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My sincere thanks to reader John J Flanagan, who has kindly taken the time to discuss his experiences in the Orthodox Presbyterian Church (OPC) and the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod (LCMS).
His guest post follows. Please feel free to comment or ask him questions to which he can respond directly.
I freely admit I am not an expert and certainly not a theologian, but I would refer interested parties to read for themselves the websites and Q&A sections on this topic posted at both the OPC and the LCMS websites.
I was a member of an OPC church for a few years, and eventually returned to the LCMS. Prior to that I was on a spiritual journey after 40 years as a Catholic, looking for the truth of God and His word first in the Bible, than checking out various denominations, like Baptists, non-denominational, Reformed, and OPC and PCA. I had been a member of an LCMS congregation as well, but I felt so confused by the varying interpretations each denomination had that I could not be sure in which church I belonged.
The OPC is a solid and faithful church, in my view, but I do not agree with all of the doctrines taught. First, the positives: Sola Scriptura, noting as the Bible declares that we are saved by grace alone, through faith alone, and by Christ alone, apart from any works. The OPC believes in infant Baptism, as do Lutherans. End times: Lutherans are amillennial, however, while most OPC ministers are amillennial, some are Post Millennial. The OPC tends to regard communion as a memorial or symbol but Christ is present by His spirit, while Lutherans believe Christ is bodily present at the sacrament. The OPC and LCMS also views Baptism differently, in the sense that Lutherans believe one is regenerated or born again, while God does not necessarily regenerate a person being Baptized, although it is within His sovereignty to do so.
The OPC views Law and Grace differently than Lutherans. The Reformed view is that the Law is designed to suppress wickedness and promote righteousness, whereas, the Lutheran view is that the Law leads us to Christ and repentance.
This is a thumbnail sketch. I have often been struggling with varying interpretations that sincere and God loving Christians apply to the same scriptural verses. It can be confusing, but I have found that Lutheranism explains scripture better, in my view, and the OPC and Reformed lean heavily on the Westminster Confessions. In any case, I suppose Our Lord will determine which church reflects the most accurate interpretation of these things.
Those of you interested in understanding the various denominational teachings should read further materials, but the first and primary way to do that is to keep your hand on the Bible as you read, and pray for wisdom.
I must add that the OPC is, of course, Calvinistic. It follows the five points of Calvinism, also believing in double predestination, which Luther rejected. Other differences, like the Presbyterian form of government, the simplicity of the worship service, rejection of icons, set it apart from Lutheran traditions. The OPC has about 300 churches and about 30,000 members. On the plus side, they rejected post modernism long ago, and split from the very liberal Presbyterian Church USA (PCUSA), as later did the group which formed the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA). But having looked at this as closely as I am able, in my humble opinion, the LCMS is where I shall remain, and I pray that we remain faithful in the years to come.
My previous post cautioned parents on notional children’s classics.
This post, also inspired by the 11-17 April 2015 issue of the Radio Times, discusses children’s dictionaries, specifically the 2007 edition of the Oxford Junior Dictionary.
Having recovered from the UK’s Book Trust salami slicing of children’s books, I had hoped for lighter fare. Then, I ran across the article ‘Wild words’ (pp. 146-147) by Robert Macfarlane, Cambridge Fellow and author of a new book Landmarks, which explores the richness of British nature terminology.
Macfarlane tells us that the Oxford Junior Dictionary no longer contains the words for commonly found flora and fauna, including acorn, adder, ash, beech, ivy, kingfisher, lark and too many others to list here (p. 147).
He cites the then-editor of the dictionary, Vineeta Gupta, who said that children do not need these words so much anymore as we are living in a technological society, not a rural one.
A Daily Telegraph article from 2008 has her quote in full. She had also dropped words relating to Christianity (emphases mine):
When you look back at older versions of dictionaries, there were lots of examples of flowers for instance. That was because many children lived in semi-rural environments and saw the seasons. Nowadays, the environment has changed. We are also much more multicultural. People don’t go to Church as often as before. Our understanding of religion is within multiculturalism, which is why some words such as “Pentecost” or “Whitsun” would have been in 20 years ago but not now.
I couldn’t disagree more.
Nor could mother-of-four Lisa Saunders from Northern Ireland who, the Telegraph says:
painstakingly compared entries from the junior dictionaries, aimed at children aged seven or over, dating from 1978, 1995, 2000, 2002, 2003 and 2007, said she was “horrified” by the vast number of words that have been removed, most since 2003.
“The Christian faith still has a strong following,” she said. “To eradicate so many words associated with the Christianity will have a big effect on the numerous primary schools who use it.”
Ms Saunders realised words were being removed when she was helping her son with his homework and discovered that “moss” and “fern”, which were in editions up until 2003, were no longer listed.
“I decide to take a closer look and compare the new version to the other editions,” said the mother of four from Co Down, Northern Ireland. “I was completely horrified by the vast number of words which have been removed. We know that language moves on and we can’t be fuddy-duddy about it but you don’t cull hundreds of important words in order to get in a different set of ICT words.”
Message to Oxford Dictionaries staff: Britain has plenty of mosses, ferns, acorns, kingfishers and tons of ivy, never mind the rest of the plants and animals named by the words you omitted. Then there is the matter of Christianity (deleted words emboldened in the next sentence). We still have plenty of vicars; we still celebrate Pentecost which some of us call Whitsun; we go to churches named after saints; some of us were taught by nuns and nearly every church or chapel service includes a psalm. Furthermore, most children today will already know the meanings of the new IT-friendly words: blog, cut and paste, MP3 player and voice mail, among others.
In 2009, Wildlife Promise picked Oxford University Press (OUP) up on the omission of so many words describing the natural world. They tell us that OUP has no intention of reinstating them:
Oxford University Press released an official statement: The dictionary “is not designed for children to use as they progress higher up the school years, and should be regarded as an introduction to language and the practice of using dictionaries.” The words included in it, the statement continues, are selected based on the “language children will commonly come across at home and at school.” The books also must include words “covering the main religious faiths” and must now pay special attention to computer-related words. These concerns, says the company, must be balanced with keeping the book small enough to be accessible for children between the ages of 8 and 11.
Digging around, I found more people who, happily, are just as upset about the nature omissions, although not the Christian terms. Even in 2015, they are asking OUP to reinstate the words for flora and fauna which are commonly seen not only in Britain but elsewhere in the world.
Authors Margaret Atwood and Michael Morpurgo are two of 28 writers who addressed an open letter to OUP in January 2015:
“We base this plea on two considerations. Firstly, the belief that nature and culture have been linked from the beginnings of our history,” reads the letter.
“Secondly, childhood is undergoing profound change; some of this is negative; and the rapid decline in children’s connections to nature is a major problem.”
“There is a shocking, proven connection between the decline in natural play and the decline in children’s well-being,” they write, adding that obesity and anti-social behaviour are some consequences.
“We recognize the need to introduce new words and to make room for them and do not intend to comment in detail on the choice of words added. However, it is worrying that in contrast to those taken out, many are associated with the interior, solitary childhoods of today.”
Laurence Rose of the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds told Huffington Post Canada that, when he complained about the omission of names for still-common birds, the OUP responded as follows (summarised):
All of the words that were reportedly removed from the 2007 version of the Oxford Junior Dictionary, geared towards seven-year-old readers, are included in the Primary Dictionary, intended for those eight years old and up, according to the statement.
Odd that, having one dictionary for seven-year-olds and another for eight-year-olds. However, that is one solution: buy the Primary Dictionary rather than the Junior edition.
Back to Robert Macfarlane now. His book Landmarks introduces all of us to words we’ve probably not heard of before from all British dialects. The Guardian‘s review says:
Is there another book – fiction or nonfiction – so generous in its nature, that has in its very structure the matrices of other writing and study and poetry fixed intricately into its threads and lines like webs within webs or currents within streams within rivers within seas? Landmarks may be single-minded in its pursuit of the exact, the particular, but in its articulation it sounds a chord of voices – of communities, writers, literatures – that may include the reader’s own.
This comes from the idea of placing at the end of every section a swath of words cut and lifted from dictionaries and phrase books, from common usage, idiolect, slang and poetry. Words for stones and rubble, chucky, clitter, and fedspar; for ice, pipkrares and shuckle; for hill and gully and livestock and branches and leaves and weathers and, in “Ways of Walking”, for a certain kind of mud – muxy rout and slunk. These glossaries are both summaries and a way ahead, where words are like “migrant birds, arriving from distant places… or strangers let into the home”, that they may enliven us with their meanings and stories and give back so much that has been culled.
The languages of forestry, mountaineering, archaeology and geology mix with the coinages of poets. Gerard Manley Hopkins is a prominent contributor: his “wimpling”, the action of wind on a bird’s wing, is joined by “shadowtackle”, shifting patterns of light and shade on woodland floors, caused, Macfarlane says, “by the light filtering-action of the canopy in the wind”.
Landmarks presents hundreds of words and phrases for weather and natural phenomena, and for working and playing in the countryside. Suppose you jump into a lake or pond and muck about. If you are in Shetland you are “bumbelling”. In other parts of Scotland you are “dooking”, in Galloway you are “jabblin” or “puddling”, in Northern Ireland you “skite”, and in Kent you “squashle”.
If few readers are likely to memorise 50 terms related to peat and turf, none will forget that in North Yorkshire steams rising from a wet moor under bright sun are called “summer geese”. Macfarlane is beguiled by a fiery light produced by sun on hoar frost, called an “ammil”, at least in Devon, but his purpose is anything but whimsical. “We have become experts in analysing what nature can do for us, but lack a language for what it can do to us,” he writes.
In the Radio Times, Macfarlane elaborates on ammil, which is the
thin glittering film of ice that lacquers leaves and twigs when freeze follows thaw
and the Shetlandic term pirr means
a light breath of wind, such as will make a cat’s paw on the water
whereas, to someone from Exmoor, zwer is
the sound made by a covey of partridges taking flight
whilst, in Sussex, smeuse is
the gap in the base of a hedge made by the regular passage of a small animal.
What a lovely book written by not only a naturalist but also someone who truly loves the English language.
It’s reassuring to know in the natural world ‘there’s a name for that’.
Yes, darling, it’s a buttercup. And that, over there, is a bluebell.
Incredibly, this gem came from an atheist commenting on a Telegraph article about Good Friday:
I would encourage all Christians to not just read their Bibles (and so few of you do) but also to learn more about the historicity of your God and the scriptures written on his behalf. This comment is not meant to challenge your faith by the way – simply that I, regardless of my atheism, have found it to be a fascinating exploration and I suspect that many Christians would be similarly interested.
Yes, Christians do owe it to themselves — and their offspring — to read Holy Scripture regularly in order to find out more about our religious heritage and God our Father’s plan for humanity’s redemption.
Yes, the Bible is a fascinating history.
Yes, Christians would be ‘similarly interested’ if they read it.
So, why don’t we?
In fact, tourists — and the French — consider churches to be must-see places. They reflect France’s history and culture through the centuries.
However, in recent decades, these aesthetic places of worship have been allowed to deteriorate.
It is not for the Vatican to appropriate money for their repair, but the French government, which has owned Catholic Church property since 1905.
Whilst churches are in dire need all over the country, those in Paris receive the most visitors and worshippers. The centrist news site L’Atlantico reports that more and more buildings have tape fencing off dangerous areas. These comprise crumbling frescoes, leaky ceilings, fragile stained glass windows and other unstable aspects that people need to avoid. Some neighbourhood churches have closed because they are structurally unviable. They serve as public toilets and graffiti canvases.
As is true with any other building, the longer a church deteriorates, the more expensive it is to repair. Yet, in some cases, especially in Paris, local governments are slow to release money for this purpose.
Priests and worshippers can sometimes save churches via petitions to local councils or by private subscription to have them restored.
Some churches end up, as in other Western countries, being sold for conversion into flats, restaurants or other venues.
In larger cities, churches have a donation box dedicated towards ongoing maintenance. However, the money that well-intentioned visitors leave is but a drop in the bucket.
‘[Our] frescoes are deteriorating … and they could disappear within four years,’ Father Thibaut Verny, parish priest at Notre Dame-de-Lorette stated, estimating that it would cost €800,000 to restore the cupola and two chapels.
In Paris, churches are seen internationally as public monuments. A private organisation, World Monument Fund, maintains a list of churches in danger.
You would think that Paris’s mayor and local government officials would find that embarrassing.
However, Maxime Cumunel, spokesperson for l’Observatoire du patrimoine [heritage] religieux, told Le Figaro:
In 12 years, the mayor’s office [Socialist] preferred to finance the Jean-Bouin stadium and the Gaîté Lyrique [cultural centre]. Everything is a question of priority when you’re managing a budget of €8 billion.
€8 billion and practically nothing for churches!
The commenters at L’Atlantico said the same thing. One wrote that in recent years over €800 million went to Paris’s community organisations and minority groups. A secularist said that, even if the day comes where there is only one Christian left in France, church buildings must be preserved as national monuments. Another reader, however, took a dark view of the situation, saying that Parisian officials might want to see churches demolished to wipe out France’s Christian history in an effort to make it more secularised, communitarian, multi-cultural and inoffensive.
Last year, Le Figaro contacted the mayor’s office in Paris. The response was frosty:
… it was ‘particularly mistaken to purport that churches are in a state of deterioration, even worse to speak of a declining budget’.
This month, Patrimoine en blog analysed a recent statement from Paris’s Socialist mayor Anne Hidalgo, who succeeded Bertrand Delanoë. She promises an ‘unprecedented’ plan to restore the city’s churches. Patrimoine cites La Tribune de ‘Art‘s explanation:
Unfortunately, even if some believed it, this trick is too transparent to be credible for long. The €80 million involved in this plan is nearly equivalent to the year to the €157 million from Bertrand Delanoë’s two terms in office (€90 million, then €67 million). These numbers, the €80 million and the €157 million, aren’t ours. €157 million is what the Mayor’s office said via Danielle Pourthaud, the former deputy in charge of Heritage, in 2013. The €80 million announced by Bruno Julliard and Anne Hidalgo are promised between now and 2020.
Whilst certain churches are being refurbished and restored, La Tribune de l’Art says it is unclear how these tens of millions of euros are being spent on other Parisian churches — or, indeed, if they will be.
For now, the battle continues. And if you find Paris’s churches in a deplorable state, this is the reason why.
The three-year Lectionary that many Catholics and Protestants hear in public worship gives us a great variety of Holy Scripture.
Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.
My series Forbidden Bible Verses — ones the Lectionary editors and their clergy omit — examines the passages we do not hear in church. These missing verses are also Essential Bible Verses, ones we should study with care and attention. Often, we find that they carry difficult messages and warnings.
24 So his fame spread throughout all Syria, and they brought him all the sick, those afflicted with various diseases and pains, those oppressed by demons, epileptics, and paralytics, and he healed them. 25 And great crowds followed him from Galilee and the Decapolis, and from Jerusalem and Judea, and from beyond the Jordan.
Matthew 4 begins with Satan tempting Jesus at the end of His 40 days and 40 nights in the desert.
Afterward, Matthew shows us that our Lord fulfilled Isaiah’s prophecy by settling in Capernaum — the land of Zebulun and Napthali.
There, Jesus called on people to
Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand. (Matthew 4:17)
Of His move from Nazareth to Capernaum, recall that Jesus began his ministry in Nazareth and had to leave when his fellow townsmen tried to throw him off a cliff (Luke 4:16:30). He had read part of the scroll to the congregation in the synagogue (Luke 4:18-19):
18 “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives
and recovering of sight to the blind,
to set at liberty those who are oppressed,
19 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”
Incensed, the people asked among themselves who Joseph the carpenter’s son thought He was. Anger escalated when Jesus reminded them of Nazareth’s parlous state during Elijah’s time: a preponderance of widows, a terrible famine and a leprosy epidemic. Our Lord’s teaching session ended as follows (Luke 4:29-30):
29 And they rose up and drove him out of the town and brought him to the brow of the hill on which their town was built, so that they could throw him down the cliff. 30 But passing through their midst, he went away.
He had foreseen this (Luke 4:24):
And he said, “Truly, I say to you, no prophet is acceptable in his hometown.
Matthew has the story of His rejection in Nazareth later (Matthew 13:53-58), although it omits the attempt to throw Him off the cliff.
Back to Matthew 4. Having made His base in Capernaum, Jesus then called four fishermen to follow Him: Simon (Peter), his brother Andrew, James son of Zebedee and his brother John (verses 19 and 20):
19 And he said to them, “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.”[a] 20 Immediately they left their nets and followed him.
All of this is in the three-year Lectionary readings used in public worship. Oddly, these readings stop with verse 23:
And he went throughout all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom and healing every disease and every affliction among the people.
It is incomprehensible that today’s verses are not part of the Lectionary verses. Why? They are every bit as marvellous.
John MacArthur preached a whole sermon on Matthew 4:23-25.
Word of Jesus’s teaching and healing spread to faraway Syria!
Also in this is the reality of Gentiles coming from far and wide to see and hear Jesus.
The other marvellous aspect of this is that He healed so many diseases instantly and permanently.
Medicine was very primitive in those days, in fact, until the 19th century. The reason people in the Bible considered illness a curse was that many were in chronic pain or physical isolation from disease or ailments. The most physicians, such as they were, could do was to give patients herbs or potions.
Furthermore, there was no developed study of illness. Epilepsy was considered an aspect of lunacy at the time. John MacArthur explains (emphases mine):
… the old English says lunatic. It’s translated epileptic. That’s very interesting. Lunatic is a word with a Latin root and the first part luna comes from the moon because the people in those days thought that people were nuts because they got affected by the moon. Lunar sickness, they were sort of, they used to call them moonstruck. That’s where you get the idea of a lunatic; he’s moonstruck. But the best etymological connection for this word for us today is epileptic. The reason we say that is because in Matthew 17:15, that word is used to refer to a seizure that appears to be some kind of epileptic seizure. So our Lord could deal with disease that is caused by demons, all of it, and our Lord could deal with disease that is come kind of disorder in the brain or the nervous system or whatever malfunction creates seizures.
Another constant preoccupation of the time was leprosy, which is contagious. No one went near lepers, who had to be isolated from the rest of the community.
A phenomenon of our Lord’s ministry was the preponderance of demons. MacArthur says that nowhere in the Bible do we read of so many as during His time spent preaching and healing.
This was the most magnificent time the ancient world had ever known.
Matthew Henry explains:
They who came for cures, met with instruction concerning the things that belonged to their peace. It is well if any thing will bring people to Christ and they who come to him will find more in him than they expected. These Syrians, like Naaman the Syrian, coming to be healed of their diseases, many of them being converts, 2 Kings 5:15,17.
John MacArthur explains how word of Jesus travelled. Galilee was a trading centre with much Gentile interaction. As a result, the Galileans were used to new people and new ideas:
And, of course, to a Jew that’s a very despicable thing to do so there was much frowning upon Galilee because of the mixture of people that lived there. But you see Galilee was surrounded by foreign people. Along the coast, the very coastline itself was that great people who sailed the Mediterranean Sea known as the Phoenicians. Along the northern part were Syrians. Along the southern part were Samaritans. You remember the southern part of Israel and the northern part was separated by Samaria where the half-breeds lived. So they had the half-breed Samaritans on the bottom of them and they had on the north and east the Syrians, and on the west they had the Phoenicians.
And so there was a tremendous non-Jewish influence. And it tended to sort of water down the traditionalism and they were open to something fresh and they were open to something new and Jesus knew that. He selected that area. Additionally the roads of the world, the great roads of the world running from the east to the west and the north to the south passed immediately through Galilee. And we know about this, in fact, there was a very famous road in those days known as the Way of the Sea. And the Way of the Sea led from Damascus through Galilee and then made a left turn and went right down to Africa. Things coming from the eastern part of the world would come to Damascus; they’d be taken west to Galilee and then straight down into Africa. The road to the east went through Galilee and then right on out to the furtherest frontiers of the east, so it was a trade route. Because of that there was a tremendous mingling. Jerusalem never had that. Because of Jerusalem’s location it was isolated. It was on a high high plateau. People didn’t bother to go up there. It was in a desolate desert area to the east and a coastline to the west, desert to the south and so Jerusalem never had that trade element, as did Galilee. Traffic of the world passed through there.
In fact, one writer said Judea, that is the south, is on the way to nowhere and Galilee is on the way to everywhere. And so because of the mentality of the people, they were open to change, because of the constant influx of non-Jewish influence, and because of the tremendous population of people in a highly productive agricultural area Jesus was planned by God to begin His ministry there.
Matthew Henry’s analysis of Jesus’s cures examines them by miracle, mystery and mercy:
(1.) The miracle of them. They were wrought in such a manner, as plainly spake them to be the immediate products of a divine and supernatural power, and they were God’s seal to his commission. Nature could not do these things, it was the God of nature the cures were many, of diseases incurable by the art of the physician, of persons that were strangers, of all ages and conditions the cures were wrought openly, before many witnesses, in mixed companies of persons that would have denied the matter of fact, if they could have had any colour for so doing no cure ever failed, or was afterwards called in question they were wrought speedily, and not (as cures by natural causes) gradually they were perfect cures, and wrought with a word’s speaking all which proves him a Teacher come from God, for, otherwise, none could have done the works that he did, John 3:2. He appeals to these as credentials, Matthew 11:4,5; John 5:36. It was expected that the Messiah should work miracles (John 7:31) miracles of this nature (Isaiah 35:5,6) and we have this indisputable proof of his being the Messiah never was there any man that did thus and therefore his healing and his preaching generally went together, for the former confirmed the latter thus here he began to do and to teach, Acts 1:1.
(2.) The mercy of them. The miracles that Moses wrought, to prove his mission, were most of them plagues and judgments, to intimate the terror of that dispensation, though from God but the miracles that Christ wrought, were most of them cures, and all of them (except the cursing of the barren fig tree) blessings and favours for the gospel dispensation is founded, and built up in love, and grace, and sweetness and the management is such as tends not to affright but to allure us to obedience. Christ designed by his cures to win upon people, and to ingratiate himself and his doctrine into their minds, and so to draw them with the bands of love, Hosea 11:4. The miracle of them proved his doctrine a faithful saying, and convinced men’s judgments the mercy of them proved it worthy of all acceptation, and wrought upon their affections. They were not only great works, but good works, that he showed them from his Father (John 10:32) and this goodness was intended to lead men to repentance (Romans 2:4), as also to show that kindness, and beneficence, and doing good to all, to the utmost of our power and opportunity, are essential branches of that holy religion which Christ came into the world to establish.
(3.) The mystery of them. Christ, by curing bodily diseases, intended to show, that his great errand into the world was to cure spiritual maladies. He is the Sun of righteousness, that arises with this healing under his wings. As the Converter of sinners, he is the Physician of souls, and has taught us to call him so, Matthew 9:12,13. Sin is the sickness, disease, and torment of the soul Christ came to take away sin, and so to heal these. And the particular stories of the cures Christ wrought, may not only be applied spiritually, by way of allusion and illustration, but, I believe, are very much intended to reveal to us spiritual things, and to set before us the way and method of Christ’s dealing with souls, in their conversion and sanctification and those cures are recorded, that were most significant and instructive this way and they are therefore so to be explained and improved, to the honour and praise of that glorious Redeemer, who forgiveth all our iniquities, and so healeth all our diseases.
The prophet Malachi spoke of the ‘sun of righteousness’ (Malachi 4:1-3):
The Great Day of the Lord
4 [a] “For behold, the day is coming, burning like an oven, when all the arrogant and all evildoers will be stubble. The day that is coming shall set them ablaze, says the Lord of hosts, so that it will leave them neither root nor branch. 2 But for you who fear my name, the sun of righteousness shall rise with healing in its wings. You shall go out leaping like calves from the stall. 3 And you shall tread down the wicked, for they will be ashes under the soles of your feet, on the day when I act, says the Lord of hosts.
These two verses of Matthew’s — rejected by the Lectionary compilers — add so much to our appreciation of Jesus’s healing miracles, revealing His inexhaustible mercy and love for all, including Gentiles.
Such an editorial decision beggars belief. Congregations can’t bear to hear two additional — and informative — Scripture verses? I do wonder about the Lectionary people.
In closing, John’s Gospel tells us that there were countless additional miracles which do not appear in his account (or the other Gospels) — John 20:30-31:
The Purpose of This Book
30 Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; 31 but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.
Next time: Matthew 5:25-26
BBC viewers will recognise Diarmaid MacCulloch’s name even if, like me, they have trouble spelling it.
The Oxford University Professor of Church History has a new three-part series on BBC2 on Friday nights called Sex and the Church.
In the latest issue of Radio Times (18-24 April 2015, p. 7), he opines on the Church and sexuality. His editorial, ‘Body and soul’ urges clerics to catch up with the rest of the world in this regard.
He states that Jesus had ‘surprisingly few words’ about sex. True. But, then, Jesus did not say much about many specifics of Christian life. Sex is not the only matter on which He remained somewhat silent.
MacCulloch, a Church of England deacon, has been openly gay since the mid-1970s. The son of an Anglican clergyman, he says:
“I was brought up in the presence of the Bible, and I remember with affection what it was like to hold a dogmatic position on the statements of Christian belief. I would now describe myself as a candid friend of Christianity.”
However, why is he so mystified that our most senior clergy continue with cautious statements about sexuality? The New Testament letters, particularly those of St Paul, warn against certain sexual practices — heterosexual and homosexual — equating them with lying, theft and murder. Even if we excuse them, God condemns them all.
Of Scripture, MacCulloch told The Spectator in April 2013:
‘The essence of the authority of God is its thereness,’ he says. ‘It’s a bit like our relationship with our parents. There is nothing you can do about it. You can’t declare someone else to be your dad. That seems to me to be a statement about religion. I have a relationship with the Bible because it’s just there. I may not like what it says, I may not approve of it or obey it, but it’s there and I’ve got to cope with it.’
Oh, okay, then (not).
He closes his Radio Times piece with this:
Cheer up, bishops: in the wise words of Mae West, those who are easily shocked, should be shocked more often.
Wow. He might be upset about the quandary that the Anglican hierarchy are in regarding conducting same-sex unions in church, however, the Church is meant to be in the world, not of it.
Having looked last week at how the influential writings of St Augustine set in stone the idea that all sex, even within marriage, was sinful, he turns his attention this week to the revolution that turned that idea on its head for the first time in almost a thousand years: the Reformation.
First MacCulloch tracks back to the 11th century to examine how the Church deliberately set about increasing its power in society by taking control of the formerly civil institution of marriage, while at the same time increasing the pressure on its own clergy to embrace celibacy. A ban on clerical marriage resulted in appalling medieval hypocrisy – thousands of church-run brothels, and a sharp rise in incidents of clerical child abuse (“a pattern of behaviour repeated in recent years”) – which much of the Reformation’s religious revolution was in direct reaction to. The manner in which sexuality subsequently became one of the prime battlegrounds between Catholicism and Protestantism provides rich material for MacCulloch.
What is the purpose of MacCulloch’s telling us that there have been scandals in the Church from time immemorial? Most of us know this. The same licentiousness has taken place in every other social, religious and secular setting throughout history. This includes other world belief systems.
Even if we didn’t know about these ecclesiastical transgressions, true Christians realise that humanity lives in a fallen world. Furthermore, Satan will do whatever he can to destroy godliness. It’s what he does.
May we pray for the grace to improve and enhance Christ’s holy Bride and bring comfort to His followers. May the licentiousness, scandals and worldliness stop.
Temptation is always with us. Most Church historians could have explained this easily whilst revealing historical events.
What sort of ‘friend of Christianity’ is Diarmaid MacCulloch, anyway?
My past few posts have explored what the Revd James A Fowler of Christ In You Ministries calls Resurrection theology. I first borrowed his sermons in 2012. Past posts in the 2015 series — summaries — can be found here, here, here, here and here.
Fowler’s essay, ‘The Extension of the Resurrection’, neatly ties together God’s purpose for creation, the Crucifixion, the Resurrection, the Ascension, Pentecost, the growth of the Church and the Christian life — with a word or two on the afterlife. It is well worth reading in full.
Emphases mine in the excerpts below. Note Fowler’s distinction between ‘remedial’ and ‘restorative’, as they relate to the Crucifixion and the Resurrection, respectively.
How, then, is God’s ultimate objective for mankind achieved and accomplished in the resurrection of Jesus Christ? The death consequences of man’s sin were dealt with in the crucifixion when Jesus vicariously and substitutionally took mankind’s sin upon Himself on our behalf. In the redemptive act of His death Jesus accomplished the remedial work necessary to remedy the consequences of man’s sin before God. In that it was “impossible for Him to be held in death’s power” (Acts 2:24) for He was personally “without sin” (Heb. 4:15), He was raised from the dead in resurrection. In the resurrection expression of life out of death Jesus accomplished the restorative work of God, allowing the life of God to be restored to man. He took our death in crucifixion that we might have His life by resurrection …
Jesus repetitively promised His disciples in the upper room that He would send “another Helper, the Holy Spirit, who would be in them” (cf. Jn. 14:16,17,26,28; 15:26; 16:7,13-17). The word He used for “another” was not heteros, meaning “another of a different kind”, but He used the word allos, meaning “another of the same kind”, because He was promising a Helper who would be just like Him since the Helper would be Him in Spirit-form. Crucified, buried and raised from the dead, Jesus then ascended to the Father (Acts 1:8-11) saying, “you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you;…” Soon thereafter, on Pentecost (Acts 2:14), the Holy Spirit was poured out upon mankind allowing the Spirit of Christ to invest mankind with His life (cf. Acts 2:31-33) … Jesus told Martha, “I am the resurrection and the life” (Jn. 11:25) and told His disciples, “I am the way, the truth and the life” (Jn. 14:6). The divine life of God is available to man in Jesus Christ. “He that has the Son has life; he that does not have the Son of God does not have life” (I Jn. 5:11,12) …
We must see beyond the historicity of the empty tomb on that first Easter day, and understand the extension of the resurrection-life and resurrection-power of Jesus Christ in every Christian. Christianity is not just the remembrance of an historical resurrection, but is comprised of the vital dynamic of the risen Lord Jesus functioning in the activity of the Holy Spirit of God by enlivening Christians with the “saving life of Christ” (Rom. 5:10). Christianity is Christ the resurrected Lord Jesus living out His life in Christians every day, to the glory of God.
I hope that you have found this brief series as enlightening and profitable as I have. I also hope that it informs the remainder of our Eastertide 2015 and beyond.
My past few posts have explored what the Revd James A Fowler of Christ In You Ministries calls Resurrection theology. I first borrowed his sermons in 2012. Past posts in the 2015 series — summaries — can be found here, here, here and here.
Fowler’s essay excerpted below is entitled ‘Resurrection: the Key to Understanding the Gospel’. I highly recommend reading it in full. It addresses how people, Christians included, perceive the Bible, God and the life of Christ.
Because we fail to properly understand and appreciate the Resurrection, our evangelisation is weak. Fowler tells us how to overcome these weaknesses and become fuller Christians. We must come to realise that the Risen Christ is working through us.
It is time that we find the Resurrection stone, and discover the “key” to unlock these religious mysteries, to interpret the gospel as it was intended. The resurrection is a far more important discovery for mankind than the Rosetta Stone was to Egyptologists. The resurrection is the “key” to understanding the gospel and its import for all peoples …
The concept of resurrection must first be decoded. The resurrection is not just an historical event, not just a theological truth. The resurrection is a living, personal reality in the Person of Jesus Christ. Jesus said, “I AM the resurrection and the life.” (John 11:25)
Jesus was indeed raised from the dead historically on that “first day of the week.” The theological significance of “life out of death” and eventual bodily resurrection is truly important. The present significance of the resurrection is recognized when Christians understand that the risen Lord Jesus ascended to heaven and the very resurrection-life of Jesus was poured out on Pentecost to dwell in the spirits of Christian people. That spiritual reality, the indwelling of the living Lord Jesus, the dynamic function of His resurrection-life in and through our lives, is the essence of the gospel. Jesus, the “resurrection and the life,” is living out His resurrection-life in us, the Christ-life expressed in the Christian.
Many of the “things of God” remain hieroglyphics to many Christian people because the reality of the resurrection-life of Jesus is not applied to Biblical truth.
… The resurrection of Jesus Christ defines the “church of God” as those who are “called out” to be all God intends them to be by His activity of resurrection-life in and through them. Jesus Christ is the “head of the Body, the church” (Eph. 5:23; Col. 1:18,24). The church is the “Body of Christ” (Eph. 4:12), the collective expression of the life of the risen Lord Jesus, the resurrection community, the “church of the living God” (I Tim. 3:15). The world is supposed to see the out-working of the life of Jesus Christ on earth today as the resurrection-life of Jesus functions in the interpersonal relationships of Christian peoples.
I sometimes wonder if our postmodern interpretation of Christianity — from both sides of the socio-political spectrum — characterised by niceness, the social gospel, good works, legalism, liberation theology and theonomy, is marring that one-on-one relationship we have with Christ.
If we focussed more on the Resurrection, as Fowler says, we would move away from the ‘me, me’ aspects of Christianity and really devote our lives to the living, risen Christ.
Tomorrow: From remediation to restoration
Without Christ’s resurrection, our religion is but a commemoration of history.
To many people, Christ died and that’s the end of the story. However, at Easter we remember His fulfilment of Scripture by rising from the dead, defeating the tomb and, by extension, bringing us the promise of life eternal in Him.
I have been writing about what the Revd James A Fowler of Christ In You Ministries calls Resurrection theology. I first borrowed his sermons in 2012. Past posts in the 2015 series — summaries — can be found here, here and here.
Fowler warns us that we risk making our faith a historical one, especially if we neglect the Resurrection. His article, ‘A Call for Resurrection Theology’, explains much more and I would recommend reading it in full.
For now, here are the principal excerpts, emphases mine:
The church throughout the centuries has often failed to recognize the significance of the resurrection of Jesus. Despite the fact that the Easter celebration has been regarded as the culmination of the Christian year of worship, the full meaning of the resurrection has often been undeveloped or diluted in Christian teaching and preaching. Christian theology has emphasized numerous legitimate Biblical themes, but has seldom made the resurrection the focal point or fulcrum on which all other Christian subjects depend …
Because of this neglect and the common misemphases of Christian theology, I am compelled to write this article and to make “a call for resurrection theology” …
If the incarnation and crucifixion were the only historical acts of God on man’s behalf, then the gospel would cease to be “good news”. If the gospel narrative was only that “Jesus was born. Jesus died. God said to man: ‘There is the remedy! I came. I fixed the problem. Now you are fixed. The slate is wiped clean. Now, go and do a better job next time.’” That is not good news! That is damnable doctrine. That is tragic teaching!
The incarnation and crucifixion alone serve only to condemn man all the more. The story would go like this: “A man came who was God-man. He did not share the spiritual depravity of the rest of mankind. He did not develop the “flesh” patterning of selfish desires like other men. He lived life as God intended, allowing God in him to manifest His desire and character at every moment in time for thirty-three years. He was the perfect man! He did not deserve to die, but He was put to death unjustly. In dying undeservedly, He died in our place, as our substitute, and paid the price of death to satisfy God’s justice, and forgive mankind of their sins.” Is that the whole of the story? If so, He lived and died perfectly which we cannot do. If the incarnation and crucifixion were the whole of the story, then we would have been better off without Him! Why? Because He could live and die as He did; we cannot. And the fact that He did only condemns us all the more by His matchless example, for we do not have what it takes to live like that.
Only in the resurrection do we have the message that God has given us the provision of His life in order that we might be man as God intended man to be; in order that the resurrection life of the risen Lord Jesus might become the essence of spiritual life in the Christian; in order that we might live by His life and the expression of His character. The resurrection is the positive provision of life in Christ Jesus, around which all other theological topics must be oriented …
If Christian theology does not get beyond the cradle and the cross, the birth and the death of Jesus, then all we have to offer is a static history lesson with no contemporary consequence. If Christian theology does not get beyond apologetic defense for what “was”, and longing expectation for what “will be,” then it becomes an irrelevancy of temporalized “bookends” that fails to address what “is” and “should be” presently …
What a tragedy that the Christian religion has itself blockaded people from life in Christ by projecting the implications of the resurrection to an historical event of the past or to an anticipated expectation of the future.
If we do not properly understand or appreciate the relevance of the Resurrection, can we be proper Christians? Fowler does not believe so.
May we contemplate Resurrection theology in the approach to Ascension Day and Pentecost Sunday.
Tomorrow: Understanding the Resurrection is understanding the Gospels
For many of us, Easter is but one day, when, in fact, it is the most important part of Christianity.
In 2012, I excerpted several of Mr Fowler’s sermons on the Risen Christ, including ‘Christianity is Resurrection’. It is well worth reading in full, because not only does Fowler address what we remember on Easter Sunday but ties it into the events of the Bible and Christian theology.
For now, a brief excerpt outlining what we should understand and appreciate about Easter. Emphases mine:
The gospel is the message of the resurrection. The Gospel IS resurrection. Christianity is the expression of the resurrection. Christianity IS resurrection. Someone might say: “But Christianity is Christ!” That is true, but Jesus Christ said, “I AM the Resurrection and the life” (John 11:25). Jesus Christ is the content, the essence of resurrection-life. Jesus never said, “I AM the Cross”, but He did say, “I AM the resurrection”. The resurrection is the expression of the dynamic of all that Jesus IS. In fact, the resurrection is the reality of all that Christianity IS. The vital understanding of everything that is Christian is in the resurrection. Resurrection-life is the focal point of all Christian teaching the starting point from which everything must be appraised, evaluated and interpreted, EVERYTHING! Everything prior in time, time itself, and everything that follows chronologically, logically and theologically can only correctly be understood in light of the resurrection; all human history, all human thought …
All of history, and especially Biblical history, must be interpreted by the resurrection. Those who preceded the resurrection were who they were, and did what they did, because of what was, Who was, to happen in the resurrection …
Christianity IS resurrection. At Easter time we do not just celebrate another event in history even if it be regarded as the greatest event in history. Resurrection is not just an historical event; it is an on-going dynamic of the life of God in Jesus Christ. We do not just assent to the historicity or theological accuracy of the resurrection of Jesus Christ; we encounter resurrection. We encounter and have personal relationship with the One who is “the resurrection and the life.” (John 11:25). One cannot count themselves a “Christian” unless they have encountered, received, and are participating in the resurrection life of Jesus Christ.
The season is not over yet, by the way. Eastertide runs until Pentecost Sunday, still a few weeks away.
May we use this time to make the Risen Christ a very real part of our lives.
Tomorrow: Without the Resurrection, Christianity is only history