Thursday, April 30, 2015

Martin Luther King Jr. : The Man With a Dream by Chris White

Martin Luther King Jr.

 Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. (1929-1968) was born January 15th, 1929 in Atlanta Georgia.  His birth name was Michael Luther King but later adopted his father’s name and went as Jr.  Both his father and grandfather were preachers at Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta.  King and his only brother Alfred also grew to become preachers.

Martin was a gifted student and because of his test scores managed to skip two grades in high school and entered college at age 15.  His academic career was quite distinguished earning degrees in sociology, divinity, and eventually a doctorate in systematic theology from Boston University.  Throughout his career as a civil rights leader he accumulated 20 honorary doctoral degrees from some of America’s most distinguished schools.

King was ordained at age 19 by his home church and after graduation from seminary he pastored a congregation in Montgomery Alabama for 5 years.  This first pastorate would give direction to the rest of his life.  His first year in Montgomery was 1954.  It was also the same year Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat on one of the downtown buses.  This in turn led to a citywide boycott of the municipal bus system. Organizers elected the young pastor King to lead this effort and this brought about his rise to national prominence.  
Rosa Parks

The boycott lasted more than a year but resulted in Alabama’s segregation laws being struck down by the Supreme Court as unconstitutional.  It was during this time that he realized his new calling and eventually resigned the church in Montgomery to move back to Atlanta.  There he founded and became the 1st director of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference whose mission it was to peacefully protest for Civil Rights.
Martin and Coretta Scott King

 In 1959, King and his wife Coretta go to India as the guests of Prime Minister Nehru to study Gandhi’s methods of non-violent protest.  King did not waver from Christian beliefs in his thinking, but felt that Gandhi’s methodology of non-violent and non-destructive change was the best vehicle for appealing to people’s minds and consciences.  According to King, “Jesus Christ provided the spirit of non-violence, while Gandhi presented the method.” 

 Gandhi’s work on behalf of the Indian people in South Africa and later in British controlled India was against laws designed to deny certain races of people basic human rights.  It had been extremely effective and King saw a direct parallel with the race issue in America.  A lesser known influence on both King and Gandhi was the early American essayist Henry David Thoreau who wrote on civil disobedience.

Martin Luther King Jr.'s 4 Cornerstones of Non-Violent Change:
  1. No agressive or violent actions towards your opponent.  The opposition must see they are mistaken through spiritual means and spiritual change.
  2. Do not seek defeat or humiliation of your enemy, but rather seek to win their friendship and understanding.  The aftermath of violence is always bitterness, the aftermath of non-violence is redemption, reconciliation, and community.
  3. The battle for Civil Rights is a spiritual one.  Those who practice and perpetuate injustice have been provoked to do so by spiritual forces of darkness.  Only light can dispel the darkness.
  4. The chain of hate can only be broken by loving your enemies.  Thus, non-violent resistance eschews not only physical retaliation but also hating your opponent which is a form of violence of the spirit.
King was not universally heralded by all groups within the black community because of his principles.  Other movements such as the Black Power Movement and Nation of Islam stressed self-defense, and acts of violence to bring about change.  Such leaders would include Malcolm X and Stokely Carmichael.  King actually lived out these principles in the heat of battle.  He never used bodyguards during protests and was assaulted and arrested numerous times.
Ghandi's Methods inspired MLK jr.

Transcending King's non-violent approach to racial discrimination was his gift of oratory.  He was at core a preacher and his message and rhetoric was riveting.  The most noteworthy speech he gave was at the August 1963 March on Washington.  In front of the Lincoln memorial before a crowd of 250,000 he delivered his famed "I have a Dream" speech.  It has entered into the canon of American literature and speech-making as one of the most important and well-crafted in the history of our country.

Watch Dr. King's "I Have a Dream" Speech here

Even as King gave that speech, civil rights for blacks in America was really still just a dream.  This is the same year "Bull" Connor ordered firehoses to be used on black protesters on Birmingham along with police dogs.  But by this time the nation and world were watching these things on the evening news and the contrast between agression and non-violence was seen and having its effect.  One of those watching was then President John F. Kennedy.  Kennedy began work on getting the Civil Rights Act started that same summer but was killed four months later.

Watch President Kennedy's Speech on Civil Rights 

Although loved by many, there were some whites who considered him uppity.  Although Billy Graham has a long record of standing against racial discrimination, even he publicly said he thought King was moving “too fast”.
MLK was incarcerated many times

Just prior to the 1963 March on Washington King was in jail and there he wrote a public letter to the clergy of America that is quite revealing of his perceptions about the church and the average Christian in the day: “I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the negro’s great stumbling block in his stride towards freedom is not the white citizens councilor or the Ku-Klux-Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to order than justice.”

In 1964, despite great opposition in congress from several southern states, President Lyndon Johnson was able to get passed the Civil Rights Act which effectively ended legal racial discrimination in the United States.  This was a great victory for Martin Luther King Jr. and many others who had labored long and hard in this battle, but winning a battle doesn't mean a war is over.  Even in the 21st century, "the race issue" continues to have lingering effects in America.  

MLK minutes before his death

In 1968 MLK was gunned down in Memphis by James Earl Ray under suspicious circumstances.  It was likely a paid ‘hit’.  King had nearly died some years early when he was attacked and nearly stabbed to death while in Harlem.  In 1999, wife Coretta Scott King and their children of launched a civil trial to try the case as a conspiracy in which city officials of Memphis along with state officials and certain members of the federal government had colluded in the assassination of Dr. King.  The 12 person jury in Memphis Tennessee ruled in favor of the King family.

In 1969 King’s younger brother died accidentally and in 1974 King’s mother was shot and killed by an assailant while she was playing the organ at Church on a Sunday morning.

In his work Martin Luther King Jr. traveled over 6 million miles and spoke publicly over 2500 times.  Through his and the efforts of so many others, the Civil Rights Act was passed 100 years after the end of the Civil War.  A down payment was made on "the Dream."  At age 35, MLK was the youngest man ever to receive the Nobel Peace Prize.
King with President Johnson in 1964

One author has wisely assessed that to understand Martin Luther King as only a black leader fighting for the rights and liberation of black people is to miss the wider scope of his work.  He worked with many people both black and white to end, at least legally, our nations ultimate hypocrisy.  We were founded under the principle that all men are created equal and have certain unalienable rights, but that did not apply until recent history.  Had the civil rights movement of 1954-1964 never happened, America would hardly be able to call herself the leader of the free world.

On the internet there are some fairly vicious sites geared at discrediting Dr. King.  Most of the material is false or greatly exaggerated.  Suffice it to say MLK was a good man who like most of us had his sins and failures.  A fact of life he shares with many of our greatest American heroes.  But we honor Martin Luther King Jr. not as a saint but a great leader whose life and career (only 13 years) was cut short.

King is the only American clergyman who is honored with a national holiday.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Aimee Semple McPherson (1890-1944): The Celebrated Soul-Winner of Echo Park by Chris White

A typical Sunday preaching outfit

I must confess a personal fascination with Aimee Semple McPherson.  She was a 5-star, gold-plated, American Pentecostal preacher par excellence who was so popular, so committed to doing the work of the Lord, so loved by her people, that her deeply flawed personal life seemed to be of little concern to anyone but her detractors.   Her ministry was in Hollywood during the ‘Golden-Age of Hollywood’ and her life seemed to imitate the filmmaker’s art.  Aimee was in fact a glamorous Hollywood star except that her work wasn’t shown on the silver screen but rather at Angelus Temple before capacity crowds three times each Sunday.  She was a tireless soul-winner and her church a model of Christian charity during the years of the Great Depression.  Aimee exploited the opportunities her life and times afforded her to make the Gospel of Christ famous among the nations.  I deeply respect that.  On the other side of the equation there is this person who was often married and divorced, an extreme workaholic, and thrived on public attention that is not appalling, but let’s say very unappealing in someone who is a servant of the Lord.  Hence, a very complex and fascinating subject to my mind and as you read her story I’m sure you’ll feel the same way.

Aimee’s mother, Mildred (Minnie) Pearce was 14 years old when she was hired to come into the household of 50 year old James Kennedy of Salford Ontario.  Pearce was hired as a nurse for Kennedy’s dying wife Elizabeth.  Within a few months, Elizabeth Kennedy passes away and a couple of months later the 50 year old Kennedy and 14 year old Minnie announce their engagement much to the scandal of their small town.  Because of the scandal the couple ends up slipping over the U.S. border where they are quietly married in Michigan.  Several years later (1890), a daughter, Aimee is born to the couple.  

By 1903, Aimee (aged 13) was already showing the promise of her future vocation and controversial life.  Well-known as a gifted public speaker in her rural and largely Christian community, Aimee claimed to be an atheist and was gaining notoriety as an evangelist for Darwin.  But this all changes in 1907 when a young and handsome Christian evangelist from Ireland named Robert Semple holds a revival service near her home town.  Aimee’s intention in attending the rally was to poke fun and be disruptive, but instead she finds herself greatly touched by the message and becomes a convert to Christianity.
Aimee and Robert Semple

By the end of the series of revival meetings, Aimee humbly asks God how she is to serve Him and He impresses on her heart that she is to be a winner of souls.  Not to impugn Aimee’s motives or ability to hear God, but the fact is Aimee was quite in love with the young Mr. Semple and would end up marrying him 6 months later and so it stands to reason she would want to be a soul-winner since he was.  But to her credit, Aimee proved true to this calling the remainder of her life.

The roots of modern Pentecostalism began in 1900.  Although there were many spiritual charisms operating within this branch of Christianity, at the heart of the movement was the charism of tongues which is what came upon Jesus’s disciples on the Jewish holiday of Pentecost and inaugurated the entire Christian movement in the 1st century.  This charism gave them the supernatural ability to speak in languages they didn’t know which attracted the attention of foreigners in Jerusalem that day who then heard for the first time the message of Jesus the Messiah.  Modern Pentecostalism saw this gifting (at least initially) as a new wave of the Holy Spirit’s workings to finish evangelizing the world and usher in the Kingdom of God.  Many Pentecostal Christian missionaries went out into foreign lands in this early period, some thinking that their gift of “tongues” was all they needed.  Many were quite shocked when they arrived overseas and not a soul understood what they were saying! 

Although there is no indication that Robert and Aimee were thinking of going out that ill-prepared, by 1910 the couple were preparing for a move to Hong Kong and join the ranks of missioners in China.  On their way to China, Robert and Aimee stop in England to visit some of his relatives but also to visit a Christian millionaire whom they hope will give them a large gift for their missionary expenses.  The night before their departure to China, the millionaire friend asked Aimee to give the message that night at the Christian services being held in Royal Albert Hall.  She had never actually preached before and was extremely nervous about it, but with a possible large donation in mind, Aimee got up, overcame her fear, and preached a sermon that had the 15,000 people in the auditorium spellbound.  At the end of the evening their hoped for donation was handed to them in an envelope.  When they opened it, it was a measly $15 dollars (I guess this particular Christian man wasn’t a millionaire because he was generous with his money!).   
Aimee and the rotating cross

In June of the same year the couple arrives in China.  Aimee is pregnant with her first child and both Robert and her are sick with malaria and dysentery.  By August, Robert Semple dies of his sickness leaving Aimee a widow heavy with child.  Still sick herself, Aimee returns to the United States with her infant daughter Roberta Star Semple.   There she moves in with her mother Minnie who is now estranged from her husband and living in New York.  With the help of her mother, Aimee is able to recover from the trauma of losing her husband and regain her health again.  From this point forward Aimee’s mother Mildred Kennedy will be, for better or worse, her constant companion and support.

The following year (1911), Aimee meets her 2nd husband Harold McPherson and remarries giving birth to a son the following year.  After child-birth Aimee goes into a deep, post-partum depression.  Around this time she receives a reminder from the Lord of her calling to win souls and her health does not improve until she agrees to follow her calling.  With her marriage on the rocks in 1915 Aimee leaves Harold McPherson to become a traveling revivalist on the east coast.  She was moderately successful in the enterprise and was able to raise enough money beyond expenses to purchase a used canvas revival tent and her trademark “gospel car”, a 1912 Packard that doubled as transportation and her headquarters.  On the doors of this car were painted “Jesus is coming soon—get ready!” and “where will you spend eternity?”  She traveled in this car through neighborhoods passing out gospel tracts, preaching to crowds from the backseat, and even typed up her sermons in the car balancing a typewriter on her lap.  During this venture, her estranged husband joins her, gets saved, and even becomes a revivalist himself, but the marriage never works and the couple end up formally divorcing a few years later.
Aimee and the "Gospel Car"

In 1918 Aimee drives across the U.S. continent with her mother and two children to settle in Los Angeles.  She is the first woman to accomplish this feat in an era long before freeways or even a lot of paved roads had joined the nation together.  No doubt Aimee stopped and preached on every leg of the journey.

The next year (1919) Aimee joins the fledgling Assembly of God denomination as an evangelist and envisions Angelus temple—a facility for continuous revival and ministry training.  This building, located across from Echo Park, was by far one of the largest church buildings of its day with seating for over 5000 people.  It took several years to raise the funds, but as Aimee continued to itinerate, she was able to raise the $1.5 million dollars required to build and in 1923 Angelus Temple is dedicated and opened completely debt-free. 
Souvenir Postcard
 When the people of Los Angeles first walked through the doors, I can only imagine the surprise as this was a church like no other.  It’s sanctuary was round and the ceiling which was painted with clouds and a sky was 125 feet tall.  The building was topped with a rotating and illuminated cross which could be seen for 50 miles.  The temple had a huge velvet throne for Aimee to sit on, an orchestra pit, a fabulous parsonage for her and her family, a radio station and eventually a Bible college.  Aimee is the first woman in the U.S. to hold an FCC license for a radio station and hers was only the 3rd station on L.A. at the time.  Angelus Temple (still in use today and on the National Register of Historic Places) is an amazing building and in many ways a reflection of Aimee’s larger than life personality, frenetic lifestyle, and bold vision for ministry.

Aimee with sermon props

Two events in 1921 are quite important  to her future ministry.  First, Aimee had an epiphany based on the vision of the four faced winged creatures of Ezekiel chapter 1 (verse 10).  Although it is a relatively obscure passage of scripture to most people, Aimee’s understanding of it is in the van of a long tradition of Bible interpretation which considers the odd creatures to be pictorial representations of the Messiah.  And so, the ox which is a beast of burden speaks to the messiah’s ministry of bearing our sins; the eagle, which is a bird that goes wherever it wishes, speaks of the Holy Spirit which is sent to the church by the Messiah; the face of a man speaks of the incarnation of the Messiah in which his life imparts healing to a race living under the curse of Adam; and the lion, which is the king of beasts, speaks of the Kingdom of God which will be realized in the second coming of Christ.  Aimee saw in this fourfold message of salvation, spirit baptism, divine healing, and the 2nd Coming of Christ, a mission statement.  These were the cornerstones of the gospel of Christ from which she would later name her organization the International Church of the Foursquare Gospel.  

The second event happens at a revival service she is conducting in the Midwest.  There, Aimee pulls a paralyzed woman from a wheelchair and gains a reputation for being a preacher with a gift for physical healing.  This is a genuine charism given to some in the church by the Spirit of God that is often looked upon, and often rightly so, with suspicion because some people have faked healings as a means of ginning up attendance at their churches and revival services.  There is no evidence that Aimee was a charlatan in this regard and in fact over the next 21 years of her ministry there was a room in Angelus Temple called the “miracle room” which was filled with a display of crutches, braces, and other personal artifacts people left behind in the church after they had been spontaneously healed at a service. 

Three years after the opening of Angelus Temple (1926) Aimee is caught in a great scandal that is almost as big as her personality.  Called “The Great Kidnapping Scandal”, it starts in late May as Aimee and her secretary go to Venice beach to rest, swim, and work on sermons.  Aimee leaves her secretary to go take a swim and never comes back.  Fearing that she has drowned, a frantic search is made for her which eventually turns to an effort to find and recover her body.  As the news spreads across Los Angeles, thousands of her congregants keep a day and night vigil on the beach waiting for her to come back.  Her church members cannot believe she is dead, her mission was so important, her life too great to end this way.  Surely God will work a miracle and restore her life if she is found dead.  But as days pass, hopes wane and Aimee is thought gone forever.

But on the third day, no, check that, the third week, Aimee shows up in a small town on the border of Arizona and Mexico.  She claims she was kidnapped by some people who recognized who she was at the beach and got her in their car to go and pray over their sick child.  Instead she was taken to a small shack 50 miles in to the Mexican desert and where she was held captive in hopes of getting a sizeable ransom.  Somehow Aimee was able to escape and walk out of the desert to safety.  After a few days of recuperation in an Arizona hospital she returns to Los Angeles and is cheered by a crowd of 50,000 people when she arrives at the train station.
The crowd welcomes Aimee back

But the story seems suspicious to some, incredulous to others, and pressure from the press and other groups in the city including a ministerial association brings about the convening of a grand jury to consider a criminal case against her not once but two times.  It proves to be a firestorm with evidence presented that Aimee and her radio station engineer Kenneth Orniston (who was married and had children) had run away to Carmel for an illicit tryst.  Other claims were made that Aimee was seen with another man at various hotels in Los Angeles during this time using an assumed name.  Claims are made that Aimee’s clothing and shoes were pristine and shiny which would be inconsistent with someone who had escaped through the desert.  Worst of all there were claims that Aimee had snuck over the border to get an abortion (which was proven untrue because she had a surgery long before this that rendered her unable to conceive any more children).  That said, there were plenty of reasons to believe Aimee’s story which she stuck to without ever incriminating herself under court examination and that many witnesses and evidences against her were disproven and even published in the newspapers (usually deep within where they wouldn’t be read). 
Aimee and Ken Orniston her engineer

This was truly a case tried by the press and though in the long run Aimee did prevail, the reality was her reputation received a real smearing even if her guilt couldn’t be proven in any legal sense.  My opinion is that most of those who brought a case against her stood to benefit in some way from either bringing her down or at least scandalizing her.  I would rather give her the benefit of the doubt and have my charity proven foolish and misguided than take the other side of pronouncing someone guilty without proof when in fact they are innocent.  Bearing false witness is a violation of God’s 10 Commandments.  It is not a sin to think the best of someone.  But that said, Aimee was a public person with celebrity status and she loved publicity and when you live that kind of life you have to realize your life will be under greater scrutiny.

Well, some costumes were over the top!

The decade of the 1930s is a period of full-flower for her ministry.  She breaks her ties with Assembly of God to found the independent Foursquare Church.  She is on the radio more than 20 times a week and producing new material for each broadcast.  She also publishes several magazines and is the pulpit 5 or more times a week.  She will always be remembered for the incredible spectacles her Sunday evening services frequently were.  With her proximity to Hollywood she had access to props and scenery and sometimes had live animals in her illustrated sermons and many times she herself appeared in costume.  One time she arrived on the stage of her church on a motorcycle and it is rumored that film-actor Charlie Chaplin advised her several times of staging and special effects.  Aimee wore make-up and jewelry which is quite commonplace in church today, but in her era was considered questionable for a woman of God.  She wasn’t afraid of the arts or looking pretty and tried to turn all her efforts to win a hearing for the Gospel.
Just another service at Angelus Temple

What is less remembered about her was her great relief efforts during the years of the Great Depression.  Angelus Temple was the center of extensive relief and Aimee herself a tireless fundraiser.  She also used her community ties to arrange for free dental and medical clinics to help those who couldn’t afford a doctor.  When World War 2 broke out  Aimee was probably more patriotic than anyone in Hollywood and when it came to selling War Bonds, her charisma often outsold the other stars making the same effort.

Aimee doing food relief in Depression

But once again, it is not all sweetness and light in her personal life.  In 1930 Aimee is hospitalized with a nervous breakdown (no doubt from overwork) and then the next year enters into a secret marriage against the rules of her church with David Hutton that ends in another divorce three years later.  All along the way there are also family problems and strains between she and her mother over the business affairs of the church.  It seems like her ministerial success took a great toll on her personal life  It seems like her ministerial success took a great toll on her personal life which is not uncommon to people in other professions.

In late September of 1944, Aimee flies to Oakland to speak at the opening of a new Foursquare Church.  At this time she struggles greatly with insomnia due to her erratic hours, overwork, and family problems.  She had a new prescription for sleeping pills and was used to taking several to knock her out.  Apparently she had awakened in the night and took a few more not understanding how powerful they were and went into shock.  By morning she was dead at age 54.   In true fashion with who she was in life, in death she was buried in an elaborate grave alongside the many other celebrities of her day in Forest Lawn cemetery in Los Angeles.

Aimee in costume for sermon

So what should we think about Aimee Semple McPherson?   First of all, big people usually have big faults.  By every assessment one could make, Aimee was a larger-than-life person.  She was flamboyant, big hearted, she loved deeply and she served greatly.  She also was racked with family strife, was divorced twice, and seemed to have an inordinate desire (or need) to be in the spotlight of media attention.  Thank God, he uses flawed people to do his will.  True to the vision of the Foursquare gospel—thousands were saved, healed, helped, and trained for service through her ministry.

Aimee was an innovator and trail-blazer in many respects.  She lived at the dawn of the media age and used broadcasting, drama, print, and media attention to spread the gospel ahead of almost everyone else.  While commonplace today, the church in general shunned most of these things (except the printed word) for quite some time.  Aimee saw the opportunity and embraced them to great effect.

She was obedient to her calling as a soul winner and though she was vilified as a charlatan and fraud by some, to the masses, she was a true heroine and mother of the faith.  She was a complex person and a product of the modern era that made a great impact for Christ in her generation.  And that was the purpose for which she and all of us are made.

The International Church of the Foursquare Gospel today has about 3 million members worldwide.

Monday, April 13, 2015

Tertullian: Lawyer Theologican of North Africa by Chris White


 Quintus Septimus Florens Tertullian  (160-225 AD) became a Christian at age 37 but left no record for posterity of how his conversion came about. Many believe he was moved by the testimony of the many Christian martyrs he witnessed in North Africa.  It was him who said "the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church" meaning that Roman persecution was supposed to destroy the church but often had the opposite effect and instead was a powerful inspiration to the world that the gospel was so true that believers were willing to die for it.  And so, whatever the actual cause of Tertullian's conversion, his writings indicate his in particular was both sudden and decisive.

Tertullian was a Carthaginian by birth and it seems his entire life, with the exception of a brief period in Rome where he was a lawyer, is centered in Roman North Africa (modern day Tunisia).  What little we know about his background is that his father was a Roman centurion and this comes from the historian Eusebius and Saint Jerome.
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His ministry for which he is known as a "church father" was that of an apologist (or defender of the faith) and a polemicist (one who defends a point of view within the Christian community).  Some believe he was a priest for a period of time which sheds some light on the fact that in the early church priests were certainly allowed to have wives.  We know that two of Tertullian's many books were actually dedicated to his wife.

As a "church father" Tertullian is known for his outspoken and critical viewpoints.  He had great clarity on many doctrinal and moral issues but also was prone to be rigid and some might say even judgmental.  After a time he left the Catholic fold, apparently because he felt they were not 'Christian' enough and joined a sect known as the Montanists.  In time, they too, were not Christian enough and so he abandoned them and formed his own group called the "Tertullianists".  Although there is scant evidence to prove it, St. Augustine claims that in the end, Tertullian came back to the Catholic church before he died.  In point of fact, he was never considered for sainthood, as many of the other fathers were, but he is universally considered the father of Latin or Western theology because his writings were so influential on both St. Cyprian and St. Augustine.

In a time of persecution, Tertullian writes to the Roman authorities: “We are but of yesterday (Christianity was a fairly new movement at the time), but we have filled every place among you---cities, islands, fortresses, towns, market places, the very camp, tribes, companies, palace, senate, forum---we have left nothing to you but the temples of your gods.” Tertullian stated that Christians should be tolerated because they were the best citizens and were no threat to the Empire because of their strong scriptural ethic of obedience to government as appointed by God.

Tertullian also argued for complete separation from the pagan culture in the area of theater, gladiator games, banquets and the like.  Such things were incompatible with the Christian faith.  The North African tradition in the Church was ultra strict moral codes.  In general they were quite austere and disciplined in their personal life and expected all in the Church to agree.  There were not a lot of gray areas concerning matters of preference or amusement.  This certainly stands in sharp contrast to our day where many Christians are entirely too engaged with the secular culture.

Tertullian obviously would have a very difficult time living in today’s Church.  Theater was absolutely incompatible with all that was of God and developing human virtue.  He saw immorality on the stage and called it utterly godless and believed Christians should shield their eyes from such things.  Married women were to put away all fancy jewelry and precious stones and dress modestly and simply.  A single woman was to be completely veiled in public.  Second marriages were considered a form of adultery.  He was a man of extreme moral standards but he also is known to have had a lifestyle that reflected this.  On balance, he was a later in life convert and had indulged in many of the sins of his culture.  He was not prudish, but saw things as they were in Roman society and was not impressed.

Theologically, Tertullian was a strong proponent of the idea that God is the same in the Old Testament as the New Testament. Christ was the fulfillment of all messianic prophecy and the Church alone carried on the legitimate faith of the Apostles.  His view has shaped Bible interpretation ever since making the Old Testament an extended introduction to the New Testament and not seeing it as something incompatible with the faith of the Cross.

Tertullian was not much into interfaith dialogue: “You will lose nothing but your breath and gain nothing but vexation from their blasphemy.”  He also viewed efforts to harmonize Christianity with philosophy (as was popular in his day) as wrong-headed.  "What has Athens to do with Jerusalem?" was his statement on this subject.  In contradistinction to many others before and after him, Tertullian didn't look at Plato and Aristotle as Greek forerunners of the gospel, but forerunners of many pagan heresies that infected the church.

A site with all things "Tertullian"

Tertullian himself developed his theology in the same ad hoc tradition of the apostles.  He was less inclined to speculate about the mysteries of God and more interested in applying the faith to the issues facing the church in the here and now.  Some have thought him to have a streak of anti-intellectualism but nothing could be further from the truth.  His writings indicate a broad awareness of the philosophical and theological issues of his day, he just was not enamored with philosophy and secular wisdom.  Tertullian did love a good argument, especially with heretics, and this is what makes his writing and points lively and engaging even today.

Many of Tertullian's theological viewpoints are widely held today.  For example on the origin of the human soul, he held the Traducianist idea that human souls are neither pre-existent or a completely new creation by God, but rather the human soul is generated from Adam through the natural process of human generation.

Regarding Original Sin, because the soul proceeds from your natural parents, it is born fallen and is actually in bondage to Satan.  That said, he held that there was an innate goodness and naturally Christian soul in everyone that remains asleep until it is reawakened by the Gospel and comes to spiritual health.  This view tends to be far more optimistic than what many statements in the New Testament would allow from my perspective, but nonetheless, it is held in some parts of the universal church.

A short video on the Life of Tertullian

Probably what Tertullian should be best known for is his very early formulation of the doctrine of the Trinity.  Although this doctrine would receive further refinement in later theologians and Church councils, Tertullian provided an early enunciation that the Godhead was three persons with one substance.  Obviously more needed to be said, but it's existence shows that sects which malign this doctrine as a much later innovation in the Christian faith are wrong.  It, in fact, was a very early doctrine.
Icon of the Trinity

Tertullian had very strong views about baptism including a complete rejection of infant baptism which was widely practiced by the ancient church.  His thought is that the redemption of the Cross only became efficacious to an individual through adult water baptism.  Of course this viewpoint feeds the idea that the grace of God is only received by sacramental works, but this was a development in a later time.  Tertullian, like other Christians of his time period, struggled with the issue of post-baptismal sin.  Specifically, they wondered how believers could be right with a holy God having sinned after leaving the purifying waters of baptism where all sins were once washed away?  For some Christians the solution was quite simple.  They would postpone their baptism until they were on their deathbed.  A smart solution in some regards because if you are on your deathbed, you probably aren't going to commit too many sins afterwards.  Of course this is risky behavior in the sense that death comes without prior notice to many people and so there might not be an opportunity for a last-minute baptism.
Early baptistries often looked like crosses

In this vein, Tertullian and others believed that sins committed after baptism could be regularly atoned for by works of penance where godly sorrow was expressed to the church for having sinned after baptism and then efforts were made by the repentant to do good works which would 'counter-act' the effect of the sin.  Tertullian took this even further suggesting that in some cases a person might have sinned so grievously that the safest course of action was to receive what is called a 'baptism of blood'.   This idea comes from Christ's words in Luke 12:50 where he speaks of going to Jerusalem to die on the cross as a baptism.  In this case, Tertullian is suggesting that post-baptismal sin could be atoned for by the shedding of your own blood by offering oneself to martyrdom.  It is odd that it didn't occur to him that Christ's death on the cross was efficacious to cover all sins past, present, and future, but every generation of the church has its points of insight and blindness, including our own.

The New Prophecy

Finally, Tertullian had a very high view of Scripture in his writings.  He believed they were the authoritative tradition handed down by the Church.  The Gospels especially have full apostolic authority.  The Old Testament prophets because of their ancient origins and their proven authority by fulfilled prophecy are superior to all other philosophies and religions.  Where Tertullian differs from the long standing orthodoxy of the church is that he believed the Holy Spirit was continuing to speak with authoritative revelation to the church after the close of the canon.  In this regard, he may be forgiven because though he lived after the last of the apostolic books were composed, he lived long before the canon was fixed in the 4th century.  This viewpoint is largely a result of his engagement with a sect known as "the New Prophecy" or more commonly the Montanists.  This group was led by a man named Montanus who claimed to be the incarnation of the Holy Spirit and two women who were his prophetesses.  They were claiming to be receiving new information from God that was actually contrary to the explicit statements of scripture.  This is not just an issue regarding a viewpoint of prophecy, but one of theology proper.  Would God speak in such a way as to be inconsistent with what He spoke in earlier times?
The Holy Spirit speaks primarily through the Apostles

The long view of this issue is that the Holy Spirit does speak to the Church in every generation and time, but it is in concord with what He has already spoken by the Apostles and Prophets who wrote the scriptures.  Although the Montanists were discredited by the church at large in their own time, it is a mistake that occurred at other times in the history of the church.  In our day a couple of well-known varieties of this error are found in the Jehovah's Witnesses and the Latter Day Saints.

Many have attacked Tertullian’s orthodoxy because of his association with the Montanists and his supposed anti-intellectualism.  In some regards this is not without warrant.  But on balance, Tertullian was a pioneer theologian and a man with deep passion for the truth and the Lord of that truth.  Like all those who gone before us, we must learn from both their insights and mistakes and trust that God has the ability to use both for the building up of his church.