Thursday, October 16, 2014

Dying to Be Protestant

Oxford Martyrs' Day
October 16

During my lifetime the the United States has won one war, the first Gulf War. The others - Korea, Viet Nam, and the second Gulf War - resulted in loss or draw. I have come to think that our nation ought not to go to war unless our President can say to parents who have lost sons, wives who have lost husbands, and children who have lost fathers, "This is what your loved one died for, and it was worth it."

Today is Oxford Martyrs' Day. On October 16, 1555, Bishops Hugh Latimer and Nicholas Ridley, having been tried at the University Church of St. Mary and condemned for heresy, were tied to stakes and burned alive. On March 21, 1556, Archbishop Thomas Cranmer,
primary author of the Book of Common Prayer and The Articles of Religion, also died at the stake. Cranmer's faith stumbled after the deaths of Ridley and Latimer. He signed documents renouncing his Protestant faith, but on the day of his execution (Mary decided to make an example of him), when he was supposed to make a public recantation of his errors, he recanted his recantations, and said he had in those recantations affirmed what he did not in his heart believe.

Edward VI
Under King Henry VIII, the English church renounced the primacy of the Church of Rome and the authority of the Pope. Though the reforming of the Church of England was slow and little because of Henry's hesitancy, freedom from Rome opened the possibilities for reform as Cranmer and other scholar-leaders came under the influence of the continental Reformation, in both Lutheran and Reformed manifestations. Upon Henry's death his young son, "the Boy King" Edward VI, came to the throne. Edward sincerely believed the Protestant faith for himself and assented to and supported the reforms proposed by Cranmer and his allies. However, Edward's life was cut short, and he died at age 16 in 1543.

Upon his death, an attempt was made to install his cousin Lady Jane Grey as Queen, but she was
Mary I
deposed and decapitatited, and (Bloody) Mary, a Roman Catholic, assumed the throne and tried to return the Church to its allegiance to Roman authority, doctrine, and practice. It was Mary who saw Ridley, Latimer, and Cranmer, and about 200 others put to death. 

On Oxford Martyrs Day I believe it is worth asking, "What did Ridley, Latimer, and Cranmer die for?" Answered simply, they died for the Protestant faith.

While the whole Protestant faith as set out in The (then 42, later 39) Articles of Religion was on trial in the persons of these Martyrs, two issues came to fore, Papal Supremacy and the Mass.`

The Martyrs stuck by The Articles on the matter of Rome: 
Holy Scripture containeth all things necessary to salvation, so that whatsover is not read therein, nor may be proved therein, is not to be required in any man, that it should be believed as an article of Faith...(VI)
As the Church of Jerusalem, Alexandria, and Antioch, have erred; so also the Church of Rome hath erred, not only in their living and manner of Ceremonies, but also in matters of Faith (XIX).
It is not lawful for the church to ordain anything that is contrary to God's Word written...although the church be a witness and keeper of holy Writ, yet, as it ought to decree any thing against the same, so besides it ought not to enforce anything to be believed for necessity of salvation (XX).
General Councils...when gathered together...may err, and sometimes have erred, even in things pertaining unto God. 
Cranmer represented the view of all three when in his recantation of his recantation he said, "And as for the pope, I refuse him, as Christ's enemy, and Antichrist with all his false doctrine." One can disagree, as do I, with Cranmer's identification of the Pope with the Antichrist, yet fully agree with him in his rejection of the supremacy of Rome and the authority of the Pope.

With regard to the Mass, there were two related issues, if and how Christ is present and whether any propitiatory sacrifice is made in Holy Communion. Again the martyrs stuck with The Articles:
The sacraments were not ordained of Christ to be gazed upon, or to be carried about, but that we should duly use them (XXV). 
The Supper of the a Sacrament of our Redemption by Christ's death: insomuch that to such as rightly, worthily, and with faith, receive the same, the Bread which we break is a partaking of the Body of Christ; and likewise the Cup of Blessing is a partaking of the Blood of Christ. 
Transubstantiation (or the change of the substance of Bread and Wine) in the Supper of our Lord, cannot be proved by Holy Writ; but is repugnant to the plain words of Scripture, and hath given occasion to many superstitions.
The body of Christ is given taken, and eaten, in the Supper, only after an heavenly and spiritual manner. and the mean whereby the Body of Christ is received and eaten in the Supper is Faith.
The Sacrament of the Lord's Supper was not by Christ's ordinance reserved, carried about, lifted up, or worshipped (XXVII).
The Offering of Christ once made is that perfect redemption, propitiation, and satisfaction, for all the sins of the whole world, both original and actual; and there is none other satisfaction for sin, but that alone. Wherefore the sacrifices of the Masses, in which it was commonly said, that the Priest did offer Christ for the quick and the dead. to have remission of pain and guilt, were blasphemous fables, and dangerous deceits (XXXI).
At his trial Ridley answered the charges against him. “I do not deny that in the sacrament, by spirit and grace, is the very body and blood of Christ. Every man receiving the bread or wine spiritually receives the body and blood of Christ. But I deny that the body and blood of Christ is in the sacrament the way you say it is...There is a change in the bread and wine, and yet the bread is still bread and wine is still wine.." Asked if Christ were sacrificed in the Mass, Latimer replied, "No. Christ made one perfect sacrifice. No one can offer Him up again. Neither can the priest offer Him for the sins of man, which He took away by offering Himself once for all upon the cross.” 

The Oxford Martyrs Memorial, which was completed in 1843, bears this inscription: 
To the Glory of God, and in grateful commemoration of His servants, Thomas Cranmer, Nicholas Ridley, Hugh Latimer, Prelates of the Church of England, who near this spot yielded their bodies to be burned, bearing witness to the sacred truths which
they had affirmed and maintained against the errors of the Church of Rome, and rejoicing that to them it was given not only to believe in Christ, but also to suffer for His sake; this monument was erected by public subscription in the year of our Lord God, MDCCCXLI.
If the martyrs died in the mid-1500s, why was the Memorial built and dedicated 300 years later? The mid-1800s saw the rise of the Tractarian Movement and Anglo-Catholicism. In response ministers of the Church of England had the Monument erected to remind the Church of the content its Faith and price some paid to bear witness to and preserve it. 

The question remains today, Was it worth it?

Celebrating Christmas Eve last year in another city, I was happy to find that there was a nearby Anglican parish where a service would be held. I went to the service with high expectations. The minister and I shared of history of having come to Anglicanism after being part of the Presbyterian Church in America. The parish's Facebook description of itself, included these statements, "As a traditional Anglican parish we believe that the Holy Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments are the Word of God and that they contain all things necessary to salvation. We further affirm...the 39 Articles of Religion of the Church of England in their literal and grammatical sense..." The first thing that disturbed me was the smoke. But, then it became serious. The priest repeatedly genuflected before the consecrated elements (hosts) on the Table (altar), including the unused consecrated bread (host) placed in the "Tabernacle." In distress I thought to myself, "The English martyrs burned so that we could do this?"

On November 4 I will have been an Anglican for a year. That was the date my Bishop received me as a Presbyter into the Reformed Episcopal Church. On this my first Oxford Martyrs' Day, I bear witness that I believe the deaths of the Martyrs was worth. What they died confessing I do now confess. And for their witness I give thanks to our Lord Jesus Christ. I am a Protestant Anglican. (Isn't that a redudancy?)

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Is R.C. Sproul Saved?

Will Few Be Saved?

R.C. Sproul

Last night I was checking out Facebook posts when I came across an individual's re-post of R.C. Sproul's statement that Calvinism is more than the Five Points; it's a worldview. The follow-up comments quickly took an unexpected turn toward the Christian year.

Dr. Sproul observes and leads others to observe a calendar of special days, such as Christmas, Easter, Pentecost. A female posted a comment bemoaning that Dr. Sproul practices this "idolatry" and walks this "destructive path." Perhaps she was careless about her language, but, since turning to God means turning away from idols and since the wide door and wide path lead to destruction, it's a serious thing she said. So I asked, "Does this mean Dr. Sproul is going to hell and leading others there?" This got me booted from the comments, so I do not know if or how she answered.

But this got me thinking again about the matter of who is a Christian and who is not. I do know this is none of our business for two reasons. First, in the ultimate sense, only God knows who is a Christian (saved, going to heaven, etc.). As the saying goes, we "don't know the heart." Second, on earth it is the business of the church to judge who is a Christian (though this begs the questions: what is the church? what churches are true churches?).

But, give me a break, we are talking "evangelical" here, and individual evangelicals are quite used to distinguishing individuals as Christians and non-Christians. In the evangelical mind, however, the term "Christian" is no longer hard currency so adjectives must be used. On the negative side there are: nominal, professing, head- knowledge Christians. On the positive side there are real, evangelical, genuine, born-again, consecrated, on-fire Christians. 

Even separated fundamentalists face these issues about who is in and who is out as is evidenced by the fact they not infrequently separate from one another as individuals and institutions. (Consider the case of Pensacola Christian College and Bob Jones University.) But what intrigues me is the way the evangelicals work these things out. Yesterday Carl Trueman noted the effort to make an evangelical out of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, which in a way he, as a Lutheran, was, but which he was not in the Bebbington* sense. So I ask, Was Bonhoeffer a Christian? Do you expect him in heaven?

I wonder about these guys whom not a few evangelicals admire.

What about this guy?


What about this guy?

J.R.R. Tolkien

What about this guy?

C.S. Lewis

What about this guy?

Carl Trueman

But what about this guy?

* Historian David Bebbington's Definition:

Conversionism: the belief that lives need to be transformed through a "born-again" experience and a life long process of following Jesus.

Activism: the expression and demonstration of the gospel in missionary and social reform efforts

Biblicism: a high regard for and obedience to the Bible as the ultimate authority

Crucicentrism: a stress on the sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross as making possible the redemption of humanity

Friday, October 10, 2014

Sex, Religion, Episcopalians, and Lutherans

Dueling Ministers



Sex and religion are two dominant and intertwining themes in the work of John Updike - which makes sense as they have the same roles in life. In the first of the Rabbit novels, Rabbit, Run (1960), Harry Angstrom (Rabbit), trapped in an unhappy marriage, leaves his pregnant wife and hooks up with a hooker in her apartment. So much for the sex; on to the religion.

The wife's parents are "Episcopalians, more of the old phony's social climbing, they were originally Reformeds." Harry's working class parents are Lutherans.  When the parents of Harry's wife call their young Episcopal minister (apparently in Updike's experience it was not common to call them priests in 1960) to tell him what has happened, he contacts Rabbit and seeks to engage him, using golf as one of their points of contact. When Jack Eccles (the Episcopal minister) visits with the deserted wife's acerbic mother, she can't help getting in a dig:
Mother: Yes I wouldn't want your job for the world.
Eccles: I enjoy it most of the time.
Mother: They say you do. They say you're becoming quite an expert golf player.

Jack Eccles also calls on the pastor of the Harry's parents' Lutheran parish, the Rev. Fritz Kruppenbach. The older pastor is already irritated about his wife's calling him in from mowing the back lawn to speak with the Episcopalian, and his mood does not improve as Jack describes his efforts to minister to Harry. The interaction of the two ministers reveals two contrasting views of the church and ministry. Kruppenbach, whose German accent "makes his words seem like stones, set angrily on top of one another" says:
Do you think, do you think this is your job, to meddle in these people's lives? I know what they teach you at seminary now: this psychology and that. But I don't agree with it. You think your job is to be an unpaid doctor, to run around and plug up the holes and make everything smooth. I don't think that. I don't think that is your job. 
...I've been in Mt. Judge twenty-seven years and you've been here two. I've listened to your story but I wasn't listening to what it said about the people, I was listening to what it said about you. What I heard was this: the story of a minister of God selling his message for a few scraps of gossip and a few games of golf. What do you think now it looks like to God, one childish husband leaving one childish wife? Do you think any more what God sees? Or have you grown beyond that?
When Jack tries to explain the way he sees his role in this situation, Kruppenbach cuts him off:
It seems to you our role is to be cops, cops without handcuffs, without guns, without anything but our human good nature. Isn't it right? Don't answer, just think if I'm not right. Well, I say that's the Devil's idea. I say let the cops be cops, and look after their laws that have nothing to do with us.
Jack tries to express his agreement "up to a point", but the Lutheran presses on:
There iss not up to a point! If Gott wants to end misery, He'll declare his kingdom now. How big do you think your little friends look among the billions God sees? In Bombay now they die on the streets every minute. You say role. I say you don't know what your role is or you'd be home locked in prayer. There is your role: to make yourself an exemplar of faith. There is where comfort comes from: faith, not what little finagling a body can do here and there, stirring the bucket. In running back and forth you run from the duty given to you by God, to make your faith powerful, so when the call comes you can go out and tell them, 'Yes he is dead, but you will see him again in heaven. Yes, you suffer, but you must love your pain because it is Christ's pain.' When on Sunday morning then, we go before their faces, we must walk up not worn with misery, but filled with Christ, hot with Christ, on fire : burn them with the force of our belief. That is why they come; why else would they pay us? Anything else we can do or say anyone else can do and say. They have doctors and lawyers for that. It's all in the Book - a thief with faith is worth all the Pharisees. Make no mistake. There is nothing but Christ for us. All the rest, all this busyness is nothing. It is the Devil's work. 
The old German pietist is interrupted by his wife's calling him to supper. But, before he leaves his study, he (not invites but) challenges the Episcopalian:
Will you kneel a moment with me and pray for Christ to come into this room? 
Jack Eccles, is honest enough to answer,
No. No I won't. I'm too angry. It would be hypocritical.
Updike describes how this encounter with the old Lutheran pastor leaves the young Episcopal minister:
His heart is beating like a scolded child's and his knees are weak with fury. He had come for an exchange of information and been flagellated with an insane spiel. Unctuous old thundering Hun, no conception of the ministry as a legacy of light, probably himself scrambled into it out of a butcher's shop. Jack realizes these are spiteful and unworthy thoughts but he can't stop them. His depression is so deep he tries to gouge it deeper by telling himself He's right, he's right...he can't cry; he's parched. His shame and failure hang downward in him heavy but fruitless. 
It's suppertime, and Eccles should go home. Instead he goes to the drugstore and orders an ice cream soda and drinks two glasses of water while he waits. This is where he feels most at home - "in Godless public places."

As a 2-K guy, I admire the Lutheran's two-kingdoms view and its impact on his ministry. He knows the one thing he has to offer that no one else has - Christ. That knowledge of what he alone as a minister can give serves to fire his zeal and focus his ministry. His calling is to nourish his own faith and the faith of his people. Can you imagine this guy ever blessing a dog or a boat? He's not a fixer of people's problems. He's not a soother of their feelings. There are other people to do that. His calling as a minister is unique, and he will not be distracted.

As an Episcopalian, I identify with the young minister, and not just because I am a Reformed Episcopal presbyter. He's right seeing that life, people, and ministry are more messy and complicated than the old pastor's tunnel vision allows him to see. I have been with Jack feeling both anger and shame after being scolded and put in my place by those seeing themselves as wiser, holier, and more spiritual. And Eccles is right, there are times you feel a lot more at home in a drugstore or any place else than around Christians. And sometimes ice cream is the answer. 


Monday, October 6, 2014

Jesus Disrupts a Funeral

Jesus Disrupts a Funeral

Gospel: St. Luke 7:11-17  (KJV)

11 And it came to pass the day after, that he went into a city called Nain; and many of his disciples went with him, and much people.
12 Now when he came nigh to the gate of the city, behold, there was a dead man carried out, the only son of his mother, and she was a widow: and much people of the city was with her.
13 And when the Lord saw her, he had compassion on her, and said unto her, Weep not.
14 And he came and touched the bier: and they that bare him stood still. And he said, Young man, I say unto thee, Arise.
15 And he that was dead sat up, and began to speak. And he delivered him to his mother.
16 And there came a fear on all: and they glorified God, saying, That a great prophet is risen up among us; and, That God hath visited his people.
17 And this rumour of him went forth throughout all Judaea, and throughout all the region round about.

There used to be, and in small towns in the deep south there still is, a protocol about funeral processions. The drivers of cars going the opposite direction pull to the side of the road and wait for the hearse and all the cars following to pass before continuing. It’s a sign of respect for the person who died and for those who mourn the passing.

In today’s Gospel from St. Luke Jesus meets and disrupts a funeral procession on the way to the cemetery.

1. The Woman

Jesus approaches the town of Nain, six miles southeast of his hometown of Nazareth. His disciples are with him. This is a period of great interest in and excitement about Jesus, and a large crowd is following him.

As the entourage approaches the city gate gate, they meet  a great number of people of people on their way of the town. It turns out it  is a funeral procession. It is the funeral of a young man. He is wrapped in a shroud and carried by pallbearers on a plank of wood, which serves as a bier, toward toward the town cemetery. All this takes place on same day the man died. There was no embalming of bodies, so there was no choice but to bury the person soon after the death.

The focus, however, is not on the son, but on a woman, his mother. He was her only son, and likely her only child. There is heartbreaking loss  and and anxious uncertainty.

The loss is especially heartbreaking because this woman who earlier had lost her husband now has lost her only son. The loss of anyone we love is painful; the  loss of a child is very hard; the loss of an adult child is a shock to parents who expect their children will bury them, not that they will bury their children; and the loss of an only child is deep agony. We witnessed this with our daughter-in-law’s mother, who had lost a son, then a husband, and then Kim, her only remaining child.

For the widow from today’s Gospel, there was also much uncertainty about the future. They way widows were cared for at that time was that sons supported their mothers. Very few women had skills or opportunity to do anything like what we would call a job. There was no social safety net to catch those who had no children to care for them. Any support she received from the community would be voluntary and could not be counted on. A woman whose only son had died would face very uncertain future.

This fallen world is a place of loss and grief, of uncertainty and anxiety. All  of us have experienced these things, most of us many times by now.

Can you identify with this woman? I know you can. You may not have experienced the exact same things as this woman, but you know deep feelings of hurt that come with loss, and you know uncertainty about the future. What losses and grief are there in your life? What concerns about the future?

2. Jesus

Luke now shifts our attention to Jesus.

Jesus saw this woman, grief stricken, weeping, going to bury her only son. She would then go home to an empty house and to profound loneliness, ongoing grief, and worries about whether there would be any provision for her needs. Jesus saw her, He did not, as we might, lower his eyes and keep moving, not wanting to deal with another broken and hurting heart. He saw her. We can know that he sees us too. He looks at us when, perhaps, others are too taken up with their own troubles to notice ours.

Jesus had compassion on her. Compassion is a deep emotion accompanied by the desire to help. Emotions often involve bodily changes. Your heart beats faster, your stomach churns - you feel the emotion in your insides. When Jesus saw the woman’s predicament - her grief, her tears, her uncertain future, he was moved with compassion. He felt what she was going through; he cared about her; he wanted to help her, and he did. He cares about us, too, as the writer of Hebrews says, “For we have not an high priest which cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities…” (Hebrews 4:15)

Jesus told her to stop crying. That would be cold if you or I did that. You don’t go to a person who is crying because of the loss of loved one and say, “Now get a grip and stop your crying.”  But we already know Jesus had compassion toward her. He tells her to stop crying because he knows what he is going to do. He is going to do something to dry up her tears and replace them with joy. Jesus tells us in our griefs not to grieve as those who have no hope, but he does not tell us we may not shed tears. He does, though, assure us that the day will come when “God shall wipe away all tears from (our) eyes” (Revelation 21:4).

Jesus touched the bier, a thing that would have made him ceremonially unclean eyes of the Jews. But Jesus is not afraid to touch those who are ceremonially, or spiritually, or morally unclean when he has compassion on them and means to help them.

He raised the woman’s son from the dead and restores him to life. The man sits up and begins to talk. This is not resurrection in all its fulness - not the kind of resurrection Jesus experienced. This man was raised to mortal life; the day would come when he would again die and be buried. But when God raised Jesus, he was raised to life immortal. What he does for the young man shows that Jesus is the Lord of life and death. The raising of the widow’s son is both a picture and a pledge of what Jesus will do when he comes again. Our bodies that are planted in the ground in mortality, he will raise to immortal life. Then he will reunite our souls and bodies in perfect wholeness and harmony, free from sin and death, alive with him forevermore.

Jesus gives the son back to his mother. Her loss is restored; her grief replaced with joy; her precarious uncertainty is removed because her son will provide for her. When Jesus comes again, he will raise our lowly bodies and make them like his glorious body. He will restore all that we have lost, and we wlll live with him filled with all the richness of the immortal life he died to give us.  

3. The People

We turn our attention from the woman and from Jesus to the crowd of people who witnessed the miracle.

Nain Today
Surely they had seen many people buried, but they had never seen someone they were taking to the cemetery restored to life, sit up, and begin talking. “There came a fear on all.” This fear was something more than the effect of seeing a dead man it up and talk. They knew that this had to be a work of God. It frightened them, as is so often the case in the Bible when people sense the presence of God. When Isaiah had the vision of God in his holiness, he cried out, “Woe is me! I am undone!”  When Peter, a man who knew all about fishing, saw the miraculous catch, he fell down on his knees and said, “Depart from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man!” Awe is the entirely appropriate response in the presence of God. With this sense of awe the people glorified God. The wrong kind of fear of God will make us run away and hide. The right kind will lead us to worship a great and mighty God.  When you and I stand at the cross and see Jesus in apparent weakness and defeat winning victory over the devil, sin, and death, we ought to tremble and worship the God whose love and wisdom and power accomplished our salvation through the death of Jesus.

They concluded Jesus was a Prophet. They said, “A great prophet is risen among us. They saw God work through Jesus, and they tried to make sense of it. What category do you put a Man in whom God has worked through to restore a dead man to life? They may have remembered that something very much like this happened during the ministry of Elijah the prophet. The son of a widow, who was providing Elijah with room and board, died. And Elijah raised the boy from the dead and gave him back to his mother. So how could they make sense of what they had just seen? Jesus must be a great Prophet like Elijah. Prophets were called by God and given revelations from God to deliver to his people. Jesus is a Prophet but infinitely greater than the greatest of all who came before him. He is God’s Word in the flesh. God spoke through ordinary prophets in the Old Testament times. In these last days he has spoken to us fully and finally by his Son. If you want to see God look at Jesus. If you want to hear God, listen to Jesus.

The people believed God, in the raising of the widows son, had visited them. In the Old Testament God visits his people - that is, comes among them in a special way. Sometimes God visits his people in judgment, but more often he visits to deliver and bless them. When John the Baptist was born to a priest and his wife, who were older and childless, his father said, “Blessed be the God of Israel for he has visited and redeemed his people.” The people see the young man delivered from death and the believe that somehow God has visited their town to deliver his people. When they said that, they said more than they could have known, for Jesus is God, God who became flesh and lived among us. He is called Immanuel, God with us.  In Jesus God has visited, not just the town Nain, but the whole earth in order to work not a partial an temporary and but our full and permanent from the tyranny of Satan, the condemnation of sin, and the grip of death. Immanuel is named Jesus, “Deliverer", "Savior" because by his life, death, and resurrection, he has saved us from our sins. And Jesus, who is God come among us for our salvation, promises that he will be with us always, even to the end of the age.

He is with us even now as we worship, and he promises to be present in Holy Communion. We take and eat the bread in remembrance that Christ died for us. We drink from the cup in remembrance that Christ’s blood was shed for us. And we feed upon him by faith in our hearts. and we are thankful.

Thursday, October 2, 2014


The Christian Quest for Answers to  Everything

President George W. Bush was faced with questions from the press about retaining Donald Rumsfield as Secretary of Defense. Mr. Bush acknowledged he was aware of the speculation, but asserted "I am the decider." With somewhat awkward words, the President was claiming that, as the Chief Executive, the big decisions belonged to him, and he would make them.

This morning, as I was tooling (though not "toking on a number") around the Internet, I came across one of those "ask the pastor" Blogs. This man, whom I had never heard of, entertained questions from readers and offered his answers. This set me thinking about how many settings there where Christians ask questions and various authorities give answers. Growing up in the church that hosted the Pensacola Theological Institute, I remember that one of the most popular features was the daily question and answer session. Sometimes there were fireworks, and sometimes laughter, but there was also much earnest questioning. I remember when Ed Clowney and Gordon Clark were on the same panel and disagreed about Romans 7. When Palmer Robertson said he was converted by Billy Graham and Lloyd-Jones replied that Dr. Roberston was converted by the grace of God. When Robert Strong and Clark Pinnock (in his orthodox phase) debated the implications of Romans 6 for baptism. I remember thinking delusively that I had arrived when I was on a panel with Jim Boyce and John Gerstner at a conference. I don't attend conferences anymore, but I will guess that the Q&A sessions are still included and popular. 

It occurs to me that there is, among Protestants, a quest for something approximating the role, in the popular imagination, of the Holy Father in Roman Catholicism - a Decider-in-Chief. But then, as Americanized Christians, we retain the right to reject the Authority if the answer does not suit us. This, too resembles the American version of Roman Catholicism as evidenced by the fact that the majority of such Catholics use birth control despite what the Pope says about it. 

Sometimes questioners are opinion sampling. A month or two before I became a campus minister I was introduced to a young woman who was a student at the college I would serve. Very shortly after our introduction she told me about a young man she had been dating and asked what I thought she should do about him and their relationship. (Several years later she married him, and I officiated.) Her questions made me feel like a pastoral guru whose reputation as a dispenser of wisdom must have preceded our meeting one another. Alas, I found she was asking many people the same questions. One of the things I came to see about myself, and some others, is that that sometimes we are not so much seeking the safety of a multitude of counselors as seeking someone who will give us the answer we want.

Sometimes as questioners we are looking to avoid blame. "I did what I was told to do." My wife and I are adept at doing this when we are deciding about where to go out to eat. What if the food is bad? Neither of us wants to bear that guilt, so we do our best to get the other to decide. Is she decides, the "woman thou gavest me" is to blame. If I decide, the "serpent" is to blame. Sometimes this need to avoid responsibility for decisions extends to very big decisions. "Pastor X told me to go to that college." "Dr. Y told me to take that job." "Sister Z told me to marry him." So, "It's not my fault."

However, what strikes me most is that we ask too many questions. Or, perhaps it is better to say we put too many questions into the wrong categories. A Christian tendency is to make every question about truth and/or morals. 

One of the main reasons for this asking questions and wanting answers about everything is the ever popular and much promoted "worldview" philosophy. If there is a Biblical/Christian view of everything, then every question is theological/ethical. If Christ is Lord of everything, then he must have truth for me to believe and/or a command for me to obey about everything. The problem, as I see it, is that God does not have a view of everything about which we want to ask. God does not care to answer every question we care to ask. 

But, if we make every question theo-ethical, then we face the question of how to get the right answers. Lacking a Pope, you may turn to "authorities" whom you, for reasons good or bad, trust. What does Tim Keller say? What does John Piper think? What is N.T. Wright's opinion? This approach can easily turn into, "I am of Paul," or, "I am of Cephas,", or "I am of Apollos," or, "I can trump you all; I am of Christ." If you prefer a sort of evangelical consensus, you may ask, What does the Coalition say? Or, what do Mark, Kevin, and Lig think? If you have a high view of the church, and if you are a Presbyterian, who wants to know whether women can serve in combat roles in the armed services, you might ask the General Assembly to answer. If you are an Anglican, you might ask the Bishops to make a statement. If you are a Baptist...well, I don't know what you do. 

But, what if we don't get the right answer? What if we don't like what the authority says? What if we don't agree with church's declaration? We fall back on the individual conscience, sometimes wrongly called "the priesthood of every believer." We defend ourselves with, "I can read the Bible for myself, and I am led by the Spirit, too." In effect this means you are your own Urim and Thummin. It makes every Protestant his own pope.

If we are Protestants who have no magisterium, what should we do? We should trust the collective wisdom of the church (in our corner of it, whatever that might be), but (1) we should limit our questions and (2) the church should limit its answers. Limit questions and answers to what? To matters that are clearly theological and ethical. Don't ask the church to have a view of the gold standard, or to tell people for whom to vote, or to decide whether you and everybody else should home school, or whether Scotland should have gone independent, or whether ministers should have Social Security.

What does that mean? It means you accept as truth and duty whatever the church (your denomination practically speaking) has chosen to commit itself to as truth and righteousness, whatever it is willing to impose on your conscience. If you share in the decision making authority of the church, limit the questions you entertain and be very, very careful and restrained about the answers to which you want to commit the church. For confessional churches (and here I may be in the minority, but I think the Anglican Church is a confessional church - what are the Articles if not a confession of what the church believes?), this means the really important questions truth and righteousness have been asked and answered.

Ask whatever other questions you are interested in and can find somebody willing to answer. But remember, the answers are just opinions. And what you decide to do with the answers are just decisions. Don't try to make a big deal out of everything.  You're just going to have to live with ambiguities, with unanswered questions, with not having every duck in the row where he belongs.

I will give you some clear binding opinions about a few imporant matters. Seminoles are bad. Gators are good. Taylor Swift is bad. Merle Haggard is good. Barry Manilow is bad. Frank Sinatra is good. Sushi is bad. Fried catfish is good. Decaf is bad. Dark roast is good. The Kardashians should just go away - far away. You are probably wrong. I am usually right.

who's the decider?

what do you think about..."

we don't need a pope but we need something

not just opinions, or academic discussions - people are wanting to know what is true and what is right

Melinda opinion shopping

maybe we take on too many topics

answer what the church collectively says - or at least your liitle corner in it

anglicans - got it that we are not as interested in theological preciesion as some- but we dohave the common acceptance of the 39 articles

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

The Importance of Not Being Too Earnest

Where Is Riggo
 When You Need Him?

Hall of Fame running back, John Riggins, created a minor Washington, D.C., scandal in 1985 when, seated at the same table with Justice Sandra Day O'Connor at a black tie dinner, he said to her, ''Come on, Sandy baby, loosen up. You're too tight.'' He then went under the table and fell asleep. Apparently Justice O'Connor has a sense of humor, because several years later, when Riggins was appearing in a play, Justice O'Connor attended, went on stage after the performance, and gave him a bunch of roses.

Lately it occurs to me that we all might benefit from Riggins' counsel and Ms. O'Connor's sense of humor. Perhaps we become too earnest and take ourselves much too seriously.

I think about the political warfare going on in Mississippi where I spent a collective 25 years. With the general election now about six weeks away the conflict is not between the Democratic and Republican candidates for the U.S. Senate, but within the Republican Party. The aggrieved loser of the June 24 party runoff has sued the winner, and the case is now before the Mississippi Supreme Court. If you go to the two Facebook pages maintained by the one who lost, you see earnestness in the extreme on the part of both the candidate and his supporters. They truly believe that God is on their side and that the real contest is between cosmic good and evil. So great is their outrage that at least some of them plan to vote for the opposing party in order deny the winner of their primary re-election and to teach the corrupt party leaders a lesson. They hope that they can then cut down the wicked tree at its roots and plant in its place a new pure Republican tree. The candidate takes himself entirely too seriously, and his followers are full of zeal without adequate knowledge of political and historical realities. They can't laugh at themselves.

But, what interests me more is the earnestness that takes place within the conservative Reformed branch of Christianity. I am now an Anglican, though, as a 39 Articles man, I remain Reformed. However, to some extent I can stand back and look at the Presbyterian-Reformed world with the insight of having been a part of it for 40 years as an ordained minister and with the detachment of someone who has not been a card-carrying member of it for a year. 

My observation is that, if folks don't lighten up, their world may fall apart. One example of what am talking about can be seen at the Green Baggins Blog. The current matter of much earnestness is related to Dr. Doug Green, the now "retired" professor of Old Testament at Westminster Theological Seminary-East, and the "Christotelic" hermeneutic. 

The matter is serious for a number of reasons. One is that it finds Westminster, a seminary that must be loved by all who look to Machen as a hero, enduring another controversy. Shepherd. Enns. Green. (In my opinion the Shepherd and Enns departures from Reformed orthodoxy are much more serious than those alleged with regard to Dr. Green.) Another is that there are questions about what is described as a "personnel" issue which for some puts it out of bounds for questioning. Still another, and most important, is that the controversy involves important questions about how to understand, teach, and preach the Old Testament in light of the ways it is interpreted in the New Testament. 

As working preacher whose primary questions of the Bible are, "What does this mean?" and "How shall I preach it?", and who has not advanced much beyond Palmer Robertson's Biblical theology courses, and whose own way of handling Scripture is settled in his own mind, these matters are of some, but not critical, interest to me. Frankly, my greater concern in this particular matter is with the "how" of Dr. Green's retirement than the "what" of his hermeneutic. Over at Green Baggins the writer and his moderators and some of the commenters take the stand that this "how" matter is Westminster's business and no one else's.

The thing I keep asking, when I read Green Baggins and some other Blogs, is, How does someone keep up with all the issues and where one is supposed to stand on all of them?

Consider just a partial list:

1. Are you an "obedience boy" or a "grace boy"? How bad can you be and still be a Christian? How good must you be to be a Christian?

2. Are you a 6-24 hour days creationist or do you think the universe and earth could be old and that Genesis 1 can allow for some kind of process? (And for some of the 6-24 folks, this view alone is creationism. If you don't hold this view you (1) don't believe what the Bible says,  (2) you have capitulated to science, and (3) you are some kind of Darwinian no matter that you confess the Creed.)

3. Are you for or against distinctive culturally based and historically conditioned indigenous theologies? Particularly the  African American sort?

4. Are you pro or anti Redeemer (NYC)?

5. Do you believe women might be allowed to read Scripture (lectors we Anglicans call them) in worship or does that turn Paul on his head? And in general, what may women do and what may they not?

6. Do you think Westminster-West is a crypto-Lutheran institution or a mainstream Reformed one?

7. Do you see yourself as Old School, New School. or neither? And which Side - old, new, neither?

8. What if anything does Baptism mean? do? And the Lord's Supper? How often should the Lord's Supper be celebrated? Wine or juice? To intinct or not to intinct?

9. Where do you stand on experimental religion? revivals?

10. Are you a Lloyd-Jones man or a Stott man?

11. What is regeneration? What is conversion? What is union with Christ? 

12. Where do you stand on transformation? the cultural variety? the personal variety? 

13. Would you allow Warfield into your denomination?  How about Machen?

14. Who would you put out of your your denomination if you could? Who would put you out? 

15. Psalms? Hymns? P&W?

16. Which New Testament text? Allow for "lower criticism" or not?

17. Do you think that the PCA should have found a way to get rid of Leithart?

18. Home school? public school? Christian school?

19. To patriarch or not to patriarch? Pro-Baylys or anti-Baylys?

20. Are you really born again? truly converted?

There are so many issues, and so many lines being drawn, and so many places to come down that one needs some kind of list just to keep up. What's this week's critical issue? Where do you stand on it? Who's in? Who's out? How many checks do you need on the checklist to stay on the good list?

There are lots of matters that are important, some critical. It is good that we take theology seriously. But, how many issues can the relatively small conservative Reformed world have before there are break-ups and crack-ups? 

As for me, I have my own list of issues.

1. Should schools be allowed to start before Labor Day?

2. Should baseball players be allowed to wear jewelry? be allowed to wear pull their pants legs down to their shoes?

3. Should college football bowl games be allowed after January 1?

4. Does the NBA play basketball?

5. Should Florida retain Will Muschamp if he does not beat the Dawgs and Criminoles? Should Florida not try to get Spurrier to come home and fix things?

(Hint: if you want to be on my "in" list, the answers to all the above are "no.")