Wednesday, March 25, 2015

"The Problem That Intelligent Traditionalists Face"



The so called "Marriage Equality" bandwagon has been rolling across America with the help of a number of Federal courts. Today's youth and a large percentage of adults are in favor of redefining marriage to mean more than just "traditional" male-female marriage. Such things do not happen without an underlying cultural shift.

What causes cultural shifts? Typically people think of the following,
  1. Invention (the creation of something novel)
  2. Discovery (new knowledge)
  3. Diffusion (contact with other cultures)
  4. Conflict (war and conquest)
While some might argue that #2 or "New Knowledge" concerning marriage is the primary reason behind the shift in society's opinion about marriage equality, I would argue that the new knowledge of which they speak is not grounded on reality but instead derives from both a loss of "old knowledge" and a flood of false knowledge coming from the primary sources of information from which today's people learn about the world. Carl R. Trueman ( Professor of Church History at Westminster Theological Seminary) in a piece over at First Things puts it this way (I have purposely reversed the order of these two paragraphs),
"Most people gain their understanding of selfhood not from reading Thomas Aquinas but from watching The Bold and the Beautiful and following the antics of the Kardashians. We who advocate for traditional marriage and sexuality are at a huge disadvantage in the public square because we simply do not have the access to the kinds of tools exemplified by Will and Grace and Transparent. As we try to argue for our position, our opponents have simply narrated theirs, identifying their revolutionary positions with the reasonable and the normal by using the most apparently harmless and familiar of cultural idioms."  
"Some months ago, I was asked by a student how I would argue in the public square against gay marriage. I answered that I regarded Robert George’s work in the area to be compelling but I also observed that the work had seemingly persuaded nobody to change their minds. The reason for this is simple: Gay marriage has not become normalized through the presentation of arguments (though that is not to deny that many of its proponents have made arguments). It has become normalized through the Will and Grace factor: The impact of comfortable, sentimentalized, middle-class sitcoms, soap operas and their like in which no-one is ever seriously hurt, no action ever has wider social ramifications, and niceness triumphs every time."  
While we traditionalists do not have "Will and Grace" gravitas, we have a narrative which will out live all of the world's sit-coms and celebrities. The Gospel narrative is the story which the world needs to hear, not the shenanigans of the Kardashians or the latest sexual experiments being promoted by the popular media outlets. The Church must remain the unpopular counter cultural voice that can re-tell the Gospel as it has been handed down to us. The Church must repeat the words of Jesus which were as unpopular then as they are today, words like,

“Have you not read that He who made them at the beginning ‘made them male and female,’ and said, ‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’?  So then, they are no longer two but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let not man separate.” Matthew 19:4-6  NKJV

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Shun the Labyrinth!


After last year's fun we had with Wallace Hartley's version of "Your Labyrinth Won't Get You Into Heaven Anymore", I thought that the church had seen the last of this new age travelling spiritual floor show, but no, the roll out labyrinth made its reappearance today. It was greeted by huge crowds of maze walkers as you can tell from the photo above.

Let's face it, the labyrinth is nothing more than patterns on the floor. If we need it to help guide us in prayer, then the church has not been doing a very good job with its worship services and disciple development. In fact, the modern labyrinth movement came out of the mind of a San Francisco priestette by the name of Reverend Lauren Artress whose web page traces the less than Christian principles behind the enterprise.
"Walking the labyrinth is a spiritual exercise. My approach is to offer the labyrinth as a free and save space for personal exploration. There is no right way to walk a labyrinth. Using this guideline, the walker’s inner world becomes transparent to them. Dynamics not ordinarily recognized ---one’s relatioinship to rules, projections of judgment, impatience --- become crystallized into metaphor. The labyrinth is a place where the mind empties and one discovers interior silence. The path of the labyrinth becomes a metaphor for our spiritual lives. It is a safe container with clear boundaries."
"Through walking the labyrinth, I teach a process that opens the Divine Imagination. This is based on family systems theory; psychdynamic group work based on the English school of object-relation theory. The work of symbolic fields has a Jungian base, since I am working with archetypes, symbol, shadow and encounters with collective unconscious. Transpersonal theory and methods of change is also woven into my lectures and the designing of each event."
 And it is an enterprise. These temporary labyrinths cost a dizzying 2,900 -3,400 dollars apiece, and you can shell out a few more bucks to buy books on the subject, but why bother when you can read this blog for free!

The labyrinth itself predates Christianity and was made famous by the story of Theseus and the Minotaur. The Minotaur supposedly lived in the labyrinth at Knossos on Crete and was killed by the brave young Theseus.

The labyrinth and similar patterns are popular in Wiccan circles as well. Hecate's Wheel is one such symbol used by some traditions of Wicca.


"It seems to be most popular among feminist traditions, and represents the three aspects of the Goddess -- Maiden, Mother and Crone. This labyrinth-like symbol has origins in Greek legend, where Hecate was known as a guardian of the crossroads before she evolved into a goddess of magic and sorcery.According to fragmentary texts of the Chaldean Oracles, Hecate is connected to a maze which spiraled around like a serpent. This maze was known as the Stropholos of Hecate, or Hecate's Wheel, and refers to the power of knowledge and life. Traditionally, a Hecate-style labyrinth has a Y in the middle, rather than the typical X shape found at the center of most labyrinths. Images of Hecate and her wheel have been found on first-century c.e. curse tablets..."
Personally, if one prays to God in the name of Christ Jesus, I don't think it matters if you are alone in your closet, with two or three gathered together, walking in circles, or standing on your head, but the labyrinth movement is less about Jesus and more about oneself, and for that reason it should be shunned.

"When thou art come into the land which the Lord thy God giveth thee, thou shalt not learn to do after the abominations of those nations.
There shall not be found among you any one that maketh his son or his daughter to pass through the fire, or that useth divination, or an observer of times, or an enchanter, or a witch.
Or a charmer, or a consulter with familiar spirits, or a wizard, or a necromancer.
For all that do these things are an abomination unto the Lord: and because of these abominations the Lord thy God doth drive them out from before thee." Deuteronomy 18:9-12 (KJV) 

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Who Walked Away? Not the Diocese of South Carolina

In an interview with Genelle B. Williams of the Jasper County Sun Times, the Rev'd James Gibson (who posts at Locusts and Wild Honey) attempts to explain that the Diocese of South Carolina wasn't the one that first walked away from the Church.

“The national church has kind of moved in the direction of saying that Jesus Christ is a way, but not the way,” he said. “And that has been a cause of some problems for a number of people in the diocese.”
“Our contention is that we have kept the faith, we have stayed within the historic faith of the church and that our diocese, in the decision it has made to disaffiliate with the national church, is not ‘leaving’ the church,” Gibson said.

James Gibson+ may sound like he is using harsh words, but he is merely restating something the Presiding Bishop has taught as shown in the video clip below,



The Presiding Bishop would stand condemned under XVIII of the Articles of Religion if they had any meaning for the Episcopal church. For those of you who need a reminder,

XVIII, Of obtaining eternal Salvation only by the Name of Christ. 
They also are to be had accursed that presume to say, That every man shall be saved by the Law or Sect which he professeth, so that he be diligent to frame his life according to that Law, and the light of Nature. For Holy Scripture doth set out unto us only the Name of Jesus Christ, whereby men must be saved.
The Articles tell it like it is in that they reflect what is found in the Gospel.

KTF James.

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Forget the Snake, Gaze Upon the Cross

One thing that always puzzled me in my Bible studies was the incident of the snake on a stick from the Book of Numbers,

"From Mount Hor they set out by the way to the Red Sea, to go around the land of Edom; but the people became impatient on the way. The people spoke against God and against Moses, ‘Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? For there is no food and no water, and we detest this miserable food.’ Then the Lord sent poisonous serpents among the people, and they bit the people, so that many Israelites died. The people came to Moses and said, ‘We have sinned by speaking against the Lord and against you; pray to the Lord to take away the serpents from us.’ So Moses prayed for the people. And the Lord said to Moses, ‘Make a poisonous serpent, and set it on a pole; and everyone who is bitten shall look at it and live.’ So Moses made a serpent of bronze, and put it upon a pole; and whenever a serpent bit someone, that person would look at the serpent of bronze and live." Numbers 21:4-9


 It seems odd that God would have Moses make a bronze serpent in light of that little incident with the golden calf and considering the commandments we heard last week in Exodus 20:4-6,

"You shall not make for yourself an idol, whether in the form of anything that is in heaven above, or that is on the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I the LORD your God am a jealous God, punishing children for the iniquity of parents, to the third and the fourth generation of those who reject me, but showing steadfast love to the thousandth generation of those who love me and keep my commandments."

It took the Gospel of John which we heard today to shed light on this seeming inconsistency.

And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.
‘For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.
‘Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. Those who believe in him are not condemned; but those who do not believe are condemned already, because they have not believed in the name of the only Son of God. And this is the judgement, that the light has come into the world, and people loved darkness rather than light because their deeds were evil. For all who do evil hate the light and do not come to the light, so that their deeds may not be exposed. But those who do what is true come to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that their deeds have been done in God.’ John 3:14-21
Some churches that I have visited recently were remarkable to me in their lack of visual representations of  the cross, the absence of stained glass and images from the Bible. It is as if those church buildings were designed with a strict interpretation of Exodus 20:4-6 in mind, but seeing John 3:14-21 in light of Numbers 21:4-9 gives me confidence that when I lift my eyes to gaze upon a Cross or a Crucifix that I am not engaging in idolatry, but instead I am looking for healing, a healing that will demand my soul.

"When I survey the wondrous cross
On which the Prince of Glory died
My richest gain I count but loss
And pour contempt on all my pride
Forbid it Lord that I should boast
Save in the death of Christ my God
All the vain things that charm me most
I sacrifice them to His blood
See from His head His hands His feet
Sorrow and love flow mingled down
Did e'er such love and sorrow meet
Or thorns compose so rich a crown
Were the whole realm of nature mine
That were an offering far too small
Love so amazing so divine
Demands my soul
Demands my soul
Love demands my soul
My life my all"
-Issac Watts


Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Optimism Has Been Immoderately Praised, But How Different is All This From New Testament Hope!

The following is an excerpt from "When Hope Is Dead, Hope On!" by W.E. Sangster (1900-1960). According to the Classic Sermon pages, "Sangster was a Methodist minister in London during World War II.  This message  was first preached during one of the many difficult times of the war for the British people." In our troubled times, it is often helpful to look back at how others coped with the world's horrors.

Of course we appreciate optimism, and willingly admit its simple service to the community, but it has been immoderately praised, and fully explains the world's cynicism concerning hope. Boisterous confidence which has no solid foundation looks pitifully ludicrous when crushing disappointment comes, and deepens the contempt in which it is widely held by the disillusioned. Looking at the the bright side of things may seem both bold and brave, but it involves also (as it so often does) a foolish neglect of facts which point the other way, it only adds to the bitterness of ultimate failure. A friend of mine, who used to be in the legal profession, tells me that he often wound up [terminated as a failure or bankruptcy] the business of people who WOULD persist in looking on the bright side of their accounts! 
But how different is all this from New Testament hope! It is as different as the gambler's dice from the proved results of accurate research. We go forward into this dark period in our nation's life, not inflated with the foolish optimism which seems to give buoyancy to those who do not know Christ, but with a quiet and unquenchable hope drawn from the deep sources of our faith. The language which comes easy to optimists we cannot use. Confident boasting of a swift and not-too-costly victory, and wishful anticipation of speedy revolution in enemy lands, are not the grounds of our hope. It is more deeply based than either of these. 
It is based, first, on:
THE INDESTRUCTIBILITY OF TRUTH. ...Truth is mighty. It does not achieve its victories by any lightning war. The lie wins all early engagements, and sometimes seems to be in the secure possession of the field. The Truth may even be nailed to a cross and taken down, a poor bleeding clod, to be hidden in a sepulchre, sealed with a great stone.
But it rises again! The life-principle in it cannot be killed. Somehow, it partakes of the life of God and, therefore, of God's eternity. Ultimately, its triumph is sure.
...It (truth) passes through the fires of fierce distortion, and seems at times to be utterly lost, but the flames cannot permanently harm it, and it returns to its remedial work again.
...That, then, is the first ground of our hope--the indestructibility of truth. In all our anxiety these days lest we become nationally self-righteous, none need hesitate to offer the prayer, "God defend the Truth." 
The second ground of our confident hope is this: 
GOD IS ON THE THRONE. Many people, most of whom live their normal lives in neglect of God, complain in times of national stress that He never seems to do anything. They set out the enormities of our enemies, touch with a light hand (or entirely ignore) our own national sins, and querulously inquire why God does not intervene....
...Already one nation has been entirely engulfed in the bloody tide of this worldwide war. Others may share the fate--our own even. But justice and righteousness shall not vanish from the earth. Out of the chaos of these times, and by the bitter agony of this doubly afflicted generation, the will of God will ultimately be done "on earth as it is in heaven."
He will never leave us nor forsake us as the scripture promises. The Cross is the pledge of that. In those moments of unmeasurable horror, when we fear that even God's patience will be exhausted with our wicked race, and all the windows of heaven closed from within against the scenes of earth, let us repair again to Calvary. Here is the ground of unquenchable hope. He will never forsake the world of His incarnation and sacrificial death. God is on the throne. Truth is indestructible. When the shallow hopes of the world and all its false messiahs are all dead--hope on in God!  
These words of where we place our hope and why are applicable to all knds of strife including of course the Anglican wars on truth. 

Sunday, March 08, 2015

"For we know that the law is spiritual..." Do we?

Since today's sermon was a rehash of an earlier sermon given three years ago in which the Ten Commandments were revised to mean the Ten Freedoms, I will focus on the portion of Paul's letter to the Romans that was read aloud at church this Sunday, and in particular the verse I have highlighted below.

"Did what is good, then, bring death to me? By no means! It was sin, working death in me through what is good, in order that sin might be shown to be sin, and through the commandment might become sinful beyond measure.
For we know that the law is spiritual; but I am of the flesh, sold into slavery under sin. I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. Now if I do what I do not want, I agree that the law is good. But in fact it is no longer I that do it, but sin that dwells within me. For I know that nothing good dwells within me, that is, in my flesh. I can will what is right, but I cannot do it. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do. Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I that do it, but sin that dwells within me.
So I find it to be a law that when I want to do what is good, evil lies close at hand. For I delight in the law of God in my inmost self, but I see in my members another law at war with the law of my mind, making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. Wretched man that I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!
So then, with my mind I am a slave to the law of God, but with my flesh I am a slave to the law of sin." Romans 7:13-25
I am only going to focus on verse 14,
 "For we know that the law is spiritual..." 
Do we?

I wonder how many people in the U.S. today actually believe this to be true. A generation has been raised in public schools where Government and Civics classes teach that laws are made by Congress and signed by the President, but do they ever really learn the basis of where man made laws come from? Paul got it, but I suspect people of this day and age tend to ignore the fact that God might in any way be involved.

Can modern Americans imagine that there is something greater than what they learned in school, and that it just might be something called the Law of God? No, that has been removed from both the schoolhouse and the courthouse.

Also, in an age of moral relativism, how many people believe that there might be a firm basis for morality, and that this basis comes from God and has been transmitted to us through the Bible?

"...but I am of the flesh, sold into slavery under sin."

I would guess that most of us would agree that we are of the flesh, but we also think that is the best of all possible worlds.
I have to question whether or not people would agree with the second half of Paul's statement. Ever since the 60's when the blame for our troubles was shifted away from sin to "repressions", "hang ups", and "the man" it is increasingly rare to hear people talk this way, and who ever hears a sermon at an Episcopal church these days where you are left with a deep sense of your having been sold into slavery under sin?
"I do not understand my own actions."
Finally something all of us can agree upon.

Well, most of us.

Okay, some of us.

All right, a few of us after a night of heavy drinking.

Final word goes to Matthew Henry (1662 – 1714) who wrote in his Commentaries,
"Compared with the holy rule of conduct in the law of God, the apostle found himself so very far short of perfection, that he seemed to be carnal; like a man who is sold against his will to a hated master, from whom he cannot set himself at liberty. A real Christian unwillingly serves this hated master, yet cannot shake off the galling chain, till his powerful and gracious Friend above, rescues him. The remaining evil of his heart is a real and humbling hinderance to his serving God as angels do and the spirits of just made perfect. This strong language was the result of St. Paul's great advance in holiness, and the depth of his self-abasement and hatred of sin. If we do not understand this language, it is because we are so far beneath him in holiness, knowledge of the spirituality of God's law, and the evil of our own hearts, and hatred of moral evil." Matthew Henry's Concise Commentary
Today I am afraid that mankind denies the spirituality of God's law, the evil in our hearts, and has come to twist things that used to be considered moral evils to now be morally acceptable "as long as nobody gets hurt". 

Wednesday, March 04, 2015

Underground at the New Marketplace Seeker Sensitive Church

I bit the bullet the other day and went to a funeral at one of those new churches, the type with the fancy positive marketing name, theater seating, stage, light system, sound system, drum set up, soloists, etc. The type of church that offers a "Worship Experience" which they describe as,
"Our experiences are meaningful, creative and spiritually engaging. Each experience kicks off with a time of live worship music - which is often a blend of live energetic rock and soul that has our guests standing. Folks tell us all the time that we are blessed with an amazing worship team—we agree.
Then, our Pastor shares a biblically-centered message that’s always honest and challenging, empowering you to apply Jesus’ words to your daily life. We like to end our teaching time with a few minutes of prayer… nothing awkward, we promise. Then we wrap up the experience with a few closing announcements and an opportunity to give back to God."
Nothing awkward except for the focus on "the experience" of the individual and the fact that there was no cross anywhere on the "stage".

A soloist performing karaoke singing took the place of the "amazing worship team" on this particular day. The theater seating and lack of congregational singing or communal prayer made the whole "experience" seem more like attending a performance, but in spite of all these potential drawbacks, we wound up experiencing a moving funeral service for our friend (although when the kicker bass volume was cranked up and the purple stage lights were on, it did feel a bit like we were riding in a pimp-mobile through one of our town's more exciting neighborhoods).

I can see where this style of "doing church" would appeal to certain types of individuals. It was entertaining in a way, and this particular preacher was skilled at extemporaneous homiletics (although he did bounce around a bit and ran a little long which is always a problem with that style). It was the first funeral I have ever attended where we were all asked to accept Jesus as our Savior and to begin a new life in Christ, and I have to give the guy credit for the way he worked that into his sermon, but I am not sure that it was called for among the mostly gray headed Christians in attendance, nor was the plug for the church that the preacher tossed in something that I would consider to be very helpful to the grieving. Still, it was good to know that my friend had Jesus as his Savior and had the support of his church family.

And I don't believe I have ever heard "How Great Thou Art" sung so well by a first tenor (forgive us George Beverly Shea).

I am afraid that I prefer seeing stained glass windows, a visible cross or two, an altar, sitting on hard pews, fumbling with clumsy kneelers, congregational singing, hymnals, prayer books, and even the old musty smells that can only be found in church buildings where generations have come together for weddings, baptisms, funerals, and to worship God.

As new worship styles experience an upswing in today's church marketplace, I wonder what will become of those old church buildings and the old fashioned Christians who prefer to worship there.

Collapsing Church, Ridgeway, SC in 2012