Tag Archives: Coptic Church

Africa: Christian Long Before Europe

history of the church in africa jonathan hildebrandtOne of the best classes I took during my undergrad years was a class on the history of Christian in Africa taught by Jonathan Hildebrandt (who also wrote a book on the subject). The best part was that the class didn’t start in the modern era, where a lot of folks and books start, but in the first-century with the Twelve Apostles and those who followed in their footsteps.  While the full history is too long to trace here, it is noteworthy to mention that the Gospel of the Kingdom spread throughout Africa very early on – there were even large nations deep within Africa continent who declared Christian as the national religion long before the Roman Empire did so.  (Makuria is one such nation which has recently come into the news due to a recently discovered burial crypt.)

Below is a video that highlights an aspect of Christian in Ethiopia, one of the very, very few African nations to successfully resist European colonialism. However before you watch the video, here are some cool tit bits about the history of Christian in Africa. I would also recommend reading Ramon Mayo’s blog series on “Christianity is Not the White Man’s Religion” where he not only explores the spread of Christian into Africa, Syria and other non-European areas. (Part 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, and 6)

  • Acts 8 tells the famous story of Philip and the Ethiopian Eunuch. What folks may not know is that this Eunuch went back to Ethiopia and started telling everyone there about Jesus – effectively making him the first missionary to cross international boundaries.

“This man (Simeon Bachos the Eunuch) was also sent into the regions of Ethiopia, to preach what he had himself believed, that there was one God preached by the prophets, but that the Son of this (God) had already made (His) appearance in human flesh, and had been led as a sheep to the slaughter; and all the other statements which the prophets made regarding Him.” – St. Irenaeus of Lyons in his book Against the Heresies (180 AD).

  • One of the leaders of the church at Antioch who sent out Barnabas and Paul was a gentlemen named Simeon who was called Niger (Acts 13:1). The word “Niger” means black and was used in first century to identity those of dark complexion and/or African descent. This means, then, that one of the leaders of the most successful churches in history was a African.
  • Church tradition states that at least two of the Twelve Apostles traveled and preached in Africa: Simon the Zealot and Matthew the Tax Collection (who also wrote the Book of Matthew in the Bible). Simon was said to have traveled throughout northern back of Africa before going to Britain. Matthew, on the other hand, went through Egypt to Ethiopia – possibly to visit Simeon Bachos the Eunuch?
  • John Mark, the author of the Book of Mark in the Bible and a traveling companion of St. Paul, is credited with starting the church in Alexandria, Egypt, in 42 A.D. This church went on to become one of the most powerful churches in the Roman Empire. Eventually this church would become what is now known as the Coptic Orthodox Church.
  • The first Christian university was founded in Alexandria, Egypt, by either John Mark or one of his successors, it is not known for sure. What is known is that Athenagoras is recorded as the dean of the Catechetical School of Alexandria in 176 A.D. Later on the school would launch the career of Origen (185-254 AD), who is considered by many as the Father of Theology.
  • Another famous Christian theologian is St. Augustine (354-430 AD). While folks today quote his books and writings, what they probably don’t know is that Augustine was a Berber African. The Berber people were (and are) an ethnic group indigenous to North Africa west of the Nile Valley. In other words, St. Augustine was a dark skinned African who lived, worked, and died in present-day Algeria long before white man of Europe even heard about Jesus.

I could go on, but I’m out of time… it is enough to say that Christian was not, and has never been, a white-man’s religion (Jesus, after all, was a Jewish Middle-Eastern man!). As St. John wrote in Revelation 7:9, people of “every nation and all tribes” will and are worshiping the Creator of Heaven and Earth.


Introducing The New Archbishop of Canterbury

(Photo: Keith Blundy / Aegies Associates)

It has been a busy past couple of weeks for the global Church – first there was the election of a new Coptic Orthodox Pope and now there is naming of Rowan Williams’ successor as the Archbishop of Canterbury. While Protestants in the USA may not think much of these two events, they are actually very, very, very HUGE events as they affect the lives of millions Jesus followers around the world.

Take the Archbishop of Canterbury, for example, whoever sits in that chair affects the direction of the entire Anglican Communion, which has around 85 million members worldwide. The Coptic Orthodox Church is a tad smaller at 18 million members – bring the total number of people affected by the two leadership changes to 103 million believers. That, my friends, is a lot of people!

But, alas, we have digressed from the main focus of this post which was to introduce you all to the 105th Archbishop of Canterbury, Bishop Justin Welby.

Currently Justin Welby is the bishop of Durham, having succeeded Bishop N.T. Wright in that position last year. Which brings up the interesting point that Webly has only been a bishop in the Anglican Church for a year – hardly the resume one would expect for the new Archbishop…

However, it must be pointed out that Welby has quite the track record that more than over shadows this lack of experience. For example, he has worked as an arbitrator during religious conflicts around the world with the Coventry Centre for Reconciliation and he has 11 years of experience as an oil executive, which shows that he has leadership skills.

Theologically speaking, Bishop Welby is said to be within the evangelical tradition of the Anglican Church – a position that, I’m guessing, places him closer to more conservative churches in the Global South than the more liberal Episcopal churches in the USA. What we do know is that Welby has historically been outspoken against same-sex marriage while supportive of women bishops (two of the biggest controversies facing the Anglican Communion)…so it may be that his selection as Archbishop of Canterbury is a message to the Anglican Communion as to what direction the church is wanting to go….  I don’t know, but may the Lord guide them as they figure things out.

Introducing the New Coptic Pope

Yesterday the Lord of Lords answered the prayers of His Coptic children in the choosing of a new leader for the Coptic Orthodox Church of Alexandria. As mentioned earlier, the new pope was chosen by a blindfolded child who drew the name out of a pot holding the names of the three final candidates. While this tradition may sound strange to those of us in the West, there is in fact a lot to be said about allowing God to guide the hand of chance.

If I remember correctly, the Old Testament records use of lots (similar to throwing the dices)to decide major issues. Later on the fifteen to seventeenth century AD the Moravian Church used a similar concept as the Coptic Church to choose their leaders. The only difference was that the Moravians would include a blank piece of paper, effectively giving the Lord the chance to veto the names of everyone in the running (a choice that I think the Coptic Church would be wise in adopting).

But I digress…

Continue reading Introducing the New Coptic Pope

Electing a New Coptic Pope

Coptic Orthodox Cross, Reads: "Jesus Christ, the Son of God"

While most of the world is focusing on the USA Presidential election, there is another election going on in Egypt that is even more important. It is the election of the successor of Pope Shenouda III of the Coptic Orthodox Church of Alexandria who died on March 17, 2012.

Established by St. Mark (the same guy who wrote the Gospel of Mark) around 42 AD, the Coptic Orthodox Church has about 18 million followers worldwide with 2 to 4 million currently living in Egypt. They are also part of the Oriental Orthodox Communion, a group of six churches in full union with each other.

Not to mention the fact that, as if having this large of a flock wasn’t enough, the new pope is going to have to deal with the political upheaval of the new government of Egypt. It is a task that can only be done under the guidance of the Holy Spirit….

The election itself is very interesting to me as it is done in a way that is contrary to how other church groups election their popes. Rather than choosing a new pope from among the existing bishops, the Coptic Church gathers a list of monks, bishops, abbots or priests whom have been endorsed by six bishops or twelve of the 24 members of the General Lay Council. A committee of nine bishops and nine laypersons will then narrow this list down to five or seven candidates.

From there, a 2,400~ member Electoral College (diocese representatives, community leaders, bishops, etc.) votes to narrow the list down to the top three candidates. The entire church body then embarks on a week-long prayer and fasting period followed by a liturgy service. During this service the name of the three final candidates are then placed into a box on the altar of St. Mark Cathedral in Cairo where a blindfolded five year-old child draws the name of the next pope.

This to me is a beautiful combination of democracy, human wisdom and utter reliance on the Holy Spirit! It has democracy as both the bishops and laypeople of the church are allowed to nominate candidates; human wisdom then narrows the lists of candidates down to those who are most gifted and able to lead, before turning things back to democracy (i.e. the voting on the top five to seven candidates). The final selection is then left to the guidance of the Holy Spirit in that God guides the hand of the young child in choosing the next pope.

Beautiful!! 🙂

Continue reading Electing a New Coptic Pope

Two Major Events Happened This Weekend

Archbishop Rowan Williams

This weekend there were two major events within the Greater Body of Christ (i..e the Global Church) that will literally affect the entire world.

The first event happened on Friday, March 16th, when Archbishop Rowan Williams announced that he would be stepping down as Archbishop of Canterbury at the end of 2012 in order to accept the position of Master of Magdalene College, Cambridge. Seeing how Archbishop of Canterbury is the symbolic head and leader of the worldwide Anglican Communion, which is the fourth largest Christian communion on the planet, this is a pretty big deal. It becomes even a bigger deal once you consider the impact the new Archbishop will have on the currently decades-long theological standoff within the Anglican Communion between more traditional Global South members and the theological liberalism of the Western/North American members.

Interestingly enough, one of the top four contenders currently in consideration for the job is the Uganda-born Archbishop of York, John Sentamu. Currently the second most senior cleric in the Church of England, Archbishop Sentamu used to be a member of the High Court of Uganda before running afoul of then dictator Idi Amin. I bring this up because if Archbishop Sentamu is selected as the Archbishop of Canterbury it would mean a greater connection to the Global South, which may be enough to swing the Anglican Communion back to a more historical-church foundation (a good thing in my option as a third-party watcher).

Continue reading Two Major Events Happened This Weekend

Catholic-Oriental Orthodox Book Launch

Bishop Angaelos and Archbishop McDonald with the book (Mazur/catholicnews.org.uk)

Two weeks ago the Roman Catholic and Oriental Orthodox Churches released a landmark book focusing on the areas of theological agreement between themselves. The book, which can be downloaded for free, is simply entitled “Joint Statements” and addresses various issues under four main areas:

  1. The Mystery of the Church
    • The Holy Trinity and the Church as Communion
    • The Attributes of the Church
    • Growing Towards Full Communion
    • Point for Further Study and Discussion
  2. Bishops in Apostolic Succession
    • Bishops
    • Apostolic Succession
  3. Synodality/Collegiality and Primacies
    • Local/Diocesan Churches and Their Bishops
    • Relationship Between Synodality, Conciliarity and Primacies
    • Ecclesiological Meaning of Synods and Councils
    • Point for Further Study and Discussion
  4. The Mission of the Church

The publication of this book is made even more phenomenal and meaningful due to the history of these two major branches of Christianity. They officially  separated from each other at the Council of Chalcedon in 451 AD when the bishops of Rome and Constantinople excommunicated the bishops of Alexandria, Antioch, and Jerusalem for not agreeing with them on how to describe the divine and human nature of Jesus. The excommunicated bishops went on to form six national Oriental Orthodox churches: Coptic Orthodox, Ethiopian Orthodox, Eritrean Orthodox, Syriac Orthodox, Malankara Orthodox Syrian Church (India) and Armenian Apostolic churches.

Sadly enough this split within Christianity was only partly about theology as the primary issue at state during the firth century was a political  power struggle between bishops. In fact, in 1984 the Syriac Patriarch Mar Ignatius Zakka I Iwas and the Pope John Paul II released the following statement:

“The confusions and schisms that occurred between their Churches in the later centuries, they realize today, in no way affect or touch the substance of their faith, since these arose only because of differences in terminology and culture and in the various formulae adopted by different theological schools to express the same matter. Accordingly, we find today no real basis for the sad divisions and schisms that subsequently arose between us concerning the doctrine of Incarnation. In words and life we confess the true doctrine concerning Christ our Lord, notwithstanding the differences in interpretation of such a doctrine which arose at the time of the Council of Chalcedon.”

As you can see, the Lord is moving to restore unity among His people – a unity build upon love and mutual respect. Glory be to the King!

One, Holy, Invisible Universal Church

Have you ever wondered why some churches included the phrase “we believe in the one, holy, invisible universal church” in their statement of faith or confession?

Well, I’m glad you asked. 🙂

The reason is that for a few hundred – no, make that a thousand or so – years a lot of believes believed that there was one, universal visible “church.” Like a lot of things, this visible church started out united, but became fragmented over the years leading to the development of the Roman Catholic Church, Eastern Orthodox Church, the Coptic Church, the Nestorian Church and, eventually, the Protestant Church (or, should I say, churches).

Unfortunately, this fragmentation did little to change the view that there was one ‘visible church’. Instead, folks simply assumed that THEIR church was the ONE, and everyone else was not. (sigh)

Sometime during the 1500’s this view (thankfully) began to change – as noted in the Westminster Confession of 1646 which states:

The catholic or universal Church, which is invisible, consists of the whole number of the elect, that have been, are, or shall be gathered into one, under Christ the Head thereof; and is the spouse, the body, the fulness of Him that fills all in all. (Ch. XXV)

However, this was not to be the end of the debate (double sigh).

Continue reading One, Holy, Invisible Universal Church

The Apocrypha – Why did we get rid of them?

I’ve been confused lately… why, after 1,500 years, did we all of a sudden decided to drop the inter-testamental books from the Bible? It doesn’t make sense… at least not to me…

I’m confused. Undecided

Here’s what I know so far:

  • The Christian Bible included the inter-testamental books up until the Protestant Reformation in the 1500’s.
  • Martin Luther was the first person to move the inter-testamental books from the Old Testament into a separate selection called the “Apocrypha”.
  • Protestant Bibles included them in a “Apocrypha” section until around the 1820’s, when they stop appearing.

So why did Martin Luther decided that the inter-testamental books where no longer valid? I mean, the church used them for over 1,500 hundred years!!! Shoot, some of the books were used by True Believers longer then the writing of Paul.[@more@]

One of the arguments about the validity of the Bible is that God has kept it around despite plans to destroy all copies. As such, if God allows the inter-testamental books to survive as part of the Bible for over 1,800 years, what makes the last 200 years so important that we can thrown the inter-testamental books away?

I guess I should mention that I’ve heard it said that when St. Jerome translated the Vulgate he used the Masoretic or Hebrew text of the OT instead of the Septuagint or Greek text. Apparently the Masoretic text did not have the inter-testamental books listed why the Septuagint did. Still, St. Jerome included the inter-testamental books in the Vulgate…

I don’t know…

I just think that it is very, very strange that why the rest of Christendom uses the inter-testamental books, we Protestant don’t.  Why is that?

Currently the Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox (Russian, Greek, Georgian, etc), and Oriental Orthodox Churches (Coptic Orthodox, Syriac Orthodox, Ethiopian Orthodox, Eritrean Orthodox, Malankara Orthodox Syrian Church and Armenian Apostolic churches) all use the inter-testamental books as part of their canon. In addition, while the Anglican Church does not recognize the Apocryphal books as canon, they do use them liturgically.

Baptists Are Not Protestants

Did these get your attention? Well, it got mine as I was browsing the church history forums on The Puritan Board. The thread was started after a forum member read a similarly titled paper posted on the “Bibel Baptisten Gemeinde” (Bible Baptist Church) website in Darmstadt, Germany. It is from this German paper that I quote – not from the forum. (just so ya’ll know my sources…) Smile

The main argument against placing the Baptists among the Protestant movement is a historical one:

Protestants date from the sixteenth century. They are the Lutherans, the Reformed and others who were once Roman Catholics and left the Roman Catholic faith to start denominations of their own. The Baptists never left the Roman Catholic Church as did Luther, Calvin and Zwingli. They never left because they were never in. They did not begin their existence at the time of the Reformation but hundreds of years prior to the Reformation.

As you can tell, the author of this paper is defining the term “Protestants” as churches that came from the Roman Catholics during the Reformation. Under that definition, I would have to agree that the majority of the Baptist churches are not “Protestants” as they did not protest anything. [@more@]

This also brings up a good point that tends to get forgotten – mainly that there were other churches around besides the Roman Catholic Church. There was the Eastern Orthodox Church, which most folks remember, as well as the:

  • Coptic Church of Egypt
  • Armenia Church of Armenia
  • Georgian Church of Georgia
  • Church in Persia (Christianity reached India and China within the first two centuries)
  • African church (north-central Africa was home to a huge Christian population for several hundred years before tribal wars and drought destroyed the nations that housed the church)

Note: these churches trace their roots back the first century – some of which where started by members of the 12 Apostles.

In addition, there were several smaller churches that held as similar views as the Baptist (as listed in the German article):

  • Montanists (150 A.D.)
  • Novatians (240 A.D.)
  • Donatists (305 A.D.)
  • Paulicians (650 A.D.)
  • Albigenses (1022 A.D.)
  • Waldensians (1170 A.D.)

The article goes on to state that while Baptists share some common theological grounds with Protestants, there are six big differences:

  1. Baptists believe with all their hearts that God´s Word alone is sufficient for faith and practice. Various Protestant denomination have creeds, catechisms and assorted doctrinal standards. Baptists hold to the Bible alone.
    • [Ardell: I believe the author is talking about high churches as I know soem of them have creeds, catechisms and such. Honestly, I think some of them are good and should be used in the low churches – not has a means to salvation, but as a means to understand the work of the Lord through out the centuries. It is to our disgrace that we have thrown away the traditions and history of Christianity.]

  2. Baptists believe that Christ and only Christ is the head of the Church… There is no man who has the oversight of Baptist Churches. Baptists have no denomination in the sense of an organization that controls local congregations. Each local church is autonomous and accountable only to Christ, who is its Head.
    • [Ardell: Granted this is changing a bit among the lower churches since the beginning of the 1900’s – mostly notably among churches that came out of the Pentecostal, Charismatic and Jesus People movements.]

  3. Baptists believe in their hearts in a free church in a free state… Baptists are vigoriously opposed to union of state and church and believe that a state controlled church is a wretched excuse for Christianity and a plain departure from Scripture. All of the Protestant Reformers fastened state churches upon their followers!
    • [Ardell: The author does have a point… in fact, there are still parts of Europe that hold to state back Protestant churches. Ie. Germany – Lutheran; England – Anglican; Scotland – Presbyterian]

  4. Baptists believe strongly in the individual accountability to God… A priest cannot answer for you, a church cannot answer for you to God. God-parents cannot answer for you…No one is saved because of his identification with any religion….Protestants generally do not hold this Scriptural doctrine.
    • [Ardell: Again I believe the author is thinking mostly of the high churches. Most low churches tend to hold to this view of individual salvation.]

  5. Baptist people furthermore have always held to believer´s baptism. None of the Protestant Reformers held this Bible teaching…This obviously means that there is no infant baptism. since infants are incapable of repenting. No unbelievers are to be baptized. The Reformers followed Rome in their teaching of baptism.
    • [Ardell: It is interesting that most “Protestant” churches today hold to adult baptism….I guess the Anabaptist had a huge impact on the churches in the USA.]

  6. Baptists on the basis of Scripture have always held to a regenerate church membership, that is a membership that is made up only of people who give a credible profession of faith in Christ. In the Apostolic church only those who became believers, those who received the Word of God and who had repented of their sins, were baptized and received as church members (Acts 2:41). There was no automatic or formalistic membership in apostolic churches nor in Baptist churches today.
    • [Ardell: Vote with your feet. That was the moto of the 1960’s movement as folks rejected the stuffy membership based system in many high churches. This would be why most independent churches and/or movements that came out of the Jesus Movement don’t have formal memberships. Granted that is beginning to change a bit as those pastors find it hard to shepherd an unknown flock…]

All this makes you rethink your definition of Protestant doesn’t it?  Shoot – I used to define it as simply as churches who believed in salvation via faith not works. Yet, it looks like the formal definition is a lot different. Undecided

As such, I checked a few sources to see how they defined the term “Protestant”:

  • Wikipedia – encompasses the forms of Christian faith and practice that originated with the doctrines of the Reformation.
  • Dictionary.com – any Western Christian who is not an adherent of a Catholic, Anglican, or Eastern Church; an adherent of any of those Christian bodies that separated from the Church of Rome during the Reformation, or of any group descended from them; (originally) any of the German princes who protested against the decision of the Diet of Speyer in 1529, which had denounced the Reformation.
  • About.com – The term Protestant is used to refer to any Christian group which developed from the Reformation.

It looks like everyone agrees that a true “Protestant” is one that developed out of the Reformation or from churches that developed then. Interesting… I’m going to have to rethink some of the ways I use that word. Shoot, I’m going to have to rethink the terms I use to describe myself!!  Tongue out

By the way, in writing this post, I discovered a thread on the Baptist Board discussing this same question (Are Baptist Protestants or not?). It seems that there is a disagreement about the Baptist as to their roots…  Undecided

Some folks on the forum hold to the view that they are not Protestants; others say they are; and still others say they are a mixture of Protestant and non-Protestant (ie. the Baptist church has mixed roots).

So, what’s your thoughts? Are Baptist Protestants?

How about your church? Is it Protestant or does it have roots from before the Reformation?

Watermelon and An Ancient Icon

Mary and Jesus Coptic Orthodox Church PaintingI was browsing Egypt’s online Al-Ahram Weekly News today and discover a cool story about Jesus. The story is from the Coptic Orthodox Church tradition concerning the fight of the Holy Family in to Egypt from King Herod.

The tradition states that the Holy Family stopped to get some water from a local farmer who was planting some watermelons. After they had rested a bit, Mary told the farmer that some soldiers where following them to kill the baby Jesus. Mary instructed the farmer to tell the soldiers that he saw the family on the same day that he planted his watermelon seeds. After this, the Holy Family left on their way deeper into Egypt.

The next day, the farmer awake to find a field full of ripped watermelons – which usually take two to three months to grow! Later on that day, soldiers from King Herod arrived as foretold by Mary. The farmer obeyed Mary and told the soldiers that the family was there on the same day that he planted the watermelon seeds. Since it usually takes two to three months for watermelons to grow, the soldiers thought the Holy Family had pasted that way two or three months ago – thus they turned back and stopped their pursuit.

Another cool tid-bit I pick up on the Al-Ahram Weekly News website is the picture you see on the right. This picture was painted in the early first century as a copy of a picture painted by Saint Luke (yes – the guy who wrote Luke and Acts).  The icon (as the Coptic Church calls it) show Mary holding the baby Jesus with John the Baptist kissing Jesus’ feet while a lamb stands in the bottom left corner. Even if the original wasn’t painted by Luke, the fact that this painting is from the first century is pretty amazing!