Nordic Preacher

Northern Reflections on Preaching, Theology and the Christian Life.

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Am I a Charismatic? Do I Believe in the Holy Spirit?

Am I a Charismatic? Well, to rightly answer that question, one first needs to clarify what is meant by the question. If the question is meant as ‘Do you believe in spiritual gifts and the importance of the Holy Spirit?’ Then the answer would most certainly be an astounding yes! On the other hand, if the question means something along these lines, ‘Do you believe the modern Charismatic movement is a faithful representation of biblical truth?’ Then the answer would have to be a clear no. When I use the term Charismatic, I am here using it as a broad term to describe all Christian movements that are known for their belief that the miraculous and revelatory sign gifts (gift of prophecy, gift of tongues, gift of healing) seen in the New Testament are still operational today. Even though I recognize that there are differences between Charismatics and Pentecostals, specifically the difference in recognizing speaking in tongues as the evidence of being baptized by the Spirit,[1] for my purpose here, I will refer to all those who believe that all the New Testament spiritual gifts continue as fully operational today, as Charismatics.[2] The broad Charismatic movement is too diverse for having a clearly defined systematic theology[3] to focus on, however, the belief in the continuation of prophecy, tongues and divine healing are something shared by most Charismatics.

The main reason why I am not a Charismatic is that the modern Charismatic gifts are not the same as those described in the New Testament, even though they are referred to by the same names. Charismatics often say that they simply believe that all the spiritual gifts of the New Testament are continuing until today. However, when we look closely at how the Bible defines these miraculous gifts, and then compare that to what is practiced by Charismatics, we see that they simply are not the same. Much could be written about the differences and details of these gifts, but since the scope and length of this article is to be a simple overview, the main differences and arguments will be summarized.

1. Prophecy Is Not the Same

When it comes to the nature of prophecy, the Old Testament record is crystal clear, true prophecy that comes from God is always hundred percent accurate. In fact, the sign of a false prophet is that their prophecy does not come true (Deuteronomy 18:21-22). God himself warns anyone from claiming to speak from God, unless he truly has received a prophecy from God (Deuteronomy 18:20). When we come to the New Testament we see no change in the definition concerning the nature of prophecy, but as with other things, the New Testament simply builds upon the Old Testament and assumes that we already know what has clearly been taught there. Contrasted to the biblical teaching of true prophecy always being completely accurate revelation, the modern claim by well-known and respected Charismatics such as Wayne Grudem, is that prophecy today does not have to be fully accurate and authoritative for it to still be true prophecy.[4] In fact, a modern Charismatic ‘prophet’ might even be wrong most of the time with his prophecies, something readily acknowledged by Charismatics, but they still think that this does not necessarily mean that the prophet who makes inaccurate prophecies would somehow be a false prophet.[5] They believe that the nature of prophecy being infallible words from God, as it clearly is taught to be in the Old Testament, was somehow radically changed in the New Testament to be fallible messages by fallible prophets. The problem with this view of redefining prophecy is that it is simply not found in the New Testament, in spite of their attempts to read it in there.[6] 

2. Tongues Are Not the Same

When it comes to speaking in tongues, the biblical teaching is clear that the gift of tongues was the miraculous ability to suddenly speak other human languages without ever having studied them before (Acts 2:4-12). In Acts 2:4 we see clearly that the gift of tongues was the ability to speak in other tongues/languages, and in Acts 2:8-12 it becomes even more clear that these languages they were speaking were indeed real human languages that they had not previously known, but that were known to the people hearing them speak. This is the place where this gift of tongues is first introduced and defined, and even most Charismatics recognise that this is indeed what is being taught about tongues here. The problem comes, when the Charismatics then try to claim that when Paul later on in 1 Corinthians 12-14 speaks about tongues, that he is somehow radically redefining tongues in that context as something different than the miraculous ability to speak foreign languages, and that it is now somehow the ability to speak a non-human prayer language which is meant for edifying the believer himself, instead of proclaiming truth to others who can understand that language. However, when we look closely at Paul’s description of tongues and understand the context that he is writing, there is no need for us to think of it as anything else than that same miraculous gift which was already introduced and explained in Acts 2 (NOTE: I have an upcoming blog article that will deal with this topic in more detail). Here again we see the modern claim of speaking in tongues being radically different from the biblical definition of speaking in tongues, which was the miraculous gift of speaking in foreign languages.

3. Healing Is Not the Same

Finally, as it comes to the gift of healing, it has also been redefined by most Charismatics as something different than the truly miraculous gift that we see displayed in the Bible. The healings in the New Testament did not depend on the faith of the person receiving the healing (e.g. Mark 1:23-26; Luke 7:11-19; Acts 3:7, 9:40). The biblical healings were also immediate, completely effective and permanent (Matthew 8:2-3; Mark 1:40-42; Luke 5:12-13). These healing were also undeniable and clear for everyone to see (Matthew 12:24; John 11:47-48; Acts 4:16-17), since they were healing of real and visible disabilities, diseases and even death.[7] Contrasted to this, is the modern claim of Charismatic faith healers who say that the healing is often dependent on the faith of the receiver, and rarely if ever are the claimed healings in any way undeniable or even permanent. At best these healings are questionable, at worst they are simply completely fake. The biblical gift of healing was indeed amazing and left even unbelievers in wonder, so that they could not deny what happened, but the truth about these modern-day healings is that they do not even begin to come close to the biblical example. God can certainly still heal people today, but this is in a different category than the actual gift of healing.

Conclusion

So, do I believe in spiritual gifts and the importance of the Holy Spirit? I most certainly do! However, that does not mean that I accept that which is falsely ascribed to the Holy Spirit. I am not a Charismatic since I do not believe that the prophecy, tongues, and healing practiced by Charismatics today are the same as those described in the New Testament. Therefore that in itself is strong proof that the miraculous and revelatory gifts have indeed ceased, since their purpose was unique to the apostolic age when the foundation was being laid for the church of Christ (Eph. 2:20). To truly love the Holy Spirit is to glorify Christ and submit to the Word that he has given us!

FOOTNOTES:

[1] Donald W. Dayton. Theological Roots of Pentecostalism. (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1987), 176.

[2] Paul Enns. The Moody Handbook of Theology. Revised and Expanded (Chicago: Moody Publishers, 2014), 679.

[3] Edward K. Pousson. Spreading the Flame: Charismatic Churches and Missions Today. (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1992), 151.

[4] Wayne Grudem. Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2000), 1058.

[5] Wayne Grudem. The Gift of Prophecy in the New Testament and Today. (Illinois: Crossway, 1988), 110.

[6] Thomas R. Edgar. Satisfied by the Promise of the Spirit: Affirming the Fullness of God’s Provision for Spiritual Living (Grand Rapids: Kregel, 1996), 73.

[7] Richard Mayhue. The Healing Promise: Is it always God’s will to heal? (Ross-shire, UK: Christian Focus Publications, 1997), 35.

BIBLIOGRAPHY:

Carson, D. A. Showing the Spirit: A Theological Exposition of 1 Corinthians 12-14. Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1987.

Dayton, Donald W. Theological Roots of Pentecostalism. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1987.

Edgar, Thomas R. Satisfied by the Promise of the Spirit: Affirming the Fullness of God’s Provision for Spiritual Living. Grand Rapids: Kregel, 1996.

Enns, Paul. The Moody Handbook of Theology. Revised and Expanded. Chicago: Moody Publishers, 2014.

Grudem, Wayne, ed. Are Miraculous Gifts for Today? Four Views. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1996.

Grudem, Wayne. Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2000.

Grudem, Wayne. The Gift of Prophecy in the New Testament and Today. Illinois: Crossway, 1988.

Hayford, Jack W. and S. David Moore. The Charismatic Century: The Enduring Impact of the Azusa Street Revival. New York: Warner Faith, 2006.

MacArthur, John. Strange Fire: The Danger of Offending the Holy Spirit with Counterfeit Worship. Tennessee: Nelson Books, 2013.

Mayhue, Richard. The Healing Promise: Is it always God’s will to heal? Ross-shire, UK: Christian Focus Publications, 1997.

Pousson, Edward K. Spreading the Flame: Charismatic Churches and Missions Today. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1992.

Thomas, Robert L. Spiritual Gifts: A Verse-by-Verse Study of 1 Corinthians 12-14. Grand Rapids: Kregel, 1978.

Waldron, Samuel E. To Be Continued: Are the Miraculous Gifts for Today? New York: Calvary Press Publishing, 2005.

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The Biblical Significance of the Beard: A God-given Sign of Gender Distinction and Maturity?

PERSONAL NOTE: Every now and then I get comments from fellow Christians suggesting that it might be unsuitable for Christian men to have beards. For the purpose of publicly explaining my views on the matter, below is the contents of a seminary research paper I have written on the subject, for which I got very encouraging feedback from my professor. Just to be clear, these are simply my own personal views (even though I certainly believe them to be biblically based) and do NOT represent any official view of the church where I have the privilege to serve. Neither do I seek to make others agree with me, rather I simply want to clearly express my own views on this minor topic, for the purpose of helping others understand my biblical reasoning on the matter, even if they end up disagreeing with my conclusions. Anyway, below is the article, which is obviously a little longer than a normal blog post, due to it being a research paper. I hope it will be helpful for others thinking through the issues involved in this subject.

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Introduction

In the well-known fictional work, The Screwtape Letters by C. S. Lewis, there is somewhat interesting remark made by the senior Demon ‘screwtape’ as he is instructing the younger demon on how to entice humans to sin,

“Thus we have now for many centuries triumphed over nature to the extent of making certain secondary characteristics of the male (such as the beard) disagreeable to nearly all the females­–and there is more in that than you might suppose.”[1]

Was C. S. Lewis actually on to something with this strange comment by this fictional demon? Is there actually a God given purpose for the ‘secondary characteristics of the male’, the beard in particular? Does the suppression of this natural symbol of manliness actually signify something more than one might first suppose? Even more specifically, is it completely foolish to even suggest that there might be good biblical reasons for men to have beards? In fact, could the beard even be considered a sign of gender distinction and maturity?

Many would consider beards and shaving as simply whims of the culture and fashion trends, without any deeper meaning throughout history. However, as shown by historian Christopher Oldstone-Moore in his work on the history of facial hair, this is not true at all. Rather, the change from beards to clean shaven faces throughout history have most often been connected to deeper beliefs in relation religion, to what constitutes manhood, and how gender distinctions are to be viewed.[2]

When it comes to the biblical example and the witness of church history, the question of beards and their significance becomes intriguing indeed, since there appears to be a stark contrast between the common practice amongst Christians today, where many churches expect the men to be clean-shaven (especially the pastors), compared to the pattern in Scripture and throughout church history (in particular the early church and the reformation period), where the beard has been esteemed as a sign of manhood[3] and maturity.[4]

Is there a distinctively Christian way of looking at the subject of beards? Or is it simply something where one is supposed to follow the whims of the surrounding culture? In other words, is there a biblical case to be made for men to preferably have beards, or is this aspect of human appearance something where the biblical worldview has no part to play? The scarcity of any modern material discussing this topic from a distinctively Christian perspective shows how neglected this subject has become,[5] so much so that even to suggest thinking about the issue of beards from a Christian worldview will cause many believers to laugh at the thought. This stands in contrast to many of the early church fathers, who spoke strongly for the manliness of the beard, and warned against the practice of men shaving their beards and thus having a more feminine appearance.[6] Notably, even the 4th Council of Carthage (A.D. 398) gave a clear prohibition against the shaving of the beard, stating that, “The clergyman shall not let his hair grow, neither shall he remove his beard.”[7]

The purpose of this article is to present a distinctively Christian case for understanding the beard as a God-given sign of gender distinction and maturity, and why the wearing of the beard is the preferred way for men, Bible-believing Christians in particular. The three categories of argument are as follow: (1) the beard is created by God, (2) the beard is esteemed in Scripture, (3) the beard is confirmed in church history.

1. Created by God

To have a truly Christian worldview, one needs to always begin with God. In relation to anthropology in particular, it becomes crucial that one rightly understand the significance of God creating man in his own image. In studying anthropology, Christians need to keep on asking themselves, are there still aspects of non-Christian thinking in relation to certain aspects of the common Christian understanding of man?[8] In regard to the topic at hand, the Christian man ought to evaluate the arguments, to see what accords with God’s created order, the biblical witness, and the testimony of the church, and then act in accordance to one’s convictions.[9] Thus, the foundation for any discussion in regard to the significance of the beard, needs to begin with this foundational truth, that God is the creator of man. He is the designer of the human body, and he has formed both man and woman to reflect his glory. God has also created men and women with unique features, so that even though they are both created in his image, they yet have aspects which are different from each other. God is the one who created gender, designing men to be men, and women to be women.[10] Most of secular discussion about gender distinctions, focuses mainly on sexual organs, making it sound like nothing else differentiates men and women. However, Bible believing Christians certainly know there is much more than just sexual organs that are the difference, and that God has called men to appear in a distinctively manly appearance, and women to adorn themselves as women.[11] However, when it comes to the issue of facial hair, even  most of the Christian church seems to agree with the secular mindset that this has no significant role in showing difference of gender, and in practice is almost treated as some kind of evolutionary accident. So even though only men have beards growing on them, it is acceptable (and even preferable) for men to daily keep shaving this away, so that the result is that men appear more boyish and feminine, than they would in their natural bearded appearance. Could it be that the church has forgotten something very foundational in this regard, that God has created men with beards, and that as with all things that God does, perhaps he has done so for a purpose? When God created man with a beard, did he have no real purpose for this? Was it simply that men would have the option of letting their beards grow, but even this would be for no apparent reason? Did God not have any purpose in giving men a clearly distinguishable look from women and children?

One erroneous view that has influenced much of the Christian mindset in regards to how physical aspects of creation and much of life in general are viewed, is the so called ‘Spiritual Vision Model’[12] that seeks to focus only on the spiritual and disregard the physical aspects to one degree or another. This can be seen in the more extreme views where the physical realm is considered as being inherently evil, contrasted to a more moderate view where the physical realm is not necessarily defined as sinful, but neither is it really taken into account as being part of God’s good plan. Rather it is seen more simply as a necessity which just happens to exist, and that the spiritual aspect of all things is where our focus should be, since the physical realm will ultimately be done away with. This influence of Platonic thought began early on in the history of the Christian church, specifically for believers in the late Roman Empire, who as a result were beginning to view the human body as inherently corrupt, a burden to be escaped from to reach spiritual existence without the shackles of the physical body. Some even came to believe that all gender distinctions would become obsolete in the life to come, and that masculinity and femininity would become irrelevant in the face of superior spiritual existence. This view concerning heavenly existence would then easily affect the present life also, since if the physical body and gender distinctions would eventually be done away with, how could they be truly significant even in this present age? Origen, the well-known church father influenced by Plato, was one who held to the disappearance of gender in heaven. Contrasted to this, Jerome rejected Origen’s conclusion on the matter, and held that gender is fundamental to how God has created men and women to exist, and is therefore not limited to existence in a fallen world, but will continue in the life to come.[13] Modern Bible teachers such as John MacArthur[14] and Randy Alcorn[15] agree with Jerome, stating that gender is inherent to what makes one human, and will therefore continue in the resurrected state on the New Earth.

Since the biblical teaching places a heavy emphasis on gender distinctions, not only in this age, but also in the age to come when believers will receive their resurrected bodies, should it not cause the believer to think carefully how God has created men to look distinctly like men, and women as women? If this is indeed the case, surely one needs to recognize that God has indeed created men with beards, and that this is something Christian men in particular, should display, since it is one of the clearest physical distinctions whereby one can quickly tell the difference between men and women, and mature men compared to young boys. Interestingly, this truth of the beard being a clear demarcation between men and women, is even recognized by MacArthur, when preaching a sermon on the importance of men looking distinctively like men and avoiding blurring the lines of gender distinctions which are so prominent in our day and age. Pastor MacArthur commented,

“One good thing today is beards. (Laughter) I’ve been thinking about growing a beard just so there wouldn’t be any confusion. (Laughter) Next thing you know is, all the men get beards, women will go out and buy artificial beards.”[16]

The question then remains, why do not godly Christian leaders (such as MacArthur) let their God-given beards grow? Especially, when they themselves recognize how this is a strong sign of gender distinction. Since God has given men beards as a clear sign of their masculinity, so that there would be no confusion in regard to gender distinctions, does is not therefore follow that when men seek to eradicate this God-given sign, that they are in practice blurring the lines of gender distinctions created by God?

Are there really any justifiable reasons for continually erasing the naturally growing beard from a man’s face? If it is to look younger, that would be deceptive. If it is to look more like a woman, that would be effeminate and sinful. If it is to look more attractive to the world, that would be dishonorable.[17] Would Christian men think it right if some Christian women began wearing artificial beards on their naturally smooth faces? Likely not. How then is this any different from the commonly accepted practice of men changing their natural facial appearance, so as to daily eradicate this God-given sign of gender distinction?[18]

In order of clarification, the argument is not that man is not called to touch anything and simply let everything grow indefinitely, since just like with hair length or the length of the grass in one’s backyard, men have different preferences. However, there is a big difference in trimming a beard regularly to keep it at a certain length, contrasted to completely removing any traces of it from one’s face. The same is true with cutting a grass lawn, one might regularly trim it to keep it a certain length, but that is drastically different from removing all blades of grass, so that only soil remains. As pointed out by Thomas Gowing, there is big difference in keeping your nails short, and completely plucking them out of your fingers.[19] One is exercising care over creation, one is the eradication of something that is natural.

In the atheistic evolutionary worldview, it would make sense for men to shave their beards, since there is no divine design behind men and their beards, it is simply an evolutionary accident. In fact, the most meaning that evolutionists can give to the existence of the beard is that it might be a useful device in intimidating rival males, or even for the purpose of charming women,[20] being a left over from a previous stage of evolutionary development, as was the view of Darwin himself.[21] Interestingly enough, as pointed out by Institute for Creation Research author Brian Thomas, the existence of beards is actually a real problem for the evolutionary worldview. Since beards appear to serve no direct biological function or have any real survival value, it does not make sense why men would have beards, especially when women do not. Contrasted to this, within the Christian creationist worldview, beards are rightly to be understood as created by an all wise God, who meant it to display a certain aesthetic appearance, specifically in distinguishing men from women.[22]

To summarize, the biblical significance of the beard rests on the foundational truth that God has designed men with specific signs of masculinity, the beard being one of the most visible of them. All things created by God (including physical aspects of the human body, such as the beard) are good and exist for a purpose, and one should therefore be very careful in rejecting that which is created by God (1 Tim. 4:4), and doing something which is contrary to nature (Romans 1:26). The Christian man needs to be on guard against acting in a manner that challenges the Creator’s wisdom by saying “Why have you made me like this?” (Romans 9:20), and thereby going against God’s created order. Passages like Romans 9:20 and 1 Corinthians 12:18 that speak of spiritual realities, at the same time remind us that God has also created each aspect of the natural body, just as it pleased him in his infinite wisdom, and one therefore needs to be careful not to go against the Creator’s purposes for the human body.[23]

2. Esteemed in Scripture

So what exactly does the Bible say about beards? Does it support what we can see in nature, that God has given it as a distinct sign of manhood? Or does Scripture give us directions for men to treat their beards contrary to nature? Perhaps God did indeed give men their beards for the purpose of men being disciplined and daily shaving off any traces of a beard? However, when looking at the Scriptures, the evidence clearly supports that God does not command men to eradicate any traces of their naturally growing beards, but rather the opposite. This is seen in the commandments given to Israel, and also the example of almost every godly man in the Scripture (with the exception of Joseph in Egypt). The biblical view concerning beards and shaving is also illustrated in passages where God’s judgment is likened to men having their beards shaven, something very humiliating, symbolizing a radical alteration of the natural state of things.[24]

The main Scriptural passage on the subject of beards and shaving is undoubtedly Leviticus 19:27 and 21:5, which are God’s commands to Israel, warning them not to cut the corners of their beards. Even though no specific reason is here given as to why the Israelites were not to cut their beards in this manner, as is suggested by most commentators, this was likely in the context of pagan rituals performed by the surrounding nations. However, being different from the pagan nations was likely not the only reason why they were forbidden to cut their beards and their flesh, but also functioned as God’s call for them to “live and uphold the creation order” without disfiguring that which God has created.[25] Even though Christians today are not under the Mosaic Law, it remains good to remember that even though this law is no longer binding in a legal sense, it nonetheless represents God’s revelation to man, and as suggested by Brian Rosner, now functions as wisdom literature for the new covenant believer.[26] Also, before simply disregarding the Levitical passages as having no significance for believers today, it will be good to remember that this specific command about not marring the beard is not something connected to merely cultural practices outside of man (such as the wearing of certain fabrics), but is rather concerned about the natural state of man as created by God.[27]

The only clear example in Scripture of a godly man choosing to shave his beard for what seems to be an extended period, is Joseph (Genesis 41:14). Yet, it needs to be noted that this is what would be expected of one being a servant of the Egyptians, who unlike the Hebrews, preferred their faces clean-shaven and also compelled their slaves to do the same.[28]

In the Scriptures, the shaving of a man’s beard was considered one of the most humiliating acts that could be done by an enemy.[29] This is clearly illustrated in 2 Samuel 10:4 where Hanuk took David’s soldiers and shaved off half of their beards to insult and humiliate them. It is also noteworthy that David does not think of this lightly, and instead of simply ignoring this as something of little consequence, he commands the soldiers to remain in their place until their beards have grown back, and only then come back (2 Samuel 10:5). The seriousness of shaving a man’s beard, is also illustrated in numerous passages (Jeremiah 41:5, 48:37, Isaiah 7:20) where God’s judgment is pictured as something as serious and humiliating to men as the shaving of their beards. Other passages speak of the shaving of one’s beard as a sign of severe humiliation and mourning (Ezra 9:3, Ezekiel 5:1). 2 Samuel 19:24 also indicates that the trimming of the beard, in order to have it well kept, was something also practiced by the Hebrews. Additionally, Psalm 133:2 also speaks of oil running down on the beard of Aaron as a sign of the beautiful unity and rich blessings that Israel experienced when walking in obedience to God.

When it comes to the Lord Jesus Christ, the one whom Christian men are to follow, is it truly possible to know with certainty if he wore a beard? Even though some claim that we cannot truly know if Christ had a beard or not,[30] there is clear biblical evidence that the Lord Jesus did indeed wear a beard, one long enough for his enemies to pull with their hands. This is recorded in a messianic prophecy in Isaiah 50:6 which specifically describes the agonies of Christ on the cross, and even how part of his severe humiliation was the plucking of his beard.[31] The question then for Christian men is, since Christ is the perfect example of true masculinity, should his example not be followed, even in a minor aspect such as wearing the God-given beard? Some might object, that since we do not wear tunics and sandals as he hid, why would the wearing of the beard be any different? However, one needs to realize that men do not actually choose to wear a beard (as is the case with clothing and other external factors), rather, each man already possesses a beard (it is part of his physical body as created by God) and is therefore in a completely different category as something culturally defined as clothing or footwear styles.[32] One is a manmade cultural invention, one is a God-given sign of gender distinction.

A somewhat minor, yet significant detail which seems rarely to be mentioned in most Bible dictionaries when discussing the biblical view of the beard, is how the Hebrew word for ‘elder’ (זקן) is the same Hebrew word which is also translated ‘beard’. The purpose of this was to show a distinction between the mature men in leadership, contrasted to young men.[33] Passages such as Exodus 3:16 that speak of the “elders of Israel” is literally to be understood as the “bearded ones of Israel”, signifying the maturity of the men who were called to be leaders.[34] The elders of Israel were not to be women, neither were they to be boys who did not yet have beards to indicate their age of maturity. Thus, the significance of the beard is seen in the use of this word to describe the elders, since it shows the bearded ones to be distinctly male, therefore being a sign of gender distinction, and also to serve as a visual sign in separating boys from the mature men called to lead, therefore being a sign of maturity.

In response to viewing the beard as a sign of gender distinction between men and women, one will perhaps raise the argument that since some men have been known to exist that simply could not biologically grow any facial hair, that this therefore disproves the idea of any gender distinction. First, it needs to be pointed out that the common perception of certain people groups simply not being able to grow any beards is false. Even the Native Americans who are often viewed in this category are actually able to grow beards, even though they are generally thinner compared to some other people groups. The reason they are very rarely seen with beards is because of their common practice of plucking out their facial hair as it grows.[35] Many Chinese men, who likewise often have thinner and smaller beards, yet cultivate and cherish their beards.[36] Christian men who do not let their beards grow simply because they think it might not be as thick as someone elses, seem in this aspect more concerned with vain appearance and pride, instead of embracing the individual physical traits given to each man by God himself. Just as there is diversity in hair thickness on the top of the head, so also it is with the beard, but in neither case should the answer be to unnaturally suppress any signs of hair growth, simply because it might not look the same as someone else. Even though there certainly are differences in the thickness and size of beards within different people groups, just like there are differences in other aspects of physical appearance, it cannot be said that some are completely unable to grow any beards, except in rare individual cases.

Rare instances where a man of mature age truly cannot grow any facial over extended periods of time, function as exceptions that instead of negating, actually prove the rule. There are many things that go wrong in sin cursed world, but the existence of abnormalities, should never be used for seeking to overthrow God’s created design, even though it is at times marred and distorted by the effects of the fall, as are all aspects of life to one degree or another.

From passages like Deuteronomy 22:5, it is clear that Scripture commands men to present themselves as men, and women as women.[37] Since each person is called by God to live in accord with the gender God has given, then would it not be going against living according to ones gender, if a man purposefully rejects one of the secondary characteristics of manliness, namely the beard? How does a Christian man justify this?

When it comes to the New Testament, one passage in particular seems relevant. In 1 Corinthians 11:14 Paul writes, “Does not nature itself teach you that if a man wears long hair it is a disgrace to him?” Paul makes this statement in regard to hair length, but it also shows that he placed much value on that which is ‘natural’. Therefore, if Paul found it convincing that nature generally testifies that men ought to have shorter hair, then how more with the fact that nature teaches us without any question that men have beards, and therefore to pluck them away completely would be a disgrace, as is seen in the many Bible passages surveyed. This passage also shows us that it matters to God what men and women look like, even to the length of men and women’s hair, which many would not consider important today.

In summary, the Bible presents the beard as sign of manly dignity,[38] and that the shaving of a man’s beard was a sign of disgrace and insult.[39] There is no doubt from both the biblical and archeological record that “the Hebrews esteemed the beard as one of the greatest ornaments of manhood.”[40]

3. Confirmed in Church History

Even though church history is not authoritative, it nonetheless is helpful for believers to learn from godly men of the past. So what is the witness of church history in relation to the beard? As was mentioned in the beginning of this article, many of the patristic early church fathers spoke clearly on this subject, men such as Clement of Alexandria (A.D. 150-215), Tertullian (A.D. 155-240),[41] Cyprian of Carthage (A.D. 210-258), Lactantius (A.D. 250-320), and Augustine (A.D. 354-430).

Not only did the 4th Council of Carthage prohibit the cutting of the beard for clergy, but it was also repeated in the 3rd Canon of the 1st Council of Barcelona (A.D. 540)[42] and it was also similarly stated in the Apostolic Constitutions, “Nor may men destroy the hair of their beards, and unnaturally change the form of man.”[43] It is ironic that these very statements, prohibiting the shaving of the beard, would later be misused by the Catholic church in order to support their view that the clergy should shave their beards, instead of the original reading to the contrary.[44]

To illustrate the view of prominent church leaders throughout history, few selected quotes will be presented. Clement of Alexandria: “[God] adorned man like the lions, with a beard, and endowed him, as an attribute of manhood… This, then, the mark of the man, the beard, by which, he is seen to be a man…”[45] Lactantius: “the nature of the beard contributes in an incredible degree to distinguish the maturity of bodies, or to distinguish the sex, or to contribute to the beauty of manliness and strength.”[46] Augustine, commenting on Psalm 133: “The beard signifies the courageous… the earnest, the active, the vigorous. So that when we describe such, we say, he is a bearded man.”[47] Willian Tyndale (English reformer), in commenting about the practices of the Roman Catholic priests, said “…and their shaving borrowed of the heathen priests”[48] John Knox (the Scottish Reformer), stated: “we know that the beard of man was created by God”[49] Charles Spurgeon, in his well-known work ‘Lectures to my Students’ said, “…grow your beards! A habit most natural, scriptural, manly, and beneficial.”[50]

During the Protestant Reformation, beards were a significant sign of protest against the Roman Catholic church, as many of the reformers grew their beards, in clear defiance to the Catholic church which had laid down rules against clergy growing their beards.[51] In the Anabaptist movement, it seems that beards gained even a stronger presence than with the magisterial reformers, so much so that the majority of all Anabaptist men appeared to have beards.[52]

Conclusion

The conclusion then stands, that since the beard is created by God and esteemed in Scripture as a sign of gender distinction and manly maturity, it is indisputably right for Christian men to follow the biblical example and wear their God-given beards, whatever the view of the surrounding culture and fashion trends may be.[53] However, lest there be any confusion at this point, what is advocated herein is not in any way that the wearing of a beard would somehow make a man more godly, or that a person who shaves his beard away daily would be somehow sinning (although if the motive for shaving is to purposefully to look more feminine, then it would be sin). However, what is proposed is that Christian men make sure their views regarding this matter are in accordance with the Christian worldview and rooted in the teaching of Scripture, instead of mindlessly following the surrounding cultural practices. When a Christian man seeks to do what is right in the eyes of His Creator, even in minor issues such as the wearing of the beard, God is glorified by it.[54] Modern Christian author and pastor Douglas Wilson summarized the discussion well, by saying:

“While women have longer hair, which is their glory, men have been gifted with more hair. In particular, men have been given beards. My point here is not that it is a sin or wrong in any way to be clean-shaven, but that the Bible does teach that a beard is a sign of masculine honor. In a culture such as ours, when adrogyny is the order of the day, we should not be surprised to find beards becoming rare, and body shavings become common. Wherever men seek to look like women, a beard mars the effect…

This is an issue where Christian liberty must certainly dictate. At the same time, we should remember that God in his kindness has given men the opportunity to make sure no one mistakes their sex, and that a statement of this kind is entirely appropriate in an age like ours. While wearing a beard is not necessary, it is necessary to reject the widespread dislike of beards. Scripturally speaking, a beard is a sign of masculine honor.”[55]

FOOTNOTES:

[1] C. S. Lewis. The Screwtape Letters (New York: The Macmillan Company, 1943), 102.

[2] Christopher Oldstone-Moore. Of Beards and Men: The Revealing History of Facial Hair. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press), 289-292.

[3] Steve Ballaban. “Beards” in The Oxford Dictionary of the Jewish Religion. Edited by R. J. Zwi Werblowsky and Geoffrey Wigoder. 105-106. (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1997), 105.

[4] Hobert K. Farrell. “Beard” in Baker Encyclopedia of the Bible. Vol.1 Edited by Walter A. Elwell. 1:270 (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1988), 270.

[5] Michael Bunker, The Beard: The Biblical Case for the Beard (Santa Anna, TX: Refugio Publishing, 2012), 8.

[6] A. Edward, Siecienski. “Holy Hair: Beards in the Patristic Tradition.” St. Vladimir’s Theological Quarterly 58:1 (2014): 41-68.

[7] Ginzberg, Louis. “Beard” in The Jewish Encyclopedia: A Descriptive Record of the History, Religion, Literature, and Customs of the Jewish People from the Earliest Times to the Present Day. Vol. 2. Edited by Isidore Singer. 2:611-615 (New York: Funk and Wagnalls Company, 1903), 614.

[8] Anthony A Hoekema. Created in God’s Image. (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1986), 4.

[9] Bunker, 43.

[10] John MacArthur and Richard Mayhue, eds. Biblical Doctrine: A Systematic Summary of Bible Truth. (IL: Crossway, 2017), 426-427.

[11] John MacArthur. Different by Design (Colorado Springs: Victor Books, 1994), 45.

[12] Craig A. Blaising, “Premillennialism” in Three Views on the Millennium and Beyond, ed. Darrell L. Bock (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1999), 161.

[13] Oldstone-Moore, 75-76.

[14] John MacArthur. The Glory of Heaven: The Truth About Heaven, Angels and Eternal Life (IL: Crossway, 1996), 137-138.

[15] Randy Alcorn. Heaven (IL: Tyndale House, 2004), 352.

[16] John MacArthur. “The Subordination and Equality of Women” Grace to You. Accessed June 28, 2017. https://www.gty.org/library/sermons-library/1844/the-subordination-and-equality-of-women

[17] William R. McGrath. Why I Wear a Beard (Ohio: Amish Mennonite Publication, 1987), 9.

[18] McGrath, 11.

[19] Thomas Gowin. The Philosophy of Beards (London: The British Library, 2014), 79.

[20] Oldstone-Moore, 10.

[21] Charles Darwin. The Descent of Man and Selection in Relation to Sex (London: John Murray, 1890), 597.

[22] Brian Thomas. “The Apobetics of Aesthetics: A Hairy Problem for Evolution.” Acts & Facts 38:4 (2009): 18.

[23] Ibid., 21.

[24] W. White, Jr. “Beard” in The Zondervan Encyclopedia of the Bible. Revised, Full-Color Edition. Vol.1. Edited by Merrill C. Tenney. 1:529-530 (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2009), 530.

[25] Allen P. Ross. Holiness to the LORD: A Guide to the Exposition of the Book of Leviticus (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2002), 364.

[26] Brian S. Rosner. Paul and the Law: Keeping the commandments of God. (IL: InterVarsity Press, 2013), 160.

[27] Artium Magister. An Apology for the Beard; Addressed to Men in General, to the Clergy in Particular (London: Rivingtons, 1862), 16.

[28] H. Hackett. “Beard” in Dr. William Smith’s Dictionary of the Bible. Edited by H. B. Hackett. 1:258-259. (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1981), 258.

[29] Hazel W. Perkin. “Hair and Beards” in Baker Encyclopedia of the Bible. Vol.1 Edited by Walter A. Elwell. 1:779-780 (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1988), 779.

[30] William L. Coleman. Today’s Handbook of Bible Times & Customs (MN: Bethany House Publishers, 1984), 61.

[31] John N. Oswalt. The Book of Isaiah. Chapter 40-66. (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1998) 325.

[32] Primitive Christianity Library. “The Full Gospel Beard” Accessed June 28, 2017. http://www.elcristianismoprimitivo.com/fullgospelbeard.htm

[33] Paul D. Wegner. A. S. “זקן” in New International Dictionary of Old Testament Theology & Exegesis. Vol. 1. Edited by Willem A. VanGemeren. 1:1134-1137 (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1997), 1134-1135.

[34] John MacArthur, The MacArthur Study Bible (TN: Thomas Nelson, 2006), 96.

[35] Oldstone-Moore, 114.

[36] Artium Magister, 25.

[37] John MacArthur and Richard Mayhue, 427.

[38] John D. Davis. “Beard” in Davis Dictionary of the Bible. 84. (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1990), 84.

[39] Allen C Myers, ed. The Eerdmans Bible Dictionary (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1987), 130-131.

[40] Ruetschi “Beard” in The Protestant Theological and Ecclesiastical Encyclopedia, Volume 1. Edited by Johann Jakob Herzog. 1:338. (Philadelphia: Lindsay & Blakiston, 1860), 338.

[41] Oldstone-Moore, 75.

[42] Siecienski, 61.

[43] Alexander Roberts. The Ante-Nicene Fathers. Vol. VII (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1970), 392.

[44] Siecienski, 60-61.

[45] William Wilson, ed. The Writings of Clement of Alexandria (Edinburgh: T. & T., 1867), 286.

[46] Lactantius. The Works of Lactantius. Vol. 2. (Edinburgh: T. & T., 1871), 66.

[47] Saint Augustine. Expositions on the Book of Psalms. Vol. 9. (London: Walter Smith, 1884), 117.

[48] Thomas Russell, ed. The Works of the English Reformers: William Tyndale, and John Frith. (London: Ebenezer Palmer, 1831), 20.

[49] David Laing, ed. The Works of John Knox (Edinburgh: Johnstone and Hunter, 1856), 359.

[50] Charles Spurgeon. Lectures to my Students. Complete and Unabridged (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1954), 125.

[51] Adam Bonikowske. Anabaptist Masculinity in Reformation Europe. M.A. diss., The University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, Milwaukee: Wisconsin, 2013, 95-96.

[52] Ibid., 98.

[53] Artium Magister, 86.

[54] Michael Bunker, 39.

[55] Douglas Wilson. Federal Husband. Moscow (ID: Canon Press, 1999), 46-47.

 

 

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Ohjeita Raamatun lukemiseen – J. C. Ryle

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This is a Finnish translation of J. C. Ryle’s advice regarding Bible reading. Translated by Miska Wilhelmsson.

1. Aloita Raamatun lukeminen heti tänään. Ainut tapa tehdä jotain, on että vain yksinkertaisesti tekee sen, ja ainut tapa lukea Raamattua, on että todella lukee Raamattua. Pelkästään tarkoittaminen, toivominen, harkitseminen, aikominen, tai asian ajattelu ei tule auttamaan sinua pätkääkään. Sinun täytyy yksinkertaisesti vain luettava. Tässä asiassa ei ole mitään kuninkaallista tietä, ei yhtään enempään kuin rukouksenkaan kanssa. Jos et vain itse pysty lukemaan, täytyy sinun suostutella joku toinen lukemaan sinulle ääneen. Mutta tavalla tai toisella, oli se sitten silmien tai korvien kautta, Raamatun sanan on tultava sinun mieleesi.

2. Lue Raamattua totisella tahdolla ymmärtää sitä. Älä ajattele hetkeäkään, että tarkoitus on vain edetä tietty määrä sivuja, ja että sillä ei ole mitään väliä ymmärrätkö mitään tai et. Jotkut tietämättömät ihmiset näyttävät ajattelevan, että kaikki on tullut suoritettua, kunhan he vain päivittäin saavat tietyn määrän lukuja luettua, vaikka heillä ei olisikaan mitään ymmärrystä siitä mitä ovat juuri lukeneet, kunhan he vain ovat edenneet tietyn määrän sivuja eteenpäin. Tämä on Raamatun lukemisen muuttamista pinnalliseksi muodollisuudeksi. Se on melkein yhtä vakavaa kuin Paavillinen tapa ostaa aneita toistamalla muutama Ave Maria ja isä meidän rukous. Se muistuttaa minua yhtä parkaa hottentottia joka söi hollantilaisen virsi kirjan, koska oli nähnyt kuinka paljon se lohdutti naapuriensa sydämiä. Päätä siis mielessäsi, yleisenä periaatteena, että Raamattu jota ei ole ymmärretty, ei tee mitään hyvää. Sano itsellesi usein, kun luet “Mistä tässä on oikein kysymys?” Kaiva tekstin merkitystä kuin kultaa kaivava mies. Tee kovaa työtä, ja älä anna periksi kiireen takia.

3. Lue Raamattua syvällä kunnioituksella. Sano sielullesi aina kun avaat Raamatun, “Oi sieluni, tulet nyt lukemaan viestiä Jumalalta.” Tuomarien lauseet, sekä kuninkaiden puheet vastaanotetaan kunnioittaen ja arvostaen. Kuinka paljon enemmän kunnioitusta kuuluukaan sanoille, jotka tulevat tuomarien Tuomarilta ja kuninkaiden Kuninkaalta! Vältä niin vakavasti kuin välttäisit kiroilua ja herjausta, sitä halveksivaa ajatustapaa minkä monet liberaali teologit ovat omaksuneet Raamattua kohti. He käsittelevät pyhän kirjan sisältöä huolimattomasti ja epäkunnioittavasti, ikään kuin kirjoittajat olivat aivan samanlaisia kuin he itse. Se muistuttaa kuin pientä lasta joka kirjoittaisi kirjaa paljastaaksensa isänsä täyden tietämättömyyden, –tai armahdettua murhaajaa joka kritisoi hänen armahtajansa kirjoitustyyliä ja käsialaa. Pikemminkin, aseta itsesi samaa henkeen kuin Mooses ollessaan Hoorebin vuorella: “Riisu kengät jalastasi, sillä paikka jossa seisot, on pyhä maa.” (2 Moos 3:5)

4. Lue Raamattua hartaasti rukoillen Pyhän Hengen apua ja opetusta. Tässä on se kivi, jossa monet tekevät haaksirikon heti alkuun. He eivät pyydä viisautta ja ohjausta, joten Raamattu pysyy heille pimeänä, eivätkä he löydä sieltä mitään mukaansa. Sinun tulisi rukoilla, että Henki ohjaisi sinut kaikkeen totuuteen (Joh 16:13). Sinun tulisi anoa Herraa Jeesusta Kristusta avaamaan sinun ymmärryksesi, niin kuin hän teki opetuslapsilleen (Luuk 24:45). Totinen Jumala, hän jonka henkeyttämänä tuo kirja on syntynyt, pitää hallussaan kirjan avaimet ja hän yksin voi auttaa sinua ymmärtämään sen voitollisesti. Yli yhdeksän kertaa samassa Psalmissa (Psalmi 119) Daavid rukoilee “Opeta minua.” Yli viisi kertaa tuossa samassa Psalmissa hän pyytää, “Anna minulle ymmärrys.” Oikeassa on John Owen, sanoessaan “Sanassa on pyhä valo: mutta ihmisten silmillä makaa tumma verho, joka pitää heidät näkemästä sitä oikein. Tämän verhon poistaminen on Pyhän Hengen merkillinen työ.” Nöyrä rukous antaa enemmän valoa Raamattuusi kuin mikään kommentaari koskaan kirjoitettu. Muista tämä, ja sano aina “Oi Jumala, Kristuksen tähden, anna minulle Hengen opetus.”

5. Lue Raamattua lapsen kaltaisella uskolla ja nöyryydellä. Avaa sydämesi, avatessasi kirjan, ja sano, “Puhu Herra, sinun palvelijasi kuuntelee.” Päätä uskoa, ilman varauksia, kaikki mitä löydät sieltä, vaikka kuinka paljon se menisikin omia ennakkoluulojasi vastaan. Päätä sydämestäsi vastaanottaa jokainen totuuden ilmoitus, piditpä siitä tai et. Ole varuillasi tuota kurjaa ajattelutapaa mihin jotkut Raamatun lukijat sortuvat. He kyllä vastaanottavat tietyt opit, koska he pitävät niistä. Mutta hylkäävät toiset, sillä ne ovat tuomitsevia heitä kohtaan, tai heidän rakastettuaan, sukulaistaan, tai ystävää kohtaan. Tällä tahdilla Raamatusta tulee tarpeeton. Tuleeko meidän olla tuomareita siitä, mitä Sanaan tulee kuulua? Tiedämmekö me paremmin kuin Jumala? Päätä se mielessäsi, että tulet vastaanottamaan kaikki, uskomaan kaikki, ja että kaikki jota et ymmärrä otat luottamuksella. Muista, kun rukoilet, että olet puhumassa Jumalalle, ja Jumala kuule sinut. Mutta muista, kun luet, että Jumala on puhumassa sinulle, ja sinun ei tule silloin vastata, vaan kuunnella.

6. Lue Raamattua kuuliaisuuden ja soveltamisen hengessä. Istu alas tutkimaan päivittäisellä päättäväisyydellä, elämään sen sääntöjen mukaan, levätä sen ohjeissa, ja toimia sen komentojen mukaan. Harkitse, kun matkustat jokaisen luvun läpi, “Miten tämä vaikuttaa minun tilanteeseen ja käyttäytymiseen? Mitä tämä opettaa minulle?” On huonoa työtä lukea Raamattua pelkän uteliasuuden ja spekulatiivisten tarkoitusperien täyttämiseksi, jotta pääsi olisi täynnä tietoa ja mielipiteitä, vaikka et kuitenkaan anna kirjan vaikuttaa sinun sydämeen ja elämään. Raamattua luetaan parhaiten, kun sitä harjoitetaan eniten.

7. Lue Raamattua päivittäin. Tee siitä osa jokapäiväistä elämääsi, että luet ja mietiskelet jotain osaa Jumalan Sanasta. Yksityiset armonvälineet (rukous ja Raamatun luku) ovat yhtä tarpeellisia meidän sielulle joka päivä, niin kuin ruoka ja vaatteet ovat meidän kehollemme. Eilispäivän leipä ei tule ruokkimaan tämän päivän työntekijää, eikä tämän päivän leipä tule ruokkimaan työntekijää huomenna. Tee siis niin kuin Israelilaiset tekivät erämaassa. Kerää mannaa tuoreena joka aamu. Valitse omat aikasi ja tuntisi. Älä hätiköitse ja kiiruhda läpi lukemisesi. Anna Raamatullesi parasta, eikä huonointa aikaa päivästäsi. Mitä tahansa luku suunnitelmaa seuraatkin, olkoon se elämäsi sääntö, että vietät aikaa armon istuimen edessä (Heb 4:16) ja Raamatussa joka päivä.

8. Lue Raamattua kokonaan ja järjestelmällisesti. Pelkään, että on monia kohtia Sanassa joita jotkut eivät koskaan lue. Tämä on liioittelematta hyvin ylimielinen tapa. Jokainen kirjoitus on hyödyllinen. Tähän tapaan voidaan jäljittää totuuden oikeasuhteisten näkemyksien puuttuminen, joka on niin yleistä. Joidenkin Raamattu-lukeminen on kuin jatkuvaa pulahtamista ja valikoimista. Heillä ei näytä olevan ajatustakaan siitä, että he säännöllisesti lukisivat läpi koko kirjan. Tämä on myös suuri virhe. Epäilemättä sairauden ja ahdistuksen aikana on mahdollista etsiä ja lukea tiettyjä jakeita. Tämän poikkeuksen huomioon ottaen, uskon silti, että ylivoimaisesti paras suunnitelma on aloitta Vanha ja Uusi testamentti samanaikaisesti, ja lukea kumpikin loppuun asti ja aloittaa sitten uudestaan. Tämä on aihe, jossa jokaisen on oltava vakuuttunut omassa mielessään. Voin vain sanoa, että tämä on ollut minun luku suunnitelmani noin 15 vuotta, enkä ole koskaan nähnyt syytä muuttaa sitä.

9. Lue Raamattua avoimesti ja rehellisesti. Päätä ottamaan jokainen teksti sen tavallisen ja ilmeisen merkityksen mukaan, sekä pitämään kaikki väkinäiset tulkinnat hyvin epäilyttävinä. Pidä yleisenä sääntönä, että mitä tahansa Raamatun jae näyttää opettavan, sitä se yleensä tarkoittaa. Cecilin sääntö on erittäin hyvä,– “Oikea tapa tutkia Raamattua, on ottaa teksti kuten me sen löydämme, yrittämättä pakottaa sitä mihinkään tiettyyn systeemiin.” Hyvin sanoi myös Hooker, “pidän sitä kaikkein erehtymättömänä sääntönä Kirjoitusten selittämisessä, että kun kirjaimellinen rakenne pysyy hyvin omillaan, niin silloin kirjaimellisestä kauimpana oleva vaihtoehto on usein pahin.”

10. Lue Raamattua pitäen katseesi aina Kristuksessa. Raamatun suuri päätarkoitus on todistaa Jeesuksesta. Vanhan testamentin seremoniat ovat Kristuksen varjoja. Vanhan testamentin tuomarit ja lunastajat ovat esikuvia Kristuksesta. Vanhan testamentin historia osoittaa maailman tarvetta Kristuksesta. Vanhan testamentin profetiat ovat täynnä Kristuksen kärsimystä ja hänen tulevaa kirkkautta. Ensimmäinen ja toinen adventti,–Herran nöyrtyminen ja Herran valtakunta,–risti ja kruunu, loistavat kaikkialla Raamatussa. Pidä kiinni tästä neuvosta, jotta lukisit Raamattua oikein.

Sermon: The Person of the Holy Spirit (John 16:7-15)

Last Monday (27th March 2017), I had the privilege of teaching on the topic of The Holy Spirit for Women Walking Wisely, a women’s ministry group at Grace Community Church in Sun Valley, California. If you are interested in listening to the sermon, you can now find the audio recording on the church website.

Sermon: The Person of the Holy Spirit (John 16:7-15)

Link: www.gracechurch.org/sermons/13052

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The First Finnish Book: A Reading Primer and Catechism

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The first printed book published in the Finnish language is ‘Abckiria’ (ABC-Book), a basic reading primer together with a small Christian catechism, put together by the Finnish reformer Mikael Agrciola.[1] The primer was printed in the royal publishing house of Stockholm, operated by Amund Laurentsson who had been trained by a German book-printer. The first year of printing was likely 1543. Amund Laurentsson would prove to be a close associate to Agricola for many years, since all his nine books would be published by Amund, whom Agricola later referred to as a good friend.[2]

The catechism found in the primer is not a translation of a previously existing catechism, rather it is the result of Agricola combining many different existing works, similarly as he did in many of his other published works.[3] The main sources that Agricola used for this are Luther’s small catechism, Melanchthon’s catechism, and Andreas Osiander’s catechism.[4] The primer begins with a short poem, encouraging both the young and old to learn God’s commandments and to master the Finnish language.

English translation of the opening poem:

“Learn now, old and young, who have a fresh heart, God’s commandments and the mind, so that you shall know the Finnish language. Law, it makes the soul fearful, but Christ soothes it again. So read from here good child, the beginning of learning without obstacles. Remember them all your life, so Jesus lends you his mercy.”

The poem was adapted from the work of Melanchthon, with Agricola obviously editing it for a Finnish context.[5] The primer displays all the letters of the Finnish alphabet and other textual information, lists all the Ten Commandments translated directly from Hebrew,[6] followed by a Finnish translation of the Apostles’ Creed.

In his translation of the creed, it is noteworthy that Agricola purposefully uses specific words when translating the section speaking about the church. Instead of “holy catholic church” (“pyhä katolinen kirkko”), he translates it as “holy Christian congregation” (“pyhä kristillinen seurakunta”) for the purpose of making a distinction between the idea of the Roman Catholic church with its lofty church buildings, contrasted to the biblical teaching of both the local and worldwide fellowship of believers in the church. The word “seurakunta” (congregation or fellowship) continued to be used by the other Finnish reformers in order to avoid misunderstandings.[7] The Abckiria also includes the Lord’s prayer, morning an evening prayers, and explanations regarding the sacraments of Baptism and the Lord’s supper.[8]

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The Apostles Creed in the Primer

Not even one complete copy of the primer has survived to the present day, but it has been recovered by combining different fragments to make up the whole.[9] Due to its nature being a primer that was meant to be used for everyday learning, it is not surprising that the early copies would have been more damaged than other longer books which would not have been in as much heavy usage by the common people. For a long time, it was taught that all copies of the primer had been completely lost, until 1851 when the first eight pages were found in three parts, having been recycled to make up the stuffing of another book cover. The remaining pages were found in subsequent years, also being used in the cover material for other books.[10]

abckirja_lettersThis primer was the first of Agricola’s works,[11] and understandably so, since it was needed that the Finnish people would be taught the basics of literary Finnish and the essentials of Christian teaching, before they would be able to read and appreciate the New Testament itself, which Agricola had already started working on during his time in Wittenberg.[12] In fact, when writing his primer, he had already completed the early manuscript for his New Testament translation, and was likely referring to this translation when putting together the primer.[13]

FOOTNOTES:

[1] Kenneth G. Appold, The Reformation: A Brief History (Malden, MA: Wiley-Blackwell, 2011), 159.

[2] Kaisa Häkkinen. Spreading the Written Word: Mikael Agricola and the Birth of Literary Finnish (Helsinki: Finnish Literary Society, 2016), 53.

[3] Simo Heininen. Mikael Agricola: Elämä ja Teokset (Helsinki: Edita Prima, 2007), 170.

[4] Häkkinen, 54.

[5] Ibid., 54.

[6] Heininen, 177.

[7] Heininen, 178.

[8] Mikael Agricola. Abckiria. (Stockholm: Amund Laurentsson, 1549).

[9] Häkkinen, 55.

[10] Heininen, 164.

[11] Ibid., 165.

[12] Kauko Pirinen “Finland” in Illustrated History of the Reformation, edited by Oskar Thulin, 229 – 242. (Missouri: Concordia Publishing House, 1967), 230.

[13] Heininen, 188.

Sermon: The Glory of Trembling (Isaiah 66:1-5)

faithbuilders-album-artA few weeks ago (8th January 2017), I had the privilege of preaching again in FaithBuilders at Grace Community Church in Sun Valley, California. If you are interested in listening to the sermon, you can now find the audio recording on the Grace Community Church website.

Sermon: The Glory of Trembling (Isaiah 66:1-5)

Link: www.gracechurch.org/sermons/12816

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The Importance and Simplicity of Correct Bible Interpretation

How can we know what God is like and what He expects of us? The truth is, if we were left to our own wisdom and reasoning capabilities, we would never arrive at true knowledge about God and how we are to worship Him. It is true that when we look at the creation around us, we know and understand (and so does the non-believer, even though he suppresses that truth) that God exists and that He is powerful (Romans 1), but we would still remain in darkness about the specific character, requirements and promises of God. Praise be to God that He has not left us in darkness, but has instead revealed Himself to us by giving us His Word, the Bible.

“Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth.” 2 Timothy 2:15

The Nature of the Bible

It is because of the nature of the Bible that the subject of correct interpretation is very important for us to understand. God gave us His Word over a period of a few thousand years, written by numerous different authors (Moses, Isaiah, John, Paul, etc.) from many different walks of life who lived in many different cultural contexts. In addition to that, God gave His Word to us in the form of human language, specifically in Hebrew (with a bit of Aramaic) and Greek. God inspired men to write His exact words, all the while using the specific personalities, languages, and historical contexts of the Biblical authors. The Bible is therefore both a human book–written by men, and a divine book–inspired by the Holy Spirit. It is because of this ‘dual authorship’ (human and divine) that the method of grammatical-historical interpretation becomes highly important in rightly understanding what God has revealed to us.

For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.” 2 Peter 1:21

The Grammatical-Historical Method?

To put it simply, the grammatical-historical method of interpreting Scripture means that we should pay careful attention to the grammar (how language works) and historical context (when the text was written) of any given Bible passage that we are seeking to interpret and understand. Our goal should be to seek and discover the original meaning of the text that was intended by the original author and inspired by the Holy Spirit. If we simply seek to try and come up with our own meaning for any given text, we are actually misusing the Bible and ignoring what God has inspired and what He wanted to be said. The reason it is so important for us to accurately know and understand the true and original meaning of the text, is that this is foundation that we then build our lives upon, God has revealed to us what we need to know about him, and we should seek to live in accordance to that revelation. If we misinterpret the Bible and live according to our own faulty and misguided understanding of what God has said, we are not actually building our lives on the truth of God’s Word, but instead a misrepresentation of it.

Grammatical?

‘Grammatical’refers to the aspect of language and grammar, and just like all good communication requires some form of rules and guidelines for it to be understood rightly, so it is especially with written languages. God has revealed Himself to us in the form of written language, therefore for us to be able to understand what God has spoken, we must understand and pay attention to the way language is built and how grammar works. We cannot just ignore the rules of language or define words to mean whatever we would want them to mean. We can understand that this applies to our own everyday life also, that we need to understand the basic rules of language to be able to communicate and expect to be understood by others. The same is true when we seek to interpret the Bible.

Historical?

The second part of the method is ‘historical’. This aspect also arises from the truth of the dual authorship of Scripture. Since God used men to write His Word, it needs to be remembered that these men wrote in a certain context of history and were surrounded by a specific culture, which is often somewhat different from what we experience in our day and age (which of course also changes based on where we live). The word ‘historic’ also reminds of the fact that the Bible is historical truth, not just some imaginary religious fable or allegory, but instead actual accurate history. Because of this, when interpreting the Bible, we need to realize that whatever passage we are studying is true and accurate, and also to be mindful of how the original historical context might affect our understanding of the passage.

In Everyday Life

When reading a newspaper or an email, we are also using (either consciously or unconsciously) a form of grammatical-historical interpretation to help in understanding what we are reading. The difference that there is when considering the Bible is that since it is the true Word of the living God (unlike the fallible newspaper that fades away the next day), it is much more crucial and meaningful for us to interpret and understand that message correctly. If we misinterpret something in a newspaper it probably has very little effect on our lives, but if we misinterpret the Bible, even our eternal destiny could be depending on it, if we would fail to rightly understand and believe the essential truths of the gospel. There are of course certain places in the Bible that are harder to understand and that don’t have as big of an impact on our lives even if we happen to get it wrong, but we should always still seek to be faithful and accurate to the best of our ability in interpreting and understanding the Word of God so that we can then live according to it, knowing that we are building our lives upon the Word of God and not our own misguided opinions. When we rightly interpret and truly understand the meaning of Scripture by the power of the Holy Spirit, we hear God speak to us through the authoritative and living Word of God.

APPENDIX:

Basic Hermeneutics Syllabus for a Church Context

Hearing God Speak - Basic Hermeneutics Syllabus (PDF)For my Hermeneutics (Bible interpretation) class with Dr. Matthew Waymeyer at The Master’s Seminary, one of our assignments was to develop a simple 12 week syllabus of how to teach the essentials of Bible interpretation and the importance of it in a normal church context. I have since used that syllabus myself in the small Bible Study group that I lead from FaithBuilders at Grace Community Church. In case you’re interesting in looking at the syllabus and maybe even using it for your own purposes, please feel free to download it here as a PDF. Please let me know if you find it helpful in some way.

FREE: Hearing God Speak: Principles for Correct Bible Interpretation (PDF)

Sermon: The Blessed Life (Psalm 1)

faithbuilders-album-artLast Sunday (12th June 2016), I had the privilege of preaching in FaithBuilders at Grace Community Church in Sun Valley, California. If you are interested in listening to the sermon, you can now find the audio recording on the Grace Community Church website.

Sermon: The Blessed Life (Psalm 1)
Link: https://www.gracechurch.org/sermons/12178

finnishpagans

Forcing the Finnish Pagans?

As a Protestant Christian from Finland, I trace my spiritual heritage back to the Finnish reformation, when the country turned from Roman Catholicism to Protestant Lutheranism. Although not a Lutheran myself, I am still greatly thankful for how God used this period to bless my home country with the Word of God in the Finnish language (see my blog post on the Finnish Reformation), while at the same time recognizing that a large part of the reformation was also politically motivated. The questions that then remain are, how did Finland become introduced to Christianity in the first place? And, is that part of history, when the Roman Catholic Church ruled in Finland, to be fully rejected as a time of darkness, or is there any aspect that a Bible-believing Christian should still be thankful for and appreciate?

Christianity Arrives to Scandinavia

ansgariusThe first one to preach Christianity in Scandinavia was a German monk named Ansgar. He first arrived to Denmark in 826 and started preaching there. A few years later in 830 he travelled to Sweden for the purpose of evangelizing the people there also. Certain individuals did convert by his ministry both in Denmark and Sweden, but the monks were still persecuted by many of the native people in those lands. Ansgar died in 865, which resulted in the decline of the German missions in Scandinavia.

In the beginning of the 11th century, Christianity started to gain a stronger foothold in Scandinavia; as it was no longer just scattered individuals but also larger groups of people who turned to embrace the Christian faith and deserted their former paganism. These conversions resulted in a decline of the Viking raids that had been common with the Scandinavian people, as many of them now realized the error of their former ways.

When considering the big picture, it is helpful to note that it was mainly these journeys of raid and exploration by the pagan Vikings that connected Scandinavia in the first place with the more civilized and Christian parts of Europe.

The first Christian king of Sweden was Olof Skötkonung who was baptized in 1008. This is when the western part of Sweden also converted to Christianity together with their king, while other parts of the country still remained in paganism. Only in 1150 did Christianity take over the remaining parts of Sweden.

Christianity Arrives to Finland

Even though most of Scandinavia was introduced to Christianity in the 11th century, the tribes in Finland were still living in full paganism and having their own pirate conquests across the Baltic sea and raiding their neighboring countries, especially the coastlands of Sweden. Before the arrival of Christianity, Finland was not really one unified nation, but rather a land of different tribal groups. The process from a scattered pagan land to a more unified people of Finland would last around 400 years, beginning with the arrival of Christianity.

Finland was first introduced to Christianity in the 9th and 10th century by the influence of sailors, merchants and immigrants from other countries who brought with them the teaching of the Catholic Church in the West. It is very likely that some individuals in Finland did convert to the Christian faith, even when the society around them was still pagan. However, at this point it was only scattered individuals who were introduced to the new faith, the land would later gain a stronger witness through certain Swedish immigrants who influenced part of the coastal lands to convert and become a more organized form of Christianity. It could be said that Christianity arrived to Finland in three different stages, the first one being the influence of visiting merchants and seamen, secondly by the Swedish settlers, and then thirdly the three different crusades in the 12th century onwards.

bishophenrikThe main person chosen to propagate Catholic Christianity in Finland was the Bishop of Uppsala, Henrik, who was said to be originally from England. It seems one of the reasons that the King of Sweden wanted to convert the pagan Finnish people, was the pirate journeys, which the Finns had committed against Swedish people. According to tradition, during the first crusade, Erik the King of Sweden first offered the Finnish people Christianity and peace, but when this offer was refused, he had to turn to violent force. The conquered areas were then forced to receive the Christian baptism, while Bishop Henrik is reported to have preached to the people about Christianity. The focus was not much on personal religion, but simply receiving baptism and changing certain aspects concerning outward behavior. King Erik then returned to Sweden, but bishop Henrik stayed in Finland to spread Christianity further into the land. During one of his missionary journeys in Finland, Bishop Henrik was faced with a Finnish man named Lalli, who according to tradition was guilty of murder and was therefore judged for his actions by the Bishop, enraged by this Lalli killed Bishop Henrik. Bishop Henry later become know as ‘the apostle to Finland.’

At the end of the middle ages, there were about 130 churches in Finland. A big part of Finland was still uninhabited at this point, especially the middle and northern part of the country. The Catholic Church meetings were almost completely conducted in Latin, which was foreign to the Finnish speakers. The wealth and pomp of the Roman Catholic Church did still make an impression on the people. The flickering candles, the mystical smoke, the echo of songs in a foreign tongue, the impressive nature of the priest’s clothing and the church buildings, it seems this all made the religious experience somewhat appealing to the superstitious pagan people of Finland.

Rejection or Thankfulness?

It is important for Bible believing Christians to recognize the evil of the crusades and explain that true Christianity is not spread though violent and forceful crusades, but at the same time we can still be thankful for some of the results of the crusades, recognizing that God uses even the evil deeds of men to achieve His purposes. The crusades helped to introduce the Finnish people to Christianity, and even though there was undoubtedly much false teaching propagated in the name of Christianity, there were still aspects of the truth of the gospel given to the people. The teaching that was given to the common man was likely comprised of simply learning the Lord’s Prayer, the “Ave Maria” (the angels greeting to Mary), and the Apostles Creed. Since the people would have memorized these, they could gain from this a basic understanding of Christian doctrine. Even though the teaching of the Catholic Church was in many ways convoluted by false teaching and even political motives, there still was a remnant of truth given to the people, especially when at times there would be portions of the gospels read to the people in their own language.

Because of the Christian influence and the strict rule of the Roman Catholic Church, Finland also saw many materials gains. For example, the raw pagan practices of the past were slowly disappearing from the land as law and order in society were introduced and upheld better. The Finnish people also began to unite more, instead of simply living as scattered enemy tribes, and then Finland also became better connected with other countries in Europe.

Apart from some of these outward benefits for the Finnish people, we need to remember that just like the apostle Paul rejoiced even when men preached Christ for the wrong reasons (Philippians 1:15-18), so too can we be thankful for this period of time in Finnish history (while at the same time rightly condemning all the evil acts and false teaching, which often accompanied it), since it is very possible that God still used this to bring the truth of the gospel to his people who would believe and trust in Christ alone, even when the true gospel message was often accompanied with much false teaching and wrongdoing.

WORKS CONSULTED:

Bergroth, Elis. Suomen Kirkon Historia Pääpiirteissään. Porvoo: W. Söderström, 1892.

Christiansen, Eric. The Northern Crusades: The Baltic and the Catholic Frontier, 1100-1525. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1980.

Fahlbusch, Erwin. “Finland.” In The Encyclopedia of Christianity. Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2001.

Forsström, O. A. Suomen Keskiajan Historia. Jyväskylä: Gummerus, 1898.

“Finland.” The New Encyclopaedia Britannica. 15th ed. Vol. 19. Chicago: Encyclopaedia Britannica, 2005.

Grell, Ole Peter. The Scandinavian Reformation: From Evangelical Movement to Institutionalisation of Reform. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1995.

Lander, Patricia Slade, and Claudette Charbonneau. The Land and People of Finland. New York: Lippincott, 1990.

Needham, N. R. 2000 Years of Christ’s Power: Part Two: The Middle Ages. London: Grace Publications Trust, 2000.

Pulsiano, Phillip, ed. Medieval Scandinavia: An Encyclopedia. New York: Garland, 1993.

Schmidt, Iben. The Popes and the Baltic Crusades, 1147-1254. Leiden: Brill, 2007.

Waaranen, K. A. Kristillisen Kirkon Waiheet. Sortawala: Karjalan Kirjakauppaja Kustannusliike, 1901.

congregation

Why the Church Needs Expository Preaching

The benefits of expository preaching are numerous, this is because it is the Word of God, the Bible, that the Holy Spirit uses to build up and sanctify believers (John 17:17). Some of those benefits can be summarized under the three following headings, explaining what expository preaching exemplifiesteaches, and produces.

1. What Expository Preaching Exemplifies

It models for the church congregation the great importance of faithful and diligent Bible study, it also shows them how they are to approach and interpret the Bible correctly. It exemplifies to them a righteous reverence and submission to the Word of God. It exemplifies that our thoughts and understanding about God cannot be based on our own ideas or even the pastor’s own ideas, but rather they need to be grounded in Scripture. It exemplifies a reliance on the ultimate author of Scripture, the Holy Spirit, who gives understanding to believers when they diligently and prayerfully study the Word of God.

2. What Expository Preaching Teaches

What it teaches a congregation is more that just the interpretation of specific Bible verses, it also teaches great overarching truths about God, the church, life and doctrine. When faithful expository preaching is practiced it teaches the congregation that Christ is the head of the church, not the pastor or anyone else. It is not the pastor’s own ideas that are being taught, rather it is the word of Christ that is expounded and preached. When the Bible is being preached, it teaches the congregation that the Word of God is the highest authority, not human ideas or preferences. When the Scriptures are faithfully expounded and applied to the listeners it shows how biblical doctrine and everyday life are intrinsically connected, it show that God has revealed all we need to live in a way that pleases and honors him.

3. What Expository Preaching Produces

What it produces is the work of the Holy Spirit who uses the Word of God to achieve his purposes. The Spirit uses the faithful proclamation of his Word to convict people of sin and convert them to Christ. The Spirit also uses the Word to sanctify believers in the truth.

Faithful teaching and proclamation of God’s Word will produce converted people in the congregation, according to the will of God. If a pastor preaches his own ideas instead of the Bible he might be able to emotionally manipulate and affect people to some degree, but whatever the result, it is in the end of no eternal value in the eyes of God. But when the preacher seeks to faithfully teach and preach the Word of God to his congregation, this is what God uses to achieve his purposes that will result in the Holy Spirit using the Word of God to convict and convert people to Christ.

Faithful biblical exposition will also continue to teach and mature those believers who have been converted by the Spirit of God. They will hear God’s truth and grow in their understanding of divine truth and how to rightly think and live according to the will of God. This maturity is also expressed in their continuing sanctification by the Word of truth and growing in the likeness of Christ.

A congregation that hears consistent faithful expository preaching will be a strong church that understands the will of God and seeks to walk in submission to his Word. The example of a faithful expositor will also help produce future church leaders in the congregation. When people sit under the clear exposition of God’s Word, being mentored and taught both by the content and example of the pastor, this will help them to see what they are to strive for and imitate their pastor in faithfully serving Christ and accurately preaching his Word.

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