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Perspectives
Alopen (Seventh Century)
Christians Who Changed Their World


 

alopen_emperor_300px
Alopen with China's Emperor (Image credit: GoodSalt)
Although it is not very well known, for the first thousand years of church history there were probably more Christians outside of the old boundaries of the Roman Empire than within them. Christianity in India may date back as far as the Apostle Thomas; the first kingdom to convert to Christianity was Armenia; Christianity spread in Ethiopia in the fourth century; and there were large numbers of Christians in the Persian Empire who spread their faith into Central Asia and beyond via well-established trade routes to China.

 

The Christians in Persia and Asia formed what is today known as the Church of the East. They were Nestorians, that is, they believed that Jesus was fully God and fully human but disagreed with the specific formulation adopted by the Council of Chalcedon (451 AD). This made them heretical in the eyes of orthodox Christians in the Roman Empire. However, this meant little as there was little cooperation between the churches.

Nonetheless, Christianity spread along the trade routes into China, and across Central Asia a network of Nestorian monasteries, schools, and churches were established. The route to China was blocked, however, by the people of Turkmenistan. In the year 630, twelve years after the founding of the T’ang dynasty in China, Chinese forces overwhelmed the Western Turks, reopening trade across the Silk Road.

Just five years later, in 635, a group of Nestorian missionaries led by Alopen (possibly an attempted transliteration of Abraham) arrived at Chang-an, the capital of China.

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An Evening Prayer, Part I -- Psalm 4


Psalm_3

In the last article in this series, we examined Psalm 3, a morning prayer. Now we will examine its companion, Psalm 4, which is called an evening prayer. The superscription to Psalm 4 states, “To the choir master with stringed instruments. A psalm of David.” This superscription indicates that this psalm was a part of the liturgy of Hebrew worship in the days of King David and later during Solomon’s reign when the Temple was complete. It was thus used in public worship.

As with Psalm 3, this psalm could also be associated with the rebellion of David’s son, Absalom (refer to our last article for an explanation as to the occasion for the writing of Psalm 3).

The psalms teach us that the purpose of prayer is to cultivate a love dialogue between God and ourselves. A key component in this dialogue is being brutally honest with God about our emotional state at any given time. When circumstances are going well, then our dialogue should be one of expressed joy. When circumstances are not going well, then our dialogue should be one of expressed anguish. Both should result in a remembrance of God’s grace and faithfulness through times of bright light as well as times of dark blight.

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A Weighty Matter


Carrying_the_Cross

“If any of you wants to be my follower, you must put aside your selfish ambition, shoulder your cross, and follow me.” Matthew 16:24 NLT

Jesus did not mince words when He told each of His disciples to take up—to shoulder—their own individual cross. He had the scope of the Big Picture of His purpose for coming into the world—the Kingdom of God.  A sacrifice—a commitment—was needed. The disciples without a doubt understood physically what He meant: crucifixion was a common visible occurrence, a preferred Roman punishment to deter rebellion.

Commitment to shoulder the cross in order to follow Him and His Kingdom would mean risking one’s life and not turning back. Yet Christ didn’t come to remove the Roman government to free the Jewish people from its rule, as was commonly thought to be the purpose of the Messiah. Rather, He prepared His disciples for the cross: “The Son of God will be handed over to the chief priests and scribes and they will condemn Him to death. Then  …[on] to the Gentiles [the Romans] to be mocked, flogged, and crucified, and He will be resurrected on the third day” (Mt 20:18-19).

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Martin de Porres (1579-1639)
Christians Who Changed Their World


Martin_de_PorresMartin de Porres was born in Lima, Peru, the illegitimate son of Don Juan de Porres, a Spanish nobleman, and Ana Velázquez, a freed African slave from Panama. His father was disappointed that Martin had inherited his mother’s dark skin and features, and so he delayed acknowledging paternity for eight years. Don Juan was still living with Ana, however, and she bore him a daughter named Juana two years after Martin was born. Ultimately, his father ended up abandoning the family while Martin was still a boy.

Martin thus grew up in poverty and because he was mixed race he suffered much social stigma. He was able to attend school for two years and then at age 12 was apprenticed to a barber-surgeon, who taught him how to cut hair, bleed patients in keeping with current medical practice, and prepare and administer medicines.

While still a boy, Martin began to develop an active prayer life, often spending much of the night praying and engaging in practices intended to subdue his bodily desires to devote himself more completely to God.

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A Prayer for Times of Distress: Psalm 3, Part 2


Psalm_3

Long after Psalm 3 was composed, it became known in the Hebrew worship community as “a morning prayer,” whereas its companion psalm, Psalm 4, became known as “an evening prayer.”

As mentioned in our last article, the Psalms reveal people, especially David, who are brutally honest with God in expressing their anger, loneliness or depression at any given moment (Psalm 88, A Psalm of the Sons of Korah, speaks with the voice of one in the throes of despair). God knows every molecule, ligament and fiber of our being; we cannot keep anything hidden from Him. The Psalms teach us that we do not even have to try to do so. David understood this.

 

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Roque González de Santa Cruz (1576-1628)
Christians Who Changed Their World


Roque_Gonzalez_de_Santa_CruzMissionaries—both Catholic and Protestant—are frequently portrayed as being tools of the colonial powers, working hand-in-glove with European states to subjugate the indigenous people of their colonies and destroying their cultures. While there is no question that this was true of some missionaries, it was not true of many others. Roque González de Santa Cruz and his successors are examples of missionaries who worked to protect native peoples and who respected their cultures while at the same time bringing Christianity to them.

Roque González was born in Asunción, Paraguay, the son of a Spanish noble family. He was a religious child who seemed destined for the priesthood. He was ordained as a priest at age 23, somewhat reluctantly since he did not think he was worthy of the office.

He had learned the Guarani language, and so he soon began doing mission work among the native peoples. In 1609, he joined the Society of Jesus to have more opportunities to engage in missionary activities and to avoid ecclesiastical promotion.
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