A Necessary Tragedy

This year (2017), and this month (October) marks the 500th anniversary, ‘officially’ of the Protestant Reformation. I was at a theological forum that commemorated this event, and looked at the original break event 1517 and subsequent years from a traditional Protestant viewpoint, a post-Vatican II Catholic viewpoint, and a Separatist viewpoint. A term that came up a few times was that the Reformation was a “Necessary Tragedy.” It was further noted, that Catholics have tended to look at it as a tragedy but not all that necessary, while Protestants tended to see it as necessary, but not all that tragic.

For me, I see it as necessary because the church lutherof the West sought not only spiritual unity, but ecclesiastical unity, and they did not simply seek unity, but sought uniformity. Such an undesirable state needed to change. To ignore regional cultures and language, and have a governance that is not empowered locally certainly needed to go away. In the East, that happened much earlier (with 1054 AD being thought of as the pivotal year, although they could mark back time as far as they want). In Northern Europe, it started in 1517 with the “magisterial reformers” with separatist reformers both before and after. For the Philippines, one has to go to the American Occupation, as well as the Aglipayan movement. With the rest of the Catholic Church, Vatican II seems to be the pivotal time frame. Yes it was necessary, sooner or later. And it still is.

As far as tragic, I don’t see tragedy in Ecclesiastical disunity. Centralization of power— perhaps even more so Ecclesiastical Power— creates deep problems. So one religious governance seems to me to be something of which to be horrified. And it wasn’t tragedy for lack of uniformity. It seems like diversity was identified as a good thing in the first century church… but its goodness became more deeply questioned over time. There is no tragedy in diversity.

Where there is tragedy was that people on all sides of the unity/disunity, uniformity/diversity divides saw that it was appropriate to fight and kill each other over it. It is hard to appreciate diversity. At an ecumenical gathering recently to which I was invited, it began to be clear to me that even those who theoretically should embrace unity with diversity, struggle with appreciating some forms of diversity. Some forms of diversity are embraced, while others are squelched or castigated. The tragedy is that we identify people within our own ecclesiastical neighborhood as US, and those from other ecclesiastical neighborhoods as THEM… and we tend to see diversity as a problem to overcome, rather than something to embrace.

Centuries of fighting with words, laws and guns was needless. While it is easy to blame the Catholic church for this, as one from a Separatist tradition, I know that the Protestants also had blood on their hands.  And, in fact, the Separatists have had their moments of shame as well. But it was not necessary. I am reminded of Paul and Barnabas having different visions for ministry. They could have supported each other and gone their separate ways in peace… but instead had to fight with each other, wound each other, and be an embarrassment to the church. And still they ended up going their separate ways anyway. I have come across people almost 2000 years later still arguing about who was right.  They truly miss the point. BOTH WERE RIGHT— AND NEITHER.

So I guess the answer is that it may be correct that the Protestant Reformation was a Necessary Tragedy. It was indeed necessary, but it was not necessary that it was a tragedy.

2017_03_mia_lutheran500_popeinlund_cna_121895w_1488975183

The Lutheran Church invited the Pope to join in the celebration of the 500th anniversary year of the Protestant reformation on October 31st, 2016. The Catholic church asked if the term could be changed from “celebration” to “commemoration.” The Lutheran Church actually agreed to it, and they joined together to mark this important year. Perhaps commemoration is the better term. Letter us all remember this together. A necessary date. A date that did not have to be tragic… and yet in some ways did become tragic. But an important day of embracing  Unity with Disunity and Diversity. Prayerfully, we will figure out how to actually do that.

Advertisements

Four Books I am Reading Now

p054q93q

I don’t buy a lot of books. The availability of Christian books that I am interested in here in the Philippines is limited. I also have limited resources. So I really feel fortunate when I ordered four books that were delivered a few weeks ago. All four I have found to be very useful. I don’t read cover to cover very often, I am not a reading ‘machine’ as some I know, but it looks like I am on a trajectory to reading all four completely.

  1.  “The Minister as Diagnostician: Personal Problems in Pastoral Perspective” by Paul W. Pruyser (1976). This was my least risky purchase. We have a Pastoral Counseling center here and we train in Clinical Pastoral Education. Pruyser’s book is written from the perspective of a psychologist at the Menninger Clinic, but for church ministers. He noted that pastors training in hospital chaplaincy tended to utilize the diagnostic language (and to a limited extent criteria) of psychologists. He suggested that there are diagnostic categories that are more appropriate, and more within the skill set of ministers. The language choices he uses I don’t find particularly intuitive. However, the seven basic categories for diagnosis I believe are quite useful. Some have noted the challenge of applying these categories in practice, but I believe Pruyser’s work is a good starting point. Looking forward to reading the entire, short, book.
  2. One Gospel for All Nations: A Practical Approach to Biblical Contextualization” by Jackson Wu (2015). This was my second safest choice. I enjoy Wu’s posts, many of which are related to this book, so I was pretty sure it would something I would find valuable. It has proven to be so far. I suppose I am curious about the title which speaks of “Biblical Contextualization” while the body of the book speaks of two types of contextualization– “Exegetical Contextualization” and “Cultural Contextualization.” Perhaps the author is linking Biblical with Exegetical, or the two contextualizations are seen to constitute “Biblical Contextualization.” Or maybe, the publisher chose the title. This is far less than a complaint… simply a comment. Positively, it looks at contextualization from a more Asian perspective. Living here in the Philippines, that is important to me. Additionally, it seeks to move from theoretical models of contextualization to a practical path to contextualization.
  3. “SCM Studyguide: Theological Reflection” by Judith Thompson and Stephen Pattison (2008). This was more of a leap of faith. In clinical pastoral care, we seek theological reflection in our trainees. Many struggle. Far too often, what is thought of as theological reflection is little more than verse-dropping (“This case reminds me of Psalm 23”). Other times, there is a failure to be truly reflective– simply reiterating what one already believes. This book is well-structured and deals with a number of forms of theological reflection. These methods are thoroughly orthodox in that the book does not advocate a “create your own theology” view. It seeks to connect and relate one’s faith tradition with experience. Already I find it useful, and am incorporating some of the ideas in a chapter on this topic in our upcoming book, “The Dynamics of Pastoral Care”– a sequel to “The Art of Pastoral Care.”
  4. “SCM Studyguide: Pastoral Theology.” by Margaret Whipp (2015). This book is done by the same publishing house as the previous one, and is a part of the same book series. The series is Anglican, and while the examples used in both books tend to draw from this tradition, they are broadly applicable to other Christians. This book I have only gotten into the earliest chapters, but so far I find it very valuable.  The previous book, Theological Reflection, is more structured, and I like structure. However Pastoral Theology as a subject is far less structured than many other categories of theology (systematic, biblical, philosophical, etc.), so I can hardly complain. Again, this book I am already finding inspirational for our training programs here, as well as for our newest book. Looking forward to finishing it.

The Cult of Ares

A few months ago, the movie “Wonder Woman” had as the main villain, or villain behind the villains, Ares, the Greek god of war. Some were surprised or disappointed by the choice of actor to play that role. They felt that the character did not fit the larger than life image of what they pictured as a God of War. Yet, in Greek Mythology, Ares was looked down upon by most Greek storytellers. Outside of at Sparta and a few cities in Northern Greece, he was rarely worshiped. Most of his stories were ones involving his humiliation. He, siding with Troy, lost in the Trojan War against Athena, who sided with the Greeks. Athena was linked to the “glorious” side of war, while Ares was linked to the thuggish side— always linked with his relatives– Fear, Terror, and Discord. The Greeks normally did not see Ares as larger than life. Rather, he was smaller than life.fig_ares_fig03

I feel the movie was successful in its image. It was nice to have a seemingly pleasant, somewhat unassuming man, be Ares– evil secreted within the mundane. Likewise, the fact that Ares showed up hiding in the public arena on the side of the “Good Guys” should give one a reason for pause. Further, Ares is not portrayed as the master controller of mankind, but a rather petty manipulator of already flawed, violent, sinful humans. Of course, all of these characteristics can be applied to Satan. The devil doesn’t make us do much of anything… we ultimately do it to ourselves. The devil may not look as we expect, and may even not be working with the people we think of as the bad guys.

Christians have struggled with fascination with war… but have also struggled with it. Jesus told soldiers that they should behave in a just manner, but did not say they can’t be soldiers. On the other hand, the early church often felt that military service was incompatible with being a Christian.

From my own denomination, the following is a line from the latest version of their articles of faith (Baptist Faith and Message, 2000). It is not meant to be creedal… although some treat it as such.

It is the duty of Christians to seek peace with all men on principles of righteousness. In accordance with the spirit and teachings of Christ they should do all in their power to put an end to war.

The true remedy for the war spirit is the gospel of our Lord. The supreme need of the world is the acceptance of His teachings in all the affairs of men and nations, and the practical application of His law of love. Christian people throughout the world should pray for the reign of the Prince of Peace

The wording is a bit vague, but still generally commendable, I suppose. But among the Baptists, and many other Evangelicals, I have seen the other side. There are a lot of Hawks among Conservative Evangelicals. Back in 1984, I attended a big conference in Washington DC, “Baptist Fundamentalism ’84.” Definitely not my scene but I played saxophone for Cedarville College Symphonic Band that performed one of the days of the conference. We were not performing the day of President Reagan’s speech, but were in the audience. During his speech, several people stood up on the left side of the hall raising a banner yelling “Bread, not Bombs!!” “Bread, not Bombs!!”

Quickly, they were grabbed and ushered out of the hall. A couple of my fellow bandmembers were sitting in the vicinity of the protesters. They said that as the protesters were manhandled roughly, some Baptist Fundamentalists spat upon them.

It kind of makes you think— or at least it should. Why would Christians behave in a manner that was so inconsistent with Christ’s call to love everyone… including enemies? And, why would these Christians be so angry about a slogan that seems so obviously commendable. I served in the military for a few years, but even I can see the good sense in identifying food as a greater human priority than military armament. Even in the closing chapters of the Cold War, that really should have been obvious. Of course, maybe the crowd was incensed that a speech was interrupted. Frankly though, the protesters did much to make the conference much more interesting.

I feel that many in the crowd were part of the cult of Ares. More recently, many Christians on FB seemed to be so angry that some players are not standing up for the US National Anthem in NFL and NBA games. I can’t really connect to the concern much. I live in the Philippines, so we don’t do the US National Anthem– rather we do the Philippine National Anthem. Even though I am a foreigner, I would never consider sitting down for the “Lupang Hinirang.” My goal is that “whatever state I am, therein to be content”… and respectful. But why would Christians be getting disturbed about whether one stands or sits (or anything else) during the National Anthem… or whether they say or don’t say the Pledge of Allegiance. As a Baptist, the Anabaptists are my spiritual siblings. Many of them refuse to participate with these rituals on the belief that they are idolatrous,  or violate the call of Christ not to make vows. Why would so many Christians become so angry about things that would put us in conflict with fellow Christians? One might say that it is about Patriotism or Nationalism. But really it is not about that, but conforming to societal norms… or actually conforming to a very specific vision of what some wish to be a societal norm. That, of course, begs the question of what that vision is.

The US is interesting because Patriotism is often linked so much with war. I read a little article recently (I hope it is true… there is so much opinions reported as actual news). It showed the history of having the national anthem played at games goes back to World War II, and the having players be seen to respond to the National Anthem goes back to Department of Defense military recruiting. (You can read the article and decide for your self HERE.) Of the four major patriotic holidays for the US are Presidents Day, Memorial Day, Independence Day, and Veterans Day, three of those are dominated with war themes.

I am not a pacifist, but things seem a bit out of control. In recent years I have had a number of people say to me “Thank you for your service to our country” when they found out I served in the Navy. I never had that happen during my time of military service, or for many years after that. Frankly, I did it as a job and as a duty.  I feel good about my time in the Navy, but I believe that through my role in Christian ministry I have been much more involved with real service to my country, and many other countries than I ever did through my time in the Navy. Maybe as Christians we can try to find a balance between the extremes of the Vietnam War period (people spitting on War veterans) and this time of jingoism.

I remember sitting in a church in the US when the pastor suggested that the right to bear arms be considered by Christians to be a non-negotiable viewpoint along with the divinity of Christ, the Trinity, and salvation by faith. That view certainly is some weird sort of syncretism, and “The Cult of Ares” seems as good as a term to describe this loose mixture of Christian virtues with a weaponized Americanism.

I feel like this blogpost is a bit rambly… but it is still an area that I am thinking about. Ultimately, however, any view of Christianity that follows a Jesus who is anything other than the “Prince of Peace,” does need some soul-searching. The gods of war (note: the gods of war, not those who serve) are more deserving of ridicule and humiliation, than of adulation— much like Ares.

 

The Timeless Church

635872216106950472-1324437628_past

We talk of the local church, and the universal church. The local church is the community of faith, while the universal church is the Body of Christ or Bride of Christ, depending on your metaphor of choice.

Baptists, of which I am lumped, often tend to focus on the local church. I like the idea of the autonomy of the local church. Frankly, however, the local church doesn’t really matter all that much if there isn’t a spiritual unity among all communities of the Christian faith.

The unity of the church is identified in metaphors (body and bride), as well as rituals. In the Eucharist, the unity with Christ is shown through the eating and drinking of the elements. but it is also done as a group… suggesting community. Paul connects baptism with uniting with the death and resurrection of Christ. However, baptism appears to be identified with unity of all believers as well. The (Matthew version of) the Great Commission suggests this. Ephesians 4:4-5 points to baptism as linking all believers. The metaphor is taken even further in I Corinthians 12:12-14 where the spiritual unity of the church is described through the metaphors of being immersed in the spirit (like Baptism) and drinking of one spirit (like Eucharist). This passage doesn’t only describe the unity of the church, but also its diversity. Both unity and diversity are vital to the church.

But I believe it is valuable to consider the church as a unity not only in space, as described above, but in time as well. Romans 14:9 states “For this reason Christ died and returned to life, so that He might be the Lord of both the dead and the living.” The dead in Christ are seen as equal with those living, and sharing in the having the same Lord. I Thessalonians 5:10 says a similar thing, “He died for us so that, whether we are awake or asleep, we may live together with him.” Personally, I find it interesting that the Eucharist connects the past with the present and future.  I Corinthians 11:26 notes that “For whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup (PRESENT), you proclaim the Lord’s death (PAST) until he comes (FUTURE).”

Okay, that may not be compelling, but for me, I think it is better to think of Thomas Aquinas and Charles Spurgeon as part of the church rather than having once been part of the church. Here are a few thoughts related to the idea that the church exists as a unity in both time as well as space.

  1. We should study church history, not only for practical experience, but because they are family. They are as relevant to who we are as the church today.
  2. Restorational movements, and movements that ignore much of church history in preference for the “primitive church” or the recent church, has done much to ignore God’s work in the world.
  3. We should recognize that we are the bridge between the past church and the future church.

This last point is actually quite important. Far too often, Evangelical churches ignore this point, acting on the presumption that not only are we theologically in “the last days,” as we have been for almost 2000 years, but that we are in the “last minutes” of the church age. This presumption seems ill-advised, especially since Jesus seems to make it clear that trying to time Christ’s return is bad. The parables of the faithful steward and the 10 maidens point to being prepared for a long wait. Rather than assuming that the church today is spiritually childless, we should plan for spiritual children, grand-children and great-grandchildren, preparing for the church of the 22nd, 23rd, 24th, and 25th centuries (and perhaps farther still).

To fail to prepare for the church of the future is disrespectful of our spiritual forefathers who prepared and trained us. It is also unconscionable to plan NOT to disciple the next generation, and transform communities, on the presumption that Christ is returning very very soon. Further, since each of us are only a few skipped heartbeats away from seeing Christ, we should be planning for this inevitability rather than something that will happen someday, but with no certainty of happening in our lifetimes.

 

Local Churches and Parachurch Ministries

Local Churches and Parachurch ministries have a long history of struggle. One can even broaden this to other Modality (community-based) versus Sodality (purpose-based) structures. Jesus and his ministry band was often in conflict with the temple and synagogue system. One might be quick to side with the ministry band, and be against the temple and synagogue. but that is not really the point. The early church ministered at and even through the temple and synagogue, and the church is modeled after the synagogue. Neither structure was problematic— the relationship was the problem. boxing_6_lg

There are several ways the church and parachurch can relate:

  1.  Competition. Competition is the most natural relationship, but who is to say that what is natural is always the best. To put things in the most brutally unkind way, churches are greedy and parachurches are parasitic. Parachurches need human resources as well as financial resources. Human resources for parachurches come from churches, but churches don’t always want their people serving in these parachurch organizations rather than in the church. Parachurches get a considerable amount of their finances from church members; and church members often give more to such organizations by giving less to their own churches. Of course, it works the other way as well. Many churches strongly discourage their members from working with other churches or parachurches. And many churches like to make the argument that “bringing ones’ treasure to the storehouse” can be interpreted as “give all your gifts to God to and through your local church.”
  2. Negation. I don’t know of any parachurches who have tried to negate or invalidate churches, although some have at times been quite critical. There have been churches that invalidate parachurches. the Anti-Missions movement of the 1800s was not simply against mission organizations, but other sodality structures, suggesting that the local church is the only valid religious institution.
  3. Control. Some relate from a position of control. A church can run a parachurch. In some cases a parachurch have even established a church. Salvation Army would be one example of that, but I have a friend who was part of a parachurch organizaiton that decided to establish its own church. In that case, it appeared to have been done for control… of the volunteers in the ministry. There is nothing inherently wrong with one controlling the other. However, churches are driven by different priorities than parachurches. That difference can be difficult. I have also seen where a parachurch group being within the church structure can lead to a “church within the church” or an elitist sub-group.
  4. Cooperation. History has shown that churches and parachurches can work together, each working to their own strength– Parish and Monastery, Church and Mission Society. A positive collaboration is ideal… but is challenging.

Much of the problem is that Christians often struggle with the Unity and Diversity of the church, and the Universality and Locality of the church. The conflict between churches and parachurches come from this confusion. Denominationalism and competition between churches comes from a similar place.

Simple Faith Versus Shallow Faith

In my class on Contemporary Issues in Missions, somehow the issue of “Simple Faith” came up. I noted that I have a lot of respect for those with Simple Faith. These are the people who say something to the effect that “God Said It, I Believe It, That Settles It.”

I respect that in many ways, but I can’t relate to it. For me, the above statement fills out to “Did God Say It? And If He Did, What Does He Mean? And If I Can Settle On What He Means, How Do I Contextualize It To the Present Circumstance?”

Later, however, one of my students asked me a question I hadn’t directly thought about before. Is there a difference between Simple Faith, and Shallow Faith?

To the best of my knowledge there aren’t great definitions. But the terms do suggest a few characteristics.

  • Shallow Faith crumbles under pressure, while Simple Faith endures.
  • Shallow Faith is not founded on something reliable, while Simple Faith is.

I guess as I think about it, I am reminded of a previous post that I had written about the Twelve Spies that looked at Canaan in Exodus. I suggested that the two spies, Joshua and Caleb, believed that God was powerful and benevolent. As such, they trusted God that He would give them victory. One might call that a Simple Faith, based on who God is. The ten spies, said that they can’t win against the enemy. However, I suggested that they may have been following the pattern of Israel up to that point— whine and complain to get God to do what they want. You can read the full post HERE.

If that is the case, then the problem was that the ten spies had a Shallow Faith. What made it shallow was that it was not based on who God is. Rather the faith was in their ability control God.

That is indeed a shallow faith… and one unlikely to stand disappointment.

 

 

 

Dark Night of the Soul

My son is a member of a theology club at the seminary he attends (that is coincidently the seminary that both my wife and I teach at). He led a discussion, while all were eating samgyeopsal, on Christian Mysticism. He sought to avoid the obvious stereotypes… Mysticism as “New Age” of syncretistic, Mysticism as Heresy, and Mysticism as self-absorbed contemplation. It is not to say that those stereotypes are meaningless, but can be used broad-brush to ignore more positive aspects of Christian Mysticism. The key point here is to note that Mysticism can be Christian— doctrinally Christian, and committed to Christ. Its goal in this context is communion with God.

He used as his primary source Evelyn Underhill’s 1911 classic, Mysticism: A Study of the Nature and Development of Man’s Spiritual Consciousness. The topic was interesting, and the discussion was lively. The main interest ended up however, being in the sub-topic, “The Dark Night of the Soul.” The term, a translation of a phrase coined by St. John of the Cross, and the title of a poem he wrote, describes a season of emptiness.

In the journey to communion with God, many Christian mystics (and I don’t see it limited to them only) experience a time of spiritual “dryness”– a feeling that God is not near, and is not listening. In this situation, the individual will often have symptoms of depression, and feel temptations for vices thought long conquered.

What should be made of such symptoms? Some perhaps would join Job’s friends in seeing it as evidence of punishment for ungodliness.

I would argue that this “Dark Night of the Soul” is far from limited to the Christian mystic. I think all of us have times where we see God as distant. I think many of us feel a disconnection and depression… and don’t always know why. Job did not know why, and as far as the text goes, it was never explained. Jesus felt a disconnection from the Father. Jesus cried out on the cross, “My God, My God, Why have you forsaken Me.” Some try to read that through the lens of Penal Substitutionary Atonement theology (Jesus took on our sin at that moment, and so the Father was forced to look away).  Others push towards a fulfillment of prophecy thing. But perhaps we are trying to be too theologically clever. Many have felt that they were trudging through the “Valley of Death” with little evidence of upcoming greener pastures and stiller waters.

A number of the Lament Psalms appear to describe a similar feeling. Psalm 44, especially expresses this, for it sees God as the cause of misery, but without the classic justifications:

All this has come upon us,
 though we have not forgotten you,
 and we have not been false to your covenant.
Our heart has not turned back,
 nor have our steps departed from your way;
yet you have broken us in the place of jackals
 and covered us with the shadow of death.
If we had forgotten the name of our God
 or spread out our hands to a foreign god,
would not God discover this?
 For he knows the secrets of the heart.
Yet for your sake we are killed all the day long;
we are regarded as sheep to be slaughered.
Awake! Why are you sleeping, O Lord?
Rouse yourself! Do not reject us forever!
Why do you hide your face?
 Why do you forget our affliction and oppression?
For our soul is bowed down to the dust;
 our belly clings to the ground.
Rise up; come to our help!
Redeem us for the sake of your steadfast love!
             Psalm 44:17-26

These times are probably better a time for self-reflection and a call out to God. For others, it is a time for understanding and support. Many have seen these times open to greater joys and closeness with God.

A nice little article from Christianity Today on this is HERE.