The Protestant Reformation

Jesus Christ Savior | The Protestant Reformation resulted from the failure of the Catholic Church to reform itself in time.

The dark side of the thirteenth through fifteenth centuries witnessed the errant Fourth Crusade to Constantinople in 1204, the Albigensian Crusade against the Cathari in 1209, and the beginning of the Inquisition which became severely punitive. The Papacy suffered a great loss of respect during the Avignon Papacy (1305-1378) and especially during the Papal Schism (1378-1417), when two and at one point three men declared themselves Pope and opposed each other. The Papal Schism had to be resolved by Emperor Sigismund of Luxembourg and the Council of Constance 1414-1417, which finally deposed all three Popes and chose Martin V to continue the Papacy. However, the Council also condemned John Hus, the Prague reformer who believed in the priesthood of all believers and the reception of Communion through bread and wine; he was burned at the stake on July 6, 1415. Another victim of the Inquisition was St. Joan of Arc, who saved France during the Hundred Years War with England. She was burned at the stake on May 30, 1431 in Rouen, France. The Spanish Inquisition in the fifteenth century was particularly ruthless.

The lack of Church funds led to even further corruption, including simony and the selling of indulgences. For example, Archbishop Albrecht of Mainz had to pay Rome ten thousand ducats for the right to hold three dioceses at once, and agreed to a three-way split with the Roman Curia and the Fugger Banking firm from the proceeds of the selling of indulgences.

These events led many to question the compassion and integrity of the Church. The unity of Tradition and Scripture went unchallenged through the Patristic Age and thirteenth century scholasticists such as St. Bonaventure and St. Thomas Aquinas. But the unity of Scripture and Tradition began to be questioned with the decline of the Church. The Belgian Henry of Ghent believed that one should first have the duty to follow Scripture rather than a Church that became one in name only. The English Franciscan William of Ockham (or Occam) was known for the principle of Occam’s Razor, that one needs to reduce everything to its simplest cause. Ockham (1288-1348) theorized on three possibilities of the relation of Scripture and the Church. First there was Sola Scriptura, that one could obtain salvation by following Scripture alone; second, that God does reveal truths to the universal Church, an ecclesiastical revelation supplemental to apostolic revelation; and third, the concept of orally transmitted apostolic revelation parallel to written Scripture. Ockham believed that one could reach God only through faith and not by reason. He wrote that universals, such as truth, beauty, and goodness, were concepts of the mind and did not exist, a philosophy known as Nominalism. Thus began the division of the realm of faith from the secular world of reason.

The rise of Nationalism led to the end of Christendom, for countries resented any effort to support Rome, especially in its dismal state. Dissemination of new ideas followed the invention of the movable type printing press by Johannes Gutenberg in Mainz, Germany; his very first printing was the Latin Vulgate Bible in 1456.

The stage was set for the reform-minded Martin Luther (1483-1546), the Augustinian monk of Wittenberg, Germany. He received his doctorate in theology in 1512, and then taught biblical studies at the University of Wittenberg. His study of Scripture, particularly St. Paul in his Letter to the Romans, led him to believe that salvation was obtained through justification by faith alone. At first, his only interest was one of reform when he posted his 95 theses on the door of the Wittenberg Church October 31, 1517.

But the intransigence of the Church and poor handling of the situation by the Pope and Curia only worsened matters, such that a break was inevitable. In a July 1519 debate with the Catholic theologian Johann Eck, Luther stated that Sola Scriptura – Scripture alone – was the supreme authority in religion. He could no longer accept the authority of the Pope or the Councils, such as Constance. In 1520 Luther published three documents which laid down the fundamental principles of the Reformation. In Address To the Christian Nobility of the German Nation, Luther attacked the corruptions of the Church and the abuses of its authority, and asserted the right of the layman to spiritual independence. In the Babylonian Captivity of the Church, he defended the sacraments of Baptism, Eucharist, and Penance, but criticized the sacramental system of Rome, and set up the Scriptures as the supreme authority in religion. In The Freedom of the Christian Man, he expounded the doctrine of salvation through justification by faith alone. The Augsburg Confession of 1530, written by Philip Melanchthon and approved by Martin Luther, was the most widely accepted Lutheran confession of faith.

Once Sola Scriptura became the norm, it became a matter of personal interpretation. Huldrich Zwingli of Zurich, Switzerland was next, and he broke with Luther over the Eucharist, but his sect died out. The Anabaptists separated from Zwingli as they denied the validity of infant baptism; they survived as the Mennonites. Jean Calvin published his Institutes of the Christian Religion in 1536, and influenced John Knox and the Presbyterians of Scotland; the Huguenots of France; the Dutch Reformed; and the Pilgrims and Puritans. While he agreed with Luther on the basic Protestant tenets of sola scriptura, salvation by faith alone, and the priesthood of all believers, he went even further on such issues as predestination and the sacraments. George Fox, the son of Puritan parents, founded the Quakers in England in 1647.

King Henry VIII wrote a defense of the seven sacraments, but when refused an annulment from Catherine of Aragon, he had himself declared Supreme Head of the Church of England in 1533. The new Archbishop Thomas Cranmer married Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn that same year. St. Thomas More refused to attend the wedding, and was imprisoned in the Tower of London and later beheaded in 1535. Henry VIII began the Dissolution of the Monasteries in 1536, and then destroyed the Shrine of the martyr St. Thomas Becket (1118-1170) at Canterbury Cathedral in 1538. The Book of Common Prayer was published in 1549 and the Anglican Church of England was established. Two major sects that split off from the Anglicans were the Baptists, founded by John Smyth in 1607, and later the Methodists, founded by John Wesley and his brother Charles.

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.



Religious Liberty in Contemporary Evangelical Social Ethics: An Assessment and Framework for Socio-political Challenges

by Andrew T. Walker | Christian reflection on religious liberty is as old as Christianity itself. But unless it is rehearsed and given fresh expression and articulation in new contexts, it can fall by the wayside. Marx was believed to have said, “Take away a people’s roots, and they can easily be moved.

Evangelical public theology often lacks a systematic, theologically grounded social ethic concerning religious liberty. The resulting impasse is one where religious liberty lacks distinctly evangelical contours. Modern and contemporary religious liberty discussions have been ceded, almost exclusively, to political and legal philosophy. At the same time, religious liberty is a foundational principle for evangelical public theology because it addresses issues of how evangelicals enter the public square as a religious people. Additionally, a doctrine of religious liberty is vital for establishing the relationship between the church and state in society. Theological warrant is needed to establish a doctrine of religious liberty on evangelical grounds, and, correspondingly, the lack of consensus or framework around religious liberty jeopardizes the possibility of developing a truly evangelical understanding of religious liberty for public theology.

On a cold, rainy Friday night in October 2017, my wife and I and a few friends from church gathered for a night of worship sponsored by a Christian worship organization that works with local Christian artists in our town

At the end of the evening, the individual emceeing the night closed with an impassioned prayer wherein he expressed gratitude to God for the liberty to join together with other believers to worship Christ without fear of government harassment. There was palpable gratitude for the freedom to worship in this man’s voice.

This gathering did not have to be registered with the government, which is tragically the case in other countries. We entered and left in peace without even a hint of fear of whether we would be “exposed” as Christians. Upon leaving, I knew I would be free to utilize social media and share of the event’s details without fear of that post facing censorship. Moreover, that weekend, I would be free to go to church and hear a sermon on why Christians should seek to influence their culture, whether related to the sanctity of life, racial reconciliation, or any other issue of ethical controversy in the culture. While I am accustomed to sermons and prayers where gratitude to worship freely is often expressed, writing this dissertation while hearing a prayer to God giving him praise for religious liberty struck me anew; and it dawned on me that this dissertation was not just a rote academic exercise.

Something pivotal about my existence as a Christian, and my participation in a local body, is bound up with the liberty to live faithfully in accord with God’s call on my life, and my family’s life. Religious liberty is not the gospel. That night, however, I was reminded that my experience of the gospel assumes a freedom I so often ignore and at worst, neglect gratitude. Religious liberty fans the flames of personal holiness and proclamation. It gives breath to the life of a local congregation gathering together every Sunday to declare that Jesus Christ is king.

I was reminded and convicted that night of how trite, routine, and assumed religious liberty is in my own mind—that as an American, I know nothing other than 212 religious liberty. That is one of the challenges to religious liberty in an American context— that Americans grow so accustomed to it that they may not recognize when its pillars are slowly corroding.

Christian reflection on religious liberty is as old as Christianity itself. But unless it is rehearsed and given fresh expression and articulation in new contexts, it can fall by the wayside. Marx was believed to have said, “Take away a people’s roots, and they can easily be moved.” This report has been an exercise is exposing the roots of freedom found in Christianity. Christians need presented with arguments for the defense of their own liberty, but also the liberty of others—for securing the liberty of others ensures the security of our own. This need for ethical apologetics is true of every age.

At this writing, religious liberty in America is entering a new age beset with challenges and opposition that call into question a once sacred consensus. By grounding religious liberty in the horizons of eschatology, anthropology, and soteriology, my hope is that this contribution to the field of Christian social ethics can be but one resource helping to usher in a new era of Christian preoccupation with religious liberty.

May the Christian church return to its first love, a primal strength—a fortitude that turns the other cheek and confidently, under pressure, insist that no worldly scheme can push back the onward advance of Christ’s invasion—for Christianity needs neither the state nor the culture for its truthfulness and efficacy. The liberty Christians seek and the liberty Christians use is a liberty to seek a city that is not yet, and to allow those in the church’s midst to join it in the promise of its coming.

Any claim or pursuit of religious liberty must always be pointed back toward its telos: The advancement of God’s kingdom. In the spirit of our missionary faith, let each of us, like the Apostle Paul, go about “proclaiming the kingdom of God and teaching about the Lord Jesus Christ with all boldness and without hindrance” (Acts 28:31).

Andrew T. Walker is the Director of Research and Senior Fellow in Christian Ethics at the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, the denomination’s entity tasked with equipping Christians and local churches to address ethical issues facing society and the church. In his role, he researches, speaks, and writes about the intersection of Christian ethics, public policy, and the church’s social witness. This is a summary of his dissertation presented to the Faculty of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Partial Fulfillment of the Requirements for the Degree, Doctor of Philosophy back in May 2018



The Reconquest of Spain

Jesus Christ Savior | Spain was troubled in 997 when the Moor Almanzor usurped the power of the Caliphate and sacked the city and Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela in the northwest tip of Spain, but spared the tomb of St. James (Santiago in Spanish). (Alamy image: Compulsory baptism of the Moors after the Reconquista, Granada, Spain, 1500. Hand-colored woodcut)

Catholic Spain was the first European territory to suffer Islamic invasion in 711 when the Berber general Ibn Tariq conquered nearly all of Spain except the northern rim. The Visigoth Pelayo held off the Muslims at Covadonga at Asturias in the Cantabrian mountains in 722. Spain, named Al-Andalus by Muslim leaders, prospered under the Umayyad Abd al-Rahman family of Córdoba, where Muslims, Jews, and Christians for a while lived side by side in a spirit of religious toleration.

The discovery of the relics of St. James in a Field of Light in Galicia supported the Catholic heritage of Spain, and a church was built at the pilgrimage site of Santiago de Compostela by Asturian King Alfonso II (791-842). As recorded in the late ninth-century Chronicle of Alfonso III, Pelayo became the inspiration for the rightful recovery of Spanish territory lost to Muslim invasion.

Spain was troubled in 997 when the Moor Almanzor usurped the power of the Caliphate and sacked the city and Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela in the northwest tip of Spain, but spared the tomb of St. James (Santiago in Spanish). He took the cathedral bells of the church as a memento of his victory and placed them in the great mosque of Córdoba. With the loss of respect for the Caliphate, Al-Andalus fractured into multiple petty states, known as Taifas.

King Alfonso VI (1065-1109) of León-Castile recaptured Toledo in 1085. El Cid held off the Muslims in Valencia until his death in 1099. King Alfonso I of Navarre and Aragon recaptured Zaragoza in 1118. King Alfonso VIII won a major battle against the Almohad Muslims at Las Navas de Tolosa in 1212. King Fernando III recaptured Córdoba in 1236 and returned the cathedral bells to the Church of Santiago de Compostela. The Reconquista of Spain, or the unification of Spain under Christian rule, was not formally completed until the reign of Ferdinand and Isabella, when Granada was captured from the Moors on January 2, 1492.

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.



Weekly Spiritual Digest: Can I Know God Personally?

by Rev. Sunday Bwanhot | Jesus came so that each of us could know and understand God in a personal way. Jesus alone can bring meaning and purpose to life.

We have all tried to do good things so that God will accept us and tried to stop doing bad things so that God will be happy with us; but we failed woefully and still cannot connect with God. All our righteous acts are like filthy rags, Is. 64:6.

All religions are the futile attempts of man to connect with God; but in Christ, God seeks out man and connects with him. Here are just three aspects of the Good News.

  1. God came down to look for you.
    Before the fall, man had uninterrupted fellowship with God. At the fall, Adam and Eve hid themselves from the Lord and the Lord had to come searching for them. God activated the plan for the salvation and reconciliation of man to Himself by coming in the form of man. Is. 7:14, Gal. 4:4.
  2. You can know God personally.
    Jesus wants to reveal the Father to you. Matt. 11:27. He is knocking and waiting at the door of your heart because He wants to come in and dine with you. Rev. 3:20
  3. You can have a real relationship with God.
    When you receive and believe in Jesus Christ you automatically become adopted into the family God, John 1:12. God is your Father, Jesus is your brother, Heb. 2:11. Jesus also relates with you as a friend,  John 15:15.

We cannot earn or contribute to this process. All we can do is to respond by accepting what God has done for us. What is the evidence that you know God personally and not just know about Him? Have you accepted His offer? Do you love Him and delight in His ways?

Rev. Sunday BwanhotRev. Sunday Bwanhot is EMS/SIM Missionary. He serves as Team leader of SIM Culture Connexions; Pastors of ECWA Chicago.



Weekly Spiritual Digest: Is Jesus Really God?

by Rev. Sunday Bwanhot | Only God is the omnipresent Spirit who can hear and answer prayer, but Jesus said in John 14:13, “If you shall ask anything in my name I will do it.”

The question, if Jesus is really God has caused different reactions ranging from excitement, confusion, anger and outright rejection by Christians and non-Christians alike. The existence of Jesus Christ is a no contest. He lived here on earth; His genealogy is known. Where and when He was born and the life He lived have all been documented by historians. The claim that He is God is the bone of contention. Here are four reasons to aid our understanding in believing that Jesus is God.

  1. Testimonies that Jesus is God.
    1. The Prophets: Isaiah & John the Baptist: Isa 9:6; 7:14; Jh. 1:1-3
    2. God the Father: Heb. 1:8 & Ps. 45:6.
    3. Jesus Himself: Jh. 8:58, 10:30.
    4. Jesus’ Disciples Jh. 20:28.
  2. Jesus has all the attributes of God – A few will suffice:

    1. Self-existing Jh. 5:26;
    2. Eternal Is. 9:6; and Is 46:9
    3. Holy Jh. 8:46;
    4. Omnipotent Phi 3:21;
    5. Omniscient Jh. 16:30;
    6. Omnipresent Matt. 18:20; Judge. 2 Tim 4:1.
  3. Jesus did things only God can do.
    1. Created the world. Jh. 1:3; Col.1:16.
    2. Raised the dead and Himself too. Lk 7:14, 24:7
    3. Forgave sins. Lk 5:20;
    4. Promises eternal life. John 3:16; Lk 23:43
  4. Jesus Accepts worship – due only to God.
    1. Disciples worshiped Him Matt. 28: 9;
    2. Every knee will bow in worship Ph. 2:9-11
    3. Saints, Angels, 24 Elders, 4 Living Creatures worship Jesus. Rev. 5

Every religion admits that Jesus was a prophet, righteous and sinless but reject His deity. He did not leave us that option. We either voluntarily worship Him now or involuntarily do so when it is too late.

Rev. Sunday BwanhotRev. Sunday Bwanhot is EMS/SIM Missionary. He serves as Team leader of SIM Culture Connexions; Pastors of ECWA Chicago.



Weekly Spiritual Digest: Is Christianity too Narrow?

by Rev. Sunday Bwanhot | Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” John 14:6

The assertion here is that Christianity has many restrictions and is not inclusive. People want a borderless Christianity. The fact is that every institution that is worth its salt has restrictions and is inclusive only under certain conditions. Christianity is not different. We generally view God’s laws as restrictions from enjoying something good. Which is not true! God’s laws are barriers to protect us from hurting ourselves while enjoying all the good God has made available to us.

Christianity is a relationship with Christ and everyone irrespective of race, age, gender, abilities/inabilities, sinners, etc. are accepted unconditionally. All roads may lead to Rome, but only one Road leads to God – Jesus Christ. Religion is humanity’s attempt to reach God while Christianity is God’s attempt to reach humanity. God is the initiator and not man and He says “Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it.” Matt. 7:13 Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” John 14:6. Those who argue that Christianity is narrow are not sincere. They willingly accept restrictions in other areas of life. They only know about Christianity and have never experienced the true freedom that being in Christ brings.

Regardless of how Christianity is viewed, the question remains,  are you ready for a committed relationship with Christ knowing God personally came down to look for you and bring you into His Kingdom? So, what is the point of this argument?

Rev. Sunday BwanhotRev. Sunday Bwanhot is EMS/SIM Missionary. He serves as Team leader of SIM Culture Connexions; Pastors of ECWA Chicago.



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.



6 things you didn’t know about Jesus in Islam

by Jennifer Williams |  | “Madonna with the Book (Conestabile Madonna)” by Raffaello Sanzio, 1504.Sergio Anelli/Electa/Mondadori Portfolio via Getty Image

Christmas, as everyone knows, commemorates the birth of Jesus and is a major religious celebration for Christians around the world.

But what many people don’t know is that Jesus is an important figure in Islam, too, even though most Muslims don’t celebrate Christmas (though some, especially some American Muslims, do).

In honor of the holiday, here are six things you may not know about the role of Jesus — and his mother, Mary — in Islam:

  1. Jesus, Mary, and the angel Gabriel are all in the Quran (as are Adam, Noah, Abraham, Moses, and a bunch of other Bible characters).
  2. Muslims believe that Jesus (called “Isa” in Arabic) was a prophet of God, was born to a virgin (Mary), and will return to Earth before the Day of Judgment to restore justice and to defeat al-Masih ad-Dajjal (“the false messiah”), also known as the Antichrist. All of which may sound pretty familiar to many Christians.
  3. Mary (called “Maryam” in Arabic) has an entire chapter in the Quran named for her — the only chapter in the Quran named for a female figure. In fact, Mary is the only woman to be mentioned by name in the entire Quran: As noted in the Study Quran, “other female figures are identified only by their relation to others, such as the wife of Adam and the mother of Moses, or by their title, such as the Queen of Sheba.” Mary is mentioned more times in the Quran than in the entire New Testament.
  4. Just as with all the other prophets, including Mohammed, Muslims recite, “Peace be upon him” every time they refer to Jesus.

    The name "Jesus, son of Mary" written in Arabic calligraphy, followed by "peace be upon him." بلال الدويك

    The name “Jesus, son of Mary” written in Arabic calligraphy, followed by “peace be upon him.” بلال الدويك

  5. Muslims believe that Jesus performed miracles: The Quran discusses several of Jesus’s miracles, including giving sight to the blind, healing lepers, raising the dead, and breathing life into clay birds.
  6. The story of Jesus’s birth as told in the Quran is also the story of his first miracle, when he spoke as an infant in the cradle and declared himself to be a prophet of God. Here’s the story:

And remember Mary in the Book, when she withdrew from her family to an eastern place. And she veiled herself from them. Then We [God] sent unto her Our Spirit [the angel Gabriel], and it assumed for her the likeness of a perfect man. She said, “I seek refuge from thee in the Compassionate [i.e., God], if you are reverent!” He said, “I am but a messenger of thy Lord, to bestow upon thee a pure boy.”

She said, “How shall I have a boy when no man has touched me, nor have I been unchaste?” He said, “Thus shall it be. Thy Lord says, ‘It is easy for Me.’” And [it is thus] that We might make him a sign unto mankind, and a mercy from Us. And it is a matter decreed.

So she conceived him and withdrew with him to a place far off. And the pangs of childbirth drove her to the trunk of a date palm. She said, “Would that I had died before this and was a thing forgotten, utterly forgotten!” So he called out to her from below her, “Grieve not! Thy Lord has placed a rivulet beneath thee. And shake toward thyself the trunk of the date palm; fresh, ripe dates shall fall upon thee. So eat and drink and cool thine eye. And if thou seest any human being, say, ‘Verily I have vowed a fast unto the Compassionate, so I shall not speak this day to any man.’”

Then she came with him [the infant Jesus] unto her people, carrying him. They said, “O Mary! Thou hast brought an amazing thing! O sister of Aaron! Thy father was not an evil man, nor was thy mother unchaste.” Then she pointed to him [Jesus]. They said, “How shall we speak to one who is yet a child in the cradle?”

He [Jesus] said, “Truly I am a servant of God. He has given me the Book and made me a prophet. He has made me blessed wheresoever I may be, and has enjoined upon me prayer and almsgiving so long as I live, and [has made me] dutiful toward my mother. And He has not made me domineering, wretched. Peace be upon me the day I was born, the day I die, and the day I am raised alive!”

That is Jesus son of Mary— a statement of the truth, which they doubt.

So although Muslims do not believe that Jesus is the son of God — an important distinction between Muslim and Christian views of him — Muslims do revere Jesus as an important prophet.



America’s True History of Religious Tolerance

Above Left : During the 1944 campaign for president, anti-Semites scrawled hate messages on a shop window in the Bronx, New York. (FPG / Hulton Archive / Getty Images)
Above Right: In 1844, an anti-Mormon mob murdered Joseph Smith and his brother Hyrum while they were held in an Illinois jail cell. (Granger Collection, New York)
By Kenneth C. Davis | The idea that the United States has always been a bastion of religious freedom is reassuring—and utterly at odds with the historical record

Wading into the controversy surrounding an Islamic center planned for a site near New York City’s Ground Zero memorial this past August, President Obama declared: “This is America. And our commitment to religious freedom must be unshakeable. The principle that people of all faiths are welcome in this country and that they will not be treated differently by their government is essential to who we are.” In doing so, he paid homage to a vision that politicians and preachers have extolled for more than two centuries—that America historically has been a place of religious tolerance. It was a sentiment George Washington voiced shortly after taking the oath of office just a few blocks from Ground Zero.

In the storybook version most of us learned in school, the Pilgrims came to America aboard the Mayflower in search of religious freedom in 1620. The Puritans soon followed, for the same reason. Ever since these religious dissidents arrived at their shining “city upon a hill,” as their governor John Winthrop called it, millions from around the world have done the same, coming to an America where they found a welcome melting pot in which everyone was free to practice his or her own faith.

The problem is that this tidy narrative is an American myth. The real story of religion in America’s past is an often awkward, frequently embarrassing and occasionally bloody tale that most civics books and high-school texts either paper over or shunt to the side. And much of the recent conversation about America’s ideal of religious freedom has paid lip service to this comforting tableau.
From the earliest arrival of Europeans on America’s shores, religion has often been a cudgel, used to discriminate, suppress and even kill the foreign, the “heretic” and the “unbeliever”—including the “heathen” natives already here. Moreover, while it is true that the vast majority of early-generation Americans were Christian, the pitched battles between various Protestant sects and, more explosively, between Protestants and Catholics, present an unavoidable contradiction to the widely held notion that America is a “Christian nation.”

First, a little overlooked history: the initial encounter between Europeans in the future United States came with the establishment of a Huguenot (French Protestant) colony in 1564 at Fort Caroline (near modern Jacksonville, Florida). More than half a century before the Mayflower set sail, French pilgrims had come to America in search of religious freedom.

The Spanish had other ideas. In 1565, they established a forward operating base at St. Augustine and proceeded to wipe out the Fort Caroline colony. The Spanish commander, Pedro Menéndez de Avilés, wrote to the Spanish King Philip II that he had “hanged all those we had found in [Fort Caroline] because…they were scattering the odious Lutheran doctrine in these Provinces.” When hundreds of survivors of a shipwrecked French fleet washed up on the beaches of Florida, they were put to the sword, beside a river the Spanish called Matanzas (“slaughters”). In other words, the first encounter between European Christians in America ended in a blood bath.

The much-ballyhooed arrival of the Pilgrims and Puritans in New England in the early 1600s was indeed a response to persecution that these religious dissenters had experienced in England. But the Puritan fathers of the Massachusetts Bay Colony did not countenance tolerance of opposing religious views. Their “city upon a hill” was a theocracy that brooked no dissent, religious or political.

The most famous dissidents within the Puritan community, Roger Williams and Anne Hutchinson, were banished following disagreements over theology and policy. From Puritan Boston’s earliest days, Catholics (“Papists”) were anathema and were banned from the colonies, along with other non-Puritans. Four Quakers were hanged in Boston between 1659 and 1661 for persistently returning to the city to stand up for their beliefs.

Throughout the colonial era, Anglo-American antipathy toward Catholics—especially French and Spanish Catholics—was pronounced and often reflected in the sermons of such famous clerics as Cotton Mather and in statutes that discriminated against Catholics in matters of property and voting. Anti-Catholic feelings even contributed to the revolutionary mood in America after King George III extended an olive branch to French Catholics in Canada with the Quebec Act of 1774, which recognized their religion.

When George Washington dispatched Benedict Arnold on a mission to court French Canadians’ support for the American Revolution in 1775, he cautioned Arnold not to let their religion get in the way. “Prudence, policy and a true Christian Spirit,” Washington advised, “will lead us to look with compassion upon their errors, without insulting them.” (After Arnold betrayed the American cause, he publicly cited America’s alliance with Catholic France as one of his reasons for doing so.)

In newly independent America, there was a crazy quilt of state laws regarding religion. In Massachusetts, only Christians were allowed to hold public office, and Catholics were allowed to do so only after renouncing papal authority. In 1777, New York State’s constitution banned Catholics from public office (and would do so until 1806). In Maryland, Catholics had full civil rights, but Jews did not. Delaware required an oath affirming belief in the Trinity. Several states, including Massachusetts and South Carolina, had official, state-supported churches.

In 1779, as Virginia’s governor, Thomas Jefferson had drafted a bill that guaranteed legal equality for citizens of all religions—including those of no religion—in the state. It was around then that Jefferson famously wrote, “But it does me no injury for my neighbor to say there are twenty gods or no God. It neither picks my pocket nor breaks my leg.” But Jefferson’s plan did not advance—until after Patrick (“Give Me Liberty or Give Me Death”) Henry introduced a bill in 1784 calling for state support for “teachers of the Christian religion.”

Future President James Madison stepped into the breach. In a carefully argued essay titled “Memorial and Remonstrance Against Religious Assessments,” the soon-to-be father of the Constitution eloquently laid out reasons why the state had no business supporting Christian instruction. Signed by some 2,000 Virginians, Madison’s argument became a fundamental piece of American political philosophy, a ringing endorsement of the secular state that “should be as familiar to students of American history as the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution,” as Susan Jacoby has written in Freethinkers, her excellent history of American secularism.

Among Madison’s 15 points was his declaration that “the Religion then of every man must be left to the conviction and conscience of every…man to exercise it as these may dictate. This right is in its nature an inalienable right.”

Madison also made a point that any believer of any religion should understand: that the government sanction of a religion was, in essence, a threat to religion. “Who does not see,” he wrote, “that the same authority which can establish Christianity, in exclusion of all other Religions, may establish with the same ease any particular sect of Christians, in exclusion of all other Sects?” Madison was writing from his memory of Baptist ministers being arrested in his native Virginia.

As a Christian, Madison also noted that Christianity had spread in the face of persecution from worldly powers, not with their help. Christianity, he contended, “disavows a dependence on the powers of this world…for it is known that this Religion both existed and flourished, not only without the support of human laws, but in spite of every opposition from them.”

Recognizing the idea of America as a refuge for the protester or rebel, Madison also argued that Henry’s proposal was “a departure from that generous policy, which offering an Asylum to the persecuted and oppressed of every Nation and Religion, promised a lustre to our country.”

After long debate, Patrick Henry’s bill was defeated, with the opposition outnumbering supporters 12 to 1. Instead, the Virginia legislature took up Jefferson’s plan for the separation of church and state. In 1786, the Virginia Act for Establishing Religious Freedom, modified somewhat from Jefferson’s original draft, became law. The act is one of three accomplishments Jefferson included on his tombstone, along with writing the Declaration and founding the University of Virginia. (He omitted his presidency of the United States.) After the bill was passed, Jefferson proudly wrote that the law “meant to comprehend, within the mantle of its protection, the Jew, the Gentile, the Christian and the Mahometan, the Hindoo and Infidel of every denomination.”

Madison wanted Jefferson’s view to become the law of the land when he went to the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia in 1787. And as framed in Philadelphia that year, the U.S. Constitution clearly stated in Article VI that federal elective and appointed officials “shall be bound by Oath or Affirmation, to support this Constitution, but no religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States.”

This passage—along with the facts that the Constitution does not mention God or a deity (except for a pro forma “year of our Lord” date) and that its very first amendment forbids Congress from making laws that would infringe of the free exercise of religion—attests to the founders’ resolve that America be a secular republic. The men who fought the Revolution may have thanked Providence and attended church regularly—or not. But they also fought a war against a country in which the head of state was the head of the church. Knowing well the history of religious warfare that led to America’s settlement, they clearly understood both the dangers of that system and of sectarian conflict.

It was the recognition of that divisive past by the founders—notably Washington, Jefferson, Adams and Madison—that secured America as a secular republic. As president, Washington wrote in 1790: “All possess alike liberty of conscience and immunity of citizenship. …For happily the Government of the United States, which gives to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance requires only that they who live under its protection should demean themselves as good citizens.”

He was addressing the members of America’s oldest synagogue, the Touro Synagogue in Newport, Rhode Island (where his letter is read aloud every August). In closing, he wrote specifically to the Jews a phrase that applies to Muslims as well: “May the children of the Stock of Abraham, who dwell in this land, continue to merit and enjoy the good will of the other inhabitants, while every one shall sit in safety under his own vine and figtree, and there shall be none to make him afraid.”

As for Adams and Jefferson, they would disagree vehemently over policy, but on the question of religious freedom they were united. “In their seventies,” Jacoby writes, “with a friendship that had survived serious political conflicts, Adams and Jefferson could look back with satisfaction on what they both considered their greatest achievement—their role in establishing a secular government whose legislators would never be required, or permitted, to rule on the legality of theological views.”

Late in his life, James Madison wrote a letter summarizing his views: “And I have no doubt that every new example, will succeed, as every past one has done, in shewing that religion & Govt. will both exist in greater purity, the less they are mixed together.”

While some of America’s early leaders were models of virtuous tolerance, American attitudes were slow to change. The anti-Catholicism of America’s Calvinist past found new voice in the 19th century. The belief widely held and preached by some of the most prominent ministers in America was that Catholics would, if permitted, turn America over to the pope. Anti-Catholic venom was part of the typical American school day, along with Bible readings. In Massachusetts, a convent—coincidentally near the site of the Bunker Hill Monument—was burned to the ground in 1834 by an anti-Catholic mob incited by reports that young women were being abused in the convent school. In Philadelphia, the City of Brotherly Love, anti-Catholic sentiment, combined with the country’s anti-immigrant mood, fueled the Bible Riots of 1844, in which houses were torched, two Catholic churches were destroyed and at least 20 people were killed.

At about the same time, Joseph Smith founded a new American religion—and soon met with the wrath of the mainstream Protestant majority. In 1832, a mob tarred and feathered him, marking the beginning of a long battle between Christian America and Smith’s Mormonism. In October 1838, after a series of conflicts over land and religious tension, Missouri Governor Lilburn Boggs ordered that all Mormons be expelled from his state. Three days later, rogue militiamen massacred 17 church members, including children, at the Mormon settlement of Haun’s Mill. In 1844, a mob murdered Joseph Smith and his brother Hyrum while they were jailed in Carthage, Illinois. No one was ever convicted of the crime.

Even as late as 1960, Catholic presidential candidate John F. Kennedy felt compelled to make a major speech declaring that his loyalty was to America, not the pope. (And as recently as the 2008 Republican primary campaign, Mormon candidate Mitt Romney felt compelled to address the suspicions still directed toward the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.) Of course, America’s anti-Semitism was practiced institutionally as well as socially for decades. With the great threat of “godless” Communism looming in the 1950s, the country’s fear of atheism also reached new heights.

America can still be, as Madison perceived the nation in 1785, “an Asylum to the persecuted and oppressed of every Nation and Religion.” But recognizing that deep religious discord has been part of America’s social DNA is a healthy and necessary step. When we acknowledge that dark past, perhaps the nation will return to that “promised…lustre” of which Madison so grandiloquently wrote.

Kenneth C. Davis is the author of Don’t Know Much About History and A Nation Rising, among other books.



Atrocities against Christians in the Central African Republic

Inside PK5 – Extra Scene from 'United in Hate: Central African Republic' (Vice News)

In March 2013, the Seleka, a coalition of predominantly Muslim-armed groups from the northeast, marched on the Central African Republic's capital Bangui and seized power.

They committed mass atrocities against the population, and to the largely Christian population in the southwest, Muslims began to be associated with violence. They took up arms to form a Christian self-defense militia called the anti-balaka, and carried out revenge killings.

By the end of 2013, the Central African Republic had descended into civil war. Under pressure from the international community, the Seleka were forced to give up power and retreated towards the northeast, where they regrouped.

A United Nations peacekeeping mission and a French military operation were able to stem the fighting, but despite their presence, the transitional government has not been able to regain control of the country outside Bangui.

With the anti-balaka controlling the southwest, and the Seleka controlling the northeast, the Central African Republic is de facto partitioned along ethno-religious lines. For those who find themselves on the wrong side of the divide, life has become hell.

In this extra scene, VICE News goes to PK5, a predominantly Muslim enclave of the Central African Republic's capital of Bangui, which has seen some of the most violent and brutal fighting between Muslim and Christian communities since the start of the conflict.

Watch Original video on Vice News. "United in Hate: The Fight for Control in CAR"
VICE News is an international news organization created by and for a connected generation. For inquiries please contact newsinfo@vice.com.

 



Nigeria Elections 2015 Muslims & Christians: Religion Being Used To Divide Voters, Opposition Party Says

By The All Progressives Congress, Nigeria's main opposition party, has released a statement claiming certain politicians are trying to attract votes based on religious lines. Above, policemen stand guard with an armored vehicle outside the venue of a rally for the party in the Ipaja district of Lagos Feb. 9, 2015. Reuters/Akintunde Akinleye

Nigeria’s lead opposition party has accused other politicians of asking the country's Muslim voters to cast their ballots in favor of Muslim candidates in the national elections scheduled for next month, according to local media reports. On Thursday, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, national publicity secretary of the All Progressives Congress, issued a statement saying that those who had long attempted to use religion to divide voters were doing so once again.

"They are hoping that by further inflaming passion with the highly emotive issue of religion, they can revive their shriveling political fortunes,” the statement said. Without appearing to target specific individuals or parties, it accused some politicians of circulating “satanic leaflets” that would pit Christians against Muslims. “Nigerians should not be taken in by this cheap plot,” the statement added.

Nigeria's People's Democratic Party, however, responded to the statement as if it were being accused of creating such a plot, saying that the All Progressives Congress' presidential candidate could benefit from such behavior and was merely trying to find a scapegoat, ostensibly for religious divides in the country. According to NGRguardiannews.com, the People's Democratic Party released a statement of its own that said, "The PDP needs neither religious nor ethnic cleavages to campaign and win the 2015 presidential elections." 

Although some of its more vague claims did not appear directed at the People's Democratic Party, the statement by the All Progressives Congress did highlight a previous situation where it said its opponent had used religion to try to garner votes. In early February, the vice president of Nigeria, Mohammed Namadi Sambo, urged voters not to be deceived by religion when voting in elections. During a campaign for the People’s Democratic Party, he said, “When people bring the issue of religion to deceive you, our party has more Muslims than APC [All Progressives Congress].” He then compared the number of Muslims in the People’s Democratic Party’s leadership with the lack of Muslims in the All Progressive Congress’ leadership, asking, “Which between the parties has more Muslims?”

The All Progressives Congress said in its statement that its party was more diverse than the People’s Democratic Party had portrayed. “We ask Nigerians to disregard anyone peddling religion as a tool for securing votes in any part of the country. Faith is a personal thing to individuals and no responsible government will seek to use religion to divide the people,” the party said.

Nigeria has more than 250 ethnic groups and has something of a geographic religious divide, with the south of the country being predominantly Christian and most Muslims living in the north. Bloomberg has reported that in Nigerian elections, ethnicity and religion historically have been influential among voters than actual policies and platforms, saying that politicians stir up ethnic and religious sentiments in their favor.

National elections in Nigeria are set for March 28, postponed from Feb. 14 after military leaders said they would not be able to provide security for the elections, as it was fighting Boko Haram, the militant group that controls much of the northeast of the country. On Wednesday, the Nigerian army claimed that its forces had killed more than 300 of Boko Haram's militants.