Mistaken Identity

If you have been in an evangelical church for any amount of time, I am sure you have heard the cliched sayings and opinions about other Christian denominations. Being saved in a small Baptist Church in north Texas, I heard many absurd accusations pointed towards other denominations that I simply accepted and myself promoted. However, as a branch of the Christian faith (Evangelical Christians), we ought to make sure what we are saying is true.

Recently I heard this one. You have most likely seen an image of Jesus hanging on the cross. This particular speaker akin this image to the Catholic Church and their supposed belief that they deny the resurrection of Jesus and this image of Jesus on the Cross is evidence. I want to address this issue in two ways: The false implications of memorializing and What do they really believe?

The false implications of memorializing: I believe this is the logical problem with this situation. From the speakers perspective, he sees that Jesus is on a cross thus the implications is a denial of everything that happened after this life event in Jesus’ life, mainly resurrection. Seemingly, since the cross is not empty, this means that the tomb is not empty. Question, during Christmas time, do you place a nativity scene over the fire place in your home? If so, does this remembering of Jesus birth thus imply that your family denies the miracles of Jesus, the death of Jesus on a cross, and the resurrection of Jesus? Of course not! Just because you memorialize something in the form of an image does not mean you disbelieve all subsequent events.

Take for another example the school I graduated from, Dallas Theological Seminary. This statue of Jesus washing the feet of the disciples would mean that the school denies all events after this. Of course not, that would be absurd. But how do we find out what they really do believe? How would you find out what Dallas Theological Seminary really believes? How do we find out what the Catholic church really believes? It’s easy, they have told us. Simply look at their statement of belief, yes, their doctrinal statements.

What do they really believe: The Catechism of the Catholic Church reads,

“The Resurrection of Jesus is the crowning truth of our faith in Christ, a faith believed and lived as the central truth by the first Christian community; handed on as fundamental by Tradition; established by the documents of the New Testament; and preached as an essential part of the Paschal mystery along with the cross.” (Part 1, Sec 2, Article 5, Para 2)

Again we read about the empty tomb,

“The first element we encounter in the framework of the Easter events is the empty tomb. In itself it is not a direct proof of Resurrection; the absence of Christ’s body from the tomb could be explained otherwise. Nonetheless the empty tomb was still an essential sign for all. Its discovery by the disciples was the first step toward recognizing the very fact of the Resurrection.”

I could go on and on citing various Catholic doctrines, but the point of this post is to encourage evangelical Christians to stop and think about what they are saying about other Christian Churches. Realize the absurdity of their logical that leads them to conclusions that are simply untrue. To memorialize the risen Lord on the Cross in no way is a denial of our Lord’s resurrection. One, realize the logical is faulty. Two, actually go and look/read what they believe.

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Along came Poly…carp

Polycarp

You and I have heard it many times, “We need to be like the first century church.” I often wonder if they have read some of the writings we have from the first few centuries of the Christian churches. One such writing worth our time and wonder is the Martyrdom of Polycarp. Perhaps we should be more like “the first church” and perhaps we can learn greatly from the example of Polycarp.

If you have never read the Martyrdom of Polycarp, take a few minutes; make it your morning devotional. You can find a few translations online and those will do just fine. This writing is the oldest account of a Christian martyr outside the New Testament. Polycarp, the bishop of the church of Smyrna, was martyred for holding fast to Jesus Christ instead of acknowledging Caesar as Lord, thus also making him out to be an atheist.

Throughout the letter, readers are exhorted to imitate Christ, serve others, love God, and other various instructions to wives, widows, younger men, and presbyters. Mainly, the writing accounts for the story of Polycarp, who was being searched for by the authorities. Being found sleeping in an upstairs room,Polycarp came down to speak with them and “those who were present marveled at his age and his composure and wondered why there was so much eagerness for the arrest of an old man like him.” (7.2) After praying for two hours, he was taken into the city and was commanded to claim Caesar as Lord, but Polycarp denied even the suggestion. Once in the stadium with the deafening roar of the crowd, the even higher authorities (Proconsul) gave him a chance to change his beliefs.

“Have respect for your age,” said the Proconsul, “Swear by the genius of Caesar; repent, say ‘Away with the atheists!’”(9.2) I suppose sometimes it is good not to repent.

Polycarp responded, “For eighty-six years I have been his servant, and he has done me no wrong. How can I blaspheme my King who saved me?” (9.3)

They threatened him further with releasing wild beast, but Polycarp stayed strong. They threatened that he would be burned, but Polycarp replied, “You threaten with a fire that burns only briefly and after just a little while is extinguished, for you are ignorant of the fire of the coming judgment, which is reserved for the ungodly. But why do you delay? Come, do what you wish.” (11.2) The crowd herald in unison that Polycarp was a Christian and the sentence was death by being burned alive. Wood for the fire was gathered quickly, he was tied to the stake rather than being nailed.

Alas, before Polycarp would be martyred, he prayed this prayer:

“O Lord God Almighty, Father of your beloved  and blessed Son Jesus Christ, through whom we have received knowledge of you, the God of angels and powers and of all creation ,and of the whole race of the righteous who live in your presence, I bless you because you considered me worthy of this day and hour, so that I might receive a place among the number of the martyrs in the cup of your Christ, to the resurrection to eternal life, both of soul and of body, in the incorruptibility of the Holy Spirit. May I be received among them in your presence today, as a rich and acceptable sacrifice, as you have prepared and revealed beforehand, and have now accomplished, you who are the undeceiving and true God. For this reason, indeed for all things, I praise you, I bless you, I glorify you, through the eternal and heavenly high priest, Jesus Christ, your beloved Son, through whom be glory to you, with him and the Holy Spirit, both now and for the ages to come. Amen.” (14.1-3)

All quotes taken from Holmes, Michael W. The Apostolic Fathers. Edited and Translated by Michael W. Holmes. 3d Edition (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2007).