October 2008


T H E  I N T E R P R E T E R

adapted from a sermon by Joseph Parker (1830-1902)
“And the LORD answered me, and said: 
‘ Write the vision, and make it plain upon tables,
that he may run that readeth it’.”

-Habakkuk, the prophet
 
“Which being interpreted”, that is what we need:  a man to tell us the meaning of hard words and difficult things and mysteries which press too heavily upon our staggering faith. The interpretation comes to us as a lamp. We instantly feel the comfort and the liberty of illumination.When we heard that word Emmanuel we were bewildered; it was a foreign word to us. It brought with it no familiar associations nor did it speak to anything that was within us. But when the interpreter came, when he placed his finger upon the word and said to us, “The meaning of this word is God with us”, then we came into the liberty and into the wealth of a new possession.
So we need the interpreter. We shall always need him. The great reader will always have his day, come and go who may. We want men who can turn foreign words, difficult languages, into our mother tongue. Then how simple they are and how beautiful, and that which was a difficulty before becomes a gate opening upon a wide liberty. We need a man who can interpret the meaning of confused and confusing and bewildering events; some one with a key from heaven, one with divine insight, the vision that sees the poetry and the reality of things; a man with a clear, simple, strong, penetrating voice who will tell us that all this confusion will one day be shaped into order, and all this uproar will fall into the cadences of a celestial and endless music.

We shall know that man when we meet him; there is no mistaking the prophet. He does not speak as other men speak, nor is he in difficulty or in trouble as other men are. On his girdle hangs the key, the golden key, that can open the most difficult gates in providence and in history, and in the daily events that make up our rough life from week to week. How much more we might have elicited from him if we had listened more intently to his wonderful voice! What miracles of music he might have wrought in our nature, but we take the prophet sometimes as a mere matter of course: he is a man in a crowd, his specialty we overlook, and we know not that he is talking to us from the mountain of the heavens, from the altar of the temple unseen ….

It is the prophet’s business to interpret things to us, to tell us that everything has been from the beginning, to assure us that there are no surprises in providence, to calm our hearts with the deep conviction that God has seen the end from the beginning, and that nothing has occurred on all this theatre of time which God did not foresee and which God does not control.  The devil is but a domestic servant in the kitchen of God; the devil has limited chains; he counts the links, he would like to make seven eight, he strives to strain the links into greater length, he cannot do it, he was chained at the first, he has been chained ever since, he will be chained forever– Hallelujah!  The Lord reigneth!  There is but one throne, and all hell is subject to the governance and the authority of  that throne….

“Which being interpreted”.  We need the interpreter every day.  We say, Affliction, and he says, I will interpret that word to you;  it needs interpretation, it is a very bitter word, but affliction being interpreted is chastening, refining, sanctifying, making meet for the Master’s use.  The Cross being interpreted is law, righteousness, pardon, redemption, atonement, salvation.  Being misinterpreted, it is to one class a sneer, to another an offence, to another foolishness; but to believe its interpretation at its best, it is the power of God and the salvation of God.  Man being interpreted is child of God, son of the Eternal, a creature made in the image and likeness of God, and meant to live with God and to enjoy Him and glorify Him forever.  The Church being interpreted is the most vital centre of the most blessed influence, an association of souls that love the Cross, that live in Christ, that are saved by Christ, and that have no joy that is not consonant with the purposes and pleasures of God.
______________________________________________________________________
Quoted in Bernard Ramm’s Protestant Biblical Interpretation, (1950) e4unity@cs.com

See my post “Do we need an Interpreterat SIMPLECHURCH

The Love of God by Frederick M.Lehman (1917)

I John 4

The love of God is greater far
than tongue or pen can ever tell;
it goes beyond the highest star,
and reaches to the lowest hell.
The guilty pair, bowed down with care,
God gave his Son to win;
His erring child He reconciled,
and pardoned from his sin.

O Love of God, how rich and pure!
How measureless and strong!
It shall forevermore endure:
The saints’ and angels’ song.

When years of time shall pass away,
and earthly thrones and kingdoms fall,
When men, who here refuse to pray,
on rocks and hills and mountains call,
God’s love so sure, shall still endure,
all measureless and strong;
redeeming grace to Adam’s race -
the saints’ and angels’ song.

Could we with ink the ocean fill,
and were the skies of parchment made,
Were every stalk on earth a quill,
and every man a scribe by trade,
to write the love of God above
would drain the ocean dry,
Nor could the scroll contain the whole,
though stretched from sky to sky.

Frederick M.Lehman wrote “The Love of God” based on a Jewish poem written in Aramaic in 1050 by Meir Ben Issac Nenorai – a cantor in Worms, Germany.

copyright 1917, renewed 1945     Listen to the HYMN
By Nazarene Publishing House


 

THE CHRISTIAN VOTERS GUIDE (2004) 

Many of you know that Civil Religion is a favorite topic on this blog and that I consider it incredibly essential that all of us understand its function in the American society. Today I received a copy of Modern Reformation’s “special political issue”. I felt my pulse begin to pick up intensity as I quickly looked through to see what in the world they had to say.

The first article that grabbed by complete attention was a reprint from the 2004 regular September/October issue entitled, “The Christian Voter’s Guide”. Needless to say, they had my undivided attention as I quickly begin to read hoping for a miracle in time for the November election. I was not disappointed. In fact I have to say that this article by a layman, ranks right up there with some of the best that I have found over the years in this magazine. You ask, how did I miss this in 2004? I was on a self-imposed sabbatical of several years from being a paid subscriber. Don’t misunderstand me, to get a working grasp of how American Civil Religion functions in our day to day lives, and function it does, it is not sufficient to read only a few articles. It requires an on-going committment to research it for yourself and keep on until you are able to see it for what it is. It is like the concept of “culture” which defies any one kind of definition but which is a very powerful force in every area of our lives. William Inboden has done his research and brings impressive credentials to the task including, serving as director for Strategic Planning on The National Security Council at the White House.

A FEW EXCERPTS

Reared in a small town in the verdant rolling hills of the Bluegrass State, he is as red-blooded an American as you will find, possessed of a deep and abiding love for his country. He will with gratitude and pride salute the flag when given occasion to do so. So why remove it from the sanctuary? Most simply, he wanted to brook no confusion that the church offers its worship only to Christ-and not to America. More deeply, he saw the flag’s prominence in the pulpit, even its very presence in the sanctuary, as potentially obscuring the distinction between the Kingdom of God and the kingdom of man. He sought to make sure that there was no confusion over his primary calling and our primary identity. As a minister of Christ’s church, he is charged with preaching the Word of God to our congregation, holding our consciences captive to God’s revelation as our ultimate authority and to God’s name as our ultimate loyalty, no matter our earthly citizenship or nationality. The mere presence of an American flag does not necessarily defy this distinction, of course. But it may confuse or undermine it.

This is not to say that the virtually ubiquitous American flags in sanctuaries across the United States necessarily indicate some sort of latter-day “Babylonian captivity of the church”-in this case a “captivity” to jingoistic nationalism. No doubt some, perhaps even many, congregations keep a flag in their church while also keeping a clear understanding of the distinction between the church and the world. Nevertheless, the pervasiveness of pulpit flags should give us pause. Especially because they serve as just one visible manifestation of a deeper problem: the frequent confusion of civil religion with biblical Christianity.

On February 1, 1953, at the National Presbyterian Church in Washington D.C., the Rev. Edward Elson baptized the newest member of his congregation. Elson also made history, of a sort. The person baptized was Dwight D. Eisenhower, just inaugurated as president of the United States-and the only president to be baptized while in office. Besides its spiritual significance for Eisenhower’s faith, his baptism also represented a new era of public religiosity in American life. From Eisenhower’s unprecedented offering of his own prayer before his inaugural address, to his decision to have Cabinet meetings open with prayer, to the creation of the National Prayer Breakfast, to adopting “In God We Trust” as the United States’ motto and printing it on the nation’s paper currency, to adding “one nation, under God” to the pledge of allegiance, the Eisenhower administration oversaw the reinvigoration, even the reestablishment, of American civil religion.

It was such a creed that in part prompted Eisenhower’s most infamous, yet revealing, comment on religion. On December 22, 1952, Eisenhower, then president-elect, met in New York with his old counterpart and friend from World War II days, Marshal Grigori Zhukov of the Soviet army. Describing their discussion at a press conference afterwards, Eisenhower delivered fodder for critics of civil religion-and of his own intellect-for generations since. After quoting the Declaration of Independence’s recognition that “all men are created equal” and “are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights,” Eisenhower offered this interpretation: “In other words, our form of government has no sense unless it is founded in a deeply felt religious faith, and I don’t care what it is. With us of course it is the Judeo-Christian concept but it must be a religion that all men are created equal. So what was the use of me talking to Zhukov about that? Religion, he had been taught, was the opiate of the people.”

This quote by Eisenhower illustrates the worst and the best of civil religion. At its worst, doctrine and theological truth-claims are rendered largely irrelevant. Of particular concern to Christians, the redeeming work of Christ is wholly disregarded, replaced by moralism and a crude, nonredemptive natural theology. At its best, it unites a society around a few basic truths, including the distinction between creature and Creator, the supremacy of God over government, and the inherent dignity and equality of all human beings. If Irving Kristol could muster “two cheers for capitalism,” in the same spirit we might say that civil religion merits just one cheer.

Surveying our present situation, Wilfred McClay describes civil religion’s “inherently problematic relationship to the Christian faith or any other serious religious tradition. At best, it provides a secular grounding for that faith, one that makes political institutions more responsive to calls for self-examination and repentance, as well as exertion and sacrifice for the common good. At worst, it can provide divine warrant to unscrupulous acts, cheapen religious language, turn clergy into robed flunkies of the state and the culture, and bring the simulacrum of religious awe into places where it doesn’t belong.”

The civil religion of the Eisenhower era is essentially the version still with us today. Blandly patriotic, optimistic, therapeutic, more spiritual than confessional, it reinforces much of the pervasive “religiosity” in America that is as resilient as it is amorphous. As Herberg observed, “religion” and “faith” are often seen as ends in themselves, and doctrine is regarded as unnecessary and divisive rather than as essential to determining truth. Moreover, this civil religion too often reassures us of the favor we enjoy from God while eschewing any call to repentance from our sin. Hence Irving Kristol’s acerbic insight that “when Americans sin, we quickly forgive ourselves.”

Do these confusions mean that American Christians shouldn’t be patriotic? Not in the least. Indeed, an honest assessment of the considerable abundance of common grace goods that the United States enjoys might appropriately inspire a robust love of our country. Not for nothing did Lincoln, recognizing the uniqueness of the American experiment, famously describe Americans as an “almost chosen people.” Yet any biblical Christian will recognize that there is, quite literally, a world of difference between being “almost chosen” and being “chosen.” The former may make good citizens on earth; only the latter will be citizens of heaven.

For ENTIRE ARTICLE

Besides the posts in my archive on Civil Religion, you may be interested in my article for NEWSVINE, entitled, “The POWER of the AMERICAN FLAG

Recommended article by Jon Zens, “God and Country or Christ’s Kingdom “.

 

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.