Archives For Nathan Busenitz

Mention “Christmas” and “controversy” together in the same sentence, and most evangelicals will assume you’re talking about Santa Claus, Christmas trees, or the secularization of the winter holiday season.

But, from a historical perspective, a much more significant controversy surrounded Christmas for the first five centuries of church history; and its effects still linger in some circles today. It centered on the very essence of Jesus’ birth – the doctrine of His incarnation.

There is, of course, an element of mystery in the incarnation. After all, how can one person be both fully God and fully man at the same time? Yet, that is precisely the miraculous truth that the Scriptures affirm regarding the Person of Jesus Christ.

Nonetheless, despite the clarity of biblical revelation, the doctrine of Christ’s incarnation came under attack from the very beginning. Continue Reading…

There are a lot of Santa Claus stories floating around this time of year. Almost all of them are completely based in fantasy. Flying reindeer; a sleigh full of gifts; precarious chimney climbing; a fluffy red suit — all of that is total fiction.

But when my kids used to ask me, “Dad, is Santa Claus real?” I didn’t always say “No.” At least not right away.

(Pause for dramatic effect.)

Santa_Claus

Like any good student of church history, I explained that the real “Santa Claus” was actually a fourth-century pastor named Nicholas of Myra who was later considered a saint by the medieval Roman Catholic Church. He was a favorite of Dutch sailors who called him, “Sinter Klaas” (or “Saint Nicholas”) which then came into English as “Santa Claus.”

Of course, I was careful to point out that the modern American version of Saint Nicholas bears absolutely no resemblance to the fourth-century pastor from Asia Minor. The real Nicholas did not live in the North Pole. He was not Scandinavian. He did not drive a team of magical caribou. He did not work with elves. Nor did he travel the world every Christmas Eve exchanging presents for milk and cookies. Continue Reading…

christmas_treeIt’s not uncommon to hear that the celebration of Christmas is rooted in ancient Roman paganism. That claim generally goes something like this: the ancient Romans celebrated a pagan festival on December 25th, but when the Roman Empire was Christianized in the 300s, the church simply turned the pagan festival into a Christian holiday.

It is true that there was a pagan Roman holiday called the “Birthday of the Unconquered Sun” that marked the winter solstice. And in the old Julian calendar, the winter solstice occurred on December 25. The cult of “Sol Invictus” (“the Unconquered Sun,” a.k.a. the sun god) became an official Roman cult in 274 under the reign of Emperor Aurelian. And the Roman empire was Christianized about fifty years later under Constantine.

It doesn’t take too much imagination to see how some could assume that the post-Constantine Romans simply adopted the pagan holiday and Christianized it.

But there’s actually good evidence to suggest that the date of December 25 does not have pagan origins. That’s because, long before Aurelian made December 25 an official pagan holiday, there were Christians in the early church who taught that Jesus was born on December 25th. Continue Reading…

NBfb01Christian biography. It’s one of my favorite aspects of studying church history. Hearing how the gospel of God’s grace has transformed the lives of so many throughout the centuries never gets old.

One thing that strikes me is that the circumstances surrounding each conversion are always different, and yet the profound truth of the gospel is always the same. Some, like Athenagoras, came to saving faith while trying to disprove Christianity. Others, like Augustine, lived in wanton rebellion and immorality, until they were tracked down by the Hound of Heaven. Still more, like Luther, desperately sought to earn salvation through their own self-righteous works, finally discovering the gospel of grace and finding the gates of heaven flung open.

Countless stories could be told—from John Bunyan (the reprobate soldier) to John Newton (the slave-trader)—of dramatic conversions in which God’s grace suddenly and visibly arrested the sinner, like Saul on the road to Damascus. Other conversion stories are not as outwardly dramatic, but they are nonetheless equally profound. John Calvin summarized his salvation experience in a simple sentence: “God by a sudden conversion subdued and brought my mind to a teachable frame, which was more hardened in such matters than might have been expected from one at my early period of life.” Church history weaves together all of these powerful stories of divine grace (both the visibly dramatic and the seemingly subtle) to create a beautiful tapestry testifying to the glory, power, and mercy of God. Continue Reading…

What caused the Reformation?

Many people might answer that question by pointing to Martin Luther and his 95 Theses.

But if you were to ask Luther himself, he would not point to himself or his own writings. Instead, he would give all the credit to God and His Word.

Near the end of his life, Luther declared: “All I have done is put forth, preach and write the Word of God, and apart from this I have done nothing. . . . It is the Word that has done great things. . . . I have done nothing; the Word has done and achieved everything.” Continue Reading…

Today’s post is excerpted from a must-read essay  by Charles Spurgeon for all involved in pastoral ministry. The entire essay, entitled ‘The Blind Eye and the Deaf Ear’ can be read here. In this section, Spurgeon focuses on how pastors should respond to the opinions and remarks of their congregants toward their preaching. He writes:

SpurgeonTo opinions and remarks about yourself turn also as a general rule the blind eye and the deaf ear. Public men must expect public criticism, and as the public cannot be regarded as infallible, public men may expect to be criticized in a way which is neither fair nor pleasant. To all honest and just remarks we are bound to give due measure of heed, but to the bitter verdict of prejudice, the frivolous faultfinding of men of fashion, the stupid utterances of the ignorant, and the fierce denunciations of opponents, we may very safely turn a deaf ear.

We cannot expect those to approve of us whom we condemn by our testimony against their favourite sins; their commendation would show that we had missed our mark. We naturally look to be approved of by our own people, the members of our churches, and the adherents of our congregations, and when they make observations which show that they are not very great admirers, we may be tempted to discouragement if not to anger: herein lies a snare.

When I was about to leave my village charge for London, one of the old men prayed that I might be “delivered from the bleating of the sheep.” For the life of me I could not imagine what he meant, but the riddle is plain now, and I have learned to offer the prayer myself. Too much consideration of what is said by our people, whether it be in praise or in depreciation, is not good for us. If we dwell on high with “that great Shepherd of the sheep” we shall care little for all the confused bleatings around us, but if we become “carnal, and walk as men,” we shall have little rest if we listen to this, that, and the other which every poor sheep may bleat about us. Continue Reading…

How much is your church like the ancient church?

That’s a popular question these days—especially if you read guys like Robert Webber, Brian McLaren, Wolfgang Simson, or Frank Viola and George Barna.

Finding Our Way AgainMost of the contemporary discussion about the ancient church attempts to show discrepancies between what is now and what was then. The not-so-subtle implication is that there is something very wrong with the contemporary church. Blame Constantine. Blame the Enlightenment. Blame Capitalism. Blame the Fundamentalists. It doesn’t really matter. The only way to fix the church today is to get back to the ancient church.

Based on this premise we are told (by some) that the church needs to be more sacramental, more liturgical, and more mystical. We ought to light candles, burn incense, celebrate the arts, foster community, and avoid conventional church structures (like, especially, preaching). By others, we are told that we need to meet in houses and not church buildings. (And again, cut down on the preaching.)

All of this is proposed on the supposition that these practices characterized the ancient church. Continue Reading…

September 30, 2014

Only One Life

by Nathan Busenitz

ctstuddThe year was 1860.

A lot happened in that year. In 1860, the Pony Express sent its first riders from Missouri to California. That same year, Abraham Lincoln was elected the 16th President of the United States. And on December 20, 1860, South Carolina declared its secession from the union, setting events in motion that would culminate in the American Civil War.

It was in that same year, on December 2, 1860, that Charles Thomas Studd was born into a wealthy family in England.

Charles was a teenager when his father committed his life to Christ after attending an evangelistic meeting led by D. L. Moody. A short time later, at the age of 16, Charles himself came to saving faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. Continue Reading…

Martin_LutherIt was just over 500 years ago, in the fall of 1510, that a desperate Roman Catholic monk made what he thought would be the spiritual pilgrimage of a lifetime.

He had become a monk five years earlier, much to the surprise and dismay of his father, who wanted him to become a lawyer. In fact, it was on his way home from law school, that this young man—then 21 years old—found himself in the midst of a severe thunderstorm. The lightning was so intense he thought for sure he was going to die. Fearing for his life, and relying on his Roman Catholic upbringing, he called out for help. “Saint Anne,” he cried, “Spare me and I will become a monk!” Fifteen days later, he left law school behind and entered an Augustinian monastery in Erfurt, Germany.

The fear of death prompted him to become a monk. And it was the fear of God’s wrath that consumed him for the next five years—so much so, in fact, that he did everything within his power to placate his guilty conscience and earn God’s favor. Continue Reading…

CranmerA brief sketch from the pages of Reformation history.

Four hundred fifty eight years ago, on March 21, 1556, a crowd of curious spectators packed University Church in Oxford, England. They were there to witness the public recantation of one of the most well-known English Reformers, a man named Thomas Cranmer.

Cranmer had been arrested by Roman Catholic authorities nearly three years earlier. At first, his resolve was strong. But after many months in prison, under daily pressure from his captors and the imminent threat of being burned at the stake, the Reformer’s faith faltered. His enemies eventually coerced him to sign several documents renouncing his Protestant faith.

In a moment of weakness, in order to prolong his life, Cranmer denied the truths he had defended throughout his ministry, the very principles upon which the Reformation itself was based.

Roman Catholic Queen Mary I, known to church history as “Bloody Mary,” viewed Cranmer’s retractions as a mighty trophy in her violent campaign against the Protestant cause. But Cranmer’s enemies wanted more than just a written recantation. They wanted him to declare it publicly. Continue Reading…