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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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The Nonviolent Reformer that Sadly Didn’t Have an Easy Name Such As Luther

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Petr Chelčický

The following is an excerpt of my upcoming book Charismactivism, due to be published later this year by Ettelloc Publishing. 

The Protestants of the 16th century were far from the first who protested against Catholic errors and heresies, but this movement was the first one to escape being totally quenched by inquisitors and grow to a big, substantial size so that it was clear once and for all that Catholics and Orthodoxs didn’t have monopoly on the name of Jesus. This was primarily because unlike most previous Christian rebels, Martin Luther (1483-1546) and John Calvin (1509-1564) did not question the state-church system — on the contrary they endorsed it! Thus, many Protestants weren’t persecuted; they persecuted others. Furthermore, while prophetic, charismactivist movements demanded believers to take discipleship seriously and actively seek holiness, Luther’s hostility towards works made it quite easy to be a Christian in his church.

Reformers like John Wycliffe (1331-1384) in England and Jan Hus (1369-1415) in Bohemia (which is now the Czech Republic) had already protested against Biblical ignorance, papal fundamentalism, ecclesial luxury, and indulgences. The latter refers to golden tickets to Heaven that you had to buy in order to decrease time in your or your loved one’s painful purgatory chamber, the existence of which was questioned by Wycliffe since it isn’t mentioned in the Bible. Wycliffe translated the Bible into English, and Hus translated some of Wycliffe’s writings. The Catholics burned Wycliffe’s books, and Hus’ living body. The pope initiated not less than five crusades against Hus’ followers in Bohemia, which they violently countered in the so-called Hussite wars.

In the midst of this destructive conflict, a Bohemian reformer called Petr Chelčický (1390-1460) stepped up and preached the message of the Sermon on the Mount: nonviolence, enemy love and good deeds. Instead of just reforming the church to a slightly better state, he wanted to restore the Biblical, apostolic church completely. He believed in the free will of the individual believer, criticized the marriage between church and state, and promoted economic redistribution and communalism (not to be confused with extremist revolution and communism). (more…)

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How to Save a Church Movement from Extinction

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Originally published at Jesus Army.

Andreas Ehrenpreis is not a well-known name in church history, but what he managed to do is truly astonishing. Born 1589 in Illingen, Germany, Andreas was brought up as an Anabaptist – a persecuted, radical Christian movement that emphasised faith, peace and justice. At seven years of age, his family joined a Hutterite community in Morovia, modern-day Czech Republic.

The Hutterites had been founded by Jakob Hutter (1500-1536) as a church that believed that community of goods is something all Christians should practice. However, as Andreas Ehrenpreis was commissioned as a minister of the Word in 1621, things had changed drastically.

Community was not practiced the same way as before – people usually laid aside money for themselves and stored various luxuries. Some bought weapons to defend themselves against persecutors, despite the church’s official, pacifist stance. As the Mennonite Encyplopedia puts it, “moral slackening was observable everywhere”. (more…)

A Book Packed with Community Inspiration

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A review of Charles E. Moore’s Called to Community (Plough Publishing, 2016).

I had not looked at the book cover closely enough when I opened Called to Community to realise what kind of authors it had, so it was with great surprise I turned to the first chapter and saw that it was written by Fjodor Dostojevskij! Yes, an excerpt from The Brothers Karamazov about how heaven is realised when we reject individualism, initiates this unique contribution to the Christian community litterature.

Containing writings by C.S. Lewis, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Mother Teresa, Benedict of Nursia, Dorothy Day, Jean Vanier and many more, this is an excellent source of inspiration for anyone interested in Christian community and its pioneers. Its 52 brief chapters makes it a good weekly reading over a year, obviously suitable for a collective reading in, for example, a community.

The editor, Bruderhof member Charles E. Moore, restricts his own writing in the volume to the introduction, a chapter about children in community and a chapter on knowing and loving our neighbours. The topics he lets his fellow authors cover include counterculture, calling, obstacles, love, conflict, money, forgiveness, hospitality and revolution. The chapters are organised in four different (quite chronological) sections: A Call to Community (alluding to the book’s title), Forming Community, Life in Community and Beyond Community. (more…)

Early Pentecostals on Nonviolence and Social Justice

Alexander.PentecostalsAndNonviolence.83628Brian Pipkin’s and Jay Beaman’s new book documents some of the pacifist and social justice convictions of early Pentecostals, many of whom were called traitors, slackers, cranks, and weak-minded people for extending Jesus’ love beyond racial, ethnic, and national boundaries.

They wrestled with citizenship and Jesus’ prohibitions on killing.

They rejected nation-worship, war profiteering, wage slavery, patriotic indoctrination, militarism, and Wall Street politics–and many suffered for it.

They criticized governments and churches that, in wartime, endorsed the very thing forbidden in their sacred book and civil laws.

They recognized the dangers of loving your country too much, even more than Jesus and his words, and viewed nation-loyalty as a distraction from a higher and more inclusive loyalty–devotion to God. (more…)

Why Are Biblical Churches so Rare?

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Kettering Jesus Fellowship, one of very few charismatic churches that have community of goods

I’ve been arguing for years that churches today need to look like they did in New Testament times – Jesus-centred, fully charismatic, publicly evangelistic, home based, and practising community of goods. Now churches like this are very rare as you probably have noted yourself. Even among Pentecostals and charismatics it is rare that the church publicly evangelise, they usually have church buildings and they almost never have community of goods.

Isn’t this a clear indication that I’m simply mistaken on what qualifies as a Biblical church? Not necessarily. Arguments for what a Biblical church should look like should always be based on the Bible, not popular opinion. If Christians who don’t practice community can’t defend their position biblically, it doesn’t matter how many they are.

In fact, whatever one thinks that a Biblical church looks like one has to admit that there have been historical periods where very few have been part of such a church. The Catholic and Orthodox dominance for over a thousand years would be such a period for us protestants. And even modern Catholics rarely agree with previous Catholic opposition to freedom of religion and endorsement of torture and crusades. (more…)

The History of the Jesus Army

Today on the MennoNerd vlog I talk about how awesome it is that the Jesus Army organises their local congregations around their intentional communities, where people live, eat and sleep every day, rather than around unbiblical church buildings that stand empty most of the time:

This is just one of many things that make the Jesus Army different from many other churches. The church owned businesses where everyone receive the same wage, the support for celibates, the emphasis on covenant and unity and the loud and proud emphasis on Jesus is quite extraordinary. Where does this church come from and what does its history look like? Those were the questions me and Sarah brought to Mike Farrant, who lives with me at the Holy Treasure community in Kettering, in a recent episode of our Swedish podcast “Jesus People”:

Mike shared how it all began when an outpouring of the Holy Spirit hit a Baptist chapel in the small town of Bugbrooke, Northamptonshire, which made hundreds of student, hippies, drug addicts, businessmen and many other sorts of people join the church. They soon started to practice community of goods like in the book of Acts and changed name to Jesus Fellowship Church. Mike has been living in community for 41 years and obviously knows a lot about both its advantages and challenges.

Rules for Christian Community

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Me and Sarah Stenmark from the Jerusalem Project with two nuns, who shared with us what community can look like

I’m so excited! Today I’ve had a Skype meeting with some brothers and sisters in the Jerusalem Project, an association I co-founded a few months ago that encourages Christian community of goods in Sweden. We talked about the vision for community that God has put in our hearts, and we listed some basic principles that we want to be foundational for the community that we plan to start, a community where everyone have everything in common.

As some inspiration for such a rule, I have looked at both ancient and modern examples of monastic rules. I will give you two examples here before I showcase what principles we have talked about in the Jerusalem Project.

The Old

First out is St. Basil’s rule, written in the fourth century. These are just the chapter titles, the actual rule is like a small book: (more…)

Ending Cell Group Anarchy

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Photo from tonight’s cell group in my church, which is basically identical to our Sunday service

In Biblical times, local churches met primarily in homes as a complement to their public evangelism (Acts 2:46, 20:20, Rom 16:5). For at least 250 years home churches were the norm – the earliest discovered church building that wasn’t used as a home is from the late third century. With Constantine stuff changed, basilicas and cathedrals were established, and these were the norm in the state churches.

Radical restorationist groups have often started in the homes, this includes the early Anabaptists, Baptists and the Pietist movement. When less persecuted and more established, they have often built church buildings as their state church counterparts. In the 18th century, Methodist leader John Wesley introduced the concept of having meetings in homes as a complement to the Sunday service in a church building.

In the 20th century this practice has become very popular. Realizing that meetings in church buildings aren’t designed to effectively promote fellowship and discipleship, many church leaders have welcomed cell groups/small groups/house groups in their congregations. 

However, there are no fixed standards to what a cell group is and what it should do. Since it’s not viewed as a church of its own, there are usually no requirements of it to include the things that we see that New Testament churches were expected to include. For this reason, there’s basically anarchy when it comes to how cell groups look like. Here are some examples: (more…)

Miracles in the Early Days of the Jesus Army

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Ralph, to the right, ex-atheist convicted by the Holy Spirit

The Jesus Fellowship Church, a.k.a. Jesus Army, was born out of a mighty work of the Holy Spirit through a small Baptist chapel in Bugbrooke, central England, during the late 60’s and early 70’s. The Holy Spirit loves to do miracles, and so the book Fire in Our Hearts by Simon Cooper and Mike Farrant that describes the history of the Jesus Fellowship records multiple miracles.

During a charismatic meeting on a Saturday evening in the chapel, one boy suddenly took his glasses off and exclaimed that he could see perfectly all of a sudden. A lady was healed of a deformed hand and a man’s gums were healed. A man called Mick had been mainlining a lot and had several ulcerations and scars all across his arms. When he emerged from the water during his baptism, all the marks were gone!

A woman called Carol once stood up at a meeting and declared prophetically “Mim is going to get baptised in the Spirit – tonight!” She was referring to her friend and the very same evening Mim was indeed spiritually baptised and started to speak in tongues. Carol’s dormitory was invaded by beetles, so she said “I rebuke you beetles in the name of Jesus!” – and they vanished. (more…)

William Lane Craig on the Resurrection of Jesus

WLCI have mentioned previously that I really enjoy the apologetic work of William Lane Craig, and regularly listens to his podcasts and lectures. I find Craig very intelligent, theologically sound and mostly quite easy to understand, and he oftens pinpoints thoughts and arguments that I have developed on my own. The other day I was listening to a talk he was holding in Southampton in the UK a couple of years ago on the resurrection of Jesus:

In the talk, which he has held multiple times in different locations, he defends five historical facts about Jesus and early Christianity which he argues that there are sustainable evidences for. These are:

  1. Jesus died on a Roman cross outside of Jerusalem
  2. He was buried in a tomb by Joseph of Arimathea
  3. On Easter Sunday his tomb was found empty by a group of women
  4. On multiple occassions individuals and groups of people experienced appearances of Jesus
  5. Jesus’ original disciples believed that he had rose from the dead, despite their having predispositions to the contrary

(more…)

The Problem with “Sacraments”

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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…)

China’s Early Pentecostals Practised Community of Goods

Check out this book for more info about the Jesus Family!

Check out this book for more info about the Jesus Family!

This is an excerpt from the first draft of my upcoming book on radical charismatic church history.

In the beginning of the 20th century, China was suffering from the Boxer uprising, where Mandarin nationalists revolted against European colonial influences, demanding that everything foreign, especially Christianity, should be thrown out. The Boxers were crushed by colonial forces but that didn’t put an end to the social unrest, and China continued to suffer from looting, violence and xenophobia. And yet, Pentecostalism spread rapidly throughout China, much thanks to the Holy Spirit and a guy called Mok Lai Chi (1868-1926) in Hong Kong.

Mok went to the slums of Wan Chai, preaching the Gospel and healing the sick. In 1908 he started a paper called Wuxunjie Zhenlibao, Pentecostal Truths, which was spread not just in Hong kong but across the mainland. Mok explained in the paper: “Hong Kong Pentecostal Mission is a Jesus church founded by the Chinese themselves, not a branch of any foreign churches planted in my nation.”

The Mission supported Bible classes and girl schools, as well as church planting. Mok Lai Chi both cared for people’s salvation and the social problems they experience here and now; protesting against the British colonial government in 1921 for allowing the rents in the city to be too high. (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.

(more…)

3 Additional Ways the Modern Church Looks Nothing Like the Early Church

Paul preaching the Gospel. Art by Giovanni Paolo

Paul preaching the Gospel. Art by Giovanni Paolo

This awesome article has been frequently shared by people in my networks the last couple of days; Preston Sprinkle writes about 4 ways the modern church doesn’t look like the early church (and, as several have pointed out, this goes especially for the modern mainstream Western church). These four areas are:

1. How we view other Christians. When the early disciples called themselves brothers and sisters, they actually treated each other like brothers and sisters and had a community that was far more relational and sacrificial than fellowship in most Western churches.

2. How we spend our money. The early Christians didn’t collect money for church buildings and pastors’ wages but for the poor.

3. How we think about power. The early church refused to be patriotic but was pacifist and persecuted.

4. How we study the Bible. Early Christians let every new convert study the Scriptures in a detailed manner, and most disciples then knew the Bible better than many Western church goers today.

I totally agree with all of Sprinkle’s points, and I’m glad that more and more start descovering the radical roots of the Christian faith. However, I would like to pinpoint three additional areas where the early church looked different from the mainstream Western church life today: (more…)

Happy Birthday Anabaptism!

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Today is the 490’s birthday of Anabaptism, the radical, biblical, pacifist and restorationist Christian movement that consists of millions of Jesus believers around the globe, including me. You may have heard my little song about what Anabaptism is already but it won’t hurt to listen to it again, eh?

So here’s the story about how Anabaptists came to be. The 16th century Protestants were far from the first who rebelled against the Catholic church and its unbiblical teaching, but they weren’t as radical as the Hussites or Waldensians had been. In fact, neither Luther nor Calvin wanted to restore the Biblical church completely but rather, they argued that Biblical practices they didn’t like had “ceased” (I talked about this two posts ago).

They had no problem with unbiblical practices like the state church system, though. Luther and Calvin are called magisterial reformers because they didn’t want to separate the church from the state but, on the contrary, relied on the secular state powers to liberate themselves from Rome.

(more…)