Tag Archives: Church History

The “Breaking of the Bread” … or Whatever You Call It

“This is my Body… This is my Blood.”

One Sunday of every month, and after the sermon, two ministers from my church, stand in front of a decorative wooden table, and instruct the congregation to receive the elements, in remembrance of Christ’s death upon the cross. But what to call this ceremony remains a subject of some debate.

At the first Pentecost, following the Resurrection, that signaled the birth of the church, we read that:

“They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.”(Acts 2:32 ESV)

Many Christians still speak of “the breaking of (the) bread” to express what goes on at that table, though by association, it also includes the partaking of wine, or grape juice, as is done in my church.1 A long standing debate in the church at large, over what this means, invites rigorous discussion among believers. Does the bread and wine/juice merely symbolize the presence of Christ, as a memorial, or do they somehow point to a real, even physical(??), presence of the Lord Jesus, at that very moment?

We have explored some of the details of this controversy some time ago on Veracity. But for the moment, I have a simpler question: What do we call the whole thing, with the bread and the wine or juice, to begin with?

One of most original terms was the Greek “eucharist,” meaning “thanksgiving.” The terminology of “eucharist” goes back to the late 1st century, or early 2nd century worship manual of the early church, the Didache, to reference this most sacred meal. The term has biblical precedence behind it:

For I received from the Lord what I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it, and said, “This is my body, which is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.”(1 Corinthians 11:23-24 ESV)

Nevertheless, a number of terms have arisen since then to describe the sacred meal, not just “eucharist.” So, what is the best terminology? Eucharist? The Divine Liturgy? The Blessed Sacrament? The Mass? What else? Continue reading


Why the Reformation (Still) Matters

Yesterday, Halloween, we also recognize (or “should recognize,” more importantly) that this year marks the 499th year after Martin Luther nailed his 95 theses to the door of the Castle Church, in Wittenberg, Germany. Does the Reformation that Luther’s hammer triggered all those years ago still matter today? Pastor/teachers Don Carson, John Piper and Tim Keller answer that question.


Kirk Cameron’s Monumental Missed Opportunity

Kirk Cameron's 2012 film, Monumental, is worth seeing, but only if accompanied by good, historical scholarship to correct the inaccuracies and misguided theology.

Kirk Cameron’s 2012 film, Monumental, is worth seeing, but only if accompanied by good, historical scholarship to correct the inaccuracies and misguided theology.

I love history. I love it because history tells us who we are. The study of history tells us about where we have come from as individuals and as societies, and it helps to tell us where we are going. We ignore the lessons of history at our peril, as George Santayana said, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” Sadly, we live in an age where we suffer as a culture, and particularly as a Christian church, from chronic amnesia. We risk fulfilling the prophecy of Santayana with such terrifying disinterest and apathy.

The story of the Christian faith is rooted in history. The life, death and resurrection of Jesus, as well as the narrative of ancient Israel, are events that exist within space and time. As believers, we are under obligation to get the story right. So, it bothers me when those of us as Christians, who should care the most about history, tend to misrepresent that history, fudging on the story at certain points to advance misguided theological agendas. Even if we deem the motives to be well-intended, we do no favors to the church and the surrounding world with unsubstantiated alterations that distort the telling of that history.

This explains the frustration I felt when I recently viewed Kirk Cameron’s 2012 documentary, Monumental. I was indeed entertained by watching Monumental, but I am not so sure if I was equally educated. As a work of amateur historiography, Monumental is worthy of consideration and a thoughtful discussion starter. But as a serious documentary of responsible scholarship, Monumental falls short. It made me want to plead with Kirk Cameron, the famous actor turned film producer, “can I call for a do-over?” I know that I am just a few years “late to the party,” but please allow me to explain.
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Saint Augustine on the Literal Interpretation of Genesis

Saint Augustine.  Champion of the biblical doctrine of Grace..... but troublesome to many regarding the damnation of unbaptized infants.

Saint Augustine. Bishop of Hippo. (354-430)

In recent years, some have argued that anything other than a “literal” reading of the first few chapters of Genesis would be a compromise against the authority of the Bible. Any other approach is a capitulation to the spirit of the modern age that would undermine the faith of the believer, smuggling in a materialist, evolutionary worldview that is inconsistent with and hostile to Holy Scripture.

The modern concern is genuine, and it should not be taken lightly. The idea of injecting philosophies that are at odds with Christian faith should indeed be rejected by those who care for the absolutely supremacy of God’s Word. Nevertheless, such an argument with respect to materialist evolution would have been completely incomprehensible to the early church scholar and Bible teacher, Saint Augustine.

For the great African Christian intellectual of the early 5th century, Augustine had other concerns. An atheistic, “Darwinian evolution” could not be anachronistically inserted into his thought or vocabulary. In his classic work, De Genesi ad litteram, known in various ways in English as “On the Literal Interpretation of Genesis,” Augustine wrestled with the most appropriate way to interpret God’s Word faithfully. For Augustine, to interpret something “literally” means to interpret “in the sense intended by the author.”

Studying the history of the church is a neglected task in today’s evangelical Christianity, which is obsessed with the supposed virtues of “newness,” continually reinforced by rapid changes in technology (would you have read this blog on your phone ten years ago??). But church history can tell us a lot about ourselves today. Do we have the courage and discipline to learn from our forebears?

In the early church, Christians held different views on the interpretation of Genesis, just as we find today. On one side, there were those like Basil the Great, who saw the days of Genesis as being 24-hour creation days, thus rejecting the allegorizing approach advocated by Origen of Alexandria. Augustine was well aware of these debates, and he sought a different way to work through the issues. Augustine’s theory that God created everything instantaneously, based on his understanding of Psalm 33:6-9, is surely out of step with most Christian views of earth’s origins today, but nevertheless he still offers some advice that might help believers who wrestle with these challenging biblical texts.

Does Augustine help you? Read on, and let me know what you think.

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Your Goose is Cooked! – The Martyrdom of Jan Hus

Six hundred years ago today, Czechoslovakian reformer Jan Hus (1369-1415) was martyred for his faith. Roughly one hundred years before the arrival of Martin Luther, Jan Hus was preaching that the Bible alone was his authority. Hus had been drawn to the writings of another early church reformer from England, John Wycliffe, who championed the idea that Christian doctrine should be founded upon Holy Scripture and not the vague speculations of man.

As a priest, Hus vigorously opposed the sale of indulgences and corruption within the church.  People obtain forgiveness for their sins through true repentance, not from giving money to church officials. Needless to say, there were church leaders who were not happy with Hus’ message. Under the false pretense of offering safe conduct, Jan Hus was lured to the Council of Constance where he was tried for heresy, found guilty, and burned at the stake.

His last name in Czech, “Hus,” literally means “goose,” and the story of his martyrdom is where we get the phrase “your goose is cooked.”

Luther wrote this about Jan Hus:

I could not understand for what cause they had burnt so great a man, who explained the Scriptures with so much gravity and skill.

Most people have forgotten about this little known reformer, who hailed from a part of the Czech republic named “Bohemia.” Hus was thus the original “Bohemian,” an early pioneer of today’s evangelical Christianity, with the emphasis on the final authority of the Bible for Christian belief and practice. If you value having a high view of Holy Scripture, you would do well to remember Jan Hus today.

Professor Ryan Reeves at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary gives a 30-minute,  partial lecture on the life and contribution of Jan Hus. The legacy of Jan Hus continued on in Bohemia among the so-called “Hussites,” who resisted the hegemony of medieval, politicized Roman Catholicism. Yet as Reeves soberly points out, even movements that seek to elevate a high view of Scripture can splinter and disintegrate when certain factions develop that effectively split over relatively obscure theological points and get a little weird and crazy. In fact, things got so bad after Jan Hus died, that the legendary Joan of Arc wrote a letter threatening to bring her armies into Bohemia in order to straighten things out.

The lesson here?  Keep your focus on the supreme character of Holy Scripture, but make an attempt to sincerely listen and learn from those who might share different opinions from yours about Biblical interpretation, lest you go off the deep end all in the name of supposedly “defending the Bible.”

Boy, we sure need this message today!


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