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This year, Shrove Tuesday falls on February 28.

As I wrote in 2016, various traditions involving food and merriment take place on this day, because Lent begins 24 hours later:

Nearly all European countries mark Shrove Tuesday with a special food item or fat-laden feast, a final opportunity for enjoyment before Lent begins on Ash Wednesday.

These customs are centuries old and spread to other countries around the world with European exploration and settlement.

The Reformation could not put paid to old pre-Lenten customs which live on today. The British and many Commonwealth nations still call Shrove Tuesday Pancake Day. In Scandinavia and parts of Northern Europe, people enjoy semla, a sweet bun filled with frangipane and topped with whipped cream. People in Iceland celebrate Bursting Day by eating salted meat and peas.

Many countries celebrate Carnival or hold other ancient festivities on Shrove Tuesday.

In Britain, a number of towns in Britain hold pancake races, which date back to the 15th century …

Regarding pancake races, Shrove Tuesday is referred to as Pancake Day in much of the UK. Our pancakes are crêpes, although American pancakes are becoming more popular.

Christians observing Lent have it relatively easy today. Centuries ago, many foods — not just meat — were forbidden during this time of fasting and penitence. The BBC page on Lent states that fish, fats, eggs, and dairy products were also off the menu. Therefore:

So that no food was wasted, families would have a feast on the shriving Tuesday, and eat up all the foods that wouldn’t last the forty days of Lent without going off.

The need to eat up the fats gave rise to the French name Mardi Gras (‘fat Tuesday’). Pancakes became associated with Shrove Tuesday as they were a dish that could use up all the eggs, fats and milk in the house with just the addition of flour.

Beginners who would like to make crepes might find the following recipes of interest:

Top tips for foolproof crêpes (base recipe can also be done for savoury)

Crêpes with Churchmouse’s Amaretto sauce

Fisheaters has a pancake recipe, too, along with recipes for Dutch Baby baked pancakes and Polish Pazcki, jam-filled donuts.

It is possible to enjoy Shrove Tuesday in a Christian way. It is unfortunate that it is uniquely associated with the revelry of Mardi Gras parades, which get so much publicity.

Why not take this time to have a fun, food-oriented celebration with family and friends?

Stained glass question jeremypryorwordpresscomDuring the Middle Ages, good Christians were expected to prepare for Lent after the Church season of Epiphany ended.

This tradition lasted until the mid-20th century in the Catholic Church. Vatican II put paid to it. However, some Anglican and Lutheran congregations also recognised Shrovetide.

Shrovetide begins on Septuagesima Sunday and comprises Sexagesima Sunday and Quinquagesima Sunday (commonly called Shrove Sunday). My post, ‘The Sundays before Lent’ explains what each of these ancient names mean and what they signified in terms of spiritual disciplines. In brief, they mark the days before Easter: 70, 60 and 50, respectively. Centuries ago, some Christians began Lenten fasting the day after Septuagesima Sunday.

The word ‘shrove’ is the past tense of ‘shrive‘, an archaic verb meaning:

Present oneself to a priest for confession, penance, and absolution.

The Sundays of Shrovetide provided a Latin-language based countdown to Easter. You can read more about both in my posts from 2016 and 2010, respectively:

Shrovetide — a history

The Sundays before Lent — an explanation (the Sundays that define Shrovetide)

Our forebears had a much better focus on personal piety than most of us today. Perhaps it is time for those of us abiding by the Church calendar make more use of older traditions, which also have a biblical basis with regard to sanctification.

These spiritual disciplines are not mere ‘works’. Exercised properly, they can help us to bear better fruits of faith.

Bible spine dwtx.orgThe three-year Lectionary that many Catholics and Protestants hear in public worship gives us a great variety of Holy Scripture.

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

My series Forbidden Bible Verses — ones the Lectionary editors and their clergy omit — examines the passages we do not hear in church. These missing verses are also Essential Bible Verses, ones we should study with care and attention. Often, we find that they carry difficult messages and warnings.

Today’s reading is from the English Standard Version with commentary by Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

Acts 5:27-28

27 And when they had brought them, they set them before the council. And the high priest questioned them, 28 saying, “We strictly charged you not to teach in this name, yet here you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching, and you intend to bring this man’s blood upon us.”

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Last week’s entry described the surprise of the captain of the temple and the prison officers discovering the escape of the Apostles from prison. An angel of the Lord freed them.

When we left off last week, the captain of the temple and the prison officers took the Apostles away once more. However, they were gentle, because they feared that the crowd might stone them (verse 26).

The Apostles appeared before the council, where the high priest questioned them (verse 27). Matthew Henry tells us they considered the Twelve:

as delinquents.

John MacArthur says this was a momentous occasion for the Apostles:

here they are right back and the stage is set for sermon number two to the Sanhedrin, and the attendance has grown because now the senate is there. This is even better.

The high priest charges them with three offences (verse 28): disobeying the order not to preach about Christ Jesus, filling Jerusalem’s people with enthusiasm for Him and accusing the Jewish hierarchy of sentencing Him to death.

Henry offers this analysis (emphases mine):

Thus those who make void the commandments of God are commonly very strict in binding on their own commandments, and insisting upon their own power: Did not we command you? Yes, they did; but did not Peter at the same time tell them that God’s authority was superior to theirs, and his commands must take place of theirs? And they had forgotten this. 2. That they had spread false doctrine among the people, or at least a singular doctrine, which was not allowed by the Jewish church, nor agreed with what was delivered form Moses’s chair. “You have filled Jerusalem with your doctrine, and thereby have disturbed the public peace, and drawn people from the public establishment.” Some take this for a haughty scornful word: “This silly senseless doctrine of yours, that is not worth taking notice of, you have made such a noise with, that even Jerusalem, the great and holy city, is become full of it, and it is all the talk of the town.” They are angry that men, whom they look upon as despicable, should make themselves thus considerable. 3. That they had a malicious design against the government, and aimed to stir up the people against it, by representing it as wicked and tyrannical, and as having made itself justly odious both to God and man: “You intend to bring this man’s blood, the guilt of it before God, the shame of it before men, upon us.”

Henry points out the hypocrisy of these accusations:

See here how those who with a great deal of presumption will do an evil thing yet cannot bear to hear of it afterwards, nor to have it charged upon them. When they were in the heat of the persecution they could cry daringly enough, “His blood be upon us and upon our children; let us bear the blame for ever.” But now that they have time for a cooler thought they take it as a great affront to have his blood laid at their door. Thus are they convicted and condemned by their own consciences, and dread lying under that guilt in which they were not afraid to involve themselves.

MacArthur says the Apostles would have willingly agreed with the charges brought upon them:

So the first indictment was disobedience. The second charge they made against them was that they had accused them of the death of Christ. Notice it at the end of the verse: “And you intend to bring this man’s blood on us.” You’re saying all over the place that we are guilty. That’s right. That’s exactly what we’ve been saying. You guys have really gotten it right. Your charges are totally accurate. We’ve been disobedient and we’ve been indicting you

They had the indictment right. They were disobedient and in fact they were accusing them of crucifying Christ. Then this wonderful commendation in the middle of the verse: “And behold you have filled Jerusalem with your doctrine.” Praise the Lord! That’s what we’ve been trying to do. Mission accomplished! Saturation evangelism! What a commendation.

Episodes such as these make Acts an irresistible book of the New Testament. With the Holy Spirit descending upon them at that first Pentecost, the Apostles were spiritually on fire — and unabashedly taking the Good News to the temple!

They were teaching and healing with a consistent and singular message, as the angel who freed them directed (Acts 5:20):

20 “Go and stand in the temple and speak to the people all the words of this Life.”

MacArthur retraces Peter’s consistent indictment of the religious authorities in Acts:

Chapter 2:23 he says, “You have taken and by wicked hands crucified.” Chapter 2:36 he says, “Let all the house of Israel know assuredly that God hath made that same Jesus, whom you have crucified, Lord and Christ.” Chapter 3:15, “You killed the Prince of life.” Chapter 4: verse, I think it’s 10 and 11, “Be it known unto you all, all the people of Israel that by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom ye crucified.” Sure, we’ve been saying that all along. You did it.

He also points out the hypocrisy of the religious leadership:

But have you forgotten Matthew 27:25? Jesus was to be crucified and they all screamed crucify Him, crucify Him and then they said this, “His blood be,” where, “On us.” They wanted it. Peter is not accusing them of anything that they didn’t desire to be accused of.

However, something else troubled the Jewish hierarchy: the miracle of the Apostles’ prison escape. It was too much for them to handle:

… there’s no question about the miracle of the escape. You know what? They don’t dare to ask them about it because they don’t want to hear about it. They’re so sick of hearing about miracles they’re already so messed up in their minds that another miracle would just really be too much to handle. So in all of that conversation they don’t even ask them how in the world they got out of jail. You know, my mind is made up. Don’t confuse me with facts.

MacArthur explains that the Apostles experienced this great Spirit-driven power because they had a pure church, after the Lord took the lives of deceivers Ananias and Sapphira, his wife:

So you see the effective evangelism of the early church was built on purity, power, and persecution. Let me give you a fourth one and then we’ll wrap it up. And I changed it while I was sitting here. The fourth one in your outline is preaching. Put down persistence. That’s a better word for it. That reflects what it’s really saying.

Persistence! And this again is the idea of the cork that keeps popping back up. They just never quit.

The next few verses, providing the proof of persistence, are in the three-year Lectionary, but without the rest of Acts 5, the average pewsitter is lost in a big cloud of ‘So what?’ Understanding all of Acts 5 makes the next few verses really powerful. Consider all of the following verses highlighted:

29 But Peter and the apostles answered, “We must obey God rather than men. 30 The God of our fathers raised Jesus, whom you killed by hanging him on a tree. 31 God exalted him at his right hand as Leader and Savior, to give repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins. 32 And we are witnesses to these things, and so is the Holy Spirit, whom God has given to those who obey him.”

Peter went back to righteously defy the religious leaders with truth. He was following the directives of God, not those of men.

May we follow his example in our own lives, trusting in the Holy Spirit to provide the right words at the right time.

Next time: Acts 5:33-42

Bible readingThe three-year Lectionary that many Catholics and Protestants hear in public worship gives us a great variety of Holy Scripture.

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

My series Forbidden Bible Verses — ones the Lectionary editors and their clergy omit — examines the passages we do not hear in church. These missing verses are also Essential Bible Verses, ones we should study with care and attention. Often, we find that they carry difficult messages and warnings.

Today’s reading is from the English Standard Version with commentary by Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

Acts 5:17-21

The Apostles Arrested and Freed

17 But the high priest rose up, and all who were with him (that is, the party of the Sadducees), and filled with jealousy 18 they arrested the apostles and put them in the public prison. 19 But during the night an angel of the Lord opened the prison doors and brought them out, and said, 20 “Go and stand in the temple and speak to the people all the words of this Life.” 21 And when they heard this, they entered the temple at daybreak and began to teach.

Now when the high priest came, and those who were with him, they called together the council, all the senate of the people of Israel, and sent to the prison to have them brought.

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Last week, we read about the very early Church in Jerusalem restored to purity after the deaths of the duplicitous Ananias and Sapphira.

The Apostles, led by Peter, preached in Solomon’s Portico at the temple. Peter, in particular, healed many sick people. With his powerful preaching immediately following on the first Pentecost, he converted thousands of men and more — uncounted — women and children, according to John MacArthur. So many had converted by now, they were impossible to count (Acts 5:14):

14 And more than ever believers were added to the Lord, multitudes of both men and women …

And these believers had pure hearts and minds, because everyone by then knew about Ananias and Sapphira. If you were dishonest, God took your life.

The high priest saw all this activity. So did the men around him, the Sadducees. All were deeply jealous of the Apostles (verse 17). It seems an odd reaction, until we consider Matthew Henry’s explanation. They:

saw their wealth and dignity, their power and tyranny, that is, their all, at stake, and inevitably lost, if the spiritual and heavenly doctrine of Christ should get ground and prevail among the people.

The Sadducees — rationalists to the core — despised the divine supernatural, most of all Christ’s Resurrection. They were also the elite who brokered agreements with the Romans so the Jews could live in peace. Therefore, they thought they had Jesus crucified and buried once and for all. To now see daily crowds in Solomon’s Portico hearing about the Resurrection of Christ and seeing healing miracles was too much for them. They were not about to succumb to the Apostles. They were going to put a stop to their ministry. Henry tells us (emphases mine):

When they heard and saw what flocking there was to the apostles, and how considerable they were become, they rose up in a passion, as men that could no longer bear it, and were resolved to make head against it, being filled with indignation at the apostles for preaching the doctrine of Christ, and curing the sick,–at the people for hearing them, and bringing the sick to them to be cured,–and at themselves and their own party for suffering this matter to go so far, and not knocking it on the head at first. Thus are the enemies of Christ and his gospel a torment to themselves. Envy slays the silly one.

The high priest — Annas or Caiphas — arrested the Apostles and imprisoned them among base criminals (verse 18).

So we see here that the message of Christ offends, deeply.

MacArthur says:

If you’re going to live for God in this world, a godly life, a pure life, you’re going to be bumping into the system, and you’re going to irritate the system, and you’re going to get persecuted

The only thing that Jesus is talking about when he’s talking about suffering and bearing His reproach is confronting the world so much and with such effect that the system reacts violently and you get some flack back. And that’s exciting. And you ought to be happy about that.

Then a wondrous, supernatural thing happened. An angel of the Lord opened the prison doors and freed the Twelve (verse 19).

This is the first of the miraculous prison stories of Acts. An angel freed Peter again in Acts 12. An earthquake freed Paul and Silas from prison in Acts 16. God wanted the Church to expand. Prison was not going to stop the divine plan.

Matthew Henry says there was spiritual symbolism in this act:

This discharge of the apostles out of prison by an angel was a resemblance of Christ’s resurrection, and his discharge out of the prison of the grave, and would help to confirm the apostles’ preaching of it.

Returning to today’s passage (verse 20), the angel told the Apostles to go back to the temple and

speak to the people all the words of this Life.

The angel did not say to lie low or to leave Jerusalem. No.

They were to return to Solomon’s Portico, stand resolutely and speak boldly — to the people. To the people, not to the hierarchy to try and convince them of the reality of Christ.

From this, we can see why and how the elites are so far above themselves that the vast majority of humankind does not concern them in the slightest.

Henry elaborates:

To whom they must preach: “Speak to the people; not to the princes and rulers, for they will not hearken; but to the people, who are willing and desirous to be taught, and whose souls are as precious to Christ, and ought to be so to you, as the souls of the greatest. Speak to the people, to all in general, for all are concerned.”

Also note that the angel said to speak ‘all the words’ — not just the comfortable, convenient ones.

Which brings us to the angel’s word ‘Life’. What did it mean in that context? What does it mean today?

Ultimately, it refers to the Resurrection of Christ which brings us eternal life.

Henry explains what it meant for the Apostles:

This life which you have been speaking of among yourselves, referring perhaps to the conferences concerning heaven which they had among themselves for their own and one another’s encouragement in prison: “Go, and preach the same to the world, that others may be comforted with the same comforts with which you yourselves are comforted of God.” Or, “of this life which the Sadducees deny, and therefore persecute you; preach this, though you know it is this that they have indignation at.” Or, “of this life emphatically; this heavenly, divine life, in comparison with which the present earthly life does not deserve the name.” Or, “these words of life, the very same you have preached, these words which the Holy Ghost puts into your mouth.” Note, The words of the gospel are the words of life, quickening words; they are spirit, and they are life; words whereby we may be saved–that is the same with this here, Acts 11:14. The gospel is the word of this life, for it secures to us the privileges of our way as well as those of our home, and the promises of the life that now is as well as of that to come. And yet even spiritual and eternal life are brought so much to light in the gospel that they may be called this life; for the word is nigh thee.

MacArthur says:

Men are dead. And they’re groping in this kind of deadness to find reality and it isn’t there and the only thing they really need is life and there’s only one who can give life and that’s Jesus, who said, “I am the way, the truth and,” what? “The life.” Of whom John said, “He that hath the Son,” what? “Hath life.” And to come alive is what it is to be saved. All of a sudden you sense God and you’re alive to His world and you’re a part of what He is and what He’s doing. And this is life. And it doesn’t say tell the people all the words that add to their life. Christianity is not a part of life, it is life and apart from it you’re dead.

Encouraged, the Apostles returned at dawn to the temple to teach (verse 21). The temple opened at daybreak, so the Twelve went in as soon as they could.

While the Apostles continued their marvellous ministry, the high priest convened with his council before calling the Twelve from the cells. He was unaware that his prisoners had resumed their holy work.

MacArthur tells us:

you can see the austerity of this occasion. They’re getting ready now to deal with these upstarts. “The high priest came, and they that were with him,” he had this little gang that trailed around, that were kind of attached to him theologically, “And they called the council together,” that’s the Sanhedrin, the ruling elders of Israel, and then they got in addition to that, which is the senate,” which is grusia, which has to do probably with all of the elder, older Jews, the wise older men who in years past had served in many capacities and they called together this kind of a Senate of wise men made up of many Pharisees.

So they had all of the brain trust of Israel meeting together to dispense with these guys and then they sent to the prison to have them brought. You go and you bring the prisoners. We’ll deal with them.

Henry gives us the numbers:

they called together, pasan ten gerousianall the eldership, that is (says Dr. Lightfoot), all the three courts or benches of judges in Jerusalem, not only the great sanhedrim, consisting of seventy elders, but the other two judicatories that were erected one in the outer-court gate of the temple, the other in the inner or beautiful gate, consisting of twenty-three judges each; so that, if there was a full appearance, here were one hundred and sixteen judges. Thus God ordered it, that the confusion of the enemies, and the apostles’ testimony against them, might be more public, and that those might hear the gospel who would not hear it otherwise than from the bar. Howbeit, the high priest meant not so, neither did his heart think so; but it was in his heart to rally all his forces against the apostles, and by a universal consent to cut them all off at once.

The story continues next week.

Next time: Acts 5:22-26

Bible boy_reading_bibleThe three-year Lectionary that many Catholics and Protestants hear in public worship gives us a great variety of Holy Scripture.

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

My series Forbidden Bible Verses — ones the Lectionary editors and their clergy omit — examines the passages we do not hear in church. These missing verses are also Essential Bible Verses, ones we should study with care and attention. Often, we find that they carry difficult messages and warnings.

Today’s reading is from the English Standard Version with commentary by Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

Acts 5:12-16

Many Signs and Wonders Done

12 Now many signs and wonders were regularly done among the people by the hands of the apostles. And they were all together in Solomon’s Portico. 13 None of the rest dared join them, but the people held them in high esteem. 14 And more than ever believers were added to the Lord, multitudes of both men and women, 15 so that they even carried out the sick into the streets and laid them on cots and mats, that as Peter came by at least his shadow might fall on some of them. 16 The people also gathered from the towns around Jerusalem, bringing the sick and those afflicted with unclean spirits, and they were all healed.

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The last two posts were about the deaths of Ananias and his wife Sapphira who thought they could deceive God and the Holy Spirit by denying the fledgling church of full proceeds from a property sale that they had pledged to the Apostles.

John MacArthur summarises this succinctly:

… it was just at that point that Satan struck, and tragedy hit … the great sin that threaten­ed to be a blight on the church, the sin of Ananias and Sapphira who lied to the Holy Spirit, in an effort to gain religious prestige and to be thought of as spiritual. They did things that were extremely carnal, and God had to discipline them in the face of the whole church, and He did it by just executing them right there, they dropped dead on the spot. And God pointed out the severity of sin, in the fellowship of the church. God did the disciplining there, because they needed to learn a graphic lesson. And so the cancer that had swept into the church so briefly was immediately operated on by God and put out.

This was the only blot on the landscape of the earliest days of the Church. MacArthur takes us through the magnificent Spirit-led growth that resulted after the first Pentecost as Acts describes it (emphases mine):

In 2:41 for example it says, there were added 3,000 souls, in Acts 2:47 it says, the Lord added to their number daily such as should be saved. In Acts 4:4 it says, the number of men came to be about 5,000, and in addition to the men would be the women and children. In chapter 5 verse 14 it says, and more than ever believers were added to the Lord, multitudes of men and women.

With Ananias and Sapphira buried, the Church is pure once again:

A holy instru­ment is a powerful weapon in the hand of God, you see. God really only works in a positive way through holy instruments. And the church that is to reach the world must be pure. It must be a church that deals with sin. A church that is pure in the world fits the first qualifi­cation for effective evangelism. Now God did the purifying in the case of chapter 5 there, and I think God still does some purifying in the church. We read in the Book of Hebrews that everyone whom He loves He chastens. He scourges every son. So God is still doing some chasten­ing, and it may just be that God is still killing some Christians too.

This brings us to today’s verses. MacArthur says we can read them as two different sets. He says there is a ‘parenthesis’ from the second sentence in verse 12 through verse 14. In fact, Matthew Henry’s version of the Bible actually has parentheses in these places.

These are the two things we glean from this passage:

12 Now many signs and wonders were regularly done among the people by the hands of the apostles. 15 so that they even carried out the sick into the streets and laid them on cots and mats, that as Peter came by at least his shadow might fall on some of them. 16 The people also gathered from the towns around Jerusalem, bringing the sick and those afflicted with unclean spirits, and they were all healed.

And they were all together in Solomon’s Portico. 13 None of the rest dared join them, but the people held them in high esteem. 14 And more than ever believers were added to the Lord, multitudes of both men and women,

Let’s look at them as we have them in divinely inspired Scripture.

Thanks to the Holy Spirit, the first sentence in verse 12 tells us that all the divine healing and miracles Jesus did was transmitted into the hands of the Apostles at that time. Matthew Henry explains:

The miracles they wrought proved their divine mission. They were not a few, but many, of divers kinds and often repeated; they were signs and wonders, such wonders as were confessedly signs of a divine presence and power.

Henry draws our attention to the words ‘among the people’:

They were not done in a corner, but among the people, who were at liberty to enquire into them, and, if there had been any fraud or collusion in them, would have discovered it.

All were together in Solomon’s Portico, therefore, out in the open air at the temple. The sentence has more resonance in the King James Version:

and they were all with one accord in Solomon’s porch.

Henry tells us:

The church was hereby kept together, and confirmed in its adherence both to the apostles and to one another

He addresses the seeming incongruity of Jesus’s followers being allowed to worship openly in the temple grounds:

God inclined their hearts to tolerate them there awhile, for the more convenient spreading of the gospel; and those who permitted buyers and sellers could not for shame prohibit such preachers and healers there.

This is where Christian worship began — before St Paul’s conversion. Henry says we should heed this example:

early was the institution of religious assemblies observed in the church, which must by no means be forsaken or let fall, for in them a profession of religion is kept up.

Verse 13 might need clarification. Who were ‘the rest’ who did not join in? Who were those — ‘them’ — the people held in such high esteem?

Henry tells us that those present, filled with the Holy Spirit, deferred to the Apostles as the Twelve had the divine gifts of healing. MacArthur’s take is slightly different. He thinks St Luke wrote here about non-Christians:

You know why people didn’t line up with that movement? That was dangerous! I mean you could drop dead in that deal. You know who they got into their movement? They got only the people who were really committed, true? You better believe it. Nobody but nobody is going to swing into that move­ment in a hypocritical attitude. Nobody is going to get into that deal unless they are really sold out to Jesus Christ, totally, it’s too ris­ky. I mean they can spot sin, and what happens to sinners? They drop dead. Can you imagine how the rumors flew? Boy, don’t go near those guys, there are really….. that’s strong stuff. You get in there and mess around and it’s over. You see, the pure church that deals with sin, keeps itself pure because it keeps the tares out. Do ya get it? You see, people don’t flock to join that kind of a movement

And with this purity and power of the Apostles came the high esteem from the converts. Henry tells us:

Observe, The apostles were far from magnifying themselves; they transmitted the glory of all they did very carefully and faithfully to Christ, and yet the people magnified them; for those that humble themselves shall be exalted, and those honoured that honour God only.

Verse 14 is important because we read that women were welcome in the Church. Jesus’s followers intermingled and worshipped together. They were religious equals, unlike in the Jewish system where women had to worship separately in the Court of Women in the temple at Jerusalem. (Even today, conservative synagogues still separate women from men.) They were also not obliged to participate in certain religious feasts.

And, all the while, the Church grew and grew in Jerusalem. MacArthur says:

It grew so fast, they couldn’t count it anymore, they stopped counting.

It grew because:

it was a pure church and as a result of being a pure church, it grew. Now when we start talking about evangelism, people, we do not start talking about evangelism when we leave this place with a little tract in our hand, we start talking about evangelism right here. As we work within our own lives, and amidst our own congregation on the principles of purity. That’s where evangelism begins.

It is difficult to imagine the tremendous crowds bringing in the sick, hoping to just have a bit of Peter’s shadow cast over them for healing (verse 15). MacArthur says a man’s shadow was very important culturally in that part of the world:

It’s an interesting thing, the Orientals you know, believed that a man’s shadow carried his influence, and parents would run and take their little children into the shadow of great men. And just as much, parents would grab their little children and snatch them and pull them away from the shadow of someone they disliked, in Oriental fantasy. But none the less expressed here, it doesn’t say Peter’s shadow healed anybody. It just says they believed that if Peter’s shadow passed by, this was a part of their Oriental belief. But boy, they sure thought something of Peter, they really did. I studied this, and I asked my­self the question, I don’t see anybody runnin’ to get into my shadow. And I thought well, that’s sure a principle that we oughta apply in all of our lives. Is there something about us that causes people to run to us? Is there something so attractive and dynamic about the power of God expressed in our lives that people want to run to be with us? Pray to God it would be so.

Henry interprets Peter’s shadow spiritually:

God expresses his care of his people, by his being their shade on their right hand; and the benign influences of Christ as a king are compared to the shadow of a great rock. Peter comes between them and the sun, and so heals them, cuts them off from a dependence upon creature sufficiency as insufficient, that they may expect help only from that Spirit of grace with whom he was filled. And, if such miracles were wrought by Peter’s shadow, we have reason to think they were so by the other apostles, as by the handkerchiefs from Paul’s body (Acts 19:12), no doubt both being with an actual intention in the minds of the apostles thus to heal;

Verse 16 underscores that all the ailing or those with unclean spirits who were presented were healed. That also means the healing was immediate and complete, as it was with Jesus.

Henry has this observation:

… distempered bodies and distempered minds were set to rights. Thus opportunity was given to the apostles, both to convince people’s judgments by these miracles of the heavenly origin of the doctrine they preached, and also to engage people’s affections both to them and it, by giving them a specimen of its beneficial tendency to the welfare of this lower world.

This period in the Church’s history is the Apostolic Era. It lasted for a limited period of time. MacArthur explains:

God does healing miracles today, but not through these same gifts, since these have passed away. These were only for the beginning of this age and incidentally if you study your Bible correctly you’ll find that at the beginning of all the major ages of the Bible, miracles were a part of the initiation. There is no promise that miracles would continue in this age, they are not even promised for the end of the age. People say well, it’s the end of the church age, so miracles are happen­ing. You won’t find that in the Bible anywhere. Nowhere does it say that the church age is going to end in a burst of miracles. The test­imony of the Holy Spirit says at the end of the church age, watch this, there will be apostasy, lawlessness, departure from the faith, false religions, delusions, doctrines of devils and all the way down, every­thing but miracles. It says there will be signs and wonders however, divine miracles, it says there will be signs and wonders, Second Thess­alonians 2. They will be lying wonders, propagated by whom? Satan. So if you’re looking for miracles today, expect the source to be Satan. And we’re seeing them. Now of course this full thing isn’t until the tribulation, but we’ve already begun to see the mystery of iniquity working right now, haven’t we? Some of these lying wonders that are happening under demonic influence.

During the Apostolic Era, the Holy Spirit worked through the Apostles, enabling the Church to grow and expand from Jerusalem to the Near East. True faith and utmost purity enabled it to spread to northern Africa and to Europe.

Next time: Acts 5:17-21

The Anheuser-Busch commercial for the Superbowl this year, scheduled to air on February 5, has kicked up a storm and is viewed by a number of Americans as pro-immigration advertising.

It comes a week after President Donald Trump initiated a 90-day immigration ban on seven countries which have majority Muslim populations. These selected countries lack the means for sufficient background checks on their own citizens. (More about this in a future post.)

See if you think this is political commentary:

I have two problems with it. First, by the time Adolphus Busch arrived in the United States in 1857, Germans had been emigrating there for a century, at least. They were well established in society. Secondly, it was unclear to me that the final scene was the famous ‘when Anheuser met Busch’ moment. I thought he was a random guy in a bar until I saw a YouTube from Mark Dice explaining it in the first minute or so:

Budweiser, owned by InBev — a Belgian corporation — denies it is commenting on Trump policy or an anti-immigration climate.

However, I cannot help but wonder if Adolphus Busch would have wanted to be portrayed in that way. Most immigrants wanted to assimilate straightaway. They were not going to dwell on the voyage over, their processing time at Ellis Island or their early years getting established. Everything was about becoming an American.

If you doubt this, then, please be aware that his Wikipedia entry states (emphases mine):

His wealthy family ran a wholesale business of winery and brewery supplies. Busch and his brothers all received quality educations, and he graduated from the notable Collegiate Institute of Belgium in Brussels.[2]

Another German immigrant came to America in the 19th century. His name was Friedrich Trump, pictured at left (courtesy of Wikipedia). He was a Lutheran and came from Kallstadt in Bavaria. He managed to make a fortune within three years. He went everywhere, from New York to the Yukon. Nary a complaint. Even the most recent Channel 4 documentary by anti-Trump Matt Frei on his grandson — shown in late January 2017 — painted Friedrich as a clever, enterprising businessman. That makes me think Adolphus Busch was of the same entrepreneurial mindset.

You didn’t go to the US as a victim then, that’s for sure.

Incidentally, Friedrich returned to Kallstadt after three years only to go through a series of legal hurdles regarding his German nationality! He found out it had been revoked, possibly because he went to the US around the time he was to do his military service. So, back to America he went and the rest is history. According to Matt Frei’s documentary, Friedrich quietly enjoyed his life a lot but died in the Influenza Epidemic of 1918. His widow, Elizabeth — also from Kallstadt — set up a real estate company for her middle son Fred, the president’s father. It was called Elizabeth Trump & Son. Fred was still a minor at the time, even though he was precocious enough to follow in his father’s footsteps and get small houses built.

I recommend that we need to watch these adverts with a gimlet eye and research the immigrant mindset of the 19th and early 20th centuries, very much oriented to assimilating into American society — as future Americans.

Hundreds of thousands of people attended the March for Life in Washington, DC on Friday, January 27, 2017. This year’s theme was ‘The Power of One’.

Local Marches for Life took place around the nation, and a Marche pour la Vie in France attracted tens of thousands of people.

The exact number of participants in Washington is not yet known. However, that is unimportant.

For the first time, a vice president addressed the pro-life crowd. Presidents Ronald Reagan and George W Bush telephoned in to the march during their tenure but never appeared in person.

Mike Pence said, in part:

I’m deeply humbled to stand before you today. I’m deeply humbled to be the first vice president of the United States to ever have the privilege to attend this historic event.

More than 240 years ago, our founders wrote words that have echoed through the ages.

They declared these truths to be self-evident that we are, all of us, endowed by our Creator with certain unalienable rights, and that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

44 years ago, our Supreme Court turned away from the first of these timeless ideals.

But today, three generations hence, because of all of you, and the many thousands that stand with us in marches like this all across the nation, life is winning again in America.

That is evident in the election of pro-life majorities and the Congress of the United States of America. But it is no more evident, in any way, than in the historic election of a president who stands for a stronger America, a more prosperous America, and a president who, I proudly say, stands for the right to life – President Donald Trump.

President Trump actually asked me to be here with you today. He asked me to thank you for your support, for your stand for life, and for your compassion for the women and children of America.

President Donald Trump could not attend. He held a meeting and press conference with British Prime Minister Theresa May. However, he sent this message:

Another speaker at the event, Christian talk-show host Eric Metaxas, explained Trump’s position to The Atlantic:

He’s been shockingly, and perhaps even ironically, the most pro-life president in the history of the republic. He is widely perceived as being anything but a social conservative. Somebody who has had three wives and who has been pro-choice most of his life … is not the kind of person you would expect to advocate for the unborn. But he’s 70 years old. I think he has a sense of the weight of his new position.

The Atlantic article also stated:

In just his first week, Trump has signaled that he will be loyal to the pro-life movement, whose members arguably helped him carry the White House. The March for Life showed that he’s not just amenable to pro-life policies—he’s aligning his White House with the culture of the pro-life movement, as well.

Trump’s senior counsellor Kellyanne Conway — the first woman to ever manage a winning presidential campaign in the United States — also spoke. Conway turned 50 on Inauguration Day. She is a married mother of four. Despite her hectic work schedule and responsibilities, she loves when her children call her ‘mommy’. None dare call this fearless woman — who gives interviews that male Trump advisers won’t — a feminist!

She told the crowd:

I am a wife, a mother, a Catholic, Counselor to the president of the United States of America and, yes, I am pro-life.

It is such an honor to stand with the vice president of the United States. And with so many leaders, families and students from places near and far, to defend the unborn. Your courage, your conviction, your resolve and your faith are impressive and consequential. This is a new day, a new dawn for life …

It is no coincidence that the first right cited in the Declaration of Independence is the right to life. It is a right. It is not a privilege. It is not a choice. It is God-given. It is unique and it is beautiful. This dismissive notion of out of sight, out of mind is over.

Science and medicine have joined religion and morality in causing many Americans to rethink just how fragile and how triumphant human life truly is.

Other speakers included Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York, Sen. Joni Ernst (R-IA), Rep. Mia Love (R-UT), Rep. Chris Smith (R-NJ), Benjamin Watson, Tight End for the Baltimore Ravens, Abby Johnson, Former Planned Parenthood Director and founder of “And Then There Were None”, Karyme Lozano, Mexican telenovela star, and Bishop Vincent Mathews Jr., President at Church of God In Christ World Missions.

Look — no Democrats.

Mia Love said:

Every time we kill a child, all of us suffer. We lose a little of ourselves and a whole lot of our future. We strip a child from their God-given potential when we, as a society, accept abortion as health care. My fellow Americans, we cannot accept what might have been. We won’t know what might have been if we allow an organization to convince our pregnant women that they have no choice but to abort the life and the potential within them.

The night before, Pence met with pro-life leaders:

Earlier on Thursday, LifeNews.com reported that Trump bashed the media, predicting little to no coverage of the march:

Trump first slammed the media in an interview with ABC News. Then today during his address to the Republican Leadership Retreat, Trump said that the March for Life will have hundreds of thousands of people but the mainstream media will barely cover it if it all.

“You know, the press never gives them the credit that they deserve. They’ll have three hundred, four hundred, five hundred, six hundred thousand people, you won’t even read about it,” he said …

“When other people show up, you read big-time about it, right?” Trump asked the crowd, referring to the pro-abortion Women’s March …

Trump also defended his decision to sign the Mexico City Policy, defunding International Planned Parenthood.

March for Life president Jeanne Mancini dismissed queries about crowd size. LifeNews.com reported (emphases mine below):

Mancini immediately dismissed any comparison to last week’s Women’s March on Washington, saying that the organizers were not concerned with crowd size or likes on social networks. Instead, Mancini said that the only number that she was concerned about was abortion’s death toll over the 44 years since the Roe vs. Wade decision.

“The only number I care about, and the only number that we all care about is – 58 million. Since 1973, 58 million Americans have died as a result of abortion. We stand here today for them – for the little innocent children who have lost their lives to abortion. We also stand here for the mothers who regret their abortion decision.”

I remember back in 1973 when women who supported Roe v Wade told me that very few women would seek abortions. I wonder what they think now that the number of aborted American babies is the size of a nation.

(We also have a figure in the tens of millions here in the UK.)

Now times are changing.

The Catholic League’s Bill Donohue wrote ‘March for Life Scares Death Industry’, which is an excellent article. Donohue says that Trump is sure to appoint a Supreme Court Justice who is pro-life. Last week:

the House passed a bill introduced by Rep. Chris Smith ensuring that the Hyde Amendment, which bans federal abortion funding, will be made permanent, thus vitiating the need for annual reapproval; the bill now goes to the Senate for a vote. On January 12, Rep. Steve King introduced a House bill that would ban an abortion after the baby’s heartbeat is detected.

He says that some states are also rethinking abortion:

Last year, Louisiana passed seven new laws restricting abortion. Texas introduced 17 new civil rights laws protecting children in the womb, and 2017 will see at least some of them enacted.

Kentucky just passed two pro-life laws, one of which bans abortions after 20 weeks. Just this month, lawmakers in Florida, New Mexico and Tennessee introduced bills that would also ban abortions after 20 weeks; New Jersey filed a similar bill last month. Moreover, Missouri legislators refiled 14 pro-life bills this month. And Iowa is considering a bill to defund Planned Parenthood.

Another worthwhile article is at American Thinker. ‘Obama and the Marxist/Communist View of Marriage and Abortion’, which appeared in 2012, is less about him than it is left-wing history from the 19th and 20th centuries, from Marx through to American communists in the 1950s. An excerpt follows:

The Bolsheviks advocated abortion.  It was one of the first things they legalized.  By the early 1920s, Bolshevik Russia had the most liberal abortion policies in the world.  And what happened?  Just like divorce, abortion exploded.  In fact, the proliferation in abortions was so bad that it shocked even Planned Parenthood founder Margaret Sanger during a trip to Russia in 1934.  By the 1970s, when America was just getting around to legalizing abortion, the Soviet Union was averaging over 7 million abortions per year — dwarfing the very worst rates in America post-Roe v. WadeThe direct effect of this on the Russian population has been staggering.

For the record, Russia’s horrific abortion rates are common in communist countries, which to this day lead the world in abortions.

Marx, to my knowledge, did not deal with abortion — to think he would in the mid-19th century is unrealistic.  However, his disciples in the international communist movement a century later certainly did — including here in America.  To cite just one example, Whittaker Chambers noted how abortion “was a commonplace of Party life.”  He honestly and painfully wrote about his wife’s first pregnancy, when she had to plead for the life of their unborn child.  The blessed birth of that child changed Chambers completely, particularly regarding his views on God.  Interestingly, the termination of an unborn life was no mystery to Chambers’ nemesis, Alger Hiss.  Hiss’s wife, Priscilla, who aided him in his treason, had an abortion before she met him (for the record, it devastated her).

A final article worth reading on the subject is ‘Marxism and Abortion’, which recaps a 1988 article by an Australian Communist, Rebecca Albury, for The Tribune, the official newspaper for the Communist Party of Australia. It explains much of why Communists see no value in family. Excerpts follow, so please be sure to read all of it:

A Marxist believes that personality and human value are imparted by the external and economic environment, not by any inherent spiritual value, or even by biological processes.

The humanity of the fetus depends upon how the mother perceives the “social relationship” that exists between them. If the mother desires to keep the baby, then she “fantasizes” it into becoming a human being. But, if she does not want the pregnancy, “it is something else entirely.” Her opinion of the fetus thereby denies it of personhood.

According to Albury, “Material conditions of life change, and so do moral values.” This means that, to a Marxist, the unborn baby may be a human being for a time, but may then become depersonified and rendered ‘pre-human,’ all because his or her mother began to think differently about him or her.

That’s incredible. I now better understand how Communist regimes can go on killing sprees. They do not look at fellow human beings but rather at what they perceive as depersonalised objects.

This particularly struck me, because we Westerners have been pounded with this egregious message since the 1960s:

Material conditions of life change, and so do moral values.

Parents and church leaders would do well to make sure that youngsters in their care or congregations understand the background to modern immorality, abortion and the people who have supported both throughout modern history.

Bible read me 1The three-year Lectionary that many Catholics and Protestants hear in public worship gives us a great variety of Holy Scripture.

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

My series Forbidden Bible Verses — ones the Lectionary editors and their clergy omit — examines the passages we do not hear in church. These missing verses are also Essential Bible Verses, ones we should study with care and attention. Often, we find that they carry difficult messages and warnings.

Today’s reading is from the English Standard Version with commentary by Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

Acts 5:7-11

After an interval of about three hours his wife came in, not knowing what had happened. And Peter said to her, “Tell me whether you[a] sold the land for so much.” And she said, “Yes, for so much.” But Peter said to her, “How is it that you have agreed together to test the Spirit of the Lord? Behold, the feet of those who have buried your husband are at the door, and they will carry you out.” 10 Immediately she fell down at his feet and breathed her last. When the young men came in they found her dead, and they carried her out and buried her beside her husband. 11 And great fear came upon the whole church and upon all who heard of these things.

————————————————————————————————

Last week’s post concerned the first part of this shocking episode: Ananias’s death, a sentence God carried out through Peter for deceiving Him and the Holy Spirit.

If you haven’t already read it, I strongly recommend doing so, because it concerns the sometimes fatal folly of humans trying to pull one over on the Holy Trinity. Not recommended. In the case of Ananias, it was his sin unto death: the last one before God decides to pull the plug on someone’s life in cases of egregious offence.

Acts 5:6 tells us that young men wrapped up Ananias’s body and carried it out — implying out of the city — for burial. Matthew Henry explains that they:

buried it decently, though he died in sin, and by an immediate stroke of divine vengeance.

Three hours later after the death of Ananias, Sapphira, his wife, walked in (verse 7). She did not know what happened nor that Peter, the Apostles and others present knew the two had consciously not given all the money from their property sale to the congregation. They kept some back for themselves.

Given those circumstances, both our commentators surmise that she thought she was in for a lot of love, given the donation. She was, in John MacArthur’s estimation:

expecting to get in on the laurels.

Henry tells us that all this took place at Solomon’s Porch of the temple in Jerusalem, because the next few verses took place there, the subject of next week’s entry about the signs and wonders done.

He thought that the original idea came from Sapphira herself:

perhaps … first in the transgression, and tempted her husband to eat this forbidden fruit.

Peter confronted her about the amount of money from the property sale. She agreed with what he said (verse 8) and, therefore, lied to him. He then asked her a question similar to the one he posed to Ananias (verse 9). How could the two of them have agreed to test the Holy Spirit? He then told her that the men who buried her husband were ready to take her body, too!

Henry explains the couple’s thought process (emphases mine):

Ananias and his wife agreed to tell the same story, and the bargain being private, and by consent kept to themselves, nobody could disprove them, and therefore they thought they might safely stand in the lie, and should gain credit to it. It is sad to see those relations who should quicken one another to that which is good harden one another in that which is evil …

That they agreed together to do it, making the bond of their relation to each other (which by the divine institution is a sacred tie) to become a bond of iniquity. It is hard to say which is worse between yoke-fellows and other relations–a discord in good or concord in evil.

Peter made sure that, before Sapphira breathed her last, she was aware of her sin — testing the Holy Spirit:

It seems to intimate that their agreeing together to do it was a further tempting of the Spirit; as if, when they had engaged to keep one another’s counsel in this matter, even the Spirit of the Lord himself could not discover them. Thus they digged deep to hide their counsel from the Lord, but were made to know it is in vain. “How is it that you are thus infatuated? What strange stupidity has seized you, that you would venture to make trial of that which is past dispute? How is it that you, who are baptized Christians, do not understand yourselves better? How durst you run so great a risk?”

Henry gives us examples from the Old Testament where people tested God:

That they tempted the Spirit of the Lord; as Israel tempted God in the desert, when they said, Is the Lord among us, or is he not? after they had seen so many miraculous proofs of his power; and not only his presence, but his presidency, when they said, Can God furnish a table? So here, “Can the Spirit in the apostles discover this fraud? Can they discern that this is but a part of the price, when we tell them it is the whole?” Can he judge through this dark cloud? Job 22:13. They saw that the apostles had the gift of tongues; but had they the gift of discerning spirits? Those that presume upon security and impunity in sin tempt the Spirit of God; they tempt God as if he were altogether such a one as themselves.

As soon as Peter made Sapphira aware of her sin, she dropped dead at his feet (verse 10). It could be a combination of being found out and the sudden knowledge that her husband dropped dead was too much for her. All this, in Henry’s words:

struck her as a thunderbolt and took her away as with a whirlwind.

The Holy Spirit was working powerfully through Peter, giving him the discernment, the right words to say and the most effective delivery.

Henry advises us not to consider every sudden death as being divine punishment:

We must not think that all who die suddenly are sinners above others; perhaps it is in favour to them, that they have a quick passage: however, it is forewarning to all to be always ready. But here it is plain that it was in judgment.

He also does not think they were eternally saved, either:

Some put the question concerning the eternal state of Ananias and Sapphira, and incline to think that the destruction of the flesh was that the spirit might be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus. And I should go in with that charitable opinion if there had been any space given them to repent, as there was to the incestuous Corinthian. But secret things belong not to us. It is said, She fell down at Peter’s feet; there, where she should have laid the whole price and did not, she was herself laid, as it were to make up the deficiency.

The young men, having just returned, came in to remove her body to bury it beside her husband’s. Henry points out:

it is not said, They wound her up, as they did Ananias, but, They carried her out as she was, and buried her by her husband; and probably an inscription was set over their graves, intimating that they were joint-monuments of divine wrath against those that lie to the Holy Ghost.

Not surprisingly, those who learned of these deaths from attempting to deceive God and the Holy Spirit were struck with ‘great fear’ (verse 11).

This whole event really should be in the three-year Lectionary. If it scares people — the clergy’s great and near-universal fear — so much the better!

We in the West have such a blessing of creature comforts that we have forgotten the wrath of God! Woe betide us!

MacArthur says:

Oh, there are lessons here, what are they? God hates sin. Especi­ally sins in Christians’ lives. Second, God punishes sin. I Peter 4:17, says Judgement must begin at the house of God. And if God cares about the sins of the saints that much and punishes them that stringent­ly, I say to you who are unbelievers, beware of the judgement of God upon you. And so we see lessons, powerful, speaking to our hearts.

Some will wonder whether the Apostles kept the money that Ananias brought them. Henry thought so:

I am apt to think they did … What they brought was not polluted to those to whom they brought it; but what they kept back was polluted to those that kept it back.

The tone of Acts 5 changes in the verses that follow and we return to the glorious wonders that the Holy Spirit made possible in the earliest days of the Apostolic Era.

Next time: Acts 5:12-16

Yesterday’s post addressed the First Amendment in the Constitution of the United States.

The post showed that, in terms of religion, the Founding Fathers envisaged it much differently than we do today. The numerous court cases from the Warren Court in the 1960s to the present have gradually redefined the relationship between church and state.

The First Amendment developed after a prolonged period of colonial and state churches — mandated denominations — which led to religious persecution and discrimination.

Furthermore, the Founding Fathers gave the United States Article VI of the Constitution which forbids a religious test for holding public office:

The Senators and Representatives before mentioned, and the Members of the several State Legislatures, and all executive and judicial Officers, both of the United States and of the several States, 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.

Ultimately, these provisions and others protect the Church from undue federal influence.

Religion in the colonies

FacingHistory.org has an excellent, detailed article on religious practice in American colonies.

Excerpts and a summary follow, emphases mine.

Not surprisingly, given that the 17th century was a time when Christianity was taken seriously, eight of the 13 colonial governments mandated religious practice, sometimes within a designated Protestant denomination. Taxes collected went to the colonial church for upkeep and clergymen’s salaries.

Refusal to participate was problematic:

in those colonies dissenters who sought to practice or proselytize a different version of Christianity or a non-Christian faith were sometimes persecuted.

Even though the colonies were overwhelmingly Protestant, there was sometimes a lack of Christian unity. Naturally, colonists favoured their own denominations, just as Christians do today. Baptists resented having to attend and pay for the Congregational Church. Even Anglicans were split between mainstream members and the Puritans, a theological conflict which began in England and was transplanted to the colonies.

Between 1680 and 1760, the two main colonial denominations were Anglicanism and Congregationalism. The latter was a Puritan offshoot, which, until recently, held to Calvinistic doctrines.

However, after this period, more colonists arriving aligned themselves with other denominations:

such as the Baptists, Methodists, Quakers, Unitarians and many more, sometimes referred to as “Dissenters.”  In communities where one existing faith was dominant, new congregations were often seen as unfaithful troublemakers who were upsetting the social order.

ProCon.org has an excellent list of the colonial denominations and the adherence expected by colonists.

Virginia was Anglican and affiliated with the Church of England. In 1677, Governor Argall decreed:

Every Person should go to church, Sundays and Holidays, or lye Neck and Heels that Night, and be a Slave to the Colony the following Week; for the second Offence, he should be a Slave for a Month; and for the third, a Year and a Day.

Rhode Island was the opposite, supporting freedom of worship. The 1663 Charter of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations stated:

That our royall will and pleasure is, that noe person within the sayd colonye, at any tyme hereafter, shall bee any wise molested, punished, disquieted, or called in question, for any differences in opinione in matters of religion, and doe not actually disturb the civill peace of our sayd colony; but that all and everye person and persons may, from tyme to tyme, and at all tymes hereafter, freelye and fullye have and enjoye his and theire owne judgments and consciences, in matters of religious concernments…

It is interesting that the founder of Rhode Island, Roger Williams (c.1603-1683), was a Puritan minister who was banished from Massachusetts for supporting freedom of religion.

Even where colonial decrees allowed freedom of religion, their taxes often went to support the colony’s designated denomination. This is why the Danbury Baptists of Connecticut, Congregationalist, wrote to Thomas Jefferson in 1801.

Colonial penalties and controversies

The religious atmosphere, even among like-minded souls, was somewhat heated in colonial America.

Massachusetts

Returning to FacingHistory.org, in Massachusetts, a Congregationalist colony, a man complained in 1632 that:

fellows which keepe hogges all weeke preach on the Sabboth.

Massachusetts was the location of the Salem Witch Trials in 1692 and 1693. Although clergy frowned on deviating from Holy Scripture:

alchemy and other magical practices were not altogether divorced from Christianity in the minds of many “natural philosophers” (the precursors of scientists), who sometimes thought of them as experiments that could unlock the secrets of Scripture.

The Witch Trials were short-lived, however, religious conformity was expected in the years that followed. As late as 1768, a Boston resident wrote that:

the selectmen of Boston at last were able to “parade the street and oblige everyone to go to Church . . . on pain of being put in Stokes or otherwise confined”

Laws were instituted that forbade certain activities on a Sunday:

travel, drinking, gambling, or blood sports …

There were no church courts for punishing religious misdeeds. The civil courts handled that, sometimes harshly. In Massachusetts:

the civil government dealt harshly with religious dissenters, exiling the likes of Anne Hutchinson and Roger Williams for their outspoken criticism of Puritanism, and whipping Baptists or cropping the ears of Quakers for their determined efforts to proselytize. Official persecution reached its peak between 1659 and 1661, when Massachusetts Bay’s Puritan magistrates h[anged] four Quaker missionaries.

Virginia

Virginia, as stated above, expected everyone to attend an Anglican service on Sunday.

In the mid-18th century, more Baptists moved there and were violently suppressed:

the colonial Anglican elite responded to their presence with force. Baptist preachers were frequently arrested. Mobs physically attacked members of the sect, breaking up prayer meetings and sometimes beating participants. As a result, the 1760s and 1770s witnessed a rise in discontent and discord within the colony (some argue that Virginian dissenters suffered some of the worst persecutions in antebellum America).9

England ends corporal punishment of dissenters

In 1682, England put an end to corporal punishment of dissenters in New England.

The English Parliament’s Toleration Act of 1689 granted religious freedom. It:

gave Quakers and several other denominations the right to build churches and to conduct public worship in the colonies. While dissenters continued to endure discrimination and financial penalties well into the eighteenth century, those who did not challenge the authority of the Puritans directly were left unmolested and were not legally punished for their “heretical” beliefs.

Elsewhere

Some colonies, like Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, New Jersey and Delaware, were either founded on the basis of religious tolerance (the first two) or had no dominant denomination from the outset:

In the Carolinas, New York, New Jersey, and Delaware, Anglicans never made up a majority, in contrast to Virginia.  With few limits on the influx of new colonists, Anglican citizens in those colonies needed to accept, however grudgingly, ethnically diverse groups of Presbyterians, Baptists, Quakers, members of the Dutch Reformed Church, and a variety of German Pietists.

Catholics, of course, were universally looked down upon. Cecilius Calvert founded Maryland in 1634 as a safe haven for them. However, in 1649, Puritans took over the colony’s assembly. Fortunately, wise heads prevailed and mandatory taxes went to both Catholic and Puritan churches.

Something similar happened in New York, which began as a Dutch colony in 1614. The prevailing denomination was the Dutch Reformed Church. The English took over in 1664, and granted religious tolerance. However, they allowed the Dutch Reformed Church to retain their properties. The New York Charter of Liberties and Privileges of 1683 granted official acceptance of all Christians. In 1697, the English founded Trinity Church (Wall Street) by Royal Charter. The funds Trinity received from the Crown helped them to become a wealthy church.

Later developments

As time passed and more colonists arrived from different denominations, Anglican and Congregationalist colonies had to relax their religious laws.

Therefore, it is no surprise that the Founding Fathers wanted to ensure religious freedom in the newly-independent United States. For this, they relied on contemporary philosophers such as John Locke for input.

The Procon.org page shows that, by the time the colonies became states in the mid- to late-18th century, their new state constitutions granted freedom of worship.

However, where mandated colonial churches had existed, taxation continued to go to their support until the early 19th century. Even where there was no designated denomination — and even with the United States Constitution in force — there were still statutes for a religious test.

Connecticut stopped its support of the Congregational Church in 1818, 17 years after the Danbury Baptists complained to Thomas Jefferson.

Virginia repealed their religious test, along with the taxation requirement, in 1830.

Massachusetts ceased supporting the Congregational Church in 1833.

However, North Carolina did not eliminate religious references and requirements until 1875.  New Hampshire deleted its requirement that senators be Protestant as late as 1877.

Today, we wonder why this took so long and whether these states were in violation of the US Constitution. Conservapedia explains that the First Amendment was for federal not state use:

The first clause of the first amendments states “Congress shall make no law..”; demonstrating that it is a restriction on laws that the Congress of the United States can pass. Nowhere does the constitution restrict State and Local Legislatures from passing any laws respecting an establishment of religion.

However, when the colonies became states, they granted freedom of worship, although, as we see, they lagged behind when it came to repealing mandatory religious tax and removing religious restrictions on legislators.

In 1940, the Supreme Court made the First Amendment applicable to the states. Current judicial interpretation:

holds that the Fourteenth Amendment extended its scope from Congress to the state legislatures, since freedom of religion can be classified as one of the “privileges and immunities of citizens of the United States” mentioned therein.

Conclusion

From the founding of the 13 colonies to the present, America has had close links to Christianity.

It is only in recent years — starting in the 1960s — that secularists have been denying the nation’s history in this regard.

Since then, Supreme Court decisions have confused the situation. Although most have ruled against Christianity — most famously in school prayers — sometimes they rule in favour. Prayers in state legislature led by a publicly funded chaplain are constitutional and Christian groups may use state school property and town halls for religious purposes after hours.

However, the cases will continue to proliferate as the number of secularists continues to grow.

Donald Trump was inaugurated five days ago.

Some Christians are disconcerted. A few examples of essays posted last week on the subject follow. Emphases mine below.

1/ John MacArthur’s Grace To You (GTY) blog has an excellent post by staffer Cameron Buettel who reminds GTY readers about obedience to government, specifically Romans 13:1-5 and MacArthur’s sermon ‘Why Christians Submit to the Government’.

GTY readers — conservative Evangelicals — were most unhappy. How on earth could an immoral, unbiblical man become president? One surmises they would have preferred the scheming, conniving and possibly criminal ‘Crooked Hillary’. Bottom line: Trump isn’t Christian enough to be in the Oval Office! (As if abortion and single sex marriage advocate Obama was?!)

2/ Moving along to the Episcopalian/Anglican site, Stand Firm, one of their contributors, A S Haley, was, rightly, more concerned about what he calls the Sea of Political Correctness. In ‘A Wave of PC Crashes into a Solid Barrier’, Haley points out:

The Sea of Political Correctness, fed since November 9 by the tears of the self-righteous, is now engulfing its devotees and followers. Vainly casting about for safe spaces where they may continue to breathe air unsullied by what they perceive as the sulfurous emanations of their opponents, they are gasping, choking and sinking as wave after wave of fresh emotional outbursts crashes over their heads …

The politically correct crowd was so certain of its ability to name the next President that it shattered on the shoals of the Electoral College. It has been unable since then to re-form under a single, agreed leader. It is instead trying to coalesce under a common hatred of the successful candidate. Hatred, however, like fear, needs a crowd in which to dissolve, and a crowd needs direction—which is supplied by a leader.

Although I disagree with Haley when he says that Trump’s platform lacks

concrete programs of proposed legislation and executive actions

because those had been laid out in detail on Trump’s campaign website for over a year, he is correct in saying:

there is every reason to hope that a beginning has been made—is being made as I write—and that, with God’s grace, America may truly once more show the way in its humility, in its decency, and in its willingness to serve without expectation of reward.

One of Haley’s readers wrote about the protests during the weekend of the inauguration:

In fact, since one of the main complaints about Trump is his vulgarity, the vulgarity and viciousness of these speakers should negate any of those complaints.

I hope so. How can people — e.g. the GTY readers above — miss the stark contrast?

3/ From there, I went for a Reformed (Calvinist) perspective. Dr R Scott Clark of of Westminster Seminary California is the author of several books on the Reformed Confessions. He also writes the ever-helpful Heidelblog. He posted an excellent essay at the time of the inauguration, ‘A Reminder Of Why We Should Not Long For A State Church’.

The GTY readers moaning about Trump not being Christian enough should peruse it, but it looks at something anathema to conservative biblicists: history.

Excerpts follow:

… I am regularly astonished at the number of American Christians who seem to want a state-church. They seem not to understand the history of the post-canonical history of state-churches nor the difference between national Israel and the USA …

The governor of my state is a former Jesuit seminarian turned New Ager. I certainly do not want the Hon. Edmund G. Brown, Jr dictating what is to be preached or when it is to be preached. I am sure that Americans who advocate for a state-church do not want the Hon. Barack Hussein Obama or Donald J. Trump to meddle in the life of the institutional church.

Of course, when this objection is raised, the reply is an appeal to an eschatology of great expectations. This raises the problem of the chicken and the egg. Does the postmillennialist want to facilitate the coming earthly glory age through a state-church or is the state-church only to come about after the glory age has descended? This is not clear to me …

Under the new covenant and New Testament, there is no state-church. There is the state and there is the church. Calvin described these two realms as God’s duplex regimen (twofold kingdom). He rules over both by his providence but he rules the church, in his special providence, by his Law and Gospel revealed in holy Scripture. He rules over the civil magistrate by his general providence through his law revealed in nature and in the human conscience (see Romans 1–2) …

The visible church’s vocation is to announce the Kingdom of God in Christ, to preach the law and the gospel, administer the sacraments and church discipline (Matt 16 and 18) …

4/ I then sought another sensible Calvinist perspective, this time from Dr Michael Horton, who also teaches at the same seminary as Dr Clark. He is Westminster Seminary California’s J. Gresham Machen Professor of Theology and Apologetics.

The Washington Post invited Horton to write an article on faith. On January 3, the paper published ‘Evangelicals should be deeply troubled by Donald Trump’s attempt to mainstream heresy’. It concerns one of the prosperity gospel preachers who prayed at the inauguration: Paula White.

On the one hand, I heartily agree that White is a very poor example of a Christian pastor. On the other hand, she and Trump found solidarity in the prosperity gospel which he grew up with under Norman Vincent Peale. Furthermore, White was helpful to his campaign in getting out the vote among this sector of misguided churchgoers.

Even more unfortunate than her praying at the inauguration is the news that she will head the Evangelical Advisory Board in the Trump administration. I suspect this had not been announced when Horton wrote his article. Still, Trump is no theologian. I refer readers to Clark’s essay above.

Horton points out that such preachers have been around the White House before and are popular among certain sections of American society:

Peale and [Robert ‘Crystal Cathedral’] Schuller were counselors to CEOs and U.S. presidents. Word of Faith has been more popular among rural sections of the Bible Belt, where faith healers have had a long and successful history. But in the 1980s, the two streams blended publicly, with Copeland, Hinn and Schuller showing up regularly together on TBN.

He goes on to explain the dangerous heresy:

Televangelist White has a lot in common with Trump, besides being fans of [Joel] Osteen. Both are in their third marriage and have endured decades of moral and financial scandal. According to family values spokesman James Dobson, another Trump adviser, White “personally led [Trump] to Christ.”

Like her mentor, T. D. Jakes, White adheres closely to the Word of Faith teachings. Besides throwing out doctrines like the Trinity and confusing ourselves with God, the movement teaches that Jesus went to the cross not to bring forgiveness of our sins but to get us out of financial debt, not to reconcile us to God but to give us the power to claim our prosperity, not to remove the curse of death, injustice and bondage to ourselves but to give us our best life now. White says emphatically that Jesus is “not the only begotten Son of God,” just the first. We’re all divine and have the power to speak worlds into existence.

Again, Trump doesn’t get this because his family left their mainstream Presbyterian church in Queens after his confirmation to worship at Peale’s Marble Collegiate Church in Manhattan. After Trump married Ivana and became even more successful, he drifted away from the church. Although in recent years he has been attending Episcopal church services, his theological formation isn’t very good. But, again, echoing Calvin’s two-fold kingdom theology, voters did not elect Trump as Pastor of the United States but rather President of the United States.

I nodded in agreement to this comment, which is 100% true:

Trump is president not a theologian and Horton shouldn’t be holding him up to that standard. Where was Dr. Horton when Planned Parenthood and the Gay marriage thingy was going full steam under Obama. Yes, Horton, we realize you are not an evangelical fundie, but jumping on Trump for this?

Michael plays the ‘guilt by association’ card very well.

Correct. I do not recall Horton criticising Obama’s policies very much. I’ve been reading and listening to him since 2009.

5/ Finally, I found Dr Carl Trueman‘s article on First Things, ‘President Trump, Therapist-In-Chief?’

Trueman, a Presbyterian, is Professor of Historical Theology and Church History and holds the Paul Woolley Chair of Church History at Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia. He is politically centrist but theologically conservative.

Trueman says:

I agree with Horton’s analysis but would take the concern a step further. All Americans, not just Evangelicals, should be worried that Paula White is praying at the inauguration, though not for particularly religious reasons. By and large, the rites of American civic religion are harmless enough, bland baptisms of the status quo by the application of a bit of liturgy emptied of any real dogmatic significance or personal demands.

That is what inauguration prayers are largely about. Rightly or wrongly, everyone is represented, especially those who were helpful to the incoming president during campaign season.

He concludes that the real shame is that Trump seems to be endorsing the notion of ‘Psychological Man’.

However, once again, may I remind Drs Trueman and Horton: voters did not elect Trump to serve as the nation’s pastor-in-chief.

6/ The best rebuttals to Trueman’s article is in the comments to his essay. The two comments that nailed it perfectly came from Mike D’Virgilio, whose website is called Keeping Your Kids Christian. It looks very good.

D’Virgilio is a Trump supporter and I agree with his assessments. Excerpts follow. First, from this comment:

I believe Trump is a net positive for Christianity because what he’s doing (including putting the huge “Merry Christmas” signs on his podium during his thank you tour) is potentially contributing to the re-building of the Christian plausibility structure of America. The term “plausibility structure” goes back to sociologist Peter Berger’s 1967 book The Sacred Canopy. In a more recent book he defines this simply as, “the social context within which any particular definition of reality is plausible”. In other words, what *seems* real to people. For the last 50 years the secularists have driven American culture off a cliff (via education, media, Hollywood, etc.) so that the dominant plausibility structure has been postmodernism/relativism/materialism/secularism (they are all logically intertwined). So God for many people (the rise of the “Nones” for instance) *seems* no more real than Santa Claus. Rarely, if ever, do people grapple with the evidence for the truth claims of Christianity; they just drift away or don’t see it as relevant at all.

So Trump, regardless of the content of his own faith, or those at his inauguration, is possibly making Christianity plausible again. Most Americans don’t pay attention to what these people actually believe, the theological content of their faith, such as it is. But all of a sudden with Trump this Christianity thing doesn’t seem like such the ugly cultural step-child anymore … None of this will change over night, but the arrival of Trump is the first time I’ve had hope in this regard since, oh, I was born!

… And I agree with pretty much everything Carl says here (I’m a graduate of Westminster myself), but I don’t at all agree that Trump is contributing to a therapeutic faith and the triumph of the psychological

This is from D’Virgilio’s second lengthy comment:

… There is no other candidate who has done what Trump has done, or could be doing what he’s doing. Cruz is closest of the bunch, but I’m afraid he’s just not a winsome fellow. Once you get beyond the caricature of Trump, he’s a very likable, appealing showman. Everyone who knows him likes him, says he’s humble (impossible to believe for many) and kindhearted.

The greatest thing he’s done is blow up political correctness. He’s taken that on, along with the shamelessly corrupt media that promotes it, in a way no other Republican can even get close. This is huge for a Christian plausibility structure because PC is antithetical to a biblical/classical (in the sense the objective truth exists) worldview …

And Trump was Trump before the Apprentice. Trump made the Apprentice, the Apprentice didn’t make Trump. So I totally disagree Hollywood had anything to do with making the man, The Man. I don’t disagree with your assessment of the secular materialism, which is one of the reasons I initially wanted nothing to do with Trump … He doesn’t have to be an orthodox, Bible believing Christian to fight for Christians, to appreciate and respect Christians, to love America and the Christian influence in its history. I leave the soul judgments to God. I’m just grateful he’s our next president, and not that other person.

I realise some readers are apprehensive about Trump, what he might do and what he represents. I hope this has given them some food for thought, especially in terms of Christianity in America.

Let’s remember that there were four other members of the clergy besides Paula White and a rabbi. Furthermore, in his remarks, Franklin Graham reminded everyone that there is only one God.

In closing, sensible Christians living in the United States should be relieved Trump is in the White House. This will be borne out in due course.

In the meantime, rather than sitting around carping, we can always pray that he becomes a better, more orthodox Christian.

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