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Atomic Church

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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?

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Written by Robert Easter

Tuesday, 13 October, 2009 at 22:53

Remarried, and Ordained?

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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

Aborting our Souls?

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The Wall Street Journal today, in a story about an upcoming report on the effects of the abortion trauma on the mothers involved, quotes one clinic director, Susan Hill, who runs clinics in five southern states, as saying that, “‘..women today need less counseling, less psychological care than they did in 1973,’ when abortion was legalized but still carried an enormous stigma.” We might speculate that this is in line with the overall loss of sensitivity for human life, generally. Over the last thirty or so years we seen a shift from a time when the film, Bonnie and Clyde

(From Warner Brothers, no less- What’s up, Doc?) stirred such controversy over its gory scenes. Now Hitchcock’s style of suspense stories has been replaced by “splatter films,” and pop music now features brutal rape and murder in place of undying love and devotion.

Ms. Hill, who has been in the business of “providing abortions” for thirty five years, said she, “has tried offering postprocedure counseling sessions — but very few women show up.” In her words, “They want to get past it and move on with their lives.” Overlooking the possibility of all kinds of motives for not returning to the “clinic” to walk through that trauma all over again, it might be good to consider the real effects on all the people in this picture. Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Robert Easter

Tuesday, 12 August, 2008 at 15:32

The Suicides of the Fathers

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Reading of a famous writer, whose young life had been marked by his own father’s suicide. How tragic! And yet, how real to so many. The father’s eyes had turned inward. Inward to his own weakness, his own inadequacy: His humanity. It was too much for him, and he withdrew. Withdrew from the company of others he saw as beyond helping: Unwilling, unable, or else unfit, at any rate he withdrew- from human company, from his family, his son, from life.

Is this unusual, or was it just that his method was more pronounced? What of fathers today who don’t swallow a pistol, or kiss a Freightliner? How many children today grow up with Daddy in the picture, but realise as they mature that he was only posing? That Daddy was already dead to them, dressed in his burial suit as he vanished into a grave of career, ambition, or drink? Escaped from human company, from his family, his son, from life, pursuing a dream, inheriting a nightmare. The greatest tragedy is that he is never alone, has never escaped, but the nightmare he inherits becomes the mother’s life, and a legacy for his children. Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Robert Easter

Saturday, 9 August, 2008 at 16:07

Eternal Candyland?

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God’s plan for Israel never was a free ride to a candy-coated oblivion. Jesus, the Son, didn’t come with any Big New Plan. There is a difference between the Old and New Testaments on what trust in God looks like, but the real story is that, “nothing ventured, nothing gained,” is true here if any place. There is a price on faith. It’s called obedience. Really,
is there a difference?

Back to the candy shop: Western Christianity has gone from real faith in Christ for salvation to a “prayer of faith” for a promise of eternal self-indulgence, to a “word of faith” for the same selfishness here and now. It’s become popular to think of the Afterlife as being defined by our “fondest dreams!” There are some references to the New Jerusalem with the pearl gates and streets of transparently pure gold, where Christ is the light of that city. While I have no problem with that city being a real thing in the future, let’s look at those gates and streets.

Written by Robert Easter

Tuesday, 25 March, 2008 at 0:17

Real Wealth

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Some people choose wealth, and achieve it. They make it their one goal in life, and whatever they do becomes an expression of that desire. Their choice of friends, if they go to church they find the one with the best connections,, etc. Sometimes they succeed, and find themselves climbing that slope which they expect to bring them to great happiness. The farther up they go the more the scene changes from being somewhat singled out in the crowd as the one with “ambition,” to being singled out by the crowd as the one with nothing but his ambition. No longer in the crowd, because the crowd “had nothing to offer,” there is now a lonely figure, alone, struggling up the slope toward “great happiness.” The many stories of those who have reached that peak, and found it dry and barren, have little effect in getting past their mantra of “but I’m different.”

On the other hand, we might observe that some choose poverty. For the sake of a simple life, and being accessible to one’s friends, poverty has its advantages. The main drawback is that, while the rich person has a measure of control over how much money they have the poor really doesn’t. And, for the most part, the rich is rich by choice, but the poor one is seldom poor by choice. Those that are, and honestly so, find that the way up is a lot longer than the way down. That probably explains the fellow that history just calls, “the Rich Young Ruler,” who wanted to be Jesus’ disciple. Jesus required of him the one thing he was most afraid to lose: Control. Likely all his wealth was from one of two sources. Either it was inherited, or it was made with wealth that was. To give it all up would mean staking his whole life on the teachings of this Rabbi- not just the intellectual or contemplative components, but down to how the next meal was coming. To choose poverty is to relinquish control, which is not a bad thing if it’s the Lord to Whom we relinquish. To his credit, and the Lord’s happiness and great glory, though the young lad turned back at that time, Church tradition tells us that the young man who was following Jesus from the edge of the group, wearing only one garment, was the same who had, “had great riches.”

There is a verse in Proverbs which tends to get translated two different ways. It is often read as a man ignoring the counsel of friends to do as he pleased. The other, as found in the King James and not many others, gives a picture of one forsaking all pleasures and distractions to seek “all wisdom.” Not being a Hebrew scholar I would have to consider that the difference would have to be more how it is read than how it was written. If we follow the Calvinist view that sin is the supreme force in this world, then the pessimistic reading would support that, The Bible says that, “..where sin abounds, grace that much more abounds,” and that would make God’s grace the greater, so I can thank the Lord for the inspiration,

“Through desire a man, having separated himself, mixeth and intermingleth with all wisdom (Pv. 18:1)”

Written by Robert Easter

Thursday, 8 November, 2007 at 9:36

Christianity- What’s it Like?

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From John 14,
“Peace I leave with you- Not as the world gives..!”

The greatest peace we can have from anything in this world pales in comparison, and can be shattered in an instant by any number of ways. Jesus’ peace surrounds us, supports us, and nothing in the world can touch it! If we know Jesus, then,
We know the Way-
the Road itself! He’s the gate, the door, and the road. It’s one thing to be on a road we’ve got a map for, and He’s given us a map. It’s another thing to know the way, and we do. But we are on a Road that knows us, and communicates with us! It would take a real effort to get lost in that situation!

We know the Truth– we don’t just know facts about stuff, but we know the Truth, personally, and He knows us!

We know the Life– It’s been said that if we’re going to die, then we really don’t have life, though we may technically be alive on borrowed life for a time. Real life is from God, and does not end. He that does not have the Son does not have life, but death is living in him. He that has the Son has life!

Jesus said, “If you’ve seen Me, you’ve seen the Father. Now, how did they see the Father, looking at a man with the same sweat, dirt, and distractions that they all dealt with? “No form or comeliness,” but the same sweat, dirt, humanity…
They saw love. They saw a Man Who lived a life out of a heart of love for others, of putting others first, when He Himself was God Incarnate.
They saw goodness! They saw holiness- not as a distant life separated from everything, but a life lived right out in the middle of things, but separated to God!

And the words He spoke were the Father’s words, and He did what the Father was doing!

Then, and today, He calls us to believe Him for Who He is, and Who He comes from, and, promises that we will do works greater than those He did, and that He will meet us in prayer, and that He would send us His Spirit to be a Strengthener (Comforter) just like Himself! How is the Holy Ghost just like Jesus? First of all, in that He is God, the Third Person of the same Godhead. And since He is like Jesus, we’re not surprised to see that the world does not “get” Him in any way. While there may be counterfeits, only a person who is born of the Spirit can begin to understand or receive the Spirit. Like with Jesus, “He was in the world, and the world was made by Him, and the world did not receive Him, but, like Jesus said farther along in John, “The wind blows where it wants to, and you, ..don’t know where it comes from and where it is going. So is everyone who is born of the Spirit.” Jesus, and the Spirit are the same, and the Spirit passes that on to us!

And here’s the kicker: The mission of God! Jesus comes down from the highest glory, through the world’s most painful and shameful death, right down to the pit of Hell; rises, and ascends, and prays for us to receive the Promise of the Father- the fullness of the Spirit! Now we can fulfill His mission! How does this happen? In v. 21, it is by the Spirit that Jesus reveals Himself to us, in v. 23 we see that by the Spirit He lives right with us, and vs. 25 & 26, the Spirit keeps us reminded of what we have heard Jesus tell us. To wrap it all up, in v. 27 we see that we have that peace that only comes from Jesus!

Now, maybe, the Church can’t say that we have what the world needs, but that is only because we are what the world needs: The living presence of Jesus Christ, His own living Body, here on this Earth. As the Father sent Him, so He sends us: humble, broken, and loving. We have what every sinner needs: the full gospel of Jesus Christ- full and living salvation by the power of His blood in the anointing of the Holy Spirit. It’s not a matter, Christian, of “What can I do?” but rather, “What can God not do?” God is on a mission: It’s His mission, and He’s calling us to come alongside Him to see Him do it- as His witnesses! It’s no longer, “We’re on a mission from God,” but we’re on a mission with God!

Written by Robert Easter

Sunday, 9 September, 2007 at 1:51