Hold Fast

Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you--unless you believed in vain. (1 Corinthians 15:1-2, ESV)

Location: Cochrane, Alberta, Canada

Monday, October 31, 2005

Happy Reformation Day!

Today marks the 488th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation.

On October 31st, 1517, an Augustinian monk named Martin Luther nailed his now-famous "95 Theses" to the door of the Castle church in Wittenberg, Germany. The controversy he started shook the very foundations of Western civilization and broke the power of the Roman Catholic Church in Europe.

But how many Protestants today realize how important this day truly was? How many know what a gift God gave His church that day?

When Luther nailed his Theses to that door, he intended them as debating points. He hoped to begin a discussion that would reform the Catholic Church from within, not split it. The refusal of the Church heirarchy to consider and sddress the problems he raised led Luther and his followers to reject the authority of the Catholic Church.

And what were the issues that touched off the Reformation? There were many. One of the most well-known is the matter of Indulgences.

An "indulgence," very simply, was a slip of paper that promised to release a person from purgatory straight into heaven. The Catholic Church was selling these to the public to finance the construction of Saint Peter's Basilica in Rome and to try to get the Pope's finances back in balance (years of warfare by Popes had bled the treasury severely). These indulgences were sold by corrupt priests and bishops, using such slogans as Johann Tetzel's famous "When the coin in the coffer rings, the soul from Purgatory springs!" The Church "sold" entrance to heaven to the masses in this way, sparking Luther's observation that if the Pope truly did have such power, why did he not issue a general indulgence to all souls in purgatory, for free, as an act of Christian mercy? (Read the "95 Theses" here for more)

Luther furthermore denounced the growing obsession with "relics." Relics were items associated with Christ, the apostles, and other saints. The market for these items had gone far out of hand - it was speculated that there were enough pieces of the True Cross and nails from Christ's crucifixion floating around Europe to enable one to build a ship. There were at least three alleged heads of John the Baptist at different places in Europe. Besides the fact that most of these items were obviously frauds, Luther and his followers pointed out that this veneration of relics amounted to idolatry.

But the most important result of the Reformation was the recovery of the True Gospel.

The Catholic Church held (and still does today) that salvation is a matter of God's grace combined with human works. Only through the sacraments of the church could one gain salvation, the Catholic church taught. Christ's sacrifice on the Cross did not save sinners; it enabled them to cooperate through the institution of the Church to earn merit for salvation. The ceremony of the Mass, a re-enactment of the Crucifixion, meant that Christ had to be sacrificed again and again.

The Reformers, men like Luther, Ulrich Zwingli, John Calvin, Philip Melancthon, and John Knox, denounced the whole Catholic system as being without Scriptural support. The Catholic church elevated tradition to an equal authority with the Scriptures; the Reformers denied this, saying that the sole sufficient and infallible authority of the Church was the Bible.

The Reformers held that salvation could not be earned. Salvation is God's work alone, they said; human cooperation with God not only stripped Him of the glory rightfully due Him, it is impossible in the first place, because of our sinful nature! Salvation could not be worked for or merited or deserved in any way. Rather, salvation is a free gift of God's grace alone, and only by trusting in Christ and His work could anyone be saved. The Cross was a completed work of God, the Reformers taught, and so the Catholic Mass denied the power of the Cross. As God did all of the work in salvation, the Reformers taught, only God alone deserves the glory.

The Reformation gave us Bibles in our own language and in our own hands. It took the focus of salvation away from human activites in the Church and placed it back on the Cross. It stripped every last bit of the credit for anyone's salvation away from man and gave it back to God.

So take a moment today to ponder your faith, and praise God for what he did through Martin Luther that fateful day. Thank Him for the sacrifices of all those who stood for God's truth during the Reformation. Thank God for your right and opportunity to read the Bible in your own language. Thank Jesus that He did all of the work for your salvation, and that you don't have to depend on human priests and earthly institutions for it. And give God all of the glory.

Saturday, October 29, 2005

Can Salvation Be Lost? (Part II)

Last time, I made the case that true salvation cannot be lost, using John 6 and Romans 8 as proof. I was going to move on to the "other extreme" of this issue - that is, those who believe that once they believe in Christ, they can do anything they want and grace will "cover it." That is a vitally important issue, and I will get to it next time (God willing). But my brother Brad brought up a good point in a comment to my last post, which I've copied here:

Jeff, I agree with you, but what is your take on Hebrews... chapter 6 is it?

Brad is right - I really can't move on until I've dealt with some of the verses commonly cited by the other side! So we'll look at Hebrews 6, but first...

An issue central to this whole problem is the question of "false faith." In other words, the Bible clearly teaches us that a person can have a kind of "faith" that is not a saving faith. One of the clearest Scriptural examples is the Parable of the Sower, found in three of the four Gospels. Here is Mark's version:

"Listen! A sower went out to sow. And as he sowed, some seed fell along the path, and the birds came and devoured it. Other seed fell on rocky ground, where it did not have much soil, and immediately it sprang up, since it had no depth of soil. And when the sun rose it was scorched, and since it had no root, it withered away. Other seed fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked it, and it yielded no grain. And other seeds fell into good soil and produced grain, growing up and increasing and yielding thirtyfold and sixtyfold and a hundredfold." (Mark 4:3-8)

Here is Jesus' explanation of the parable:

"The sower sows the word. And these are the ones along the path, where the word is sown: when they hear, Satan immediately comes and takes away the word that is sown in them. And these are the ones sown on rocky ground: the ones who, when they hear the word, immediately receive it with joy. And they have no root in themselves, but endure for a while; then, when tribulation or persecution arises on account of the word, immediately they fall away. And others are the ones sown among thorns. They are those who hear the word, but the cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches and the desires for other things enter in and choke the word, and it proves unfruitful. But those that were sown on the good soil are the ones who hear the word and accept it and bear fruit, thirtyfold and sixtyfold and a hundredfold." (Mark 4:14-20)

What does this story teach us? It's clear from this passage that faith can be false. A person may appear to be Christian, but his faith "has no root" - that is, it may be based NOT on the work of the Holy Spirit in the person in softening and changing their heart (that is, being born again), but rather may be a mere intellectual assent to the truths of the Christian faith, or a love for the earthly benefits (fellowship, a sense of purpose, etc.) that membership in the church brings. Or the "faith" of a person may be shaken and choked out by worries and worldly affairs.

Incidentally, this proves the foolishness (so popular today) of measuring a ministry's effectiveness by the number of "decisions for Christ". These decisions can clearly be false.

Now, by itself this passage doesn't prove that salvation can't be lost. But what it does prove is that what we, from our point of view, may think is "saving faith" may not be at all. True faith is proved by perseverance.

Now let's move to 1 John. Keep in mind the context; at the beginning of this book John squashes the idea that sinless perfection is possible. In chapter 1:8-2:1, he says,

If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us. My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous.

If Christians - to whom John was writing! - cannot claim to be without sin, and if John admits they can sin by telling them of their Advocate, Christ, then it's abundantly clear that "sinless perfectionism" is impossible in this life. "Good behaviour" by God's perfect and holy standard is thus impossible even for saved Christians, and so if salvation depended upon it, we'd all be lost. That being established, read this passage:

Children, it is the last hour, and as you have heard that antichrist is coming, so now many antichrists have come. Therefore we know that it is the last hour. They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us. But they went out, that it might become plain that they all are not of us. (1 John 2:18-19)

The false teachers of whom John spoke had obviously been a part of the church. They had appeared to be Christian; they had shown evidence of faith. When they left, though, John does not say they "lost their faith," or that they had "given up salvation." He said - note this - that they never belonged in the first place! If they really did belong - if their faith was true and genuine - they would have remained.

Or, in other words, a person who apostasizes - falls away from the faith - proves he was never a true Christian at all.

Remember my point from before? From Romans 8 and John 6, justification - God's declaration of a Christian as righteous - is a one-time, non-repeatable, infallible event. It cannot be reversed or proven wrong! And in case someone thinks justification is something that happens at the Final Judgement, look at Romans 8:29-30 again. Paul speaks in the past tense, of a completed event! Even glorification - eternal life - to Paul is a thing so assured, so certain, that he speaks of it as having already happened!

So justification cannot fail. It only happens once, during a person's life, and always results in eternal life. And as we've just seen, the appearance of saving faith in a human being can be false. And a person who falls away was never "of us", was never a real Christian, at all.

This established, now let's move to Hebrews 6.

For it is impossible to restore again to repentance those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, and have shared in the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the age to come, if they then fall away, since they are crucifying once again the Son of God to their own harm and holding him up to contempt. For land that has drunk the rain that often falls on it, and produces a crop useful to those for whose sake it is cultivated, receives a blessing from God. But if it bears thorns and thistles, it is worthless and near to being cursed, and its end is to be burned. (6:4-8)

The author is speaking here of people who had sat under the instruction of the Word, had been given the Good News, had understood it, and had been active members of the Christian fellowship. These people then left, departed the faith. Or, in short, the same people Jesus had spoken of as having "received the word with joy," and then fallen away. The same antichrists John spoke of in his letter. Nowhere does it say these people are "saved," or "justified." It fails to prove the point, if one tries to prove salvation can be lost.

But they "tasted the goodness of the word of God!" They "shared in the Holy Spirit!" Doesn't this language indicate they were truly saved?

Not at all. An unsaved person who acts like a Christian and is active in a congregation does share in these things. They hear the Word of God, a blessing in itself. The Word even causes some growth - but the faith is still false. Remember the example of Saul, in the Old Testament? The Spirit came on him, and he even prophesied - yet he eventually was lost.

The Spirit is God, and may act on anyone - even an unsaved person - as He will. And this principle, of God's absolute control and sovereignty in our lives, is reinforced by verse 3 of this same passage: And this [that is, move from elementary to mature things] we will do if God permits.

The author here is warning his readers to be careful to hold to the teaching they had been given - to persevere in the faith. In the same vein as Christ's warnings that things would be worse for Capernaum than for Sodom because they saw Him and rejected Him, the author of Hebrews is warning that the punishment for those who reject the clearest, most explicit revelations of God's truth will be far worse than for the "average sinner."

Remember - although true, saving faith will always result in eternal life, only God knows for certain who has that faith. So we are to test ourselves to prove this faith in our own lives, and to live in accordance with the Word we have been given.

Read what comes after this passage:

And we desire each one of you to show the same earnestness to have the full assurance of hope until the end, so that you may not be sluggish, but imitators of those who through faith and patience inherit the promises. (Hebrews 6:11-12)

Notice the points here:

1) We inherit the promises through "faith and patience," NOT works (verse 12)
2) We show the same earnestness (that is, holy living) to have assurance of hope, not to have salvation. (verse 11)

And what is assurance? Certainty that one is saved, that one is safe in the hands of God. Certainty that one's faith is the real thing, not a false faith. This certainty is a privilege, not a right - it is not automatic with salvation, but comes to those who strive to demonstrate their faith in their lives. Not all saved Christians have assurance, then, but the author's point is that it is available to them! But my point is this: if sin can "cost one his salvation," and if none of us is without sin, then assurance is impossible! Even Hebrews 6 proves this idea wrong!

The author moves on to speak of the certainty of God's promise, pointing out that God swore by himself (verse 13), the unchangeable character of his purpose (verse 17), that it is impossible for God to lie (verse 18), and that our hope is a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul (verse 19). Why would the author be speaking of God's sure promise and unchanging purpose as a basis for our hope, if we can lose salvation through our own actions?

So how does Hebrews 6 fit into the doctrine of eternal security? First, by warning of the deadly consequences of false faith, as a way of reminding us that we cannot afford to assume that our own, personal faith is the real thing - it must be tested! And second, by showing us how we can have assurance of our eternal security and salvation - through "earnestness," by proving our faith to be genuine through our lives. And third, by showing the basis of our assurance:

God's unchanging promise, and Christ's completed work on our behalf.

Thursday, October 27, 2005

So Sad, Yet So True

I've commented many times to friends and family about how amazed I am that modern Christians don't have any sense of their history as a church. It boggles my mind that most professing Christians don't know what sets them apart from Mormons, or why the Reformation happened, or even what it means to be "congregational" as opposed to "presbyterian" or "Methodist" as opposed to Calvinist.

We live in a fast-food culture with a fatally low attention span. That's why history is so neglected in schools - and why we wind up repeating the same lessons over and over. Anyone who doubts my point needs only look at the history of warfare in the twentieth century alone - we needed two world wars to get the message that war is a bad thing, and even still we armed ourselves to the teeth with nuclear weapons and prepared to do it again for the rest of the century. Or, how about genocide? Take the Armenian genocide by the Turks, followed by the Holocaust, followed by the slaughter of Cambodians by Pol Pot, followed by the Rwandan genocide, and now the growing Darfur crisis in Sudan.

In the modern church, it's the same problem. We wind up facing the same heresies and attacks on the faith over and over, because Christians don't think church history and theology is important. Examples include the Da Vinci Code (renewed paganism and Gnosticism), Oneness Pentecostalism (renewed Sabellianism), the Jehovah's Witnesses (the new Arians), and the Latter-Rain / New Apostles movement (the old Marcionite heresy).

This lack of attention to church history translates into an unspoken, unacknowledged assumption that Pentecost was just a few years ago - obviously, because to most Christians church history basically started in the fifties (that's where we left those boring old hymns behind!) How many professing Christians today know what Martin Luther did that touched off the Reformation? How many know why it happened at all? How many know how we got our Bible in the first place? How many know why there's an Eastern Orthodox Church, and why it's different than Catholics and Protestants?

Here's a particularly blatant example - a quote by "sammac" in response to a post at Tim Challies' blog (it's an excellent blog, by the way - check it out sometime!):

I was talking with a Southern Baptist the other day who thought that his denomination had been started by John the Baptist and that the early church used the King James translation of the Bible. When I mentioned the Crusades he thought I was talking about Billy Graham. This is a guy who fixes very complex electronic equipment. He isn't stupid at all, just ignorant.

Enough said. Guys - don't let that be you!

Can Salvation Be Lost? (Part I)

Today I'm bringing up another important topic. Controversial as it is, the question of whether one can “fall from grace” has a great impact on a person's spiritual life. So, as usual, I'm jumping into this minefield with both feet.

My view? In short, I cannot agree that anyone can “lose” their salvation.

Remember my series on justification? (Click here for Parts I, II, III, and IV) In Part IV of that series I referred to Romans 8:30 - and I made the point that justification is once and for all. Let's revisit that verse, in context:

And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified. (my emphasis)

Again, I'll point out the flow of Paul's argument. Everyone who is justified - that is, declared righteous by God - is glorified (has eternal life). No exceptions. One cannot be declared righteous by a perfect, holy God and wind up in hell anyway - if that were to happen, God's declaration of righteousness (justification) means nothing. God would be shown a liar! And furthermore, the justified sinner suffering in hell would be suffering for the same sins that God counted as punished in Christ!

Remember the basis of salvation - the blood of Christ. If a justified sinner can be lost, the sinner's sins would be punished twice, the punishment borne by both Christ and the sinner, and then Christ's suffering and death on that person's behalf would be in vain. With respect to that individual, Christ's blood would be wasted. God would have failed.

Consider this Scripture as well:

All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out. For I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will but the will of him who sent me. And this is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up on the last day. (John 6:37-39)

Jesus makes the following points:

a) Everyone given to Christ by the Father will come to him. No exceptions. (verse 37)
b) Whoever comes to Christ will NEVER be cast out (verse 37).
c) It is Christ's mission to do God's will (verse 38)
d) It is God's will that NONE of those given to Christ, who come to Christ, will be lost (verse 39)

So we see that if anyone were to come to Christ and then be lost, the Father's will would NOT be done, and Christ's mission would fail. God does not fail! A person who truly comes to Christ, then, is eternally secure - because this is God's will.

Why? Because salvation is the Lord's. It depends on God, not man.

Think about it. If salvation can be lost because of a person's behaviour and actions, what does that salvation depend on? God's grace? Or human effort? If human behaviour can “lose” salvation, then salvation is dependent on human effort. This is wrong – salvation is by God’s grace alone. It is a gift that is unearned, unmerited, and undeserved. If you never earned salvation in the first place, then how can you “unearn” it and so lose it?

The idea that sin can cost you salvation is bad theology, for two reasons. First, sin is the problem we are being saved from in the first place! If it wasn’t an obstacle to one’s salvation when he was first saved, then why is it now? Was the person less sinful before, and now is more sinful? If that’s the case, then only those who are less sinful can be saved. But where’s the line? At which point does sin become so serious that the person is unsaveable?

Second, and more seriously, the idea that salvation can be lost equates to salvation by works. Think about it – in this view, salvation is no longer dependent on God’s grace and mercy. It’s now dependent on human behaviour. Such salvation is no salvation at all – it is conditional at best. It’s like “salvation” is actually a probation period, at the end of which (presumably at death) if you’ve been good enough, God will save you.

I once spent a week in Morocco, a Muslim nation. I had the opportunity to ask many questions about Islam, and let me tell you – this view is identical to the Muslim view. What kind of assurance is that? How can even the best Christian be sure of his salvation, since we all sin?

What use is the Cross, in this view? What does Christ’s sacrifice actually accomplish? How powerful is it, if a person can enjoy its benefits one moment and the next his sin becomes so strong and rank it overpowers the Cross?

What’s the logical result of this theology?

How is one saved? “Easy – just stop sinning!”

This view repudiates the Protestant Reformation. It is, in fact, very similar to the Catholic view, in which “mortal” sins can put a Christian in peril of hell, where the person has to do good works to balance out sin, and where the person must go to Purgatory to work out residual sin before entering heaven. Both views depend on the same, unscriptural presumption: that human effort must be added to Christ’s work on the Cross, in order to be effective.

No. The Cross doesn't merely make a man SAVEABLE, if he adds his own effort. The Cross SAVES.

Jesus said, on that Cross, “It is finished.” I believe Him.

Next time, I'll deal with the equally wrong idea that a Christian can believe and then go on sinning without fear...

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

The Arrogance of Atheism

“There is no God.”

Some would hail this realization as the outstanding philosophical achievement of our age. We’ve grown up; we’ve moved beyond primitive superstition and ancient folklore. We can cast off the shackles of redundant tradition and embrace a new era of liberty and freedom.

“There is no God.”

What a statement! The rallying cry of all atheists, the comfort of the unrepentant sinner, a soothing balm for the committed materialist. Don’t worry – live your life the way you want, because that’s all that matters. Have as much fun as you like, because this is the only chance you get.

“There is no God.”

What an arrogant statement this is!

That’s an inflammatory way to put it, but it’s true! Think of what such a stance honestly requires. How can it be proved?

Not scientifically.

The scientific method requires that one make observations and hypothesize a theory about the results. Sadly, many atheists jump straight to the second step – the hypothesis (“there must not be a God”) and then backtrack to the first step, observation, in order to find a lack of evidence for God. That’s not science, guys. The scientific method, properly followed, requires observations, hypotheses, empirical tests, and conclusions. But if God is invisible, and transcends (that means, is independent of and is above and beyond) the physical universe, then He cannot be scientifically measured or observed, nor can He be empirically tested. Even if He could, how would one prove He doesn’t exist? Science has a very difficult time proving negatives. How would one prove there are no space aliens, for instance?

In short, one would have to replicate God in order to disprove Him scientifically. “Jenkins, hand me that test tube – be careful, though! It’s powerful stuff...”

When a man like Stephen Jay Gould, the noted evolutionary biologist and an icon of the scientific community, stands up and declares that there is no God, people listen to him as if he is an expert. This baffles me, though. We give far too much authority to his words, simply because he is an accomplished scientist. “There is no God” is not a scientific statement! No matter how good a scientist Gould or any other noted atheist may be, they are just as qualified as you or I to make that statement.

We, in our technology-obsessed Western culture, have an unfortunate tendency to equate science – at least our Western conception of it - with knowledge. This is not true. Not all knowledge is “science,” although all science is knowledge. Knowledge is more than the professional journals and laboratories and doctorates and conventions that form the collective straw man that the Western mind associates with the word “science.”

Theology, for instance, used to be known as a science. Philosophy used to be thought of as a science. The Latin root of the word “science,” scientia, actually means “knowledge,” and applied to far more than knowledge of the physical world. Now that we in the West have equated “science” with the “scientific method,” we have shaved off an entire realm of human knowledge from the idea of “science.” And it is our loss.

What about history, for instance? Can it be observed directly? Of course not. Can it be tested and replicated? How about law? Poetry? Fun? Are these types of knowledge somehow less legitimate because the scientific method is inapplicable for such research? If not, then why is theology and religion any different?

Some people say, “Well, you can’t prove God exists.” Well, you can’t prove He doesn’t. So at the very least, religious belief is as valid and rational as is atheism. But let’s take the “you gotta prove it to believe it” idea as far as it goes. I can’t prove Julius Caesar lived. Yes, we see things he allegedly wrote, and many historical figures talk about him, but these might all be forgeries and lies. There’s no scientific way to “prove” him – we can’t test him, can’t replicate him.

You know what? I can’t prove you exist, either. Yes, I can touch and hear and see you, or even smell you, but what does that prove? My body could be playing tricks – amputees “feel” lost limbs, schizophrenics “hear” voices that aren’t there, sleep-deprived soldiers on exercise see little men with blue baseball caps that aren’t there (trust me on this one). Senses can be fooled, and so all information I collect via those means cannot be “proven” to an exact certainty. I know I exist – that’s the only thing I can thus “prove.” So if I say only I exist, how can you prove me wrong? (And if you think this is laughable, there’s a philosophical position called “solipsism” that believes exactly that).

And even then, how do I know for sure that I am what I think I am? Let me challenge you to do something: Prove that you’re not just a brain in a jar. Prove that everything, including your physical body, isn’t just an illusion, a series of impulses sent by wire to your brain from outside the jar.

Bottom line: the scientific method proves or disproves nothing about God. It is irrelevant to our discussion.

Think about it. How much knowledge of the world do you, personally, have? Even if you’re a noted, intelligent man like Gould, you don’t possess more than a tiny fraction of a fraction of a fraction of all the knowledge humanity has accumulated. Even if Gould – or you – find no evidence of God in all the knowledge you have accumulated, who are you to say that the evidence cannot possibly exist in the other 99.999999999999999% of humanity’s collective knowledge that you do not possess?

If I say that there is not a town somewhere in North America called “Saint-Louis de Ha! Ha!” because I have never seen it on a map, never heard tell of it, never seen a road sign, never met anyone from there, does that mean it’s not true? Maybe I live in Indonesia and don’t have the opportunity to verify this claim. Maybe I live in Ontario, and yet cannot be bothered to look deeply into the question because I don’t think it affects me that much. The fact is, though, knowing that the town doesn’t exist requires that I have comprehensive knowledge of all of North America’s geography and be familiar with a list of all its towns. North America’s a big place – that’s a fair bit of knowledge. But to know that it does exist, I need only be exposed to that little bit of knowledge – I need not know the rest of the continent!

In short, one requires omniscience – full and comprehensive knowledge of all things – to say with “scientific certainty” that God does not exist. Put another way, to disprove God, one must be God. And that’s why it’s such a hypocritical, arrogant statement.

Fraternitas Blogitas

I know I've been gone for a while.... I plan on doing more writing in the future, I promise!! More to follow....

My brother Brad, who some of the readers of my blog know, has "caught the virus" and joined the blogosphere. He's a pre-seminary student at Reformed Bible College in Michigan. His blog, "ePyrus," is now one of my links. I'll forgive him for choosing the same template....

He had a fantastic devotional to share Saturday. Give it a read. And drop him a note - he is craving attention right now....

Saturday, October 01, 2005

Phos Hilaron

Recently, we bought "Hymns: Ancient & Modern," a Passion-series collection of hymns rewritten in contemporary format. It is a really good album, especially in a day when the modern church seems obsessed only with what's new and contemporary. Hearing the rich, deep teaching of the old hymns in a new light was a treat.

On that album was a song called "Phos Hilaron." I had never heard this before. It is an ancient creed dating from before the third century. According to the album jacket cover, it used to be part of a tradition held in Jerusalem called the "lighting of the lamps." At nightfall, a single candle was carried out of the empty tomb of Christ to represent His light to the world, and this hymn would be sung or recited.

I did a little digging on the Internet, because this old, old piece of church history intrigued me. Phos Hilaron, named after the first two Greek words of the song, means "Gladdening Light" or "Joyous Light." It has been attributed to Athenogenes, who was martyred in 305 AD, but it was mentioned earlier, by Basil (who described it as already centuries old) and by Justin Martyr, around 150 AD. Tradition has it that it was sung in the catacombs during the Roman persecutions. If you want to look at it in the original Greek, with a transliteration and a different translation, click here.

Here are the words, as translated by John Keble in 1834. Read this ancient hymn, thinking of our rich and ancient history as a Church, and just think of this: those who sang this hymn in the catacombs were saved by the same glorious God as we, worshiped the same Saviour as we, were indwelt by the same eternal, unchanging Holy Spirit, and will worship Him forever, together with us, in the same assured, everlasting future.

Hail, gladdening Light, of his pure glory poured,
Who is the immortal Father, heavenly, blest,
Holiest of holies, Jesus Christ our Lord.

Now we are come to the sun's hour of rest,
The lights of evening round us shine,
We hymn the Father, Son and Holy Spirit divine.

Worthiest art thou at all times to be sung
With undefiled tongue, Son of our God, giver of life, alone:
Therefore in all the world thy glories, Lord, thine own.