All posts from "October 2009"October 28, 2009
Last weekend, white and black Methodist congregations in Philadelphia worshiped together for the first time in more than 200 years.
In 1963, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. told an audience at Western Michigan University, “At 11:00 on Sunday morning when we stand and sing Christ has no east or west, we stand at the most segregated hour in this nation. This is tragic.” Sunday morning segregation was especially tragic at two Methodist churches in Philadelphia, separated by one mile and more than 200 years. The two churches, St. George’s and Mother Bethel, reunited for the first time October 25, 2009.
The split between the churches dated back to the late eighteenth century and the career of Richard Allen. Born a slave in Philadelphia in 1760, Allen and his family were sold to a Delaware farmer, Stokely Sturgis, who allowed him to attend church. Slaves’ exposure to Christianity in the early eighteenth century had largely consisted of exhortations to obey their masters, but by the later years of that century, Methodists and Baptists had begun effective evangelism to slave communities. These two churches’ practice of licensing black preachers proved a key to their success but also, unfortunately, brought the racial tensions building in American society in-house.
In 1777, Allen and Sturgis both converted to Methodism. Sturgis became convinced that God would judge slaveholders harshly, so he offered his slaves their freedom for $2,000 each. Allen purchased his and his brother’s freedom in 1783, became a Methodist preacher, and spent the next six years itinerating around Delaware, Pennsylvania, New York, Maryland, and South Carolina. Eventually he worked his way back to Philadelphia. He was invited to serve as assistant minister at St. George’s Methodist Church and to preach publicly in the city’s black neighborhoods. As his popularity grew, so did the black congregation worshiping at St. George’s, much to the consternation of some white members.
In his autobiography, Allen recounted the events that divided the church:
A number of us usually attended St. George’s Church in Fourth street; and when the coloured people began to get numerous in attending the church, they moved us from the seats we usually sat on and placed us around the wall, and on Sabbath morning we went to church and the sexton stood at the door, and told us to go in the gallery. He told us to go, and we would see where to sit. We expected to take the seats over the ones we formerly occupied below, not knowing any better. We took those seats. Meeting had begun and they were nearly done singing, and just as we got to the seats, the elder said, "let us pray." We had not been long upon our knees before I heard considerable scuffling and low talking. I raised my head up and saw one of the trustees, H— M—, having hold of the Rev. Absalom Jones, pulling him up off of his knees and saying, ‘You must get up — you must not kneel here." Mr. Jones replied, "wait until prayer is over." Mr. H— M— said no, you must get up now, or I will call for aid and I force you away." Mr. Jones said, "wait until prayer is over, and I will get up and trouble you no more.’ With that he beckoned to one of the other trustees, Mr. L— S— to come to his assistance. He came, and went to William White to pull him up. By this time prayer was over, and we all went out of the church in a body, and they were no more plagued with us in the church.
This raised a great excitement and inquiry among the citizens, in so much that I believe they were ashamed of their conduct. But my dear Lord was with us, and we were filled with fresh vigour to get a house erected to worship God in. … We then hired a store room and held worship by ourselves. Here we were pursued with threats of being disowned, and read publicly out of meeting if we did continue worship in the place we had hired; but we believed the Lord would be our friend. We got subscription papers out to raise money to build the house of the Lord.
By this time we had waited on Dr. Rush and Mr. Robert Ralston [two prominent white citizens of Philadelphia], and told them of our distressing situation. We considered it a blessing that the Lord had put it into our hearts to wait upon those gentle-men. They pitied our situation, and subscribed largely towards the church, and were very friendly towards us and advised us how to go on. … Here was the beginning and rise of the first African church in America.
Allen’s church became known as Bethel, or Mother Bethel. Though he had severed ties with St. George’s, he remained connected to the Methodist Church and was ordained its first black deacon in 1799. Over time, though, he became increasingly frustrated with the Methodists’ pattern of subjecting their black churches to white oversight. And so, in 1816, Allen organized the African Methodist Episcopal Church and became its first bishop.
Fast forward to 2009. St. George’s, the oldest Methodist church in America, prepared to celebrate its 240th anniversary. The 250th birthday of Richard Allen was right around the corner. It seemed like the perfect time for a reunion.
St. George’s minister Rev. Alfred Day, quoted in a press release, said, “The incidents that pulled us apart so many years ago do not have to be as powerful as the things that brought the first black and white Methodists together. The experience of God’s Spirit is breaking down barriers instead of erecting them.”
Mother Bethel pastor Rev. Mark Kelly Tyler concurred and looked to the future: “It’s tragic that many of the divisions that led to the splitting of these two congregations over 200 years ago are still alive and well. This worship service is not just about remembering what happened, but we gather in the hope that one day such a service will not even be newsworthy because we have overcome issues of racism, sexism, classism, and all other -isms that separate us from one another and God.”
For now, though, the story is definitely newsworthy.
For more on Richard Allen, read "You Must Not Kneel Here," from Christian History issue 62.
Click here to purchase a copy of Christian History issue 62, "Africans in America."
Public domain image of Richard Allen from the frontispiece of ''History of the African Methodist Episcopal Church'' (1891) by Daniel A. Payne via Wikimedia Commons.
Forgive a little cheering for my alma mater. I don’t have a Division I football team to cheer for.
Like many history-related news stories, the news that Wheaton College was a stop on the Underground Railroad didn’t come as much of a real surprise. It was common knowledge when I was a student there in the early 1990s, though some of the details (that escaped slaves had been shuttled around through the network of steam tunnels) were demonstrably false.
So the headline, “Prof: Wheaton College was Underground Railroad stop” prompted a shrug even from this history-enthusiastic Wheaton graduate.
But David Malone, head of Wheaton’s of archives and special collections, explained to The Daily Herald newspaper that the discovery of a comment in an 1889 manuscript is actually quite significant.
"We've never been willing to say for ourselves that we were a stop on the Underground Railroad," Malone said. "Others were willing to say it for us. But we wouldn't confirm that. Now we're able to say with full assurance that this was a stop on the Underground Railroad."
Turns out the text isn’t massively hard to find if you know what you’re looking for: Google Book Search has a scanned, downloadable copy of The History of the Thirty-Ninth Regiment Illinois Volunteer Veteran Infantry(Yates Phalax) in the War of the Rebellion 1861-1865. Here’s the passage, a first-person account of Ezra A. Cook:
In the fall of 1853 … we moved to Illinois and settled on a farm about twelve miles from Chicago. About four years afterward [my father] sold this farm and purchased another in Du Page county, about one and a half miles from Wheaton, his object being to give his children a liberal education; the oldest daughter having already spent several terms at Wheaton College.
The outbreak of the war in the spring of 1861 found myself and two sisters attending Wheaton College, which had a national reputation as an Abolition school in an Abolition town. So strong was public sentiment that runaway slaves were perfectly safe in the College building, even when no attempt was made to conceal their presence, which was well known to the United States Marshal stationed there. With hundreds of others, I have seen and talked with such fugitives in the college chapel. Of course they soon took a night train well-guarded to the next station on the U. G. R. R.
When Sumter was fired on, I did not doubt that it was the death-knell of slavery, and my heart was in the battle for freedom from that moment.
Who knows what other historical treasures lie in Google Book Search?
But the news led me to a discovery of a different sort: I had been completely unaware of ReCollections, the blog of Wheaton's Archives & Special Collections department, which first reported the discovery.
If you like this evangelically minded history blog, then I'm almost certain you'll want to add ReCollections to your RSS reader.
As an ongoing collection of items from the history of evangelicalism, it's great. (A recent post on The Fundamentals--the founding documents of the Fundamentalist movement--notes the irony that benefactor Lyman Stewart had wasted $125 he had raised to become a missionary on failed oil speculation. Later in life, Stewart was more successful and ended up co-founding what is now Unocal.)
As a Christian institution's version of American Heritage Magazine's popular "My Brush With History" department, it's fun (There's a roundup of presidential candidates who've visited, though the list could be expanded to presidents and candidates who visited when they weren't on the campaign trail, such as Williams Jennings Bryan. And there's a nice post on the connection between Wheaton and Ernest Hemingway.)
But what really attracts me is the eye for a great story. Wheaton is in the middle of a presidential search, so the blog decided to tell a wonderful story about a previous presidential search. In 1940, Louis Talbot, pastor of The Church of the Open Door in Los Angeles, received a telegram offering him the presidency of Wheaton. It turned out to be a prank--but Talbot (who later became president of Biola, twice) was able to turn the tables on the prankster.
Readers will enjoy the fact that the blog is written by historians and archivists, not by marketers and recruiters. One doubts that the fact that one of Nixon's "plumbers" was a Wheaton grad ever made the alumni magazine, but you'll find find here. And even those who spent too much time (as I did) playing in the attic of Wheaton's main library, where the archives are stored, will find their institutional knowledge challenged. Who was president of the college after Charles Blanchard? Wrong!
ReCollections is one of a few history blogs in my RSS reader. But what's in yours? Are you reading other history blogs? (It's okay, we won't be jealous.) Any recommendations?
Contributors to new book highlight theologian's belief in inerrant Scripture.
History lovers have to appreciate a book that charts the evangelical future by looking back on the life and legacy of a great theologian. Of course, such a strategy of turning back to find your way forward perfectly suits J. I. Packer. As an accomplished historian and theologian, Packer finds cures for what ails contemporary evangelicalism by exploring the contributions of spiritual giants such as the Puritans. So we expect nothing less than prescriptive retrospective from J. I. Packer and the Evangelical Future: The Impact of His Life and Thought, a new book edited by Timothy George.
The book mostly compiles essays from a 2006 conference hosted by Beeson Divinity School. Presenters included Charles Colson, Mark Dever, Alister McGrath, Carl Trueman, and the CH blog's own David Neff. Not surprisingly, several of the essays touch on Packer's contributions to the doctrine of Scripture.
“This insistence on the Bible as the irreplaceable source for all adult catechesis in academic and church settings is arguably Packer’s most important legacy to the future of evangelicalism," writes Paul House, Beeson's associate dean. "Without this emphasis Packer’s catechesis makes little sense and will have little continuing impact, and the same is also true for evangelicalism.”
In particular, Packer has contended for more than 50 years that evangelicals should hold to the belief that Scripture is infallible and inerrant. Denver Seminary associate dean Donald Payne writes, “It is difficult to overstate the importance of biblical inerrancy in Packer’s theological method. According to this logic, obedient discipleship is possible only if Scripture functions inerrantly.”
Packer elaborates on the biblical teaching, historical basis, and practical importance of inerrancy in his 1958 classic, 'Fundamentalism' and the Word of God. Countering liberal opponents of evangelicalism, Packer dispels several myths about inerrancy. Evangelicals do not believe that God merely dictated the words of Scripture to writers without regard for their personality. Rather, God prepared these writers for their work, guiding them according to the gifts he had granted them. Packer also cautions that inerrancy does not apply to our interpretations of Scripture. We separate issues of authority from matters of hermeneutics. In order to understanding the meaning of Scripture, we plead for help from the Holy Spirit and deploy the tools of exegesis.
Critics of inerrancy often observe that the doctrine is not taught by Scripture itself. Packer responds by citing Jesus' words from John 10:35 ("Scripture cannot be broken"), Luke 16:17, and Matthew 5:18. These last two passages indicate God's concern for accuracy in even the smallest aspects of the Law. The Bible's infallibility and inerrancy correspond to the meticulous, reliable character of the God who inspired the Word.
“God’s Word is affirmed to be infallible because God Himself is infallible; the infallibility of Scripture is simply the infallibility of God speaking," Packer writes. "What Scripture says is to be received as the infallible Word of the infallible God, and to assert biblical inerrancy and infallibility is just to confess faith in (i) the divine origin of the Bible and (ii) the truthfulness and trustworthiness of God. The value of these terms is that they conserve the principle of biblical authority; for statements that are not absolutely true and reliable could not be absolutely authoritative.”
These terms that Packer regarded as so valuable in 1958 as he contended with liberal critics remain useful today as some scholars attempt to separate God from his Word. Writing during a high point of neo-orthodox theology, Packer once warned that trying to separate the Bible from the Word of God will "lapse into an arbitrary subjectivism." Instead, Packer observed an overarching unity in Scripture, a "single utterance of which God is the author." As we have witnessed over the lifetime of this faithful minister, trust in the God who inspired his Word without error contributes to a lifestyle of faithful scholarship and service.
Sit down by the fire with some ripping historical yarns.
One of the reasons it took me five years to write Patron Saints for Postmoderns is the sheer volume of reading necessary to get a handle on the lives of ten complex people. It was worth it—and not just for the book: I discovered some bibliographic treasures along the way.
So, if you’re looking for some excellent historical reads, have I got a line-up for you!
John Comenius: The Labyrinth of the World and
The Paradise of the Heart (Classics of Western Spirituality)
John Comenius: The Labyrinth of the World and The Paradise of the Heart (Classics of Western Spirituality) by Howard Louthan, Andrea Sterk
This edition of Comenius's fascinating allegory has a simply wonderful introduction--one of the best I've seen for any historical book. It provides excellent biographical data and demonstrates real insight into Comenius's life, personality, and work.
The Life & Spirituality of John Newton: An Authentic
Narrative (Sources of Evangelical Spirituality)
The Life & Spirituality of John Newton: An Authentic Narrative (Sources of Evangelical Spirituality) by John Newton, Bruce D. Hindmarsh, Bruce Hindmarsh, Introduction by Bruce Hindmarsh
This edition includes John Newton's Narrative (his autobiography up to the point of his conversion) and a few of his famed letters of spiritual direction (to the best of my memory). Bruce Hindmarsh, a professor at Regent College, Vancouver, has the only modern critical biography of Newton, listed separately under "books." Get it, along with John Pollock's shorter, more popular bio of Newton (also listed but out of print).
John Newton and the English Evangelical Tradition:
Between the Conversions of Wesley and Wilberforce
John Newton and the English Evangelical Tradition: Between the Conversions of Wesley and Wilberforce by D. Bruce Hindmarsh
The only and best modern critical biography of John Newton. This is also a perceptive analysis of the state of evangelicalism in the years between Wesley's conversion and Wilberforce's conversion (if memory serves). Bravo, Bruce!
Amazing Grace: John Newton's Story
Amazing Grace: John Newton's Story by John Pollock
A potboiling popular biography of John Newton. Easy to read in one sitting.
The Mind of the Maker
The Mind of the Maker by Dorothy L. Sayers
A truly fascinating thesis about the image of the Trinity in the human creative process.
Gaudy Night (Lord Peter Wimsey Mystery)
Gaudy Night (Lord Peter Wimsey Mystery) by Dorothy L. Sayers
Her best novel (please don't write me nasty emails, all you fans of The Nine Tailors. That novel just contains far more details than I ever wanted to know about bell-ringing ["campanology"]!) Set at a women's college of Oxford, this novel is "about" intellectual integrity. But that doesn't spoil the fun at all! As usual, she plots brilliantly. Here the focus shifts from Lord Peter Wimsey to Harriet Vane, and the relationship between those two heats up. There's a lot of Dorothy in these pages . . .
Letters to a Diminished Church : Passionate Arguments for
the Relevance of Christian Doctrine
Letters to a Diminished Church : Passionate Arguments for the Relevance of Christian Doctrine by Dorothy Sayers
Excellent introduction to Sayers's apologetic work, for a new generation. Contains some of her best essays.
The Divine Comedy - Hell
The Divine Comedy - Hell by Dante Alighieri, Dorothy L. Sayers
If you haven't read The Divine Comedy by Dante Alighieri yet, you owe it to yourself to do so. What a wonderful tale, and what wonderful poetry! Sayers's translation sparkles, and her notes are legendary.
The Passionate Intellect: Dorothy L. Sayers' Encounter with Dante
The Passionate Intellect: Dorothy L. Sayers' Encounter with Dante by Ralph E. Hone, Barbara Reynolds
This warm portrait of a Christian mind in love with creativity, clarity, and truth is unsurpassed. Reynolds was a close friend of Sayers and finished Sayers's hugely popular Penguin translation of the Divine Comedy. Reynolds is also the editor of Sayers's letters and the author of a wonderful biography of Sayers. If you want to fall in love with the Christian life of the mind, there's no better beginning. Or if you would just like to enter the world of a rambunctious, opinionated, deeply devoted but no-bull Christian woman who also happens to have been a first-rate scholar, apologist, dramatist, mystery novelist, and essayist on many topics, then this is a great place to do it. I couldn't put it down.
The Book of Margery Kempe
The Book of Margery Kempe by Margery Kempe
Margery is a trip. She wrote--and is the subject of--the first biography in the English language. Windeatt's Penguin edition is the one to have. Don't get the Image Books edition. She's no "madwoman" or even "mystic"--just a laywoman intensely in love with God who knows a lot about praying through tough situations. We can learn from reading her book.
St. Gregory the Great, Pastoral Care (Ancient Christian Writers)
St. Gregory the Great, Pastoral Care (Ancient Christian Writers) by Henry Davis
Here's a great early manual for pastors. Until recently, it was given to all bishops in the Catholic Church. Just as sensitive to the complexity of human character(s) as Benedict's Rule, but geared for the pastor rather than the abbot. Gregory itemizes dozens of kinds of people in a congregation and talks about how to minister effectively to each.
An Autobiography: The Story of the Lord's Dealings with Mrs Amanda Smith the Colored Evangelist (Schomburg Library of Nineteenth-Century Black Women)
An Autobiography: The Story of the Lord\'s Dealings with Mrs Amanda Smith the Colored Evangelist (Schomburg Library of Nineteenth-Century Black Women) by Amanda Smith, Amanda B. Smith
There's no form like the autobiography to usher you into the life and world of the writer. This one, by an ex-slave evangelist from the nineteenth century, opens up the world of that century's holiness revival. Amanda Berry Smith (1837-1915) traveled to many of the Northeastern U.S.'s Victorian-era holiness camp meetings, where she ministered with wisdom and forcefulness to thousands of whites (and a few African Americans) who were willing to hear her as a messenger of God. She encountered racism and sexism along the way, and she is frank about her own fears about exposing herself to the ridicule of powerful Christian leaders white and (painfully) black. But the overwhelming sense we get is of a woman both entirely dedicated to her Lord and gifted by him for extraordinary ministry.
Six things I've already learned from the new "Ancient Christian Doctrine" series.
In The Unlikely Disciple, Kevin Roose's entertaining and sympathetic account of his undercover semester at Liberty University, he records a conversation with Jon, a freckle-faced, carrot-top "rapture nut" from Kentucky.
Jon tries to explain the rapture to Roose, taking him on a scriptural tour that begins with the seven days of creation and ends appropriately in the Apocalypse. Jon says to Kevin, "If all those numbers and verses weren't about the end of the world, what were they about?"
Good question. Surely parts of Revelation are about the end of the world, but the seven days of creation?
The Bible is so varied and so vast a collection of writings that it is important to know what it is about just to avoid getting sidetracked. The end of the world is certainly a part of what the Bible is about. But isn't the picture bigger than that?
In his general introduction to volume one of the new five-volume Ancient Christian Doctrine (IVP), Thomas Oden says that we can know what the Bible is about by paying attention to the orderly instruction the early church gave to new believers. "This teaching sought to express the commonly shared understanding of the unified meaning of the whole gist of Scripture."
That orderly instruction of new believers (catechesis) was refined into the church's creeds, which all include lines like "he will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead" and "we look for the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come." The End is in there.
But there is more to it than that.
One way to understand "the whole gist of Scripture" is to read what the contemporary writers said about the ideas embodied in creed and catechesis. These compact phrases need unpacking, and one good way to mine their meaning is by reading those who participated in the development of these teaching tools.
That is the general purpose of Ancient Christian Doctrine--to arrange the words of the patristic writers topically in order to correlate them with the various phrases of the Nicene Creed. Want to know what the church fathers thought when they talked about the Father as "the Almighty"? You can look it up here, beginning on page 87 of the first volume of this new series.
A review copy of volume one, subtitled "We Believe in One God," was waiting for me last week when I returned from a much-needed vacation in Southwest Michigan. This week, review copies of volumes two ("We Believe in One Lord Jesus Christ"), three ("We Believe in the Crucified and Risen Lord"), and four ("We Believe in the Holy Spirit") arrived. Volume five ("We Believe in One Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church") will not be available until December or perhaps January.
As an Ancient-Future evangelical, I can hardly contain my enthusiasm.
So far, I've been able to read only the Introduction to the series by general editor Tom Oden and the Introduction to volume one by Gerald Bray. Here are a few things that caught my attention in those essays:
1. Dangerous Words. Saying "I believe" (Latin: Credo) was a life-endangering act. Christianity was seen as--no, it actually was--subversive in the Roman Empire. Oden writes, "One who says credo without willingness to suffer and, if necessary, die for the faith has not genuinely said credo in its deepest Christian sense as baptism: to die and rise again (Rom 6)."
2. Learning by Heart. It was not just saying the creed that was perilous--writing it down also posed hazards. There were the hazards that stemmed from persecution, of course, but there was also the danger that the Christian "mystery" would fall into the hands of unbelievers, people who did not have the eyes of the Spirit with which to see and understand it, and who would distort it as they launched polemics against the church. There was also the danger of garbled transmission. As strange as it sounds to our modern ears, this earlier oral culture tended to trust the memory of the believer rather than the parchment of the scribe. Committing the core of Christian truth to memory, also transforms the heart. In AD 350, Cyril of Jerusalem called on new Christians to "engrave it by memory upon your heart."
3. A Novel Idea. The idea of "an objective body of teaching that Christians are expected to confess ... was a novelty in the ancient world," writes Bray. A normative set of teachings seems normal to us, but neither Judaism (which taught the Law rather than doctrine to its converts) nor paganism (which was an eclectic and syncretistic farrago) had such an orderly and concise approach to belief.
4. A Foundational Truth. "The unity of spirit and matter under the aegis of a good, almighty God" was the point of the first article of the Creed, and it was something that any practicing Jew should have been able to affirm, Bray writes. But this truth was "the essential precondition for two other doctrines that stand out as specifically Christian: the incarnation of the Son and the resurrection of the flesh."
5. The Real Elitists. This goodness and unity of spirit and matter became the key point of difference with the heretical voices that modern scholars came to label "the Gnostics" The contemporary press often portrays Gnostic teaching as an equally valid stream of Christian faith that was suppressed by oppressive "elitists who wrote the rules of orthodoxy." Not so, says Oden, it was the Gnostics who were elitist, who were "contemptuous of the naive consensus of uninformed believers, and who were never even interested in gaining the hearts of ordinary believers." The orthodox teachers who carefully preserved the apostolic teaching, on the other hand, were the ones who boiled down the key elements of the faith so that ordinary, unlettered people could grasp them and commit them to memory.
6. The First Inerrantists. The church fathers' authority for all doctrine was scriptural. If it wasn't taught by the apostles or prophets, it didn't belong as part of the church's doctrine. (Tradition was used to justify some worship practices, such as making the sign of the cross in baptism, but it was never the basis for early church doctrine.) The logical corollary was that Scripture was inerrant and infallible. But, says Gerald Bray, these great teachers of the early church "had a more relaxed understanding than these terms would imply today." That was (a) because the process of textual transmission was much less reliable than it is in our day and (b) because the truth they saw in Scripture was not always located in the literal meaning of the text. Bray writes that they believed the "real meaning of the text" was often found in "some hidden, spiritual interpretation, which the awkwardness of the literal reading was meant to point toward." The infallibility of the Bible "demanded an allegorical interpretation of certain parts of it, a conclusion that is foreign to most modern defenders of infallibility and inerrancy." Perhaps that is why we are seeing some contemporary evangelicals reviving the typological reading of the Hebrew Scriptures that characterized the patristic period.
This morning for my devotional reading I turned in Ancient Christian Doctrine to the brief section of the Fathers' own comments on the use of Scripture. I read Tertullian and Origen and Augustine and (not my favorite patristic writer) Epiphanius. It was a good way to start the day. Thanks to Tom Oden, InterVarsity Press, Gerald Bray, and all the other volume editors for giving us this new study tool.
To learn more about the Nicene Creed, purchase Issue 85 of Christian History and Biography: "Debating Jesus' Divinity."