John Newton and God’s Amazing Grace
If it’s true, as the ancient Tertullian said, that “the blood of martyrs is the seed of the church,” much seed has been sown on Turkish soil, from the 2nd-century martyrdom of Polycarp to the massacre of Christian Armenians in 1915 (where 1.5 million Armenians lost their lives). And these are only the most notorious cases. In Turkey, persecution against Christians has spanned centuries, perpetrated first by the Romans and then by the Muslims. In fact, it’s still happening today. In every case, the justification is political: Christians are enemies of the state.
Ephrem was still a young man when his quick understanding, knowledge of Scriptures, literary skills, and love for the church captured the attention of the local bishop. Jacob had been bishop of the Christian community of Nisibis (a commercial center on the Persian border) since 309, when Ephrem was only three. Over the years, he had invested time and efforts to prepare the promising young man for service in the church. Finally, he appointed Ephrem as deacon, as well as teacher and interpreter of Scriptures.
In the Northern Hemisphere, December is the darkest month of the year – a fact that gives added poignancy to the message of the incarnation and its centrality to the gospel. Intentionally or otherwise, when the church chose to adopt 25th December as the date on which to mark the birth of Christ, it happened to be in the darkest depths of Winter. In that context, perhaps more so than any other time of the year, the words of John about Christ’s being ‘the Light’ literally shine most brilliantly as the metaphor speaks into reality.
The concept of love has been cheapened beyond words over the past half century and longer. This is not only true in the secular realm, but sadly also for Christians. In all kinds of ways, the church’s view of love – reflected in song and sermon alike – owes more to the culture of our time than to the Bible.