting it, and once you have it, the means for defending yourself against the enemy and so holding on to it,” he wrote. “All the fine talk about politics as a means of establishing justice . . . is nothing but a smokescreen that on the one hand conceals harsh, vulgar reality, and on the other justifies the universal passion for politics . . . that politics is the most noble human activity, whereas it is really the most ignoble. It is, strictly speaking, the source of all the evils that plague our time,” he continued, not putting too fine a point on it.

It’s hard to imagine many Christians—of any stripe—agreeing with this sentiment. And yet The Americans often seems to share Ellul’s dark vision of worldly politics. Repeatedly, on all sides, the characters destroy what they love, betray their own values, and violate what is best in themselves and each other in the course of merely holding onto what little power they’ve already acquired. The mere process of politics—the choosing of sides, leveraging of advantages, tallying of favors—subverts every good intention, both for the Americans and the Soviets. (Stan destroys both of the women who love him. Elizabeth almost destroys her marriage and may yet destroy her daughter. And we already know, living on this side of history, both that the Russians lose and that the arming of Afghan rebels, a key to that victory, would help lead directly to September 11.)

For all that, The Americans isn’t a truly cynical show: there are truly admirable people on the show. They’re just bad at politics.

We get our first glimpse of this conflict as early as the show’s second episode, “The Clock.” Philip and Elizabeth have a chance to bug Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger’s office, but Moscow Center has given them mere days to pull it off. The only lever they have to pull is the Weinberger’s housekeeper, a brave and principled working-class black woman named Viola.

One day, as Viola’s college-age son walks between classes, a distracted, mousy-looking woman walks right into him, trampling his foot. (He apologizes to her: that’s the quality of person he is.) Of course, the woman is Elizabeth in yet another wig, and, as Philip (wearing another terrible disguise) reveals to a horrified Viola, she has injected the son with a fast-acting poison to which only Philip has the antidote. Let him plant a bug in Weinberger’s office radio, or the kid dies.

So many things about this episode are gripping and horrifying—the swiftness with which it moves, the likability of the targets, and the sheer meanness of the scheme, which seems to trouble even Philip’s calloused conscience. It’s sadly believable that the people powerless enough to be turned into weapons—Viola and her son—are black, a fact that takes on additional biting resonance in the very next episode, when we learn of Elizabeth’s long-running affair with a black American revolutionary and her apparently sincere revulsion at American racism.

But Viola’s strength under pressure is what makes the horror watchable, and the show’s writers directly credit that strength to her Christianity. “People who believe in God always make the worst targets,” says Philip at one point, and Viola does indeed refuse to capitulate—Philip has to nearly smother her son to death before her eyes to get the results he wants. Later in the season, she confesses everything to Weinberger, once again taking her life and her family’s lives into her own hands (and tightening the noose around Elizabeth and Philip’s necks).

All in all, a well-done hour of TV—and one that depicts a Christian character in an unusually positive light.

But watching “The Clock,” I didn’t expect that Philip’s words—“People who believe in God always make the worst targets”—would turn out to have haunting implications for the Jennings themselves: Paige has, over the course of the second and third seasons, become both a target and a person who believes in God.

The first development was probably predictable. If sleeper agents are useful, a second-generation sleeper agent, born and raised here, blends in even better. The first season’s final image seemed to tease in that direction, as Paige lingered near a secret alcove in the family’s laundry room. The tease continued in the second season, as Paige skipped school to investigate one of her parents’ increasingly flimsy cover stories. On the way back, she meets an overly-friendly teenage girl on the bus. By this point in the show, the characters’ paranoia has rubbed on the viewer: you just assume the girl is working for Moscow Center. Instead, she invites Paige to church.

This development wasn’t especially predictable. Nor was the sensitivity and nuance with which the show has handled Paige’s conversion, which is depicted both as a real change of heart and as an ingeniously convoluted act of teenage rebellion. Holly Taylor’s excellence in the role frees up the writers to explore both sides: when Paige prays, you can see both that she is truly trying to be an obedient Christian and that she’s aware of the effect she’s having on her parents. She watches them with her eyes closed, so to speak; her goodness is not untinged with passive-aggression.

Further complicating matters, Paige’s church is recognizably evangelical, but it follows none of the standard TV rules for what that’s supposed to look like. Pastor Tim (Kelly AuCoin) talks about salvation in terms of dramatic changes of heart, of Sinner’s Prayers and decisions for Christ. He also blasts racism and ecological destruction, campaigns for nuclear disarmament, and ministers directly to the poor. (I’d bet money there are a few battered Jacques Ellul paperbacks somewhere in his study.)

This is an evangelicalism as inflected by the Jesus Movement, the evangelicalism of early Tony Campolo and Bread for the World. It’s Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger rather than The Late Great Planet Earth. In depicting an era—the early ’80s—far more often remembered as the heyday of the Moral Majority, the showrunners have opted to depict a type of Bible-thumper whom liberal and secular audiences can’t simply dismiss. (Even Elizabeth can’t hate Paige’s new church as much as she’d like to; she cites Paige’s new interest in “left-wing” causes as a promising sign in a would-be recruit. Nothing on this show is simple.)

At first it seemed as if the showrunners would simply use Paige's Christianity to sharpen her teenage conflicts with her parents—with the godless yuppie materialists they pretend to be, and the godless dialectical materialists they actually are. But conversion is always a provocation, and Paige's Christianity has already changed her parents.

In the third season, Moscow Center orders Philip to seduce a government official's rebellious, underage daughter, Kimmie, so as to mine her for information. The job sickens Philip, who can’t help noting the many parallels between the two daughters. But his handlers have told him, in their discreet way, that his Russian son, whom he never knew he had, will be sent to the frontlines in Afghanistan unless he follows orders. Poor Kimmie, meanwhile, is exactly the sort of teenage romantic who sees age-of-consent laws as a triple-dog dare. (She takes a similar attitude toward the nation’s drug policies.)

The viewer braces for a great show to take a descent into truly unwatchable territory, and then, in the episode “Born Again,” something astonishing happens. Philip has just witnessed his daughter’s baptism. He meets Kimmie for yet another date. She asks him why he hasn’t slept with her. He breaks down, confessing that he has a son he never knew, that he doesn’t think he’s a good man, that he’s been going to church and “wondering about some things.” He asks Kimmie to pray with him. She does.

“That was amazing,” she says afterward. His prayer is almost plagiarized from Pastor Tim’s sermon, earlier in the episode.

Philip’s spycraft has never been sharper. He has, on one level, simply turned Kimmie into an even better source by giving her what she wants—which is, more than sex, a feeling of connectedness, importance. But the gambit only works as a gambit because Philip is so clearly speaking from a dark, burdened heart. He isn’t a good man. He needs forgiveness. He wants what Paige has.

To get what Paige has, of course, Philip will have to make far more than a quasi-confession to a lovestruck teenager. I don’t rate his chances highly, nor anyone else’s on this often-wrenching show, which I generally watch in two or three marathon sittings per season so my anxiety for the characters doesn’t completely wreck my sleep.

Last season ended with Paige calling Pastor Tim to inform on her parents. The Internet is aflame with guesses as to where the show will take us next. (My prediction: Paige begins the fourth season in a psych ward. How would you react if the intense new girl in your congregation told you her bland parents were KGB agents?)

But whatever happens from here—I haven’t even talked about Philip’s second sham marriage, under another identity, to poor Martha, or Stan’s flirtation with EST, and meanwhile, there is a whole Cold War to fight—the show has offered an unforgettable critique of worldly power’s workings. And even for those of us who aren’t yet prepared to embrace Ellul’s sweeping conclusions, The Americans has also reminded us how beautifully alien the gospel can appear to those most trapped in power’s machinery.

Phil Christman teaches English at the University of Michigan.

 



Jack Hayford: America Is Suffering From a Spiritual Drought

I am writing in earnest and crying out for the igniting of an awakening to prayer

America is suffering from an extended spiritual drought. While the social and moral decay of this hour may grieve us, discernment of the larger reason for this blight lies at the door of an all-but-prayerless church.

We share a part of that responsibility because—had we been more conscientious earlier—we would not have allowed the progressive dismantling of weekly, united, extended corporate prayer gatherings.

I am not writing to assign guilt, for I have been too slow a learner myself. But I am writing with an invitation, one spoken from heaven and beginning to resonate in many hearts.

Although the enemy of humankind is rising viciously, knowing he has only a short time, the Holy Spirit of God is present. He is not here to condemn, but to convene the hearts of believers with His promise, wisdom and expectancy.

Above all, I feel a hope, born of prayer rising from my heart and one of love and brotherly commitment to Foursquare pastors, leaders and members. With that hope, I am writing in earnest and crying out for the igniting of an awakening to prayer.

Pray with me that we would unite to lead our congregations from our knees. Let us lead people into a lifestyle of intercession as God's Word directs (1 Tim. 2:1-2).

Unless we are biblically renewed to this first of all calling of the body of Christ, our first calling as believers will be sacrificed on the altar of sloth, and the spirit of the age will run even more rampant.

Let us affirm that there is nothing old school about the New Testament's order of the church's prayer-life. It is an ever-contemporary pattern of biblical spirituality, and nothing—not even the finest programming, productions or tactical strategies—can substitute for it.

Our Spiritual Foundation

Prayer is the foundation and fountainhead of spiritual power, breakthrough and revival; prevailing prayer, both at the local and national level, is what we and America need.

Given this situation, my hope is that The Foursquare Church may "rise to this hour" and make it a "restoring the ancient landmarks" of former victories. That, as a united-and-agreed fellowship, a vast majority of pastors and congregations would unapologetically welcome the Holy Spirit into their midst.

Pray with me that we would unite to lead our congregations from our knees. Let us lead people into a lifestyle of intercession as God's Word directs (1 Tim. 2:1-2).

Such well-ordered prayer gatherings will overthrow strongholds of darkness and release rivers of "living water" and revival blessings. Sound-minded, bold and believing prayer is prayer with a "cutting edge," namely, a lifestyle that penetrates the darkness of spiritual blindness and brings God's mercy and deliverance.

It is this kind of prayer that shatters the darkness and drives back the kind of spiritual challenge we face with the plague of evil and rebellion in our nation.

Jesus' Concern for the Last-Days Church

Someone recently asked me: "Some people think of the 1950s and 1960s as a golden age for the church in America, but were there drawbacks to the church being socially respectable?"

I answered: "I don't think of the church being 'respected' as a drawback. However, a socially comfortable church has not historically produced a spiritually passionate church."

Jesus' letters to the church in Revelation contain a similar opening, where Christ spells out His awareness and notice to each congregation and its leaders. His love for them all is never in question, but His concerns wave red-flag warnings to all of us who lead today:

You who have ears to hear, listen to what the Holy Spirit is saying!

Jesus points out that many of these churches are distracted or have neglected their central call, values and mission. The distractions are the same today; congregations are either:

  •     resting on their laurels
  •     impressed with their own perceived status
  •     blinded to their loss of focus on the Word and the Spirit, or
  •     by indulging their own carnality, losing clarity and integrity of heart.

The issue is clear: The Holy Spirit is seeking to find—and speak to—those with ears to hear!

Whether you are a Foursquare pastor, leader or church member, I am a bond servant with you. I invite you to join a multitude of those who are unabashedly attuned to hear, obey and respond as Holy Spirit-filled servants of Christ. This is vital for two crucial reasons:

  •     There is nothing more disabling than to become tone deaf to the voice of the Holy Spirit.
  •     There is nothing more numbing to the soul than to be unresponsive to His call.

In this critical hour, we dare not hedge on the implications of "hearing" the Holy Spirit. We dare not compromise His intentions for our fellowship as Spirit-filled and Spirit-led people.

The Key Question

The question of this hour in history resounds from the lips of the Lord: "When the Son of Man comes, will He find faith on the earth?" (Luke 18:8, NIV). Namely, the faith that answers the call to rise up in prayer!

As with any nation, the battle for America's soul will only be won with the weapons of spiritual warfare. These weapons—wielded by people systematically meeting in prayer gatherings to marshal sound-minded, biblically ordered intercession—have yet to be restored in The Foursquare Church in America.

Yet if God's people don't assemble in agreement, on their knees, who else will "destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ" (2 Cor. 10:5, ESV)?

The church is the one agency on Earth with access to this promise. Heaven is waiting. God has indicated His sovereign choice: He is ready to answer with His open hand of unlimited blessing if, under His authoritative directive, we will take our stand and advance in prayer.

Today, we must remember the promise God made to Solomon long ago: "If my people … humble themselves, and pray … then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land" (2 Chr. 7:14, ESV).

However, we must ask ourselves, "Where can God find a people who will align themselves with God's conditions?" This cannot be a halfway proposition. His Word of promise is only spoken into action where people welcome His Holy Spirit, and on His terms.

Aligning With the Spirit

I want to honor the wisdom, sought and applied, by which our leaders have brought administrative adjustments that we as a movement have pragmatically applied in recent years.

However, whatever else we have wisely and worthily realigned structurally, our definition of local intercessory alignment has yet to "hear what the Spirit is saying to the churches."

In this critical hour, we dare not hedge on the implications of "hearing" the Holy Spirit. We dare not compromise His intentions for our fellowship as Spirit-filled and Spirit-led people.

We are in need of reviewing Jesus' confrontation of leaders who busied themselves with religious duties but neglected God's command: "My house will be called a house of prayer for all nations" (Is. 56:7, NIV). Let us abandon all self-excusing passivity indulged when we negate our Lord's focus on the priority of prayer.

No society should ever be seen as beyond hope of revival, the recovery of sanity or the rebirth of multitudes—if it is laced with congregations everywhere where the Light of the world still shines.

The divine call of God addressing The Foursquare Church in America is no different than the one trumpeted to the larger believing body of Christ. Too many have traded the timeless for the transient, the costly for the clever, the eternal for the contemporary and the seeker-sensitivity for man-pleasing management.

Our beginning point of reference must be on our knees, in our closets and at altars of repentance. New furniture isn't required, but a ready and renewed passion is!

Jack Hayford is chancellor of The King's University and former president of The Foursquare Church.

 



Exploring the Lifestyle of a Prophet

James W. Goll | The spirit of this world is out of control and vying for the attention of any half-interested soul (image © V. Gilbert & Arlisle F. Beers)

A battle is being waged in our day—an end-time battle of passions, an unprecedented competition between the altars of fire. The spirit of this world is out of control and vying for the attention of any half-interested soul. Sometimes it seems we have more "Hollywood" than "holy good" in the church.

But good news is on the horizon. This fierce fight of the ages will escalate as waves of God's irresistible love wash over us, and the constraints of stale religiosity are replaced by passionate, fiery, relatable Christianity. A revolution of intimacy is coming in the church. Is that not what your heart is aching for? Like John, the beloved disciple of Jesus, we too shall learn to lean our heads on our Master's chest and rest in the sound of His heart beating in the rhythm of love (John 21:20).

As we look at the lifestyle of intimacy in the life of a prophet, let me share with you some thoughts and principles drawn from the book of Genesis on the relationship between intimacy and the prophetic.

Genesis 2:7 grants some awesome relational insights: Then the Lord God formed man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and man became a living being." What a beginning! All humankind took on life by the very breath of God's mouth. Talk about an intimate exchange! Ponder this for a while. In some manner, God blew into the lump of clay that He had fashioned, and Adam's body took on an added dimension. Man became a living being.

That is what the prophetic life and ministry are all about—human beings being filled with the breath of God and then in turn exhaling onto others the breath of life they have received from their Creator. This is what our Messiah did as well. After His resurrection, He appeared to His disciples, who were hiding for fear. He said, "As My Father has sent Me, even so I send you" (John 20:21). Then Jesus breathed on them and said, "Receive the Holy Spirit" (verse 22).

At the Last Supper of Jesus with His trainees, John leaned back on the Lord's chest (John 13:25). What do you think he heard? Yes, probably the pulsating heart of the Savior, but he also would have heard something else: the Messiah's very breath as He inhaled and exhaled. Imagine being so close to the Lord that you hear Him breathing!

Some of the writers of the past knew something of this intimacy. Consider the hymn "Breathe on Me, Breath of God" written in 1878 by Edwin Hatch:
Breathe on me, Breath of God,
Fill me with life anew, 
That I may love what Thou dost love,
And do what Thou wouldst do.
Breathe on me, Breath of God,
Until my heart is pure,
Until with Thee I will one will,
To do and to endure.
Breathe on me, Breath of God,
Till I am wholly Thine,
Till all this earthly part of me
Glows with Thy fire divine.
Breathe on me, Breath of God,
So shall I never die,
But live with Thee the perfect life
Of Thine eternity.
 
Yes, man became a living being when the intimate breath of Almighty God blew into Adam's lungs. So it was that he became a transporter of God's presence, a contagious carrier of the infectious Spirit of God.
 
God's Original Design

God's original intent was for all of us to be carriers of His presence. Today the Lord is looking for vessels He can breathe into once again. He seeks some He can put His mouth on, as it were, and blow His Spirit into them, so that their lungs, their hearts, their souls, their bodies, their temples will be filled with the very breath of the Almighty. He wants us to be carriers of His most brilliant presence. What could be greater?

That was the Lord's original intent. And we know what followed: "Therefore a man will leave his father and his mother and be joined to his wife, and they will become one flesh. They were both naked, the man and his wife, and were not ashamed" (Gen. 2:24-25). Here we are given a graphic picture of what things look like when a man or woman is filled with the brilliance of God's presence. When we are filled with His pneuma (the Greek word for breath), we are not self-absorbed and fearful but walking with God and others in transparent love.

Adam and Eve were not ashamed. They were not overcome by guilt, nor were they driven by condemnation. They were not hiding behind whatever leaves they could find. They were naked; they were walking in honesty; they were enjoying intimate communion with God; and they "knew" each other.

That is God's design for marriage, which is the picture of the union He plans for us as the bride of Jesus Christ (Eph. 5:22-32) and our incredible, glorious Husband. This Master of ours wins our hearts with one glance of His eye (Song 4:9). And the amazing thing is, one glance of our own eyes shining back into His undoes His heart as well. What a profound mystery! The revelation of this truth alone would create a revolution of intimacy among God's people. It is awesome, and it is pictured right here in the Garden of Eden, at the beginning of all things.

Adam and Eve were hiding behind nothing. Their hearts were beating with love for one another, and they were not ashamed. There were no barriers to intimacy.

*Excerpted from The Lifestyle of a ProphetDr. James W. Goll is the cofounder of Encounters Network, a ministry to the nations. He has written fifteen extensive Bible study guides and is the author or coauthor of fourteen books, including The Coming Prophetic Revolution and Praying for Israel's Destiny. Goll is a contributing editor to Kairos magazine and speaks and ministers around the world.

Dr. James Goll is the founder of Encounters Network, Prayer Storm and helps carry on the work of Compassion Acts. For information on his online school visit: geteschool.com. James continues to live in Tennessee and is a joyful father and grandfather today.

 



If Christianity Bores You, Then You Haven’t Met Jesus

It's a true miracle to meet Jesus. (photo © Dr. Ashraf Fekry)

I used to think Christianity was boring, dull and hands-down a waste of time.

I was never a fan of going to church or getting dropped off at yet another youth group event when I was younger. It all seemed to be pointless and irrelevant to my current stage of life. I felt this way for the first 19 years of my life, that is, until I actually experienced Jesus for who He really was and not who I assumed Him to be.

I dropped my pride and finally let God in. Only then was my life transformed. This didn't happen overnight, but with persistence and humility, my relationship with God truly started to grow. 

For a lot of people, the idea of Christianity doesn't bring much excitement to the table. The thought of reading a Bible, attending a church service or even praying makes certain individuals cringe. And let's not forget to mention those who claim to be believers, yet still think the wondrous life of a Christ follower is still not what it's cracked up to be. For the two groups I have previously mentioned, I beg to differ. 

A True Encounter

When one truly encounters the consuming love of Jesus, one's life is anything but mundane and stale. It can't be, as the love and power of Jesus is too marvelous to walk away from once tasted. Worship will become exhilarating, reading the Bible will become fascinating, and prayer will become a conversation with God that you can't seem to stay away from. The Bible says that we are sanctified (set apart) by the blood of Christ, and we must realize that one cannot truly digest this truth and not find the eternal joy that comes along with it. 

The Bible paints a very clear picture of what happens when someone belongs to Christ. The old fades away, and a new life will begin. Only through Jesus can we truly come alive into the existence and community we were created for. Life in Christ encompasses the totality of Christ Himself, which characteristically is anything but monotonous and mind-numbing. 

"But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in sins, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and He raised us up and seated us together in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages He might show the surpassing riches of His grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not of yourselves. It is the gift of God, not of works, so that no one should boast" (Eph. 2:4-9).

A life in Christ brings purpose, restoration, grace and eternal identity. The adventure that awaits a follower of Jesus is one this world simply cannot match, let alone keep anywhere near to. Every day is a new experience, a new facet of God's glory, and another opportunity to deepen one's personal relationship with the Creator. There is always room for growth, which means there is always room for adventure. So if you think Christianity is boring, then you haven't met Jesus.

Understand that the Christian life isn't always going to be roses and sunshine. Everybody encounters doubt, anxiety and even fear—we wouldn't be human unless we did. What we need to remember is that even during these times of darkness and uncertainty, we have a light at the end of the tunnel to run toward. Jesus' Spirit, our comfort and peace, is an ocean of eternal euphoria.

The fear of rules and regulations are false. Don't let the talk of religion keep you from experiencing an unfathomable relationship with Christ.

Jarrid Wilson is a husband to Juli, dad To Finch, pastor, author, blogger and founder of Cause Roast. He's helping people live a better story. For the original article, visit jarridwilson.com. For the original article, visit jarridwilson.com.