Thursday, December 16, 2010
Popular pop song (#6 on the charts) floats by and says: "And no, you don’t wanna mess with us...Got Jesus on my neck-a-lace" I've heard the song before. I did a music research project for a contemporary youth issues class at college. (Very beneficial, the class AND the researching) But Jesus on my necklace? What does that have to do with anything? It really is irrelevant to the point of the song.
Frankly, it astounds me what profane nonsense our current pop culture spouts. Also, there is another song that includes a reference to Mary and Joseph. (Bottoms Up; This one is #9 on the charts) Let me give you the lyrics and explain. After 7 expletives and references to drugs and waving around a gun, the song includes these words: "Rest in peace to Anna Nicole Smith/Yes, my dear, you're so explosive/Say hi to Mary, Mary and Joseph"
Anna Nicole Smith was an actress, model and sex goddess. She gained popularity through Playboy, but most of the attention surrounded her marriage of an oil tycoon that was 63 years her senior. She died of a drug overdose in a Florida hotel.
And to this woman the musician tips his hat. Saying, "When you're in heaven, say hi to Mary and Joseph for me." Are you serious? You're just rhyming with "explosive." That's all.
And so these religious references in ungodly songs show us where are culture is bedded. It's astonishing, and yet revealing.
Monday, December 13, 2010
William Batchelder Bradbury was born in York, Maine on October 6th, 1816 at the beginning of the nineteenth century. His earliest years were spent both working on a farm and in a shoe shop. But his passion would not be limited to these things, he loved music and got his hands on whatever music or instrument he could. In 1830 his family moved to the big city of Boston and for the first time he heard and played the piano and organ. Actually, he later became quite proficient on the organ and was known for this skill. This led him to devote his life to music. (Biography of Gospel Song and Hymn Writers, n.d.) Bradbury first studied music under Lowell Mason and helped to introduce the organ to church congregations in America. He was the organist at the Baptist Tabernacle in New York and taught singing lessons there. Ruffin tells us that not everyone appreciated Bradbury either. Some complained that he was not a performer, singer or composer, but was ruining American music. However, his settings won out in the end, and the people were delighted with the hymn tunes that everyone could sing. (Ruffin, 88)
Bradbury was indeed a poet, composer, writer, pioneer, publisher, and editor. While there is not a plethora of Information about the life of Bradbury, the information is not scarce. What is surprising is that much of Bradbury’s life and work is divided into three main topics. Firstly, his influence and authorship of Sunday school songs. Secondly, the information deals with his work and collaboration with Fanny Crosby. Finally, information concerning Bradbury is written about his texts, tunes, and specifically his nineteenth century hymnals. (Reynolds & Price, 95-100)
Bradbury’s name is not that popular, except in conjunction with his most popular song, “Jesus Loves Me.” Many Christian children know this song from their earliest Sunday School days. The Sunday school movement arose out of John Wesley’s methodic ways in discipline and form concerning early American piety. Further developments in regards to Sunday School were the songs sung there that appeared in the 1820’s. Bradbury was the one responsible for popularizing these gospel songs that appeared in Sunday School collections of hymns. (Reynolds, 117) A century prior, Isaac Watts and Charles Wesley published songs for children, but Bradbury was the one who truly broke through in children’s music. Keith, a Baptist church musician in his discussion on the gospel hymn and Sunday school music points out that Bradbury was one of several to write “catchy tunes and cheerful rhymes.” However, he quotes a Methodist hymnologist in regards to his concern that “songs learned in childhood carry over into adulthood.” (Keith, 135) While understand their concern, it must be said that a balance must be achieved between Sunday school music and adult singing. More than ever, we need people who will lead quality hymns in their singing and write theologically sound songs for the church.
Furthermore, next to “Jesus Loves Me,” Bradbury’s name is most popular in conjunction with the name of Fanny Crosby (Van Alstyne). She first met Bradbury in New York City. He was a thin man, with a lionlike mane of dark hair and a gigantic beard. They certainly liked each other and instantly they started off their relationship on a first name basis. “Fanny, I thank God that we have at last met, for I think you can write hymns; and I have wished for a long time to talk with you.” (Ruffin, 89) Fanny herself recounts the story later. “He asked me if I would write a hymn for him. I was delighted. I was hungry for someone to ask me that question.” It seems from this information that Bradbury was a ministry opportunity sent from God for Miss Crosby. She returned a few days later with a hymn and he set it to music. She says that “My real work as a hymn writer began from that hour...Mr. Bradbury lightened many of my darkest days and scattered sunshine over my hours of care.” (Jackson, 63-4) It is apparent that Bradbury was a real encouragement to Crosby’s music ministry. Not only this but this text and tune writer was a real help to the popularity of Fanny’s hymns. For Crosby's words, he wrote many tunes including, TO GOD BE THE GLORY, NEAR THE CROSS, I AM THINE, and PASS ME NOT. (Milburn & Price, 118) Bradbury even gave her a very difficult melody to write words to, and she wrote an excellent hymn much to Brabury’s surprise. From then on she went to work for William B. Bradbury and Company. (Ruffin, 90)
Finally, Bradbury’s work (among others) is in fact what prepared the way for Moody and Sankey’s revival work in America. This spiritual movement affected religious life in American and England and deeply intensified the Christian church. (Lorenz, 51) What is interesting is that the mention of William Bradbury is often in a list of names concerning his work with the gospel song, the Sunday School movement or American hymnody. His influence can be felt far and wide. He wrote dozens of hymn tunes and many texts as well. Bradbury's most popular songs probably include, "Jesus Loves Me", "Praise Him, Praise Him, All Ye Little Children", "Savior, Like a Shepherd Lead Us", "The Solid Rock", "Just As I Am", "Sweet Hour of Prayer", and "Take My Life and Let it Be." (Milburn & Price, 117) Not only these songs but Bradbury also published over 70 collections of sacred and secular music. His publications include, The Psalmodist, The Golden Chain, Devotional Hymn and Tune Book, The Golden Censor, Praises of Jesus, and Sabbath School Melodies and Family Choir. (Milburn & Price 117/Biography of Gospel Song and Hymn Writers n.d.)
Let us conclude with a brief note on Bradbury's faith. Bradbury was obviously an accomplished musician, writing and publishing hymns about a relationship with Jesus and also culturally relevant songs including one about the civil war. (Ruffin, 90) He even published a "musical pocket companion" or what is titled A Hymn and Tune Book for Prayer and Social Meetings. His comment concerning this publication is, "Can not something be done to awaken new life in our social religious meetings?" (Foote, 264) However, the truth is, little if any information is available on his decision to be a disciple of Jesus Christ. Despite this, his life's work and the words he said are evidence of his commitment to the Christian faith. His life and accomplishments are an inspiration to church musicians today and we should be diligent to give our all in service to further development in the Christian music of today and God-honoring worship in this twenty-first century.
Foote, Henry, Three Centuries of American Hymnody, Archon Books, 1968.
Jackson, S. Trevena, Fanny Crosby’s Story, Baker Book House, Grand Rapids, 1981.
Keith, Edmond, Christian Hymnody, Convention Press, Nashville, 1956.
Lorenz, Edmund, The Singing Church, Cokesbury Press, Nashville, 1938.
Reynolds, William & Price, Milburn, A Survey of Christian Hymnody, Hope Publishing Company, Carol Stream, 1999.
___________________ , A Joyful Sound, Christian Hymnody: 2nd edition, Holt, Rinehart and Winston, New York, 1978.
Ruffin, Bernard, Fanny Crosby, United Church Press, Westwood, NJ, 1976
Biography of Gospel Song and Hymn Writers, retrieved from: http://www.hymnary.org/person/Bradbury_WB?tab=texts#texts
Wednesday, December 8, 2010
Wednesday, December 1, 2010
Already a decade into the twenty-first century, Christianity marches on. Celebrating 2,000 plus years, the Christian church has long survived many persecutions and affliction from Satan, his demons, and men accomplishing the enemy’s will. Yet Christianity has stood the test of time, something that must be recognized. While church history has been recorded since the life of Christ, it is one period in particular that catches our attention today. In this paper we will zoom in on this period (54-68) and enumerate on the subject Christian persecution under the sixth emperor or Rome during the period of ca. 64 A.D. This paper will be split into two main sections. In section one we will also briefly discuss Nero’s life and hobbies. In section two, we will enumerate the persecution that went on and the influence of Nero’s character upon Christians living in the first century.
The Life of Nero
Nero was born on December 15th, 37. (Interestingly enough, I happen to share the month and date of his birthday.) His full name was Lucius Domitius Ahenobarbus. He is described as about average height, light blond hair, blue gray eyes, thin legs, thick neck, protruding stomach, suffering from spots and body odor. (Grant, 19) Nero received the typical formal education of an upper class Roman and eventually came to the throne in October of 54 (Ibid., 29, 19) The story behind his coming to power is fascinating. Filled with homicidal drama, Nero’s mother Agrippina, married the emperor Claudius and murdered him with a dish of poisonous mushrooms. Then she had Nero proclaimed as Emperor, supported by a bribed army. (Smith, 4) What is remarkable about this man and his family is the sheer amount of violence that racked his home. In Grant’s introduction to his book on Nero he states, “Nero was born of murderous parents, and brought up in a murderous atmosphere. And he too was murderous.” (Ibid., 15)
Further information about the depravity of Nero’s life concerns the emperor’s sex life. His sex life, even by the cultural standards of that day was “alarmingly depraved and versatile.” (Grant, 15) “From all accounts Nero’s tastes in this direction were inexhaustible.” He was a man filled with lust for men and woman alike. He allegedly went to bed not with his wife, but with his mother, younger boys and older men. Evident of his sexual perversion is that he never really had interest in his wife Octavia, who was 14 when he came to the throne. Furthermore, his sexual acts were not limited to slaves, but to free men. He also was said to have had a mock wedding with one such man named Doryphorus. (Grant, 42-43)
It is not known what caused emperor Nero to acquire such debaucherous tastes, but a couple of things are clear concerning this matter. Firstly, sex is a gift given from God and whenever the devil gets involved with corrupting what God has created as good, he inevitably comes onto the scene of sexual matters. This fact reminds one of C.S. Lewis’ famous novel, The Screwtape Letters in which the young demon is encouraged to do his best to slyly lead a young man to his spiritual demise. The underlying fact is that the devil doesn’t care what the issue is, he will corrupt it to lead us to our destruction. Secondly, Nero’s perversity is perhaps the result of his family life and culture. It is important that we raise gratefulness to God for any traces of His grace evident in our lives. Also, we must raise our children and teach our generation the importance of Biblical sexuality. Finally, we are not aware of what pornographic acts or materials Nero viewed or participated in as a child, but his thoughts and actions led him to the most lewd of acts. What is evident is that sin is as disgusting as the pigsty mud that the prodigal son wallowed in.
Furthermore, Nero also enjoyed the arts. It was really the areas of music, art, poetry, theatre, sports and athleticism that he really wanted to revel in. He in fact was quite famous for his charioteering. In fact, it was highly unusual for a national ruler to devote so much time and money to personal artistic success. (Grant, 15) Nero is almost seen as an immature emperor. However, in reality, when thought is given to it, this fact is not all that surprising seeing that he came to the throne when he was just a teenager.
Following the death of Agrippina, his mother, Nero turned to much personal pleasure. Primarily, his pursuits included singing, acting and racing. He devoted much of his time to being a successful singer, lyre-player and tragic actor - all the rage in those days. He even avoided fresh figs, apples and even fresh bread on certain days of the month, all in an attempt to have an excellent voice. He had a throaty bass voice which was culturally best exemplified in Greek drama and his tastes soon became very melodramatic and bizarre. Nero also played women’s rules and one such favorite was Canace, whose incestuous bastard was thrown to the hounds. This gave rise to the joke, “What is the emperor doing? He is having a baby.” In order to convey the depth to which the morals had sunk, the musical accompaniment to such performances had a deeply erotic effect. “The dramatic displays and musical performances excited listeners so much that their hands began to stray. ‘Their soft and effeminate notes provoke immodest touches and lascivious tickling.’” (Grant, 89-91) This is the kind of culture that Nero thoroughly approved and enjoyed.
Persecution under Nero
It is in the context of this man’s rule that Christians lived in Rome. An important lesson for us to take from this is that no matter how horrible things seem today in our culture, they probably aren’t the worst of times as modern pessimistic “doomsdayers” would have us believe. In reality though, we shouldn’t turn the history of Christianity into a comparative narration of which era has the most persecution. What is important for us today is to be informed about past persecution and present persecution that continues to strike at the body of Christ.
Frankly, a lot of what is available to us concerning the history of Christian persecution comes from Tacitus, a historian of the Roman Empire, in his Annals. In fact, a lot of the research completed for this paper cited the works of Tacitus in relaying the information concerning first century persecution of Christians. First called the name of “Christian” in derision, such followers of Jesus were spreading out from Palestine and into Africa, Asia and Europe thanks primarily to the work of the Holy Spirit and missionaries such as Paul and others. Merely thirty years after Jesus’ crucifixion, resurrection and ascension into heaven under the earthly reign of Tiberius, the emperor Nero begins a persecution of his followers in 64 A.D. Robert C. Walton in his Charts of Church History, lists ten Roman emperors that reigned from 64-311 A.D. We simply are focusing on the first of those emperors, Nero. This first persecution was geographically limited to the area of Rome and its vicinity. The general extent of the persecution is agreed to be that Christians were made scapegoats for burning Rome. Not only this but Nero had no problem using sadistic measures in his crimes against Christians. (Chart 10)
Comparatively, the first Neronian persecution of Christians was definitely not the greatest. We award the most severe persecution to the reign of Diocletian Galerius (303-311). While not posing extremely famous martyrs, it posits such attacks as destroyed churches, burned Bibles, lack of Christian civil rights and mandatory sacrifices to the gods. However, the fame of Nero’s persecution is most likely reflected in the cruel and inhumane treatment of Christians.
Personally, I am well acquainted with the fame of Nero’s actions. In my lifetime I have heard many preachers of God’s Word recount the narratives of Nero burning Christians as torches in his garden parties. The details are that he dressed them in stiff shirts dipped in wax and tied them to trees, and then set them on fire to light the garden. (Forbush, 6) Reminiscent of human tiki torches, this act of cruel punishment seems to be the most dreadful act that the first persecution showed us. What is evident concerning the persecution is that it almost reflects the style and character of Nero himself. He delighted in sports and so made the act of killing Christians a sport for people to watch as ravenous dogs ripped into the flesh of God-fearing men and women. He also crucified them as the culture of the day prescribed for general criminals. They often were hung by roads as object lessons to any passing by. Can you imagine that? Replacing billboards, tall gallows stand by the side of the highway! Finally, the annals of history give us the impression that Nero loved to party and goof off. During his parties of revelling and drunkenness the emperor would walk among the people or race around on his chariot. Of course, the very lighting for these outdoor parties were human beings - people who suffered for following the Lord Jesus Christ. Bainton’s history of early Christianity gives us this account: “They were sewn in the skins of beasts and torn to pieces by dogs. Many died on crosses or at the stake. Others, as day declined, were burned to illumine the night. Nero gave his gardens for the spectacle and put on a circus, himself mingling with the crowd.” (Bainton, 87)
Next, while the persecution under Nero was not the greatest, it was decidedly the start of a slew of anti-Christian sentiment. This sentiment was started on the night of July 18th, in 64 A.D. with the burning of Rome. There are many ideas and statements that revolve around the infamous fire in Rome. In particular this is the event that brought about the famous phrase, “Nero fiddled while Rome burned.” Based on what we learned earlier, this musical instrument was most likely the lyre. The historian Grant agrees. “If he played any instrument it was a lyre and not a fiddle.” (Grant, 152) Nero even took lyre lessons from a professional musician named Terpnus. (Grant, 96) It was rumored that Nero had been so moved by the sight of the burning city that he took his lyre, put on his singer’s robes and sang through a tragic song of his own composition. (Grant, 152) In his song he said that he wished the ruin of all things before his death. (Forbush, 5) However, there is a bit of conjecture concerning how the fire actually started. There are basically three views. 1) Nero started the fire himself. 2) The Christians started the fire. 2) The fire was accidental and the people blamed Nero (who in turn blamed the Christians). Let’s briefly look at these three views.
Firstly, Nero could well have set the fire, this fact cannot be denied. Tacitus tells us that, “Nobody dared fight the flames...Torches, too, were openly thrown in, by men calling out that they were acting under orders.” Whose orders? They were most likely the orders of the Emperor. It was also rumored that he had been seen carrying the torches himself and rejoicing over the ruins. (Allen, 7) Secondly, it is possible that the Christians actually did start the fire and are to be blamed for the arson of Rome. However, this is the least likely view due to the principles and teachings of Jesus that the Christians would have followed. Also, church history accounts would have us know that the Christians were the true scapegoats in this matter. Thirdly, despite relief efforts from Nero’s place, it did not stop the people from believing that it was Nero who had deliberately set Rome on fire. It was customary in that day to “praise the ruler of the world whenever things went good” and so it seems natural that the people would blame the Emperor for this disaster. Grant tells us that Nero had never before been so unpopular and therefore it became “imperative to divert the charge to some other person or group.” (Grant, 152-154) And so what happened in that brief moment of decision by the emperor in the synapses of his brain, unleashed an ocean of hatred and persecution for the Christian population. The accounts tell us that, “The emperor, in turn, accused the Christians, and this began what is called the First Persecution.” (Allen, 7) Author F.F. Bruce really clues us in to the truth of the matter. He states that “rumor was not content to ascribe the fire to accident.” (Bruce, 141) And Nero played on this weakness of man. If the people wanted someone to blame, they would have a people to wreak vengeance on - the Christians!
Martyrs under Nero
There is a bit of information concerning the martyrs in the first persecution. Church historians agree, Paul and Peter were probably the most notable martyrs who were killed under Emperor Nero’s reign. The New Testament is full of information about Paul and his travels including his desires to go to Rome. The latter half of Paul’s life took place during the reign of Nero (54-68 A.D.) Paul, the apostle, the missionary, the man with an amazing conversion was finally killed with Nero in charge of the Roman Empire. Nero sent two of his esquires Ferega and Parthemius to tell Paul of his execution. They came to Paul, and asked that he would pray for them so that they could believe. Paul told them that they would be baptized at his grave. After this, soldiers led him out of the city and after his prayers, offered his neck to the sword’s swift fall. (Forbush, 4) One note of interest is that Blackburn states that Paul was beheaded at the order of Nero in 67 A.D. a few weeks before the tyrant committed suicide at the young age of 31. What an interesting contrast! Paul, a martyr of the Christian faith, Nero, the man weary of his ways. (Blackburn, 18) Peter, the disciple of Christ’s who denied him while standing around a fire outside his trial, was also killed during the persecution under Nero. The emperor sought to take his life and his Christian friends entreated him to flee the city. After a while they persuaded him, and the story is told that he left the city, but when he came to the gate he saw Jesus. Peter asked the Lord where he was going and Jesus told him, “I am come again to be crucified.” Peter understood this to be referring to his own suffering and went back into the city. From there he was crucified upside down, because from Peter’s lips it was said that he was unworthy to be killed in the same manner that his Savior was put to death. (Forbush, 4)
Fox’s Book of Martyr’s also gives us more information about other Christian martyrs who were killed during Nero’s reign. This list includes Erastus, chamerblain of Corinth; Aristarchus, the Macedonian, and Trophimus, an Ephesian, converted by Paul, and co-worker of the apostle. Also martyred were Joseph, called Barsabas, and Ananias of Damascus, each of these men being part of the seventy that Jesus sent out. (Forbush, 6)
Surprisingly enough, the results of the persecution were beneficial. Tertullian, years later would say that the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church. (Smith, 1) Oh, how that statement rings true. As blood was spilled from the bodies of Christians it inspired others to take up their cross and follow in the bloody footsteps of the man who walked the Via Dolorosa. In effect, Tertullian’s statement (though spoken years later) spoke back in time and continues to prophetically speak into the future concerning Christians today. In effect the beginning of Christian persecution under Nero grew the church exponentially. Meeting in the catacombs and in homes, being a Christian was not a casual relationship with Jesus as it seems today. We can imply from the numbers of people who became Christians in the beginning centuries (Anno Domini) of Christianity that the persecution had the effect of multiplying the church. This is an important lesson. Sometimes we may not agree with what is happening to us or around us, but God longs to teach us a valuable lesson. He wants to conform us to the image of His Son, Jesus Christ.
Furthermore, persecution teaches us that this world is not our home. This world has nothing we need, and death is what we look forward to. Indeed, those first century Christians under Nero’s reign had to reassure themselves that Christ’s kingdom was their hope, not the Roman Empire.
Certainly, it is foolish to invite persecution into our life, but we must recognize it’s value in helping to shape us as Christians and to grow the church. Looking back at the first persecution under Nero, we must think about such things in a somber manner. Are we willing to count the cost and do whatever it takes to follow Jesus? Are we willing to lay everything aside in order to be a Christian? Is living for Jesus worth dying for? While this study of Neronian persecution is not intended to be a manipulative guilt-trip, we must face the truth of Jesus’ call. He said, “Come. Follow me.” and, “If anyone would be my disciple, he must count the cost, take up his cross and follow me.” (Matthew 16:24) With this summons to commitment, there is hope that swells up in our hearts as followers of Jesus. As Christians, we have this promise, that the gates of hell shall not prevail against the church! What comforting words to those who are on the verge of losing hope. It is my desire and prayer that Christians today will be inspired to do more for Christ and to truly take up their cross and follow him, that they will genuinely become committed Christians and serve God with their whole hearts. (Matthew 22:37)
Allen, Joseph Henry, Outline of Christian History, Little, Brown, and Company, Boston, 1884.
Bainton, Roland, Early Christianity, D. Van Nostrand Company, Princeton, 1960.
Bettenson, Henry, Documents of the Christian Church, Oxford University Press, London, 1963.
Blackburn, W. M., History of the Christian Church, Cranston & Stowe, Cincinnati, 1879.
Bruce, F.F., The Spreading Flame, W.B. Eerdmans Comany, Grand Rapids, 1958.
Forbush, William (ed.), Fox’s Book of Martyr’s, Zondervan, Grand Rapids, 1926.
Grant, Michael, Nero, American Heritage Press, New York, 1970.
Reasoner, Vic, Revelation, Fundamental Wesleyan, Evansville, 2006.
Smith, Larry, Christianity Versus the Empire, Church History SS 321, Lecture Notes, 2010
Walton, Robert, Charts of Church History, Zondervan, Grand Rapids, 1986.