The Truly Wise

Who is wise and understanding among you?  Let him show by good conduct that his works are done in the meekness of wisdom” (James 3:13).

The truly wise demonstrate their wisdom in two ways.  (1) They demonstrate it by good conduct.  True wisdom goes beyond intellectual learning.  Christians should seek to live by God’s word.  James instructed, “Be doers of the word, and not hearers only…” (James 1:22).  Jesus stated, “Whoever hears these sayings of mine and does them, I will liken him to a wise man who built his house on the rock…” (Matthew 7:24).  (2) They do their works in meekness of wisdom.   Guy N. Woods comments, “Meekness of wisdom (wisdom stripped of all arrogance, pride, and desire for worldly acclaim)… One may indeed be meek and not wise; but, one who is truly wise will be meek; and, where meekness is wanting there is evidence of the lack of wisdom also” (Guy N. Woods, The Epistle of James, p. 182).    It is possible, even likely, that the words especially apply to the ones who teach.  The chapter began by addressing those who would be teachers (James 3:1 cf. 3:13).  The term “wise” can be used to refer to spiritual teachers (e.g. Matthew 23:34).  Guy N. Woods comments, “The word ‘wise’ is from sophos, a teacher; and ‘understanding’ is from epistemon, one skilled.  Thus, the question raised is, who is really a skilled teacher?” (Woods, p. 181).  J.J. Turner comments, “The wise teacher will honor knowledge by putting it into practice in his everyday life” (J.J. Turner, The Book of James, p. 107).                

R.L. Whiteside commenting on another passage said this, “Any man is a poor teacher if he does not teach himself while he is teaching others.  He is a poor preacher that cannot preacher better than he can practice, but he is a poorer preacher if he does not try hard to live up to his preaching” (R.L. Whiteside, A New Commentary on Paul’s Letter to the Saints at Rome, p. 60-61). 

But if you have bitter envy and self-seeking in your hearts, do not lie against the truth.  This wisdom does not descend from above but is earthly, sensual, demonic” (James 3:14-15).

Boasting of one’s wisdom does not make one wise.  In truth, it is evidence to the contrary.

Here are two signs that one is not truly wise.  (1) Bitter envy is a sign that your wisdom is not from above.  Here is how other translations render the original word: bitter jealousy ASV; NASB; ESV.  The original word, zelon, means here “an envious and contentious rivalry, jealousy” (Thayer).  Christians should not be envious of each other (cf. Numbers 11:25-29; Philippians 1:15-16, 18); (2) self-seeking is another sign, which is closely related to the first.   Here is how other translations render the original word: faction ASV; selfish ambition NASB, ESV.  The original word, eritheian, means “ambition, self-seeking, rivalry… party-making” (Vine’s).  “Used of those who electioneer for office, courting popular applause… a partisan and factious spirit” (Thayer).  We should not seek to make followers of self (cf. Acts 10:25-26; 14:11-15; 20:29-31; 1 Corinthians 1:10-13; Titus 3:10-11).

Any wisdom which promotes envy and self-seeking is not from God (James 3:15).  It is earthly (of earthly origin), sensual (springing from human desires), and demonic (demon-like).  Such wisdom produces confusion (disorder) and evil (James 3:16).  It will lead to problems between brethren.  It will cause damage in the church. 

But the wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality, and without hypocrisy” (James 3:17).

Here is true wisdom, God’s wisdom.  It has these characteristics: (1) It is pure.  The origin word, hagne, means “pure from defilement, not contaminated” (Vine’s).  The word is sometimes used of sexual purity (e.g. Titus 2:5; 1 Timothy 5:1-2; 2 Corinthians 11:2).  It can also be used of purity from sin (e.g. 1 Timothy 5:22).  The wise seek to maintain purity (cf. James 1:27). 

(2) It is peaceable.  The original word, eirenike, means, “peaceable, pacific, peace-loving” (Thayer).  The wise seek to live at peace with their fellow man (cf. Romans 12:18; Hebrews 12:14).

(3) It is gentle.  The original word, epieikes, means, “seemingly… equitable, fair, mild, gentle” (Thayer).  Foy Valentine comments, “That is to say it is forbearing, patient under provocation, respectful of the feelings of others, considerate, moderate” (quoted by Rubel Shelly in What Christian Living is All About, p. 67).  The wise have this quality.  It is especially needed in teachers (e.g. 2 Timothy 2:24-25; 1 Thessalonians 2:7). 

(4) It is willing to yield.  Other translations read: easy to be entreated KJV; reasonable NASB; open to reason ESV.  The original word, eupeithes, means – “easily obeying” (Thayer).  Adam Clarke comments, “Not stubborn nor obstinate; of a yielding disposition in all indifferent things” (studylight.org).  The wise are of this nature (e.g. Romans 14:19; 1 Corinthians 8:13; 10:31-33). 

(5) It is full of mercy.  The original word, eleous, means – “kindness or good will toward the miserable and afflicted, joined with a desire to relieve them” (Thayer).  “The outward manifestation of pity” (Vine’s).  We are to be a merciful people (e.g. Luke 10:36-37; James 2:1-3, 13). 

(6) It is full of good fruit.  The fruit of the Spirit should characterize us (cf. Galatians 5:22-23).  We should bear fruit with patience (Luke 8:15).  We should be full of good works (Titus 2:14; 3:8; 3:14). 

(7) It is without partiality.  Other translations read: variance ASV; unwavering NASB.  The original word, diakritos, means – “to separate, make distinction, discriminate” or “to be at variance with one’s self, doubt” (Thayer).  Some take this to mean that one should not hold the faith with partiality (cf. James 2:1-4).  The wise views each soul as precious.  Others take this to mean variance within the person.  Guy N. Woods comments, “The wisdom which is from above enables one to be firm in his views, and to entertain complete confidence in God and in his word” (Woods, p. 194).  The word was used earlier in this book (James 1:6; 2:4).  The wise avoid both of these meanings of usages of the word. 

(8) It is without hypocrisy.  The original word, hupokritos, refers to – “an actor, stage-player” (Thayer).  We should not be simply playing Christianity; we should be genuine (cf. Romans 12:9). 

This wisdom does not produce confusion and evil.  It produces righteous behavior (James 3:18 cf. 1:20) and peace (James 3:18).  If every Christian lived by this wisdom, the church would be at peace among its members. 

One brother remarked, “Not everyone can have the IQ of a genius.  Very few will have the opportunity to achieve notoriety in science, education, or the professional world.  But everyone can have the wisdom described by James in this very beautiful passage.  We can all submit ourselves humbly to God and live under his control” (Rubel Shelly, p. 69). 

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7 Spiritual Tests

The book of 1 John was written for four stated purposes: (1) “that your joy may be full” (1:4); (2) “so that you may not sin” (2:1); (3) “concerning those who try to deceive you” (2:26); (4) “that you may know that you have eternal life, and that you may continue to believe in the name of the Son of God” (5:13).  Notice the last stated purpose.  John wanted them to have confidence of eternal life.

John provided these with seven spiritual tests whereby they could evaluate their spiritual condition.  Let’s consider these tests, and apply these to self. 

1.  Is your Christianity more than words?

If we say that we have fellowship with Him, and walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth.  But if we walk in the light as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanses us from all sin” (1 John 1:6-7).

The word “darkness” refers to that which is contrary to God’s will (1 John 1:6 cf. 2:4).  The word “walk” is in the present tense.  It suggests a manner of life, a life-style.  It is impossible to maintain fellowship with God, while living a life-style that is contrary to God. 

The word “light” refers to that which is consistent with God’s will (1 John 1:7 cf. 2:3).  The word “walk” is in the present tense.  It suggests a manner of life, a life-style.  It is possible to maintain fellowship with God, through the blood of Christ, while living a life-style according to His will (cf. Psalm 119:105; John 8:12).  Guy N. Woods comments, “This is a state of grace – not human perfection – and we should be ever-more thankful that in spite of our imperfections we may through grace enjoy his approval” (Guy N. Woods, Questions and Answers, Vol. 2, p. 188).

How are we living?  Are we seeking to live in submission to His will? 

2.  Are you humble enough to admit your sins?

If we say that 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 our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:8-9).

Some will not admit their sins.  They are self-righteous.  They have trouble recognizing their own sins (e.g. John 9:40-41; Luke 18:9-14).  Some recognize their sins, but hide such (cf. Proverbs 28:13). 

We need to be humble enough to confess, admit our sins.  Peter told Simon, “Repent therefore of this your wickedness, and pray God if perhaps the thought of your heart may be forgiven you” (Acts 8:22).  Proverbs says, “He who covers his sins will not prosper, but whoever confesses and forsakes them will have mercy” (Proverbs 28:13).

How do we deal with our sins?  Are we willing to repent and pray, confessing our sins?

3.  How far are you willing to go to justify self?

If we say that we have not sinned, we make Him a liar, and His word is not in us” (1 John 1:10).

Are you willing to make God a liar?  The word “confess” (homologeo) literally means “to speak the same thing,” that is “to assent, accord, agree with” (Vine’s).  It is used to mean “confess, declare, admit… to confess by way of admitting oneself guilty of what one is accused of…” (Vine’s).

Some will not admit that they have done anything wrong, even when scripture is used to expose their actions as sin.  Such people make God a liar. 

How do we deal with sin?  Do we admit sin?  Or, do we deny what the Scriptures plainly say to defend self?

4.  Do you truly love God? 

Now by this we know that we know Him, if we keep His commandments.  He who says, ‘I know Him,’ and does not keep His commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him.  But whoever keeps His word, truly the love of God is perfected in him.  By this we know that we are in Him” (1 John 2:3-5).

The word “know” is sometimes used of “favorable knowledge” or “fellowship.”  Consider: Matthew 7:21-23.  This is how it is being used here (1 John 2:3 cf. 1:7; 1 John 2:4 cf. 1:6).

The word “keep” is in the present tense.  It is describing how one lives, the consistent manner of life.

It is not enough to claim academic knowledge.  Do we really know Him as we should?  Do we have fellowship with Him?  Do we love Him?  We show our love for God by living a life of obedience to Him (1 John 5:3; John 14:15, 21, 23).

How is our love for God?  Do we love Him enough to live for Him? 

It is not enough to claim academic knowledge.  Do we really know Him as we should?  Do we have fellowship with Him?  Do we love Him?  We show our love for God by living a life of obedience to Him (1 John 5:3; John 14:15, 21, 23).

How is our love for God?  Do we love Him enough to live for Him? 

5.  Are you following Him?

He who says he abides in Him ought himself also to walk just as He walked” (1 John 2:6).

To “abide in Him” (cf. 2:6) is equivalent to “knowing Him” (cf. 2:4) and “having fellowship with Him” (cf. 1:6).  Roy Lanier Jr. comments, “Here, as well as in John 15, the word ‘abide’ (menein) means more than simply to be in Him.  It includes the idea of remaining in Him… The essence of the word is a permanent and intimate association, not temporary or superficial.  This union lasts” (Roy Lanier Jr., Epistle of John, p. 32).  On the word “abide” see John 15:1-8. 

Does our walk identify us with Him?  Paul instructed, “Therefore, be imitators of God as dear children” (Ephesians 5:1).  Again, he wrote, “walk as children of light” (Ephesians 5:8).  Jesus said, “I am the light of the world.  He who follows Me shall not walk in darkness, but have the light of life” (John 8:12). 

6.  Do you have hatred for your brother in your heart?

He who says he is in the light, and hates his brother, is in darkness until now.  He who loves his brother abides in the light, and there is no cause for stumbling in him.  But he who hates his brother is in darkness, and does not know where he is going, because the darkness has blinded his eyes” (1 John 2:9-11).

The word “brother” may be used in different ways.  It may refer to brothers in a family (e.g. 1 John 3:11-12).  It may refer to fellow citizens in a nation (e.g. Acts 2:29 cf. 2:36; Acts 2:37; 22:1-3).  It is sometimes used of fellow humans, brothers in Adam.  It is used of relationship in Christ (e.g. Galatians 3:26-29 cf. 4:28).  In context, “brother” seems to refer to brother in Christ (1 John 2:7-8 cf. John 13:33-34; 1 John 3:16; 4:11).  However, other passages clearly show that we are to love our fellow man (Matthew 5:43-48; Luke 10:25-37). 

One who hates his brother is in darkness (1 John 2:9, 11).  It is a serious thing to be in darkness (1 John 2:9 cf. 1:6).  Guy N. Woods comments, “Jesus commanded us to love one another (John 15:17); he made love the badge of discipleship (John 13:35); and without it, one remains in darkness – the element which characterizes all away from God” (Guy N. Woods, A Commentary on the New Testament Epistle of Peter, John, and Jude, p. 229).  Again, he describes the one in darkness, “The inner condition is one of darkness; the outward life is a walk in darkness” (ibid, p. 231). 

There are sometimes difficulties between brethren.  We should not hate one another.  We should endeavor to maintain the unity of the spirit in the bond of peace (Ephesians 4:3).  We should desire reconciliation (Matthew 5:23-24; 18:15).  We should be forgiving (Luke 17:3-4; Matthew 18:21-35).

Do we love our brother(s) as we should? 

7.  Do you love one another?

Beloved, let us love one another, for love is of God; and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God.  He who does not love does not know God, for God is love” (1 John 4:7-8). 

The words “one another” seems to refer to love between brethren.  It is addressed to “beloved” (cf. 1 John 3:2).  It concerns “one another” relationship (cf. 1 John 1:7; 3:14-15). 

This was not written for the purpose of telling the non-Christian what to do to be saved.  Bill Lockwood, “The grand mistake of the Baptist pulpiteers in this is the utilization of passages (such as 1 John 4:7) that refers to the continued obedience of the child of God and trying to make them germane to the process of conversion of the non-Christian” (Hammer & Tongs, September-October, 1995, p. 6).

Love is essential in our relationship with God.  Love is not the only condition to continued fellowship with God, but it is a condition.  If we want to be spiritually related to God, we must love. 

Our love is to be more than words.  It is to be sincere (Romans 12:9; 2 Corinthians 6:6; 1 Peter 1:22).   It is to be fervent (1 Peter 1:22).  It is to be expressed in action.  “My little children, let us not love in word or in tongue, but in deed and in truth” (1 John 3:18).

We are to be abounding and increasing in love (Philippians 1:9; 1 Thessalonians 4:9-10).  We are spiritually nothing without love (1 Corinthians 13:1-3).  How is our love for one another?

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Denominations: The Religious Society of Friends

The Religious Society of Friends (Quakers) numbered about 380,000 worldwide in 2017 (New Worldwide Quaker Map Released, Friendsjournal.org).  There were about 76,000 friends (Quakers) in the U.S.A. in 2012 (Worldwide Distribution of Quakers 2012, quakerinfo.com).  About 52% were located in Africa in 2012 (ibid).

History

1.  George Fox (1624-1691)

Fox was born in Fenny Drayton, Leicestershire, England.  His father was a successful weaver.  At age 12, Fox became an apprentice to a shoemaker.  However, he had other desires.

At age 19, he left home and began a quest seeking spiritual truth.  He failed to find it in the churches.  “He became a wandering Seeker, not attending churches – ‘steeple-houses,’ as he called them – but walking in the fields or orchards with his Bible” (Owen Chadwick, The Reformation, p. 241).  He claimed inner-light.  He asked, “Did not the Apostles say to believers that they needed no man to teach them, but as the anointing teacheth them (1 John 2:27)?”  (George Fox, An Autobiography, Chapter One, gutenberg.org).     

He came to believe that all have access to this inner-light.  “Now the Lord God opened to me by His invisible power that every man was enlightened by the divine Light of Christ, …and they that believe in it came out of condemnation to the Light of life” (ibid, chapter two).  He believed that he was “commanded to turn people to that inward Light, Spirit, and Grace, by which all might know their salvation and their way to God” (ibid).  The Religious Society of Friends was founded in 1652 (Frank S. Mead and Samuel S. Hill, Handbook of Denominations, p. 113).        

Controversy and persecution occurred in England.  “Quakerism was revolutionary… To say that both state and church were wrong… that people need not attend ‘steeple houses’ to find God; that it was equally wrong to pay taxes to support the state church clergy – this was rebellion.  Fox and his early followers went even further.  They not only refused to go to church, but insisted upon freedom of speech, assembly, and worship.  They would not take oaths in court; they refused to go to war; they doffed their hats to no one, king or commoner; they made no distinction in sex or social class; they condemned slavery and England’s treatment of prisoners and the insane… Quakers were whipped, jailed, tortured, mutilated, murdered.  Fox spent six years in jail.  Others spent decades even dying there” (ibid). 

2.  William Penn (1644-1718)

Penn was born in London, England.  His father, Sir William Penn (1621-1670), was an English Admiral, a politician in the House of Commons, and of considerable wealth.

Penn became a Friend (Quaker) when he was 22.  He would become a close friend of George Fox.  Penn was persecuted for his beliefs.  “The persecution of Quakers became so fierce that Penn decided that it would be better to try to find a new, free, Quaker settlement in North America.  Some Quakers had already moved to North America, but the New England Puritans, especially were as negative towards Quakers as the people back home, and some of them had been banished to the Caribbean” (Brief History of William Penn, ushistory.org).

“King Charles II of England had a large loan with Penn’s father, after whose death, King Charles settled by granting Penn a large area west and south of New Jersey on March 4, 1681).  Penn called the area Sylvania (Latin for woods), which Charles changed to Pennsylvania in honor of the elder Penn.  Perhaps the King was glad to have a place where religious and political outsiders… could have their own place, far away from England” (ibid).  Delaware was also later granted to him (William Penn, britannica.com). These areas became refuge for the persecuted.

Name

They have referred to themselves by different names: “Children of Truth,” “Children of Light,” and “Friends of Truth” (Mead, p. 113).  The name “Friend(s)” is commonly used.  It is based on John 15:15 (Our Meeting, plymouthmeetingquakers.org).

The name Quaker predates its use for Friends.  “The name Quaker was first used in 1647 to describe women from Southwark, England who were not associated with Friends.  It had become a derogatory description of these women and others… referencing those who ‘swell, shiver, and shake’ when having a personal spiritual experience” (ibid). 

Here is how the name became applied to Friends.  “George Fox records in his journal (1650) that Judge Bennett used the period epithet “Quaker” to describe Fox and his followers in response to Fox bidding him ‘to tremble at the name of the Lord.’  Later, Robert Barclay records that the name came from the trembling of Friends under the powerful working of the Holy Ghost” (ibid). 

Authority

Friends General Conference says, “Most Quakers do not consider the Bible to be the final authority or the only source of sacred wisdom.  We read it in the context of other religious writings and sources of wisdom, including the Light within and worshipful community discernment.  Some Quakers have little interest in the Bible” (FAQ’s about Quakers, fgcquaker.org).  They “prefer to rely upon fresh individual guidance from the Spirit of God which produced the Bible, rather than follow only what has been revealed to others.  Some modern groups accept the Bible as the final authority in all religious matters” (Mead, p. 116). 

Beliefs and Practices

1.  Inner-Light

“The Creator has endowed each person with a measure of the divine essence… The revelation of God’s truth is continuing and ongoing… our inward experience of God transforms us and leads us into outward expressions of faithful living” (Arthur Larrabee, 9 Core Quaker Beliefs, quakerspeak.com).  “Quakers seek religious truth in inner experience, and place great reliance on conscious as the basis of morality… the light of God is in every single person” (Quakers, bbc.co.uk). 

2.  Community

“We also believe that if we are sincerely open to Divine will, we will be guided by a wisdom that is more compelling than our own more superficial thoughts and feelings… Following such guidance is not always easy.  This is why community is important to Quakers, why we turn to each other for worshipful help in making important choices, and why we read the reflections of other Quakers, who have lived faithful lives” (FAQ’s About Quakers, fgcquaker.org). 

3.  Baptism and Lord’s Supper

The do not practice baptism or observe the Lord’s Supper.  “Friends do not consider the observance of the sacraments to be wrong, but they do regard participation in such an outward rite as unnecessary to genuine Christian discipleship… Friends use the words “baptism and communion” to describe the experience of Christ’s presence and his ministry in worship…  

Worship reaches its goal when those who worship feel the baptism of the Spirit…  Communion occurs when the worshipper communes with God and with those who are gathered in the Lord’s name” (The Sacraments, firstfriendswhittier.org).

4.  Worship

“Quaker worship is based on silent waiting, where we expect to come into the presence of God.  In this living silence, we listen for the still, small voice that comes from God through the inward light… During silent worship anyone – adult or child – may feel inspired to give vocal ministry… After the person speaks the message, the silence resumes.  Such messages may be offered several times during a meeting for worship, or the whole period of worship may be silent” (FAQ, fgcquaker.org). Frank Mead and Samuel Hill write, “Worship may either be programmed or unprogrammed. ..The former more nearly resembles a simple Protestant service, although there are no rites or outward sacraments…In unprogrammed meetings …the service is devoted to quiet meditation, prayer and communion. Any vocal contributions are spontaneous. There are no uniform practice…” ( Mead, p.116).

5.  Heaven and Hell

“The emphasis… is on present time… Individual Quakers hold a variety of beliefs about what follows our lives on earth” (ibid).

6.  Christian?

“Many Quakers consider themselves Christian, and some do not.  Many Quakers draw spiritual nourishment from our Christian roots… Many other Quakers draw spiritual sustenance from various religious traditions, such as Buddhism, Judaism, Islam, Hinduism, and the natural religions” (ibid). 

7.  Concerns

They want to make the world a better place.  “They are particularly concerned with: human rights… social justice, peace, freedom of conscience, environmental issues… community life” (Quakers, bbc.co.uk).

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Denominations: Baptist Church (Part 2)

Name

There are different ideas which have been set forth for the origin of the name Baptist.  (1) A few Baptists claim that the name is God-given.  It was given to John because of his mission.  Also, it is the name for baptized disciples.  “The name Baptist came from God, the name Christian came from the heathen” (baptistbecause.com).

(2) Some believe that it may have its origin in the Anabaptist movement.  F.W. Mattox writes, “Historically the Baptist church did not exist until after the Anabaptist movement of the sixteenth century from which its name is derived” (F.W. Mattox, The Eternal Kingdom, p. 306).  He says, “The second generation of reformers had not received baptism as children.  Accordingly, they refused the name Anabaptist, denying that they had been baptized again” (ibid, p. 266).

(3) More commonly, it is believed that the name finds its origin in the days of the English separatists, without direct connection with Anabaptist.  Baptist historian, Leon McBeth writes, “Many people assume that Baptists got their name from John the Baptist.  This is not the case.  Like most religious groups, Baptists were named by their opponents.  The name comes from the Baptist practice of immersion.  The first known reference to these believers in England as ‘Baptist’ was in 1644.  They did not like the name and did not use it of themselves until years later.  The early Baptists preferred to be called ‘Brethren’ or ‘Brethren of the Baptist way.’  Sometimes they called themselves ‘Baptized churches.’  Early opponents of the Baptist often called them Anabaptist or other less complimentary names.  Baptists rejected the name Anabaptist, not wishing to be confused with or identified with the people who bore that name” (Leon McBeth, Baptist Beginnings, baptisthistory.org). 

Particular Baptist, Charles Spurgeon (1834-1892) had this to say about the name Baptist.  “I say of the Baptist name, let it perish, but let Christ’s name last forever.  I look forward with pleasure to the day when there will not be a Baptist living.  I hope they will soon be gone.  I hope the Baptist name will soon perish; but let Christ’s name endure forever” (Spurgeon Memorial Library, Vol. 1, p. 168).

Authority

1.  Bible

“Baptists… claim to have no authoritative creed except the New Testament” (Edward Hiscox, The Standard Manual for Baptist Churches, p. 56).  Britannica lists six convictions that Baptists generally hold in common.  The first concerns the Bible:   “The supreme authority of the Bible in all matters of faith and practice.  Baptists are a non-creedal people, and their ultimate appeal always has been to the scriptures rather than any confession of faith that they may have published from time to time to make known their commonly accepted views” (Britannica, Vol. 2, p. 716 © 1979). 

2.  Creeds, Confessions, and Manuals

Gerald Foster lists 19 Baptist confessions of faith that have been used through the years (Gerald Foster, Following the Denomination Called Baptist, p. 613-ff).  “It is common… for the churches to have formulated statements of what are understood to be the leading Christian doctrines… These are not uniform among the churches… each church is at liberty to prepare its own confession, or have none at all… Members, on being received to fellowship, are not required to subscribe or pledge conformity to any creed-form, but are expected to yield substantial agreement to that which the church with which they unite has adopted” (Hiscox, p. 56).

Beliefs and Practices

1.  Six Convictions

Britannica lists six convictions that Baptists generally hold in common.  These include: (1) The supreme authority of the Bible in all matters of faith and practice.  (2) Believer’s baptism by immersion.  (3) Churches composed of believers only.  (4) Equality of all Christians in the life of the church; In other words, no clergy-laity system.  (5) Independence of the local church.  (6) Separation of church and state (Britannica, Vol. 2, p. 716). 

2.  Salvation

The Second Baptist Church of Houston says, “Salvation is God’s free gift to us.  We receive this gift through repentance and faith in Jesus Christ alone… Every person who truly is saved is eternally secure in the Lord Jesus Christ and will spend eternity in heaven” (Our beliefs, second.org).

Billy Graham taught that four things were needed.  “To receive Christ you need to do four things: (1) Admit your spiritual need.  ‘I am a sinner.’  (2) Repent and be willing to turn from your sin.  (3) Believe that Jesus died for you on the cross.  (4) Receive, through prayer, Jesus Christ into your heart and life” (Billy Graham, The Billy Graham Christian Worker’s Handbook, pp. 5-6).

3.  Baptism   

The Oakwood Baptist Church in New Braunfels, Texas says, “Baptism is for believers… Baptism is by immersion… Baptism is not necessary for salvation… The moment a person trusts in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, he or she is and will forever be a child of God… Although it is not necessary for salvation, it is an act of obedience symbolizing the believer’s faith in the crucified, buried, and risen Savior… It is a public sign of fellowship and identification with the church” (What We Believe about Baptism, oakwoodnb.com).  Edward Hiscox said, “Baptism is not essential to salvation” (Hiscox, p. 21).  I have not found the Baptist who believes that baptism is essential to salvation.  L.S. Ballard affirmed, “The scriptures teach that faith in Christ procures salvation without further acts of obedience,” and denied, “The scriptures teach that water baptism is for (in order to obtain) the remission of past sins” (Warren-Ballard Debate).  Bob Ross denied, “The scriptures teach that water baptism is for (in order to obtain) the remission of past sins,” and affirmed “The scriptures teach that salvation comes at the point of faith alone before and without any further acts of obedience” (Elkins-Ross Debate).  Bobby Sparks held a similar position (Wacaster-Sparks Debate).  Many other examples could be supplied. 

Still, “It is prerequisite to the privileges of church membership and to the Lord’s Supper” (The Baptist Faith and Message 2000, bfm.sbc.net).  Think of the implications.  It takes less to be saved than it does to become a member of the Baptist church.  The Baptist church is unnecessary.  One can be saved without becoming a Baptist. 

4.  Membership

“It is most likely in the Apostolic age… the baptism of a convert, by that very act, constituted him a member of the church… Now it is different; and while churches are desirous of receiving members they are wary and cautious that they do not receive unworthy persons.  The churches therefore have candidates come before them, make their statement, give their ‘experience,’ and then their reception is decided by a vote of the membership” (Hiscox, p. 22). 

This is not uncommon.  The First Baptist church of Carthage, Tennessee says, “The names of the prospective members will be presented during the regular monthly business meeting for approval… The person will become an official member on a majority vote of the members present at the business meeting” (Membership 101, fbccarthage.com).

Membership has been rejected.  “An incident occurred in the Pilot Point church during Rev. J.B. Cole’s pastorate which… subjected Pastor Cole to criticism… Pastor Cole went fishing one day… Jo Ives… said to Pastor Cole, ‘Here is water, what doth hinder me from being baptized?’  Obviously Brother Cole thought of the story of Philip and the eunuch, and taking that incident as an example he led Mr. Ives out into the water and he baptized him.  Rev. Cole had been a Baptist but a short time and was not up on their conception of baptism, and how and when it should be administered… The following Sunday, Mr. Ives presented himself to the church, asking membership, and his application was rejected and he was hurt at the action of the church and turned to another church, which readily accepted his baptism.”  (J.N. Rayzor, History of the Denton County Baptist Association and the Sixty Churches in its Jurisdiction,” p. 82, denton.pdf, thywordistruth.com).  Pastor Cole was advised not to repeat the act (ibid).  Guy Woods brought this point up in the Woods-Nunnery Debate of 1946 (See p. 162-ff, p. 186-ff). 

5.  Lord’s Supper

“The Lord’s Supper is a symbolic act of obedience whereby members of the church, through partaking of the bread and the fruit of the vine, memorialize the death of the Redeemer and anticipated His second coming” (Baptist Faith and Message 2000).

The frequency varies.  “While quarterly observance of the Lord’s Supper is the norm for nearly 60 percent of all Southern Baptist churches, 1 percent observe the Lord’s supper weekly.  Eighteen percent offer it monthly and 15 percent from five to 10 times a year.  Another 8 percent conduct the Lord’s Supper less than four times a year” (Lord’s Supper, Lifeway Survey churches’ practices, frequency by Carol Pipes, Sept. 2012, baptistpress.com).

6.  Eternal Security   

“All true believers endure to the end.  Those whom God has accepted in Christ, and sanctified by His Spirit, will never fall away from the state of grace, but shall persevere to the end” (Baptist Faith and Message 2000, bfm.sbc.net).  A.U. Nunnery denied the proposition, “The Bible teaches that a child of God can so act as to be lost in hell” (Woods-Nunnery Debate, 1946).  Many other examples could be supplied. 

7.  Calvinism

Baptists are divided on Calvinism.  Marion Fox writes, “The Primitive Baptists teach all five of Calvin’s points.  The Missionary Baptists dropped ‘unconditional election’ and ‘limited atonement’… some other Baptists have dropped ‘total depravity’ doctrine while retaining the ‘irresistible grace’ and ‘perseverance’ doctrines.  Still others, such as the Freewill Baptists have rejected the ‘perseverance’ doctrine” (Marion Fox, The Work of The Holy Spirit, Vol. 1, p. 93). 

Organization

Baptist Churches are autonomous.  “A New Testament church of the Lord Jesus Christ is an autonomous local congregation of baptized believers” (Baptist Faith and Message 2000, bfm.sbc.net).  The SBC and other conventions are fellowships of autonomous churches.  These conferences do not oversee local Baptist churches. 

Types of Baptists

There are many types of Baptists, as we’ve seen.  Here are a few to show the diversity:

1.  Primitive Baptist (Hard shell; Old School; Regular)

They are Calvinists.  Some practice feet-washing.  They reject instrumental music (Frank. S. Mead and Samuel S. Hill, Handbook of Denominations, pp. 51-52, Instrumental Music in Worship by Zack Guess, primitivebaptistssermons.org).

2.  Missionary Baptist

They reject “limited atonement” and “unconditional election.”  “Thus, they see the need for preaching and are labeled, ‘missionary’” (The Baptist Church: It’s Various Sects by Larry Ray Hafley, truthmagazine.com). 

3.  Freewill Baptist

“They believe Christ died for all and that one is free to accept or reject salvation.  They believe in the possibility of apostasy and are opposed ardently by other Baptists for this.  They have historically contended for foot washing” (truthmagazine.com).

4.  Seventh Day Baptist

“As the name implies, these Baptists observe Saturday, the Sabbath… The first Seventh Day Baptist church was established in England during the Cromwell era” (ibid).  They actually pre-date the Seventh-day Adventist, and the Church of God (Seventh-day).

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Denominations: Baptist Church (Part 1)

Ascertaining accurate total numbers is difficult.  The Baptist church is greatly divided.  The Baptist World Alliance (BWA) indicates that their fellowship of 241 conventions and unions, in 126 countries and territories, comprised 47 million baptized believers in 2020 (members unions, baptistworld.org).  However, not all Baptists are counted.  The Southern Baptist Convention (SBC), for instance, is not a part of the BWA.  Yet, the SBC “ranks among the world’s largest Protestant body in the United States” (Southern Baptist, christianitytoday.com). 

In the United States there are many branches of the Baptist church.  Baylor University lists 19 different types of Baptist Churches in America (Baptist Denominations in America, baylor.edu).  The Association of Religion Data Archives lists 22 different types of Baptist churches (Religious Groups: Baptist, thearda.com).  The Handbook of Denominations indicates that there are 27 different types of Baptist churches in the United States (Frank S. Mead and Samuel S. Hill, Handbook of Denominations, p. 34).     The largest branches in the United States are (1) Southern Baptist (SBC) with 14.5 million in 2019 (Fast Facts, sbc.net).  Its numbers have declined for 13 straight years (Travis Loller, Southern Baptist See 13th year of Membership Decline, June 4, 2020, apnews.com).  (2) National Baptist USA (NBC USA) with about 8 million members (Members Union, baptistworld.org).  It is predominately a black convention.  (3) National Baptist of America (NBCA) which has about 3 million members (ibid).  It is predominately a black convention.  (4) Progressive National Baptist (PNBC) with more than one million (ibid), perhaps as many as 2.5 million (Who is the PNBC, pnbc.org).  Martin Luther King Jr. was a leader in this group.  It is heavily involved with civil rights activities. Its mission is “equipping pastors and churches to be effective in ministry and lift up our voice on behalf of the voiceless.”  It’s vision is to “unite African Americans to positively impact the community” (ibid).  (5) American Baptist USA (ABC USA), formerly known as Northern Baptist with more than one million members (Members Union, baptistworld.org).  Northern and Southern Baptist split in 1845 over slavery and other issues (Frank S. Mead and Samuel S. Hill, Handbook of Denominations, pp. 54-55). 

The top states for SBC as a percentage of the population in 2010: (1) Mississippi, 30.5%; (2) Alabama, 29.1%; (3) Oklahoma, 23.6%; (4) Tennessee, 23.3% (Southern Baptist Convention, thearda.com). 

History

There are different ideas which have been set forth about the origin of the Baptist church.  (1) A few Baptists believe that the Baptist Church has existed since the first century A.D..  Landmarkism is a belief system that developed in the 19th century in America.  It holds that there has been a succession of Baptist churches from the first century to this day (See: Doctrinal Statement of the American Baptist Association 1905).  “Landmarkism for Baptists might be thought of much in the same manner that nineteenth-century Roman Catholicism was.  It was attempting to validate their claims to apostolic succession.  The name ‘Old Landmarkism,’ somewhat like the ‘Primitive Baptists,’ laid claims not only to truth, but also to historic precedent as well” (Gerald L. Foster, Following the Denomination Called Baptist, p. 400). 

(2) Most historians believe that it grew out of English separatism.  The American Baptist Churches USA says, “American Baptists, Southern Baptists and all the scores of other Baptist bodies in the U.S. and around the world grew out of a common tradition begun in the early 17th century… The earliest Baptist Churches (1609-1612), although comprised of English-speaking congregants, flourished in Holland, where religious toleration was much greater than in England.  Among their leaders were John Smyth, who led the first congregation of 36 men and women and Thomas Hewys, who returned to England in 1612 to establish the first Baptist church in England… In the early 1630’s Roger Williams, formerly a member of the Church of England, took up clerical responsibilities in Massachusetts.  However, he eventually became estranged from authorities in Massachusetts Bay Colony over the failure of church and civil functions to be independent of one another.  About 1638 he established the First Baptist Church in America in the then uncolonized Rhode Island (Providence), which became the first government in history founded in the premise of absolute religious freedom.  At the same time, John Clarke, also originally from England and also dissatisfied with religious practice in Massachusetts founded a Baptist church in New Port, Rhode Island.  Williams and Clarke secured a charter guaranteeing civil and religious freedom in Rhode Island from King Charles II in 1663” (Our History, abc-usa.org).  Baptist historian, David Benedict credits John Smyth as establishing the first Baptist church in London in 1607 (David Benedict, A General History of the Baptist Denomination, p. 304, archive.org).  Baptist historian, Henry C. Vedder also credits John Smyth, but locates the founding in Amsterdam (Henry C. Vedder, A Short History of the Baptist, p. 4 archive.org).

(3) Some think that there may be a connection with the Anabaptist.  Bob Allen of the Associated Baptist Press writes, “Most modern historians mark the birth of the Baptist movement at 1609… There is no question the earliest Baptist interacted with Anabaptist in the Netherlands – When John Smyth’s group left England for Amsterdam, they met in a bake house owned by a member of a Waterlander Mennonite congregation – but historians disagree over the extent of cross-pollination between the groups” (Scholars Disagree on Anabaptist, Baptist Connection, baptistnews.com). 

General Baptists and Particular Baptists (Regular Baptists or Reformed Baptists) have slightly different English histories.  General Baptist were separatists, wanting to completely separate from the Church of England.  John Smyth and Thomas Helwys were separatists.  “The earliest documented Baptist Church in England dates from the return to Spitalfields of Thomas Helwys in 1611” (Origin of the Particular Baptists by Gordon L. Belyea, thegospelcoalition.org).  Particular Baptists “Were non-separatist, forming their own (independent) congregations outside of the Church of England but seeking to maintain friendly relations with the Church of England” (What are Particular Baptists Churches? Gotquestions.org).   However, in time they too would separate.  “Historians have… concluded that the first Particular Baptist church dates at least from 1638, and possibly even from 1633.  Though their baptism was for believers only, at first it was administered by sprinkling or pouring… English Baptists recovered the practice of believer’s baptism in two steps.  By 1608/09, the General Baptists insisted that baptism was for believers only, and by 1638 the Particular Baptist reached the same conclusion.  At first, English Baptist baptized by sprinkling or pouring.  Immersion came a few years later” (Baptist Beginnings by Leon McBeth, baptisthistory.org). 

They are referred to by different names for a reason.  Particular Baptists are highly Calvinistic.  They believe in particular (limited) atonement.  General Baptists believe in general (unlimited) atonement (What Are Particular Baptist Churches? Gotquestons.org).   An example of a Particular Baptists would be the Primitive Baptist.  An example of a General Baptist would be Freewill Baptist.  The Southern Baptist are divided in their acceptance of the five points of Calvinism.  Since 1850 the sharp distinction between General and Particular Baptists has faded in most Baptist Churches (Gerald L. Foster, p. 410). 

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The Sound of Sneezing

The sound one makes when sneezing is natural, and involuntary.  Correct?

The answer is not exactly.  The sound one makes seems to be in large part a learned behavior.  The sound emitted is different around the world.  Achoo is common in English speaking countries.  Atchim in Portugese; Atchaum in French; Hatshi in German; Apchki in Russian; Hopsu in Greek and Turkish; Achhee in Hindi; Hat xi in Vietnamese; Eichi in Korean; Hakshon or hakashun in Japanese; Ha-ching in the Philippines (Don Lewis, The Surprising Story Behind the Sound of Sneezing, nowiknow.com; James Chapman, The Sound People Make When Sneezing Across the World, theuijunkie.com; Emma Tracey, Why Deaf People Sneeze Silently, bbc.com).

Moreover, the sound made by deaf people is noticeably different.  “British deaf people, particularly users of sign language, don’t think to add the English word ‘achoo’ to this most natural of actions” (Emma Tracey, bbc.com).  “To me, deaf sneezes sound more like this: a heavy breath is taken, then a sharper, faster sound of air being released as the sneeze occurs.  There is none of this ‘aahhh’ sound added as they breathe in.  And none of that ‘choo’ malarkey as said sneeze is released.” (Charlie Swinbourne, The Question: Do Hearing People Fake Their Sneezes? We Need to Know, limpingchicken.com).

People want to conform to the norm.  They are influenced by those around them.  Charlie Swinbourne suggests, “As they sense a sneeze coming, the hearing person’s brain sends out an alert saying: ‘Emergency! You are about to sneeze in public.  Make this sound normal” (Charlie Swinbourne, limpingchicken.com).

I don’t really care about the sound of your sneezes.  However, I do care about spiritual influence.  Who is influencing us?  “He who walks with wise men will be wise, but the companion of fools will be destroyed” (Proverbs 13:20).  “As iron sharpens iron, so a man sharpens the countenance of his friend” (Proverbs 27:17).  The ESV Study Bible comments, “Since the word ‘face’ (Hb. Panim) can refer to the edge of an axe or sword (Eccl. 10:10; possibly Ezek. 21:16), the image is that the interaction with a good man (both as he encourages and corrects) hones one’s skill in handling challenges.”  “Do not be deceived: Evil company corrupts good habits” (1 Corinthians 15:33). 

How much time are we spending with the best of all examples, Jesus?  Spending time with Jesus changed Peter and John.  “Now when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were uneducated and untrained men, they marveled.  And they realized that they had been with Jesus” (Acts 4:13).  It will change us as well.  “We all, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory” (2 Corinthians 3:18). Robert H. Mounce comments, “Taking the participle (beholding- B.H.) in the instrumental sense we read, ‘We all are being changed into the image of Christ by beholding the glory of the Lord.’  Transformation into the likeness of Christ is the inevitable result of gazing upon his glory.  We become like that which dominates our thoughts and affections.  Like Nathaniel Hawthorne’s ‘great stone face,’ which shaped the life of the one who spent his days looking at the craggy representation of all that was held to be good and pure, so also does the believer gradually take on the family resemblance to his or her Lord as they spend their time contemplating the glory of God.  Notice that the participle is present tense.  It is a continual contemplation that effects the transformation.  As the participle is present tense, so also is the finite verb ‘are being changed.’  The transformation keeps pace with the contemplation.  They are inextricably bound together.  By continuing to behold the glory of the Lord we are continually being transformed into his image” (William D. Mounce, Basic of Biblical Greek Grammar, p. 298).  There is no other way.  Let us be ever “looking unto Jesus” (Hebrews 12:2).  “Grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 3:18).  He left us an example that we should follow in His steps (1 Peter 2:21 cf. John 13:34; Philippians 2:5; Hebrews 12:1-4; 1 John 3:16-18).

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Denominations: Congregational Church/United Church of Christ

At the beginning of the 21st century, there were about 2.4 million Congregationalists worldwide (congregationalism, britannica.com).  There are about 802 thousand members of the United Church of Christ in the U.S.A. (2020 Statistical Report, ucc.org).  The top states for UCC membership: (1) Pennsylvania; (2) Illinois; (3) Ohio; (4) Massachusetts; and (5) Connecticut.  The top states by congregations: (1) Pennsylvania; (2) Massachusetts; (3) Ohio; (4) Illinois; and (5) California (ibid). 

History

Congregational Churches have their history in the English independent and separatist movement, in the sixteenth century. They believed that the local church should be left to govern itself.  Some fled persecution in England for Leiden, Holland.  They were among the Pilgrims of the Mayflower.  The Pilgrims of the Plymouth Plantation (1620) and the Puritans of Massachusetts Bay Colony (1629) acknowledged their essential unity in the Cambridge Platform of 1648.  Both Harvard (1636) and Yale (1707) were founded by Congregationalists.

The Congregationalists were Calvinists like the Presbyterians.  From 1801-1852, the two denominations worked together in missionary activities under a Plan of Union.  “One of the reasons for the breakdown of the arrangement… was the growing liberalism of congregationalism, which become more and more pronounced as the century went on” (Encyclopedia Britannica, Vol. 4, p. 1129 © 1979).     Mergers have occurred over recent years.  In 1931, the Congregational Church and the Christian Connection (James O’Kelly) merged.  In 1957, Congregational Christian Churches merged with the Evangelical and Reformed Church to form the United Church of Christ.  Not all Congregational Churches have accepted these mergers.  The National Association of Congregational Christian Churches was formed in 1955 in response to the pending formation of the United Church of Christ.  These churches believed that the new denomination would create unwieldy bureaucracies and hinder the freedom of local churches.  These churches are more independent and self-directing than those of the UCC and tend to hold more liberal positions in doctrine and practice” (What is a Congregational Church/Congregationalism?  gotquestions.org).  “The third group is the conservative Congregational Christian Conference which was formed in 1948 in opposition to the liberal theology making inroads in other congregational churches” (ibid, see also Congregationalists: The Story, Puritan to Progressive, Read To Harvest, YouTube). 

[The following works were among the works consulted in presenting this material: Encyclopedia Britannica; Frank S. Mead and Samuel S. Hill, Handbook of Denominations; The Congregational Christian Tradition, congregationallibrary.org; Congregational Church in the United States, familysearch.org].  

Beliefs and Practices

1.  Authority

Congregational Churches believe that the Bible is to be the rule of faith (Our Statement of Faith, fccmiddleboro.org).

They do not require that one accept a formal creed.  This is true of Congregational Churches (What It Means to Be a Member of a Congregational Church by Henry David Gray, ccclamasa.com).  This is true of the United Church of Christ Beliefs by Jack Zavada, learnreligion.com). 

2.  Continuing Revelation/New Light

The United Churches of Christ believes in continuing revelation.  Parkview United Church of Christ of White Bear Lake, MN says, “Basic beliefs of the United Church of Christ… 1.  God is still speaking.  “’Never put a period where God has put a comma’ – Gracie Allen.  We believe that revelation did not stop with the closing of the canon at the Council of Trent in 1546.   We believe that our faith is based on a biblical interpretation that includes new revelations and learning in science, art, music, literature, psychology, and the social sciences and other sources of knowledge that continue to evolve and change over time” (mnparkviewucc.org). 

3.  Sacraments

There are two sacraments in Congregational Churches.  These are baptism and the Lord’s Supper (Encyclopedia Britannica, Vol. 4, p. 1130).  These are generally regarded as symbolic (Sacraments, uccholyoke.org).

4.  Baptism

“Infants are baptized, normally by sprinkling” (Britannica, ibid). The United Congregational Church of Holyoke, MA says, “Baptism is a rite of entry into the faith offered to persons of any age” (sacraments, uccholyoke.org).  It is seen as “an identity claimed for the person… rather than a guarantee of protection” (ibid). 

5.  The Lord’s Supper

The Lord’s Supper is normally celebrated once or twice per month (Britannica, ibid).  Most receive it as symbolic.  However, each are welcome to bring their own understanding to it” (sacraments, uccholyoke.org).

6.  Calvinism

Congregational Churches are Calvinistic.  “The English historian, Bernard Manning, once described their traditional position as ‘decentralized Calvinism’” (Britannica, Vol. 4, p. 1129). 

7.  Abortion

The United Church of Christ (UCC) “has joined with other faith groups to protect women’s equal and fair access to abortion” (Reproductive Justice, ucc.org). 

8.  LGBTQ

The UCC says, “Who ever [sic] you are, where ever you are on life’s journey, you are welcome here!” (LGBTQ Ministries, ucc.org).

9.  Politics and Social Justice

The UCC has been involved in many political issues.  They have called for gun control reform (Gun Violence, ucc.org).  They are an accredited NGO with the UN.  They say, “Our presence at the UN today focuses on a few key areas: global peace with justice, gender justice, racial justice, climate justice and global health issues like HIV/AIDS” (UCC at the United Nations, ucc.org). 

Name/Organization

Congregational Churches are so named for their organizational structure.  “Each UCC setting speaks only for itself and not on behalf of every UCC congregation” (Witness for Justice, Liberation, Freedom, Equity, and Justice for All by Velda Love, ucc.org).  First United Church of Christ of Northfield, MN writes, “The local church is the basic unit of the United Church of Christ.  That means that our congregation has a great deal of independence and autonomy in the conduct of our ministry.  We own our building, call our own ministers, and are responsible for the ways we worship and work… In our tradition (to quote our constitution) ‘The government of the church is vested in its members, who exercise the right of full and final control of all its affairs.  Each January, the whole congregation gathers to review and oversee the life of the church.  We elect officers, pass a budget for our local expenses, and conduct such other business as may come before the meeting.  Special congregational meetings are called from time to time, usually by request of the church council, to vote on particular matters” (How Our Church is Organized, firstucc.org).  The exact form of government in the local church seems to be left up to the local church. 

There is a General Synod of the UCC.  “Because of the UCC’s polity the General Synod speaks ‘to, but not for’ the UCC.  Thus, resolutions may call upon, urge, affirm, support, invite, recommend, request, ask, and encourage various settings of the church, but may not direct them” (Resolution Process Overview, generalsynod.org).  

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Climate Change, an Existential Threat?

Let’s define the terms.  Climate refers to the long-term weather conditions.  “Weather refers to short-term conditions of the atmosphere while climate is the average daily weather for an extended period of time at a certain location… weather is what you see outside on any particular day… climate is the average of that weather” (What is the difference between weather and climate, oceanservice.noaa.gov).  Climate change refers to the “Changes in long-term averages of daily weather” (noaa.gov).  Existential threat “is a threat to something’s very existence –when the continued being of something is at stake or in danger” (dictionary.com). 

Climate change is believed by some to be a threat to human existence on earth.  Al Gore said in an interview with Judy Woodruff, “We have a global emergency… if we do not begin taking action very quickly… the consequences… could actually extend to an existential threat to human civilization on this planet as we know it” (PBS Newshour, One-On-One, 10/12/2018).  Alexandria Ocasio – Cortez told an audience on January 19, 2019 that she feared, “the world is doing to end in 12 years if we don’t address climate changes” (Ocasio-Cortez on Climate by William Cummings, Jan. 22, 2014, usatoday.com).  Nancy Pelosi made this statement, “The climate crisis is the existential threat of our times” (Pelosi Statement on Global Climate Strikes, September 20, 2019, speaker.gov).  Greta Thunberg said, “If the emissions have to stop, then we must stop emissions.  To me that is black or white.  There are no gray areas when it comes to survival” (How Greta Thunberg Transferred Existential Dread Into A Movement by Emily Witt, April 6, 2020, newyorker.com). Some wonder just how sincerely this is believed by politicians. If it is such a severe and immediate threat to our very existence, then some have wondered why no one is advocating the military invasion of India, China or other high producers of pollution to stop the threat.

Is the climate changing?  Historians tell us that it has in the past.  The medieval warming period (c. 950-1250 A.D.) seems to have brought greater rain fall and crop production in northern Europe.  “Human civilization thrived when dramatic warming ushered in enhanced crop production and the more beneficial climate of the Medieval Warming Period” (Global Cooling, Not Global Warming, Doomed the Ancients, James Taylor, forbes.com; see also Ryan Reeves, Medieval Society, YouTube).  The Little Ice Age (c. 1300-1870) seems to have brought crop production decline (forbes.com; see also, How The Little Ice Age Changed History, by John Lanchester, newyorker.com).  It is now believed, by some, that the Little Ice Age is responsible for the especially dense wood which makes the Stradivarius violins so special (Does Climate Explain Prized Violins’ Tone? By Duncan Mansfield, Dec. 8, 2003, nbcnews.com).  1816 is known as “The Year Without A Summer.”  It is believed to have been caused by the eruption of Mount Tambora in Indonesia, which occurred the previous year.  “Many residents of New England and the Canadian Maritimes froze to death, starved, or suffered from severe malnutrition… many others from the region pulled up their stakes and moved to western New York and the Midwest, where the cold was less severe.  In fact, the year without a summer is now believed to have been one major catalyst in the western expansion of the United States” (1816, The Year Without A Summer by Jamie McLeod, farmersalmanac.com; see also – 1816, New England Experienced Year Without A Summer, wmur.com). It was reported that the temperature had dropped 1/2 a degree F in the Northern Hemisphere between 1945 and 1968, and that the growing seasons had shortened by 2 weeks since 1950. The Newsweek headline on April 28, 1975 was “The Coming Ice Age.” Peter Gwynne wrote an article in it entitled “The Cooling World.” Yes, temperature changes occur. And fear sells

The data suggests that the climate has warmed in recent times.  “The Earth is generally regards as having warmed about 1o C. (1.8o F).  Since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution, around 1750” (Exactly How Much Has Earth Warmed And Does It Matter? By Earl J. Richie, forbes.com).  The EPA says, “Since 1901, the average temperature across the continuous 48 states has risen at an average rate of 0.16o F per decade” (Climate Change Indicators, epa.gov).  

Keep in mind that global temperature readings have only existed a short time.  “The oldest continuous temperature record is the Central England Temperature Data Series which began in 1659, and the Hadley Centre has some measurements beginning in 1850, but there are too few data before 1880 for scientists to estimate average temperatures for the entire planet.  Data from earlier years is reconstructed from proxy records like tree rings, pollen counts and ice cores…  However instruments are not perfectly distributed around the globe, and some measurement sites have been deforested or urbanized since 1880, affecting temperatures nearby.  Each agency uses algorithms to filter the effects of these changes out of the temperature record and interpolate where data is sparse, like over the vast southern ocean, when calculating global averages” (Why Does the Temperature Record… Begin at 1880, nasa.gov).

Is climate change good or bad?  This is debated.  Most think it is a bad thing.  Some are not of this opinion (e.g. Why Climate Change is Good for the World by Matt Ridley, spectator.co.uk). 

Is man a major cause of climate change?  This is hotly debated.  Our government says, “There are many ‘natural’ and ‘anthropogenic (human induced) factors that contribute to climate change” (Why is Climate Change Happening and What are the Causes?, usgs.gov).  Among the anthropogenic causes listed are greenhouse gases released into atmosphere, aerosols, and land-use changes.  We know that man can cause local changes in climate, e.g. urban heat islands, where cities are hotter than surrounding rural areas.

Thoughts From the Bible

1.  Stewardship

It is true that we are to be good stewards of God’s creation (e.g. Gen. 2:15; Deut. 20:19-20; 22:6-7, etc.)

Man can do great damage to his environment. Think – the Halifax explosion, Nova Scotia, Canada (1917); the Texas City industrial explosion disaster, Texas City, Texas (1947); the Love Canal, Niagara Falls, New York disaster (1970s); the Bhopal, India Union Carbide disaster (1984); the Chernobyl, Ukraine nuclear disaster (1986) – to name a few.

Remember that Israel in the wilderness was instructed how to dispose of human excrement. Deuteronomy 23:12-14 read, “Also you shall have a place outside the camp, where you may go out; and you shall have an implement among your equipment, and when you sit down outside, you shall dig with it and turn and cover your refuse. For the LORD your God walks in the midst of your camp, to deliver you and give your enemies over to you; therefore your camp shall be holy, that He may see no unclean thing among you, and turn away from you.”

2.  Promise

God told Noah, “While the earth remains, seed time and harvest, cold and heat, winter and summer, and day and night shall not cease” (Genesis 8:22). 

This tells me that man is not as powerful as he thinks, and the earth is not as fragile as he thinks.  Seasons will continue.  Crops will continue to be produced and harvested as long as the earth remains.  We do not need to worry (Matthew 6:31-33).

3.  End

God, not man, will end this earthly existence.  Paul wrote, “We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed – in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet” (1 Corinthians 15:51-52 cf. 1 Thessalonians 4:15-18).  Peter wrote, “But the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night, in which the heavens will pass away with a great noise, and the elements will melt with fervent heat” (2 Peter 3:10).  This will not be a gradual extinction.  It will be a catastrophic event.  It will be sudden destruction (1 Thessalonians 5:3). 

4.  Preparation

Let us remember that the end is coming.  “Therefore, since all these things will be dissolved, what manner of persons ought you to be in holy conduct and godliness, looking for and hastening the coming of the day of God” (2 Peter 3:11).

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Denominations: Reformed/Presbyterian Church (Part 2)

Name

The name “Reformed Church” has its origin in the reformation.  “Originally, all of the Reformation churches used this name (or the name Evangelical) to distinguish themselves from the “unreformed” or unchanged, Roman Catholic Church.  After the great controversy among these churches over the Lord’s Supper (after 1529) the followers of Martin Luther began to use the name Lutheran as a specific name, and the name Reformed became associated with the Calvinistic Churches (and also for a time with the Church of England)” (Reformed Church, britannica.com).  Today, Reformed Church refers to a Calvinistic church.  It is used in a broad sense to include: Presbyterian Church; Congregational Church; French Huguenot Church; Reformed Church, and others.  Frank Mead and Samuel Hill write, “They were called Reformed in Switzerland, Holland, and Germany; Presbyterian in England and Scotland; Huguenot, in France; national names, for others in Bohemia and Hungary” (Mead/Hill, Handbook of Denominations, p. 210). 

The name “Presbyterian Church” refers to its governmental structure.  The Greek Presbuteros means “elder.”  New Standard Encyclopedia says, “The powers of governmental are vested in the body of believers and are exercised through their chosen representatives who are called ‘elders.’  It denies the claim of one man or a special class of men who rule the church by virtue of divine right” (Vol. 8, © 1938).  Britannica says, “All who hold office do so by election of the people whose representatives they are.  The church is to be governed and directed by assemblies of office holders, pastors, and elders chosen to provide just representation for the church as a whole” (Presbyterian Church Government, britannica.com). They reject a king or single bishop over the church.

Authority

1.  The Bible

The PCA says, the Bible is, “the only infallible rule of faith and practice” (Westminster Confession of Faith, pcaac.org).  The Bible consists of 66 books, Genesis – Revelation, which were given by the inspiration of God (Westminster Confession of Faith, 1547, Chapter 1.2).  The Apocrypha is not canonical, nor is it inspired (Westminster, Chapter 1.3). 

2.  Confessions and Catechisms

The PCA says, “When the Presbyterian Church in the United States of America was formed in 1788, it adopted (with minor revisions) the Westminster Confession of Faith, larger and shorter catechisms (1647), as its secondary standards (the Bible itself being the only infallible rule of faith and practice).  Officers in the Presbyterian Church in America take a vow to ‘sincerely receive and adopt these documents as containing the system of doctrine taught in the Holy Scriptures’” (Westminster Confession of Faith, pcaac.org).

The PCUSA also has confessions.  The Book of Confessions published by the Office of General Assembly in 2004 contains (1) The Nicene Creed; (2) The Apostles’ Creed; (3) The Scots Creed; (4) The Heidelberg Catechism; (5) The Second Helvetic Confession of Faith; (7) The Shorter Catechism; (8) The Larger Catechism; (9) The Theological Declaration of Barmen; (10) The Confession of 1967; (11) A Brief Statement of Faith.

Beliefs and Practices

1.  Calvinism

Nearly all Presbyterians hold to the five points of Calvinism (T.U.L.I.P).  John Calvin taught, “By predestination we mean the eternal decree of God, by which he determined with himself whatever he wished to happen with regard to every man.  All are not created on equal terms, but some are preordained to eternal life, others to eternal damnation” (John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion Book 3, Chapter 21, biblestudytools.com).  Daniel Denhem has written, “Some Calvinist, like (Edwin) Palmer, will be so bold as to affirm that God ‘has foreordained everything’ to such an extent that it includes, ‘…the moving of a finger, the beating of a heart, the laughter of a girl, the mistake of a typist – even sins’” (ed. David Brown, Calvinism, Houston College of Bible Lectureship, p. 92).    The Cumberland Presbyterian Church was started in Tennessee in 1810.  They reject the wording of the Westminster Confession of Faith.  They reject the doctrine of double predestination.  They reject limited atonement.  They reject irresistible grace.  They say concerning the work of the Holy Spirit, “While it is possible for all to be saved with it, none can be saved without it.  Whoever will therefore, may be saved, but not apart from the illuminating influence of the Holy Spirit” (Confession of Faith 1984, Cumberland.org).  They believe in Perseverance of the Saints, or “once saved, always saved” doctrine (What We Believe, cookevillecpchurch.org).

2.  The Sacraments

They believe in two sacraments: baptism and the Lord’s Supper (Westminster Confession of Faith, Chapter 27).  “Sacraments are holy signs and seals of the covenant of grace” (ibid).  These sacraments may only be dispensed “by a minister of the word lawfully ordained” (ibid).

3.  Baptism

It is “a sacrament of the New Testament… for the solemn admission of the party into the visible church” (Westminster, Chapter 28).  It may be administered by dipping, pouring, or sprinkling (ibid).  It is “not only for those that do profess faith… but also for infants of one or both believing parents” (ibid).  “The efficacy of Baptism is not tied to that moment of time wherein it is administered” (ibid). 

4.  The Lord’s Supper

“In this sacrament, Christ is not offered up to His Father; nor any real sacrifice made… but only a commemoration of that one offering up of Himself” (Westminster, Chapter 29).  They do not believe that the elements are literally changed into body and blood (ibid).

5.  Salvation

They believe that man is saved by God’s grace alone, through faith alone which is given to the elect.  “We do not need to worry or speculate about our salvation.  We need simply to ask, ‘Do I believe in Jesus Christ?’  If we do, we recognize that we do so by the power of the Holy Spirit and that our salvation is secure in God’s electing purpose” (Donald K. McKim, What Do Presbyterians Believe?  firstpresbyterian.org).

6.  Women

Presbyterians have been using women in church leadership for a long time.  The PCUSA says, “You’ll meet Presbyterian women who are teaching elders (pastors), ruling elders (church leaders), session members (a committee of elders who govern a church), church educators, voting delegates to the General Assembly, or chairs or members of church committees” (presbyterianwomen.org). 

7.  Millennial

“In recent centuries, Reformed theologians have staked their claims in a variety of camps… Historically, most Reformed theologians have tended to adopt either the amillennialist or postmillennialist position” (Robert Bohler Jr., What Presbyterians Believe About the Future, Part 1, pres-outlook.org).

8.  Homosexuality

“In the Presbyterian Church USA, the church voted in 2015 to allow gay and lesbian weddings within the church.  In 2014, the church had voted to allow clergy to perform same-sex weddings” (Presbyterians: 10 Things to Know, Amanda Casanova, Christianity.com). 

Organizations

In PCUSA a local church is governed by a session.  It is composed of elected pastors and elders.  “Beyond the local congregation, several sessions constitute a Presbytery, several Presbyteries form a Synod, and the General Assembly encompasses the entire denomination” (Presbyterian Organization, religionfacts.com; cf. Presbyterian: 10 Things, Christianity.com; New Standard Encyclopedia, Vol. 8, © 1938). 

Types of Presbyterians

1.  The Presbyterian Church USA (PCUSA) is the largest branch.  It is based in Louisville, Kentucky.

2.  The Presbyterian Church in America (PCA) is the second largest branch.  It is based in Lawrenceville, Georgia.  It is more conservative.  It does not ordain women.  It teaches that homosexuality is sinful.  It teaches that abortion is sinful.  It does not teach no fault divorce (Joe Carter, How to Tell the Difference Between PCA and PCUSA, thegospelcoalition.org).

3.  There are many other groups.  A simple internet search mentions: Orthodox Presbyterian Church; Evangelical Presbyterian Church; Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church; Cumberland Presbyterian Church; Cumberland Presbyterian Church in America; Upper Cumberland Presbyterian Church; Bible Presbyterian Church; Covenant Presbyterian Church; Reformed Presbyterian Church (US); Covenant Order of Evangelical Presbyterian Church; Presbyterian Church in America; Presbyterian Church (USA).

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Denominations: Reformed/Presbyterian Church (Part 1)

The world-wide membership is said to be 75 million (Presbyterian Church Denomination by Mary Fairchild, learnreligions.com).  Some claim the number to be over 90 million (About the Presbyterian Church, rockvillepresbyterian.org).

In America, there are several branches of the Presbyterian Church.  The Presbyterian Church U.S.A. (PCUSA) shows a membership of 1.24 million (PCUSA 2020 statistics, Rick Jones/office of the General Assembly, pcusa.org).  The Presbyterian Church in America (PCA) shows a membership of about 385,000 as of 2018 (pcanet.org).  The Cumberland Presbyterian Church (CPCA) shows a membership of 65,000 (2020 Yearbook of the General Assembly, cumberland.org).  There are other branches.  The top states for the PCUSA, the largest branch, were in 2010: by number – (1) Pennsylvania; (2) North Carolina; and (3) California; by percentage of population – (1) South Carolina; (2) North Carolina; and (3) Pennsylvania (thearda.com). 

History

1.  Ioannis Calvinus or Jean Cauin/John Calvin (b. 1509 – d. 1564).

The history of the Reformed Tradition and the Presbyterian Church is closely linked with John Calvin.  The First Presbyterian Church in Watertown, New York says, “Much of what the Presbyterian Church believes originated with the French lawyer John Calvin… who established much of what we know as Reformed Theology” (What is a Presbyterian?, watertownfirstpres.org). 

Here is a brief sketch of John Calvin.  He was born in Noyon, Picardy, France.  His family was Roman Catholic.  In fact, his father was notary and registrar for the local cathedral, and essentially secretary to the Bishop of Noyon.  At the age of 12, Calvin, himself, began to serve as clerk to the Bishop.  Calvin’s father, Gerald, wanted him to become a Priest.

Calvin continued his education.  At the age of 14, he went to Paris to study with the aim of becoming a Priest.  He studied Latin and Rhetoric at the College de la Marche.  Next, he studied Philosophy at the College de Montaigu.  He earned a Master’s Degree by age 18.  Then, his father suggested that he study law.  Gerald was excommunicated from the Church after some dispute with the local Cathedral chapter.  Some believe that this was a factor in the decision.  Calvin studied Law at the University of Orleans and the University of Bourges.  He earned a Doctorate of Law before he turned 23.  After this, and following his father’s death, he returned to Paris to study the humanities.  He studied Greek, Hebrew, and Latin classics.

At some point, Calvin became favorable to the Reformation.  On November 01, 1533, Nicolas Cop, Rector of the University of Paris and friend of Calvin, preached a lesson which called for reformation of the church.  There is some evidence that Calvin actually wrote the sermon.  A search was made of his dwelling and a copy of the sermon was found in his handwriting.  Theodore Beza (1519-1605) was later a close associate of Calvin.  He wrote a biography, The Life of John Calvin, and in it he stated that Calvin supplied the sermon (The Life of John Calvin by Theodore Beza, p. 4, reformationstewards.com).

Cop and Calvin fled Paris.  Calvin fled disguised as a farmer.  He went to Basel, Switzerland.  There he published the first edition of The Institute of the Christian Religion.  He planned to go to Strasbourg (a free city, now a part of France) and perhaps teach, write, and continue the academic life.  However, war detoured him.  In 1536, Calvin arrived in Geneva, Switzerland.  He did not expect to stay long.  He was passing through.  Guillaume (Guilhem or William) Farel (1489-1565), a reformer from France living in Geneva, approached him and convinced him to stay.

He was hired as a minister by the city’s small council.  He served there from 1536-1538.  He and Farel were fired and exiled from the city.  The issues concerned changes that he and Farel were insisting be made. 

Martin Bucer (1491-1551) invited Calvin to Strasbourg.  Calvin ministered in Strasbourg from 1538-1541, working with Bucer.  There he married Idelette de Bure, a widow, in 1540.

The Geneva church began to have some difficulties.  One difficulty was from a Catholic Cardinal named Jacopo Sadoleto (1477-1547).  He was a counter-reformer who was trying to gain people back to Catholicism.  The ministers in Geneva were not skilled enough in the eyes of the city’s leaders to respond to Sadoleto.  Calvin would return to Geneva and serve as a minister from 1541-1564.  He preached almost every day, until he became too ill to do so.

[The following works were among the works consulted in presenting this material: Owen Chadwick, The Reformation; John Calvin, Encyclopedia Britannica, vol. 3 © 1979; Charles Jacobs, The Story of the Church; F.W. Mattox, The Eternal Kingdom; Ryan Reeves YouTube Channel; John Calvin, calvin.edu; John Calvin Biography, notablebiographies.com].

2.  Calvinism   

The doctrine of Calvinism has been summarized in 5 points, T.U.L.I.P..  This summary was not provided by Calvin.  It appeared much later.  The 5 points were codified by the Synod of Dort (1618-1619).  The earliest use of the acronym may be a sermon by Cleland Boyd McAfee before the Presbyterian Union, Newark, New Jersey in 1905.  The popular use seems to have started with the book The Reformed Doctrine of Predestination by Loraine Boettner published in 1932 (TULIP, theopedia.com).

Here are the 5 points:

T – Total Hereditary Depravity.  Man is born in sin.  Totally inclined to sin.  Man is dead spiritually, unable to respond to God.  The Westminster Confession of Faith reads, “Our first parents… sinned in eating the forbidden fruit… the guilt of this sin was imputed… to all their posterity… from this original corruption… we are utterly indisposed, disabled, and made opposite to all good, wholly inclined to all evil (chapter 6) “Man, by his fall… hath wholly lost all ability of will to any spiritual good accompanying salvation; so as a natural man… dead in sin, is not able… to convert himself, or to prepare himself thereunto” (chapter 9).  Barry Gritter of the Protestant Reformed Churches in America writes, “Can a man want to be born again and follow instructions on ‘how to do it?’ No.  Can any man ‘accept Christ’… so that he becomes saved after that?  Of course not… only AFTER God makes a person alive, can he and will he accept Christ” (T.U.L.I.P. or the Five Points of Calvinism, pcra.org). 

U – Unconditional Election.  God has offered salvation unconditionally to some.  The Westminster Confession of Faith reads, “God from all eternity did… ordain whatsoever comes to pass… By the decree of God… some men and angels are predestined unto everlasting life, and others foreordained to everlasting death” (Chapter 3).  “The effectual call is of God’s free and special grace alone, not from anything at all foreseen in man, who altogether passive therein, until being quickened and renewed by the Holy Spirit, he is thereby enabled to answer this call” (Chapter 10).

L – Limited Atonement.  Christ did not die for all men.  He died only for the elect, those that were unconditionally chosen for salvation.  Barry Gritter writes, “It must not be said that Christ died for all men.  The Bible says that Christ laid down His life for His sheep, and only them” (prca.org).  

I – Irresistible Grace.  God’s grace is irresistible to those whom He chose for salvation.  Barry Gritter writes, “That means if God gives grace to you,  there is nothing in the world that you can do to resist it and thwart God’s intention to take you to heaven” (prca.org).  The Westminster Confession of Faith reads, “Yet so they come most freely, being made willing by His grace” (Chapter 10).  John Calvin writes, “It is a powerful impulse of the Holy Spirit, which makes men willing who formerly were unwilling and reluctant” (Calvin on John 6:44, studylight.org).    

P – Perseverance of the Saints.  This doctrine has been called many things: Once saved, always saved; Once in grace, always in grace; The eternal security of the saints; The impossibility of apostasy.  The Westminster confession of Faith reads, “They whom God hath accepted… can neither totally nor finally fall away from the state of grace; but shall certainly persevere therein to the end, and be eternally saved.  This perseverance of the saints depends not upon their free will, but upon the immutability of the decree of election… Nevertheless they may… fall into grievous sins… and bring temporal judgment upon themselves” (Chapter 17). 

3.  John Knox (c. 1514-1572). 

Here is a brief sketch of his life.  He was born in Haddington, Scotland.  His father was a farmer.  Knox is believed to have been educated at St. Andrews University.  He was ordained a Catholic Priest sometime between 1536-1540.  He never received a parish.  He worked as a notary public and as a tutor.

He joined the Reformation.  In the mid 1540’s, he met George Wishart, a Scottish reformation leader.  He began to work with him.  Wishart was burned for heresy in 1546.  In 1547, Knox and other reformers were arrested and carried off as slaves in French galleys. 

He became a minister.  In 1549, he was released and went to England.  In England, he served as minister, first in Berwick, then in Newcastle.  He also served as a Royal Chaplain during the reign of Edward VI.  He married Marjorie Bowes of Berwick while in England. 

He left England in 1553, when Mary Tudor became Queen.  He went to Continental Europe.  He served as a minister to England refugees, first in Frankfurt, Germany, then in Geneva, Switzerland.  He met Calvin and became greatly influenced by him.  In 1558, he penned The First Blast of the Trumpet Against the Monstrous Regiment of Women advocating rebellion against ungodly rulers, especially women, whom he thought, had no right to rule. 

He returned to Scotland in 1559.  The time was ripe for reformation.  In 1560, Parliament rejected papal jurisdiction and approved a Confession of Faith produced by Knox.  His wife died that same year.  He married again in 1564 to Margaret Stewart.  He was 50.  She was 17.  This was a great scandal.

Mary Stuart (Mary Queen of Scots) returned from France in 1561.  She was Catholic in a reformed country.  Knox met with her several times but to little satisfaction.  He became her fierce antagonist.  He not only opposed her Catholicism but also the idea of a woman monarch.

The organization known as the Presbyterian Church has its roots in Calvin and Knox.  “The Presbyterian form of church government and Reformed theology were formally adopted as the national Church of Scotland in 1690.  The Church of Scotland remains Presbyterian today” (Presbyterian Church History, learnreligions.com).

The Presbyterian Church came to America in the early colonial days of the 17th century. The College of New Jersey (1746), later known as Princeton University, was started by Presbyterians.

[The following works were among the works consulted in presenting this material: Owen Chadwick, The Reformation; John Knox, Encyclopedia Britannica, Vol. 10, © 1979; britanica.com; Charles Jacobs, The Story of The Church; F.W. Mattox, The Eternal Kingdom; Ryan Reeves YouTube Channel Calvin, England and Scotland.  John Knox, biography.  yourdictionary.com; Heroes of the Faith; John Knox, dianaleaghmatthews.com; John Knox, banneroftruth.org; John Knox and Mary Queen of Scots, historyscotland.com; John Knox: Life Story, tudortimes.co.uk; Presbyterian Church History, learningreligions.com].      

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