Captain Thin

weird-mail

Sometimes we get strange things in the mail at work. Today is one of those days. I received a package with all sorts of… er, “useful”… information, including photocopies of some prophetic end-of-the-world magazines . One of the photocopied articles claims that the Vatican and Muslims are about to fight out a new Crusade over Jerusalem (because, you know, Catholics=Bad; who else would be responsible for a new crusade?).

Other important tidbits in the package:

1) A list of heresies (quite handy), which notes such heretical acts as the use of “wax candles” in church.

2) A “How-to” document on staying out of debt and keeping healthy. Last suggestion is “Refuse to do anything that will help create a one-world police-state, a one-world satanic-religion, or a one-world cashless society.” (Curiously it also suggests keeping a six-month stock of candles on hand in case of emergency; so I guess candles are okay unless you’re using them in church…)

3) A photocopy of a handwritten statement on the dangers of electromagnetic radiation. But you can apparently reduce the danger by purchasing Tesla Purple Free Energy Plates. Good to know.

4) A note that only those who tithe exactly 10% (that’s before deductions, you sinner!), observe the Sabbath from Friday sundown to Saturday sundown (not Sunday, you heretics!), and use the King James Version of the Bible (drop that NIV and ESV, you reprobates!) will be saved. “Everyone else is under a curse and will be eliminated when Jesus Christ returns in the near future.” (One of the end-of-the-world article photocopies dates back to 1984, so I guess “near future” is a relative term).

The only odd thing I can’t understand is why they didn’t want to include a return address…

———————

lcc

On this day three years ago I began work as Communications Manager of Lutheran Church-Canada (LCC) and editor of The Canadian Lutheran. It’s truly been an honour to serve the Church in this capacity.

What’s more, the position has opened up new opportunities along the way for further service to the Christian Church at large. Last year (on November 16), LCC’s board of Directors approved a request from the International Lutheran Council to have me serve with them in a communications capacity. And in March 2013, I was invited to join First Things as a regular blogger (which, given my full schedule, usually works out to once a month).

In short, it’s been a very rewarding, if busy, three years since joining LCC full-time. I can’t wait to get started on my fourth.

———————

altar-images-barna-2014

A little over a week ago we were talking about how more and more young Evangelicals prefer to participate in liturgical forms of worship. Now Barna has come out with a new study that tells us what kinds of buildings Millennials prefer to worship in. And there seems to be a definite lean towards more reverent concepts of sacred space than some might expect.

“Many churches today are explicitly constructed not to look and feel too much like a religious place,” Barna notes, “a stark contrast to the ancient cathedrals and churches of old—the very design of which was intended to help people experience the divine. How does this design shift impact worshipers?”

Let’s summarize some of their findings briefly. Most people rejected large auditorium style sanctuaries in favour of smaller sanctuaries. The vast majority prefer altars with large Christian symbols (like a cross or crucifix) as opposed to plain altar pieces. Most prefer stained-glass windows (of varying elaborate natures) to plain-glass.

In the end, the majority described their “ideal” church with these words:

Community (as opposed to Privacy)
Classic (as opposed to Trendy)
Casual (as opposed to Dignified)
Sanctuary (as opposed to Auditorium)
Quiet (as opposed to Loud)
Modern (as opposed to Traditional)

While ‘Sanctuary,’ ‘classic’ and ‘quiet’ are more often associated with traditional church buildings, less than half of survey respondents preferred the word ‘traditional’ over ‘modern,’” Barna explains, noting a bit of a “cognitive dissonance” here among young adults interviewed in the survey. “Many of them aspire to a more traditional church experience, in a beautiful building steeped in history and religious symbolism, but they are more at ease in a modern space that feels more familiar than mysterious.”

Barna’s Clint Jenkins notes that “it’s tempting to oversimplify the relationship between Millennials and sacred space,” as if they were looking only for that which is new and chic. But in reality, “most Millennials don’t look for a church facility that caters to the whims of pop culture. They want a community that calls them to deeper meaning.”

Deeper meaning. That’s what we talked about in our previous post on Evangelicals gone liturgical. “Grandeur hooked me,” Kelsey May explains, “but it wasn’t what made me stay…. The aesthetic of traditional churches appeals to me, but the substance behind it anchors me.”

Let’s make sure we offer that substance in every aspect of our church-life. Be it in liturgy or church architecture, the point is not to provide aesthetic experiences that are beautiful merely for their own sake: they are to draw us into a deeper and richer relationship with the Christ who calls us together.

See Barna’s summary of their sacred space study here.

———————

HT to Gene Veith for bringing this study to my attention.

A page from Luther's German Mass.

Here’s a nice reflection from Kelsey May (via Converge Magazine) on why so many young Evangelicals are turning towards liturgy:

Grandeur hooked me, but it wasn’t what made me stay. The initial mystique of traditional churches may enchant or repulse us — but we need to look deeper. The aesthetic of traditional churches appeals to me, but the substance behind it anchors me…. The liturgical service doesn’t answer for my sufferings; it draws my attention to the suffering of Christ.”

Read the whole thing here: “Finding Faith Through Liturgy.”

Incidentally, if any of you are looking to connect with that kind of church—a church with liturgy and real substance behind that liturgy—give me a shout. I know a guy who works for Lutheran Church-Canada who can probably hook you up. :)

———————

misreading-scripture-alone-web

In my most recent post here on the blog, I pointed readers to a Christianity Today article that suggested “most American evangelicals hold views condemned as heretical by some of the most important councils of the early church.” In responding to this news, I noted how Christians need to take more seriously the history of the Church’s teachings.

What I mentioned just briefly here I elaborate on at length in a post for First Things. I suggest that one of the contributing causes to the re-emergence of heretical notions in contemporary Evangelicalism is a failure to proper understand the Reformation teaching of Sola Scriptura (Scripture alone). Rather than understanding it to mean that the Bible is alone authoritative, we somehow seem to have convinced ourselves that it means a solo-reading of Scripture is authoritative. As I explain at First Things, “We are right to trust in Scripture alone; but it is foolhardy to read Scripture by ourselves.”

To that end, I urge my readers to hold up their individual readings of Scripture to the scrutiny of the reading of the wider Church. It’s not because the Church has authority over the Scriptures (it doesn’t) but rather because the Church defended those things which are taught by Scripture.

We don’t follow the theological pronouncements of the Church merely because such and such a person says we should. Bishops and councils, after all, can err (remember the Robber’s Council?). But certain pronouncements—like the theological statements of the Ecumenical Councils—have long been recognized by the Church at large as true and faithful understandings of Scripture. They have codified important Scriptural truths—on the Nature of Christ, for example, and on the Personhood of the Holy Spirit—and so we refer to them as authoritative. That’s how the Nicene Creed came to be. These pronouncements do not invent new dogma not found in the Scriptures; instead, they clearly and carefully reproduce the teachings of Scripture. Consequently, they rightly norm our interpretation of the Scriptures. It’s Tradition in service to Scripture, not Tradition on the same level as Scripture.

This is, I suggest, a more accurate understanding of the Reformation understanding of the role of Tradition in the Church. I wrap up the article with some words from Melanchthon:

Philipp Melanchthon explains the Lutheran position well: “Let the highest authority be that of the Word which was divinely taught,” he explains. “Thereafter that church which agrees with that Word is to be considered authoritative.” And again: “Let us hear the church when it teaches and admonishes,” he writes, “but one must not believe because of the authority of the church. For the church does not lay down articles of faith; it only teaches and admonishes. We must believe on account of the Word of God when, admonished by the church, we understand that this meaning is truly and without sophistry taught in the Word of God.”

Read the whole thing here: “Misreading Scripture Alone: How We Ended Up Heretics.”

———————

As a side-note, Christianity Today’s managing editor Ted Olsen and I have a discussion in the comments section of my First Things article about what the recent survey does (or doesn’t) say about Roman Catholics’ and Mainline Protestants’ own heretical leanings. My argument in summary? The numbers don’t tell us anything conclusive about these other groups. Watch me crunch the numbers there.

The First Council of Nicaea, which condemned Arianism.

A fresco of the First Council of Nicaea, which condemned the heresy of Arianism.

This is just shocking. Worse, it’s terrifying. Apparently, heresies condemned more than 1500 years ago by the Church are making a come back in American Evangelicalism.

That’s not hyperbole either. Christianity Today has a new report highlighting a survey of American Evangelicals on fundamental beliefs, like the nature of the Trinity. And while some of the the numbers are good, many are horrifying. More than half (51%) of American Evangelicals deny that the Holy Spirit is an actual person (and think He’s just “a force”). 16% believe Jesus was a created being made by God. And countless others are unsure on these questions!

At the same time, 22% of American Evangelicals think Jesus is less divine than the Father, and 9% believe that the Holy Spirit is less divine than the Father and the Son. The article goes on to highlight the Pelagian thinking that is infecting American Evangelicals’ understanding of salvation.

These are not small problems. These are big problems—Church dividing problems. There’s a reason the early councils took pains to reject and condemned these heresies. There’s a reason orthodox Christianity faced real persecution over these questions. If you needed a reason why you should read the writings of the Early Church and the Ecumenical Councils, this is it. Scripture is very much the ultimate authority in the Church, but the tradition of the Church helps us to norm our understanding of that Scripture. When we ignore this tradition, we end up resurrecting old heresies.

Churches which divorce themselves from the history of the Church effectively throw away a map which would help keep them on track. Let this be a warning to us all (whether Evangelical or not): we need to encourage stronger teaching of the essentials of the faith in our churches. And that means teaching real doctrine.

———————

bride-of-christ-banner

My most recent column for The Canadian Lutheran reflects on the Church’s identity as the Bride of Christ. Reflecting on the language of the Song of Songs, I invite my readers to reflect more deeply on what it means to be a bride—the feminine counterpart to our bridegroom Christ.

As we live out this Christian calling, I urge readers to reflect on the faithful witness of Christian women throughout the ages. We look of course to Mary, the witnesses at the resurrection, and other women in the Bible. But we look beyond the Scriptures too, seeing how women have been instrumental in the spread of the Christian faith:

From the Church’s beginnings to its present, women have played vital roles in Christian witness. In fact, some scholars believe that the early Church had a much higher percentage of women in it than men; it is certainly true that the 2nd century pagan critic of Christianity, Celsus, ridiculed the faith as a religion of “women and children.” But what he considered a defect, the Church could embrace: God was bringing women into the Church, and they were raising their children in the faith. The Church was growing because of these devout women, even if their unbelieving husbands did not always approve.

I look at one such women in particular: St. Monica, the mother of St. Augustine. Her story—one of long-suffering witness to her unbelieving family—is a powerful testimony to the mercy of God, even when we can’t see Him working as quickly as we would like.

Such women are justly remembered today. We in the Church do well to emulate them as we live out our calling as the Bride of Christ—that we would be faithful to Christ, our true Husband, but that we also be patient and loving witnesses in our relationships with non-Christian friends and family around us. May God continue to raise up strong women like Monica in our time, that the Church would be ever strengthened through their faithful testimony and service.

Read the whole thing over at The Canadian Lutheran “The Bride of Christ.”

Next Page »