Christianity for Thinkers

A COMMON SENSE, BIBLE-BASED APPROACH TO CHRISTIANITY

STORIES OF THE FAITHFUL

(with some church history)

 

My new book, Beyond Blind Faith: Reasons for the Hope We Have (1 Peter 3:15), is available on Amazon.com as either a print book or a Kindle e-book. Here's the link: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B074MVHVHP.

Read Chapter 1 (pdf format)

 

The 11 Apostles Not Named Iscariot

Excerpt: "Jesus of Nazareth walked this earth for less than 40 years; His public ministry lasted less than one-quarter of that time, and possibly as little as three years. He wrote no books, and held no position of earthly power. He never led an army or fought a battle. So far as we know, He did not travel extensively. He gave the world no great invention or scientific discovery. He died alone, executed as a criminal, and deserted by His closest friends and followers. Yet today He is known and worshiped all over the world. This occurred because Jesus’ followers spread the message about His life, His teachings, and His resurrection. And the leaders of this movement were the eleven apostles who remained alive after Jesus’ death and resurrection. This is their story."

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Paul (Saul) of Tarsus

Excerpt: "Convinced that the preaching about Christ’s resurrection was a diabolical lie and a very real danger to Judaism, and having received authority from the Jewish priests, Saul set out to crush the new movement by searching out its adherents and imprisoning them. Some were even executed, with Saul’s concurrence. He describes himself as being “furiously enraged” at them. However, persecution did not silence his quarry, but only forced them to flee Judea and preach elsewhere. Thus, his actions unintentionally helped to spread the teaching of this new Gospel. In response, Saul obtained permission from the Jewish leaders to expand the persecution to Damascus, in Syria, intending to arrest any of the believers he found there and bring them back to Jerusalem. But just outside Damascus, God struck Saul with a vision that would change his life forever."

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Roman Persecution of Christianity

Excerpt: "In 303 A.D., Diocletian issued edicts which began the final and most terrible of the Roman persecutions—known as the Great Persecution.  These edicts ordered the destruction of Christian church buildings, the burning of sacred books, the exclusion of Christians from public office, the confiscation of Church property, and the execution of Christians caught in Christian assemblies.  Diocletian also ordered that Christians who refused to worship the Roman gods were to be subjected to extensive tortures, and he ordered the local authorities to search out the Christians so that they might be purged."

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St. Augustine

Excerpt: "Augustine never lost his devotion to philosophy. He struggled mightily to bring logic and reason to such difficult Church doctrines as the Trinity, or the apparent contradictions between man's free will, original sin, and God's foreknowledge of the future. Yet he never lost sight of the fact that faith, not reason, is the heart of Christianity: 'Seek not to understand that you may believe, but believe that you may understand.' He acknowledged that some Scriptures are difficult to fathom, but argued that this is due to our own shortage of wisdom, rather than any defects in the Scriptures themselves. How can a man, who is limited by both time and space, understand God who is limited by neither?"

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Pope Leo the Great

Excerpt: "Attila became the sole ruler of the Huns in 444 A.D.  He was the most powerful—and the most feared—man in the Europe of his time.  Stories of his cruelty were so frightening that Christians called him the 'scourge of God.Both the eastern and western branches of the Roman Empire paid him tribute to keep him from attacking.  But when the emperor in the West, Valentinian III, stopped paying tribute in about 450 A.D., Attila invaded Gaul with an army of 500,000 men.  Only the combined armies of Rome and the Visigoths stopped his advance, achieving a draw against him in one of the deadliest battles in history, on the Catalaunian Fields.  Having been stalemated in Gaul, Attila invaded Italy in 452 A.D.  He destroyed the city of Aquileia, captured Verona, collected tribute from Milan, and advanced on Rome.  No army remained in his way—only a Pope."

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Ascetics of the 4th Century A.D.

Excerpt: "The dictionary defines an 'ascetic' as 'one who leads a very austere and self-denying life.' Within Christianity, the term refers to a person who forsakes earthly pleasures, in the belief that they distract a person from serving God. In the 4th century A.D., when Christian martyrdoms had all but ceased, many turned to asceticism in search of a deeper relationship with God. The most famous ascetics of this time were St. Anthony, St. Pachomius, St. Basil, St. Martin of Tours, and St. Jerome."

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St. Patrick and St. Brigid of Ireland

Excerpt: "In about 400 A.D., the Irish still worshipped a variety of nature-gods (for example, the sun and moon), and believed in magic, fairies, and elves.  The Irish routinely sacrificed their first-born infants to one of their chief gods, the Crom Cruach.  Christianity was almost unheard of.  But 100 years later, by the close of the 5th century A.D., Ireland was almost entirely Catholic.  This remarkable turn of events was due largely to the determined efforts of one man, the most famous saint of Ireland:  St. Patrick."

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St. Benedict of Nursia

Excerpt: "But regardless of his reasons, Benedict left Rome and went to live in a cave by himself. He gradually became well-known for the austerity of his lifestyle and the sincerity of his devotion to God.  After some years, the monks of a nearby monastery asked him to be their abbot, but could withstand the severity of his rule for only a few months. When some of the monks tried to poison Benedict, he left and resumed his solitary life. He soon attracted other monks of similar passion—almost 150 of them by 520 A.D.—and in about 529 A.D., he took the most zealous of these followers and built a monastery at Monte Cassino, 45-50 miles north of Naples and 1,715 feet above sea level. This marked the beginning of the Benedictines."

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Pope Gregory the Great

Excerpt: "The Church became society’s social safety net, taking care of the poor, the sick, widows, and orphans.  Her leaders often dispensed justice, and thus needed men-at-arms to enforce their decisions.  Some bishops even had armies and bore arms themselves.  As you would expect, the western Church’s growing worldliness led her to acquire the sins of the world.  Many of her bishops and priests during this time indulged freely in such sensual pleasures as food, alcohol, and women.  The Church thus found herself in desperate need of both a capable administrator and a strong moral leader.  She would find both in Pope Gregory I, also known as Gregory the Great."

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St. Thomas Becket

Excerpt: "Becket served his king well in war, as a more than capable military leader, and also carried out diplomatic missions for Henry.  Thomas was the King’s right-hand man, and quite probably his best friend.  All of this changed in 1162 when Henry appointed Thomas Becket as Archbishop of Canterbury."

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St. Francis of Assisi

Excerpt: "When he had regained his strength, Francis resumed many of his frivolous activities.  But he was not quite the same.  He spent considerable time with a poor friend who repaired carts for a living.  He gave a sumptuous feast for the beggars of Assisi.  And soon thereafter, Francis told his noble friends that he had fallen in love with a lady 'lovelier, wealthier, and purer than any you know.They thought he had lost his mind."

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St. Catherine of Siena

Excerpt: "This story is typical of this generous young lady, who reacted to sin with compassion and prayer, rather than judgment, and seldom let anything disturb the joy and peace she found in God."

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St. Joan of Arc

Excerpt: "Joan’s answers throughout the trial revealed a clever mind and a deep understanding of the Christian faith.  The prosecutor asked if she was in a state of grace, free from all sin.  This was a trick question, for her answer would necessarily lead to accusations of either sinfulness or conceit.  Joan amazed all with the wisdom of her reply:  'If I am not, may God put me there; if I am, may God keep me there.  I would be the most miserable person in the world if I knew I were not in God’s grace.' "

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(for more on St. Joan of Arc, see www.maidofheaven.com)

Predecessors of the Reformation

(John Wyclif, John Hus, and Girolamo Savonarola)

Excerpt: "Supporters of the Church argued that since God had established the Church, those who opposed the Church were opposing God Himself.  By Martin Luther’s time, Papal infallibility was accepted dogma.  Only the Church was allowed to interpret the Scriptures.  Salvation was thought to be available only through the Church.  This combination of accepted doctrines meant one thing:  the Church was always right, even when she was terribly wrong."

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St. (Sir) Thomas More

Excerpt: "In 1509, Henry died and was succeeded by his son, the famous Henry VIII, who was only 18 years old. Like his father, Henry VIII surrounded himself with people who flattered him, always agreed with him, and never questioned or opposed him. Over time, Henry lost all tolerance for people who disagreed with him. This would prove fatal to Thomas More."

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Martin Luther

(Protestant Reformation)

Excerpt: "The 95 statements criticized many accepted Church teachings and practices concerning indulgences—and especially their sale. Echoing John Wyclif, Proposition #82 asked: ‘Why does not the Pope empty purgatory from charity?’ Another proposition pointed out that a charitable gift to the needy is a better deed than the purchase of an indulgence. Luther even challenged the Pope’s authority over Purgatory and his ability to release any soul from it. To Luther’s surprise, these ‘95 Theses,’ as they came to be called, were immediately published in Latin and Greek, and circulated throughout Europe."

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St. Ignatius Loyola & St. Francis Xavier

(Catholic Counter-Reformation)

Excerpt: "The Roman Catholic Church probably owes her survival—and certainly her renewal and growth—to reformers within the Catholic Church who forced change upon her. . . . Yet no one deserves more credit for the success of the Catholic Counter-Reformation than St. Ignatius Loyola."

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John Wesley

(founder of the Methodist Church)

Excerpt: "On May 24, 1738, John attended a Christian society meeting on Aldersgate Street in London, where someone read part of Luther’s commentary on Paul’s Letter to the Romans. The commentary spoke of salvation by faith, rather than by works, and the words seemed to reach into John’s heart. In the Journal in which he wrote throughout most of his life, John described the experience . . . "

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The Disciples Movement:  Barton W. Stone, Thomas Campbell, and Alexander Campbell

Excerpt: "Calvinism taught that people are so depraved that no sinner can have faith, and thus be saved, unless God first intervenes to soften the sinner’s heart and cause belief. But Stone saw that if God does not enable belief in every sinner—as Calvinism taught—this must mean that God does not want all sinners to be saved, and thus that He does not love all sinners. This conclusion, Stone decided, was hopelessly inconsistent with the Bible. He determined that sinners were kept from God’s salvation not by an inability to believe, but by an unwillingness to believe."

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C. S. Lewis

Excerpt: "The early 20th century continued this trend toward addressing religion—and Christianity in particular—as contrary to Reason, or at least divorced from it. The famous philosopher Bertrand Russell worshiped science and mathematics, and rejected religion because it was neither. Russell, and others like him, helped foster an attitude that regarded Christians as anti-intellectual simpletons who preferred a myth over reality. But C.S. Lewis did not fit this mold. He taught at Oxford and Cambridge Universities; he was very intelligent, extremely well-read, a gifted writer—and a sincere believing Christian. Unlike Kant and Kierkegaard, Lewis married Faith and Reason in his writings, and provided Christians worldwide with a firm rational foundation for faith."

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Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Excerpt: "Pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer openly opposed the Nazis’ racist agenda—one of the few Germans who did so. He was also a pacifist in a country rushing headlong toward war. So in June 1939, with war on the horizon, Dietrich’s friends arranged for him to escape to the United States, where they knew he would be safe—if only he would stay there. He didn’t."

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Appendix 2 to Dietrich Bonhoeffer: Hitler's Rise and Fall

Excerpt: "Franz von Papen lasted less than four months as German Chancellor before the Reichstag, led by the Nazis, voted him out of office. A new election on November 6, 1932 saw the Nazis lose 34 seats. Although they still maintained their position as Germany’s leading party, this set-back delayed Hitler’s accession to power temporarily. But two months later, after another failed Chancellor (General Kurt von Schleicher), everyone was ready to give Hitler and the Nazis their chance. Hitler became Chancellor on January 30, 1933. A month later he seized an opportunity to grab the power he craved."

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