Egypt’s Coptic Christians, and the Unity of the Body of Christ

Palm Sunday terror in a blood-stained Coptic Christian church in Egypt, 2017 (credit: Agency France-Presse)

Tragedy gripped the world when Islamic State militants killed 44 Coptic Christians in Egypt, while worshippers gathered to celebrate Palm Sunday (New York Times). But a few of my Christian friends were probably wondering, what is a “Coptic Christian,” and are they really Christian?

Joe Carter, a blogger at The Gospel Coalition, has a great FAQ summary, explaining what happened, and who the Coptic Christians are. But I want to focus on answering some of the specific concerns of my friends. More importantly, I want to have you think about what it might teach us, for evangelical Christians. Continue reading


Why Different Christians Recite the Lord’s Prayer Differently

Thomas Cranmer, 16th century Archbishop of Canterbury, who guided King Henry VIII’s efforts to standardize an English version of the Lord’s Prayer.

Have you ever been a little confused when it comes to saying the Lord’s Prayer in a church service?

I remember when I first visited an evangelical church, that did not have a fixed, liturgical tradition. When it came to reciting the Lord’s Prayer, one group was still saying, “And forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us….,” while the other group had finished their, “And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors…,” several seconds earlier. The “debtors” waited patiently until “trespassers,” like me, had finished, before continuing together.

So, why the cacophony of voices among Christians?

Protestant Christians have been known for having multiple methods of saying the so-called, “Lord’s Prayer,” what many Catholics call the “Our Father,” based on the first two words of the prayer. My Catholic friends often tease me for the endless varieties of worship among English-speaking Protestants.

But it really was not meant to be that way. Much of the story goes back to the period of the Reformation, in 16th and 17th century England. Continue reading


Vatican II, Embracement, and Pope Francis: Roman Catholicism Today

Martin Luther, a “heretic” or “a witness to the Gospel?” How has the Roman Catholic communion changed in 500 years? (credit: Finland stamp from 1967, from a ETWN web page)

I need some help from my Roman Catholic friends. It is difficult to figure out exactly what is going on in Rome today.

An Italian evangelical leader, Leonardo De Chirico, gave a very thoughtful 30-minute message at a recent Ligonier Conference, in this year of remembering the 500th anniversary of the start of the Protestant Reformation. In the video below, Chirico argues that in order to understand Roman Catholicism today, we need to have in mind three concepts/names:

  • Vatican II: The 16th century Council of Trent codified for hundreds of years what has been traditionally understood to be Roman Catholicism, the high water mark for the Catholic Counter-Reformation, a formulation of doctrine that sought to refute many of the reforms of Martin Luther and other Protestants. The next major council, Vatican I, set much of Roman Catholicism against the changing modern world of the 19th century, affirming the work of the Council of Trent, and reinforcing traditional boundaries. But the early 1960s, Vatican II council changed all of that. However, Vatican II did so, not by altering the doctrine of the church, but rather, by changing the tone and attitudes towards those outside of the Roman communion.
  • Embracement: Vatican II set the wheels in motion, whereby this change of tone and attitude has characterized the trajectory of the Roman church for the past fifty-plus years. Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict put the brakes on much of this Vatican II trajectory, embodying the doctrinal commitments that have traditionally defined Rome. Still, incremental changes in smaller ways, in terms of a warmer spirit of embracement and inclusiveness of others, made their way into the church. But the doctrine remained effectively the same.
  • Pope Francis: Now however, unlike his recent predecessors, Francis has downplayed the doctrine and turned up the warmth of this new spirit of embracement. Arguably, Francis is the first truly “Vatican II”-like Pope. In the past four years since his ascendancy, Francis has hinted at or suggested various reforms in the church, some that point towards reconciliation with other parties in the universal Christian community (like Protestants and Eastern Orthodox), some that thrill liberals and others outside of  the church, and some that horrify Catholic conservatives.

What are we to make of all of this?

Briefly stated, on the one hand, Roman Catholicism has never been a monolithic movement, even during the era of the Council of Trent. On the other hand, Protestants can easily misrepresent what Roman Catholics believe and think, and that does harm to efforts to try to heal the divisions of the last 500 years. That being said, here are two things that come to mind as examples of what puzzles me, as to what is coming out of Rome in the Pope Francis era:

  • A generation ago, those Catholics who experienced the tragedy of divorce, were conscience-bound to go through the process of securing an annulment for improper Catholic marriages. Nowadays, fewer divorced Catholics even bother with the annulment proceedings. Also, according to authoritative Catholic tradition, regular confession is a required sacrament of the Catholic Church, and yet, I know many Catholic friends who rarely, if ever, go to confession. What are we to make of all of this?

Leonardo De Chirico offers some insights from a Reformed Protestant perspective. I can imagine that many traditional Catholics might be terribly dismayed by all of the changes. Can any of my Roman Catholic friends help me out here? Are Chirico’s observations correct?

Ligonier Ministries, associated with Bible teacher R. C. Sproul, has some great resources, particularly for those with interest in the theology of the Protestant Reformation. In this year, the 500th anniversary of the Reformation, Ligonier sponsored their annual conference, with the theme of the Reformation, and you can even view all of the videos of the conference on YouTube.

 


A Modest Defense of the “Billy Graham Rule”

There is quite a bit of chatter in social media recently about Vice President Mike Pence’s adherence to the so-called “Billy Graham Rule.” Many have mocked Pence’s statement that “he never eats alone with a woman other than his wife.” Briefly, the “Billy Graham Rule” was an unwritten pact between the early members of Billy Graham’s evangelistic team, that they would avoid even the appearance of infidelity. These men pledged not to eat, travel, or meet with any woman alone, except their wives. This rule, which covered more than just the issue of sexual infidelity, served to protect this ministry from the allegations of impropriety, for a long string of decades, that many Christians have admired as basic, common sense.

Surprisingly, the criticism of this rule has come, not simply from secular sources, but from Christians as well. Much of the furor concerns the endless egalitarian versus complementarian debates that consume the energies of many of today’s Christians (I tell some of my story here). Progressive Christian blogger, Rachel Held Evans, tweeted that “Jesus scandalized the disciples by meeting with a woman for a drink,” a reference to Jesus’ meeting of the Samaritan woman at the well, in John 4.

The critics have a point. The “Billy Graham rule” arose during a time when it was relatively uncommon to find women in the work force, in the late 1940s. When I began my career in engineering in 1980s, things had drastically changed in society. For about five years, I shared a large office with three other women engineers. There were times when I was alone with one of these women in the office, and neither of us thought anything about it. It was just part of our jobs to work together. So I get it.

But such critics have obscured something essential, in their defense of seeing women fully integrated in the workplace. The “Billy Graham rule” should not be lost as some legalistic concept, to be discarded as being sexist. Rather, we must be mindful of the principle that undergirds the rule, namely, that all people, men and women, who wish to honor their Lord, should not put themselves in compromising situations.

George Beverly Shea, Billy Graham, and Cliff Barrows, the young evangelists, who sought to live lives above reproach.

Fundamentally, people like Pence and Graham have been simply protecting their marriages, protecting themselves, and protecting those who have come under their familiar influence. As followers of Jesus, we should all do the same. The human tendency towards sin is much stronger than we are willing to admit to ourselves and realize. What often starts off as legitimate and harmless in our interpersonal relationships, business or otherwise, can easily slip into something completely inappropriate, over a period of time. The principle behind the Graham rule is that we should have those checks and balances in place that will keep us honest. All of us need healthy boundaries, to keep us from crossing lines of behavior, that we would soon regret. Just ask those former pastors and ministry leaders who failed to keep an appropriate version of the “Billy Graham rule,” starting counseling relationships privately, with those of the opposing gender, who after a small indiscretion here and there, eventually lost their jobs, scandalized their ministries, and destroyed their families.

The drawings of those specific boundaries will change as cultural conditions change, and such “rules” may still look strange to outsiders. Jesus met with the woman at a public well, not a dimly lit, secluded room. Yet the concept of a public well, in first century Palestine, seems strange, when contrasted with the contemporary American workplace or ministry setting. We will need to tweak certain applications of the principle behind the “Billy Graham rule,” in a culturally contextual manner. But the principle of avoiding compromising situations is a good thing to keep. Let us not mock that.


Ivor Noël Hume, and the Evidence for Faith

Ivor Noel Hume, in the filming of "Search for a Century," a 1970s Colonial Williamsburg production.

Ivor Noël Hume, actor turned famous archaeologist, in the filming of “Search for a Century,” a 1970s Colonial Williamsburg production.

Ivor Noël Hume, a pioneering archaeologist of colonial America, died on February 4, 2017. As the New York Times tells it in their remembrance, Hume was an “accidental, self-taught English-born archaeologist who unearthed the earliest traces of British colonial America.” He was the director of archaeology at the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation from the mid to near late 20th century, excavating 18th century Williamsburg, as well as 17th century settlements in the area, notably, Wolstenholme Towne, at the Carters Grove estate. Most locals now know of the place as part of Martin’s Hundred, in the neighborhood of the Kingsmill community subdivision.

I only met Mr. Hume a few times growing up as a kid, but my late father, George Alan Morledge, worked with him at Colonial Williamsburg. My dad, an historical architect, had been hired by Colonial Williamsburg vice president, Ed Kendrew, to assist in the team effort with the archaeologist Hume. From digging below ground to restoring 18th century structures above, these historians across various disciplines enjoyed the pursuit of evidence that helped to reconstruct Williamsburg, and other local, historical sites, to paint a portrait of what life really looked like in the early years of colonial Virginia.

Many consider Hume to be the “father of historical archaeology.” As I remember him, mostly through my dad, Ivor Noël Hume was quite a character.
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