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This post continues the series on Percy Dearmer and his 1912 volume, Everyman’s History of the Prayer Book, first published by Mowbray in 1912.

My first post was on the value of liturgical prayer and last week’s was about the Anglican Thirty-nine Articles of Religion.

Before I go into Dearmer’s breakdown of the title page of Book of Common Prayer (image courtesy of Wikipedia), I wanted to point out a very important paragraph of his which relates to it.

First, carefully note the wording on the title page of the 1662 BCP.

Dearmer rightly points out (emphases mine below):

A truly admirable description! What a mass of ignorance would be removed if only people knew the Title-page of the Prayer Book! The notion, for instance, that “Priests” are a Roman Catholic institution, and the still common impression on the Continent of Europe that, the Anglican Church at the Reformation gave up the priesthood and is indifferent to Catholic order: the common idea, too, that “Sacramentalism” is a “high-church” idea foisted on to the Protestantism of England: or the notion that our proper use should be the Genevan Use, or the Roman Use, instead of that English Use which the Title-page orders. Certainly many widespread mistakes would never have come into existence had people but read the words that stare us in the face on this Title-page.

That is an excellent point, well made. All Anglicans — especially those who align themselves liturgically with Presbyterianism — should remember it.

The Anglican Church was never intended to be Presbyterian in liturgy or ritual. There is a small but vocal contingent of conservative Anglicans who say it was and would like to make it so even today. Those people point to the Puritans, who adopted a Calvinistic form of Anglicanism.

Bible Hub explains Puritan theology:

It is not too much to say that the ruling theology of the Church of England in the latter half of the sixteenth and the beginning of the seventeenth century was Calvinistic. [1154] The best proof of this is furnished by the ‘Zurich Letters,’ [1155] extending over the whole period of the Reformation, the Elizabethan Articles, the Second Book of Homilies (chiefly composed by Bishop Jewel), the Lambeth Articles, the Irish Articles, and the report of the delegation of King James to the Calvinistic Synod of Dort. [1156]

This theological sympathy between the English and the Continental Churches extended also to the principles of Church government, which was regarded as a matter of secondary importance, and subject to change, like rites and ceremonies, ‘according to the diversities of countries, times, and men’s manners, so that nothing be ordained against God’s Word’ (Art. XXXIV.). The difference was simply this: the English Reformers, being themselves bishops, retained episcopacy as an ancient institution of the Church catholic, but fully admitted (with the most learned fathers and schoolmen, sustained by modern commentators and historians) the original identity of the offices of bishop and presbyter; while the German and Swiss Reformers, being only presbyters or laymen, and opposed by their bishops, fell back from necessity rather than choice upon the parity of ministers, without thereby denying the human right and relative importance or expediency of episcopacy as a superintendency over equals in rank. The more rigid among the Puritans departed from both by attaching primary importance to matters of discipline and ritual, and denouncing every form of government and public worship that was not expressly sanctioned in the New Testament.

The Bible Hub essay goes on to explain the differing views of episcopacy — governing the denomination through bishops — that Anglican clergy had at that time. In short, the Puritans opposed episcopacy, which would have given the Anglican Church a Presbyterian polity.

Bible Hub cites an American Episcopalian, the Rev. Dr. E. A. Washburn, of New York, describing him as a modern-day ‘divine’ (esteemed, very learned theologian), therefore, highly knowledgeable in this subject:

‘The doctrinal system of the English Church, in its relation to other Reformed communions, especially needs a historic treatment; and the want of this has led to grave mistakes, alike by Protestant critics and Anglo-Catholic defenders …

‘The Articles ask our first study. It is plain that the foundation-truths of the Reformation — justification by faith, the supremacy and sufficiency of written Scripture, the fallibility of even general councils — are its basis. Yet it is just as plain that in regard of the specific points of theology, which were the root of discord in the Continental Churches, as election, predestination, reprobation, perseverance, and the rest, these Articles speak in a much more moderate tone …

‘We may thus learn the structure of the liturgical system. The English Reformers aimed not to create a new, but to reform the historic Church; and therefore they kept the ritual with the episcopate, because they were institutions rooted in the soil. They did not unchurch the bodies of the Continent, which grew under quite other conditions. No theory of an exclusive Anglicanism, as based on the episcopate and general councils, was held by them. Such a view is wholly contradictory to their own Articles. But the historic character of the Church gave it a positive relation to the past; and they sought to adhere to primitive usage as the basis of historic unity. In this revision, therefore, they weeded out all Romish errors, the mass, the five added sacraments, the legends of saints, and superstitious rites; but they kept the ancient Apostles’ Creed and the Nicene in the forefront of the service, the sacramental offices, the festivals and fasts relating to Christ or Apostles with whatever they thought pure. Such a work could not be perfect, and it is false either to think it so or to judge it save by its time. There are archaic forms in these offices which retain some ideas of a scholastic theology. The view of regeneration in the baptismal service, decried to-day as Romish, can be found by any scholar in Melanchthon or in Bullinger’s Decades. We may see in some of the phrases of the communion office the idea of more than a purely spiritual participation, yet the view is almost identical with that of Calvin. The dogma of the mass had been renounced, but the Aristotelian notions of spirit and body were still embodied in the philosophy of the time. The absolution in the office for the sick, and like features, have been magnified into “Romanizing germs” on one side and Catholic verities on another … The satire, so often repeated … that the Church has a “Popish Liturgy and Calvinistic Articles,” is as ignorant as it is unjust. All liturgical formularies need revision; but such a task must be judged by the standard of the Articles, the whole tenor of the Prayer-book, and the known principles of the men. In the same way we learn their view of the Episcopate. Not one leading divine from Hooper to Hooker claimed any ground beyond the fact of primitive and historic usage … The Puritan of that day was as narrow as the narrow Churchman of our own.

‘… Lutheranism and Calvinism did each its part in the development of a profound theology. The English Church had a more comprehensive doctrine and a more conservative order. It placed the simple Apostles’ Creed above all theological confessions as its basis, and a practical system above the subtleties of controversy …’

The beginning of the Bible Hub essay summarises Anglicanism well:

The Reformed Church of England occupies an independent position between Romanism on the one hand, and Lutheranism and Calvinism on the other, with strong affinities and antagonisms in both directions

The Reformation in England was less controlled by theology than on the Continent, and more complicated with ecclesiastical and political issues. Anglican theology is as much embodied in the episcopal polity and the liturgical worship as in the doctrinal standards. The Book of Common Prayer is catholic, though purged of superstitious elements; the Articles of Religion are evangelical and moderately Calvinistic. [1142]

In closing, the essay has this gem on the English:

The English mind is not theorizing and speculative, but eminently practical and conservative; it follows more the power of habit than the logic of thought; it takes things as they are, makes haste slowly, mends abuses cautiously, and aims at the attainable rather than the ideal.

Well said. Such characteristics gave us the Church of England and other churches in communion with her around the world.

The 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 7:17-22

17 “But as the time of the promise drew near, which God had granted to Abraham, the people increased and multiplied in Egypt 18 until there arose over Egypt another king who did not know Joseph. 19 He dealt shrewdly with our race and forced our fathers to expose their infants, so that they would not be kept alive. 20 At this time Moses was born; and he was beautiful in God’s sight. And he was brought up for three months in his father’s house, 21 and when he was exposed, Pharaoh’s daughter adopted him and brought him up as her own son. 22 And Moses was instructed in all the wisdom of the Egyptians, and he was mighty in his words and deeds.

——————————————————————————————–

Acts 7 is about one of the first deacons of the Church, Stephen, who became the first martyr.

Acts 6 tells us how the Apostles chose Stephen and six other men to serve as deacons: ensuring charity was dispensed and handling any donations.

All of these deacons were beyond reproach and were Hellenistic — Greek — Jews.

As the Church at this time was centred at the temple in Solomon’s Portico, the Jews, including the religious leaders, could see and hear thousands of converts every day. They knew that the Apostles were teaching and doing miraculous healing, the way Jesus did. The threat to the Jewish authorities was expanding. It was bad enough that Jews from Jerusalem were becoming followers of Jesus, but now Jews from other nations were, too.

Stephen was brought to the temple council to defend himself against four charges of blasphemy: blaspheming God, Moses, the law and the temple. Acts 7 contains his address and the council’s action against him.

Stephen first got the council’s attention by saying he had revered the same traditions as they and respected the history of the people of Israel. He related the story of Abraham, then of Joseph.

At this point, he accomplished two objectives: held his audience’s attention and defended himself against the charge of blaspheming God.

As Stephen relates his scriptural knowledge of the early patriarchs, he is also indicting his audience for rejection of Jesus as Messiah. His reason for mentioning Joseph was to get them to realise that Joseph was treated by his brothers the same way the Jews treated Jesus.

Stephen offered the first apologetic — defence of, reasoned case for — that Jesus is Messiah.

In today’s verses, Stephen begins his talk about Moses. Recall that Joseph was Pharaoh’s right hand man when a famine hit Israel and Egypt. Joseph’s brothers and his father Jacob were in Israel. The brothers went to Egypt for grain, the supply of which Joseph managed. Pharaoh invited the brothers to bring their families and Jacob to live in Egypt.

The historical setting for today’s verses is many generations later. The leaders of the twelve tribes have long since died. So has the kind Pharaoh. The people of Israel are still in Egypt, but greatly multiplied, so that they are now the size of a small nation. God was ready to return them to their own land, as He had promised Abraham (verse 17).

There was a problem. A new Pharaoh came to rule, one who did not know the great things that Joseph had done (verse 18). Consequently, he cared nothing for the Israelites. This new king made slaves out of the people of Israel and made them kill their children (verse 19) probably as a means of genocide.

Stephen mentions this because he is indicting the Jewish leaders of trying to kill the infant Church.

Matthew Henry offers this analysis (emphases mine):

Now Stephen seems to observe this to them, not only that they might further see how mean their beginnings were, fitly represented (perhaps with an eye to the exposing of the young children in Egypt) by the forlorn state of a helpless, out-cast infant (Ezekiel 16:4), and how much they were indebted to God for his care of them, which they had forfeited, and made themselves unworthy of: but also that they might consider that what they were now doing against the Christian church in its infancy was as impious and unjust, and would be in the issue as fruitless and ineffectual, as that was which the Egyptians did against the Jewish church in its infancy. “You think you deal subtly in your ill treatment of us, and, in persecuting young converts, you do as they did in casting out the young children; but you will find it is to no purpose, in spite of your malice Christ’s disciples will increase and multiply.”

This period in Israel’s history was the time when Moses was born (Exodus 2). Stephen described him as ‘beautiful in God’s sight’ (verse 20). Moses’s parents brought him up for three months hidden away at home. Then his mother placed him in a basket, which she made waterproof, and set him in the reeds by the river bank.

Pharaoh’s daughter found the basket and a servant opened it to find a crying baby. Moses’s sister was on the sidelines watching. She approached Pharaoh’s daughter, who was quite taken by this beautiful infant, and offered to find ‘a nurse from the Hebrew women’ to feed the baby (Exodus 2:7). This canny girl fetched her mother — Moses’s mother — and took her to Pharaoh’s daughter. Moses’s mother was paid to nurse her own son and when he was old enough, she took him to live in Pharaoh’s opulent palace. Pharaoh’s daughter took Moses as her own son and gave him that name because it sounds like the Hebrew for ‘draw out’, i.e. she drew him out of the water.

Now back to Acts, where Stephen said that Moses grew up to be well educated in Egyptian ways and very accomplished as an adult (verse 22).

John MacArthur describes Moses, saying that the ancient Jewish historian:

Josephus says that the history tells him that when Moses walked down the street, everybody stopped doing what they were doing just to look at him, because he was so striking and so handsome. So he was quite a man. But even as a baby he was exceedingly fair, handsome child.

So Moses was adopted as the son of Pharaoh, with all the benefits. You can imagine what kind of benefits went with being the son of Pharaoh. So he lived in the palace …

He was an amazing person. Not only exceedingly fair and handsome, not only with all of the ability that was his just by virtue of his birth and his inheritance physically, heredity, but what was his by the education that he got in Egypt. I mean, the Egyptians, they tell us, knew geometry and medicine and astronomy, and they were very advanced, and Moses was a remarkable man, with all of that natural ability coupled with the finest and most comprehensive education available in the ancient world. And he was going to be God’s deliverer, to lead Israel to the land of promise. He was mighty.

With this introductory discourse on Moses, Stephen cleared himself of the charge of blaspheming him. He paints a highly positive picture of the man. Of course, Moses was far from perfect as a leader of the twelve tribes, and there were times when he disobeyed God in memorable ways. However, MacArthur says:

But, you see, Stephen stays away from all that. He’s defending himself against blaspheming Moses, so he just praises him.

So far, so good. Stephen had more to say about Moses, which I’ll cover in future posts.

Next time: Acts 7:23-29

Bible oldThe 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 7:9-16

“And the patriarchs, jealous of Joseph, sold him into Egypt; but God was with him 10 and rescued him out of all his afflictions and gave him favor and wisdom before Pharaoh, king of Egypt, who made him ruler over Egypt and over all his household. 11 Now there came a famine throughout all Egypt and Canaan, and great affliction, and our fathers could find no food. 12 But when Jacob heard that there was grain in Egypt, he sent out our fathers on their first visit. 13 And on the second visit Joseph made himself known to his brothers, and Joseph’s family became known to Pharaoh. 14 And Joseph sent and summoned Jacob his father and all his kindred, seventy-five persons in all. 15 And Jacob went down into Egypt, and he died, he and our fathers, 16 and they were carried back to Shechem and laid in the tomb that Abraham had bought for a sum of silver from the sons of Hamor in Shechem.

———————————————————————————————-

Last week’s post featured the first part of Stephen’s address. If you have not had a chance to read it, please do, as it explains his circumstances and why he speaks as he does.

In short, Stephen must defend himself against four charges of blasphemy by the temple court: blasphemy against God, Moses, the law and the temple. Last week’s verses demonstrate that not only did he capture the attention of his accusers but he also defended himself against the charge that he blasphemed God.

He goes further in his address with the following objectives. Matthew Henry’s commentary summarises them well (emphases mine below):

1. He still reminds them of the mean beginning of the Jewish nation, as a check to their priding themselves in the glories of that nation; and that it was by a miracle of mercy that they were raised up out of nothing to what they were, from so small a number to be so great a nation; but, if they answer not the intention of their being so raised, they can expect no other than to be destroyed. The prophets frequently put them in mind of the bringing of them out of Egypt, as a aggravation of their contempt of the law of God, and here it is urged upon them as an aggravation of their contempt of the gospel of Christ. 2. He reminds them likewise of the wickedness of those that were the patriarchs of their tribes, in envying their brother Joseph, and selling him into Egypt; and the same spirit was still working in them towards Christ and his ministers. 3. Their holy land, which they doted so much upon, their fathers were long kept out of the possession of, and met with dearth and great affliction in it; and therefore let them not think it strange if, after it has been so long polluted with sin, it be at length destroyed. 4. The faith of the patriarchs in desiring to be buried in the land of Canaan plainly showed that they had an eye to the heavenly country, to which it was the design of this Jesus to lead them.

The patriarchs in verse 9 are the sons of Jacob, each of whom led a tribe of Israel. They were jealous of Joseph whom they sold into slavery in Egypt. However, God was watching over Joseph, who had great problems. John MacArthur reminds us that Joseph:

went to work for a guy named Potiphar who had a wife who had her eye on Joseph. And she really liked Joseph. So she got him in a compromising thing. He was over there where she was, in her bedroom. And she started making advances to him, trying to seduce old Joseph. It’s your heart, Joseph.

And you know what he did? He ran. Smart thing, Joseph did. He put those old wheels in motion and he was gone. Didn’t fool around. Just avoid the temptation. He took off running. You know what happened? She got his coat. Mmm-mmm-mmm, incriminating evidence. So she reported that this thing had happened, that Joseph had, you know, done this to her, and she had his coat to prove it. And he wound up in the clink. False accusation. Put him in prison.

Why is Stephen talking about Joseph? Because there is a parallel there with Jesus:

You know how Jesus got captured and put in prison? By false accusation. They had a mock trial and they brought forth false witnesses. Just like Joseph.

Stephen’s words are brilliant (verse 10): God delivered Joseph ‘out of all his afflictions’. MacArthur explains:

Joseph got out. And when he got out of there, he went to the next place, to Pharaoh himself. Sat on the right hand of the Pharaoh, the king of the land.

Here is another parallel with Jesus:

Do you know that the men delivered Jesus, in fact they delivered Him into the grave, and God took Him out of the grave and exalted Him to His right hand. Joseph, again, is a picture of Jesus. Joseph found the lowest kind of humility and was lifted to the loftiest exaltation. So was Jesus Christ. Joseph is a picture of Jesus.

This is an excellent way of getting these men to come to the idea of Jesus. It’s a great apologetic — defence of, reasoned case for — Jesus being the Messiah.

MacArthur gives us a third parallel:

Joseph, rejected by Israel, his brothers, was accepted by Gentiles in Egypt. You got that one? Jesus, rejected by Israel, turned and founded His church among whom? Gentiles. Continues to be a picture of Jesus.

Stephen continued his account of Genesis by mentioning the famine affecting that part of the world (verse 11). Joseph had masterminded the pharaoh’s silos and was storing grain in them for the Egyptians. Word reached Joseph’s father Jacob that Egypt had grain set aside in reserve. Jacob sent Joseph’s brothers to Egypt in search of grain (verse 12). Here we have Joseph in the most exalted position, in charge of the grain stores while his brothers have nothing. MacArthur tells us:

When Joseph went to Egypt, famine came. And his whole family back there in Canaan found no sustenance. They had rejected their leader. Do you know what happened to Israel when they rejected Jesus Christ? They fell into a spiritual famine and they still exist in it, don’t they? Sure they do. The famine is a type of Israel’s blindness today. They have no spiritual sustenance at all. None at all.

Note that Stephen is careful to say that Joseph’s brothers did not meet him on their first visit to Egypt. However, they did meet on the second visit (verse 13), at which time Pharaoh also made their acquaintance. Again, this refers to Jesus:

When is Jesus going to be made known to Israel? At His first coming? At His second. It’s the same type again. The first time, rejected, sold for envy. The second time, accepted.

Joseph summoned Jacob and his eleven sons — along with their families — to Egypt (verse14). All of Israel was in Egypt. MacArthur tells us:

That’s a picture of the fact that at the Second Coming when Jesus is revealed, who’s going to get saved? Part of Israel? All Israel. Romans 11, “All Israel shall be saved.” Again, perfectly typified in the life of Jesus, the whole picture of Christ.

Jacob died in Egypt (verse 15) but was buried:

at Machpelah in a cave up at Hebron.

Genesis 50 tells us:

12 So Jacob’s sons did as their father commanded. 13 They carried his body to the land of Canaan and buried it in the cave in the field of Machpelah near Mamre. Abraham had bought this cave and field from Ephron the Hittite to use as a burial place. 14 After Joseph buried his father, he returned to Egypt, along with his brothers and everyone who had gone with him to bury his father.

His sons were buried in the tomb Abraham bought from Hamor’s sons in Shechem (verse 16).

MacArthur says:

And there is a picture of Israel entering into the kingdom relationship.

Therefore, Stephen’s purpose in telling the story of Joseph, was to point out that the Jewish leaders were gravely sinful in rejecting Jesus.

Stephen was not finished. His address continues next week with Moses.

Next time: Acts 7:17-22

The other day, I ran across an old link to Percy Dearmer‘s Everyman’s History of the Prayer Book, first published by Mowbray in 1912.

Percy Dearmer was an Anglican priest who lived between 1867 and 1936. He was a High Church Anglican, although one who championed the English Use rite used before the Reformation over Roman Catholic rubrics.

Dearmer was an avowed Socialist (unfortunately). That said, he served in various London parish churches and wrote several books about the Book of Common Prayer, liturgy as well as a history of King Alfred and a travel book about Normandy. In later years, he was a canon at Westminster Abbey, where his ashes are interred.

Dearmer was also a lecturer in ecclesiastical art at King’s College, London from 1919 until his death at the age of 69.

He was also interested in composing and compiling hymns. He and Ralph Vaughan Williams published The English Hymnal in 1906. Two more hymnals followed: Songs of Praise in 1926 and the Oxford Book of Carols in 1928.

Incidentally, when Songs of Praise was expanded in 1931, Dearmer wanted a hymn of daily thanksgiving, which is how Morning Has Broken (made famous 40 years later by Cat Stevens) first became known:

In Songs of Praise Discussed, the editor, Percy Dearmer, explains that as there was need for a hymn to give thanks for each day, English poet and children’s author Eleanor Farjeon had been “asked to make a poem to fit the lovely Scottish tune”. A slight variation on the original hymn, also written by Eleanor Farjeon, can be found in the form of a poem contributed to the anthology Children’s Bells, under Farjeon’s new title, “A Morning Song (For the First Day of Spring)”, published by Oxford University Press in 1957. The song is noted in 9/4 time but with a 3/4 feel.

“Bunessan” had been found in L. McBean’s Songs and Hymns of the Gael, published in 1900.[3] Before Farjeon’s words, the tune was used as a Christmas carol, which began “Child in the manger, Infant of Mary”, translated from the Scottish Gaelic lyrics written by Mary MacDonald. The English-language Roman Catholic hymnal also uses the tune for the James Quinn hymns “Christ Be Beside Me” and “This Day God Gives Me”, both of which were adapted from the traditional Irish hymn St. Patrick’s Breastplate. Another Christian hymn “Baptized In Water” borrows the tune.

Dearmer, his wife Mabel and their two sons all served in the Great War. Dearmer and his wife were stationed in Serbia where he was a chaplain to a British Red Cross Ambulance unit. Mabel served as a nurse with that unit and died of enteric fever in 1915. Their younger son Christopher died in battle that year. However, their elder son, Geoffrey, survived and died at the age of 103, and, at that age, was one of the oldest surviving war poets.

Dearmer remarried in 1916. He and his wife Nancy had three children: two daughters and a son. Sadly, their son died in active service with the RAF in 1943.

The reason Dearmer’s book Everyman’s History of the Prayer Book caught my eye is that the second chapter is called ‘The Question of Set Forms of Prayer’.

One of my personal bugbears is going to a traditional liturgical service and hear a priest substitute his own improvised prayers for the special intentions which precede the prayer of consecration. If he (or she) simply prayed them out of the Prayer Book, he would find that all his prayer needs were satisfied outside of names of national leaders or the sick and dying.

Their waffling — ‘uhh, mmm’ — and their poor prose has me praying for patience and calm just as we are about to reach the apex of the service with Holy Communion.

This is what Dearmer had to say about that and also dispensing with set prayers altogether. Remember, he wrote this in 1912, so this is somewhat surprising (emphases mine):

It is worth while, therefore, asking ourselves at the outset, Is liturgical worship a good thing, or ought the minister to make up his own prayers?

Now, there is very much to be said for extemporaneous worship in church; it is often a most useful instrument in mission work, it is an indispensable way of bringing the idea of worship to the ignorant, it secures the necessary element of freedom; furthermore, it may bring spontaneity and vitality into a service, and be a good corrective to formalism …

Nor is there anything alien to Church ways or wrong in principle about extempore services. Indeed in the earliest days of the Church the celebrant at the Eucharist used to pray thus. The service went on certain general lines, but the “president” filled it in according to his own ideas, and offered up “prayers and thanksgivings with all his strength,” the people saying “Amen” (as is told on p. 185). it was only by degrees that the prayers thus offered became fixed. Those, therefore, who argue that everything which was not done in the first two or three centuries must therefore be wrong, should logically include liturgical worship among the things they condemn. But perhaps sensible people in the 20th century no longer argue thus.

Well, often, that was because the celebrant could not read very well. Also, parchment was highly expensive and there were no printing presses until much later, in 1439.

Dearmer then mentions John Milton, an irregular churchgoer. Milton was all for extemporaneous prayer. Dearmer points out:

Milton’s mistake, was, in fact, a very simple one. He thought that every minister, would be a Milton. He did not realize what a deadly thing average custom can be, what a deadly bore an average man can make of himself when compelled to do continually a thing for which he has no natural gift. He did not foresee the insidious danger of unreality and cant. We should all, of course, flock to hear Milton praying extempore, if he were to come to life again ; but there are many mute, inglorious ministers whom we would rather not hear.

To put the prayers as well as the sermon in the hands of the officiating minister is indeed a form of sacerdotalism which the Church most wisely rejected many centuries ago. We know what a joy and help it would be to hear an inspired saint, with a genius for rapid prose composition, make up prayers as he went along; and opportunities for extemporization do exist outside the appointed services. But the Church has to provide for the average man, and has to guard against that form of clerical absolutism which would put a congregation at the mercy of the idiosyncrasies and shortcomings of one person. For extempore services, which should be a safeguard for freedom, can easily degenerate into a tyranny.

Indeed!

Before defending a set liturgy, Dearmer points out the importance of a sensory church service, one which will escape people who worship in plainly:

history and a wide knowledge of Christendom show us that good ceremonies are a great preservative against Pharisaism. The reason for this is that action, music, colour, form, sight, scent, and sound appeal more freely to the individual worshipper, and more subtly, relieving the pressure of a rigid phraseology, and allowing the spirit many ways of rising up to God, unhampered by the accent of the workaday voice of man. It is only thus that the wonderful intensity of devotion among the Russian people, for instance, can be accounted for: we have no popular religious affection in the West which can compare with the evangelical spirit of this hundred million of Christians, who yet have used nothing but their very ancient forms of prayer during the thousand years since their race was first converted.

Precisely. This is what old school churchgoers refer to as the mysterium tremendum, which is very rare in our time.

Although he allows for some extemporaneous prayer, Dearmer concludes:

we may be confident that liturgical worship is the best of all. There is some loss in the use of printed words; but there is a greater gain. We have in them the accumulated wisdom and beauty of the Christian Church, the garnered excellence of the saints. We are by them released from the accidents of time and place. Above all we are preserved against the worst dangers of selfishness: in the common prayer we join together in a great fellowship that is as wide as the world; and we are guided, not by the limited notions of our own priest, nor by the narrow impulses of our own desires, but by the mighty voice that rises from the general heart of Christendom.

Our Lord had the ancient forms of the Church in which he lived often on his lips, and in the moment of his supreme agony it was a liturgical sentence, a fragment of the familiar service, that was wrung from him— “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” We have a richer heritage, for it is a heritage dowered by his Spirit; and from our treasure-house come things new and old …

… there is a place and a real use for extemporary prayer, and a still greater use for the silent prayer which is above words altogether. These very things will keep fresh and sweet for us those old set forms, in which we can join so well because we know beforehand what they are about, and in which for the same reason all the people can come together in the fellowship of common prayer.

My advice — and my hope — for clergy improvising their own prayers is to sit down and write out the text in full, revising and perfecting it for however long it takes.

I was a member for several years of a large Episcopal church which had perfect prayers. The curates wrote them themselves or read them from books by other ministers. They were beautiful prayers, worthy of God. The congregation also listened and silently prayed intently. You could hear a pin drop.

Here in the UK, things are different. I blame it on the seminaries. However, if they feel it so necessary to express themselves, Anglican priests should take up the challenge to have an outstanding set of prayers of their own that fit with the language being used in the liturgy.

Jesus is our friend, but let us not forget the many Bible verses about our rightful awe we owe to Almighty God. This is the second part of Ecclesiastes 12:13 (ESV):

Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man.

The 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 7:2b-8

“Brothers and fathers, hear me. The God of glory appeared to our father Abraham when he was in Mesopotamia, before he lived in Haran, and said to him, ‘Go out from your land and from your kindred and go into the land that I will show you.’ 4 Then he went out from the land of the Chaldeans and lived in Haran. And after his father died, God removed him from there into this land in which you are now living. Yet he gave him no inheritance in it, not even a foot’s length, but promised to give it to him as a possession and to his offspring after him, though he had no child. And God spoke to this effect—that his offspring would be sojourners in a land belonging to others, who would enslave them and afflict them four hundred years. ‘But I will judge the nation that they serve,’ said God, ‘and after that they shall come out and worship me in this place.’ And he gave him the covenant of circumcision. And so Abraham became the father of Isaac, and circumcised him on the eighth day, and Isaac became the father of Jacob, and Jacob of the twelve patriarchs.

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Before we come to today’s reading, it is worthwhile recapping Acts 6, which is part of the three-year Lectionary readings for St Stephen’s feast day. He was the first martyr.

Because the first Pentecost took place during the Jewish feast of the first harvest, Jews from all over the ancient world had gathered in Jerusalem.

Among them were many new converts, including Jews from Greece, the Hellenists (Acts 6:1). The Hellenists complained that their newly converted widows were receiving less in charity than the widows of Jerusalem and surrounds. Whether this was a sound complaint, we do not know. However, the Apostles decided that keeping track of charity and collecting funds for the new Church would limit the time they spent teaching and healing.

Therefore, they instituted deacons to take on the charity work — to ‘serve tables’ (Acts 6:2). The word ‘deacon’ is not used as such in Acts 6, but this essentially was what the position involved. Matthew Henry tells us that the Greek words for serving tables are

diakonein trapezais–to be deacons to the tables, Acts 6:2.

The Twelve directed all the disciples — which now included several thousands of converts — to name seven men who were (Acts 6:3):

of good repute, full of the Spirit and of wisdom …

Henry explains:

These must be, First, Of honest report, men free from scandal, that were looked upon by their neighbours as men of integrity, and faithful men, well attested, as men that might be trusted, not under a blemish for any vice, but, on the contrary, well spoken of for every thing that is virtuous and praiseworthy; martyroumenous–men that can produce good testimonials concerning their conversation. Note, Those that are employed in any office in the church ought to be men of honest report, of a blameless, nay, of an admirable character, which is requisite not only to the credit of their office, but to the due discharge of it. Secondly, They must be full of the Holy Ghost, must be filled with those gifts and graces of the Holy Ghost which were necessary to the right management of this trust. They must not only be honest men, but they must be men of ability and men of courage; such as were to be made judges in Israel (Exodus 18:21), able men, fearing God; men of truth, and hating covetousness; and hereby appearing to be full of the Holy Ghost. Thirdly, They must be full of wisdom. It was not enough that they were honest, good men, but they must be discreet, judicious men, that could not be imposed upon, and would order things for the best, and with consideration: full of the Holy Ghost, and wisdom, that is, of the Holy Ghost as a Spirit of wisdom. We find the word of wisdom given by the Spirit, as distinct form the word of knowledge by the same Spirit, 1 Corinthians 12:8. Those must be full of wisdom who are entrusted with public money, that it may be disposed of, not only with fidelity, but with frugality.

Henry says that the seven men chosen were not among the disciples at the first Pentecost but those who had converted and received the Holy Spirit afterwards. Furthermore, their names were Greek, implying they were Hellenists (Acts 6:5). Perhaps this was a better way of ensuring charity was distributed equally to Hebrew and Hellenist alike.

Henry tells us more about these men:

Nicolas, it is plain, was one of them, for he was a proselyte of Antioch; and some think the manner of expression intimates that they were all proselytes of Jerusalem, as he was of Antioch. The first named is Stephen, the glory of these septemviri, a man full of faith and of the Holy Ghost; he had a strong faith in the doctrine of Christ, and was full of it above most; full of fidelity, full of courage (so some), for he was full of the Holy Ghost, of his gifts and graces. He was an extraordinary man, and excelled in every thing that was good; his name signifies a crown. Philip is put next, because he, having used this office of a deacon well, thereby obtained a good degree, and was afterwards ordained to the office of an evangelist, a companion and assistant to the apostles, for so he is expressly called, Acts 21:8. Compare Ephesians 4:11. And his preaching and baptizing (which we read of Acts 8:12) were certainly not as a deacon (for it is plain that that office was serving tables, in opposition to the ministry of the word), but as an evangelist; and, when he was preferred to that office, we have reason to think he quitted this office, as incompatible with that. As for Stephen, nothing we find done by him proves him to be a preacher of the gospel; for he only disputes in the schools, and pleads for his life at the bar, Acts 6:9,7:2. The last named is Nicolas, who, some say, afterwards degenerated (as the Judas among these seven) and was the founder of the sect of the Nicolaitans which we read of (Revelation 2:6,15), and which Christ there says, once and again, was a thing he hated. But some of the ancients clear him from this charge, and tell us that, though that vile impure sect denominated themselves from him, yet it was unjustly, and because he only insisted much upon it that those that had wives should be as though they had none, thence they wickedly inferred that those that had wives should have them in common, which therefore Tertullian, when he speaks of the community of goods, particularly excepts: Omnia indiscreta apud nos, præter uxores–All things are common among us, except our wives.–Apol. cap, 39.

The Apostles prayerfully laid their hands on this group of seven men (Acts 6:6), which also included (Acts 6:5):

Prochorus, and Nicanor, and Timon, and Parmenas …

Thus ordained, the first deacons went about their duties.

Stephen was filled with such grace and faith that he performed (Acts 6:8):

great wonders and signs among the people.

Henry tells us that wonders and signs were not restricted to the Apostles:

It is not strange that Stephen, though he was not a preacher by office, did these great wonders, for we find that these were distinct gifts of the Spirit, and divided severally, for to one was given the working of miracles, and to another prophecy, 1 Corinthians 12:10,11. And these signs followed not only those that preached, but those that believed. Mark 16:17.

A group of devout Jews from abroad — Greece, Asia Minor and freemen (freed slaves) from Rome — took issue with Stephen’s actions (Acts 6:9). However, he responded with such divinely inspired wisdom that they had nothing more to say. So, they took their hostility further and made up lies about him, saying he had blasphemed Moses and God (Acts 6:11). Having cooked up a lie, they then used it to agitate the scribes and elders in the temple (Acts 6:12), which produced the desired result. Stephen was brought up before the council at the temple. Acts 6:15:

15 And gazing at him, all who sat in the council saw that his face was like the face of an angel.

This brings us to Acts 7, which begins with the high priest asking Stephen to explain himself.

John MacArthur tells us about the charges of blasphemy levelled against Stephen:

He had been charged with blasphemy against God, Moses, the law and the Temple, the most sacred things in the mind of any Jew. And he had to answer the charge. But he knew what he believed, and he knew why he believed it. And he answered it. And I think it’s important to notice that he answered the charge with Scripture. He defended the faith not in vagaries of philosophy, not in logic, but in verbal testimony to the Scripture. And he even quotes it repeatedly verbatim, which shows something of what he must’ve known about Scripture.

Historical Jewish tradition says that the great rabban Gamaliel — from last week’s post on Acts 5:33-42 — trained Stephen in Scripture. Gamaliel certainly taught St Paul and he might well have taught Barnabas also.

Stephen’s speech is a magnificent lesson in apologetics, a defence of the Christian faith, not being sorry for it, as apology generally means today.

Before we look at it in more detail, MacArthur posits that Stephen’s ministry to the Hellenists was a means of moving the thrust of the new Church along and out of Jerusalem:

It was now time for operation number two, which was Judea and Samaria, moving out from Jerusalem. Now, Stephen became the key to this thrust, for many reasons. In the first place, they needed to get better organized in order to step out. The church was falling into some internal problems because they weren’t structured right, so in chapter 6 they got organized. They chose seven Spirit-filled men to handle the business of the church so the apostles could be free to preach and to pray …

And so Stephen was important to the progress of the church because he was taking over responsibility that freed the church to go. Secondly, he was important because he was a preacher, a New Testament prophet, and he preached to foreign Jews. So he began to extend this from the Palestine Jews to the Hellenist, or Grecian, Jews, who would come into Jerusalem.

Ultimately, Stephen’s ministry ended in martyrdom, which further assisted the Church at that time:

immediately following his death, chapter 8, verse 1 says, “And Saul was consenting unto his death. And at that time there was a great persecution against the church which was at Jerusalem.” The death of Stephen precipitated the persecution of the church. And, as you know, when the church gets persecuted, the church gets going.

And so the persecution came, and immediately they were all scattered abroad throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria, which is right on target, right on schedule, exactly where God wanted them to go. Phase two begins to move. And it isn’t because God sent them out there directly. It’s because the people in Jerusalem started persecuting them and they fled to those places.

Stephen’s speech explains early Jewish history concerning the covenant and promises that God fulfilled for the people of Israel. Today’s reading is only the first part, relating how Abraham was called by God from Mesopotamia to inhabit a new land (verses 2, 3).

Note that Stephen addressed those gathered as ‘brothers and fathers’. In other words, ‘I am one of you’. Left unspoken for now is that he understood that God wanted them to believe in Jesus, the Messiah.

He also referred to ‘the God of glory’ and ‘our father Abraham’, further evidence that he was not blaspheming and that he had reverence for the Almighty and the great persons in Scripture.

Stephen went on to say that Abraham accepted God’s instructions and moved to Haran, then on to the present land ‘where you are now living’ (verse 4). Yet, God didn’t leave Abraham an inheritance of land, but told him it would belong to his offspring (verse 5). This was incredible, because Abraham and his wife Sarah had no children. She was sterile. Furthermore, they were advanced in age. So, Abraham spent time alone with their servant Hagar. Nine months later Ishmael was born. However, Ishmael was not part of God’s plan for Abraham.

Yet, Abraham’s faith was such that, even though his understanding of that plan was imperfect, he did not question God or His design for him and his people.

Then, as Stephen related (verses 6, 7), God had more news for Abraham: his offspring would be slaves to others, toiling in a foreign land for 400 years. (MacArthur tells us that it was 430.) Then, His people would be released from bondage and come to worship Him in their own land.

God made a covenant with Abraham, one of circumcision (verse 8) for every male in his family down through the generations, including slaves and foreigners. Abraham circumcised Isaac eight days after he was born. Circumcision continued with Isaac’s son Jacob and so on, encompassing all twelve tribes of Israel and their descendants.

What Stephen did here was to express his faith in God’s sovereignty. MacArthur explains:

Stephen’s saying, “I realize the destiny of Israel’s in the hands of God.” Do you see what he’s saying? That’s what he’s recognizing. “I know that God is running the show. I believe in the God of Israel, who called Abraham, who took the children of Israel into Egypt, who brought the plagues on Pharaoh and got them out of Egypt, who presented the great deliverer, Moses. I believe it all,” is what’s saying. He’s establishing himself in relation to the God of Israel.

This accomplished two things for those listening to Stephen in court:

He has captured their attention by reciting the history they love to hear. And I’ll bet you he was a dynamic speaker. It says that they couldn’t resist his spirit. And I think they just ate it up. And the second thing he accomplished was, he defended himself against the charge that he blasphemed God. He did believe in God. He did not believe God was unholy, unsacred. He believed God was the holy God of glory, the very God of Israel.

What Stephen was moving towards by recounting their common history as Jews was this:

The third thing he wants to do is indict them for sinfulness and rejection. The fourth thing is to present Messiah.

The story continues next week.

Next time: Acts 7:9-16

Bible treehuggercomThe 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 5:33-42

33 When they heard this, they were enraged and wanted to kill them. 34 But a Pharisee in the council named Gamaliel, a teacher of the law held in honor by all the people, stood up and gave orders to put the men outside for a little while. 35 And he said to them, “Men of Israel, take care what you are about to do with these men. 36 For before these days Theudas rose up, claiming to be somebody, and a number of men, about four hundred, joined him. He was killed, and all who followed him were dispersed and came to nothing. 37 After him Judas the Galilean rose up in the days of the census and drew away some of the people after him. He too perished, and all who followed him were scattered. 38 So in the present case I tell you, keep away from these men and let them alone, for if this plan or this undertaking is of man, it will fail; 39 but if it is of God, you will not be able to overthrow them. You might even be found opposing God!” So they took his advice, 40 and when they had called in the apostles, they beat them and charged them not to speak in the name of Jesus, and let them go. 41 Then they left the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer dishonor for the name. 42 And every day, in the temple and from house to house, they did not cease teaching and preaching that the Christ is Jesus.

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Very little of Acts 5 is in the three-year Lectionary.

More’s the pity, because this chapter reveals much about the Church in infancy, as these events happened shortly after Pentecost.

The end of Acts 4 mentions a godly convert:

36 Thus Joseph, who was also called by the apostles Barnabas (which means son of encouragement), a Levite, a native of Cyprus, 37 sold a field that belonged to him and brought the money and laid it at the apostles’ feet.

Acts 5 opened with the stories of deceitful husband and wife Ananias and Sapphira, who attempted to imitate Joseph’s example by pledging money from a property sale. However, they decided to keep a share of the proceeds for themselves. Peter accused them of deceiving God and the Holy Spirit. They were so convicted that God took their lives, first Ananias, then Sapphira.

After their deaths, the Church’s purity was restored. The Apostles, particularly St Peter, attracted more converts with their healing miracles, performed through the gift of the Holy Spirit.

Even the high priest and the Sadducees could not contain the Twelve. An angel of the Lord released our holy men from prison. Following the angel’s instructions, they returned to Solomon’s Portico — or Porch — to continue preaching and healing.

When the temple captain and prison officers brought them back for a hearing, they went peaceably. Once before the council, they were charged with disobedience. This is the only part of Acts 5 that is in the Lectionary:

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.”

The council members heard Peter and were furious. They wanted to kill the Apostles (verse 33). They were angry that he was telling them the truth, one they preferred to forget.

Matthew Henry explains the unrelenting dynamic that was going on in their minds (emphases mine):

instead of yielding to it, they raged against it, and were filled, 1. With indignation at what the apostles said: They were cut to the heart, angry to see their own sin set in order before them; stark mad to find that the gospel of Christ had so much to say for itself, and consequently was likely to get ground. When a sermon was preached to the people to this purport, they were pricked to the heart, in remorse and godly sorrow, Acts 2:37. These here were cut to the heart with rage and indignation. Thus the same gospel is to some a savour of life unto life, to others of death unto death. The enemies of the gospel not only deprive themselves of its comforts, but fill themselves with terrors, and are their own tormentors. 2. With malice against the apostles themselves. Since they see they cannot stop their mouths any other way than by stopping their breath, they take counsel to slay them, hoping that so they shall cause the work to cease. While the apostles went on in the service of Christ, with a holy security and serenity of mind, perfectly composed, and in a sweet enjoyment of themselves, their persecutors went on in their opposition to Christ, with a constant perplexity and perturbation of mind, and vexation to themselves.

John MacArthur says the same thing of the Gospel truth:

It’s a sword and it rips men open. Convicts them. And they just couldn’t stand it. The word “deperianto” means violently agitated. Cut to the heart. They were just torn up inside. You say, “What got them all messed up?” The persistent preaching of these Christians.

A highly learned Pharisee, Gamaliel, stepped up and asked that the Apostles be removed from the area (verse 34). (Incidentally, there is only one famous person I can think of who had this name: Warren Gamaliel Harding, US president from 1921-1923. He was a Baptist who died in office. His administration was scandal-ridden.)

Who was the Gamaliel from Acts 5?

Henry tells us:

This Gamaliel is here said to be a Pharisee by his profession and sect, and by office a doctor of the law, one that studied the scriptures of the Old Testament, read lectures upon the sacred authors, and trained up pupils in the knowledge of them. Paul was brought up at his feet (Acts 22:3), and tradition says that so were Stephen and Barnabas. Some say he was the son of that Simeon that took up Christ in his arms, when he was presented in the temple, and grandson of the famous Hillel. He is here said to be in reputation among all the people for his wisdom and conduct, it appearing by this passage that he was a moderate man, and not apt to go in with furious measures. Men of temper and charity are justly had in reputation, for checking the incendiaries that otherwise would set the world on fire.

Henry saw the value of moderation in all things, especially in making decisions. MacArthur says that Gamaliel was working on the wrong premise. More about that later in this post.

MacArthur has more on Gamaliel:

Now he’s an eminent man. It says he was a teacher of the law and in the Talmud, which is the rabbinical writings of the Judaism[;] the Talmud calls him Gamaliel, the Elder, and the word rabban is a word that it’s not like Rabbi, it’s saved for only seven men, the seven most eminent teachers of Israel. He was the first one who ever got that title, so he’s a pretty sharp guy. He was the greatest teacher of his day. He was the grandson of Hillel. There were two great Rabbis. Any Jew will tell you the two great Rabbis Hillel and Chaim, those two Rabbis founded the two branches of Phariseeism one a little more conservative than the other. Hillel was the little more liberal wing. He was the grandson of Hillel. His heritage was good; he was a sharp guy. The old writing[s] tell us he had great earning, he was noble, he studied Greek literature, he was culturally so far advanced from the other Rabbis they weren’t even in the same ballpark with him. He was called the Beauty of the Law. He died 18 years before the sack of Jerusalem in 70 A.D. and in the Mishna it says, “Since Rabban Gamaliel, the Elder, there has been no more reverence for the law, and purity and abstinence died out at the same time.” So he was a very dominating guy. They felt that when he died everything went with him.

Interestingly enough in Acts 22:3, it says that the apostle Paul studied at his feet. So Paul had the best teacher of Judaism that was alive at that time, maybe one of the greatest that ever lived.

MacArthur also gives us valuable information about the organisational set up of the temple:

Now Gamaliel was a Pharisee and you’ll remember that the Sadducees controlled the Sanhedrin, the Sanhedrin was the 70-member counsel that ruled Jerusalem. But within the framework of the 70-member counsel there were Pharisees, it was just that the Sadducees had the rule, had the money, they were the political collaborationists. They were the ones that had sided with Rome. They were the ones that you might say were the theological liberals. They were concerned with social customs, they were concerned with getting along with Rome, they were very liberal in theology, they didn’t believe in the resurrection, and they didn’t believe in angels and that’s why God made sure that the Apostles preached the resurrection and got let out of prison by an angel because He was defying their theology.

But nonetheless, they were the theological liberals; they were the political liberals, whereas the Pharisees were the traditionalists. They were purists as regarding the law; they were nationalists as regarding Israel. They believed that Israel should exist apart from any connection with Rome. They were the ones who would have joined in any rebellion to get Rome off their necks because they were isolationists, nationalistic, whereas the Sadducees were political collaborators with Rome and they were theological liberals and they look at it from an economic standpoint, prestige standpoint, etc. etc. Very much like the dichotomy today between evangelicals and liberals.

So they were poles apart religiously and they were poles apart politically, which made for an interesting kind of dialogue within the framework of the Sanhedrin. Now the Sadducees were very influential with the Sanhedrin and very influential with Rome, but very uninfluential with the people. The people’s group were the Pharisees. They were the ones that really swayed the people. Now this is very important because it adds a little bit of kind of undercurrent by play to this thing that’s going to happen in a second.

Josephus says, and Josephus was a non-Christian historian about the time of Christ, who commented on a lot of things that were going on then, and Josephus says that because of the popularity of the Pharisees with the people, the Sadducees would always acquiesce to their demands.

In short, the Sadducees listened to Gamaliel, not only because of his wisdom, but also because he had his finger on the public pulse.

Gamaliel warned straightaway that careful consideration must be given in the handling of the Apostles (verse 35). Henry has this analysis:

It is not a common case, and therefore should not be hastily determined. He calls them men of Israel, to enforce this caution: “You are men, that should be governed by reason, be not then as the horse and the mule that have no understanding; you are men of Israel, that should be governed by revelation, be not then as strangers and heathens, that have no regard to God and his word.

MacArthur disagrees. Of Gamaliel, he says:

although he comes across theological, I think in the back of his brain is a political thought because if this is the best he can come up with in theology he’s hurting.

Gamaliel asked the council to remember two political and religious radicals of their lifetime: Theudas and Judas the Galilean (not the betrayer).

Theudas, he reminded them, claimed to be someone important and was able to assemble 400 men to do his bidding. He was then killed — possibly by the authorities — and his movement stopped (verse 36).

Around the time of Theudas, Judas the Galilean started an uprising in the days of the census and unfair taxation. He, too, met his death and so did his movement (verse 37).

What was Gamaliel talking about? Henry fills us in on events that took place around the time when Jesus was born, so, 30+ years before. However, Henry also points out there were another politically motivated men by these names, which makes the timeline tricky to place:

Observe, [1.] The attempt he made. It is said to be after this, which some read, besides this, or, Let me mention, after this,–supposing that Judas’s insurrection was long before that of Theudas; for it was in the time of the taxation, namely, that at our Saviour’s birth (Luke 2:1), and that of Theudas, whom Josephus speaks of, that mutinied, in the time of Cuspius Fadus; but this was in the days of Claudius Cæsar, some years after Gamaliel spoke this, and therefore could not be the same. It is not easy to determine particularly when these events happened, nor whether this taxing was the same with that at our Saviour’s birth or one of a later date. Some think this Judas of Galilee was the same with Judas Gaulonites, whom Josephus speaks of, others not. It is probable that they were cases which lately happened, and were fresh in memory. This Judas drew away much people after him, who gave credit to his pretensions. But, [2.] Here is the defeat of his attempt, and that without any interposal of the great sanhedrim, or any decree of theirs against him (it did not need it); he also perished, and all, even as many as obeyed him, or were persuaded by him, were dispersed. Many have foolishly thrown away their lives, and brought others into the same snares, by a jealousy for their liberties, in the days of the taxing, who had better have been content, when Providence had so determined, to serve the king of Babylon.

MacArthur gives us his version of historical events:

There are too many guys named Theudas to remember who this is. We don’t have any idea. Josephus talks about a later Theudas who had a rebellion, but his rebellion was so different from the characteristics here and it came so many years later that we know it’s not the same guy

After this man rose up Judas of Galilee,” and this one we do know a little bit about. This fellow led a revolt about 6 A. D. You remember that Herod the Great died in 4 A. D., I guess, 4 B. C. I can’t remember which, and after he died there about ten thousand robbers that popped up. They popped up all over everywhere. It just came to be a common thing see. 4 B. C. he died. It was kind of a common thing and they were just running around in the country.

A lot of times these little groups of robbers would get together and they’d find a leader and they’d crown him a king and they’d start a little revolution. Well one of these guys was Judas and in 6 A. D. he led a rebellion during the time of the census or the taxation under Quirinius, which just gives you a historical footnote. But his position was this: he said God is king; therefore to pay taxes to Rome is blaspheming God. None of us shall pay taxes anymore and he started spreading this around. Well this was a big threat to Rome so immediately the Roman IRS got activated and came down and stomped all over Judas and his people. And it’s interesting that verse 37 says, “In the days of those in the registration he drew away many people after him. He also perished and all even as many as obeyed him were dispersed.”

MacArthur says that after the Judas of 6 AD:

out of that movement came a group of people known as the Zealots. Did you ever read about the Zealots in the Bible? The Zealots were the super super nationalistic people, really believed in the purity and the isolation of Israel. And they grew out of Judas’ rebellion. So it wasn’t just as ineffective as [Gamaliel] said.

Gamaliel told the council to leave the Apostles alone and see if their following and their message peters out (yes, pun). If it is a temporal movement, he said, it will die out of its own accord (verse 38).

However, he added, if this is a movement borne of God, then it is better to leave the Apostles alone rather than to experience divine wrath (verse 39).

MacArthur does not like that reasoning at all:

That is one of the dumbest messed up principles I’ve ever read. Parts of it are true and that’s what’s so insidious. That’s the way all the cults are, you know. They’re right just enough to mess you up. They’re like a clock that doesn’t work. They’re right on twice a day. And so his advice is let them alone and it’ll all work out.

You know what principle being interpreted is? Listen. Whatever succeeds is of God; whatever fails is not. That’s what he’s saying isn’t it? When you put 38 and 39 together he says if it’s of God it’ll succeed, if it isn’t it won’t. So whatever succeeds is of God, whatever fails is not. That is a dumb principle. If you live by that principle you will be a mess. I’ll say this. It’s true in an ultimate sense, right? At the coming of Christ whatever is of God will remain, whatever isn’t will be wiped out. But it’s only true in an ultimate sense. That’s sure no way to evaluate something that’s going on in that moment. I mean there are kinds of successful [movements] that God hates. Illustration number one: the Sanhedrin. I mean if that principle is true, none of them would even be there. They say if it’s of God it’ll remain. They’re looking at each other here we all remain. They didn’t even know God. If we applied that principle that meeting couldn’t have taken place.

MacArthur went to mention bad religious and political movements that are a century, sometimes more than a millennia old, which are definitely not borne of God.

Henry’s assessment is a more charitable:

It is uncertain whether he spoke this out of policy, for fear of offending either the people or the Romans and making further mischief. The apostles did not attempt any thing by outward force. The weapons of their warfare were not carnal; and therefore why should any outward force be used against them? Or, whether he was under any present convictions, at least of the probability of the truth of the Christian doctrine, and thought it deserved better treatment, at least a fair trial. Or, whether it was only the language of a mild quiet spirit, that was against persecution for conscience’ sake. Or, whether God put this word into his mouth beyond his own intention, for the deliverance of the apostles at this time. We are sure there was an overruling Providence in it, that the servants of Christ might not only come off, but come off honourably.

I see merit in both, but agree more with Henry’s regarding providential intervention.

In any event, the Sanhedrin heeded Gamaliel’s advice (verse 39).

So, what happened to Gamaliel? Henry tells us:

The tradition of the Jewish writers is that, for all this, he lived and died an inveterate enemy to Christ and his gospel; and though (now at least) he was not for persecuting the followers of Christ, yet he was the man who composed that prayer which the Jews use to this day for the extirpating of Christians and Christianity. On the contrary, the tradition of the Papists is that he turned Christian, and became an eminent patron of Christianity and a follower of Paul, who had formerly sat at his feet. If it had been so, it is very probable that we should have heard of him somewhere in the Acts or Epistles.

Interesting!

Although Gamaliel presented a reasonable approach, the rage of the council was such that they themselves were not about to let the Apostles go off lightly. So, in addition to ordering them not to speak of Jesus any more, they had the Twelve scourged (verse 40). MacArthur describes this horrific punishment, which Jesus Himself endured before the Crucifixion:

Deuteronomy 25 tells about it. It’s a sad thing.

The Mishna says a guy would take the hands of the person and strap him to two posts like this. He would strip his shirt off. The stone was set behind the man or in front of the man on which the guy stood and he had to swing with all his might, the Mishna said. He wrapped the leather around his hand, two big long wide broad pieces of leather from the navel to the ground, that long, and they gave him one-third of the stripes on the front and two-thirds on the back and he did it to every one of those believers there. Then that brought us to the third and final reaction and we’ll close with this.

The Apostles must have been in unimaginable, unbearable pain afterwards.

However, as they left the council, bleeding, they rejoiced! They were so happy that their tormentors considered them worthy enough to suffer in the name of Jesus (verse 41). Henry expands on this:

(1.) They reckoned it an honour, looked upon it that they were counted worthy to suffer shame, katexiothesan atimasthenai–that they were honoured to be dishonoured for Christ. Reproach for Christ is true preferment, as it makes us conformable to his pattern and serviceable to his interest. (2.) They rejoiced in it, remembering what their Master had said to them at their first setting out (Matthew 5:11,12): When men shall revile you, and persecute you, rejoice and be exceedingly glad. They rejoiced, not only though they suffered shame (their troubles did not diminish their joy), but that they suffered shame; their troubles increased their joy, and added to it. If we suffer ill for doing well, provided we suffer it well, and as we should, we ought to rejoice in that grace which enables us so to do.

They duly returned to their ministry in Jerusalem, not only speaking in the temple but also going from house to house (verse 42). Henry explains:

Though in the temple they were more exposed, and under the eye of their enemies, yet they did not confine themselves to their little oratories in their own houses, but ventured into the post of danger; and though they had the liberty of the temple, a consecrated place, yet they made no difficulty of preaching in houses, in every house, even the poorest cottage. They visited the families of those that were under their charge, and gave particular instructions to them according as their case required, even to the children and servants.

Also:

They did not preach themselves, but Christ, as faithful friends to the bridegroom, making it their business to advance his interest. This was the preaching that gave most offence to the priests, who were willing they should preach any thing but Christ; but they would not alter their subject to please them.

Henry has this reminder:

It ought to be the constant business of gospel ministers to preach Christ; Christ, and him crucified; Christ, and him glorified; nothing besides this but what is reducible to it.

MacArthur has a good analogy, comparing a robust Church to the effervescence of a fizzy drink:

We went somewhere the other day for lunch and somebody said, “I’d like to have a Coke.” Well I’m sorry the carbonation machine doesn’t work and the Coke is flat.” And I kept thinking, “Oh that is just about how I often feel about the church.” What happened to the fizz? I mean there’s no effect. So much of our Christianity is in the walls, isn’t it? And where’s the influence?

This is what the early church had was influence. Everywhere they went the world shook because their step was so heavy and it shook for God. You remember they said of them, “These who turned the world upside down have come to our city also.” See! Influence. They became the issue. Boy, when Christianity gets to be the issue that’s exciting.

Clergy really do need to remember this. Forget the soft platitudes. Give us meat.

And, we laypeople can draw a lesson from this too, whether we teach, work with young people or are parents or guardians. Make Christianity come alive for children. Start them off early with Bible stories and explain their importance. Explain the life of Christ in the way the Apostles did and they will not stray from a love for our Saviour, our only Mediator and Advocate.

Next week, we will read of another great preacher of Jesus: Stephen — possibly one of Gamaliel’s students — who ended up being the first martyr.

Next time: Acts 7:2b-8

Lent begins on March 1, 2017.

As Christians, we have the freedom to choose whether to observe this season of penitence in preparation for Easter.

Below are a few of my past posts on Lent.

Until the Reformation, Lenten spiritual disciplines were widely observed:

St Athanasius and the Lenten practices of the early Church

Lent in the early Church — not a pagan practice

These included fasting, which has changed considerably over the past 50 years. Fasting is biblical as long as we accompany it with regular prayer:

Ash Wednesday reflections

On publicised fasting and charity

If you can — fast

Gosh, the rules on Lenten ‘fasting’ really have changed

Here are a few reflections on and ideas for Lent to make it a spiritually-enriched 40 days:

Lent, denominational differences and freedom in Christ

Lutheran reflections for Lent

Caution on Lenten devotions

Why not read the Bible this Lent?

Bible study plan suggestions

The point of Lent is to bring us closer to Jesus and God the Father. Ideally, we should want to continue these devotions afterwards, as part of sanctification.

If we are making other people miserable in the process, then we need to take a step back and correct ourselves or try something different.

Have a grace-filled, prayerful Lent.

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?

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.”

————————————————————————————

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 kevinroosecomThe 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 5:22-26

22 But when the officers came, they did not find them in the prison, so they returned and reported, 23 “We found the prison securely locked and the guards standing at the doors, but when we opened them we found no one inside.” 24 Now when the captain of the temple and the chief priests heard these words, they were greatly perplexed about them, wondering what this would come to. 25 And someone came and told them, “Look! The men whom you put in prison are standing in the temple and teaching the people.” 26 Then the captain with the officers went and brought them, but not by force, for they were afraid of being stoned by the people.

———————————————————————————————-

Today’s passage is a continuation of last week’s, wherein an angel of the Lord released the Apostles from prison for preaching and healing in Christ’s name. The angel told the Twelve to return to Solomon’s Portico — Solomon’s Porch — at the temple (Acts 5:20):

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

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.

Acts 5:21 tells us that the high priest and the religious leaders around him sent for the Twelve to be brought from prison before them.

The prison officers went to the cell, but did not find them (verse 22). John MacArthur calls this:

the great escape.

Matthew Henry surmises the Apostles’ absence was all the more confusing because:

It is probable that they found the common prisoners there.

No doubt the officers were fearful that the religious leaders would accuse them of being lax, so they quickly said that everything was secure, yet there was ‘no one inside’ (verse 23). Having no more information available, we do not know whether Henry’s assumption is correct or whether all the prisoners escaped. It seems unlikely that the angel would have also released common criminals. Perhaps by ‘no one inside’, the officers meant the Twelve. It is impossible to know for certain.

Hearing this, the religious leaders were ‘perplexed’ (verse 24). That is probably an understatement. Henry explores the permutations going through their minds. First, they were they figuring out how the Apostles escaped imprisonment. Secondly, they also wondered what the impact of this meant long-term (emphases mine):

They were extremely perplexed, were at their wits’ end, having never been so disappointed in all their lives of any thing they were so sure of. It occasioned various speculations, some suggesting that they were conjured out of the prison, and made their escape by magic arts; others that the keepers had played tricks with them, knowing how many friends these prisoners had, that were so much the darlings of the people. Some feared that, having made such a wonderful escape, they would be the more followed; others that, though perhaps they had frightened them from Jerusalem, they should hear of them again in some part or other of the country, where they would do yet more mischief, and it would be yet more out of their power to stop the spreading of the infection; and now they begin to fear that instead of curing the ill they have made it worse. Note, Those often distress and embarrass themselves that think to distress and embarrass the cause of Christ.

Worse came when someone told the leaders that the men were back preaching and healing in the temple (verse 25). Think of it, these men — released — have not sought shelter elsewhere as ordinary ex-prisoners often do. They are right back where they were arrested: in plain view. Henry says:

Now this confounded them more than any thing.

It scared them, too. MacArthur says:

They were scared to death and they couldn’t stop this thing and they knew they couldn’t stop it. And they knew that their authority was being disregarded, heresy was being preached. God was opposing them by miracles.

Nonetheless, they wanted to get to the bottom of this, so the captain of the temple and the officers went to bring the Twelve in. However, they did it peaceably (verse 26). This was because they feared the wrath of the people, especially that of the new converts.

The Apostles did not mind going with them, because they knew that whatever might happen, God was watching over them and would protect them, just as He had sent the angel to free them.

MacArthur has a good analysis:

… I mean just think of the thrill of going through a jail cell when it was locked. Not too many have that opportunity for several reasons. They don’t usually get in, hopefully, but nevertheless there was no resistance. They could have resisted at that point very easily, but they went so willingly. And probably on the way Peter is plotting out his sermon outline because he knows that the Lord is going to give him a second, this is the second service that they’ll be holding in the Sanhedrin. He’s probably getting it all outlined, of course, and figuring out the order of worship, or whatever.

The story continues next week.

Next time: Acts 5:27-28

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