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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.

It would be difficult to understand the Huguenots without a few notes about the spread of the Reformation.

This is not meant to be an exhaustive exploration of the subject, however, certain points stand out, which are necessary to understand. I read on Protestant blogs where some clergy say the Reformation never should have happened. It seems that either these men have forgotten their Church history or did not learn it properly.

The Church (Catholic at that time), royalty and nobility were the elite. They worked together to further mutual interests. We saw this even where the small yet strategic island of Corsica was concerned.

On a more personal level, there was the corrupt sale of indulgences, as if one could buy God’s pardon. Geoffrey Chaucer covered this in The Canterbury Tales, which showed how vice- and disease-ridden some ‘holy’ pilgrims were, especially those allied with the Church, including those who sold indulgences.

The revival of Augustinianism

Over the centuries, as the Church gained temporal power, St Augustine of Hippo‘s teachings from the early centuries  gradually disappeared into the background. The Bloomington (Indiana) Reformed Presbyterian Church has a good history of the Reformation, which is well worth reading in full. On Augustine, they say (emphases mine):

Augustine was led to develop his doctrines of sin and grace partly through his own personal experience in being converted to Christianity from a worldly life, and partly through the necessity of refuting the teaching of Pelagius, who taught that man in his natural state had full ability to work out his own salvation, that Adam’s fall had but little effect on the race except that it set a bad example which is perpetuated, that Christ’s life is of value to men mainly by way of example, that in His death Christ was little more than the first Christian martyr, and that we are not under any special providence of God. Against these views Augustine developed the very opposite. He taught that the whole race fell in Adam, that all men by nature are depraved and spiritually dead, that the will is free to sin but not free to do good toward God, that Christ suffered vicariously for His people, that God elects whom He will irrespective of their merits, and that saving grace is efficaciously applied to the elect by the Holy Spirit. He thus became the first true interpreter of Paul and was successful in securing the acceptance of his doctrine by the Church.

Predestination was generally put to one side and semi-Pelagianism came to the fore. (This remains true today, not only in the Catholic Church but also in a number of Protestant denominations.)

Earliest Reformers and mountain influence

Nonetheless, a few men began preaching Scripture in the early Middle Ages, gathering ardent followers around Europe. In France, Peter Waldo (b. 1140) began spreading the Gospel in his home city of Lyon. He commissioned a clergyman to translate the Bible into Arpitan, so that the people of southeastern France could understand it. (The Bible was read at Mass in Latin, which many could not understand, hence the proliferation of religious art in churches, which could communicate important biblical stories and theological concepts.)

Two centuries later, England’s John Wycliffe preached and wrote that the Bible was the ultimate religious authority. In 1380, he translated the New Testament into English. The University of Oxford removed him from their faculty the following year because he called for Church reform. He then switched to parish life in Oxfordshire and Leicestershire. He died in 1384, having finished his collaboration on a translation of the Old Testament into English. The Church condemned him as a heretic in 1415 and had his remains exhumed and cast into the River Swift in 1428.

Meanwhile, Jan (John) Hus(s) called for reform in Moldavia (part of today’s Czech Republic) and Bohemia. Peter Waldo and his Waldenses, ordered to leave France, ended up in Bohemia via Picardy (the northern French province where John Calvin was born). The Hussites were acquainted with Waldo’s teachings and were fiercely opposed to the power that the German emperor and the Church shared.

In fact, the Bogomil teachings which circulated between the 10th and the 15th centuries, covered nearly everywhere in Europe where the Reformation spread. Within these regions are a number of mountain regions with independent-minded inhabitants. During the Middle Ages, a number of these people quietly rebelled against the Church and adopted what they considered to be true Pauline teaching direct from the New Testament. Some of these influences came from the Waldenses, however, others — Bogomilism — had slightly earlier origins. Bogomilism is a heresy as it proposes that the Devil created the world.  Other mountain people in the south of France — the Albigenses and Cathars — were similarly influenced by Bogomilism. What all these mountain peoples had in common — heretics or no — was their personal integrity and an austere lifestyle. They disregarded the Church and their rulers which made them enemies of both.

Therefore, by the time Martin Luther came along, there was a diverse readiness for reform in many parts of Europe.

Enter Luther and widespread Augustianism

Martin Luther, an Augustinian monk, knew St Augustine’s writing well. Thanks to his superior, John Staupitz, Luther began to move from intense introspection to reflection on the merits of Christ. Staupitz also encouraged his monks to

read the Scriptures eagerly, to hear them devotedly, and to learn them zealously.

It comes as no surprise then that Luther placed a great emphasis on the justification by grace through faith. Zwingli and Calvin also held this theological principle which runs throughout St Paul’s letters.

Luther’s collaborator, Philipp Melanchthon, the first systematic theologian of the Reformation, also held to this principle. However, over the centuries — some believe it started with Melanchthon’s later writings — the Lutheran Church, much to the disappointment of its more confessional members, has gravitated towards Universal Objective Justification (see Dr Gregory Jackson’s Ichabod for more). The Bloomington Reformed Presbyterian Church’s history explains it this way:

Melanchthon in his earlier writings designated the principle of Predestination as the fundamental principle of Christianity. He later modified this position, however, and brought in a kind of “synergism” in which God and man were supposed to co-operate in the process of salvation. The position taken by the early Lutheran Church was gradually modified. Later Lutherans let go the doctrine altogether, denounced it in its Calvinistic [Augustinian??] form, and came to hold a doctrine of universal grace and universal atonement, which doctrine has since become the accepted doctrine of the Lutheran Church.

However, at the time of the Reformation, all Protestants held to basic Pauline tenets of original sin, predestination, efficacious grace and perseverance (i.e. God will not allow His own to fall away). As for the Lutherans specifically:

At the time of the Reformation the Lutheran Church did not make such a complete break with the Catholic Church as did the Reformed. In fact some Lutherans point out with pride that Lutheranism was a “moderate Reformation.” While all protestants appealed to the Bible as a final authority, the tendency in Lutheranism was to keep as much of the old system as did not have to be thrown out, while the tendency in the Reformed Church was to throw out all that did not have to be kept. And in regard to the relationship which existed between the Church and the State, the Lutherans were content to allow the local princes great influence in the Church or even to allow them to determine the religion within their bounds — a tendency leading toward the establishment of a State Church — while the Reformed soon came to demand complete separation between Church and State.

Calvin the codifier

What Luther began, John Calvin took much further:

To a great extent Calvin built upon the foundation which Luther laid. His clearer insight into the basic principles of the Reformation enabled him to work them out more fully and to apply them more broadly … Calvin stressed the principle of the sovereignty of God, and developed a principle which was more objective and theological.

One of the reasons I believe there is an attraction of Catholics to Calvinism and vice versa is the codification of beliefs. Each has a clear set of theological answers for every human circumstance. Personally, as an ex-Catholic, I am comfortable with the content from Calvinistic canons and catechisms.  They answer the ‘what ifs’ and ‘what abouts’ just as the Catholic catechism and Canon Law does for Roman Catholics. Calvin started a deep exploration of the Bible with regard to the Protestant faith, drawing heavily on Augustine’s writing.

By Calvin’s time, persecution by state and Church had begun against Protestants. Calvin had to flee France for Basel, prior to his arrival in Geneva. No doubt that influenced his zeal and focus on his Institutes of the Christian Religion, which he published in 1536, just three years after he decided to become a Protestant.  His study of law no doubt had an additional effect on the precision he put into his apologetics for the faith.

The Oxford historian Froude, although no admirer of Calvinism, nevertheless had this to say:

“… For hard times hard men are needed, and intellects which can pierce to the roots where truth and lies part company. It fares ill with the soldiers of religion when ‘the accursed thing’ is in the camp. And this is to be said of Calvin, that so far as the state of knowledge permitted, no eye could have detected more keenly the unsound spots in the creed of the Church, nor was there a Reformer in Europe so resolute to exercise, tear out and destroy what was distinctly seen to be false — so resolute to establish what was true in its place, and make truth, to the last fibre of it, the rule of practical life.” 1

This is the testimony of the famous historian from Oxford University. Froude’s writings make it plain that he had no particular love for Calvinism; and in fact he is often called a critic of Calvinism. These words just quoted simply express the impartial conclusions of a great scholar who looks at the system and the man whose name it bears from the vantage ground of learned investigation.

In another connection Froude says: “The Calvinists have been called intolerant. Intolerance of an enemy who is trying to kill you seems to me a pardonable state of mind . . . The Catholics chose to add to their already incredible creed a fresh article, that they were entitled to hang and burn those who differed from them; and in this quarrel the Calvinists, Bible in hand, appealed to the God of battles. They grew harsher, fiercer, — if you please, more fanatical. It was extremely natural that they should. They dwelt, as pious men are apt to dwell in suffering and sorrow, on the all-disposing power of Providence. Their burden grew lighter as they considered that God had so determined that they must bear it. But they attracted to their ranks almost every man in Western Europe that ‘ hated a lie.'”

Calvin’s writing influenced the translators of the Geneva Bible, the compilation of the Anglican Thirty-Nine Articles of Religion which support predestination (Article XVII) and John Knox who, rightly or wrongly, turned Scotland Calvinist. Calvinism also spread to the Low Countries as well as throughout France, although it is a minority denomination in that country today because of the Wars of Religion.

Calvinism in France — the Huguenots

Although the Reformation began in France with Lutheranism, later, John Calvin led the Huguenots.

As I mentioned upthread, the Huguenots adopted the attitudes and teachings of the earliest Reformers. They were honest, diligent, plain-living people:

Their moral purity and heroism, whether persecuted at home or exiled abroad, has been the wonder of both friend and foe.”12 “Their history,” says the Encyclopaedia Britannica, “is a standing marvel, illustrating the abiding power of strong religious conviction. The account of their endurance is amongst the most remarkable and heroic records of religious history.” The Huguenots made up the industrious artisan class of France and to be “honest as a Huguenot” became a proverb, denoting the highest degree of integrity

And again, “In every respect they stood immeasurably superior to all the rest of their fellow-countrymen. The strict sobriety of their lives, the purity of their moral actions, their industrious habits, and their entire separation from the foul sensuality which corrupted the whole of the national life of France at this period, were always effectual means of betraying the principles which they held, and were so regarded by their enemies.” 14

Calvin:

gave the Huguenots their creed and form of government. Throughout the following period it was, according to the unanimous testimony of history, the system of faith which we call Calvinism that inspired the French Protestants in their struggle with the papacy and its royal supporters.

By 1561:

the Calvinists numbered one-fourth of the entire population. McFetridge places the number even higher. “In less than half a century,” says he, “this so-called harsh system of belief had penetrated every part of the land, and had gained to its standards almost one-half of the population and almost every great mind in the nation. So numerous and powerful had its adherents become that for a time it appeared as if the entire nation would be swept over to their views.” 15 Smiles, in his “Huguenots in France,” writes: “It is curious to speculate on the influence which the religion of Calvin, himself a Frenchman, might have exercised on the history of France, as well as on the individual character of the Frenchman, had the balance of forces carried the nation bodily over to Protestantism, as was very nearly the case, toward the end of the sixteenth century,” (p. 100). Certainly the history of the nation would have been very different from that which it has been.

Today, even a number of French Catholics and historians agree that driving out Protestants represented a great loss to the nation. Expert weavers, lacemakers and clockmakers took their skills elsewhere in the world by necessity. Today, although most cities have a Reformed church, Protestants number around half a million nationwide. There are many more Muslims in France; Islam is the second world faith in the nation after Catholicism.

Calvinists — defenders of the Reformation

More on the Huguenots tomorrow.

For now, let it be said that the Calvinists left a huge legacy, like it or not. The Bloomington Reformed Presbyterian Church offers these insights:

If the spirit of Calvinism had not arisen in Western Europe following the outbreak of the Reformation, the spirit of half-heartedness would have gained the day in England, Scotland and Holland. Protestantism in these countries could not have maintained itself; and, through the compromising measures of a Romanized Protestantism, Germany would in all probability have been again brought under the sway of the Roman Catholic Church. Had Protestantism failed in any one of these countries it is probable that the result would have been fatal in the others also, so intimately were their fortunes bound together. In a very real sense the future destiny of nations was dependent on the outcome of that struggle in the Netherlands. Had Spain been victorious in the Netherlands, it is probable that the Catholic Church would have been so strengthened that it would have subdued Protestantism in England also. And, even as things were, it looked for a time as though England would be turned back to Romanism. In that case the development of America would automatically have been prevented and in all probability the whole American continent would have remained under the control of Spain.

Let us remember further that practically all of the martyrs in these various countries were Calvinists,- the Lutheran, s and Arminians being only a handful in comparison. As Professor Fruin justly remarks, “In Switzerland, in France, in the Netherlands, in Scotland and in England, and wherever Protestantism has had to establish itself at the point of the sword, it was Calvinism that gained the day“…

There is also one other service which Holland has rendered and which we must not overlook. The Pilgrims, after being driven out of England by religious persecutions and before their coming to America, went to Holland and there came into contact with a religious life which from the Calvinistic point of view was beneficial in the extreme. Their most important leaders were Clyfton, Robinson, and Brewster, three Cambridge University men, who form as noble and heroic trio as can be found in the history of any nation. They were staunch Calvinists holding all the fundamental views that the Reformer of Geneva had propounded. The American historian Bancroft is right when he simply calls the Pilgrim-fathers, “men of the same faith with Calvin.”

St Augustine of Hippo stained glassSt Augustine would not have called these people ‘cafeteria Christians’, as the concept of cafeterias did not exist in his time, although, certainly, meals in common would have done.

I spotted this quote from Augustine on a Grace To You blog post — ‘Is God a Monster?’. Reader Philip Vance sent it in:

If you believe what you like in the gospel, and reject what you don’t like, it is not the gospel you believe but yourself – Augustine

How true. It is sometimes difficult to pray for stubborn doubters who actively reject portions of Scripture which, for whatever reason, offend them. Yet, prayer — that their minds be turned to God — is sometimes the only way to reach them.

The Church of Gaia just ramped up tenfold with the controversial 10:10 campaign.

I had intended on ignoring the whole doggone thing until I read ‘The True Colors of Fascism’ by the Lutheran pastor, Father Hollywood (LCMS).  (He explains the origin of his moniker on the blog, by the way.)

Reluctantly, I watched the video.   Now I’m glad I did.  He’s right — it’s not for children or those of a sensitive disposition. Contrary to what Richard (Love, Actually) Curtis says, there is nothing remotely funny about it. I hadn’t realised that the whole production was British.  It does put us in a very poor light.  Please don’t think that all British people are this way.  It’s just the Fabian intelligentsia at work. And, yes, there is a vogue for schoolboys here to tie their ties very short.  They think it makes them look ‘cool’.  In reality, they only look like dorks.

However, first back to Father Hollywood, who correctly and succinctly points out (emphases mine throughout):

And when you’ve had enough of this godless fascism, a manifestation of what St. Augustine called “the lust for domination,” you might want to consider Christianity and its corollary philosophy that human beings are made in God’s image and are endowed by their Creator with freedom.

Sadly, not even our own governments understand the master-servant relationship. Fascism is alive and well. Is this how you want to live your life?

In the comments, he reflected further:

They obviously can’t compel people and blow them up – even if they wish they could.

But the state can. And that’s where life imitates art.

There is also an underlying message of conformity. Get on board because everyone else is – whether the premise is true or false, whether you agree or disagree, none of that matters. “No pressure” – really means “peer pressure.”

And the state has the power to enforce ideologies such as this. It has the means to confiscate and redistribute, to tax and destroy, to imprison and even to splatter the blood of nonconformists and make examples of those who disagree.

If the 20th century has taught us anything, it has confirmed George Washington’s dictum: “Government is not reason; it is not eloquent; it is force. Like fire, it is a dangerous servant and a fearful master.”

What he wrote reminded me of President Obama’s new assassination programme.  Never would I have imagined such a thing taking place in the United States of America.  Salon‘s Glenn Greenwald had the best summary and analysis.  If you are unfamiliar with the story and its implications — in line with Father Hollywood’s observations — please take the time to read it in full.  Here are a few excerpts:

At this point, I didn’t believe it was possible, but the Obama administration has just reached an all-new low in its abysmal civil liberties record.  In response to the lawsuit filed by Anwar Awlaki’s father asking a court to enjoin the President from assassinating his son, a U.S. citizen, without any due process, the administration late last night, according to The Washington Post, filed a brief asking the court to dismiss the lawsuit without hearing the merits of the claims …

The same Post article quotes a DOJ spokesman as saying that Awlaki “should surrender to American authorities and return to the United States, where he will be held accountable for his actions.”  But he’s not been charged with any crimes, let alone indicted for any.  The President has been trying to kill him for the entire year without any of that due process.  And now the President refuses even to account to an American court for those efforts to kill this American citizen on the ground that the President’s unilateral imposition of the death penalty is a “state secret.” …

UPDATE:  As a reminder:  Obama supporters who are dutifully insisting that the President not only has the right to order American citizens killed without due process, but to do so in total secrecy, on the ground that Awlaki is a Terrorist and Traitor, are embracing those accusations without having the slightest idea whether they’re actually true.  All they know is that Obama has issued these accusations, which is good enough for them.  That’s the authoritarian mind, by definition:  if the Leader accuses a fellow citizen of something, then it’s true — no trial or any due process at all is needed and there is no need even for judicial review before the decreed sentence is meted out, even when the sentence is death.

For those reciting the “Awlaki-is-a-traitor” mantra, there’s also the apparently irrelevant matter that Article III, Section 3 of the Constitution (the document which these same Obama supporters pretended to care about during the Bush years) provides that “No person shall be convicted of treason unless on the testimony of two witnesses to the same overt act, or on confession in open court.”

As Americans say, I have no dog in this hunt.  It’s the principle of the thing.

Meanwhile, the UK, in line with most EU countries, has transformed itself from the land of the village eccentric into one of conformists.  People do watch each other’s behaviour.  Admittedly, not everyone, but you do have to fall in line much more: dress relatively normally, look industrious at the weekend (very American) and adopt the socio-political outlook of your manager at work or local cleric.  One must ‘fit’ and fit well.  Anyone who has gone for a job interview has to be adjudged to ‘fit’ before being hired.  This is called ‘cultural cloning’. Samir Shah, chairman of the Runnymede Trust, wrote about the phenomenon for The Spectator in 2009:

The real problem is what I call ‘cultural cloning’ — the human tendency to recruit in one’s own image. Recruitment, instead of being about picking the best people, becomes a process of finding people like the ones already there. The overwhelming need for a kind of cultural comfort blanket takes precedence over every other consideration — and rules out those whose backgrounds don’t quite fit. This is what a 21st-century Equalities Commission should have in its sights. Cultural cloning is, in my opinion, the main source of discrimination in Britain today.

Style, background, accent, dress sense and cultural (as opposed to ethnic) background andmost of all — your manner count just as much as your ethnicity in trying to land that job. This, of course, brings a whole set of problems that we need to overcome …

We’re not talking about an ‘old boys-club’, either.  It is a postmodern, post-Second World War social phenomenon.  The people in the 10:10 film — teacher, manager and sound technician — exemplify it perfectly. Awfully nice people on the surface: ‘no pressure’, unless you don’t conform. This is why many classically British individuals look askance at David Cameron’s ‘Big Society’.  Will there be a gauleiter in every street?  Who knows?

I remember a few years ago that the police service in one county in England announced that residents notifying them of suspected crime would receive a sum of money if  the person was convicted.  I mentioned it in passing at work.  To my astonishment, one of the guys piped up, ‘I wish they’d do that in my county.  The money I could make!’  I asked if he didn’t see a moral issue with it.  ‘What ‘moral issue’?  Who cares about morals? I need the money.’  And that sums up a sadly-increasing number of my fellow Britons today.

And should — heaven forbid — a majority of people ever assume an attitude of conformity, are short of cash and become card-carrying members of the Church of Gaia, we have had it as a society.  You’ll find out more tomorrow.

Then again, something similar could happen anywhere.  Have a look at the second video in Father Hollywood’s post: the State of Pennsylvania’s 30-second advert to catch tax cheats.

Think it couldn’t happen?  Think again.

Tomorrow: More Church of Gaia and the British reaction to 10:10

When I was growing up, a convert from Presbyterianism was in our Catholic church choir.  Mrs C was highly educated and had a career before marrying and raising a family.  (Her husband was a cradle Catholic, by the way.)

She and my mother would get to talking during the breaks in choir practice.  ‘I do find her rather hard going at times,’ my mother would remark afterward. ‘She’s so intelligent, I can’t keep up with her.’  I recall one time in particular where Mrs C told my mother all about St Augustine of Hippo.  My mother was amazed.  ‘Did you learn all this when you became a convert?’ she asked.  ‘Oh, no,’ Mrs C replied. ‘As a Presbyterian.  Calvin found him invaluable when going back to the teachings of the ancient Church.’  You could have knocked my mother down with a feather.  The mere mention of John Calvin sent her into paroxysms.

And so, my belated post in memory of St Augustine, whose feast day was on August 28.  D Philip Veitch of Reformation Anglicanism featured a superb post which explains Augustine’s significance to the Reformers (Martin Luther was an Augustinian monk, by the way):

True Protestants and true Catholic Churchmen—Calvinists or the Reformed, Lutherans and classical Anglicans—consider Augustine to be one of the theological fathers of Reformation due to his teaching on salvation and divine grace. B.B. Warfield, the “Lion of Princeton Seminary,” has written an excellent work on Augustine and Calvin.

Before Augustine committed himself to Christ, he led a debauched life in his younger years, although he became an esteemed professor of Rhetoric in Rome.  His mother, Monica, also a canonised saint, was a devout Christian who prayed that her son would be given the gift of faith.

Much is known about his conversion via his Confessions.  However, in July of 2006 or 2007, the French newsweekly Marianne published an article about Augustine’s path to Christianity.   As he made his journey from debauchery to a prominent teacher, he began reading classics from the ancient world about the importance of good manners, intelligent discourse and responsible citizenship.  These tomes served as instruction books for him.  He took what they said seriously.  He also became more engrossed in philosophy and wondered what he should do next.

He relates the moment of conversion in Confessions and introduces us to the phrase beloved of the Reformers — tolle, lege (take up, read).  This passage comes from Book VIII, paragraphs 28 and 29:

I cast myself down I know not how, under a certain fig-tree, giving full vent to my tears; and the floods of mine eyes gushed out an acceptable sacrifice to Thee. And, not indeed in these words, yet to this purpose, spake I much unto Thee: and Thou, O Lord, how long? how long, Lord, wilt Thou be angry for ever? Remember not our former iniquities, for I felt that I was held by them. I sent up these sorrowful words: How long, how long, “to-morrow, and tomorrow?” Why not now? why not is there this hour an end to my uncleanness?
So was I speaking and weeping in the most bitter contrition of my heart, when, lo! I heard from a neighbouring house a voice, as of boy or girl, I know not, chanting, and oft repeating, “Take up and read; Take up and read. ” Instantly, my countenance altered, I began to think most intently whether children were wont in any kind of play to sing such words: nor could I remember ever to have heard the like. So checking the torrent of my tears, I arose; interpreting it to be no other than a command from God to open the book, and read the first chapter I should find. For I had heard of Antony, that coming in during the reading of the Gospel, he received the admonition, as if what was being read was spoken to him: Go, sell all that thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven, and come and follow me: and by such oracle he was forthwith converted unto Thee. Eagerly then I returned to the place where Alypius was sitting; for there had I laid the volume of the Apostle when I arose thence. I seized, opened, and in silence read that section on which my eyes first fell: Not in rioting and drunkenness, not in chambering and wantonness, not in strife and envying; but put ye on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make not provision for the flesh, in concupiscence. No further would I read; nor needed I: for instantly at the end of this sentence, by a light as it were of serenity infused into my heart, all the darkness of doubt vanished away.

He did give what he had to the poor.  He turned the family home into a monastic foundation, was ordained, preached widely against a popular heresy of the day — Manichaeism — and later became Bishop of Hippo (now Annaba in Algeria).  His prayer, study of Scripture and lively faith still make him one of the outstanding Doctors of the Church even today.

So, we see that a mother’s unceasing prayers can work miracles.  We see how sometimes unbelievers come to faith by improving their secular lives then taking the next step: ‘What now?’  For those of you who despair of family or friends who have not yet come to the truth of the Word, keep praying and remember Augustine.

Further reading:

Augustine of Hippo

This topic vaguely reminds me of the old adverts in the US about the nagging worry over psoriasis. Like psoriasis, the possibility of temporary faith is no laughing matter.  Yet, the fear that we may experience a temporary faith is, by far, a bigger and more universal worry than psoriasis.

At some point, almost every Christian struggles with doubt.  ‘I think I’m saved.  But, what if I’m not?’  There are two broad schools of thought on salvation.  One is the belief in justification by faith and the opposing view is salvation via faith and works together.  But, where is the subjective (not objective, through Scripture and confessions of faith) assurance for us personally?  How do we know for sure?

The short answer is that we don’t really know for sure.  Some people lapse and come back to church, their faith strengthened. Others may say they are born again and go through all the right motions at church yet are truly reprobate.  So … what are we to think?  Where do we look for subjective assurance?

I’m no theologian, but what follows are my thoughts on the matter as I make my own Christian journey.  They may give you some ideas.  Am I:

– watching fewer films and reading fewer books about carnality and violence?

– turned off by coarse talk and foolishness? 

– uninterested in material goods, e.g. money and shopping?

– studying the Bible regularly and learning from Scripture?

– praying not just twice a day, but spontaneously throughout the day?

– willingly executing my responsibilities to my family and my employer?

– wishing to make good use of the limited hours in the day?

– helping to create or maintain a quiet and godly home?

– pausing to think before I act?

– becoming less dependent on an excess of food or drink?

– looking at events with objectivity instead of subjectivity?

– thinking that God has a plan for me and my family?

– reflecting on God’s guidance in my life?

– believing that Christ died on the cross for me?

– putting my trust in the Lord, no matter what?

– doing something good not because I am obliged (legalism) but out of a filial love for the Lord?

When things are going well, especially for a new convert, it’s easy to say ‘yes’ to many of those questions.  It’s when things stop going well — changes in employment or family circumstances — where life gets a bit trickier. We also need to look at the role our faith has played in our lives. Did we actively see God’s grace at work in shaping them? Did we pray sincerely?  Did we use the gifts of the Holy Spirit, e.g. wisdom and discernment? 

Yes, perhaps we have undergone temporary lapses in church attendance or in matters of faith.  If so, have we asked the Risen Christ — our only Mediator and Advocate — for help?  Or have we relied on ourselves and those around us in positions of power or prestige?

St Augustine alludes to the value of praying the Lord’s Prayer in Chapter 9 of his work, ‘The Gift of Perseverance’:

Now, moreover, when the saints say, “Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil,” [Matt. vi. 13] what do they pray for but that they may persevere in holiness? For, assuredly, when that gift of God is granted to them,–which is sufficiently plainly shown to be God’s gift, since it is asked of Him,–that gift of God, then, being granted to them that they may not be led into temptation, none of the saints fails to keep his perseverance in holiness even to the end.

He also wrote these words:

Love God and do as you please.

Meaning that when we truly love God, we automatically turn away from temptation and sin.  We don’t even think about them!

The first Anglican Bishop of Liverpool, John Charles Ryle, wrote in ‘Few Saved’ in the 19th century:

Leave no stone unturned in order to ascertain your own spiritual state. Be not content with vague hopes and trusts. Rest not on warm feelings and temporary desires after God. Give diligence to make your calling and election sure … Give God no rest till uncertainty has disappeared, and you have got hold of a reasonable hope that you are saved …

In ‘A Believer’s Assurance: A Practical Guide to Victory over Doubt’, John MacArthur gives us a Calvinist perspective on assurance:

Many people lack assurance because they do not understand that salvation is an utterly divine, totally sovereign operation. Assurance is built on the historical reality of what Jesus Christ accomplished. It is not a feeling without reason, and you will never have the subjective feeling of assurance until you comprehend the objective truth of the gospel.

You must realize that God knew you were a sinner, which is why He sent His Son Jesus Christ into the world to completely pay the price for all your sins–past, present, and future. The salvation Jesus offered was secured forever by the omnipotent power of God. It is irreversible. As Romans 11:29 says, “The gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable.”

Dan Phillips of Pyromaniacs says in ‘The Struggle for Assurance’ (emphases in the original):

… my attitude has sometimes been, “I will believe that when I feel assured of it” — but do you see the trap in that thinking? Jesus told Martha that, if she believed, she would see the glory of God (John 11:40). Not the reverse.

So … my game plan is to bank on Jesus’ word of promise, regardless of my feelings, with no Plan B. He said come (Matthew 11:30-31). By grace, I came. He said, if you come, there’s no way I’m casting you away (John 6:37). I plan to take that one to the Throne. He said. Is there a better basisHe said!

And then I saw Romans 15:13 — “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope.” God gives joy and peace. Thank God. How does He give joy and peace? In believing. But wait — I’ll believe when I feel joy and peace! That will tell me I’m really a child, an elect child of God!

“No,” Paul would say to me, to you: “you have it backwards. You don’t get joy and peace, and then believe. Believe, and then you will know joy and peace.”  

I hope those truths are of some help to you. They’ve been lifesavers to me.

 

This is why Scripture is so essential to the Christian life.  Read it, know it, understand it.  And be assured of salvation.

Calvinist logo drjamesgalyonwordpresscomIn the previous post we looked at St Augustine’s teachings about God’s sovereignity and man’s free will. In reading these, it becomes clearer how and why John Calvin made these doctrines the cornerstone of Calvinism, even today.

To arrive at common ground, let’s look at what all Catholics and Protestants agree upon:

  • God’s omniscience
  • God’s omnipotence
  • A Triune God: Father, Son and Holy Spirit
  • Man’s original sin
  • Redemption and eternal life.

Where we appear to break company with our Calvinist friends is how the last point — coming to redemption — occurs. Who asks whom? Do we freely answer God’s call?  Does God direct us and draw us towards Him?  Can it be both? Can we all be saved? John Calvin explained his position as follows (emphases mine throughout):

…we allow that man has choice and that it is self-determined, so that if he does anything evil, it should be imputed to him and to his own voluntary choosing. We do away with coercion and force, because this contradicts the nature of the will and cannot coexist with it. We deny that choice is free, because through man’s innate wickedness it is of necessity driven to what is evil and cannot seek anything but evil. And from this it is possible to deduce what a great difference there is between necessity and coercion. For we do not say that man is dragged unwillingly into sinning, but that because his will is corrupt he is held captive under the yoke of sin and therefore of necessity will in an evil way. For where there is bondage, there is necessity. But it makes a great difference whether the bondage is voluntary or coerced. We locate the necessity to sin precisely in corruption of the will, from which follows that it is self-determined.
Bondage and Liberation of the Will, pp. 69-70
 

Given that we can accomplish no good on our own without God’s grace, how does a Calvinist see God interacting with man?  How can we be assured of the promise of eternal life?  A verse in a letter of Peter to the people of Pontus explains:

Elect according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, through sanctification of the Spirit, unto obedience and sprinkling of the blood of Jesus Christ: Grace unto you, and peace, be multiplied.  (1 Peter 1:2)

God elected (predestinated) these people in order that they would obey His word.  Therefore, God elects (predestinates) His chosen, then calls them to obey Him and the chosen obey.  This particular type of calling is known in the Westminster Confession (Presbyterian) as ‘effectual calling’: a call through which the Holy Spirit changed their hearts and made them want to receive Christ as their Saviour. St Paul tells us that all who receive this type of call are justified and glorified. (Some Jews and Greeks heard the same call the elect from Pontus did, but they did not accept it.  Jesus’s words, ‘For there are many called, but few are chosen’ (Mt. 22:14), come to mind.) Furthermore, they would have to be able to exercise true faith, which they couldn’t do until they were regenerated.  

Therefore, He first ‘foreknew’ — designed — to favour the elect of Pontus. He then elected — predestinated — them to holiness;  He predetermined He would sanctify them.  Next, He sent them an effectual call; they were then justified by their faith, or belief.  Finally,  they were glorified.  In short, the steps of this Divine procedure in order with regard to the elect are chosen, called, justified, glorified.  God knows the end result of what He wishes to achieve, so He will employ the best means and agencies — His Word, His Ordinances, His Providences and His Spirit — to accomplish them.  He will also ensure that everything will work out for the good of the elect.

The Doctrine of Divine Foreordination is important to Calvinists for the following reasons:

  • It portrays the correct view of God in His infinite wisdom, omniscience and omnipotence.  In some way or another — even through the evil deeds of man — we all have a part to play in achieving His goals.  Furthermore, God is sovereign and man’s free agency (free mind) is left unimpaired.
  • Our duty and obedience to God always follows the path of safety and happiness.  God’s people will see His divine providence over them and all His works.  Although there is sin, it is not God’s doing, but man’s.  God will limit the extent of that sin in order to accomplish His purposes.
  • God’s elect are filled with humility and gratitude at understanding God’s gift of grace to them and Christ’s obedience to the Father in dying for our sins.  In our total depravity brought about by original sin, God is under no obligation to save us.  Yet, He shows mercy to his faithful and promises them eternal life.
  • This doctrine secures the final perseverence of the saints, as St Augustine has written: ‘I assert, therefore, that the perseverance by which we persevere in Christ even to the end is the gift of God.’  If the elect sin, God will correct them through punishment, but like a loving parent, He will not withdraw His love or His promise of eternal life from them.  If you believe in Divine Foreordination, it follows that you believe in the perseverance of the saints. 
  • We are encouraged, therefore, on the basis of the above to further the spread of the Christian church. This is part of the reason why Calvinists make better evangelists and preachers than many other Christians.  A Calvinist will not give up.  Why?  Because not all the elect have yet received the call.  Therefore, that call must go out and be heard.         

 For more information, see God Sovereign and Man Free by Dr N. L. Rice (1850)

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