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Micael Grenholm - a Swedish charismactivist residing with the Jesus Army in the UK.

Micael Grenholm - a Swedish charismactivist residing with the Jesus Army in the UK.

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Why Sacraments Don’t Exist

My latest contribution to the MennoNerds vlog concerned the issue of sacraments, where I and my cat friend Kafka argued that they don’t exist:

communionNow, some of you may get a knee-jerk reaction when you hear that, so let me clarify what I mean. I’m not saying that things like communion, baptism and anointing of the sick don’t exist or that we shouldn’t do those things, there are clear Biblical commands prescribing us to practice that. But the Bible doesn’t call them “sacraments”, and neither should we. In the video, I briefly describe the origin of the term and how the definition of “sacrament”, which in turn decides what should be included in the category, is completely arbitrary and man-made.

Think for yourself: why isn’t helping the poor described as a sacrament? It’s not because Jesus isn’t telling us to help the poor, because He is. It’s not because helping the poor isn’t a visible sign of invisible grace, as the classical sacramental definition goes, because it is. Let’s face it, the reason why baptism and communion are included in a category that historical churches have found very important whereas helping the poor, evangelism and the Lord’s prayer has been excluded from said category, is because the founders of those sacramental categorizations subjectively thought that some Biblical commands were more important than others. I’ve written more about this here. (more…)

Is the Vatican about to Reject Just War Teaching?

vatican

A week ago, Catholic Herald reported that a conference hosted by the Vatican on war and peace rejected just war teaching and call upon pope Francis to make nonviolence the official Catholic stance. The conference had been welcomed and blessed by the pope according to the Vatican Radio as he thanked the participants for “revitalizing the tools of non-violence”.

The conference was hosted by pacifist Catholic organization Pax Christi as well as the Pontifical council on justice and peace. In an appeal directed at the pope, the around 80 participants wrote:

“Too often the ‘just war theory’ has been used to endorse rather than prevent or limit war. Suggesting that a ‘just war’ is possible also undermines the moral imperative to develop tools and capacities for nonviolent transformation of conflict… We need a new framework that is consistent with Gospel nonviolence. We propose that the Catholic Church develop and consider shifting to a Just Peace approach based on Gospel nonviolence.”

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Did the Catholic Church Just Say That Jews Don’t Need Jesus?

Skärmavbild 2015-12-15 kl. 09.21.31

Yeah, they sort of did. The new Catholic document The Gifts and the Calling of God Are Irrevocable states: “From the Christian confession that there can be only one path to salvation, however, it does not in any way follow that the Jews are excluded from God’s salvation because they do not believe in Jesus Christ as the Messiah of Israel and the Son of God.” They also add: “In concrete terms this means that the Catholic Church neither conducts nor supports any specific institutional mission work directed towards Jews.”

The document is a sequel to 1965’s Nostra aetate, which was a good document: it condemned antisemitism and persecution. This new paper however takes it some steps further. It is mainly a long exegesis of Romans 9-11, and their conclusion is that the Catholic Church should not seek to institutionally lead Jews to Christ, even though they can’t stop individual Catholics from doing so.

My take on this can be found in the video. Jesus loves to heal and save His Jewish brothers and sisters, as He recently did in Tel Aviv, and it’s always strange when people tend to believe that the best way to make sure that you don’t hate or kill a religious group is to say that they go to Heaven. Evangelism doesn’t lead to antisemitism; stupidity, hatred and disobedience to Jesus leads to antisemitism. Let’s encourage both Catholics and Jews to seek the truth in Jesus, rather than trusting in the doctrine of man.

The Problem with “Sacraments”

sacrament-338987_640

For many Christians, sacraments are really important. Catholics, Anglicans, Lutherans and others often emphasize how precious their sacraments are, and sometimes criticize other church traditions for not being “sacramental” enough. There is a lot of disagreement on what a sacrament is though: Catholic teaching states that there are seven sacraments, whereas most Protestants argue that there are two – baptism and communion – and eastern Orthodoxs usually claim that there are countless! The Catholic council of Trent states that both the Protestant and eastern Orthodox views are unacceptable, condemning anyone who says that there are “more, or less, than seven” sacraments.

This is just ridiculous. Jesus and the apostles never talked about “sacraments”. Yes, they baptized, broke the bread, annointed the sick and so on, but they never grouped these activities in one category of “sacraments”. Nothing in the Scriptures indicates that communion and baptism had any other role or importance than other things Jesus commanded His disciples to do, like helping the poor, pray and share the Gospel.

“Sacrament” is really a creative Latin translation of the Greek term mysterion, a word that does appear in the Scriptures never referring to church activities but to the Gospel (e.g. Col 4:3, 1 Tim 3:16). The one responsible for the translation was Tunisian church father Tertullian (155-240 AD), who often was creative with his translations (“sacrament” didn’t really mean mystery but rather referred to an oath), and he used it when describing baptism because he thought that baptism was a mystery.

So far so good. However, another African church father, Augustine, took some more freedoms with the word around 200 years later, using it as a category to include not just baptism but also communion, the Nicene creed and the Lord’s prayer. He was also the first arguing that a sacrament is a visible sign of invisible grace, which of course is true for those things but not exclusive to them – Bibles, sermons and a hug can also be visible signs of invisible grace. (more…)

Why Catholic, Orthodox and Protestant Aren’t Good Christian Categories

In school, I learned that there are three major branches of Christianity: Catholic, Orthodox and Protestant Christianity. I haven’t questioned this until recently: why aren’t Orthodoxs called protestants, since they’ve rebelled against the Catholic church just as we have (or perhaps, from their perspective, Rome rebelled against them during the great schism)?

An argument against that is that the Orthodox church(es) claim, just like the Roman Catholic church, to be the uncorrupted church with direct historic lineage to the holy community of the Biblical apostles. Protestant churches, however, recognize that these churches are not that uncorrupted, but that false doctrines and practices has developed during the millennia.

In fact, many Catholics and Orthodoxs will admit that they believe in things that there is no evidence that the Biblical church believed in, but they will argue that when the church(es) introduced these things it was because it (they) had matured, and got to think about more fundamental things than how to survive persecution.

So basically, we have two streams of thought here: those who think that the church changed in a good way (which we, for simplicity’s sake, can call evolutionism) and those who think it changed in a bad way. Those who think the church changed in a bad way, usually propose that we should go back to the good way. This is commonly called restorationism or Christian primitivism, the idea that we should restore Christianity to its Biblical, primitive form. As many of you know, I am a restorationist Christian.

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The Church’s Responsibility for the Holocaust

Emblem of the German Christians

Emblem of the German Christians

Today is 70 years since the Nazi death camp Auschwitz was liberated by Soviet troops, and it is also the International Holocaust Remembrance Day. We must never forget the horrible attrocities during the world war when approximately seven million Jews, Romas, disabled, homosexuals and others were brutally killed by the Nazi regime and their allies. And as Christians, we must never forget that many who participated in this called themselves Christians, and that parts of the church leadership supported Nazism – although there was a lot of Christian resistance as well.

A lot has been written about the religious views of Hitler himself, and it seems to be a bit self-contradictory and populistic – which isn’t too strange since he, after all, was a Nazi. I’ve heard several neo-Nazis and other racists today declare that they fight for “Christian values” while they also hate religion and, of course, revere pagan gods. This is obviously extremely paradoxical but could be explained by that for many racists religion is merely a suit, which importance is heavily subordinated the nationalist and racist values that one fights for. Hence, the Party Platform of NSDAP read in 1920:

“We demand the freedom of all religious confessions in the state, insofar as they do not jeopardize the state’s existence or conflict with the manners and moral sentiments of the Germanic race. The Party as such upholds the point of view of a positive Christianity without tying itself confessionally to any one confession. It combats the Jewish-materialistic spirit at home and abroad and is convinced that a permanent recovery of our people can only be achieved from within on the basis of the common good before individual good.”

The state-censored religion proposed here should be unacceptable to any descent Christian, but both Catholics and Protestants started to dance to the Nazi pipe after Hitler became dictator. Paul Althaus, one of Germany’s leading Lutheran theologians, wrote “Our Protestant churches have welcomed the turning point of 1933 as a gift and miracle of God”.

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Miracles According to a Charismatic, Lutheran and Catholic Church Leader

three church leaders

Let me present to you my independent essay in systematic theology: Are Miracles Real. Click the link to download it as a PDF. If you don’t like PDF, you can download it as a Word-document

In the essay I study how three church leaders view miracles: Surprise Sithole, charismatic apostolic leader in southern Africa, K.G. Hammar, archbishop emeritus of the Lutheran Church of Sweden, and pope Francis. I’ve already presented to you the miracles of Surprise Sithole and pope Francis’ view on miracles on this blog. The viewpoint of K.G. Hammar, however, is radically different – he doesn’t believe that miracles in the traditional, supernatural sense exists. I have tried to identify what arguments each church leader uses to defend their viewpoint, and then I analyze whether these arguments are reasonable and sound.

Surprise Sithole is a strong believer in miracles, basing this on his miraculous experiences and a literal reading of the Bible. K.G. Hammar does not believe that miracles happen, based on science, his metaphorical Bible reading and non-supernaturalist experiences. Pope Francis believes, like Sithole, in miracles both as Biblical and contemporary events, and like Hammar, he believes that science confirms his view. He interprets the Bible both literally and metaphorically, and his experience and church tradition confirm his supernaturalist belief.

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Pope Francis’ View on Miracles

Pope Francis blesses a sick man, right before praying an exorcist prayer

Pope Francis blesses a sick man, right before praying an exorcist prayer

As you may know, I’m writing a thesis in systematic theology about belief in miracles according to three church leaders: Surprise Sithole, K.G. Hammar and pope Francis. This is what I’ve found concerning the pope’s view on miracles:

Jose Mario Bergoglio, who would become Pope Francis, was born in in Buenos Aires, Argentina, in 1936. After a brief career as a chemical technician and a bar bouncer, he studied theology to become a Jesuit and a priest. In 1992 he became bishop of Buenos Aires and in 1998 archbishop of the same. He became known for his care for the poor and marginalised and was called “bishop of the slums”.

In Latin America, the charismatic movement is growing fast, both outside and inside the Catholic church. After Bergoglio became a pope, he would reveal how his view of the charismatic movement changed during the 80’s and 90’s, from skeptical to welcoming:

I’ll tell you something about the Charismatic Movement … at the end of the ’70s and in the ’80s, I wasn’t a big fan. I used to say they confused the holy liturgy with a school of samba. I was converted when I got to know them better and saw the good they do. In this moment of the life of the church, the movements are necessary. They’re a grace of the Spirit, and in general, they do much good for the church. The charismatic renewal movement isn’t just about winning back a few Pentecostals, but it serves the church and its renewal.

In 1996 to 1999, bishop Bergoglio was involved in the process of verifying a eucharistic miracle, where a host had allegedly turned into a piece of flesh in a church in central Buenos Aires. According to an article in Catholic magazine Love One Another, Bergoglio ordered that the host should be photographed and scientifically analyzed. The article says that Dr. Ricardo Castanón sent it for analysis in New York, and he was told that the substance was a fine slice of a heart muscle. Dr Castanon speak about this himself in a video that can be found on YouTube:

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Francis – the Charismatic Hippie Pope

Pope Francis, in a Brazilian favela

Pope Francis, in a Brazilian favela

Who would have thought that a Jesus freak would become pope? The main focus of this blog has always been that signs and wonders need to be combined with peace and justice – charismatic Christians need to be activists and activist Christians need to be charismatic – since this is what Jesus taught to His disciples and Holy Spirit activism has the power to transform lives and bring hope in even greater ways that non-supernatural activism. Unfortunately, a lot of times charismatic and evangelical Christians are not huge fans of peace and justice – something that is painfully obvious when you see what many of them write about the Gaza war – and many Christian activists are not very charismatic or evangelical.

But there is, I believe, a growing movement within Christianity that realizes that a charismatic life in the Spirit should be combined with activism for a better world; a movement that crosses all denominations, places and cultures. And by God’s grace we have a sympathizer among the leader of the biggest church in the world: pope Francis.

Few have missed that Francis is a passionate advocate for peace and justice: he has criticized capitalism for neglecting the poor, he lives simply and promotes economic equality, he has prayed for peace in the Middle East both at the Western wall and at the West Bank wall. But what not as many know is that Francis also is a charismatic pope, who believes in Spiritual gifts and who blesses both the Catholic charismatic renewal and Pentecostals.

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Ten Reasons Why the Catholic View on the Early Church is Wrong

Peter preaches in Jerusalem, Acts 2

Peter preaches in Jerusalem, Acts 2

Christian primtivism is the logical idea that the church Jesus founded was the church He wanted. It’s connected to the idea of restorationism, that teaches that we should restore Church to its original form when it starts to behave weird and contradict Scripture. As you’ve probably noticed I’m a passionate restorationist, and while I love and cooperate with people from the historical churches I think that their tendency to contradict the Biblical Church is quite harming. A couple of days ago a friend sent me an article on Catholic Answers called The Problems with Primitivism by Dwight Longenecker, which says that we should really not try to model church as Jesus and the apostles modeled it. Allow me to disagree. I will quote each of Longenecker’s arguments and turn them on their heads:

1 Cultural Relevance

First, each restorationist movement, although it seeks to return to the ancient church of the apostolic age, is actually produced as a reaction to the circumstances of its own age and culture. For example, the peasant movement of the Bogomils came out of a church weighed down with corruption and aristocratic influence. The radical reformers in 16th-century Europe and the New World were influenced by the utopianism, the rise of the nation state, and revolutionary spirit of their age… Restorationists believe they are restoring something ancient. In fact all they do is create an expression of Christianity which is a reaction against the circumstances and assumptions of the age in which they live.

Well, I know of no restorationist movement that claims that we need to speak Arameic and live in the Roman Empire to be the original church. All churches adapt the Gospel to their culture and historical context – including the Catholic Church. It’s hard to argue though that since we need to adapt to our culture we need to believe in purgatory and seven sacraments.

2 Information about the Early Church

Second, while restorationist movements are reactions to the particular age in which they live, they are also conditioned by the long history of restorationist movements. For hundreds of years, Protestants have perpetuated a particular vision of the early Church. Each new restorationist movement borrows those ideas, never questioning whether the tradition they are inheriting is actually true to the reality of the early Church or not. Therefore, the restorationist doesn’t so much restore primitive Christianity; he simply replicates are earlier restorationist model, reproducing what he has been told early Christianity was like.

It’s true that some restorationists are lazy, not double-checking their doctrines and practices by Scripture, but the same thing can definitely be said about Catholics. For example, they believe that there are seven sacraments – neither more nor less – an idea that originated with Peter Lombard in the 12th century! All restorationist movements at least try to break unbiblical traditions and restore biblical Christianity, Catholicism however is not even trying.

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The Merging of Neo-Pentecostalism and Roman Catholicism

Francis and Kenneth

Francis and Kenneth

Many were surprised a couple of weeks ago when pope Francis sent a message to a Word of Faith conference led by Kenneth Copeland, speaking about unity and asking them to bless and pray for him, as he blesses and prays for them. And Copeland got excited and blessed him back. It’s surprising because Francis and Copeland are very distant theologically – besides the usual differences between Catholicism and Pentecostal Protestantism, Francis is a guy who is well-known for economic simplicity and an emphasis on redistribution to the poor, while Copeland is well-known for his capitalist prosperity preaching. He not only owns a mansion worth 6 million dollars and several private jet planes, but also his own freakin’ airport, Kenneth Copeland Airport, where he stores his private jet planes close to his 6 million dollar-mansion!

However, this surprise doesn’t come close to what Christians in Sweden experienced two days ago when it was revealed that Ulf Ekman, the leader of the Word of Faith movement in Scandinavia, converts to Roman Catholicism. Ulf Ekman is probably the most well-known Swedish Christian living today, his international ministry reaches millions and he is well-known among both Christians and non-Christians, mostly because he manages to be constantly controversial.

He brought the “name it claim it”-teaching from Kenneth Hagin and Oral Roberts to northern Europe, emphasizing health, wealth and success, and gathered prayer warriors wanted charismatic revival in Sweden and political domination for Israel in the middle east. And they despised Catholics, arguing that they represented a dead religion that quenched the Spirit and stood for countless heresies.

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Uganda’s Anti-Gay Laws and African Constantinianism

Uganda's President Yuweri Museveni. Photo: Russell Watkins/UK Department for International Development

Uganda’s President Yuweri Museveni. Photo: Russell Watkins/UK Department for International Development

I remember how shocked I was when I heard about the Lord’s Resistance Army for the first time. This Christian militia wants to introduce a theocracy in Uganda based on the Ten Commandments, and the pathway to this goal is death and destruction. The LRA is infamous for cutting off people’s lips, hands or ears if they betray them, arguing that they’re following the Biblical command in Lev 2419-20: “Anyone who injures their neighbor is to be injured in the same manner: fracture for fracture, eye for eye, tooth for tooth.”

The fact that Jesus abolished violence and said “You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also” (Mt 5:38-39) was something they didn’t like to mention.

The LRA is completely mad, and many are eager to point out that they aren’t very Christian at all but practice pagan, occult worship, and the Ten Commandments Theocracy is probably not their real goal at all. In later years, they have been very marginalized and are not even in Uganda any more. However, when I hear about the new anti-gay laws in Uganda, which put LGBT people in prison for life and which requires all citizens to “report” homosexuals, I wonder if the crazy LRA ideology hasn’t won a small victory after all. (more…)

Pope Francis: “The Charismatic Movement is Necessary”

Francis among the people

Francis among the people

Pope Francis is hotter than ever, being Time’s person of the year and all, and people are continously thrilled to see that this is a pope who really cares about the poor and wounded, a pope that criticizes capitalism, wash the feet of young prisoners, and invites the homeless for his birthday meal. A recent article in the Huffington Post discusses how Francis clearly has been impacted by Latin American liberation theology, and it also points out that his Argentinian background has left an impact on him that is seldomly discussed in the media, namely charismatic fire.

On his flight from Rio de Janeiro back to Rome, pope Francis said:

I’ll tell you something about the Charismatic Movement … at the end of the ’70s and in the ’80s, I wasn’t a big fan. I used to say they confused the holy liturgy with a school of samba. I was converted when I got to know them better and saw the good they do. In this moment of the life of the church, the movements are necessary. They’re a grace of the Spirit, and in general, they do much good for the church. The charismatic renewal movement isn’t just about winning back a few Pentecostals, but it serves the church and its renewal.

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Our Orthodox Heritage

The Church of the Holy Sepulchre, where it is belived that Jesus died and rose again

The Church of the Holy Sepulchre, where it is belived that Jesus died and rose again

For several years I have preached that we must resurrect the Jerusalem church. This church combined amazing miracles with radical economic equality, they were zealous in evangelism so that people came to faith every day, and they faithfully hold on to the teachings of the apostles (Acts 2:42-47). They were in all ways doing church as Jesus wanted them to do, since it was led by His hand picked apostolic disciples. From the first post I wrote on this blog throughout my writing, I’ve emphasized that we must be like the church of Jerusalem.

Yesterday I found their website.

The greek orthodox patriarchate of Jerusalem seems to be the exactly sam church that was founded on the day of Pentecost 2’000 years ago. Even if Jerusalem has been conquered and even destroyed a couple of times the church claims to have an apostolic succession back to good ol’ James, Jesus’ brother. They celebrate their services in Koine Greek, the language of the New Testament, and their main church is built upon the place where they think that Jesus died for our sins and rose from the dead. I find this extremely cool.

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Francis – a Good Name for an Activist Wonder-Worker

image

Pope Francis

As I hoped, we got a non-European pope! And as I suspected, the non-European pope was quite passionate for social justice. Even though some question marks have been raised concerning Jorge Mario Bergoglio’s actions during the Argentinian civil war in the 70’s, few can deny that he has been working hard against inequality, poverty and oppression as archbishop of Buenos Aires. He combines this activism with simplicity – as a cardinal, he lived in an ampartment instead of the usual palace, he took the bus instead of his chaffeur-driven car, and he cooked his own meal.

Many has pointed to the fact that his papal name, Francis, expresses this concern for the poor. S:t Francis of Assisi (1181-1226) sure was a radical, Christ-like activist. He sold everything he had, preached simplicity, loved the poor, criticised the rich and proclaimed the Kingdom of God. However, the new Pope is said to have another Francis in mind as well: S:t Francis Xavier (1506-1552). He is less well-known but just as radical – as a missionary in Asia he worked hard for poverty reduction and development while he was also spreading the Gospel.

Both of these Francises were charismatic activists. They combined their passion för justice and evangelism with marvelous signs and wonders in the power of the Holy Spirit. Francis of Assisis most famous miracle is probably the stigmata – the wounds of Christ supernaturally appearing on his body. But he experienced a lot. Marilynn Hughes writes:

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