On My Bike and in My Study

Last week, I finally bought a bicycle. With gasoline skyrocketing toward $4 a gallon and my waistline skyrocketing toward – well, none of your business – my wife and I decided it would be good for my wallet, my physique, and the environment for me to ride to work a couple of days per week. It is almost 11 miles one way and takes about an hour. Yesterday, I did it for the first time and thoroughly enjoyed it. It was great to be outside, to see things from a different perspective.

On Monday, I met with Dave Gilbert, the director of the New Hampshire Institute of Biblical Studies. NHIBS (as it is called) started this spring, and I was on the advisory board. Dave asked me to teach Church History in October. I am very excited about the opportunity, and if you’re interested in learning about the subject, you should check it out. NHIBS is just getting started, but it will be good to have a Bible institute closer to home.

History is one of my passions, particularly the ancient world. Recently, I’ve also developed an interest in the early medieval period, particularly in the Frankish and Byzantine Empires. I know these aren’t what most people consider stimulating history, but they had a tremendous influence on the way the Church developed.

The class will focus on understanding the flow and rhythm of the Church’s development over the ages. It will also reflect on the influence the Church had on major historical transitions. Here is a sample of my notes dealing with the Fall of Rome:

Arianism was also popular with the German foederati. Many of the Germanic tribes had been converted to Arianism by the missionary Wulfila (also called by his Latinized name Ulfilas). Wulfila had been commissioned by Eusebius of Nicodemia, at the time the bishop of Constantinople, and had preached the Arian form of Christianity among his native tribes – the Goths. He translated the Bible into Gothic, creating an alphabet for the language as he went.

An oppressive leader named Athanaric persecuted the Gothic Christians, and Wulfila received permission from the Arian emperor Constantius II to resettle his group of Christians in what is now Bulgaria. In 376, one of Athanaric’s rivals, a chieftain named Fritigern asked permission from Valens to join the Goths Wulfila had resettled. Valens granted them permission with the condition that they serve in the military. In gratitude for Valens’ assistance, they converted to Arian Christianity as well.

Unfortunately, the Roman governors treated the Goths poorly and refused to assist them when a famine struck. In a pattern that would repeat itself a number of times with a number of German groups throughout the Empire, Fritigern led a rebellion. Valens went out to meet him, and the Germans destroyed the Roman troops at the Battle of Adrianople in 381. Valens was killed in battle.

In the wake of the disaster at Adrianople, the Romans began to incorporate the German foederati into the military, replacing Roman citizens and allies. This brought the Arian Goths into contact with many of their German cousins, and many other German tribes converted as well.

As Arianism was on the decline among the Romans, it was on the rise with their German confederates. This, as well as language and style of dress, brought about a persecution of the Germans as second-class people. It was considered indecent to be considered German, and the Nicene Christians used this to their advantage, persuading people that Arianism was the religion of the barbarians.

When Theodosius died, Ambrose praised him: “The faith of the emperor produces strength in his soldiers.” The intent was obvious. Theodosius had been a warrior for God, and it was expected that those who followed him would continue his campaign.

Ambrose followed Theodosius two years later. Under Theodosius I, it had became illegal to be anything but a Nicene Trinitarian. This made the Arians and pagans among the Germans outlaws. Ambrose’s reforms had swept into the Roman legal system. Orthodoxy became a matter of law.

Theodosius’ successors in the West, beginning with Honorius and ending with Romulus Augustulus, were now pawns in the hands of Nicaean Christianity. The Germans would have none of it. They were held in check only because of a strong Eastern general named Flavius Stilicho. He spent his entire career keeping the Goths and their cousins at bay.

If you’re interested in being a part of the class, let me know. We’ll be meeting for 7 weeks in October and November, 6:30-8:30pm. NHIBS meets at Concord Christian Academy.

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8 thoughts on “On My Bike and in My Study

  1. What’s your opinion, in a nutshell, of the Trail of Blood by J.M. Carroll? Our pastor has been teaching us a “history of the church” using this book as his primary reference, and I have to admit, I’m a bit skeptical of the material. Is that warranted?

  2. The Trail of Blood is nothing more than revisionist history. In short, it is meant to establish “Baptists” as the denomination proper of the Early Church. It is unfortunate that your pastor is using this.

    I give Pastor Erik credit. He may not agree with Catholicism, but I think he would concur that the early Church was very Catholic (large “C”) in practice.

  3. Indeed, “Trail of Blood” has a revisionist agenda – it is marked with a desire to see something that is not there. While some of the things presented are fact, there are many elements which are neglected.

    Much of what is called “Catholicism” today is a development of the medieval church. Certainly the churches have a common heritage that we need to treasure and value rather than casting one part of our past aside because it doesn’t fit our own views of how things “should” be.

  4. It can be argued that some of today’s “Catholicism” is rooted in the medieval church. However, the basics (i.e. Baptism, Eucharist and to some degree Confirmation) have a strong presence as early as 110 AD, and exponentially so into the 2nd & 3rd centuries.

    My point is not to argue for Catholicism, but that the way we understand “church” (and all that that word means) within evangelical circles is largely a new phenomena. The power of the message contained within Evangelicalism has served us well. I credit Pastor Erik with adhering to this, while at the same time understanding that the church did not start with Calvin, being perfected by Scofield (though I think Reformed Theology is enjoying a resurgence, whilst Dispensationalism seems to be waning just a bit).

  5. Sorry.”The power of the message contained within Evangelicalism has served us well” is poorly worded. It is the simple message of Christ himself – something that can be easily overlooked in a high church setting

  6. Jim, I agree that “evangelicalism” is a relatively new phenomenon. It was the excess of the church of their age that Luther, Calvin and Zwingli rebelled against at first, not necessarily the core truths of the church.

    Luther for example was content to remain a part of the greater church, but the power mongers who ran the “Church” found him a threat. He sought only to call the faithful to God’s Word, the message of Jesus.

    The essence of the church has always been Jesus, and where he is exalted, the church is is strong. Where he is not (whether in the Catholicism of Luther’s day or in the lately-come Baptists of this past century), the church is weakened by the human power and message.

    I do not know if you live in the Southern NH region, but I think you would enjoy the class I will be teaching. Unlike most Protestants, I do not believe that “the faithful” have always rebelled against the Church-at-large or been nonconformists.

  7. Hello Erik,

    I would agree with most of what you have written here. It is interesting to note your (not-so) latent concession that Catholicism may in fact be “Christian.” You are obviously not Reformed!

    I would like to read your take on some of the things that have separated Catholics, Orthodox and Protestants in general, Evangelism in particular. What are the fundamentals for you personally? Do you struggle to reconcile with some of the more prevalent (and arguably “core” ) “Catholic” beliefs of the early Church Fathers (i.e. Eucharist as the center of worship, Apostolic Succession, Baptismal Regeneration, etc)? Granted, some would say this loads the question in Catholicism’s favor. I think many (and more prominent) Church historians make allowance for these beliefs, however. Whether one considers these beliefs in error, misguided or irrelevant is another matter…

    I enjoy reading your blog. I am in southern NH. Will keep you posted on the class thing.

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