Sunday, February 19, 2017

Why we must oppose false teachers: They shut heaven's door in people's faces

In the sermon The Characteristics of False Spiritual Leaders, Part 1, John MacArthur said,
There have always been and there always will be in this world false spiritual leaders who pretend to represent God, but in fact do not represent God. The Old Testament talks about them, identifies them, and warns people to stay away from them. The New Testament does the same. In fact, Moses was in conflict with them in Egypt. Jeremiah was fighting with them in Judah. Ezekiel faced them and called them foolish prophets that followed their own spirit and have seen nothing. Our Lord warned of them as false Christ's and false prophets who shall show great signs and wonders. The apostle Paul struggled against them as preachers of another gospel in Galatians Chapter 1, and purveyors of the doctrine of demons he called them in writing to Timothy. 
Peter said they were false preachers who secretly bring in damnable heresies and they are like dogs who return to lick up their own vomit. John, the apostle, saw a coming anti-Christ and many anti-christs already present who denied Jesus as the true Christ. Jude saw them and called them deluded dreamers who defile the flesh. And Paul may have summed it up well when he said they are wolves whose desire is to enter in not sparing the flock. They're always present and they're always eager to counterfeit the work of God.
There is a story recorded by many a historical church father all the way through to twentieth century scholars like Henry Wace and Phillip Schaff, about the false teacher Cerinthus, a contemporary of the Apostle John. Here, Phillip Schaff tells it in his momentous book Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers,
But Irenæus, in the first book of his work Against Heresies, gives some more abominable false doctrines of the same man, [Cerinthus] and in the third book relates a story which deserves to be recorded. He says, on the authority of Polycarp, that the apostle John once entered a bath to bathe; but, learning that Cerinthus was within, he sprang from the place and rushed out of the door, for he could not bear to remain under the same roof with him. And he advised those that were with him to do the same, saying, "Let us flee, lest the bath fall; for Cerinthus, the enemy of the truth, is within."
It's a traditional story, not well documented, as Schaff notes,
This story is repeated by Eusebius, in Bk. IV. chap. 14. There is nothing impossible in it. The occurrence fits well the character of John as a "son of thunder," and shows the same spirit exhibited by Polycarp in his encounter with Marcion ... But the story is not very well authenticated, as Irenæus did not himself hear it from Polycarp, but only from others to whom Polycarp had told it. 
Yet, two thousand years later, we still tell it. How different things are in our millennial times. Far from shouting that an enemy of God is present and all must flee lest they die under the tumbling stones of the house in which he enters, credible teachers and pastors partner with them! Rarely are false teachers excoriated from the pulpit by pastors, (or at all) thus transferring the same alarm and discernment to their sheep. Instead, if the false teachers are spoken of at any time, the subject is approached by such pastors and teachers as a deer mincing carefully up to the brook for a sip of water, delicately mentioning in general terms some vague notion that 'False teaching is bad. Thank you for listening.'

Can you imagine the outcry if a teacher or pastor or blogger said, "Let us flee, lest the bath fall in while Beth Moore, the enemy of the truth, is there."

Yet as MacArthur noted above, false teachers have always been a plague and a scourge upon the ministers and saints of the truth. They bring disrepute to the name of Jesus and worse, prevent people from entering the kingdom. In Matthew 23, we read of the devastating effects of their evil work. Jesus said bluntly reserving his worst woes and strident speech for the religious hypocrites,

But woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you shut the kingdom of heaven in people’s faces. For you neither enter yourselves nor allow those who would enter to go in. Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you travel across sea and land to make a single proselyte, and when he becomes a proselyte, you make him twice as much a child of hell as yourselves.

This is an incredible statement.

False teachers shut the kingdom of heaven in people's faces.

Let that sink in.

For those people who decry discernment work and refuse to be discerning, speak of discerning things, or mark false teachers for the benefit of others, you are actually participating in helping to shut others out of the kingdom.

In the second sentence, we see that false teachers disallow people to go into the kingdom. This is the first woe repeated in different words. Jesus is stressing the result of false teachers' work. In addition, he confirmed the false teachers (hypocrites') ultimate destination.

Thirdly, false teachers make their students and followers twice as much a child of hell as they were. If you understand compounding interest, you understand that the student will grow up to be a false believer or a false teacher and then turn around and make their students twice the sons of hell they were, which will be...well, let's look at this short definition of negatively compounding interest.
A $1000 investment which loses 50% of its value will need to work twice as hard (i.e. grow 100%) just to get back to it original value. An investment that loses 50% in the first year and 20% in the second year will have to grow 150 % in the third year to recoup its starting value.
And that is only losing half the value. Jesus said the next generation will be twice as bad, not just half as bad. Even if you don't like numbers, you can see what the negative impact of succeeding generations of unaddressed false teachers will have on the overall health of the faith.

Later in his sermon The Characteristics of False Spiritual Leaders, Part 1,  John MacArthur said,
Now in looking at verses 1 to 12, I want to suggest to you that a good way to see this section is to see it as a description of the characteristic of a false spiritual leader. And there are five elements that false spiritual leaders lack and I believe the Lord gives them to us right here. They lack authority, they lack integrity, they lack sympathy, they lack spirituality, and they lack humility.
Go on and read of listen to the sermon, which is part of a series. There is a related series called Exposing False Spiritual Leaders, which is also good. Remember the key verse today, Matthew 23:13,

But woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you shut the kingdom of heaven in people’s faces. For you neither enter yourselves nor allow those who would enter to go in


It is serious, sisters. Serious. False teachers are not to be coddled, ignored, overlooked, tolerated, or treated non-judgmentally. They attack the sheep, prevent them from entering heaven, and make them children of hell twice as bad as they are.

----------------------------------------------

Further reading

Challies: 7 False teachers in the Church Today
The history of Christ’s church is inseparable from the history of Satan’s attempts to destroy her. While difficult challenges have arisen from outside the church, the most dangerous have always been from within. For from within arise the false teachers, the peddlers of error who masquerade as teachers of truth. False teachers take on many forms, custom-crafted to times, cultures, and contexts. Here are seven of them you will find carrying out their deceptive, destructive work in the church today. 

Challies: The False Teachers: Arius
This morning I am setting out on a new series of articles that will scan the history of the church—from its earliest days all the way to the present time—and pause to examine some of Christianity’s most notorious false teachers. Along the way we will visit such figures as Pelagius, Servetus, Fosdick, and even a few you might find on television today. We will begin this morning with one of the very first, and certainly one of the most dangerous, false teachers: Arius.

S. Lewis Johnson: Basic Biblical Doctrine, sermon series, read and/or listen. The first sermon,
How Do We Know Spiritual Truth


Saturday, February 18, 2017

Visual Theology: My Sheep Hear My Voice

Another powerful expression of verse through art by Chris Powers. I found this so moving.

Artist's Statement:
I went back a chapter in my John reading to Jesus' discussion of Himself as the Good Shepherd. He talks quite a bit here about His 'shepeople' hearing "His voice," in fact, to hear His "voice" and discern it to be the voice of the Shepherd and Overseer of our souls (1 Peter 2:25) is to prove ourselves to have been one of His own. 
In chapter 10, Jesus' "voice" seems to be most immediately connected to the works that He is doing, works that the Father has given Him to do, works that bear witness to His identity as the Son and revealer of the Father (See especially John 10:24-27). Well--what is His climactic work? What is the ultimate work that Jesus does? The ultimate work that bears witness to His identity? He tells us in 10:17-18, His death and resurrection.

So, I take this to mean that the ultimate place that Jesus' sheep hear "His voice" is at the cross. If we see the crucified and risen Lord and are enabled to discern in His life-laying down, life-taking up work the identity of our Lord and God and Shepherd--then we have heard His voice and are His sheep.... 
John 10:27, "My sheep hear my voice..." 
If we've heard the voice of our Shepherd calling our name in the love of Calvary, we are His sheep.


You can support Chris, even at $1 per month, at Patreon

Friday, February 17, 2017

The great thing about Jesus is...

There are so many great things about Jesus. They are innumerable. Today let's look at two passages, one from the Old Testament and one from the New. God isn't one way in the OT and another in the NT. The two testaments are linked and it is a unified whole. Both Testaments reveal the same God, Son, and Spirit.

In Numbers 6:22-27 we read,

The LORD spoke to Moses, saying, Speak to Aaron and his sons, saying, Thus you shall bless the people of Israel: you shall say to them,
The LORD bless you and keep you;
the LORD make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you;
the LORD lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace.
So shall they put my name upon the people of Israel, and I will bless them.

God told Moses to tell Aaron to bless the Israelite people with His name. What a great, GREAT thing, for the God of the universe to put His name on people! In the New Testament, John 17:12, Jesus is praying the High Priestly prayer,

While I was with them, I kept them in your name, which you have given me. I have guarded them, and not one of them has been lost except the son of destruction, that the Scripture might be fulfilled.


God has given to Jesus His name, which in turn Jesus has kept God's people (protected from the world). Giving His name is such a gift. Matthew Henry's Commentary on the Whole Bible explains,
Keep them through thine own name. That is, [1.] Keep them for thy name’s sake; so some. “Thy name and honour are concerned in their preservation as well as mine, for both will suffer by it if they either revolt or sink.” The Old Testament saints often pleaded, for thy name’s sake; and those may with comfort plead it that are indeed more concerned for the honour of God’s name than for any interest of their own

In the High Priestly Prayer we read that Jesus is the manifestation of God's name, in which he keeps God's people.

I have manifested your name to the people whom you gave me out of the world. Yours they were, and you gave them to me, and they have kept your word. (John 17:6).

I know that people are careful with their name. We protect our reputation, and if someone says or does something in our name or impugns our reputation of our name, we become angry. We're protective of our lineage, our family name. Imagine how God feels! His name is the highest name above all names! Yet He gave His name to His Son, to manifest to the people whom He elected, to share, and come under the family name. I'ts one of the reasons our ambassadorship is so precious. The God of all glory shares His glorious name with His Son, who He keeps us in the name, ns in whose name we will be brought home.

God is so great.


Thursday, February 16, 2017

Mail Call #6: What can you tell me about Australian Prophecy Teacher David Asscherick?

Mail Call was always exciting on the TV show M*A*S*H
Occasionally I receive email or Facebook messages asking questions about various topics and issues within the faith. Here is a question I received recently about a phenomenally popular teacher Down Under, David Asscherick.

Though the United States has been a main culprit in exporting false doctrine and heightening the popularity of various kinds of teachers and charismatics, sadly, other areas of the globe have put up their fair share, too. David Prince out of Singapore and Angus Buchan out of South Africa come immediately to mind. Now from Australia comes American-turned-Australian David Asscherick. Asscherick is known for his teachings on prophecy, always a hugely interesting topic and one that seems to garner the biggest audiences. His popularity is also propelled by the fact that he had a rough beginning (as a punk rocker) loves to skateboard, is loud with an outsized personality, and offers a 'new kind' of approach. Asscherick is a hugely popular pastor packing the pews, or so this news article says.
His "God-given" ability to communicate the Christian message in a fresh way, minus religious jargon, has built him a large following. The 43-year-old's sermons are aired on TV and radio and his YouTube videos rack up tens of thousands of hits. He is a published author. ... He and his raucous punk-rocker friends started patronising a new vegan eatery that opened in their hometown of Rapid City, South Dakota. It was run by members of the SDA church, a denomination for whom health and a plant-based diet play a big role. 
We take a brief aside to read this from Wikipedia about Seventh Day Adventists' dietary restrictions:
Since the 1860s when the church began, wholeness and health have been an emphasis of the Adventist church. Adventists are known for presenting a "health message" that recommends vegetarianism and advocate adherence to the kosher laws in Leviticus 11. The observance of which means, abstinence from pork, shellfish, and other animals proscribed as "unclean". 
In Mark 7:19, Jesus declared all foods clean. In Acts 10:15, God gave the Peter a vision in which He declared that formerly unclean animals could now be eaten. When Jesus died on the cross, He fulfilled the Old Testament law (Romans 10:4; Galatians 3:24-26; Ephesians 2:15) which also includes the laws regarding clean and unclean foods. (Though if a brethren is weak in the faith we may restrict ourselves so as not to make him stumble, Romans 14:1-23).

Now back to the Australian news article about Asscherick:
Members of the Kingscliff Seventh Day Adventist Church at Phillip St, Chinderah, say the congregation has grown since Pastor David Asscherick's arrival. Katie Bonello, who has attended for four years, said: "He has a very energetic kind of contagious personality and he's able to really succinctly explain the gospel." The 30-year-old said the pastor was transparent about his life and not afraid of admitting to his mistakes. That included the collection of speeding tickets he's racked up since moving to Australia. David North from Limpinwood, who has attended the church for 11 years, said Pastor Asscherick had brought both a gift for speaking and for teaching. Pastor Asscherick says the congregation is now at 95% capacity...
Please be suspicious when it's the personality that is remarked about (and Asscherick's was in several of the articles I'd read). It is not the pastor's personality that should be a draw, but his "ability to teach". (2 Timothy 2:24).

I am going to be a realist and say from the start, that especially in this day and age, when you see a pastor or religious personality suddenly become hugely popular and their church or organization starts taking off like a rocket, in all likelihood it's cause to be suspicious. With the exceptions of Pentecost, the Reformation and perhaps the Awakenings, Christianity is not a mass-appeal religion that draws hordes and becomes popular in the world. Jesus said for us to watch out for that-

Woe to you, when all people speak well of you, for so their fathers did to the false prophets. (Luke 6:26)

When I received my mail question, I was not familiar with Pastor Asscherick at all. So in order to research an answer to the reader's question, I plugged David Asscherick's name into Google. Whenever you are considering following a new teacher, sisters, do your diligence and research him or her first, please, looking into his background, origins, credentials, etc. That's discernment lesson #1. Then compare what he or she teaches to the Bible. Discernment lesson #2.

The first entry that came up from my search is that he currently pastors a Seventh Day Adventist church and his previous church was Seventh Day Adventist (SDA) also. So we ask, 'What does the SDA church believe? Is it a solid denomination, or even Christian at all?'

GotQuestions outlines SDA beliefs, here with an excerpt below. They are being generous in my opinion. CARM is stronger regarding the SDA.

In addition, we find that Pastor Asscherick is also for female ordination as pastors. In 2012, Spectrum Magazine, The Journal of the Association of Adventist Forums, remarked on a interview held with several religious leaders, Asscherick being one. In it, Asscherick reportedly said, according to Spectrum's transcript,
When it comes to the issue of women's ordination, I don't see anything in the New Testament that prohibits the ordination of women to the pastoral ministry. That what I'm looking for. If there was a plain text that said, 'do not do this.' Then we would find a prohibition and we would say 'no.'  ... And I personally am persuaded at this time, though I am open to all and any Biblical data, that there is nothing in the Bible that prohibits the ordination of women to any of the offices that could be occupied by a man. 
By his standard, we could say "I don't see anything in the New Testament that says God is three-in-one. If there was a plain text that said He is, then we'd be all set. But I don't." Now, isn't that a ridiculous approach to biblical interpretation?

As for female pastors, this scripture indicates the biblical stance is quite the opposite-

A woman should learn in quietness and full submission. I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man; she must be silent. (1 Timothy 2:11–12)

So immediately we see that there are three concerns with this pastor working in Australia.

1. Hugely and quickly popular
2. Seventh Day Adventist
3. Wrong interpretation of the scriptures regarding women's roles.

Continuing in research, Pr Asscherick is known for his work in teaching prophecy. He has a series of teaching videos, of which clips and some whole teaching are  available for free. It's always god in discernment work to actually watch, listen, or read their work. To that end, I watched several of his video teachings.

In his first video titled Discover Prophecy Asscherick outlines 4 reasons why his ministry goes to great trouble and expense to teach prophecy. Reason #1, he said, was they they believe the time of the end is near. "The world is coming apart at the seams", he said, & "that there is abundant evidence to show that."

Well, yes and no. The time has been near since Jesus ascended and was promised He would return. We have been in The End Time since the ascension. As for signs, the world has always been coming apart. There have always been war and rumors of war and earthquakes and signs. That is because of sin. The next prophetic event is the rapture, and that is signless because it does not depend on a sign but on a number (Romans 11:25) of when the church is complete. Only God knows that number.

So on the one hand I agree that the time does seem near in that sin seems to be deepening, but that was promised to us anyway and besides, we get closer every day anyway! On the other hand, using signs we see with our human eyes and interpreting via our finite minds them as omens of what God is doing is always fraught with danger, because simply, we are not God and we don't know the full extent of what He is doing.

There shall not be found among you anyone who burns his son or his daughter as an offering, anyone who practices divination or tells fortunes or interprets omens, or a sorcerer... (Deuteronomy 18:10).

You shall not eat any flesh with the blood in it. You shall not interpret omens or tell fortunes. (Leviticus 19:26).

When I was first saved I was entranced with signs. But the Lord in His grace grew me quickly out of that. My delight in prophecy remains, but the burden of trying to understand it through signs is gone. The upshot is, since I've been on both sides, I'm suspicious of sign-driven ministries.

Third, being SDA I'm abundantly cautious for the simple reason is that their religion is founded on FAILED prophecies by a prophetess, Ellen G. White. SDA members have always looked to prophecy and signs, and have always accepted extra-biblical revelation. Here is GotQuestions on the matter,

Here is a GotQuestions excerpt-
GOTQUESTIONS--Of serious concern among all SDA adherents is that they "should seriously consider the following: a recognized prophetess in their church was a teacher of aberrant doctrine, and their church has its roots in the failed prophecies of William Miller.But all Seventh-Day Adventists should seriously consider the following: a recognized prophetess in their church was a teacher of aberrant doctrine, and their church has its roots in the failed prophecies of William Miller. 
So, should a Christian attend a Seventh-day Adventist church? Due to the penchant of Adventists to accept extra-biblical revelation and the doctrinal issues mentioned above, we would strongly encourage believers to not get involved in Seventh-day Adventism. Yes, a person can be an advocate of Seventh-day Adventism and still be a believer. At the same time, there are enough potential risks to warn us against joining a Seventh-day Adventist church.
People like Asscherick, who spend the bulk of their ministry on prophetic signs, often have taken their eyes off Jesus and put them onto signs. I can't say for sure that Asscherick IS one of those, because I have not listened to a wide range of his work nor have I followed him for a period of time. I've just noticed that tends to be the pattern. Prophetic ministries rarely stay exclusively on the Word and often tie in signs to their outlook. But we know what the Bible says about signs. And, SDAs do not have the greatest track record with prophecies...as noted just above.

Of specific concern regarding Asscherick's ministry, is that in one of the Asscherick study guides of a lesson later on toward the end of the series, #16, Asscherick teaches the typical SDA doctrine of "soul sleep", that when we die we become unconscious until the resurrection. This is not true. (SDA also teaches annhilationism, not eternal torment). Here is Matt Slick at CARM explaining the SDA (and Jehovah's Witness) version of soul sleep.

His unorthodox and unbiblical views will stream throughout the prophetic lessons since prophecy directly deals with hell, judgment, torment/punishment, sin etc. Are you willing to stand on your discernment strength to parse when Asscherick is teaching wrongly and rightly? Because he DOES teach wrongly on at least one occasion I detected just in reading several of his study guides. There's bound to be more.

Prophecy is always a big draw. I love prophecy too and I'm glad people are so interested in it! Jesus confirmed its importance to us because His Spirit inspired nearly a fourth of the Bible AS prophecy. However, it seems near impossible to find a pastor or teacher teaching it well, and credibly.

I'd strongly advise that that the best way to learn the prophetic scriptures is NOT from people like Asscherick due to his misunderstanding of plain scriptures like the 1 Timothy or Leviticus food verses, not to mention his teaching of soul sleep. Learning about prophecy even as a stand-alone doctrine is also fraught with hazards. The best way to learn prophecy is the same as learning any other part of the word- in context. If you can find a credible Bible teacher going through a prophetic book of the Bible, that is best. Here are some recommendations-

I like James Montgomery Boice, he taught through all the prophets, including Daniel and Zechariah. Zechariah pound for pound has more end time prophecies than even Revelation, Boice's sermons are online & free.

The best book I've read on Revelation is MacArthur's Because the Time is Near, it's short, readable, and totally inspiring. It's also understandable. H.A. Ironside also has a good commentary on Revelation. S. Lewis Johnson also goes through the prophecies. He is online too, here, as is his successor to Believer's Chapel pastorate, Dan Duncan.

John MacArthur preached through every book of the New Testament, including Revelation and Thessalonians with the rapture verses, in context, which I liked. John Walvoord is considered premier on Bible prophecy as a credible scholar. Here is Walvoord's book The Nations in Prophecy, online.

If you enjoy prophecy, my recommendation is to abandon Asscherick and to find a good pastor online and go through the prophetic books in context with him (not her!)

SDG
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Further Reading:

Mail Call #5: My friend is following a false teacher

Mail Call #4: Why do some women discern false teachers and others accept false teachers?

Mail Call #3: Why can't people who follow false teachers bear to hear disagreement about them?

Mail Call #2: How can some good pastors be so off-track and not see doctrinal error in materials they use/promote?

Mail Call #1: Why don't they check against the Bible?


Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Knitted with Christ

He will never, ever, never, ever NOT love us!

Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? As it is written,

"For your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered."

No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:35-39)








Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Old Testament Briefs: The Ark was a box

I love the Old Testament and I study it a lot. I'm blessed with a great teaching pastor who loves it too. He frequently exposits chapters from the OT. When he's in the NT, he always makes connections to the Old. As a matter of fact, our church held a community-wide seminar last Saturday called "Christ in Context", where our teaching pastor and one of our elders led us in three sessions that connected Christ from the OT to the New:


CHRIST IN CONTEXT: New Birth and the Free Will of God’s Spirit (John 2-3)
Perhaps the most damaging teaching of the American church in the last hundred years is a low view of what it means to become a Christian. It's hard to imagine many biblical topics that are more significant to teach well...especially to our youth. When we compare the radical nature of what the Bible teaches conversion actually is to what is often (normally?) taught in the American church, we begin to see a stark contrast. What did Jesus teach happens at the new birth? How does the new birth occur in anyone's life?


CHRIST IN CONTEXT: The Majesty and Mercy of Jesus (Luke 7)
Scott talked about the transcendent holiness of Jesus and the sinfulness of us His people. He also covered the forgiving mercy of God in Christ and how this should create a response of deep love for Him. For, it is those who are forgiven much who love much.

CHRIST IN CONTEXT: What is Saving Faith? (John 5-6)
False faith can look outwardly a lot like the real thing. How can we tell the difference? False converts pursues Jesus because He gives bread; genuine believers pursue Jesus because he is Bread. Do you know how to spot the difference in your life? How is God's sovereignty involved in granting faith to His sheep?

The last week or two I've been publishing lengthy, academic treatises on big subjects. I was trained as an academic and I write that way. However, I was also trained as a journalist and I know it's important to vary topics and styles! I'd like to add a new, shorter series to my writing, and I'm calling my new series Old Testament Briefs or OT Briefs. When I learn a nugget from the OT, I'd like to briefly post it now and then.

Like the one below, from John MacArthur's sermon, Noah, a Preacher of Faith. In this OT Brief, we learn the profound meaning behind a seemingly innocent word. In Genesis 6, God told Noah to build an ark. The word in Hebrew is tebah. It does not mean what you think it means...
So at the beginning, God says to Noah, Build a big box, ark, tebah in Hebrew. The word is used throughout the flood narrative and it really means box, or chest. It’s not shaped like a boat, it’s not shaped like a ship. It has no propeller. It has no pilot. It has no sails. It has no rudder. It has no captain. It has no navigator. It’s a box. 
And, by the way, it’s only used this word one other time in the Old Testament and it is used in Exodus chapter 2:3 through 5 to describe the box that baby Moses was put in, to float down the Nile. God used a box to save Moses so he could save Israel. God used a box to save Noah so Noah could save the human race. 
In both cases, the box was a refuge from death to provide a future in one case for Israel, and another case for the human race. The Ark of the Covenant is a different Hebrew word all together.
From Strong's Concordance, we read of the two instances and the only two instances this word is used: "Genesis 6:14; Exodus 2:3; — vessel in which infant Moses was laid among reeds".

God is so great! SDG

Tebah
Sydney Morning Herald

Tebah
Moody Bible Stories

Monday, February 13, 2017

Book Review: Memoirs of a Medieval Woman (Margery Kempe)

In doing my New Year reading challenge, my first book was one called Memoirs of a Medieval Woman, written by historian Louise Collis.

The medieval woman in question was Margery Kempe. Margery was born around 1373 and died sometime after 1438. She was a wife, daughter of a noted mayor, then a mystic, pilgrim, and finally, through her autobiography which she dictated, a commenter on medieval mores and religion. She had become a Catholic Mystic during the time of the rise of Wycliffe and his followers, the Lollards. She was a contemporary of another noted female mystic, Julian of Norwich.

The Freelance History Writer has a synopsis of the book at
her page here

Hers is an interesting book on socioeconomic, cultural, and religious insights. The Book of Margery Kempe is considered to the first autobiography in the English language. It's also written in middle English and is nearly incomprehensible.

That's where Collis comes in. She writes about Margery in her book Memoirs of a Medieval Woman, and uses a healthy sprinkling of Margery's original words, but fills in the background with historical contexts and explanations. Collis never intrudes on Margery's voice, but Collis' writing enhances the contextual picture we get of Margery as she goes about her extraordinary life during a turbulent political and religious time.

Though there are many aspects from which we can jump off in delving into Margery's life, I was struck by the religious contexts. Margery lived in The Late Middle Ages (c. 1301–1500). Wikipedia synopsizes the period thus,
Around 1300, centuries of prosperity and growth in Europe came to a halt. A series of famines and plagues, including the Great Famine of 1315–1317 and the Black Death, reduced the population to around half of what it was before the calamities. Along with depopulation came social unrest and endemic warfare. France and England experienced serious peasant uprisings, such as the Jacquerie and the Peasants' Revolt, as well as over a century of intermittent conflict in the Hundred Years' War. To add to the many problems of the period, the unity of the Catholic Church was shattered by the Western Schism. Collectively these events are sometimes called the Crisis of the Late Middle Ages.
Frustration with the Roman Catholic Church, empty pocketbooks, demands for excessive tithes and indulgences to Rome, the rise of the Lollards (Wycliffe followers), the Church's reaction by burning them at the stake, the Council of Constance, all formed the dominating religious landscape in which Margery lived.

As for the Council of Constance, this was a pivotal moment in Catholic church history. Jan Hus was a forerunner to Wycliffe and both men are considered the first, early reformers of the Church prior to Martin Luther. Hus had preached against the excesses of Rome and had used Wycliffe's writings from the pulpit. These incendiary preachings came at a time during Margery's life when the great Papal schism occurred. There were three popes at one time and the church was under heavy attack, splintered and staggering under its corruption and lack of direction. The Council of Constance was the RCC's answer to this attack on its power. Remember, the Roman Catholic Church was a governmental authority, not just ecclesiastical. Kings and Popes were in league.
The Council of Constance is the 15th century ecumenical council recognized by the Roman Catholic Church, held from 1414 to 1418. The council ended the Western Schism, by deposing or accepting the resignation of the remaining papal claimants and electing Pope Martin V.  The Council also condemned Jan Hus as a heretic and facilitated his execution by the civil authority. source
Against that backdrop, we read in Collis' book some reasons why Mystics had become so popular,
The king used the church as a way of paying the civil service. As [ecclesiastical] incumbents were often ambassadors, ministers, or secretaries, deputies had to be found to look after the souls theoretically in their care. Perhaps, in some cases, the deputies were good and conscientious servants, but such a system made the church seem even more distant, wrapped away in a huge organization, far from everyday needs. 
Under these circumstances, the late medieval mystics on the one hand, and the Lollards on the other, became very popular. They brought God close to the individual. One could communicate with Him directly. He would listen to one's troubles in a sympathetic manner. Advice could be obtained, the tedious and often incomprehensible rituals of the church could be by-passed. Private devotions became a habit amongst many of the new middle class, to which Margery belonged. Such people were accustomed to rely on their own judgment in the business world. 
There had always been a place in the church for the hermit or anchorite. [Anchorites remained in their cells, studying and praying. They spoke only through a window. Hermits came out to preach and were often responsible for the upkeep of a bridge or a piece of road.] Anyone could apply to be enclosed. Their prayers brought them near to God. Sometimes they could foretell the future, or heal diseases. They could guide their disciples toward those visions which were a foretaste of paradise. Their doctrine was personal and emotional. One must adore God  with all the strength of one's being and meditate steadily on the Passion, that example of Christ's love of man. By means of assiduous prayer, fasting and contemplation, some reached a stage where they heard strange melodies played, as it were, in heaven by the angels. Others felt an extraordinary warmth, as of divine fire, suffuse them. Others wept uncontrollably. 
A few, who were capable of further progress, despised these outward symptoms as mere irrelevance. For God had whispered to them in words they tried afterwards to understand and never quite explained. They only knew they had somehow stumbled on a transcendent happiness. [pp. 24-25]

If the descriptions of the Mystics' experiences of hearing voices & whispers, singing, and feeling a warmth running through their body sound familiar, it is because the modern day mystics such as Sarah Young (author of Jesus Calling) et al have said they experienced those exact things too. Satan does not vary his schemes, though a solid Christian is aware of them. (2 Corinthians 2:11).

The RCC had become so remote and distant, so cold and demanding, so corrupt and perverse, that the people didn't equate the Church with divine solace or a relationship with Jesus at all. They still desired a personal relationship with God, though, because it is in man to worship...something. (Ecclesiastes 3:11).

In Collis' explanation of the people's medieval search for God, we read there were those who were interested in Wycliffe's approach, and there were those who were Mystics or who followed Mystics. As the Bible says, there are the two paths, one leading to perdition and punishment, and the other to Jesus and eternal peace. We can see how the Lord prepared the ground to receive Wycliffe and Hus' appeals to read the Bible directly in order to know God. We can also see why Mystics (and anchorites and hermits) had become so popular. They filled the roles of fellowship and wisdom the people needed, as wrong-headed as these all were. The Mystics offered a personal religion so different from the incomprehensible rituals and coldness of the Church. It's no wonder people were drawn to them.

In Margery's case, pride and vanity had been her besetting sins prior to her demonically led mystical life. In her book she at times mused that she hoped she would become more famous than Julian of Norwich or as well-regarded as a Mystic who had lived in an earlier time, Bridgit of Sweden. She was obsessed with accumulating relics. Relics were the religious items sold at holy sites which purported to be, for example, a splinter from the true cross, John the Baptist's true finger, a brick from the true home in which Mary lied, Jesus' actual blood, and so on.

Margery exuded enough holiness to the authorities to have received their blessing and support. She was tried several times for heresy but always found innocent. However, the lay-people were split. Some said she was demon-possessed, others admired her seeming sincerity. And she was sincere, but sincerely misguided. Her fits of crying and constant blunt exhortations to all hearers to straighten up their lives and live right, grated. She was evicted from her traveling group on pilgrimage many times yet these evictions never altered her unteachable spirit to become more introspective.

The Lollards on the other hand were well-regarded by the people. They preached the word, lived simply and honestly, and went about on the true pilgrimage with all love and appeals to win people to Christ. Margery Kempe was definitely a force to be reckoned with. She was loud, noisy, rebellious to the true Christ, intrepid, fearless, and most likely totally shocked when she died at a healthy old age (unusual for medieval times) and faced the true Christ.

Aside from learning of the ripe ground onto which Wycliffe and Hus' blood spilled in their effort to bring God's word to the people, I learned just how persevering the devil is in getting someone to believe they are truly saved and then gets them to move mountains. Margery was an anti-Lydia, and anti-Dorcas. She accomplished much for satan's kingdom, turning the lives of all she encountered upside down. If we who have the Spirit in us were half as single-minded and dedicated to the true cause as Margery was to her false cause, we would all turn our worlds upside down.

Memoirs of a Medieval Woman: recommended