SanctiFusion

Life, the Universe, and Everything, from the Outside In

Archive for October 2009

Church Tribalism

leave a comment »

horskullf

We were surely all shocked at the news of the brutality that swept Rwanda, and, more recently, Kenya. No doubt this bolstered the prejudices of people who had been brought up under Darwinism to see the African people as in some way less-evolved and more volatile. Groups ranging from the Mau-mau of the Kenyan revolt to the Black Muslim/Nation of Islam have profited from Mr. Darwin’s opinions on this. To look closer, though, we have to notice that the skin color does not make a person more or less human, whether that means reflecting God’s image or whether it means marring that image to near obscurity. After all- the first “race riots” in the US were whites in New York City protesting the threat of blacks being freed en masse, and a black slave on temporary contract in Boston wrote his Southern master complaining of being treated like an Irishman! In the West, many of the Native tribes called themselves by names which translated simply as “people,” “human beings,” or, “family.” Simple and noble in one way, but what would that imply about an outsider?

We have seen, in the US, violence and discrimination against people for all kinds of “other”-ness, which can all fit under the greater heading of, “tribalism.” A recent visit to Canada, where they pride themselves for their lack of prejudice, revealed that they do “reserve the right” to hate “idiots.” If a cause can be found to classify someone as an idiot, then that is not discrimination, I was told. So there is not a code against black people, but Haitians, Jamaicans, etc., are marginalised as “idiots” because of some excuse gleaned from their opinionated Press. Americans, I was told, are all idiots because “they” all voted for George Bush, “and Bush is an idiot” according to their, unquestioned, Accepted Wisdom. There is something in the human animal that demands a “lower class” to despise, or we somehow feel incomplete!

Is the Church exempt? What does “all things are new” really mean here, or is there a problem with the “in Christ” part of that promise? Does being baptised, received, confirmed, having “prayed the prayer,” “received the Spirit,” or being “wholly sanctified” make us immune to such nonsense? Is there anyone we exclude from our “tribe” of Accepted Human Beings?

Of course, there are Spiritual Formation issues- We want to make sure that a pastor has a godly lifestyle like we want our surgeon or air pilot to be reasonably sober, and it would be nice to know who is watching our children, but do we use circumstances which may be beyond a person’s control to keep them away from our fellowship, and from sharing in the grace of God? In the last count, do we only love the ones we choose? Has the Church become like the proverbial Dog in the Manger who has no real use for the straw he sleeps on, but chases off the hungry ox to protect his own comfort? If we fail to welcome someone, or somehow keep them away from the eternal life Christ died to give to us all, then are we better, or worse, than the frenzied Rwandans who denied their neighbors earthly life?

We can leave this where it is, and most readers will close the page thinking of all the ways that other people need to read this. Is that so? Today in America, millions of black churchgoers are in need of a studied theological message in their sermons, and millions of white churchgoers will leave church this Sunday with their hearts no more touched in the service than if they had been watching Mr. Rogers re-runs. Cross that line, and do not expect a call from the pastor the next week. (At least there’s not the likelihood of a midnight visit from the deacons!) How about the man who tells the pastor, “I so adored the service?” What about a single dad? How many members are actively working to care for those in need during the week? Do we think that the “Sheep and the Goats” is just a parable Jesus forgot to explain? Wouldn’t the little dog rather go rest in his Master’s lap than wear himself out snarling at other of Master’s creatures?

Advertisements

Written by Robert Easter

Saturday, 31 October, 2009 at 11:53

Atomic Church

leave a comment »

atomic_bomb_dominic_truckeeFor a change in pace, there is an issue that has been “in the news” now for over 500, maybe a thousand years or so. What, and where, exactly, is the Church? At one time it was seen as a cooperative fellowship of Christian gatherings and communities. Then there came a trend of which bishop, province, or diocese had higher status for solving questions as they arose, and next there was a split between the Western churches “under” Rome and those in the East. About this time the bishop (pope) of Rome sent Norman English king Henry II to invade Ireland (where the Church was closely aligned with the Eastern churches) to make “good, Roman, Catholics of them.” This conflict is still in the news today!

Another five hundred years, and the Pope is excluding Martin Luther for holding to a doctrine which had been part of the Church’s dogma for twelve centuries, and Zwingli in Switzerland was declaring war on the Roman Church in the name of Renaissance humanism and Swiss patriotism. Soon there was bloody war from city to city throughout Europe, and when the smoke finally cleared there were three distinct parties, and no distinct winners.

The Protestant Calvinists held ground in the Netherlands and established a seminary there under none other than John Calvin’s son in law, Teodor Beza. When a Ph.D. Professor at that school questioned a fine point of Beza’s speculative theology (whether God had caused the Fall, yet without causing sin) that professor, and all who thought it was a good question were jailed, tried in absentia, and banished from the city at the cost of homes, property, jobs, and friendships. Fortunately, only one of them died.

Next, England’s Henry VIII decided to make use of the diminishing power of the Papacy by declaring the English Church independent from Rome’s influence. Over the next three hundred years the English Church would produce a string of godly divines who would devote themselves to rediscovering the core faith of the Church and, in the process, move the English Christianity significantly closer to the Eastern tradition. This did not, however, bring any reconciliation with the Irish, who remained loyal to Rome (and resentful of English hegemony) though their religion was still rather closer to the earlier Celtic Faith than to the Roman.

At this time another force was at work in England: The proud independence of Swiss Calvinism was gaining a following which would produce more wars, the “Glorious Revolution” which itself led to the senseless slaughter of whole villages in Ireland in the name of “establishing the Kingdom of God,” In time the English Crown was back on the throne and the Church of England was able to maintain control over the more deliberately, “Protestant” factions. Dissenters, generally “dissenting” over matters of prepared liturgy, the material used in building the altar/communion table (and which words were used), what the clergy wore, and how music was used in services. Many left the country over these questions, and many crossed over to North America to be free of interference with their beliefs (lit., in their own words, their “opinions.”)

Predictably, as this kind of Protestantism was being spread, beliefs and opinions became paramount in defining fellowship, and any difference of opinion was likely to spawn yet another division. Fast-forward this scene a few hundred more years, and we see not only a confusing array of “denominations” of Christianity, but subsets, breakaways, and “independent works” continually spawned off of each of them. Not that the break in fellowship is the whole picture: At every “birthing of a new movement” each party redefines what it believes in terms of its opposition to the other side of whatever the issue du jour happened to be, and rejects their what they understand the opposing party’s position had been on the issue. Of the whole of Christian doctrine “once delivered to the saints,” each successive generation receives a smaller portion. Whereas the early Church spent its energy spreading the Gospel through their towns and across the world, the main order of business today is to redefine the Gospel, and the Church’s energy is largely spent in a constant restructuring operation.

All this forces us to beg for answers: what is the Gospel? What is the Church? What, for Heaven’s sake, is a Christian, and how does one recognise them? There are answers, to be sure. Not necessarily easy ones, though…

Obviously, I have my own “opinions” about these things, but for the moment, what are yours?

Written by Robert Easter

Tuesday, 13 October, 2009 at 22:53

Remarried, and Ordained?

with 4 comments

north_dakota_abandoned_farmhouse “..The Husband of One Wife”  An odd phrase, to our ears today. One husband to one wife, one wife to one husband, isn’t that the way it works? But the New Testament requires a candidate for Church office be that kind of husband. What does this mean?

In modern churches it is common for that phrase to mean that if a man has been divorced, or remarried, he is disqualified because he is either no longer the husband of the wife from whom he is divorced, or if remarried, then he is still actually the husband of two wives. Alimony could be a factor in this, but it is not. What is the source of this thinking?

During the monastic movement of the Middle Ages there was a strong trend toward a formalised sacramentalism. What this means is that, for instance, while being baptised is a sign of one’s having come to faith in Christ, “Formalism” would say that the sacrament of baptism causes the conversion. With this kind of thinking, reading a passage in which Jesus says, “What God has joined, let no man put asunder,” gives the idea that the marriage bond, that is, every marriage, is something mystically created by the will of God and is therefore more sacred to God than the lives of the people in that bond, and that it is impossible for that bond to be violated. One way of looking at it would be to suppose that at a wedding ceremony, after the vows (the covenant) have been repeated and witnessed before God and the Church and community, and the priest, rabbi, or minister says, “I now pronounce you man and wife. What God has joined, let no man put asunder,” that the second sentence anulls the vows and makes his own pronouncement the grounds for the marriage. It no longer matters that they have vowed to love, honor, cherish, and be faithful to one another. Those are the conditions of the agreement, but the sacramental statement has just made the marriage unconditional. If unconditional, then in effect each partner is allowed, even licensed, to break all the vows, to break, disgrace, and endanger one another, all the time their misdeeds having no effect on the “marriage.” After all- Marriage is a “sacrament.” The Bible says so, doesn’t it?

To offer an answer to this, we have to consider two things. First, we need to see that a sacrement, as an “outward and visible sign of an inward and invisible grace,” is an indication. It is not in itself the cause of anything. But how do we have the idea that Marriage is sacramental? We read in 1st Corinthians thp at the marriage relationship is a “musterion,” a puzzle or a revelation, which reflects the relationship between Christ and the Church. While the Greek New Testament called it, “musterion,” the Latin which the monks in Europe would use translated it as “sacramentum.” This was a fair translation in the 4th century when Jerome used it, but words do change their meaning over time, as reflected in the way in which the word shifted over the next 800 years from what could indicate a grace given to being the grace itself. In other words, God taught Paul that he could use the love between a husband and wife as an example (musterion) of Jesus’ love for the Church, and about a thousand years later that became the ground for so many mystically-minded celibate men to presume a kind of “sacramental” aura over each individual marriage which had nothing substantial to do with any marriage in particular. But did Jesus say that marriages could not be broken?

If that had been the case, then Jesus, Whom Christians know and experience as the Word, Incarnate, was contradicting himself. He had given instructions, through Moses, that a marriage could be terminated, for the sake of the wronged party, as a means of protection and for the continuation of the nation (“Be fruitful and multiply.”), and in His Sermon, He had said that, “not one jot or tittle (of the Law) will pass away until all things have been fulfilled.” Divorce, which was instituted in the Law as a “way of escape (2nd Corin. 5:17),” guaranteed the right to remarry, thus declaring the former covenant null, void, and unenforceable. The (former) husband of the first wife was free from that bond and could go on to build a family with another wife, with no disgrace, but rather with the support of the community. In his second marriage, he would still be, “the husband of one wife.” But what about the Corinthians, and the Church today?

The Greek culture had developed, according to Philo, largely from the Jewish wisdom brought there by the Diaspora from Babylon, or possibly from the Samaritan dispersion. Their understanding of divorce, then, was similar to Moses’. For someone to remain single was unnatural. Such a one was not upholding their civic duty to provide children for the next generation and might be taking an unhealthy interest in other’s mates. Why would someone want to remain single, anyway? If someone were divorced, it was in order to have the right to remarry at some point, and probably with little delay. What was Paul’s response?

In 1st Corin. 7 Paul was responding to a letter which had proposed that a celibate life was a good thing (v. 1). Indeed, he said, “But because of the temptation to sexual immorality, each man should have his own wife and each woman her own husband. (v. 2)” While he does spend some discussion in this chapter on the practical advantages of celibacy he then goes back (vv. 25- 28) to point out that, for betrothed or divorced, marriage is yet an acceptable choice. How should we understand this today?

In short, today we have a church culture which, because of a mistake by celibate mystics some 1,000 years back, puts divorced people in an undefined category somewhere between regular fellowship and irredeemable. Though they may have divorced as a last-ditch effort to save their lives or the lives of their children, they, being divorced, cannot be a regular part of the fellowship and, on the other hand, must surely never remarry! No Scripture supports this approach, though many reprove it. To make matters worse, if a candidate for ministry has a divorce in his past, and especially a remarriage, this same superstitious misreading of Scripture bars him from doing what God has called him to do, and so bars the Church from hearing the messenger God has sent. In a culture in which nearly everyone is affected in some way by divorce, the preacher most qualified to minister to such is the one preacher denied the opportunity to do so. It is hard to imagine the pain this kind of policy creates and prolongs; it is hard to imagine the number of called and qualified pastors whose ministries are cut short and destroyed; it is hard to imagine the number of people who are denied Gospel ministry; but most of all it is hard to imagine how God is glorified through such a confused sense of “obedience.”

Written by Robert Easter

Sunday, 4 October, 2009 at 21:54