God’s Kingdom: Four Quotations from the Early Church

This past weekend at Eastbrook Church we began a new series on the kingdom of God. The first two weekends of the series we trace the theme of God’s kingdom throughout the Bible. As we walk through this theme, it is helpful to sometimes here from other saints of times past as they address the same themes that we explore. Here are quotations from four early church leaders that offer perspective on how important the kingdom of God was to the faith of the early believers.

Justin Martyr, AD 100-165

And when you hear that we look for a kingdom, you suppose, without making any inquiry, that we speak of a human kingdom. Instead, we speak of that which is with God, as can be shown from the confession of their faith made by those who are charged with being Christians, even though they know that death is the punishment awarded to those who so confess. For if we looked for a human kingdom, we would deny our Christ, so that we might not be killed. We would try to escape detection, so that we might obtain what we hope for. But since our thoughts are not fixed on the present, we are not concerned when men cut us off; since death is a debt which must at all events be paid. (First Apology 11)

Origen, AD 185-254

Who among the believers does not know the words in Isaiah? “In the last days the mountain of the Lord shall be revealed, and the house of the Lord on the top of the mountains, and it shall be exalted above the hills. All nations shall come to it. Many people shall go and say, ‘Come, and let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob, and he will teach us his way, and we will walk in it.” For out of Zion shall go forth a law, and a word of the Lord from Jerusalem. He shall judge among the nations, and shall rebuke many people. They shall beat their swords into ploughshares, and their spears into pruning-hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation; neither shall they learn war any more [Isa. 2:1-5]. (Letter from Origen to Africanus 15)

Hermas, AD 100 – 160

“First of all, sir,” I said, “Explain to me what is the meaning of the rock and the gate?”
“This rock,” he answered, “and this gate are the Son of God.”
“How, sir?” I said. “The rock is old, and the gate is new.”
“Listen,” he said, “and understand, O ignorant man. The Son of God is older than all his creatures, so that he was a fellow counselor with the Father in his work of creation. For this reason he is old.”
“And why is the gate new, sir?” I said.
“Because,” he answered, “he became manifest in the last days of the dispensation. For this reason the gate was made new, that they who are to be saved by it might enter into the kingdom of God.” (Shepherd of Hermas III:9:12)

Athanasius, AD 296 – 373

No Christian can have a doubtful mind on the point that our faith is not in the creature, but in one God, Father Almighty, Maker of all things visible and invisible; and in one Lord, Jesus Christ, his only-begotten Son, and in one Holy Spirit; one God, known in the holy and perfect Trinity, baptized into which, and in it united to deity, we believe that we have also inherited the kingdom of the heavens, in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Synodal Letter to the Bishops of Africa 11)

The Trinity and Worship

The Trinity.jpg

This past weekend at Eastbrook, I stressed the importance of Christian worship being centered in the Trinity in my message “Worship in the Beauty of Holiness” in the concluding weekend of our series “Roots.” There are some things in our faith that I would consider secondary, but the Trinity is not one of them. The Trinitarian understanding of God – one God in three persons of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit – is at the core of our faith as Christians.

As Bruce Milne writes in his book, Know the Truth:

Just about everything that matters in Christianity hangs on the truth of God’s three-in-oneness.

Or, to hear from an ancient commentator, Origen writes:

The believer will not attain salvation if the Trinity is not complete.

In the midst of our contemporary worship that often emphasizes personal experience or musical styles, the theological content and shape of our worship must not be underemphasized.

Since I didn’t give as much time to fully addressing the Trinity as possible, and because I am limiting my preaching largely to references found within Acts, I wanted to post some additional resources here. The following two resources can be downloaded as PDFs below and are resources from when I taught the session on the Trinity in the Elmbrook Church New Members class:

The Weekend Wanderer: 16 March 2019

The Weekend Wanderer” is a weekly selection of news, stories, resources, and media on the intersection of faith and culture for you to explore through your weekend. Wander through these links however you like and in any order you like.

Bishop of Loughborough“Church of England to hold first service in Farsi after a huge rise in Iranian converts” – “When the Bishop of Loughborough was 13-years-old, her brother was murdered for being a Christian. Born and raised in Iran, she was forced to flee her homeland in 1980 on the grounds of religious persecution – a story that is all too familiar for many Iranian Christians. Now, as the ordained Bishop of Loughborough, the Rt Revd Guli Francis-Dehqani is leading the Church of England’s growing community of Iranians who have found a home in the Anglican church. This unprecedented shift was yesterday marked with a “historical” service at Wakefield Cathedral in Yorkshire, where the Holy Communion scripture was delivered in Persian for the first time to cater for the growing – yet traditionally unusual – new Anglican congregation.”

 

china“China official says West using Christianity to ‘subvert’ power” – From Reuters: “Western forces are trying to use Christianity to influence China’s society and even “subvert” the government, a senior official said, warning that Chinese Christians needed to follow a Chinese model of the religion. China’s constitution guarantees religious freedom, but since President Xi Jinping took office six years ago, the government has tightened restrictions on religions seen as a challenge to the authority of the ruling Communist Party.”

 

St-Patrick“Who was the real St Patrick: an evangelist or a tax dodger?” – “Few national saints have the global reach of Patrick: it has been calculated that church bells ring out in 800 worldwide locations to celebrate the feast day of this Roman Briton who brought Christianity to Ireland in the early 5th century. Jewish bakeries in New York sell green bagels and horses run at Cheltenham in his honour. And everyone knows the legend that he banished serpents, since no snakes exist in Ireland (the Ice Age may have helped the banishment). Patrick is legendary but he was also a real historical figure, and Roy Flechner seeks to review Patrick’s story in the light of historical evidence — examining Patrick’s own autobiographical writings, as well as other sources from archaeology and Roman and medieval texts — to make ‘educated guesses’ about Patrick’s life.”

 

reparations“The Case for Reparations” – David Brooks has come to an interesting conclusion about the tensions with ethnic tensions in our country: reparations are necessary. Admittedly, Brooks is a late convert to this point of view, which makes his article a very interesting read. Of course, he is responding to Ta-Nehisi Coates’ original article in the Atlantic of the same name, which is also worth reading.

 

article_5c847db41bee5“Evangelicals and Zen Masters” – In First Things, Matthew Milliner, associate professor of art history at Wheaton College, reflects in a beautiful personal essay on the intersections and disjunctions between Christianity and Zen Buddhism. He travels a wide stretch of roads toward his conclusion, but the journey is fascinating. Alan Jacobs writes a reflection upon and response to Milliner here, including some references to the meandering relationship that Thomas Merton had with Zen Buddhism, that is well worth reading.

 

Michael McClymond“How Universalism, ‘the Opiate of the Theologians,’ Went Mainstream” – Paul Copan interviews Michael McClymond on the nature of universalism, and how it has become so popular in mainstream thinking today, by Rob Bell’s Love Wins. McClymond’s recent book, The Devil’s Redemption, engages critically with the historical theology of universalism in Christian thought, and this interview gives a taste of McClymond’s conclusions.

 

Obscurity

“The Disturbing Temptations of Pastoring in Obscurity” – I had the opportunity to write for Christianity Today‘s CT Pastors imprint this past week. In this article, I explore the ways in which temptations to celebrity is not necessarily remedied by hiding in obscurity. I hope it’s an encouragement to other pastors. Thanks to Kyle and Andrew from CT for working with me on this.

 

Music: “Were You There?”, Marian Anderson, from Marian Anderson in Oratorio and Spiritual, volume 1 (1936).

[I do not necessarily agree with all the views expressed within the articles linked from this page, but I have read them myself in order to make me think more deeply.]