Flatlander Faith

Apologetics from an Anabaptist perspective

Tag Archives: apostles

Introduction to the New Testament – 1

The Gospels
Matthew – The writer calls himself Levi; the other gospels call him Matthew, perhaps a name given to him when he became a disciple of Jesus. He was a publican before his call, a man who collected taxes on all merchandise transported along the road where he was stationed near Capernaum. This was the first gospel, written while Matthew was in Jerusalem, probably between A.D. 60 and 66. He wrote for Jewish readers, mentioning throughout his gospel all the Old Testament prophecies of the Messiah and how they were fulfilled in Jesus’ life and ministry.

Matthew gives the most complete version of the Sermon on the Mount in chapters five to seven. These three chapters are the key to understanding the transition from the old covenant of the law to the new covenant of the gospel. Righteousness is not outward conformity to the law, but a heartfelt love of God that leads to a life of purity and allows us to mirror His love for all people.

The gospel of Matthew is the only one to mention the Gentile women in the genealogy of Jesus and the only one to mention the Gentile Magi who came searching the newborn king of the Jews.

The most complete wording of the great commission is found at the end of Matthew’s gospel, instructing the followers of Jesus to go into all the world and make disciples from every nation.

After writing the gospel Matthew went as missionary to Persia and Ethiopia, where he died as a martyr for the faith.

Mark – The author is John Mark, cousin of Barnabas, close friend of Peter and mission companion of Paul. This gospel was likely written shortly after Matthew’s and before the fall of Jerusalem.

The early church fathers stated that Mark’s gospel was written at Rome for Gentile believers and based on the memories of the apostle Peter. It is the shortest of the gospels and the most vivid, as would befit the recording of Peter’s eyewitness accounts. It is not concerned with the fulfilment of messianic prophecies, but with showing Jesus to be the incarnate Son of God living among men and women and by His death and resurrection making salvation available to all mankind.

It is generally believed that after writing the gospel Mark travelled to Egypt, founded the church at Alexandria and died there as a martyr.

Luke was born at Antioch, not of Jewish parents, and studied medicine. Little is known of his early life and conversion, but he appears in Acts as a companion of Paul.

He was not an eye-witness of the life of Jesus, but consulted those who were. One of those may have been Mary, the mother of our Lord. Luke includes her genealogy, the visit of Gabriel, Mary’s trip to her cousin Elizabeth the mother of John the Baptist, the visit of the shepherds, the meeting with Simeon and Anna in the temple and many other details of which she would have been the only surviving eyewitness.

Luke was a Gentile, and addressed his account to a Gentile. He compiled a history of the life of Jesus from the very first angelic messages of His birth. He strove for historical accuracy, linking events to the time of specific government officials. Luke differentiates himself from the other Gospels by putting events in chronological order, and from secular Greek histories by recording only reliable historical facts.

John – The gospel of John was the last one written. It is not really a history, dealing mostly with the last six months of Jesus’ life. Nor is it meant as a tool for evangelism, but rather for strengthening the faith of the church which already existed by that time. He supplies details missing in the earlier gospels and much teaching to cultivate the spiritual life of Christians.

John was possibly the youngest of the apostles and the only one who did not die a martyr. This gospel was probably written at Ephesus, where John lived and ministered for many years.

The opening passage of John’s gospel is a masterful statement of the Old Testament concept of the Word as being eternal and the active principle in Creation and can also be understood to take in the Greek concept of the Logos which gives coherence to all the universe. John goes on to state that this Word, or Logos, is God who made all things, who is life and light and who came to earth in the form of man and dwelt among men as one of them. This gospel contains the most explicit teaching on the new birth and on the Holy Spirit and demonstrates how it is only by knowing Jesus, the Creator, Lord and Saviour, that the created world makes any sense.

No evidence for this hypothesis

The hypothesis that the Apostles were knaves is quite absurd. Follow it out to the end and imagine those twelve men meeting after Jesus’s death and conspiring to say that he had risen from the dead. This means attacking all the powers that be. The human heart is singularly susceptible to fickleness, to change, to promises, to bribery. One of them had only to deny his story under these inducements, or still more because of possible imprisonment, tortures and death, and they would all have been lost.

-Blaise Pascal, Les Pensées

They’ll know we are Christians by our love

We are one in the Spirit
We are one in the Lord
. . .
We will work with each other
We will work side by side
. . .
And they’ll know we are Christians by our love.

-Peter Scholtes, © 1966 F.E.L. Publications Ltd.

For the young folk out there who might not recognize these words, they are from the song that best captured the aspirations of the Jesus People movement that began in the late sixties and extended through the seventies. “They’ll Know We Are Christians By Our Love” was sung in churches, around campfires, in coffee houses and wherever Christian young people gathered.

The Jesus People movement was in some respects a rejection of both the hippie, or “flower power” movement of the sixties and the Christian church establishment. In many ways the movement was a genuine moving of the Holy Spirit and many young people who met the Lord during this time went on to lead dedicated Christian lives.

However, the enthusiasm and the longing for peace and love allowed many streams of thought to float through the movement. Some young people fell under the sway of charismatic leaders such as David Berg and found themselves in rigidly controlled communal movements. David Berg called his group the Children of God and the weirdness of his interpretation of Christianity became a tool that the media would use to stigmatize the whole Jesus People movement.

On the other side were church leaders to whom this sudden outpouring of enthusiasm among their youth was frightening. This was something they had not planned for and could not control; it challenged their complacent way of doing church and made them very uncomfortable. Therefore, instead of seeking to channel the enthusiasm in a constructive direction, they sought to stifle it. If truth be told, many of them did not possess any spiritual direction that they could have given to this movement.

While contemplating all this, my mind went back to the very beginning of Christianity. The Christian movement of the apostolic era had just such an explosive impact on both the Jewish and the Roman societies of their day. The movement continued its rapid spread and growth for several centuries. Finally the Roman authorities saw that the only way to control this movement was to make it the state religion. This subverted the very nature of Christianity and turned the state church into a persecutor of every Christian movement that did not bow to its authority.

Nevertheless, such movements continued to exist and many common people found their Christianity more attractive than the state-endorsed variety. In the 1500’s, new state-authorized forms of Christianity were imposed on parts of Europe, breaking the monopoly of Rome. Printed Bibles were available by this time and many people hungered for an authentic Christianity, such as described in the pages of the Bible.

The Anabaptist movement had never been totally destroyed or suborned by official Christianity and its remnants seem to have been the starting point for movements springing up here and there in attempts to establish a genuine Christianity. The most cohesive and long-lasting of these groups was labelled Mennonite, after one of its leaders.

Was there a common thread in the original apostolic movement and the Mennonite movement that would explain their cohesiveness and longevity? My conclusion is that the elements that Menno Simons listed as evidences of the true church of God are also the key ingredients in the nature of the true church.

Unadulterated, pure doctrine & obedience to the Word of God: The Bible must be the foundation for the teachings of the church, uncontaminated by personal interpretation of religious experiences or dogmatic pronouncements from authoritarian leaders.

Scriptural use of the sacramental signs: Care must be taken in admitting members, personal testimony of the new birth is essential, but the testimony of fellow believers that a convert’s life has truly been transformed is equally necessary. Communion is symbolic not only of the Saviour’s love, but of the love and unity of His followers. All strife and ill-will must be resolved before Holy Communion is truly possible.

Unfeigned brotherly love: It is not enough say that we love God. That has a false ring if we do not also love our fellow believers, and all mankind, as ourselves.

Bold confession of God and Christ & oppression and tribulation for the sake of the Lord’s Word:  These two have normally gone together throughout history. If there is not much of the latter, it may be a sign of a lack in the first – how bold are we in making our faith known to others?

Another common thread is found in the leadership of the church. The apostles were the original leaders, yet they claimed no lordship over the church and ordained elders and deacons in every city. In the early 1500’s, Dietrich Philips, Menno Simons and Leonard Bouwens were considered the leaders of the church that became known as “Mennonite.” They also ordained elders and deacons wherever there was a congregation. These leaders were united in faith, none claiming preeminence over the others. Menno was probably considered more dangerous by the authorities because he directed many of his writings to those outside the faith. Dietrich Philip’s writings were directed to members of the church. Leonard Bouwens left no writings, but baptized more persons than any other minister, more than 10,000 during his ministry.

%d bloggers like this: