Pope Francis’ View on Miracles

Pope Francis blesses a sick man, right before praying an exorcist prayer

Pope Francis blesses a sick man, right before praying an exorcist prayer

As you may know, I’m writing a thesis in systematic theology about belief in miracles according to three church leaders: Surprise Sithole, K.G. Hammar and pope Francis. This is what I’ve found concerning the pope’s view on miracles:

Jose Mario Bergoglio, who would become Pope Francis, was born in in Buenos Aires, Argentina, in 1936. After a brief career as a chemical technician and a bar bouncer, he studied theology to become a Jesuit and a priest. In 1992 he became bishop of Buenos Aires and in 1998 archbishop of the same. He became known for his care for the poor and marginalised and was called “bishop of the slums”.

In Latin America, the charismatic movement is growing fast, both outside and inside the Catholic church. After Bergoglio became a pope, he would reveal how his view of the charismatic movement changed during the 80’s and 90’s, from skeptical to welcoming:

I’ll tell you something about the Charismatic Movement … at the end of the ’70s and in the ’80s, I wasn’t a big fan. I used to say they confused the holy liturgy with a school of samba. I was converted when I got to know them better and saw the good they do. In this moment of the life of the church, the movements are necessary. They’re a grace of the Spirit, and in general, they do much good for the church. The charismatic renewal movement isn’t just about winning back a few Pentecostals, but it serves the church and its renewal.

In 1996 to 1999, bishop Bergoglio was involved in the process of verifying a eucharistic miracle, where a host had allegedly turned into a piece of flesh in a church in central Buenos Aires. According to an article in Catholic magazine Love One Another, Bergoglio ordered that the host should be photographed and scientifically analyzed. The article says that Dr. Ricardo Castanón sent it for analysis in New York, and he was told that the substance was a fine slice of a heart muscle. Dr Castanon speak about this himself in a video that can be found on YouTube:

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Song: I Love Jesus

Back in August, I wrote a song simply called I Love Jesus. Here’s a recording where I sing it with some friends:

Jesus Army Worship

Jesus Army Worship

I Love Jesus, I love Him so
He’s the only one who knows my heart and saves my sinful soul
Of course I love my family, my friends and even foes
But Jesus is my number one forevermore

I love Jesus, I love the Son of God
‘Cause He hangs around with idiots, the losers and the odd
He criticizes people who are self-righteous and proud
And when He sees injustice He gets angry and loud!

I love Jesus, I love what He said
He’s like I’m the way, the truth, the life, the gate, the light, the bread
He debated with the Pharisees and turned them on their heads
And to His disciples He said go and raise the dead! Continue reading

New Amazing Film: Living in Christian Community

living in community

When I visited the Jesus Army in the UK last summer – a church practicing community of goods – I filmed a lot. I collected hours of footage and decided to make a little 30-minutes documentary out of it. Life went on though, I laid the project on the shelf and a few weeks ago I discovered that somebody has already made such a documentary! Living in Community, or Leben in Gemeinschaft as the original German title reads, is a Swiss film that covers how community of goods works at the Jesus Army and eight other Christian groups in both Switzerland and the UK, and it’s a real inspiration in how we can practice the apostolic, shared lifestyle that signified the New Testament church. Wanna see it? Here it is:

The film makers write on their website:

During the years 2013 and 2014 we visited nine different christian communities in Switzerland and England. We gained insight into these communities and were able to capture statements from the people living that way.
This movie motivates and challenges the viewer to reflect upon the topic of living in community.

The movie is, as you can see above, free to watch online – so feel free to host a screening and share the inspiration!

Also check out this short bonus clip with Trevor Saxby, where he explains the Biblical foundation for community of goods:

Did Yasser Arafat Become a Christian Before He Died?

Yasser Arafat

Yasser Arafat

RT Kendall, a preacher known for his zeal to combine evangelical and charismatic Christianity, says in an interview that he wouldn’t be surprised if he met Palestinian freedom fighter/terrorist Yasser Arafat in Heaven. In fact, he has met him here on earth five times, bringing him closer and closer to Jesus. Premier reports:

The first time RT Kendall was granted rare access to Arafat,the Christian writer and speaker told him he had prayed for him every day for 20 years. According to Kendall, the 20-minute appointment turned into an hour and 45 minutes, and an unlikely friendship began.

The third time Kendall visited Arafat, the pair watched The Passion of the Christ together, along with 30 members of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO).

Arafat wept during the viewing and allowed Kendall to pray for him at the end. During each of his five visits, Kendall was able to speak to Arafat about Jesus’ death and resurrection, and of how to accept Christ.

Kendall says that, despite Arafat’s translator attempting to intervene, the Arab leader was determined to hear more about Jesus and the gospel.

Now, there are no evidence that Arafat ever became a Christian. Of course, even if he did convert there are tons of reasons why he and PLO would keep silent about it. Kendall doesn’t say he know that Arafat received Jesus, but he “wouldn’t be surprised” if he did. And this is primarily because of two prophetic visions (I told you he’s charismatic!): Continue reading

Theology of Miracles in the History of the Church

Francis of Assisi casts out demons from a city

Francis of Assisi casts out demons from a city

I’m writing a minor thesis about belief in miracles, where I compare a charismatic, Lutheran and Catholic church leader (namely Surprise Sithole, Swedish Archbishop Emeritus KG Hammar, and Pope Francis). This is and extract from the theoretical background:

Theology of Miracles in Church History

The New Testament describes how both Jesus and his disciples experienced “wonders” (Greek: τέρας) and “works of power” (δύναμις), such as healings of blindness and deafness, casting out demons, hearing the audible voice of God and raising the dead. These were not new claims in the Jewish culture, since the Old Testament talks about “wonders” (Hebrew: פֶ֑לֶא) like parting the red sea, healing the sick and raising the dead (Ps 77:14, Ex 13:17ff., 1 Kings 17, 2 Kings 5). The apostle Paul wrote that the Holy Spirit bestows miraculous gifts to all believers (together with non-supernatural gifts like wisdom or faith), and encouraged his readers to seek such gifts together with love (1 Cor. 12:4-14:1).

Fathers in the early church believed that miracles were possible, and many argued that they or their church members had experienced them. Justin Martyr argued that the prophetical gift had remained with the church to his day, and that “numberless” persons plagued by demons had been healed by Christian exorcists (II Apol. 6, Tryph. 82). Origen made parallels between the miracles of the Bible and Christians of his day who “expel evil spirits, and perform many cures, and foresee certain events” (Cels. 1.46). Similar claims were made by many other church fathers.[1]

The great African theologian Augustine was the first to argue that one of the miraculous gifts had ceased, namely xenolalia – to be able to speak an existing language one has never studied like the early disciples did on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2:4-12). Augustine did however argue that other Biblical miracles were still happening in his days, in his City of God he gives numerous examples of people being healed from blindness, breast cancer, paralysis, demonic possession and other torments, and he gives four examples of Christians in the area who were raised from the dead (City of God 22.8). Augustine argued that miracles are not contrary to nature, but what we know as nature – hence he did not want to differentiate between the natural and supernatural (City of God 21.8). Continue reading

The Love of Money is a Root of All Evil

in_greed_we_trustToday I was preaching in a church in western Sweden about why the love of money is a root to all kinds of evil. The Bible passage I spoke about was obviously 1 Tim 6, where Paul says:

“People of corrupt mind… have been robbed of the truth and who think that godliness is a means to financial gain. But godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it. But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that. Those who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs. But you, man of God, flee from all this, and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance and gentleness. – 1 Timothy 6:5-11, NIV

It’s a great passage and very prophetic, since Paul foresees a lot of crap that future Christians will teach about money. He debunks these heresies so that true disciples would have solid biblical arguments against them. First of all, he debunks the prosperity gospel, the idea that if you have a strong faith in God, you will get rich – godliness is a means to financial gain. Those who believe this are people of corrupt mind that have been robbed of the truth, according to Paul.

Another heresy Paul addresses is the idea that Christians should and could want to be rich. He says that we should be content with food and clothing (literally: nourishment and covering) while those who want to get rich fall into “many foolish and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction”. The Greek word for “get rich”, ploutein, can also mean “be rich”. We should thus not desire to be rich, but we should be content with the most necessary of things.

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Breaking News: Helping the Poor Actually Helps the Poor!

image

I gave these homeless beauties some free lunch yesterday - if I'd lived in Florida I could go to jail for that

Recently I’ve noticed how several politicians try to argue that helping the poor does not help the poor. In the Swedish town of Linköping the train station has forbidden homeless Romas to stay in their facilities – they’ve even blocked the electric sockets to stop them from charging their phones. Joakim Kärnborg from Linköping  municipality defends this decision by saying: “I think we would do the migrants a disservice by isolating them in a warm and cosy place to be in.”

Meanwhile in Florida, a 90-year-old Christian man who is helping the poor through an organization called Love Thy Neighbor, was arrested the other day. His crime was that he was giving food to the homeless. I kid you not, an officer shouted “Drop that plate immediately!” as if it was a gun, and arrested him for homeless feeding.

See, Fort Lauderdale has passed through a law that makes it illegal to hand out food to hungry people, along with other laws that forbids begging and sleeping in public places. Commissioner Dean Trantalis explained that in formulating these ordinances, “the rights of all individuals were addressed and the goals of keeping a safe and welcoming environment were maintained.” He then shared how surprised he was that a representative from a homeless activist group refused to talk to him about his brilliant ideas.

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The Mediterranean Genocide

Dead Refugees. Photo from Reuters

Dead Refugees. Photo from Reuters

The wicked draw the sword and bend the bow

to kill the poor and needy, to slay those whose ways are upright.

But their swords will pierce their own hearts, and their bows will be broken.

Better the little that the righteous have than the wealth of many wicked;

for the power of the wicked will be broken, but the Lord upholds the righteous. (ps 37:14-16)

Europe has a lot of experience in killing dark-skinned people, and this has by no means ceased. The Mediterranean Sea is a giant graveyard, where 2000 people have been killed just this year, and 25,000 the last 20 years. These are refugees, fleeing from war-torn countries like Syria or impoverished economies like Libya. Italy has had a rescue mission called Mare Nostrum which has saved countless lives that otherwise would have perished, but it has now ended. Instead, the European Union’s border police Frontex will start a mission called Triton, but it will have a much smaller budget than Mare Nostrum and not be allowed to go as far as the Italian operation could.

Just as Italy halted the Mare Nostrum mission, the British government decided to stop its funding of rescue missions in Mediterranean. They will only provide one “debriefer” to Triton. The reason is that they think that the rescue operation is a “pull factor” that gives more refugees incentives to come to Europe.

The Guardian rightly calls this “an outrageous and immoral act. It suggests a government so alarmed by Ukip that it has lost all sense of proportion. The Italian-funded Mare Nostrum exercise, mobilised after 300 refugees drowned off Lampedusa a year ago, has saved thousands of lives.”

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The Purpose of Saints

Happy All Saints Day! When the world is playing with ghosts and demons, let us instead remember and honor the millions of holy brothers and sisters that has went before us. As Shane Claiborne writes on facebook:

Over the centuries, Halloween has not been about glorifying death. It’s been more about respectfully remembering the dead and honoring that life is “hallowed” — holy.

Before there was “Halloween”, there was “All Hallows’ Eve” — and All Saints Day. For hundreds of years, before jack-o-lanterns and zombies and candy corn, Christians around the world have remembered the dead, the saints, the cloud of witnesses that have gone before us.

The “cloud of witnesses” refers to Hebrews 12:1, which after name-dropping several Old Testament saints who endured in faith even though they had not yet the Kingdom of God in all its glory yet, says: Continue reading

Breaking News: Giving Homes to Homeless People… Actually Defeats Homelessness!

From our protest action against the municipality's decision to evict homeless people today. The sign reads "Provide the poor and homeless with shelter - Is 58:7"

From our protest action against the municipality’s decision to evict homeless people today. The sign reads “Provide the poor and homeless with shelter – Is 58:7″

I’m not a big fan of the Young Turks – them being not very devoted to Jesus – but I thought this clip was extremely funny and interesting when they point to the fact that giving free homes to homeless people… actually defeats homelessness:

The American state of Utah has been doing this for the last ten years – every homeless person gets a home and access to a social worker and a case worker who will help them getting a job, be intergrated in society and get mental health care if they need some. At first, the home is free, and if they get a job they’ll pay 30% of their income for the house. The result is that homelessness in Utah has decreased with 78%  - and it turns out that they seem to have saved a lot of money: the annual cost for E.R. visits and jail stays for each homeless person is around $ 16,670, while the cost for a free home and a social worker for each homeless person was $11,000. Plus, they get a job quicker!

This model of housing first is being tried in more and more communities over the world. In my own town of Uppsala here in Sweden, the City Mission – a Christian charity working with homeless people – have actively proposed the model.

Some seem to be very surprised that giving homes to homeless people actually defeats homelessness and creates a better society. Now, don’t get shocked, but scientists suggest, that it may very well be so, that if we give food to hungry people, we will defeat hunger. There is even a slight possibility – I may be wrong – that if we give clothes to naked people, they will be clothed!

share your food with the hungry
and provide the poor wanderer with shelter—
when you see the naked, clothe them,
and do not turn away from your own flesh and blood. (Is 58:7)

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Scientists, Journalists, and Doctors on Healing

I’m currently writing on a minor thesis in systematic theology on belief in miracles. I will compare Pentecostal pastor Surprise Sithole in South Africa, former arch bishop of the Swedish Lutheran Church KG Hammar, and pope Francis. One of the books I’m reading as a background for my study is Craig Keener’s excellent Miracles: The Credibility of the New Testament Accounts. For the thesis, I’m mainly interested in his church historical and philosophical chapters, but for my life I’m interested in every single page of this 900-page book. Here’s a very interesting excerpt from Chapter 11: Supernatural Claims in the Recent West:

Scientist, Journalists and Doctors

John Polkinghorne, the scientist-theologian noted in chapter 5, reports a woman whose left leg was paralyzed from an injury. Her doctors had given up trying to do more for her, indicating that she would remain an invalid for life. In 1980, she reluctantly and without any positive expectation agreed to meet with a priest conducting a healing meeting. On their second meeting, she had a mystical vision in which she was commanded to arise and walk. “From that moment she was able to walk, jump and bend down, completely without pain. Her husband, an orthopaedic charge nurse, on examining his wife, found that a large ulcer, which he had been dressing, had also healed spontaneously.” Polkinghorne concludes that one may think what one will, but the account “cannot simply be dismissed on a priori grounds as not having possibly happened.”

Others have collected further claims, and some have investigated them. As in Jamie Buckingham’s supportive follow-up of claims involving one ministry (see below), some popular authors have investigated some of the claims available to them. For example, one investigative reporter for the Eire Daily Times recounts that he did follow up and confirm numerous reports of healings, as well as debunking some others. Some of the confirmed cases were instant and dramatic answers to prayer, and some involved cures never attested as occurring apart from claims of miraculous intervention. Some other investigators have gone further.

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Guest Blog: Economics According to the New Testament

Jesus and the rich young man, who preferred wealth over community of goods

Jesus and the rich young man, who preferred wealth over community of goods

My cyber friend and co-blogging MennoNerd Kevin Daugherty has also seen Christian money guru Dave Ramsey’s apology for rich Christians in an age of hunger that I ciritized in my last blog post (in fact, Kevin was the one that brought Ramsey’s statements to my attention), and he has written an excellent repsonse where he talks about what the New Testament really says about wealth and poverty. I’ve received his permission to share the blog post here with you:

Growing up, I was often exposed to the idea that capitalism and Christianity go together. Profit and wealth were not simply compatible with Christianity, but were a sign of God’s blessing or your personal piety. I remember going to the Christian bookstore once or twice and seeing large piles of books with that topic specifically in mind, usually by Dave Ramsey, who was recently on the 700 Club for a new book of his. In that interview, one of the first things mentioned is how Ramsey and Robertson agree that wealth is a good thing, and that those who see wealth as bad are wrong, even “gnostic.” I don’t think the heretics here are the “gnostics” who believe that wealth is wrong; rather, I think the heretics here are Ramsey, Robertson, and others in their camp, who seem to have forgotten what the New Testament and early church taught concerning economics.

Ramsey likes to talk a lot about biblical finances. He claims that when he gives someone financial advice that it is done through following what the Bible says. Let’s take a look at what the Bible, specifically the New Testament, teaches Christians concerning finances.

First of all, Christ teaches his followers that they cannot serve God and mammon (Matthew 6:24). This verse seems to provide a basic summary of Christ’s teachings on wealth. For Jesus, wealth is something of an idol that takes away from our ability to love God, and the hoarding of wealth means that we are not helping those in need. In the same sermon, Jesus commands his followers to give alms and not store up treasures on earth (Matthew 6:1-4, 19-21). In the same gospel, Jesus talks about the importance of serving the needy in the coming judgment as well (Matthew 25:31-46). Luke shares much of the same teachings concerning charity and compassion as Matthew; however, Luke is a little more blunt about it. In Luke 4, Jesus quotes Isaiah 61 in his first sermon, which shows God’s preferential option for the poor, and in Luke’s version of the Beatitudes (Luke 6:20-26), they are much more hostile towards wealth. “Blessed are the poor” is matched by “woe to the rich.” 
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No, It’s Not Gnosticism to Be Critical to Wealth

I have nothing to do with Disney but this was a fun meme :))))

One of my greatest passions has for years been to teach what the Bible says concerning poverty and wealth. This is the topic for my blog and youtube series God vs Wealth, as well as my free e-book God vs Inequality. I think it’s very clear in the Bible and in early church writings that Christians should not be rich. Instead, we should live simply and practice community of goods and economic equality, just like Jesus and the apostles.

Someone who disagree with me is Dave Ramsey, Christian money guru who argues that Christians can and should be rich. In an interview with charismatic TV host Pat Robertson, Ramsey says:

“I think there’s a problem out there with some bad and toxic teaching that somehow [says] that if you’ve won money, if you’ve built a level of wealth, if you’ve become successful – biblically you have done something wrong. And that’s actually a form of heresy called gnosticism.”

Is it really gnosticism? It’s not the first time I hear a statement like this, and I would like to debunk it. Firstly, who are Ramsey talking about here? He’s saying that the modern “Gnostics” are attacking the production and accumulation of wealth, rather than the possession and storaging of wealth. Now, it’s important to differentiate between these. Ramsey is basically using the accumulation of wealth to defend the possession of it – he’s talking about “building a level of wealth” and “becoming succesful”.

As I argue in my e-book God vs Inequality, the Bible says that we should work and produce wealth, but not for personal gain but for the benefit of the common. Thus, while we work we should be content with food and clothing (1 Tim 6:8) and promote equality (2 Cor 8:13), having everything in common (Acts 2:45). Of course, there is a temptation in earning a lot of money, and many times people earn money through harmful means, destroying the environment or exploiting others, which is unacceptable for Christians. But the main problem for me and other Christian activists such as Shane Claiborne, Jim Wallis or Ron Sider is economic inequality and how rich Christians possess a lot of wealth instead of living simply and share all they have with the poor.

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Why Christians Should Be Pacifists

Guest post from my Australian friend Drew Meakin. Check out his website and our common facebook page Charismatic Holiness Anabaptist Theology!

Criteria for defending a Christian belief or practice/ Christian pacifism

In order to defend a Christian belief or practice, one must be able to prove it from 1) scripture 2) history, 3) experience, 4) biblical/historical trajectory.

1) Scripture is of most importance. Can it be confirmed by at least two or three scriptures in the Bible? Do those verses apply to new covenant believers? “Every matter must be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.” 2 Corinthians 13:1. Many cultic groups have become errant by building doctrines or beliefs around only one scripture.

2) History is of secondary importance. Was it held to by the early church and has it continued until the present day?

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Sweden Under Attack?

A submarine? Photo from Swedish Armed Forces/SR Nyheter

A submarine? Photo from Swedish Armed Forces/SR Nyheter

Our news media is right now filled with reports and speculations concerning what the army calls “foreign underwater activity” in the Stockholm archipelago. Foreign media like the Guardian and ABC News have also reported on the story, making comparisions with how the Swedish navy were constantly looking for Soviet submarines during the Cold War (and, from time to time, found some). The Swedish military has not conformed that the underwater activity is either a submarine or Russian, but this is what most analysts seem to believe, and several military experts fear that Russia is either spying on Sweden’s defense capacity, or even preparing for war.

“You will hear of wars and rumors of wars, but see to it that you are not alarmed. Such things must happen, but the end is still to come.” (Mt 24:6)

Just two months ago, Sweden celebrated 200 years of peace. While we do have sent troops to Afghanistan and other places under UN flag, and while we are one of the world’s primary weapon exporters, there has not been a war on Swedish soil for two centuries (it should also be mentioned that Sweden sold iron to Hitler during World War Two to avoid Germany to hit us).

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