Tuesday, December 20, 2011
A Brief Review[i]
There is a principle that theology should not be based on experience, but rather that experience should be evaluated on the basis of theology. What is Schori’s theological method and what exactly is the basis on which her theology is formulated?
Schori’s theological method is: If I’ve experienced it and it agrees with my presuppositions it must be true. Right at the outset she tells us, “We are all running down the same road, and our task is to break through the obstacles and make the road smoother for one another. If you read the Hebrew Scriptures closely, you discover that God’s promise of full larders and planted fields and repopulated cities is followed by metanoia—a new mind and a new heart.”
She presents us with a naïve secular utopianism disguised in religious language. It is naïve because it is based on an inadequate theological understanding of human nature. Our job, the mission of the Church, is to usher in the Kingdom of God on earth. What makes it difficult to comment on is that she is in part correct, but partial truth is a dangerous thing. One wants to ask, “Are we indeed running down the same road? And, if so, are we all running in the same direction?” [ii]
She clearly does not think that some are running down the same road. She says, “Given the stories I’ve heard in the Dioceses of San Jaoquin and Fort Worth, leadership looked a lot like control and fear-mongering, and intimidation was used to keep people in line. Bishops and clergy insisted that they had the fullness of God’s truth, and if anybody disagreed, well, then, they must be godless heretics.”[iii] She makes a practice of vilifying those who do not agree with her, and at the least show herself no better than those she critiques, that is providing her assertion is correct.
Please note that she bases this on stories that she has heard. I know personally some of those she critiques so savagely, and while I do not agree with their separation, I would not call into question their orthodoxy, their morality, and is some outstanding people among them their love and charity.
She has in her opening introduction a misunderstanding, whether wilful or not. She says that God’s promises of blessing are followed by metanioa—a new mind and a new heart.” She is wrong. Metanoia, is repentance, and as such precedes necessarily the gift of a new mind and a new heart, not the other way around.
Consistently through her book she evokes the questions preceding the baptismal covenant. What she consistently ignores is the three renunciations of evil and the three baptismal questions that each adult candidate must answer for himself or herself, and each baptized child must eventually affirm at Confirmation.
What are those questions? They are the expression of the very faith that she has condemned in a General Convention address as a Western Heresy, “Do you turn to Jesus Christ and accept him as your Savior? Do you put your whole trust in his grace and love? Do you promise to follow and obey him as your Lord?”
She is a secular utopian humanist with a predilection for the radical methodology of Saul Alinsky who felt that the greatest crimes in history have been perpetrated by religious, political and racial fanatics; and she is glad to identify her opponents as those very fanatics.
Monday, December 19, 2011
The Obedience of Faith Reflection 4
The first chapter addresses the morality and excesses of the Gentile world. Now Paul turns his attention to the Jews who are standing in judgment on the Gentiles. Understanding the relationship Jew to Gentile in the Early Church, one has to remember what Paul said in Ephesians, “Therefore remember that at one time you Gentiles in the flesh, called "the uncircumcision" by what is called the circumcision, which is made in the flesh by hands - remember that you were at that time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ.”[i] Paul’s audience in Rome is a mixed congregation of Diaspora Jews and Gentiles who have come to faith in Christ Jesus. Remember that Aquila and Priscilla who shared the ministry with Paul in Corinth were Jews from Rome.
We have a similar alienation within the Church today between the Sadducean Revisionists and the Pharisaic Schismatic. Not all that are within The Episcopal Church are Sadducees and not all who are within the schismatic “Anglican” groups are Pharisees. In terms of alignment with one party or the other there is no middle ground; although I find it difficult to think that Jesus himself would have looked at the impure state of Judaism and have become a schismatic. Rather than that, through the Holy Spirit, he let the Gentiles in. That is quite another matter.
Leaving because you think the grass is greener on the other side of the Gospel fence is not the same thing as being forced out of the structure because you are transforming it from within. St. Athanasius and St. Cyril of Jerusalem provide a model for today’s struggle within the Church. Both would rather fight than switch, both were deposed, and both eventually returned to their Episcopates. Neither one left to start a new church.
Paul leaves no quarter for those Jews who were judging the Gentile world.
Romans 2:1 Therefore you have no excuse, O man, every one of you who judges. For in passing judgment on another you condemn yourself, because you, the judge, practice the very same things. 2 We know that the judgment of God rightly falls on those who do such things. 3 Do you suppose, O man - you who judge those who do such things and yet do them yourself - that you will escape the judgment of God? 4 Or do you presume on the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience, not knowing that God's kindness is meant to lead you to repentance?
The underlying issue is the lack of integrity. The Psalmist affirms, “I will live with integrity,”[ii] but that integrity has been lost. There is an affirmation here in the midst of judgment; God’s kindness is meant to lead us to repentance. To continue to ignore that kindness stores up wrath for us on the day of judgment.
5 But because of your hard and impenitent heart you are storing up wrath for yourself on the day of wrath when God's righteous judgment will be revealed. 6 He will render to each one according to his works: 7 to those who by patience in well-doing seek for glory and honor and immortality, he will give eternal life; 8 but for those who are self-seeking1 and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, there will be wrath and fury.
A truly biblical theology will not use this as a proof text for salvation by works. Bear in mind that faith issues in good works, and where there are no good works, there is no effective faith. We are saved by grace through faith, and faith without works is dead.
9 There will be tribulation and distress for every human being who does evil, the Jew first and also the Greek, 10 but glory and honor and peace for everyone who does good, the Jew first and also the Greek. 11 For God shows no partiality.”
That last statement was no doubt a surprise to both Jew and Gentile. We should remember that in this age of disparate denominationalism. Be careful with the tar brush when you try to paint others black; the Lord will use that same tar brush on you.
Thursday, December 15, 2011
Paul started with the immediate social problem of his day; the commonly accepted sexual practices of the world around him, particularly same-sex sexual acts, but at this point he broadens the spectrum. That is only one facet of a larger problem. God in his wrath allows them freedom of will, and as a result they have reaped what they have so gladly sown and have surrendered themselves to having a debased mind. Here the argument extends to a wide-ranging characterization of “all manner of unrighteousness.” With a broad stroke brush he paints a quick picture of the fruit of unrighteousness.
Romans 1:28 And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a debased mind to do what ought not to be done. 29 They were filled with all manner of unrighteousness, evil, covetousness, malice. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, maliciousness. They are gossips, 30 slanderers, haters of God, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, 31 foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless.
In this brief picture he moves to the unrighteous behaviour of those who sit in judgment over the sexual behaviours so evident in his society and ours. When the sluice gate of rebelliousness is willfully opened, all kinds of filth floods in. Note the quality of the sins that Paul has cited. The list includes, “gossips, slanderers, haters of God, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless.” It’s what I think of as a “Woops” list. The net of kingdom judgment is wide enough that none of the evil that we do is left outside of the net. In following chapters Paul will make it clear that sinners can’t afford to sit in judgment on sinners, because all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.
There is another issue that we cannot afford to miss. Did you know that unrighteousness is “evangelical” and seeks to convert you to its own way? This last verse of Chapter One is alarming:
Romans 1:32 “Though they know God's decree that those who practice such things deserve to die, they not only do them but give approval to those who practice them.”
Let me share a memory with you. I am a recovered alcoholic and I had better never forget it. Towards the end of my second year of sobriety (forty years ago) we had a Sunday morning baptism at the Church I was serving. Following the baptism we went back to the home of the parents for a baptismal party where we were met at the door by the child’s grandmother with a drink in her hand. She was obviously too merry for 11:30 in the morning. The first thing she did in greeting me was offer me a drink. I said, “No thank you, I don’t drink,” but she did not want to take “No” for an answer. She was drinking and she needed me to join her in her dissipation and she continued to press me to join her in drinking. Not just once, but several times. At last, in frustration, I said, “I don’t drink because I’m a recovered alcoholic.” She responded, “You can’t be. You’re too young.” For the rest of the party she made herself scarce and avoided me like the plague. Above all it was apparent that she, who was having a problem with alcohol, needed the priest to join her so that she could feel justified in drinking that early in the day.
Never mistake the malignant evangelicalism of evil. What the unrighteous want you to do is to share in their wicked deeds so that they can avoid the challenge with which your life confronts them. In the context of the sexual immorality of our day it is clear that those who do such things desperately seek our approval, for the very thing they want to avoid is that those deeds are not in the sight of God acceptable. That is one reason why there is such a press towards the acceptance of same sex marriage in the church. For them it is a terrible thing that you avoid the sparkling sins that for them are the very sign of their liberty from an oppressive God. But be careful, the next chapter will be merciless on the self-righteous who themselves have their own sparkling sins.
Wednesday, December 14, 2011
Did you know that unrighteousness is malignantly “evangelical” and seeks to convert you to its own way? This last verse of Chapter One is alarming:
Romans 1:32 “Though they know God's decree that those who practice such things deserve to die, they not only do them but give approval to those who practice them.”
Let me share a memory with you. I am a recovered alcoholic and I had better never forget it. Towards the end of my second year of sobriety (forty years ago) we had a Sunday morning baptism at the Church I was serving. Following the baptism we went back to the home of the parents for a baptismal party where we were met at the door by the child’s grandmother with a drink in her hand. She was obviously too merry for 11:30 in the morning. The first thing she did in greeting me was offer me a drink. I said, “No thank you, I don’t drink,” but she did not want to take “No” for an answer. She was drinking and she needed me to join her in her dissipation and she continued to press me to join her in drinking. Not just once, but several times. At last, in frustration, I said, “I don’t drink because I’m a recovered alcoholic.” She responded, “You can’t be. You’re too young.” For the rest of the party she made herself scarce and avoided me like the plague. Above all it was apparent that she, who was having a problem with alcohol, needed the priest to join her so that she could feel justified in drinking that early in the morning.
Never mistake the malignant evangelicalism of evil. What the unrighteous want you to do is to share in their wicked deeds so that they can avoid the challenge with which your life confronts them. In the context of the sexual immorality of our day it is clear that those who do such things desperately seek our approval, for the very thing they want to avoid is that those deeds are not in the sight of God acceptable. That is one reason why there is such a press towards the acceptance of same sex marriage in the church. For them it is a terrible thing that you avoid the sparkling sins that for them is the very sign of their liberty from an oppressive God. But be careful, the next chapter will be merciless on the self-righteous who themselves have their own sparkling sins.
Tuesday, December 13, 2011
We are past the era when we would name a child “Wrath of God Smith.” However just because I have burned my fingers several times cooking doesn’t mean that I shouldn’t continue to cook. Cooking is necessary, especially if you don’t like your beef raw, and acknowledging the reality of the wrath of God is necessary, especially if you don’t want to end up cooked at the end. It is not that God is wrathful as man is wrathful. No, not at all! When man is wrathful all kinds of godless emotional overtones are in man’s wrath, fear, anger, rage, and loss of control. God’s wrath is quite different; it is part of his very nature. George MacDonald says, that “It is the nature of God, so terribly pure that it destroys all that is not pure as fire,” and again, “Therefore all that is not beautiful in the beloved, all that comes between and is not of love’s kind must be destroyed. And our God is a consuming fire.”[i] The only way to stop the burning is to embrace the fire with penitence and a resolution for amendment of life. The wrath of God is a purifying fire, not an arbitrary wrath marked by the loss of self-control.
Romans 1:18 For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. 19 For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. 20 For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. 21 For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. 22 Claiming to be wise, they became fools, 23 and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and reptiles.
The wrath of God, that burning fire, is directed not only against the ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, but especially against the fact that they willfully “supress the truth.” C. S. Lewis gives a wry explanation of the evolvement of the apostasy of a bishop in his book The Great Divorce,” Let us be frank. Our opinions were not honestly come by. We simply found ourselves in contact with a certain current of ideas and plunged into it because it seemed modern and successful . . . When did we put up one moment’s real resistance to the loss of our faith?”[ii]
The problem is self-centered pig-headedness! Our independent rebelliousness is mocked by T. S. Eliot’s poem about the cat Rum Tum Tugger, “For he will do, as he do do, And there’s no doing anything about it.”[iii] St. Paul tells us that all of creation testifies to eternal nature and power of God and willful man shies away from that revelation because he do do, what he do do, and that’s the way it is. The result is that futility descends upon the thinking of the rebellious, and their foolish hearts are darkened. It is not that men in that condition can even recognize what they are becoming. George Macdonald speaks the truth, “A beast does not know that he is a beast, and the nearer a man gets to being a beast, the less he knows it.”[iv]
Paul then focusses on the immediate social problem. The wrath of God is not a bolt of furious anger burning the ungodly to a crisp, rather it is the divine acknowledgment that the unrighteous have freedom of will. “They pays their money and takes their choice.” C. S. Lewis puts it this way,
There are only two kinds of people in the end: those who say to God, “Thy will be done,” and those to whom God says, in the end, “Thy will be done.” All that are in Hell, choose it. Without that self-choice there could be no Hell.[v]
God’s wrath is exercised in this, that God gives them up “in the lust of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves.”
24 Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves, 25 because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen.
The reason for divine abandonment is that this is the choice they have made in their wilful flight from the truths that are evident to all even in general revelation, that general revelation being Creation itself. I feel a sting here, even though I have forsaken sparkling sins the lesser ones nag at me, and as I work on that continual surrender, I hear the same voices that St. Augustine heard, “Can you cast us off? And: From this moment, never more to be with us?! And: From this moment, never to do this, not ever, or to do this!”[vi] The surrender of my right to eat the third Danish at breakfast is subtly difficult, never mind the call on the life of the unrighteous to abandon the sparkling sins of the flesh that they say they love so much. Oops, did I say “third Danish?” I actually have to surrender my right to eat the second Danish. Surrender on any level is hard which is why we should have mercy on others. All God ever asks of us is that we surrender ourselves, that we die to ourselves. What God is asking means that we have to surrender even what we think are our identities or our orientations.
Let me not mince words. Paul’s immediate social problem is lesbian and homosexual physical acts. He will later say the same thing regarding heterosexual adultery and fornication; further what he says also clearly applies to pornography. But don’t miss this. The presenting problem that Paul is dealing with is that women are being consumed with lust for other women, and men are being consumed with lust for other men. Some will cry out, “But that’s my orientation!” It has nothing to do with what you might claim to be your orientation; it has to do with fondling your lusts and with your chosen actions. Naturally polygamous men are not condemned for their temptations, but only for acting them out. Homosexuals and lesbians are not condemned for their temptation but for their various sexual actions. As fallen creatures, we have diverse orientations; that’s not really the problem.
26 For this reason God gave them up to dishonorable passions. For their women exchanged natural relations for those that are contrary to nature; 27 and the men likewise gave up natural relations with women and were consumed with passion for one another, men committing shameless acts with men and receiving in themselves the due penalty for their error. 28 And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a debased mind to do what ought not to be done.
Here is the tragedy: As they are consumed with passion for one another, men committing shameless acts with men they receive in themselves the due penalty for their error. Their personhood is formed around their passions, and in those passions they find a fulfillment which bends their personalities to their lusts and leaves them prey to a host of other behaviours. Make no mistake the same is true for those, who out of wedlock, are consumed with passion for the opposite sex, sometimes destroying lives and families in the process. It works both ways.
29 They were filled with all manner of unrighteousness, evil, covetousness, malice. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, maliciousness. They are gossips, 30 slanderers, haters of God, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, 31 foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless. 32 Though they know God's decree that those who practice such things deserve to die, they not only do them but give approval to those who practice them.
The lives of some of those committing homosexual or lesbian acts are no worse than the lives of adulterers or fornicators; and in both opposing groups of “orientation” there are some very affable and socially acceptable people. Not only that, there are some very straight and moral people who are just cranky and unpleasant to be around. It takes more than just sexual morality to live into the image of Christ.
[i] C. S. Lewis, George MacDonald, An Anthology, (New York: Macmillan, 1978), p. 2
[ii] C. S. Lewis, The Great Divorce, (New York: Harper, 2011), p. 36, 37
[iii] T. S. Eliot, “Old Possums Book of Practical Cats,” in The Complete Poems and Plays, (New York: Harcourt Brace, 1980), p. 153
[iv] MacDonald, p. 141
[v] C. S. Lewis, The Great Divorce, (New York: HarperCollins, 2001), p. 75
[vi] St. Augustine, The Confessions, Garry Wills, trans. (New York: Penguin, 2006] p. 179, 180
Monday, December 12, 2011
The Obedience of Faith: Intoduction
In the first chapter of his Letter to the Romans Paul states clearly what his understanding of his commission from Christ Jesus:
Romans 1:1-6: 1 Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God, 2 which he promised beforehand through his prophets in the holy Scriptures, 3 concerning his Son, who was descended from David according to the flesh 4 and was declared to be the Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness by his resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord, 5 through whom we have received grace and apostleship to bring about the obedience of faith for the sake of his name among all the nations, 6 including you who are called to belong to Jesus Christ,
Paul’s purpose is stated in verse 5: “we have received grace and apostleship to bring about the obedience of faith for the sake of his name.”
Our charge is to bring about the obedience of faith and the first challenge is the question of our own obedience. Immediately I see that bringing about perfect obedience in others is not the charge; at least not until we ourselves have achieved perfect obedience. I can’t remember who said, “Faith cannot abide sparkling sins.” It might have been Van Ruysbroek, or perhaps even John Cordelier.[i] Before the end of this first chapter of Romans, Paul will begin to speak clearly about those sparkling sins. Our current generation looks back on the ancient world and says the ancients did this or that, so it is natural that we should do the same things; therefore we are justified by the example of the ancients. Paul says “No!” That is one reason why the authority of Scripture is called into question; unfortunately it attacks the corruption of the ages.
That Socrates did such and such is no justification of our actions. On one level I feel like a cad saying this; a thousand compassionate voices are crying out against my opinion, but compassion without truth would let others descend into unrestrained immorality rather than be so harsh as to say “No!” Love without truth is a lie. On the other hand I don’t think Paul holds the view that there are mortal and venial sins. For him a sin is a sin is a sin. Each sin, whether socially more acceptable than others, breaks not only the law of God, but also flies in the face of created order. To be blunt there is no qualitative difference between homosexual acts, or heterosexual adultery, or fornication. By the time we have arrived at chapter six Paul will have had a go at most of the things that men think that they love to do. Whether they actually love to do them is another matter.
In our baptismal vows we not only accept Jesus Christ as our Savior and put our whole trust in his grace and love, but we also declare that we will follow him as our Lord. In that threefold vow, for each part is inseparable, we acknowledge our continuing need of a Saviour, our heartfelt intention to trust Him, and our pledge of personal obedience. That’s tough stuff, but its Gospel tough stuff.
Paul goes on to say:
Romans 1:16-32: 16 For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. 17 For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, "The righteous shall live by faith."
What is the gospel?
1 Corinthians 15:1-4: 1 Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, 2 and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you - unless you believed in vain. 3 For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, 4 that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures.
A mistake common to our age of wishful thinkers is that you can have the pure gospel without gospel holiness. That is a fiction that would have horrified Paul and the Early Church. You cannot in fact separate faith from works. If you think that is possible sit down at the breakfast table and have a discussion with Paul and James. By the time the last Danish pastry is eaten you will find that they essentially agree that faith always issues in good works even though they express it differently.
Faith is not mere assent to a set of propositions. Faith is resting your entire being, your past failings, and your future hope of glory on the fact that Christ died for you; that you are have been forgiven, that you will be forgiven, and that you are accepted by our holy God who is a consuming fire. Faith lives out the truth of the gospel in the process of theosis, that is, that we are being transformed from one glory into another, and that transformation has the practical effect of separating us from our sparkling sins. In the context of this first chapter of Romans the knight of faith can no more continue in consumed with passion for other men than he can be consumed with fornication with women. In fact the knight of faith does not look like other men in our society; rather he shows that the image of the Christ is in the process of being stamped upon his face. That idea is so odd that we are embarrassed if anyone points refers to us as “a holy man.” Have we yet reached the point that being called a holy man is an insult?
Thursday, December 1, 2011
There is a helpful image from C. S. Lewis’s Narnia Tale, “The Silver Chair.” Young Prince Rillian, the son of King Caspian, has been held prisoner by the Emerald Witch. Aslan, the Christ figure, sends the children Eustace and Jill to rescue him. On their journey they are accompanied by Puddleglum the Marshwiggle.
They release Prince Rillian from the enchanted silver chair, and just as he is freed the Emerald Witch returns. She cannot bear to see the prisoner free for she is not free herself. Softly she strums her mandolin as the hypnotic fragrance of the world arises from the fires of the Underworld. The Emerald Witch intones, “There is no Narnia, no Overworld, only Underworld. There is no sun, it is only an imaginary reflection of the lamps I have made. There is no Aslan, there is only my familiar, the cat who roams the streets of Underworld. Sleep. Sleep. Sleep.”
As they begin to sink into an enchanted sleep the Marshwiggle stamps his webbed foot on the fire; it burns his heel, and the odor of burnt Marshwiggle begins to dispel the fragrance of the world. The Marshwiggle echoes Pascal, “Even if Aslan and the Overworld do not exist, that is better than the deception you are offering us.” The spell is broken.
The Emerald Witch continues to strum her mandolin as the fragrance of the world arises and intones, “There are many roads to God, and Jesus is only the way for Christians. Taking Jesus as a personal Saviour is a Western heresy. Understand that Jesus Christ is the spirit of the world, and that the spirit of the world is Jesus Christ, and he is called by many other names. He has many names, Apollo and Aphrodite, Shiva and Kali, and all ways are the one way. The true mission of the Church is the millennium goals. There is no objective Tao, no single Truth, only our feelings about what is right. Our feelings, not your feelings for you have been conditioned by the narrow unrealistic faith of bygone generations. We are right. You are wrong. We are right. You are wrong. Sleep. Sleep. Sleep.
I stamp my webbed foot upon the fire saying, “The God we serve is able to deliver, but if he will not deliver the church at this time, we will not serve your gods are worship them.”