Saturday, November 26, 2005
"To be deep in history is to cease to be Protestant."
John Henry Newman, "Essay on Development"
I came across this quotation about 3 years ago. It still resonates with me. Newman, of course, was one of the more noted 19th-Century Anglican converts to Catholicism. His sentiments bore witness to the growing sense of disquietude in my own thinking. And this serves--as good as any, I suppose--as a springboard in the telling of my own story.
For, I am one who has gone deep in history. The study, understanding, and retention of historical truth has been one of my life's passions. I enjoy nothing more than wandering off into some obscure historical nook and cranny where I can root around the detritus of history. Yet, throughout all these historical tangents, I have maintained an abiding and continuing interest in church history.
As Newman noted, church history can be a stumbling block for Protestants. For ultimately, you run up against the chasm of the Reformation. How does one cross over and maintain the Protestant mindset? You can, of course, if you first accept certain presuppositions; namely that the early church was not apostolic and that its worship was neither sacramental nor liturgical [this not absolutely applicable to Anglicans and Lutherans], and that the Reformation was a necessary correction to a faith badly out of sync. With these parameters in place, pre-Reformation Christian history becomes a mere chronicle of the on-going departures from apostolic Christianity. Yet Newman's words expressed the disconnect I sensed between my 21st century faith and the historic church. Deep down, our take on church history never really rang true with me.
My own particular religious heritage was within what is known as the American Restoration Movement. [Perhaps embarrassed by the implications of the title, current scholars of the movement have taken to calling it the Stone-Campbell Movement after early leaders Barton W. Stone and Alexander Campbell, though the original designation is actually more truly descriptive]. In the very early years of the 19th-Century, some American frontier preachers begain proclaiming a return to primitive Christianity. In light of the sectarianism of the day, they viewed a restoration of New Testament Christianity as the only means of achieving unity. Restorationists, while appreciative of the Reformation, believed that a better approach was not in reforming the church, but in "restoring" the original church of the first century. This became the special plea of what became known as the Churches of Christ. I have much fondness for these Christians. I would not be on the path I am now on without them.
The early leaders were heavily influenced by the scientific rationalism of the Enlightenment. In practice, Restorationists often treated the New Testament as a book of instructions, or a blueprint, in which one could "restore" the Church at any time or any place. They approached the interpretation of scripture scientifically and rationally, believing that the clear meaning could be deciphered almost as one would conduct a scientific inquiry. Though the actual term "sola scriptura" (too Lutheran, I suppose) was never voiced in Churches of Christ, the New Testament--or rather the Restorationist interpretation of same--was seen as all authoritative.
History, as such, had little meaning for the Restorationist. The ancient church and its historical witness, the lives of the saints and martyrs, and cultural factors were of no spiritual value, for in their view they had "the word," which was all that was ever needed to restore the church. They viewed their method of scriptural interpretation as being substantially unprejudiced, free from cultural and historical influences; "rightly dividing the word of truth."
The classical Restorationist viewed himself as separate and apart from the Protestant Reformation, indeed neither Protestant nor Catholic, but simply "New Testament Christians." The normative Church of Christ stance was that they were not a denomination at all, but simply the 1st-century church restored. Conservative ones still do. While perhaps a noble sentiment, even a cursory view reveals that the Restorationists drank deeply from the well of Protestant presuppositions. And, simply put, this particular claim fails the "duck test." If it looks like a duck, walks like a duck and quacks like a duck--even though it says it is a pigeon--it is still a duck.
Even today, the validity of the Restorationist principle is not questioned within Churches of Christ. [Interestingly, many would be uneasy to learn that restorationism is not unique to Churches of Christ, but a concept shared by the Mormons and Jehovah's Witnesses as well.] And the study of church history, even our own Restoration Movement history, outside of a required semester at our church colleges, is generally discounted. How a life-long student of history would be a member of such an ahistorical church is not without irony. But that, of course, is another part of the story.
Today, my heritage churches find themselves in something of a pickle. Their blueprint theology has spawned division rather than unity. Even within mainstream Churches of Christ, the center does not seem to be holding. The conservative churches are in full-fledged "circle-the-wagons" mode, lashing out at anything they perceive as a departure from the "old paths," as the circle draws ever closer. Meanwhile, progressive congregations are either going the Community Church route that is all the rage these days, or advancing the same arguments and positions voiced by mainstream Protestantism 40 to 50 years earlier, with predictable results. Both sides claim that they are being true to the "Restoration ideal."
This "ideal," however, seems to me to be on shaky theological ground, and ultimately is only a 19th-Century American Restorationist take on the 16th-Century Western European rebellion against late medieval Catholicism. For a historian and a Christian who wants to find himself within the on-going story of God's people, the Restorationist principle is full of holes and the early 19th-Century just ain't old enough. While the historical witness perhaps should not be the primary factor in determining one's spiritual path, it is neverless one that is of great significance.
Wednesday, November 23, 2005
C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity
Saturday, November 19, 2005
Flannery O'Connor, The Habit of Being: Letters of Flannery O'Connor, page 308
Friday, November 18, 2005
The problem is not hard to see. Europe can be accurately described as a post-Christian society, that in the pursuit of a hedonistic, secular paradise has jettisoned any real, substantive concern for ensuring its own posterity. This generational change is most obviously demonstrated in the empty churches and the plummeting birthrates.
Into this void steps the Muslim immigrant, whether they be from Pakistan, Turkey, Algeria or Morocco. Assimilation is minimal, and blame for this seems to clearly lie on both sides: the Muslim who is interested only in re-creating a little Algiers on the Seine, and then the Frenchman, despite all protestations to the contrary, who could never envision anyone from the wrong side of the Mediterranean as ever being in any real way, French.
This is nothing other than one skirmish in the on-going "Clash of Civilizations" so brilliantly addressed by Samuel Huntington back in 1995. Some scholars today find it popular to denigrate Huntington's thesis. I find it compelling, however, and we ignore it at our peril.
David Warren, a gifted Canadian journalist (http://www.davidwarrenonline.com) has much to say about this in light of the recent Muslim riots in France. Below are some of his comments in an article entitled "Apocalypse," dated November 12, 2005:
The recent riots in France remind me how quickly Europe is receding, in historical time; how completely its civilization has been undermined; how much is irretrievably lost. European Imperialism is retrospectively derided, but it was a manifestation of a European mission -- to civilize and Christianize all human life; to bring the light of Europe to every dark, pagan, and barbarous enclave. It is that light which is now mostly extinguished, just where it once blazed most brightly.
After a century adrift, we find a Europe which itself has gone pagan again, and is returning to barbarity.
Soon, the average age in Europe will be beyond childbearing. Among non-Muslim Europeans, in probably already is. We can no longer dream of a recovery. Europe has leapt. New immigrants are taking possession of the continent, transforming it, as in the "Dark Ages". Rome will be sacked again, in due course.
America is not Europe, as Sicily was not Greece in the ancient world. We carried the ideals of Europe to the West, over ocean, and settled a new land. North America today is semi-detached, could survive alone. Christianity remains quite alive here, often in novel, evangelical forms; Catholic order begins to reappear; and yet much of North America -- “Blue State” and Great White North -- seems determined to follow Europe into the abyss, by denying its Christian identity, and embracing the great zero of "multiculturalism". Atheism, in America, has claimed its millions of corpses through the discreet operation of the abortuaries.
I know, I know: such reflections will reach many of my readers as a letter from the moon. But it will reach many others as a partial explanation of that apprehension of loss and doom, that hangs over so many in our Western world today, as we struggle to respond to such threats as Islamism; or wade in the septic tank of our popular culture.
We are wrong, however, to assume that any final Apocalypse follows from the cultural degeneration we see all around us. For Europe -- “the West” -- was always just a place.
Tell anyone in the first centuries of Christendom that the centre of Christian civilization was in Europe, and they would have been puzzled. For Europe hadn't really been invented yet, except in a few Augustinian minds (and Augustine a North African, you will recall). If you said, "Rome", they might have had some idea. Indeed, the Arabs had something to do with the fact that so unpromising a place as Hun/Vandal/Goth Europe became the centre of Christian civilization.
Then realize, that Europe did not create Christianity. Christianity created Europe. And will create new Europes, wherever its living seed may fall. Christendom is simply moving -- to Africa, to Asia, to the Americas perhaps; to wherever Christ is wanted, and away from where He is not.
Tuesday, November 15, 2005
“I didn’t go to religion to make me happy. I always knew a bottle of Port would do that. If you want a religion to make you feel really comfortable, I certainly don’t recommendChristianity.”
C. S. Lewis, God in the Dock
This quote was sent to me by my good friend who knows my appreciation for both C. S. Lewis and good Port!
Seriously though, Lewis is on to something here. Certainly this sentiment flies in the face of the happy-clappy, smiley-face Christianity that both plagues and discredits the faith in this country. I am convinced that authentic faith must ultimately involve struggle; that it is muscular and demanding; and in the end, brings a measure of discomfort. Isn't this what Jesus taught in Matthew 10:
34 “Do not think that I came to bring peace on earth. I did not come to bring peace but a sword. 35 For I have come to ‘set a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law’; 36 and ‘a man’s enemies will be those of his own household.’[e] 37 He who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me. And he who loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me. 38 And he who does not take his cross and follow after Me is not worthy of Me. 39 He who finds his life will lose it, and he who loses his life for My sake will find it. "
Which also puts me in mind of another Lewis quote:
In religion, as in war and everything else, comfort is the one thing you cannot get by looking for it. If you look for truth, you may find comfort in the end: if you look for comfort you will not get either comfort or truth--only soft soap and wishful thinking to begin with and , in the end, despair.
C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity
SOME QUESTIONS FOR ISLAM
One of my most favorite blogs is Pontifications, found at http://catholica.pontifications.net/ . If you are unfamiliar with it, I encourage you to visit the site at your earliest convienence. I appreciate the Pontificator for posting the following short article, stating an oh-so-obvious truth; with good links to the Dennis Prager article and the David Warren site.
Islam scares meNovember 14th, 2005
by Alvin Kimel
I admit it. Islam scares me. It was born out of violence and the conquest of the Churches of Africa and Byzantium. It enforces its religious ideology by force and persecutes those of other religious faiths. Thousands of Christians and Jews die each year at the hand of Muslims. Presently Islam is generating forms of barbarism, violence, and terrorism that are a true threat to all forms of civilized life.
If the God of Islam is the true God, then I will gladly return to my earlier atheism.
Historically, Islam is the one religious group that is most resistant and most hostile to the gospel.
Dennis Prager asks five questions for Muslims to answer. I think that we and the rest of the world have a right to know the answers. Everyone is bending over backwards to excuse Islamicist terrorism. A cowardly appeasement is now occurring everywhere.
In the name of God, in the name of civilization, in the name of humanity, fascism must be energetically opposed wherever its ugly head pops up. Surely Europe learned this lesson during the 30s and the 40s, but apparently not. Fascism is rising again in the form of extreme Islamism. And it frightens me. A religion that can inspire and authorize suicide bombings and the killing if innocent civilians is truly a religion of Satan. It is a religion that has embraced death, not life.
I also commend several of the last articles by David Warren.
Monday, November 14, 2005
Recently, a friend put me on to Thomas Merton. I had certainly read about him, but had never been exposed to any of Merton's actual writings. The work I am reading is New Seeds of Contemplation. All I can say is, this guy is really, really good. Following are a few samples I've gleaned thus far:
The mind that is the prisoner of conventional ideas, and the will that is the captive of its own desire cannot accept the seeds of an unfamiliar truth and a supernatural desire. For how can I receive the seeds of freedom if I am in love with slavery and how can I cherish the desire of God if I am filled with another and an opposite desire? God cannot plant His liberty in me because I am a prisoner and I do not even desire to be free. I love my captivity and I imprison myself in the desire for the things that I hate, and I have hardened my heart against true love. I must learn therefore to let go of the familiar and the usual and consent to what is new and unknown to me. I must learn to "leave myself" in order to find myself by yieliding to the love of God. If I were looking for God, every event and every moment would sow, in my will, grains of His life that would spring up one day in a tremendous harvest.
The only true joy on earth is to escape from the prison of our own false self, and enter by love into union with the Life Who dwells and sings within the essence of every creature and in the core of our own souls. In His love we possess all things and enjoy fruition of them, finding Him in them all. And thus as we go about the world, everything we meet and everything we see and hear and touch, far from defiling, purifies us and plants in us something more of contemplation and of heaven.
All sin starts from the assumption that my false self, the self that exists only in my own egocentric desires, is the fundamental reality of life to which everything else in the universe is ordered. Thus I use up my life in the desire for pleasures and the thirst for experiences, for power, honor, knowledge and love, to clothe this false self and construct its nothingness into something objectively real. And I wind experiences around myself and cover myself with pleasures and glory like bandages in order to make myself perceptible to myself and to the world, as If I were an invisible body that cold only become visible when soemthing visible covered its surface.
But there is no substance under the things with which I am clothed. I am hollow, and my structure of pleasures and ambitions has no foundation. I am objectified in them. But hey are all destined by their very contingency to be destroyed. And when they are gone there will be nothing left of me but my own nakedness and emptiness and hollowness, to tell me that I am my own mistake.
...our own life becomes a series of choices between the fiction of our false self, whom we feed with the illusion of passion and selfish appetite, and our loving consent to the purely gratuitous mercy of God.
Friday, November 11, 2005
Pat Robertson warns town of disaster after election
Voters turned against God, broadcaster says
11:01 PM CST on Thursday, November 10, 2005
VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. – Religious broadcaster Pat Robertson warned residents of a rural Pennsylvania town Thursday that disaster may strike there because they "voted God out of your city" by ousting school board members who favored teaching intelligent design.
All eight Dover, Pa., school board members up for re-election were defeated Tuesday after trying to introduce "intelligent design" – the belief that the universe is so complex that it must have been created by a higher power – as an alternative to the theory of evolution.
"I'd like to say to the good citizens of Dover: If there is a disaster in your area, don't turn to God. You just rejected him from your city," Mr. Robertson said on the Christian Broadcasting Network's 700 Club .
Later Thursday, Mr. Robertson issued a statement saying he was simply trying to point out that "our spiritual actions have consequences."
Mr. Robertson made headlines this summer when he called on his daily show for the assassination of Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez.
In October 2003, he suggested that the State Department be blown up with a nuclear device. He has also said that feminism encourages women to "kill their children, practice witchcraft, destroy capitalism and become lesbians."
Puh-leeze. I think it may be time for Pat to step away from the microphone. Way past time, actually. The tragedy is that for many people in this country and throughout the world, Pat Robertson is still the public face of American evangelical Christianity. While I have quite a few issues with evangelicals, the fact is that they deserve better. The parade passed Pat by years ago, yet he still receives the air time and the press coverage. Which ever side you come down on on the issue of "intelligent design" is not the issue here. What is truly troubling is Pat's view of a capricious, vengeful God who pursues his aims by a conservative political agenda, turning his back on municipalities based on their voting records, while deciding just which natural disaster he can hurl their way as punishment. Sad, sad, sad.
Thursday, November 10, 2005
The glory of God, and, as our only means to glorifying Him, the salvation of human souls, is the real business of life.
'Christianity and Culture', Christian Reflections
I have to admit, I am a C. S. Lewis fan from way, way back. So look for snippets of wisdom from Lewis about once a week.
I just hope my subsequent posts won’t be as hard to pull together as this very first one!
Frankly, I begin the blog with some trepidation. Do we really need another blog on the internet? Probably not. Can the world continue to muddle through without being subjected to my pontifications about this, that or the other? Most assuredly. And yet, here I go anyway.
I have always been a person of definite opinions, interested in a wide array of things, who enjoys good dialogue. As one who has kept journals and common-place books for years, I view this as just an extension of that practice. I will try hard to keep the blog directed away from my occasional rants, narcissistic ramblings and pet peeves, and focused on writings, ideas and events that I find significant. And while I enjoy a good discussion, I am not especially interested in hard-nosed debates or polemics.
I am aiming for a good mix of topics: theology, current events, history, travel and literature (sports and music aficianados will probably need to look elsewhere). In time, I hope to address the twists and turns of my particular journey of faith, which seems equal parts learning and unlearning.