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The following story is sad, depraved, graphic and nauseating.  Please make sure the kiddies are away from the screen whilst you read it.  However, it is one that needs to be told, particularly in light of Anglicans moving to the Catholic Church. 

Cardinal William J Levada is the Cardinal Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. Althoughthe unpleasant events below do not concern the Cardinal directly, he knew about them and did nothing, as you will see. 

The protagonist in this story is not the cardinal himself, but G Patrick ‘Pat’ Ziemann, the former bishop of Santa Rosa, California, who died at the age of 68 on October 23, 2009.  He had resigned his post as bishop 10 years before because of an affair which came to light with Jorge Hume Salas, who was a priest at the time.  Hume Salas — referred to by either name below, depending on the source — has since left the priesthood and returned to his native Costa Rica.  You can read more in the Los Angeles Times here, excerpts of which follow.

Ziemann, who spent his final years at Holy Trinity Monastery near Tucson, Arizona, was born into a prominent family in Pasadena, California.  He was the third of eight children and, like his seven siblings, was raised to be a devout Catholic.  Pat was a charming young man who seemed to naturally gravitate towards the priesthood.  He was ordained in the Archdiocese of Los Angeles in 1967.  His career encompassed service as a parish priest, high school teacher then dean and vice rector of Our Lady Queen of Angels High School Seminary in the San Fernando Valley.  By 1987, he became auxiliary bishop of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles.  He was appointed Bishop of Santa Rosa in 1992, where he would serve for the next seven years before his ignominious resignation.

The Los Angeles Times article states:

The bishop gave up his post at the Diocese of Santa Rosa after a priest filed a lawsuit alleging that Ziemann had coerced him into a two-year sexual relationship in exchange for keeping silent about the priest’s admitted theft of money from a Ukiah parish..

Ziemann publicly acknowledged his affair with Father Jorge Hume Salas after the lawsuit was filed but said the relationship was consensual.

The Santa Rosa Police Department and the Sonoma County district attorney’s office investigated Salas’ allegations of sexual coercion, bolstered by a secret tape-recording of Ziemann apologizing to the priest.

Authorities declined to file criminal charges, however, questioning Salas’ credibility. Their investigation showed that Salas had been expelled from several seminaries and posed as a priest before he was ordained.

The Santa Rosa diocese agreed to a $535,000 settlement with Salas, who has since left the priesthood and returned to his native Costa Rica.

Church leaders, meanwhile, found Ziemann had squandered $16 million in diocese money — the result of poor oversight, bad investments and overspending, diocese officials said.

The shortfall forced the diocese to lay off about a third of its staff and cut funding for religious education, youth ministry and other programs, angering many local Catholics who had contributed money, the officials said.

Diocese leaders said Ziemann did not personally benefit from his financial decisions.

Now, we turn to an exhaustively detailed account on San Francisco’s SFweekly.com, ‘Bishop Bad Boy’, dated March 19, 2003, which states (emphasis mine):

He has been protected by and remains intimately connected with three influential fellow hierarchs, including San Francisco Archbishop William J. Levada. It was Levada who presided over Ziemann’s skipping away from Santa Rosa with criminal impunity after church officials refused to fully cooperate with authorities. Ziemann’s mentor and chief patron is Los Angeles Cardinal Roger M. Mahony, whose problems with pedophile priests rival the scandal-plagued Boston archdiocese’s. The other member of the troika is Manuel Moreno, who until his surprise resignation this month for health reasons, was bishop of Tucson, Ariz., and in whose diocese Ziemann was given refuge at the Holy Trinity Monastery near the legendary gunslinging town of Tombstone. Moreno has a long and tawdry record in covering up for pedophile priests.

Ziemann’s ties to the trio, and their bonds to each other, go back four decades to St. John’s Seminary College, on a secluded Southern California hilltop overlooking the Ventura County coastline. The men overlapped as students there in the late 1950s and early ’60s After Mahony became archbishop of Los Angeles in 1985 (Pope John Paul II elevated him to cardinal in 1991), Ziemann’s stock soared.

After naming him to oversee a junior seminary for high school boys, Mahony appointed Ziemann auxiliary bishop of Los Angeles in 1987. Church sources say the cardinal was instrumental in securing the Vatican‘s 1992 appointment of Ziemann to head the Santa Rosa Diocese. The sources say Mahony also had a hand in Levada’s coming from Portland, Ore., to become archbishop of San Francisco in 1995, following former Archbishop John Quinn‘s decision to step down for health reasons. Thus Levada (St. John’s class of ’58) became Ziemann’s ostensible boss.

Levada gave Ziemann all the necessary support:

The day Ziemann resigned, shortly after a lurid audiotape surfaced exposing the bishop’s illicit relationship with the priest, Levada extolled his friend as someone who had done much to help the diocese ... ‘It was like a testimonial send-off for his bishop who had just finished disgracing himself in the worst way imaginable,’ recalls Don Hoard, a Petaluma advocate for sex-abuse victims, referring to Levada’s verbal backslapping. ‘It was surreal’.

As archbishop, Levada stepped in to run the Santa Rosa Diocese for nearly a year until a new bishop could be installed. During that time, Levada’s underlings dragged their feet and discouraged police and prosecutors from pursuing possible criminal charges against Ziemann and his former top lieutenant, Monsignor Thomas J. Keys, in the wake of a colossal financial scandal, the full extent of which has yet to be disclosed. This, after diocesan lawyers worked vigorously to discredit Hume, whom Ziemann began shaking down for sex not long after ordaining him. It was on Levada’s watch that the diocese paid Hume $535,000 to settle a civil lawsuit against Ziemann, while swearing him to secrecy ...

Levada declined to be interviewed for this article. A spokesman said the archbishop feels he has already sufficiently addressed Ziemann and related issues.

SFweekly.com’s article says that court documents and interviews from Ziemann’s time in the Archdiocese of Los Angeles show that allegations of sexual abuse by priests were ignored and covered up: 

Some of these relate to the period before Mahony became archbishop, while others occurred during the time Ziemann served the cardinal as auxiliary bishop.

Readers on the West Coast who are familiar with these events will know that Hume turned out to be a dubious individual.  So, here’s a short look at his story.  A nun, Sister Jane Kelly, arranged for Hume to come to the United States as a potential candidate for the priesthood.  Hume was 35 at the time and his English was not very good.  Bishop Ziemann fast-tracked the man.  It later transpired that police reports revealed that he had been expelled from other seminaries in Latin America and the United States.  They also show that he posed as a priest to obtain money under false pretenses.  But, in fairness, no one in Hume’s new circle knew that at the time.  Hispanic parishoners in Hume’s first parish complained that he asked them for extra money for performing baptisms and weddings.  Later, Hume would be fingered in stealing funds from his parish church.  Ziemann stepped in and asked the police to halt the investigation. 

There was no arrest and no jail.  Ziemann sent Hume away for rehabilitation at a Catholic treatment centre in St Louis, Missouri.  Of course, there’s no such thing as a free lunch.  Police records state that Ziemann and Hume had a sexual encounter in June 1996, before the latter left for St Louis. Ziemann visited Hume in St Louis, entertained him, had relations with him and gave him money.  Once he returned to California, Ziemann asked him to wear a beeper. They met once or twice a week.  Then Hume started seeing other people indiscreetly.  Ziemann dumped him and Hume filed the lawsuit mentioned at the beginning of the story.  Page 4 of the online account has the lurid details of Hume’s recorded telephone conversations with Ziemann.  Hume did this on legal advice.     

Two allegations surfaced soon before the 2003 SFweekly.com article was written: 

At least two men have come forward to claim that Ziemann molested them as altar boys in the L.A. suburb of Huntington Park during his first assignment as a priest in the late ’60s. The bishop denies the charges. But the accusations of one of the men, a 47-year-old Oregon resident who says Ziemann paid him for sex for nearly two decades, are likely to open old wounds in Santa Rosa.

That’s because the accuser (who spoke to SF Weekly on condition that he be identified only by his first name, Richard) contends that although he and the bishop stopped having sex in 1986, Ziemann continued to give him money until shortly before stepping down from his Santa Rosa post. If that’s true, the source of the money could draw the ire of those still upset that Levada didn’t provide a full accounting of how millions of church dollars were squandered, and who insist that the archbishop was more interested in quelling scandal than pursuing justice. Richard is suing Ziemann and the church for alleged sexual abuse, and L.A. police investigators recently interviewed the Oregon man in what may be a harbinger of more serious trouble. Richard says that Ziemann paid him ‘several thousands of dollars’ while he was Santa Rosa’s bishop, and that some of the money was drawn on an account called the ‘Saint George Fund’.

H/T: St John’s Valdosta Blog.

Tomorrow: Levada and the finances

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Not available in any lectionary!  Read about the benefits of praising the Lord and the resultant happiness of His people.  For more Forbidden [yes, necessary, but seldom mentioned in church] Bible Verses, click here.  

Today’s reading comes from the New International Reader’s Version. 

2 Chronicles 7 1:10

Solomon Sets the Temple Apart to the Lord

 1 Solomon finished praying. Then fire came down from heaven. It burned up the burnt offering and the sacrifices. The glory of the Lord filled the temple. 2 The priests couldn’t enter the temple of the Lord. His glory filled it.

 3 All of the people of Israel saw the fire coming down. They saw the glory of the Lord above the temple. So they got down on their knees in the courtyard with their faces toward the ground. They worshiped the Lord. They gave thanks to him. They said,
   “He is good.
      His faithful love continues forever.”

4 Then the king and all of the people offered sacrifices to the Lord. 5 King Solomon sacrificed 22,000 head of cattle and 120,000 sheep and goats. So the king and all of the people set the temple of God apart.

 6 The priests and Levites took their positions. The Levites played the Lord’s musical instruments. King David had made them for praising the Lord. They were used when he gave thanks to the Lord. He said, “His faithful love continues forever.”

   Across from where the Levites were, the priests blew their trumpets. All of the people of Israel were standing.

 7 Solomon set the middle area of the courtyard apart to the Lord. It was in front of the Lord’s temple. There Solomon sacrificed burnt offerings. He also sacrificed the fat of the friendship offerings there. He did it there because the bronze altar he had made couldn’t hold all of the burnt offerings, the grain offerings and the fat parts.

 8 At that time Solomon celebrated the Feast of Booths for seven days. The whole community of Israel was with him. It was a huge crowd. People came from as far away as Lebo Hamath and the Wadi of Egypt. 9 On the eighth day they held a service. For seven days they had celebrated by setting the altar apart to honor God. The feast continued for seven more days.

 10 Then Solomon sent the people home. It was the 23rd day of the seventh month. The people were glad. Their hearts were full of joy. That’s because the Lord had done good things for David and Solomon and his people Israel.

In the previous chapter, 2 Chronicles 6, Solomon is in a new temple which his father David longed to build. The people of Israel are outside.  Through prayer, Solomon acknowledges before God that He had told David that his son would be the one to build it. Solomon spends time in the new temple praying.  Now, in 2 Chronicles 7, verse 1, Solomon ends his prayer to the Lord.  Immediately in response to his prayer, God appears to the people in the form of fire.  This is no destructive fire, but God manifesting Himself in glory, to the extent that the priests cannot even enter the temple.  The Israelites see the fire above the temple (verse 3).  Seeing it puts them in awe of God and, almost instinctively, they drop to their knees in prayer and thanksgiving. Fire — that destructive force that Man has recognised from the earliest days as well as a manifestation of the Almighty. Would it be a sign of approval or punishment? The fire could have consumed the temple, but it didn’t — only the sacrifices the people had brought before the Lord. 

Note in verses 4 and 5 that the fire compels Solomon, then his people, to offer even more sacrifices to the Lord, much of which must be set alight outside in the courtyard (verse 7).   As the leader goes, so shall his people.  Solomon sets a good example, which the Israelites follow.  They see that the Lord looks upon His people favourably and show their thanks through thanksgiving through prayer and sacrifice.  The priests and Levites take their places (verse 6) and praise the Lord through music and trumpet fanfare.   

Verses 8 and 9 explain that this event is part of the Feast of Booths, which runs for eight days.  It is also called the Feast of Tabernacles, or Sukkot, which Jews around the world continue to celebrate today as a harvest thanksgiving. (Click on the Sukkot link to see pictures of the booths.) It is a happy commemoration, one which is full of praise for God and His infinite goodness.

Afterward, Solomon sends the Israelites home (verse 10).  The people leave with glad hearts, full of praise for the Lord.

Similarly, we should remember that our good works and shining example reflect God’s goodness towards us. We should frequently glorify Him in prayer. This is particularly useful to recall now since we are in Advent, preparing for Christmas.  Soon, we will celebrate the birth of Jesus with joyous carols and prayers: Jesus — God’s Son — who will end His life on the Cross as the ultimate sacrifice, divinely ordained as the expiation for our sins. It is the ultimate act of sublime selflessness for us miserable sinners.   Let us also remember the fire that God sent to us, that of the Holy Spirit, which came at Pentecost, and which we Christians receive at Confirmation.  That fire should be burning in hearts daily, kindled by praise and thanksgiving to God.         

You can read more here.

Next week: The Lord’s cautionary message to Solomon

Last week, Churchmouse Campanologist featured thoughts on conversion from Brother Stephen, O. Cist., an Anglo-Catholic turned Roman Catholic.

He added more reflections for Anglicans thinking of crossing the Tiber on his blog Sub Tuum.  The post, dated November 15, is called ‘Some Practical Advice for Anglican Converts’.  Please be sure to read the whole of Br Stephen’s post. I’ll pull a few excerpts for you and divide them into smaller subheads with my own observations — apologies in advance!  Indented quotes come from Stephen himself. Any emphases are mine.

What conversion is

It’s a ‘running to’ not a ‘running from’.  Really think of it as conversion and not as being an Anglican within the Catholic Church:

… conversion is what is being asked and I don’t think it should be soft pedaled. In fact, I think it’s an important reality check. The person looking over the river needs to ask himself whether he wants to be a Roman Catholic. If he can answer that question in the affirmative, he can probably begin to see that ongoing conversion is what is asked of all of us and that every lifetime has many seminal events and watersheds as we move along on that journey that only saints complete in this world.

A painful, soul-searching process 

Even at the best of times in the best of parishes, you will need to take a good look at yourself:

I landed in a parish that was a gem of the Reform of the Reform with fine preaching, teaching, and worship and a number of other Anglican converts, so my experience was probably about as good as it could be. Even so, it had its difficulties, pain, mourning and misunderstandings.

Commit privately to a year’s omerta

Br Stephen exercised discretion in order to avoid certain pitfalls:

I resolved not to write or speak publicly about my conversion for a year … 

First, because the experience was all too raw and new and one’s judgment is not at its best when he is full of euphoria. It is very easy to let your new-found love and the zeal that goes with it lead you into prideful statements that castigate those who remain the very thing that you were only weeks or months ago …

The second reason for not writing was related but a bit more pragmatic. I had seen a number of new converts continue to blog and write away, declaring that they had found the perfect church that perfectly met their aspirations who, after six months or a year, had found that … not only was it full of people and ideas which disillusioned the new convert, but that the convert’s own bad habits and failings had come with him as well. Too often these folks found that their fountains of spleen had not only alienated their old friends but had also isolated them on this side of the river. Almost inevitably, they disappeared from print and screen. Some went back to Canterbury; others lived a restless and unhappy life in Rome.

… for the first time in 20 years, I shut my mouth about the Episcopal Church and did my best to focus on converting myself and getting to know the Catholic Church as it was rather than making of it a false idol that reflected all of my own concerns and causes. I was deeply aware of the years I had spent habitually disparaging Rome’s failings and shortcomings in comparison to Anglicanism. Perhaps this period was a down payment on the reparation owed.

Conversion is a bit like emigrating

What Br Stephen describes is very much like emigrating.  It’s easy to up sticks but it takes many years to assimilate. 

A friend who’d hopped the river ahead of me by several years had wisely cautioned me with the obvious advice that entering the church is easy, but actually becoming a Roman Catholic takes much longer. With that in mind, I did my best just to let things wash over me and to internalize this new world …

I did my best to take the Church on its own terms, an important thing for an Anglo-Catholic who had very much had his own vision of what the Church was to be. I did my best to remember that I was now a very small fish in a very large pond where no amount of emphatic flapping of my fins was likely to change the currents and I had to my best to swim with them. Instead of thinking of myself as a champion of this or that, I had to practice the submission of my will to the mind of the Church.

Like an old flame

Remembering Lot’s wife, I did my best not to look back or to try to live in two worlds. It wasn’t that I thought I was no longer interested or concerned, but rather that I knew that I would be at-risk of being a house divided. I mostly let the Anglican publications and news sites go. These were no longer my causes and fights. I tried to put my energy into building a life in my new parish and finding ways to make myself appropriately useful … I knew I needed to face my own failings and brokenness rather than making a crutch of a self-satisfied and prurient interest in the place I had left. I did not keep this resolution so well as the first two, but I believe that even my imperfect efforts were of significant spiritual benefit.

It’s something you can come back to years down the road.  I think Br Stephen may find that, too. Not enough time has elapsed yet for him. It’s a bit like running into an old flame you were still holding a torch for.  After a break-up you get giddy or depressed.  20 years later on the drinks party circuit, you can share a laugh and make small talk, then be on your way until the next time. 

Take advantage of Confession

Regular confession is the Church’s expectation and the convert needs to embrace it, even if he can point to numerous examples of cradle Catholics who don’t. In examining your conscience, enumerating your sins to a priest, and receiving counsel and absolution, your unhealthy layers begin to be peeled away. The confessional keeps the focus on your own ongoing conversion. It is the place where the anger and pride that many of us have stored up in abundance begins to be laid aside. It is the place where we compare ourselves not to others but to the example of Our Lord. Confirmation brings you into the Church but it is regular confession that will convert you.

Don’t forget your roots

Realistically, I knew that I had been taught the rudiments of the catholic faith as well or better in an Episcopal parish of 100 than I would have been in a Catholic parish of 3000 where resources are stretched thin and on-the-ground praxis may or may not be a good reflection of church tradition

I knew that my appetite for both mystery and joy had been profoundly whetted on my journey through Anglicanism. All of these were gifts and I tried to remain thankful, which made it easier for the old disappointments and regrets to fall away.

About the ordinariates

Those entering the Anglican ordinariates will face some slightly different challenges than did those of us who came earlier. On the one hand, you have been offered a ‘mansion prepared for you’ with much that is dear and familiar. The sense of alienation and culture shock may well be less for you than it has been for others. On the other hand, it’s important not to retreat into this new house and pull the blinds and replace the ecclesiastical ghetto you may have been living in with one with a longer, more generous lease.

You are being given the opportunity to convert in the best sense of the word. Conversion is the resolve to begin anew and redouble efforts to remake the heart and will. Juridical changes are small things compared to this. It is something to be done joyfully, even if it has its poignant moments. If you are tempted to cross the river merely to escape the issues of the day and Rome seems to be the lesser of two evils, then you’re likely actually running from conversion.

The prenuptial agreement that is Anglicanorum coetibus merely deals with how you and your beloved will set up housekeeping together.

The kernel of wisdom for the convert

always test the spirits before you speak, especially in those first months when the spiritual adrenaline is coursing through your veins. Are your words showing how clever and better you are or are they properly humble and aimed at leading others to share in the gifts you have received? Many of the spiritual masters tell us that this is the stage where we should earnestly desire the gifts of compunction, contrition, and tears. The convert will be especially tempted toward acts of spiritual pride, the devil’s great weapon.

There is more in the essay — beautifully written and eminently wise.

The day after Thanksgiving is informally known in the US as Black Friday. This is the day when many families buy Christmas presents. The highways and byways are generally clogged with traffic. Yet, with the economy the way it is, who knows how this year’s shopping trips will go?  If nothing else, there are sure to be some unseasonal bargains available.

If you’re staying close to home and want something new to look at on the Net, why not check out what’s been happening in Ave Maria, Florida?  If you’re unfamiliar with the name, this is the town that Domino’s Pizza founder Tom Monaghan brought to life in the spring of 2007.  He originally intended it to be a town for orthodox Catholics who wanted the freedom to attend Tridentine Mass and send their children to traditional Catholic schools, from kindergarten through university.  With everyone sharing the same values and devotions, it sounded like a dream come true.  Although I am naturally suspicious of any private-enterprise town, e.g. Celebration, the Disney town, I thought that maybe the Holy Spirit would work through Monaghan to make this an exemplary community.

I first read about Ave Maria in August 2008 in NaplesNews.com, which featured a report on the Dominican Sisters of Mary which established a teaching mission in town.  They wear the same habits that the order of Dominicans I had in high school wore.  And, just like in my day, they sound ideal for serious Catholics:

Assumpta, the Dominican’s founder, used to be a member of the Nashville-based Dominican Sisters of St. Cecilia, another popular orthodox order for young women. She started the new order in 1997, and quickly met up with Ave Maria founder Tom Monaghan, who has supported the group in many ways, including financially…

For Dan Guernsey, headmaster at Ave Maria’s grammar school, the Dominican Sisters teaching at his school was a Godsend. The nuns embodied an alternative, Guernsey says, to the objectification of women in popular culture. They showed that a rejection of that culture and an embracing of a holy life was not only possible, but, more important, is the path to happiness.

‘They are the curriculum,’ he says.

My hopes for success were further boosted last May when I read that Dr Thomas Hilgers, who gave the Commencement address at Ave Maria University, came down hard on Fr John I Jenkins, Notre Dame’s president, for giving a pro-abortion President an honorary Doctorate of Law degree.   

Now, on Les Femmes I see that all is not so heavenly in the town borrowing the Angel Gabriel’s greeting to Our Lady.  On November 15, 2009 Mary Ann Kreitzer covered the news that Ave Maria resident and journalist, Marielena Montesino de Stuart, is forbidden from setting foot in much of the town, which, let’s remember, is private property!  This is why I object to this type of community. This journalist has investigated the darker side of Ave Maria for the Catholic newspaper, The Wanderer. Mary Ann says:

With Mrs. de Stuart, the iron fist is up close and personal. The university has banned her from its property. But much of Ave Maria town belongs to the university so the de Stuart family who live there are forbidden from their own neighborhood. FOX news covered the story which described how her children are now afraid to leave the house. Makes one thrilled at the thought of living in that town, doesn’t it?.

That this type of action could take place at a campus founded specifically to advance orthodox Catholicism is shocking, but it’s become typical of how Ave Maria operates. Fr. Fessio was fired (the second time) because he PRIVATELY took concerns about the financial stability of the university to the head of the board of directors. Obviously the stability of Ave Maria town is directly related to the health of the university, so Mrs. de Stuart’s concern is well founded.

Mary Ann adds:

My husband and I welcomed Ave Maria with outstretched arms. We signed up for the Founders’ Club and began giving a monthly donation. When things started to come apart early on we reluctantly withdrew …

Pray for all who have been hurt during the building of this so-called Catholic University and town and pray especially for Tom Monaghan. A man with money who can call the shots that impact people’s lives had better be sure he’s doing God’s will.

Ave Maria University has undergone administration changes to both its undergraduate and law schools like a revolving door.  There’s too much to detail here.  But, you can click the links below to follow the story:

Ave Maria Law in Toilet — Tier Rankings, Again.  How?

Dean is Paid by School Board but has a Private Salary Contract with Monaghan and His Foundation

Ave Maria – The Promise, The Reality (Part 2)

Then, there is Ms de Stuart’s personal story, which she tells here in Ave Maria – The Promise, The Reality (Part 1). This woman cannot even attend Mass because, although she is allowed to enter the church, she cannot set foot on the property around it.  She wrote this account in August 2009, three months before that happened, though.  Here’s a taster:

Ave Maria is my second ‘prom­ised land’. When my family and I freed ourselves from the grip of the Communists in Cuba and arrived in the promised land of the United States, we left behind years of per­secution, political imprisonment, executions, and hunger. But most of all we left behind the inhuman practice of silencing dissent— si­lencing our ability to speak the truth of the injustices we suffered. Free speech, and the ability to express dissent is what separates civilized societies from uncivilized ones. It is what my father was im­prisoned for — and many mem­bers of my family gave up their lives for, as devout Roman Catho­lics. So, it is in this spirit of free­dom, truth, and loyalty to the Church, that I tell the following story…

Anyone who visited Ave Maria in the spring of 2007 could have easily compared it to the surface of another planet. The remoteness, and the absence of topographical prominence, other than the church and a few buildings, made it seem almost surreal. A place so barren could only be supported through the lure of big promises…

Within the first year, the disap­pointments and the exodus began. The moral conditions needed to support a project of the magnitude of Ave Maria were not there — not because there weren’t participants and residents supporting the moral conditions needed — but because many of the key players had gone in another direction…

Some of the faithful Catholic fam­ilies that purchased homes in Ave Maria, with great joy, sacrifice, and enthusiasm, have subsequently sold them at a great loss. Some seem to be ‘walking away’ from their property. Others came, hoping to buy — then saw the disconnect be­tween the promise and the reality, then withdrew their offers on the purchase of homes. The remarks from those who have left or are try­ing to leave include, ‘it wasn’t what we thought it would be’ to ‘we want to put it behind us’ or ‘we cannot discuss it’. The Naples Dai­ly News reporter could hardly ever obtain an attributable statement about problems concerning the uni­versity and the town from a resident in nearly a year and a half, since the town opened.

It also turns out that Tom Golisano, a divorced billionaire who supports pro-choice candidates, will have an Ave Maria University building named after him.  Find out more here

You can keep up with the story at AveWatch.com in the blogroll.

Let’s hope that the good sisters are keeping Mr Monaghan, Ms de Stuart and Ave Maria’s other residents in their prayers. There’s a message here.  I’m just not sure what it is at the moment.

In his first year as the first President of the United States, George Washington signed a proclamation appointing a day of ‘General Thanksgiving’.  He signed it on October 3, 1789, and decreed that this day of thanksgiving would take place on Thursday, November 26 of that year.

Archiving Early America tells us:

While there were Thanksgiving observances in America both before and after Washington’s proclamation, this represents the first to be so designated by the new national government.

After their first harvest, the colonists of the Plymouth Plantation held a celebration of food and feasting in the fall of 1621. Indian chiefs Massassoit, Squanto and Samoset joined in the celebration with ninety of their men in the three-day event.

The first recorded Thanksgiving observance was held on June 29, 1671 at Charlestown, Massachusetts by proclamation of the town’s governing council.

During the 1700s, it was common practice for individual colonies to observe days of thanksgiving throughout each year. A Thanksgiving Day two hundred years ago was a day set aside for prayer and fasting, not a day marked by plentiful food and drink as is today’s custom. Later in the 18th century each of the states periodically would designate a day of thanksgiving in honor of a military victory, an adoption of a state constitution or an exceptionally bountiful crop.

Such a Thanksgiving Day celebration celebration was held in December of 1777 by the colonies nationwide, commemorating the surrender of British General Burgoyne at Saratoga

In 1863, President Abraham Lincoln changed the day of Thanksgiving to the fourth Tuesday of November.  In 1939, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt moved it to the third Thursday of November, to extend the Christmas shopping season and stimulate the economy.  In 1941, he changed the date to the fourth Thursday of November, where it is today.

The full text of President Washington’s Proclamation of General Thanksgiving appeared in the Massachusetts Centinel of October 14, 1789.  Thanks again to Archiving Early America, you can view it in full on their site or read it below.  Note the number of times God is mentioned and how it reads like a prayer.  I hope that you will see fit to share it with your family on this blessed day:

WHEREAS it is the duty of all nations to acknowledge the providence of Almighty God, to obey His will, to be grateful for His benefits, and humbly to implore His protection and favour; and Whereas both Houfes of Congress have, by their joint committee, requefted me ‘to recommend to the people of the United States a DAY OF PUBLICK THANSGIVING and PRAYER, to be observed by acknowledging with grateful hearts the many and signal favors of Almighty God, especially by affording them an opportunity peaceably to eftablifh a form of government for their safety and happiness:’

NOW THEREFORE, I do recommend and affign THURSDAY, the TWENTY-SIXTH DAY of NOVEMBER next, to be devoted by the people of thefe States to the fervice of that great and glorious Being who is the beneficent author of all the good that was, that is, or that will be; that we may then all unite in rendering unto Him our fincere and humble thanks for His kind care and protection of the people of this country previous to their becoming a nation; for the fignal and manifold mercies and the favorable interpofitions of His providence in the courfe and conclufion of the late war; for the great degree of tranquility, union, and plenty which we have fince enjoyed;– for the peaceable and rational manner in which we have been enable to eftablish Conftitutions of government for our fafety and happinefs, and particularly the national one now lately instituted;– for the civil and religious liberty with which we are bleffed, and the means we have of acquiring and diffufing useful knowledge;– and, in general, for all the great and various favours which He has been pleafed to confer upon us.

And also, that we may then unite in moft humbly offering our prayers and fupplications to the great Lord and Ruler of Nations and befeech Him to pardon our national and other tranfgreffions;– to enable us all, whether in publick or private ftations, to perform our feveral and relative duties properly and punctually; to render our National Government a bleffing to all the people by conftantly being a Government of wife, juft, and conftitutional laws, difcreetly and faithfully executed and obeyed; to protect and guide all fovereigns and nations (especially fuch as have shewn kindnefs unto us); and to blefs them with good governments, peace, and concord; to promote the knowledge and practice of true religion and virtue, and the increafe of fcience among them and us; and, generally to grant unto all mankind fuch a degree of temporal profperity as he alone knows to be beft.

GIVEN under my hand, at the city of New-York, the third day of October, in the year of our Lord, one thousand feven hundred and eighty-nine.

(signed) G. Washington

Some of us will gather together in changing circumstances, but let’s remember and be thankful for the blessings that God has bestowed on us.  Let us also pray that the grace of the Holy Spirit transforms ungodly situations, whether personal or corporate. 

Wherever you as an American or American-to-be are reading this, have a wonderful Thanksgiving.

To present the Thanksgiving story and disregard the Calvinism that ran through the mindset of Governor Bradford and the early settlers in Massachusetts in 1621 would be a grave error.  Not for nothing were they called Puritans!  Would there have been a Thanksgiving story to tell without the Calvinists?  I don’t think so.  You’ll see why below.

Yet, here’s what most kids in the US have been learning about this public holiday for at least a generation. Excerpts follow from ‘The Real Story of Thanksgiving’,  November 21, 2007:

… the Pilgrims came over, and they were just overwhelmed; they were swamped; they had no clue where they were; they had no clue how to feed themselves; they had to clue how to protect themselves; they had no idea how to stay warm; they had no idea how to do anything.  They were just typical, dumb … people fleeing some other place they couldn’t manage to live in.  And then, out of the woods came the … Indians, who had great compassion … and they befriended us … and Thanksgiving is where we give thanks to the Indians.

Of course the rest of the Thanksgiving story is that after the Indians saved the white people, who, after all, did what?  They brought syphilis, sexually transmitted diseases, gonorrhea — as had one high school health teacher pronounced it — racism, bigotry, homophobia, all these things… 

The truth in that account is the value of the Indians’ friendship and skills; conversely, the STDs didn’t come from the Pilgrim Fathers.  That was further south in non-Puritan or non-English settlements (e.g. Virginia, other parts of the New World) where there was much depravity and sadness because of ungodly actions by certain Europeans.  But, back to Thanksgiving and the Massachusetts Bay Colony. And, let’s not forget that John Calvin — whose theology formed the basis of Puritan belief — said that we must recognise common grace in all people. We are all here to accomplish good.  

So, here’s what happened as I learned it — back in the last century (same source link as above):

On August 1, 1620, the Mayflower set sail. It carried a total of 102 passengers, including forty Pilgrims led by William Bradford. On the journey, Bradford set up an agreement, a contract, that established just and equal laws for all members of the new community, irrespective of their religious beliefs. Where did the revolutionary ideas expressed in the Mayflower Compact come from? From the Bible …

The Pilgrims were a people completely steeped in the lessons of the Old and New Testaments. They looked to the ancient Israelites for their example. And, because of the biblical precedents set forth in Scripture, they never doubted that their experiment would work. But this was no pleasure cruise, friends. The journey to the New World was a long and arduous one. And when the Pilgrims landed in New England in November, they found, according to Bradford’s detailed journal, a cold, barren, desolate wilderness. There were no friends to greet them, he wrote. There were no houses to shelter them. There were no inns where they could refresh themselves. And the sacrifice they had made for freedom was just beginning. During the first winter, half the Pilgrims — including Bradford’s own wife — died of either starvation, sickness, or exposure.

When spring finally came, Indians taught the settlers how to plant corn, fish for cod and skin beavers for coats. Life improved for the Pilgrims, but they did not yet prosper! This is important to understand because this is where modern American history lessons often end. Thanksgiving is actually explained in some textbooks as a holiday for which the Pilgrims gave thanks to the Indians for saving their lives, rather than as a devout expression of gratitude grounded in the tradition of both the Old and New Testaments. 

The original contract the Pilgrims had entered into with their merchant-sponsors in London called for everything they produced to go into a common store, and each member of the community was entitled to one common share. All of the land they cleared and the houses they built belong to the community as well.

Bradford, who had become the new governor of the colony, recognized that this form of collectivism was as costly and destructive to the Pilgrims as that first harsh winter, which had taken so many lives.

He decided to take bold action. Bradford assigned a plot of land to each family to work and manage, thus turning loose the power of the marketplace. … Long before Karl Marx was even born, the Pilgrims had discovered and experimented with what could only be described as socialism. And what happened? It didn’t work! …

What Bradford and his community found was that the most creative and industrious people had no incentive to work any harder than anyone else, unless they could utilize the power of personal motivation!  But while most of the rest of the world has been experimenting with socialism for well over a hundred years — trying to refine it, perfect it, and re-invent it — the Pilgrims decided early on to scrap it permanently. What Bradford wrote about this social experiment should be in every schoolchild’s history lesson.

Here’s what he wrote: ‘The experience that we had in this common course and condition, tried sundry years…that by taking away property, and bringing community into a common wealth, would make them happy and flourishing — as if they were wiser than God.’

‘For this community [so far as it was] was found to breed much confusion and discontent, and retard much employment that would have been to their benefit and comfort. For young men that were most able and fit for labor and service did repine that they should spend their time and strength to work for other men’s wives and children without any recompense…that was thought injustice.’

So what did Bradford’s community try next? … Every family was assigned its own plot of land to work and permitted to market its own crops and products… ‘This had very good success,’ wrote Bradford, ‘for it made all hands industrious, so as much more corn was planted than otherwise would have been.’

In no time, the Pilgrims found they had more food than they could eat themselves … So they set up trading posts and exchanged goods with the Indians.

‘The profits allowed them to pay off their debts to the merchants in London. And the success and prosperity of the Plymouth settlement attracted more Europeans and began what came to be known as the “Great Puritan Migration”.’

So the Pilgrims decided to thank God for all of their good fortune.  And that’s Thanksgiving.  And read George Washington’s first Thanksgiving address and count the number of times God is mentioned and how many times he’s thanked.  None of this is taught today.  It should be.

This post is going out the day before Thanksgiving so that you have time to share it with your children or grandchildren.  I hope that your preparations are going well, and I pray that you have a very happy Thanksgiving.

Tomorrow: The first Thanksgiving proclamation — from George Washington

The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. — Proverbs 1:7

The other day, Gabriella had another excellent post, this time on children’s Bibles.  In ‘Not meant for a child?‘ she described her first Bible.  From the scent of the paper to the memorable illustrations to the truly fantastic stories about a mysterious God — yes, I, too, remember my own quite well. 

Childhood is a perfect time to give a Bible to a young person.  Even if they don’t fully understand all the content immediately, they will appreciate, with a parent’s help, that God is omnipotent, omniscient and sovereign.  Please don’t wait to introduce your child or grandchild to the Lord through Holy Scripture.   Remember the well-known Jesuit maxim:

Give me the child till the age of seven and I will show you the man.    

That means a child’s formation is nearly complete by that age.  If he hasn’t learnt his prayers, attended church services or is familiar with Bible stories by then, you’ve lost the best opportunity you’ve ever had to educate him as a Christian.  I haven’t mentioned Baptism, because it goes without saying that that comes first. 

Some parents are concerned about their children being able to handle violence in the Bible or comprehend the God they cannot see.  Yet, if you are a responsible, loving Christian, you will help the young ones in your family know and love Him and His Son Jesus Christ.  

Some parents are reluctant to start their children on the Bible too early.  They fear that some of the stories in the Old Testament may be too violent.  Personally, compared with newspaper and television reports of depraved violence, especially against children, I don’t understand this rationale.  The Bible is God’s Word, and this is where parents need to help guide their children in discernment. They need to explain that God punishes those who are unfaithful to Him.

Yes, children should have decent Bible translations.  However, to help get those under the age of 8 acquainted with the Good Book, why not try Uncle Arthur’s stories?  Arthur Maxwell was a Londoner who moved to the United States as a young man.  He is well known for his Bible stories written for young people.  Having read these for hours at a time growing up, I would describe him as the Children’s Apostle.  I reckon that no man has done more to foster faith in American youngsters than the late Mr Maxwell, about whom you can read more here.  I would like to think that God reserved a special place in Heaven for him.  The stories are pitched just right.  They explain, not frighten.  Yet, they instil awe of God.  A word of warning — they aren’t cheap, but they never were.  Click here for the list of Maxwell’s books.  

But, maybe Uncle Arthur is too passé.  If so, you might be interested in reading this review of Bible comics (perish the thought).  I would advise against, but it’s your choice.

As far as church is concerned, please buy your children a few small, inexpensive books with prayers for young children.  Catholics may wish to buy an illustrated pocket-sized children’s Missal which explains the Order of Mass in easy-to-read prose.   When they get older, most denominations have smaller catechisms or confessions of faith for children to memorise. 

Drawing on my own experience, my mother spent quite a lot of time with me teaching me Catholic prayers and helping me recite my catechism.  My Protestant friends’ parents spent time reading them the Bible and teaching them about their faith.  There is a lot to be said for nourishing young minds at an early age.  Please don’t miss out on this opportunity with your child or grandchild.  You only get one chance.  So do they.

Like as a father pitieth his children, so the Lord pitieth them that fear Him. — Psalm 103:13

N.B.: Neither Churchmouse nor Churchmouse Campanologist has any commercial interest in the items discussed on this blog.

Fetus freethinkercoukSome of you will have heard that before at home or at school.  ‘Actions have consequences’.  That’s another.

Today’s post is about what sometimes happens when we do things before we should.  Yes, this is about sex. 

With the Christmas party season just around the corner, the temptation will be there to have that extra glass of wine or spirits.  And, once relaxed, we may turn to more carnal pleasures. 

So often we are unprepared for what happens next.  Sometimes, a woman finds herself with child and thinks she can just have an abortion.  But many people don’t know how quickly young life starts to look recognisable.  That ‘lump of cells’ is starting to take shape.  Inside of a few weeks, limbs are forming.  A head looks like a head.  Hands and feet are tiny, yet visible.     

A lot of teens and adults have no idea how soon this development takes place in the womb.  Abortion appears to be the easy option. 

If you have children of both sexes who are of high school or college age, please make sure they see this film.  Yes, it’s graphic, so you’ll probably want to view it alone before showing them.  Had a similar film been available when my classmates and I were teens, it would have really put sexual congress in perspective.  Not all of us approached it so casually, but some did.  And for a few of them, there were grave consequences indeed. 

The film comes from Catholic Online.  Click here to watch.  It’s a short, sharp shock. 

And, there’s more, surprisingly, from the New York Times, which carried a feature in October about a pro-life campaigner and theology professor who photographed fetal remains.  Many people will be surprised to see what some of these aborted fetuses look like.

And, finally, Priests for Life has a page of links showing what fetuses look like at various trimesters.  Hardly a ‘handful of cells’.  

Many people are living in ignorance about abortion.  Where I live the clergy have decided that if you’ve given it enough thought, you can go and have an abortion.  This, sadly, includes a Catholic priest.  Every pastor, vicar and lay minister should have these photos printed out in colour and placed in a discreet booklet.  Then, at the appropriate moment, he can show the booklet to anyone who comes to him for advice on abortion.  I reckon they would be gobsmacked. 

‘Only a handful of cells’, as Cass Sunstein, Obama’s regulatory czar says?  My foot.  This is the guy who also said (same link):

A full-grown horse or dog, is beyond comparison a more rational, as well as a more conversable animal, than an infant of a day or a week or even a month, old.

This misleading ‘rhetoric’ is shameful.  These folks just want us to live in ignorance.  Well, it’s time to wise up, rise up and educate ourselves.

How many people have heard a sermon in their Catholic or mainline Protestant church about the first part of Ephesians 5?  It’s controversial and, for this reason, qualifies as a Forbidden Bible passage.  Let’s have a look. 

Today’s reading comes from the New International Version (NIV).  You can view past posts of Forbidden Bible Verses here.

Ephesians 5

 1Be imitators of God, therefore, as dearly loved children 2and live a life of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.

 3But among you there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality, or of any kind of impurity, or of greed, because these are improper for God’s holy people. 4Nor should there be obscenity, foolish talk or coarse joking, which are out of place, but rather thanksgiving. 5For of this you can be sure: No immoral, impure or greedy person—such a man is an idolater—has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God. 6Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of such things God’s wrath comes on those who are disobedient. 7Therefore do not be partners with them.

 8For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light 9(for the fruit of the light consists in all goodness, righteousness and truth) 10and find out what pleases the Lord. 11Have nothing to do with the fruitless deeds of darkness, but rather expose them. 12For it is shameful even to mention what the disobedient do in secret. 13But everything exposed by the light becomes visible, 14for it is light that makes everything visible. This is why it is said:
   “Wake up, O sleeper,
      rise from the dead,
   and Christ will shine on you.”

 15Be very careful, then, how you live—not as unwise but as wise, 16making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil. 17Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the Lord’s will is. 18Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit. 19Speak to one another with psalms, hymns and spiritual songs. Sing and make music in your heart to the Lord, 20always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.

 21Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.

 

Chapter 5 of Ephesians is a continuation of the previous chapter.  (Note the use of ‘therefore’ in the first verse.)  Paul describes more Christian behaviours which the new converts need to adopt in order to more fully live in Christ.  He reminds them of the selfless sacrifice of Christ on the Cross and exhorts them to remember that, making their lives worthy of God.  The ‘life of love’ Paul refers to in verse 2, is not easy.  As we read the subsequent verses we note the many proscriptions on base appetites.  Then as now, these were commonplace and encouraged.  We are to respect ourselves and others in purity, always remembering Christ’s divine love for us.  

Paul lists the sins of which Christians must avoid in verses 3 through 7.  He says ‘not even a hint’ — so, no suggestion at all, no furtive gestures or words made in the direction of these sins.  Lust and greed pollute our bodies, minds and souls.  They are unworthy of God, our Creator.  Furthermore, we are not to employ obscene gestures or speech.  Nor are we to talk idly;  words just for the sake of talking lead to gossip, innuendo and slander.  Paul asks the Ephesians — and us — to put those energies into thanksgiving unto God.  Even if we are not doing so audibly, we should be grateful to God for redeeming us through the blood of His Son.  No one steeped in sins of immorality, impurity and greed will enter the Kingdom of Heaven.  Such people are idolaters — they worship their sins because they cannot give them up.  In verse 6, he cautions the Ephesians not to be deceived by false teachers — and even we can fall prey to them — who say that serious sin is acceptable and that God will overlook it.  Paul says such transgressions anger God and He will punish the disobedience.  Verse 7 tells us to avoid such charlatans and ignore what they say.  When Paul says to expose ‘fruitless deeds of darkness’ in verse 11, he is asking us to instruct ourselves and others about sin, so as to avoid it.  In verse 12, he says we are never to discuss sin.  Yet, when we know what to avoid thanks to walking in the light of the Son, we can see clearly.  We are no longer timidly trying to find our way in the shadows.  And staying in those shadows can only lead to temptation and transgression. 

Paul signals the way forward in verses 8 – 14: ‘Live as children of light’.  Just as children imitate what they see, Paul asks us to imitate the goodness of Christ.  Yet, one can only understand that Christlike example if one has been saved through the truth and righteousness of the Gospel message.  And when one is conscious of being saved, one walks in blamelessness.  When we are dead to (not ‘in’) sin, we will wake up from our imperfect slumber and walk in the light of Christ.  Are we still sleeping? Are we stumbling around in the dark?  Are we calling ourselves Christians but engaging in sin?  It is possible.

In verse 15, Paul exhorts us to live in wisdom, as one who walks in the light.  His warning to the Ephesians that ‘the days are evil’ in verse 16 also holds true for us.  We are surrounded by temptation.  All of it is rationalised as being ‘healthful’, ‘fun’ and ‘liberating’.  We see sin marketed and packaged beautifully every time we open a magazine or watch television.  And the targets of that marketing are becoming younger all the time.  Thirty years ago, such messages targeted adults.  Now they also target children.  Anyone who has committed a serious sin of which he has repented will tell you it may be enjoyable at the time, but it brings sorrow and heartache later.  Those who repent will understand what the Lord’s will is and they will seek to obey it more and more every day (verse 17).  Paul tells us to stop getting drunk and depressed in verse 18 and replace that with the gifts of the Holy Spirit, such as fortitude and piety.  When we are Spirit-filled, we will be inclined to glorify God and tell others of His wonder through psalms and song (verse 19).  Even if we are silent, we should carry a song of praise and thanksgiving in our hearts to God in Jesus’s name (verse 20).           

Finally, Paul instructs us to look for Christ in our fellow Christians.  We are called to submit to each other imitating the love that the Lord showed for us (verse 21).

You can read more here.

Michael Horton bakerbookscomOver the past year, some Christians — particularly in America — have been wondering if they should have a guidebook, a godly version of Rules for Radicals, by which to live and transform the world.  Proponents of this idea say that it would beat the progressives at their own game and help revive Christianity in a postmodern world.

Many mainstream Protestants would disagree.  They come from a ‘two-kingdom’ tradition, whereby there is a civil kingdom in this world which the Lord oversees with common grace and a heavenly kingdom in the world to come.  This idea started with Augustine of Hippo in The City of God.  Augustine wrote this work in reaction to the shock the Romans experienced after the sacking of the Goths in 410.  ‘How could this have happened?’ they said.  ‘If only we had been better devotees of the Roman gods.’  Augustine stated that this was where Christianity provided a better answer: even if earthly rule turned out to be chaotic or endangered, the kingdom of God (heaven) would ultimately triumph.  

Nearly 1000 years later, the Reformers revisited doctors of the early Church, principally Augustine.  Both Calvin and Luther borrowed heavily from him, especially with regard to the ‘two-kingdom’ idea.  Calvinists, in particular, pushed hard for religious liberties in Geneva, London and Amsterdam.  They were joined by Quakers and deists. This carried over across the Atlantic, influencing even the founding fathers of the United States.  In ‘Response to Questions about the Two Kingdoms’, Dr Michael Horton, the J. Gresham Machen professor of apologetics and systematic theology at Westminster Seminary California (Escondido, California), host of The White Horse Inn national radio broadcast, and editor-in-chief of Modern Reformation magazine, says:

Trained under Presbyterian stalwart John Witherspoon (a signer of the Declaration of Independence), James Madison used two kingdoms arguments for his case. In fact, he surveyed history to argue that the church itself is healthiest when it is least dependent on state sponsorship and support.

Horton explains how ‘two kingdoms’ gained credibility among Protestants:

Clearly, Luther drew the lines between the two kingdoms in clear, bold colors, but so did Calvin—and both did so especially over against the radical Anabaptists who were trying to take over cities in the name of Christ’s millennial kingdom! Calvin wrote explicitly of the ‘two kingdoms’: both under the reign of the risen and ascended Christ, but ‘in different ways’; one, by common grace and the moral law inscribed on the conscience and the other by saving grace and the gospel. Neither Lutherans nor Calvinists have been consistent in working out their theory, but the two-kingdoms doctrine has a substantial body of reflection throughout the whole history of the church.

Until Christ comes again in glory, the Holy Spirit infuses God’s world with ‘common grace’ which benefits all men — no matter what their faith or lack thereof — wherever they are in the world.  Although there appear to us to be exceptions (just watch the news!), generally speaking, we refer to concepts and conduct almost all of us share, such as ‘common decency’.  This would be an example of common grace.  We work together to help — or at least not to harm — each other in this life.  (I’ve included qualifiers because a small number of people, for whatever reason, do not or cannot respect these norms of natural law.)  We also enjoy a type of common grace in appreciating God’s creation in all its natural beauty.  Should I describe a breathtaking sunset here in the UK, a reader in Ghana may read the post understanding the beauty of that sunset.   That reader may choose to send in a comment which acknowledges that experience.  Immediately, we have a common bond as humans.

Of course, in today’s activist world, many detractors of Christianity do not believe we are ‘doing enough’ to combat the world’s ills and see that the ‘two kingdom’ notion is partially responsible.  Conversely, Christians see that political and social action groups are all over the place with secular rules promoting their agenda for a better, transformed world involving conformity which may not meet with universal approval.  What to do?  Do we try to replicate God’s kingdom to earth?  Should we?

Horton says no.  He reminds us that (emphasis mine throughout):

Surely, if ever in this present age, we were to expect a total transformation of the kingdoms of this age into the kingdom of Christ, it would have been in Christ’s earthly ministry. Yet he just preaches the gospel, forgives sins, heals the sick, and marches toward the cross.

Nor do we find a blueprint in the New Testament Epistles for a Christian economic or political system, a Christian theory of art or science, or a plan for universal hygiene. The commands are simply to live godly lives in the present, as parents, children, spouses, employers, and employees, caring for the needs of the saints, participating regularly in the public assembly of Christ’s body, and to pray for our rulers.

Whilst Horton acknowledges that individuals such as William Wilberforce helped transform our societies (in this case, working hard to abolish the slave trade in the 19th century), we are called by God and His Son to work within our own sphere of influence.  So, for most of us, that means being good spouses, friends, parents, employees and volunteers.  The command does not involve setting the world on fire in the secular world or try to devise a heaven on earth.  Horton adds:

We will still need government and private sector relief agencies, but it would make a big difference in society if Christians spent more time in their ordinary vocations … and fulfilling their calling at work with remarkable skill and dedication.

Furthermore, non-Christians are as likely to be numbered among the great heroes, too. Calvin speaks eloquently of the Spirit’s work in common grace of bringing truth, goodness, and beauty in earthly matters to the world through pagans, benefiting us all. It would be ‘ingratitude toward the Spirit’ he says, if we were to ignore these gifts. So in these acts of love and service to our neighbours, Christians are not alone. It is due to God’s common grace, but the church is not a common grace institution. It is not the Rotary Club, UNICEF, or a political action group. The visible church is God’s means of bringing his saving grace to the ends of the earth.

To the pastor who exhorts his congregation to do otherwise would be to miss:

several important biblical points: We’re in the in-between time right now. Not only are the secular kingdoms still secular (though we still participate in them); we ourselves are still simultaneously justified and sinful. We are not ourselves transformed enough (glorified) to agree upon what a transformed world would look like in all the details, much less to implement it perfectly. Imagine an international, evangelical Christian congress where a plan for transforming the world were to be designed. How long would it take before fights broke out?

I’ve been in Christian conferences where theologians, ethicists, and pastors presented their imperatives for a new world order and Christian economists in the room hardly knew where to begin enumerating the factual confusion and incoherence, much less the wisdom, of their arguments. In this in-between time, even a non-Christian economist or hospice worker who cares about people will be more of a genuine neighbor to a sufferer than a lot of busy Christians with big plans that are impractical or uninformed.

Horton encourages us to work along side others in secular volunteer work.  Conversely, he also advises congregations and pastors against turning church into a party political broadcast:

Pastors aren’t authorized to create their own blueprint for transformation, but are servants of the Word. Where Scripture has clearly spoken, he must speak. Where it is silent, he must keep his personal opinions and perhaps even learned conclusions to himself. Of course, pastors are called to preach the whole council of God: not only the gospel, but the law—including its third use (to guide Christian obedience). That’s enough to occupy our prayerful action in the world, without piling up commands that God never gave. We’re never called to transform the world (or even our neighborhood). We’re never called even to bring millions to Jesus Christ.

One day, this kingdom will extend to every aspect of worldly existence. There will be no tyrants, no pain, no disease, no injustice, no poverty, no idolatry, no oppression. The kingdoms of this world will be made the kingdom of our God and of his Christ and he will reign forever. For now, however, Jesus is gathering guests for his feast, forgiving, justifying, calling, renewing, sanctifying, and sending them out to bring others to the swelling hall. Christ’s reign in grace (through the Great Commission) is a parenthesis in God’s plan. His reign in glory, commencing with his return in judgment and final conquest of the whole earth, will be everlasting.

Horton concludes:

We are not building a kingdom, but receiving one (Heb 12:28). Even our lives in the world, in our callings, in our witness to our neighbors, is not bringing the future of Christ’s consummated kingdom into the present. Rather, it is God’s means of extending his reign in grace, while we wait expectantly for his return in glory.

So, let us contend and defend our faith by showing a good example and helping the people with whom we come in contact every day.  That’s it?  Putting it into practice takes a lot of work.     

 

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