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Wednesday, September 20, 2017

#91 Crusades part 2

Smoky Mountain Bible Institute
(Est. 2009) Lesson #91
The source of the following information is if you go to this website you will also see some nice art work for each crusade. . Copyright © 2012-2016 - 

            Fifth Crusade (1217 - 1221) Despite the infamous failure of the Fourth Crusade, the Popes continued to preach for military expeditions to the Holy Land. Pope Innocent’s successor Honorius III managed to convince Andrew II of Hungary and Leopold VI, Duke of Austria to take up the cross and lead the expedition. However, they chose to start their campaign in Egypt. In 1219, they captured the port of Damietta and were offered all the holy cities in return for withdrawing from Egypt. Encouraged by the success, the crusaders refused which proved to be a mistake. The march to Cairo failed and the crusaders were forced to return home without capturing either Egypt or the holy cities.

            Sixth Crusade (1228 - 1229) The Sixth Crusade was a major success for the crusaders despite the fact that it saw little action. At the same time, the Holy Roman Emperor Frederic II who led the campaign was at the time under excommunication. Shortly after arriving to the Holy Land, Frederick II entered into negotiations with the Egyptian sultan who agreed to cease Jerusalem, Nazareth, Bethlehem and other holy cities to the Christians.

            Seventh Crusade (1248 - 1254) The Seventh Crusade was launched by the French king Louis IX who decided to recapture the Holy Land by conquering Egypt first. Just like the leaders of the Fifth Crusade, Louis IX succeeded to capture Damietta but he failed to capture Cairo. In addition, he was taken captive while trying to return to the port of Damietta. A ransom was paid and the French king was released. But as he prepared for a campaign to the Holy Land, he received a letter that his mother died and returned to France.

            Eighth Crusade (1270) In 1270, the French king Louis IX decided to give it another try and launched his second crusade. But rather than the Holy Land or Egypt, this time he chose to start his campaign in Tunis. However, disease broke out among the troops shortly after landing and the French king who got ill himself died shortly thereafter. His brother Charles of Anjou who arrived one day before his death immediately entered into negotiations with the Caliph of Tunis to ensure safe departure of the crusader army.

            Ninth Crusade (1271 - 1272) The last in the series of military expeditions that sought to recapture the Holy Land from the Muslims was launched by Prince Edward of England who also took part of the Eight Crusade. After the French king’s death and the departure of the French crusaders, the English prince decided to launch his own expedition. In 1271, he landed in Acre and tried to win support for his cause but lack of interest and news from England about his father’s illness prompted him to return home. With Prince Edward’s departure, the attempts of the Christian Europe to capture the Holy Land finally came to an end.

            There were also People's and Children's Crusades; In 1096 a People’s army, consisting mainly of unexperienced and poorly equipped peasants preceded the First Crusade, however, didn’t stand a chance against the Muslim forces and was destroyed before the main army arrived to the Middle East. In the early 12th century, several thousand children set out to the Holy Land. The idea was that the knightly army failed to capture Jerusalem and other holy places due to impurity and that children would succeed with their innocence. Many, however, perished from disease and hunger before reaching the Italian ports, while others were sold into slavery. Only a few managed to return home.

            This is a very short summary of some 200 years of history associated with the church that has a very bad reputation these days. But what missing from the narrative is the fact that many Christians were misguided into sacrificing much in many cases their lives for at best dubious and mixed motives of church and political leaders. This in no way diminishes the dedication and service of the saints of that era.

Till next time
In Christ Pastor Portier 

Saturday, August 19, 2017

Lesson # 90 Crusades Part 1

Smoky Mountain Bible Institute
(Est. 2009) Lesson #90
The source of the following information is if you go to this website you will also see some nice art work for each crusade. Copyright © 2012-2016 - 

            The Crusades were a series of 9 military expeditions which sought to recapture Jerusalem and other places sacred to Christianity from the Muslims. They were formally launched by Pope Urban II in the late 11th century to help the Byzantine Empire against the Seljuk Turks. Soon, however, the Holy Land became the primary objective of the crusaders, many of which weren't led only by noble motives but economic, political and social as well. Listed below are 9 crusades (will probubly take two articles)  to the Holy Land between the 11th and 13th centuries.

            First Crusade (1096 - 1099)
            The First Crusade was launched after Pope Urban’s call to help the fellow Eastern Christians against the Muslims. Conquered lands supposed to be returned to the Byzantine Empire but after capturing Jerusalem in 1099, the leaders of the crusade divided the territories among themselves. They created the Kingdom of Jerusalem, Principality of Antioch, County of Tripoli and County of Edessa and established themselves as the rulers of the newly formed crusader states in the Holy Land.
            Second Crusade (1147 - 1149)
            The second military expedition to the Holy Land was called for by the Church to recapture the County of Edessa that fell to the Muslims in 1144. Two kings, Louis VII of France and Conrad III of Germany, decided to lead the crusade. One year later, they laid siege to Damascus but after failing to capture the city, the German king decided he had enough and left the Holy Land. His French counterpart soon followed his example and the Second Crusade came to an end, failing to achieve anything.

            Third Crusade (1189 - 1192)
            Also known as the Kings’ Crusade because it was participated by as many as three European kings, the Third Crusade was launched after the fall of Jerusalem to the Muslim leader Saladin in 1187. However, Frederick I (Barbarossa) of Germany died on the way to the Holy Land, while Philip II soon departed for France due to conflicts with Richard I of England. The latter won several notable battles but failed to recapture Jerusalem. Before returning to Europe, however, the English king managed to negotiate a free access to Jerusalem for Christian pilgrims.

            Fourth Crusade (1202 - 1204)
            Unable to cope with the loss of Jerusalem, Pope Innocent III energetically preached for crusade. He succeeded to raise an army of crusaders who, however, never made it to the Holy Land. On their way to Jerusalem, they captured the Adriatic city of Zara for Venice and shortly thereafter got involved in the struggle for the Byzantine throne. Instead of recapturing Jerusalem as the Pope hoped, the Fourth Crusade ended with the Sack of Constantinople and formation of the short-lived Latin Empire on the conquered Byzantine territories.

            That’s all for this month we will wrap things up in the next lesson

Till then in Christ Pastor Portier

Saturday, July 8, 2017

SMBI #89 The Great Schism

Smoky Mountain Bible Institute
(Est. 2009) Lesson #89
            Before we address the Crusades, there was a window of relative calm in Church history between 787 (when the last official worldwide Christian council met) and The Great Schism between east and west in 1054.  By calm, I do not mean peaceful; I mean relatively uneventful from a church perspective. During this time, there was much fluctuation in borders as fiefdoms rose and fell, expanded and retreated within what was once the Roman Empire in the west and what remained of it in the east. For example, Roman Britain went through many changes; first the Anglo-Saxon invasion, then Christianization followed by the Viking challenge and the rise of Wessex. For a short time, the kingdom was a unified England, then there was a Danish and Norman conquest, followed by Plantagenet reign and the Magna Carta in 1215. So, while quite a bit happened as borders and cultures of the west came to be as we know them today, the church was generally unified on a world scale; there was one Holy Catholic Church.

            So, let’s talk briefly about the Schism, or split, between eastern and western Christianity and briefly summarize the major doctrinal differences between eastern Christianity (which from the point of the split is called Orthodoxy, Greek for straight or right practice) and Catholicism of the west (which is called Roman). First, as I mentioned two months ago, the synod of Toledo in Spain officially accepted the “filioque” “and the Son” phrase in the Nicaean creed in 589. This was the first seed of major disagreement between east and west. Then in 1054, Rome claimed papal supremacy and the split became the state between east and west. This is often referred to as the “Great Schism”. Other points of disagreement between east and west that have developed over the years are as follows:

                                    Doctrine                                  East                 West
                                    Marriage of clergy                  yes                   no
                                    Purgatory                                no                    yes
                                    Papal infallibility                   no                    yes
                                    Immaculate conception          no                    yes

            While things continued to get worse between eastern and western Christianity, the straw that broke the veritable camel’s back (in essence insuring that east and west would no longer be in dialogue or even attempt to in some way reconcile their differences) was the sack of Constantinople. In essence, the capitol of eastern Christianity in 1204 was Constantinople, and the 4th crusade conquered and pillaged the city of all its wealth and holy relics. While the east and west acknowledge each other as creedal Christians they have functioned separately for the most part for most of the last 1000 years.

            Now that we have a brief sketch of the religious and cultural context in which the crusades existed we can begin with an introduction next month as we kick off with the first crusade in 1095.

Till next month
In Christ Pastor Portier


Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Islam #88

Smoky Mountain Bible Institute
(Est. 2009) Lesson #88

            It would be helpful at this point in our walk-through world History to look at a brief summary of the history of Islam. Islam is the religion of Muslims; the word means follower of Islam. Currently close to 22% of the world’s population are Muslims around 1.6 billion people claim to follow Islam.

            Muhammad is believed to have been born in 570 and was orphaned at the age of 5 he was raised by his grandfather for a few years then an uncle. He then became a merchant, married a wealthy widow and had about 6 children. It was in 610 that he claims to have had his vison from the angel Gabriel after some time of fasting and meditation in a cave outside the town of Mecca. From 613 to 622 he developed a small group of followers but they were not received well in Mecca so they moved to Yatrib later called Medina. For the next few years his power and influence grew to the point that the people of Mecca noticed. This led to a few battles which led to a treaty that the Meccans broke in a year but they were later conquered in a bloodless coup. In a few years, Mohammad and the Muslims had united most of the Arabian Peninsula.

            Unlike most other world religions which at some level separate religious and civil matters, causing the church and the state to struggle for power and influence throughout history. From the beginning this relatively young 1400 year old religion was both a religious and a civil system. This can be seen in what is called Sharia law which is the legal system that developed within Islam. This can also be seen in tracking the history of Muslim kingdoms and empires known as Caliphates. The first began after Mohammad’s death in 632 the  Rashidun Caliphate (632-661), The Umayyad Caliphate (661-750), the Abbasid Caliphate (750-1258) The Fatimid Caliphate (909-1171), The Ayyubid dynasty (1171-1260), The Mamluk Caliphate (1250–1517), The Ottoman Caliphate (1299 –1923). The maxim extent of these empires covered north Africa, most of Spain, as far east as India and north into Turkey and Pakistan. Many western lands were also controlled on and off by the Muslim kingdoms. The reason there are overlapping dates is because these Caliphates, Kingdoms and dynasties ruled different areas over different times and often were at odds with each other. The only thing they always seem to  unite around and work together in were struggles against the west. We see this play out in the 9 crusades which we will discuss in another lesson.

            Unlike divisions between Christians, Jews and the things that separate most of the eastern mystic religions such as Hinduism and Buddhism, the things that separate Muslim groups is not mainly doctrinal. The doctrine of most Muslims is very much the same, 5 pillars;  1. Declaration of Faith 2. Obligatory Prayer 3. Compulsory Alms, 2.5% 4. Fasting in the month of Ramadan 5. Pilgrimage to Mecca. No pork, and many of the cultural norms are the same as well. There are some doctrinal differences but none are sufficient to cause any real division. 

What separates these groups is Central Authority….who is in charge? The 1.6 billion Muslims fall into 3 groups 1. Sunni 1.2 billion 85-90% of all Muslims for them the authority is with the Caliphate seen as a successor to the prophet. This position has been empty sense 1920 until ISIS claimed to fill it and started trying to conquer the world. 2. Shia 150 to 200 Million 10-12% of Muslims for them authority is with the Imamate; a religious body headed by the Imam – He must be a descendant of Mohammad, chosen by God and sinless. The remaining 5 to 8% are 3. Ibadi Primarily in Oman Iraq started in the 8th century and teaches that Islam needs no earthly leader. There are other strains of Islam but most function within the three above or are very small sects relatively speaking; Sufism, Quranism, Ahmadiyya (founded in British India in the late 1800’s) Black Muslim movements such as the Nation of Islam run by Louis Farrakhan sense 1981 and there are even Muslims who identify as Nondenominational.                              

Till next month

In Christ Pastor Portier  

Saturday, May 13, 2017

#87 The 7 Ecumenical Councils

Smoky Mountain Bible Institute
(Est. 2009) Lesson #87
       The word ‘ecumenical’ means worldwide or general in extent, influence, or application.  So, as we reference the 7 Ecumenical Councils from 325 to 787, what is an Ecumenical Church council?  A Church Ecumenical council is a council with representation from the whole body of churches across the world. If you remember, until the east and west split on a few theological issues, there was only one universal Catholic (Christian) church. Let’s get to the councils, first these are not meetings of a few church leaders for a few days to do a ‘little church business’.  Business was not really done democratically at that time.  Councils were often preceded by much conversation and multiple small councils about some issue of doctrine or practice that needed attention. The Ecumenical council would then come together and hash out what God’s word had to say on the topic and seek to communicate clearly to the universal church what the biblical position of the church was on the topic or topics. These gatherings could take weeks or months and sometimes even years. So take out the idea of quorums and votes and think of lots of bishops, pastors and other church leaders coming together in order to reach consensus on issues of faith. In order to get all seven into this article I will limit commentary to Dates, Locations and Major Topics addressed.

-        The Council at Nicaea 325, The remains of ancient Nicaea are located in modern day Iznic in North western Turkey. The major issue they dealt with was Arianism, the belief that Jesus is a created being with a beginning. This leads to the development of the Nicaean creed minus the “and the Son” phrase which begins to appear in Western practice around 410.
-        The Council at Constantinople I 381, The current location is called Istanbul. Arianism is again condemned and so is a heresy called Apollinarism.
-        The Council at Ephesus Jun – Aug of 431, The current location is still called Ephesus just south of Izmir western Turkey. Pelagianism and Nestorianism are condemned.
-        The Council at Chalcedon Oct 8-31 of 451, Was the ancient town of Bithynia and is now a district in the city of Istanbul. Monothelitism is condemned.
-        The Council at Constantinople II May – Jul of  553, From this point forward councils become a bit more political and signs of division between east and west are starting to emerge. This is further solidified when the synod of Toledo in Spain officially accepts the “filioque” “and the Son” phrase in the Nicaean creed in 589. This also affirmed the teaching that Mary can be rightly called “Theotokos” (Greek for Mother of God).
-        The Council at Constantinople III Nov 7 of 680 to Sep 16 of 681, Luther had issues with many of the conclusions of the last three councils.
-        The Council at Nicaea II 787, The Iconoclastic controversy was the main doctrinal issue addressed by this council.

These are the seven historic councils accepted but most of modern trinitarian Christianity. All of the conclusions and decisions made by these councils are not fully recognized by all Christians however most of world Christianity does hold that the conclusions of the first four councils are in keeping with scripture.

The first Crusade was in 1096 -1097 but before we discuss the Crusades we will need to address a brief history of Islam and have a brief discussion of the division between Eastern and Western Christianity.

Till next month
In Christ Pastor Portier 


Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Post Nicene Fathers SMBI # 86

Smoky Mountain Bible Institute
(Est. 2009) Lesson #86

            As I mentioned last month, throughout history the church has taken the best works of all the church fathers and used them to better teach and project the faith into the world around them.  Much of what they wrote still guides us today. Over time the church continues to add the best of each past Christian generation to its vast written and musical data base to teach the faith in worship, word and sacrament in multiple cultures and languages.           

            As we enter a discussion on the Post Nicene Fathers, it would be helpful to have a little information on the relationship between the Eastern and Western parts of civilization and the church at the time. There were multiple kingdoms because the Roman empire was divided from 286 to 337 and again for the last time in 364. The western half of the Roman empire collapsed in 476, while the Eastern half, also known as the Byzantine empire, didn’t fall until 1453. Primarily due to the geography of the kingdoms, the church fathers of the time  are called East and West. The Christian church functioned as one Holy Catholic (universal Christian) Apostolic Church in those multiple kingdoms at first, but during the time of the seven Ecumenical councils, 325 to 787, there started to be small differences in how the faith was believed and taught and confessed in the regions. This became even more pronounced with the Post Nicene Fathers, discussed here in two groups, the East and the West.

John Chrysostom (374-407) made bishop of Constantinople in 398, Gregory of Nazianzus (330-390) Gregory of Nyssa (330-394) & his brother Basil (329-379). The two Gregory’s were instrumental in clarifying Trinitarian doctrine and Basil (with a short ‘a’ sound not a long one like the herb) wrote one of the first sets of monastic rules in 370. Cyril of Alexandria (376-444) helped the church come to grips with a number of Christological controversies.

Ambrose (340-397) Bishop of Milan, wrote “Savior of the Nations Come” a favorite Advent hymn (LSB 332). Ambrose is also a great example of speaking the truth to power; he stood with his congregation, barricaded in the church at Milan, rather than hand it over to the emperor. He also excommunicated Emperor Theodosius (379-395) for a massacre of 7000 people in Thessalonica, readmitting him after he repented. Jerome (345-420) was the primary translator of the Bible from Hebrew and Greek into Latin, known as the Vulgate (382-405) Agustine (354-430) Bishop of Hippo (Algeria) published “City of God” in 427. He is also gets credit for our current numbering system of the 10 commandments.

            There are many other early church fathers who also provided the church with a wealth of valuable writings and insights into the Christian faith. Some other key dates during the 4th and 5th centuries are: 311 the Edict of Milan recognizes and tolerates Christianity; 330 Constantinople becomes the capital of the East; 367 in an Easter letter, Athanasius lists the 27 books of the New Testament Canon; 380 in the Edict of Thessalonica, Christianity becomes the state religion of the Roman Empire; 410 Alaric the Goth sacks Rome; and in 451 Attila the Hun attacks Italy. In the latter half of the 5th century the “Goths & Vandals” Germanic tribes of the north, have started expanding their territories to the south and that leads to the sack of Rome in 455 and the fall of the western empire in 476. The Vandals (the eastern Germanic tribes) began a persecution of Christians in 478.

            Next month we will spend some time discussing those 7 Ecumenical councils from 325 to 787.

Till next month Pastor Portier                         

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

SMBI #85 Early Church Fathers

Smoky Mountain Bible Institute
(Est. 2009) Lesson #85

            It has been a few months since we departed from our time line but we return. We are at around 180 AD. The first 400 years of Christianity show both growth and persecution. After centuries of strife and struggle eventually the Gospel message goes from being the faith of persecuted minorities to a faith that spans the Roman Empire and eventually becomes the faith of the emperor and all respectable citizens. That actually presents the church with a new and different set of problems.

            It may be helpful to cover early church history from the perspective of early church leaders called ‘Fathers’. For the sake of our discussion we will break the ‘Fathers’ into five groups and address each group separately, including notable historic facts associated with each of them or their group. This list is by no means exhaustive but instead is an overview.

Apostolic Fathers: called this because they learned directly from Jesus’ apostles. Polycarp (69-155) Bishop of Smyrna in Turkey and student of the apostle John. Ignatius (35-117) Bishop of Antioch. Clement (30-100) of Rome, said to have been consecrated by Saint Peter and listed as the 4th of Rome’s 266 Popes.

Early Apologist: Justin Martyr (100-165) Known for his theological writings, most of which are lost but his works titled “First Apology”, Second Apology”, “Dialogue with trypho” and fragments of the work “On the Resurrection” are available to this day. Tertullian (155-240) 31 of his works are still available today and cover many areas of the Christian faith.

The following were church fathers who, through their leadership and writings, contributed to the organizing and clarifying of what the universal Christian church believed, taught and practiced in accord with God’s word.    

Early Fathers Origen (185-254), Sextus Julius Africanis (160-240) known as the father of Christian chorography, Irenaeus (130-202) Bishop of Lyons.

Nicene Fathers Called that because they lived during the council of Nicea (325) the council in which the church adopted the Nicene Creed.  Athanasius (296-373) Bishop of Alexandra Egypt, the man for whom the Athanasian Creed (later in the 4th or 5th century) is named because of his stand against the Arian heresy (which, in its modern form, is Jehovah Witnesses), Eusebius (263-339) a bishop and historian, wrote his famous church history in 303.  Lactantius (c240-c325) Christian writer who became an advisor to Emperor Constantine.   Hilary (c291-c371) Bishop of Poitiers and a Doctor of the Church. He was sometimes referred to as the "Hammer of the Arians".

            Throughout history the church took the best works of all these Fathers and used them to better teach and project the faith into the world around them, and much of what they wrote we still us to guide us today. 

            Some other key events during this window of time would be the Edict of Tolerance for Christians in 260 by Emperor Valerian. Arius and the Arian heresy condemned at Alexandria in 318, debated and finalized at the Council of Nicea in 325. We will look at group five, the Post Nicene Fathers, in our next lesson.  

Till next month Pastor Portier