Entries tagged with “church”.
Did you find what you wanted?
Wed 9 Nov 2016
How did it come to this? There are so many reasons. But ultimately, it seems to me, many Americans just wanted to rebel: Against a political system they perceive as corrupt. Against a radical leftist ideology that has increasingly alienated people of “traditional” values and chastised (even penalized) them for holding such values in the first place. Against an administration that has downplayed threats to security (real or imagined) that many Americans believe face their nation. Against the elite, educated political class who lord it over the common masses.
Some of those concerns may have been justified. When you have nuns who have devoted their lives to helping the poor standing in court arguing that the government is infringing on their religious rights, something is wrong. When the government takes Lutherans to court, arguing that they—the government—should dictate to the church who counts as a “minister” and who does not, something is wrong.
But much of the rage has been fed by darker sources. White supremacy and a host of other “alt-right” positions have come out into the open during this election in a way not seen in generations. To be sure, not all—I pray not even many—Americans voted for Trump because they hold such radical beliefs. But those who hold such beliefs have nevertheless arisen to new prominence during his campaign, and that is cause for grave concern.
In the end, many Americans just wanted to smash the whole thing. And who better to break it up than Trump, a man I once described in an article for First Things as a madman? Make no mistake: he is that—a divisive, erratic, ball of rage. But he is now also President Elect of the United States. So what now?
Scripture tells us that God created governing authorities for the preservation of peace and the restraint of wrongdoers (Romans 13:1-7). That means God has a specific calling and purpose for rulers—the protection of the people. Should rulers abuse that power and help, not hinder, evil, they shall ultimately face God’s judgment for that sin. No ruler—and no citizen with the right to vote—should take that warning lightly.
In the meantime, St. Paul tells us, Christians are called to obey the governing authorities. These words were not written in some idealistic golden age of the Church either; Christians were under increasing pressure from the Roman Empire at the time. St. Paul himself would soon be arrested, imprisoned, and ultimately executed for his faith in Christ.
No, rulers are to be obeyed—but only insofar as they do not force us to participate in sin, whether actively or complicity. For, as Martin Luther says, “It is no one’s duty to do wrong; we must obey God, who desires the right, rather than men.” Those concerned about the recent election should hold these two truths in mind—the duty of respect for duly appointed authorities but always in light of the more important, binding duty to obey God.
Those concerned about the recent election should hold these two truths in mind—the duty of respect for duly appointed authorities but always in light of the more important, binding duty to obey God.
Let the Church turn to God in prayer at this time. Scripture commands us to offer prayers on behalf of “kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way” (1 Timothy 2:2). And if there is anything that the people of the United States need in this time, it is a return to peaceful and quiet life.
O God, be merciful to the people of the United States. Guide their president to speak and act in ways that foster peace and quell the bitter, antagonistic spirit that broods heavily over their land. Lead him to use his office as you intend all governing offices to be used: as an opportunity to be God’s servant for the good of the people (Romans 13:4). Appoint wise advisors to serve alongside him, and grant peaceful relations with the rest of the world. In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.
Wed 23 Oct 2013
Back when I was in university—in my first semester, in fact—I took Religious Studies 100. It wasn’t a very intense class, just an introduction to world religions. We looked at Buddhism, Hinduism, Judaism, Islam, and Christianity in particular, taking a cursory look at the doctrines that make up these different faiths. It was hardly earth-shattering stuff. Trying to get through all the world’s major faiths plus a number of smaller ones in a few months? You hardly have time to do more than take a quick glance at each of them.
Imagine my surprise then when a Christian classmate confided to me after the course that the class had “really shaken” his faith. I was flabbergasted. How could it shake his faith? We had hardly learned anything about these other religions!
A little conversation revealed the truth: despite growing up in a Christian family and going regularly to church, he had somehow learned hardly anything about his own faith along the way. He had faith, but no real roots to ground him in that faith.
Navigating the faith
That’s a danger we all face in the Church: we can go through the motions, show up every Sunday, even serve on church committees, but unless we learn to dive beneath the surface, we can end up with an unanchored faith. When the weather is good, we bob along on top and all seems well. But then a big storm—or maybe even just a minor squall—strikes, and we find ourselves, as St. Paul warns, “tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching, and by the cunning and craftiness of men in their deceitful scheming” (Ephesians 4:14 NIV).
Unless we learn to dive beneath the surface, we can end up with an unanchored faith.
Part of the problem is that we’re often trying to row the boat alone. Or maybe we remember the old Sunday school song and sing, “With Jesus in my boat, I can smile at the storm.” That’s true. But it’s not just Jesus who’s in the boat with us. He’s the Captain, but we have fellow shipmates, too. The trouble is, we often ignore them as we go about daily life. We each think we’re sailing the storm on our own. We each think we have to navigate the ship ourselves. But the Church is a big boat, and there are many people aboard it. Others have been sailing longer than we have, and it’s important that we look to them for help.
It’s to prevent shipwrecked faith, St. Paul tells us, that God provided different servants to work in the Church in the first place: “It was He who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, to prepare God’s people for works of service,” he writes. Why? “So that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ” (Ephesians 4:11-13 NIV). Teachers and pastors in the Church are like experienced sailors; they know how to keep the ship on course, and they’re there to train us to become mature, experienced sailors, too.
Teachers and pastors in the Church are like experienced sailors; they know how to keep the ship on course, and they’re there to train us to become mature, experienced sailors, too.
In our turn, we’ll help other young Christians grow up in the faith. In fact, St. Paul encourages us in another part of Scripture to teach each other. “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly,” he writes, “as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom” (Colossians 3:16 NIV). The things we learn, we’re supposed to share with others. Faith isn’t meant to be a private thing; it’s something we all do together.
That means connecting with the people in the pews beside you, of course, but it doesn’t stop there. The Church isn’t just your own congregation; it stretches, as C.S. Lewis once wrote, “through all time and space” and is “rooted in eternity.” We confess in the Apostle’s Creed that we believe in “one holy Christian and apostolic Church.” The ancient text says “catholic” instead of “Christian,” because “catholic” is the Latin word for “universal.” In other words, we believe in the whole Christian Church, the universal Church, spread out across the globe, reaching back to the beginning of all things and stretching out to forever—the great, vast body of Christ in all times and places.
If that’s the Church we say we believe in, if that’s the Church we say we’re part of, then that changes how we ought to approach faith. The ship we’re sailing is truly massive, and there are some master sailors on board to learn from. Many of them are no longer with us; they’ve passed on to glory. But we can still learn from them in the words they’ve left behind.
The ship we’re sailing is truly massive, and there are some master sailors on board to learn from. Many of them are no longer with us; they’ve passed on to glory. But we can still learn from them in the words they’ve left behind.
We’ve quoted one of these master sailors just a few moments ago: the great 20th century Christian author C.S. Lewis. He played an incredibly important role in the development of my own faith. As a child, I first came to know Lewis as the author of The Chronicles of Narnia. When I was young, my pastor explained to me that these stories have Christian elements in them—that the great lion Aslan from The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe was, in fact, a symbol for Christ, and that Aslan’s death and resurrection pointed to Jesus’ sacrifice at the cross and His triumphant resurrection three days later.
As a teen I came to read some of Lewis’ other works. This Oxford professor wrote numerous books, some fiction (like his Space Trilogy and The Great Divorce), and some non-fiction, including his autobiography Surprised by Joy and the classic Mere Christianity. I particularly enjoyed The Screwtape Letters. In this book, Lewis takes on the persona of an “uncle” demon writing to his “nephew,” giving advice on how to tempt humans. It’s witty, and clever, and made me think about temptation in a way I never had before.
From Lewis, I moved on to other great teachers of the faith. There are of course Martin Luther, Philipp Melanchthon, and the rest of the leaders of the Lutheran reformation. But there are other important writers too—Christians who came before and after the Reformation—who also have things to teach us. There’s John Donne, the 17th century English priest and poet. There’s the famous mystery writer, Dorothy Sayers, from the early 20th century. There’s St. Augustine from the 5th century. There’s St. Clement, a bishop from the 1st century, who likely knew some of the Apostles themselves.
The writings of these and other Christians throughout the ages help us understand our faith better. They’re there to help us understand the Scriptures, to “teach and admonish us,” just as St. Paul encouraged the early Christians to do (Colossians 3:16 NIV). Are these writers always right? By no means! But they’ve faced the same trials we face. They’ve survived the same storms we are still struggling through. We have so much to learn from their advice, if we will only listen.
Don’t sail the ship alone! Get to know your fellow shipmates. Join or start a Bible study at your local congregation. Take an online seminary class. While you’re at it, ask your pastor to recommend a book by a great Christian writer who has gone on before. You’ll be surprised to see how much they have to teach you.
The above article was originally written for the Fall 2013 issue of Tapestry Magazine (the national magazine of Lutheran Women’s Missionary League—Canada). I thank the League for giving me permission to reprint it here. Download the article in its original magazine layout (in pdf) here.
Mon 26 Aug 2013
Posted by Mathew Block under Articles, Main
Moses stood before the burning bush. A Voice had just spoken to him from the flames. “Moses!” it had called. “Moses!” And he had answered: “Here I am.”
“Do not come any closer,” the Voice said. “Take off your sandals for the place where you are standing is holy ground.” Then it said: “I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.” And Moses hid his face, afraid to look at God.
The story is one we all know: the calling of Moses. It’s the beginning of a whole new story for the Israelites—the story of how God would rescue them from the land of Egypt. No longer would they be slaves. No, now they would take possession of a land of their own, a land flowing with milk and honey. It’s the first chapter of what would prove to be a long journey.
And yet, even as this tale begins, it hearkens back to the stories that precede it. “I am the God of your father,” the Lord tells Moses, “the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.” In fact, when Moses asks God to clarify who He is, He tells him the same thing two more times. Who is He? He is “The LORD, the God of your fathers—the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.”
We might ask why this matters. God is promising to save the Israelites from their current oppression. So what do a bunch of long dead people—their fathers—have to do with it?
For the answer to that question, turn to my recent article “The God of our Fathers” in The Canadian Lutheran.
Wed 3 Oct 2012
Posted by Mathew Block under Main, Theological Musings
In a justly famous passage from the preface to Mere Christianity, C.S. Lewis pictures the Church universal as a great hall. In this hall are many rooms, he says, and the rooms represent the various denominations which can rightly be called “orthodox” Christianity. This hall “is a place to wait in,” he writes, “a place from which to try the various doors, not a place to live in.” “But it is in the rooms,” he explains, “not in the hall, that there are fires and chairs and meals.” That’s not to say all such rooms are equal, but any is better than wandering aimlessly in the hall, unattached from the benefits which come from the Christian community found inside the rooms. And yet, despite their (often substantial) differences, these rooms share some thing or some things in common and this, Lewis argues, is “mere Christianity.”
Lewis is, by his own admission, borrowing the terminology of Richard Baxter in his use of the term “mere Christianity.” But I wonder whether he might also be channeling another 17th century theologian as well, consciously or no. Back in 1625, John Donne preached a sermon which beat Lewis to the punch. In this sermon, Donne describes the Church as if it were a great house—a house in which one can find differences of theological opinion (differences between the rooms, we might say), but which nevertheless shares a common foundation. “The Church is a House, it is Gods house,” Donne writes, “and in that House, wee are of the household of the faithfull.” And its foundation, Donne is clear, “is Christ himselfe in his Word; his Scriptures.”
What is the Church?
The text for the sermon comes from the Psalms: “If the foundations be destroyed, what can the righteous doe?” (Psalm 11:3). And while he talks about a number of different “houses” that Christians inhabit (namely, the family, the state, and the individual soul), the one on which he dwells most at length is that of the Church. In Donne’s time, the Church had been fractured: the Church of England was not the Church of Wittenberg was not the Church of Rome. Given that reality, Donne’s sermon asks us a question of practical theological importance: what is the Church? Is it a visible institution? Is it reserved to those who subscribe to the 39 Articles? The Council of Trent? The Augsburg Confession? Or is there, perhaps, something deeper still, a foundation on which all these churches might be understood to be part of the universal Church, despite their very real theological differences?
For Donne, the answer is obvious: the foundation of the house we call the Church cannot be equated with any particular church body in the world; the Church transcends such boundaries. And Christians should strive to maintain peace in the larger household of the Church. The righteous, Donne says, should keep silence unless the foundations of the faith are themselves under attack. But that does not mean we pretend theological differences were a thing of no matter. Donne explains: “Now this should not prepare, this should not incline any man, to such an indifferencie, as that it should bee all one to him, what become of all things; all one, whether wee had one, or two, or tenne, or no Religioun; or that hee should not bee awake, and active, and diligent, in assisting trueth, and resisting all approaches of Errour.”
No, God’s people are to seek out and defend truth. But in many cases Christians make spectacle of themselves by backbiting and devouring one another over small things. They fling accusations over “matters not Doctrinall, or if Doctrinall, yet not Fundamentall.” And—as Donne has said before and will say again—until the foundations be destroyed, the righteous should keep quiet. They should keep peace. Instead, Donne laments, a “Torrent of uncharitableness” is at work, even among Christians of the same church bodies. They pour forth “such Exasperations, such Exacerbations, such Vociferations, such Ejulations, such Defamations of one another, as if all Foundations were destroyed.”1
Bearing with one another in charity
“Who would not tremble,” Donne asks, “to heare those Infernall words, spoken by men, to men… when God in heaven knowes, if their own uncharitablenesse did not exclude him, there were roome enough for the Holy Ghost, on both, and on either side, in those Fundamentall things, which are unanimely professed by both.” Instead, “wee see more Bookes written by these men against one another,” Donne reflects sharply, “then by them both, for Christ.”
We see more Bookes written by these men against one another than by them both for Christ.
And it is on Christ that this House—the Church—truly finds its foundation. It is in our joint faith in Christ as the Son of God, as the one whose death and resurrection brings salvation to sinners that we find ourselves united. We confess the Scriptures to be the very Word of God, and we each believe the creeds. We must start from that very basic position and attempt, in the hallways of the house, to make progress in resolving our differences.
Indeed, as members of the same house, we must resolve to treat each other well, earnestly meaning good and not harm to one another. We cannot, as Donne describes above, give in to the “Torrent of uncharitableness” so common between Christians who disagree. All Christians—of whatever room they be—are required, Donne says, to be faithful one to another. “You see there is a faithfulnesse required in every man, in all the house of God, not in any one roome,” he writes, “a disposition required to doe good to the whole Church of God every where, and not onely at home.” We must not attack each other as heretics when the issue at stake is not Christ, the foundation Himself. “Bee not apt to call Super-Edifications, Foundations,” Donne warns. “And doe not call the cracking of a pane of glasse, a Destroying of foundations.”
Christians against Christians today
Alas, we are apt to accuse one another of overturning foundations merely on the basis of the bad decorating and cheap furniture we see in another’s room. The fact is, Christians can and (regrettably) often do build shoddy constructions on the firm foundation of Christ. But those broken buildings do not themselves mean the foundation itself has been uprooted. St. Paul declares this in his own letter to a divided church: “No one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ. If any man builds on this foundation using gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay or straw, his work will be shown for what it is, because the Day will bring it to light. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each man’s work. If what he has built survives, he will receive his reward. If it is burned up, he will suffer loss; he himself will be saved, but only as one escaping through the flames” (1 Corinthians 3:11-15).
How we build our rooms in the household of Christ matters. “Each one should be careful how he builds” (1 Corinthians 3:10). But we must remember that, while a room itself may be built of hay or straw, its inhabitants do not for that reason fall off the foundation of Christ. God is merciful; He saves people on the basis of the foundation, not the buildings they erect on it.
Catholics vs Protestants
For Donne, it is the greatest hubris to insist that what is on top of the foundation is of equal importance to the foundation itself. It is incredibly important, of course, but as St. Paul has stated, it is not necessary for salvation. For this reason, Donne in this sermon takes great exception with the Church of Rome in his day. In his assessment, the Roman Church was declaring the decor of one room of equal importance to the foundation on which the whole house stood. His frustration boils over here and he calls the “uncharitablenesse of the Church of Rome toward us all” not merely “a Torrent” nor even “a Sea,” but instead “a generall Flood, an universall Deluge, that swallowes all the world.” They “will not allowe possibilitie of Salvation to the whole Arke, the whole Christian Church,” Donne laments, “but to one Cabin in that Arke, the Church of Rome.”
Their great error is in condensing the whole House to one Room, Donne says. And “not because wee affirme any thing, that they denie, but because wee denie some things, which they in their afternoone are come to affirme.” They saw the difference in furnishings between rooms, and declared the other rooms outside the House—even though, if they had looked, they would have found a common foundation beneath each.
If they had looked, they would have found a common foundation beneath each.
“In a word,” Donne says, “wee charge [the Roman Church] with uncharitablenesse, that they will so peremptorily exclude us from Heaven, for matters that doe not appertaine to Foundations. For, if they will call all Foundations, that which the Church hath, or doth, or shall decree, we must learne our Catechisme upon our Death-bedd, and inquire for the Articles of our Faith, when wee are going out of the world, for they may have decreed something that Morning.” There was a time when trusting in the creedal faith handed down by the Church through the centuries was enough; this faith in Christ was a firm foundation; now, no more. “All things are growen deare in our times,” Donne sighs, “for they have made Salvation deare; Threescore yeares agoe, he might have been saved for beleeving the Apostles Creed; now it will cost him the Trent Creed too.”
The Case of Melanchthon
To be fair, it is worth noting that what Donne accuses the Roman Church of is something many Protestants (both in his day and ours ) could also be accused of: teaching that salvation is available only to members of our own specific, visible church body. But in Donne’s time in particular, the Roman Church had closed the doors to discussion. The Lutherans, for example, tried desparately to make the case that they were still Catholic—still teaching doctrine within the pale of historic Christianity. And so in their profession of faith, The Augsburg Confession, they attempted to clarify their concerns “in order that it might be understood that in doctrine and ceremonies nothing has been received on our part against Scripture or the Church Catholic.”
“For it is manifest,” the author Philipp Melanchthon continues, “that we have taken most diligent care that no new and ungodly doctrine should creep into our churches.” Their hope was that “dissensions in the matter of our holy religion and Christian Faith” could be explored together in a spirit of respect and love—“that in this matter of religion the opinions and judgments of the parties might be heard in each other’s presence; and considered and weighed among ourselves in mutual charity, leniency, and kindness.” By talking freely and openly, correcting error on both sides, they might be brought “to live in unity and concord in the one Christian Church.”
That opinions might be weighed among ourselves in mutual charity, leniency, and kindness.
The attempt at peace-making was firmly rejected. Melanchthon writes in the Apology to the Augsburg Confession: “It has always been my custom in these controversies to retain, so far as I was at all able, the form of the customarily received doctrine, in order that at some time concord could be reached the more readily.” But this approach, while he would employ it throughout his life, was unsuccessful: “The adversaires are treating the case in such a way as to show that they are seeking neither truth nor concord,” he laments, “but to drain our blood.”
That sentiment was common among non-Roman Christians in the days before Donne. For his part, Melanchthon continued (fruitlessly) to try to repair relations between the broken churches—calling loud and often for a free council to hammer things out together, “as iron sharpens iron.” But the only council that came was that of Trent, in which salvation by faith alone was rejected as heresy whole-sale. There was no common hall for Christians to meet in; the Roman Catholics had declared the whole house theirs and theirs alone.
Re-entering the hall
In this sermon, Donne is trying to reverse some of that damage by calling his hearers to more charitably approach the subject of theological disagreement. Not that it is wrong to challenge and question one another; we must do so. “In Heresie,” Donne warns, “there is nothing to bee called little, nothing to bee suffered.” The Arians, after all, were heretics by virtue of “one letter.”2
But among fellow Christians, among those who those with whom we share a solid, firm foundation in Christ, surely we can disagree charitably. And when another should defend an opinion we consider wrong, but which is not so errant as to destroy the foundation, we ought to treat them kindly: “wee forebeare, and wee are quiet.”
God grant that we should all approach theological disagreement in this way.
1 Compare this complaint to the still brilliant “Sermon against contention and brawling from Thomas Cranmer’s 1547 Book of Homilies. “St. Paul could not abide to hear among the Corinthians these words of discord or dissension: I hold of Paul, I of Cephas, and I of Apollo. What would he then say, if he heard these words of contention, which be now almost in every man’s mouth: He is a Pharisee, He is a Gospeller, He is of the new sort, He is of the old faith, He is a new-broached brother, He is a good catholic father, He is a papist, He is an heretic? O how the Church is divided!… We cannot be jointed to Christ our Head, except we be glued with concord and charity one to another. For he that is not in this unity is not of the Church of Christ.”
2 The difference between homoousios and homoiousios: one little “i.”
Note on the text: the sermon framing the discussion in this paper is “The First Sermon Preached to King Charles, at Saint James: 3, April 1625.” You can read it online here. It’s also available (along with other excellent sermons) in an attractive little volume entitled “John Donne’s Sermons on the Psalms and Gospels,” edited by Evelyn M. Simpson.
Mon 21 Sep 2009
In the past decades, there have been few issues which have so split the Church as has that of worship. Traditionalists call for fealty to the historic liturgy, arguing that the form which has served the Church for so long is intrinsically good in and of itself. Its theological strength, and likewise the theological strength of hymns, stands in opposition to the frequent shallowness of contemporary worship songwriting and service patterns. Proponents of contemporary worship counter that their musical genres better meet members of our culture where they are, without alienating people unnecessarily – something traditional worship can undoubtedly do. As a companion who once accompanied me to my home church’s worship service (traditional, of course) afterwards confided to me, “I honestly kept thinking I was in the Church of Thor, what with all the chanting and ‘thee’s and ‘thou’s.” He had been unable to get past the surface appearance of the service to the Gospel message underneath; to him, that particular setting of the divine service had seemed no more relevant than did Norse mythology.
Of course, both sides make important points. Traditionalists rightly point out that our worship should not be shallow. Contemporary worship advocates are equally correct in reminding us that worship must be understandable to its participants. If each group would be willing to just quiet its pride for a moment and listen to the other, perhaps the debate would cease to be so venomous. And perhaps a more constructive approach to the discussion would be taken, where the benefits and drawbacks of each side were honestly weighed and considered… where the positive aspects of both sides would be adopted and the negative aspects diminished.
Some worship songwriters are attempting to do just that. Here, I want to identify two camps and their “new” approaches to worship music writing in particular. The first I shall call ‘rewriters’; the second has already been called by others ‘new hymnody’ or ‘modern hymn writing’.
‘Rewriters’ are distinguished by their practice of “rewriting” hymns. They keep the words but tend to fashion new musical settings for hymns. As Indelible Grace Music puts it, the goal is “not change for change’s sake, but to rekindle a love of hymns and invite many who never associate rich passion with hymns to actually read the words.” If I might state it in linguistic terminology, the songwriters ‘translate’ the songs into musical styles whose emotional connotations are better comprehensible to people today – people for whom traditional music styles represent another ‘language’ with which they are not familiar. The practice is not in actuality new; the church has always rewritten the music of hymns in every era. Every era, that is, except the current one. Rewriters are bringing back this great tradition to the Church. One other praiseworthy note? Rewriters are bringing back incredible hymns that in some cases have completely fallen out of use in the Church. For an example of rewriting, see Matthew Smith’s new musical version of Josiah Conder’s 1836 hymn “My Lord I Did Not Choose You”.
‘New Hymnody’ or ‘Modern Hymn Writing’ has similar sympathies with rewriters – and it’s not surprising therefore to find artists who fit both categories. New hymnody is the approach of songwriters who are attempting to write completely new pieces which reflect the theological richness of traditional hymns while utilizing contemporary literary and musical styles. Perhaps the most famous proponent of this genre is Keith Getty. Maintaining that “what we sing becomes the grammar of our belief,” Getty strives to write contemporary worship music that teaches us about our faith as much as it allows us to express that faith. Consider, for example, the theological depth of “In Christ Alone,” written by Keith Getty and Stuart Townsend. What traditionalist would consider this song ‘shallow’?
In Christ alone my hope is found;
He is my light, my strength, my song;
This cornerstone, this solid ground,
Firm through the fiercest drought and storm.
What heights of love, what depths of peace,
When fears are stilled, when strivings cease!
My comforter, my all in all –
Here in the love of Christ I stand.
In Christ alone, Who took on flesh,
Fullness of God in helpless babe!
This gift of love and righteousness,
Scorned by the ones He came to save.
Till on that cross as Jesus died,
The wrath of God was satisfied;
For ev’ry sin on Him was laid –
Here in the death of Christ I live.
There in the ground His body lay,
Light of the world by darkness slain;
Then bursting forth in glorious day,
Up from the grave He rose again!
And as He stands in victory,
Sin’s curse has lost its grip on me;
For I am His and He is mine –
Bought with the precious blood of Christ.
No guilt in life, no fear in death –
This is the pow’r of Christ in me;
From life’s first cry to final breath,
Jesus commands my destiny.
No pow’r of hell, no scheme of man,
Can ever pluck me from His hand;
Till he returns or calls me home –
Here in the pow’r of Christ I’ll stand.
As we seek to create worship resources for the current era, perhaps we will consider the sterling examples of rewriters and modern hymn writers. Or, I suppose, we could just continue arguing from both sides of the worship debate – arguing how hymns are intrinsically better or contemporary songs intrinsically more relevant. For surely that will bring about the Church unity Christ desires.
For more information on the songwriters referenced above, please visit the following websites:
Indelible Grace Music
Fri 28 Aug 2009
An article in the Vancouver Sun suggests Canadian Aboriginal people are significantly more open to Christianity than might be expected considering the Residential School atrocities. In fact, 2 out of 3 Aboriginals identify themselves as Christian. And 54% of Aboriginal teens say they trust the church and religious leaders. Compare that to the national teen average of 39%.
This news should be cause for some celebration among the faithful. It means that many Aboriginal people are open to the Gospel – if only we would step out of our own comfort zones and bring it to them. I am certain, however, that many upon reading the news story linked above will also notice that the “Christianity” many of these Aboriginals are committed to is unfortunately synchretistic in nature. Many seem content to blend traditional Aboriginal spiritualism with Christianity.
I have no doubt that this synchretism will be the church’s excuse for abdicating its responsibility to Aboriginal people.
Now, let me be clear. I’m not suggesting that synchretism is in any way acceptable. Jesus Christ is certainly the only Way, Truth and Life. But I am suggesting that, rather than running away from those who practice synchretism, we instead run towards them. We should run towards them with the fullness of the Gospel, to reveal the Truth… to show them what they are missing.
We would do well to learn from the example of Paul who used the opportunities afforded by the faiths of people to introduce the true faith of Jesus Christ. For it was Paul, according to Acts 17:16-32, who used the altars of other faiths, the poets of other faiths, and the religious meeting places of other faiths to introduce Christianity to the Athenians.
Consider Acts 17:16-22:
While Paul was waiting for them in Athens, he was greatly distressed to see that the the city was full of idols. So he reasoned in the synagogue with the Jews and the God-fearing Greeks, as well as in the marketplace day by day with those who happened to be there. A group of Epicurean and Stoic philosophers began to dispute with him. Some of them asked, “What is this babbler trying to say?” Others remarked, “He seems to be advocating foreign gods.” They said this because Paul was preaching the good news about Jesus and the resurrection. They they took him and brought him to a meeting of the Areopagus, where they said to him, “May we know what this new teaching is that you are presenting? You are bringing some strange ideas to our ears, and we want to know what they mean.” (All the Athenians and the foreigners who lived there spent their time doing nothing but talking about and listening to the latest ideas.)
Paul then stood up in the meeting of the Areopagus and said: “Men of Athens! I see that in every way you are very religious. For as I walked around and looked carefully at your objects of worship, I even found an altar with this inscription: TO AN UNKNOWN GOD. Now what you worship as something unknown I am going to proclaim to you…
Let’s do the same.
Thu 20 Aug 2009
“And the servants of the master of the house came and said to him, ‘Master, did you not sow good seed in your field? How then does it have weeds?’ He said to them, ‘An enemy has done this.’ ” (Matthew 13:27-8 ESV)
So there’s just a few weeks left of summer “vacation” (someone needs to explain to me how working all summer to make money for school constitutes a vacation), and that means I’ve been getting back to the books doing research for my English thesis. I’m writing about the 1547 Anglican book Certayne Sermons or Homilies (alternately known as the first book or former book of the Book of Homilies). Put very generally, I’m discussing Archbishop Cranmer’s editorial role in the construction of the book, and how that literary construction reflects the theology he was trying to impart to the masses.
Anywho, I’ve been reading MacCulloch’s massive, detailed work Thomas Cranmer: A Life for research purposes and it got me thinking about the Reformation era. What a thrilling, but dangerous, time it was. Understanding God’s Word became the concern of every citizen. Nations were ripped apart. Men and women died for their beliefs. The visible church was fractured as God and Satan wrestled for control of the institution and, ultimately, for the souls of those within it.
Today, we see much less of that. People do not seem to care about the faith of their family members, friends and acquaintances. Worse, they don’t even seem to know (or care) what theology their own denominations teach. And so the institution of the church marches a slow funeral march to the graveyard. I sometimes feel that the passion of the Reformation is finally dead.
But our God is a God of resurrection! I see the birth of ACNA (Anglican Church in North America) and remember that the Spirit of God is alive and working in the hearts of men. The ideals of the Reformation – sola gratia, sola fide, sola scriptura – are still present fighting against the spirit of this age.
When we read the Augsburg Confession, we see admissions that “many false Christians, hypocrites, and even open sinners” are mixed with the people in the institution of the church. Likewise, the 39 Articles confess that “in the visible Church the evil be ever mingled with the good.” It’s so easy to get caught up in despair as we see such evil clearly acting in Christian denominations across the globe. But I frequently forget, as do many others, to recognize the other side of the story. Christian churches, despite the presence of evil among them, must always contain those made righteous in the blood of the Lamb. And God, the hidden God, is at work through them to bring truth to light.
“In Him was life and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it” (John 1:4-5 ESV).
And the darkness will never overcome it.