From Christ to Chalcedon: A course of exploration of the early church

 
“Do you believe we are now living in a post-Christian era?  Does the Christianity you observe really begin, for example, with Martin Luther, John Calvin, The Great Awakening, Second Great Awakening, Billy Sunday, Billy Graham or some other historical figure?  Is your experience with God similar with those believers at and after the time of the apostles?
These perplexing questions will be addressed in an Early Church History discussion and study group starting February 22, 2018.  One evening per month, over five months, you will have an opportunity to hear presentations about the life and growth of the early church.  As a participant, you will study the writings of the Apostolic Fathers and engage with Church History Scholars such as Regina Boisclair, PhD Cardinal Newman Chair at APU, and Fr. Vasili Hillhouse of Holy Transfiguration Greek Orthodox Church.  The sessions will be moderated by Chris Thompson, Church Visits writer/blogger, and co-moderated by Heidi Marlowe, lay monastic of St. Mary’s Episcopal Church.
Trevin Wax, prominent pastor and religion author, writing in “3 Reasons Why I Quote the Church Fathers When I Preach, says “church history is a treasure box, not a map. We err if we look to the past in order to chart the precise path of faithfulness for the future. We are marching to Zion, not retreating to Constantinople or Geneva. For this reason, we should look to the past in order to retrieve the resources we need in order to fortify and renew our faith in the present as we discern with wisdom and prudence the way forward. This is how we best honor those who have gone before us: learning from both their strengths and also their sins, and praying that we will be faithful today. As the primary teaching pastor at my church, I quote regularly from the church fathers when I preach. I don’t do so in every sermon, but my congregation is now familiar with names like Augustine, Chrysostom, Ambrose, and Athanasius.”
If shining a light into our shared heritage (and possibly shaking our own lethargy) by tackling the history and writings of the early church sounds appealing to you, consider joining us for five months of reading, learning and discussing the years from the crucifixion of Christ (AD 33) to the Council of Chalcedon (AD 451). The age of the apostles ended at the end of the first century. From the start of the second century (AD 100) to the reformers, approximately AD 1500, a period of over 1,400 years of church history transpired which are rarely or never heard about in many religious communities. The purpose of this 5-month study group is to shine light into the early development of the Christian faith.
Please indicate your interest in joining us by responding YES to churchvisits@gmail.com Detailed information will be sent you. There will be a modest fee covering meeting facilities at APU and course materials. Each participant will also need to purchase an inexpensive volume: “Early Christian Writings: The Apostolic Fathers” (ISBN-13: 978-0140444759)

 

 

Merry Christmas Church Visits Readers

The stores are closing or will be shortly.  Services all over town are starting. Another Christmas/Advent season will soon be a distant memory.  As we close out Advent and begin Christmas, I’d like to share a quote from my favorite theologian, Walter Brueggemann. In his new book, Celebrating Abundance: Devotions for Advent, sharing thoughts about Christmas Eve he writes, “The gift of Christmas contradicts everything we sense about our own life. Our world feels unsavable, and here is the baby named Jesus, “Save.” Our world and our lives often feel abandoned and here is the baby named Immanuel, “God with us.” Be ready to have your sense of the world contradicted by this gift from God. Rest on the new promise from the angel that you may be safe and whole and generous.”

May the blessings of this wonderful gift attend your Christmas celebrations and continue into the new year.

Merry Christmas!

Chris Thompson
churchvisits@gmail.com
churchvisits.com

Not feeling holiday cheer? Maybe a Blue Christmas or Longest Night service is for you!

At this time of year, many are suffering from illness, death of a loved one, loneliness, or sadness.  Often, the cheery greetings of the Christmas season ring hollow compared to the pain many feel.  I can certainly relate to these feelings as I too have experienced loss during the past year, and have just passed the anniversaries of my mother’s and sister’s deaths.

Several local churches extend themselves to offer solace to anyone needing a time to escape from the cheery atmosphere surrounding this time of year, to reflect and more effectively confront these issues. Some offer “Blue Christmas” services while others may have “Longest Night” services. These coincide with the time of year where the darkness exceeds the light by many margins.

Finding these services can be a challenge however. A Google search (blue christmas anchorage) revealed one such service on the first search page; St. Mark Lutheran on December 20, 7 p.m. via a Facebook post. (see https://www.facebook.com/events/323053711510959/) On the second search page Trinity Presbyterian Church (trinityalaska.org) announces they are holding a Blue Christmas service at 6:30 p.m. on December 24. The third page contains an outdated Lutheran service reference which no longer applies.

What a shame that so few churches can be found posting such services. Most people don’t delve beyond the first two or three search pages.  Many churches believe that internal newsletters, tweets, or Facebook posts are all that is needed to get the word out.  The Christian term for this is taken from Matthew 5:15, “Neither do men light a candle, and put it under a bushel, but on a candlestick; and it giveth light unto all that are in the house.” It’s little wonder that Christmas has degenerated in this post-Christian era. Too many Christians have totally surrendered themselves to the consumer-driven hijacking of Christmas.

Looking for “Longest Night” services is equally challenging. A Google search (longest night service anchorage) reveals similar, with one ray of hope. The first search page revealed only one local church, St. John UMC as having a longest night service on December 21, 7:00 p.m.  (see http://www.stjohneagle.com/upcoming-events.html) St John has diligently gone from having a problematic church website to one of the best in the city. Their crowded calendar is easily picked up on Google.  Unfortunately Google search pages two and three revealed no other Longest Night services locally.

I’m also aware that St. Mary’s Episcopal Church is having their annual Blue Christmas service on Wednesday, December 20, at 5:30 p.m.  Rector Michael Burke told me, “It is a time of silence, prayerfulness, and healing for those overwhelmed by the holiday season, and its sense of merriment.” St. Mary’s newsletter further states, “In previous years, some of those who attended spoke of loved ones who have died, and of other losses in their life over the past year. We will once again light candles and pray for and with one another. The service will conclude with all of us singing “Silent Night” by candlelight. Our very own Dave Rush will again provide his beautiful instrumental guitar music. Come join us for a beautiful, quiet, and reflective time.

My personal thanks to those few churches that have chosen to not “hide their light under a bushel” but are providing a meaningful forum for those aflicted by pain and suffering during this holiday season. Isn’t this what the Beatitudes of Jesus addressed?

Chris Thompson
churchvisits.com
churchvisits@gmail.com

Evening of Silence – December 2017

This time there’s more notice.

Many in our faith community say they would have attended the last Evening of Silence at St. Mary’s Episcopal Church if they had known about it in advance. Here’s your notice.

This coming Thursday evening, 6:30-8:00 p.m., St. Mary’s Episcopal will once again open it’s doors for a period of silence to come, sit, kneel, reflect, and pray in a holy setting.

Many of us need to come apart from our dwellings to experience the joys of communing with the divine.  There are so many distractions which separate us from practicing the spiritual disciplines of prayer, and fellowship.  It’s a benefit to us all, that St. Mary’s is one of the few churches in the local area that open its doors for this purpose.  Due to vandalism, theft, desecration, and lack of respect, many churches do not open their doors other than for established meeting times and purposes.

You are free to come and go as you please during this time at St. Mary’s.  A litany book was prepared by Heidi Marlowe for the last evening of silence.  It was a thoughtful, quiet method to bring ones heart to a time of quiet internalization through Christian litany.  Come for a few minutes or the entire hour and a half. It’s up to you.

Thank you St. Mary’s community for leading out in this meaningful opportunity of faith.

Chris Thompson
churchvisits@gmail.com

Vatican Astronomer Giving Free Faith and Science Talk — Tuesday 11/28/17

Most religions, and pastors shy away from addressing the dynamics of faith and science. In fact, research studies indicate this failure by the church and their members to discuss faith and science, is a prime reason millennials have lost interest in religion.

It is indeed refreshing to discover that APU’s Regina Boisclair, Ph.D, Professor of Religious Studies and Cardinal Newman Chair, is bringing Br. Guy Consolmagno, S.J., Ph.D. to Alaska to make several presentations on “God’s Mechanics, The Spiritual Life of Techies”.

A free local lecture, Tuesday, November 28 at St. Patrick’s Church, 2111 Muldoon Road, 7:00-8:30 p.m., will allow the public to hear Br. Guy Consolmagno, director of the Vatican Observatory in Rome and Tucson.

For a brief, 5 minute, video introduction to this notable astronomer, click here: https://ed.ted.com/on/L5d2wXuE. A lengthier TedX talk is available to watch by clicking here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kmU2gDbP_Tk.

He believes in the need for science and religion to work alongside one another rather than as competing ideologies. In 2006, he said, “Religion needs science to keep it away from superstition and keep it close to reality, to protect it from creationism, which at the end of the day is a kind of paganism – it’s turning God into a nature god.”

On July 2, 2014, he was awarded the Carl Sagan Medal for outstanding communication by an active planetary scientist to the general public by the Division for Planetary Sciences of the American Astronomical Society.  Known as “The Pope’s Astronomer,” he was named by Pope Francis to be the Director of the Vatican Observatory in September 2015.

Come early to claim your seat and have your thinking challenged.

Chris Thompson
churchvisits@gmail.com

Thanksgiving Interfaith Service – Great Idea!

Thanksgiving, historically, was not a religious celebration. Rather, it was a harvest meal in the early days of the Plymouth Colony recognizing a bountiful harvest that would stave off a repeat of the famine that originally decimated the colony.  Thanksgiving has grown into a secular holiday in our country as seen by recognizing our bounty with huge feasts, football, shopping, and gatherings of family and friends.  There is much to be thankful for in our country, but it is also appropriate to recognize Thanksgiving in a joint faith community manner.

In what has become an annual tradition in Anchorage, the Interfaith Council of Anchorage, in conjunction with First Christian Church, will hold a Thanksgiving Eve service. Local faith communities will gather to give thanks and provide the music and messages in a spiritually uplifting venue. The program will begin with a drum circle, and there will be drums available for those who want to participate. Featuring short readings, brief messages, reflections, and music from an interfaith choir, the program will focus on celebrating joy, thanksgiving, and our strength as a community, with all of our shared traditions as well as our wonderful differences.

This year the service will be held at First Christian Church, 3031 LaTouche St., Wednesday, November 22, 2017 at 7 p.m.

At the conclusion of the service, a reception will be held with savory and sweet finger food being served.

Thank you Interfaith Council of Anchorage for keeping this tradition alive. At a time when few local churches recognize the strengths and joy of true Thanksgiving, it great to know the interfaith community is making a difference.

Chris Thompson
churchvisits@gmail.com

Evensong Blessing on the Feast of All Saints

Gavin Duncan, All Saints Episcopal Church’s organist, was playing Bach’s Fantasia in G Major as I entered their beautiful sanctuary on November 1. The church was respectfully quiet with a sparse collection of worshipers present who were awaiting the service. The purpose of my visit was to attend their Evensong service for the Feast of All Saints. As I entered, a greeter handed me a beautifully printed, colored, special 10-page order of service for the evening, which included all of the readings and music used in the service. (see attached pdf)

If you are unfamiliar with Evensong services the Episcopal Church describes them in this way. “Since the late middle ages “evensong” has been the popular name for vespers (from the Latin vesperis, “evening”), the Evening Office of the western church. Cranmer used it in the 1549 BCP. Although in 1552 he replaced it with “Evening Prayer,” the common name remains “evensong.” In many Anglican cathedrals and other large churches, especially in England, evensong is sung by clergy and choir as a choral liturgy.” (see https://www.episcopalchurch.org/library/glossary/evensong)

The order of service noted “the Feast of All Saints or the Solemnity of All Saints, is an ancient Christian festival celebrated in honor of all the saints, known and unknown. This day is celebrated with the firm belief that there is a powerful spiritual bond between those in heaven — the Church triumphant — and the living — the Church militant.”

This was a strongly participative service with choral, spoken word, congregational singing, and prayer. Mr. Duncan directed the choir from the organ, as he played, no small feat. Greg MacDonald, worship leader, led the congregation in singing and responsive readings. Rector David Terwilliger delivered a brief homily.

I don’t know how you do church, but found this evening to be a blessing, filled with thoughts of friends here, and those departed.  Having recently experienced the loss of a loved one, I was deeply moved by this entire service.  I encourage this fine congregation to continue this wonderful tradition. I’ll be most happy to spread the word in advance. Thank you All Saints people!

All Saints Evensong program

Chris Thompson
churchvisits@gmail.com

 

 

 

 

500th Anniversary of Luther Nailing 95 Theses to Church Door in Wittenburg is Today

On this day 500 years ago, Martin Luther, an Augustinian friar in Wittenburg, Saxony nailed 95 Theses, or arguments, against the sale of indulgences to the door of Castle Church in Wittenburg. Indulgences were being sold in the area. The purchase of indulgences essentially granted sinners forgiveness of sins, freeing them from purgatory. Luther pressed the argument that salvation is free to all as a result of the sacrifice of Christ.

Luther’s action, influenced by reformers John Wycliff and Jan Hus, created a Reformation movement that rapidly spread across Europe. This gave rise to Protestants, or those who protested against certain practices of the Catholic church.  Luther wanted to reform the church, but created a separate religion, Lutheranism, when he found that to be impossible. Many other reformers rose up after this period, creating other main religions of today.

Luther’s movement and others in the reformation emphasized the key essentials of Christianity: faith alone (soia fides), grace alone (sola gratia), Christ alone (solus Christus).

Luther from painting by Lucas Cranach the Elder

Modern Protestantism is deeply in debt to the early church, Catholic and Orthodox, especially with regard to the teaching and writings of early church fathers which helped to develop the essential doctrines most Christian religions observe today.  It’s all too easy to be impelled to throw the baby out with the bathwater.  Luther first wanted to reform the Catholic church, but when that became impossible, he created a purer religion than was being observed at the time.

A modern day heresy, the prosperity gospel, is being called out for the error that it is by too few. In my opinion, it is just as dangerous as the sale of indulgences was during the time of the reformers.

My heart was warmed by the joint service between Catholics and Lutherans last Sunday at Our Lady of Guadalupe Co-Cathedral.  I’m planning to share some of the aspects of that service in an upcoming column.  The main takeaway was that Christians need to emphasize their unity rather than where they disagree.

Chris Thompson
churchvisits@gmail.com

 

 

Catholics and Lutherans Commemorate 500th Year of the Reformation This Sunday at Our Lady of Guadalupe Co-Cathedral

Too often, denominations fiercely defend their theological differences rather than celebrate their agreement regarding items of faith.  This coming Sunday, October 29, Archbishop Etienne of the Archdiocese of Anchorage, and Bishop Shelley Wickstrom of the Alaska Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America (ELCA) will come together to preach at a service commemorating the 500th anniversary of the reformation.  They will be using a liturgy first used under the leadership of Pope Francis and Lutheran World Federation General Secretary Martin Junge in Sweden last October. In so doing, they will be join others around the world in sharing in this commemoration.

This special service will be held at Our Lady of Guadalupe co-cathedral on Wisconsin Street, Sunday, October 29 at 2 p.m.

Last year the Vatican released a statement regarding these special worldwide commemoration services. “In 2017, Lutheran and Catholic Christians will commemorate together the 500th anniversary of the beginning of the Reformation. Lutherans and Catholics today enjoy a growth in mutual understanding, cooperation, and respect. They have come to acknowledge that more unites than divides them: above all, common faith in the Triune God and the revelation in Jesus Christ, as well as recognition of the basic truths of the doctrine of justification.” Source — http://www.vatican.va/

In commenting about the Lutheran perspective on this service, Bishop Shelley Wickstrom said, “Our shared commemoration reflects a deepening conviction that because of Christ, what unites us is stronger than what divides us.  The liturgy we use in this commemoration is one being used around the world by Roman Catholics and Lutherans and first used by Pope Francis and members of the Lutheran World Federation in Oslo. It includes statements of how we have not been charitable to each other.  There are Lutherans who grew up hearing they should not date Catholics (or Norwegians, Swedes,…) The same is true for Catholics in regard to Protestants.”  (I’m sure many of us can recall hearing similar statements as this. Growing up Protestant, I heard them in my home.)
“This shared commemoration”, continued Bishop Shelley, “also acknowledges the differences that remain between our two traditions. My prayer is that our common prayer and confession will open hearts and minds to what God would have us do in Christ’s name for the sake of the future God prefers for us all.”
Following the service, a reception will be held in the adjoining Lunney Center.
I wonder, if there were more commemorations like this, whether some of the divisiveness so prevalent in our current society might be ameliorated. I look forward to attending this special service.
Chris Thompson
churchvisits@gmail.com