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It’s been a long time since I’ve tagged a post with ‘Church of Gaia’.

Yet, this syncretic sinfulness remains alive and well.

My reader Underground Pewster recently wrote about prayer petitions from the Episcopal Church’s Blue Book, likely to be used at their General Convention which started on June 25, 2015 and ends on July 3, 2015.

What he cites reads as if it were written by people who have a death wish for humanity (emphases in the original):

Most of what follows comes from the SUPPLEMENTAL MATERIALS From the STANDING COMMISSION ON LITURGY AND MUSIC (SCLM)

A Litany for the Planet: 

On rocks and minerals that form the foundations for life,
Creator, have mercy.
On volcanoes and lava flows that reveal the power of earth’s core,
Creator, have mercy…

I for one pray that God will show no mercy on volcanoes and lava flows. Was that prayer written by the guys who run the lava flow cruises or helicopter rides in Hawaii?

On micro-organisms of endless variety, the complex and the simple,
Creator, have mercy (
pp 248-9)

I hoped this one would go away when I pointed it out three years ago, but I guess we will soon be praying for multidrug resistant tuberculosis along with botulism, salmonella, and HIV.

Too right! What are these people thinking?

And it gets worse. The Blue Book promotes syncretism — combining Christianity with other religions’ deities — strictly anathema. In this case, the Episcopal Church has a prayer to the Native American Great Spirit, Gitchi Manadoo. It can be found in the Blue Book on p. 243 in “Prayers of the People Honoring God in Creation”, Form 2. Briefly:

[Gichi Manidoo,] Great Spirit God,
we give you thanks for another day on this earth.
We give you thanks for this day
to enjoy the compassionate goodness of you, our Creator.

Whoa!

Underground Pewster investigated further and discovered the following information on native-languages.org. Two brief excerpts follow, with more on Pewster’s admirable post:

Gitchi Manitou is the great creator god of the Anishinaabe and many neighboring Algonquian tribes. The name literally means Great Spirit, a common phrase used to address God in many Native American cultures.
As in other Algonquian tribes, the Great Spirit is abstract, benevolent, does not directly interact with humans, and is rarely if ever personified in Anishinabe myths–

Also:

It is Gitchi Manitou who created the world, though some details of making the world as we know it today were delegated to the culture hero Nanabozho.

Hmm.

We do need to be careful about whom we are addressing our prayers and supplications. Although certain tribes consider the Great Spirit and the Christian God to be the same, He is not.

Another thing Episcopalians would do well to remember is that (emphases mine in purple):

the same SCLM geniuses who are foisting Gitchi Manitou on us are the ones who prepared the liturgies for same sex marriages

Underground Pewster followed this post up with a round-up of Episcopalian Summer Solstice services which appeal to their inner Druid.

To show the falsehood of such services, Pewster has helpfully provided a lengthy quote from St Augustine of Hippo’s Confessions, part of which is cited below. Those unfamiliar with Augustine’s personal story should note that he came to Christianity well into adulthood after years of libertinism and paganism. This is part of what he wrote about Creation:

I asked the earth; and it answered, “I am not He;” and whatsoever are therein made the same confession. I asked the sea and the deeps, and the creeping things that lived, and they replied, “We are not thy God, seek higher than we.” … I asked the heavens, the sun, moon, and stars: “Neither,” say they, “are we the God whom thou seekest.” And I answered unto all these things which stand about the door of my flesh, “Ye have told me concerning my God, that ye are not He; tell me something about Him.” And with a loud voice they exclaimed, “He made us.” … I asked the vast bulk of the earth of my God, and it answered me, “I am not He, but He made me.”

As Christians, it is essential that we remember the Creation story in Genesis, Jesus’s references to God as Creator in the Gospels and keep St Augustine’s quote in the forefront of our minds.

May we never fall into the trap of syncretic worship and break the First Commandment.

God speaks pinkerwjhharvardeduOne of my readers, LCMS member Brad Grierson, recently wrote a short but essential post on pastors’ sermons, ‘Jesus is not a cameo guest star’.

A brief excerpt follows:

Too many pastors treat Jesus as the cameo guest star. It’s absolutely amazing how these so called pastors can spend over an hour preaching on finances or good sex and never touch the gospel. They just bring Jesus out, bound and gagged mind you so that he doesn’t interfere with the message, and say, “Hey look, it’s Jesus,” thereby giving the impression that the Son of God actually approves of what is being said despite having absolutely nothing to do with him.

I couldn’t agree more. I have heard too many modern sermons from Protestant and Catholic clergymen alike who shoehorn Jesus into their preaching as if a mere mention — a sentence or two — will do. And, as Brad Grierson says, the clergyperson might be falsely linking Jesus’s sayings with unbiblical concepts.

Grierson’s advice is to hightail it out of churches where the Word is not preached. Where the Word is not preached, the Gospel is lacking.

Bible kevinroosecomThe 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.

Today’s reading is from the English Standard Version with commentary by Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

Matthew 7:12-14

The Golden Rule

12 “So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets.

13 “Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy[a] that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. 14 For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few.

—————————————————————————–

Our Lord’s Sermon on the Mount continues (Matthew 5, 6 and 7).

‘So’ in verse 12 follows on from what Jesus said in verse 11, covered in last week’s post:

If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!

It also ties in with His words in the first two verses of Matthew 7, which I also wrote about:

7 “Judge not, that you be not judged. 2 For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you.

Matthew Henry explains our Lord’s use of the Law and the Prophets in this context (emphases mine):

It is the summary of that second great commandment, which is one of the two, on which hang all the law and the prophets, Matthew 22:40. We have not this in so many words, either in the law or the prophets, but it is the concurring language of the whole. All that is there said concerning our duty towards our neighbour (and that is no little) may be reduced to this rule. Christ has here adopted it into this law so that both the Old Testament and the New agree in prescribing this to us, to do as we would be done by.

Whilst we often hear Matthew 7:12 quoted, even by secularists, we hear the next two verses much less often. It is easy to forget them in an era when everything goes in today’s churches.

Verses 13 and 14 are particularly crucial and pertinent to those notional Christians who say that everyone will be saved. That is not what Jesus says. He tells us to enter by the narrow gate. The broader way is easier and ‘leads to destruction’ — eternal condemnation.

Also worth noting is His statement that the way leading to life is ‘hard’ and ‘those who find it are few’.

Does that sound like ‘all are saved’?

A similar passage is Luke 13:22-30, which begins as follows. (Similar wording is also in Matthew 7:21-23, part of the three-year Lectionary readings.)

The Narrow Door

22 He went on his way through towns and villages, teaching and journeying toward Jerusalem. 23 And someone said to him, “Lord, will those who are saved be few?” And he said to them, 24 “Strive to enter through the narrow door. For many, I tell you, will seek to enter and will not be able. 25 When once the master of the house has risen and shut the door, and you begin to stand outside and to knock at the door, saying, ‘Lord, open to us,’ then he will answer you, ‘I do not know where you come from.’

There is no excuse to be made for heresy, syncretism, sin, ‘lifestyle choices’ and whatever else today’s churches are wrongly advocating. Powerful, apostate clergy will be among those crying out for the Lord to open the door on Judgement Day and His response will be that He never knew them.

Laypeople would also do well to ensure they do not fall into the same fatal trap, in particular, telling their children that the Lord loves everyone and will save them. It isn’t going to happen.

Henry sums it up this way:

There are but two ways, right and wrong, good and evil the way to heaven, and the way to hell in the one of which we are all of us walking: no middle place hereafter, no middle way now: the distinction of the children of men into saints and sinners, godly and ungodly, will swallow up all to eternity.

Henry and John MacArthur explain more about the narrow gate. In the King James Version the words used are ‘strait’ — small, tight — and ‘narrow’.

Henry states:

First, That the gate is strait. Conversion and regeneration are the gate, by which we enter into this way, in which we begin a life of faith and serious godliness out of a state of sin into a state of grace we must pass, by the new birth, John 3:3,5. This is a strait gate, hard to find, and hard to get through like a passage between two rocks, 1 Samuel 14:4. There must be a new heart, and a new spirit, and old things must pass away. The bent of the soul must be changed, corrupt habits and customs broken off what we have been doing all our days must be undone again. We must swim against the stream much opposition must be struggled with, and broken through, from without, and from within. It is easier to set a man against all the world than against himself, and yet this must be in conversion. It is a strait gate, for we must stoop, or we cannot go in at it we must become as little children high thoughts must be brought down nay, we must strip, must deny ourselves, put off the world, put off the old man we must be willing to forsake all for our interest in Christ. The gate is strait to all, but to some straiter than others as to the rich, to some that have been long prejudiced against religion ...

Secondly, That the way is narrow. We are not in heaven as soon as we have got through the strait gate, nor in Canaan as soon as we have got through the Red Sea no, we must go through a wilderness, must travel a narrow way, hedged in by the divine law, which is exceedingly broad, and that makes the way narrow[;] self must be denied, the body kept under, corruptions mortified, that are as a right eye and a right hand daily temptations must be resisted duties must be done that are against our inclination. We must endure hardness, must wrestle and be in an agony, must watch in all things, and walk with care and circumspection. We must go through much tribulation. It is hodos tethlimmenean afflicted way, a way hedged about with thorns blessed be God, it is not hedged up. The bodies we carry about with us, and the corruptions remaining in us, make the way of our duty difficult but, as the understanding and will grow more and more sound, it will open and enlarge, and grow more and more pleasant.

Thirdly, The gate being so strait and the way so narrow, it is not strange that there are but few that find it, and choose it. Many pass it by, through carelessness they will not be at the pains to find it they are well as they are, and see no need to change their way. Others look upon it, but shun it they like not to be so limited and restrained. Those that are going to heaven are but few, compared to those that are going to hell a remnant, a little flock, like the grape-gleanings of the vintage as the eight that were saved in the ark

John MacArthur likens this small, narrow way to a turnstile, through which only one person can enter at any time. This reinforces the idea that families and groups will not be saved, rather individuals. He says that Jesus was speaking of the Pharisees and the Jewish people of His time:

… many commentators would say that the best expression of this in a contemporary way would be a turnstile.  One of those things which you have to go through all alone; the metal is very close and there’s a little arm there that you push, and you go through.  Now, I know our family, when we go to the zoo, or we go to get on a train somewhere, or go somewhere on an airplane, every once in a while you’ve got to go through something like that, a turnstile. 

And everybody is in a big hurry, and we always realize when we get there that we can’t all go through together, can we, children?  We must go through one at a time.  That’s the way it is with a narrow gate.  You don’t come to the kingdom of Christ in groups.  The Jews believed hey, we’re in the kingdom, we’re all on the road together, we all came through together, based on Abrahamic heritage, based on Jewish ancestry, based on circumcision, we’re all here together.  And I think there are people who think that they’re on the right road to heaven, they got on when they got to church.  They came to church, we’re all in the church and the whole church got on together.  There are no groups coming through the turnstile, folks

You go through all alone.  Salvation is individual.  People have never been saved in pairs.  Oh, when one believes it may influence another to believe, but everyone’s salvation is exclusive and intensely personal.  It admits only one at a time.  And that’s kind of hard, you know.  Because all our life is spent rushing around with the crowd.  All of our life is spent doing whatever everybody else does, being a part of the group, being a part of the gang, being a part of the system around us, being accepted.  And all of a sudden, Christ says, “You’re going to have to come, and you’re going to have to come through this deal all by yourself.”  And to a Pharisee, that meant you’re going to have to say goodbye to those people and that system, and step out alone.

There’s a price to pay, a real price.  It isn’t enough to claim your Abrahamic ancestry, it isn’t enough to go back to your circumcision, it isn’t enough to say, “I was born in a Christian family; I’ve been in the church all my life.”  You don’t come into the Kingdom in groups.  You come in an individual act of faith.  You must enter, you must enter the narrow gate, you must enter alone.  Listen to this one: you must enter with great difficulty – with great difficulty … 

He acknowledges that this encourages unbelievers to be hostile to Christianity. It is interesting to note that he preached on Matthew’s Gospel in the 1970s. Even then, there was hostile opposition:

People say, “You know, Christianity doesn’t give room for anybody else.”  That’s exactly right.  We don’t do that because we’re selfish, or because we’re proud, or because we’re egotistical; we do that because that’s what God said

If God said there were 48 ways to salvation, I’d preach all 48 of them.  But there aren’t.  “Neither is there salvation in any other, for there is none other name under heaven given among men whereby we must be” – what – “saved.”  None other name.  Jesus – Acts 4:12.  “I am the bread of life – I am the way the truth and the life – I am the door – anyone who comes in any other way is a thief and a robber,” John 10.  “There is,” I Timothy 2, “one Mediator between God and man, the man Christ Jesus.”  Only one, no other name, Christ and Christ alone, it is that narrow, it is that prescribed.  There are no alternatives.  You must enter.  By an act of the will, an act of faith, you have to enter on God’s terms through God’s prescribed gate; and Christ is that gate.  He is that way.  And holy God has the right to determine the basis of salvation, and He has determined that it is Jesus Christ and Him alone, and that’s the way it is

For this reason — and because many cannot give up their attachement to the world — it is hard to accept our Lord’s teachings. MacArthur cited one pertinent example:

A West Indian who had chosen Islam over Christianity said this: “My reason is that Islam is a noble, broad path.  There is room for a man and his sins on it, and the way of Christ is far too narrow.” 

Hmm. It seems to me that man knew very little about Christianity before he converted to Islam. Whilst he was right in saying Christ’s way is very narrow, he misunderstood the concept of abundant divine grace and mercy with regard to our sins. However, Christ, with His love and forgiveness, makes no allowance for sin.

In closing, MacArthur has good observations about the Sermon on the Mount, which many people misinterpret:

Let me suggest to you there are two things you cannot do with the Sermon on the Mount.  One of them is you cannot stand back and admire it.  Jesus is not interested in bouquets for His ethics.  Jesus is not interested in folks who want to just admire the virtues of the ethical statement of the Sermon on the Mount.  Jesus wants a decision about your destiny.  I believe there is a second thing you can’t do with the Sermon on the Mount, and that is to push it into some prophetic tomorrow.  I don’t think Jesus is suggesting that this is for some far future era. 

I think He is demanding a decision now, in this time …  What Jesus demanded was a choice, an act, an ultimate decision, to be made at that time and that moment, on the basis of what He had just said.  A deliberate choice has to be made.  Christ came to bring a kingdom.  He was a king.  He was the King.  He was the King of kings.  And He came with a kingdom that was unique, and special, and separate, and different from all the kingdoms of the world

The Sermon on the Mount is much more than ethics; it is about following Christ our Lord, the eternal King of Kings.

Next time: Matthew 7:15-20

Bible readingThe 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.

Today’s reading is from the English Standard Version with commentary by Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

Matthew 7:7-11

Ask, and It Will Be Given

“Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened. Or which one of you, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone? 10 Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a serpent? 11 If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!

———————————————————————

Our Lord’s Sermon on the Mount continues (Matthew 5, 6 and 7).

I wrote about selected ‘forbidden’ passages as follows:

Matthew 5:25-26 – Sermon on the Mount, Jesus, anger, sin, holding grudges, improper worship because of interpersonal conflict

Matthew 5:31-32 – Sermon on the Mount, Jesus, adultery, divorce, marriage

Matthew 6:7-15 – Sermon on the Mount, Lord’s Prayer, Jesus, prayer

Matthew 6:22-23 – Sermon on the Mount, Jesus, the eye as lamp of the body

Matthew 7:1-6 – Sermon on the Mount, judging others, speck v log in eye, hypocrisy

Jesus continues His discourse by telling us that, if we ask and seek things from God, He will provide them (verses 7, 8). However, John MacArthur explains that this is not automatic nor applicable to everyone (emphases mine):

asking — you have to be a child of God to receive, and an obedient child of God, and a selfless child of God. And, finally, you have to submit it all to His will. I John 5:14 and 15, “In whatever we ask, we know we receive of Him if we ask according to His will.” That’s not a blank check. It’s just that when the conditions are right — you’re His child, you’re His obedient child, you’re His unselfish child, and you ask according to His will, in order that He may be glorified — He’ll do it.

When we do not receive what we ask for, it is possible — and this often becomes apparent later — that better things lie ahead. We shouldn’t try to force situations.

MacArthur gives us an example of seeking:

Ask is very simple. A child does that. There’s no involvement in it. There’s no participation in it. You just ask. Seek is stronger than an asking. There’s a participation in it. At least you’re moving your eyes. Knock, you’re banging away. There’s a greater participation. So that even though we know everything comes from the Lord, that does not assume that we are not actively, aggressively, perseveringly involved in its fulfillment.

I mean, I don’t just sit at my office and say, “Lord, I want to preach a great sermon Sunday. Please, I ask you, give me a great sermon.” No, what I do is I ask the Lord all week for that, and then I seek that by going through the Word of God and reading and reading. And then I begin banging on the Lord, in a sense, by saying, “Lord, I’m struggling with this thing and I want to understand it,” and this one this morning, which isn’t so hot, anyway, I rewrote three times. And on and on you go, struggling with it. But the point is, I realize that God is the only one who can produce through me, but at the same time, I’ve got to be involved in that.

Matthew Henry has a marvellous exposition of these two verses:

Here is a precept in three words to the same purport, Ask, Seek, Knock (Matthew 7:7) that is, in one word, “Pray pray often pray with sincerity and seriousness pray, and pray again make conscience of prayer, and be constant in it make a business of prayer, and be earnest in it. Ask, as a beggar asks alms.” Those that would be rich in grace, must betake themselves to the poor trade of begging, and they shall find it a thriving trade. “Ask represent your wants and burthens to God, and refer yourselves to him for support and supply, according to his promise. Ask as a traveller asks the way to pray is to enquire of God, Ezekiel 36:37. Seek, as for a thing of value that we have lost, or as the merchantman that seeks goodly pearls. Seek by prayer, Daniel 9:3. Knock, as he that desires to enter into the house knocks at the door.” We would be admitted to converse with God, would be taken into his love, and favour, and kingdom sin has shut and barred the door against us by prayer, we knock Lord, Lord, open to us. Christ knocks at our door (Revelation 3:20; Song of Solomon 5:2) and allows us to knock at his, which is a favour we do not allow to common beggars. Seeking and knocking imply something more than asking and praying. 1. We must not only ask but seek we must second our prayers with our endeavors we must, in the use of the appointed means, seek for that which we ask for, else we tempt God. When the dresser of the vineyard asked for a year’s respite for the barren fig-tree, he added, I will dig about it, Luke 13:7,8. God gives knowledge and grace to those that search the scriptures, and wait at Wisdom’s gates and power against sin to those that avoid the occasions of it. 2. We must not only ask, but knock we must come to God’s door, must ask importunately not only pray, but plead and wrestle with God we must seek diligently we must continue knocking must persevere in prayer, and in the use of means must endure to the end in the duty.

In verse 9, Jesus makes this more easily understood by discussing the parent-child relationship. Does a parent give his child a tooth-breaking stone instead of bread or a serpent instead of fish (verse 10)? Of course not, unless he or she is perverse or completely unhinged. Instinctively, a parent wants to feed his children. They are his flesh and blood.

Good parents love their children and want the best for them. With that in mind, our Lord then says that God will care even more deeply for our needs and desires (verse 11). He says ‘you then, who are evil’, meaning prone to sin by nature. God, who is perfect in everything, especially love, will provide even more if only we ask, seek and knock.

Henry unpacks this for us:

First, God is more knowing[;] parents are often foolishly fond, but God is wise, infinitely so he knows what we need, what we desire, and what is fit for us. Secondly, God is more kind. If all the compassions of all the tender fathers in the world were crowded into the bowels of one, yet compared with the tender mercies of our God, they would be but as a candle to the sun, or a drop to the ocean. God is more rich, and more ready to give to his children than the fathers of our flesh can be for he is the Father of our spirits, an ever-loving, ever-living Father.

MacArthur takes this a step further:

And the point is this. If evil, unregenerate, sinful fathers give their kids the basics of life, don’t you think God’ll do that? And the idea that I see here is that God is the absolute giving Father, who gives to all what they need, knowing full well they could never give back to Him anything, in kind or measure. And if that’s the way He is, then isn’t that the way we, His children, should be toward others? See?

We will see in the next passage!

Next time: Matthew 7:12-14

 

Scandals involving the Church — whether by clergy or laity — are abominable.

This is but a brief post to direct readers towards a few insightful posts on the subject.

Clergy

Although we think of the Catholic Church when it comes to scandals, Protestant ministers have been guilty as well.

My Lutheran minister reader from The Gospel According to Barney has two excellent entries on the subject.

One is ‘Trouble point for pastors money’. The takeaways here are (emphases in the original):

All your actions must be above reproach. This is common sense.

and

This all circles back to Vocation – this is not just any job!

His other post worth noting is ‘Trouble point pastors sex’ which gives brief profiles of ministers engaged in indecent and illegal activity.

Oh yes, we think our clergy are above and beyond reproach. Some are not. One can imagine it took a long time for authorities to investigate these scandals. Imagine the congregation’s opposition to the complainant: ‘How could you accuse Pastor of that?’ Then think of the police view of the allegations: ‘Really? The reverend?’

Laity

One just knew this was going to happen sooner or later — the scandal involving a member of the Duggar family.

Thankfully, we do not — as far as I know — receive the Duggar reality television show here in the UK.

Oddly enough, it was when browsing Le Monde on May 29, 2015, that I read the most detailed description of the Josh Duggar scandal. Kudos to them, because I don’t think France gets broadcasts of the family’s telereality show. I imagine the paper featured it because it’s yet another example of the hypocrisy of Christian fundamentalism and legalism.

Le Monde said that the Duggars used Bill Gothard’s training materials for children. The paper has a photo of the Gothard page on counselling child sexual abuse, intended to make the victim feel guilty and to blame for his or her own molestation.

Question four on the Gothard page reads as follows:

Why did God let it happen?

Result of defrauding by:

Immodest dress

Indecent exposure

Being out from protection of our parents

Being with evil friends?

Generally, in many cases, molesters are family friends or family members. The child knows them and trusts them.

I feel sorry for anyone who has watched the Duggar series and thinks it’s the example to follow.

Beware of legalism. Nature abhors a vacuum. That vacuum offers the perfect opportunity for Satan to fill it with sinful and damaging acts that are truly traumatic for those on the receiving end.

Those interested can read more on the Duggars on Vox and Patheos.

On May 21, 2015, the Archbishop of Canterbury gave his thoughts on faith-based charity.

The Telegraph reported:

Faith groups are now filling a “huge gap” in British life occupied by the state until the financial crisis and onset of austerity forced a rethink, according to the Archbishop of Canterbury.

The Most Rev Justin Welby said churches, mosques, temples synagogues and other religious organisations had stepped in “in a most extraordinary way” over the past seven years.

Until the 20th century, charity was paramount. The welfare state didn’t exist.

Two thoughts:

First, it is natural that a religious person will want to give to help those in need. Why should this surprise a senior cleric?

Secondly, Welby seems to favour a bloated state welfare system. That is most disappointing.

It is only sensible that recipients of state aid — the dole — view it as temporary.

Possibly, just possibly, if we lessened the welfare budget gradually during times of recovery, we would have more people taking personal responsibility seriously and improving the lifestyle choices they make. Reflecting carefully rather than acting impulsively is one which comes to mind.

Relying on charity rather than the state is a tried-and-true tradition borne out through the centuries. Furthermore, less tax from all of us would no doubt result in a further increase in charitable giving to help those who really need it.

Bible kevinroosecomThe 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.

Today’s reading is from the English Standard Version with commentary by Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

Matthew 7:1-6

Judging Others

7 “Judge not, that you be not judged. 2 For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you. Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when there is the log in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.

“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.

—————————————————————

Matthew 7 is the third and final chapter containing the text of the Sermon on the Mount.

It opens with our Lord’s instruction not to judge others, because we, too, can be judged — accused — of various faults (verse 1). The vehemence with which we judge others will be applied to us in this life and the next (verse 2).

Sadly, too many ‘judges’ really do think they are blameless. In reality, they have many faults but are in denial. Some of them appear to be sociopaths or narcissists.

So, then, how are we to judge? Jesus said (John 7:24, another Forbidden Bible Verse):

Do not judge by appearances, but judge with right judgment.

In that instance, He was criticising the Pharisees who made superficial and wrong judgements. In Luke 16:15, yet another Forbidden Bible Verse, we read:

And he said to them, “You are those who justify yourselves before men, but God knows your hearts. For what is exalted among men is an abomination in the sight of God.

Sometimes we do the same when we judge hastily on appearances or speech alone. May we be charitable and discerning with others.

Before we judge with righteousness, we are to examine and rectify our own faults first (verses 3, 4), lest we act in a hypocritical manner (verse 5). Matthew Henry explains (emphases mine):

I must first reform myself, that I may thereby help to reform my brother, and may qualify myself to reprove him. Note, Those who blame others, ought to be blameless and harmless themselves. Those who are reprovers in the gate, reprovers by office, magistrates and ministers, are concerned to walk circumspectly, and to be very regular in their conversation: an elder must have a good report, 1 Timothy 3:2,7. The snuffers of the sanctuary were to be of pure gold.

In verse 6, Jesus tells us to use discretion when evangelising, informally or formally, lest it makes people hostile to the Gospel, the Church — and us. Henry says:

This may be considered, either, (1.) As a rule to the disciples in preaching the gospel not that they must not preach it to any one who were wicked and profane (Christ himself preached to publicans and sinners), but the reference is to such as they found obstinate after the gospel was preached to them, such as blasphemed it, and persecuted the preachers of it let them not spend much time among such, for it would be lost labour, but let them turn to others, Acts 13:41. So Dr. Whitby. Or, (2.) As a rule to all in giving reproof. Our zeal against sin must be guided by discretion, and we must not go about to give instructions, counsels, and rebukes, much less comforts, to hardened scorners, to whom it will certainly do no good, but who will be exasperated and enraged at us. Throw a pearl to a swine, and he will resent it, as if you threw a stone at him reproofs will be called reproaches, as they were (Luke 11:45; Jeremiah 6:10), therefore give not to dogs and swine (unclean creatures) holy things.

Note that our Lord never preached to Herod Antipas. Paul stopped preaching to the Jews after they blasphemed and ridiculed him in Acts 18. He told them he would focus on preaching to the Gentiles instead.

John MacArthur explains:

This is a tremendous truth, people. We have to learn in our ministry to be discriminating. You don’t say everything to everybody. Paul even said to the Corinthians, “I could not speak unto you certain things because you were carnal. I wouldn’t waste them on your misunderstandings. I wouldn’t waste them on your sinfulness.” Jesus to His disciples could only reveal certain things, and He had to hide other things. And to the world it says, “And He hid them from them and revealed other things unto the babes.” Jesus didn’t say everything to everybody. When Jesus rose from the dead He never one time appeared to an unbeliever. Never once.

In closing, we know the Old Testament’s injunctions against swine. However, MacArthur describes the status of dogs in Jesus’s time:

Dogs in those days were not the little nice smelling, painted nails, rhinestone collars, funny little sweater things that flip flop around the houses today. They were not the little lap dog, pet dog things that we spend a fortune on and all. Dogs in those days, apart from the dogs that worked with the flocks, and, of course, in Job it talks about the dog of the flocks, it would be a trained dog that worked with the sheep, but the dogs in the cities were a mongrel, ugly big bunch of dogs that scavenged around the city and ate the garbage, and they were a horrible, ugly bunch of wild dogs.

The Jews believed them to be filthy. The Old Testament talks about that. Unclean. The Psalms say they threaten, they howl, they snarl, they are a greedy, shameless group. They are called contemptible in I Samuel. Dogs were an ugly kind of a being. They weren’t anything like we have today, except for those that worked with the sheep. They would be pariahs, savage, mongrels. Lived in the garbage heaps. And holy things were not to be thrown to the dogs.

Final word: I’m surprised that these verses are not in the three-year Lectionary. (It is in the two-year one.) A clergyperson could get a number of sermons out of this passage which would be most helpful to many churchgoers.

Next time: Matthew 7:7-11

Holy Communion stained glass home2romeDepending on where Catholics, Anglicans and Lutherans live and where they go to church, the feast of Corpus Christi — ‘Body of Christ’ in Latin — was either Thursday, June 4 or will be Sunday, June 7, 2015.

Traditionally, the feast falls on the first Thursday after Trinity Sunday. However, where no weekday church services are held, the observance is on the first Sunday after Trinity.

My 2010 post explains much more about Corpus Christi, the ceremony and the symbolism behind it. It was St Juliana’s wish (as Sister Juliana in the 13th century) that a feast day be dedicated to the Body of Christ. Whilst we commemorate the Last Supper on Maundy Thursday, the events of Holy Week are so dramatic that she thought a separate day later in the year would be appropriate. The first Corpus Christi observance took place in 1312.

It is, therefore, fitting that we have Pentecost Sunday, Trinity Sunday and the feast of Corpus Christi in that order.

The stained glass window pictured above is symbolic of this feast. The reason that rays of light are shown in this and similar depictions is to symbolise the Real Presence of Christ’s Body and Blood.

Monstrance stisidore-yubacityorgCorpus Christi often includes an outdoor procession in Catholic and High Churches. A monstrance (pictured at right) is used, again with rays proceeding from it.

chalice six scalloped edges homepageeircomnetChalices also have their symbolism. Often, we see them with six points or six scalloped edges. These represent the Six Attributes of the Deity: power, wisdom, majesty, mercy, justice and love.

Many people today baulk at the seeming extravagance of monstrances, chalices and clerical vestments.  It is important to remember that these items are created with such elegance so as to honour God and His Son Jesus Christ.  That may not wash with everyone’s interpretation of Christianity, but for those who hold to Catholic and traditional Anglican or Lutheran teachings, only the most precious metals, aesthetic workmanship and finest fabrics may be used.

CB064044I’ve cited the writings of the Revd Vincent Cheung before and mentioned him at the end of my Trinity Sunday post for 2015.

He is a Reformed (Calvinist) minister from Boston, Massachusetts, and author of a number of books and commentaries. He also has a keen interest in philosophy and hermeutics — the interpretation of Scripture.

One of his many short posts on Christianity concerns 1 Peter 3:15. In ‘The Great Invasion’, he says that unbelievers enjoy using the verse against believers.

In order to put it into context, I shall cite more verses — 13-17:

13 Now who is there to harm you if you are zealous for what is good? 14 But even if you should suffer for righteousness’ sake, you will be blessed. Have no fear of them, nor be troubled, 15 but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect, 16 having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame. 17 For it is better to suffer for doing good, if that should be God’s will, than for doing evil.

Cheung writes (emphases mine):

Sometimes non-Christians use 1 Peter 3:15 to manipulate believers. They exploit the Christian’s own false interpretation of the verse to make him answer for his faith, and to do it with gentleness and respect. This answer is usually taken in the defensive sense, so that the Christian is supposed to endlessly provide defensive responses to questions and objections …

In fact, for those who affirm this false interpretation, or who maintain a general misunderstanding of what Scripture requires in terms of the answer that we give and the manner in which we give it, they will make themselves suffer without much effort from the unbelievers. They will offer defensive answers, and refrain from attacking the unbelievers. And all the time they will be doing this with exemplary Buddhist humility and Confucian gentleness. I denounce this pagan rendition of biblical ethics.

He says, that St Peter was, in reality, telling his followers how to respond to persons in authority when asked about their faith.

First, Peter is talking about the way Christians ought to behave under official interrogation, so that the gentleness and respect are shown to authorities for the sake of God, who established all authorities. Second, an “answer” refers to anything that might explain why we affirm the gospel or why we are justified in affirming the gospel. This must include our belief that unbelievers are foolish and wicked, that they are mentally bankrupt and morally depraved, and that all their beliefs are false and irrational. Once we possess this understanding, then we will drop that obnoxious, effeminate, and anti-biblical “humble” apologetics. We will take up the sword of the Spirit and slaughter the non-Christians, totally subduing and humiliating them in argumentation. This shall be our answer.

If they attack the Christian faith, they are not going to walk away from the conflict unscathed

He has strong words for those who disagree with this approach:

You say, “This apologetic frightens me.” You are a fool. Do you not see that this is the Great Commission? Do you not see that the Commission is a manifest for spiritual world invasion? Jesus Christ is Lord over all, and he sends us to every part of the earth, even to every person, to declare his lordship to them, and to teach them to obey everything that he has commanded. Therefore, we have the duty and the right to invade all areas of the earth, to intrude into all lives, and then to challenge and command them to repent, and to tell them what to believe and how to behave. This is the commission and the authority of the Christian.

Cheung firmly believes that if more of us adopted a more matter-of-fact approach that Christianity would triumph in the way our Lord intends, through hearts and minds. As he says:

Nothing less than this can count as Christian ministry.

We don’t need to be unpleasant about it, but we do need to know Scripture, its proper interpretations (not an unbeliever’s) and how to preach the Word with confidence.

This is something most of our clergy have not been taught for decades. We seek unity and appeasement where neither is applicable. Just another reason why our pews are emptying rapidly.

Coming soon: Vincent Cheung on dropping out of church

Yes, it is alive and well!

To be honest, I did not know it existed.

The Right Revd Daniel Martins, Episcopal bishop of the Diocese of Springfield (Illinois), recently went to Cuba and wrote about his and his fellow bishops’ stay. His post, ‘Cuba Libre’, is one of the most impressive posts I’ve ever read. It comes complete with photographs. Excerpts follow, emphases mine.

Status of the Cuban diocese

Martins tells us that the Diocese of Cuba is over 100 years old. For much of that time, it was under the aegis of The Episcopal Church (TEC). When Fidel Castro took over in 1959:

with the ensuing restrictions on travel and fund transfers, it became impractical to continue the relationship, and the diocese entered extra-provincial status within the Anglican Communion, with primatial oversight provided by a panel of archbishops.

Cuba’s bishop is the Right Revd Griselda Delgado, more about whom below. She and her family live in Havana, where the Cathedral of the Holy Trinity is located.

There is one Protestant seminary on the island, in Matanzas, 100 miles east of Havana. Whilst the seminary is not Episcopalian — it was founded in the 1940s by Presbyterians and Methodists with the TEC coming on board afterward — the Diocese continues to maintain close links with it.

Although Cuba was officially an atheist country for many years, that status has since changed to secularist. Older church buildings are still standing and open for worship and activities. New plants are also springing up, such as the Church of St Mary Magdalene in Favorito. The church signs have the traditional Episcopalian welcome in Spanish:

La Iglesia Episcopal le da la bienvenida.

In addition to being houses of worship, the churches in rural areas have launched sustainable food or water programmes for local people.

Getting there

Martins explains that the Diocese of Cuba not only has links with Anglican churches in Canada but also an Episcopal church in the American Diocese of Wyoming. They were instrumental in facilitating travel for Martins and his fellow bishops:

there were resources who knew what levers had to be pulled to get us religious visitor visas (this was underway well before the recent thaw in relations between our two countries).

Once at Miami International Airport, the security checks took as long or longer than the 45-minute flight:

First we had to hand over our passports, wait around, queue up to check our bags, wait around some more, queue up again to pay a baggage handling fee, wait around some more, and finally proceed to the TSA screening area. Never has there been so much red tape and bureaucracy for such a short flight. Once inside the gate area, we were able to grab something to eat, which was a welcome opportunity. The boarding process was just as inefficient as the check-in process, and by the time we pushed back, it was about 45 minutes past our scheduled 1pm departure.

Once in Havana, the group were accompanied by a representative of the state-owned Havanatur.

The 1950 American model cars still exist and, out of necessity, are very well maintained. Hotels from the 1940s and 1950s are still open, lending another air of nostalgia. Food, for travellers at least, is mostly average in taste and quality. There is little choice in restaurants and in snacks. There are two flavours of fizzy soft drinks: cola and lemon-lime.

Interest in Christianity

Martins had interesting conversations during his stay just after Easter 2015.

Cuba’s Minister of Religious Affairs joined the group for dinner at Bishop Delgado’s home in Havana:

We enjoyed some serious conversation (via Manny wearing his interpreter’s hat) before dinner around various ways the government and churches can cooperate for the greater good of Cuban society. Interestingly, the strengthening of marriages was at the top of her list. So, what was once proclaimed to be an “atheist” state is now merely “secular,” but with a very benign attitude toward Christians (and the small Jewish community in Cuba; there is no significant Muslim population).

The following day, in the old part of Havana:

I did a little bit of gift shopping, but the highlight of the time there was a conversation (again, all in Spanish) with a vendor from who I didn’t buy anything, but who, when she found out I was from the U.S., peppered me with questions relating to how difficult (or not) it was for me to get into the country, and lamenting that she would like to visit the U.S. but the only Cubans who can get entry visas are those with family already here, and she has none. Then, when she found out I am a bishop, enthusiastically assured me that she is a Christian, and asked me to give her a blessing, which I did. What a joy, on so many levels

He also discovered:

the Episcopal cathedral in Havana holds theology classes on Saturdays. They are intended primarily to form their own people in ministry, but the classes are open to all comers. There is a steady stream of university students who attend faithfully. There is an intense curiosity about Christianity (and other faith practices) on the part of a generation of young people who are virtual blank slates, who did not grow up with it, for whom it is a fresh novelty rather than an artifact of cultural baggage.

Long may it continue.

As for the Minister of Religious Affairs:

she referred to “our Lord” and openly prayed with us. She articulated a hope for partnerships between the government and churches to attack Cuba’s social ills.

Martins observed that the tables with regard to faith are now turned in Cuba and the United States:

Religious practice was stigmatized and marginalized. Now, five decades later, this is the trend in American society, though it’s rolling out at a rather more deliberate pace … So, as American Christianity continues to enter a bit of a winter season, my visit to Cuba gives me hope that spring will indeed come. Not in my lifetime, most likely, but it will come.

Bishop Delgado

The Anglican Church of Canada website has an interesting profile of the Right Revd Griselda Delgado del Carpio, one of the first two women ordained in the country and the first woman bishop in Latin America.

Delgado is originally from Bolivia. In her student days, she was quite the political activist. For that reason, she emigrated to Cuba, accompanied by her mother and her young daughter. Once there, she later married a Cuban. She and her husband Geraldo have two children of their own.

When she first arrived in Cuba, she did a lot of soul searching. Eventually, she entered the Matanzas Evangelical Theological Seminary. At the time, religious practice was frowned on and the seminary numbers reflected that state of affairs. The ratio of faculty to students was practically 1:1. Delgado was ordained in 1986.

Although church finances are an ongoing problem, largely because of Cuba’s economic insecurity:

In recent years, there has been a sense that the IEC and other Cuban churches are growing in both membership and national influence …

Bishop Delgado has a vision for the role the church can play in this shifting Cuban culture. “Up until now the church has seemed invisible to society,” she said. “In Cuba, all people have education, all have professions, but the people are lacking values. The church is a place to bring people together, to give them identity and dignity.”

Let us pray for the continuous growth of the Church in Cuba.

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