Friday, May 2, 2008

St Athanasius, Bishop and Doctor of the Church

from right across the spectrum, whether you're Fundos, Penties, Prots, Anglicans of all kinds, Roman Catholics, Eastern Orthodox or whatever:

Do you often feel as if the whole world is against you? Well, today is the day when most Christians remember one of our really great leaders, Saint Athanasius (298-373 AD). For those who don't know anything about him, one of the most remarkable, zappy and easily understood outlines of his life and ministry is by the well-known Baptist pastor and scholar John Piper. You can read it HERE.

St Athanasius was an Egyptian who spent his life showing that Jesus is truly God, in the face of the "Arians" who denied it. He'd done his homework long before being ordained to the priesthood, reading everything he could get his hands on, and was - even as a young man - well-known for being able easily to expose the mistakes of Arianism.

For the 46 years of his time as a bishop in Alexandria, four Roman emperors opposed him. But they couldn't stop him proclaiming the Gospel and teaching the true Faith. They couldn't stop him speaking out against shonky ideas about who Jesus is, even though they kept persecuting him and repeatedly sent him into exile.

One story has it that Athanasius' enemies were chasing him down the Nile River. His friends cried out: "They're catching up . . ."  The great man wasn't even worried. "Just turn the boat around and row towards them," he said. Eventually those in the other boat shouted, "Have you seen Athanasius?" Back came the reply: "You are not far from him!" The enemies rowed faster and faster in the wrong direction, away from Athanasius. He and his friends were safe.

Many students of Church history know the phrase Athanasius contra mundum ("Athanasius against the world"). It didn't worry him that those who believed the truth about Jesus were the smallest possible minority, even - at that stage - among the bishops of the Church. He saw it NOT as the world against him, but him against the world! 

Now, I get the impression that many run-of-the-mill Christians have ducked for cover today in the wake of all the talk about gnostic gospels being better than the four we're stuck with, Jesus marrying Mary Magdalene (or being a practising homosexual, or being just a slightly more inspired version of you and me, or a kind of 1st century religious wimp interested primarily in bottom-up social reform etc etc), the resurrection being impossible, and heaps of other fanciful ideas from the fringe masquerading as responsible mainstream scholarship.

Are you the kind of Christian who goes through each day hoping that no-one asks you why we only have four Gospels? Or for your opinion of the idea popularised by Dan Brown and others that in the 4th century the Church for political reasons deliberately excluded the "best" Gospels from the New Testament, resulting in a massive patriarchal distortion of the Christian Faith, the real and authentic version of which is just now being reconstructed? (There are even "liberal" Christians who teach that!)

How sad is that! According to the Bible, you and I are supposed to:

"reverence Christ as Lord" 
"always be prepared to make a defence 
to anyone who calls you to account for the hope that is in you, 
yet do it with gentleness and reverence." 
(1 Peter 3:15)
I know what you're going to say to me - I've heard it all before! "We're busy professional people and don't have time to read heaps of technical books about history, philosophy and theology." Or "We're just ordinary people and don't have time to read heaps of technical books about history, philosophy and theology." Or "We're today's kool people and are easily bored unless we're watching TV or surfing the net, and we certainly don't intend to read books at all."


In Sydney, one of the founders of the new Centre for Public Christianity, Dr John Dickson produced a DVD with you in mind. John is a regular historian and a practising Christian. (He's a PhD in history and an honorary associate of the Department of Ancient History at Macquarie University.)

John's DVD is called "The Christ Files." It contains four 30 minute programs which take us on a whirlwind tour of all the evidence that many critics of orthodoxy don't want you to know about. We visit (breathtakingly) a whole lot of different locations from Sydney to the Holy Land, to Rome, to London, to Tubingen in Germany, and others.
John introduces us to early Christian history in a truly gripping way, and helps us to learn how real scholars "heap up the probabilities." Apart from stunning location filming, we meet fascinating mainstream Jewish and Christian scholars. 

If you watch these programs, I guarantee that you will grab just enough understanding of the issues to engage with those of your friends who have become instant experts by reading The Da Vinci Code.

How about it! Be like Athanasius. Turn your boat around. Take on the wrong headed thinking all around us - even among your friends. Click HERE to see excerpts of The Christ Files and to order the DVD.

Uphold thy Church, O God of truth,
as thou didst uphold thy servant Athanasius,
to maintain and proclaim boldly the Catholic Faith
against all opposition,
trusting solely in the grace 
of thine eternal Word,
who took upon himself our humanity
that we might share his divinity;
who liveth with thee and the Holy Spirit,
one God,
now and for ever. Amen.


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