Why Study Church History?

Why Study Church History?

By Kelly McDonald, Jr.

Over the next 6-8 months, we are going to have articles examining Christian history in the second century AD. These articles will help us understand our need to study Church history.

In the second century AD, events took place that had a tremendous impact on Christianity. There was a sudden flood of influence from Roman culture, Greek philosophy, and other religions. People tried to mix these different viewpoints with the Bible. They would then try to label this mixture as true or pure Christianity.

Among the false teachings that appeared during this time are as follows: the belief that Jesus came to destroy the “God of the Jews”; the belief that an inferior god created physical matter and a superior God made spiritual things; the belief that the Sabbath belonged to another deity; and many other strange views. The teachers of this time tried to mix known writings of the New Testament with their own ideas to form a new, hybrid canon of Scripture.

In this same period, we find a number of writers who tried to combat these heresies.  One of their greatest tools in this battle was their knowledge of history!

As we undergo this months-long study, we will learn that there are three main reasons to study Church history.

The first reason that we need to have at least a general understanding of Church History/Roman history is that it will help you to identify teachings that are not compatible with the Bible. Let’s look at a few examples.

One of the main heretics in the second century was a man named Marcion. Hippolytus, who opposed him, wrote that Marcion copied the teachings of an ancient Greek philosopher Empedocles, who lived in the 400s BC [Refutation of All Heresies, bk 7, ch 17-20]). He refuted Marcion’s claim that his teachings came from the first Apostles by appealing to the similarity of teachings between Marcion and Empedocles.

It became mainstream to syncretize Christianity with Greek philosophies, including Plato. Clement of Alexandria justified the concept of an eight-day week from Plato and the number eight (Stromata, 5:14). The eight-day week does not exist in the Bible (it was a Roman practice). Besides, Plato was a heathen philosopher. Why would we use him to explain any practice?

Many of the second-century heretics tried to claim that they were in a line of apostolic succession from the very beginning. To counter this assertion, the writer Tertullian appealed to the historical record of bishops in every city to show that these heretics had no such connection (Tertullian, Against Heresy, chapter 32). Tertullian referred to documents that existed in his day.

A second reason to study Church history is that such knowledge can help us avoid mistakes of the past or to repeat successes. Let me give you a great example.

At certain points in history, Christians have tried to predict when Jesus was coming back. This goes back as far as the 1500s (and possibly earlier). Hans Hut thought the Kingdom of God would come in 1528. The Millerites thought Jesus would come back in the 1840s. There have been other such predictions (such as those in the 1900s).

What is the valuable lesson we can learn here?

We don’t need to make predictions about when Jesus will come back. It will only cause humiliation and loss. In fact, Jesus said, “no man knows the day or the hour” (Matt. 24:36).

The common thread from these historical examples is that we need to avoid extra Biblical beliefs. In the second century, some people tried to exchange the Bible for Greek philosophy. In the case of predictions, they just ignored Scripture altogether.

Third, our knowledge of history will enhance our understanding of certain Scriptures that are taken out of context.

When we know our history – where we came from and what we have been through – we can better direct our advancement of the gospel and protect ourselves from false teachings.

In the months to come, we will bring each of these items to life in our series on the second-century Church. It was the century that had the greatest influence on modern Christianity and explains the rise of people who desire to return to the first century church.

Kelly McDonald, Jr.

BSA President www.biblesabbath.org

Capitalism Requires Honesty

Capitalism Requires Honesty

by Bill Shults

More and more people today do not keep their word.  When I was young, many of the people I knew would say: “My word is my bond.”  A simple handshake would seal any deal.  Both parties would then honor their agreement.  It seems like today people honor only the parts that they like.  Another thing that seems to be fading away is fidelity.  There used to be more loyalty in our dealings with others.  Many seem to have a “sworn to one, loyal to none” mentality.  Taking advantage of people is a poor way to do business.  As a nation, it leads directly to poverty.

Honesty in contracts comes from the Ten Commandments.  The secret to the success of Western Capitalism is the Ten Commandments.  The explosion of prosperity in the early 1800’s has been explained in many ways, often overlooked is the advance of Bible Christianity.  The early 1800’s would see a revival in many Churches and a general return to the Holy Bible.  This was not only among poor people, but rather it encompassed much of our civilization.  Many of the leading Industrialists of the Gilded Age were prominent churchmen.

The Ten Commandments are just that powerful.  Two of them, the prohibition against lying and the prohibition against stealing, are directly responsible for business success.  Put another way, the Ten Commandments promote honesty in contracts.  That honesty is required for business success which is required for prosperity.  The willingness to make our word good is the bedrock for all business.  A good example comes from business.  Many businesses provide goods and/or services all month on the client’s word that they will get paid at the end of the month.  It works really well when everyone pays.  When enough clients don’t pay, then business will have to be conducted on a cash and carry basis.  That is an immediate impediment to prosperity.

Another real impediment is deceit.  The increase of scams, fraud and deceit on the internet is a real roadblock to prosperity.  When you and I transfer money for goods and services, then wealth is created.  When someone steals money based on fraud, no goods or services have been exchanged.  Fraudulent fund transfers acts like a tax, inhibiting growth.  Worse still, business is transacted based on confidence.  As the fear of fraud spreads, people are less willing to take the risks required to transact business.  For those still willing, they will require ever higher protections to guard them-selves from fraud.  You see this in the cashing of “tax refund” checks.  Many of us file our taxes directly with the U.S. Government and receive a U.S. Government check should we get a refund.  All National Banks are required to cash U.S. Government checks without fee.  However, many file their taxes through a third party which then makes them a loan against their possible refund.  The fraud rate is significant.  Their refund checks are from the bank that made the loan, not the U.S. government.  They are charged a fee from 3% to 5% to cash those checks.  The fee is high because of the significant portion of those checks not honored.  Deceit in the marketplace carries a price.

For several years, flash mobs have attacked stores and robbed them of merchandise.  A large group of teens suddenly show up at a business and then grab whatever they can hold and run.  The overwhelmed staff can do nothing.  Even video surveillance does not capture enough of an image to track these thieves down.  Then the nearby residents wonder why their stores close.  When stores close, jobs leave and vital supplies are no longer readily available.  Capitalism is based on honesty.  With the rise of dishonesty our free system of commerce will begin to die.  In some large cities they no longer want to enforce “property” crimes.  Why not rather tell the small store owner to close up shop and leave?

All change starts with individuals.  Each one of us can honor our agreements.  Each one of us can support our local merchants.  Our word should be our bond.  When we are not sure, we can say so rather than commit to something we may not be able to do.  When I was young all of the older people kept their word.  Many of them would teach me to do the same.  Life is much simpler when everyone keeps their word.  Life is much more pleasant when no one fears theft.  Dishonesty costs everyone.  Every business in America adds the cost of theft back onto the goods sold.  This means the honest are paying for the dishonest.  That means theft is everyone’s problem.

God Bless.

Bill Shults www.hungryheartsministry.com

Bill Shults is the Pastor of Hungry Hearts Ministries.  He also oversees the churches in Jackson, Murfreesboro and Cookeville TN and Corinth MS.  Bill has also written eleven books on how to have a closer walk with Jesus Christ.

The Blessing of Assembling and Worshiping Together in Spirit

The Blessing of Assembling and Worshiping Together in Spirit

By Scott Hoefker

Warm hellos to you dear brethren, co-workers, and spiritual family here on the Coast of the Gulf of Mexico, and scattered children of God from our offices here in Spanish Fort.

I’ve been reflecting on my wife’s and my recent inspiring pastoral visit with several scattered members of the body of Christ. It’s so encouraging to share how the many parts of the body are connected to Christ, the head of His church, through the indwelling of His Spirit and each other. This same Spirit unites us with God the Father.

We’ve been blessed to have house guests with us here for much of this week. We’ve talked about the winter some have experienced so far to the north of us. It’s been mentioned to me that another round of very frigid weather has hit a good part of the U.S.   Many of our scattered brethren are becoming ill due to being indoors more, and not getting the much needed sunshine out of doors.

I’ve talked over the past weeks with many of the brethren my wife and I serve, and it has already been a difficult winter for them, with providing fuel for keeping warm etc. in some of their homes.

I have asked many brethren here in the Northern Hemisphere, “Have any of you come down with a fever or become ill this cold winter?” There are the usual cases of the flu and colds that make their rounds. We’ve seen viruses hit some parts of Canada and the U.S. But I am talking more specifically about “cabin fever!”

“Cabin Fever” is an idiomatic term, first recorded in 1918, for a claustrophobic reaction that takes place when a person or group is isolated and/or shut in a small space, with nothing to do for an extended period. Cabin fever describes the extreme irritability and restlessness a person may feel in these situations.

A person may experience cabin fever in a situation such as being in a simple country vacation cottage. When experiencing cabin fever, a person may tend to sleep, have distrust of anyone they are with, and an urge to go outside even in the rain, snow, or dark. The phrase is also used humorously to indicate “simple boredom from being home alone”.

With cold temperatures and sometimes dangerously cold weather, we may need to remain inside for several days and stay home on the Sabbath if traveling conditions are dangerous or even questionable.

I remember a Sabbath back while living in Nebraska, where we left very early one Sabbath morning to cover worship services in Des Moines, IA. It had just snowed about 10” and a little more snow was falling when we left to head across Interstate 80 where it was very windy, cold, and still snowing. Along our way we saw numerous cars in the ditch, hazard blinkers still on, and in some cases people inside. Many semi-trucks were upside down or jackknifed in the median and on bridges. That should have been a message that we should not have been out there travelling with the questionable driving conditions. But we continued on and made it to the Sabbath service and back home to the second church service of the day, happy that we did not get stranded or stuck somewhere. It was nerve wracking, and very stressful. I do not plan to duplicate a trip like that again.

When you do miss attending services, and then return to be with everyone the following week, it can seem like such a long time that you are away.  It is so good to see your friends and spiritual family again. I hope that is how we all feel. We should make the effort to respond to God’s instruction to appear before Him on his holy convocations. God is merciful and allows for circumstances such as weather, health, finances and other things when we can’t make it.

With gasoline prices it can be a financial challenge to attend services every week when one lives a distance from the meeting place. We encourage our spiritual family to attend Worship services as often as they can, but we also need to be understanding of each person’s circumstances. If someone has not been there in a while, it’s helpful to give them a call and simply say, “I miss you and I hope everything is OK.”

In addition to being with your spiritual family in person, we also have the opportunity to fellowship via telephone conference and/or view a webcast. This too is fellowshipping in the Spirit. Unfortunately at times too much emphasis has been placed on only being at worship services in person, and has caused many to be turned away when it was not necessary.

Why do we make effort to assemble together either in person physically or via a connection? We know that our Creator proclaims His “Holy convocations!”. . .The Feasts of the LORD, which you shall proclaim to be holy convocations, these are My feasts.” (Leviticus 23:2)

The first Feast on the list is “the seventh day . . . Sabbath of solemn rest, a holy convocation.” (v.3) The Hebrew word translated “convocation” is ‘miqra’ and the Online Bible Hebrew Lexicon associates this word with: convocation, convoking, reading, a calling together. We are not only “the called out ones” but also called to assemble together. It’s like a messenger has come to our door and read our name and the directives to appear before the One issuing the command. It is a great privilege to come before the Great God and be instructed by Him through the reading, sharing and expounding of His Word.

One of the important parts of the worship service is the singing of Hymns as we worship God. The opening line of one of the common hymns sung is: “Come before His presence with singing.” This line is taken from Psalm 100:2. This Psalm emphasizes coming before God with joy, gladness and thanksgiving as well as celebrating His enduring truth. We can all have a part in creating this praiseful and worshipful attitude, mood, and atmosphere. I really enjoy hearing the voices of the congregation as we sing together. It is a joyful experience!

Having fellowship and greeting one another by name, including the younger members of the congregation, and connecting with others helps to bind us together. We can share what is happening in our lives and encourage one another. We all know the instructions in Hebrews 10:24 about the need “to stir up love and good works” when we assemble together.

The apostle John relates having fellowship with one another and walking in then light to also having fellowship “with the Father and with His Son Jesus Christ.” (1 John 1:3)

Would you join me in prayer for your brethren that they will have safe traveling conditions, and/or good connections, and that they will be able to be part of God’s weekly convocation?

May God bless and encourage you on His special day, and I wish you good health even if you too may have had some of that “cabin fever” partly due to not being able to attend in person with others of the body of Christ.

Our prayers and thoughts are with you daily. Please do pray for us as well.

-Scott Hoefker (Pastor and wife (Gayle) The Living God Ministries Gulf Coast)

This post was originally published on Jan. 3, 2020 on their website.

We encourage you to follow this ministry at https://tlgministriesgc.org/.

Sabbath Meditation #17 – A Living Witness

Sabbath Meditation #17 – A Living Witness

By Kelly McDonald, Jr.

“And God said, Let there be lights in the firmament of the heaven to divide the day from the night; and let them be for signs, and for seasons, and for days, and years” (Genesis 1:14)

“Then the Lord said to Moses, “Say to the Israelites, ‘You must observe my Sabbaths. This will be a sign between me and you for the generations to come, so you may know that I am the Lord, who makes you holy’” (Ex. 31:12-13).

In the verses above, the Hebrew word translated as sign is oth and it means a sign, signal, banner, or beacon. An oth is something God does or establishes to draw our attention to specific events and remind us of Him.

Every week, the Sabbath stands as a beacon or banner that beckons the weary, worn out world to His rest. While we enjoy the wonderful rest of our Savior on this day, we often forget one powerful point. As we travel every week towards His Sabbath banner, we will show the way to everyone else.

In other words, your Sabbath observance makes you a living witness to others. From Friday sunset to Saturday sunset other people will know that you are keeping His holy day. No matter what they are doing throughout the week, the memory of your obedience guides them to the Sabbath.

I’ve had people who are non-Sabbatarians comment to me over the years that “I meant to call you about a business item on Friday night, but I didn’t because I know it is the Sabbath and you were not available.”

I am very thankful when people show that kind of respect. My stand for truth reminded them of it. But these precious occasions also serve as a witness to me as well. Because I have chosen to obey God, then others know how to obey Him as well.

This revelation helps us to understand that our Sabbath observance is not just something to help our personal relationship with God. It is also about directing others to His banner; we show them the way. This understanding requires that we pay close attention to our obedience as we do not want to misrepresent Him.

As we honor the Sabbath over time, our weekly obedience will be an established memory to friends, family and other associates. We become a living witness of when the Sabbath is and how it should be observed.

For those of you who have raised children in the Sabbath truth – no matter where they go on the earth, they will know what you are doing from Friday sunset to Saturday sunset. They will know the way home.

Our ultimate hope is that others will follow us to the banner which says “Rest.”

We are the living witness of the Way.

Selah.

Kelly McDonald, Jr.

BSA President www.biblesabbath.org

All In!

All In!

By Calvin Burrell

Any short list of the Bible’s great texts should include the creation account in Genesis 1, the Twenty-Third Psalm, John 3:16, and the Love Chapter of 1 Corinthians 13. Expanding our list to the five or ten greatest texts, would we add Christ’s Beatitudes and the Lord’s Prayer? Probably. His great commandments to love God and love others? For sure!

How about His Great Commission? I would, and here’s why: It is Jesus’ supreme saying after His death and resurrection, His pinnacle prescription just before returning to heaven. In these last earthly words, our Savior and Lord assigned all His followers our corporate mission in the world He came to save. Let’s unpack it here together, as if for the first time.

FIVE FORMS

This huge commission appears in five different forms in five books: Matthew 28:18-20Mark 16:1516Luke 24:46-49John 20:21-23; and Acts 1:78. Each of these texts gives essentially the same commission. Note the similarities in their core elements.

  • All five versions of the Great Commission speak of Jesus’ disciples going, being sent, or becoming witnesses to all nations of the world, to all peoples.
  • Matthew identifies the commission’s central activity as making disciples; baptizing them in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit; and teaching them to observe all of Jesus’ commands.
  • Mark describes the commission as preaching the gospel that gives salvation to all who believe and are baptized.
  • Luke describes it as preaching repentance and remission of sins.
  • John links Jesus’ sending His disciples with others being forgiven of sins.

The differences in the five forms of this worldwide commission is seen in their introductions and conclusions.

  • Matthew begins it with Christ’s claim to universal authority given by His Father (28:18). He ends with Jesus’ promise of His never-ending presence (v. 20b).
  • Mark begins the Great Commission with Christ’s rebuke of the disciples’ lack of faith (16:14) and ends it with the promise of signs and wonders to follow (vv. 17, 18).
  • Luke’s Gospel begins the commission with Christ’s teaching about His death and resurrection (24:46) and ends it with instructions for the first disciples to wait in Jerusalem until the promised power from above was received (v. 49).
  • John begins it with Christ’s greeting of peace (20:21) and concludes it by Christ breathing His Spirit on the disciples (20:21).
  • In Acts, Luke begins the commission with Jesus saying that His disciples’ knowledge of prophetic times and seasons was much less important than their obedience to His commission (1:7). The promised Holy Spirit was poured out shortly thereafter (2:1ff).

 

IMPOSSIBLE COMMAND?

Reading and hearing Jesus’ words in the Great Commission is the place to start. The next step is even more important. What will we do now that we know His climactic instructions for all His disciples? The question is hugely personal.

What do you think of Christ’s Great Commission? Do you see it as another one of Christ’s impossible commands, like being perfect as our heavenly Father is perfect is impossible (Matthew 5:48)?

Yes, the Great Commission is beyond our reach, for sure — personally, congregationally, and denominationally. The answer to this dilemma of impossibility is that God, for whom nothing is impossible, has already promised, when He blessed Abraham, that this “impossible command” would be completed. His promise was “In you [and in your seed] all the nations of the earth shall be blessed . . .” (Genesis 12:1-322:18).

Do you feel that your contribution to the Great Commission is insignificant? After all, what can just one person do to reach so many unreached people?

Imagine a dozen or a hundred folks in a group — a local church. Imagine that each one in the group is thinking silently, What can one person do? Imagine that each one in the group chose one or two mission-supporting actions and started doing them faithfully. Imagine if each one agreed to merge their mission efforts with all the others in the group. Now imagine if people in a hundred or a thousand other groups agreed to pray or give or serve together in a dozen or more projects like the ones above, and then all those groups formed a network with fifty thousand other groups of like mind and action. The gospel good that could be done around the world by such “co-oper-action” is not imaginary; it is real.

 

INVITATION

Can you see the Great Commission as an invitation to join Christ in loving people everywhere, starting with the folks next door? Most of us can’t take the gospel around the world, but we could take it around the corner, if we would. To love the world is no big chore. Our problem is the people closest to us. To take the love of Jesus next door is an essential piece of taking it to the whole world.

Can you think of the complex Great Commission as the natural extension of a simple invitation to a Christ-centered and others-serving lifestyle?

Can you see the Great Commission as Christ’s invitation to join Him in what He has done and is doing: sharing His love and mercy, His grace and truth with people wherever they are in the world? Tell God now that you want to be all in for Jesus. Then follow up with fresh action and prayer that prove it.

Think of the Great Com-mission as an invitation to love, trust, and obey the One who has all authority, ability, and intent to complete the job alone, if necessary. He has not only commanded that it be done but already promised it will be done. What He has promised, He will do.

God’s will is to accomplish this work through people like us. With each of us doing our part, all congregations working together, and God’s Spirit harnessing, harmonizing, and energizing the efforts of faithful people in every age, the gospel will be preached as a witness to bless every nation, ethnicity, language, and people group on earth — before the end of this age (Matthew 24:14).

Then Christ will return to put down every foe and complete the missionary task, until the glory of the Lord covers the whole earth like the waters now cover the sea.

Why wouldn’t we join God in a worldwide cause of truth and beauty that He has said will ultimately succeed?

Calvin Burrell has served for decades in the Church of God Seventh Day (CG7). This article was originally printed in the July-August 2019 of the Bible Advocate.

How God’s Remarkable Sabbaths Have Changed My Life

How God’s Remarkable Sabbaths Have Changed My Life

By Aimee Zahora

I was born and raised in a Sabbath-keeping family, which I consider a phenomenal blessing. It’s a blessing that I did not earn. Instead, by the grace of God, Sabbath-observance infiltrated my entire life. I thank God for this gift that keeps on giving! Here are a handful of reasons for how God’s remarkable Sabbaths have altered my life for the better.

I Value My Strong Family Relationships

My nuclear family consists of Sabbath-keepers. This bond that we share strengthens our family relationships. We spend time together on the Sabbath, which solidifies us. Sabbath-keeping provides our family with similar values. It encourages us to engage in meaningful discussions that strengthen and sharpen our faith. My family is strong as a direct result of honoring the Sabbath.

My Best, Most Wonderful Friends and Advocates Are Believers

I’ve met inspiring believers, who are some of my closest friends and advocates. Many of these individuals and I would have never crossed paths, except that the Sabbath brought us together.+

We often take on the attributes of the five people we surround ourselves with most frequently. When we tap into the positive energy and stability of those people, it quickly becomes evident that who we are due to the association is far greater than who we would have been without it.

Complete and Restoring Rest for All Our Needs

The complexity and stress we encounter daily are difficult to quantify. Suffice to say our regular encounters deplete us. The Sabbath is a multidimensional blessing. It offers complete rest: mentally, spiritually, emotionally and physically.

Humanly we find success in addressing these needs individually. If we get a break, perhaps we identify something that will benefit two of the needs at the same time. But, attempting to address all the needs at once generally results in diminishing returns. However, God’s Sabbaths are perfectly designed to replenish all our needs so we can return to functioning as our best selves.

The Sabbath Is the Backbone to My Spiritual DNA

Because I was raised in a Sabbath-keep family, a weekly tradition was established early-on. Friday night dinners together were a highlight. Not only did we enjoy a delicious meal with one another, but also we shared stories, laughter, and connection. We attended Sabbath services every week, not just when it was convenient or when nothing else was on the calendar. Incidentally, nothing else made it on the calendar on Saturdays because the Sabbath was the first and only priority for our family on the seventh day of the week. After Sabbath services, my dad regularly read Bible stories to my brother and me. Today, my brother carries on that custom with his two boys.

Each of these activities contributed to a habit, a Sabbath-keeping behavior that I still honor today. This way of life and pattern of living is so deeply ingrained in me. It’s part of my spiritual DNA. In short, keeping God’s remarkable Sabbaths have changed my life.

Aimee Zahora is a Sabbath and Holy Day keeping follower of The Way and blogger on topics that ignite the Spirit. She is a member of the United Church of God.

You can follow her at: https://aimhighernow.io/

 

Theophilus of Antioch – 160-180s AD

Theophilus of Antioch – 160s-180s AD

By Kelly McDonald, Jr.

In the mid-second century, a number of anti-Semitic and anti-Sabbatarian teachers arose. Rome and Alexandria seemed to be the centers of this movement. Despite this development, there were still many Christians who held to the commandments of God. Among them was a special man named Theophilus.

Theophilus was the Bishop of Antioch and the sixth Bishop of the city since the time of the Apostles. He and others, like Polycarp, opposed heretics such as Marcion. He taught strongly and positively about the importance of the Ten Commandments.

“‘And on the sixth day God finished His works which He made, and rested on the seventh day from all His works which He made. And God blessed the seventh day, and sanctified it; because in it He rested from all His works which God began to create.’…Moreover, [they spoke] concerning the seventh day, which all men acknowledge; but the most know not that what among the Hebrews is called the “Sabbath,” is translated into Greek the “Seventh” (ebdomas), a name which is adopted by every nation, although they know not the reason of the appellation” (To Autolycus, book 2, Chapters 11-12).

“Wherefore also on the fourth day the lights were made. The disposition of the stars, too, contains a type of the arrangement and order of the righteous and pious, and of those who keep the law and commandments of God. For the brilliant and bright stars are an imitation of the prophets, and therefore they remain fixed, not declining, nor passing from place to place. And those which hold the second place in brightness, are types of the people of the righteous. And those, again,, which change their position, and flee from place to place, which also are cared planets, they too are a type of the men who have wandered from God, abandoning His law and commandments” (To Autolycus, book 2, Chapters 15).

“… if he [mankind] should incline to the things of immortality, keeping the commandment of God, he should receive as reward from Him immortality…For God has given us a law and holy commandments; and every one who keeps these can be saved, and, obtaining the resurrection, can inherit incorruption” (To Autolycus, book 2, Chapters 27).

“…we have learned a holy law; but we have as lawgiver Him who is really God, who teaches us to act righteously, and to be pious, and to do good…Of this great and wonderful law, which tends to all righteousness, the ten heads are such as we have already rehearsed…” (To Autolycus, book 3, Chapters 9).

Notice that Theophilus had a significant emphasis on obedience to the Ten Commandments. He respected God’s law. He also reiterated that God rested on the seventh day and that “all men acknowledge” this day as the Sabbath. He also noted that the term Sabbath is retained in the languages of every nation. Many languages today still reflect this. Josephus said Biblical practices such as the Sabbath had spread to every nation on earth (Appion 2.40). In other places he spoke strongly against idols (bk 1:10, bk 2:34-35, bk 3:9).

Eusebius, a fourth century historian, mentions the stand he took against heresy and the anti-Sabbatarian teachers: “Of Theophilus, whom we have mentioned as bishop of the church of Antioch…another writing entitled Against the Heresy of Hermogenes, in which he makes use of testimonies from the Apocalypse of John, and finally certain other catechetical books… And as the heretics, no less then than at other times, were like tares, destroying the pure harvest of apostolic teaching…And that Theophilus also, with the others, contended against them, is manifest from a certain discourse of no common merit written by him against Marcion” (Eusebius, Church History, Book 4, Chapter 24).

In future articles, we will review the heretics that rose in the second century and why believers like Theophilus became so instrumental to continue the faith once delivered to the saints.

Kelly McDonald, Jr.

BSA President – www.biblesabbath.org

 

 

Why Was December 25th Chosen for the Birthday of Christ?

Why Was December 25th Chosen for the Birthday of Christ?

by Kelly McDonald, Jr.

Note: The goal of this article is simply to provide historical research.

There are 364 days in the current calendar used in much of the world (365 on leap years). Of all the days available, why was December 25th chosen as the day to remember the birth of Christ? This is not an illogical question, especially as we consider that the New Testament does not provide any references to an ongoing celebration of His birth (or anyone’s birthday for that matter). References for the birth of Christ are also scarce outside of the initial event when it occurred.

To understand how December 25th became an important day in mainstream Christianity, one must consider that Christianity initially spread within the Greco-Roman world. About 100 years after Christ’s ascension to Heaven, the community of believers were flooded with Greek philosophies and other religions. There were a number of heretical leaders during this time that tried to mix these beliefs with Christianity, including Cerdon, Marcion, Valentinus, Saturninus, Basilides, and so forth. These infamous teachers were so dangerous that volumes of literature were written in the late second century onward to refute their ideas.

Valentinus in particular was known for spreading the belief that true Christians were free to openly participate in Roman celebrations (Irenaeus, Against Heresies, 1:6:3). As time passed this only grew worse. Tertullian, a very influential writer in the early third century, recorded that the majority of Christians he knew engaged in this behavior.

“But, however, the majority (of Christians) have by this time induced the belief in their mind that it is pardonable if at any time they do what the heathen do, for fear ‘that the name be blasphemed’… the Saturnalia and New Year’s and Midwinter’s festivals [Latin: brumae] and Matronalia are frequented – presents come and go – New year’s gifts – games join their noise – banquets join their din! Oh better fidelity of the nations to their own sect, which claims no solemnity of the Christians for itself!” (On Idolatry, ch. 10, 14).

There were certain celebrations mentioned by Tertullian: “Saturnalia, New Year’s and Midwinter’s festivals [Latin: brumae] …” These three celebrations/dates were very important to Romans for centuries. Each of them occurred in the winter. Saturnalia was the time when the god Saturn was celebrated with parties; it was a time to remember when the god dwelt among mankind. The New Year’s celebration was January 1st (at that time). Midwinter festivals, or Brumae in Latin, was a special reference to a specific day in December.

Pliny the Elder, a Roman historian who lived in the first century wrote more about this day: “The year is divided into four periods or seasons, the recurrence of which is indicated by the increase or diminution of the daylight. Immediately after the winter solstice [bruma] the days begin to increase, and by the time of the vernal equinox, or in other words, in ninety days and three hours, the day is equal in length to the night….All these seasons, too, commence at the eighth degree of the signs of the Zodiac. The winter solstice [bruma] begins at the eighth degree of Capricorn, the eighth day before the calends of January…” (Natural History, 18:57, 59).

The bruma or winter solstice was specifically listed as the eighth day before the calends of January. After the Calendar reform of Julius Caesar (which is a greater context of Pliny’s words), this became December 25th. While this is certainly not the astronomical solstice (which is Dec. 21/22), it was the day that the Romans recognized it as the solstice; it was considered the day in which a visible difference in the length of days could be observed from earth. Even as late as the fourth/fifth century the 8th Kalends of January held this significance (see Maurus Servius Honoratus commentary on the Aeneid, book 7, line 720). Other writers considered December 25th to be the day of the new sun or the birthday of the sun (see Censorinus, chapter 21).

Tertullian noted that a significant number of early Christians took a particular interest in observing days such as bruma. As aforementioned, early Christianity spread within the confines of the Roman Empire (and eventually went outside of it). Even as it ventured into other countries, the bulk of Christians dwelt within the Roman Empire for centuries.

Another development in this time period is the spread of sun worship. For an unknown reason, some Christians started to pray towards the sun’s rising and setting in the late second/early third century (see Tert. Apology, ch 16). References to Christ as the sun increased over time as well. In later centuries this became a bigger issue. In the late fourth/early fifth century, Augustine denounced those who tried to combine the worship of Christ with that of the sun (Tractate 34 on the Gospel of John, sec. 2).

In the fourth century AD, we find the first reference to a commemoration for the birth of Christ. Ambrose, in his work “On Virginity”, recalled a sermon from Pope Liberius (352-366) where a day was set aside to remember the birth of Jesus. The specific day of the year for this event is not mentioned. As time passed there seem to be two developing thoughts about the birth of Jesus. The Eastern Church leaned toward January 6th as the birth of Jesus. The Western Church leaned towards December 25th. At first the remembrance of Christ’s birth was more of a solemn commemoration rather than a celebration. There was a reluctance to imitate unbelievers on the day (Gregory of Nazianzus, Oration 38).

But the use of language exactly mirroring that of pagan Romans, such as Pliny, became very common. Christ was even called the new sun by some.

In Augustine’s Sermon 190, which is concerning the birth of Christ and its celebration, he wrote, “…on the birth of our Lord Jesus Christ, and night began to endure loss, and day took up an increase.” The Latin reads:…ideo die Natalis Domini nostri Jesu Christi, et nox incipit perpeti detrimenta, et dies sumere augmenta.” In the same message, he stated:  “We have therefore, brothers, this sacred (or solemn) day, not as the unbelievers on account of this sun, but on account of him who made this sun” The Latin reads: “habaemus ergo, fratres, solemnem istum diem; non sicut infideles propter hunc solem, sed propter eum qui fecit hunc solem.”

Poems and hymns of various kinds were written to honor the birth of Christ on December 25th as the bruma or new sun (such as Prudentius and Paulinus of Nola). The winter celebration became popularized by a Roman law in 425 AD which forced certain establishments to close on the day dedicated to Christ’s birth. This allowed the day’s influence to spread.

This of course did not come without problems. Some sun worshipers confused Christianity and their previous way of life, which led to some trying both (see Pope Leo I sermon 22:6 for example). Pope Leo had a problem with people trying to worship the sun and then attending church.

In the sixth century onward, various church councils made attendance on Christmas mandatory and perhaps carried with it certain penalties. Perhaps by the time of Charlemagne and certainly by the Middle Ages, its practice was very much entrenched in mainstream Christendom. The term ‘Cristes Maesse’ first appears in Old English in 1038 AD. This was followed at times by forced communion on the day.

But one must also remember that other days such as March 25 (Spring Equinox / Mary’s Annunciation) and June 24 (Summer Solstice / John the Baptist’s birthday) were also adapted from Roman customs.

For those of you who have wondered how December 25th was chosen as the day of Christ’s birth, there you have it! It was adapted from the Roman recognition of December 25th as the winter solstice (bruma) and the re-birth of the sun.

Today many people still remember Christ’s birth on December 25 without this knowledge. There was certainly a time when I did not know it either. I pray for everyone’s eyes to be opened. I am thoroughly happy to share it with others for your education and edification. My goal is simply to present the facts. “Prove all things; hold fast that which is good” (I Thess. 5:21).

Kelly McDonald, Jr.

BSA President – www.biblesabbath.org

One More Time, Moses Was Right

One More Time, Moses Was Right

By Jim O’Brien 

Hi Friend,

“Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor.”

The news reported the story of a couple that dropped their elderly, wheelchair bound mother off at the airport to catch a plane. The flight was cancelled and the attendants called the family who returned 45 minutes later to retrieve the mother. All should have been well except the family went on social media to falsely report that their mother had been left overnight unattended, in her wheelchair.

While I can’t imagine a person leaving an invalid parent alone at a busy airport, their callous action was exacerbated by a lie. Video and phone records prove that the accusation was false.

Is this where the story ends?

It isn’t. When victimhood is the highest moral value then others aspire to it, thus abdicating responsibility for self. This is mindboggling to previous generations where victimhood was a sign of weakness. Now it’s a virtue.

What happens to the electoral process when a presidential candidate is slandered by a lie such as tying his dog to the top of his car while on a trip or fabricating a fictitious account of a perverted sexual encounter? What happens when an exemplary candidate to our nation’s highest court can be torpedoed by lies from people who want to project their sins on to others? In the end our nation suffers!

Is there nothing that can be done to prevent these atrocities before the collapse of a once great civilization?

There’s a scripture from the Old Testament law that could immediately make our nation better. This one law would improve our culture immeasurably.

There is a reason that an image of Moses holding the Ten Commandments is over the rear entrance to the Supreme Court Building of the United States. Moses established the principle of the presumption of innocence. He wrote, “One witness is not enough to convict anyone accused of any crime or offense they may have committed. A matter must be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.” (Deut. 10:15) Can the power to destroy a person be entrusted to one person without evidence? What if the accuser is malicious-or mentally ill? Are any of us safe if the law does not provide a presumption of innocence?

But, what is the remedy? Moses continues, “If a malicious witness takes the stand to accuse someone of a crime…the judges must make a thorough investigation, and if the witness proves to be a liar, giving false testimony…then do to the false witness as that witness intended to do to the other party. You must purge the evil from among you.” (verses 16 thru 19)

We are in danger of losing the moral concept that a false accusation is equally as dangerous as the crime itself!

In her book, The Diversity Delusion, author Heather McDonald decries the $250,000 salaries paid to Diversity Department heads at universities across America who frequently destroy the lives of innocent people by falsely accusing students. The salaries are paid by your tax dollars to encourage accusations.

She calls it an “absolutist social theology” that extorts huge financial assets from corporations and American taxpayers. Notice the term, “theology” suggesting the source of this madness is spiritual. The Apostle John identifies the power behind false accusations when he writes, “the accuser of our brethren, who accused them before our God day and night…. (Rev. 12:10) John is talking about Satan and he does not equivocate that he is a spiritual destroyer who desires to corrupt the justice system by encouraging men toward unbridled accusations.

What can be done? Once again, Moses provides the solution. He points out that “the rest of the people will hear of this (punishment for making false accusations) and be afraid, and never again will such an evil thing be done among you. Show no pity: life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot.” (Deut. 19:20-21) Moses is telling us that truthfulness is absolutely essential to a nation’s survival-otherwise, we have lost any connection to justice, the cornerstone of civilization.

Do we want a civilized country? Then we must require witnesses to tell the truth. And when they do not, they must receive the same punishment as would have been administered for the accused crime.

This age of man, beginning with the mainstream media, is the most accusing of any that has ever existed. It’s an infectious disease for which, once again, Moses provided the answer.

Until next time,

Jim O’Brien

This pastor’s letter was originally posted on December 07, 2018 on Pastor Jim’s pastor page. He is the pastor of the Church of God Cincinnati. You can learn more about their church and read more of his letters at: http://www.cogcincinnati.org/pages/from-our-pastor.html

 

Are You Building Upon the Foundation of Truth?

Are You Building Upon the Foundation of Truth?

By Kelly McDonald, Jr.

We are all born into a country and possibly a church environment with certain beliefs, ideals, and practices. As we grow up, these ideals and practices become engrained into our lives through laws, culture, entertainment, social mores, and celebrations. Thus, we have been influenced by these factors. Your environment has an impact to one degree or another upon the person you are today.

As part of this process of socialization, we have certain traditions and beliefs that become assimilated into our own practice. The challenge I issue to all who read this article is to question your practices, beliefs, and thought patterns in the following manner: Are you building upon the foundation of God’s truth or are you simply following the traditions handed down to you?

Many people follow a degree of traditions given to them, but they are not aware that they should even question them.

For Christians, the Bible is the foundation of truth. In other words, we are expected to build our world view, perspectives on life, and practices upon its precious Words. The great challenge remains for the individual to recognize his/her beliefs or practices and subsequently compare it to the foundation of all knowledge.

This challenge applies to all backgrounds.

This will lead us back to the age-old debate between culture and Christ. To what degree do we allow culture to define or influence our view of Christ? Or, do we view Christ as the rock that influences our view of the world. The answer is simpler than one might think. Christ never changes (Hebrews 13:8). He changes us and then subsequently uses us as an agent of change in the world around us. Therefore culture cannot redefine His eternal nature.

It is so easy to say “well, this tradition means _____ to me”; this is problematic because this is an argument from relativism. People use the same line of reasoning to justify the redefinition of marriage. If there is no perpetual morality in the Bible, then culture can influence our interpretation of the Bible.

At some point in the future, a majority in America will no longer understand the Biblical definition of marriage. They will be engrained into a tradition that supports a false view. Even if the majority accepts this tradition it does not redefine truth.

Following the majority view leads us down a destructive path of reactionary thinking. More often than not, the Bible is quoted from a position of defending tradition rather that building upon truth. Humanity can rationalize any view point. But the never-changing Word of God is that sword (Heb. 4:12) to cut away to the truth of the matter – are we rationalizing what we think is right or simply standing for what is absolutely right?

Questions to ask yourself: Are you using tradition to define the Bible? Do you find Bible verses to justify your behavior or tradition? Does the frame of reference for your world view come from tradition?

When you read the Bible, do you allow its words to change your lifestyle? Do you view the Bible as the source of your life instead of a reactionary crutch?

The Bible should be the foundation of our lives. It should define and start our practices, so we proceed forward on the foundation of truth. We want to build on what is eternal, not temporary and fleeting.

This is indeed a lifelong process; no one has all the answers. And I can assure you the process is not easy – you will alienate family and friends when you choose truth over tradition. But God will also connect you with people to replace what is lost (Matthew 19:29). However, the process also leads to a fulfillment and renewed outlook on life that you will not trade for anything in this world.

Some people believe strongly that they have inherited a tradition of truth. If so, have you proved your views through the lens of God’s Word? Even if something is absolutely true, we should understand, from the Word, why it is true. It is incumbent upon every generation to “Test all things, and hold firmly that which is good” (1 Thess. 5:21).

The process described in this article can make the difference between operating off inherited beliefs (which may or may not be eternal) or building upon the foundation of everlasting truth (Matthew 7:13-24).

Kelly McDonald, Jr

BSA President

www.biblesabbath.org