April 2008


  REMEMBERING A LEADER IN THE BLACK CHURCH

I just learned today of the passing this past Friday of Elder D.J.Ward, Pastor of The Main Street Baptist Church, Lexington, Kentucy and Founder of The Sovereign Grace Bible Conference, 25 years ago. I will only say, this man has had a profound influence on my life in the last five years. I hope to write a tribute to his honor, thanking our heavenly Father for the privilege of knowing him in his last years of ministry.

See Elder Ward leading The Conference last year in singing  Grace Greater than All Our Sins as only he could.

BE SURE TO VISIT The SAINT’S GALLERY 

National Day of Prayer

 

 

Now is an excellent time to discuss religion in America and to get a basic understanding for what has been called America’s “civil religion”.

 

When I’ve used this phrase recently, I was surprised to hear from otherwise educated adults, “what is civil religion? Is that something you invented?” No, I assured them, I stole it from someone else. Actually it has been around a long time in certain areas of study such as The Sociology of Religion, etc. It is a very helpful concept for anyone trying to get a handle on how religion in general actually functions, and has functioned almost from the beginning, in These United States of America. It is not a very good idea to get into a discussion, at least in public, on such themes as “Separation of Church and State” and a host of other contemporary issues without having a basic understanding of America’s only real religion.

 

I want to blog this week as I said about The National Day of Prayer and this is an excellent time to discuss the concept of civil religion with my blogroll partners. So please, leave your comments and let me know if you’ve already encountered this in your own life experience or not. Here is as good a place to start as any. As you can see it is from a course that is taught in various universities and has been for sometime. It is so fundamental that I think it should be taught at every middle school in America.                     

 

                                                            

“While some have argued that Christianity is the national faith, and others that church and synagogue celebrate only the generalized religion of “the American Way of Life,” few have realized that there actually exists alongside of and rather clearly differentiated from the churches an elaborate and well-institutionalized civil religion in America. This article argues not only that there is such a thing, but also that this religion–or perhaps better, this religious dimension–has its own seriousness and integrity and requires the same care in understanding that any other religion does.” –Robert Bellah,Civil Religion in America

 

(read the article)

 

Related essay by Harry Stout: Baptism-in-Blood

“NO ONE HAS TAUGHT WHITE PEOPLE in AMERICA MORE ABOUT DEATH THAN BLACK AMERICANS”  (See BLOG for The Day)

There is a lot going on this week and it already got off to a bang over the week-end. Did you ever notice all the confusion over a little bitty thing like when do we really end the week and begin a new one? The first time I think I noticed this was way back in college years when I learned what TGIF meant.

This is just one important place the religious soul of America gets into the middle of the act. A great many Americans still observe the Sabbath that begins at sundown on Friday. The majority of Christians, not all, worship on Sunday, the day of the Resurrection of The Christ whom they follow. The country as a whole doesn’t know what to do with any of us religious folks because they are all about doing their shopping, their entertaining, and oh yes, their sports, on the week-end. But that’s another post for another day.

I’m trying to be short- and I’m trying to hit about three themes that’s on my mind as I started my week with just a single post. Here they are – THURSDAY, MAY 1, has been designated by our President as the National Day of Prayer. So I want to mark that occasion in our Nations busy calendar and talk about “Civil Religion” in America.

But we’re also face to face this week with another real and vital part of our country’s religious life – The Black Church in America. We’ve just got to speak out on this issue and I ask the patience of my friends who are not Americans (North Americans) while we do this. I ran across a post this morning on a black blog that boldly made this statement: “No one has taught white Americans more about Christian love than black Americans.” I didn’t have to think long at all to know that I agree with that statement. Because I had put up for my “blog of the day” (you really should check that any time you browse my blog because most of the time it’s a lot more interesting than my own latest post), an amazing essay on the theme of death itself in the black American culture and how it has affected all of us.

Sad to say, but I must in the name of unity say it, I don’t think a lot of us have really understood what the man Dr.Martin Luther King, epitomizes about the racial struggles that continue in this country of ours. Ironically, we are gearing up in Kentucky and the Nation for a gala celebration of the 200 anniversary of Abraham Lincoln’s birth . If you still don’t get the significance of this “lining up of the stars” for the black American as one of their race is daily in the news in the office of the powerful Secretary of State while another is front runner to be our next President, well I would say you need to take time in your busy week to try to see things through the eyes of black Americans.

Remember which site your on here- with great respect and dignity that is due all our fellow human beings. Thank God for the age of the WWW and the miracle by which we can finally listen to others and know them as they would like to be known not as others for their own twisted agendas want to portray them.

NOTE: A site that does more justice to Dr.Jeremiah A.Wright,Jr.

Did you ever hear the old saying,

DYNAMITE SOMETIMES COMES IN SMALL PACKAGES

I’m thinking especially about books that have made an impact on my life. Some of the most powerful books have been little paperbacks. I have a dear friend that is an avid reader, and that’s putting it mildly. He once said to me, “I don’t do paperbacks!” But I said, there are some precious little gems that only come in paperback. “Well”, he said, “I guess I’ll just have to wait until the hardback edition comes out, won’t I.”

Some of my most treasured books over the years are paperback classics, I’ll just name three: Life Together, by Dietrich Bonhoeffer,Harper & Row (1954), 122 pages,and The Obedience of Faith, by Paul S.Minear, SCM Press (1971)110 pages. I wish every Christian in America could read these as well as the third one I’ll mention now, regardless of which church tradition they call mother kirk.

The third little treasure is a little book on the church, Body Life, written by Pastor Ray Stedman in 1972, and telling the story of the Peninsula Bible Church in Palo Alto, California. The basic message of this little book and what it represents is still dynamite today. The Church, PBC, and their vibrant ministries are a testament to that.  

 He makes this statement in the early part of the book after discussing many of the negative ideas that come to mind when the word “church” is mentioned: 

“Let’s be honest: The church has been all of these things at one time or another. Again and again, it has justified every bitter charge, every gripe and criticism that was ever leveled against it by angry atheists and disillusioned agnostics.

“Yet–despite all its obvious flaws, weaknesses, hypocrisies, sins, and excesses–the church has been the most powerful force for good on the face of the earth, century after century, from the time of the apostles right up to this present moment. It has been light in the midst of the blackest darkness. It has been salt–both a preservative and a delightful seasoning–in a corruption-prone, unsavory society.”

He goes on to ask the obvious question, “How can this be?” And his answer is one we need to ponder very very carefully today when the world desparately needs what only the “True Church” was designed to provide.(see my earlier post on,”I Belong To The One True Church“.

Two Churches

How can we unravel this paradox? How can the church be both sin-ridden and salt and light? How can the church be both a source of disillusionment and a source of illumination at the same time? The answer, as found in the Bible, is this: What we call “the church” is really two churches! One is selfish, power-hungry, and sinful. The other is loving, forgiving, and godly. One has a long history of stirring up hatred, conflict, and bloody persecution, all in the name of God and religion. The other has always sought to heal human hurts, break down barriers of race and class, and deliver men and women from their guilt, shame, fear, and ignorance.

One is a false church, a counterfeit, masquerading as Christianity, but whose head is Satan. The other is the true church, founded by Jesus Christ, mirroring His authentic character through acts of love, self-sacrifice, courage, and truth.

Well there you have the gist of what I really believe about the Church and all of her many different manifestations and the urgent task of unity. To read more of this chapter from the late Dr.Stedman’s book, go here.

A Blogger filled with Hope

A number of things such as the Pope’s visit to U.S.A. and the economy and the presidential primaries, well you get the picture; the temptation to either stick one’s head in the sand or to be overcome with despair, have me thinking a lot about the theme of hope. I want to introduce this theme into my blog at this point, but rest assured it won’t be the last time it will come up. Every faith system by which man is known to live by includes the idea of hope and it seems to be another one of those basic traits that we all have in common as human beings, created in the image of God. So let’s begin with Pope Benedict XVI himself and what I see and hear in him to be a central spiritual force just as it was in his predecessor, Pope John Paul II. (His hope by the way, was clearly revealed in an interview that became the book, “Crossing The Threshold of Hope”.)

 

Pope Benedict XVI’s second encyclical, Saved In Hope, (“Spe Salvi” in Latin) takes its title from St. Paul, who wrote, “In hope we have been saved”. 

Love and Hope are closely related in the spiritual life. Love of God involves hope or trust in God. According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, “The virtue of hope responds to the aspiration to happiness which God has placed in the heart of every man”. Hope enables us to look to the next life, but it also inspires and purifies our actions in this life. Pope Benedict considers modern philosophies and the challenges of faith today in light of the virtue of hope.

“Confronted by today’s changing and complex panorama, the virtue of hope is subject to harsh trials in the community of believers. For this very reason, we must be apostles who are filled with hope and joyful trust in God’s promises. In contemporary society, which shows such visible signs of secularism, we must not give in to despair.”
— Pope Benedict XVI

 

Interested yet? I promise to give you much more to ponder because we are living in days that are still on the verge of “the Abandonment of God”. This comes from another man, a prophet by the name of Jacques Ellul that I doubt any of you ever heard of.(surprise me) His book by the title of this post was published in english in 1974 so his perspective was conditioned by his historical context. He was a faithful member of the Reformed Church of France and fought in the French Underground against the Nazis. His thesis in that book was that often the strongest hope is birthed in the darkest hour, whether for an individual, a people, or an entire nation; a time when we actually feel we have been “abandoned” by God. 

My Respect for Krista Tippett and her weekly program called “Speaking of Faith, continues to increase the more that I listen to her interviews from the archives available at NPR.

 

She is a rare and unusual gift for her largely American audience and a model for the art of listening to others as they share what their particular Faith is to them as a way of life; a source of wisdom, strength, comfort, and inspiration. As she interviews her guests, it is evident that she has done her homework in researching what that person or that Faith is all about- who they are. This enables her to ask incredibly precise and leading questions that in turn coaxes the person to give us the very best possible view of how that Faith functions for them. I for one, believe that is exactly a model we all could benefit from in listening to one another. That’s precisely why I have placed her program in the e4unity “Toolbox”.

 

 

 

Today I listened to her interview of three pastors at a national Pastors Conference for Evangelical Pastors, about very different views on the Church and Her Mission in society. I think you should hear this whether you are a Christian or not. There are a lot of complex issues that are in play in this discussion. For example, I found it interesting asking myself the question, “which of the four participants (Krista and three pastors) clearly demonstrate the profound respect for the one speaking at any given time, and the sense they were really listening to their unique point of view?

 

But the main subject has everything to do with this blog and my personal convictions regarding why we need each other in making a difference in our world. Listen carefully and I think you will be able to hear a lot of the very issues we have got to come to grips with; not only as American Christians who want to join others in the world from other Faiths in pursuing justice and peace and human dignity, but as people of faith in every possible human situation. There are three very different activists, three different generations, all considered within the Evangelical tradition talking about how to be a faithful Christian in the world today.

 

 

Krista’s Interview page

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

CHRISTIAN IS NOT AN ADJECTIVE !

This is one of those conversations that we Christians have to sit down and have a long “in house” discussion about sometime. Obviously I can only outline here the way I think the conversation should possibly go, realizing that for some of you who are not Christians, I must ask you to try to be patient with us. You are more than welcome to sit in on the discussion, because in a very real way our success at getting this straightened out among the faithful will greatly improve our ability to converse with the rest of you in other Faiths.

Where was I? Oh yes, “Christian” is not an adjective, but rather a noun. There is a profound difference. The cause of much confusion in the Church as well as outside is a failure to be more precise. According to the biblical narrative, the word Christian was first applied to some early Disciples of Christ at a place called Antioch-a place which is still very much in operation as a main commercial center in Southern Turkey; I have had the joy of traveling there. So to be precise and accurate in reflecting the essence of Christianity, we should not use it as an adjective, as in a ‘Christian nation’. In reality there isn’t such a thing; nor is there such a thing as a’ Christian politician’, or a ‘Christian magazine’, or a ‘Christian worldview‘. This latter is really getting us into trouble lately. Worldview is a cultural expression from the discipline of Cultural Anthropology. Christians around the world live in many different worldviews. I know what my friends are trying to get at by using that word, but it demonstrates a profound mis-understanding of the Faith of God’s Elect.

The essence of “Christian” is the person who is defined by his or her life relationship to Christ, whom we have come to trust in as revealed through the Scriptures as the God-man. Some traditions within Christendom understand this better than others and I think more nearly approach the original meaning of St.Peter when he spoke of “becoming partakers of the divine nature.”

Well, you can immediately see some of the ramifications. The life of the Christian is not about ideology, or ritual, or externals at all, but it is all about what God has accomplished by sending Christ into the world-The Christ Event, as we say. I don’t want to go any further at this point except to latch on to that word “ideology”. Christianity certainly appears to fit the generic category of religion/ideology and it surely can be studied that way. But my argument is, by doing so we miss the very nature of what a Christian is. If we want to see through the Christian’s own eyes, if we want to listen with the earnest desire to love him or her for what she is “in Christ”, then somehow we must make this vital distinction.

Let me leave you with a very wise observation of someone who understood this very well in the world context historically:

“The greatest challenge and danger that the church had to sustain in the days of the Byzantine Empire was the appearance of ISLAM on the stage of world history. Everybody (now) knows that a considerable part of christian territory in north Africa and the Near East, became Moslem. As far as the Christian Church continued to exist, it did so as a protected minority, forced back into a certain ghetto, but with legal status.

By its gallant resistance Byzantium was during ages the wall of protection for Europe against a Moslem invasion. One must fully take into account this situation in order to have a fair judgment of the fact that the relations of the Christian and Moslem world, in spiritual respect, have been so distressingly sterile.

Islam is by its nature the ideology of a cultural, social, and political system, and met as its opponent a Cristendom, which also behaved, against the nature of the Christian Faith, as the ideology of a cultural, social, and religious system. Meeting each other in any real sense was, therefore impossible.

In the many apologetical and polemical skirmishes from both sides, moreover, communication in any sense was non-existent because the tone was determined by this objective situation and by a doctrinal bias, which had become second nature. The debate could never become a discourse. It remained a sterile mock fight between two monologues. ”
( Taken from “The Communication of the Christian Faith“, by Hendrik Kraemer, 1956, Westminster Press)

note: even Kraemer would have been better served to use the title “The Communication of The Faith of The Christian”

I’m afraid if we Christians in the west do not learn what the real nature of our Faith is, we will not avoid the same thing from happening again in some kind of “Clash of Civilizations”. If you think I’m mistaken about this, there is a link if you look for it on one of my blogs to a world-wide broadcast on CBN by a dear Brother who totally misses not only what Christianity is, but also is in serious error about his assessment of the world Muslim Communities.

2012 UPDATE: Mormons & Christians: Asking the Right Questions

Next Page »