Archive for the ‘Theology’ Category

When You Have a Lord

May 21, 2022

So, just to clarify – Christians (including Roman Catholics) profess a personal faith in not simply an impersonal deity but rather a very personal God. This God is accorded their faith and obedience not simply by dint of His existence as their Creator, but also because of His far more personal interaction as their Savior. Specifically, this Triune God entered into human history in the person of Jesus of Nazareth specifically to offer his life and death up in exchange for ours, freeing us from the prison of sin we would otherwise be lost in eternally.

This is standard Christian stuff, hardly some sort of fringe or esoteric assertion. All Christians believe this. Their Lord and Savior Jesus the Christ commands their ultimate allegiance. In any situation where their own personal preferences or desires run contrary to his, they are to die to self, to set aside what they want in order to try and be obedient to what they are commanded by God in His revealed and inspired Word, the Bible. In some cases this may be a singular event of obedience contrary to their impulse – the resistance of temptation in a given moment. For others it may be a daily sacrifice of their desires and impulses to be obedient to their Lord.

Finally the Catholic Church is deciding to remind it’s flock of this, in a very high-profile situation. Arguably one of the most powerful women in American politics is Senator Nancy Pelosi from California. She is also one of the most unabashedly in favor of abortion on demand. She also claims to be a faithful Roman Catholic.

As further clarification, the Roman Catholic Church – along with 2000 years of Christian history around the world – rejects abortion as the immoral and unlawful murder of an unborn child. It isn’t just a small issue of esoteric doctrine, it is central to the Christian faith. Despite the efforts of many Christians in the West in the last 100 years to justify allowing it unilaterally.

Now the Archbishop who oversees the See of which Pelosi is a communicant member has issued this decree – Pelosi is not to seek to receive, or be given if she does so seek – Holy Communion until such time as she repents of her sin (public, repeated behavior against Church doctrine and Biblical teaching). Holy Communion is one of the most sacred rites of the Christian church, traced back to Jesus’ commands the night before his execution. While differences of opinion (unfortunately) abound regarding the nature of this sacrament and what happens in it and how and why, most every Christian group acknowledges that whether weekly or quarterly or annually, Christians ought to partake of it. It does not in and of itself provide salvation, but it is as I like to call it, the taste of forgiveness, the tangible, physical reminder of the greatest blessing we receive in Jesus Christ.

This is a big deal.

Firstly, it is not intended simply as a punishment. It is intended as a the gravest warning the Church can give to a member that said member’s public behavior and attitudes place them in mortal peril, place them at risk of being outside the kingdom of God and facing eternal separation from God by their choice to directly ignore His Word.

This is not political. Such a stance should have been drawn hard in the sand decades ago. Had it been, perhaps we wouldn’t be over 60 million dead children in the US because of Roe v. Wade. Perhaps it would have been a shocking call to jar the consciences of those who profess to know best what is right and wrong. It will be panned in the press as a political move, but ultimately it is a singularly personal call to the individual Nancy Pelosi to recognize she is wrong and to repent of her sins and be restored to the fellowship of believers in Jesus Christ.

Interestingly – tragically – in this. Pelosi has apparently refused to respond to the Archbishop’s requests to speak with her personally and privately on this matter. Now, we all may have differences of opinion on ecclesiology and church infra-structure, but that’s all quite secondary. Pelosi identifies herself as a Roman Catholic, which means she also, in addition to having a Lord and Savior Jesus the Christ, also has a series of offices and individuals tasked with guiding her in this earthly life in accordance with the Word of God, and thereby hopefully helping her avoid the dangerous sort of sin that could lead her to reject the grace of God in Jesus Christ for her own personal – and erroneous – ideas. Ideas like life is subject to government regulation of any kind, and that a person is defined by the number of cells they possess rather than their inherent identity as a unique creation of a loving God.

I applaud Archbishop Cordileone for this difficult step. It’s a step no spiritual overseer ever wants to have to make, because it means all other efforts to call someone to repentance have failed and they must be treated as an unbeliever in the hopes they will return to obedience to their God and Savior (1 Corinthians 5, etc.). A pastor or bishop or archbishop or pope never takes delight in doing this sort of thing. But there is a lot at stake for Nancy Pelosi eternally, and for the many people who look to her as a guide on morality. I pray she heeds the call to repentance. It won’t be easy. But now she should clearly understand what is at risk – eternity itself.

Because there can only be one Lord. And while Pelosi is free to serve her country, she does so guided by the Word of God, and is not free to act or speak against it except at the peril of her own soul, and the souls of those who look to her for guidance. What a beautiful example of humility and obedience and repentance she could be! We should all be praying for that.

Another Good Article

May 19, 2022

I think I’m going to continue to enjoy seeing posts from this blog site. The latest installment has to do with singing the psalms.

To be fair, I don’t think I ever sang the psalms congregationally for the first half or more of my life. Nor did a pastor or other person chant them in worship. They were often absent, or relegated to the printout of the readings on the back of the bulletin. I was vaguely aware that some congregations might actually incorporate them in some manner, but never thought much about it. That was ignorance on my part. That has to do I’m sure with number 2 on his list of why congregations don’t sing the psalms any more. We are culturally conditioned, and unfortunately our churches have allowed themselves to be culturally conditioned as well, so more ancient practices are less common or non-existent in many places. If the church doesn’t counter-condition members, then some beautiful things preserved for centuries get lost in a matter of a few months or years.

Nor do I think singing the psalms needs to be liturgically mandated. Again, I’m probably guilty of number 2. There are others who disagree with me strongly on this and I respect their position and think I understand why they hold it. While I’ve learned a lot about liturgical history I’m not positive we know exactly how Jesus sung them. What pointings? What tones? And Jesus as incarnate man was also culturally conditioned to a certain extent – a pious (to say the least!) Jew of the first century. We need to carefully think about whether his worship style and practice is descriptive or prescriptive.

But I do believe the psalms have an important and useful place in worship, and the more they are used – and used in their entirety – the better. I believe the appointed psalm for a Sunday should also be considered when preparing the sermon – just as I think all the assigned readings in a lectionary ought to be considered and not just the Gospel reading. A lectionary arranges these readings to complement one another to some degree (depending on the liturgical season), and to ignore this loses some of the depth possible in preaching.

When I was younger I didn’t like the psalms. Or more accurately, I didn’t think they offered much. I’ve changed my mind on that. Perhaps I’ll change my mind on the importance of chanting/singing them (and chanting/singing them a certain way). For now I’ll simply lend an amen to anything that provides the people of God with more regular and broad access to his Word and how it can be lived out in their public and private lives.

Why? Because it’s God’s Word, and this is supposed to make people uncomfortable and question their predispositions and assumptions about the world, their neighbors, and themselves. It should drive them to meditation and prayer and repentance regularly – ideally daily at least! And if Scripture is making us uncomfortable, it’s even more important to understand why that is.

Who Is Discriminating Against Whom?

May 18, 2022

Not a soccer fan, let alone follower. But I am an interested observer of the growing requirements on professionals in all fields who are required by their employers to actively support things that may conflict with their personal opinions, preferences, ideological, political or religious beliefs.

Case in point today, a soccer player who opted not to play a match. Salient initial facts:

  • The player requested not to play for personal reasons. No further reasons were offered or requested by the player’s club.
  • The player’s team still handily won the game.
  • The player has apparently not made any statements about his absence online or elsewhere (or I’m sure the article would have pointed those out.

You’d think this would be a non-story, right? Wrong. Of course it’s a story. But it may not be the story it ought to be.

Idrissa Gueye asked to be excused from play for a personal reason without making any public statements of any kind, but in doing so he missed a match where the team was required to wear rainbow themed shirts showing support for LGBTQ+ rights. This same player missed the same themed-match a year ago, which has led to the inquiries this year as to what personal reason he might have for not wanting to play.

The article makes it sound like the clubs have the option of participating in this activity. The player’s club apparently decides to participate. It sounds like the club at the very least is willing to not conduct interrogations of players who request not to play in a given match. Though of course at a salary of over $30million, such requests must understandably be few and far between. But because Gueye opted not to directly support LGBTQ+ by wearing a mandatory jersey, he’s under fire. He is not entitled to his opinion or ideas. Nobody is really. Not any more. Not in certain cultures and societies. Not in the realm of LGBTQ+ affirmations. And certainly not if you’re a highly visible athlete with millions of fans.

And to ensure this doesn’t keep happening (which would embarrass the insistence on a show of uniform support and encouragement), Gueye is being asked to explain his absence to an ethics board.

The hilarious irony is better illustrated in this short article, quoting how wonderfully supportive of diversity the LGBTQ+ movement is. If you accept their definition of diversity, which excludes anyone who disagrees with them, even someone who does so without making any more fuss out of it than absolutely needs to.

But the story this story doesn’t bother to tackle, doesn’t want to tackle, is the issue of personal religious beliefs and how they can or can’t be publicly shown or lived out. Gueye is apparently Muslim. Islam does not sanction homosexuality in any way. Gueye’s apparent attempt to live out the tenets of his faith are to be discarded under the insistance that he falsely show support for something expressly forbidden by his religion. But there’s no mention of this in the article. Only the implication that Gueye needs to be properly reprimanded soas not to dare remain faithful to his beliefs, and instead pledge his faith to whatever other banner his club or the French Football Federation or whomever might buy them out chooses to fly on any given day.

This is already a problem in American sports as well, where athletes are expected to wear whatever branding their team management deems necessary or appropriate. I doubt they are given an option about whether they agree with it or not. Which is why parents and grandparents need to be talking with their families about the future, about the increasing difficulty of living your life as a person of faith in a culture and society insisting on not simply tolerance, but affirmation of LGBTQ+ in general.

Masked under the inaccurate language of -phobia, as though people who disagree with LGBTQ+ are afflicted with some sort of irrational fear, employees today and increasingly in the future will not simply have to keep their beliefs private (which is problematic to begin with), but rather actively espouse beliefs contrary to their beliefs. People need to be helping young people both to recognize this and find ways of handling it, as it’s not going to change anytime soon, and is only going to increase in fierceness and frequency.

I disagree in general with the idea of being paid millions of dollars to play a game. Then again, I’m not very talented at any sports-like thing so maybe I’m just bitter. But what a shame for someone with the skills and the tenacity to excel in something being forced to become political instead of letting them do what you’re ostensibly paying them to do – play a game.

Unless of course you’re paying them to do something else – like influence millions of young fans no simply to take up a sport and refine their skills, but to take up ideologies that more and more are likely to contradict multiple tenets of people’s core beliefs.

Soft Peddling Drugs

May 17, 2022

I hate articles like this. I have no idea who this guy is and have never heard his music or witnessed his lifestyle. But he’s dead and probably didn’t need to die according to the tone of the article, citing past battles over the years with drugs and alcohol. But this is glossed over with the following statement he was clean and sober of late.

We’ve seen no shortage of luminous, talented celebrities dying before any of us were ready to handle their absence. And in no small measure, a stunning majority likely had their battles over the years with drugs and alcohol, even if they had eventually given up such habits or bowed to the necessities of age in growing more moderate. Without fail, the articles about their passing never condemn drug and alcohol abuse as true contributing factors in any substantive ways. Even if autopsy results credit drugs and alcohol, this is often chalked up to the celebrity lifestyle, as if talent is some sort of immunity against the very physical as well as mental and spiritual debilitations of substance abuse, prescribed or otherwise.

Until success is no longer viewed as justification for such abuse, deaths like this will continue to occur. None of us knows the number of our days, to be sure. But certainly certain practices up the odds that we will leave this earth sooner that we (or others) might prefer.

Granted, the Rolling Stones are a singular exception to this, but exceptions by no means invalidate well-defined rules and expectations!

So it’s too bad this guy died. Too bad he might have come to his senses too late, after apparently considerable damage had already been done, and I pray his hope and faith was ultimately not in his dealer but in his Lord and Savior Jesus the Christ. I pray other rising stars take seriously these examples, and I pray the media-subset that thrives on celebrity lives and lifestyles would quit condoning and approving of such indulgences with a wink-wink-nod-nod sort of reporting style.

Too Good to Pass Up!

May 16, 2022

One more nearly forgotten article, but one too rich in possibilities and disappointments to pass up!

Imagine being attacked by a random person, dragged from your house, stabbed multiple times and left for dead. Imagine being able to drag yourself back inside and call for help, only to have the assailant return and try to batter his way into your home again.

What would your attitude towards your attacker be?

If you’re Christian, you should know what your response should be, right?

Forgiveness?

Not the sloppy, cultural forgiveness of pretending a wrong didn’t really happen, but the forgiveness that acknowledges a wrong was done and chooses to forgive because we are daily (hourly) forgiven in Christ. Could you imagine yourself doing that? What about forgiving someone who sought to hurt someone you love?

That’s what makes this article so tantalizing and yet frustrating. Go ahead and read it. It isn’t long. How does it resonate with you?

As the judge says at the end of the article in praising the victim, “If it (is the motive for not requesting an apology)is the consequence of faith I envy it.”

The article doesn’t use the word forgiveness, but it’s a good example of what it might look like. It never clarifies a motivation for such an incredibly loving response to an apparently random and inconceivable act of violence. The victim hints that the comfort and status of his own life compared to the assailants leads him to the conclusion he has no reason to bear a grudge of any kind. Would he respond differently if he had been assaulted by someone more successful, more comfortable?

The victim’s statement at the end of the article is further maddening. I think in these situations there’s no right, so go with it. What does that even mean? He likes the idea of providing people with tools to think about hard situations differently, but doesn’t provide any tools at all, just an outcome. I’d love to know more about his rationale, what led him to seek for and be concerned about the welfare of his assailant as much as his own.

It’s a worthy example of what forgiveness might look like, minus any reason for choosing this path over a more bitter response. I presume he would consider a more bitter response less ideal than his own, but then claims there’s really no basis at all for how to respond. Such logic essentially removes the criminality of the assailant, if there is no objective guidance about moral truth to help determine not only what actions are right and wrong, but what proper responses are when such boundaries are violated.

Church Authority

May 10, 2022

An interesting – if too vague – article on the necessity of Church authority. By this, the author basically means every professing Christian ought to submit themselves to the authority of a church body – a local Christian congregation. Church membership as a whole continues to decline in the Western world, even as reported rates of theism in America remain very strong. Clearly there seems to be a trend where people believe they can believe in Jesus without being part of a Church. This article – rightly – questions this assertion and boldly questions such rationale.

I like his terminology – theological anarchist – for those who profess to be followers of Jesus Christ but refuse to submit to the authority of the Church. The typical rationale – the risk of abuse of power within the Church – is not a valid rationale as the author rightly points out. Jesus established the Church not to be perfect but to be the place in this world where the faithful can be fed and nourished (albeit imperfectly) towards their eternal place in the perfect creation that is already inbreaking. Sometimes it is not possible to be connected to a community of believers because of intense risk and danger. However it’s interesting that it is in exactly such conditions the Church seems most resolute and permanent. Not as an institution but as the reality of Christians gathering together to sustain their souls by the promises of God conveyed in the reality of brothers and sisters willing to risk this short, frail, mortal coil to affirm the equal reality of what all believers are supposed to be anticipating. Japanese Christians had to hide for a time but did continue to meet. The same happened in China and the USSR and other places where Christianity and the Church were suppressed or outlawed.

What remains as a rationale for avoiding submission to Church authority is something else, something far more personal. The author’s language is very strong here, offensive even. But isn’t the refusal to submit to Church authority equally offensive? Isn’t the assertion that no congregation is good enough for me offensive, even if the person hasn’t thought about it like that before?

I think the article can be a bit misleading in the title. It led me to expect a discussion about the exercising of church discipline and authority over members as opposed to the need and mandate for submission to Church authority vis a vis membership or attendance or however you want to name serious commitment. Committing to a community of faith is often, tragically, only a commitment of convenience, lasting only as long as the individual happens to agree with what is said and done and asked of them, and terminated when it suits their personal preferences as opposed to for reasons of heresy or theological error.

Of course this is a dominant problem in America and the West where individualism is reaching absurdist heights, and the Church is not exempt from these problems. Good but competing models such as democracy are often absorbed into congregational polity. Sometimes they can be good. Sometimes they can be harmful. But most dangerous is when they are confused with the Church, with the Gospel, with God’s will and work in our lives and world which is only and ever in Christ and not in the well-intentioned creations of any other person or group.

The Church is not -as some insist – part of such a subset of human-created ideas and institutions. The Church is Christ’s command and creation (Matthew 16:18). It is not perfect, but it will be, just as every individual who is part of it is not perfect but by the grace of God in Jesus Christ one day will be. As surely as I am not perfect, no congregation is perfect. That does not excuse me from the necessity of being part of one. To profess an invisible Lord while refusing to submit to that Lord’s visible, though imperfect Church is problematic in the extreme.

As a note, the questions and answers with Biblical citations at the end are from the Westminster Larger Catechism, crafted for use by the Church of Scotland in 1647 and followed by many Presbyterian church bodies. I don’t agree with all of the statements printed at the end of this article (I’m not Presbyterian!), but the author feels they help support some of his assertions.

Hospitality, Meals & Scripture

May 9, 2022

I’ve had a long interest in the intersection of hospitality, meals and Scripture. The Bible frequently uses the language of food and feeding to teach spiritual truths, and hospitality is not only repeatedly described throughout the Bible (Genesis 18, as just a single example), it is also prescribed (Hebrews 13:2 as just a single example and related most likely to Genesis 18).

I finally verified something I suspected for years – I have access to a theological database called Atla (originally short for American Theological Libraray Association). So now I can start to research what others have said on this topic as I continue to draw my own conclusions from the Word.

The first article I read can’t be accessed without paying for it (unless you also have access to Atla). It’s by a Presbyterian pastor in North Carolina by the name of David W. Priddy. The essay is entitled Eating with penitence: An essay on the local church eating responsibly (sic) and it was published in the Review & Expositor, a quarterly Baptist theological journal.

Priddy’s thesis deals with what the local church can do towards food reform and agricultural renewal. He posits three key issues. Firstly, a high regard for Word and Sacrament; secondly, examining the role of meals in Scripture (particularly the New Testament) and specifically in association with themes of judgement and a call to humility; and thirdly, the importance of continued remorse over sin (penitence).

Although at times abstruse, Priddy does a good job outlining these key issues, and I concur with most of the ideas he presents. Although we come from different denominational backgrounds I suspect we’d have a lot in common theologically, at least on this particular topic.

The only difficulty I had with the essay was his disdain for the history of some property owned by his congregation. His difficulty reflects modern notions of contemporary remorse (penitence) as well as potentially the appropriateness of some sort of compensation for past injustices (penance) although he stops short of such an assertion here. He relates how a 200-acre plot of land and large home was donated to his congregation well over 100 years ago (perhaps as long as 170 years ago). The problem isn’t the property per se, though Priddy has ideas about how it could be better put to use in food reform and agricultural renewal. The problem is the man who donated it to the church owned at least ten slaves and apparently sired children through at least one of them (and it’s implied that it was far more). The congregation’s fellowship hall is named after this man, something Priddy clearly finds offensive and problematic.

However in the little he says in the essay, it’s hard to know whether Priddy has investigated the donor’s penitence. The life of faith is indeed a constant one of confession and absolution, of contrition as well as accepting the gracious forgiveness of God, something Priddy highlights admirably in his brief discussion of historic liturgical formulations. Yet the presumed damning evidence of the congregation’s benefactor all those years ago leaves little room in Priddy’s words or spirit for the idea of forgiveness either sought or granted, the idea that the offending donor might have in fact been penitent, which may have spurred his donation of land to the church as an act of penance.

Priddy speaks a lot about penitence but very little about absolution and this is most clear in this real-world application. The Church must speak this loudly in the face of rising intolerance in cancel-culture. The irony is that culture has discarded Church, the Bible and God, and with it the only worldly assurance – and demand – for forgiveness and absolution. In lieu of this we are now daily on trial by a culture that rapidly evolves in it’s ideas about what is right and wrong, acceptable and unacceptable, and that views any past sins of either omission or commission as equally damnable and irredeemable. The psalmist might these days say If you, O Culture, should mark iniquities, O Culture, who could stand? (Psalm 130:3, modified). The answer is no one, and unfortunately Priddy conveys a similar unwillingness to accept the possibility of penitence or penance if the sin is great enough, and therefore denies effectively the possibility of forgiveness and grace – certainly in this world and if so, then perhaps in the creation to come.

Pastors and congregations do have an opportunity to encourage members to reflect more on the choices they make as consumers (in this case, specifically as consumers of food products). While I don’t have the basis Priddy apparently does to label the entire food industry as essentially evil, I recognize wholeheartedly there are some major problems that affect land and health. Congregations have the opportunity to read Scripture with an ear towards how these topics are discussed, avoiding the temptation to simply apply Biblically-specific verses and situations to modern-day issues, yet recognizing the Church is continually called to contrition and penitence as well as to joyfully proclaiming the forgiveness won for us in Christ. Failure to do either inevitably leads to darkness.

I’m excited by the prospect of continued research and academic engagement, and grateful my seminary provides this benefit to alum, particularly now that my work has taken me to places where obtaining physical books (including my own professional library in boxes in storage) is either impossible or unreasonably expensive!

Japan’s Hidden Christians

May 4, 2022

Offered here without commentary, but as an invitation for you to contemplate for yourself. How does this align with traditional, historical Christianity? Does it now? Is it necessary today simply because it was once necessary? Not nearly enough information here to draw strong conclusions on, but enough food for thought to stimulate personal reflection, hopefully.

The brief highlighting of this aspect of Christian history a few years ago was fanned into flame by both the book, Silence, and the movie. I’ve yet to see the movie, and I suspect it wouldn’t add much to the sparseness of the book. A reminder of the costs faith sometimes incurs, and the ways people attempt to deal with those costs.

As a further aside, this looks like a fascinating site for short videos on a variety of intriguing subjects!

An Important Reminder

May 3, 2022

Freedom of religion as a Constitutional creation is not the means by which the Church should protect itself from the world, nor the means by which the Church should push the world to conform. Other religions have and do make those mistakes. For the Christian, we have to be wiser than this, even if it means watching once-taken-for-granted morality basics redefined or eliminated. Seeking to do away with or redefine freedom of religion is therefore not a game we ought to be engaged in. This is a good essay reminding Christians where we profess our hope lies, and encouraging us to align our intellects as well.

Catching Up, Philosophically

May 1, 2022

Now that I have reliable Internet for the first time in almost three months, I want to catch up on a backlog of bookmarked articles to share or comment on.

First up (literally) is this article explaining the prevalence of scientism in the West, and noting the fundamental philosophical flaws that render it’s confidence problematic at best, dangerous at worst. If we’re honest with ourselves, all of us as Westerners raised in the 21st century suffer from this to some extent. Living in another part of the world for a while, I begin to realize the extent goes a lot deeper than I’d like to think. The author’s distinction of scientism zealots vs. agnostics is helpful in this regard.

Realizing that even in Christian communities there are a lot of folks who are effectively scientism agnostics even though they profess Jesus as Lord and Savior is complicated, to say the least. Examining our own ideas about things is a good place to start, both towards humble reconciliation with what we claim is Truth, as well as loving care and outreach to others struggling with these two irreconcilable ideas of truth.