Women in the Diaconate: A Tradition Across the Ages

More fruit from my doctoral research! I hope you enjoy. God Bless, Julian.

Introduction

This literature review will show, beginning in the Patristic era and moving into the Reformation and Modern eras, the important role that deaconesses have often played in the pastoral and liturgical work of the Christian Church. Careful attention will be given to the type of work these deaconesses performed as well as how they were viewed within the respective communions and traditions that utilized a female diaconate.

The Deaconess Tradition in the Patristic Era

Aided by helpful documentary surveys such as Kevin Madigan and Carolyn Osiek’s Ordained Women in the Early Church: A Documentary History, as well as many other sources, we see that the practice of ordaining women as deaconesses was widespread in the Christian East[1] during the Patristic era, though probably not elsewhere in the Church.[2] Patristics scholars Madigan, Osiek[3], and Corrado Marucci[4] note that we must distinguish in the records of the Fathers (as they seem to have done themselves) between the “widows” of the Church who though supported by the Church and performing pastoral work on behalf of the Church, were not ordained in the same fashion as women belonging to the order of deaconesses. Madigan and Osiek are gently critical of older scholars that tended to conflate these two distinct categories of women in ministry.

Marucci notes that Clement of Alexandria and Origen both mention in their writings the existence of women in the diaconate,[5] even though the practice was probably never common in their locale.[6] Furthermore, Pietro Sorci notes that both the Didascalia Apostolorum (an anonymous work belonging to the genre of church orders probably written in the 230s) and the Apostolic Constitutions (a similar work written sometime in the 380s) mention in some detail the ordination rite for deaconesses.[7] Most of the literature on deaconesses in the Patristics era generally focuses on 1) the ordination rites for deaconesses, 2) the types of ministry they performed, and 3) what was their relationship to the other orders of ordained ministry (e.g. bishop, presbyter, and deacon.)

Drawing on evidence from the Apostolic Constitutions  and the disciplinary canons of the Council of Chalcedon (451) Marucci notes that deaconesses were indeed ordained and considered a part of the clergy.[8] Furthermore, the Byzantine Church in particular has preserved a rite of ordination for deaconesses.[9] Patristics scholar Cipriano Vagaggini draws on much of the same evidence and echoes the conclusions of Marucci and argues that women were clearly ordained to the diaconate in the Christian East and were considered clergy.[10]

Vagaggini also explains in some detail the Byzantine rite of ordination for deaconesses. Drawing on text from the Apostolic Constitutions, he notes that deaconesses were ordained in the Church building (as opposed to lectors and subdeacons who were ordained outside of the Church building) via the laying on of hands by the presiding bishop. This ceremony would be conducted in the presence of the presbyters, deacons, and other deaconesses. The presiding bishop would then recite a proscribed prayer of blessing over the deaconess inviting the Holy Spirit to empower her ministry.[11] Marucci[12] and Vagaggini[13] generally agree that the ordination rite for deacons and deaconesses was quite similar.

As to the types of ministry performed by deaconesses the literature is reasonably united. Pietro Sorci reports that although the duties of deaconesses varied by region somewhat, most deaconesses in the Christian East would have anointed women prior to and immediately after baptism, catechized women prior to and after baptism, and aided ill women in the Church. Sorci mentions other tasks deaconesses may have performed that some scholars do not mention such as serving the elements of the Eucharist to women and children in extreme circumstances and even being a spokesperson for the bishop from time to time.[14] Corrado Marucci mostly echoes the claims of Sorci only diverging from him somewhat by noting that most likely deaconesses would have only served the elements of the Eucharist to sick women during Easter time. With Sorci and Marucci, Vagagginni reports that deaconesses would have anointed female candidates for baptism, catechized females, and provided support to ill women. He is less certain about whether they carried the elements of the Eucharist to women and children.[15]

There is less scholarly consensus as to the relationship of deaconesses to the other orders of ordained ministry during the Patristic era. Corrado Marucci notes while older scholarship tended to see the Patristic Church placing, in terms of prestige and honor, the office of deaconess between the “major orders” (e.g. bishop, presbyter, and deacon) and the “minor orders” (e.g. subdeacon, lector, cantor and so forth,) most scholars now think that the office of the deaconess was basically equivalent to that of the deacon at least in the Byzantine Church. However, deaconesses could perform far fewer ministerial functions than deacons and fell under their authority.[16] They could not preach nor teach publicly, they did not assist at the altar when the Eucharist was celebrated, nor could they baptize.

Offering a somewhat contrasting perspective, Cipriano Vagaggini notes that there was little consensus in the Patristic era as to where deaconesses should be placed in the respective orders of ministry with some sources placing them between the “major” and “minor” orders (or even below the “minor” order of subdeacon in some cases) and other sources giving them more honor.[17]

Both Marucci and Vagaggini mention that in the Didascalia Apostolorum vivid Trinitarian language is used to describe the respective orders of ministry with the bishops in some sense representing God the Father, the presbyters God the Son, and the deacons and deaconesses God the Holy Spirit.[18] For the Church Fathers, just as the Holy Spirit always exercises it’s ministry in such a way as to point to and glorify the Son, so does the deacon or deaconess in regards to the presbyter.

Thus, if we know quite a great deal about the deaconess tradition in the Patristic era and its’ relative vibrancy in the Christian East, why does this tradition gradually disappear from the historical record? In answer to this question the literature is united. Sorci notes, with Marucci and Vagaggini concurring, that one of the most important duties of deaconesses was the anointing of adult female baptismal candidates and thus as infant baptism became more common, with adult baptismal candidates becoming simultaneously less common, the deaconess tradition gradually lost much of its’ necessity in the Christian East.[19]

The Deaconess tradition in the Reformation Era

It has already been noted that the deaconess tradition was never widespread in the Western Church. However, during the Reformation era (1517-1648) this tradition saw a small revival. Reformation scholar Kenneth J. Stewart notes that John Calvin, more so than any other magisterial reformer, voiced support for a female diaconate.[20] Furthermore, Calvin thought that the deaconess tradition was of Apostolic origin. Calvin conceived of a female diaconate working closely under the authority of male deacons and dispensing aid to needy families in the local church.[21] Stewart does note that the deaconess tradition was ultimately never revived in Calvin’s Geneva nor in the other Reformed Churches until much later. He also finds it curious that this aspect of Calvin’s thought on church order has not received very much scholarly attention, even in Reformed circles.[22]

Offering a somewhat contrasting perspective to Stewart, Baptist Scholar Charles W. Deweese notes that in Calvin’s ecclesiastical system he only recognized four offices in the Church, that is, pastors, doctors (teachers), elders, and deacons. In his schema, deaconesses are not mentioned. Furthermore, in a commentary on 1st Timothy, Calvin concludes that the term “deaconess” was a reference to the wives of clergymen. However, Deweese does note that Calvin did think that the wives of clergymen would be highly involved in their ministries and may even minister to the needy on behalf of their husbands.[23] Perhaps Stewart and Deweese’s respective views on Calvin and the deaconess tradition need not be pitted against one another. By synthesizing their respective views, we could surmise that Calvin conceived of women in the diaconate, most of them wives of clergymen, not ordained in the same fashion as a deacon, and working under the close supervision of a clergymen.

If we accept that the Reformation ended with the ratification of the Peace of Westphalia in 1648 (as most scholars do) then the Baptist tradition is to be accepted alongside the Reformed and Lutheran traditions as a genuine, if second generation, Reformation tradition. Charles W. Deweese notes that the deaconess tradition was revived in the Baptist tradition very early in the 1600s. Indeed, some of the earliest Baptist leaders such as John Smyth and Thomas Helwys voiced support for women in the diaconate. Deweese notes that several early Baptist confessional documents explicitly state that the Church has the power to “ordain” both male and female deacons. Somewhat confusingly, these early Baptist documents often use the terms widows, deacons, and deaconesses interchangeably.[24] Deweese is noncommittal as to whether early Baptist congregations appointed very many deaconesses, though support for the existence of deaconesses undoubtedly developed very early in the Baptist tradition.

Remarkably, relatively little scholarly attention has been given to the development of the deaconess tradition during the Reformation. Many scholars who study women’s issues and the Reformation have appraised the Reformation’s contribution to women’s empowerment as at best a mixed one because the most common outlet for female religious expression during the Medieval period, that is, the convent, declined during the Reformation era.[25] Other scholars such as Kirsi Stjerna[26] and Beth Allison Barr[27] have pointed out that the rediscovery of doctrines such as the “priesthood of the believer” and the “spiritual equality” of all persons during the Reformation probably did create some space for women to minister publicly, at least in later eras. However, most of the scholarship on women’s issues and the Reformation has ignored the (admittedly) small revival of the deaconess tradition that that did take place then. Only Barr alludes to how certain “Reformation doctrines” (e.g. the “priesthood of the believer” and the “spiritual equality” of all persons) may have created space for the latter mass revival of the deaconess tradition in the Protestant churches during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.[28]

The Deaconess Tradition in the Modern Era

During the modern era, the deaconess movement would be most noticeably revived in the Methodist tradition as well as in the various “Holiness” groups that broke from the Methodist tradition. However, the literature also reflects that some Pietist communities revived the deaconess tradition as well. Martin Marty has called “Halle Pietism” his “favorite” strain of Pietism due to its’ emphasis on social justice and it’s revival of a female diaconate.[29] The literature also reflects that the Moravian Pietists began appointing and ordaining deaconesses in the 1730s and 40s.[30] Moravian deaconesses probably performed a very wide range of duties including dispensing relief to the poor, assisting the priest at worship services including during communion, and maybe even preaching under extraordinary circumstances.[31] Despite the evidence of deaconesses playing at least some role in Hallensian and Moravian Pietism, the literature has given this aspect of the Pietist story rather scant attention. Certainly, more research needs to be conducted in this area to flesh out the story of Pietism.

Emilie G. Briggs, writing in 1913, reports that the deaconess movement became more widespread in Europe largely through the work of Theodore Fliedner, a German Lutheran Clergyman, who in 1836 founded the “League of Kaiserswerth,” an order for deaconesses.[32] Briggs reports that the “League” expanded and chapters were founded in other parts of Europe. These deaconesses were largely ministers of mercy and provided relief to the poor. They were not ordained in the same sense as deacons, presbyters, or bishops, and they worked closely under the leadership of a male clergyman.[33]

Briggs notes that the “League” inspired a revival of the deaconess movement in the Anglican Church and the Church of Scotland in the mid-1800s with deaconesses in these traditions largely doing the same kind of work as their continental counterparts. However, she does note that in the Church of Scotland deaconesses were regularly “ordained” at the “kirk-session,” thus enjoying more honor than their counterparts in the rest of Europe. However, the ordination of the deaconess was not regarded as on par with that of a deacon.[34]

Fleshing out Brigg’s story, Benjamin L. Hartley notes that Methodist missionaries to Germany and India were inspired to create deaconess movements of their own. Hartley notes that the inspiration to revive a female diaconate within a Methodist context was largely due to their missionaries reportedly losing some of their female converts to the Lutherans of Germany and India due to the Lutheran Church already having an established female diaconate.[35]

Briggs also reports that the deaconess movement was transplanted to the United State in the mid-1800s with Lutherans, Anglicans, Congregationalists, Baptists and others all establishing deaconess orders. She notes that the Wesleyan/Methodist movement has perhaps embraced the deaconess movement most visibly and widely.[36] Furthermore, their deaconesses often performed the most varied work as they nursed the sick, taught, and even preached in some circumstances.[37]

Further Fleshing out Brigg’s story, Priscilla Pope-Levinson notes that while social work in largely urban environments was an important part of the work of Methodist deaconesses in late 1800s and early 1900s, many Methodist deaconesses were also very actively involved in evangelism.[38] Levinson emphasizes the evangelistic work that Methodist deaconesses performed far more than Briggs does. Levinson notes that the revival and later expansion of the Methodist deaconess movement is largely due to two women named Jane Bancroft Robinson (1847-1932) and Lucy Rider Meyer (1849-1922) who, though often at odds with one another, both helped carve out space for the Methodist deaconess movement to grow and flourish. These women founded schools to train deaconesses. Institutions such as the “Chicago Training School for City, Home, and Foreign Missions” as well as the “New England Deaconess Training School” produced many highly trained deaconesses and inspired the founding of many more deaconess schools and academies.[39]

Pope-Levinson notes that deaconesses in the Methodist Church engaged not only in private evangelism but public evangelism as well, frequently leading revivals and even pastoring small churches on occasion.[40] Laceye Warner concurs with the judgement of Pope-Levinson and notes that women “deaconess-evangelists” frequently led revival meetings and movements in the Methodist Church in both Britain and America[41] There was a conservative backlash within the Methodist Church in America against deaconesses moving outside of their traditional purview (e.g. providing relief to the poor) though they were largely unsuccessful in curbing the rapidly expanding duties of deaconesses in the Methodist Church in late 1800s and early 1900s.[42]

Echoing the claims of Emilie G. Briggs, though relying on far more archival data, Barbara B. Troxell notes that although most of the major Protestant denominations in America revived the deaconess tradition in the late 1800s, the Methodist movement embraced it the most wholeheartedly and allowed their deaconesses to perform the widest range of duties. She reports that out of 2000 deaconesses serving in America at the turn of the century, 1200 of them were Methodists.[43] She also notes that other Wesleyan groups such as the United Brethren in Christ and the Evangelical Association created deaconess orders in the early twentieth century.[44] With Pope-Levinson, Troxell emphasizes the important role of Lucy Rider Meyer in reviving the deaconess movement in the Methodist tradition.[45]

Many of the various “Holiness” offshoots of the more mainstream Wesleyan tradition also embraced a female diaconate. According to theologian and historian Paul L. King, my own tribe, the Christian and Missionary Alliance, licensed and ordained women as deaconesses in the late 1800s and early 1900s. Deaconesses in the early Christian and Missionary Alliance often served on church staffs and were occasionally leaders in inner city missions.[46] Deaconess in the Christian and Missionary Alliance engaged in youth ministry, evangelism to women and children, mercy ministries, and occasionally public “Gospel preaching.”[47] King does note that while deaconesses were typically not allowed to administer the ordinances of communion and baptism, they sometimes did so in the absence of a male clergyperson.[48]

Conclusion

When the literature on this subject is carefully consulted, we see quite clearly that deaconesses played a significant role in the pastoral ministry of the Eastern Christian Churches during the Patristic era (100-451.)We know in some detail as least one of the ordination rites (The Byzantine rite) that was used for deaconesses in the Christian East, as well as the kind of pastoral and liturgical work they typically performed. The deaconess tradition does not seem to have been widespread in the Western Church nor in Egypt. Only during the Reformation would voices like John Calvin, Thomas Helwys, and John Smyth give support to the appointment of deaconesses. However, it does not seem that their support for deaconesses immediately resulted in a widespread revival of the practice. Moving into the modern period, some Protestant groups such as the Pietists of Halle, the Moravians, and later the Methodist and Holiness Churches spawned vibrant deaconess movements of their own employing them to do a variety of pastoral work such as mercy ministries, women and children’s ministries, teaching, and in some cases public preaching.

Notes

[1] Pietro Sorci, “The Diaconate and other Liturgical Ministries of Women,” in Women Deacons: Essays With Answers, ed. Phyllis Zagano (Collegeville: Liturgical Press, 2016), 59-86. Sorci’s article demonstrates well how widespread the deaconess tradition was in the Christian East by showing its’ presence in the Byzantine, Greek, Syriac, Armenian, and Georgian Churches.

[2] Kevin Madigan and Carolyn Osiek, Ordained Women in the Early Church: A Documentary History (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2011.) 1-2

[3] Madigan and Osiek, Ordained Women in the Early Church: A Documentary History, 2-4.

[4] Corrado Marucci, “History and Value of the Feminine Diaconate in the Ancient Church,” in Women Deacons: Essays With Answers, ed. Phyllis Zagano (Collegeville: Liturgical Press, 2016), 42.

[5] Marucci, “History and Value of the Feminine Diaconate in the Ancient Church,” 42.

[6] See Ugo Zanetti, “Were there Deaconesses in Egypt?,” in Women Deacons: Essays With Answers, ed. Phyllis Zagano (Collegeville: Liturgical Press, 2016), 136-140.

[7] Sorci, “The Diaconate and other Liturgical Ministries of Women,” 66.

[8] Marucci, “History and Value of the Feminine Diaconate in the Ancient Church,” 43-47.

[9] Marucci, “History and Value of the Feminine Diaconate in the Ancient Church,” 46.

[10] Cipriano Vagaggini, “The Ordination of Deaconesses in the Greek and Byzantine Tradition,” in Women Deacons: Essays With Answers, ed. Phyllis Zagano (Collegeville: Liturgical Press, 2016), 96-103.

[11] Vagaggini, “The Ordination of Deaconesses in the Greek and Byzantine Tradition,” 103-107.

[12] Marucci, “History and Value of the Feminine Diaconate in the Ancient Church,” 48.

[13] Vagaggini, “The Ordination of Deaconesses in the Greek and Byzantine Tradition,” 106.

[14] Sorci, “The Diaconate and other Liturgical Ministries of Women,” 77.

[15] Vagaggini, “The Ordination of Deaconesses in the Greek and Byzantine Tradition,” 90-120.

[16] Marucci, “History and Value of the Feminine Diaconate in the Ancient Church,” 51-55.

[17] Vagaggini, “The Ordination of Deaconesses in the Greek and Byzantine Tradition,” 112-114.

[18] Marucci, “History and Value of the Feminine Diaconate in the Ancient Church,” 42.

[19] Sorci, “The Diaconate and other Liturgical Ministries of Women,” 77.

[20] Kenneth J. Stewart, Ten Myths About Calvinism: Recovering the Breadth of the Reformed Tradition (Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2011.) 230.

[21] Stewart, Ten Myths About Calvinism: Recovering the Breadth of the Reformed Tradition, 231.

[22] Stewart, Ten Myths About Calvinism: Recovering the Breadth of the Reformed Tradition, 231.

[23] Charles W. Deweese, Women Deacons and Deaconesses: 400 Years of Baptist Service (Macon: Mercer University Press, 2005.) 21-22.

[24] Deweese, Women Deacons and Deaconesses: 400 Years of Baptist Service, 27-29.

[25] Fleur Houston, “Reformation: a Two-Edged Sword in the Cause of the Ministry of Women,” Feminist Theology 26, no.1 (2017): 19.

[26] Kirsi Stjerna, “Reformation Revisited: Women’s voices in the Reformation,” Ecumenical Review 69, no.2 (2017)

[27] Beth Allison Barr, “What did the Reformation mean for Women? A Medieval Perspective on Howards ‘Discriminating Sifter’,” Fides et Historia 48, no.2 (2016): 85.

[28] Barr, “What did the Reformation mean for Women? A Medieval Perspective on Howards ‘Discriminating Sifter’,” 88.

[29] Martin Marty, “God’s Glory, Neighbor’s Good: The Story of Pietism,” Produced and Directed by Tim Frakes, 2017, Documentary, 24:00-25:30.

[30] Elizabeth Gillan Muir, A Women’s History of the Christian Church: Two Thousand Years of Female Leadership (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2019.) 182.

[31] Muir, A Women’s History of the Christian Church: Two Thousand Years of Female Leadership, 183.

[32] Emilie G. Briggs, “The Restoration of the Order of Deaconess” The Biblical World 41 (1913): 382.

[33] Briggs, “The Restoration of the Order of Deaconess,” 383-384.

[34] Briggs, “The Restoration of the Order of Deaconesses,” 385.

[35] Benjamin L. Hartley, “Salvation and Sociology In The Methodist Episcopal Deaconess Movement” Methodist History 40, no. 2 (2002): 182.

[36] Briggs, “The Restoration of the Order of Deaconesses,” 386-390.

[37] Briggs, “The Restoration of the Order of Deaconesses,” 386.

[38] Priscilla Pope-Levinson, “A ‘Thirty Year War’ and More: Exposing Complexities In The Methodist Deaconess Movement” Methodist History 47, no. 2 (2009): 108-114.

[39] Hartley, “Salvation and Sociology In The Methodist Episcopal Deaconess Movement” Methodist History,196-197.

[40] Pope-Levinson, “A ‘Thirty Year War’ and More: Exposing Complexities In The Methodist Deaconess Movement,” 114-116.

[41] Laceye Warner, “Wesley Deaconess-Evangelists” Exploring Remnants of Revivalism in Late 19th Century British Methodism” Methodist History 38, no. 3(2000): 176.

[42] Pope-Levinson, “A ‘Thirty Year War’ and More: Exposing Complexities In The Methodist Deaconess Movement,” 115-116.

[43] Barbara B. Troxell, “Ordination of Women in the United Methodist Tradition” Methodist History 37, no. 2 (1999): 120.

[44] Troxell, “Ordination of Women in the United Methodist Tradition,” 120-121.

[45] Troxell, “Ordination of Women in the United Methodist Tradition,” 121.

[46] Paul L. King, Anointed Women: The Rich Heritage of Women in Ministry in The Christian and Missionary Alliance (Tulsa: Word and Spirit Press, 2009.) 74.

[47] King, Anointed Women: The Rich Heritage of Women in Ministry in The Christian and Missionary Alliance, 74.

[48] King, Anointed Women: The Rich Heritage of Women in Ministry in The Christian and Missionary Alliance, 232.

Bibliography

Barr, Beth Allison. “What did the Reformation mean for Women? A Medieval Perspective on Howard’s ‘Discriminating Sifter’” Fides et Historia 48, no. 2 (2016): 80-88.

Briggs, Emilie G. “The Restoration of the Order of Deaconesses” The Biblical World 41, (1913): 382-390.

Deweese, Charles W. Women Deacons and Deaconesses: 400 Years of Baptist Service. Macon: Mercer University, 2005.

Hartley, Benjamin L. “Salvation and Sociology In The Methodist Episcopal Deaconess Movement” Methodist History 40, no. 2 (2002): 182-197.

Houston, Fleur “Reformation: a Two-Edged Sword in the Cause of the Ministry of Women.” Feminist Theology 26, no. 1 (2017): 19-33.

King, Paul L. Anointed Women: The Rich Heritage of Women in Ministry in The Christian and Missionary Alliance. Tulsa: Word and Spirit Press, 2009.

Madigan, Kevin and Carolyn Osiek. Ordained Women in the Early Church: A Documentary History. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2011.

Marty, Martin, “God’s Glory, Neighbor’s Good: The Story of Pietism,” Produced and Directed by Tim Frakes, 2017, Documentary, 24:00-25:30.

Marucci, Corrado.“History and Value of the Feminine Diaconate in the Ancient Church” in Women Deacons: Essays With Answers, edited by Phyllis Zagano, 40-58. Collegeville: Liturgical Press, 2016.

Muir, Elizabeth Gillan. A Women’s History of the Christian Church: Two Thousand Years of Female Leadership. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2019.

Pope-Levinson, Priscilla. “A ‘Thirty Year War’ and More: Exposing Complexities In The Methodist Deaconess Movement” Methodist History 47, no. 2 (2009): 101-116.

Sorci, Pietro.“The Diaconate and other Liturgical Ministries of Women” in Women Deacons: Essays With Answers, edited by Phyllis Zagano, 59-86. Collegeville: Liturgical Press, 2016.

Stewart, Kenneth J. Ten Myths About Calvinism: Recovering the Breadth of the Reformed Tradition. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2011.

Stjerna, Kirsi “Reformation Revisited: Women’s voices in the Reformation.” Ecumenical Review 69, no. 2 (2017): 201-2014.

Troxell, Barbara B. “Ordination of Women in the United Methodist Tradition” Methodist History 37, no. 2 (1999): 119-130.

Vagaggine, Cipriano.“The Ordination of Deaconesses in the Greek and Byzantine Tradition” in Women Deacons: Essays With Answers, edited by Phyllis Zagano, 90-120. Collegeville: Liturgical Press, 2016.

Warner, Laceye.“Wesley Deaconess-Evangelists” Exploring Remnants of Revivalism in Late 19th Century British Methodism” Methodist History 38, no. 3(2000): 176-190.

Zanetti, Ugo.“Were there Deaconesses in Egypt?” in Women Deacons: Essays With Answers, edited by Phyllis Zagano, 136-139. Collegeville: Liturgical Press, 2016.

 

 

Faith in a time of “Social Distancing”

Although I am not yet thirty, and thus my memory and experiences are somewhat limited, I can honestly say that I have never seen something grind our world to a halt quite like the Coronavirus has. Schools and Universities have closed for a time and moved their classes online, cruises, conventions and festivals have been canceled, even Churches have moved their services online to try and halt the spread of the Coronavirus. Understandably, many people are scared, a few are blase, and some are even panicking (just try and find toilet paper of all things at your local supermarket!)

How are we as Christians to respond to the Coronovirus pandemic? How can we be salt and light when we are being encouraged to forego normal social contact? I have a few suggestions.

1. Don’t Panic. 

2 Timothy 1:7 tells us “For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind.” (NKJV) As Christians, we should not be blase about a virus that has the real potential to endanger the lives of many people (especially the elderly.) However, we must also not give in to fear that makes us irrational. We must not give in to an “every man for himself” kind of attitude where we greedily hoard resources. God makes it clear in this passage that he will help us act with courage and rationality even when we face very scary circumstances such as global pandemics like this one.

2. Find a trusted source for information about the Coronavirus, such as the Center for Disease Control, and listen to what they have to say. 

Practicing very good hygiene and “social distancing” (ie forgoing normal social contact) as the CDC is recommending is actually a very good way for us to show love to our neighbors as the Scriptures so clearly command (Mark 12:30-31.) By practicing social distancing, we can slow the spread of the virus, better protect the elderly and more susceptible, and help prevent our medical system from being overwhelmed. I am proud to serve as the pastor of a Church that has many medical professionals as members. I can’t think of a better way to show them love than to help them do their jobs with as minimal stress as possible. Furthermore, we need to love the elderly and more susceptible enough to be inconvenienced for a while.

3. Find creative ways to minister to others.

Even though local churches may have to forego normal services for a while, I encourage all churches to use social media platforms to share sermons, scripture, and words of encouragement. We can be a source of hope on social media when many people are giving into fear. When the lost see Christians responding to this crisis with rationality, confidence, and hope, they may begin to realize that there is something to the Christian faith. Furthermore, we can call, text, or email the elderly and more susceptible just to check on them, encourage them, and see if they are ok. This crisis gives us an opportunity to be the Church! Let’s be the Church!

4. Pray.

During this time, we need to pray that God will allow us as Christians to respond to this crisis with love, rationality, hope, and confidence so that we can better glorify our Savior. We need to pray for the infected that God will heal them. We need to pray that God will give leaders in the political, medical, and scientific realms supernatural wisdom during this time as they seek to find solutions to this problem. We must also pray for the many people whos’ livelihoods will be hurt by this pandemic. There will be challenging days ahead for these people, we must pray for them and help them in any way that we can. We must continually be in prayer during this time for as the Scriptures say in James 5:15-16 “The prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise them up. If they have sinned, they will be forgiven. Therefore, confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective.” (NIV)

Has America lost it’s love for children?

Recently I read a rather troubling article in the New York Times that states that U.S. birthrates have continued to decline to record lows for two years in a row. You can read the full article here at https://www.nytimes.com/2018/05/17/us/fertility-rate-decline-united-states.html . Why is this a problem? Well for one, the article noted that it is only due to immigration that the United States’s population is continuing to grow. Praise God for immigration! Second, with fewer children being born the challenge of replacing older people in the workforce and caring for elderly parents and grandparents only becomes more accute. Finally, looking at the problem from a spiritual perspective I have to wonder if the decline in U.S. birthrates is indicative of a deeper and more profound moral problem. Has America lost it’s love for children?

Now it should be noted that the article suggests that some women are opting to have children later in life to focus on their careers. They want a family, they are simply delaying starting one. If this is correct then we could see birthrates rise in the next couple of years as these people attain their career goals and start having children. Then again, how many of us have said we would do something in the next couple of years only to find that tomorrow never comes? Let me just say that I am not against women having careers. Indeed, my wife Allison is beginning graduate school in the Fall of 2018 to pursue her goal of becoming a Liscensed Professional Counselor (and make twice what I do to boot!) I believe that women have a lot to contribute to our society and are better suited to many professions than men are. So my concern is not with women having careers at all.

My concern is that when you take into account the multiple realities of abortion on demand, absentee fathers, and continual declines in birthrates, have we reached a place in America where having children is simply not all that important anymore? Are children a nuisance, a burden to many Americans? Is this part of the reason that Toys R Us will be closing it’s doors soon? (Sure the high prices probably did’nt help either.) Psalm 127:3 tells us that “Children are a reward from the Lord (NLT)” but have many Americans lost sight of this and exchanged one of life’s greatest rewards for lesser joys? Finally, as Christians what is our responsiblity as we face this challenge in our culture? What do we do to demonstrate in a loving, winsome, and persuasive way that children are one of life’s greatest blessings? What do you think?

 

 

Wolfhart Pannenberg: Theologian of the Resurrection

With Easter Sunday rapidly approaching it is only fitting to recognize one of the greatest defenders of the historicity of the Resurrection in the twentieth Century, Wolfhart Pannenberg. Pannenberg felt that the study of Theology should be undertaken like other Academic disciplines and in his lifelong quest for truth he found that the Christian faith was deeply intellectually satisfying. I hope you enjoy reading about one of the greatest theological minds of the twentieth century, Wolfhart Pannenberg. Blessings and peace to all, Julian Pace.

He vehemently defended the Resurrection but denied the Virgin Birth. He was hugely influential but leaves few disciples. – Fred Sanders writing for Christianity Today upon the death of Wolfhart Pannenberg

It would not be implausible to say that one day church historians will include Wolfhart Pannenberg, along with Karl Barth, Thomas Oden, and J.I. Packer, as one of the greatest theological minds of the twentieth century. Pannenberg’s prowess in the fields of theology, philosophy, history, and the natural sciences set him apart from his contemporaries. In his lifetime, he molded a unique theological system that on the one hand was generally traditional and Lutheran, yet probing and rational in a way that placed him squarely within the tradition of the Enlightenment. It is probable that his most important contribution to Christian theology was his stirring defense of the bodily resurrection of Jesus and how he saw this event as the key to all of history, indeed the key to all revelation as well.[1]

Wolfhart Pannenberg was born in Stettin, Germany (now Szczecin, Poland) in 1928, and though he was baptized as an infant into the established Lutheran church he was raised in a secular household. Despite his unchurched and secular background, Pannenberg was apparently a spiritually sensitive person and at sixteen was privy to what he would later call his “Light Experience”.[2] This powerful experience led Pannenberg to critically investigate the world’s religions in light of their philosophical and intellectual merits. The results of this intellectual quest, combined with the guidance of Pannenberg’s literature teacher who was a member of the Confessing Church during the second World War, led Pannenberg to conclude that Christianity was the most reasonable faith system available and therefore he became a Christian.[3]

For virtually his entire career, Pannenberg was a creature of the academy and it is in the field of academic theology that he produced the most written work. However, it should not be overlooked that his contributions in defending the historicity of the Resurrection have influenced and continue to shape the thinking of Evangelical theologians and New Testament scholars to the present day.[4] Indeed, this aspect of his theological output is probably his most enduring legacy. While Pannenberg’s staunch defense of the historicity of Jesus’ Resurrection has won him many admirers in the Evangelical and Roman Catholic world, his liberal German peers were shocked at his findings. While Pannenberg was undoubtedly shaped by the liberal biblical criticism that was, and remains, rampant in German universities, this did not stop him from making the case that the evidence from the Pauline epistles and the existence of the church itself plausibly leads to the conclusion that Jesus of Nazareth did indeed rise from the dead.[5]

Dean of Beeson Divinity School Timothy George, is right to point out that Pannenberg’s thinking on several critical theological issues present some problems for Evangelicals.[6] Pannenberg rejected the Virgin birth, Chalcedonian Christology, as well as the concept of biblical inerrancy. However, this did not stop Pannenberg from taking the scriptures seriously and he felt that since the Bible was the record of God’s dealings with man it should be studied vigorously. In conclusion, Evangelicals should approach the work of Wolfhart Pannenberg critically but also with an eye to learn. Despite his errors on important theological issues, Pannenberg’s work on the Resurrection has inspired many other Evangelical theologians and scholars to defend the Resurrection’s historicity with an even greater level of sophistication. Indeed, one cannot help but wonder how many have been persuaded to accept the claims of Christ in part due to the work of Wolfhart Pannenberg. Pannenberg demonstrated that Christianity is a belief system that is firmly grounded in historical events and therefore one need not sacrifice rational thinking and critical investigation on the altar of blind faith. For this reason alone, Pannenberg deserves our enduring respect and admiration.

References

[1] Wolfhart Pannenberg, Jesus-God and Man. 2nd ed. Philadelphia, PA: (The Westminster Press, 1977), 67-69.

[2] Michael Root, “The Achievement of Wolfhart Pannenberg.” First Things (March 2012): 3-4. Accessed April 5, 2017. https://www.firstthings.com/article/2012/03/the­achievement­of­wolfhart­pannenberg.

[3] Michael Root, “The Achievement of Wolfhart Pannenberg.” 3.

[4] William Lane Craig, “The Resurrection of Jesus” Accessed April 5, 2017. http://www.reasonablefaith.org/the-resurrection-of-jesus. It is evident when reading Craig that the influence of Pannenberg is present. This is only reasonable as Craig did doctoral work under Pannenberg in Germany. Other Evangelicals like Gary Habermas and Michael Licona have built on Pannenberg’s work on the Resurrection.

[5] Wolfhart Pannenberg, Jesus-God and Man. 88-106.

[6] David Roach “Dean George on Wolfhart Pannenberg.” Accessed April 5, 2017 http://www.beesondivinity.com/fromthedean/posts/dean-george-on-wolfhart-pannenberg.

For Further Reading

Braaten, Carl E., and Philip Clayton, eds. The Theology of Wolfhart Pannenberg: Twelve American Critiques with an Autobiographical Essay and Response. Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock Publishers, 1988.

Erickson, Millard. Christian Theology. 3rd ed. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 1983.

Olive, Don. Wolfhart Pannenberg. Makers of the Modern Theological Mind. Grand Rapids, MI: Word Publishing, 1977.

Pannenberg, Wolfhart. Jesus-God and Man. 2nd ed. Philadelphia, PA: The Westminster Press, 1977.

Pannenberg, Wolfhart. The Apostles Creed: In the Light of Today’s Questions. 1st ed. Philadelphia, PA: The Westminster Press, 1972.

 

How Should Christians face discouragement?

 

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Discouragement is a universal human phenomenon. Christians are not excepted from this unhappy aspect of human experience. Discouragement is a very real and present danger in the life of the believer. Many different events in our life can lead us to despair- Death of a close friend or relative, prolonged sickness, multiple failed endeavors, or not being able to find stable employment. Sometimes just being a faithful witness for Christ in this sin sick world can lead us to depression. Any number of things that life throws at us can lead us to despair and allow us to slip into a lifestyle plagued by discouragement. When we get discouraged, and it is not a matter of if it is a matter of when, how should we deal with it? How should we face this age old problem in a fashion that honors Jesus Christ and is becoming of our Christian proclamation. In the following paragraphs I have listed a few things to remember if you are facing discouragement.

1st Kings 19 tells us that right after Elijah witnessed God’s power and glory on Mount Carmel (no not Mt. Caramel) that he fled to the wilderness due to the persecution wrought by the wicked Queen of Israel named Jezebel. Rather than being energized by the incredible victory, Elijah ran to the desert and fell into a deep depression. In fact, 1st Kings 19:4 tells us that Elijah begged God for death. If you are discouraged remember that you are in good company. Elijah was one of the greatest prophets of the Old Testament and even he succumbed to discouragement. The fact is, sometimes doing the right thing for God will make some people very unhappy and we will face persecution for our efforts. It is difficult to remain unaffected by such harsh rejection. Now, I am not saying that we should see our plight of discouragement as a badge of honor or develop a martyr complex but nor should you go to the opposite extreme and think that you are less of a Christian for sometimes getting discouraged.

I also find it interesting that Elijah found himself discouraged immediately after he witnessed God sending down a pillar of fire in an incredible show of his might. For Elijah, this must have been and unforgettable and emotion filled experience. It is a simple fact of human psychology that after extremely joy filled moments in our life we can often experience a letdown. So when this does happen remember that this is normal. When you feel discouraged after a great spiritual victory I would recommend that you take the time to remember what God just did for you in this very special time. Do not be like the fickle children of Israel who often rejected God right after he did something kind for them. Sometimes you will have to make a conscious effort to remember God’s goodness but it will be well worth it! It is also helpful to remember that God is going to continue to do great things with you. Philippians 1:6 says this “being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.” (NIV). If you have been gloriously saved by Jesus Christ (And I hope that you have) and Jesus has not returned yet (Which he hasn’t) then you can be confident that God will continue to give you spiritual victories.

In 1st Kings 19:5-8 we are shown, albeit indirectly, another beautiful truth about God. While in the wilderness and still in the throes of depression God does not forsake Elijah. Rather, he feeds and cares for him by way of Angels. As Christians, we can take comfort in the fact that God does not care for us only when we are faithful and bold, but even when we are broken. God’s love toward us is not conditioned upon our performance. Roman 5:8 echoes this thought in perfect harmony when it says “But God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (ESV). If you are discouraged, reflect on this truth and be encouraged by the goodness and faithfulness of God.

 

In 1st Kings 19:14 Elijah is quoted as saying “I have been very zealous for the Lord God of hosts; because the children of Israel have forsaken Your covenant, torn down Your altars, and killed Your prophets with the sword. I alone am left; and they seek to take my life.” Pretty much everything Elijah says in this statement was indeed true at the time with the exception of one phrase “I alone am left”. Sometimes when we are discouraged we blow things way out of proportion. Things were certainly bad in Israel in Elijah’s day but he had clearly lost perspective. For one, he was not alone because God the Father is still on his throne, Jesus is still Lord, and the Spirit is still at work. God has indeed promised us that he will “never leave us, nor forsake us.” For these reasons we should never fear being truly alone. We should also rejoice in the fact that God will always have a remnant of people on earth who will follow him. Consider the words of 1st Kings 19:18 “Yet I have reserved seven thousand in Israel, all whose knees have not bowed to Baal, and every mouth that has not kissed him.” God gently reminds Elijah that he is not the only person standing up for what is right and, by the way, modern Christian, neither are you. God in his grace has given us the Church-Not the building we worship in or hear the word of God preached but the people who make up the community of the redeemed. Dear Christian, when you are discouraged this is the time when you should lean on your fellow believers all the more. You should look to them for guidance, comfort, and care. All too many people when faced with struggles exit the church. This is the last thing you should do when you are discouraged. If you think that by leaving the church your problems will fade, then you are deceived. Cling to your fellow believers all the more. That is what God would have you do.

As you can see, the word of God has not left us without an answer as to what we should do when we are discouraged. In the previous paragraphs we have only considered one chapter of the Bible and It speaks directly to our present struggles. If I could leave you with one final encouragement I would simply say that if you are discouraged you should take even more time out of your day to search the scriptures for wisdom and encouragement. God has given us the Bible so that we might be taught, encouraged, and reproved. Sometimes the words of the scriptures challenge and sting but they are always instructive-And they will always draw us closer to our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ who has promised us that all who follow him will indeed find rest.

 

 

 

The Joy of Preaching

Beware of becoming a preacher. Preaching is addicting. No matter how much you preach you will never be satisfied. Preaching God’s word will energize you, particulary when you see people being saved! As I write this I am contemplating the joy of preaching at Calvary Baptist Church of Mcintyre, Georgia tomorrow and I could not be more excited and humbled to bring the message! If you are confident God is calling you to preach then start today! St Francis said “Preach Always, Use words when nessacary”. You can start fulfilling God’s call on your life right now. These days, technology gives you an instant audience. Think of how much nicer facebook would be with fresh insights into God’s word instead of the garbage that passes as thought provoking conversation on today’s blogoshpere. However, if you feel called to preach you must take this responsibility seriously. There is enough heresy in our world. Don’t become a part of the problem. Be a preacher who is part of the solution. While I am a young an inexperienced preacher, the following is a list of a few suggestions to anyone who is considering becoming a preacher. I have gleaned this knowledge from scripture as well as from Godly men in the ministry.

  1. Develop solid study habits- Many horrible and heretical sermons have been preached because young preachers have failed to study well. You may not be eloquent but you can be well studied. To be a good student does not mean you have to have a massive library or lots of commentaries. Many great resources are available online at sights like http://www.biblegateway.com. Also, listen to great and respected preachers of the faith. You will do well to listen to men like David Jeremiah, Billy Graham, Alistair Begg, and John Stott. You can also read fine sermons online by men like John Wesley, Charles Spurgeon, and the Church Fathers. Finally, immerse yourself in the scriptures and learn from Jesus Christ, the greatest preacher to ever live. Remember the admonition of 2 Timothy 2:15 “Study to show thyself approved unto God”.
  2. Don’t see preaching as an opportunity to spout your opinions- I have heard several fine preachers express their opinion on a subject from the pulpit before. Sometimes their insight was valuable. Often, it was not. Remember that it is your job to preach the truth of the scriptures. Your opinions on a matter should be offered only occasionally and when appropriate. They should always be offered humbly. Do not become so arrogant to think that because you are a preacher you are infallible. You are not. There is only one infallible preacher. His name is Jesus.
  3. Preach whenever and wherever you have the opportunity- My Father In Law is a pastor of a thriving church. He has preached to saints and crackheads in ditches. Everyone needs to hear the Gospel. Jesus made this clear in the Great Comission given in Mathew chapter 28. Use discernment, but there is nothing wrong with preaching at nursing homes, prisons, country churches that can’t pay you a dime, homeless shelters and wherever you are asked. God has blessed me as a preacher in some of the most unlikely of places.
  4. Rely on the power of God- Read the book of Acts. The Holy Spirit was constantly and continually empowering Peter and Paul in their preaching. If they needed the power of God in their life, you do too!  The Holy Spirit will transform your preaching if you will let him.
  5. Seek to be ordained or liscensed by a respected church or denomination-There are many great preachers who are not ordained or liscensed by any church. You do not have to be liscensed or ordained to preach but it will only open doors for you.
  6. It is not about you- Be sure your preaching is always pointing people to the Gospel and glorifying God. If you do this God will honor your ministry and use you in ways you would have never imagined. Who would have thought that Peter, a man who denied the Lord publicly, would have become such a great preacher.? If God can use Peter he can use you so long as you realize you are not the focus. Christ must always be at the center of all you do. Let your motto always be Soli Deo Gloria!

John Wycliffe and the Beginning of a New Era.

John Wycliffe has often been called the “Morning Star of the Reformation” by historians and for very good reason. Wycliffe was born sometime around 1331 and died in 1384. Wycliffe lived his life for Christ and completed his work a century before Luther would write his Ninety Five Theses and nail it to the churches’ door. In the following paragraphs it is my desire to give a brief summary of Wycliffe’s life and work. Every English speaking Christian ought to know something about this great man of God who began many important reforms which would resonate in the church all over the world.

John Wycliffe was an ordained Roman Catholic priest and preacher but he was first and foremost an Academic. From his position at Oxford University, which was already one of the world’s finest colleges, he had a pulpit from which to preach his views. Although Wycliffe was a part of the Roman Catholic communion he quickly gained a reputation as something of a radical within the English church. He made not a few enemies including the Bishop of London, and later the Archbishop of Canterbury, William Courtenay. However, he also had some powerful friends as well. Perhaps his best known supporter was John of Gaunt who was the son of Edward the Black Prince. John would do his best to protect Wycliffe throughout the years though eventually Wycliffe grew a little too radical for even John of Gaunt. Wycliffe was primarily controversial because of his ideas about theology that were in direct contrast to some of the teachings of the larger church. Let us discuss them now.

Most Roman Catholic theologians of the time thought that the final authority and arbiter of doctrine should be the Papacy and the leadership of the church. Wycliffe thought very differently and suggested that the foundation should be Christ and the Holy Scriptures. He also argued that secular government and the church were far too intertwined. Perhaps what angered the Bishops and Priests the most was when Wycliffe began to criticize their opulent lifestyle. He argued that the church had lost its’ love and compassion for the poor and hurting common people. Wycliffe also began to send out other men into the countryside to spread these ideas. These poor preachers were often called Lollards and they did much to spread the Gospel around the whole of England.

While the Lollards continued to spread the truth all over Britain, Wycliffe continued to study at his home in Oxford. However, in 1381 Wycliffe was about to proclaim a doctrine that would shake the very foundation of the English church. Wycliffe proclaimed that the Roman Catholic doctrine of transubstantiation had absolutely no scriptural support. This made many in the church livid with Wycliffe and by now many were starting to turn against him and his ideas. John of Gaunt would desert Wycliffe and William Courtenay who was now the Archbishop of Canterbury was ready to mount a synod against him. The synod was successful and condemned much of what Wycliffe taught. Because of this Wycliffe lost his position at Oxford and was officially censored by the Roman Catholic Church. However, Wycliffe’s work was not yet completed and when he returned to the village of Lutterworth God was calling him to the work that was perhaps his very greatest contribution to the cause of Christ.

By the time he had returned to the little village of Lutterworth in 1382 Wycliffe was gathering his followers to begin a translation of the Holy Bible. Wycliffe would use as his text the Latin Vulgate which had earlier been translated from the Koine Greek one thousand years prior. This project would consume the rest of Wycliffe’s life. It is very probable that Wycliffe translated the Gospels himself and was actively involved in the rest of translation of the New Testament. The significance of this work cannot be understated as it was the very first translation of the Bible into the English language. However this work would not make him popular in Roman Catholic circles. In fact after Wycliffe’s death in 1384 the church would condemn his teachings, exhume his body, burn the remains, and persecute his followers. However, Wycliffe’s work for the Kingdom of Christ could not be undone.

In retrospect, it is easy to see the great effect of John Wycliffe’s work. Because of him and his followers more and more people were willing to speak out against the more egregious doctrines of the church and Wycliffe through his example inspired other reformers such as John Hus, Martin Luther, and John Calvin. Even today, Wycliffe’s influence can be felt every time someone reads a translation of the Bible in the English language. Also many people read Bibles in foreign languages translated by Wycliffe translators who have used his namesake and continued to spread the Gospel around the world. For every one who seeks to live a life for Christ John Wycliffe stands out as a bold inspiration. We can always look to his life as an example of what one person can do when they follow Jesus with reckless abandon.