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This year, Shrove Tuesday falls on February 28.

As I wrote in 2016, various traditions involving food and merriment take place on this day, because Lent begins 24 hours later:

Nearly all European countries mark Shrove Tuesday with a special food item or fat-laden feast, a final opportunity for enjoyment before Lent begins on Ash Wednesday.

These customs are centuries old and spread to other countries around the world with European exploration and settlement.

The Reformation could not put paid to old pre-Lenten customs which live on today. The British and many Commonwealth nations still call Shrove Tuesday Pancake Day. In Scandinavia and parts of Northern Europe, people enjoy semla, a sweet bun filled with frangipane and topped with whipped cream. People in Iceland celebrate Bursting Day by eating salted meat and peas.

Many countries celebrate Carnival or hold other ancient festivities on Shrove Tuesday.

In Britain, a number of towns in Britain hold pancake races, which date back to the 15th century …

Regarding pancake races, Shrove Tuesday is referred to as Pancake Day in much of the UK. Our pancakes are crêpes, although American pancakes are becoming more popular.

Christians observing Lent have it relatively easy today. Centuries ago, many foods — not just meat — were forbidden during this time of fasting and penitence. The BBC page on Lent states that fish, fats, eggs, and dairy products were also off the menu. Therefore:

So that no food was wasted, families would have a feast on the shriving Tuesday, and eat up all the foods that wouldn’t last the forty days of Lent without going off.

The need to eat up the fats gave rise to the French name Mardi Gras (‘fat Tuesday’). Pancakes became associated with Shrove Tuesday as they were a dish that could use up all the eggs, fats and milk in the house with just the addition of flour.

Beginners who would like to make crepes might find the following recipes of interest:

Top tips for foolproof crêpes (base recipe can also be done for savoury)

Crêpes with Churchmouse’s Amaretto sauce

Fisheaters has a pancake recipe, too, along with recipes for Dutch Baby baked pancakes and Polish Pazcki, jam-filled donuts.

It is possible to enjoy Shrove Tuesday in a Christian way. It is unfortunate that it is uniquely associated with the revelry of Mardi Gras parades, which get so much publicity.

Why not take this time to have a fun, food-oriented celebration with family and friends?

Stained glass question jeremypryorwordpresscomDuring the Middle Ages, good Christians were expected to prepare for Lent after the Church season of Epiphany ended.

This tradition lasted until the mid-20th century in the Catholic Church. Vatican II put paid to it. However, some Anglican and Lutheran congregations also recognised Shrovetide.

Shrovetide begins on Septuagesima Sunday and comprises Sexagesima Sunday and Quinquagesima Sunday (commonly called Shrove Sunday). My post, ‘The Sundays before Lent’ explains what each of these ancient names mean and what they signified in terms of spiritual disciplines. In brief, they mark the days before Easter: 70, 60 and 50, respectively. Centuries ago, some Christians began Lenten fasting the day after Septuagesima Sunday.

The word ‘shrove’ is the past tense of ‘shrive‘, an archaic verb meaning:

Present oneself to a priest for confession, penance, and absolution.

The Sundays of Shrovetide provided a Latin-language based countdown to Easter. You can read more about both in my posts from 2016 and 2010, respectively:

Shrovetide — a history

The Sundays before Lent — an explanation (the Sundays that define Shrovetide)

Our forebears had a much better focus on personal piety than most of us today. Perhaps it is time for those of us abiding by the Church calendar make more use of older traditions, which also have a biblical basis with regard to sanctification.

These spiritual disciplines are not mere ‘works’. Exercised properly, they can help us to bear better fruits of faith.

Yesterday’s post addressed the First Amendment in the Constitution of the United States.

The post showed that, in terms of religion, the Founding Fathers envisaged it much differently than we do today. The numerous court cases from the Warren Court in the 1960s to the present have gradually redefined the relationship between church and state.

The First Amendment developed after a prolonged period of colonial and state churches — mandated denominations — which led to religious persecution and discrimination.

Furthermore, the Founding Fathers gave the United States Article VI of the Constitution which forbids a religious test for holding public office:

The Senators and Representatives before mentioned, and the Members of the several State Legislatures, and all executive and judicial Officers, both of the United States and of the several States, shall be bound by Oath or Affirmation, to support this Constitution; but no religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States.

Ultimately, these provisions and others protect the Church from undue federal influence.

Religion in the colonies

FacingHistory.org has an excellent, detailed article on religious practice in American colonies.

Excerpts and a summary follow, emphases mine.

Not surprisingly, given that the 17th century was a time when Christianity was taken seriously, eight of the 13 colonial governments mandated religious practice, sometimes within a designated Protestant denomination. Taxes collected went to the colonial church for upkeep and clergymen’s salaries.

Refusal to participate was problematic:

in those colonies dissenters who sought to practice or proselytize a different version of Christianity or a non-Christian faith were sometimes persecuted.

Even though the colonies were overwhelmingly Protestant, there was sometimes a lack of Christian unity. Naturally, colonists favoured their own denominations, just as Christians do today. Baptists resented having to attend and pay for the Congregational Church. Even Anglicans were split between mainstream members and the Puritans, a theological conflict which began in England and was transplanted to the colonies.

Between 1680 and 1760, the two main colonial denominations were Anglicanism and Congregationalism. The latter was a Puritan offshoot, which, until recently, held to Calvinistic doctrines.

However, after this period, more colonists arriving aligned themselves with other denominations:

such as the Baptists, Methodists, Quakers, Unitarians and many more, sometimes referred to as “Dissenters.”  In communities where one existing faith was dominant, new congregations were often seen as unfaithful troublemakers who were upsetting the social order.

ProCon.org has an excellent list of the colonial denominations and the adherence expected by colonists.

Virginia was Anglican and affiliated with the Church of England. In 1677, Governor Argall decreed:

Every Person should go to church, Sundays and Holidays, or lye Neck and Heels that Night, and be a Slave to the Colony the following Week; for the second Offence, he should be a Slave for a Month; and for the third, a Year and a Day.

Rhode Island was the opposite, supporting freedom of worship. The 1663 Charter of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations stated:

That our royall will and pleasure is, that noe person within the sayd colonye, at any tyme hereafter, shall bee any wise molested, punished, disquieted, or called in question, for any differences in opinione in matters of religion, and doe not actually disturb the civill peace of our sayd colony; but that all and everye person and persons may, from tyme to tyme, and at all tymes hereafter, freelye and fullye have and enjoye his and theire owne judgments and consciences, in matters of religious concernments…

It is interesting that the founder of Rhode Island, Roger Williams (c.1603-1683), was a Puritan minister who was banished from Massachusetts for supporting freedom of religion.

Even where colonial decrees allowed freedom of religion, their taxes often went to support the colony’s designated denomination. This is why the Danbury Baptists of Connecticut, Congregationalist, wrote to Thomas Jefferson in 1801.

Colonial penalties and controversies

The religious atmosphere, even among like-minded souls, was somewhat heated in colonial America.

Massachusetts

Returning to FacingHistory.org, in Massachusetts, a Congregationalist colony, a man complained in 1632 that:

fellows which keepe hogges all weeke preach on the Sabboth.

Massachusetts was the location of the Salem Witch Trials in 1692 and 1693. Although clergy frowned on deviating from Holy Scripture:

alchemy and other magical practices were not altogether divorced from Christianity in the minds of many “natural philosophers” (the precursors of scientists), who sometimes thought of them as experiments that could unlock the secrets of Scripture.

The Witch Trials were short-lived, however, religious conformity was expected in the years that followed. As late as 1768, a Boston resident wrote that:

the selectmen of Boston at last were able to “parade the street and oblige everyone to go to Church . . . on pain of being put in Stokes or otherwise confined”

Laws were instituted that forbade certain activities on a Sunday:

travel, drinking, gambling, or blood sports …

There were no church courts for punishing religious misdeeds. The civil courts handled that, sometimes harshly. In Massachusetts:

the civil government dealt harshly with religious dissenters, exiling the likes of Anne Hutchinson and Roger Williams for their outspoken criticism of Puritanism, and whipping Baptists or cropping the ears of Quakers for their determined efforts to proselytize. Official persecution reached its peak between 1659 and 1661, when Massachusetts Bay’s Puritan magistrates h[anged] four Quaker missionaries.

Virginia

Virginia, as stated above, expected everyone to attend an Anglican service on Sunday.

In the mid-18th century, more Baptists moved there and were violently suppressed:

the colonial Anglican elite responded to their presence with force. Baptist preachers were frequently arrested. Mobs physically attacked members of the sect, breaking up prayer meetings and sometimes beating participants. As a result, the 1760s and 1770s witnessed a rise in discontent and discord within the colony (some argue that Virginian dissenters suffered some of the worst persecutions in antebellum America).9

England ends corporal punishment of dissenters

In 1682, England put an end to corporal punishment of dissenters in New England.

The English Parliament’s Toleration Act of 1689 granted religious freedom. It:

gave Quakers and several other denominations the right to build churches and to conduct public worship in the colonies. While dissenters continued to endure discrimination and financial penalties well into the eighteenth century, those who did not challenge the authority of the Puritans directly were left unmolested and were not legally punished for their “heretical” beliefs.

Elsewhere

Some colonies, like Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, New Jersey and Delaware, were either founded on the basis of religious tolerance (the first two) or had no dominant denomination from the outset:

In the Carolinas, New York, New Jersey, and Delaware, Anglicans never made up a majority, in contrast to Virginia.  With few limits on the influx of new colonists, Anglican citizens in those colonies needed to accept, however grudgingly, ethnically diverse groups of Presbyterians, Baptists, Quakers, members of the Dutch Reformed Church, and a variety of German Pietists.

Catholics, of course, were universally looked down upon. Cecilius Calvert founded Maryland in 1634 as a safe haven for them. However, in 1649, Puritans took over the colony’s assembly. Fortunately, wise heads prevailed and mandatory taxes went to both Catholic and Puritan churches.

Something similar happened in New York, which began as a Dutch colony in 1614. The prevailing denomination was the Dutch Reformed Church. The English took over in 1664, and granted religious tolerance. However, they allowed the Dutch Reformed Church to retain their properties. The New York Charter of Liberties and Privileges of 1683 granted official acceptance of all Christians. In 1697, the English founded Trinity Church (Wall Street) by Royal Charter. The funds Trinity received from the Crown helped them to become a wealthy church.

Later developments

As time passed and more colonists arrived from different denominations, Anglican and Congregationalist colonies had to relax their religious laws.

Therefore, it is no surprise that the Founding Fathers wanted to ensure religious freedom in the newly-independent United States. For this, they relied on contemporary philosophers such as John Locke for input.

The Procon.org page shows that, by the time the colonies became states in the mid- to late-18th century, their new state constitutions granted freedom of worship.

However, where mandated colonial churches had existed, taxation continued to go to their support until the early 19th century. Even where there was no designated denomination — and even with the United States Constitution in force — there were still statutes for a religious test.

Connecticut stopped its support of the Congregational Church in 1818, 17 years after the Danbury Baptists complained to Thomas Jefferson.

Virginia repealed their religious test, along with the taxation requirement, in 1830.

Massachusetts ceased supporting the Congregational Church in 1833.

However, North Carolina did not eliminate religious references and requirements until 1875.  New Hampshire deleted its requirement that senators be Protestant as late as 1877.

Today, we wonder why this took so long and whether these states were in violation of the US Constitution. Conservapedia explains that the First Amendment was for federal not state use:

The first clause of the first amendments states “Congress shall make no law..”; demonstrating that it is a restriction on laws that the Congress of the United States can pass. Nowhere does the constitution restrict State and Local Legislatures from passing any laws respecting an establishment of religion.

However, when the colonies became states, they granted freedom of worship, although, as we see, they lagged behind when it came to repealing mandatory religious tax and removing religious restrictions on legislators.

In 1940, the Supreme Court made the First Amendment applicable to the states. Current judicial interpretation:

holds that the Fourteenth Amendment extended its scope from Congress to the state legislatures, since freedom of religion can be classified as one of the “privileges and immunities of citizens of the United States” mentioned therein.

Conclusion

From the founding of the 13 colonies to the present, America has had close links to Christianity.

It is only in recent years — starting in the 1960s — that secularists have been denying the nation’s history in this regard.

Since then, Supreme Court decisions have confused the situation. Although most have ruled against Christianity — most famously in school prayers — sometimes they rule in favour. Prayers in state legislature led by a publicly funded chaplain are constitutional and Christian groups may use state school property and town halls for religious purposes after hours.

However, the cases will continue to proliferate as the number of secularists continues to grow.

Donald Trump was inaugurated five days ago.

Some Christians are disconcerted. A few examples of essays posted last week on the subject follow. Emphases mine below.

1/ John MacArthur’s Grace To You (GTY) blog has an excellent post by staffer Cameron Buettel who reminds GTY readers about obedience to government, specifically Romans 13:1-5 and MacArthur’s sermon ‘Why Christians Submit to the Government’.

GTY readers — conservative Evangelicals — were most unhappy. How on earth could an immoral, unbiblical man become president? One surmises they would have preferred the scheming, conniving and possibly criminal ‘Crooked Hillary’. Bottom line: Trump isn’t Christian enough to be in the Oval Office! (As if abortion and single sex marriage advocate Obama was?!)

2/ Moving along to the Episcopalian/Anglican site, Stand Firm, one of their contributors, A S Haley, was, rightly, more concerned about what he calls the Sea of Political Correctness. In ‘A Wave of PC Crashes into a Solid Barrier’, Haley points out:

The Sea of Political Correctness, fed since November 9 by the tears of the self-righteous, is now engulfing its devotees and followers. Vainly casting about for safe spaces where they may continue to breathe air unsullied by what they perceive as the sulfurous emanations of their opponents, they are gasping, choking and sinking as wave after wave of fresh emotional outbursts crashes over their heads …

The politically correct crowd was so certain of its ability to name the next President that it shattered on the shoals of the Electoral College. It has been unable since then to re-form under a single, agreed leader. It is instead trying to coalesce under a common hatred of the successful candidate. Hatred, however, like fear, needs a crowd in which to dissolve, and a crowd needs direction—which is supplied by a leader.

Although I disagree with Haley when he says that Trump’s platform lacks

concrete programs of proposed legislation and executive actions

because those had been laid out in detail on Trump’s campaign website for over a year, he is correct in saying:

there is every reason to hope that a beginning has been made—is being made as I write—and that, with God’s grace, America may truly once more show the way in its humility, in its decency, and in its willingness to serve without expectation of reward.

One of Haley’s readers wrote about the protests during the weekend of the inauguration:

In fact, since one of the main complaints about Trump is his vulgarity, the vulgarity and viciousness of these speakers should negate any of those complaints.

I hope so. How can people — e.g. the GTY readers above — miss the stark contrast?

3/ From there, I went for a Reformed (Calvinist) perspective. Dr R Scott Clark of of Westminster Seminary California is the author of several books on the Reformed Confessions. He also writes the ever-helpful Heidelblog. He posted an excellent essay at the time of the inauguration, ‘A Reminder Of Why We Should Not Long For A State Church’.

The GTY readers moaning about Trump not being Christian enough should peruse it, but it looks at something anathema to conservative biblicists: history.

Excerpts follow:

… I am regularly astonished at the number of American Christians who seem to want a state-church. They seem not to understand the history of the post-canonical history of state-churches nor the difference between national Israel and the USA …

The governor of my state is a former Jesuit seminarian turned New Ager. I certainly do not want the Hon. Edmund G. Brown, Jr dictating what is to be preached or when it is to be preached. I am sure that Americans who advocate for a state-church do not want the Hon. Barack Hussein Obama or Donald J. Trump to meddle in the life of the institutional church.

Of course, when this objection is raised, the reply is an appeal to an eschatology of great expectations. This raises the problem of the chicken and the egg. Does the postmillennialist want to facilitate the coming earthly glory age through a state-church or is the state-church only to come about after the glory age has descended? This is not clear to me …

Under the new covenant and New Testament, there is no state-church. There is the state and there is the church. Calvin described these two realms as God’s duplex regimen (twofold kingdom). He rules over both by his providence but he rules the church, in his special providence, by his Law and Gospel revealed in holy Scripture. He rules over the civil magistrate by his general providence through his law revealed in nature and in the human conscience (see Romans 1–2) …

The visible church’s vocation is to announce the Kingdom of God in Christ, to preach the law and the gospel, administer the sacraments and church discipline (Matt 16 and 18) …

4/ I then sought another sensible Calvinist perspective, this time from Dr Michael Horton, who also teaches at the same seminary as Dr Clark. He is Westminster Seminary California’s J. Gresham Machen Professor of Theology and Apologetics.

The Washington Post invited Horton to write an article on faith. On January 3, the paper published ‘Evangelicals should be deeply troubled by Donald Trump’s attempt to mainstream heresy’. It concerns one of the prosperity gospel preachers who prayed at the inauguration: Paula White.

On the one hand, I heartily agree that White is a very poor example of a Christian pastor. On the other hand, she and Trump found solidarity in the prosperity gospel which he grew up with under Norman Vincent Peale. Furthermore, White was helpful to his campaign in getting out the vote among this sector of misguided churchgoers.

Even more unfortunate than her praying at the inauguration is the news that she will head the Evangelical Advisory Board in the Trump administration. I suspect this had not been announced when Horton wrote his article. Still, Trump is no theologian. I refer readers to Clark’s essay above.

Horton points out that such preachers have been around the White House before and are popular among certain sections of American society:

Peale and [Robert ‘Crystal Cathedral’] Schuller were counselors to CEOs and U.S. presidents. Word of Faith has been more popular among rural sections of the Bible Belt, where faith healers have had a long and successful history. But in the 1980s, the two streams blended publicly, with Copeland, Hinn and Schuller showing up regularly together on TBN.

He goes on to explain the dangerous heresy:

Televangelist White has a lot in common with Trump, besides being fans of [Joel] Osteen. Both are in their third marriage and have endured decades of moral and financial scandal. According to family values spokesman James Dobson, another Trump adviser, White “personally led [Trump] to Christ.”

Like her mentor, T. D. Jakes, White adheres closely to the Word of Faith teachings. Besides throwing out doctrines like the Trinity and confusing ourselves with God, the movement teaches that Jesus went to the cross not to bring forgiveness of our sins but to get us out of financial debt, not to reconcile us to God but to give us the power to claim our prosperity, not to remove the curse of death, injustice and bondage to ourselves but to give us our best life now. White says emphatically that Jesus is “not the only begotten Son of God,” just the first. We’re all divine and have the power to speak worlds into existence.

Again, Trump doesn’t get this because his family left their mainstream Presbyterian church in Queens after his confirmation to worship at Peale’s Marble Collegiate Church in Manhattan. After Trump married Ivana and became even more successful, he drifted away from the church. Although in recent years he has been attending Episcopal church services, his theological formation isn’t very good. But, again, echoing Calvin’s two-fold kingdom theology, voters did not elect Trump as Pastor of the United States but rather President of the United States.

I nodded in agreement to this comment, which is 100% true:

Trump is president not a theologian and Horton shouldn’t be holding him up to that standard. Where was Dr. Horton when Planned Parenthood and the Gay marriage thingy was going full steam under Obama. Yes, Horton, we realize you are not an evangelical fundie, but jumping on Trump for this?

Michael plays the ‘guilt by association’ card very well.

Correct. I do not recall Horton criticising Obama’s policies very much. I’ve been reading and listening to him since 2009.

5/ Finally, I found Dr Carl Trueman‘s article on First Things, ‘President Trump, Therapist-In-Chief?’

Trueman, a Presbyterian, is Professor of Historical Theology and Church History and holds the Paul Woolley Chair of Church History at Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia. He is politically centrist but theologically conservative.

Trueman says:

I agree with Horton’s analysis but would take the concern a step further. All Americans, not just Evangelicals, should be worried that Paula White is praying at the inauguration, though not for particularly religious reasons. By and large, the rites of American civic religion are harmless enough, bland baptisms of the status quo by the application of a bit of liturgy emptied of any real dogmatic significance or personal demands.

That is what inauguration prayers are largely about. Rightly or wrongly, everyone is represented, especially those who were helpful to the incoming president during campaign season.

He concludes that the real shame is that Trump seems to be endorsing the notion of ‘Psychological Man’.

However, once again, may I remind Drs Trueman and Horton: voters did not elect Trump to serve as the nation’s pastor-in-chief.

6/ The best rebuttals to Trueman’s article is in the comments to his essay. The two comments that nailed it perfectly came from Mike D’Virgilio, whose website is called Keeping Your Kids Christian. It looks very good.

D’Virgilio is a Trump supporter and I agree with his assessments. Excerpts follow. First, from this comment:

I believe Trump is a net positive for Christianity because what he’s doing (including putting the huge “Merry Christmas” signs on his podium during his thank you tour) is potentially contributing to the re-building of the Christian plausibility structure of America. The term “plausibility structure” goes back to sociologist Peter Berger’s 1967 book The Sacred Canopy. In a more recent book he defines this simply as, “the social context within which any particular definition of reality is plausible”. In other words, what *seems* real to people. For the last 50 years the secularists have driven American culture off a cliff (via education, media, Hollywood, etc.) so that the dominant plausibility structure has been postmodernism/relativism/materialism/secularism (they are all logically intertwined). So God for many people (the rise of the “Nones” for instance) *seems* no more real than Santa Claus. Rarely, if ever, do people grapple with the evidence for the truth claims of Christianity; they just drift away or don’t see it as relevant at all.

So Trump, regardless of the content of his own faith, or those at his inauguration, is possibly making Christianity plausible again. Most Americans don’t pay attention to what these people actually believe, the theological content of their faith, such as it is. But all of a sudden with Trump this Christianity thing doesn’t seem like such the ugly cultural step-child anymore … None of this will change over night, but the arrival of Trump is the first time I’ve had hope in this regard since, oh, I was born!

… And I agree with pretty much everything Carl says here (I’m a graduate of Westminster myself), but I don’t at all agree that Trump is contributing to a therapeutic faith and the triumph of the psychological

This is from D’Virgilio’s second lengthy comment:

… There is no other candidate who has done what Trump has done, or could be doing what he’s doing. Cruz is closest of the bunch, but I’m afraid he’s just not a winsome fellow. Once you get beyond the caricature of Trump, he’s a very likable, appealing showman. Everyone who knows him likes him, says he’s humble (impossible to believe for many) and kindhearted.

The greatest thing he’s done is blow up political correctness. He’s taken that on, along with the shamelessly corrupt media that promotes it, in a way no other Republican can even get close. This is huge for a Christian plausibility structure because PC is antithetical to a biblical/classical (in the sense the objective truth exists) worldview …

And Trump was Trump before the Apprentice. Trump made the Apprentice, the Apprentice didn’t make Trump. So I totally disagree Hollywood had anything to do with making the man, The Man. I don’t disagree with your assessment of the secular materialism, which is one of the reasons I initially wanted nothing to do with Trump … He doesn’t have to be an orthodox, Bible believing Christian to fight for Christians, to appreciate and respect Christians, to love America and the Christian influence in its history. I leave the soul judgments to God. I’m just grateful he’s our next president, and not that other person.

I realise some readers are apprehensive about Trump, what he might do and what he represents. I hope this has given them some food for thought, especially in terms of Christianity in America.

Let’s remember that there were four other members of the clergy besides Paula White and a rabbi. Furthermore, in his remarks, Franklin Graham reminded everyone that there is only one God.

In closing, sensible Christians living in the United States should be relieved Trump is in the White House. This will be borne out in due course.

In the meantime, rather than sitting around carping, we can always pray that he becomes a better, more orthodox Christian.

Sorry to be late to the party with this item, but it was in our two-week Christmas issue of the Radio Times, Britain’s foremost television (and radio) guide.

In the 17-30 December 2016 issue, the back page interview was with Prime Minister Theresa May, also the MP for Maidenhead. She answered a variety of questions from reporter Michael Hodges. Excerpts and a summary follow.

On Christmas Day, she and her husband Philip go to church. Afterwards, they meet up with friends for a drink, then it’s off to an ecumenical lunch for the elderly, where May takes time to talk with her constituents.

The Mays return home where the Prime Minister roasts a goose for Christmas dinner. They haven’t had turkey for several years. Although others consider goose to be extremely fatty, May points out:

if you keep the fat, it makes wonderful roast potatoes for quite a long time thereafter.

Absolutely. We also have goose at Christmas, partly for that reason, and for the unctuous stock from the wings.

May, a practising Anglican, lent the Radio Times a photo of herself as a girl with her late father, the Revd Hubert Brasier. She told Michael Hodges what Christmas past was like:

Throughout my life I have been going to Midnight Mass on Christmas Eve and church on Christmas Day morning. As a child I had to wait until my father had finished his services before I could open my presents.

It felt like a very long wait. Others I knew would be able to open their presents first thing in the morning.

I’m an only child and my mother played the organ. So I would sit alongside her while my father was taking the service.

The interview did not mention that May’s parents died within a year of each other. Her father died just as she completed her studies at Oxford and her mother several months later. It can’t have been easy for her, especially with no siblings for support:

When you first lose your parents, Christmas is hugely, hugely important. Now I enjoy Christmas with my husband Philip and we keep up the tradition of going to church. But, of course, it does remind me of my parents.

During her childhood, she watched only the BBC, until:

one day, my mother managed to jiggle the aerial and we got ITV and I saw Robin Hood. That music and Richard Greene as Robin Hood really grabbed me.

This is the iconic theme to which May refers:

May’s other television favourites included early series of The Avengers with Diana Rigg, then Joanna Lumley, although:

I have never had a female role model — I’ve always just got on with doing what I am doing.

As an adult, she watched the ‘very evocative’ Das Boot. These days, she enjoys Scandinavian dramas Borgen and The Bridge. Christmas Day favourites include Doctor Who and David Suchet as Poirot.

She doesn’t take recommendations for television viewing:

My advisers don’t tell me what to watch on the television — I watch what I want to watch.

May ended the interview by saying she had no idea a year ago that she would be Prime Minister today.

What follows is her four-minute New Year’s message. If her father was as eloquent a speaker as his daughter is, he must have been a splendid vicar. May speaks of the change that Brexit will bring this year but also of the unity of the four nations of the United Kingdom and the shared values and experiences that make us one people:

This is very similar to the first speech she gave as Prime Minister outside No. 10.

She and Donald Trump will get on well. Of that, I have no doubt.

Circumcision of Christ stained glassNew Year’s Day was traditionally the Feast of the Circumcision of Christ.

The stained glass representation of the event is probably one of a kind. I don’t know the name or location of the church.

The Circumcision represents the first shedding of our Lord’s blood for mankind. Read more about it below in my post from 2010:

January 1 – Feast of the Circumcision of Christ

My post from 2013 explains that the traditional Protestant denominations recognised this day, along with the Catholic Church:

New Year’s Day: the Circumcision — and Naming — of Christ Jesus

Today, it is largely ignored — or rededicated, which is what the Catholics did:

Solemnity of Mary the Mother of God

In the midst of our celebrations with families and friends, let us remember that New Year’s Day is also

A time for reflection

My reader undergroundpewster — an Episcopal layman — wrote about Jeremiah 23:1-6, one of the readings for the last Sunday of the Church year on November 20, 2016.

‘Did You Preach on Jeremiah’s Prophecy Today?’ is a short and particularly powerful post about bad shepherds of the flock. Please read it in full. Excerpts and a summary follow. Emphases in the original.

These are the relevant verses:

Woe to the shepherds who destroy and scatter the sheep of my pasture! says the Lord. Therefore, thus says the Lord, the God of Israel, concerning the shepherds who shepherd my people: It is you who have scattered my flock, and have driven them away, and you have not attended to them. So I will attend to you for your evil doings, says the Lord. Then I myself will gather the remnant of my flock out of all the lands where I have driven them, and I will bring them back to their fold, and they shall be fruitful and multiply. I will raise up shepherds over them who will shepherd them, and they shall not fear any longer, or be dismayed, nor shall any be missing, says the Lord. The days are surely coming, says the Lord, when I will raise up for David a righteous Branch, and he shall reign as king and deal wisely, and shall execute justice and righteousness in the land. In his days Judah will be saved and Israel will live in safety. And this is the name by which he will be called: ‘The Lord is our righteousness.’

The Gospel reading for that day was about the thieves on the Cross (Luke 23:35-43) which includes this important verse. Jesus told the thief who recognised Him as the Son of God:

“Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise.”

Undergroundpewster says that it is much easier to preach on that verse than on Jeremiah’s. The message is positive and redemptive.

However, bad shepherds ignore Jeremiah at their peril. The post explains how and why. Ultimately:

I pray that the false teachers among us will come to the realization that there are some criminal acts, such as driving away God’s flock, which put them in jeopardy of God’s punishment and that they repent before they wind up like the less fortunate criminal who derided our Lord as he hung beside Jesus.

It is up to laypeople to know how to discuss and explain Scripture when clergy do not. We have many bad shepherds in varying degrees, especially in the Episcopal/Anglican Church. I know. That’s my denomination.

This is partly the fault of seminaries, but also of those men and women themselves who rarely look beyond what they are taught. Unfortunately, their bishops encourage spiritual blindness, which extends to their congregations, not unlike the Pharisees of Jesus’s time towards their faithful.

Pray regularly and study the Bible.

Wedding bands ehowcomMy beloved better half and I are celebrating our Silver Wedding Anniversary.

It is amazing that we have shared nearly half our lives together in holy matrimony.

Neither of us has ever been bored in each other’s company.

We also found marriage vows to be very true indeed in stating the future.

That said, adversity has brought us just as close together as have our happiest experiences.

We were best friends before we married and we remain best friends today.

The vows

We specifically requested the 1662 Book of Common Prayer version, which our celebrant was reluctant to say, however, we pressed on and won.

Feel free to read the prayers in full. For now, here are the salient points (emphases mine):

At the day and time appointed for solemnization of Matrimony, the persons to be married shall come into the body of the Church with their friends and neighbours: and there standing together, the Man on the right hand, and the Woman on the left, the Priest shall say,
DEARLY beloved, we are gathered together here in the sight of God, and in the face of this congregation, to join together this Man and this Woman in holy Matrimony; which is an honourable estate, instituted of God in the time of man’s innocency, signifying unto us the mystical union that is betwixt Christ and his Church; which holy estate Christ adorned and beautified with his presence, and first miracle that he wrought, in Cana of Galilee; and is commended of Saint Paul to be honourable among all men: and therefore is not by any to be enterprised, nor taken in hand, unadvisedly, lightly, or wantonly, to satisfy men’s carnal lusts and appetites, like brute beasts that have no understanding; but reverently, discreetly, advisedly, soberly, and in the fear of God; duly considering the causes for which Matrimony was ordained.
      First, It was ordained for the procreation of children, to be brought up in the fear and nurture of the Lord, and to the praise of his holy Name.
      Secondly, It was ordained for a remedy against sin, and to avoid fornication; that such persons as have not the gift of continency might marry, and keep themselves undefiled members of Christ’s body.
      Thirdly, It was ordained for the mutual society, help, and comfort, that the one ought to have of the other, both in prosperity and adversity. Into which holy estate these two persons present come now to be joined. Therefore if any man can shew any just cause, why they may not lawfully be joined together, let him now speak, or else hereafter for ever hold his peace.

If no impediment be alleged, then shall the Curate say unto the Man,

N. WILT thou have this woman to thy wedded wife, to live together after God’s ordinance in the holy estate of Matrimony? Wilt thou love her, comfort her, honour, and keep her in sickness and in health; and, forsaking all other, keep thee only unto her, so long as ye both shall live?

The Man shall answer, I will.Then shall the Priest say unto the Woman,

N. WILT thou have this man to thy wedded husband, to live together after God’s ordinance in the holy estate of Matrimony? Wilt thou obey him, and serve him, love, honour, and keep him in sickness and in health; and, forsaking all other, keep thee only unto him, so long as ye both shall live?

The Woman shall answer, I will.

Then the Man leaving the Ring upon the fourth finger of the Woman’s left hand, they shall both kneel down; and the Minister shall say,

Let us pray.

O ETERNAL God, Creator and Preserver of all mankind, Giver of all spiritual grace, the Author of everlasting life: Send thy blessing upon these thy servants, this man and this woman, whom we bless in thy Name; that, as Isaac and Rebecca lived faithfully together, so these persons may surely perform and keep the vow and covenant betwixt them made, (whereof this Ring given and received is a token and pledge,) and may ever remain in perfect love and peace together, and live according to thy laws; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Then shall the Priest join their right hands together, and say,

Those whom God hath joined together let no man put asunder.

Then shall the Minister speak unto the people.

FORASMUCH as N. and N. have consented together in holy wedlock, and have witnessed the same before God and this company, and thereto have given and pledged their troth either to other, and have declared the same by giving and receiving of a Ring, and by joining of hands; I pronounce that they be Man and Wife together, In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.

And the Minister shall add this Blessing.

GOD the Father, God the Son, God the Holy Ghost, bless, preserve, and keep you; the Lord mercifully with his favour look upon you; and so fill you with all spiritual benediction and grace, that ye may so live together in this life, that in the world to come ye may have life everlasting. Amen.

Life together

One of the things that surprised us most about married life is the sudden rapidity of adverse events, whether those related to our jobs, family or health.

We could be fine one day and plunged into emergency mode the next.

This is why it is important to marry your best friend.

I personally know of a few instances where a husband couldn’t cope with an in-law’s illness or he didn’t want to be a father once his children became teenagers. Divorce ensued.

Marriage is more than hot sex on demand.

It is a solemn contract to be honoured every day and in ways one does not expect, some of which might be quite unpleasant.

‘Sickness’ refers not only to eventualities with husband or wife but also their respective families.

Engaged couples should be aware of that beforehand. Married couples would do well in making sure their children are aware of it.

I am reminded of the words to Fiddler on the Roof‘s ‘L’Chaim’:

One day it’s honey and raisin cake, next day a stomach ache

Regardless:

Drink l’Chaim, to Life!

Sanctity of marriage

One of the terms I heard most frequently during my years at Catholic school was ‘the sanctity of marriage’, which no priest, nun or lay teacher ever explained. Nor did my parents.

It’s a bit difficult hearing that expression as a teenager in full hormonal explosion as you make the rounds of older cousins’ weddings to tall, beautiful blondes. It was hard not to look at them in awe and think, ‘Lucky guy!’

Yet, three of those marriages failed. One cousin, twice affected, never remarried and returned to the Church. The other remarried and has enjoyed two decades of happiness to another beautiful woman.

Couples who have been married for a long time never discuss the nuts and bolts of the sanctity of marriage. It’s time they did. I did not understand the full import until several weeks ago when I read a sermon by John MacArthur. I summarised it in July and included the link to what he had to say in full.

This is what struck me the most:

And then finally, marriage is picture.  It’s picture and what is it picture of?  It is picture of Christ and his what?  Church.  Ephesians 5, it is a graphic demonstration in the face of the world that God loves and has an ongoing unending relationship with the bride whom he loves.  And for whom he lives and dies and I dare say that the whole metaphor of marriage of a symbol of Christ and his church has lost its punch because the church is so rife with divorce and fouled up marriages. 

For those who prefer a secular explanation, he has this:

Some psychologists did a study and came up with a theory that you are what you are because you are adjusting to the most important person in your life.  Whoever the most important person is in your life, that’s the person you are trying to please

Both of those explain the sanctity of marriage on a temporal and a heavenly level.

I wish all my married readers many additional years of happiness together.

I also hope that my single readers pray — and wait — for the man or woman of their dreams who will love and cherish them not only on their wedding day but until death do them part.

Monday’s postCharlesSimeon.jpg introduced the 18th and 19th century Anglican Charles Simeon.

Tuesday’s excerpted his commentary and advice on Matthew 7:6 — casting pearls before swine.

Today’s post provides more information about the ministry of this pioneer of Anglican ‘evangelicalism’, often criticised by his congregation and Cambridge University students, among whom he ministered.

In 1979, to mark the bicentenary of Simeon’s conversion at King’s College, Cambridge, the Revd Max Warren — formerly General Secretary of the Church Missionary Society and then a Residentiary Canon of Westminster Abbey — wrote a considered essay of this clergyman. Unfortunately, Warren died before he could read it to a group of Anglicans who were to draw conclusions about the lessons of Simeon’s ministry.

Warren’s great-grandfather knew Simeon. This ancestor wrote a memoir which included two letters Simeon had written to him. Warren’s great-grandmother, the man’s wife, kept a diary. She died in 1836, the same year Simeon left this mortal coil. Therefore, Simeon’s life and times no doubt touched him more personally than most.

The PDF of Warren’s paper is available here. A summary follows with page numbers cited.

We can learn much from the way Simeon ministered to people, not only in Cambridge but also around England.

Worldview

Charles Simeon’s worldview was shaped in part by the French Revolution. He was ordained by the time it took place between 1789 and 1795. He was concerned about possible similar threats to Britain, namely the establishment, including the established Church of England.

He was also a lifelong conservative in his thinking.

He would have been aware that, when he was converted in 1779, that 7,358 out of 11,194 Anglican parishes in England had no clergyman (p. 1).

The nature of conversion

For Simeon, conversion was connected with commitment.

He insisted that that commitment increase over time, particularly for himself but also for others.

He deeply believed that no one could truly be regemerated unless he were experiencing ‘brokenness of heart’ brought about by the profound realisation — ‘self-loathing and abhorrence’ — of one’s own wretched sinful nature.

Only then could the sorrowful — and repentant — convert begin to appreciate the work of sanctifying grace from the most holy God (p. 9).

Personal life

As I wrote on Monday, Simeon never married.

As he was ostracised for his enthusiastic, evangelical views and preaching, he was a lonely man for many years.

However, this solitude also made him more aware of what clergy faced when they were opposed. This is why he held ‘conversation parties’ with Cambridge students studying for ordination. He wanted them to know what and how to preach when. He also impressed upon these young men that the Bible was both an ‘establishing’ and a ‘converting’ book. Furthermore, they had to practise what they preached. They also had to understand that they were not doing the regenerative work upon their congregation, it was the Holy Spirit. (p. 5)

Even those who ended up not being ordained and who were assigned to far reaches of the British Empire benefited from Simeon’s advice on how to communicate with people. (p. 8)

Solitude also gave him the idea of including clergy wives in lectures for their husbands. (p. 6) The more they knew and understood their husbands’ work, the better they could discuss it with them and support them emotionally.

Holy Trinity Church, Cambridge

Simeon was the vicar of Holy Trinity Church in Cambridge for 54 years. That was his one and only assignment.

His outlook on ministry was to maintain a balance between being a pastor and an evangelist. He also held to Martin Luther’s dictum of knowing nothing but Jesus Christ and Him crucified. (p. 3)

Holy Trinity — then and now — was a congregation of students but also townspeople who will speak their minds about church. It was also — even in Warren’s time as its vicar — the largest in the Diocese of Ely. (p. 3)

In church

Holy Trinity might not have liked Simeon’s sermons and, when they weren’t angry with him, tune them out but they could not easily tune out the way he delivered the liturgy. He actually prayed — not read — the prayers from the Book of Common Prayer. This was new. Most clergy muttered the prayers.

Warren wrote that it was the actual praying of the liturgy which eventually won over his cantankerous and, sometimes violent, congregation. (p. 3)

Outside of church

Simeon also started informal groups, hosting them outside of church. He sometimes hired a room in another parish to accommodate them.

He did this so he could get to know his congregation and also so that they would not see him as being ‘ten feet above contradiction’.

He was also careful to assemble a group of 12 stewards who would manage the parish’s finances and assess the need for charity and relief.

He was a pioneer in involving laity. His Visiting Society volunteers paid visits on poorer townspeople, giving them spiritual instruction as well as food to eat.

He, too, was known for his visits to ill and dying parishoners.

He took the food donation idea further during the bread famine of 1788 and 1789, when he contributed a subscription so that bread could be fairly distributed to the poor in villages around Cambridge. He was known for making his rounds on horseback and stopping in at village bakeries. (p. 4)

Travel in England

Simeon made it his mission to travel to towns and cities around England to spread the Gospel.

If he was rejected by his own congregation, the rest of the country received him warmly. Remember that he had to get around by horse and carriage on long, bumpy rides. There was no railway network in place.

In 1798, he recorded that he gave 75 addresses between May 18 and August 19. He spoke to a total of 87,310 people.

The only other evangelist likely to have spoken to more on a tour was Dwight L Moody — 75 years later. (p. 11)

Overseas influence

Simeon was very concerned about the growth of the Anglican church in the Empire.

His missionary initiatives helped to expand the Church in India, New Zealand and Australia.

Conclusion

Charles Simeon was a man who bucked the trend in style and substance. Although discouraged and lonely, he pressed on with the Lord’s work. He encouraged seminarians and young clergymen to do so, too.

He pioneered the way for an evangelical strand in the Anglican Church. It still exists, but less so.

Perhaps it is time for Anglican clergy and seminaries to stop worrying about social justice and put more effort into winning souls for Christ and the life beyond.

CharlesSimeon.jpgYesterday’s post gave a potted biography of one of the first Anglican evangelicals, Charles Simeon (1759-1836).

(Image credit: Wikipedia)

It is useful in order to glean a better understanding of what he says of Matthew 7:6 (ESV):

“Do not give dogs what is holy, and do not throw your pearls before pigs, lest they trample them underfoot and turn to attack you.

This is the King James Version:

Give not that which is holy unto the dogs, neither cast ye your pearls before swine, lest they trample them under their feet, and turn again and rend you.

Charles Simeon had a very difficult time as vicar of Holy Trinity Church, Cambridge. The congregation and students actively rejected and persecuted his piety and preaching for 12 years. Even after more than 50 years there, he still received a measure of opposition from the townspeople and some at the university. Yet, he died among faithful friends and left a deep spiritual legacy. His Simeon Trust is still active today.

As Simeon had such an awful time as vicar, he was careful to preach according to his audience. His essay, ‘Caution to Be Used in Reproving’ is on the second half of a very helpful page of insights on Matthew 7:6 at the Precept Austin site.

Although excerpts and a summary of Simeon’s essay follow, please take the time to read it in full. Emphases in bold are in the original; those in purple are mine.

The second half of the introduction discusses judging others rightly, considering their state of mind, and ensuring we do so with a pure heart:

To judge others uncharitably will expose us to similar treatment from them, as well as to the displeasure of Almighty God. Before we presume to judge others at all, we ought to be diligent in searching out and amending our own faults; without which we are but ill qualified to reprove the faults of others. We ought also to consider the state of the person whom we undertake to reprove: for if he be hardened in his wickedness, and disposed to resent our well-meant endeavours, it will be more prudent to let him alone, and to wait for some season when we may speak to him with a better prospect of success. Such is the import of the caution in our text; from whence we may observe,

I. That religious instruction is often most unworthily received—

The value of religious instruction is but little known—

[… A richly-furnished mind, a cultivated taste, a polished manner, are distinctions which the richer part of the community particularly affect: and they are most envied who possess in the highest measure such accomplishments. But divine knowledge is considered as of little worth: though it would enrich the soul beyond all conception, and adorn it with all the most amiable graces, and is therefore most fully characterized by the name of “pearls,” yet has it no beauty, no excellency, in the eyes of carnal men: the generality are as insensible of its value as swine are of the value of pearls, which they would “trample under their feet” as mire and dirt …]

Many, instead of being pleased, are only irritated and offended at it—

[Nothing under heaven has ever given more offence than this. Men may utter lewdness and blasphemy, and create but little disgust: but let them bear their testimony against sin, or proclaim the unsearchable riches of Christ, and instantly an indignation is excited in every bosom. In the house of God indeed a certain licence is allowed, provided the preacher be not too faithful: but in a private company the mention of such things is considered as a death-blow to social comfort, and is reprobated as an insufferable nuisance. Even in the public ministry those who “labour with fidelity in the word and doctrine” are not unfrequently treated with every species of indignity. No name is too odious for them to bear, no opposition too violent to be raised against them …

The essay goes on to explore various examples from the Bible, especially involving our Lord and later St Paul who suffered from rejection of their teachings, concluding:

there ever have been multitudes who would take offence at the kindest efforts for their welfare, and, like ferocious “dogs, would turn again and rend you.” Reprove iniquity, and you will still be deemed “the troublers of Israel;” and those who are reproved will say of you, “I hate Micaiah, for he doth not speak good of me, but evil.”]

From this aversion which men feel to religious instruction, it appears,

II. That great caution is to be used in administering it—

The direction in our text was given to the whole multitude of those who heard our Lord’s discourse; and therefore may be considered as applicable,

1. To ministers—

[Though it is not to be confined to them, it does not exclude them. Doubtless where numbers of persons are assembled to hear the word of God, it is not possible to suit oneself to the disposition and taste of every individual … He should consider the state of his hearers, and should adapt his discourses to their necessities … we should be content to give “milk to babes,” and to reserve the “strong meat” for such as are able to digest it … we should “search out acceptable words,” and be especially careful to “speak the truth in love.” Our great object should be not to “deliver our own souls,” (though doubtless we must be careful to do that,) but principally to “win the souls” of others.]

2. To Christians in general—

[… in endeavouring to instruct others, we should consider the tune, the manner, the measure of instruction, that will be most likely to ensure success. In particular, we should not press matters when our exhortations are contemned as foolish, or resented as injurious. Not that our concern should be about ourselves, as though we feared either the contempt of men, or their resentment; but we should be afraid of hardening them, and thereby increasing their guilt and condemnation … If, indeed, after all our labour, we find that our efforts are only rejected by them with disdain, we may then with propriety leave them to themselves, and, like the Apostles, bestow our attention on more hopeful subjects. As the priests imparted of the holy food to every member of their families, but gave none of it to dogs, so may you give your holy things to others, and withhold it from those who have shewn themselves so unworthy of it.]

We will now apply the subject,

1. To those who are strangers to the truth—

[From the indifference which is usually shewn to divine things, it is evident that the value of religious knowledge is but little known. If we could inform persons how to restore their health, or how to recover an estate, or how to obtain any great temporal benefit, they would hear us gladly, and follow our advice with thankfulness; but when we speak of spiritual benefits, they have no ears to hear, no hearts to understand: they are ready to say to us, as the demoniac to Christ, “Art thou come to torment us before our time?” …]

2. To those who know it—

[Whilst we exhort you to be cautious in admonishing others, we would caution you also against being soon discouraged. Think not every one assimilated to dogs or swine because he resists the truth for a season; … if God peradventure will give them repentance, and that they may recover themselves out of the snare of the devil, by whom they have been led captive at his will.”

And whilst you take upon you to admonish others, be willing to receive admonition also yourselves … Watch over your own spirit, therefore, and exemplify in yourselves the conduct you require in others.]

This is such a great essay with so much truth. Although Simeon intended it for clergy and seminarians, Christian bloggers can also glean much wisdom from it.

Tomorrow: more on Charles Simeon

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