ALPHA 2022 New Year’s SESSION

I am looking forward to what the Lord has determined that the MCF will be involved in the New Year.

2022 we will offer our sixth online Alpha Course.
Sunday, 16 January online 7:00 pm EST

I love this course as it presents the fundamentals of the Christian faith in an easy to understand yet sufficiently profound way that participants have all that they need to become followers of Jesus.  And for those who already know Him, their faith will be steeled.

The MCF’s core mission, the reason that we exist, is to bring the gospel to the Military community at home and abroad. The Alpha course is an excellent tool to use in accomplishing that mission.

If you haven’t been on an Alpha course, please consider joining us or some other Alpha course in your local setting.  If you have been on the course, then talk to your military community friend or family member about joining us on Alpha this fall.

Meet Christina, she accepted a friend’s invitation to our Alpha online course in early 2021.  There was plenty of time for great discussions on different topics and questions.  

Christina continues to participate because of the wonderful relationships that developed during Alpha and now has joined our team as a volunteer.  

Get out there and invite (virtually) your bud, your bro, your sis, your mom, your… and register for the MCF Alpha course. The experience will change them and you…forever.

Are you ready to join us, here are the coordinates for the group:
Sunday, 16 January online at 7:00 pm EST
Leading the sessions: Gerry Potter – mcfoffice@themcf.ca

Mission ImPossible

Prior to my entrance into the Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) my understanding of the term mission was based upon the 1966 television series “Mission Impossible,” which ran for seven seasons. A mission was a seemingly impossible task that a hero received via a pre-recorded message that itself would self-destruct after having delivered the information. Each week a new impossible mission would be assigned, and the hero given the option to accept or reject the mission. The hero always accepted, and the impossible mission was always completed. It seemed odd to me that those impossible missions were rather simplistic and could always be accomplished.
 
My experiences in the military shed new light on the term mission. Unlike the task assigned to the Impossible Mission Force (IMF), military missions were complex, involving both willing and not-so-willing participants and at times were frustratingly unachievable. Welcome to real life Gerry. Military missions notoriously suffer from insufficient resources, partially engaged personnel and uncertainty due to multiple foreseeable and unforeseeable factors. Reality tends to foster an attitude of partial commitment towards the mission. Passionate engagement is difficult to find.
 

In the book of Matthew, chapter 28 verses 18-20, Jesus, like the deep voiced operations officer on the self-destructing tape, offered to his disciples an impossible mission – to go to all the nations and make disciples, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to obey all that Jesus had commanded the disciples. Bringing liberation from the eternal catastrophic consequences of personal sin and subsequent alignment with the principles and precepts of the Living God to all the world is an impossible mission that trumps any the IMF were called to accomplish. In fact, the mission of Christ is truly impossible. So, why would the disciples or even myself for that matter undertake to pursue this mission?
 
For one, unlike military missions, Jesus has promised to not only be with me, but He has assured me that He will bring to bear all the authority that has been given to Him.  How much authority? All authority. This means unlimited power, unlimited resources, unlimited effects. With that kind of support, the mission is not only possible, its accomplishment is 100% assured. For that reason alone I would be keen to join the winning team. Yet, there is a second reason, the object of the mission – saving people’s lives. Serving the Supreme Commander as He changes lives forever. 
 
There are a lot of different missions that people choose to undertake. Some are for a short time, while others are for extended durations. At its inception in 1973 the Military Christian Fellowship (MCF) chose to accept the impossible mission of bringing the gospel to the military community at home and abroad. Members of the MCF are Christ’s IMF to you, your neighbours, and your colleagues in the military community. 
 
Join us.

The Biblical Role and Responsibility of a Man

Article by: Col (Ret’d)  Gerry Potter (President)

This article is an exploration of the biblical role of a man.  Genesis 1-2, a unique biblical narrative, records God’s initial design for the Creation, so this articulation of the role of a man will rely principally upon the framework described within these two chapters.  While the Fall described in Genesis 3 corrupted God’s initial design, it is my understanding that follow-on biblical references to the role of a man are intended to provide both further detail regarding God’s primordial framework and to facilitate a man’s reorientation with the original and perfect design.  At the outset, it is important to define what is meant by the term role. In the context of this assessment the term role is used as a descriptor of the fundamental duty or activity that a man is responsible and accountable before God to perform.  Since a man’s biblical roles are that which have been given by God in his Word then they are neither bound by time nor socio-cultural contexts.  Biblical male roles are universal.  Yet, the practical expression of those roles is greatly influence by the socio-cultural contexts in which Christian men live.  Though most of the passages referenced refer to both a man and a woman, the focus of this study is the roles of the man.

Genesis 1:26-28 (NASB)

In the Biblical narrative of the Creation, Elohim (God) declares that the plurality of Himself, identified in Genesis 1:2 as Elohim (God) and Ruach (Spirit), and creates human beings out of His unity.  While this portion of Scripture shows God only as Elohim and Ruach, John 1:1-5 and 1:14-18 further reveals that Jesus Christ was also present during the Creation fulfilling a central role. Thus, the Trinity, in perfect unity, created man as a binary male-female construct that He describes as imaging Himself.  The purpose for which God created man according to this passage was two-fold: the first was to procreate and the second was to rule over all living things.
There was no distinction made between the male and the female regarding the initial two-fold purpose, but rather God’s declaration clearly implies that the accomplishment of the purpose was intended to be through the unity of the male and the female, which is a reflection of the unity of the Trinity.  The implied purpose for the male-female construct was to image the Trinity in His unity.  Looking at the male and female individually then, there is an additional implied role for each of them, that being to execute their two-fold purpose in unity such that they together in the fulfillment of the roles of procreation and ruling reflect the Trinity in oneness.  A further implication is that whatever the male and female do, they do as a unity. So, from this passage there are three original roles for the man: to procreate, to rule over the creation and to perform the first two roles in unity with the female thus imaging the Trinity’s oneness.

Genesis 2:15-17 (NASB)

Though in Genesis 1, the narrative describes the global purpose of man, in Gen 2:15-17 the reader is exposed to some of the specifics of ruling and subduing, as the male, Adam, is specifically assigned the activity of cultivating and keeping the garden of Eden. The context of the verb to cultivate can be generalized to mean “to work.”  It is reasonable then to conclude that work that serves to rule and to subdue over the earth is a role that the male has been given.  This is not to say that work is a role exclusive to a male, since this would contravene the general purpose assigned to both the male and the female in 1:26-28.  However, given that the male is singled out in the role assignment there is an implied assigning of responsibility and accountability for the fulfillment of the role. Additionally, Adam was tasked to “keep” the garden which can be understood to mean that he was to protect the garden.  The requirement to protect introduces the concept of an existing threat, yet no such threat has been previously identified.  However, the requirement for protection is revealed in later passages. So, from this passage the male has two roles: to work within the creation to fulfill a general improvement agenda and to protect the creation from threats.  A third role that is obedience to God’s commands.  Obedience renders two results: the freedom to enjoy creation within a limited restricted structure.

Genesis 2:18-25 (NASB)

While in chapter 1, the narrative describes the purposeful creation of both male and female, in this passage additional details are provided as to the reasoning and the sequencing behind God’s decision to create females.  First, God announces that it is not good for a man to be alone.  A resultant implied role for a man is to avoid an independent existence and be in relationship.  God rectifies the specific “not-good” situation by creating a female as a compatible helpmate for the male. God gives further specificity to a man’s role to be in relationship, that is to be in a unity with a woman in which the two work in a integrated manner, reflective of the Trinity, to fill the earth and subdue it.  Additionally, since the woman is referred to as a helpmate to the male there is an implied role of leadership with associated responsibility and accountability for the effects of that leadership.  Also, in Genesis 2:24, a man is to leave his parents and become united with his wife, a female, becoming fully integrated with her.  There is a sense of a new entity being created in this passage, one that consists of one male and one female that together become “one flesh.” The image is that of a complete integrated unity.  It is worth noting that there is an implied role for the man of being the responsible agent for the unity.  The last implied role in this section is that of being exposed before each other and before God, and given the male’s leadership role, it can be conclude that the male had a responsibility to lead this as well.

Thus, according to Genesis 1 and 2 a man has five fundamental roles.  The first is to image God. The role of imaging God as a male is repeated in Genesis 5:1-2 and in the post-deluvian narrative in Genesis 9:6. In 1 Corinthians Paul refers to a man’s role of imaging God when he describes the complementary aspects of the male’s and the female’s specific roles in their imaging God.  For the male, he images God by having his head uncovered when he prays, which serves to reflect the image and glory of God.  In Ephesians 4:24 Paul provides additional commentary on the meaning of imaging God, a person is to “put on the new self, which in the likeness of God has been created in righteousness and holiness of the truth.  The image referred to in this passage is that of the “new self,” which is to put on Christ (Rom 6:5-7; 13:14).  Putting on Christ requires a renewal of the mind (Rom 12:2; Col 3:10).  So, to image God, is to emulate Christ (Rom 8:29; 1 Cor 15:49; Philp 3:21), and to emulate Christ requires a renewed mind that manifests thoughts and behaviours that reflect Christlikeness. Further, a component of imaging God is the implied role of unity in community.  Unity in Genesis 1-2 is described as an integration between a man and a woman that is so complete that the two become one.  This degree of male-female oneness is repeated in Matt 19:4-6; Mark 10:6-9 and Eph 5:28-33.  However, as evidenced in Gen 3:16b, unity between a man and a woman has been frustrated due to the Fall resulting in an innate struggle between the man and the woman to control the other. Yet, a man is called to over-ride his base programing through Christ-like love for his wife (Eph 5:25-33).

A man’s second role is to procreate. The man-woman construct is jointly assigned the role of procreation.  God repeats this assigned duty in 9:1, when He speaks to Noah and his sons after the deluvian flood.  In Leviticus 26 God dictates to Moses His moral code of conduct restating the role of procreation as part of a conditional promise – if God’s decrees and commands are carefully obeyed (26:3) then the consequences of the fall will be reversed including God-orchestrated procreation.  Psalm 127:3-5 describes successful procreation as evidence of God’s favour.  Yet, because of the Fall, procreation is filled with pain (Gen 3:16a).  There is no Scriptural reference that indicates that this aspect of procreation in a post-Fall world will be redeemed prior to Christ’s Second Coming.

A man’s third role is to subdue, rule and protect the Creation; or in other words to work. While the role of subduing, ruling and protecting was a permanent assignment, as a result of the Fall, the Creation has been cursed frustrating this role resulting in painful toil.  However, in conjunction with procreation, Lev 26:2-13 indicates that the effects of the Fall upon man’s role to subdue, rule and protect can be reversed if a man will follow and carefully obey God’s decrees and commands.

A man’s fourth role is to obey God. In Gen 1-2 the man was given several commands, one of which had a stated consequence should the man disobey.  The man was not to eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, if he did then he would die (Gen 2:17).  The man disobeyed God, and then he blamed God and the woman for his failure.  The effects of the man’s disobedience were catastrophic resulting in: not only his death, but the death of the woman and the death of all mankind; and the frustration of all assigned roles.  Yet, as mention previously, in Lev 26:2-13; Deut 7:12-26; and 28:1-14 God provides an opportunity for the redemption of all that had been lost.  In Deut 6:5; Matt 22:37; Mk 12:30-31 and Lk 10:27 the Scriptures reveal the core commandment of God. Love the LORD God with all heart, soul, mind and strength; and love one’s neighbour as oneself.  According to John 14:15, 21, 23; 15:10; 1 John 5:3; and 2 John 6 a man expresses love to God through obedience to God’s decrees and commands.

The fifth and final general role of a man is to lead.  A man’s leadership role is described in relation to a woman with whom he has entered into a relationship of unity. Characteristics of this role are described in Eph 5:25-33 and in Col 3:18-19 in which a husband is called to love his wife, like Christ loved the Church, like he loves his own body, and to avoid becoming embittered against her. A further amplification is given in 1 Pet 3:7-6 in which the man is commanded to exhibit understanding and honour towards his wife. Col 3:21 extends the man’s leadership role to his children in which he is cautioned to not exasperate them such that they lose heart. The man’s role of Christ-like loving leadership within the male-female unity construct was frustrated by the Fall which resulted in conflict and an unloving-style of leadership. Yet, the commands contained in the New Testament reveal that the man is required to counter the effects of the Fall, by imaging Christ.

Within the Creation narrative, there are several roles assigned to a man, all of which are expressed within the male-female construct, and all of which are shared with the woman with whom he is in a unity relationship, except for one, leadership. This is not to say that the female does not possess or is gifted with leadership within the family or societal context, but it is clear that God holds the man principally responsible and accountable for the couple’s state of oneness; obedience; procreation; subduing, ruling and protection of the Creation; and for imaging God.  The practical cross-cultural implications of the male’s unique role of leadership are that the man is responsible and accountable for: all decisions affecting the male-female unity; all actions affecting the subduing, ruling and protecting of the creation; modeling the imaging of God; modeling obedience to God’s commands; advancing procreation and the nurture of children and conducting his roles along with his wife in a loving, understanding and honouring manner.

The Creation narrative sets the stage for the existence of all things. God decreed that a man and a woman in a unity relationship would form the base construct for all of humanity and assigned them four fundamental roles: image God; procreate; subdue, rule and protect the creation and obey God.  To the man alone, God assigned the responsibility and the accountability to lead the fulfillment of the four joint roles.  An important next question is – What is Godly leadership?

Reflections Upon the Origin of the Knights Templar

Christians on a Mission 

Romans 12:1 

“Rejoice, brave warrior, if you live and conquer in the Lord, but rejoice still more and give thanks if you die and go to join the Lord. This life can be fruitful and victory is glorious yet a holy death for righteousness is worth more. Certainly ‘blessed are they who die in the Lord’ but how much more so are those who die for Him.” [i]
Bernard of Clairvaux

The Knights Templar had a simple and undramatic beginning.  After the conclusion of the First Crusade nine knights banded together to apply their skills and knowledge of warfare in service to the king of Jerusalem to meet an urgent need.  The group grew, slowly at first, and then seemingly exponentially in numbers and wealth.  The Knights Templar was a construct that had come of age.  The order enjoyed the favour of popes and kings, of nobles and peasants.  The order was envied by its peers and persecuted by its opponents. Yet, in spite of all the honour and wealth the order enjoyed, their existence was short-lived by monastic standards and their demise was as meteoric as their rise in popularity.  The Templars have become popularized and their history has become muddled; however, there are reliable sources that present sufficient details from which much can be learned and even applied today.  This paper will review some of the thinking that led to the Templar’s genesis and growth focusing on the two primary topics of the evolution of practical theology and men’s responses to it.

To understand the thinking that underlay the birth of the Templars it is instructive to consider the teachings of Augustine on the theology of “Just War.” In his written response to the Manichean Faustus, Augustine argues the unity of the Old and New Testaments, with a particular focus on the rightness of military actions that were on the surface seemingly wrong.  With specific reference to Abraham’s attempted sacrifice of his son Isaac, an act that in the eyes of an uninformed observer would have been incomprehensible, Augustine justifies Abraham’s action as having been specifically ordained by God.[i]  Also, writing of the wars conducted by Moses, Augustine argues that the conflicts were ordered by God, which therefore made such action right.  God-ordained conflict is not an evil, rather the evil would be to not enter into the conflict, which would be an act of disobedience.

…in wars carried on by divine command, he showed not ferocity but obedience; and God in giving the command, acted not in cruelty, but in righteous retribution, giving to all what they deserved, and warning those who needed warning. What is the evil in war? Is it the death of some who will soon die in any case, that others may live in peaceful subjection? This is mere cowardly dislike, not any religious feeling.[ii]

This line of thinking resulted in the first criterion for just war or conflict, that being Jus Ad Bellum– the right to go to war.  Though a conflict may be justified, Augustine also argued that the motivations of those involved in the conflict could themselves be a source of evil, which leads to the second criterion for just war, Jus In Bello– the right sorts of conduct in war.

The real evils in war are love of violence, revengeful cruelty, fierce and implacable enmity, wild resistance, and the lust of power, and such like; and it is generally to punish these things, when force is required to inflict the punishment, that, in obedience to God or some lawful authority, good men undertake wars, when they find themselves in such a position as regards the conduct of human affairs, that right conduct requires them to act, or to make others act in this way.[iii]

While a fulsome investigation of Augustine’s theology on the matter of justified conflict is beyond the intent of this paper, the fundamental criteria of Jus Ad Bellumand Jus In Belloare helpful in understanding the theological logic behind the creation and operations of the Templars.

Another factor to consider is the state of European society during the 10thcentury.  In general, European society was fractured and it was violent. The grand powers of the Church and the monarchy dominated the urban centres, of which there were few, while the countryside, which accounted for the majority of territory, was rampant with lawlessness.  Chieftains ruled locally, in accordance with their individual desires. They fought with neighbouring lords at their discretion and for their purposes.  Travel was restricted due to the inherent dangers in a lawless environment where might was the determinant factor in what was right.[iv]  The mightiest was the one whose fighting men were adept at fighting from a horse, individuals that the Franks termed chevalier.  Horses large enough to carry a man encased in protective and offensive equipment and those who rode them were necessarily large, healthy and well trained.  These discriminators meant that only those of some degree of wealth could afford to be chevaliers.  Such men came from families of at least some substance and normally enjoyed a symbiotic relationship with local clergy.  Though direct lines of cause and effect are not possible to identify, the influence of the clergy and an enlightened code of conduct, evidently inherent within Germanic tribes, is viewed as a primary source for the development of a code for the conduct of mounted men.  A code of behaviour which became a system of Chivalry or Knighthood.  The code was not a written Rule, rather it was a series of practices that were learned through practice as well as observation.[v]  Given the development of the Augustinian theology of Jus Ad Bellumand Jus In Bellothe evolution of a social code of conduct in conflicts between mounted men, who were themselves somewhat educated for the time period, is likely.

In the mid 11thcentury the Holy Land had been occupied by Muslim forces since the 7thcentury.  In spite of its occupation, Church doctrine of the era, stipulated that pilgrimages to designated holy sites were “a significant penitential act after the commission of serious sins.”[vi]The need for Christians to travel to Jerusalem and environs was essential. Fortunately, Caliph Omar made a solemn promise to Sophronius the patriarch that one fourth of the inner city would remain in the hands of Christians, and pilgrims would be permitted to transit Muslim held territory to visit revered sites and objects upon the payment of a small fee.  Thus a mutually beneficial, albeit unequal, relationship between the occupiers, and Christian residents and pilgrims evolved and became the source of a peaceful co-existence. There, was evidently a spiritual revival of a sort in 1064, for over 7,000 pilgrims made the long journey to Jerusalem that year.  However, the year following, circumstances changed.  Turcoman forces under the command of emir Ortok invaded the region. 3000 citizens of Jerusalem were murdered, and Christians specifically came under sever persecution.[vii]

Twenty years later, persecution of Christians in the Holy Land had become normalized, yet Pope Urban II saw value in liberating Jerusalem from Islamic occupation.  Islamic scholars point to:wide-spread poverty in Europe and a resultant loss of faith among the populace, a power struggle between the Church and secular authorities, envy towards the wealth of the Muslim East and a papacy’s fanatical desire to export Catholicism through a militarized delivery system as precipitates of Urban’s call for crusade.[viii]While, there may be some truth within these assessments, they do not present sufficient rational to explain the overwhelming response and the apparent religious zeal that infected some who volunteered.  On 27 November 1095, at the Council of Clermont, Pope Urban II appealed to the 300 clerics in attendance.[ix]  An original copy of Urban’s speech does not exist; however, there are five separate accounts from either witnesses or those who spoke to clerics who had attended the Council.  The pertinent parts of his speech as it pertains to the First Crusade were: first, the Holy Land was occupied by infidels and it was the Lord’s will that it be liberated by Christians of the West; second, that any Christian who participated in the crusade, whether they died on the way to the Holy Land or they died in battle against the pagans, would earn for himself the complete remission of all sin; and third, that resources hithertofore expended in conflict between Christians must be redirected against the infidel.[x]In the 11thcentury, salvation was works-based. Penance was a standard means by which to receive forgiveness and every sin had an associated penitential act. The life of a Christian was one of confession, repentance, and penance. People lived under the fear that they would not be able to sufficiently even the scales between righteousness and sin to assure themselves of a place in heaven.  Urban II was offering the ultimate penitential act.[xi]  One year later, four armies were fielded.

The Crusader armies were disjointed. The first to arrive in the East was led by Peter the Hermit, a monk of no military training.  They were crushed.[xii]Subsequent, Christian forces were better trained, with leaders experienced in armed conflict. On 7 July 1099, Jerusalem was liberated, and Pope Urban’s II divinely assigned mission was complete. Western forces returned to their regions victorious and free from the consequences of their sins: past, present, and future.  For those who sought pilgrimage, the road to Jerusalem had been reopened. Unfortunately, though Islamic fighters had either been killed or driven out of the urban areas, those that lived continued to operate in the country side and harassed, robbed, raped, terrorized and murdered pilgrims who were transiting.

It is within this post-crusade context in 1120 that Hugh de Payens, a knight of Champagne, along with Geoffrey de Saint-Omer and seven other knights formed a small para-military type police force[xiii].  All had distinguished themselves in the battle for Jerusalem, and having witnessed the continuing persecution of Christians by localized Muslim bandits they collectively decided to apply their knightly skills and knowledge towards ensuring the safety of pilgrims and the defence of religion. Though unpaid, they formally offered their services to king Baldwin II of Jerusalem, who evidently seeing value in such service accepted their offer. Concurrently, and at the discretion of the nine, a decision was taken that they should collectively swear a solemn vow to Guarimond, patriarch of Jerusalem, embracing the fundamental monastic vows of perpetual chastity, obedience and poverty. Initially, the nine took upon themselves the name of “The Poor Fellow-soldiers of Jesus Christ.”[xiv]Knights were not simple-minded men. By their nature, as previously intimated, they were themselves men of some degree of wealth and education.  They had performed the ultimate penitential service and could return home in honour and in a state of permeant righteousness.  Heaven had been earned. Yet, they remained in Jerusalem.

Military service in the Middle Ages provided the soldier with a variety of compensations: respect, honour, esteem, purpose, plunder and adventure, so there was an attraction.  It also offers moral confusion and injury, physical disease, psychological misery, physical and psychological injury and death. While there were benefits to be enjoyed as a knight, one must return to the presence of family and friends and away from the risks of battle to obtain them.  The nine rejected the benefits and by their actions embraced the cost.

In medieval times there were essentially two types of religious vows: the simple vow and the solemn vow.  The simple vow, though given in similar manner to the solemn vow, was temporary in nature, valid only while serving with a particular congregation or order, and it could be relinquished at the will of the individual.  The solemn vow was permanent, rendering the individual a religious in the canonical sense and the giver could only be liberated from his commitment at the discretion of the Church and then only in the gravest of circumstances, such as apostasy.[xv]  The nine collectively surrendered themselves to the life of a religious.

Recognizing the potential value of an increased number of Templar knights, King Baldwin II sent Hugh de Payens back to France in order to further legitimize the nascent community by obtaining “from the Pope the approbation of their order.”[xvi]  Seeking support for the initiative, Baldwin sent a letter along with Hugh de Payens to St. Bernard of Clairvaux requesting his assistance with the Pope.[xvii]  Bernard was a French abbot and the primary reformer of the Cistercian order, an order that itself was young, having only been established in 1098.  Impressed with Hugh de Payens and the concept behind the brothers of the temple, Bernard influenced the sitting of a Council at Troyes to consider Hughes application for papal recognition of the order.  At the Council Hughes explained to the Council the history and purpose of the order of the temple knights of Jerusalem. Bernard, who was recognized within the Church for his wisdom and piety and who history has deemed as the last of the Church Fathers, provided his endorsement and a Rule for the new order based upon that for the Cistercians.  The Council approved the establishment of knights of the Temple as a monastic order with a unique mission and the Rule by which they would live.[xviii]

A succession of papal Bulls increased the legitimacy, autonomy and power of the Templars. In 1139, Pope Innocent II issued a bull entitled “Omne Datum Optimumthat granted the Templars a range of extraordinary privileges.”[xix]Among which, the Templar order was accountable only to the Holy See, permanently; they were exempt from all forms of tithes and taxes, they retained their own clergy, and they were the “designated ‘defenders of the Catholic Church and attackers of the enemies of Christ, a licence so broad as to be effectively all-encompassing.”[xx]  In 1144 Pope Celestine II’s Milites Templi (Knights of the Temple), granted all members of the order permanent relief from penance, essentially the same as that granted to participants who died in and on the way to the First Crusade. And in 1145 Pope Eugene III’s Militia Deireconfirm the Templars the right to select their own clergy, use their own cemeteries and to establish their own oratories, which would allow the order a steady and substantial cash flow through tithes and fees.[xxi]

There is no evidence as to why the nine chose to become religious.  During the 11thcentury monasticism in general had been experiencing a paradigm shift.  Previously, monastics were men of solitude who dedicated their lives to contemplation and prayer.  The shift was towards an outward service orientation.  Yet, the same underlying denial of self, detachment from earthly things and complete consecration to God remained as values in the evolving orders.  Within Jerusalem were the Hospitalliers, a monastic order of the new paradigm, and at the time of the Templars inception, the Hospitalliers were solely dedicated to providing medical care to injured and sick pilgrims.  It may have been that the nine were influenced by their medically oriented counter-parts, but it still would not fully explain why nine knights would surrender their lives in service to physically defending the weak and advancing the Catholic cause. It is also possible that the earlier teachings of Augustine’s Just War, and its 11thcentury interpretation and application were also influences. Initially, there was no financial gain as they lived on alms, wore old clothing and ate left over food given to them by the Hospitalliers. It is likely that these nine men were profoundly affected by: their previous training and experiences as knights; their response to Urban II’s call to arms; the immediate needs of the community in which they lived; their abilities as knights and a spiritual call to serve in the name of Jesus Christ in similar manner to their non-military monastic peers. Whatever motivation or series thereof moved the nine to take the solemn vow in 1120 in service to the sovereign and the patriarch of Jerusalem, their actions were seismic.  Within twenty-five years of its inception the small band of nine had become Pope’s Special Forces, completely self-contained, self-sustaining and self-governing.  Tens of thousands would line up and join.  20,000 would literally give their lives in sacrifice unto the mission. Yet, in spite of the Templar inspired spiritual revival, their unique and privileged position would eventually provide the stimulus for the order’s decimation.

Gerry Potter
Colonel (Ret’d)
President[i]John Langan, “The Elements of St. Augustine’s Just War Theory,” The Journal of Religious Ethics 12, no. 1 (Spring 1984): 21.

[ii]Augustine, “Contra Faustum, Book XXII,” New Advent Catholic Encyclopedia, paragraph 74, accessed December 10, 2017.  http://www.newadvent.or”g/fathers/140622.htm

[iii]Augustine, paragraph 74.

[iv]Woodhouse, F. C. The Military Religious Orders of the Middle Ages: the Knights Templar, Hospitaller and Others.(Great Britain: Leonaur, 2010), loc. 116, Kindle.

[v]Woodhouse, loc. 159.

[vi]James R. Ginther, The Westminster Handbook to Medieval Theology, (Louisville, KY: John Knox Press), 151.

[vii]C. G. Addison, The Knights Templars Third ed., (London: Longman Brown, Green, and Longmans, 1842), loc. 205.

[viii]Al Jazeera, “Shock: The First Crusade and the Conquest of Jerusalem,” Al Jazeera, December 07, 2016, accessed December 13, 2017, http://www.aljazeera.com/programmes/the-crusades-an-arab-perspective/2016/12/shock-crusade-conquest-jerusalem-161205081421743.html.

[ix]Wikipedia, “Council of Clermont,” Wikipedia, December 11, 2017, accessed December 13, 2017, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Council_of_Clermont.

[x]Charles River, ed., The Teutonic Knights: The History and Legacy of the Catholic Church’s Most Famous Military Order(Charles River Editors), Loc. 127, Kindle.

[xi]Dan Jones, The Templars: the Rise and Spectacular Fall of Gods Holy Warriors (NY, NY: Viking, 2017), loc. 309, Kindle.

[xii]Wikipedia, “First Crusade,” Wikipedia, December 11, 2017, accessed December 13, 2017, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/First_Crusade.

[xiii]Jones, loc. 647.

[xiv]Jones, loc. 220.

[xv]Charles Warren Currier, History of Religious Orders: A Compendious and Popular Sketch of the Rise and Progress of the Principal Monastic, Canonical, Military Mendicant and Clerical Orders and Congregations of the Eastern and Western Churches together with A Brief History of the Catholic Church in Relation to Religious Orders, (New York, NK: Murphy & McCarthy, 1898), pg. 31.

[xvi]Addison, loc 288.

[xvii]River, loc. 2378.

[xviii]Jones, loc. 888.

[xix]Jones, loc. 1066.

[xx]Jones, loc. 1078.

[xxi]Jones, loc. 1100.

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Readiness

William Carey (1761-1834) is historically known as the “father of modern missions.” A former Anglican, Carey became a Calvinistic Baptist Non-Conformist in 1779.  Of note, though being Calvinist in his theological understanding of salvation, Carey along with Andrew Fuller held the perspective that they were still responsible to evangelize.  Inspired by a number of predecessors, such as John Wesley, the Moravians and other earlier missionaries Carey argued for the evangelization of peoples who had not yet heard the gospel, which eventually resulted in the creation of the Baptist Missionary Society.  Taking his own advice, Carey along with his family, became a missionary to the peoples of India.

At my writing of this discussion topic I am in Jerusalem to participate in Easter celebrations, while concurrently avoiding the implications of the recently expressed Islamic call for a day of rage to correspond with Passover.  Tension in Jerusalem, and Bethlehem for that matter, I have learned, is a way of life that the general populace seems to take in stride.  What is an aberration is the frequent interjection of “Christians” who are bringing a different gospel, one that is filled with eschatological goofiness that is grounded in aberrant teachings of self-proclaimed prophets, some of which have large followings.  Likely, it is the time of year, but since this is my first visit to Israel and since my encounter with such groups has been frequent over the past week, I can’t help but make an uninformed speculative observation that there is an overabundance of such “missionaries.”  I confess that I am over sensitized to doctrinal deviations in general as a result of seminary studies and I do try to contain my surprise at the Scriptural interpretations I hear so freely and confidently thrown around like they were divine dictates from an “anointed” orator.  But, I also confess that sometimes I just can’t keep my mouth shut.

Carey observed the vast void of the gospel among heathen people and though a Calvinist who wholeheartedly subscribed to the doctrine of election, he also fully endorsed the essential need to preach the gospel so that the elect could hear the Word and by the Spirit be born again.  Unlike Carey’s century, our world is awash in digital information.  Seekers merely have to type “Jesus” into a web-browser to access a seemingly unlimited reservoir of information to inform, entertain, and titillate their senses about Him.  But, in that is our challenge.  In Carey’s day the darkness was a deafening silence, into which the Words of Scripture needed to be spoken.  Today, the darkness is the overwhelming barrage of fake gospels, which is equally deafening, but maybe more difficult to overcome.  The need for missionaries who are equipped to bring the Word is equally dire as that in Carey’s time.  I am a Calvinist in my doctrinal understanding, and I am convicted by the likes of Carey and Fuller of the need to communicate the gospel at every chance I am granted.  Trusting in the Holy Spirit to use the Word to illuminate, quicken and save those whom Christ has called.  I am also convicted of the need to train more biblically grounded messengers.

For most military Christians their India is the military community in which they work and live. Though the prevalence of churches around our communities and the wealth of information available through our hand-held devices is vast, the call of God expressed in 1 Tim 4 to pay close attention to and persevere in biblically grounded teaching is urgently needed by every believer.  Do not allow yourself to whimsically wander from one trendy “thought” to another; rather like preparation for deployment get yourself readied through good biblically teaching, so that you may be able in season and out to give the reason for the hope that is in you.

Gerry Potter
Colonel (Ret’d)
President

Soldier on

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…1 Peter 4:1,5  As a result, they do not live the rest of their earthly lives for evil human desires, but rather for the will of God. For you have spent enough time in the past doing what pagans choose to do-living in debauchery, lust, drunkenness, orgies, carousing and detestable idolatry. They are surprised that you do not join them in their reckless, wild living, and they heap abuse on you. But they will have to give account to him who is ready to judge the living and the dead. 
It was during my second posting that I became a follower of Jesus.  Circumstances in my life had become dire. Work was suffering, relationships were suffering, and financial challenges were overwhelming. I came to the end of myself. Christ stepped in front of me and figuratively held out His hand.  I was a broken man, my pride was gone, so I grabbed hold, I accepted Jesus as my Lord and He began His work in me to transform me, my life and my mission to being that of a servant, a Disciple-maker.
The joy and the peace I experienced as a result of my re-birth was extraordinary and, being a person who likes to share experiences, I shared my new found faith with my spouse, my friends and co-workers. Oddly, they weren’t as excited as I was about my experience with Jesus.  Some were polite, some less so.  For a short while I enjoyed a type of honeymoon with Jesus.  When I read His word I understood, when I spent time with other Christ-followers I was inexplicably encouraged and when I worshiped with others, hearing His word preached and singing songs that praised Jesus I was filled with that crazy consuming joy.  I know that at times I was irritatingly joyful, but it was uncontrollable.
Soon, my friends and colleagues began to push back.  On occasion they would avoid me, sometimes walk away, and sometimes maliciously attack me.  I began to learn to temper my enthusiasm. However, the push back began to turn into efforts to get me to compromise the rule that I had chosen to follow.  When I did not compromise, then ridicule followed. It followed me into the work place and it followed me into social settings and I began to withdraw.
The description given in 1 Peter 4 of what a follower of Jesus will experience is real.  It will be different for each of us depending on our life circumstances, but the effects will be very similar.
I came to a point where I had to make a decision between three options: blend in, go along to get along, so that the persecution would stop; continue to withdraw and isolate myself so that I could minimized the frequency and intensity of the attacks; or I could resume my willingness to be transparent about my love for Jesus regardless of the reaction.  After a few weeks of discussions with God, my pastor and my fellow believers, I chose option three.  I admit that the experience did temper my enthusiasm somewhat, and I was not as bubbly with some people as I was before, but I lived my faith openly.
The efforts of others to get me to compromise resumed with intensity, but my temporary retreat seemed to steel my will to follow Jesus.  Instead of withdrawing, I placed the names of my persecutors on a piece of paper and prayed for them daily. I asked God to help me remain faithful, to love those who sought to cause me harm, and to give me opportunities to serve them.  Those opportunities came and I served.  Eventually, the attacks diminished and became infrequent, and some began to ask questions about this Jesus, even going to church to check Him out and some, even becoming Christ-followers themselves.
Jesus tells us that the struggles that Christians face are many times the result of the spiritual forces of darkness (Ephesians 6:12), who use people and circumstances to persecute Christians, but we also are told that those forces are no match for the power of the Living God who lives in the Christ-follower in the form of His Spirit (1 John 4:4-5). “Greater is He that is in me than He that is in the world.”
I have been walking with Jesus for 33 years now.  My circle of friends and colleagues still contains many more non-believers than believers.  The joy I have in Christ continues unabated as does the persecutions, albeit they are more sophisticate and subtle now, yet I know I still fight the same enemy and I still use the same weapons and in Christ I still win.  I am grateful for Jesus and His love for me, I am grateful that He still gives me opportunity to serve in His mission, to be in the fight.
How about you? How goes the fight? We are in this together, and though it might seem at times that the darkness has the edge, it has already lost.
Soldier on.

The Gospel

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The two-word phrase “the gospel,” is derived from the Greek word “euangelion.” Though not a commonly used phrase today, on occasion one hears its use within Western English speaking society as a metaphor that attributes the quality of truth to a particular set of assertions. While the roots of the phrase pre-exist its use in the New Testament, the quality that it denotes when it is used to qualify a grouping of ideas is derived from its use in the Bible.

Within Christianity, the phrase has been used to describe various view points as to what Christians should be doing to improve their surroundings and in so doing, working to steadily usher in the Kingdom of God on earth. However, theologically this is an incorrect premise. 2 Peter 3:10 tells the reader that the earth is destined for complete renewal, so no amount of effort on man’s part will hinder what is in store for the earth on the Day of the Lord. Other Christians take the perspective that the gospel is about loving one’s neighbour, commonly referred to as “the social gospel.” The responsibility for Christians to love their neighbour is foundational; it is one of the two core commands pronounced by Jesus, yet it is a command for the right conduct of those who have become children of God, and while it is good news for those who are in need of social assistance, for those who are concerned for the environment; for social equality; for social justice, etc.; it is not the good news of The Gospel.

As communicated in 1 Corinthians 15:3-4, which is the clearest, concise and most precise explanation, The Gospel is simply:

  • Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures;
  • Christ was buried;
  • Christ was raised to life on the third day according to the Scriptures.

Romans 10:9 communicates that if a person declares with their mouth that Jesus is Lord and believes in their heart that God raised him from the dead, that they will be saved.  While The Gospel is simple and it can be stated in a few short phrases, man’s comprehension and subsequent response to it requires the supernatural intervention of God’s Holy Spirit, who grants the gift of faith to a person, enabling them to act in accordance with Romans 10:9.
When I was 13 years old, I recognized my need for Jesus and I responded to an offer to confess and repent of my sin, declaring Jesus as my Lord, believing in His death and resurrection as the sole means by which I am forgiven.  Yet, it was not until I was 26 years old and at the end of myself, that I surrendered my life to Jesus.  Today, 33 years later, my awareness of my need of Jesus and my gratefulness for the salvation that I have received continues to increase.  Without Jesus, I am lost: spiritually, emotionally, and psychologically.  With Jesus I have hope: hope for today and for tomorrow; hope for my family and for those whom God has allowed me to have influence with; and I have hope for eternity.
I have heard it said that the Church is the hope of the world, and while the phrase sounds good, I am not sure of its theological soundness.  My understanding is that The Gospel is the hope of the world, and the Church has been assigned the task of communicating it to the world.  The Church is the chosen tool of God with which He communicates His message of hope and He has given it clear, concise and precise orders – “go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.”[1]  God has not given this directive to anyone else, so the hope that the world needs will come only from the church.  As such the church must be focused on communicating The Gospel.  Though there are many “good” activities that the church could be involved in, if the communication of The Gospel is not its primary intent, if The Gospel does not permeate everything that the Church does, then it is abdicating its primary purpose and the world is lost.

God is calling

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In the Spring of 2005 I had sensed God’s leading to be deployed to Afghanistan.  At the time I was serving as the Director of Personnel Management Services for the Air Force, and I had been away from operations for six years.  God’s call though was clear, even overwhelming.  I discussed the call with my wife, who also sense the same intent on God’s part, although neither of us knew why.  So, I advised my superiors of my interest to be deployed.

In the fall of 2005, I was selected to be a member of the first Afghan Advisory Team under the leadership of a colleague; however, when his family opposed his deployment the initial team (me included) was dissolved and replaced by another.  I was left pondering what to do with my understanding of God’s call to go.  I only had to wait a few months.  In late 2005, Canada announced that it would deploy a battle group and the Air Force announced that part of the deployment would include a contingent of Air Force officers to support the air component’s role in the Afghan mission.  I was selected and deployed in 2006 to Afghanistan as part of the Canadian contribution in support of the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF).

Oddly, though I was selected for deployment, the exact military role I would fulfill was not clear until I had been in Afghanistan for several weeks.  However, the spiritual role became clear within 24 hours of my arrival at my base of operations.

I was stationed at ISAF HQ in Kabul, where I arrived late in the day on a Saturday.  My Canadian sponsor helped me find a bunk in the temporary accommodations area and showed me where the mess hall was located.  At supper I read a notice that there was a church that met on Sunday evenings at the chapel.  While, there were Sunday services provided by the HQ chaplain on Sunday mornings, the evening service is where I sensed God’s calling.  So, on my first Sunday in Afghanistan I attended a small congregation of believers who had been gathering together on Sunday evenings for several weeks under the oversight of the chaplain.

I found out that God had given the idea for this church to two British soldiers: one from South Africa (Andrew) and the other from one of the British Overseas Territories (Steve).  These two gentlemen had come together in prayer several months previous asking God to establish a church at the HQ.  While, chaplain services were regularly being offered at the camp, there was a desire for something more.

When I arrived, the congregation consisted of 5-8 believers, so it was like a Bible study group.  On Sunday evenings there was a service, which included singing, scripture reading and a sermon.  While the camp chaplain provided oversight and attended on occasion, the church primarily managed itself.  At my first service on my first Sunday in Afghanistan I was deeply moved by the bond of peace that existed in that small church.  Though I did not yet fully understand what my military role would be, it was clear that my spiritual role involved being a part of that church.  The next day, Monday, I met with Nick, the HQ chaplain, and with Andrew to gain a better understanding of the church and its placement within the context of the spiritual footprint at the HQ.  I learned of its genesis and short history and that Nick was fully supportive of it.  By the end of the meeting I was appointed as Sunday-evening-service coordinator.

The ISAF HQ church met Sunday evenings and Wednesday evenings for worship and Bible teaching and preaching.  Sunday evenings were more formal than Wednesdays, which were similar to a Bible Study.  During my tour, the church grew to between 20-25 members. Several of the members were new believers who had become Christ-followers during their tour and the church played a role in their coming to faith in Christ.  We became the go-to-guys for Nick whenever he needed assistance, which allowed us to serve the camp in a variety of capacities, the most significant of which was leading the camp’s Christmas services.  Attendance at the two services amounted to approximately 80% of the camp’s population.  We sang hymns, Christmas carols, read the Christmas story and gave personal testimonies.  All that God accomplished through the work of that small church is known only to God, but in the midst of all that we were involved in, God’s presence and working was evident, and it was a source of joy.

As I consider the coming year and the hope I have for the MCF, I am reminded of the effect that the small church at Kabul HQ was used by God to achieve.  I am grateful that God called me to Afghanistan and allowed me to be part of His work there.  I see that it was an example of what he wants to do throughout the military community.  The MCF has three strategic objectives: to lead military community members to commit their lives to Christ, to assist and encourage believers to grow in their faith and to support the chaplaincy and the chapel program.  All that is needed is for believers to follow God’s call.  Will you follow?

Until all,
Gerry Potter
Colonel (Ret’d)
President

A Christmas Morning Prayer

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Without choice, Joseph and Mary had traveled a great distance and arrived in the town of Bethlehem.  Their lives together began in difficulty, with Mary experiencing the distain of neighbours and the doubt of family, while Joseph lived with uncertainty regarding their future.  Nothing was happening as he had planned, nor as he had hoped.  The two of them were being carried along by a current of unforeseen, confusing and at times unwanted circumstances and events.  They both had chosen to submit to the will of God, but His will was unclear and it led from one undesirable event to another.  They no sooner arrived in Bethlehem that Mary needed to deliver her baby, but there was no place for them to stay. No one would grant them a room, no one was willing to sacrifice the warmth of their bed, not even for a young new mother having her first child.  All they had was a barn with animals and a feeding trough into which to place their baby.

Though I know how this story turns out, thinking of it stirs within me a sense of outrange as the heartlessness of the world that surrounded Mary, Joseph and Jesus.  Where was the compassion, the mercy, and the grace that should have been exhibited towards this family?  Didn’t anyone care.  We know that God cares and that God provides, but He has expectations of His creation – love your neighbour as you love yourself, do unto others as you would have them do unto you. Yet, in general His creation ignores Him and those who have been created in His image.

In Romans Paul wrote about the godlessness of man, and the depth of depravity to which man consistently descends.  Though we know that “the wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of men who suppress the truth by their wickedness” (Rom 1:18); and though we know that God is orchestrating all things for the good of those who love Him (Rom 8:28), events like those that happened to Mary, Joseph and Jesus continue to occur.  Many of us are deeply disturbed by them and want to do something about it.

This morning, there are men and women of the Canadian Armed Forces who are doing something about it.  They are away from their families in locations and circumstances that are characterized by the environment that Paul described in his letter.  Concurrently, the military families are doing the best that they can to normalize their lives as the currents of uncertainty affect their present and future.  For those who know Jesus, prayers of thanksgiving will be offered throughout the day, as they should be.  I ask though, that prayers for protection, for sustainment, for hope and for effectiveness be offered for the members of the military community.  As you celebrate Christmas please remember those who serve and who are serving at sea, in foreign and dangerous countries and who fly missions into hostile environments.  Pray for their safety, pray for their families, ask God to orchestrate all things for their good in the midst of this depraved world.  We want to do something about the kindlessness that exists in our world, that affected Mary, Joseph and Jesus.  We can, we can pray for those who are active today in attempting to affect positive change, and for their families who wait for them to return home.

Peace on you and your family.

More than a Season

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I attended a men’s group this week where those gathered watched and discussed a video entitled “Advent Conspiracy.” A catchy title that did not portray my first impression as to the content of the message.  Three pastors from separate churches in the US discussed and presented outreach initiatives that their congregations had undertaken to counter the North American commercialism associated with Christmas.  I was impressed by the focused efforts of one of the churches to bring a continual supply of fresh water to a village in Africa through the building of a well.  This was not the first time that I had heard of such projects, but the intent of the church that was involved in the project was stirring.  They wanted to have a long term impact on a community by providing an essential need.  The presenting pastor spoke about the doubt that the village leaders had at the beginning of the project and the reason for the doubt.  Christians had come before and they had promised to help, but either the help didn’t materialize, or it was short-lived.  The team from the sending church didn’t respond to the doubt directly, but went about their work and built a well.  Not a shallow well, but a deep well, one that was rooted into the aquifer. The village will have clean water, indefinitely.

One of the values that I experienced and assimilated during my military service was that of delivering high quality effects.  Whether the project was small, like a weekly briefing; or it was large, like a deployment.  The concept of “just good enough” was never good enough.  In the writings of Paul, excellence in service is a common theme (Col 3:23-24; Eph 6:5-8).  The motivation for excellence is the glorification of God with an associated side benefit of divine reward for the one who serves.

The Christmas season is punctuated with many initiatives of charity, and we need to participate to the degree that we can.  The atmosphere of seasonal giving is truly heart warming, yet, like a candle at the dinner table its light and warmth is short-lived, and soon the old routine takes over.  I ask you and I to consider the value of excellence that permeates our military community and couple it with the current sentiment of service to identify a longer term initiative that you can either initiate or participate in and then do it.  Invest your efforts, whether it is your finances, your abilities, or a combination of the two, with the view that you are participants in the advancement of the Kingdom of heaven on earth.  Christmas is more than a season.