Monday, July 20, 2009

Faddish, ignorant, and easily duped

From DeYoung & Kluck, Why We Love the Church, p. 115:
C.S. Lewis is famous for many things, among them coining the phrase "chronological snobbery." The phrase refers to the all-too-common tendency among Christians to quickly discount what is old and automatically embrace what is new. We tend to think our problems are original to us and our solutions are one of a kind. We are faddish trend-watchers—ignorant of our own history, obnoxiously dismissive of the practices of our spiritual fathers and mothers, and easily duped.

Although there's much talk these days about our lack of Christian community and the need we have to do our exegesis in the community of faith, the one community we seldom look to for wisdom is the community of the dead. Being inclusive toward the communion of the saints—who represent different centuries, different cultures, and different contexts—seems to be the one type of diversity that doesn't count.
G.K. Chesterton:
Tradition means giving votes to the most obscure of all classes, our ancestors. It is the democracy of the dead. Tradition refuses to submit to the small and arrogant oligarchy of those who merely happen to be walking about. All democrats object to men being disqualified by the accident of birth; tradition objects to their being disqualified by the accident of death. Democracy tells us not to neglect a good man's opinion, even if he is our groom; tradition asks us not to neglect a good man's opinion, even if he is our father.

Where do you go to church?

Charles Colson:
I've always resented the phrase "Where do you go to church?" I don't go to a church; I'm a member of a church. You don't ask where somebody "goes" to a country club. I'm not talking about where you're going, I'm talking about where you plant your flag and say, "This is where I'm a Christian."
Interviewed by Ted Kluck in Why We Love the Church, p. 146.

"A stupified silence, soaked in awe"

Mark Dever, pastor of the Capitol Hill Baptist Church in Washington, D.C. on the importance of silence in worship:
One of the most frequently commented upon aspects of the morning Lord's Day service here at Capitol Hill Baptist Church is nothing we do. Or rather, it is the nothing we do. It is our moments of silence.

There's silence between various aspects of the service. I encourage service leaders to NOT do the "no-dead-airspace" TV standard of busy-ness. We LIKE "dead air space." "Dead air space" gives us time to reflect. To collect our thoughts. To consider what we've just heard or read or sung. The silence amplifies the words or music we've just heard. It allows us time to take it all in, and to pray. We have silence to prepare ourselves. We have silence between the announcements and the scriptural call to worship. We even have a moment of silence AFTER the service! I pronounce the benediction from the end of II Corinthians, invite the congregation to be seated. And then, after about a minute of silence, the pianist begins quietly playing the last hymn that we had just sung. During those few moments, we reflect and prepare to speak to others and depart. We do business with God. We prepare ourselves for the week ahead.

I'm a sound addict. Even as I write about silence now, I've got Paganini blasting in my study! But yesterday morning in church during one of our silences, I became aware of how corporate a labor such public silence is. Everyone works to be quiet. People stop moving their bulletins or looking for something in their purse. There's no movement. We, together, hear the silence. It engulfs us. It enhances our unity. It is something we all do together. Together we consider what we've just heard. Together we contribute to each other's space to think.

Why has the church forgotten this? Our culture knows it. At the most solemn moments, we have a minute of silence. And everyone listens to the silence. And thinks about why we're being silent. Why don't we do this in the church. ....

But in all the noise of our choirs, and drums, and electic guitars, and organs, and praise bands, where is the solemnity? Where is the dignity and majesty that is so often indicated in the Bible by a stupified silence, soaked in awe and covered with wonder? .... [more]
Church Matters: The 9Marks Blog

Friday, July 17, 2009

"Who at my need His life did spend"

Via Justin Taylor and Roy Ortlund:


My song is love unknown,
My Saviour’s love to me;  
Love to the loveless shown,
That they might lovely be.  
O who am I, that for my sake  
My Lord should take frail flesh and die?

 He came from His blest throne   
Salvation to bestow;   
But men made strange, and none 
The longed-for Christ would know:   
But O! my Friend, my Friend indeed,   
Who at my need His life did spend.   

Here might I stay and sing,   
No story so divine;   
Never was love, dear King!   
Never was grief like Thine.   
This is my Friend, in   
Whose sweet praise 
I all my days could gladly spend.  
Samuel Crossman, 1664
YouTube - My Song Is Love Unknown

Saying the Creed without crossed fingers

In a review essay that should be interesting to those concerned about the intersection of science with Christianity, Edward B. Davis, a professor of the history of science, provides an appreciation of the work of John Polkinghorne whose work, he says has been able "...to steer a middle course between fundamentalism and modernism, particularly on issues involving science." Before discussing Polkinghorne's contribution, Davis provides a nice summary of the origins of the problem:
The word fundamentalist was first used in July 1920, and for much of the next decade American Protestants fought bitter internal battles over who would control their denominational seminaries, mission boards, and local churches. While those liberal Protestants who called themselves “modernists” sought to accommodate traditional Christian beliefs to modern science, politics, and culture, their conservative opponents were eager “to do battle royal for the fundamentals,” in the militaristic language of the Baptist preacher who coined the word.

As in most political fights, the biggest loser was the truth, with nuance and charity obliterated by bombast and malice. Issues involving science were particularly contentious, coming to a head in the 1925 show trial of John Scopes for teaching evolution in a Tennessee high school. William Jennings Bryan, the fundamentalist leader who assisted the prosecution, said that theistic evolution was “the anesthetic that dulls the pain while the faith is removed,” thus shortcutting any serious attempt at productive conversation. As Bryan told the editor of a fundamentalist magazine, evolution was “the cause of modernism and the progressive elimination of the vital truths of the Bible.” The Christian who accepted evolution, in his opinion, would almost inevitably descend a staircase of increasing unbelief, on which “there is no stopping place” short of atheism—a vivid image that Ernest James Pace soon converted into one of his most effective religious cartoons.

Bryan and Pace’s fears were not unwarranted. Most Protestant scientists and clergy who accepted evolution at that time coupled their high view of science with a low view of Christian theology, rejecting the Incarnation, the virgin birth, and the bodily Resurrection of Jesus—though they managed somehow to affirm personal immortality despite their inability to celebrate Easter in any traditional sense. American Protestants faced a grim choice: to affirm traditional Christian beliefs while denying evolution, or to accept evolution while seemingly compromising their faith.

This polarization has shaped much of the subsequent conversation about science and religion. The fundamentalist attitude remains widely influential, while some prominent theistic evolutionists sound like warmed-over versions of the modernists Bryan so detested. (In the Kitzmiller v. Dover trial, Roman Catholic theologian John Haught declined to affirm belief in the virgin birth and the historicity of the Resurrection: If the disciples had brought a video camera into the upper room, it would not have captured an image of the risen Christ.) Nevertheless, the landscape has changed significantly in recent decades, as thoughtful alternatives to both extremes have appeared in growing numbers—leading scientists and theologians who accept evolution, while at the same time affirming the Nicene Creed without crossing their fingers. ....
Polkinghorne is one of the most important of those providing an alternative to the extremes, Davis explains, with particular reference to two new books. In the latter part of the essay, Davis describes Polkinghorne's position on a central doctrine of the faith:
.... Many contemporary theologians doubt that Jesus was raised bodily from the grave—a startling state of affairs for the typical believer to grasp and impossible to reconcile with the Church’s celebration of Easter. In large part this reflects an exaggerated confidence in science and too easy an acceptance of the Enlightenment skepticism of David Hume. Polkinghorne, whose understanding of science is second to none, is unencumbered by either burden. He understands that the Resurrection is “the pivot on which the claim of a unique and transcendent significance for Jesus must turn,” and he does not turn away from embracing the risen Lord. It would be “a serious apologetic mistake,” he writes with typical British understatement, “if Christian theology thought that operating in the context of science should somehow discourage it from laying proper emphasis on the essential centrality of Christ’s Resurrection, however counterintuitive that belief may seem in the light of mundane expectation.” In an open-minded quest for motivated belief, Polkinghorne examines the evidence for the empty tomb, concluding that something truly miraculous actually happened—a foretaste of what will also happen to us, in the new creation that God will someday fashion from the dying embers of the old creation that has been our abode in this life.

In short, for Polkinghorne the universe is a created order, a beautiful and rational place that is also open to human and divine action—past, present, and future. .... [more]
The cartoon was also taken from the post at First Things

First Things - The Motivated Belief of John Polkinghorne

Thursday, July 16, 2009

The Heaven thing is pretty important

Kevin DeYoung is reviewing N.T. Wright's most recent book, Justification. He began yesterday with a generally positive appraisal of both Wright and the book, concluding "Wright is right more often than he is wrong. But I don’t think he is always right, nor is he always clear." Today he comments on one of Wright's themes that has always bothered me in "Good News: We Go to Heaven When We Die!":
One of Wright's pet peeves is reducing "salvation" to "going to heaven when you die" (10). This is a recurring theme in this book and every book I've read from Wright. .... I wholeheartedly agree that salvation is about more than being beamed up to heaven when we die, but the whole heaven thing is also pretty critical to folks when they come to die. They may find it encouraging to know that the whole cosmos is going to be renewed one night, but they really want to know where they will be if they choke on their mucus and stop breathing tonight.

Where we go when we die is one of the most important questions we as pastors have to answer. It isn’t enough to tell our people that they’ll live in a new world in the age to come. They want to know what tomorrow will be like? Will they be with Jesus today in paradise or not? Paul talked about his heavenly dwelling waiting for him once he died (2 Cor. 5:1-10) and the joy he would have to depart and be with Christ (Phil. 1:19-26), so we ought to have no shame in glorying, as the saints for two millennia have done, that we go to heaven when we die. ....

Now, I'm sure Wright believes we go to heaven when we die. And I know he is trying to correct an imbalance in some wings of the church. But I wish he would do it in a different way and not undermine or minimize one of the most precious promises in all the Bible, that he who believes in Jesus will never die but has eternal life. I am simply jealous that in emphasizing cosmic renewal we don't lose the precious hope of heaven that anchors the believer in hard times and is our sweet reward at the end of our days. [more]
Wright seems to believe that a focus on "pie in the sky bye and bye" means less concern for the world right now. That has never made sense to me. It seems to me that the knowledge that every action we take has eternal significance makes us more, not less, concerned about the world around us.

On the other hand, Wright's apparent desire to de-emphasize the consolations of eternal life has caused more than one critic to wonder how much experience he has personally had with those who are near death.

Incidentally, I am inclined to capitalize "Heaven" and "Hell." Ralph de Toledano once responded to an editor who insisted that was wrong by insisting himself that Heaven and Hell are places and place names are capitalized!

DeYoung, Restless, and Reformed: Good News: We Go to Heaven When We Die!

2009 Students of Faith Survey

First Things is engaged in a project which might well help Christian parents and prospective college students choose a campus that is not at least actively hostile to the faith: the "Students of Faith Survey."
First Things is embarking on a journey through the wild world of college rankings, and we need your help. We'd like to come up with a list of schools that provide (1) a solid academic training, (2) a diploma that will mean something at the end of day, and (3) an environment where faith, if not actively supported, is at least approved of and not discouraged inside and outside the classroom.

To help with that last part, we're asking undergraduates and recent graduates to fill out an online survey that will give us an idea what it is like on their campus for a student of faith.
The survey asks ten questions [each question asks both for a rating and for examples that illustrate the rating]. Some of the questions:
  • In your experience, do your professors generally ignore or ridicule religion, or do they take it seriously?
  • In the classroom, do you find faith considered a serious object of academic discourse, or do you find it deemed irrelevant or irrational?
  • If students are generally religious, do you sense that they live out their beliefs?
  • Do you find that you can, from time to time, engage your fellow students in religious discussions on a deeper level than, say, whether religion is good or bad?
  • From what you've seen, in what form would you say religion is most often expressed on your campus: in service projects, worship services, or some other form?
If you are currently a student or have recently graduated, the survey is here.

The picture is from an interesting Daily Californian [UC Berkeley] article about the experience of Christians on that campus.

First Things - Students of Faith Survey

Forgiveness?

Stuff Christians Like on "Forgiving people who didn't apologize":
Me: "Hey, can we talk for a minute? I know things have been kind of awkward between us lately and our friendship is strained a little, but I want to be honest with you today. I want you to know that I forgive you."
Friend: "Forgive me? For what?"
Me: "I'd rather not go into the details and reopen the wound, but that thing you did to me a few weeks ago. I forgive you for that. It's important to me that you know I have erased that debt in my heart."
Friend: "I have no idea what you're talking about. Did I do something?"
Me: "I'm a Christian and I'm called to forgive people and love my enemies. So even though it still stings a little, I want you to know we're cool now."
Friend: "Wait a second, we're enemies? Whoa. When did that happen?"
Me: "Stop, just stop. Just know that I forgive you. Someday maybe you'll understand. Come here, let's hug it out."
Friend: "Don't touch me."
Me: "I forgive that too. You can keep pushing me away, but I'm just going to keep loving on you." .... [more]
Stuff Christians Like: #579. Forgiving people who didn't apologize.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

A magazine well worth the time

I just received the July/August issue of Touchstone, one of my favorite magazines, "A Journal of Mere Christianity" as it describes itself. I haven't read all of it yet but two articles immediately caught my attention.

First, "Durable Hymns," by Donald T. Williams of Toccoa Falls College in Georgia. What criteria determine the best worship music? He identifies "marks of excellence":
What are those marks? There are at least five: (1) biblical truth; (2) theological profundity; (3) poetic richness; (4) musical beauty; and (5) the fitting of music to text in ways that enhance, rather than obscure or distort, its meaning.

These are the marks of excellence in any age. They are not arbitrary but are derived from biblical teaching about the nature of worship (it is to be in spirit and in truth, and involves loving God with our whole person, including the mind) and from an understanding of the nature of music and how it can support those biblical goals.
Williams goes on to elaborate on each of the five marks using examples both contemporary and from the past.

The second article is "Bad Books for Kids," by David Mills. After describing the depressing "realistic" books that seem to comprise most of what is offered to teenagers in schools and in the bookstores, Mills concludes with:
The young adult books I read startled me by how dreary they were, even when they were most chipper. The world they describe is ultimately a trivial and a tawdry and a boring one. There is much evil in them, but the evil does not frighten or challenge because the authors do not see it. The good in them is usually weak, tepid, ineffective, a helping hand or a shoulder to cry on, not a gallant knight on a glorious horse. The salvation in them is equally weak, more often resignation than transformation.

There is in them nothing like the young boy Jim Hawkins defying the pirates, or Frodo and Sam carrying the Ring up Mount Doom, or Sherlock Holmes sitting in a dark room waiting for the viper that will kill him if he hears it too late, or Mowgli preparing to face Sher Khan. There is nothing like the homely but desperate struggles of the family in Little House on the Prairie or the hard life of the people in Anne of Green Gables. There is nothing like the redemption of Scrooge.

This is the one great miscalculation the publishers have made. They sell their books by appealing to a child's worst nature—his resentment, his self-pity, his anger—when they could have sold more by appealing to his desire for glory. Why read about the odious Zach, "wise in the ways of French painting as well as other French things," when you can read about Odysseus, or Aeneas, or Aragorn, or even Harry Potter?
Neither of these articles are available online, nor are most of the others. You have to subscribe, which I heartily recommend.

Touchstone Archives: July/August, 2009

The Logos, atheism and science

In a recent book review, Timothy J. Burbery described the popular view of the relationship between Christianity and science:
Once upon a time the Catholic Church dominated every area of life, particularly the life of the mind. Free thought was suppressed, and the West's precious Greek heritage was rejected. Miraculous explanations for natural events were routinely invoked, and belief in a flat earth was universal. However, in the 16th and 17th centuries, a few plucky thinkers like Copernicus, Galileo, and Bacon threw off the chains of church hierarchy and scripturalism to offer bold new interpretations of the cosmos. Thus modern science was born. While medieval theories about nature were often circular and religiously biased, the new discipline relied solely on impartial experimentation and inductive logic.

What I have rehearsed here is, of course, a reductive and erroneous version of one of Western culture's most influential narratives, that of the so-called Scientific Revolution. Though this version may continue to dominate the popular mind, 20th-century historians of science have disputed many of its claims. .... [more]
In fact, the relationship between Christianity and science ought to be quite comfortable. Responding to an article in the Wall Street Journal, Stephen M. Barr, a physicist, explains "How God and Science Mix." Excerpts:
My fellow particle physicist Lawrence Krauss has argued that “God and science don’t mix.” He began with an interesting statement of J.B.S. Haldane, an eminent biologist of the last century:
“My practice as a scientist is atheistic. That is to say, when I set up an experiment I assume that no god, angel or devil is going to interfere with its course.”
Scientists are atheists in the lab, said Krauss, and so it is only logical that they should be atheists everywhere. .... For Haldane and Krauss, religion is about miracles, and miracles are about magic and the irrational, and therefore belief in God stands in opposition to the world revealed by science, a world intelligible by reason and governed by law.

For Jews and Christians, however, pitting God and the laws of nature against each other in this way is an absurd mistake; for it is the very lawfulness of nature that points to a divine Lawgiver. In the Bible, God gives laws not only to the people of Israel, but to the cosmos itself, as in Jeremiah 33:25, where he declares his fidelity to Israel in these terms: “When I have no covenant with day and night, and have given no laws to heaven and earth, then too will I reject the descendants of Jacob and of my servant David.”

In arguing against pagans for the existence of a creator God, ancient Christian writers pointed to the order and lawfulness of nature, not to the miraculous. The following passage from the second-century writer Minucius Felix is typical:
If upon entering some home you saw that everything there was well-tended, neat, and decorative, you would believe that some master was in charge of it, and that he was himself much superior to those good things. So too in the home of this world, when you see providence, order, and law in the heavens and on earth, believe that there is a Lord and Author of the universe, more beautiful than the stars themselves and the various parts of the whole world. ....
.... For Christians, this cosmic order is the work of the divine Logos or Reason: “In the beginning was the Logos, and the Logos was with God, and the Logos was God. Through him all things were made.” (John 1:1-3)

Modern science was founded by men, such as Kepler, Galileo, Boyle, and Newton, who were devoutly religious and saw themselves as uncovering these ordinances of divine reason. ....

.... Doesn’t belief in [miracles] make nonsense of everything I have just said? On the contrary; there is no logical contradiction in believing in both natural laws and miracles; for if the laws of nature are God’s ordinances to begin with, then what he has ordained he may also suspend. Indeed, to speak of a miracle in the absence of law would be meaningless. Nor is there a historical contradiction between the two ideas, as is shown by the fact that many of the fundamental laws of physics were discovered by and named after men who believed in miracles. ....

In the Christian view, miracles are not mere outbreaks of lawlessness in nature that happen in an utterly capricious way. Since only God can suspend his own laws, miracles are always divine acts, and serve a divine purpose. In the Bible and Christian tradition, that purpose is always to manifest God’s love and mercy, and to attest to the authority of singular figures who teach or act in his name. Miracles are thus exceedingly rare events, fraught with deeply symbolic religious significance. The idea that God would interfere in the scientific experiments of Haldane or anyone else, as if he were a mischievous imp or poltergeist, is utterly silly from a Christian point of view. And to consider the fact that he doesn’t do so an argument for atheism is on a par with Khrushchev’s triumphant announcement that the cosmonauts had not seen God in outer space. ....[more]
First Things - How God and Science Mix, Squaring God's Books - Books & Culture

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Ties that divide

The American Episcopal Church seems to have indicated that its acceptance of homosexual clergy is irrevocable thus, in the words of the Times of London, making "Schism 'inevitable'":
A worldwide Anglican schism now seems inevitable after Episcopal bishops in the United States today backed the consecration of gay bishops.

Episcopal bishops approved a resolution passed earlier this week by the laity and clergy that allows “partnered gays” full access to ordination.

The Archbishop of Canterbury expressed “regret” over a decision by Anglicans in the US that represents a blow to his hopes for Church unity.

They took the step towards schism in spite of a plea by Dr Rowan Williams, who addressed the General Convention in Anaheim, California, last week.

The new resolution effectively overturns the moratoria on same-sex blessings and gay consecrations agreed by the last General Convention of The Episcopal Church in 2006.

It means that it is only a matter of time before another partnered gay bishop is elected, following in the footsteps of gay-rights pioneer Gene Robinson, the Bishop of New Hampshire. ....

Earlier Bishop Jefferts Schori “threw a hand grenade” into proceedings, as USA Today’s Faith and Reason blog put it, when she said that the tendency to focus on individual salvation in the debate over sexual ethics was “heresy” and “idolatry”.
Once upon a time, not so long ago, being Anglican meant affirming the Thirty-Nine Articles which in Article Twenty included this:
...[I]t is not lawful for the Church to ordain any thing that is contrary to God's Word written, neither may it so expound one place of Scripture, that it be repugnant to another. ....
Terry Mattingly recalls an old joke:
It may be time for that old, old Episcopal joke, again. This is the version that I heard in the mid-1990s.
The year is 2012, as the joke goes, and two Anglo-Catholic priests in the back of National Cathedral are watching the Episcopal presiding bishop and her incense-bearing lesbian lover process down the aisle behind a statue of the Buddha, while the faithful sing a hymn to Mother Earth.

“You know,” one traditionalist whispers, “ONE more thing and I’m out of here.”
You can tell that the joke is very old, because the Episcopalians who told it a decade or more ago did not anticipate the advent of same-sex union rites. Thus, the joke should say that presiding bishop and her lesbian spouse processed down the center aisle. Times change. ....
Of course, today, many of the traditionalists are leaving — or, perhaps, it is the Episcopal Church that is departing from Anglicanism.

Update. N.T. Wright, Bishop of Durham and New Testament scholar:
In the slow-moving train crash of international Anglicanism, a decision taken in California has finally brought a large coach off the rails altogether. The House of Bishops of the Episcopal Church (TEC) in the United States has voted decisively to allow in principle the appointment, to all orders of ministry, of persons in active same-sex relationships. This marks a clear break with the rest of the Anglican Communion.

Both the bishops and deputies (lay and clergy) of TEC knew exactly what they were doing. ....

.... Many in TEC have long embraced a theology in which chastity, as universally understood by the wider Christian tradition, has been optional.

That wider tradition always was counter-cultural as well as counter-intuitive. Our supposedly selfish genes crave a variety of sexual possibilities. But Jewish, Christian and Muslim teachers have always insisted that lifelong man-plus-woman marriage is the proper context for sexual intercourse. This is not (as is frequently suggested) an arbitrary rule, dualistic in overtone and killjoy in intention. It is a deep structural reflection of the belief in a creator God who has entered into covenant both with his creation and with his people (who carry forward his purposes for that creation).

Paganism ancient and modern has always found this ethic, and this belief, ridiculous and incredible. But the biblical witness is scarcely confined, as the shrill leader in yesterday’s Times suggests, to a few verses in St Paul. Jesus’s own stern denunciation of sexual immorality would certainly have carried, to his hearers, a clear implied rejection of all sexual behaviour outside heterosexual monogamy. This isn’t a matter of “private response to Scripture” but of the uniform teaching of the whole Bible, of Jesus himself, and of the entire Christian tradition. .... [more]
Schism 'inevitable' after US bishops approve gay ordination -Times Online, Those ties that bind and divide » GetReligion, The Americans know this will end in schism | Tom Wright - Times Online

July 14

Ralph Hancock at Postmodern Conservative on Bastille Day and the triumph of Reason:
As I awoke this morning I was treated to a most light-hearted remembrance of Bastille day on NPR. Nothing is so merry, it seems, as stringing up a few “aristocrats” from light poles. Not that the jovial announcers at NPR are particularly to blame; their casual notice of what could be considered the political beginning of radical modernity is thoroughly typical of the complacency of our late modernity: an unquestioned secular rationalism, but without bearing any of the weight of reason’s responsibility. At least Lenin, a very conscious heir of the Jacobins, had some sense of the gravity of the decision by human beings to take over the sovereignty that had belonged to God. Now, however, reason rules with unbearable lightness.

Here are some thoughts I framed long ago, for the occasion of the 200th anniversary of the taking of the Bastille: [snip]

…. If politics is all there is, then politics must be everything, it must hold the key to fulfilling not only the ordinary needs but even the deepest longings of humanity.

Those who propose to liberate human beings by reducing them to their naked individuality and destroying the bonds that connect them with principles understood to reside beyond human power risk arrogating to themselves the right to forge new and tighter chains. If there is no Truth above the People, then the People are led to create their own truth – in effect, of course, some revolutionary elite must create it in the name of the People, whatever the human cost. The violence of the Terror appears thus to spring from a theoretical violence to human nature… [more]
Postmodern Conservative — A First Things Blog

Witty, or just stupid?

David Nelson is annoyed by silly — or worse — messages on church signs. After describing some other categories, he comes to some of the theologically problematic:
Finally, here are some signs I’ve seen recently that have obvious theological problems. It is troublesome that we could pack such theological garbage into such small sayings:
We’re too blessed to be depressed.

Never run faster than your guardian angel can fly.

Do your best and let Jesus do the rest.

God does what few men can do - forgets the sins of others.
Let me take these one by one, to be clear about what I mean.

We are too blessed to be depressed: Finding the grace of God in Christ does not assure you that you will not face struggles and, yes, even depression, in this life. Read the Psalter. I realize that some might like this little saying, and may walk around with smiles pasted on their faces as if there are no worries in this world. But they didn’t get that from Christ, and that is not the result of walking according to the Spirit. That is a fabrication that has no association with Christianity. So, please, write a self-help book, or perhaps a pop song, but don’t sell this as the gospel.

Never run faster than your guardian angel can fly: Does the Bible teach that we have a guardian angel? And do all angels have wings? And, if they do, would it be possible for me to outrun a flying angel? Hmm.

Do your best and let Jesus do the rest: A popular sentiment (and it rhymes too!), but it’s antithetical to the gospel, which clearly teaches there is nothing we do to help ourselves, and that our best is nothing more than filthy rags. And, if the point of this sign is about sanctification, then it is a confused theory of sanctification that somehow displaces the primacy of grace with human effort. Be very careful here.

God does what few men can do - forgets the sins of others. No, God does not. An omniscient God does not forget sins. The Bible nowhere teaches this and the idea is theologically incoherent. If God forgets sins, then He believes something false about those humans whose sins He forgets. And if He believes something false, then what god is He? Not the God of the Bible. Be very, very careful here. .... [more]
They Don’t Seek This Sign « Between The Times

Monday, July 13, 2009

From evening to evening?

Nick Kersten, the executive of the Seventh Day Baptist Historical Society, calls attention to an article from the Intelligencer Journal/Lancaster New Era, a newspaper in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. The article is about the upcoming Seventh Day Baptist General Conference sessions which will be held at Lancaster Bible College from July 26 through August 1. Rob Appel, the denominational executive, is quoted in the article, describing who we are. Part of what he is quoted as having said:
.... Apple [sic] said the Internet has been a "blessing for us" because it has enabled people to learn that Seventh Day Baptists are just Baptists that worship on the Sabbath and are not Seventh Day Adventists.

"We truly are Baptist. We have congregational polity and autonomy of churches," he said. "The only difference is that we worship on the Sabbath, from sundown Friday to sundown Saturday — the same Sabbath Jews keep today — although a number of Seventh Day Baptist churches keep it as a 24-hour period from 12:01 a.m. Saturday to 11:59 p.m. Saturday."

On a scale of all the Baptist denominations, the Seventh Day Baptists resemble the conservative Southern Baptists most closely, Apple said. .... [more]
Assuming Rob was quoted accurately I found the comparison to Southern Baptists interesting and am curious about how other Seventh Day Baptists feel about the characterization.

I didn't know that some of our churches observe Sabbath from midnight to midnight. Although I'm sure that makes it much easier to participate in Friday night activities of various sorts, it does rather vary from our usual interpretation of the time frame of the weekly Sabbath — as Rob says "...we worship on the Sabbath, from sundown Friday to sundown Saturday — the same Sabbath Jews keep today...."

LancasterOnline.com:Religion:7th Day Baptists to meet at Lancaster Bible College

Sunday, July 12, 2009

"O God, Thy all-discerning eyes..."

Conjubilant With Song, a great blog about hymns, hymn writers, and hymn tunes, has discovered that John Quincy Adams, President, son of a President, ambassador, Congressman, was also a hymnwriter, and wrote paraphrases of the entire Psalter. Adams's paraphrase of Psalm 139 as provided by Conjubilant:
O God, thy all-discerning eyes
My inmost purpose see;
My deeds, my words, my thoughts arise
Alike disclosed to thee;
My sitting down, my rising up,
Broad noon and deepest night,
My path, my pillow, and my cup
Are open to thy sight.

Before, behind, I meet thine eye,
And feel thy guiding hand;
Such knowledge is for me too high
To reach or understand:
What of thy wonders can I know?
What of thy purpose see?
Where from thy spirit shall I go?
Where from thy presence flee?

If I ascend to heav'n on high.
Or make my bed in hell;
Or take the morning's wings, and fly
O'er ocean's bounds to dwell;
Or seek, from thee, a hiding place
Amid the gloom of night,
Alike to thee are time and space,
The darkness and the light.
Conjubilant With Song: John Quincy Adams

Friday, July 10, 2009

Try thinking fewer original thoughts

All that is not eternal, is eternally out of date.
C.S. Lewis

On the 500th anniversary of John Calvin's birth, Kevin DeYoung tells us why he remains important centuries later when so many who were famous in their day are unknown today. The lesson is the same for us all, however great or modest our ambition.
.... Strive for relevance in your day, and you may make a difference for a few years. Anchor yourself in what is eternal and you may influence the world for another five centuries.

I’m all for young people dreaming big dreams. Go out and change the world. Make a difference. Discover a cure for cancer. Write a best-selling novel. Become president. But remember, your “glory” (and mine) will not last. Your great accomplishments will fall away—either in your lifetime, or in a generation, or at the end of all things.

No one will care about your GPA and SAT scores in ten years. If you win a state championship, you’ll be forgotten the next year you don’t. Your beauty will get wrinkles and trim figure plump. Write a great book and it will gather dust in a library some day. Have a big famous church, it won’t last forever. Be an important person in your field, you still be unknown to over 6 billion people in the world. Build an amazing house, it will crumble some day, if it doesn’t go into foreclosure first. All of our achievements and successes are destined to be like dead grass and faded flowers.

But...the word of our God stands forever. The word about Babylon in Isaiah 40 stood firm. and so will his word in our generation. All God’s declarations about himself and his people are true. All his promises will come to pass. Our only confidence is in the word of God. John Calvin was a man, an imperfect, sinful man, but a man that God used enormously because he put his confidence in the word of God. ....

The truly significant people in this world know that God is everything and they’re nothing. Fads and fashions will rise and fall, but the word will keep on accomplishing its purposes. It will outlast us all. So let our reading, memorizing, catechizing, and preaching be saturated with the word. Let our songs, ministries and mission submit to the word. May all of our theological questions, relationship questions, family questions look to the word. May every new doctrine, new movement, new church, and new book be tested against the word. May all our living and dying be undertaken with the firm conviction that God is true though everyone were a liar (Rom. 3:4).

God's word is smarter, clearer, truer, and speaks to people's deepest needs more than you and I ever could. So try thinking a few less original thoughts and people just might find you relevant in 500 years. “A voice says, Cry out. And I said, What shall I cry? All men are like grass, and all their glory is like the flowers of the field. The grass withers and the flowers fall, because the breath of the Lord blows on them. Surely the people are grass. The grass withers and the flowers fall, but the word of our God stands forever” (Isa. 40:6-8). [more]
DeYoung, Restless, and Reformed: Withering and the Word: John Calvin at 500

"Why I am not a Libertarian"

Society cannot exist, unless a controlling power upon will
and appetite be placed somewhere;

and the less of it there is within,
the more there must be without.

It is ordained in the eternal constitution of things,
that men of intemperate minds cannot be free.
Their passions forge their fetters.
Edmund Burke

I was reminded of this quotation as I read Joe Carter's explanation of why, although he has found Libertarianism attractive, he is not one. This is the portion that reminded me of Burke:
.... By placing an overemphasis on individual liberty without an equal accent on individual virtue, the libertarian unwittingly erodes the foundation of order on which his political theory stands.

Order is a necessary precondition of liberty and must be maintained from the lowest level of government (the individual conscience) to the highest (the state). The individual conscience is the most basic level of government and it is regulated by virtues. Liberty, in this view, is not an end unto itself but a means by which eudaimonia (happiness or human flourishing) can most effectively be pursued. Liberty is a necessary component of virtue ethics, but it cannot be a substitute. Since it is based on the utilitarian principle that puts liberty, rather than eudaimonia as the chief end of man, libertarianism undermines order and becomes a self-defeating philosophy.

Contrary to what libertarians might believe, order does not arise spontaneously. It is either cultivated from within, through self-disciple, or is forced upon an individual from forces outside themselves (i.e., by the laws or mores of the community) if they lack the requisite character. Once established, this order has to be maintained to be effective. In the absence of order there is no peace, no justice, and certainly no natural harmony. .... [more]
The immediately previous post on this blog makes a closely related point.

First Thoughts — Virtue Ethics and Broken Windows or Why I Am Not a Libertarian

Thursday, July 9, 2009

"Manners are of more importance than laws"

David Brooks goes "In Search of Dignity" and laments the loss of standards of behavior that were still common in my father's generation:
When George Washington was a young man, he copied out a list of 110 Rules of Civility and Decent Behavior in Company and Conversation. Some of the rules in his list dealt with the niceties of going to a dinner party or meeting somebody on the street.

“Lean not upon anyone,” was one of the rules. “Read no letter, books or papers in company,” was another. “If any one come to speak to you while you are sitting, stand up,” was a third.

But, as the biographer Richard Brookhiser has noted, these rules, which Washington derived from a 16th-century guidebook, were not just etiquette tips. They were designed to improve inner morals by shaping the outward man. Washington took them very seriously. He worked hard to follow them. Throughout his life, he remained acutely conscious of his own rectitude.

In so doing, he turned himself into a new kind of hero. He wasn’t primarily a military hero or a political hero. As the historian Gordon Wood has written, “Washington became a great man and was acclaimed as a classical hero because of the way he conducted himself during times of temptation. It was his moral character that set him off from other men.”

Washington absorbed, and later came to personify what you might call the dignity code. The code was based on the same premise as the nation’s Constitution — that human beings are flawed creatures who live in constant peril of falling into disasters caused by their own passions. Artificial systems have to be created to balance and restrain their desires.

The dignity code commanded its followers to be disinterested — to endeavor to put national interests above personal interests. It commanded its followers to be reticent — to never degrade intimate emotions by parading them in public. It also commanded its followers to be dispassionate — to distrust rashness, zealotry, fury and political enthusiasm. ....

The old dignity code has not survived modern life. The costs of its demise are there for all to see. Every week there are new scandals featuring people who simply do not know how to act. ....

Americans still admire dignity. But the word has become unmoored from any larger set of rules or ethical system. ....
Manners are of more importance than laws.
The law can touch us here and there, now and then.
Manners are what vex or soothe, corrupt or purify, exalt or debase,
barbarize or refine us, by a constant, steady, uniform,
insensible operation like that of the air we breathe in.

Burke

"Some faint reflections"

Every high school English curriculum used to include Dickens alongside Shakespeare - often a book and a play each year. The TAG class I once co-taught with an English and a Science teacher required students to read Oliver Twist. Dickens remains very much worth reading, and for Christians not least because the books are perfectly compatible with the faith. Brian Murray at First Things writes about "The Social Gospel of Charles Dickens," in particular his efforts to rescue London prostitutes and help them begin new lives as emigrants.
.... Critics and biographers tend to ignore the centrality of Dickens’ Christianity, perhaps because he was so famous for mocking religious hypocrites in his books. Dickens, it is true, was a latitudinarian through and through. But he had never abjured the Anglicanism in which he had been nominally reared. “One of my most constant and earnest endeavors,” he once wrote, “has been to exhibit in all my good people some faint reflections of the teachings of our Great Master. . . . All my illustrations are derived from the New Testament; all my social abuses are shown to be departures from its spirit.” In his will he wrote, “I commit my soul to the mercy of God through our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.”.... [more]
First Things - The Social Gospel of Charles Dickens

Seventh Day Baptists in Europe and America


The internet is a wonderful source of all kinds of information made accessible in ways that could not be imagined just a few decades ago. This morning a "Google Alert" informed me that, once again, Seventh Day Baptists in Europe and America (1910), long out of print, is available online. This time the two volumes are scanned from the libraries of Harvard University [Vol. II] and the University of Michigan [Vol. I]. Although careful students of denominational history who have read much more Seventh Day Baptist history than I warn that the articles in these volumes vary greatly in their accuracy and reliability, they are well indexed and contain pictures that are unavailable anywhere else online.

The books are available at these links in a variety of forms:

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

How much are six months worth?

The Wall Street Journal describes how health care rationing works in the United Kingdom:
.... What NICE has become in practice is a rationing board. As health costs have exploded in Britain as in most developed countries, NICE has become the heavy that reduces spending by limiting the treatments that 61 million citizens are allowed to receive through the NHS. ....

.... [NICE] has by now established the principle that the only way to control health-care costs is for this panel of medical high priests to dictate limits on certain kinds of care to certain classes of patients.

The NICE board even has a mathematical formula for doing so, based on a "quality adjusted life year." While the guidelines are complex, NICE currently holds that, except in unusual cases, Britain cannot afford to spend more than about $22,000 to extend a life by six months. Why $22,000? It seems to be arbitrary, calculated mainly based on how much the government wants to spend on health care. That figure has remained fairly constant since NICE was established and doesn't adjust for either overall or medical inflation.

Proponents argue that such cost-benefit analysis has to figure into health-care decisions, and that any medical system rations care in some way. And it is true that U.S. private insurers also deny reimbursement for some kinds of care. The core issue is whether those decisions are going to be dictated by the brute force of politics (NICE) or by prices (a private insurance system).

The last six months of life are a particularly difficult moral issue because that is when most health-care spending occurs. But who would you rather have making decisions about whether a treatment is worth the price — the combination of you, your doctor and a private insurer, or a government board that cuts everyone off at $22,000? ....

Mr. Obama and Democrats claim they can expand subsidies for tens of millions of Americans, while saving money and improving the quality of care. It can't possibly be done. The inevitable result of their plan will be some version of a NICE board that will tell millions of Americans that they are too young, or too old, or too sick to be worth paying to care for. [more]
How much are six months worth? And who should decide?

Wesley J. Smith, responding to another advocate of limiting "end-of-life" care, and drawing the logical—disturbing—conclusion:
I am all for hospice care and refusing unwanted ICU—if that is what the patient wants. As long time readers know, I have been a hospice volunteer. My dad died of colon cancer receiving hospice as have other relatives and very close friends. But here’s the thing: Once we say that a life is not worth preserving based on costs, we have instituted explicit rationing and created a duty to die.

The doctor then talks about a “well thought out plan” for end of life care and the signing of advance directives. Again, I’m all for it, but recall that there are many forces wanting to give faceless bioethics committees the right to veto your desires—even if set in writing. ....

.... [T]hink of all the money to be saved if instead of hospice or an extended time of debilitation we could give the patient a lethal jab or a poison brew! Indeed, it’s already happening: Recall, in Oregon, Medicaid has refused life-extending treatment to cancer patients but explicitly offered to pay for assisted suicide. Not that assisted suicide will become the cornerstone of health care reform. But make no mistake: It is the monster lurking in the shadows that we ignore at all our peril.

So, here’s the gig as I see it developing: In the new health care order, “choice” will be sacrosanct if the choice is death—either naturally or by lethal means. But if the choice is is to go on living—at a certain point “choice” will cease to be operative because you will have become unwanted ballast. Eventually, that could even mean non voluntary euthanasia as now occurs with regularity in the Netherlands.
Of NICE and Men - WSJ.com, Secondhand Smoke — A First Things Blog

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

What we offer the world

Mark Galli at the Christianity Today site on "The Scandal of the Public Evangelical," the reaction—particularly the reaction of evangelical believers—to bad behavior by public figures who are identified with the faith. Read it all here.
.... It's discouraging to see Christians who could have been models of our faith become merely examples of what G.K. Chesterton called the one doctrine subject to empirical proof: original sin.

There is something in the evangelical psyche that denies this reality. Yes, we're a movement that preaches repentance and confession of sin as a chief means of grace. But after conversion, our holiness heritage kicks in. We preach, teach, and live "discipleship," "obedience," and "following" Jesus. We're deathly afraid of cheap grace. We assume that with sufficient exhortation and moral effort, our sins will become smaller than a widow's mite and our righteousness larger than life.

This is coupled with the long-standing evangelical myth that there should be something different about the Christian. A look. An attitude. A lifestyle. Something noticeable, something that causes the unbeliever to pause and wonder, "What does that person have?" Because it is such an integral part of our evangelistic method, we spend enormous amounts of psychic energy trying exude that something. ....

I sometimes wonder if becoming "sanctified" in this life is mostly about becoming increasingly aware of just how much we are, in the words of the Book of Common Prayer, "miserable sinners," and that, really, "there is no health in us." ....

It is God's utter acceptance of us that allows us to look at our miserable sinfulness and not flinch. If that's not the final step in sanctification, it is certainly a prerequisite to any other step. And it's about all most of us will experience in this life. ....

.... What we offer the world is not ourselves or our moral example or our spiritual integrity. What we offer the world is our broken lives, saying, "We are sinners saved by grace." What we offer the world is Jesus Christ and him crucified.

"Be a sinner and sin boldly," said Martin Luther, "but believe and rejoice in Christ even more boldly. For he is victorious over sin, death, and the world. As long as we are here, we have to sin. This life is not the dwelling place of righteousness but, as Peter says, we look for a new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells. … Pray boldly—you too are a mighty sinner."

Make no mistake, this is not cheap grace. Not cheap at all—it's free. And it's the most precious thing we have to offer the world. [more]
The Scandal of the Public Evangelical | Christianity Today | A Magazine of Evangelical Conviction

Who is the King?

A couple of friends and I went out to lunch a bit after noon today and found ourselves at a location where the television would normally have been tuned to sporting events but today broadcast the Jackson memorial service. We ignored most of it successfully but Sean Curnyn at First Thoughts managed to watch some of it:
What is described in the news media as the “golden casket” containing Michael Jackson’s remains is carried towards the stage at the Staples Center, while a gospel choir sings a song called We’re Going to See the King. I have little doubt that the king whom the songwriter had in mind was the King of Heaven and Earth, but it’s almost impossible, in this context, not to infer that we are expected to be thinking instead about the “King of Pop.”
Soon and very soon, we are going to see the King
Hallelujah! Hallelujah! We’re going to see the King.

No more crying there, we are going to see the King
Hallelujah! Hallelujah! We’re going to see the King.

No more dying there, we are going to see the King
Hallelujah! Hallelujah! We’re going to see the King.
A clergyman identified as Pastor Lucious comes to the podium, and praises Michael and the Jackson family. He also assures us that Michael is not gone, but will always be with us and will always comfort us. In his entire time at the microphone, I do not hear him refer to God, by any name—not even once.

Queen Latifah speaks for a while and asserts, “Michael was the biggest star in Heaven and Earth.”

Lionel Richie—perhaps narrowly heading off an earthquake that is about to swallow the Staples Center—then sings his song Jesus Is Love.

On that note, I find the energy to pull myself away from the TV.
First Thoughts — A First Things Blog

Sunday, July 5, 2009

"Not by singing about doing it, but by doing it"

Today Challies quotes D.A. Carson on worship. An excerpt from the excerpt:
.... Although there are things that can be done to enhance corporate worship, there is a profound sense in which excellent worship cannot be attained merely by pursuing excellent worship. In the same way that, according to Jesus, you cannot find yourself until you lose yourself, so also you cannot find excellent corporate worship until you stop trying to find excellent corporate worship and pursue God himself. ....

This point is acknowledged in a praise chorus like “Let’s forget about ourselves, and magnify the Lord, and worship him.” The trouble is that after you have sung this repetitious chorus three of four times, you are no farther ahead. The way you forget about yourself is by focusing on God—not by singing about doing it, but by doing it. There are far too [few] choruses and services and sermons that expand our vision of God—his attributes, his works, his character, his words. Some think that corporate worship is good because it is lively where it had been dull. But it may also be shallow where it is lively, leaving people dissatisfied and restless in a few months’ time. .... If you wish to deepen the worship of the people of God, above all deepen their grasp of his ineffable majesty in his person and in all his works. [more]
Worshiping Worship :: worship :: A Reformed, Christian Blog

Saturday, July 4, 2009

"If men were angels..."

On this Independence Day, Rich Lowry celebrates our Founding Fathers, especially James Madison, whose understanding of human nature was not the least bit Utopian:
"There is a degree of depravity in mankind," James Madison wrote in The Federalist Papers, "which requires a certain degree of circumspection and distrust." When revolutionaries talk of depravity, it is often to brand their class or ethnic enemies for destruction. Gas chambers, prison camps and killing fields inevitably follow.

The depravity of which our Founders spoke was different. It ran through the hearts of all men, themselves included. It tempered their expectations of what they could, and what they should attempt to, achieve. No secular millennium, no perfectly harmonious republic — because, as Madison wrote, "the latent causes of faction are sown in the nature of man." ....

"It may be a reflection on human nature," Madison wrote in the famous passage in Federalist No. 51, "that such devices should be necessary to control the abuses of government. But what is government itself, but the greatest of all reflections on human nature? If men were angels, no government would be necessary. If angels were to govern men, neither external nor internal controls on government would be necessary.

"In framing a government which is to be administered by men over men, the great difficulty lies in this: You must first enable the government to control the governed; and in the next place oblige it to control itself." ....

They didn't let their view of reality get obscured by abstruse theories or sunny abstractions of the sort that perverted the French Revolution. No philosophes need apply. Instead, a residual Calvinism tinged their worldview. ....

In keeping with their lively view of human fallibility, our revolutionaries set about circumscribing government to limit its abuse. .... [more]
FOUNDING SKEPTICS - New York Post

Dreaming spires

I just got my copy of The Inklings of Oxford: C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, and Their Friends, which I recommend strongly to anyone interested in the lives of Lewis, Tolkien, Dorothy L. Sayers or any of the others in this generation of Oxford Christians. I suspect that those uninterested in the text but who love the city and university will enjoy the book too. The photographs are gorgeous and those parts of the text I've read so far are good. I've read a great deal about the Inklings and, nevertheless, have already learned new things for instance that Dorothy Sayers [not technically an Inkling] quit writing the Wimsey mysteries as soon as she had an assured income and thereafter devoted herself to other things she felt worthwhile, especially Christian apologetics.

David Downing describes the pictures:
The photographs in this book are a banquet for the eyes. Nearly all in color, the pictures capture not only familiar images of famous Oxford edifices and much-loved pubs. They also provide artful close-ups of cobbled streets, ornamental woodcarvings, and joyous wildflowers in and around the city of dreaming spires.
I've been to Oxford more than once with particular interest in sites related to Lewis. I wish this book had been available before I went — I would have seen more and been much better informed about what I did see. The pictures and the suggested walking tours make me wish I could go again.

C. S. Lewis Blog: A Picture-Perfect Look at the Inklings’ Oxford

Friday, July 3, 2009

"With a firm reliance on the protection of Divine Providence"

The Declaration of Independence was published on July 4, 1776:
When in the Course of human events it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. — That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, — That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security. ....

We, therefore, the Representatives of the united States of America, in General Congress, Assembled, appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions, do, in the Name, and by Authority of the good People of these Colonies, solemnly publish and declare, That these united Colonies are, and of Right ought to be Free and Independent States, that they are Absolved from all Allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain, is and ought to be totally dissolved; and that as Free and Independent States, they have full Power to levy War, conclude Peace, contract Alliances, establish Commerce, and to do all other Acts and Things which Independent States may of right do. — And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of Divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes, and our sacred Honor.
The Declaration of Independence

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

"Jesus Christ is the point and not you"

Kevin DeYoung and Ted Kluck, authors of the new book, Why We Love the Church: In Praise of Institutions and Organized Religion, have a column in Newsweek's On Faith site: "Church: Love It, Don't Leave It." Excerpts:
Here's what Bono, Oprah, and the guru speakers on PBS won't tell you: Jesus believed in organized religion and he founded an institution. Of course, Jesus had no patience for religious hacks and self-righteous wannabes, but he was still Jewish. And as Jew, he read the Holy Book, worshiped in the synagogue, and kept Torah. He did not start a movement of latte-drinking disciples who excelled in spiritual conversations. He founded the church (Matt. 16:18) and commissioned the apostles to proclaim the good news that Israel's Messiah had come and the sins of the world could be forgiven through his death on the cross (Matt. 28:18-20; Acts 2:14-36). ....

We've been in the church our whole lives and are not blind to its failings. Churches can be boring, hypocritical, hurtful, and inept. The church is full of sinners. Which is kind of the point. Christians are worse than you think. Our Savior is better than you imagine.

But the church is not all about oppression and drudgery. Almost every church we know of visits old people, brings meals to new moms, supports disaster relief, and does something for the poor. We love the local church, in spite of its problems, because it's where we go to meet God. It's not a glorified social/country club you attend to be around people who talk and look just you do. It's a place to hear God's word spoken, taught and affirmed. It's a place to sing praises to God, and a place to serve others. It's a place to be challenged. ....

We love the church because Christ loved the church. She is his bride—a harlot at times, but his bride nonetheless, being washed clean by the word of God (Eph. 5:25-26). If you are into Jesus, don't rail on his bride. Jesus died for the church, so don't be bothered by a little dying to self for the church's sake. If you keep in mind that everyone there is a sinner (including yourself) and that Jesus Christ is the point and not you, your dreams, or your kids, your church experience might not be as lame as you fear.

Perhaps Christians are leaving the church because it isn't tolerant and open-minded. But perhaps the church-leavers have their own intolerance too—intolerant of tradition, intolerant of authority, intolerant of imperfection except their own. Are you open-minded enough to give the church a chance—a chance for the church to be the church, not a coffee shop, not a mall, not a variety show, not Chuck E. Cheese, not a U2 concert, not a nature walk, but a wonderfully ordinary, blood-bought, Spirit-driven church with pastors, sermons, budgets, hymns, bad carpet and worse coffee? ....[more]
Church: Love It, Don't Leave It

Hypocrisy and integrity

Christopher Tollefsen at Public Discourse writes about the damage done to integrity when there is a conflict between behavior and professed morality and how the absence of integrity is particularly corrosive when politicians lack it:
La Rochefoucauld famously said that “hypocrisy is a tribute vice pays to virtue.” This is often understood to mean that the hypocrite who says one thing but does another, says what he says because he knows it is right. The hypocrite possesses the knowledge that his behavior is wrong or sinful, and so speaks the truth, even while not living it.

There is something to this. A person’s failure to live up to his stated moral code need not call either the validity of that code nor his belief in the code in question. In fact, given the inevitability of moral failure in our lives, it is similarly inevitable that those with strong moral convictions will sometimes fail to act in the way they publicly identify as morally appropriate.

But is hypocrisy really nothing more than the inability of persons to live up to their own moral code? No. Hypocrisy does not just involve disconnect between word and deed; it involves dissimulation, falsity in how one acts. The hypocrite does not merely make assertions he believes to be true about morality while failing to abide by them. He also makes false assertions, often by his deeds. He deceives others by creating the appearance of virtue while succumbing to vice. Creating this appearance may, of course, take a great deal of work; consider what is involved in maintaining the illusion—to one’s spouse, one’s children, and others—that one is being faithful in marriage, if one is actually having an affair

This makes hypocrisy, just in itself, morally bad for the hypocrite. For, an important and basic aspect of human well-being entails our striving to achieve a unity in the various aspects of our practical lives and selves. Our practical judgments must be harmonized with our choices, our choices with our actions, and all with our feelings. Otherwise we are at war within ourselves, agents who know what is good but choose what is not, or who choose what is good but rebel internally because desire prods us in some other direction. Integrity is a matter of bringing all these aspects of our practical life into line with one another. .... [more]
Thanks to Ryan Sayre Patrico for the reference.

Public Discourse: Ethics, Law and the Common Good