Cornerstone Christian Fellowship

In Christ. In Community. In Lebanon.

Sunday Worship at 10:30am

Christian Women in the Patristic World

This month's book response comes from Terri McCumber who serves in office administration and children's ministry.

As we read through book responses, may our ears be attentive to the Spirit and may our minds discern and consider truth well. Also remember the words of the Preacher from Ecclesiastes: The writing of many books is endless, and excessive devotion to books is wearying to the body. The conclusion, when all has been heard, is: fear God and keep His commandments.


Response...

Christian Women in the Patristic World, Their Influence, Authority, and Legacy in the Second through Fifth Centuries, by Lynn H. Cohick and Amy Brown Hughes, is not an easy read. It is a worthwhile one.

Having been raised in a very conservative church where women were not given positions of authority and were not even invited to pray publicly other than in women’s groups, it was interesting  to see the impact of  women on the early church. There were strange things going on. Miracles occurred in the martyrs’ arena, there were visions and supernatural rescues. There were some who believed that martyrs’ sins were automatically forgiven, granting them immediate access to paradise – but only martyrs, so they were often asked to intercede on behalf of those who backed down at the last minute. Some prayed to saints, some prayed to Mary. While there are theological differences, it is important to remember it was the very early years of the Church becoming the Church. There were passionate discussions/arguments that took place for centuries. While mainly recorded by men, the records show women were very influential during this time.

“It is easy to forget or pass over the connections and relationships of women…as incidental to the development of the church. However, women were involved in the power networks of the time, heavily involved in the doctrinal discussions, and on the forefront of the construction of Christian identity.”

Some of the women highlighted were Thecla, Perpetua , Felicitas, Helena Augusta, Egeria, Macrina, Monica, Paula, Marcella, Melanias, Aelia Pulcheria, and Empress Eudocia.

Thecla was heavily influenced by the teachings of Paul, whom she heard in person. She was engaged to be married, but after hearing Paul, determined to remain a virgin for life. She stood up to her family, (unheard of at the time), broke her engagement, and lived a chaste and modest life. She realized the importance of the family of God, which was literally her family from then on. “The aim of philosophical and Christian ascetism in particular was to bridle one’s wild and disordered desires and passions for the sake of cultivating the life of virtue.” She became a role model for generations of women who resolved to pursue an ascetic life.

Perpetua and Felicitas were young mothers who were martyred for their faith. Felicitas was martyred immediately after delivering her baby. It was interesting to note the Romans would not send her into the arena until after she gave birth in order to spare her child. She wanted to be martyred with her group of fellow Christians, so they were all praying for an early delivery and it happened.  She entered the arena with her brothers and sisters in Christ. It is interesting to note that Augustine, writing centuries later said that...“These female martyrs’ victory was due to ‘the one’ (Christ) who filled them with courage, enabling ‘these women to die faithfully like men.’”

Egeria was very wealthy and travelled extensively to and from the Holy Land, stopping at various monasteries for prolonged visits. She financed many of the monasteries. Her dialogues with the monks influenced the discussions held at various Councils.

Macrina’s family was very wealthy.  In an agrarian society it was important to hoard during good seasons so you had reserves when poor weather limited income.  “Thus when Macrina gave away her clothing, emancipated her slaves, became more like those who struggled with hunger and cold, and established a community of ascetic equality, she did something that ran counter to the status quo of the other landowners. Her actions would not have gone unnoticed…what Macrina and her family established was a daring enterprise indeed. They were ahead of the curve with their understanding of Christianity as a societal force for change.”

Monica was the mother of Augustine. Her dogged pursuit of him for Christ completely changed his life. “In the Confessions, we get the sense that Monica’s pursuit, even when parochially hued, felt, in retrospect, like God’s love and mercy following him all of his days (Psalm 23:6), conscientiously prodding Augustine’s ‘unquiet’ heart…For Augustine, Monica’s relentlessness was God’s relentlessness.” She was included, and was the “mature voice of wisdom,” in the many theological dialogues of Augustine and his friends.

The chapter dealing with Christian women in catacomb art was a little far reaching.  The art is so degraded by time that most often we are told it may be a woman pictured here, or it may not. I did not find the conclusions drawn to be very reputable.

I most appreciated the fact that these women influenced church history in a variety of ways. When breaking away from the expectations of family and society it was not for the sake of personal freedom.  For the most part early Christians understood Christian liberty to be bondage to Christ. Some of these women were public martyrs.  Some were wealthy women who used their finances to travel and spread their influence to distant lands. Some were in positions of political authority. Some were mothers or sisters who taught and influenced the men in their lives who went on to be leaders we learn from today. I am grateful for their strength, endurance, perseverance and willingness to submit everything they had to God.

It is easy as a woman even in today’s church climate to think that we have no influence unless we are in a very authoritative position. While God uses women in those places, He also uses us in whatever sphere He has placed us. It is awe inspiring to see His Hand at work through these women in the second to fifth centuries.

Reversed Thunder

This month's book response comes from Gene McCumber who serves in prayer, worship, and tech realms.

As we read through book responses, may our ears be attentive to the Spirit and may our minds discern and consider truth well. Also remember the words of the Preacher from Ecclesiastes: The writing of many books is endless, and excessive devotion to books is wearying to the body. The conclusion, when all has been heard, is: fear God and keep His commandments.


The Adventures of Tom Sawyer.  Emma.  The Picture of Dorian Gray.  The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.  The Hobbit.

If you were to pick up any one of these books, you would expect it to contain topics and stories surrounding the title character.  You would expect that book to be about that person.  If I mention the book of the Bible titled Revelation, where does your mind go?  By default, my train of thought goes to “prophecy” and predictions about the future.  However, that’s not the full title of the book.  The full title of the book is The Revelation of Jesus Christ.  That title should change what we can expect to find contained in this book.

 
 

Eugene Peterson begins by inviting his audience into his personal experience with the Revelation.  He compares the final book of the Bible to taking a walk in a state park near his home.  He describes how walking through the forest interrupts the mundane day-to-day routine and reawakens him to the beauty around him and the wonder of the creation.  Calling us out of our assumptions and ennui, he invites us into his perspective on the Revelation:

“What walking through Maryland forests does to my bodily senses, reading the Revelation does to my faith perception.  A few paragraphs into the Revelation, the adrenaline starts rushing through the arteries of my faith, and I am on my feet alive, tingling.  It is impossible to read the Revelation and not have my imagination aroused.”

He then asks the reader to lay aside preconceived notions and hear, with fresh and open ears, the voice of a living God.  Peterson warns against simply reading the words on the page. 

“God blesses the one who reads the words of this prophecy to the church, and he blesses all who listen to its message and obey what it says, for the time is near.” Rev. 1:3

Reading something as words on a page and hearing them in the voice of the speaker are two different experiences.  If you know me, you may or may not be reading this in my voice in your head.  If you don’t know me, that’s not possible.  Even if you do know me, which words am I emphasizing?  Which thoughts am I punctuating?  Where am I loud and excited?  Where am I quiet and contemplative?  When I’m the one speaking, these things are trivial.  The importance of recognizing the voice of God is immense.  Matching His words with His voice brings life to them.  The words can then bring life to us.

"The most-to-be feared attacks on the Christian faith go for the jugular of the word: twisting the word, denying the word, doubting the word. It is impressive how frequently the Psalmists denounced and cried out for help against lying lips and flattering tongues. Far more than they feared murderers, adulterers, usurers, and Egyptians, they feared liars. God made himself known to them by word, and it was by words that they shaped their response to him. When words are ruined, we are damaged at the core of our being. The subtlest and most common attach in the satanic assault on God’s ways among us is a subversion of the word."

Reversed Thunder is based on the assumption that the book’s purpose is to reveal Christ in a new way.  It is structured around the fact that the Revelation is the last book of the Bible and, therefore, has the last word.  Peterson goes through the Revelation taking on one major theme at a time.  He explores the Revelation as the last word on scripture, Christ, the Church, worship, evil, prayer, witness, politics, judgment, salvation, and Heaven.  Within each of these topics, Peterson never strays from the central figure of Jesus Christ.

"Everything in the Revelation can be found in the previous sixty-five books of the Bible. The Revelation adds nothing of substance to what we already know. The truth of the gospel is already complete, revealed in Jesus Christ."

At just under 200 pages, Reversed Thunder is a guidebook for walking out of ourselves and into a different consideration of what The Revelation of Jesus Christ is all about.  It is easy to approach any number of things regarding life, religion, health, sports, work, morals, relationships, etc., with an idea that we already know what we’re going to get.  If I already know what I’m going to get, two things happen:  [1] I get what I want.  [2]  I don’t have to get what I don’t want; I can ignore it.  That way, things stay “easy” and “safe”.  Those are two words I’ve NEVER heard used to describe the Revelation.  I have definitely heard it described as “hard” and “dangerous.”

But what if “easy” and “safe” are no longer enough?  What if the status quo doesn’t cut it anymore?  Approaching a new outlook on The Revelation of Jesus Christ can be daunting.  Pursuing God in His reality is a terrifying prospect for me.  But that’s where life is.  If you want a new perspective on the Revelation, I encourage you to let Eugene Peterson be the experienced guide to take you on that safari.

Immeasurable

This month's book response comes from Justin Ryan Boyer who serves on the Pastoral Team at Cornerstone.

As we read through book responses, may our ears be attentive to the Spirit and may our minds discern and consider truth well. Also remember the words of the Preacher from Ecclesiastes: The writing of many books is endless, and excessive devotion to books is wearying to the body. The conclusion, when all has been heard, is: fear God and keep His commandments.


Let’s begin at the end.

In the final chapter of Skye Jethani’s newest book, IMMEASURABLE, the author recounts a story of himself as a young, twenty-six-year old seminarian. One day, during his chaplain rounds in a hospital, he met Bill, a fifty-four-year-old pastor. Bill had multiple upper body fractures including in his face which now featured a wired jaw. The serious injuries, however, weren’t from the pastor being hurt on the mission field or attempting to crowd surf during the latest Switchfoot concert or rescuing some poor old lady’s purse from a mugger. They were a result of solace. Solace sought from the mounting pressures, internal and external expectations, and steady stresses of pastoral ministry. Solace found in a misuse of alcohol that led to a severe fall that he couldn’t even remember and that was contextualized in the loss of his ministry, marriage, and children.

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But this book in review isn’t about alcoholism. It’s about a religious mindset that easily fueled Bill’s devotions in all the wrong ways and can easily push addictive behavior in general, whether it be alcoholism, pornography, or one of a dozen other more culturally acceptable, though equally destructive, vices. IMMEASURABLE is a canon of cautionary tales about CHURCH, INC. and a reminder that the Gospel of Jesus Christ doesn’t need anything added to it.

From the Apostle Paul’s letter to the Ephesians:

I pray that you will understand the immeasurable greatness of God’s power for us who believe Him. This is the same mighty power that raised Christ from the dead and seated Him in the place of honor at God’s right hand in the heavenly realms.

I see a raised hand. Yes? Question in the back?

What is Church, Inc.?

It’s many things. It could be said, in some regards, to be a mindset that dehumanizes people and Christ’s redemption towards them. Simplistically, Church, Inc. is about “systems, efficiencies, and metrics. It sees ministry as an industry on an assembly line of sermons and music and programs… struggles with sin and brokenness are inefficient, they slow down the system, they hinder institutional expansion and the triumphant image that Church, Inc. relies on to attract more members.”  You may be thinking this means only large or mega or colossal churches wrestle with Church, Inc. You would be wrong however. Undoubtedly certain environments cultivate Church, Inc. more distinctively, but this is a mentality that most of us in an age of consumerism and counterfeit covenant are tempted to strive for. It is a hollow and deceptive philosophy which tries to hijack faith and make our dependency on something other than Christ Himself.

SOUL BROTHER

One of the great things about Skye Jethani is that he is bald. I’m not sure if this is by choice or hereditary. All I know, is that it makes creating a mash-up of him and soul-singer James Brown super helpful.

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The book’s sub title is: reflections on the soul of ministry in the age of Church, Inc. There are twenty-four chapters, but only 210 pages proper. Many of the entries come from renewed versions of previous blog-posts and lectures. If you are new to the author, this is a terrific intro class, though by no means low-hanging fruit. Even if you are familiar with some of the stories, they have been converted and offer new insights. The chapters stand on their own, and yet, as all good canonical assembly does, there is an inter-connectivity that reminds you that each portion is part of something larger.

Each section ends with a few points of reflection and applications, prompting those brave enough to not just make this an ethereal journey, but an embodied one. The format feels robustly devotional as Skye always communicates illustriously with thoughts from history and everyday symbols. The book will make for great small group digesting as high-minded observations are communicated in an edifying-for-all style. Chapters range from Ambition to Technology to Vampires, from how the “real meaning of our work is only found when we stop doing it,” to how “preaching is about revealing God’s beauty, not merely teaching his truths.”

While IMMEASURABLE is geared towards ministry leaders, the benefit towards all who care about the health of the Church is easily seen. We are reminded that while God does grace his Church with leaders, we are all, in the end, followers of Christ.

Franciscan friar Richard Rohr once wrote that part of a prophet’s task was to keep people free for God. He goes on to say…

We get trapped in chains of guilt and low self-esteem, focusing on our imperfect church attendance and inability to live up to the law’s standard. As if the goal of religion is “attendance” at an occasional ritual instead of constant participation in an Eternal Mystery! Prophets turn our ideas of success and belonging on their head, emphasizing God’s unconditional and unmerited love in response to our shortcomings.

Jethani’s book is prophetic in that it seeks to keep people free to follow God rather than being tied up to a cultural tradition of church. And as we recall the 500 year anniversary of the reformation this year, IMMEASURABLE calls out to re-establish our foundation, cast off the chains that bind, and  listen for the ever present impressions of the Spirit.

REMEMBERING WHO WE ARE

Back to the beginning, or rather the end, and the hospital room where Bill awaits us.

After a time of hearing Bill’s story and advice, Skye thanked him and got up to leave, not sure how to respond to the broken man who lost his dignity. But then Skye remembered his own calling, that he was called to intercede and to represent the presence of God, not Church, Inc. or the chaplaincy or even himself.

“Bill, I don’t know how to help you,” I said, “but I’d like to stay here if that’s okay.” He took my hand tightly in his and began to weep. So did I. I don’t know how long we cried, but our weeping was a liturgy without words. The tears were a silent sacrament containing confession and absolution, condemnation and compassion, burial and resurrection. I knew Bill wasn’t clinging to me, he was clinging to God, just as I wasn’t merely crying over Bill’s sin, I was mourning my own. The moment was utterly human and yet mysteriously divine. It was ministry.

In the era of aggressive individualism, we ministers are being distinctly called to look outside of ourselves, into the systems of "church" we thought were helpful but could possibly be the opposite, and contemplate what is the soul of the church.

There is a partnership still to be realized in caring for the church. The bride belongs to the groom, but may we stand with the groom, hearing His voice, being filled with joy at His success, and resounding the truth and beauty spoken of the church as she is designed to be. May we love even stronger when she herself may be in a time of forgetfulness.

For what benefit is there if the church gains the whole world but loses her own soul? Is anything worth more than her soul?

All glory to God who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power at work within us.

As part of the Book Launch Team, I have a discount to offer you.If you use Immeasurable40 as a coupon code, you can receive 40% off the book through October 2017 at Moody Publishers. You can also preview the first two chapters.


Sunday Worship @ 10:30am | 515 Cumberland Street - Lebanon, PA 17042 | 717.279.5683