Augustine: Part Six

In my last post on Augustine, I told how he dealt much with the Pelagians. Pelagius was a preacher in Rome who espoused a free will doctrine that said a Christian could choose to lead a sinless life. They also scoffed at the very idea of original sin. This angered Augustine and many other Christian leaders who accused Pelagian and his followers of heresy. The church as a whole so reviled Pelagius’ writings, that very little of it has survived destruction. And Pelagian returned the bitterness—especially toward Augustine, who’s teachings often directly contradicted his own.

.The Roman empire was falling apart at that time. In fact, the city of Rome itself was sacked in 410. Pelagius and his followers therefore became refugees in Carthage of North Africa. It was there that the two bitter foes actually met. Augustine would deal with these refugees for some years. The church as a whole would eventually condemn the Pelagians largely because of the hard and concentrated work of Augustine. Thanks to the Pelagians, however, he was enabled to fully develop many orthodox doctrines. His developed doctrine of original sin would even become the bedrock doctrine of the catholic church.

Augustine’s many great writings make him one of the most influential Christian writers in history. His most famous work may be his autobiographical Confessions. He is considered one of the eight great doctors of the church, one of the four great fathers of the Latin church, the last of the early church fathers, and the first of the medieval fathers.

In the May of 430, the Vandals began to lay seige of Hippo. This seige would last for months. It was during this time that Bishop Augustine acquired a severe fever. He died of this illness on August 28, 430. His writings remain incredibly influential in both Catholic and Protestant circles.

 

 

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God Beyond (Genesis 1:16)

 

“God made the two great lights, the greater light to govern the day, and

the lesser light to govern the night; He made the stars also.”

                                                                        Genesis 1:16

 

Scholarly critics who insist the book of Genesis is only a mere work of mythology often point to this verse to back up their claims. They point out the inconsistency in that light is said to have been created on the first day but yet the sun and moon–the bearers of our light–did not even appear until the fourth day. However, they forget the most important factor: God. If they ever do remember Him, they vastly underestimate Him. God did not need the sun and the moon and the stars in order create light. God needed nothing and still needs nothing to accomplish anything. He commanded light to appear and there was light! It was as simple as that. It was on this fourth day that He ordained the sun, moon and stars to bear that light.

The sun is huge—almost mind-bogglingly so. It is estimated to be around 800,000 miles thick. That makes it about 100,000 times bigger than earth! And it’s hot, so hot with its dense fiery nature. Its center is calculated to be so hot that if a piece the size of a pinhead were brought to earth it would instantly kill everyone within a hundred miles around it. But as big, and bright, and hot as is our sun, there are many things in the universe much more so. Our solar system contains not only our sun, but also planets, moons, comets, asteroids, and meteoroids. But all of these collected big bodies are only a tiny speck on the outskirts of one of the arms of our galaxy, the Orion Spur.

Our galaxy as a whole is estimated to be more than 9,000,000,000 miles across. It is filled with a vast array of other things including other suns which are stars. Many of these suns dwarf our own in light, heat, and especially size. And there are many, many, many other galaxies and other spatial bodies besides those we can see. And all of these huge galaxies are populated with their own great army of planets and suns. When you think about it, it is really pathetic that so many cultures held our comparatively small sun in such high and divine esteem. The only one worthy of that honor is the Creator of the sun that we can see and the many suns that we can’t. What a glorious God created the seen and unseen of our enormous universe!

The Spiritual Lives of the Presidents: John Adams

John Adams was raised in the strictly New England orthodox Congregationalist  environment. As an adult he agreed became less orthodox, and became a Unitarian. The central doctrine of this belief system is that there are not three persons as stated by the orthodox doctrine of the trinity, but only a single godhead. Unitarians other beliefs flowed from this center. For instance, they believed that since there was only the one person of the godhead, then Jesus was not God. They claimed He was only a prophet.

Although the adult Adams professed to be a Unitarian, he obviously had strong Catholic leanings. Sometimes he attended Mass. He even frequently attended a Catholic church with George Washington while the First Continental Congress was in session. In October 1774 as the Congress began in Philadelphia, Adams and Washington attended this church for the first time while searching for a place to worship. He both ridiculed and deeply respected them publicly. Though primarily remaining faithful to protestant worship, he continued to show admiration to Catholicism. Even go so far as to instigate and finance the building of cathedrals.

Although a strongly religious man, He always held a low opinion of people or religious groups who tried to impose their own religion on others. In 1779, he wrote the constitution of Massachusetts in which he guaranteed the freedom of citizens to practice whichever religion he or she chose without fear of persecution by the state as long as they did not disturb the public.

No, Adams was never one to force his religious beliefs on other. However, he was always very clear that he believed Christianity to be the best. Adams saw Christianity as useful to guide the citizen’s morality and conduct. He recognized that Christianity introduced people to principles beyond themselves and made them better citizens. He held these religious convictions throughout his term as our second president.

Augustine: Part Five

Prior to becoming baptized, Augustine and a few fellow truth-seeking Christians settled into a small monastic community in Cassiciacum, a town near Milan. Their primary goal was to prepare themselves for baptism. Augustine, his son, and their friends were baptized by Ambrose in Milan on Easter 387. After a period in which he backslid into a sexually sinful lifestyle, Augustine recommitted himself to God and determined to spend the rest of his life in devoted work for Him. He took his son Adeodatus, his mother Monica, and his group of Christian friends with him back to North Africa where they planned to establish a monastic community.

Augustine experienced two great losses in the next few months after setting out from Milan. Along the way, the ship stopped for a rest at Ostia, the seaport of Rome. While here Monica died of an illness. They remained there for several more months until Augustine, overcome with grief, was able to travel once more. After the group finally reached North Africa, they established a monastic community at Augustine’s hometown of Tagaste. Shortly thereafter Adeodatus died at 17 years of age.

Augustine hoped to spend a quiet monastic life, but his fame was growing quickly in that part of the world. In AD 391 Valerius, the bishop of Hippo, made Augustine joint bishop with him. Five years later Valerius died and Augustine became sole bishop and presbyter of the city. During his term he would do much to bolster the power and respectability of Hippo in the Christian world. During his term, Augustine helped stem the tide of the Donatists, a Catholic group formed in North Africa that sharply disagreed with the Orthodox church in many respects. In addition, he also debated much with Manichaeans, a Gnostic group that claimed salvation was by knowledge alone, and Pelagians, a group that claimed that salvation is via our own effort. The bishop Augustine would for the rest of his life champion the truth that salvation comes to us via the grace of God.

Christian Education: Part Three by Stewart-Allen Clark – 2 Timothy 2:15

There was a lonely man that went to see his Pastor. He said, “Pastor my wife just ran off with my best friend (sniff, sniff), and I sure do miss him!” Allow me to throw out a few Scriptures that will show us how friendships can be cultivated and loneliness abated within the church. Galatians 6:2 advises us to, “Bear one another’s burdens and so fulfill the law of Christ.” Galatians 6:10 counsels, “Therefore as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially those who belong to the family of believers.” Probably the best way to cultivate friendships is found in Romans 12:10, “Be devoted to one another in brotherly love. Honor one another above yourselves.”

It’s true that people who go to church together are to love one another, but its hard to love one another if we don’t know each other! This might be as good of a time as any to define one of those big “churchy” words called “Assimilation.” The word means, ” … to absorb into the body or into a group or system, to become absorbed into something.” A while back I posted on a church website a letter about assimilation. Here’s a quote I’m lifting from it that says, ” …. for people to want to stick around our church for the long term we must purposely endeavor to assimilate everyone into the group.” The Bible even tells us how to do that in Proverbs 18:24 where its made very practical. It simply says, “A man who has friends must himself be friendly … “

Consider a Gallup Study on Assimilation Results: 21% attend church at least once weekly if they have a best friend that goes there. 26% have a stronger and more active faith in God if they have a best friend at church. 77% of highly satisfied church members have eaten a meal with fellow congregants (besides immediate family) at some point over the last year. 62% of those who eat meals together report regularly spending time in prayer, in worship and vested time in church related tasks. Like I said, “Its hard to love one another, when we don’t know each other!” Here’s the Gallup study on Assimilation Conclusion: People with close friendships in the church are very satisfied with their congregation, less likely to leave their place of worship, and have a stronger relationship with God.”

In conclusion allow me to speak candidly. If you and your family only go to church on Sundays from 11 to 12, without any other interaction with people you attend church with throughout the week, then its likely you’ll become at best a casual attender never feeling vested into the life and ministry of that church. Its as the Gallup study proves and Proverbs 18:24 underscores. Its very doubtful you’ll stay in that church long term without any friends. And you know what? One of the best ways to cultivate these kinds of friendships in to involve you and yours in the Christian education.

Augustine: Part Four

Augustine was highly influenced by the sermons and teachings of the great Ambrose who was at that time the bishop of Milan. In fact, Ambrose was instrumental in leading him to salvation.

Augustine originally came to listen to Ambrose not out of any particular spiritual interest, but simply to see if the great preacher deserved his worldwide fame. He soon become absorbed with Ambrose’ godly ideas. Ambrose showed him that it was possible for a sincere Christian to be intelligent and eloquent. He also instilled in Augustine the belief that many of the biblical stories are merely allegories.

After Augustine and his illegitimate son, Adeodatus, were saved, Ambrose baptized them both. His mother joined him in Milan at the very same time. His new salvation and the renewed influence of his mother convinced him to painfully end the 15-year relationship with Adeodatus’ mother (who is never named). Augustine’s strong-willed mother also soon afterward convinced him to marry a 12-year-old heiress.

Unfortunately, his new Christianity and married life did not completely end his deeply sinful lifestyle. A little after these life-changing events, Augustine backslid once again into a life of decadent sexual indulgence. His eventual repentance would lead him to the next stage of his life with God.

Christian Education Part Two by Stewart-Allen Clark I Timothy 2:15

In a book called “The Magnificent Obsession” a medical student was criticized by the Dean of Medicine for his poor scholarship. The student replied, “I’m doing average work aren’t I?” “Yes,” said the Dean, “But if you only want to be an average doctor, you’ll never doctor on me!” This illustration begs the question, “Are you happy being just an average Christian?” I understand that some people have more pep than others, and that some catch on a little quicker than others, but every one of us can become a better person through Christian Education if we want to!

Back in 1993 I enrolled at the former Free Will Baptist Bible College (now known as Welch College). Within 6 months I had put on 15 extra pounds. So, I decided to go down to the gym a few days a week to do something about the fresh poundage. The first time I got on the treadmill, I thought I would die after the first mile. Now 19 years later I feel far from dying and I walk 3-4 times a week for several miles at a time. Needless to say I think I’ve improved a little bit over the years. I’ve found out from this experience that I can do more than I thought I could. We can all improve. Its just that the “want to” has to be there!

This is a good time to bring up another question. Don’t you want to improve your relationship with God? I guarantee you’ll feel better about yourself. You’ll have more joy, more fulfillment, and more coping skills to deal with life’s ups and downs. It really is true that “Where there’s a will there’s a way!” The Apostle Paul had this in mind when he wrote Colossians 3:1-2: “Therefore if you have been raised up with Christ, (exercise your will to) keep seeking the things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. Set your mind on things above, not on the things that are on earth.” In other words its possible, if you want to, to elevate your mind through Christian Education! II Peter 3:18 says, ” … but grow in grace and knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.” We grow by gaining knowledge about the Lord! To become a better person we’re always improving, growing, stretching, changing, learning.

I like what the poet Henry Wadsworth said when it comes to growing, stretching and learning to become a better person. People would often ask him how he stayed so vigorous and could write so knowledgeably at his age. Pointing to the apple tree nearby he said, “That apple tree is very old, but I’ve never saw prettier blossoms than those it bears right now. The tree grows a little every year, and I suppose its out of that new wood the blossoms come. Like that apple tree I try to grow a little new wood every year!” You too, if you want to, can grow a little new wood every year, and by doing so you’ll become a better person just by involving yourself in Christian Education.

Augustine: Part Three

In his search for truth, Augustine dabbled in various heresies, philosophies, and religions. Predominant among these was a religion called Manicheism. This religion had been founded by a man named Mani in Persia in the third century. This religion viewed everything in the universe–including each individual–as divided into a light and dark side. It is not surprising that Augustine subscribed to this view at this point in his life. At that time, Manicheism was one of the most popular religions in the Mediterranean area.

During Augustine’s search, he worked as a teacher of rhetoric. He moved to Italy and taught in Milan and Rome. One day as he meditated in his garden in Milan, he was inspired to read some of Paul’s writings in the New Testament upon overhearing a playing child chant the words, “take up and read!” So picking up a personal copy of the New Testament he proceeded to read the book of Romans. He was especially impacted by Romans 13:13:

“Let us walk properly, as
in the day, not in
drunkenness and
reveling, not in lewdness
and lust, not in envy and
strife. But put on the
Lord Jesus Christ, and
make no provision for
the flesh, to fulfill its
lusts

It was at this point that saw that Augustine saw that his search was over. He fully accepted Jesus and complete service to him.

Augustine: Part Two

Augustine had come to Carthage for an education. He eventually and through hard work became a Master of the School of Law.

However, it was also here that Augustine lost his faith and began living a very sinful lifestyle. He indulged to the fullest in his huge sexual appetites. In his book Confessions, he says that the main thing that fueled this fire was his love of love and staged plays.

He began living with an unnamed concubine with whom he would live for the next 15 years. When Augustine was still 17 the unwed couple had a son. They named him Adeodatus which means “Gift of God.” Incidentally, Augustine’s own father is believed to have died that same year.

To main things worked hard on Augustine’s backslidden heart: his conscience and his strong-willed mother.

Also a factor were certain books. He was first inspired by Cicero’s Hortinsius which urged readers to seek after wisdom. Augustine saw then that true wisdom is God’s wisdom. He was soon afterward highly moved by Athenasius’ Life of Anthony. Thus began his personal revival.

Augustine: Part One

Augustine’s full birth name was Aurelius Augustus. He was born on November 13, 354 in the city of Thagaste of North Africa. Today this area is known as Souk-Ahras in Algeria. Augustine was born to a Christian mother named Monica and a pagan town councilman named Patricius. His father would later in his life accept Jesus as Savior. However, for much of Augustine’s growing up years this was not the case. It was his mother who made sure Augustine grew up with a solid godly love and devotion.

Like many Christians at that time, Augustine’s mother believed that baptizing a child assured his or her salvation. At one point in his youth, Augustine became extremely ill with a stomach virus. He almost died. His mother was therefore prepared to baptize her son so that he might be saved before he died. But he lived and his baptism put off. But by that time he had come to a saving faith on his own.

His parents made sure he was well educated at Thagaste and the nearby Madouros. However, the couple had the financial means to give him the very best education possible so at 17 he was sent to Carthage to further his studies. Here he mastered Latin literature, rhetoric, and Greek. He had begun to prepare himself to be one of the most influential Christian thinkers in history.