The New World Order After the Fall of Rome

Most people in Asia and Africa tend to view Christianity as a Western religion. That is why when we try to evangelize those in countries such as China, Japan, Bangladesh, India, Indonesia, Myanmar and others, they tend to be resistant to the Gospel. They consider it as a form of Western imperialism beginning all the way back to the Roman Empire to the medieval Crusades. However, unbeknownst to them, Christianity is actually Eastern in origin as it was started in Jerusalem, Israel and spread unto Samaria, Damascus, Antioch, Alexandria, and Constantinople, formerly known as the Byzantine Empire in present-day Turkey.

The main reason why Christianity spread to the West was of course due to its acceptance and proliferation in the Roman Empire. Nevertheless, ironically, it is likewise the fall of the Roman Empire in the West that further caused the spread of Christianity to the present-day European nations. According to Justo Gonzalez, although the so-called “barbarians” appeared to the Romans as looters with their minds set on destruction, most of them really aspired to settle within the borders of the Roman Empire, and there enjoy some of the benefits of a civilization that until then they had only known from afar. Thus, after a period of wandering, each of the major invading bodies settled in a portion of the Empire. These “barbarian” civilizations included the Ostrogoths and Visigoths, the Vandals (where we get our word “vandalism”), the Franks, the Angles and Saxons, the Burgundians, the Irish, the Scotch, and the Lombards. Among those who were instrumental in the proliferation of Christianity in these lands were St. Patrick, St. Benedict, St. Scholastica, Gregory the Great and Leo the Great. As far as the institutions are concerned, it is monasticism and the papacy that were instrumental in the survival and propagation of Christianity to its pagan conquerors. Conversely, it was likewise the barbarian invasions that brought about the great upsurge in the pope’s authority. In the East, the Empire continued existing for another thousand years; but in the West, the church became the guardian of what was left of ancient civilization, as well as of order and justice. Thus, the most prestigious bishop in the West, that of Rome, became the focal point for regaining a unity that had been shattered by the invasions.

Another major cause of Christianity’s spread in the West instead of the East are the Arab conquests led by a man named Mohammed/Muhammad, an Arab merchant who had come in contact with both Judaism and the various Christian sects that existed in Arabia—some of them rather unorthodox. His message, which he claimed had been revealed to him by the angel Gabriel, was that of a single God, both just and merciful, who rules all things and requires obedience from all. Mohammed claimed that he was not preaching a new religion, but simply the culmination of what God had revealed in the Hebrew prophets and in Jesus, who was a great prophet, although not divine as Christians claimed. To consider a created being equal to God was the greatest sin a person can commit against the One True God, Allah. This sin was called “shirk” and the religion was called “Islam,” which means “submission to God.”

The Arabs, under the leadership of Mohammed’s successors called the “caliphs,” invaded and conquered the Byzantine Empire including Damascus in Syria, Jerusalem in Israel, Alexandria in Egypt, North Africa, the Persian Empire, Carthage, and then all of Spain except for the extreme northern areas. The advance of the Saracen (Moslem) armies was only halted by their defeat by Charles Martel at the battle of Tours, which marked the end of the first wave of Moslem expansion. Thus, many of the ancient centers of Christianity—Jerusalem, Antioch, Damascus, Alexandria, and Carthage—were now under Moslem rule. In Carthage and the surrounding area, Christianity completely disappeared. In the rest of the vast Arab holdings, it was tolerated, but ceased growing, and eventually was content with holding its own.

Eastern Orthodox Christianity

Are You Saved

On September 15, 2013, for the first time in my life, I attended an Eastern Orthodox Church where the liturgy used is that of St. John Chrysostom. So far, it is the only Orthodox cathedral in the Philippines and Southeast Asia as it is the only stand alone church building personally consecrated by His Eminence Metropolitan Nektarios Tsilis of the Orthodox Metropolitanate of Hong Kong and Southeast Asia. It was a unique and wonderful experience! It was as if I was transported to Constantinople back in the fourth century A.D. Compared to the Roman Novus Ordo Mass which most of us Filipinos are used to, the Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom is longer and more solemn as more symbolic gestures are performed. Moreover, almost the entire liturgy was sung with the exception of the homily. After the Divine Liturgy, I had a short chat with the priests, Fathers James Doronela and Gregory Latoja, about Orthodoxy and they even lent me a booklet (pictured above) about salvation, which is the one they use in basic catechism.

Unknown to a lot of Filipinos, Eastern Christianity existed just about the same time or even before the Roman church. Centuries prior to the Great Schism of East and West, there were originally five centers of Christianity which were called patriarchates. These were: Jerusalem, Antioch, Alexandria, Constantinople, and Rome. The first four comprised the Greek Eastern churches while the last one, Rome, comprised the Latin Western church. For Christians at that time, both East and West, the church was one. Historians, however, can now see that by the early Middle Ages the two branches of the church were drifting apart, and that the final schism, which took place in 1054, was long in the making. In the West, the demise of the Empire created a vacuum that the church filled, and thus ecclesiastical leaders—particularly the pope—also came to wield political power. In the East, the Empire continued for another thousand years and its autocratic emperors kept a tight rein on ecclesiastical leaders.

Although it is obvious that every church thinks of itself as orthodox, that title has become such a hallmark of Eastern Chalcedonian Christianity that it is often called and has been known as the Orthodox Church as opposed to the Catholic Church based in Rome. After the Islamic Arab conquests, the Orthodox Church was blocked to the south and east by Islam, and thus its expansion was in a northerly and northwesterly direction. Those areas of Eastern Europe were populated mostly by Slavs, who had invaded them after the Germanic peoples. They occupied most of what is today, Poland, the Baltic countries, Russia, Czechoslovakia (Czech and Slovak Republics), Yugoslavia, and Greece. Later on, they also encompassed Bulgaria and a vast portion of the Danube basin.

Although the East and West already experienced schism during the fifth century, the final schism of 1054 occurred when the Bulgarian archbishop Leo of Ochrid, accused the West of error because it made clerical celibacy a universal rule, and because it celebrated communion with unleavened bread. When the dispute grew, Pope Leo IX sent an ambassador to Constantinople to deal with it. But his choice was most unfortunate. Cardinal Humbert, his legate, knew no Greek and did not care to learn it. To his mind, the Eastern married clergy and the authority that the Byzantine emperor had over the church were the very enemies which he had vowed to destroy. He and Patriarch Michael Cerularius of Constantinople exchanged insults. After a dramatic and politically motivated excommunication against “heretic” Patriarch Cerularius, as well as any who dared follow him, the break between East and West was finally accomplished.

Constantine the Great

cosaint1

Throughout history, there have been many questions regarding the genuineness and sincerity of Constantine’s so-called conversion to Christianity. However, what scholars and historians all agree about is the effect of this supposed conversion of the Roman emperor Constantine. The most widely known story is that during the battle at Milvian Bridge against Maxentius, Constantine saw a vision of the “Chi-Rho”, the first two Greek letters of the name of Christ, along with the instruction “in this sign you shall conquer”. So, as the story goes, Constantine had the shields of his troops painted with this sign and thereafter indeed won the battle. Therefore, Constantine issued the historical Edict of Milan which put an end to the Christian persecution. As a shrewd and wise statesman, Constantine knew that outright persecution of the pagan religion would earn him disfavor among the leaders of society, majority of who were still pagans. As discussed in my earlier article, the Christian population was largely limited to the lower echelons of the Roman Empire, with a few exceptions of course.

Notwithstanding this, Constantine still continued thereafter to serve and offer sacrifices to the pagan gods. Moreover, as emperor, he serves as the high priest of paganism, who later on after his death was even declared a god himself. In fact, throughout his entire life, he never placed himself under the direction of Christian teachers or bishops, although Christian leaders such as Lactantius formed part of his entourage and Hosius, bishop of Cordova, became for a time his liaison with other ecclesiastical leaders.

After he became the overall ruler of the Roman Empire, he moved the capital from Rome to Constantinople, then Byzantium and now Istanbul, Turkey. Hence it was also known as the Byzantine Empire. According to Justo Gonzalez, the impact of Constantine’s reforms can still be felt up to as late as the twentieth century. One of the most significant developments during his time was the adoption of an “official theology” as best exemplified by the Council of Nicea in A.D. 325, which sought to unify Christendom with a common doctrine or creed against the teachings of Arius, a presbyter, who taught that Jesus was a created being and not God co-eternal with the Father. Furthermore, the official recognition of Christianity as a valid religion also brought some changes to Christian worship in that during its early years, Christians gathered to worship in private homes. However, with the construction of elaborate houses of worship, churches, basilicas and cathedrals, Christian worship soon came to be regarded with more pomp and majesty. The same can likewise be seen from the changes in the way officiating ministers dress, who until then had worn everyday clothes. From that time on and even until today, Catholic and Orthodox priests, and Protestant ministers now wear luxurious vestments with intricate designs. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. Jesus, the King of kings and Lord of lords, certainly deserves majestic worship.

Finally, this era also marked the beginning of official commemoration of a martyr’s death, which then extended to the saints who have passed away. Thus, the impact of Constantine.

How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth

I first read the book How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth by Gordon Fee and Douglas Stuart in its entirety back in 2008. I read it just because I wanted to know how to properly understand the Bible and thereby maximize my learning. A few months thereafter, I was invited by my friend and co-faculty member at the University of Makati to speak at their church during their Lenten seminars. It was a Catholic parish in Makati and the topic was Scripture. So, I quickly grabbed the opportunity and reviewed the above-mentioned book in preparation for my talk! I felt so privileged that in spite of my being a “Protestant”, I was still invited to speak and teach about no less than the Bible.

Of course, as an Evangelical Christian, I hold to the five solas trumpeted by the Protestant Reformers, the most hotly contested of which was sola scriptura or scripture alone. This was relevant because unlike Protestants and Evangelicals, the Catholic Church teaches that God’s infallible Word is not only found in Sacred Scripture but also in Sacred Tradition as handed down by the Magisterium, the teaching authority of the Church. Nonetheless, when it was my turn to speak (there were three of us, the others were Catholic seminary graduates), I only focused on Scripture and its primacy.

I started my talk by stressing the importance and significance of the Bible in our daily lives; that as God’s immutable Word, it should be the basis of all our beliefs about how to live our lives on earth and hereafter. Most of all, it is by reading the Bible that we get to know God better. However, it is not enough for us to just read the Bible but to read it with understanding. And that’s how I got into discussing hermeneutics, which I learned primarily from reading Drs. Fee and Stuart’s book and secondarily Knowing Scripture by Dr. R.C. Sproul.

I told the congregation that just like Jesus, Scripture has a dual nature, that of the human and divine. As a work of human hands and skill, it has historic particularity, meaning, that every book in the Bible is conditioned by the language, time, and culture in which it was originally written. But because the Bible is also the Word of God, it then has eternal relevance in that it speaks to all mankind, in every age and in every culture. Interpretation of the Bible is thereby demanded by the tension that exists between its historical particularity and eternal relevance. It is incumbent for teachers of the Word to stress this because while we adhere to the “plain meaning” of Scripture, there are still certain things that we need to consider, otherwise, we might fall into the common trap of “prooftexting” without context. Albeit Catholics usually just depend on the “official” interpretation given by the Magisterium, i.e. the Pope speaking “ex cathedra” together with the College of Cardinals, I nonetheless stressed the indispensability of hearing or reading God’s words to us directly from the Scriptures. To be able to do this effectively, one must at least have an idea of the basic principles of sound exegesis and contextualization. It was really good to have re-read the introduction portion of How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth. It reminded me of the important things to consider while reading the Bible. All in all, it should be a recommended reading not only to seminary or Bible school students but to each and every Christian who considers the Bible to be the infallible written Word of God.

The Purge

In its early years, Christianity suffered enormous setbacks. The early Christians suffered persecution under various Roman emperors. At first, the Roman Empire saw Christianity as just one new sect of Judaism. This is significant because the Romans had a policy of leaving the Jews alone in their religion since they were very inwardly focused and hence, generally did not bother other people. In fact, even the first Christians, being Jews themselves, did not even believe that they were following a new religion. The only difference between them and the other Jews was that they were convinced that the Messiah that they have all been waiting for had already come. Thus caused serious rifts with the ruling Jews because of their varying ideas on what the Messiah would be like. Most Jews, including Jesus’ apostles at first, believed that the Messiah would be a sort of military leader who would liberate them from Roman rule and restore the glory Israel had during the reign of Kings David and Solomon. Unfortunately for them, they saw that the man Jesus Christ, who claimed to be the Messiah, was killed by crucifixion by the Roman authorities. They thought that Jesus could not be the Messiah for he had failed in his mission miserably. Nevertheless, the early Christians did not see it that way. They saw the death and resurrection of Jesus as a victory and not as a defeat. As a result, Jesus was recognized as the Messiah or in Greek, the Christ.

As the distinction between Judaism and Christianity became clear, along with the Christians’ observance of Jesus’ commission to go and make disciples of all nations, baptize and teach, and as more and more Gentiles were converted, the Roman authorities quickly took notice of this new growing sect. It did not help at all that rumors of cannibalism and other horrific practices were being spread about Christianity. Due to the riots and disorder that this new sect has been causing among the Jews, the Roman authorities decided to expel and prevent them from teaching in the name of Christ, just as Peter and John experienced in Acts 4 under the Jewfish temple authorities.

As problems caused by Christians increased, including their stubborn refusal to burn incense to and worship the pagan gods and the emperor, not to mention their abstinence from participating in pagan festivities, the persecution against the followers of the Way increased all the more. First was under Emperor Nero, then under Domitian, the Pliny, Marcus Aurelius, Septimius Severus, Decius, Diocletian and Maximius. It was during this time when a lot of Christians suffered horrific tortures and death. Thus, the rise of the martyrs. Simply put, a martyr is a witness. Jesus said in Acts 1:8 that his disciples shall receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon and that they will be witnesses to him in Jerusalem, in Judea, in Samaria and to the ends of the earth! And this, they, the Christian martyrs such as Stephen, Ignatius, Polycarp, Perpetua, Felicitas, Thelica and Justin, among others, fulfilled without shame or ambivalence.

Fortunately however, these persecutions later on came to a decisive end during the reign of Emperor Constantine, the first so-called “Christian” Emperor.

The Dawn of the Kingdom

The Bible says that in the fullness of time, God sent His own Son, born of a woman, born under the Law. Jesus, the Son of God, was sent into the world, the world He himself created, at a certain point in time. A lot of people would ask why Jesus wasn’t sent earlier, maybe right after Adam and Eve sinned or after the Great Flood of Noah’s time. Others would ask why He wasn’t sent during our time today when there are thousands of people who refuse to believe in God and the Messiah or Christ.

Our Lord Jesus Christ was born during the time when Israel was under Roman sovereignty. Prior to that, the Jews enjoyed a brief period of independence from foreign rule due to the revolutionary efforts and leadership of Matathias and his son, Judas Maccabeus. This period in Israel’s history was known as the Maccabean period or the Maccabees. However, after the death of Judas Maccabeus, his descendants fought over the territories causing a weakening of Israel, precipitating the intervention of the Roman Empire.

Jesus often refers to the Kingdom of God whenever He teaches, especially in His parables. If Jesus came earlier the conditions would not yet be ripe for the people to understand His message about the Kingdom of God. Albeit there were already kingdoms existing later on and before the Roman Empire, such models were still insufficient for the purposes of God. The Kingdom of God is like a mustard seed, leaven, etc. These illustrations show that the Kingdom of God is something that starts small and then spreads to other nations and kingdoms, just like the expanding Roman Empire, which started out as a republic.

In addition to this, the paved and well-guarded roads built by the Romans greatly aided in the spread of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, which was not even due to intentional missionary activity but to commercial trade where Christians were involved, especially after the dispersion due to Emperor Diocletian’s persecution of the same. Jesus commissioned His disciples to go and make disciples of all nation, to baptize them in the name of the Triune God and teach them everything He had commanded them (Matthew 28:19-20). Unlike the Jews who were inwardly focused and tended to see themselves as God’s special people to the exclusion of others, the Christians went around sharing the Gospel of Jesus Christ not only to Jews but also to the Gentiles.

The Doctrine of the Perseverance of the Saints

As I was reading the chapter on Perseverance in the book Renewal Theology by Dr. J. Rodman Williams, there were some persistent questions that kept on bothering me. Dr. Williams speaks of the security of salvation, to wit: “Hence, there is no way of falling out of God’s love and care and concern. Grace is unconditional. This means that God perseveres, whatever man may do, in the undergirding and sustaining of all who truly believe. God never fails. The security of salvation rests—let it be repeated—not in ourselves, but in Him.” However, on the next page, he says that true believers—Christians—can and indeed do fall away (apostatize) from the Faith. To be sure, Dr. Williams did provide ample passages from Scripture proving both statements. So if our salvation is secure in God, then how is it possible that true Christians can and do fall away?

Those of the Reformed (Calvinist) camp, quoting 1 John 2:19, would say that those who apostatized were not genuine Christians and were never saved in the first place. As a staunch Calvinist, I held on to that position. But when I took another look at that passage, I realized something. Although I noticed this prior to reading Renewal Theology, I’ll just use the words of Dr. Williams therein: “However, John is here referring to unbelievers—indeed ‘antichrists’ who have been in the Christian fellowship but who do not in faith truly belong, and who by their defection exhibit this.” He further states that the word ‘apostasy’ itself means a departure from the faith and that it would be a contradiction in terms if we would say that a person who never had the faith could apostatize from it. I see the point. So, lo and behold, I have changed my view! But the question begs us, if our salvation is secure in God, then how is it possible that true Christians can and do fall away?

Because Scripture simultaneously teaches predestination, election, perseverance (or eternal security) on the one hand and the falling away of true believers on the other hand, then we have to believe both to be true without making it appear that the Bible contradicts itself. In his article entitled A Tiptoe Through TULIP, James Akin provided the Thomist, as in St. Thomas Aquinas, view on predestination. According to Aquinas, we should distinguish between predestination to initial salvation and predestination to final salvation, to wit: “the gift of final perseverance is the abiding in good to the end of life. In order to have this perseverance man . . . needs the divine assistance guiding and guarding him against the attacks of the passions . . . [A]fter anyone has been justified by grace, he still needs to beseech God for the aforesaid gift of perseverance that he may be kept from evil till the end of life. For to many grace is given to whom perseverance in grace is not given.” [ST I:II:109:10]. James Akin further posited that “The idea that a person can be predestined to come to God yet not be predestined to stay the course may be new to Calvinists and may sound strange to them, but it did not sound strange to Augustine, Aquinas, or even Luther.” Herein I have found the solution to this apparent dilemma, one that sufficiently harmonizes biblical doctrine.

The Dual Nature of Jesus Christ

One of most common marks of a cult is the denial of the Christian doctrine of the hypostatic union or the dual nature of Jesus Christ which is that of God and Man. Unlike the demigods of Greek mythology such as Hercules or the more recent Percy Jackson, Christ is both 100% God and 100% man; not 50% god and 50% man. Many portions of Scripture completely affirm His deity, showing that at no time did He lose His divine nature. Yet the Bible teaches, equally strongly, that Christ became fully human.

The Iglesia Ni Cristo (Church of Christ or INC), founded by Felix Y. Manalo in July 1914, strongly insists that Jesus has only one nature, and that is a human nature. Citing John 17:3, among others, they claim that only the Father is the one true God. According to Dr. Kenneth Boa, when someone realizes that Scriptures reveal Christ to be the complete God-man, he has three basic alternatives. First, he may decide to reject this revelation because it doesn’t make sense to him. Such a rejection would diminish or completely erase the Word of God’s authority in his mind. Second, he can try to reason it out, reword it, or illustrate it, as though it could be resolved like a paradox. In this case, people skirt the issue by minimizing certain Scriptures or avoiding a direct collision with the biblical data’s implications on this point. The third alternative is to acknowledge that no analogies or illustrations will really solve the puzzle and that the complete authority of the Word of God must be recognized, no matter how difficult some of its implications may be. All the biblical data is accepted by faith, and reason is made subject to revelation. Only when the Bible is approached this way can intellectual satisfaction be attained.

Just because our human intellect has difficulty grasping the truth of the hypostatic union, Felix Manalo and his “ministers of the gospel” deny the clear teaching of Scripture that Jesus is God incarnate. By doing this, it behooves me to understand how a man, albeit a special man, as the INC calls Jesus, can save us from our sins by becoming the ultimate sacrifice of atonement. A mere man, no matter how special he is, cannot satisfy the infinite wrath and justice of God. Only God Himself, in the person of Jesus Christ, can be sufficient.

How God Calls Us to Salvation

When we talk about God’s “calling” to salvation, we are actually referring to two kinds. First, is the “general” or “gospel” call; and second, is the “specific” or “effectual/effective” call. The former pertains to the human proclamation of the gospel whether in oral or written form, such as the preaching done by a minister at the pulpit during worship services or evangelical “crusades”. The same can also be done on a one to one basis as with a friend. The latter on the other hand, pertains to God the Holy Spirit’s inner call which only the concerned person can hear. This effectual call is spiritual in nature unlike that of the gospel call which is physical in nature. Nevertheless, the effectual call almost always occurs either immediately after or at the same time as the gospel call.

However, within Christendom, there is an ongoing centuries-old debate between those who hold that God’s effectual calling is based on His unconditional election (the “Calvinists”) and those who believe that God’s effectual calling is based His election of those whom God knows will choose Him (the “Arminians”).

According to Dr. J.R. Williams, there is no predestination to death. About God he says: “He has no hidden agenda, by which He has already decided to save some and reprobate or bypass the others.” He further stated that “Christ came that people might rise rather than fall; He came as Savior and not also as Destroyer. However, His very coming precipitates a crisis in which some fall and others rise.” He then proceeds to quote Romans 9:33 where the text itself says that God lays a stumbling stone, a rock which will make men fall, in the person of Jesus. In the same verse, likewise in 1 Peter 2:6, it says that “whoever believes in Him (Jesus) shall not be put to shame.” Nowhere in these passages does it say anything about those “whoever” that will believe. He further quotes 1 Peter 2:8 to prove that the stumbling of the unsaved is due to disobedience and not to God’s predetermination. However, Dr. Williams passed over (pun intended) the part of the verse which says “as they were destined to do”. Therefore, we can conclude that albeit the stumbling of unbelievers over Jesus is due to their disobedience, this disobedience was still predestined by God by His preterition or passing over of the reprobates, thus, leaving them to their own devices.

It is understandable and natural that a lot of people resist (again, pun intended), the idea that God does not predestine anyone to damnation but we have to keep in mind that after the fall of Adam and Eve, the only thing that mankind justly deserves is punishment in hell. God is under no obligation to save any of us in the first place. Hence, God’s saving some and not all is actually already an act of mercy and grace on His part; and there is no injustice therein.