Wednesday, August 23, 2017

The Bible knows nothing of solitary religion

This week as I left my new church family to attend to my father's funeral, I was reminded that even though I was far away, we were still connected through prayers and bonds of Christian friendship. As I presented the homily to those assembled for the funeral, I saw Christians and non-christians together and realized that in order to reach the un-churched and the anti-christians we need to not wait for special occasions like weddings and funerals in order to share the Faith. We can't keep it to ourselves. The story must be told.

A post at Patheos last December by Ben Witherington titled "The Narcissism of ‘Solitary Religion’"
reinforces my impression.

"Augustine tells the story of Victorinus, professor of rhetoric at Rome. Victorinus had a lot of sympathy with Christianity, and used to read the Bible and Christian books. He would say to Simplician ‘You know I really am a Christian already.’ Simplician would reply ‘I will not believe it, nor will I rank you among Christians, until I see you in the Church of Christ.’ Victorinus would reply ‘Do walls make Christians?’ He kept the jest up for a long time, but in the end the professor came where he knew he belonged, and joined the mixed company of the Church of Rome.It has always been so. It was at the beginnings of Methodism when a ‘serious man’, we do not know his name, said to John Wesley, ‘Sir, you wish to serve God and go to heaven? Remember that you cannot serve him alone. You therefore must find companions or make them. The Bible knows nothing of solitary religion.’"

We have to share His story. I believe that in order to do so we have to study, study, study, and live and grow in Faith with a Christian community.

They are out there.

Don't be fooled by cheap imitations.

Sunday, August 20, 2017

Paul, Paul, Why Do We Ignore Thee So?

This Sunday, the Revised Common Lectionary (RCL) cuts out 80% of the 11th chapter of Romans (Romans 11:1-2, 29-32). As I am prone to do on these pages, I point out the gaps and present the verses as intended by the original author. If you went to church today and only heard the RCL version, here is what Paul really wrote to the Gentile Christians in Rome as he tried to explain how they relate to the Jews,

Romans 11
I ask, then, has God rejected his people? By no means! I myself am an Israelite, a descendant of Abraham, a member of the tribe of Benjamin. God has not rejected his people whom he foreknew. Do you not know what the scripture says of Elijah, how he pleads with God against Israel? ‘Lord, they have killed your prophets, they have demolished your altars; I alone am left, and they are seeking my life.’ But what is the divine reply to him? ‘I have kept for myself seven thousand who have not bowed the knee to Baal.’ So too at the present time there is a remnant, chosen by grace. But if it is by grace, it is no longer on the basis of works, otherwise grace would no longer be grace.
What then? Israel failed to obtain what it was seeking. The elect obtained it, but the rest were hardened, as it is written,‘God gave them a sluggish spirit,   eyes that would not see   and ears that would not hear,down to this very day.’ And David says,‘Let their table become a snare and a trap,   a stumbling-block and a retribution for them; let their eyes be darkened so that they cannot see,   and keep their backs for ever bent.’So I ask, have they stumbled so as to fall? By no means! But through their stumbling salvation has come to the Gentiles, so as to make Israel jealous. Now if their stumbling means riches for the world, and if their defeat means riches for Gentiles, how much more will their full inclusion mean!
Now I am speaking to you Gentiles. Inasmuch then as I am an apostle to the Gentiles, I glorify my ministry in order to make my own people jealous, and thus save some of them. For if their rejection is the reconciliation of the world, what will their acceptance be but life from the dead! If the part of the dough offered as first fruits is holy, then the whole batch is holy; and if the root is holy, then the branches also are holy.
But if some of the branches were broken off, and you, a wild olive shoot, were grafted in their place to share the rich root of the olive tree, do not vaunt yourselves over the branches. If you do vaunt yourselves, remember that it is not you that support the root, but the root that supports you. You will say, ‘Branches were broken off so that I might be grafted in.’ That is true. They were broken off because of their unbelief, but you stand only through faith. So do not become proud, but stand in awe. For if God did not spare the natural branches, perhaps he will not spare you. Note then the kindness and the severity of God: severity towards those who have fallen, but God’s kindness towards you, provided you continue in his kindness; otherwise you also will be cut off. And even those of Israel, if they do not persist in unbelief, will be grafted in, for God has the power to graft them in again. For if you have been cut from what is by nature a wild olive tree and grafted, contrary to nature, into a cultivated olive tree, how much more will these natural branches be grafted back into their own olive tree.So that you may not claim to be wiser than you are, brothers and sisters, I want you to understand this mystery: a hardening has come upon part of Israel, until the full number of the Gentiles has come in. And so all Israel will be saved; as it is written,‘Out of Zion will come the Deliverer;   he will banish ungodliness from Jacob.’ ‘And this is my covenant with them,   when I take away their sins.’ As regards the gospel they are enemies of God for your sake; but as regards election they are beloved, for the sake of their ancestors; for the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable. Just as you were once disobedient to God but have now received mercy because of their disobedience, so they have now been disobedient in order that, by the mercy shown to you, they too may now receive mercy. For God has imprisoned all in disobedience so that he may be merciful to all.

All too often, the Epistles are glossed over on Sunday morning, and I predict that will be the case today in many churches that follow the RCL. As a child, I found Romans very difficult to understand, probably because all I heard was little snippets and not the entire letter and never a Bible study about Romans. If you are just a Sunday church goer, you may get a similar distorted view of Paul and his letters.  It pays to read the whole thing, and it would be even better to study it with a group of fellow Christians. 

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Do Liberalism and Sexual liberation lead us to "Transhumanism"?

A rather lengthy article crossed my desk the other day from Crisis Magazine. In it, the author discusses the "transhumanism" movement which I describe as certain people's goal to move their consciousness into an artificial intelligence, to leave their brains and bodies behind and become a non-human or "transhuman". To me, this is a natural progression of the trans-sexual movement with which our society is currently enraptured. Where "liberalism" fits into this trend depends on how one defines liberalism and that is why you should probably take the time to read the entire article. If you just want some key points, let me provide them here.
"Liberalism, remaining officially neutral on the subject of ultimate goods, serves to enshrine preference satisfaction as the ultimate good. Liberalism can’t help but privilege rights over duties and so undermines, even to the point of erasure, the conception of human dignity out of which duties arise. By making preference sovereign, liberalism communicates what we might call a proto-transhumanist anthropology. It says, humans are what they desire to become. You are what you want."
The current gender confusion that today's children are being taught is exactly this, "You are what you want." This liberal indoctrination creates questions of personal identity for our young which are unlikely to be answered by the ever changing "wants" of their all too human minds. I suspect transhumanists want an improvement upon the human mind. Who knows what wants a transhuman intelligence will desire next?

Connecting the dots of liberalism's technological understanding of sex as something that satisfies "wants" to the transhuman movement which proclaims the superiority of the artificial brain and body, the author continues,
"The liberal understanding of sex sanctions the pursuit of mastery over natality, and it is a short step from desiring control over natality to desiring control over mortality. Transhumanists explicitly conceive of the two as linked; their goal to defeat death is frequently parsed as a goal to manipulate life."
"As Michael Hanby explains it,
'if knowledge of nature is really engineering, then the truth of this knowledge is essentially whatever is technically possible. But since the ultimate limits of possibility can only be discovered by perpetually transgressing the present limits of possibility, a technological view of nature and truth commences an interminable revolution against every antecedent order or given limit. A thoroughgoing technological society will therefore establish revolution as a permanent principle, paradoxically giving it the stability of an institutional form.'"
"Revolution as a permanent principle", where have we heard that before?

What does all of this have to do with God and religion?
"To surrender to technology, just as to surrender to sexual license, is to abandon the possibility of discovering transcendent truth. Both sexual liberation and transhumanism are blind to the historical, philosophical, and theological foundations that make truth humanly attainable. Both movements devote their energies to engineering a world where truth is no longer necessary, where the givenness of the world we inhabit is entirely subverted. This is surely what makes an anti-culture: the labor to erase every trace of an order that demands reverence for permanent things (the marriage bond, parenthood, the sexual lineaments of the soul…)."
Welcome to the present world, the world of the "anti-culture". It is hard for most of us to understand its attraction. The way of Jesus seems much more attractive to me.

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved

This week's Gospel reading relates the story of Jesus walking on the water and Peter sinking in the same sea. I have commented on this every three years for a while now so I am going to ask my dear readers to look over this Sunday's Epistle selection, Romans 10:5-15

Moses writes concerning the righteousness that comes from the law, that ‘the person who does these things will live by them.’ But the righteousness that comes from faith says, ‘Do not say in your heart, “Who will ascend into heaven?” ’ (that is, to bring Christ down) ‘or “Who will descend into the abyss?” ’ (that is, to bring Christ up from the dead). But what does it say?‘The word is near you,   on your lips and in your heart’(that is, the word of faith that we proclaim); because if you confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For one believes with the heart and so is justified, and one confesses with the mouth and so is saved. The scripture says, ‘No one who believes in him will be put to shame.’ For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; the same Lord is Lord of all and is generous to all who call on him. For, ‘Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.’
 But how are they to call on one in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in one of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone to proclaim him? And how are they to proclaim him unless they are sent? As it is written, ‘How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!’
As I write this, I am grieving the death of my father who passed away today. Grief mixed with gladness because just last year he confessed to me his belief in Jesus and that he knew that he was saved. My father was very old, and he knew that his days were numbered. Not everyone is so aware, and for that reason these verses from Romans should be kept in our minds as we interact with unbelievers.
But how are they to call on one in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in one of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone to proclaim him?
Confess out loud that Christ is Lord. The world is dying to hear it!

Wednesday, August 09, 2017

Where Dying Congregations Go To Die

The story came from Waco Texas and The Waco Tribune-Herald: "Dwindling congregation forces sale of 133-year-old Waco Lutheran church", and it made the rounds on social media a couple of weeks ago. I waited and waited for someone to pick up on the irony hidden in the story. Seeing none, I present it for your puzzled minds.

In the story, a Lutheran parish that is part of the liberal wing of American Lutherans was forced to sell their building because their average Sunday attendance had fallen drastically. They sold it to an up and coming Anglican Church in North America congregation. This might seem ironic to some, but what it really says is that there are consequences to be had from promoting a faulty theology of human sexuality.

The real irony is where the dying congregation is going to meet for worship in the future,
"The membership will meet temporarily now at Connally-Compton Funeral Directors on West Waco Drive until plans for a more-permanent location are finalized."
I will leave it to my reader's imaginations as to what that more-permanent location might be.

Grab your shovels folks.


Sunday, August 06, 2017

Why Did They Keep Silent?

This Sunday is the Feast of the Transfiguration of the Lord, and the assigned Gospel reading is Luke 9:28-36,
 "Now about eight days after these sayings Jesus took with him Peter and John and James, and went up on the mountain to pray. And while he was praying, the appearance of his face changed, and his clothes became dazzling white. Suddenly they saw two men, Moses and Elijah, talking to him. They appeared in glory and were speaking of his departure, which he was about to accomplish at Jerusalem. Now Peter and his companions were weighed down with sleep; but since they had stayed awake, they saw his glory and the two men who stood with him. Just as they were leaving him, Peter said to Jesus, ‘Master, it is good for us to be here; let us make three dwellings, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah’—not knowing what he said. While he was saying this, a cloud came and overshadowed them; and they were terrified as they entered the cloud. Then from the cloud came a voice that said, ‘This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him!’ When the voice had spoken, Jesus was found alone. And they kept silent and in those days told no one any of the things they had seen."
We are left to speculate as to why Peter, John, and James kept silent. They were not instructed by the Lord to do so. I always thought that they were afraid that if they spoke, no one would believe them, or worse, they would be accused of blasphemy. After the resurrection and the reception of the Holy Spirit, these three were transformed and given the courage to testify as to what had occurred on that mountain.

Matthew Henry (1662 – 1714) in his Commentary puts it this way,
"Lastly, The apostles are here said to have kept this vision private. They told no man in those days, reserving the discovery of it for another opportunity, when the evidences of Christ’s being the Son of God were completed in the pouring out of the Spirit, and that doctrine was to be published to all the world. As there is a time to speak, so there is a time to keep silence. Every thing is beautiful and useful in its season."
"Everything is beautiful"? Sorry but I couldn't resist,



I cannot keep silent. I have seen a lot of ugliness and can testify that not everything is beautiful.

Wednesday, August 02, 2017

A Welsh Bishop's Mad Belief


In case you missed it, the Welsh have gone all in for women's ordination to the point where they just "enthroned" their second female bishop, and now women make up 1/3 of Welsh bishops. June Osborne, the 72nd Bishop of Llandaff in Wales was enthroned on July 22, 2017 (H/T Ancient Briton).

If history is our guide and the Episcopal organization (TEc) is the reference to which one looks for the effects of women's ordination and female bishops on a Church, the Church in Wales is in for a slide into irrelevance. TEc has been losing members by the millions and women's ordination has done nothing to slow the decline. If anything, the decline seems to have accelerated since women started filling the ranks of the clergy in 1977.

Why is it that the presence of women in the priesthood has done nothing to stem the tide? I think that Bishop June Osborne gave us a hint in her first sermon as Bishop of Llandaff when she said,
“I believe truly, madly and deeply in pastoral ministry within a local context."
Now don't get me wrong, I believe in pastoral ministry too. It is an important part of caring for people. The only problem with a true, mad, and deep belief in pastoral ministry is that it can create an imbalance in the other important components of ministry. Administration, handling staff, teaching, preaching, and most of all evangelizing all tend to become  subordinate to pastoral care. The consequence of an imbalance in ministry is the ruin of the Church.

So here comes the sticky part. Many people entering Episcopal and probably Welsh seminaries already have a strong caring personality type. This may be one of the factors leading to their feeling of a calling to serve others as a priest. Note that I did not say "serve God as a priest". Once placed in a parish, all the years of education cannot keep the average priest from slipping into "pastoral care mode" once they are given charge over a congregation of needy individuals. This is a particular problem for smaller congregations who cannot afford an assistant priest or a deacon.

Like it or not, women are often seen as more caring and therefore may be considered by a bishop who comes from a pastoral background to be better suited for the role of delivering pastoral care.

Once a diocese gets a critical mass of women priests, and enough become bishops, guess what type of priests those bishops are more likely to bring in to take charge of their parish churches?

You got it, priests who also believe "truly madly and deeply" about local pastoral care. More likely than not many of those will be female.

Not an evangelical will be found in the lot.

And the Church will decline.

It is truly maddening.