Zeal: Hillsong, Bede, and Me

Worship at Hillsong Paris

Whilst in Paris, I visited three churches for Sunday morning services. While Notre-Dame’s Messe Gregorienne would be most in keeping with the overall theme and tenor of this blog, the one that has got me thinking most was, of all things, Hillsong Paris.

Hillsong Paris is a plant of the famous Hillsong Church in Australia. It meets in a theatre thrice on a Sunday, and at least fills the 12:15 service.  As one would expect the music is upbeat and loud, with a seemingly ‘professional’ quality to it. The musicians jumped around on the stage and ran and sang loudly. The songs were all in French save one, but the original English was projected at the bottom of the screen.

The Sunday I visited Hillsong Paris, Brian Houston, le pasteur principal of Hillsong was visiting from Australia. He gave the message with a very, very good interpreter who immediately fired off rapid-fire French after each of his sentences and even sought to mimic his gestures.

Say what you will about anything at Hillsong, Brian Houston is a man of passion. He has zeal for God and for seeing people come to a living, vibrant faith in the risen Jesus. As he preached about us seeking to find that glorious obsession which God has implanted into us, this passion, this zeal for God came through.

To be zealous you don’t have to be high-energy, of course. To have a passion for Christ and His mission you don’t have to be an electrifying speaker. But if you are high-energy, whatever it is that is your glorious obsession will be apparent to everyone around.

Opening of Bede’s Ecclesiastical History

Whilst in Paris, I read from several books. I read most of Bede’s Ecclesiastical History of the English People during my Parisian month, and finished it a few days ago. If we wish to discuss zeal for the Lord and His mission, we need look no further than the tales of these early British bishops.

In Bede’s most famous work, the reader meets many of the big names from the Christianisation of early mediaeval Britain — Columba, Aidan, Wilfrid, Willibrord, Paulinus, Edwin, Oswald, Augustine, Germanus of Auxerre, Hild, Caedmon, Cuthbert, Benedict Biscop.

Most of these names are bishops. Augustine and other early bishops in southern England came over from the continent to bring the light of the Gospel to the ends of the world. They, and then their local successors such as Wilfrid and Cuthbert, laboured to see the English people receive the truth of Jesus and transform their world for the better. Joining these continental and English missionaries were the Irish, such as Columba and Aidan, approaching the island from the North and West.

Sometimes, due to the ire of a king, the missions would not go as planned. Thus Wilfrid found himself in exile for many years. Rather than sitting about moaning, he engaged in mission where he was, whether in England or Frisia. Sometimes, the kings helped the bishops, such as Edwin and Oswald. These men and women had a zeal for seeing the people of Britain — Anglo-Saxon and Pict — come to saving faith in Jesus.

But I? Where is my zeal for the Lord? Sure, I blog big. And I enjoy Christian literature such as Bede or Miroslav Volf or saints’ lives or Leo. But I go days and days without reading the Scriptures, without really praying. Church, regardless of denomination or preaching or ‘style of worship’ I find tiresome. Where is my zeal? And where can I get some?

Saint of the Week: St. Patrick of Ireland

About ten years ago, one of the many unfunny For Better or for Worse cartoons at least had a bit of a kick to it. A group of Canadian students are sitting in a pub drinking the usual green beer, the pub decked in green with shamrocks for St. Patrick’s Day. One wonders what St. Patrick did; another quips that he drove the snakes out of Ireland. What else? Brought Christianity. An Irish friend of theirs approaches, and they ask him what St. Patrick did, besides bringing Christianity to Ireland. His response, ‘Isn’t that enough?’

Indeed. Isn’t bringing Christianity to a dark place enough and more than enough to be celebrated?

I have no doubt St. Patrick would be a bit disappointed at the booze fest his feast has turned into, with green beards and pagan leprechauns everywhere. Still, the bringing of the light of the Gospel into a pagan land is a good thing, is it not?

When we consider the polydaimonic/animist nature of much traditional pagan nature religion from Italy westwards, there is very often an element of fear. We like to romanticise this paganism, imagining these close-to-nature druids and bards who can speak with the very earth and commune with trees. Do not forget farmers who fear forests due to what lurks within, who have a very real fear of mounds due to the metaphysical beings who may dwell therein. If the surviving fairy stories from the period following Christianisation have any resemblance to pre-Christian beliefs, I’ve a feeling the supernatural was not something to be enjoyed but, rather, feared.

When the Inuit of the Central Arctic came to Christ, they found freedom from a world full of spirits seeking to be appeased, a harsh, hostile world with no Great Spirit of the southern First Nations of Canada and the USA. They found eternal security in the person and actions of Jesus Christ, and were thankful for the Anglican and Roman Catholic missionaries who brought this great Good News of freedom to them.

Considering how given over to Christ the Irish were to become following St. Patrick, no doubt they felt the same.

St. Patrick (c. 387-460/493) brought Christianity to Ireland in the early fifth century. He was born six years after the triumph of Nicene Christianity over Arianism at the First Council of Constantinople in 381 and one year after the conversion of St. Augustine of Hippo; he was enslaved seven years before the Roman legions left Britain; the earlier date for his death is one year before Pope Leo I, the later date is 17 years after the fall of the last Roman Emperor in the West. St. Patrick is patristic, a missionary of the Late Antique world.

Having read his Confession (hopefully this link will do the job, let me know if it fails), I’m of the opinion that he was of Romano-British stock; he was certainly from Roman Britain. When he was sixteen, he was captured and sold into slavery in Ireland. Although he made a daring escape, he made the decision to return thither later on and bring the light of Christ to the unconverted beyond the Empire’s borders.

This was the result of a dream:

I saw a man coming, as it were from Ireland. His name was Victoricus, and he carried many letters, and he gave me one of them. I read the heading: “The Voice of the Irish”. As I began the letter, I imagined in that moment that I heard the voice of those very people who were near the wood of Foclut, which is beside the western sea—and they cried out, as with one voice: “We appeal to you, holy servant boy, to come and walk among us. (from the Wikipedia entry)

(There may have been a few Christians lurking in Ireland before Patrick, but I’ve found conflicting dates for the other early Irish saints.)

Patrick went to Ireland and preached, converting and baptising many thousands. He refused all gifts, for salvation is the free gift of God to all who believe. One story that I read somewhere was of a pagan prince upon whose feet Patrick inadvertently leaned with his staff during the baptismal rite. The young man endured the pain and said nothing, believing it to be part of the ceremony — such was their zeal for incorporating themselves into the glorious freedom of Christ’s Gospel as proclaimed by Patrick.

There are also many tales of Patrick’s encounters with Irish priests (druids?), whom he outdid in miracles, and many people whom he exorcised.

His was a mission of preaching and miracles, much like our Lord’s. Much also like that of St. Columba, St. Aidan, and St. Cuthbert in Britain. The power of the Gospel was evident in the life of St. Patrick, saving the people of Ireland not only from captivity to the unclean spirits but also from captivity to the unclean spirit of each person’s own sinful soul.

Shall we bring this Gospel of love and light to our neighbours? Shall we help cleanse their lives from the snakes of sin and fear?