What is the Apocrypha? (In Six Minutes)

Why are Protestant Bibles shorter than Roman Catholic Bibles? Bible scholar Bill Mounce explains why in less than six minutes. I have to note one small correction to Dr. Mounce in the video, in that while much of the Apocrypha was written in Greek, not all of it was. Some books of the Apocrypha were written in Hebrew, some in Aramaic, and some we do not know for sure. But those Apocryphal works in the Septuagint were all translated into Greek. Either way, after the fall of Jerusalem in 70 A.D., most Jews rejected the Apocryphal books of the Old Testament as being on par with the rest of Scripture.


Reformation Dialogue at Regensburg: An Attempt to Heal That Failed

Gasparo Contarini (1483-1542). Italian Reformer within the Roman Catholic Church. Contarini oversaw the Catholic delegation at the Diet of Regensburg. Aside from his influence in the Reformation, he is often remembered as one of the chief proponents of Ignatius of Loyola’s Jesuit order.

Sixteenth-century Europe was deeply divided by the fires of the Protestant Reformation, ignited by the German seminary professor, Martin Luther. In less than 25 years, the Christian West was torn asunder, Catholics versus Protestants, and even Protestants versus Protestants. The different sides were often talking past one another, and sometimes severe violence erupted. The emperor of the then Holy Roman Empire, Charles V, was desperate to find unity in his beleaguered Europe. The Islamic Turks threatened from the East, and in 1541, Charles turned to both Catholic and Protestant leaders, for a last ditch attempt to pull everyone together, to resist the outside menace.

The city of Regensburg, known to the French as “Ratisbon,” was chosen for the meeting. It would be a dialogue between the various parties, what was then known as a “colloquy” or “diet.” Charles had selected some of the brightest leaders to represent both sides. Sadly, the names of these men are often forgotten to history. As is often the case, more flamboyant or extreme figures are etched in people’s memory, like Martin Luther, King Henry VIII, and Pope Leo X. But here I want to focus on two such, less well-known individuals, and how they sought to heal the theological and spiritual rift in Europe.
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On a Mission from God: The Jesuits

Martin Scorsese’s 2016 film, Silence, tells the story of Jesuit priests caught in the thick of Japanese shogun persecution of Catholic Christians, in the early 17th century. This critically acclaimed film is based on a book, of the same name, by Shūsaku Endō.

While 16th century Reformation Europe was embattled with conflict between Roman Catholics and Protestants (and at times, between Protestants and other Protestants), the growth of Christianity exploded across the “New World,” with missionary enterprises extending from the Americas, to the far corners of Asia.

With only a few exceptions, Protestants were generally too preoccupied by their conflicts with Rome, and their own internal conflicts, to be fully engaged in this world missions effort, at that present time. Instead, the Roman Catholic church, following the discoveries of new trade routes and new lands, sent missionaries out in great numbers, to bring the message of Christianity to the world.

One of the main engines behind this missionary zeal was due to the founding of the Society of Jesus, otherwise known as the Jesuits, in the 16th century. In 1521, the same year as Luther’s famous appearance before the emperor Charles V, at the Diet of Worms, a Spanish soldier was severely wounded in the legs, thus ending his military career. Ignatius of Loyola spent months in recovery, where he had access to a theological library, to bide his time, while he was on the mend. It was here where he underwent a spiritual conversion, and developed the Spiritual Exercises, a manual for Christian growth.

Ignatius went onto study theology in France, which was just then enveloped in turmoil, due to the Reformation, causing another student, John Calvin, a few years later, to flea the country, to Geneva, Switzerland. But Ignatius was suspicious of the Reformation, with its emphasis on private Bible interpretation, and held to Roman Catholic ideals. Nevertheless, Ignatius was bothered that so few priests and members of existing monastic orders had very little in the way of theological education. Along with a group of friends, Ignatius found favor with the Pope to form the Society of Jesus, in 1540, as a new monastic order, that aimed at combining advanced theological education, with Christian mission.

The Jesuits have been known to be very loyal in their service of the papacy. In some cases, their loyalty has proved to be overzealous. The 16th century Roman Catholic Queen of England, Mary, has been known as “Bloody Mary” among Protestants, to this day, due to her execution of some 300-400 Protestant leaders, in her efforts to force England back into Roman Catholicism. However, in later years, Protestant Queen Elizabeth I, of England, exceeded the brutality of her half-sister, Mary. What is often not known, is that Elizabeth had perhaps 1,000 Roman Catholics executed, during her reign. Many of those executed were members of the Jesuit order, as some of those Jesuits had been involved in assassination attempts against Elizabeth’s life, thus encouraging the Queen to crack down on the presence of Jesuits in England.

Saint Ignatius of Loyola. 1491-1556. (Credit: Wikipedia)

However, the Society of Jesus, in the 16th century, was mainly known for their extensive missionary efforts across the world. Frances Xavier, one of Ignatius’s friends, baptized thousands, all across Asia, in the name of the Christian faith. The missionary strategy of the Jesuits was quite remarkable: If you focus your energies on reaching the leaders of a nation, or ethnic group, and they become Catholic, then the rest of their people, under the leader’s authority, will follow in their footsteps. This is why Roman Catholicism continues to be the dominant Christian faith across the world, from Latin America to the Philippines.

The strategy proved effective across much of Asia. But it backfired tragically in Japan. Jesuit missionaries made efforts to reach leading families of shogun elite in Japan, as early Portuguese traders made their way into the western Pacific. Thousands received Christian baptism. But when in-fighting began among these shogun families, the missionary efforts of the Jesuits came under suspicion. The situation was not helped by the growing presence of newer Franciscan missions, that took a different strategy, focusing their efforts on reaching the poor, and thus encouraging those poor to rise up above their oppressive situations. On top of that, Dutch and English Protestants warned the Japanese leaders about reported subversive tendencies of the Jesuits. Little did the Dutch and English know that the Japanese understood nothing of the distinctions between Protestant and Roman Catholic, and soon, all of Christianity in Japan was under attack.

By the early 17th century, and within a fairly short period of time, all Christian missionaries were banned, thus ending the Western Christian missionary enterprise in Japan. The new Japanese leadership embarked on the most severe and brutal campaign of Christian persecution, nearly wiping out all of the new professing Christians, with literally thousands and thousands of crucifixions, mocking the central feature of Christian faith: Jesus’ death on the cross.

The tiny, surviving Christian community went underground after that, only re-emerging when the American military made contact with Japan, in the mid-19th century. Today, the nation of Japan is one of the least open cultures to the Gospel, with less than 2% Christians, and Japan is sometimes called “the graveyard of Christian missions.”

Nevertheless, church planting efforts in Japan today are starting to show fruit, through God’s providence. But the work is often slow, and the workers are few.

The vibrant era of Jesuit missionary work in the 16th century, across the world, highlights the significance of what historians now call the “Catholic Reformation.” Previous historians, mainly Protestant, have called this the “Catholic Counter-Reformation” instead, thus indicating that the growth of movements like the Society of Jesus were a response to Protestantism. There is some truth to this. But this designation takes away from the fact that there were efforts, with varying levels of degrees, and varying levels of success, that tried to reform the medieval Roman Catholic Church from within.

As my longtime high school friend, Virginia Woodward, recently blogged, Ignatius of Loyola leaves us an enduring legacy. Here are some of Virginia’s favorite quotes from Ignatius of Loyola, the founder of the Jesuits:

“Go forth and set the world on fire.”
“Laugh and grow strong.”
“He who carries God in his heart bears heaven with him wherever he goes..”

 

Here is the trailer to the Martin Scorsese move, Silence:


Did the Continental Congress Publish America’s First Bible?

The Aitken Bible, the “Bible of the American Revolution,” remains a source of confusion, for many Christians today. A rare copy of this Bible is on display at the new Museum of the Bible.

The Museum of the Bible, which opened in Washington, D.C. in November, 2017, seeks to educate visitors about the role of the Bible in America. We need such a museum, as an examination of the evidence reveals a number of misconceptions people, even some Christians, have had about America and the Bible.

Prior to the American Revolution, most of the colonies embraced some form of public commitment to Christianity. For example, in those days, the Church of England was the official faith of my native state Virginia (then a colony), supported by law and the collection of taxes. If you considered yourself an “Episcopalian” or an “Anglican,” you were in good company.

But if you were a Baptist, you might have problems. For example, weddings performed by Baptist clergy were not legally recognized in the colony of Virginia. So, if you were Baptist, and you could not abide by the wedding liturgy of the Church of England, you were in trouble. For according to the law, you and your Baptist spouse would be “living in sin,” unless an Anglican priest married you.

The favoritism towards the Church of England, in Virginia, lasted through the Revolutionary War period. The Church of England, which became the “Episcopal Church” in America, was finally disestablished in the new state of Virginia, in 1786. This was accomplished by the passing of the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom, a document anticipating the religious freedom clauses of the federal Bill of Rights, amended to the U.S. Constitution, in the early 1790s. The traditional link between Christian church and state was effectively broken, by America’s Founding Fathers. But even as late as 1902, Virginia’s religious freedom clause, in the state constitution, still maintained this admonition, originally written in 1776, “it is the mutual duty of all to practice Christian forbearance, love, and charity towards each other.

Therefore, a common secularist canard, that Christianity was never really part of the founding of America, can be easily dismissed. True, Christianity, broadly speaking, was not, in a strict sense, the “official” religion of America, in the early decades of the young republic. The Founding Fathers, and American leaders after them, were certainly not opposed to the spread of Christianity, but they were increasingly inclined not to make explicit, governmental endorsements of the faith. However, for all practical purposes, Christianity was the de facto standard of faith, towards the latter end of the 18th century, and even into much of the 19th and early 20th centuries.

Nevertheless, a commonly accepted belief today comes under scrutiny here: What about the Continental Congress? Did not the Continental Congress actually print the first American Bible in English? Was not this first Bible distributed for use in public schools? Was this not an explicit, government endorsement of Christianity?

Let us consider the evidence: You should take a minute to view the following YouTube advertisement, promoting the Museum of the Bible’s (MOTB) grand opening. On display is the so-called Aitken Bible, what the museum calls “the Bible of the American Revolution.” Pay careful attention to how the MOTB frames the story, and then keep reading:

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The Museum of the Bible

The Museum of the Bible, in Washington, D.C., opens November 17, 2017

The Museum of the Bible opens in Washington, D.C. on November 17, 2017. The Green family, founders of the nationwide chain of Hobby Lobby arts and crafts stores, envision this museum to tell the story of the Bible. Here will be displayed an impressive collection of Bible artifacts, using the latest technology,  in a completely new and compelling way.

But why a $500 million “Museum of the Bible?” Like many other cultural observers, the Greens are concerned that Americans are suffering from historical amnesia about the Bible. Despite its cultural importance, biblical illiteracy is extremely low among Americans today, even for many professing Christians. Hopefully, a museum dedicated to educating people about the Bible might help stem back, or even reverse, this trend.

However, folks should know that the museum has its critics, and what they are saying. When the Green family began years ago to travel the world and collect a few Bible artifacts, from antiquity, they really did not know what they were doing. As critical scholars Candida Moss and Joel Baden write in their book, Bible Nation: The United States of Hobby Lobby, the Greens eventually had to settle a court dispute by paying a hefty fine and returning thousands of artifacts that had been illegally obtained from their rightful owners.

The Greens have promised that they have learned from these mistakes, but a number of critics still have other issues with the museum. The Museum of the Bible is located just a few blocks from the Washington Mall, raising concerns that the Greens are engaging in a new tactic in the “culture wars,” by casting out their vision of America as a “Christian nation.” The Museum of the Bible is purely a private venture, with no government sponsor. But having a 430,000 square foot exhibition so close to the nation’s public Smithsonian collection of museums, will probably confuse some visitors.

Some of those firmly in the evangelical camp have their own suspicions, from a completely different angle. In a recent Christianity Today magazine review of the museum’s exhibits, we learn that a potential, wealthy donor was dismayed that the Museum of the Bible will not have a “decision” room available, whereby museum visitors nearing the end of the exhibits, might commit their lives to Christ, with counselors standing-by. Because of the absence of such a room, the prospective donor rescinded his offer for support.

Or, as a recent Washington Post article put it, the Museum of the Bible has a whole lot about the Bible, “but not a lot of Jesus.” Steve Green, the chair of the museum, responds that direct evangelism is “not [the Museum’s] role. Its role is to present facts and let people make their own decisions.” The Greens have one primary goal for presenting the Bible to America: Just try reading it!

In addition, evangelical Christians across other parts of the world, may have their own concerns: Is the Bible being captured by Americans, at the exclusion of other cultures, and thus diminishing a more global appreciation of the Bible? Over time, the experience of visitors will largely provide answers to such difficult questions.

However, despite what critics say, the fact remains that the Bible has played an incredibly influential role in the history of America. From the New England Puritan attempts to build a “Bible commonwealth,” in the early Atlantic colonies, to the trauma of the 1960s Civil Rights Movement, the Bible has remained at the center of private and public American life. From Gideon Bibles in hotel rooms, and on college campuses, to the eccentric uses of the Bible by Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses, the Bible is right there in the thick of the American experience.

Unlike the Creation Museum and Ark Encounter in Kentucky, that promotes a view of the Bible that causes controversy within the evangelical Christian movement, the Museum of the Bible promises to promote a more nonsectarian approach to the Bible, which should garner wider support. No matter how well the museum is received by visitors, the display promises to be excellent in quality, engaging and inspiring to those who deeply love the sacred text, and a memorable experience.

If you do not believe me, watch the 3-minute promotion video below (a Biblical prophet, the Dead Sea Scrolls, the Gutenberg Bible and Luther’s revolution, the Sistine Chapel, the beginnings of modern science, Wesley’s stormy journey across the Atlantic with the Moravians, the American Revolution, Lincoln and the Civil War, emancipation of slavery and Martin Luther King Jr…. breathtaking). If you go to Washington sometime, and stop by to see the museum, drop a comment here on the Veracity blog, and tell us what you think!


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