Maccabees and the insurance mandate

Good stuff from the Book of Maccabees, as applied by John Garvey, president of Catholic University on why he is suing the federal government over the Obamacare contraceptive/abortifacient mandate:

A wonderful story in the second book of Maccabees describes the martyrdom of the old scribe Eleazar. It occurred during the Hellenizing campaign of Antiochus Epiphanes. He forced the Jews “to forsake the laws of their fathers and cease to live by the laws of God.” Eleazar was ordered on pain of death to eat pork. He refused.

The men in charge of the sacrifice, who had known him for a long time, took him aside and offered to spare him if he would just eat something that looked like pork. “Such pretense is not worthy of our time of life,” he said, “lest many of the young should suppose that Eleazar in his 90th year has gone over to an alien religion[.]” And so they killed him.

This is a story about religious freedom, and it has two points. The first is that we should put our duty to obey God’s laws above our obligation to the state. (And it is cruel on the state’s part to force people to commit sinful acts.) The second is that, quite apart from our own failure in forsaking God’s laws, we do an additional wrong in leading the young to believe that this is acceptable.

I have found myself thinking a lot about Eleazar in the past few months, as we have looked for a way to escape the dilemma the Department of Health and Human Services has posed for The Catholic University of America with its mandated-services regulation. The regulation orders the university, in its student and employee health-insurance plans, to cover surgical sterilization, prescription contraceptives, and drugs that cause early-stage abortions at no added cost to the subscribers. If we fail to do this, we will have to pay a fine of $2,000 per full-time employee, or roughly $2.6-million per year.

The Catholic Church believes that married couples should be open to the possibility of new life, and that artificial interventions to prevent or terminate pregnancy are wrong. News coverage of the dispute has observed that many members of the church dissent from this teaching. Many of the Hellenized Jews in Judea went along with Antiochus’s decrees, too. That division of opinion did not make the treatment of Eleazar any more liberal.

Like Eleazar, our university has been ordered by the government to do something it views as morally wrong. America, unlike the Seleucid Empire, has traditionally taken a tolerant view toward folks in that predicament. When West Virginia ordered the children of Jehovah’s Witnesses to salute the flag (an act they viewed as sinful), the Supreme Court said, “If there is any fixed star in our constitutional constellation, it is that no official … can prescribe what shall be orthodox in politics, nationalism, religion, or other matters of opinion or force citizens to confess by word or act their faith therein.”

Like Eleazar, we are not concerned only about the uprightness of our own behavior. We are worried that we will do an additional wrong by leading our students to believe that the actions the Department of Health and Human Services seeks to promote are acceptable. Our mission, as a Catholic university, is to see that our students grow in wisdom, age, and grace during their time here. We teach that virtues like chastity, fidelity, and respect for life are not just ideas worth debating in philosophy class, but also ideals worth living. Compliance with the government’s mandated-services regulation would make that a lesson in hypocrisy.

via A Matter of Faith and Freedom – Commentary – The Chronicle of Higher Education.

By the way, though most Protestants don’t consider the Apocrypha, those histories of the Jews between the Testaments written in Greek, to be canonical (Catholics do), all of the old theologians say they are profitable to read.  Luther included them with his translation and the Confessions sometimes quote them.  So you might be interested in The Apocrypha: The Lutheran Edition With Notes, a new offering from Concordia Publishing House.

 

Danish law mandates church weddings for gays

Denmark has passed a law requiring the state Lutheran church to hold church weddings for gay couples.  It allows pastors who don’t believe in gay marriage–from one-third to one-half of the clergy–to opt out, but bishops must provide a replacement pastor to preside over the wedding.

It isn’t clear to me from the news stories how this will affect other church bodies than the state church.  Reuters says, “The new law permits homosexual marriages in the Evangelical Lutheran Church as well as churches of other faiths, depending on those churches’ own rules.”  So are Roman Catholics, who have “rules” against this sort of thing, excused?  Or must they allow gays to use their facilities for church weddings, though they are not obliged to perform the ceremony?

Still, this shows that the assurance that churches won’t be forced to perform gay weddings, should gay marriage be legalized, may well last only as long as the government wants it to. 

Is it realistic to think that once gay marriage becomes the law that churches who don’t go along won’t eventually be targeted as discriminatory and forced to go along?  Or is this simply the jeopardy of a state church, with American traditions of religious freedom able to resist that kind of legal mandate?

New Danish law lets homosexuals wed in church | Reuters.

Classical Lutheran education conference

Come to  The Consortium for Classical and Lutheran Education conference, July 17-19, 2012, at Memorial Lutheran Church & School in Houston, Texas.    I’ll be there!   Here is a summary of what’s on tap:

Plenary Speakers
Rev. Todd Wilken of Issues, Etc., for discussions on essential matters of Lutheran education
Dr. Gene Edward Veith for insights and commentary on classical education

Session Leaders include…

Dr. E. Christian Kopff with a discussion of Milton’s essay, “On Education”

Rev. Dr. Steven Hein on matters of apologetics and Lutheran theology

Rev. Mark Preus on teaching Latin

Tim Merritt on teaching the Great Books

Dr. James Tallmon on the Trivium

Mrs. Jackie Veith on the Quadrivium

Dr. Gene Edward Veith in a session on the Family and Vocation from his new book

Janet Muth on Teaching Music Classically

Cheryl Swope on Classical and Lutheran Education with the Special-Needs Child

Rev. Stephen Kieser on Teaching History and Literature in the Home School

Kelly Rottmann on Efficiency in the Home School

Rev. Mark Grunst, Praying the Catechism with Children

Rev. Dan Praeuner with a cost-effective homeschool/school hybrid approach to
classical and Lutheran education

Jocelyn Benson from Wittenberg Academy

and more….

Registration covers sessions from noon 7/17 – noon 7/19, as well as membership
in CCLE, the Consortium for Classical and Lutheran Education.

For more information, please visit www.ccle.org,

 

HT:  Cheryl Swope

The Juvenilization of American Christianity

The latest issue of Christianity Today has a brilliant cover story that accounts for much of what we see in American churches today.  A century and more ago, many Protestant churches adjusted their worship and their ministries to accord with something that at first was quite separate:  the revival meeting.  (My historical parallel.)   Now churches have adjusted their worship and ministries to accord with another separate activity:  youth group!  But, of course, there is more to it than that.  From the article by Thomas E. Bergler [subscription required, but here is the opening]:

The house lights go down. Spinning, multicolored lights sweep the auditorium. A rock band launches into a rousing opening song. “Ignore everyone else, this time is just about you and Jesus,” proclaims the lead singer. The music changes to a slow dance tune, and the people sing about falling in love with Jesus. A guitarist sporting skinny jeans and a soul patch closes the worship set with a prayer, beginning, “Hey God …” The spotlight then falls on the speaker, who tells entertaining stories, cracks a few jokes, and assures everyone that “God is not mad at you. He loves you unconditionally.”

After worship, some members of the church sign up for the next mission trip, while others decide to join a small group where they can receive support on their faith journey. If you ask the people here why they go to church or what they value about their faith, they’ll say something like, “Having faith helps me deal with my problems.”

Fifty or sixty years ago, these now-commonplace elements of American church life were regularly found in youth groups but rarely in worship services and adult activities. What happened? Beginning in the 1930s and ’40s, Christian teenagers and youth leaders staged a quiet revolution in American church life that led to what can properly be called the juvenilization of American Christianity. Juvenilization is the process by which the religious beliefs, practices, and developmental characteristics of adolescents become accepted as appropriate for adults. It began with the praiseworthy goal of adapting the faith to appeal to the young, which in fact revitalized American Christianity. But it has sometimes ended with both youth and adults embracing immature versions of the faith.

via When Are We Going to Grow Up? The Juvenilization of American Christianity | Christianity Today | A Magazine of Evangelical Conviction.

Bergler goes on to document how that happened, including the larger cultural trend of American adults in general becoming more like adolescents.  The cover story  (who can identify who is pictured on the cover?) includes some responses by a megachurch pastor, a researcher, and a cultural critic (David Zahl of Mockingbird.com), all of whom say that Bergler’s thesis is basically right (though Zahl, being a Lutheran fellow-traveler, issues some caveats about definitions of spiritual “maturity”).

The article is adapted from Bergler’s new book on the subject: The Juvenilization of American Christianity.  It is a ground-breaking analysis, one of those explanations that accounts for virtually all of the phenomena and  that seems so obvious, once you hear it, though you had never thought of it before.

 

Paul’s rebuke of Peter as argument for open communion

Reformed writer Peter Leithhart argues against the closed communion practices of Catholics, Orthodox, and Lutherans on the basis of Galatians 2:

The battle between Paul and the Judaizers focused on table fellowship. Initially, Peter didn’t require Gentiles to “judaize” but ate openly with uncircumcised Gentiles. Pressured by believers from the Jerusalem church, though, he withdrew and refused to share meals with Gentiles anymore. Whether these were common or sacred meals, the same logic would apply to both: If Peter wouldn’t eat common meals with unclean Gentiles, he certainly would have avoided the contagion of Gentiles at sacred meals. For Paul, this wasn’t a small or marginal issue. In Paul’s judgment, Peter was “not straightforward about the gospel” and his actions undermined justification by faith. Unless Jews and Gentiles share a common table, Paul insisted, the Gospel is compromised. . .

For Paul, Christians should share meals with any and all who confess faith in Jesus, whether Jew or Greek, slave or free, male or female, and this unity should be especially evident in the Eucharistic meal that is the high point of Christian liturgy. One Lord must have one people sitting at one table. Any additional requirement beyond faith in Jesus betrays the Gospel.

Of course, it’s not quite that simple. Some profess Jesus but betray him with their lives. Jesus and Paul both teach that impenitent sinners and heretics should be excluded from the Church and from the table of communion. As Reformed Protestants say, the table must be fenced.

Even with that crucial qualification, Paul’s assault on Peter poses a bracing challenge to today’s church. It is common in every branch of the church for some believers to exclude other believers from the Lord’s table. Some Lutherans will commune only with Christians who hold to a Lutheran view of the real presence. Some Reformed churches require communicants to adhere to their Confessional standards. The Catholic Mass and the Orthodox Eucharist are reserved, with a few exceptions, for Catholics and Orthodox.

I cannot see how these exclusions pass the Pauline test. Catholics will say that they don’t add anything to Paul’s requirements. They exclude Protestants from the Mass because Protestantism is (at best) an inadequate expression of the apostolic faith; for Catholics, a credible confession of Jesus must include a confession of certain truths about the Church. Lutherans and some Reformed Christians will point to Paul’s warnings about “discerning the body” and ask Amos’s question: “Do men walk together unless they are in agreement?” All this avoids the central question: Do Catholics and Orthodox consider their Protestant friends Christians? Do Lutherans consider Reformed believers to be disciples of Jesus? If so, why aren’t they eating at the same table? Shouldn’t the one Lord have one people at one table?

via One Lord, One Table | First Things.

This strikes me as missing the point on many levels, but I’ll let you do the analysis:  What is wrong with this argument?

Agreement between LCMS & conservative Anglicans

Who says Missouri Synod Lutherans can’t agree with anybody?  High level talks between the LCMS and Anglicans who broke away from the Episcopal Church have found some common ground (though, of course, not full doctrinal agreement).

ST. LOUIS, May 25, 2012—After four meetings over the past 18 months, the Anglican Church in North America and The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod (LCMS) rejoice in affirming core teachings of the Christian faith they share. The two church bodies, together with the Lutheran Church—Canada, are jointly releasing a report today summarizing the areas of agreement. . . .

“In a time when there is a widespread failure to recognize the biblical teaching regarding the creation of man and woman and their biblical roles, life-issues, and other grave challenges that society faces, it is a joy to find a group of Christians within the Anglican Church in North America who affirm this biblical teaching, and who desire to cooperate in externals with the Missouri Synod in upholding the biblical natural law in society,” said the Rev. Dr. Matthew C. Harrison, President of the LCMS. “Our churches share much in common in the confession of the ecumenical creeds, but we also have differences in doctrinal belief. Hermann Sasse noted that churches who can honestly discuss where they have disagreements in doctrine are in fact closer to each other than churches who cannot discuss such matters. With the Anglican Church in North America, the Missouri Synod can discuss both where we need to seek more agreement and where we have sufficient agreement to cooperate in externals. May Christ bless His church and work unity in both doctrine and practice.” . . .

The report on the discussions includes a statement of the beliefs the church bodies have in common. These include a shared belief in the Triune God as confessed in the Apostles’, Nicene and Athanasian creeds; justification by grace through faith; the centrality of the Sacraments for the Christian faith; and the infallibility of Scripture.

The report also outlines areas about which the church bodies plan to engage in further study and discussion. These include the value of authoritative theological confessions, matters of ecclesiology and the office(s) of ministry, the understanding of Christ’s presence in the Lord’s Supper and differing views on the usage of the western liturgy.

“It is a great blessing to be walking alongside The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod. We share an unwavering commitment to the authority of Scripture and have been able to support each other as we take a bold stand for the historic faith. It has been a particular joy for me to come to know President Matthew Harrison. We look forward to continuing our work together for the Gospel through prayers, evangelism, dialogue, encouragement of one another, and joint efforts to help those in need,” said the Most Rev. Robert Duncan, Archbishop and Primate of the Anglican Church in North America.

via Missouri Synod Lutherans, North American Anglicans conclude first round of theological discussions – The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod.

Do you think such discussions are worth having?


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