civil religion


That All Depends on WHO we pray to, doesn’t it?

As I was preparing my mind and heart to spend time in intercession for my country, I found myself asking this question: Is the Bible sufficient to give me the guidance I need to pray intelligently at this time for my country?

I had read a blog of my friend MoSop on the Bible’s influence as one of the sacred books that guides her own Mormon faith. All of the Christian traditions, whether they realize it or not, have those other sacred texts or creeds in addition to the Bible. But is the Bible alone  sufficient   at a time like this? Let me give you a small sample, taken from the Lectionary readings for today, including Psalm 50, and see if you can figure out, based on the context in Israel’s future, if this gives us any guidance at all in thinking about the One I pray to:

But to the wicked God says:
“What right have you to recite my statutes
or take my covenant on your lips?
 For you hate discipline,
and you cast my words behind you.

Read the entire Psalm 50 

I have certainly read and greatly benefited from those other books, the commentaries, and the covenants from the diverse Christian traditions, the Orthodox, the Roman Catholic, the Lutheran, the Reformed, and a host of others including Seventh Day Adventists and now the Latter Day Saints. But when it comes right down to the bottom line, it’s always the Bible that has the final Word as God’s voice that this sheep recognizes and is dedicated to hearing in order to obey from a heart of passion for Him.

I did receive real orientation in Psalm 50 as to how I must pray today for my country. For one thing, I was reminded that I could not take for granted that I had any hope of being heard and my petitions answered if my own heart was not right in my relationship with Him to whom I had the audacity to present requests. I have to alter my own attitude first at His altar. There is a wonderful text in the New Testament, recognizing we are now on this side of the Christ event and His victory, awaiting Pentecost in the Biblical narrative, that assures us that if we ask anything according to His will, we know He has heard us and He has given us what we asked of Him.

May you participate in the National Day of Prayer with others from different faith traditions of your own in a meaningful way-just keep the Biblical narrative in your thoughts and hearts.

David Brooks and E.J.Dionne on Reinhold Niebuhr

Interview at Georgetown

I don’t know if you saw this or not, Krista Tippett’s interview last month at Georgetown. It was outstanding due first and foremost to the man they were discussing- Reinhold Niebuhr, one of America’s great theologians. And then there were the different faith traditions represented. And lastly, the amazing number of politicians in the last 40 years who were influenced by this man and his public ministry.

I have “Speaking of Faith” link over in the e4unity toolbag and I think you would enjoy listening to this entire program. I’ll add my own quote from the 1941 book, “The Nature and Destiny of Man”:

The general revelation of personal human experience, the sense of being confronted with a ‘wholly other’ at the edge of human consciousness, contains three elements, two of which are not too sharply defined, while the third is not defined at all. The first is the sense of reverence for a majesty and a dependence upon an ultimate source of being. The second is the sense of moral obligation laid upon one from beyond oneself and of moral unworthiness before a judge. The third, most problematic of the elements in religious experience, is the longing for forgiveness.

All three of these elements become more sharply defined as they gain the support of other forms of revelation. The first, the sense of dependence upon a reality greater and more ultimate than ourselves, gains the support of another form of ‘general’ revelation, the content of which is expressed in the concept of the Creator and the creation. Faith concludes that the same ‘Thou’ who confronts us in our personal experience is also the source and Creator of the whole world.

The second element in personal religion, the experience of judgment, gains support from the prophetic-Biblical concept of judgment in history. The whole of history is seen as a validation of the truth in personal experience that God stands over against us as our judge. The third element, the longing for reconciliation after this judgment …becomes the great issue of the Old Testament interpretation of life. The question is: is God merciful as well as just? And if He is merciful, how is His mercy related to His justice?

Because Christian faith believes the final answer to this ultimate question to be given in Christ, it regards the revelation in Christ a final revelation, beyond which there can be no further essential revelation. For this reason it speaks of Christ ‘as the express image of his person.’ Here the whole depth and mystery of the divine are finally revealed.”  (131,132-vol I, 1964 edition)

I think the Apostle Paul would very much be in agreement to these words. Niebuhr’s ministry in America spanded some very troubling times and challenges to people of faith. That’s why Krista’s assertion that Obama claims to have been influenced by his writings is of special interest here. David Brooks, a political analyst on the conservative side who is also Jewish, and E.J.Dionne, a writer for the Washington Post and a liberal, happens to be Roman Catholic. Both men share freely Niebuhr’s major emphasis on original sin in his analysis of the Nature and Destiny of the human family.

See also this 2005 program on the relevance of Niebuhr’s Theology

The Chief Temptation of CHRIST’S CHURCH forsyth

It was what still makes, and always has made, the chief temptation of his Church — the reformation of society by every beneficent means except the evangelical (The Gospel); by amelioration, by reorganization, by programes, and policies, instead of by the soul’s new creation, and its total conversion from the passion for justice to the faith of grace, from what makes men just with each other to what makes them just with God.

It was the temptation to save men by rallying their goodness without routing their evil, by reorganizing virtue instead of redeeming guilt. …It is the error which leads men to think that we can have a new Church or Humanity upon any other condition than the renovation in the soul of the new covenant which Christ founded in his last hours, before the very Church was founded, and which is the Church’s one foundation in his most precious blood. — P.T. Forsyth

ESSAY on THE PRECISE PROBLEM TODAY , from The Work of Christ, an incredible contribution to celebrating the UNITY of The CHURCH.

A classic on PREACHING CHRIST, by Charles McIlvaine “Nothing in this world could I rejoice in so much as to be instrumental, under God’s grace, in promoting the spiritual excellency and efficacy of your work and your personal growth in the faith and love of Christ.” (Ohio 1863)

 

 

THIS YEAR, PLEASE BEGIN at THE BEGINNING

U.S. President Woodrow Wilson first proclaimed an Armistice Day for November 12, 1919. The United States Congress passed a concurrent resolution seven years later on June 4, 1926, requesting the President issue another proclamation to observe November 11 with appropriate ceremonies. An Act (52 Stat. 351; 5 U. S. Code, Sec. 87a) approved May 13, 1938, made the 11th of November in each year a legal holiday; “a day to be dedicated to the cause of world peace and to be thereafter celebrated and known as ‘Armistice Day’.”

(From WIKIPEDIA)

This summer I had the incredible experience of going through the only official NATIONAL memorial in the United States dedicated to World War I, the Great War. I truly wish that every citizen of these United States could have that experience- especially NOW, at the point in history that we find ourselves. Most of us have been thrown into the MIDDLE of a great EPIC TALE. The subject of this tale just happens to be our National heritage. World War I just might be the event in this tale that we can still get an understanding of which in turn will help us immensely to understand just what it is we have of lately inherited and will help us to better understand what our part in the ongoing tale is and how to best prepare for the future.

Meet Joe, the Veteran. jo-the-veteran

Joseph Ambrose, an 86-year-old World War I veteran, attends the dedication day parade for the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in 1982, holding the flag that covered the casket of his son, who had been killed in the Korean War.     

Did you happen to notice this phase in the original purpose of  the day? “A day to be dedicated to the cause of world peace.”   I believe that this original purpose has been kept in mind in every detail of the official Memorial to World War I in Kansas City, Missouri, and one of the main reasons why I believe every American should visit it. 

The Memorial has been “rebuilt” in recent years and an underground museum complex has been added. My congratulations to the citizens of Kansas City and to American Century Investments for under-taking this very ambitious project for the American people and their epic story.

Sample what you will see (slide show)

View the intro Video

  

Be Ready for Every Good Work

3:1 Remind them to be submissive to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready for every good work, to speak evil of no one, to avoid quarreling, to be gentle, and to show perfect courtesy toward all people. For we ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, hated by others and hating one another. election-2

But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life. The saying is trustworthy, and I want you to insist on these things, so that those who have believed in God may be careful to devote themselves to good works. These things are excellent and profitable for people. But avoid foolish controversies, genealogies, dissensions, and quarrels about the law, for they are unprofitable and worthless. 10 As for a person who stirs up division, after warning him once and then twice, have nothing more to do with him, 11 knowing that such a person is warped and sinful; he is self-condemned. ( Saint Paul,letter to Titus)

This is just one of many scriptures that would make an excellent “exit poll” evaluation for Christians in America to do a little self-evaluation in light of this campaign which comes to an end today. I found it most humbling in light of our calling to be light and salt in the midst of just such a situation.

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

A CLASSIC From The PAST

The present political environment has for some time included as never before the religious element. I view this as a necessary part of our national reality and have already spoken about the urgency of addressing it openly and with civility. At a critical time in the English Revolution, what we now enjoy as separation of Church and State was being debated before Parliament by giants such as John Milton. His side did not prevail, and soon England returned to the Monarchy, which among other things, placed the Church under the rule and power of the Crown, and brought men like Milton and John Bunyan prison time for their convictions, which was judged to be HERESY by the State Church.

But the brief freedom once tasted and thoroughly discussed was used to launch what has been called the Free Church movement (Baptists, Congregationists, and Quakers,among the best known) and was largely responsible for America’s founders to insure the Liberty of Conscience among the other basic liberties for all American citizens. Those who would in any way try to undo this separation simply do not understand history and specifically, English/American history of the 1600’s.

A TREATISE OF CIVIL POWER IN ECCLESIASTICAL CAUSES

                                                          As a primer on the subject which I find incredibly applicable to our present age of confusion both in the churches and in the Nation as a whole, I submit that we can do no better than to read and study great classics such as this treatise by JOHN MILTON presented to Parliament in 1659. Only the dedication follows with the hope that you will get yourself a copy of the entire treatise which is available on the web.                                                                               

                                        I have prepared, Supreme Council, against the much-expected time of your sitting, this treatise; which, though to all Christian magistrates equally belonging, and therefore to have been written in the common language of Christendom, natural duty and affection hath confined and dedicated first to my own nation; and in a season wherein the timely reading thereof, to the easier accomplishment of your great work, may save you much labour and interruption: of two parts usually proposed, civil and ecclesiastical, recommending civil only to your proper care, ecclesiastical to them only from whom it takes both that name and nature.

Yet not for this cause only do I require or trust to find acceptance, but in a twofold respect besides: first, as bringing clear evidence of Scripture and protestant maxims to the parliament of England, who in all their late acts, upon occasion, have professed to assert only the true protestant Christian religion, as it is contained in the Holy Scriptures: next, in regard that your power being but for a time, and having in yourselves a Christian liberty of your own, which at one time or other may be oppressed, thereof truly sensible, it will concern you while you are in power, so to regard other men’s consciences, as you would your own should be regarded in the power of others; and to consider that any law against conscience is alike in force against any conscience, and so may one way or other justly redound upon yourselves.

One advantage I make no doubt of, that I shall write to many eminent persons of your number, already perfect and resolved in this important article of Christianity. Some of whom I remember to have heard often for several years, at a council next in authority to your own, so well joining religion with civil prudence, and yet so well distinguishing the different power of either; and this not only voting, but frequently reasoning why it should be so, that if any there present had been before of an opinion contrary, he might doubtless have departed thence a convert in that point, and have confessed, that then both commonwealth and religion will at length, if ever, flourish in Christendom, when either they who govern discern between civil and religious, or they only who so discern shall be admitted to govern.

Till then, nothing but troubles, persecutions, commotions can be expected, the inward decay of true religion among ourselves, and the utter overthrow at last by a common enemy. Of civil liberty I have written heretofore, by the appointment, and not without the approbation, of civil power: of Christian liberty I write now, which others long since having done with all freedom under heathen emperors, I should do wrong to suspect, that I now shall with less under Christian governors, and such especially as profess openly their defence of Christian liberty; although I write this, not otherwise appointed or induced, than by an inward persuasion of the Christian duty, which I may usefully discharge herein to the common Lord and Master of us all, and the certain hope of his approbation, first and chiefest to be sought: in the hand of whose providence I remain, praying all success and good event on your public councils, to the defence of true religion and our civil rights.

                                                                                       John Milton

 

OnLine LIBRARY of LIBERTY

You may be surprised, if not shocked, to see how this is playing out in RELIGIOUS RUSSIA, these days. Yep, Russsia. Our “godless” enemy of the cold war era & the main reason that President Eisenhower led congress to insert “under God” in our national pledge of allegience and on our money!

WONDER of WONDERS

Were we not a little surprised at how religious topics suddenly have been very openly discussed in the political square? On a national media event the candidates were asked to respond to some specific questions. Among the most interesting was related to the existence of evil and the determination to defeat it. I have to say that I was impressed with Obama’s fuller response than I was with that of John McCain. McCain was short and direct: evil was Alkida and terrorism and he was committed to defeating it “over there” so that it would never be able to hurt us here in the U-S-of A.

Senator Obama’s answer was much more Biblical and in keeping with the world-view of the Apostle Paul. In his answer, he made it clear that evil was not limited to Alkida, not even to the terrorists. It included a number of different forms including the Aids virus in Africa that has caused such human tragedy and suffering. Then he said that evil was present in the cities and on the streets of America. Though he did not say directly, I think the clear message was there; evil cannot be defeated by military force. Sounds exactly like the Apostle to me.

“Concerning the times and seasons, brethren, you have no need that I should write to you…see that no one renders evil for evil to anyone, but always pursue what is good both for yourselves, and for all.” First Thessalonian letter.

“For the mystery of lawlessness  is already at work…the lawless one will be revealed, whom the Lord will consume with the breath of His mouth and destroy with the brightness of His coming.” Second Thessalonian letter.

These two letters are generally thought to be among the Apostle’s earliest and go along way toward answering our original question. But please don’t take my word for it. Imitate the noble Bereans and do your own search in the Pauline scriptures this week-end. I’m glad the subject has come up in the run up to the elections.

CIVIL RELIGION IN U.S.A. EXPLAINED WITHOUT EVEN MENTIONING THE NAME

I came across a post on a South African blog I highly respect and was excited to see that it fit very well into the subject I had introduced before : CIVIL RELIGION.

It involved an on-line discussion among world members of the Orthodox Faith and the subject of a christian’s allegiance to Christ. There seemed to be some objections from a few American members in regards to what was owed to “democracy” (Their own country). Now the blogger was taken back by the seemingly confused idea of how anyone in Orthodoxy could not understand where their ultimate loyalty resided. In one of the comments, this explanation was offered for the disconect. It refers to the well-known web site among Orthodox- Ancient Faith Radio, and a program by a well known author who has converted along with her husband-Priest to the Orthodox Faith and become a major voice to those outside Orthodoxy to learn of that Faith in America.

A little of the comment together with the program on Ancient Faith Radio that is supposed to have fueled the original confusion. I urge everyone who seeks to understand the factor of religion in America in relation to the Democracy that in fact does trump everything else, to listen to the entirety of this piece.

” I think the reason you got such a large volume of American Orthodox saying what they were saying is because of a recent podcast distributed by Ancient Faith Radio by Frederica Matthewes-Green, a prominent Orthodox writer in the U.S. The podcast is available here:
http://audio.ancientfaith.com/frederica/fhn_2008-07-02.mp3

She wrote the podcast on the great experiment of American democracy, and how it requires us to put our religious beliefs on the back burner, for good or ill, when we are in the public square. Also, she discusses why our kind of democracy may not be exportable.

To READ MORE in this area of Church and State, you may want to check this POST (Killing the phone company); but be forewarned, this is not for the novice, but for the serious seeker after answers.

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