Monday, September 28, 2009

The Greatest Trick Ever Pulled...

Last week I was reading The Pilgrim's Progress by John Bunyan for the first time (don't be shocked, growing up Lutheran, we rarely venture out of the Lutheran world of reading). One thing that struck me was the character Ignorance. Halfway through the pilgrimage we meet this guy who has hopped over a fence and started on his pilgrimage. Christian tells the guy that he needs to go through the Wicket-Gate in order to be received at the Celestial City, but Ignorance is quite convinced that he will be just fine. He tells Christian that his city is really quite far from the Wicket-Gate and closer to the Celestial City, so the Lord of the C.C. won't mind that he is coming this way.

By the end of the book, it is clear that Ignorance does not truly understand what Christ's righteousness and justification are, and that he believes he will be accepted into the C.C. by his own law-abiding merit. Ignorance is blind to his sin, and I believe that part of his blinding is due to the fact that the road seems to be quite easy for him to travel on. Christian and his companion, Hopeful, have to deal with a lot of obstacles and trials along the way, but Ignorance seems to always have some sort of help along the way that makes those hard trials almost obsolete to him.

It is interesting that he gets through these trials while others turn away at them. For example, lions on the path cause two other characters, Mistrust and Timorous, to go back home and cease the pilgrimage. By-ends, another character, is killed by falling off Hill Lucre and does not finish his pilgrimage. Most people in this book that are not true Christians fall into the traps. But Ignorance is helped along through these traps all the way to the very end. It is almost as if Satan wants Ignorance to think that he is successful through these "trials" because he is doing well on his own. He makes it over the River Death with help from a boat. Both Hopeful and Christian had to walk through the river and focus clearly on Christ in order to make it through (Christian nearly making it in this process), but Ignorance hops on a boat with ease! He marches up the Celestial City's gates and is ready for the pomp and splendor of being received, but his reception is not as he imagines. He is asked where his certificate is that he would have received at the Wicket-Gate. He fumbles in his pockets, but his own good merits cannot produce this certificate. Instead of being put on their shoulders and brought with much joy and jubilation into the Celestial City, Ignorance is brought to a door on the side of the hill that is the gate to hell.

While others in this book are easily turned aside by the trials that Satan puts in their way, Ignorance is helped through these trials by Satan only to be shown that this easy road taken was not the way of the Lord at all in the end. The story of Ignorance had me thinking that Satan can easily work through life being easy for us. When was the last time you had to face a hard trial? When was the last time that you felt perseverance being stretched in your very core? If the answer is hard to find, I want to submit to you to beware the greatest trick that the devil ever pulled. I say this in full reference to The Usual Suspects, that "the greatest trick the devil ever pulled was to convince the world he didn't exist." Satan is working hard, my friends, either through much trial and tribulation in your life, or through much ease and help along the way. Let us hold fast to the faith which comes only through one gate and persevere till we are before the heavenly throne!

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Let's Call a Spade, a Spade

I am in the process of digesting the Institutes of the Christian Religion by John Calvin. Last night, during the class on this subject, we were discussing natural and special revelation. Calvin begins by arguing through Romans 1. Basically affirming that God has revealed Himself to us through 1. the very idea of God/the Creator implanted in our minds and 2. through creation declaring His glory. Calvin gets up in people's faces, basically saying that we cannot do anything but sin with this knowledge. We take this innate discovery in ourselves that there is a God and use that to create idols transforming Him unto our own whim. He asserts that, and for all of our p.c. friends out there - I do not apologize, "no religion is genuine unless it be joined with truth" (Institutes, 1.4.3. page 50).

Our professor, playing the devil's advocate, asked us if this was something that we could agree to. How is it possible that Christianity is the only way to know God? This is radical thinking, right? It is my understanding that we should put Calvin into his context. I would say that this is not a radical statement in Calvin's time. The refreshing thing about pre-modernity is that they called heretics, heretics. They called pagans, pagans. The ungodly were the ungodly. They were not concerned about the hurt feelings, the incorrectness of the cultural or political statements, or if there was possibly a way that God would reach into the other's religion and work grace through its constructs. NO! There was no genuine religion unless it was joined with truth! There was an idea out there that what God the Father, the Creator and Redeemer said to be true through His revealed Word was actually truth, the only truth, and there was no other way but that. Not on some holier than thou sentiment, but on the pure basis that God was/is in control over everything as Creator and Sustainer of life.

What has become of this? Humanism has gone so far that our world is reaching in oneself to the point that we can now declare what is ultimately good or bad for ourselves because that is the chief end - discovering what my needs, wants are and how I am able to fulfill them. So, it does not matter if the revealed Word says that my desires are sinful, because I can pick out what is good for me from the text and the rest will be only useful for the past. We have evolved and moved on from the past. You know, there was a guy named Marcion in the early 2nd Century that tried to take out specific portions from Scripture too and have the Word of God be Jew-free. What happened to him? Oh yeah, they had the balls to call him what he was, a heretic.

Now, what becomes of all of this? We, as the Church, have entered into a world that deems judgment, whether authored by the Creator of the world or not, as a taboo. We are coming dangerously close to having our view of loving thy neighbor, despite their sin, be tolerance of their sin and acceptance of who they are. I am starting to believe that there should be a Reform to become more Reformed again. Maybe my offensiveness to the world would cause such a stir that they would finally declare a judgment against me, declare me a heretic against society and crisp me up on a stake. Could this be the start of an exit out of post-modernity? If so, bring on the marshmallows and weenies!

Friday, September 18, 2009

Let My Words Be Few, or At Least to Sound More Like This...

Yesterday was the beginning of my class in English Puritanism. I must say, my experience in reading Puritan work has been limited to Edwards, and for this I am greatly ashamed of myself. Part of the requirements of this class are to read through the book "The Valley of Vision" which is a compilation of Puritan prayers recorded for such devotional growth purposes. Something to understand about the Puritans and their prayers is that they did not write down prayers ahead of time, I repeat (as this is important), they did NOT write down their prayers. So, when they would pray at church or home, what they said was pure flow of thought from their constant dwelling on the Scriptures. They knew the Scriptures so well, that their prayers came naturally from this knowledge and were extremely eloquent of speech, highly filled with theology and dripping a passion that I have rarely ever seen before.

This morning, I began my exercise of reading through and praying these prayers - as I will begin to do for the rest of the semester in the morning and the evening (and I dare hope now the rest of my life). I wanted to share the prayer from this morning, as it moved me to tears, and it is my hope that you, dear reader, will find its breadth and width refreshing and awe-inspiring, but that you will also glorify God with me through these words.

"O Thou Most High,
Creator of the ends of the earth,
Governor of the universe,
Judge of all men,
Head of the church,
Saviour of sinners;

thy greatness is unsearchable,
thy goodness infinite,
thy compassions unfailing,
thy providence boundless,
thy mercies ever new.

We bless thee for the words of salvation.
How important, suitable, encouraging are the doctrines, promises, and invitations of the gospel of peace!
We are lost: but in it thou hast presented to us a full, free and eternal salvation;
weak: but here we learn that help is found in One that is mighty,
poor: but in him we discover unsearchable riches,
blind: but we find he has treasures of wisdom and knowledge.

We thank thee for thy unspeakable gift.
The Son is our only refuge, foundation, hope, confidence;
We depend upon his death, rest in his righteousness, desire to bear his image;
May his glory fill our minds, his love reign in our affections, his cross inflame us with ardour.

Let us as Christians fill our various situations in life,
escape the snares to which they expose us,
discharge the duties that arise from our circumstances,
enjoy with moderation their advantages,
improve with diligence their usefulness,

And may every place and company we are in be benefited by us.

Amen, and Amen!

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Discovering a Little More About Myself

The assignment for Ethics in an Ecumenical Perspective this week was to read the book by James Gustafson, "Protestant and Roman Catholic Ethics," then come prepared to discuss the Mrs. Bergmeier case from the perspective of a Protestant and Roman Catholic theologian. I ended up picking Paul Ramsay as my Protestant and J. Giles Milhaven as my R.C. Now, sparing you a lot of the details that could be wonderfully fascinating to some and like a butter knife boring into the skull for others, I will try to cut to the basic chase.

The Mrs. Bergmeier case is about a German wife and mother, during the time of WWII. She was out scavenging for food one afternoon, away from her children, when a group of Soviet army men came along, grabbed her and put her in a camp in Russia. Her husband and children had no idea what had happened to her. They basically became lost without her, to the brink of starvation. In the camp, Mrs. Bergmeier heard about her family's attempt to find her from a friendly commander. Another soldier, who was more congenial told her the two options that she had in order to be able to leave the camp. She could become violently ill, at that point they would ship her off to another camp where medical attention could be provided, or she could become pregnant, and they would ship her back to Germany and let her go.

Thinking through her dire situation and the situation of her dying family, she asked the guard to impregnate her. He did, and she was able to go home. The family accepted her back into their lives, even after she told them the circumstances of her return. The baby was born and they pored more love into that child than ever, because for them, that child was the savior for the restoration of the family.

Now, the question is - was she right or wrong? Briefly, again, Paul Ramsay, our Protestant theologian/ethician would say that Mrs. Bergmeier was wrong to do this. He would be very sympathetic to her case, but Ramsay has a deontological approach to Christian ethics - meaning that one has a duty, so very much like using "one ought to" phrases. Not only is he deontological in his approach, but he holds that mankind has held certain promises to each other entering into a covenant relationship with one another. So, while he sympathizes with the situation, Mrs. Bergmeier needed to uphold her marriage vows, not commit adultery and not break the covenant-partnership - this was her chief duty.

Our R.C. theologian/ethician, J. Giles Milhaven, has a much different approach to Christian ethics. The key for him is LOVE. So, love knows no a priori law, it sees only the ones loved and what experience shows is happening to them. He is very empirical and wants to look at all of the evidence in order to determine the good. For him, Mrs. Bergmeier would be justified in doing this act because her love for her family and the discovery of the hurt and near fatal conditions for them would justify her doing this sin; she is responsible to love them first and take care of them.

Now, before I get completely long winded, during this whole process, I have discovered a little more about my approach to ethics and in particular, this Mrs. Bergmeier case. I will say this about myself - I think that I am a heartless bastard. I am really not your typical weepy woman (don't get me wrong, stick Sleepless in Seattle on the tube and buckets of tears will be falling in a minute). But, I read this case and felt almost anger at it. Why didn't she trust in the sovereignty of God to pull her out of that situation? She was presented with two options (only really one that would get her home), but she forgot the all important third option - anything is possible with God, who is fully in control of the situation and will work out all things for the good of those who believe in Him. Now, I am not entirely sure that Mrs. Bergmeier held this view of God, she might not have been reformed and gone through Calvin's Institutes, so I will cut her slack if ignorance is in play. But, I think that if this situation was forced upon me (and Lord, I pray that the day never does come), that I would look for the third option - the trust that my sovereign Lord will assure me home, either back to my earthly family or home to Him in glory.

Friday, September 11, 2009

An Ecumenical Approach...

This year I was going to start taking Latin at GCTS (Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary), where I attempting to achieve an MA in Church History. However, do to some budget cut-backs and such, this course had to be dropped this year. This would not be a problem, typically, but I found this out on Tuesday morning, classes picking up this Friday.

So, I was pretty frantic in my search of something to do next. I needed to take a course on ethics at some point in this 2 year journey, so I looked into this wonderful thing called the BTI (Boston Theological Institute), which GCTS is a part of. The gist of the BTI is that 9 schools are participants in this institute, any student of these 9 schools can take courses at any of these institutions during their time and have it count as credit for their program. So, I found an interesting ethics course at Boston College's School of Theology and Ministry entitled "Ethics in an Ecumenical Perspective."

Now, I have somewhat of a mutt formation when it comes to my Christian heritage. I am formerly Lutheran, Emergent, and Non-Denominational, and now I am a part of an Assemblies of God church. This whole conglomeration of Denominational backgrounds for the Jesuit priest who is teaching my class is labeled "Protestant." For him, and the majority of the class, striving to look at ethics through an ecumenical perspective is reading through and attempting to understand how Protestants approach moral ethics. This can be done by reading Karl Barth, Diedrich Bonhoeffer, James Gustafson and other random Protestant moral theologians. At the same time, I am coming to the class to discover how it is that Catholics and Jesuits understand or approach moral ethics, so this can be done by reading Josef Fuchs, Germain Grisez, etc, etc.

I am very excited about this class, firstly because I have never really thought like a Catholic and this will take a lot of brain power on my part to be able to do well in this class. But, the thing that I loved most so far, is that this Jesuit priest/professor/doctor of moral theology and extremely sharp, intelligent man has quite a sense of humor. To lighten the class about halfway through he pulled up his desktop wallpaper and showed us two pictures of statues from a Jesuit Church in Rome. In one of the pictures you can see an angel towering over a Jesuit man, holding out his hand to him. The Jesuit man is being pulled downward by a Protestant woman whose breast seems to have fallen out of her robe. However, the Jesuits who view this can find courage in this statue because the man has his gaze firmly fixed on the angel - this serves as a reminder that they must keep firm and never waiver to the Protestant prostitutes (or just women) that would tempt to lead them astray.

The second picture was a statue where an angel was standing tall wielding a sword down upon two men. You can clearly see the faces of the two men, so the professor asked the class who these two men were. Well, immediately someone answered, "Calvin and Luther." And what was the reply of my esteemed professor? "Yes!" Of course it is those two brigands of the Reformation! And in the corner of the statue is a small angel, an angelite or cherub if you will, tearing up the pages of Luther and Calvin's books. My professor jokingly said that this was the Jesuit Church of Ecumenicalism. Funny.

So, to end this blog entry, I have found some of Luther and Calvin's more appropriate quotes about the Pope and the Bishops that assure me that this particular approach to ecumenicalism is on both sides. Enjoy!

“I feel much freer now that I am certain the pope is the Antichrist” - Luther

"Formerly laymen used to administer the sacraments as often as priests do now. Yet the superstitious of our day regard it as a great offence if a layman touch the bare chalice, or even the cover of it. Nor is a nun, though a consecrated virgin, allowed to wash the altar cloth or the sacred linen. O my God! this shows how far the sacrosanct sanctity of this sacrament has gone! I expect the time will come when the laity will not be allowed to even touch the altar -- except with money in their hand." - Luther

"We know well that under the Pope there is a bastard sort of Christianity." - Calvin

"As for the name of the Bishop of Rome, that is a foolish question to dwell upon. We bestow too much honour upon those horned cattle in calling them bishops, for the name is too honorable for them. Neither does the title of Pope any better suit the brigand who has usurped God’s seat." - Calvin

Monday, September 7, 2009

Great Expectations of Affections

I have been digesting Jonathan Edwards' Religious Affections for a little while now (and when I say a little while, I think saying words like six and months might be in the ballpark). I think the thing that I love most about reading this work by Edwards is that he is so poignant at stating what is or should be a matter of fact for the Christian. Edwards is responding to the question how does one really know that he or she is saved? His approach to this topic is not meant for casual conversation or light theological discussions around the campfire. No, Edwards is thorough - as in so thorough I did not even realize that I had so many reasons or evidence why I was a Christian until I read this book.

There are two things that I want to briefly touch on from this book - one a subject matter and the second is merely a passage to leave you thinking.

I came up with the title of this blog while listening to a sermon a couple of Sundays ago. I think that the spiritual way of saying it is that the Holy Spirit planted in my head something I had read that morning and did not fully reveal its meaning to me until my mind began to wander in said sermon. One of Edwards' points about true religious affections is that "we must view humility as one of the most essential things that characterizes true Christianity." Edwards spends many words on how humility is characterized in a Christian, and I think that his main point is that humility will cause us to be affected by our sin. Now earlier, he had already noted that a true Christian will experience this thing called repentance in response to sin, but here he is making the point that a true Christian will be humbled by their sin because they truly understand their relationship to God - He is holy, I am not; He is great and good and wonderful and awe-inspiring and yet again I am not. The fundamental difference between God and us causes the true Christian to experience humility. And it becomes this wonderful cycle for the true Christian; as they discover more of God in their walk, they realize how much greater He is, causing further humility - while other Christians might see these great giants of faith before their eyes (such as when I read these books by Jonathan Edwards and think that he is incredible spiritual), that person as a truly affected Christian is experiencing humility before God causing a desire to know more, grow more and in the end experience more humility.

So, "A Lesson in Humility" has been born. Embarking on a journey to study more about the history of doctrine, faith, Christianity, etc., I have realized through the great words of Jonathan Edwards that I am heading into a journey that will not take me to great heights, but hopefully to a place of great humility and reverence, because the more that I will discover God through this process, the more affected I should become. And here is where I would like to leave you with a passage from Religious Affections that I have had highlighted for quite some time now *cough* six months *cough*

"Thus, truly Christian love, either to God or man, is a humble brokenhearted love. The desires of the saints, however earnest, are humble desires. Their hope is a humble hope. Their joy even, when it is unspeakable and full of glory, is a humble, brokenhearted joy that leaves the Christian more poor in spirit, more like a child, and more disposed to humble behavior."

Friday, September 4, 2009

Some Rules...

To begin with, I am not very tech-y. My husband, bless his soul, has his Master of Science in Computer Network Securities and understands more about computers and all that you can do with these "amazing" tools more than I will ever know or believe possible. I am a book person. As much as I try to be environmentally conscience, I am afraid that my biggest carbon footprint will be from the fact that I LOVE to buy books, with paper and ink and that smell of a tree falling in the forest. I have often remarked to my beloved husband that one day when we own a home, in that said home, I will require a library. I think that he has a vision of maybe 4 or 5 bookshelves, but I know that it will be much more like the library from Disney's Beauty and the Beast, if I have my way.

So, the idea of writing a blog that is forever out in the world wide web scares me. First, because anything can be posted in this world. It doesn't take a rocket scientist to open up a gmail account and begin to post his thoughts on, the village idiot can do this. Maybe this is why I enjoy books so much. It takes a lot for someone to be published. A lot of work on their part, a lot of proofreading, editing and money. I do hope to be a part of that published world one day, but in order to achieve this success, I am entering into the practice world of blogs.

Secondly, this world scares me because I am a prideful, yet insanely weak person. I do have lofty goals and ideas, but I am all too aware that I may be reaching far higher than God intends. But, I cannot live in fear of someone reading my thoughts any longer. I need to practice the art of scholasticism and venture out into this world.

So, the goal of this blog is for me to write out my thoughts, reflections, and general devotionals on what I am reading in regard to the Church history world. Some clarification - Church history does not mean the study of architecture in regard to buildings with steeples. Lately, when strangers in the MA area ask what I am studying and I have told them Church history, they begin to talk about their favorite church building in this small town around the corner or the magnificent opus by Ken Follett or other random things concerning BUILDINGS. No, this is not what I will be studying and spending money on. Church history is the study of Christianity through the ages - beginning shortly after the apostles/disciples ventured out in the Macedonian world up until just yesterday (literally, the yesterday that you have read this blog entry). It is filled with amazing men and women, their struggles, their ideas, their particular philosophy, their very lives. So, lately I have been reading Jonathan Edwards' Religious Affections, and one day, probably soon, I will blog something to the effect of how his thoughts on these affections have affected me.

OK, this is getting long. So, I will end it with this rule. I am coming to the table as a born-again Christian believer, follower of Jesus, somewhere in the balanced world between the far left and the far right (both in political and denominational respects). This is not, I repeat, not a forum to discuss the credibility on the existence of God. I am not open for discussion on this blog about this. If you want to talk to me in person or via other venues about this, that is more than acceptable, but please not here. I simply ask that you discuss the theologian or ideas that are presented. Thanks.