Reflections Upon the Origin of the Knights Templar

Christians on a Mission 

Romans 12:1 

“Rejoice, brave warrior, if you live and conquer in the Lord, but rejoice still more and give thanks if you die and go to join the Lord. This life can be fruitful and victory is glorious yet a holy death for righteousness is worth more. Certainly ‘blessed are they who die in the Lord’ but how much more so are those who die for Him.” [i]
Bernard of Clairvaux

The Knights Templar had a simple and undramatic beginning.  After the conclusion of the First Crusade nine knights banded together to apply their skills and knowledge of warfare in service to the king of Jerusalem to meet an urgent need.  The group grew, slowly at first, and then seemingly exponentially in numbers and wealth.  The Knights Templar was a construct that had come of age.  The order enjoyed the favour of popes and kings, of nobles and peasants.  The order was envied by its peers and persecuted by its opponents. Yet, in spite of all the honour and wealth the order enjoyed, their existence was short-lived by monastic standards and their demise was as meteoric as their rise in popularity.  The Templars have become popularized and their history has become muddled; however, there are reliable sources that present sufficient details from which much can be learned and even applied today.  This paper will review some of the thinking that led to the Templar’s genesis and growth focusing on the two primary topics of the evolution of practical theology and men’s responses to it.

To understand the thinking that underlay the birth of the Templars it is instructive to consider the teachings of Augustine on the theology of “Just War.” In his written response to the Manichean Faustus, Augustine argues the unity of the Old and New Testaments, with a particular focus on the rightness of military actions that were on the surface seemingly wrong.  With specific reference to Abraham’s attempted sacrifice of his son Isaac, an act that in the eyes of an uninformed observer would have been incomprehensible, Augustine justifies Abraham’s action as having been specifically ordained by God.[i]  Also, writing of the wars conducted by Moses, Augustine argues that the conflicts were ordered by God, which therefore made such action right.  God-ordained conflict is not an evil, rather the evil would be to not enter into the conflict, which would be an act of disobedience.

…in wars carried on by divine command, he showed not ferocity but obedience; and God in giving the command, acted not in cruelty, but in righteous retribution, giving to all what they deserved, and warning those who needed warning. What is the evil in war? Is it the death of some who will soon die in any case, that others may live in peaceful subjection? This is mere cowardly dislike, not any religious feeling.[ii]

This line of thinking resulted in the first criterion for just war or conflict, that being Jus Ad Bellum– the right to go to war.  Though a conflict may be justified, Augustine also argued that the motivations of those involved in the conflict could themselves be a source of evil, which leads to the second criterion for just war, Jus In Bello– the right sorts of conduct in war.

The real evils in war are love of violence, revengeful cruelty, fierce and implacable enmity, wild resistance, and the lust of power, and such like; and it is generally to punish these things, when force is required to inflict the punishment, that, in obedience to God or some lawful authority, good men undertake wars, when they find themselves in such a position as regards the conduct of human affairs, that right conduct requires them to act, or to make others act in this way.[iii]

While a fulsome investigation of Augustine’s theology on the matter of justified conflict is beyond the intent of this paper, the fundamental criteria of Jus Ad Bellumand Jus In Belloare helpful in understanding the theological logic behind the creation and operations of the Templars.

Another factor to consider is the state of European society during the 10thcentury.  In general, European society was fractured and it was violent. The grand powers of the Church and the monarchy dominated the urban centres, of which there were few, while the countryside, which accounted for the majority of territory, was rampant with lawlessness.  Chieftains ruled locally, in accordance with their individual desires. They fought with neighbouring lords at their discretion and for their purposes.  Travel was restricted due to the inherent dangers in a lawless environment where might was the determinant factor in what was right.[iv]  The mightiest was the one whose fighting men were adept at fighting from a horse, individuals that the Franks termed chevalier.  Horses large enough to carry a man encased in protective and offensive equipment and those who rode them were necessarily large, healthy and well trained.  These discriminators meant that only those of some degree of wealth could afford to be chevaliers.  Such men came from families of at least some substance and normally enjoyed a symbiotic relationship with local clergy.  Though direct lines of cause and effect are not possible to identify, the influence of the clergy and an enlightened code of conduct, evidently inherent within Germanic tribes, is viewed as a primary source for the development of a code for the conduct of mounted men.  A code of behaviour which became a system of Chivalry or Knighthood.  The code was not a written Rule, rather it was a series of practices that were learned through practice as well as observation.[v]  Given the development of the Augustinian theology of Jus Ad Bellumand Jus In Bellothe evolution of a social code of conduct in conflicts between mounted men, who were themselves somewhat educated for the time period, is likely.

In the mid 11thcentury the Holy Land had been occupied by Muslim forces since the 7thcentury.  In spite of its occupation, Church doctrine of the era, stipulated that pilgrimages to designated holy sites were “a significant penitential act after the commission of serious sins.”[vi]The need for Christians to travel to Jerusalem and environs was essential. Fortunately, Caliph Omar made a solemn promise to Sophronius the patriarch that one fourth of the inner city would remain in the hands of Christians, and pilgrims would be permitted to transit Muslim held territory to visit revered sites and objects upon the payment of a small fee.  Thus a mutually beneficial, albeit unequal, relationship between the occupiers, and Christian residents and pilgrims evolved and became the source of a peaceful co-existence. There, was evidently a spiritual revival of a sort in 1064, for over 7,000 pilgrims made the long journey to Jerusalem that year.  However, the year following, circumstances changed.  Turcoman forces under the command of emir Ortok invaded the region. 3000 citizens of Jerusalem were murdered, and Christians specifically came under sever persecution.[vii]

Twenty years later, persecution of Christians in the Holy Land had become normalized, yet Pope Urban II saw value in liberating Jerusalem from Islamic occupation.  Islamic scholars point to:wide-spread poverty in Europe and a resultant loss of faith among the populace, a power struggle between the Church and secular authorities, envy towards the wealth of the Muslim East and a papacy’s fanatical desire to export Catholicism through a militarized delivery system as precipitates of Urban’s call for crusade.[viii]While, there may be some truth within these assessments, they do not present sufficient rational to explain the overwhelming response and the apparent religious zeal that infected some who volunteered.  On 27 November 1095, at the Council of Clermont, Pope Urban II appealed to the 300 clerics in attendance.[ix]  An original copy of Urban’s speech does not exist; however, there are five separate accounts from either witnesses or those who spoke to clerics who had attended the Council.  The pertinent parts of his speech as it pertains to the First Crusade were: first, the Holy Land was occupied by infidels and it was the Lord’s will that it be liberated by Christians of the West; second, that any Christian who participated in the crusade, whether they died on the way to the Holy Land or they died in battle against the pagans, would earn for himself the complete remission of all sin; and third, that resources hithertofore expended in conflict between Christians must be redirected against the infidel.[x]In the 11thcentury, salvation was works-based. Penance was a standard means by which to receive forgiveness and every sin had an associated penitential act. The life of a Christian was one of confession, repentance, and penance. People lived under the fear that they would not be able to sufficiently even the scales between righteousness and sin to assure themselves of a place in heaven.  Urban II was offering the ultimate penitential act.[xi]  One year later, four armies were fielded.

The Crusader armies were disjointed. The first to arrive in the East was led by Peter the Hermit, a monk of no military training.  They were crushed.[xii]Subsequent, Christian forces were better trained, with leaders experienced in armed conflict. On 7 July 1099, Jerusalem was liberated, and Pope Urban’s II divinely assigned mission was complete. Western forces returned to their regions victorious and free from the consequences of their sins: past, present, and future.  For those who sought pilgrimage, the road to Jerusalem had been reopened. Unfortunately, though Islamic fighters had either been killed or driven out of the urban areas, those that lived continued to operate in the country side and harassed, robbed, raped, terrorized and murdered pilgrims who were transiting.

It is within this post-crusade context in 1120 that Hugh de Payens, a knight of Champagne, along with Geoffrey de Saint-Omer and seven other knights formed a small para-military type police force[xiii].  All had distinguished themselves in the battle for Jerusalem, and having witnessed the continuing persecution of Christians by localized Muslim bandits they collectively decided to apply their knightly skills and knowledge towards ensuring the safety of pilgrims and the defence of religion. Though unpaid, they formally offered their services to king Baldwin II of Jerusalem, who evidently seeing value in such service accepted their offer. Concurrently, and at the discretion of the nine, a decision was taken that they should collectively swear a solemn vow to Guarimond, patriarch of Jerusalem, embracing the fundamental monastic vows of perpetual chastity, obedience and poverty. Initially, the nine took upon themselves the name of “The Poor Fellow-soldiers of Jesus Christ.”[xiv]Knights were not simple-minded men. By their nature, as previously intimated, they were themselves men of some degree of wealth and education.  They had performed the ultimate penitential service and could return home in honour and in a state of permeant righteousness.  Heaven had been earned. Yet, they remained in Jerusalem.

Military service in the Middle Ages provided the soldier with a variety of compensations: respect, honour, esteem, purpose, plunder and adventure, so there was an attraction.  It also offers moral confusion and injury, physical disease, psychological misery, physical and psychological injury and death. While there were benefits to be enjoyed as a knight, one must return to the presence of family and friends and away from the risks of battle to obtain them.  The nine rejected the benefits and by their actions embraced the cost.

In medieval times there were essentially two types of religious vows: the simple vow and the solemn vow.  The simple vow, though given in similar manner to the solemn vow, was temporary in nature, valid only while serving with a particular congregation or order, and it could be relinquished at the will of the individual.  The solemn vow was permanent, rendering the individual a religious in the canonical sense and the giver could only be liberated from his commitment at the discretion of the Church and then only in the gravest of circumstances, such as apostasy.[xv]  The nine collectively surrendered themselves to the life of a religious.

Recognizing the potential value of an increased number of Templar knights, King Baldwin II sent Hugh de Payens back to France in order to further legitimize the nascent community by obtaining “from the Pope the approbation of their order.”[xvi]  Seeking support for the initiative, Baldwin sent a letter along with Hugh de Payens to St. Bernard of Clairvaux requesting his assistance with the Pope.[xvii]  Bernard was a French abbot and the primary reformer of the Cistercian order, an order that itself was young, having only been established in 1098.  Impressed with Hugh de Payens and the concept behind the brothers of the temple, Bernard influenced the sitting of a Council at Troyes to consider Hughes application for papal recognition of the order.  At the Council Hughes explained to the Council the history and purpose of the order of the temple knights of Jerusalem. Bernard, who was recognized within the Church for his wisdom and piety and who history has deemed as the last of the Church Fathers, provided his endorsement and a Rule for the new order based upon that for the Cistercians.  The Council approved the establishment of knights of the Temple as a monastic order with a unique mission and the Rule by which they would live.[xviii]

A succession of papal Bulls increased the legitimacy, autonomy and power of the Templars. In 1139, Pope Innocent II issued a bull entitled “Omne Datum Optimumthat granted the Templars a range of extraordinary privileges.”[xix]Among which, the Templar order was accountable only to the Holy See, permanently; they were exempt from all forms of tithes and taxes, they retained their own clergy, and they were the “designated ‘defenders of the Catholic Church and attackers of the enemies of Christ, a licence so broad as to be effectively all-encompassing.”[xx]  In 1144 Pope Celestine II’s Milites Templi (Knights of the Temple), granted all members of the order permanent relief from penance, essentially the same as that granted to participants who died in and on the way to the First Crusade. And in 1145 Pope Eugene III’s Militia Deireconfirm the Templars the right to select their own clergy, use their own cemeteries and to establish their own oratories, which would allow the order a steady and substantial cash flow through tithes and fees.[xxi]

There is no evidence as to why the nine chose to become religious.  During the 11thcentury monasticism in general had been experiencing a paradigm shift.  Previously, monastics were men of solitude who dedicated their lives to contemplation and prayer.  The shift was towards an outward service orientation.  Yet, the same underlying denial of self, detachment from earthly things and complete consecration to God remained as values in the evolving orders.  Within Jerusalem were the Hospitalliers, a monastic order of the new paradigm, and at the time of the Templars inception, the Hospitalliers were solely dedicated to providing medical care to injured and sick pilgrims.  It may have been that the nine were influenced by their medically oriented counter-parts, but it still would not fully explain why nine knights would surrender their lives in service to physically defending the weak and advancing the Catholic cause. It is also possible that the earlier teachings of Augustine’s Just War, and its 11thcentury interpretation and application were also influences. Initially, there was no financial gain as they lived on alms, wore old clothing and ate left over food given to them by the Hospitalliers. It is likely that these nine men were profoundly affected by: their previous training and experiences as knights; their response to Urban II’s call to arms; the immediate needs of the community in which they lived; their abilities as knights and a spiritual call to serve in the name of Jesus Christ in similar manner to their non-military monastic peers. Whatever motivation or series thereof moved the nine to take the solemn vow in 1120 in service to the sovereign and the patriarch of Jerusalem, their actions were seismic.  Within twenty-five years of its inception the small band of nine had become Pope’s Special Forces, completely self-contained, self-sustaining and self-governing.  Tens of thousands would line up and join.  20,000 would literally give their lives in sacrifice unto the mission. Yet, in spite of the Templar inspired spiritual revival, their unique and privileged position would eventually provide the stimulus for the order’s decimation.

Gerry Potter
Colonel (Ret’d)
President[i]John Langan, “The Elements of St. Augustine’s Just War Theory,” The Journal of Religious Ethics 12, no. 1 (Spring 1984): 21.

[ii]Augustine, “Contra Faustum, Book XXII,” New Advent Catholic Encyclopedia, paragraph 74, accessed December 10, 2017.  http://www.newadvent.or”g/fathers/140622.htm

[iii]Augustine, paragraph 74.

[iv]Woodhouse, F. C. The Military Religious Orders of the Middle Ages: the Knights Templar, Hospitaller and Others.(Great Britain: Leonaur, 2010), loc. 116, Kindle.

[v]Woodhouse, loc. 159.

[vi]James R. Ginther, The Westminster Handbook to Medieval Theology, (Louisville, KY: John Knox Press), 151.

[vii]C. G. Addison, The Knights Templars Third ed., (London: Longman Brown, Green, and Longmans, 1842), loc. 205.

[viii]Al Jazeera, “Shock: The First Crusade and the Conquest of Jerusalem,” Al Jazeera, December 07, 2016, accessed December 13, 2017, http://www.aljazeera.com/programmes/the-crusades-an-arab-perspective/2016/12/shock-crusade-conquest-jerusalem-161205081421743.html.

[ix]Wikipedia, “Council of Clermont,” Wikipedia, December 11, 2017, accessed December 13, 2017, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Council_of_Clermont.

[x]Charles River, ed., The Teutonic Knights: The History and Legacy of the Catholic Church’s Most Famous Military Order(Charles River Editors), Loc. 127, Kindle.

[xi]Dan Jones, The Templars: the Rise and Spectacular Fall of Gods Holy Warriors (NY, NY: Viking, 2017), loc. 309, Kindle.

[xii]Wikipedia, “First Crusade,” Wikipedia, December 11, 2017, accessed December 13, 2017, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/First_Crusade.

[xiii]Jones, loc. 647.

[xiv]Jones, loc. 220.

[xv]Charles Warren Currier, History of Religious Orders: A Compendious and Popular Sketch of the Rise and Progress of the Principal Monastic, Canonical, Military Mendicant and Clerical Orders and Congregations of the Eastern and Western Churches together with A Brief History of the Catholic Church in Relation to Religious Orders, (New York, NK: Murphy & McCarthy, 1898), pg. 31.

[xvi]Addison, loc 288.

[xvii]River, loc. 2378.

[xviii]Jones, loc. 888.

[xix]Jones, loc. 1066.

[xx]Jones, loc. 1078.

[xxi]Jones, loc. 1100.

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Readiness

William Carey (1761-1834) is historically known as the “father of modern missions.” A former Anglican, Carey became a Calvinistic Baptist Non-Conformist in 1779.  Of note, though being Calvinist in his theological understanding of salvation, Carey along with Andrew Fuller held the perspective that they were still responsible to evangelize.  Inspired by a number of predecessors, such as John Wesley, the Moravians and other earlier missionaries Carey argued for the evangelization of peoples who had not yet heard the gospel, which eventually resulted in the creation of the Baptist Missionary Society.  Taking his own advice, Carey along with his family, became a missionary to the peoples of India.

At my writing of this discussion topic I am in Jerusalem to participate in Easter celebrations, while concurrently avoiding the implications of the recently expressed Islamic call for a day of rage to correspond with Passover.  Tension in Jerusalem, and Bethlehem for that matter, I have learned, is a way of life that the general populace seems to take in stride.  What is an aberration is the frequent interjection of “Christians” who are bringing a different gospel, one that is filled with eschatological goofiness that is grounded in aberrant teachings of self-proclaimed prophets, some of which have large followings.  Likely, it is the time of year, but since this is my first visit to Israel and since my encounter with such groups has been frequent over the past week, I can’t help but make an uninformed speculative observation that there is an overabundance of such “missionaries.”  I confess that I am over sensitized to doctrinal deviations in general as a result of seminary studies and I do try to contain my surprise at the Scriptural interpretations I hear so freely and confidently thrown around like they were divine dictates from an “anointed” orator.  But, I also confess that sometimes I just can’t keep my mouth shut.

Carey observed the vast void of the gospel among heathen people and though a Calvinist who wholeheartedly subscribed to the doctrine of election, he also fully endorsed the essential need to preach the gospel so that the elect could hear the Word and by the Spirit be born again.  Unlike Carey’s century, our world is awash in digital information.  Seekers merely have to type “Jesus” into a web-browser to access a seemingly unlimited reservoir of information to inform, entertain, and titillate their senses about Him.  But, in that is our challenge.  In Carey’s day the darkness was a deafening silence, into which the Words of Scripture needed to be spoken.  Today, the darkness is the overwhelming barrage of fake gospels, which is equally deafening, but maybe more difficult to overcome.  The need for missionaries who are equipped to bring the Word is equally dire as that in Carey’s time.  I am a Calvinist in my doctrinal understanding, and I am convicted by the likes of Carey and Fuller of the need to communicate the gospel at every chance I am granted.  Trusting in the Holy Spirit to use the Word to illuminate, quicken and save those whom Christ has called.  I am also convicted of the need to train more biblically grounded messengers.

For most military Christians their India is the military community in which they work and live. Though the prevalence of churches around our communities and the wealth of information available through our hand-held devices is vast, the call of God expressed in 1 Tim 4 to pay close attention to and persevere in biblically grounded teaching is urgently needed by every believer.  Do not allow yourself to whimsically wander from one trendy “thought” to another; rather like preparation for deployment get yourself readied through good biblically teaching, so that you may be able in season and out to give the reason for the hope that is in you.

Gerry Potter
Colonel (Ret’d)
President

God – not guilt

My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” 2 Corinthians 22:9

We are vulnerable people. Our hunger, our tiredness, and even our intellect betray us. While we seek God’s presence the evil one lurks nearby to subtly attack us in seemingly innocent, yet powerful, ways. When we face trouble, he hints that God’s love is not unfailing. He suggests the words of a Christian brother or sister are hurtful causing us to feel slighted. He recognizes when we have put aside the armour of God, even for a short time, and then he moves closer to poke at our vulnerabilities. Initially, the fallout from these attacks appear minimal however, he will initiate a second assault. He will either block our efforts to recognize our behaviour and seek forgiveness, or he will play on our emotions, specifically guilt.

Guilt can be a valuable emotion as it helps us recognize that we may have done harm. However, because it can be painful and we may seek ways to soothe our feelings by making up for our actions. We may pray because we think that is what we must do. Neither God nor our friends want a relationship fed by guilt. Satan driven guilt plays on emotions. It interferes with repentance as it causes prayer and other communication to become a responsibility instead of rehabilitating necessity. Instead of speaking with our hearts, we say words to make the guilt go away. The guilt is like a veil placed before our eyes distorting our perception of God and His truth and His desires for us.

We are vulnerable to the powerful suggestions of the evil one who seeks to trip us up as while we seek a relationship with God. James 4:7. Praying helps build our relationship. Reading and studying scripture helps us understand what it means to submit to God and it should lead us to recognize our need to be obedient to His word. Because we are vulnerable we need all the help we can get.

Pray to build a relationship with God, not to hide from guilt. When we are weak, vulnerable and seemingly ineffective, God remains strong, loving and with us. Seek His strength, recognize His grace and talk with Him. Pray because you want to, not because you think you must.

Witness

“Who is going to harm you if ……..” 1 Peter 3:13-16

The Super Bowl is a staple of the American winter diet and although viewership was down for last week’s game it was still watched by an estimated 103 million people. The result was an upset in some people’s eyes. While being interviewed after the game the winning quarterback was asked: “how do you explain this win seeing that nine years ago you were coaching in high school?” Quarterback Doug Pederson, without hesitation, replied “I can only give the praise to my lord and saviour Jesus Christ for giving me this opportunity”.  On live TV, in front of 103 million, he unashamedly acknowledged Jesus as Lord of His life.

In Peter’s second letter he offers advice on Christian living and behaviour not only within the Christian community but in the world.  He almost suggests we must strut our stuff before others letting them know we are a child of God and our hope rests in Him. But as todays passage suggests, we must also be able to talk the walk. When asked, we must be able to share why Jesus means something to us. Peter warns not to be arrogant about the way we witness but to humbly share, without fear or hesitation, that Jesus is the Lord of our life.

Evangelism, the spreading of the Christian gospel, appears difficult to many because they have been undercover Christians for so long. They are afraid to jump out in the open and speak and do as Christ commanded. But, we are ALL called to let others know about Jesus. We should be prepared so that when we are in front of a TV camera, standing amongst friends, or sitting at a coffee shop and are asked “why are you like you are?” we can also boldly, and unashamedly declare ‘“I can only give the praise to my Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ”.

As Easter approaches we have the consumer world to thank for preparing our friends and neighbours to hear the real story of Easter. They suspect there is a deeper meaning and we can shed some light on the truth. Be prepared to do so. Reflect on what Jesus means to you and see if you can sum that up in under 5 minutes. Talk with God about your desire to tell people about Jesus and be prepared for divine encounters to occur. Mostly, live your life for Jesus by loving God with your whole being and loving others. When you do this, you will be a witness to something great that the world is seeking but don’t know where to look. You can point them in the direction of hope.

Focus

Recently I was listening to a pastor speak on the topic of prayer and as often happens, he prayed to start. I found myself agreeing with him as he spoke to God and then he did something that threw me. He cracked a joke. In the middle of praying he made a joke. The joke was not offensive and was related to the Super Bowl. However, it stopped my focus and turned me off. Why?

Jesus, became a man for many reason including helping him connect relationally with people. While growing up, He would have spent time in the company of other children laughing and playing. As he grew older He interacted with other adults and certainly those encounters weren’t always serious. While on the road with mostly the same people day-in and day-out someone must have cracked a joke or two or maybe even pulled a prank. Just as Jesus wept at the effect Lazarus’ death had on others, I’m certain He also laughed when the occasion called for it. So why did a joke during a prayer stop me in my tracks? Was I being legalistic thinking that there is a certain posture we must take during prayer? Was I being too reverent thinking God wants us to be serious when talking with him?

I believe it struck me because I realized he was no longer talking with God but talking to us. It is something we all probably have noticed during a prayer gathering. There are those who intentionally or unintentionally change their prayers into preaching or a bible verse recital. Their intention, when they started, may have been to speak with God but somehow, they became distracted by the people present and started to address them. Scripture shares: “The Lord would speak to Moses face-to-face as one speaks to a friend “Exodus 33:11a”. This does suggest a less formal posture is acceptable. However, it does not suggest that when talking, God and Moses were less focused on each other. I’m certain we would feel slighted if, during a conversation with a friend, they suddenly made a remark that was obviously not directed at us but meant for people standing nearby. You might wonder if the conversation was over or if it had even started. Upon reflection, I acknowledge that I have made a joke while praying. However, listening to another doing it made me realize the negative effect it could have on others, including God

If our prayers are not directed at God, why pray? The pastor’s joke distracted me because it was obvious that he was not talking to God but was saying those words for those listening. He became conscious of all those listening except God; he put God on hold for the sake of a laugh. Now, when I am sad or happy, suffering or being reflective I know I bring those moods to the conversation I’m having with God; especially during spontaneous prayer. I don’t try to change thinking God wants me serious; I tend to go as I am. However, I should want to direct my prayer, no matter how short or long, to God.

Prayer time is when we communicate with God. If we are in a group setting, we generally are praying with others or on behalf of them. It probably is not the time to try to say something wise or funny just to please our friends who may be listening. It is a time of joy where we humbly approach God to honestly share with Him. It is a time when we connect to the One who is always listening for us.

EQUIP & ENGAGE

This week, while listening to an audio version of The Gospel of Mark, Mark 13:21-22 struck a chord with me. I stopped the playback and looked at my paper bible and re-read these verses several times. Only days earlier I had a conversation with a friend about who is responsible to call out false teaching. Additionally, I found an article which spoke about the results of a Barna study that suggested bible illiteracy is growing quickly in the Western Christian Church. Many churchgoers who participated in the study, admitted they did not have a bible reading plan, let alone intentionally studied the Word. It seems they have convinced themselves they can become followers and disciples of Jesus without reading or studying scripture. Most thought it was acceptable to just listen or read someone’s interpretation of scripture. They forgot scripture tells us that we can learn the truth by hearing God’s word; implying we learn not only by listening to our pastors, but also when we intentionally read and study scripture.

Many unbelievers say foolish things about scripture, but so do many believers. The problem is when Christians say these in the context of their life and ministry, incredible damage can be done. Imagine being in the lobby of your church with some friends and someone initiates a conversation about the Apocalypse. The primary speaker admits they have not read the book of Revelation, but boasts they read all the books in the Left Behind series. What is the probability they will offer a false teaching? Will you or any other person in your little group be able to spot a problem? If you recognize a false teaching, what would you do? Many fear the idea of confronting falsehood. Be assured that Satan enjoys and builds on your fear. He prompts us with excuses that we use to justify our non-action. He also knows the main reason we don’t’ or can’t confront false teachings – the main reason is that many “followers” do not read or study scripture and therefore know very little about what is contained in them. The purpose of this article is not to teach you how to confront false teachers. It is to have you confront yourself regarding your efforts to know God’s Word. It is to challenge you to admit whether you know enough about scripture to recognize that Jesus was not actually born on 25 December.

We know it is not possible for our pastors to tell us everything contained in scripture, so how do we fill in the gaps? People participate in small groups and that is a good thing. However, at some of these gatherings, there is more focus on relationship building with each other instead of with God. Also, these groups often only offer topical studies which focus on self-improvement instead of transformed lives. These types of studies are useful, however we need to go deeper so that we can know God and recognize whether we are hearing God’s truth or a false teacher. As part of the Jesus’ body, the Church, we are expected, to assist each other and apply biblical truths in our lives. When a Christian friend confides in us that they want to divorce their spouse because God wants them to be happy, our biblically grounded wisdom should cause a red flag to go. We may not have the knowledge or skills to provide marriage counselling, but we should understand God’s expectation for the marriage relationship. God wants what is good for us and sometimes what is good, such as marriage counselling, may not make us happy.

Our motto at the MCF is “Equip, Engage”. We believe that a solid faith foundation, built on biblical truth, equips us to share the Gospel to those who do not know Jesus as Lord and to engage brothers and sister who knowing or unknowingly are sharing false truths. Prayer, fellowship, worship, service, reading and studying the Word will equip us to engage others. A scholarly, comprehensive understanding of scripture would allow us to become apologist’s focused on defending or explain the Bible. However, for most of us, our best response to doubters, sceptics and false teachers is to share how Jesus affects our daily lives; we can share what we know about our relationship with God. Reading and studying scripture will help us recognize God’s truths as well as the false truths around us.

Will you go to a mirror, look yourselves in the eyes and ask yourself “Am I lacking truth because I lack the resolve to read my bible?” It is hoped that your response will be to ensure you find a way to start or continue to read and study scripture.  We are on the front line addressing false truths that Satan wishes to have us believe. Equip yourself so that you are not bamboozled by false truths.

THE PROMISE JOURNEY

When we think about God’s promises, we often go to the Old Testament and examine what God said to patriarchs: Abrahams and his descendants. I imagine that those who lived during those times saw those promises differently from us living in 2017. They probably reflected on land filled with milk and honey, and protection from enemies. They may not have thought too hard on how God’s promises could change them personally. They did not necessarily see how the promises lead to a deeper relationship with God and their neighbour.

Jesus came so God could fulfill His promises to us. Since the garden, and despite the guidance, encouragement and grace God gave His creation, people misunderstood what God wanted. They somehow felt they needed to amaze God with their deeds. They tried to be obedient, but became mechanical and routine. They did all they could to impress God, hoping He would bless but most of them ignored the caveats that were part of some of the promises. They wanted to do this relationship their way and missed what God was doing; they missed that He wanted to impress them (and us) with His love. Many could not, and still cannot understand the love that God has for His creation and as such are confused as to the full extent of His promises.

Jesus’ birth, life, death and resurrection were part of God’s plan to fulfill the promises, which includes more than land, goods, or physical protection. The fulfilment, for those who believe in Jesus, leads to eternity with Him, but also includes a changed life while on this earth. We prepared 25 devotionals that address the promises fulfilled because of Jesus. They are to be posted from December 1 to December 25 on our FACEBOOK page and each day there is a promise statement, a scripture verse, reflection questions, and prayer hints.

These devotionals are short but hopefully will be on your mind throughout the day. It is our prayer that, not only will you take some time to read, reflect and pray about these devotions but you will mull over them throughout the day. Join us every day until 25 December, and see what promises have been fulfilled by Jesus.

May you be blessed as you seek to understand God’s promises for you.

(Note – I must point out that the idea behind these devotionals came from something I read many years ago. Most of the promises and reflection questions associated with each devotional were taken from or inspired by that document.)

Anton Topilnyckyj

Prayer Coordinator

Let your prayers also be your worship

Have you ever had someone say to you “where were you? I texted you and left you a voice message and you did not get back to me”. Do their question and attitude cause you to feel a little bothered? Or, have you ever gotten frustrated when you tried to get a hold of someone and didn’t get an immediate response? Our technology, combined with an immediate gratification consumer expectation has resulted in an expectation of immediate responses, an expectation we know is unreasonable but some expect it.

God encourages communication with Him anytime, day or night. He does not limit our airtime with Him nor does He restrict our conversation to a numbers of words. He says He is available whenever and for whatever reason. Many believe this about God but have adopted an odd approach to prayer. They often behave like the caller who becomes frustrated when they do not get the immediate response they desired. Often they call and talk, but rarely listen and if they are honest with themselves, will admit they don’t talk to God as often as He desires. God understands why we offer spontaneous, spur of the moment prayers, and He does hear and respond but often we miss His interaction because we have moved on and left it with Him. Prayer is a form of worship and God would like us to worship Him with more intimate conversations. He actually wants to convey to us His response to our prayers. He doesn’t want us always calling and not waiting to see if He picks up and, although He allows us to leave messages, He’d like it if we listened for his reply.

James 4:3a  is talking about our attitude regarding prayer and could even be suggesting many don’t take time to talk or listen. Maybe all our prayers are one-sided and we talk without even acknowledging who we are talking to. It is appropriate to schedule time to pray so we can be uninterrupted and able to give God our full attention.  James 4:3 complete the statement. This may suggest our reason for calling on God may not be to glorify Him but to satisfy our own desires. Spontaneous prayers may sound needy at times and God understands, but He wants intimate prayer time with Him to be different. We go to God in prayer because He is the Lord Almighty who created and oversees the universe and also loves us and finds our time with Him to be precious. He wants to tell us that we are on His mind and that He has specific things He wants to say and personally give us.

In the days of the landline and even pre-answering machine, we knew when those we loved or cared about where available to talk on the phone. We may have even scheduled a weekly call because we wanted to ensure our time together would be uninterrupted and more cherished. God would be pleased if He could have a similar arrangement with us because He wants those uninterrupted, warm talks with us. He wants to hear us, and more importantly, He wants to talk to us.

If you are not in the habit of spending some time alone with God, you must consider making a change in that area. We know the benefits of giving and receiving someone’s undivided attention and with a few changes to our prayer practices, we can experience something special. We can continue with the short prayers or cries to God we offer in response to our daily life encounters, but it is important to make time for deeper conversations and to listen to Him. God sought us first and when His grace caused us to seek Him, He let it be known that our relationship would grow through meaningfully interactions where we both talked and both listened. Let your prayers also be your worship and be intentional about it.

Blessings

Anton Topilnyckyj
Prayer Coordinator

Sharing Hope

When military leaders attend staff meetings and are given orders, the one certainty clear to them is, that they are not asked to interpret or modify their orders. Their education, training, and experience allows them to share with confidence and that is basically what they are required to do. It is accepted that not every leader will have access to the depth and complexity of the operation at hand yet, that does not prevent them from sharing the orders they have been given.  If necessary, they may need to seek clarity for things they do not understand before leaving the Orders Group meeting. Their duty is pass on the orders as if they were their own.

Christ followers have been given instructions to share Jesus’ truth; such as God’s promises for humanity leads to salvation from the consequences of sin. Jesus’ truth shed light on those promises and He offered hope that God’s plan offers eternal community with Him. We are called to believe and accept Jesus’ teachings. It is very possible to share what Jesus said even if we don’t understand the depth or complexity of God’s plan. Most followers understand the hope of eternity with God but many have not sought clarity about the hope that sustains us while we wait for Jesus to return. We must study His truths so we can put them into practice and experience the hope fulfilled by living a life focused on God.

If you have been on the receiving end of military orders you may have known a leader who seemed to lack certainty about their role. Some have passed on their orders and it has been obvious to the listener that the leader may not be in agreement with them. For whatever reason they discredited their orders by their tone, sarcastic comments, or reluctance to share information necessary to get the troops believing in the mission. This action both compromises and jeopardizes the mission. Some followers of Jesus have offered a poor witness to their faith and have not followed Gospel guidance. Those watching or listening notice the follower’s good news is not reflected in their behaviour or attitude. The truth becomes more acceptable if we share it as if we are living it.

Jesus told His disciples that “Because of the increase …. saved” Matthew 24:12-13. We have hope but must live as if we believe it. If we express hopelessness every time we face adversity are we not discrediting Jesus’ truth about being able to shoulder our burden to offer us peace? What message do we send if seek gratification from wealth and worldly things and then try to excuse our absence from church because we don’t like the music, or setting, or because we had something else to do? Are we suggesting that hope is linked to our actions, not God’s?

Matthew 5:14-16. We pass on Jesus’ orders by expressing our hope through words and actions. We are called to share the truth; to offer hope. “Hope for the future, that we will be redeemed. Hope for the present, that we are not alone, but are loved and have purpose. Hope even over the past, that our failures are not greater than God’s power to transform.” (Suzanne Benner).

Blessings

Anton Topilnyckyj
Prayer Coordinator

HOPE

Job’s response to the unexpected death of his children and the destruction of his wealth could have been anger and despondency. Yet, he fell to the ground in a posture of worship and stated “Job 1: 21”. This did not signify he agreed with what had happened but it does show that, regardless of how the world seemed to be treating him, Job chose God. Friends later gathered to console him but were anything but encouragers or supporters. As they talked, Job at one point cried out “where is my hope – who can see any hope for me” (Job 17:5). We know that he was not giving up but just wanted to understand why life was playing out the way it was.

Many of us have been in a similar situation where we have wondered why life seems to be treating us so poorly; why the world seem to be behaving so badly. If you follow world news headlines you may have found yourself confused and even angry at the words being spoken by world leaders. Hedonism, immorality and even demands for individual rights taking precedence over societal harmony, offers uncertainty not only for us but for future generations. It can make you angry, despondent, confused or even fearful and some may say those responses are expected. However, we had foreknowledge of the world’s destructive nature as well as God’s restorative plan. Jesus is on the throne and will remain there and at the time chosen, will finally rid the world of wickedness. We must be prepared to be the beacon of hope of those around us.

Should we be concerned about increasing immorality growing around us, it is everywhere, in schools, and entertainment and in politics? Yes we should be and where appropriate, we should stand for righteousness and instruct our children to think biblically about the sin they will most certainly encounter. But if we’re constantly outraged, disgusted, discouraged, or panicked, then we haven’t come to grips with the Bible’s grim description of the world, and we aren’t fully trusting in our coming, conquering, and reigning king.

The future of hope to those who call Jesus Lord and Savior is the consummation of our salvation at death or when God brings present the world affairs to an end. However, we have a purpose while on this earth which includes being the hope to our circle of family and friends. We need to help them see beyond the ugliness that is all around us. We do this by being the image of God that we are created to be.

Job, despite his confusion, stood firm in his belief that God was in control. Although he wanted to understand why he was experiencing such misery, his hope did rest with God and His promises. He declared, “I know that my redeemer …” Job 19:25. This motivational statement is what should keep our eyes focused on heaven and our hearts on the mission He has entrusted to us. I was reminded this week, that some of us need to get on our knees and repent for our feeling of hopelessness. God in His wisdom and grace and according to His will, allowed the events of Job’s life to play out as it did just as He is allowing the world to do the same. We don’t give in or give up. We look in and look up to be able to inspire and encourage hope in others.

Anton Topilnyckyj
Prayer Coordinator