Sunday, March 23, 2014

Truer words...

An article in the Daily Telegraph dealing with the challenges ahead for Church of England Archbishop Justin Welby elicited the following comment from a reader:
Religion is founded on a notion that it has teachings or scriptures from a divine (supernatural) source, and this source is provides insights into ultimate truths which can not be discerned by mere mortals investigating nature.

Any religious institution which believes it needs to modernise its beliefs is admitting that its beliefs have never had such a divine source - they are man-made and, like all man-made things, need to be modernised periodically.  Consequently, that institution no longer represents a spiritual belief system, but is simply a political organisation which pretends to be founded on spiritual beliefs.

That pretty much sums up the Church of England.
This comment is not only my quote of the day, it may be the quote of a lifetime.  And it reminded me of something I said in a recent sermon:
I have an abiding distrust for what C. S. Lewis called "chronological snobbery."  Chronological snobbery is the notion that the ideas of our own day are better than the ideas of a bygone day just because the ideas are in our day.  Chronological snobbery feels that things are truer because they are newer.

Now there is a difference here: Truth in areas such as science is a matter of discovery.  So, indeed, new discoveries may invalidate previously held ideas and replace them with new ones.  The discovery that the Earth revolves around the Sun, instead of the older idea that the Sun and other celestial bodies revolved around the Earth, is just one example.

I remember when I was young, being at my grandparents’ house and looking up the word “atom” in an old dictionary (from around the year 1900).  The definition said that the atom was the smallest particle of matter and could not be divided.  Well, by then (early 1960’s), even as a child in grade school, I had already been taught about protons, electrons, and neutrons—and, indeed, I knew that the atom could be split with powerful and sometimes destructive force.  In science, new discoveries teach us new truth.

However, in Christian faith and theology, truth is a primarily a matter of revelation, not discovery.  Oh, we may discover new insights out of what has been revealed in Scripture.  But we do not discover new truth that invalidates the clear revelation God has given us.

For example: we will not come to a new discovery in theology that God is an impersonal force, not a Person, that Hell does not exist, that human beings are not sinners because of the Fall, that the atoning death of Jesus Christ is not necessary for salvation—though there are theologians writing, teaching, and holding distinguished professorships who will try to tell you each of those things.  These theologians and denominational leaders and people who follow them believe that theologians today can formulate ideas that make the truth of Holy Scripture, the faith once delivered to the saints, obsolete.

A pointed example from our own day:  Some people want to redefine marriage, and they say that Jesus never said anything that would prohibit doing so.  What Jesus did say that bears on the issue is this:  Speaking to a group who had asked him about divorce, Jesus says, “Have you not read, that at the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female,’ and said, ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh’?” (Matthew 19:4-6)

So the teaching of Jesus is that this is God’s design for human sexual relations, and he grounds it in the creation order (Genesis 2:24).  And, sure enough, whether you are Chinese, or Indian, or a member of a tribe living in the jungle, men marry women and women marry men, and that is how we got 7 billion people living on the planet.  Because the creation order is a reality even in cultures that have never been influenced by the Bible.  So when we talk about redefining marriage, we are talking about not merely something that the Church has never done before, we are talking about something that human civilization has never done before.

Observing truth from the creation order that is consistent with the truth of God in revelation is known as “natural law.”  Natural law refers to the use of reason to analyze human existence and deduce binding rules of moral behavior.  In jurisprudence it serves as a means by which the laws of given political community or society may be critiqued.

If you follow confirmation hearings of Supreme Court justices you may remember nominees being asked what their views were on natural law (such as Justices Clarence Thomas, Antonin Scalia, and Chief Justice John Roberts).  You see, there are politicians who don’t want justices who believe that there is a “givenness”—a revealed nature—to the way things are, and that there is a natural order of things with which laws must be consistent.  It interferes with the idea that we can make up laws to do whatever we want.  But I digress.

This chronological snobbery of which I was speaking is irrational because being new is no guarantee of being true.  It’s pure arrogance to think that a thought in my head is better than a thought in the head of St. Athanasius, Thomas Aquinas, or Martin Luther, just because I live in the twenty-first century and they lived in centuries past.  There is no logical connection between the truth of an insight and the century when God puts it into somebody’s mind.

Many of the theological errors we see today are really the heresies of a past age in new packaging.  So I try to flee every temptation to be a chronological snob.  C. S. Lewis prescribed at least one antidote.  He said that every third book you read should be from outside your own century.  It was good advice.
Numerous commentators have noted, for more than twenty years, that there are two religions in the Episcopal Church.  (Just try Googling the phrase "two religions in the Episcopal Church" to see the copious number of references.)  By extension, this might be said as well for the Anglican Communion.  If one is willing to take a step back and look at the larger picture, is probably most accurate to say that there are two religions today both calling themselves Christianity, and the battle between the two is being fought in every historic Christian tradition.

The difference between these two religions is described succinctly by the comment I quoted from the Daily Telegraph.  It is the difference between what J. Gresham Machen called "Revealed Religion" and "naturalistic liberalism," which, as Machen said, "is not Christianity at all."

How the conflict between these two religions will play out remains to be seen--except I believe I can say with certainty that when, in response to Peter's confession, Jesus promised, "upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it," it was not the false Christianity of naturalistic liberalism that he was talking about.

This means that "revealed" Christianity will ultimately be seen as the victor (at least by God, whose verdict alone matters), even if it is the martyr's victory.

The great frustration in the meantime is that there are ostensibly orthodox Christian leaders (be they bishops, seminary presidents, trustees, etc.) who do not realize there is a battle or, if they do, are not willing to fight it if it means martyrdom—or even a loss of temporal position, prestige, or institutional connections.

I don't need to dwell on what our Lord thinks of such worldly compromises and lukewarmness.  Scripture is abundantly clear on that.

But it is, as I say, frustrating to see orthodox Christians ostracized for raising the alarm and to see institutions lost so that their leaders can remain in comfortable slumber.

Saturday, March 15, 2014

The Prayer of Saint Patrick

The Prayer of St. Patrick (Sometimes also called The Lorica of St. Patrick — from around the year AD 377)

I arise today
Through a mighty strength, the invocation of the Trinity,
Through a belief in the Threeness,
Through confession of the Oneness
Of the Creator of creation.

I arise today
Through the strength of Christ's birth and His baptism,
Through the strength of His crucifixion and His burial,
Through the strength of His resurrection and His ascension,
Through the strength of His descent for the judgment of doom.

I arise today
Through the strength of the love of cherubim,
In obedience of angels,
In service of archangels,
In the hope of resurrection to meet with reward,
In the prayers of patriarchs,
In preaching of the apostles,
In faith of confessors,
In innocence of virgins,
In deeds of righteous men.

I arise today
Through the strength of heaven;
Light of the sun,
Splendor of fire,
Speed of lightning,
Swiftness of the wind,
Depth of the sea,
Stability of the earth,
Firmness of the rock.

I arise today
Through God's strength to pilot me;
God's might to uphold me,
God's wisdom to guide me,
God's eye to look before me,
God's ear to hear me,
God's word to speak for me,
God's hand to guard me,
God's way to lie before me,
God's shield to protect me,
God's hosts to save me
From snares of the devil,
From temptations of vices,
From every one who desires me ill,
Afar and near,
Alone or in a multitude.

I summon today all these powers between me and evil,
Against every cruel merciless power that opposes my body and soul,
Against incantations of false prophets,
Against black laws of pagandom,
Against false laws of heretics,
Against craft of idolatry,
Against spells of women and smiths and wizards,
Against every knowledge that corrupts man's body and soul.
Christ shield me today
Against poison, against burning,
Against drowning, against wounding,
So that reward may come to me in abundance.

Christ with me, Christ before me, Christ behind me,
Christ in me, Christ beneath me, Christ above me,
Christ on my right, Christ on my left,
Christ when I lie down, Christ when I sit down,
Christ in the heart of every man who thinks of me,
Christ in the mouth of every man who speaks of me,
Christ in the eye that sees me,
Christ in the ear that hears me.

I arise today
Through a mighty strength, the invocation of the Trinity,
Through a belief in the Threeness,
Through a confession of the Oneness
Of the Creator of creation.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Words for Our Time (written 107 years ago)

I am distressed by some common theological tendencies of our time, because I believe them to be false to both science and religion.  How men who have ever felt themselves to be lost sinners and who have once received pardon from their crucified Lord and Savior can thereafter seek to pare down his attributes, deny his deity and atonement, tear from his brow the crown of miracle and sovereignty, relegate him to the place of a merely moral teacher who influences us only as does Socrates by words spoken across a stretch of ages, passes my comprehension.

Here is my test of orthodoxy: Do we pray to Jesus?  Do we call upon the name of Christ, as did Stephen and all the early church?  Is he our living Lord, omnipresent, omniscient, omnipotent?  Is he divine only in the sense in which we are divine, or is he the only-begotten Son, God manifest in the flesh, in whom is all the fulness of the Godhead bodily?  What think ye of the Christ? is still the critical question, and none are entitled to the name of Christian who, in the face of the evidence he has furnished us, cannot answer the question aright.

Under the influence of Ritschl and his Kantian relativism, many of our teachers and preachers have swung off into a practical denial of Christ’s deity and of his atonement.  We seem upon the verge of a second Unitarian defection, that will break up churches and compel secessions, in a worse manner than did that of Channing and Ware a century ago.  American Christianity recovered from that disaster only by vigorously asserting the authority of Christ and the inspiration of the Scriptures.

We need a new vision of the Savior like that which Paul saw on the way to Damascus and John saw on the isle of Patmos, to convince us that Jesus is lifted above space and time, that his existence antedated creation, that he conducted the march of Hebrew history, that he was born of a virgin, suffered on the cross, rose from the dead, and now lives forevermore, the Lord of the universe, the only God with whom we have to do, our Savior here and our Judge hereafter.  Without a revival of this faith our churches will become secularized, mission enterprise will die out, and the candlestick will be removed out of its place as it was with the seven churches of Asia, and as it has been with the apostate churches of New England.

I print this revised and enlarged edition of my “Systematic Theology,” in the hope that its publication may do something to stem this fast advancing tide, and to confirm the faith of God’s elect.  I make no doubt that the vast majority of Christians still hold the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints, and that they will sooner or later separate themselves from those who deny the Lord who bought them.

When the enemy comes in like a flood, the Spirit of the Lord will raise up a standard against him.  I would do my part in raising up such a standard.  I would lead others to avow anew, as I do now, in spite of the supercilious assumptions of modern infidelity, my firm belief, only confirmed by the experience and reflection of a half-century, in the old doctrines of holiness as the fundamental attribute of God, of an original transgression and sin of the whole human race, in a divine preparation in Hebrew history for man’s redemption, in the deity, preĆ«xistence, virgin birth, vicarious atonement and bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ our Lord, and in his future coming to judge the quick and the dead.  I believe that these are truths of science as well as truths of revelation; that the supernatural will yet be seen to be most truly natural; and that not the [faithful] theologian but the narrow-minded [skeptic] will be obliged to hide his head at Christ’s coming.

Augustus Hopkins Strong (President and Professor of Biblical Theology, Rochester Theological Seminary), Systematic Theology, published in May 1907.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Fr. Keith Roderick, Requiescat in Pace

I received word this morning that Fr. Keith Roderick, who most recently had been serving as Provost of St. Paul's Cathedral in Springfield, Illinois, died in his sleep during the night.  Fr. Roderick had faithfully served for many years in the Diocese of Quincy and was one of my canonical examiners when I was ordained nearly 25 years ago.  Fr. Roderick was also a son of Nashotah House.  His death will be a personal loss for so many.

My condolences to his wife, Mary Beth, and the Roderick family.  May his soul rest in peace and may light perpetual shine upon him.  

Thursday, March 06, 2014

Deacon Terry Star, Requiescat in Pace

From Episcopal News Service:
The Rev. Terry Star, a 40 year-old deacon in the Diocese of North Dakota and a member of the Episcopal Church’s Executive Council, has died suddenly at Nashotah House Theological Seminary in Wisconsin, where he was studying for ordination to the priesthood.
Read the full article.

Rest eternal grant to him, O Lord, and may light perpetual shine upon him.

My condolences to Deacon Terry's family and friends, and to the Nashotah House community.