church and state


January was a much needed Sabbatical @E4Unity

I don’t know if you missed me, but I sure missed posting for you. I have been busy refilling the tank, as they say, by reading a lot of blogs and tweets and adding new friends.

from phoenixmasonry.org

So now I think we’re ready to get back to blogging about humankind and the universal conditions we’re all faced with in the new year. To start us off, with an eye to the Lenten season coming up fast and the present situation in Egypt and the mid-east, I hope this will interest you. Comments from the Letter to the Hebrews:

The preacher finds in these antitheses the basic truth of the matter. His weakness in dying defined his power in ruling. With all other New Testament witnesses he was obsessed with the paradox of the passion story. It was by sharing in flesh and blood that Jesus became a faithful and merciful high priest; it was by being tempted that “he is able to help those who are tempted” (2:18). The devil had tempted him to fear death and thus to become enslaved to the devil; but by resisting this temptation Jesus had received power to free men from that fear, that bondage. So, in the sequence of images by which the preacher gave tribute to Jesus’ glory in 1:1-4, we must give full weight to the mention of the “purification for sins”. This action of expiation explains Jesus’ power to uphold the universe, his work in the creation of the world, his appointment as heir of all things.

Paul S.Minear writing in “God’s Glory in Man’s Story”.

 

 

Dedicated to the memory of all veterans who gave their lives for us.

“For the love of Christ controls us, because we have concluded this: that one has died for all, therefore all have died;  and he died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised.” – The Apostle Paul

Once again my good friend John Armstrong at ACT3 has put his finger on a major weakness in our American churches. It comes on the day before we Americans go to the polls to choose our national leaders. What he has to say about the absence of prophetic preaching in the pulpits of America and spiritual leadership by vision, has much to do with the challenges our larger society is facing at this moment. In “What  happened to Prophetic preaching”? He writes,

John H. Armstrong, Director ACT3

“The vast majority of pastors, as revealed in a number of surveys, declare that leadership is their greatest weakness. They admit to having become managers of ecclesial organizations and speakers in churches on Sunday. But less than 10% (in one survey) said that they believed they were leaders. A leader exercises influence, casts vision and helps people to follow that vision. Modern ideology and modern ways of training men and women for pastoral ministry have impacted the church profoundly in this area. We need to understand how and why and what we can do about this problem.

Our schools have prepared future ministers to be students who can exegete a text, clinicians who can listen and help people in personal crisis and managers who can direct programs and serve the social structures of the church. But they have not conveyed clearly how to be a godly, praying, spiritually-formed leaders who can inspire and build up people in their daily lives. And they have not been taught how to prophesy the Word of the Lord.

In my lifetime I have seen the role of the pastor change dramatically. I remember my childhood pastors being shepherds of people and leaders who gave a vision to our collective witness. I held my pastors in high esteem. Today this has changed. Pastors are much less accessible to people, far less able to cast clear vision, and churches collectively languish in spirit. This has created a tragic gulf between leaders and people. People now demand managers for the church. They do not want prophets who will challenge them to think and become truly different in faith and virtue.”

I personally believe this is one of John’s better messages to the churches and the way forward in the future.

The entire article available as   Prophetic Preaching Pastors (pdf).

Recommended reading: The Work of Preaching Christ (1864)

Keith Green (1953-1982), a radical disciple.

Here is one of those special gifts from Father’s right hand to the American Church in the 60’s and 70’s. He loved the Church but loved the Jesus he followed even more and was attempting to wake the Church from it’s sleep and return to authentic discipleship.

 

See this related post: The Church and Her Prophets

April 2011 Update :This was a synchroblog. Here are some of the other posts:

Listen to Keith’s ‘Make my Life a Prayer

Advocacy sometimes means getting off the fence!

You know by now that I am a passionate advocate for human rights which include dignity and justice. I don’t however put my name on very many public petitions. But this one I felt needed my participation, especially in light of so many other conflicting statements from we Christians regarding healthcare.

Here is what I signed today-

As a Christian, I believe my faith calls me to view all people, regardless of citizenship status, as made in the “image of God” and deserving of respect; to show compassion for the stranger and love and mercy for my neighbor; and to balance the rule of law with the call to oppose unjust laws and systems when they violate human dignity.

These biblical principles compel me to support immigration reform legislation that is consistent with humanitarian values, supports families, provides a pathway to citizenship for immigrant workers already in the U.S., expands legal avenues for workers to enter the U.S. with their rights and due process fully protected, and examines solutions to address the root causes of migration.

I believe the current U.S. immigration system is broken and reform is necessary. I call on Congress to pass comprehensive immigration reform with the above elements by the end of this year.

Signed by: John Paul Todd, Berea, Kentucky

Another take on the True Community that we all are created to long for is represented in this song written and sung by an old favorite, Squire Parsons. There is just one minor adjustment that I would call your attention to, but for me it is an extremely important one; the pictures that were chosen for this video. 

According to the Biblical narrative, one of the essential elements of Jesus Christ identity has to do with his radical reconstitution of major elements of the Old Covenant faith tradition. Such integral factors as the Temple, the Law, the Priesthood, were reinterpreted by Him in such a way to announce that what these elements foreshadowed in the past, He himself was their ultimate fulfillment. This is what caused his most heated conflict with the institutional religious leaders and ultimately led to his crucifixion “outside the camp”. (see Hebrews 13: 12-14)

So when Squire Parsons sings about Beulah land, is he thinking of the old city of Jerusalem in Israel or is he longing for the Jerusalem that is above? The heavenly Zion, the eternal city of God, which is that community that God has prepared to satisfy all our longings. For me, it is obviously the one the Apostle John saw and testified to us about in the penultimate chapter of the Bible.

Getting a week’s jump on Mardi Gras.

If I’m not mistaken, this is the best time of the year to bring up the whole problem the Christian faces in living in the world (old creation) while possessing eternal life in Christ which is the life of the new creation: The conflict between living in the spirit and living in the flesh and the never ending battle in this present evil age.

Saint Paul constantly wrote about this conflict of the Christian in all of his epistles and he referred to this old Adamic nature (life-style) in various ways. From just two chapters in the Roman letter come these terms: Old man,Old self, Body of sin, Slaves of sin, wretched man, and Body of death.

The spotlight on the Superbowl this year has become a spotlight on this central theme of the Christian life. First and foremost because of the convergence of two major factors: the New Orleans Saints are playing there for the first time in their franchise history, and the fact that they are doing so only one week before the Mardi Gras week-end. So its only natural (to the men of flesh) for the Saints to taste victory and think about stepping up the celebration by one week. I find all kind of ironies in this whole scene-not the least of which is the franchise name, “The Saints”.

Let me suggest that this is indeed the perfect time for American Christians to rediscover their basic identity in Christ in the light of the American culture. All of this has a great deal to do with the theme of unity which is advocated on this blog. It has a great deal to do with what has been called “the Great Christian Tradition” and it has a lot to do with the controversy raised this year about  those certain Superbowl ads. The latest issue of Touchstone Magazine  suggests just how serious these things are in America and have taken a stand on what they perceive are the critical issues they have with their STATE.

Has the State gone too far?

“On November 20, 2009, Orthodox, Catholic, and Evangelical leaders released the Manhattan Declaration at a press conference in Washington, D.C. Among the 148 original signatories are fourteen Roman Catholic bishops, two Eastern Orthodox bishops, and Evangelical leaders from various ministries, churches, seminaries, and colleges, many quite well known, including J. I. Packer, Charles Colson, and James Dobson. The coalition of signatories is the strongest expression yet seen in this country of the new ecumenism of Christians dedicated to the Great Tradition.”

(Touchstone Magazine- “The Audacity of the State“.

I do not agree with all said in this issue-in fact I would want to contend that “the strongest expression…of the new ecumenism of Christians dedicated to the Great Tradition” is not in fact these issues involving the so called culture-wars, but rather what myself and others are calling the Missional-ecumenism. But the two agendas are in fact related and the Christians in America cannot get on with their God-given mission in the world without dealing with the question of unity and life in the Spirit, not in the flesh.

Read the Manhattan Declaration

Related post: A Script to Live by

Confessions of A Liberal Christian Churchman.

I really didn’t have to listen to our President’s State of The Union address to get that it was about the “ECONOMY”. So what’s new in 80 years of progress- from 1930 to 2010?

In trying to live up to the “prophetic” part of the E4Unity blog, I went in search of a prophetic voice from the 20th century and found this tasty morsel from Paul S.Minear. As I started reading this essay which was written in 1980, I was blown away by what he said about his experience and convictions about the hard times of the 1930’s.

Paul S. Minear 1980

“In 1930 I was at Yale, beginning my graduate study of the Bible. The Great Depression was in its early stages; it would be ended only by World War II with its employment of millions of the unemployed, and with its armaments’ explosion and the subsequent development of the military- industrial-technological empire.
 But in 1930, millions were unemployed and hungry. There was immeasurable destitution, disillusionment, despair. The American dream had turned overnight into the American nightmare. Political anarchy and economic civil war were daily possibilities. There were explosive demands for economic justice; each of these demands touched off reactionary forces that were in a position to use the powers of government to fend off any substantive change in the social structure.
In New Haven, I was in constant contact with workers’ families whose only protection from extinction was to stand in endless breadlines or to work the streets peddling apples or pencils. I was kept from sharing their plight by the fact that I was a student, and my wife was in the employ of the university.
 The Depression signalled a cold war between economic royalists and radicals, both seeking to use the powers of government to fulfill self-interests. No one can tell how near the country came to revolution, but it was near enough to create an anti-Communist hysteria from which the nation has never since been free. To a great degree the cold war between America and Russia has been one of a pair of identical twins: the other twin being the internal cold war within America, between left and right.
What role in this struggle was played by Christian congregations? Two answers can be given. (1) The life of congregations appeared to be totally irrelevant to the solution of the critical issues. Nothing they did, or could do, had the slightest effect. (2) When congregations did take up positions, they lined up solidly on the side of economic and political reaction. Right-wing forces could count on their fears of radical change. The acronym WASP was an accurate symbol of actual collusion between religious and political establishments. Or so it seemed to me. This collusion was nowhere more obvious than in those sections of the country where Protestantism was, in effect, the state religion.

And the Bible? In many ways, the Bible appeared to be wholly irrelevant to finding ways of dealing with the successive crises. But where it did become relevant, it was in support of the collusion between religious and political establishments. The more reactionary the congregation, the more it gave recognition to the authority of the Bible. Loyalty to the Bible contributed directly to loyalty to Mammon, to Mars, to Caesar. “Bible-Belt” became a term referring to a region simultaneously super- patriotic, economically reactionary, militaristic, anti-union, and racially exclusive. All these were solidly identified with Christianity, and this Christianity was solidly identified with the Bible.

In 1930, I was convinced that before Christian congregations could be emancipated from such idolatries, their dependence on the Bible must be dynamited. I held the authority of the Bible at least partly responsible for the stance of the churches; therefore that authority must be undermined.”

 

Excerpt from “The Bible’s Authority in The Churches”.

Full text available as Authority-in-the-Churches

 

I was thinking of all the ways I could send a Christmas message to all e4unity blog friends and not finding anything that seemed to be just the right one for this year. Then my always resourceful wife suggested I look at the web-site of one of our favorite musicians (he happens to be the best selling Catholic recording artist)- John Michael Talbot.

I think it is time for we Christians to become less defensive and sensitive about so much that is said in the public square and learn to communicate using the world’s categories and thought structures. Here is one of the greatest examples- willingness to admit that the great Biblical narrative fits into the literary genre of “MYTH”. John Michael’s essay perfectly addresses so many issues I have wished I could blog about myself, I’ll give you a sample and hope you will really want to read more.

Merry Christmas to all

“Some of us think that a “myth” is a story that is untrue, or a mere fantasy. But that is not really correct. A myth is a usually story that tells and symbolizes a deep and profound truth. But it often is, and can be rooted in a true story. That is what Christians believe about Jesus. Jesus IS the sacred Story of stories, the Word of words. For us He is the Myth of myths, and the Truth of truths.

What is so special about the Jesus myth? We believe that in Jesus divinity assumed humanity so that we might share in divinity again. We also believe that death is conquered through His dying, and confirmed in His rising. In Jesus God is found in humanity, the Word in silence, glory in humility. These are paradoxes beyond mere human logic that speak a deeper truth that every human heart longs for. The fullness of the human yearning is complemented and completed in Him in a way that is most perfect. Jesus is the fullness of the Mystery of mysteries and the Paradox of all the paradoxes spoken of in the mystical traditions of all the great religions of the world. He is practical human balance and divine mystery all in one life, in one divine action. He is the Perfect Word in a way beyond words. This is the Mystery of Jesus.”

Read MORE

What we hear in the west at this time of year in the most public of places, is some of the greatest music the Christian tradition has produced and loved to present at Christmas. It just may be outside the Scriptures themselves, the most public confession of Christianity- of what is at the very core, for all to hear and see regardless if they consider themselves to be Christians or not. If anyone asks what Christianity is or what it means, the classic carols of Christmas present music filled with the Christian gospel. Perhaps the standard of all time is Handel’s Messiah which is built on the libretto provided Handel by Charles Jennings and is all Holy Scripture. The only interpretation is in the selection of the Scriptures and the order they are placed in to tell the Christian myth as well as it has ever been told outside the Bible itself. Oh, there is also a great deal of interpretation going on by Handel himself in the character of the music which he assigns to each Scripture.

“The ultimate outcome will depend upon the hearts and minds of the people who actually live out there.”

                 – President Lyndon Johnson

 This is a re-issue of the 1974 documentary about Viet Nam and though it is painful, I am thinking it would be a good time for me to watch the full two-hour version; maybe even buy a copy for my dvd library.

I’m sorry that after our President’s announcement last evening, and with all the respect in the world for our troops in the field of battle-including one of my sons on active duty in Bagdad, I must register my extreme disappointment and deep saddness. Ironically, it fits in perfectly with the Advent celebration we have just commenced. For what we celebrate is precisely the entering into this war torn world of the promised Prince of Peace. It is because the People of God have not understood the essence of His coming that peace on earth continues to elude our best efforts.

We still have not learned some very basic lessons from the tragedy of Viet Nam.

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