For many Christians, sacraments are really important. Catholics, Anglicans, Lutherans and others often emphasize how precious their sacraments are, and sometimes criticize other church traditions for not being “sacramental” enough. There is a lot of disagreement on what a sacrament is though: Catholic teaching states that there are seven sacraments, whereas most Protestants argue that there are two – baptism and communion – and eastern Orthodoxs usually claim that there are countless! The Catholic council of Trent states that both the Protestant and eastern Orthodox views are unacceptable, condemning anyone who says that there are “more, or less, than seven” sacraments.
This is just ridiculous. Jesus and the apostles never talked about “sacraments”. Yes, they baptized, broke the bread, annointed the sick and so on, but they never grouped these activities in one category of “sacraments”. Nothing in the Scriptures indicates that communion and baptism had any other role or importance than other things Jesus commanded His disciples to do, like helping the poor, pray and share the Gospel.
“Sacrament” is really a creative Latin translation of the Greek term mysterion, a word that does appear in the Scriptures never referring to church activities but to the Gospel (e.g. Col 4:3, 1 Tim 3:16). The one responsible for the translation was Tunisian church father Tertullian (155-240 AD), who often was creative with his translations (“sacrament” didn’t really mean mystery but rather referred to an oath), and he used it when describing baptism because he thought that baptism was a mystery.
So far so good. However, another African church father, Augustine, took some more freedoms with the word around 200 years later, using it as a category to include not just baptism but also communion, the Nicene creed and the Lord’s prayer. He was also the first arguing that a sacrament is a visible sign of invisible grace, which of course is true for those things but not exclusive to them – Bibles, sermons and a hug can also be visible signs of invisible grace. (more…)
One of the best books I’ve ever encountered on the topic of miracles is simply called Miracles, and is written by Craig Keener. A professor of New Testament Studies, Keener started his book as a footnote in another work on the book of Acts where he explained why he didn’t rule out the possibility that the miracles described there actually happened, and when his footnote had grown to a couple of hundred pages he decided to make a book out of it (and it’s pretty clear that this guy likes footnotes, there’s such an insane amout of them that the book had to be published in two volumes!)
Keener covers a various of fields such as exegesis, history, philosophy, natural science and journalism as he provides hundreds of testimonies about miracles, most of them from recent times and several of them medically and scientifically verified. It’s a very good read. And I would like to share with you the essense of his philosophical argument, which also can be viewed in this video:
It is common to hear, especially in the Western world, that miracles “clearly” don’t exist, that belief in miracles is a medieval relic, that “modern” people can’t believe in supernatural superstition etc. Quite often this is simply viewed as an axiom, a self-evident premise that does not have to be proven; it is often believe that science has already denied the existence of miracles so arguments for the premise is not necessary. However, science has not proven that miracles don’t exist, science is agnostic on such matters just as science has not proven that God does or doesn’t exist. I’ll come back to that shortly. (more…)
“You shall not murder a child by abortion nor kill that which is begotten.” – Didache 2:2
This verse is from the ancient Christian book Didache, written in the first century. That is, at the same time or briefly after most of the New testament. This is the first time we hear a Christian opinion on abortion, because if you haven’t noticed it – the Bible never mentions abortion! Not even once.
Yes, Psalms 139 talks about how we are created in our mother’s womb and how God looked at our “unformed body” (v. 16) as He created us, and based on this many Christians have concluded that abortion is equal to killing a baby. Technically though, the Bible does not condemn abortion – the Didache is the first Christian writing to do that.
On the other hand, the Didache is extremely early and accurately represents ancient Christian morals and teachings on a great variety of issues, and throughout most of church history it has generally been a consensus in the global church that abortion is immoral and sinful.
“Well, that’s because the church has been run by a literal patriarchy who ignore the rights and safety for women”, some may argue. And yeah, sadly it has. But abortion is not just about women’s rights, since there is also a baby, or a soon-to-be-baby, depedning on how you view it, that is also involved. Some of you may have heard about how the American NGO Planned Parenthood, who run abortion clinics, sell tissues from aborted fetuses:
Five years ago I became a vegetarian. I had read about how extremely bad meat is for the climate and global environment: meat and diary production accounts for 1.5% of global GDP but 18% of global greenhouse gas emissions, and the United Nations Environmental Programme recommends a transition to more vegetarian and vegan diets in order to prevent huge environmental disasters. I also knew that producing meat requires much more resources than it takes to produce other foods – instead of eating crops ourselves we have to give it to animals for several years and then eat them – and since God had called me to live simply and help the poor by fighting global hunger, it was easy for me to become a vegetarian.
I have several Christian brothers and sisters who have made the same decision, but as you probably can tell yourself most Christians are meat-eaters. Which in one way isn’t very strange – even though Adam and Eve were vegans and the prophets tell us about how animals and men will live in peaceful harmony in Heaven, there is no clear-cut command to be a vegetarian in the New Testament. Peter was told to “kill and eat” in Acts 10:13, and Paul says “One person’s faith allows them to eat anything, but another, whose faith is weak, eats only vegetables.” (Rom 14:2) Most vegetarian Christians have heard these Bible verses a few times, I reckon.
I believe that meat-eating Christians are fully correct when they point out that Jesus ate meat and that the apostles didn’t teach that you have to be a vegetarian to be a Christian. However, I would like them to reflect on how much meat Jesus and the apostles eat, how much we eat today and whether meat was the environmental disaster then as it is today. Seriously, in Sweden where I live, most Christians and non-Christians alike eat meat three times a day, all year round. I’ve been to a couple of Christian conferences this summer and boy, it wasn’t easy to be a vegetarian. There was some massive meat-eating going on there.
As I wrote in my last blog post, I’m pretty upset about Franklin Graham’s idea about deporting all Muslim immigrants from the United States. I think it’s a plain out stupid idea, not the least from an evangelistic perspective. And Franklin’s dad happen to be one of the greatest evangelists of the Western world. So I had to make a sketch about what I imagine (or rather, hope) that Billy’s reaction to Franklin’s proposal would be like:
I talked to a sister about this yesterday and she said that she was constantly shocked every time a Christian started to argue against immigration. Because of fear and comfort almost no Western Christian dare to go as missionaries to totalitarian Muslim countries – and when Muslims then show up here, where it’s super easy for us to share the Gospel, we want to deport them!
Deportation is anti-evangelism. A person is not saved by being forcefully transported by the police to a country they fled from, it just decreases the chance for them to hear the good news about eternal life through Jesus Christ. How then can evangelist Franklin Graham propose deportation of all Muslim immigrants? My theory is that either he didn’t think much at all, or he believes that Islamic terrorism is only a problem when it’s taking place in the United States. Even though most people who are killed by terrorism are Muslims in the Middle East – those whom Franklin doesn’t want to welcome in his country.
Now, I’m not entirely sure that Billy would react in real life as he does in the video – he has had some goofy moments in his later years, such as suddenly changing opinion on Mormonism after Mitt Romney became the Republican presidential candidate. The Billy character in the video surely represents my opinion though. And as you can tell, I don’t think Franklin’s proposal is anywhere near smart.
Almost a year has passed since Charisma Magazine published the op-ed “Why I am Absolutely Islamophobic”, which argued that the United States should sterilise, deport and/or kill 100% of its Muslim deportation. The deportation part was literally labeled “D.A.M.N.”, Deport All Muslims Now – and this was written by a Christian, mind you! The article was eventually removed by Charisma after people protested against their promotion of genocide, but it’s still accessible here.
Christian support for the “D.A.M.N.” policy hasn’t ended though; recently Franklin Graham, the son of world evangelist Billy Graham, wrote on Facebook that he want to deport all Muslims due to the risk of Islamic terrorism:
“Four innocent Marines killed and three others wounded in Chattanooga yesterday including a policeman and another Marine–all by a radical Muslim whose family was allowed to immigrate to this country from Kuwait. We are under attack by Muslims at home and abroad. We should stop all immigration of Muslims to the U.S. until this threat with Islam has been settled… Let your Congressman know that we’ve got to put a stop to this and close the flood gates. Pray for the men and women who serve this nation in uniform, that God would protect them.”
As the title of this blog post suggests, I think that the extreme idea if deporting all Muslim immigrants (which a “stop all immigration of Muslims” means in practice) is stupid, evil and non-Christian. Let’s start with the evil part:
In May 1976, a 16-year-old girl called Heidi was kneeling at the altar of a small Pentecostal church at a Choctaw reservation site in Mississippi. She had been saved just two months earlier, and now she was astounded as she suddenly saw a white light coming over her while she heard a voice, audibly, that said “I am calling you to be a minister and a missionary. You are to go to Africa, Asia and England.”
Heidi married Rolland Baker, grandson to the great missionary H.A. Baker, and God took them on an amazing adventure across the world. Today they live in Mozambique and help thousands of orphaned children, planting thousands of churches and witnessing amazing miracles such as blind people seeing, deaf people hearing and dead people coming back to life. I’ve made a video about them and their organization Iris Global which you can watch below:
Heidi and Rolland have inspired me so much in my vision to combine miracles, evangelism and social justice, and I pray that they will continue to make an impact in Mozambique and all across the world for the glory of God.
This is an excerpt from the first draft of my upcoming book on radical charismatic church history.
In the beginning of the 20th century, China was suffering from the Boxer uprising, where Mandarin nationalists revolted against European colonial influences, demanding that everything foreign, especially Christianity, should be thrown out. The Boxers were crushed by colonial forces but that didn’t put an end to the social unrest, and China continued to suffer from looting, violence and xenophobia. And yet, Pentecostalism spread rapidly throughout China, much thanks to the Holy Spirit and a guy called Mok Lai Chi (1868-1926) in Hong Kong.
Mok went to the slums of Wan Chai, preaching the Gospel and healing the sick. In 1908 he started a paper called Wuxunjie Zhenlibao, Pentecostal Truths, which was spread not just in Hong kong but across the mainland. Mok explained in the paper: “Hong Kong Pentecostal Mission is a Jesus church founded by the Chinese themselves, not a branch of any foreign churches planted in my nation.”
The Mission supported Bible classes and girl schools, as well as church planting. Mok Lai Chi both cared for people’s salvation and the social problems they experience here and now; protesting against the British colonial government in 1921 for allowing the rents in the city to be too high. (more…)
Should Christians welcome or deport asylum seekers and other immigrants? Is aid to refugee camps really better than receiving refugees? And is it a Christian duty to christianize territories and then protect them against islamization?
These are some of the issues I talked about at my seminar Jesus vs Xenophobia on the annual summer camp for the Scandinavian Vineyard movement. A friend filmed it all and I have now uploaded it to the Holy Spirit Activism YouTube channel. The first part deals with what the Bible says concerning migration, borders and refuge, the second part describes the global refugee crisis and discusses some of the arguments anti migration advocates use, and the third part is a short Q & A.
So what do you think? Who would Jesus deport, and why would He do it? Let me know in the comments :)
My MennoNerd friends have been talking a lot about wealth and poverty in our vlogging relay race recently, something I also contributed with in my video about community of goods. In today’s video I bring up four prooftexts that brothers and sisters who have quite a lot of money often point to when I explain to them why I’m convinced that Christians should not be rich.
The prooftexts are:
- People in the Old Testament being rich (Gen 13:2, 2 Chron. 9:22 and others)
- Jesus being fine with expensive alabaster being poured upon Him (Mark 14:1-9)
- Paul saying that he is content both when he has plenty and when he is needy (Phil 4:12)
- Jesus possessing a seamless undergarment (John 19:23)
For more Bible studies on why Christians shouldn’t be rich, check out my God vs Wealth series.
I witnessed my first exorcism five years ago. A friend who belonged to my church – a very gentle, humorous and smart person – started to act extremely weird during worship; shouting and shaking uncontrollably. The other church members quickly started to pray, and as they brought Michael, who previously had told me that he had a lot of experience when it comes to deliverance, I knew things were serious.
It was pretty terrifying of course, realizing that something else may be controlling my friend’s body. I was even more upset when Michael failed to cast out the demons that day. Their filthy activities continued for several weeks when we met for worship, until they finally were driven away by prayer and the Word of God.
Delivering people from demons is of course a very Biblical practice. We read in the Gospels:
Just then a man in their synagogue who was possessed by an impure spirit cried out, “What do you want with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are—the Holy One of God!”
“Be quiet!” said Jesus sternly. “Come out of him!” The impure spirit shook the man violently and came out of him with a shriek. – Mark 1:23-26
What happened to celibacy in the Protestant church? As a new believer, when I first read the New Testament I quickly understood that marriage shouldn’t be prioritized by Christians. Paul writes:
Now to the unmarried and the widows I say: It is good for them to stay unmarried, as I do. But if they cannot control themselves, they should marry, for it is better to marry than to burn with passion…
I would like you to be free from concern. An unmarried man is concerned about the Lord’s affairs—how he can please the Lord. But a married man is concerned about the affairs of this world—how he can please his wife — and his interests are divided. An unmarried woman or virgin is concerned about the Lord’s affairs: Her aim is to be devoted to the Lord in both body and spirit. But a married woman is concerned about the affairs of this world—how she can please her husband.
I am saying this for your own good, not to restrict you, but that you may live in a right way in undivided devotion to the Lord. (1 Cor 7:8-9, 32-35)
Now, there’s nothing wrong with marrying, celibacy is just better. “He who marries the virgin does right, but he who does not marry her does better.” (v. 38) Now, some would argue that Paul’s words doesn’t apply to us today, since he may have spoken about a context of persecution or, as some argue, a false perception of that Jesus would come back any minute, based primarily on verse 29.
But persecution isn’t mentioned – and we should always be careful with building a Christianity that is unpersecuted since that tends to be very lame and unbiblical – and isn’t Jesus’ second coming even more immanent now than it was then? Furthermore, Paul’s reasoning about the celibate being undivided to the Lord is not dependent on either persecution or Christ’s return. (more…)
What if cessationists applied their reasoning to other things than miracles? Cessationism is the belief that miraculous gifts ceased with the apostles and that we don’t need them anymore now that we have the Bible. Many Christians sincerely believe this, especially conservative evangelicals in the US, but how would their arguments sound if they were applied to other things that the gifts of the Spirit? Yesterday, my friend Andreas Lundström and myself made a sketch about this:
Feel free to spread it on if you like it. And for you who like bloopers, here comes some bloopers:
I’m not American, but due to the enormous cultural impact US imperialism has brought unto the rest of the world, their national day is one of the few that I actually know the date of other than the national day of my own country. Today’s that day, and according to my WordPress statistics, many of you who are reading this blog live in the United States. I have a challenge for you: before you wave the banner of your empire and enjoy billions of dollars being blown up in fireworks, pray that God will help you love all people, including all those harmed by American consumerism, militarism and racism, and that He will help you pledge allegiance to His Kingdom first and foremost. After all, Scripture says that we are foreigners and strangers on earth (Hebr 11:13) and that we are citizens in Heaven (Phil 3:20). We are called to love all people as ourselves (Lk 10:25-37) and while the early Christians didn’t revolt against the Roman empire, they were known for pledging allegiance to another king than the emperor, namely Christ (Acts 17:7). I think Shane Claiborne nails it in his altar call on Red Letter Christians about celebrating interdependence day rather than independence day: (more…)
“The whole assembly became silent as they listened to Barnabas and Paul telling about the signs and wonders God had done among the Gentiles through them.” – Acts 15:12
I love this little Bible passage! At the apostolic meeting in Jerusalem, where it was to be decided what rules and customs should be followed by Gentile Christians, those who have assembled take a testimony break to hear about some miracles. This I believe was both because they illustrated a theological point given by Peter – that God is already working among the Gentiles even before they had been circumcised – and because miracles are very cool to hear about. Seriously, not many grow tired of hearing about miracles.
Right now, I’m at a Pentecostal conference in the northern parts of northern Sweden, where the sun never sets and penguins ride around on polar bears. I’m helping the aid organisation of Swedish Pentecostalism, PMU and collects money for Denis Mukwege’s Panzi Hospital in Bukavu, Congo. It’s my first time at the conference and it’s nice, the vegetarian food is a little meh and the topics being talked about at the meetings and seminars aren’t always that radical, but overall it’s OK.
I guess that for an outsider, at first glance, the conference is like any conference or festival – people drinking coffee and eating ice cream, chatting and laughing, going to concerts and lectures. Of course, the topics are Christian and the songs are to God, but that wouldn’t matter much for a nonbeliever. The real game changers I believe are partly the eternal issues about the afterlife and salvation, and partly signs and wonders telling us about the truth of these eternal issues. And God is working through many in Swedish Pentecostalism hallelujah, so testimonies about amazing miracles can pop up anywhere.