Friday, May 29, 2009

The social and political benefits of religion

Caspar Melville of the New Humanist, which describes itself as "The magazine for free thinkers," interviews John Micklethwait and Adrian Wooldridge, authors of God Is Back: How the Global Revival of Faith Is Changing the World. Religion, they argue, can be dangerous, but its opponents ignore the positive good it does, especially in the American model that separates religion and the state and protects religious liberty:
.... Modernity doesn't usher in secularisation, it actively promotes religious pluralism. They then train their sights on the equally popular notion that religion contaminates all those who subscribe to its bogus myths and stories. Not true, argue Micklethwait and Wooldridge. Religion brings out both the best and worst in man, and secularists need to come to terms with the positive role religions have played in providing meaningful care and support for the oppressed as well as in the nurturing of aspirations for political freedom from Poland to Burma to El Salvador. Secularists should therefore recognise the corollary of these two facts. While it is perfectly appropriate to demand that religionists should accept the separation of church and mosque from state as a guarantee of freedom of conscience for all, secularists should play their part by accepting that religion is here to stay.

Consider the United States. It is both the most modern and one of the most religious countries in the world. It also provides solid evidence of how religions can provide a commendable array of social services in the absence of an effective welfare state. But it is also a perfect example of how religion can be kept separate from the state. If we could all become more like America, the book argues, we could all get along famously. ....

Wooldridge took up the question of what we can learn from American religious pluralism: "European secularists assume that the church is on the side of the ancien régime, of the establishment, that it's against reason and democracy and liberal emancipation, and there is a lot of evidence for that in Europe. But in America the evangelical movement advanced alongside democracy and liberal enlightened values. They were not oppositional forces but comrades in arms. If you give people more freedom and more democracy they will talk about what they want to talk about and obviously for many people that is God. Religion itself has also been important for advancing democracy - it's an example of the little platoons of civil society. Churches nurture certain civic values, that's why the Chinese government, and all totalitarian governments, have been very suspicious of them and have tried to crush them."

Micklethwait was quick to provide reinforcement. "In Eastern Europe religion has served as a battering ram for opening up the post-communist world because it serves as a focus for discontent. In Poland or Latin America even the Catholic Church has been a focus for dissent. The church can act as a barrier to democratisation, as the Catholic Church did for a long time in Europe, but it can also inspire democratisation." ....

Adrian Wooldridge: "If you look at the world of social services, religion provides two things very well. One is you have people who are willing to make sacrifices and do things that it is hard to believe that secular-minded people would do. People like Pastor Richard Smith from the Faith Assembly of God in Philadelphia, who would just walk into crack houses where people were pointing guns at him and try and close them down. No rational person, let alone any social services bureaucrat, would do that sort of thing. He was absolutely convinced that God would protect him. He devoted his entire time to helping the poor, the homeless, drug-addicted people, with very few resources. His story is remarkable but I think it is multiplied in a lot of different places. If you took away the work that is done by the church in Philadelphia alone it would represent about half a billion dollars of social services cost a year."

But wasn't there some traditional Economist bias against the welfare state here? Weren't the churches in the US merely compensating for the fact that US welfare is so threadbare? Wouldn't it be preferable if such care was provided by the state and not delivered in the context of faith? Wooldridge, the atheist, was having none of that. "Care is actually better if it is provided in a faith context. If you look at social services you have to fill in forms, people are antagonistic or they do it because they have to, whereas if you go to church for help you know you are talking to another human being who actually cares. Its not just in the US - the same is true in China or Russia and part of the Middle East. If you look around the world you have weak welfare states that don't provide, and it is unlikely that they will provide in the future. Most people who become welfare-dependent do so because of lack of skills, lack of opportunities, but also because of a lack of self-worth or a lack of a sense of meaning or purpose. These are things that religion is very good at, that bureaucratic welfare systems can't do. So yes, I think they are a good in themselves."

Though the tone at times tends toward the celebratory, the authors recognise the catastrophic damage religion can do too. "We disagree with European secularists in the idea that God is dead or unimportant, or that modernity and religion are incompatible," says Wooldridge. "Where we strongly agree with them is with the idea that religion can be dangerous, and we think that this happens when you get a fusion between political power and religion". And they think they've found the solution. "The lesson other countries should learn from America," Wooldridge continues, "is that the separation between church and state is the basis for a flourishing civil society.".... [more]
Thanks to Arts & Letters Daily for the reference.

Free market faith | New Humanist

May 29, 2009

Got up early on my birthday and walked. This is a view of Lake Monona, Madison, Wisconsin, early on this May morning.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Good intentions and unintended consequences

Kevin DeYoung has posted a good, informative, e-mail interview with Jay Richards, author of Money, Greed, and God: Why Capitalism Is the Solution and Not the Problem. The whole interview is worth reading and so, no doubt, is the book. What the author calls "myths" are each pretty common beliefs and deserve debunking. Two of the questions DeYoung asked and Richards' answers:
In your book, you unpack eight mistakes Christians make with economics. I don't want to make you rewrite the whole book for this interview, but could you give a one sentence description of each myth?

Here's how I summarize the eight myths in my book:
  • The nirvana myth (contrasting capitalism with an unrealizable ideal rather than with its live alternatives)
  • The piety myth (focusing on our good intentions rather than the unintended consequences of our actions)
  • The zero-sum game myth (believing that trade requires a winner and a loser)
  • The materialist myth (believing that wealth isn’t created, it’s simply transferred)
  • The greed myth (believing that the essence of capitalism is greed)
  • The usury myth (believing that charging interest on money is always exploitative)
  • The artsy myth (confusing aesthetic judgments with economic arguments)
  • The freeze frame myth (believing that things always stay the same—for example, assuming that population trends will continue indefinitely or treating a current “natural resource” as if it will always be needed)
I linked the myths to eight corresponding questions:
  • Can’t we build a just society?
  • What does God require of us as Christians?
  • Doesn’t capitalism foster unfair competition?
  • If I become rich, won’t someone else become poor?
  • Isn’t capitalism based on greed?
  • Has Christianity ever really embraced capitalism?
  • Doesn’t capitalism lead to an ugly consumerist culture?
  • Do we take more than our fair share? That is, isn’t our modern lifestyle causing us to use up all the natural resources?
I struggled with this taxonomy for a while, but I do think the vast majority of bad thinking on economics among Christians can be placed in one of these eight categories. ....

You go out of your way to argue that the universe is divinely ordered and purposeful. What difference does this make for our approach to economics?

I think that a culture's general beliefs about the nature of reality can have significant economic consequences. For instance, if one believes that the world is orderly and designed for a purpose, one is more likely to look for, and discover, aspects of that order. Moreover, these beliefs can encourage optimism, delayed gratification and a motivation to make the world a better place. Finally, it prevents one from reducing economics to materialism. The most important truths of economics emerge from the reality of the human person. That reality requires a theological/philosophical framework that can accommodate it.

Of course, to offset utopian tendencies, these beliefs are best tempered with a healthy realization of our flaws. In the Christian worldview, original sin fulfills this function. [more]
DeYoung, Restless, and Reformed: Money, Greed, and God: An Interview with Jay Richards

The Lord is our shepherd

Our worship service this week in Madison is based on the 23rd Psalm and is divided into four sections:
  • "The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want"
  • "He leadeth me in the paths of righteousness"
  • "I will fear no evil: for Thou art with me"
  • "I will dwell in the house of the LORD forever"
All of the hymns we will sing are paraphrases of the psalm. The 1650 Scottish Psalter version twice, once to CRIMOND, and, at the end of the service, to BROTHER JAMES' AIR. We will also use Isaac Watts' "My Shepherd Will Supply My Need." Today, coincidentally, the blogger at Conjubilant With Song celebrates the author of our fourth hymn, Sir Henry Williams Baker:
Sir Henry remained with Hymns Ancient and Modern until his death in 1877, seeing it through supplements and new editions. He had contributed his own texts, several translations of Latin hymns, and even some tunes. This original hymn, yet another paraphrase of Psalm 23, is probably his most well-known.
The God of love my Shepherd is,
Whose goodness faileth never,
I nothing lack if I am thine
And thou art mine forever.

Where streams of living water flow
My ransomed soul thou leadest,
And where the verdant pastures grow,
With food celestial feedest.

Perverse and foolish oft I strayed,
But yet in love thou sought'st me,
And on thy shoulder gently laid,
And home, rejoicing, brought'st me.

In death’s dark vale I fear no ill
With thee, dear God, beside me;
Thy rod and staff my comfort still,
Thy cross before to guide me.

Thou spread’st a table in my sight;
Thy unction grace bestoweth;
And O, what transport of delight
From thy pure chalice floweth!

And so through all the length of days
Thy goodness faileth never;
Good Shepherd, may I sing thy praise
Within thy house forever.
We will be singing the original tune, DOMINUS REGIT ME.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Favorite hymns

Sally Thomas at First Things notes "a call for favorite hymns" at Semicolon:
.... I thought a Top 100 Hymns Poll would be a great summer project. I might learn something and be encouraged in my own worship. You might learn some new hymns or be reminded of some oldies. We all might enjoy visiting and re-visiting the hymns of the faith together. ....

Make a list of your top ten hymns of all time.
Hymn (according to Webster): a song of praise to God,a metrical composition adapted for singing in a religious service.
For the purposes of this poll, I’m limiting the choices to Christian hymns, but the form of the song doesn’t matter. In other words, the songs on your list should be suitable for congregational singing and should be Christian. Handel’s Messiah is Christian but probably not suitable for congregational hymn singing. Anything you sing in worship service, even what are normally called choruses or gospel songs or spirituals or CCM, is fine. (Oh, English, please, or at least translated into English. Sorry, but it’s all I really speak.) .... [more rules]
Thomas described how she approached making her choices and then listed them:
My criteria for hymnodic goodness are singability (as satisfying to sing while washing the dishes or putting the children to bed as with organ, brass, and eight-part choir), poetic language (to update or inclusivize it is to un-write it), and catechetical soundness. Hymnody ought, I think, to suggest to the faithful some uniquely compelling reason or other for being in church on Sunday morning and not someplace else. Some weeks back, when I found myself singing a hymn in which the voice of Jesus is made to ask, "Do you love the 'you' inside," I think I might have shut the hymnal, sat down, and waited for help to arrive, except that I sing in the choir, and there are six of us, and we were the only people singing. ....
  1. Christ Whose Glory Fills the Skies
  2. The King of Love My Shepherd Is
  3. Glory Be to Jesus
  4. My Song Is Love Unknown
  5. Lo, He Comes With Clouds Descending
  6. Be Thou My Vision
  7. I Heard the Voice of Jesus Say
  8. Glorious Things of Thee Are Spoken
  9. Ye Holy Angels Bright
  10. Of the Father's Heart Begotten
I like her criteria [and her hymns]. Here is my list, in no particular order. I fear that I am more inclined to choose because of the words than because of the music — so singability may not always reach the standard.
  1. How Firm a Foundation
  2. God Moves in a Mysterious Way
  3. Be Thou My Vision
  4. What Wondrous Love is This?
  5. God is Love, His Mercy Brightens
  6. The Lord's My Shepherd, I'll Not Want
  7. Guide Me, O Thou Great Jehovah
  8. He Who Would Valiant Be
  9. Of the Father's Love Begotten
  10. Sometimes a Light Surprises
Today, Thomas notes that PopularHymns.com has already done a survey. Their top one hundred includes only three of my top ten.

Top 100 Hymns Survey at Semicolon, First Things - Blog: First Thoughts - Top 100 Hymns Survey

Sabbath Recorder, June 2009

The June, 2009, Sabbath Recorder is available online here as a pdf.

Rev. Kevin Butler, the editor, says this about the issue at SDB Exec:
Along with some insightful articles by SDB youth is coverage of the national "Bricks for Malawi" campaign. Organizer Jean Jorgensen was hoping to raise enough money to provide 100,000 bricks toward Malawi's goal of 300,000. Well, the Lord opened the floodgates of ingenuity and generosity and SDBs raised enough money to have the locals make... oh, I'll let you read the good news in the SR. The kids and churches had fun, and the Thembe Medical Clinic will reap the benefits.
This a very youth oriented issue of the Recorder with interesting articles by several Seventh Day Baptist young people. Much of the work raising funds for Malawi was also done by the youth groups in various churches.

The Sabbath Recorder is the magazine of the Seventh Day Baptist General Conference and has been regularly published in some form since 1844.

"The fool says...."

Via Cranach, a summary of the "five basic arguments against the existence of God" by Rev. William Cwirla:
  1. The existence of God can’t be proven scientifically, therefore there is no God.
  2. Religious people do bad things, therefore there is no God.
  3. No one has yet to convince me there is a God, therefore there is no God.
  4. The world sucks, therefore there is no God.
  5. Santa Claus and the Tooth Fairy don’t exist, therefore there is no God.
Cranach [Gene Edward Veith] also links to an article by Charlotte Allen, reacting to the "new atheists." Excerpts:
.... Maybe atheists wouldn't be so unpopular if they stopped beating the drum until the hide splits on their second-favorite topic: How stupid people are who believe in God. This is a favorite Dawkins theme. In a recent interview with Trina Hoaks, the atheist blogger for the Examiner.com website, Dawkins described religious believers as follows: "They feel uneducated, which they are; often rather stupid, which they are; inferior, which they are; and paranoid about pointy-headed intellectuals from the East Coast looking down on them, which, with some justification, they do." Thanks, Richard!

Dennett likes to call atheists "the Brights," in contrast to everybody else, who obviously aren't so bright. In a 2006 essay describing his brush with death after a heart operation, Dennett wrote these thoughts about his religious friends who told him they were praying for his recovery: "Thanks, I appreciate it, but did you also sacrifice a goat?" With friends like Daniel Dennett, you don't need enemies.

Then there's P.Z. Myers, biology professor at the University of Minnesota's Morris campus, whose blog, Pharyngula, is supposedly about Myers' field, evolutionary biology, but is actually about his fanatical propensity to label religious believers as "idiots," "morons," "loony" or "imbecilic" in nearly every post. The university deactivated its link to Myers' blog in July after he posted a photo of a consecrated host from a Mass that he had pierced with a rusty nail and thrown into the garbage ("I hope Jesus' tetanus shots are up to date") in an effort to prove that Catholicism is bunk — or something. ....

What primarily seems to motivate atheists isn't rationalism but anger — anger that the world isn't perfect, that someone forced them to go to church as children, that the Bible contains apparent contradictions, that human beings can be hypocrites and commit crimes in the name of faith. The vitriol is extraordinary. Hitchens thinks that "religion spoils everything." Dawkins contends that raising one's offspring in one's religion constitutes child abuse. Harris argues that it "may be ethical to kill people" on the basis of their beliefs. The perennial atheist litigant Michael Newdow sued (unsuccessfully) to bar President Obama from uttering the words "so help me God" when he took his oath of office.

What atheists don't seem to realize is that even for believers, faith is never easy in this world of injustice, pain and delusion. Even for believers, God exists just beyond the scrim of the senses. So, atheists, how about losing the tired sarcasm and boring self-pity and engaging believers seriously? .... [more]
The five arguments against God — Cranach: The Blog of Veith, Atheists: No God, no reason, just whining - Los Angeles Times

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

"Court is where policy is made"

Those few of you who have followed this blog since it began know my opinion of the Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty. Although my denomination belongs, it does not represent my views. It is absurdly doctrinaire in its application of the "wall of separation" between church and state, and, politically, it is comfortable within Washington's liberal establishment. Some recent news, noted on the SDB Exec blog, does nothing to increase my confidence in the organization.

Last week we were informed that the BJC's Executive Director, Brent Walker, met with a delegation of Saudis. One might have hoped that the executive of an organization devoted to religious liberty would have a great deal to say to "nine officials from the Saudi Ministry of Education" about the absence of religious freedom in their country, and the treatment of other religions in the texbooks used in their schools, but no, we are told the meeting was about how the United States practices religious liberty — one somehow doubts that will have any impact on the practices of the Saudi government.

Now we learn of the BJC's enthusiasm for President Obama's nomination of Judge Sonia Sotomayor to replace Souter on the Supreme Court. The BJC liked Souter a lot:
"More than any other justice, Justice Souter has reflected the Baptist Joint Committee's understanding of the proper interpretation of the religion clauses and how they apply to contemporary church-state issues," said BJC Executive Director J. Brent Walker.
And, they say, Sotomayor will be a really good replacement for Souter. Well, Jeffrey Rosen at The New Republic has been interviewing people who have worked with her, and:
.... The most consistent concern was that Sotomayor, although an able lawyer, was "not that smart and kind of a bully on the bench," as one former Second Circuit clerk for another judge put it. "She has an inflated opinion of herself, and is domineering during oral arguments, but her questions aren't penetrating and don't get to the heart of the issue." (During one argument, an elderly judicial colleague is said to have leaned over and said, "Will you please stop talking and let them talk?") ...
In a later post Rosen provided this from the Almanac of the Federal Judiciary:
Sotomayor can be tough on lawyers, according to those interviewed. "She is a terror on the bench." "She is very outspoken." "She can be difficult." "She is temperamental and excitable. She seems angry." "She is overly aggressive—not very judicial. She does not have a very good temperament." "She abuses lawyers." "She really lacks judicial temperament. She behaves in an out of control manner. She makes inappropriate outbursts." "She is nasty to lawyers. She doesn't understand their role in the system—as adversaries who have to argue one side or the other. She will attack lawyers for making an argument she does not like."
She also seems to be prone statements that might properly be be considered racist. From Stuart Taylor in National Journal Magazine:
"I would hope that a wise Latina woman with the richness of her experiences would more often than not reach a better conclusion [as a judge] than a white male who hasn't lived that life." — Judge Sonia Sotomayor, in her Judge Mario G. Olmos Law and Cultural Diversity Lecture at the University of California (Berkeley) School of Law in 2001

The above assertion and the rest of a remarkable speech to a Hispanic group by Sotomayor — widely touted as a possible Obama nominee to the Supreme Court — has drawn very little attention in the mainstream media since it was quoted deep inside The New York Times on May 15. ....

Sotomayor also referred to the cardinal duty of judges to be impartial as a mere "aspiration because it denies the fact that we are by our experiences making different choices than others." And she suggested that "inherent physiological or cultural differences" may help explain why "our gender and national origins may and will make a difference in our judging." ....

Indeed, unless Sotomayor believes that Latina women also make better judges than Latino men, and also better than African-American men and women, her basic proposition seems to be that white males (with some exceptions, she noted) are inferior to all other groups in the qualities that make for a good jurist.

Any prominent white male would be instantly and properly banished from polite society as a racist and a sexist for making an analogous claim of ethnic and gender superiority or inferiority.

Imagine the reaction if someone had unearthed in 2005 a speech in which then-Judge Samuel Alito had asserted, for example: "I would hope that a white male with the richness of his traditional American values would reach a better conclusion than a Latina woman who hasn't lived that life" — and had proceeded to speak of "inherent physiological or cultural differences." ....
So far, we find that she is "a bully on the bench" and a believer that legal judgment is enhanced by one's gender and ethnicity. She seems to have applied what she believes.

Sotomayor will almost certainly be approved. The BJC will be happy. I won't be. I'm very sorry we are still affiliated with the Baptist Joint Committee.

Seventh Day Baptist - SDB Exec Blog, The Case Against Sotomayor, National Journal Magazine - Identity Politics And Sotomayor

In the world — but not of it

No one could make a greater mistake than he who did nothing because
he could do only a little.
Edmund Burke

I taught advanced elective high school politics classes for thirty-five years, always including units introducing students to political theory. One of the basic concepts of a conservative politics has always been "prudence" — the application of fundamental principles to particular circumstances. It keeps in mind the goal without sacrificing what can be achieved in the present political and social circumstances. The idea is sometimes difficult for Christians first getting involved in politics, because it requires a sense of the possible, and a willingness to accept - albeit perhaps only temporarily - much less than the ideal.

Justin Taylor highly recommends Politics for the Great Good: The Case for Prudence in the Public Square, by Clarke Forsythe. Taylor:
His argument is that it is both moral and effective to achieve a partial good in politics and public policy when the ideal is not possible. In other words, there's no moral compromise in aiming for the greatest possible good when the perfect good is not available. The historical examples of the American founders, William Wilberforce, and Abraham Lincoln are used as example of what it looks like to employ effective, virtuous prudence to fence in social evils when outright prohibition is not possible.
From Forsythe's introduction:
.... Prudence has been considered a cardinal (preeminent) virtue since at least the time of Aristotle. Prudence is concerned with right action and requires deliberation, judgment, decision and execution. Wisdom understands what is right; prudence involves making the right decision and implementing it well. Prudence takes account of limitations in a world of constraints and strives to achieve the greatest measure of justice—the greatest good possible—under the particular circumstances. ....

A prudential political (and legislative) strategy focuses on worthy goals, identifies effective means to achieve those ends and the wise use of limited resources, recognizes the limitations of the fallen world and its constraints on political action, and seeks to preserve the possibility of future progress. A prudential approach balances zeal with knowledge, especially knowledge of the current obstacles and of effective ways to overcome them. ....

Prudence is not pragmatism; prudence requires moral purpose. Prudence aims to achieve the greatest good possible in the concrete circumstances. Prudence does not require an all-or-nothing approach to public policy. In fact, an all-or-nothing approach, generally speaking, is often neither prudent nor effective. An all-or-nothing approach is not dictated by divine or natural law, moral philosophy, or ethics. Prudence must necessarily guide the consideration of constraints and contingencies in politics, especially when lawmakers begin to grapple with the specifics of legislation and efforts to limit unjust laws and conditions.
I have a feeling that the late Richard John Neuhaus would have approved. I will order this book.

Between Two Worlds: Politics for the Great Good: The Case for Prudence in the Public Square

Monday, May 25, 2009

An emerging secular civilization?

In a review of a new book, John Gray addresses the [non]decline of religious faith in the face of modernity:
.... Whether Marxian or Millian, socialist or liberal, secular rationalists have held one tenet in common: religion belongs to the infancy of the species; the more modern a society becomes, the less room there is for religious belief and practice. Never questioned, this is what lies behind the hot-gospel sermons of evangelical atheists: if you want to be modern, say goodbye to God. ....

The notion that modernity and religion are at odds is a generalisation from the experience of some parts of Europe. Europe is now largely post-Christian and the majority no longer follows any conventional creed, but things are otherwise in much of the rest of the world, and notably so in the US, which, during most of its history, has been intensely religious and self-consciously modern.

European Enlightenment thinkers have tended to see the US as the exception that proves the rule – an unexplained lag in a universal trend towards secularisation.

Against this view, Micklethwait and Wool­dridge show that modernisation and an increase in religiosity go together in much of the world. Some of the most powerful sections of the book feature narratives of religious communities in improbable places – prosperous, highly educated Chinese, among them scientists and academics, coming together in contemporary Shanghai to read and discuss the Christian Bible, for example.

If there is any trend that can be discerned in the parts of the world that are most rapidly modernising, it is that secular belief systems are in decline and the old faiths are being reborn. ....

...Micklethwait and Wooldridge note that the grand secular belief systems of the past two centuries continued Christian ways of thinking: “Marx found it impossible not to think in terms of grand eschatologies . . . He employed numerous religious tropes – communists are latter-day gnostics, communism is heaven on earth, the revolution is the Last Judgement, workers are saved and capitalism is damned.”

In other words, God never really went away, for secular political projects were continuations of Christianity by other means. But if Marxism is a post-Christian creed that is now obsolete, why should liberalism – in its militant, proselytising form – be any different? In fact, it has been in decline for some time, a process that began with the fall of communism. ....

God Is Back may not show that the American way of religion is uniquely well suited to the modern condition. Where this urgently relevant book succeeds triumphantly is in demolishing the myth of an emerging secular civilisation. .... [more]
New Statesman - Faith in the future

Goode intentions

This Wednesday, May 27, at 8:00 CDT, ABC will begin a new cartoon series that appears to be worth a look — it's about good intentions.


The Goode Family - Home - ABC.com

Loving in right proportion

Kevin DeYoung on "Why Memorial Day is Worth Remembering":
.... It is always tricky to know how the church should or shouldn’t celebrate patriotic holidays. Certainly, some churches blend church and state in such a way that the kingdom of God morphs into a doctrinally-thin, spiritually nebulous civil religion. But even with this danger, there are a number of good reasons why Christians should give thanks for Memorial Day.
DeYoung continues with five points. For example:
1. Being a soldier is not a sub-Christian activity. In Luke 3, John the Baptist warns the people to bear fruit in keeping with repentance. The crowds respond favorably to his message and ask him, “What then shall we do?” John tells the rich man to share his tunics, the tax collectors to collect only what belongs to them, and the soldiers to stop their extortion. If ever there was a time to tell the soldiers that true repentance meant resigning from the army, surely this was the time. And yet, John does not tell them that they must give up soldier-work to bear fruit, only that they need to be honest soldiers. The Centurion is even held up by Jesus as the best example of faith he’s seen in Israel (Luke 7:9). Military service, when executed with integrity and in the Spirit of God, is a suitable vocation for the people of God. ....

4. Love of country can be a good thing. As Christians we have dual citizenship. Our first and ultimate allegiance must always be to Christ whose heavenly dwelling is our eternal home. But we are also citizens of an earthly country. We will stand before God not as individuals wiped clean of all earthly nationality, but as people with distinct languages, cultural affinities, and homelands. It is not wrong to love our distinct language, culture, or nationality. Whenever I’m at a ball game I still get choked up during the singing of the National Anthem. I think this is good. Love for God does not mean we love nothing else on earth, but rather that we learn to love the things on earth in the right way and with the right proportions and priorities. Love of country is a good thing, and it is right to honor those who defend the principles that make our country good. .... [more]
DeYoung, Restless, and Reformed: Why Memorial Day is Worth Remembering

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Whose righteousness hath not been forgotten

Let us now praise famous men, and our fathers that begat us. .... All these were honoured in their generations, and were the glory of their times. There be of them, that have left a name behind them, that their praises might be reported. And some there be, which have no memorial; who are perished, as though they had never been; and are become as though they had never been born; and their children after them. But these were merciful men, whose righteousness hath not been forgotten. With their seed shall continually remain a good inheritance, and their children are within the covenant. Their seed standeth fast, and their children for their sakes. Their seed shall remain for ever, and their glory shall not be blotted out. Their bodies are buried in peace; but their name liveth for evermore. The people will tell of their wisdom, and the congregation will shew forth their praise.
The Apocrypha: King James Version, Sirach 44:1-15

Orthodox Jews and abortion

I once before quoted a source purporting to present the Orthodox Jewish position on abortion and was immediately informed that it was a fringe position. This would seem to be rather more reliably authoritative. Rabbi Sir Jonathan Sacks is Britain's Chief Rabbi. The following is from Spengler's blog at First Things:
Rabbi Sacks had the opportunity to expound the application of the Jewish view of science and revelation in the matter of abortion later in the evening. ....

Rabbi Sacks ... stress[ed] that the Jewish position regarding abortion is quite close to the Catholic position. His exposition is worth a detailed summary, as it is as close to an official Orthodox Jewish view as we will hear in the English-speaking world. Only in the case of danger to the life of the mother, and only after extensive investigation by competent Jewish authorities, would Orthodox Judaism ever permit abortion. Abortion on demand is inconceivable. As to the question of where the human person begins, Judaism makes a distinction between human life, which is everywhere and always sacred, and the human person. The mother is a person; the fetus is human life. In the exceptional event of a conflict the person takes precedence. Physis (nature) is gradual, but nomos (law) is discrete. Precisely because we cannot say with precision where life begins we cannot allow that abortion is permissible at any stage of pregnancy. Unlike the Catholic position, which proceeds from natural theology, the Jewish position emerges from the legal consideration of the human person, which requires the community to establish a distinction—and that distinction is the event of birth, the physical separation of the baby from its mother’s body. Rabbi Sacks emphasized that the Jewish and Catholic positions converge on nearly the same result, with the only distinction being abortion to save the mother’s life.

On other life issues, Rabbi Sacks added, the British Rabbinate cooperates closely with the Catholic Church, most visibly in opposition to so-called assisted suicide. [more]
First Things - Blog: Spengler - Science, ethics and abortion: The perspective of Britain's Chief Rabbi

May you have a strong foundation

Happy Birthday! Bob Dylan, 68 today.
May God bless and keep you always,
May your wishes all come true,
May you always do for others
And let others do for you.
May you build a ladder to the stars
And climb on every rung,
May you stay forever young,
Forever young, forever young,
May you stay forever young.

May you grow up to be righteous,
May you grow up to be true,
May you always know the truth
And see the lights surrounding you.
May you always be courageous,
Stand upright and be strong,
May you stay forever young,
Forever young, forever young,
May you stay forever young.

May your hands always be busy,
May your feet always be swift,
May you have a strong foundation
When the winds of changes shift.
May your heart always be joyful,
May your song always be sung,
May you stay forever young,
Forever young, forever young,
May you stay forever young.

Friday, May 22, 2009

I believe

Jared Wilson notes that:
The Nicene Creed was born this day in 325. One of the oldest and most widely used confessions of the universal Christian faith, the Nicene Creed was formulated at a time when the heresy of Arianism threatened orthodox Christianity with the denial of Jesus' deity. Thus the strong Christology in the creed.
The Nicene Creed and the Apostles' Creed are the classic affirmations of Christian orthodoxy — "mere Christianity," if you like. The Nicene Creed:
I believe in one God, the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth, and of all things visible and invisible.

And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son of God, begotten of the Father before all worlds; God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God; begotten, not made, being of one substance with the Father, by whom all things were made.

Who, for us men and for our salvation, came down from heaven, and was incarnate by the Holy Spirit of the virgin Mary, and was made man; and was crucified also for us under Pontius Pilate; He suffered and was buried; and the third day He rose again, according to the Scriptures; and ascended into heaven, and sits on the right hand of the Father; and He shall come again, with glory, to judge the quick and the dead; whose kingdom shall have no end.

And I believe in the Holy Ghost, the Lord and Giver of Life; who proceeds from the Father [and the Son]; who with the Father and the Son together is worshiped and glorified; who spoke by the prophets.

And I believe one holy catholic and apostolic Church. I acknowledge one baptism for the remission of sins; and I look for the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come. Amen.
The Gospel-Driven Church: Happy Birthday, Nicene Creed, Nicene Creed, Apostles' Creed

How are they to hear without a preacher?

Mark Galli is increasingly annoyed by a quotation falsely attributed to St Francis of Assisi — not just because St Francis didn't say it, but because the emphasis is wrong. From the Christianity Today site:
I've heard the quote once too often. It's time to set the record straight—about the quote, and about the gospel.

Francis of Assisi is said to have said, "Preach the gospel at all times; when necessary, use words."

This saying is carted out whenever someone wants to suggest that Christians talk about the gospel too much, and live the gospel too little. Fair enough—that can be a problem. Much of the rhetorical power of the quotation comes from the assumption that Francis not only said it but lived it.

The problem is that he did not say it. Nor did he live it. And those two contra-facts tell us something about the spirit of our age. ....

"Preach the gospel; use words if necessary" goes hand in hand with a postmodern assumption that words are finally empty of meaning. It subtly denigrates the high value that the prophets and Jesus and Paul put on preaching. Of course we want our actions to match our words as much as possible. But the gospel is a message, news about an event and a person upon which the history of the planet turns. As blogger Justin Taylor recently put it, the Good News can no more be communicated by deeds than can the nightly news.

Many have noted how Francis modeled his life on Jesus. But it wasn't just about the life of poverty, but also the life of preaching. We have no instance of Jesus performing a miracle and not speaking a word of comfort or challenge afterwards.

Paul articulated succinctly what Francis and Jesus felt in their souls: "How are they to call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching?" (Rom. 10:14). ....

That being said, a better saying (which you can attribute to anyone you like) is this: Preach the gospel—use actions when necessary; use words always.
Thanks to Justin Taylor for the reference.

Speak the Gospel | Christianity Today | A Magazine of Evangelical Conviction

Thursday, May 21, 2009

In their own good time

I have found the debate over interrogation and torture extremely frustrating, and the nature of the discussion within the Christian community especially so. Christian pacifists are at least consistent in refusing to countenance the use of any kind of violence. But most Christians are not pacifists and accept the need to make judgments about greater and lesser evils. There is a long tradition of Christian thought about what justifies the use of violence or the threat of violence and a very important factor in that consideration is the defense of the innocent. Although not addressing specifically Christian criteria, former Vice President Cheney's speech today should at least give pause to those who so facilely condemn the use of "enhanced interrogation." A very small portion of what he said:
.... It is a fact that only detainees of the highest intelligence value were ever subjected to enhanced interrogation. You’ve heard endlessly about waterboarding. It happened to three terrorists. One of them was Khalid Sheikh Muhammed — the mastermind of 9/11, who has also boasted about beheading Daniel Pearl.

We had a lot of blind spots after the attacks on our country. We didn’t know about al-Qaeda’s plans, but Khalid Sheikh Muhammed and a few others did know. And with many thousands of innocent lives potentially in the balance, we didn’t think it made sense to let the terrorists answer questions in their own good time, if they answered them at all. ....

In public discussion of these matters, there has been a strange and sometimes willful attempt to conflate what happened at Abu Ghraib prison with the top secret program of enhanced interrogations. At Abu Ghraib, a few sadistic prison guards abused inmates in violation of American law, military regulations, and simple decency. For the harm they did, to Iraqi prisoners and to America’s cause, they deserved and received Army justice. And it takes a deeply unfair cast of mind to equate the disgraces of Abu Ghraib with the lawful, skillful, and entirely honorable work of CIA personnel trained to deal with a few malevolent men. ....

Yet for all these exacting efforts to do a hard and necessary job and to do it right, we hear from some quarters nothing but feigned outrage based on a false narrative. In my long experience in Washington, few matters have inspired so much contrived indignation and phony moralizing as the interrogation methods applied to a few captured terrorists. ....

Critics of our policies are given to lecturing on the theme of being consistent with American values. But no moral value held dear by the American people obliges public servants ever to sacrifice innocent lives to spare a captured terrorist from unpleasant things. And when an entire population is targeted by a terror network, nothing is more consistent with American values than to stop them. ....

For all that we’ve lost in this conflict, the United States has never lost its moral bearings. And when the moral reckoning turns to the men known as high-value terrorists, I can assure you they were neither innocent nor victims. As for those who asked them questions and got answers: they did the right thing, they made our country safer, and a lot of Americans are alive today because of them. [more]
The Weekly Standard

"No ghosts need apply"

"How often have I said to you that when you have eliminated the impossible,
whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth?"
Sherlock Holmes in The Sign of the Four

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, creator of the most famous character in detective fiction, who as the quotation above illustrates was presented as unemotionally rational, became a believer in and promoter of Spiritualism. From The Economist:
.... [Conan Doyle's] support for spiritualism lent credence to some of the more outrageous frauds perpetrated on people desperately trying to get in touch with loved ones lost in the first world war. In his desire to prove the existence of spirits, he notoriously promoted two Yorkshire girls who, for a lark, claimed they had photographed the Cottingley Fairies.

On one level, his was the story of a lapsed Roman Catholic troubled by an alcoholic father and never quite able to cast off his sense of the supernatural. On another it was the intellectual journey of an inquisitive man, dissatisfied with Victorian materialism but intent on using its tools to examine alternative forms of consciousness. This was also a time when orthodox religion was giving way to Darwin and science.

As a doctor Conan Doyle was fascinated by early experiments in thought transference and healing through mesmerism and hypnotism. These were given an occult twist by early spiritualists, such as the Fox sisters from upstate New York, who won acclaim in the 1840s for their apparent ability to communicate with the dead through table-rapping (though they later confessed to fraud). ....

After holding séances with his wife Jean to get in touch with members of their family killed in the first world war, Conan Doyle came out as a spiritualist. He claimed to converse with the spirits of the dead. Virtually abandoning Sherlock Holmes, Conan Doyle churned out books on spiritualism and addressed vast audiences around the world on the subject. ....

For all his commitment to spiritualism, Conan Doyle, who would have been 150 on May 22nd, was canny enough not to compromise Sherlock Holmes’s credibility with it. Presented with evidence of the supernatural in "The Adventure of the Sussex Vampire", the great detective says, "This agency stands flat-footed upon the ground, and there it must remain. The world is big enough for us. No ghosts need apply." [more]
THE ODD SPIRITUALISM OF SIR ARTHUR CONAN DOYLE | More Intelligent Life

It is possible to be too nice

Kevin DeYoung has his head on straight - by which I suppose I mean that I agree with almost everything of his that I've read. This time, at First Things [he also seems to be turning up at the sites I like], he discusses the quality of debate - especially on blogs.
.... The problem with our discourse—are you ready for this brilliant insight?—is that some people are jerks and some people are too nice.

Let’s start with the jerk problem. Sad but true, the internet was made for jerks. Every comment is more or less anonymous and every comment goes up whether the person has a clue or not. So we end up with a world of senseless blog fury where some anonymous clown with a name like “Spider86x” or “Cowgirl_B52” can rip you every which way but loose. Post something critical about Obama’s socks or point out that the Big East had more teams in the tournament than anyone else because there are, like, thirty-seven teams in the conference, and someone out there will curse the day you were born. Instead of responding to your arguments against inflationary monetary policy, “KeynesKid24” will mock your Blogger picture, lay down some none too subtle sexual innuendo, and call you a liar. Hell hath no fury like a scorned blogger with too much free time.

So the jerk problem is easy to see. But the nice problem can be just as bad. Think of all the work you have to do nowadays before you can disagree with someone. First, you have to do a lot of “I’m not saying ... I’m just saying.” Then you have to reassure everyone that so-and-so is probably a great guy. Next, you make clear that you appreciate that he doesn’t kill people and his family seems sweet. And finally you admit that you could be wrong about everything anyway. ....

The problem with the nice problem is twofold. First, we are all victims or want to be victims. .... We debate who has been hurt more or who was meaner, rather than who is right and who is wrong. If I can position myself as the one under attack and you as the attacker, then I’m more than halfway to winning in the court of public opinion. ....

Second, we are all proud. .... Because I’m proud I hedge my criticisms so that I won’t have to publicly repent and recant when I go too far and get something wrong. Because we’re proud, protectors of self more than lovers of truth, we often don’t discuss things with candor or with verve.

And yet, look at the model provided by Jesus in the gospels. Half of his sayings beg for qualifications. Come on Jesus, give us a little “I’m not saying ... I’m just saying” before you tell us to hate our parents (Luke 14:26). Issue a few caveats before you use the tragedy of the tower of Siloam to call people to repent of their sins (Luke 13:4–5). Tell us something about how the Pharisees really mean well before you lambaste them with woes (Luke 11). Of course, Jesus was Jesus and we are not. But judging from the example of Paul, Peter, John, the Church Fathers and the Reformers, the point still stands. It is possible to be too nice, especially when eternal truth is at stake.

Here, then, a little advice for the tough guys: Save the big guns for the big issues. Don’t try to die on every hill; the hills are crowded already and you only have so many lives to lose. Be courteous wherever possible (Col. 4:6). Drop the rhetorical bombs and launch the satire missiles only as a last resort. Be patient with those who really want to understand (2 Tim. 2:25). And remember, it’s ok to have an unarticulated thought (Prov. 18:2).

And for the tender ones: Dare to not qualify. Don’t pad your criticisms with fluff praise (Gal. 1:10). If you have affirmations of substances, go for it. But don’t be a self-protective flatterer. Don’t be afraid to be misunderstood. Don’t soften a needed jab of logic. And when you get an ad hominen right hook, don’t take it personally (1 Cor. 4:3–4).

And for everyone: please, please argue with actual arguments. Don’t just emote or dismiss the other side with labels. Explain why your side makes more sense. Try more persuasion, less pouting (2 Cor. 5:11). Give reasons, not just reactions (Acts 18:19). .... [more]
FIRST THINGS: On the Square » Blog Archive » Defining Discourse Down

Friday, May 15, 2009

Singing about us singing about how we feel ... rather than singing to and about God

David Nelson at Between The Times feels as I do about the way music is often used in what should be worship:
.... We sing and sing and sing and sing and sing. I find myself, in so many of the places I go (and I do travel a good bit in Baptist & Evangelical land) just praying that the music will come to a close. And we so seldom read from the Scriptures, or pray in anything but a cursory fashion, or recite a statement of faith or confession, or observe the ordinances. But we get plenty of music. More than plenty. I don’t know that this would be such a burden to me, except that we sing so much bad music. ....

.... The music is maudlin, it is saccharine, and it lacks the richness, texture, and depth commensurate with the greatness and glory of God. This is true about both texts and music, by the way. I do not mean to single out contemporary music at this point. .... One of my chief complaints is that too much of this music has us singing about us singing about how we feel about God, or how we worship him, rather than singing to and about God himself. ....

.... While the church has always used “disposable” music, historically we tend to cull that music and maintain the best songs. Too often these days we seem to maintain the “disposable” and dispose the valuable. .... [more]
The Return of the Curmudgeon: Disney-World Worship (Part 2): Musical Disproportionality « Between The Times

Pro-life

For the first time in a long time, according to Gallup, the majority of Americans describe themselves as "pro-life":


And by very large majorities Americans believe there are circumstances under which abortion should be restricted:


Power Line - Gallup: Americans Becoming More Pro-Life

Baptism

Noting a survey indicating that many adult baptisms in North America are "rebaptisms", Alex Chediak quotes from a description of a contrasting approach to baptism by Brazilian Baptists:
.... Upon profession of faith, a new convert was placed in a new convert's class for from six to thirteen weeks. The central purpose of this class was to make as sure as humanly possible that the individuals involved had understood the gospel and were making valid professions of faith. After the class, the next step in the process of preparation for baptism was speaking to the congregation. Candidates described their experience of conversion and answered questions from the pastor and congregation concerning what they believed about Christ, their experience of conviction of sin, and their understanding of the gospel. Only then did the congregation vote to baptize the individuals. The contrast with the lack of care concerning baptismal candidates in Baptist churches in North America is striking. Regenerate church membership began to disappear when Baptist churches in North America began to baptize and bring in members who gave no visible evidence of regeneration. [John Hammett, Biblical Foundations for Baptist Churches: A Contemporary Ecclesiology]
This sequence was essentially the one followed when I was baptized fifty years ago. Whether it is normal today, I do not know.

Alex Chediak Blog: Sixty Percent of Adult Baptisms in SBC Churches are "Rebaptisms"

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Worship that pleases God

Adrian Warnock provides, from Sam Storms [and Psalms], "10 guidelines for the kind of worship that pleases God":
  1. Worship that pleases God is perpetual and constant (Psalm 92:2)
  2. Worship that pleases God is instrumental (Psalm 150:1-6)
  3. Clearly God delights in joyful worship (Psalm 92:4)
  4. Worship that pleases God is grounded in the recognition and celebration of his greatness (Psalm 92:5)
  5. Worship that pleases God is both loud and logical . . . Note well that worship here [in the Psalms] entails noisy songs.
  6. Worship that pleases God is physical (Psalm 95:6)
  7. Worship that pleases God is fresh and creative. (Psalm 33:3, Psalm 40:3, Psalm 96:1, Psalm 98:1, Psalm 144:9, Psalm 149:1)
  8. Worship that pleases God is public. (Psalm 96:3)
  9. Worship that pleases God ascribes glory to his name.
  10. God is especially honored when the whole of creation joins in celebrating his goodness and greatness. (Psalm 96:11-13a).
Warnock credits Sam Storms in More Precious Than Gold, 50 Daily Meditations on the Psalms, (Crossway Books: Wheaton, IL 2009), 180-184.

adrianwarnock.com: Ten Things That Please God In Worship

It could be worse

“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
“Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.
Matthew 5:3-4 (ESV)

From Joshua Wolf Shenk in The Atlantic Online: "What Makes Us Happy?"
....[W]hat does it mean, really, to be happier? For 30 years, Denmark has topped international happiness surveys. But Danes are hardly a sanguine bunch. Ask an American how it’s going, and you will usually hear “Really good.” Ask a Dane, and you will hear “Det kunne være værre (It could be worse).” “Danes have consistently low (and indubitably realistic) expectations for the year to come,” a team of Danish scholars concluded. “Year after year they are pleasantly surprised to find that not everything is getting more rotten in the state of Denmark.”
"You know, these are yuppie words, happiness and unhappiness. It's not happiness or unhappiness, it's either blessed or unblessed." Bob Dylan, Rolling Stone, 1991

The Atlantic Online | June 2009 | What Makes Us Happy? | Joshua Wolf Shenk

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Politics and morality

The IRS has ruled that churches have a perfect right to comment on the moral implications of the positions politicians take on issues:
.... Short of endorsing a particular candidate or spending substantial portions of their nonprofit budgets on legislative lobbying, ministers and their churches are free to engage in political acts on behalf of moral values, the IRS said. Clergy are also free to encourage their congregations' members to get out the vote based on those issues and values..... [more]
Since churches, during the history of the Republic, have taken positions on slavery, racial discrimination, war, prostitution, and many other issues, it would be remarkable if government decided they had no right to do so. But we live in extraordinary times. This ruling is a relief.

Moral-values groups hail tax ruling - Washington Times

Awe, reverence, and seriousness

An especially bad worship experience brings from Carl Trueman this about how we should approach worship:
.... If God is awesome, sovereign and holy; if human beings are small, sinful, and lost; if Christ died and rose again by a most miraculous and costly act of grace, then this should impact the way things happen in church. This is not to argue for a one-size-fits-all-my-way-or-the-highway approach to church. Context and culture are important; but what is expressed through the idioms of particular cultural manifestations of the church should be awe, reverence, and, above all seriousness - not a colourless and cold miserable seriousness but a fitting amazement at the greatness of God and his grace.

A church service involving clowns or fancy dress or skits or stand-up comedy does not reflect the seriousness of the gospel; and those who take the gospel seriously should know better. Frankly, it is more appropriate to liberal theology which does not take the gospel, or the God of the gospel, seriously. Serious things demand serious idioms. .... This is serious business; and if he looks like a twit and acts like a twit, then I can only conclude that he is a twit.

You can tell a lot about someone's theology from what they do in church. Involve Kenny G's music in your worship service, and I can tell not only that you have no taste in music but also that you have nothing to offer theologically to those who come through the church doors; indeed, what you do have can probably be found better elsewhere. .... Look, it's rubbish. So let's just call it rubbish, shall we?
Look, It's Rubbish! - Reformation21

Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy

The only excuse for the Seventh Day Baptist denomination, the only thing that has distinguished us from other Baptists for three centuries, is our belief that the Sabbath should be observed on the seventh day of the week - not because we earn anything for doing so; not because it marks us out as some kind of Remnant; but simply because we think that was what God intended and because loving obedience is the appropriate response to His love.

Once a year, traditionally in May, many Seventh Day Baptist churches emphasize our only distinctive on what is now called "Sabbath Renewal Day." This is the worship service we will be using in Madison this coming Sabbath. Some of the hymns are not commonly available so I have included them here: click on the image for a large version. The Scriptures can usually be found by placing the cursor on the verse reference.
Worship Theme:
“We worship God who gave us the Sabbath”

Meditation on Holy Scripture:
“If you turn back your foot from the Sabbath, from doing your pleasure on my holy day, and call the Sabbath a delight and the holy day of the LORD honorable; if you honor it, not going your own ways, or seeking your own pleasure, or talking idly; then you shall take delight in the LORD, and I will make you ride on the heights of the earth; I will feed you with the heritage of Jacob your father, for the mouth of the LORD has spoken.”
Isaiah 58: 13-14 (ESV)

Responsive Call to Worship: Matthew 11:28-30
Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden,
And I will give you rest.
Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me,
For I am gentle and lowly in heart,
And you will find rest for your souls.
For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”
Hymn: God of the Sabbath (verse 1)

I. God made the Sabbath.
Responsive Reading: from Genesis 1:1-31 (KJV)
In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.
And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters.
And God said, Let there be light: and there was light.
And God saw the light, that it was good: and God divided the light from the darkness.
And God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And the evening and the morning were the first day.
And God said, Let there be a firmament in the midst of the waters, and let it divide the waters from the waters.
And God made two great lights; the greater light to rule the day, and the lesser light to rule the night: he made the stars also.
And God created great whales, and every living creature that moveth, which the waters brought forth abundantly, after their kind, and every winged fowl after his kind: and God saw that it was good.
And God made the beast of the earth after his kind, and cattle after their kind, and every thing that creepeth upon the earth after his kind: and God saw that it was good.
And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness: and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth.
So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them.
And God saw every thing that he had made, and, behold, it was very good. And the evening and the morning were the sixth day.
Pulpit Reading: Genesis 2:1-3
Thus the heavens and the earth were finished, and all the host of them. And on the seventh day God finished his work that he had done, and he rested on the seventh day from all his work that he had done. So God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it God rested from all his work that he had done in creation.
Hymn: I Sing the Almighty Power of God

Responsive Reading: Exodus 20:8-11, Deuteronomy 5:12, Leviticus 23:3, Isaiah 58:13-14a, Mark 2:27-28
Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy.
Six days you shall labor, and do all your work,
But the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God.
On it you shall not do any work,
You, or your son, or your daughter,
Your male servant, or your female servant,
Or your livestock,
Or the sojourner who is within your gates.
For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth….
Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy
Observe the Sabbath day, to keep it holy, as the Lord your God commanded you.
Six days shall work be done,
But on the seventh day is a Sabbath of solemn rest,
A holy convocation.
You shall do no work.
It is a Sabbath to the Lord in all your dwelling places.
If you turn back your foot from the Sabbath,
From doing your pleasure on my holy day,
And call the Sabbath a delight
And the holy day of the Lord honorable;
If you honor it, not going your own ways,
Or seeking your own pleasure,
Or talking idly;
Then you shall take delight in the Lord….
And he said to them, “Is it lawful on the Sabbath to do good or to do harm,
To save life or to kill?”
And he said to them, “The Sabbath was made for man,
Not man for the Sabbath.
Hymn: Another Six Days Work is Done

II. Jesus affirmed the Sabbath.
Pulpit Readings: Matthew 5:17, Luke 4:16
Our Lord’s words: “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them."
And Our Lord’s practice: And he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up. And as was his custom, he went to the synagogue on the Sabbath day, and he stood up to read.
Responsive Reading: Matthew 12:1-15
At that time Jesus went through the grainfields on the Sabbath. His disciples were hungry, and they began to pluck heads of grain and to eat.
But when the Pharisees saw it, they said to him, “Look, your disciples are doing what is not lawful to do on the Sabbath.”
He said to them, “Have you not read what David did when he was hungry, and those who were with him: how he entered the house of God and ate the bread of the Presence, which it was not lawful for him to eat nor for those who were with him, but only for the priests?
Or have you not read in the Law how on the Sabbath the priests in the temple profane the Sabbath and are guiltless?
I tell you, something greater than the temple is here. And if you had known what this means, ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice,’ you would not have condemned the guiltless.
For the Son of Man is lord of the Sabbath.”
He went on from there and entered their synagogue. And a man was there with a withered hand.
And they asked him, “Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath?”— so that they might accuse him.
He said to them, “Which one of you who has a sheep, if it falls into a pit on the Sabbath, will not take hold of it and lift it out?
Of how much more value is a man than a sheep! So it is lawful to do good on the Sabbath.”
Hymn: God of the Sabbath (verse 2)

III. We observe the Sabbath.
A Sabbath Catechism: Sabbath Recorder, April 19, 1920 [adapted]
Why are we Christians?
We are Christians because we have repented of our sin and transferred our trust for salvation to Jesus Christ alone, and are following Him day by day as our Lord. We believe it is through Jesus Christ alone that God gives us his gift of eternal life.
Why are we Baptists?
We are Baptists because immersion in water, as practiced and enjoined by Jesus and His disciples, is a symbol and a pledge of our new and risen life in Christ
Why are we Seventh Day Baptists?
We are Seventh Day Baptists because we desire and purpose to do our best in keeping the commandments of God.
Who is our example and guide in Sabbathkeeping?
Our example and guide in the matter of the Sabbath is Jesus Christ.
When was the Sabbath established?
The Sabbath is a constituent part of the Bible story of Creation.
How is the Sabbath treated in the law of Moses?
The Sabbath is given a central and important place in the Decalogue.
What did the Hebrew prophets teach about the Sabbath?
The Hebrew prophets put great emphasis on the spiritual and moral value of the Sabbath.
Does the New Testament change the Sabbath principle?
There is no evidence in the New Testament that the Sabbath principle was changed.
Does the New Testament substitute another day for the seventh day for Sabbath observance?
There is no evidence in the New Testament that another day was substituted for the Seventh Day for Sabbath observance.
Did Jesus abolish the Sabbath or change the day?
Jesus did not abolish or annul the Sabbath, neither did He change the day.
What did Jesus do for the Sabbath?
Jesus explained the true meaning of the Sabbath.What did Jesus say about the Sabbath?
Jesus said, "The Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath."
Is the Sabbath a burden or a hardship?
The Sabbath should be our joy and delight, our pleasure to do God's will and keep His commandments.
How can we promote the observance of the Sabbath?
By believing it, by loving it, by teaching it; by being loyal to it, by keeping it faithfully, and by making it a vital part of our lives.
To this end, let us pray -
We thank you Father, for the Sabbath Day. May it be as blessing to us week by week, and all the time. Help us to be true and loyal and keep the Sabbath right in Your sight. In Jesus' name, Amen.
Hymn: Remember the Sabbath

Individual Readings: Isaiah 56:1-2; Ezekiel 20:20; John 14:21
  1. Thus says the Lord: “Keep justice, and do righteousness, for soon my salvation will come, and my deliverance be revealed. Blessed is the man who does this, and the son of man who holds it fast, who keeps the Sabbath, not profaning it, and keeps his hand from doing any evil.”
  2. "and keep my Sabbaths holy that they may be a sign between me and you, that you may know that I am the Lord your God."
  3. "Whoever has my commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves me. And he who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and manifest myself to him.”
Hymn: God of the Sabbath (verse 3)
Prayer

"God is the center of the universe and we are not"

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Martyrs

Christianity Today's Imago Fidei: provides this image of "The History of Martyrdom" from World Christian Trends, and notes:
The number of Christians killed for their faith has been growing since the beginning of Christianity, in AD 33.
Click on the image or go to the original source for a much larger version.

Some selected statistics from the same source:
TOTAL PERSONS, AD 33-2000
All persons born since AD 33: 36,673 million
All persons evangelized since AD 33: 12,105 million (33% of human race)
All Christians since AD 33: 8,344 million (23% of human race)
All martyrs killed since AD 33: 69,420.000
Martyrs as % all Christians ever: 0.8%
Martyrs among all Christian leaders ever: 2.0%
CONFESSION OF VICTIMS. AD 33-2000 (total martyrs of each tradition)
Orthodox: 42,798,000:
Russian Orthodox: 21,626,400
East Syrians (Nestorians): 12,379,000
Ukrainian Orthodox: 3,500,000
Gregorians (Armenian Apostolic): 1,215,100
Roman Catholic: 12,210,000
Catholics (before AD 1000): 855,000
Independents: 3,512,000
Protestants: 3,172,000
Anglicans 1,046,000
Marginal Christians: 6,700
other and background martyrs: 6,675,7C0
Total all martyrs: 69,420,000
PERSECUTORS AND THEIR VICTIMS - AD 33-2000
Persecutors responsible/Martyrs:
State ruling power/55,871,000
Atheists (overlap with above)/31,689,000
Muslims/9,121,000
Ethnoreligionists (animists)/7,469,000
Roman Catholics/5,171,000
Quasi-religionists/2,712,000
Buddhists (Mahayana)/1,651,000
Hindus/676.000
Zoroastrians (Parsis)/384,060
Eastern Orthodox/222,060
Other non-Christians/115,000
Other Christians/146,000
SUBTOTALS:
Non-Christian persecutors/63,882,000
Christian persecutors/5,538,000
Total all martyrs: 69,420,000
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Christianity Today Imago Fidei: Infographic: The History of Martyrdom, GCTS - Global Christianity - Global Data